Through the Eyes of My Dog

Jessie in the snowI’ve had several dogs over the years. If I’m not careful this will turn into a love letter to each one of those dogs, instead of the post I sat down here to write today.

I could tell you about Jessie, my heart dog, the first dog that was all mine. I could tell you how gentle she was with babies and small animals, how infallible her sense of judgement was on character, how she was a tigress protecting cubs if she thought I was being threatened. I could tell you how she broke my heart when she developed a terminal disease at ten years of age, and there was nothing on the planet that could save her. She’s been gone twice as long as she’d been alive, and tears still come to my eyes as I type these words. She taught me what it was like to love and be loved unconditionally, and for that, I owe her the world.

And then there was Abigail, who had so many issues, both mental and physical, that she Jadziakept me fully occupied after losing Jessie. Solving those problems took me on a journey down a path I’d never expected to go, introducing me to a different way of thinking, even a different way of living. It took me a long time to appreciate the teachings Abi brought into my life, to be grateful for her hard-headedness and her strength of spirit after Jessie’s gentleness. She was exactly what I’d needed in my life, though it was hard to believe it at the time. I still regret that while she demanded so much from me, forcing me to grow in ways I hadn’t expected, I always held back a little piece of my heart–the part that couldn’t bear to be shattered again.

And then there’s H. Like Horatio Caine, H is so cool,  he only goes by his initial. :-) H is everything I’ve ever wanted in a dog. I was on a waiting list for two years for him, and drove over 800 miles to pick him up. I took Abi with me, because if she hadn’t approved, then he wouldn’t have come home with us. To everyone’s surprise, when they were introduced, Abi, graying and fragile, found a stick and brought it over for the fuzzy young H to play with. It was so much like a passing of the baton that my friends still comment on it today.

My BoyH is the dog I’ve always wanted. Handsome, strong, healthy, with a boyish energy that is hard to keep up with, to be honest. Most days, it’s like living with a two year old racehorse in the house. I realize he is the dog I always wanted–when I was twenty. I’m not twenty anymore, and after years of working 60+ hours a week, it’s hard to come home to find a bouncing, energetic dog who wants my attention and wants to go DO something when all I want to do is sit down for the first time all day.

s320x240I frequently tell him that he would have been better off with someone else. Someone who would have given him an outlet for his energy, who wouldn’t come home grumpy and too tired to go for a walk. Someone who would get up early and take him for long hikes in the woods. The funny thing is, he doesn’t listen to that. He doesn’t care that I’ve gained 15 pounds, or that my hair is thinning, or that I am not the person I was when I was twenty. He doesn’t try to jolly me out of my depression, though sometimes he forces me to take that walk anyway. Oddly enough, it is almost always the right call.

The thing with H, is that he doesn’t see me as I do when I look into the mirror. He doesn’t see my faults, or my failings. Oh sure, I might get the woebegone face when I tell him to go lie down, and I admit, I do that more often than I should. And yes, the other night he took a box out of recycling and tore it up into itty bitty pieces because I said we weren’t going for a walk. Dude, it was sleeting. I get a free pass on that one.

Hcarvinscove25pctBut I’ve noticed recently that I don’t take as many pictures of him as I used to. He’s beginning to show his age right before my eyes, and it feels like a reflection of my own aging, even as my head is saying, too soon, too soon, not again, too soon.

I’m aware that one of my biggest hang-ups in life is holding back from giving my entire heart to anything because I am protecting myself from eventual loss. I start preparing for that loss years in advance, distancing and sheltering my poor fragile little heart because, you know, it might ache some day. As a result of this, I’ve lost out on a lot of joy in life. And frankly, these little things are the ones that make life worth living because the big ones? Well, they’re like winning the lottery. Doesn’t happen often, and for some, never.

And the best thing about a dog is he doesn’t think in terms of the future. Hell, I’ve seen a dog wake up from anesthesia, take a step, fall down and go, “Dang, I’m missing a leg” and then figure out how to walk without it.They are utterly amazing creatures with their ability to live in the moment. The other wonderful thing about dogs is that every sentence begins with “Wouldn’t it be fun if…?”

Autumn Path WoodsWouldn’t it be fun if we spent the whole day hiking? Wouldn’t it be fun if I stole your shoe while you were trying to get dressed? Wouldn’t it be fun to chase the cat, swim underneath a waterfall, watch the sun rise from the top of a mountain?

Okay, sometimes the ‘wouldn’t it be fun’ isn’t always the best idea. I certainly wasn’t laughing when I chased after H, bellowing for him to leave the bear alone as he ran it up the side of the mountain. Nor when I realized that he’d rolled in something disgusting, but only AFTER he’d greeted everyone at the pet store by wallowing all over them. Okay, maybe I thought it was a little funny. Later. After we got home.

The point is, H doesn’t care that he is graying around the muzzle, or that he is getting cataracts. He is not particularly bothered that his nose is cracking and peeling (I’m doing my best to treat it, but this too, is another common German Shepherd problem). He is who he is, and he doesn’t think about it. Likewise, in his eyes, I am who I am. He doesn’t care that feel like a terrible failure at times–I am not a failure to him. I am not my appearance or my wealth or my success. I am me, and I am the only me he has and he doesn’t want another me. I am good enough for him.

I should be good enough for me, too.

