March 29, 2013

Grace Duncan: Choices

Please help me welcome fellow DSP author Grace Duncan today! She#s talking about her book and brought some beautiful animal pictures with her.

Since my wonderful hostess Chris likes to write animals into her stories, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the animals I’ve written into my novel, Choices. I love to write animals. I am a big animal person, though I only have two right now – a cat named Sai and a dog named Tonks. We currently have my father in law with us and he grew up on a farm – where animals very specifically stayed outside. We’ve managed to convince him that, despite Sai’s feline-ness (and, hence, rumored attempts at assassination), they really are harmless and should be left inside.

So I love animals, love to write them and in fact, in a WIP I’ve got going, I have two very precocious cats. However, in Choices, I had to consider carefully what animals I could include. With the time period, pets weren’t all that common in the Middle East. Most of what I was able to find about pets were in Europe.
However, I knew that they would be traveling during the course of the book and that’s when I realized the part the animals could play. It turned out as I explored the idea that Bathasar was very involved in the royal stables, loved the horses, loved working with them and was very knowledgeable. (Isn’t it funny how we find these things out about our characters as we go? Until I started writing that part, I didn’t realize just how important they were to him.)

So, I decided to add character to the horses. I have read many stories over the years where animals have distinct personalities and I thought it would be great to have that, here. It definitely becomes important to Teman later on in the story.

For the most part, in Choices, I avoid actually referring to the Arabic, specifically, though they use the Arabic form of address (Teman ibn Latif), the Arabic words for prince (amir) and king (malik), etc. I also tried to keep from referring in other ways to our “Middle East” or “Asia” but when it came time to describe the horses and their origins, I couldn’t find a better way of labeling them than “Arabian”. The Arabian horses are known for their intelligence and personality and this is a big part of what makes that work in this story.
There are four named horses in Choices. Of course, I had to carefully consider the names and meanings behind them, this is me after all, and the horses themselves lived up to those names. Two of them, I introduce but really don’t do much with -- Ashmath and Zia. These are the horses that Cyrus and Nadir ride for the trip. Here is the excerpt where Bathasar introduces them:

He turned to the first horse next to them, a gray mare with intelligent eyes. “This is Zia. Her name means ‘light,’ and she is, in fact, very light on her feet. She is protective of her rider and will be gentle with you until you are comfortable again in the saddle. Nadir, she is yours for the trip.”

Nadir bowed. “Thank you, Your Highness,” he said, awe tingeing his voice. He turned to the horse and spoke quietly in her ear, which twitched as he did.

Bathasar turned to the next one, a horse of light bay color. “This is Ashmath. His name means ‘straight path’ because he has an instinct for not straying. He has sired a number of fine horses and has since been retired from stud service. He is, in fact, the sire of Teman’s mare. He’ll make sure you don’t get lost,” he said, and Cyrus chuckled. “He is friendly, but if you are mean, you’ll feel his teeth. I’m sure that won’t be an issue for you,” he said, handing the reins to Cyrus.

No, it won’t. Thank you, Your Highness,” Cyrus said, turning to pet the velvet nose. “Hello, Ashmath,” Cyrus greeted the horse, who nodded at him and butted his shoulder. Cyrus laughed. “We’re going to get along just fine,” he murmured.

But of course when it came to the horses that our main characters were to ride, I had to do more. I couldn’t leave it at a simple introduction, but first, let me do just that:

Bathasar left them to their mounts, and turned to the two at the front of the column. He paused next to a beautiful chestnut mare. She was a good fifteen hands high, one of the tallest of the Arabian horses Teman had ever seen. Her dark eyes showed intelligence and friendliness, and Teman stepped up to her face, offering his hand, which she sniffed.

This is Asima. It means ‘protector’. She is one of the fastest horses in the royal stables. Like her name, she is very protective of her rider, and will even put up a fight if someone were to attack. I would not trust the love of my life to anything less,” Bathasar finished in a murmur.

Teman looked up at him, and reached up to cup Bathasar’s cheek. “You are too generous to me,” he said, then looked back at the horse. “She is beautiful. I’ll take good care of her.”

I know you will. And she will take good care of you. She is the mate of my stallion. Let me introduce you,” Bathasar said, holding his hand toward the big black horse next to Asima. He stood at least another hand taller than Asima and was much more solid. “Aiman is, as his name indicates, fearless. Though at times, I think perhaps I should have named him ‘Marid’ instead for the rebellion he occasionally shows.” Aiman snorted at this, and Teman laughed. He stepped a little closer to the horse.

Hello, Aiman,” he said, and the horse turned toward him. “That is my love that you will carry. Please don’t be too rebellious while he is on your back. I’d like to have him healthy when we reach our destination.” If Teman didn’t know better, he would have sworn there was an eye roll before a reluctant nod. Teman laughed. “Thank you,” he said, and rubbed at the velvety nose again before turning back to his own mount.

