Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday Threads: Love, Encoded by Sandra Harris



Love, Encoded
Book 1 in the Selected Evolution Series
Sandra Harris

Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Heat Level: Sizzling

Blurb:

Do you really know who you are? What you are?

Earth: Near Future
Experience has taught Sarah Rasmussen that hot guys don’t go for geeks like her. Their retreat speed is usually proportional to the value of her IQ. However, for every rule it seems there is an exception—or in her lucky case, two.

When confronted with the disturbing fact she has been genetically manipulated in order to save an alien race stranded on Earth for a thousand years, she needs the strength of the men’s devotion to deal with the life-changing news. But when she learns that the love of the two men she has come to care for deeply is not quite as it appears, it could shatter her heart forever.

Nick Bannister and Adam McKeoun will never stop fighting to convince Sarah she is their world, no matter what the source of their emotion. They will let nothing stand in their way of forging a happiness that will transcend any challenge, especially not a calculating and determined enemy bent on Sarah’s destruction.


Excerpt:

Fear coated Sarah Rasmussen’s harsh, rapid breath.
Her feet pounded over the uneven, dirt track and she pushed her body hard to keep the pace up a rise. Through the thick, early morning mist the familiar stippled trunks of spotted gum loomed like every nightmare she’d ever had. Her heart beat a frantic rhythm against her ribcage and her ears strained to catch the slightest sound of her pursuer.
She pulled to an abrupt halt, heaving cold air into her starved lungs, then struggled against her desperate need for oxygen to smother her gasping breath and listen. Through the mist the echo of footsteps slowed, halted. Sickening apprehension corkscrewed through her stomach. A shiver prickled her heated skin.
She tried to force some semblance of calm over her panicking wits, but her instincts would not be denied. The fact that initially an unseen runner seemed to play cat and mouse with her had spooked her. They’d remained out of sight, had not responded to any of the hails she sent into the mist. She’d even taken a small sidetrack to try and throw them off.
The footsteps picked up again and the possibility of what might happen if she were caught speared a surge of black fear through her heart. Adrenaline charged through her body and she took off, feet flying over the rough surface of the track. The sole of her shoe landed heavily on a small rock. Her ankle collapsed and she lurched sideways, straining every muscle to remain upright. Twisting, burning sensation ripped through her right calf. She choked a cry as she tumbled to the hard ground, her running shorts and sleeveless top providing little protection. Every bone in her body jarred to the cruel impact.
A whimper of frustration and dread escaped her lips as the strangling pain of cramp throbbed through her leg. She made to stand. Agony tore through her lower limb and she collapsed back to the hard dirt. Desperation and pain stole her strength and for a moment she huddled on the ground in a limp mass. She dragged determination from the depths of her soul and pulled herself together, raised a shaking fist and pummelled it into the tight knot of her muscle. Again. Again. Her weak punches had no effect.
Footsteps approached. Terror twisted her nerves. Her skin felt like it wanted to crawl off somewhere and hide. She’d love it to do just that, so long as it took her with it.
Maybe I’m just being fanciful.
Her fears seemed to think otherwise, coiling nausea through her stomach. She pushed herself to her hands and knees. Sharp-edged pebbles and forest debris dug into her flesh as she crawled off the track. She thrust her back to the wide girth of a big gum tree and forced her breath into slow, deep inhalations. Heart faint and fingers trembling, she pulled her cell phone from a pocket again. And again hope died at the lack of coverage bars.
That shouldn’t happen. Not here.
She closed her eyes tight and bunched her fists against escalating terror.
Get a grip, Sarah. Get a grip.
The cool air brushed a clammy hand against her hot skin. A soft footfall and the rustle of clothing drifted through the mist. She snapped her eyes open. Gravel crunched. Her heart exploded into a wild gallop. Frantic, she scanned the ground for a weapon. Anything. A rock . . . sand . . . broken glass left by a careless hiker . . . anything. The smooth, pearl grey bark of a discarded ghost gum branch poked through yellowing clumps of grass. She lunged for it, wrapped her fingers around its width and lifted. The weight of the solid, four-foot piece of wood eased a little confidence into her mind.
Yeah, and now I’m being self-delusional.
Despite her doubts, her resolve strengthened. Looming shadows snatched her attention to the edge of the mist. Dark shapes moved towards her. Her heart leapt to her throat. She struggled to her feet, put her back to the tree and hefted the branch across her shoulder.

Two big, jeans and T-shirt clad men stepped clearly into her vision. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Politically Personal Characters


As The Tithe says in its dedication: “To all people with differing physical and mental appearances and capacities. We deserve a story in which we’re the heroes.”

