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!

High School Geography

In Instalove, a love spell is only the beginning of Avery Ward’s problems when strange things start happening at his school and he can’t get the guy he isn’t dating out of his head… or his heart.

This is a quote from the novel where Avery looks at a pretty boy, Chris Reyes, and thinks about their respective places in the world of high school.

If this square-shaped room had its edges sanded away and became a world onto itself, which it pretty much was even without more circular dimensions, then the table Chris sat at was probably North America. Flashy, the biggest and best, and pretty great all things considered. Just not exactly as great as many of the inhabitants believed. All the popular, attractive athletes sat there.

If this school were a world, my table would be, I don’t know, somewhere in Europe probably, but not the whole continent. Or if it were a continent, probably Australia. It seemed like a neat enough place, maybe even somewhere to visit, but not the center of attention.

Magical LGBTQ+ Novels for Young Adult Readers

We all wish for a little more magic in our lives sometimes. And while we can’t cast spells or shoot fire from our palms, we can turn to fiction. Here’s a list of books for LGBTQ+ YA fiction readers who love fantasy worlds, witches and wizards, and even some occasional raising of the dead.

This list is to celebrate the release of Instalove, my newest paranormal romance where magic exists. Basically, the book is about a guy who never received his Hogwarts letter. So I started with other books that include magic and wizards, then I expanded a bit to include other supernatural elements for fun.

Here’s seventeen books featuring queer young men, gay romance, and magic.


The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos

A magic-infused YA novel about friendship, first love, and feeling out of place that will bewitch fans of Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater.

Living in a small town where magic is frowned upon, Sam needs his friends James and Delia—and their time together in their school’s magic club—to see him through to graduation.

But as soon as senior year starts, little cracks in their group begin to show. Sam may or may not be in love with James. Delia is growing more frustrated with their amateur magic club. And James reveals that he got mixed up with some sketchy magickers over the summer, putting a target on all their backs.

With so many fault lines threatening to derail his hopes for the year, Sam is forced to face the fact that the very love of magic that brought his group together is now tearing them apart—and there are some problems that no amount of magic can fix.


The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

To save a fae kingdom, a trans witch must face his traumatic past and the royal fiancé he left behind. This debut YA fantasy will leave you spellbound.

Wyatt would give anything to forget where he came from—but a kingdom demands its king.

In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world.

Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr has no intention of dissolving their engagement. In fact, he claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide once and for all what’s more important—his people or his freedom.


Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.


Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

A trans boy determined to prove he’s a brujo to his Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s paranormal YA debut.

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his cousin suddenly dies, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. 

However, the ghost he summons is not his cousin. It’s Julian Diaz, the resident bad boy of his high school, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves.


White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love.


The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglas

Sixteen-year-old Jake Livingston sees dead people everywhere. But he can’t decide what’s worse: being a medium forced to watch the dead play out their last moments on a loop or being at the mercy of racist teachers as one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep. Both are a living nightmare he wishes he could wake up from. But things at St. Clair start looking up with the arrival of another Black student—the handsome Allister—and for the first time, romance is on the horizon for Jake.

Unfortunately, life as a medium is getting worse. Though most ghosts are harmless and Jake is always happy to help them move on to the next place, Sawyer Doon wants much more from Jake. In life, Sawyer was a troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school before taking his own life. Now he’s a powerful, vengeful ghost and he has plans for Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about dead world goes out the window as Sawyer begins to haunt him. High school soon becomes a different kind of survival game—one Jake is not sure he can win.


Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson

Jack Nevin’s clever trickery and moral flexibility make him the perfect assistant to the Enchantress, one of the most well-known stage magicians in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Europe. Without Jack’s steady supply of stolen tricks, the Enchantress’s fame would have burned out long ago.

But when Jack’s thievery catches up to them, they’re forced to flee to America to find their fortune. Luckily, the Enchantress is able to arrange a set of sold-out shows at Seattle’s Alaska–Yukon–Pacific World’s Fair Exposition. She’s convinced they’re going to rich and famous until a new magician arrives on the scene. Performing tricks that defy the imagination, Laszlo’s show overshadows the Enchantress, leaving Jack no choice but to hunt for the secrets to his otherworldly illusions. But what Jack uncovers isn’t at all what he expected.

Behind Laszlo’s tricks is Wilhelm—a boy that can seemingly perform real magic. Jack and Wilhelm have an instant connection, and as the rivalry between the Enchantress and Laszlo grows, so too does Jack and Wilhelm’s affection. But can Jack choose between the woman who gave him a life and the boy who is offering him everything?


Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

To use his magic is to risk his life.

Braden suffers from a powerful magical curse. The witch eyes allow him to see the memories of the world, to see forgotten emotions, buried memories, and to pierce through lies and deception. They make his magic unparalleled, but every use brings him closer to death.

