An Almost True Story–12 Days of Christmakwanzaka Blog Hop

12 Days Revision (1)I’m thrilled to be part of the 12 Days of Christmakwanzaka Blog Hop!  Be sure to stop by the other stories–there have been some really great ones this week!

BTW, after the story, I have some news and the link to a giveaway.

When Julia and Alyssa invited me, I instantly knew I wanted to write about a surreal moment I experienced last December, when I was on my way to a party where I would dress like this:

 

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Yep, that’s me dressed as Mrs. Claus.  With that clue and a caveat that I’m a happily married woman, I’ll leave it up to you to separate fact from fiction in this little story.  Tell me any theories you have in the comments! And I hope you enjoy this short, free read!


Vic shoved open the door to the Railroad Cafe.

“Extra large coffee.”

“Sure thing, officer.” The barista gave him a cup to fill from the array of pump pots. She didn’t ring him up, so he dropped two bucks into her tip jar.

He chose his usual, the extra-dark roast. The rich coffee steam smelled damn good, but it didn’t change the fact he hated this shift—watching a stop sign on a busy residential street.

This time of year, drivers assumed the department was trying to close a gap in their budget, which just made them more pissed off to get fined. He’d spent years patrolling the streets of Fallujah, watching Iraqi women and children grasp at normal lives.  Compared to that life and death shit, being an expensive nuisance to drivers felt like a waste of everyone’s time. But it was his job until a position opened up on the SWAT team, and the coffee was better here than on base.

The second he dropped behind the wheel, a car rolled past the stop sign.  Silver sedan, a little body damage.  From the driver’s long hair, probably a female.  He flipped on the flashers and rounded the corner, accelerating fast to catch up with the vehicle.

Her bumper sticker read, Make Love Not War, with peace signs for Os like something out of the sixties.

Dated, maybe, but he’d been to war, and he had no beef with the slogan.

He beeped his siren once and she pulled over fast.

At the driver’s window, dark hair with pink streaks greeted him. Also big hazel eyes, a little stud in her nose. The kind of girl he’d stared at hungrily across the high school cafeteria, but who didn’t fly with his clean-cut ROTC buddies.  She rolled down the window and the scent of candy canes hit him.  Boxes of them were stacked in her passenger seat, like she was a pink-haired elf on a special delivery.

“License and registration please.”

She already had them out and her hand shook.  Tattooed barbed wire circled her pale, narrow wrist, and her  arm was covered in goosebumps. Was she afraid of him? He’d hated that in Iraq. She squinted up at him, her eyes glassy.  Maybe she was high. He wanted to look at her pretty face until he figured it out, but instead he took the papers back to the patrol car.

He ran her through the computer. Amelia Scola. Spotless record.

Still…she’d rolled through that stop sign…

Back at her car, he passed her documents through the open window, briefly glimpsing her neon pink bra through a sheer white tee-shirt. At the thought of those small breasts bare, his mouth went dry. What was it about this girl?

“Ma’am, are you aware you failed to make a complete stop at the last intersection?”

“Did I?” She blew out a breath. “Molly told me not to drive.” Like the glassy surface of her eyes had melted, tears began to pool in her lids.

Please don’t. “Why’s that?”

She sniffed, her tears spilling.

Shit. His own eyes began to prickle. Last time this happened, when that dog owner started blubbering, Vic’s partner had given him hell for it.  Just his luck, he’d turned into one of those sympathetic criers, like his mom. Thank God for sunglasses.

“No need to cry, ma’am. I just asked a question.”

“I’m sorry.  God, this is embarrassing.  I have a killer migraine. But I have to get to work. I’ve never gotten a ticket—” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

A migraine. That explained her glassy eyes.

The tears building behind his own eyes finally escaped down his cheeks. He brushed them away with a silent prayer she hadn’t seen. But her eyes widened enough to convince him she had.

“You get migraines a lot?”

“Just sometimes.” She sniffed again, not a feminine sound, and yet intimate. It made him want to know her better, hear the other little sounds she made—of joy, or surprise.  If only he’d met her five minutes ago, back in the coffee shop—before the traffic violation and the damn crying.  “It started to get better, and I really have to get to work.”

“What’s so important that you have to go in sick?”

“I have to—” She hiccuped. “I have to dress up as Mrs. Claus at a party for foster kids.”

“Yeah, right. Mrs. Claus doesn’t have a nose piercing.”

“It comes out. And see.” She pointed her thumb toward the back seat, where a white-fur-trimmed red dress hung.

Well, shit. Miss Make Love Not War worked with foster kids? No way was he writing her a ticket. And not just because he couldn’t help but think of getting her naked on top of all that red velvet and fake fur.

He rapped his knuckles on the top of her car.  “Ma’am, I’m going to send you off with a warning–this citation would have set you back more than three-hundred dollars.”

“Thank you.”  She brushed away a tear from her cheek, and the damp trails of his own suddenly felt cold.

“Just doing my job.” And in that job he was strictly forbidden to ask out women when he pulled them over for traffic violations. Not that it mattered—what kind of woman would go out with a cop who cried instead of writing her a ticket?

“Really, thanks a million.” She smiled at him, her mask of fear and pain transformed—she was so captivating he could only nod and walk away.

Behind the wheel, watching her drive off, her sudden smile seemed all wrong. Had she really had a headache? Fuck. Probably not.

And no way was little tattooed-and-pierced Amelia Scola dressing up as Mrs. Claus.  She’d seen his tears and made him for a sucker, and he’d swallowed her line about foster kids hook, line, and sinker.

Two Days Later

“It’s totally him.” Amelia leaned close to Molly and whispered to her friend.

Blue eyes, impossibly long lashes, and he’d cried in sympathy of her Mrs. Claus predicament. She hadn’t stopped thinking about him, even though cops were so not her type. She’d been arrested enough times in her wayward youth to have major residual fear of that species of men. Except him.

“That’s officer cry baby?” Molly took a sip of her hard cider, eyes trained across the room. “Way hotter than I pictured.”

“Told you.”

