The last couple of years have been a dream for fans of queer cozy mystery like yours truly, and this lightly speculative series about a bisexual baker who feeds vengeance to men who deserve it is a personal fave for sure. The sequel just came out in February, so pick it up from the beginning with Magic, Lies, and Deadly Piesby Misha Popp (Crooked Lane Books) and fall in love with Daisy Ellery and her flaky crusts! By which I mean murderous tendencies. Obviously.
The first time Daisy Ellery killed a man with a pie, it was an accident. Now, it’s her calling. Daisy bakes sweet vengeance into her pastries, which she and her dog Zoe deliver to the men who’ve done dirty deeds to the town’s women. But if she can’t solve the one crime that’s not of her own baking, she’ll be out of the pie pan and into the oven.
Parking her Pies Before Guys mobile bakery van outside the local diner, Daisy is informed by Frank, the crusty diner owner, that someone’s been prowling around the van—and not just to inhale the delectable aroma. Already on thin icing with Frank, she finds a letter on her door, threatening to reveal her unsavory secret sideline of pie a la murder.
Blackmail? But who whipped up this half-baked plot to cut a slice out of Daisy’s business? Purple-haired campus do-gooder Melly? Noel, the tender—if flaky—farm boy? Or one of the abusive men who prefer their pie without a deadly scoop of payback?
The upcoming statewide pie contest could be Daisy’s big chance to help wronged women everywhere…if she doesn’t meet a sticky end first. Because Daisy knows the blackmailer won’t stop until her business is in crumbles.
Today on the site, I am delighted to reveal this extremely excellent trailer for one of my favorite authors, Lev A.C. Rosen, and his equally excellent upcoming gay historical mystery, Lavender House, which releases from Forge on October 18th! Here’s the story:
Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in.
Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.
Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning.
When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.
Sound amazing? It is. But you only partially have to take my word for it, because this trailer is worth a thousand of them. But first, a few words from the author:
“I’m so thrilled to present you all with this vintage ad for Lamontaine Soap, the soap company featured in Lavender House. I was so thrilled and excited to hire my dear friends Florian and Jes to create this project, which I gave them only a little direction on. They created something amazing, vintage, ominous, and a little sexy. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please pre-order the book (out Oct 18th!) and share the video on social media! Hope you all stay as fresh as flowers.
And now, without further ado, the trailer for Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen, starring Jes Bedwinek and directed by M. Florian Staab!
Want to re-port the trailer? Click here to download it in TikTok-friendly format and here for square format!
Lev Rosen writes books for people of all ages, most recently Camp, which was a best book of the year from Forbes, Elle, and The Today Show, amongst others and is a Lambda finalist, an ALA Rainbow List Top Ten and is being adapted into a film directed by and starring Billy Porter. His next book, Lavender House, will be released fall of 2022, and after that Tennessee Russo in Spring of 2023. He lives in NYC with his husband and a very small cat. You can find him online at LevACRosen.com and @LevACRosen
Today is a bit of a starry-eyed moment for me, because I get to reveal the cover for the newest book by Ann McMan, author of my very first lesfic read, the fantastic Dust! This new book is a historical mystery set in the south called Dead Letters from Paradise, and it releases from Bywater Books on June 28, 2022! Here’s the story:
The year is 1960, and Gunsmoke is the most popular show on TV. Elvis Presley tops the Billboard charts, and a charismatic young senator named John F. Kennedy is running for president. And in North Carolina, four young Black men sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and demand service. Enter Esther Jane (EJ) Cloud, a forty-something spinster who manages the Dead Letter Office at the Winston-Salem post office. EJ leads a quiet life in her Old Salem ancestral home and spends her free time volunteering in the town’s 18th-century hortus medicus garden.
One sunny Spring morning, EJ’s simple life is turned upside down when the town’s master gardener unceremoniously hands her a stack of handwritten letters that have all been addressed to a nonexistent person in the garden. This simple act sets in motion a chain of events that will lead EJ on a life-altering quest to uncover the identity of the mysterious letter writer―and into a surprising head-on confrontation with the harsh realities of the racial injustice that is as deeply rooted in the life of her community as the ancient herbs cultivated in the Moravian garden.
