Teaser Thursday- Work Boots and Tees

I wasn’t thrilled about going to group again. When I walked in, Dane didn’t look too impressed either. He covered it with a smile pretty fast, though. “Good morning, Jim. How are you today?”

I pretended not to notice he chanted it like my kindergarten teacher always had. “Good.”

“This morning, I’d like you to answer a couple of questions again.” He glanced at his clipboard. “You’ll be seeing Dr. Hernandez before break. After break, I’ll ask you to participate in the discussion. Is that okay?”

“Sure.” I didn’t exactly have a choice.

“Cool. Have a seat.”

I took the same chair as the day before and ignored everyone else in the room.

I only had to sit through about fifteen minutes of group before Dr. Hernandez came to get me. “How’s group going?” he asked as we walked to his office.

“Dane isn’t my biggest fan,” I said. “He decided to talk directly to me so I’d participate. He said he was only going to ask me one question, but after I answered, he kept asking me stuff.”

“He told me. He was hoping to have more of a discussion.” Dr. Hernandez glanced at me. “You don’t have to participate. We don’t force people to do things around here, for the most part, unless it’s a safety or health issue. But it’s going to help you if you are willing to speak up at least a little.”

“I did,” I said. “I answered him. He didn’t believe I don’t have any hobbies. That isn’t my problem.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“He said he’s going to ask more than one question today.” I rolled my eyes. “I feel like a little kid. Do what the teacher says or stand in the corner.”

Dr. Hernandez chuckled. “I understand. Unfortunately, around here, sometimes we have to do it that way.” He stopped in front of his door. “Delia called and said she’s running a few minutes late. Before she gets here, I have something to ask you.”

That didn’t sound good. “Okay.”

We went inside and sat down. “What do you want to know?” I asked.

“The man you told me about yesterday. Can you give me his name?”

My mouth went dry, and I started coughing. I hadn’t said his name in ten years, and I really didn’t want to start now. Dr. Hernandez didn’t need to know it.

It took me a few seconds to be able to speak. “Why? I said I don’t want to report him.”

“I’m not going to,” he said. “I’d like to check into something. Besides, names have power. That’s something you usually only hear in fantasy stories, but it can be true in real life. If you turn someone into a monster in your mind, sometimes saying their name makes them seem more human. When someone hurts you, they take away your power. If you see them as just another person, you can take your power back.”

I thought about it. My mother’s boyfriend had definitely taken away my power. And for ten years, he’d been a monster as far as I was concerned. Even though what Dr. Hernandez said sounded kind of stupid, maybe he had a point. It was worth a try.

“Pete Foster,” I said.

As soon as I said the name, the room spun. Something roared in my ears, and everything in front of me turned gray. I tried to breathe, but his face was right in front of mine, and the oxygen couldn’t get through.

“You’re safe. He isn’t here.”

Dr. Hernandez’s voice barely cut through the noise. I reached for the voice and tried to believe what the doctor said. I’m safe here. He isn’t here. He can’t hurt me.

“Try to breathe slowly,” Dr. Hernandez said. “In and out. Look around. Tell me what you see.”

I sucked in some air that actually made it to my lungs, then turned my head. “Your desk is messy.”

He laughed. “Yes, I’m not good about cleaning it. What else?”

“You don’t have a window.”

“Tell me what you do see.”

“Your chair. My chair.” I blinked a couple of times and focused on him. “You spilled something on your shirt.”

“When coffee attacks,” he said. “How do you feel?”

The room wasn’t gray anymore, and it was holding still. My lungs were working. Best of all, his face was gone. “Better.”

“Good. I’m sorry that was so difficult for you.” He scribbled something in my folder. “If you struggle like that again, the technique I just used is called grounding. You look at your surroundings and say what you see, smell, and so on. It’s best if you can say it out loud, because sometimes the sound of your own voice helps too, but thinking about it will work. I’m going to tell Delia about it as well, so she can help you if you need.”

“Thanks.” I definitely wouldn’t say anything out loud if I had to use the technique, but it had helped.

