Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Joy is Where You Find It

By Tim Smith

I’ve always tried to be an upbeat, positive person, the Pollyanna in the crowd, trying to find the good in any situation. Throughout life, one of my mantras has been “It could be worse…”

Recently there’s been little joy in my life. Last month, I voluntarily left my post-retirement job as the editor of a weekly arts and entertainment publication. I still work for them from home as a freelancer and copy editor. The publisher turned out to be the worst boss I’ve ever worked under, a cross between Hitler and Atilla the Hun. I didn’t come out of retirement to be verbally abused every day, so I chose to leave. This came at the end of a summer that was so stressful, I couldn’t enjoy many of the things I typically do. We didn’t even get to celebrate the Fourth of July, because he refused to close the office that day.  

At first, I was relaxed and content. Then I began to miss the daily interactions with my former co-workers, with whom I have remained friendly. We got along well and made a good team, working together against the common enemy. Then, my life partner’s work schedule changed, resulting in a lot of double shifts and overtime. I found myself spending a lot of time alone in a big empty house.

One thing people don’t consider about retirement is that many of your work friends are still employed, and have their own things going on. When you leave someplace after 25 years like I did last year, among the tearful goodbyes are the false promises “We’ll keep in touch” and “Let’s do lunch.” Funny how these folks are always too busy to get together.

I’ve never been one who likes attending events by myself or dining out alone. I have done the solo travel thing and for the most part, I didn’t care for it. Even the times when I went to the Florida Keys alone, the aura wore off after the first couple of days. Times like those are when I tend to get myself in trouble. 

It occurred to me long ago that sometimes, you have to make your own joy, your own happiness. It’s important to do things that bring you pleasure, whether it’s writing, or watching a movie, or doing some project around your house, or just settling back with a good book. I had forgotten about these simple pleasures.

I finally decided to get out of my self-induced funk and rejoin the human race. I took stock of my situation and realized that I didn’t have it so bad, after all. Anything I perceived as being wrong could be fixed. I started keeping the same routine I had when I was working and forced myself to focus on writing. I reached out to a few friends and family members I hadn’t spoken to in a while. Social media, like Facebook groups, took on more importance and I reconnected with a few people from my past. A friend I used to work with included me in a group that plays trivia at a local sports bar every week. It turned out that those former co-workers actually had time for an occasional lunch or Happy Hour.

Sometimes, you have to be your own cheerleader.      

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rediscovering the Joy of Writing

I write under several pen names. Some of my pen names even have pen names. (Like, for example, I write my young adult gay romances under the name “Dylan James”, which is the YA-friendly pen name for “Cameron D James”, which is in itself a pen name.)

Altogether, my bibliography, ranging from a few magazine articles, to a crap-ton of short stories, to full-length novels, comes out at 103 publications. I’ve got two more books pretty much ready-to-go and I’m in the planning stage for perhaps a dozen more projects, again ranging from short stories to full length novels.

For me, sometimes writing and publishing can be a revolving door of projects. I finish one and I quickly move on to the next. Often I hit the “publish” button with little fanfare, really doing not much more than simply sharing it in my newsletter.

I treat writing like a job — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I sometimes lose the joy in all of this. I’m so focussed on getting my next project done and out so that I can move onto the project after that — and I sometimes forget to look at the milestones I’ve accomplished or to celebrate the joy of a book well-received.

(As well, it might be because of this sometimes lack of joy on my part that leads to very little fanfare on social media and very few reviews. I used to think it’s because I don’t flog my books. But now I think it’s that I don’t celebrate the joy of my books, so few people in turn celebrate that joy on my behalf.)

Last week was the publication of my first young adult romance novel, Gay Love and Other Fairy Tales. This was really a risk for me. Well, not a risk, but certainly a step outside of what I normally do.

For one, there’s no sex in a young adult novel. (Well, big publishers can sometimes get away with implied sex, but as a small press or an indie author, that’s a no-go for YA books.) It’s been years now since I’ve written something that didn’t include at least one fully explicit sex scene. It was … unusual.

It was also the book that we chose to launch my publishing company’s young adult imprint with — so it was the first book for Deep Hearts YA. If the book is a flop, then the publishing imprint gets off to a very weak start. It’s not impossible to recover from, but it can be challenging.

It’s also a brand new start for a brand new pen name — Dylan James. While it’s loosely tied to Cameron D. James, it is still separate. I had to build a platform in a matter of weeks without relying on my Cameron D. James clout — though I did try to flex that clout whenever I could.

Understandably, I was quite nervous about this book.

So it was with this book that I finally slowed down … finally re-discovered the joy of writing and publishing.

I got my first review the other day — five stars — and I’m currently on two top-100 lists on Amazon (teen LGBT romance and teen LGBT fiction). While of course reviews ride on the strength of the book, I can’t help but wonder if some of the success is due to me being joyful about the book. I talk about it on my Dylan James Twitter and I post about it on my Dylan James Instagram — I talk about it more than I usually talk about my books.

I think I need to do this more often.

I’ve also been talking a lot (especially on here) about my upcoming book New York Heat. I’m joyful about that one too. I’m excited to get it out and get people to read it. I haven’t felt this joyful about writing and publishing for a few years now. This is new. I like it.

I think I want to make this joyful attitude a regular thing. I should be excited about my writing and my books. Really, I am, but I need to show it more. If people can see I’m excited and joyful, hopefully they’ll feel the same. And that can only lead to good things.

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Joy Is to Happiness as an Orgasm Is to a Backrub

Am I overdoing this? Sure. But joy is an eruption, a boiling over of emotion and/or senses. Your cat may show pleasure, purring and rubbing against your leg, but your dog greets you with frenzied, tail-wagging joy. Joy may well up inside you until you shed tears of joy, or come with metaphorical blasts of trumpets. In the Christmas carol “Joy to the World!” the implied trumpets come with implied angels. “Merry Christmas” speaks of fun, of enjoyment, while the supposed French equivalent “Joyeux Noel” seems to up the ante with a wish for a high pitch of joy.

Joy and enjoyment are not quite the same thing. Enjoyment seems to apply to an extended period of pleasure. You can enjoy an entire concert, or movie, or book, or conversation, or meal, but joy is the peak of enjoyment, the height of the crescendo.

All of this is, of course, just my spur-of-the-moment opinion. Joy, like pleasure, or happiness, or contentment, is an entirely subjective matter. When it comes to discussing writing about sex, as we so often do, joy plays a large role, not just in the climax but in as much intense foreplay as we can fit in. Okay, yes, I’m contradicting my “peak” claim above. Getting there can be almost as joyful as reaching the goal.

I’d better stop trying to analyze the meaning of joy and just post an excerpt that demonstrates, I now realize, how much I overused the term in a scene that I should have edited more carefully. I guess I was having too much fun.

