Of Faith And Unicorns

 

I’ve received a dazzling gift. Only took me forty years to get it.

At the age of fifty-nine, I found a new capacity to appreciate Mom, to forgive her, and to love her. There’s a new quiet at my center.

I do not believe fear of hell is the same as faith, but in her terror, Mom succeeded in pounding shame into my soul. To my great surprise, I’ve finally rinsed away most of the taint.

Evidence of my new health comes as a bit of a shock. I put away my cross pendant. Instead I’m wearing a silver unicorn.

I was in college when Mom gave me the unicorn. Now I understand that she had begun to pay attention. She noticed I liked unicorns and tried to connect with me. She loved me. She was sorry.

At the time, I needed the anger that provided my strength and my boundary. I was nice to her but refused to let her touch my heart. While I couldn’t afford to appreciate her gift, I didn’t throw it away either.

I have since learned from many good-hearted people. I sought knowledge and perspective, and I built healthy boundaries. Anger faded. I allowed Mom’s gift to reach through the decades and touch me with her love.

I am part of the Creator, and the Creator is part of me. I can respect and even revere the sacred within me. I am strong enough to keep false shame from squeezing my faith into something small and sin-obsessed.

I believe in big love. All-encompassing, understanding, forgiving, accepting. Delighting.

I still believe in the cross. My unicorn is bigger.

Thanks, Mom.

 

Heidi Cullinan’s ANTISOCIAL

 

ANOTHER LOVELY RELEASE FROM HEIDI CULLINAN

I’m delighted to host Heidi Cullinan on her blog tour for her latest release, ANTISOCIAL. I adore Heidi’s writing. She snares my emotions with characters who suffer and strive and succeed. I always learn from her thoroughly enjoyable novels. (And she lives in my home state.)

A TALE OF TWO EDITORS

Thanks for having me today! I’m here to talk about my newest release, Antisocial, a new adult gay and asexual romance set in a fictional college in upstate New York between a one-percenter fraternity boy and a highly antisocial artist. One encounter with Xander Fairchild’s artwork is enough to turn Skylar Stone’s carefully orchestrated life upside down, unlacing his secrets and inviting him into a secret anime-soaked world with a new set of friends. But will they be brave enough to embrace their fragile new relationship and let it last beyond the summer?

Antisocial has been in the works for a long time, but for a lot of reasons I kept putting it aside. It was one of those books I needed to noodle on, and I wanted to “get it right,” so I kept thinking I’d “do it later.” Well, this spring I was in a bit of a mess, with the book I planned to work on, Rebel Heart, tied to a series which was at the time too dangerous to continue, as I had no idea what was happening with the rest of the books and when I would be getting them back, or if I’d end up in some kind of prolonged legal issue. I needed a clean book, attached to nothing. I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to come up with something brand new, and that left the only book floating around: Antisocial.

It also left me with a narrow time window, trying to get a book out in time to keep my income stream stable as much as possible, and I had to get into my editor’s lineup—which I had been in, though it was now all messed up because of the closed publisher. Everything was messed up, really. And the bottom line was that I couldn’t get in when I needed to get in with my editor, not in time to finish the book. So my only choice was to go with another editor.

Normally I work with Sasha Knight, who has been my editor on almost every book since A Private Gentleman, but for Antisocial the lead editor was Christa Soule, who I’ve worked with in other ways but who had never formally edited a book of mine before. I was excited and a little nervous at the same time—it’s good to get a fresh shake on things sometimes, but always scary to shake up what works well too, especially on something this big.

When we finally got to editing, Christa was wonderful, as anticipated, and had so many amazing comments that made me think and pushed me in new ways. Even the best editors are all human, and every human has different things they notice and pick up on, and having a different pair of eyes was enlightening. However, it happened that when we finally got to editing I heard Sasha had a gap in her schedule, and there’s a kind of close, sharp-look to my words only she can do that I was longing for, and so I asked if she’d be willing to do a kind of half edit, and she said she would.

As these things do, everything sort of morphed into more than we all anticipated, and in the end I basically had two editors—which was completely, utterly wonderful. Occasionally it was humbling as hell, because they would “gang up” on me in the comments, agreeing with each other and deciding how things should go down and I was like, “wait a minute, here!” But they were always right, darn it—and honestly, having two of them in there who worked so well together (they know each other and have an amazing chemistry) was such a gift.  They made the book stronger in so many ways, and I was blessed to have them both.