But when a powerful vision of doom threatens his only family, Braden heads for the source of the vision, the town of Belle Dam where feuding families of witches have ruled for decades. Upon his arrival, he meets the enigmatic Trey, a gorgeous boy with motives of his own.

And by then it’s too late.

A dangerous secret puts the boys on opposite sides of the feud, and as more people realize the power that Braden is capable of, he becomes a pawn in a deadly game.

(My review of Witch Eyes is here.)


Winter Trials by K.S. Marsden

With Midwinter just around the corner, Mark’s Nanna decides that it is time he learnt more about his family heritage. Learning witchcraft shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

Balancing school, magic, and the distractions of the gorgeous new guy, should make this a very interesting winter.

(This book is free!)


The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myth and & Magic by F.T. Lukens

Desperate to pay for college, Bridger Whitt is willing to overlook the peculiarities of his new job—entering via the roof, the weird stacks of old books and even older scrolls, the seemingly incorporeal voices he hears from time to time—but its pretty hard to ignore being pulled under Lake Michigan by… mermaids? Worse yet, this happens in front of his new crush, Leo, the dreamy football star who just moved to town. Fantastic.

When he discovers his eccentric employer Pavel Chudinov is an intermediary between the human world and its myths, Bridger is plunged into a world of pixies, werewolves, and Sasquatch. The realm of myths and magic is growing increasingly unstable, and it is up to Bridger to ascertain the cause of the chaos, eliminate the problem, and help his boss keep the real world from finding the world of myths.


Lesser Known Monsters by Rory Michaelson

Being the chosen one isn’t always a good thing.

Oscar Tundale is useless, or at least that’s what he’s always thought. He and his friends are about to discover that not only are monsters real, but some of them are very interested in Oscar. Now, they must find out what the monsters want, before something terrible happens to London; or worse yet, the world.

Lesser Known Monsters is an own voices queer dark fantasy featuring diverse characters on a found family adventure. Perfect for fans of action and paranormal romance seeking LGBTQ+ heroes.


A Boy Worth Knowing by Jennifer Cosgrove

Ghosts can’t seem to keep their opinions to themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Nate Shaw should know; he’s been talking to them since he was twelve. But they aren’t the only ones making his high school years a living hell. All Nate wants is to keep his secret and keep his head down until he can graduate. That is, until the new boy, James Powell, takes a seat next to him in homeroom. James not only notices him, he manages to work his way into Nate’s life. But James has issues of his own.

Between dead grandmothers and living aunts, Nate has to navigate the fact that he’s falling in love with his only friend, all while getting advice from the most unusual places.

Ghosts, bullies, first love: it’s a lot to deal with when you’re just trying to survive senior year.


The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

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.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.


Ghosting You by Alexander C. Eberhart

Tommy hears dead people. Okay, one dead person. His best friend, Chase. Since his death, Tommy can’t stop hearing his voice. They talk every day and Tommy even sends him texts, but it always ends the same. Message failed to send. Until one day, a stranger texts back.

Getting stuck in nowhere Georgia was not on Nick’s summer agenda, but a horoscope, a chance encounter, and a cute boy has things looking up. There’s just one problem, the boy hates him. When a broken phone leaves him with a new number, Nick is ready to write off the entire summer as a loss. But then he receives a strange text.

When Tommy and Nick’s worlds collide, the attraction is instant, but Tommy just can’t let Chase go. Can Nick use his status as Tommy’s anonymous stranger to break down his defenses or is Nick destined to live in a love triangle with a ghost?


The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).


He Came From Ice by Kody Boye

He was just supposed to be a hot hookup. Something sexy to take my mind off being poor, living in a run-down apartment, and kicked out of college due to some plagiarism I totally did not commit. Life was going downhill fast, and a hot, anonymous hookup with a guy by the handle IceFire would make my life suck a little less—or more, but in the right way.

Man, was I wrong.

Hot and charming, Guy Winters and his touches leave me breathless. One night turns into two. Then a date. Then more. Except his body is always cold. Our makeouts are almost too intense. And there’s something just not right. It takes a break-in and a murder in self-defense before I finally get it.

And the truth about Guy has me running for my life.


The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

What’s a boy to do—in Caleb Roehrig’s YA paranormal romance The Fell of Dark—when his crush is a hot vampire with a mystery to solve?

The only thing August Pfeiffer hates more than algebra is living in a vampire town.

Located at a nexus of mystical energy fields, Fulton Heights is practically an electromagnet for supernatural drama. And when a mysterious (and annoyingly hot) vampire boy arrives with a cryptic warning, Auggie suddenly finds himself at the center of it.

An ancient and terrible power is returning to the earthly realm, and somehow Auggie seems to be the only one who can stop it.


Which books are your favorite? Are there any magical novels I’m missing? Let me know!

Who is Avery Ward?

