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Our Happy Hours – How LGBT People Thrive(d) and Survive(d)

Karin Kallmaker Anthologies, Sisters of the Pen 1 Comment

cover-our-happy-hours-lgbt-voices-gay-bars-bess-lynch

Our Happy Hours

This week marks the release of Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars. I’m proud to be a contributor to this anthology. The stories, essays and poetry collected between its covers represent diverse voices raised to celebrate and commemorate what our bars have been and are for our community.

History, Herstory, Our Story

I was a women’s bookstore baby. By the time I knew the women’s bars existed, they were already fading in the past. “My Nose Pressed Against the Glass of History” details my first and last visit to a women’s bar and reveals – shock of shocks! – the woman who took me to that gay bar. She might not even remember. She also has a contribution in this anthology. (Any guesses?)

Other stories and moving poetry highlight personal and moving memories of love and loss, fiery political birthplaces, poetic reverence, and points of resistance. The collectors, Lee Lynch and S. Renee Bess, created Our Happy Hours after the Pulse Massacre, when we were all reminded that our safety is tissue thin. Proceeds from sales go to benefit two LGBT youth organizations.

Contributors List

Ann Aptaker, Dontá Morrison, Rae Theodore, James Schwartz, Jennifer Morales, Cheryl Head, Heather Jane, Beth Burnett, Cindy Rizzo, Stephen Reigns, Clay Kerrigan, Earlon Sterling, Sallyanne Monti, Karen DiPrima, S. Renee Bess, Richard Natale, Mercedes Lewis, Martha Miller, Liz McMullen, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Penny Mickelbury, Johnny Townsend, Merril Mushroom, Brian Heyburn, Lee Lynch, Joan Nestle, Ian Cassidy, Angela Garrigan, Nahshon Anderson Fuentes, Ardy Tibby, Katharine E. K. Duckett, Rachel E. Bailey, Darryl Denning, Lisa Carlson, Katherine V. Forrest, Jen Silver, Shelley Thrasher, Kitty Kat, Jamie Anderson, Shawn Marie Bryan, Ann Laughlin, JP Howard, L. K. Early, Patrick Coulton, Michael Ward, Karin Kallmaker and Bonnie J. Morris.

Where You Can Buy Our Happy Hours

BELLA BOOKS – Lesbian Owned
Independent Booksellers – my favorite is the very local, very gay-owned and LGBT friendly Laurel Bookstore
Amazon and the other usual online sources

What You Can Do

This project was a labor of love, and your word of mouth will help it secure a home where LGBT young people can find it.

  • Buy a copy for yourself
  • Buy another to donate to your local LGBT resource center.
  • If you have some pull with a college library, tell them they should add it to their LGBT resource section.
  • Tell your local library you want to read this book and they may add it to their own shelves. (More about how to do that here.)

Copyrighted material.
Fingerless gloves on keyboard

Why SWRepMatters – Disposable and Invisible Equals Unsafe

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing 1 Comment

Pride Flag in the wind

“We have a lot of work to do, and choosing not to do it is no longer acceptable.” #ChuckWendig #SWRepMatters

I’m on the Interstates between Colorado and California, slowly turning the brain from vacation to writing mode. It’s hard, but blogs like Not Being Inclusive is Also a Political Choice from Chuck Wendig help. It has given me both a lens and a mirror, and these are helpful tools to my writer brain.

When you see inclusion as a political agenda because exclusion is what’s “organic,” you’re supporting a default world that is your political choice. Every time. Choosing to rep your reality in your stories is a political choice, even when the rep is all white and all able-bodied male.

Because seeing only the inclusive choices as political – therefore not “nautral” or “organic” – is the same as saying other types of people only exist when you want them to.

Even the mental mind trick where non-inclusion is not the same thing as exclusion should prompt self-reflection. I’m looking in a mirror here too.

In my life, from the mid 70s onward, I was presented in eduction almost exclusively with works by white men about white men as the organic canon of what is relevant in the world, Not only that, the views of white men about every other type of person was also presented as the natural view of things. These were the “natural” and “organic” stories of the world, and not political choices, nope.

Going on 50 years, I’m still watching books that tell stories about other types of people being labeled political, disturbing, and therefore challenged on school reading lists.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Annie on my Mind are political correctness on a reading list. As if Death of a Salesman isn’t.

Exclusion is political. So is inclusion. Every choice a writer makes about the world their story inhabits is political. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.

All my stories have lesbian lead characters, which means women direct their own lives in my stories. It’s organic. It’s natural. And it’s political as hell, as Katherine V. Forrest has said for decades. Disposable, invisible people in art means disposable and invisible people in reality.

I can do better too. Still trying at least.

book cover fish out of water by Karin Kallmaker

A Fish Out of Water – The Little Mermaid for Lesbians

Karin Kallmaker Book News, Fish Out of Water 0 Comments

book cover fish out of water by Karin Kallmaker
The Little Mermaid is one of those fairy tales I never understood. No matter how I interpret the original Hans Christian Andersen story I can only see the usual female who can have no value unless she is loved by a man. The Little Mermaid has no soul, and can’t enter heaven so she can’t be loved by God, the ultimate male.

Bloodthirsty bargains and torture abound, but all for naught. She’s unloved by the man and dead at the end. That’s right, in the original version the titular character dies. But it’s okay – in a later and disputed ending, the mermaid is promised that after 300 years of good deeds she will earn her entrance to heaven.

