Cast of Characters: Sid Marneaux 

Sid Marneaux turned out to be a hard nut to crack. When he first stepped into my vision, I could see him very clearly: tall, dark, handsome, wearing a tunic–a kurta–with a head of shaggy black hair and deep brown eyes that, for the most part, expressed a calmness in spite of the circumstances surrounding his life. He cared for his friends so deeply that their needs eventually became the impetus for his fashion business. He cared for his dementia-riddled father so deeply that, at the onset of our story, he risks losing the momentum of his growing business by coming home and helping his sister care for him.

On the outside, his drive runs as smooth as a luxury car, but underneath it is all fueled by a love for his mother, a desire to always make her proud, to take the lessons she taught him and find happiness.

Sometimes, the road takes unexpected turns.

“You have someone in Chicago?” Eddie asked.

“No,” Sid said. “Something. Bastra.” … “It means ‘clothes’ in Bangla. I make classic menswear for masculine-presenting women, transmen—people who fall into the cracks of traditional gender identity.”

“Really?” Eddie sat up again, fully tuned in. “Did you sew as a kid?”

“Yeah. Ma taught me. I’d unwind from soccer games in the sewing room with her. Incense burning, the hum of the machine, the swish of fabric.” At Eddie’s visible interest, Sid let loose his passion. … “As I got older, I started noticing how clothes can transform people.”

Beneath the Stars, releasing on Feb. 16, 2017, is available now for pre-order. Enter now to win a free e-book bundle and a $25 gift certificate to my publisher, Interlude Press.

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Looking Ahead

So, the last substantial post I made, I said silence no longer felt like the appropriate response to all of the heartache and loss going on all around us in 2016. And yet, I remained silent–here anyway. I continued with this thought: … in this space anyway, I choose to write love. And celebration. And happy endings. And right now, I’m struggling with finding the right moment to do that without disrespecting the pain that’s going on around me.

I also struggle with discipline and time management, but I’m not sure that conversation benefits anyone outside of those needing a sleep aid.

I’m not sure many can say they’re sad to see 2016 go. The losses were huge (yuuuge? Ugh.), the division was vast, and the “what the HELL is going on here?” was plentiful. Personally, I experienced my fair share of less-than-lovely moments, but to be fair it wasn’t that bad of a year. I was privileged enough to see four Broadway shows, including Hamilton. (Did I just post a gratuitous Hamilton picture? Yes, yes I did.) I got to see Alan Cumming perform at Carnegie Hall, and Anthony Bourdain stopped in my hometown for an evening of snarky conversation from a stage. I released a book I love and finished another. My husband and I had one of my most favorite vacations this year on the gulf and we discovered and devoured My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast. Seriously–check it out.

And now, 2017 is upon us. “Project Galaxy” has a title–Beneath the Stars–, a beautiful cover and is available for pre-order. We have no idea what 2017 will bring, but I do know that a good book can be a peaceful pause regardless. So, enjoy a sneak peek into Beneath the Stars, a story of loss and love, of hope and health, of found family and the legacy we lean on and leave for others.

“Ah, there’s Aquila, Sid. To the east, can you see it? Do you need my glasses?”

Sid followed his dad’s pointed finger, but the lights in the sky remained muddied in his mind. The stars to the east remained as unknown as the stars to the west. Sid considered fibbing and thought better of it. He wanted to remember, in honor of everything his dad forgot.

At Sid’s silence, Lou pressed. “Find the brightest star east of Polaris—what’s it called?”

“Do you remember, Baba?”

Lou lowered his binoculars. “Do I remember? You insult me.” …

“You forgot to put pants on this morning,” Sid said. “It’s a fair question.” He shot his dad a smile.

“Mmm. Pants are a nuisance when all you do is sit in the house,” Lou said, pointing further west. “Vega. Find Vega.”

Vega was easy. Sid scanned further east and grinned. “Over there? Altair. At Aquila’s neck?”

“Atta boy.”

“What’s Vega part of again?”

“Lyra, the harp. Twenty-six light-years away.”

Conversation stopped as Lou scanned the sky with his binoculars and then his naked eyes. As they sat, his dad unwound. His brow, highlighted with thick gray hair, unfurrowed; his shoulders relaxed; his voice eased from the pinched, tense rasp it had become into the smooth baritone that had comforted Sid time and again when he was a boy.

Beneath the Stars is available for pre-order now, and comes to you February 16, 2017. I can’t wait for you to meet these star-gazing lovers of life.

Beneath the Stars–February 2017

Yes, you read that headline right. A new book, from me to you, coming your way February 2017:

beneath-lqAt a turning point for his clothing line for trans men and butch women, Sid Marneaux gets a life-altering phone call. His beloved father is in failing health. As he heads home, Sid fears he could lose the business he has spent most of his adult life building.