Who is Avery Ward, you might ask as you read the title of this post. Because that’s what the post says.

Well, thanks for asking!

If you wanna get literal about it, he’s the main character of the gay paranormal romance Instalove. He’s also the 17-year-old protagonist who thinks the magic in his family doesn’t affect him, until he finds out that the thing he holds most dear may be the result of a spell.

From an author standpoint, I enjoy writing prose in his special angst-y yet practical perspective. I don’t make characters exactly like me but sometimes I give them something of mine. Avery has my taste in music. And he’s sort of a pessimist who’s trying to be more optimistic, which we also share.

Otherwise, I’ll let Avery tell you about himself in his own words. All you need to know for the following excerpt is that Stella is Avery’s little sister.

~

When given the choice, most people would rather learn about my sister than me. Stella Ward is the Witch, the girl wonder who can move objects with her mind and turn the laws of the natural world inside out.

Avery Ward is the junior who runs track, the guy who gets supporting roles in the school plays with a good audition. Enough about him, let’s hear more about this sister. Yeah, yeah. I get it.

I’m normal. My sister isn’t.

Witchcraft seems so cool and interesting to people who grew up without it. When someone close to you has powers and you don’t, it’s mostly extremely annoying. But siblings can be that way.

–Check it out here. You can buy the book or read it on KU.

quicksand, a black hole,magnets, and other stuff that pulls you in

Luke has a boyfriend and a fake girlfriend in One Little Lie. Which is sort of crazy, but what’s really crazy is thinking Luke is bisexual. That’s really insane and laughable. Except no one is laughing. Anyway, in this extended scene, Luke and Lydia are coming back from a fake date where they went to the fair with her family.

~

We were basically babysitters for Lydia’s younger siblings at the fair while her parents checked out all the religious singers that performed there, but the fair was the best place to be a babysitter because we got to ride all the rides we wanted and play the games and no one could judge us cause it was for the kids. Plus, her siblings were way better behaved than Lily and her friends.

The deep-fried Twinkie was glorious and kinda gross and after having the deep-fried Oreos too, l was okay with never eating anything else unnaturally fried for at least another year. All in all, it was a good day. I had some of the prizes the kids won in my car, so Lydia rode with me and I dropped her and the winnings off at their house. We stood near the edge of the driveway and she gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek while her parents looked on. They went in the house, but she lingered outside with me.

I thought I didn’t have to think about this stuff anymore now that I had a girl on my arm. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to think about it. It was like quicksand, a black hole, or magnets: something that pulls you in. I start thinking about it and then it’s hard to stop and I only end up with a headache and no answers. What was the point of putting myself through all that if I never seemed to get anywhere?

I leaned against my car next to her. Was I bi? “That would mean I liked guys and girls.”

She nodded. “You do.”

“I like Ryan and girls,” I pointed out.

“You want your boyfriend and also to be straight?” She raised one eyebrow.

“Is that not possible?” I asked without much hope.

“I guess it is,” she conceded. Hey, alright, that was—but then she kept talking. “But have you considered the possibility that’s not what this is?”

I sighed, gesturing for her to move over and she and I sat on my car.

All the homes on this block were small and quaint and some of the properties had their porchlights on, but it was after dark and the street was pretty dead. There was never anything to do in town after ten or so, but there was a breeze in the air and just sitting outside was kinda nice.

“You should talk to Zach,” I told her. I mostly got where she was coming from, but my parents weren’t religious like hers. My parents went to church, but faith was only one part of who they were.

“Um. I mean. I guess.” She frowned.

I’d had some bad ideas in my time, but this wasn’t one of them. “It’s just a suggestion. He might know more about the religious aspect than me,” I defended myself.

“It’s not a bad idea.” She gestured vaguely. “I just can’t actually picture how that would go.”

Yeah. They had stuff in common, and would probably have a lot to say, but I couldn’t imagine either of them biting the bullet and having an awkward talk about feelings. They’d both just stare at each other having a too-cool-to-care contest.

“Our parents aren’t the same religion anyway,” she said after moment.

“Does it matter? You’re as Muslim as he is and he’s as Christian as you are.”

She didn’t respond to that as she thought about something and I let her work out whatever it was.

Zach was third generation and his parents were devout privately. They believed in balancing their life here with their ethnicity and religion, that it was all parts of a whole instead of one over the other. They didn’t forget their faith but wanted to fit in here. They were doing a good job in that regard; their son was very acclimated.

“I’ve seen his parents before,” she said eventually. “At their store.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you shopped there. I could maybe get you a discount.” Oh, I wasn’t really supposed to tell anyone my family got a discount. As my parents liked to say, they were crowdfunding raising three boys between them, Zach’s parents, and Joey’s. When we were both 10, Zach started coming with us on summer trips to a lake house in the Ozarks. My grandparents owned it and our extended family shared it. After that, his parents said we might as well get the family discount.

