The Phoenix (short story)

Prompt: Pink

The door chimes to indicate a customer, and I stroll out to the front desk. He’s a young guy, maybe late teens, although I suppose he could be early twenties. He looks to be a little shorter than me, maybe a fraction under six feet, with his straight brown hair cut conservatively. Jeans, t-shirt, hoodie and sneakers. Pretty typical for this neighbourhood, but he doesn’t look like trouble and that’s something.

“Can I help you?”

His eyes flick to me, then back to the designs plastered all over the walls. He seems nervous. Fuck, I hope he’s not high.

“I want a tattoo,” he mumbles.

No shit Sherlock. I roll my eyes, though he’s not looking at me. “Any idea what you want?” It always amazes me when people come into the shop without any idea of what they want done. Don’t they realise a tattoo is permanent? Well, I suppose there are ways and means these days of removing them, but still…

He shuffles his feet, and glances at me from the corner of his eye. “I need it on my back. I’ve got…” He drags in a deep breath and I raise an eyebrow in expectation. “Scars,” he whispers. He clears his throat. “I’ve got scars on my back,” he says a little louder. “I need a tattoo to cover them.”

I nod. Scars are tricky to tattoo, but it’s doable. “Sure. Any idea what design you want?”

He shakes his head. “I was hoping you might be able to come up with something for me. I don’t know what will work, you know?”

I gesture to a small table flanked by cheap metal chairs. “Take a seat.” I grab a pad of paper and a pencil and sit opposite him. “Take your shirt off.” I gesture with my chin to the t-shirt and hoodie he’s wearing.

He hesitates, his mouth turning down, before he shrugs and tugs the sleeves of the grey hoodie. He drops it on the floor, then reaches over his head, grabbing a handful of his t-shirt and drawing it over his head. He turns without looking at me, his gaze lowered to the floor.

“Oh wow,” I breathe. I stand and let my gaze wander over the extensive scarring that covers two thirds of his back. “What happened?”

“Burns.”

His tone doesn’t invite further questions, but I can’t resist. “What happened?”

Turning, he draws his t-shirt back on and shrugs. “Some guys took a disliking to me,” he mumbles.

I wave him back into his chair. “Seriously? Someone did that to you on purpose? What sort of a fucked up person do you have to be to do something like that?”

His shoulders move again and I roll my eyes. I pick up my pencil and start tapping on the paper pad. “Listen, I can do a design for you. Tattooing scar tissue is different to tattooing regular skin, and it takes longer. The ink doesn’t absorb the same way. But I’ve done it before, and we can certainly come up with something for your back. But a tattoo is personal, man. And a tattoo that big? You don’t want something generic. You want something that’s you, that’s right for you and you alone. Okay?”

He makes a face at me. It might as well have been another bloody shrug.

I sigh and lean forward, resting my elbows on the table. “Talk,” I say, pointing the pencil at him. “Tell me about yourself, and I’ll create something for you.”

His lips curl in a sneer. “Like what? I don’t have some sort of speech prepared. What do you want to know?”

“How long ago were you injured?”

“Is that relevant?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“How?”

“Because,” I explain, “the more I understand about what you’ve been through, how long it took you to get to this point, and how it changed you, the better your design will be.”

He leans back in his chair, stretching his legs to one side of the table and tipping his head back to stare at the ceiling. “About a year and a half ago. I had to wait for it to heal properly before I could come and see about a tattoo.”

“Did you know them? The guys who did it?”

“Sort of,” he grunts. “We weren’t mates or anything, but I knew who they were.”

“Why’d they do it?”

He glares at me. “They said I was gay. Some kind of faggot who likes other boys.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Do you like guys?”

“Fuck off,” he snarls. “I ain’t a faggot.”

“That’s an awful word. And I don’t care whether you like boys or you like girls or you’re not into anyone at all. What difference could it possibly make to me?” I wait for his reply.

“It’s sick,” he hisses.

“Is it?” I ask mildly. “You might wanna reconsider where you’re getting your tattoo from then, because I’m gay.”

His eyes widen. “You…what?”

“I’m gay. I like other boys.” I smile. “Men, really. Not into boys so much,” I grin.

He stares at me, then glances around the room. I’m not sure if he’s checking to see if there are hidden cameras or people waiting in the non-existent wings or what. “You’re…gay?” he questions.

“Yup.” I turn my arm over, exposing the tattoo on the inside of my wrist. I hold it out towards him.

He stares at it before looking back up at me. “I don’t get it. It’s a card?”

“The ace of spades,” I smirk. “My mum was horrified that I was gay, but my dad, he’d just tell her to get over it. ‘That boy’s as queer as the ace of spades, Ruth, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.’ Hence,” I gesture at the card inked on my arm, “the ace of spades.”