One way or another, being who she was born to be isn’t enough. She has to marry a man or serve men to have worth.

Yeah. No.

Splash was More Like It

Before Disney’s animated success there was Splash in 1984. While holding onto a few of the Andersen plot points, the mermaid (Daryl Hannah) becomes the rescuer and the “prince” (the charming Tom Hanks) is the one who must change or die. For a romantic comedy it also touched on unreasonable fear of otherness and how brutally difference can be persecuted. There are people with no souls, and it isn’t the mermaid. For me, this version was a welcome change.

Along Came Disney

The Disney version from 1989 reverts to most of the original’s plot line, but it at least gives the mermaid a name and lets her live and find happiness – and has toetapping songs. Be honest, “Under the Sea” is stuck in your head now, right? Nevertheless, it still puts forth the idea that a woman must give up all that she is in order to gain love. Meanwhile, the object of her desire gives up nothing to make things work. I know the version is a favorite of many, but I’ve always been underwhelmed.

The Disney success and pleasing mainstream story line has since inspired even more adaptations.

But I Wanted More. Especially More Lesbians.

It’s an all-female society and there’s no lesbians? It was 2004 and I was sick to death of living on sub-text, and so were the other three contributors to the anthology Once Upon a Dyke. We wanted our fairy tales to be overtly queer, full of lesbians and to celebrate lesbian love and sensuality.

A Fish Out of Water is the result. It’s never been available as a standalone before. At 33,000 words (about half the length of most novels), it’s full of magic, atonement, sex and sacrifice. There’s a curse to be broken and love to be found.

More Information
and
Excerpt Here

I hope you will find the story worth the plunge.


Truth in advertising: if you have the original version, you don’t need this one unless you’re looking to add it to your digital library all by itself. Currently it’s only available in my web store so I can offer it to fans and readers at a steep discount. It will be available in all the usual ebook sources by 9/30/2017, but at full price.

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Many Splendoured Things (But Not the Head Cold)

Karin Kallmaker Events and Appearances, Readers and Libraries 6 Comments

Jammies-Fuzzy-socks-blankie

There’s a reason to read to the end. Just sayin’.

Eff You, Head Colds

Head Colds are lying sacks of you-know-what. You get the ‘flu and you know you’re down for a long count. The ‘flu gives others visible physical evidence that you are Not Well. Head Colds, however, build slowly and all the while they whisper in your ear that it’s not so bad. You’re okay. You can go about life – it’s just a sniffle or two.

Head Colds exploit the fact that nobody wants to hear about your mucus. Freebie tip: I suggest that you not use “mucus” or even “mucous” in love scenes, fictional or real.

As you fall under the Head Cold’s spell you ignore the dizziness, lack of oxygen and long spells of mental incapacity. Finally, you might take some meds because maybe, after all, you really are sick. To the rest of the world you sound a little bit off and nasal, that is, until they realize that you are drifting in a world of mucus-induced hearing loss. That you are taking mental naps throughout conversations. When you suddenly ask, “When did we get to Chicago?” they realize, Read More

GCLS Logo 2017 watercolor skyline

So I Had This Idea 2017 – From Idea to Published Work

Karin Kallmaker Events and Appearances, Sisters of the Pen 0 Comments

GCLS Logo 2017 watercolor skylineAsk a hundred writers “how’d you finish that book?” and you’ll get 97 different answers and 3 people who’ll wander off muttering.

Well, there won’t be any muttering in this year’s installment of the “So I Had This Idea” panel at the 2017 Golden Crown Convention in Chicago this summer.  But there will be six different answers.

This annual panel was the brain child of author Pol Robinson who realized this essential truth: every new author got to the finish line in her own way, and wouldn’t it be interesting to hear how? Lucky me, every year I’ve been honored to be the moderator. And it is one of my favorite parts of my favorite conference of the Read More

Tayto Crisps from Ireland

A Yank’s Opinion of Ireland’s Crisps

Karin Kallmaker Chocolate and Inspirations 10 Comments

< !-[toc title="Contents" type="right" columns="1"][toc_item title="Cheese and Onion"][toc_item title="Tayto - Gimme Gimme"][toc_item title="O'Donnell's - Classy"][toc_item title="King - Shillyshally"][toc_item title="Keogh's - Flavor!"][toc_item title="The Other Tayto"][/toc]->
It had to be done. I donned the mantle of science and tasted the most common crisps on the Emerald Isle. A great personal sacrifice, I know. This is my evaluation, which nobody asked for. Plus, I’m quite sure that no one in Ireland cares a rusty nail about what a Yank thinks on the subject.

But I have a pile of receipts from SuperValu and Tesco and have to write them off somehow! Onward!

The Ubiquitous Cheese and Onion

No matter where we went, onion/cheese flavor was always in the prime position to be purchased, and there were twice as many as all other available flavors put together. It appeared to be the favored flavor combo across all counties we visited, which was any county that touched a shoreline.

As a reference point for my experience of the brilliance that is Ireland’s crisps, in the USA we have three basic flavors. They are available more or less in the same quantities in a typical market: sour cream and chive, barbecue, and good ol’ plain and salty.