“I used to go into their store when I was like 13,” Lydia told me. “It was my way of rebelling back then.”

“Your parents don’t want you shopping there?” Maybe they were Kroger people.

“Um. Muslims, you know?”

I shrugged. I didn’t really. Some people had a thing about it. Hey, why couldn’t sexuality be like that? The Ahmads occasionally dealt with assholes but didn’t like receiving sympathy for it and wanted to be treated normally. And I knew how to do that; I’d known Zach as long as I could remember. They were normal to me. It wasn’t like we pretended everything was fine, they just wanted to focus on other things. Why couldn’t people just treat me normally?

“They seem nice though,” Lydia said of Zach’s parents.

I laughed. It always shocked me when his parents welcomed me into the store before they realized it was me. Don’t get me wrong, they were totally nice. But I was like a member of the family, so I’d never pick my Monopoly piece first at their house. And Lydia’s parents were like a whole other level beyond his parents or mine. Like under their politeness and hospitality, there was just more politeness and hospitality.

Classic Stories Retold

As someone who loves obsessing over pop culture, I welcome anything that gives me more of my favorite stories. So I adore retellings. Objectively the best movie based on a classic book is Clueless, this is simply a fact. However my favorite is She’s the Man, inspired by Twelfth Night because I am lame.

Here are some contemporary YA books that are based on classics. For the queer offerings, there’s The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake and Ruinsong by Julia Ember in this list.

Sweet and salty, a winning combo

When a night out gets cancelled early due to a drunk friend, two boyfriends discuss what to do next in this scene.

~

Ryan

The drive had been close to an hour both ways. We hadn’t spent that much time in the club, not even close. Only a few songs. Lydia would have to learn to pace herself. I didn’t give that advice in the silence of the ride back home. There was just the radio playing softly and soothing noises from Alicia.

Our first double date wasn’t a huge success. But that was the good thing about having first experiences: it took away the nerves and things could only get better.

Despite very little quality time with my boyfriend and too much time with an annoying drunk girl, I was optimistic. Alicia was fine to drive when we got back to Luke’s house, and we said goodbye and then Luke and I headed inside to change while we discussed ways to salvage our night.

“Ice cream?” he suggested.

That wasn’t a terrible idea and we already ate earlier, but I only asked, “You think I’m a cheap date?”

“That French place we went to before?” he suggested. Oh god.

“Don’t even joke about that,” I warned.

“You started it.”

“Okay, ice cream is fine.” Was this night better or worse than the French food date? They were both bad in different ways.

Luke saw me thinking unpleasant thoughts. “Hey, it’s not that bad,” he told me gently. I sent him a very unimpressed look. “Alright,” he amended. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t you and me that ruined anything. It’s totally Lydia’s fault.”

I thought about that. “Yeah, that makes me feel better.”

He shook his head. “Because you’re a terrible person.”

“I am getting all the toppings and three scoops,” I told him seriously.

Luke scoffed. “You won’t even eat that.”

“That’s not the ice cream I’m getting to eat.” I smiled sweetly. “It’s the one I’m getting to spite you.”

“Okay, now you’re the one ruining it,” he said but with a smile.

-This is an outtake from One Little Lie

Plancakes, scene from YA novel

Ryan and Luke are the main characters of the One More Thing Series, but in Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas, they are supporting characters. Which means they get up to even more nonsense than usual, something I hadn’t known was possible until writing this book.

Here is a quote and a scene from the story. In it, Ryan and Luke are trying to uncover the secret, painful backstory of their friend Zach. Partly because they are trying to figure out why he never dates and partly because Ryan is nosy. Ryan and Luke both came up with plans for finding the truth, and this is from Luke’s plan.

~

Ryan and Luke are the main characters of the One More Thing Series, but in Falling in Love and Other Bad Ideas, they are supporting characters. Which means they get up to even more nonsense than usual, something I hadn’t known was possible until writing this book.

Here is a quote and a scene from the story. In it, Ryan and Luke are trying to uncover the secret, painful backstory of their friend Zach. Partly because they are trying to figure out why he never dates and partly because Ryan is nosy. Ryan and Luke both came up with plans for finding the truth, and this is from Luke’s plan.

~

Ryan

Luke! Plan! Plancake! I think that summed up the relevant information, though the last one was ‘plan’ and ‘pancake’ combined. Okay, ambushing Zach at his locker was probably the best part of this plan. The rest of Luke’s plan was like him. Simple yet beautiful. No, wait, I was only thinking of Luke. Luke was beautiful. His plan was—

Luke said, “There must have been one girl you were crazy about.”

“You should check your facts again,” Zach responded.

Luke’s plan was stupid.

Normally, it would be Ryan who barreled on anyway. But in this case, I pulled a Luke and stayed silent until I knew where this was going. Luke pulled a me instead and… none of this was the right way to phrase… any of this.