When EJ is forced to read the letters to look for clues about the anonymous sender, what she discovers are lyrical tales of a forbidden passion that threaten to unravel the simple contours of her unexamined life. EJ’s official quest soon morphs into a journey of self-discovery as she becomes more deeply enmeshed in the fate of the mysterious letter writer, “Dorothea.” Her surprising accomplice in solving the mystery of the letters becomes one, Harrie Hart: a savvy, street smart ten-year-old, wielding an eye patch and a limitless supply of aphorisms. Together, Harrie and EJ make seminal pilgrimages to the tiny town of Paradise to try and uncover the identity of the mercurial sender and, ultimately, learn a better way to navigate the changing world around them.
But wait, there’s more! Read on for your first glimpse inside Dead Letters from Paradise by Ann McMan…
After walking Harrie back to Fay Marian’s, I resolved to make it an early night. I changed into my nightgown and robe and sat down in Daddy’s chair with my book. I had only a few chapters left to read, and I was determined to finish it this evening. But I was finding it hard to concentrate. Every time Della Street appeared in a scene, I thought about Fay Marian’s “sultry” comment. And that naturally led me to recall the passage of the letter I’d read earlier.
Her intimate touch was like the first bright bloom of Angelica . . .
It was uncanny. Angelica was one of the herbs we cultivated in the hortus medicus. The Moravians had revered the plant for its numerous healing properties. According to Evelyn Haas, its uses went beyond compounds that treated typical maladies like catarrh, dyspepsia, and insomnia. In his vast colonial-era compendium, Philadelphia apothecary Johann Sauer had noted the herb’s special ability to “bring down the menses” for distressed women facing problem—or unwanted—pregnancies. Evelyn once winked and confided in me that Angelica was also compounded into a topical cream that proved efficacious for treating premature ejaculation.
“So, one can say the early Moravians had everything covered—coming and going.”
Evelyn had an almost preternatural fascination with rumors and legends that hinted at a few more lurid aspects to early Moravian communal life—including veneration of homoerotic worship and obsession with the wounds of Christ. And she loved to draw parallels between those whispered stories and the eclectic healing properties of some of the herbs cultivated in the hortus medicus.
Angelica, with its explosive globe-like clusters of flowers, was no exception.
Of course, Angelica had also been used to ward off witches. In my mind, that attribute went hand in hand with Evelyn’s colorful description of the herb’s more prurient uses.
I forced my attention back to the novel. Della Street was busily engaged using her . . . charms . . . to wrangle information out of a distracted travel agent.
Its slender tendrils reached deep inside and laid claim to all my hidden longing.
In frustration, I put the book aside. It was ridiculous. I drummed my fingers against the big, rolled arm of Daddy’s chair. Reading the rest of the letter would accomplish nothing. And bringing it home with me, even unwittingly, was a serious breach of protocol. And even if that hadn’t been true, giving in to an unseemly impulse would make me no better than . . . than a child, blowing a tin whistle to torment a neighbor’s dog.
And yet . . .
Before I could talk myself out of it, I got to my feet and strode across the room to retrieve the letter from my bag. I stood there in the near dark, tapping it against my hand as I deliberated.
Trust me, Lottie had said. You need to read this. Twice. Maybe more.
Even though I feigned offense, I knew exactly what Lottie had referred to. I did withhold myself from the realm of sensual experience. It wasn’t something I intended to suppress—it just seemed to happen naturally. I wasn’t a prude. Not really, I thought. I’d had many friends during my years at Salem College. And I’d learned firsthand about the carnal exploits of some of my female classmates—including the lonely aftermath of nonconsensual sexual encounters, panic-inducing pregnancy scares, and even tales of their occasional Sapphic experimentations with other girls. The more I learned, the less engaged I became. For me, it was tied more to a loss of control than it was to any innate fear of the experience. It wasn’t that I was unaware of how vast and prevalent the forbidden realm of sensual experience was: it was more that I passively chose to ignore it.
But now I was finding it impossible to ignore the letter I held in the dim light of my small foyer.
I had two choices. I could return the letter to its resting place inside my bag and go watch Adventures in Paradise. Or I could give in to yet another impulse and read the rest of the letter.
