Sunday, September 25, 2016

September 25: Why it's such an important date.

I have so many reasons to celebrate September 25, it's kind of an embarrassment of riches. It was the date I met my first husband 29 years ago, which took me on the adventure of a lifetime.

It is Hal Sparks' birthday, a man who has broadened my perspective and made me reach for the stars, believing I could actually touch them one day if I really tried.

It is a date that has brought so much hope and goodness, love and friendship into my life that I always take the time to honor it each and every year. But there's one very important reason why I decided to release my new book MASKED IN THE MUSIC on this date.

The biggest reason it is so special is that is on this date in 1980 that I met my best friend, my BFF, my bestie, my brother-from-another-mother (God, I sound super white when I say that). The Universe kindly dropped a kind, generous, funny, intelligent, loving person into my life right before it ripped my dad right out of it. This was wise of the Universe. I don't think I would have made it otherwise.

I was ten years old when I met Jeff. I had just moved, AGAIN. I think by the time I was 10 we had moved at least ten times. When I think back to my early childhood, I can mark years basically by where we were living at the time. We weren't military, we just moved a lot. In 1980, this meant we moved from my hometown of Abilene to Amarillo - where my mom and dad had met and fallen in love. He had kids there from another marriage, and my sister had moved there - which seemed to be the biggest impetus of us moving anywhere.

Despite the trauma I endured when I was four, I was a pretty outgoing child who didn't give a rat's ass what people thought of me. I had self-confidence out the wazoo. I was a good student, and, most importantly, I had the unconditional love of a devoted dad whose supportive voice was just loud enough I could ignore all the negative things others might have said about me. I eagerly participated in life, even if it made me a gigantic dork to do it. If you ask my bestie about "Country & Western" day, when I showed up in a denim dress, boots with a wooden purse, he can tell you the inner horror he felt for me. Back then the whole gay thing was way under wraps, but if it hadn't have been, I'm sure the words, "Oh, gurl," might have escaped his lips.

He told me years later that part of it was the fact I wasn't afraid to be seen, and being closeted didn't afford him the same liberties, but let's face it. I probably looked ridiculous. My school photo from the year we met was a frizzy, dizzy mess. I wanted curly hair for my pictures, so I slept with curlers in my hair, which was losing a war with prepubescence and all the oily, stringiness that implies. Needless to say, it didn't come out well.

Like most girls, the most negative stuff always came from me. And it got really bad in 1980, when I arrived in a new school where I wasn't able to win people over like I had in previous years. Recess, which I used to rule with all the creative gameplay I came up with, was traded in for P.E., a class that became my nemesis all throughout the rest of my school career. It even factored *heavily* into my dropping out of high school six years later. (If you've read THE LEFTOVER CLUB, you got a little insight into the kind of abuse I suffered from a coach, which made me ditch high school and everything that came with it like a bad habit. Instead I took my GED test when I was 18 - passing with higher averages than high school students, I might add - and taking college classes later.)

(I'm unstoppable, I just have a low tolerance for needless suffering.)

The transition into fifth grade at Eastridge wasn't an easy one. Because of the onslaught of puberty I had developed early, with all the skin problems and weird hair growth that came with. The boys, who were just starting to notice girls at this age, had plenty to say about it. The strongest pack in our fifth grade class was convinced that I had been held back, which was the worst insult anyone could lob at me. I was a straight-A student. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that I was one of the smartest in the class. But because of how I looked, people started to question it. I honestly didn't know how to handle it. I wasn't sure I'd make any new friends there until the day the boy sitting in front of me turned around to talk to me about politics.

We were progressive even then. Seriously what ten-year-old asks another ten-year-old, "If you were old enough to vote for president, which one would you vote for?"

That neither of us came from politically active families makes this even odder.

Little did I know at the time, the Universe was positioning someone into my life I'd need very badly and very soon. My dad died December of that year, and in an instant all the positive voices in my world were silenced. My dad was my main caregiver. He was older and disabled, so he stayed home with me while my mom worked. Losing him left a huge hole in my life. I became a latchkey kid in 1980, coming home to an empty house at 3:30 in the afternoon, and remaining on my own until I went to bed later that night, before my mom returned from her job at a factory closer to midnight.

I had to fill my own time. I had to make my own meals. I had to parent myself with all the wisdom and insight I'd developed by age ten. Most of all I had to manage staying alone in an empty house, a young kid who suddenly had the entire basis of her emotional security ripped out from under her. It took until last year for me to realize that I had been suffering through PTSD throughout my childhood, that was neither identified or treated. The first trauma, what happened when I was four, was never addressed or dealt with. Then my dad died, and, being strong, southern stock, I was expected to just roll with the punches because life sucks sometimes and there's nothing you can do. "Trust God," they'd tell me.

But God had taken my beloved Daddy away. I had major beef.

Had I not had a kind, conscientious friend, who would call me every single night to ease the loneliness, fear and uncertainty, who knows what might have happened? With Jeff I didn't have to be an instant adult. I could be a kid. I could be silly even at one of the darkest moments of my life. I could play. We bought and listened to records, which broadened my love for music. I went to the movies, which I had never really done before him. He told me jokes. We laughed for hours about all kinds of jokes. With Jeff I could test these limits.

He was my biggest support when I was floundering at school. During the blasted Presidential Fitness test, when I struggled to run a mile (I was fucking ten, for fuck's sake) he was the one who trotted back out to run with me, which inspired a scene in MY IMMORTAL between two of my principle characters. In fact, he's inspired a lot of my characters, including Brian from the aforementioned title, THE LEFTOVER CLUB.

We were the leftovers. And that was usually fine by the both of us.

My friendship with Jeff bloomed even though my mother moved us AGAIN. I ended up across town in yet another school, where the whole boy-girl thing got even worse. This was bad enough, but phone calls kept us connected all the way until my mom decided once again to follow my sister back down to Abilene. I was devastated. Not only was I leaving my first major crush behind, but I was forced to leave my very best friend. We vowed that we would keep in contact, writing each other.

