News, Publishing

Box Jumps Make Me Cry

I swear this does relate to writing. No, really. I promise. Just stick with me here.

box-jumps<–You see this? This, right here, has become a tool of torture. The CrossFit box. Evil, evil, horrid thing. This assemblage of wood has become the bane of my existence, and a metaphor for my entire life right now.

When I first joined the local CrossFit gym back in February (CFPR Family ftw!), I was watching all these amazing athletes jumping up onto boxes, utterly fascinated and envious that they could do such a thing. At the time, I was a total exercise newbie and lacked the strength, coordination, and confidence to try this whole jumping-up-onto-a-box thing, and was firmly stuck in Step-Up Land. Then, one day, I finally managed a box jump. Just a 12″ tall box, but I was stoked. I’d done it. I’d done a box jump.

After that, I LOVED box jumps. They were fun. Exciting. I could do them! Soon, I was adding weight plates on top of that little 12″ box, doing a little bit higher jump, and then a little bit higher. One day, I was going to finally Rx that thing, I could feel it.

Then, it all came crashing down. Almost literally. We were doing burpee box jumps, and partway through the workout, I got so tired that I kept slipping every time I tried to jump. After that, my confidence tanked, and I couldn’t fathom ever getting 15″ off the ground again.

Why? I’d done this. Lots of times. I knew I could do it. But suddenly I couldn’t. I got so pissed off at myself that I punched the wall and almost quit the workout. As it was, my workout time was pathetic because I kept having to walk it off between jumps, just to get my head back in the game.

A few days later, I was determined to get back on the horse, and stayed late after a workout to try the dreaded box jumps again. I jumped and jumped and jumped, and ultimately managed to work my way up to 18″. I was stoked! Only problem was, there was no time pressure. So once there was, once box jumps came up again in a scheduled workout, I froze. I couldn’t do it again. I stared at that damned box and just. Couldn’t. Jump.

Now, any time box jumps show up on a posted workout, I freak. I try to psych myself up for it, and it doesn’t work. I even tried modifying back down to a 12″ box, and couldn’t even do that. 12″! That’s barely a hop off the ground. But my head kept telling me it was impossible. So I keep giving up and walking out.

It doesn’t help that my mental state is not brilliant right now, and my attitude toward box jumps is pretty much my attitude to my whole life at the moment.

In the process of selling my house so that I can afford to leave my day job and try to be a full-time writer, the excitement is tapering off and the reality is setting in. I’m actually going to have to leave my house. Logically, I knew that, but now it’s becoming real, instead of just a plan. I’m going to have to leave this home that I made for myself, and try to find that same sense of home and sanctuary elsewhere.

This house got me through the roughest time of my life. It was my escape from the world, my sanctuary, the place I could run away to when things got to be too much. It was the thing I needed while I was dealing with my parents divorcing, getting used to having a stepmother, and of course going through all the mental trauma of having been raped. Tied to the latter, it was also the place where I started writing. It was in that second bedroom, on my little, rickety student desk, that I opened up my laptop and started writing out the most vivid of my rape memories just to get it out of my head. That one scene turned into a novel, which turned into three novels, which turned into…

Well, now it’s spun entirely out of control, and I have more novel ideas in my head than I know what to do with, and it gave me something I’m passionate about and want to do with my life — something I was sorely lacking all through my school days.

And I’m giving up this house just so I can leave my job (that is how badly I hate my work).

But now that it’s real, now that it’s actually happening, now that my house is in escrow and I have the next few weeks to find an apartment and pack up and move and try to get used to a new space, I feel stuck.

I’ve done box jumps, but now I feel like I can’t do them.

I’ve done apartment living, but now it feels impossible.

I’ve done moving, but now it seems like too much to handle.

And I’ve done writing. Lots and lots of writing. But, right now, I can’t write a thing. At all. It just won’t come. And there are days when I feel like I might never write again.

I know that’s not true. Reason tells me that once I’m moved and settled in, I’ll get into a routine and a new comfort zone, and once the day job is behind me, I’ll have a clear head with which to write. I know that there’s just so much else going on right now that my brain doesn’t have much room for writing. I know all that. But I still have this dreaded sense that I’ll never write again.

Just like I have this dreaded sense that I won’t find home again.

Just like I have this sense I’ll never do a box jump again.

News, Publishing

Going Galt (Sort Of)

Well, it only took me ten years, but I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally started the ball rolling that will get me away from my day job so that I can be…

Yep. A FULL TIME WRITER.

Oh my gods. Holy shit. This is officially the scariest thing I’ve ever done, you just don’t even know. But will it be worth it? Abso-fucking-lutely.

See, I’m one of those people who is so comfortable in the familiar that it becomes a ball and chain, stopping me from going after what I really want because it would mean saying goodbye to safety and familiarity and embracing risk. That’s why I’ve been at my day job for over 16 years now, and spent the past 10 years trying to find the balls to leave, but wound up chickening out each time I tried.

At first, before I had writing, I couldn’t make myself leave because it would mean trying to get another job. That’s something I’ve never had to do. How pathetic is that? Both jobs I’ve ever had were handed to me. The first was a case of: “Hey, you’re 17 now, time for some life experience. Go work part-time for the family business.” Aaaaaand 16 years later, I’m still here. The other job was simply: “Hey, you’re a good, reliable worker. Come work for us.” That job only lasted a year, and I was still at my other job the whole time, as well, but it didn’t teach me anything about how to get a job.

Thirty-three years old and I have no idea how to apply for a job, how to interview, how to submit a resume. I’ve just never had to do it.

But once I had writing to give me the sort of life fulfillment that my day job never did, I kept thinking it would be wonderful to get to the point that I was selling enough books every year to cover my expenses so I could afford to leave my job. I’m nowhere near that, and may never be, so I thought I was stuck here. Forever.

Not that it’s a bad job, per se. It’s a familiar place, with good people, and the conditions are nice, but…

Oh, but.

I’m a major introvert, and have a high sensitivity to sensory input, so working 10 hours straight, 6 days a week, in an environment where there is lots of noise and people’s voices and phones ringing and so much busyness that it’s often hard to get a bathroom or lunch break…

Let’s just say: major brain overload.

After dealing with that all day — and especially now, when the general public think it’s acceptable to treat customer service people like slaves — I’d get home and just do NOTHING because I was completely out of batteries. I’d lock the door, close the curtains, shut off my phone, and pretend the world didn’t exist for a couple hours.

It wasn’t enough.

It’s finally gotten to the point that I’m having a hard time being pleasant to customers. I caught myself almost mouthing off to one, which was so not cool. I finally hit the breaking point that made me realize I simply can’t do this job anymore. Besides that, I want my father to be my father and not my boss. I feel like I’ve lost my father in a way because he’s my boss for so many hours during the week that I have no energy left on the weekend to interact with him, let alone the rest of my family.

And when I really started thinking about it, I realized: if I were to die tomorrow, I’d feel like my life was a waste.

Going along, day after day, in a job I hate, and only staying because it’s safe and familiar…what kind of life is that?

So, after a whole lot of brainstorming, I figured out how to finally afford to leave my day job. It may be temporary, and I may completely fail, but I have to try. There’s no two ways about it. I have to try, just to say I tried. I have to at least attempt to pursue my dream of a writing career, and not having to be at the office every day will certainly go a long way to helping that.

