Flash Fiction Mondays

After the struggles I had with the holiday novella, I feel blah and uninspired.  Despite the thousand and one plot bunnies and two nearly completed novels waiting for me, I don’t feel like writing.  I had four days off last week and only wrote a few hundred words.  Now, a few days off to celebrate the holidays is good, but on top of weeks of the blahs? Not good. That’s a slippery slope to no writing at all. And being a writer isn’t about only writing when you feel inspired.  It’s about writing when you don’t.  However, a creative kick in the pants can sometimes help.

So when the lovely and talented Helena Stone asked me if I’d be interested in joining her for her Flash Fiction Mondays, I jumped at the chance!  It helped with three goals I set for myself for 2015: more regular blog posts, more free stories, and boosting my creativity!

So, every Monday starting next week Helena and I will post a very short flash fic based on a single photograph.  We’ll take turns alternating who picks the image and each write a brief story based on it.  I’ll be sure to link to her blog so you’ll get two flash fics every Monday! Fun, huh?

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I picked this image for next Monday.  I have my flash fic nearly written and I can’t wait to see what Helena comes up with!

See you next Monday!

The Stockings Were Hung by the Aquarium With Care …

For all my moping about not being able to spend Christmas with my parents, I got myself in gear, bought two stockings (ours were at my parents’ house), and hung them off the aquarium.  It worked quite well and once I gave myself a little push, I had a very nice time.

We spent Christmas Eve with Mr. Vaughn’s family.  We slept in until 10 on Christmas Day, opened our gifts, ate the baked French toast I made, had  a Lord of the Rings marathon, and Mr. Vaughn made dinner.  It was pan-seared steaks with mushrooms and red wine, potato gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts, Spanish red wine, and cherry crumb pie.  The pie was store-bought (and not nearly as good as my mother’s) but the dinner was delicious and we had a nice relaxing day.

Best of all? We got to spend the day with the cats.  They’re the one thing I miss when we’re gone on the holidays.

Christmas Ambivalence

I have mixed feelings about Christmas this year.  I’ve been so busy with the novella that my Christmas preparation didn’t really get underway until a few weeks ago.  Other than taking advantage of the Cyber Monday sales to buy my husband gifts and putting up my Christmas tree, it wasn’t until the last few weeks (and especially the last few days) that I’ve really put much effort into it.  I’ve made up for lost time though: the house is decorated, treats are baked, shopping is done, I’ve donated to charity, and I went to see a performance of A Christmas Carol with my parents like I have for the past 30 years.  But I haven’t been feeling Christmas this year.  I’m going through the motions more than I’d like to.  Part of it’s a lack of snow–it’s raining and forty degrees right now–although I am grateful we haven’t had an ice storm like we did last year.  No power before Christmas is stressful as hell.  I actually like rain and gloom most of the year, but around Christmas, I really want snow.

I felt a glimmer of the Christmas spirit in the last few days as I baked and listened to Christmas carols.  I tried very hard to feel jolly as I wrapped gifts.  But my brain wasn’t fully on board.  I look at the picture below and think “that looks cheerful”.  But I don’t feel cheerful.

Christmas cookies

It doesn’t help that we’re horribly short-staffed at work right now. I usually take a few days off before Christmas and I couldn’t this year.  I’m scheduled to work Christmas Eve until 4pm and for weeks, had no idea if I’d even be able to go to my husband’s family’s celebration.  They live two hours away so he’d miss most of it he waited until I got out of work to go.  I didn’t want him to miss a chance to see his family, some of whom he only sees once or twice a year.  But the prospect of working all day and then spending the evening alone was depressing and it hung over everything.

It’s not official per se, but my boss has given me the go ahead that I’ll be able to get out early and go.  I’m crossing my fingers that everything will go according to plan and I can celebrate Christmas Eve with my husband and his family.  So that’s good news.

Unfortunately, last night I got the news that my family’s Christmas has been rescheduled.  My mom has a cold and my dad has what sounds like the flu.  He’s almost never sick, so him saying that he didn’t feel up to doing Christmas was a surprise.  He must really feel awful. I certainly don’t blame him, but it looks like the soonest we’ll be able to get together to celebrate will be January 3rd.  Not going to lie, I cried when I found out.

