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Friday, September 23, 2011

Broken by Jessica Freely

What happens when the closeted younger brother of a mob boss falls for the boss's latest acquisition, a rent-boy from Hong Kong? Well that's what Broken, my new m/m romantic suspense is all about. Broken is available from Loose Id now:

Thank you for stopping by and helping me celebrate its release!

I'm very excited about this book and about the special events and activities I have going on in connection with it. I'm doing a virtual book tour , offering a behind the scenes peek at the making of Broken <>, and I've got a special treat for my newsletter members <>.

Please leave a comment to this post and you'll be entered to win a free copy of Broken. The winner will be announced at the end of the day.

Right now, though, I want to talk about something serious that's very close to my heart and to Belinda's: human trafficking. It's a tragic fact that slavery still exists. Human trafficking is considered to be a low-risk, high-profit crime and according to the United Nations, over twelve million people worldwide are bought and sold for forced labor and sexual exploitation. That's what's happened to Xiu, one of my main characters in Broken.

Fortunately, there's help available for those who, like Xiu, are caught up in the web of commerce and coercion that keeps human trafficking thriving. I want to introduce you to a wonderful organization called Polaris Project <> Founded in 2002 by two students at Brown University, it is now a leading nonprofit fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the U.S. and around the world. Charity Navigator has awarded Polaris Project with its highest ranking of four stars for three years in a row, acknowledging the organization's commitment to effectively utilizing donations.

Polaris Project takes a comprehensive approach to the problem of human trafficking by providing direct assistance to those in need and helping create systemic changes to combat the crime. They operate a national human trafficking hotline and work to pass federal and state legislation to protect trafficking victims and bring traffickers to justice. Here's a link to just one example of the many ways in which Polaris Project helps people get out of trafficking situations:

In recognition of all of the real-life "Xiu's" still struggling for freedom, it feels appropriate to me to donate a portion of my proceeds from Broken's sales to Polaris Project. So, for the first four months of sales, half of what I earn on Broken will be donated to this worthwhile organization.

Please spread the word about Polaris Project and its cause.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Friend the Slave: Forced Labor in America

This week, I have a new release at Changeling Press. Generally, I'd take this week to promote the book on my blog, but in conjunction with Jessica Freely, the author of "Broken," we're going to talk about a couple real-life subject that are very ugly and painful. As authors, its not unusual for topics such as slavery and the Yakuza to be used at plot devices. In real life, these things are not sexy or romantic, and they are too, too real.

Please come back on the 23rd for Jessica's article on human trafficking and the Polaris Project.

The story that follows is true.

I once had a friend named…well…I can’t tell you his name. There’s a reason for that, as you’ll see once you read his story. For his privacy and his safety, I’ll call him Ken Tanaka.

Ken came into my life in the late 1990s. He’d moved to the US from Japan to make a career as a dog breeder and handler. For simplicity, I’m going to leave a lot of detail from the story, just suffice it to say that he and his wife and newborn moved to a small town about an hour away from me. By Northern California standards, we were practically neighbors. Ken and I used to travel to dog shows together and he mentored me and often handled my dog for me. In return, I helped him and his wife adapt to life in a rural area; they’d been living in Japanese communities in the Bay Area.

9/11 was a momentous day for obvious reasons. For me, I also look back on that as being the day that I failed my friend in the most tragic way possible. As my family watched the horror unfolding on television, Ken called me in a panic. His marriage had fallen apart the previous year but he’d been coping. That day, he needed my help for some reason; I don’t really remember what it was. I was hugely distressed and told him to watch the TV and call me back the next day. He didn't call back for a few weeks. He had taken a job in Sacramento and wanted to know if I could come down and take care of his kennel when he was working.

His construction business in Japan had folded and he needed a job to send money to his partner back home. The business was in debt and they didn’t have recourse to bankruptcy like we do in the US. Plus, his Japanese clients had abandoned their dogs with him and weren’t paying their handling and boarding bills. This situation seemed bad, but we had no idea what was really happening in his life.

Ken used to tell me about growing up in Osaka. He told me that he was lucky to have escaped the Yakuza; he’d been orphaned as a teen and was a prime recruit. He had absolute, utter fear and contempt for the Yakuza and mentioned them a few times over the years. I assumed that as he’d grown up, that threat had left his life. I now suspect that I was very, very wrong.