Not having to get up at 5 every morning? Not having to sit at a desk all day and be bombarded with ringing phones and chatty people? Not having to miss meals and skip bathroom breaks because the phones won’t stop ringing and people insist on me dropping everything to research a repair estimate for them right this minute? Not having to go home each night exhausted to the point that I have no social life and never get to have free time to do anything other than chores on the weekends?

WHERE. DO. I. SIGN. UP.

So, *knock on wood*, plans are in place. Between selling my house and training a replacement for my job, I’ve got my work cut out for me over the next few (?) months, which means I’m getting no writing done in the meantime, but once it’s all said and done? Once I’ve got a financial buffer under me and no office hours to keep?

Writing all day? Being able to have a life? Being technically unemployed yet able to call myself (for a little while, at least) a full-time writer? HELL. YES.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

What Matters Most

So, a funny thing happened on the way to this post. I was all geared up to go into some serious ranting. So much ranting. All the ranting. I had a whole list of people who needed to be eviscerated in print and I was ready to rip into them.

From the guy who got pissed at me because I couldn’t tell him why another business across town wasn’t answering their phones (Seriously? Am I fucking omniscient?) to the SJW morons who don’t know a thing about economics (Hello? Supply and Demand is called a law for a reason, and do you know what happens when you mess with natural laws? That’s right. Bad stuff.), from the woman who let her children run rampant around my office while I was trying to answer the phones and couldn’t hear a damned thing (Discipline, anyone?) to images.duckduckgo.comthe people who get pissed at me for not wanting to work late or on the weekend even after I’ve told them I’ve already been stuck in the office over 60 hours this week and I’m exhausted and can no longer think straight (Apparently I’m supposed to be a robot just because I work in customer service?), from the guy who threw a fit because we charged him for a service he agreed to, signed for, and we performed while he proceeded to tell us we were thieves and must be raking in the dough (What part of “We actually lose money on this service” did he honestly not understand?) to the guy at the parts store who had no fucking clue how to do his job and I wound up doing it for him over the phone (Seriously, what are they teaching kids these days? Nothing?), from the people who assume I’m a Democrat just because I’m trans to the people who assume I’m a Republican just because I shootback gadsend flagpractically run a small business in a conservative town (Actually, if you want to know, I’m neither. I’m anarcho-capitalist, the best of both worlds. I’m more economically conservative than the conservatives and more socially liberal than the liberals.), from…

Well, you get the idea.

Lots of people. So many people. I had a whole list of people who were two second away from getting punched in the dick. Possibly even myself (even though I don’t have one…yet) because all the noise and stupidity of the day had gone well beyond the limits of my high sensitivity (yes, apparently, it’s a thing – complete mental overload, and boy have I got it) and I was quickly turning into an asshole. Hence, the desire to punch dicks.

So violent, right? Like, so much violence. All the violence. There was going to be blood. So much blood. All the blood.

Alright, so maybe I’ve been reading a bit too much TJ Klune lately…

Anyway, moving along.

So I was in a fully misanthropic state of mind, ready to go on a rage-blind rant, because my life, when I got a phone call.

Let me back up a bit, first.

A few months ago, the outside sales rep for one of our suppliers came in for one of his usual visits. He brought along a representative from one of their manufacturers. This representative (read: Completely Stereotypical Salesman) proceeded to give his little presentation, all the while spewing obligatory compliments and flashing cheesy grins like any Completely Stereotypical Salesman would do. Since I have a little ad propped up on the counter for my first book, BookCoverImageThe Prisoner, he of course had to filter into his sales pitch some gushing remarks about how wonderful it was that I was a writer and self-published and how proud I ought to be of myself. I’ve had lots of salesmen behave exactly like this when they come into the shop, and it always falls flat. No matter how much they gush, it’s obvious they don’t mean a word of it. So I did the polite smile-and-nod thing like I always do in this situation, just knowing he was spewing bullshit (shows what I know), and the conversation went on.

At the end, just as he’s about to walk out the door, he turns back and pulls out his wallet, saying he wants to support a budding author and buy my book.

Now, I was pretty sure he wasn’t actually going to read it, but…hells, a sale is a sale, so I sold him a book and he left.

Then, yesterday, completely out of the blue, I get a phone call.

You probably don’t remember me, but I was in there with Larry…bought your book…finally got a chance to read it…”

I was just starting to get a vague memory of who the guy was when he completely bowled me over.

I just…wow. This book … It’s absolutely amazing. Like, I couldn’t put it down. I just totally got all the relationships between the characters and the tragedy of the guy feeling like he failed his son and how the woman died and it all just worked and…”

Jaw, meet floor.

Please tell me there’s another book out because I have to have more.”

Jaw now permanently married to floor.

The phone call left me giddy and grinning and, quite frankly, a little bit stunned.

And it made me realize a few things.

One, I did exactly what I accuse so many other people of doing: categorizing a person into a particular box just because of a particular trait. I should have known better, and I was wrong.

Two, all that ranting stuff, in the long run, doesn’t really matter. Yeah, stupidity and ignorance and rudeness pisses me off, but life is too damned short to be angry. Why let myself get sucked into those moments when I’ve got moments like this to revel in? Why let myself get mired in despair over the fact that this country is never going to be free and people as a whole are never going to understand how things work (though I keep trying to educate them even when I know better), when I could be enjoying what life I have while I have it? Why dwell on all the negative when I’ve got so much beauty in my life because of fiction?

Three, it made me remember just how great a story The Prisoner is. Not trying to be an egomaniac when I say that, but just reflecting the reactions to it that I’ve gotten over the past year since its release. The response to it, though small so far, has been overwhelming in its intensity. People who read the story call me at work to tell me how much the book meant to them, how great the story was, how much they want more. And it reminds me just how much I loved that story, how much I enjoyed writing it, how many emotions it invoked as I wrote it. The Prisoner is a great story, and I’d forgotten that.

I think I’ve pushed myself so intently on always getting to the next step, the next book, that I’ve lost track of the depth of feeling I originally experienced when I started the series. I got that back somewhat with the Matchmakers trilogy, even if those books did get me completely off-track, but when I try to think of continuing the Shifting Isles series, I get bored, to be honest. I’d lost my love of the series because I’d lost track of the beauty of the stories that I first clung to when the series started.

MatchmakersThat probably has a lot to do with why I got so far off my writing schedule when the idea for Matchmakers came along. The stories in Matchmakers just called to me in a way that the main Shifting Isles series no longer was, because I’d lost touch with the feeling that The Prisoner gave me, the feeling that carried me through to S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (S.I. Book 2) and Return to Tanas (S.I. Book 3), but started to slip away with Broken (S.I. Book 4) and The Five-Hour Wife (S.I. Book 5).

Clearly, I need to dive back into The Prisoner, reconnect with it, and get that feeling back. No wonder I didn’t feel as excited about books 4 and 5 as I did with the first three, nor as excited as I felt about Matchmakers (hells, those three novels went from Idea to Published in just about five months, so if that doesn’t scream passion and excitement, I don’t know what does). Outside of Matchmakers, I lost track of the emotion, the story, the experience. I need to reacquaint myself with those stories and those characters, or the next books are going to suffer, and neither I nor my readers will be happy.

So the next book, Betrayal (Shifting Isles, Book 6) will probably be even later coming out than planned, even though I’ve already pushed back the release date, but I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to dive back into the world, and instead of rushed and forced, it’s going to be good. It’s going to get to people the way The Prisoner does.

Because The Prisoner is a great fucking story. And I need to remember that.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

The Five-Hour Wife — Now available!

