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Odds and Ends

I am unfortunately dealing with medical drama, and will be on and offline unpredictably over the next two weeks (at least). I will try to pop on here to do fast posts like today, though, as often as possible. When I’m having “good” days, I’ll probably write a few posts in advance and schedule them to try to provide content as much as I can

With that in mind, here are a few snippets..

 

Capturing the Moment

Oleander Plume interviewed me over at her blog. Come check out our conversation to learn what I always have near me when I write, and what my ideal writing space looks like. I also share three travel stories when things didn’t go quite as planned. Share your travel misadventure and win a free copy of Capturing the Moment.

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Before I moved to Singapore, the only things I knew about it were that gum is illegal and they caned an American kid named Michael Fey in 1996. Here’s your chance to ask me questions about life in Singapore. I’ve been here six months, and I think that could make for a fun blog post.

RoguesRogues is now on sale.

so right weatherspoon

I just read So Right and I thought it was a delightful follow up to So Sweet.

Recommended Read–Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction

Lez Talk

When I heard that one my favorite authors, K.A. Smith, was going to be in a new anthology, I couldn’t wait to read it. I pre-ordered Lez Talk, and was super excited when it appeared on my Kindle.

Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction is comprised of sixteen stories that defy easy classification. There are stories of sadness and pain, of love and sex, and even of magic. One of the editors, S. Andrea Allen writes in the introduction that

We say in our call for submissions: “We operated under the assumption that lesbian is not a dirty word.” At a time where a disavowal of any type of stable identity is at an all time high, it is important for us to focus on writing that celebrates Black lesbian identities and amplifies the diversity of Black lesbian experiences.

Allen and Cherelle did a standout job. The stories were ordered in a way that I wanted to keep reading, rather than feel fatigued. The variation in themes kept the anthology from being repetitive (which is always a danger). I finished the anthology last week, and I’ve been talking it up like crazy. As a bookworm, I know of no higher form of praise.

While I like most of the stories,  there were some standouts that deserve extra applause.

K.A. Smith has two stories in the anthology. Darker the Berry and Two Moons. In Darker the Berry, what looks like a supermarket pickup and casual sex turns out to be so much more complex than it first appears. I told K.A. that I would love to read a novel set in the Two Moons world because in such a short, lyrical piece, she does some intriguing world-building. K.A. is a member in my “never disappoints” club–I know that if I’m picking up an anthology or independent work by her, I will never be disappointed. (Click here for my review of Get At Me and Gina’s Do-Over).

S. Andrea Allen’s story, Pretty, resonated strongly for me. It begins “Everybody said she was pretty, for a fat girl.” I don’t think that there is a plus-sized woman who hasn’t heard that dig. I blinked back tears at the end of the story for that, too, was a moment I identified with. Her second story in the anthology, Epiphany, is the story of a love gone toxic. What do you do when you need to leave a relationship, but can’t see the way out? I walked away wanting to read more by Allen because in both stories, I became emotionally invested in her character’s stories and their outcomes.

Eternity Philops nearly broke my heart with The Other Side of Crazy. Delilah’s girlfriend Sam is cheating on her. Again. She waits for Sam to come home, but she doesn’t. Delilah ends up seeing Sam ]kissing a girl. The resolution of their story is gut-wrenching. Of all the stories in the anthology, this is the one that I’ve most revisited, emotionally, and continue to think about.

La Toya Hankins’s One More weaves the story of Toni’s first few decades of life. We bear witness to her first flickering crush in childhood that ends in shame, to her mom threatening to pull her financial support in college unless Toni renounces being gay, and the eve of her wedding. We see glimpses of the journey her family has taken on the road to accepting and celebrating Toni for who she is. Everyone except her mother. It hurts to be judged. It’s doubly painful when one’s mother–the person society tells us is supposed to love us no matter what–is the one doing the denying and shaming. Hankins deftly tells the story without allowing it to ever dip into melodrama, which it easily could have in the hands of a less skilled author. Bring tissues.

I would really love to see this become an annual anthology, or the first in a series.

Buy Links!

Amazon

Kobo

BLF Press

Recommended Read–Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

Magics Pawn

I was born in 1978. In my small town it was considered enlightened to say something like “I have no issue with gay people, but why do they have to rub it in my face by kissing in public.” I was in high school when Friends first came on tv, and it was considered ahead of its time given it’s “positive” portrayal of Ross’s ex-wife (while incredibly problematic through today’s lens). No one was out at my school. Even Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t out yet.

In those pre-internet days, I found book at the library and at the one bookstore near my house–Waldenbooks. (RIP Waldenbooks). I grew up really poor, but my five dollar a week allowance was usually enough to buy a book each week or every other week. I didn’t spend money on clothes, makeup, or VHS cassettes (RIP), and only rarely on cassettes (RIP) or cd’s. From around the age of seven or eight, the staff at Waldenbooks knew me by name and reading preference. YA wasn’t really a genre at that point in time, so by my tween years I bounced between the kid and adult sections.

