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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Supersize Me! (or: Whatever Happened to 'Less is More?')

There was a tradition in Greek Theatre that violence almost always took place offstage. If a character was murdered, he or she left the stage, the act took place as the audience listened to the screams of the victim, and then a messenger character returned with a gory mask (actors all wore masks) and the hair-raising tale of the character's demise.

Some scholars believe this tradition rose due to the limitations of the time. There were a limited number of actors, thus, it didn't make sense to kill off an actor when he was needed for another role. (I find this unconvincing, since indeed, all actors wore masks.) Another explanation is that they lacked the technical skills and special effects to pull off a really good scene of violence. Again, that really doesn't hold water with me. Its more likely that the Greek playwrights were fully aware that a well-crafted story and the suggestion of horror was more effective than the graphic, in-your-face violence and sex of later Roman theatre.

Like the Romans, today's western audience wants it bigger, badder, and more realistic. Thankfully, we haven't yet resorted to carrying out executions on screen for the edification of the movie-goer. We seem to want to see the pins gouging out the eyes, the woman raped with nightmarish brutality, or the splatter of blood drifting toward the camera in graceful slow motion. Like your favorite meal at a fast food restaurant, if a little is good, a lot must be better.

Unfortunately, I've seen this trend in romantic fiction as well. Tortured heroes are...tortured. Literally. Characters with backgrounds of abuse are forced to play out the horror of their past in loving detail over and over again. Authors seem to want to throw in the blood, anguish and outrage by the shovelful, which eventually loses its ability to move the reader emotionally. As children, characters are raped, molested, maimed and otherwise abused. Their bodies and minds are scarred, which gives foundation to later conflict in the story. Emotional threads in stories are reduced to the lowest common denominator. That's ok, but do we really have to watch?

Greek drama strove to produce an emotional catharsis in the viewer. A well crafted novel or play has the ability to drag the reader along, inspiring fear, dread and grief for the characters without the use of cheap tricks and excessive gore. The audience could only watch helplessly as Oedipus moves relentlessly toward his tragic fate, or as Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to summon the winds to Troy. Read the Grapes of Wrath, and write down how you feel upon finishing the book. Watch Steven Chow's HK comedy King of Beggers. You'll find yourself laughing, and then crying, and then laughing again.

In Blacque/Bleu, Oliver Bleu has a truly horrific past. He was a soldier in the trenches of WWI and I could honestly have dedicated chapters to his suffering. In his present, he's dying and is unable to prevent that slow degenerative process. He can only watch with grim acceptance as his body breaks down. He boils the process down to a single line of poetry by Yeats: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." As an author, I decided to let his scars tell the story of his pain. When he shares the story of his past, he does so briefly. We hear of the phrase, 'show, don't tell.' I was trying to show Bleu's suffering rather than tell the story of it.

In some ways, Bleu was modeled off my own grandfather, who was of that generation. When he told the story of a horrifying fall on a dam construction accident, he simply said, "I slipped off a ladder and busted my leg." He'd show his scarred leg, and my stomach would twist in sympathy. His understatement was much more effective than a blow-by-blow recounting of the event. Grandpa's family contracted the flu during the 1918 pandemic. His brother was brain damaged by the fever, another brother didn't survive. When grandpa recalled his illness, he'd smile, run his hand over his balding head and say, "Yeah, I think the fever caused my hair to fall out." He was a man of few words, yet his words had impact.

As a writer, that's what I'm striving for. In college, when I was working on a history paper, I often found myself padding my sentences, stretching the paragraph to increase the word count. Now I look at a manuscript and search for what needs to go. Take the angst, boil it down to its essence. Temper the tragedy with comedy. Let the character show the story through her actions and words. A single well-crafted sentence can sometimes say more than pages of overwrought chest-beating.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blacque/Blue, Chapter One


Lukas Blacque is a deeply closeted werewolf, and more than almost anything in life, he desires his neighbor, Oliver Bleu. Oliver is a vampire who is slowly dying from insomnia. More than anything, he needs Lukas Blacque and the rich blood that flows through his veins.

