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From the Boots Up

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From the Boots Up FINAL 300 dpi

Book Title: From the Boots Up
Author: Andi Marquette
Genre: F/F Romance
From the Boots Up is a runner-up in the 2013 Rainbow Awards for best contemporary lesbian romance and best lesbian novel.
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Synopsis

Meg Tallmadge has more than enough on her plate. She’s finishing up a college degree, getting ready to apply to vet school, and working another summer with her dad, Stan, on the family ranch in southern Wyoming. He’s managed to get the Los Angeles Times to send a reporter out to do a story on the Diamond Rock, which doubles as a dude ranch. Meg knows the ranch needs all the publicity it can get to bring in more customers, but she’s not looking forward to babysitting a reporter for a week. When the originally scheduled reporter can’t make it, Meg worries that they won’t get a story at all, which is worse than dealing with a city slicker for a few days. Fortunately for Stan and the ranch, the Times finds a replacement, and Meg prepares to be under scrutiny, under the gun, and the perfect hostess. She knows what this opportunity means to her father, and she’s hoping that if it goes well, it’ll ease some of the distance between them that resulted when she came out a few months earlier.

What Meg’s not prepared for — and never expected — is the reporter herself and the effect she has on her. In spite of what she feels, Meg can’t risk the fallout that could result from overstepping a professional boundary. But as the week draws to a close, it becomes clear that not taking a chance could be the biggest risk of all.

NOTE: Contains F/F mature situations.

Meet the Author

me n hat

Andi Marquette was born in New Mexico and grew up in Colorado. She completed a couple of academic degrees in anthropology and returned to New Mexico, where she decided a doctorate in history was somehow a good idea. She completed it before realizing that maybe she should have joined the circus, or at least a traveling Gypsy troupe. Oh, well. She fell into editing sometime around 1993 and has been obsessed with words ever since, which may or may not be a good thing. She currently resides in Colorado, where she edits, writes, and cultivates a strange obsession with New Mexico chile.

excerpt

May 1999

My weekend with Tex Hollis began when I pulled into the driveway of the Lazy T-Bar Ranch west of San Antonio. I knew this wouldn’t be an ordinary weekend when Tex cast a critical eye over my shorts, t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Two days later, I was as comfortable in jeans and boots as any of the buckaroos who spent their days in the saddle—

Meg laughed and tossed the magazine back onto her dad’s huge oak desk. She leaned back in her chair and braced one booted foot on the desk’s edge. “Tex Hollis,” she said, sarcastic. “Sounds like somebody out of a Longarm book.”

Stan looked at her over the top of his reading glasses. “And since when did you start reading that?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Davey keeps a stash. He gave me one to read one night, thinking I’d like the ‘plot’.” She grinned wickedly. “The plot was way better than the sex.”

His eyes widened and she laughed.

“I told Davey that, and he never loaned me another one. I think I ruined one of his fantasies.” She pushed back farther, regarding him mischievously.

He cleared his throat. “Fantasy?”

“Please, Dad. You’re a guy. You were Davey’s age. You know what guys think about.”

His cheeks reddened and he started moving papers around on his desk. “If your mom heard that. . .” he said with exaggerated sternness.

“She’d lose her religion because I know about sex. It’d burst her bubble.” Meg moved her foot and let her chair legs fall to the floor with a thump. And then her mom would haul out her Bible and start talking about chastity.

“Well, moms were young women, too, and they don’t like to think about their daughters running wild with young guys.”

“You mean like Mom did with you?” She asked innocently.

The phone rang and he shot her a mock disapproving glare that dissolved into a smile before he answered. “Diamond Rock Ranch. This is Stan Tallmadge.” He clicked the mouse on the computer as he talked.

Meg reached across the desk for the magazine and flipped idly through it again before studying the cover. A copy of Spirit, from Southwest Airlines. A pair of worn cowboy boots with spurs stood on a workbench against a log cabin wall. A nice photo, for a stereotype.

She glanced up at him. From the conversation he was having, it sounded like the call was another reservation. They still had two spaces available for guests this month and she hoped the spots filled. This sounded like it would drop their space to one. Good.

She studied him then, noting the fine lines that spiderwebbed from the corners of his eyes and the deepening creases around his mouth. His hair, once as dark as a crow’s wing, had lightened to gray at his temples, though she often thought about him without the gray, her attempt to prevent him from aging.

The magazine cover advertised a story about Montana, and how people could get an “Old West” experience at a couple of dude ranches up there. She’d heard of them, and she wondered how the ranch owners had managed to get covered in Spirit. The Diamond Rock needed more coverage like that. Even more than what they’d get from the reporter who was coming out to bother them next week. She turned the page and a photo of a couple of men on horseback herding a few cattle caught her eye. One of the men looked like her dad. She glanced at him again as he continued to talk, doing the Diamond Rock spiel to the person on the other end.

Ranching was in his blood, just like it had been in his father’s and in his grandfather’s before him. No other place on earth would fire his spirit like Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Mountains. Meg knew that, and she knew that if he ever left, it would kill him, just as staying was slowly leaching the years from his bones as it got harder and harder to make ends meet, to get enough paying customers for the dude ranch experience even while he tried to work the ranch with fewer staff.

He looked at her, eyes the color of a summer thundercloud, like hers, she’d been told, and gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled and returned to her magazine, but she wasn’t really thinking about the article. She took after her father in demeanor and physical appearance, she knew, and it was a point of contention when her mother had lived there. But it was Stan who had made Irene “pert near crazy” with his stubborn streak and independent nature. Loyal to a fault, but unreachable in the deep down parts of his heart, he’d driven Irene right back to Kentucky nine years ago, when Meg was sixteen.

“All right,” he said. “Thanks for calling. We’ll see you next week.” He hung up, satisfied. “Full up.”

She grinned at him and placed the magazine back on his desk, relieved. “So when’s that reporter coming in?”

He leaned back in his chair and stroked his mustache thoughtfully. He looked like an old-style cowboy with it, especially when he wore his hat and duster. She thought he resembled Wyatt Earp.

“Hopefully next Friday, still. I got a call from the editor out there this morning and the writer she wanted broke her leg. So she’s trying to rustle someone else up on short notice.”

Meg hid her concern. It was already Wednesday. Next Friday was just over a week away. “Will she be able to get somebody else to come instead?” A story in the Los Angeles Times was too important. They needed the publicity.

“She’s working on it.” He tried to hide his own concern, too, but she read it in his eyes. “Might have to delay the story a little bit, if she can’t find anybody on short notice.”

“How long?”

He gave a little shrug. “She said maybe a couple extra weeks. Then there’s another window of opportunity in July. Which won’t be too bad.”

