Dark Brethren Series Book Trailer

The Dark Brethren series

Plus a peek at upcoming covers!

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Too-Hard-to-Get Gertie

“It’s hard to get snow in July;
It’s hard to get genuine rye;
But gettin’ Gertie is a job that’s harder yet.
The greatest sheiks sadly confess,
They’ve tried for weeks without success;
The boys are calling her
‘The girl that men regret'”
– Jack Yellen

Writers of romance, beware! While your heroine shouldn’t be easy to get (if she goes for Johnny Hero in Chapter 1, where’s the story?), she shouldn’t be like good old Gertie, who could refrigerate ice cream in that cold heart of hers. A misunderstanding (even two) is allowable in the romance story, but if Gertie’s still hating on Johnny after he’s done everything, including crawl on his hands and knees to China, for her, your reader is going to start thinking that Gertie may not be such a prize after all.

A little stubbornness is cute. But don’t make Gertie a bitch!

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Character Kryptonite

Too many writers rely upon misunderstandings and past baggage to keep their (seemingly perfect) characters from their (possibly undeserved) happiness.

A character with a physical flaw can be far more interesting, if handled properly. The illiterate man who is trying to pass himself off as a scholar. The blind girl who must rely on her other senses to get her out of the clutches of a murderous kidnapper. The boy stuck in a girl’s body, who struggles against the prejudice of others as he tries to establish his identity in the world.

Find the beauty in imperfections.

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Where’s Ringo?

I was reading a thriller from the late 90s (name of novel withheld to spare the author). The villain of the story had two children, a daughter of 13 and a son of about 10. The son, Ringo, is mentioned twice in the novel, but never features in the action.

Toward the end of the novel, the villain’s common law wife urges him to climb into a car with her and their daughter and head off into the sunset. Naturally, the reader thinks of poor Ringo, who the parents (and the author) have apparently forgotten.

At the end of the novel, the author mentions that the villain’s common law wife was sentenced to a certain term in prison, while his daughter was put in foster care. Again, the reader thinks of poor Ringo, who apparently has dropped off the face of the earth.

Useful Lesson learned at the expense of poor Ringo. Keep a firm handhold on your characters, particularly the little ones who play a rather small part. Leaving them behind can leave readers scratching their heads.

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FREE Short Story: My One True Love m/m



But few of us our fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to know the day and hour of our deaths in an advance.

One weekend in early September 2017, David Roakes traveled to New York City to attend a business conference. He stayed in a certain, fairly economical hotel on 31st Street. His first night in the city was spent, like too many others at home, drifting from one bar to the next, attempting to find and (hopefully) pick up a partner for the evening. By hard experience, he had found that it was far easier for a twenty-five-year-old man to accomplish this task than a fifty-five-year-old one. Be he ever so good-looking.

David wasn’t yet willing to admit he was SOMEWHAT past his prime. He still worked out every morning. He still didn’t like it. He had somehow—he wasn’t sure how—managed to keep a full head of glossy brown hair. Not even a hint of gray anywhere. There were a few lines about his root-beer-brown eyes, but no crow had yet landed upon his ever-so-slightly weathered face.

True, he’d had a bit of bad luck lately in the dating department. But that wasn’t any reason to throw in the towel. He was still (relatively) young. There was no reason to believe “fuck” was verb he could now only use in the past tense.

At eight o’clock, he was in a snazzy club with ridiculously overpriced drinks, in the company of a dozen men a dozen years older than him with partners a dozen years his junior. Clearly, he was in the wrong place. He wasn’t old enough (or rich enough) to snag a partner. Nor was he young enough (or poor enough) to want to be snagged partner.

At nine o’clock, he was an Irish pub, watching a European football match. He left in a huff when a drunken pervert (who hadn’t been hot since ’86) offered to buy him a beer in exchange for a furtive groin grope beneath the table.

At ten o’clock, he was in a smoky bar, with low lighting and watered down drinks, listening to a miserably unhappy married man tell him about all the miserably unhappy shit that had happened in his miserably unhappy life. The married man wasn’t gay. He wasn’t even straight curious.

At eleven o’clock—

But why go on?

