Friday, December 14, 2018

Comfort Reading

I’m comfort reading at the moment. I do that when I’m stressed or when things are rough. I won’t pull any punches, nor will I pretend this is a normal post. It’s anything but. My beautiful sister died on the 1st of December. It was sudden and unexpected and I will take all the comfort I can get. 

Reading is something she and I both delighted in, and we often talked about what we were reading and excitedly made lists of books to add to our own TBR pile from those discussions. Barnes and Nobles was a regular pilgrimage for us when I visited her in Oregon. We would gather a stack of books each and bring them to our table in the adjoining Starbucks with its central fireplace and huge windows. Then we’d order coffee and sit and pour over our treasures for hours. We did it every time. She did it with many of the children and young people at her church to celebrate their birthdays. Everyone wanted to go with Nancy for a Barnes and Noble fix. 

The last ‘what are you reading’ post I did for OGaG was about how much fun my sister and I had reading out loud to each other when I visited her in August. This was a new discovery for us, one we relished, and because of the heat, one we did often during those two weeks when it was too hot to do anything else. 

Comfort reading is different for everyone. My sister was a Christian, and her comfort reading was always the Bible. She knew it well and took delight in the passages that gave her hope and courage for the future. But I’m a writer, and when I take refuge in the pages of a book, I seek out my favorite authors. I often return to my favorite reads. You know, the ones I mean, the ones I’ve read over and over again and never get tired of. I don’t want to have to struggle and concentrate on what I’m reading. I don’t want surprises in hard times when it’s all I can do just to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t want cliffhangers or gut wrenching endings. I want what is familiar. I want what leaves me feeling satisfied. I want what leaves me with hope. I need a Happy Ending.

There have been a plethora of comforting quote this past two weeks - some from the Bible, some not, some cliché, some thought provoking. But quotes don’t get me there no matter how pithy they are, no matter how timeless or tried and true. I need way more words than a quote. I need to get lost in a forest of words. I need to immerse myself in the ocean of story. There is something in the iambic heartbeat of the written word, even when not read out loud, something in the ebbing and flowing, in the cadence of a story unfolding that comforts me, that gives me a sense of continuity, of the order that still exists in the midst of chaos, of the meaning and the purpose we all have to seek out in our celebrations and in our losses. I need the familiar. I need a safe place in which to lose myself and forget the real world for a little while. In some ways, I guess it is like returning to that place below my mother’s heartbeat, that place where I feel protected and safe from all the pain and stress of the world outside. 

My sister and I laughed and joked about spending time with the dragon as we read Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels to each other, changing our voices to accommodate the characters, repeating passages we liked, stopping to discuss and speculate. That series is a comfort read for me, but a bit too close at the moment because my last memories of it were of sharing it with her. I am, instead, seeking refuge in the re-reading of the Throne of Glass novels by Sarah J Maas. The world Maas has created is high fantasy, a place of magic and struggle, of heroines and heroes overcoming great odds
and great loss. While everything is alien, those experiences that bind us all together in our humanity are not. They are as uncomfortable as they are in the real world, but once removed and tempered with the promise of a happy ending. In spite of my own TBR pile, constantly threatening to avalanche, I return to what is tried and true because the landscape of my world no longer feels safe or familiar. My life is forever altered and I feel as though I’m navigating without a map or a compass. I need the familiar. I need words, lots of words as my hideaway, my refuge. I need a place in which to lose myself for a while just until things are a little less raw, just until I can find my way again. So yes, I’m comfort reading, and I may well be for quite some time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My Updated Reading List

By Tim Smith

When last we tackled the subject of “What are you reading,” I listed several books that were in my to-be-read pile. I thought I’d provide an update, along with some comments in case anyone wants to read these books.

I recently finished “Dead Last” by James W. Hall. While this Florida-based thriller generally measured up to Hall’s previous work, I must admit that I was slightly disappointed. A couple of intriguing plot twists were dropped in about halfway through, but they weren’t fully resolved. Also, there was no real satisfactory motive given for why the serial killer did what they did. Still an overall good read, though.

In progress now is another of his books that I’d never gotten around to reading, “Red Sky at Night.” It’s off to a good start, and I’m already hooked. The same with a book by another fave author, Carl Hiaasen. I’m reading “Nature Girl,” and so far, so good.

I previously listed a new novel called “Ohio,” by Stephen Markley. I had high hopes for this one but sadly, they weren’t realized. I lost interest several chapters in, mainly because I found the author’s narrative hard to follow. I may go back to it someday.