Yesterday, I ran across this post about a woman who created and filled a bucket list for her dying dog. I made it most of the way through the post before I started crying, so be warned if you choose to read it. It struck home once more how much I tend to mourn the loss of things years in advance, as though by spreading out the pain over time, it will somehow hurt less when the loss actually occurs. It probably does. I frequently stand dry-eyed at funerals, proud of my inner Vulcan, calmly dealing with death while everyone around me falls apart. But then I am the one ugly-crying in the parking lot when a memory strikes me out of nowhere years later. See, sorrow is a bit like mass and energy. You can convert it to something else, but the energy of it is still retained. Eventually you have to get rid of it somehow, or it will color your perception of your entire world. And I am tired of living in a gray half-light of mourning in order to keep from crying in the dark.

So, I’m going to live more like my dog. I’m going to chase butterflies and not care if I look silly doing it. I’m going to get muddy and laugh about it. I’m going to live as though I’m putting things on a bucket list instead of waiting for that ephemeral day when I’ll have the time and money to go someplace ‘special’. But most of all, I’m going to cut myself slack. I’m going to love hard, and love what I have now, and make sure that everyone I love knows it. I’m going to live as though I really am the person my dog thinks I am. I’m going to see myself through his eyes. They are very beautiful eyes, aren’t they? :-)

H Sun

 

Mark Your Calendars: Anna Butler is coming soon!

Who is Anna Butler, you might be asking yourself? Well remember, you heard it here first. Anna is one of the most talented authors I’ve had the pleasure to read in a very long time, and in February, she is releasing two full length novels for the first time. You may have enjoyed her short story Contact Sport as part of Dreamspinners Daily Dose Anthology Make a Play. Or maybe you remember her smoking hot story Happy Holidays, from Dreamspinner’s Cuddling Anthology. A promising new author, you might have told yourself, and then promptly moved on to another story.

Well, let me tell you, she’s gonna knock your socks off! I’ve been part of the beta process with both of the novels Anna will be releasing in February, and I can’t wait until everyone else gets to appreciate this amazing talent! In Gilded Scarab, which will be released Feb 16th by Dreamspinner, Anna has created the ultimate Book Boyfriend in Rafe Lancaster. Trust me, you will fall completely head over heels with Rafe! Anna says it best here:

Gilded Scarab image

Londinium, 1900

An alternate Britain where the Britannic Imperium is an oligarchy ruled by the eight Convocation Houses and the Minor Houses, their satellite allies. A Britain where political manoeuvring involves plot, conspiracies and machination—all to get around the Queen (God bless her) having banned advancement by assassination. A Britain where the skies are filled with aeroships powered by steam and luminiferous aether, and where House Guards carry phlogiston-powered harquebuses and pistols.

A Britain where Aegyptologist Daniel Meredith looks for love.

A Britain where Aegyptologist Ned Winters, First Heir House Gallowglass, is recently widowed and left with two sons.

A Britain where ex-aeronaut Captain Rafe Lancaster, late of Her Britannic Majesty’s Imperium AeroCorps, buys a coffee house.

The rest, as they say, is the steampunk coffee house mystery-m/m romance.

Anna is already planning the sequel, which is music to my ears because I can’t get enough of Rafe, the charming, dashing pilot, who finds navigating the political waters (and his love life) at home far more dangerous that battling Her Majesty’s enemies in the air. YOU WILL LOVE HIM.

WildeCity

On February 18th, Anna will launch book one of the Taking Shield series with Wilde City Press.  It is not a typical M/M romance, though the two main characters are male and deeply attracted to one another. Taking Shield is classic epic space opera, in tradition of David Webber or John Ringo. It’s hard-core military sci-fi at its finest.

Gyrfalcon_cvr_100dpi

Blurb

Earth’s dead, dark for thousands of years. Her last known colony, Albion, is fighting an alien enemy that no one has even seen. In Gyrfalcon, the first of the Taking Shield series, Shield Captain Bennet is dropped behind the lines to steal priceless intelligence. It’s a dangerous job, and Bennet doesn’t need the distractions of changing relationships with his long-term partner, Joss, or with his father—or with Flynn, the new lover who will turn his world upside-down. He expects to risk his life. He expects the data will alter the course of the war. What he doesn’t expect is that it will change his life or that Flynn will be impossible to forget.

Excerpt

All the warning he got was the slightest prickling of the hair on the back of his neck, then someone or something forcibly connected with his legs and brought him down. The impact had that foul-smelling air whooshing out of his lungs.

“Stay down!” hissed Bennet in his ear. “Two drones. Right behind me.”

Flynn tried to catch his breath. Bennet, arms and legs wrapped around him, rolled them both into the shelter of the rock that he’d evidently been hiding behind. For an instant they lay in the warm darkness, wrapped together. They were in deep shadow, and Flynn had to feel for Bennet’s face to touch it, to make sure that the Shield captain was really there. His hand found Bennet’s mouth, felt it curve into a smile, and he smiled himself.

Bennet disentangled himself, so that Flynn was undistracted again. Huh. Shame. Bennet had felt pretty good. He inched up to peer carefully around the rock. The two drones were about fifty feet away and marching towards them.

Bennet was breathing hard. “One each, then let’s get the hell out of here. Take the one on the right. On my count: three, two, one.”

They rolled in opposite directions from behind the rock. Flynn fetched up on his knees, bringing up the laser and firing several sharp short bursts. His drone staggered and fell onto its back, dropping the laser rifle it was holding, its circuitry fried by a plasma bolt to the head. The remaining one stood rigidly still, sparks shooting out from its chest circuitry. In an awful travesty of a human reaction, its hands were clawing at the hole in its chest. It toppled slowly over onto its face.

“Shit,” Flynn said. “What an exciting life you lead! Any more of them?”