B05 - The Five-Hour WifeI’m sitting here, trying to think of what to say, and all I can seem to get my brain to focus on is how many tabs I have open on my browser right now.

Launching a book pretty much demands that. Checking the listings on Amazon, making sure the print and Kindle formats are linked, confirming the listing in the publisher’s storefront, adding the book versions to Goodreads, updating the Pinterest board (which in this case, admittedly, doesn’t have a whole lot on it), posting about it all on Facebook…

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Gods, I need more coffee for this.

*ahem* So, to The Five-Hour Wife. First, the title. I have no bloody clue where the title came from, but once I had it, I pretty much ran with it, and crafted most of the story around it. Granted, the story changed pretty significantly from the first version to what is now available to read, but the general idea was always still there: something incomplete, something aborted, something unfinished. This was a feeling I struggled with for a long time in my personal life. I distinctly remember my mother always telling me that the key to life was go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married, get the house and the car, have kids, etc.

You know? The whole ‘American dream’, blah blah blah.

Instead, I wound up a college dropout, single, childless, and still in the same dead-end job for going on 16 years. But, I do own my own home (yay!) and I’ve found passion in writing, which is something I completely lacked up until just a few years ago. Still, I had a really hard time adjusting to the idea that I could be happy and successful without having that rigid list of things my mother outlined for me — a hard time adjusting to the idea that I could feel complete without checking off every single item.

That can be a hard lesson to learn, as my heroine, Jani Shyford, discovers throughout the book.

While Jani is struggling with feeling incomplete, she runs into her celebrity crush, Kal Rydyn. Actually, it’s more accurate to say he runs into her. Literally. As they spend time together, they both think the other is the answer to all their respective problems, until a deadly scandal breaks, pulling up secrets from both their pasts and threatening to ruin both their careers.

And they’ll have to work against each other.

This story takes place basically between the last two chapters of Broken (Shifting Isles Series, Book 4). It does end with a happily-ever-after, but maybe not your typical one. You’ll just have to read it to see. 😉

News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

Confessions of a Print Snob

In the great “Print vs. eBook” debate, I come down absolutely, positively, without a doubt, one hundred percent on the Print side.

There’s just nothing quite like the look, feel, and smell of a real, printed book in my hands. I’m constantly running out of shelf space in my house, and lugging around a book everywhere I go isn’t the most convenient thing in the world, but I would never give up my library for an eReader.

I’ve tried reading books on a Kindle, or even on my phone. I even just try reading short articles on my computer screen. All of it strains my eyes and tries my patience, so I find myself skimming and wondering, “Have I reached the end yet?”

So, whenever I come across a listing for a book — one that has great reviews and sounds really interesting — and discover it’s only available in digital format…

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE AUTHORS? WHY ARE THEY NOT RELEASING THEIR BOOKS IN PRINT? GAH!!!!”

*slow, deep breath*

Alright, I’m calm now. I promise.

So many books I’ve come across, and I’ll never read them, because they’re not available in print.

*disappointed sigh*

But then! Ah, but then…

Then I come to the point in the writing process when I have to start running through final edits and format the text to get it ready for print. As the not-so-tech-savvy person that I am, it’s a trial and a half, let me tell you. I go through the process of formatting the text so that the final printed book will look like a nice, neat, professional product, and all the while I’m grumbling and tearing my hair out and shouting at my computer when it doesn’t seem to do what I want it to do, and start to wonder why in the world I even bother to go through the effort at all!

Yeah, I know. Open mouth, insert foot.

It is at those times that I think, “Alright, so maybe these authors have good reason to not bother formatting for print.”

Maybe.

Alright, authors, I apologize. It is frustrating, tedious, and time-consuming to format for print. Setting up a file for an eReader is so much quicker and easier, I can see how it would be hard to justify the extra time to create a neat, print-worthy product.

(Doesn’t change the fact that I’d really like to read some of your works and will never get to because I just flat can’t stand reading on a screen. It’s all I can do to slog through reading my own stuff on my computer when I’m editing a manuscript. My eyes are killing me right now.)

Then, there are moments, like today, when I finally get the finished text uploaded for print review. And, I mean, come on, look at this! How amazingly cool is this?!

interior review

Isn’t this exciting?! To see something that you wrote, laid out on a screen, looking almost like a real book, showing you a preview of the glorious thing to come! Let me tell you, I am giddy as a kid in a candy store right now, knowing that in a few weeks I’ll have a real book in my hands, once again, with my name on it.

Something that I pulled from my imagination and brought into the real world. It’s the most incredible feeling.

And when I have to go through the whole tedious process again in a couple months for the next book, I’ll be groaning and yelling and tearing my hair out again…

But, gods, it’ll be worth every minute.

News, Publishing, Shifting Isles, Teasers and Excerpts

Looking Ahead

I’ve just gone through and added a few updates to the site, mostly to keep myself motivated and on-track. The last few months have been…

Well, you know the saying: You make plans, and life happens. Oh boy, does it happen.

Between massive stress at work and a bit of a person crisis, I’ve been having a really hard time focusing on writing. The odd thing is that I’m actually ahead of the schedule I’d set for myself, but over the last few months, I’ve been slipping farther and farther behind and letting myself get distracted and upset by life in general. So, to keep myself going and get this next series out, I’ve already posted projected release dates for each of the next fourteen novels, as well as some preliminary information about other works that I’ll be releasing after those. Hopefully having posted deadlines will keep me moving and give me something to look forward to.

Starting late next month, I’ll be releasing the Shifting Isles series, a set of fourteen books set in a fantasy world. At my current writing pace, I should be able to put out a new volume every three months. That is certainly the goal, anyway. That puts the series wrapping up in June 2018, after which I’ll be releasing a standalone novel and another series, all set in the same world but at different time periods. I’ll be posting more information about the Shifting Isles series, the standalone novel, and the following series as more time passes and more information can be released without offering spoilers.

I know, this is like Marvel-level teasing, but I just can’t help myself.

The hard part is that all of this is teasing me as well. The new series idea (which won’t start releasing until 2019) is really grabbing my attention lately and making it difficult to focus on drafts for the upcoming SI series — another reason for the posted deadlines. Now I have to put the new ideas aside and get these SI drafts done so I can finally move on to the editing stages.

So, on that note, back to writing!

Inspiration, News

And then people happened…

Working in customer service has its ups and downs. Well, alright, maybe a few ups and a whole lot of downs, especially for an introvert like myself. On the positive side, it provides a lot of material with which to work when it comes to creating characters. On the downside, though…

Well, even after fifteen years of working as a service consultant in the independent automotive repair industry, there are some things about people that I still don’t understand:

1) People and their spending priorities

I see people spend thousands of dollars modifying their cars — paint jobs, rims, lighting, exhaust systems, stereos, spoilers, body kits, etc. — but they won’t spend $1000 in maintenance to keep their engines from blowing up. I just don’t get it.

2) And more spending contradictions

It’s amazing to me how often we’ll get a vehicle in, perform a general inspection, tell the customer the car needs $1000 worth of maintenance and it’ll be as good as new, and the customer replies, “Nope, I can’t afford $1000. I’ll just go trade it in and buy a new car instead.”

Alright … hold on … let me process that …

So you can’t afford $1000 one time, but you can afford $500 a month for the next six years, plus higher taxes, plus higher insurance, plus higher registration fees?

Did I miss something here?