He sat at a booth, surrounded by other guys who had the rumpled look of off duty cops. The Philosopher’s Club was Amelia and Molly’s local drinking hole.  Their buddy tended the dive’s bar, full of community college students and the blue collar folks who eked a living in this far corner of San Francisco. The cops and firefighters usually hung out one block up at Portal’s Tavern, but PT’s had a sign up that said closed until New Year’s Eve.

Amelia took a swig of her vodka gimlet, hoping it would cool the flush in her cheeks.

Officer Lopez sat straight and stoic as the other guys laughed, one of them even punching his shoulder. Maybe it was the light, but his high cheekbones looked a little pink, too.

The urge to thank him overwhelmed her. “I’m going over there.”

“To a table full of cops? Gi-rrrr-lll.” Molly shook her head with disbelief, drawing the word out into three syllables.

Determined, Amelia ducked under a sagging strand of Christmas lights. But halfway to his booth, her memories came back—the half-dozen times she’d been arrested for shop lifting, loitering, petty things any kid living on the street had to do.  There’d been nice cops, but she mostly remembered the ones who’d threatened or propositioned her. Mid-stride she lost her nerve and detoured, hiding behind a partition to rethink her plan.

The other cops spoke loudly, perfectly audible from her new location.  They were razzing Lopez about something…An old lady who’d tripped on the curb…An effeminate man who’d lost his dog…

Ah, hell.

Both times he’d cried in sympathy, and these guys weren’t going to cut him a break about it.

With no thought but to spare Lopez, she marched toward the cops acting just like the macho pricks she expected them to be.  Recognition transformed his impassive features, and his bright blue eyes burned with anger.

At her? Maybe he’d seen her record and regretted letting her go. She faltered but forced her feet forward. All that stuff was sealed tight since she’d been a minor. “Hi.”

“I don’t have anything to say to you.”

Ouch. Maybe he was another macho prick after all.  She should spin right around and return to Molly, but something about his fiery, pissed-off stare held her. She didn’t want to be afraid.

The men seated around him shifted, raked their gazes over her. Assholes.

“I can think of lots to say to her,” one volunteered.

“She,” Amelia said, “doesn’t want to hear it from you.”

“Go away, Ms. Scola,” Lopez growled.

Her skin broke out in goosebumps. He remembered her name.

“So now you’re hard as nails?” asked one of the cops, who jabbed him in the ribs. “Just tremble your lower lip, sugar. He’ll buy you a drink.”

Her handsome cop scowled, and she took a step back, ready to retreat.

“I’ll buy her a drink if Vic won’t,” said another cop.

She opened her mouth to refuse, but Officer Lopez said it first. “No.”

He vaulted himself over the table in one blurry movement, took firm hold of her elbow, and steered her toward the bar. If only it was to buy her a drink, and not to keep her from adding another story to their case against him.

“How was the party?” he growled.

“Uh?” Weird question. “My head pounded the whole time, but otherwise it was fine.”

“Give me a break. We both know you made that up to get out of a ticket.”

“Excuse me?” She grabbed her phone, calling up the pictures as proof. When she found one capturing an adorable pair of girls seated on her lap, she handed it over.

He sucked his cheeks in a little as he contemplated the picture. After a long moment, he said, “I thought for sure you’d fed me a bullshit story.”

“Geez. Suspicious much. You saw my costume.”

“Yeah. But you don’t exactly seem like the baking cookies type.”

She crossed her arms. “Hey. I can pre-heat the oven and slice store-bought cookie dough as well as anybody.”

He cracked a smile, like she’d hoped he would. “I guess I’m a little defensive about…” He shrugged and averted his gaze. “You know…the guys think I’m a softie.”

Her belly fluttered. He was so big and hot and freaking adorable. “Those guys seem like assholes.”

“They’re all right. Just being cops.”

“I don’t like cops much.”

He stiffened.

“Not usually, I mean.” On him, it was totally working for her. She reached up and smoothed the collar on his flannel shirt. His shoulders fell a little, relaxing under the touch. “See, I wasn’t always a good girl.”

“Are you one now?” One brow cocked over his blue eyes, stoking some hidden fire inside her.

“Mostly. Though I have my naughty moments.”

“I certainly hope so.” He clasped her wrists.

The gesture could have freaked her out from some other guy, but with him, it felt safe, good.

“And I wouldn’t worry about being a softie, Officer Lopez. From where I’m standing you’re hard in all the important places. Although, obviously I’d have to step closer, to be absolutely sure.”

He nodded gravely. “Well, we want you to be sure.” His big hands came around her waist, pulling her close enough to whisper in her ear. “You know, the other day, I was sorry we’d met like that, and not some other place.”

A rare sort of hopeful excitement bubbled up in her.  “Yeah? Why?”

“So I could do this.” His mouth brushed hers. Soft, careful lips. So much control.

She inched closer, pressing into him, opening her mouth to his tongue, and her heart to this one cop whom she wanted to know a lot better.


scavenger-hunt1

  • Want to play a Romance scavenger hunt?

  • Want to see me in my pajamas?

  • Want to hear the Rev. Amber Belldene Rx for how to get over a break up? Come play!

I’m participating in a fun author video scavenger hunt this month.  It’s hosted by Rachel at the RayKayBooks blog.  You can find an explanation here, with links to all the videos and giveaway, including the chance to have a secondary character in one of my books named after you.


 

blank-book-cover-graphicMy novella One Sinful Night in Sao Paulo will release Jan 5th from Entangled Publishing.  For news of that release and future books, please Sign up for my newsletter

On Turning Sappy: some thoughts about Christmas

The_Grinch_(That_Stole_Christmas)I’ll admit it.  I’m kind of a Grinch.  I like the Christmas season, but left to my own devices, I would be a minimalist about it.  The thing is, now I’m a mom, and that’s not an option.  As everyone keeps reminding me, it’s my job to create meaningful traditions for my kids, like my mom did for me, the dearest of which I still keep.