He checked the saddle, made sure it was secure and that the bags were in place, then moved back to Asima’s face. “Well, it’s you and me for awhile,” he said, rubbing the spot between her eyes. She butted his shoulder with her nose and nickered quietly. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything to offer you now, but when we rest later, I’ll see if I can get something from Cook for you.” She nudged him again, and he turned to climb up into his saddle.

I was once told that my horses were “too human” in the story. But I wanted them to have the intelligence and personality. I wanted them to be more than just a means of transportation. Asima becomes very important to Teman over the course of the story, becoming as much a comfort and companion to him as a ride. One such spot is towards the end:

Yet again, the knot in his chest tightened, and he couldn’t breathe. He fought the emotions, fought the memories, fought all of it.

He felt something at his back and looked up to see Asima lay down behind him. He stared at her for a moment, shocked that she would lie down—he knew horses could, just usually didn’t, but she just nudged his shoulder with her nose. He lay back down, curling once more on his side with the horse at his back. She laid her head on his leg and snorted at him as if to say “it’s okay, I’m here.”

Teman stared at her another minute, then reached back and petted her velvety nose. Then he settled in once more, and a few minutes later he was asleep.

There are more such instances between Teman and Asima. I thoroughly enjoyed writing them, loving the interaction between the two. Please be sure to leave a comment – let me know what animals you like to read or write, or anything to do with them. You’ll be entered to win a swag bag! I will choose a winner a week from today, so make sure I have a way of contacting you.

Thanks again to Chris for hosting me! I’ve enjoyed being here.

About Choices:

Born and raised a gypsy in the late eleventh century, Teman values freedom over everything. He and his best friend, Jasim, are thieves for hire—until one night they're caught and their precious freedom is revoked. Given the choice between the dungeons or palace pleasure slavery, they become slaves, but Teman vows to escape someday.
Bathasar doesn’t want the throne. He supports his brother instead, which suits their sadistic father, Mukesh. When Teman, the handsome slave Bathasar has secretly been watching, saves his life, Bathasar requests a slave for the first time. Before long, Bathasar and Teman fall in love. But all is not well. One day Mukesh brutalizes Teman before the court, angering the empress of a neighboring nation. To appease her, he then offers her Jasim as a gift, and Teman decides to stay with Bathasar for now—despite the abuse he may suffer.
The peace doesn’t last. Mukesh plans to invade Jasim's new country, and Bathasar must find a way to stop the destruction. But if he succeeds, he'll ascend to the throne and have the power to grant Teman his liberty. Then Teman will surely leave him. What other choice could a gypsy make?

March 21, 2013

Star Noble: Beloved Enemy (Excerpt & Interview)

Please help me welcome new author Star Noble! Her debut novella, a Timeless Dreams, already received a glowing review from MM Good Book Reviews.

Title: Beloved Enemy
Release Date: 13th February, 2013
Author: Star Noble
Author Website: Star Noble on Facebook
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Historical, Romance
Blurb: At the edge of the Roman Empire, Cheruscans Kjeld and Dafried forged the bonds of childhood friendship, playing and hunting together along the mighty Rhine—until Romans ripped Kjeld away from his idyllic life and best friend to live as a Roman soldier.

That was ten years ago. Kjeld, now a Roman general, returns to his foster parents to prepare for a glorious celebration: a battle in the Coliseum. What he doesn’t know is that Dafried, after being captured during an assault on Roman military post, now trains as a gladiator in preparation for the upcoming competition. When the childhood friends reunite in the sands, it could spell death for one of them.

A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.

1-Welcome Star Noble! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your release.

Thanks for the invitation, Chris! I've always loved writing, mostly short stories. Finally, last summer, I found the courage and submitted my first novella Beloved Enemy for publication. A dream came true when Dreamspinner Press told me they wanted my story.

2-In what locale is your book set? Why did you choose this setting?

It's set in the Roman Empire. I saw a movie about the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, and I was intrigued by the plot. I did some research and learned that the Romans invaded Germanic tribes and separated healthy boys from their families to be raised in Rome. All of a sudden I knew I wanted to tell this story.

3-How long have you been writing?

I have been active in a writing community for seven years.

4-What compelled you to write this particular story?

See above.

5-What gave you the courage to submit your story to a publisher?

Over the last years I had worked hard to improve my writing. It was time to take the next step.

6-When creating your characters, do you have models in mind or are they totally fictional?

The young actors in the movie about the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest became kind of models. They were strong and handsome; one dark haired, the other one tall and blond. They were in my mind when I wrote the story.

7-Why did you start writing m/m? Is there something special that draws you to this genre?

I've always loved men not being afraid to show their feelings for each other. When deep friendship turns into a love relationship, that's what I like to read and write about. Once you've crossed that border as a writer, you don't go back.:-)

8-What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite author or genre?

I love reading suspense stories, but at the moment I'm in love with Stephan Niederwieser's books. He's a German author writing gay fiction. He has a wonderful way of "show, not tell", and the images he creates stay your head.

9-What are you working on now?

I have just finished a short story about a young man who has been abandoned by his lover. And now I'm writing another short story about a birthday surprise.:-)

10-When you're not writing, how do you like to spend your time?