3) People who self-diagnose wrong, and are shocked when we’re right

This happens all the time, but my favorite example comes from several years back. A man called and made an appointment to bring in his truck for an engine noise. When he arrived a few hours later, I could tell he was coming because I could hear his “engine knock” from over a block away. He pulled into the parking lot, lifted the hood, scratched his chin, and finally came inside to check in the vehicle for service, though he claimed he already knew the problem.

His diagnosis? A faulty air polluter valve.

All I could do was look at him and blink.

“I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing called an air polluter valve,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he said with great confidence. “It’s an air polluter valve. Back of the engine. Looks just like a spark plug.”

At this point, I kept my mouth shut and just nodded along agreeably, but all the while, I thought, “Well, if it looks like a spark plug, don’t you think it just might actually be a spark plug?”

So, customer leaves, we diagnose the problem. Are you sitting down? It was a spark plug! Shocking! The vehicle had something over 100k miles and had never had a tune up, so we recommended a complete tune up and some other related repairs to get the vehicle caught up on its maintenance. The customer said he didn’t believe we were right but authorized the repair anyway.

When he comes to pick up his truck, before even coming into the office, he goes out to the parking lot, lifts the hood, starts up the truck, and is absolutely shocked that it’s running so smoothly. He came in and told me he couldn’t believe it. He was shocked. Speechless. It made no sense.

I just smiled and told him to have a nice day.

Stuff like this happens. All. The. Time.

4) People who’ve forgotten how to communicate properly

This one … oh, this one just gets me all riled up, because it happens almost daily.

Customer, delivery driver, salesman, or person passing through asking for directions — all of them come up to the door, and start asking me a question…

Before they even have the door all the way open.

Before they’ve even stopped to make sure I’m not busy with a customer or on the phone.

Before they’ve even bothered to see if they have my attention.

So they stand there, letting out the A/C or the heat, while I tear my mind away from whatever it was I was working on, and ask them to repeat the question, since I didn’t hear it.

Then they get mad at having to repeat themselves.

Really?

I mean, did I miss something in Life Etiquette 101, or Basic Common Sense? Why do people do this? The mind boggles.

5) People who do the above … but repeatedly

Yes, repeatedly. As in, over and over, but they still don’t catch on.

Someone will be standing at the counter in my office, and ask me a question. I don’t know the answer, so I start down the hallway toward the shop so I can find someone with an answer.

I’m halfway down the hall when I hear the person (customer / delivery driver / passerby / salesman / etc) ask another question, but because of the acoustics of the office and the hallway, I can’t make out anything other than noise.

I walk back into the office, trying to remember their first question, and ask them to repeat what they just said.

And — surprise, surprise! — they get mad at having to repeat themselves.

But, they repeat the question, I add it to my mental list of things to find out, and tell them I’ll be right back with an answer.

Guess what? They do it again.

So I go back to the office. Again. Ask them to repeat. Again. They get mad at having to repeat. Again. But they repeat, I again say I’ll find out, and head back toward the hall.

I had this happen six times in a row once, with one person, who kept asking me questions about his vehicle (which I couldn’t answer because the diagnostic hadn’t been completed yet so I had to go pester the technician [read: waste his time] by asking him before he was ready with his diagnostic notes). Even after six times, the man didn’t catch on, and it was all I could to hold my tongue.

Face, meet palm. Head, meet desk.

6) People who make contradictory demands

This comes in a lot of forms, but the most frustrating one is when a customer seems to assume that, just because I’m female-bodied, I must automatically be gifted with the ability to do twenty-seven things at once.

Well, I’m not. I can’t multitask so save my life, unless it’s a very, very good day. And the most difficult multitasking for me involves talking about one thing while typing up another. I just can’t do it.

Yet, somehow, people expect I can.

They’ll be rambling on at the counter, asking me questions, looking miffed when I don’t immediately answer, and all the while, they punctuate their mindless conversation with, “Don’t you have my invoice finished yet?”

Well, I might if you’d shut the hell up for two seconds so I can focus!

No, I don’t say that. But I certainly think it.

Then there are the people who come in and say they’re in a hurry, need their estimates written up fast so they can get to work. So, I scramble. I can whip out a new estimate quick when I need to. But then they start throwing a wrench into things.

“How come you haven’t made any coffee yet?” they ask as they stand by the coffee machine, looking personally offended that there isn’t any brewing.

“I’ll get to it as soon as I get a moment,” I say as politely as I can.

“Oh, and can you find out how soon they’ll look at my car?” they ask as I run toward the front door to get identification information off the car. To answer their question, I’d have to go out the opposite door and cross the entire length of the shop, which isn’t exactly conducive to getting their estimates prepared in a hurry.

“Oh, and I’ll need a ride to work,” they say, as though I could simply drop everything else I’m doing, besides trying to attend to all their needs, and leave other customers hanging.

Or, even worse, in an office full of people waiting to be helped: “I planned to have my neighbor come pick me up and take me to work, but that fell through, so can you run me over real quick? We have to leave right now or I’ll be late.”

All I can do is look around my crowded office and resist the urge to bang my head against the wall.

Salesmen are even worse in that situation. They’ll walk into my office, where I’ve got five people waiting to be helped, and look completely put out that I can’t ignore those five people and the phones ringing off the hook just to listen to their sales pitch.

“I only need ten minutes of your time.”

Yeah, well, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s not my time you’re about to waste here. It’s my customers‘ time, and that’s unpardonable. I’m not going to make them sit and wait while you try to sell me something I don’t need. Please, for the love of all that is holy, get out of my office and don’t come back.

Then there are the people who arrive before we open, sit in the parking lot, waiting for us to arrive, and before I’ve even had a chance to get the door unlocked to go inside, they start pelting me with questions.

“Can you take a smog right now? How much would a tune up cost? How soon could you get a particular part if you order it today?”

More blinking dumbly on my end.

Did you really not notice that I just got here? And haven’t even stepped inside yet? And have a locked door between me and my schedule book, between me and my parts catalogues, between me and the phone? How could I possibly answer your questions?!?!

Alright. Deep breath. Moving along.

7) People who expect magic

Scene: Small town, independent repair shop, Saturday afternoon, one hour until closing time.

Action:

Customer calls, telling me they’re on a tow truck and on the way to our facility (the only one open on Saturdays in this town, and almost in the county) with a 1995 Saab, and they need a fuel pump.

“I’m traveling through on vacation. I have to get back on the road today. You have one of those in stock, right?”

I blink dumbly, trying to get my mind to wrap around this question.

There are probably all of two Saabs in this entire county. No parts store in the area will stock parts for vehicles like that. Now, a late-model Chevy truck? Different story. Fuel pumps fail on those all the time, and everyone and his brother around here drives a Chevy truck, so every parts store stocks them. But a Saab?

And besides that, we’re not a parts store. We’re a repair shop. We work on all makes and models. We couldn’t possible even begin to stock something like that, when we don’t even have space to stock every possible oil filter for every possible vehicle. That’s what the parts stores are for.

“What do you mean you don’t have it in stock?” the customer asks in shock. “Back home in LA–”

Ah, yes. LA. Where everything is open 24/7 and Saabs are at least a tad more popular than they are here.

Should’a’ stayed in LA.

8) People who expect crystal balls and foretelling

Customers and vendors are definitely guilty of this, but the people who really take the cake are telemarketers.

I hate telemarketers. Loathe them. Despise them.