He opens his mouth as if he’s going to speak, then closes it again. His eyebrows draw down in a frown, like he doesn’t quite know what to make of me. “You’re… You’re okay with being gay?”

I laugh. I can’t help it. “Wouldn’t make a bloody bit of difference either way, would it? I could spend my days hating myself, or I can accept it. I don’t like women. I like men. All the denial in the world won’t change that, so yeah, I’m okay with it. I figure God wouldn’t have made me this way if he didn’t want me to be this way.”

He nods slowly.

I take a chance. “How about you?”

His eyes meet mine, but he doesn’t answer.

“What sort of person do you find attractive? Men? Women? Both? Neither?”

He shifts in his chair, looking away from me. “I dunno.”

“Really? You’re how old?”

“Fine!” he snarls. “I like…” He screws his eyes shut. “I like men,” he whispers.

“Cool. Me too.” I smile and he gives me a weak smile in return.

I look down at the pad of paper and screw my mouth up. “How about…a phoenix?”

“What’s that?” he asks with narrowed eyes.

“Don’t be so suspicious,” I chuckle. “A phoenix is a mythical bird which is reborn out of fire. Which seems appropriate, don’t you think?”

“A bird? That sounds a bit…” I can see him searching for another word other than ‘gay’.

“Trust me.” I start sketching, and can feel his eyes watching me.

“Have you ever… had a boyfriend?” he asks quietly.

I nod, continuing to draw. “Yup. I’m no different to other guys my age. They have girlfriends, I have boyfriends. They have sex, I have sex.” I grin, but don’t look up from my work.

“Have you ever been with a girl?”

I grimace. “Er, no.” I scrunch up my nose. “Not my thing.”

“Not even a kiss?”

“Nope. I always knew I was gay. In high school I was eyeing up guys’ chests in the locker room while they were all talking about boobs.” I hear a breath huff out of him like he’s amused. “You?”

“I’ve kissed a girl.”

“Did you like it?” I ask, trying desperately not to break out into a Katy Perry tune.

“It was okay.”

I hum a response. “What about a guy?”

“Naw,” he says, shifting in his seat. “You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”

I lift my head then and look at him. “I appreciate your trust.”

He smiles. “How do you know if another guy is gay? You don’t wanna be making the moves on some straight guy, right?” He leans forward, waiting for my answer.

“This is a big tattoo,” I say, tapping my pencil against the drawing.

He leans back and folds his arms across his chest. Geez, the guy is an open book.

“It’s going to take a while to ink this onto your back. We’ll have lots of time to talk. I’m happy to tell you whatever I can.”

His arms relax. “Really?”

“Yeah. Now what do you think?” I hold the pad so it’s facing him.

“Oh, that is wicked,” he breathes. “Dude, you are crazy talented.”

“You like? Not too girly?” I smirk.

His eyes meet mine. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now, I was thinking about doing it in bright pink.” I laugh and duck as he reaches out to smack my head. “No?” I laugh harder at the scowl on his face, but I see a little tilt to his lips that says that just maybe he’s going to be okay.

Sock It To Me (short story)

Someone knew. Gabe picked up the bright, rainbow-colored sock from where it was resting on his gym bag and tossed it over his shoulder without looking to see where it landed. After gathering his clean clothes he glanced around, but no one seemed to be watching him. Even if they were, that would hardly be an admission of guilt. Damn it. Gabe shrugged wide shoulders with a nonchalance he wasn’t feeling and got dressed before trudging out of the changing room with his bag.

It wasn’t the first rainbow sock he had found. The first had been on top of his locker, but he hadn’t paid much attention. It was obviously misplaced, or at least he had assumed so. Tossed up on the lockers by someone who couldn’t be bothered handing it in to lost property…which would cover about 90% of the school’s population. There had been nothing indicating it was placed on his locker in particular, although the end of it had been hanging over his locker door.

The second had been under his desk in his chem class. But that was easily explained away too, he was far from the only student to use that desk during the day. Of course, it had been the first class of the day, and he always sat in that seat…but he hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. This was different. Someone had placed it where it couldn’t possibly be mistaken as anything other than a message specifically for him. Someone had gone to the trouble of posting it into his gym locker. Someone knew.

Gabe worked hard to keep calm and stop his dark eyebrows from dropping into a scowl. Whoever was leaving the socks wanted a reaction from him, and he refused to give it. He breathed deep and nodded to people he saw as he made his way to the student parking lot.

He stowed his gear in the passenger seat of his truck, which was a manly black. No fucking frou-frou rainbow colors in sight. Fuck! He thumped the steering wheel before gritting his teeth and reminding himself to get the hell out of the school grounds before losing it.

Someone knew. Jesus. Was it really too much to ask that he finish college with his dignity intact?