“Come on,” Luke insisted. “There were some girls who lasted longer than the others. You must have really liked them.”

Suspicious but not annoyed enough to leave the conversation, Zach only shrugged and said, “Maybe.”

“Any you still carry a torch for?”

“Nope.”

“What about a guy?”

“Still no.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh.”

Oh my god. I brewed a truth serum and Luke’s plan was asking Zach basic questions. The terribleness was so terrible that the only option was for me to begin a sarcastic slow clap.

“Oh wait,” Luke said before I could clap. “We were talking about people you dated. What about people who didn’t fall for your charms?”

“Those people are fictiona—”

“I was there,” Luke interrupted. “At least sometimes. What about A Girl’s Name?” Yes, Luke said the actual girls name, so I paraphrased. “Or Other Girl? Could it be this Other Girl’s Name?” He asked things like that, with Zach responding in the negative each time.

Until Luke began, “What about Danielle N—”

 Zach cut in with, “I thought you were forbidden from ever speaking of her again?”

“Jackpot,” I breathed.

-The rest of the book is available here.

Sneak peek at new gay romance

In romcom terms, Zach Ahmad is the playboy who never falls in love. Here he is living his best life at the start of Falling in Love (and Other Bad Ideas).

Zach

Some people thought there were no guarantees in life. Those people hadn’t met Macy Owens. As far as sure things went, her level equaled water being wet or my best friends saying moronic stuff. Simply put, the girl was easy. Did I seem too mean? Game respected game. And me? I was easy, breezy, beautiful—no, that was something else.  

While rejection seemed unlikely, I couldn’t go out looking average. If flirting and having fun were official sports, I would be a major leaguer. My professional pride prompted me to be at my best. Checking my reflection in the glass door of the restaurant I stood in front of, I spotted a handsome bastard. Me, of course. I also thought I saw this guy I used to hook up with working inside, but no, I was the pretty one.

We should take a moment to admire my soft, lovingly moisturized brown skin free of pores. Or my expertly styled dark hair, athletic body, and cunning smirk. And as a high school senior, I swaggered around like I ruled the world. Though to be fair, I did that even before this year. Dressed in tight jeans and a snug old baseball t-shirt, the total Zach package was, in a word, irresistible.

This rural town lacked an abundance of dining options, but this establishment was one of the mid-priced chain restaurants we did have called, I don’t know, Bland White People Restaurant. My company for the evening wanted to eat here before the fun part, so she selected this place. I agreed because she had a belly button ring and her parents weren’t home for the weekend.

I typically won contests of style, but Macy bested me in the fashionably late game we were apparently playing. The guy I used to hook up with, Brendan Carver, tended bar for the evening, so I went to speak to him. Recently 21, he took classes at a local community college, had insane upper body strength, and I probably couldn’t list anymore facts regarding him. Fortunately, I arrived in front of him at the bar.

“Want a drink?” he asked.

I grinned. “Oh forward, I like that in a man.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m the bartender.”

“Another great quality,” I enthused in fine form. I could go from zero to flirty quicker than a snap of the fingers.

Crossing his arms, he wouldn’t play. “Knock it off.”

Pouting slightly, I told him, “I forgot you’re no fun.”

Brendan went back to work, which I expected. We hadn’t hooked up in a while. Several guys I used to fool around with were more careful when near me in public. It made sense as I came out while they were still in the closet. Sitting on a barstool, I could still enjoy the view in front of me. A view which was…. okay, mostly average. In looks and in that watching a guy slice lemons wasn’t exactly the highlight of my life.

The assembly line which produced Midwest farm boy types gave Brendan a no-nonsense set to his jawline along with plain brown hair and eyes. A boring picture suited to this boring town. Except for his muscles, which were glorious. His sturdy frame exuded strength from working on his family farm and wrestling all through high school. Hey, I knew more facts. Guess he got a second job here.

Brendan had never been much of a talker, and no temper went with his strength typically. However, if provoked in the right way, or if I asked very, very nicely, then things could get interesting. This one time—

“Stop it,” he ordered, feeling my stare.

Innocence wasn’t well suited to me, but I tried my best.  “I’m not doing anything.”

“Stop it,” he repeated.

“Is that any way to talk to a paying customer?” I scolded lightly.

“You haven’t ordered anything yet.”

Don’t mind if I do. “I’ll have a margarita on the rocks with a double shot of tequila.”

“Nice try.” Yes, I was 18, not 21, and— “We both know how you get with tequila in you.” Oh, well look who came out to play.

Eyes locking, focus narrowing, the atmosphere between us became positively smoldering. I smirked, body going loose and inviting. He did the opposite, crossing his arms as his face closed off. Yet his eyes radiated heat. If the bar weren’t in the way, one of us would be closing the distance between our bodies. Well, I wouldn’t let a little obstacle like that stop me. I reached out and—

“I told you to knock that off,” he spoke gruffly, side stepping my hand.

