Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guest Blogger ~ Nica Berry

My guest blogger today is fellow Loose Id author, Nica Berry. Nica's work is, to quote, "Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy". Her upcoming novella for Loose Id is -- ready? -- steampunk/Inuit M/M/M! Well, I just had to find out more, so, without further ado: Take it away, Nica!
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Thanks to Jeanne for letting me stop by!

My latest books have, in a way, been experiments in working with particular cultures and crafting a story within those restrictions. And, of course, basing a story in a particular era or culture means--you guessed it--research.

Sometimes, it's actually easier to write within these confines, and it's actually a bit like writing fanfiction in that you have the world already made for you and you just have to decide what you want to do in it. There's a specific time/area to look at, and a set of rules and expectations already in place. But the same restrictions can also be a pain, from limitations on food, clothing and transportation to trying to keep in mind what words may be anachronistic because of their roots.

There are plenty of ways to add magic to a historical era, the easiest being to work off the myths already in place. I did this in CONSORT, just released from Loose Id in January, which is a re-imagining of Greek myths. That one started when I bought a cicada-shaped ring, got curious, and started looking up cicada myths. I stumbled onto a site about cultural entymology and somehow misread "gay" somewhere in one of the Greek myths mentioned. So my brain fixated on, "Oooh, boys with insect wings!" and I figured out a story from that.

My story ideas often change and improve with the more research I do. I hadn't really looked at any Greek myths since sixth grade, so the more I researched, the more I used. What Greeks considered "acceptable" sex between males became a focal point (they liked it from the front, between the legs; from the back was considered degrading.) I found and used drinking games, food, rituals, and I spent way too long finding a Greek butterfly to use as a symbol of death. And of course there were the various gods and goddesses; Pan and a posse of satyrs, Thanatos and his brother Hypnos, and the muses. Euterpe, the female muse of music, became Euterpius, a male muse, because after all, this is a gay love story.

HART AND SOUL, from Torquere, is pseudo-Native American with shamanism and animal magic. The idea for that came from a short story I wrote for the Clarion SF/F workshop in 2005. Research included lots of library books about shamanism, a handy flyer about totem animals I picked up in Albuquerque, and watching YouTube videos of deer mating and rutting. And, yes, I even did research for the infamous lizard story, in that I wanted to make sure the lizards were, um, anatomically correct.

My new novella, NORTHERN LOVE, is due out from Loose Id on April 14th. It's M/M/M with a mix of steampunk--that is, a sort of alternate, Victorian-era history in which inventions and technology are largely steam-powered--and an Inuit-like culture with shapeshifters. This first idea for this story began with now what is the second scene in the book when two lovers are reunited after one commits a terrible betrayal. And it was cold, in a palace of ice. So I had to figure out what happened for Jerek and Emmanuel to get where they were and why, which grew to include steamships and an Inuit-like people. So I went to the library and brought back piles of books on steam ships and how they worked. I researched Inuit names, lifestyles and rituals, then rented the movie "Atarnajuat" ("The Fast Runner", a movie written and performed by Inuit actors in their native language) and got ideas from that. I enjoyed the research, and I had a lot of fun writing NORTHERN LOVE.

So--if you chose a historical era to base a fantasy novel in, what would you choose, and why? How would you add your fantasy or SF element?

I've had fun in all of these worlds, so for me, it's hard to choose a favorite.

And do feel free to visit me online at http://www.orossy.com/nicaberry

But, before I go, here's a blurb and teaser from NORTHERN LOVE, coming next month!

BLURB: Jerek had long dreamed of finding the mythical citadel of ice with his strong, handsome lover, Emmanuel. Their search led them to years of enslavement aboard a steamship with only each other for comfort until Emmanuel committed a terrible betrayal and left Jerek to follow his dream alone.
Now, three years after escaping the ship, Jerek has found the citadel and a northern lover: mute, shape-shifting Piaktok, who teaches Jerek a new language of love and lust. They’re content until desperate, snow-blind Emmanuel finds his way to the citadel and reignites Jerek’s desire.
Despite their mutual attraction, Jerek cannot forgive or forget the past and unleashes his anger on Emmanuel. Piaktok, in turn, treats Emmanuel with tenderness, sparking love between them. Emmanuel tries to tell Jerek the truth about his “betrayal,” but Jerek refuses to listen. One last fit of rage sends Emmanuel and a gravely injured Piaktok fleeing from the man they love.
Too late, Jerek realizes his errors. If he can find a way to melt the ice around his heart, the three of them will have a sexual and spiritual bond unlike any other. If he can’t, Piaktok will die, and he’ll lose Emmanuel forever.


