Book News, plus dinosaurs! One of these things isn’t true.

Have you ever played the game ‘two truths and a lie?’ Do you want to play now? Whatever you answered, I can’t hear you, so I’m just going to keep going. Okay, the way the game works is I say three things, then you guess which one is the lie. Ready? Again, I can’t hear you. Go!

1. F.N. Manning, me, has a new story available.

2. I actually have four new stories available.

3. The new thing I’m talking about is on sale right now!

Um, maybe I should build the suspense instead of just telling you the answer. I’m going to tell you anyway. Number three is the lie. Because the story is free, so there is no sale, because you never have to pay for it. Free!

When We Were Strangers is a prequel to the first book in the One More Thing Series, One Little Word. No knowledge of the series is required to read this short story. Well, there are actually four stories altogether, which are all included in the prequel.

Here is the beginning of one story. You literally need to know no information to read this, but I’m going to tell you some stuff anyway. Zach (and friends) crash a wedding, where he flirts with an older guy and goes on a quest.

~

Zach

Under no circumstances would I ever base my life choices around Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Yes, they were rich and famous, but at what cost? They were still Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Which meant that my decision to crash a wedding reception occurred for one reason and only one reason: free alcohol.

The party took place in our hotel, and we had a break from our baseball tournament. Me, Luke Chambers, and Joey Wilson made a marginal effort to blend in by splitting the dressier clothing I packed. A formality, as getting caught hadn’t even occurred to me, because who really cared?

Apparently, Samuel cared. The uptight groomsman who seemed unfamiliar with fun and party etiquette, though watching Luke fail to bond with him was amusing.

“We’re no different than everyone else here,” Luke tried with a charming smile. “We just wanna have a good time.”

“Except everyone else was invited,” said the fun police.

Never great at thinking on his feet, Luke smiled harder, counting on his all-American good looks, green eyes earnest and dimples peeking out. “Come on, Sam—”

“It’s Samuel,” he corrected instantly with a glare. “Hardly on nickname basis as we’re strangers.”

“I’m Luke. Nice to meet you, Sam.” Luke held out his hand.

“It’s still Samuel.” Still Samuel stared at the outstretched hand dubiously until it was removed.

Luke sent me a desperate look. I mouthed ‘you got this,’ gave him a thumbs up, and left him to investigate the alcohol situation. Yes, we were best friends, but this way was more fun, and I still wanted to drink.

Sorry not sorry about stealing thunder from the bride I’d never met, but everyone could see Zach Ahmad looked damn fine. With flawless brown skin, expertly styled hair, and a roguish smirk, I… oh wait. There was a reason my amazing good looks were important. I would get to that momentarily.

As Luke took my dinner jacket, I only wore the under layers, a grey vest and a long-sleeved white dress shirt. My impeccably fit body was highlighted in the tailored clothing, and my ass looked incredible in the dark pants. Joey stole my red tie for himself as he was too big for my clothes, and he always wore whatever he wanted regardless of dress code anyway. I half respected that. I would respect it fully if he had better taste.

Anyway, back to Zach.

After discovering only those with wristbands got free, no-questions-asked alcohol, I glanced back towards Luke and caught Samuel’s eyes moving away from me. So… that could work. I interrupted Samuel boring Luke to death and took care of the situation, at least 70% sure Samuel wanted me.

Sometime after being awesome and gaining us admittance and free alcohol, I lost track of my friends. I stood at the edge of the dancefloor with Samuel. A peppy song about everything being great played loudly while people danced and had fun. A good time had by all, except for or including us? Unclear.

“Look Zach,” Samuel began, then faltered. “Do you go by Zach or Zachary? Is Zachariah an option?”

“Never,” I shot down, then sent him a small smile. “It’s Zach. Can I call you Sam?”

“Um, yeah,” he answered, nervous but no hesitation. “Sure, if you want.” He definitely wanted me.

“What’s on your mind, Sam?” I asked.

“Okay, one thing.” He seemed to psych himself up mentally before managing to speak. “Crashing a party for free booze when you’re obviously underage, uh.” Samuel shook his head. “I may not condone this, but I won’t stop you.”

