On Looking Back, Pt. II

Last week, I looked back at a favorite childhood staple, Winnie the Pooh, and how the lessons that book series teach can help guide us forward as we face… whatever it is we’re facing after last week’s inauguration of a new president.

Today, I’d like to talk about what started this whole thread of thought, about how the idea of ‘looking back’ is a steady theme in Beneath the Stars. What struck me first was that in each of my novels, at least one of my protagonists had to look bac  so he could make forward progression. Evan, in Chef’s Table, was specifically told by his loving sous to, “Go home. Find yourself again.” He took her advice, cooked in the kitchen where he had learned to love food and its creation. When he returned to New York, he was ready to take on his life and career with a renewed sense of purpose.

In Black Dust, Toby carried around the weight of a tragedy fifteen years’ past. It burdened him, slowed him down and kept him from realizing the creative life he so desperately wanted. But a courageous plea to revisit the site where the tragedy had occurred freed his mind and heart to unleash the music that had been trapped under the weight of the accident in his young life.

“What do you remember?” Toby’s eyes were huge and his breath came in quick puffs, as if a deep inhalation might stab him with the pain of that day all over again.
Emmett desperately wanted to tell him to let it go, to scream, cry, throw something, hit him, anything, but the fact that they were here talking—it was the first time they had spoken of those frightful moments in any detail—was an amazing feat of its own.

In Beneath the Stars, Eddie is left with a son, Adrian, to raise alone. He’s overwhelmed, under-prepared and often feels like he’s failing Adrian and Adrian’s mother. But it’s when he focuses on Maggie’s wisdom, on her quiet strength and her undying love for their son, he’s able to garner the strength (Oh god, his last name is Garner… I’m a comedienne) to handle whatever is in front of him.

Adrian lay prone on his bed. His cries had dwindled to soft sobs and his raised rump, covered in Spongebob Squarepants briefs, shook with every whimper. Eddie bit back the urge to shush him, to tell him not to cry. Maggie had been clear: Shushing children when they were sad and angry implied that their feelings weren’t okay.
He knelt by Adrian’s bed and rubbed his back. “Daddy’s here.”

And our second hero, Sid Marneaux has lived on a forward trajectory since he graduated from high school. He left his Pennsylvania home for school in Chicago where he learned tools of the fashion trade and began his business while making ends meet tailoring suits for rich men in the city. He loved his family back home, visited often enough, but his life, his home became Chicago. Until his sister calls and needs him to come home and help care for their ailing father. He tries straddling current and past, traveling home as he can to help out.

He falls in love in Pennsylvania, but the pull of his business, of his passions in Chicago continue to tug. It’s not until he stops, looks back, and takes in the wisdom he learned as a child that he can handle the tug and pull and find the happiness she had always dreamt for him.

Our past can inform our future, whether it’s an idyllic scene of home and happiness or a tragedy that changed our entire outlook on life. And sometimes, the answers to our past are “in the stars,” where we’ve relinquished those we’ve loved and where they continue to illuminate our way.

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

You can win a free print copy by entering the giveaway at goodreads.

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Cast of Characters: Adrian Garner

Putting a young child into a romance is a risky move, I understand that. But, I’m all about writing romances that reflect real life. That tell stories with ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances. And for a large portion of ordinary people, children are a constant.

So, we have Adrian Garner. It’s no secret that Adrian has just recently lost his mother and is now living with his dad in a new town with a new bedroom that is not particularly to his liking, and with new people helping guide him through life. He likes people at the onset. Before his mother’s passing, she’s raised him well. Lovingly. She respected his feelings, his dreams, and she taught him to do the same. He’s a good boy.

He’s also a human boy and misses his mother in ways that words don’t always help expressing. So, he draws and he categorizes. He flexes his will and sometimes overshoots. But at the heart of Adrian Garner is a little boy so full of love that he teaches two stubborn men to stop being so bullheaded and love each other already.

Adrian relinquished his grip and sat back. His eyelashes clumped with tears, and his big loopy chestnut curls were matted damply on his head. When their eyes locked, Eddie had to catch his breath—Maggie stared at him from Adrian’s blue-eyed, freckle-faced gaze, waiting to hear what he had to say.

“Can you listen now?” Eddie asked, scratching over Adrian’s ears to loosen the curls.

Adrian nodded, sniffed, and licked at the snot glistening on his top lip. “You’re coming back.”

“I’m coming back. Our new house is less than an hour away. I’m going to get it all cleaned up and nice. Get your room set up—”

“But not too set up because I get to choose.”

Eddie laughed more from relief than good humor; his boy was bent, not broken. “Yes. You get to choose. And I’m going to meet the new firefighters and find the best ice cream shop in town.”

“You’re coming back.”

“I’m coming back,” Eddie said.

“Nana has the calendar to count my sleeps,” Adrian said, as his body relaxed with each spoken word.

“And our video dates.”

“Can we find the Big Dipper on our video dates?”

“If you want to,” Eddie said. “And I can show you the new house so you can start thinking about your room.”

Adrian reached behind him to run his fingers along Eddie’s shirt, a leftover habit from twisting his fingers in his mother’s hair and later curling her scarf tails. “Nana’s bed is soft.”

“I bet it is. And she reads stories better than I do.”

“She does great voices.”

“Maybe I should take a couple books with me to practice.”

Adrian giggled and spun around in Eddie’s arms; his eyes shone brightly for the first time all evening. “I can draw another book to read.”

“I can’t wait to see it.”

“Because you’ll be back.”

Beneath the Stars is now available for pre-order at the IP web store.

Enter to win a free e-book package, and a $25 gift certificate to Interlude Press, or a free print copy by entering the giveaway at goodreads.