 

About Anna:
Anna worked for many years as a communications specialist in the UK government, working in a range of central government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to running an internal TV service. She now spends her time indulging her love of old-school science fiction featuring handsome heroes running about shooting lasers. She doesn’t claim to be a romance writer – that her laser-wielding heroes are gay and their relationship is a real one are both integral to her Taking Shield series, but not the reason for it. When she isn’t writing, she looks out at her garden thinking that she really should get out there and tackle the weeds, but is easily distracted into building up the biggest collection of tiara images on Pinterest instead. She lives in London with her husband and Molly, the cockerpoo.

 

 

Agent Carter Hits It Out of the Park

Agent Carter PosterAnyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been a Peggy Carter fan from the moment Captain America: The First Avenger was released. So, be prepared, this post is going to be a bit of social commentary combined with fangirl glee.

Captain America was one of my favorite Avenger movies from the Marvel Universe collection. I’ve written about my love for Steve Rogers before, and why I think we need more heroes like him. I adored Peggy Carter in that film, and was sorry to realize that we’d probably never see Hayley Atwell in that role again. Once Rogers wakes in modern-day New York, after being in the deep freeze all those years, the following movies are all about Captain America in the contemporary world. But the funny thing is, fandom loved Peggy Carter, too. She got a 15 minute short film as a DVD extra in the Blu-Ray version of Iron Man 3, and we got a glimpse of what her life was like post WW2, an agent who was treated more like a file clerk and grieving for Steve’s loss. The agent who took it upon herself to get the job done where other agents had failed. The fans, myself included, loved it! Then she appeared in Captain America 2:The Winter Soldier, both in newsreels about her role in S.H.I.E.L.D. and then later, Steve visits her in a nursing home, in one of the most painfully poignant reunion scenes I can recall in a movie. My father lost the ability to put anything new into long-term memory toward the end of his life. I could completely identify with Steve having a conversation with Peggy, who was lucid and clear one moment, only to turn for a second and have to watch Peggy re-discover that he was alive all over again in the next. Oh, my heart!

Even then, Marvel wasn’t done with this character. The fandom reaction to the One-Shot Agent Carter film was so positive, rumors began to circulate that they were considering a series. I can tell you, I was both excited and nervous. I loved this character and I sincerely hoped they wouldn’t get her wrong. Now that might sound odd, considering that Marvel put her on the screen for me to fall in love with in the first place, but I’ve seen it happen before. Take a great actress in a terrific movie role and try to build a weekly television series around her, and before you know it, the character isn’t even recognizable anymore. Even my boyfriend fell into the habit of muttering, “Please don’t let them screw this up…” every time a promo came on.

Marvel is a wonder for tie-ins and story-arcs across their universe, but in many ways, Agent Carter is fresh ground for them. They have some facts they need to retain, and they can seed the series with nods toward future events (like they did with an appearance by a younger Anton Vanko, who goes on to create the arc reactor with Howard Stark), but they aren’t tied into comic-book events the way the Avengers are. In many ways, it’s like what they did with the reboot of the Star Trek franchise–since the new movies follow an alternative timeline, the writers aren’t locked into re-telling old stories, but can play around in this brave new world of their own making.

I was encouraged that the showrunners were on track for getting things right when I read that the same writers for Captain America, Markus and McFeely, wrote the pilot and the first episode. I was reassured when I read this interview with Atwell in which she is quoted as saying the show “feels like a small triumph for women on television.”

But it all boiled down to the premiere. Would it live up to my expectations?

Agent Carter promoOh man, did it ever.

I’ve never been moved to live-Tweet during a program before, but I joined the legions of others on Twitter that made #AgentCarter trend on Tuesday evening. The show had everything I wanted: a strong female lead who doesn’t take the crap she’s handed out by her co-workers lying down, who is fiercely independent, but it’s because she is the most competent person she knows–and that people she cares about tend to wind up dead. She just also happens to dress fabulously, too. I’ll be honest, half of my fascination with Peggy Carter is the juxtaposition of her kick-ass toughness with her ‘ladylike’ appearance. (Not to mention I simply adore 1940s style clothing)

I found the scene between her and Agent Daniel Sousa interesting. At one point, Sousa demands an apology to Carter from co-workers that had speculated on how many men Carter had ‘known’ during the war. Sousa is far more sympathetic to Carter than most of the field agents, perhaps in part because he is a disabled war veteran who also is discriminated against. When Carter first speaks to Sousa about the incident, he assumes she’s going to thank him for sticking up for her, but instead she lets him know in no uncertain terms that Sousa isn’t doing her any favors by making such a distinction–and that she doesn’t need his intervention on her behalf. It’s interesting because it sets the tone for Carter as a character–no sooner does she give Sousa a mild set-down, she softens it with an acknowledgment of their commonalities, and then sharply takes on one of her co-workers who sticks her with his filing–thus proving her point that she doesn’t need a man to stand up for her. While I was thinking that she should be giving encouragement to anyone who sides with equality in the workplace, I am reminded that this is 1946. A male customer can slap a waitress on the ass and she has no recourse. The customer is always right, especially if he is a man. Carter has learned when and where to take up for herself because she can’t count on having a man step in on her behalf. This is Peggy Carter: independent. Not used to asking for, or receiving help. Not a bitch, as some would probably label her. She’s just not a whiner.