Teaser Thursday- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

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I definitely wasn’t up for discussing coming out anymore, so I joined Guillermo and Chastaine kneeling at the coffee table and started trying to design a card for Natalia. I wanted to do something in her favorite color, but I didn’t know what it was. I pretty much didn’t know anything about her.

I didn’t like that. If she hadn’t told me about what happened to her, I probably wouldn’t have talked to her at all. I was trying to be her friend, but it was mostly because of what she’d told me. That kind of sucked. She was a nice person, and I wished I’d talked to her more in the past. But the kids in Mr. Houseman’s class had mostly been in a separate classroom since elementary school and only joined the rest of us for things like art, gym, and lunch, and I didn’t really know any of them.

I wished I could do something about that, but right then, I had way too many other things on my mind. I knew Mr. Houseman chose a few seniors every year to mentor his students, so maybe I would talk to him about doing that next year. By then, the rest of the crap in my life might have let up a little.

When Aunt Imogen got home, Chastaine and Guillermo left. I wanted to leave too. Aunt Imogen wasn’t a big fan of company after work, especially if she’d had a stressful day. But I didn’t want to wait too long to talk to her about Chastaine and me. That would have only given me more time to get anxious about it.

She kicked off her boots at the door and sat on the armchair beside the couch. “Are you staying for supper, Holly?”

“It’s up to you.” I hesitated. Now that she was there, I had no clue how to bring up what I needed to talk about.

Evan took over, because he was Evan and that was how he did things. “I told you Holly wants to talk to you about something.”

“Yes, and that’s why I asked about supper. If you two are hungry, we can eat while we talk.”

“I’m not hungry,” I said. I kind of was. My headache was worse, I was dizzy, and my stomach kept growling. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat even if I wanted to. And I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to.

“Okay, well, I am.” She leaned back. “I’m happy to help with whatever’s going on, Holly, but I’m tired and hungry, and that’s going to make me a little cranky.”

“So let’s make this fast,” Evan said. “Mom, Holly needs help figuring out how to talk to her parents about something.”

“Okay.” Aunt Imogen looked at me. “What’s going on?”

“I have a girlfriend.” There wasn’t any way to ease into that information, so blurting it out seemed like the best way to start. Even though as soon as I said it, I wished I could take it back.

Aunt Imogen’s expression didn’t change a bit. “As in you’re dating a girl?”

“Yeah.” I stared at her. Even though she accepted Evan, I’d expected her to kind of flip out on me. Or at least react somehow.

“I thought you had a boyfriend,” she said.

“They were faking it.” Evan touched a finger to his lips. “Sorry. Not my story to tell.”

I was kind of relieved he’d interrupted. “What he said. Nathan and I weren’t really going out. It was a cover.” I decided not to tell her Nathan was gay. Even though I was pissed at him for throwing me under the bus, that didn’t give me the right to out him.

“I see.” Aunt Imogen held up her hand, exactly the way Mom did when she wanted me to be quiet while she processed something. The same way I did, for that matter. “Okay. You’re dating a girl, but everyone believes you’re dating a boy.”

“Not anymore,” I said. “He got mad because people were saying I was cheating on him with my girlfriend. They didn’t know the truth, but they assumed. He kept going off about how people would think he was gay if they knew I was, so I told him to tell everyone he broke up with me. Except I guess he said I was the one who broke up with him, which is just giving everyone more reason to think my girlfriend and I are a couple. I mean, we are, but it isn’t like we wanted everyone to know.”

“Some people can’t handle their own lives,” Evan muttered.

“Do you want to tell your parents because you’re ready to, or because you’re afraid they’re going to find out from someone else?” Aunt Imogen asked.

“The second one.” I sighed. “Everyone talks to everyone in this town. You know that. Someone’s going to say something in front of their parents, and their parents will know mine, or it’ll go through a few other people first. But they’ll hear about it one way or another.”

“Parents are usually a few steps behind the grapevine, but most things get out eventually,” Evan said. “I agree with Holly. They’re going to hear about it sooner or later, so it’s probably best if they hear it from her first.”

“I agree too,” Aunt Imogen said. “Holly, first things first. I want to make sure you understand this isn’t a bad thing. No matter what anyone says. You’re who you are, and if you’re brave enough to be that person, that’s good.”