Since my grandma died and my extended family splintered apart, I’ve struggled with the holidays.  I still see two of my cousins and their kids–although usually not until late January/February–so it isn’t as though I won’t celebrate with them.  But it isn’t the same.  And when it’s tied in with some very unresolved family issues … well, Christmas hasn’t been quite as happy as it used to be.  I felt like I was doing well in the last few years though.  Getting used to the idea that it was a small celebration with my parents, aunt, and  husband.  Eating my dad’s homemade scones, opening gifts, having dinner in front of the fireplace. I was trying to embrace those new traditions and to have that yanked out from under me took me by surprise.  Now I feel weepy and deflated, what Christmas cheer I had utterly gone.

I’m trying to be grateful that I have family.  That they are–colds and flu aside–healthy.  This year I have a warm house (with power!) and I’m all ready for Christmas.  I let myself wallow and mope a bit last night and this morning.  But writing this has been catharctic and I’m trying to keep things in perspective.

I realized earlier today that my husband and I don’t even own stockings.  Well, we do, but they’re at my parents’ house.  Nevermind that we don’t have a mantel either.  Surprising in a house from the 1920’s, but there is no fireplace.  I plan to go out after work and see if I can find two stockings.   We can always hang them off the aquarium.

It’s the first Christmas Day my husband and I have ever spent with just the two of us and I’m at a loss for how to celebrate it.  Number one, we need to figure out dinner for that day. Nothing we have on the menu seems particularly festive.  Ginger beef stir fry with kale and mushrooms sounds delicious, but not for Christmas dinner.

Christmas fir tree branch with holly berry

I’m wishing hard for a white Christmas, but that’s out of my control and aside from hanging stockings, I’m wracking my brain about what else we can do to make the day special.  What are your traditions? Do you have any thoughts on what I can do to kick this funk in the pants and replace it with some holiday spirit?

 

New Release – “Family: A Holiday Novella”

 

 

 Summary:

After too many holidays alone, Russ Bishop and Stephen Parker decide to invite Russ’ family to spend Christmas with them. Russ wants to repair the fractured relationships with his father and sister, and Stephen wants to feel like he’s part of a family. But when Russ’ sister, Addie, brings an unexpected guest, it makes an already challenging situation more complicated. The Christmas Stephen gets may not be as perfect as the one he imagined but perhaps happiness can be found in the flaws.

Excerpt:

Peter clapped him on the back. “I’ve known you for a lot of years, Stephen. I saw you with Jeremy and after his accident. I saw you when you believed you’d never fall in love again. This relationship with Russ—it’s made you a new man. You may not see it, but it’s changed you.”

“I know it has,” Stephen acknowledged. Peter left, and Stephen sought Russ again. He was in line at the bar now, and he held up his empty glass, mouthing “be there in a moment”. Eager to go to him, Stephen set down his own empty glass on a deserted table as he crossed the distance between them. Russ, distracted by something the person in front of him said, didn’t notice Stephen’s approach.

Stephen leaned in, whispering in Russ’ ear as he rested his hands lightly on Russ’ hips. “Dance with me?”

Russ turned to look at him, surprised. “Are you sure?”

“Sure I want to put my arms around the man I love? Yes.” The earlier doubt he’d felt was gone. Peter had some valid points, and what Stephen wouldn’t give to feel Russ in his arms right now. Over the years, he’d conditioned himself to expect less than others, simply because he was gay. Straight couples didn’t think twice about dancing with each other during the holiday party. Why should he?

Stephen and Russ Final

 

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating this story was to write. What should have been a relatively easy, fun holiday novella wound up becoming a writing challenge.  I struggled with this story from September to November, trying to get it right.  When I finally felt like I had it ready, I sent it to my betas.  The majority of them told me it  had potential but needed work.  I got nearly idential comments from several people telling me it didn’t flow well and felt repetitive.  Clearly I needed to re-work it.

So I tore it apart, completely decimating the timeline and re-working it. I cut a few scenes, tweaked the remaining ones, and by the time it was done it was much tighter.  I felt better about it and the feedback on it was good.  And I learned a lot from the experience.

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a stressful, rushed, and disorganized release though.  I was aiming to have this out by the first week in December but the extra time was needed and I’d rather put out a good story late than half-ass it and get it out on time.  If only it wasn’t so stressful.  I’m ready to pull the blankets over my head and sleep until the new year.

