Personal Photography – Mid-Summer

I am trying to get caught up on all of my backlogged photos.  These are from mid-July when I was at my parents’ house for my cousin’s baby shower.  My parents have a beautiful yard and I always make sure I take at least 15-20 minutes to wander around their yard with my camera.

(Don’t forget you can click on any image to see it larger!)

They have a pretty little pond on one side of the house that my dad built.  It’s been up for about five years but it’s still a little bit of a work in progress. He can never quite get the waterfall set to his satisfaction, but I think it’s gorgeous!  The water lilies have been doing beautifully and every frog in the area seems to have moved into that pond.  The pond is maybe 10 feet long and 7 wide, but we counted at least six or seven frogs in the ten minutes we stood by it.  If I had a bigger yard (and more time) I’d love to build one.  The frogs are just so cute!  And I love the sound of running water.  Someday, I plan to build a little indoor fountain to put in my office so I can listen to it while I write.

Advertisements

Review – “Hotel Pens”

Hotel Pens

 

Hotel Pens

Summary:

Travel writer Joe Jordan hasn’t been home to New York since his boyfriend broke up with him. Instead he’s hopped from hotel to hotel, collecting pens like a child in a fairytale might leave a trail of breadcrumbs hoping to find his way back. But now he has an assignment, an article titled “5 Ways to Rediscover New York.” Being back on his home turf is daunting—until he meets Claude Desjardins, a gay romance translator staying in his hotel who, after a night of near passion, leads Joe on a treasure hunt through Manhattan, writing clues on Joe’s skin using hotel pens. But it isn’t just New York Joe needs to rediscover.

Review:

This story is a novella, and on the shorter side, but completely worth it.  I picked it up on a whim during Dreamspinner’s sale a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It certainly wasn’t a heavy book, but it was a nice sweet read without lacking substance.  Joe’s past issues were believable and the relationship that develops between him and Claude was very believable.  The treasure hunt on Joe’s skin was such a fun thread throughout the book and I loved the way Claude’s creativity shook Joe out of his humdrum life.  There’s a bit of a lingering question throughout the book that causes some angst and lthough I guessed the “twist” to that issue long before the end, it didn’t make it any less wonderful.

While it may not be a story that changes the world it’s a very solid feel-good read.

Personal Photography – Zoo Trip

In early July I visited the Potter Park Zoo with one of my closest friends.  With as busy as we both are these days, we don’t get to spend much time together.  But we’re both trying to make an effort so when she said she was going to be in Lansing on one of my Fridays off, I shuffled my plans around and made it happen.  She had been planning to bring her two boys to the zoo and Potter Park is great for smaller kids.  The Detroit Zoo is amazing, but it’s the kind of place you need to spend a whole day at to do it justice.  And for two kids who aren’t yet in kindergarten, it’s just too much to tackle.  You can spend a couple of hours at Potter Park and feel like you’ve seen most of it, and the boys had a blast.  I took a ton of pictures of them too, but here are some of the ones I took for myself.  Along with all of the animals, there are some pretty flowers and plants.

 

The animals were gorgeous too and I had fun playing with my zoom lens to get interesting texture shots of the peacocks that roamed the zoo and of the tigers.  There were porcupines, a grey wolf, rhinos, a bald eagle, and otter.  FYI, otter are VERY difficult to photograph.  Sometime I am going to have to go back and take some pictures of them when I’m not helping wrangle two little boys who are at least as slippery as an otter!

Updates

I thought I’d give you a quick update of where things are at right now. Partners, the second book in the Equals Series, is available for pre-sale on Amazon.  It will be release September 19.

Partners

I am working on the next book in the series although it’s still somewhat up in the air if I will include a holiday short as part of Book 3 or if it’ll be released separately.  At the moment, I’m leaning toward something separate.  Which would you prefer as a reader?

I am continuing to work on the novel I’m collaborating on.  It’s a slow, steady process but it’s going well and I am very excited about it.

