Review: The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2) by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The General and the Elephant Clock coverGeneral John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez have finally begun to settle into their new lives as an couple and outwardly gay men when an old colleague calls with a request for help.  General David Painter, now CEO of a private security outfit, has two of his men, former Rangers, who have been captured and imprisoned in Tunisia. And they are being held in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East.  Painter wants John and Gabriel to get them out and safely home.

With problems on the home front with Kim, Abdullah, and Billy all involved in their own personal challenges, John and Gabriel knows its a tough time to leave but the alternative, leaving those boys to rot in prison or worse, is unthinkable.  The Arab Uprising has left the government unstable and the political climate rife for rebellion in Tunisia.  But liberating the men in only part of the mission, the other is to leave the country with every one involved safe and alive. An old enemy thwarts their every move, puting John and Gabriel in a dangerous position.  As the obstacles mount against them, John finds that one of the men’s obsession with the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari might not only be their ticket home but a way to heal some deep wounds as they go.

The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is just spectacular!  I think it is the best book Sarah Black has written to date, a great book among many wonderful ones.  This book, the second in The General series, marks a departure from the original in so many ways. While that book, The General and the Horse-Lord, looked inward and focused on John and Gabriel as former Army officers now adjusting to civilian life and their status as out gay men and partners, this book takes all those elements (their  extended family, career adjustments, love for the Army and country,etc) and expands that view while placing the men back in their comfort zone of military action,hostiles, and hostage negotiations.  Its a brilliant move on the author’s part because now we get to see General John Mitchel (and Gabriel) in their element,. It is  here that we see their personalities, thoughts and actions shine and the depth of their partnership and love emerge to support their actions and the group they assemble.

This book is remarkable in that every aspect of this story is well constructed and beautifully implemented.  It has action scenes that will make you hold your breath in white knuckle anxiety yet scream in fear for those involved.  It has pathos and angst, especially in the form of Eli, the young, brilliant ex Ranger captured and abused.  It has the breadth of knowledge and admiration for a ancient rich culture and society now on the brink of meltdown while showing a sorrow for a people caught in the religious crossfires of zealotry and hatred. Black comments on the Arab uprising while bringing its reality to the reader in the scared visages and chaos that is every day life in Carthage and Tunisia.  There is scholarly references to Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, Al-Jazari’s book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”as well as contemporary references to Star Wars, Spongebob Squarepants, and the lyrics of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and Jackson Browne.   This book is bursting at the seams in an explosion of history, culture, pop society milestones and great characterizations that will cement themselves in your heart never to leave.

Existing on the same superior level as the action and plot are the characters created for this series.  Starting with John Mitchel, Gabriel Sanchez, Kim, Abdullah, Billy and even Juan, Gabriel’s confused and angry son, each and every one is a solid, believable, and often endearing personality that the reader will connect to easily.  John Mitchel, the warrior philosopher, is easily the strongest and probably most magnetic, along with Gabriel.  John is having the hardest time adjusting to civilian life, finding it boring and lacking the mental stimulation that he is used to.  He is also finding it hard to relinquish his role as the commander who sees to everyones safety and directing their safe passage through life.  Gabriel is also finding his new life harder than he thought it would be, with different demands as an ex husband and divorced family man whose kids are unhappy and angry over the destruction of their family unit to a law firm disintegrating under the load of needy cases and lack of revenue.  The pain and confusion of divorce and its effects upon a family are not glossed over but folded in as a matter of fact part of life that the men and Gabriel’s children and ex-wife must deal with.  It’s realistic, and recognizable in this day and age of multiple connected families.  I love these men and their relationship, a work still in progress throughout the story although their love is never to be doubted.

Swimming in the sea of John and Gabriel’s love and support is their wonderful extended family of Kim, John’s brilliant Korean nephew, Abdullah, his godson, and Billy, a young man recovering from a brutal attack on campus.  Now added to the fray are the men  and woman who make up the rescue unit in Carthage.  Eli and Daniel, Jen Painter, Sam Brightman, Wylie and Jackson, all memorable, each a living, breathing human being that will bring you to laughter and tears.  Eli and Jen have to be two of my favorites, Eli one of the young men captured and Jen, the resilient and courageous young woman fighting to empower the embattled women of Tunisia.  And then there is  the director of the Bardo Museum, Ibrahim ibn Saeed ibn Ahmad al-Aziz, old and wise, encapsulating the best combination of humanity, learning and wisdom.  There is a large cast here but each is necessary to the plot and to the group dynamic. You will fall in love with each and every one.  Here is an excerpt.  John is calling  home from Carthage and is met with the usual chaos of multiple voices before talking to Billy:

So how are you, son? I was craving some of your tea today, that one with the blood oranges and rose hips and hibiscus. I can’t believe I’m starting to like it.”

