persimmonfrost: (caddy)

Here’s the cover art for my upcoming release with Silver Publishing.  It’s by the very talented Lee Tiffin.  Isn’t it a delight?

Devil in the Details: Rafe is a young man with a problem. His lover, a wealthy and powerful man, has become increasingly demanding and possessive, and is occasionally abusive. Gavin is prepared to do anything to get what he wants.

What Rafe wants is a little peace and security. And he wants it with the owner of the new cafe in the neighborhood.

Driven to despair by his lover, Rafe calls on his half-brother, a demon named Grim, to help settle things.

Here’s a taste:

Rafe returned to Maraczek’s café about eight-thirty the next morning. He’d brought a book and was prepared to read while he waited, but Dave saw him and let him in. “They’re cooling. Come on in back and we’ll have milk and a cookie to start the day.”

“Really? In back?”

Dave laughed. “That’s right. The Inner Sanctum! C’mon. I don’t want anyone seeing you in here and rapping on the window.”

They went back into the kitchen and Dave pointed him towards a stool. Then he brought two big glasses of milk to the table. “Chocolate syrup? I make my own. You really should try it.”

“Oh sure, why not?” The butterflies started flitting around inside Rafe’s stomach. Was Dave going to put the moves on him with chocolate syrup and cookies? Rafe had to admit it would be a novel approach and one he could appreciate, but he wasn’t sure if it was such a good idea. Hard on that thought came the certainty he didn’t really care too much if it wasn’t a good idea.

“Why not indeed? It’ll make you feel like a kid again.” Dave fetched a big cobalt bottle, and a plate full of cookies. “These are also known as never-twice-the-same-cookie because I use whatever’s on hand.”

They were huge, heavy cookies that smelled heavenly. “What on earth is in these?” Rafe asked.

“Try it and see if you can figure it out.”

It was something to distract him from the awkward but very exciting attraction he was feeling for Dave. On the first bite he got oatmeal, walnuts and chocolate chips. “Chocolate chip oatmeal, right?”

“That’s a start. What else?”

Rafe took another bite. Dave was watching him closely. Watching him take bites, watching him chew. Rafe nearly forgot how to do both, but then the flavors tugged at him. “Not raisins, but… wait,” There was an almondy quality to the dried fruit. “Dried cherries?”

Dave seemed pleased. He nodded as he mixed chocolate syrup into the milk. “Right. And?”

“Coconut?” Dave confirmed it. “Spices…” There was the rich, friendly aroma of cardamom, the brightness of cinnamon and the warm bite of clove. And more, a whole lot more, but it remained mysterious. “It’s sort of like pumpkin pie spice with some cardamom, but not really,” Rafe said. ” Honestly, that’s as far as my thinking takes me.”

Dave patted his arm and Rafe almost shivered. He liked touching Dave far too much for his own good. “You did really well. There are some sunflower and chia seeds in there, and the spice is my own garam masala blend today with some extra cardamom because I love the stuff. The last batch I made with bits of crystallized ginger, and orange flower water. The next one? Who knows?” He grinned and took a big bite of his cookie.

Rafe sipped his chocolate milk and was again distracted from watching Dave by the flavors. “What’s in this?”

“Just chocolate syrup.”

“Oh no, there has to be something else.”

“Nope. That’s what it tastes like when you use real cane sugar and very good raw cocoa.”

“It’s amazing. It’s got this… I don’t know what to call it.” Sensation was coming at him far too fast; he was having a hard time sorting it all out.

“It’s rich and it’s a little musky, fruity, and kind of warm, isn’t it?”

“Yeah! Man this is good. You should sell this.”

Dave reached out and ran his finger over Rafe’s upper lip. “Chocolate milk moustache,” he said with a chuckle.

This time Rafe did shiver a little.

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persimmonfrost: (caddy)

William Shakespeare

Yesterday I finished a first draft of “Call Me But Love” which is a collection of four riffs based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but focusing on the romantic relationship between Romeo and Mercutio.  I need to put it away for a while because I’m sick of looking at it.  I’m getting nowhere fast on my contemporary romance novel “Will Work for Food” so I put that aside as well; I find that letting things marinate a bit helps me a lot when I go back to the story.

But I have to work on something, so I pulled out “Variations on a Theme By Dickens,” a novel length collection of five stories all based on Dickens’A Christmas Carol.”  Like “Call Me But Love” it comes out of a genre in fanfic known as “X Things That Never Happened To _____”  It’s one of my favorite fan fiction genres, and it’s rather like the musical genre of theme and variations.  I think it’s a shame it’s not more used in mainstream fiction, and both “Call Me But Love” and “Variations on a Theme By Dickens” are nods to that genre and an attempt to make it more mainstream.

Charles Dickens

In the latter, novel-length collection, four of the stories are Dickens-era historicals and one is contemporary, but they’re all quite different.  The first is told from the point of view of one of the Cratchit children.  The second which is in a tie for my favorite of the group, is “The Atherium” a steampunk fantasy with a rather engaging romance.  The fourth is the contemporary retelling, and this is my other favorite because it’s mean and funny and a little romantic, but not in a sappy way.  It’s about adults who make mistakes and get involved in silly or inappropriate relationships.  And the last one is a letter to Dickens from a former employer.

You noticed there’s no number three, didn’t you?  Because I’m in the middle of rereading it now, and I’m not happy with how slow the opening is.  It picks up about halfway through the story, but that’s not good enough.  I don’t want something that brings the momentum of the first two stories to a crawl.  It’s entitled “David Tarried at Jerusalem” and those of you who know your Bible might well guess at the theme.  It’s a kind of romance, but one that you know isn’t going to end well for anyone.  I need to find a way to make it pop right from the get-go.  Unfortunately it’s the one that’s been kicking my butt since I started the project.