Give me a book I like, and you can't count on me for hours.
Listening to music and singing (and dancing) along is another favorite activity of mine.

11-What are your writing goals for 2013?

Writing another novel.

12-Do you have personal goals for 2013?

Staying healthy.

Would you like to share an excerpt from “Beloved Enemy”?
Yes, of course.

Chapter 1

DAFRIED, let’s run to the grove over there!” Kjeld, twelve-year-old son of the Cheruscan tribe leader, Aldemar, jumped up from the stump he was sitting on. He looked over at his best friend, Dafried, son of Gundbert, trader of their tribe. Dafried was lying in the grass, looking at the sky.
Dafried raised his head sleepily. “What?”
This time, I’ll be the first!” Kjeld ran forward with long strides, long blond hair waving in the breeze.
Hold on!” No longer sleepy, Dafried scrambled to his feet to run after his friend.
Kjeld knew he had the advantage of being taller, but Dafried was known as the best sprinter in their village, so Kjeld gave his best to reach the trees first. This time, he had to win!
But, all too quickly, he heard heavy breathing and wheezing behind him.
In a last effort, Kjeld lurched forward. “I won!” he gasped, embracing the trunk of the old tree for support.
Dafried gave a sound of pain, clutching at Kjeld’s back.
Kjeld caught his breath, turning around slowly. Dafried had gone down on his knees, his dark head resting against Kjeld’s legs.
What’s wrong? Come on, I’ll help you up.” Kjeld put his arms under Dafried’s armpits and hauled him upward.
Ouch!” Dafried lost his balance and went to the ground, writhing in pain. “Stupid… ankle. I must have sprained it again.”
Kjeld settled next to him. At first, he’d suspected that his friend was fishing for sympathy because he had lost the race, but now, he saw that Dafried was in real pain. He remembered the previous spring, when the children of the tribe had completed a race through the woods and Dafried had reached the target line as one of the last, limping.
You should join our council of elders,” Kjeld joked.
Dafried gritted his teeth, looking away as if trying to hide tears.
Let me look at your ankle.” Gently, Kjeld took the sandal off Dafried’s foot and put his hand on the warm skin at the ankle. It was beginning to swell.
Dafried jerked at the touch and Kjeld shushed him. “It doesn’t look too bad. I’m sure Leila will find a salve and you’ll feel up to the next race tomorrow.” Dafried grunted at the mention of the medicine woman. “And I promise you’ll get a head start.”
You always say that, but you never keep your promise!” Dafried complained weakly. His eyes had changed to a darker blue, as they always did when he was hurting or furious. Kjeld gazed sympathetically at his friend.
An idea hit him, and he pointed over to the stump he’d been sitting on before the race.
You know what? I had an early start and won, but because you’re hurting and were very fast too, I’ll give you something I found this morning. Let’s get you over there, and you’ll see what a precious thing it is.”
Really?” Dafried looked up, curiosity shining in his eyes. Kjeld was happy to see his friend more alert again. “What is it?”
Come on. Put your arm around me and we’ll walk over there.” Slowly, Kjeld helped Dafried stand up, and together they stepped across the clearing to the other side of the forest. Kjeld kept his arm around the other boy’s waist and let him sit down on the trunk where they had started their race.
Phew! I don’t feel like walking a lot today,” Dafried said. He looked around. “Where’s the thing you found? Or are you just making fun of me?” Now he was pouting, something he often did when he wanted to persuade others to a certain end. Kjeld had witnessed countless times Dafried’s mother surrendering to her son’s wishes after seeing that expression on his face.
Kjeld smiled and walked into the forest.
Where are you going?” Dafried called, unable to keep the worry from his voice. Kjeld didn’t answer at once.
Hey, are you leaving me alone?” Dafried called again, louder.
I would never do that to my best friend,” Kjeld answered, reaching into an old, rotten tree. There he had hidden it: a strong staff. Kjeld had removed the tree bark, and the surface was shiny. He moved his hand along the staff and nodded, content.
He stepped back to Dafried and held out the staff. “I want to give it to you. It’s unique, isn’t it? It offers a good grip, with a sharp head. You can defend yourself with it, and we can play soldier games with it. And you can lean on it until your ankle is fine again.” Kjeld looked at his friend expectantly.
Dafried’s eyes shone with surprise. “This is for me?” He took the staff and weighed it in his hand. “It’s heavy enough to be a weapon.” He turned it around and slid his hand along the wood. “What’s that?” He frowned, taking a closer look at one spot right below the head. “Hey, it’s your name carved there.”
Yes. And now it’s yours. Do you like it?” Kjeld sat next to his friend, running his hand along the staff.
Yes… but something’s missing,” Dafried mused, outlining Kjeld’s name on the staff.
Kjeld raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Both our names should be on this staff,” Dafried said with determination.
Nothing easier than that.” Kjeld smiled. “I’ll show you how. But first, I should get you home. Your mother will be worried.”
She worries too much,” Dafried said dismissively. He stood up, leaning on the staff. “This is a wonderful thing for me. I’m sure I will be better in no time.” He took some steps forward and almost faltered.
In a second, Kjeld was by his side. “Step by step. We do it this way.” Kjeld put his arm around Dafried’s waist, supporting him.
You do know Leila, don’t you?” Kjeld said, guiding Dafried around some bare roots.
Who hasn’t heard of that old witch?” Dafried snorted. “They say she can kill you with her cooked herbs and fried frog legs.” He shuddered, catching his breath.
She’s the best healer in the Cheruscan tribe,” Kjeld said firmly in her defense. “And she’ll know what to do.”
The shadows were longer along the path now, and the temperature had dropped considerably since they’d been out. Kjeld was cold—he hadn’t worn his linen shirt. It had been sunny all day, and Dafried was only wearing his breeches. His friend’s shoulder felt clammy to Kjeld’s touch, and moving forward, he murmured, “Can you walk home? Or should I run back and call your father?”
And leave me alone, ready to be eaten by the wolves?” Dafried squawked indignantly.
Kjeld just raised an eyebrow.
Dafried sighed, nodding.
Whacking at the bushes that blocked the way, the boys made their way back through the forest. It was getting dark, and the trees looked like gray monsters. Although Kjeld and Dafried were familiar with the forest and knew about the dangers, Kjeld wished they could just be at home again. People had gotten lost in the deep woods and been found months later, half-eaten by wild animals.
Kjeld squeezed Dafried’s arm, hoping they would make it home safe.
Finally, they stepped out of the brush. “We’re almost home,” Kjeld said, pointing at the wide valley in front of them. It was a breathtaking view. The evening sun shone on the long thatched roofs in the village, and Kjeld breathed a sigh of relief. It would be best to stop at Kjeld’s home. “We can see it already,” Kjeld said. Dafried’s family lived at the north fence, much too far for Dafried to walk with his hurt ankle.
I bet my mother is making oatmeal with honey—you always like that.” Kjeld’s mouth watered.
Dafried took a deep breath, leaning on his staff. Licking his lips, he muttered, “I’m hungry like a wolf.”
He was lifting the stick to push a big branch out of the way when they heard the sound of approaching horses to their left.
Stay here!” Kjeld hissed, pulling his friend back into the trees. Crouching on the ground, they could see more than ten riders moving along the edge of the forest, their light armor reflecting the evening sun.
The Romans again,” Dafried spat, shifting until his foot rested more comfortably. “Last week, they spent days in the neighboring colony. My father heard that they demanded more taxes; that’s the third time this year. Who knows what they’re up to now?”
It’s getting more and more ridiculous. But, as my father says, there’s no way to refuse their demands.” Kjeld sighed. The Romans occupied their homeland, and if anyone revolted against them, it would mean certain death for many of their people. Kjeld pinched the crease in his forehead.
One day, we will be free again.”
Do you think the coast is clear?” Dafried’s eyes glistened with anticipation, the riders pushed to the back of his mind in favor of the promised oatmeal.
Bracing his right arm on Kjeld’s shoulder, he pushed himself up from the ground and grabbed the staff for support. The Romans had disappeared into the countryside, and they would probably be safe reaching their village.

