12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop: A Mitzvah

Hanukkah Sameach, everyone! I want to thank Julia Kelly for being an excellent co-blog hop organizer/partner-in-crime, as well as all of the amazing authors who are participating in the hop. I’ve had so much fun reading everyone’s stories!

To celebrate the first day of the festival of lights, I decided to write a short story featuring  Sofie and Ivan, who are celebrating their first Hannukah together. It’s 1964 and the couple, who met during Freedom Summer, are learning that sometimes life’s biggest obstacle can be the one closest to you: your family. Sofie and Ivan’s full love story will be featured in a novella, Let It Shine, coming out in the summer of 2015—it’s part of a special project I’m working on with Lena Hart, Piper Huguley, and Kianna Alexander. More news on that in the new year, though. </suspense>

For now: enjoy!

 

12 Days Revision

 

A Mitzvah

Virginia, 1964

Sofie placed the to-do list on the freshly scrubbed laminate of the kitchen counter. Like everything else in the small room, it was a bright, buttery yellow; something straight from the 1955 edition of House Beautiful magazine. She’d hated it when she and Ivan first moved in, but it was actually nice to come home to something cheery when the neighbors all gave you the cold shoulder. She wondered if it was the afro she was growing out; when she’d viewed the apartment, her hair had been straightened with a hot comb ­­so that it was limp and lifeless, nonthreatening. People had only been mildly rude then, not openly hostile. Ivan joked that it was because he refused to do their taxes. They both knew the real reason.

She scanned the list, or rather the complex groupings of items, complete with headings, sublists, and footnotes. The orderly rows of fastidious handwriting made her feel in control, even when she was so nervous that she was sure she’d sweat through the pretty pink A-line dress she’d sewn specially for today. Under the heading HANNUKAH she’d written little notes that she could reference if she got too nervous: Maccabee story; oil is important; mitzvah (need definition); berakot (blessings)  l’hadlik, she-asah nisim, she-hekhianu; do not blow out the shamash; ask Ivan’s dad to touch his horns.

“Ivan!” she shouted in amused annoyance. He liked to make his own additions to her lists, especially when he knew her nerves were frayed.

He stepped out of their bedroom, still in the process of pulling his simple white t-shirt down over his muscular chest and abdomen. She caught a glimpse of smooth skin and a dark trail of hair, and then he tucked the shirt into his Levi’s. His black eyes honed in on her as he walked toward the kitchen. Maybe it was his crooked nose, broken countless times over the course of his boxing career, that gave his approach a thrilling hint of danger. Or the way his full lips pulled up into the kind of smile that usually ended with her bent over the arm of the couch, the kitchen sink, or the dining room table. Everywhere but the bed, which good girls like her had been taught was the only place for such activities. She knew better now.

Sofie had learned a lot of things since Ivan walked into the meeting of non-violent protestors at her college two years before, bruised and skeptical but determined to help. He’d changed from the angry little boy her mother had nicknamed Stubb, short for Stubborn, when she kept house for the Friedman’s so long ago; Sofie had changed from the little girl nicknamed Goody, too. She’d learned how to fight for what she wanted. How to be her authentic self. How to accept that life might never be easy for her and Ivan, but being together would be worth it.

Now, Ivan walked up and gripped the counter on either side of her, hemming her in. The old Sofie would have been embarrassed at the way he made her blush like a sinner at a church revival. The new Sofie was still embarrassed, but leaned her hips forward, loving the contact with his muscular thighs.

“I’ve told you not to tamper with my lists,” she said, holding his gaze. His hands still gripped the counter, but now they slid along the metal trim, both of them reaching her hips simultaneously. His hands briefly cupped her curves as they moved upward, and then encircled her waist. The weight of them resting there was just as potent as a caress, maybe more so; it was a silent reminder of everything he could do to her.