This is the first year my kids really get it.  They are three and a half and they’ll be in the preschool Christmas pageant.  They know the story of the baby Jesus, of Saint Nicholas, and they can sing lots of carols.  (They also know about Hanukkah, but DD seems to confuse it with Halloween, because according to her there are some people that don’t celebrate Christmas but who light seven candles and get to wear princess costumes instead.)

The kids’ excitement and wonder is precious, and so I don’t mind the decorating and the music.  Plus, as all you parents out there know, the more crafts and activities on hand, the easier it is to manage 3.5 year old twins, who start messing with each other given an idle second.  The giant box of festive foam-sticker crafts my aunt sends is a lifesaver!

So I’m becoming less of a Grinch, but even more, I am becoming out right sappy.  This morning in the car, I got weepy at the words to the Victorian Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships,” specifically the line “And all the bells on earth shall ring.”

What an image, when you stop to consider it!  The whole world proclaiming peace and love by ringing bells simultaneously. Like a ginormous, universal wedding peal, thinks this romance writer.

The church season of Advent is all about longing for a future of peace, as the medieval hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” says:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

My personal longing is not for a world where suddenly everyone accepts Jesus as their king, but that all of us stop caring about being right or powerful, and simply make peace.

Every time I turn on the news, I long for it more.

Every time I have to explain the brokenness of the world to my kids, I long for it more.

I think that’s why I’m turning into a sap.

And this morning in the car, with the kids in their car seats, I started outright bawling at  “Do you Hear What I hear?”  A shepherd boy who goes to the king, to tell him about a child, shivering in the cold? Gah! What mother can listen to that without crying?

Said the king to the people everywhere,
listen to what I say
Pray for peace, people everywhere! 

This year, when I hear these Christmas songs, I can’t help but think of the baby Jesus as every child born into poverty, oppression, unjustly killed.

So yeah. I’m a sap. And I’ll decorate and make crafts and drink peppermint mochas and take hundred of pictures of my mini-shepherd and my mini-angel and keep listening to Raffi Christmas in the car.  But now, in a way I didn’t really understand before, I know I’m doing it all to teach my kids to see what’s wrong in the world, and to work to change those things.  And of course, to pray for peace, with people everywhere.

My parents are divorced, and as salient as any holiday memories are the terrible fights they had over putting up the Christmas tree (I know, I know–the mystery of my Grinchdom explained!).  Last year, my husband and I made the strategic marital decision to buy an artificial tree.  I’m sure there will still be plenty of stress this season, but we want our kids to remember love and peace in our home, not arguments about whether the trunk is straight.

And when I’m all prayed out, or the Christmas cheer gets to be too much, I am going to pour myself a bourbon with a splash of eggnog, cuddle up with my husband on the couch, and read (or sometimes write) a romance novel.


scavenger-hunt1

  • Want to play a Romance scavenger hunt?

  • Want to see me in my pajamas?

  • Want to hear the Rev. Amber Belldene Rx for how to get over a break up? Come play!

I’m participating in a fun author video scavenger hunt this month.  It’s hosted by Rachel at the RayKayBooks blog.  You can find an explanation here, with links to all the videos and giveaways, including the chance to have a secondary character in one of my books named after you.


blank-book-cover-graphic

My novella One Sinful Night in Sao Paulo will release Jan 5th from Entangled Publishing.  For news of that release and future books, please Sign up for my newsletter

Crammed Full of Gratitude  

Crammed full FridgeMy house is full of paper-and-glue turkeys made by my kids at preschool. My fridge is crammed full of an actual seventeen-pound turkey and all the ingredients for sides. It’s been impossibly hectic at work lately, although thankfully most of the tasks feel meaningful. My whole household has been struck down by a cold that turns into a cough and lasts forever. And we have seventeen of our best friends and family coming over for Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow in our tiny little San Francisco house (Please don’t ask me where they are going to sit. I still have no idea!).

The virus in my body has demanded I sleep early and late, cutting into all my writing hours. But this morning I dragged myself out of bed and sat with my computer in the dark, peaceful house. I tried to write, but instead my thoughts ran to the meta, insisting I ponder why I write. That reflection morphed into this short list of things I’m grateful for about writing, and why I keep at it even when life is so full of other things to be thankful for.

  • The Romance Writers of America Community—When I first started writing, I was lost and alone, without a critique partner or a clue about the business of writing and selling romance, until I discovered RWA. I was thrilled when I learned I could go to a meeting right here in the Bay Area. Since then, I’ve made the most amazing friends and learned so much. Classes, conferences, contests—all of them were immeasurably helpful. But the very best part is the community of women. I’ve never been part of such a smart, supportive, fun, friendly, collaborative group before. It’s an honor and a privileged I am grateful for every day that I open my email, or log on to Twitter or Facebook.

  • Words—When I began writing historical books, I discovered that my public library provides free online access to the Oxford English Dictionary. Whenever I want to know the historical usage of a word or its detailed derivation, I pop on to the site. I love this resource, and I’ve lost hours chasing trails of etymologies. I confess I fall into a sense of awe when I do so, contemplating the history of language, how it changes, how we all use it and participate in its evolution. Language is what makes us human, and when I get sucked into the OED I love to revel in it.

  • Mirrors (of the metaphorical variety)—There are times when work and chores threaten to swallow up all my time and creative energy. But thankfully my husband, my friends, and my spiritual director will remind me not to succumb. They hold up a metaphorical mirror for me, and say things like, “Wow, your whole face lights up when you talk about your writing.” I love being a mom, a wife, a priest and a friend, but the folks who love me remind me that if I don’t make time for writing, I’m not taking care of my own soul, and so I am not filling any of those roles as well as I might.

  • Editors and Critique Partners—Lately, I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to get people to tell you what you want to hear, and how much self-discipline is required to listen to the truth you need to hear instead. I’m immensely grateful for every critique partner and editor I’ve worked with. This kind of relationship is potentially profound, when people enter into it with trust, care for how feedback and suggestions are delivered, and the willingness to be unflinchingly honest. This level of sensitive, constructive honesty is a rare thing in the world, and I’m very grateful for it.

*I should probably confess that’s not actually my fridge in the photo. But this one captures how full I actually feel.