On Looking Back to See the Future, Pt. I

They say some of our best inspiration comes to us at times we can’t do anything about it: in the shower, driving, in the middle of a dull meeting. Our minds are left free to wander–and wonder–and “genius” is unleashed. Or, you know, just a half-decent idea that’s suddenly clear.

This morning’s shower “genius” came under the guise of looking back at our history in order to see our future more clearly. I realized it is a key theme in Beneath the Stars, and began formulating a blog post about just that. As I mulled, I scrolled through twitter and saw that today is the birthday of a.a. milne, the author of the Winnie the Pooh series. What does one have to do with the other? Well, a little bit of everything. And so, today begins a three-part series–maybe four if readers will participate too–on the topic.


Whenever I am asked about favorite childhood books, I immediately go to the Winnie the Pooh series. I loved Pooh before Disney grabbed hold of it and made him round and a merchandising tool. I can’t tell you about specific stories or quote great lines, but I remember what those stories brought to me as a child. I remember sprawling across my bed every night before bed with my dad and listening to him read the tales to me. I remember the warmth of his body next to mine, the baritone of his voice soothing me so sleep would come easier. I remember the cushion of my own Winnie the Pooh under my chest. (Yep, that’s him. Three or four newly made shirts later, a limp nose and missing eyes. I loved the hell out of that doll. Also, thanks to my son for taking the photo.)

And beyond the memories of a father and daughter, I remember the lessons Winnie the Pooh taught me: loyalty, friendship, patience with people who might generally annoy you. I mean, come on, Tigger is amazing, but after about an hour, all that bouncing would do me in. Eeyore is depressed, Owl is a bit of an elitist. Rabbit is impatient and judgmental. Piglet has anxiety like whoa and Pooh, god love him, he’s not the brightest fluffy-headed creature in the forest. But Christopher Robin, he loved them all. And they loved each other. And that, I remember vividly.

I felt moved by the stories all over again as I visited the New York Public Library this fall and saw the display of the newly refurbished dolls that the real Christopher Robin loved and played with as his dad made up the stories we’ve all come to love.

This idea of friendship and loyalty hit even harder today as I watched video snippets and read reports of Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing. A confirmation for the position of our nation’s Education Secretary. This woman has no concept of children and their educational needs. She appears to hold no value to books, to the power of storytelling and imagination in helping our children feel secure, loved and empowered. It’s heartbreaking. It’s frightening. I don’t know if her confirmation will go through or not, but I do know this:

Those of us that hold these things dear and close can keep it alive regardless of what this new administration throws at us. Take a look back at the books and the stories that you not only enjoyed, but helped form who you are, and carry those lessons as we face the future.

What books have formed you? What can you look back on with fondness and certainty that that is where you came from?


The second in the series we’ll talk about the theme looking back in Beneath the Stars, and the third I’ll talk about some of the ways I still look back–or reach back–so I can see my own future more clearly.

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

You can win a free print copy by entering the giveaway at goodreads.

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Cast of Characters: Eddie Garner

So, yes indeed, there is a hot fireman in Beneath the Stars. However, I think it’s important to note, this is not your typical hot fireman romance. Eddie Garner, while the excerpt at the end of this post might make you question, is a man who has spent his life thinking about other people before himself. His foundation was shaky as a child, and through circumstance after circumstance, he learned that when he saved people, the ground wasn’t so shaky.

And as we look to the end of this week when the United States turns its control over to someone who doesn’t seem to have a selfless bone in his body (among other heinous issues), it’s good to remember the selflessness of others, and to check our own capacity for it. Like this fireman says, “Get in the game; save the shoes.”

Please enjoy this short video. I have no problem seeing Eddie giving us the same message.

For a little more “real” Eddie visual, please enjoy:

eddie collage

Sid squatted and shoved an open bottle of water into Chief’s line of vision. “Drink.”

… Chief poured the water over his face and head.

“You need to ingest—”

Chief opened one eye, took the second bottle, and drank with long intentional pulls. He emptied the bottle. A lazy smile crinkled the corners of his eyes as his head tilted in question. “Are you some sort of angel?”

Sid laughed and sat down. Cold dampness seeped through his track pants. “Hardly.” Chief ’s color remained peaked; his movements were lethargic, as if he was dragging his limbs through molasses. Sid took his pulse: slow, as expected. “Let’s get you to the truck for some air conditioning, huh?”

“Nah, I’m fine.”

“You’re not. Where are your medics?”

“I’m going to need more than air conditioning to have this conversation.” Sid helped Chief to stand and braced him more tightly when he wobbled. “Fuck. They are never going to let me live this down, are they?”

“Nearly passing out on your second day on the job? No. No, they are not.”

Sid rearranged the cold cloth on Eddie’s neck. When he sat, Eddie stared at him, chin in hand and a dopey grin on his face.

Regardless of the circumstances, Eddie was classically handsome: sandy blond wavy hair, blue eyes. He had a ruggedness about him that softened whenever he smiled. He would easily fulfill anyone’s latent fireman fantasies, Sid’s included—provided Sid had such fantasies, which he didn’t. He hadn’t the time.

“I didn’t get your name,” Eddie said with more clarity.

“That’s because I didn’t give it. Phone number?”

“9-1-1.”

“For fu—” Sid grabbed his phone, found the phone number of the fire station and put it on the form. “And it’s Sid, Sid Marneaux.”

“Sid Marneaux, county disaster rescue worker and a hottie to boot. It’s my lucky day.”

The fireman fantasy faded into a pile of machismo idiocy. “Are you
still out of it, or are you naturally a jackass?”

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

You can win a free print copy by entering the giveaway at goodreads.

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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.