What Sid could not have anticipated was meeting Eddie Garner, the city’s new fire chief. After a heroic rescue, their romance sparks hot, launching into a swift affair. But Eddie is harboring his own burdens: the painful death of his best friend, and the responsibility of raising her young son—their son—Adrian.

Through the wisdom of a child and the connection of mothers-now-gone, Sid, Eddie, and Adrian venture and fumble to define family, career, and most importantly, love.

I’m so excited to be able to share this story with you. Join me here and elsewhere on the web–twitter, facebook, tumblr, pinterest and even instagram–where I’ll be sharing inspirations, visuals and… puns as we approach release day!

Out of Words… or So I Thought

06.24.bloom.county[source]

Not completely out of words, as this windy post proves, but lately, I’m finding myself starting sentences and blog posts and sighing my way out of whatever format I’m wanting to type in without saying much of a thing.

My initial disappearance had a happy, celebratory cause. I retreated to my revision cave to clean up Book Three for you–what I have been calling “Project Galaxy”–and will continue to whenever I post about it. It’s with my editorial team now and I’m sure will need some more spit shining and maybe re-sculpting in places.

When I came out of that cave, however, it was as if the world had–sorry, I have to quote Hamilton here–turned upside down. It started with a gorilla in Cincinnati, quickly moved to singer Christina Grimmie’s tragic murder, and then of course landed firmly on the early morning hours–hours after Ms. Grimmie lost her life to gunfire–of June 12, 2016 where America woke up to the worst mass shooting in our gun-filled history.

A mass shooting that was, conveniently, in a gay nightclub. On Latin night. Slamming two marginalized groups at once. And of course, the public discourse is a complete mess. 49 people are dead. And all anyone can seem to do is scream and opine and divide.

Oh, the nation, for the most part, grieved. The world grieved with us. Our unity became stronger; our divisions became broader. We talked and talked and social media’d ourselves into all sorts of goodness and god-ness, ugliness and godlessness, and I sat back and fell into silence. Because my thoughts had already been expressed, or were so twisted themselves that they’d have only been lost in the cacophony.

And that’s where I’ve remained, for the most part. Oh, I got off my butt and went to our local me n dad pridepride parade. I got more sunburned than I’ve been in years (because I’m a grown woman and still have not learned that sitting in direct sunlight for 4 hours will, indeed, burn my Casper skin into a bubbling, pussing atrocity of grossness). I ran into the street to hug my parents, aged 76 and 80, who marched in that parade with their church–in the 85 degree heat–because they believe in love and equality and so much more than “tolerance and acceptance.” I sang with the musical floats and cheered at the joy and celebration and “Fuck All Y’all” attitude that lifted the cloud that had been blanketing our nation for a week.

I left feeling hopeful. Hopeful that the senatorial filibuster that happened days before would have made a difference. For the time, it hadn’t. I remained hopeful when the House sit in happened and grew and grew. But I must admit, my hope that change is in front of us is dwindling.

And today, it’s Brexit.

In the midst of it all are opinions. So. Many. Opinions. All demanding and loud and so sure of their rightness. It’s on my professional social media. It’s on my personal dashes. It’s on pages where I escape to be a goofy fangirl. When the world isn’t flipping itself inside out, there are huge opinions on diversity and how we’re doing it wrong, how we’re doing it right (often in the same breath). Opinions on guns. Opinions on leadership. On Islam. On a whole pile of topics that so few of us really know all that much about… and those that do know about them aren’t always in agreement with each other.

So, I’ve been silent. And it, in many people’s minds, I’m sure, isn’t the right choice. But, it’s mine. Because in this space anyway, I choose to write love. And celebration. And happy endings. And right now, I’m struggling with finding the right moment to do that without disrespecting the pain that’s going on around me.

But there are still things I want to share with you about Black Dust. And Project Galaxy will be coming along soon, with a title and a cover and potential conversation. You can always follow me on twitter and tumblr, even check out my Pinterest board from time to time for hints on those things. Once I regroup from the much longer silence than I intended, I’ll be back chattering away about musical boys in love, about cooking boys in love, about looking at the stars and leaning on our past in ways that help carve out our futures.

Thank you for your patience. Oh, and if you’re in America? Get yourself registered to vote. If going to polls is difficult/impossible, find out how you can absentee vote. If we learned anything with the news today, it’s that silence can say things you never intended to say.

So, I’ll be here, still singing about love stories. Silence no longer feels like the appropriate response.