“Thanks.” I wasn’t sure I completely believed her, but it was nice to hear anyway.

Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick

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“The attorney called,” Dad said.

Mom shot him a death glare. Obviously she’d been trying to ease into that little piece of news.

My heart stopped, and oxygen didn’t seem to exist. For a few seconds, I was afraid I would vomit all over the linguine. I hadn’t even wanted to press charges against Jim. It was my word against his, and I’d had sex with him enough times that no one would believe I hadn’t wanted it. Or they wouldn’t care. Some people believed if a girl said yes once, it was a permanent yes. Girls didn’t have the right to change their minds.

I’d gone through with reporting him partly because of Maryellen. If Jim had only done it to me, I probably would have let it go. But if he’d done it to Maryellen too, he might not stop there. That possibility was what had finally pushed me into going to the police.

The way Dad was looking at me, I couldn’t guess whether the news was good or bad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

“Go ahead.” I took a deep breath.

“I wanted you to eat before we talked about this.” Mom glared at Dad again, then tried to smile at me. She totally failed. “There won’t be a trial. You won’t have to sit in court and talk about yourself or anything you’ve done.”

“I shouldn’t have had to anyway. I’m not the one who did anything wrong.” I stared at the food in front of me. My stupid stomach rolled too badly for me to even think about eating. I needed more information. Not having a trial might mean they’d decided he was innocent. Or they were dropping the charges. I couldn’t get the words together to ask.

“You know how those trials go,” Mom said. “They always ask what the girl was wearing or how many people she’s slept with. They try to make it the girl’s fault. You might have had to tell everyone….”

She trailed off and clasped her hands together. Her face was red. She couldn’t say I might have had to tell people I’d had sex with Jim and other guys before. Or that the day he did it, I’d been wearing a tiny little bikini. My parents hadn’t found out about my sex life until I reported Jim. Now they tried to pretend I was still a virgin.

I didn’t want to deal with the judgment and bullshit. At least anger cleared my brain enough for me to ask the question I needed to ask. “What did they say?” I demanded. “I won’t have to testify. Why?”

“He admitted what he did,” Dad said. “Pled guilty. He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but the fact that he already has a record doesn’t look good for him, from what I was told.”

“He didn’t have a record when he did it.” I couldn’t process what Dad had said. Jim had pled guilty. Why? After all the things he’d done, he’d decided to admit to the worst thing possible. It made no sense.

Besides, one of the lawyers we’d talked to had told me the fact that Jim had been sentenced for beating up Evan Granger wouldn’t count against him when it came to what he’d done to Maryellen and me. Dad must have been wrong.

“He was on probation when you reported it,” Dad said. “I don’t have all the information, Chastaine. It was a short phone call to let us know you won’t have to go to court. They’ll call us after the judge signs off on his sentence. He’s not in jail or anything right now. They released him to his father. But he can’t come anywhere near you. The judge ordered him to stay away.”

It took a minute to sink in. I wouldn’t have to sit in court and tell people what Jim had done to me. I’d already told way too many people, so not having to go through it again wasn’t a bad thing. And Maryellen had barely been able to get a single sentence out about what he’d done to her before she completely broke down. I’d had to take her to the nurse because she started crying so hard she couldn’t breathe.

That was all I wanted to focus on. We wouldn’t have to talk about it again, at least not to strangers.

Teaser Thursday- Shoulder Pads and Flannel

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“Your mother’s brother Tomas,” he said, then stopped.

Even on edge about what Papi might say, I couldn’t help smiling a little. I loved Uncle Tomas. He was a lot younger than my mother. He’d only been about ten when I was born. When Mami had brought me to visit her parents, Uncle Tomas had always let me play in his room, even though I usually broke things.

When I was eleven, he’d moved to Las Vegas, and I’d only seen him twice since. He didn’t come back east even for holidays, and we couldn’t afford to go see him. The day he’d moved, we’d helped him load his car. He’d handed me a shoe box and told me not to open it until I got home.

