Posted in Books, Falstaff Books, Falstaff Crush, historical romance, Horror, Paranormal romance, romance, Weird Wild West Romance

My Heroes Have Sometimes Been Cowboys

bury me notThe first grown-up movie I ever saw in a theater was The Cowboys, starring John Wayne. It came out in 1972, so I would have been eight years old. My dad has always been a die-hard Wayne fan (oh, the raging fights we’ve had about McClintock!), and in those days, first-run movies didn’t hang around our local theater long. My guess is my grandmother wasn’t available to babysit the one weekend it was playing, so Daddy told Mama most of the cast was under the age of sixteen and told himself I’d be fine. Either way, the first time I found myself in a movie that didn’t start off with a nature documentary or a Mickey Mouse cartoon, I saw John Wayne get shot. And it was glorious.

If you haven’t seen it, John Wayne is a cattle rancher who loses all of his ranch hands right before the big cattle drive and has to recruit a bunch of boys barely old enough to climb into the saddle to replace them. Bruce Dern plays the squirreliest, dirtiest, most evil polecat of a rustler ever to grace the silver screen. He’s the one who shoots and kills John Wayne, and his eventual comeuppance haunts me to this day. (If you ever read me write a villain getting killed by horse-dragging, rest assured, I bear them a grudge.) I suspect I only understood about half of what was going on in the story, but it sucked me in completely. And while I can’t find much good to say about John Wayne as a human being these days, I’m still a sucker for an even halfway decent Western. My current favorite is the remake of 3:10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe (swoon!) and Christian Bale, which incidentally, my father the purist who loved the original absolutely hated. And yes, I have even seen Young Guns and Young Guns 2 multiple times; why would you even ask?

My own latest book release, Bury Me Not, blends this love of cowboys with my usual focus on history, horror, and romance. In three connected stories, saloon dove-turned-outlaw Daisy and her notorious gunslinger lover Cade battle zombies, vampires, and Krampus. (For those most beloveds who’ve been reading me since Little Red Hen Romance, two of the stories were released through LRH as singles, but the vampire story, the longest of the three, is brand new for this book.) And I love those two so much, I’m sure sometime soon I’ll have them battling something else. I can’t even tell you how much fun they are to write. As you can probably tell, these stories aren’t exactly serious; neither Larry McMurtry nor Annie Proulx has much to fear from me so far. But I think they do put across just how much I still love the great mythology of the American Wild West. I hope I get the details right enough that my dad might like them, too.

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Posted in Books, Falstaff Books, Free Reads, LGBTQ fiction, LGBTQ historical fiction, Lucy Blue Short Story, Short Story

The Dark Lady – a freebie for Pride Month

In honor of Pride Month 2019, here’s a short story I wrote for a 2016 anthology Falstaff Books put together to raise money for LGBTQ support and awareness. Get your copy of the full anthology HERE. In my story, a transgender woman who found herself as a boy actor at Shakespeare’s Globe makes peace with the playwright she loves as  father.

The Dark Lady

Burbage expected a scene of squalor. But he found a neat little house of fresh plaster and timbers built on the edge of the suburban village he had never heard tell of before. He was ushered into a second floor parlor and told he might wait if it pleased him. A fire was burning in the hearth, and the mantelpiece was lined with polished silver plate.

He had just taken a seat in the best cushioned chair when the door opened and a lady swept in. “Forgive me, mistress,” he said, getting up again with his old player’s grace. “I fear I must have come to the wrong house.” She was a very pretty lady, too, with thick, glossy waves of dark brown hair drawn back in a veil of gold net and wide, bright hazel eyes. Her gown was plain but rich, black brocade with white linen collar and cuffs, and she wore a simple choker at her throat with a dark red stone in the shape of a heart. As he bowed to her, she smiled, and a dimple appeared at the corner of her mouth. And suddenly he knew her. “God save us!” He fell back into the chair, all courtesy forgotten. “Orlando!”

“Hello, Dick,” the little monster said, still smiling. “And if you don’t mind, it’s Mistress Thatcher now—or Rosalind, if you must.”

“Monster!” he said. “It’s an outrage. It’s indecent! I’ll have the sheriff on you, you impertinent pup!”

“Are you a magistrate now, Dick Burbage, that you would lecture me on decency and threaten me with the law?” she said, her cheeks flushing pink. “My father-in-law is, and he loves me well.” The arch of her eyebrow was familiar, too, a trick she had used to great effect against him in battles of wit on the stage. “He will stake his considerable purse and influence to defend my honor, should you accuse me. Think you, player, that you are his match?”

Burbage considered the silver plate along the mantelpiece and the jewel at her throat. “Forgive me, chuck,” he said, tempering his tone. In the old days back at the Globe, he would have boxed the creature’s ears for speaking to him so, but now this seemed imprudent. “I was but surprised to see you so—I loved you so well as a boy.”

“Loved me?” she said, her smile returning. “Nay, Dick, not once, though not for lack of trying. Will you have a drink?” Without waiting for his answer, she poured a cup of malmsey wine and put it in his hand.

“Thanks, Mistress…Thatcher, did you say?” he said, taking a drink.