She Walks in Beauty

I have a confession to make today. While it is typically a grave sin to “self-insert” in one’s fiction, some would say I did just that with the use of this song in Black Dust. I am unapologetic, however, as it was a song that has stuck with me the decades since learning, competing with and performing “She Walks In Beauty” in my high school ensemble.

I came from a fantastic high school music program, both choral and instrumental. Both programs expected the best, and nothing less. We competed at the highest level and received the highest marks every time. It inspired me to study music and, more importantly, to take pride in my work–that if it wasn’t my best, it wasn’t worth doing at all.

In choir, we learned to sightread using a system called solfège. Many choral programs (fewer nowadays, thank heavens) teach via rote by hearing a line, mimicking it back, over and over until the piece is “learned.” To me, that’s not learning a damned thing. That’s memorization–becoming a human recorder; you know nothing of the musical aspects of the piece itself. Why bother?

Now, for a small music lesson: you might be familiar with solfège from the song “Do-Re-Mi” in The Sound of Music. Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do. Notes on a simple scale. But, what happens when the music wavers from that simple scale, when there are lifts and falls with in it–accidentals in the printed score? Solfège accommodates that as well with “lifted” or “fallen” syllables to each note. Do lifts to di. Re falls to ra. Mi is already a lifted pitch, in that, in a major scale, there are no notes between mi and fa. It sounds complicated, but for teaching and learning music, it is really an excellent aural, visual and complete systems of the basics of melodic singing. (The rusty musician in me could go on for hours, but I will spare you.)

And so it is with Emmett’s class when Toby makes his first visit. Emmett is teaching them a new song, and it’s complicated. It doesn’t always rest in the ear as expected, making the learning of it more complicated.

Rehearsal was in full swing, and no one noticed Toby walk through the door. Emmett was in full command of the thirty-five-voice a cappella group, the same group he had brought to New York. His cane rested against the side of the piano and his waistcoat was draped across the corner of his music stand.

If Toby’s musical memory served, the group was working on “She Walks in Beauty,” a monstrously difficult number for the most advanced groups. And, judging by the use of solfège—do-re-mi—in place of lyrics, they were in early stages of rehearsal.

“Okay, altos… ” Emmett began after he had stopped a questionable phrase execution.

“We know, we know,” one of the girls whined. “It sucks.”

“If it sounds like that next week, it’ll suck. Right now, it needs work.”

“Altos, again. Do-mi-mi-fi,” Emmett directed, and sang the line. He pointed his thumb up to help them get the lift of the unexpected final pitch.

If you’re curious, here is the section they were working on, altos outlined in red–do-mi-mi-fi. Note the raised pitch on “bright.” If you have a good ear, see if you can hear it in the audio file. It’s in the first ten bars, so you should hear it early on.

she-walks-altos

Black Dust, a story about second chances and the healing power of music, is available from Interlude Press and all book retailers. Links for online purchase of both print and e-book are on the sidebar.

The Intersection of Risk and Joy

For my virtual blog tour, I was asked to write short essays from the character’s points of view. Both asked about their childhood–one was to be written from the child’s point of view. I chose Toby and a moving day in his early adolescence.

At the end of my tour, I was asked to write a favorite childhood memory, and Emmett got the floor. Here is that post, and a link to Molly Lolly, the lovely host that day–and her beautiful review.

One would assume my favorite childhood memories were born in the local and school theater. From my first role at Xavier Area Community Theater in the children’s chorus for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat until my final rehearsal in Godspell before the accident turned my plans upside down, I experienced many memories that are permanently etched into my heart.

Grand piano at the main hall stage in the Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany

It’s no secret that the stage was my second home—a home where I could both be myself by practicing an art that I loved, but could also put on the armor of someone else and shed the idea that maybe I wasn’t good enough. My character was. And if he wasn’t, he would be by the end of the show.

But, where I felt most alive and without the need for someone else’s persona to cover my own, began immediately after rehearsals. More often than not when I got home, Scotty would be waiting for me. His timing earned free meals, and afterwards we would tear out of the house and go. He always had some form of transportation with him: a bike, skateboard, skates, a scooter. One winter, he showed up on cross country skis. I never did find out where he found them. Anyway, we would casually leave my house, and once out of Mom’s eye-shot, I would attach myself to him—sit on his handlebars, hang onto a rope tied around his waist.

riding_doubleWith one push off, we would careen down the slope of my street into the forty-five degree turn of the southern third of it, faster and faster, whooping and hollering like the lunatics we were until the only way to stop at the upcoming neighborhood intersection was to abandon ship. I let go, he jumped off, and his “vehicle” would sail into the intersection.

