HOLIDAY STORIES

 

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It’s not Christmas any more. But my article about Holiday stories disappeared when Book Review Express went down. So I’m giving you a flashback:

HOLIDAY STORIES

I am wary of Christmas time, or any family holidays. These days I don’t go to extended family gatherings as my mum doesn’t want my wife and kids there. It’s not a huge loss. Those get-togethers in an Aunt’s sweltering backyard were sweaty and unpleasant, full of conversational landmines. Being queer doesn’t lend itself to easy bonds with uncles. Being Australian doesn’t lend itself to cosy December montages of log fires and fairy lights reflecting from the snow. So when I was asked about a queer holiday anthology, emphasis on the holiday, I balked a little.

Stories of warm prawns and backyard cricket were out. Where could I start?

I started with that: so many of us are terrified of going home. We feel like outsiders among our people. And I set my story in Montana, the snowiest place I’ve ever been. My Los Angeles living, international basketball star protagonist Shay Allen was going to find herself in an uncomfortable snowy homecoming with quirky neighbours, too many memories, and an old crush.
I called the story TRUE NORTH. Setting a Christmas story in Montana was a joy. I could write that huge sky and the endless sweeping snow set beneath it. I could have the characters huddled together in a small town with warm food and crackling fires and company. My basketball pro could re-examine herself and her past in that beautiful, isolated place.
I’ve now read the four other stories in the anthology, IF THE FATES ALLOW. Each author sets their story in an extraordinary place, and the characters find themselves there.
Killian Brewer’s GRACIOUS LIVING MAGAZINE SAYS IT MUST BE A LIVE TREE is set in Georgia. The South imbues the story with humour and holiday charm, from Thanksgiving in a diner with turquoise pleather seating to the vivid collection of hilarious local ladies with strong Southern voices. It’s a colourful comedy of manners. Within that world, Marcus Sumter’s need for the perfect over the top Christmas to share with his boyfriend Hank is understandable and deeply human.

Los Angeles is almost a character in Erin Finnegan’s LAST CALL AT THE CASA BLANCA BAR AND GRILL. The heart of the story is a tequila bar with a kind of kitsch Moroccan, golden age of Hollywood, hipster bar, Mexican restaurant style. The quirky aesthetic could be located nowhere else. And polished politico Jack Volarde’s story of love and grief and new hope is in that same pattern, people from different worlds coming together.

HALFWAY HOME by Lilah Suzanne and SHELVED by Lynn Charles each have a more “Everytown, USA” feel. In HALFWAY HOME, the story centres around a shopping mall and a local dog rescue. Avery Puckett is quietly unhappy in a quietly lifeless life. And yet she finds hope in these everyday things: an ordinary chihuahua, a shopping mall North Pole, a dog rescue, a girl. The story is about holding on to the ordinarily beautiful things you love and the ordinarily beautiful place in which the story is set is integral to that.

SHELVED by Lynn Charles is set somewhere in fictional Middle America. The twin hubs of the story are the large Piedmont County Library and Karina Ness’ uncle Tony’s barber shop. Piedmont County
Library feels immediately like home, among the books and the patrons and all their many seemingly

unimportant queries. And Tony’s barber shop is a joy, somewhere to find yourself surrounded by warmth and community. Those are the places Karina plays matchmaker to her uncle Tony, and finds answers to her own questions of love and belonging.

These stories could happen to anyone in any place. But in this anthology, the location of these holiday stories ignites the characters and their narratives and brings their new loves, new hopes, and new puppies to life.

Into the Blue – way back machine

 

Here’s a flashback that my editor and I removed from Into the Blue. It was written while the title was still “Out of the Blue”, Sunny was called Urchin and Hannah was called Noah. Long ago. Here’s Tai meeting Ollie, and, if we’re real about it here’s Tai first falling in love.

**

Tai bends into the wave. It’s a monster, bigger than any he’s taken before. He’s flying, then falling, then somehow flying again until he reaches the shore. The wave collapses and he’s tipped awkwardly into the swash and sand. He rolls in with it a bit, stands, shakes himself off. There’s sand in his hair and his ears and his board shorts. He glances at the sky. Plenty of time before dinner. He shoves his surfboard up under one arm and runs through the shallows to head back out. Drops of water fly up beneath his feet and pelt the backs of his calves.

 “Hey.”

 Tai swings about toward the voice. “Yeah?” he says. The kid’s about his age. He’s blonde and rangy and even though Tai knows pretty much everyone, he’s a stranger.

 “You snaked me out there,” the kid says over the sound of the surf.

 “What?”

 “I was on that wave. You shoved in on the wrong side of me.”

