Hooray for The Boy Next Door

Do I fully understand how Kindle Vella works? No, the internet and most modern technology confuses me even though I am not an incredibly old person who has never used technology before. Anyway, readers in Vella can like and fave stories, in which case a fancy little crown appears above the cover. For example:

Yes, this post is just me bragging that my Vella novel is now top faved. Awesome! Even if I don’t totally get what this means, I’m thrilled people loved (or faved) my book! Thank you so much, and go check out the episodes of The Boy Next Door if you haven’t yet.

Quick Description: A shy artist works up his nerve to confess his feelings for his neighbor, the boy next door. But when his neighbor’s moody, wannabe rock star brother returns home unexpectedly, his love note falls into the wrong hands.

Though the main character Sam shares some of anxious personality traits, Hunter (aka the bad boy next door) is who I have a huge soft spot for. Whether being tough or showing his softer side, he was so much fun to write.

Here’s an excerpt where Sam runs into Hunter on the street after dinner. Hunter gives him some advice.

“Hey, you barhopping too?” He nods, indicating some bars farther down the block.

“Fish tacos,” I answer honestly and stupidly.

“Okay?” He seems to regret saying anything to me. That makes two of us.

Still without his leather jacket, Hunter looks smaller. The night helps hide his surprisingly muscled arms, probably from dragging his drum set around.

“I’m not old enough for bars,” I say when we linger awkwardly.

Leaning in, he confides, “I never let that stop me.”

But I will. Because I’m not as cool and badass as him. He never lets me forget.

“Well, I should probably—” go far away as fast as possible.

“I can sneak you in,” he offers, probably because he knows I’ll refuse. Is he even old enough to drink legally? If so, it’s just barely.

“No thanks.” 

“Sam,” he says, his tone strange.

His teasing demeanor vanishes in an instant. Us prey to the predators know when it’s time to make a quick exit.

“Uh, see you around, Hunter.”

When he moves, I expect him to waltz right by me to the alcohol without saying goodbye. Instead, he steps right into my personal space. As he joins me in the shadows, I can’t see the intensity in his eyes, but I feel it on my skin.

“Be bold,” he says.

Up this close, it’s hard to breathe normally without inhaling the scent of him. And I never could read those eyes even in better light, too dark with unfathomable depths.

I manage to step away. “Fish tacos were bold enough for one night.”

“No, not about your plans for tonight. Just in general.” He’s trying to tell me something. What? I don’t know. “Sounds like advice you need to hear.”

“I do fine.” I cross my arms around myself, suddenly chilly out here.

“You could do better than fine,” he insists. “Be bold. You won’t get what you want otherwise.”

“How do you know what I want?”

Something about his expression makes me wonder if somehow he sees right through me. He isn’t smirking as he always does, yet he seems sure.

A shiver wracks my body, and I hope he doesn’t see. He probably does because he sees everything, it feels like he’s viewing my soul and finding me lacking. Any second, he’s going to reveal what I try to keep hidden—but the moment ends.

“Anything worth wanting doesn’t come easily, so.” He shrugs.

“Yeah, yeah.” I take another step away, but it doesn’t feel far enough. “Bold. Got it.”

“No you don’t.” He seems… sad. Sad I’m so slow. He pities me. Nothing new there.

I smile tightly. “Have a good night.”

~

-Read the Boy Next Door here!

New Novel Characters

Ready to meet the main characters of my new M/M contemporary romance? Hopefully, because that’s what this post is about. The novel is called The Boy Next Door, featuring a shy artist who works up the nerve to confess his feelings for the boy next door, only to have his love note fall into the wrong hands.

This is a Kindle Vella novel, and the first three chapter are free, or available without spending any tokens. And if you haven’t checked out Vella yet, you should, because you can claim some free tokens to get started. (Right now Vella is just for US audiences.)

Sam Bell is the main character. He’s made a lot of progress since he was a young boy suffering from crippling anxiety. He’s now a high school senior who isn’t sure if he wants to pursue art or something else in college. Despite the eccentricities of his teacher, he’s excited to be in an honors art class and thinks now might finally be the right time to confess his love for his sweet neighbor Dylan.

Dylan Cruse is popular, good-looking, and almost certainly the love of Sam’s life. Even if the other guy doesn’t know it yet. While nice and easy to talk to, Sam and Dylan don’t have a ton in common. But they are both in photography club and grew up together as next door neighbors.

