My Thoughts on Diversity in Fiction and Writing Characters of Color

So I hesitated to post this because of how charged the atmosphere in M/M is right now. Hurt feelings abound on all sides over a book that was recently released (and no, I won’t be naming it here). The topic of racism is not one I take lightly, having dealt with it all my life, but I leave that discussion to people much more eloquent than myself. I do, however, have some thoughts about the subject of diversity in fiction and writing characters of color, specifically in M/M, and I want to share them here.

In the past, I’ve written blog posts calling for more diversity. I think it’s something we all recognize is needed at this point.

I’m Puerto Rican. I’m open about it. I write a lot of Hispanic characters because of it. And when I wrote a Mexican MC, I wrote with the awareness that Mexican culture and Puerto Rican culture are vastly different.

I reached out to Mexican readers and asked if anyone would proofread my story to make sure I was doing that character justice. Because being raised in a Mexican neighborhood doesn’t make me infallible or all-knowing or any kind of authority. I was still brought up in a Puerto Rican family and there are differences aplenty (just as there are differences between Mexicans and Spaniards or Colombians and Dominicans, etc).

I know a lot of authors hesitate to step out of their comfort zone and write a character of color. It can be intimidating, and in my opinion, it requires research and due diligence if you want to give an accurate, sensitive portrayal. If you’re nervous, yes, you’re probably right to be nervous. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we have to do the things that make us uncomfortable, and if you are uncomfortable, I think you’ll be likelier to approach your writing with care and tact.

That being said, lately I’ve been getting the feeling that some authors think they have to start including characters of color in their books because the subject of diversity has been the focus of so many recent panels and discussions.

And my opinion is this: don’t do anything you feel you have to do.

If you’ve noticed the lack of POC (people of color) characters and you truly want to change that, awesome! Two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me! But if you’re not willing to be mindful, and if you don’t feel it’s worth the effort to research to avoid stereotypes or possibly offending or hurting your readership, it’s probably best not to do it.

In the long run, I think you’ll be happier and less stressed. And the POC readers will be happier too. We want representation, yes. We want to see characters that reflect our cultural backgrounds, but not if it only comes from a sense of obligation, not actual desire to change the (mostly white) landscape of M/M—or romance and fiction in general—to reflect the glorious, multi-colored reality we actually reside in. Not if you plan to portray us as caricatures. And definitely not if you can’t handle criticism if you wind up getting something wrong, which you very well might.

If you don’t feel comfortable writing a character of color, keep doing what you do. It’s all good. Sincerely. No judgment from this author/reader. But if you do want to try, there are people out there who are absolutely ready and willing to help you try to get it right, and believe me it is worth the effort!

We’re all human. Being a minority, a person of color myself doesn’t mean I’m above screwing up. Not by a long shot. All we can do is acknowledge mistakes when they happen (and they will happen). We can apologize and try to do better. And most importantly, we can listen when someone tells us they’re hurt or offended.

Don’t invalidate someone’s feelings. It’s not your (or my) right to tell someone if they should/shouldn’t be offended by something or to tone police or tell them to “speak more politely.” That only takes away from them and their experiences and turns the attention back to yourself and your own comfort.  Sometimes it’s hard to be calm and polite when you’re angry and hurting. Sometimes people only hear you above the ruckus if you’re screaming—especially if you’re part of a community that has been dehumanized and marginalized for centuries.

If someone is yelling “This hurt me and here is why!”, maybe you should take a minute to listen and try to understand. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that empathy, compassion, and sincerity go a long way.

People of color… we’re just people. We only want to see stories about genuine characters like ourselves falling in love or saving the day or going on that epic adventure. Not stereotypes. Not for tokenism. Our personalities are varied, and we fall all over the spectrums of sexuality and gender. We’re rich and poor and everywhere in between. Educated and not. In other words—we’re just like everyone else. And yet we make up a mere fraction of the characters you find in books or films or on television.

Trust me, if you found it this difficult to find characters you could relate to, if you never saw characters who looked like you, or who reflected your reality, you’d yearn for more representation too. And when you thought you’d found it, you’d latch onto it fast.

Hey! This person. They’re like me! I can do that too! I can be the hero!

Sometimes there’s no better feeling than that.

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Lucky Moon Sale! All titles $1 each!

Hey, all! Just a quick post today to announce that the 2nd editions of the LUCKY MOON series by me and MJ O’Shea are on sale for $1 each on DSP, Amazon, and ARe between now and March 25th!

