Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Value of a Dollar (or "Buddy, Can You Spare Five Bucks?")

a post by Giselle Renarde

Mother's Day, I was coming back from visiting my grandma at the retirement home. As I sat there on the subway, a middle-aged man came around asking for change. So I reached into the pocket of my jacket, pulled out all the money I had in there, and placed it in his hand. I'm not sure how much I gave him. I remember it was 4 coins, and we don't use pennies anymore in Canada, so it could have been as little as 20 cents. Whatever it was, it was all my change.

The guy looked at the money, looked at me, and said, "Is that it?  Don't you have more?"

I burst out laughing.

Every time I tell this story, the person I'm telling is either highly scandalized or highly concerned for my personal safety. I get reactions like "Weren't you scared?" (nope) and "How rude!" (*shrugs*). I thought it was the funniest thing ever. I must have a warped sense of humour, because nobody else gets the joke.

Anyway, when the guy asked "Don't you have more?" I actually reached back into my pocket to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I hadn't.  I told him, "Dude, you've cleaned me out. That's all I got."  Maybe it's my winning smile, but I finally got him to laugh along.

The audacity! You ask a stranger for the money and they have the nerve to give you only...


...only... what?  How much is too little?

If this had been an isolated incident, it would have stuck with me as a funny story, nothing more. But here's the thing: it happened again.

There's this other man--and if you've taken the subway in Toronto any time in the past 30 years, you're picturing him already--who asked me for change last week.

I've got a special set of feels for this guy, because one time 20 years ago I was really rude to him. I'm a much more empathetic person now than I was back then, so every time I see him, I make sure to give him my change and be extra-extra sweet and lovely. I've never heard his voice. He just comes around to each person on the subway car and puts his hand out until you acknowledge him--whether that means giving him some money or saying no you don't have anything, or even just shaking your head.

So anyway, he came over to me and I gave him all the change I had in my pocket (it was less than a dollar, I'm not sure how much exactly) and every other time we've had this exchange, he's kind of bowed to acknowledge the donation and gone on to the next person.

This time, he looked at the money I'd put in his palm, and he didn't move on.  He looked down at my purse and sort of indicated with his hand that he'd like some wallet-money please. Pocket money wasn't enough.  I told him I was sorry, I'd given all I had (which wasn't strictly true--he was right, there WAS money in my wallet, but like... not a lot! heh).

He still didn't move on.


I'm used to this guy. We've been having these exchanges for years. Decades. The wanting more was... new.

Finally, I said, "Have a good night," and he bowed and went on to the next guy. Maybe I'd forgotten my line?  Maybe he was waiting for the goodnight? No, that's silly.  He wanted more money from me. And I can hardly blame him. The last few times I've watched him make his way through the subway car, I haven't seen even one other person give him anything--not even a word. The rich white lady he'd gone up to before me refused to even acknowledge his existence.  She just kept talking to her husband until he told my old friend to go away.

A couple years ago I was walking along Yonge Street and an older man was standing outside Tim's shaking an empty cup.  I said to him, "Let's see what I've got in my pocket today" and it turned out to be... not a lot.  I was kind of sheepish, like, "Okay... well, this isn't much but you can have it." He told me he appreciated the money, but what he appreciated even more was that I'd stopped and said hello.

I don't expect everyone who asks me for change to take this approach, but I love when it happens--because time is something I have for just about anyone I see on the street.  I probably sound like a huge Pollyanna in this post, but the truth is that I'm a total cynic. I don't trust people. I assume pretty much everything I hear is a lie. But I reached a point, a few years ago, where I decided I didn't care. People were always going to lie and cheat. It's part of human nature. I can choose to be kind regardless. That's not naivete. It's sublime.

Anyway, I'm veering off track.  As usual.

What I really wanted to focus on was... well, exactly what I put in the title of this post: the value of a dollar.  Because I'm coming to realize, more and more, that a dollar is a different animal, depending on who is looking at it.

If I sell a book for $0.99 at Amazon, want to know how much I earn in royalties?  You probably know already.  It's 35 cents.  So when I hand 35 cents off to someone who asks for change, to me, that 35 cents denotes one book, one sale.  It was probably a short story, if I was selling it for $0.99, but regardless.  It has value to me.

