Archive for the ‘romance’ Category
Folks, I’m happy to let you all know that I have a new guest post at Book Cover Junkie today. It’s about the excellent cover artist Tamian Wood created for my new novel CHANGING FACES, and all that went into that…I hope you will enjoy it.
Here’s just a little bit from that guest post:
As you see, there are two faces on this cover for my new novel Changing Faces. One is my hero, Allen Bridgeway, a thirty-year-old heterosexual male in love with my heroine, Elaine Foster, a twenty-eight-year-old bisexual and transgender female. Elaine is beautiful, while Allen’s an average-looking guy to start off the book. However, as things go on, Allen quickly gets put into Elaine’s body, while Elaine gets put into Allen’s (and in a coma). The reason the cover looks this way is because of the gift of artist Tamian Wood…she captured Elaine, who is Hispanic, beautifully, and gave Allen a depth and richness that I appreciated without compromising his seemingly average looks.
In addition, because this book is set in Nebraska and features two clarinetists, there are subtle touches of musical notes in the lettering, and a long road for the two lovers to walk…
And if you haven’t yet seen the blurb for CHANGING FACES yet, here’s the longer version (not available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.com), as that may give you more of an inkling:
Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, have been together for seven years, and are engaged. They love each other very much, and have many things in common. Both play the clarinet, are teaching assistants, are well-respected and seem to have their lives firmly on track. In fact, their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.
When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.
He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine. And in the form of a car accident, he gets his wish.
Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. But both were injured, and Allen’s old body (with Elaine inside) is in a coma.
Allen can’t tell anyone who he is. But one thing’s certain: if Elaine can wake up, he wants to be with her. He doesn’t care what body he’s in, or that he, too, is now transgender.
True love matters so much to the universe, once you have found your soulmate, the universe will do anything to keep you together—even change your faces.
Anyway, here are all the links to the various places where CHANGING FACES is on sale, courtesy of Chris the Story-Telling Ape (he put it into this format, and it makes sense, so I’m going to keep crediting him — thank you again, Chris!):
And if you want to try before you buy? That’s all right with me, too. Go read the sample chapters right now:
Folks, this past week has been a whirlwind. I’ve had ups, downs, two band rehearsals, book promotion activities, all that…but one thing is certain:
I appreciate my friends, in and out of the writing community.
Friends are amazing. Having people in your life who understand you is one of the greatest blessings available on this Earth. No, it might not be up there with chocolate, or romantic love, or the Milwaukee Brewers winning the World Series (that has to be on the horizon sooner or later, right?), but friends make a huge difference in your life.
I know this, because without mine, I would be in big trouble.
This past week, I had several friends step up and help me in various ways.
First, Chris the Story-Reading Ape posted a book spotlight for CHANGING FACES, my new novel, at his very busy blog on less than three hours notice. I did not expect this at all — that he’d do it, yes. But that he’d do it in less than three hours? Um, no.
Thank you, Chris!
Next, I reached out to Jason Cushman, the Opinionated Man himself. Jason has a huge blog following of over 60,000 people over at his blog HarsH ReaLiTy, and he agreed to host a guest blog from me less than a day after I asked him.
That guest blog, Music and Love in CHANGING FACES, got a number of positive comments and I made at least one new fan out of it from India. (She thinks I should start up a YouTube channel on music, because I know so much about it. I had never considered that before, but I am now…thanks to her.)
Thank you so much, Jason!
Then, I reached out to Sally Cronin, a wonderful woman who has a solid and eclectic blog following of her own. Sally agreed to host something about me, my overall work (including my short stories and previous two novels in the Elfyverse as well as CHANGING FACES), and let people know I had a new release available within a few, short days as well; that blog also featured authors Angie Dokos and Deanie Humphrys-Dunne.
Thank you so much, Sally!
(My goodness, I am blessed with friends, aren’t I?)
And that doesn’t count the people who shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, much less my friends over in the Marketing for Romance Writers group, not to mention my writer-friends Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Mr. and Mrs. N.N. Light, Jason Cordova, and Chris Nuttall, who all gave me encouragement as I was afraid my book would just sink like a stone.
I mean, there is nothing else out there like CHANGING FACES. Nothing whatsoever. And that makes it a challenge to market. It’s about music, love, friendship, sacrifice, all that — but it’s mostly about what makes a person, her soul or her body? (Obviously, I think it’s the soul. If it were the body, why would human beings be so concerned, as a species, about a positive afterlife?)