A bit of context. This is from my story in Delilah Devlin’s anthology Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors, and it’s as het as het can be. As the Golden Horde of the Mongols pours across eastern Europe, the strong-minded Lady ruling a province of Armenia is entangled with the Mongolian Governor taking over her lands and people. Much strife ensues, until, just after she has saved her hunting falcon from his much larger gyrfalcon by shooting an arrow between them…

From "A Hawk in Flight"
Connie Wilkins

At first Ardzvik rode Yul, her long dark hair flailing across his body as she savored the exquisite joy of easing inch by inch onto his great length and breadth. Men were more like stallions than she had ever dreamed! Then he growled low, lurched atop her, and thrust deep and hard. Her hips arched upward to take him in still deeper. Her passage gripped him, yet let him slide in its wetness just enough to drive her to a peak of intensity close to madness. Sounds burst from her that were not words, and from him as well, until all she could hear was her own voice rising in a cry of triumph, her body wrenched by joy.
But Yul, she saw, when she could focus on anything outside herself, was braced above her on stiffened arms, face twisted, jaw grimly set, the cords of his neck standing out like tree roots. “I must…” he forced out the words. “I would not get a bastard on you!” He struggled to lift his great weight from her, to withdraw.
“Then you had better wed me!” Ardzvik cried. “I will have now what is mine!” Need surged in her again. She dug her hands into his clenched buttocks, gripped him close, and tightened her inner walls about his hardness until he had no words at all, only rough groans accelerating into a mighty roar. That sound, and the hot fierce flow of his seed, sent her into a second spasm of joy.
At last Yul rolled aside. She lay beside him, both breathing in the sunwarmed air as though they could never get enough. “I too will have what is mine,” he said at last. “But what of your priest?”
“Father Kristopor?” Ardzvik gave a short laugh. “I’ll wager that one will already have ordered extra candles for the ceremony in the chapel.” She lifted her head enough to rest it on his damp chest. “What of your Shaman? And the ceremonies of your people?”
A low chuckle made his chest rise and fall. “Much simpler. We pledge to each other outdoors under the Blue Eternal Sky, with respect for Mother Earth, and the Shaman chants such ancient songs and burn such herbs as he thinks proper. Each has his own ways. Then there is feasting, but that must be the same the world over.”
“Well then, we have made good progress already under the Blue Eternal Sky. But more would surely not be wasted.”
There was time, now, for Ardzvik to lean over Yul and explore his long, strong body, tracing the contours of his wide shoulders with her fingers, pressing her mouth into the hollow of his throat and feeling the vibrations of a moan too low for ears to hear, moving her lips across his great chest and around his nipples. She licked at salty traces of sweat all the way down past his belly to where his skin became paler and more tender. By then the sounds of his pleasure were loud enough to signal renewed arousal, already clear from the rising of his shaft. Still he remained unmoving, letting Ardzvik enjoy her journey.
The temptation to take him into her mouth was great, but she moved past with only a teasing flick of her tongue at the dewy pearl on his tip. His hands tightened painfully on her arms. She kept on downward along his strong thighs, heavily muscled as only those of a man who’d spent his life on horseback could be.
“Let me…” Ardzvik twisted so that she knelt between Yul’s widespread legs, gripping those powerful thighs and bending at last to savor the taste and feel of his hard, jutting shaft. His hips rose to thrust himself deeper into her mouth. She matched his rhythm, hearing the harsh sounds tearing from his throat, feeling them vibrate into her own core as though he touched her between her legs—and suddenly she needed him there more than she needed breath.  
She lifted her head. “Ride me!” she pleaded, rolling onto her back, and at once Yul was on her, in her, his thighs gripping her flanks. They raced together, soared together, until both shouted their triumph in tones as keen as any fierce pair of mating hawks. The sun, when they came to earth, was warm on their naked skin, and even clouds would not have diminished the inner heat they shared.                
The horse grew restive. The falcon, knowing there was meat for her in the saddlebag, began to make her hunger known. They could wait. Life would seldom be easy, peace was always fleeting, but nothing that bound together in joy the Lady of Aragatsotn and Yul Darugha would ever be a waste.

Ahem. Yes, one of those books with a naked, muscular male chest filling the cover image, except that in this case it’s a naked, muscular male back, with quite an artistic sword being held right down the middle. Very, um, tasteful. I do seem to have used my other name for this one. Just as well.

Note: I've been trying since last night to post this, and getting a "too many redirects" message. Thus morning I found a way around that, but the original problem is still there. Maybe fate was turning up its nose at the excerpt I chose. I probably should have gone with exhibitionist sex on a ledge in the Grand Canyon. That was joyful in its way, too.        

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Cure for Social Isolation, a post by @GiselleRenarde

I've had a rough couple weeks. Pretty common, for a depressed person. The difference this time was that I was started to feel socially isolated. I can't remember another time when I would have plastered that label all over myself, but it got so bad I started reaching out to actual humans. And I never do that.

I got in touch with my oldest friend. We have a close bond. I know stuff about her that she doesn't tell most people. I knew her when she was going through some tough PTSD shit. She knew me when I was young and foolish.

Now we live in different cities and we rarely see one another. We rarely even talk, but somehow that doesn't matter. The bond between us is so strong we don't need to be in constant contact to feel connected.

But sometimes I need support, and sometimes she does, and that's usually when we reach out to each other.

It was me reaching out, this time. We made plans to see each other. Unfortunately, the father of a friend of hers died, and she had to drive clear across the province for the funeral. We formulated new plans for when she'd be passing through Toronto on her way home, but the thing about my friend is that she has a very serious health condition and her depressed immune system meant she became quite ill and stuck in the small town where her friend lives.

So none of our plans panned out. I don't blame her, obviously. But that doesn't stop me from being sad that we didn't get to see each other.

Depression and social isolation mingle in this weird way where the isolation is crying out, "I want to see someone," and the depression is whispering, "No you don't.  You just stay right here by me."  It's so seductive, the way it holds you close and runs its fingers through your hair. Depression has such a good grip on a person like me. It knows how to keep me from seeking out solace in the social sphere.

Through all this, my girlfriend's been working her ass off getting ready for a charity event she helps to run. She called me one night when she'd planned on coming over and said she was just too tired.  She'd been doing hard physical labour for 12 hours. I understood.  But I was so sad about not being able to connect with anyone, not even my own girlfriend, that when she called I was just silent on the phone.  I couldn't speak. I was too sad, but I couldn't explain why. I literally couldn't produce words.

It led to a very unfortunate misunderstanding, which I couldn't clear up because... Depression. Sweet was upset with me.  She didn't know everything that had happened with my friend getting sick and all that.  She just thought I was being a selfish brat.

When I woke up Saturday morning (okay, afternoon), life wasn't looking good.  The only thing I had to look forward was picking up a hold at the library.  And, to be honest, sometimes I get really jazzed about that.  But not when Depression's got me in her grip.

Thank goodness for radio. It's gotten me through some really rough times. And not just the music, but the hosts too.