Plain was almost impossible to find in Ireland, and if there was a second flavor available, it was usually salt with vinegar or a variation on onion and cheese. Sometimes there were a few bags of prawn cocktail Read More

Glamour photo of red lipstick and red sunglasses of young woman

First Look the Second: My Lady Lipstick (Diana)

Karin Kallmaker Book News, My Lady Lipstick 1 Comment

Glamour photo of red lipstick and red sunglasses on young woman
You’ve had the chance to meet the puzzling Paris Ellison, and learn how she meets the dazzling, mysterious Diana. Who is the woman behind the red hair, impossibly green eyes and red, red lips? If only Paris knew what you’re about to learn! This is the rough draft, unedited second chapter of my next lesbian romance: My Lady Lipstick.


My Lady Lipstick – Preview

by Karin Kallmaker

Diana Beckinsale put two blocks between herself and the helpful but unsettling Paris before she paused in her brisk pace to savor the moment. The wind snatched at her cap but the bobby pins held. She imagined her package whisked away instead, carried over the green expanse of the impossibly large American continent until it floated to a gentle rest on the desk of the one person she was certain would recognize the contents.

As soon as she could confirm that it had arrived she’d trash the burner cell phone, bow out of playing Dorine and be home in time to help her sister plan her wedding. It was a shame—Tartuffe was a lot of fun, and setting a play about avarice behind fake piety inside the West Wing of the White House was brilliant. The director thought it could earn more backing and was probably right. But not with any of the current good-enough-for-local-gigs cast. Besides, Diana wasn’t looking for that kind of notoriety.

The only oddity of the whole Boston job was that woman, Paris. Diana really hadn’t had any intention of prying, but once opened it was impossible for her not to take in the contents of the letter she’d found. Queen of the Bodice Rippers Anita Topaz was really a tatty, hoodie-clad twenty-something? Okay, she might be thirty—her light brown skin would resist wrinkles for years. Not that Diana had ever seen a photo of the writer for comparison, but it was surprising nonetheless. When she’d first entered Mona Lisa’s and assessed the occupants, she’d mistaken the figure for an underaged boy hiding his face in a bar.

When Lisa had pointed her that way to return the letter, Diana had been gobsmacked. As she’d approached the huddled figure she’d realized that her presumption of gender had been wrong. She also hadn’t expected large, deep brown eyes to greet her with open suspicion. The snarl in those eyes left Diana with the impression of a formerly gentle dog that had been kicked so often it growled a constant warning at the world to keep its distance.

And in the chaos of her reactions she’d mistakenly given the woman her real first name. Not that it mattered—they were unlikely to meet again.

What mattered was that her feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. She was floating with the elation of a job completed. The beautiful day had burst into pure glory as the package had slipped from her hand.

She came to the mud-filled gap in the sidewalk she’d been going around for the last several weeks. Between the sun and her exhilaration she decided it was time to show it who was boss. With one running step for momentum, she jumped it cleanly. And laughed at herself for putting her arms up as if seeking a perfect ten for the dismount.

“Nice move!”

Diana turned to find Jeremy, who played the titular Tartuffe, applauding her. “Thank you kind sir.”

He gallantly tucked Diana’s hand under his arm as they crossed the street to the theater. Decades in local theater with a love of performance for its own sake, Jeremy had no illusions about the scope of his abilities. He made rehearsals lively and wasn’t fond of behind-the-scenes drama. Of all the small, local productions Diana had crashed for cover, this one had at least been among the most pleasant.

As she shed her coat off stage and found her curled and ragged script where she’d left it before the lunch break, Diana flashed again on the puzzle of Paris’s surprising identity. The woman had been dressed like someone one paycheck from homelessness. Diana didn’t know much about publishing, but a writer with a name she recognized from the grocery store, well, wouldn’t she be more like a Meryl Streep in She-Devil? A mansion on pristine headlands, diamonds glittering from a hat pin? More like Diana’s own relatives for that matter, with their ostentatiously casual wealth dripping from every spa-tightened pore?

She wondered about the incongruity of the puzzle until the smell of old dusty seats and stage floor varnish pushed all thoughts but the production out of her head. She did like the play and the players. It would be hard to walk away this time.

 

Hours later Diana’s back was the only thing on her mind. As she climbed the steep, linoleum-covered stairs to her attic apartment, every step was accompanied by a pulse of tear-inducing pain. Her ebullient mood had masked the warning signs. The Nurofen tablets she’d hastily swallowed had helped, but the annoyed and aching vertebrae hated the stairs. Well, it was only for a few more days. The privacy and week-to-week cash rental were exactly what she required.

Her first stop was the bottle of Tylenol 3 she kept in the cupboard next to the fridge. The milk was a little iffy, but she didn’t want to wait until she’d heated a tin of soup to take the medication. It would blunt the edge and getting off her feet plus a good night’s sleep would do the rest. The rock-slab of a chair at the tiny dinette table gave her immediate relief and for a moment she closed her eyes and willed the pain to subside. She’d had years on the gymnastics circuit to learn how to play hurt. Ten years after her last competition she was still playing hurt.

When the pain had faded from a hot red to a tolerable yellow on her personal meter, she eased the wig off with the help of a cotton swab and baby oil, and set it carefully on its pedestal. The windy day meant she had new snarls to brush out later. Feeling better by the minute, she wrestled her way out of her boots and carried them to the closet alcove. Her Irish lass attire fell onto the laundry pile alongside last night’s perfect costume.