And yet, it’s not a Christian inspirational. It’s not a NeoPagan inspirational, either. There certainly are a lot of LGBT themes in there, as it features a lesbian wedding at the beginning and a wedding between my protagonists Allen and Elaine, now both transgender, at the end, but I like to think it has broader appeal as well.
In other words, I believe that CHANGING FACES is timeless. Anyone who believes in romance, much less likes music a great deal, should find a way to appreciate it.
No, it’s not like anything else. But it is honest, it is heartfelt, and it has a lot of interesting stuff in there about music, writing, the meaning of love, and how LGBT people are just like anyone else that may intrigue you, if you only give it a chance.
I am proud to have written CHANGING FACES. And I hope that you will look for it, and buy a copy, as it’s only ninety-nine cents (or ninety-nine pence in the UK).
First, here’s a link to the sample chapters:
Next, here are all the links to the various places where CHANGING FACES is on sale, courtesy of Chris the Story-Telling Ape (he put it into this format, and it makes sense, so I’m going to keep crediting him — thank you again, Chris!):
Finally, here’s a link to my Amazon Author’s page (at Amazon US only, sorry), which may give you an idea of other books I’ve written, to show range and all that other good stuff (note that CHANGING FACES is not yet listed there, but it will be, and soon, if I have anything to say about it):
Folks, as my new romantic fantasy novel CHANGING FACES is out as an e-book, perhaps this would be a good time to discuss what love is — and what love decidedly isn’t.
First, love is about caring more for the other person than it is about yourself. It means when you get up in the morning, your first coherent thought should be something along the lines of, “How are you, honey?” or doing something nice for your partner if you can.
Love is about many other good things, mind. Sacrifice. Shared goals and dreams. A willingness to share your mind, spirit and heart with another worthy person, and the belief that in so doing, you will become expanded by the experience rather than diminished.
I like to think that Allen and Elaine’s story in CHANGING FACES speaks to all of that, and that it has a moral and message (for those of us who need such)…but is a ripping good romance otherwise (for those of us who just want that). (See, I split the middle that way.)
What is love most decidedly not about? Materialism. Giving someone stuff is not about love; it’s about self-aggrandizement and/or the need for your partner to accumulate stuff.
Granted, a small, well-chosen, thoughtful gift can work wonders…but do you know why that is? It’s because it means you spent enough time, energy, and thought on giving just the right gift.
It’s the time, energy, and thought that you put into it, in other words, that makes that gift work. Not the gift itself.
Now, is that a chicken or the egg sort of question? I don’t know.
But what I do know is, the best gift you can possibly give to someone on Valentine’s Day or any day is the gifts of your time and attention. Giving those gifts is exceptionally meaningful; you make memories that way, good ones, and thus your life becomes enriched in the process.
(Break for naked self-promotion. You can look away if you must; I won’t get angry if you do.)
Anyway, if you want to know my further thoughts about love, and this blog isn’t enough, please do go find a copy of CHANGING FACES and start reading. (It’s only ninety-nine cents for a week or so. And it might make you think, or care, or start wondering how you, too, can find a good person to share your life with…isn’t that a win/win?)
(End naked self-promo, already in progress…)
Folks, as most of you know, Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches. V-Day is one of those times that men mostly hate, some women (such as myself) mostly hate as well, and most people in relationships can also dread because the social significance of the day is murky, at best.
See, we’re told over and over again to get our loved ones things. Lots and lots of things, whether it’s jewelry, Pajamagrams, teddy bears, or, if you have enough money to do so, a new car…all of those things are going to be hawked to you, or anyone in a relationship, as needed and necessary for V-Day.
The meaning of what love is, much less what Valentine’s Day should be about — the celebration of love, and those who dare to keep loving despite the longest of odds — seems to get more lost by the day.
I’d rather talk about what true love is.
True love is caring. Sacrifice for your partner, if needed (and sometimes, it will be needed, in one form or another). Compassion. Paying attention to what matters to you, and trying to alleviate the worst of what brings you down…that is what love is about.
Love is unselfish, too. It’s all about the other person, caring more for them than you do about your own self, and about making that other person happy.
Yeah, you should get something out of it. You should be happier, wiser, kinder, a better person, and certainly if your lover is not asexual, you should have a happy romantic life ahead of you for as long as you two are together on the face of this Earth…what you get, if you are smart, is a better and more meaningful life, all because you dared to care about someone else more than yourself, and threw out what society assumes is “normal” behavior.
So, how does my new novel, CHANGING FACES, come into this conversation? (Other than the fact that it’s a love story, that is?)