Oh, if only I could afford to have them both on every book, I would! Part of me can’t help thinking of how that could be arranged. But for Antisocial, at least, I got to enjoy this moment. So thank you, Christa and Sasha, for a wonderful experience. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Cover art by Natsukoworks
Cover design by Kanaxa Designs

A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

 

BUY LINKS

Amazon US ebook,  Amazon US paperback, Amazon UK ebook, Amazon UK paperback, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, Smashwords

 

ABOUT HEIDI:

Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

COMES A HORSEMAN

By Anne Barwell

Author Anne Barwell has once again shared her considerable intellect, careful research and heartfelt passion in this interview for her latest release.

Be sure to check the end of the interview below to enter the Rafflecopter running as part of the tour!

LM: Thank you, Anne, for allowing me to host your blog for the debut of Comes a Horseman, the third book in your suspenseful, heart-filled World War II trilogy, Echoes.

AB: Thank you for hosting me, Lucy, and for being part of my blog tour. It’s a pleasure to be here. Your questions, as usual, are very insightful.

LM: You give me plenty of material! Here is a description of your novel:

Echoes Rising Book 3, sequel to Winter Duet

France, 1944

Sometimes the most desperate struggles take place far from the battlefield, and what happens in secret can change the course of history.

Victory is close at hand, but freedom remains frustratingly just beyond the grasp of German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer, Resistance fighter Michel, and the remaining members of the team sent by the Allies—Captain Matt Bryant, Sergeant Ken Lowe, and Dr. Zhou Liang—as they fight to keep the atomic plans from the Nazis. The team reaches France and connects with members of Michel’s French Resistance cell in Normandy. Allied troops are poised to liberate France, and rescue is supposedly at hand. However, Kristopher is no longer sure the information he carries in his memory is safe with either side.

When Standartenführer Holm and his men finally catch up with their prey, the team is left with few options as they fight to keep atomic plans from the Nazis. With a traitor in their midst, who can they trust? Kristopher realizes he must become something he is not in order to save the man he loves. Death is biding his time, and sacrifices must be made for any of them to have the futures they want.

LM: First, what is the significance of the concluding novel’s title, Comes a Horseman?

AB:  The horseman is a reference to Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in the Book of Revelations in the bible.  With the book being the final in the series, and given it’s set during WWII, sadly there are character deaths.  I wanted to not only acknowledge those deaths, but also those who lost their lives during that war.  It works on another level, too, in that Kristopher is part of the German atomic bomb project and that the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 were also bringers of death.  It also refers to the decision Kristopher makes at the end of the series.

As an aside, I’m a big fan of the Highlander TV series, and they had a fabulous two-part episode around immortals who were known as the four horseman. Part one was Comes a Horseman, and part two was called Revelations 6:8.

LM: I am instantly caught by your lovely dedication honoring those who fought for so much more than their personal freedom: “For all those who were a part of the Resistance during WWII. Lest we forget.” Does this dedication pertain to an even broader scope than WWII?

AB: I read a lot about the Resistance during this time period, and so many brave men and women—many who few know about—lost their lives.  I think it’s important to remember them. They were from different walks of life, and nationalities, and did what they could to fight for what they believed in and for those who couldn’t fight back.

Whatever happens in the world, it’s important that we don’t just lie down, accept it, and ignore our conscience.  These Resistance fighters leave us a legacy, just as they built on a legacy of those who came before them.

LM: The soul-draining cost of living in pretense is one of this novel’s main themes. While concealing their identities from the Nazis, these courageous warriors yearn to reclaim their true selves. The lovers despair of “happily ever after” because their relationships are illegal. Does your trilogy title, Echoes, refer in part to today’s tragic echo of this battle for authenticity?

AB:  I hadn’t thought about that connection for authenticity to be honest, but I really like it, and although I didn’t intend that connection, it feels like it’s worked out that way.  What people are going through today echoes far too much of what has happened in the past.  I’m reminded of that saying about those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

The original name for the series when I first started writing was Echoes of the Rising Sun, but as it morphed into the story it is now, that was a bit of a mouthful so I shorted it to Echoes, and then Echoes Rising when it moved to from Dreamspinner Press to DSP Publications.

The original title is connected to the atomic bomb project, as Rising Sun is Japan where the bombs were dropped in 1945. Echoes connects to the title Shadowboxing. Kristopher is haunted by nightmares, echoes of the possible ramifications of his work.  Decisions we make never truly leave us, and echoes of them follow us across life.  That’s very true, especially for him, but every character in this series has experienced some kind of loss or tragedy, and what they go through in this story echoes in a way what has come before.  

LM: I am strung tight throughout every page of Comes a Horseman! Several teams strive to outwit the devious Nazis, and they cannot trust anyone, even their compatriots. You give us breathers with tender and funny moments. What is your process for weaving together so many plot threads?

