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Alarming legal precedent…

Let me just start out by saying that this is NOT the post I wanted to be writing right before Christmas! — but it has the potential to be important…

 

I read a federal appellate court this morning out of Vermont that contained language I find highly alarming. The case is United States v. (Benjamin H.) Weisinger (2d Circuit 2014). Mr. Weisinger was convicted of producing and receiving child pornography, involving photographs of his girlfriend’s minor daughter. The language in the opinion that I find alarming for people in our line of work is the following:

 

“Similarly, evidence of Weisinger’s online viewing of erotic incest stories, particularly involving stepfathers and stepdaughters, was probative of his intent to produce and receive pornography involving the minor daughter of his live-in girlfriend. See United States v. Brand, 467 F.3d 179, 197 (2d Cir.2006) (holding that evidence of prior acts is probative of intent to commit charged acts if there is ‘‘similarity or some connection’’ between acts (internal quotation marks omitted)).”

 

In plain English (or as plain as this lawyer can make it), what this case is holding is that the fact that this defendant searched for and read online fictional erotic incest stories involving stepfathers and stepdaughters constituted evidence of a “prior act” (which is legal shorthand for “prior bad act”, which can be a prior crime or simply a prior “unsavory” act), and that evidence was admissible in court to prove that the defendant committed the crime charged.

 

Let me repeat: the act of searching for and reading erotic incest fiction online was considered evidence of intent to commit the crime of production of child pornography, where the victim of the crime was in an “incest-like” relationship with the defendant. (I was unable to ascertain whether the particular story cited by the court was a published story, or something on a site such as Literotica.) Sex and pornography offenses involving children have their own separate body of law, so it’s possible that this precedent might eventually be held applicable only to cases involving child sexual abuse and child pornography. But I would venture to say that most of us who write erotic fiction (and definitely those of us who write same-sex, poly, BDSM, kink/fetish, etc.) write about acts considered by some persons, and in some parts of the country, “unsavory acts”. I’m not holding my breath.

Just for fun, I thought I’d give you all a look inside the open-for-business doors of Big Boy Massage, in Chapter Two of SoulShares Number Six (working title: Flight of Fantasy)!

 

August 14, 2013
Washington, D.C.

 

Perry tried to relax back into the plastic chair. It wasn’t really made for relaxing in, though; the only way to sit in it was to slouch, in a posture that showed off a hell of a lot of leg and pretty much screamed fuck me.
A low chuckle came from across the tiny waiting area. A man who looked like Idris Elba’s younger brother was draped across an identical chair, right under the plasma screen that cycled through the price list for all the forms of massage theoretically offered at Big Boy Massage. Perry knew he could handle the shiatsu and could fake Thai, but in the unlikely event a client wanted anything else on the menu, he was screwed.
Which was, of course, the idea.
“You must be the new guy.” Idris Junior’s voice was even sexier than his smile. “Don’t worry, we don’t stay in the chairs long once things get busy.”
Perry nodded. “Boss explained the system to me yesterday when he hired me.” And what a job interview that had been, with Perry still kitted out as Falcon and carrying his stiletto heels because he hadn’t wanted to run up the stairs from Purgatory in them. “Three boys working at once, max, with the fourth out here to keep an eye on the screen.” Big Boy Massage had four small massage rooms opening off the waiting area, one for the boss’ exclusive use when he was around and three for business, two of which were presently occupied. And each of the massage tables had a kick switch built into one leg that would light up a telltale on the plasma screen if the masseur was in trouble with a client. Classiest place he’d worked in years. Lochlann Doran wanted his boys to have each other’s backs.
Long-Dark-and-Chiseled nodded, then treated Perry to the sight of a luxurious stretch, all the way from fingers interlaced overhead to bare toes pointed and curled hard, the mesh muscle shirt and leather shorts in between doing little to deter speculation about what lay beneath. And leaving Perry feeling decidedly underdeveloped by comparison. Though he doubted his companion could rock a mermaid hemline the way he himself could. “Relax while you can, baby, pace yourself. Something tells me it’s gonna be a long night–”