At two o’clock in the morning, David, much the worse for the drinks he’d imbibed, shuffled along the ill-smelling streets of New York City. Eventually, he found his hotel. Eventually, he went to bed. Alone.

The alarm rang three hours later. Though he felt like shit, David dragged himself out of bed. He went down to the exercise room in the basement, did 60 minutes on the elliptical machine, while reading several chapters of a mystery novel he no longer had any interest in, then went up to the breakfast room, which was (not surprisingly) completely empty at that early hour.

He glanced at his wristwatch. His meeting didn’t start until nine, so he had time for a nice hot shower and a leisurely lounge in bed (with or without a pornographic magazine for company).

He was on his second bowl of frosted flakes when a tall, well-built man in a neatly pressed navy blue business suit strolled into the breakfast room. He was forty-five, maybe fifty. A bit Bohemian in appearance, with his shoulder-length, curly blond locks and a faint sprinkling of freckles on his handsome, if matured face.

Where were you last night, when I needed you? David thought sourly.
The man helped himself to an apple, which he carried with him into the seating area. Without a word, he settled onto the chair across from David. Setting the apple down in the center of the table, he said brightly, “Good morning, Mr. Roakes.”

David was so startled by this greeting he overturned his empty orange juice cup. He cast a nervous glance at the tag pinned to the man’s lapel. It read: “John Smith, Reconciliation Supervisor.”

“I apologize if I’ve interrupted your breakfast. I would’ve come down to the exercise room, but I thought it would be better to speak you after you’d eaten something.” There was twinkle in his green eyes, as if he surveyed David’s choice of breakfast.

“That was very considerate of you, Mr.—Smith. I hope there isn’t anything wrong with my credit card.”

“Your credit card?” He looked puzzled.

“You work for the hotel?”

“Goodness no! What gave you that idea?”

“Your nametag.”

The man looked down at his lapel. “Oh—yes. I can understand your confusion. I don’t work for the hotel.”

“Are you a guest here?”


“What are you doing here then?”

“I came to see you—actually.”


He nodded. “Would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Roakes? I’d be glad to get one for you. Or some more orange juice perhaps?”

“I’m good.”

“Another bowl of cereal?”

“No thanks.”

“You’re sure?”

“Quite sure.”

“If you change your mind.”

“You’ll be the first to know. Excuse me. Do I know you?”

“In a way you do, Mr. Roakes.”

“What do you mean, in a way I do?”

“I work for a company that you’ve had some LIMITED dealings with in the past.”

“What company?”

“Yes, well,” he said, forcing a smile. “This may come as something of shock to you, Mr. Roakes. Truth to tell, I haven’t met a man yet who wasn’t surprised at the news he was going to—pass. But I find that it’s particularly hard for a man of your age. You’ve lived a decent number of years, that’s true, but you haven’t yet reached the point where physical debilities have limited you in any serious way. You’re active—and fairly healthy.”


“You expect to live another twenty years, at the very least. Am I right?”

“Considerably more than twenty years.”

“But you know you can’t live FOREVER, don’t you? At some point, you will have to die.”

David looked down into the bottom of his paper bowl, where a few sodden flakes were lying in a pool of milk. He tried to think who could have put this man up to pulling such a cruel prank on him. But there wasn’t a soul who disliked him that much.

Getting to his feet, he said stiffly, “please excuse me.”

“But you haven’t looked at the consent form yet?”

“What consent form?”

From the inside pocket of his suit jacket, John Smith produced a neatly folded document. He spread this out on the table. David had to sit back down to read it.

Informed Consent for the Reconciliation of David R. Roakes

Congratulations! You have been chosen to take part in an experimental program, which seeks to reconcile you with your impending death. Taking part in this program is entirely voluntary and completely free of charge. The bearer of this consent will answer any questions you may have about the program. Thank you and have a nice day!

☐ I, David R. Roakes, will participate in this experimental program.
☐ I, David R. Roakes, will NOT participate in this experimental program.

David R. Roakes

“You haven’t been happy since Matt moved out of your apartment. That was five—I’m sorry, six—years ago. Right?”

David was too stunned by the question to be angry with the man for asking it. “How do you know that?”

“Oh, we know a great deal about you, Mr. Roakes. I would say everything, but that might be stretching the point rather too far. After all, even you don’t know EVERYTHING about yourself.”