I was listening to an indie rock station, and the host was talking about how she'd been feeling really irritated because she knew the streetcar she took to work would be diverted. The route change had to do with King Street being turned into a pedestrian walkway during the Toronto International Film Festival.

The radio host said that, after feeling disgruntled about the change in her commute, she decided to simply leave the house early, get off the streetcar where the road closure started, and walk through the pedestrian section of the street. And doing so took her from being irritated that her route was interrupted to feeling elated by the buoyant energy of all these people trying to get a glimpse of movie stars.

So I thought... you know what?  I'm going to King Street.

I'll tell you something about me: I don't even like movies. I have the attention span of a fruit fly. I cannot sit through a movie.  Just ask my girlfriend. She's a movie buff.  But she has a movie friend who goes to the movies with her, because I just can't.

I didn't go to the film festival for the movies.  I went for the people.

And you know what?

It worked.

As soon as I got to King Street, where it was blocked off for pedestrian use, the energy all around was just electric. There were people of all ages snapping photos, laughing and talking, lining up to try samples of products.  Restaurants had spilled out onto the street. Roads became patios.

But it was the people that helped me shake this bout of depression. Their excitement was frenetic.  There were big screens set up, I guess to broadcast celebrities getting out of limos?  I don't know. I'm really not up on pop culture.  But just that sound of teens squealing, the general frenzy, the joy and anticipation--it lifted me out of the pit I'd been living in for weeks.

My girlfriend's volunteer event was only a few blocks away, so I walked up to meet her.  She'd been on her feet for ten hours by that point, but she wasn't too busy talk.  I was finally able to tell her everything that had been going on, and she said that if she'd realized all that she'd have cut me some slack instead of arguing.  We spent the rest of the evening together and it was great.  And a big part of the greatness was being out in the city, in these big crowds of people.

So the cure for social isolation is... people?  That seems a little too simplistic.

I've been thinking about those who are depressed and living in smaller communities. If they go out to a community gathering, they're probably going to see people they know.  The key, for me, was in being able to go out and be around people I didn't know. For me, that first step toward integrating myself more fully into the world is being anonymous in the world. Being around people, but being a nobody.  Enjoying the energy and excitement of an event without really being part of it.  I don't drive. If I lived in a tiny community, I'm not sure what I'd do.

But for those of us who live in active, vibrant cities, the cure for social isolation might simply be to find a crowd that's excited about something fun.  Steal that collective energy before it dissipates.  If you're anything like me, you need it.

It's funny--I was on the subway the other day and a man got on with his leg in a cast.  He was having trouble negotiating the crowd and I asked him if he needed a hand.  He thanked me, but said he was doing okay. He told me: "My motto is I'd rather have pain like this, that's visible on the outside, than pain on the inside that no one else can see."

I swear that man was reading my soul.
By the way, if you need something to look forward to every day, you can visit my Donuts and Desires blog every day in September for Erotica Every Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. I'm posting a different flash fiction story each day at this link:

Why don't you visit more often? heh

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Eyebrows": A Joyful Poem

Stepping from the shower
Without your morning clothes 
you are merely nude. 
Without your make up, there you are naked. 

Wandering the room unarmored,
 in your curlers is so much more. 
 Without your eyeliner
Is something more than without your bra. 

Your bare face is so tender without your eyebrows 
Your unpowdered belly kindles something so keen, so mortal
                                                                         It makes me want to fuck. 

Without your lipstick to meet the people you will greet
your unreddened lips are something more
Maddening than that hole in your panties. 

Your untailored hair aloft like wind blown weeds above
That unconsummated longing  in your bare morning eyes
As you bring me cookies
Climbing into the precious wild field of our unmade bed
Spreading, wide and green in the morning sun
Opening for a feast.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Joy? What even is it?

I checked on Wikipedia (usually the fount of all wisdom) and came up with zilch. So I dug further and found a bit of information. Definitions of joy are out there, and they seem to focus on the source of the feeling of wellbeing joy brings. There is even a branch of psychology dedicated to joy which sounds useful, but don’t even get me started on the Christian definition. It seems to boil down to this - happiness and pleasure are, we are told, created by external events or circumstances whereas joy comes from within.

Fair enough, but a bit wishy washy and probably a matter of opinion anyway, as are most attempts to define slippery words. So, I’ve decided to fall back on reflecting on what gives me joy, I think it has to be people. People who matter to me, their company and companionship. People whose presence in my life I relish and can’t start to imagine their loss.

I suppose the list of people who fall into that category is not long, I wouldn’t have the emotional energy to sustain my relationships if it were. I’m not merely talking of people I like. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of those in my life, in the world of authorly things and in real life too. Friends who I care about, who I can rely on to answer my texts and lend me a tenner when I go out without any cash. Joy bringers are closer than that and I think I could count them on my fingers probably. My close family, my husband and daughter, a handful of friends who I love.

There are not that many instances of pure joy in my books. There are lots of descriptions of happiness – happy events, pleasure whether sexual or otherwise, people who get lucky or find their happy ever after. Joy is more than that, more intense, more grab you by the balls life-affirming. Joy is fundamental, soul-deep, a powerful emotional response when something fabulous happens.

This excerpt is from Red Skye at Night, a book I released in 2015 but I’m intending to re-release it in the next couple of months, with a sequel which I am working on now. It’s a story about two people who go on a journey together, a road trip with benefits you might say. They end up on Skye in the Scottish Highlands in search of the family roots of the hero. His grandfather grew up on a remote croft but left there fifty years previously after a family argument and never returned. In this excerpt, the elderly parents, now in their nineties, receive the news they’ve waited a lifetime to hear.