The same problem arose with “His Guilt,” by Shelley Shepherd Gray. This Amish romance sounded promising, but again, I found it tough to maintain interest. 

I did finally finish “Dirty Money,” by Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake). No disappointments here. Westlake delivered another home run with this story about the professional thief named Parker, who only wanted his cut of the money after his cronies ripped him off and left him for dead. Time to root for the bad guy again.

What I’ve mostly been reading lately, though, is my own next novel, “The Neon Jungle” (Nick Seven Number 6). I plan on releasing it this next year, and I’ve been busy doing rewrites and revisions. I’ve found that this is the fun part of the job, adding little bits of atmosphere, making the characters more lifelike, and fine-tuning the dialogue and plot points.

While I have the floor, allow me to plug my newest holiday-themed romance, “Cupid Says Happy New Year.” It was recently released by Extasy Books. This is a sequel to last year’s “Santa Slept Here,” but like all of my series books, they don’t need to be read in order. Both of these stories are lightweight rom-com stuff like you see on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel this time of year, but with more heat. Actually, let’s be honest—they are both classified as erotic romances. You’ve been warned. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Discovering a New (To Me) Author

I did something recently that I haven't done in a long time.

I read a book from start to finish. Like, a real book. It had a plot and everything.

Lately, like for the last year or so, I've been reading next to nothing. When I pick up a book, I get halfway through and then it becomes a slog or there's something else wrong with it.

(I've recently decided I've had it with my favourite thriller writer, James Rollins, because of his habit of "burying the gays". When I hit the mid-point of the book I was reading and saw that one of the villains is gay and his boyfriend is also a villain, I knew they would end up dead by the end of the novel, as do all gay characters in Rollins's book. I may have been wrong, but I stopped reading.)

So I've been, like, disillusioned with books. I've had one disappointment after another.

And then Chase Connor, a gay young adult / new adult author I'm connected with on Twitter asked me to read his book. I admit that I very reluctantly took it. Though I self-publish and I run a small publisher, I've found that whenever someone asks me to read their self-published or small-publisher-published book, it's always a disappointment.

Was I ever fucking wrong.

A Surplus of Light by Chase Connor is a beautiful, touching, moving book.

Mike is told to stay away from Ian, the boy in school who is a badass, a danger, a psycho. But there's something about Ian that makes it so Mike can't look away. It might be the way he protects the smaller and weaker kids. It might be the art that he draws. It might be the quiet contemplative mood that seems to settle around Ian all the time.

Mike isn't sure of what his feelings for Ian are, but he knows he wants to get closer. And in time he understands that he is deeply attracted to Ian.

Ian, though, wants Mike to keep his distance. Ian is into Mike, that much is clear, but he won't let down his walls and Mike doesn't know why.

To make the matter more complicated, Ian will only let them meet and hangout in the woods by the stream in the long, hot days of summer. Once school rolls around, they have to pretend that they don't know each other. Ian swears it's for Mike's safety.

What follows is a series of summers -- long, hot, bright days and the cool evenings in the stream that runs through the woods. Mike and Ian explore both themselves and each other. They challenge each other.

And when it matters most, they push each other to be strong. Ian, who Mike considers to be the strongest person he knows, still has to be pushed by Mike to be stronger, to stand up when it matters most.

This book is rather light on plot, but it's deep on theme and mood and emotion. I couldn't put this book down. Not only did I discover a fantastic new author that I love and not only did I make a new Twitter friend, but with this single book, Chase has renewed my faith in reading and my faith in self-published and small-publisher-published books.

And if I can do a little bit of extra promo for the fantastic Mr. Connor, he has a new book that comes out today -- The Gravity of Nothing.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay smut. His most recent publication is the (surprisingly smut-free) gay YA romance, Gay Love And Other Fairy Tales, under his YA pen name, Dylan James.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Must Read, Should Read, Might Read

Sacchi Green

I might have said Am-Reading rather than Must Read, since I’m on the very last story in an anthology edited by a friend for her own small, fairly new press, but it’s a prime example of a Must Read situation. There are certain complications to having close friends who are writers and editors. In this case we never pressure each other for reviews, or even ask, but we do read each other’s work and, when appropriate, post reviews. I couldn’t review her last book, a novel, because I’d already written a blurb for the back cover. In fact I had beta-read it, with genuine enjoyment and admiration: Medusa’s Touch, by Emily L. Byrne. (Lisabet will know of whom I speak.)