It was the irony of the TV show Adventures in Paradise that finally tipped the scales for me. I carried the letter back into the living room and sat down to read it. Only this time, I didn’t sit in Daddy’s chair. That felt vaguely . . . unseemly.
I unfolded the pages and resumed reading from where I’d left off earlier.
Its slender tendrils reached deep inside and laid claim to all my hidden longing. Together we became one with the garden. Our fresh young bodies twined together amidst the rows of young plants, feeling the warmth of the early summer sun on our backs and inhaling the sweet, intoxicating fragrance of the White Rose of York—the sacred smell of heaven. We surrendered the first fruits of our youth, vitality, and promise to each other. And as I tasted her freshness, laid bare before me in perfect harmony with all of nature, I imagined I was at last seeing the face of God.
Why, Mary Ann, would you allow me to know such completeness—such blissful perfection—only to deny me its fruition? What possible good can now be served by the fate you have prescribed for me? Why withhold all meaning, possibility, and happiness from me, Mary Ann? Why?
I carefully refolded the pages and returned them to the envelope before realizing that my hands were shaking. I sat still for the next half hour, waiting for my head to clear and my agitation to subside.
Who was Dorothea? And what power over her did this mysterious Mary Ann have?
None of it made the least bit of sense. The only possible connection between the letter and the garden appeared to be the plants where the two women had . . .
I could scarcely allow myself to name what Dorothea had described.
Had had whatever kind of encounter the writer was describing.
Clearly, Dorothea had some kind of unfinished business with the woman named Mary Ann—and with the other, unnamed woman who’d been her participant in those passionate encounters.
But Evelyn insisted there had never been a Mary Ann affiliated with the gardens. So why did Dorothea send her letter there?
The clock on the mantel chimed. It was a quarter past 10 p.m. I’d been sitting in the living room for more than an hour. And tomorrow was a workday—a workday in which I’d have to confront more of Lottie’s shrewd scrutiny. She’d know I’d read the letter. And now it seemed inevitable that we’d have to read them all. Just the thought of that filled me with an emotion I couldn’t identify. But it certainly wasn’t anything approximating ease.
I returned the letter to my bag and turned off the lights before heading to bed.
In the midst of so much confusion, the only thing I was sure about was that sleep would not come easily.
Ann McMan is the two-time Lambda Literary Award-winning author of twelve novels and two short story collections. She is a four-time Independent Publisher (IPPY) medalist, a Foreword Reviews INDIES medalist, a nine-time recipient of Golden Crown Literary Society Awards, and a laureate of the Alice B. Foundation for her outstanding body of work. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
With the second book in the Pentecost and Parker historical mystery series releasing on December 7th, now’s the perfect time to catch up with book one,Fortune Favors the Dead, which follows Willowdean “Will” Parker as she finds love, murder, and an unexpected career path in 1940s New York.
It’s 1942 and Willowjean “Will” Parker is a scrappy circus runaway whose knife-throwing skills have just saved the life of New York’s best, and most unorthodox, private investigator, Lillian Pentecost. When the dapper detective summons Will a few days later, she doesn’t expect to be offered a life-changing proposition: Lillian’s multiple sclerosis means she can’t keep up with her old case load alone, so she wants to hire Will to be her right-hand woman. In return, Will will receive a salary, room and board, and training in Lillian’s very particular art of investigation.
Three years later, Will and Lillian are on the Collins case: Abigail Collins was found bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball following a big, boozy Halloween party at her home–her body slumped in the same chair where her steel magnate husband shot himself the year before. With rumors flying that Abigail was bumped off by the vengeful spirit of her husband (who else could have gotten inside the locked room?), the family has tasked the detectives with finding answers where the police have failed. But that’s easier said than done in a case that involves messages from the dead, a seductive spiritualist, and Becca Collins–the beautiful daughter of the deceased, who Will quickly starts falling for. When Will and Becca’s relationship dances beyond the professional, Will finds herself in dangerous territory, and discovers she may have become the murderer’s next target.
Please welcome David C. Dawson to the site, author of historical gay mystery A Death in Bloomsbury, which releases today! He’s here to share a little more about how gay men survived in 1930s London, but first, here’s the story, which is the first in a brand-new series:
Everyone has secrets… but some are fatal.