Back at the tiny bungalow, Ann-Marie insists on making the tea while we all park ourselves in her living room again. Angus carries the tray in, and we help ourselves.
As the clink of teacups echoes around the tiny space, Angus at last broaches the subject I’ve been dreading, “So, lad, ye spoke to Ritchie last night, I suppose?”
“I did.” Harry puts his cup down and meets Angus’ level gaze.
“He was surprised tae hear yer news, I daresay?”
“He was. They both were.” I note he mentions his grandmother carefully, deliberately, as though gauging Angus’ reaction today.
The older man just inclines his head. “I can imagine. An’ did he ask about us? Our Ritchie?”
“Of course. He was keen to know how you both are.”
A silence follows, the silence in which Harry should be saying that Ritchie sent his regards, that he wished his parents well, or some other message of familial greeting. There is none.
“He didna ask for our phone number? We do ha’ a telephone now. Did ye tell him that?” Ann-Marie leans forwards, her face anxious. “Or perhaps ye could let us have his number. We could make the call. I ken it’d be long distance, but that’d be fine, wouldn’t it, Angus?”
“Aye, lass. D’ye have his number, Harry?”
“He won’t talk to you on the phone.”
Angus heaves a long sigh. “I can understand that. It’s been a long time, an’ I had hoped… Well…” His voice trails off but he rallies. “If Ritchie won’t talk tae me, what about his mam? He’ll talk tae her, surely.”
Harry shakes his head. “Not just now.”
Harry’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he pulls it out to check the incoming text. We all wait, hoping it’s some reprieve from Ritchie. That he’s relented. Harry merely nods and slips it back into his pocket.
Ann-Marie launches in with what must be her plan B, “I’ll write tae him. He’ll accept a letter from us, surely. Ye could take it wi’ ye. An’ he’ll reply. Or maybe Sarah would. She’s a good lass. Me an’ her had ne’er a wrong word. Ye could ask her, lad. Ye’ll do that for me, aye?”
Harry smiles at her. “Of course. A letter might be a good move. But I won’t deliver it for you.”
We all three turn on him. Angus and Ann-Marie are trying to be reasonable, determined to remain polite. I have no such scruples.
“Why the hell not? You could at least do that.”
His raised eyebrow is signal enough that I’m going to be apologising for my outburst, but not before he’s made certain that I won’t be sitting in comfort for a while. Undaunted—well, almost—I open my mouth to resume my protest. He halts me with one raised finger.
“I won’t be passing on a letter because there won’t be any need. My grandparents can’t talk on the phone because they’re in airplane mode. Or they were. That text just now was from Ritchie. Their plane landed in Glasgow just over an hour ago.” He pauses as if to let that sink into the stunned silence. A slight smile on his lips, he continues, “They already cleared customs and baggage control and are now headed for car hire. What is it, a six hour drive up here?” He glances at the clock on the mantelpiece, which is showing ten past two. “They should be here by about eight o’clock then. Perhaps closer to nine. Then you’ll be able to tell them anything you want to say. Yourselves.”
We all gape at him. I’m stunned. I expected Ritchie to calm down and respond to his parents’ overtures, but not in so rapid and decisive a fashion.
Ann-Marie gropes blindly for Angus’ hand. “My boy? He’s here? In Scotland. He’s really here and coming home?”
Harry nods. “He is. And he’s not alone. Two of my uncles are with him. Your grandsons. And my mother follows in two days. My other uncle flies in tomorrow from New York. We’ll be having a family reunion.” He turns to me. “Should we invite Auntie Janet, do you think?”

Red Skye at Night, by Ashe Barker

Monday, September 10, 2018

Joy is a signal you can trust -- #Joy #Satisfaction #Insight

Dancing Girl

By Lisabet Sarai

About a week ago, I had an “aha!” moment. I’d been feeling terribly stressed due to increased demands at my job and my author commitments, plus some impending travel that will make it all the more difficult to fulfill my obligations. I was obsessing about everything, when it hit me: even though I have way too much to do, I enjoy almost all of the tasks on my long list —writing, teaching, research, making covers, reading, writing reviews, creating blog posts, entertaining friends, sending birthday cards, cooking, even exercising. When I asked myself what I’d give up, if I had to make a choice, I really didn’t have a good answer.

That realization flipped my thinking and drained some of the stress. First, I felt a surge of gratitude that my life is so full of meaningful activity and so rich in joy. Second, I understood that joy is a reliable signal as to whether you’re on the right path.

If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Am I talking about sex? Yes. Writing? Yes. Keeping fit? That too.

The Calvinistic/Puritan tradition views life as bitter and hard, an exercise in self-denial, a continuous series of trials one must endure in order to reach the promise of Paradise in the hereafter. I just don’t buy that. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t match my personal experience.

For me, life is something to celebrate, a continuous unfolding, a twisting and often surprising path. And when I’m wondering which branch to follow, I’ve learned to turn within first, to ask myself how the path feels. Does it feel right? Does it generate joy?

I remember when I got my first job in my second career. (I’ve had several since.) I had no prior professional experience in this field, just a couple of university courses. I got hired on the strength of my academic credentials. When I started working, though, something clicked. I really “got” the concepts. I found I had an aptitude that I would not have expected. The job tapped into my creativity and developed my interpersonal skills. It was definitely the right path at that time.

When I met my husband (at a technical conference), I tried to give him the brush-off. We lived on different coasts and I didn’t want a long-distance relationship. Besides, I was already juggling four lovers. When he persisted, however, I discovered that being with him felt inexplicably comfortable. We spent the first three weeks of our life together driving across the US, a trip that could strain even a well-established couple. We had a fantastic time—and despite the newness of our relationship, the whole process turned out to be incredibly easy and natural.

Thirty nine years later, I understand: it was so much fun because we were obviously doing it right.

Note that joy is not exactly the same as happiness. It’s not about pleasure or entertainment. Joy is something deeper, a spiritual quality, a sense of satisfaction, order and symmetry. Sometimes it’s a quiet, soothing warmth humming under your solar plexus. Sometimes it’s laughter bubbling up out of nowhere, an urge to sing or to dance. Joy can be wordless, or it can spill out in poetry or paint.

I believe we are meant to feel joy and that when we do, we can trust we’re being our best and truest selves.

The fact that something kindles your joy doesn't mean it will be easy. Climbing a mountain, running a marathon, getting a degree, raising a child, or writing a book all take a huge amount of effort, but joy is the ultimate reward. And of course every life has its pain and its tragedies. But joy makes you more resilient.

Writing can be tough, frustrating work. We all complain when the words don’t flow or the characters don’t obey. We fight with incompetent editors, flinch at poor reviews, feel discouraged when our royalties don’t even begin to reach the level of minimum wage. In the face of all these negatives, why do we—why do I—keep writing? Out of love. Because of the joy.

Almost nothing compares to the sense of delight when I am in the groove, the words are flowing and the story is unfolding just as I’d imagined. It’s worth every bit of aggravation and every ounce of effort.

At least that’s how I feel. Your mileage may differ. But if you are truly suffering for your art, why bother? If what you're doing doesn't fundamentally satisfy you, give you that deep level feeling of rightness, maybe you are doing the wrong thing.

Not that I’m counseling my fellow authors to give up. Just stop and ask yourself: is it fun? And if not, what can you change so that it will be?

Friday, September 7, 2018

At Home in My Own Skin

I have a recurring dream I call the house dream. It tends to take two forms. The first is not so much scary as it is frustrating. In it I’m always looking for my dream home, usually with a pressing sense of urgency that’s never made clear to me. Every time I think I’ve found the perfect place, there’s some serious flaw that I can’t quite overcome. There’s a swamp in the back garden – or even worse a swamp in the gigantic bathtub. The stairs are too steep and too narrow to actually climb. I discover the house is the sight of a murder or some other tragedy. I discover the previous owners have simply walked away, and the house is still crammed full of their stuff, as though they might return at any moment. In spite of the obstacles, I really want the house, and in the dream, I‘m always trying to figure a way to get around the deal breakers.  