I still had the seventy-dollar set of watercolor pencils he’d put in that box. They were in the corner of my room with the sketchbooks I’d bought over the past few years.

“Tomas likes men,” Papi said. “That’s why he left. His mother didn’t mind. He was her baby, so anything he did was okay with her. His father, different story.”

I nodded, staying quiet because I had no idea what to say. I’d sort of recognized Tomas was different from the rest of the men in my parents’ families, but I hadn’t caught on that he was gay. By the time he’d left, I had realized I liked boys, and now I wished I’d kept in touch with Tomas. Having someone who understood would have been awesome.

“Your grandpa didn’t want a gay son,” Papi said.

“So he made Tomas leave?” I clenched the fist Papi couldn’t see because it was under my leg. Grandpa—my mother’s parents insisted their children and grandchildren use only English around them—didn’t take much crap, but he loved his family. I couldn’t imagine him throwing someone away.

Now I had more reason than ever to make sure no one found out I was gay. Even if by some miracle Papi accepted it, Grandpa wouldn’t. And I had no idea about the rest of my family.

“He didn’t make Tomas leave exactly.” Papi sighed. He looked tired. “He made it impossible for Tomas to stay. Called him horrible names. Tomas waited until he was an adult to tell the truth because he knew how his father would react. He had work ready for him in Las Vegas, and when his father did exactly what Tomas had expected, Tomas left.”

“That sucks.” I glanced at him. He was studying the art supplies on my bookcase.

I held my breath. Liking to draw didn’t mean someone was gay. Being friends with a guy who dressed like a girl sometimes didn’t make someone gay either. But the way the conversation was going, I was afraid Papi would put pieces together and come to the right conclusion.

“Family is family, always.” It was one of Papi’s favorite sayings. “Your uncle doesn’t see his father at all. He hardly sees his mother and the rest of the family. It isn’t right. He should want his family, and they should welcome him with open arms.”

“It was partly their choice,” I said. “Grandma could have defended Tomas.”

“She did. He was her baby.”

She hadn’t done a very good job of defending him, or he wouldn’t have moved across the country. I kept that to myself. We didn’t say anything against our family, not ever. Especially not our grandparents.

“Your friend Evan’s parents don’t mind him?” Now he looked at me with a pleading expression.

Begging me not to say I wasn’t like Tomas and Evan. At least that was how I took it.

Teaser Thursday- Nail Polish and Feathers

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Holly gathered her stuff together and left without spilling any more info to Mom. I walked her outside. As soon as we were out of Mom’s sight, Holly whirled around and snapped, “Why didn’t you tell her?”

“Tell her what?” I backed up a step. “Seriously, what’s your issue?”

“You didn’t tell her anything!” She put her hands on her hips and glared up at me. I was almost a foot taller than she was, even if I was shorter than a lot of the guys at school. “You didn’t tell her about Moe.” She ticked that off on one finger. “You didn’t tell her about them chasing you before lunch. You didn’t even tell them about the fight with Ray; I told her that.”

“She’s my mother,” I said with exaggerated patience. “I don’t have to tell her everything. And in case you don’t get it, you don’t have to tell your parents everything about me, either.” Holly got along great with her parents, especially her mother, and she really did tell them everything. She couldn’t—or refused to—understand why I didn’t blurt out everything in my life to my mother.

It was really pretty simple. Mom didn’t need to hear it all. She had her own crap to deal with, including my father when he started trouble because of me. I could have added to the stress by telling her how bad the bullying really was and that I might have a boyfriend. I could even have told her about the makeup and how I wanted to be a drag queen. But doing that would just make things harder for her. She tried to hide it from me, but I knew things were already hard enough.

“I’m not going to tell them about Moe or the makeup,” Holly said. “Someone has to do something about Frankel and those guys. They’re getting worse, Evan. They don’t usually attack you in the hall. They say shit, but they’re usually too worried about getting kicked off the team to actually do anything. Doesn’t it worry you that they did something this time?”

“It worries me more that you don’t understand that I can’t just tattle on them every time they do something.” I kicked a piece of loose concrete at the edge of the walkway. “What do you think will happen if I tell on them, Holly? You think the school’s going to say, ‘Oh, poor Evan shouldn’t have to deal with that, so leave our school, you big bad bullies’?”