Truth is, I’m tired of reading about characters who don’t look and think like my loved ones and me. Since I’m a writer and the god of my own, tiny, made-up universes (it’s good to be queen!), I realized I have the power to, as the way-overused quote* says, be the change I want to see in the world.

Yeah, I know romance novels exist to provide us with escape pods from our dull, non-HEA lives. This is why sheroes’ flaxen hair so often billows in the breeze and heroes’ pecs are pronounced enough to carve open cans of green beans. But, you know, I like my fantasy with some reality sprinkled in. I want to interact with people who look and act like, you know, people.

I almost never find representations of non-normatively-able-bodied peeps in media. When I do, they’re almost always using a wheelchair, which is visually striking but only one tiny fraction of the ability spectrum. Other than that, and a romance novel I read 15 or so years ago that featured a deaf shero, the absence of non-able-bodied characters screams much more loudly in my ears. In fact, if I read another story about a fiery, petite redhead shero with blazing green eyes who meets (probably via a stumble of some sort that ends with her in his arms) a tall, chiseled, brooding and arrogant hero, I may have to throw myself out my office window. Luckily, it’s on the ground floor, but still.

Even just sticking with the romance genre of books, we find characters who consistently embody beauty ideals. They’re not only young, able-bodied, perfectly gendered, and light-skinned**, but they’re several steps beyond “normal” and into ideal. Their eyes are lighter, their body frames exaggerated (smaller if they’re female, more muscular if they’re male), their fashion sense impeccable. I realize it can be fun to project ourselves into these avatars and pretend for a moment we, too, embody these ideals, but what happens when we come back to our non-ideals bodies and lives?

This is why I write characters that are a little more real. Not only do I want to be able to relate to these characters, but isn’t it part of my duty as a creator and purveyor of popular culture to leave my readers feeling better about themselves?

So let’s meet one of these characters I keep tossing around as faceless examples of what I’d like to see. Joshua Barstow, The Tithe’s main character, is a 20-year-old library caretaker with Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome. This means she deals with some degeneration of the nerves in her feet and legs, which makes for difficult and extremely painful walking. Josh almost always feels pain.

The Tithe covers a lot of ground, but Josh’s character arc includes her coming to terms with her dis/ability. In the beginning, she is deeply ashamed of her “wonky legs,” which includes hammer toes and high arches, and understandably feels unhappy with the pain she constantly experiences. As the story progresses, she begins to deal with her difference and to understand herself as a product of it.

Blue, Josh’s love interest, has experienced blindness since birth. Deciding how this would affect his social interactions, his perceptions – heck, even the metaphors he uses to describe things – provided a happy challenge for me. And no, his blindness isn’t symbolic of anything. In fact, blindness is, just as being sighted is. Below is one of my favorite exchanges in the book.

“Are you blind?” Izel asked Blue. Josh stopped walking.
“Yes,” he said.
“Blind means you can’t see.”
“Yes.”
“What’s it like to not see?”
And this was why children scared her. What would she do if one of them asked her about her legs or even wanted to see her feet? Josh shuddered.
“I don’t know,” Blue said. “What’s it like not to smell the color purple?”
A confused silence followed. “Colors don’t smell,” the other girl finally pointed out.
“Maybe they do and you don’t know,” Blue said. “You don’t miss it because you don’t know what it’s like. My blindness is the same way. I was born not knowing what it means to see, so I don’t miss it.”

Creating diverse characters is absolutely a political as well as personal project. 

* Also falsely attributed to Gandhi.
** Even the romances I've read that feature non-White characters all-too-often make them light-skinned hotties with hazel eyes. Embrace the awesome of brown, my friends!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Virtual book tour for The Tithe



And so it begins. Starting tomorrow, and for the next couple of weeks, usually once per day, reviewers and authors will feature on their blogs my interviews and guest posts. 

Wanna know more about me? Wanna hear how I dreamed up the wonderfully weird, post-apocalyptic and "utopian" world of Joshua Barstow, the librarian who has touched an angel? Wanna read some insights into my writing processes? 

Hello? Anyone there?


Let's start again. Hey, peeps! Wanna revel in the wonders that are The Tithe and me and win a $50 Amazon gift card? Aw! I'm flattered. It's super easy to get entered into the drawing. Simply click on the links below (on the correct day, of course), comment on blog posts, like me on Facebook and on Twitter, etc., and then tell Rafflecopter (links are on the websites) about it. If in doubt, click a link below and follow the instructions.

The virtual book tour schedule is below. Please feel free to visit as many of these blogs as you'd like. The more blog comments the merrier! 

Good luck! I hope you win the loot! And, you know, buy more of my books and stuff.