Now I'm realizing that, to most of the people in my city, whether they're living on the margins or they're the types who have so much money they won't even acknowledge someone living on the margins, 35 cents is... an insult.  It's not even nothing. It's worse than nothing.

But... but... but... I love my 35 cents.

One time, about 10 years ago, I was at Buskerfest watching this busker who was really entertaining and funny and impressive.  I wanted to give him some pocket money.  When his act was over, before he passed around his hat, he said, "Busking is my profession, so please take that into account when you make your donation. I'll take your paper money, loonies and toonies..." (those are $1 and $2 coins, for anyone who doesn't speak Canadian) "...but if all you've got is small change, keep it in your pocket and I hope things pick up for you."

So I didn't make a donation, even though I really enjoyed his performance, because all I had was small change and he specifically stated that he didn't want any.

But the part about hoping things pick up... I don't think that way. I'm happy with my lot in life. A dollar still means something to me.  I get excited when I find a nickel on the sidewalk. And I like that about myself.

Before I go, I just want to invite everyone over to my place (meaning my Donuts and Desires blog) in September.

I'll be posting FREE EROTICA there every day!

And I won't even pass a hat.  It's yours to enjoy. 

Details here:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Again, I find myself inspired by Lisabet. I also tend to write about places I know well, often places I’ve lived or perhaps visited. The Bronte moors were in large part the inspiration for my first series, The Dark Side, almost another character in the story. Similarly, I spend a lot of time in Cumbria and it’s no accident that I set several of my novels there, and of course the Scottish Highlands can’t be easily beaten for atmosphere.
Places are important, of course they are, but my stories are essentially about people, and I’ve always thought people were a product of the places which generate them. The north of England, Yorkshire 
especially, is famous for the sort of dour, no-nonsense folk who live here, made famous by such cultural gems as Last of the Summer Wine. For an international audience I should perhaps explain, this is a television comedy set in Holmfirth which is somewhere near Huddersfield in Yorkshire, about ten miles from where I live. The characters are elderly Yorkshire folk, the women (pictured) stern and forbidding and devoted to bemoaning the failings of their menfolk. These matriarchs sit in each others’ front parlours sipping tea, eating custard creams and comparing notes on the general uselessness and untrustworthy natures of the men they preside over.
Its something of a caricature, but I do recall, as a child, being taken to family gatherings where the elder ladies of my mother’s family would sit, each wearing a perfectly respectable hat and a clean pinny,  in just such disapproving judgement. Anyone who didn’t measure up would be declared ‘no better than they ought to be’ and the wider family left in no doubt about the improvement required. This was the usual way of family funerals, weddings, christenings, anything really that brought these women together. There was  strength in numbers and they were a formidable bunch.
But they were also fiercely loyal women. They would take great pleasure in listing the many and various failings of those lower down the pecking order, but woe betide any outsider who ventured to join in. These were the women who had lived through the War years, often suffered crushing losses, hardships, and somehow survived. They were resilient, determined, indomitable types. They were sharp-tongued, not known for their tact, but their hospitality was legendary, their generosity almost ridiculous.
I have a soft spot for such women and several of these matriarchs appear in my books, often as key supporting characters. The Dark Side introduces us to Grace Richardson, Nathan Darke’s housekeeper and de facto grandma to his small daughter, Rosie. Grace is an employee, but the alpha male and super-dommy Nathan knows better than to mess with her. She rules his household with a rod of iron.
Another example is Annie Boothroyd who features in Spirit. Annie lives on a remote farm on the bleak Yorkshire moors. She’s a simple soul, not accustomed to the modern world but neither is she averse to finding out about it. She befriends the heroine of the story, welcomes her into her home, and is more than willing to tell her it like it is. In this excerpt she is making her presence felt and dishing out the good advice.
Matt says nothing. Annie picks up the discarded letter and scans the page again. She puts it down and looks at me.
"He sounds to have been a right nasty bugger, this Bill Findlay."
"You could say that."
"He's caused you a lot of trouble, a lot of upset. You and your mum."
"So, why let ‘im win? If you let yerself think it's too late, and that the bother ‘e caused can't be fixed, then ‘e's still doin’ it. Even now that ‘e's locked up, ‘e's still controllin’, still abusin’."
"It's not him. It's her. I can't forget that she chose him over me. She believed him, not me."
"She knows she got it wrong. She says she's sorry." Annie taps the sheet of paper with her finger to emphasise her point.
"That's right." Matt seems to agree with Annie's take on things. "He was a manipulator. He was good at messing with your head, your mum's head. He had to be, to get what he wanted from both of you."
"But, she was an adult. I was only a child. And she was my mum. My mum. She should have known, she should have stuck up for me." I'm sobbing again, the grief and anger at my mother's betrayal as fresh and brutal now as it was on the night I ran away from home. I'm still that frightened, desperate child, still begging to be helped, to be believed. To be safe.
"Beth, listen to me. You remember Mick, how he confused you, made you believe things that weren't true? How he twisted things and made you think that I might hurt you?" Matt's tone is low, soothing, but with an edge of seriousness to it. He means me to listen to him, to take notice, I twist in his lap to meet his gaze.
"I never believed Mick. He was just insane, rambling."
"Yes, but he put the ideas there, planted the doubts and it didn't take much then. You saw something, something that wasn’t really incriminating, but you misconstrued it because he led you down that path, My guess is this Bill Findlay did much the same thing to your mum. She was a victim too."
"I'm not sure..."
"Okay, but just think about it, that's all I ask. I'm glad you gave me another chance even though Mick had poisoned your mind. Your mum's asking for another chance, a chance to perhaps make things right between you."
Annie gives an exasperated snort. "As a rule I don't 'ave much time for folk as are allus tellin' others what they ought to do. Folk should just mind their own business, that's what I reckon. But sometimes, you just have to say it like it is. An' this is one o' those times. You need to talk to ‘er. Talkin' an’ listenin', that'll be what puts this right. Not hangin' on to some bastard's lies as though they was gospel, excuse my French." Annie plants her elbows on the table and holds my gaze, her expression as stubborn and as resolute as I have ever seen it. "You mark my words, lass, as one as cares about you. Me an' this young man o' yours, we want what's right for you. You can 'ave yer family back, an' you ought to be takin' it. Grabbin' it. Don't let 'im win."
"You think I should get in touch with her?"
"Aye, I do."
"You too?" I turn my head to look up at Matt.
"Yeah. I reckon you'll regret it if you don't. What if she moves again, and you lose touch, miss this opportunity? You can't let that happen."
"Let me read the letter again." Annie hands me the sheet.
As I re-read the letter Matt's phone buzzes on the table. He glances at the words flashing there. "Email, from James. That was quick." He taps it, and I'm conscious that he's reading the screen as intently as I'm studying my mother's words. He lets out a low whistle.
"What? What does he say?"
"It seems our Mr Findlay was a member of a paedophile network, one of the organisers in fact. He supplied thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pornographic images to his grubby little mates. The police were onto him and arrested him in a massive purge they did three years ago. He must have realised what was about to happen and he tried to get rid of the stuff but they seized his computer and managed to retrieve the files he deleted. They found thousands of pictures, and correspondence with other men in his network going back years. It was enough to send him down, along with twenty two other members of their little circle. They all got between two and seven years. His was one of the longer sentences.” He smiles at me. “Good old British justice."