The dude ranching season pretty much ended here by mid-August as fall started creeping in over the mountains. Stan needed this publicity, because it wouldn’t only serve for this summer. It would continue for the next season, and the article would be on the Internet, so they could use it in more of their promo.

“Did she say who the reporter might be?” The one that had been scheduled was originally from Idaho, and Meg had talked to her briefly on the phone. She sounded nice, and she’d grown up in a ranching town, so Meg figured she’d “get” the Diamond Rock, and she’d be able to really nail that in her story.

“Nope.” He shrugged again. “I’m sure she’ll find someone who’ll do a fine job on the story. It’ll work out.”

“Hope so.”

He narrowed his eyes then. “And you’ll be damn hospitable. I don’t want to have to be telling your mom why the story that gets published in the Los Angeles Times is about somebody’s bad experience at the Diamond Rock.”

“Why would you even think that?” She looked at him, hurt.

“I know how you get,” he said, more gently. “You don’t suffer fools and, unfortunately, you’ve got some of your mom’s temper. But in this case, I need you to suffer.” He smiled at her. “No practical jokes on the greenhorn.”

Her mother’s voice echoed through her mind. “Damn it, Stan! Would you get that girl in hand?” She sighed. “I’m not sixteen anymore.”

“No, but twenty-four ain’t that far off.”

“Twenty-five.”

“Not yet, missy. Next week. And I can still turn you over my knee. So no bullshit. We need this publicity.” He tried to look forbidding but a twinkle danced in his eyes and she relaxed.

“Well, since I’m such a loose cannon, can I not be in charge of the reporter?” She didn’t mind playing babysitter, but if she didn’t have to, that was fine with her. She hoped whoever the Times lined up had at least a little outdoor experience.

“The way I see it, whoever they send will be here for a week and they’ll want a ‘full range’ of ranching experience, and they’ll observe and ask questions. They might or might not want a tour guide. And you’ll be an official Diamond Rock liaison, so every day, I expect you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with the reporter. Just treat whoever it is like a regular registered guest. You’re good with that, hon. They really do like you. Don’t think of it as being under the microscope or something.”

“Great,” she said with a sigh. She imagined them all dressed up like on the set of Bonanza and she groaned softly.

“I know. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, because we do have to mind our manners even more, and you don’t know for sure what’s going to end up in print. We’ve got to make it so this reporter can’t resist writing a great story about the DR. In fact, we want this reporter to come back every chance he gets. Or she,” he corrected himself.

“I know. Don’t worry.” She reached over to the neighboring chair to retrieve her hat. “You don’t think whoever it is will be like the writer of this story”—she gestured at the magazine, “and change your name to something like ‘Slim Thompson’?” She was only half-teasing.

He pursed his lips, pretending to think. “I’m hoping for something like ‘Dutch Walters’. And maybe you’ll get to be ‘Cherry Goodnight’.”

Meg grabbed the Spirit magazine off the stack of papers and threw it playfully at him.

He caught it and tossed it onto the desk, chuckling. “You could change your middle name to Cherry before the reporter gets here. So there’d be some veracity there.”

She gave him a look and started to get up.

“Your mom called this morning,” he said, as he leaned back in his beat-up office chair. He folded his arms and regarded her with an expression that was a mixture of concerned dad but acceptance for whatever decision she might make.

She settled in her seat again, her Stetson in her lap. She rubbed her fingertips over the black felt, waiting. She got her stubborn streak from him, but hers was more pronounced. He’d told her she could outwait a rock.

“You need to talk to your mom more,” he said after a while. “She misses you.”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she studied the knotted pine wood on the walls behind his head. He waited a few more moments then leaned forward and picked up the copy of Spirit. He flipped through it as she had done earlier.

“She’s your mom,” he said, without looking up from the pages.

“She’s not really thrilled with me right now, as you know.” She watched for his reaction, but his expression didn’t change.

“So don’t talk about that.”

“That’s all she wants to talk about. It’s not like I make it a point to advertise my personal life.”

“Well.” He set the magazine aside and tugged at the hair above his right ear, something he did when he was really uncomfortable.

Meg wished she hadn’t told him, either. Wished she’d never said that the painful break-up she’d endured last fall was with a woman. Since then, he’d struggled with it, and some of their interactions were tinged with an unfamiliar stiffness.

“I’ll call her,” Meg relented.

“That’s my girl.” He said with obvious relief.

“But I drive her crazy. Even on the phone.” Her mom always asked whether Meg was seeing any nice young men at school and Meg would have to deflect those statements or tell her she was still getting over someone. Irene knew it had been a woman because Meg had told her, around the same time she’d told her dad. But since Irene had gone back to Kentucky, she’d found the Lord, and this particular Lord didn’t care much for gay people. Even those in your own family.

“She’s still your mom,” he said, tugging on his hair. “Find something you’re both interested in and keep the conversation there.”

“Yeah,” she said doubtfully. She stood up and put her hat on. “See you around, Dutchie.” She grinned at him and was out the door before he could toss the magazine after her.

She decided to put off the dreaded phone call and walked instead across the swath of hard-packed earth between Stan’s office and living space and the lodge, which had been the main ranch house before her grandfather had converted it in the fifties to accommodate space for kitchen and dining facilities that could have passed muster in a big-city restaurant. Stan had upgraded it two years ago. New appliances, better shelving, new pots and pans, new dishes. They’d even added a walk-in cooler. Alice, the chef and “Kitchen Queen,” as she called herself, more than approved of the changes. She’d been at the ranch since just before Meg’s mom had left, and she thought of her as family, now, like a favorite aunt.

She went in through the front, and the rich, heavy odor of cowboy chili greeted her, along with voices from the kitchen and the sound of a knife chopping something. She blinked in the dim dining room, after being out in the midday sun. Three long tables, decorated with blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, stood parallel to each other in the center of the big room. Each could seat fifteen on the benches, and some summers, they did. On rare occasions, they had to add another table. Meg hoped it was that kind of summer. The more paying guests, the happier her dad was.

She wiped her hands on her jeans and checked through the stack of mail on the closest table then went into the kitchen, through the swinging door that separated it from the dining room and entered Alice’s domain, which could rival something in one of those high-end cooking magazines.

“Hey, Meg,” said Anna, Alice’s prep cook, as she looked up from the cutting board on the island where she was chopping carrots.

“Hey.”

Alice emerged from the walk-in. “Hi, sweetie,” she said with a smile that, in conjunction with her swept-up hair, made her look like a glamorous 1940s actress, even when she had her cowboy duds on, as her dad called them. Jane Russell, Meg thought. That’s who Alice looked like, though her hair was a lighter color. She was in her late forties, now, but she was just as pretty as when she’d started working at the ranch. Alice always turned guys’ heads, but she was so down-to-earth that she didn’t seem to notice.