King Jerek’s steward, Suluk, prostrated himself before the dais. “My liege? We’ve found a person of interest.”

“Oh?” Jerek hardly looked up from the clockwork dog with which he played. His guards had brought him several “persons of interest” over the past few years, and none of them had been the one man he’d hoped to see. Several had fit Emmanuel’s basic description -- dark haired, brown eyed, skin near the color of pine bark, but none had been him.

Piaktok, leaning against the side of the throne, regarded Jerek with the doleful black eyes that mirrored his Seal form. The metal dog awkwardly ambled forward along the arm of his throne. Piaktok caught it when it fell off. He cupped the toy in his hands as if wanting to crush it, but he didn’t.

So, if this turned out to be Emmanuel, Piaktok wouldn’t be happy about it. Jerek had taken no other lover for the past year. Jerek wished he could have reassured the Seal that he had no intention of replacing him, but they couldn’t talk now. Not here.

The steward spoke again. “This one babbles, my liege, in the Southerner’s tongue.”

This peaked Jerek’s interest. “Where is he?”

“Just outside, my liege. The Bears found him.”

The king allowed himself a small smile at that. His Bears, Inuq and Nutaaq, were superb trackers, far better at finding the living than ordinary men.

“He’s alive, then?”

“Yes, my liege, and well enough except…” Suluk paused, obviously fearing Jerek’s wrath.

“Go on.”


Blind. At least for a while. The bright light on the snow could be brutal indeed to those unprotected. He took the dog back from the unhappy Piaktok and wound it up again. “Does he know where he is?”

“No, my liege. We’ve said nothing to him.”

“Good. Keep it that way. No one is to speak to him without my permission.”

The steward bowed. “Aye, my liege.”

“Bring him in. I want to look upon his traitorous face.”

Suluk left the room. Piaktok placed a hand on Jerek’s knee. “It’s all right,” Jerek told him. “I only want him because he’s done me harm. It’s time he paid for his wrongs.”

Piaktok’s mournful expression didn’t change. He watched the dog as it ambled along the throne. This time, he made no effort to catch it when it fell. It clattered to the stone floor. After a couple of mechanical seizures, it went still.

Jerek didn’t have time to worry about it. Suluk returned, accompanied by two Bears supporting a bent, struggling figure. It wore a thick, hooded parka of caribou hide, decorated in the style of the tribe that lived near the shore. The clothes were stolen; no one of the tribe would have given a visitor clothing laboriously designed for a hunter. Jerek’s derogatory opinion of the man dropped even lower. He didn’t tolerate thieves in his land.

The two Bears, dressed in parkas of the same white fur as their ice bear counterparts, looked to their king for direction. Jerek waved his arm in an impatient gesture. As soon as Inuq and Nutaaq let go, their prisoner dropped to his knees. He fought again when the Bears stripped him down to a pair of ragged undershorts, but exhausted as he was, he was no match for the two powerful men. Sweat glistened on his bronze skin. Black hair hung in clumps to obscure his face. Iron rings surrounded his ankles and neck. His shoulders drooped in defeat.

The Ice King’s heart skipped in his chest. Could it be him? At last? He couldn’t be sure at this distance. He kicked the dog aside and took the dais’s stairs at speed until he stood before the prisoner. Jerek grabbed the man’s chin and wrenched it upward. The prisoner’s sightless red eyes blinked profusely. He jerked his head in a failed attempt to loosen Jerek’s grip.

Emmanuel. Jerek mouthed the name but did not say it aloud. Angry as he was, he hadn’t actually expected to see his former lover, much less Emmanuel’s weakened, ravaged condition. Lash marks corded Emmanuel’s back, and he’d lost most of the muscle he’d gained while working aboard the Tophet. The skin beneath the iron collar and fetters was raw and bleeding. Jerek’s free hand went to the scars at his own neck. He knew full well what the iron collar meant. He’d worn it himself for a time.