“You did give us the wristbands.” I held up my wrist with the neon green band attached.

“Alright, I condone it a little.” He frowned, thinking. “Enabling, that might be the better term. I wanted to make clear, I’m not judging, but I am, well.” He shrugged helplessly. “I see through what you’re doing.”

“Okay?” I arched one eyebrow, the gesture and single word slightly dismissive out of habit. Some people had ‘resting bitch face.’ ‘Resting bitch everything’ was my default setting.

“Apparently I’m alright with corrupting a minor, but I’m not an idiot,” he explained, potentially flushing. Hard to tell with his beard. “I saw through the plan, that’s all. I want to be clear.” He crossed his arms. No jacket, sleeves rolled up, lots of hair there. “I sound silly, don’t I?”

“A little, yeah.” I smiled. “Though I do understand where you’re coming from. Going along with it is different than being duped. I’d be bothered at the impression of being outsmarted by a bunch of high school jocks too.”

His blue eyes widened with panic. “You’re in high school?”

Shit. “You didn’t know? You said—”

“21 is the legal drinking age! Which by the way, I am also younger than. Not that I’ve imbibed.”

“Gonna start?” Rhetorical, because my invitations weren’t turned down. The only thing I did better than resting bitch everything was becoming inviting.

His head bobbed up and down in a nervous nod. “Lead the way, I guess.”

I led the way.

-Read the rest here.

Friendship, cookies, and bi panic. Totally normal bro stuff.

I was gonna do the talky talk talking thing here, but this is a pretty good sized scene, so I’ll just get to it. Porcupines! (Sorry, I couldn’t completely do the whole serious, professional thing. That would be too weird.)

This is from One Little Lie, and it’s a deleted scene.

Relevant information: Luke is dating a boy and wants to figure out his sexuality but most of his feelings about this are “oh god, oh god, oh god.” He goes to his friend Zach, known bisexual and avoider of feelings, for help.

~

Luke

My sister said she thought I was a boring straight guy once. I was certainly interesting now; my dilemma was multifaceted. I had no idea what I was. I didn’t think and maybe didn’t want to be gay, but what if I was? Things had never felt this good, this intense before.

That’s what I thought about after leaving Ryan’s house.

heartThen there was the other part, which was maybe worse. Maybe things didn’t feel so intense and crazy and wonderful because Ryan was a guy. Maybe it felt that way because my feelings for Ryan were more than I’d ever had for anyone else, maybe it was lo-

Nope. No. Too scary.

I’m the good guy, I’d always been the good boyfriend. I held doors open, paid for dinner, tried to listen, bought flowers, all of it. I executed all the right moves on the outside, but it never felt like this on the inside.

I’d said I love you before and I had thought I meant it at the time, but it didn’t feel like this. Real, intense. Consuming. Was I gay? Did it matter that I still liked girls?

I wasn’t the type to do awkward or self-doubting and now there was a lot of that in my life. Ryan and I were each other’s first boyfriends. Though he’d been on a few dates with Zach and had definitely been attracted to other guys. Maybe Ryan was special to me, but I wasn’t special to him.

Huh.

What a not fun thought.

That was only one of the reasons I couldn’t share with Ryan when he offered last night. Mainly, I wanted to go into his house and do anything that involved being undressed and not talking. Also because I didn’t want all of my fond, serious thoughts to spill out. And also because… it just didn’t feel right unloading all this stuff on him.

Lydia had her own soul searching to go through, so I turned to Zach. The easiest way to get Zach to cooperate was to tell him exactly what you wanted and make it clear that you would leave him alone after you got it. This wasn’t baseball. No warm up. No beating around the bush. Direct.

When it was time for our next away game, I clapped him on the shoulder and sat down next to him on the bus. “Prepare yourself for a serious conversation,” I informed him.

“Thanks for the warning.” He moved to get up. “But you didn’t inform me in writing at least three days in advance so—”

“Okay, but I want to talk about BEING GAY AND QUEER SHIT,” I raised my voice. “Whoever sits next to me will have that to look forward to.” Suddenly there were no free seats for Zach. “Come on, we can do this quickly.”