We were twelve by then, and by then we were both tired of friends moving away and having to start all over with someone else. So the letters came faithfully every single week, sometimes two at a time. I would run out to the porch whenever I knew the mailman had come, excited to see that tell-tale green and white envelope that could only mean one thing: Muppet stationary. My mother, guaranteed, wasn't getting any mail on Muppet stationary. That meant it was just for me. When you're twelve and you have something just for you, particularly when everything else was routinely taken away, it's elixir to the soul.

We both kind of forget how remarkable it is that we sustained our friendship long-distance for so long. We've been friends thirty-six years, and have only lived in the same town eleven of those years. We had letters for the rest, which makes Beaches an even HARDER movie to watch for the both of us.

By the 90s we traded handwritten letters for instant messages, which is about the best thing ever. Now we have texts and Face-time, where I can bring him with me wherever I go. (And I do.)

It is because of him I became such a passionate ally for LGBT causes, even though I think I was wired to do that regardless. Because of him, though, I had a reason.

So when it came time to write my first M/M love story, something he was owed after reading 33 books that were all based on straight relationships (including straight sex), there was no other day I COULD release it than September 25. I'd have to check the anniversary list but I'm pretty sure year 36 is paper, right?

MASKED IN THE MUSIC, which released today, is my anniversary gift, and love letter, to my bestie, who has been with me through thick and thin and literally saved my life on more than one occasion. It was an honor to write this story, learning so much about his journey by walking in his shoes. He was my consultant throughout the whole thing, so I knew I was on the right path. Some of his experiences even made it into the book, in the details that helped me color in this new world. This book literally wouldn't have happened without him.

To Jeff, thank you for everything. You not only saved my life, you gave me a life worth saving. I wouldn't be who I am without you. Love you forever and always. Happy anniversary. Here's to 36 more years. <3 <3 <3

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Your Sneak Peek Saturday: "When there is no ending." (You have been warned.)

If there's one thing I suck at, it's writing an ending. That's not a indictment against my skill, by the way. It's not that I don't plan them out in advance and build towards them with patience and keen diligence. I'm a professional writer with decades of storytelling experience. I can craft an ending. I just don't like to write them. If I write "The End," my time with those characters and that story is done, and sometimes - well, all the time - I'm just not ready to say goodbye.

I don't let go easily of the things I love. Ask anyone.

Way, way, WAY back in the day, I honed my storytelling skill with a growing population of Barbie dolls. I created this whole ongoing soap opera around characters I painstakingly created day by day, story by story. I didn't need to change anyone, I just added to the canvas. Ken and Barbie became David and Laura. When they were settled in marital bliss, I added Superman and Golden Dream Barbie as Robert and Jenny to their world, full of the excitement of new love, with a steady stream of supporting characters in a universe I built one story at a time. And I kept these stories going for *years*. It would take me months to work out a plot. My favorite example of this, mostly because it sticks out most in my mind, is when my model Jenny Gold was kidnapped by her stalker, photographer Kevin Sherwood, in the spring of 1982. He kept her on a private island almost the entire duration of her pregnancy, where he attempted to woo her and win her heart. Kevin was deranged and he thought if she had the baby there, with him, they could start over as a new family even though he wasn't the biological father. Over long, arduous months, Jenny had to get through to her abductor so he could return her to her husband, her daughter, her friends and family, and the entire world who believed she was dead.

Yes, I was twelve at the time I came up with this, but I grew up watching General Hospital. What, really, did you expect?

Day after day I would return to this story and these characters, excited to watch it play out. I would go so far as to tape tissue around her tummy in every so small increments to show the passage of time via her pregnant tummy, which - looking back now - was the mark of a budding screenwriter. Talk about "show don't tell."

I let this whole storyline blossom in real time, and yes, that means over nine months. I knew where I was going with it, but I cranked out that angst by the day as if I didn't. I had just way too much fun in the details of telling the story I didn't want to end. Jenny was one of my all-time favorite characters, wholesome, devoted, down-to-earth, much like my character Rachel grew up to be, and I loved watching her try every single day to fight for herself and her family as she dealt with a man so damaged that he didn't know how to love anyone or truly connect beyond some crazy sick power play.

Ah, me and my damaged men.

He went on to return Jenny home to her husband in time for the baby to be born, and ultimately changed enough and grew to find love again years later. Yes. Years. He had one disastrous marriage with an opportunistic starlet (Bambi) before he met the woman who was so damaged she needed *him* - and they saved each other.

You're going to see a story like that unfold in the near future, methinks.

Honestly I don't know how my crazy Barbie soap opera ended, or if it ever did. If I know me, it didn't officially end, it was merely abandoned. There was always a new story to tell, and I learned from my soap operas that there is no such thing as a happy ending. If your couple finally gets together, you better cut and run because things won't stay happy for long. Happy people make for boring stories. If you want to keep your favorite characters in the forefront, there has to be conflict. Period. That's what keeps you going back time after time. You just have to see how the story ends.

Makes me kind of sad to bid all my characters adieu because that means that excitement is over. N' I don't want it to be. I spent so much time with them and now they have to go away because that's just how books work. They need a beginning, middle and... sadly... an end.

When I got to Book #11, Mogul, I decided to start Stephen-Kinging things. Stephen King, for those who don't know, has callbacks in his books to OTHER books he's written, other places, other characters. It's just a little hidden gem that only the true fans will see and "get", which made me feel special. So I decided if I couldn't indulge my characters beyond a HEA without throwing a lot of drama their way, meaning a never-ending saga with cliffies and frustration galore, they could make guest appearances in books so my fans will know what those characters are up to.

I figure if I want to know, maybe you do too.

I ended up building this universe of interconnected characters. I write a lot about music, so my mogul Graham Baxter shows up on the regular, as do his biggest stars like Vanni Carnevale and Jace Riga. I wrote a book about caterers, so now I have people to cater all of these big events. I created a club just for the kinds of characters I love to write (big girls and the gay men that love them.) Through it all you get peeks at the life beyond the HEAs where I begrudgingly said goodbye to in their own books, simply because I had to abandon the story before it took another rocky turn.