The old Emmanuel would have been full of solid support and love, always aware of what Jerek needed. Then Jerek had been the weaker of the two, easily exhausted by the labors aboard the privateer ship while Emmanuel had been the stronger. Strong enough to betray him.

Now they’d traded places. This Emmanuel looked to be little more than a madman. He was filthy and scarred. And, like the steward had said, he babbled in the Southern tongue.

“Let me go, whoever you are,” Emmanuel said, voice raspy as if his throat was raw. “I’m looking for someone. I have to find him. Have to. I won’t give up until I do.”

Jerek held his breath. Looking for someone. Him? Possibly. Hopefully. The frigid mountains had a way of twisting a man’s greatest need into reality. Jerek said nothing, wishing to draw out Emmanuel’s anguish as long as possible.

“Captain?” he asked, tentative. “I’m sorry I ran. I had to.”

The mere mention of the captain made Jerek’s anger flare. Nails dug into his palms as he made tight fists.

The silence frustrated Emmanuel. “I won’t be your slave any more. At least give me an honorable death instead of letting me die like a mongrel in the street.”

Tempting as the offer was, Jerek refrained. Torturing him for his betrayal was going to be far more fun. At last, he let go of Emmanuel’s chin. He spoke in Suluk’s ear, too quiet for Emmanuel to hear. “This is the one I’ve been waiting for. Get Tupilek to see to his needs. Make him comfortable. Ensure that he feels safe. I will see to his punishment in time.”

“And the collar, my liege?”

“Leave it on for now, but take off the ones at his ankles.”

The steward bowed again. He gestured to Inuq and Nutaaq. They hauled the man to his feet. This time, Emmanuel made no move to resist.

The parka lay where the Bears had dropped it. Jerek crouched beside it. He felt Piaktok’s eyes upon him. This wasn’t betrayal. It was revenge, something the Seal wouldn’t understand. Lifting the parka to his nose, he could smell the musk of the caribou and, mingled with it, the scent of the man he’d been craving for the past year.

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Thanks again for visiting, Nica. Can't wait for Northern Love to come out!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Guest Blogger ~ ZA Maxfield

I'd like to welcome Z.A. Maxfield today as my March MLR Press guest author. She has a new work coming that involves several of my favorite things: Vampires, alternate history and antiquities and Italy! We also shared participation in the I Do Anthology and that story involved one of my favorite spectator activities: the Tango!
Welcome, ZAM!

I want to thank Jeanne for the opportunity to be here today. I’m fairly new to the blogging world, in fact, I’m fairly new to the writing world! I’ve been published as Z.A. Maxfield since last July (Bastille Day) and it’s been a very exciting ride! I have three full-length novels out, Crossing Borders, The Long Way Home, and Drawn Together, one novella, St. Nacho’s, one stand alone short story, Burning Up, and I participated in two anthologies, Artistically Yours, and the I Do Anthology, (whose proceeds go directly to Lambda Legal Fund for marriage equality).

Everything I’ve done has been some sort of flight of fantasy for me, whether it’s contemporary, romantic suspense, historical romance, or paranormal. I don’t think I’ve found a niche or a voice yet; I’m still exploring and letting my writing take me wherever we can go. To that end, it’s been hard to categorize my work, except to say that you’ll probably find a relationship between two men who are going to fall in love, and there will be a positive ending. Maybe I don’t always write a ‘happily ever after’, but at the very least I can’t stop writing unless I’m hopeful.

One of the newest I’m working on is Notturno, my very own vampire novel, in which Adin Tredeger, an expert in antique documents, is lucky enough to find the well-preserved journal of an obscure Italian petty noble which details a long and passionate love affair between two men.

Tredeger is delighted. He’s gay, the document is beautiful, and having it for his University collection puts him on the top of the food chain personally and professionally. He’s handsome, young, arrogant, wealthy, and now, the envy of all his academic colleagues. The only problem is that the man who wrote it, Nicolo Pietro di Sciarello, now calling himself Donte Fedelta, wants it back.

