This one was a challenge. I have read just about every kind of book at least once. I read non-romance all the time. Different setting?* Um, I have that covered. So I settled on the “something different” part of the challenge. I wracked my brain trying to think of something I hadn’t read. Other than a Chilton Manual, I could only think of one thing I hadn’t read yet: M/M or F/F romance. (I’m sure there’s something else out there I haven’t read, but, really, it’s gotta be a tiny list. Go ahead and try me, if you’d like)
I hadn’t intentionally avoided gay romance, but I think it’s good to look at the societal biases that affect all of those things that you do. . . .unintentionally. Scanning different genres made it clear that, whether intentional or not, I had avoided the gay romance subgenre.
I looked at several different books–some of which I’ve also added to my TBR pile of destiny–but, in the end, I settled on Damon Suede’s Hothead because I had heard so much about it. The last time I’d heard that much buzz about a book, it was Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren, another challenging book that was well worth the read. So, without further ado, my thoughts on Hothead:
This read was a difficult one for me, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking. Oh mah gosh was this story angsty. Y’all. I wanted to take Griff, that giant of a firefighter, and pull into a hug–I’d have to stand on a chair–and tell him that it would all be okay if he would just tell Dante how he felt. The guy spent at least seventy-five percent of the book beating himself up and pining for a forbidden love, and it was positively heartbreaking. I say I wanted to tell him that it would all be okay, but his inner turmoil is 100% believable, and the fact of the matter is. . . . I don’t know what it would be like to be a man who’s in love with another man in a world that can be hostile at best or downright dangerous at worst. I don’t know what it’s like to have a second family so dear to me and to fear their rejection. I don’t know what it’s like to fear being beaten up or even killed just for being me. This is the reason why we read “different” things: to exercise our empathy muscles.
Now, lest you think Hothead is some kind of treatise on accepting gay marriage, no. It’s a romance. It’s a sexy, emotionally rough and tumble romance and an entertaining story to boot. I kinda feel like Paul Reiser talking about why heterosexual men like to watch lesbian scenes: “Because it’s naked and fun and I agree with both of them.” Seriously, the love story between Griff and Dante? It doesn’t get much better than that.
The sex scenes? Honestly, the sex sometimes veered a little too erotic for my tastes, but that’s cool and to be expected with a book that includes a porn site. I’ve read Reisz. I will read scenes that go farther than my tastes if I like the characters and the story, and I definitely liked the characters and the story of Hothead enough to push my own boundaries. I mean, I had no idea there were that many euphemisms for guy masturbation, but there you go. You learn something new every day.
So, there you go. Hothead is sweet. . . . and very, very spicy. Think Zach and Miri Make a Porno with two dudes kinda, sorta, not really. I already have Tere Michael’s Groomzilla in my stack. Anyone have a good F/F that I need to try? I hear tell Fiona Zedde has some tales to tell. Any other gaps in my reading habits? I can’t promise I’ll read them in a hurry because I tend to read what strikes my fancy when my fancy is struck, but I’m a liberal arts major and firmly believe in a broad base of study, so lay it on me.
*I’m also reading Jeannie Lin’s The Dragon and the Pearl because I haven’t read that many books set in China. I had read–and was pretty traumatized by–Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls, though, so I decided to read Hothead for this post. I’m totally digging The Dragon and the Pearl. Lin has a lovely prose and is taking me to a different world, and I’m so glad I finally picked up her book, too.
At long last I have compiled all of the references to Shakespeare that I know I put into Bittersweet Creek. This post is going to contain kinda-sorta spoilers, so be forewarned. If you’ve already read the book than proceed.
First, I’ll offer a bounty for any references that I may have missed because writing is a messy process somewhat akin to making sausage. As a writer you put things in only to take them out. You swirl them around. You play with those words a dozen times before your publisher puts the pretty casing of a cover on the book. Serendipity–or maybe it’s the magic of the subconscious and all of those brain cells we’re not accessing–also plays a huge role in how your story goes. Finally, Shakespeare is such a part of our everyday language that I would be willing to bet there are phrases throughout that go to the Bard that I used without even thinking about it.
Without further ado, I give you the references that I found upon further reflection on Bittersweet Creek:
- Romy—obviously for Romeo
- Julian–obviously for Juliet
- Ben Little—Benvolio is Romeo’s friend
- Mercutio/Freddy Mercury—Romy’s cat is explicitly named after Romeo’s friend
- Genie Dix—Dorothea Dix was a famous American nurse, and Genie IS a nurse. She plays the part of confidant that Nurse fulfills for Juliet.
- Richard Paris—is named after Paris, the guy who wants to marry Juliet. What a coincidence that he wants to marry Romy and is influential and powerful just as Paris was.
I played a little fast and loose with who matches up with whom because I switched genders of the main characters. I also based the couples on the Hatfields and the McCoys, hence Satterfields and McElroys. To add to the feud between them and show how nonsensical some of the things that divide us are, I also made them opposites in a bunch of crazy ways. The Satterfields are Methodists who drive Fords and like cats. The McElroys are Baptists who drive Chevy’s and prefer dogs, etc.