If you haven’t tried our rockstars before, now’s a good time to check out the series! We have a little bit of everything – multicultural romance, bisexual romance, second chances, enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, and all of the melodrama involved with being a musician in the public eye. Links below! 😀

DREAMSPINNER

Moonlight Becomes You | The Luckiest | Moonstruck

AMAZON

Moonlight Becomes You | The Luckiest | Moonstruck

ARe

Moonlight Becomes You | The Luckiest | Moonstruck

 

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Piper’s Reading Roundup – January & February

Hey, peeps! I know it’s been a while since I did one of my book recommendation posts. I’ve definitely read some great stuff since the beginning of the year, so let me rectify that now! These are the titles I’ve read and loved since January 1st. 

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Astounding! by Kim Fielding – It’s probably not a surprise to anyone who regularly follows me to see a Kim Fielding title on this list. I have yet to dislike anything I’ve read by Kim. Here we have Carter Evans, founder and EIC of Astounding!, a speculative fiction magazine that is fast approaching the end of its life. Then there’s J. Harper, an author who keeps submitting terrible stories to the magazine that Carter continually rejects. One day while drunk, Carter drafts and sends a crueler rejection letter than he would under normal circumstances, and subsequently, he sets out to find J. Harper and apologize. I loved this story and the entire cast of characters.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – What can I even say about this book? It’s my favorite read of the year so far and I seriously doubt anything else I read before the end of the year will knock it from that pedestal. This is the sort of GLBT YA I aspire to write. I thought it was absolutely perfect, and if someday I produce a book that makes people feel the way Simon made me feel, I’ll consider my ultimate goal as an author accomplished. I loved it that much. All of the stars to this fabulous read.

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Some Kind of Magic (Beings in Love #1) by R. Cooper – There’s no denying R. Cooper is an author of considerable talent. I’d venture to say she’s the strongest author in the genre at writing pining/mutual yearning. At least in my opinion. The UST (unresolved sexual tension) in her stories is so intense I have reactions anywhere from rage to tears. It doesn’t matter the story; I can always feel the deep, painful longing between her characters, and I LOVE IT. Seriously. If you enjoy UST and that will-they-or-won’t-they anticipation, that delicious, “Please just let him love you already” feeling, you need to try R. Cooper. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Love You Like a Romance Novel by Megan Derr -This was a sexy story. I love Megan Derr’s rockstars. I love her writing. Hell, I just love her! She’s pretty damn swell. I’m an unashamed Megan Derr fangirl, and she’s another author who is fantastic at writing UST. She also wrote me a story called Tournament of Losers, which just came out last month and I cannot recommend highly enough. It was fabulous, and if you like reading stories in which the hero has to compete in a tournament for their lover’s heart and hand, well, I don’t think you’ll find a better one in M/M!

Blind Space by Marie Sexton – Speaking of sexy stories… damn! Y’all know I love me some men in lingerie, and I was thrilled to see that fetish explored here. Tristan and Valero were super hot together, but beyond that, I loved the world-building in this little sci-fi gem. It was just enough to tantalize me and make me want more. I’d love to see more stories in this universe!

Hunter of Demons (Spectr #1) by Jordan L. Hawk – I frequently see readers recommending Jordan L. Hawk, but I hadn’t read any of her work until this year. Now I can see why she has such a fanbase. I really enjoyed this story, and I’m looking forward to reading more in this series and more of Hawk’s work in general.

Hell for the Company (Brimstone #1) by Angel Martinez – What a delightful little story this was! I’m a fan of Angel Martinez, and I love the humor and tone in the Brimstone stories (I’ve also read the second one). It sort of reminds me of Firefly with the whole space western/pirates theme. Definitely looking forward to continuing the adventures of Shax, Verin, and Ness.

Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan – I love ranchers, cowboys, drifters, and stories about friendship, finding a home when you least expect it, and building a family not tied by blood. Cullinan pairs all that with BDSM and some sexy pony-play. This was dirty and kinky, but beneath the smoking hot sex was a surprisingly tender love story. Definitely recommended.

The Professor and the Smuggler by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon – This is one of my favorite author duos. They write interesting historicals in a genre that’s dominated by contemporary, and this is another reason I never hesitate to recommend them. I think they deserve more attention. Their stories always feel different and refreshing, and this opposites-attract romance was simply lovely. You can tell they know their stuff and they’ve done their research, but it never feels like I’m reading a textbook. I want authenticity in the setting, yes, but I also crave readability. I’ll DNF a historical romance that feels like it’s trying to teach me a history lesson. I don’t want to be bogged down by an overwhelming amount of detail, and I think Dee and Devon strike the perfect balance when it comes to this.

