Spotlight on #WOC in #LGBTQ+ #Romance: Kendall Morgan!

Welcome to my new monthly feature, a spotlight on the work of writers of color in LGBTQ+ romance. The lovely ladies at The Ripped Bodice did an amazing informal survey on the state of racial diversity in romance publishing, and the results were deeply depressing. Especially from LGBTQ+ romance publishers–which surprised me a lot. I find it very short-sighted to promote diversity in sexual orientation and not diversity in race.

With those staggering stats in mind, I’ve decided to open my blog to writers of color in the LGBTQ+ romance community with a monthly spotlight. So if you’re a #WOC in #LGBTQ+ #romance interested in being featured, send me an email! I would love to promote your work.

I’m thrilled to welcome Kendall Morgan to the blog for the inaugural spotlight. Kendall has been in the LGBTQ+ romance game since the ’90s, so she’s a firsthand witness to social change when it comes to both diversity and LGBTQ+ acceptance in the romance world. She writes hot as H-E-double-hockey-sticks contemporary romance, often involving a bear/twink dynamic. Her most recent release is Spooky Ginger Love (anything with the word ‘ginger’ in the title is an auto-buy for me), and she has two series going, the Pacific Palms Resort series and the Bearland Tales series. Details and Amazon buy links for three of her books are below!

Dark spooky forest with silhouette of a man walking

Spooky Ginger Love

Keith Norwood, a handsome African-American gay bear, came to Camp You-Mee’s Bears Haunted Halloween Boo-Nanza Extravaganza for some cheesy holiday thrills and a little ass. A fan of the one-night stand, he thought all he wanted was to get laid. The camp’s cute assistant manager with a fantastic butt was Keith’s first choice.

Instead, he loses his way in the haunted woods. He finds his way and himself with the help of Ronnie Gans, a big, friendly, hairy redhead, who is unlike any one-night stand Keith has ever had.

Buy it here!

Twinks in Bearland - Amazon

Twinks in Bearland

The friends of pretty blue-eyed Dustin Garber are about to find out that he has a secret. He loves bears, big hairy gay men. None of them know it, but he’s just booked them all into the annual Gay Bear Ski week.

Craig, beautiful, black and Jewish, is initially indifferent to the fact that he is spending a week with big hairy men. He already has a hook up planned of his own, although that man turns out to have a bizarre secret.

Patrick and Ethan, two bear-hating twinks who have been secretly in love with each other for years, take much longer to come around to the idea that bears can be good guys too. Dustin isn’t so sure his friendship with them will survive the trip.

And then Dustin meets Nate, a big blond bear who is forever single but ready for something a little different. Nate’s friends, Casey and Ryland, are fighting about Ryland’s porn career. Nate’s friend Gil is busy with a Canadian couple, but together Dustin and Nate get lost on a backcountry trail. Deep in the snow away from everyone they may just find the love they’ve been seeking and the understanding they didn’t know they needed.

Twinks in Bearland is the first book in the Bearland Tales series, but each book can stand alone. This gay contemporary love story includes graphic sex and is intended for adults only.

Buy it here!

Keeping Score Amazon

Keeping Score

Brandon Stephenson is a YouTube star and former fat kid looking to rest, relax, and get laid at Pacific Palms Resort, a very gay and very expensive tropical paradise.

A lazy blow job on the beach from one man leads to sex in the sand with a hunky Sri Lankan the next day. But, in order to get what he really wants and fall in love, he’s going to have to realize that he’s not a fat kid any more. He’s a hunky adult. Placing wagers on people’s lives is not a good idea.

And if he really wants Julian Bailey, the resort’s Jamaican director of fitness with rock hard abs, he’s going to have to go and get him.

Keeping Score is the first book in the Pacific Palms Resort series, but each book can stand alone. This gay contemporary erotic romance love story includes graphic sex and is intended for adults only.

Buy it here!

Kendall Morgan Bio

I started writing gay male erotic romance stories in the early ’90s, but only gay male porn magazines would publish them. I’m so glad things have gotten more respectable and the readership more broad. I am a lesbian in an interracial same-sex marriage, and I love writing interracial romance stories. I love flipping stereotypes and challenging myself to write characters that are ever further from who I am. I hope you enjoy my stories. I certainly love writing them.

If you would like more info about Kendall’s books, check out her Romance IO and her GoodReads pages.

