Book Contest and Sarah Black Guest Blog for The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari

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Good morning! Today Scattered Thoughts is welcoming Sarah Black back to talk about her latest release The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2).  Although my review won’t come until tomorrow, I will say that this book is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013 list.  Trust me, it is one of those books that you will want to read over and over again.  So with that in mind, we are giving away one eBook copy of The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari to one person who leaves a comment on any of the posts from 10/23 to 10/26.  A Winner will be announced on Saturday.

This is Why I Love Those Old Men by Sarah Black

My stories are full of old men, and I think anyone reading can tell I love them. In Lawless I wrote Manuel, and in The Legend of the Apache Kid I wrote Johnny’s old man and Raine’s daddy; in Marathon Cowboys we had The Original Jesse Clayton. In the new book, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, I wrote another old man, the director of the Bardo Museum, who steps in and helps the young men realize their dreams.

That’s what old men do, right? Step in and stand watch while the young men strap on their wings and prepare to leap off the ledge. They listen when we talk. They’re quiet when we just need their company. They watch over us, and when we’re about to screw up, they put up a hand and say, “hold up now. Better think about that.”

My grandfather is the model for all those old men in all my stories. He was quiet and strong and steadfast. A hurricane couldn’t blow him over. No rain would ever touch my head if I was standing next to him. He was as big as a mountain and as strong as an oak. That’s what I remember. He died when I was three, and he was fifty, of a heart attack.

Just before he died, my grandmother sent him out to buy me a pair of shoes. She told him to get something sturdy that could be washed. He carried me back into the house two hours later and I was wearing pretty little black patent Mary Janes. The women had a fit. “Earl, what’s she going to play in?”

And he laughed and pulled a tiny pair of red sneakers out of his pocket.  I’ve adored red shoes from that day, and I adored my big, handsome grandfather. He never said three words when one would do, and he preferred action over words, anyway. He could fix anything, a broken toy or a car that wouldn’t run or a skinned knee. And I have been pretty sure all my life that he was up in heaven keeping an eye on me. Never a judgmental eye, either. Just keeping me safe, keeping me company. Pure love has no room for judgment.

I’ve wondered sometimes if I was writing the same story over and over. I guess writers have things to say, and we say them through fiction. I always try to be clear in my mind what I’m trying to say. This new book, I was really ambitious. I wanted to say something big, something with meaning. Plant my flag and say, this is how I see the world. But with this book, and every book, now and forever, my handsome strong grandfather will make an appearance, and he’ll be watching over me.
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Here’s a link to the new book: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4277The General and the Elephant Clock cover

Dreamspinner Blurb:

Fresh out of the closet, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez are settling into their new life together when an old army colleague taps them for a rescue mission to Tunisia. Eli and Daniel, two former Rangers working security, have been arrested in Carthage, charged with blasphemy and thrown into prison.

With rampant unrest in the ancient city and an old enemy targeting them, John gathers a team to liberate the two captive men. When he discovers Eli’s boyhood obsession with Al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock, the rescue becomes complicated and strangely beautiful, and John and Gabriel have to risk what they love the most to bring their team home.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, with my new old man:

The Director was a very old man, with a cane and a long white beard, sharp dark eyes under heavy, greying eyebrows. He was formally dressed in a dark suit and tie, and he greeted Gabriel with a handshake. He had a young woman with him, holding a portfolio. Wylie opened the portfolio, looked inside, then patted it down.

John moved forward, greeted him in Arabic, then he introduced Eli and Daniel. He didn’t remember the old man, but they’d all changed so much in thirty years. Kim was holding his camera, one of the big professional models, and the Director seemed charmed by his Arabic greeting and pretty smile. “Eli, Daniel, why don’t you sit down with the Director? Sir, have you met Abdullah al-Salim? I know you will recognize him. The first time I saw him, I thought his father was standing before me.”

The old man greeted Abdullah with cries of delight and three kisses, the traditional Arabic way. Abdullah held a hand out to Kim. “Kim is General Mitchel’s nephew. He’s my best friend.”

Kim was kissed now, then they all sat down on the couch. John counted. Five men, with plenty of room, just like Kim had said, and the U shape meant people on either end could see each other to talk. Even better, he could, if he wanted to, perch on the leather polka dot ottoman like a frog sitting on a lily pad. God, he hated that couch. Kim looked at him, gave him a weak smile. Kim was reading his mind again.

Gabriel took Sam and Wylie, and they moved over to the table and pulled up chairs. Kim held up his camera. “Director, I thought I would take a picture of you with these men. It will be a good memory for them when they are back home, to remember your kindness.”
Abdullah translated, and the Director gave Kim a hesitant nod. Then the old man turned to Eli and Daniel, offered them each a hand. Abdullah translated his words. “I have come to tell you of the admiration of the Tunisian people for your courage. It gives great heart to the people when we see your love for Carthage. I also brought something for you to see. I found this in the archives.” The young women with him handed over the portfolio, then retreated to stand with Jen. Jen reached out to her, and John could hear the quiet murmur of their voices in the background.

The Director pulled out a plastic sleeve. Inside was a brown manuscript page, painted in colors still vibrant and beautiful more than eight hundred years after they had first been painted. The old man put the page down on the ottoman, and the boys leaned forward to look at it. It was an original page from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices and showed Al-Jazari’s wondrous elephant clock. Eli caught his breath, reached out and touched the edge of the parchment through the plastic. “This is really… it’s the real….” He sounded like he was having trouble catching his breath.

Kim stood up and moved around the other side of the couch and lifted the camera. Eli looked up at the Director, and something in his battered face must have touched the old man. His eyes were tender, and he reached out, put his hand on Eli’s cheek. Then he reached out with his other hand, held Daniel’s. “My sons, will you come and see the Bardo? The museum will be open tomorrow for the children. It’s the day we have a festival for them. I would like you to come, to see something of our history and our culture.”
Eli looked down at the page again. “The kids, they’ll go crazy over this! Can you believe it? Is this wild, or what? Do you see it?”
He looked up at John, his green eyes like jewels, his black hair sticking up in the front in little tufts. John nodded at him, smiling. “I do see it. Is it as good as you thought it would be?”

“Better,” Eli said. “Can we go, General? To the Bardo?”

John looked at Gabriel, then back to Eli. “Yes, I think we can. We’ll be safe in a group.” Daniel stood up, let John take his place next to the old man. “Thank you for your kindness. Are you sure it will not be too much trouble? I understood you were closed for renovations.”

The Director shook his head. “Once a year we have a children’s day. We had planned to have the parts of the museum not under construction open tomorrow. It is like a festival, very important to me. I believe there will be camels and balloons and too many sweets, and my staff will have video projectors set up because the children like to watch movies. In your honor I will add a stage for the elephant clock, a video so the children can see. Like this young man,” he put his hand on Eli’s shoulder, “love of scholarship starts when a child is very young. I believe you will be safe. Let us open our heart to you, show you the true face of Tunisia. The true face of Islam.”
Eli leaned forward. “What is the true face of Islam?”

The old man put his hand on Eli’s cheek again. “Just like with your people, my son, the true face of Islam is love.”

More Kendall McKenna, More Marine Werewolves and 2nd Contest Begins!

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Strength of the Wolf Banner

Whew! Welcome back, everybody! I don’t know about you, but this last week has been crazy! I’ve had my usual schedule of guest blogs and blog hops surrounding the release of my new book, but the reaction to Strength of the Wolf has exceeded the reaction to the first book, and I can hardly keep up with the email and PMs! If I still had my day job, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up at all!

Thanks for taking time to swing by and get updated. I’ve got a winner to announce later on, but first, pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, prop your feet up, and let’s chat.