I’m also getting ready for GRL in October.  I am going as a reader not an author this year. It’ll be overwhelming enough to go to without trying to pretend like I know what I’m doing.  Besides, I don’t have any print books released yet and I’d like to have some before I attempt to go as an author.  If you’re going, I WILL have some postcards with coupon codes for a free download on Smashwords, or something of the sort. I’m still working out the details. If you have suggestions, please let me know.

I am also up for Author of the Month for September on Goodreads! If you’re a member of the M/M Romance Group on GR you can go here to my profile.  Scroll to the bottom and vote in the poll there.  If you aren’t a member, you’re welcome to join then vote.  Voting is open until August 27.

And, as I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m working on updating the blog.  New header, new tagline, new layout and slightly new color scheme.  I’m also adding pages like the Upcoming Projects page and I am currently working on a page that will list all of the books I currently have out with summaries/excerpts/covers/buy links.

I’d love to get your feedback on the blog so far. What do you like about it? What do you dislike? I am always open to suggestions so please, tell me what I can do to make the blog a better place for you!

Landscaping

I am several months behind on posting this one *ahem* but in May my husband and I finally tackled the massive project of landscaping the front yard.  When we moved into the house eight years ago, the yard looked pretty awful.  The bushes out front were long overdue for pruning and were scraggly and uninteresting.  The awning was hideous.  And the rose bushes along the west side of the house were overgrown.  That first year, we took down the awning, pruned the rose bushes and did enough work on the flowerbed that we could plant tomatoes between the rose bushes.  We also ripped out the overgrown bushes in the front because the house looked better without anything at all, even if it was very bland.

Ever since that first year we’ve been eager to improve the front of the house.  In a neighborhood filled with beautiful old homes and incredible landscaping, we felt like ours was out of place.  We’ve been dreaming and planning what we’d do, but it was never a top priority.

After the horrible ice storm last winter the city had more tree branches than they knew what to do with.  They chipped it up into mulch and offered it for free to any city resident.  It got us thinking about the spring yard work we planned to do.  When we went to the home improvement store to get supplies, we checked out their landscaping blocks and found them on sale.  While they weren’t the fancy-shmancy ones we’d been drooling over for years, they were very nice and within our budget.  Like many of our house projects, landscaping the front of the house was a rather impulsive decision.  We’d been planning what we wanted to do for years, but hadn’t planned to do it right then.  However, we knew we’d never find the supplies at a better price, so we jumped at the chance.  On a Friday night we bought the blocks and set them up and the following day my husband and a co-worker picked up mulch.  On Sunday we got a load of topsoil and Monday (Memorial Day) my parents came up to help.  Originally, they’d just planned to help us do some weeding, plant tomatoes, and fill a few hanging baskets with annuals but they were happy to help us get some major work done.

It was exhausting, but by the end of the day we had two half-moon raised flowerbeds in front of the house filled  with well-fertilized soil, landscaping felt, mulch, and some flowers.  We planted hostas, astilbe, a rosebush, and a dwarf hydrangea.  We added the landscaping items we’d collected over the years.  We filled hanging baskets with annuals and a couple of containers with pansies, herbs, kale, and lettuce.  We planted tomatoes in the west bed between the roses, peonies, and bleeding heart.  And then we collapsed.

There is plenty more we need to do.  That obelisk trellis will have clematis climbing up it someday.  The bronze ceramic sculpture (actually a garden stool) will be turned into a fountain.  And there will be a lot more flowers.

The next major project for the house is going to be having a new roof put on.  *groans* It’s the one project we aren’t going to do ourselves.  We just got an estimate for what it will cost and while we do plan to get a few others to be on the safe side, it’s right in line with what we expected.  Painfully expensive.  But a roof isn’t something we can mess around with and it will make a huge difference in the curb appeal of the house.  We’re going to get rid of the hunter green and go with a dark charcoal shingles.  After it’s done, we’ll paint the shutters and front door black.  I think it’ll look nice against the siding, and make the landscaping take center stage.  Oh, and we HAVE to replace that ugly, rusted railing off the front steps.  I’ve been eager to do that since we moved in.  The new one will have cleaner lines and be a nice glossy black.