Are you a writer of color who specializes in LGBTQ+ or het romance? Would you be interested in having your work featured in one of my spotlight posts? Contact me at selinakray@hotmail.ca. I would love to have you!

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Five Historical Romances I’m Loving Right Now!!

If you’re like me, end of summer sloth is starting to take over. That time of year when the air is sweet, the sun golden but sets earlier every evening, and nothing beckons louder than your backyard/balcony lounge chair. Maybe you’re on holiday. Maybe holidays are done and you, like me, want to recapture that lazy feeling on your weekends. At this time of year, there’s no luxury like a good book, a fruity drink, and an afternoon to relax through.

In Romancelandia, the sunny season had seen published an unusual amount of LGBTQ+ historical romances, and I, for one, am not complaining. Five of the most talented authors around have put out incredible books, and so it’s time to give my fellow historical writers some love in one of my favorite features, Five Things I’m Loving Right Now (Historical Romance Edition).

So take advantage of the last days of summer to soak in a few rays and travel back to far more adventurous (and repressed, it must be said) times. After you’ve read Stoker & Bash: The Fangs of Scavo, of course. 😉

Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt

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Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. And this cover is not only gorgeous, but a perfect reflection of the story inside. I’d read paranormals by the wonderful Liv Rancourt, but her historicals were new to me. Boy, am I glad I dove into this one! A rare historical set in the 1950s, Mrs. Rancourt brings the era we think we know through movies and TV brilliantly to life. You will fall as hard for Russell and Skip as they do for each other, and be bedazzled by the dialogue and period detail. A must-read for any historical romance fans.

A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers

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The author of the astounding Enlightenment series journeys to Porthkennack, a Cornish seaside town with a moody beauty and a stormy atmosphere. Especially when it comes to its newest and most inscrutable resident, Ward, a disgraced scientist chasing the ghost of his dead brother. Salt of the earth Nicholas is blackmailed into helping him with his experiments into weather and spirits, and gets more than he bargained for when sparks fly between them. Need I say more? A master of the genre at the top of her game.

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

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The shadow world encroaching on 1920s London was never so beguiling as in the hands of Mrs. Charles, who expands her world of occultists and invisible entities established in The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, but a generation later. As always, the period detail and the level of research into folklore is gold-standard–you will learn ridiculous amounts of the most fun kind of information reading this book. But the deep emotion with which she imbues her characters, wounded Saul and sardonic Randolph, are what makes this so glommable.

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

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Mrs. Sebastian is my favorite new discovery this year, earning one-click status with her first book A Soldier’s Scoundrel and my undying devotion with her second, The Lawrence Browne Affair. This gem concludes her trilogy, but is hopefully not the last historical we get from her golden pen (or, er, keyboard). Courtenay, who has the reputation of a Cassanova thanks to someone publishing a book of his exploits, is the titular rake. He finds his foil in Julian, an ultra-proper man with dark secrets. Together, they try, and fail, to resist their best instincts and the lust that burns between them. Much to the reader’s delight.

The Bones of our Fathers by Elin Gregory

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Okay, so I’m cheating a bit with this one. It’s a contemporary, but it involves a museum curator and the discovery of an ancient burial cist, so I hope I’m forgiven. It’s also bloody fantastic. The lovely Mrs. Gregory doesn’t get enough love or attention, despite being an incredible author, so do yourself a favor and pick up this treasure about… well, the power struggles over some ancient treasure in the form of two intertwined male Bronze Age skeletons. Mal, the curator, and Rob, a local boy with an unfortunate nickname and hidden depths, also find their lives intertwined, in the best and sometimes most difficult ways possible. Wit, warmth, and welcome are the hallmarks of this book–don’t miss it.

Happy reading!

Selina

Beyond Paul, Mark, and David: Tips for Naming Your Characters, Part 1

The naming of cats is a difficult matter

It isn’t just one of your holiday games

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you a cat must have three different names

 

First of all is the name that the family use daily

Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James

Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey

All of them sensible everyday names…

-T.S. Eliot, The Naming of Cats

It happens like clockwork. Every few weeks, one of my writer friends will bemoan the fact that they can’t think of a name for a particular character, that this is the part of writing that they hate the most, that inventing a person is easy but giving them the right moniker is mission: impossible.

At first, this surprised me. Why? Because I LOVE to name things. Not just characters or places or cars or stuffed animals, a favorite armchair or sex toy, but anything. I obsess over the names of my characters, doing hours of research until I find the exact right one. To me, a character doesn’t really exist until they have the right name.