The street door opened, closed.
Sweet six-pound-nine-ounce baby Jesus.
Perry sat straight up in the loathesome plastic chair, ignoring the way his ass complained, and stared. The newly-arrived client had to be at least six-five. The first things he noticed were eyes that reminded him of pictures he’d seen of glacier ice, an uncanny shade of blue. Looking into those eyes felt like grabbing on to a bare electrical wire, and when the guy shifted his gaze to Idris the Younger, Perry wanted nothing more than to grab the wire again.
But at least now he could look at the rest of the guy without anyone noticing him going slack-jawed and stupid. The client–my client, please God, I promise to be good for as long as I can stand it, just let him pick me–had hair so blond it was almost white, just long enough to show a little wave, and wore a denim jacket over a plain faded blue t-shirt and cutoff shorts.
Now the Adonis in denim was studying the menu. Perry caught himself holding his breath.
“Do you do shiatsu?”
He’s looking at me.
“Sure do.”
The blond’s smile, and his trace of an Irish accent, combined to make Perry’s shorts feel tight. “Anything else?”
“We can talk about that once we get started.” The standard answer. Letting the johns comparison shop in the lobby used up valuable time. Besides, Perry wanted to whisper the specials into this guy’s ear.
“Sounds good to me.”
Perry unfolded himself from the torture chair, and grinned as his co-worker gave him a surreptitious thumbs-up. Don’t wait up, he wanted to say.
He turned to oh my GOD he’s tall. His own five-eight was just right for Falcon’s five-inch stilettos, but looking up at six-five without them was going to give him a pain in the neck.
Good thing he wouldn’t be looking up much longer. Unless it was while he was lying on his back. That he could handle.
“Which room?” The blond’s hand closed gently around Perry’s upper arm.
Not protocol. But Perry was doing a whole lot of not caring about protocol, as a shiver ran the whole length of his body, driven by a shot of energy from that touch. It paid very special attention to his heart, which was suddenly hammering double-time. And his groin, which was also pounding, but in a very different way. What the hell?
“This way.” He was surprised he could speak. He concentrated on leading the blond to the empty massage room without tripping over his own feet, and on closing the door without sagging against it and trying to get his breath back.
I think I’m losing my mind. First night on the job, and I’m hyperventilating over Prince Charming.
By the time he trusted himself to look up again, the blond was sitting on the massage table, his sneakered feet just an inch or so from the floor. “Is this where I get naked?” His voice was surprisingly soft for a man his height, and there was an intimate quality to the softness that made Perry feel like he was being touched.
Which wasn’t the way it was supposed to work in a place like this. He touched the johns. They only touched him when he let them. That was why he preferred working in the massage parlors to freelancing.
“Not if all you want is shiatsu.” The blond god was sitting on the padded teak table with his knees apart , and Perry edged between them. Too close. But he wanted to be close. On his own terms. “So maybe it’s time we talked about that.”
“Maybe.”
Just the hint of a smile touched perfect lips; this close, Perry could see stubble. It would be soft, he knew. This guy was a natural blond, nothing out of a bottle. He could think of a lot of places he wanted whisker burn.
“You’re not a cop, right?”
Listening to the blond laugh was like knocking back really good sake. All you felt at first was the warm glow that spread out from your core, all the way to your fingertips. But you just knew that any second, your legs were going to give out on you.
“Do I look like a cop?” The blond glanced down. Perry did likewise, and was treated to the outline of an insistent erection straining against denim. “More to the point, does that look like a cop?”
“Well, now that you mention it, I wouldn’t mind a cavity search.” Perry hated the glibness of the words, given that he knew how sincere he was. Some clients, he’d shout hallelujah, come on, get happy if all they wanted was a quick hand-job. This one…
This one he wanted to walk out of Big Boy Massage with and stroll hand in hand back to the apartment he was going to be able to pay the rent on this month thanks to Lochlann, order a pizza, and see how much of the Kama Sutra the two of them could get through by sunrise. Which was insane.

