first lines

First lines are always important because they are, you know, what the reader reads first. And if they don’t like it, they might stop the novel and you don’t get another chance to make a first impression. So it’s good to spend more time than I spent writing this when working on the first line. So while almost no though whatsoever went into this paragraph, I did devote more time to the beginning of Black Cats and Bad Luck.

I’m sharing the opener of this M/M paranormal romance with you today. As a feline familiar, Horatio is connected to magic. That link is strained when he gives up his magical side to become human for a shot at love.

The Ward house rarely held such quiet. Sound always existed, from the voices of humans to the low hum of magic. Even the pixies in the garden were silent. Perhaps this warranted investigation.

Laying in a column of sunlight in the master bedroom, the cat raised its head to investigate— creatures such as him always stretched, just a little, past their limits. Seeing not only what there was, but what could be. Seeing with more than the eyes, reaching out to touch the swirling cosmos and twinkling stars, to—then again, it would be such a shame to waste this lazy afternoon on anything other than a nap. The cat rested its head back on the hardwood floor.

Awareness hovered somewhere, an insubstantial thing, easily batted away like a stray strand of yarn. He stretched, black tail swishing once in the air, before getting comfortable again.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

An ordinary day can shift so quickly. After all, to go from idea to creation it only takes a spark. The being in the otherwise empty house who currently wore black fur and moved on four legs knew all about that. It was his purpose. Mostly. Except for the tiny piece of other. The call had been there for so long, a whisper echoing in his mind. He had never been able to answer. A force kept him in place, always with the same song he understood instinctively: not yet, not yet, not yet. A melody he’d long since grown accustomed to.

After a nap in the sun, the perfect next step was up and to the right. A nap atop the comfy pillow on the big bed. He moved, curling up on the softer surface. Perfectly content, he could stay there for-oh. Something was different.

Lifting his head, ears perking, no sound reached him from the still house beyond. Internally, no sound either.

The melody had stopped.

A noise… perhaps fingers snapping. A distant strike of lightning. The scent of jasmine lingered in the air. He felt a flicker of heat. The shift began.

-the rest of Black Cats and Bad Luck. is available for only 99 cents. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.

The world of magic

The course of true love may never be smooth, buts it’s especially bumpy when witches, familiars, and shadow monsters are at work. Here’s some info about the world of my magical fantasy novel, Black Cats and Bad Luck. This post is about how magic works.

How does magic work? Nobody knows! Magical is powerful. That much is sure. And like all powerful forces, it has the potential to be dangerous. Witches and warlocks can use magic, but things like the exact how, why, and what are something of a mystery.

Here’s two opinions about magic from main characters in this series, Horatio and Avery. As a human, Avery’s answer is more practical. As a magical being, Horatio’s answer is more abstract.

Avery explains the fundamentals of how magic is used:

The most common ways to bring about magickal manifestations included spells, potions, enchantments. Illusions and glamour as well, making a person perceive the world differently. Most of this? Limited time occurrences. Enchantments were the exception, many items would stay enchanted but need a charge after a while.

Glamours and illusions could create the appearance of anything for a short time. Spells and potions could make things happen that normally wouldn’t. Every spell and potion had its own rules and wore off after achieving the desired result.

Achieving any kind of permanency unintentionally would be extremely difficult. And while there weren’t official governing bodies, Pagan communities often policed themselves. With high priestesses like Miranda on the lookout and strongly advising against more extreme forms of the craft.

Horatio on magic:

Magic. The word did not do it justice. Humans labeled it impossible and unknowable and mystical because they could only grasp a tiny piece.

Magick created light but preferred to dwell in the shadows. Try for more, try to understand it and know it as a whole, well, it never led to success. Which was why seeing it in a pure form wasn’t easy. In early days, people thought the mystery might be hiding something nefarious. These days, most agreed it was the opposite. That knowing and understanding the root of magic, what it was or where it came from, was just too much power for any person to have. The temptation of using that knowledge for selfish reasons, for trying to control or change magic would be too great.