The second type of dream is the worst. It’s the forbidden room dream. This dream terrifies me every time I have it, and I often wake up crying out, usually drenched in sweat and breathing like I’ve just ran a race. Afterward, I’m never too anxious to go back to sleep again. The dream always involves me having lived in a big, usually very old, house for a long time. No matter how long I’ve been in residence, there’s always one room I never go into. No one goes into it because it’s locked and off limits, and yet every second I live there, I’m aware of that room, aware that it’s dangerous. I’m never really sure what it is that I fear, or why the space is off limits. Is there a ghost, an evil spirit, a body long dead? Is there a demon, a crazy person, a mad serial killer? I never know. And when I do go into the room, which of course I always must, I am so frightened I can’t breathe. And yet I never actually see what it is that frightens me. Sometimes I almost convince myself there’s really nothing to be afraid of, but I never quite manage it. At the very least, the room feels strangely off, disturbing in some way I can’t define.

I’ve done enough dream analysis to know that the house is me, whether I’m looking for my dream home or whether I am terrified of some room inside. Swamps, locked doors, steep and dangerous stairs, it doesn’t matter, it’s all me. All my hopes yet unrealized, all my issues, resolved and unresolved, all my neuroses, all my fears, all my quirks, they’re all right there in good old REM sleep. Okay, I get that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I also know the difference between a romp through the ragged depths of my unconscious and the old internal computer simply processing daily detritus. 

The efforts to find my dream house are just my battle to get comfortable in my own skin. The forbidden room is my unconscious’ way of dealing with my darker fears in order to make the Self more at home in said skin. Everyone has rooms they’d rather not revisit. And while those rooms may be places of terror in the dream world, they’re often places of true treasure when we’re willing to confront them in the waking world. That is never truer than it is for a writer.

I chose to share these dreams because for me the battle to truly come home, the effort to explore the immense geography of that home, all takes place inside my own skin. I’ve travelled a lot and lived in a lot of different places. My father got wanderlust every few years and uprooted us to yet another place where he was convinced the grass was greener. While Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz might click her heels together and declare, ‘there’s no place like home,’ I’m far more likely to shrug my shoulders and admit, ‘there’s no place that is home.’ I’ve lived in the UK now longer than I’ve ever lived any place. But what that means is that I’ve never lived anywhere long enough for a place to seep into my veins and into my soul. I live my life always ever so slightly disconnected, and I suspect I’m not the only one. 

Sorry Dorothy, but if home is where the heart is, then Kansas ain’t it. My dreams would suggest home is that vast undiscovered country inside my own skin – the place that fascinates me, delights me, frustrates me, terrifies me, and leaves me wondering how I’m ever going to explore it all and make peace with it before it ceases to exist. 

It’s no wonder that vast unexplored, often forbidden, dark places are a recurring theme in my novels. Nor is it any wonder that I gravitate toward bodies shared with demons and other entities, who appreciate flesh and bone a lot more than we who live in them often do, and who love nothing more than to tag along for the ride. The voices inside my head are the voices of my Self, and as a storyteller, I have perhaps the best way of giving them a little more autonomy. Story gives me the perfect way to let them out of their locked rooms for a little romp. I suppose that being the case, my novels and my stories, are the best representation of the geography of my true home. While the stories may be read and enjoyed by
anyone, only I have the true map -- well at least the map of what I’ve managed to explore so far. That map gets extended a little bit with each tale I tell.

It’s also no wonder that my stories are physical, that the body plays as powerful a role in the narrative as do mind and
motive. My characters are flesh and blood. Their drives and desires are my own -- sometimes in darker shades, sometimes in higher contrast. They are the best way of exploring the parts of me that are not safe to be allowed a more physical manifestation. They are the best way to deal with my fears and my neuroses. They are, in so many ways, my efforts to be Lewis and Clark, and Freud and Jung all rolled into one. After all, my body is the vessel that carries that terrifying consciousness, that prodigious geography that is truly my home, and those boundaries are more permeable than I’ll ever fully understand, thus the forbidden rooms, thus the swamps in the bathtub.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Location, location, location

By Tim Smith

Like many authors, I tend to write about what I know. That’s especially true when it comes to deciding on a setting for one of my stories. Here’s where it gets tricky for me, though. I live in southwestern Ohio (Dayton), but the majority of my fiction takes place elsewhere. Out of the 20 books I’ve released, only 3 were set in my adopted hometown. It isn’t that there’s anything wrong or unromantic about Dayton, but when I’m writing a mystery/thriller that’s heavy on steamy romance, I can think of better places to use as a backdrop.

I have two continuing series. One involves two former CIA spooks who live in Key Largo, Florida. The other centers around a footloose former cop turned private eye who lives in Sandusky, Ohio on the Lake Erie shore. Why this fascination with water-bound locations? I don’t have an answer, other than enjoying vacations there. I first visited the Florida Keys a few years before I wrote my first novel, and when I had to choose where this former spy with a checkered past would hang out, The Keys instantly came to mind. As to the private eye, I grew up near Sandusky, and had Lake Erie practically in my backyard.

When I write locations, they become a character in the story. I research carefully, usually when I visit these spots. While most people return from vacation with kitschy souvenirs and coffee mugs they don’t need, my bounty consists of area maps, brochures, and a local newspaper or two. I strive for accuracy because I don’t want someone who lives there to read one of my books and wonder if I’ve ever set foot in Key Largo or wherever.

Apparently, this diligent fact-gathering has paid off. I’ve had more than a few readers tell me they felt like they were in the scene with the characters. It doesn’t get much better than that. Here’s an example from “Memories Die Last” (Nick Seven Book One):

The early evening sun descended over Key Largo Bay, reflecting off the water’s smooth surface. The bright blue of the Gulf of Mexico mixed with the orange tint of sunset. A gentle breeze wafted in as seagulls lazily flapped their wings in symmetrical patterns, swooping lower with each pass, hoping to catch dinner. Yachts slowly cruised into the marina, their masters having finished another day of rest and recreation, ready to put away their expensive toys for the night.

Nick Seven took in this routine ritual from his usual vantage point at Cricket’s Bayside—corner glass-topped table on the outside deck, always set for two but usually occupied by one, where he could observe with amused curiosity the comings and goings of the rich and not-so-famous. He had a glass of scotch and soda in front of him, a smoldering cigarette in the plastic ashtray. All around him he could hear the clinking of glasses and the low-key chatter of drinkers and diners, all mixing with the sound of soft jazz emanating from the sound system.


For contrast, I submit this one from “The Bundle” (Vic Fallon Number One):

Vic eased the Jeep onto the ferry on Marblehead Peninsula and set the parking brake. When the boat was underway he and Kimberly got out and walked to the railing. Kimberly zipped up her jacket and inhaled deeply.

“There’s something different about the smell of the water coming off the lake,” she observed. “Not like the ocean. Have you ever noticed that?”

Vic smiled and recalled trips to the beaches in Florida. “You’re right, it is different.”

Kimberly looked at the fading shoreline as the boat made the twenty-minute trip to Kelleys Island. She pointed at the roller coasters of Cedar Point silhouetted against the sky several miles away. “Too bad the park’s closed for the season. I haven’t been to The Point in years.”