“I did.” She poured a cup of her own and sat down. “But call me Rosalind. You did so once before easily enough.”

“On the stage, aye,” he said. The wine had calmed his nerves, and he was able to look at her again and smile. “But that is all the world, isn’t it, chuck? So our Will did say.” He drank again; the wine was excellent. “You always were a pretty thing.”

“I thank ye kindly, sir.” Rosalind surveyed the old ruin with weary affection. “But have you come just to pay me compliments and threaten me with shackles? ‘Tis a funny sort of visit.”

“I’ve come for Will.” The old actor’s eyes were red from more than drink, she thought. “He is dying, Orlando—Rosalind. He has fallen into a stupor, and I thought it would ease him to see you again.”

“And why should you think that?” She took a long swallow of wine to mask her sudden grief. Will Shakespeare dying? It couldn’t be so. “’Tis twenty years since I left London. ‘Twould be passing strange if he remembered me at all.”

“Go to, monkey,” he said. “As if any of us could forget you, whatever you might have become.” For a moment, she was offended, but his eyes were twinkling, and she couldn’t be angry. She raised her glass instead, and he returned the salute. “He spoke of you right recently, in fact,” he said, holding out his empty glass. “Drayton and I made a party to visit him in Stratford a month or so past,” he said as she refilled it. “He had just made his will, and Michael asked if he felt well. He said he felt content but for a few small matters now out of his power to help.” In his eyes and manner, she could see the great tragic player he had been. She knew how dearly he loved Will; in his eyes she saw he was telling the truth. “I asked him what small matters, and he mentioned you. He said your parting still troubled him, and he would give much to speak with you again.”

Her eyes had filled with tears as he spoke. “A month ago this was?”

“Aye, chuck,” Burbage said. “It has taken me a fortnight to find you—I began when he fell ill.” He leaned forward in his chair and offered her his hand, and after a moment, she took it. “Will you not go to him, Orlando?” he said. “Our Will did love you once.”

“Don’t try to be Hamlet to me now, Dick,” she said. “You haven’t the legs for it anymore.” But she couldn’t be cursed with him, not now. “Of course I will go.” She went to the door and called in the maid who was eavesdropping there. “I must away to Stratford-upon-Avon with Mr. Burbage to visit a sick friend,” she said. “Call for my carriage and bring me my cloak. And if any do have need of me before I return, tell them I may be found there.”

“At New Place,” Burbage said. “But God’s life, sirrah—mistress—will you not change your costume?”

“Nay, sir,” she said. “I go as myself or not at all.”

After a moment, the old player nodded. “Aye, chuck. As you will.”

 

 

For the first few miles, Burbage kept up a lively monologue, catching her up on what he knew of all their old friends from London. But old age conspired with the gentle rocking of the carriage and the wine he had drunk, and soon he was asleep, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

She had ridden this rutted road with him before, though not in comfort. She’d still been Orlando then and had perched like a monkey on top of a wagonload of scenery. They had been bound for some further place, some country manor or other, to play Romeo and Juliet for a rich noble and his household outside the plague-ridden danger of London. Juliet had been Orlando’s first noteworthy role with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men; he had been barely fourteen years old and as a boy looked younger because of his size. Will Shakespeare and Dick Burbage had stopped off at Stratford-upon-Avon on the way, and they had taken Orlando with them for reasons neither had bothered to explain.

Dick and Orlando had waited for Will in a sort of orchard across the road from the house where Will’s wife and children lived with his in-laws. “You must cheer him up when he returns,” Burbage had said, settling on the ground against a tree as if he expected a long wait.

“Why does Will need cheering up?” Orlando had asked. The playwright had been sad and quiet since they’d left the Globe. “Dick, what’s happened?”

“Never you mind,” the older player had said, pulling his hat down over his eyes. “Just be ready with your best japes when he returns and none of your tragedy.” Orlando had been a clown before Will had cast him as Juliet, and to Dick’s mind, he ought to have stayed one.

Dick was soon asleep, leaving Orlando alone to wait. More than an hour had passed; he knew it by the chiming of the village church bells. But he saw no sign of Shakespeare’s return. Finally, reckless with boredom, he left Burbage sleeping and ventured across the road.

He didn’t have the nerve to knock on the front door, so he sallied around to the back of the house like he knew where he was going. There was a stable and a flock of geese in the yard, but all was strangely quiet. From an open window upstairs, he could hear a woman crying and the soft voice of a man who might have been Will. But he couldn’t make out the words.

“Who are you?” a voice spoke behind him. Turning, he found a girl of what looked to be his own age.

“Orlando, mistress.” He made a deep bow as Burbage would have done, on-stage and off. “At your service.”

“What are you doing here?” She was a pretty girl with serious brown eyes that were very like Will’s.

“I’ve come with Will Shakespeare,” he said. “I’m one of his players.”

“Oh!” She looked more interested. “Then you must be wicked.”

“Must I?” He rarely talked to girls his own age and never of this class. “Who says so?”

“My mother,” she said. “Will Shakespeare is my father. I’m Susannah.” She walked around  him like he might have been a camel displayed at the fair. “You’re very handsome.”