What projects have you been waiting to do since you moved into the place you live?

Price Adjustment

Eight months into this self-publishing thing and I’m still figuring it out.  Each release teaches me a little more but in some ways I still feel like I’m floundering and unsure of what I should do.  

Pricing is one of those things.  Because Amazon is my biggest seller, I have to follow their guidelines.  In order to get the 70% royalty rate, I have to price stories between $2.99 and $9.99.  Just so you know, the author is only getting 35% royalty rates on those $0.99 and $1.99 books you buy.   

There are two schools of thought when it comes to pricing eBooks.  Well, probably more than just two, but there are two major ones.  This blog post does a pretty good job at going into an in depth discussion of it.  It’s one of many, many blog posts/articles/discussions I’ve taken into consideration.  One school of thought is that basically the book should be priced as low as possible to bring in the largest number of readers.  The idea is that the loss of money per sale will be made up by the increased volume of sales.  The other is that books should have value and you should price according to that.  Isn’t it worth spending money on something that will take you hours to read?  

I’ve seen the comparision to fancy-shmancy coffee drinks saying that since people are willing to pay $3-5 for a latte that they’ll drink in 15 minutes they should be willing to pay for a book will last them 6.5 hours.  Those numbers don’t really apply to me personally.  I bought a frozen latte with a raw sugar and extra shot of espresso in it for $4.87 this morning.  It’s been 45 minutes and I’m only halfway through with it and it’ll probably take me the full hour and a half to drink it.  An average novel takes me 2 hours to read.  I won’t pretend most people are either that slow at drinking coffee or that fast at reading, but it does point out the way people assign value.  Most days I try to bring coffee from home anyway (so I can save money to buy more books!) but I do enjoy the occasional latte from my local coffee place.  The baristas make killer lattes and are cute and sometimes flirty.  There are times that having someone remember my face and order and give me a big grin is worth $5, especially first thing on a Monday morning!

I thought the image above was interesting though. Time invested is something to consider.  My next release is Partners, the follow up to Equals, and will be roughly 41,000 words.  I’ve been working on it since July and it will release in September.  In order to create that book, there’s planning, research, writing, feedback, editing, blurb writing, cover image making, marketing, etc.  Yeah, I don’t even know how many hours go into a story like that.  And the novels I’m working on right now are nowhere near done and I’m at least a year in, so the two year mark for a novel isn’t so far out, especially for ones that require a lot of reasearch.

My short stories were priced at $2.99 for around 10,000-15,000 words and the Wine Tasting Series is a collection of three of them and comes in around 36,000 words.  If you buy all three individually, they cost $8.97 so pricing them at $5.99 seemed very reasonable.  When I released Equals, I priced it at $5.99 as well which seemed logical for a 48,000 word novella.  Equals did well.  Very well.  I sold nearly twice as many eBooks as I had in previous months, even taking into consideration that I didn’t release anything in June.  

But when I thought about what I should charge for the novels I will release eventually, I realized $7.99 did seem a little high for something that will probably be in the 80,000 word range.  If I scaled back and charged $6.99, $5.99 for a novella at half the length seemed a little bit high.  So I am giving it a try.  I dropped the prices of the Wine Tasting Series and Equals to $4.99 and will price Partners the same when it comes out.  

Hopefully the roughly $3.49 I get in royalties for each sale (instead of $4.19 I have been getting) will be made up for in increased sales volume.  I don’t really know.  It’s an experiment.  

The advantage of going through a publisher is that they take care of all of that.  They set the prices and save you the headache.  The beauty of self-publishing is that I can discover what works best.  I have the flexibility to explore my options when I want.  

My question to you is, what do you consider a reasonable price for a short story? For a novella? For a novel?