I am what is called a name nerd. I have bought more baby naming books than I care to admit, and I never intend to have any children. But I’ve had an ever-changing list of what I would call my hypothetical children that will never exist since I was ten years old (current faves: Persephone and Lorcan). I fret and debate and fiddle with potential names far more than actual parents do over what to call the baby that is at that very moment gestating and will soon be a living, breathing person.

But I came to understand my fellow authors’ grief. When you think about it, unless you’re having a quiverful of J-named tots, most parents will only name one to four children in their lifetime. A successful author could potentially name hundreds of people, from their main protagonist to all the incidental people in a book to family members who get a one-time mention but never appear in a scene. And if you’re writing about a fictional place and/or fantasy world, the number of names rises exponentially. There’s a reason Tolkien invented two languages in order to name his characters with some consistency. When you are a creator of worlds, you’re responsible for the well-being—and the names—of the people and creatures that populate that world. But relief is in sight because…

Authors friends, I’m here to help. Nearly thirty years of name-nerding has taught me more than a few tricks, and I’m happy to share. This post is the first in a three-part series of tips and tricks for naming your characters (and places, and things, etc…). This first one centers on contemporary names, and the two that follow will be on historical names and fantasy names.

Before we dive in, I also want to offer my service as a character name consultant. Email me at selinakray@hotmail.ca if you like these tips and need some help/advice/inspiration. This kind of thing is like crack to me, so don’t be shy!

And now, without further ado, five tips for naming contemporary characters:

1. Think beyond Paul and Sarah. Please. For the love of all that’s literary. In the romance genre, there’s always the fear of being too flowery, too cutesy, too try. We’ve all read those books, where characters have crazy, improbable names that distract from who they are or just don’t fit. I write and read M/M, and a particular dislike of mine is all the macho-man names like Stone, Brock, Jock, or Rip. Soap opera names. These don’t always have to be a bad thing, though. They can be used ironically, or to tell you something about the character. No name is a bad name if it fits the character wearing it.

As a reaction to that, some authors go the complete opposite direction and give their characters the most simple name possible. You know the ones: Mark, Dave, Steve, John, Mary, Sarah, Catherine, Elizabeth. There was a point at which if I read another book with a character named Paul, I considered returning the book on principle.

We can do better, without cracking out the weird Y’s, extra consonants, and Gaelic spelling. There are hundreds of simple, classic names that are a little left of center—maybe a little old-fashioned, maybe too long out of use—that could fit your character. Oscar, Felix, Dario, Stellan, Bram, Lionel, Rufus, Arturo, Barney, Jerome, or Sabine, Clara, Simone, Nadine, Mira, Juniper, Faye, Lena, Carly. All easy to pronounce, all easy to read. Each with their own unique flavor.

A good baby name book, like my bible Beyond Jason and Jennifer, Madison and Montana, or website like Nameberry, will give you thousands of options that don’t get into Jerramy and Kaetelynn territory. So please, go explore the possibilities!

2. Law and Order is your friend. Once upon a time for work, I had to watch around 200 episodes of Law and Order over a period of maybe four months. What struck me at the time—other than, “Please, please don’t let me be assigned another episode of Law and Order”—is the variety of names that the writers of that show had to come up with over 20 seasons of 22 episodes per season. They couldn’t all be variations on John Smith.

But their pain is your treasure. The show is set in New York, the original melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, and all of these are represented in the names used on Law and Order and its various spinoffs. Need inspiration? Go to their IMDb page and scroll through the list of names. I guarantee you will find something offbeat but authentic.

Any favorite television show, film, or book can provide character name inspiration. Are you a fan of Judy Blume? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The Godfather films? All great starting points.  

This brings up a prickly issue in the character naming game, which is cultural background. Most of the names I’m going to suggest in this post are from a white North American perspective because I am a white North American and not qualified to speak about other traditions. But I hope we are all committed to writing diverse characters and, when doing so, using the naming traditions of that particular culture. All names are beautiful! So do your research, reach out to people within that particular culture, and get it right. We’ll get into this more in the historical post.

3. Balance is key. The person who inspired me to write this series of posts and my personal naming guru—though she prefers the moniker ‘name therapist’—is the wise and wonderful Duana Taha, who gives name advice in her bi-weekly column over on LaineyGossip.com (search for the name nerd tag in Lifestyle).