“That’s my favorite, too. I was thinking we could plant some blackberry and raspberry vines in the back yard, make some fresh teas. You think they would grow here?”

“Maybe. If we built them a deep planter that we sunk in the ground. I’ve heard there were some traditional ways to plant up in northern New Mexico where they dug shallow pits, lined them with rocks, and planted trees in them.”

“I read something about the Hopi, how they planted—I was thinking about waffles, or a grid? I can’t remember. I’ll have to look it up.”

“Billy, do you know anything about the museums in Carthage?”

“Not really. Want me to look them up?”

“I would. Just write me a brief and send it to me, okay? That would be a big help.”

“I looked up some pictures of Carthage. It looks so beautiful, with the Mediterranean right there, and the sky so blue. Sad, though. Like that poem, how does it go? Two vast and trunkless legs of stone….”

John concentrated hard, trying to remember. “Ozymandias, and it was Shelley, I think, or Keats. I used to know it. “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read…. I can’t remember the rest. But you’re right, Billy. That poem looks like Carthage. I miss you, kiddo.”

“I miss you, too.”

Just look at the number of references in that short excerpt, from Hopi planting methods to Shelley’s Ozymandias overlaid with a man longing for home and the respect with which he treats the people who live under his roof. Black also demonstrates her knowledge and love of the military here.  Whether it is the Flying Stallions and the primal sound of the “rhythmic thump, then, the sound of a big helicopter’s rotors” to the pain and sorrow of a young injured soldier unable to fathom his doctor’s distant attitude, you will feel as though you have walked a short ways in a soldier’s shoes.

From vivid descriptions of far away places to the characters and the ever present love of the Army and its mission, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, is a must read for 2013 or any year.   Make sure you find a place for it on your bookshelf, digital or otherwise, with space for additional stories to come.  This is a universe that begs for more stories with its wealth of characters and various challenges ahead that each face.  I know at least one more is in the works, lets hope for an abundance.

This is how the story begins:

JOHN studied the candy-colored sky, raspberry pink edging to smudgy purple, the color of a grape lollipop. The colors reminded him of Turkish delight, a candy he’d been offered once in a Bedouin’s tent. He’d been there to negotiate passage for troops and troop trucks over the old man’s lands. It was rumored that the Bedouin was somehow involved in the nasty little conflict that had disrupted the flow of food aid to the region. John had been sent in to stomp on the sparks before civilian casualties escalated.

The old man’s grandson had filled two cups with mint tea so sweet John could smell the sugar over the dust and sun-warmed canvas of the tent. Then he’d offered the plate of Turkish delight with a flourish and a bow. The boy had black liquid eyes, long, thick lashes, and John had felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Eyes that beautiful and dark should have been filled with warmth, but the boy was young and didn’t know how to hide what was in his heart. John had watched the boy slide his hand down his leg, clutch the bronze dagger in the top of his boot and pull it free.

Then Gabriel was there, quiet as smoke, his rifle cradled in his arms, and the boy froze. John set his teacup down, refusing the Bedouin’s hospitality. It was an insult, a hard line drawn in the sand, nearly as hard a line as the one drawn when your grandson cut someone’s throat over a plateful of Turkish delight. The old man had eyes like the boy, a raptor’s eyes, cold and wet and black. John stood up, backed out of the tent without a word, and Gabriel spread his arms, the rifle in one big hand. No one could mistake the gesture. It said, No one touches him. You come through me to get to him.

SThe Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari 

Book Details:

ebook, 244 pages
Expected publication: October 25th 2013
ISBN13 9781627982085
edition language English
series The General

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.”

New Excerpt from The General and the Elephant Clock by Sarah Black

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Sarah Black has finished writing her sequel, The General and the Elephant Clock.  And while we are waiting for its release date, here is another excerpt for those of us who need more of John, Gabriel, Kim and all the rest from The General and the Horse-Lord (posted with permission from Sarah Black):

Living Large in the Beautiful World: Kim and The General Discuss Decorating

At the end of The General and the Horse-Lord, Kim and Billy have gone wild with the General’s credit card, ready to redecorate the house. The new book, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, picks up with John and Kim having a friendly little chat about the new couch.

John pushed open the kitchen door. The jury was still out on the new decorating. He had thought he was sending Kim and Billy out for an extra desk and bed, but that had somehow turned into a re-do of the entire house. He had to admit the kitchen was cheerful. Kim and Billy had painted the kitchen walls bright cream enamel, then painted trim in tangerine and aqua. The curtains were tangerine with cream polka-dots, and there were little cars zooming all over the walls, hand-painted by a bunch of Kim and Billy’s artist friends. The new dining room table was Formica, with stainless silver legs, and the chairs were padded in aqua vinyl. Kim and Billy were very pleased with the kitchen. Gabriel liked it, as well, though he might have been just trying to get along. John was okay with the changes. The kitchen, he thought, was fine. It just didn’t look like his kitchen. It looked like the kitchen of a person who was considerably cooler than he was. The same could be said about the living room.