October 27: Coffee Books and Art
October 28: 
Author Nancy Adams
October 29: 
Long and Short Reviews
October 30: 
Andi's Book Reviews
October 31: 
MAD Hoydenish
November 3: 
Books and Other Spells
November 4: 
Dena Garson - Real... Hot... Romance
November 4: 
Bunny's Review
November 5: 
The Bookie Monster
November 6: 
Lisa Haselton's Reviews andInterviews
November 7: 
Danita Minnis
November 10: 
Booklover Sue
November 11: 
Kinky Vanilla Romance
November 12: 
Romance Novel Giveaways
November 13: 
RhiReading
November 14: 
Ashley's Paranormal Book Blog

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Literary Sociologist Does Religion

The Tithe is a novel about religion. Not "religious" as in preachy. Not "religious" as in spiritual or "inspirational," as we call the romance subgenre that knots together love and faith. Not even "religious" as furthering morals set out by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan practitioners.  "Religious" as in exploring the effects of a government built on ecclesiastical doctrine.

I set the book vaguely in the future – maybe a hundred years, maybe more. It’s simultaneously post-apocalyptic and “utopian.” After the bulk of humankind perished in 2012 (remember the Mayan calendar scare?), a few hundred thousand humans remained and organized themselves into ten towns situated in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The towns have mayors and other bureaucrats, but the real power in the cities rests with the holy women and men, the imrabi and minnabi, respectively.

I had a lot of fun deciding how to organize the towns, structure their religious rituals and belief systems, and construct characters’ relationships with the towns' religious dogma. Even choosing names like “imrabi” and “minnabi” proved interesting and fun: “Imrabi” is a not-entirely-subtle combination of “imam” and “rabbi,” while “minnabi” combines “minister” and “rabbi.” The name of the novel’s god, “Elovah,” is an amalgamation of “Allah, “Elohim,” and “Jehovah.” One difference from these patriarchal religions, though: Elovah is a female deity. (Go, gender equality!)

In case it’s not glaringly obvious, I based the fundamentals of this religious system on the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I even crafted my religious rituals, such as how to pray and what weddings look like, by squishing them all together.

I suppose I could have been more inventive and designed a religious system from scratch. I’m a sociologist, though. Fascinating to me as a social scientist is the reunification of these three religions, which actually have much more in common than we like to acknowledge. Heck, Judaism birthed both. Also, let’s be super honest: I’m a big fan of sticking with what I know. I grew up Christian, and my fiancĂ© is Jewish. Easy knowledge pickins. Granted, I don’t know as much about Islam, but that’s why the Internet exists, right?
And maybe inspire a sci-fi writer or two.

Now, at the ripe ol’ age of 40, I am an ex-Christian Atheist. Did my own spiritual or religious beliefs shape this book? Yes and no. Yes, because I used information from my own Christian background to design a futuristic religious system that nonetheless looks a lot like the ones we know today. I honor my Christian background for providing fodder for that kind of project. No, because although this is in part a book about religion, it’s ultimately a novel that contemplates religion's liberatory and oppressive capacities. (Well, and its possibility for some serious weirdness; this is a sci-fi book, after all.) I honor my degrees in sociology for providing fodder for that kind of project.

The Tithe is a book about religion. This does not mean it’s an inspirational or even particularly religious novel. It’s a novel that explores some effects, functions, and possibilities of a theocratic society. It’s a book a sociologist and a romance addict, rather than a religious devotee, would pen.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursdays Threads: Jesse's Girl by Char Chaffin



Jesse’s Girl
Char Chaffin


Heat Rating:  Sweetly Sensual
Genre:  Nostalgia Romance
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Jesses-Girl-Char-Chaffin-ebook/dp/B00JK0DUD0/


Blurb:

In 1965, Tim O’Malley returns to his home town of Skitter Lake, Ohio, to clear his name and get the girl: Dorothy Whitaker, the love of his life since eighth grade. Blamed for a destructive fire he didn’t set, only Tim and Dorothy know the truth; that Jesse Prescott, Tim’s best friend and Dorothy’s boyfriend, did the deed that changed an entire town. But Jesse died in that tragedy and seven years later, Skitter Lake still honors him as a hero, rather than Tim, the boy from the seedy side of town whose father was a drunk . . . and whose quick actions saved six people from perishing in that horrendous fire.

In trying to set the record straight and finally claim Dorothy as his own, Tim—and Dorothy, too—will discover that in some small towns the legend often outweighs the truth . . . and their family and friends will forever see Dorothy as “Jesse’s girl.”