Writing Dangerously

NOWD-2014-PosterI had the pleasure of accompanying my friend and RWA chapter-mate Kristin Miller to the National Novel Writing Month’s Night of Writing Dangerously last weekend as her date, hubba hubba! I had a great time, and here are some of my takeaways:

1) Writing is dangerous.  It’s vulnerable, an incredible investment of time and energy.  Almost every author I know has a life as full as mine, and making the commitment to keep writing every day has costs. We do it because we have to–we have the calling, the urge. Yet like everything that’s truly worthwhile, writing demands sacrifices. It was great fun to be in a crowded room full of others who, like me, have weighed those costs and deemed them worth it.

2) Phew! I finished the first draft of my latest WIP right before this event. It was a hard book, one of the most satisfying The Ends I’ve written.  Since my first NaNoWriMo in 2012, the timing of my writing projects hasn’t allowed me to participate again, and every year I’m bummed to miss the awesome communal and yet slightly word-count-competitive mayhem. The novel I completed from start to finish in November of 2012 will be published next summer, so that’s cool! I’d tell you it’s name, but it’s getting a new one as we speak.

Amber and Kristin at NOWD3) I was at a table of really talented writers from my RWA chapter, including the lovely Kristin Miller (right), Rachael Heron, Bethany Heron, Adrienne Bell and Veronica Wolff (and one really nice guy who had the courage to sit with a bunch of romance writers!). Together we discussed our writing processes, and what works for each of us.

As of last week, I’m seven novels into my life as a writer, which feels like an accomplishment to me, but makes me an infant compared to some of the others I was sitting with. I love every second of it; writing brings me so much joy.  But I still wrestle with my process, and with process envy for people who do it differently and (of course, because the grass is always greener) seem to do it more easily than me. Talking to these other writers reminded me once again that our process is as unique as our voice and the world-view we bring to our stories. We may as well embrace it and make it work, rather than trying to conform to the advice of others.

Still, it’s always nice to hear when someone else does it like you, and Rachael and I discovered we both have to be in the moment with our characters before we know what they will do next. It makes planning nigh impossible, but leaves me pleasantly surprised very often, and happily I’m not alone in doing it this way–by the gut in the moment of writing, rather than a carefully pre-mapped arc.

4) There are middle school students writing novels this month in San Francisco schools! How cool is that? I occasionally teach a middle school writing club, and I’ve been pushing my students with my new favorite app: Write or Die. Now I’m inspired to nudge a few dedicated young authors to this level of productivity.

5) I won a raffle basket of hardcover books, and I will be giving some of them away on the blog very soon!

Halloween Flash Fiction & A Queer Romance Month Post

grave_texture_1_by_goombanomics-d4bbzhwI’ve been on the Interwebs lately with a few fun things:

Today I wrote a silly little Halloween Flash Fiction Story for Jennifer over at Books Make me Happy!  It was a fun game–write a short piece inspired by a picture.  This is the one I chose, and as Jennifer says, “What’s a Halloween story without an empty grave and an appearance from the big guy down under?”  It’s a little noir with a female PI and an ex with a grudge.

About the Picture: Image: Grave Texture 1, Artist Page:Artist Page: Goombanomics http://www.deviantart.com/art/Grave-Texture-1-260899700

 


 

 

QRM Author badge_300I was hugely honored to be asked to contribute to Queer Romance Month, and the essays have been stunningly brilliant. Honestly, I recommended reading them all!  Mine is up today, and it’s called For These Things we are Beloved.  It’s about how real-life stories taught me all true love is queer, and how my spiritual journey taught me that love is love (which is the motto of Queer Romance Month).

 

 

 

 


Mummy 2Lastly, I participated in a fun little Scary Stories Facebook Party on Friday, and posted a video of me reading my favorite not-that-scary story, The Runaway Mummy.  It’s a parody of The Runaway Bunny, and one of my favorites!

You can find the video here.  It’s 4 and a half minutes of me being silly :-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Release Day: Blood Eternal and the Blood Vine Box Set

I’m very grateful to my publisher Omnific for releasing the Blood Vine series as a boxed set.  And here’s the best news: the collection comes with a new short story starring Pedro and Lucas, BLOOD ETERNAL.

Blood Eternal:Distance has grown between blood mates Pedro Torres and Lucas Bennett. Before an eternity of bonded misery becomes their fate, Pedro undertakes a plan of seduction, hoping it will close the gap and bring his lover back to him forever.Buy links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

This short story of 4000 words is also available separate from the box set.

The Blood Vine Series

Blood Vine: When public relations pro Zoey Porter arrives at an enchanting California winery, she discovers her sexy new client is the almost one-night stand she can’t forget. Zoey has vowed never to risk her heart again, but Andre needs her help.

Blood Entangled: Kos Maras’s orderly life is in shambles–he must distribute Blood Vine to a population of ailing vampires, but Hunters block him at every turn. To make matters worse, each night, he watches over a temptingly beautiful but unattainable woman sleeping in his bed.

Blood Reunited: Vampire biologist Bel Maras must create a cure for the wasting disease that plagues his family. But when it fails, only his ancient and estranged godmother Uta can help. Now these old enemies must overcome their past to save the vampires and come to peace with the bond they never chose.

Buy links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thanks to the awesome bloggers who are buzzing about the release this week!  You can win a copy of the box set by entering contest at one of the following blogs:

The Secret Sermon In Every Romance Novel 

If you like to ponder the big ideas behind the romance genre, check out my recent post on the blog Wonkomance, in which I argue writing romance is a courageous and hopeful countercultural act.

The 10 minutes before I sleep.

downloadI’ve fallen out of the rhythm of blogging for a number of reasons, but something has stirred inside me–an inspiration to get back into it. I’m a creature of habit, and so I plan to make a new one.  A Monday post about what I’m reading.

Sadly, I lost my primary reading opportunity–audiobooks on my commute–three weeks ago, when my kids started joining me for the 1-1.5 hour round-trip each day. Since then, I have listened to the same Fancy Nancy stories countless times, instead of the grown-up novels I prefer. There’s something cool about sharing books with the twins, but I do miss my adult reads.