One might develop an affinity, a deeper sense after years of practicing. But familiars were tried and true. Familiars could sense and see magick in a way humans couldn’t. Though they didn’t wield it.

There were whispers in the circles I used to frequent, cautionary tales. The most whimsical, elusive force without a name, we call it magic. A being could know this power or use the power. Not both. Either option was a gift. All gifts came with a price.

Second by second

I found a tool for authors to make graphics called Bookbrush, and I think I got a little carried away. So there are many graphics to share. Here’s a little snippet from the beginning of my contemporary fantasy novel Black Cats and Bad Luck.

In the novel, Horatio is a magical entity who went from animal form to human being without a pause in between, which rarely happens. No longer a feline familiar, he’s a human on a mission to be with his true love. He transitions pretty seamlessly into the human world, which is largely chalked up to magic. He’s also a cosmic traveler who has seen many things. I think some of his backstory is vast and unknowable, but there is part can be… known. It’s just touched on now, and there’s some more hints in their next book, though eventually the knowable pieces of his existence will be revealed.

So this quote comes from Horatio switching from a being intimately connected with magic and the inner workings of the universe to a human.

No more time to rest when he could do instead. He rose from the bed on two human legs. His form stood larger than before, yet almost entirely compressed into this place called flesh. The world no longer whispered its secrets into his ear.

Whatever came next, it wasn’t for him to sneak glimpses of anymore. The past, present, and future separated themselves into distinct sections. Time to experience life in a new way, second by second.

Whatever came next, it would be amazing. How could it not be? The world was full of wonder. Seconds ago, he used to be one thing. Now, he was another.

Black Cats and Bad Luck

Meet Stella

Stella Ward is a pre-teen witch who shows promise when it comes to magic. Her other skills? They’re a work in progress. She’s a character from the Ward Magic Series who is first introduced in Black Cats and Bad Luck.

One area where she lacks is interpersonal skills and experience with those outside of the magical community. For example, when explosions occur at a family gathering for no known ordinary or supernatural reasons, Stella assumes their guest Jonah is panicking. Her older brother, Avery, who invited Jonah, knows his friend better than that.

~

Avery

“Should we freak out?” Jonah asked. “Everyone seems kinda freaked out.”

“It’s alright,” Stella reassured instantly. “While we don’t know what happened, there is an explanation. Things don’t spontaneously explode, even in the magical community. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

“Oh, is that why you’re all shocked? Because I would have thought you’ve all seen stuff like that before.” Jonah deflated a little. “Nothing ever blows up? I always pictured real magic being more…” he trailed off, realizing there wasn’t an un-offensive way to finish his sentence.

“I didn’t say magick couldn’t produce explosions,” she defended, annoyed he was doubting. Then she remembered what she was doing. “I just don’t want you to be afraid things are going to blow up whenever you’re around Witches.” Stella’s voice did an impression of our mother’s voice. “Getting used to the magical world can be a big adjustment.”

“Don’t think that’s what’s happening here, Stell,” I said before she could try to ‘comfort’ him anymore.

“I know how to do this, Avery,” she insisted. “We have to take a class about explaining our gifts to nonbelievers.” True, though the odds of her passing Introducing Laymen to Magick with anything higher than a C seemed low.

“Um, I’m not alarmed,” Jonah said. Called it.

I shot a smug smile her way, told you so. She made a face back, and Jonah waved a hand to get our attention because he was quickly getting used to our dynamic and could tell we were about to start squabbling.

“My first reaction to witnessing real life magic would be clapping and begging for an encore,” he drawled, glancing around the room. “Going by other people’s reactions, it wouldn’t be appropriate, so I’m putting in all the effort to refrain.”

“Appreciated,” I said.

~

The full LGBTQ fantasy novel is available here for only 99 cents. Check it out!

Wood…

Black Cats and Bad Luck is a magical fantasy novel with witches and familiars. And magic! Obviously. While one of the main characters, Mason, has strange dreams that might be magical, unless he’s crazy, Mason himself isn’t part of the magical community. He does have one strange power in this deleted scene from the novel.