Vic moved a bit closer and wrapped his arm around her waist. “Next time you come to town, do it earlier in the year and I’ll take you.”

She looked up into his eyes. “Promise?”

He gave her a brief kiss. “Promise.”

Kimberly shivered and held him tighter. “Guess my blood’s too thin for these fall Ohio days. Should’ve packed for the weather.”

“You’ve been away from home too long, Callie.”

She smiled at him. “I like it when you call me Callie.”

Vic returned her gaze. “I’ll make a note.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Geography of You (#flashfiction #gayerotica)

I let myself in the apartment and put my suitcase by the door, quickly going in search of you. I find you. It’s not difficult. You’re in bed—naked and waiting for me.

In the near dark, I see your eyes glisten. You’re awake, you’re watching me, but you’re still lying there...teasing me. You’re drawing out this moment, making me take the lead, inviting me to explore your body.

I take off my clothes, trying to appear casual and not as rushed as I feel.  Three weeks. I’ve been away three weeks—away from you. I need you. I need to be in you.

Now naked as you, I crawl onto the bed and kiss your feet. They’re strong and sturdy, yet clean and soft. You’re freshly showered; you knew I’d want this as soon as I came home. I drag my tongue up your shinbone and caress your other shin with my hand. I’m easing my way up your body. You want to draw this out for me? I’m going to draw this out for you.

I kiss your kneecap—first one, then the other—then I inch up your legs, kissing your inner thighs, climbing higher with every feathered touch of my lips on your hairy legs. Soon my nose is under your balls as I kiss the top of your thighs, as I flicker my tongue out across your taint.

You groan in pleasure and your body shifts. You want it bad. So do I—my aching erection is proof enough—but I’m going to torture you with pleasure.

I press more kisses to your body, climbing higher, curving to the front of your pelvis, carefully avoiding your cock and balls. They don’t get pleasure—not yet. But I don’t ignore them. I lift my mouth off your tantalizing body and exhale my hot breath along your length. You groan again, shift your hips up, desperate for contact, but I always keep my lips away from your shaft.

Moving further north, I dip my tongue into your belly button, swirling around and around. I take a moment to adjust my own position, bringing my legs closer to the core of your body. You spread your legs, lifting them a little, allowing me to get close to you and simultaneously inviting me to get even more intimate with you. Shifting even closer, the head of my cock—wet and sticky with pre-cum—makes contact with your tight, wrinkled flesh. I almost lose it and by the deep groan you let out, you almost lose it too.

I abandon your bellybutton, now glistening with my saliva, and move north, kissing each of your abs along the way, enjoying how your skin gets hairier and hairier under my gentle touch.

As my kisses approach your chest, I hook my hands under your knees, gently folding you, exposing that tightness even more, that tightness that I’m aching to plunge into. As I press against you, I feel a slickness I didn’t expect, as my shaft slides effortlessly against your tightness, moreso than the ease that my pre-cum would provide. You’re prepared for this moment, lubed up and eager.

I shift my hips a little, angling myself so that the head of my cock presses hard against your hole. I press forward a little, just enough to tease the opening, to judge how eager you might be.

And I find that you are very eager.

You want me inside you. You need me inside you.

I kiss across your torso until I reach a nipple—and as I clamp my teeth down on it, eliciting a yelp of painful pleasure from you, I shove my hips forward, plunging full-depth into you. Your yelp of pain turns into an incoherent shout of pleasure.

I bite down on your nipple hard—the way I know you love me doing—and thrust again. I can feel you losing control—not like you’re about to blow your load, but like you’ve lost all coherent thought, like you’re a being of pure pleasure, like you’ve given control of yourself and your release over to me.

I start pumping myself in and out of you. I kiss your tender nipple, easing the fire caused by my teeth. I give your other nipple a little bite and a lick, so it doesn’t feel neglected. But I’ve moved on from your nipples. I want more from you. I want all of you.

I drag my tongue across your chest and to your neck. Your five o’clock shadow is scratchy against my skin, rough against my tongue. You press your head back into the pillow, flexing your neck upward, pressing your Adam’s apple into my mouth.

I suck on your neck, kiss it, press my tongue into that sensitive spot that drives you wild. You moan incoherently, an endless sound of pure pleasure that contains no words, and I thrust harder into you, changing my angle to hit that spot inside you that sends sparks of pleasure shooting through your whole body.

You’re gasping, writhing, begging for release, desperate for orgasm.

Then I claim your mouth.

I kiss your lips, sweep my tongue across yours, suck up your moans of pleasure. You kiss me back—or at least you try to, as much as your pleasure-wracked mind can accomplish.

You bring your hands to the back of my head—the first real sign of movement I’ve seen from you—but with one quick movement, I grab your wrists and pin your hands down past your head. This isn’t about sex; it’s about me rediscovering the geography of your body.

The geography of home.

I thrust into you again and the reediness of your wail tells me that you’re close. You’re so incredibly close. But I’m not ready for you finish yet. I don’t let you cross that line, don’t let you dive off that cliff—instead, I tease you at that line, slowing down enough to keep you there, but not push you further.

Your whimpers turn desperate, but I’m not ready for you to finish.

I’m not done re-discovering your body.

I drag my tongue across your cheek, across your rough stubble, and suckle on your earlobe. You gasp again, a gasp full of such pleasure that I fear I’ve gone too far. But your gasp turns into a begging mewl and I know I’ve still got the upper hand. I know I’ve still got control over your body.

I let go of your hands, no longer pinning them above your head, and you instantly wrap your arms around me, pulling me close. I give in and press my body to yours, our chests hard against each other, our arms holding each other, and when I kiss you again our breath interchanges between us.

I thrust one more time—harder, deeper, longer—and you whimper into my mouth, a whimper that turns into a wail. And I know I’ve done it, I’ve pushed you past that line. Your body shivers and quakes as you try to contain it, but the floodgates give and you finally lose control.

You hug me even closer, pressing your mouth harder against mine, and I feel an exploding wetness between our bodies. And at that moment, your body clamps down on mine, tightens around my length, squeezes me so hard, and you drag me over that edge with you.

I, too, struggle to hold it back and shudder with the effort. But then I give in—I give in and pleasure shoots through me, and my essence fills you.

I shiver with the last of it, shake with the seemingly endless pleasure, and then let out a long breath when it finally abates. My body relaxes—so does yours—and I lay on top of you, listening to your heartbeat as it slows down from its racehorse pace.

I’ve missed you. I know you’ve missed me too.

But now I’m home.

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

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Tale of Three Homes

Sacchi Green

I tend to get deeply attached to places, and disoriented when I travel frequently from one to another of the three that feel like home. That’s a problem I’m not likely to have much longer, although those places will linger in my dreams or in my writing
I mentioned a few weeks ago that for some reason my dreams are often set in my old home, the house where I lived from ten years old to twenty-two. I’m on the very verge of selling that house for my father, who is now, at 98, in a long- term care facility near me. For all the stress and trauma of cutting my ties to that house and land, I hope my dreams will manage to cut those ties, too. Why shouldn’t my continuing home here for the last forty-odd years be the go-to site for random dreams?