We were too stupid to consider the damage a flying skateboard might cause to an oncoming car. Too stupid to worry about breaking a limb of our own. Too stupid to plan ahead and slow ourselves down during that turn to avoid the potential catastrophe that awaited us.

And yet, catastrophe never happened. He never lost a skateboard. Never lost a scooter—well, not that way anyway. He did lose one when he backed over it the first time he tried pulling out of his driveway in his dad’s car. He never lost a bike, and we never got injured outside of scraped knees and elbows.

Until we did. Until the day we rode through an intersection and lost everything. You’d think that would have soured my memories of our wheeled adventures. Instead, I recall screaming down the hill, him shouting directions so we wouldn’t crash on the turn, tumbling until we sat upright after jumping ship. And the best part, I remember his laughter and his ridiculous face that said, without a word, “Awesome! Let’s do it again.”

Linus and Lucy

I haven’t shared Black Dust music with you in a while. It’s been such a pleasure to hear that so many of you are enjoying the music in the book. So, I bring you a song that featured briefly near the end, “Linus and Lucy.”

This version is interesting, as it’s sung by only two people who have recorded the voicings on separate tracks, and layered it, both in video and audio. Nifty stuff. Not what happened in the classroom when Toby came for a second visit to Emmett’s school, however.

The students were fully focused on Emmett. It was run-through time. “Just like the real thing,” as he always told them. No stops. All eyes on Emmett. Leave your problems at the door.

They were preparing for the spring concert—a respite from the high-intensity contest season. They sang “Linus and Lucy,” an a cappella version of the piano solo theme song to all the Charlie Brown television shows that everyone knew, regardless of age.

A few students spotted him as they sang, but smiled with their eyes and continued singing. Emmett cut them off from their final ‘dah-daht’—the only words in the song—and Toby stepped forward with generous applause.

 

Liberty Rd. & Rt. 3

The last of the photo tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and the excerpts of Black Dust. We end our tour in Indiana:

Of course it’s a fictional intersection, but in rural mid-America this would be where Toby and Emmett lost–at the time–everything.

Years later, it would be where they might be able to begin again.

Toby nodded, turned his attention out his side window and fell silent. Emmett turned right on Liberty Road. Toby took an audible accident-scene3breath and refocused on the road in front of them.

“You okay?”

Toby nodded and stared straight ahead. His breath quickened, and
he reached out for Emmett’s hand.

They passed a stop sign alert—a sign Emmett had forgotten existed until Toby pointed it out, his voice quiet, as if not to rouse any lurking demons. “Has that always been there?”

“No.” It went up not long after their accident. That didn’t need to be said—Toby knew.

… with great purpose, Toby walked the last few yards to the stop sign. He stopped, looked both ways and walked to the center of the crossroads. And then he breathed, let go of Emmett’s hand and looked around: at the corner from which they’d come, the one across on the left and the one on the right and then, to his left—the corner where the car had landed after impact.

A small white wooden cross protruded from the stubble of harvested corn. Toby turned his back to it and looked at Emmett. “It’s just an intersection.”

“To most people.”

Black Dust is available to purchase at your favorite book retailer, purchase links on the side bar, and from Interlude Press.

Lincoln Center

Lincoln CenterWhile the Black Dust scene at Lincoln Center takes place over the Christmas holiday, that colorful detail is missing in these images. Still, the vastness, the bright shimmering fountain, the reconsideration of dreams lost and found again, those remain the same.

Before Tobias could register what was happening, Emmett had taken hold of his hand and was tugging him across the street. “Oh my—Toby, my God, look! It’s stunning! Huge! The stairs are lit up with—”

Emmett stopped again and squinted at the words illuminated across the shallow staircase that led up to the main courtyard of Lincoln Center. “Welcome, Willkommen, Benvenuti, Salve.” He read and read until the words changed to titles of upcoming shows. Emmett squeaked in glee.

“The tree! Come on, Toby. Come take my picture by the tree. AndIMG_0341
the fountain, and the—” Emmett stopped again and spun around to
take in the enormous space, made more remarkable by its setting in
such a cramped, tightly packed city. “Why are you still standing there?
Come on!”

Tobias couldn’t deny that Emmett’s joy was contagious. He jogged up the awkward stairs and took pictures from afar as Emmett posed in front of the fountain, his silhouette changing shape with each position. They walked around the complex, past The Met and across the plaza back to Sixty-fifth Street.

“Do you miss it?” Tobias finally asked.

“Miss what? I never had it.”

“The dream. Do you miss the dream?”

“No.” Emmett stopped and looked back at where they’d walked, at the multicolored glow peeking around the buildings. “I think I like it best as a dream.”

2015-10-23 19.34.29

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