Quote: The school doors open, light from outside hitting him just right and making his blue eyes sparkle. And his hair color, a rich chestnut brown, is new and makes my knees weak.

Hunter Cruse is Dylan’s older brother. He’s nearly 21 and left home years ago in order to move to the West Coast and become a huge rock star. Now the drummer is back and just as mysterious and superior as ever. Sam’s afraid Hunter is going to stand in his way when it comes to Dylan. And he’s right. Because when Sam confesses his feelings in a note, Hunter intercepts the message and thinks it’s for him.

Quote: Hunter dyed his hair black as night practically as soon as he reached preteen years. The blonde fringe falling in his eyes now reminds me of the cherubic golden curls that framed his face when we met. His angelic appearance duped me into trusting him and he pushed me into the pond when I couldn’t even swim.

One New Cover

One New Start has a new cover! Look at those cute boyfriends, it makes me happy. This new version is pretty simple, but I love the way it turned out. I’m also happy a stock photo site had a few pictures of a dark haired guy and light haired guy being a couple.

Here’s the book blurb and an excerpt:

They’re off to a promising start. Or at least an interesting one.
Ryan Miller’s last year of high school is going to be just as fabulous as him. The senior creates a bucket list of new adventures like pulling pranks and party crashing. He even has the perfect partner in crime, his boyfriend Luke. What could go wrong?

Just as life starts going Ryan’s way, everything begins going downhill for his father and Luke. Can Ryan help the people he loves most, or will their struggles drag him down too?

This section from the novel is Luke envisioning what he wants for his senior year of high school. Will reality live up to his dreams? (Hint: no, not at all.)

Luke

Ryan didn’t have a lot of friends or fun in high school before junior year. Senior year meant a new start, a different chapter in his life. I wanted to be around for his adventures when I could to support him and spend time with him… and to make sure no one suffered serious bodily harm, but my goals were different.

I wanted senior year to be, I don’t know, shoes or a purse or something.

God, note to self, never say that out loud to anyone.

Though really, yeah. This year should be shoes or a purse or a belt. A complement to the rest. All the good parts of my high school experience.

Okay, there was one new goal. To win the championships. What could be better than captaining a championship team my senior year, having a boyfriend to cheer me on from the stands, and then spending time with him? Answer, of course, was nothing.

 I was living my best life. Last year was full of ups and downs. Falling in love with Ryan Miller? Super, super awesome. Coming out and stuff? Good, though also awful. And it was over now. It was smooth sailing from here on out. A victory lap after a mostly awesome high school experience.

The Boy Next Door

Kindle Vella is a thing now. Authors write episodic stories and post over time instead of delivering a whole novel at once. Which is pretty cool, and a fun challenge for me to write on a schedule and keep producing stuff.

While not totally released, one of the novels I have on Kindle Vella is finished. It’s all uploaded on the site and will be out by the end of October.

Yay! Now that I’m actually finished with my latest novel, I should talk about it here.

In The Boy Next Door, a shy artist struggles to show his passions on and off the canvas. Confessing his feelings to the boy of his dreams is a good start. But when his crush’s older brother gets his love note by mistake, life takes an unexpected turn.

This is a young adult contemporary romance featuring an ill-fated message in a bottle, sexy neighbors, and an enemies-to-lovers M/M couple.

My basic idea for this story was a John Hughes/classic romcom vibe but much gayer. So of course, the main character is crushing hopelessly on his sweet friend, and a crazy misunderstanding means a guy he hates gets his love note by mistake, but when they’re thrown together, sparks fly? Yes, they do.

When I said this is my year and nothing will stop me? I figured I’d get over my own tied tongue and confess my love for Dylan, whether shouting or mumbling how I felt. Any other obstacles were fictitious. I certainly wasn’t imagining Hunter Cruse, the asshole older brother of my crush. Did I mention he hates me?

Yeah, he can stand in my way.

–from The Boy Next Door

In the beginning

You know the beginning of a novel when the protagonist is doing great? Everything is pretty close to perfect before an unexpected event happens and then it all starts going wrong. Well, in this scene from the LGBTQ young adult novel Instalove, Avery is doing great. He’s thinking back to the time he met his boyfriend, and everything totally isn’t going to go wrong. (Yes, it is.)