Spirit, by Ashe Barker

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Map of My Heart - #geography #home #settings

Massachusetts map
Adapted from

By Lisabet Sarai

I don’t just write stories. I write places. That’s one of the signature characteristics of my writing—my tendency to set my tales in specific locations, and to bring those settings to life. One of my readers said once that in my books, the setting is almost another character. I think that’s a reasonable observation.

In most cases, I have some experience with the places I choose, either as an inhabitant or a tourist. My first novel was set in Thailand, my second in Boston, my third in Los Angeles, my fourth in Pittsburgh—all places I’ve lived at one time or another. I’ve also published novels set in France, Guatemala, India, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, and, recently, a series of shorts called Asian Adventures.

Very little of my work unfolds without at least a mention of where it’s happening. I enjoy the variety of writing new places almost as much as I like traveling. However, I find myself returning again and again to locations in Massachusetts, the state where I grew up and where I lived for several decades before moving to Asia.

In Miranda’s Masks, the heroine lives in the nineteenth century Boston district of Beacon Hill, more or less in the same apartment I rented there for a glorious year and half. When Miranda admires her surroundings, she’s basically echoing my own feelings:

Miranda felt delightfully free as she strolled down Charles Street, enjoying the afternoon. It was only May, but already the trees were in full leaf, dappling the brick sidewalks with patterns of shadow. Girls passed her in tank tops and shorts, legs and arms bare and already burnished with sun. She felt warm in her long-sleeved pullover and denim overalls.