Race and M/M Romance

Thousands of demonstrators peacefully march down a street with members of the St. Louis County Police and Missouri Highway Patrol Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. The Missouri Highway Patrol seized control of a St. Louis suburb Thursday, stripping local police of their law-enforcement authority after four days of clashes between officers in riot gear and furious crowds protesting the death of an unarmed black teen shot by an officer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The tension is beginning to ease in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown.  But because of the events that took place there I’ve been thinking a lot about race.  It’s a complicated, tricky subject that can be very divisive.  I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of something so complex.  But it is something very personal to me.

When my husband and I bought our house it was because we loved the hardwood floors and trim, the original windows, and the fact that at nearly 90 years old it needed enough fixing up to be a good investment but was still liveable.  We didn’t think a lot about the neighborhood other than liking its proximity to the capitol and noticing that overall the houses were beautiful and well cared for.  Last night as we went for a walk we passed a house proudly flying a rainbow flag, stopped to chat with an elderly black gentleman and admire his landscaping (he’s lived in the neighborhood since 1972 so I feel better about the fact his looks so much better than mine!), stopped to talk to the Hispanic owner of a roofing company and ask if he could get us an estimate on re-roofing our house, and idly wondered if the delicious smelling grilled food was coming from the house across the street where an interracial gay couple lives.  It makes me happy to live in a place with that kind of diversity.  Of course I’ve noticed the looks I get when I say the name of the neighborhood where I live.

They’re condescending, almost pitying.  Over the years I get more and more angry at the reactions, more vehement when I tell people how much I love living there, what a great place it is. Fuck you for looking down on where I live.  You see that diversity as a negative thing? I sure as hell don’t!

Today while I was doing research on the area/neighborhood I was astonished to find that according to this site it has, “the distinction of housing more same sex couples living together than 98.9% of neighborhoods in the U.S.”  I never knew that! For comparison, the Castro district in San Francisco has “a higher proportion of same sex households than in 99.9% of the neighborhoods in America.”.  Well damn.  

In general, Lansing is a fairly diverse city and I work at a place that hires a variety of people.  The public I see on a daily basis are from all over the world and come in every shape, color, gender, ability, and orientation. I like that about my job.

This past weekend, we had a family reunion.  A good portion of my dad’s side of the family is black/bi-racial.  Looking back, it occurs to me that at that reunion I was actually in the minority as someone who is white and completely of Western European descent.  They’re all kind, intelligent, hard-working people I’m proud to call family but I know there are people who would never take the time to see that.

One of my second cousins spent a good portion of the time geeking out with my husband over tech stuff while they talked about their nerdy jobs.  Much like my husband, he grew up poor and worked to put himself through school.  Unfortunately, unlike my husband who grew up in a safe, rural area, my cousin lived in a rough neighborhood in a suburb of Detroit.  While he was working to pay for school and help out his family, he was aware of a constant threat of gun violence, and woke up one morning to find a bullet lodged in the porch siding from a driveby shooting.  He got his mother and sisters out of there as fast as he could and they now live in a much safer suburb.  He said it took a while to get used to how quiet it was and when he had a flat tire he was shocked to have a passerby stop and offer to help him fix it.  Shocked by kindness, isn’t that sad?

The statistics on gun deaths and race is sobering.   It breaks my heart to know that my cousin could have been headed home from work or school and shot, not because he was doing anything wrong, but because of his race.  He could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and killed before anyone knew what a truly amazing person he is. It saddens me to think that anyone has to worry about something like that, much less my family, co-workers, or neighbors.

What does this have to do with M/M romance?  Well, there’s a distinct lack of racial diversity in books.  There are notable exceptions, Amy Lane’s phenominal Bolt Hole for one, where one of the main characters is black.  Rhys Ford writes a number of incredible books with Asian characters.  MM Good Book Reviews has a list of reviews tagged with GLBT Interracial Romance but that’s a handful in a sea of thousands.  