Consequently, I’m forced to choose what I read carefully.  And, currently, I don’t have time to read things I’m compulsive about. By compulsive I mean the absolutely delicious audiobooks of Laura Kinsale novels narrated by Nicholas Boulton, to which I have lost many hours of sleep.  I just can’t afford book hangovers when my only writing time is at 5 a.m.  Romance is largely a genre of page-turners, but for now I’m choosing the slow reads, which I can enjoy five or ten pages of before my eyelids begin drooping. If you have any slow-build romance authors to recommend, please share!

It’s a delicious feeling to settle into bed, warm and ready for sleep, and to pick up a book. The one I’m presently enjoying is the first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair.

A little back story: in April, on a non-linear impulse, I listened to the fourth Thursday Next book on audio and enjoyed it. Months later, I undertook to write an “In Love with Nanny” story, and thought I should re-acquaint myself with Jane Eyre (which also included some yummy time watching Michael Fassbender as Rochester.)  When I found a few weeks ago that someone had abandoned the paperback at work, my next book was chosen for me by divine providence.Fassbender

These Thursday Next novels are really peculiar.  They are full of wordplay and puns, most of which I am probably missing.  They are essentially extensive literary in-jokes, delightfully surreal, plotted like genre fiction but only sort-of, and just right for reading sporadically. You could probably re-read countless times and find new layers on each pass. I’m a third of the way in, and we’ve only once been tantalized with a Rochester appearance.  We’ve also just now met “the love interest” who I happen to know spoilers about, since I read out of order.  Thursday is a little bit noir, very droll, and quite likable.  These books probably aren’t a fit for people who prefer to read only romance, but since I’m a genre omnivore, I am already looking forward to brushing my teeth and then reading another half-chapter.

DualityPrinciple-The300-2-200x300I also had the pleasure of reading the ARC of a debut by romance writer, Rebecca Grace Allen, who I *met* in those fun “Firsts” blog hops. Her novella, called The Duality Principle, will release November 11 from Samhain.

The story is smart, sexy, and passionate, with two lovable characters trying to make peace with the disparate parts of themselves.  I guess it’s a New Adult story, a genre I tend to avoid, but I enjoyed this one! Rebecca Grace has a lovely and natural voice, and it was fun to be inside both her sweet characters’ heads.  I have a high standard for fresh, believable internal conflict in erotic romance, and this book has it! I’ll definitely check out more of her work, and I recommend this fun, steamy summer-fling story. You can pre-order it now. And what a cute cover, right?

 


 

BloodVineSeries_v2_500x500Two bits of news:

The box set of the Blood Vine series, featuring a short story about Pedro and Lucas called “Blood Eternal,” will release Oct 14. You’ll be able to get the story separately too, if you already own all three Blood Vine books.

And yay! I’ve sold a paranormal romance called Temptress in a Teapot to Lyrical Press, now part of Kensington. This book is dear to my heart and I’m so happy it will be released in July 2015.

Meet my Characters Blog Hop: Pedro Torres

PedroLovesLucasMy dear writing friend Celia Breslin tagged me in the Meet my Characters Blog Hop–I never follow the rules for these things, but I still thought it would be fun!  So, voila!

Meet Pedro Torres, who considers himself the star of the Blood Vine series, about to be released as a box set.  While the Maras vampires (Andre, Kos and Bel) might argue with him about who is the true hero of the series, Pedro and his lover Lucas get their very own short story, Blood Eternal, that will be bundled with the box set and also available separately.  I’ve just turned in edits and found I’d forgotten how much I like this short, steamy ditty, which earned a “RAWR” from my editor.

Is your character a fictional or a historic person?

Pedro might argue this point too, and I admit he seems awfully real to me, but he is entirely the product of my own imagination. So—fictional!

When and where is the story set?

Blood Eternal is set several years after the close of Blood Reunited, which is to say in the present. The story takes place in Budapest, which is a really fascinating city–beautiful, old, with all the grit and mystique the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain hold for me.  My husband lived in Budapest to study math as an undergraduate, and we have two watercolors he bought there hanging over our bed.  After the recent earthquake in Napa, CA, which shook our San Francisco home pretty good, I became convinced the pictures might decapitate me in my sleep and I nailed their hooks into the picture rail, so hopefully I will not be killed by my own art anytime soon.

What should we know about him?

Oh gosh, Pedro is such a fun character that it’s hard to choose just one thing.  How’s this?  He comes from a long line of Spanish vintners, and is himself an accomplished winemaker, which is how he’s occupied himself since Blood Reunited closed, and which allows him to make a wildly romantic gesture in this short story. Also, he’s a perennial smart ass.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

At the start of Blood Eternal, Pedro and his bonded mate Lucas have been living in a long-distance relationship for several years, and he fears Lucas doesn’t want to come home and live with him when the opportunity finally arises.

What is the personal goal of the character?

In this short story, Pedro’s goal is to seduce Lucas and rekindle their intimacy.

Is this story published, and where can we read more about it?

Blood Eternal will be released in October as part of a box set of the Blood Vine series.  Here’s more about the trilogy, and here is where bloggers can sign up to join the release event.

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Here are four other authors pals of mine participating in the hop:

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Flash Fiction: Lisa Queen of Love

FirstUndressing1I’m so excited to be part of the launch day of the First Undressing Blog Hop (#1stUndress), inspired by this great video!  It’s happening all week, organized by the fabulous Audra North! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the week, featuring some of my very favorite romance writers!

BTW–did you notice I have a gorgeous new website?  It’s designed by the fabulous Amber Shah at Book Beautiful.  She does covers too, and she’s great to work with! To celebrate, anyone who hasn’t yet signed up for my new newsletter will be entered in this giant book giveaway. Winners chosen Friday, books mailed Tuesday!

Blog hop rules: strangers meeting and undressing for the first time on camera! A pretty tough set up…I hope you enjoy my attempt :-)

Lisa, Queen of Love

The formally dressed singles filed into the hotel ballroom. Their excess of glam layers and accessories made for a festive atmosphere, but dampened their elegance. Oh well, the party vibe was the important part.