She loved this district, with its historic buildings and narrow lanes. Most of the townhouses dated from the middle of the nineteenth century. They offered a delightful jumble of architectural detail—wrought-iron balconies, fanlight transoms, stained glass, mullioned windows, Corinthian columns. Many of the brick-fronted buildings were draped with ivy. Some were traversed by aged trunks as thick as her wrist, twining around doors up to the many-chimneyed roofs. The tall windows offered glimpses of chandeliers, Oriental carpets, Siamese cats, and bookshelves that stretched floor to ceiling.

In Beacon Hill, gas lamps lined all the streets, burning day and night. Her own apartment looked out on a private alley, flanked by ivy-hung brick walls and lit by gas lights. Miranda appreciated the irony of her living in an environment that dated from the same period as her research. Perhaps, she sometimes mused, I had a previous life as a Victorian matron.

Most of Beacon Hill was residential, but Charles Street was lined with shops and caf├ęs. There were many vendors of books and antiquities. Miranda loved to rummage through the crowded, chaotic shops, savoring the atmosphere of the past, although she rarely made a purchase.

She entered one of these places now, a dim, comfortable space half below street level. She had to duck her head as she entered. A silvery bell tinkled to announce her arrival.

The proprietor, an energetic, fussy old man with wire spectacles, knew her by sight.

Hello, hello,” he said as he emerged from a backroom. “Can I help you find anything today?”

Miranda smiled. “No, thank you. I’m just browsing at the moment.”

Well, if I can be of any assistance, just let me know.”

Miranda wandered happily through the shop. It was much larger than it first appeared, with several rooms stretching backward into the building. The front room, near the street, was crowded with furniture of obsolete categories, armoires, commodes, carved dressing tables surmounted by triple mirrors. There were other rooms with porcelain, jewelry, cutlery, iron fittings, tarnished brass.

There really was a shop like that, just down the street from my front door. I loved browsing there.

The Witches of Gloucester is a love letter to another of my favorite Massachusetts areas. Cape Ann, north of Boston, is a rugged promontory jutting out into the frigid Atlantic. The Essex River estuary and the complicated coastline create multiple beaches, inlets, bays and swamps. The city of Gloucester itself has a long history as a port and trading hub. It still has an active fishing fleet, manned by the Italian and Portuguese inhabitants whose families have lived there for generations.

Emmeline, one of the witches in the title, has fled to the city after a messy breakup with her boyfriend. The place she lives is based on a picturesque little cottage on Inner Harbor that I noticed on one of my trips to Gloucester.

Emmeline perched on the rail of her tiny porch, watching the gulls wheel and swoop among the masts crowding the sky. A man in a knit cap and tall rubber boots balanced in a dingy, shouting to someone who looked like his twin back on the wharf. One of the town’s many churches rang six PM, but the sun still rode high above the inner harbor. Honeysuckle blossoms growing across the narrow bay scented the air, mingling with the closer odor of raw fish.

She loved the sea, always had. Renting a cottage right on the water, a space of her own where she could work on her dissertation in peace and privacy – that had been her one dream after the nasty break-up with Tim. Okay, so the place was hardly more than a shack, one room plus a cramped bath with a cold shower, but it was painted lemon yellow and had pansies in the box beneath its one front window. Not to mention this back porch, the ideal place for her to hang out and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean. At night, little waves lapped at the pilings that supported the rear half of the building, lulling her to sleep. It was hard to imagine an environment more conducive to study.

My gay paranormal romance Necessary Madness is a much darker book than either of the above. Kyle, the eighteen year old hero, has devastating prescient visions he cannot control, about disasters he cannot prevent. His uncontrolled power is slowly driving him insane. The story takes place in the gritty, industrial city of Worcester, about fifty miles west of Boston, and in the hamlet of Petersham in the Quabbin Valley, a rather haunted locale.