I’m going to say it again just because the very thought of them makes my blood boil.

I. HATE. TELEMARKETERS.

They call, they ask for the boss, who is always unavailable (even if he isn’t, I say he is, because, really, he doesn’t need his time wasted with sales pitches for things he doesn’t need — and yes, I’m allowed to do this, because he hates talking to them more than I do, and since I help him run the business and handle most of the finances, I almost know more than he does what products and services the business needs).

“I’m sorry, he’s busy with a customer right now,” I say as politely as I can muster. “Can I help you with something?”

“No, I need to speak to him, since he’s the owner…”

And then comes the inevitable question. I’ve yet to have a single telemarketer not follow up with:

“…Can you tell me exactly what time he’ll be available to chat? I’ll only need fifteen minutes of his time.”

Hmmm. Let’s see. Can I foresee a particular block of time when the boss won’t have customers to talk to, parts to order, technicians to supervise, estimates to calculate? Can I foresee a particular block of time when he’ll have absolutely nothing to do and be able to take your call?

I wish I could. Wouldn’t that be a neat trick? See the future. Hmmm….

Oh, sorry, I was daydreaming.

But, just like I don’t have a magic wand to make fuel pumps for 1995 Saabs appear out of thin air, neither can I predict the future.

It’s gotten to the point that I tell them that. “Sorry, I can’t see the future. I don’t know exactly when he’ll have no other responsibilities to address so that he’s free to take your call.”

Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Yes, he’ll be free from precisely 1:03 to 1:07 in the afternoon on the 15th of March, twelve years from now. Why don’t you call back then, hmmm? Have a nice day.” Click.

Tempting. Someday I might just do it.

 

So, after days when all these things happen, I thank every god known to man for the ability to escape into my stories. Because, otherwise, I’d probably go insane.

Then again, there’s so much good material here.

Perhaps I ought to write a book…

Hmmm.

Maybe someday. Right now I’m elbow-deep in working on the next series. I’m so excited with where it’s going, and I just can’t seem to stop. I very nearly have complete first drafts for the first three books. One of these days I’ll have to pause writing so I can go back and start editing Book 1. That’s hard to do, though, because I’m enjoying writing them so much, and editing is such a chore. But, in the meantime…

Oh, there’s the phone ringing. Back to work, I go.

Please don’t be a telemarketer. Please don’t be a telemarketer.

Can you believe they’re calling on Saturdays now? Sheesh.

Counting down to closing time so I can go home and get some more writing done.

Did I mention I’m excited about this next series? 😀

 

Inspiration, News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

The Prisoner

It’s amazing to me, even after five years of living and breathing made-up lives, that inspiration can come from the most unexpected places or in the silliest, simplest ways.

Now that I’ve got the next series — 14 books set in a fantasy world — more or less outlined, I’m diving into writing the first book, The Prisoner. Months ago, I’d already started putting down material for it, and got about 70 pages in when I hit a painfully hard brick wall.

The story just wasn’t going where I wanted, and I started losing interest. It seemed no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to flow properly. So, I set aside those 70 pages in a separate Fragments file and started over.

The second attempt didn’t go much better. It was an improvement, true, but still lacked the proper plot flow. So I stopped again. I was quickly digging myself the same grave in which I’d found myself while writing Uncommonly Strong, and after that disappointing experience, I certainly did not want to slog through the same frustration again. I wanted the exciting experience I’d had writing The Lethean, and especially Hale and Farewell: the kind of experience where the story just flows because you love the characters and know exactly where they’re going, even if some of the details surprise you along the way.

Once I finally got a proper outline done for The Prisoner, that helped quite a bit, but I still couldn’t make myself sit down and continue writing. My love for the characters had simply died, and I wasn’t moved to tell their story anymore (not even that of the female lead, and it was her character that triggered the original concept, though she quickly got switched from heroine to antagonist when I realized the story worked better not centered around her character arc). I tried forcing it, and that just made it all worse.

It was getting to the point that I almost wanted to give it up — except for the fact that I’ve quit everything I’ve ever tried in my life and I’ll be damned if I ever allow myself to give up writing. Thus, I finally just made myself set the whole thing aside so I could get my mind on other things, and hopefully clear my head enough to re-attack it later.

I turned from writing to reading, and as I was going through one series, I became totally engrossed in a character who was beautifully complex and conflicted. Despite the fact that the plot really didn’t pull me in, I found myself still rapidly turning the pages because I was dying to know how things would turn out for this man.

The whole time I read him, I was picturing him looking something like Tom Hiddleston à la Loki — pale, dark, fierce, and a perfect fit for this particular character’s personality (in my mind, at least).

And that’s when it hit me: This was exactly what I was looking for in my own character, but all the while I’d been trying to picture him quite differently.

The Prisoner has gone through quite a transformation from the way I had originally envisioned, but once the male lead came into play instead of the original female lead, one of the very first scenes that I put down was inspired by an insignificant detail — probably just a word or a facial expression — in a Bollywood movie starring Hrithik Roshan, one of my favorite actors. Consequently, his appearance became the foundation for the character I was trying to write.

I love imagining my stories in movie form, camera angles and all, because it helps me play out the scenes and brings it more fully to life in my mind (I’m sure I’m not alone in this habit). When I first started writing The Prisoner, I was going through it with the idea of Hrithik Roshan playing this character, because that was how I originally pictured the lead.

Beyond that one scene, though, I just couldn’t fathom him in any other part of the story. I tried to picture his face, his voice, his movement, and it just flat wasn’t working. I couldn’t see this character going through the dialogue and motions of the story while wearing Hrithik’s form, no matter how much I tried to force it just for the sake of sticking with the image I’d chosen.

Switch to something closer to Loki, though, and the whole character just instantly blossomed to life for me. That face I could see in all the expressions. That voice I could hear in all the dialogue. In one scene, when my character is told to give up his weapons, and he replies with utter calm and self-confidence, “No, I think I’ll be keeping these,” I hear that line in exactly the voice Hiddleston uses at the end of Thor 2, when Thor walks away and Loki drops his Odin disguise, and says, “No, thank you.” That low growl of a voice. That is exactly what I hear in this character’s dialogue. It’s just an absolutely perfect fit.

My love for and interest in the lead character skyrocketed, and all because of a simple change of look and demeanor.

As I went back to writing, I started filtering through the old material that I’d set aside and, to my indescribable joy, found that almost all of it was in fact usable, just with a few detail changes and with a little shuffling of the scene order. Once I had the right look and feel for the character and my interest in his complexities, goals, and moral weaknesses had returned, I realized the only thing making those scenes non-functional was my own lack of interest in the character himself, since I couldn’t fully picture those scenes in all their necessary depth. Now I can, and they work, and the story is coming together nicely.

I went through the file of my third rewrite attempt (amounting to about 26k words), and filtered in all the discarded content from my Fragments file, putting it all in places better suited to the plot, and immediately jumped to 43k words. Those rearranged sections will require some hefty editing, but the overall concepts and scene flow work so much better now than I had originally imagined. I’ve got ideas coming out of my ears, and now the only struggle is deciding which scene to write first because I want to write several at once: I’m that excited about this story. It’s all I can do to put off writing the climactic escape because a part of me wants all the rest of the story filled in first.

What a beautiful problem to have.

I guess I should have paid better attention to my own writing.

“Not all prisons are made of iron bars.”

Well, amen to that.

Lethean, News, Publishing

Digital Book Day — Celebrating Readers!

