Old Hollywood. Classic.

2016-02-07 21.37.07Not the most exciting picture, but an important scene. Join me in the parking lot next to Davenport Theater where Toby and Emmett see each other for the first time in 15 years:

Tobias waved goodbye and listened to the click-clack of his bass player’s shoes fade as she disappeared down the quiet street. And then he took a deep breath, shivered and turned back to the parking lot.

At first glance, it was empty but for an old jalopy that probably belonged to the lot’s attendant. But there in the shadow of the back wall, with his hands stuffed into the pockets of a trench coat, stood Emmett. A scarf fluttered at his sides, and a fedora sat cocked atop his head. Old Hollywood. Classic.

He looked amazing—even in silhouette.

A breeze swept into the small lot and kicked up leaves littered between them. Tobias bristled and hiked his coat to his neck, letting the waft of air propel him to speak and step forward again. “You been waiting long?”

“No, just a few minutes.” Emmett pushed himself away from the wall and grabbed something from under his arm. As he stepped into the faint light of the tiny parking lot, Tobias gasped, a quiet “Oh shit.”

Emmett walked with a slightly hobbled gait; his cane made an arrhythmic click-pat-click against the asphalt.

Black Dust is now available for purchase at Interlude Press and other book retailers. Links are on on the sidebar.

 

Davenport Theater

2016-04-11 11.22.24To begin our visual New York tour of Black Dust, we appropriately open at an off-Broadway theater. The Davenport is a simple small theater on 45th St. surrounded by dance schools, the Al Hirshfeld Theater and Schmackery’s, the best cookies in New York. But for Toby and Emmett, it’s where they will always remember their story picking up where it left off.

Mac closed the door and turned his laptop to face her as she sat down in the chair opposite his desk. 

“November sixth, ten p.m.: Toby. Davenport Theater,” she read. “Well look at that. I told you he wouldn’t hang up.”

You sure you don’t want to join us tonight?” Monica, Tobias’s double bass for the little off-Broadway production, squeezed by him on their way out of the theater. 

“Yeah, I’m sure.” He took her hand before she could leave for the train. “Sorry, by the way. I’m—I was distracted tonight.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah… ” Tobias looked over her shoulder to the small parking lot next to the smaller theater. “I’m fine. Or, I will be.”

“Good, because if I have to guess when the hell you want me to come in after that interminable flute solo again—”

“Yeah, yeah. You won’t come in at all,” Tobias said. “Except we both know you will, because you’re more of a perfectionist than I am.”

Home Again, Home Again

New York, as usual, left me very happy, very exhausted, and very inspired. And now that I’m back home and settled at my work desk, I am excited to be able to share some of the places we visited that feature in Black Dust. I’ve been sharing them elsewhere on social media (links up there to your right), typing away in my phone at train stations, in restaurants, sitting in parks (when we could, my goodness was it cold last week in New York) and now I can share them here. Over the course of this week I’ll post some photos and excerpts to hopefully bring Black Dust to life for you.

Today, however, I am excited that Alpha Book Club, one of my book tour stops, featured a  vignette I wrote. The prompt was to write something in a character’s point of view as a child. I immediately thought of Toby moving to yet another new city. Let’s see how he had learned to adapt by the time he was twelve years old:

Toby pushes the last box into his bedroom with his foot. His arms are tired, his mood is sour, at best, and he’s missing his friend Lawrence’s debut in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the community theater back in Missouri.

He should be used to it; he is in many ways. He and his family have moved around so much that at age twelve, his parents hardly help him get his room set up any more. He knows what to do, he knows where everything goes, and at this point he would just as soon as they not butt in and tell him how important it is to display every single piano medal and trophy he has earned over the years.

His dad’s military citations, if not on his uniform, are prominently displayed in every home they’ve lived in. But Toby’s musical achievements are there to make Mom and Dad proud, not himself. His musical enjoyment comes from learning a new lick, playing with a new melody, connecting with people without needing to get too close; he’ll be gone to the next town before that can happen anyway. Tacoma, Washington won’t be any different.

He takes one more look at his boxed, bland, beige room and and finds his way back to the den. He swears that one day, when the moving stops and he has a home of his own, he will decorate with bright colors—maybe even a teal blue couch, just to watch his dad bristle at how unmanly it is.

He lifts the lid of the piano that the movers had unceremoniously and irreverently dumped in the corner of the room. As expected, it’s painfully out of tune, so far gone it makes his skin itch and his knees tickle with a need to move. To wander.

“I’m gonna go see what’s around, Mom. Be back by dinner!”