This doesn’t mean that she can’t be hurt. She can feel pain. She can cry. Her hands shook as she tried to deactivate a deadly bomb, and she reached for the whiskey as soon as it was done. If she’s hard on the people in her life, it’s because the bad guys don’t show any mercy, and she doesn’t want anyone else to die simply because they know her. She curses when she hits her head. She likes nice things. She isn’t above using her sexuality to meet her goals, but she’s more than a beautiful woman. She’s not afraid to play the ‘female’ card, however. And why not? Sometimes it’s the best card in a woman’s hand, especially when the rest of the deck is stacked against her. She’s tough, and smart, and sexy, and she gets the job done. Better still, she has to learn to ask for help. To accept that she ‘cannot carry the weight of the world on her shoulders alone.” I know a lot of women who struggle with this concept. I am one of them.

Ultimately, that’s what makes Peggy Carter the heroine I can admire. She gets things done through grit, courage, and ingenuity. She thinks fast on her feet and meets new developments with aplomb. She didn’t take a super serum. She didn’t gain special abilities through a lab accident. She gets by on guts, brains, and training. And yes, this is a comic-book universe, but she is closer to any one of us than the average superhero. She could be the cashier at Wal-Mart, or your dental hygienist, or the data entry person for a large company. She is us.

Besame Red VelvetBesides, who among us hasn’t felt like we weren’t appreciated by our bosses? Who hasn’t longed for a secret identity or mission that sets us apart from the other people we meet in our daily lives? The appeal of this basic scenario is HUGE, at least it is for me. Which is why I squealed like a fangirl when one of my friends told me Hayley Atwell tweeted an “Agent Carter Starter Kit”, letting fans know what color nail polish, lipstick, and perfume Carter wears. Because let me tell you, if I can paint my nails with OPI’s Cinnamon Sweet and spritz on a little Besame’s 1940’s perfume, and walk out the door asking myself, “What Would Peggy Do?” then there is nothing I can’t face during my day.

That’s what fictional heroes are for. To make everyday heroes out of all of us.

The Year of Living Bravely

courageIn the past, I’ve gotten in the habit of picking a ‘theme’ at the beginning of the new year and holding it up as a kind of banner. Something to remind me of certain goals, but mostly to frame a desired mindset.

This has been more effective some years than others. Like all ‘resolutions’, I usually start out strong, but as the year wears on, my ability to hold onto the vision I’d created for myself becomes attenuated and stretched to the breaking point–or else it just fades away, entirely forgotten in the press of meeting obligations at work and at home.

I’ve had The Year of Living Passionately, and The Year of Living with Abundance (which was aimed at concentrating on what I had, rather than what I didn’t have), and the Year of Living without Fear. Today, I saw a blog post titled ‘The year of being brave’, which had nothing to do with picking a mantra for 2015, but the title resonated with me. “That’s it,” I thought. “This is the Year of Being Brave.”

One could argue that I’ve already done that, with my ‘year of living without fear’, but the truth of the matter is that living without fear and being brave are not the same thing. Living without fear is making a conscious decision not to let the things that frighten you control you. Being brave means going out and meeting your destiny.

2015On New Year’s Eve, I shared this graphic with several groups of online friends, along with the message that I planned to take 2015 by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. I was going to OWN 2015.

The vast majority of my friends were supportive of this sentiment, but a small number expressed concern at my hubris, and suggested caution. “You’re inviting the universe to smack you down,”  they said. “The universe has a twisted sense of humor.”

I have to tell you, I got a little bit pissed at this. Frankly, the universe has been using me as its punching bag for a while now. Oh, nothing earth-shattering or heartbreaking, but a slow, steady grind of worry and stress and diminishing resources. And while I appreciate where my well-meaning friends are coming from, they are not walking in my shoes. Furthermore, I have spent my entire life being the Good Girl. The one who did what she was told. I worked hard in school, graduated with honors, got an advanced degree, gave my life to my career. I played by the rules, and yet after a lifetime of doing everything I was told would guarantee ‘success’, I find I am not happy. The way I see it, part of playing by the rules for a single woman in this day and age means to continually be self-sacrificing and self-effacing. And I think it’s about time I stood up and did a little roaring for a change.

Filing Off The Serial Numbers: Making the Transition from Fanfic to Original Fiction by Sarah Madison

crumpleWow! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted here, it would seem! Well, December flew by in a whirlwind and 2015 is just around the corner. So what have I been up to? Ah, let me share that with you!

First, I’ve been working madly on the next installment in the bestselling Sixth Sense series. I’m about two thirds of the way done with my first draft, a wee bit behind on my self-imposed schedule of finishing before the end of the year. I still have a little time left, but I suspect it will take me until the end of January to complete the WIP, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences. I left things on a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of Walk a Mile, so I wanted to be sure readers didn’t have to wait forever to get the next story!WalkAMile

Part of the reason I’ve been pushing myself to finish this before the end of the year, however, is because starting Jan 5 and running through Feb 1, 2015, I’m conducting an online seminar through Savvy Authors titled Filing Off the Serial Numbers: Making the Transition from Fanfic Writer to Pro Author. I’m very excited about this course! I hosted it as a panel discussion workshop in conjunction with fellow author Anna Butler at the 2013 Galacticon convention in Houston, and it was so well-received that Anna and I were both invited back to host other workshops by the people at Galacticon! I’ve greatly expanded the original material, and will be touching on some of the pitfalls of turning pro, as well as some of the basic things every new writer needs to know. I like to think I made all the little mistakes so you don’t have to!

Even if you’re already an established author, you might find the course beneficial if you’re considering revising some of your previous fanfic into original works. If nothing else, I’d appreciate you passing on the word to those who might be interested. This is my first time conducting a webinar with Savvy Authors, and I’d like for it to be a success! You must be a member of Savvy Authors to participate, but you can sign up for a basic membership for free! Savvy Authors is an excellent online resource for new and established authors–with articles, webinars, how-to classes, and more!