“Would you like a sandwich? You missed lunch.” She closed the walk-in door.

“Is the chili ready?” she asked hopefully.

“Not yet. Let me make you a sandwich.”

“Are you sure? I can just—”

She raised an eyebrow imperiously. “I am the Kitchen Queen. I have spoken. Go sit down.” She gestured at the counter by the back door.

“Yes, your majesty.” She walked around the island and hung her hat on one of the pegs by the door then sat down on one of the stools, her back to the counter so she could watch Alice and Anna. “We got another reservation.”

“Oh, good. I know your dad was worried about filling up,” Alice said as she sliced bread.

“He said that the reporter that was supposed to come broke her leg.”

She stopped slicing bread and looked over at her, concern written in the lines across her brow.

“The editor is trying to find another reporter who can come out on short notice.”

She went back to her sandwich making. “Well, that’s how journalists operate. They’re used to changes in plans.” Alice finished with the bread and started slicing part of a turkey breast. “How soon can the new one come?”

“They don’t know. I guess they’re trying to keep the same schedule, if they can find someone. But they might not be able to. So maybe the next couple of weeks or July.”

“Too bad. From what your dad said, the first one sounded like a good match for an assignment like this.” She spread deli mustard on one slice of bread and mayonnaise on the other then placed the slices of meat on the mayo piece and lettuce and tomato on the mustard piece. She’d add her “secret spices” next.

“Oh, and I’m not supposed to be an asshole.”

Anna snickered and Alice looked over at her, her lips twitching with a smile. She returned her gaze to Meg. “You’re hardly that.”

“Dad seems to think I am. He kind of makes me feel like I’m a teenager, still.”

“That’s his job as a parent. To make you feel like a teenager the rest of your life. And if it’s any consolation, you’re far from being a teenager. You’re your own woman. Just remember that to your dad, you’ll always be his little girl.”

“Then why is he freaking out that I’ll be an asshole to the reporter?”

“He’s just stressed, hon. He wants to make a good impression so the story gets a lot of attention.” She went over to one of the refrigerators and took out a jar of dill pickles.

“He thinks I have Mom’s temper and he thinks I don’t suffer fools. I guess he thinks if the reporter’s an idiot, I’ll let him or her know.”

She laughed. “Nothing wrong with pointing something out, and nothing wrong with a woman having a temper. You just need to learn how to direct it appropriately. And maybe soften the blow.” She retrieved a plate from under the stainless steel counter along the back wall. “Diplomacy, love.” she said. “The art of telling people they’re idiots without making them feel too bad about it.”

Anna giggled as she reached for another carrot.

Meg grinned. “I guess I might need to work on that a little bit.”

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Alice said with a smile.

Anna finished with the carrots and put them in a plastic tub that she carried into the walk-in. She had to duck her head, since she was pushing six feet tall. She’d never played team sports, for which her height probably would have served well. She was, however, an excellent barrel racer.

“I’m not going to screw this up,” Meg said. It still stung a little, that her dad thought she might.

“No, you’re not.” Alice brought the plate over to her. It looked like something out of a food magazine, with the pickle and chips arranged artfully around the sandwich halves.

Meg smiled. “Thanks. I love your sandwiches.”

She squeezed her shoulder. “Iced tea?”

“Yes, please.” She turned so she faced the counter and bit into the sandwich. Alice made the best. “How is it that your sandwiches always taste so good?” She said after she’d swallowed.

“Made with love.” Alice winked as she put a glass of tea and a napkin on the counter next to Meg’s plate.

“You’re the best-kept secret in the West. Please don’t ever leave us. But if you do, mention the Diamond Rock on your cooking show.”

She laughed and went to clean up. “You’re your father’s daughter.”

Meg continued to eat, Anna and Alice chatting amiably behind her. When she finished, she took the plate into the dishwashing room then went back into the kitchen where Alice was checking the chili. Anna must have gone into the dining room, because one of the swinging doors was moving.

Alice handed her a spoon. “One taste. No double-dipping.”

She laughed and took a spoonful, holding it over her cupped left hand so none would spill. She blew on it and tasted it. “Oh, my God. Best. Chili. Ever.” She finished the spoonful and Alice took the utensil from her.

“Make sure you tell the reporter that.”

“I won’t have to. One taste will prove it.”

Alice set the spoon aside and continued to stir one of the big pots on the stove.

“He’s still acting weird,” Meg said after a few more moments.

She stopped stirring and gave Meg her full attention. “About your break-up with Amanda?”

She nodded.

“He’ll come around.”

“I think he’s hoping that I was just experimenting, and now I’ll go find a boyfriend.”

“He also just wants to make sure you’re happy.” She reached up and brushed Meg’s hair out of her face, like a mom might. “Sweetie, your dad loves you more than life itself. But he’s a little traditional in some ways, and it’ll just take him a little bit to get used to the idea. Parents always have expectations for their children, and he’s having to revise some about you.”

“I feel like I screwed up. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him.” A knot tightened in her chest, and she hated this wedge that seemed to have come between her dad and her.

Alice pulled her into a hug. “You had to. Because this is part of you, and it’s not healthy to keep that all bottled up inside. I’m proud of you, for telling not only your dad but your mom.”

Meg groaned as Alice released her. “I’m supposed to call her.”

She gave her a sympathetic smile. “You are who you are, and you’re choosing to live your life on your terms.”

“She doesn’t like my terms.”

Well, it’s not for her to decide, is it?”

“She makes it seem that way.”

“You’ll get through.” She pecked her on the cheek. “Come and talk to me later tonight if you want.”

Meg nodded. “Thanks.”

Anna came back into the kitchen and Meg waved at her before she moved to the back door, where she retrieved her hat before she went outside. Across from the dining room and kitchen about thirty yards away stood the two-story structure dubbed “the motel,” modeled after a Northwoods hunting lodge for the guests, its rooms accessible from the outside. Covered verandas sheltered the walkways. Her father lived in quarters just off the office building, also across from the motel, and the hands lived in bunkhouses. All the structures surrounded a large packed-dirt parking area, like wagons circling a campsite.

She took the outside steps of the lodge to the second floor, where she lived. She alone occupied this level, unless they had extra guests. Otherwise, she kept the extra rooms closed up. Maybe the reporter’s story would bring them enough business that they’d be able to open these extra rooms. Her bootheels made hollow sounds on the wood and the metal roof of the veranda creaked and popped in the sun. She sighed as she opened the heavy wooden door into her foyer, hung her hat on one of the pegs near the entrance, and walked down the hallway toward her bedroom, where she kept a phone.

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In Conversation with Victoria Oldham: Talking Dirty, Part 2

(Re-post from The Musings of  a Lesbian Author. Part 2)

Below is Part 2 of our conversation on Talking Dirty. Part 1 can be found here (not that it will help with understanding, as we’re pretty much all over the place).