Kim was waiting for him to come in from his run, and he swooped down on John and wrapped his arms around his waist for a quick hug. “How’s my favorite uncle?”

John studied his face. “I’m fine. What’s happening with you?”

“Not too much.” Kim was head down into the fridge, looking for something to snack on that had not had a face or a mother. He’d explained to John this was his new criteria for healthy eating. “Can we talk about the couch?”

John crossed his arms over his chest. “So talk.”

Kim stood up and leaned back against the counter. “Okay, you have every right to be pissed off. You told me not to get a new couch and I did anyway. I know I spent more money on the redecorating than you had planned. What I want to know is if you hate the couch for itself, or if you’re just mad at me for disregarding what you told me to do?”

John sighed. “The new couch is fine. I admit it’s not really what I would have picked out.” He walked over and stared gloomily into the room. The new couch which Kim had been forbidden to purchase was cream colored Italian leather, a semi-circle with a round ottoman that looked like a giant leather polka dot. It was very sleek and modern. He’d purchased some round maple tables in a pale golden finish to go with it, and the rugs on the floor were also round, in various sizes and shades of cream and pale gold. The whole thing looked very…Danish.

“The thing is, four men can easily sit on the couch at the same time, say to watch a movie together. Two men can lay down on this couch at the same time, like if you and the Horse-Lord wanted to lay down together and read books. It’s extremely comfortable, Uncle John. I just wish you would give it a chance.”

“Okay, I’m willing to give it a chance. And I admit it is very comfortable. With the new rug and the new tables it looks like winter, 1968, has come to Albuquerque. Peter Max in psychedelic white, not really my style, but I’m okay with it.”

“Peter Max? Winter?” Now Kim had his arms folded. “Holy shit! It’s not white. It’s cream! Big difference in tone and temperature. Okay, so tell me what you think would be the perfect couch. Maybe we can figure out how to meet in the middle.”

John thought a moment. “I suppose I’d like a couch that’s a little…browner. Maybe plaid would be good.”

“Okay, no plaid. I’m sorry, but no. A person would have to be deranged to buy a plaid couch. I will see what I can do about brown.” Kim looked around. “We could add some caramel accents, maybe a throw. I want you to like it.” He sounded young all of the sudden. “It’s really important to me that you like it. If you want, I can split the cost of the new couch with you.” He tried to hand John some cash. “I’ve got $275.00 as a down payment on my half.”

“I don’t want your money.” John stared at him. Kim was Korean, with eyes that always gave away what he was thinking. He was totally unable to keep a secret. John couldn’t help but notice the light in his face, like he was about to start laughing. “Wait a minute. Is this the money you made writing term papers for the students in my Political History seminar?” Kim was grinning now, and he shoved the cash back in his pocket. “Are you under the impression you’re too old to spank? Twenty-three isn’t too old.”

Kim was laughing now. “You don’t believe in spanking. Okay, let me and Billy see what we can come up with. Something browner.” He turned back to the garage. “What’s brown, anyway? Dirt? Gravy? Shit?”

“Wood, you knucklehead. Wood and chocolate bars and Gabriel’s hair, all brown.”

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

Sneak  Peak to the Sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

Sneak Peak at the Sequel to The General and The Horse-Lord by Sarah Black (Excerpt)

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Early this month, we had a guest blog by author Sarah Black and a giveaway of her latest book, The General and the Horse-Lord.  Well, the response was wonderful and the book’s reception has been great.  I gave it 5 stars (as have other  reviewers) and picked it to land on Scattered Thoughts Best of 2013.  So I was delighted to hear that Ms. Black was hard at work on the sequel, The General and the Elephant clock of Al-Jazari.

Recently Sarah Black posted an excerpt on her blog.  It was wonderful so I asked permission to post it here for those readers who loved The General and the Horse-Lord as much as I did.  I think it will blow you away.  At the end of the excerpt, watch the You Tube vid on The Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, such an elegant and amazing invention. Thank you, Sarah, for bringing it to my attention.  Here is the promised excerpt:

The General and the Elephant clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black

John received a couple of interesting emails the next morning. Gabriel was up and gone early, with plans to stop by his house and have breakfast with the kids. The first email was from an old colleague and fellow Brigadier General, David Painter. John didn’t particularly like the man. They had worked together several times in the past. Painter was good, had what John would call episodic brilliance, but his work tended to be sloppy. He didn’t always put in the time and research that John felt was needed for their work to bring about lasting change. He also tended to be sloppy in his dress, in his personal manner, as if his wild and original mind meant the same rules didn’t apply to him. But they knew each other well, both strengths and weaknesses. John winced at the name on the email, thinking Painter was exactly the sort of man he did not want to discuss his coming out with in any detail. Not that he had much choice, since he’d splashed every bit of privacy he’d ever had across the cover of Out magazine.