Veterans’ Day at Purgatory

MacinNam

With your kind permission, I’d like to reprint an original Purgatory short story I first ran last Veterans’ Day. This young Marine is Mac McAllan; he served in Vietnam with Kevin Almstead’s father Thomas, and now he’s a bartender at Purgatory, where his partner Lucien is the bouncer. I’ll let you learn the rest as you read….

Mac carefully set the brimful pint glass of Smithwick’s in front of the customer who had ordered it, a thin, drawn guy in a faded camo jacket.
“Thanks, what do I owe you?” The man shifted on the bar stool and reached into his hip pocket, pulling out a battered wallet and opening it up, to reveal a wad of what looked like singles, and a very familiar blue identification card.
“Active-duty retired?”
The man looked startled, but nodded. “Desert Storm, Third Armored.”
Looking the guy up and down, the bartender made a quick decision. “Then you don’t owe me anything. The club’s buying for all veterans tonight.”
“No shit?”
“Least we can do.” Hell, yes. Desert Storm was pre-Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell. Which meant that this guy had served most or all of his career at risk of dishonorable discharge, if anyone had discovered the secret that made him one of Purgatory’s customers.
“Did I hear you right?” This from a balding bear in leather shorts and a harness, a couple of stools down the bar. “I did three tours, USMC, last one at Camp Fuji.”
“Semper Fi, what’ll you have?”
A small crowd gathered around the bar, as word started making it around the room that the house was buying for servicemen. Mac was more than a little surprised at the number of Purgatory regulars coming forward to claim drinks. Even Miss Mona, a drag queen who probably hadn’t missed a Monday night at Purgatory in forty years, turned out to have been a pilot in Korea. My paycheck’s going to take a beating this week. Mac laughed to himself. It’s worth it.
He looked up from pouring a martini – and grinned ear-to-ear, he couldn’t help it. “Sarge! – what the hell are you doing here?”
Thomas Almstead grinned back. “You turned down my offer of a beer tonight because you were working.” He glanced around at the men crowding his son-in-law’s bar – business is good, I see – and then reached across the bar to shake the hand of the man who’d saved his ass twice in Vietnam. “So I thought I’d come to you.”
“Did I hear him call you ‘Sarge’?” The speaker was an elderly man in a pink sequined mermaid gown and pink feathered headdress. “Then you can buy a lady a drink.”
Mac grinned at the drag queen. “You need to finish your creamy Sex on the Beach, Miss Mona, then you can pester Sarge for another one.”
“Oh, poo.”
Thomas laughed. Two years ago, if anyone had told me I was going to be spending Veterans’ Day 2013 in a gay nightclub run by my son-in-law, I would have… well, I’m not sure what I would have done. Questioning sanity would have been high on the list, though. Then he leaned across the bar, as Mac motioned to him. “Looks like they really needed you tonight,” he commented, before the bartender could speak. From what Thomas remembered from dinner conversations with Tiernan and Kevin, Monday nights were usually fairly quiet at Purgatory. Tonight was, apparently, an exception.
Mac’s gaze swept the group clustered around the bar. “Well, it’s my own fault. I decided to pick up the tab for any vets in the house tonight. Who’d have thought there were so many?”
“You decided to –“
“Hey, bartender!”
Mac rolled his eyes as a gaggle – there really was no other word for it – of boys who looked barely out of their teens waived at him. “Excuse me just a second, Sarge. I need to go card a few people.”
Thomas frowned in thought as Mac moved off down the bar, a slight spring in one step from the carbon fibre blade prosthetic leg he was sporting, then turned away from the bar and crossed the club, carefully skirting the edge of the pit full of black leather furniture and knocking on the nearly-invisible door on the far side of it.
Tiernan looked up, startled, from the computer monitor displaying his rotation of security cameras. “What the particular fuck?” Most people didn’t know his office door was there, and the ones who did generally didn’t bother to knock. He unfolded himself from behind the desk and went to the door, pushing it open. “Mr. Almstead!”
“I thought we’d agreed on ‘Thomas’, at least.” The human shook his head, chuckling briefly, before turning serious again. “I just wanted to let you know what your bartender’s up to.”
“Mac? Is something wrong?” Tiernan craned his neck to look past Thomas and over to the bar, but he couldn’t see the bartender over the unusual-for-a-Monday-night crowd.
“He’s picking up the tab for all the veterans in the club tonight. Even though he was discharged other than honorably himself.” Thomas shook his head, apparently at Tiernan’s confused expression. “An other than honorable discharge, back in our day, meant no benefits, no retirement, nothing. All because some rat bastard of a second lieutenant saw him holding hands with Lucien, off base, and Mac was too damned honorable to lie about it when they called him on it.”
Tiernan growled under his breath. He tended to do that, when reminded of what Mac had gone through. His husband had grown up on his father’s stories of his Marine Corps friend – hell, Kevin had been named for him, ‘Mac’ McAllan’s given name was Kevin – and the Fae tended to think of the bartender as one of the members of the extended family he’d managed to acquire when he SoulShared with Kevin. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“Mac. Over here.”
Startled, Mac, turned away from the group of just-barely-legals, to find his boss standing behind the bar, drumming the fingers of his gloved hand on the glass surface. “What’s up?”
“I’m told you’re buying for all these gentlemen.”
Mac cleared his throat. “Well, yes. It’s Veterans’ Day. Seemed only right.”
Tiernan frowned.
Mac wiped suddenly sweaty palms on his jeans. “It’s my own money –“
“What seems right to me,” Tiernan cut in, his voice raised, “is that your customers know that you served as honorably as any of them, you saved my father-in-law’s life, and you’re fucking well taking the rest of the night off.”
Mac felt himself turning bright red. On the far side of the bar, he caught a glimpse of Sarge, nodding at Tiernan, and customers staring. He’d never talked much about his service. Bartenders were supposed to listen, not talk, and most of the memories were still too painful. But looking into the eyes of one customer after another, he was sorry he’d kept it to himself for so long.
“Go on.” Tiernan made a shooing motion. “I’ve got the bar.”
A little dazed, Mac skirted the far end of the bar and made his way back to where Sarge and the others were waiting for him. He felt hands clapping him on the back and shoulders and Miss Mona tiptoeing to kiss his cheek as he shook Sarge’s hand. “You ratted me out.”
“Guilty.” The former first sergeant didn’t even try to look embarrassed.
“Look, I know this isn’t really your kind of place. If you want to go somewhere else –“
“Hell, no.” Thomas looked around at the men clustered around them. “None of you jarheads have heard any of my stories yet…”

RiverdaleAnnouncement

For those of you who missed my Book Birthday Bash on Saturday, I have good news to share — the SoulShares have found a new home, with Riverdale Avenue Books! First up will be BLOWING SMOKE, and as soon as I have a timetable I’ll let you know. Three of the four top row pictures in this graphic are characters from BLOWING SMOKE — Bryce Newhouse, Greenwich Village investment banker and general all-around dickhead; Lasair Faol, the Master of Fade-hounds to the Royal Court of the Demesne of Fire, and exactly the one to cure Bryce of his dickheadedness; and Culin, the blind Fade-hound pup who makes the transition from the Realm with Lasair. Oh, and the guy on the left? That’s Janek O’Halloran, human host of the Marfach….