Do you have to do it, if you write it?

Ash: For Patrick Califia’s sake, I sincerely hope not (can we make it a requirement that Macho Sluts be mentioned in every one of your talks?).
Sex in fiction is like everything else in fiction. My characters do a whole lot of shit I would never do. You know, like be vulnerable and nice. Why is okay to have your character beat the fuck out of someone or kill a dude or drink until they’re half dead and no one assumes that the author would do that shit? But if your character fucks in a non-normative (or super vanilla) way, then that must be what gets the author off.
Vic: I think Macho Sluts should be mentioned in every lesbian blog, ever. Though I admit that I blush even admitting I read it. I’m actually a huge prude. I think you’ve got a great point–just because Ali Vali tortures her characters in a multitude of imaginative and wonderful ways, doesn’t mean she’d actually do it…well, maybe that wasn’t a good example. Still, I get what you’re saying. But personally, I can’t write anything that I don’t find at least a little bit hot, and writing part A- into- part B kind of sex dries me up like the Sahara in August during a drought. Do you ever have trouble writing your sex scenes?
Ash: I’m a prude too, but I don’t think anyone will believe us after reading this.
I agree about the whole, dry=no go on a sex scene. Why bother otherwise? I have serious issues writing sex. And editing sex for other people. It’s so hard to critique a sex scene because it seems like you’re coaching them. I figured out a while ago that you can’t think about it while writing. You have to know going in what purpose it serves, but then you just have to let it go. Elbow nudge.
I also think language matters. A lot. Slit or flower or blah-whatever ain’t gonna cut it. It’s not language that comes alive. I love the word cunt. I mean, I just like cunt. But I also love the word. Say it. Doesn’t it have such a nice mouth feel?
Vic: Your first sentence directly contradicts your last sentence. Now I have no idea what to believe about you . What issues, specifically, do you have about writing sex? Is it finding words other than flower, or bud, or nub, or throne, etc? I really enjoy editing sex. I like the logistics of it: if they stayed in that position for more than thirty seconds, surely their heads would explode from the pressure? Or, one hand is there, one is there, another is there, and the other is there…so whose hand is that extra one? I’m okay with telling people they’re doing it wrong, as long as I’m just talking about what’s on the page. (I’m not saying that word. I can’t. It physically pains me. As does twat, which is such a common insult here that no one even thinks it’s dirty. It’s like saying jerk, but it makes me cringe every time. Ambiguity saves you from things like this.)
Ash: I think my issue with writing sex is that you have to write a scene you’ve never written before. I enjoy writing it because it’s challenging. Especially if your characters have already fucked, you need to write their personalities into sex without using the same move every damn time. As long as the sex serves a purpose (which it should), it gives you something to work toward. I’ve never really analyzed this. Stop making me think.
My issue with editing is that I’m generally editing someone who is older than me. I feel like a jerkwad. I know for a fact that they have been both writing and fucking since I was in diapers. And then I’m telling them they’re doing it wrong. The first time I edited sex for someone, I asked permission first. Most awkward text ever “Hey this scene blows, but not in a good way. Is it creepy if I add stuff?” (Twat is good. I think I’m gonna start using it. Thank you.)

Vic: I think you’re right–it has to be about the characters, more than the act. Because otherwise it can become repetitive really fast. I edit people older than me all time, often people who have taught English for a living. But the point of editing is to tell someone that what was in their head didn’t make it to the page–they may have imagined it perfectly, but not gotten it out right. So that way, you’re simply seeing what isn’t there. (How is that for tactful? It’s not one of my better skills). (And remember you have to use twat with a British accent. That’s what makes it acceptable).

What makes something dirty and fringe rather than vanilla and normative? (incidentally, using ‘non-normative’ blows your cover as non-thinker)
Ash: Damn cover. In my mind, vanilla means I’m fucking bored. Which I realize is not fair. But if I’m reading sex (see how I just made it about books, not real life?) then it better be creative.
Vic: Aren’t we just talking about books? I have nothing to do with anything remotely dirty in real life. I’m actually an undercover nun. That said, I read erotica on a panel once, with a certain boss of ours. Our readings were the only two that featured sex. Someone else’s was about a horse giving birth. Totally baffling. I think what people consider dirty is the stuff that uses words like the one you use above, among others. Especially stories that include leather and things that can fit into orifices. As you said, non-normative. I think the hottest sex is sex where you feel their passion–that they really, really want one another, and you’d love to be one of them at that moment.

Ash: I like your definition way better. Can I steal it? I was on an erotica panel earlier this year and apparently my characters blow their load after about two minutes. I needed five minimum. The scene I chose was the only one in my book long enough to fit the bill. It involved masturbation, then sex. And it was first person. I only realized that I was going to be reading a first person jack off about 30 minutes before the panel. Heart attack.
Vic: That’s so excellent. Did you make it five minutes? Or was two minutes of listening to you jack off enough? I may have thrown up. Not at you reading that, but at the idea of having to do it myself.

Ash: I got bored of panicking so I decided to go all out instead. I owned that reading. If you’re going to narrate masturbation in public, you have to commit to it. Plus, the reading sold books to nearly every gay man in attendance. I’m not sure what to make of that.

What’s the best pick up line you’ve ever heard? Used?
Ash: No.
Vic: No, you haven’t heard any, or No is the best one? Now who’s being ambiguous? Do you just walk up to a woman and say, “No.” (Actually, I like that. Please tell me that’s what you do. I’d respect you forever.)

Ash: I promise that “no” is now my pick up line. I’ve never used one. Unless “wanna makeout?” is a pick up line. I’ve done that. I should probably point out that I met my girlfriend when I was 17. So all my dating experience is from high school. I did ask her to buy me cigarettes when we met. Is that a pick up line?
Vic: Your rep is in tatters. You’ve made it clear you’re actually a thinker, and now we know you’re a one-girl woman rather than any kind of player. Next you’ll tell me you own a minivan and a dog. I think ‘wanna makeout’ is a perfectly acceptable pick up line, so you’ve saved yourself with that.

I really want someone to explain women’s underwear to me. You are that person. It confuses me. It doesn’t seem comfortable. Why the hell do chicks wear…chick underwear?

Vic: Boxers and/or y-fronts bunch under dresses and poke out under skirts, which kind of ruins the effect. And, we have to determine what kind of chick underwear you mean? Are we talking granny panties, or are we talking thong? Sometimes it’s not about comfort, it’s about dirty (see what I did there?). Lace bra and matching lace panties can make a partner who likes that kind of thing reasonably happy. Wet lace can be very erotic. If you like that kind of thing. Which you may not. Personally, I find boxers exceptionally sexy, as do my 50% of my characters. But wearing them would mess up my femme vibe and give me some kind of psychosis. So, granted you don’t wear chick underwear, but do you find it attractive on other women? Or do you find non-chick underwear hotter? And boxers, briefs, or y-fronts?