1932, London. Late one December night Simon Sampson stumbles across the body of a woman in an alleyway. Her death is linked to a plot by right-wing extremists to assassinate the King on Christmas Day. Simon resolves to do his patriotic duty and unmask the traitors.
But Simon Sampson lives a double life. Not only is he a highly respected BBC radio announcer, but he’s also a man who loves men, and as such must live a secret life. His investigation risks revealing his other life and with that imprisonment under Britain’s draconian homophobic laws of the time. He faces a stark choice: his loyalty to the King or his freedom.
This is the first in a new series from award-winning author David C. Dawson. A richly atmospheric novel set in the shadowy world of 1930s London, where secrets are commonplace, and no one is quite who they seem.
My latest novel A Death in Bloomsbury is set in the shadowy world of gay life in 1930s London. I wanted to write a book that explore what it was like if you were gay when homosexuality was illegal. The story is a thriller set at Christmas time with gay characters as the main protagonists.
If you were a man in love with another man back in 1932 it was tough. Really tough. In the UK, the anti-gay laws had become strengthened with a new law in 1885. So much so that the new regulations were called a blackmailer’s charter.
Ten years later Oscar Wilde was to fall foul of them.
He was sentenced to two years hard labour, something from which he never fully recovered and died a few years later at the age of just forty-one.
The law was so strict you could be charged if your letters to your lover were discovered. Or if your neighbour reported you for a having a gentleman friend stay over.
And then there was entrapment.
Police would sometimes use their “pretty officers” to hang around known gathering places for gay men. If they were propositioned, the propositioner was promptly arrested.
The penalties for being found guilty of “gross indecency” as it was known were harsh. Two years hard labour meant two years walking on a vertical treadmill for up to six hours a day, climbing the equivalent of fourteen thousand feet. If you were a gentleman like Wilde, unused to physical work, your body was all but destroyed.
So how did gay men avoid prosecution?
In my research I discovered that they were remarkably resourceful. The word gay in those days meant happy and bright. The word homosexual was hardly used. Men who loved other men referred to themselves as being other. Incidentally, the authorities considered it impossible for a woman to love another woman. Lesbians didn’t exist. Women who loved women referred to themselves as Sapphic-leaning.
There were many other euphemisms used in 1930s London. In fact, gay men used an entirely invented language called Polari.
Polari had been used in London’s fish markets, fairgrounds and the theatre. It borrowed words from Romany, London slang and Yiddish. For example legs became lallies and look became vada.
It also created code words by reversing certain words. Hence face became ecaf, shortened to eek. Many gay men worked in the theatre and so adopted the language to be able to talk openly to each other without fear of other people understanding. Two gay men in a pub could admire a handsome new arrival by saying to each other: “Vada the bona lallies on that uomi” meaning “Look at the attractive legs on that man” without anyone knowing.
Gay men also had allies. Through the centuries, straight allies have often helped gay men when they faced oppression. Straight allies are still crucially important today. In 1930s London they would provide safe meeting places for gay men. In A Death in Bloomsbury much of the action centres on a pub called The Fitzroy Tavern. This is an actual pub in the 1930s run by a straight couple. It was known to welcome gay men, as well as “artists, Bohemians and other creative types”. In my book I refer to the pub owner using persuasive techniques to ensure the local police didn’t raid them, and this did actually happen with another similar pub in London.
There was also the famous Lyon’s Corner House on the Strand. This popular restaurant had a whole floor where gay men could meet discreetly, and it became known as The Lily Pond. Of course Soho was the best place to go to meet other men, have a drink and maybe a dance. But you were always at risk of the police raiding the venue. Knowing your escape route in an emergency was crucial.
Straight allies remain vital for gay men up to this day. There are still many parts of the world where being gay is illegal with punishments ranging from a straightforward fine to stoning or death. Our struggle for the right to be who we are, to love who we love will sadly never be over. And it is with the love and support of our straight allies that we can continue that struggle. Thank you to all who have worked to support us.
