Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reader Appeal?

I tell stories in my head. Since I was old enough to talk. It's how I entertain myself on boring rides or trapped in isolated and confined environments (ICE)--which has come in handy for work many times over and so is justification enough for telling tall tales and strange stories, in my head.
But now as a published author, there are only so many of these stories that I have time to get on paper and that publishers have the time and money to take chances on (no matter how kind and helpful my publisher, Affinity Rainbow Publications). So the deciding factor is reader appeal. 
Will a story appeal enough to enough readers to justify it's opportunity cost?
I'm a reader too, so I do get double the votes...but it's still hard to make that call sometimes. Plus, I like to take chances sometimes and play with the laws of grammar, plot, and genre and this desire to innovate can bias my estimates of reader appeal.
Which brings me to today. I have four novels outlined and ready to start, and no clue which one to try first. All four are lesbian romances. The main differences between them are in tone, point-of-views, and sub-genres. I appeal to those of you who read. I provide snippets of all four novels below. 
Please send feedback regarding which one appeals more to you. You're vote counts--maybe more than my own (depending on how much bourbon I've imbibed) toward which novel gets written up first.
1. A Badge Washed Up - Janey, a middle-aged Black lesbian cook at a beach-side retirement resort finds the honorary police badge of a missing forensic scientist washed up on the shore, but no one will take her questions seriously, so she searches for the scientist on her own. She finds a lot more than she bargains for during the search.

My hands were shaking even though the August heat beating down on the sand was so hot that my eyes felt scorched.  I felt sorry for all the little elders of the Shore Acres Seaside Retirement Resort, with their fair skin, pale eyes, and soft smiles.  But most of all, I felt sorry for the whole world.  I felt sorry for my beautiful dead baby. The injustice of his promising life cut short in his prime burned so rough in my chest that my hands still shook, two years later, whenever I thought about it.
I was walking down the beach on my day off, letting the green Gulf of Mexico wash in and out over my toes.  I kept playing back the last time I saw my son, Saul, alive. 
 “Come on, Momma, I'm just walking one mile up the road.  Julie's house is right on the edge of Orange Grove.  The first house on the left as you turn into the neighborhood.”
“I know you can walk the mile, Saul.”
“Julie is a good kid.  We're really going to work on our project for the science fair.  I promise.” Saul spread his large hands open in front of his body and stuck out his lower lip.
“I know Julie is a good kid, and you know I trust you anyways.”
“So, what's the hold up?” Saul rubbed the palm of his hand over his tight brown curly hair and bugged his eyes out at me.
I watched him shift from foot to foot, one ratty Converse over the other, as he waited for me to answer him.  He was sixteen years of earnest adolescent energy.
I wasn't sure what the problem was, but for some reason, I didn't want him to go out that evening.  I should have listened to my mother's intuition that night, even though I didn't have any good logic to support it.
“It's winter, Saul.”
“It's Gainesville, Florida, Momma.  Low of sixty-two degrees.”
“Dark by six 'o-clock, Saul.”
“There is a sidewalk the whole way.  I have to cross one street and there is a stop light there.”  Saul gave me a smile and wrapped one arm around my shoulders.
I said nothing.
“I'll take my hoodie in case it gets cold, and I'll be home by seven for dinner.”
I shook my head and smiled back at him.
“I'll also leave Julie's phone number on fridge for you.”
He was a good kid, an honors student.  He never sassed me and he never complained that we couldn't buy him a car or a phone, or that all of his clothes came from second-hand shops.  He smiled every day and he did his best to make others smile with him.  He tried to take care of me.  He promised to be home by seven for dinner that night because we both knew his dad would probably wander in drunk and smelling like some other woman well after our bedtimes.  Only the good die young.
I don't know when I heard the first siren for sure, but it was fifteen minutes after seven when I sat at the kitchen table in front of our ready dinner plates and got really worried.  Saul was never more than a few minutes late to anything in his life.  He was two days early for his own birth.  He rolled out of bed every morning before his alarm clock went off.  I was staring at our plates of mashed potatoes, green beans, and thin fried pork cutlets as I listened to the sirens outside explode into a symphony.
I thought I would call Julie to see what time Saul left her house, but when I got up from the table my feet took me past the phone and through the front door. 
I found myself running in my socks across the black-top parking outside our apartment, toward the front gates and the sound of sirens. Outside the gate I remember seeing ambulances and squad cars.  I remember tasting my heart in my mouth as I called out for Saul. I remember seeing one of Saul's Converse on its side on the pavement, covered in so much blood that it looked red rather than its usual washed-out gray all over.  