On the day that Blacque makes an important commitment to his family and pack, he succumbs to temptation and spends a passionate weekend with the alluring vampire. At sunset on Friday, it’s all about urgent lust and the drive to lose his virginity. When the sun rises on Monday, lust has shifted to love and devotion. Will he be able to walk away? Will Bleu let him go?

In Blacque’s world, vampires and werewolves make uneasy bedfellows, and a gay werewolf is an impossibility. In Bleu’s world, all living creatures are little more than vessels for food and sex. But in the mysterious and magical town of Arcada, rules are broken and the unexpected is always waiting right around the corner. Can Blacque and Bleu survive long enough for Arcada’s magic to work for them?


Chapter One

Oliver Bleu was locked in paralysis. He could only watch and listen as the chaos of war swirled around the muddy grave in which he was trapped. Blisters rose on his skin in spots where the mustard gas had settled. His lungs closed off and filled with foul, viscous fluid… He couldn’t breathe… A beautiful, hateful face gazed down at him, fangs distended, cruelty displacing love…

With a choked cry, he woke from the nightmare, still frozen in place, but instead of horrified screams and the roar of artillery fire, he heard the muffled sound of a man’s deep voice and the haunting melody of southern rock on the radio. Lynyrd Skynyrd soothed him with “Free Bird” as the burns on his face faded and the blisters were absorbed back into his skin. He took a chance and drew breath, pleased when he didn’t choke.

The dream had released him, but Bleu was still trapped, held immobile by the presence of the sun. His limbs were heavy, and the mattress under his back felt rough and lumpy. He labored through another heavy breath and sighed, just for the sake of hearing something other than the fading sound of battle in his ears.

He didn’t have the refined sense of time some vampires possessed. He only knew the sun was still up and that he was awake and aware, though weary. He wondered how many more hours it would be until he could rise and return to the night. He wondered how much longer he had until fatigue crippled him and he starved or fell victim to a bigger, stronger predator.

If he could have laughed, he would have. Oliver Bleu was undoubtedly the only vampire on the face of the earth who suffered from chronic insomnia.

Resigning himself to the long day ahead, he closed his eyes, focusing on the sounds of the day outside his resting place.

* * * * *

For whatever reason, the muddy, greasy undercarriage of the battered Studebaker held a lot more appeal to Lukas Blacque than the flashing light on his answering machine. He’d listened to the voice on the other end of the line and then cranked up the radio before pushing himself under the car on a rickety old creeper. He knew who was calling. He simply didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

Since he’d been a kid, cars had been his solace. He’d tagged along with his grandpa to auto shows, and then in high school had escaped from the drama of daily life in the shelter of the auto shop. His reputation as a tough had been hard earned even then. It had bought him distance from the cheerleaders and the jocks who wanted to be his friends. It had kept him safe from the curiosity of the kids in the new high school in the town he had moved to. He played sports because he loved to, but didn’t necessarily cherish being dragged into the limelight at every pep rally and homecoming dance.

He’d done his duty and gone on to college to earn his business degree. He’d come home to Arcada and surprised everyone by buying old man Foster’s garage, located in a small industrial park. Blacque had followed his dream and now made a modest living bringing old cars and trucks back to the artistic beauty of their prime.

He hummed along to an old Allman Brothers song as he worked before cursing briefly as chunks of mud and rust flaked away, showering his face with grit. In all, he was in his happy place, working on his own terms and on his own time. Could you see a tattooed, pierced guy like him in a nine-to-five office? Not likely. Mated, with kids? Even less so. And what his old man was proposing in the numerous voice mails he’d left lately? No fucking way. He’d heard enough to know he didn’t want to hear more.

He groped for a tool, taking pleasure in working on something simple. This old lady was his, the project car of his dreams. His days were spent with sleek new cars that ran on electronics and computer chips. You pushed a button to raise the window, and another button engaged the locks. If something went screwy, it took an advanced degree in technology to figure out the problem. But this old Studebaker was all simple elegance and efficiency.