My voice grew louder, but I didn’t care. Holly drove me nuts when she refused to understand why I had to keep my mouth shut. “I’ll tell you what they’re going to say. It’ll be, ‘Evan, we’re sorry you can’t get along with your classmates. We’ve spoken to Mr. Frankel and Mr. Ferreira, and they said you must have heard them wrong. It’s your word against theirs, and since they’re the star athletes and you’re just the weird gay kid who likes to wear flamboyant clothes, and they outnumber you, we believe them.’”

By now I was shouting, and Holly just stood there staring at me. So did Mrs. Hamel from her second-floor porch across the street. Probably my mother was at our window staring at me too; I didn’t bother checking.

“I’m sorry, Evan,” Holly said in a quiet little voice. “Calm down, okay? You’re right, and that’s what really sucks. School’s supposed to be safe, and for you it isn’t. And it shouldn’t matter if you wear guys’ clothes or women’s or some of each. You’re supposed to be safe.”

“Yeah, well, how’s that fantasyland working for you?” I turned away, because now that I’d let all that out, my eyes were getting wet. Holly wouldn’t think any less of me if I cried, but I would.

2016 in Brief Review

2016 has come to an end, so it’s time for a look back.

There isn’t really a lot to look back at. It was a rough year for a lot of people, including me. But I did have some good things happen.

Ball Caps and Khakis, the final book of the Deep Secrets and Hope series, was released in February.

Where No One Knows was re-released in June. That month also marked my younger offspring’s high school graduation.

In September, both of my offspring moved out, the younger one to college and the older one to start a life on their own.

I wrote a book over the summer, and rewrote it over the past several weeks.

I made new friends. I lost a few friends. I attended Rites of Spring, an annual Pagan festival in western Massachusetts. I learned a lot of things, and forgot a lot more; I have a brain like a steel sieve.

2016 was a stressful year for me in many ways, but in other ways it was a year of accomplishments and celebrations. And now I’m looking forward to seeing what 2017 has in store.

Teaser Thursday- Deep Secrets and Hope

Today’s the official release day of the Deep Secrets and Hope bundle from Harmony Ink Press! To celebrate, instead of posting a teaser from a single book, I’m sharing very short snippets from each of the six in the series.

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I was halfway in love with Taffy Sweet. As a man, he was gorgeous. Blond hair so close to white that I suspected it was bleached, usually in a spiky style that made my fingers itch to touch it. I was pretty sure his eyes were blue, though the lighting used in the confessionals made it hard to tell. I couldn’t deny my attraction to him.

And as a queen, she was just plain beautiful, though sometimes in unconventional ways. Some of her costumes took goth up to eleven, going above and beyond the types of things even the hardcore goths at my school wore, while others were so frilly and poofy they practically gave me high blood sugar. That was the main reason I was rooting for her to win. The other queens were pretty much one-note. Taffy proved every week that she could change herself to match her mood or the moods of the judges.

I wanted to meet her when I grew up. Scratch that. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

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I put the phone back in my pocket and groaned. I couldn’t win. If I’d stuck to my plans with Evan, Mami would have been upset. And then Papi would have gotten on my case for upsetting her.

Now I would only have about half an hour with Evan, which would make him unhappy. He knew how important my family was to me, so he wouldn’t be too upset. But I’d promised him I would go to his place after practice and stay for supper because his mom had to work late, and now I had to break my promise.

Sometimes I wondered why he bothered going out with me. He had to hide it from everyone else, and half the time I ended up saying something stupid or breaking plans with him so people wouldn’t find out.

I wanted to be worth the effort for him, and I doubted I was. But he was beyond worth it for me.

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I’d sworn again. I hadn’t meant to, but I couldn’t help it. Everything was pissing me off, and Kendra wasn’t even close to helping. I wanted to smack her to get it through her head that she was being an idiot, but I didn’t think that would be a good idea.

The fact that I kept talking and thinking about smacking people worried me. No matter how angry I got, I wasn’t violent. Except sometimes with my brothers, but that was usually because they started it.