This time, as I said, I’m reading an anthology she edited and published, with stories by fifteen writers, with a wide variety of styles, perspectives, and themes. This is Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) edited by Catherine Lundoff. Yes, Catherine has recently shifted to using a different name for her erotic works, and this book is not erotica.

I’ve almost finished it, and know already that I can heartily recommend it, but as anyone who’s done much editing knows, it’s hard to look at a story with a reader’s eyes and suppress your inner editor. Silly things occur to me. Should all three stories with one-eyed characters have been presented next to each other? But other than that, they’re as diverse as can be, so I shouldn’t be picky. Two or three typos—but after those either there weren’t any or I was too involved with the stories that I didn’t notice, which is as it should be. An immense diversity of themes and setting and mood and bursts of wild creativity, but I found that a simpler, more straightforward piece, set in the Louisiana bayous rather than more distant and fictional realms, was one of my favorites. That means, of course, that by then I was in full reader mode, no longer editorial, which is a very fine tribute to the book as a whole.

I’ll finish the book, and then read it over again to compensate for the fact that my own mood on first reading was soured by some personal stresses. It will be hard not to get too close to spoiler territory, since many stories have such clever twists and even the setting of at least one is revealed slowly and turns out to be the main and startling feature. I may not be able to resist mentioning it in a review. We’ll see.

Onward to Should Read. This, of course, is a list that could wrap around the world a time or two, but I’ll just mention the most recent two books. The Learning Curve: an Anthology of Lessons Learned is from Dirt Roads Books, a charity project with all the proceeds going to an organization helping to educate girls in Africa. I have a story in it, set during WWII, and definitely not erotica, although I might some day expand it to be more of a romance, and a paranormal one at that. In any case, I should read the whole thing, and help to publicize it.

The other book is A Few More Winter Tales, edited by Matt Bright mostly with reprints to give the writers more exposure. Catherine Lundoff has a story in this one, too.  My story comes first and is entirely included in the “Look Inside!” feature of Amazon. Not erotica—my point of view character is the wooden bird in a Swiss cuckoo clock, who gets confused as to what he sees some humans doing should be reported to Santa as naughty, or nice. Okay, maybe very subtly erotica.

And the Might Read category, which should probably be Must Read: Old letters. A few more than a hundred years old, the others spanning the century up to maybe the turn of our century. Letters (some of them even from me when I lived in California) saved by my parents and bundled up in various places around the house I just sold for my father, now near me in an extended care facility. I should read those letters I really should. There’s a lot of history there even beyond family matters.  I should read them, I really should. But will I?

I might.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Up to My Ears

by Jean Roberta

Please excuse my silence here for the past two days.

I’ve been hard at work marking late essays before my first exam on Monday morning (December 10). I haven’t had time to read anything else.

Here is a randomly-chosen passage by one of my international students (i.e. English is not their first language) on a short story by Margaret Atwood, “My Last Duchess.” (The story refers to “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, a monologue put in the mouth of the Duke of Ferrara, rumoured to have had his teenage bride murdered in the 1500s.)

The point of view in “My Last Duchess” is very important. The reader sees the point of view through the author’s eyes. The reader gets to see inside her head and understand how she feels. The reader, however, does not get to see inside Bill’s head so the reader does not understand why he is trying to defend the Duchess. The author, however, has a reason why she doesn’t defend the Duchess and why the Duke should be defended. The reader also sees why the author sees her teacher as important to her and how her teacher is her role model.

Students were supposed to explain how the viewpoint from which a particular story is told (first-person, third-person limited, third-person omniscient, third-person objective, etc.) affects all the other elements: plot, tone, characterization. I’ve used this as an essay topic for a few semesters because it tends to prevent plagiarism. For some reason, the standard on-line student-help sites (Schmoop, Sparknotes, enotes, Grade Saver) don’t feature sections on viewpoint which could easily be copied-and-pasted into an essay. So first-year university students who rush to their favourite site as soon as they get the topic for their next essay are left to flounder on their own.

There is a lot of plot summary in the essays I’ve read so far.

In addition to the essay on a particular short story, students had to write about a novel.

Every semester, I must assign a book-length work (novel, collection of short stories, volume of poetry, play in several acts) that students must read on their own without much guidance, and then write about in an essay. This assignment was set in place by the English Department as a whole, even though I think it’s too much for first-year students in addition to everything they are guided through in class.