KJELD, where have you been?” Ingrid, Kjeld’s mother, demanded, looking worried. “We just heard a troop of Romans checking the area. You shouldn’t stray too far from home these days.”
She ushered the boys into the house, glancing down the lane as if afraid that the soldiers were nearby.
Don’t worry, Mother. The Romans didn’t see us,” Kjeld reassured her, leading Dafried to a nearby chair.
Dafried, you can eat with us,” Ingrid said, automatically putting another plate on the table.
Thank you.” Dafried winced as he slumped on the chair.
Oh dear boy, what happened?”
He hurt his ankle running,” Kjeld explained, eyeing the evening meal already on the table.
Dafried, come nearer to the fire,” Ingrid said with a frown, gesturing for him to sit down on the bench. “What did you boys do again—fighting with each other? Kjeld, didn’t I tell you how dangerous that is without someone to watch you both?” She probed Dafried’s bruised ankle gently.
Dafried’s cry stopped Ingrid’s scolding. She must have touched the spot where the swelling was the worst. “It looks sprained,” Ingrid said, patting Dafried’s knee.
Kjeld hurried to his friend’s side, hovering over him. What if the injury was more serious than they had first thought? The whole side of Dafried’s foot was now purple and swollen.
Mother, why not ask Leila?” Kjeld suggested. “She usually knows how to treat a wound and ease the pain.”
Ingrid looked up at her son and smiled. “So go. You know where to find her.”
Kjeld nodded and turned to leave, touching his friend’s arm. “Hang on.” He gave Dafried an encouraging smile and hurried out the door to find Leila. She had helped many fighters to recuperate from severe injuries endured on the battlefield, so she could probably help Dafried with his sprained ankle.
Kjeld mentally promised to sacrifice something worthy to the gods if Dafried’s ankle healed properly. He relied on Dafried’s joyfulness and the fun they had together. They often played hide and seek with Kjeld’s little sister, Karin, and loved teasing the little girl when she screeched and hid her face after being found.
Whenever Kjeld and Dafried prowled around the surrounding fields and forests, Dafried always found something exciting. Once, Dafried had found the copper mask of a Roman soldier. He had scared Kjeld to death by appearing from behind with it on his face. Kjeld had been so frightened he’d wet his pants.
Afterward, when Kjeld could laugh about the whole thing, Dafried had looked at him, suddenly serious. “I didn’t bother you too much, did I?” And he had reached out his hand with the copper mask. “Do you want it? It’s yours.”
Kjeld kept the mask on his shelf and held it in his hands from time to time, wishing he could wear such a mask in a fight to defend his tribe from the Romans.
Absorbed in thought, Kjeld hadn’t noticed that he had reached Leila’s house. It was at the end of the village, made of big wooden logs. Smoke came from the chimney, so Kjeld assumed the woman was at home.
He knocked on the heavy wooden door; it opened slowly. Darkness surrounded him, and a strange smell wafted in his direction, making him choke.
Hesitating, he held his breath before he took a step forward. Summoning his courage, he spoke into the darkness. “Leila? It’s Kjeld, Aldemar’s son. Dafried hurt his ankle and is in pain. My mother asks if you can help?”
A dark shadow emerged from the opposite side of the room and materialized as a slender, middle-aged woman wearing a black, hooded cloak. She held a little bowl in her hands with something steaming in it. Kjeld stepped back when she approached him with the stinking liquid.
Don’t be afraid. I knew you would need my help,” she murmured. “The gods told me to mix my special medicine. It will help your friend.”
Dafried will never drink this stuff,” Kjeld managed, holding his nose.
He turned to leave, but a light touch on his shirt held him back. “This is not for your friend. Follow me. I’ll show you what I have for your friend’s pain.” Leila walked back into the dark interior of the room, her feet making a shuffling noise on the wooden floor.
I have to leave the village to offer my help in a fight near the Rhine,” she said, bending over a pot that held a variety of herbs. Kjeld recognized garlic and cress among them. He stood rooted to the spot, not daring to disturb the medicine woman.
Come here and take a look. I’ll teach you how to create the healing drink. It eases pain and helps you to fall asleep.”
Now interested, Kjeld watched Leila mixing herbs and spices. He listened to her mumbling about willow bark and tried to keep her instructions in his mind.
Leila put the compound in a little pouch, closed it with a leather strip, and handed it to Kjeld. “Take some of the contents, pour hot water over it, and give the mixture to Dafried to drink. He’ll rest soundly and feel better tomorrow. But don’t use all of it, or he won’t wake up for hours.” Leila made a parting gesture. “I’m sorry that I can’t look after your friend more closely, but I have to leave soon. Be well.” Her eyes flickered. “Maybe you can use your knowledge someday.”