Excerpt:

Dorothy Whitaker. Good Lord, almighty.
Tim had almost crashed his car when he saw her, sitting in the sun with her ice-cream cone. Of all the people in Skitter Lake he figured he’d see, she was at the top of his ‘hope to run into’ list. He’d had to pull over right on the side of the road and look his fill, before summoning enough courage to step out of his car and approach her.
She hadn’t changed a bit. Still the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, and that included all the California girls he’d met after he moved from Skitter Lake.
In grade school, they’d been inseparable. They’d played together during recess, spun on the merry-go-round, paired off on the seesaw. Dorothy was the first girl he’d held hands with, the first girl he’d ever taken to a Saturday matinee, back in seventh grade. They’d stuffed themselves on popcorn and thrilled to the adventures of Peter Pan. He’d walked her home, shyly brushed her mouth with the briefest touch of his lips. And trembled, needing more. He dreamed that night, how someday they’d be old enough and when they were, he’d kiss her the way a boy kisses his girlfriend.
But by eighth grade, Jesse had noticed Dorothy, and after that, Tim didn’t stand a chance.
Well, that was then, and Jesse no longer stood between them.
“You let your cone get away from you.” Was that his voice, hoarse and deep? He cleared his throat, offering the damp towel. Slowly, her hand reached out, and her fingers touched his. The spark between them seemed immediate and powerful, at least to him.
“Thanks.” She wadded the towel and wiped at the stain on her dress. Her downcast face couldn’t hide the flush that rode high on her cheeks. Dorothy had always been a blusher, her creamy skin revealing every emotion. A coil of loose, silky hair slipped over her shoulder as she worked at the smear of chocolate. If anything, the color had deepened over the years. ‘Strawberry blonde,’ he’d heard it called in California, but back in school she’d simply had the loveliest hair he’d ever seen.
Silence stretched between them as he waited for her to raise her head and she seemed hell-bent on fussing with her damp skirt. Finally, nothing remained for her to clean, and she had to look up. She laid the towel on the picnic table behind her, started to speak, hesitated, then her lips curved into a sweet smile. “It’s good to see you, Tim. When did you get to town?”
“About two hours ago. I’ve just been driving around.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He had to shove his hands in the pockets of his pants to keep from touching her. “I wasn’t sure I’d see you. Guess I thought you’d have left by now, moved somewhere else.”
She shrugged. “No, I decided to stay. After my dad died, Mom’s health problems got worse. And I work at the bank now. It’s pretty good money.”
Yeah, and it doesn’t hurt that Bob Prescott owns the bank and still thinks of you as his honorary daughter-in-law. The thought tasted bitter to Tim, even after seven years and moving a dozen states away.
As if she could read his mind, Dorothy’s face flamed brighter and she looked away, out over the lake. He didn’t know what the hell to say to her, which infuriated him. Once, a lifetime ago, words flowed between them so easily. Even after Jesse had claimed her, Tim still had these incredible conversations with Dorothy about music, movies, books, dreams. He could tell her about how boxed-in he felt, living on the rougher edge of the blue-collar side of town with a father who thought the world owed him a living, and a mother who silently endured her unhappy marriage.
In turn, she confided the difficulties of life as the daughter of Preacher Whitaker, professional Bible-thumper. Tim knew she’d loved her father fiercely. He also knew her childhood had been knotted up in Christian duty, an often heavy burden for a kid.
Now, Dorothy released a quiet sigh and picked up the soiled bar towel. “Well, I should be going, I suppose—”
“Stay.” He laid his palm on her shoulder, fought a losing battle with the need to caress her baby-soft skin, and ran careful fingers along her slender forearm. When she didn’t move away, he took at as a good sign, and murmured, “It’s been seven long years, Dorothy. We were friends once.” He watched the emotion flicker over her face. “I missed you, a lot.”
She released a broken little sigh. “I missed you, too. But I wasn’t the one who moved away, Tim. I wasn’t the one who left.”
“I didn’t have a choice, you know that.” He bit back the familiar frustration, a feeling he’d thought had finally left him after years away from this town. “I paid the price for leaving. Everyone still blames me. Don’t they?” He caught her fingers, which trembled in his grip. “I paid, and it wasn’t my fault.”
Tears formed in her pretty hazel eyes, and even his instant remorse at hurting her yet again couldn’t keep him silent a second longer. “It wasn’t my fault,” he repeated. “You know it. Hell, Bob Prescott knows it, too.”
“What’re you talking about? What are you saying?” Now her hand pressed against his, holding him steady when he would have turned from her. “What’s Mr. Prescott got to do with anything?”
“Ask him, Dorothy.” Tim gently disengaged her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before he let her go. “I’m in town for a while.” He paused, his gaze roaming over her with a yearning he didn’t attempt to hide. “I’m staying at the boardinghouse. I’d really like to see you.”
He could feel her eyes on him as he headed to his car.