This left me only one rule to abide by: I couldn't change their story. I could add to it, I just couldn't undo what I had already set in stone in previous books, because you know what that means. More books. Lots and lots of books. Books with lots of loose ends that drive many readers of romance up a tree, who expect you to follow two strict rules: write primarily about one relationship and end it happily.

Here's the thing about rules. They're meant to be broken. Story, which is my only master, sometimes demands it.

MASKED IN THE MUSIC was never meant to be just another romance who happened to star two hot men this time around. The thing that plants my butt in the chair is if I have something to add to the conversation about what is going on in our world. After Orlando I knew I had some things to say, particularly about the violent hatred that surrounds our LGBT brothers and sisters. See, I remember quite well leaving a gay bar in Amarillo, Texas, where beefed up macho dickheads in their Douche Trucks surrounded around the joint, yelling epithets and waving baseball bats, ready to do some damage because they thought one group in particular deserved it. You'd think, some twenty years later, our conversation would have evolved. But when so-called men of God use the massacre in Orlando, that some have called the worst terrorist attack since 9/11, to drive this hateful agenda home, you know things are as bad as they ever were.

The conversation still rages on.

When I stepped into the shoes of a young gay man, I knew I couldn't shy away from these painful realities and scary possibilities. And, in true Ginger fashion, I tossed it all in a pile, covered it with gasoline and set it on fire. To change the conversation, the story has to have an impact. And it has to hurt in order to make that impact.

I wasn't afraid to show the consequences of what happens when we allow blind, bigoted hatred to fester. It shattered my heart to realize I needed to risk some of the characters I loved most to do it.

Warnings on books drive me crazy, but I'll break my own rules here and offer you one. (Again, story demands it.) Someone you came to love in a previous book will pay the ultimate price when everything explodes at the end of MASKED. And to raise the stakes I make sure *everyone* is there during this critical moment. Vanni, Graham, Andy, Rachel... No matter what book you read - all of your favorite characters are present when the shit hits the fan.

You want a warning about my books? Here it is: From now on, all standalone books that have a complete story are part of a bigger book universe. If you want to know more, the "more" is out there. If you want to stop at the HEA, or HFN, then you have that option too. (Mostly. As always, I cannot and will not ensure each book ends with a HEA.)

Welcome to my universe. Enter if you dare.

Sneak Peek from MASKED IN THE MUSIC, which releases THIS SUNDAY, September 25th.


I met the guys at Graham’s downtown office at eight-thirty in the morning. We were ushered into the enormous waiting room with a view stretching all the way to the ocean. The furniture was fine leather, and the walls were covered with photos of Graham’s twenty-year success as a record mogul. There were platinum albums from all his biggest acts, including Dreaming in Blue, Jace Riga, Jordi Hemphill, and Eli Blake. There were photos from the hit TV show he produced, Fierce, and the up-and-coming acts he had discovered there, like Jonah Riley and Lacy Abernathy. There were also movie posters of several award-winning movies he produced, as well as photos taken with heads of state and A-list celebrities.

All of these documented his years of successes, showing that he had the Midas touch when it came to popular music and popular culture.

This could be our future.

I was increasingly nervous as each minute ticked by. Though he tried to play it cool, one look in those stunning eyes of his showed Tony was feeling the pressure too. In another world I may have reached for his hand, to give it a reassuring squeeze.

But Lando sat between us. As always.

Finally Graham’s assistant called us into his office. Like the waiting room, it had a spectacular view facing west all the way to the Pacific. More photos and awards lined the walls, with every statuette from every major awards show lining his bookshelves.

And then there was Graham, sitting behind his large desk that was littered with personal photos, including his wife Maggie. He stood as we entered.

Honestly, he was a beautiful man. He was tall and trim, his lithe body wearing his forty-plus years every bit as well as he wore that thousand-dollar designer suit. When he reached for my hand, I could feel the power within him, confidence earned over decades of carving his way in this world. When he looked at me, I could tell he was assessing everything and missed nothing. I felt a tremor run through my body, which I’m sure he felt. His mouth turned upwards in a slight smile.

“Thank you all for coming,” he said as he sat, giving us permission to do the same. We had already sent over a press kit, which he had open on his desk in front of him, studying our bios and pictures. One of Tonos de Oros’s independently produced CDs, which had been made before I came along, played in the background.

“Thank you for inviting us,” Tony replied.

“I won’t waste a whole lot of your time,” he said as he turned off the music. You could almost hear the air escaping from every single one of our balloons. “As I already told Rudy some weeks back, I felt the band was a little too generic for my label.” He handed over the CD. “There was nothing special about it, nothing that distinguished it from the rest of the bar bands out there.”

I could feel Lando bristle from two chairs away. I prayed he’d keep it together just long enough for Graham to make his point. He didn’t call us in here just to tell us he wasn’t interested.

Graham leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped together. “But something changed in Las Vegas. I saw a glimpse of what you could be. Sure it was still banal covers and live karaoke for a bunch of easily entertained drunk gamblers. But every now and then, I felt the music trying to break out of the mold. A lot of that has to do with Rudy,” he said, glancing at me. “Your talent on the guitar, especially given your age, is undeniable. The problem as I see it is that you don’t know yet who you are.”

He glanced at the rest of the band. “I can forgive Rudy’s ignorance as a byproduct of his age. But for the rest of you, you have to purposely decide what kind of music it is you want to play. You can’t just grit your teeth through a pop song, waiting to hit your own solos in the harder stuff,” he added, looking straight at Lando. Every single one of us glanced his way, silently pleading that he not blow his top. “I mean, that’s fine if you’re okay with being some mediocre band that gets by from gig to gig but never plans on going anywhere. Some people play as a hobby, and that’s okay. But I have to tell you. From what I saw in Vegas, I think you’d be selling yourselves short.”