The second email was from Abdullah, a very polite thank you note to himself and Gabriel for rescuing him yesterday. John looked at it for a moment, appreciating Abdullah’s good manners, and then he replied: Are you sending me an email from the garage? Or have you skipped town already?

The answer came moments later: I’m in the garage.

If you would like, you can come into the kitchen and speak to me in person.

Abdullah wrote back: I’m about to climb into the shower. See you in a few minutes.

John shook his head at the screen for a long moment, and wondered if Abdullah and Kim emailed each other from the bathroom. No, email was dead, he’d read that somewhere. Instant Messaging? Texting, that was it. So much easier than speech, apparently. Maybe they would evolve right out of their vocal cords, and human communications would consist exclusively of written messages and a few grunts and gentle hoots, like the Great Apes.

John turned back to the first email, wondering if he needed to complain about the younger generation first thing in the morning, every morning, or if his time would be better spent doing pushups.

“Hey, John, long time. I saw the cover of Out. It’s making the rounds in DC, everybody saying they knew it all along and wondering what took you so long to grab your cojones and tell the truth. Your pilot looks like he’s held up well.”

John could feel his blood pressure spike, a drumbeat behind his eye that might be an aneurysm getting ready to blow.

“I heard you quit the university. Little dust up with the locals? Well, you were always a sucker for a boy in trouble. That’s why I’m calling on you. I’ve got a couple of boys in serious trouble, former Rangers, in lovely Tunisia. They’ve been working for me as contractors in Algeria. I could go in and level the fuckers and get my boys out of there, but things seem a bit fragile in northern Africa right now. Maybe a peacemaker would be a better choice. And no matter our differences, John, you were a peacemaker. You always brought home the right solution. That was your great gift, understanding the right solution to the problem. So how about you hop on a plane to DC and talk to me about these boys? I heard your pilot went to law school. Why don’t you bring him along? I’ve got a couple of plane tickets at the airport for tomorrow, and a hotel reservation. First class, if you care about that shit. I’m assuming you two can share a room? Appreciate it, John.”

He forwarded the email to Gabriel. John Painter knew how to hit the soft spots. “Just give me a little job to do, and I’ll follow you anywhere, you fuckhead,” John said to the kitchen wall. He walked back to their bedroom, pulled an overnight bag from the closet shelf.

Kim found him putting a load of clothes into the washer. “Hey, Uncle J. What’s up?”

John looked at him for a long moment. Kim had his hands on his hips, had prepared himself for a royal ass-chewing. He was a brave kid, John thought suddenly, and the affection he felt for the boy was suddenly on his face. Kim reached out and hugged him, his face buried in John’s neck. Even at twenty-three, his first thought had been to come find his uncle and face the music. But John had no time right now to get into it.

“Kim, I’ve got to leave tomorrow, go up to DC. I don’t know any more than that.”

“What can I do?”

John shook his head. “Everything’s done. I’ll need you to watch over Billy and Juan if Gabriel comes with.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Keep everyone safe,” John said, and Kim’s face flushed.

“I hear you. You can count on me.”

“I always do, kiddo.”

He followed John to his bedroom, studied the clothes laid out on the bed, and the passport. “Not that white shirt. Take the gray one. You have to leave the country? Where are you going? I can keep an eye on CNN for a sudden flare in hostilities.”

“Not exactly sure, but I heard talk about Algeria and Tunisia.”

“Oh, God.” Kim sat down on the side of the bed. “Tunisia, isn’t that where Arab Spring turned from smoke to fire?”
John glanced at him. “Nice metaphor. And yes, it started in Tunisia. But we don’t have to assume that’s the only trouble that can brew. It’s still a Muslim country at the end of the day. Lots of ways for Americans to get into trouble.”

“That’s what this is? A rescue mission?”

“Seems likely, but I don’t really know. Kim, you know that stupid magazine came out this week and every jerk at St. Matthews High School is going to mention to Juan that they’ve seen it. I’m worried about him.”

“And the Horse-Lord says he needs to just suck it up and take it like a man?”

“No, it’s not like that.” John sat down on the bed. “He wants Juan to stop making Martha crazy with his behavior, using this issue as an excuse to act out every hostile teenaged impulse, and he also wants to let the adults handle issues of bullying. The school authorities, or the police.”

Kim was nodding. “Right. That is so not going to happen. Have you both forgotten Juan is fifteen now?”

“He’s not one of your baby gang-bangers, Kim. He’s an Army kid. He has braces and goes to Catholic school and lives in the suburbs.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m worried, too. He’s hardly talking to me anymore, or Billy. It’s like he’s grown up really fast and he’s tough inside. He’s strong in his anger. Young Luke is turning toward the dark side.” Kim grinned for a moment. “I wonder how I would show that in a picture? Maybe I’ll get him to let me take his picture. Feel him out a little bit.”

