My personal beauty standards

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Don’t judge a book by its cover? Ha! Well, I’m not strong enough not to. Not when I choose what to read, and certainly not when I choose my future husband (been there, done that). Longish hair and a leather jacket had me at hello, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say that I have my own personal beauty standards, like a stain on my moral compass, and it won’t come out for love nor money.

The above picture sums them up pretty nicely – and don’t kid yourself about the turtle neck: it’s not optional!

I drew the picture for a course book in French that I once wrote and never got to use, but I still have the picture. Funnily enough, when I saw it again today I thought of Michael Vaughan of Pax fame. Now, he wouldn’t agree with me because he thinks he’s hideous, but if he was I wouldn’t be writing about him, would I? Especially not passages like this:

Release fire större text röd eld

Jamie’s hair swung in time with the music, a few strands sticking to his temples. Green and gold stage lights flitted in and out of his vision. Everything on the stage glowed: brass, steel, cufflinks, white shirts, even gold. Michael was chained to his harpsichord as usual, but when their eyes met, it felt like they were just inches apart. As Jamie lost himself in that lion tawny colour, the world came loose from its moorings and floated around in a shimmery mess.

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Shimmery mess? Yeah, that would be me. And look, I know Michael doesn’t actually exist, in that boring, concrete sort of way we call real. But if I’m to write about a character, they have to exist for me. If another character falls in love with them, I have to fall as well. Otherwise, how could I know how they’d feel when evening sunlight pierces amber eyes?
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“There.” Michael struck a match and Jamie started at the tiny explosion between his fingers. The flame leapt up and quickly ate its way through the dry bark and twigs. Shaken, Jamie watched Michael as he watched the fire grow. The setting sun painted his face and hair in copper shades, and when he looked up, his eyes burned with an elusive lion tawny colour.

Thiiiis is weird

Just Playing

But it’s kinda shallow, I know that. To allow yourself to hold one type of appearance above all others. Still, don’t we all? And I comfort myself with the thought that we all like different things. A friend of mine likes bald men, for example, whereas I fall in love with the hair before I fall in love with the actual person (again, hubby being the prime example).

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And Michael is cute. He is. Jamie is charming, so he can get away with scruffiness and goofy grimaces and stringy, unwashed hair. But Michael has this ethereal quality that “might not beteem the winds of heaven / Visit [his] face too roughly” (Hamlet 1.2.144). If that sounds oddly feminine, I guess it is. I do like my men androgynous. Sensitive. Vulnerable. Pensive.

In a word, musicians. 😀

Not many need apply. Hubby asked me while we were binge-rewatching Game of Thrones which one of all the characters I found to be “the bee’s knees” (sic!), and I still haven’t come up with a reply. Some are interesting, others are charming and fun, and yet others have symmetrical features that I guess would qualify for western hemisphere heartthrobdom. But me? Nah. Most leave me cold. Yes, even Jon Snow.

Rival Poet AReBut when I do find a face I like, I get a whole book out of it. Or, in the case of Pax, a whole series! And so Sam Claflin inspired All You Can Eat, Ricky Wilson (yes, I’m admitting it!) was the template for Henrik in The Seventh Flower, and Ian McNabb (even bigger splash there, I’m really having an overly honest day!) will forever be my very own Kit Marlowe in Rival Poet.

And while we’re on the topic, I know I should be working on (the newly christened, yay!) Chains of Being (I’m keeping schtumm about that one, by the way, because I don’t want a defamation case to cut my career short, and anyway I’m changing absolutely everything about the two guys before hitting ‘publish’ so no one’ll ever know), but I have a messy old WIP about a PhD student that’s slowly morphing to accomodate Robson Green and Ben Mendelsohn! Just imagine the shy and lonely professor with Asperger’s whose world is turned upside down by a sloppy upstart who wears flip-flops to the office! Mmm… 🙂

So, shallow? Yup. But it’s a prerequisite for my authorhood.

Fly by night

This post and the link in it contain advertisements for my book.