~

Mason

Different elements resonated with different people. Some possessed the fiery temperament of a raging inferno. Others were steady and calm as a peaceful river. Many Pagans were at home in the forest, the earth welcoming them in while birdsong created a melody, the perfect natural soundtrack.

Mason Lewis wasn’t any of those things.

If I guessed my affinity, I’d go with… wood. Which either sounded boring or suggestive. Though if wood spoke to me, then the message it delivered was extremely specific. Maybe because I worked with wood often or because the jobs I did on the side had a magical component, the first time I rested my hand on a wooden piece, I could get a sense of its creation. Here in the reception area of the hotel, I rested my palm on the tall counter at the front desk and a clear sense of mass production filled my mind.

Heh, this place came across as rustic and woodsy, all the furniture resembling pieces someone could hypothetically craft with their own two hands. There were spacious, oversized wooden coffee tables, desks, and chairs, all polished until gleaming in dark browns. No woodworker in a secluded forest hideaway made any of it. I touched it and heard ‘assembly line’ loud and clear.

These were my idle thoughts as I waited for my guests. At this relatively early hour, the place still smelled strongly of wood polish with something fresh in the air too. An older couple leisurely made their way in, and the man checked in while the woman with him walked right over to me. Her honeysuckle perfume couldn’t be detected until she wrapped her arms around me in a hug.

Instead of saying hello, she greeted me with, “Aren’t you going to shave your beard?” A hand moved to pat my cheek and rub at the scruff there as if it could be scrubbed away with a little elbow grease. “The pictures from this event will be with us forever.”

“Good to see you too, Grandma,” I greeted, unable to keep the smile off my face as we separated.

~

New novel, Black Cats and Bad Luck

As a writer of contemporary romance, one might not know that I love fantasy stories. Especially magical ones. Hey guess what? I’m working on a new novel called Black Cats and Bad Luck. There’s magic. And familiars. And soulmates. And more!

This is of course a gay romance, and this is the beginning of the book. The first part is about a transformation. The second part is two boyfriends shopping in an occult store. Or trying to shop while also trying to make out.

~

The Ward house rarely held such quiet. Sound always existed, from the voices of humans to the low hum of magic. Even the pixies in the garden were silent. Perhaps this warranted investigation.

Laying in a column of sunlight in the master bedroom, the cat raised its head— creatures such as him always stretched, just a little, past their limits. Seeing not only what there was, but what could be. Seeing with more than the eyes, reaching out to touch the swirling cosmos and twinkling stars, to—then again, it would be such a shame to waste this lazy afternoon on anything other than a nap. The cat rested its head back on the hardwood floor.

Awareness hovered somewhere, an insubstantial thing, easily batted away like a stray strand of yarn. He stretched, black tail swishing once in the air, before getting comfortable again.

An ordinary day can shift so quickly. After all, to go from idea to creation, it only takes a spark. The being in the empty house who currently wore black fur and moved on four legs knew all about that. It was his purpose. Mostly, except for the tiny piece of other. The call had been there for so long, a whisper echoing in his mind. He had never been able to answer. A force kept him in place, always with the same song, not yet, not yet, not yet, a melody he’d long since gotten used to.

After a nap in the sun, the perfect next step was up and to the right, a nap atop the comfy pillow on the big bed. He moved, curling up on the softer surface. Yes, perfectly content, he could stay there for-oh. Something was different.

Lifting his head, ears perking, no sound reached him from the still house beyond. Inside, no sound either.

The melody had stopped.

A sound, perhaps fingers snapping. The scent of jasmine lingered in the air. The shift began.

Mystical forces swirled and coalesced on the being indulging in an afternoon nap and… things changed. Transformation, accompanied by only a slight popping sound. Limbs twisting, body bending, almost naturally, like the back when arched, making a bow of the spine in the stretch he knew so well.

Life expanded beyond instinct, beyond black and white. While he hadn’t moved, the bed no longer held a feline. This was something new. He was something new. Even his thoughts were transformed, into the kind with words.