DSP post Christmas saleWhile I’m here, Dreamspinner Press is currently conducting a post-Christmas sale: 20% off all e-books in the store from now until Dec 31st! Got a new e-reader for Christmas? Time to load that baby up! Dreamspinner allows you to buy from them directly and send your download to your device of choice. You can find all my Dreamspinner titles here.

I’m excited about what 2015 is going to bring–how about you? :-)

Anne Barwell’s Cover Reveal for On Wings of Song

Is there anything more exciting that a cover reveal? Short of the release day itself, I’m hard pressed to think of anything that makes a writer squeal with joy and dash to the nearest keyboard to share their new-found love. I’m so pleased to be hosting fellow author, Anne Barwell,  today as she shares with us the cover for her upcoming novel, On Wings of Song.

OnWingsofSong

Thanks, Sarah, for hosting my cover reveal for On Wings of Song :-)

TL Bland has done a great job in capturing the story and essence of On Wings of Song. It’s not only a great cover, but fits perfectly as part my growing collecting of covers I have framed on my wall.

You can see more of TL Bland’s work at her website.

On Wings of Song releases on the 24th December, which is the centenary of the events at the beginning of the story—The 1914 Christmas Truce.

I’d had a story percolating in my mind for while that I wanted to write which was set during WWI. With the centenary of the Christmas Truce this year, it felt like the right time to tell it. I love stories set during both World Wars, and the time between them. The Truce also really brought home that men on both sides weren’t very different from each other. I also didn’t want this story to favour one side or the other. Instead it needed to be about two men—one German, one British—who each found a kindred spirit in the other, although they were fighting a war on opposite sides.

Music is a universal language, and Aiden’s singing unites both sides as one, for a brief poignant moment.

I’ve played for musical theatre—the modern equivalent of music hall—both as a rehearsal pianist and as a violinist in the band. One of the shows I played in had an ANZAC theme, and commemorated WWI and II. Another show celebrated the music played in music halls in the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century.

Once Aiden and Jochen meet, and also share their love for literature, all the pieces of the story come together On Wings of Song.
Buy link

Blurb:
Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.

The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.

Excerpt
“I’ve seen it,” Aiden said quietly. “I wish to God I hadn’t.” He looked directly at Jochen. Jochen met Aiden’s gaze. He’d seen an echo of Conrad’s fire in Aiden when he’d talked about his music earlier that afternoon.

“Don’t die on the wire, Aiden.”

“I’ll try not to.” Aiden’s words were an empty promise. They both knew it, but what else was he going to say?

The red-haired man Aiden had spoken to about arranging the burials walked over to him. He too held a shovel, and he wiped perspiration from his brow despite the cold. “There’s going to be a combined service for the dead,” he told them. “In about ten minutes in no man’s land in front of the French trenches.”

As they made their way over, men were already beginning to gather, soldiers from opposite sides sitting together, conversation dwindling to a respectful silence. A British chaplain stood in front of them, a Bible in his hand, a German beside him. Jochen recognized him, although he didn’t know his name. The young man was only a few years older than Jochen and was studying for the ministry—would he ever get the chance to complete those studies?

Jochen and Aiden found somewhere to sit a few rows back from the front and joined the company of men. The German spoke first. “Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiligt werde dein Name.”

The British chaplain repeated the words in English. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.”

They then spoke a few words each, some from the Bible, the rest from their hearts. Their congregation was silent apart from a few quiet “amens.” Jochen saw a couple of men wipe tears away. He was close to it himself.

Finally the chaplain bowed his head in prayer. When he’d finished, he spoke quietly to the man who had come to stand next to him. It was Captain Williams. He nodded and looked over the crowd, his gaze fixing on Aiden.

Aiden must have guessed what Williams wanted. He inclined his head in response and then stood. Jochen glanced between the two men, confused. What did Williams expect Aiden to do?

“Aiden?” Jochen asked softly.

Aiden smiled at him and began to sing. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining….” He lifted his head, his voice strong and clear, each note building on the last to create something truly beautiful, something angelic. Aiden’s eyes shone; his body swayed slightly in time with the music. He was the music.

His audience sat in awe. Jochen could feel the emotion rippling through the men around him, tangible, as though he could reach out and touch it. He felt something inside himself reach out, wanting to be a part of it, to be carried along the wave of pure music, to grab it and never let go.

Bio:
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.

Links:
Blog
Website
Coffee Unicorns
Facebook
Dreamspinner Press Author Page

Oh, I am such a sucker for historical romances, particularly set in WW1 and WW2! I am looking forward to this release, Anne! What a lovely cover for what I am sure will be another awesome story from you!

 

Sex Positivity Blog Hop: Why Sex Shouldn’t be a Dirty Word

spbhbadge (2)Hello and welcome to the Sex Positively Blog Hop, the brainchild of fellow author, Grace Duncan. For the next two weeks, you’ll be hearing from some of your favorite romance authors sharing their positive views on sexuality, as opposed to the negative spin we get from most lawmakers, the media, and ‘concerned citizens.’ For the entire list of participants in the hop according to dates posting, check out this link here. There is a link at the bottom of the post for the websites themselves.

I think this is a terrific idea! I believe that what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own home should be just that: private. And I believe we have the right to read and watch and enjoy what we like, as long as all parties involved are consenting adults as well. You like to read Dinosaur Erotic Fiction? Okay, not my thing, but I can respect that it might be yours. It’s not my place to judge you on it. It is certainly not my place to try and have it removed from Amazon. You think 50 Shades of Grey is the best book ever? Well, I disagree, but I’m not going to try and get it banned from the local library or condemn your morality because you enjoyed it. Likewise, I would not expect you to get your knickers in a twist because I write male on male romance, or because one of my friends loves what she calls ‘tentacle porn.’