David C. Dawson is an award-winning author, journalist and documentary maker. He writes British-themed thrillers, both contemporary and period. He also writes gay romance. His latest book, A Death in Bloomsbury, was published in November 2021. His first novel, The Necessary Deaths, won an FAPA award in the best suspense/thriller category. It’s the first of three books in the Delingpole Mysteries series. David has also written two gay romances: For the Love of Luke and Heroes in Love. David lives in London, with his boyfriend and two cats. In his spare time, he tours Europe and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. You can find out more about David at his website: http://www.davidcdawson.co.uk
Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome Timothy Jay Smith, whose new thriller, Fire on the Island, releases tomorrow! Timothy, whose The Fourth Courierwas a finalist for Best Gay Mystery in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards was kind enough to provide us with an exclusive excerpt, so check out the blurb and then dig in!
Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a crumbling church, an arsonist invades their midst.
Nick Damigos, the FBI agent, arrives on the island just in time to witness the latest fire and save the dog of Lydia, a local cafe owner. Immediately enveloped by the community, Nick finds himself drawn to Takis, a young man who becomes his primary suspect, which is a problem because they’re having an affair. Theirs is not the only complicated romance in the community and Takis isn’t the only suspicious character on the island. The priest is an art forger, the young Albanian in love with Lydia’s daughter harbors a secret, the captain of the coast guard station seems to have his own agenda, and Takis’s sister, who owns a local bar, has a vendetta against the whole village. Nick has to unravel the truth in time to prevent catastrophe, as he comes to terms with his own past trauma. In saving the village, he will go a long way toward saving himself.
Vassoula woke up in a lonely bed. It had been lonely since Omar disappeared. She couldn’t bring herself to say died or killed himself because she hoped that, despite how gruesomely the skinheads had cut him, he would miraculously come back to her whole again. In that fantasy she envisioned handsome and dancing the syrtaki better than any Greek, a black stubble generously shadowing his cheeks—his cheeks that went missing.
Omar. He had given her a life when he came into hers. Unless she married, she was destined to remain her wretched mother’s handmaiden; and Vassoula would have nothing to do with the local boys, certainly not enough to marry one. She was darker complected than the Vourvouliani, and the boys, starting in their teens, called her Gypsy bitch for not putting out. She was adopted, so they freely assigned to her any origin that they wanted, but Vassoula knew she wasn’t Gypsy. She was Turkish. A nun at the orphanage disliked her for it, and wanted to be rid of her enough not to mention it to prospective parents. Secretly, Vassoula reveled in her Turkishness. She nurtured it because it nurtured her to know she was different from the people who treated her so harshly, abusing her verbally—and otherwise, as some did eventually, before she was liberated from the orphanage’s form of incarceration to become a servant in another.
Ten years of mopping floors later, Omar arrived in Vourvoulos. Movie star handsome with dark moody eyes, clever and Turkish; she had conjured him many times, dreaming only of men like him when she gave pleasure to herself. Beyond that pleasure, she dreamt of a man to free her from servitude, not trade one enslaved situation for another. Instinctively, Omar understood that. His family, too, had suffered from discrimination for being Turkish, or certainly the consequences of it. Only after she moved in with him did he confess that his family had once lived on the island; an extended family, and prosperous when you added up all their land; land too rocky and scrubby for the Greeks to bother with, though their ancient ancestors had been the first to terrace it. It was those stony plots—sometimes no bigger than four strides long and two deep—that Omar’s peasant ancestors had worked, finding them sufficiently fecund to sustain their families.
All that ended with the Exchange, when the diaspora Turks and Greeks were forced to trade places, overnight becoming refugees in their own countries. Omar’s great grandparents left Vourvoulos with little more than their crying fifteen-year-old son—his grandfather—unable to understand why he had to lose all his friends, Greek and Turkish. Once back in Turkey, they’d never recreate their village no matter how much they would miss it, but instead would flee to relatives if they knew their whereabouts, or be shuffled off to temporary camps—as was Omar’s family—while a useless bureaucracy scrambled to do what little it could for the many tens of thousands like them. Omar’s grandfather, having just wished his boyhood Greek friends a forever farewell, had to do the same to his Turkish mates only a few hours later when their boat made its landing in what still stood of Smyrna.