A couple of days ago, I discussed world building and how I construct my stories and my characters. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty today. Let’s talk about werewolves; specifically, the werewolves I created for my series, The Tameness of the Wolf. Creating a world in which werewolves serve in the Marine Corps, are fully integrated with humans, fall in love, and make love, with both humans and other werewolves, was more complex and complicated than I had anticipated. It’s not difficult, but it can get tricky.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve read less than a handful of paranormal romances. As a child, I loved ‘monster’ movies. In addition to the classics, I also had a fondness for the Hammer films of the 60s. Also being a history buff, I read all about the origins of the various myths and legends of my two favorite ‘monsters’; vampires and werewolves. Technology has made for some entertaining movies, and has led to the blending of shapeshifters with werewolves. I created my werewolf mythology from the most intriguing aspects of shapeshifting, anchored it in history, then used it to color my characters and my story.

Black Wolf in snowThere are two characteristics that separate werewolves (or any were-animal) from general shapshifters. One is that the individual is cursed, most often by receiving a bite from a werewolf. The second is the necessity of shifting into a wolf at the full moon. Full werewolves shift completely into a wolf. There has always been the existence of legends about a ‘wolfman’, which is a creature possessing the traits of both wolf and human.

As I built my world for The Tameness of the Wolf series, the concept of the curse became problematic because my werewolves are not evil, and are not villains. I chose to make the curse feature a part of the werewolves history, so it has bearing on my characters, but in an historical capacity. At this point, I can’t elaborate any further without spoilers!

The feature that is arguably, quintessentially ‘werewolf’, is the need to shift into a wolf with the full moon. This is what captured my imagination, more Black Wolf   White Wolf Full Moonthan anything else, so it features prominently in my mythology. My affection for wolfmen manifests itself in my werewolves being able to control their shapeshift by degrees. Unless it’s the full moon, my werewolves are able to shift some or all of their body parts at will.

When it came to the behaviors of my werewolves, both conscious and instinctive, I rooted everything in the natural world. When my werewolves become wolves, they behave just as wolves in the wild do. They have a pack hierarchy, they possess a great deal of aggression, they are able to run for nearly a day, at a steady pace. They’re stronger than they are as humans, they hunt wild prey during the full moon, and they function as a pack-like team. They retain small aspects of their humanity, but for all intents and purposes, they’re large, dangerous Dire wolves.

Conversely, when my werewolves are human, they’re fully human. Some wolf-like aspects bleed through, such as stronger senses of sight, smell and hearing. They retain the wolf’s use of scent and touch to aid in communication. They’re territorial, but they function extremely well in teams.
What this all means is, everything that happens in my stories, and all the traits and features of my characters, occur in reality. Neither human, nor wolf; have any habits, rituals or behaviors that aren’t found in the natural word. For all that my characters defy the laws of physics, and don’t exactly adhere to the law of equal mass, my werewolves – and therefore my stories – are believable. They feel realistic

Once I set up the history of my werewolves, and the rules of my universe, I began to write my story.  Again, I know where I want my characters to go, and where I want them to end up. I know the same things about the plot. I design scenes to do what it is I need done at that point in the story, and I ensure every detail adheres to the rules of the world I built. Building that world, clearly defining it, and sticking to the rules is crucial, and it makes the stories compelling and enjoyable.

I took the world that I built in Strength of the Pack, and I expanded and elaborated on it in Strength of the Wolf.  I continued to weave werewolves into the myths and legends of our reality. I showed what it is to be a True Alpha werewolf, and how Noah and Jeremy got there. I gave insight into how the packs work, and sometimes don’t work. I expanded on the role of the Beta, and I introduced the beloved Omega. And along the way, I showed humans and werewolves learning how to wage modern warfare, side by side.

And along the way, Tim and Jeremy fall in love.Marine with dog tags

Strength of the Wolf continues to rocket its way up the bestseller lists. Tim and Jeremy have captured hearts. If you’re curious, you can read a little bit about them:
Blurb:  
After a fiery exit from Afghanistan, Tim Madison is promoted to major. Jeremy Wagner is a civilian, just beginning his Transition to True Alpha. As a lone wolf, he has no one to teach him the vital principles of strong leadership. After a volatile chance encounter, Tim and Jeremy form an intimate bond.
As Jeremy prepares to someday lead his own pack, Tim struggles with military werewolves being needlessly maimed in combat, as well as specifically targeted by hostile forces. Despite Tim and Jeremy’s feelings, werewolf and human politics or family conflict could prevent their mate-bond.

Excerpt:
The crowd of Marines backed away, forming a wide circle around Tim. To his left, Lucas dropped what he was carrying. Glass shattered on the wooden deck and dispelled the food it contained. To Tim’s right, Jeremy’s clawed hands wrapped around Terrell Hubbard’s throat. His lips pulled back in a ferocious snarl, revealing long, wickedly sharp fangs. Hubbard’s fingers were claws, as well. One gripped Jeremy’s bicep, the other was fisted in Jeremy’s shirt. Hubbard bared his fangs, barking and growling in Jeremy’s face. 

Adrenaline surged into Tim’s bloodstream. His heart pounded, his mouth went dry. “Jeremy! Knock it the fuck off!” he shouted, reaching for the brat’s shoulders to pull him away from Hubbard. “Sergeant Hubbard! Stand down! Right the fuck now!” Tim’s skin tightened over his bones and his clothes were suddenly painful.

Tim hadn’t been this afraid in combat. Hubbard was inches taller and tens of pounds heavier than Jeremy. He was a trained Marine, battle hardened. Jeremy was outclassed and that scared the shit out of Tim. 

“Submit, Terrell,” Noah shouted, voice rough and commanding. He sounded more wolf than human. 

Just as Tim reached for Jeremy, strong hands grasped his wrists. 

“Stay out of it,” Lucas said, trying to drag Tim away from the embattled werewolves. “You’ll only get hurt.”

“Jeremy’s no match for Hubbard,” Tim said angrily, trying to shake off Lucas. 

“Yes, he is.” Lucas put himself between Tim and the shifters, giving a mighty shove. “Let Noah handle it.”

Tim stumbled, Lucas’ shove sending him off balance. He started back toward Jeremy, desperate to get him away from the larger, stronger Hubbard. Lucas blocked his path. Dawson was suddenly behind Lucas as silent reinforcement. 

“Submit to him, Terrell,” Noah ordered again. He stood beside the two werewolves but didn’t touch. Tim wondered why the hell he didn’t break up the fight. “If you make him shift he’ll rip your throat out.”

In the blink of an eye, Hubbard gave up the fight and let himself be carried to the ground by Jeremy’s weight. Now on his back, Terrell let his arms go limp beside him. He tilted back his head so that both his throat and his belly were vulnerable to Jeremy’s attack. 

A strange silence fell over the yard, save for Hubbard’s labored breathing as he struggled to get air past Jeremy’s grip on his throat. Jeremy crouched over Terrell’s supine form. He gripped Hubbard’s throat with only one clawed hand now. He leaned down until his open mouth hovered just above Terrell’s throat. 

“My wolf has submitted, Jeremy,” Noah said calmly. He knelt next to the combatants, still not touching Jeremy. “You’re the victor. He submitted. Let him up.”

Jeremy continued to crouch over Hubbard. He snapped audibly at the vulnerable flesh of Terrell’s throat. Hubbard flinched. Tim clenched his jaw, silently begging Jeremy to accept Hubbard’s submission. 

“You can’t filter this through any human or military standards,” Lucas said quietly. Tim had nearly forgotten he was there. “I know you think it’s too soon, but do you feel a connection to Jeremy?”

Tim swallowed hard, his throat tight. To his relief, Jeremy released Terrell, rising gracefully to his feet. “Yes,” Tim admitted, eyes following Jeremy as he stalked back and forth, glaring at the werewolves circled around them. 