SoulShares4

Two years.
It’s been two years since HARD AS STONE, the first SoulShares novel – and my first book – debuted on Amazon. And a lot of other places. Two years since I first fell victim to “check Amazon sales rankings every two minutes” syndrome – fruitlessly, as it turned out, since somehow HARD AS STONE had been classified as horror >> occult, and I at this point didn’t know enough to double-check the categories. To this day I wonder what might have happened, if a customer had sought SALEM’S LOT and found instead a very randy bad-boy Fae…
A lot of things have changed in two years. For one thing, my publishers now know where my books go. *winks* Basically, I’ve turned into one of the magicians I spent most of my life watching with awe…. an extremely junior sorcerer’s apprentice, mind you, but still a member of the same lodge.
Just for fun, I thought I’d share something with you that shows just how far this journey’s taken me. HARD AS STONE grew out of a very short story I wrote for a role-play writer’s competition on Facebook. “The Door” is how HARD AS STONE, and all the rest of it, started…. and here’s how “The Door” started, three years ago.

“Kevin, what the fuck are you doing?”
A low, throaty purr was all the answer I got, as my lover’s hand continued to twist itself into my long blond hair and draw my head back. Hell of a way to wake up, and I groaned as the other hand improved on it by gliding down my chest until it found my gold nipple ring and twisting. “Say the word and I’ll stop.” His breath was hot in my ear, his tongue hotter.
“Is the word ‘fuck you’?” I tried to turn my head, managed to catch a glimpse of dark eyes, sleep-tousled black hair, and a sexy smirk before my head was wrenched back around. I sucked in a breath as he flicked the ring with a fingertip. This was so not like my human…not that my cock had any objections, it was begging for someone to get a grip on it. I reached down, curled my hand around the rigid length, and started a slow stroking, rolling my palm over the head on the upstrokes.
“It kills me to watch you do that.” The hard tip of his tongue traced around my ear. “That’s why you do it, isn’t it?” His chuckle was low and rich; on the rare occasions when I heard it, it always reminded me of dark chocolate.
“No, that’s just a bonus, it’s really all about the orgasms.” My mouth curved up in a smirk of my own, one that became a gasp as Kevin twisted the ring again, harder this time. What the fuck was going on? One of the things I truly loved about this human was the way there was always a hint of reluctance when I took him in my arms, hesitation before every kiss. I’d been his first male lover, after all.
And what a piece-of-shit coincidence it was that the delectable arsehole virgin had held the other half of my soul. If I hadn’t been unable to resist a perfect arse and a sensual mouth that night, I’d still be both immortal and invulnerable, as a Fae evicted from the Other Realm should be. But no, I’d had to see all that Armani as a challenge, and now I had to live with the result…
“Well, fuck me blind.” Kevin was rolling me onto my back, kneeing my legs apart, with a grin that said I was going to need serious recovery time in the hot tub.
“Are you a mind-reader?” Kevin smiled…
And for an instant, there was something else in those dark eyes. A plea, wild, desperate –
But it was gone, whatever it was, as quickly as I thought it had come. And Kevin’s warm hand was wrapped firmly around my shaft, his mouth was busy at my throat, and the smooth hot head of my human’s cock was making preliminary inquiries between my arse cheeks. “Shite,” I breathed, my head falling back. Unusual my lover’s behavior might be, but fuck if it wasn’t perfectly suited to my mood.
“That’s in, lanan, let me in,” Kevin crooned, using the Fae word for “lover” that I favored as he gripped and positioned himself. “Let me in…”
I relaxed – as best I could when my whole body was tensed in anticipation of pleasure – hissed as the thick head of Kevin’s cock forced its way past my ring, dry except for a few of his own warm drops. My eyes tried to roll back in my head, but instead I looked up, meeting my lover’s dark eyes.
Too dark. Black. Flat, sullen black. And I was falling into them. Losing myself.

I was… someplace else. A sense of near infinity, and yet a prison cell.

Before a Fae’s instinctive reaction to imprisonment – blind panic – could take over, I heard a soft sobbing. Kevin. What the hell?

Now I could see. And it was obvious where I was. If I had given any thought to what the inside of Kevin’s mind would look like, I might have conjured something like this; a comfortable study, the walls lined with bookshelves, both law books and the lameass fantasy shit my lover kept trying to get me hooked on. Like that was ever going to happen.

But… there was an air of decay hanging over everything. As if the fabric of the place was rotting, and any minute now a shelf or a chair or the floor would split apart and reveal the corruption underlying the façade. And the sound again… I turned, and a shudder ran through me. Kevin sat huddled in a wingback chair, arms wrapped around himself. His skin was grayish and clammy, his face drawn, his eyes sunken, his dark hair matted. And he wouldn’t meet my eyes, turned resolutely away. “Kevin…”

A laugh came from the area of the fireplace, a cold dead laugh. “Your toy is brave, Tiernan Guaire. He thought he could fight the Mhionbhrú.”

A teaser from BOUND IN OAK

Muirfinn18

What with the uncertainties of life at a Certain Unnamed Publishing House, it’s been a very long time since my last release. So I thought I’d tease you all with just a little bit of BOUND IN OAK…. you’re welcome….

 

Muirfinn ran his fingertips slowly down Cass’ chest, watching their progress as if he had never seen anything more fascinating. I have never touched a man, nor been touched by one. Not like this. Not in the years I can remember, not in the centuries I have forgotten. Never.
“But your darag…”
Muirfinn laid a hand gently over Cass’ mouth. I have not forgotten my darag. I cannot. But I, too, have needs. Even if I am almost too late in discovering them. With his free hand, he caught Cass’ wrist, placed Cass’ hand on his chest, fair against the tanned skin. Cass could feel the strong, rapid beat of the spirit’s heart, the tickle of the dusting of fine dark hair.
Touch me. Learn me. Remember me.