First, read the blurb, as that may help:
Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.
When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.
He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.
Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.
Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.
You see, Allen loves Elaine more than he loves himself. He’s confused by her, because she’s trans, because she has gender-fluidity in her makeup, all that…but he loves her. Passionately. And he’ll do anything to stay with her…even become trans himself (albeit through the auspices of two meddling angels), if that is what it takes.
Why does Allen do this? Well, when you’re in love, you care more about the other person than you care about yourself. You want that other person to feel better, and be her best self…you want, in essence, to help that other person become whatever that person needs to be in order to feel good about herself, because doing anything less weakens your love and regard for your partner.
Note that you should never, never, never become less than you are, with someone you love. (I have to point this out, because I know it’s something I wish had been explained to me before I married young. Instead, I had to find out the hard way, and it took years before I found my late husband and realized what true love really was about. But I digress.)
Instead, you should become more yourself. More creative, if that’s what you are. Kinder. More compassionate. More aware of the world and what’s around you. More willing to fight suffering, even if all you can do is give someone a handkerchief when she’s crying and wish you could do more…
You should care, in other words.
No matter how hard it is, no matter how difficult it seems, so long as you and your partner both care, and try, and communicate, and are willing to keep caring and trying and communicating, you have a shot.
(But see what I said before about the limitations of love, especially if you’re with someone who doesn’t care about you…that is the type of person who is only about materialism or what you can do for him/her, and should be avoided at all costs.)
Anyway, I think anyone — straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-fluid, or Martian — should enjoy CHANGING FACES if you enjoy romance at all. It has a fantasy element (how not, me being me?), is quirky (again, me being me, you have to expect that), and it has music and musicians and all sorts of good stuff…but the main thing to remember is, it’s about love. Communication. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Honesty. And hard work.
Because without compassion, self-sacrifice, honesty, communication, and hard work, love isn’t worth very much. But with them? It’s priceless.
Folks, it’s been a long time coming, as most of you know, but my third novel, CHANGING FACES, is now out as an e-book and is available at Amazon. (Further links will be added as they become live; there will be a Barnes and Noble link later, and possibly one at AllRomance/OmniLit as well.) And best of all, the book is priced at only ninety-nine cents for the first week or so!
So, without further ado, here’s the links:
And in case you want a few sample chapters, here’s a link to that:
Now, because it’s important, I want to say a few things.
First, I’m glad that I have good friends in the writing and editing community and appreciate the support I’ve received during the last tumultuous year or so.
Second, I hope that CHANGING FACES, a book about a couple in love that looks “normal,” but actually isn’t as the feminine half of the couple, Elaine, is gender-fluid and identifies as transgender, will help spread some light and understanding about #LGBT individuals.
See, people are people. They want love, affection, understanding, all that. The gender and sexuality really doesn’t make that much difference, when it comes to these universal truths.
But it’s hard, sometimes, to make things work in a romance, even if you both are what society understands. We make mistakes, we people, and it’s hard to communicate even when you desperately love someone and want only what’s best for him or her.
Allen and Elaine’s story of love, frustration, misunderstandings, major changes, and ultimately more love and better understanding, was deeply personal to me. I hope it will matter to you as well, and that you will see it as a transcendent love story that matters to every living human soul.
Because that’s how I see it.
Folks, it gives me great pleasure to let you know that my novel, CHANGING FACES, will be available soon in e-book. The estimated time of arrival is March 15, 2017. It’s not yet available for pre-order, and the advance reader copy (ARC) is not out as of yet. But we’re getting there.
So, if it’s not ready for pre-order, and the ARC isn’t out, you might be wondering why I’m telling you about it. The answer to that is very simple; there’s a four-chapter excerpt up now at Twilight Times Books that may whet your interest, and my hope is that you’ll share it far and wide.
Note that there still may be a few niggling issues here and there due to file conversion. If any errors remain, I hope they do not impact your enjoyment of the four chapters. (The ARC looks great. No problems there. And yes, I will keep you posted as to when the ARC is available.)
Anyway, I do hope you’ll go look at the excerpt, but to get you started, here’s the entire first two chapters, cut and pasted:
by Barb Caffrey
It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.
You see, this was a very special wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.
Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understood. He was coming with me—and playing his clarinet, too. (He was going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identified as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.
Yes, I knew I needed to tell him…everything. And soon.
But not today, as that might spoil Jolene and Paula’s wedding.
The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.
Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.
“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.
Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…
“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”
“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.
“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.
Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.
* * *
I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)
Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I wore would be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.
The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.
We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.
When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.