A wig of short black hair, a ubiquitous button-up white shirt, black slacks and apron, and carrying a tray—presto! She had become part of the wallpaper in a busy restaurant. Entering the kitchen unchallenged was a simple matter of confidence. In a hotel the kitchen linked to everywhere and security was limited. Nobody noticed room service waiters. Tray lifted to block her face from the security camera, a quick knock, a few moments with her treasured Sissone pressed against the electronic lock and she’d been in the room. The object of her desire hadn’t even been in the hotel safe, just tucked in a jewelry case with other far more precious items. The case had been in the top dresser drawer, right on top.

One of the easiest jobs she’d ever done.

Happy to relax into warm yoga pants and her faded red Arsenal sweatshirt, she filled a saucepan with tinned mushroom soup and put it on the larger of the stove top burners. It would take a while before it reached tepid, let alone truly hot. Even though their ubiquity was a Yankee mystery, she was happy to spot a packet of oyster crackers in the jumble on the table. They would hold her over while she took off her makeup.

The dinette table was just big enough for her makeup mirror and supplies. Witch hazel and cold cream worked wonders. The Irish lass her own family wouldn’t recognize disappeared in minutes.
Color contacts out and the heavy makeup off at last, she became the brown-eyed towhead that Evelyn, Countess Donchester, would acknowledge as the product of her first marriage. Acknowledge—yes. Approve of—heavens no. They loved each other, to be sure. Diana thought that her frequent and lengthy absences made them appreciate each other when they were in the same room.

Feeling much lighter and aware that the codeine was moving the pain from yellow to green, Diana plucked a sepia-toned photograph from its anchor point in the corner of the mirror. She studied the high forehead and long plaits of black hair that framed the woman’s somber face. At the neck of what was probably a deerskin ceremonial dress was a small brooch of ordinary stones and turquoise beads strung and twisted to clasp a small dark feather. The faded coloration of the very old photograph turned the beads a uniform dusty brown.

She allowed herself a grin as she fished out the photo album she kept in the smallest of her half-unpacked suitcases. Flipping it open to the ribbon she used as a bookmark, she slid the photo into its original sleeve and used the mirror’s lighting to study the brooch one last time. It might have been an indication of rank or merely ornamental. It could have been a gift from a suitor who showed devotion by supplying fresh feathers, or a fetish the native woman had made for herself.

Diana now knew the beads were clay red stone and beautifully variegated turquoise. The combination had looked beautiful in the palm of her gloved hand.

She sipped her soup from a chipped mug while ensconced in the apartment’s only other chair. At least the recliner worked, and the floor lamp next to it put good light on her treasured photographs. Turning the pages was a happy journey of past successes and future endeavors. Obsidian earrings, a carved leather choker, a delicate glazed black and white bowl. A tribal gavel, unpolished diamonds set into a ceremonial goblet—so many pretty things. Some of them she’d touched, but for most she was still waiting for that joy. After the wedding she’d pick something new.

All the adrenaline of the past month slowly drained out of her until she was too limp to move. It didn’t matter. The recliner was no worse for her back than the Murphy bed. The thump of her landlord arriving home for the night was the last thing she remembered.

She woke cold and stiff and mightily wished she’d grabbed a blanket. At least her back had stopped aching. The photo album tumbled to the floor as she dragged herself upright. Groggy and yawning, she got the Murphy bed lowered without the usual conk on the head. It was no sooner in place than she realized the album was now out of reach underneath. She could leave it until morning, after she tucked the bed into the wall again. But the knowledge that something so precious to her was on the floor would likely keep her awake, so she slithered under the bed and emerged with the album out the other side. There were advantages to being small and nimble.

About to switch off the overhead light for good, she found herself standing stock still with one hand on the light switch and the other holding the album. It had fallen open to the third page, displaying one of the first photos she’d collected. It featured a burly man at a podium, about to strike an elegant, curved gavel to the wood.

Her sleepy brain slowly called up the object’s data. The delicate handle was carved from highly polished, partially petrified ram’s bone. The head was a stunning single piece of faceted obsidian laboriously and carefully bored to allow the handle to fit through it. A thin disc of rose gold was inset over the eye where the two pieces joined. In spite of disputed provenance, at last auction the artifact had fetched over two thousand pounds. The winning bidder and current so-called owner was the American tycoon in the photograph. A man with fingers in entertainment—television, tabloid news, films. And publishing.

Her drowsiness fled. She closed her eyes to recall the fallen letter. Anita Topaz’s letter. Signed by Ronald Keynes Reynard himself.

Copyrighted material, uncorrected proof, 2017

My Lady Lipstick will be available in early 2018. Did you see the excerpt from Chapter One here?

Belleek hounds in progress

Now It’s More than a Teapot – Travel Synchronicity

Karin Kallmaker Book News, My Lady Lipstick 8 Comments

It all started when I was fleshing out the character profiles for my next novel, you know, like you do. Paris, the main character of My Lady Lipstick, shares a house with her landladies. I had already decided the landladies, living in Revere Massachusetts (a Boston suburb), would logically have strong ties to Ireland.

More than two months ago I worked out their age and their history as Irish immigrants. They like to invite Paris up for tea whenever they have news to share. Tea means teacups and teapots and, well, TEA.

tea bags with loose tea

A Word about Tea. Tea’s the Word.