Last year, I bought twelve copies of the very recent novel Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis, put them on reserve in the university library (they could only be taken out overnight), and assigned an essay on it. I found the animal-fable format of the novel intriguing, and it is set in a particular part of Canada: the city of Toronto, with a map. The following semester, I found passages from on-line book reviews leaking into my students’ essays.

This semester, I decided to change the book. In line with the university policy of “indigenization,” I bought ten copies of a dystopian YA novel, The Marrow-Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, and placed them in the library. Serendipitously, I learned later that the Metis author will be coming here to Regina, Saskatchewan, to give the keynote address in a conference on dystopian fiction in February 2019.

The novel is movingly and poetically written, and it combines a coming-of-age story with the endless journey of a makeshift “family” of survivors, including a wise old “nokomis” (here she would be called a “kokum”), a grandmother with useful knowledge to pass down, and a kind of family leader who turns out to be a man who was married to another man, the love of his life, whom he lost and quietly mourns.

There is much to like about this novel. The central plot premise, however, works much better as a metaphor than as a biological possibility. Indigenous people are being ruthlessly hunted by a Canadian government agency for their precious bone-marrow, which contains their dreams, and all other people are losing their sanity because they can no longer dream. The extraction of the marrow kills the subjects, and it is saved as a kind of fluid in test tubes that are then transported away from the “schools” where the captive human subjects are destroyed.

In a one-class discussion, several students asked how this marrow transfusion is supposed to work, exactly. All I could say is that the novel is not intended to be sci-fi, and the author clearly had other priorities when writing it than to work out the biological details.

The exploitation of indigenous people as a natural resource seems all too believable, and the “mainstream” (government) assumption that the bodies of those defined as sub-human should be available for use by the privileged has resonance in a time when sexual abuse is regularly in the news.

It bothers me, though, that a process that is clearly conceived of as symbolic is central in an otherwise realistic novel about survival in a damaged physical environment, relationships, group dynamics, and the preservation of endangered cultures, including languages. True enough, the makeshift family creates a tradition of storytime because stories (both individual and collective) are an important means of maintaining life and hope, but even the stories-within-the-story are meant to be truer, in some sense, than official denials and rationalizations.

I chose this novel because -- at the time I chose it -- there wasn’t much about it on-line for students to find, but The Marrow-Thieves has won several awards and is getting a lot of buzz. I can see that I’ll have to change the book again in the near future.

Meanwhile, I have to read essay after essay which summarizes the plot instead of defending an argument about the concepts in it.

Then I’ll have to grade a pile of exams a.s.a.p. I’m sure there will be times when I’ll feel as if my marrow is being drained.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The World is Falling Down, Hold My Hand. A post by @GiselleRenarde

My best friend wrote to me the other day. She asked, "What's your favourite Christmas food?"

She was eavesdropping on some people who were discussing the topic, both of whom agreed their favourite Christmas food was... mashed potatoes.

My friend thought this was very odd. She eats mashed potatoes all the time and doesn't consider it a festive food in the least.

I consider stuffing to be the Christmassy-est food. Out of curiosity... what would YOU consider to be the most festive food for this time of year?

My friend told me about this very specific square her aunt used to make for their dessert tray. It doesn't have a name, as far as she knows. But she hasn't had one of those squares in years, because her family hasn't had a big Christmas gathering in ages.

Her grandmother died this year, too.  Hers was even older than mine, well into her nineties. So I guess this will be the first Christmas without a matriarch for both our families.

It's funny how you start feeling close to the top of the food chain, when the older generations die off. Except, in this food chain, death is at the top of the food pyramid. It'll get you, in the end.  Every time.

I wish my friend lived closer to me, or I lived closer to her. She was telling me she's feeling very festive. She's not usually a Christmas person, but this year she feels like making a gingerbread house and baking cookies.  And December's only just begun!

But I guess I can relate to the need for festiveness, considering I just started reading an honest-to-god Christian Romance because it's got "Christmas" in the title.  Listen, I am not a romance reader. I am not a Christian. That's how desperate I am for... for...

For what?

Last night, I watched about 5 minutes of a British TV show about people who celebrate Christmas all year long. I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be funny.  To me, it was more "yikes" than amusing, because all these Christmas people struck me as the saddest of sad clowns. "Following his divorce, this man started celebrating Christmas every day of the year..."