My mom didn’t censor what I read or bought, so at twelve I was ready Flowers in the Attic and Gone With the Wind along with the occasional BSC book. After I’d read all of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series and Christopher Stasheff’s Wizard in Rhyme series, I approached my favorite salesperson for a recommendation. I knew Brian liked fantasy, like me, so I knew he’d point me in the direction of a new read. His first recommendation was The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey, which I realize now was a way of feeling me out for my comfort level with nontraditional relationships. When I told him I really liked it and asked which Mercedes Lackey book he thought I should read next, he handed me Magic’s Pawn.

In every reader’s life, there are books that upend the way you view the world. Magic’s Pawn was one such book. Vanyel was the first gay person I ever “met.” At least whom was out to me–Brian was gay, but it would be years before I’d know that. Reading his story made me face my own internal prejudices and come face to face with how awful they were. When I was struggling to come to terms with my own bisexuality around five years later, re-reading Vanyel’s books were healing for me. I wasn’t alone in this. On Twitter, whenever Magic’s Pawn comes up in conversation, it becomes obvious what a huge impact the book had on my generation.

mercedes lackeyMercedes Lackey

Magic’s Pawn is an example of Mercedes Lackey at her best. Because of Magic’s Pawn and The Black Gryphon, I read everything Lackey wrote for years. I’d even spend my meager allowance on hardcovers–an insane luxury for a kid like me. I joined her zine, Queen’s Own (RIP zines) and wrote fanfic with my QO penpal. I bought the filk music associated with her Velgarth books. I have reread her books until they were in tatters, and then bought new copies. Which is probably why I’m disproportionately upset that she is still writing books in that universe despite being obviously tired of doing so. She can do so much better than her current Velgarth books would indicate.

However, I will defend her as an author until the day I die because of Magic’s Pawn trilogy, the Arrows of the Queen trilogy, The Vows and Honor books, By the Sword, The Black Gryphon, The Bardic Voices series, the Diana Tregarde series, and The Fire Rose. I like plenty of her other books, but those are the ones that made an indelible mark on my youth.

If you haven’t read Magic’s Pawn, you should. It stands the test of time.

vanyel fanartsource

Vanyel has only one thing he’s ever dreamed of being–a Bard.  Unfortunately he’s also the heir to his father’s estate, so music isn’t a career that’s in the cards for him.  He’s too small and fine boned to sword fight like his larger bulkier brothers and cousins, but his swordsmaster feels that the fast feint and dash method that would match his build is “cheating.”  Jervis promptly breaks his arm in punishment for “cheating.”

Apart from his older sister Lissa-who is sent away within the first chapter to become a guardswoman (there’s one girl in every generation who bucks tradition–and you always know who because they inherited the “Ashekevron nose)-he’s left without close friend or ally.

When he’s sent to Haven-the capital city of Valdemar-he’s told that he can’t even take his horse.  Insult after insult is given–he’s taken to the city between two of his father’s guards like a common criminal.  He’s so hurt that he decides

It was so simple–just don’t give a damn.  Don’t care what they do to you and they do nothing.

But like every emotionally abused child who has ever thought that before or after Vanyel, all it does is serve to isolate him further.

Left in his aunt’s care, he has no clue what to make of his unexpected freedom, his lessons with the bards, or Tylendel (one of his aunt’s students.)  His lessons, though, only serve to crush his one remaining hope–that he would be taken into Bardic Collegium and be made a Bard.  He’s a beautiful musician, but he doesn’t have the bardic gift and he doesn’t compose–and he’d need one of the two for them to remove him from the position of his father’s heir.  Vanyel is left without hope for the future.

Vanyel’s drawn to Tylendel, but has no words to describe what it is he’s feeling or why until a girl at court mocks ‘Lendel’s sexual preferences.  It is a lightning bolt to Vanyel, who hadn’t even realized that such pairings were even possible.  Watching them come together is powerful, as is the scene from the next morning when they sit down with his aunt to talk about what will happen now that he and Tylendel are a couple…

“The first problem and the one that’s going to tie in to all the others, Vanyel, is your father.”  She paused, and Vanyel bit his lip.  “I’m sure your realize that if he finds out about this, he is going to react badly.”

Vanyel coughed, and bowed his head, hiding his face for a moment.  When he looked back up, we was wearing a weary, ironic half-smile; a smile that had as much pain in it as humor.  It was, by far and away, the most open expression Savil had ever seen him wear.

“‘Badly’ is something of an understatement, Aunt,” he replied rubbing his temple with one finger.  “He’ll–gods, I can’t predict what he’ll do, but he’ll be in a rage, that’s for certain.”

“He’ll pull you home, Van.” Tylendel said in a completely flat voice.  “And he can do it; you’re not of age, you aren’t Chosen, and you’re aren’t in Bardic.”