That being said, I really do love the story and am glad I was able to tell it.  Russ and Stephen are very dear to my heart and I had fun exploring what the holidays would be like for them.

I hope you enjoy the story.  And more than anything I hope you’re able to spend the holidays with the people you care about.  Because, like Stephen, I’ve learned that people you meet can often become as important–if not more–important than the family you were born into.

If there’s one thing I wish for this holiday season, it’s that everyone has at least one person in their life they can call family.  A person who feels like home.

 

All Romance

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Prism Book Alliance Guest Post: Outside the Margins – Looking Back

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Join me on Prism Book Alliance’s Outside the Margins column.  I’ll be featured in the column on the 5th of every month, and today I discuss looking back on my first year as an m/m writer.  I hope you’ll take a look and please leave a comment.  I’m open to any feedback or suggestions about what you’d like to hear from me in my monthly column.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Flash Fiction Holiday Blog Hop – “Holiday Angel”

This entry is part of the flash fic blog hop I told you about last month.

The story had to include:

-A winter holiday theme

-A “bad boy” character

-A gift of some kind

This photo is what we all used for inspiration.  It’s amazing to see how many different scenarios the photo created and I had a wonderful time writing my own.

at-the-shop

 

Holiday Angel

“What are you doing?”

Benny jerked, startled, and the glass angel slipped from his hands, shattering on the floor.  He stared down at the broken shards, wishing that when he turned around he wouldn’t see Scott standing behind him.  He hadn’t seen Scott since he got out of juvie, and he’d meant to keep it that way.

“I wasn’t going to steal it,” he muttered, turning to face his ex.  He couldn’t look him in the eye, so he stared at the knotted and frayed string on Scott’s blue hoodie.

“I didn’t think you were,” Scott said quietly.  “Didn’t know you were back, though.”

“I got out last week.” Benny jammed his hands in his pockets.

“You didn’t call.”

“We broke up. Why would I?”

He heard Scott swallow.  “I know, but I wanted you to anyway.”

Benny ignored the way that made his chest ache and took a deep breath.  “I’ll pay for the angel.  I swear, I really wasn’t going to steal it.”

“I know.  You don’t have to pay.  I’ll tell my parents I broke it.”

Benny finally lifted his gaze to meet Scott’s.  “You don’t have to do that.”

Scott stepped forward, and Benny heard the crunch of glass under his feet.  “There, now it’s technically true.”

“Scott …” Benny said softly.

“What?” Scott scowled.  “I missed you, okay? You’re an ass for breaking up with me, but I missed you, and I’m not going to let you fuck it up again.”

Benny turned, swallowing hard as he blinked back wetness in his eyes.  Scott was too good for him.  That’s why he’d broken up with him.  Why should Scott—who was definitely going to college next year—get stuck with a guy with no money, no job, and a juvie record?

“What if I don’t want to be with you anymore? Maybe I already met someone.”

He hadn’t.  He’d spent every night of the last three months thinking about Scott.  Wishing he could kiss him again, wishing he could apologize.  But that was stupid, right?  Stupid to want what he could never have.  Stupid to torture himself imagining the kind of life he didn’t deserve.  It was what got him through the nights on the hard, narrow bed, covered with a thin, scratchy blanket though.  When two other guys—way tougher and more hardcore than he was—held his arms and a third punched him in the stomach and lower back until he puked, he thought about Scott.

He shouldn’t have even come to Scott’s parents’ shop.  But it was two days before Christmas and as he walked by on his way home from a frustrating, pointless search for a job, he’d spied the brightly lit storefront.  He stood outside it for a long time, not noticing his rumbling stomach, the cold wind creeping up under his jacket, or the fact that his fingers were going numb.  When someone left the shop, he felt the warm air rush out and smelled the cinnamon spice scent that the shop always had at Christmas.  He couldn’t stop his feet from taking him inside.  He hadn’t seen Scott in there, so he figured it was safe.  There was just the bored college girl running the register and texting on her phone.

He wandered around the shop for a while, not really sure what he was doing there until he saw the clear glass angel with gold paint on her halo and the tips of her wings.  He lifted it off the fake tree branch and looked at the price tag.  Twelve dollars and ninety-nine cents.  Before tax. He thought of the carefully scrounged soda and beer bottles he’d cashed in and the mangled, wet five dollar bill he found next to a storm drain, dried out and taped together.  A grand total of fourteen dollars and fifty-one cents.  All of which was supposed to tide him over until he could get a job.  Only, there weren’t any jobs to be had, at least not for a kid like him.