 

 

Greetings from MBLU!

MBLU

In just a few more hours, I’ll be off to Midwestern Book Lovers Unite! Where I’m looking forward to putting a lot of faces to names I’ve only known online so far, and socializing with a few hundred other romance aficionadas! If you’re one of them, finding this page for the first time, welcome! — have a look around, check out the book links and my post library… and enjoy an excerpt from my current work in progress, Bound in Oak, the third novella in the Tales of the Grove series.

 

Cass Argall felt naked.
He wasn’t, of course. He was perfectly sensibly dressed for the weather BBC.com had told him to expect, in a black woolen pea-coat he’d dug out of a bin in a charity shop back home in Bridgeport last winter. He hoped he looked at least a little authentically Scottish, but he was willing to settle for not looking authentically like the fucking idiot who had been locked out of his own apartment and his own bank account, forced to scavenge other people’s cast-offs.
BBC.com, unfortunately, hadn’t managed to convey the entire experience of going for a stroll less than half a kilometer from the western coast of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis on a wet February morning. Cass was pretty sure pneumonia was going to be his next great adventure.
“Are ye sure ye’r a’richt?” The estate agent tilted her head as she looked at him, like a sociable bird.
“Fine.” Cass pulled the lapels of the jacket closer around his throat and tried not to sound surly. The weather wasn’t Ainslee MacDonald’s fault, and neither was his touch of agoraphobia. “I’m fine. Just a little jet-lagged still.”
The curly-haired young woman looked dubious, but seemed willing to take him at his word. “I dinnae ken how ye cuid hae done it, cooped up in a plane sae lang.” She glanced around, at the sullen grey sky and the tumbled, rugged landscape. The comforting bulk of Mealisval, a very large hill the maps charitably called a mountain, was behind them and their path was strewn with rocks, from boulder-sized to gravel.
Cass could already hear the sea, or he thought he could, and the thought of all that open space made him sweat despite the chill in the air. “I don’t see very many trees,” he blurted, grimacing as the wind caught his words and scattered them.
“That’s an odd thing tae be noticing.” Ainslee–Miss MacDonald, as she’d assured him with a flirtatious flutter of lashes when she’d turned up at the bed and breakfast a half hour ago. “But ye’r right, they dinna care tae grow against the wind.”
Either the estate agent’s accent was becoming less pronounced, or Cass was having an easier time understanding her. He suspected the latter, as she probably wasn’t toning down the brogue. Just the opposite, she was doing her best to be charming. In an innocent way he might have fallen hard for, had Miss MacDonald been a Mister.
Except, of course, that he would do no such thing. Never again.
“Then why did Uncle Eonan call his estate Last Oak?” He realized as he asked that he was genuinely curious. The phone call three weeks ago had been short on details–his mother’s uncle had passed away last summer, Cass was his only living heir, sorry for how long it had taken to find him, and would he be willing to come take a look at the property to decide whether it was to be sold?
“Estate?” Ainslee laughed delightedly. Cass tried not to flinch. “That’s far tae grand a word for an auld blackhouse, though I don’t doubt it would have pleased him to hear it called such.”
They both leaned into a sudden gust, and Cass found himself acutely nostalgic for the cozy comforts of his bed and breakfast. Even a car would have been nice, but he hadn’t dared to rent one and Ainslee had left hers at the bed and breakfast, pointing out that the road didn’t come close to going all the way to the sea.
“Even stranger, then.” Cass gave up trying not to gasp with the damp chill. Let Miss MacDonald think him a soft American. He was a soft American, one who avoided the cold winter winds off Lake Michigan whenever possible. “Why give a name to a–did you call it a blackhouse?”
“Aye, richt enough.” Ainslee’s sensible wellies crunched dirt and gravel underfoot. “An auld form of house in this part of Scotland, built of earth and stone and low tae th’ ground. Nae sense in standing up tae th’ wind.” She laughed again, as if she’d told a good joke. “And Eonan MacKinnon didnae give the name tae th’ house. Nor a’body else, for that matter. It’s always been such.”
Last Oak. Thinking about the name helped distract Cass from too much contemplation of the wide cold emptiness around him, and of the way it seemed to be getting wider and colder and emptier the closer he got to his destination. The name sounded…wild. Romantic. And from what little his mother had ever said, her uncle Eonan had been neither. He remembered a single photo in a family album, taken on his mother’s single childhood trip to Scotland to visit her kinfolk. Uncle Eonan had been a beanpole of a man, towering over the little girl beside him, one large hand resting awkwardly on her shoulder, as the two of them squinted into the camera. And hadn’t they been standing under a thick-trunked tree?He thought so, but it had been a long time since he’d been welcome in the house where that album sat on the coffee table.
“An’ thare it’s!”
Ainslee had reached the top of a slight rise ahead of him and was looking down the other side. Cass hurried to catch up to her.
And stopped, staring, the salt-smelling wind tugging insistently at his shaggy blond hair and his coat. The sea was still some way off, but the only thing between him and the vast expanse of it was a stone house, long and low to the ground, just as described, with a thatched roof and a chimney at either end. The mostly-bare branches of the crown of a tree were visible on the far side of the house. Cass’ heart raced at the sight, and he wasn’t sure why. It couldn’t have been the giant tree he remembered from the picture, and surely couldn’t be the oak the place had been named for.
Yet he felt drawn. He was winded by the time he reached the front door, set into the side of the house facing the sea and guarded by the young tree. He stopped to catch his breath, one hand on the doorjamb, waiting for the estate agent to catch up. From this side of the house, he could see how the land fell away to the ocean, the surf crashing against rocks and sending up spray. He even dared a look out across the water at the rows of white crests riding steel-gray waves to be broken on the rocks, one after another.
The whistle of the wind through the branches over his head called his attention back to the tree. An oak, a young one. Growing out of the split and weathered and rotted remains of a once-mighty trunk. Cass knelt, running a hand over one of the bits of greyed wood sticking up out of the stony earth like shards of wooden teeth, and smiling as a tingle ran up his arm. He loved working with ‘found’ wood for his sculptures. It was so easy to believe stories were buried in it, running with the grain, and all he had to do was set the stories free–
“I see ye’ve found the auld oak.”