“This little joke has gone far enough.”


“I don’t appreciate this sort of—humor. If you’ll excuse me.”

“So you’re not interested then?”

“Interested in what?”

“In participating in our experimental program.”

“Not in the least.”

“Very well. Just check the box that says you decline, sign your name on the line and I’ll be on my merry way.”

With a dismissive wave of his hand, David headed for the elevator. He half-expected the man to chase after him, the consent form in hand. But no one pursued him. Even so, he didn’t feel easy, until he was safely locked behind his hotel room door. He set the deadbolt in place, then made a quick inspection of the room. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find in the empty drawers of the dresser and the nightstand (even the Bible was missing), under the bed, in the closet or behind the damp shower curtain, but he wasn’t contented until he looked.

Good God, Dave! Get a grip on yourself! He was obviously a nut.

Death wasn’t a pleasant subject to contemplate. Particularly, one’s own death. Naturally, David was eager to put the unfortunate incident in the breakfast room out of his mind. He had all but forgotten John Smith and his informed consent form by the time he stepped out of the shower. He strolled out of the bathroom, a toothbrush gripped in his mouth, to check the time and nearly jumped to the ceiling with fright.

John Smith, Reconciliation Supervisor, was sitting on the edge of his unmade bed, the informed consent form in one hand, a blue Bic pen in the other. “You forgot to sign,” he said cheerily.

David glanced at the door. It was still locked, with the deadbolt in place.

It was hard to be angry when you were foaming at the mouth with toothpaste. Stepping back into the bathroom, David set his toothbrush down on the bathroom sink. He wiped his face on a hand towel hanging on a rod by the steamed up mirror, before turning in the bathroom doorway to address his visitor, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed. “If you aren’t out of here by the count of five, I’m calling hotel security up here to remove you.”

John Smith sighed. “Really, Mr. Roakes. There’s no need to make a—spectacle. All you’ve got to do is check the box stating you have declined our offer of reconciliation, and I’ll be on my way. I’d be grateful if you did. I’m already running well behind schedule today. And I’ve got seven more of these forms to deliver before I clock out.” He smiled sheepishly. “Pardon the expression.”

“I’m not signing shit!”

“I’m afraid I can’t leave until you do.”

“We’ll just see about that.”

“Mr. Roakes. Please.” David had snatched the phone receiver from its cradle. “You’re wasting time. And you haven’t all that much of it left.”

“How much time do I have left?” David wasn’t sure why he asked this. He didn’t—for a minute—believe that Mr. John Smith—if that was his name—represented a company that offered comfort to the soon-to-be dead. The idea was too absurd to entertain.

The man raised a hand to adjust his tie, which must have suddenly become too tight around his neck. “Yes, well, the thing is, I’m not allowed to tell you that.”

“Why not?” David asked, dropping the receiver back into its cradle.

“Forgive me, if I give offense, but I’m afraid, if I did, you might try to avoid it.”

“You’re damned right I’d try to avoid it.”

“But it wouldn’t be any use, you know. We’d simply schedule another for you in a day or two.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you, Mr. Smith. You’re a busy man, I’m sure.” Snatching the paper from the reconciliation supervisor’s hand, David said, “where do I sign?”

“You still intend to decline then?”

“I do.”

“Don’t be hasty, Mr. Roakes. You may live to regret your choice.”

“But not for long. Right?”

“No,” he agreed coolly. “Not for long.” He showed David the box where he should draw his X (if he wished to decline) and where he should sign his name. David read the form through a second time, more carefully this time.

Informed Consent for the Reconciliation of David R. Roakes

Congratulations! You have been chosen to take part in an experimental program, which seeks to reconcile you with your impending death. Taking part in this program is entirely voluntary and completely free of charge. The bearer of this consent will answer any questions you may have about the program. Thank you and have a nice day!

☐ I, David R. Roakes, will participate in this experimental program.
☐ I, David R. Roakes, will NOT participate in this experimental program.

David R. Roakes

“How exactly do you reconcile a person with their death?”