But it was almost Christmas, and he knew his parents weren’t going to get his sister Angel anything.  His mom was a drunk, and his dad only gave a shit when it came to beating the hell out of Benny for being a faggot.  It was probably stupid to buy a little kid a glass ornament, but she loved pretty, shiny things, and for a seven-year-old, Angel was careful.

“I know you’re lying.” Benny felt an arm wrap around his waist, and for a moment, Scott’s cheek was pressed to his.

“Fine, there’s nobody else,” he muttered. “But I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Benny …”

He hated the pain in Scott’s voice and the fact that he wasn’t even trying to hide it.

“Hey, I thought you were coming back with a box cutter,” a woman called out.

Benny froze, staring straight ahead, as Mrs. Sullivan came around the corner.  He didn’t have time to pull away before Scott’s mom spotted them, but even after she did, he couldn’t move.  The weird thing was, Scott didn’t move either, other than to straighten up. He kept his arm around Benny, even when Benny finally tried to break free.

“Oh!” Mrs. Sullivan said.  “Benny.  You’re back.”

She didn’t sound upset by it, which was weird.  And she didn’t seem to care that her son had his arm wrapped around another guy, which was even weirder.

Benny cleared his throat.  “Yeah.  Got back last week.”

She beamed at him.  “How are you doing?”

“Okay?” He didn’t mean for it to come out like a question, but he had no clue what was going on.

“Good, good.”  She looked past him at her son.  “Can I get that box cutter from you now, Scott? I need to get everything restocked before tomorrow. You can stay out here with your boyfriend for a bit, but I do need some help lifting the heavy boxes down, okay?”

“Sure thing, Mom,” Scott said while Benny stared stupidly at the woman in the dorky Christmas sweater and ornament earrings with blinking red and green lights.  Scott dug in his pocket and tossed the box cutter to her.

“Have fun, boys.”  She grinned and winked at them.  “But not too much fun.”

Benny was still blinking stupidly as she disappeared around the corner of the shop.  “What the hell was that?”

“You’ve known my mom for years—she’s always been that way.”

“Yeah.”  Benny’s voice was faint. “But she never knew about us.  Or that you were gay.”

“She does now.”  Scott kissed Benny’s neck.  “I told her while you were gone.”

“And she’s fine with it?” He was too shocked and bewildered to do anything when Scott coaxed him to turn and face him.

“Yup.” Scott cupped his cheek.

Benny sputtered out an indecipherable noise of confusion before Scott leaned in and kissed him.  He made another sound—this one of surprise—but it was muffled by Scott’s mouth, and then they were kissing for real.  He let himself enjoy it for a moment before he pulled away, knowing it would be the last time.  He wrenched himself out of Scott’s arms and rolled his shoulders back, mentally bracing himself for what he had to do next.

“Low blow, Scott.  That wasn’t fair.”

“Why not?”

Benny closed his eyes and thought about the crushing failure of not being able to find a job.  Of the way people looked down on him for just having gotten out of juvie.  Of knowing he was never going to be able to offer Scott the kind of life he deserved.   He swallowed past the lump in his throat and met Scott’s gaze.  “Because you deserve way better than a fuck-up with no future.”

Rather than reply, Scott stepped forward, slipping his arms around Benny’s waist.  His head rested on Benny’s shoulder, and despite himself, Benny put his arms around Scott.  They’d had this argument a thousand times before, but Benny getting sent to juvie was the final nail in the coffin.  At least for Benny.  Scott didn’t seem convinced.

Scott’s words were muffled by Benny’s jacket when he spoke.  “You said you didn’t want to hide anymore, so I came out.”

Benny softened a little, despite himself. “Look, that was only part of it.  You being out doesn’t change the fact that I’m never gonna be the guy you deserve.  I just got out of juvie.”

Scott scoffed and lifted his head, but he didn’t step back.  Instead, he gripped the sides of Benny’s jacket like he’d never let go.  “For stealing.  Which was total bullshit because we all know you did it for your sister. You were gonna pay for her inhaler and buy her food!”

“The judge didn’t believe me.” Benny’s tone was bitter.