He sat back down but complained, “I don’t want to hold your hand through this. Can’t you talk to your actual boyfriend about this?”

“I’ll tell him once I figure it out.” He did it on his own.

Okay, this was what I was talking about earlier. The big reason I couldn’t let him help me. Not only did he figure it out on his own, my addition only made things more complicated. I opened my stupid big mouth and told people he was gay.

I didn’t really know him at the time. I didn’t know about being in the closet or outing people. It was an accident. I just… After that, I didn’t want to put this on him. I could do this myself.

Mostly. I told Zach, “I’m talking to you whether you like it or not.”

He idly glanced out the window, but I doubted he’d make a break for it. “Fine.”

“Fine.”

guypicsDeep, deep down he was really a good person. You just had to get through all the bullshit first. Zach liked to present himself a certain way and his family weren’t really the type to have serious, intense conversations. My parents freaking loved talking. I just didn’t think they’d want to listen to anything I had to say at the moment.

I didn’t say anything for a few moments. “So,” Zach said after a tense silence, “Are you gonna start talking then, or what?”

“Right, right.” Okay. I wanted this. “I bought some time. With the Lydia thing. But I still don’t know.” There.

He didn’t say anything. I just expressed my doubts in such an eloquent and articulate manner and he had nothing to say?

“Okay, so this is supposed to be a conversation,” I explained.

“I’m aware,” Zach said cooly. That was all he said.

“It’s your turn to talk,” I prompted. Maybe I should jump out the window instead.

He shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say to that.”

Oh dear god. “Help me,” I ordered. Or maybe begged. “How do I even decide? It’s like a big decision. Straight or gay.”

“You’re acting like there’s no other options.” He rolled his eyes. “Like being bi, for instance.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I shrugged.

Zach said he liked guys and girls. That was an option, hypothetically. I couldn’t imagine it any more than I could being gay; maybe I liked it even less for some reason.

It wasn’t that simple, was it? To just say, oh, I like both and there, problem solved. That was awfully convenient. How long could that last for? Wasn’t it just putting off the inevitable? I couldn’t decide if that’s what I wanted to do or not.

“Please don’t let this inflate your ego more,” I told Zach, “But you make it look really easy.”

“I’ve known I was gay for a while now,” he said simply. He used gay and bi interchangeably sometimes, but how was I supposed to know if that was what he was doing this time? Then, seeing that I was clearly about to ask if he was gay now, he added, “I’m still bi, but I don’t have a problem with either term.”

Gay had become something of a catch all term, but it didn’t feel like it to me. If I called myself gay out loud, that meant I liked men and men only. Zach didn’t agree. Not that there was anything wrong with being gay, obviously. It just wasn’t me.

Zach sighed and his tone wasn’t exactly gentler, but for him it was almost warm and fuzzy as he continued, “You suddenly found yourself in a… situation.” Instead of boyfriend, I would have to refer to Ryan as my situation later; he’d get a kick out of that. “It might take time to figure everything out.”

I thought about that. How much time did I get? Did I have to become gay after my transitional period was over? When should I expect my membership card in the mail and how did I go about returning it?

heartyStill, it wasn’t bad advice. This was new to me. I got a little time at least. All I could come up with to say in response was, “Wow, you sound so wise and rational.”

“I know,” Zach shuddered. “I don’t like it.”

Well, that didn’t really help. But I guess it was reassuring. I felt really dumb, but I hadn’t been dealing with this for that long, that was true. But Zach had known he was gay for a while now?

“I don’t think I’ve seen you go after a guy besides Ryan,” I noted.

“Oh god, we are not talking about that,” he said firmly.

I sighed. This was probably as good as our conversation would get, so I deemed Zach’s best friend duties over with and reached into my backpack. “Hey, I brought snacks.”

Zach smiled. Now some of the guys looked jealous, which made his smile grow. Zach liked envy even more than dessert. Ryan made cookies for the road. We ate them all ourselves but shared with Joey too. Apparently, I owed him for always telling him things he didn’t want to know.