Though the fires that destroyed the legendary city had been put out, a charred smell hung heavily in the air. On the docks, hucksters and shysters descended on the refugees even as government agents shunted them into buses to take them to a camp—equally rife with hucksters and shysters. Thus began decades of poverty inflicted on Omar’s family starting before he was born. All his growing-up years, he heard reminisces of their lost island: its fresh air, azure sea, and wild lavender roses—a sharp contrast to their stuffy apartment in a shanty neighborhood of sprawling Istanbul.
Omar had simply appeared in Vourvoulos one day, not ten Greek words in his head, and soon became the curiosity of the village. Turks rarely visited the tiny village, and still fewer stayed for more than a night or two, but Omar rented a room for a month, letting his landlady know that he would likely keep it longer. He only did the usual things tourists do—hike in the hills, swim in the sea, learn the four-syllable Greek word for thanks—but that didn’t stop rumors from spreading that he was trafficking drugs or might be a white slaver. Certainly, he was up to no good; no Turk ever had been. Omar, though, was undaunted. At once, he was enamored with the mythical lost island of his storied childhood, and equally glad to escape the grinding conditions back home. He had no intention of leaving.
Omar kept it a secret that his family had lived there for generations. If it were known, he worried it would only stir up fears that he had returned to reclaim property or seek revenge, when he wanted neither. He wanted the idyllic life described from afar, not hardscrabble Istanbul, which was becoming more unbearable under the growing power of intolerant imams. By age twenty-five, he’d made the decision not to spend the rest of his life kowtowing to men who dressed their women in sacks, forbade everyone simple pleasures, and governed through fear. Fending off his mother’s relentless efforts to get him married, he waited tables in two restaurants, earning excellent tips because of his extraordinary good looks. By the time he was thirty, he had saved enough money that he wouldn’t arrive in Greece a penniless refugee, but an immigrant able to sustain himself until he found a way to make a living. He’d gambled and he won.
The risks Omar could not have anticipated were the threats posed by Greece’s internal turmoil, especially its Depression-era economy giving rise to a fascist insurgency. Or so Vassoula was mulling over that morning, after rousing herself from her lonely bed to sip coffee on the terrace, perched high over the village with a clear shot of the long beach stretching into the distance until it melded with the coastline. That view had once brought her such joy, not only for its beauty, but for what it represented: her second escape, and the first into an unexpected freedom. Her first escape had been from the orphanage, the second from her adoptive servitude. She had escaped into Omar’s liberating arms, holding her on that terrace through long talks she had never imagined possible; and when they felt like making love outdoors, they did.
She could almost see him again, walking down that long beach, becoming a speck before turning back. He worked hard, he partied hard, he loved hard—and he needed time alone. He needed a time not to talk to anybody, though he talked to himself, gesticulating and working out whatever needed working out. He did that most mornings while other village men gathered in the kafeneios for their first coffee. Initially Vassoula was suspicious of Omar’s need to be alone, and spied on him through the binoculars, watching him approach Poustis Point because it was there that her father loitered; and sometimes it was there where Omar turned back, but not always, not if he was having a particularly troubling conversation with himself. But never once did he disappear out of sight too long to be accused of her father’s sort of sordid absence.
The morning when it happened, their lovemaking had been especially tender. Only the night before, they had decided to have a baby, and made love then, too. When Omar left for his walk, she felt a special longing—a worried hollowness—and took the binoculars from the cupboard. She knew his body language better than her own and easily spotted him.
Omar, distracted by the conversation with himself, approached Poustis Point. She saw the skinheads before he did. Three of them hovering in the rocks, conferring and planning their attack. Turn back! she wanted to shout. Stop talking to yourself and look up! But her voice would never carry that far.
She saw everything that happened.
She even knew what was said because Omar survived to repeat it.
“Do you have a cigarette?” a skinhead asked.
“I am sorry. I do not smoke.”
“Maybe the problem is, your cigarettes are wet.”
Vassoula saw Omar tip his head questioningly.
“I am sorry. I do not understand.”
“Maybe you help your friends swim across.”
“I do not swim here. I walk here.”
“Did you hear that, guys? He walked here.”
“Then he must’ve walked on water,” a second skinhead scoffed. “With his accent, he wasn’t born here.”