It was the first positive thing he had said. We all pounced on it like the last floating door in the freezing Atlantic.

He stood and walked over to the window. I couldn’t help but marvel how handsome he was, like a movie star himself. “I love this town. I love how it is a melting pot for all kinds of races and cultures. Everyone lives and works side by side, like this sweeping mosaic of humanity. We’re trend-setters. We blaze new paths for the rest of the country to follow. We’re not afraid to be different. I can tell you from experience producing Fierce that is exactly what Middle America wants to hear. There are places where the menu offers nothing but boring old white bread. People hunger for flavor, for spice. For uniqueness and individuality.” He turned back to us. “And for those who are unafraid to give it to them.”

He walked back to his desk. “With Rudy’s inclusion, your band is a lot like Los Angeles. He can play any type of music and I know it’s still him. That’s what I want from Tonos de Oro.”

“How do we do that?” Tony asked, before Lando could say anything.

Graham sat at his desk. “You do that by playing to what makes you so interesting. You’re a family band with a rich Mexican heritage. Your father plays mariachi, for fuck’s sake. Why isn’t there more Latin flavor in your covers?”

Tony was speechless for a moment. “I didn’t want to copy my dad,” he said at last.

“I’m not saying you have to copy anyone,” Graham clarified. “In fact, I advise strongly against it. But that music is in your blood. You’re bilingual. Sing a cover in Spanish. Toss everyone on their ear.”

“Isn’t that going to make us some niche band?” Lando finally asked, with an edge in his voice that I could tell Graham noticed.

“Aren’t you already?” he shot back. Lando’s jaw clenched, but Graham kept going. “When Rudy plays a cover, he doesn’t play it note by note like the original. He uses a little flair, interjects his own personality whenever he gets the opportunity. That is what an artist does. And artists,” he said, referring to his walls and awards, “make hits. They don’t just cover them.”

He leaned forward onto his desk, resting on his elbows. “You show me that kind of artistry, the kind I think that you’re capable of, and I’d sign you in a heartbeat. You’re good. You’re a good, solid rock band. You work well together. You’re all hot as hell and would attract groupies of every age and color.”

I could feel us all exhale in relief at the same time. This was what we had hoped this meeting would yield.

But he wasn’t done.

“The only thing is… I don’t sign ‘good’ acts. I sign great ones.” Again our balloons deflated. “And truth is I could use a great act right about now. I have a hotel in Las Vegas, where we use a lot of live music. I have Fierce, which goes into production again in September. This could put guest acts in front of a worldwide audience numbering in the millions. I’m considering at least three scripts which need scores. And there’s the charity fundraiser at the end of September at FFF, one of L.A.’s hottest night clubs, where all my big acts will be performing. You show me that you can stand out, be different, be uniquely you in a way no other band can copy, and I’ll put you to work, giving you every opportunity you’ve only dreamed of.” He called his assistant into the room. “I know the promoters who hired you for the summer. They tell me you could sign on for eight weekends. I think this is critical for the growth of your band.” His assistant handed him an envelope, which he offered to Tony. “I’ll come and see you at the end of summer, just to see where you are and what you’ve learned.”

“What’s this?” Tony asked.

“Accommodations at my hotel for the next eight weekends. Two suites you can split between you. All expenses paid. Vouchers for the restaurants, and permission to use the stage downstairs in the showroom to rehearse your act.”

We all stared at him dumbfounded. He smiled as he sat back in his chair.

“I don’t mind investing in my talent, especially one that shows as much promise as you do. This is your opportunity to wow me, with zero excuses why you can’t give it one-hundred-percent of your resources. But if I come back in two months and it’s the same ol’ same ol’, any further offers and opportunities with my label will be rescinded.”

We all nodded. We understood. He was giving us the opportunity of a lifetime. He saw us to the door, but held me back for a moment, closing the door between me and my band. He stood close and bent to speak softly, so no one else could hear. “I want you to know that I’m not making this offer because of the band. I’m making it because of you. You’re extraordinarily talented. I could make you a star in less than a year. But you’ve chosen to stay faithful to this band, for whatever reason, and I have decided to trust you. You see something I haven’t yet seen.” Those eyes pierced mine. “I’m counting on you to bring it out of them. If you can get them on board with what you’re doing, great. I’ll make you an offer by the end of summer. If not, then the only offer I can ever make is to you alone. Do you understand, Rudy?”

I nodded, breathless. He was offering me everything I thought I had always wanted. But now, with Tony, I wanted it all. “I won’t let you down, Graham.”

He smiled as he patted me on my shoulder. “Just be yourself, Rudy. That’s all you ever need to be for me.”

He opened the door and pushed me through so I could join my band mates.


MASKED IN THE MUSIC releases September 25th. You can pre-order it now for the discounted price of $1.99. It goes up to regular price after release.

Fair warning... if you need a warning to read a book, this will NOT be the book for you.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sneak Peek Saturday: The Universal Longing

Confession: I was hesitant to write a M/M love story. The reason I was so hesitant is because I didn't feel it was my story to tell. There are plenty of gay writers out there who are brimming with stories to share, inspired by their own experiences, dreams and desires. I never wanted to drown their voice with my own, like only I could add something to the conversation.

But when your long-suffering gay bestie has read 33 of your books about shameless heterosexual conquests, waiting so patiently for the book where he gets characters that he can identify with, love stories that give him his own happily ever after, with unapologetic sex scenes that take the gay character from a wise, asexual friend to a fully realized character all his own, there just comes a point when you just have to pull up your big girl pants and say, "I'll see what I can do."

Truth be told, it wasn't that hard to step into young Rudy Renfro's shoes. And it's not because I've been an LGBT ally and advocate for nearly thirty years, although that probably didn't hurt. And it's not because I am the Queen of Research, who can take apart, examine and put back together the pieces of the human experience with relative efficiency.