Now that it’s resurfaced after an almost seventy year disappearance, he has the money to buy it. When he’s prevented by a computer glitch, he knows he can take it from the man who bought it. First he tries seduction and trickery, then reasoning with the man. Donte is certain that once Adin learns who is truly on top of the food chain he’ll get his book back. He doesn’t count on enjoying the process, or admiring the mortal, who at the very least doesn’t seem to be suitably impressed.

Then someone else enters the picture, taking the journal from both of them. Donte plans to find it, Adin is determined to fight for it, and in the meantime, their growing attraction for each other creates a whole new set of problems, including terrible danger that nearly destroys their fragile bond forever.

Here’s a little excerpt of Notturno, due out soon from MLR:

“Caro,” he heard a voice say behind him. He was looking at the light panel on the elevator, watching the floor buttons fire up in a chaotic, random way that made him think of science fiction movies from the ’50s. He jerked forward to step off the elevator again but was prevented by the hand holding his arm. He felt the whisper of Donte’s breath against his ear.
“I’ve called you and called you, yet you only just now come to me. Stubborn.”
“What do you want?” asked Adin, refusing to turn.
“Only that which belongs to me.”
“And what would that be?”
“What do you think, Adin? Of course I want my journal back. And yet…I wonder if you recall how completely you gave yourself to me.” Donte’s sigh lifted the hair on Adin’s nape. “Perhaps I would like that back as well.”
Adin watched the blinking elevator lights and concentrated on thinking clearly. He kept his voice even. “Does this kind of thing work for you?”
“What kind of thing?” Donte stiffened.
“This whole, I am Donte.” Adin affected the accent, giving it a little more Bela Lugosi than was really, strictly necessary. “Come to me, caro, and your blood will sing in the moonlight.”
“Now, I know I have never said that.” Donte put a hand on Adin’s shoulder.
“It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.”
“I fear it loses a little of the oompah if you are not looking at my face.”
Adin snorted. “I gathered.”
“Turn around, caro,” Donte ordered.
“Nope. When I look you in the eye, things happen inside my head that I don’t necessarily like.”
“I promise I won’t use mind tricks on you right now.” Donte tugged at him. “I am a man of my word, if nothing else.”
“I can tell when it’s happening; it’s no use anyway.” Adin turned.
“You would be foolish to assume that in the future. Just because you can tell it’s happening doesn’t mean you can stop it.”
“What is it, anyway?” asked Adin. The lights on the panel had stopped blinking maniacally, but the elevator moved at an impossibly slow speed, giving the impression they were hovering, floating in the glass-enclosed space.
“What? Oh, I don’t know, a kind of hypnosis, maybe, a push of thought that takes root in someone’s mind because they are weaker.” Donte leaned against the steel railing that surrounded them like a skeleton inside the glass car.
“I see.”
“You don’t like to think of yourself as weaker. I understand, but Adin, you cannot hope to prevail against me as you are.”
“You can’t have the journal; I bought it with proper provenance, but you may try, if you like, to dispute it in a court of law.”
“Yes, well. That presents a problem, though, doesn’t it?”
“Do you really expect me to believe the impression you have been constructing? The biting, the mind control, the Vlad the Impaler accent.”
“Vlad— I’m Italian.”
“Do you expect me to believe that you are…? I can’t even say it.” Adin raised his brows. “The undead. A creature of the night. The prince of darkness.”
Donte pursed his lips. “I believe that was Satan.”
“Yes. Well. Do you?”
Donte’s eyes met his, and he was relieved to feel only an attraction, not a confused jumble of painful desire and fear. “I don’t care whether you believe it. Your belief doesn’t alter the facts. The journal is mine; I drew it. I illustrated it. I lived it. It belongs to me, and I want it back.”