The third added, “He’s probably a Turkish cocksucker.”
“Is that why you’re out here? Hoping to get your cock sucked?”
“Probably by a refugee.”
“Or do you suck theirs?”
The skinheads laughed.
Omar sensed he was in trouble. “I don’t understand.”
“Hear that guys? He doesn’t understand. What can we do to make him understand?”
“I go home,” he said, and pointed to the village. “My wife waits for me.”
Vassoula saw him point. Come back! she was screaming inside.
“You should never have left home,” sneered the first skinhead. “None of your filth should’ve.”
“I go back now.”
Omar turned and took a couple of steps.
“Not so fast,” the first skinhead said. When Omar didn’t stop, he barked, “Hey!”
Just keep walking! Vassoula begged.
“I’m not finished with you.”
Omar faced the skinhead. “My wife waits for me.”
He turned away again.
The skinhead signaled, and his two pals ran up and grabbed him. Omar struggled to defend himself, but together they managed to wrench his arms behind him.
The first skinhead approached him, menacing him with a knife.
Vassoula, seeing it flash in the morning sun, was going mad. Please God, no! No!
He kicked at the skinhead, who laughed, and stepped around him and put the blade to his throat. “Please don’t,” Omar begged.
“Fucking. Faggot. Filth. Feeding the refugees then fucking them. There’s probably some Arab greasing up his asshole waiting for you behind the rocks.”
“My wife is waiting for me.”
“Fucking bitch is going to wish you never came home.”
Vassoula, through the binoculars, couldn’t make out what happened next. She saw the skinhead flick his knife twice, each time tossing something to the seagulls on the beach. Then they released Omar and his hands instinctively covered his face. For a moment, she thought they had cut out his eyes; and later remembering that first thought, she would wonder if it might not have been more merciful than letting him see his own ruined face.
At that moment, though, she wasn’t thinking of anything except saving Omar, and flew out of the house. “HELP! HELP! Omar’s been stabbed! Help!” she never stopped crying as she flung herself down the village path. A dozen people trailed after her, looking past her wild hair to Omar stumbling toward them. For Vassoula, the blood seeping through his fingers glistened so bright red that the rest of the world turned gray.
They stopped, only feet apart. Vassoula could see they hadn’t cut out his eyes, but what the skinheads had done would forever haunt them. Omar would never see anything the same again. He certainly would never be looked at in the same admiring way.
His eyes pleaded for help as he lowered his hands.
Hers expressed horror when he did.
His knees buckled and he collapsed.
Four men ran up and grabbed his arms and legs to haul him cumbersomely back to the village. Another two trotted alongside, stripped of their shirts that they pressed to his slain cheeks to stem the blood. Vassoula stumbled after them, too shocked by what she had seen to believe it possible; and yet there was Omar, being toted in front of her, the tagalong women ululating their distress as if he had already died. He wouldn’t, not then. He would survive to live a freak’s hell.
That morning, longing for Omar, anguish overwhelmed her. Only thirty years old and doomed to be in mourning for the rest of her life. She couldn’t imagine anyone after Omar. When the skinheads cut away his cheeks, they cut out her heart, and when Omar committed suicide, he killed her, too. She sobbed, wanting the life that had been stolen from them, preferring to join him in death than endure a life without him.
The cats, risking her swift kicks, rubbed against Vassoula’s legs to remind her that they wanted to be fed. She stomped her foot to scatter them and went back inside. Opening the kibble bag sent them into a zigzagging frenzy between her feet, and that time she did kick at them. “Go away!” she cried, and hurled kibble at them, which they dodged before darting around to scarf it down. “I hate you! God I hate you!” she screamed while throwing more handfuls at them. Her laughter was seeded with madness as the animals cowered under the furniture to eat the pellets that rolled there.
Takis walked in and saw the kibble on the floor. “I see you fed the cats.”
“They were hungry.”
“They’re always hungry in the morning.”
“What did you eat for breakfast? Cock?”
“You should never have gone to Australia. Look what it turned you into.”
“I was always like this.”
“You’re going to end up just like father, hiding behind rocks to have sex.”
“No I’m not. I’m going back to Australia where I don’t have to hide behind rocks to have sex. Why did you hate him so much? Didn’t you feel sorry for him at all?”