For now, it was just socks. But there was no doubt the socks were a message. What the fuck was next? He’d got the message loud and clear; someone knew his secret. Would they expose him? How? And why? And why fucking socks for god’s sake? Gabe growled, glaring at everyone on the road.

He took one hand off the steering wheel to run it through his short, damp hair, trying to think. Anyone could have put the sock on top of the lockers. That was hardly an unrestricted area, and it wouldn’t have taken more than a moment’s work to toss the sock up there. The one in chem class… Surely only someone who was in his chem class would know which seat he always sat at? That narrowed down the possibilities. Was it more likely to be a guy? Maybe, maybe not. It didn’t make sense either way. Gym – it had to be someone on the team. No one else would have had access to the gym lockers between the time he’d put his bag in his locker and then returned to access it again. Someone on the team who was likely in his chem class. Mark or Tony.

Mark was loud and brash, always the center of attention. And he liked the ladies. Gabe chewed on his lower lip as he thought, keeping just half a mind on his driving. Tony was quieter, someone Gabe wouldn’t have minded as a friend, but hadn’t he had a girlfriend for ages now? They’ve been together for a year or more hadn’t they? The little blonde thing that laughed easily and seemed to be friends with everyone. Surely it wasn’t him.

But, Gabe tipped his head in acknowledgement of his own thoughts, he was only assuming the person leaving the sock messages was hiding his own secrets. That wasn’t necessarily true. Still, Tony was the logical choice. Mark would have stood up and announced to everyone in the cafeteria if he’d even suspected. But the question still remained….now what?

Once he was home and had made himself something to eat, he sat down in the ugly, squishy armchair that was his favorite and tried to think the problem through. The most important thing was to figure out why someone was leaving messages at all. Okay, so they knew his secret. Why did they want him to know that? What were they going to do about it? It wasn’t hard to assume they weren’t going to out him, or they could have done that already. No, this was between him and the messenger. Was it some sort of weird secret admirer thing? Gabe wasn’t out for a reason, he sure as shit wasn’t going to get himself a boyfriend. Maybe they wanted someone to share their own secrets with? That seemed the most logical answer to him.

Gabe glanced around the room, then stood up and walked back into his bedroom. Somewhere on the mess that was his desk, he had a list of all the team members, complete with phone numbers. Gabe sifted through piles of paper and books but didn’t find it. Damn it! He yanked open a drawer, nearly dumping the contents at his feet, and saw the list tucked under another piece of paper. Perfect.

He took the list and his phone back to the armchair. There was Tony’s number. Gabe thought for a moment and then sent a text. Got the socks. Wanna talk? He figured that was innocuous enough that if he’d made a mistake and it wasn’t Tony after all, he wouldn’t have given too much away. His phone beeped with an incoming message.
Yeah, you free? Grab a coke at D’s?

A few hours later, Gabe parked his truck again, feeling far more relaxed than after his drive home from college. It had been nice to talk to someone else who understood. He marveled at Tony’s arrangement with his mock girlfriend – that was a sweet deal, and he wished he’d had an understanding female friend who could have helped him out like that. There’d been no weirdness between him and Tony, and he appreciated that. He didn’t need a boyfriend, just a friend.

Books read in August

Depth of Field by Riley Hart *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Revealed to Him by Jen Frederick *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

Entangled by Jessica Sorensen *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Entranced by Jessica Sorensen *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Enchanted by Jessica Sorensen

Blind Faith by N R Walker *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Finding His Place by Nic Starr *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Tanner by Sarah Mayberry *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Hold Me by Talia Ellison *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Unfold Me by Talia Ellison *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

 

Revealed to Him by Jen Frederick
I have to say, I got the audio version of this book, as well as the ebook, and it was awful.  The narrators were so bad.  There was no emotion, no feeling…  It really put me off the book, and I was struggling with it as it was.

The heroine suffers from crippling anxiety and agoraphobia, and yet when she’s outside and totally freaking out, a kiss from the hero overcomes all her fears and they end up having sex in the car.  Um, what?  She’s so agoraphobic that she passed out and threw up just trying to walk to the lift on her floor of her own apartment building, but she’s in a condition to have sex in a car, as they drive to his house?  Whatever.

The worst part for me was after she had a major freak out and had thrown up from sheer fear, and he put his fingers down her pants and commented on how wet she was for him.  Of course, then they had sex.  She hadn’t even brushed her teeth after throwing up.  Ugh.  It was such bullshit.  I’m sorry, but when people are in a state of extreme fear, they’re not thinking about how hot you are, or about sex.  No.  That is not realistic.  It’s ridiculous.  I struggled with her letting him into her apartment and them having sex, when she has such a fear of strangers and meeting new people, but I overlooked it, but the sex at times of extreme anxiety and fear?  Nope.  I almost put it down as a ‘did not finish’ but I detest not finishing a book, so I struggled through.  Kinda wish I hadn’t bothered now.  Maybe I can save you the time though.  There are definitely better books out there.

