Holy afterschool special, Batman

Here is a story about a loner who may want to be less alone. So Lydia takes a break from her busy schedule of hating everything and makes a new friend. This comes from When We Were Strangers, which is the free introduction to the characters in the One More Thing Series. This post is the introduction to the introduction. Or something.

This image perfectly sums up Lydia. And you can read this scene or the whole story at anytime because it is free. In case you missed any of the times I said free, I’m going to say free again. Free!

~

Lydia

What a beautiful summer day. With fresh air, flowers blooming, and sunshine shining down… everything was super annoying. I hated days like today. I hated most things, but I especially hated today.

Despite protests, I somehow ended up at a church picnic with my family on the other end of the park. I could only survive a few minutes of everybody praising the lord for this ‘blessed’ day and being offered potato salad from people way too intense about potato salad. Naturally, I fled.

In the back corner of the park, there lied a neglected area where public space met someone’s private, unkempt property. Sitting on top of the backrest of a hard as hell bench, I smoked a cigarette in solitude.

Hard to say what was more isolating: being alone in a crowd or being free and almost wanting to go back because maybe terrible company would be less lonely than no company. If being alone wasn’t good, and being with people wasn’t good, then how did I win?

Suddenly, I wasn’t alone.

“Does being such a cliché ever bother you?” a voice asked. The speaker stepped into view, a girl with burgundy hair, wearing a light blue shirt.

“Excuse me?” I responded coolly, steadying myself by resting my free hand on the concrete slab doubling as my seat, though I gave no other indication she startled me.

“Bad girl in black smoking by herself,” she elaborated, small smile on her lips. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, 10/10 on the aesthetic. I can feel the angst even from a distance, but it’s a little obvious, isn’t it?”

“Who are you?” I kept asking my own questions instead of acknowledging hers.

“Alicia Phillips, we go to the same school.”

“I believe you.” If I wanted to know my peers better, I… nope, I couldn’t even finish the thought.

She forced a laugh, smile turning tense. “You have no idea who I am, do you? It’s fine.” The confidence she possessed to speak to me so boldly evaporated as if it never existed.

I raised a hand, indicating she should stay while I considered her. I… she… huh.

Studying her, her blue shirt displayed a small white logo near the right sleeve, part of a uniform for a counselor at a summer camp near the outskirts of town. She wore khaki pants with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Her skin had more color than my vampiric whiteness, her figure fuller and curvier. It was hard to place her because she might look different during the school year.

Alicia Phillips. She wasn’t afraid to give me attitude, yet she acted embarrassed when I failed to recognize her. A girl both at home and uncomfortable in her own skin. Capable of brief moments of bravery… like when in front of an audience.

“I recognize you,” I realized. “You’re in plays, right? Plays are… cool.” Plays weren’t cool, but I was trying to be polite. Rudeness was more satisfying when it was earned. 

“Wow, you couldn’t sound even the slightest bit convincing, could you?” she asked in that gently teasing manner she kept addressing me with.

I should put her in her place, eviscerate her. It may make me feel better. Because I was confident, scary Lydia Smith, the badass in black clothes. People wanted to know more about me but weren’t stupid enough to come ask. I was unapproachable. Nobody talked to me like she did. I would be annoyed, but curiosity won out.

“Wanna help me be less of a cliché?” I asked.

“Huh? You’re not suggesting a makeover, are you?” Never. Wordlessly, I held up the pack of cigarettes in an offer. “Oh, smoke with you?” She neither accepted or refused, talking to herself as she continued, “Peer pressure. This is, I’m being pressured by a peer. Holy afterschool special, Batman.”

Hopeless theater weirdos were the last thing I needed, people who didn’t know how to talk without a script, so I wasn’t charmed. I laughed anyway. “You’re strange.”

“Yeah, well.” She met my eyes, held her head higher. Impressive. “I’m a proud drama kid, and my best friend is a bad influence on me.”

~

The rest is available here. For free!

(not) New Cover

When a new cover got made for One Little Word, I showed it off on my mailing list. I did not remember to post it on my blog, which I only discovered when I couldn’t find the cover in my images. Oops. Better late than never?