No, it was because as a writer it's my job to find the commonalities of the human experience, so readers who don't have these same circumstances, dreams and goals can figuratively walk in the shoes of people they might not have. When your reader can identify with the characters you write, good, bad and ugly, then you've done more than just told a story. You've broadened a perspective.

I like that.

I like it a lot.

So how do I reach a reader who might not know or think they can identify with the journey of an LGBT individual? What universal experience do we all share, that would connect us with someone whose desires are so different from our own?

The first step is realizing that those desires aren't so different after all. We all have our own closets in which we hide, particularly when it comes to relating to the objects of our affection. At some point we have all wanted that one person we thought was too out of our league that we'd languish in unrequited love rather than risk hearing the truth - that our crush could never feel for us the same way we feel for them.

We've all been there, and I've been there more times than I can count. I thought I understood what it felt like to want something so bad you could taste it, never knowing if it'll ever really be yours because the world around you thinks there's something inherently wrong with you that makes you deserve your happily ever after a little less. I've written reams about it from the heterosexual perspective. It took watching America's Got Talent for me to understand it from the gay perspective, when Brian Justin Crum destroyed with his rendition of the song "Creep."

If you identify with this song at all, this version will leave you gobsmacked. This isn't about loving who has chosen not to love you... this is about loving someone who simply cannot love you back the same way. If only 10% of the population is gay, the prospects of your feelings being returned shrink so much that you take quite a risk telling someone you have feelings for them, particularly if you don't know if you're going to get physically harmed for even harboring the thought. Think of how that might feel, to risk telling the person you want or love that you want or love them, and being treated lesser than because of it, like you really are a creep, or that there's something wrong with you, so much so they have to run away from you. That this version of the song dropped into my life when I was writing this particular story is no accident. It helped me understand my character in a way I was struggling to, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I wept openly once that connection was made.

My bestie told me something about growing up gay in the 70s and 80s that I had never considered. He felt alone, like he was the only one who had feelings like this. Of course he would feel that way. It wasn't like he saw his story represented back to him. This was something taboo in the media because of our own peculiar hangups when it comes to sex. So no matter what he did to fit in, there was a part of him he always felt would stand out. How lonely and isolating that must have been, feeling he was the only person in the world like himself. How liberating, then, to find someone who knew the language he happened to speak.

Walking in Rudy's shoes was a privilege. I made him stronger than I ever could have been at nineteen, but I broached that specific vulnerability with the experiences I have had, pining over people who simply couldn't return the favor. In that way, it became a very easy book to write. It became my story to tell.

And if I did my job right, hopefully the readers will identify with his journey, whether they are gay OR straight. This isn't just a M/M gay romance, even though that's there. It's not just about titillating sex scenes with hot guys, even though those are there. It's not about just sex because NONE of my books have ever been just about the sex. Like every other book I've written, it's a life story.

Enjoy this new snippet.


I glanced down at my phone at the missed call from a 323 number I didn’t recognize. That area code meant L.A., and there was really only one phone call I could expect from there. My hands shook as I returned it. I knew who it was the second I heard his voice. This was a good thing, because he didn’t bother introducing himself.

“How are you at songwriting?”

I cleared my throat. “Fair, I guess. I just started.”

“Come to my loft. I want to try something.”

With that, the call ended. I stood staring at my phone for a long moment. It was everything I always wanted, and it was right there in the palm of my hand. Literally. Everything else was forgotten as I raced upstairs.

I was back at Tony’s loft just a little before nine o’clock. Again my hand shook as I knocked on the door. This time, however, Lando did not answer. It was Tony, and the rest of his apartment was empty. Instead candles lit up the darkened space and wine chilled on the coffee table. I practically choked on my own spit. What the fuck did it all mean?

“Punctual,” he commented as he leaned against the door. “I like that. It shows you take things seriously.” He glanced over my more straight-laced clothes, and I cursed myself for not taking the time to change. I really did look like some clueless kid from the O.C.

It was time once again to bluff. I cleared my throat. “It’s a job, right?” I asked, because at that point I wasn’t really sure.

“It’s more than a job,” he replied softly, which made my heart trip happily to my feet. “It’s a calling,” he added as he opened the door wider. He didn’t move away from the door as I stepped inside, which meant I could smell the spicy sent of his cologne as I brushed past. “Make yourself at home,” he said as he followed me further into the room.

I set my guitar case next to the sofa before I sat.

“Wine?” he offered as he poured himself a glass.

“I thought you didn’t want to contribute to the delinquency of a minor,” I shot back.

He chuckled as he sat on the sofa next to me, sprawling in one corner so that he could watch me with those clear eyes as he sipped the pungent red liquid from his glass. “You’re old enough to vote, live on your own, own a gun and die for your country. What’s a little glass of wine?” He paused as he studied me. “You’re a man, right?”

A shiver shot right through me. “Right.”

He poured another glass and handed it to me. I prayed he couldn’t see how my hand trembled as I took it. I sipped gingerly. Merlot was never a favorite, but I needed something to take the edge off of my nerves. That he watched how the glass touched my lips only frayed them even more. I put the glass on the table before I dropped it.

“I hope you don’t mind the candles,” he said softly. “But music is a lover. She deserves to courted. She begs to be seduced.”

His use of the feminine pronoun aside, I found myself thoroughly and completely courted and seduced. But I answered his question anyway with a slight shake of my head. “I don’t mind,” I stammered. He smiled before draining the rest of his glass before putting it next to mine on the table.

“Let me show you what I’ve got,” he said as he reached for some paper with lyrics written in bold handwriting. I scanned the first verse.

I felt you tremble when I touched your hand. One look in your eyes and I know I’m a man. I want to do something I thought I’d never do. Open yourself to me, let me lose myself in you.

My whole body caught fire. I cleared my throat again. “You just wrote this?”

“This afternoon,” he confirmed with that same potent stare. He sat forward, practically leaning over me. “I wanted to circle around the idea of breaking some rules. You know what I mean?” he asked softly as our eyes met.

I nodded. “I think so.”

“Show me,” he commanded in that same soft voice.