Enchanted by Jessica Sorensen
I really struggled to rate this.  I enjoyed it, and I would love to read more, and what I read I’d probably be happy to rate as four stars, but….  It wasn’t finished.  It was an incredibly short installment in the series and it didn’t even really feel like a cliffhanger so much as it felt unfinished.  I was very disappointed in the length.  Not the writing, which was fine, but the length.  I’d read more by this author, for sure, especially in this series, but I know now to be aware that I may not be buying a whole novel or even novella.  It’s more like a serial installment than a novella.

Blind Faith by N R Walker
Predictable but sweet.

 

Roses Are Red (short story)

But violets are definitely more interesting…

“Surely it’s not true. Imagine the scandal. He’d never be able to show his face again. He’d be ruined.”

The scandalised whisper crept around the edges of the potted plants to reach the interested ear of Mr James Devon. He straightened from his lean against one of the pillars edging the small country ballroom and strained to hear more of the conversation.

“Of course it’s not true,” snapped a matron’s deeper tones. “He’s a duke. And imminently eligible. Such gossip does not become you, girls.”

There was only one duke in attendance tonight, and indeed he was the only peer to grace the ball with his presence. The fact that he lived a mere stone’s throw away (if one had a very decent throwing arm) was neither here nor there. Tonight’s ball commemorating Saint Valentine’s Day hadn’t even drawn a baron, but the attendance of the Duke of Wiltshire had certainly sealed the host’s social status among the gentry.

James felt a sudden chill despite the warmth of the overcrowded room. Society did not take kindly to anyone who deviated from their expectations of what was proper, and they were so careful to maintain appearances. For a man, being ostracised from society would be difficult and inconvenient, but it was the young women like the sister who had dragged James to tonight’s function who would truly suffer the consequences. Her chances of finding of a good husband would be utterly destroyed if scandal broke out and James was at the center of it.

“How can they even tell?” The young lady’s voice was breathless with curiosity. “It’s not like someone caught him kissing another man.” A gasp, and then, “Or did they?”

James narrowed his eyes and swept his gaze across the ballroom. Taking only cursory note of where his younger sister was dancing decorously with another member of the local gentry, he searched for the duke. Tuning out the sound of the matron berating her charges for their indiscreet comments, he watched the duke do the rounds of the ballroom, sending all the other guests aflutter with every dip of his head and polite smile. Unlike the matron, he knew rank and privilege were no guarantee of a man’s preference.

There were no affectations in Wiltshire’s mannerisms, no hint of effeminacy. He wore stark black formal wear, relieved only by the blinding white of his starched shirt and a single violet in his boutonnière. Of course, the same could be said for any of the men in the room, although to a man they all wore red roses to match the ludicrous abundance of draped red silk and velveteen hearts that passed for decoration. James looked down at himself, where he wore the twin to the duke’s boutonnière. It was also a convenient match to the pastel-shaded gown his sister wore.

James monitored the duke’s progress, careful to avoid being too obvious. The last thing he needed was to fan the flames of gossip. He even made a point of taking his sister out on the floor for a dance when the duke’s circuit of the ballroom brought him near. It wouldn’t do for anyone to put two and two together and make four.

It was nearly 11pm when James tapped his sister on the shoulder as she stood in line at the refreshments table, and indicated he was going outside for a smoke. At her nod of understanding, he strolled out into the crisp air. Spring had yet to really show herself this season, and the chill was a marked contrast to the stuffy heat of the overcrowded ballroom.

James withdrew a cheroot from his waistcoat pocket and held it to his lips, the brief light of the flame flaring bright in the darkness as he lit it. The smoke trailed gracefully into the still night, delicate wisps against the vast array of stars strewn across the sky. James enjoyed the view for a moment, glad he didn’t live in London where the smog was so thick one never saw the stars of an evening.

James ambled round to the stables, stopping to pet a horse here and there. The duke’s curricle was ridiculously easy to identify; no one else at the ball could afford such an exquisitely matched pair of horses. He nodded at the groom who had been given the tasks of overseeing them for the duration of the ball, and reached out to rub each horse between the ears.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?”

The deep voice came from behind him as James ran his hand down one horse’s long, velvety nose. He spun to see the duke standing behind him. James withdrew his cheroot and smiled.

“Your Grace.” James bowed in deference to the duke’s status, mindful of the groom who was listening intently. “What a splendid matched pair. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the like.”

The gas lamps weren’t sufficient to clearly see the expression in the duke’s eyes, but James fancied that there was a relaxed warmth to his smile that had been missing all night.