 

******

CassArgall1

This, by the way, is Cass…

Remember when summer was about sleeping as late as you could get away with, biking to the library once a week, and spending as much of the remaining time as you could curled up in your secret private reading nook, devouring one book after another at a pace that made the librarian assume you were the supplier for your entire family?

I wish that had been my summer. Really. Instead, mostly I just heaved a great big ol’ sigh of relief when I tore August off the calendar. Here’s why…

My original contract for the SoulShares was for four books — Hard as Stone, Gale Force, Deep Plunge, and Firestorm. And it specified that I had 15 months to turn in all four books. Now, if I were able to write full-time, that would have been no sweat. But between the Evil Day Job and my family obligations, I generally only have a few hours a night to write. So after four books in 15 months (plus a couple of novellas), I was a great big stressball. But I had a new publisher who really, really wanted the fifth SoulShares novel, so I kept pushing, and turned in the manuscript for Blowing Smoke at the beginning of June. Then there was a short story to write, to submit for a Dreamspinner Press anthology (look for “Ilya and the Wolf” in Celebrate! — the Dreamspinner Press 2014 Advent Calendar anthology, and also as a stand-alone story, the beginning of December!). (Yes, it’s shifters. *grins* You’re welcome.)

Then July happened. I had to move, and downsized from a house to an apartment in a suburb a half-hour’s drive away, chosen because it was close enough to my son’s college that he could commute by bus and because they would let me keep my elderly golden-retriever mix, Fiona, and my Cornish Rex kitty, Grace O’Malley. One (small) carload at a time, we moved that house, all through the month of July. Three days before the final move, Fiona died. (Needless to say, between being burned out and dealing with the move and my sweet girl, not much writing happened in July…)

Then August happened. I started writing again (Bound in Oak, Tales of the Grove #3). The publisher with which Blowing Smoke had been resting comfortably since June announced that it was terminating all its freelance editors, including mine, and that all outstanding manuscripts would be reassigned to its staff of in-house editors. Now, there’s a very good reason why I became a lawyer rather than an accountant, but some numbers even I can crunch, and I realized that I would undoubtedly be an old(er) gray(er) lady by the time SoulShares #5, which had not yet gotten as far as first edits, saw the light of day. So I exercised my contractual right to pull the manuscript… and on Labor Day I sent it off to another potential home. Any and all crossed fingers, good wishes, prayers, and the like will be greatly appreciated, and hopefully I’ll have good news to report in a couple of months!

Now it’s September. I’m still working away at Bound in Oak (which may end up being a working title only, as Ellora’s Cave only wants titles to contain the word “Bound” if they’re BDSM titles, which this definitely isn’t), which I hope to have done by mid-October. And come visit me at the Midwestern Book Lovers Unite Conference, September 26 to 28, at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott — http://midwesternbookloversunite.wordpress.com/ — I’m hosting a table at the Dinner with the Authors, and I know this really great Mongolian restaurant five minutes from the hotel….

And finally… you’ve been waiting so long, and so patiently, for Blowing Smoke, it would be remiss of me not to leave you with at least a taste. Enjoy! — and comment!

 

 

Chapter Four

Greenwich Village
New York City

The first thing Lasair saw when he opened his eyes in the human world was an ass. A very nice, scantily-clad ass, although he might have been more appreciative if his face wasn’t bumping into it every few seconds. And if he felt even a little less as if he’d just been run over by the King’s best racing chariot and its entire eight-horse team. Over the thunder of his heartbeat in his own ears, he heard a muffled thumping noise and occasional grunts.

And a whimper. Culin was somewhere nearby.

Tipping his head back, Lasair saw a staircase, dull grey wood. Arching back as far as he could–not far, thanks to the chains–he could see as far as the floor at the bottom of the stairs.

He blinked. The floor glowed faintly, in the auroral hue of pure unbound magick. Not possible.