He is out the door before she’s finished asking if he had unpacked. Of course he hadn’t. Of course he would—in a day or two. Enough for sheets and a pillow tonight, enough to pretend like he is “home” by the end of the week. As if he even knows what that word meant.

On the drive into the neighborhood, he had seen a small brick building: Jefferson Playhouse. When he gets there on foot, there are three cars in the parking lot; he takes a chance and walks in. A middle-aged woman titters around and cleans up lingering messes from an earlier rehearsal. An overzealous nerdy high school boy follows her like a puppy dog, desperate for attention.

And, stage left, delicately draping a quilted cover over the piano is a man his dad’s age. Nothing like his dad of course. This man is softly handsome, poetic in his movements. His long fingers caress the cover and then the piano with the care of a lover—or what Toby imagines it will be like with a lover. He has only seen such things on television and in the movies.

The man must feel Toby’s presence because he looks up, sighs and grabs a messenger bag from the floor. “The roles are filled. Next auditions are in November.”

“I don’t want to audition, sir. I’d like to—we just moved here and my piano isn’t ready yet. Can I borrow your piano? For just an hour?”

“You any good?”

“Yes, sir. We’ve been in a car for hours and I just—” He flexes and wiggles his fingers.

The man seems to understand. “Hop on up. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Toby visits Jefferson Playhouse every afternoon before rehearsals until his father agrees to get their own piano tuned. He makes a new friend—Sofia—who plays Agnes in their summer show Meet Me In St. Louis. Toby is satisfied.

Once school starts, he makes new friends, mostly those who stall leaving music class by listening to him play the piano. But they’re not permanent. None of them are, even Sofia. Music is Toby’s companion. And as he sits alone at the piano on stage at Jefferson Playhouse, the tittering director asking him to lock up behind himself, the final chord of the Allegro to Vivaldi’s “Spring” from Four Seasons echoing up into the stage riggings, he smiles.

One day, he’ll stop moving. One day, he’ll meet someone who will still him and teach him the meaning of permanence. Of home.

Please visit Alpha Book Club to see their lovely review and enter to win a $25 Interlude Press Gift Card and an e-book copy of Black Dust.

Book Tour Updates

Just a quick post today to let you know if you want to follow me on my virtual book tour, I will be updating weekdays with links here.

I’ll be expanding on some of the topics here on my blog once I get back from New York!

Happy reading!

And the Virtual Book Tour Begins

RC-2

Today’s stops include:

Love Bytes – where I talk about book heroes and my favorite children’s books

3 Chicks After Dark – where I talk a lot about process and characters and then dive into my last meal. You might remember those discussions during Chef’s Table

Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings – where I talk about persnickety antagonists, my growth as a writer… and kale.

Hearts on Fire – where I talk about my support system (a shoutout to my former employer, the county library), my publishing experience and my taste for e-books vs. printed books

Jessie G. Books – a lovely 4-star review!

Hop on over to these lovely sites, enter to win the chance for a free e-book copy of Black Dust and a $25 gift card to Interlude Press.

And in a lovely surprise today, a FIVE STAR REVIEW from:

Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews – an exerpt: This is a subtle story, a different story. Ms. Charles doesn’t tell, she shows, and she shows it with raw emotions that are difficult to watch and even more difficult to turn away from… These are great characters, authentic characters, characters who will tug at your heartstrings without artifice or manipulation. Ms. Charles is an amazing writer.

Tomorrow

Sing with me! My book will come out… tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow–

Yeah, okay. That was a solo in Annie anyway, wasn’t it? Ah, Annie. Probably the first musical I personally fell in love with, that made me want to hop up on stage and perform.

But this isn’t about my musical theater dreams. This is about Toby Spence and his love for improv and the theater, composition and Emmett. About Emmett Henderson and his love of the stage and the classics and teaching his love to his students. And of course, of Toby.

Tomorrow is the day I can share their story with you. It’s also the day I begin a two-week virtual book tour, visiting review sites and talking about Black Dust, my process, and, because everyone needs to know these things, my favorite foods. But mostly about Black Dust. I’ll put the links on the sidebar and post each day’s stops here.

I’m also headed to New York City on Friday. I’ll be participating in Rainbow Book Fair, the largest LGBT book event held in the United States, on Saturday, April 10. If you’re in the New York area, come on out to John Jay College (524 W 59th St.) between noon and six and say ‘hi.’ I’ll be there with our amazing editor, Annie Harper, and author of Sweet, Alysia Constantine.