Duana, who has one of the loveliest and most unique names I’ve ever heard, is the ne plus ultra of name nerds. I just finished her book, The Name Therapist, which I suggest all authors pick up, and it is a goldmine of naming tips and theories.

One of the things I’ve learned from her over the years is that names need balance and flow. To achieve this: first, middle, and last names shouldn’t have the same number of syllables. The ideal would be any variation on a 1-2-3 balance, i.e. 3-1-2, 2-3-1, etc. Richard Brice Westinghouse. Francesca Ines Behar. Gideon Abel Dershowitz. Catriona Leigh Byrne.

She tends to come down against alliteration, again because of the cutesy-twee aspect. But that cutesy-tweeness might tell you something about that character or their parents, so try to avoid it, but don’t rule it out entirely. She counsels against too many names ending in A for girls—especially in both a first and middle name—and also having a first name end with the same vowel that a last name begins with.

Say the name out loud, listen to the flow. If you stutter or stumble, go back to the drawing board.

4. Avoid stereotypes. We’ve all read books with a cop named Jake or Mac (apologies to Josh Lanyon) or a plain girl named Jane. A doctor named Richard. A princess named Kate. These names take on lives of their own by being used over and over again in similar contexts, leading us to make associations with jobs or characteristics, even causing us to categorize certain names as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Staying away from these stereotypes helps to avoid reinforcing them.

But names aren’t neutral, far from it. We each have our specific, personal experience of people with certain names that are either beloved or have bad associations. For instance, I love the name Astrid because of a dear friend, while childhood bullies have forever soured me to the names Louise and Kerri. A fun exercise might be to name a misbehaving or misunderstood character one of the names you dislike, or an annoying character a name that doesn’t have music in order to help shape their identity. But using a name you love might spell trouble for you as a writer. If you love the person behind the name too much, you might not have the right perspective on the character’s actions.

Whether a name ‘fits’ your character’s identity can help shape them in your mind and define for you some of the major challenges/traits/flaws they have as a person, so choose wisely.

5. Think generationally. Another thing Duana talks about in her excellent book is the popularity boom of Jennifer in the ’70s and ’80s, a phenomenon that is unlikely to be repeated. I lived through that era and knew my share of Jennifers (and Julies, since I live in Quebec). But nowadays, Jennifer is a mom name. So is Stephanie or Jessica or Pamela or Karen. Dad names are Kevin and Josh and Jason and Steve and Patrick.

Some names, like Michael, are classics that transcend generations, but most common names speak volumes about specific decades or eras. What do names like Ethel, Doris, Herman, and Bernard evoke? The 1920s and ’30s, when our grandparents—and for this generation, great-grandparents—had their heyday. Conversely, someone who’s in their teens/early 20s in 2016 is unlikely to have the name Judy or William. Don’t believe me? Go hang out at a playground.

A simple Google search can clue you in to era-appropriate names. But don’t be too reliant on those top-ten lists. One thing that never goes out of style? Originality. There are thousands of names that have no decade or era association at all. Yet another reason to research, research, research.

Or consult your friendly neighborhood name nerd. I hope this post has been helpful! Drop me a line in the comments and let me know your name obsessions and pet peeves.

 

Selina

Best Books of 2015

As the last grains of sand pour through the hourglass that was 2015, every one of us, I think, is taking a few moments to reminisce about the year that was. It’s the time of year to shift around the beads on the abacus of life and, if you’re a geek like me, to remind yourself of all the indelible pop culture experiences you had this year. A tough year for me personally, but an epic one in terms of the entertainment I consumed, and the thoughts about it I shared with my social media friends. So, over the next couple of days, I’m rolling out my best of 2015 in books, TV, and film. Because who doesn’t love a good list?

Thanks to the lovely folks at GoodReads, putting together my best books of 2015 list was a breeze! I pressed a button and presto, changeo, they tallied all the stats and collected all the book covers for me. A huge help! But also surprising. The year has been a busy one, and that’s reflected in the smaller number of books I got through. Not a surprise, since as I type this there are at least a dozen on my waiting list, with at least five by major authors. I also tend to rate books quite highly, but I attribute this to the fact that I’m very good at selecting books for myself that I will enjoy. I have my stable of trusted authors, and though I do sample works by new writers (four of which made it to this list), just keeping up with my favorites eats up the largest chunk of my reading time.

So, without further ado, here are the seven best books I read in 2015 (in no particular order).