- “My kingdom for a skinny venti Caramel Macchiato!” p. 15—This is a paraphrase of a line from Richard III: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
- “Alas! Poor Adidas! I knew them, Horatio.” P. 22—Here Romy mourns the loss of her Adidas by paraphrasing the often misquoted line from Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”
- Happenstance in Love: a Comparison of Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing by Romy Satterfield p. 25—I thought it would be fun to have young Romy comparing these two plays because Julian sees their relationship through the lens of tragedy, while she sees it, maybe wants it to be, more of comedy. In the end, it’s a mixture of two, but we’ll get to that.
- Beatrice p. 27—Julian named a mare after Romy’s favorite character in her favorite play and intended to give her to Romy as a wedding gift. Also, Benedick says in Much Ado, “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue and so good a continuer.”
- “I can’t believe I managed to screw my courage to the sticking place…”p. 43—Romy’s line is a reference to Macbeth, specifically when Lady Macbeth tells her husband, “But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail.”
- Giles, the pharmacist—You can’t have a Romeo and Juliet story without referencing the apothecary. (“O true apothecary, they drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.” Or I stave off infection with antibiotics. Whichever.)
- “No, I was stuck between two worlds.” p. 116 A big part of Romy’s conflict is that she’s torn between her country past and her city present. Coming home to the country helps her simplify her life even if she didn’t know it needed simplification—this is one element of traditional pastoral literature. As in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, however, rural life has its own complexities. The Forest of Arden isn’t a perfect world; neither is the countryside outside Ellery.
- Romy names the calf Star, which is a reference to the original title of this story and, of course, the prologue to Romeo and Juliet 129—“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”
- “O that way madness lies.” p. 137—Direct quote from King Lear.
- Benedick p. 139—Julian named his own horse after Beatrice’s love interest in Much Ado About Nothing.
- Julian McElroy, wherefore art thou such an asshole? P. 168 Romy may be in a barn loft, but this is a paraphrase of Juliet’s famous balcony scene. Oh, and remember that “wherefore art thou” has more of a “why do you have to be” sort of meaning. (“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”) Important also to note that Romy would love for Julian to “Deny thy father and refuse thy name.”
- Orange blossom ring p. 169 and beyond—rings play a huge part in All’s Well that Ends Well and this is just a nod. Romy doesn’t have to get Julian’s ring and get preggers by him as Helena did. For his part, Julian is blessedly the exact opposite of Bertram. That said, rings abound in Bittersweet Creek just as they do in All’s Well that Ends Well.
- “Remember that mess from Romeo and Juliet that you read to me back in tutoring? You would recite some shit about ancient grudges and fatal loins then laugh and call us star-crossed lovers?” p. 217 (See #14 above. This is Julian’s interpretation of the prologue.)
- Anon, nurse. P. 221 A reference to the balcony scene (“Anon, good Nurse!”)
- “After all, the downfall of Romeo and Juliet had been the impatience and impulsiveness of youth.” p. 256—Here Romy reflects on her past relationship with Julian and if they have a future. There are also other references to being “young and stupid” (p. 40, 54, 61, 151, and 179) which might accidentally show this author’s prejudice against Romeo and Juliet as romance. Love story, yes. Romance, no.
- “And with all that bitter past, I couldn’t help looking forward to the sweet.”—This line is a paraphrase of something the king says in the last act and scene of All’s Well That Ends Well: “All seems well, and if it end so meet, The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.”
Lost references, or Why I Should Make Notes While I Write:
- Coffee, sweet coffee. I swear this is a paraphrase of something I read, but now I can’t find it.
- “Tell me you don’t love me and I’ll go. I swear it.” The dialogue in this scene on p. 218 is taken from one of the plays, also, but I can’t find it.
The first person to find each of these references will get an ARC of whichever book I have coming out next.
I am going to be on time with my TBR Challenge even if that does mean two posts in one day! Not only am I on time, but I have two contemporary stories for you!
First up, I have Pam Mantovani’s debut, Cowboy on Her Doorstep. This is a secret baby book, so the water’s nice if that’s one of your favorite tropes. The hero, Logan, is a cowboy AND an Army Ranger. Not only that, but he also teaches barrel racing to kids. We like him. The heroine, Kendall, is a deputy sheriff who was kinda hoping (not really) that Logan wouldn’t come back to town because (Surprise!) their one night of passion led to an adorable little girl. We like her, too. Plenty of small town charm in this one, although there is an interesting undercurrent of danger as well. I’m still hoping for a sequel with Audra.
Second up, I have Amber Belldene’s Not a Mistake. I used to half-joke that I was going to someday write inspiration erotica. Well, Belldene has beat me to the punch. Okay, so I would say the book is steamy rather than erotica, but her priests are human, complete with human needs and wants. Come to think of it, this one is kinda a secret baby book, too. Jordan is a brand new Episcopalian priest who slept with Dominic, her ethics professor. Yes, you read that right. Ethics. Don’t worry, he beats himself up plenty. Despite the trappings of contemporary genre fiction, there’s a lot of theology to unpack here also, and I like that.