 Tai stands his ground. He’s thirteen and out here he knows himself. More than that he knows this break. He’s been surfing it since he was six years old. “I’ve never snaked anyone, dude.”

 “Well, there’s a first time for everything. This time you did.” The kid shrugs. “Dude.”

 Tai blinks at him.

“Don’t worry about it,” the kid says. “Just don’t do it again.”

Before Tai can think of any kind of decent response the kid shakes his hair out and lopes off into the surf, his legs easily carrying him over the small waves. Tai watches. He shifts his board so it sits more comfortably under his arm and tries not to resent the kid’s long limbs and self-assurance.

 For the next hour Tai pretends not to watch the kid surf. He’s good – as good as Tai, and maybe better. Even among all the older surfers it’s impossible not to admire his form.

 “You can really ride,” Tai says one time when they meet, both paddling back into the surf zone.   

 “You too,” says the kid and Tai beams at the compliment.

 “You a tourist?” Tai asks.

 The kid frowns quickly. “Do I look like a tourist to you?”

 Tai considers the kid’s pale skin, white-blonde curls and long-sleeved rash guard. He lies. “No.”

 “Too right. We just moved here from Honolulu. I’m Ollie.”

 “Tai,” says Tai. They both grin, still paddling hard with the water between them. And just like that they’re friends.

 Turns out they’re both going to be freshmen at Lielehua High come September.  For the rest of the summer they meet every day. Sometimes Ollie’s kid brother Jaime comes. Sometimes Tai’s friend Sunny, too. But Jaime’s not that into surfing and Sunny has to help her mom at the library or with the baby twins so mostly it’s just the two of them. When the surf’s flat they hang on the beach or at Tai’s place. Sometimes they sit in silence. Ollie’s not the type of kid to fill every gap in a conversation and Tai’s just happy to hang out. Still there’s plenty to talk about too – mostly breaks, or surfboards, or the benefits of onshore winds or the perfect wave height ratio.

Tai’s already got friends, heaps of them, and a family that feels like it spreads over the whole of the Pacific. But Ollie’s different. To Tai’s thirteen year old eyes, Ollie’s like a mermaid or something. He’s a bit alien. Like a wild dolphin or a blazing comet skimming across the surface of the ocean, quick and bright, and yet still stopping to lie on his back with Tai and chat while they look at the sky.

They’ve known one another a week, then a month, then two months, then two years and Tai still wants to hear every single thing Ollie ever says see every single thing Ollie ever does.

ITB inspiration

 

Queer diversity and queer holiday romances: Interlude Press’ new anthology IF THE FATES ALLOW

This week I had the privilege of visiting From Top to Bottom Reviews.

I talked about queer community and the joy of being part of a holiday romance anthology that includes a variety of queer folk. In pulling together IF THE FATES ALLOW, the editor and team at Interlude Press were clear they weren’t looking for gay romance or lesfic alone, but were keen for us to write any queer love story.

So go visit FTTB’s post where I go on about how important that is and recommend a bunch of fun queer series with even more diversity

“I live in a queer friendly neighbourhood in a queer friendly city. Most days my little yellow house holds my wife and me and our two kids. But my broader community is lesbians, gay men, bi people of all genders, panromantic demisexuals, straight allies who march for equality. It’s hairy trans guys, enby folk, and cis butch girls. It’s kinky femmes, party boys, and stay at home lesbian mums. It’s impressive queer community leaders who are changing the world and everyday gays whose ordinary existence is political.

Queer bonds are deeply important to queer people. These bonds allow us to live with being outsiders, and combat the fact that we’re surrounded by the assumption of straight sexuality. These bonds remind us that we are not a problem, not a mistake, but are a delightful and complex community.”

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Covers that make it worth judging the book

The Lesbian Review has got me thinking about covers for f/f and lesbian romances and queer books with women.

So here are my favourites. Highly subjective. Strongly influenced by the fact I like beautiful views and the colours yellow and blue. Also I tend to avoid highly sexualised covers but that doesn’t mean you need to. This is just a list of twelve (um fifteen?) covers I saw and loved.

SIDESHOW by Amy Stilgenbauer. A story of a girl who runs away to the circus. The image is vivid and nostalgic and beautifully balanced.

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THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M Danforth. This cover is just gorgeous, the long view, the rainbow lettering, the girl, the boots, the gold field. It all draws me into the story immediately.

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ROLLER GIRL by Vanessa North. The angles are crisp, the image is fun and clear and the colours are gorgeous.

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HEART OF THE GAME by Rachel Spangler. The cover captures the sweet themes of the book and the long lazy feel of baseball.