Ivan grinned, heedless of the chipped front tooth that he was usually embarrassed to reveal; she found it so endearing her heart hurt. “And I’ve told you that if you intend to make me sit through a Hanukkah dinner with both of our fathers, I’m going to need something to look forward to besides malevolent stares from one side of the table and blatant disapproval from the other. I get enough of those as it is.”

His hands began to make small smoothing motions over her hips, as if he were fixing her dress or contemplating taking it off. She never knew with him.

He lifted one shoulder. “I figure you can ask my dad if he has horns under his yarmulke, I can ask your dad if he wants some watermelon, and they’ll both be so mad about those put downs they’ll forget we’re living in sin. It’ll be a gas.”

She made an incredulous noise and pushed at his solid shoulder, which didn’t budge. “If you even breathe the word watermelon in front of my father, he’ll stick that menorah where the sun don’t shine so fast it’ll still be lit. And I’ll help him.”

“Weren’t you the one who talked me into the whole nonviolence thing?” he asked, brows raised.

“Violence is never the answer,” Sofie replied solemnly. “Unless you sass my daddy. Then I’ll have to put a hurtin’ on you.”

He laughed. “Okay, then. I guess I’ll use my endurance training to withstand the family fun we’ll have to sit through tonight.” His smile faded as he ducked his head and looked into her eyes. He ran one calloused knuckle over her jawline. “Sof? What’s wrong?”

“I’m…I’m nervous.” She knew Ivan was too, which accounted for his joking, but this was important to her. She wanted Ivan’s father to like her. She wanted her father to accept Ivan. She wanted to have the fun family gatherings she remembered from her childhood, before her mother passed away, not an acrimonious night where everyone merely tolerated one another. Was that not in the cards for her, just because she’d fallen in love with a Jewish brawler instead of an Alpha Phi Alpha?

Ivan looked down at her, that crushing tenderness that was so at odds with everything else about him etched onto his face. “Listen to me. I’ve watched you stare down an officer with a rifle pointed in your face. I’ve seen…” He paused, closed his eyes briefly. His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I’ve seen you take a punch from a full-grown man that might have knocked me on my ass. You didn’t cry, and you never flinched. You’re the bravest woman I know. One holiday dinner with our fathers? Piece of cake, baby.”

Sofie’s eyes heated with tears. “You’re going to mess-up my make-up, you schmoe.”

“See? You’ve got the Yiddish down already. Dad’ll welcome you to the tribe with open arms.” She leaned her forehead against his chest as she laughed. He smelled like Ivory Soap and starch, even if he didn’t act like a man who would. “As for your make-up; yeah, you’re gonna have to reapply it.”

“What?” When she looked up, his mouth was already on a collision course with hers. Their lips met and the same sweet explosion rocked her, the one that lit her up every time. She’d thought kissing the same man would get boring after months and years, but the press of Ivan’s pouty lips and the slide of his tongue just did it for her. His fingers inched her dress up her thighs.

“This’ll help with the nerves,” he said as he pressed her into the counter and began kissing his way down her neck.

His mouth trailing kisses toward her breasts was far from calming, but she tugged his t-shirt out of his jeans and ran her hands over the warm swath of skin he had flashed earlier.  “I’m willing to give anything a try,” she said.

 

menorah_silhouettemenorah_silhouettemenorah_silhouette

 

 

Hours later, Sofie retreated to the kitchen in defeat. She opened the door of the Big Chill fridge and contemplated crawling inside.

Mr. Friedman was distant and overly formal, to the point that he seemed almost angry at her. When she explained that she’d had the menorah shipped from New York City by a friend she’d met during the protests, he hadn’t reacted with delight, or even been impressed. Instead, he’d critiqued her placement of the candelabra, saying it wasn’t public enough, and had responded with a huff when she placed it in the front window, despite the risk to her curtains. When night fell, Ivan lit the shamash and invited his father to light the candle representing the first night of Hanukkah and to sing the berakot. Mr. Friedman had put him off. The shamash still burned alone, a flickering reminder that nothing she could do would please the man.