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A Death at the Dionysus Club by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold–A Victorian mystery series with occult leanings, beautifully drawn characters, a fascinating and terrifying underworld, and a complex, touching romance. What’s not to love?

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Captive Prince 1&2 by C.S. Pacat–I’ve written about them before. If you’ve read this series, you know how expertly plotted, devastatingly smart, and utterly riveting they are. Laurent is one of the best characters of all time.

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Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme–If you, like me, love old movies and are just as fascinated by the stories behind the making of those movies, you will love this book. A film buff’s romance with strong mystery element, with a lovely, complicated, silent film-loving heroine and her dashing mathematician foil. I ached when this one was over.

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Hoarfrost by Jordan L. Hawk–A new Whyborne & Griffin book is always a cause for celebration. This one’s winter setting hit close to home, and made for a particularly emotional outing. I marvel at the depth of Mrs. Hawk’s imagination, which conjures up civilizations and creatures that, like the best episodes of Doctor Who, touch the head and the heart.

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Jackdaw by K.J. Charles–What else is there to say about Mrs. Charles other than she is the best historical M/M writer working today? I could have put all of her releases on this list, but my love for the Charm of Magpies world knows no bounds, so Jonah and Ben it is.

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Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates–A pitch-black book about six Oxford University students who start a game of dares that transforms all their lives. Twisty and addictive, Mr. Yates pushes all of his characters to the brink and beyond.

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Unnatural by Joanna Chambers–An engrossing historical that had me by the heart for its entire length. I just loved James and Iain to bits. But it’s the brushstrokes of her writing that stay with me, the quiet moments and the compelling images that linger in the mind long after the last page.

What books made you stay up into the wee hours to finish them this year? Hit me up in the comments!

 

Too Much Is Not Enough: Being an Author in the Age of Binge

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And you can find your own way out.
And you can build, and I can will
And you can call, I can’t wait until
You can stash and you can seize
In dreams begin responsibilities
And I can love, and I can love
And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down.

-U2, Acrobat

I am a slow writer. Even if I didn’t work a full-time job, pick up extra editing work in the evenings, try to maintain at least a few friendships, not to mention take care of all the other minutiae of living (one of which barks and demands three walks a day), I would still be a slow writer. I envy those authors who can pound out 4,000-7,000 words in an afternoon. That is not me.

My best ideas, like a good pasta sauce, need to simmer awhile. I like to think, and think, and think again about a scene, stirring it through my mind until the character beats boil down to their essence. Only then will I sit down to write it and, on my better days, watch it transform into something unexpected. I can always tell when I’m forcing it, when I haven’t added enough seasoning to the sauce. Like any author, I have more than a few false-start books on my laptop. When a story isn’t working, I usually top out at about 40 pages. If I make it past that point, then I know I did my prep work.

Which is why my panic level is reaching DEFCON 1 in terms of having another book out this year. The “How am I going to make a career out of this if I can’t even get one book out a year?” merry-go-round in my brain is at full speed these days. Especially in the age of binge watching, where media is available in large, consumable chunks, I can’t afford  that long a space between publications. And I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling the pressure to produce.

Because I’ve been on the other side. I recently finished reading J.L. Merrow’s Played, and my reaction upon reaching the last page was: “Want. More. Now. NOM.” I hadn’t read anything by her in a while, and I love the worlds she builds for her characters. There’s a cosy feeling to them even when there’s angst, and I just wanted to snuggle down for the duration. Problem is, I’ve read all her other books.

I don’t feel this way about every author. I adore Harper Fox, but her books take a lot out of me. The journey of reading them is often thrilling, heart-wrenching, and joyous all at once; after those, I need a break. Some smoosh. So while not all my favorite authors are like crack, I know firsthand the impatience of waiting for a long-anticipated book, or even another book by a beloved author (nudge-nudge, Scarlett Thomas).

But is the bingeing tendency in our culture creating unreasonable reader expectations, especially in the romance industry, where many readers all but inhale books? Is it unrealistic to expect authors to crank out more than three titles a year to answer audience expectations? Does the law of diminishing returns apply if authors turn into book-churning mills?