“And I can’t protect you,” Savil sighed, wishing that she could.  “I can stall him off for a while, seeing as he officially turned guardianship of you over to me, but it won’t last more than a couple of months.  Then–well, I’ll give you my educated guess as to what Withen will do.  I think he’ll put you under house arrest long enough for everyone to forget about you, then find himself a compliant priest and ship you off to a temple.  Probably one far away, with very strict rules about outside contact.  There are, I’m sorry to say, several sects who hold that the shay’a’chern are tainted.  They’d be only to happy to ‘purify’ you for Withen and Withen’s gold.  And under the laws of the kingdom, none of us could save you from them.”

Looking back, it’s pretty revolutionary that this scene was written in the late 80’s when homosexuality was a huge cultural taboo and AIDS was a death sentence.  The Reagan administration was delaying research into HIV/AIDS because it was seen as a “gay disease.”  It was written long before conversion therapy was debunked as dangerous and damaging.  Lackey’s sex scenes are all off-page, but she was writing relationships like Tylendel and Vanyel (and even a potential all female triad relationship years earlier) long before we were having cultural discussions about LGBTQA representations in media and critiquing lack of representation.

While the spectre of Vanyel’s father looms over the relationship and has them playing a double game, the real danger to the relationship is from ‘Lendel.  More to the point, Tylendel’s obsession with a family feud his family has going with the Leshara family.  Lendel’s twin brother is the lord of their holding, and Lendel wants to take his side.  Heralds must be neutral, and Lendel is anything but.  When his brother is murdered, Tylendel’s control snaps, and he uses Vanyel to seek revenge.

—and that’s just the first half of the book. (description borrowed from my book blog)

 

 

Recommended Read: Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

Forbidden Beverly Jenkins

 

Like the past several recommended reads, I discovered today’s because of the people I follow on Twitter. When people start declaring a day National Drop Everything and Read Beverly Jenkins Day, you pay attention and check out the book they’re talking about. Or at least I do.

Beverly Jenkins writes mainstream historical romances, which means I wouldn’t have necessarily ever picked her books up. I would have been missing out.

My earliest exposure to romance novels were historicals I stole from my mom’s poorly hidden collection. When my mom signed off on my borrowing from the entire library, as opposed to the kid’s section, I moved onto contemporary romance authors like Judith Krantz, Danielle Steel, Olivia Goldsmith and Nora Roberts. I would’ve told you I had little interest in historical romances these day–and I would be wrong. I am now firmly #TeamJenkins

Forbidden was probably the perfect book to introduce me to Jenkins.

Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.

Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won’t risk her heart for him. As soon as she’s saved enough money from her cooking, she’ll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden . . .

from the Amazon description

Her hero, Rhine, is a biracial man passing as white in reconstruction Era Nevada. My undergraduate degree is in history, and the dramatic tension of being a biracial black man struggling to decide if passing as white or pursuing a relationship with a black woman he’s falling for and revealing his true heritage appealed to me not only as a reader but as a historian. It added a deeper, more complex angle to a love story that was already interesting.

Eddy, for her part, is a three dimensional woman. She’s somewhat appalled by her reaction to Rhine, a white man who must only want her for his mistress. She’s clear that she wants no part of that sort of arrangement, and will be on her way as soon as she saves enough money to get to California. (other strong female characters from her books include train robbers, doctors, and bankers)

Jenkins populates her story with characters of all colors and doesn’t shy away from the complex politics of the day, while keeping the romantic tension of the couple in the foreground of the story. As a romance, it’s a forgone conclusion that the couple will get together, but I found myself holding my breath about whether they would and what the consequences would be.

I honestly can’t give a book a higher recommendation than to say that

  1. I resented my children for wanting things like getting picked up from school and meals because I was READING, damnit.
  2. I immediately ran out and devoured several more of her books, and after taking a break to read a few new releases I’ve been waiting for, am now currently reading my fifth Beverly Jenkins book in a month.
  3. I just bought another five books from her backlist on my kindle.

From reading more of her books I can say that her writing is consistently strong, and that she world-builds on a large scale.  Reading stories centered around characters of color means you don’t just get a fantastic love story, you get perspective on history that you don’t learn about in history class (even if you’re a history major–history is most often dominated by the lives of white men). Characters pop up in other books (Rhine first appeared in Through the Storm, published in 1998, which is about his sister Sable) and the worlds of her books connect, creating a rich tapestry.

Run, don’t walk, to go buy Beverly Jenkins’s books. All of them. Then tell you friends and family you’ll be unavailable until you’ve read everything she’s ever written. Even if you don’t like historical fiction, you will like her books. I promise.

Beverly Jenkins

Check out Beverly Jenkins website , follow her on twitter and like her on facebook.

Have a book recommendation? Leave it in the comments or email me.