Actual Freakin’ Research by Alexis Hall – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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Hello, and welcome to my second ever blog tour, celebrating Riptide Publishing’s release of Shadows & Dreams, the sequel to Iron & Velvet. Yay! Thank you so much to Long and Short Reviews for hosting me. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. If you’d like to come with me and keep me company on my virtual wanderings, you can find a full listing of when and where I am.

There’s also some kind of contest type thing happening. I had a bit of trouble choosing a prize for this one because most of the things Kate likes (booze, cigarettes, knives, women) are illegal to ship internationally. I thought about a fedora, but then I remembered people had differently shaped heads and there was no point sending somebody an item of clothing they wouldn’t be able to wear. So, basically, that leaves coffee and Bovril and nobody likes Bovril except people from the North East of England. I’m therefore going offer 250g of Jamaican Blue Mountain, the nicest coffee in the known universe, purchased from a wonderful speciality shop, ground or beaned to your specification. If you don’t like coffee, I’ll replace it with an equivalently lovely tea. I’ll also throw in a hard copy of Iron & Velvet (or the other thing I wrote) if that’s the sort of thing you’d like. I can even scribble stuff in it, thus reducing its re-sale value … or, y’know, not do that. I’ll announce the winner a handful of days after the end of the tour.

Actual Freakin’ Research

I have a very sporadic approach to research. Sometimes I’ll just make things up as I go along, sometimes I’ll get an idea for a story, read a bunch of books about Christopher Marlowe or the history of Venice or something, and then completely fail to do anything about it.

Because the Kate Kane books are very much grounded in the physical geography of London, a large part of my research for the series is to do with specific places. A lot of the time I cheat with Google Streetview, but I do sometimes go and actually look at stuff. In particular, several of the major villains in Shadows & Dreamsare based in specific locations around the city, and I wanted to make sure I’d seen those locations first hand.

The first major location I had to consider was Highgate Cemetery. The “vampire of Highgate” was a myth I’d always wanted to incorporate into the series, and I decided early on that I wanted the plot of the second book to revolve around a struggle against an ancient, powerful vampire, so making them one and the same seemed sensible. This did lead to some problems, since Highgate Cemetery only dates back to the 19th century, and powerful vampires in the Kate Kane series tend to be a good deal older than that. Getting a Neolithic-era vampire into a Victorian-era graveyard required a bit of wrangling, but I like to think it more or less makes sense.

I visited Highgate in January 2013 in order to get a sense of its layout. It had been a cold winter that year, so the whole place was buried in thick snow which really added to the sense of atmosphere. The place is basically nuts – it’s still in use to this day, but it positively screams Victoriana. It’s all obelisks, sculptures of angels, marble tombstones and – famously – Karl Marx. The Karl Marx section is particularly interesting, because there seems to have been quite a long period of history during which it was fashionable for high-ranking communists from regimes around the world to be buried alongside him, so every grave nearby belongs to a comrade somebody from somewhere. Often from somewhere a thousand miles from Highgate.

The tomb Kate tracks the villain back to is a real tomb, just inside the entrance to the cemetery. As the man in the green puffer jacket explains, it belongs to Lord Dalziel of Wooler – an MP notable primarily for having a really, really blingy mausoleum. Which I suppose is sort of the reason people build really blingy mausolea in the first place.

The other location that I went to some effort to check out was Syon Park (which really was where Henry Percy, Wizard Earl of Northumberland had his London home). It’s an honest-to-crap stately home set inside a massive chunk of private parkland in an otherwise quite ordinary bit of Brentford. It’s a really weird transition, walking off a perfectly normal street opposite a Majestic wine lodge, down a walled alleyway and into something that looks perilously like the Shire, complete with woods, fields and little rivers, all surrounding this mad old building which the Dukes of Northumberland still live in even now.

The layout of the house is more or less as it is described in the book – including the garden centre and the wax replica of the mangosteen. Since the book required Kate to break into the building, my research visit to Syon Park did involve actually – well – casing the joint. Walking around a posh house trying to work out how you’d break into it, where you’d get in and where you’d come out once you had, makes you feel a little bit self-conscious. Fortunately nobody called the cops on me.

Much like Kate, I always find something a bit alienating-slash-mind-blowing about places like Syon. It’s the fact that actual human beings not only lived but continue to live in them. The real Syon House actually has photographs of the current Duke and his family scattered around the place, and it’s really jarring to see these comparatively normal family pictures in a location that has things like vaulted ceilings, genealogies stretching back to Charlemagne, and actual secret doors.

About AJH

Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the twenty-first century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a seventeenth century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

You can also find him all over the internet, on his website, Facebook, Twitter, BookLikes, and Goodreads.

About Shadows & Dreams

6_25 ShadowsAndDreams_500x750Second rule in this line of business: be careful who you kill.

My name’s Kate Kane. And right now, I don’t know which is more dangerous: my job, or my girlfriend. My job makes me the go-to girl for every supernatural mystery in London. My girlfriend’s an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince. Honestly, I think it’s probably a tie.

A few weeks ago, I was hired for a simple missing person case. Next thing I know, I’m being arrested for murder, a vampire army is tearing up London, and even my dreams are out to get me. Something ancient, evil, and scary as hell is on the loose and looking for payback. The vampires are in chaos, the werewolves are culling everything, and the Witch Queen can’t protect everyone.

Which means it’s down to me. And all I’ve got to hold back the shadows is a stiff drink, a quirky sidekick, my creepy ex-boyfriend, and the woman who left me for a tech startup. It’s going to be another interesting day.

You can read an excerpt and, y’know, cough, buy the book, if you want, at Riptide Publishing.

 
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Character Interview with Bridge from LET IT RIDE by L.C. Chase – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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20 Questions with Bridge

By L.C. Chase

 

G’day everyone! Welcome to my Let It Ride blog tour and a peek into the world of rodeo cowboys. (The official schedule can be found here.) This wouldn’t be a proper tour without some prezzies, of course. Read on for giveaway details—and one very special prize! Thank you to Long and Short Reviews for hosting my cowboys, and to all of you for hopping in the saddle to ride along!

 

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For today’s post, I was thinking it might be fun to have a little interview with pickup man extraordinaire, Bridge Sullivan. I found him setting up a table for their traditional post-rodeo poker game, and he was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few…speed questions. I call them speed because I have a little stopwatch and he has 15 seconds to answer each one. Oh, the pressure. 😉

 

How old are you?

28 but I look younger. [he preens]

 

What do you think your life expectancy is?

Hell if I know. Today’s all I’ve got so I have to make the most of it, right?

 

What is your height?

Six feet two inches.

 

What is your job?

Pickup man!

 

What is your favorite color?

[his eyes go all dreamy for a second] Violet.

 

Nice! Okay, what’s your favorite food?

Enchiladas. The best in all of California are right here in Folsom.

 

I’ll take your word on that. What’s your favorite beverage?

Iced tea with a big fat lemon wedge.

 

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Gotta go with chocolate. Who doesn’t like chocolate? By the way, do my questions count against the 20 questions?

 

Nice try. Next question: What are you most afraid of?

That this interview will never end.

 

Ha-ha. Do you hate anyone?

There are a couple people I don’t want anything to do with, but I don’t hate them. Life’s too short to waste on hating when you can be happier loving.

 

*Swoon*Have any deep dark secrets?

Maybe. [he gives me a crooked grin]

 

Do you love anyone?

Maybe. [his grin stretches into a smile]

 

What do you do to relax?

Kick back with my friends, play some poker, shoot some pool.

 

What are you going to do now?

Play poker!

 

Do you have any pets?

Can horses be pets? I have five of them.

 

Who is your hero?

At the risk of offending Kent, Marty’s my hero. He’s one of the strongest, bravest, kindest, most genuine people I know, and I would do anything for him.

 

[I have to admit I have a soft spot for Marty too] What is your greatest weakness?

Hmm…letting you talk me into this. [he winks] Are we are 20 yet?

 

Almost. Where is your head at?

[he glances away and I follow his gaze to see Eric looking back]

 

Next! Where did you lose your virginity?

In a barn when I was fifteen.

 

Why were you born?

To kick ass!

 

LOL! Congratulations, you survived 20 questions.

Finally. You should stay and play a few hands with us. [and I do]

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The Blurb:

 

Pickup man Bridge Sullivan is the kind of cowboy everyone wants—as a brother, a friend, a lover. People think he’s straight, but Bridge isn’t one for labels, and when a sexy male paramedic jump-starts his heart, he charges in with all guns blazing.

 

New York City transplant Eric Palmer grew up in foster care. While he always had a roof over his head, he never felt love or a sense of belonging . . . until he joined the California rodeo circuit as a paramedic and found a band of brothers who took him in as one of their own. Now, one in particular is making Eric’s pulse race.

 

When things heat up between Bridge and Eric, Bridge has to prove to Eric he’s not just experimenting with the rougher sex, while Eric must overcome his fears of being unwanted and cast aside. He knows that trusting Bridge may be the key to his happy ever after, but getting in the saddle is much, much easier than learning to let it ride.

 

You can read an excerpt and purchase Let It Ride here!

 

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About L.C. Chase:

 

Cover artist by day, author by night, L.C. Chase is a hopeless romantic and adventure seeker. After a decade of traveling three continents, she now calls the Canadian West Coast home. When not writing sensual tales of beautiful men falling love, she can be found designing book covers with said beautiful men, drawing, horseback riding, or hiking the trails with her goofy four-legged roommate.