“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.
I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”
“Ah, but does he know that?”
After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”
“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”
Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore.”
“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”
Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”
“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”
Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.
The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.
Life was good.
By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”
“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.
Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”
“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.
“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.
Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”
“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.
Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.
I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.
I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.
* * *
I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.
Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.
And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.
Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”
I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”
“Then why the flower in your hair?”
Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised.
I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”
“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”
“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”
“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”
“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.
“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”
“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”
“Show me the outfit,” I told her.
Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”
“Put it on, and let’s see.”
After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.
“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”
“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.
“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”
As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.
“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.
“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.
Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.
Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.
I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.
We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.
After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.
Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.
And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.
* * *
Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.
“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.
“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.
For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.
As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.
I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”
Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.
So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”
At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”
“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”
Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”
As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.
* * *
I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.
If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.
The Big Man had told me to call him Michael, because humans had names. He was calling me Massimino for that reason, though I wasn’t truly accustomed to it, because we didn’t want to stand out among the humans. We were proud to be at Jolene and Paula’s wedding, though for a different reason than most. While everyone else had been watching Jolene and Paula take their vows, Michael and I had snuck peeks at Allen and Elaine.
We’d been in human form, of course. Michael told Jolene that Paula had invited us; he told Paula that Jolene had. We were both dressed appropriately, in dark slacks and white shirts; Michael had worn a rainbow tie, while I’d worn my shirt open at the collar so I didn’t feel stifled. He’d called us “the Lights,” as we were both, ultimately, made of light…I’d worn the body of a human teen, androgynous, of course, as Masses have no gender as humans knew it. And Michael delighted in “getting back to his roots,” as he’d called it; he’d worn the adult male body he’d chosen, graying brown hair, bronze skin, and a tall, erect frame, with pride.
Michael had kissed the brides, even, while I’d hung back and listened to the music with Adam, Jolene and Paula’s son. I didn’t have to say much, which was just as well; I didn’t know what to say in order not to stand out, and it was essential that I blended in just now.
No one had guessed that Michael was actually a being of rainbow light, or that I was an Amorphous Mass. Which was as it should be; the humans didn’t need to know about us, or what we did.
When the sky darkened, we’d made a great show of leaving along with everyone else, but we hadn’t. Instead, we became invisible and went back into the yard to watch Allen Bridgeway’s marriage proposal to Elaine Foster. I still wasn’t in my preferred, amorphous form, because that was too hard to control right now. But it was easier for me to be incorporeal than it had been to hold the body of a teen for six straight hours.
After everyone had left, including Paula and Jolene, we drifted outside a few miles to what the humans called a “rest area.” It was a deserted place just off the main roads, something called an “Interstate,” and was a place we could safely talk without bothering anyone.
We materialized in a deserted cornfield just behind the rest area, again in the human forms we’d taken for the wedding earlier, and walked the rest of the way there. This time, we were both in comfortable clothes—blue jeans, short-sleeved t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Michael had added a rainbow bandanna to his outfit, perhaps as a nod to what he really was—or perhaps because he’d just witnessed one of Nebraska’s first-ever same-sex weddings. He looked quite comfortable in his skin, whereas I felt miserable. The dryness stung my eyes, and multiple small insects tried to bite me. But as I wasn’t truly human, I didn’t smell right to them, and they flew away again.
As we ambled along, Michael asked me, “What do you think about what you saw?”
“Paula and Jolene? Or Allen and Elaine?”
Michael snorted. “Allen and Elaine, of course. We’re here for them.”
“They’re in love,” I said, stating the obvious. “They’ll marry in time. Right?”
“Wrong.” Michael’s lips twisted, and his eyes darkened. In them, I could see hints of the rainbow light he held inside him—but the light stood still. It did not dance, as per usual. “If they were able to marry, if Elaine were healthy enough inside to marry, we’d not be here, Mass.”
“Shouldn’t I have a regular name, too?” I asked irreverently.
“I know your designation, so knock it off,” Michael said, unrepentant, before he ruffled my hair. That felt strange.
“Hey!” I couldn’t help it; I chuckled. “Hands off the merchandise.”
“That language update I gave you definitely is coming in handy, I see,” Michael commented.
I wished I could fully show my displeasure, as my normal amorphous form would’ve done. As it was, I only shrugged, shook my head, and frowned, which wasn’t nearly enough.
“What sense did you get of them, as a couple?” Michael asked, persisting.
“Allen didn’t take his eyes off her. And Elaine didn’t take her eyes off him. They look perfect together, and seem deeply in love…I don’t see what the problem is. Unless she truly doesn’t love Allen?”