The duke gave a light chuckle as he stepped forward. “I saw them at Tattersalls, and had to have them. Cost a pretty penny, but they are a joy to drive. I often take them out myself, much to my coachman’s disgust.”

James brushed his hand down the neck of the nearest horse in long strokes. He heard the crunch of gravel as the duke moved, then he felt the heat of the duke’s body as they stood shoulder to shoulder. The duke reached out and stroked the horse, his hand sliding over James’ hand which was frozen in place. James hardly dared to breathe. Then, as if nothing had happened, the duke stepped back, and the cold crept back in.

“Perhaps you might like to come and view my stables, Mr Devon. I recently purchased a rather magnificent stallion which I hope will see some new foals born of my mares next year.” The duke turned away, tugging on one cuff and speaking casually over his shoulder. “Would tomorrow afternoon suit?”

James couldn’t help the smile that lifted his lips. “Tomorrow afternoon would be splendid, Your Grace. I shall look forward to it.”

The duke turned back to face him, and lifted an eyebrow. “Perhaps your sister would care to accompany you? The Dowager is frightfully bored these days, and would love some company.”

James knew that was for the benefit of listening ears, as the duke knew very well that his sister was otherwise occupied the following afternoon. “Unfortunately, she and my mother are attending an afternoon tea. I know she’ll be sorry to have missed the opportunity.” In truth it was his mother who would be heartbroken to know that her daughter had come so close to dining with the dowager duchess at the ducal estate. That would certainly have been a social coup.

“Never mind, another time perhaps. Still, you should come and see the horses. Come prepared for a good, hard ride. It’s been too long since I’ve had one, and I’d enjoy the company.” The duke made eye contact, and James couldn’t resist a smirk at the double entendre, relieved the horses’ large heads hid his expression from the groom. It was rare for the duke’s clever wit to come out in public, and James was delighted to know that he was enjoying himself despite the game of cloak and daggers they were forced to play.

As James took his leave, and the duke made preparations to depart, there was nothing to suggest that anything untoward had taken place. By tomorrow the conversation would have travelled on gossip’s swift feet, and ladies all over the region would be hearing it from their maids as they dressed for their afternoon calls. All would be assured that the Duke of Wiltshire and Mr James Devon had behaved with the utmost decorum, and the proprieties had been observed. Indeed, the duke had invited the man’s sister to dine with the dowager duchess, and surely he wouldn’t have done that if there had been any hint of inappropriateness about the meeting.

James returned to the ballroom and his duty as chaperone for his sister, relieved to see that she was still mingling with the other guests despite his absence. Nothing in the ballroom had changed in the few minutes he’d been gone, but somehow the music seemed livelier and the candlelight seemed brighter. Dresses sparkled and laughter caused his own lips to lift. Even the profusion of red roses and the ostentatious pink champagne didn’t offend to the same degree. Like a child with a secret, the wait for tomorrow afternoon would be both interminable and full of wondering delight. In the meantime, he would daydream of violets and one particular duke.

An interview with author S Jade Castleton

You describe yourself as ‘a novelist who is yet to finish a novel’. What’s stopping you?
Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure this out for YEARS. I think it comes down to three main things:

  1. I have this irrational fear that once I finish and/or publish something I’ll never be able to modify or add anything, and I hate that thought (generally because of point 2 below)
  2. I like writing my characters’ lives, so I just keep going. Generally each novel has a plot but I’m in no hurry to actually bring it to an end. And I can be found adding on short stories even while the novel itself is languishing.
  3. I write for myself. Means I’m not all hot and bothered about actually publishing anything and therefore I don’t have any pressure on me to finish.

Having said all that I’ve got one novel in the process of being finished so that it can be published. It’s been with a writing coach who is the only other person to have read it in its 21 years of life. Great feedback, and good tips. Does mean huge amounts of extra ‘life’ being cut, but I’ve almost come to terms with that. The published story is for the public, but I’ve still got the ‘real’ story for me.

A lot of authors publish extra chapters or short stories to accompany a novel, usually as freebies on their websites. This can be appreciated by fans. Have you considered doing this with your related short stories and/or cut content? It might help you accept that the story doesn’t really need to end with being published. Also, some authors publish novellas that are like extended epilogues, especially where there are multiple books set in the same world and the characters from multiple books can be featured in a single novella.
Ah yes, I’ve kind of done that. I have a piece from Watching Clouds and a piece from another novel linked under the Characters part of my website, and I’ve actually got Fire Red Leaf there too – under Snippets. I suspect I will put other things up there, almost like ‘cutting room floor’ pieces. I really should add a few more things but I have been entirely slack with the website (and even the blog).