A jumble of images poured into his head like milk from a saucer. Magic. Grace. Whiskers. All of it him and not him. Paws to hands. Hands and hearts. Holding a heart in one’s hands, feeling it beat, and knowing what it meant to live.

He lived. Alive. A person, a man. One with an opinion, small, yet his own nonetheless. His first viewpoint boiled down to this: yes. His mouth stretched up; the thought felt good.

“Meow,” he said. It didn’t feel right.

“Now,” he tried. That was better.

No more time to rest when he could do instead. He rose from the bed on two human legs. Larger than before, yet almost entirely compressed into this place called flesh. The world no longer laid out neatly to view with ease. Whatever came next, it wasn’t for him to know anymore. Time to experience life in a new way, second by second.

The world held endless possibilities, more than even he could conceive of. Whatever came next, it would be amazing. How could it not be? The world was full of wonder. Seconds ago, he used to be one thing. Now, he was another.

* * *

Mason

When his clever hands and nimble body pressed me against the shelves, the strongest urge rose within me to flip our positions and forget about how we were in a public place with a job to do. Putting a respectable distance between us seemed impossible, even though anybody could turn onto the last aisle in this occult store and see us between the portable cauldrons and apothecary kits.

His green eyes sparkled with mischief. The only explanation for why I crave him so much and the way he’s more intoxicating than any whisky? It had to be a spell.

Then again, I know absolutely nothing about magic. My best friend says a good witch recognized when to call on the supernatural and when to let nature run its course. Yes, it would be simple to invoke attraction by dabbing a little love potion on the neck. However, there’s no substitute for the real stuff. Lust felt so much better when truly earned.

“Relax,” Horatio said, the word more coaxing than soothing. “No one can see us back here.” Tall shelving dark as night hid us from the customers browsing through crystals, candles, and whatever aromatherapy oil I surely needed to calm me down.

“Can’t you keep your hands off me for a second?” I grumbled, though I don’t exactly have complaints about our position.

Horatio drew his hands away, amusement in those bright green eyes as he counted the seconds he kept his hands to himself. One, two, three. Then came the smirk, and he rolled his hips into mine, because no one said they were off limits and—

Dammit. My hands settled around his waist and drew him closer. I tried to protest. “Don’t we have more important things to focus on?”

“Oh, I am.” He pecked my lips quickly with his own. “I assure you.” Another peck. “I’m focusing on—” his mouth began a journey to a spot just below my ear, and he punctuated each word with a kiss. “—the most important part.”

The record would show I tried valiantly to keep us on track. I gave up, getting lost in him instead. Surely our task couldn’t be as important as putting one hand in his black hair and slipping my tongue inside his parted lips. Despite the shoppers in the next aisle, we might as well be the only two people in the world. Our mouths danced together hungrily and—

“Ahem.” Someone cleared their throat.

We froze as if we were guilty teenagers sneaking around, only our heads turning to the noise to see two older women eyeing us with amusement. One stepped forward, the beads on her bracelets jingling, as she reached by my shoulder for what she needed from the shelf.

My beard hid the flush on my face from being caught, though Horatio’s own clean-shaven face showed no embarrassment. Only smug pride, the cat who caught the canary or something.

“Sorry about this,” I apologized to the women without being able to look directly at them. “We were just, uh—”

It had been pretty clear what we were doing. They both smirked, letting the humiliation continue another moment before one took pity on me. “Relax,” she said and then looked to her companion. “We were just as bad before our own Joining, weren’t we?”

“Worse,” the other said with a wicked grin. She looked to us. “Congratulations.” They moved on, chuckling while they went.

With a slight head tilt, Horatio considered me. His pale neck curved only slightly, not showing off the full stretch of skin I loved. I sounded kind of vampiric, lusting after the curve of a neck. With Horatio, there was so much to lust over. I wanted to join our mouths again, but…

“About that ceremony of ours,” I reminded us both. We were here to pick up supplies for it.

Sighing, he pulled away, the reluctance short lived as he remembered something. “Did Miranda put any thought at all into this rite? Maybe I have high standards for a High Priestess, but it’s like she picked the first thing she saw on the internet.”