Ash: I’m boxer briefs all the way. I like wearing them. I like looking at chicks wearing them. Boxers give easy access, which is nice. I’m not opposed to briefs, but they need to have Spiderman or Ninja Turtles on the ass. I feel like I should know what y-fronts are. Are you being British? Or am I dumb? All other underwear confuses me. It’s like all up in your junk. I need room to move. I guess the whole lines of clothing thing makes sense, but I don’t get how a dress is comfortable either. So maybe we should just accept that most women’s clothing confuses me.
Vic: Easy access is good. Though I’ll point out that panties have WAY less material to fuss with. I think we may be calling briefs and y-fronts the same thing. Tightie-white-ies? I think I’m just being British.

At this point, we gave up and went back to…something. Whatever it is we do. If you like sarcastic, smart ass characters with a real connection and a great story line, check out Ashley’s books. Her blog is also damn funny.


In Conversation with Victoria Oldham: Talking Dirty, Part 1

(Re-post from The Musings of  a Lesbian Author. Talking Dirty with Vic, in case you didn’t get that from the title)

As many of you know, I work in the publishing industry. This means I’ve met many weird and wonderful authors from all over the world. One of those is Ashley Bartlett. The first time I met her, her pants (jeans, for UK folk) were riding so low I could see her entire boxer-butt. She was also wrestling on the grass with Carsen Taite. It was quite a sight.

After the conversation with Jove, Ashley and I decided to have a chat about things that are ‘dirty’. (This neatly ties in with her Dirty trilogy: Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power, which you should read). I’m not entirely sure what the hell we ended up talking about, but it got long enough I had to divide it into two blogs, so as not to make your brain explode.

Here is Part 1:

*Please note: This is not directed at anyone particular. It is the personal opinions, and probably not even that, of the two people in the conversation. They are vast over generalizations and not intended for serious thinkers.*

 

What are we talking about when we saying talking dirty?

Ash: Oh good, we’re starting easy. You know, with a philosophical discussion. (Some of us aren’t really thinkers, Vic. I’m more like ‘boobs are good’.)
Aside from the literal dirty talk–I don’t think I’m ready to take our relationship to that level–I think there is an art form in making anything and everything sound dirty. Bonus points if it’s phrased in a way that gives you plausible deniability. I should probably go on, but I’m spent.
Vic: I was actually just going for clarification. Like, are we talking about mud? About the kitchen floor (mine is revolting)? Or, are we talking dirty as in Marvin Gaye, set the mood and work it, dirty? I totally love plausible deniability sexual innuendo. It’s definitely an art form. I love when you’re doing it, and the person you’re talking to has no clue. Somehow that makes it even dirtier. So you’re a boob woman? I’m an ass woman, myself.
Ash: Mud seems like it would get in all the wrong places. Kitchen floor, yes. But not if it’s revolting. Maybe we could work up like a 50s housewife fantasy and then get down, but that seems like a lot of effort. And Marvin Gaye always wins.
I’m an ass, boob, ankle, whatever is in reach type. I also like crooked teeth. And lesbian happy trails.
Vic: It would definitely get in the wrong places. As does sand. Kitchen floors might be good if you were using anything messy, because clean up would be easier. Though food, too, can fill every nook and cranny. I don’t recommend crunchy peanut butter.

Do you like happy trails that barely peek, or serious, no-miss tracks?

Ash: I like ‘em all. There’s something about that suggestion of masculinity on a feminine body that’s straight up sexy. I mean, groom it because no one wants to see out of control body hair. Actually, I’m anti all body hair except for happy trails. Your feelings? What’s something unconventional that you totally dig on chicks?
Vic: The happy trail…when I was growing up, I always heard it called a snail trail. Happy trail is nicer–less implied slime. Well…kind of. I’m ALL for masculinity in/on a woman (though, to get philosophical: why do we tag happy trails as masculine, if everyone has one?). I find it incredibly sexy. But yeah, I’m pretty much anti-body hair as well, or at least kept to a trimmed minimum.

Speaking of literal dirty talk, (which I’m not ready to have with you, either), are there things you should leave out, or, well, put in? And do your characters do it? How do you avoid the cheese factor?
Ash: That was the most ambiguous question ever. I think we’ve moved into the territory where we can be explicit.
I don’t really get dirty talk. It’s like writing. Don’t tell me. Fucking show me. If I want to hear about sex, I’ll listen to an audiobook. We’re communicating without words, so shut the fuck up. Do you think it’s important?
Vic:  I’m a prude. I flip past sex scenes in books, and turn away from them on the telly. Actually having to talk dirty would give me an ulcer. So, other than guttural sounds, no talking? What about being told what to do? Or is that just bossy and you’re like, ‘shut up and put your mouth to use’? I think instruction can be good–don’t do that, your teeth are too sharp, your fingernail is jagged…that kind of thing. What’s the worst thing someone has said to you?
Ash: It doesn’t have to be utter silence, but why discuss something when you could just do it? Some instruction is okay, but it’s way hotter to just have someone grab a body part and put it to good use. If we’re talking about avoiding pain, by all means, shout it out. I’m not anti-communication. I just think there are other, wetter ways to communicate.
Worst thing? “Your nose is bleeding.” But that’s a story for a different time. I’ll buy you a drink one night and tell you.

Vic: Definitely a story I want to hear. I think mine is, “Did the ceiling fan cut you?”

Is having short fingernails necessary? Or can you have eight inch acrylics and still get by?

Ash: Dude, if you have eight inch acrylics, stay the fuck away from me. That could cause some damage, yo. Fingernails should be long enough to leave scratches on my back, but short enough to play rugby.
Vic: I’m not even sure how to respond. I had acrylics for many, many years, and I’m fairly sure I was a successful lesbian. Actually, given that all those relationships ended, maybe not. And I did consider rugby, (HA!) but was told I’d have to cut my nails, so I gave up the idea. I have no idea where I was going with that, so I’ll ask a question: If you were to see a woman in a bar with really long nails, would it put you off, even if she was really hot? If there was a woman who was really hot, with rugby-regulation nails, but they were dirty, would it matter?
Ash: I’m not against long nails. But the chances I’m gonna fuck someone who has them are slim. First, my mom has long nails and they remind me of her. Creepy. Also my high school girlfriend had them. Extra double creepy. Both long nails and rugby playing dirty nails would probably be a deal breaker. Of course, that doesn’t have anything to do with sexuality or lesbianism (I don’t have first hand knowledge, but I feel pretty secure in saying that you are, in fact, a successful lesbo).