“I have to be,” he said. “I play the lady’s parts. Or in truth, I play the whole lady. Her parts are hidden—as they must be, mind, as I am playing her.” She didn’t even smile. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mistress Susannah,” he said, bowing again. The girl continued to stare at him. “Are you glad to have your father home to visit?”

This had seemed the most harmless of questions, but the girl’s expression crumpled. “Yes.” She turned her back on him and hid her face in her hands. “Go away!”

“What is it?” He put a hand on her trembling shoulder. “What ails you, child?”

“I said go away!” She ran from him down the garden toward the orchard, and for a moment, he thought he’d let her go and go back to Burbage. But that seemed cowardly. The girl was obviously upset. So he ran after her.

He found her leaning on the gnarled trunk of an apple tree, sobbing like her heart was broken. “Don’t look at me,” she ordered, looking back when she heard him approach. “It isn’t decent.”

“What isn’t decent?” He touched her shoulder again. “That I should see you cry?” She nodded, crying all the harder. “Susie, why are you crying?”

She turned to him. “Because my brother’s dead.”

“Your brother?”

“Hamnet.”

“You poor darling.” Without thinking, he pulled her close, and she pressed her hot little face to his breast. “I’m so sorry. No wonder you have to cry.”

“Mother says I mustn’t,” she said. “She says Hamnet has gone to heaven, so we must rejoice. But I don’t feel like rejoicing.”

“Of course you don’t,” Orlando said, stroking her hair. “And just between us, your mother is a horse’s ass.”

She almost giggled through her tears. “No, she isn’t,” she said. “She’s a very godly woman.”

“In a pig’s eye,” he said. “I promise you, Susie, I know my business. My father was a priest. He would have been a bishop if he had lived. And when he died, I cried and cried for a fortnight in the bishop’s own house, and no one once told me to stop.”

“You lived with the bishop?” she said.

“I did indeed until I ran away,” he said. He handed her his handkerchief. “You were right before; I am very wicked. But I promise you are not.”

“I don’t think you are either,” she said. “I think you’re very kind.”

Will stepped out of the shadows of the trees. “So do I.” He held out his arms to Susannah, and she ran to him. Orlando turned away, not wishing to intrude. From a discreet distance, he heard the girl’s soft weeping and her father’s tender voice speaking comfort. Tears stung his own eyes, and he wiped them away.

He was just about to leave them in peace and go back to Burbage when Will spoke to him. “Is Dick drunk in the tavern yet?”

“Sleeping where you left him,” Orlando said, turning back to him. Will had his arm around Susannah, and she was tucked close to his side. “Shall I tell him we’re going on without you?”

“And who will be your Friar Lawrence?” Will said. “No, I must come, too.”

“Please don’t go, Papa,” Susannah said.

“I must,” he said, hugging her close. “But we shall be back in three days’ time, after the performance.” He kissed her forehead. “In the meantime, Orlando was right. You must weep for Hamnet all you like, you and Judith both. I give you my permission.” He had tears of his own on his cheeks.

“Yes, Papa.” She wiped away her father’s tears with Orlando’s handkerchief. “I will see you in three days.”

Walking back to Burbage, Orlando hadn’t known what he should say, so he kept silent. But before Will woke up Dick, he suddenly turned to Orlando and hugged him close much as he had Susannah.

“I’m sorry about Hamnet, Will,” the boy she had been had said, half-choked with tears.

“Thank you, chuck.” Burbage had let out an almighty snore, and they had both laughed. “I am sorry, too.”

 

 

 

The village of Stratford-upon-Avon had changed very little in the twenty years since her last visit. But Will Shakespeare’s family’s fortunes had obviously improved. “Our William did very well for himself in the end,” Burbage said as he climbed down from the carriage in front of the fine New Place. “Though perhaps not so well as you.”  Rosalind stood in the door of the carriage waiting, one eyebrow raised. “Oh, God’s almighty teeth,” Dick swore. “Come on, then.” He offered his hand for support, and Rosalind took it and climbed down. “Insolent puppy,” Dick grumbled.

Rosalind just smiled. “That’s insolent bitch to you.”

Will’s wife was none too keen to welcome either of them. “How dare you come back here, Richard Burbage,” she said, coming down to stop them as soon as they crossed the threshold of the hall. “’Twas you put my husband on his deathbed, you and Drayton. Carousing so at your age and dragging him with you. And what strumpet is this that you’ve brought to my house?”

“Mistress Rosalind Thatcher,” Rosalind said, making a deep curtsey that would have passed muster at the royal court.

“Go to, both of you,” Anne said. “Out of my house at once.”

“Mother?” A younger woman was coming down the stairs. “Is this not still my father’s house?” With a shiver of shock, Rosalind recognized Susannah. “Think you he would not wish to see his friends?” She offered her hand to Burbage “Well met, Dick.” When she turned to Rosalind, her eyes widened in recognition. “And you…Mistress Thatcher, did you say?”

“I did,” Rosalind said. “At your service.”

“My father was most eager to speak to you,” Susannah said as her mother made an ugly snort that added nothing to her meagre charm. “Won’t you come upstairs?”

She led her to a bedroom with windows facing west. “He always wants to see the sunset,” Susannah explained in a hushed tone. “He says the twilight is the best time of day.”