Why do so many people put their noses in your private life? There’s a small business near my house that sums it up pretty well, I think. Painted on the side of their building is a picture of a large, ugly city, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. The painting quotes a Bible verse about how we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: and then goes on to state that unless we put to death the sinners, our nation will fall. Um, remind me not to take my business there, okay? But it illustrates a real problem with the viewpoints of some religions: it’s not enough to say, “My religion forbids me to eat doughnuts, therefore I won’t.” It’s the religions that state, “Doughnuts are the gateway to hell and everyone who eats doughnuts are sinners and we must BAN all doughnuts or else our mortal souls are in jeopardy, so prevent access to doughnuts NOW” that are the problem.

Daisy DukeSex is a weird beast when it comes down to it. We revere it in advertising, as long as it follows certain rules. Daisy Duke had to wear panty hose in order to get her miniscule shorts past the censors on the Dukes of Hazzard, and yet Catherine Bach’s poster of the Daisy Duke character sold over five million copies. There’s no doubt, sex sells. When it comes to products, to television series or movies, or novels, sex is often a big part of the marketing campaign, even if there is little sex in the actual item being promoted.

And yet sex is strangely taboo, as well. I’m sorry, but I think it is a bit strange that we here in the US have a high tolerance for blood and gore in action films, but showing a little bit of flesh can move a film into a restricted viewing category. It’s the push-me pull-you reaction on the part of the public to sex that is so puzzling and frustrating to me. Especially when it comes to how women are portrayed.

Redhead bondageA few months ago, I got into a discussion about tropes in traditional romantic fiction with a friend of mine, Pir8fancier, on Live Journal. I’d read a scene from a best-selling novel from a famous author, and due to an unfortunate choice of words, I’d mistakenly assumed that the new lover had handcuffed the woman to the bed when she showed signs of leaving. My misinterpretation of the scene threw me right out of the story. I was already having issues with the scene as it was: the heroine had a history of sexual abuse, and there were elements in the scene that made me very uncomfortable, as the hero refused to back off, but persisted in his pursuit of the woman. One of the things I’d been enjoying up until this point was the fact that the heroine was only interested in the man for sex. She only wanted to scratch an itch. I had found it to be a refreshing take in a story from the woman’s POV, and was pleased to see it. But then, out of nowhere, came what I perceived to be dubious consent.

Pir8’s take on this was interesting. The heroine, who’d previously shown herself to be tough and uncompromising, was having her role flipped on her. She said, “It sounds as if the author is actually punishing the heroine for wanting to be sexual and not be the submissive little sex slave that she should be. That her role is to be the woman who is enthralled with the man, NOT with his sexual organ. That sex for sex’s sake is bad and she has to be put in her place. PHYSICALLY. All of her sexual agency in this scene is taken away from her. He physically overpowers her. She cannot direct the sex. She is there for his pleasure. And naturally because this is fiction, his pleasure becomes her pleasure. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? We can’t have our own pleasure, we can’t please ourselves. We have to be passive and let the man please us.

I know that this type of scenario plays into a lot of our shame about sex, which society promotes big time, and it is no surprise that this would appeal to many women because it absolves us of the burden of enjoying sex. We are helpless! It just happened! I had nothing to do with it!

I cannot accept this sort of passivity any longer. I want my heroines to embrace their sexual selves.

THIS. I want to draw hearts and flowers around this statement and decorate it with glitter because YES.

GOP PLan for WomenThe discussion turned to the conflict between the sexualization of pre-teens, while constantly sending out messages that women need to be passive sexual partners. It was Pir8’s opinion that this conflict was possibly behind many of the self-destructive behaviors such as cutting and anorexia. And it is not just limited to women any longer, though the stigma of being a ‘slut’ is still actively being championed by the Far Right. For the heterosexual male, being sexually active is more likely to be viewed with pride than with shame or name-calling, and yet more and more we’re seeing legislation being passed to limit access to birth control measures, or as some people on the Right refer to them, “Whore Pills.” When the Hobby Lobby debacle came down, I had people on Twitter telling me they didn’t want their tax dollars going to pay for some slut’s whoring around. Funny, we don’t see any bans on insurance companies selling Viagra or performing vasectomies, now do we?

But I digress.

I agree with Pir8fancier. We have a heavy media presence pushing sexuality on one hand, and a social presence condemning it on the other. Yes, the message is definitely be sexual and get punished for it–or don’t be sexual and be ostracized and turned into a pariah. I can remember driving up to pick up my younger sister from her high school and being treated to a gauntlet of stares, nasty comments, and laughter as I waited for her. When I mentioned the reactions I’d received while simply waiting to pick her up, she looked me up and down and said, “Well, if you’d bothered to do your hair and wear nice clothes, they’d be the ones jealous of you.”

I stared at my then 15-year-old sister and asked, “Why would I give a rat’s ass about what some teenagers think of me?”

She didn’t get it. That was the message she’d gotten from her peers and from society around her was, “Look the part but don’t act the part.”

Which is sad. It’s sadder, too, that online misogyny and slut-shaming seems to be growing in strength rather than diminishing.