“She does, or we’d not be here.” Michael frowned, the light behind his eyes darkening to a midnight blue. “But she’s been heavily traumatized in her past. Didn’t you run their life histories?”
“Of course I did. But I thought Allen would get her past all that. She’s been with him for what, seven years?”
“Almost,” Michael corrected. “And yes, Allen loves her very much. He’s stable, knows who he is, and has come to terms with it. But Elaine is more like you. She’s not truly settled in herself, much less with just one gender.”
“The humans mostly don’t understand people who have, as they say, gender fluidity in their makeup. They understand someone who wants to be a male who wasn’t born in a male body, for the most part. And they also usually understand someone who wants to be a female who wasn’t born in a female body. It’s not easy for them to become outwardly what they feel inside, but for the most part it’s something civilized people understand. Yet someone who’s more like you isn’t understood…it’s a real problem.”
“And you’re telling me this, why?”
“Elaine needs you,” Michael admitted. “She isn’t healing from her trauma, and won’t let anyone in—not even Allen.”
“I take it I can’t talk with her like this?” I indicated my borrowed human form.
“No, though it’s an idea.” Michael brightened. “There is one place where Allen came to terms with Elaine, but—”
“I sense there’s a problem, even there?”
“Yes, unfortunately.” Michael paused, twisted his lips again, and shook his head. “It’s because of what Allen said there that I decided to intervene here and now.”
“But they haven’t asked for help…have they?”
“Not yet. But they will.”
As there was no one around to notice except a couple of cows and a whole lot of chirping cicadas, we wasted no time fading back into the fabric of the universe.
(Want more free chapters? Go to the excerpt and read chapters 3 and 4 of CHANGING FACES right now!)
Folks, this is the worst day on the calendar, for me. My husband Michael died on this day, twelve years ago.
Some days, it feels like yesterday. Some days, it feels like forever.
I’ve written a great deal about my husband, about why I feel the need to continue his work as well as my own, about why I feel the need to try to keep his memory alive…about why he still matters to me. And why he will always matter, to me.
Today, I want to talk more about my husband the writer. Because that matters, too.
I wish Michael had broken out, as an author, before he died. He’d have gotten such a kick out of that. We did sell one story — “Bright as Diamonds” in the BEDLAM’S EDGE anthology — before he died, and we told no one. We figured, let people find out when the book was available for pre-order…we even knew what we were going to say.
I remember when we wrote that story together. I can still remember him peering over my shoulder as I wrote the first draft. Then, he’d sit at the computer and work on it in the next draft…we’d converse for the third draft, and I’d write and fix. The fourth draft, he’d sit there, and read it aloud, and he’d write and fix.
In between all that, there were conversations with our editor, Rosemary Edghill, and we made changes accordingly.
I really wish Michael had lived longer, so we could’ve written more stories together.
“But Barb,” you protest. “There are half a dozen stories out there — or have been — with Michael’s name on them. Didn’t he write any of them before he died?”
Yes, and no. You’re right that there have been at least half a dozen stories with his name on them. But every single one of those sales except for the one in BEDLAM’S EDGE came posthumously.
Anyway, back to the subject — my husband, and his writing.
Michael, especially as a writer, was a subtle man. The stories that came out of him were mostly quiet ones, such as Joey Maverick’s adventures, or Columba’s wish to leave her own kingdom and venture out with Cat, also known as the Duc d’Sanchestre.
Michael believed in romance as an element of storytelling, and exercised that element with finesse and style.
Michael spent hours on setting up his story universes. He wanted to know everything about them, in order not to make a mistake.
Then again, if he did make a mistake, he’d say, “Oh, well,” and go back to the drawing board. He didn’t believe in beating himself up. His view was that you should save your energy, fix the problem, and go right on as you were. (More of us should be like this. Including me.)
Perhaps most importantly of all, Michael had a great sense of humor, and could laugh at nearly anything, given the chance. He used all sorts of devices, including puns, witty remarks, and situational humor to exercise his inborn literary gifts — though if I had put it this way when he was alive, he’d have told me I was putting him too high on a pedestal and to knock it off already.
Anyway, that was just a little bit about my husband the writer. I wish he were still here on this plane of existence, writing up a storm, telling me just how Joey Maverick and Belinda Simpson managed to get together, and what, exactly, was missing in “Columba and the Crossing” that I now have to figure out…but I’m glad I got the chance to be with him, and try to complete his work as well as I can.
Because Michael mattered. And his stories matter, too.