“So has he always done,” Rosalind said. She could hardly believe the man lying so still on the bed could be Will.

“It is safe to come near him,” Susannah said. “My husband says it is a fever of the brain that ails him, not the plague. He’s a doctor, my husband.”

“I wouldn’t mind it either way,” Rosalind said. She sat on the edge of the bed and lay her hand over Will’s. He felt warm, and his face though lined now with age and pain was just as she remembered. “I would risk much more than plague to speak with him again.”

“He mostly sleeps now,” Susannah said. “But he has awakened twice since yesterday to ask for water and to talk with me and John. I believe he might wake again for you.”

“May God so will it,” Rosalind said. “Do you remember me, Susannah?”

“Of course I do.” She still had her father’s eyes and her father’s sad, sweet smile. “You still play the lady’s part, I see.”

“It is no part,” Rosalind said. “Not anymore.”

Susannah put a hand on her shoulder. “Then we must be as sisters,” she said. “My father loves you as a child.” Before Rosalind could answer, she had gone, leaving her alone with Will.

“Is that so, ancient Will?” she asked, clasping his hand. “Can you love me as a daughter as you loved me as a son?” But he didn’t answer.

She waited beside him holding his hand as the shadows crept across the floor. Susannah came back in every hour or so to look in on them, but otherwise, they were alone.

As the sun was setting, Rosalind went to the window. “I love the twilight, too,” she said. “At the Globe, Hamlet would just have been dying now.” Ophelia had been one of her last roles. It was said even the Queen herself had been moved to tears by her performance.

But her last part had been as Rosalind in As You Like It. She remembered her last performance. Her last night on the stage. Her last night as the boy Orlando.

She had lingered long after she thought all the others had gone until a messenger came with a bundle she had saved her wages for weeks to buy. In the empty tiring house by the light of two small candles, she took off her boyish habit for the last time and put on her new clothes, a plain gown such as a shopkeeper’s wife might wear. She combed out her hair, grown long for years so she never had to wear the wigs that so plagued other ladies on the stage, and pinned it in coils under a white linen cap.

She was just fastening a ribbon around her throat when she saw Will Shakespeare reflected in the copper mirror in front of her. “What new mummery is this?” he asked.

“None at all,” she said, tying her ribbon. “I am leaving, Will.”

“Who has procured you?” She heard the fury in his tone but knew it wasn’t for her. He had thrashed a minor player within an inch of his life two seasons before for playing pimp between nobles and another boy. “If your purse is light, why not come to me?”

“My purse is fine,” she said. “I’m not playing whore, Will.” She stood up and turned to him. “I’m leaving. Leaving the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, leaving London. Leaving Orlando.” She could see from his face he didn’t understand. “I can’t playact innocent girls any longer. I am ready to be a woman.”

“Queen Gertrude,” Will said. “Lady Macbeth. Cleopatra—are these not women?”

“Aye, Will, but they are imaginary parts,” she said. “Your parts, the women who live inside your head. I am ready to be myself.”

Finally she saw the beginning of understanding in her master’s eyes. “But you can not be this woman, chuck,” Will said not unkindly. “I made you a woman for the stage, but God made you a man.”

“Do you mean now to preach me a sermon?” she said. “You know me, Will, as well almost as I know myself. Was Rosalind not written so that the world might see me as I am, as you do?”

“Rosalind was written to amuse a mob,” Will said. “She is a thing of air and fancy.”

“Aye, but I am not.”

“And who has taught you this strange text?” Will asked. “What wizard has promised to transform your parts and make you his bride?” She blushed and turned away. “You are right, boy, when you say I know this malady.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “But malady it is, a fever of the mind, not magic that may undo nature. I would have you escape this hell, Orlando, and for my part in bringing you to it, I must beg the pardon of Almighty God.”

“You’ve done naught but be as a father to me!”

“And a right poor one, too, methinks,” Will said. “I have made you believe you are a monster.”

“Then what of your noble patron?” Rosalind said. “Your most beautiful beloved, your holy soul? What manner of monster is he?”

Will slapped her so hard he sent her sprawling. “A poison tongue does not become thee, Orlando,” he said, his voice trembling.

“Orlando isn’t here, Will.” She wiped blood from her mouth. “What’s more, you know he is not, else why strike me with your open hand and not your fist? If a man so offended thee, why not draw thy sword?” She could see from Will’s horrified expression that he understood. “I am younger than you are and stronger. If I be a man as you are, why should I allow you to strike me down?”

“Get up, for pity,” Will said. “Get up and stop this.”

“’Twas your Almighty God made me a woman, Will, not you. You know I am no monster, and you know I am no man.” She climbed to her feet. “I have taken nothing from the company but honest wages. I ask nothing of you but your blessing. The blessing of a father to his daughter as she leaves his house.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “Will you not grant me that?”

For a moment, she had thought he would. She had seen in his eyes that he wanted to, that he loved her still. Then he had turned away. “Go to, boy,” he said, the last words he had spoken to her. “Go to.”