Here’s a snippet set in Worcester:

It was still early. The sun was just peeking over the roofs of the apartment blocks and triple deckers that lined the street. Only one or two cars passed him as he made his way along the sidewalk. Crisp leaves fluttered around his ankles, then scattered in a chill gust that sliced through his jacket as though it were made of paper. He hardly noticed. Darkness was brewing in his mind, black whirlpools flecked with points of flame. He knew the signs. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the package store up ahead, the light in its barred window indicating that it was open despite the hour.

A pint of Seagram’s, please.” When he saw Kyle’s money, the grizzled clerk didn’t bother to ask for ID. In two minutes, Kyle was back on the sidewalk, drinking deeply from the brown-bagged bottle. The vodka seared his throat, familiar pain that made him feel slightly better. The monstrous shapes shifting behind his eyelids subsided. He headed up the Belmont Street hill towards the downtown area. Somewhere he’d find a quiet bridge or a vacant lot, where he could hide and drink until he drowned the demons cavorting in his brain.

By the time he reached the I-290 overpass, he was staggering. He tripped and slammed into a wizened black woman toting her groceries, knocking her hat onto the sidewalk. “Ah, sorry, ma’am,” he slurred, giggling as he tried to replace the absurd pillbox on her grey curls.

Crazy honky bum! Get your filthy hands off me!”

Um, really, I apologise…” But she was already gone. He fell against the railing, still chuckling, and leant over to watch the cars whizz by, blurs of bright colour. He tilted the bottle to his lips, then realised it was already empty. “Fuck!” His drunken hilarity evaporated. He held the useless thing over the highway and released it. The clash of its shattering, the squeal of brakes as cars tried to avoid the spray of broken glass, gave him an odd satisfaction. Maybe for once I’ll cause the disaster, instead of being a helpless spectator.

And here’s a bit from Petersham, which hopefully captures a bit of the slightly creepy feeling of the place (which I am sure Sacchi will know well):

The afternoon was clear but cold. There’d be frost tonight. Kyle could tell by sniffing the air. He swung out the driveway and turned left, heading back up Quail Hollow Lane towards the village centre.

He strode along the gravel road, snug in his warm clothing, humming a Christmas song. His breath hung in white clouds in front of his face. He reached Main Street—Route 32—and considered turning around. The shadows were getting longer by the minute, though a few rays of sunlight still slanted through gaps in the trees. Moving felt so good, though—his lessons with Elspeth involved long hours of virtual immobility. He kept going, driven by restless energy, past the Congregational and the Baptist churches, the shuttered country store and the white-shingled houses clustered around the village green.

His eyes adapted to the dimness as dusk approached. He didn’t realise how late it had become until he heard the bell in one of the churches behind him chime five.

Damn! Elspeth will have my hide. Kyle wheeled around and began to retrace his steps at a faster pace.

The two-lane road was lonely and mostly empty. A pickup truck clattered by, laden with metal scrap, then vanished into the gloom. It was much colder now that the sun had disappeared completely. Kyle hurried along, his shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets.

I even set one story, Almost Home, in the rural western Massachusetts town where I lived for twenty plus years. This MMF holiday tale takes place during one of New England’s famous blizzards, in a house modelled after my neighbors’ place across the street.

Suzanne had never seen stars so bright. The night sky was a black bowl above them, studded with blazing jewels. The snow blanketing the yard gleamed with some faint inner radiance. At the edges of the property, evergreens clustered in deeper shadow like silent sentinels.

She took a deep breath of the crystalline air, so cold and sharp it hurt her lungs. The tiny hairs inside her nose stood on end. Her earlobes felt like icicles. From the neck down, though, she was bathed in delicious warmth. The bizarre contrast almost made her giggle.

Smooth, hard muscle brushed her thigh. After a moment, roving fingers skittered across her lap and burrowed into her pubic fur. A fiery bolt of lust struck her core.

Gino!” she scolded. “Behave!”

Why should I?” asked her lover, rubbing his body against hers under the surface of the water. “Harry doesn’t mind. Do you?”

The lanky blond on Gino’s other flank grinned. “Not at all. Long as you keep up what you’re doing over here, that is.”

Harris had untied his ponytail. His golden locks flowed over his shoulders, darkening to sepia where wet. With his thin face and chiselled features, he looked like some warrior ascetic, a knight on a quest for some sacred prize. Suzanne could understand why Gino found him attractive. She wondered whether he really was one-hundred percent gay.