DBDsquareMonday, July 14th, we’re celebrating readers by giving away free ebooks!

That’s right. Free ebooks! I’ve just signed up to participate in Digital Book Day, a day to celebrate readers by offering a book for free!

For one day only, you’ll be able to download a free PDF version of my first novel, The Lethean, and if you click on the DBD link above, you’ll have access to tons of other great reading material from other authors…

But only on July 14th! Be sure to check back here, and on the DBD website, on Monday the 14th to get access to free reading!

And don’t forget, when you’re done reading, the best way to boost your favorite indie authors is by leaving a review of their work. Amazon and Goodreads are great places to spread the word about your reading experience!

Mark your calendars! This is going to be great!

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, Lethean, News, Publishing, Teasers and Excerpts

Round Two (Teaser Included!)

Uncommonly StrongUncommonly Strong (Lethean Trilogy, Book II) is finally here!

I know, I just put out Book I less than two months ago, so it’s odd to say finally in this case, but considering how much I had to fight the plot in this book, finally feels very apropos.

Whereas The Lethean (Book I) and Hale and Farewell (Book III) seemed to practically write themselves, Book II gave me a world of trouble. There were huge chunks that I tore out and rewrote several times before I became even just content with the story, and finally got it to a point where I was happy with it. It could still probably use some improvement — what couldn’t? — but as a reader, I quite enjoy it now, particularly for the characters.

Though I do rather adore Landon and Victoria from Book I, I had a little more fun with the personalities of the characters in Book II. Sati is always making lighthearted comments that no one finds funny (I don’t know anyone like that…*ahem*…); Joseph is all about the love of his family, even when they drive him crazy (cue plugging his ears when Thomas and Spencer start in on their openly intimate talk); Thomas is Joseph’s three-minute-older twin brother, the stylish, suave one who is the most open-minded and often the voice of reason, though he does have his dark side, too; and Thomas’s partner, Spencer, who is pretty much the adult kid in the family, always smiling and enjoying life.

As a bonus, Uncommonly Strong includes a short story at the end, partly inspired by the 2013 documentary Bridegroom. The overall theme of the Lethean trilogy is that love is love, despite what society or the law may have to say, and after watching that film, it triggered some inspiration to delve a little more deeply into the characters of Thomas and Spencer. In general, though, it’s not just about any particular minority rights, so much as general human rights. In The Lethean, Landon and Victoria come from vastly different social circles, and their relationship would have been at least frowned upon if not forbidden in Regency England. In Uncommonly Strong, Thomas and Spencer being a gay couple certainly has its related persecution — and even Sati and Joseph’s relationship is questioned by Sati’s very religious foster family. In Hale and Farewell…well, I won’t spoil it. That one is not as obvious a forbidden romance but the element does come into play.

I am so thankful that author Lisa Clark O’Neill suggested serializing The Lethean. It was originally meant to be a standalone novel, but after she mentioned the possibility of turning it into a series, I started looking more into certain aspects of the Lethean lifestyle and culture and wondered how those aspects would play into different situations. Thus, Books II and III came to life — and I’m so glad they did, because I absolutely love Book III and can’t wait to get to that one! It’s already written, just waiting for a few final rounds of editing, and should be available in July.

By the way, Lisa has a new novel out as of yesterday. Be sure to check it out here. And if you haven’t come across her Southern Comfort series, I highly recommend it.

And, of course, I must once again tip my hat to the beautiful and talented Natalie Fawn Danelishen for her work on the cover art.

So, without further ado, here is Chapter 1 from Uncommonly Strong. Enjoy!

 

Chapter 1

Are you ready?”

Joseph Hale put the question to his twin brother, Thomas, as they stood side-by-side at the mirror in the immaculate men’s bathroom on the twenty-third floor of Haven Marketing. Just down the hall was the conference room where they were scheduled to present a new ad campaign, and they had ducked into the bathroom to check their teeth and straighten their ties before meeting the new client.

The brothers were nearly indistinguishable. They had the same straight nose, the same diamond chin with the same short boxed beard, the same broad shoulders, and even the same steel grey eyes. Other than the fact that Joseph favored pinstripe grey suits, while his brother preferred his signature taupe, the only way to tell them apart was that Joseph’s hair was so dark it was almost black, while Thomas’s was closer to chestnut brown. Even then, people still mixed them up – and once, back in high school, when Thomas had dyed his hair to match that of his three-minute-younger brother, not even their own mother could tell them apart without reading them by touch.

I’m always ready.” Thomas grinned confidently, and pulled out a comb to run through his hair.

Joseph laughed. “You’re not ready.”

Thomas pocketed the comb with a sigh, rolled his eyes, and turned to face his brother, grabbing Joseph around the back of the neck and bringing their foreheads together.

Joseph’s laugh vanished as he and his twin turned serious – head-to-head, eyes closed – and he realized he was more anxious about the presentation than he wanted to admit. Without thinking about it, his hand copied that of his brother, and they stood there for a long moment, clasping one another’s necks while they shared encouraging thoughts through the touch of their foreheads.

It was a habit that had developed from childhood, an unspoken ritual that they never failed to perform, especially when something important was about to occur. They tried to do it where they wouldn’t be seen, strange as it must look for two men to stand so close and so silent for so long, and hoped that if anyone ever did witness it, they could chalk it up to nothing more than a twin bond.

Yet, it was so much more.

Thomas focused all his thought on the celebratory drinks they would share once they succeeded in their presentation; and Joseph, reading his brother’s thought, grinned.

* * *

Peter Jenkins, President and CEO of Haven Marketing, rarely had a chance to sit in on a campaign pitch – and seldom visited the San Francisco office – but when it came to a potential client the size of Carson Electronics, he certainly couldn’t afford not to be present.

Especially,” he muttered to himself, “not after two of my best teams have failed.”

He watched the Hale twins stroll down the hallway toward him, looking composed and confident. At least, he certainly hoped they were confident. Carson’s Board of Directors were being extremely gracious coming for a third presentation, and though circumstances weren’t exactly dire, Jenkins wanted the security of this contract in order to help Haven weather the shaky economy.

Jenkins stuffed his hands into his pockets and tried to swallow his nerves, wondering if the Hales’ presentation would be accepted where the others had not been.

The first two teams had taken radically different approaches to the sample television spots they’d made for the Carson Board. One was raucous and colorful, the other pale and muted. The only similarity between the two presentations had been the dull monotones of the team leaders’ voices.

Both presentations had been utter failures.

Jenkins had asked the Hale brothers to rehearse their pitch for him the day before. The ad itself took rather a middle ground between the two failed presentations, being neither too boisterous nor too quiet. It was a good, professional product, but what struck him most were the brothers themselves. Whereas the other two teams had been so businesslike as to be almost boring, the Hales had given an energetic, masculine introduction to their ad. Jenkins hoped this more impressive lead-in would be what it took to capture the attention of Daniel Carson – a man who looked like he belonged in a plaid shirt with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder rather than in a business suit with a pen in his hand.

Good morning, Mr. Jenkins,” the twins said in their annoyingly perfect synchronicity.

Good morning, good morning,” he responded, a little too gruffly, shaking their hands in turn. “Are you boys ready for this?”

Yes, sir, Mr. Jenkins,” the light-haired one responded. Joseph? Or Thomas? He wasn’t quite sure and was too anxious to bother asking.