Dreams aside, I don’t think I’ve ever used either the old home territory or the current one as settings for any of my stories. That honor—for lack of a better term—goes to the third home, my treasured retreat for many years on the banks of a river in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire. That area has been the setting for…let me count…well, at least nine stories, and influenced several others. It will probably continue to influence my work even after I’ve sold that cabin and land, which will probably be within the next year.

So it’s excerpt time! But not for all nine pieces, just a few. Maybe just one, in fact, a story that’s been posted for free on my blog for years but was originally published in Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2005 from Alyson Books. It will be hard to choose just a few excerpts, but here goes.


Sacchi Green

     Sunlight filtered gently through hemlock branches where an hour ago it had blazed onto the water-smoothed granite. Radiant heat still penetrated into places I'd thought would never feel warm again. My body adjusted to the stone's contours and felt, briefly, at peace.
     A rustling among the trees on the bank above made me tense. Someone stood there, watching. Move on, damnit, I thought, hating the unfamiliar sense of vulnerability, the suppressed jerk of my hand toward a gun that wasn't there. I kept my eyes closed, trying to block out everything but the ripple of water and the scent of balsam. Far below, where the stream leapt downward in the series of falls and slides known as Diana's Baths, there were swarms of vacationers, but they didn't often climb up this far. I'd hoped, foolishly, for solitude.
     Maybe I was only hallucinating being watched. Maybe the Lieutenant was right. Maybe I really wasn't ready to get back into uniform. After seven years, it wasn't as though I had anything left to prove about a woman being as good a cop as any man. There might still be something to prove to myself, though.  
     I sat up abruptly. A hemlock branch twitched, and through its feathery needles a pair of bright eyes met my challenge. A child, I thought at first, glimpsing tousled russet curls and a face like a mischievous kitten. Then she moved into clearer view, and I got a good look at a body that could have held its own on one of those TV beach shows. So, for that matter, could her bikini.
     She looked me over just as frankly. "Hi there," she said throatily. "I'm afraid I've got myself lost."
     Eye candy or not, I resented the intrusion. "Well, there's upstream, and there's downstream. Take your pick."
     "They both sound so good, I can't decide!" Her glance moved deliberately from my face over my body down to the long, semi-healed scar running from mid-thigh up under my cut-off jeans. The scar didn't seem to startle her a bit. I began to suspect a plot.
     It's not that unusual for women to come on to me when I'm in uniform, and I've taken advantage of their fantasies a time or two, but I was in civvies, and this was way over the top. She was so blatantly acting out a scene that I was more amused than anything else. Well, maybe not anything else. It had been a long time. A definite tingle was building where it counted most, and my nipples threatened to assert themselves through my gray tank top. I pulled on the sweatshirt I'd been using as a pillow. The New Hampshire State Police logo on the front didn't seem to surprise her, either.
     I looked downhill. "Hey, Dunbar," I called to the head poking around a mossy boulder, "who's your little friend?"
      "How's it going, Josie?" Jimmy Dunbar emerged from concealment. "I'd've introduced you, but you cruised right on by without so much as a nod for an old friend."
     "Sorry," I said. "Been a bit preoccupied lately."
     "So I heard. You okay?" He looked toward my injured leg and then met my eyes with genuine concern. Aside from his taste in practical jokes, Jimmy's not a bad sort, and we'd been friends since our teens when we cleared trails and packed supplies up to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts.
     "Can't complain," I said shortly. "A couple of weeks of enforced R&R and then I'll be back on the job. What are you up to these days?" I should've known better than to come where I'd be recognized. The newspapers had made the hostage case into a big deal.
     "He's building sets at the playhouse," the sex kitten chimed in, clearly tired of being ignored by everything but the mosquitoes. In that outfit, she was damned lucky black fly season was over. "We open with 'Oklahoma' tomorrow night. I could get you a ticket if you'd like." She picked her way carefully down the bank, gripping bushes and gnarled, exposed tree roots. Any bits of previously covered anatomy were revealed as she bent and stretched. I was willing to bet her breasts owed nothing to silicone. It might not have been entirely gallantry that prompted me to help her down the last, steepest bit, but when she tried to cling I spun her around and set her on her feet at a safe distance.  
     "This is Katzi Burns. She plays the 'girl who can't say no.'"  Jimmy sang the last part. Instead of grabbing the line and running with it, as I expected, she shot him a fierce look.
     "I should've had the lead! But at least I can have a little fun with this role. I'm so sick of doing 'wholesome' I could puke!"
     "That's what you get," Jimmy said unfeelingly, "for starting your career playing Daddy Warbuck's little 'Annie'."
     She yowled and took a swipe at him, and, while I figured he deserved a good clawing, my peace-keeper instincts kicked in. "So Katzi," I said, with a hand on her elbow, "what kind of parts would you rather play?" Then it hit me. "Holy shit! 'Annie'? How long ago?"
     She turned that feral kitten snarl on me. The anger in her amber eyes was a lot more attractive than the bimbo act. "Long enough! I'm legal! You wanna see my driver's license?"
     I grinned and looked her scanty outfit over appreciatively. "You bet, if you've got it on you somewhere."
     Her scowl cleared. "You could search me," she teased.
     I just patted her cute round butt and turned to Jimmy. "I hope you two have some clothes stashed somewhere. As soon as the sun gets a little lower the mosquitoes will be fierce. I don't much care what they do to your scaly hide, but it would be a shame to let Katzi get sucked dry just before opening night. The bites would be kind of a challenge for the make-up department, too."
     "What time is it, anyway?" Katzi asked, with a stricken look.
     "Close to five," I told her.
     "Oh damn! I'm screwed!" She slid and lurched down the hill toward where they'd left their clothes and towels. Jimmy and I followed, ready to pick up the pieces if her fashionable sandals skidded on the loose layers of leaves and needles.
     "So what the hell is that all about?" I asked Jimmy. "I may be on the injured list, but I can still manage to do my own hunting."
     "Hey, little Katzi takes hunting to a whole new level. She's only hanging out with me because she wants to meet you, and I said I'd heard you were back in the Valley. She clipped your picture out of the paper. Lord only knows what she does with it!"
     And Lord only knows what you've told her about me, I thought, and swatted him, on general principles. Maybe I should just just go back to communing with nature. Then I watched Katzi's sleek legs keeping up with our longer ones on the trail out to the road, and reflected that nature's blessings are many and wondrous, and not limited to rocks and trees. Being back in the mountains had always healed my spirit, but surging hormones might well spur the healing process of the flesh.