“Well, he’s an asshole.  Look, I’ll help you find a job so you can take care of your sister, and we’ll figure it out together, Scott.”

Benny blinked as tears welled up.  His voice was rough.  “My parents kicked me out, and I’m fucking living in my shitty ass car—that’s about to die by the way—and I can’t find a job because I just got out of juvie.  I’m going nowhere, Scott.  I’m just gonna drag you down with me.”

“Oh, no, you’re not.”

Once again, Benny was startled by Mrs. Sullivan’s arrival.  He pulled away from Scott and wiped at his eyes with his sleeve.  “See, Scott? Your mom doesn’t want me to drag you down either.  Just let me go, and you can move on.”

Mrs. Sullivan crossed her arms.  “I’ve known you since you were twelve years old, Benny Anderson, don’t you dare put words in my mouth that I didn’t say.  I was talking about the fact that no boy who cares for my son and takes care of his sister as you do could ever bring him down.  What I don’t like is that you didn’t come to me for help when things got so bad.”

Benny looked down at his scuffed shoes, staring at the glittering pieces of broken glass that still littered the floor.  “I was embarrassed,” he muttered.

“Look, I don’t know much about the situation beyond what Scott told me and what I just overheard, but if you are willing to take my help, we’ll get this figured out.”

“Mrs. Sullivan …”

She pursed her lips.  “I know you want to be the man of the family and take care of yourself and your sister.  But you’re not helping anyone by turning away people who care about you and want to help.  So right now, I’m going to offer you a part-time job here.  I need help lifting boxes and taking care of the inventory.  It’s not going to pay a lot, but it should help.  You’ll finish school, sleep on the couch in our living room—not in Scott’s bed—and we’ll figure out what to do about your sister.”

Benny blinked in shock and stared at Scott, who just shrugged as if to say “that’s my mom for you,” which was true, but still weird.  “But I can’t let Angel end up in foster care,” he finally managed, even as he realized he’d all but agreed to working at the gift shop and living with the Sullivans.  How the hell had that happened?

Mrs. Sullivan stepped forward, speaking gently. “Is the situation she’s in right now any better?  You’ll be eighteen in a few months, and there may be a way you can become her legal guardian.  It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.  Hell, I’ll take her in,  if need be.  John and I have fostered plenty of kids over the years.”

That was true.  In fact, Scott had been a foster kid himself who was adopted by the Sullivans when he was five.

Mrs. Sullivan continued. “I’m not offering you a magic solution.  It’s going to be hard work for you, and I have plenty of expectations about your behavior.  You’re going to have to live by our household rules.  I don’t know what will happen with your sister either, but we’ll do our best, and I’m not letting you throw away your life because you want to do it all yourself.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Benny’s voice was hoarse, and Scott slid an arm around his waist. “Thank you.”

Mrs. Sullivan smiled, her eyes brimming with tears, and said, “It’s Christmas.” As if that explained everything.

Later, when Benny looked over at the box with the glass angel that Mrs. Sullivan had wrapped in shiny paper and topped with a big red bow for him to give to his sister, he felt a little dizzy.  It was all so good, and he knew he’d wonder if it was a dream if not for the fact that he could hear Mrs. Sullivan lecturing Scott about safe sex and making him swear they wouldn’t sleep in the same bed at night.

Not perfect.  His sister still lived with their drunk mother and asshole of a father.  But for a guy who’d just gotten out of juvie and thought he didn’t have a thing going for him, it was pretty damn good.

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered to himself as he swept up the glittering broken glass.


Big thanks to Helena and Dermot for reading it over and giving me feedback, and to Sally for editing.  And thanks to Thorny SterlingKris T. Bethke, and  LC Chase for organizing the blog hop.

I have a confession to make though.  When I originally read the instructions, I thought “a gift of some kind” meant that we were supposed to offer something to the readers to win.  I had a moment of panic when I realized  the plot of the story itself was supposed to include a gift and then realized I’d already done that!  However, I decided that since I’d technically already promised to do the giveaway, I’ll honor it.

A random commenter on this post will receive a free ebook of mine (title of their choice).  The blog hop goes through December 7th, so I’ll pick a winner on the 8th and contact them directly.

And please, check out all of the other wonderful participants in the blog hop. I’ve only read a few so far but they absolutely blew me away.