The evidence is inconclusive. We all know of successful series, like Jordan L. Hawk’s SPECTER series, that have multiple volumes of excellent quality and narrative inventiveness, that could seemingly go on forever. And we all know of authors like Laurel K. Hamilton who can’t let her universe or her characters go, when maybe she should. Or series that start off great, like a popular M/M series mentioned by a member of the Hassell and Hall group on Facebook the other day, described as—to paraphrase—the first three were great, but the person lost interest when it started to be never-ending wedded bliss. I admire J.K. Rowling and Elizabeth George in equal measure, the former for setting an end to her series and sticking to it, the latter for making the hard decisions and keeping the emotional life of her lead detectives fresh over almost 20 mystery novels.

And then there is the peculiar case of my fellow slow writer, George R.R. Martin. I alternate between feeling really bad for him (and his millions, LOL) and thinking he must have known what he was getting into from the start. He will be perhaps the first series writer in history to have the long-anticipated final volume of his series spoiled by the TV show his books spawned. Other people will write the ending of his series before he does. That must be depressing as hell. On the other hand, some of those who’ve read the books (which does not include me) are of the opinion that they could have concluded with Book Four, and he’s been stretching the plot too thin ever since. No matter whether you’re a writer or a reader, it can be hard to let go.

Authors are also in the unique position that they work on a daily basis with things—invisible things, characters and worlds that are only in their heads—that they love unconditionally. Little wonder some authors never want to abandon the worlds they create, even when they have nothing original or compelling left to say. That they, like (possibly) me, fuss over every detail, never truly satisfied with their creation, no matter how much love and care they’ve devoted to it.

I may be in the minority, but I think pressuring authors to perform, whether it be writing the story you want to read or begging for an unnecessary sequel, results in less than spectacular work. But then, there’s something to be said for not being so precious and just writing the damn book. Either way, the key is finding your balance as an author, a reader, a creator, a consumer.

And, as a far better writer than me once said, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

 

-Selina

Five Things I’m Loving Right Now — Summer Edition

Friends,

In belated celebration of the solstice and the lovely summer weather, here’s another round of the five things I’m loving right now. Be sure to hit me up in the comments about the stuff you’re grooving on!

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1. All the new releases in M/M romance

Some heavy hitters have new releases out this month, perfect for those easy days at the beach or lazing on the balcony drinking your bevvy of choice. The only real concern is in which order to read them in. The one I’ve chosen is Josh Lanyon’s Winter Kill, Amy Lane’s The Deep of the Sound, followed by K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, then Jordan L. Hawk’s Mocker of Ravens, Harper Fox’s Last Line 2, J.L. Merrow’s Played, and Kaje Harper’s Life, Some Assembly Required. The only downside is it will take me less than a month to get through them all, and what am I going to do with the rest of July and August?

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2. Acupressure mats

I don’t usually go in for what my friend J. describes as “that woo-woo stuff,” and the various web sites for this product claim it does everything from help you lose weight to cure major ailments. But I am here to tell you that after a long, stressful day, especially at the end of your workout, lying on this bad boy is like an evil massage that works your muscles but feels so good afterwards. My friend A. is the fairy godmother who gave me this “torture device” for my last birthday, and I have been singing her praises ever since. Especially good on feet swollen from long walks in the hot sun, or those hard to reach places on the back of your neck. And way cheaper than paying for regular massages, as well.

3. Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect

A buoyant ’80s-influenced pop extravaganza that combines Flowers’ playful, evocative lyrics with one of the best male voices out there right now. If you grew up loving the New Romantics, like I did, this album will bring you back. Favorite tracks include Can’t Deny My Love, I Can Change, Untangled Love, and Lonely Town.

4.  The 100

Summer is the perfect time to catch up on or binge shows that you missed during the year, and this one has been on my list for a while. While it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it was definitely worth the wait. I call it “Lost and Battlestar Galactica’s teenage love child,” because you will recognize a good deal of those shows’ ideas, themes, and actors (I swear half of BSG’s Canadian cast has appeared on this show at least once–just waiting for you to show up, Tamoh!), but that doesn’t make its dystopian space opera narrative any less riveting. The premise is simple: 100 delinquent teens from a space station orbiting Earth are sent back down 100 years after nuclear war to see if the planet is inhabitable (spoiler alert: it is, because duh). We keep track of the teens as they try to survive in this new, brutal environment (think Lord of the Flies on crack), but also follow their parents and elders stuck on the dying space station.