What is it we're yearning for when we get in the holiday spirit?

Peace? Kindness? Compassion? Generosity?


On my mother's side, we've always celebrated Christmas a week ahead of time.  We'd do Christmas Day individually, in our own homes, but for my grandmother, that big family gathering was her real Christmas.  My grandfather was an atheist, but he was raised Jehovah's Witness, so he didn't celebrate at all. I don't know what the two of them did on Christmas Day. Pretty sure it was just another day, for them.

That's why I was so surprised when some of my aunts and uncles suggested that we NOT continue our traditional family party. I understand where they're coming from, because they stated it outright:

It'll be too difficult. It'll be too sad.

But that party was my grandmother's favourite day of the year.  She loved her family, and there were very few occasions when she got to see us all (or, at least, the vast majority of us). We'd do something for Mother's Day, have a party on her birthday, but Christmas was the big celebration.

The party is going ahead, but a few of my aunts and uncles have dropped out. I don't hold that against them. As I've mentioned many times before, we don't show emotions in my family. Instead of running to each other for support, we run to our corners to be sad in secret.

If we don't hold the party this year, a year that saw the deaths of my grandmother and my cousin, we never will again. I watched my father's family fall apart. My friend has seen the same with hers. I have so little left in my life--people, especially. I can't lose my family. They mean too much to me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Look Inside the Inner Sanctum

I’m going to give you a look inside my head.  See what you think about what’s in there.

It took me a while to warm up to eBooks, especially in the beginning when copyright DRM devices were still being figured out and you would pay full price for a book in PDF form and find you couldn’t open it.  You certainly couldn’t pass it around.  And even now, there is still nothing quite like being able to hold a physical book in your hand and turn the pages.  In one case a close friend of mine loaned  me a humor book that had been on her kitchen table for a long time.  I never read the book – but I smelled it.  The book smelled like her skin, like her kitchen table.   It was evocative of intimate conversations and a drink late at night.  It was evocative of her.  I never read the book through but I loved to hold the paper pages to my nose and inhale her essence, conjuring her presence like a magician whenever I desired it.

When I visit a person’s home, one of the first things I do is look around to see what books they’re reading.  I always think that, as in my case, it helps you to know the person, what they think about all the time.  There was a time this might have been true, but more and more people seem not to read.  It is rare to find a house that has a full library or even a sloppy stack of library books piled by the easy chair.  My impression is that people don’t read anymore.  One of the reasons I’ve gotten away for so long with writing sex stories is that no one in my family, none of my friends – except one – reads books the way I do.  No  one is impressed.   No one cares.  I’ve even shown my son anthologies, some quite respectable, that had my stories.  Zero.  So I’ve gotten away with a lot, which is probably for the best.

I love ebooks now.  I have four huge libraries of ebooks, mostly on six subjects – Sex, Writing Craft, Poetry, Spirituality, cook books and information technology.  One of my friends, the one that actually  reads books, calls me a Renaissance Man.  I’ll take it.

These images here are a peek, and not even a complete one, a partial one, of my Google Books library, which is only one library of four.  I am a fiend.  My relationship with books is not a normal one.  I hoard them like King Solomon hoarded wives and concubines.  Like Solomon, these hundreds of books are my only lovers.  But what a vast harem of wise, passionate and interesting lovers  they are.  They are my courtesans.

My mind seems to revolve around three fundamental themes at all times.  Spiritual journey, the craft of prose and poetry, and the art of evoking sexual pleasure.  I appear to be an unambitious man.  An interesting but so so paying job, a small entry level house, an aging car.  A crappy tiny lawn.  But the fact is I’m a very ambitious and driven man.   


My ambitions are all interior, they are all hidden.  Sex, the mysteries of the spiritual path, the hunger to write better and tell better stories.  These are all on the inside where nothing shows.  But these ambitions have served me well, because whatever all, I have achieved one of life’s most coveted prizes – I like myself.

Not in a vain way.  Not in a narcissistic way.  I find, that at my advanced and advancing age, I have become a genuinely interesting person.  I like myself.  I enjoy talking to myself.  I enjoy scolding myself.  I enjoy being in my own skin even as entropy advances it’s decomposition.  All I have really asked of life is to not be bored.  I am never bored with myself, and I am never bored as long as I have a book to read.  And as long as I have my smart phone in my pocket – I have hundreds of books to read wherever I am, as well as the ones I write.