Vic: Yeah, I can see how that kind of reminder would put you off. I’ve never been with a girly girl, so it’s not something I had to worry about on my end, so to speak. My first girlfriend was a hippy, but I don’t remember her fingernails. She fell asleep and never used her hands, actually…which puts that successful lesbo thing in question.
Ash: I haven’t dated a lot of girly types either. I like dykes. This is where I get in trouble so I’ll just leave it at that.
Vic: Okay, so tell me what you mean by dyke? Because I think there may be a generation gap with regard to that definition. Would you consider yourself one?

Ash: I’m into queerness. I guess that’s the best explanation. You see it a lot on baby gaymos. That look that says “fuck you, I’m different.” It’s something hungry and angry and sexy. It’s not limited to butch or femme or youth or trans or cis.

Part 2 of In Conversation with Ashley Bartlett, tomorrow, same time, same place…


After the Cigarette, Should we Talk About Sports? What Links Lesbians Aside from Sex (and how do we write those stories?)

(Re-post from Women and Words. A conversation with the mysterious Heather Blackmore)

Ashley Bartlett: The broad idea for our topic is that we have something in common aside from sex. But what is that commonality?

Heather Blackmore: One commonality is the absence of lesbians in the stories we see and hear.

Ashley: Yeah, that pervasive invisibility.

Heather: That’s changing bit by bit, but if I go to my local library and look for works where there are lesbian protagonists, I have about 3 choices, all great choices (Dorothy Allison, Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters), but 3 choices nonetheless. I’d love to find out how lesbians (and those who write about them in a positive way) can get the word out that there are actually stories by and about them, and that there are a growing number of those stories.

Ashley: But how do we tap into markets that are invisible? We have readership, but outside of that, how do we recruit new readers? Same with movies or music. I tried really hard to see Blue is the Warmest Color, but couldn’t find a showing anywhere.

Heather: Totally agree. Those are part of the stories we’re absent from. Tiny showings at tiny theaters. Same with plays. I don’t know the answer. It seems it’s a very slow growing thing.

Ashley: So aside from invisibility, what links us? What is that thing that makes us want to drink a beer surrounded by lesbians? Why do we adopt little baby dykes and feed them? Why do we want to see ourselves reflected by society when we have nothing in common besides a love of boobs? What else do we have in common?

Heather: We’re linked by our shared histories of being different by an accepted norm, having to maneuver through those differences with our families, friends and colleagues, and searching for ways to love ourselves and find peace with it. That sounded more down than I meant.

Ashley: What about with newer generations who don’t know our history and who don’t struggle with their families or friends? But who still very much want to tap into our culture because their mothers (despite loving them) don’t understand them?

Heather: I think it’s a matter of degrees. It may be easier now, but it’s not yet completely acceptable. Hell, look at the mess with these Sochi Winter Games.

Ashley: Yes, and explaining to kids that they shouldn’t watch the Games seems a difficult task because they say “oh no, that’s wrong, but my watching doesn’t endorse it.”

Heather: Ah, interesting. I don’t know that we shouldn’t watch the games. Athletes have worked all their lives to be good enough to attend. But I think you’re on to something about the education piece of it. Explaining to kids why there’s an issue, and why it’s wrong to be judged by your sexual orientation — that’s what we need to do. Teach. Learn. So in terms of who to have a beer with? We want to have a beer with someone who we relate to. We’re not just linked by sex, we’re linked by those commonalities of what it means to be a minority.

Ashley: So what is that thing? That moment when you walk into a room or make eye contact with someone and it’s like your gut is pulled forward. It’s not sexual or romantic. It’s like coming home.

Heather: Totally! Some “ah-ha” moment where you know you’re not alone.

Ashley: And within that minority, we have so many shades of color and age and gender, but it can reach across those boundaries (usually).

Heather: Yep, that’s why it’s so important for lesbians to think of the larger LGBTQ world when we talk about this stuff.

Ashley: It’s also that moment where you don’t have to explain why you dress like a boy. I don’t know if you do, obvi [helpful Andi note: for you oldsters, that's text-speak for "obviously"], but I do. Gender is rapidly becoming a part of that conversation. But the gender conversation has shifted a lot recently.

Heather: We need to be inclusive because so much of the world is still trying to exclude what is “other” or “different.”

Ashley: While we are celebrating being other or different.

Heather: I live in my baseball cap, but if I want to wear a dress at a wedding, I will.

Ashley: hahaha and did you?

Heather: Without the baseball cap on.

Ashley: My girlfriend has informed me that the baseball cap is coming to the wedding.

Heather: Sweet!

Heather: I agree on the celebrating part. It’s a bit like writing in that way. You have your little ego saying “you’re not good enough” for all these reasons, so you have to stop it and celebrate who you are and why you are good enough.

Ashley: It’s also realizing that being queer makes you happy. Not just that you enjoy it or have a community, but that you have something that sets you apart from other, more normative people.

Heather: I think getting to that part — the journey of getting to the realization that being queer makes you happy — can be a difficult journey. A friend just had a gay friend kill himself and she was concerned that was one of the things he just could never come to terms with. So while some of us realize being queer makes us happy, for others it’s a struggle to get to that understanding.

Ashley: How do we translate all of that to fiction?

Heather: We write about those journeys.

Ashley: Do we, though?

Heather: I think we do, yes. At least we’re starting to.

Ashley: I mean, yes twenty years ago, coming out stories and coming to terms stories were huge, but today that is becoming less relevant.

Heather: Did you read Jane Hoppen’s book, In Between?

Ashley: It’s on my list.

Heather: She writes of Sophie’s journey: a child born with male and female genitalia. That’s the kind of story we’re starting to write about. It’s the kind of book you wish you could give to your senators to get them to stop being so judgmental.

Ashley: Exactly. That conversation, of where people who don’t fall on the gender binary should and can exist, is becoming far more relevant.

Heather: Yes, we cannot be stuffed into little boxes of male or female. We need to understand there is “other”. I had a great experience in a blood bank where the guy asked me my gender, and I looked at him like he was crazy, but then I realized he was letting me answer for myself. I totally needed to be reminded that it is MY choice! My identity. Not what someone thinks they see and the box they want to put me in.

Ashley: Yeah, I saw that on your blog (I stalked you). And I loved the way you approached it. My students discuss this a lot. Their first question to a newcomer is “what is your PGP?” (Preferred Gender Pronoun)

Heather: I’ve read about it.

Ashley: It has become a joke, but a very serious and sincere joke, to them. Because they live in a world where that is your first question, but they realize that they are surrounded by people who don’t ever consider the answer.