Kjeld mumbled his thanks and left the house, relieved that he could flee the stench.
Attaching the pouch to his belt, Kjeld made his way home. Darkness had set in, and Kjeld slipped on the muddy ground more than once. Making sure that the pouch with the medicine was still tied to his belt, he hurried along the houses that appeared intimidating at night.
He reached his home and entered through the front door, only to find the room empty. The fire was still burning, and he wondered where his mother had gone. Usually she was at home in the evening, putting his little sister Karin to bed and planning the next day’s errands.
Quietly, he made it to the adjoining room where his bed was. Karin was sleeping peacefully in her alcove. Kjeld turned to his bed and saw Dafried lying there. He was restless, tossing and turning.
Hey, friend, I’m back.” Kjeld crouched near the bed and touched his friend’s shoulder. “Wake up. How are you?”
Dafried opened his eyes blearily. “It hurts….” He shifted his leg to find a more comfortable position.
I’ve been to Leila and she gave me something for you,” Kjeld whispered. He looked around. “Do you know where my mother is?”
Your mother is on her way to my home to inform my parents of my accident. Don’t worry.” Dafried sat up, eyeing the pouch in Kjeld’s hand. “Is that one of Leila’s strange-tasting medicines?” He shuddered, making a face.
Kjeld answered in the affirmative. “You should have been there. The stench was almost unbearable. But these are only herbs that need to be put in hot water. It’s for the pain, and I hope it’s drinkable.”
I hope so too.” Dafried sighed, checking the bandage on his ankle. The hurt foot was covered with leaves and something that looked like clay. Kjeld’s mother had taken care of Dafried as well as she could.
I’ll fetch some water. There’s always some over the fire.” Kjeld started to walk over to the fireplace, but heard his little sister call for their mother. He put the bowl down and went over to the alcove.
Karin, Mother is with Dafried’s parents. She’ll be back soon. Go to sleep.”
Father?” the little girl asked, sounding as if she was about to start crying. Kjeld put his hand on her forehead, stroking her brow.
Dad is helping the farmers build fences, remember? He’ll be back home soon to tell you a good-night story. It’s no use staying awake. Go to sleep now.” Kjeld watched as Karin finally closed her eyes.
Kjeld felt a hollow pang at the reminder of his father’s absence. Kjeld missed him in the moments when things went wrong and he needed his father’s support. But Aldemar had a leading part in the farmers’ community. There had been a poor harvest that year, so Kjeld’s father was helping the farmers to breed cattle.
He returned to the fireplace, poured some hot water in a bowl, and opened the pouch with the herbs, adding some of the contents to the bowl. Carefully, he carried the steaming bowl into the sleeping area and put it on the ground.
That’s it?” Dafried looked suspiciously at the hot liquid. “Leila always makes the worst concoctions. Do you really expect me to drink this thing?”
It’ll be good for you, believe me.” Kjeld held the bowl to Dafried’s lips and made sure his friend sipped some of it.
Dafried leaned back against the wall and pointed to the floor beside the bed. “Your mother told me to stay the night, until I feel better again. I wish you would sleep next to me on the ground—like a pet, or my slave.” A mischievous smile appeared on his face.
Kjeld suppressed the urge to wrestle with his friend. Dafried couldn’t feel too bad if he had the strength to banter with Kjeld. It was the way they were with each other—closer than brothers. Kjeld had promised himself long ago that he would always take care of his friend.
I’m no pet and no slave,” Kjeld finally responded and sat on the edge of the cot. He took off his sandals and his shirt, then grabbed the blanket and the linen pillow filled with feathers from under Dafried’s head, lying down on it with an appreciative groan.
Hey, that’s rude! I’m the injured one,” Dafried protested weakly, reclaiming the spot he’d had before and pushing his friend against the edge of the bed to get more space.
Kjeld only laughed and made himself more comfortable.
Be quiet, or do you want to wake up Karin again?” Dafried whispered. Both listened for any sounds from her alcove, but everything was silent.
Kjeld turned to his side, trying not to nudge Dafried’s bandaged ankle. Finally calming down, Kjeld felt the exhaustion of a long day. Worrying about his friend and the journey to Leila’s had taken its toll. Kjeld closed his eyes for a moment, feeling Dafried’s warm body next to his. As long as they were together, everything was going to be all right.
Drifting off to sleep, Kjeld mumbled, “Good night, my friend.”