Leaning back against the redwood wall and closing her eyes, she allowed the peace of the night to enfold her. Her limbs were heavy. Her heart felt as though it was about to overflow.

The growl of motors and a rattling of metal reached her ears. Gino’s solar-heated hot tub was at the back of the house, away from the street. Still, the faint noise shattered the intense quiet of the snow-smothered night.

Ploughs,” said Harris, cocking his head in the direction of the sound. “At last.” He pointed to the cloudless sky. “Looks like they were wrong about more snow, though.”

These aren’t my only stories set in Massachusetts. Chemistry takes place in Cambridge. Mastering Maya is another Boston tale. The Understudy is set at a summer theatre in the Berkshires, the range of hills on the western border of the state. Rough Weather takes place on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard. I’m sure if I thought a bit more deeply, I’d come up with other examples.

Living overseas, I don’t really miss much about the United States, but the New England landscape is an exception. Even though I left Massachusetts more than fifteen years ago, it still has a place in my heart. Not to mention in my fiction.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Every Story Deserves a Good Dose of Chaos

Since I just got back from three weeks holiday in the States, chaos is the perfect topic for today’s post. I never come home to an ordered world. I always come home to chaos because I almost always leave in chaos – never mind that I always swear to myself that THIS will be the time I will head out the door with my world well ordered and pristine. It hasn’t happened yet, though I am ever hopeful. 

It’s amazing how much I can overlook when I’m writing. I’m always reminded of that when I come home from holidays. Usually, because I write till the last possible minute before I pack and get myself out the door, the house looks like a bombsite by the time I actually do get out the door. That, of course, means when I get back home all refreshed and anxious to get down to serious writing again, it still looks like a bombsite. 

Usually I’ve fantasized about that moment all the while I’m on holiday and all through the journey back home – that fabulous moment of being back in my own space with just me and the laptop and words… lots of lovely, delicious, inviting words waiting to be written and shaped and infused with story. I never fantasize about the unpacking or the laundry or the clearing up of said bombsite. I never fantasize about making my outer world orderly before I get about the business of being creative. In fact, I usually do my best to pretend the unpacking doesn’t exist, at least until I need clean clothes to wear.

It’s not that I don’t like order. I like order a lot. It’s just that my version of order is, well… a bit different. My world seems most ordered when I’m creating chaos. Yup, that’s right. My world seems most ordered when I’m writing fast and furiously and I’m completely in the throes of the story. That always involves creating chaos. And if I’m doing it right, the chaos in my outside world will be completely dwarfed by the chaos of the world I’m writing into existence. 

Then, once the chaos has reached critical mass, I set about restoring order with words put together in sentences, then paragraphs, then scenes, then chapters, and finally whole novels. I do my best to create a world that begins in order, blossoms into seemingly insurmountable chaos, then resolves into an even higher form of order. Isn’t that what story is all about? 

The first thing a writer does is create chaos for her main characters. With no chaos, no conflict, there’s no story. Happy endings are just that – endings. What comes before that happy ending is almost always a voyeuristic romp for the reader into chaos and catastrophe with plenty of anguish thrown in for good measure. All the while the writer turns the bull loose in the China closet and wreaks havoc with hearts and relationships and, well, generally with everything. Writers love it when the situation is just about as chaotic as it can possibly get, when it begins to look like all is lost, and the reader is anguished for the characters and white-knuckle-page-turning, wondering how there can possibly be a happy ending in this mess. It’s at that point that the writer, in ways only writers can, sets about creating a higher order, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Viola! All is restored, love conquers all, and there might even be dancing in the street.

When I look at order and chaos through the eyes of a writer, and through the filter of story, it all makes sense, really. And I find myself less inclined to worry overly much about unpacking right this minute. The chaos hasn’t yet reached critical mass. And eventually, when it finally does and I turn my attention back to the world outside my head, it’ll all get sorted, one sock, one shirt, one pair of trousers at a time. And all the while I’m creating order in my outer world, I’m already scheming more chaos in my head. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Theory of Chaos

I have a theory.  It’s a theory that seems good to me.

It’s a theory of chaos.  A theory of good and evil.  