Just before Christmas, I visited Ken. He lived in a small mobile home and when I got there, he had no heat. His propane had been shut off. To my dismay, he had a bucket of charcoal burning in his living room, that’s all that kept him from freezing. It was a miracle he hadn’t died of carbon monoxide poisoning. His van was gone and he was riding a bicycle 15 miles to town for dog food. He was living on broccoli and rice. I took him shopping, he wrote checks on empty accounts.

I called a friend for advice, and she secretly paid his utilities and got his heat back on. Since it was the holidays, we brought food baskets to him for Christmas. For awhile, it looked like we’d averted the worst of the possible disasters. What didn’t make sense was that Ken was a master sushi chef and working in Sacramento from early morning till 11:00 every night…six days a week. He was exhausted from his work hours, yet he was broke. His van was how was he getting back and forth? It was a 100 mile drive.

I want to pause here. Ken was in the US legally. He had a green card and a Social Security card. I assumed he knew his rights under the law. He had no idea.

So…if Ken was working 60 to 80 hours a week…why was he starving? Why were his dogs starving? And where was his van? When he was gone, I dug into his paperwork. His bills were all delinquent and there were stacks of correspondence from Japan. Most was in Japanese but there were letters in English as well. They were mostly from a business acquaintance I’ll call Mr. A. Over the course of the year, Ken had paid tens of thousands of dollars to this man. He’d settled his debt, and suddenly, Mr. A wanted more.

Abruptly, things got worse. He was moved to a restaurant in Vallejo. His “employers” drove him home once a week to tend his dogs. They dropped him off and returned for him later; I never met any of the men. In the meantime, either my sister or I went down daily, trying to keep things together for him. We found homes for the abandoned dogs and returned others to their breeders. We discovered that Ken hadn’t been paid in weeks. His home was being foreclosed on. His van had been repossessed by his lender.

Another friend reported his employers to the Dept. of Labor and Ken received his back wages. For a brief time, things looked better. He got his van back and caught up on some bills. Abruptly he was moved again. And again. Alameda, Pleasanton, Vacaville, back to Sacramento…I eventually lost track of him. Since his dogs had been re-homed, I no longer needed to take care of his kennel. I dropped in and checked his property anytime I passed through, but everything was locked up tight. There was evidence that Ken had been home now and then, as his plants had been watered and the weeds had been cut.

One day I got a call, he wasn’t going home again and I was welcome to take whatever I wanted. He just walked away from everything…his artwork, his furniture and his personal possessions.

Over the next couple years, Ken dropped in at dog shows and I was alarmed to see that this skinny, frail man had lost even more weight. He told me he’d been living in his van outside the restaurant, but wouldn’t tell me where. His employers held his green card and he was afraid of being deported. We discussed the feasibility of his returning to Japan, but that idea seemed frightening to Ken.

At one point, I called his work and the manager of the restaurant screamed at me and wouldn’t let me talk to him. Another time I saw him at a dog show, he said he was now living in a small rental house, but “someone” had stolen his most precious possession…a custom sushi knife that his mentor had commissioned for him from a famous Japanese knife maker. It was worth thousands of dollars. He’d cherished that knife and was saving it until he opened his own restaurant.

Ken promised to come out to another dog show, but I never saw him again. But every few months, I did web searches, trying to pinpoint his location. After a couple years, I nearly gave up, assuming he’d returned to Japan.

And then something unexpected happened.

Remember I said that Ken was a master sushi chef? Well, he’s a Master Sushi Chef. As in…famous within the industry. When he worked in Alameda, his cooking was reviewed by a major critic. Culinary students began pestering him for training. He vanished again, but his fans and admirers followed him to Oakland. A major movie producer hired him to cater some of his parties. He began to train apprentices. I knew him as a superb dog trainer and groomer. A lot more people knew him as something else completely. In the end, I think that’s what saved him.

When we think of human trafficking, we generally think of sex slavery and prostitution. Forced labor is another major element of this vile industry and some of the major culprits are restaurants. I had no idea this sort of thing happened so I didn’t respond as I should have. There were red flags all over the place. Ken’s “employers” controlled his movements, limited his contacts with outsiders, worked him ridiculously long hours, took his papers and blackmailed him with the threat of deportation. They didn’t pay him and moved him whenever he drew attention from the authorities, his friends or his growing circle of admirers. They even controlled his health, taking him to the doctor when he needed attention, and allowing him a single meal a day. He lost weight, became fearful and paranoid and yet always told me that there was “No Problem.”