“Whatever you think is best, Kim. I usually try to stay out of sight until a crisis looms. He’s not speaking to me, either.”

“You’ll keep yourself safe, won’t you? And the Horse-Lord? Just because I’m grown up doesn’t mean I don’t need you anymore.”

“Now you have Abdullah. Is that what I’m to understand? The two of you, together?”

Kim nodded, pulled at a loose thread on the bedspread. “Yeah. I think so. I think we’re going to be like you and Gabriel. Two bodies, one heart, all our lives. That’s how it seems to me, but I don’t want to jump the gun. It’s early days yet. Half the time we start a conversation getting along and end the conversation fighting and I have no idea why.”

“You’re just feeling your boundaries, defining yourselves to each other. That’s what I’ve always wanted for you, a real relationship, a family of your own. You guys can even adopt kids if you wanted. I’m really very pleased, Kim.” He looked at what Kim was doing and frowned. “Don’t pull on that thread. I’ve got some scissors in the bathroom if you need to clip a loose thread. I know how much you spent on this new bedspread.”

“Speaking of that.” Kim stared at him until he put the tie down on the bed.

“What? We’re not going to talk about the furniture again, are we?”

“No, we’re not. But there is something I want to talk to you about. Uncle John, you need to update your style.” Kim raised a hand to quell any protests, but John was too surprised to complain. “You’re still wearing your military haircut, still wearing suits that look to my eye about twenty years out of date. I mean, a single breasted navy blue with three buttons? Please, stop torturing me. You need a makeover, and you needed it, like, yesterday.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You’re out now. You have to maintain a certain style, up your cool factor just a bit. You have an image to maintain now you’re out of the closet.”

“Why?”

“Because people will judge you by your clothes. For God’s sake, nobody would believe you’re related to me! This is my rep too, Uncle John. You’re about to go back to DC, and you need to stroll in with some killer style, not like some lonely, bored, miserable retired general who’s mooning around, thinking about the glory days. DC has seen plenty of those. You want to blast in there and have the town talking about you.”

“I think that ship already sailed, Kim.”

“Talking about you in a good way. Look, you’re a winter. You shouldn’t be playing about with all these muddy blues.” Kim was flipping through his ties.

“What are you talking about? It’s the middle of summer.”

That got him a pitiful look. Kim stood up and crossed his arms. “What I am talking about is gunmetal gray with teal accents, made by Emporio Armani. What the Army cares about is the work. But you’re about to jump into a new shark tank, Uncle John, and in this shark tank they care about money. I will not have those dickhead bluebloods look down on you because of your clothes. We’re going shopping tonight, after supper.”

John’s mind was flipping frantically through any reasonable excuse. “But what about Abdullah? He just got here.”

“He’s not going anywhere. I know more about this than you.” Kim’s face softened, and he looked at John kindly, a doting smile on his face. “I know more about this than you, and I’m not going to argue anymore. We’re going to buy a new suit, along with two shirts and ties, and one leisure outfit. I repeat, I will not argue with you. I know there is available credit on your Navy Federal Visa. You paid off the furniture already. If you argue with me,” he said, holding up a hand to stop John, “I am going to start going to the plasma bank and I will sell blood until I have paid back every cent I spent on the couch.” John had no doubt, looking at the angle of his jaw, that Kim meant every word.

What the hell was a leisure outfit? John looked down at himself, jeans and a faded chambray shirt. Kim closed his eyes as if he were in pain.

“These are weapons, Uncle John.” Kim was speaking as if John were a little slow. “This is a new war, and these are your weapons.”

Whose Side Are You On Anyway? Thoughts on The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

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As you all know I loved The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black but I realized that some readers would take issue with the fact that Gabriel Sanchez was married with children while he still continued to see the General on the down low as it were.  I could hear the questions forming in little balloons over my head.  How do you have an honorable man who, at least in one part of his life, act less than honorably?  What about his family?  Well, one of the reasons I loved this story is that, like real life, the relationships between John and Gabriel (and Martha) were messy and complicated.  Gabriel wanted a family during a time when being outwardly gay would have made that an impossibility. So Gabriel got married, something that tore John up.  But Gabriel intended to be a good and faithful husband to Martha. He cared, even loved her, then the reality of what he did to them all by marrying her set in with shattering consequences.