Her father was just as bad. Every attempt at conversation Ivan threw out was rebuffed, or somehow came back around to how her mother was rolling in her grave knowing her Sofie was living with a man who hadn’t asked her to be his wife. It never occurred to him that Sofie was the one who didn’t want to get married; despite her running off to join in the protests years before, in his eyes she was still the good, obedient daughter, and wasn’t marriage what all good girls wanted?

The two older men didn’t speak to each other at all, as if Sofie’s mother hadn’t worked for Mr. Friedman all those years ago. As if there weren’t so many important threads of their lives binding them together. Perhaps her father still resented the time he had lost with his wife to this family, and now he had to share his daughter with them, too.

She left the three men sitting in tense silence as she went to prepare the final part of the meal. She had been so looking forward to this particular aspect, experimenting with batch after batch while Ivan was at work until she had the recipe down pat. She remembered her mother doing the same thing when she started working for Mrs. Friedman, who had been a kind but exacting woman. If you couldn’t make latkes to her specifications, you had to go.

As Sofie pulled the schmaltz out of the fridge, having hidden it behind the okra where Ivan would never venture, she thought of the standoff in the living room and felt like all her preparation would come to naught. But then she remembered all the times she had almost let despair win the day. If giving up was the way to go, the Civil Rights Act wouldn’t have passed just that summer, beginning what was hopefully a brighter day for the children she and Ivan might one day have.

Sofie reached into the cabinet and pulled down the little plastic recipe box.  Her name, Sofronia, was inscribed on the label in fading black ink. The handwriting was so similar to her own that it still threw her off at first sight, until she remembered it belonged to the woman who was little more than a patchwork quilt of memories and emotions: her mother.

She pulled out the recipe and stared at it for a moment. That this was in her possession was, in a small way, responsible for Ivan having come into her life. She gave the creased index card a kiss for luck before reading the instructions she had already committed to memory. Her movements were automatic now: she lit the tabletop range, placed the cast iron skillet on the flames, and added a healthy coating of schmaltz to the pan. She began spooning in the mix of grated potatoes, onion, and egg a dollop at a time, spreading it out into flat discs.

If this didn’t appease them, at least she could say she hadn’t gone down without a fight.

 

dreideldreideldreidel

 

Things were no better when she bought out the platter of piping hot latkes. Ivan shot her a look of desperate relief when she came back into the room, and rushed to relieve her of the bowls of sour cream and applesauce she balanced precariously on each forearm.

“Happy Hanukkah,” he said quietly as he took the bowls from her and dropped a kiss on her temple. There was no sarcasm in his voice; he meant it.

They sat at the table, no one making eye contact. The dreidel lay unspun. The shamash flickered away at the center of the menorah, the lone candle on the rightmost side still unlit.

“Well, dig in!” she said in her bright hostess voice even though she was tense enough that her jaw was starting to cramp. The men began stuffing their mouths, seemingly happy to have something to do to end the awkward silence.

Ivan made a sound of pleasurable surprise when he bit into his first latke. For a moment she thought she had made some miscalculation: too many onions or too little salt or the schmaltz had gone bad. But when she glanced at him, he was regarding her with such adoration that it seemed too intimate for the dinner table. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were wide as he slowly chewed, savoring the taste.

“Sofie.” Mr. Friedman cleared his throat. His eyes were glossy beneath his shaggy brows when he looked her full in the face for the first time that night. With his defenses down and his brow unlined, the similarity between him and his son was remarkable. “This tastes like…” He paused and pressed his lips together.

“Your mother’s,” her dad said quietly at the same time Mr. Friedman rasped out, “My wife’s.”

There was a silence around the table. Sofie dropped her hand into the space between her and Ivan’s seat. His hand was waiting, as she knew it would be, and the sweet relief that coursed through her when his fingers slid between hers made her throat tight with emotion.