I still haven’t caught up with Ken, but I have a pretty good idea where he is, and I’ve located a former student of his. My hope is that Ken became too high profile for his “employers” to continue to exploit. Next month, I’ll be taking a trip to see if I can track him down. I want to see him for myself.

Now when I look back, I strongly suspect that “Mr. A” was a member of the Yakuza. When Ken spoke of them, it was always with profound fear and contempt. He hated Mr. A. He could barely look at a tattoo without becoming ill. The transformation of my friend was nothing short of unbelievable. He’d been a confident, responsible man. He ran a business and had a big, supportive circle of friends and clients. Watching his downfall was painful in every respect. Sometimes I felt like I was holding onto him by my fingernails, yet he slipped away despite my efforts and the efforts of others. I felt…and I still feel that I should have tried a little harder. I should have ignored his fears of deportation and done something At that time, I literally didn’t know who could have helped. Who would have listened if I’d called the police in some small town and said, “I think my friend had been enslaved by the Yakuza...” Even now, it sounds like the plot to a bad manga.

Earlier this year, I spoke with Jessica about human trafficking and told her Ken’s story. And to my shame, it wasn’t until that conversation that I really began to put all the pieces together: The red flags, the illogical financial collapse, the fears he developed of deportation. So many years have passed. In March, the dog Ken showed for me passed away of old age. I go to shows and on occasion, people ask if I’ve heard from him lately. I ask others the same question. The answer is always no.

Now I’ll tell you the most heartbreaking coincidence of all—this past year, I’ve been within a quarter-mile of the restaurant he now reportedly works in. Twice, I was just blocks away from him, and didn’t know it.

Sometimes the guilt hits me hard, but I’m just a person…I don’t live in a world where people market other people like animals. But it happens, and we can all do something about it. Visit the Project Polaris website, learn the signs and then just watch the world around you. My hope is that Ken has climbed out of this pit he’d fallen into. The last time I saw him, I told Ken that my daughter had become a chef, and he wanted to train her in sushi. I can’t help but think if things were still terrible, he wouldn’t have extended that invitation. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll know for sure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Upcoming Release: FCM: Come, Go With Me

Come, Go With Me releases September 22/23 at Changeling Press! This one's a m/m romance between a middle-aged surfer and the Hawaiian demi-god that he loved and lost. Oddly enough, the book was inspired by the spritely Beach Boys song of the same title. While the song is upbeat, the lyrics are really quite sweet and winsome:

Love, love me darlin'
Come and go with me,
Please don't send me
'way beyond the sea;
I need you, darlin',
So come go with me.

Come, come, come, come,
Come into my heart,
Tell me, darlin',
We will never part;
I need you, darlin',
So come go with me.

Yes, I need you,
Yes, I really need you,
Please say you'll never leave me.
Well, say, you never,
Yes, you really never,
You never give me a chance.

Come, come, come, come,
Come into my heart,
Tell me, darlin',
We will never part;
I need you, darlin',
So come go with me.


One impossible night, two young men made love in a magical Caribbean bay, only to be separated by a violent storm. Decades later Dave Riley still remembers and grieves for a love long lost. Forever drawn to the ocean, he never stops looking for the boy named Kai.

Kai is the descendant of a powerful Polynesian deity. His nomadic life was disrupted when he became infatuated by a young human... one who slipped through his fingers and into the darkness of a tropical storm. He should have been able to move on, but Kai's heart is no longer free.

A good deed and some well-intentioned magic reunite the couple. After so many years apart, can an aging surfer and an immortal demi-god find anything other than heartbreak?


He locked the shop door and stepped out into the storm. The wind caught his hair, so Riley scraped it back, pulling the top half into a ponytail. He cast a critical eye out to the ocean. This storm hadn’t shown up on the weather reports, but would most likely blow itself out without too much havoc. The breeze was warm and damp and fine misty rain whirled through the air, caressing his cheeks. Days like this reminded him of other times and places. He took a deep breath and smiled. There was no point in grabbing an umbrella or covering his head, the wind made certain that he was damp from head to toe.

Riley started down the sidewalk; his condo was just a few blocks away from work. Over the past few years, his world had narrowed. Once his father passed, he’d taken the insurance money from the Melody and had taken over the shop, converting it from fishing and tackle to watersports and surf wear. It’d been years since he’d been sailing. He moved in a predictable pattern: from home to the beach, then on to work. Afterward, he’d hang at a local bar or go on a date with a pretty tourist. Then on home, or sometimes to a blanket somewhere on the beach.