For the last week, The Washington Post printed letters from the children of two gay men from the same era, each married a woman and had a family. For one man, it drove him to despair and bitterness with a family that functioned not at all (“My Father’s Gay Marriage, The Washington Post, 4/5/2013).  For the other, the father came out after years in a loving marriage but unable to deny his true sexuality any longer (“My Loving Gay Dad”, The Washington Post, 4/10/2013).  In total contrast, his wife accepted him and his sexuality, so did his children.  What a difference between those two marriages.  Gabriel and Martha’s falls somewhere in between.  I know that many gay men married, hoping that the marriage would change their sexuality or help them deny who they really were.  Some still do.  And others, like Gabriel, realize that who they love and who they are should not be buried in a closet or be seen as a burden to be carried alone.  Think of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, now happily living with his partner, and others now coming out of the closet ,then think about the era they grew up in.  Such different times than the one we live in today.

Another element of Sarah Black’s story that I appreciated is that Martha Sanchez is not a one-dimensional “bitch”, a characterization I have seen in other books and not just the m/m genre.  She is a real woman, whose marriage has fallen apart and her life completely in turmoil.  She hurts and reacts to that pain by wanting Gabriel to hurt as much as she does, so realistically is Martha portrayed that you do feel for her.  It is inferred that their marriage was in trouble for some time (something she mentioned to her son). As it is when most marriages fail, it takes two people to contribute to that collapse. This part of the story felt painful because in real life, it hurts and the people involved react because of the way they are feeling now and their expectations upon entering the marriage.

So when I read that Sarah Black wrote a post called “Whose Side Are You On Anyway” about Martha Sanchez, I knew I wanted to repost it here, and have done so with her approval.  I know that for some people, they never want to see cheating in their stories (oh the blogs I have read about that) and for others, it is not a problem as long as it works within the story.  I think here it absolutely works within the story.   Let me know what you think.

 Whose Side Are You On Anyway by Sarah Black

I nearly stopped writing The General and the Horse-Lord about halfway through. The problem? Martha. She was sitting in the car with the general, and she was telling him what she had done to try and ruin his life. And I was like, you go, girl! You want a baseball bat? I’ll tell you where Gabriel has his pickup truck parked.

I was totally on her side. I thought she was being a little too restrained in her revenge, because, I mean, these guys had cheated on her! They had been cheating since before she was married! She deserved some revenge.

But wait a minute, the guys, they’re the heroes, right? How can the ex-wife possible become a Valkyrie in the middle of the story? So I stopped to think about it all.

When you’re writing the rough draft, you do it intuitively, what I call ‘doing it like Kerouac.’ Just let the words flow like a river. Then when you start to revise, you think about things like motivation, behavior. Why does he do that? What am I really trying to say? Once you can be clear about what your point is, you can revise to hone the point.

So I’m trying to think, why was I so totally on Martha’s side? Well, I’m a woman, of course. There is no woman in the world who wouldn’t look at this situation and hand Martha a baseball bat. The fact that she is very self-contained and proud meant she did it a different way.

But John and Gabriel, they had been in love for years before Martha ever entered the picture. They would have made a life together, and it wasn’t Martha who kept them apart. In a different world, they would have made different choices. When basic human rights are kept from people, they’re not the only ones harmed. The harm flows down over all the people they love, the people they know, even just the people who stand as witnesses.

We’re all harmed when human rights are denied. In this story, John and Gabriel were not the only people hurt. They tried in their own ways to contain the pain, but it flows down, over Martha, over the kids, over Kim, who watched this growing up. I decided all I could do is write the story and not take anyone’s side. Martha, I totally feel it. I am going to find you a wonderful guy to fall in love with, I promise you, somebody who deserves a woman as smart and strong as you are. Just be patient.

(And in response to a question from a reader about the marriage between Martha and Gabriel):

I guess what I didn’t write clearly enough was that we don’t really know what happened in Gabriel and Martha’s marriage. The POV character was John and he always stayed away from it. And two people don’t divorce after twenty years of marriage and two kids and it’s all just one issue or one person to blame- to my mind, writing this story, they were two people who tried to make a marriage and failed, and the fact that Gabriel was in love with John during that time, and seeing him, was not the reason the marriage failed. It was the reason Gabriel stopped trying, but if they had been happily married, they wouldn’t have been fighting for a year before the divorce, as Juan told Kim. We don’t know what happened to their marriage, because neither one of them was the POV character. We only know what John sees.

The point of honor I can’t back away from is I feel like I want my characters to tell the truth. I’m 52. I’ve seen a lot of marriages fail. And it is never easy and it’s never just one person’s fault. And I wrote this story with what I saw as characters being truthful, even knowing I would get hammered for it. These characters, Martha and the kids, they are still Gabriel’s family. It’s not like they’re going to dissapear and the guys can dance off into the sunset. Consequences of our actions roll on down like water, and Gabriel will be dealing with the fallout for the rest of his life. His fictional life, I mean!

I know we would all like our heros to have guilt free loves that are HEA, free of too much angst and turmoil.  Those stories are lovely to read and make everyone feel good.  But there is plenty of room for love stories where the path to HEA or even HFN is gritty, complicated and oh so human.  People get hurt, lives get shattered and to takes time for all involved to heal and move on if possible.  I love those too, perhaps even more so because they are realistic and well, grown up.