“His or her death,” the man said primly, his handsome face wrinkling with annoyance at David’s carelessness with the English language. “The means varies with the person, Mr. Roakes. Yesterday, I gave a 92-year-old man with crippling arthritis a day of fishing on Montgomery Lake in Georgia. He caught a 24-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass. A record, I’m told.”

“You grant wishes?”

“I suppose you could say that, but there are limits to our—resources.”

“For instance?”

“We can’t give you a palace in the sky or all the gold in Fort Knox or the death of your worst enemy. But we can give you a lovely day. And isn’t that what you’d like your last one on Earth to be?”

“I don’t like fishing.”

“Like I said, the means varies with the person.”

“You give each person what he or she wants.”

The man nodded. “If we can, yes.”

“What do I want?”

“Companionship, Mr. Roakes.”

David raised an eyebrow. “Companionship?”

“You don’t like being alone. Sadly, you haven’t had much luck in life, finding your one true love.”

“I don’t believe there is such a thing,” David said, tightening the sash on his robe, which he noted, with some embarrassment, had come loose, exposing more of his bare body than he cared John Smith to see.

David had never met anyone who fitted the description of his “one true love.”

Oh, he’d had lots of lovers. More than he could count, to be honest. But none of them had been worth keeping.
In the summer of 1976, when he was just a kid of fourteen, David began making the rounds of the neighborhood with an old lawn mower he’d talked his mom into buying for him at a flea market.

One Saturday afternoon, a middle-aged neighbor named Dan Wisniewski (easily old enough to be David’s father) invited David into his garage to show him some “tools” he’d just bought. Ten minutes later, David had his shorts around his ankles and the man was on his knees in front of him.

Being young and inexperienced and terribly horny, David made no complaint, though he wasn’t the least bit attracted to Mr. Wisniewski, who stank of stale sweat and beer. It wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable way to lose one’s virginity, but David did gain a thorough knowledge of the mechanics of the act from his much older partner.

Mr. Wisniewski was a bit too rough for David’s taste. And he wanted it far more often than David cared to give it. The day came, soon enough, when David refused to drop his shorts. When Mr. Wisniewski couldn’t tempt him with a $100 bill, he stopped pretending to be the “nice guy” and put it to David plain: “do what I ask or I’ll tell your mom what we’ve been up to in my garage.”

David had had a severely strained relationship with his mom, who found fault with nearly everything he did and didn’t do. If she found out he was gay, David was sure she would turn him out into the street. If that happened, he would end up in foster care. And everyone would KNOW. In those days, people could suspect all they liked. Provided they didn’t KNOW you were gay, you were safe. Normal. Accepted.

Putting up with Mr. Wisniewski’s unwanted attentions seemed, at the time, the better choice, but afterward, David lived to regret his decision. Knowing he could do what he pleased, Mr. Wisniewski treated David like dirt.

Eventually, David and his mother moved out of the neighborhood. But this bad memory followed after David like a dark shadow, keeping him always in the gloom of life. He was wary of everyone, but particularly of those, like him, because he was afraid another man might take advantage of him in the way Mr. Wisniewski had.

His freshman year of college. 1980. David fell hopelessly in love with the star running back, Craig Saxe. Of course, he hadn’t a chance in hell of gaining the attention of a man with more hot women orbiting him than Jupiter had moons, but that only made Craig Saxe that much more attractive a (fantasy) partner in David’s eyes. David spent countless hours in the bathroom he shared with his roommate, jerking off over photographs of Sexy Saxe, as they called him, published in the local paper.

Then one night, Sexy Saxe asked David to join him and some friends for a beer at a local pub. David wanted to go—God, did he—but he knew he wouldn’t feel comfortable with Sexy Saxe in a public place, not after all the (imaginary) sex they’d had together. He politely declined, with the lame excuse he had to study for a big test.

Sexy Saxe looked him full in the face for a moment, then smiled and walked away. For days afterward, David pondered what that smile might mean. Then, one night, about two weeks after the invitation, Sexy Saxe slipped into David’s dorm room in the middle of the night. While David’s roommate slept, they had REAL sex in the bathroom.

At first, it was fun, but being the closet fuck of a deeply closeted college football player got old fast. Sexy Saxe would invite David to join him and his friends for beers, but it was understood that David had to come in the guise of a casual friend. Once, and once only, David got up the courage to appear, but he felt so awkward pretending to be far less than he was that he never tried it again.