When he finished her, he’d send her out for new paint and upholstery. He’d seen the work that Bleu next door was capable of; maybe he could talk his neighbor into doing custom leather seats. That is, if he was still around. Every time he saw the vamp, the poor guy looked sicker. He wondered if vampires were inclined to contracting some sort of blood-borne virus or something, ’cause hot as the man might be, he was looking pretty ragged these days. He’d been a sight to behold when he’d first opened his shop a few years ago. He was still sexy in his heroin-chic way. These days he had a drawn, elegant beauty that tugged at Blacque’s protective nature. He doubted the aristocratic vamp would welcome a big wolf like himself as a guardian. But he kept an eye on the man when he could, worried about him when he couldn’t. He figured one of these days Bleu simply wouldn’t wake when the sun went down. It would be a damn pity.

Maybe when he lay down in his coffin at night, his cheeks were flushed with blood. Blacque usually saw him at dusk, just as the sun was setting. Of course, that would be the start of Bleu’s day. Blacque was never at his best in the morning either. Maybe once Bleu fed, he returned to the glossy picture of health he’d been a few years back.

The player switched to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Blacque kept his groove, carefully examining the exhaust system of the car. He heard the shop door swing open but ignored it. He had flipped the sign over to CLOSED. He was on his own time now.

Footsteps echoed through the bay, and he cursed softly, remembering that Davey had gone home at five. There was no line of defense between Blacque and whoever was intruding into his world. And thoughts of Bleu had taken their usual effect on his body -- he was hard as a rod inside his old, worn jeans.

He glanced toward his feet and saw slender legs in a pair of bright red fuck-me heels. He imagined long legs that went on for a mile and most likely were revealed by an exquisitely made skirt that seemed to show everything but in reality showed nothing at all.

He sighed.

One red-clad foot nudged his.

“Hey, sexy. Come on out and play.” Her voice was smooth as fine whiskey, low pitched, and seductive. Blacque rolled his eyes.

“Hey, Dru. Gimme a sec.”

Drusilla. What had their mother been thinking when she filled out the birth certificate? Drusilla Blacque sounded like a damn pretentious TV vampire, not a werewolf.

Digging in with his battered work boots, he then slid the creeper out from under the car and sat up, looking as if he’d been showered with grit. He grinned as his sister hopped back. She wouldn’t want to get her pretty suit all dirty.

“So.” She stood back, hands on her hips, her head cocked to the side. “This is what you do for fun?”

“After hours. Project car.” Blacque scrambled to his feet and headed for a workbench to dip his hand into a tin of degreaser. He smeared the stuff over his fingers and nails, blatantly ignoring Dru as she waited impatiently.

He finally wiped his hands on a red rag and turned to face his sister. He imagined they made an interesting contrast -- Dru in her neat black suit and he in his dirty jeans and sleeveless work shirt. Her thick black hair was neatly coiled into some sort of elegant bun, while he kept his hair shaved close to the scalp. He looked her over slowly.

“Can’t believe they let you teach school dressed like that.”

She raised an arched black brow at him. “What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”

He snorted. She knew damn well what she looked like. No doubt she had hordes of horny teenage boys tied up in knots on a daily basis.

“And I don’t teach anymore. I’m the high school vice principal now.”

“I knew that.” And he did. He’d even sent her a little bouquet of flowers when she got the job. He had to wonder if she kept a neat black cane hidden under her desk. She probably had volunteers lining up to take their punishment.

Blacque leaned back against the old car, propping his ass on the hood. Outside the vapor lights had come on in the parking lot. He hadn’t realized it was so late. Bleu should be up and stirring soon. He didn’t see him much these days.

“So, are we supposed to do something tonight?” He frowned, trying to remember if he’d missed an appointment.

“You got Dad’s calls? He said he’s just getting your voice mail.”