Where do you get the ideas for your novels and short stories?
Dreams, mostly—for novels anyway. And, given some of the contents of my novels, that probably should worry me a bit. News items or even a single name have also inspired stories. Lately, I’ve been saving prompts on Pinterest but none yet has grown into something.

I generally only do short stories when I’m writing for a contest and, in that case, it’s the prompt that gives me the starting framework. But, I’ll only write if some sort of inspiration comes to me.

How much research do you do for your writing? 
Starting out? None. I need to get the story out before I figure out what might be wrong or right in terms of reality. However, for a story I’m serious about (as in publishing serious) then I’ll research – places, laws, food, weather facts. And in fact I love doing research; I’m a knowledge/trivia geek. I’m even learning Welsh via Duolingo.com because I’ve a story set in Wales! And I’ve been learning about famous Japanese swords lately because of a story that’s sort of set there but also isn’t. A lot of my novels are set in vague places and/or times so that lets me be lazy with regards to research. However, the novel I’m looking to publish is set in Chicago and talks a lot about the city. There’s no way that I can’t be serious about getting information right. I’m actually spending a month there early next year to write and research.

You’re a self-titled ‘pantser’, yet you do research. Do you store your information online or are you old school and have binders or notebooks filled with handwritten notes? How do you organise all the details and ideas?
Oh man, notebooks, notebooks, notebooks. One in every bag/handbag, one on my bedside table, one in drawers beside my couch etc. Can get a little messy when I’ve got sequential notes but in multiple notebooks! And the one in the bag I take to work is often filled out while on the train, so the handwriting can get tough to read. I also use little pieces of paper (often when at work when I daren’t bring out my notebook). I shove those in my glasses case so they can safely get home. Sometimes they get transferred to a notebook, sometimes they just get stuff in the notebook. Early on I used to use hardcover 1B5s to write my notes – though more for a particular novel than just general notes. I do like that way of keeping things together but I’ve not really kept it up. Sometimes notes are just on A4 and put into the binder that carries the rest of the story. For Watching Clouds I do actually have a research/notes binder that was split into notes, ideas, stuff for characters, dates etc. But no matter the notes these days, they’re pretty much always handwritten.

Of course, none of that means I plan. I don’t, though I love the idea of planning and I have tried several times but never really pulled it off.

Why did you choose to set your novel in Chicago? Why not a New Zealand city that would have been far easier and cheaper for you to research?
Because I fell in love with Chicago when I was there as an exchange student in 1993. And back then I probably also thought it would be a little more vague. You know, things can happen there that never make the news but which would here. I didn’t want to deal with all that. Also…. Owen’s age is a key factor in the story. 16 is the legal age here for sex whereas it’s 17 in Illinois. I could have made Owen even younger but thought that he’d be able to handle things at 16 (and get away with them) but not at 15. 15 was too young.

When I returned to Chicago in 2011 and then again in 2014 the city was so much more awesome, so I also didn’t have any trouble making my story leap forward from actually being set in the 90s.

Home will always be home, but Chicago has a big chunk of my heart.

As a New Zealander, what are the difficulties of writing for an international audience?
Well, when I read about the huge successes of New Zealand authors with international audiences (mostly the US, admittedly) I come to the conclusion there aren’t many difficulties. And definitely not with the rise of self-publishing.

However, language can be an issue. I know that my story set in Chicago will need to get the ‘u’ removed from ‘colour’ etc so as to be ‘truly’ set in the US, and of course the slang in that story is all very much Kiwi at the moment. My writing coach asked where my MC was from because he’s obviously not American, due to his speech/slang. Well, at that time he was only from Arizona but obviously that wasn’t going to wash. Fortunately, with a major plot black-hole now fixed I actually can get him to have lived in New Zealand much of his life and so I won’t have to change the slang. Kind of relieved about that, but I’ll still need to change the spelling.

Tell me about your passion for reading and writing gay characters.
I don’t consciously think of my characters as gay and I don’t write them as that. They’re just normal guys who happen to love other guys. Actually, I wonder why it’s even considered a genre.

My passion, though? When I look back over all the stories I’ve written with gay characters, it all seems to have started in about 1995. This was the year I met Antinous in Roman Art at university. Aside from the statue we were shown being so amazingly beautiful, the tragic tale of his life with the Emperor Hadrian really got my attention. I started looking for gay fiction (they were kept separate back then!) and read what I could. They tended to swap between being fantasy (female writers) and about the serious AIDS issues of the 80s and 90s (male writers). I don’t really remember any of them being simply about a guy who loved another guy. There was always something else.

Anyway, I just started writing gay characters (and my own version of Antinous’ life with Hadrian) and kept going. I do have some f/m stories but 90% now are with gay characters. It’s just what I write. But it wasn’t until I joined Writing.com a few years ago and found that people liked my stories and found others who wrote them that I really felt like I wasn’t doing something weird.