Heather: That is a great lesson! Knowing “they are surrounded by people who don’t ever consider the answer.” You must work at a very progressive HS.

Ashley: No. Not remotely progressive. Red pocket in a blue state. But that’s why the kids struggle so much. They demand to be seen as they are.

Heather: They must look to you to help them with that. I bet you’re very good for them in that regard. Sincerely.

Ashley: I think I’m the first lesbian most of them have met. And I’m the only out faculty member the school has ever had. It’s empowering to show them that a world exists outside of their own. Also, they have been taught that being queer is about sex. It isn’t. Especially for a teenager who doesn’t consider sex as part of everyday life the way that we do.

Heather: That’s great that the students are open to hearing about people who are different, and then figuring out how they do and don’t relate to it. Without judging.

Ashley: Being able to show them that they have history and community and terminology is exciting. Maybe that is the answer to our question.

Heather: You’re a superstar! We’re done!

Ashley: Hahahaha!

Heather: I think seeing us as purely sexual is a problem. It’s exactly what happened during the AIDS crisis. So many people ignored what was happening because they felt gay men were too sexed up or something. Unbelievable.

Heather: But yeah, showing that being queer is about so much more than our sex lives. Getting that info out there is still not happening enough.

Ashley: Exactly! And a lot of that has faded, but it is still present. Part of the fade is due to social shifts, but we are also surrounded by people who essentially choose to not remember AIDS. As if it didn’t happen because it wasn’t about them or their community.

Heather: But you’re making a difference in the classroom, which is a start.

Ashley: Don’t give me too much credit. My sphere of influence is about 15 teenagers.

Heather: We’re making progress, but sometimes it feels like baby steps. That gets us back to the question of how we get our stories out there. Rather, how we increase the audience.

Ashley: I don’t know. I think we have to rely on some things we can’t control, like public opinion, to make us more visible. But we can change public opinion by coming out to everyone, everywhere, everyday. And by talking to our friends and family and informing them. That way we, as a larger community, become more mainstream in that entertainment and media are about us. And about celebrating our difference the way that we do, not in some stereotypical manifestation.

Heather: Yep, which is why we each need to be involved in sharing our stories. Because we’re all different, we have different histories and imaginations.

Ashley: Which (cue hippie music) is why we have such a rich culture.

Heather: We’re lucky in that respect that we live in America. It’s no longer assumed that because someone is gay, s/he is a sex offender — unlike the propaganda Putin is spewing ahead of the Sochi games. (I’m going to be eliminated after this post.) Rather, our high court aimed to do away with the inequality built into Federal law with DOMA. Hallelujah.

Ashley: Amen, brother.


Dirty Violence

(Re-post from Women and Words)

Not long ago, I suggested to the esteemed Jove Belle that she have her character beat the living shit out of someone. It’s liberating.

I’m not sure why it’s so fun to write violence. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. But there’s a rush, a release in letting a character hit someone until they are bleeding, unconscious, powerless. Then again, they aren’t really powerless. Because the toll of violence on the aggressor can haunt them. That’s where the real fun is. Id is indulged in violence. But super-ego does the real damage. That part of us, of a character, that knows the violence we are capable of is far more destructive. Which, of course, leads to guilt and fear. And fear explodes out in more violence. It’s a messy, dirty cycle. Which is, you know, fun.

It’s just as fun to write someone else beating the fuck out of your narrator. There’s an honesty in it. A physical breaking down of your characters to mirror the way you, as an author, must break down their psyche to really know them. I knew Cooper the best when she was sobbing and bleeding, but still tragically loyal. In those moments anything goes. They give the true measure of a character.

Look at that. It almost makes it sound like I had a plan when I made the Dirties violent.

I’ve heard a lot about the violence in the books, which is why, dear reader, I’m telling you about it. In Dirty Sex, Cooper starts out violent for the fun of it. By the end of that novel, her violence has purpose. In Dirty Money, even she is disgusted by the swath of blood and terror she leaves behind. By Dirty Power, she simply acts that way because it is all she knows.

But I have good news (if you’re a pacifist). Cooper’s reign of violence, meaningful and meaningless, silly and murderous, chosen and uncontrollable, has finally ended.
So enjoy the Dirties. They’re fun. In like a horrible sort of way.


Rogue Cops, Hot Chicks, and Charming Idiots

(Re-post from Women and Words. A conversation with the fabulous VK Powell)

VK Powell: Question 1: Where DID the idea for the Dirty Series comes from???

Ashley Bartlett: Jeez you’re diving right in. You can’t even buy me dinner first?

VK Powell: I’d prefer a shot or better yet, coffee.

Ashley Bartlett: It’s not my fault you’re unprepared.

VK Powell: I know.

Ashley Bartlett: I’m clearly ready and not at all stalling.

VK Powell: I get nervous when I have to perform on demand.

Ashley Bartlett: Well, at least you’re not naked…I guess you could be. Vixsta are you naked right now?

VK Powell: I refuse to answer on the grounds…

VK Powell: that it might incriminate me!

Ashley Bartlett: For what? Being naked? You know it’s ok, right? You must. Your characters are naked in like the first scene of Exit Wounds.

VK Powell: Yes, my characters have no restraint. They get naked a lot. But so do yours…

Ashley Bartlett: Well, yeah. Otherwise it’s just dry humping.

VK Powell: Ouch!

Ashley Bartlett: Dude can we talk about Loane’s sad, sad masturbation? ‘Cause masturbating is supposed to be fun. But you made it all meaningful. And sad.

VK Powell: She was in a sad place and it just had to come out that way…pun intended. Sorry for the bummer, but it worked, didn’t it?

Ashley Bartlett: Yeah, it worked. But you brought me down. That’s why I always write happy books.

VK Powell: If you call sweet, innocent kids being chased by mobsters, happy, I guess so. I’m still waiting to hear about the idea for the Dirty Series.

Ashley Bartlett: Oh yeah. That.

Ashley Bartlett: I used to be a barista. Which meant I got to work at like 4 in the morning. I hate mornings. They are unnatural. Unless you’re up from the night before. Then it’s okay. Anyway, my colleagues and I used to joke that we should empty the safe and run. Which was funny because coffee houses don’t have much cash in the safe. It would have gotten us about 500 miles. Tops. So then the joke became empty the safe and head for Vegas. Then Mexico.

VK Powell: What else are you going to do at 4 in the morning right but plan to rob the place? Good one.

Ashley Bartlett: I was 21 when I started planning the Dirties. Cut me some slack.

VK Powell: Drinking age. But while the story and characters have that young-ish vibe, the books are great reads for anyone. I really loved them all! Made me feel young again.

Ashley Bartlett: Thank you. I tried to make it readable. There’s a certain element of youth that we can all remember. And be happy that we are past it. Hopefully, I tapped into that.