More documentation than art, but it was really nice to see these guys again. We think they live in the attic of our cabin. Normally we only see them in August when it’s darker, but this time we were treated to a display against a bright July sky. 🙂

Orphan Bats

Lyrics: Vaughan
Music: Vaughan/Gardiner

We are unwanted but loved
We are the scary squatters
We hang hidden in black
We won’t go back where we came from

And we won’t die
Even though you turn us away
We will keep crawling
Out of attics everywhere

And come twilight
You can see us
Winging our way
Hunting our prey
Through the horrid night
You can join us
Seeing with your ears
Knowing no fears

We are the children of chance
We are the brainy critters
We see your world upside down
And we are blind to progress

We may seem silent
And our flight random and queer
But we’ll keep on sending
Our voices everywhere

And come twilight…

There is something in the night
Something seems to move
A band of orphan bats
That don’t need you to approve

Dark and gruesome exteriors
Sprung from fevered dreams
But in the heart of darkness
There’s a light that ever gleams

(From Just Playing)

Fourteen years and counting

This post and some of the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

The fourth of July means a lot to some people, and I’m one of them. Because July 4, 2003 was when I met my nemesis – no, sorry, love of my life!

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Now I’m a complete romantic fool. Maybe that’s why I write romance books. But my idea of romance isn’t always that… uh, romantic.

You see, I’m an INTP, which is a personality type according to the Myers-Briggs typology system (if you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, this is an awesome site for information on it). Anyway, INTPs tend to be unsentimental about things, or at least that’s the stereotype. Think Sheldon in Big Bang Theory (or so I’m told, I don’t watch it). INTPs love ideas and finding out how things work and logic and systems. Flowers and champagne? Not so much.

Yet here we are.

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Chin-chin!

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So what gives? How can this purple prose Angst Queen who photographs backlit flowers profess to be an INTP? Well, because the stereotype is a, how shall I put it? Stereotype. Yes, INTPs love systems and ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re all mathematical geniuses. Ask my primary school teacher what my math book looked like. We had a meeting about it.

Because this particular INTP (pictured above with romantic interest, flowers, and champagne) is interested in human systems. Language. Psychology. Sociology. Physiology. The hard sciences are meh, but anything that helps me figure out what the hell makes people tick? Count me in.

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(Last Communion)

You can see this again and again – in a romantic context – in my books. In All You Can Eat, I explore not only the psychology behind eating disorders, but also the way we sometimes try to scare off people before we let them in: the old princess-guarded-by-a-dragon-of-her-own-making mechanism.

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In Not Safe For Work, the hurdle to overcome is other people’s expectations and not being allowed to make your own decisions because the script has already been written by other people. A mindfuck I really enjoyed torturing my poor boys with – especially because of the added breathless stress of having that script spreading like wildfire across social media!

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In Rival Poet, I go full INTP and have my protagonists find each other through their writing. Sometimes you can hardly separate their creative collaboration from their lovemaking – because that’s what makes it romantic from my point of view: working towards a common goal, admiring and enjoying each other’s talent and intelligence.

RP Long lost twin

The same goes for the Pax series, where play-writing is replaced with musicianship. During the long and arduous periods where Jamie and Michael are unable to talk to each other about their feelings, their music talks for them.

Bass and guitar

So I guess this all sums up my view of romance. I’m a sucker for one-to-one-ness, for the concept of soulmates and the one person who understands and appreciates you. But I don’t have my characters yell “I love you, honey” at every possible moment, and I don’t think any of them has bought the other flowers or chocolate. The closest I ever get to a Hollywood moment is this type of confession from Rival Poet:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

When Kit spoke, his voice was the mere wisp of a sound. “You’re going to hate this,” he prefaced. “Or laugh at me. But…” He stopped to breathe, to gather his courage. “I’m in love with you, Will.”

Will froze. Stared into those hypnotising eyes, that unique golden colour. In love? His whole upbringing rebelled against the words. They didn’t make sense. Loving someone was one thing, but being in love… that was just possible when one of the two was a woman.

Only… when Kit said it, it did make sense. In the secrecy of this room, in the greyness of predawn, with just the two of them present to hear it, it made perfect sense.

Will breathed in. “If it’s something you can be,” he replied slowly, “Then… I am too.”

Well. I guess that is kind of mushy. But if you’re not allowed to be mushy about the kiss at the end of the rainbow, then what other opportunities are there really?

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Seven Thousand Minutes

Seven Thousand MinutesWhen Leo goes into a closet for a mock “seven minutes of heaven” session with his best friend Jakob, a ball starts rolling that he never even knew existed. Kissing Jakob just seems like a funny joke, but the joke quickly gets out of hand. Worse, Jakob seems to enjoy it. As Leo battles his growing curiosity, he shies away from the big question: should the two of them remain best friends, or should he let his body lead them into something more?

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Beneath the Mask

Beneath The Mask

Matthew and Peter have always been best friends, but lately, something is wrong. Whenever they come too close to each other, things get weird and Peter withdraws. Mourning the loss of his friend, Matthew doesn’t really want to go to the masquerade party in Peter’s new house. But when he agrees and dons the disguise, he discovers a part of himself that he has denied. Perhaps during this one night of masks and fancy dress, the truth can finally come out.