 

L.C. is a 2014 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Pickup Men; a 2013 EPIC eBook Awards Finalist for Long Tall Drink; and a 2013-2014 Ariana eBook Cover Art Awards Finalist. She also won an honorable mention in the 2012 Rainbow Awards for Riding with Heaven.

 

You can find out more about L.C., story extras, works in progress, and cover designs at her website, on her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

 

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The Big Tour Contest:

 

In celebration and thanks, I’m offering goodies for three lucky readers . . .

 

COWBOYS IN PIXELS: One ebook copy of any title in my backlist. Open to worldwide entries.

 

COWBOYS IN PRINT: One signed paperback copy of Long Tall Drink, the extended edition. Open to worldwide entries.

 

COWBOYS IN PENCIL: One original 8” x 10” graphite pencil artwork by yours truly. The finished artwork will be revealed on the last stop of the tour on Tuesday, June 3. Entries are limited to US and Canada residents only.

 

What do you have to do to win? Just answer one or both of these questions in the comments section below:

1 – Who is your favorite cowboy of all time—fictional or real, past or present? Mine is Clint Eastwood as “Blondie” from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly movies. 😉

2 – Give me your best guess on what the pencil drawing is of—cowboys are a given so you’ll have to be a bit more creative. 😉

Don’t forget to leave your email address too! Contest closes at midnight Pacific Time, on June 4th. Winners will be drawn randomly on Thursday, June 5th.

 

GUEST BLOG: CAT GRANT

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by the publisher Riptide Publishing. Click on the tour banner above to see the other stops on the tour.

A Day with Cat Grant

Hello, everyone! Thanks for joining me on my Doubtless blog tour. (Didn’t I just do this last month? And the month before, and the month before that…) Leave a comment and you might win one of my backlist books!

People seem endlessly fascinated by how writers work. But for me, it really is like that old saw about staring at a blank page (or in my case, my laptop screen) until drops of blood form on your forehead.

I’m not a terribly fast writer – I usually shoot for a thousand words a day, though sometimes I get a huge burst of energy/inspiration and knock out a lot more. I am, however, a dyed in the wool night owl. Most of my books have been written between 10 PM and 2 AM. Which means I’m usually crawling out of bed around nine or ten the next morning.

I start off my day with green tea and some fruit or a bagel, then I sit down at my computer to read my email and do my daily social media stuff (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). I try not to read or poke at what I’ve written the night before, because once I start I’ll get caught up in it, and there goes my exercise time. I usually walk or ride my stationary bike thirty minutes a day, which is something I recommend for all writers. Sitting for hours on end is murder on the back and legs, and since I already have arthritis in my knees, I can’t afford to tempt fate.

After, while I’m still in my workout clothes, I try to get a little housework done. It’s way too easy for me to let it go, and within a few days, my place is no longer fit for human habitation. (You don’t want to see my bathroom when I’m nearing the end of a project. Pretty damn scary!) Then I take a shower and go out to run errands.

When I get back, I usually jump in and start revising what I wrote the night before, which can take as long or longer than the initial drafting process. I’ll add stuff, I’ll move things around, I’ll fiddle with words – nitpicky stuff. Then I’ll let it sit for a few hours while I have dinner and either watch TV or listen to music to help clear out my head before I start drafting a new scene – usually with my cat trying to push my computer off my lap.

Not a terribly exciting process, but for me, it does the trick. 🙂

You can order my new novella Doubtless here: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/doubtless

About the Author: EPIC Award–winning author Cat Grant lives by the sea in beautiful Monterey, California, with one persnickety feline and entirely too many books and DVDs. When she’s not writing, she sings along (badly!) to whatever’s on her iPod shuffle, watches lots of movies, and fantasizes about kinky sex with Michael Fassbender.

Where to find Cat:

Website: http://www.catgrant.com
Blog: http://catgrant.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cat.grant
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/CatGrant2009
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1912055.Cat_Grant

Loving your best friend is hard . . . especially when he’s marrying someone else.

On the surface, Steve Campbell seems to have it all: a beautiful home, a snazzy car, and a dream job as one of the country’s top 3-D optics researchers. But underneath, he’s restless and dissatisfied, tired of empty encounters with leggy lab assistants and endless evenings alone.

A chance meeting with a handsome escort lifts Steve’s spirits and opens his eyes to his long-repressed attraction to men—and his love for his best friend and business partner, Connor Morrison.

Connor might’ve loved Steve like that once, but now it’s too late for their happily ever after; Connor’s about to ask his boyfriend to marry him. Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn about yourself, and maybe Steve can find a happy ending on his own.

Friday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for winner’s choice of Infected: Prey or Making Contact.

You may or may not know who I am, so to help us get acquainted, I thought I’d catalog a day in the life of procrastinating writer Andrea Speed. Now keep in mind this only takes place in the hours I’m supposed to be writing. I’ve saved you all from the agony of my day job and my personal life (ha ha – what is that).

12 – Finally get on computer

12 – 1:30 – Emails. Read all the emails, sift through them, wonder how I get so many emails when I’m not that popular, question why I’m signed up to so many groups, refuse to answer any emails until I’ve written a bit.

1:30 – 2 – Respond to emails.

2-3 – Check out a couple of blogs I like to hit. But just skim. No time to read! Must write.

3 – Cat jumps up on lap. Well, maybe I can read for just a little while longer …

3:15 – Check up on my social network pages … AUGH! Time vampires! You’re all damn time vampires! Why do I even have so many pages?! I won’t spend any time on you! Be gone, monsters!

4:30 – Finally escape social network pages.

4:30 – 4:45 – Write a bit.

4:45 – 5 – Real life interrupts.

5 – I will not check my email again!

5:15 – Stop with email, write a bit.

5:30 – 5:45 – Phone call!

5:45 – 6 – Write a bit.

6 – Offline.

Get back online about 11:30.

11:30 – to 12:30 – Email.

12:30 – 1:30 – Damn you Twitter! Damn you!

1:30 – to 3:00 or so – Write, download podcasts from iTunes.

So that’s a typical writing day for me. It’s amazing I ever get anything done, just like it’s amazing that Riptide Publishing would take a chance on me.

Perhaps this is why I can identify with Josh of my Josh of the Damned series so much. He can often find other things to do besides his job, although he does work the late shift, and has to deal with stoners and zombies alike. What’s my excuse?

Wish Riptide Publishing good luck with me. They’re going to need it.

Here’s an excerpt from my short, Pretty Monsters:

The first time the hell vortex opened in the Quick-Mart parking lot, Josh very seriously considered quitting his job. But all that came out of it was a lizard guy, and all it did was amble inside, buy a bag of chips, and leave. All the monsters, while ugly, seemed nicer than his late-night human customers, and Mr. Kwon offered him hazard pay, so he stayed on.

Besides, it wasn’t all bad on the night shift. For instance, right now he was looking forward to the return of Hot Guy.

Of course it was a super hot night, still eighty degrees around midnight, and the air conditioner had to pick now to die. Josh peeled off his polyester work smock and put his nametag on his t-shirt, hoping Mr. Kwon wouldn’t suddenly show up and demand he put it back on. It breathed like a trash bag.

His latest customer was an obviously stoned guy buying a wheelbarrow full of snacks. Not only were his eyes glassy and red, but he reeked of pot smoke, making Josh wonder if he’d spilled the bong water. Pot Guy left and someone else came in. Josh leaned over the checkout counter, hopeful, but it wasn’t Hot Guy, just a lizard guy.

“Guy” in a generic, gender free sense of the word, of course, because Josh had no idea how to tell if they were male or female. Maybe they didn’t even have genders. He didn’t know how to ask without being a rude bastard, and there was a chance he wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.

The lizard guys were all tall, and this one was no exception, at least six foot five and so broad across the shoulders it could barely fit in the aisle. They had all your basic equipment—two arms, two legs, a recognizable face—but their mouths were huge, they had no nose, and their scaled skin ranged in color from moss green to primer gray. This one was a kind of greenish-gray, like his roommate that time he got food poisoning.

Like all lizard guys, this one had a weird gait because its feet were huge, with six long toes that almost looked like fingers . . . which was extra weird because their hands were always small and had just four stubby fingers. They looked like they’d been put together by a five year old with a bad sense of proportion.

They also made such a racket you could hear them all the way from the back room. It reminded him of his first Craigslist roommate, Barry, who couldn’t do anything, even open the damn curtains, without making several decibels of needless noise. For the brief time they’d shared a place, Josh had been convinced Barry was hiding a megaphone to fart into just for effect.

Thwak-thwak-thwak echoed in the shop as Lizard Guy waddle-stomped down the aisle, making a beeline for the Fritos display. It grabbed two bags and turned back, waddle-stomping to the register.

Pretty Monsters is available at Riptide. You can purchase it by clicking the cover.

The sequel, Peek-A-Boo, is now available for pre-order: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/peek-boo-josh-damned-2

Find me online here:
Email address: aspeed2@gmail.com
Website: http://andreaspeed.com/
Blog: http://andreaspeed.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/aspeed
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrea-Speed/161826617217710

Thursday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for the First Wave Winner’s Choice: Pick any one backlist book from Rachel Haimowitz, Aleksandr Voinov, L.A. Witt, Brita Addams, or Cat Grant (“Frontlist” books, i.e. Riptide releases and newest non-Riptide release, are excluded, as are the Courtland Chronicles).

Etzweiler. Rhianon Etzweiler. Resident of Hershey, PA. The eccentric owner of an equally odd speckled dog. Writer of speculative fiction – read that as a catch-all term for anything not contemporary, historical, or mundane (lacking fantastical aspects) – and romance stories with varying degrees of erotica and abnormal queerness. “Gay romance” is so limiting.