“I still say this will never work.” A grudging smile colored Brad’s words. The crowd was far bigger than they’d expected.

Anxiety squeezed Lisa’s chest so tight her sternum might crack in half.

It had to work!

In college she’d matched six couples who’d wound up happily married, earning herself the nickname Queen of Love. Since then, she’d turned her gift into a career. Or, she’d tried. Brad had funded her matchmaking business twice over. Both times, her dating services had built momentum, landed a few successes, but never quite managed a profit. Brad had gently suggested it was time to throw in the towel.

Instead, she’d devoted herself to studying what attracted young singles in San Francisco–avant garde events, bordering on the absurd. Hell, at this very moment, in the hotel next door the crazy-popular new cunnilingus-as-meditation club met.**

Let a stranger go down on you to find inner peace?

Whatever rocks your little birdie, girls.

Like the stereotypical matchmaker, she’d neglected her love life and had self-rocked her own birdie for months, but she wasn’t willing to go that far. Still, if her potential clients wanted an adventure, she would create one for them. She’d thrown her last funds into one final hurrah—Take off that Black Tie!

The rules were simple. When the music paused, dance partners would remove one item of each other’s clothing. When the tune started again, they could keep moving, or stick together for the next round.

Brad had roped his buddy Sean’s band, The Incidents, into playing. As serious up-and-comers, they’d drawn a big crowd.

“I’m so glad he volunteered.”

“He wanted to meet you.”

Brad had been trying to set them up for years. She’d listened to Sean’s CDs, watched videos on Youtube. “Leave the matchmaking to me,” she’d always said. The edgy musician had magnetic appeal, but guys like that weren’t for keeps. She preferred men like Brad—clean-cut, professional, safe. “When are you going to introduce me to your straight identical twin?” In reply, he’d rolled his eyes.

Across the room, Sean saluted Brad–an odd pair of friends, but true ones. The wiry singer wore no coat, his black tie was askew, and the cuffs of his tight, white tux shirt were rolled up to reveal ropy forearms. His jeans fit his rangy body like an adoring glove. Her mouth went dry–his sexy mockery of “black tie” was hot as hell, and she wasn’t the only one to notice. Droves of girls stared up at him as he tuned his guitar and half-smiled, gazing down with languid eyes.

“I told you he was something.” Brad snickered, as if reading her mind.

Even more so in person—he vibrated with charisma. “So not my type.”

“Mine either, unfortunately, but I still like to look,” he drolled, surveying the crowd. “I can’t believe these buffoons paid fifty dollars each to come in here and strip.”

He was reading their conspicuous use of accessories all wrong.

“They paid to see each other strip, silly. To see how they handle the scene and wear their own skin.” Personally, she preferred coffee for a first date, but these people were in search of a partner, a future, and she desperately wanted to help. It made it easier believe she’d have a future eventually too.

“Hhmph.” Brad raised one brow, looking her over.

A sleek halter–style dress and her grandma’s diamond stud earrings–the lack of accessories made it clear she was the hostess, not a player.

If Brad weren’t gay, she might have thought his intense regard of her cleavage meant he was checking her out. “You’re not planning to join in?”

“I’m on the clock. I need to mingle, make sure the vibe is fun and relaxed. And I’ll be guiding the videographer.”

“Video?”

“Everyone signed waivers at the door. No nudity. Just tasteful shots. We need this to go viral for business to pick up.”

“Indeed we do. Look, time to kick things off.”

It was. She wound around the edge of the crowd and stepped onto the stage.

Guitar slung over his shoulder, Sean watched her cross to him, his gray-green eyes as intense as one would expect of a soon-to-be rock star. She tried not to let it unnerve her, but a surprising twist of desire tightened her core. He probably looked at every woman like that.

God maybe she did need to get tongued into inner peace next door.

He stuck out his hand. “Finally, I meet Lisa, Queen of Love.”

He made it sound exotic, almost erotic. Not like the silly, playful nickname she’d built her brand around. And how would those calloused fingertips feel on her body?

He smirked and tugged his hand. “I’ll be needing this back.” Something odd about his voice caught her attention.

He strummed the guitar and the room went quiet.

“Evenin’, y’all. Time to get this party started.” A layer of long, lilting Irish vowels lived underneath his southern twang. Holy shit. The man had two accents, working together in an alchemy of sex appeal. Why hadn’t Brad warned her about that?

“Our lovely host, Lisa, Queen of Love.”

That time, her nickname in his mouth coiled through her pelvis, a hot, liquid counterpoint to her tension. He stepped back from the mic with a courtly bow. With her whoosh of exhaled breath, the high-stakes night nearly slipped out of her control.

The expectant faces of the crowd reminded her why she was there–last chance to be the Queen of Love. That vise of anxiety squeezed her heart again. She swallowed her nerves and delivered her speech. Everything came out clunky and stilted. As she spelled out the rules of the night, Brad cringed.

Sean, on the other hand, wore an s-shaped grin, like she was the most amusing thing he’d ever seen. He leaned so close to the mic she couldn’t help but look at his mouth.

“Like the pretty lady said, dance.” He strummed his guitar again and began to croon.

Lyrics with a fast, biting punk rhythm, sung in his deep, smooth voice–the unexpected dissonance mesmerized her.

Then her skin grew tight all over. Something was wrong. She looked at the crowd.

The camera guy was panning five hundred frozen bodies, their awkward stares caught, like insects in amber. Even the die hard band groupies stood still. Her stomach plummeted. At the end of the first chorus, Sean brought the song to a screeching halt. There was a collective shuffle.

“Folks. Y’all look like a bunch of grade-schoolers, afraid to spin your first bottle. So me and Lisa are gonna show you how it’s done.”

What? No!

Sean strode across the stage, long legs in black jeans. He took hold of Lisa’s hand, then gave her a leisurely once over. Damn it if her nipples didn’t pearl.

Into the mic he said, “I don’t suppose it would be fair to snag your dress first?”

The crowd chuckled nervously.