“I got the alpha’s calls.” He pushed off the car and headed to his little office. “I’m busy. Business is good. Can’t take every personal call that comes in.” Blacque dropped into the ancient chair in front of his computer. He winced at the Mail icon on the toolbar. The old man was determined, wasn’t he? Blacque glanced up at his sister, and he knew by the look on her face that he didn’t want to hear what she had to say. He leaned back in the chair and propped a booted foot on the scarred surface of the desk.

“If you had come to the meeting on Sunday night, you’d have an idea what’s so important.”

She brushed off the chair across the desk from him and sat. Outside the stereo switched to Willie Nelson. Automatically his mind reached for the music, letting it lull him just the tiniest bit. His sister looked damn relaxed, crossing one long leg over the other.

“Okay, Dru. I’m braced. What’s so damn important that the alpha is calling me a dozen times a day?”

“Our father has decided to drop restrictions on breeding for the next few seasons. That’s what’s so damn important, Lukas. He’s decided we need fresh swimmers in the gene pool.”

Blacque snorted. It was about time. His father had been dropping pups into the community like confetti for a couple of decades now. Their birth certificates might read father unknown, but he claimed every one of his offspring. Not a one could complain that Dane Blacque ignored his children.

“Well, we’re off the hook. The two of us are hardly fresh blood.”

“Don’t get your hopes up. Or are you disappointed? All the other males are practically humping air, they’re so excited.”

He put his hands behind his head and studied the ceiling, where a cobweb waved in the breeze. He’d have to knock it down when she left.

“Never really thought about having kids before.”

“Well start thinking, Sparky. Dad wants grandkids. Specifically, he wants your grandkids. And mine.” She added the latter as though it were an afterthought, prompting Blacque to look at her. She sounded resigned and doleful.

Blacque dropped his feet and leaned forward. He’d been right; her face was a bit downcast. She didn’t look happy. He knew why he wasn’t interested in the whole circus, but what was up with his sister?

“Again. You and I are his direct offspring. If he wants fresh blood, there are other males out there.”

Dru met his gaze. “Our mother was an outsider. That’s where the fresh blood comes in.”

“Fuck,” he whispered, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Dru folded her arms, glaring at Blacque. “I don’t know why you’re upset. All you’ve got to do is poke a few women and make babies. You can walk away. I, on the other hand, get to look forward to morning sickness and nine months of bloat, followed by a couple of decades of dependents on my tax form.”

“Damn. I think you’re a bit upset by this.” He did his best to hide his smile. It was rare to see Drusilla this distressed about anything. She was the ultimate crisis manager.

She stood, tried to pace, but the office was too small. She dropped back into her chair and clenched her fists. “Damn straight I’m upset!”

“You gonna do it?” He was curious how far her rebellion would run. Dru had always maintained a warm relationship with their father. She rarely bucked his authority. Blacque, on the other hand, had always tried to keep his distance. The old man saw far too much. He was far too perfect compared to his eldest son. Dane Blacque was everything an alpha werewolf should be and then some. Blacque? Well, he’d never measure up. And it pissed him off that he felt that way. He pulled himself away from his thoughts and focused on his sister.

“I have a good career, Lukas. I’ve been accepted into a doctoral program in education. My new position pays well. But… I suppose…”

“What’ll the school board think when you put in for maternity leave?”

She shot to her feet again. “Shit! Damn! I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Well, lots of women have babies without fathers these days. I’m sure the board will be perfectly understanding.” As he watched his sister fuming over her situation, Blacque had to congratulate himself for turning the conversation around so smoothly. He loved his sister and trusted her to a degree. But even the most tolerant among the pack would have difficulty with the sort of secret Blacque had carried all his life.

Fluid sexuality wasn’t uncommon among their kind -- males paired up for brief encounters, and females frequently had intense, passionate relationships. But in all his life, Blacque had never encountered another like himself. So, much as he loved her, he could never tell his sister he was gay.

That would just be stupid.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blacque/Bleu cover art!

Opening the file with new cover art is always like Christmas morning! This beautiful cover is by Anne Cain. Blacque/Bleu releases on October 12 in celebration of Coming Out Day.