Blacker Than Black is my pending December release from Riptide and my debut solo project. I co-authored with Aleksandr Voinov, an August release from Carina Press titled Dark Edge of Honor. Before that, I dabbled a little bit in slash fanfic and could be found perpetually writing and editing my original fiction. And Nanoing like a person possessed. And reading. I don’t find time to do much of the latter anymore. Not nearly as often as I’d like, at least. My TBR pile keeps growing, with no end in sight.

When I’m asked to label my stories within a specific genre, I run into difficulties. There are aspects of many. And then there are the stories that blatantly defy labels beyond the most general. Well, it’s fiction. Speculative fiction. And, um… I’m not a big fan of labels, but I understand the need for them, in defining a story. A reader needs to know what to expect on the pages between the cover art and the blurb on the back.

I don’t consider myself a romance author. The romances in my stories rarely have first chair when it comes to plot arcs. They develop organically, from the interactions of two characters through the course of the story. I don’t make an attempt to downplay the romantic aspect or emotional involvement, but neither do I highlight it. As a theme, it’s a minor one.

One of the prevalent themes of the stories I write is, quite simply, The Unexpected. I don’t mean anvils falling out of the sky like a Wyle E. Coyote cartoon, but the sort of plot twists that resemble unmarked hairpin turns on the Autobahn. Please secure the lap bar firmly against your hips, and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times…

I revel in writing situations that force my characters to make tough choices where neither option can be clearly pointed out as the ‘correct’ one. I won’t hesitate to strip them of everything, down to the core of their being, and stand them naked before their enemies. Preferably in a corner, so they have to fight their way out, or surrounded on all sides so that even their back is unprotected from attack. That’s the only way to truly show, I think, the hard indestructible core of a strong character. Not everyone will like or sympathize with them; some might want to smack them around, instead. If a reader has to pause and question which warring faction is antagonist and which is protagonist… then I’ve succeeded. If the reader cannot find the answer to the question, I’ve done it in spectacular fashion.

Despite this, not all my stories are dark and gritty. Dark Edge of Honor was written that way deliberately – Blacker Than Black is quite the opposite. Though still indelibly twisted, the aspect and execution are entirely different. Much of it has a humorous side, thanks to the POV character and the first-person perspective. Black is definitely not a depressive pessimist, quite often highlighting the humor in situations intended to be somber or serious.

Black’s story began about four or five years ago, during NaNoWriNo. My original goal had been to write a short story for an anthology call titled “The Red Light District.” (Black still laughs every time I mention that.) The first chapter was designed as a standalone, but I kept writing until I hit 50k on it. The next year, I continued on during Nano, and ended up with a rough draft. It was actually that version of the story, which an established author offered to beta for me, that resulted in DEoH even happening. Aleksandr Voinov fell in love with Black and, on the merits of that first draft, asked to jump in on the war romance.

The heavy editing that transformed the storyline of Blacker Than Black into what it is now took place early in 2011, during lag in DEoH’s editing schedule. When Riptide began formally approaching authors for their First Wave, they offered to contract me for it. I expect it will be the first of many stories that find a home at Riptide.

Here’s the blurb from Blacker than Black:

Apparently, my twin and I are two of York’s most notorious criminals. We’ve been Nightwalkers in the blue-light district since the vamps took over the world. Don’t know how many years it’s been. Long enough that a stream of fellow ’walkers have come and gone. Most don’t last long selling their chi. End up face-down in the gutter, or worse.

For us, one night and one sale change everything.

Monsieur Garthelle is the first john to hunt me down. He calls me a chi thief in one breath and offers absolution—servitude—in the next. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I like living and breathing. Strange that such a powerful vamp would show leniency to a mere human. And something’s not right with the chi I took from him. It won’t go away.

Neither will he, and he’s forcing us to spy on his peers. Then a vamp turns up dead, and we go from playing eyes and ears to investigating a murder. This isn’t what I signed up for. All I ever wanted was to sell a little chi, maybe steal some in return. I should’ve kept my damn hands to myself.

This is my story. Look through my eyes.

Blacker than Black will be released on December 12, but is available for pre-order by clicking on the cover above.

Rhianon Etzweiler spent her formative years seeped in military culture, and many of her writing inspirations bear that mark – with a definitive twist. Her main genres are science fiction and fantasy, but she enjoys spicing things up with a speculative mixture that sometimes defies an easy label. Next to Elizabeth Moon and Meredith Ann Pierce, she still counts Jane’s Defense and Popular Science among her influences. “I used to read these articles about cutting edge technology and science, and wonder what impact it would have on society and culture. How it would change us.”

Her biggest failing is the inability to write a “short” story – they may begin that way, but they rarely stay small. “It’s like asking someone to tell you about their life,” Rhi says of her muses. “Like any real person, once you get them talking, it’s unlikely they’ll shut up any time soon.”

Where to find Rhianon:
Website: http://www.rhianonetzweiler.com
Blog: http://rhianonetzweiler.blogspot.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rhianon.etzweiler
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/musefodder

Wednesday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

What genre do you write mostly and what appeals to you most about your genre?

I write m/m and menage contemporaries, fantasy, paranormals, AU and BDSM, with a heavy leaning toward BDSM at the moment because…Whoa. Writing BDSM is so way beyond cool. Why? OMG, the head space is just amazing, the push-pull dynamic between a Dom and a sub (and inside a sub in response to his Dom). Then again, the subs I write tend to struggle with their submission, desiring to submit but at the same time fearing it. It’s such a delicious contrast, those conflicting emotions. Plus, I adore exploring the extra journey my heroes can take in a BDSM story — their individual journey and the romantic journey they make together, but also the journey their kink relationship takes them on. I love it, just love it.

Where do you get the names for your characters?

Any- and everywhere. Connor’s name came from a guy I’m only casually acquainted with in real life. He’s nothing like my Connor, not at all, but the name stuck in my head and wouldn’t jar loose until my Connor took form.

Tell us about your latest releases?

Collared is a m/m D/s AU available November 28th from Riptide. Connor Witt is a successful and ambitious IT manager for an investment firm with a new lover and his life exactly where he wants it when authorities announce a biological disaster — genetically engineered crops have mutated and propagated in the wild, producing a biological shift that alters brain chemistry. While everyone else is becoming bigger and badder, though, Connor’s an anomaly. His center of aggression has been suppressed. As the world becomes increasingly dangerous to him, he is forced to choose a master to protect and nurture him. When security consultant Emmett makes his move, Connor’s boss collars him to protect him. One man offers safety, but the other is the safer bet. Who will Connor choose?

My first BDSM title, a paranormal (shifter) novel called I, Omega also released at Loose Id on September 6th. Gabriel is an experienced sub who is bitten by a shifter Dom and forever changed. He lives on the streets as a vagrant to evade the new master who both terrifies and enthralls him until his master finds him and carries Gabriel back to pack territory where Gabriel

What are you working on next?

In the Red is a m/m D/s mystery for Loose Id

What do you enjoy reading the most?

Erotic romance, of course, primarily m/m, but also menage and a bit of poly. Quite a bit of BDSM. I’m totally in love with dub-con/capture type stories and only wish there were more of them.

What are you reading now?

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti. Just finished re-reading Jet Mykles Heaven Sent series, for my fic fix. ;-p

Who are your favorite authors?

Oh, Lord, so many. Josh Lanyon, K.A. Mitchell, L.B. Gregg are faves for non-kink. For kink, I’m a total fangirl of Kim Dare, but J.C. Owens, Thom Lane and Jamie Craig have written some awesome repeat reads, too.

What would you advise an aspiring author?
Be stubborn. Learn your craft, don’t quit and it will happen.

Is there anything you’d like to tell your readers?

For your Netflix viewing pleasure, Megashark vs. Giant Octopus is the bestest, most cheesiest SciFi original movie, EVAH. Pheremone-driven sea creatures? Awesome. Two thumbs way up.

How can readers connect with you?

If you would like to catch up with Kari, caffeinate yourself and head on over to http://www.KariGregg.com
Friend Kari on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Kari.M.Gregg
Follow Kari on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/karigregg

Kari Gregg lives in the mountains of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia with her Wonderful husband and three very Wild children. Once Kari discovered the fabulous play land of erotic romances at RWA’s National Conference in 2009, the die was cast. Finally! A market for the smoking hot stories she loves!

When Kari’s not writing, she enjoys reading, coffee, zombie flicks, coffee, naked mud-wrestling (not really), and . . . coffee!

Tuesday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for the First Wave Winner’s Choice: Pick any one backlist book from Rachel Haimowitz, Aleksandr Voinov, L.A. Witt, Brita Addams, or Cat Grant (“Frontlist” books, i.e. Riptide releases and newest non-Riptide release, are excluded, as are the Courtland Chronicles).

Visions and Revisions: A Writer Gets Schooled

When I was in college, I had a lot of pretty typical college-kid writing foibles. I thought critical feedback spoiled my vision, I thought imitating Jack Kerouac was cool, and I thought I was going to be above petty little things like “genre.” (For the record, I still think imitating Jack Kerouac is cool, but I know better than to do it in public.)

My sophomore year of college, I had the gall to trot that business out in a workshop writing class, where I listened to the other students explain the difficulties they’d had with my stories. I gave them very grave little nods when they debated the physics of my fight scenes, and I manfully restrained my rolling eyes when they collapsed into a writhing mass of folklore over my four-page zombie story. I wanted to be on my best behavior, because it was a class and not a pro wrestling arena, but frankly I fantasized about thwapping the lot of them upside the head with a folding chair. They didn’t get my vision—and I was maybe nineteen years old, so of course I had a vision.