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Just Playing (Pax Cymrica #1)

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my book.

Between two passions, which one do you choose?

Just Playing fire

Michael has never really had any friends, so when Jamie starts spending time with him, he’s suspicious at first. Sure, they share a passion for music, but Jamie’s golden good looks seem destined for something bigger, better. Not that Michael is noticing Jamie’s beauty or anything…

Jamie is the first to realize that something is happening. Spellbound by Michael’s talent and fey-like softness, he’s powerless to resist. The thrill of playing together slowly turns into something else – something that, in 1975, has only been legal for eight years.

They have to stop it. The pleasure of touches as blissful as they’re terrifying can only end in disaster. When things finally start moving for Jamie’s band, it seems like the perfect way out, but the choice he faces is brutal: what’s more important – Michael, or the music?

Angsty and poetic, this slow burn romance charts every push and pull of a young love that isn’t exactly forbidden – just not allowed.

“ANGST, ANGST, ANGST, galore! My heart hurt reading this story but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for anything!” (World of Diversity)

Just Playing is a novel, but in its most basic form it’s a love letter written by both Michael and Jamie. It’s excruciatingly breathtaking in its simplicity and it’s excruciatingly breathtaking in its complexity.” (Joyfully Jay)

The writing is superb. Superb, I tell you! Poetic and full of meaning. It’s like the author hand picked each individual word for a specific purpose and it so worked for me.” (Boy Meets Boy Reviews)

 Author’s note: contains a cliffhanger.

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Posts about the Pax series:

Pax playlists

Pax demos

The original story (scroll down a bit)

The glamorous life of a musician

Fly by night

The original Pax story, part 2

The fourth book in my series Pax Cymrica: The True History will be released on April 6. But did you know that the story of Jamie and Michael began as a much shorter affair? Back in 2011, I read a short story that would change my life. I contacted the author and she graciously replied, and we started emailing.

Now, this woman lives on the opposite side of the world from me, but she inspired me to dip my toes in m/m waters, and this was my first effort. Quite a lot of it is actually intact in the first book of the series, Just Playing – I just stretched it waaaay out into the slow burn of the century. Let’s just say that these young men got to work a hundred times harder for their HEA than they did to begin with.

For the curious among you, here is the second part of that story, continued from Hearts on Fire, March 29. The remaining part will be published on The Novel Approach (April 1).

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Jamie held his breath. There was a flutter of curtains, and the vague shape of Michael appeared. Jamie’s heart lurched like a seasick puppy in his chest, but then Michael disappeared again. Was he coming down? Or rejecting him? Jamie almost whimpered aloud.

He had left the girl in a chaos of tears and accusations, half undressed. Running from her house, he had ended up here, like so many times before. Seeking out his friend, eager to pour his heart out and be comforted by his common sense and calmness. But this time he couldn’t. This time Jamie’s heart was full of something unmentionable. So why was he even here?

He went round the corner of the house in time to see the door open. Michael stepped out, only wearing a T-shirt and underwear. He closed the door behind him, crossed his arms and glanced at Jamie sulkily. Of course he was in a mood. He had no idea why Jamie hadn’t called. He had no idea what had happened on that sofa. And Jamie couldn’t tell him.

He faltered. What now? He took a step, stopped. Michael watched him, his dark eyes following his every move with an inscrutable look in them. Jamie bit his lip. He went up the steps and stood to face Michael. He felt as if he had to apologize for something, only he couldn’t think what. He put out a tentative hand and left it hanging in the air between them.

“I… missed you,” he swallowed, hating his voice, the tremble in it. Michael blinked. Jamie stepped closer, he must do something, must… He opened his arms, do or die now. A mirroring motion in Michael’s body, automatic, as if he couldn’t help himself. They hugged awkwardly, all elbows and shoulders. Then Jamie swayed slightly and their bodies touched more closely, heat flaring up at the contact. Michael responded by taking a step closer, his chin landing on Jamie’s shoulder, his hair tickling Jamie’s cheek. Jamie tightened his arms around his friend, dared to press closer. Their thighs touched, their chests. Michael circled Jamie’s body with his arms and they were one being.

Jamie closed his eyes and breathed in the sweet sleepy scent from Michael’s hair. He had come straight from his bed, bringing the warmth and intimacy with him out here into the cool summer night. He moved his head slightly, and they were pulled apart the fraction of an inch, making their cheeks touch again. Jamie breathed raggedly. Now or never. If he was ever to feel what it was like, he must do it now.