AB:  One of the reasons for splitting the action was the size of the cast so that no one got shunted to one side as this is very much an ensemble story.  With so many plot threads, I had a detailed outline—but with room to go off on a tangent if a character decided to do something I hadn’t planned.  There’s a scene that wasn’t in the outline where Matt steps in to save a local girl, but I thought it showed his strength of character, and highlighted why he’s in charge of this mission.

The timing of the action for this story needed to be just right too, as I needed all of the characters to reach Normandy before 6th June 1944.  With that timeline in mind, I worked out how I was going to split the groups and their individual routes before they came back together again. I also had a lot of continuity notes, as I wanted to tie up all the plot threads from the previous two books.

LM: You add tremendous depth to this thriller by giving relationships equal plot time. Even the “bad guys” make choices driven by grief and rage. Do you believe personal emotions drive pivotal world-wide events more than we might think?

AB: I prefer bad guys who are highly motivated. In their eyes they are the heroes of this story—it’s all a matter of perspective.  If someone believes they are doing the right thing, they’re much more dangerous an opponent than someone who can be bought by a higher price.

That’s an interesting question, but yes I do.  It’s very difficult to not bring emotional responses into decisions, even though many people claim they don’t.  In an emotional situation, especially one driven by strong emotions such as a person’s beliefs, or their feelings towards someone else, it’s often scarily easy to justify one’s actions.  Love is a powerful emotion, but so are others such as fear, and revenge.  Often they’re tied to each other too.

LM: In contrast to the other characters, your most chilling Nazi operates from a lack of emotion. He casually inflicts agony. How do you define such evil, and do you see parallels in today’s world?

AB:  This ties back to the previous question.  The character you’re referring to is convinced he’s acting with honour, and one of the ways he justifies it is by removing emotion.  He is doing his duty, and whatever it takes to perform his mission. There’s a scene toward the end of Comes a Horseman where he’s seen without that façade, and it’s quite telling.

I see evil as the flip side of good, and that one doesn’t exist without the other.  Much of what we view as evil in this world is people convincing themselves that what they’re doing is right, or good people keeping quiet so that injustices are feel to happen.  There is evil in the world, but the motivations for those actions is often complicated, or brought about by ignorance , bigotry, or by people who are emotionally distanced from what they do.

Sadly I’m seeing a lot of what is going on in today’s world, and thinking there are parallels to what happened in WWII.  It wasn’t that long ago, and many seem to have forgotten the consequences already.

LM: My guilty relief when ongoing trauma ends with a Nazi’s death highlights your lack of gratuitous violence. Were you careful to kill very few characters in this series, bringing meaning to each person’s death?

AB: Although this is a series set during wartime, I wanted to keep a fine line between the reality of death, and using it in a gratuitous way.  Someone argued with me that because these men are fighting a war, they shouldn’t have any qualms in picking up a gun and shooting the enemy.  Yes, they are going to have to do that, but I still think it should impact them emotionally, rather than just be done coldly.  Many men and women who fight a war are left with nightmares about the lives they’ve taken, even if they had no choice.   Taking a life is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Despite the person killed being a enemy soldier, they still are a person with their own hopes, dreams, and have families and others who love them. They aren’t a nameless avatar in a game.

Call me unrealistic or a romantic, but *shrugs*.   Kristopher struggles with the same thing throughout this series. He knows others have had to kill to survive, and believes strongly that he wouldn’t do that. However, he’s going to find himself in a situation where he too has to make that choice between killing an enemy or letting someone he cares about die. Whatever he does as a result, it will be something he doesn’t forget easily.

LM: During an escape through France, one brave man refuses to lie to his parents and introduces his lover to them. I keenly felt his need for their acceptance. Do you believe family acceptance is a primary need, even a right, for everyone?

AB:  Yes.  Family is the one place where you should be free to be yourself and not hide who you truly are.  So many people have to hide parts of themselves every day, and it’s important to have someone who you can confide in.  As a parent I want to be there for my children, and think that they would be able to talk to me about anything.  Even if it was something I didn’t agree with, I’d still support them, and they’d always be my child.

I don’t understand the mindset of people who turn their backs on children because their beliefs differ. There’s that whole thing of agreeing to disagree, and moving on, and forward.  Sadly there are so many situations in which that doesn’t happen.

LM: Thank you. I couldn’t agree more.

LM: You create bravery in the least courageous characters. The teams and couples develop greater understanding and love for each other. One of the men tells his lover, “I don’t want to hide from you. You see me for who I am, and I feel safe when I’m with you.” Anne, do you fall a little bit in love with your characters?

AB:  I do grow very attached to my characters, and I’ve been writing these guys for over fifteen years. Finishing the series is bittersweet—I’m stoked I’ve finished it, but I’m sad it’s over.  

I write characters I’d like to meet, and I like, or what’s the point? It’s on par with writing stories I want to read. On the flip side though, there were a couple of the antagonists in this story that I didn’t like, and writing their POV left me feeling as though I need to wash my brain out with bleach afterwards.