2. Inherent Risks (co-written with Ali Spooner) - DEA Agents Victoria Alvarez and Justine Adrijan want to bust the biggest drug-fueled sex-trafficking ring in history. Will their newly discovered passion for one another help or hinder their quest for justice and revenge?

Justine clutched Tori’s battered Kevlar vest in her white-knuckled hands and inspected the blemish and nick just to the left of the 9mm slug embedded in it. Noises swam around her in the waiting room of Ben Taub Hospital’s ER. Sweat trickled down between her breasts and prickled cold on the back of her neck under her hair. For the thousandth time in the last five minutes, she wished that she was in jeans and a t-shirt with a badge slung around her neck instead of rattling her nerves in the skimpy dress and high-heels of her undercover alter-ego, Sofia Galina.
Dumb-founded she touched the 9mm slug with a fingertip. It shouldn’t have penetrated that well or stuck there that deep. What the hell was the blemish just to the left of it? Almost like a bullet had already nicked it, but she knew the DEA would never issue Tori a previously damaged vest. As realization dawned on her, she murmured a harsh invective. In the raid three weeks ago, she could have sworn Tori had taken a bullet, but Tori had promised them all the shot fired from the crackhead’s .357 had missed wide and gotten lost in the already riddled sheetrock above. “Damn it, Tori. You are a fucking, hot-headed, hero-complexed, asshole.” Justine sneered at the nick in the Kevlar, “You got shot, and rather than take the six weeks of desk duty like someone with any sanity, you hid it and kept this worthless Kevlar.” Justine bit her lip and her eyes watered as she thought about Tori still lying unconscious amidst a swarm of trauma doctors and nurses down the hall. Her caramel skin was so abnormally pale that her dark hair looked like liquid ink in comparison when they pulled off her tactical helmet. Tears pricked at Justine’s eyes.
“Agent Adrijan,” a no-nonsense voice calling her name jerked her back to the present. She looked up and straight into the eyes of Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Division, Vincent Curial. She tucked Tori’s tattered Kevlar under her right arm with the nick safely behind her back and greeted him simply, “Sir.”
“What do you know about Agent Alvarez's condition?” Despite the late hour and unforgiving humidity, Curial looked impeccably professional and comfortable in navy slacks and a pale blue oxford shirt. There was never a sag or wrinkle on him. Rumor had it that the boss had been an undercover bad-ass not too long ago, responsible for bringing down the biggest Venezuelan cocaine cartel in the nineteen-eighties.

3. Beyond Deep Waters - Leigh Rigby's Mama was diagnosed with Altzheimer's last year and the disease is starting to accelerate. Leigh wants to be in town to be with her mother, but she also loves the open ocean and her life as a merchant marine captain the last ten years. She decides to get certified as a Houston ship channel pilot so she can work on the water everyday, but still be home for dinner with her mother every night. The problem is getting certified is proving harder than she thought. There is a lot of difference between piloting in blue water versus brown. To pass the test and get the board's approval she'll need some mentoring; and the board has chosen her mentor.
Thanks to a maritime accident that cost her both of her legs below the knee, ex-pilot, Reyna Guitierrez is building herself a new life (that accommodates her disability) as a maritime instructor and pilot mentor. Leigh Rigby isn't ready for a mentor, she's embarrassed. Reyna isn't sure she is ready to mentor anyone-it just reminds her she has to teach because she can no longer do. Together they learn how to make the most out of the cards fate dealt them and in doing so discover that there is a lot to love about life and each other.

Leigh shook the saltwater out of her hair. Just beyond the last jetty, to her east, over twenty vessels waited to enter Galveston Bay and eventually the Houston Ship Channel. She squeezed the soft brown sand between her toes and sighed. Tomorrow would probably change everything about her life, but for one more Sunday, she was still just an off-duty merchant marine with the sun starting to set on her shoulders and a cold beer waiting in her Mother's refrigerator.
After a quick rinse in the outdoor shower, she slipped on a dry pair of board shorts and settled her long board into the back of her old GMC truck. The ride home to La Porte from Galveston could be any where from half an hour to two hours depending on summer tourist traffic, but she hoped to make good enough time to swing by Shawpee's for a pound of fresh shrimp. Her mother's memories might be fading fast, but she still knew she liked grilled shrimp slathered in TexJoy seasoning for her Sunday dinner.