“Do you realize that you’ve written a romance?” the professor asked me, while we were workshopping my story about a pair of queer college kids hunting ghosts and finding each other. “I think this is the first romance we’ve had in this class.” I cocked my head at that like an excessively obtuse Jack Russell terrier, because of course it wasn’t a romance. I wrote it; I didn’t write romance; thus, it wasn’t a romance. QED, or some other Latin abbreviation. Clearly the woman was delusional.

In short, my first creative writing class kicked my ass.

You have to understand, it was kind of a delayed ass-kicking. An ass-kicking deferred, if you will. I got out of that class with my asshole notions of my own superiority still intact, still pretty damn sure I didn’t write romance and didn’t need critique and couldn’t get better if I tried. I didn’t actually realize how thoroughly I’d been schooled until I started teaching writing, when I got a chance to rip kids’ papers and stories apart the way my teacher had ripped mine apart. I got the same asshole responses from my kids that I gave my teacher, all “This is good the way it is” and “That’s just my style” and “Stop trying to box me into your stupid little categories.” The pupil has become the master, and the master wondered what the fuck the pupil had been thinking.

Over the years since that class, I’ve come to understand what I was missing when I walked into the classroom—and part of it was humility, sure, but the bigger part was self-awareness. I went in thinking that writing was this sort of magical process where the author would go into a semi-conscious, energy-drink-fueled trance and then THE WORD would appear. Any failures in my fiction couldn’t be failures on my part; they were obviously failures of the magic.

I wrote a lot faster in those days, channeling pure inspiration onto the page, but I had only a little control and not even a smidgeon of self-awareness. If I couldn’t watch myself writing and see why I made each choice, then I couldn’t see those choices as choices that I could un-choose at will.

Just because I wasn’t aware, though, doesn’t mean I wasn’t watching. Some part of me—the real, writerly part—had its eyes open as I glugged cans of Amp and had WWF-related workshop fantasies. When I finally pulled my head out of my ass and got ready to be an active agent in the creative process, that open-eyed part of me unfolded my choices for me and showed me where and how I could intervene.

No, of course that zombie story didn’t work; it was structured all wrong. No, the kind of gun my character was using was really fucking heavy; I should’ve used a lighter, more maneuverable one. Yes, that ghost-hunter story was totally a romance. Thus, I was the kind of person who wrote romances. QED.

I could revise. I could rewrite the fabric of the universe and transform dreck into gold. I could make the magic happen.

That long-delayed boot to the ass finally connected.

The dog watch shaded into the first watch, and at the eighth bell, Edouard Montreuil put aside his pen and rose from his bunk. He locked his letter carefully in his sea chest, then buttoned his shirt collar up against his throat. A useless gesture, he knew—it’d be undone for him within the first moments—but he took pride in small signs of resistance.

The other men on first watch went to their stations at the observation deck or the con, and the night crew of engineers went aft to spell the men in the engine room. Edouard walked with them, as he always did, and they ignored him, as they always did. They, too, had their reasons for serving on the Flèche; better not to ask what debts a fellow crewman was repaying beneath the waves.

They’d been submerged for three days now, and the air was thick and hot and stale. The engine room hummed faintly. Behind their tight steel cages, the electric lights gleamed white and steady.

An assistant engineer on dog watch gave Edouard a worried look, and he raised his chin at the pity in it. “Go to your bunk, Valancourt,” he said. If he didn’t have the rank to enforce the order, neither did Valancourt have the will to stay. The crew knew why he passed through the engine room to the captain’s cabin night after night. If they didn’t, it was only willful ignorance.

He ducked his head and slid through the aft portal sideways, like a long-limbed crab. Stork, Ruiz had called him back in la Légion, when they’d all been looking for new names. All long legs. For a moment, Edouard stood in the narrow passage between the officers’ quarters and the engine room, remembering the way the sun had beat down on his brow in Algeria and the way Ruiz had laughed. He passed the alcove where the officers bunked, and rapped on the door of the captain’s cabin.

“Come in,” said a voice from inside—inside the cabin, or inside his own head, he’d never been able to say. It made his ears ache; it made his blood heat and his heart thrum in time with the engines until he thought his skin would burst.

He turned the handle and swung the door open, then shut it behind him. Closed away the light of the engine room, and closed himself into the darkness.

“Sir,” he said, and swallowed against the constriction of his collar. “Reporting for duty.”

“Good,” said the captain, and a limb like a wet cable fell cool and slick upon Edouard’s wrist. His lips found Edouard’s throat, sharp teeth catching there as he undid those carefully-closed shirt buttons.

A second mouth brushed over Edouard’s ribs, tongue wet with a viscous fluid that chilled his skin. A third latched at his hip, needle-teeth scraping, seizing. “Very good,” said the captain, against his throat and chest and hip, as his boneless fingers wrapped slowly over Edouard’s cock and coaxed it hard. Edouard’s skin crawled, but he willed himself still.

Two of those hungry mouths smiled, and the third whispered, “Then let us begin.”

My dear Farid Ruiz,

I cannot say how many times I have begun this letter and failed to send it. At first I thought I would charm you in French, but I have nothing charming to say, so I beseech you plainly in this formal Spanish: Come to Tarifa with all speed. My letters may be read, so I will say only that it is an urgent matter requiring your utmost discretion.

I will be waiting for you in a restaurant known as El Pobrecito, and there I shall remain at six o’clock every night until I am forced to depart.

Yours sincerely,
Edouard Montreuil.
Tarifa, Spain
3 July, 1926.

A flash of lightning illuminated Edouard’s cup, casting a stark shadow along the curve of the rim. He brought it to his lips, sipping only sparingly at the coffee. They made it black here, and bitter; Edouard had never much cared for coffee, but they hadn’t any tea, and he needed his head clear.

Beside him, the wind dashed braids of rain against the windowpane. He tilted his chair back, letting it rest on the rearmost legs as he raised his arms in a stretch. He glanced out the window as he cracked his neck from one side to the other, but the rain was too thick for him to make out the far side of the street. Come on, Ruiz, he thought, as though it would bring the man running with the lightning at his back. Come out of the rain.

He would have counted the seconds before the thunder came, but the peal rolled in on the lightning’s heels and rattled the glasses behind the bar. In the relative dimness after the flash, he finished his coffee and frowned at the dregs.

“More coffee?” asked the young serving woman, and he raised his cup for her to fill anew. She spoke Spanish with an accent he couldn’t place; it wasn’t Castilian or Catalan, and it certainly wasn’t from the former colonies. He ought to have found it unremarkable, in a port city like Tarifa, but his hackles were already up—and she must have seen that he was giving her a hawkish look, because as she poured his coffee, she said, “If I can help you with anything . . .”

“I’ve been trying to place your charming accent,” said Edouard, and his own native French colored every consonant. “You’re a long way from home, I suspect.”

“Asturias,” she said. Her eyes crinkled a little at the question; she looked so delighted to have been asked he felt his suspicions evaporate. “I followed my husband from there when he was called to serve. He’s a lieutenant—”

The door crashed against the wall and sent the hatstand spinning, and the serving-woman startled at the clamor—she canted the coffee pot up too quickly, spilling a long line of tepid coffee across Edouard’s sleeve. The storm swept across the threshold, and with it, a man in a black Mackintosh coat. He drew off his hat, shaking his head like a long-haired pup and scattering drops of water over the nearest patrons. “Where’s Montreuil?” he demanded. “Edouard Montreuil, where is he? I’m here to meet with him.”

Edouard rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling. He hasn’t changed a bit. “Farid Ruiz,” he said with a rather fixed smile. “When I tell you that I’ve an urgent matter requiring your utmost discretion—”

“I nearly didn’t get your letter,” said Ruiz, his wet boots squeaking on the polished wood as he crossed from the doorway. “If it had come even a day later, I’d have been on the next flight for the Canary Islands, and then you’d have been drinking alone—and so much for your urgent matter! So much for your utmost discretion! Buy me a glass of good beer, Montreuil; I’m soaked to the skin.” He dropped into the seat across from Edouard’s, propping up his elbows on the table. He was indeed soaked to the skin, and the rain slicking his black Mackintosh had already begun to puddle beneath his chair. The Asturian serving woman smothered a laugh with her hand and brought him a cup and saucer, but he only gave her a tragic look when she began to fill it with coffee.

“Not a drop of beer?” he asked, and he fluttered his long, dark lashes at her. “Not a drop of rum? It’s not proper coffee without a drop of rum in it.”

“Not a drop,” said Edouard firmly. “We’ve business to discuss, and we’ll drink once we’ve concluded it.”

“Then on to your business, you old stork.” Ruiz downed the coffee in a long gulp, grimacing at the bitterness. “There, I’ve fortified myself. I assume it’s something to do with la Légion, if you wrote me about it?”

“Something like that,” replied Edouard, voice lowered—he didn’t particularly expect Ruiz to take the hint, but at least his own half of the conversation might be quiet. “Do you remember Algeria?”

“I’ll never forget Algeria. Mosquitoes everywhere, skirmishes with the locals, damn Belaire with his Carthagum delendum esta.”