Quick summary: A jock screws up and must depend on the one guy who hates him while they try to sell the ruse of their secret fake relationship, which is getting less secret and fake with each passing day. This involves lots of hand holding, which brings us to the cover:

This isn’t the first time I’ve had an illustrated cover made, but it’s the first time I knew I was getting an illustrated cover. Technically, their heights should be reversed as the guy in pink is taller, which I keep telling myself doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Also, maybe he’s slouching or they’re standing on uneven ground.

Anyway, I also wanted to share an excerpt from the book. I did not know which part to share, so I decided to use one of my favorite scenes. In it, Ryan and Luke are at a grade school fair, and they are turning every game they play into a competition.

As this bit has two lines I love, that’s probably part of why I enjoy it so much. Especially since these lines, in my opinion, don’t make for great quotes and are hard to appreciate out of context, so I unfortunately haven’t made image quotes with them. If you want to guess the lines I love, go ahead. I’ll tell you after the scene.

~

Ryan

LUKE STARED DOWN MY GRINNING FORM, his arms crossed against his chest, a reverse of our earlier position. Except his arms were more impressive with muscles bulging and straining against the material of his shirt.

I teased him to avoid the distraction. “Now you’re the sore loser.”

He wasn’t impressed with my victory. “Cakewalks are entirely luck based.”

“There was no rule there had to be skill involved.”

The possibility of him winning sweet treats kept him from complaining when I selected the cakewalk. Maybe I had good karma stored up because I always won cakewalks. I held a cake wrapped in plastic in my hands, funfetti with white frosting and sprinkles. Luke wanted me to pick brownies instead; he was so weird. Funfetti was the best.

“You’re at least sharing that cake with me,” he argued.

“Keep dreaming.”

Luke had given me a root beer when he won the ring toss, an unexpectedly sweet gesture. He wanted to bribe me into the dunk tank, so the present wasn’t sweet. The nice part was how he remembered my beverage of choice. I may share my dessert, but he didn’t need to know that yet.

We did basically every event, jostling and trash talking each other at the slightest opportunity. Things that weren’t even really a competition we turned into one, like the duck pond. Except we got into an argument about what constituted winning, getting a duck with a higher number attached or drawing a duck that earned two candies instead of one.

We had time for one more game before heading back to our booth. The objective for our last game was to knock down cans with beanbags. This was another activity where Luke had an advantage, but Alicia was manning the booth for community service credit, so maybe she would help me out.

She stared at us incredulously when we stepped up to her table. “Isn’t this game a little too easy for you?”

Luke nodded. “For me, but I have to give Ryan a fighting chance.”

“Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,” I fired at him hotly.

I won the duck pond,” he argued immediately. “Not you.”

Before we could get into it further, Alicia held up her hand. “Yeah, this and the duck pond are for kindergarteners. You know that, right?”

We looked around. The cans were regular empty pop cans, and the beanbags were at least half their size, so it did seem pretty simple. Unless you were five and could barely aim. And the kids in this line were especially young and all of them had parents holding their hands. The adults behind us watched us with exasperation.

The little competitive bubble Luke and I were in burst. It had been so easy to get absorbed in trying to beat him, everything else faded into the background.

“Oh, I guess we shouldn’t do this one then,” Luke said, sounding as silly as I felt.

“No, don’t let that stop you,” Alicia told us. “By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.” Her sarcasm skills were almost as good as mine.

We retreated from her booth as she laughed at us for being giant children. Damn, I wished I hadn’t drunk the root beer Luke gave me. I could have chucked it at her.

While our competition was intense, it had almost been fun. I hadn’t minded being in Luke’s presence then. I’d stopped keeping score at one point, only wanting to beat him so he wouldn’t be as smug.

Plus, maybe he had this ridiculous pout whenever he lost that I wanted to kiss away. Ugh. Being attracted to someone I hated was difficult. I’d feel the urge to punch him one moment and want to shut him up with my tongue in his mouth the next.

