Thursday, March 6, 2014

Blues, a Sneak Peek

I got this review today, which got me thinking...

When I originally started writing Roll as a novel, I had the first half of the book set up for Beau to deal with his issues, and the second half for Vin to deal with his. As I continued writing, it just wasn't working out the way I wanted; Vin's stuff kept getting shoved off to deal with Beau.

(In my opinion, Beau is the main protagonist in this story, where Vin is the protagonist in the 2nd novel)

By the time I got to a point where I felt Beau was stable enough to deal with Vin's issues, I was already at a full-length novel word count. And while 60,000 is a short novel, 120,000 words is a LONG freaking novel... especially for a romance, which even mainstream romances tend to cap out at about 80,000 words. 130k (ish) would be a 400+ page novel...

I'd wanted to include a sneak peek chapter - since Blues was already almost completely written (altho not edited) by the time Roll was published, but inquiries to my editor said that wasn't feasible. I suspect many things; 1) a lot of authors don't always write sequels, they mean to and don't get 'round to it. Or like Robert Asprin who originally promised 1 or 2 Myth books per year and then there were several years between one novel and the next.... 2) Blues could suck, and then my publisher would have to reject it, leaving readers going "where is it?" and 3) I could change my mind about chapter 1 in Blues and then it doesn't mesh up with the published novel. In any case, I agreed that we should not publish the sneak peek chapter with the novel.

But I have written the whole book - it's out to my beta readers, altho I've only gotten one selection of notes back thus far... (One of my beta readers had a death in the family, and another one recently got married, so real life and all that. THIS IS NOT a complaint. I'm not going to be able to work on those edits until after I finish writing Howling Bitch, so there's plenty of time. I promise!!) In fact, I've even written the first couple of chapters of book three, Classic and outlined more than half of it.

But, in case you want it, here it is... (UNEDITED WORK IS UNEDITED!) Keep in mind this chapter has some spoilers, so if you haven't read Roll yet, you might want to not mess with this, okay? okay.

Blues, Chapter One

Beau Watkins shoved the key into the battered copper lock and turned. The tiny box that held his campus mail was jammed full and he had to wiggle the envelopes around in order to get them out. One particularly stubborn item had to be bent in order to get past the door. He closed the door, turned his key back to locked, and  shuffled out of the post office without looking at the double handful of letters, cards, and fliers.

As had become her habit, Ann-Marie was waiting for him on the steps, sitting two from the bottom, her oversized, overpriced milk, sugar, and coffee drink mostly gone and dangling from her fingertips. She stood up as he approached. She didn't say anything, just held her hand out for the mail and Beau paused to rest his forehead against hers briefly. From the corner of his eye, he observed a girl looking at them wistfully. He knew what it looked like, damn it all, he did. But he needed this, too.

"Come on, wimp," Ann-Marie said. She punched him in the shoulder, but it was half-hearted, barely stung. As they walked, she flipped through the mail, one card and flier at a time. "Campus crap… a card, return postage is New York. Probably your cousin. Bill you later for a magazine you don't want. Card. Tennessee. Card. Tennessee. Your credit card statement. I know you probably don't want that. A note from the Pee Oh saying you have a package for pickup. Do you want to do that today, or wait til next week. Nevermind, don't answer that now. Card. California? Who do you know in Cali? And a letter."

Beau collapsed onto one of the inevitable park benches. Far from anyone else. He stared at the ground between his feet. "Is it?"

"From Lee? Looks that way." Ann-Marie handed him the paper spam, fliers and campus announcements, tucking the cards under her arm and eyeballing the letter the way someone might handle a bomb. "You want me to open this one, or just chuck it?"

"Open it." Beau studied his worn out sneakers with forced concentration. There was a small hole over his second toe on the left side and the right shoe's sole was peeling off. He needed new shoes, had needed them for months now.

Ann-Marie slid her finger under the flap and worked out several pages; Beau tried not to look up, but he couldn't help it. Three, at least, sheets of paper, crammed margin to margin with his brother's painfully angular handwriting. There were several harsh marks, either underlining or words that were crossed out. Ann-Marie glanced at him over the edge of the paper. "Beau," she said, warningly.