I like that gay fiction now (most of the time, in any case) treats the characters as normal, just going about their lives. If only some people didn’t think ‘porn’ when hearing I write gay fiction!

‘What caught your attention?’

Gale turned. ‘Huh?’

‘Josh,’ Eric clarified. ‘I guess he was cute but were the others ugly?’

‘You’re seriously asking?’ Gale got out. ‘Looks aren’t everything.’

‘Aren’t they, beauty queen?’

‘Shut up,’ Gale growled and glared out the passenger window.

Eric grinned and remained quiet.

‘His smile actually,’ Gale muttered at the glass.

‘Not the crap bowling?’

Gale turned his gaze on his friend. ‘If I was attracted by crap bowling I’d have gotten myself a harem.’

Eric snorted. ‘Well, worked in your favour, didn’t it? And the fact it was something you could correct… Though,’ he added in a drawl, ‘I didn’t notice you offering advice to anyone else.’

Gale simply kept up the glare.

Eric bit the inside of his cheek. ‘His smile, huh?’

Gale sighed, leaned his head back. ‘Yeah. I just happened to look up when he was smiling at something or someone.’ He closed his eyes. ‘Bugger, I’m screwed.’

He felt a hand touch his arm briefly. ‘Hardly the first or last, mate,’ Eric told him.

‘Great pep talk, cheers.’

Eric laughed. ‘And so the smile egged you on?’

‘No, it was the bowling that did that.’ Gale smiled briefly. ‘Like you said, worked in my favour.’

‘Helped by your own bowling.’

Gale snorted. ‘Made me legit, I guess.’

Eric cracked more laughter. ‘You made his legit.’

‘Well, as I told you, he listened to me,’ Gale said.

‘Ah so… a cute smile and a pair of ears.’

‘Do you know how dirty you just made that sound?’ Gale grinned as he saw the flush rise. ‘And look at this, home. We can stop the inquisition.’

‘Fucking A,’ Eric said with a grin. He applied the handbrake. ‘You know I’ve got your back.’

‘Jesus, Eric, I’m not gonna do anything stupid.’

‘Yeah well,’ Eric said. ‘That’s debatable but I meant the boyfriend. Now I know there is one, I really don’t think things are fully right there.’

Gale considered his friend, was pretty darn sure Eric wasn’t joking about this. Damn, had he really missed something? He swallowed. ‘I’m not going to steal anyone from anyone,’ he said. ‘That’s not my intention. If I contact him that’ll be clear.’

‘I hope so,’ Eric said. ‘But I meant what I said, you know.’

‘I know and I’m grateful.’ Gale got out of the car, then leaned back in. ‘You know you’re just like Morgan.’

‘Yeah, that thought crossed my mind too,’ Eric said wryly. ‘Wing man for the gay guy.’

Gale snorted and swung the door closed, but Eric saw him grin as he walked to the front door.

– Love is Complicated by S Jade Castleton

Many of your characters are male, yet you are female. What are the challenges of writing from a perspective you’re not familiar with?
I’ve never really thought of challenges, to be honest. I write my characters almost without specific thought to their gender, even though I know what it is. I do sometimes pick up where a response or action may be too ‘girly’ but it doesn’t happen much. If I need to check something then I go to my friend, the Internet, mostly to online manga. I’ve found that ‘seeing’ helps clarify things I might be struggling to write correctly. But, I’ve been writing male characters all my life so I don’t feel weird doing so. Even if I have a dream where the character is female, when the idea is fleshed out the character invariably becomes male.

Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Well, I collect series. Does that make those authors favourites? If so, I have a whole lot of them across many genres! I’m more likely to admit to favourite books, than authors, but I do consider S.E. Hinton as an inspiring author. I read The Outsiders back in about 1988 and ever since I’ve been addicted to first person narrators. But I also loved the way she told that tale, both serious and funny. There’s one particular section of the book that can still make me instantly tear up.

What is your purpose in writing?
My purpose is selfish: I write to keep calm and sane. I write only when inspired but if I haven’t written anything fresh in a fortnight or so I get anxious.

I do aspire to be published, despite what I’ve said. But I’m not really sure why. It’s definitely not to make money and it’s not even really to have others read my things. I guess it’s more so I can say ‘I’ve published a book. See, writing isn’t a waste of time.’ I want to feel vindicated for all those years people’s eyes have glazed over when I’ve told them that I write.