“Great, you’re awake.” The baritone voice was slightly out of breath, and the speaker sounded more than slightly put out. “Would you mind holding still until I get you upstairs? I’d rather not drop you on your head, you’d probably pull me down with you.”

I beg your pardon for occupying space. Lasair bit his tongue, kept the words to himself, and let his head drop. He could feel an arm now, wrapped around his thighs.

The jarring stopped, and he heard the creak of a door opening. His own personal scenery remained pretty much the same, but with poorer lighting. Then another door. Light. Furniture half-glimpsed, and other doors.

“Oh, fuck. The one door I forgot about.”

The floor suddenly came a head closer, and Lasair got a glimpse of beautifully muscled calves as his bearer bent his knees. There was a click, and another door opening.

Then, suddenly, Lasair was lying on his back, with Culin at his side. On a bed, he presumed. He was getting tired of presuming. The chains were bad enough–truesilver chains were forged to burn in the presence of a channeling, and they surely did–but being trussed like a roast made it much worse. He strained to sit up, but the chains made it impossible to do more than raise his head and shoulders.

Which was enough to let him see where he was, and who had carried him up the stairs. He was in a small bed-chamber, lit by pale sunlight from a single window. The first human male he had ever seen looked down at him, wearing nothing but short trousers of some soft fabric and a deep frown. His hair was nearly dark enough to be chort-gruag, bark-hair, like the tree folk out of legend. But on this male, it was nothing to be scorned. It suited him. So did his mustache, a rarity among Fae. Eyes of dark green watched him warily, glancing every so often at Culin.

He must be ravishing when he smiles.

“Do you have a key to those chains, or do I need to cut them off?” The male’s voice was rough, almost harsh.

“If I had a key, believe me, I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Lasair winced. He didn’t remember most of his transition, other than the agony of the beginning of it, but whatever had happened to him after that had left his head feeling as hollow as the inside of a great bell. And any word, any sound from him was a mallet pounding on the bell.

“All right. Wait here.” The male’s stare raked him from his head to his feet; he put up a dark brow, turned, and left the bedchamber.

Culin whined softly.

“It’s all right.” Lasair murmured. “It’s going to be all right, tréan-cú.” He had called Culin strong, a strong hound, since the pup’s birth. Names channeled power, even names given by one with little magick of his own.

Now all I have to do is be right.

When the male reappeared, he was carrying a long-handled pincers with a metal beak. This he fitted to the chains, and started to bear down on the handles. Doing so brought out splendidly defined arm muscles and a thin sheen of sweat. I would give my left nut not to feel like I’ve been pounded flat and scraped up off the stable floor right now.

“These are stronger than they look.” The male checked the wicked beak of the pincers, running long, slender fingers over the cutting edges as if he expected to find them notched by the chain.

Humans were very different from the way Fae lore drew them, at least if they were all like this one. This male was as handsome as any Fae, in his way, and the measuring intelligence in his gaze was as exciting as his strange beauty. “They’re meant to be. But you ought to be able to cut them.” Now that the links had no magick running through them, and had been given no new purpose to know.

One dark brow went up as the male re-set the pincers. “Mind if I ask what you were doing chained up in my basement at six in the morning?”

“Yes.” Shit, I should have expected that. One thing the old stories weren’t going to tell him was what humans thought of Fae, several thousand years after their parting of ways. Even the most trusting Fae–assuming such an exotic creature existed anywhere–would be skeptical under the circumstances. And he had even less reason to be trusting than most.

Why had he forgotten that?

I thought maybe I was going to make it through this week without writing about depression. So many other people are speaking far more eloquently than I possibly could, there seemed to be no point to adding my voice to the chorus. Then I read a re-post, by a friend of mine, of a blog post which essentially said “Depression did not kill Robin Williams. He died by his own choice.” The original blogger went on to say that it was unfair to people suffering from depression to tell them that they had no control over their illness, that medication and therapy and spirituality were useless and that it was their neurochemistry that was going to determine whether they lived or died. That telling them this was taking away their hope. And that Robin Williams had chosen to ignore joy and hope and offers of help. Had chosen to let his illness win. The implication being that he had been free to choose otherwise. I knew in my heart that while there were certain points of truth in that post, from my perspective, it was basically, fundamentally wrong. But I didn’t want to post anything until I had in my head a clearer idea of what was wrong about it. Now I do.

First, I guess it’s kind of obligatory to establish my credentials, to be speaking about this subject at all. That’s hard to do, because to fully explain myself would require me to tell several stories that aren’t mine to tell. So I’m going to have to ask you, dear readers, to trust me a little, here. My part of the story, I can tell you. I’ve suffered from depression since the age of 17, had what I think was a nervous breakdown at 29. I was off antidepressant medication for most of my forties (kind of a miracle, given that my forties were also The Entire Freaking Decade of Perimenopause) but had to go back on for a while when my father died unexpectedly, three days before I turned fifty, and I found myself staring off into space during a dance class I was supposed to be teaching, wondering why the hell I should bother getting up out of my chair. As for the rest, yes, I have been affected, deeply so, by the suicide attempts of several people very dear to me. Affected to the point where my therapist tells me I have most of the symptoms of PTSD. So I think I can speak from the perspectives of both the depressive and the ones who are (nearly, in my case) left behind.