“I’m not getting in the dunk tank again,” Luke declared when we got back to our booth. His artificially orange skin looked like a bad spray tan. Yet even orange, he was still hot.

I couldn’t pull off that look so well. “What if I promise not to accidentally dunk you?” I offered.

“That doesn’t stop everyone else who tries to hit the bullseye.”

I smiled. “I may be able to help with that too.”

“I knew it!” He rounded on me in anger. “You’re such a cheater!”

“Do you want to cry about it, or do you want me to rig the game?”

He stopped and paused. Then he decided, “Definitely, definitely rig it.”

–The rest of the story is available here. My favorite lines are ‘Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,’ and ‘By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.’

Behind the scenes

Welcome to my dilemma, already in progress. I have a free story called When We Were Strangers, which is part of a series that already had around five books when I wrote it. So I think of it as a prequel because I wrote it later and it comes first chronologically. But I feel weird calling it a prequel because its listed first since it’s free and serves as an intro to the series. Being a writer is hard.

For three out of the four stories in this pre-story, I based them on anecdotes from the series. Which I had a lot of fun with. Ryan’s story is called ‘The Most Embarrassing Moment of Ryan’s Life (so far)” and it comes from One Little Problem. The gang is playing Never Have I Ever, and Ryan has to put a finger down.

~

Luke

“Never have I ever gone streaking,” she said instead.

Ryan put a finger down.

“Up is down, black is white,” I deadpanned. “My whole life is a lie, nothing makes sense.” I focused on teasing him so I wouldn’t imagine him naked.

“Not a big deal,” he started.

“Don’t sell yourself short, babe,” I teased.

“As cute as this is,” Zach said, though his voice implied it wasn’t very cute. “Let’s not build this story up as if it’s anything other than a series of increasingly zany situations that ended with Ryan losing his clothes, getting locked out of somewhere, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, until he found clothes or a sheet or a big leaf.”

Ryan pouted at Zach, so it was totally something like that. “This was, like, the one thing I got to put my finger down for! You took all the fun out of it.”

~

Zach’s version of events is pretty close to the real thing. Here’s a scene.

Ryan

When I fell into the water trough, the day was going great. Since most of my thoughts trended sarcastic, I should be clear. That wasn’t sarcasm, it was a true statement. Falling into barn animal water was excellent, because even as I heard the splash and my mouth flooded with gross water, I understood there were much worse things on this farm I could have fallen into.

Then some normal stuff happened. Like taking a shower to get clean. The owners of the farm had really fancy soap in their bathroom. My skin was so soft and smelled like daffodils! Not the manliest scent but a ton better than animal spit.

When putting on clothes after my shower, I ran into an unexpected obstacle… there weren’t any clothes where I was told there would be clothes. Then things got less normal and more terrible. I went to search for clothes, clad in only a towel, part of which was stuck in the bathroom door. I just didn’t know the last thing until I heard voices, the bathroom door wouldn’t open, and I ran to hide in the opposite direction of where the voices came from. During this, I lost the towel.

There was some panic, a lot of panic, and somehow I ended up outside. Who could say who was to blame for this development? I couldn’t say for certain it was my fault because I had no clue how I ended up here. It all happened so fast! The door I exited locked behind me. I planned to try a different door—

OH MY GOD. PEOPLE WERE COMING OUTSIDE. And then I was hiding in a barn.

~

Life is unfair.

Zach and Joey play baseball together, and they are good friends even though they are very different. Joey is a dumb jock , and Zach is his opposite in mind, body, and spirit. Here is Zach describing Joey and his physical appearance. This is a tiny thing that was cut from Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas because the scene did not need Zach complaining about another guy’s eyebrows, but I was very sad to cut it all the same.

~

Zach

Everything about Joey Wilson loomed large. He demanded attention, if only out of self-preservation as he barreled through life the way he barreled through this hallway, fast, obnoxious, and uncomprehending of anything not directly in front of him. Others had to accommodate him instead of the reverse, which I would appreciate if he did it on purpose.