Two month after his affair with Sexy Saxe began, David dropped out of college. And Sexy Saxe went on to the pros and a wife and three children.

Then came Jeremy Addison. A (un)happily married man, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Dayton, Ohio three times in the ten years that David had (secretly) dated him. David never pressed Jeremy to leave his wife, whom Jeremy claimed was a “dear, sweet girl” who deserved far better than him. David knew, going in, that Jeremy would never risk his reputation (or his meager political prospects) for what he considered a temporary fling.
When they broke it off in ’97, David’s only regret was wasting a decade of his life with a man who’d never once told him he’d loved him.

Then came Matt Lane. From the first, David knew it was doomed. Matt was spoilt child, used to having his own way in everything. They fought over everything and nothing at all. David kept hanging on, because he was a few months shy of his fifty birthday and he couldn’t bear the thought of cruising the bars, night after night, looking for someone—God, anyone—to share a bed with him. But in the end he had to give Matt up. Matt was just too much work.

Then he was alone again. For good, this time. Because after that, even his one-night stands were few and far between.

“There’s still time to find him, Mr. Roakes.”

“Find who?”

“Your one true love?”

David shook his head. “If I haven’t found him by now, I’m not going to.”

“Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right place.”

“Where should I look?”

“Well, when I want to find something, I always start in the place I’m least likely to find it. That’s usually where it is.”

“The least likely place. And where would that be—in this case?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” John Smith said, leaning back on the bed. For the first time, David noted the nice bulge in the crotch of the man’s trousers. And it appeared to be growing by the minute. “You could start at the foot of the bed,” John Smith suggested, “and work your way up to my mouth.”

David laughed. “Will there be fishing afterward?”

“If there’s time,” the man answered, with a smile.

The End

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Craig’s Wife

If you aren’t familiar with Craig’s Wife, a 1925 play by George Kelly, then stop reading this post and check it out. Otherwise, read on.

Craig’s Wife is a wonderful example of what an author can do with a short span of time and a very small cast of characters. Harriet Craig has married for the security of a home. For two years, she’s lived in relative happiness with her husband (who is deeply in love with her). But things begin to unravel for her on the day the play begins. Her husband is under suspicion for a double homicide, his old aunt is moving out of the house (because of Harriet’s shabby treatment of her), and Harriet’s young niece is foolishly marrying a man with little to give her (at least materially). In the hope of gaining her one object (security), Harriet has sacrificed everything else, including any respect for the husband who ought to be her real treasure (because a woman can lose a man, but a house, never, provided she’s clever). When her husband discovers that she has no real love for him, he must decide whether his own love for her is enough to keep him at her side or whether his respect for himself is something he ought to treasure more.

Try writing a story that takes place over the span of a single day, contains no more than three, possibly four, characters and features a life altering event–the dissolution of a marriage, the exposure of a long kept secret, the discovery of long hidden treasure.

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Showing the Passage of Time

In a perfect world, your story will take place over a very short span of time.

The reason being, the faster things happen, the more exciting the narrative will be.

This is why shows like 24 work so well. The clock is ticking and A, B, C, and possibly D have to be done within the next hour, if the catastrophe is to be averted.

However, not every story can be bent to that formula.

You may have a lengthy road trip or an adolescence to get through, before you reach your goal.

Sometimes it’s as easy as “three months later”, or “later that year”, or “when school started in the autumn”, or “when she turned twenty-one,” etc.

Provided it’s clear to the reader, anything goes.

One thing to avoid is putting a date in the title of the chapter. While that may work for section breaks, readers tend to ignore headings, in general, because it slows down the reading of the text. That is why many authors do away with chapter titles, opting instead for numbers. I find chapters titles handy (at least for myself) in keeping track of where changes are needed, while in the editing stage, and possibly for giving a hint of what the chapter contains (gone are the days of the Faerie Queene, where you could sum up the chapter action before beginning the chapter). “Cody gets dumped by his wife and takes to drinking.”