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EMPRESS OF THE WORLD by Sara Ryan. This cover, with the girls holding hands, has been done before. It will be done again. But it’s a gorgeous example with the light and the title bringing it all together.

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ASH by Malinda Lo. Atmospheric, worrying and beautiful. An amazing cover

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SUMMER WINDS by Andrews and Austin. The sky, the speed of the rider, the movement. It’s an old-fashioned kind of cover with a strong image.

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THAT CERTAIN SOMETHING by Clare Ashton. Adorable, the balance is wonderful, the image is excellent.

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NOT YOUR SIDEKICK by C B Lee. The movement and the boldness, the retro mod feel. This is one of the finest covers.

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TREASURE by Rebekah Weatherspoon. Gorgeous model, and the lights and brightness make this cover stand out.

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A LOVE STORY STARRING MY DEAD BEST FRIEND by Emily Horner. This cover is catchy and intriguing and heartbreaking and funny.

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FIRST POSITION by Melissa Brayden. A beautiful, clean, low colour cover that captures the background of the story perfectly.

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AT THE WATER’S EDGE by Harper Bliss. The title and the author are so clear and yet it’s the water that you see and that contemplative image draws me in.

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THE MOMENT by TC Anderson. Another image that’s been done repeatedly, but this is a beautiful and engaging take on the feet of the lovers turned toward one another.

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HER NAME IN THE SKY by Kelly Quindlen. Just so beautiful, the two colour image captures the imagination, the swoosh of hair and the hands. Wonderful work.

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BECAUSE OF HER by KE Payne. Those lovely cutouts, the reflection and balance of the book.

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Drop me a line and tell me your favourites!

INTO THE BLUE at the Lambda Literary Awards!!

ITB

Tonight in New York City, the Lambda Literary Award winners were announced. Beautiful award winning books of trans poetry and f/f mystery and YA LGBTQIA and bisexual fiction. And INTO THE BLUE won Best Gay Romance!!

I’m so beyond thrilled and proud.

Two and a half years ago I pitched a friends to lovers surfer romance to Interlude Press. Then I dove into (see what I did there) this story of two boys who grow up together in Hawaii on the ocean, build a family in a run-down house, work ordinary jobs and dream of surfing. The book is more sweet than angsty, a warm story that’s a romance but also about found family and big dreams and the complications of just being ordinary humans, how we’re all different from one another. It’s about kindness and respect and working out what you value in life and what you’re willing to risk.

Interlude Press and especially editor Annie Harper made it a better book, as did Cameron and Misha and Nicky and Zoe and everyone who read it early for me. Art director CB Messer made it gorgeous and real. And you all here made it worth writing. Everyone who’s told me they loved it, or reviewed it or made art about it. That’s everything to me.

I am just so chuffed and thankful that Lambda Literary saw something in my dear little book.

If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have, you could always read my second book STORM SEASON. Both are on sale with Interlude Press. See?

http://interludepress.com/post/161756607404/congratulations-pene-henson

 

 

Banzai Pipeline

I live in Sydney, so I’ve been surrounded by the setting for STORM SEASON most of my life. But this year after the RT convention, I returned to Banzai Pipeline, the setting for my first novel, INTO THE BLUE.

Pipe wasn’t turning, but the waves were sufficient to keep us mostly out of the water. It was still gorgeous to see.

The novel’s protagonists, Ollie and Tai, travel the world in the book. But these are young men who are deeply attached to their home. They share the Blue House with their dearest friends and Ollie’s younger brother. They’ve battled dull jobs and clashing personalities and growing up to stay together in this place. Tai’s grounded and kind physicality has much to do with his deep-rooted love of the ocean and the familiar homes of the North Shore. And all Ollie’s freedom on the waves relies on his safety in the Blue House and with Tai.

The book is as much about friendship and understanding and home and the ocean as it is a romance. I was glad to revisit that place.

 

June

June’s a big month for me. Besides my birthday (you’d think I’d be used to them by now but they always make me happy) there’s also

A) Lambda Literary Awards! My first novel INTO THE BLUE is a finalist for best gay romance. ❤️ Awwww.

B) Foreword INDIES Awards! INTO THE BLUE is a finalist for best romance. ❤️ Awwwww

I can’t be there for either award because it’s so far away. I will be 10,000 miles away in wintertime but so proud that my boys and their little found family and house on the beach were shortlisted alongside some amazing books.

Also I’m starting my quarterly newsletter. Exclusive shorts, excerpts, book reviews and beautiful places I write in and about. In honour of June the first mailout will have a small giveaway. The list of people receiving this isn’t that long yet so your odds are good!

Go here to sign up for my newsletter.