“Something wrong?”

“If it weren’t for the lavender, our candle would have no masculine scents, and it’s all a little obvious.” He made a distressed noise. “And don’t get me started on the cinnamon and moon water, is this a serious rite or a teenager’s love potion?”

Question seemed rhetorical but he stopped talking, so it was my turn to provide input. “Uh, get whatever you want.”

“You don’t have an opinion?”

“None of this is exactly my area of expertise.” One suggestion did pop into my mind, yet for some reason, the words wouldn’t go past my lips due to a sudden unease that made me hesitate. Pushing away the misgiving, I said, “We’re here now, you might as well grab what you want.”

His eyes fell on my body as he considered the suggestion, then he shook his head. “Alright, though it’s your ceremony too. I’d think you would care.” He began walking away.

Catching him around the middle, I pulled him to me once more, brushing our lips together. I whispered, “There’s nothing I care about more.”

Appeased, he grabbed me by the wrist as he led me around the store, plucking items from shelves and displays and handing them to me to carry, creating his own ritual in his head. Anyone else, I’d worry about unexpected side effects. With Horatio, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had magic running through his veins instead of blood. Uh. Not sure where that thought came from. It felt true, but unease crept over me again.

The whole ceremony was a formality, so there was no reason to have doubts. As far as I was concerned, he was already a part of me. We didn’t need an incantation to bind us together. People didn’t get closer than us.

When he requested my input a moment ago, only one suggestion came to mind. Dandelion. Those little scrubby flowers growing free in fields and unchecked corners of dirt. A weed by some definitions. The same things kids plucked out of the ground and pulled the petals from, playing games of does he love me, does he not, trying to summon their true love, and I…

My true love stood right beside me while we waited in line to pay. He wrapped an arm across my waist, and I didn’t need to look to know he was grinning because no way he would keep it ther-yep, his palm moved lower, cupping my ass. My noise of warning only made him grin. We—

“It’s your turn,” someone said. When it came to Horatio, nobody else better be getting a turn-oh. In line. It was our turn in line, so the person behind us wanted us to move ahead.

Okay, going to the store and paying for this stuff? I could do that much. I really couldn’t contribute anything else. Which herbs and flowers are masculine, and which are feminine? No idea. Nor could I find flowers to represent passion and sincerity or select crystals to aid in a long and healthy bond. I might not even be able to list all the possible steps in this upcoming ritual we were taking part in. I only knew that we would stand up in public and declare our love for each other. I wanted that part.

In fact, the amount I wanted the public declaration seemed almost bizarre. Why did displaying our love out in the open in front of witnesses and the daylight appeal to me so much? We did that all the time. As our actions in this store proved, we weren’t very good at keeping our feelings private and our hands to ourselves.

Screw it. “You go ahead,” I told the person behind us, pulling Horatio to me so the customer could step around.

I laughed and his mouth covered mine before the sound could be heard, so did it even count as a laugh or was it only an idea? Nonsensically I thought, when it comes to him, everything counts. Wrapping my arms around him, I kissed the hell out of him.

And then I woke up.

Groaning, I glanced to the alarm clock. 6:45 in the morning. My girlfriend was already up and out of the room for a morning run. With a sigh, I got up. Even though my guests wouldn’t arrive until after 10. I should make a pot of coffee. I had a feeling it would be a long day.

The trouble with dreaming about a guy who didn’t exist? He was never there when you woke up.


Books!

Sometimes authors get together to promote their books. Authors like me. The trick for me is finding other LGBT authors. I generally search for other gay romances and I’m not sure if I should be more specific, but even being vague doesn’t always work. I recently joined one group specifically designed for YA LGBT stories and I thought ‘perfect, this is exactly right for my books’ and then mine was the only queer story.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that life is hard and I try my best. I succeeded with this promotion for books available in Kindle Unlimited. Actually, I double succeeded because I totally thought this would be ending today but I figured better extremely late than never, but this promotion lasts until Sept. 18.