So, there you go. Two contemporary books for your consideration. For next month, I have to pick a book outside my comfort zone.
I’m not a professor of Shakespeare, and I don’t even get to play one on TV, but I am an English major and a writer. As such, I would never underestimate the influence of the Bard. Even if you’re not into literature, here are my top reasons you should be reading/watching Shakespeare:
- It’s not highbrow. Sure the Early Modern English of Shakespeare is a bit tough for modern readers, but his original audiences were surprisingly diverse. Going to the theater wasn’t out of reach for the middle class, and I like to think Shakespeare actually played to the groundlings, the folks so poor they had to stand on the ground in front of the stage to watch the performance.
- Dirty jokes. You don’t have to dig too far to find them, either. Did you know that “nothing” was a common euphemism for lady parts back in the day? So give another thought to what Much Ado About Nothing was really all about. Also, if you ever have a chance to attend a performance in The Shakespeare Tavern or a place like it, they’ll help you find all of the dirty jokes with the help of gestures. (Cuckold horns, anyone?)
- He has the best insults. I’m kinda fond of “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian!” from Henry IV, Part 2. When driving in traffic, I’ve found that “Thou art unfit for any place but hell” works well for those who cut you off. Maybe “Away ye three inch fool!” works if you’re being hit on by someone you don’t want to talk to. And, of course, there’s always the linguistically satisfying iambic pentameter of “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things.” That’s an insult that just warms the heart, you know?
- All of the other words and phrases that Shakespeare gave us. Ever “wear your heart on your sleeve”? Maybe you’ve “been in a pickle”? We use Shakespearean words and phrases all the time. Maybe he coined them. Maybe he “borrowed” them. Either way, his works made such phrases popular, and, in doing so, Shakespeare has had a profound effect on the English language.
- Beloved characters. Who hasn’t experienced the idiotic young love of Romeo and Juliet? Or pined for the wrong person as happens frequently in Shakespeare’s comedies like Twelfth Night? (Love triangle, yo!) Or felt the jealousy of Iago or Cassius? Sure, we also have a Danish prince who’s lost his marbles, but even then we understand both the grief of losing a family member and also betrayal by those we love even if it doesn’t inspire us to stab someone through a tapestry or make a play within a play. Those same pains and desires that motivate you and me motivate Shakespeare’s characters.
- Universal themes. We writers keep going back to Shakespeare’s well because he wrote about love, ambition, family troubles, jealousy, power—all things that resonate with us today. Shakespeare, in turn, found inspiration in other writers, especially for his histories. It’s the circle of literature. **holds up stuffed lion**
Now, I do have one quibble with Shakespeare. Or maybe I have a quibble with how we interpret his works. Why do some folks keep insisting that
Romeo and Juliet is a romance? Y’all, it’s a tragedy. So when I, in great literary tradition, went to the Shakespearean well as inspiration for Bittersweet Creek, I decided to give Romeo and Juliet a different ending. I do hope the Bard didn’t mind too much. Maybe he’ll forgive me since I played with southern vernacular and added a few references to his other works as well.
Many moons ago, my critique partner, Tanya Michaels, recommended Second Time Around by Beth Kendrick. Then I misplaced it. Then I got distracted. Oh, and there’s this stubborn subconscious thing where I feel I always have to take recommendations and hold them at arm’s length for a while even though I trust Tanya implicitly in such things.
As always, she was right. Second Time Around was the perfect book for me. It’s a book about English majors, for heaven’s sake! Also, it’s about a group of women–true women’s fiction, y’all! Secrets, camaraderie, witty repartee, writers, readers, literary references–it’s all Sally stuff. Okay, so it takes place in the Adirondacks instead of a small town in the South, but it does have its own “stealth magnolia,” our English major from Alabama. All in all, this would be an excellent beach read for the literary minded.
So you have Arden, who sets the whole story in motion. Then, Anna who is a pastry whiz but is also struggling with infertility. Jamie is brash but hiding a huge secret and tons of guilt. Cait has gone the literary distance to be an English professor, but she really wants to be a writer. Finally, you have Brooke, the aforementioned “stealth magnolia” who learns how to rewire a house and replace a toilet with a cast iron flange. These are no shrinking violets.
And, of course, almost all of them have men in their lives, particularly Anna whose marriage is on the rocks and Cait, who will reconnect with a former professor crush. Even so, it’s never trite, and Kendrick gives a satisfying, optimistic ending while resisting the urge to completely tie everything up in a nice, neat bow. All in all, I heartily recommend it. I also kinda want to be Brooke when I grow up.
A couple of quotes to hopefully inspire you to give this great book a try:
“I’m going to do what any self-respecting English major would do: pull something out of my ass.”
“To the English majors. We may not always be practical, but we have infinite potential.”
The e-versions of BOTH Bittersweet Creek and The Happy Hour Choir are on sale now through April 3rd. Here are some handy dandy buylinks:
The Happy Hour Choir–$2.99