KJELD awoke to a familiar voice.
Dafried, come. Your father is here to take you home.”
He cracked his eyes open and saw his mother standing near the bed. Next to him, Dafried stirred. The room was very dark, but Ingrid held a candle. Behind her, he could see Gundbert, Dafried’s father.
Where’s my father?” Kjeld asked sleepily.
Ingrid smiled at him. “He’s home again, washing up. It’s been a long day, but your father is going to say good night to you, I’m sure. Now help me get Dafried out of bed.”
I can do it myself,” Dafried said, rubbing his eyes. He sat up and tried to climb over Kjeld, but the injured ankle hindered his movement, and Dafried slumped against his friend.
Let me help you.” Dafried’s father reached down, and with Kjeld’s support, he got Dafried out of the bed and scooped him up in his arms. Looking down on Kjeld, he smiled. “You’ve got your bed again for yourself. Go on sleeping.” And they were gone.
Kjeld leaned back on his pillows, his thoughts still about his friend.
He remembered being six years old and meeting Dafried for the first time. The women of the tribe had held their regular meeting regarding the education of the children of the tribe. The girls helped in and around the house while the boys learned how to fight. Kjeld wasn’t fond of war games; he preferred to stay inside, making plans for a better shelter for the village.
When Dafried joined him, trying to coax him into attacking two stronger boys, Kjeld refused at first. Dafried offered to share his weapons: some branches and a rope, a big stone, and a mask made of clay. Kjeld had laughed it off, turning away. But, for a second, he had seen the hurt expression on the other boy’s face. It had done something to him. He listened to Dafried’s ideas about how to defend their tribe against enemies, and he liked the boy’s boldness. It was the beginning of their friendship.
Kjeld was getting sleepy when Aldemar entered the room and sat on the edge of his son’s bed, the light of the candle showing the exhaustion on his face.
It’s been a long day, son. Three of Farmer Kunold’s cows got lost and ended up on the moor; it took all day to rescue them. Slaves from other villages helped us; otherwise, we would have lost them, and I would still be out there. Hard times.” Rough hands briefly stroked over Kjeld’s head. Kjeld loved it when his father stopped by his bed to tell him about his work.
What about the Romans? We saw a troop passing by today.”
Aldemar sighed. “There are more complaints about the Romans invading our territory. I’m worried about their behavior.”
Kjeld nodded. “We’ll have to convince the Romans to leave us alone. Every time they show up, we’re afraid something terrible will happen.” He reached for his father’s hand.
It will never change. We have to pay more taxes every year. Someday, it’ll be too much, and we’ll need the strength to fight them effectively,” Aldemar remarked, sighing.
By now, Kjeld was too tired to follow his father’s words. He fell asleep, happy that his father had stopped to talk to him as if he were an adult. But at the same time, there was a definite sense of loss. Dafried’s warm presence in the bed was gone, and he felt it keenly.