He dropped to his knees and grabbed her ankle, sliding off one high heel then the next. His calloused fingertips shot tingles up her legs. He rose and held up his spoils to a cheer.

In the corner of her eye, the cameraman moved, boxing her into his shot. Oh, God. This was not the plan. But if it would save her business…

“Your turn.” She crossed her arms over her tight breasts. “Let’s have that shirt.”

Sean set the guitar in its stand. She reached for his collar. A hundred tiny buttons joined the pleated plackets. Underneath, his skin radiated heat. She bit her lip and focused on the task.

He took hold of her shaking hands and whispered, “Relax. They need to see you’re into this, that you’ll play along. I’ll help.”

She met his eye and saw kindness there—strangers bound by a mutual friend.

Then those green irises took on a sparkle. “And best to make it look a little sexier.”

Her palms prickled in response and she gulped. “I’ll try.” She pulled his open shirt from his jeans, wanting to touch the dark trail of hair there. No. Too intimate.

She put her hands on his shoulders instead, dragging the sleeves down strong, sinewy biceps, lingering and stepping closer. She smiled up at him, hoping it was gratitude and not lust showing on her face. He grinned back.

Gloriously bare chested, he leaned into the mic, keeping Lisa in his line of sight. “I’ll tell y’all a secret. Couple a years back, I saw a picture of Lisa here on my pal’s fridge. Every time I’m there, I look again, but she’d never agree to meet me. Until tonight, and I’m going to take off her clothes.”

Lisa’s skin burst into flames as the crowd burst into a raucous cheer.

“Pretty Lisa, Queen of Love, this song is for you. And while I sing it,” he pointed both his index fingers at the crowd, “y’all need to find somebody to get naked.” A few fans woo-hood. The energy in the room shifted again, becoming more relaxed. People began to mingle as he sang a soft ballad. She tried to slink off the stage.

Brad blocked her way. “Sweetheart, the success of this evening very likely depends on you letting Sean take your dress off.” He nodded at the camera crew. “Hope you signed your waiver.”

The chorus ended. He leaned into the mic while staring right at her. “Earrings, or dress?”

The crowd roared, “Dress!”

“Yeah?” That time the question was for her alone.

Her cheeks blazed.

“Is this a punishment for not wanting to meet you?” she whispered.

He flinched. “Christ, no. I only wanted to help, when Brad said how much you wanted this.”

They’d never met, and yet he’d done this for her. Her throat tightened so she could only whisper. “Thanks.”

He spun her so she faced the band, which would spare her some embarrassment. It was the most gentlemanly thing anyone had done for her in ages.

“Want to get a coffee sometime?” she blurted.

“Love to.” His grin was something wicked.

She waved at the drummer, who gave her a stoic nod. Sean reached behind her neck and untied her halter, baring her breasts.

“Love to,” he repeated, gazing down at her very hard nipples. “Gents,” he raised his voice, “if you had this view, you’d all sign up for Lisa’s matchmaking services, and wind up broken hearted over her.”

A laugh rumbled behind her.

“Panties?” he asked, one hot word in her ear.

“A thong.”

“If it’s any comfort, I’m commando, and likely to be sporting quite a hard-on if you take my trousers. Makes it damn hard to play guitar.”

She laughed. “I think I’ll let you keep them, then. Let’s hope my bare ass is enough to keep the natives from getting restless.”

He circled behind her, shielding her, and unzipped the lower half of her dress, letting it fall to the floor.

Again, the crowd cheered, but she only felt his gaze burning into her. “Even more beautiful than I imagined. Why wouldn’t you ever have a drink with me?”

She glanced over her shoulder, somehow seeing subtle hints of his vulnerability, as if she’d known him for years. “Because I wanted to too much.”

His wicked grin grew wider. “Immediately after this, Lisa, Queen of Love, I’m taking you out for coffee.”

“It will be one A.M.”

“Decaf, then.” And he pecked the peak of her shoulder before stepping aside, and exposing her to five hundred people, who whistled and clapped.

She didn’t care a bit. Averting his eyes, Brad handed her a wadded up tablecloth. Heart aflutter, she wrapped herself in it, and watched Sean sing.

**I couldn’t make this up, but it’s actually clitoral hand job as meditation.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story “Lisa, Queen of Love.” If you liked it, consider signing up for my newsletter to receive news about my latest releases.

Now, check out Julia Kelly and A.L. Parks‘ blogs. They are also posting stories for day one!

A Scandalous Love: a Sermon on Mary Magdalene

Icon of MM

It was fun and challenging to preach about Mary Magdalene today as St. Marks in Palo Alto observed her feast day–challenging, because it’s quite a task to condense my messy ideas about feminism, sexuality, and sex work into one sermon. If you’re interested, here’s my attempt.  I think an audio recording will also go online, and I’ll share the link here when it does.

The nice folks at St. Marks were so welcoming and lots of them joined me for a lively chat about sexual ethics in early Christianity and now.

Update: Here’s the audio version (.mp3). For some reason I preached this one really slowly. You could probably speed it up in your audio player and enjoy it more :-)

——

If the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her?

Hi, my name is Amber Belldene, and I write romance novels. Between you and me, they’re pretty racy. Actually, Amber Belldene is my pen name, because I’m also an Episcopal Priest with a full-time churchy job.  It’s not super top secret though, because this Bishop just started following me on Twitter last night.

I arrived in these dual vocations at different times, and in different ways, and yet they harmonize, and have proven to be interconnected in ways I never expected. Because people are hungry to talk about sexuality and spirituality, they long to hear their bodies and desires are a part of their relationship with God, not an inconvenient hurdle on the path to holiness.

I think that’s why Salying invited me in particular to talk to you about Mary Magdalene. From Pope Gregory to The Last Temptation of Christ to the DiVinci Code, she’s a figure that’s fascinated people throughout history. The Gospels really only tell us she was Jesus’s friend, a beloved disciple, and yet their friendship has been the cause of much speculation.