Last weekend, I finished Partners, the second in the Equals series and sent it off to my betas.  It follows Stephen and Russ as they go to the small town in Southern Georgia where Stephen grew up to bury his father.  Although I had an idea of where I was going with it, the plan for the story was fairly open ended when I began writing.  In particular, I hadn’t decided much about the one person in town Stephen is still close to, an elderly woman named Miss Esther.  As her character developed, I realized in my head, I was picturing her as black.  For all of the inclusion in the LGBT and M/M romance communities, there are problems.  Some (and I emphasize some, not all) view female writers-particularly the straight ones-of gay romance as interlopers.  As a bisexual, white woman writing about a black character in a M/M romance, it can be intimidating.  Will I get it right? Will I offend someone?

But you know what? Miss Esther spoke to me.  I modeled her a bit after one of the patients who comes in for appointments on a semi-regular basis.  Over the years she’s introduced me to her grandson, told me about her daughter who died, and shared her health woes.  She calls me baby and gives me a huge smile every time she sees me.  She’s a sweetheart and I bet she’s a wonderful grandmother.  She reminds me a bit of my own, actually.  So Miss Esther is near and dear to my heart.  I hope if you read the story you’ll enjoy her character.  I hope I “got it right”.  But if I didn’t, I’ll learn from my mistakes.  It’s what writers do.

Our world is imperfect and there’s a hell of a lot of work that needs to happen so the events that took place in Ferguson don’t happen again.  So people like my cousin never have to fear for their safety because of the color of their skin.  I believe that diversity of every kind is something to be cultivated, not shunned.

What can we do as M/M romance writers and readers to make our world-and hopefully the rest of it-a better place?

 

Review – “A Little Too Broken”

 

 

Summary:

When Jamie walks through the door of the Humane Society, it’s not just an animal who needs rescuing that day. Tom is there to adopt another service dog into the Canine Comrade Corps, but it’s Jamie his heart goes out to. But each man turns away, walks away, from the potential pain, the rejection, the knowledge that it’ll all end in tears…

Jamie knows damn well that the HIV he contracted from an unfaithful lover has put him out of the dating game forever in the small town of Santa Vera. Tom lost his legs in Afghanistan, and got new ones, yeah, but with a side order of PTSD to go, he thought grimly. The real problem is that only now does he realize he’s gay, now that the revelation would be just one too many things to put his family through, after everything else they’ve had to deal with.

So both men grin and bear the loneliness, put their feelings on a shelf, even as Jamie’s volunteer stint at CCC turns into friendship and, despite their resolve, something more…

Excerpt:

Tom saw Jamie’s smile. He’s totally relaxed about this. You’re getting there. This is going to work out, this is going to be a friendship. I need this. To be with normals again, people who aren’t…

Well, the fact was that Jamie wasn’t normal, was he? The fact that he had been through what he’d been through, in Tom’s mind put him on Tom’s side of the world, on the island of broken toys. Someone who could understand, who wasn’t one of them, the ones living a life oblivious to suffering, illness, pain.

It’s too bad, Jamie thought calmly. If only I didn’t have the bug, I could do this, I could…well, at least fantasize realistically about this becoming something. People liked it when you were just a little broken, he knew from experience. It lets them think that you’re not so unattainable, gives them the confidence to make a move. Then, they can fix you, be the one to un-break you, so they get to have it all, get the perfect lover in the end by coming to it through the side door.

Yeah, he smirked. But they don’t want you when you’re just a little too broken, just a little bit beyond where you can be repaired back into perfection, their reward for accepting those lesser flaws for a while. Some things stay broken, and nobody wants that.

Review:

Loved this book.  Two thirds of the way in I sobbed.  And then toward the end I laughed and cried at the same time.  Which, um, might have scared my cats a little.

I loved Tom and Jamie wholeheartedly.  I loved Harry, Ed, and Ava.  Hell, I even ended up loving a character I never expected to.  

For being a story about several weighty subjects it was surprisingly light to read.  Not insubstantial and it didn’t at gloss over the characters struggles or what they faced when they confronted the world around them.  But it had a nice sense of humor to offset the darkness.  It felt approachable, even while throwing light on two issues that aren’t always easy to talk about.  It was informative without being preachy and made me hope there might be a way to change some of the problems in the world.  