You both know how much we could use this contract,” he said sternly, and watched them both nod in reply. “I like your presentation, and I’ve heard good things about you from your department head, so if you can pull this off – if you can succeed where Edwards’s and Benson’s teams failed – it’ll mean tremendous promotions for you both.”

We’re ready, Mr. Jenkins.”

We won’t let you down, sir.”

Jenkins looked from one to the other, opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a secretary coming to an abrupt stop at his side, nervously clutching a binder to her chest.

Mr. Jenkins,” she said quietly, “the Carsons are here. I’ve just shown them into the conference room.”

Jenkins swallowed and forced on a smile. “Thank you, Tina. That’ll be all.”

The secretary nodded and hurried off, while Jenkins spun on his heel and led the way to the conference room, hearing the light footfalls of the twins behind him.

* * *

The first handshake was always the most stressful part of meeting a new client. Joseph knew that both he and Thomas were steeling themselves for the physical contact that would give them the competitive edge they needed – or would reveal their secret.

Upon Mr. Jenkins’s introduction, Joseph and his brother took turns shaking hands with Daniel Carson himself, and both twins inwardly sighed with relief when they realized their secret was safe. Then it was Mr. Carson’s turn to introduce his associates: a wiry assistant named Brian and a voluptuous blonde named Gertrude. Their handshakes with Gertrude lingered ever so slightly, and as the Carson team took their seats, Joseph and his twin shared a look of understanding.

* * *

Jenkins was already irritated. He didn’t think anyone else could tell, but he had seen the extended handshakes the Hale twins had shared with the woman, and his first thought was that his boys no longer had their focus on the task at hand. He had to admit, Gertrude was quite the distraction, and he realized he was already bracing himself for another utter failure.

Across the room, at the foot of the conference table, he saw the twins share a brief look, and the almost imperceptible nod one gave the other right before they both turned their attention to the Carson representatives.

Jenkins clenched his fists in his lap, waiting for the rugged, manly presentation he’d seen rehearsed the day before, and felt his jaw drop when he began to witness something entirely different.

Whereas, the day before, the twins had been the very image of a boys’ night out – an approach that Jenkins was sure would work on rugged Mr. Carson – they had now slipped into entirely different mannerisms. Their movements were fluid instead of rigid, their voices soft instead of bold. The words were precisely the same as they’d been during their rehearsal, but what Jenkins saw now was something that bordered on sensual.

To further his dismay, he saw that, while certainly not ignoring Mr. Carson, the twins were directing their attention and presentation primarily toward the woman.

Carson Electronics,” Thomas wrapped up, giving the woman a look that could only be described as smoldering while he delivered the tag line: “One step ahead.”

Jenkins felt himself turning red with anger. He was going to throw both of these boys out on the street as soon as they received their certain rejection from the Carson team.

Very impressive, Mr. Hale, and Mr. Hale.” Daniel Carson nodded to each of the twins after a brief, whispered conversation with the woman at his side. “I just have one question for you. No one has ever seen through our farce before. How did you know that Gertrude has the final say?”

Jenkins choked on a “What?” as his jaw dropped again, and he saw the twins share a look, grinning with satisfaction.

* * *

Alright, explain to me what just happened in there!”

Joseph and his brother, along with Mr. Jenkins, had just said goodbye to the Carson team – after signing a six-figure advertising contract – and now the twins braced themselves as the boss was finally free to drop his forced calm and explode.

Just like they explained, sir,” Joseph said. “Gertrude is actually Gertrude Carson, who started the company, but no one has ever taken her seriously because she’s a woman, so on paper she’s only V.P. while she lets her cousin Daniel appear as acting President.”

Yes, yes, I heard all that.” Mr. Jenkins waved his hands in frustration. “What I want to know is how you two knew that! And you didn’t say a word about it yesterday! When you started changing your presentation, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”

We didn’t know it yesterday, sir,” Thomas added respectfully. “We only just…realized it when we met them today.”

Yes, but…how?”

Joseph looked at his brother, who shrugged, so he simply turned a smile on his boss and said, “Call it a hunch.”

* * *

At their favorite downtown bar, Joseph and his twin squeezed through the crush of bodies and took a booth in a relatively quiet corner. In the heat of the room, and free from contact with other people, Thomas gladly divested himself of his jacket, lounging comfortably in a black polo shirt and khaki slacks, with an off-white fedora tilted low over his brow. Joseph unbuttoned the cuffs of his blue-and-white striped dress shirt and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows.

A waitress took their drink orders, and once the brothers were alone again, Thomas pulled a gold ring from his pocket and slid it onto his left ring finger. Though Joseph was used to the action by now, he still couldn’t fathom how his brother could stand not to wear his ring at all times. Joseph knew that, when he finally met his own partner someday, he would never want to see his own ring off his hand. At least Thomas’s partner was aware of the behavior and didn’t seem to mind one bit.

A few minutes later, the brothers were enjoying their respective bourbon and scotch, while a martini sat at Thomas’s elbow, waiting for its drinker.

They sipped in silence, watching the crowds around the pool tables and on the small dance floor, one brother occasionally resting a hand on the other’s arm to silently share a thought. Whereas the cacophony of thoughts that could be picked up from direct contact with such a crowd could be burdensome, silent contact with one another was a source of amusement. The brothers, being what they were, could watch people and make comments about them without uttering a single audible word.

Joseph rested his elbows on the table while Thomas slouched back, tugging the fedora down lower over his eyes. Joseph could see his older brother smiling to himself as he sipped his drink, quietly enjoying their accomplishment of the day.

Across the room, Joseph spotted a young man wearing skinny jeans, a pink plaid button-up T-shirt, and a grey scarf. Blond curls peeked out from beneath a black slouch beanie, and a broad smile lit up the man’s freshly shaved face as he squeezed through the crowd, walking with a slight limp.

Joseph set down his drink and rested a hand on Thomas’s arm, making him grin.

You don’t need to tell me he’s coming.” Thomas laughed, sitting up straight and pushing his hat back with an index finger to the underside of the brim. “I can feel him, you know.”

Joseph shrugged and laughed. “Force of habit.”

Hi boys!” The newcomer giggled, blowing Joseph a kiss before sitting down right beside Thomas. “Sorry I’m late–”

His words cut off as Thomas gathered him up in his arms and gave him a long, deep kiss.

Joseph rolled his eyes. “Tom, Spencer, really? Can’t you guys wait until you get home?”

The couple ignored him, kissing one another hungrily, so Joseph focused on his drink and tried not to laugh.

Mmmm, I missed you too,” Spencer managed to get out when Thomas stopped for a breath. “What was that for?”

We had a really good day,” Thomas murmured, and kissed him again.

Guys, come on!” Joseph laughed.

Thomas sighed and nodded toward his brother. “We really need to find him his partner.”

Spencer gave Joseph a pointed look, then made a show of kissing Thomas back before straightening himself on the bench and resting his head on his partner’s shoulder.

Really, Joseph,” Spencer said, “you just don’t understand.”

I just thought we were celebrating, that’s all.”

And what do you think we were just doing?” Spencer grinned childishly. “What are we celebrating, anyway?”

Spencer started sipping at the martini while the twins recounted their successful presentation, and he had to look back and forth between the two as they habitually finished one another’s sentences.

When they were finished, Spencer sat forward and held up his hands, saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute! You guys read your clients? Again? Isn’t that cheating?”

How so?” Thomas asked.

Well…doesn’t that give you an unfair advantage, being able to read their thoughts?”