“Let him mark you, then,” said Lucas. “Right now, in front of the Pack.”

Tim realized everything had been leading him to this very moment, despite his efforts to deny and avoid it. “Yeah,” he sighed. He had feelings for the kid he knew weren’t mixed up with Jeremy’s, or tied to the full moon. Jeremy’s well-being mattered to Tim, but he was the reason Jeremy was angry and aggressive. Jeremy needed Tim to stop hiding. 

“It’s got to be a visible mark,” Lucas reminded him. “He’s going to want to get his scent on you, too.”

None of that bothered Tim. Well, the visible marks made him apprehensive. He’d had such sympathy for Lucas, watching him struggle with werewolves making things public that humans usually kept private. 

“The brat had better be worth all the drama,” Tim muttered darkly, decision made. 

Lucas chuckled. “You wouldn’t like him if he wasn’t a challenge.”

Lucas and Dawson both stepped aside, leaving Tim free to approach to Jeremy. Or Jeremy to approach Tim. It wasn’t clear yet how this was going to go down. Terrell had rolled onto his side, but he still lay on the ground at Jeremy’s feet. The neck of his muscle shirt was darkened with blood. Jeremy’s claws had done some damage. Thankfully, it didn’t appear too severe.

Jeremy stopped pacing. Noah stood behind him, speaking quietly. Jeremy stood tall, shoulders squared, staring directly at Tim. His eyes were amber and those of a wolf. His chest heaved with each breath. At least his hands were no longer claws. Tim couldn’t tell if Jeremy still had fangs. 

It didn’t matter if he did. Tim knew he was in no danger from Jeremy. Focusing all of his attention on Jeremy, Tim realized he should have done this before now. Jeremy’s need was a physical ache. His desire to mark Tim, and be marked in return had always been there. It lingered at the back of Tim’s mind like white noise, making it easy to ignore. Tim’s own regret poured through him, drowning out everything else. He hoped this effort would make up for his mistakes. Releasing a shaky breath, Tim silently acknowledged that he’d wanted this all along. 

Tim saw the moment Jeremy sensed that their needs finally synced. He closed the distance between them in a few long strides. Tim clutched at Jeremy’s shirt as Jeremy wrapped his arms around Tim’s waist, pulling their bodies together roughly. Their open mouths collided and Tim felt the hard press of teeth. Jeremy did still have his fangs, their sharp tips drawing blood from Tim’s lips. A thrill ran down Tim’s spine, knowing Jeremy’s lethal strength was leashed, just for him. 

Jeremy licked deep into Tim’s mouth, their tongues tangling wetly. Jeremy’s body was flame-hot, pressed to the length of Tim’s. His breath was scalding as it ghosted across Tim’s cheek. 

Breaking the kiss, Jeremy buried his face in the join of Tim’s neck and shoulder. Tim shuddered. He pushed his hips against Jeremy’s, feeling Jeremy’s already hard cock. Tim tilted his head slightly, asking at the same time he gave consent. 

Jeremy pried Tim’s fingers from his shirt. Tim gasped as Jeremy forced his arms to cross at the small of his back. The strength in Jeremy’s hand was surprising as he restrained Tim’s wrists. The arch in his back pushed Tim’s body hard against Jeremy’s. His own cock was completely hard now and he rubbed himself back and forth against Jeremy. Tim closed his eyes, letting his head fall back in silent pleading. 

Jeremy kissed up the length of Tim’s throat, dragging the sharp tips of his teeth along the edge of Tim’s jaw. The slight sting sent a thrill down Tim’s spine and he wanted more. Jeremy nipped at Tim’s pulse where it throbbed just below his skin. Tim moaned when Jeremy soothed the spot with his tongue. 

His body went rigid and Tim unleashed a decadent groan when Jeremy’s hot mouth latched onto the side of his neck. Tim’s blood rose to the surface as Jeremy sucked hard at the spot. Jeremy soothed the bruise with a swipe of his tongue. Tim relaxed into Jeremy’s hard body, moaning each time Jeremy sucked a bruise into his throat, or nipped sharply at his too-sensitive skin. 

He wanted to touch. Tim struggled to free his hands from Jeremy’s grip. When Jeremy released his wrists, Tim buried his fingers in Jeremy’s hair, holding him close. Jeremy nosed at Tim’s ear, dragging his sharp teeth along the sensitive lobe. Tim shuddered again and moaned. 

Lowering his head, Tim found Jeremy’s mouth. He chased Jeremy’s tongue with his own. Curling his fingers in Jeremy’s hair, Tim used it to tilt his head back. He skimmed his lips and nose over the pounding pulse in Jeremy’s throat. Tim pressed his open mouth to the same spot and drew heated blood to the surface. Jeremy panted. He cradled the back of Tim’s head, encouraging him. Tim sucked blood to the surface of Jeremy’s skin. He was deeply satisfied that Jeremy wore his mark. The werewolf pack that surrounded them would know that Jeremy was his, and only his.

Jeremy pulled back abruptly. “Okay, that’s enough,” he gasped. “Any more and we’re going to put on a much more revealing show than I’d planned.”

Tim blinked, struggling to understand Jeremy’s words. He watched Jeremy’s eyes roam over his throat, taking in the bruises Tim could feel darkening on his skin. Jeremy’s expression was satisfied, bordering on arrogant. Tim couldn’t help but chuckle. It was such an Alpha thing to do. 

The world began to move around them. Dawson directed someone to clean up the shattered glass and spilled food. Noah tried to save the meat left forgotten on the grill. Mundane conversations swirled around them. 

Tim and Jeremy stood alone, completely surrounded by Noah’s Pack, breathing heavily, looking only at one another. 

“How long do we have to stay?” Desire was obvious in Jeremy’s still-amber eyes. 

“It would be polite to eat something, then help clean up a little,” Tim replied, already calculating how he might maneuver them into an early departure. 

“Stay with me tonight?” Jeremy asked. 

Tim nodded emphatically. “Of course.” Everyone associated with a werewolf pack was excused from duty for the next two days for the full-moon run. He imagined the two of them had much to discuss over the course of the next twenty-four hours. 

“Good,” Jeremy said. He turned toward the cluster of Marines who had begun to serve themselves food. “Now let’s go let them all know it’s time to keep their hands off of what’s mine.”

Jeremy’s possessive words should have angered Tim. Instead, it made him consider being rude and skipping out on food. 

If anyone would understand, it would be Lucas and Noah. 

 

In just a little bit, I’m going to show you how you can enter to win an e-book copy of Strength of the Wolf. First, I have a winner to announce:
WINNER of the e-book copy of Strength of the Pack:

Penumbra!
CONGRATULATIONS! (just let me know what format you need)

Now, here’s your chance to enter to win an e-book copy of Strength of the Wolf!
 StrengthoftheWolf4

 http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1bf30761

You’ll also want to swing by tomorrow, the 13th, and find out how to win an authentic set of Tim and Jeremy’s Dog Tags! These are just like the tags worn by U.S. armed forces personnel and are very highly coveted (and a little hard to get!).Strength of the Wolf Dog Tags

Love and Dog Tags,

Kendall

www.kendallmckenna.com

www.facebook.com/kendallmckenna

www.facebook.com/thetamenessofthewolf

www.facebook.com/therecondiaries

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Strength of the Pack Contest Continues! More from Kendall McKenna On The Tameness of the Wolf Series!

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It’s a very good thing you checked in today!

First, if you missed yesterday’s post, you should go check out. I discussed world building for paranormal stories, and some of the features I included in my books, Strength of the Pack and Strength of the Wolf. There’s still time to enter to win an e-book copy of Strength of the Pack, so jump back and take a read, then throw your name in the hat! The winner will be announced, right here, tomorrow!tim_jeremy_paw

Second, Strength of the Wolf continues to claw its way up all of the bestseller lists!  Jeremy and Tim are winning hearts, and their ongoing struggles are keeping readers engaged! The story expands the werewolf universe, and provides glimpses into the lives and families of the beloved characters.