“He was pathetic. He settled for Zeeta because he’d been caught doing something with another man one time. He didn’t try to explain it away as a youthful experiment or some drunken mistake. Or that he’d been seduced against his will. Over one incident, he settled for her, for a nothing life. What kind of man is that?”
“A gay man in Greece,” Takis answered. “Most of them end up unhappily married. Sometimes you forget that he rescued us from the orphanage. They both did.”
“I don’t forget. I only wish they had been different parents.”
He poured kibble into a bowl, which brought the cats running. “They were who they were.”
“Neither one of them had a life, especially him, because of your kind of love.”
“You’re as bad as the rest,” Takis said. “What kind of life could he have had? He was never going to have a relationship with a man. Not a real one.”
“Is Nick the right man for you?”
“Yeah, only he doesn’t live in Melbourne.”
“I didn’t know there were types, only faggots.”
“Okay, he is a faggot, if that’s the word you want to use. He’s also an FBI agent,” Takis boasted.
“The American police.”
“I know what FBI is.”
“So he’s not a faggot in the way you think.”
“He must be investigating the fires,” Vassoula suggested. “Why else would he be here?”
“He says he’s writing a book.”
“Be careful what you say to him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He might try to make a connection to you. In fact, he might have come looking for you.”
“Why do you think?”
Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he’s hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.
Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to a distinguished career, and as a result, he has won top honors for his novels, screenplays and stage plays in numerous prestigious competitions. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel, and his screenplay adaptation of it was named Best Indie Script by WriteMovies. His recent novel, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland, published in 2019 by Arcade Publishing, was critically acclaimed. Previously, he won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.
Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award, and his screenplays have won competitions sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Fresh Voices, StoryPros, and the Hollywood Screenwriting Institute. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.
Queer Middle Grade has seriously been picking up the past couple of years, and I’m especially excited to see expanding into different genres! Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing by Briana McDonald is an MG mystery starring amateur detective Pepper Blouse, who’s got a case to solve and a crush on a girl, and it releases from Simon & Schuster BFYR on September 29, 2020. Here’s the story:
Amateur detective Pepper Blouse has always held true to this rule, even if it meant pushing people away. But when the results of Pepper’s latest case cost her any hope of the girl she likes returning her feelings, she decides that maybe she should lay low for a while.
That is, until her Great Aunt Florence passes away under mysterious circumstances. And even though her dad insists there’s nothing to investigate, Pepper can’t just ignore rule fourteen: Trust your gut.
But there’s nothing in the rulebook that could’ve prepared her for this.
Maybe it’s time to stop playing by the rules.
And here’s the cover, designed by Krista Vossen and illustrated by Aveline Stokart!
Briana McDonald’s debut middle grade novel, Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing, will be available through Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in Fall 2020. Her fiction has appeared in several university presses and journals. She reviews prose at The Literary Review and a reader for CLMP’s Firecracker Awards.
When she’s not writing, Briana works as an Academic Advisor at Columbia University.
Wanna begin at the beginning? Make sure you check out the first book in the series, The Screening Routine!
[Tell me the secret you keep from yourself.]
It knows your joy.
It knows your fear.
It knows your desire.
After decades of war, a battered Earth begged the Routine—our most powerful artificial intelligence—to take control of the solar system and unite humanity.
Now, forbidden lovers must help the AI solve the mystery of a rising threat:
AN LGBT SCIFI TRILOGY BEGINS
Weeks away from graduating into blissful civilian anonymity, Owen discovers that his fate has been hijacked by the Routine. Trapped within the Screening Complex, training school for the Routine’s chosen leaders, Owen is determined to resist the influence of his all-seeing artificial taskmaster.
…If only he could stop dreaming of the man with dark eyes.
Who is that stranger, and why has his presence stirred a new hunger in Owen—one more desperate than he’d ever imagined? Questions lurk around every corner, but there’s one truth Owen will never forget:
The Routine is lying to us all.
SMA is based in the United States where he writes LGBT science fiction. His debut trilogy, Twisting Fates, is available for purchase and pre-order on Amazon. His untitled Four Seasons serial quartet will begin releasing this autumn!