"I know, I know." He turned on the bench, staring away from her. Watching people pass on the sidewalks on their way to class or clubs, lunch or lectures, the library or the coffee shop. People who didn't have their world collapsing on them. Or maybe they did. It's not like he often worried much about how other people were doing, just how he was coping. And the answer to that was, not bloody well.

"He's still being a dick," Ann-Marie pronounced. As per their agreement, she tore the letter up. Beau winced every time the sound of ripping paper reached his ears until he was practically cowering on the bench with his arms thrown over his head in surrender. He wasn't, not really. On the outside he was cool, detached, as always. On the inside, he was screaming, beating his fists against the walls of his brain, tearing great gouges out of his own flesh.

"I ain't surprised," he said.

Ann-Marie crumpled up the shreds and tossed them in the trash can. She cracked open one of the cards. "Birthday card. It's your birthday? You never said."

"Next week," Beau said.

"How old will you be?" She checked the inside of the card and then dropped it in his lap.

"Oh, Aunt Lucy," he said, reading through the quick note. There was a check, too. Shit. Five hundred dollars? How the hell could she afford that on her retirement income? "Um, twenty."

"Baby," Ann-Marie said. "I can't believe we're not partying it up. Damn, child, you wouldn't say shit if you had a mouthful. Can't wait to tell Vin."

Beau groaned but didn't protest. The other cards were from his mother and his cousin, Kate. Kate's card was filled in almost completely, both inside flaps and half the back, with neat, rounded letters. He read through her news - confused at first until he realized that she'd started on the signature page and moved backward through the card. "Oh, Kate got a new gig," he said. "She's got a role in an ensemble cast television show." A gift card was glue-dotted on the inside of the envelope. He pocketed it without looking at the amount.

"Leading lady?"

"Doesn't look like it," he said, scanning through the details again. "Some gothic horror thing, called Victor. I expect I'll get more info later."

"I like your cousin."

"Everyone loves Kate." Beau tucked the card in his backpack. His mom hadn't written a note at all in her card. She'd signed it Love, Mom, but that was it. There was very little communication between them. Beau closed the card, pressed the paper against his chest and closed his eyes. It had to be hard for her, he thought. His father had been furious. About what? So much to chose from: Beau's coming out as a homosexual; the fist fight he'd had with his brother Lee right before Lee's wedding; and the matter of eight thousand dollars that Joanna Watkins had stolen to give to her youngest son after his father disowned him.

Disowned? Disavowed, more like. What son? Gerald only had one son. He didn't know any Beauregard.

Between Gerald's utter silence, and Lee's prolific hate mail, Beau's mom had to be completely in an emotional turmoil. Beau gritted his teeth. She made her choice, it wasn't his responsibility. It wasn't his burden to make his family happy. Maybe if he kept telling himself that, he'd believe it. Eventually.

"All right, if I'm done playing mail censor for you today," Ann-Marie said, "we can pick up that package, what? Friday?"

"You know I appreciate it," Beau said. He wanted to get up and couldn't. His legs were trembly and weak like a newborn colt. He tipped his head back and gazed up into the cloudy, Chicago sky.

"I don't know why you don't just let Vin do it," she said. She threw herself down onto the bench next to him and dragged him into one of her hard-armed, dike-hugs.

Vin. His boyfriend. His lover. The one thing, Beau thought, that made all of this worth anything at all. "He gets too angry," Beau offered up as an excuse. Which was true. Vin was prone to becoming completely ballistic about anything that upset Beau. "And I get all conflicted."

"About what?" She'd been reading Beau's brother's letters for the last month, after the second of these had resulted in Beau breaking two fingers against the brick wall he'd punched in his rage.

Beau actually looked at her. She was very butch, her hair cut brutally short and multiple piercings up her ear, two in her nose and the snakebites on either side of her mouth. Not pretty; even if she'd dressed more feminine, Ann-Marie would never have been called pretty. Striking, maybe. God knows she had a tendency to strike people. But her eyes were soft and concerned for him, even if her mouth was twitched up in a cynical sneer.

"They're still my family. And… I dunno." Beau shrugged. He couldn't stop the helpless flow of defense; Lee wasn't so bad, his mom meant well, his dad was old and set in his ways. Which just made Vin more angry and the diatribe against his redneck, fucked up, stupid family stung more than Beau expected. Watkinses are all stupid, but you're okay. It sounded like "I don't hate homosexuals, my best friend is gay." He was a Watkins. It didn't matter that his family was stupid and shallow and awful and… he still loved them. Listening to Vin snipe and harp was awful. Unbearable.