Mr. Friedman stood and walked toward the menorah. He lifted the shamash with trembling hands and began singing the first blessing in a soft but commanding voice as he lit the first candle of Hanukkah. “Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam…”

When Ivan’s deep voice joined his father’s, when her own father reached across the table for both of their hands and joined the blessing on the only word he could make out of the Hebrew—Amein—she finally understood what that term “mitzvah” meant. It was the kindness that allowed people to overcome all the differences society had erected as walls between them. It was a shared memory of love that could bridge what seemed to be an insurmountable gap. It was being surrounded by those that you cared about most, and knowing that, against all hardship, you were going to make it.

 ~~~

Thanks! I hope you enjoyed the story! Be sure to check out today’s other story, from Rebecca Grace Allen! And if you’re so inclied, you can view the entire list of authors, with links and descriptions of their stories, here.

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Multicultural Historical: Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight Cover Reveal

So, I have a thing for Scots: probably because when I was growing up my mom’s bookcase was stuffed with every Highland romance she could get her hands on. Although Trainspotting proves that not every Scot is a HILF (Highlander I’d Like to…), there’s always been something massively appealing about the genre. Less appealing? The fact that the heroines generally never go beyond “pale” in the foundation section of their keep’s apothecary. When I read about the court of King James IV and The Tournament of the Wild Knight and the Black Lady, I thought it would be an awesome setting for a romance. That idea eventually became:

amwk1500x2400-1

“There she is!” an excited voice called out across the crowded tourney grounds. “Agnes Moor!”

Ah, so it’s Moor today, Agnes thought with a twinge of resentment. That was what they called her when they were feeling good-natured. It was Agnes Black when they wanted to stress that she wasn’t one of them, as if her umber skin and cap of short, tight curls weren’t reminder enough…

Agnes Moor knows her place in the court of King James IV—as one of the “exotics” in his employ. When the king makes a kiss from Agnes the prize of a tourney, a mysterious knight plows through his opponents to claim it. But it isn’t chance. The Wild Knight has come for her, and her champion is after after the most elusive prize of all: her heart.

The story should be available in the next week or so. I’ll keep you updated!

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The 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop

12 Days Revision

[UPDATE: Brief summaries of the stories have been added to help recap the first week. The remaining stories will have their blurbs added daily as the hop continues!]

Welcome to the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop! From December 8th to December 19th, more than a dozen of your favorite authors are publishing free short stories about the winter holidays. You can expect fantastic stories from contemporary, historical, M/M, NA, and YA authors.

Here’s a schedule of authors and links to their work. Check back throughout the blog hop for live links to each of the stories, and tweet along with us using #12DaysHop.

December 8

Falguni Kothari

Starstruck – Things heat up when publicist Tania Coelho escapes from an industry Xmas party only to get trapped on a slow elevator ride fwith her client’s “fiance,” Bollywood heartthrob Veer Rana. Veer’s engagement is a sham, but could what he feels for Tania be the real thing?

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Julia Kelly

Under the Pear Tree – Eleanor has given up on the hope that Lord Michael Hawley will ever see her as anything other than his best friend’s little sister. Michael believes that Eleanor sees him as nothing more than her brother’s friend. When they’re bought together for a family Christmas gathering, they find that their friendship may have planted the seeds for the best gift of all.

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter

December 9

Audra North

Shine A Little Light – What could drive a Sunday school teacher to drink before noon on Christmas Eve? When everything Graceanne thought she knew about her life, and her fiance, is shattered, she finds more than a stiff drink waiting for her at the bar—she finds solace, and a new chance at love.

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter

Alexis Anne

Under the Bright Morning Light  – a Storm Inside short story – Jake and Eve have been trying for a baby, but are they ready to deal with the outcome if the stick shows a plus sign? Eve isn’t so sure.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Shari Slade