“You will have a hard time proving that in court.”
Donte looked out over the city skyline. “Did you ever hear the story about the brothers who were camping in the woods when a bear crashed into their campsite, enraged, and began to chase them? The first brother says, ‘I must outrun the bear,’ and the second says, ‘I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.’” He shook his head. “You know I cannot take this to a court of law, caro.”
Adin looked out at the city and the darkness beyond it. “Fair warning?”
“I like you a lot better without the glamour, you know? Whatever causes it.”
Donte’s teeth shone even and white as he smiled, and Adin wondered about that, Age of Enlightenment dentistry being what it must have been. Looking at Donte, he wondered about a lot of things. His most immediate question, which he framed with a smile of his own, crowded out all those other thoughts.
“So, how long do we have the elevator for?”
Donte’s bark of laughter caught them both by surprise. “Caro, you imp. This is almost as unseemly as that airplane bathroom. There are cameras…”
“Then in the morning we can Google ‘gay elevator sex video’ and see if we get a hit on ourselves.” Adin approached Donte, which seemed to be the last thing he expected, and touched their lips together lightly. “I find I very much like tight spaces if they have you in them.”
“This is a glass elevator,” Donte countered, kissing him back hungrily. “I think you should know that whatever you have planned needs to be accomplished before we reach the tenth floor or everyone in the lobby court will be witness to our passion and subsequent arrest for indecent exposure and lewd conduct…”
Adin snorted. “I think you might be that quick off the mark, at your age, but—”
“Invite me to your room,” whispered Donte.
Adin froze. “Ah, yes, well.” He backed up, regret in his eyes. “Sorry. I can’t do that.”
“Superstitious? I could make you do it.”
“Actually, I don’t believe you could.” This seemed as good a time as any to test it. If Donte could get Adin to do anything he wanted, then the game was over before it began anyway. He felt a tremendous wave of emotion wash over him, deep fear, which crawled over his spine like a vine. It was an interesting sensation, but because he expected it, he found he could remain distant from it, acknowledging it and exploring it without letting it touch him. Adin searched the fear, probing it like a sore tooth. At its core, he felt a desire to reach out to Donte for protection.
Donte watched him curiously.
“Hey, nice,” said Adin. “If you could make people think they’d eaten you’d be a remarkable diet aid.”
“I am the very apex of the food chain on this planet, Adin. Try to have a little respect.” Donte’s mouth quirked, the beginnings of a smile forming on his luscious lips.
“Nevertheless, it isn’t going to work on me now that I can feel it coming.” Adin smoothed a hand over Donte’s jacket and tie. Adin’s own tie, which Donte took from him on the airplane. “The color suits you,” he remarked with asperity. “Trophy tie?”
“You spent on my tie, Adin. I’m having it cleaned.”
“Ah.” There didn’t seem to be much more to say. Adin looked back at the numbers.
“Well. This is awkward,” said Donte.
“Give me a minute. I’m warming up to asking you out for dinner.”
Adin looked up at Donte, “Yes.” Donte’s perfect mouth formed in a small O of surprise.
“If I go with you, does that qualify as takeout for me, I wonder.”
Adin laughed again.
“You seem remarkably calm in the face of what could be a very short, very frightening night on the town, do you realize this?”
“Yes, I realize. You could probably kill me, then rent my room, then get your manuscript back. But you haven’t, yet. Instead you’ve turned on your enormous personal charm and turned off your mojo, so I have to figure I stand a chance, at least, to greet the dawn alive.”
“You think my personal charm is enormous, do you, Adin?” asked Donte, leaning in.
“As if you didn’t know you are every month in my Undead Playmate Calendar.”
“I like you, Adin,” said Donte warmly, and the elevator moved again.