VK Powell: Did you always plan for Cooper to be such a badass?

Ashley Bartlett: Is Coop a badass?

VK Powell:
Yeah, she sounds and plays tough, tries to hide her emotions, but I think down deep she’s a pu—softy.

Ashley Bartlett: Fuck off.

Ashley Bartlett: What about Loane? I had a bit of trouble separating her from you. Which is weird. ‘Cause I kept picturing you with a faux hawk and piercings.

VK Powell: Ouch, again. I couldn’t do that. But it worked for Loane because she needed distance from her copness and try another tact to find out what happened to her girl.

Ashley Bartlett: How did you conceive her? I mean, other than not-a-cop.

VK Powell: My secondary character, Vi (modeled slightly after your awesomeness) helped create another persona for her. But as a character, I saw her as a bit of a rogue by necessity. I seem to put my cops in tough/questionable legal/moral situations regularly. It’s fun to explore the bad side of good characters. Sort of like you explore the good side of bad characters with Coop and the DiGiovannis. Do you enjoy that as well?

Ashley Bartlett: Well, obvi. I’ve never met a human who was purely good or evil. So I think it’s a lie to write someone who is. And I had to figure out a way to justify what I would consider evil behavior because so many of my characters engage in it. If Reese worked for her family, then there has to be something not evil there. Same with Coop. The things she did are not justifiable. So I had to find ways for both her and I to live with them. The result was characters like Vito and Christopher and Breno. Whereas you do the opposite. Instead of humanizing bad people, you take “good” people like cops and make them evil.

VK Powell: Like you said, nobody is purely good or evil. Cops are humans and they’re tempted just like everybody else. Also, I have revenge issues with some of the people I worked with. (Not really, but it’s nice to make them bad guys in fiction.)

Ashley Bartlett: Hahaha I’m sure as a cop you saw good people make bad decisions or cut legal corners or do what they thought was right even if others judged it to be wrong.

VK Powell: Every day. Just like poor Cooper. Did you plan to have her be so “outside the law” from the outset or did that just evolve with the story?

VK Powell: Let’s face it, she did some really illegal shit.

Ashley Bartlett: I once made the mistake of asking Carsen Taite to translate Cooper’s crimes into legal terminology. It was really, really bad.

Ashley Bartlett: It wasn’t intentional. I thought they would be on the run, but I didn’t know how far they would deviate. Even at the start when Cooper kills Tommy in Vegas. I didn’t know that was coming. And from there it was like, well, she already killed a dude. How much worse could it get?

Ashley Bartlett: And then, of course, it got way worse.

VK Powell: Yep. She would’ve been a permanent resident in a cushy federal facility.

VK Powell: But as the story goes along, you kinda have to pull for Coop and the twins because you think, those jerks deserved what they got. Guess that’s the beauty of turning the good inside out, right?

Ashley Bartlett: For real. Because I tried to make every shitty decision Cooper made unavoidable or accidental. Did she have a choice in killing Tommy? No.

VK Powell: Exactly, and you did an excellent job. I would’ve given her a free pass—partly because she was so damn cute, partly because I thought she did what needed to be done.

Ashley Bartlett: Same for Loane. Did she need to get in bar fights? Did she need to quit her job and go all rogue cop? Legally, no. And that crosses the blue line and causes a whole lot of trust issues. But she did it for the right reasons.

VK Powell: But seriously, you’re right. If the story is written properly, the decisions make themselves and the reader goes along with that. If we just make the characters bad/good for the sake of it, I’d lose interest myself.

VK Powell: Yeah, that blue line is another animal all together. It is the angst in lots of cop stuff that can get pretty dicey. I like to stretch that too.

Ashley Bartlett: I do enjoy that in your books. There is an underlying current of betraying the police. And you pick which side you fall on in different books. Sometimes, like Exit Wounds, you’re on both sides. But I don’t think that you ever say “thin blue line.” It’s an interesting choice that really works for you.

Ashley Bartlett: So what’s next darling Vic?

VK Powell: I’m working on #7, which will be called About Face, a romance between a cop and a forensic artist. You?

Ashley Bartlett: Nice. I’m working on #5. It’s called The Press. There’s a bit of a love triangle…or maybe a square…an octagon? Coffee shop employees, musicians, good times.

VK Powell: Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the chat. You rock!

Ashley Bartlett: No, sugar. You rock. It’s been a blast.


Alimony

(Re-post from Women and Words)

I’m not ready to break up. I know it’s time. Inevitably, these things happen. But that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s been five years. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this was coming. But it always seemed so far off. Far enough away that I could just enjoy the moment (or absolutely loathe the moment. It hasn’t been an easy five years). And now it’s time.

I don’t even think I realized it was happening until it was too far gone. That was when it hit me. It was over. Sure, I had a little time left. Two weeks can be an eternity. Or it can be gone in a moment. A few sleepless nights. A bit too much caffeine. A couple of beers. A day that slips away in sunshine and salsa. It will be here soon. The moment to let go. I’m not sure that I can, though I know I will have to anyway.

You see, I shaved away slivers of my heart. They looked quite lovely bleeding into the white of the page. I arranged them into shapes. Darker pieces accenting the light. Bright fresh blood on top of older, blacker stains. I think each piece is my favorite. Until I see another and then maybe that one, or that one, or this one toward the end; it might be the prettiest. Sometimes it all is hideous. I’m not sure of anything anymore. Maybe I’m afraid that I’ll lose that rush. The heat that crawls beneath my skin. Maybe it was only an aberration. If it was fleeting, I can’t let it go.

And still, the moment is upon me. Our romance is over.

I’m done with the Dirties.

I’ll miss Reese and Ryan. And Christopher and Breno. Carson and Derek and Austin too. Even Adriana a little. Mitch Cooper and his unnamed wife (why didn’t I ever name Coop’s mom?). Most of all I’ll miss Cooper. She’s all of my worst habits and the best traits I wish I had. She’s nothing like me and we’re identical. I’m told that reading her story is like hearing me talk. I really hope that’s not true. She’s an idiot. But she’s my idiot, so maybe I’m okay with that.

I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, really. I think those small flashes where I see a pair of sunglasses that would look hot on Reese, or a boy with Ryan’s hair, or a pair of shoes that Coop would love (and hate) to cover in blood. My own miniature moments of despair or elation that are so powerful for all of three seconds and I know I just have to make Cooper feel that way.

What am I supposed to do with all of this material and no silly twenty-one-year-olds to inflict it upon?

I imagine, in the debilitating way only artists and authors can maintain, that I will wander, bleeding material with no story to catch it. Paying emotional alimony to a character who is no longer listening. I should probably find a couch to sprawl on and drink scotch and sob.

Or I guess I could just start writing another book.


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