"Nobody gets to insult your brother but you?" Ann-Marie suggested.

"Yeah, something like that." Ann-Marie got it. She'd been thrown out of her own house, three years ago. Surprisingly common, that was. At least a third of the Gay Student Association - The Rainbow Connection - had some serious family issues. Beau sighed. "And I just don't want to fight with him about it. I don't need more fightin'."

"At least you're smart enough not to read his letters yourself," Ann-Marie said. She cast a scathing look at the trash where the shredded remains of Lee's vitriol still reached out to him with tempting hands. He wanted to read them. Wanted to brand his heart with those terrible words, needed them to keep him up at night, wishing for everything that never was. It was destructive, life-altering behavior. He wanted to compose long angry drafts of letters to his brother, never sent, to burn everything that ever lay between them. But he wouldn't do it. Not again. Lee could open the door, but Beau wasn't obligated to walk into that hell with him.

"I don't need to end up in the emergency room again," was all he said.

"You do have that inclination." Ann-Marie checked her watch. "Well, fun as this has been, kiddo, I gotta scoot. Carson's class in twenty minutes."

Beau grabbed her hand as she got up from the bench and squeezed it between his. "I know this is hard for you. Thanks."

"Hey, Lee's not my asshole brother. I can stand hearing a little gay-bashing from time to time. He sounds like a fucking stereotype. Really, he needs to get some original material, if he's going to get my outrage these days."

Beau snorted. He dropped Ann-Marie's hand; she was uncomfortable with physical affection, or even sincere, fond words. She was already looking for another excuse to hit him.

"I'll see you at the meeting?"

"Wouldn't miss it." She promised, crossing her fingers over her heart.

Beau rubbed at his arms, watching her as she strode away. Not the least bit ladylike, he amused himself by counting the number of people who jumped out of her way before she turned the corner. Ann-Marie was a valkyrie of a woman, near to six feet tall, blonde and fierce. Stereotypical, she'd called his brother. Pot, meet kettle. Ann-Marie was so butch that she had straight football players questioning their masculinity.

God, he wanted a cigarette. He chewed aimlessly on the side of his fingers, ignoring the pain in his nailbed as his abused cuticles protested his oral fixation. But he'd quit - mostly - over the summer. Not for any health reasons, and certainly Vin hadn't encouraged it. Vin was the champion of self-destructive behaviors, drinking, smoking, driving like a maniac. The truth was more prosaic and somewhat more depressing. Beau couldn't afford it. He had no income, aside from the gifts from those members of his family who hadn't disowned him, and that was going to dry up rapidly. Beau needed every penny he could get his hands on just for tuition. As it was, he was going to have to apply for financial aid and student loans before he got his degree.

He eyed the trash can.

A few of the shreds waved in the stiff mid-west wind. Tangled down by other student trash, recyclables in the wrong canister. Empty and mostly empty coffee cups.

He was going to get up right now and go off to his afternoon classes. And then spend some time in the library, getting his homework done. It was impossible to get homework done in the apartment he shared with Vin. Vin was careless and crazy, but super smart. Studying didn't come natural to him, but he still got mostly A's and B's, whereas Beau had to study several hours a day to maintain a B average. And Vin was particularly adept in convincing Beau that he didn't need to study, he would rather go out, hit a movie, have sex, grab a bite to eat, have sex, and watch some television. And have sex. Beau couldn't help the smug grin that tugged at his mouth. Damn, Vin was a fine, fine man and Beau knew just how lucky he was.

He wasn't going to snatch those shredded pieces of letter from the trash. He wasn't even going to consider that.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling the rasp of his three day stubble under his fingers. No one else could see it, Beau was as blond as Ann-Marie. It took work - effort - to grow a beard that someone could see without a microscope. Mostly, Beau kept his face shaved, but a few days of slack wouldn't be noticeable to anyone except maybe Vin.

"Walk away, asshole," he muttered.

He cast one last, desperate look behind him, and then matched words to actions, shouldering his pack and headed off toward the northern quad.

The remains of his brother's letter were buried a moment later by a freshman with a crumpled fast food bag in her hands and french fries still sticking out of her mouth.

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