What can we do about it? Well, for one, we can stop buying into society’s playbook. We need to teach our kids not to be ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. We need to do away with the ineffective (and largely American religious-based groups) abstinence only programs and teach proper sex education in schools again. We need to talk to our teenagers about consent (an excellent open letter written here–but be prepared, the comments are just as ugly and inflammatory as you could expect). We need to talk to our kids about protecting themselves from inappropriate sexual contact without making them fear and revile ALL sexual contact. We need to stop making sex a selling point in advertising.

ink pen_wikipedia_orgI think the biggest task, however, lies in the hands of the writers. Yes, we writers. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all. :-) The writers are always on the forefront of changing society’s perception of accepted mores. It’s writers telling stories about same-sex couples finding their happily-ever-after or introducing GLBTQ characters into television shows that has been instrumental in increasing both the visibility and acceptance of this community, as well as championing their rights. Star Trek put a black woman in an officer’s position on the bridge of a spaceship, taking her out of the traditional role of a maid for the first time ever. Star Trek also gave us the first interracial kiss (even if it was The Aliens Made Them Do It) and then decades later on Deep Space Nine, the franchise gave us this scene, in which Jadzia Dax is faced with the woman she was once married to–but as a man.

 

 

One of the things I love about this scene is that the love is between two characters–not their external bodies. Not who they are on the outside, but who they are on the inside. The taboo in the relationship is not that they are both women now, but that Trill society forbids romantic relationships between former hosts from past lives.

We need to keep breaking the ground on what is ‘acceptable’ in terms of romantic fiction and refuse to play into the old tropes where a woman had to be forcibly overcome during sex so that she wouldn’t come across as a slut, or that a man had to come over all alpha and dominate his partner in order to be seen as a ‘proper’ romantic lead.

It’s up to you readers as well. In many cases, you hold the most power. Vote with your purchases and your reviews. Don’t accept the tired old tropes (unless of course, you like them). Tell authors what you love about their stories. Tell your friends about the books they must read. Leave reviews on the stories that touched your heart and why. Share. Promote. Talk about it. It’s time to embrace your own sexuality as well. Yesterday I tried on a pair of ridiculously inappropriate shoes. Inappropriate because my life is filled with mud and animal hair, with horses, dogs, and cats. Inappropriate because I nearly killed myself trying to walk down a short flight of stairs in them.

My Frozen ShoesBut damn, they looked good. And that’s reason enough to have them. I feel like a princess when I put them on, and I’m learning to embrace my Inner Princess. She’s the one who dresses up simply because it pleases her, and she’s not afraid to ask for what she wants–and take it when it is offered.

Like Pir8 said, I cannot accept this sort of passivity any longer. I want my heroines and heroes to embrace their sexual selves. And that means starting with myself.

Here’s the link to the rest of the blog hop! Do join in the fun!

My latest release is Walk a Mile, the second installment in the bestselling Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press. FBI agents John Flynn and Jerry Parker are struggling to keep their evolving relationship together while on hunt for a murderer. Do check it out!

UnspeakableWordscoverWalkAMile

A Love Letter to Autumn

Halloween cat in leavesIt’s no secret: I love autumn. I know a lot of people who hate it, who get depressed by the shorter days, the creeping cold, the leaves changing color and falling to the ground, a metaphor for death.

Not me, though. I love it.

I love that first morning you wake up and there is no haze over the mountains, the air is as crisp as biting into a nice Macintosh apple. You have to put on a jacket to walk the dog, knowing that by the time you get back, you’ll be shedding layers.The leaves scritch across the sidewalk with the blustery wind and crackle underfoot as you swish through them. There’s  the smell of woodsmoke in the air, as well as the smell of dead leaves and rich, damp, earth. A fine layer of frost rimes the grass in the mornings, and etches crystals on your windshield.

Harvest MoonThe moon is a ghostly sickle in twilight sky, or a giant orange orb, or a shining silver globe that bathes everything in a clear, cold light so bright you could read by it, throwing the shadows into sharp-edged relief.

And the night sky. Oh, the night sky in autumn! The stars are so brilliant, and the skies so clear that you can see star fields beyond star fields, as though someone scattered handfuls of diamond of all sizes on a black velvet cloak. There is Cassiopeia, with the running “W” of her throne, and low in the autumn sky, the Big Dipper. There, too, is Venus in the early evening, and sometimes later on Saturn and Jupiter as well. By winter, the familiar sight of Orion’s Belt will greet you, but for now you stand huddled in your coat, watching the horse’s breath come out in plumes, and glance up at the starry sky, grateful for this moment in time. You can hear coyotes howling in the distance, sound traveling in the clear, cold air, and it makes you shiver.

waiting for dinnnerThe afternoons are tinted with a yellow light, so rich and warm as it shines through the nearly translucent leaves and lights them within like Halloween pumpkins. Everything is orange, and gold, and red, colors that do nothing for you at any other time of year but that you embrace come autumn. The horses have become furry; you can place your hand against their skin and have hair come up between your fingers. The dog races ahead on the trail, stopping alertly to listen to the forest, and you listen too. It calls to you, tells you to keep walking, that this day is yours and that you must enjoy it while you can. What other season can give you both leaves and snowflakes falling at the same time? You carry the camera with you wherever you go because you have this compulsion to capture the light, the color, the dog frisking among the leaves and immortalize it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve walked this same path a thousand times before. There is the hope that perhaps this time you will take that one photograph that utterly seizes the essence of the moment and stores it for all eternity. One day, you’ll want to look at these images again and remember how rich and blessed you were in this moment.