Strength of the Wolf Dog TagsBEST OF ALL, you can enter to win a set of authentic Dog Tags for the main characters of Strength of the Pack! These are highly coveted dog tags, featuring the vital statistics of Lucas Young and Noah Hammond, from Strength of the Pack.

Here is everything you need to know to get entered for your chance to win! The winner will be announced tomorrow, as well, so don’t wait! Get entered!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1bf30761/

Love and Dog Tags,
Kendall

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Review: The Final Line (Recon Diaries #3) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5 The Final Line

Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood returned home after a tour of duty that saw him injured and a case built against the civilian security forces that operated overseas.  Now an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course. Corey is suffering from PTS, and is drinking heavily in his off duty hours to help him sleep through the night and the nightmares that arrive as he falls to sleep.  One night at a local bar, Corey comes to the aid of a woman being targeted by some local drunks.  When her friend arrives to take her home, Corey meets a man that is smart, compassionate and wakes up his long slumbering libido.

Sean Chandler, an actor and a musician, walks into a dive bar expecting to find his neighbor who called for a ride. Instead he finds himself tossed into the middle of a drunken mess with one man standing between his friends and a group of angry drunks. He watches as the Marine easily handles the situation and then helps him walk his neighbor to the car.  One ride home lands Sean squarely into Corey’s life, as friend and perhaps even romantic partner.  Corey is less than communicative, but Sean sees immediately that Corey is having problems, starting with alcohol.  But Sean also sees the remarkable man who is in so much pain and in need of his help that nothing will stop Sean from doing  what he can to see Corey on the path to sobriety and mental health.

Corey is also suffering from memory loss.  Something awful happened during his last tour of duty and an investigation has been opened up to uncover those responsible for civilian deaths and the following coverup. Corey’s memories are the key needed to unlock the truth.  As the investigation draws closer, Corey’s memories gain power.  Will the truth put Corey on the path to recovery and love or will the truth be his downfall?

When is 5 star rating not high enough? The answer is when you have a book like The Final Line in front of you to review.  This is really one of the most exemplary examples of military fiction that I have read in quite some time.  Add to that fact that given the overwhelming number of soldiers returning from their tour of duty with PTS, traumatic head injuries as well as physical disabilities and an infrastructure unable to handle all their needs, it becomes not just a beautifully written piece of fiction but a timely one as well.

Corey Harwood is the focus of this book, unlike the previous stories where Marine Staff Sergeant Jonah Carver and former Platoon Commander, Kellan Reynolds were the main characters. In those stories, Corey was a young soldier just learning the reality of his job, a reality that only comes with the first tour of duty.  This is our first introduction to  “baby Marine” Corey Yarwood in Brothers In Arms:

PFC Corey Yarwood of Slayer-Two-Three sat cleaning his gear, listening to the bullshit his fellow Marines were spouting. He laughed in the right places but didn’t contribute much. Jonah always felt a sharp twist in his chest when he saw Yarwood. The kid resembled Kellan. Jonah had thought Kellan looked young all those years ago, but Yarwood—Yarwood looked so young, he made Jonah feel old. Kendall McKenna. Brothers in Arms  MLR Press LLC.

From baby faced, inexperienced Private, we watch Corey age and grow into a seasoned warrior injured in battle, returned to the States for training in Fire for Effect (Recon Diaries #2):

Jonah’s features split into a grin. “Yarwood,” he greeted, extending his hand.

Corporal Corey Yarwood approached, dressed in full utilities including the eight cornered, billed cover. He’d changed since Kellan had last seen him. Corey was the same height, but he held himself a little taller. He seemed broader in the chest and shoulders. Two years had matured Corey, that much was obvious. He’d still been boyish, when Kellan had met him. Now, he was unquestionably all man.

Corey grasped Jonah’s hand and shook it briskly. They pulled each other in for the ultra-masculine, back-slapping hug of the alpha male. Corey was smiling wide when he stepped back, his eyes shone as he looked up into Jonah’s face. He released Jonah’s hand but now stood gripping his bicep.   Kendall McKenna. Fire for Effect . MLR Press LLC.

By the second book, Corey has returned home a veteran Marine with First Recon getting ready to deploy for his third mission overseas.  Experienced but still young enough to harbor a crush on his idol, Jonah Carver.  This is also where we start to get our first indications that all is not well with Corey, when Kellen asks about his injury:

“How’s your head these days?”

Corey’s fingers lifted to his temple in what looked like an unconscious gesture. “I have a pretty good scar but beyond that, I healed up fine.” Kendall McKenna. Fire for Effect . MLR Press LLC.

But the truth is Corey is far from fine, and he is already drinking to excess.  By the time we meet up with Corey again, he has become Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood  and is an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course.  He is having difficulty sleeping, he has lost his memory of certain important events, and untreated PTS is steadily pulling him into a downward spiral. And that is just part of the beauty of this series and this book.  Kendall McKenna has given us a powerful portrait of a Marine, honor bound to the Corp and its codes of behavior, from his first tour of duty to a seasoned Instructor.  It’s realistic and its has all the authenticity I have come to expect from a Kendall McKenna story. I believe in Corey,  I believe in his attitudes towards the Corp and service.  And because of that unquestioning belief, I felt every moment of his pain, every second of his despair, and finally his joy as he starts on the path to recovery.

In some respects, this story is less a romance, than a study of a veteran who is dealing with PTS, and that makes it not only emotionally compelling but timely as our media is full of stories of our soldiers returning to society, unable to cope with their physical injuries and emotional trauma. It is not enough that a writer is familiar with military terms and uses them in a story.  It is the understanding of the soldier mentality, or in this case what it means to be a Marine, an identity so indelible that it is written on their cells.   Ask any one on a street in the US, what it means to be a Marine, and you can expect an immediate answer, whether it be “Semper Fi” or “once a Marine, always a Marine”. It is quite simply a never-ending brotherhood.  To understand and be able to ground their stories and characters in the Marine culture is an achievement that few authors manage.  Kendall McKenna is one of those who reach that level of accomplishment in every story she writes.  If you have read her guest blog , then you will understand how her family and past history has contributed to this knowledge.   But I am convinced that it is something more, something else, a special talent that allows an author to go beyond knowledge and history to extend real emotion and a mental framework into their characters that bring them fully alive on each page of the story.  Corey Yarwood is that powerful, compelling creation that moves beyond the page and into your hearts as a real person.  We invest ourselves emotionally in Corey’s situation and yearn for his recovery as much as those around him do.

Another terrific element of The Final Line is the fact that McKenna helps to educate the public about PTS without standing on a soapbox.  This is Corey’s first meeting with a doctor from the Warrior Clinic:

“I’m guessing it’s the nightmares and insomnia that are causing you the most trouble?”

“Yes, ma’am. Doctor Goldman gave me a prescription for that. It’s only been a couple days but so far, things seem better.”

“Good. That’s really good. You’ve reported only one anxiety attack. By taking care of the sleep issues and coming here, you’ve probably headed off more frequent and more severe episodes, so that’s also good.” Doctor Ingram paused and Corey wiped his sweaty palms on the thighs of his jeans.

“You’ve reported no flashbacks and no hyper-vigilance, but I’m willing to bet you have very mild symptoms and just don’t recognize them.” The doctor canted her head as she regarded Corey closely. “Do some of your memories seem more vivid that others? Do you lose time? Several minutes where you don’t know what you were just doing? Are you uncomfortable in crowds? Do you feel aggressive if you don’t have a wall at your back and all exits in view?”