LM: Many, if not all, of the themes presented in the Echoes trilogy resonate in current times. I love your character’s question in Comes a Horseman: “… if we don’t cling to some kind of hope for the future, we’ve already lost this fight, haven’t we?” Do you believe hope is our strongest weapon against destruction?

AB:  Yes, I do believe if we lose hope, we’re lost.  Hope is what gives people the courage to get up in the morning, as there is that chance we will make a difference, or even just survive the day.  Often people have hope without realizing it, or they wouldn’t keep struggling against what appears to be insurmountable odds.  The future might not always be bright, but it’s still better than being totally dark, and non-existent, right?

LM: As usual, I’m fascinated by your thoughtful responses. Many thanks for sharing your skill and talent in this riveting conclusion to the Echoes series. Readers can purchase each novel, Shadowboxing, Winter Duet, and Comes a Horseman through these links:

Shadowboxing

Winter Duet

Comes a Horseman

 

EXCERPT:  

COMES A HORSEMAN

Matt nodded, his lips moving although he did not speak. He was counting, Michel realized, as they pulled away from shore, and using the rhythm of his movement to distract himself from the darkness.

The moon’s light highlighted the waves lapping around the boat—the water seemed to reach toward them before diving back again. Ken and Matt quickly settled into a unified motion, both focused on what they were doing, although Ken glanced at Matt a couple of times.

Frej signaled for Matt and Ken to change direction slightly and rest the oars. They did that for a few moments, letting the boat drift with the current. If Michel squinted, he could see the outline of the bridge in the distance and several shapes moving at either end of it. The guards on duty would hopefully stay focused on the bridge itself and not notice a small rowboat sneaking over the border. The area was well guarded, but as it had been secured for quite some time, they would not be expecting trouble.

On the other side of the boat, Liang quickly turned and leaned over the side. As soon as he started to make a gagging noise he shoved his hand over his mouth to silence it. If his seasickness got any worse, it would be difficult to mask the noise of him vomiting over the side of the boat. He was doing his best to silence his dry heaving, but his hunched posture suggested he felt miserable and unwell.

Frej leaned toward Ken and gestured. Ken nodded, rested the oars again, and then he and Matt changed direction. Matt was still counting under his breath, and he gripped the oar tightly.

“Who’s there?” The shouted question shattered the silence.

Kristopher glanced around, an expression of panic on his face.

Michel put a hand on his arm to calm him but didn’t dare whisper the reassurance he wanted to. He turned around and strained his eyes, trying to find the source of the disruption. Matt and Ken stopped rowing, the boat drifting back the way they’d come, caught by the current.

He heard boots against wood in the distance—the unmistakable sound of men running, probably over the bridge crossing the Rhine south of their position. “No farther or I’ll shoot,” one of them yelled.

Frej got down on the floor of the boat. Michel and Kristopher followed, then Liang. Matt kept hold of his oar, trying to keep it as still as he could. He leaned down into a crouch, as did Ken.

Gunfire sounded from the bridge. A couple of shots in succession before stopping. Michel heard an engine, a vehicle approaching. A door slammed, and then everything went quiet again. Logically he knew the bridge was a good few kilometers away, but Frej was right about noise carrying on the water. If felt too close for comfort.

Frej waited a few minutes. “Row,” he whispered urgently. “While they are distracted.”

 

DON’T MISS THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please Click Here to check out Anne Barwell’s Blog Tour Sites!
July 25 – MM Good Book Reviews
July 31 – Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
August 1 – Two Men Are Better Than One
August 1 – Top to Bottom Reviews
August 1 – Genre Talk at The Novel Approach Reviews
August 2 – Love Bytes Reviews
August 3 – Andrew Q. Gordon
August 3 – DSP Publications Blog
August 4 – Nic Starr
August 4 – Alpha Book Club
August 7 – My Fiction Nook
August 8 – Divine Magazine
August 9 – Aisling Mancy
August 10 – Lucy Marker

ABOUT ANNE BARWELL

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts other authors, reviews for the GLBTQ Historical Site “Our Story” and Top2Bottom Reviews, and writes monthly blog posts for Authors Speak and Love Bytes.

Anne’s books have received honorable mentions four times and reached the finals three times in the Rainbow Awards.  She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

Website & Blog: http://annebarwell.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anne.barwell.1

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Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4862410.Anne_Barwell

Dreamspinner Press Author Page:

https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/authors/anne-barwell-65

DSP Publications Author Page:

https://www.dsppublications.com/authors/anne-barwell-49

Queeromance Ink Author Page:

https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/anne-barwell/

New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/491382394538058/