“You have a lot to be angry about.” Kendra still looked and sounded completely calm.

I didn’t get how she could be that way. I was furious. She should have felt something.

“Yeah, well, I was fine until November,” I said. That was when Guillermo had realized Jim had done something to me. He’d stuck his nose right in it, first persuading me to tell him what had happened, then convincing me to report it so Jim wouldn’t do it to anyone else.

I should have refused. It wasn’t up to me to save every freaking girl in Massachusetts from the guy. Sometimes I hated Guillermo for making me speak up, but he’d had my back ever since.

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My train of thought went right off the tracks. I bit my lip again and turned to look at her.

She nodded. “Yeah, you’re my girlfriend. You’ve been twitchy about changing in front of me since the first time I invited you over to try things on, though.”

“Right.” I held up my hand. “This kind of doesn’t make any sense in my brain, and I’m trying to translate it to say it. I’m failing.”

“You don’t have to explain.” She held out her hand. “Come here.”

I sat beside her and took her hand. My hand was sweaty, of course, because why would it have been as cool and dry as hers? She was Chastaine Rollo. Always calm, cool, and collected, even when people called her names and talked behind her back. I was just Holly McCormack, the wallflower drama geek.

“Is it because you’re afraid I’ll see you naked and be overcome with lust?” Chastaine said.

I cracked up laughing, partly at the way she said it and partly at the idea she would lust after someone who looked like me.

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A while after Delia returned from lunch, a bunch of people my age invaded the shop. I was running the register while Delia did some paperwork in the back.

Even though Delia had told me the art club would be coming in, I hadn’t expected a dozen kids. They spread out around the place as much as they could, picking up supplies and flipping through sketchbooks.

Gut aching, I tried to breathe. I didn’t know that any of them had heard about me. Maybe they hadn’t. And Delia was right. They wouldn’t see a monster when they looked at me. Just a guy like them.

I was afraid to deal with them, though. What if they’d seen my name or picture online? I wasn’t supposed to leave the register unattended, but I quickly stumbled through the curtain into the back room.

“Get back out there,” Delia said without looking up from the papers on her desk.

“I can’t.” I gasped and choked on thin air. Coughing hurt my throat, but I could handle pain. It gave me something solid to hold onto.

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Mom walked over to the chair at my desk but didn’t sit. “This is becoming a problem, Man-Shik. When your father and I approved the friendship with Jim, we assumed the situation would settle down once people learned the whole story. And we feel badly for him. Despite what he did, if he’s paid the price and wants to start over, he should have the chance. He’s only your age.”

I braced myself. “But?”

“But issues keep cropping up. I’m not sure it’s good for you to be involved.”

That was pretty much what I’d expected her to say. No matter what she thought about Jim, I was her son. I was the one she had to protect. And the one who had to make sure our family didn’t get a bad reputation around town, though neither of my parents would ever have said so.

I tore a piece of paper out of my notebook and stuck it in my book to keep my place, then set the closed book beside me. This discussion was going to take a while.

The Story Behind Deep Secrets and Hope

This Thursday is the official release of the Deep Secrets and Hope bundle from Harmony Ink Press. This is a six-book series following the lives of several LGBTA+ teens as they navigate bullying and other difficulties in their lives.

I never really planned on this being a series. It just kind of happened. Originally, I don’t think I actually planned on there being even one novel. I wrote a short story for a friend’s blog, Tales of Rue and Woe, on which they posted about writing, LGBTA+ topics, and an ongoing short story about two teenage boys named Rue and Woe. (Note that my short story isn’t on the blog linked above at this point, and the blog itself has been inactive since 2012.) A bit later, I expanded the short story into what I intended to become a free read e-book, though it didn’t quite work out that way.

The character Evan Granger was inspired by one of my older offspring’s best friends, and has some of that friend’s mannerisms. He was also, to a lesser extent, inspired by the reality TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which drag queens compete with one another in an elimination-based format.