Christmas Mess – a The Opposite of Nothing short story – Callie is bringing Tayber home to spend the holidays with her family for the first time. The fear that her family will drive Tayber away gnaws at her, but he finds a naughty way to remind her that nothing can change how he feels about her.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

December 10

Kate McMurray

Let Your Heart Be Light – Living in New York City is Milo’s dream, but dreams don’t come cheap. Unable to fly home to visit his family, Milo is resigned to spending the holidays alone until a night of karaoke turns into a chance at holiday romance.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Lashell Collins

A Kinky Kelly Little Christmas a Kelly Family short story – Doms Storm and Payne are checking items off of their Christmas list. What can Payne get for his sub to let her know how special she is to him?

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

December 11

Amber Belldene

An Almost True Story – Amelia Scola looks like a bad girl, but even bad girls get into the holiday spirit. When in a rush to get to a hospital where she’s playing the role of Mrs. Claus, she’s pulled over for speeding by Vic Lopez, known as the softie of the police force. Can a bad girl gone good and a cop who isn’t afraid to cry find holiday love?

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tere Michaels

Fathers of the Bride – A Faith, Love, & Devotion short story – Matt and Evan experience the emotional roller coaster of their daughter Katie’s wedding day. In the midst of a mix of apprehension and joy, the two rely on their love for each other and their family to carry the day.

StoryWebsite Facebook Twitter

Mary Chris Escobar

Kiss, Continued – Jeff and Annie met while participating in a filmed kiss between strangers, but when they discovered he was her advisor they decided to call the relationship off. But sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss, and a holiday drink could lead to a second chance at love. 

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

December 12

K.M. Jackson

Holiday Longings – In this roaring 20s-set short, Rosemary will do anything to make sure her family stays afloat, even if it means putting herself at the mercy of the only man she;s ever loved. When she steps into Stone Donnelly’s speakeasy, she’s ready to sing for her supper, but she’s not prepared to lose her heart a second time.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Tamsen Parker

A Thrill of Hope – Sophie doesn’t mind the tall drink of blue-eyed scruffiness who falls asleep on her during their flight to New Orleans; he’s a welcome distraction from her lack of anticipation at visiting her family. When her seatmate offers to take her out for a drink, she leaves the morose Sophie her family expects behind and takes a chance at love.

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

December 13

Lindsay Emory

A Room at the Inn – Annie’s flight gets delayed in Reykajavik on Christmas Eve. When all of the hotels are full, she anticipates a night spent on the floor of an Icelandic airport. Instead, she meets rock star Cord DeBose. Being a rock star has its perks—like hotels offering you presidential suites. Cord has a room, Annie doesn’t. What could have turned out to be Annie’s worse Christmas ever quickly becomes one she’ll never forget.

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

Rebekah Weatherspoon

Blessed – a FIT short story – Violet is feeling more Scrooge than Tiny Tim when she breaks her ankle right before Christmas, but her boyfriend/Dom Grant is determined to draw out her holiday spirit, even if it means being naughty instead of nice. 

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

December 14

Recap Day

December 15

Lena Hart

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Jenny Holiday

StoryWebsite | Facebook | Twitter

December 16

Alyssa Cole

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Rebecca Grace Allen

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

December 17

A.L. Parks

Story Website | Facebook | Twitter

Dina Haynes

Story Website Facebook | Twitter

December 18

Alexandra Haughton

Story | Website | Twitter

Kathryn J. Benson

Story | Website Twitter

December 19

AJ Cousins

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter

T.J. Kline

Story | Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Cover for RADIO SILENCE!

RADIO SILENCE, book one of my post-apocalyptic New Adult OFF THE GRID series will be released by Carina Press in February of 2015! I’m really excited about sharing Arden and Gabriel’s story, and getting an awesome cover has made the experience even better. Here it is!

CARINA_0215_9781426899638_RadioSilence

Here’s a brief summary of the book:

Arden Highmore is majorly cynical, but even she wouldn’t have predicted the end of the world–or at least the world as she knew it. One winter day, everything modern society has grown to rely on–electricity, cell phones, and, unfortunately, plumbing—stops working. Arden and her best friend John flee to his family’s cabin near the Canadian border. On the way there, they’re assaulted by scavengers, but saved by John’s hot brother Gabriel, who takes an instant dislike to Arden.