Corey sat in stunned silence for several moments, mouth hanging slack as he stared at Doctor Ingram. “I don’t lose track of time,” he managed through his tightened throat. “But all the rest? Yeah.”

And that is just some of the symptoms associated with PTS and through Corey, we watch as he tries to deal with them first on his own, and then with the assistance of others, including doctors.  It is truly an eye opening experience if you are unfamiliar with the disease, and McKenna gets us right into his head and mind frame. Then multiply Corey by the thousands and you begin to  understand the hurdles the young men and women are facing as their return from duty and try to reintegrate into society.

Along with Corey, McKenna also gives us a military investigation into a war crime where civilians were killed and an coverup of that event at home.  Both Jonah Carver and Kellen Reynolds are back as part of that investigation and Corey’s memories hold the key to exactly what happened overseas and who was responsible.  This portion of the story is as enthralling as everything else going on around our main character.   It just as easily could have been one of those “ripped from the headlines” plot lines, but again this section has the same authentic feel as all other aspects of this story.  Trust me when I say your heart will just ache by the time this book is done, and not just for Corey. McKenna has given this its due diligence and it shows.

Is there a romance here?  Absolutely.  As with all her other characters, McKenna gives us another realistic, relatable character in Sean Chandler.  He is interesting, compassionate and a true equal for Corey.  There is no instant love here but a relationship that has to be built around real issues that have to be dealt with.  Corey has to learn to communicate better and Sean has a front seat in learning what it means to be a Marine, especially a Recon Marine.  It is a wonderful, believable and ultimately loving relationship that McKenna creates between the two men, emotionally satisfying for both the reader and the couple.  How I love them both.  You will too.

From character study to military investigation to war crime to the building of a loving relationship, The Final Line has it all and then some.  It is exemplary as an example of military fiction as it is m/m romance.  I cannot begin to recommend this story highly enough.  It is such a remarkable book, so timely and alive in personality and culture, that I continue to shake my head in amazement.

Run, don’t walk, and pick this up.  If you are new to the series, start with Brothers in Arms and continue forward until you reach The Final Line.  And then spread the word too about a series all will want to read and men that all will want to embrace.

Cover Art by Jared Rackler.  The covers for these books are as powerful as the stories within.

The Recon Diaries books in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and events taking place: ReconDiariesBanner2 Brothers In Arms (Recon Diaries #1)

Fire for Effect (Recon Diaries #2)

The Final Line (Recon Diaries #3) Book Details:

ebook
Published July 4th 2013

Guest Blog – Kendall McKenna and Book Contest!

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ReconDiariesBanner2 Today we are lucky to have as our guest Kendall McKenna talking about her latest release, The Final Line (Recon Diaries #3).  To celebrate its release, we are giving away one copy of The Final Line and one copy of any other Recon Diaries title to a person who comments either today or tomorrow.  So don’t forget to leave a comment at the end of the post.  This is an incredible series and The Final Line is one of Scattered Thoughts Best Books of the Year: The Final Line Hello! My name is Kendall McKenna and I write M/M Erotic Romance novels and novellas. I’m going to talk about my U.S. Marine characters, and give away some free e-books, so let’s have some fun! Thanks to everyone for joining me today! On July 4th, The Final Line, my fifth novel – #3 in The Recon Diaries – was released to great reviews and a lot of excitement. This is the story of Corey Yarwood, who readers have watched grow up during the first two books in the series. Corey falls in love, has some hot sex, but also struggles with Post Traumatic Stress. That’s one of the hallmarks of The Recon Diaries, a hot romance woven together with a realistic military situation.

That’s actually what I do, as an author. My specialty, if you will.

My journey into writing love stories about U.S. Marines is pretty direct. I have never served in the military, but I have worked in law enforcement. There is a lot of crossover. Quite a few of my family members left the military to become law enforcement officers. I grew up in San Diego, where there are more Navy and Marine Corps bases than there are schools. Okay, not really, but almost. You get the idea. Growing up and into my late 20s, I was very close to my maternal grandfather. He had served in the Marines during WWII, and had been one of the founding members of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. This all mixed together to become an extensive knowledge base and understanding of all things military, quite specifically, the Marines.

When I got all grown up, I noticed how inaccurately both cops and Marines are portrayed in books, movies, and on television. I desperately wanted to read good books about these characters, that didn’t have glaring errors or clearly indicate that authors had no military knowledge at all. You can tell from my books that military personnel have ways of thinking and speaking. As a sub-culture, they have a language of their own. I understand all of this, and can tap into it. I’ve explained before that it’s a lot like spending your first ten years in another country, speaking English as well as the local language. If you move to the U.S. at the age of ten, it becomes the language and culture you most closely identify with, but you can still access everything from your first ten years.

That’s just one piece of the puzzle, though. My characters are very crucial to my stories. I would say they’re more important than my stories, but I know many would argue. In any event, people who thrive in the military culture, have certain personalities. They also go through a process of socialization and conditioning while in the military. What this means is that military characters have to be created in a specific way for them to be realistic. First of all, they’re emotionally reserved. They aren’t overly talkative, especially when it comes to their feelings. They tend to prefer actions over words. They possess an inclination to ‘protect’ their loved ones from the ugliness of their professional lives. They need something pristine as an escape, so they attempt to keep the two halves of their lives separate.

Anyway, I first tried writing military characters and military themed stories, because I believed I could do it better than in some of the things I was reading. And I’m not just talking in the m/m genre. It’s a widespread issue. So, I sat down and wrote. I edited, I re-wrote. And I wrote again. I went out and found editors and beta readers who I knew could be very critical and push me to be better. I wrote, they corrected me, and I re-wrote. I grew from simple stories of 2,500 words, to my sweeping 100,000 word epics.

It’s one thing to write a series of stories that are strictly about two people falling in love. Obviously, I love a good romance. I wanted to do more, though. I wanted to write realistic, believable (yet, fictional) stories that would serve as the backdrop for the love story. It’s a commonly used technique, but I looked around for something that either affects, or only occurs to military personnel. I start with that kernel of truth, and from it I develop my own story and draw my own conclusions. It’s a really big game of what-if, for me. My characters think, speak, act and react to the fictional situations I devise. I weave the love story in and out of the fictional plot, until they’re hopefully, seamless.

Here’s how it all worked for my latest story, The Final Line. Corey Yarwood is a small, secondary character who first showed up in Brothers In Arms. He reappeared, a little older and more mature, in Fire For Effect. When it came time for his own story, I aged him and promoted him, giving him a few unpleasant experiences to make him interesting, but also to give him some baggage. I created a love interest for him who is just different enough to create some conflict, but different in ways that balance Corey out a bit.

You pretty much have to be living under a rock, these days, to miss the fact that our military veterans are battling against Post Traumatic Stress. I gave Corey a case of PTS, and was careful to realistically portray the symptoms, as well as the treatment. I didn’t make anything easy. Corey suffers, and it takes him some time to heal. Even then, it’s not perfect

Also, if you pay attention to national news, you know that there have been some incidents that have occurred, resulting in military personnel being prosecuted. I created an event that would serve as a war crime, and would feasibly lead to stateside prosecutions. What better incident to trigger Corey’s PTS?

Finally, returning vets are suffering high rates of domestic violence. I used a local incident as a jumping off point for a plot point that sets the entire story in motion. If Corey was affected by an incident in Afghanistan, others in his platoon would be as well. If Corey battles to overcome his PTS, would there not also be someone who sank into darkness following this event? And what would happen if everyone got together to cover up this event? Who would take the fall when someone set out to uncover the truth?