“You started it this time.”

“High school boys are so juvenile.”

“That’s not what you said when we—”

“I have another customer.” He left to bring a man at the other end of the bar his check. I watched Brendan’s green work shirt stretch taut over his big shoulders when Macy found me.

“Are we eating at the bar?” she asked as Brendan finished with his customer and came back our way.

“Nope.” I nodded over to him. “Just trying to sweettalk the barkeep here into parting with some of his finest or cheapest liquor, but he refuses.”

“I see. Maybe I could convince him?” She pushed her cleavage out towards him.

“Not a chance,” he answered without taking the bait.

“I’ll go get us a table,” she said to me and left.

“I see why you two get along,” Brendan noted.

I feigned offense. “If you’re implying that me or my lady friend are promiscuous—”

“I wouldn’t say anything of the sort about a nice girl I don’t even know.” He looked around before getting out a shot glass and filling it with tequila. “You though.” He slid the shot to me discreetly. “You’re a slut,” he said with a wink, his voice as dark and rich as the top shelf whiskey behind him.

“It pays off.” I down the drink quickly, feeling the heat of it in my throat, liquor seeming potent when coupled with his gaze. I took a breath, nodding to him and preparing to leave to go find my date.

“Hey, wait. Did you know I got accepted to Brown?”

“Mazel tov,” I responded, ignoring how the words felt somewhat unsettling on my tongue due to a complicated situation that had virtually nothing to do with me.

“Yep, so next week, I’m telling my parents I’m ga—” His eyes scanned our surroundings, afraid of being overheard. “Well, you know what I’m telling them.”

“I understand.” It would suck if someone overheard him here and outed him right before he planned on doing it himself.

“Anyway,” he spoke while bestowing me with the gift of another shot. “If you wanna get together after the big announcement? We could do something. You can help me celebrate if it goes well, or distract me if it doesn’t.”

This shot tasted even better than the first, head swimming pleasantly with liquor and ideas for our future encounter. I nodded my assent. “See you then.”

I went to join my date for the evening. I knew I was good, but setting up plans to hook up with one person while on a date with someone else?  Sometimes I even surprised myself. And these two people were both good times, and they weren’t looking for anything serious from me, exactly what I was looking for from them.

Basically, I was the best. My life was the best. Everything was incredible and not at all boring… okay. Occasionally, a stray thought about where I went from here entered my mind. How did one improve upon perfection?

Whatever. Life was good. And if I had to choose between life being good but boring or terrible but interesting, well. Luke once told me never to answer that question. It might be the only time he said something sensible enough to listen to.

-Order your copy here. The book comes out on Oct. 18

Scenes from a Baseball Game (Baseball not Included)

Luke is a high school baseball player. A great high school baseball player. Well, a pretty good one. He’s an excellent pitcher and batting… is also a thing he’s expected to do. He usually isn’t very good at the hitting part, but plot twist, he’s now amazing at batting.

What’s going on? He has no idea, but he’s not about to question it. If he had to speculate, maybe he has magic powers or is a secret superhero? Or maybe he’s feeling more confident after realizing he’s bi and coming out. It’s definitely one of those.

This is a scene from One Little Problem where Luke and some teammates discuss why he’s suddenly better at baseball. Some of this in the novel and some isn’t.

Luke

We had an away game, so there was no big cheering section for our team. Sometimes that made a difference, but not today. We were winning anyway. I’d been hitting and getting on base a lot more these days. I didn’t always hit home runs or anything, but this time I did. I was grinning before it even left the diamond, I just had a feeling it was out of here and then it was and I jogged around the bases, feeling amazing, like I could do anything. I was a baseball god. It felt good to take my victory lap, to have my team hollering in the background. I was done pitching, so I ended the game on a high note.

“Are you using performance enhancing drugs?” Joey Wilson asked as he patted me on the back when I got back to our dugout.

“Seriously?” Yeah, I had done well and he had struck out. Still. If anything, it was the other way around. He was bulkier and dumber and prone to punching walls when someone sniped him in Fortnite. He’d be first in line if somebody was testing for steroid usage.

“I’m not judging.” His face was wide and a tad confused, just like always. “I’m just saying, you have to share.”

I snorted. “Because you can keep a secret.”

“Oh my god,” he marveled. “Did you just admit it? Did you fall into my clever trap?”

“Your clever trap of asking a question?” I didn’t say so no to his question, but it was a dumb question.

Joey raised his chin definitely. “Don’t question the methods if they work.” His batting average was on the average to below average side while mine was definitely below average. Most of the time, we both lamented how much we sucked at batting together.

“No, I am not on steroids,” I told him, making it clear, which caused a few other people to look over at us. Yeah, I got that. Saying you weren’t on steroids was probably not something a lot of people who weren’t on steroids felt the need to say. “Even if I was, why would you need them?”