Carthago delenda est,” Edouard corrected absently. “And you remember what you did, when your colonel took that little Algerian boy and—”

Ruiz’s hand tightened on the coffee cup until the delicate handle cracked free. A shard of porcelain must have scored his skin, because a drop of blood fell to the saucer. “That bastard,” said Ruiz, and now his voice was as soft as Edouard might have wished. “He deserved what he got.”

“And la Légion went on functioning just as it should. No snags in the business; no pauses for the damn courts-martial to decide whether he’d disqualified himself for duty; the men decided the sentence and carried it out. Everyone was happy with it.”

“As happy as you can be, when you’ve killed one of your own,” said Ruiz. Behind him, the serving woman was turning up the gas lamps against the oncoming darkness; the occasional flash from the window was blue and sharp with sea-lightning.

Pobrecito, indeed. Too poor to have been electrified.

Ruiz sucked the blood from his thumb, then rested his chin on his fist. “If you dragged me here to bring up the worst parts of my service, I’m putting my hat back on and going to find a drink.”

“I’ve dragged you here,” said Edouard, “because my captain is a monster, and we go to sea as soon as we’ve a full crew.”

Ruiz tilted his head at that, his dark brows going up. He had strong features, only very faintly Spaniard—Edouard imagined he was the scion of conversos and morenos, simmering for generations under the Spanish thumb. Small wonder Fernando Ruiz had changed his name and joined la Légion. And small wonder he’d put a gun to his colonel’s head and blown him away.

Edouard’s hands were shaking. If he were to put his cup down on the saucer, the rattle would give him away.

“By the time we reach port in Tartous,” said Edouard, “I want him floating belly-up the Mediterranean. I want the crew to come out of it thanking me for killing him.”

“And following your orders? That’s what you’re after, yeah?”

“I don’t like your tone, Ruiz.” He took a long drink of coffee, giving himself time to calm his nerves, then set the cup very deliberately down. “I can live with another man’s command. If he’s a good man.”

“You don’t get many of those,” said Ruiz, bracing his chin on his hand. “I thought I could kill all of the bastards, and then the good men would rise to the top. But all I got were more bastards.” He raised his empty cup, and that toast said, To the revolution that never was.

Edouard raised his cup in answer, letting it click against Ruiz’s before tossing back the last of his coffee.

Outside, lightning cut across the street. Three seconds later, thunder rolled in behind it. “Promise me,” said Ruiz. “Promise me you have good reason to want your captain dead.”

A dozen clinging mouths, a long limb like a rope, wrapping around his throat and squeezing until he saw stars . . .

For a moment, Edouard’s throat closed. He couldn’t bring himself to meet Ruiz’s eyes. “If I thought there was any other way to do this, I’d have done it,” he said, still thick-tongued and aching. “If I thought for a second I could just kill him myself, or even walk away—”

“You can’t walk away from a monster,” agreed Ruiz.

“You can’t. Because he’ll find you.”

Ruiz brought his hand up to gnaw lightly at his thumbnail, but he said nothing. His breathing was even, his gaze clear and steady.

“Will you help me?” Edouard asked, and he hated how small and weak he sounded. “I’ll be happy to repay you—”

“I’ll help you because you need helping. Now, buy me a fucking beer, stork. If I’m to turn mutineer, I’m going to need a damn good drink.”

Peter’s debut book, First Watch, is available at Riptide Publishing.

Peter Hansen is a teacher, writer, and former spelling bee champion who lives a stone’s throw from the Erie Canal. He got his start in publishing with his college newspaper, where he was forced to write “I will not rake the muck” one hundred times on the chalkboard before they let him write editorials. With that gritty, real-world experience under his belt, he promptly turned to science fiction and fantasy. He spends his days teaching young writers about the pathetic fallacy, his evenings mainlining iced tea, and his nights building a time machine in his basement.

Where to find Peter:
Website: http://peterhansenfiction.weebly.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/P_HansenWrites
Email: peter.hansen.writes@gmail.com

Monday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for the winner’s choice of Shift Happens, Gym Dandy, or Tart & Soul.

Interview with Storm Grant

Who are your latest crushes (celebrity, book character, or otherwise)?

I’ve been re-watching an 80s vampire show called Forever Knight, and I do find Det. Nick Knight sexy. I like Atticus in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. But I think I’m actually between crushes at the moment. My last huge crush was Dr. Rodney MacKay on Stargate: Atlantis. (I’m all about the characters, rarely the actors.)

Do you ever keep those people in your mind when writing your own works?

You’d think that would be true since I cut my teeth writing fanfic, and indeed, many authors use celebrities or TV characters as a basis for their own. But I prefer to come up with my own people. Within a very few paragraphs, my characters become real people to me. I wish I could hang out with Dolly and Oz or Adrian and Tom.

If you could pick anyone in the world to be the cover model(s) on your latest release, who would it be?

Funny, but a bunch of writer friends and I were talking about that over dinner yesterday. In Few Are Chosen, my POV character is a 19-year-old boy who is tall, with blonde hair long enough to be tied back. I was trying to figure out who, among today’s young actors, would fit that description, and came up blank. Any suggestions?

The love interest, Shadow, is also 19, black, with dark skin tones, knife-sharp cheekbones, soft, generous lips, and a medium-length, natural afro.

I’d love some suggestions.

With humorous books, they often create art covers rather than using photographs. I know I can stand in the sci-fi and fantasy section of any bookstore and pull out the funny books just by the spines. I actually commissioned an artist I found on the Deviant Art site to do my cover for Gym Dandy. We’re three years in and I’m still not sick of it.

What’s your favorite hobby outside of writing?

Dogs. I have two rescued dogs who are the center of my universe. There’s an amazing chain of old-growth forested parkland running through Toronto and I’m there with my dogs every morning before 7:00, winter or summer. It’s good for all of us.

What would constitute your own personal happily ever after?

I’m pretty much living it. My husband and I are childless by choice, but active with our many nieces and nephews. We have a nice house in a nice neighborhood of Toronto. I’m writing full time, and I have two groups of wonderful friends, the first I met over a dozen years ago through fandom, and the second I met three years ago through the RWA (Romance Writers of America). I have an active online life, and a satisfying offline one, as well.

Although we aren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, we are comfortable. And I’ve found a wonderful, cheap place in Mexico to spend a month each winter. San Miguel de Allende is a writer’s paradise, and my husband loves it too. He spent so much time out cruising the town while I wrote, that he became known around town as “Walking Guy.” “Hey, look. There’s Walking Guy!” or “I know you. You’re Walking Guy.”

Do you own an e-reader?

The gals I worked with gifted me with a Kobo as a retirement gift. I wouldn’t have bought one, but it is very handy. Even though I read fanfic on the computer for years and years, I still prefer longer works in hard copy. If anything happened to it, I would probably replace it with an iPad rather than another dedicated e-reader.

Are you a book hoarder?

Not really. If I read a book, I add it to my Excel spreadsheet and then decide, “will I ever look at this again, either for research or for pleasure?” If the answer is yes, I add it to the bookshelves. If the answer is no, out it goes to someone else who might enjoy it.

What’s the one question you wish people would ask you when you tell them you’re a writer?

“Tell me about your work.”

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of people only ask you a question as a segue to talking about themselves. Author Fran Lebowitz once said, “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

How would you answer it?

I find the people who are genuinely interested in my work are usually older and more literary. So I tell them I write urban fantasy. Of course they don’t know what that is so I clarify by saying, “You know, like with vampires. Or Harry Potter.” Then I lose them.

If you were doomed to spend the rest of your life on an island with only one book, one person, one food (coconuts and fish aside), and one object from the modern world (computer, deodorant, vibrator, etc.), what would they be?

One object: Computer with internet access.
One book: Good Omens by Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
One food: Thai Green Curry. Yum!
One person… hmmm. Someone trained in the art of surviving on a desert island.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve written

Captain Thomas Ferrell from Shift Happens. The guy is so straight-laced and then he ends up working with an entire agency comprised of supernatural beings, and then discovering that he’s a supernatural being himself! He spends have the book stuck in the form of a giant jaguar, with his humanity slipping away.

Here’s the blurb about my uptight Captain: Captain Thomas Ferrell hates the supernatural. But when the Army kicks him out for weird behavior, he signs on with paranormal investigators Borderless Observers Org. Three missions in, Tom’s learned BOO does a lot more than observe. And that their paranormal investigators really are paranormal investigators. Sent to stop a drug operation in the Amazon basin, he’s unwillingly shapeshifted into a huge black jaguar. He believes he must regain his humanity before he can complete his mission. Is he wrong?

Why is he your favorite?

Because he’s fearless and sexy and willing to risk his life to help others, and absolutely nothing like me.

Where are your favorite online hangouts? What are your daily must-stop blogs and websites?

I have a LiveJournal filter that includes all my favorite blogs and I read it every single day. It includes people I know through real life, other m/m writers, agents and editors, and of course, I Can Haz Cheeseburger.

I don’t Facebook much and haven’t really checked out Google+ yet. I do go on Twitter fairly often, but I’m a blogger at heart.

Speaking of online hangouts, where are yours? Where can your readers find you?

Author Name: Gina Grant w/a Storm Grant
Email address: storm.grant@gmail.com
Website: www.StormGrant.com
Blog: http://storm-grant.livejournal.com/
Twitter: @stormgrant
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/stormgrant

Here’s an excerpt from Sucks & Blows, my new release from Riptide Publishing:

Cary was just about to jerk off again when the electronic door chime squawked the first few bars of “Another One Bites the Dust.”

He rushed out to the reception area. “Hello. Welcome to Drewel’s Dentistry!” He hoped he didn’t sound too anxious. And that his residual hard-on wasn’t tenting his racy black dental smock.