Now twenty years later she went back to Will’s bedside, tears brought on by memory wet on her cheeks. “Fairly met, master-father.” She went down on her knees beside the bed and clasped his cold hand between her own. As cold as any stone, she thought, remembering the death of old Falstaff. She had played the boy in old King Henry’s play, her first time ever on the stage. She had been paid for it with the first good meal she’d had in weeks, an orphan and runaway apprentice alone on the streets of London. “You saved me, Will,” she said. “For certes, you must know that.” She brushed the last wisps of his hair back from his fine, handsome brow. “Dick Burbage said you wished to see me,” she said. “I am here.” His lips were pale, and his eyelids looked bruised purple. Old Hamlet, she thought. How many times had she seen him made up as the ghost? She held his hand against her cheek. “Will you curse me again with your silence?”

Will’s eyelids fluttered. “You,” he said, a rasp barely louder than a whisper. “Is it you?”

“Aye.” She smiled.

He smiled, too. “My lady still…” He stroked her cheek. “Ophelia, then?”

“Nay, love. Rosalind.” She kissed his wrist and felt the flutter of his pulse against her lips. “A merry wench, I promise.”

“Good.” He frowned as if something pained him. “Aye me…” She gripped his hand more tightly. “Blessing….” He laid his hand on her head. “All blessings, daughter,” he said, smiling as she cried. “All my blessings on thee.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek, and she felt him kiss her back. But when she drew back, his eyes were closed, and he was sleeping.

 

 

She returned to her own house in the morning, and her own sweet Lydia met her in the yard. “Well met, beloved,” her wife said, kissing her. “Well met, wife.” Rosalind dissolved in tears against Lydia’s breast, and she held her close. “Welcome home.”

 

Posted in Appearances, Books, Conventions, Editing, Falstaff Crush, Other People's Awesome, Personal Real Life Stuff, Publishing, Writing process

ConCarolinas 2019!

ConCarolinas 2019It’s that time of year again – ConCarolinas is back, and I’ll be there! I only consistently show up for one fandom and writing convention a year, and ConCarolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina, is it. And this year’s slate of guests and events is particularly excellent. The people in charge have worked their collective cabooses off making this the best ConCarolinas/Deep South Con ever.

And I can prove it. They invited me. I’ll be there all weekend, Friday, May 31 through Sunday, June 2. I’m officially launching not one but two new books, and I’ll be appearing at the following panels:

bury me notOn Friday, May 31:

3:00 – Whose Story Is This? (in Walden): We’ll be talking about fan fiction; loving it, hating it, what it means, how to do it, what it can lead to. And I’ll actually be the moderator on this one, so batten down the hatches.

7:00 – ConCarolinas Short Takes (in a 3rd floor room, follow the noise): I’ll be one of a whole slate of author guests reading bits from their latest works. It’s a choice crowd, and we’ll all still be giddy with first-night-at-the-con glee. So a good time is pretty well assured at this one.

On Saturday, June 1:

11:00 – Tired Tropes of Women (Keynes): Parsing, bemoaning, and offering alternatives to the timeworn cliches of chicks in space and fantasy and horror, from the sexually voracious pixies who get confused tying their shoes to all those dead-but-loyal superhero girlfriends inspiring their men to greatness. If you’re a woman writing speculative fiction or a guy writing speculative fiction who wants to write better women, hit this one up.

12:00 – Historical Fantasy (Keynes): Ways to write the fantastical while keeping it real–and why it matters.

1:00 – Choosing an Editor (Keynes): You know you need an editor, but what kind of editor do you need? All the basic species will be on display and ready for your questions.

6:00 – There Is No Finish Line: Maintaining Energy and Momentum (Walden): Whether you’re just starting out as a writer or writing Book 27 of your bestselling series, you’re gonna have days when you think you might just quit. A panel of authors who’ve been at this for a while will offer war stories and advice on how to beat those urges and keep going (and why you must). I’ll be the moderator, and I can’t wait to hear what everybody else will have to say.

eat the peachOn Sunday, June 2:

SF/F: Are We Ready to Lighten Up Yet? (Lakeshore 2): A discussion of “Hopepunk”–what it is and why we might really, really need it. Or why we don’t.

I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Written That Way (Walden): Let’s talk about antiheroes, baby. (Why yes, I probably WILL mention that new season of Lucifer on Netflix; why do you ask?)

When I’m not on panels, I’m sharing a table with Alexandra Christian in Authors Alley, and I’ll probably stop in to annoy John Hartness and the rest of the crew at the big Falstaff Books booth. Get all the scoop about ConCarolinas 2019/Deep South Con 57 at their website here: https://concarolinas2019.sched.com/ Can’t wait to see you there!

 

Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing

The Excellence You Swear You Cannot See

nicole's bookThe Romance Writers of America has released the names of the nominees for their yearly RITA Awards, and, you guessed it, they’re about as diverse as a glass of milk beside a plate of sugar cookies with white chocolate chips. So all of us writing and publishing types have taken to the Facebooks and beyond one more time to discuss the diversity problem. Even among those of us nice white cis straight folks who have stopped twitching every time we admit it exists, there’s a lot of panic, anger, and confusion when we start trying to decide what to do about it.