“My batting average isn’t great either,” Joey said. “If you bring yours up, I’ve gotta keep up.” His wasn’t great but when he did get a hit, it tended to be a big one. That gave him time to at least make it a base or two, if he didn’t outright knock it out of the park.

Wasn’t a bad problem to have from my viewpoint, either striking out or hitting a homer. For me, it typically more like striking out, striking out, striking out, striking out, and every so often getting a little bit lucky and hitting it. And then after that, if I got even more lucky, the hit actually meant I got on base.

This whole thing where I was suddenly good at every part of baseball? It rocked so hard.

I moved on from Joey and sat down next to Zach in the dugout. My grin came back.  Wait till I tell Ryan about this. Probably should tell him in private incase he had the bright idea to do something dumb and embarrassing like start cheering wherever we were or jump into my arms and kiss me on each cheek.

I wasn’t ashamed or anything, only in the way that I was dating a very embarrassing person. One who didn’t even realize he was being embarrassing until he did and then it was like he already started, so he might as well go all the way and really play it up because that way at least I would be more embarrassed than him. That meant he won or got to be less embarrassed because he could say it was all part of a plan to embarrass me or something.

I had finally gotten to the point where being with a guy didn’t embarrass me and now I was just the recommended normal amount of embarrassed around Ryan, the baseline that everyone who comes into contact with him exists at. And god, why was I freaking smiling just from thinking about what an awkward loser my boyfriend was? That’s the kind of thing I should be sad about, having to deal with such an embarrassing, awkward guy all the time. I was sad… My face just didn’t know it yet because I was still grinning.

It took me a moment to notice Zach was staring at me. Zach was more of the striking than striking out type. Both in life and on the field. He had sharp features and an effortless coolness, an Arab-American guy who always took care to look put together and fashionable, never had a hair out of place. Except for on the field but of course he made the dirty, sweaty athlete look work too somehow.

“How are you doing that?” Zach asked, nodding his head to indicate the field in the front of us. I shrugged, so he continued, “There’s got to be some explanation for why you’re suddenly good at hitting. Off the top of my head?” He feigned thinking about it before deciding on, “Black magic comes to mind.” Jerk. “Along with selling your soul or a cursed baseball bat that gives you magic homerun powers but takes away your manhood, poor Ryan—”

I frowned. “Wouldn’t everything you just said fall under the heading of black magic?”

“So, it is black magic?”

“No.” I shrugged. “It’s just not that hard.” For once in his life, maybe he would let something go. Probably not likely, but I could hope. Seemed like I was full of hope these days. Even with my parents and they were being super difficult.

“For you it is.” Nope, he wasn’t letting it go. Good thing I didn’t hope too hard. “You’re not allowed to be good at both pitching and hitting.” Jerk again.

“Why not? Because then I’d do better than you?”

“Obviously,” he replied without remorse. “Did you really think I’d have a different objection?” I was just going to assume Zach would be a jerk for the rest of this conversation, so I didn’t have to think it all the time, that would save me some time.

“I think you could use some competition,” I challenged. Zach snorted like it was outlandish to think we’d even be in the same league, let alone that I would be competition, even though we were literally in the same league and same team and school and town. “Maybe you’re gonna have to step up your game,” I continued. “And actually, oh, I don’t know, try.

Not for a second did I believe that Zach’s life was as effortless as he made it seem because I had been given a few peeks behind the curtain in all our years of friendship, but annoyingly, while not everything just naturally came easy to him, there was a lot that unfortunately did, which might be where he got his incredibly cocky attitude in the first place.

“Excuse me?” Zach scoffed in full on bitch mode. “How dare you imply that I would have to try or make anything remotely resembling an effort to best you, Luke Chambers.”

Man, the inning still wasn’t over yet. This actually was probably one of the better conversations I had with Zach, but I didn’t have anything to say to that and this would normally be the part where I floundered and said something dumb, but I was surprised and then glad to realize that I didn’t really care. If this conversation was about to not go my way, I could just stop having it.

“Whatever,” I said, watching the game.

Zach looked triumphant for a moment before realizing that I didn’t just say whatever because I had nothing else, I mean true, but I also really didn’t care. He waited but I didn’t say anything else. “Is that all?” he asked. He frowned a bit because he was a bastard who loved playing with his food before he went for the kill.

I laughed. “You got me there, man,” I admitted.

There were several things Zach needed me around for because he didn’t have the skill set or patience to do those things himself, but witty conversation wasn’t on that list. Had always been true but sometimes I wanted to get one over on him anyway and only in very rare cases did that work, so it just didn’t seem worth the effort of trying. I got a homerun this game and he didn’t, and I was on fire right now and nothing anyone said could change that.