He drew back and turned to face Michael, his mouth so close, his eyes so deep and glittery…

He felt a tingling surge of lust sweep up through his legs and there was a flicker of weirdness in his groin. Shit, shit, shit. It was happening again.

Michael pulled away, and Jamie felt like he was being born: pushed out from the warm, dark womb into a place of cold and suffering. Michael had a weird expression on his face, and Jamie suddenly knew without a doubt that he had noticed.

“Fuck…” He felt his eyes widen in mortification. He had blown it. His heart was ripped out of its bony cage and flung on the ground between them, lying there, pulsing feebly, for Michael to see. Jamie had revealed everything, and shattered half a lifetime of closeness in one incredibly stupid moment.

He took a step back and turned away, hurried down the path. Michael’s voice was calling to him, but he closed his ears to it. There was the sound of feet on gravel and then Michael’s hand was grabbing Jamie’s collar.

“Let me go.”

“Wait, dammit! Ow…”

Jamie turned to see Michael bend down and grimace as he held his foot. No, I can’t stay and risk getting sucked in again. Jamie turned, and felt Michael’s hand grip his jacket from below. He fought, but Michael quickly stepped in front of him, crippling limp be damned, and blocked his escape. Those eyes…

“Please come upstairs.”

Only after a few seconds did Jamie understand. He froze, and his breath caught in his throat. He searched Michael’s face, so earnest.

“We’ll… have to be quiet, though. I mean…” Flustered, Michael hid his eyes with his hand. There was an eternity of silence, during which Jamie raced through a million thoughts and registered none. Then Michael touched his hand as if he was going to take it in his, but he didn’t. He just motioned towards the door, and Jamie followed, impossible not to.

They went up the stairs, and Jamie stepped through the door to Michael’s room, his arm in front of his body for protection, one hand caressing the other. Michael came in after him, closed the door. He hesitated with his hand on the key, as if he was about to turn it. Then he took his hand away without completing the motion.

“So how was it?”

“What?”

“The date.”

“Oh…” Jamie tried to compose his features, to gather his fraying wits. “Fine, I guess… why?”

“You don’t sound overwhelmed.”

Jamie shrugged. “As I said, it was okay. She tried to kiss me.” For some reason, he didn’t want to let on that he had kissed her back. That he had almost…

“Tried? You mean you didn’t let her?”

Jamie walked to Michael’s unmade bed and sat down, a hot blush searing his face. What kind of a guy was he, to reject the advances of a pretty girl like her? It was unheard of. Fumbling with his shoes in order not to look at his friend, he mumbled, “I don’t know how.”

Michael snorted a short laugh. “So?” At least he was smiling now. Not as distanced as he had been to begin with. Almost… happy? “You won’t know until you try.”

“I know…” Jamie sighed, leaned back against the wall and let his eyes wander around the room. His hands caressed the warm sheets without his even noticing, tracing the slender outline of its former inhabitant. “It’s just… I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” He was making this up as he went along, and it sounded good. He almost believed in it himself. “I wish I could, you know… practice a bit before…”

His voice trailed away and he fell silent. The air trembled with unspoken words. Michael breathed in, but didn’t say anything. Instead he came to sit beside Jamie on the bed, hugging himself in silence. The seconds went by.

“You know, best thing would be if we could practice on each other,” Jamie said with a contrived laugh. “That way we could both gain some proficiency without being laughed at!”

When he dared to look at Michael, his eyes were jet black. “I’d poke your eye out.”

Jamie was taken aback with the harshness of this remark. “S-sorry,” he stammered. “Didn’t mean to gross you out or anything…”

“No, wait, I just meant that… You know, with my nose.”

“Your nose?”

“It’s lethal,” Michael attempted to joke, but Jamie could tell that he was suddenly nervous. Did he guess the reality behind Jamie’s seemingly innocent words? “Because I don’t know how either, and my nose will be in the way, because I wouldn’t know where to… you know… it wouldn’t be pleasant. I’m not made for kissing.” He was babbling now, but didn’t seem able to check himself. “I guess that’s why I haven’t done it, it’s impossible…”

Jamie stopped him with an impatient gesture. “Let me be the judge of that.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Suddenly, it wasn’t a joke any longer. He had said it as if he meant it. He had said it as if he were planning to see it through. A shudder engulfed him where he sat, and he looked away, terrified. The silence was deepening, and he could hear Michael breathing, waiting for something, like the girl had waited, only for something else.

***

To be continued on The Novel Approach, April 1.