Part of me wanted to slip my arms around him and kiss that irresistible pout of his. The other part of me was scared shitless that he could never mean what I thought he meant, that this song was written because of me, because he had felt the same instant electricity I had. There was no way he could mean that, right? He was straight as a fucking arrow, right? He was Tony Ladykiller Rojas, right?

Out of desperation I reached for my guitar, because that had always been my sword and my shield. I played around with the melody until I came up with one that fit the situation I found myself, sitting in a candlelit room, drinking wine, next to one of the most seductive people I had ever known. The music was hopeful, tentative, gentle; inquisitive. The words bubbled out of my mouth before I could even stop them.

“Tired of pretending, playing the game. I can tell by your stare you’re feeling the same. Don’t put up a fight tonight. Give me your love tonight. Let’s break the rules of a game we can’t win.”

His face broke apart in a smile. “That’s it. Play me more.”

I nodded and kept going with the melody. He worked out the second verse of lyrics. “Needing you, wanting you, and tonight here you are. In your eyes, with your touch, suddenly I’m a star. Let me drown inside you. Let me make your dreams come true. Just say the word, baby, and I’ll break every rule for you.”

That he sang these words to me only compounded my confusion. I tried to focus on the music, making notes on the same scrap of paper where he added more lyrics. He pulled out his laptop so we could mix the music, filling in percussion, and he let me play around on his bass to underscore the rhythm. The more we tinkered, the better it got, and the closer he got as we recorded the different pieces to fill in the song. It proved the most frustrating, but most creative, hours of my life. When we were done, we had our first song. He poured me another glass of wine to celebrate. This time I practically guzzled the whole glass. I needed something to distract me from the look in his eyes, the sound of his voice, or the nearness of that incredible body.

He watched me for so long that I truly expected him to reach for a kiss. Instead he reached for more wine, pausing briefly to check his phone. There was a message there, but it was swiped away quickly. He resumed his spot in the corner of the sofa.

“I like you, Rudy Renfro. You’re young. You’re white. But there’s something about you. I think you’ve got something special. If you want this job, it’s yours.”

My eyes met his. He had just handed me the chance of a lifetime. How could I tell him that suddenly I wanted so much more? “I’d be honored to join Tonos de Oro,” was all I could manage to say.

“We’re glad to have you,” he responded in that same low voice that was doing a serious number on my nerves. He could have me any which way he wanted... but did he want it? That was the million-dollar question. He sat up and leaned closer. “We have a gig in two weeks. Big name club in Hollywood. Think you can be ready by then?”

I couldn’t stop myself even if I wanted to. “I’m ready now.”

That kissable mouth broke apart in a wide, slow grin. “Not yet, young Rudy. Not yet.” His gaze swept over my face, lingering on my mouth. “But soon.”


MASKED IN THE MUSIC releases September 25th. You can pre-order it now for the discounted price of $1.99. It goes up to regular price after release.

Fair warning... if you need a warning to read a book, this will NOT be the book for you.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I've got two words for your Sneak Peek Saturday: Caz Bixby.

God, I love this man. Oh, and we might meet the woman who will change his world very soon.

So. There's that. >.<



“That was brutal.”

I shot to my feet and spun around, peering into the darkness just beyond the light’s edge. I saw the bright tip of a burning cigarette, though when the smell hit me, I knew it wasn’t an ordinary cigarette. The man stepped from the shadows, coming more into view. He sported a tux like nobody’s business, tall and beautiful, roughly around thirty, with sun-bleached sandy hair that flopped over one of his incredible amber eyes. He offered the joint.

I didn’t refuse it. When other people walked through the doors, he motioned for me to join him in the shadows, where we could partake in private.

Out of sheer curiosity, I followed. I gave him back the joint, and he inhaled deeply. “God, I hate these things. Fucking boring as hell. That’s why I bring my own party favors,” he grinned before he exhaled a cloud of fragrant smoke.

“Then why do you come?” I asked as I took the joint for another hit of my own.

He shrugged. “It’s a good cause. Besides, wearing a tux, dancing with all the pretty girls and drinking from a full bar all night isn’t a bad way to make a living.”

I peered at him even closer in the low light. Why did he look so familiar?

He answered my unspoken question with an outstretched hand. “Caz Bixby. In case you’re wondering where you’ve seen me before.”

My eyes opened wide. His reputation had definitely preceded him. He was the one who had demolished an entire presidential campaign when he came out as the potential first lady’s boy toy for hire. He was probably the best known male escort on the planet, hence why he’d be working a party like this one. I took his hand, which he held for just a beat longer than necessary. “And you are…?” he asked with one cocked eyebrow.

“Rudy Renfro,” I supplied. His smirk deepened.

“Please tell me you have a job worthy of such a celebrity name,” he teased.

I shrugged. “I play guitar in a band,” I dismissed easily.

“A rocker,” he surmised as he glanced me over. “Not what I would have guessed. Good for you.”

Another shrug. “I don’t know what I am anymore.”

He chuckled again as he took one last hit, before he snubbed it out on the stone wall. “You’re not in love with that pretty girl, you know that much.”

“Yeah,” I muttered as I glanced back at the patio.

He clapped his hand on my shoulder. “Hey. Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t help it you’re gay.”

My eyes shot to his. Even in the shadows of the darkened gardens, I could see how they pierced through my armor to see right to the very heart of me. It was one thing for my sister to see it. She’d known me her entire life. It was another for Tony to see it, because he could see physically how I reacted to him. But a stranger I just met? I stammered as I tried to find my footing.

“I’m not… I just… what?”

He pulled me into the crook of his arm. “Don’t panic, Rudy Renfro. Your secret is safe with me. And before you drive yourself crazy with the question, no. I don’t think everyone can tell. But it’s my job to see what people lack so that I can give it to them. And dude, your frustration is full-tilt.”

My gaze narrowed. “Is this where you give me your card and tell me to call you for a little alone time?”

With the flick of his wrist, he offered his card.

“Sorry,” I said as I pushed away. “I don’t think I can afford your rates.”