~

This is part of a continuing thing I do called More on Mondays.  Where I post extra scenes, hence the more, on every other Monday, hence the Mondays.

Poetic, coherent thoughts that aren’t at all cheesy

Sometimes, I have a perfect beginning for a story and other times I play around with a million ideas because I can’t quite figure out how to begin. This was one of those million options I considered for the beginning of One New Start.

Ryan, one of the main characters, is pretty random and spastic, so maybe I didn’t even need to provide a reason for the adventures he embarks on, but this Ryan, the guy who is about to embark on adventures. He’s talking about senior year.

Of high school. I write YA. Not geriatric-A.

~

flowers

Ryan

They wrote songs about this, the way I was feeling.

Cheesy, stupid songs that I would never admit to liking out loud but always got stuck in my head anyway. Songs about how nothing could stop you, how the future was ahead. YOLO, carpe diem, the time was now, the feeling was right, I have no idea.

Recently, the musical selection had been a little… why? Whenever I turned on the radio to a pop station or a country station or a rap station, and that was all we had here, the same stupid Lil Naz song was always playing about a horse and roads and whatever. Boring.

But hey, Lil Naz was gay now! No, he always was but now the public knew. That was cool.

Don’t know that I even need to say this, but like that’s ever stopped me before, I would rather talk about me than Lil Naz.

I woke up this way. Fabulous. And also, excited. Like, hard to sit still excited, ready for what’s next, big crazy smile on my face excited for the start of my senior year.

Living in my small town and being the gay kid, it had been a long time since I was excited for the school year. It was always ugh, another year, at least it’s one step closer to freedom, but it’s still not here yet.

Now it’s like, yay, another year!

They wrote songs about this. Cruising down the road with my baby next to me, windows down, wind in my hair. A beautiful guy next to me and nothing can stop me.

Yeah, there was a song about that. I didn’t know the words, but I was singing it anyway. I was living it anyway.

~

This has been More on Mondays, where I post outtakes and deleted scenes. On Mondays. Every other Monday to be exact. I wanted to italicize this, so I did.

Bye bi Zach (lolz)

Once upon a time, Luke Chambers went on a confusing sexuality journey. I can be more specific than that. Once upon One Little Lie, Luke Chambers went on a confusing sexuality journey.

I really enjoyed writing this storyline, so there’s a lot of it, which is why some of it isn’t in the book. There needs to be more about being bi in books, says the bi person, and also, I love Zach, so that’s probably why I liked coming up with this stuff.

Here’s some info about this scene: See Zach. See Zach be bi. Bye Zach bye.

Now here’s some info that includes, um, actual info. Due to shenanigans, Luke told his parents he’s dating a girl while he’s really dating a boy and all he knows is that he likes a boy, he just doesn’t know what means in terms of who and what he is.

His BFF Zach is bi, and Luke often ropes him into his gay freakouts.

As you maybe haven’t read the larger story this is part of, I should probably note that these are a character’s thoughts. This doesn’t make them right. In fact, a lot of them are wrong. That’s the fun thing about first person POV, you get to see the thought process from beginning to end.

~

ball

Luke

It was Friday and we just played and won a game at another school. I cleaned up afterwards and got to my car before realizing I’d left my mitt in the dugout. When I went to grab my glove, I almost ran into Zach, who was there flirting with some girl.

“Seriously?” I questioned when I saw the pair and muttered, “I’m the one who hit a home run.”

Sure, I was taken. But we were at a rival school and she didn’t know that. And I was a pitcher. I didn’t get a huge number of home runs, it was annoying I had to bat at all, so it was doubly impressive.

“I got on base every time I was up,” he told me without looking at me and smiled at the girl with him as he said, “And I look better running.”

That was debatable, but I didn’t get into it as the girl gave Zach her number and left. He looked like he wanted to leave too but was resigned, waiting for me to speak. Good. I just didn’t get this.

I still couldn’t really picture him with a guy, but I guess it would happen eventually. Maybe his pride was wounded because the first guy he went on a date with after he came out chose someone else. But he said he liked guys, so eventually he’d have to get over that and give in to being gay.