However, that’s not your problem, gentle readers, it’s very much mine.  I will succeed; I just need to kvetch about it occasionally.  So to thank you for putting up with my ramblings, here’s an excerpt from “The Aetherium” the steampunk fantasy romance from “Variations on a Theme by Dickens.”

“Mr. Scrooge?’

“You have the advantage of me, sir,” Scrooge replied without looking up from the worn journal splayed across his desk. Time would tell if the stranger was worth the interruption.

The lightly accented voice replied, “If you please, sir, my name is Edwin Mayweather.”

Had Scrooge been afflicted with a sense of humor, he might have framed a reply along the lines of “And if I do not please, who shall you be, then?” But humor was a vice which Scrooge did not count on the debit side of his ledger. In fact, he counted no vices in that column having long become immune to lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath and the rest. As for greed, he felt that it was an extreme position, in no way related to his wise and thrifty ways. He felt he did not so much love money as need it, as a man needs air and water. One could not live without money, at least not as God intended, so the need for it was hardly sinful.

No vices, a few mistakes, nothing more. His considered opinion was that the seven deadly sins could be neatly distilled down into a lack of good, common sense. And common sense he had in abundance.

“What do you want?” he asked, eyes still fixed on the words before him, seeking a clue, always seeking…

“You were recommended to me by Mr. James Tillman, sir, as a man with a good eye for value.”

Value was one of the holy words in Scrooge’s litany, and heeding the name and word of Tillman had never failed to enrich him. “Is that a fact?” Finally he looked up and found that the man standing before him was of middling years, quite tall and startlingly handsome with vivid blue eyes, dark hair lightly shot with grey, and a complexion the color of lightly smoked meerschaum . “Have a seat, Mr. Mayweather,” he said, closing the journal.

Mayweather made himself as comfortable as he could in Marley’s old leather chair. Scrooge never threw anything out, and when the seat of Marley’s chair gave way, he merely put an old account book between it and the cushion and pronounced it “good as new.” The added advantage was that no visitor stayed long in Scrooge’s office. In truth most were disinclined to do so in any event for neither the office with its uniform dark walls, heavy dark furniture and windows so grimy they let in a pitiful amount of light, nor Scrooge himself, a man so much like his surroundings that he seemed to absorb what little light there was, reassured visitors that they were in any wise welcome.

“Now tell me what sort of value we are discussing.”

“A business opportunity, sir. An invention…”

“It isn’t one of those damnable steam-powered contraptions?” he asked, the memory of Robert Cratchit’s horrible death rising up to choke him with horror. Since Robert had been cooked alive in an explosion of one of those steam monstrosities, Scrooge felt a persistent unease at having the Pacioli Accounting Engine on the premises. He did not like steam unless it issued from a tea kettle, and only constant reassurances from Ada Cratchit, who Scrooge now employed to maintain her husband’s invention, and the certainty that he would lose money by going back to using clerks instead of the engine, kept him from selling it.

“Not at all, Mr. Scrooge. It is rather a case of the electronic stimulation of crystal which produces a luminiferous aether. The aether in turn…”

“Is it an expensive process?” Scrooge asked.

Mayweather shrugged eloquently. “It has been somewhat dear,” he admitted. “And now that I am prepared to begin public testing, I shall need a plentiful supply of materials with which to work. It would not do to fall short while presenting my invention to the world. As with all things of this nature, the investment of monies is the only way to ensure that one will make money.”

“Which is why you came to me.”

“Precisely. While I have already created Voltaic cells with copper and nickel the process would be greatly enhanced by the use of silver and gold. And the crystals do not withstand more than two or three uses …”

Scrooge raised a hand. “Pray do not attempt to make me familiar with the process for I have no head for the science of it. Tell me only how I might profit from helping you. What is this invention?”

“I call it “The Aetherium.” I have built a machine which allows the user to communicate with the dead.”

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Right from the get-go, you kind of think "This can't end well" and yet magic... schools of magic, that's the stuff of pleasant daydreams and good triumphing over evil, right? Well not so much. There's not a lot of jolliness going on here.

Quentin Coldwater believes that somehow magic will make his life better, richer, happier. He's always believed in magic, specifically a magical world called "Fillory" which obsesses him. When he's invited to attend a school of magic called "Brakebills, he's overjoyed. This is it, this is the first day of the rest of his life. His real life. Only it's not Fillory and it's not an invitation into wonder and enchantment. It's a lot of hard, frustrating work for what appears to be very little return. And in fact, by the end of his five years at Brakebills, you have to wonder if magic really means much in the greater scheme of things. Magicians don't seem very happy, but whether that's an effect of being magicians or whether they're magicians because they're unhappy is something we never quite work out.

Grossman has created a clever metaphor for the years of late adolescence and early adulthood in which we are all fairly certain that there is something waiting for us just beyond our line of sight, and if we can only find the right path, our lives will be perfect. The magical world of Fillory -- a kind of promised land to the characters -- is a crazy, pointless, dangerous place. Some find their place there, more do not. Pretty much like life.

I suppose you can read this as a fantasy, clearly many people do. But mostly I think it's a coming-of-age story and not a particularly joyous one either. And yet it's compelling, and well worth reading.

As a side note I would suggest that you search for "Fillory" at Wikipedia. You'll find links there to a lot of very interesting material.

The Magicians: A Novel

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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