Most of these novels seem to be contemporary romance or supernatural and M/M or M/F. However, Nicole Higginbotham-Hogue does have some lesbian romances.  Here are a few of the gay romances available.

The Bastille Sphere: a penal colony being developed by Harmony Inc. Entry is one way only, with no way out. It’s supposed to be for habitual reoffenders and the worst violent offenders.

The prize: A fight to the death with the winner gaining his parole. He couldn’t leave Bastille, but would gain a modicum of freedom, including his own home behind the walls of the Compound outside of the prison grounds, and be gifted with a mate. It was a win/win as far he was concerned. Leyland would either be freed by death at last, or he’d win and gain as normal a life as Bastille offered.

If only it was that easy.

Sol’s Solstice

Can Seth help Sol find his way back from the darkness?

Zach Ahmad: Beyoncé’s equal.

In my ongoing quest of having things to say, here is a thing. Do I need more explanation? Well, the character can probably speak for himself. He has lovely things to say. Because he’s cocky as hell. This is from a story I’m currently working on.

~

Zach

Zach, the man, the myth, the legend enjoyed another wonderful night. Believe me, recounting tales of my charms and exploits might be in my top five favorite hobbies, but another matter demanded attention the next morning. Or at least, my father followed me into the kitchen when I woke up sometime closer to afternoon than morning.

Wait. This cannot be stressed enough. Deep down, cross my heart, gun to my head, I truly believed I could be best friends with Beyoncé. If our paths ever crossed, she would think my style game was on point, and not only would we get along, she would be the one eager to make my acquaintance. She would think, ‘damn, I need him in my life. I might learn something.’

That was the level I generally operated at. Zach Ahmad: Beyoncé’s equal.

Thoughts like these gave me comfort when interacting with my father and during other moments of adversity when I more closely resembled, unfortunately, an utterly basic bitch.

Books, yay!

Recently, I joined BookFunnel, which is great because it gives me stuff to talk about. So you know, that’s what I’m going to talk about. This may be the most straight forward introduction to a blog post I’ve ever made, go me.

One group I joined is for YA Coming of Age Books.  Most of these are contemporary and straight romances. One book with queer characters and a cover I like is After the Fall by Brad Graber. It’s about a teenager girl on a quest to find out more about her mother.

Rikki, a teenager being raised in New York City, has a secret. She can’t remember her mother. Whenever she asks her grandmother a question, the older woman falls apart and refuses to discuss the matter. Desperate to learn the truth, Rikki finds a hidden album with family photographs. Can the boy in the picture with her mother be a long lost uncle? Determined to unlock the mystery, she embarks on a journey to meet Harry, a writer who is struggling with his own issues of identity.

This group lasts until the 15th, so yes, I am last minute like usual. Pretend this post is happening a week ago when it was supposed to before my computer charger broke and I had to order a new one.

Some of the other promotions I joined for August are these, Summer Laughs and Happy End of Summer. Summer Laughs offers giveaways and all the books in the other one are on KU. I will tell you more about these later because then I can make another post. I mean, because of another sensible reason.

Jamboree! And other stuff too…

After joining the Jamboree Book Fest for July, my first thought was, what even is a jamboree? I mean, I know it’s a party, basically. A gathering, a social event, etc. But why is it a word? Where does it come from?

Get ready, here comes the answer. Are you ready?

Okay, here goes.

The word ‘jamboree’ comes from… somewhere! No one knows for sure. And it is… a large celebration or party, typically a lavish and boisterous one. Yeah, I hoped it would be something more exciting too. I was hoping the word had an interesting origin but I’ll just skip to the end of this story and say this: it doesn’t.

Though I guess, if there isn’t a definitive answer on where the word comes from, it could come from anywhere. So the jamboree could have been invented by lonely jam makers who decided to unite over their common love of turning fruit into preserves or something.

Anyway, here’s one link for the book giveaway, and there’s also a drawing for an Amazon gift card here.There’s multiple genres from romance to fantasy and a few YA titles. It’s mostly straight, which is fine, some of my best friends are straight.