Autumn Dog Walk2It does seem to me that autumn is shorter every year. It’s not entirely my imagination–I read a report that stated due to climate change, our autumns are roughly two weeks shorter than they used to be. And I know, too, there is something about the change from October to November which spells the end of autumn for me. The light becomes harsher, slanting into the whiter spectrum of the season to come. The skies are pewter more often than not. The leaves are brown, what few remain on the trees. November comes in with a vengeance, stripping the trees of their glory and spitting sleet in your face. It reminds you that winter is coming. Now, I love winter almost as much as I love autumn. I spend almost as much time with the camera trying to collect images for my memory treasure chest. But I won’t lie, I don’t look forward to the deep cold. It was fifty-five degrees in my bedroom this afternoon. After I turned on the heat, I got it up to fifty-six. Give me another month or so, and I’ll be moaning about how miserable I am. :-)

Fall roadBut I will always love autumn.

In less poetic news, Walk a Mile was listed as one of October’s Recommended Reads by Prism Book Alliance! It’s up there with some of the best stories from some of the brightest stars in the genre, so I am delighted and pleased (and surprised) to be among such a stellar crowd. If you follow the link and leave a comment at the post, you’ll  be entered into the giveaway for your choice of one of the recommended reads. What are you waiting for? Check it out!

The Apocalypse is coming–thank God! Now I don’t have to clean the house…

Golden HillsideI confess, I’ve been struggling a bit of late. As I’m coming to learn, it is a combination of things that sends me to a darker place. Work stress can definitely do it, and when I get snowed under by work is when I am the most likely to lie awake at three am and dwell on all my failures in life.

Not getting enough sleep will do it. So will feeling crappy, which is also something I struggle with, especially when I get tired and stressed.When I get pushed for time and energy, I find myself snarfing candy bars instead of snacking on the apple I brought in with me to work. I say ‘screw it’ when the staff brings in pizza (and that is the absolute *worst* thing I can eat–I’m supposed to be avoiding all dairy and wheat while I figure out what I’m allergic to) and I have a slice anyway. I recently commiserated with a friend about the constant battle to eat the kinds of foods our bodies now insist we must have, to get enough sleep, to pay the bills. The constant worry about making ends meet and what our futures hold for us.

That’s not what this post is about, however. Nope. Yesterday, I read an article in the Guardian, about a NASA-funded study that predicts the collapse of industrialized society in about 15 years. And the funny thing is, it took a lot of the pressure off me. No, seriously. It’s not that I don’t believe the article; as a matter of fact, I do, give or take a decade on the timeline there. It’s just that the level of fear-inducing news (Ebola, the war on civil rights, ISIS, terrorism in general, pandemics, zombies, etc) has reached an all-time high with the prediction of the end of life as we know it. I am officially off the hook. I can stop worrying about the house that is falling down around me and whether or not it will see me out. The future is no longer some scary place where I dine on pate-type cat food spread on gluten-free crackers. While I might conceivably grow my own food (stop laughing, I do have land), no one will be prying a gun out of my cold, dead hand because I won’t be holding a gun in the first place.

So I can stop worrying about the future.

I can live for today.

Fall Mountain ViewOf course, that doesn’t mean I’m calling work and telling them I’m not coming in today. Because part of living for today means you have to think about eating tomorrow. But what it does mean is that there are fewer long-term consequences. It means I’m going to color my hair and go to work tomorrow dressed in costume for Halloween. It means I’m going to write my stories because they make me happy and I have fun creating them. That I’m going to walk the dog to the top of the mountain and consider myself the richest person in the world because I own that view. I’m going to suck the marrow out of the bones of life because that’s all we get, people. This. Right here. Today.

I can live for today.

I can walk into a room like I own it. I will laugh and appreciate what I have and be present in the here and now with the people and animals I love most. I will give the electronics a rest. I don’t need mirrors to tell me I’m beautiful or ugly. I don’t need social media to tell me I’m a success or a failure. It could all end tomorrow. So while I might not go out fighting, I want to go out without regrets.

The “We’re Not at GRL” Facebook Party Sat Oct 18th!

Woot!

This is the last day of the Walk a Mile book tour and your last shot at entering the Rafflecopter for the e-book giveaway before it closes. :-) It’s been a rush, going to so many websites, chatting with people, finding out how many readers have fallen in love with Flynn and Jerry and want more from them!

Tennant You Should Be WritingBut all good things come to an end, and the best part about coming to the end of the book tour is that I can go back to doing what so many people are clamoring for: working on the next installment in the series!

I’ve still got some stops today, and will be posting the entire schedule (with links updated) tomorrow, for those wanting to get in on the giveaway at the last minute. I realize that many of you already have a copy of the prize, Unspeakable Words, so if the winner of the rafflecopter already has a copy, we’ll exchange the prize for something else from my backlist. :-)

I won’t *entirely* disappear from the internet, though! Some friends and I were chatting on Facebook about how disappointed we were that we couldn’t to to GRL 2014 this year, and how much fun everyone was having–and we decided to host our own online party! Better organizers than me quickly got on board with this idea, and so we’re going to be at Rainbow Gold Reviews holding a “We’re Not At GRL” Party this Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm EST. Come on down and join the fun because this is for everyone who can’t go to GRL as well!

Today, on the final stops of the book tour, I’ll be at MM Good Book Reviews, Jade Crystal, Velvet Panic! I hope you’ll join me to talk about Walk a Mile, find out my darkest secrets, read some reviews, and enter the giveaway!

GRLsale_DSPsiteAs part of the celebration of Gay Rom Lit weekend, Dreamspinner Press is having a sale! 25% off everything in stock, and 35% off on all GRL participating authors! Go check it out, and get a good deal on my backlist while you’re there!