He chuckled as he followed me through the darkened garden. “You are probably right about that, young Rudy. I’ve never been in one but I’ve heard bar bands don’t pay a whole lot.”

I made a face he couldn’t see. He could read an awful lot for such a short acquaintance. “So I guess you’re just wasting your time.”

I could feel his shrug. “Maybe it’s the mood of the evening, but I’m feeling kind of charitable.”

I spun around to face him. “I’m not interested, okay?”

His grin deepened. “Is it the whole virgin thing, or are you just that tied up in knots over some guy who won’t return the favor?”

I gaped at him. He stepped forward.

“Again, your secret is safe with me.” He put his card into my breast pocket. “But if you ever need a friend, especially one who has many friends in the music biz, call me. No strings. No hourly rate.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “You mean you’d fuck me for free?”

He chuckled as he stepped forward, till we were practically nose to nose. “I don’t give away freebies to men,” he assured as he bent closer, his mouth above mine. “But you remind me of someone I used to know. And I guess I kind of like you, baby.”

With that he kissed me. It wasn’t sexual—just a peck. It floored me all the same as he patted the pocket where his card now hid and left me alone in the darkness.


MASKED IN THE MUSIC releases September 25th. You can pre-order it now for the discounted price of $1.99. It goes up to regular price after release.

Fair warning... if you need a warning to read a book, this will NOT be the book for you.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sneak Peek Saturday: When Lightning Strikes - Rudy meets Tony

22 days to go... are you ready for Tony and Rudy?


If I ever had any doubt at all I was gay, it was eradicated the minute I met Tony Rojas. Truth be told, it wasn’t that uncommon for me to become attracted to other men by the time I was nineteen. It usually happened quite subtly. Something as simple as the way that they walked, or a slightly upturned smile, or a stare that lingered just a second longer than it had to, would tickle at my brain as something significant, but it was generally so innocent in nature I could discard it as nothing more than misfiring hormones.

I was weird. I knew that.

I never cared much for naked girls. I didn’t salivate when I saw a couple of tits or nice rounded hips that beckoned other guys my age. I didn’t seek out the Great Vagina whenever the occasion presented itself, such as a couple of hours’ uninterrupted Internet time.

Frankly I didn’t understand what the big deal was.

I liked girls, I even preferred the company of girls. It was safe there. It had always been really safe there. Even when I was six and playing “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” with my next-door neighbor, there was no threat of anything happening. I just wasn’t that impressed. And neither was any other part of my body. Pretty much… ever.

Yet I’d get a nagging semi-boner during a pep rally at school, when the football team would burst through the banner. I chalked it up as delayed reaction over the cheerleaders and went on with my life, blissfully ignorant to all the signs that pointed me straight towards a life I knew I should never pursue.

Of course I knew this. It had been screamed at me from a pulpit. It had been taunted at me from the schoolyard. I was half a man if I ever admitted I wanted another man.

So the minute I saw Tony Rojas, I knew I was in serious, serious trouble. If I had any sense at all I would have turned right around and walked back out the door...

“Are you sure you’re at the right audition, man? I think the comic squad meets down the hall.”

Lando Espinoza laughed at his joke before he sent a glance to the sofa where the drummer, Emile “Sticks” Gutierrez, sat, just to ensure he, too, found it funny. Emile chuckled dutifully before he went back to drumming on the table, working out some kind of new rhythm.

“Nope,” I said. “I’m here for Tonos de Oro. Otherwise I learned all the wrong music.” I added another smile as I held up my guitar case. Both gestures were confident. If he challenged me on any of the music they had made, I was fully prepared to wow him.

Another gaze crept over me. “I guess we’ll see.” He opened the door wider and allowed me to enter. I carried my guitar case further into the room. I headed straight next to the spot next to the amp. “What kind of music do you play?” Lando wanted to know. “Because if it’s pop, you can just leave right now. We don’t play that pussy shit.”

I said nothing as I hooked into the amp and then tuned the guitar. Once satisfied I glanced up at Lando and Sticks, who were watching me with indifference, expecting me to fail.

I loved it when people expected me to fail. It made proving them wrong so much fun. I launched into “Walk” by Pantera, nearly knocking both of them off their seats. Sure I looked like a dork, with my horn-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses and my geeky shirt. But I knew how to rock.

After Lando picked his jaw up off the floor, he nodded slowly, particularly when I went into the guitar solo. I kept my eyes locked with his as I finished off the song. He nodded, stroking his jaw. “Not bad, homie. Not bad. What else do you play?”

“Anything,” I answered. “Everything. What do you got?”

For ten minutes straight he would toss songs at me and I would respond by playing them. From classic songs by Santana to current songs from Muse, I didn’t miss one beat. Finally he pulled an acoustic guitar from the wall, where dozens of instruments hung. I decided to play Coheed and Cambria’s “Welcome Home,” just to give him that flavor he was looking for. Sticks was so impressed, and inspired, he hopped on the drums to join me, and Lando finally picked up his bass to join in. The loft filled with music, which wafted out of the opened windows to the street below.

It was enough, apparently, to draw Tony from the other part of the loft, which had been sectioned off with a wall made of colorful glass bricks in every shade of blue, purple and green. The minute he stepped from behind the glass, wearing torn, faded blue jeans and a black shirt that fit to every single inch of his muscled torso, time seemed to stand still. My fingers fumbled and I missed a note, which was exceedingly uncommon for me. But nothing—and I mean nothing—could have prepared me for the moment those blue/green eyes met mine.

Tony Rojas was tall, like me. He stood over six feet, and there wasn’t any extra flesh on his 180-pound body. It was like his muscles had muscles. His face was a little fuller, and almost painfully beautiful, so beautiful it would have made average women cry.

Stubble lined the soft curve of his cheeks and his dark hair fell in unruly curls towards his shoulder, making those incredible eyes stand out even more. They pinpointed me and I was rooted to the spot. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he walked closer, our gazes locked as he picked up his microphone just in time to sing the lyrics of a song that blended hate and love, desire and scorn, hope and despair.