I wondered – what do the Irish call “Irish breakfast tea”? Wouldn’t it just be “breakfast tea”? I turned to the Googlez and discovered in short order that there is no such thing as Irish Breakfast Tea if you’re Irish. There is TEA.

And on my trip to Ireland a few weeks ago, I further discerned that it’s either Barry’s or Lyons Read More

statue fearless girl

Art Doing What Art Does – Fearless Girl Makes Us Reflect, Evolve

Karin Kallmaker LIFE + STYLE 6 Comments

statues fearless girl with charging bull

There is a heated debate over Fearless Girl, the new statue in Wall Street who currently stands defiantly in the way of Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull. Because the discussion is about art, intent, history and how that evolves, I offer two opposing blogs from this debate. I find that both have valid points, and both offer perspective.

Seriously the Guy Has a Point – Greg Fallis

The first is Seriously the Guy Has a Point. Written by photographer (therefore artist) Greg Fallis, who asks: Doesn’t the artist’s intent and how the sculpture Charging Bull came to be placed matter? How does the reality that Charging Bull is Read More

New York at Night by Kevin Hosseini

Same Thing Just Different People – When “Fix It” Means “Kill It”

Karin Kallmaker LIFE + STYLE 2 Comments

New York at Night by Kevin Hosseini

April is Autism Awareness Month

Cue the fundraising appeals and Facebook frames about raising awareness and “giving blue” and so on. Much like pink ribbon frenzy in October, lots of charities want you to help raise awareness about Autism. The big player in Autism “awareness” is Autism $peaks. Sounds great, putting a voice to help autistic people be better understood. Except that’s not what Autism $peaks is about.

Couple of things here, let’s break them down.

If You Want to be Aware of Autism, Be Aware of ALL of Autism

First, I am all for awareness of autism. It’s hugely misunderstood. So before you jump into supporting “awareness” make sure you’re aware.Read More

Glamour photo of red haired young woman in red lipstick and red sunglasses

First Look: My Lady Lipstick (Paris)

Karin Kallmaker Book News, My Lady Lipstick 16 Comments

Glamour photo of red haired young woman in red lipstick and red sunglasses
A work in progress has reached a milestone when I feel confident enough to share the first chapter. With the forewarning that this is as yet unedited, and completely subject to change, behold! The first chapter of my next lesbian romance: My Lady Lipstick.

P.S. Recognize anyone?
P.P.S. Interested in Chapter Two?


My Lady Lipstick – Preview

by Karin Kallmaker

Paris Ellison was so angry she made a seven-layer English Trifle and two large pans of double cocoa brownies.
She even dribbled water over the letter from Reynard House, Proud Member of the Reynard Media Group, but the ink refused to smear and the words continued to taunt her.

She’d said no once, and now the nerve—the nerve! To offer her first-class tickets, reservations at a Fifth Avenue hotel, and the assurance of box seats to Hamilton—how rude!

She whipped ganache into submission and drizzled it on the first pan of still warm brownies. She’d slice them later before taking them to Lisa’s tomorrow. The second pan of brownies went into the oven, and she paused in her fever of anger-fueled anxiety baking to read the infuriating letter again.

Anita Topaz did not make personal appearances. Paris had been perfectly clear about that from the get go. But the merger meant all the new people at Reynard House, and none of them wanted to remember that little detail.

A scratch and yowl at the door made her look at the clock. Right on time, Hobbit sidled in to offer mid-morning greetings by way of gracing Paris’s jeans with orange tabby tomcat fur.

“You’re not fooling anyone, you know. I’m just Second Breakfast to you.” Yielding to the cat’s single-minded agenda, she dropped a small scoop of crunchy dry food into the dish next to the door. Hobbit promptly abandoned his adoration of Paris’s ankles and dug in.

“Just because Reynard House is the new owner, that doesn’t mean my contract is revised. Not yet at least.” Hobbit ignored the bowl of fresh water Paris set down next to the dry food. “They can’t make me, so there. The only thing I owe them is the next book, on schedule.”

The oven timer beeped and she left Hobbit to his loud snacking. She turned the pan in the oven and reset the timer. The custard was cool enough now to assemble the trifle, and she devoted herself to carefully lining the bottom of her only clear glass bowl with fresh sponge cake and splashing it with sherry. Apricots and silky vanilla custard followed, then she repeated the layers until the glass bowl was nearly full.

At least the Misses Lambeth and Richards upstairs would love the treat. She’d take it up after supper and check on the progress of the colds that had kept her usually gregarious and active landlords in “little old lady” mode, as they called it. They did like a drop of sherry now and again, and nobody could feel out of sorts with dessert.

Except her, maybe. Her day had begun as peacefully and predictably as any other since the day she’d hunkered down in this haven. Then the mail had arrived this morning, again bringing demands.

Hobbit finished up Second Breakfast and padded across the faded linoleum to the soft brown carpet of the living room. He stretched and flexed, then sauntered to the sunny window seat, lord of all.

Paris ignored the loud, disapproving sniff at the layer of cat hair on the cushion. “What do you think this is, some swanky New York hotel?” She prodded the top of the brownies in the oven with a fingertip and judged them as needing one more minute. “Speaking of which, look at this letter.”