What really sets my books apart from others written about military characters or situations, is the authentic flavor of my narrative. I tell the story I have designed using military jargon, dialog with the cadence of military-speak, and realistic combat scenes. I drop the reader into the story and tell them what it’s like to feel the recoil of an M16. I describe the tooth-rattling, ear ringing feel of being close to an explosive detonation. I write authentic radio chatter, right down to unit call signs. I make the reader’s heart pound and their blood race, as if they were right beside Corey in combat. My military situations could happen; they’re actually possible. My Recon Marines execute real-life missions. They’re not Navy SEALs single handedly saving the White House.

I admit it! I love stories like that! But I set out to do something completely different. The rogue SEAL has been done to death. I set myself apart by going for realism.

If you have any questions about me, my background, or about anything regarding one of my stories, leave a comment, I’m happy to answer.

TheFinalLineEventPicCurious about Corey and The Final Line?

Here’s the blurb: Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood is an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course. His last deployment ended in horror, but he can’t remember those events. Battling severe PTSD, Corey’s drinking is growing out of control. Sean Chandler walks into a dive bar, and into Corey’s life. An actor and a musician, Sean has the empathy and compassion to sooth Corey’s pain, and the strength to support him as he struggles to heal. Corey’s lost memories are pivotal to a civilian murder, and a military investigation. Remembering could mean salvation, or destruction. Will the truth be too much for Sean to handle?Final Line pic

The Final Line might be Book #3 in The Recon Diaries, but it also stands alone. You can read it without having read the previous two books. However, if you’re curious about The Recon Diaries, you can read more about them at my website: www.kendallmckenna.com

NOW FOR THE FREE STUFF!

You have the chance to win one of two e-books! Our hostess is offering a free e-book of my newest title, The Final Line! I am offering a free e-book of any of the three titles from The Recon Diaries! The Rafflecopter drawings below will tell you what you need to know!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1bf30753/

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1bf30754/

Thank you so much for joining me here, and good luck to everyone with the drawings!

Corey & Sean 1st kiss Corey with puppyMarine Corey

When is a 5 – Star Rating Not High Enough?

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The Final LineA 5-star rating is not high enough when I am reviewing the stunning new book by Kendall McKenna, The Final Line!  The 3rd book in her Recon Diaries is emotionally powerful and absolutely current in topic.  Starting tomorrow, Scattered Thoughts is giving away one copy of this amazing book to one person chosen from those who leave comments on Monday and Tuesday.  Don’t miss out on your chance! Join us Monday and Tuesday as we welcome Kendall McKenna to Scattered Thoughts as a guest blogger and then followup with a review on Tuesday.

A Book Giveaway, Riding the Weather Rollercoaster, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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So far the Washington Metro area has felt like Seattle, WA, and now we are aiming for Phoenix, AZ.  We have had close to 12 inches of rain in the last month alone, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up as we head towards the middle of July.  Really, folks, nothing like 100 percent humidity for a smokey Fourth of July.  Now the heat wave that baked the western states has hit here as well.  Temperature is rising to 98º today.  Now add to that the fact that the ground squishes with every footstep and a high humidity….well, it is little wonder I expect to see monkeys swinging from the maples at any time.  It is downright tropical outside.  Well ok, we did see a runaway red panda last week that escaped from the National Zoo (now safely back home after a trip to Adams Morgan, a very trendy place).  And a couple of teenage black bears that decided to tour downtown Washington for a suitable condo to live in.  I am betting air-conditioning and a pool were on their list of must haves!   So I am seeing a day spent inside knitting and reading on the agenda for the rest of the day.  I did get my coleus and caladiums bought on sale planted yesterday, as well as some yanking of smartweed but anything else will have to wait until the temperatures go down.

Now on to the exciting week ahead.  Kendall McKenna’s latest release, The Final Line is just out.  It is the another book in her wonderful Recon Diaries series.  On Monday, Kendall McKenna will be here with a guest blog and a book contest.  We will be giving away, courtesy of MLR Press, a copy of The Final Line to one of the people who comment on her blog and my review, which will be posted the next day.  Here is the blurb for the book:

Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood is an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course. His last deployment ended in horror, but he can’t remember those events. Battling severe PTSD, Corey’s drinking is growing out of control.

Sean Chandler walks into a dive bar, and into Corey’s life. An actor and a musician, Sean has the empathy and compassion to sooth Corey’s pain, and the strength to support him as he struggles to heal.

Corey’s lost memories are pivotal to a civilian murder, and a military investigation. Remembering could mean salvation, or destruction. Will the truth be too much for Sean to handle?

So mark your calendars for July 8 and 9 for your chance to win a copy of this wonderful book!  And thank you, MLR Press and Laura Baumbach for the copies of The Final Line.  Now here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, July 8, 2013:                 Guest Blog with Kendall McKenna, author of The Final Line

Book Contest.  One copy of The Final Line will be given away

Tuesday, July 9, 2013:                  Review of The Final Line, last day to comment for the contest

Wednesday, July 10,2013:          Pickup Men by LC Chase, winner of contest announced

Thursday, July 11, 2013:             Changing Planes by Karenna Colcroft

Friday, July 12, 2013:                  Fever Anthology by M. Rode

Saturday, July 13, 2013:              In Pursuit of the Bang On, Well Done, and apparently Endangered Short Story

So that’s our exciting week ahead.  I will leave you with a picture of Winston, recently groomed.  He has settled into our family as though he has

DSCN3917 always been there.  And here is a recipe for a drink to keep this hot weather in its place!  This cocktail is called appropriately Adios Motherfucker or AMF.  I have included the recipe as well as a link to the video on how to make this delicious drink.  A great way to say goodbye heatwave or  anything else to want to get rid of:

Adios Motherfucker CocktailAMF Recipe:

Scale ingredients to servings
1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz rum
1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
2 oz sweet and sour mix
2 oz 7-Up® soda

Pour all ingredients except the 7-Up into a chilled glass filled with ice cubes. Top with 7-Up and stir gently.
Read more: Adios Motherfucker recipe http://www.drinksmixer.com/drink735.html#ixzz2YHs7Z756

Guest Post by Sarah Black “Soap Making for Boys and Men”

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to welcome Sarah Black to our blog today.  Ms. Black’s book The General and the Horse-Lord is being released today at Dreamspinner Press. I can pick out a Sarah Black story or character because of her distinctive characters and style of writing, both of which have turned her into a “must read” author.

To mark the release of The General and the Horse-Lord, Scattered Thoughts and Sarah Black is giving away one copy of her novel to one lucky person chosen from those who comment on her guest post today.  Winner will be chosen at the end of the day.

Here Ms. Black gives us some insight into how she creates her characters or maybe that is how her characters demand to be written.

Soap Making for Boys and Men

I walked up the stairs to my son’s new bedroom and looked at the empty soda bottles on the floor, right next to the new trash basket with its pristine white bag. “I would not want General Mitchel to see this room, son.”

He said, “Who’s General Mitchel?”

“Um, he’s the main character in my new book.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Pick up that trash. Pronto.”

My son is used to living with fictional characters, but I admit the men in my new book have moved into the house with us and appear ready to stay. I like these guys a lot. The two main characters, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez, are my age. They feel like my peers in many ways—we were both in the military together, and went to war together. They were in Kuwait in 1990, and so was I. They served during Haiti and Somali and Bosnia and Grenada- names that are immediately understood by veterans of our age.

I was challenged to write the character of John Mitchel by something I read in a book on writing—not sure now which book—but I read that it is very difficult to write a character who is smarter and more accomplished than the author. Naturally I determined to do that very thing. Then I read a passage written by Hallie Burnett, whose book Fiction Writer’s Handbook I have always found to be an excellent guide. Though she makes a strong distinction between genre and literary fiction, I’ve always found her advice very high caliber. And it’s my goal to try to do more than I know how to do. Anyway, she said something about how difficult it was to write truthfully about love.