P.S. this is a modern fantasy novel with magic and spellcasting, but there’s no magic in this scene. Or is there? Hmmm…

The football players practiced on the field while groups from the track team ran laps on the track around them. We tended to run in groups even though this exercise was such a solitary endeavor. It made no sense, but I didn’t care enough to be the only one running by myself.

There was a sudden jolt from the force of a hit, but I was fine, so I picked up the ball and tossed it a short distance to the athlete heading towards me with a sheepish expression.

It took me a moment to think of his name: Chris Reyes. A light sheen of sweat dusted his arms, visible in his cut-off tee, making his bronze skin glow faintly.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I think I’ll live.”

“Danny the QB thought my job looked easy,” explained the affable, good looking athlete. He twirled the ball around casually in the air while he talked. “I bet him 20 bucks he couldn’t kick a field goal.” He smiled. “I won 20 bucks.”

“Do I get a cut of the profit?” I asked.

“I don’t know about that,” he said, grin turning less charming and more teasing.

“I was just out here minding my own business,” I explained innocently. “When I was attacked with a football.”

“Hmmm.” He fought a grin. “Sounds terrible.”

I regarded him seriously. “There may be permanent damage.”

“That bad, huh?” Chris played along. “How can I make it up to you?”

I made a show of thinking about it while a voice in the back of my head helpfully pointed out that he came out last year and was openly gay.

“My injuries are pretty grim, but I suppose they’re nothing 10 bucks can’t fix.”

“Oh, you want half my winnings? Is that fair?” He considered me, tilting his head and trying to place me. Wow, the full force of his attention? It’s worth being hit by a football.

“Unfair would be leaving me out here alone, injured, and poor.” I used my drama skills to don a pitiful expression.

“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up in surrender, sending me a grin that made my stomach do somersaults. “I’ll make sure you’re properly compensated.”

We were having fun, joking around, but that sounded downright suggestive.

“Are you flirting with me?” I asked.

He smiled slowly, taking in that I was someone who was alright with another guy flirting with him. “I wasn’t necessarily.” His eyes trailed up and down my body quickly. His smile widened. “But I am now.”

I suddenly found myself very okay with that.

A romcom might call this a meet cute. My father called it ordinary magic. I called it a Tuesday afternoon. There was nothing special about it yet, even if our actions closely resembled flirting.

He didn’t give me any of his winnings, but he did pay for dinner.

That was how it started.

Instalove is a coming of age novel where Avery Ward thinks the magic his family has doesn’t involve him. Until a spell calls everything in his life into question, even the desires of his heart. Grab your copy of the novel here!

To be or not to be

Here’s a quote from One Big Decision that sums up the main question in the novel.

Ryan and Luke must figure out their plans for the future separately and together while enjoying the remaining days of senior year and having an amazing prom. How likely is this to go smoothly? Well with friends breaking up, graduation getting closer every day, and even a few secrets… Not very likely.

In this quote Ryan explains the difficulties he and Luke face. They love each other a lot, but it’s hard to expect a high school relationship to last. Though Ryan phrases it a little more creatively.

“Here me out here,” he said as though anything else were possible. “This is big and scary, and lots of high school couples think they’re in it together forever, and it never works out.” He scowled and I predicted he was about to get carried aw—”We don’t want to be like those dumb idiots, those stupid dumb idiots who probably dress bad and—”

silver lining

In One Big Decision, Ryan and Luke must figure out their plans for the future separately and together while enjoying the remaining days of senior year and having an amazing prom. How likely is this to go smoothly? Well with friends breaking up, graduation getting closer every day, and even a few secrets… Not very likely.

This is an excerpt where talks about the problem with storm clouds and silver linings. He isn’t a weatherman, or even concerned about an impending storm, this is naturally a metaphor for his life.

Ryan

The phrase ‘every storm cloud has a silver lining’ doesn’t make sense. While meteorology isn’t my area of expertise, a storm cloud is a storm cloud. Who cares about the lining? Even if a small sliver isn’t dark and stormy, the rest can still rain on your parade. And a storm cloud can still produce lightning. Or tornadoes.

A better positive phrase? Not every storm cloud has a tornado. My life was fortunately free of cyclical funnels of death from the sky.