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black fits into my second category here and I appreciate it because of the realistic choices the men make throughout their lives.  Not ones we would have necessarily wanted them to make, but ones that they felt were the ones they (and others) felt like they had to make at that time.  The choices made by the men in the story and in the Letters to the Editor at The Washington Post are ones that are made less frequently now as more states legalize gay marriage and gay adoptions.  Society’s views are changing, albeit more slowly than we would wish.  Still Stonewall wasn’t that long ago, something we tend to forget in our disapproval over gays/lesbians cheating outside their straight marriages. The change in human and civil rights has occurred in a short amount of time and stories like these bring that back front and center as well as put a human face to a very real state of mind from the past.

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black – read my review here.

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]

Review: The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]General John Mitchel has recently retired after serving 25 memorable years in the Army. By his side for all those years was helicopter pilot Sgt. Gabriel Sanchez.  Together across five continents John and Gabriel counted on each other to have their backs as they fought in every American engagement. Over 25 years of honorable service, putting the mission and the  safety of the nation first.  Renowned, even idolized by the troops who serviced with them, both men carried a secret with them all through those years in the Army and into retirement.  And that was that they loved one another deeply and had almost since the first time they met.

The General and the Horse-Lord as Gabriel  was called (due to the fact that he flew Apache helicopters) served in the Army at the time when even the hint of homosexuality was cause for dismissal.   Both John and Gabriel knew that their special skills were necessary on the battlegrounds and so their own need for love and companionship were secondary to the mission.   But now both are retired and finding said retirement  and their lives lacking in almost every way.  The General misses the comradeship and the sense of purpose, but most importantly, he misses Gabriel.  Gabriel too finds retirement and his personal life hollow in some respects.  Gabriel had made some decisions while in the Army that he now regrets, but his love for John has always been a certainty in his life.  Now with both John and Gabriel retired, the men start thinking that perhaps finally they might have their chance at the happiness they have long denied themselves.  Life has never been easy for the General and the Horse-Lord and their long awaited path to happiness still has obstacles they have to overcome before they can finally be together.  What will it cost them before they can take that last step together?

I think The General and the Horse-Lord may be my all time favorite book of Sarah Black’s yet.  As a retired Naval Officer herself, her military characters always rang true to the military code they honored and served under, but never more so than with General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez, his pilot.  Black’s characters are  human warriors so full of life that I often expect them to stride off the page. These two have remained talking to me in my dreams a week after I put down their story.  John and Gabriel, their honor and their unhappiness in retirement, got to me.  Here is John reflecting on the past:

They had made their choices a long time ago, and he thought Gabriel, just like himself, was happy for the grace notes in his life, the few hours they could be themselves, with all their public masks removed, a few gentle and intimate hours between friends. Wasn’t that the best one could ask for? A life of service to others, with the occasional grace note? So why did he still feel so lonely? Why had so much of this last year been spent feeling an ache for something he couldn’t describe even to himself?

You can just feel the puzzlement of a warrior lost when his mission has moved forward without him.  Sarah Black’s dialog is perfection.  You can just hear the military tone and inflection in everything they say.  Being a warrior is part of them, like the blood flowing in their veins.  Here they are at a baseball game, talking about Juan, Gabriel’s 14 year old son:

 Gabriel speaking: “She said we have to support him and let him make his own choices. Really? I don’t think so, not at fourteen. He’s like one of those soft-shell crabs in the middle of molting. Not ready to make choices about anything. Absolutely at risk from any passing predator. Dumb as a fucking stone. That’s why he’s not speaking to me. I told him he can’t be a video game tester, and then he says why don’t I know he hates seafood?”

“You shared with him the soft-shell crab analogy?”

Gabriel nodded. “That was probably a mistake.”

These men are exactly who they say they are.  Straight forward, honorable and somewhat adrift in modern civilian life.  Both are at home making difficult decisions but now are faced with one that they have been avoiding for years because they never thought it would be possible – that they might have a life together in a society much changed from the one they were familiar with.

I know immediately that some people will have a problem with the fact that Gabriel is and has been married for 15 years, albeit a troubled one.  This is an issue that is treated seriously from every aspect.  The men remind several other characters (and themselves) that the 70’s were a far cry from the open mindedness of today and that if one wanted to have a family, getting married was the only option, again not a decision  or commitment that was made lightly.  Both John and Gabriel take responsibility and their actions with the gravity one would expect from such men.  And we see and feel what each decision cost them along the way.  Perhaps it is easier to accept when you realize John and Gabriel had one focus for much of their life and that was their service in the Army, everything else, including their feelings about each other, came second.