So I decided to write a character who was smarter and more accomplished than I, and to tell the truth about the way he fell in love and the way he behaved when his love was threatened. Like all characters who have a strong POV, this character sees some things about himself very clearly, and in other ways he does not know himself at all. Very much like me. I tried something, writing his character, that may backfire on me. I noticed the way people can be extremely accomplished in some areas of their life, and utter fools in others.

When I joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1981, I worked with many women who had made the choice of career over family- a real hard line, then, because they kicked you out if you got pregnant. That rule had only changed a few years before I joined. So I could see these women, very passionate about their work, very smart and tough, but sort of clueless about men and women. They didn’t know how to have relationships because they had never had the opportunity. Relationships take practice!

General Mitchel gave it all up for the work he did for the country. And he is clueless about love, and relationships, sort of numb to the whole thing, which is the way people protect themselves when they have been forced into an untenable situation. So I hope I have written him to show this dichotomy. I really like him. He reminds me so much of those tough girls, the Navy Nurses who had been in Vietnam on the hospital ships, and who gave it all up so they could have the life they chose to have. They trained me to be a military nurse. Anywhere, anytime, anything. We didn’t just say that. We did it.

So this is why General Mitchel is refusing to discuss soap with me. He doesn’t see himself as a person who wastes time on nonessentials like handmade soap, not when you can buy a three pack of Dial soap at the PX for a dollar seventy nine. Eventually he and I are going to get to the bottom of this and I will have his soap. But for now, I have been working on the soaps for the other men in the story.

Gabriel Sanchez- oh, we are so in love with Gabriel, have been for twenty-five years, since he was a hot shot young helo pilot. He has rich warm depths, great passions, great sorrows, great courage. We are ready to swoon over this man. He’s down to earth, so I tried some woodsy scents, cedar and pine and fir, and he’s mysterious and warm, too, with hidden depths in his dark eyes, and massive passion, so I tried some sage and lemon verbena and cinnamon, scents with heat, and he’s sweet and funny and he has a weird little quirk about eighties dance music, so he needs something light, as well. I lined up the little glass jars and got out my Q-tips.

This is how you make scent combinations for homemade perfume and soap. You put a drop of essential oil on a Q-tip and put it in a sealed glass jar. Then you smell it, you wait a couple of hours and smell it again, and then you smell it the next day. All different! Then you try some combos, and drop two Q-tips with different scents into the jars together. You weed out the ones you don’t like. Then you mix three Q-tips. Gabriel’s scent is cedar and sage and orange. I’ve been walking around the house with a little glass jar held up to my nose. I bet the neighbors think I’m smoking a hookah. Swoon! It’s him. We are so in love. John agrees. He was not enthusiastic, until he smelled Gabriel’s scent. Then he asked me to make him some soap. It crossed his mind what the bathroom would smell like, when Gabriel was in the shower, using his new soap.

Kim is a delight, a beautiful boy who laughs before he wakes up in the morning. John has loved him since he was a baby, when Kim crawled madly to him across the crowded floor of a Korean orphanage. He’s talented, passionate, throws himself headlong into Quixotic adventures, and never looks before he leaps, because his darling Uncle John and his Uncle Gabriel will always be there to catch him. He’s young, too, as clear and bright as a waterfall. Kim wanted to help make his soap, and has been playing around with colors- he’s swirled two colors of soap together, lemon and blackberry, and his soap is as beautiful as he is. It smells good enough to spread with butter on warm toast.

Billy and his father, Cody Dial, are next on the soapmaking block. Billy Dial doesn’t know it yet, but he is the sort of genius artist who changes the world. Sometimes that sort of talent can tear holes in you. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen with Billy. He is going to play a critical role in the new story, and may even get to be the hero.

His father, the ex-bullriding champ Cody Dial, fears for his talented and delicate son. He doesn’t know what to do to keep him safe, and if he could cut off his right hand to protect Billy, he would gladly do it. Cody Dial runs a ranch up in Wyoming, and he needs a strong soap, soap that actually gets your hands clean without taking the skin off. I’m thinking of making him some soap with cornmeal, which I think will be more gentle than pumice. He admits he likes the smell of the flowery perfume his wife wears on their anniversary, they have date night once a year, but he doesn’t think that smell would work for a cowboy. He does think that sage isn’t a bad smell. Or horses. The leather tack is okay.

Billy is just a bit frail, and I’m worried about him. His soap is going to smell faintly like lilies of the valley, and is going to be very white and gentle.

Abdullah, oh, what a sweet boy. He just plays a tiny part in this story, crucial but tiny. His book is coming, but what sort of soap? The dusty smells of ancient Persia, orange blossoms? Some slight scent of tragedy, and great beauty. Rosewood? Abdullah plays the cello. What does cello music smell like? Bach’s cello suites? Classic, formal, delicate. White roses and orange blossoms and sandalwood.

Still nothing for our main character. He’s standing over my shoulder, saying, “Don’t you have some medical records to finish? For the job that actually pays you?”

“Yes, General, I do.”

“Perhaps the prudent thing to do would be to proceed as if this writing is a hobby. You do, after all, have a family to support. According to one of your publishers, you sold 6 books in the last 3 months. From all vendors.”

“Sir, that is true. But I have not explained to you how important this is to me. How hard I am willing to work. How much I believe in the power of my fiction.”

“Very well, Ms. Black. Then I might suggest you spend some time learning marketing skills.”

Ouch. He doesn’t pull his punches, this guy. So I will have to play with my synesthesia later. Here’s a bit from The General and the Horse-Lord about Kim:

Kim had been the darling of his tiny Catholic orphanage in Seoul. There was no question, from the moment he had crawled delightedly into John’s sister’s arms, which baby they were going to take home. John’s sister and her husband stayed with him on base while they worked through the lengthy system for foreign adoptions. The Koreans required a six month wait between the initial application, done in person, and the final award of adoption. When they had gone back to the States for their six month wait, John had walked the two miles from his quarters to the orphanage nearly every evening to check on Kim. Kim would see him from across the tiny playroom and would climb over the furniture and any playmates in his way to get to his big uncle. The boy would reach his leg, then tug on the cuff of his pants. Two tugs, and John would reach down and pick him up. It was their secret signal. Kim still did it, though John couldn’t believe he remembered that far back. When he was in trouble, when he’d been so outrageous he’d scared himself, he would curl up next to John and give his sleeve a couple of tugs. And John knew it meant that his baby needed to be picked up, lifted high above the scary world.

And here is Gabriel:

Gabriel followed him home from the restaurant, parked his pickup truck behind John’s in the driveway. Inside, John pulled out the Kona Gold coffee beans from the cabinet and put a handful in the grinder, listened while Gabriel settled into the couch. He stretched his arms out along the top of the couch, laid his head back and sighed. His eyes were closed, his face relaxed. Not many people got to see Gabriel like this.

When the coffee was finished brewing, John carried a couple of mugs into the living room and handed one to Gabriel. He set his cup down on the coffee table and settled down next to him on the couch.

“So what’s been happening with you? You’ve been in practice about six months. Is the law what you were hoping it would be?”

Gabriel had his nose in the cup, smelling the rich coffee. “Yeah, it’s good. Fine. Not…”

Not like the Army. He didn’t need to say it. John felt it too. “You miss it still?”

Gabriel nodded.

“Yeah, me too. But it’s a young man’s game.”

Gabriel had finished law school the year before, deciding on a mid-life career in public service. John also suspected he was doing it to make Martha happy. She’d been a good Army wife, following him across the world, managing the family while he was deployed. John thought she would like being a lawyer’s wife.