Not necessarily,” Thomas said. “An advantage, sure, but–”

“–it’s no different from any other ‘advantage’ a person could conceivably have–” Joseph continued.

“–like some people are naturally better at math–”

“–and some at making speeches–”

“–and some at engineering–”

“–or sports–”

“–or art–”

“–and they couldn’t help being born the way they were–”

“–and neither could we help being born Lethean–”

“–so we just use what we have to work with, that’s all.”

Spencer put a finger to his lips and loudly shushed them, then shook his head, dizzy from the conversation.

Thomas looked slightly chagrined at having said the word aloud, but as the trio glanced around, no one seemed to have taken any notice of their conversation, so they each heaved a sigh of relief. There were very few of their kind left in the world, but maintaining the secret of their Lethean heritage was still considered a cardinal virtue.

They knew perfectly well that, should their abilities ever be made public, they could be in for a world of trouble.

It’s not like we asked to be born this way,” Thomas continued, lowering his voice. “It just simply happened, so like Joseph said, we use what we’ve got.”

Right. It’s not like you’d see a world-famous athlete give up his ability just because of some supposed ‘unfair’ advantage over, say, someone who’s disabled,” Joseph added, to which Spencer had to nod in agreement.

Besides–” Thomas grinned, putting an arm around his partner. “I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world. I hear the sex isn’t as great for regular humans.”

Pfff, speak for yourself.” Spencer laughed. “I’d still be great in bed, even if I were only human.”

Thomas looked at his brother and shrugged. “He’s got a point there.”

Mmmm, you know it–”

Guys! Really?” Joseph interrupted, rolling his eyes.

Spencer laughed and jabbed his partner in the ribs. “You know what we should do? As soon as we get a chance for a vacation, we should take your brother traveling to find his partner. Get him all nice and paired up and then he’ll finally understand what he’s been missing, and stop pestering us about our pillow talk.”

You know, that’s not a bad idea.” Thomas grinned and turned to his twin. “How about it, Joe? Where is she, do you think?”

She?” Spencer raised an eyebrow, and laughed deviously. “What if it’s a he?”

Joseph looked down at the empty glass between his hands, and quietly responded, “No, she. I’m not sure how, but I can tell it’s a woman. And she’s very far away. Very faint. Somewhere east, but…”

He felt the other two watching him, but didn’t take his eyes off his glass. After a moment, Thomas reached over and rested a hand on his shoulder, asking seriously, “Joe, what’s wrong?”

Joseph glanced up at his twin and back down at his hands, sighing. “She’s in pain, and always so tired. It’s very faint but I can always feel it there. She’s very weak, and I can feel her fear. I wish I could understand it, but she’s too far away.”

Have you tried sending her positive feelings?” Spencer asked, serious for a change. “I know that helped when Tom did that for me. Remember? When we were in the hospital and–”

Thomas visibly shuddered. “Ugh, don’t remind me,” he said, automatically reaching down to massage Spencer’s bad leg.

Have you tried that, Joe?” Spencer asked again.

Joseph nodded. “Every day. I can’t tell if she feels it, though. She’s just…ugh, by Lethe, she’s just too far away.”

Well, I think–” Spencer began, but got interrupted when another man approached their table.

Tom! Joe!” the man called, and Joseph looked up to see their coworker, Brad Edwards. “I hear you got the Carson contract. Congratulations.”

Joseph shook his offered hand, surprised at the truth and sincerity in the man’s voice, considering Brad’s was one of the Carson pitches that had failed.

Thank you,” Joseph replied while Brad perched on the edge of the bench next to him.

No hard feelings?” Thomas joked while he reached across the table to shake Brad’s hand.

Nah.” Brad waved it off. “I knew our pitch was crap. But what could I do? The team insisted it was good enough, but it didn’t seem right to me, and I couldn’t very well go against four other people who agreed with each other, now, could I?”

Why not?” Thomas asked. “If you know in your gut that something isn’t right, why would you play along? Why would you let others decide for you?”

Brad shrugged. “Just easier that way.”

Joseph stifled a laugh, thinking of all the times he and his twin had bickered over certain ad concepts, neither one backing down without good reason. He could never understand how people like Brad would simply bow down to the opinions of others.

Looking over at his twin, he figured Thomas was probably thinking the same thing.

A low whistle distracted him out of his thoughts, and he heard Brad say, “Would you get a load of those legs! Look, Joe, I think they’re checking us out.”

Joseph felt his twin kick him under the table, and turned to follow Brad’s gaze. Leaning against the bar were two women who looked as though they’d just stepped off a magazine cover, complete with slender legs, short skirts, and overflowing low-cut tops.

Brad smacked him on the arm. “Come on, Joe.”

No, thank you.”

Brad swung around to face him with an incredulous look. “Are you crazy? They’re looking right at us and you’re going to pass that up?”

Joseph shrugged and spun his empty glass around on the table.

Dude, tell me you’re joking.”

In response, Joseph just shook his head.

What, are you gay or something?” Brad asked, then a horrified look came over his face. “Shit. Sorry, Tom. No offense.”

Thomas held up a hand like he was waving off the comment. “None taken.”

You’re really not interested?” Brad asked again, and Joseph shook his head. “Christ Almighty, man. Very well. Suit yourself.”

With that, Brad got up and approached the bar alone, and Thomas kicked his twin under the table again.

What?”

You’re supposed to at least pretend,” his twin hissed, and Spencer nodded along beside him. “You don’t want another Mike Callahan incident, do you?”

Joseph grimaced, remembering the fight with Mike all those years ago. “No,” he answered. “But do you have any idea how hard it is to fake interest in a human?”

Thomas grinned. “Oh, sure. It’s hysterical.” He shared a look with his partner and the two burst out laughing.

Did I miss something?” Joseph asked.

When Thomas finally got his laughter under control, he said, “Spencer dragged me to this gay bar one night, a couple months back, even though he knows I hate dancing.” He paused and shot his partner a look, but Spencer just grinned back at him. Thomas cleared his throat and continued, “As a joke, he asked me to try dancing with other men. I couldn’t keep a straight face for the life of me, and this one guy was absolutely furious that he couldn’t get me hard.”

Ha!” Spencer laughed. “I almost forgot about that. The guy with a tattoo on the back of his hand, right? Oh, the look on his face was priceless.”

Joseph cut through their laughter, asking, “So you couldn’t do it for one hour, yet you expect me to keep up the charade day after day?”

Well, until you find your partner, Joseph, I–”

I don’t like pretending to be something I’m not,” Joseph interrupted him, and the mirth across the table evaporated.

Thomas reached over and squeezed his hand. “You’re right, Joe. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see you have to go through another incident like–”

He was cut off when Spencer grabbed his arm, gasping, “Ah! Tom, it’s our song. Come on, let’s dance!”

Spencer jumped up from the booth, tugging on Thomas’s hand, while his partner complained, “Did I not just remind you – again – that I hate dancing? And besides, you’re only going to aggravate your leg.”

Pfff, like you don’t enjoy helping me with my stretches.” He tugged on Thomas’s hand again. “Thomas, darling, dearest, mera pyaar, mon amour.” He pouted. “Please?”

Thomas turned to his brother and sighed. “The things I do for love.”

Spencer grinned and seemed to drag Thomas to the dance floor, but once there, Joseph could tell that his brother was happy right where he was, in the arms of the person he loved more than anyone else in the entire world.

In the arms of the person who carried the other half of his soul.