I believe in evolution.  To me its not even a question, it seems obvious.  As I sit here geese are walking and sitting outside my window.  I know now that these animals are dinosaurs.  Among paleontologists, it’s no longer debatable, dinosaurs are not extinct, they never have been.  In fact there are more dinosaurs in the world today than 75 million years ago.  They are one of the most successful animal species of all time.  When I see a chicken strut, I see a tyrannosaur, but much reduced.
Life on earth was designed to do one thing very, very well – it survives.  No matter what you do to this pale blue dot, volcanoes, global warming, asteroids, there is always something that will get through.  The variety of life on this planet is simply magnificent.  As far as we know so far, there is no other planet like it.

And how did this happen?  Nature did this using only one tool – mistakes.

Parents mix their genes, but the copy is never perfect.  There is always something a little off.  A little different from what came before.  What is special is that the mistakes are not resisted, they are incorporated into the creative process itself.

Writers experience something like this.  When you’re working on  a draft, if you’re into it, on a lucky day when the magic is working, things go sideways.  A character surprises you with a speech or does something that’s not in the plan.  Stephen King describes this as driving on a country road in the dead dark of night with only a pair of weak headlights.  You just know what’s in the headlights as it appears.  That’s the zone,  that’s when writing is fun.

Einstein said God does not play dice with the universe.  I think he was wrong.  I think God loves to play dice, or at least God loves to play cards.  God loves cards.  Something like high stakes poker.  You put some cards down, you pick up a few more and whatever shows up in your hand, you make it work.  

Like the Grateful Dead sang –

“Truckin', like a do-dah man.
Once told me "You've got to play your hand"
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a damn,
if you don't lay'em down,

Chaos is a part of this deal we are born into.   

There are tragic stories on the news tonight.  A beautiful sweet corn fed girl from Iowa murdered.  Another murder somewhere else.  People dying in floods.   I think religion is at its worst trying to explain such things.  They can’t be justified.  There is no justice.  Chaos is a part of the deal  we are born into.  We spend our life coming to terms with it.

Think on this – people fear death.  They’ll go to extremes to resist the one thing we know for sure about the future, a day will come when that long black train pulls in for each of us.  We only have a short time on this pale blue dot, teeming with riotous life.  And then what?  An eternity of impersonal existence?  Or what?  Right now, for a little while we have this.  Why not feel all of it all the way?

What are you doing here?  This strange planet with it’s impossible geologic history of near miracles and things that came together so perfectly.  There is no planet like it that we know of and we’ve been looking.  And you get to be here.
How chaotic is that?

Stop the Madness!

“Chaos in your environment leads to chaos in your mind.”

I don’t who coined that phrase, but they were obviously suffering from severe obsessive/compulsive disorder. I’m kind of a conundrum when it comes to that. I like my home to be clean and have things easily accessible, but my home office looks like Fred Sanford’s junk yard. And if you know what I’m referring to, you’re showing your age as badly as I am!

My desk is what could be called organized chaos. There’s a stack of papers that I thought were important enough to keep. I’m sure they have some value, although once in a while I’ll go through them and wonder why I hung onto some of them. I doubt that a credit card receipt for gas from 2016 is good for anything at this point.

My bookcase is crammed full of favorite paperbacks, along with reference books. Here you’ll find “The Shooter’s Bible,” “The People’s Almanac” (especially good for researching period details), a dog-eared copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, and “The KISS Guide to the Kama Sutra.” That last one is not only handy when writing erotic encounters, it’s warmed up a few wintry nights as well. There is also a copy of “Book Publishing for Dummies” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Romance Novel.” I never claimed to have all of the answers.

On top of the bookcase is a stack of all the newspaper stories I’ve published as a freelance writer. I didn’t keep the entire paper, only my stuff. It’s fun to go through these once in a while. I do the same thing with some of my previously published books. I re-read one that I released over 10 years ago and was amazed at how brilliant I used to be. 

I have a manila folder stuffed with things related to writing, whether it’s ideas or newspaper clippings that I wanted to keep as reference material. Some of these meanderings that I jotted down while waiting in the Dentist’s office or during a boring meeting actually aren’t bad. To wit:

“Do you think he’s telling the truth?”

“I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

“You’ll need to speak with my secretary, Singletary.”

Vic gave him a blank look. “Singletary, the secretary?”

“That’s correct.”

“Must get confusing.”

The vibrant bright crystal sky of day gave way to a sensual indigo dusk. A slow hot wind rolled in from the Gulf, bringing the smell of sea water mixed with jasmine.