After those fun and games are over, I’ll be enjoying the city. I’m going to try to make some Lincoln CenterBlack Dust stops (look! it’s Lincoln Center!), as well as some from Chef’s Table. The weather looks to be the variety that might challenge my mantra of, “I love New York,” but I’ll do my best to share some of the spots that feature in my books. (If not, I have old shots, as just proven. You’ll never know the difference.)

Which brings me to specifically inviting you to follow me on various social media platforms. You’ll get a chance to do so during the book tour as well–where you will also get a chance to win a free copy of Black Dust–but I wanted to put it all here. I share different things and have different sorts of conversations at each place, so I hope you’ll come join me on your favorite platform.

Pinterest – I forget I have it, but plan on filling it with images upon my return (or even tomorrow, should time and mood strike) Also, where you might get a glimpse of upcoming projects.
Facebook – What could be better, a facebook page without the political discomfort!
Twitter – Where I am most chatty. Come and visit. I’ll bring the tea.
Instagram – This is my personal account, but I will be using this more than anything for New York pictures. Besides, who doesn’t love pictures of other people’s food?
Tumblr – An offshoot of this site, plus related reblogs pertaining to my books. The place you’re more likely to get a glimpse of upcoming projects as well.

So, there you have it. Links for purchasing Black Dust will miraculously show up on the side bar tomorrow. Until then, you can pre-order from my wonderful publisher, Interlude Press. Oh! If you like freebies, you have until April 10 to enter my goodreads giveaway.

 

Try to Remember

It has been a few weeks since we’ve heard any music on this blog. And considering that Black Dust comes out in THREE DAYS! it might be time to revisit some of the music that fills its pages.

The Fantasticks is a musical first produced in 1960, and ran for 42 years off-Broadway. No, that is not a typo. Forty-two, making it the world’s longest running musical. It is now back in New York, has been made into television and movie versions and is known to have as many as 250 stage productions every year in regional, community and high school productions. A small cast, three-piece orchestra and minimal set design makes it approachable.

Its story isn’t as simple–one of deception and lost love. But, like Black Dust, it is a story of second chances that make for better chances at a lifelong love. “Try to Remember” is possibly the most known of the songs–I know it was a popular choice for high school recitals and talent shows back in my day. (You whippersnappers.)

In Black Dust, Toby and Emmett visit their old community theater for a production of the play as the pieces of their life begin to come back together again… or do they?

Fantasticks was community theater-perfect, with bumps and blunders, passionate performances by halfway decent actors, and pieces of costumes so old Toby thought he recognized some of them.

At intermission, Toby teased Emmett about the Mortimer role, a character in the play whose specialty was melodramatic, comedic death scenes. “Can you imagine,” he said, “if we’d ever done this show? We would have had to put up with Scotty fucking around with that
Cockney accent all damned summer.”

“Oh God. You know it. Lipman would have given him the role just to irritate us.”

“Well, that and he’d have killed it.” Emmett was right; it felt good and safe to say his name, to honor his clownishness and good humor.

… And as El Gallo, the play’s mysterious narrator, sang, Emmett brought Toby’s fingers to his lips as he quietly sang along, “Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”

Theater might be fantastical, but it always spoke to Toby’s heart.

Black Dust, a story about two musicians given a second chance at love, comes out April 7. It is now available for pre-order from Interlude Press. Enter for a chance to win a copy at goodreads until April 10.

Tuning… or spooning?

You know I’ve waited too long to blog when I have to sign back in to my dash. *sigh* Sorry for that. I got caught up in… you don’t want excuses, do you? No. Moving on.

A painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze came across my path this week and it brought back a fun memory from college I thought I would share. It does not, I’m sad to report, involve booze, sex, or debauchery of any kind. My college experience was not like that of my protagonist, Mr. Emmett Henderson.

I studied vocal music education in college, got my degree, stood in front of a few classrooms and ran for the hills. But, the training for music education was an absolute joy. If only I could be a professional student…

I believe it was my junior year, and we were all heavily immersed in pedagogy classes: how to teach voice, how to teach general music, how to teach a dog to swim… you get the idea. In the general music pedagogy class, we had to learn how to play guitar. Some already knew, some of us knew enough to be dangerous, some were hopeless.

But my lingering memory of those lessons came from a double bass player. He was well over six feet tall, solid, muscular, blonde-haired, blue-eyed. He spoke few words, and when he did, they were deeply resonant and lazy, laced with little emotion beyond boredom. If he didn’t have an outside gig, he drank heavily on the weekends, flirted heavily with my closest friend of those days–even in droll tones. He was very much a man’s man.