Unfortunately, my life was so full of happiness, there were only regular clouds, no storms at all. Which meant an anti-silver lining had so many places to attach itself.

Pageant Moms Fighting Other Pageant Moms

For the final book in the One More Thing Series, the lovable losers of Lake Forest are headed to greener, gayer pastures as they graduate high school and move on to college. So One Big Decision deals with college decisions and discussions, which threatened to cause problems for me.

Technically, I think it’s okay to mention colleges in books? As I’m a small-time indie author, probably nobody would care if I used actual colleges. The rules for using real things in fiction is tricky, and sometimes TV shows are careful about that, but they also reach a much larger audience. By my understanding, you can use real brands and titles and whatnot as long as you’re using them fictitiously, which seems obvious in fiction but whatever.

So while I debated whether to use real schools or make some up, the answer occurred to me. Neither one! I could use code-names instead. That’s something I love about first person stories, the character tells the story, so the unreliable narrator can be even more inaccurate as they might want to tell the story incorrectly.

The following is how and why Ryan came up with nicknames for different institutions of higher education.


Ryan

Okay. Researching colleges and fantasizing about being at them? Actually a stress reliever during some of my less pleasant high school years. I loved higher education, I could talk higher education all day. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who said, ‘oh, I went to Harvard or Princeton’ only because I recognized that was obnoxious. I was saving all my obnoxious passes for other parts of my personality. But when bringing Luke into the mix, my brain freaked out and wanted to make the situation less scary.

So while we were contemplating life-changing, possibly relationship-breaking areas of the future, let’s spin it positively. Make it something awesome or at least weird so I wouldn’t mind thinking about it. Thus code-names like Pageant Moms Fighting Other Pageant Moms, Dancing Pineapples University, and T-Rexes with Longer Arms were born.

Other College Code-names

(Some appear in the book, others do not)

  • T-Rexes with Longer Arms
  • Honey-badgers
  • Space Unicorns
  • The University of Perfectly breaded chicken fingers with the right amount of dipping sauce
  • Sculpted Male Torso with Goldilocks Amount of Chest Hair
  • Tap-dancing Walruses University

Prom

One of the big milestones at the end of high school is prom. It’s no different for the seniors in One Big Decision. Though Ryan and Luke have two promposals because they’re difficult like that. I’ll let Luke share his thoughts regarding his promposal.

Luke

Making decisions wasn’t always easy for me outside of the pitcher’s mound, and the length of time it took me to reach conclusions might be… slightly… longer than the time it took everyone else. My mom says some people are late bloomers in terms of physically maturing and others are late bloomers mentally. Hey, she was kinda insulting me, wasn’t she? Okay, I guess she had a point. But I wasn’t dumb really, I just took my time.

So, when asking my boyfriend to prom, Zach suggested I hire a focus group. Which sounded pricey and also he made the suggestion because he’s a dick, but it normally wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Except this time, I knew exactly what I wanted.

For my prom date: Ryan.

For my ask: some of his favorite things.

I also wanted him to look completely different. Okay, not completely. From the top of his unruly brown hair to his amber eyes bursting with life and down to his ridiculously freaking sexy long legs, which always seemed on display in months with nice weather, he looked good.

Except his shirt, which featured a giant picture of… a tacocat? Cat-taco? Yeah, half taco, half cat. Taco-cat. And today might be the warmest day yet this year, so he’d gotten into popsicles or something which stained his lips an artificial blue color.

Best Laid Plans

The road to where is paved with good intentions? Probably somewhere awesome. This is relevant to the quote I have to share with you today. As high school seniors, Ryan and Luke have been putting off discussing the future until they’re ready. This is supposed to save them from freaking out and causing a huge mess. Does it work? Maybe. But probably not.

In this excerpt from One Big Decision, Ryan is discussing what senior year means for him and his relationship.

In our relationship, panicking and freaking out has historically caused anything from a mild inconvenience to a cataclysmic event that ended the dinosaurs. When discussing the future, we decided not to start the chaos early. Not worrying about it until the time came was great, but it couldn’t last forever unfortunately.

Soon high school ended. College beckoned with its new opportunities and limitless potential. Living in this rural, fairly small community all my life, I’d probably been looking forward to college since grade school. The only opposite silver-lining was all the things that might happen to a high school relationship once high school ends…