You mention in your blog that none of your family have read your work. Do you think you’ll ever break that barrier between real life and your pseudonym? If so, when? What about friends and other people in real life?
Eek, I need to update that particular bit obviously as my parents and brother/sister know at least know I write gay fiction. My brother’s read a (non gay fiction) short story and my mum has in fact read a couple of my gay fiction short stories. No one’s batted an eye lid about it, and mum’s been good on editing too. Has never read my novels though and may not until they’re published. Could be because they’re darker, they have sex etc. It’s probably just me. I do have one friend who has read short stories and with whom I’ve talked about Watching Clouds. Was great to chat to but she has just retired so that link has been cut just a little. However, I’m writing a YA paranormal novel (parts thereof are actually on WDC) which she is keen to read the entirety of and so eggs me to finish.

As for breaking the barrier between real-life and pseudonym. No, not really. As daft as it is, all my gay fiction will be under the pseudonym. I don’t want it linked with ‘me’ and my friends who may just all freak out. Silly fear, I guess, but I also want to publish non gay fiction and I don’t want the two mixed up.

You can read more of Jade’s work, and her blog, at her website: www.sjadecastleton.com

Cyberlove

Prompt: Go to a book you’re currently reading, and turn to page 56. On that page, go to the fourth complete sentence. That’s your prompt…at the end of your entry please list the title, author, and sentence.

This cracks me up. I followed the instructions and the sentence I got was ‘Was he there now?’ But you know what makes it so funny? It was preceded by so many more interesting sentences! *Facepalm*

‘Alone in my room, I could take off my pants – because fuck pants – sit on my bed in my briefs, and eat. My give-a-fucks were at level zero. And knowing Ian’s room was right down the hall didn’t make shit any better. Was he there now?’

*Laugh* See what I mean?

This book is the third one in the Cyberlove series by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell. The first one was Strong Signal, which I read in March and rated 4 stars. It featured a gamer who streamed on Twitch, and a soldier. It was an interesting read for me, because I had no knowledge of Twitch, and very little knowledge of gaming and streaming if I’m honest, and my husband started streaming on Twitch at about that same time. So yeah, I was quite fascinated by the insights into that world that my husband was entering.

The characters were really well developed, and Kai was fantastic. I loved him. He had these wonderfully extroverted traits, but also suffered from crippling social anxiety, to the point where he couldn’t even go to the supermarket. He hid behind his online persona, something I think many people online can relate to.

I must admit, I skipped the second book in the series. It featured another soldier, but seemed to deviate from the gaming world, which I found more interesting. The third book, Hard Wired, is back to the gaming. Cherry and Garvy are mods for Kai’s Twitch stream, so Kai and Garrett from the first book make a few appearances. That theme of hiding behind an online persona comes back – while Garvy is much the same online as he is IRL, Cherry is not like anyone expected. There’s a lot of soul searching going on, and I’m enjoying the book. So far it’s proving as good as the first.

Books read in June

Darkness Dawns by Dianne Duvall *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Darkness Rises by Dianne Duvall *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Night Unbound by Dianne Duvall *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Shadows Strike by Dianne Duvall *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

In Still Darkness by Dianne Duvall *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Phantom Embrace by Dianne Duvall *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

Blind Faith by Teresa Gabelman *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

Sound of Her Warrior Heart by M L Buchman *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

An Unconventional Meeting by E V Darcy *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Tone Deaf by Olivia Rivers *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Unforgiven by Ruth Clampett *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Working It by Riley Hart and Devon McCormack *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Touch of Fire by Jasmine B Waters *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

Adam’s Song by Spencer Spears *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Tartan Two-Step by Grace Burrowes *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Before You Break by K C Wells and Parker Williams *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Phantom Embrace by Dianne Duvall
I had a pretty good idea of where this story was going, because in the previous novel, Yuri was killed in action.  Now, we step back in time a little and he’s the main character in a romance?  Oh, wait, the girl he falls in love with is a ghost.  Hmm, predictable much?  So yeah, Yuri dies and the two ghosts get to be together forever…as ghosts.  Ugh.  This was definitely not up to Dianne Duvall’s normal standards.

Before You Break by K C Wells and Parker Williams
Although it was well written, this book wasn’t for me.  I would have rated it two stars for my personal enjoyment of the book, but it seemed a little unfair to the author.  I mean, it’s a novel featuring a gay couple who are in a dominant/submissive relationship – it seems unfair to reduce my rating because I didn’t enjoy the dom/sub aspect of it.  But I didn’t.  And I was unable to give it more than three stars.

For me, a relationship has to be equal.  These two were equals at work, equals in strength, etc.  They were not equals in their relationship.  To me, it seemed that Wayne didn’t see Ellis as an equal.  Instead, Wayne felt superior, smarter, more of an ‘adult’, and he patronised Ellis.  I felt like it was more like a parent/child relationship than one of equals.  This was emphasised by the way Wayne addressed Ellis as ‘boy’ and made Ellis call him ‘Sir’.

I also felt like the last third of the book was an extended epilogue.  The book just kept going and going and going…  I was so over it by the time I finally finished.