March 18, 2013

Cate Ashwood: Keeping Sweets (Interview & Excerpt)

Please help me welcome fellow author Cate Ashwood. Cate just released her debut novel Keeping Sweets and answers some of my nosy questions. :)

 Title: Keeping Sweets
Release Date: March 11th, 2013

Author: Cate Ashwood

Author Website:

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Buy Link:

Genre: Contemporary m/m romance

Blurb: Days away from high school graduation, with hardly a penny to his name, Evan Lowry needs to earn money for college. When he comes across an ad for modeling, he thinks his luck has changed—until he learns he’s interviewing for an adult film and will be expected to have sex. On camera. With other men. 

For gay porn star Brandon Court, the shine has worn off of regular shoots. He and his producer, Les, decide to try something new: a reality-show porno set at a beach house. When he meets wide-eyed and na├»ve Evan for the first time, Brandon isn’t sure if he wants the kid to get lost or get naked. Naked wins. 

On set, Brandon takes Evan under his wing, and over the next month, they are thrown together in every intimate way conceivable—except emotionally. Both Brandon and Evan are terrified of trying for anything deeper, and insecurities and doubts wear on their hopes, but the chemistry between them won’t let them slow things down.

1-Welcome Cate Ashwood! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your release.

Hi Chris,
Thank you so much for having me today! I am so excited to be here!
This has been a great month for me. I have the release of my novel, a blog tour, and it’s my 29th birthday! (and I’m sticking at 29, so this is my last birthday).
Keeping Sweets is my very first novel. The very first thing I’ve ever written, actually, so I am so beyond excited that Dreamspinner took a chance on me and decided to publish it.

2-In what locale is your book set? Why did you choose this setting?

The majority of the book is set in a beach house just outside Newport Oregon. It’s right on the ocean and it’s absolutely beautiful. If you’ve never been there, you should put it on your list of places to visit.
I chose Oregon because I think it’s inherently romantic and it’s a place that’s incredibly important to me. I even got married on the beach there in September.

3-How long have you been writing?

This is my very first book. I used to love writing when I was a kid, but once I got a little bit older things just got too busy. I recently picked it up again last March, and Keeping Sweets was the result. 

[Wow! Congrats! That's quite an achievement!] 

4-What compelled you to write this particular story?

There was a song I heard a million years ago, and I don’t even remember which song it was, but it inspired an idea that changed and evolved over the eons I let it ruminate before I actually started typing. The end product doesn’t resemble the initial idea in the least, but I suppose that’s how stories work sometimes.

5-What gave you the courage to submit your story to a publisher?

A rare moment of “fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen?” I clicked the send button before I could second-guess myself and then as soon as that confirmation message splashed across the screen, that’s when the debilitating wave of panic and self-doubt bowled me over. Then it was just a matter of biting my nails and worrying for two months.

6-When creating your characters, do you have models in mind or are they totally fictional?

Mostly I have an idea in my head of who they are and what they look like, and then afterwards I go looking for a photo of someone that I think comes close. Sometimes it helps to have that concrete visual.

7-Why did you start writing m/m? Is there something special that draws you to this genre?

It’s one of my favourite genres to read. When I started writing, I actually tried to write het first, and it just wasn’t working. I switched to m/m, and something clicked. The words just started flowing.

8-What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite author or genre?

Like most authors, I read a lot. A lot. I usually read a book every day or two. This month, my favourites have been Secret Chemistry by Chris T. Kat, Aiden’s Luck by Con Riley, Exposed by Skylar M. Cates, and Speechless by Kim Fielding. 

[Okay, I admit I had a little squee!-moment when I read this. ^_^] 

9-What are you working on now?

A three part series set in a fictional town in Maine. Each book follows a different couple and I really love them all.
Hope Cove #1 introduces Oliver and Mack. Oliver is an orphaned chef from Seattle and Mack is the sheriff of Hope Cove, Maine. He shows up on Oliver’s doorstep to let him know Oliver’s sister has died. Oliver wasn’t aware he’d had a sister, and follows Mack back to Maine to sort everything out.
Hope Cove #2 revolves around Declan who is one of Mack’s deputies and comes to the aid of Lucas when he is beaten and thrown off the lobster boat he was working on. Declan takes care of him, but they both have secrets and those secrets almost destroy them.
Hope Cove #3 is about Haydn and Trevor. Haydn is a baker in Hope Cove, and meets Trevor one night at a club. They spend the night together, but Trevor is not who he seems to be.

10-When you're not writing, how do you like to spend your time?

Right now, life is very busy for me. I am currently switching careers. I have been teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) for the last five years, but I needed a change. I decided to go back to school to try out phlebotomy, so right now my life is pretty wrapped up in books—unfortunately most of them are textbooks, but I only have a month left.

11-What are your writing goals for 2013?