Like most of the RITA nominees, I’m a middle-aged straight cis white woman who writes books. In my current romance WIP, the heroine is Persian. In the Southern gothic I finished earlier this year, the protagonist is a Black woman. In the next book I’m scheduled to write, one of the main background characters is gay, and I’ve written multiple gay characters into books in the past, from medieval romances to urban fantasy. Having even this much diversity in my work does great stuff for me as an artist, assuming I do it right. It makes me step out of my comfort zone and enriches my narrative voice in everything I write; it broadens my market for the finished product.

For the cause of diversity in publishing, it does dickory do.

michael's bookEven if I do my research, get every detail as right as it’s possible to get it, my non-white, non-straight, non-cis characters are never going to be drawn with the same authority a writer who shares that identity could give them. And at the end of the day, my success with these books, artistic and otherwise, is success for yet another white straight cis writer. And don’t get me wrong; I am all about succeeding. Nobody is asking me or expecting me or wanting me or any other white straight cis writer to be otherwise, and I wouldn’t oblige them if they were. But if I honestly give a shit about creating a level playing field for all writers, I have to work beyond that, outside it. I have to get past my own fear of failure and focus that part of my energy on people who aren’t me and work that isn’t mine. I have to stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader instead. And as a reader, I have to actively seek out diverse voices. And when I find good reads from those voices, I have to make sure other readers know about them, too.

Every time an award-nominating body or a publisher or a whatever gets accused of lack of diversity in their choices, their first excuse is always, “We would have been diverse; we wanted to, really, really, but we just couldn’t find anything to read at the level we were looking for that wasn’t written by a white straight cis person!” That’s bullshit so blatant, it’s laughable on its face, but still, my purpose here is to be helpful. So in addition to the amazing work of already-famous people like N.K. Jemison, Michael Cunningham, and Colson Whitehead, let me recommend a kind of Whitman’s sampler of fiction from various genres written by amazing writers whose work I happen to know. As a reader, I would recommend any and all of them without reservation—this, my kittens, is the good stuff. If you want your own reading and publishing in general to be more diverse, this is a great way to start. Click on the links to buy. Read them, review them, tell your friends. Be part of the solution.

Sisters of the Wild Sage, a collection of weird western short stories by Nicole Kurtz, a Black woman. Nicole also writes horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy, and it’s all well worth your attention.

A Fall In Autumn, an amazing new science fiction novel by Michael Williams, a gay man. Futuristic noir, first in an on-going series.

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of horror short stories written by Black women. I have already gnawed the ears off everybody who will listen about how great these stories are, but if you haven’t read them yet, DO IT NOW.

Girl In the Gears: A truly fun steampunk adventure by E. Chris Garrison, a transgender woman. First in an on-going series.

And finally, dear ladies of the RWA RITA-nominating committee …

Passion and Ink: The latest bestselling contemporary romance by Naima Simone, a Black woman with multiple series on-going and a voracious readership of romance lovers of every ethnicity.

And so many others I could happily mention if I had the space. If you can’t find the best work in your favorite genre being written by writers who break the white, straight, cis mold, then I’m sorry; you’re just not trying. And if anybody has other recommendations for me, by all means, add them to the comments!

Posted in Books, Falstaff Crush, historical romance, Mystery, romance, Screwball romance

Because I need distraction, and maybe you do, too.

guinevere's revenge coverThis has been an awful week, and now that I’ve expressed my outrage until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice, I’m looking around for things to make me forget reality entirely. I wrote my latest, Guinevere’s Revenge, in exactly that spirit. It’s an extremely light-hearted romantic mystery–Agatha Christie plus P.G. Wodehouse minus the racism.

The heroine, Stella Hart, is an American silent movie actress whose divorced socialite mother is married to an English lord. Stella is visiting the manor house for a shooting party and ends up solving a murder with the help of George Barrington, her stepfather’s favorite nephew. The story was inspired by screwball romances with lots of snappy banter like Bringing Up Baby and the kind of comforting mysteries where the bad are punished and the good go on in their goodness and all ends up right with the world. And right now, I really want to believe in that world, and I’m thinking maybe the rest of you might, too. Here’s an excerpt to show you what I mean:

****

“Thanks, Hennessey,” she said, taking the phone. “Hello? This is Stella Hart.”

“Finally,” a voice that was all too familiar boomed over the line. “You okay, dollface? It sounds like they’ve got you locked in an ivory tower. I’ve been trying to reach you all night!”

She slammed the phone down once, then three more times as if to break the connection for all eternity. George came out into the hall as she was putting the receiver down on the table, leaving it off the hook.

“Okay, Mugsy, where’d you hide the loot?” he teased.

“What?” She was too panicked to understand the joke.

“You’re behaving like a cat burglar who double-crossed her partners and absconded with the jewels.” He took her hand. “The jig’s up, kiddo.” For once his crooked smile made her want to cry. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“You’re closer than you think.” She had promised herself and poor Bertie that she wouldn’t breathe a word of this to anyone in England, but she had no choice. “You know all that money Lord Carraway thinks movie people make? It’s not quite so.”