4. Once Before Again - Miss Dura Waley Inez Craig is the belle of the post-war ball, the cat's meow, thanks to land she inherited from her father that just happened to have several million gallons of oil underneath. While Dura is used to wealth and social standing, she finds herself shocked by the magnitude of her influence now, but still oddly confined by a woman's rightful role in society, and determined to do something meaningful with her life. It's a lot of angst for a young woman, and so she finds no harm in consulting the mysterious new Swami in town touting wisdom--until she is seemingly thrown one hundred years into the future with no clothes and no way home.   Is this just a drug-induced vision that will give her the guidance she seeks or something altogether more? 


Kate Lane thought that April in Houston must have been the poster child for the rhyme, "April showers bring May flowers." She huddled farther under her umbrella, tilting it slightly sideways in hopes of fending off the hell-bent deluge as she trudged home to her apartment from the corner pharmacy. Rainwater sluiced down the deserted sidewalk, flooding her tennis shoes and she gave up the umbrella entirely before the wind could shred it from her grasp. Right about the time she thought at least there wasn't lightening to worry over, a thunderous crack and streak of light hit the street beside her with so much force that it knocked her to her butt.
She bounced. Her umbrella skittered beneath some bushes. Concrete scuffed the palms of her hands and left her right wrist tingling. At least her prescriptions were safe in her backpack she reasoned, as she took stock of herself.
"Hello," a woman's voice meekly queried her from behind.
Expecting to be offered assistance, Kate held up a hand. "I think I'm okay."
"Oh, uh." The woman replied.
Kate shook her head, but the rain still blurred her vision. She sighed, slowly stood up and turned towards the voice.
"I must be dead." Kate intoned as she came face to face with the palest and most thoroughly naked woman she had ever seen. Even in the dim evening rain her eyes were luminous blue and even wet, her long hair piled and braided into an old elaborate style was obviously a glorious shade of amber. "And you must be Aphrodite."
The woman blanched and puked at Kate's feet.
"Or maybe not." Kate whispered.

It is up to you, kind reader. What next?
Lesbian Fiction Books


Friday, June 30, 2017

Anthropo-Quality?

an·thro·po·cen·tric
ˌanTHrəpəˈsentrik/
adjective
  1. regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals.

I believed humans were kindest,
able to put others lives before our own.
Until I saw a Mocking Bird attack
a Rattle Snake 
to save a Blue Jay's baby.

I believed humans were most playful,
socially animating objects to share laughs.
Until I saw a Lamb and a Blue Healer 
play Soccer
with a volleyball.

I believed humans were most eloquent,
creating new language to represent ideas.
Until I saw a Gorilla
signing "water-bird"
to explain a Swan.

I believed humans were most creative,
fashioning art and tools that solve problems.
Until I saw an Elephant
use rocks to build a step-stool
for an undersized calf.

I believed humans were wisest,
mindful of goals and masters of plans.
Until I saw Gibbons 
sort cards in patterns
to obtain a prize
and Magpies adapt 
caching
for contingency hints.

I believed humans were most complex,
synthesizing sciences to birth robotics.
Until I saw ancient Aspens
cloning colonies
via Rhizomatic roots and nodes.

Now
I suspect
my Grandparents were correct,
in that all creatures,
great and small,
live of central importance,
if not singular intelligence.

Now 
I believe
all molecules matter.
All beings created to function,
qualities always evolving
into more beautiful forms
the universe requires. 
Maybe reptiles write poetry too and we'll learn how to hear it one day.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Baggage Wall

Build your walls of baggage.

Try to keep me at bay 
but still
secretly hoping 
I'll save your day.

There isn't enough drama 
in your closet 
to fence out my heart, 
not enough skeleton clubs 
to cleave us apart.

Stack up your baggage, Baby.

That wall will make great fuel
for the flame we're gonna burn.
Bring me all the hopes 
you thought you'd have to urn.

Stack up all the things
you thought better left
in the dark,
because we're still
gonna make a great embark.
I'm your two by two,
and this is our story's arc.

We're plenty slick enough 
to slip these customs agents. 
Our good intentions 
are sly enough to slide those gates.
We can afford the waits.

Stack up you baggage, Baby.
It won't wall off our world.

In or out,
I want to know what you're all about.

We'll establish an ancient trade route.

Go ahead,
stack up your baggage, Baby.
Throw in the kitchen sink.

I've got a torch and a wink.
This is how we step 
                            over the brink.
Cat's have no boundaries. They're good at love like that.