That the visitor was tall and handsome, with a muscular build and chiseled cheekbones, did little to dampen Cary’s arousal.

“I . . . I thaw your brothure.” The man held out Cary’s carefully crafted (but badly printed) flyer:

Grand Opening!
Drewel’s Family Dental Clinic
~ Vampires Our Specialty ~

“You do vampireth?”

“Absolutely.” Cary grinned. He’d included the vampire reference to show he was the dentist with a sense of humor. And also to attract the Twilight age group, which was ripe for expensive orthodontia.

“Hurths.” The man pointed to his upper lip, red and swollen on either side of his sexy little cupid’s bow.

“I can help you with your dental breakdown, Mr. . . .”

“Tharpe. Pierthe Tharpe.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Sharpe. May I call you Pierce?”

“Thure.” Pierce held out his hand.

“Call me Cary, then.” Cary grasped the outstretched hand, surprised at how cold and shaky Pierce felt. This guy was in bad shape. He looked like death—if death were really cute, that is.

Withdrawing his hand, Pierce shoved it deep into his jeans pocket, maybe to hide the trembling. “I haven’t eaten in dayths. Hurths too much.”

“Okay then. You’re in luck. I was about to close, but I can squeeze you in. Let’s get you in the chair right away.” He led Pierce through the pristine reception area, which, he hoped, would one day have an actual receptionist. “Climb aboard.” He gestured at the shiny new-and-not-yet-paid-for dental chair.

Pierce clambered into the chair and lay back. Cary took a moment to look at him—professionally, of course. He’d been so excited at getting his first actual patient he hadn’t really checked Pierce out.

Sprawled in a chair was a good look for the guy. He had a terrific body, nicely showcased by a tight black T-shirt and faded jeans. His lips were reddish and swollen and brought to mind other things that made a guy’s lips red and swollen—but in a good way rather than an inflamed-gums way. Short dark hair contrasted nicely with blue eyes that were a little bloodshot. And staring back at Cary.

Click the cover to buy Sucks & Blows.

Friday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for the winner’s choice of Allegro Vivace, Sonata Appassionata, The First Real Thing (Icon Men #1), Appearing Nightly (Icon Men #2), A Fool for You (Icon Men #3), or Entangled Trio.

Once a Marine‘s a book I’ve been wanting to write for a couple of years, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work until Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in December 2010.

I have to give the awesome Rachel Maddow a bit of the credit for this book’s birth. Her series of interviews with gay American military servicemen and women facing expulsion under DADT sank its hooks in me and refused to let go. One particular interviewee, discharged Army Captain Jonathan Hopkins, confessed that he hadn’t had a personal relationship for his entire nine-year military career. When I heard that, my muse went right to work. Hopkins became the spiritual inspiration for my Marine hero, Cole Hammond.

Since I’ve never been in the military, I had to do a lot of research to make the details authentic. I read all of Steven Zeeland’s books interviewing gay Marines, soldiers & sailors, as well as Rich Merritt’s memoir Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star and Joseph Steffan’s Annapolis memoir, Honor Bound. It was a lot of work – the most I’ve ever done for one of my books – but it was also very rewarding. It gave me the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and made me cognizant of all the sacrifices they make in order to serve and protect our country.

Here’s an excerpt from Once a Marine:

Chapter 1
November, 2009

The second he walked into the diner, I nearly dropped the stack of plates I was carrying. Six foot three at least, with long, long legs encased in jeans worn almost white across the front of his well-muscled thighs. Dripping wet from the freezing November downpour, he unzipped his rain jacket and pushed back the hood. Oh, holy Christ. Lush lips, strong chin, cheekbones that could slice through a rare steak. Nordic-god blond hair in a military buzz cut that instantly made the crotch of my jeans tight. Good thing I had my apron on. I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and kept staring.

I wasn’t the only one. Terry’s hand froze momentarily over the cash register as our new arrival gave her a quick nod, grabbed the sports section from the front counter, and headed for the nearest empty table. He didn’t seem to notice us both gaping at him, or maybe he just didn’t care. Drop-dead gorgeous guys like him were probably used to it.

“That’s what I call a tall, cool drink of water.” Terry handed her customer his change and shut the register with a bump of her ample hip. “And lucky you—he just sat down in your section. Unless you want to take your break now?” She flashed me a toothy grin.

“Nice try,” I fired back with a wink. I put my armload of dirty dishes in a tub under the counter and grabbed a mug and a pot of coffee before making a beeline back to Mr. Tall-and-Hunky’s table. The shitty weather had scared away most of the usual Sunday morning crowd, so for once I didn’t get waylaid refilling cups.

Tall-and-Hunky glanced up as I approached. He looked about thirty, with nice eyes—pale blue, but not the least bit icy. Smiling, I gestured toward him with the mug. “Hi, I’m Marc. Would you like some coffee?” He nodded. “Did you want some juice this morning as well, or maybe some water?”

“Coffee’s fine, thanks.” For a second I could’ve sworn I detected the soft lilt of a southern accent. And now I definitely recognized the haircut—shaved nearly bare on the back and sides, flat on top. The traditional “high and tight” cut worn by most Marines. Sweet, seedy memories of falling to my knees in the back room of an adult bookstore in Oceanside raced through my brain as I watched him stir raw sugar into his coffee and take his first tentative sip.

Then those big blue eyes locked on mine, jolting me back to the present. “Um, do you need a couple more minutes to make up your mind?”

He snagged a menu and gave it a quick once-over, the side with “Blue Windmill Café” printed on it flipped toward me. “I’ll have two eggs over easy with hash browns and a side of bacon.”

There it was, and no doubt this time—that unmistakable slow-as-honey Carolina drawl. Just like Rob, I realized with a pang, tugging my pad and pen from my apron to scribble down his order. “What kind of toast?”

“You got biscuits?” he asked shyly, one corner of his mouth quirking up.

“Afraid not. How about an English muffin?”

“That’ll do. Thanks.” He took another sip of his coffee and turned his attention back to the sports section.

“Looked like you were having a nice conversation,” Terry commented archly as I came back around the counter and stuck my order in the queue for Fernando. The smell of burnt toast and bacon grease floated forth from the kitchen, punctuated by the clatter of Fernando’s teenage son Pedro none-too-gently loading dirty dishes into the washer. “Did you notice him checking out your butt?”

“Yeah, right.” Six months ago, she might’ve had me going. Terry loved yanking my chain. Good-natured yanking, but still.

“For once I’m not kidding. He looked right at those cute little buns of yours when you turned around.”

I tossed a nonchalant glance in Military Guy’s direction. He had his phone out now, and was punching at its tiny keyboard with mad double-thumb action. It looked like a toy nestled in his huge, long-fingered hands. Oh, dear God. If there was one thing I went crazy for, it was a guy with nice hands.

“Just my luck.” Terry shook her head, brunette ponytail swinging to and fro. “All the hot ones play for your team.”

“I think the jury’s still out on that.”

“Why don’t we put it to the test?” She snapped up a coffee pot from a burner. “Let’s see if he needs a warm-up.”

Of course, crotchety old Mr. Faber had to choose that moment to hobble up to the register to pay his bill. I rang him up while trying to peer over his shoulder to see what Terry was doing.

She could flirt with the best of them, I’d give her that. Hand resting seductively on her cocked hip, she gave Military Guy a big smile and batted her lashes. He smiled back, his gaze lingering on her impressive bust line. Didn’t mean anything one way or the other—hell, I stared at Terry’s tits too, mostly because they seemed to defy gravity. They exchanged words, but I couldn’t hear what either of them said. Finally, she topped off his mug and sashayed back to the counter.

“His mama raised him right,” she announced with a rapturous sigh. “Such lovely manners. He actually called me ma’am!”

I snickered. “Probably because you remind him of his mom.”

“Watch it, buster. I’m only thirty-five.”

According to Fernando, Terry’d just celebrated the sixth anniversary of her thirty-fifth birthday. But since I didn’t want to get kicked in the shin, I figured I’d better not mention it. Besides, my order was up.

I stacked both plates along my left arm like a seasoned greasy-spoon pro, grabbed a bottle of ketchup, and motored back to Military Guy’s table. He folded his paper and sat back, giving me room to set everything down. The plate with the bacon and eggs nearly slipped from my hand when he shrugged out of his slicker. He was wearing a plain black t-shirt underneath. A really tight plain black t-shirt stretched over every hard, smooth muscle in his chest and shoulders, showing off a spectacular set of guns. It was all I could do to keep from drooling.

“A-anything else I can get you?” Coffee? Tea? Me?

“This’ll do for now, thanks.” His right sleeve hiked up when he reached for his fork, revealing a small tattoo of a bulldog with “USMC” emblazoned under it. Growing up in San Diego, I’d seen my fair share of Marine Corps tats. Most of them looked garish and trashy, but this one was actually kind of cute. So was this guy a real Marine, or just a wannabe?

One way to find out. “We don’t get too many devil dogs in this neighborhood. You here to protect Berkeley from the scourge of all us bleeding-heart liberals?”

His smile immediately faded. “I think I’m a little late for that. Besides, I’m not on active duty.”

Ouch. Now I wished I’d kept my mouth shut. “Well, let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

“Will do.”

Before long, the rain slowed to a trickle and business started to pick up. Within half an hour, the place was packed, and Terry and I were running our butts off. Pedro even had to come out front to help bus tables and ring up customers. I got so busy I didn’t notice when Military Guy got up to leave. The next time I looked over at his table, he was gone.