The choices the characters made sometimes surprised me, but in the best of ways, making the story feel fresh and interesting.  

The only fault I could find with it is that sometimes the POV switches felt a bit rushed, a bit confusing.  I would have preferred to see the changes happen during chapter breaks, or at least scene breaks, not mid-scene.  But that wasn’t enough to detract from the book and I still feel like it was one of the best books I’ve read in a good long while.  

Oh, and since I read this, I also picked up Brad Vance’s Apollo’s Curse which I also thoroughly enjoyed.  It had a completely different feel to it than A Little Too Broken, but I loved it too.

Not Straight Yoga

I know this will come as a shock, but I’m not straight.  You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, knew that.  You told us you’re bi.”  That’s not the kind of not-straight I’m talking about.

You see, I’m crooked.  Not in the corrupt sense, but in the I’m-not-symmetrical sense.  Few human beings are (Denzel Washington’s supposedly a notable exception) but I’m particularly … unique.  One ear is higher than the other (yep, wearing glasses sucks), my smile is a crooked smirk that goes up on one side and down on the other, and it turns out, one hip is higher and further forward than the other. 

I discovered that a few years ago when I had excruciating lower back pain. So bad I could hardly walk.  In a couple of sessions a chiropractor got me realigned, but when I asked if I should come back on a regular basis, he said, “Hell no, go to yoga.”  So I did.  

canstockphoto20869257

I found to a place in Lansing that’s donation based, focuses on giving back to the community, and welcoming to all types of people (and dogs! They have dog and owner yoga classes!).  It’s not the kind of yoga studio you go to in your most expensive Lululemon gear to show off how bendy you are.  It’s the kind of place you go because you want to feel amazing after.  That’s not to say other yoga studios can’t offer that kind of experience, but this is a very nurturing place. Designed to meet you where you’re at instead of making you feel inept for not being able to do as well as the instructor or the person on the mat next to you. As someone who has never been graceful or coordinated (turns out the crooked hips may have played a part in that) and in fact spends a good deal of her life feeling damn awkward, this was the perfect fit for me.  I floated home from the class so high on endorphins I probably wasn’t safe to drive.

For the better part of a year I went on a regular basis, two to three times a week when I could, and when a friend joined me, it was even better.  I felt healthier and happier, less stressed, and all around amazing.  Well, unfortunately after a while I got busy with my writing and she moved to Chicago and I just stopped going.  Other than going to one class some time in the depths of the hellish winter we had, it’s been over a year since I’ve gone.  Yikes.

Not surprising, considering my RL job and writing schedule, but now that I’ve cut back my work hours a smidge I’ve been trying to find a better balance for my time.  Nothing helps me accomplish that more than yoga, so I made plans to go this weekend.  Turns out my yoga pants had a hole in a most inappropriate place–yikes!-but I picked up a new pair of pants and went on Saturday morning.

The instructor was new to me, and the class was AH-MAZING.  As someone who has a long torso, short arms, and an, erm, ample chest, sitting at a desk all day for work and then coming home to write does not do my back any favors.  By the time I left the class my back and hips were looser than they had been in a year, I had that nice glowing high I’d so dearly missed, and my muscles ached pleasantly.  

Yeah.  Yoga’s awesome.

I sent a goal for myself that I’ll go once a week without fail.  Would I love to do three days? Hell yes.  But realistically I can manage one and I don’t want to overload myself.  

Balance is my goal.  

Yoga helps me balance physically and mentally.  Adding an hour of yoga a week will actually make me more productive and better able to write.  The calm and mental quiet I feel after class is so good for productivity.  

Who knows, maybe at some point I can work my way back up to a few times a week.

Oh, and as if I couldn’t love the yoga studio more? Well, they’ve started a LGBTQ (and ally!) class that  “… offers a safe and nurturing space for exploring moving our bodies and connecting with our spirit … Poses are taught considering various possibilities like recent surgeries, the effect of hormonal changes or overall body image/identification issues.”

Yeah, definitely the kind of place I want to support.