Zach actually stared at me dumbfounded for a moment and just when I turned to really take that look in because it happened so rarely that he showed shock or confusion, he wiped it off his face. Rude. “Who are you?” he asked. “This might still qualify as black magic, I’m unclear, but we need to rule out possession. Are you possessed?”

I rolled my eyes. I really didn’t know how to put it in words, so I started with the obvious, “I’ve never liked hitting.” Wow, he really wanted to know my secret because he didn’t even make a get on with it gesture or look put out because I said something he already knew. “I pitch, why do I have to hit the ball too? It’s a totally different skillset and it seems like asking a lot from me. Plus, what if I get hurt up at the plate? Ball can come at you fast on the mound, but I don’t have to wear a helmet up there, and mostly, I just don’t like batting. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been very good at it, but there’s times when I just dread it.”

Hitting his limit for stating the obvious, Zach said, “Uh-huh, I’ve heard this from you before. About 900 times.”

I glared because he was the one who wanted a damn answer and after a mini standoff, he let me go on. Cool. Working through that all had actually helped, stating all my old objections and seeing that they were still more or less true. It’s not that I didn’t feel that way anymore but that stuff seemed farther away. Like it wasn’t in my head as much as it usually was.

“I get up there,” I said slowly as I pieced it together. “And I think about all that. How I’m not going to do good, how everyone’s going to see me not do good, to me uselessly wishing I could just pitch and not hit even though it does no good ever, and now I just… I don’t care.”

“You turned off your brain?” He couldn’t resist taking the easy shot. “On the one hand, how can that hurt when you barely use it anyway—”

“Ha ha—”

“—But on the other hand, you were already operating at dangerously low levels of cognitive function. I can’t imagine going any farther down is safe.”

Before this whole thing with me and Ryan? I liked giving the impression I didn’t care what other people thought. I did care though. I just knew how to downplay it. And it was easy to be confident when everything people said about you was good. But now? “What other people are going to think about me is like the furthest thing from my mind. Even farther away than not being a vain dickhead is for you.”

“Wow,” he said mildly. “That’s far.” He shook his head. “Still though, being unconcerned with mere mortals is my superpower, not yours. Get your own.”

I shrugged. “You’re gonna have to share.”

His brow furrowed. “I don’t sha—”

“Maybe you’ll learn.”

I had good looks, popularity, athletic ability. I was the guy everyone wanted to be and then the guy nobody in our town wanted to be, the gay one or whatever. And I had to go from fitting in and being basically worshipped to being gawked at, judged, found wanting. All while not actually being like Zach, who came out and treated every sneer and bad word directed his way like he treated everything else, background noise that could be ignored or paid attention to based on his whims, fodder for occasional amusement. All anyone looking from the outside would see was someone who seemed in complete control, someone who liked bad press about himself as much as good press because, hey, it was all attention.

Being the golden boy, I did have plenty of confidence, but I’d never had to maintain it while being ridiculed and watched by everyone. Never had to be pretend to be unbothered while everything changed. So I hadn’t really known what to do. Hadn’t really known who I was becoming. Seemed like anything could happen, I could turn into a freaking dragon. Instead, I was basically the same guy but with some new additions that had totally blindsided me. And then.

“School? Baseball? Other people? It all just seems,” I paused, watching our second baseman swing at a high curveball, how many times did I have to tell him to avoid those pitches? “I mean, what can any of it really do to me? Not much, not after surviving things with my parents.” I lowered my voice. “Sometimes, I don’t even know if I have a right to complain about that. It’s not as bad as what happened to Lydia. Hell, they took her in, so it kinda seemed like things might start to be okay, but things are still weird between us and the longer it goes on it’s like, maybe not. But still, maybe I should be grateful.”

“It’s okay if you’re not. You used to be really close to your parents. Even not much distance would feel like a lot in your situation.” As usual when he tried to have a serious moment or behaved like a normal human, the words were slightly stilted but sincere.

“Yeah. Well, I survived that or am surviving it. I survived everyone knowing this thing about me basically as soon as I knew, having so little time to process, so I don’t know. These days, everything seems pretty easy. Like at least for a while, I made it through the hard part.” I grinned at him. “I’m invincible now, dude.”

“Nice sentiment.” Then, his face turned serious “However, I feel like I should make this clear, you aren’t really—”

“It’s a metaphor, dude.” I was not literally invincible. I wouldn’t go darting into traffic or standing in front of an oncoming train.

Wow, that was twice in one conversation where Zach looked dumbfounded. “Oh my god,” he said.

“Um, did I use that wrong?” Really didn’t think so, but he kept looking at me funny.

“No, you used it correctly.” He looked at me like I was a pod person again. Asshole.

Yet I only smiled. “See? Everything is going my way.”

Then our turn to bat was over and Zach and some of the other guys made their way onto the field while I leaned back in the dugout and relaxed.

I’m invincible.