Addressing the original blog post: It would be wrong, yes, to tell someone with depression “This illness is going to kill you.” Just as it would be wrong to say the same thing to someone with cancer. But that’s only true when you’re talking to the living. It’s another matter entirely when you’re talking about the dead. To tell someone with depression who is still living, “You have control, you have a choice,” is at least arguably true, and may be helpful, may give them strength. (Although it could have the opposite effect, more about which in a minute.) But to say of someone who has taken his own life (I’m sticking with the male pronoun here for the sake of simplicity and in deference to Mr. Williams) “It was his choice, not his illness,” is passing judgment, when we have no idea what was in his mind in his final moments. I know there are people out there who call themselves Christians who have no trouble with that notion. But my Christ is the one who said “Judge not,” and I try to honor that. Yes, even though I was nearly left behind twice.

We don’t know what kind of pain Mr. Williams was in, in those final moments. We’re slowly starting to come to some kind of societal consensus, I think, that someone who is in unbearable physical pain and sees no hope of respite may be justified in choosing to end that pain. Why do we assume that emotional, spiritual, mental agony is easier to live with? Or that there’s some kind of special moral imperative that emotional pain can never be too much? Might it not be true, at least in some cases, that we are the ones who are being selfish, if we sit in judgment on someone who is suffering, emotionally or spiritually or mentally, beyond what he can bear, and tell him that he is being weak and cowardly by not staying alive for OUR sakes? And if it’s true in some cases, then it stands to reason that we can’t know for certain whether it was true in the case of any particular individual who takes his own life. Judge not.

And I mentioned earlier, it might NOT always be a good idea to remind a living person with depression that he has control over his illness. Every person with depression is different, at least in some ways. And purely from my own perspective, when I’m at a low point, nothing makes me feel like more of a failure than the thought that I SHOULD be controlling this, I’m ABLE to control this, I’m just such a total fuck-up that I CAN’T control this. I’ve failed at everything else, now I’m failing at being in charge of my own thoughts and emotions. It’s just one more judgment against me, one I’m entirely ready to believe when I’m that low. Not all depressives think like I do. I know this. And if someone has let you know that this sort of reminder is helpful to them, then go for it. But please, don’t sit in judgment on the dead.

Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD is, to me, the most perfect description of depression ever written. The blasted landscape through which the father and the son travel in that book is a pitch-perfect externalization of the internal landscape of depression. Bleak, hopeless, colorless, a world in which the most valuable piece of wisdom a father can pass to a son is the proper technique to blow one’s brains out with a single shot before the cannibals turn you into meat on the hoof, and in which finding a place of rest and respite is a terrible thing because you know it will be stolen from you. Yet, ultimately, it speaks of hope, a hope that the reader has to accept because it’s not a pretty hope, a unicorns and rainbows hope, it’s a hope almost as desolate as the despair that came before it. Because (spoiler alert!) the father dies. But… he brought his son to a place where he would be taken in and cared for before he died. Ultimately, his best was good enough. Everything he had was enough.

Who are we to say, in the end, that Robin Williams didn’t give everything he had? Or that it wasn’t enough? Rest in peace, Genie. And may someone, somewhere, be making YOU laugh.Genie

 

 

 

 

Writing about… NOT writing

Muirfinn

 

Today I go back to writing, after a self-imposed one-month hiatus. (Well, mostly a hiatus… more about that later.) I had to move out of my home of 15 years and downsize into an apartment, over the course of the month of July. I figured, mostly correctly, that my Muse would spend July sulking – I’ve hated moving ever since a two-year period 30 years ago when I lived in six places over the course of two years. Add in the fact that this move was involuntary, and you have a perfect recipe for a sullen, pouting Muse. So it seemed like the perfect time for my first real break in close to three years of doing my damnedest to write Every. Single. Day.

Easier said than done.

I really intended to stay away from my next project. My last big project, the fifth Fae novel, was one of those stories where what starts out as a perfectly clear vision ends up feeling like wading through quick-drying cement, and I thought some “down time” was going to feel fabulous. And I was kind of right. I made it almost halfway through my “vacation” – it was almost two weeks before Muirfinn and Cass started hectoring me. I tried to placate them by outlining. Look, I’m not REALLY writing, I’m just, um, getting some ideas down. But one thing led to another, and pretty soon I was cruising Tumblr for pictures of hot models. And Googling the ferry and bus routes serving the Isle of Lewis. And checking out traditional homes in the Hebrides. And checking sunrise and sunset times (if you’ve read either of my Tales of the Grove novellas, you’ll know why that matters).

In other words, so much for all my good intentions. And the boys STILL wouldn’t let me be. Outlining wasn’t good enough for them, no sir no ma’am.

I’m not sure why I still set up these little tests for myself – “I’m a real writer if I do X.” Because I’m probably a “real writer” by any measurement that doesn’t involve hitting one or more national best-seller lists, winning a major national book award, or being able to quit my Evil Day Job. But I do. I test myself. And now I’ve passed another test. “I’m a real writer if I can’t stay away from the friggin’ computer for more than 10 days at a time.”

*rolls up sleeves* Back to work… I hear a reclusive Gille Dubh and an emotionally scarred artist yammering at me….

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