Royally bummed, I went to clear off his dirty dishes—and there was his phone, under the discarded sports section he’d been reading. It was one of those pocket-sized prepaid models. People left them here all the time. They were so cheap he’d probably rather buy another one than retrace his steps to find it. Oh well. I’d toss it in the lost and found anyway.

He’d left a generous tip: five bucks on a breakfast that cost less than ten. A kind gesture, especially since I’d forgotten to come back and check on him. Not only damn cute, but a gentleman to boot—and with my luck, probably straight as a steel ruler. Best to put him out of my mind right now. I shoved the phone in my pocket, added his dirty plates to my ever-growing stack, and toted it all back to the front counter.

The sun started poking through the remaining cloud cover by the time I got off shift at three. I headed down the block toward the bus stop, zipping up my jacket against the lingering chill. Typical Bay Area weather—cold, wet, and gloomy from now until March. The air tasted good, though, scrubbed fresh and clean by the rain.
Bus service ran slow on Sundays, so I ducked inside the shelter to wait, burying my hands in my jeans pockets. My fingers closed over something small and plastic. Shit, the Marine’s phone! A twinge of guilt plucked at me as I yanked it from my pocket and flicked it on. What was the harm in finding out his name? It wasn’t like I was planning to stalk him. One quick look, then I’d put the damn thing in the lost and found tomorrow.

Cole Hammond. A good, strong name with a touch of country twang. It suited him. His address was right below. It was only about three blocks north. Huh. Wonder why I’d never seen him in the diner before today?

Ten minutes crawled by, and still no sign of the bus. Fuck it—I might as well walk. Except my apartment lay south while my legs insisted on carrying me in the opposite direction, toward Cole Hammond’s place.

It was your usual depressing gray concrete apartment building on Channing, within easy walking distance of the UC Berkeley campus. I’d lived in one of the residence halls not far from here during my undergrad days. So was this Cole guy a student? He looked a little old to be getting his bachelor’s, but grad school was a possibility. Maybe he was studying for an advanced science or engineering degree on the government’s dime. He certainly seemed better-spoken than the average grunt. Of course, if Uncle Sam was forking out the money to send him here, he was probably an officer.

I found his name on the complex’s directory, then started to waver big-time. This was nuts. What the fuck was I thinking? I should just drop the phone in his mailbox and get out of here before one of the other residents saw me loitering and called the cops. Except it wouldn’t fit in the mailbox—the slats weren’t wide enough. And if I left it on the table in the foyer, it’d end up getting stolen.

I could bring it up to his apartment. Leave it outside his door, knock, then take off before anybody saw me. Like leaving a bag of burning dog shit on someone’s stoop at Halloween, only slightly more considerate. Might as well do it and get it over with. I’d already come this far.

His apartment was on the third floor. I decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The place was a labyrinth of hallways, but finally I found the right one. As I rounded the corner, I saw someone else approaching from the other end of the corridor.

Oh, God, it was him!

He was carrying a Whole Foods bag in one arm, a six-pack of beer tucked under the other. Fat Tire, from the look of it. Funny, but I would’ve pegged him as a Bud or Michelob man. Those big blue eyes of his widened the moment he recognized me, and he stopped dead right in the middle of the hallway.

I held up his phone and forced a shaky smile. Didn’t want him thinking I’d shown up to mug him, though the mere idea of that was pretty fucking hilarious. He could probably flatten me with a flick of his pinkie. “You forgot something.”

“Holy shit.” Shoulders relaxing, he set down his groceries and started checking his pockets. Guess he just wanted to make sure. “I didn’t even know it was missing. Thanks, man. I appreciate you goin’ out of your way.”

The drawl was back, even stronger this time. “It was the least I could do after that nice tip you left me.”

“No problem. I waited tables every summer during high school. It’s a tough job.” He jerked his chin toward his apartment. “I was gonna crack open a cold one and watch the game. Wanna join me?”

Nothing like Southern hospitality. I smiled and said, “Sure, why not?” then followed him inside.

It was a one-bedroom unit overlooking a tiny green patch of courtyard and another apartment building across the way. Cramped living room just big enough for a couch, a coffee table, and a small flat-screen TV. Galley-style kitchen. A short hallway on the right-hand side of the living room led—presumably—to the bedroom and bathroom.

The place looked like an army of maids had just swept through, except for a laptop computer sitting open on the coffee table, surrounded by several books and piles of papers. One thick volume had “Contract Law” stamped on its spine in bold silver type.

“Law school, huh? You enrolled at Boalt Hall?”

He looked up from putting his groceries away and nodded. “Yup. Just started this term.”

“How do you like it?”

“It’s okay. A lot harder than I expected, though.” He snagged a couple bottles, twisted them open and brought them over. At his nod, we both sat down, the couch springs creaking under our weight. A little lumpy, but not too uncomfortable for something he’d probably bought at a thrift store. Scooping up the remote, he flicked on the TV. It was on a commercial, so he muted the sound.

“So you’ve been in town since, what?” I asked. “Last August? And today’s the first time you dropped by the diner?”

“I meant to stop in before. I pass the place every day when I’m out running. I don’t have a whole lot of money to spend on restaurants, but today I decided to treat myself and celebrate a belated birthday.”

“Well, happy birthday!” I leaned over to clink bottles, but he put up a hand to stop me. “You don’t want to drink to it?”

“It’s not mine. It’s the USMC’s. Or it was, last week. November 10th.”

Oh, yeah. Rob and all his buddies used to make such a big deal out of it, going around slapping each other on the back and wishing each other happy birthday as if every damn Marine on the planet had been born on the same day.

“You’re not on active duty anymore, but you still celebrate?”

“Just upholding tradition,” he replied with a shrug, then flicked the TV’s sound back on.

Football wasn’t my favorite sport. I didn’t even recognize which teams were playing. After a few minutes, my attention started to wander. I glanced around the room, struck by the starkness of its bare white walls. No diplomas, no citations, no photographs. No reminders of home or family. Seemed a bit odd.

We’d finished our beers by the time the next commercial came on, so he got up to get us a second round.

“Don’t you get bored with nothing to look at except that little garden outside your window?” I asked.

He chuckled. “I don’t have time to get bored. School keeps me hoppin’. ’Sides, I’d rather look at four empty walls than miles and miles of fuckin’ sand.”

“You were in Iraq?”

“Yup. Five tours.” Mouth tightening, he handed me a fresh bottle and sat back down.

Holy shit. I should’ve dropped the subject, but curiosity got the better of me. “In Baghdad?”

“And Fallujah. Both times.”

For a long moment, all I could do was stare. This guy had survived two of the ugliest and most brutal battles of the entire war. Despite my left-leaning politics, I couldn’t help but admire him. “Looks like you made it through in one piece.”

“Relatively speaking.” Up went that cute little quirk of his lips again, then he turned his attention back to the game.

We downed our beer more quickly this time. By the time I reached the bottom of my bottle, I had a sweet buzz going. Cole got back up at the next commercial to fetch us another round. I was about to tell him I’d had enough, but his blue gaze locked on mine as he handed it to me, and the words dried up in my throat.

This time he sat down closer to me—close enough to touch—slumping down and stretching his arm along the back of the couch. I went stiff for a second or two, but then leaned my head back until it rested against his forearm. His toned, well-muscled forearm, dusted with soft, pale hair that felt like silk against the nape of my neck. He glanced over, giving me a quick smile.

What the fuck? Was he sending me signals, or just trying to hang out and relax? He already had my heart racing, but still, I didn’t want to presume. If not for the good sense to know when to turn tail and run, I’d have gotten my lights punched out more than once making moves on guys who claimed to be straight. But Cole hadn’t claimed anything; I’d simply made an assumption. A possibly erroneous assumption. Even so, was it worth the risk to find out?

Another long sip of beer, and my left hand made the decision for me. My breath froze in my lungs as I cupped Cole’s knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. I shut my eyes, half-expecting him to haul off and slug me, or at least push me away, but instead I felt his calloused fingers stroke my cheek, the pad of his thumb worry at my lower lip.

“You got a pretty mouth,” he whispered, beer and arousal lowering his tone to a raspy growl. “Why don’t you use it?”

No way to misinterpret that. I set my beer down, dropped to my knees between his splayed legs and looked up at him, making sure he really meant it. The hot glow in his eyes and the way his breath quickened, the tip of his tongue darting out to wet his lips, told me all I needed to know.

His cock stood straight up under his fly, a hard ridge practically bursting through the zipper. I eased it down gently, surprised to discover blue and white checkered boxers underneath. Every other Marine I’d been with had either worn briefs or tighty-whities. Time spun back, and I could practically feel the sticky floor of a video booth beneath my knees, that first grunt’s big, sweaty paw gripping my neck as he shoved his dick down my throat. Dizzy from the memory and the scent of Cole’s pre-cum, I let my eyes drift closed and leaned forward to suck the tip of his cock between my lips.

God, he tasted good. Salty and bitter, a perfect, luscious mouthful. Almost too big for me to handle, which I should’ve expected—guys his height were usually hung like mules. So I opened wide, sliding down until he hit the back of my throat, then relaxed, breathed deep through my nose, and swallowed.

Cole gasped, digging his hands into the cushions, gave a couple of jerky thrusts and came.

I kept sucking him until he finished, not wanting to miss a single drop. At last I pulled off gently, tucked him back into his boxers and zipped him up. “Short and sweet,” I said with a smile, wiping the corners of my mouth, “but I guess I should take it as a compliment, huh?”