“Darling, if you need money—”

“No, no, not me,” she said, smiling as she squeezed his hand. “Bertie’s last picture cost the lost treasures of Egypt to make. And he wasn’t as discerning as he might have been in how he got it. He borrowed money from what he called ‘a consortium of interested businessmen’ in New York to finish it, promising to pay them back when the picture was released.”

“What’s all this got to do with you?” George asked, frowning.

“The picture is a big success, but Bertie paid all the people who worked on it first,” she said. “Then he sort of . . . well, he spent a bundle on a leading man and a director for his next project.”

“Oh good lord . . .”

“He’ll definitely pay them back; he always does. But he’s taking a little longer than they were expecting, particularly with the picture doing so well.”

“Longer than he promised, you mean.”

“Yes, that.” She was in no fit state to explain away her stepfather’s faults the way she usually would have, not to George. She could never lie to George. “The leader of this . . .”

“Consortium?”

“Yes. He sent his son, Anthony, to Los Angeles to speak to Bertie about it, and Bertie asked me to . . . well . . . to distract him.”

“He did not!”

“Nothing awful!” she said, drawing him further from the dining room before he put the whole house in an uproar. “I just happened to run into the two of them at the Coconut Grove, and Bertie introduced us. I danced with Tony once or twice, and we drank some champagne. It was all perfectly innocent, really.” She hated the way George was looking at her, so sympathetic and horrified all at the same time. “But Tony apparently made more of it than I realized. He’s gotten sort of attached.”

George raised an eyebrow. “Attached?”

“He’s driving me crazy,” she confessed. “He sends me presents; he calls me night and day. The day I finally threw in the towel and ran, he had hired an entire string quartet to come to the set where I was working and play ‘Come to Me, My Melancholy Baby’ until I agreed to go out with him again.”

George laughed, the swine. “Sounds like the poor devil’s got it bad, sausage,” he said. “You should let him off the hook. Just tell him you’re not interested.”

“I can’t,” she said. “If I brush him off, he’ll remember about the money, and he might break poor Bertie’s knees or something.”

“Well, you can’t continue scurrying around the globe this way,” he said. “It’s round; you’ll eventually catch him up.” As he said this, she watched with horror as Hennessey came out, realized the phone was off the hook, and picked up the receiver.

“Hennessey, no!” she cried as he replaced it. Within mere seconds, it rang.

“Shush,” George said, pushing her gently aside to answer it. “Barrington Hall. George Barrington speaking.” She could hear Tony’s booming baritone, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. “Yes, Mr. Bartinelli, I’ve just been hearing all about you from our little Stella.” She grabbed his arm and gazed up at him with pleading eyes. “She tells me you’re quite a chap, and she’s quite taken with you.” He put his hand over hers and patted, giving her a nod that said he’d take care of everything. “Problem is, she’s my fiancée.”

“George!” she gasped.

“Yes, I knew it would be something of a shock,” George said, putting his hand over her mouth. “That scamp—I should have known better than to let her loose in California without me.” She heard Tony say something even more loudly than usual. “Yes, a good spanking is probably exactly what she needs. But what can I do, Mr. Bartinelli? I adore her.” A short pause. “Yes, I thought you’d understand.” Another pause. “Yes, it’s been in the works for years. Her stepfather is my uncle, you see.” Pause. “No, not that one—the other one, Lord Barrington.” Pause. “Too bad, yes. That would solve a great many problems, wouldn’t it?” Longer pause, and George frowned. “Now see here, Mr. Bartinelli, I hardly think . . .” Then he laughed. “Yes, I suppose I do understand. I’m just glad you’re taking it so well. She wasn’t too terribly naughty, was she? . . . Oh good, good, glad to hear it . . . No, no, not at all . . . That sounds fine. Good-bye.”

He hung up the phone. “I can’t believe it,” Stella said. “You darling madman . . . I can’t believe you told him we were engaged.”

“Inspiration of the desperate man and all that.” He looked a little pale. “And he believed it, by the way. Said it made perfect sense.”

“Well, what else could he say?” She felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “George, I swear I could kiss you.”

“Good,” he said, his voice rather hollow. “You’ll need the practice.”

“What do you mean?” she said.

“You’ll have to make a good show of it, sausage,” he answered with a sickly grin. “He’s on his way here.”

“What?”

“He wants to be certain you’re happy with our engagement.”

“Oh for pity’s sake!”

“He’s only looking out for you, sausage. I think he really is quite smitten.”

“That’s very sweet, but dear heavens!” Could things get any worse? “Did you tell him we would just wait around here until his boat arrives?”

“Oh, his boat arrived this morning, half an hour after yours did.” She clutched his arm, too shocked to speak. “He’s at the post office,” he said. “He’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“George, really,” Mavis said, coming out of the dining room. “This is intolerable. They’re about to serve dessert.” She looked back and forth between George and Stella, the two of them sort of clutching one another like orphans in a storm. “What the devil is going on?”

“Mavis, darling, thank heavens you’re here,” George said, letting go of Stella to go to her. “We’re going to have to play a little game.”

****

Wanna know how it comes out? Get your copy from Amazon here.

Posted in Books, Editing, Falstaff Crush, Publishing, romance

Falstaff Crush – Romance for All

huntressHeya Kittens – Long time no type!