She carried the offending paper to the window seat and showed it to Hobbit. Hobbit let out a grudging purr, and granted access to his belly while Paris read the letter aloud with renewed outrage.

“Looking forward to finalizing all the details, sincerely, blah blah blah,” Paris finished. “See? They’re trying to bribe me into going, and you know why I won’t.” Hobbit had heard all about why Paris had moved three thousand miles from her last job. “Anita Topaz isn’t going to this meeting. She’s not going to do a TED Talk or whatever Reynard Media calls it for any—foul word!”

She dashed across the living room toward the ominous you’re-too-late scent of overcooked brownie. Her socks slipped on the linoleum, catapulting her through the kitchen door. She yanked the pan out of the oven, burned her wrist on the door. The pan slipped out of her grasp. She lunged to save it and whacked her head on the counter so hard that the world went dark for a moment.

The dancing stars in her vision went away finally as she Jackie-Chan rubbed the dent in her skull. At least it felt like a dent.

Hobbit coiled into view from around the corner of the kitchen island, tail kinked with annoyance that the clatter and cursing had disturbed his morning nap and petting. Rightly presuming that the fallen brownies were not anything he would want to eat, he pointedly began cleaning a paw.

“I’m not leaking brain matter,” she told the cat’s back. “Thanks for asking.”

At least the brownies had landed face up. The edges were hard and tasted burnt, even for people who loved that part. Increasingly foul-tempered about the whole world, she set to using a melon baller to scoop out the still moist and edible interior. Chocolate, sugar and butter in any form was edible, right? Brownie Curls… Lisa might still be able to use them.

Now that was an idea. Why wait until tomorrow? Getting out of the house would probably make her feel better. It had been three…four days? Her last brownie delivery to Mona Lisa’s as a matter of fact. Not for the first time she was happy to have found a way not to eat her bouts of anxiety baking all by herself, and it even involved exercise. If Lisa didn’t think anyone would buy the salvaged brownies, they could certainly have a few themselves. It was that kind of day.

Five minutes effort with little plastic bags and ribbons to tie them closed went without major mishaps. Two dark, moist curls in each. Paris thought they looked appetizing, but Lisa would have to agree. She shoved the letter into her back pocket, thinking she’d ask Lisa’s advice about it.

Hobbit gave a discontented moof as she dumped him on the front porch.

“Go find Elevenses wherever it is you spend the rest of your time. I know it’s early, but I’m getting some fresh air.”

Hobbit slithered under the hedge with a parting yowl.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve been called worse.”

She pulled on her coat, grabbed up the basket with her wares, and let herself out into the blustery blue day. Lisa wasn’t expecting Paris to show up with baked goodies until tomorrow. Still, as Lisa had said in the past, there really was no limit to how many brownies a bar full of sports fans could consume.

She zipped up her hoodie while tipping her face to the sunshine. The sharp wind off Massachusetts Bay shouted winter, but the sun was seductively whispering spring. San Francisco was never this extreme. She pushed away the pang of longing for Gorilla Barbecue and the pale, sandy beach at Pacifica.

She’d grown to like Revere and nearby Boston, but in the nearly five years she’d lived here it hadn’t turned into home.

One thing was true—it was hard to stay angry on such a glorious day. The blue sky refreshed her eyes and the sun warmed the tip of her nose. It was as if the long, frozen,wet, dirty, slushy, slogging New England winter was over. But she knew it was a lie. As her landlords had warned her, March coaxed you out of your jacket, then dumped a foot of snow down your back. Much like life itself, she’d learned.

The only thing she didn’t like about her apartment was its position at the bottom of a hill even San Franciscans would call steep. It did mean that her landlords had a great view toward the harbor and that Paris’s rental space was light and airy. But it made the location a challenge to someone without a car.

She took a deep breath and set off up the hill with steady, long strides. Steep roads aside, renting the basement flat of the Lambeth/Richards house was still an ideal arrangement, she thought. The ladies had cash to help with their bills and repairs, and Paris had sunny windows, a solidly constructed kitchen that allowed her to bake off her anxieties, and an oversized bedroom with a big bay window where her desk was turned to face the flower and vegetable garden.

Her name appeared nowhere on a lease or utility bill. Just the way she wanted it.

That Anita Topaz’s meteoric success meant Paris could afford more—a lot more—didn’t make a bit of difference. Anita Topaz was not online, didn’t Tweet or chat, and she did not do personal appearances!

In danger of losing her recovering good spirits, she paused halfway up the hill. In spite of the sun there was plenty of mud and slush lurking in the gaps between squares of sidewalk. Fortunately, her Doc Marten boots were perfect Adventuring Gear for New England winters. Snow and mud never slowed her down. Once she made it to the top of the hill, it was only two more minutes to a frequent bus that was only two short stops from the T—and from there all of Boston was within reach. It was also only three minutes to a grocery and five minutes to Mona Lisa’s. Her living quarters were as close to the rest of the world as she wanted them to be.

With her hoodie pulled up and zipped to her chin, jacket flapping in the wind, and wrinkled jeans scruffy at the knees, she might have been any of the local youths walking home from the high school for lunch. True, none of them ever had a picnic basket right out of Little Red Riding Hood swinging from one hand.