Lately though, the girls had become women and the beach blankets had given way to upscale hotel rooms. Frankly, it surprised him that the women were still interested. He wouldn’t be seeing the sunny side of forty again. He wondered what they were looking for when they looked at him. Freedom? A carefree life in Paradise? The idea made him smile; his live was pretty much without care. No one really cared for Dave Riley.

He hopped a curb and quickly crossed the street, catching the appreciative gaze of a pair of college-age girls. They smiled and paused to talk to him, but Riley kept walking. It wasn’t till he caught sight of the young, blond surfer that he stopped. The man had blond hair kissed by the sun. His smiling face was unlined; his body was taut and muscular. When Riley stopped, the surfer stopped too. He stood, gazing at his reflection, watching it slowly age until middle-aged Riley looked back at him.


He looked around at the nearly empty street. There must be magic in the air. Either that, or Kimber had slipped something into his coffee.

A neon light flickered behind him and he turned, blinking in surprise. Had that bar been there before? The Final Cut was all weathered wood and neon on a street of plaster and palms. It was both quaint and upscale. He looked at the businesses that surrounded it; he’d spent hours in the bookshop next door. The hair salon on the other side was familiar as well. Curious, he crossed the street, wetting his feet in shallow puddles. His deck shoes squeaked with water.

Under New Ownership.

Well damn. He’d seen this place before, but was certain it was in another part of town, not down here by his shop. He gripped the brass handle and pulled the door. It stuck for a moment and then gave way. The cool air escaped with a sigh, chilling his face.

He stepped in.

It wasn’t unusual in any way. There were a few televisions mounted on the walls, sporting events playing on them. Oddly, the patrons didn’t seem to be paying attention to the televisions. They sat at the tables in clusters, or occasionally alone. He actually heard the murmur of conversation over the volume of the TV sets. A parrot squawked. He glanced at the bar, seeing the colorful bird and a bald man the size of a wall. The big bald guy lounged at the bar, dwarfing the stool he sat on. He carefully watched the room through dark glasses. When he looked directly at Riley, the image of a massive bear formed in his imagination. His skin prickled and Riley moved further into the bar.

He took a chair at an empty table, picking up the menu and scanning the room over the edge of the laminated page. Everything looked normal, but the atmosphere of the place made him a bit breathless. He glanced up as the waitress arrived at his table. He swallowed at the vision of beauty she made.

“I’ll have a Sierra…”

She set a napkin and a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on his table and walked away.

“… uh… I’ll have that…” He turned in his seat, watching her walk away. He sighed deeply and lifted the bottle to his mouth.

From where he sat, he had a good view of the room as well as the doorway. He lingered over his beer, and just as he finished, the dark-haired waitress brought another. He made a point of looking up, and when he saw the lovely features, he coughed. She was a he -- and a lovely he at that! His shoulder length hair hung in a ponytail, and his pouty lips gleamed as though they'd been glossed. A short apron covered his shorts, and when he walked away, his ass swayed provocatively. Riley grinned. He was exactly his type of woman, but not at all his type of man.

It didn’t matter. He’d still leave a hefty tip.

Right as it registered that he was growing hungry, his sexbomb server brought a plate of sliders and another beer. Riley chuckled and started in on his food, watching the other patrons as he ate. There were a couple familiar faces here and there, but mostly, it just looked like a normal neighborhood bar. There was a beautiful woman in the corner, turning over cards in an elaborate tarot display. Her white clothing gleamed against her dark skin. A pair of rough looking men leaned over their table, talking quietly. At another table, a couple sat, clearly flirting. The man picked up the woman’s hand, running his lips over her wrist.

Vampires and shifters and Fae, oh my!

He laughed at himself. OK, so Coco and her man were not your run of the mill people. Same for Genie, and even Kimber. But vamps? No way.

Nevertheless, he’d be getting out of this place before it got fully dark. Those two looked hungry.

He finished his food and then looked out the window facing the ocean. Sunset was rapidly approaching, and the water looked grey and angry. In the distance, lightning forked through the sky. No doubt there were still a few die-hards out there, making the most of the weather. Once upon a time, he’d have been one of them.

He smiled, shook his head and looked around for his server. It was time to go. To his surprise, the lovely creature was nowhere in sight. Odd, since he’d anticipated every one of Riley’s requests long before they came. He stood and dug out his wallet, pulling a pair of twenties out. Before the cash was out of his wallet, wind whipped through the room. He looked up, expecting to see the front door open, but nobody was there. That’s when he remembered…

The bar had no windows.

He sat back down… hard.