In fall 2012, I went to the GayRomLit readers and authors convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was where I first heard of Harmony Ink Press, then a quite-new imprint of an adult male/male romance publisher that had published one of my alter ego’s novellas. After talking with the people at Harmony Ink’s booth, I decided to give them a try once I had a book that would work for them

And then I realized that Evan Granger deserved a full-length novel. So I gave him one.

I greatly expanded Nail Polish and Feathers from the free read short story. I added more characters, including Evan’s cousin Holly. I included the “drag queen competition show,” and Evan’s correspondence with Taffy Sweet, one of the queens on the fictional version of the show, became a part of the story.

Harmony Ink accepted the novel, which was released in August 2013. One of my favorite authors, who writes for both Harmony Ink and the adult imprint of the publisher, read it–fan girl moment! She actually read *my* book! And liked it so much she told me there should be more about the characters! With that kind of motivation, obviously I had to write another book.

So Shoulder Pads and Flannel came into being. Followed by the other four Deep Secrets and Hope books over the next few years. The final one, Ball Caps and Khakis, was released in February of this year.

If you haven’t read the books yet, I hope you’ll take advantage of Harmony Ink’s bundle. And if you have read them, I’d love to know what you think!

Teaser Thursday- Nail Polish and Feathers

In honor of next week’s release of the Deep Secrets and Hope bundle from Harmony Ink Press, here’s the first couple pages of the short story that started the whole thing. Some of this made it into the novel version of Nail Polish and Feathers.

I was hiding in the library again. I didn’t have much choice. It was the only place Jim Frankel and his goon squad wouldn’t find me and beat the crap out of me for being a “fag boy.”

I hadn’t even done anything to them this time. I’d just been walking down the hall on my way to chemistry class. Okay, so I’d been wearing blue nail polish at the time, but that wasn’t a big deal. Some of the goth guys at school wore black nail polish, and they didn’t usually get beaten up for it. Then again, some of the goth guys were kind of scary, and they all stuck up for each other. I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with them either.

So I’d been walking down the hall with my blue nail polish and my zillion-pound backpack, and Frankel had backed up from his locker. Right in front of me, like a giant tractor trailer. Or maybe a dump truck. He didn’t look behind him or anything. Then again, he didn’t have to. He was one of the popular guys, and everyone else was supposed to stay out of his way and stop if he was moving. Like I had time to stop. I tried. Believe me, I tried. The last thing I wanted to do was plow into him. But that’s exactly what ended up happening.

I got the worst of it, since he was about twice my weight. I bounced off him and staggered backward, propelled by the brick wall of Frankel and the many tons of books on my back. The only thing that kept me from falling flat on my back was that one of his goons was right behind me. So I fell against the goon instead. He shoved me forward, and I pinwheeled my arms trying to keep from crashing into Frankel again. Somehow I managed to catch myself.

“You goddamn fag!” Frankel shouted. “Watch where the hell you’re going!”

I straightened myself up just in time for him to shove me right back against his goon buddy. The buddy smacked my backpack and shoved me against the lockers. I looked around, but if anyone else in the hall had noticed the gay kid getting the snot knocked out of him, they didn’t seem too inclined to do anything about it. Not even the teacher standing two doors down.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying not to sound like a whimpering baby. “I didn’t see you.”

“Then open your frigging eyes, you freak.” He spotted my nails. “Is that nail polish, queer boy? You’re wearing frigging nail polish?”

I straightened up again. If no one else was going to stick up for me, I would just have to do it myself. “Yeah. Pretty color, don’t you think? It matches my eyes.”

I should have known better. Keeping my mouth shut was always a better bet than mouthing off to dipwits like Frankel. He grabbed one of my backpack straps and yanked me toward him, so close I smelled the stale tuna casserole from lunch on his breath. I gagged and barely managed to keep from puking all over the guy. “You’d better stay the hell away from me,” he snarled.

My temper snapped, and my mouth got ahead of my brain again. “That’s kind of hard to do when you’re holding me so close, sweetie.”

He let go of my strap and roared. Like a freaking lion. Teeth and all. I slid between him and goon #2, hoping for a quick getaway. At least a temporary one. They would find me again, but maybe by then their Neanderthal brains would have forgotten why they were pissed off at me. Frankel’s buddy tried to grab me from behind, but I shook free and ran.