I’d like to get the Hope Cove series finished and submitted for publication sometime in the next few months, and following that, I have the plot for a YA book, among other things, floating around in my head. Maaaaaaaybe a book for Colt (one of the secondary characters from Keeping Sweets). 

12-Do you have personal goals for 2013?

Besides finishing school and getting a new job, I’d like to expand my horizons socially. I have always been shy—painfully so. It was the only comment my teachers ever made on report cards. They wanted me to speak up more in class and be more outgoing in groups. I’ve always had trouble with it. I was the kid that would rather spend recess inside with my nose buried in an Enid Blyton book than play tetherball with the other kids. (Side note, is it that weird that I would prefer The Mountain of Adventure over getting beaned in the head with a volleyball? I don’t think so.) Anyway, I am going to be at GRL this year as one of the newbie authors. I want to try to step out of my comfort zone a little and am really looking forward to meeting lots of new people. 

[I think reading an Enid Blyton book sounds very reasonable!] 

Would you like to share an excerpt from “Keeping Sweets”?

Evan raised his eyebrows, which made him look tempting as sin. Bran absolutely wanted to attack him, show him how good it can be when two people want it, and Bran definitely wanted it.

Evan’s breathing was already becoming ragged as he dragged his fist up and down. Bran flushed with desire. He needed to remember the rules. He wouldn’t get attached. He would keep this compartmentalized.

Get yourself under control, Bran, he mentally castigated himself.

He pulled off his own T-shirt, trying to lower his temperature and get his body back under control. His cock was pressing insistently against his zipper, begging to come out. He was used to coming multiple times per day and he hadn’t gotten off at all today. It was borderline painful.

Evan had increased his speed, his breathing quickening along with the rhythm of his strokes. His eyes fell closed as his head bobbed back, mouth open slightly. He was far too tempting not to touch.

Bran reached over and ran his hand from Evan’s knee to hip, feeling the soft skin, the light dusting of pale hair, and the tensing of muscles beneath his palm. Watching Evan’s expression carefully for any signs of discomfort, he allowed himself to continue lightly trailing his fingertips farther north over his left nipple.

Evan let out a small moan of pleasure. So, he had sensitive nipples. Bran could work with that. He leaned over and placed his lips on the side of Evan’s neck. He sucked gently, eliciting more moans from Evan, who was now so far gone in his pleasure that all he could do was feel.

That was exactly what Bran wanted him to do. Feel good. He pressed gentle kisses down his neck and over his shoulder before dropping lower to lave and suckle at his nipple. Evan lost it then, increasing his pace and thrusting up into each counter movement of his hand.

The sound of Les’s voice shook them both from the erotic spell that enveloped them.

Noah, pull Jackson into your lap. Touch him.”

Bran lifted his head and looked at Evan, raising his eyebrows in question. Evan’s pupils were blown and his gaze glassy with need, but he managed to give a slight nod. That was all the permission Bran needed.

He reached over, hooked Evan under the armpits, and pulled him into his lap. The few inches difference in height made for a perfect fit. Bran reached beside the couch for the bottle of lube they kept there. He poured a healthy amount into his palm and pulled Evan’s hand away to replace it with his own. Gripping tightly, he ran his fingers over Evan for the first time. Evan hissed and arched against him, bucking up into his hand.

Oh my God, Noah. So good. So, so good,” he whimpered.

The friction of Evan’s ass against Bran’s raging erection was torturous. It felt good, but wasn’t enough to give him the relief he craved. He used his other hand to push Evan’s hips back down, holding him close against his body. He could feel the heat rising off the boy, driving his passion to a fever pitch.

He once again tried desperately to get his own body under control. This wasn’t about him. This was Evan’s first time, and he wanted to make it as good as possible. He leaned forward and brushed soft kisses against Evan’s temple.

Shhhh, it’s okay, just relax and let me take care of you.”

Evan let his head fall back against Bran’s shoulder, surrendering his body to him to do with what he pleased. Bran wanted desperately to bury himself inside the younger man’s body.

He could feel Evan trembling with the need for release. He was close. Bran could feel it. He snaked his hand down and pressed his fingers firmly against the sensitive skin behind Evan’s balls. Evan cried out as he came. Thick ropes of come splashed over his stomach and coated his abs and Bran’s fingers.

Bran slowed his strokes to bring Evan down slowly. He laid kisses along his neck and shoulders as Evan relaxed back against him.

That was so hot Bran had almost come in his pants. He needed to get a grip before he lost it entirely. Maybe one too many years of denying any sort of connection with the guys he worked with had come back to bite him in the ass. He was going to have a hard time denying the attraction he felt for this one.

Cate Ashwood wrote her very first story in a hot pink binder when she was in the second grade and found her passion for writing. Her first successful foray into romance writing came five years later when she wrote her best friend, who was experiencing a case of unrequited love, her own happily ever after.
Cate’s life has taken a number of different and adventurous roads. She now lives a stone’s throw from the ocean, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two cats. Her life is filled with family and friends, travel, and, of course, books.