Altogether, the bulky, plain guy presented an unappealing visual image. Which made it all the more infuriating he was blessed with insanely impeccable eyebrows. Granted they were meaty and wide like the rest of him, but the dark brown hair was never scraggly, no stray strand ever trying to escape from the even lines. Not the kind of guy who would wax, pluck, or tweeze, so how did his eyebrows always stay perfectly in their lane? A gift he wasn’t even capable of appreciating!

Music!

As the person who makes everything gay, I make everything gay. Or that’s just how I see the world. But sometimes it’s easy. This is a song I love, 2 Heads by Coleman Hell. I always imagine its about two women who fell into forbidden love in a small town. The small town part comes in because there’s twangy sound elements. And the two women part is because of the lyrics.

The lyrics go like this:

There must be something in the water
And there must be something about your daughter
She said our love ain’t nothing but a monster

Which to me could be a little different. It’s really easy for that to become this: “There must be something in the water, and there must be something about your daughter,” she said. “Our love ain’t nothing but a monster.”

When We Were Strangers

For my One More Thing series, I wrote a free prequel called When We Were Strangers as an introduction to the characters. I don’t think I promoted it much on social media, so I’m finally doing that. Even though it technically takes place during the summer and this is the winter. I’m really selling this, aren’t I? I hope you have enjoyed this summary of everything I did wrong, now here is the book!

Okay, this is a scene from Ryan’s story, and I would explain, but it’s pretty self explanatory.

Ryan

Have you ever found yourself standing buck naked in a wheatfield in broad daylight? Only there wasn’t any wheat. Or if there was, it was in seed form, so you were basically out in the open where anyone could see you. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Of course it has. It probably happened all the time and was so relatable.

Man, if only I could say it wasn’t every day I ended up locked out while wearing no clothes, but it occurred way more than I was comfortable with. Once. It happened once times. This time, in fact. And it was once more time than I ever wanted.

Ha-ha. Just kidding. I wasn’t naked. Nope. Not at all. Who was naked? Me?!?! No way. I wasn’t naked, you were naked! Oh my god, don’t panic. RYAN, STAY CALM. DON’T PANIC. PLEASE SAVE ME BATMAN, SUPERMAN, OR RYAN REYNOLDS. HEY, HE STOLE MY NAME. No, he had it first since he was older than me.

Ahem. Okay. As I wasn’t in the best headspace for narration, I would come back later. Hopefully when I was calmer and wearing pants.

–the rest of the story is available here for free.

Liberal Nonsense

In the One More Thing Series, Luke Chambers has an older sister named Rose who appears in One Little Lie. She’s referenced a lot for her intense and often annoying tendencies to be a social justice warrior. But her progressive tendencies probably make her the right person to talk to when Luke starts questioning his sexuality. I tried to write her into two other books, but she got taken out.

I also make fun of her liberal/hippie qualities when she’s mentioned because it’s really easy, as I share many of her qualities and view points. However, I try not to be as annoying as her, but I unfortunately cannot say that I manage it perfectly.

Here is some prose about Rose, yay rhymes, from One Little Lie. Most of this is extra content that isn’t the book.

~

Luke

For reasons that didn’t totally make sense to me, Rose cut off all the hair on her head but had stopped shaving her legs. Her hair had grown back but she kept it short and the usual dark blonde locks looked more dark than blonde at the moment. We barely looked related. Maybe that was just wishful thinking. She had a lip ring now, but she didn’t wear it while she was in town anymore. Her obvious surface acts of rebellion were all the town could see; the perfect grades she got were less easy to broadcast. My parents hated it. They wanted her to be normal, to not cause a scene.

As far as everyone in town knew, Rose had been a blonde, wide-eyed, small-town farm girl that voted how Dad told her to in her first election, listened to country music, and said her prayers every night or whatever. Until she attended a liberal college on the East Coast and she got corrupted by Starbucks and NPR and Al Gore.

Rose was always the dissenting opinion in our family, the one who was a little different. That was why she wanted to go somewhere so unlike here in the first place. She just didn’t start displaying her differences so boldly until recently. My parents had been much happier when she just pretended she was like everyone else.