Notturno by Z.A. Maxfield, coming soon from MLR press. Thanks a bunch for inviting me I’m glad to be here! You can find my weblog, my books, and my links, as well as some free short stories at my website, here: http://zamaxfield.com/.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Special Guest Blogger ~ Lev Raphael

First of all, I'd like to thank Lev for sharing some time from his busy schedule with me. Lev is the prize-winning author of nineteen books in genres from memoir to mystery and has seen his books translated into a dozen languages, some of which he cannot recognize. ;>) He escaped academia to write and review full-time and has done hundreds of reviews for the Washington Post, Jerusalem Report, and the Detroit Free Press where he had his own mystery column. Lev has also spent almost ten years on public radio as a guest reviewer and host of his own book show.

I found Lev last year when I was looking for fiction with gay Jewish characters and discovered Nick Hoffman. As Lev states on his website: "Who says academia isn't the real world? It's got the vanity of professional sports; the hypocrisy of politics; the cruelty of big business; and the inhumanity of organized crime. A perfect setting for murder and satire! That's why I started the Nick Hoffman series, set at the fictional State University of Michigan at Michiganapolis. Nick is a composition teacher there, which makes him low man on the totem pole in his Department of English, American Studies, and Rhetoric (EAR). And being involved in murder doesn't help his chances for getting tenure -- or does it?"
Nick is a great character and the Nick Hoffman mysteries -- seven at the moment -- are a delicious blend of mystery, murder and mayhem. Of course what drew me at first was Nick, who is gay (sort of) and Jewish (sort of) and his partner Stefan Borowski. Stefan originated in Winter Eyes, one of Lev's more mainstream books.

So, finally, here's my first question -- in two parts:
You write in several very distinct genres, how do you juggle them? Is there one genre you prefer more than the other?
LEV: I've always read across genres and that's how I write--whatever interests me at the moment is what I work on. It's actually mentally refreshing to be working on two books at the same time in different genres--each book is a great break from the other. They're all great. Each has its challenges and demands, promises and problems.
I started the mystery series because I was aware that some of my work was very dark, and I wasn't really drawing on my mostly comic vision of life in my writing. Academia is a world I knew well, and I picked someone who's a total outsider--a gay Jewish bibliographer who likes teaching freshmen!--because outsiders make great commentators and observors. It's been wonderful for me as a writer to go into and out of the series as a break from other more serious work. My devotion to craft is identical with the mysteries, but the spirit in them is lighter.
I really believe it made your mysteries even more intriguing when you brought in Stefan to Nick's world. Reading the mysteries and learning more about Nick and Stefan's relationship adds an extra dimension to the stories.

Next questions:
Not all writers draw as much on their own life as you do in your mainstream works. You call these books, "Second Generation". Can you explain what this term means? Do you think being a second generation child has impacted your work more than most American Jewish writers? Do you think it can be more difficult for someone who has had little experience or knowledge of the Shoah (Holocaust) on a personal level to understand your characters?
LEV: Whether it's obvious or not, all writing is biographical since we write out of what concerns, moves, and troubles us. Anyone who says their work isn't autobiographical has something to hide. :-)

"Second Generation" is the term for children of Holocaust survivors and there's no difficulty relating to characters like that since they're human beings with their family crises, emotional woes, love lives, etc. It's just like reading a Russian novel or science fiction or anything else: all that's required is an open mind, and a willingness to enter a different world than your own.

Being the son of Holocaust survivors has definitely impacted my work--how could it not? It's part of my inheritance, my material, my "word horde" as the Anglosaxon poets called it.

I know reading your essay, "Writing a Jewish Life" on your website brought back a very early memory relating to a girl I knew when I was only about seven years old. My family rented the first floor of a two family home from her mother and father, Holocaust survivors. Hannah was only a year or two older than me and so we became reluctant friends. One day right after she had lunch with me in my parents' kitchen, I saw her stuff a peanut butter and jelly sandwich inside of a napkin into her pocket. When I asked her why, she said her parents had told her to always make sure she had extra so she would never starve. When I asked my mother what she meant, she explained that Hannah's parents had suffered terribly in the War that had killed my Uncle Jackie and I should be very nice to her.
I tried, but it was difficult. Hannah was not a nice child. She was bigger and bullied me. It was only years later after we had moved away, that I realized how difficult it must have been for Hannah. When I was seven I wasn't able to enter her very different world.

One more question:
Besides being a child of survivors, you are also a gay Jew. What differences, if any, has been your experience being part of two minorities?
LEV: That's a big question and I've written several books to answere it, most reecently a collection of memoir essays called Writing a Jewish Life. Being any kind of minority gives you insight into the majority, whatever it is, that the majority doesn't have. It gives you a unique angle, which is excellent foddder for writers.

And of course, there is one question your fans always want to know: What's in the works for you?
LEV: I've just published a book about Germany in my mind and in reality, a kind of memoir/travelogue: My Germany. And I'm working on a historical Jewish novel, so that's new territory for me, and very exciting.
I'm really looking forward to that one. I love historicals.

Thanks so much for being with me today, Lev.
To learn more about Lev, please visit his website http://www.levraphael.com/
Lev is the author of My Germany due April 2009 in the U.S. & September 2009 in Germany