At the top of the block she paused to inhale deeply and smiled in spite of herself. There was a finch chirping. Spring was indeed coming. The last of her anger seeped away, leaving behind cautious contentment paired, as always, with the tickle of anxiety.

No news there. She’d known all along that her Berserker Baking Blitz was rooted in her hyperactive flight-or-fight instinct.

The flashing Sam Adams Lager sign over Mona Lisa’s familiar green door was a welcome sight. The flutters and shivers that had tightened her chest eased. Note to self—fresh air is good for you. It wasn’t the first time she’d told herself that. It wouldn’t be the last.

The steamy, golden air inside the bar was also good for her, she decided, even if her sunglasses immediately fogged up. The familiar sharp aromas of furniture polish, beer, and tangy tomato soup were immediately comforting. She shucked her coat and unzipped the hoodie. Her word count could wait. She’d clearly needed this break.

Mona Lisa herself was working the front of the house, and that was always a beautiful thing. It was just past noon and customers were scarce. By five o’clock there wouldn’t be an empty seat at the gleaming oak bar, especially if Lisa was still working it. Paris didn’t know where Lisa had picked up her mad skills, but she made filling a beer mug as eye-catching as a strip tease. It certainly helped that she had a mane of sun-streaked yellow hair and a figure that filled out a Shetland sweater and Levi’s in all the best ways.

Paris sent a chin nod Lisa’s way, hoisted the basket into view and got a nod in return. Her usual cushioned chair in the corner near the front window suited her just fine, especially with her face to the sun and back to the TVs. At the moment the muted televisions were replaying a broadcast of a baseball game so ancient it was in black and white. It still roused a cheer from a die-hard Red Sox fan at the far end of the bar. Next month, on opening day, the place would be packed.

“What did you bring me?” Lisa put a cup of coffee on the table in front of Paris and dropped into the opposite chair. “I made that a couple of hours ago. Up to you if you drink it.”

Paris sipped. Contrary to Lisa’s description, the coffee was hot and fresh. “What every growing girl needs. Can you use some brownies? I know I’m early. I’ll have the usual tomorrow.”

Lisa made a hmm sound that Paris had learned meant that the calculator in Lisa’s brain was adding up the potential profit. Pity the fool who thought the tanned, blond surfer girl exterior meant there was no business sense on the inside. “It’s going to be a slow night.”

“I had an anxiety incident.”

“Sorry to hear that. All better?”

“Mostly.”

“They look awesome.” With a Betty Boop coo in her voice and shimmering tears in her eyes, Lisa asked, “Would fifteen be okay?”

It was tempting to say yes to anything Lisa suggested, but they’d played this game before. With a Spock eyebrow lift, Paris corrected, “I think twenty. And the cup of coffee.”

The corner of Lisa’s mouth twitched. “Spoilsport.”

“Does that big blue eye thing ever work?”

“Oh honey, you’d be surprised.” Lisa was peering into a baggie. “Why are they shaped liked that? What went wrong?”

“I got distracted. Sorry they don’t look so great.”

“They look like a Stoli White Russian with a chocolate chaser to me.”

Paris appreciated Lisa’s creativity. “That does sounds delicious. What will you call it?”

“The ‘Adulting So Hard.’” Lisa flashed her a brilliant smile. “I know it’s the first of the month, but I haven’t picked a March special yet. Bring me more next week, just in a box is fine. No need to wrap them for single sale.”

“Sure.” Paris’s attention was caught by a new arrival. Small and pale skinned, she looked like a recent arrival from the Emerald Isle itself. If the saffron and green pleated skirt wasn’t proof of heritage, there was even a tweed flat cap holding down the abundant, wildly tangled orange-red curls.

“You have a customer.”

Lisa was already rising to her feet. “She’s been a regular for the past couple of weeks. There’s a new production rehearsing at the Ferley Playhouse. It’s always the same order—soup and a half pint.”

“Lunch of champions.”

She watched Lisa chat amiably with the newcomer about how wonderful it was at last to see the sun. Paris had heard often enough that former Floridian Lisa didn’t like the bitter Boston winters, but Lisa always added that her Alaskan-born wife knew how to keep her warm, wink-wink.

The most important thing Paris knew about Lisa was that she’d been a whistleblower against a large hotel chain in a dispute on union pay for wait staff. She’d pointed out they were not paying wages for required prep time. They’d fired her. She’d sued. The quick settlement had bought the bar.

Good thing, since Paris was pretty sure Lisa would never get work in a hotel again, not in New England, anyway. When a woman stuck her head above the weeds, there was no shortage of people willing to throw bricks at it. And if she interfered with profits, they never forgot her name.

She sipped the coffee and quelled the prickles of tension that threatened again. When a shadow fell over the table she jumped.

The redhead was holding out a folded piece of paper. “The bartender said this belonged to you. I found it on the floor inside the door.” The lilt in her voice confirmed that she wasn’t a native New Englander.

“Crap!” Paris snatched the letter out of the woman’s hand. “I can’t believe I dropped it.”

“I thought it was trash and unfolded it to make sure. Hamilton tickets, sounds grand.”

Paris didn’t hide her annoyance that the woman had read it. “It’s really none of your—”

“I know. I’m a speed reader. Helps with auditions and acting. Anyway, I hope you have a great trip.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

The full lips split into a broad smile. “Yes you did. I couldn’t help but absorb the whole thing, but it was still rude of me. So now we’re even.”