The longer he held me locked in that stare, the more my hands trembled. I fought through it all to play, to wow him, to show him I wasn’t just some stupid kid playing rock star. I switched back to my electric guitar for the solo, but Tony paid little attention to what I was doing with my hands. His eyes were locked on my face, and all the embarrassing primal grimaces I bore there. It was beyond my control. Music was a part of me. Where it guided, I followed. I didn’t even question.

I knew he understood this, so I felt very safe in the intensity of his gaze. It as if fire blazed around me, and though I felt the heat—it never burned. When the song finished, Tony sauntered over to where I stood, sweaty and panting. He held out a hand. He didn’t introduce himself. He knew he didn’t have to. “Solid performance,” he complimented, his comment hanging in the air as he waited for me to supply my name.

“Rudy Renfro,” I said as I shook his hand. I could only hope he didn’t feel my tremor when his fingers closed around mine.

His lip curved in a teasing smile. I felt my stomach drop somewhere around my toes. “Stage name?” he asked.

“No,” I corrected with a good-humored grin of my own. “Totally real. And I’ve got the scars from three solid years of ass-kicking in middle school to prove it.”

He laughed. It was a rich, musical sound that reverberated off of each tightly drawn nerve. “And which school are you in now, Rudy?”

I sidestepped how my name sounded falling from his mouth to concentrate on the question, which I knew damned well was about my age. I knew I looked young, like some fresh-faced high school student. Being underweight probably didn’t help that much. “None. I’m nineteen.”

He nodded his approval before he spread himself in a leather recliner, clearly the king on his throne. “Legal. Good. Tonos de Oro is known for hedonism and debauchery. It would be bad for business if we contributed to the delinquency of a minor.” His eyes swept over me. Unlike Lando’s critical stare, I felt my body traitorously respond to Tony’s inspection. I was glad I had my guitar in front of me, like the shield it had always been. “How long have you been playing?”

“Picked up my first guitar when I was nine,” I answered. “Never looked back.”

“I can tell,” he nodded. “You’re young, but you’re really good.” He released me from his gaze long enough to direct a question towards Lando. “What do you think?”

Lando wasn’t as impressed. “He plays all right, but he’s white. He looks like the dorks we used to beat up in high school.”

Tony chuckled as he turned back to me. “You’ll have to forgive my cousin. He’s a shameless racist.” Again he looked me over. “Can’t do anything about you being white. Everything else is just image. Clothes can change. It’s what underneath that counts.” Those eyes met mine. “Take off your shirt.”

His softly issued command made me shiver. “What?”

His eyebrow cocked. “Hedonism and debauchery, remember?”

“He’s nineteen,” Lando told Tony. “You don’t need to waste million-dollar words.” He turned to me. “This band is all about the pussy, man. You like pussy, Rudy Renfro?”

His direct question shocked me. Of all the things I had expected to be asked during this audition, whether or not I was down with OPP was not one of them. I stumbled over my answer, unsure what to say.

“Chill out, Lando,” Tony chastised, his eyes locked on my face. “He’s still a kid. He might even be a virgin.”

Lando and Sticks laughed. “Give us one gig and we can fix that,” Lando stated.

I felt the air crackle and pop between Tony and me. Those eyes never wavered.

There was only one thing I could do. I slid out of my shirt. I may have been underweight, but a few semesters of weight training in high school left me with a ridiculously toned core. I was still glow-in-the-dark white, but I mustered up as much heat as I could as I began to play one of their songs. I opted for one about sex, since that seemed to be the next hurdle to jump. It was a song simply entitled “One Night,” all about pursing a one-night-stand. Tony had laid it all out in the lyrics he wanted a good time, not a relationship. “I ain’t looking for love, there, I said it. One night with me, you won’t regret it. Leave your man, your folks, your church behind. One night with me and I’ll blow your mind.”

Maybe a small part of me kinda sorta meant it, but I wasn’t willing to admit that yet, even though Tony’s turquoise stare nearly made my knees knock.

I was just nervous.

It was an important audition.

He studied me thoughtfully as I finished the song. He also shamelessly inspected my body. I gripped the neck of my guitar tight and tipped my chin. Another smile inched across his handsome face.

“We have more musicians to audition,” he informed me as he stood. “We’ll likely make our decision at the beginning of next week.”

I nodded, trying to hide how crestfallen I was. After all that, I didn’t nail it? After all that, there was a chance he’d still say no?

Was my being white and young and an unabashed dork going to slam my first door in my face? Or could he tell I was hiding a semi-erection, because the thought of one night with him did things to my body I couldn’t control?

I tipped my chin even higher. “Of course.” I dug in my pocket for a card, which I handed to him. “Here’s my contact information. If you could let me know either way, that’d be great. I have a couple of other auditions lined up.”

It was total bullshit, of course. But I came from a family of lawyers. The art of bullshitting was coded in my DNA.

Tony’s smile never faltered as he grasped the other end of the card. “Of course,” he murmured, mimicking my response back to me.

So he knew. Everything I was trying so desperately to hide, he knew. That triumphant gleam in his eyes only proved it. He knew all my secrets and wanted me to know he knew. Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck.

“It was nice to meet you,” I said, opening up my hand for a parting handshake. He took it again, this time slower, so I know damned well he felt the tremor that ran through my fingers. The deepening curve of his smile only proved it.

“You got a lot of raw talent, kid,” he told me as we reached the door. “Keep plugging away. You’ll get it.”

My spine straightened. What an asshole, I thought. He was dismissing me as some kid when there were only about seven years between us. I looked him right in the eye and said, “You too,” with a nod. He thought he could patronize me? He had another thing coming. I didn’t care who he thought he was. With that, I hoisted my guitar a little higher and I left the loft without another glance behind me.


MASKED IN THE MUSIC releases September 25th. It goes up to regular price after release.

Fair warning... if you need a warning to read a book, this will NOT be the book for you.