One of the best parts of the show is the amazing gender equality and diversity of the cast. Among the main actors, it’s a 50-50 split between men and women, with two women as the show’s lead characters. I’d actually say white men are in the minority on the show, and they are most often portrayed as evil, or at least misguided, characters. Though everyone has flaws, and the character arcs progress beautifully, and the action is pretty non-stop. But the writers aren’t precious about squeezing all the life out of a situation to maintain the status quo. Things are constantly changing on the show, and they aren’t afraid to reward the viewer with major, long-awaited events when the time is right. You’ve seen a lot of it done before, and most of the teens are unreasonably good-looking (if perpetually muddy), but for summer viewing? The 100 definitely hits the spot.

5. My dog’s fur

This is on the more personal side. My little poochie turned eight this year, which is more or less senior age for a dog, and I’ve become more aware of the ticking clock. She’s never been the cuddliest dog–too independent, like her person–but as she’s gotten older, she’s mellowed a bit about the whole “curling up” thing, and I’m stupidly grateful. There’s nothing like mushing my bare feet into her fur when she sits on the far end of the couch while I write, or feeling her silkiness on my cheek as we snuggle while watching TV. I’ve shaved her down for the season, so it’s a bit pricklier than normal, but that just makes her all the more huggable. I never want to take that feeling for granted, and I’m so grateful that she’s in my life.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Selina

Top 5 Most Cinematic M/M Romances

One of the great tragedies of the modern cinematic era, IMHO, is the fact that Brokeback Mountain was followed up by… absolutely nothing. There hasn’t been one mainstream film about a gay couple since, nor is there likely to be one in the near future. A few on the indie scene have managed to make something of a splash among critics and diehards—Love Is Strange, Mysterious Skin, and The Kids Are All Right come to mind—but nothing on par with the visibility and the success of Brokeback.

It’s not like Hollywood is lacking in source material, either. They could adapt Mary Renault, Christopher Isherwood, or Gore Vidal if they want some highbrow Oscar-bait. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if, hot on the heels of *that movie* and the supposed renaissance of sexy adult films (I’ll believe it when I see it), they looked to the M/M romance genre and the hundreds of authors whose works are both high-quality and highly filmable? Seriously, indie producers, what are you waiting for?

But, as a community, we don’t really have to wait for those producers anymore, do we? Surely there are enough M/M readers worldwide to fund a serious Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Enough readers with a background in film or television (like me) to shepherd the project to completion. Maybe one day my dream of having a production company that exclusively adapts M/M books will be a reality. In the meantime, a girl can dream… about which books she would tackle first, and who should star in those theoretical films.

Whether this is a pie-in-the-sky ambition, a dream that could be a reality with enough elbow grease, or a fun party game, I offer up for debate my (very subjective) list of the Five Most Cinematic M/M Books! After you’ve perused the list, hit up the comments with your suggestions, alternatives, or casting revisions!

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

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If that IndieKickGogoStarter campaign ever does see the light of day, one of the big issues is going to be which book to tackle first. Any producer worth their salt would do enough research to know that Josh Lanyon is probably the most read author in the genre, with an extensive backlist and several movie-ready series (because the name of the game is always sequels). The two obvious choices would be to start with the first Adrien English novel, Fatal Shadows, or, if they have more of a budget to work with, the Dangerous Ground series. Both would be excellent choices and would make great films.

But I would look to one of his more recent works, Stranger on the Shore. I mean, just look at what he did with the trailer! The book has everything great movies are made of: a compelling mystery, a Kennedy-esque family with dark secrets that suffered a major tragedy, a leading man with a personal connection to the family and the crime, a nosy reporter with secrets of his own, a gorgeous Hamptons backdrop. With its many allusions to The Great Gatsby, Stranger on the Shore positions itself as a modern-day twist on that classic: romantic, mysterious, luxurious, and entrancing. Throw in a picturesque moonlit lake view with a green light across the water, and I’m sold.

Casting: As Griff, the pesky reporter writing a book about the Arlington family tragedy, I can’t think of anyone more dogged yet charming than Grant Gustin. He also suffers quite prettily, too, and that baby face doesn’t hurt. As Pierce, the stone-cold lawyer and Arlington family bulldog, Alexander Skarsgaard’s Scandinavian chill and grace would seduce pretty much everyone watching. Still, even though the character in the book is Caucasian, I like to practice color-blind casting, and think Jesse Williams or Mike Coulter would also be great—and super hot!