“I don’t like the young lawyers right out of school much. I sound like an old man to myself, looking at them and thinking what a bunch of selfish, spoiled little pricks they are. Money, money, money. You could take the whole crowd of them right off a cliff following the sweet green scent of money. I don’t know, John. I look at them and think, who the fuck is left? Where are the leaders? Is there an ounce of fortitude in any of them? They get hysterical when they can’t remember the pocket where they stowed their phones.”

John picked up his cup and drank the coffee down. “Now you know why I had a shit-fit and pretended to flunk my entire freshman class. Not that I think it did any good. I just wanted to see if any single one of them would stand up and admit they hadn’t a clue because they’d bought their papers.”

“Did they?”

John shook his head.

“I like the practice, though. It’s like the law firm of last resort. For the clueless and the desperate. And the broke. I don’t think I’ll ever have a pot to piss in. But I’m always happy to stick a thorn in the fat asses of the establishment.” Gabriel reached out and took his empty cup. “You want a refill?”

“No. I think I’m going to grab a quick shower. Finish what’s in the pot if you want.”

John stepped into the shower off his bedroom, gave himself a brisk scrub-down. He toweled off and wrapped the towel around his waist. Gabriel was waiting for him, sitting on the side of the bed. He’d undressed down to his boxers, clothes neatly folded over the back of a chair. He reached out, pulled John closer by the towel around his waist. He leaned forward, moved his warm mouth across John’s shoulder, up his neck. “I love the smell of Dial soap on your skin.” He pulled the towel away and gathered John into his arms. “My old friend. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you.”

“Hello, Gabriel.” John reached up, traced his fingers along Gabriel’s strong jawline, across a mouth that had always curved into a smile at his touch. Gabriel moved his hand down into the curly brown hair that covered John’s belly and chest, still mostly brown, with just a few notes of silver. Gabriel said the silver looked good, matched the color of his eyes.

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]Dreamspinner Press Book Description:

General John Mitchel and his favorite pilot, Gabriel Sanchez, served together as comrades and brothers-in-arms for more than twenty-five years. They followed the warrior’s path: honor first, and service, and the safety of the tribe. Their own needs for love and companionship were secondary to the mission. Retirement from the army, however, proves challenging in ways neither expected.

When old warriors retire, their armor starts falling away, and the noise of the world crowds in. That changing world sets up longings in both men for the life they might have had. After years of loving on the down-low, the idea of living together in the light seems like pure sweet oxygen to men who have been underwater a little too long. But what will it cost them to turn their dreams into truth?

Guest Post by Sam Starbuck and Contest for The City War Blog Tour

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Sam Starbuck here to blog about his latest book, The City War, published by Riptide Publishing:

Hello everyone! I’m pleased to be hosted by Scattered Thoughts today as part of a blog tour for  The City War, my first novella to be released with Riptide Press.

This is the second part in a series of posts I’m doing about the process of writing historical romantic fiction, and how one gets from being a history nerd to a romance writer in a few easy steps; today’s entry is about the delicate dance of historical fiction. To thank you all for reading, I’m offering a chance to win $10 in credit with Riptide Publishing; every comment you leave on the post today and for the entire tour enters you to win!

Something that comes up frequently when people talk about writing historical fiction of any subset is the difficulty of Getting Everything Right. If you set a story in ancient Roman culture — as the Warriors of Rome series is — it’s easy to leave out things we’re aware don’t belong: microwaves, cellphones, pianos. It’s often harder to leave out things we don’t know don’t belong — did the ancient Romans have books, or only scrolls? Did they have plates and cups? Did they have toilet paper? (Yes, Yes, and No.)

It’s daunting, the idea of having to know a dead culture so well that you can create a whole world without screwing it up.

But it’s also fun.

One of the things I researched for The City War was the food served at feasts, particularly feasts for the nobility of the highly class-stratified culture of Rome. 

The servants brought in trays of apricots in sweet sauce and lentils imported from Egypt, roasted thrushes, goose livers in garum and oysters in cumin sauce.

“The servants brought in trays of apricots in sweet sauce and lentils imported from Egypt, roasted thrushes, goose livers in garum and oysters in cumin sauce. Cassius occasionally licked sweet apricot sauce off his thumb, glancing at Brutus with lowered eyelids to see if he noticed. Brutus saw that Aristus did, and the older man drank more wine than usual. Brutus just busied himself counteracting the heat of the cumin with bites of honey-soaked melon, and ignored them both as children. He was getting tired of Cassius’s air of mystery.

By the time the servants brought in the pig—small but well-cooked, and stuffed with tender laurices and fragrant spices—Brutus saw the horse-boy watching the dancers as well, crouched in a shadow behind a tall window that let the breeze pass from the outer yard into the triclinium.”

It sounds delicious and poetic, but sometimes that’s part of the trick of historical fiction; goose livers in garum seems luxurious, if slightly gross to our modern sensibilities, until you find out that garum is a sauce made from fish that’s been left to decay in the sun for days. “Stuffed with tender laurices” makes the mouth water — until you look it up, as one of my editors did, and realize that a laurice is the term for the unborn fetus of a rabbit, a delicacy in ancient Rome. But part of the joy of writing for this era in particular is the fierceness and the nearness to the food chain that even the upper classes were required by their limited technological means to engage in. It was an earthy time.

Historical fiction is about getting the world right, but also getting the sense of the world right. It’s important to understand the spirit of an era — and sometimes to temper it a little in places, particularly when writing romance, which I’m also addressing today over at  Well Read.

Bio: Sam Starbuck is a novelist and blogger living in Chicago because he enjoys trains, snow, and political scandals. By day, he manages operations for a research department at a large not-for-profit, and by night he is a pop-culture commentator, experimental cook, advocate for philanthropy, and writer of fiction. He holds two degrees in theatre, which haven’t done much for his career but were fun while they lasted. His love of ancient cultures and art crimes makes him a very strange conversationalist at parties. His novels include Nameless, Charitable Getting, and Trace, published independently, and The City War, published with Riptide Publishing. He blogs here, and you can check out his writerly accomplishments here.

The City War 

Blurb: Senator Marcus Brutus has spent his life serving Rome, but it’s difficult to be a patriot when the Republic, barely recovered from a civil war, is under threat by its own leader. Brutus’s one retreat is his country home, where he steals a few precious days now and then with Cassius, his brother-in-law and fellow soldier—and the one he loves above all others. But the sickness at the heart of Rome is spreading, and even Brutus’s nights with Cassius can’t erase the knowledge that Gaius Julius Caesar is slowly becoming a tyrant.

Cassius fears both Caesar’s intentions and Brutus’s interest in Tiresias, the villa’s newest servant. Tiresias claims to be the orphaned son of a minor noble, but his secrets run deeper, and only Brutus knows them all. Cassius, intent on protecting the Republic and his claim to Brutus, proposes a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. After all, if Brutus—loved and respected by all—supports it, it’s not murder, just politics.

Now Brutus must return to Rome and choose: not only between Cassius and Tiresias, but between preserving the fragile status quo of Rome and killing a man who would be emperor.

You can buy The City War or read an excerpt here at Riptide Publishing.

Thank was wonderful.  My review of The City War will be posted tomorrow and you won’t want to miss it. And don’t forget to enter your name in the contest.  Just leave a comment and you are entered into the contest to win $10 in credit at Riptide Publishing. The Winner of the contest will be announced at the end of the tour.

Good luck, everyone.  And my thanks to Sam Starbuck and Riptide Publishing for stopping by today.

Winner of My Regelence Rake Contest

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I said I would be announcing it on Friday so here it is.  The winner of the free copy of My Regelence Rake is K Anderson.  K, I have your email address.  Please look for an email from me shortly that will tell you how to get your copy from Samhain.

Thanks to all who commented.  This was a great week.  My next contest will be as a part of the Howloween Blog Hop Tour.  How I love October!