They thundered after me. A freaking goon stampede. Half the kids in the hall turned to watch us run past. None of them did anything about it, of course. Why would they bother trying to help the gayest kid in school? They just watched. A couple of teachers did the same thing, and I spared a second from my bid for survival to be pissed off at them. Bullying was supposed to be against the law, and teachers were supposed to do something about it when they saw it. There was no way in hell they weren’t seeing me getting chased up the hall, but they were just standing there like nothing was going on.

I rounded a corner and almost plowed into another teacher. She yelled something at me, but I didn’t even hear her. I just kept running. She kept yelling behind me, and I hoped she’d managed to stop Frankel and Goony. Even if she just slowed them down a little, I’d have a chance to hide out somewhere until I trickled out of their so-called thoughts. A few minutes would probably be long enough for me to be safe.

At least, I hoped so. I already had three tardies to my Spanish class, and Senor Mankowski was jonesing to give me detention. The fact that I was always late right after lunch because jerkwads like Frankel were always on my case didn’t seem to matter. If I was late, I was bad.

Stupid teachers really didn’t have a clue.

Teaser Thursday- Nail Polish and Feathers

Nail Polish and Feathers_200

I took a plate out of the cupboard and sat at the table. “How was school?” Mom asked as I arranged my food on the plate.

“Same old, same old.” I dropped a handful of fries onto my plate and decided that wouldn’t be enough, so I took a second handful. They really piled the fries into their orders. A small order was usually enough to satisfy Mom and me, and this time it looked like she’d bought a large. Which was fine with me. I’d skipped lunch, so all I’d eaten since breakfast was the granola bar I’d had during my homework break. I was starving.

“It looked like you and Holly had a lot of homework.” She took a bite of her burger.

“Every class,” I said. “I mean, two of the assignments aren’t due till the day after tomorrow, but we decided to do them today. Then we won’t have to worry about them.”

“Good idea. I’d really like to see you be more responsible with your work this year. You had some problems last year.”

“Yeah.” I’d had problems in the classes I shared with Jim Frankel. It had been pretty hard to pay attention with a gorilla behind me whispering crap like “I’m going to chop off your hair, fag” every few minutes. He was the main reason I’d cut my hair from shoulder-length to practically a crew cut over summer vacation.

That, plus a crew cut would fit better under a wig.

I didn’t see a reason to point that out to Mom. She knew I was bullied at school. She’d talked to the school about it a few times, and they’d promised to “look into it.” To be fair, they usually did, but the kids responsible tended to deny what they’d said to me. And I was pretty sure Mr. Lawrence, the vice principal, held me responsible for the way other kids treated me. After all, I was the one who chose to go to school wearing nail polish, scarves, and brightly colored shirts, some of which I found in the women’s section of my favorite secondhand store.

“I just want you to do well this year,” Mom said. “I mean, you didn’t do too badly for the most part last year. There were just those few issues with your grades. But this is your junior year. This is when grades really count for college.”

“I know, Mom.” She’d had this conversation with me pretty much weekly during summer vacation, when she wasn’t reminding me that I should have gotten a job. I’d tried to find a job, but the only places I could have worked were around town, and those places all employed kids I didn’t want to deal with during the summer. Bad enough I had to deal with them during the school year. I wasn’t sure an employer would be as attentive to bullying as the school, and the school didn’t do as much about it as I thought they should.

“Your father says he’ll help with college.” She took another bite of her hamburger and took her time chewing. I figured that was to keep herself from saying that she didn’t believe a word of my father’s promises. Neither did I. In the six years since they’d split up, he’d kept maybe three promises of the dozens he’d made.

Then again, he hadn’t been great about keeping promises before they’d split, either. That was one of the biggest reasons Mom had left him.

“I’ll apply for plenty of scholarships,” I said. I didn’t even know what I wanted to major in when I went to college. I hadn’t considered not going. A college education seemed important, and in college I might actually meet tolerant people my age. But I wasn’t sure what major would help prepare me for a career as a drag queen. Business, maybe, so I could manage myself and the income I hoped to earn.