“You still want to date girls?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said simply, like that was it.

Zach was the out one who said he was bi, and he even didn’t mind the term gay, but he wasn’t acting very gay at all. He liked one guy, and his shoes and car were always clean. But those last things probably didn’t even count.

I was gayer than him at the moment, which was really unsettling.

“Just thought you’d be over girls by now,” I commented. How long did it take? Did I set him back by stealing Ryan away?

“Bi isn’t gay,” he said, which sounded like a weak argument to me because he was the one who used the terms interchangeably for himself.

“Yeah, but—” I started to argue because it was rare that I got to be right in an argument with Zach. Damn, I rarely got to be right in argument with anyone. There was Alicia, but that was more she just didn’t care and went along with me instead of arguing, which wasn’t the same.

“Look, I still like girls,” Zach interrupted. Yeah, he was making that clear, with his hitting on every girl, and making out with them in front of my locker. It was a little too clear.

“Me too.” I felt the need to say that even though no one had asked. “We don’t need to talk about this anyway—”

“You started it,” he fired back. He would throw that in my face. “And you were asking questions earlier.”

“That was before.” Did I have to know things right away? Couldn’t I just enjoy this for a while?

bball“Before your beard?” he asked with snide amusement.

I played dumb. “No, I think technically that had already started.”

“Oh,” Zach said in mock understanding. “So you’re going to dig in your heels and ignore the problem until it goes away?”

Like he could talk! Zach always made a big show of protesting whenever he got dragged into a serious conversation and generally did everything he could to avoid them.

He was the one who loved avoiding stuff, but the second I tried to do the same, he called me on it. That totally wasn’t fair.

I pointed this out. “Like you’re one to talk. How long are you gonna be bi?” He liked guys and girls right now. Eventually, the girls would fade away. That was how it worked. The longer he tried to stay bi, the longer he was avoiding the truth.

“I like guys and girls and don’t feel the need to choose and I’m not just saying that.” He sounded annoyed.

He was totally just saying that.

“Okay, but it’s a half way point,” I argued.

Zach rolled his eyes. “Not literally.”

He said it wasn’t either/or. I kinda had a hard time remembering that. It had always seemed like either/or to me. Not both. And that wasn’t right, you couldn’t really have both, could you? For a little while when you figured things out, sure. But not forever. That was greedy or something.

“But like—” I tried to say some of my thoughts.

“No, it may be different for you but that’s how it is for me,” Zach talked over me. “I’m bi. I’ve always been bi. I am not interested in switching my cell phone provider. Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, totally, completely bi.”

I snorted, but he wasn’t done yet.

“Will that change in the distant future?” he asked and then answered his own question. “Well, keeping in mind that sexuality is fluid and I may learn more about myself as I get older,” he looked at me wryly, “No, probably not.” But he couldn’t really- “I really don’t think so,” he said earnestly. “Maybe sometimes I’ll be more into girls, maybe sometimes I’ll be more into guys, but I like both and will continue to like both. I say that with as much certainty as I can.”

He stared at me. I stared back. He stared back.

I coughed and remarked, “What? Do you want an Oscar for that speech or something?”

He shoved me and left.

Jeez, and I thought I was handling this whole thing bad.

bballll

Maybe all Zach’s flirting with girls made sense. What if he was just getting it out of his system? Or trying really hard to appear straight before he gave up and went gay? He just hadn’t quite got there yet.

Okay, I know that goes against everything Zach just said but he’s confused. I didn’t blame him.

This whole thing was really confusing.

I was confused, Zach was confused, and Cara had seemed really confused about me and Ryan. Maybe some of it was denial or just that rumors abounded surrounding my love life and that made things unclear, but mostly? Mostly it seemed like she didn’t even want to think about the idea of me with another guy.

Cara Lewis shouldn’t be the standard I base anything on. But. It kinda seemed like a lot of people thought like her.

Zach was pretty adamant about being able to like both, but did it really matter? If I was bi, I could date guys and girls. Except, would any of the girls want me? Or would I be able to be bi but I’d have to hide it from girls? Would guys care too? What was so good about having a label if no one wanted you once you had it?