“Um, yeah.” He sat up straight, face bright pink, raking a hand through his hair. His fingers trembled as he scooped up the remote and turned off the TV, even though the game wasn’t over yet. “I’ve got some studying to do, so . . .”

I gaped at him, wondering if I needed to clean the wax out of my ears. “So you’re kicking me out?”

“Look, time just got away from me. I got a shitload of reading I need to catch up on—”

His lips kept moving, but I stopped listening. I’d heard this song before. Now that he’d gotten off, he wanted me gone. I hadn’t thought he was that kind of a guy, but of course he was. They all were. Even after the hell Rob and Tony had put me through, here I was, falling for a hot haircut and a nice set of muscles all over again. How could I be such a fucking idiot?

“Yeah, right,” I snapped, finally cutting him off. “Don’t worry, I get it. I’m going.” I got up, grabbed my jacket, and practically sprinted for the door, half-hoping Cole would come after me.

He didn’t.

I’d no sooner stepped from the building’s foyer when it started raining again. I yanked up the hood of my jacket, shoved my hands in my pockets, and headed south, toward my place. Maybe a long walk would help me cool off and feel slightly less cheap and humiliated, but somehow I doubted it.

Once a Marine can be purchased by clicking on the cover.

You can contact Cat in any number of places:
Email address: bittermint2007@gmail.com
Website: http://www.catgrant.com
Blog: http://catgrant.blogspot.com/
Twitter: CatGrant2009
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Thursday Spotlight: Riptide Publishing

In addition to being entered into the weekly spotlight contest, all commenters on today’s post will be entered into a drawing for a copy of Hot Head.

Building the HardCell Universe

Grown Men grew out of a photograph posted in May on the (inestimable) goodreads M/M group. Something about this image just prodded my Muse and I knew from the get-go that some deep science-fictioning needed to take place. For one thing the tropical setting felt slightly artificial and otherworldly for some reason and I also wanted to justify the insane disparity between their sizes.

The minute I knew the story was set in the future, I started poking at the edges of the world. How could a giant live and love in a world that accepted him as he was? What kind of world would allow that kind of extreme physical enhancement (and threat)? And how would two men so obviously different wind up together butt naked in a tropical paradise?

I didn’t even know if the story would work, and Riptide Publishing hadn’t even appeared on my radar yet. But I felt like there was an edgy romanticism to these mismatched men and I decided to just jump in because my Muse kept nudging me. The beach setting indicated something primal to me: a raw untested landscape. And the ruggedness of the men indicated pretty grueling gruntwork and a lot of time spent baking their formidable physiques in relentless UV. Tropical setting. Genetic design. Hard labor. The job came almost instantly: terraforming… the process of modifying an existing world to support human lives and industries.

These two studs were building a planet from scratch. Cool.

Okay… so who can afford a planet? Well, obviously the necessary technology and resources indicated a lot of money and political clout, but these fellas seemed pretty working class. So they had to be employees of some kind, hired to terraform for a big company with unfathomable influence and domination. Obviously no company earns enough to buy several star systems without being fairly slick and ruthless. These men’s contracts had to be with a massive conglomerate integrated vertically, with divisions covering everything from baby formula to smart weapons to digital coffins.

And so the HardCell Corporation was born.

Of course in this universe I discovered, if a corporation can own a star system then corporations have finally, overtly, literally replaced governments at every level (not that such a thing could EVER happen). HardCell would need workers for the nitty-gritty, so why not raise employees from birth and offer corporate citizenship only to those who work diligently. And if these employees lived at the whim and mercy of companies, humanity’s “softer” inventions would have been replaced by corporate offerings: art and mythology replaced by “adver-tainment,” homes by “Habitats,” and loving marriages by sex resorts and purpose-grown clones. Employees don’t die, instead they are “retired” by corporate assassins when their productivity drops. In the HardCell Universe, humanity has become cells in a vast interstellar corporate organism… Gah! Sort of depressing, but with lots of room for hopeful, sexy struggle.

Little by little, I followed the HardCell logic outward to build the world for this story. A massive company with billions of employees would need serious food production, maybe that’s why they need to terraform planets, to produce the basics: food, clothing, shelter… A massive corporation would give its lowliest employees the bare minimum in terms of supplies and comforts. The tools and housing would be slick but Spartan, because the employee would be the one doing the work. Who would agree to come live (and slave) on the galactic outskirts willingly? Obviously someone desperate who wants to become a citizen with stock options, elevating themselves from being a mere grunt to rise in the corporate ranks if possible. Someone willing to gamble and sacrifice, big time.

So Grown Men takes place on an agricultural planetoid that’s been designed to generate simple high-volume food for HardCell employees across the Galaxy.
Of course, I immediately got interested in WHAT that food would be. If I ran a giant galactic corporation and needed to feed people, what would the products be? I figured fast food will never go away, and will only get more primitive and guttural… flavored mush that you can suck out of plastic packaging. HardCell would definitely sell shiny, MSG-soaked goo to anyone willing to buy it. Who needs a kitchen or utensils or teeth?! And so “mealpaks” sprang fully formed as the bastard spawn of our fast-food nation. 🙂 But mealpaks would be a treat… too expensive for the average worker.

Likewise, I needed to know what my two heroes would grow in outer space on their island. It needed to be high-protein, high-yield, and highly portable. With an artificially fertile tropical setting, I added the idea of crop terraces borrowed from the Inca. Soybeans and lentils seemed like a no-brainer. Soybeans gave me the idea for SoyShimi because HardCell would want to “package” and brand the crop for consumers. And because lentils are slow, I crossbred it with kudzu, aggressively speedy and a food source in itself. And branded plants would keep HardCell in control of profits. I added mangos because they’re a tropical superfood, very hardy, and easy to ship.

To pollinate and tend the crops, I had this idea about intelligent bees, but I wanted them to be nocturnal (to maximize the growth cycle). I spliced bees and moths (which also gave me a fun “behemoth” pun for my giant) who answered to a mechanical queen that controlled the farm’s crop terraces. The oceans became freshwater (to simplify irrigation) and because I needed an amped growth cycle I decided on a planetoid with twin-suns.

So then, I went through the catalog of planetary objects likely to sustain earth-like life forms and zeroed in on candidates with two suns. I scrolled through hundreds of star maps and tried to find a star system that wasn’t on the far side of the galaxy (because HardCell couldn’t have expanded that far even within a thousand years from now). Little by little I zeroed in on several stars in Andromeda (because of their proximity to our sun AND because I love the myth of Andromeda. Likewise, my gut told me that the myth of Andromeda and the sea monster would be good in a story featuring eels and a possibly murderous giant. And finally I found the solar system HardCell had redesigned: HD10307… and invented planetoid HD10307-E.

Thinking in terms of corporate efficiency, I wanted there to be some kind of meat or ranching going on. Cows and sheep are incredibly inefficient and ecologically unsound. I thought of goats (because I love goats), but they don’t produce enough meat and milk. Since the photo suggested a tropical beach setting, the ocean would be the most productive “paddock,” but fishing seemed too equipment-intensive and low volume. No corporation would pay a man to fish enough to feed a galaxy. Basically I wanted a tasty aquatic animal that could grow to vast dimensions and also underscore the alien-ness of the planetoid. Ding ding ding. EELS! What are weirder or more alien than eels? And their meat is delicious and sturdy. Real eels can grow to nine feet easily, but in the HardCell Universe, biodesign opened up all kinds of possibilities. I made my eels conger hybrids that grew up to twelve feet and made them herd-friendly so they could live in an aquatic corral.

Now my unlikely lovers had a job: on an alien planet somewhere in Andromeda, they farmed and ranched eels, crating and shipping the harvest for profits. By meeting their quotas, they work towards corporate citizenship and the HardCell stock options that will make them more than low-paid employees.

Two strong men struggling for a better life and forced to trust each other. Yay! From that point the love story exploded out of me onto the page. Each of my men met their match and much more….

When the story opens, HardCell has marooned my main character (Runt) in the middle of nowhere. Scrappy and starving, Runt has survived alone for eighteen months because his assigned clone-wife died on entry. Farming is backbreaking work on earth, but farming in isolation on an alien island would be unbelievably lonely and grim. What better situation to kickstart an unlikely romance? Of course, another person does arrive, but not the replacement clone-bride … instead Runt meets Ox, a genetically modified giant nearly eight feet tall and wrapped in enhanced sinew, who most likely has arrived to retire him forcibly and steal his farmstead. Paranoia? Check. Dystopian sexiness? Yuh-huh. Room for some very startling love scenes? You’d better believe it. Grown Men charts the journey these guys take together, both in their harsh environment and with their own distrust and hope.

Rachel (Haimowitz) snapped up Grown Men immediately, grooving on the complex world and tone. Amazing. I love that this story is one of the first books being released in Riptide’s First Wave, partially because I think Riptide is such a wonderful fit for the story and also because I feel like Rachel and Aleks have every intention of making me push the envelope with subsequent “transmissions” from the HardCell universe.

Of course, the world continued to bloom organically around the characters; HardCell and its branches became so crammed with cool situations that I already want to know what happens next. SO many options for other dramatic characters trying to fight the corporate hegemony! So many futuristic redemption stories I’m dying to tell! And so much sci-fi romance out the ying-yang because nothing makes Love more delicious than struggling against impossible odds. *cue ominous futuristic chord* Can anyone bring down HardCell and save humanity from itself?

And all that grew out of looking at a picture and building the HardCell Universe one idea at a time.

About the Author Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to M/M, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com.