But during guitar lessons, my friend and I saw a new side of him. We all sat and dutifully tuned our instruments. You had to bend your ear to hear your specific instrument and now that god awful flat E string of your neighbor, but Eric… he had his own method. He placed the body of his guitar between his legs on the seat of the chair, lifted the neck to his cheek and began to Greuze Guitaristtune. In a manner we would have never expected from him, his touch on the instrument was delicate. His blonde eyelashes fluttered with each plucked string and then opened to a smile when his gentle twist of the tuning key would bring a proper pitch.

He tuned the guitar like his bass. He caressed the guitar like his bass. When it came time to play, we quickly learned he was part of the group of students that already had guitar mastered. He played with quiet skill, a tender touch, softly arpeggiated chords and a sweet smile of pure pleasure.

As my friend and I watched him that day, seeing this boy in a new light, she leaned to me. He had been trying to get her to go out with him for some time. Never rude necessarily, but certainly persistent. “If he touches an instrument like that… imagine… ”

They only went on two dates; friendship served them better. But, I will never forget Eric and the way he made love to a classroom guitar.

Black Dust, a story about two musicians given a second chance at love, comes out April 7–a week from today! It is now available for pre-order from Interlude Press. Enter for a chance to win a copy at goodreads until April 10.

 

Sonata in A Major

Can revisiting the past set us on a course for our future? What if our future is firmly entrenched in our past? How do you unwind the mess of the past to clearly see your future? For Emmett and Toby, the answer is always in the music:

“I want to make music with you, that’s all. We were so good,” [Toby said.] Emmett
was frozen to the spot, frozen in Toby’s pleading eyes, until Toby broke
their gaze and looked down at the keys. “How’s this instead?”

He began the trilled opening to Bach’s “Sonata in A Major,” a piece
for one piano and four hands. It was a piece they had messed around
with for the two short years they were in each other’s lives, and never
quite perfected.

As if propelled, Emmett rose from the seat and joined Toby onstage.
He sat to Toby’s left to take the secondo part.

“Do you remember it?”

“I’m not sure,” Emmett confessed. “We’ll find out.”

Toby began again, and, to Emmett’s surprise, the notes and fingerings
came back to him as if he’d never stopped playing it. Toby nudged
Emmett’s shoulder—a silent “I told you so.” They continued and slowed,
as one forgot and the other reminded, “B minor here, yes, yes.” It all it
came apart at the end of the first movement with missed notes and
much laughter.

“So close!”

Emmett futzed around with what he could remember of the second
movement, lingering over the notes to see if Toby would join him. He
didn’t. Emmett nudged this time, and Toby stilled Emmett’s hand with
his own. “Thank you.”

Black Dust, coming out April 7, is now available for pre-order from Interlude Press. In March only, with a purchase of Black Dust you will receive a copy of my first novel, Chef’s Table for 50% off with the code CHEF. You can also enter for a chance to win a copy at goodreads.

Glitter and Be Gay

Who doesn’t love a diva? Hrm, upon further reflection, don’t answer that. Divas can be complicated. Demanding. Impatient. Intolerant. Belligerent. Frankly, we can be a downright pain in the ass.

I don’t hold the ‘diva’ title too often anymore–although I would appreciate it if you did not ask my husband for verification on this fact–but back in the day, I had no issues strutting myself onto a stage and whipping out a soprano aria with flourish and confidence.

To do a vocally demanding song like ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ from the light opera Candide, you absolutely, unequivocally must be a diva. Of the highest, best, most respectable order–like Kristin Chenowith below. Oh, and you must also be a master of comedic timing.

In Black Dust, our resident diva is Miss Tori Graham. She has sweet talked Toby, the story’s Broadway musical director, into a little extra assistance for her college auditions. And this is the piece he sent. It’s a challenge. But only the best divas soar at such a great challenge. And their teachers? Well, Emmett has his hands full.

“Okay, once more from ‘Observe how bravely,’ please,” Emmett said. He took a breath with Tori and began the accompaniment. She was doing well with the piece Toby had suggested for her demo tape. “Glitter and Be Gay” was the most challenging piece any of his students had ever attempted, and she took to it like a pro.

“No, no. No effects yet, Tori.” She also got ahead of herself and wanted
to add the trills, the flourishes, the highest of optional notes.

“I’m ready—”

“You are not. I am not. We’ll do this together. Same spot. ‘Observe
how’—”

“Bravely, yeah yeah.” She rolled her eyes and took in half as much
breath as needed.

Black Dust, coming out April 7, is now available for pre-order from Interlude Press. In March only, with a purchase of Black Dust you will receive a copy of my first novel, Chef’s Table for 50% off with the code CHEF. You can also enter for a chance to win a copy at goodreads.