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

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Victorian London. A cursed lord with a booby-trapped mansion and a merciless sorcerer out to exploit the very blood coursing through his veins. A secret organization of magic police who hunt down anyone who abuses their powers. A book crammed with more imagination, thrilling events, sexual smoulder, and cataclysmic climaxes than a reader deserves… Not to mention stripping. Both the kind you think and… not. The stuff of fantasies, both sexual and adventurous. The stuff of nightmares, but, you know, the fun kind that go bump in the night. This is the real Harry Potter for grownups.

Casting: The obvious choice for Lord Crane based on physical description alone is Lawrence Fox, but I find he has a sleepy quality that doesn’t suit Lucian. Someone who has the strength, the stillness, the wryness, and the imperiousness required is Richard Armitage. He doesn’t look exactly right, but that’s an easy fix. For Stephen Day, the tiny ginger with the adamantium sense of morality and the fearsome powers, I would look no further than the lovely Luke Treadaway. Although…. something about James McAvoy speaks to me as well. I think he would nail Stephen’s weariness and intractability.

Driftwood by Harper Fox

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When comes to the fantastic Ms. Fox, there isn’t a book in her cannon that isn’t outrageously cinematic. This author paints on a epic canvas, and her settings are often secondary characters in her books. Any one of them would make a riveting film, but Driftwood has touchstones and elements that I still remember vividly some three years after reading it. The statue shaped like a wave. The many rescues/dangerous encounters at sea. The protagonists’ military backgrounds and personal tragedies. Meet cutes at standing stones. And, of course, the decaying lighthouse where the MC lives, which at one point topples over the side of a cliff. The dangerous beauty of Cornwall, where it is set. There is so much meat here; it would be a cinematic feast.

Casting: Ever since I read the book, I have a theory that a crude version of its genesis went a little something like this: Benedict Cumberbatch shags Michael Fassbender. Now, this doesn’t do anything like justice to Ms. Fox’s subtle character shadings and riveting storyline, and it could be me imposing my own obsessions on the books, but, well. That’s the movie I see in my head. Cumby would be the doctor, Tom, of course, and Fassy the helicopter pilot, Flynn.

Captive Prince Volumes I and II by C.S. Pacat

 

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Two rival countries, both alike in… well, deceptions, double-crosses, overthrows, assassinations, warmongering, and manipulations. Romeo & Romeo, this ain’t. The captive prince of the title is forced into slavery after his father’s murder by his bastard brother. He’s sent to their most vicious enemy, a kingdom with a maniacal regent and a ruthless king-to-be, who is first in line for the throne because the slave-prince killed the older brother he worshipped in order to win a war. The political machinations alone make the Game of Thrones look like a round of Scrabble, and the enemies to lovers saga is one of the most gripping and infuriating I’ve ever read. Did I mention the kidnappings, wild hunts, sneaking into enemy territory at night, stormings of castles, and breath-stopping escape attempts? Possibly the best love scene I’ve ever read? One of the most complicated and inscrutable characters in all of creation? Forget a movie—this book needs its own 10-part HBO series.

Casting: Jason Momoa would be interesting for Damen. For Laurent, I can’t think of anyone better than Freddie Fox. If you’ve seen Cucumber, the Russell T. Davies series, you’ll understand.

Provoked by Joanna Chambers

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Righteous young lawyer David Lauriston is eager to make his mark on the legal profession in 1822 Scotland, but also to help people and serve the common good. He is tormented by his sexuality and longs for the one that got away, a boyhood love he was forced apart from years before. Enter Lord Murdo Balfour, tall, dark, and unapologetic about his need for other men. Of course, it helps to have the bank account and the social connections that can pay for discretion. Part legal thriller and part opposites-attract romance, all set against a rarely seen historical backdrop—not to mention an inordinate amount of men in kilts—this book is begging to be made into a film. Though book three, set at Murdo’s highland estate, would be the most picturesque.

Casting: As ambitious but morally conflicted David, the Australian actor Sam Reid, so good in a similar part in last year’s Belle. As Murdo… I’m conflicted. So many of the actors I think would be amazing in the role are too old now to play it—Matthew Macfadyen, Viggo Mortensen, Manu Bennett. But then I remembered that Henry Cavill—before he chose to go the leading man route—has the height, the range, the manliness, and the sense of mischievous superiority, as evidenced by his work on The Tudors. BBC Films, make this happen!

Over to you, gentle readers. What M/M romance would make your list must-see films? Who would you cast and why? Feel free to use and abuse the comments as your very own casting couch.