But John and Gabriel don’t exist in a vacuum any more than we do and Sarah Black has  surrounded these men with an array of characters that I not only connected with immediately but came to care for as much as John and Gabriel themselves.  There is Kim, John’s adopted nephew, who know lives with him.  Kim is young, artistic, gay and adores John and Gabriel.  Kim is the victim of an attack and the men decide they will accompany him to a bar that night as protectors:

You bring me in, then how I deal with him is no longer your concern, Kim.” “Yes, it is my concern, and I don’t want to be responsible….” John held up a hand to stop him. “You don’t have any kids, so don’t tell me how I need to follow your Greenpeace PETA pacifist butt into a gay bar to not take care of an asshole who only understands one thing.” He held up a clenched fist. “Now how about you fetch us some more of that coffee?” Gabriel held out his empty cup without a word, and they watched Kim flounce out the door.

What Kim does with that statement later just cracked me up.  One great fully realized character after another comes into the picture as the events of the book unfold, including ex bull riders and their sons. So many joys in this book, from the sparkling and tight dialog to the events that bring old pain and new hurts to the surface to be examined and dealt with by two warriors trying to find their way together as lovers in a civilian world.

This is one of the author’s longer books to my delight.  At 200 pages, the story comes to a lovely conclusion without me feeling that more is due.  Would I have loved to have been given a few more glimpses of John and Gabriel’s future? Certainly but I am very happy with the way I left them. Of course, it helps to know that Sarah Black is currently writing a sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord, so that certainly figured into my current state of bliss.

I will leave you all with Gabriel’s playlist as compiled by Sarah Black, a wonderful thing for dancing by yourself or with a man you have waited 25 years for:

Gabriel’s Playlist- Music for Some Quiet Dance Time in the Garage

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYHxGB… SUPER FREAK!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcATvu… ADDICTED TO LOVE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK2HAN… LA BAMBA!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk-W_i… SHAKEDOWN! (talk about a silver fox!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6tuz… WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN!

Now go out and grab this book.  It will be on my Best of 2013 list, that you can count on.  Let me know what you think, ok?

Cover art by Paul Richmond.   I love this cover, perfect for John and the Horse-Lord, perfect for the story in every way.

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?

Authors News, Book Reviews and Book Giveaway

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What an exciting and blustery week this has been at Scattered Thoughts!  Things are quite topsy turvy around here! There are  so many notable and anticipated books being released this week that I can almost hear the twitching and scrambling as people get ready to click “download”.  Two of those books are being touted here this week and the next.  And I am equally scampering around trying to get my reviews finished for all of them.  But I will just say this, you are going to love them, hate parts of them and reread them often! Just saying.

Now another thing to bring up is that I had scheduled T.J. Klune’s latest novel, Into This River I Drown for review on Saturday and that is notInto This River I Drown going to happen and here’s the reason why, I finished the book and then just sat there speechless, just absolutely floored.  Really, folks, I was in no way prepared for this novel.  I have read all of Klune’s books, most of which I adored, one not so much and still would never have guessed he would have written such a milestone of a novel, one that people always hope to write but few do.  But I can’t figure out how to write the review, don’t know even where to start yet.  So look for it at the end of next week, hopefully I will have figured it out by then.  But please go get this book, right now even if you have to drop what you are doing to do so.  Read it, finish it, and then let me know what it means to you. I really want to know.

Next on the agenda is that I am participating in Riptide Publishing’s Cut & Run Web Hunt in celebration of the release of Abigail Roux’s seventh??????????????????????????????????????? book in the Cut & Run series, Touch & Geaux.  On April 8th, Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words, along with other terrific book blogs, will be joining the party by posting about the book and including one of their favorite quotes from any book in the Cut & Run series. Readers who collect each quote and submit their findings to marketing@riptidepublishing.com will be eligible to win one of two runner-up prizes and one grand prize, to be revealed soon.   I will have more on this web hunt on Saturday so stay tuned in.  Again, fyi, I think this is one of the best books in a superlative series, just outstanding, but you will have to wait until Monday to read the full review.

Finally, I know this is going to be a very expensive week for all of you book buyers so I hope to lighten the financial load just a bit for one lucky person.  Tomorrow Sarah Black’s latest book, The General and the Horse-Lord is being released by Dreamspinner Press. To celebrate, Sarah Black is guest blogging here about her characters and soap making.  It’s fascinating post and the book is just terrific. Sarah Black is a must read author for me and you can always find her on my “favorite” lists (see Marathon Cowboys and The Legend of the Apache Kid).  So stop buy tomorrow and leave a comment.  At the end of the day, one lucky person will be chosen from those who commented and they will receive a free copy of The General and the Horse-Lord.GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]

Wow, so much going on around here!  Later today I will be reposting my Author Spotlight on Sarah Black in preparation for tomorrow’s giveaway.  So mark all these dates on your calendar, check in with us tomorrow, and let’s finish this week up in style shall we?