Regular visitors to the blog-ness know how discouraged I’ve been for a while now about the state of romance publishing. While I wish every writer nothing but the best, the wild west atmosphere created by self-publishing and fan fiction has resulted in a market flooded to glut with the same old crap repeated ad nauseam with plots no self-respecting teen-age drama queen would scribble in her diary and action that is nothing short of porn. There’s still plenty of good stuff, but it’s continually getting drowned in all this other, and publishers, desperate to maintain any kind of profit whatsoever, are demanding writers write to an ever-more-stringent and ever-less-interesting template made of tropes created more to serve a keyword search than any kind of story.

For a long time, I’ve thought there has to be a better way to keep romance as a genre alive; I KNOW there’s a better way. And now, thanks to Falstaff Books, I’m getting the chance to prove it. I’m going to be an author and submissions editor for a brand new romance line with a brand new approach to the genre. Welcome to Falstaff Crush, romance for people who think they don’t like romance. Our tagline is “Love is the greatest adventure,” and that’s what our stories are all about. We do science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, adventure–all the genres we love as readers, all built around a strong romantic relationship between people who may or may not be what mainstream romance would call a couple. The setting and genre are more than just a costume, more than just an apparatus to get two or more people in the sack. We don’t do tropes; we do story.

Our first release, Huntress, is a high fantasy dragonslayer tale, and over the next month or so, we’ll have a weird western, contemporary gothic horror, and even a sexy Sherlock Holmes, with more in the pipeline to come. (We’re also open to submissions, so please feel free to check out our guidelines.)  Watch this space for updates, and as always, let me know what you think!

xoxo

Lucy

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Uncategorized

When In Doubt, Read More Books

So exactly one month ago, I moaned extensively about how all art lately has been making me sad. (Read it here if you can stand it.) Since then I’ve been taking my favorite cure–reading fiction. I asked for a bunch of books for Christmas, and I’ve been burning through them, reading every night. And I’m pleased to say, they’ve made me feel a whole bunch better.

So here’s what I’ve finished since January 2, 2018:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager. I read it years before the movie came out. That first time, all I really engaged was the story inside the story, Westley and Buttercup. I read it again as a grad student and was all about the postmodern narrative and how the fantasy story reflects the story of Goldman the writer as a character–much equating of Buttercup and the starlet in the pool. Now as a middle-aged writer myself facing all those same doubts, that’s the story I see. And it’s still great. I wish he’d never bothered with all the Buttercup’s Baby stuff, but that’s not up to me. It’s an evolving story, and it’s completely his.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

It is precisely what it reads on the cover–a very readable retelling of the high points of Norse mythology from the guy who wrote Stardust and American Gods (and many many other awesome written things). These ancient stories are told with intelligence and a whimsically twisted humor that should feel very familiar to anybody steeped in contemporary pop, goth, and geek culture. But while the tone feels current, the scale of the stories is still epic; it’s not hipster-lite mythology. I’m no scholar of the great sagas, but I would bet he gets the details right–that’s certainly the way it feels. Because these are myths, the characters are archetypes, but they’re all very specific and well-drawn–I rarely found myself referring to the glossary of names at the back; I usually remembered everyone once they were mentioned. I can’t say I particularly identified with them or felt any great emotional connection to them, but I enjoyed their tales very much. I read the whole book in a weekend. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Norse culture, especially young readers. Yeah, there’s some crazy, perverted stuff that goes on, but it’s all told in a matter-of-fact, humorous style that should keep any interested middle-schooler from being scarred for life.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

This one was so wrenching, I actually put it down halfway through, meaning to take a break from it, but I couldn’t. I ended up reading the second half straight through and ended up a soggy, emotional wreck–and a huge Jesmyn Ward fan. The best, truest, most heart-wrenching, most horrifying ghost story I’ve ever read. Deserving of all its awards, including last year’s National Book Award for best fiction book. But I was afraid I would have to spend the next month reading nothing stronger than Winnie the Pooh stories just to recover.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

This was the first YA book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s a good one. Gray’s version of Leia at 16 is strong, smart, and winning while being both a realistic teenager and true to the character I know and love from the movies. And I was surprised by how exciting the plot was–this is no standard feisty princess tale; it’s a tense and well-paced Star Wars adventure. I would recommend it to young adults new to Leia’s story but also to older fans like me who have loved her since A New Hope.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the easiest, most purely pleasurable reading experience I’ve had in quite a while, and I read a lot. The shorthand synopsis is that it’s a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and it very much is. If you’re familiar with Austen’s famous novel, one of the pleasures of this book is seeing all the clever, twisty ways Sittenfeld has worked all the sparkling facets of the original into this new version. But even readers who have never touched eyes to Austen and wouldn’t on a bet will enjoy this story. Witty without ever being mean, hilarious without ever being stupid, and romantic without ever being schmaltzy, this is the modern woman’s romance for readers who loathe “chick lit.”

So that was my January. Right now I’m reading back and forth between The Briar King by Greg Keyes and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff–two great tastes that so far taste great together. And I also proofread an extremely fab anthology as part of my editing gig that I look forward to telling you all about when it releases. In the meantime, go to the bookstore. It really, really helps.