The duo think they’ve finally found refuge at the Seong’s cabin, but things aren’t quite as peaceful as they seem: John’s parents are missing. Maggie, their teenage sister, resents Gabriel for treating her like a child. No one knows what, exactly, is going on in the outside world, and in the midst of all that, Arden and Gabriel are finding that there’s a thin line between love and hate, indeed .

In the coming months, I’ll share more about the book, including the official cover copy, excerpts, and outtakes, but in the meantime it’s available for pre-order if you’re interested. :)

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Multicultural Romance Tropes: When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

(This post first appeared in the September issue of the RWA-NYC newsletter, Keynotes.)

As with any subgenre, multicultural romance has developed a few tropes of its own, some good, some not so good. Often, the not so good is added for a sense of verisimilitude, which I respect, but when reality teeters into the land of cliché, reader cringing and/or throwing of books may occur.

Here are my least favorite multicultural tropes:

1.) The strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man. This trope is not my cup of tea in whatever subgenre it appears, but I find it especially irksome in Af-Am/interracial romance. It can become the sole cause of conflict between the hero and heroine. “I can’t date you because I want to get a college degree/get a promotion/start a business and a boyfriend will keep me from doing that.” Um, no. Plenty of people navigate relationships and a whole slew of other responsibilities on top of education/career.

2.) The character who speaks in dialect. Okay, so you’re writing a multicultural romance. You want your characters to seem real, and you once watched a show where an Asian character screamed “You pay now!” or a black guy said “It bes like that,” so maybe your character should say these things, too?

danger

Just as with the Scottish burr in Highland romances, use your multiethnic equivalents of “dinna fash” and “lass” sparingly.

3.) Our complexions are different, let’s discuss this while we’re boning. Now, I’m not going to divulge how I know this, but the color of someone’s skin, the texture of their hair, and the shape of their eyes should be the last thing you’re thinking of while getting it on if you’re doing things right. While of course you need to describe your characters, veer away from fetishizing them as they’re getting frisky.
These are all in fun—I’ve seen writers pull off each of these pet peeves. When dealing with any trope, knowing what has been done before and how to give it a fun fresh, take is key.

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Happiness Is A Corgi Getting A Massage

Last weekend I was in an editing delirium while finishing developmental edits on my the first book in my postapocalyptic series with Carina Press, Radio Silence. The rest of the week was busy, and the weekend will be busy, too. More writing, starting to pack for an international move, making time for friends and family. Instead of getting stressed out, I’m going to channel my inner pampered corgi:

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“Racism Is A Distraction”: Writing During Ferguson

This is a deadline week for me. I have to get the developmental edits for the first novel in my postapocalyptic series back to the editor by the end of the weekend. I have a full-time job, my birthday was this week, and my husband was here until just a couple of days ago, so time was short. But you know what cut into my editing time the most? The scenes straight from a dystopian book that have played out on my computer (I emphasize computer because mainstream media has had crap coverage) of the events in Ferguson. Having to monitor a police coup in my own country seriously cut into time that could have been spent developing dialogue. Watching officers point military grade weapons at peacefully protesting civilians made it hard to focus on fleshing out the relationship between two friends. Being unable to amp up the heat in a sex scene because I was too angry that some people believe that being shot in the street like an animal is good enough for people who look like me? That really sucks. Not to be trite, but institutional racism is fucking with my writing mojo.

Last month, some rare recordings of Toni Morrison speeches at Portland State University were unearthed. This is the snippet that has come to mind for me all week:

distraction

The events of this week are much more important than a writer falling behind in her edits. But these events aren’t that unusual. They’ve gone on for hundreds of years. I can’t help but think that hundreds of years of distractions takes a toll.

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