One final word on passage of time: make sure your story reflects the stated passage of time. If ten years has passed, everyone is going to be ten years older, even that venerable aunt who was ninety-five when last we checked in on her. If she’s still alive and well twenty years later, your readers are going to wonder whether she found the fountain of youth or a writer who can’t count.

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The Most Boring Topic in the World

What is the most boring topic in the world?
Weather. Politics. Traffic.
Actually, no. It’s YOU.
You are the most boring topic to others.
Don’t bore the readers of your blog (or any other piece of writing) by trying to prove how immensely clever you are. Tell them a story. And leave yourself out of it.
Remember: You’re here to serve the reader. Be great by being humble!

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When Good People Do Bad Things, or How the West was NOT won

Recently finished a Western called The Valley of the Dry Bones by Arthur Henry Gooden (1945). I have never read any of Mr. Gooden’s other books, but The Valley Dry Bones began with an amazing protagonist. From the first page, I was rooting for him.

The story is populated with a series of villains, all of them out to get our hero. He has his allies as well, in a pair of cowpokes and a large family of Mexicans, an Indian, a Chinaman and various other characters. If not for one small problem, I would give this book an A+ for plotting. Unfortunately, the author attempted in every way to avoid violence, at least on the part of his main character. While our hero’s attempts to avoid bloodshed are inspirational, this is a western. If guns are blazing and our hero manages (somehow) to avoid killing his assailants, time and time again, we’re going to start wondering if we’re watching an A-Team spaghetti western.

The worst mistake the writer made was in the final scene of the novel, when our hero is cornered by the chief villain, who’s threatening to hog-tie and Columbian necktie him. First, it’s a bit hard to accept that the chief villain has come back to strike our hero, when the chief villain is wanted for murder and in danger of a summary execution by the enraged townspeople. Be that as it may, the chief villain is not brought down by our hero’s bullet or his fist, but by another man’s bullet. The chief villain kills his would-be murderer in the shoot-out, but manages to survive the encounter (presumably to face justice and hanging later). This ending is completely unsatisfying, particularly when our hero was the supposed chosen instrument of justice.

While your hero should never enjoy hurting people, he should be the one punish the evildoers in your story. If you would prefer your hero not to get his hands dirty, arrange a convenient accident to off the villain. In one Western I read recently, the villain was on top of the hero, attempting to thrust a knife into the hero’s chest. The hero escaped death by turning the knife with the blade in the direction of the villain’s chest. When the villain threw his (not inconsiderably) weight on the knife, it went into his own chest. Thus, he was his own murderer. You live by the sword, and you WILL die by it.

Finding the right balance of good and evil in your story is key to reader satisfaction.

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How to Give Supporting Characters Character

One of the chief complaints I’ve noticed in recent reviews on Amazon is flat one-dimensional side characters. There is a simple way to correct this problem.

All individuals are motivated by self-interest. A man–or a woman–will act in ways that serve his self-interest. In other words, all actions are self-enhancing. Even those actions we would class as charity to others are in some way serving the benefactors.

“I feel good about helping others. I help others so I can feel good about myself.”

While this might seem a bit cynical on the surface, understanding this principal is a vitally important part of the development of any and every character in your novel.

Susie goes on a diet. Susie loses ten pounds.

In simple diagram, you have the activity and the outcome, but you know nothing of the motivation. Why did Susie go on a diet?

Susie wants to date Butch, the high school quarterback. Susie goes on a diet. Susie loses ten pounds.

Now we have motive, activity and outcome.

To extend this diagram a little further.

Susie wants to date Butch, the high school quarterback. Susie goes on a diet. Susie loses ten pounds. Butch asks her to the homecoming dance.

The diagram is now – motive, activity, outcome = satisfaction.

Susie wants to date Butch, the high school quarterback. Susie goes on a diet. Susie loses ten pounds. Butch asks Laura, Susie’s best friend to the homecoming dance.

The diagram is now – motive, activity, outcome = frustration.

Since this is a novel, we assume Susie isn’t giving up at the first roadblock. When she reaches frustration, she will choose another activity that will (presumably) give her the result she wants.

Susie steals her mother’s credit card to buy a designer dress, hoping to get noticed by Butch.

Ad infinitum.

So, each character should have a diagram. What is his or her motive? What does he or she do to get what he or she wants? What is the end result of that action?

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