Snip, snip, skipping past much of the story:

When she'd gone into the playhouse I sat there for a minute, hardly noticing the people strolling along the village sidewalk. Then I headed north, up through Pinkham Notch, needing to center myself in the mountains.
     The peaks loomed dark against a backdrop of moon-gilded clouds; Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and, crowning the range, Mount Washington. I'd never needed more to be up there, on the slopes above treeline, looking down on a world made tranquil by distance. Or, even better, looking down on clouds filling the valleys with a ghostly sea while the stars above seemed closer and more real than the shrouded earth.  Best of all would be to watch the dawn, when the air is cold and still, and nothing exists except stone, and space, and the coming of light over the edge of the world.
     My gaze followed the contours of the mountains, my hands almost feeling their harsh ridges and swooping ravines. Then the thought of Katzi's softer curves and sweet valleys beckoned me with increasing urgency. I didn't want solitude, after all, at least not right now, I thought, as I drove back down the winding highway. Just a quick fling, I warned myself, a little summer diversion. She'll head back to New York or wherever soon enough. That's all you want. That's all she wants. Nobody gets hurt.

Snip, snip, and the final few paragraphs:


We didn't manage to see sunrise, but the morning light was still fresh and clear when I went down to the river and waded into the deepest part. The cold water rushing down from the mountains could always sweep away sweat, doubt, confusion. Then I sat in the sun on my favorite boulder and tried to clear my mind of everything but the intense blue of the sky.
     "You look like one of those paintings," Katzi said, coming to stand below me. "You know, the ones with girls sitting on rocks with mountains and waterfalls and stuff."
     "Maxfield Parrish?" I asked, without turning.
     "That's the guy. You look like what I wish he would have painted, instead of all those cute fluffy girls."
     "You'd have fit right in," I said, "but I always wondered how they got up onto those jagged mountains with bare feet." I wriggled my own river sandals, which were all I was wearing.
     She looked at my feet, then my legs; I steeled myself not to clamp my naked thighs together, and let her look.
     "Oh, Jo," she cried, aghast at the full extent of my wound. "Did he cut you that way on purpose?"
     I couldn't bottle up the anger, the guilt, forever. "Yeah. Probably. His wife had been going to leave him for a woman, but luckily the papers didn't get hold of that tidbit. We could've charged him with a hate crime, I suppose, from the names he called me, but there wasn't any point. Even if he'd lived."
     Her hand was on my thigh, and she could feel me trembling. "You had to do it, Jo, it was self defense, and who knows what else he'd have done to them?"
     I remembered the woman's screams, and the child's terrified cries. I remembered climbing the back of the building, finding foot and finger holds on ledges and chinks in the bricks, while my partner watched the front. Then came the shatter of glass as I dove through the window,  and the flash of the knife as I wrestled with him. I hadn't been able to climb with my gun drawn, and then it was too late. What I remembered most vividly was the crumpling of his larynx  under my hand.
     "There had to be another way," I muttered. "If...maybe if I had been different, gentler, softer somehow, I could've talked him around. That poor little kid had been through enough, without having to see all that."
     "But the mother lived, didn't she? My God, Jo, how can you kick yourself? I know it must have been awful, but..." She stood on tiptoe and laid her head against my side, and I bent to hide my face in her soft curls. Then she worked her lips gently downward toward the scar. "Let me, please..."
     I began to tremble in a different way. I wasn't sure I could bear to be touched. She looked up at me with such tenderness in her eyes that suddenly I couldn't bear not to be touched, by her hands and mouth and even more by her indefinable flame of life that warmed something in me deeper than the flesh.
     I leaned back with my arms braced against the rock and let my thighs spread farther apart, let Katzi's mouth move up, and up, toward where I needed it most. She reached her arms around my waist and pressed her lips and tongue against me so softly, gently, that I felt no pain, only a tantalizing stimulation I thought would drive me crazy. I tried to pull her head closer, harder--maybe I was healed enough!-- but she resisted. "Trust me," she murmured against my flesh, and I had to, even had to let her hear me whimper and moan. She kept on and on, driving me closer and closer to the brink, like hurtling on skis toward the headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine--and then I plunged over in an avalanche of fierce joy.
     Much later in the day I kissed her, told her when I'd pick her up, and watched her hurry into the playhouse. I really was healed enough, I realized, to go back on duty. Why rush it, though? I could still taste her, still feel her body against mine, still smell her scent clinging to me. Maybe something of her would always cling to me. I couldn't handle thinking about the future yet, but I was going to savor every moment of the present, and the healing force of nature that was Katzi.

That should be all, too long already, so just consider this next snippet a postscript. It appear in my story “Meltdown,” first published in Don’t Be Shy from Ylva Press, and will be in my upcoming collection from Dirt Road Books. The setting of the flashback is a secluded, maybe even secret pool along a river that means a lot to me.

Sigri was shaking her head by the end of my revelations. I picked up my drinking horn and took a sip of mead. “As you said, that’s enough about that. Too much, in fact.” Another sip. “Hey, this is really fine stuff! Smooth and intense. Wish we’d had something this good back in the day.”
“Nah, we’d’ve been too dumb to appreciate it.” She sank down on the couch by my side, took a longer sip than I had, licked her lips, and looked slantwise at me. “We were too dumb to appreciate a hell of a lot.”
“No kidding.” I raised my horn. Hers met it halfway. “Here’s to our wasted youth.”
A few more sips of mead later, I was on the verge of blurting out a maudlin confession, but Sig beat me to it.
“That pool.” She looked into the fireplace, not at me. “That day…”
I finished for her. “We bushwhacked off the Slippery Brook trail, discovered that huge gorgeous pool, and went skinny-dipping. The goddess place, I called it, and you told me not to go all woo-woo.”
“But you did. And you scrambled naked back up that rock to where we’d left our stuff before we jumped off, got your camera, and yammered on about how the rocks on each side of the little waterfall looked like spread thighs, and the knobby stone in between with moss on it was the pussy, and the—the water of life, I think you said, was pouring into the sacred pool.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what I said. And you dived into the deepest part and came up with handfuls of pebbles that you kept throwing at me while I tried to get pictures from just the right angle.”
“Well, maybe I was as bad as your Maura at foreplay when it came to somebody like you. Girly types, no problem, but you? I figured you’d either laugh in my face or punch it if I made a move.”
I shook my head in self-disgust. “And I just kept on yammering to keep from jumping you and getting slammed for it. Talk about dumb kids! When you got fed up and left, I was desperate for the chance to jerk off, fantasizing about what it would feel like to be in a clinch with you.”
“Hah! I only made it to that other stream coming out of the beaver pond before my hand was in my pants. If you’d caught up with me then…”
I reached for the decanter of mead, poured us each a little more, and raised my horn again. “Well, here’s to the years of steamy dreams inspired by the sight of you naked in that pool.” Just as well not to reveal that I’d snapped a picture of her from behind that day, right when her muscular body arched, butt high, into the dive that got her those pebbles to throw at me. I’d carried a print of the photo around with me until I literally wore it out.