I looked a lot of information up when I found out Ryan was gay and that I’d accidentally outed him. I guess I could go look at that research again. But… just the thought kinda made me sick. Which was weird because it was all really supportive stuff about how figuring out sexual orientation was a process, and it was okay to experiment, and that it took time and whatever.

Reading that once was way different than trying to apply it to yourself. It had all sounded good but now I thought it was wishful thinking. Maybe in some ideal world anyone could be anything they wanted and you could go back and forth and try things out.

Here, though? This was a modest Midwest community. You got a label and it stuck to you. That’s just how it worked.

~

I’m currently playing around with the thing at the end where I say this has been more on Mondays, where I post deleted scenes every other Monday.

New YA Books

What’s new in YA right now and what’s on the horizon?

I have no idea!

Everything is just so much, all the time, you know? Maybe not, because what I said doesn’t make a ton of sense, but I can’t keep up with new releases. So it’s good there’s other people out there to do that for me.

I found this list of YA fiction being released in July-September. These are all sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. The full list is here, but I figured I would just mention the queer ones. Because Hella Gay YA and all that.

The Infinite Noise: A Bright Sessions Novel  by Lauren Shippen

Description: Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Release: Sept. 24

The only podcasts I’ve ever listened to are fictional ones about gay characters and true crime, and I’m sure there’s other types that are really good… but yeah, I’m only interested in podcasts if there’s true crime or queer characters and hopefully less crime.

Basically, it’s really cool that The Bright Sessions podcast is a book now.

 Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Description: There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Release: Sept. 10

Jam is trans and selectively nonverbal, and this book sounds interesting and too scary for me. I have begun to very, VERY slowly enjoy a little bit of horror, mostly by accident. Otherwise I am a big coward and there’s no shame in that because I said so.

Red Skies Falling (The Skybound Saga) by Alex London

Description: Kylee is ensconsed in the Sky Castle, training with Mem Uku to master the Hollow Tongue and the Ghost Eagle. But political intrigue abounds and court drama seems to seep through the castle’s stones like blood from a broken feather. Meanwhile, Brysen is still in the Six Villages, preparing for an attack by the Kartami. The Villages have become Uztar’s first line of defense, and refugees are flooding in from the plains. But their arrival lays bare the villagers’ darkest instincts. As Brysen navigates the growing turmoil, he must also grapple with a newfound gift, a burgeoning crush on a mysterious boy, and a shocking betrayal.

Release: Sept. 3

Game of Thrones but gayer. And YA.

Is Game of Thrones already gay? I’m gonna get around to watching that eventually. I’m guessing there’s less gay people dying in horrific ways in this novel. Again, I don’t watch GoT, but it always seems like somebody is dying in horrific ways.

Of Ice and Shadows (Of Fire and Stars) by Audrey Coulthrust

Description: Princesses Denna and Mare are in love and together at last—only to face a new set of dangers.

Mare just wants to settle down with the girl she loves, which would be easier if Denna weren’t gifted with forbidden and volatile fire magic. Denna must learn to control her powers, which means traveling in secret to the kingdom of Zumorda, where she can seek training without fear of persecution. Determined to help, Mare has agreed to serve as an ambassador as a cover for their journey.

As rising tensions and unexpected betrayals put Mare and Denna in jeopardy and dangerous enemies emerge on all sides, can they protect their love and save their kingdoms?

Release: August 13

This is the book where, whenever I see the first one on the list of top 100 queer YA novels, I’m like that looks cool, I should read that. And then I remember my KU is filled with M/M teen romances because those are the ones I write and occasionally blog about, but I  read real slow, so I don’t read this yet.

True story. I’m sure all of this really helped you with your reading selections. I still want to read the first one, then this second one, because I have to go in order and because fantasy novel about princesses in love.

 

Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre

I’m including the cover of one book that may not be queer, or isn’t as far as I can tell, but I liked the tagline. So simple but memorable. This one also might be too scary for me, but again, love the tagline.