Hoping her nervous swallow didn’t show, Paris held out her hand. “I’m Paris.”

“Diana.”

Though the handshake was brief, it had the surprising effect of abating Paris’s anxiety completely. Impressions rushed in—light freckles dusted Diana’s cheeks. Her eyes were insanely green. The lipstick was winter-ripe cranberry and the fingers that had brushed her palm were exquisitely manicured and tipped with the same red. The tweed pea coat fit the slim figure perfectly and its large buttons were covered with the same suede piping that outlined the collar. Classy buttons meant couture, as Paris had found out doing research for her high-fashion thriller, Hands Off the Merchandise.

Diana had that…that…thing. That whatever it was that Lisa had. That thing that made a plain woolen scarf sing with casual elegance.

“So you’re Anita Topaz?” Diana’s puzzlement was plain on her face. “The writer?”

Double crap, Paris thought. “It’s a pen name. And I would really prefer no one else know Paris Ellison is the real person behind the name.”

Her hmm sounded a lot like Lisa’s, as if they were sisters from different mothers. Luckily, Diana seemed only mildly intrigued. “Good for you. You’re not what I would have pictured for the Queen of the Bodice Rippers, and that’s probably shame on me thinking writers look like their characters.”

The more Paris heard her voice, the more aware she was that Diana’s accent was unusual. Definitely not American, and not Canadian either. It didn’t sound quite English or Welsh, or have the inflections of Irish cadence her landladies still had. Maybe a mix of all of those with something else?

Intrigued against her will, Paris temporarily abandoned her plan for a quick goodbye and heading home at full speed. “It’s true. I’m not personally a heaving bosoms kind of woman. On book covers, I mean.” She didn’t add how annoying it was that since Reynard had assumed control the covers had become increasingly pink, the gowns even more low-cut, with the woman dwarfed by a man who looked like he could snap her in two. Her first three books had been taglined, “A Smart Bodice Ripper.” Under Reynard the word “smart” had disappeared.

She added truthfully, “The covers are chosen by marketing pros, and they seem to know what people want to see.”

“When people see what they expect to see it makes them comfortable.” Diana pulled on supple leather gloves. “I have to get back to rehearsal. Could you tell me where the nearest postal box is?”

Surprised Diana hadn’t seen the building that lay between Mona Lisa’s and the Playhouse, she began, “The post office is a few blocks—”

“A drop box is fine.”

“It’s pretty well hidden from the street by the hedges, but I know they pick up from it at three. It’s not on your way.”

“I like diversions.”

It might have been the whack on the head earlier that made it hard to focus on anything but those impossibly green eyes. Paris heard her own voice offering, “I’ll show you.”

“That’s perfect.” Diana cinched up her scarf and declared, “Master, go on, and I will follow thee.”

“To the last gasp with truth and loyalty?”

Diana blinked in surprise. “Have I found someone who likes Shakespeare as much as I do?”

“I don’t know how much you like Shakespeare, but my mother loved Romeo and Juliet.”

“Hence, Paris for your name?”

“That and Casablanca.”

“We’ll always have Paris,” Diana mused as they left the bar. “She sounds interesting, your mother.”

“She was.” Forestalling an automatic expression of sympathy that would flick at a nerve that would always be raw, Paris quickly added, “I’m no Juliet, and I’m also glad not to have gone through life as Romeo either. Turn right at the corner.”

Paris had caught a broadly mimed wink of approval from Lisa as they had gone out the door. She hoped Diana hadn’t seen it. Paris had never picked up women in Lisa’s bar, or even wanted to. Hell, Lisa would want all the details on the next visit.

It wasn’t as if Diana pinged what little gaydar Paris had ever had. It had been a matter of high humor among Paris’s former colleagues that she had said, “No way!” when informed that Jodie Foster was gay. She’d was definitely going to blame leaving with Diana on the konk on the head. It was now throbbing for real.

“It’s just a block over.” Paris pressed for the pedestrian light when they reached the corner, then scrambled to keep up as Diana jaywalked. They skirted cars waiting for the light to turn and reached the other side without mishap. “So what play are you rehearsing?”

“An adaptation of Tartuffe. The director is hopeful that with some backing there will be money for off-Broadway. It’s very political and given the times there could be interest.”

“But you have your doubts?”

Diana seemed startled at the question. “Was I that obvious? I’ll have to work on that.”

“You seemed hesitant is all.”

“If it does make it to New York, it won’t be with this cast. We’re good enough for working out the bugs, but that’s about it.”

“Turn into the parking lot here.” Paris led the way around the high hedges that surrounded the small drug store. “They hid it well.”

“I’d have never seen it. Thank you.” Diana pulled a small, thickly padded envelope from a surprisingly capacious inner coat pocket.

Paris caught sight of an address in Utah before the package disappeared. It was so light it almost didn’t make a sound as it landed on the mail already in the box. “Hope it gets there safely.”

“Me too. Well thank you. I really do have to hurry. Do you go to Mona Lisa’s often?”

“Twice a week.”

“Then maybe I’ll see you there again.”

“Maybe,” Paris echoed. And she stood there rubbing the bump on her head and watching the petite figure make its way to the corner and then out of sight.

Copyrighted material, uncorrected proof, 2017

You might remember Lisa from this novel – the excerpt on that page features her.