On the one hand, in 2014, we roll our eyes that a friendship between a man and a woman would be scandalous. We interact with people of different genders and sexual orientations all the time. Yet, the way we socialize and work together is just a tiny speck on the timeline, when you consider the long span of human history that’s come before us. And even still, in these enlightened times, our interactions aren’t always easy. We experience moments of unexpected attraction, or we take offense at something someone says. Gender and sexual desire are always with us, two of the most core pieces of our identity. If we try to ignore them, they take on dangerous powers.

I’ll never forget a conversation with a colleague in which I naively suggested sexuality—attraction, and the real bodily need for physical love—that these things shouldn’t be such a big deal. The way he paused and then said, “Amber, come on,” it forced me to look more deeply, and I haven’t really stopped since then.

For the long span of history, human social rules have mostly assumed the worst of our behavior–that given the chance, we will use and abuse each other. So, in Jesus’s day, unmarried men and woman didn’t interact personally or privately—certainly not with the freedom and regularity we do now. Jesus’s friendship with women—prostitutes, sinners, and even those society deemed respectable—these friendships were inherently scandalous, part of what we call the Scandal of the Gospel. Jesus refused to see women as merely objects of temptation, or as shameful sinners who wantonly turn to prostitution or commit adultery.

As someone privileged by so much relative freedom, hard won by women of earlier generations, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to realize how radical his message was. In his time, a woman was pretty much a piece of property. A prostitute was a woman who used her only piece of capital—her body—to survive in a world where a woman couldn’t own anything else (and she only owned her body when she was without the protection of a husband or family, who would otherwise own her).

From Jesus’s friendship with women to his teachings on lust and divorce in the Sermon on the Mount, he is proclaiming women are people, not property. His first appearances after the resurrection are to women, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene claims he revealed certain teachings only to her. The Gnosticism and secrecy of that gospel were rejected by orthodox Christianity, but the passage we heard today (Chapter 9:1-10) is illustrative. The moment Peter disagrees with Mary’s testimony, he uses her gender to discredit her. Just as later church fathers will do.

You’ve probably hear that Mary was a reformed prostitute. There’s absolutely no Biblical evidence of this, and the origins of the legend came from a sermon Pope Gregory the Great gave in the sixth century, conflating Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (the sister of Martha), and the woman who anoints Jesus’s feet. Gregory blithely states they are all the same woman, a former prostitute. Mary Magdalene is later confused with Mary of Egypt, apparently another reformed prostitute. (In the forum after church I will talk more about the genre of reformed prostitute stories, which were actually a Christian co-opting of the very first romance novels).

But back to the Gospel of Mary. When Peter and Andrew reject Mary’s testimony, Levi takes her defense.

Peter you have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.

Amen, Levi. That’s some pretty good advice.

It must have been daunting for the apostles, trying to translate the experience of knowing Jesus–a living, breathing miracle–into stories and a pattern of life for people who never did meet him face to face. That challenge of translation is why we have so many Gospels, so many different movements within the early church.

Among them, there are fabulous feminist impulses inspired by Jesus’s friendship and teachings: There’s Paul’s proclamation that there is neither slave nor free, male nor female. There are the female bishops and priests who scholars like Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza have resurrected within the texts from which the church fathers literally erased them. There is the way the church helped end the Greco-Roman institution of slavery, freeing both men and women from widespread sexual abuse by their masters. So many good and holy impulses toward freedom instead of slavery, toward humanization instead of exploitation.

And yet, we’re a very human institution, and for two millennia, we’ve still gotten a lot wrong, because of those deeply ingrained social rules attempting to regulate sexuality. The disempowerment of women, the clerical abuses preceding the Reformation, and recent sexual abuse scandals are some of the most obvious examples. Instead of Mary Magdalene as an icon of women’s authority, as Levi paints her, she is seen as Pope Gregory’s repentant sinner.  Not that repentance is bad, it’s something we all need to do. Though Mary might be celebrated for repenting, she hasn’t really been honored as she deserves, because of a deep and lingering ambivalence around sexuality.

On the one had, Mary deserves to be vindicated from the charges of being a reformed prostitute. Biblical scholarship tells us it’s not true, it was an attempt to relegate a woman with authority into a diminished role by assigning her a shameful past. As a woman, this lie makes me angry, it reminds me of times I’ve been labeled too brazen, too aggressive, or prurient.

On the other hand, I want to claim all those fictionalizations. I want to say thank you to Dan Brown and Nikos Kazantzakis for asking us to imagine that maybe, just maybe, Jesus did love Mary Magdalene passionately and sexually, because sexual love isn’t wrong or unholy when it’s freely undertaken with mutual affection and respect, it’s a beautiful way to experience divine love.

And I want us to remember that Jesus was friends with prostitutes, even if Mary wasn’t one, because we must look more closely at prostitution. There’s so much shame attached to it, as if women undertake sex work because they’re greedy and licentious. In fact, most people resort to prostitution out of desperation, and the real shame belongs to a society that drives some people to that point of desperation.* Jesus’s scandalous friendships with prostitutes helps us see more clearly the underlying causes: poverty, discrimination, and a predatory sexuality built upon using people instead of loving them.

If the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her?

In an unexpected way, the distortions people have told about Mary and the stories they’ve imagined are all a part of her Gospel. And they hold up a mirror to the institution of the church, helping us to see who we are, and who we have been. And when you hold those stories together–lies, truths, and possibilities–they tell a story we need to hear. A story that’s part of The Gospel of God’s scandalous love for humanity.

A love so passionate it required Jesus’s human body to be expressed.

A love so fierce it demands the protection of the poor and the oppressed.

A love so broad that it includes those labeled unlovable.

A love so vulnerable that it asks to be returned.

It’s quite a miracle that Mary Magdalene has come to symbolize all those things, and that’s a sure sign of God’s spirit repairing the mistakes of human history. Because a Love so scandalous, so abundant it pours out of the bounds of respectability, that love will not rest until every single beloved creature lives in its light.

 

* I could say so much more about sex work, but this generalization has to suffice in the context of a sermon.

**I love this icon, which Kay (@MissBatesReads) shared with me early in the week.  Thanks Kay!