She looked him up and down. “You’re kind of reckless. I like that quality in a man.”

“That street runs both ways.”

“How far are you going?”

“As far as you want.” 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Maybe this isn't a romance novel?

New York Heat is done.

The first draft anyway.

This nine-month long writing project, currently spanning 181K words, has finally entered the revising stage. New York Heat challenged me in several ways, like, how do I balance ten lead characters? (Yes, ten! Only five are POV characters, though.) How do I ensure that the final sex scene, which essentially has 175K words of build-up, is the most mind-blowing of all? And what do I do about that particularly chaotic scene?

I’d been thinking about New York Heat for years now. It’s a sequel to both Men In The Hot Room and Go-Go Boys of Club 21, the latter of which I published in September 2015. It took three years to come up with a plot that would be worthy of a sequel.

I’ve always thought of Go-Go Boys of Club 21 as a TV series in book format, and so I wanted New York Heat to have the same effect. And so that meant things had to be bigger and better. I couldn’t do the same thing I always did. That was what made the struggle so difficult.

But in the fall of 2017, everything fell in place. Including “that” scene. The chaotic one. The one that is a huge red flag.

New York Heat takes place in the hottest gay nightclub in New York City. And in the latter half of the book, someone brings a gun to the club and starts shooting.

Yup, I have a scene of mass violence. In a romance novel.

Maybe this isn’t a romance novel. Maybe it’s more of a general gay fiction novel (with a LOT of erotic content). After all, it does reflect reflect a lot on what it means to be a gay man in the present day.

To add fuel to the fire, one of the ten lead characters doesn’t survive the shooting.

Yup, I kill a romantic lead. In a romance novel.

I’m fucked. This can’t be a romance novel.

It IS all part of a master plan, though. I’ve got a fantastic romantic redemption story for the surviving half of the couple that will be fully explored in the sequel to this book — New York Ice. (Which will be harder to write and definitely longer. I don’t know why I do this to myself.)

For now, though, as I deal with the chaos I’ve set before myself and as I struggle to find a way out of it, I’ve got a million side projects that I’ve been neglecting while writing New York Heat. I’ll figure out how to calm the chaos. Eventually. I hope.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay smut. Find out more at 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, August 20, 2018

Chaos Is My Bitch

Sacchi Green

I like to think that chaos is my bitch. Or is it the other way around? However you look at it, writers may have exceptionally chaotic minds, but what makes us writers is that we form patterns from the chaos, linking randomly acquired information, images, memories, dreams, into some form of order that can ultimately become a coherent story. Not necessarily universally coherent; stories can take new shapes that most readers find chaotic at first (think of James Joyce’s Ulysses) and many readers never do figure out (think of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.) But Joyce’s works are now considered classics, and so are other outside-the-box works like Kerouac’s and Pynchon’s. New ways are continually being found, or at least tried, to give shape to the chaotic contents of the mind.

It isn’t easy to take control of our chaotic thoughts. The ones that can go together to make a greater whole are often deeply buried, and the mysteries of our neurons are beyond me, but I think the minds of writers, and creators in general, have an above-average ability for one thought to trigger another and one line of thought to lead to more, and on and on.

The process isn’t entirely, if ever, under our own control. Time after time I’ve been amazed at the way bits of information I’d forgotten, or don’t even know how I knew, rise to the surface of my mind to fit into something I’m trying to write. Sometimes it’s like peripheral vision, seeing something out of the corner of the mind’s eye when you’ve taken a break from searching. In bed half asleep, or in the shower, or driving, or walking, suddenly there it is, the link you need, the solution to a plot problem, or the certainty that you have to go back a thousand words and take a different direction. Or even the realization that you need to do more research, which of course leads to more and more ideas.

I read somewhere—yes, that’s the kind of chaotic bit I’ve accumulated over many years—that Einstein’s brain was found, after his death, to have a structure far more conducive to linkage between different areas than the average brain. I know I should look that up to verify it, but it’s almost midnight, and I’m sleepy, so let’s just say that it is, at least, a theory. In any case, it’s fair to say that theoretical physics was Einstien’s bitch. It’s not really fair, I admit, to claim that a mind full of chaotic thoughts is a writer’s bitch. But aren’t there times, when we’re writing, forging links between element of chaos into a story, that we’d like to think so?