Yeah, Rose was annoying. But to me, she was annoying either way, so it didn’t really matter how she wore her hair or if she got a nose piercing. The neighbors not knowing she was a freak didn’t make her less of a freak around me.

Explore the World in YA LGBTQ books

Taking readers to new worlds is one of the pleasures of literature, but being transported to different lands from the comfort of one’s couch has become especially important in these times. Here’s a virtual travel guide of YA books that spans the globe. All you need is your imagination and a good book to immerse yourself in a new culture. I used the Buzzfeed list by Dahlia Adler to narrow the list down for those who want their globe trotting exploration to include queer characters.

Who: Adib Khorram

What: Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Where: Iran

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Key elements: mental health, coming of age, friendship, self confidence, bi POC, immigration, religion


Who: Agay Llanera

What: Another Word for Happy: A story about coming out

Where: Philippines

Since he was thirteen, Caleb has always known he’s gay. Now a college freshman, he falls in love for the first time. If it’s true that love conquers all, then will Caleb finally find the courage to reveal his secret?

Key Elements: college, coming out, Filipino, art, religion


Who: Ciara Smyth

What: The Falling in Love Montage

Where: Ireland

Saoirse doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out. But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Key elements: romantic comedy, WLW, humor, dementia, best friends, angst



Who: Lucas Rocha

What: Where We Go From Here

Where: Brazil

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.

Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.

When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has-had-been dating.

Key elements: friendship, mental health, gay rights, Latnix, multiple POVs, toxic masculinity


Who: Emily O’ Beirne

What: Points of Departure

Where: Australia

Five girls, five tickets overseas. It’s exactly what they all need after the final slog of high school. But when Kit’s suddenly forced to drop out, Liza’s left with three girls she barely knows.

There’s Mai, committed only to partying. There’s Tam, who already has her doubts about leaving her sick father behind. And there’s Olivia, so miserable about screwing up exams she’s not even sure she wants to get out of bed, let alone on a plane. Meanwhile Kit’s stuck working double shifts to pay off a debt, wondering if she’ll ever get it together.

Key elements: road trip, friendship, multiple main characters, standalone, coming of age, WLW


Who: Adiba Jaigirdar

What: The Henna Wars

Where: Ireland


When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Key elements: rivals, Muslim characters, WLW, cultural appropriation, bi POC, sisterhood, enemies to lovers


Who: Vitor Martins

What: Here the Whole Time

Where: Brazil


What would you do if you had to spend the next 15 days with your lifelong crush?

Felipe’s mom informs him that Caio, the neighbor kid from apartment 57, will be spending the next 15 days with them while his parents are on vacation. Felipe is distraught because A) he’s had a crush on Caio since, well, forever, and B) Felipe has a list of body image insecurities and absolutely NO idea how he’s going to entertain his neighbor for two full weeks.

Key elements: body issues, self esteem, Latnix, coming of age, sweet, pop culture



Who: Tochi Onyebuchi

What: War Girls

Where: Nigeria


Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life.

Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.

And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

Key elements: dystopia, war, WLW, fantasy, historical, adventure, family, bi POC


Who: Cecilia Vinesse

What: The Summer of Us

Where: Europe


American expat Aubrey has only two weeks left in Europe before she leaves for college, and she’s nowhere near ready. Good thing she and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last group trip across the continent. From Paris to Prague, they’re going to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible with their friends Clara, Jonah, and Gabe.

Key elements: road trip, summer, adventure, coming of age, standalone, WLW


Who: Elizabeth Acevedo

What: Clap When You Land

Where: Dominican Republic

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Key elements: poetry, grief, family, bi POC, Latinix, WLW, historical, immigration


Who: Sabina Khan

What: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Where: Bangladesh

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.

Key elements: WLW, arranged marriage, abuse, standalone, social issues, emotional


Who: Randy Ribay

What: Patron Saints of Nothing

Where: Phillipines


Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.

Key elements: some LGBT representation, politics, Filipino characters, death, drugs, mystery


Who: Cindy Pon

What: Want

Where: Taiwan


Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

Key elements: queer supporting characters, cyberpunk, dystopia, sci-fi, action