And those are my recommendations for January and February. What have you read and loved since the start of the year? Do tell. 😉 

Prize Pack Winner

Hey, all! And the winner of the prize pack, as chosen by Random.org, is Kathy Clevenger!

Congrats, Kathy! I hope you’ll enjoy all the prizes. ❤

Thanks to everyone who commented!

1000 Likes Giveaway Prize Pack

Hey, all! Long time no update, I know, but I have a cool giveaway for you guys to celebrate my official author page hitting 1000 likes on Facebook! 😀

This prize goes to one person. Here is a pic of everything in the prize box.

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I decided to do something a bit different for this giveaway. Each prize relates to one of my books/series in some way.

From left to right:

-Hedgehog erasers, representing Avery the hedgehog shifter from the Portland Pack Chronicles.

-An Inigo Montoya themed mug, representing The Party Boy’s Guide to Dating a Geek. (It reads: Hello my name is Inigo Montoya you drank my coffee. Prepare to die.)

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-A USB flash drive disguised as a camera, for Asher the photographer from One True Thing.

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-A $15 iTunes gift card, representing all of the rock stars in the Lucky Moon series. (Note: This card is only usable by US residents. If the winner is from outside the US, it will not be included. The winner will be offered something else of equal value.)

-A Batman/Superman friendship necklace, for Jonah and Laurie from Wanting. Together the two halves form a heart, as you can see below.

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-A notebook and a 5-pack of pens, representing the authors I’ve written – Erik from One Small Thing and Shepherd from Bookmarked. (The journal cover reads: Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.)

-A wolf coloring book, representing Dylan and the other wolves in the Portland Pack Chronicles.

-A pack of Mermaid Shimmer crayons, representing Wick, my merman from Love Rising. 

-A pair of tool-themed socks, representing the guys from the Hard Hats series. (Note: These are men’s socks that fit men’s sizes 7-12/women’s 8.5-13.5. Below you can see me modeling my own pair.)

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Bonus:

If so desired, the winner can also choose one of the paperbacks pictured below, which I will sign if requested. (Moonstruck is also available, but I didn’t have a copy on hand to include in the photo.)

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THE SMALL PRINT

-HOW TO ENTER: Comment on this post and tell me something you’re looking forward to in the next year. A book release, an event, a trip, whatever. OR, tell me which is your favorite of my books and why. (Be sure to list your email address in the appropriate box when commenting so I have a way to reach you!)

-Because this contest is a celebration of reaching 1000 likes on my official author page on FB, the people who have liked my page will get two entries. But since I need a way to double check, if you’ve liked my FB page, please include a link to your FB profile in your comment.

-Closes: Monday, Feb 29, at 11PM CST

Disclaimer: This contest is open worldwide to adults age 18 and up. Your comment confirms that you are of legal age. You must be willing to provide your physical mailing address to receive this prize.

Goodreads M/M Romance Member’s Choice Awards

Hey, all! Just a quick update! 😀 I was fortunate enough to be nominated in some of the Goodreads M/M Romance Member’s Choice Awards categories for both Prickly Business and The Truth About Forever. For anyone interested, voting is now open. (Note: You have to be a member of the group to vote.)

Thanks so much to the people who nominated me (along with Kenzie Cade, for the Prickly Business nominations)!

Piper’s Favorite Reads of 2015

Because everyone else is doing it (and I usually do too), here are my favorite reads of 2015. I’d intended to save this post for January 1st or 2nd, but it feels like a good way to end the year. 😀 (Note: My list is based on when I read the book, not the year it was published.)

Rarely Pure and Never Simple – Angel Martinez

This is dystopian sci-fi at its finest. I loved the characters, the writing, the world-building and suspense, and of course, I always love a man with a lingerie fetish. 😉 Can’t wait for more in this world.

Here Without You by Mia Kerick – This was the followup to Kerick’s YA novel, Us Three. The boys are older and two of them are trying to navigate their first year of college while the other stays behind in their hometown to protect his sister from their abusive guardian. Things get pretty angsty toward the end there, but I was thrilled to see these guys a bit older and to see how their relationship had progressed. If you enjoyed the first book, I definitely recommend reading this one too.

Infected: Paris by Andrea Speed – I reviewed the book earlier this year, so it probably surprises no one to see it on this list. If you want my in-depth thoughts, you can find them here.

Axel’s Pup (Werewolves & Dragons, #1) by Kim Dare – It’s no secret I’m a Kim Dare fan. I’ve read the vast majority of her work and count some of her books as my favorites in the genre. I really enjoyed this one. Loved the world-building and the unique take on shifters and it included all of the things I love from Kim Dare — solid writing, lighter BDSM, and a strong Dom who’s besotted with his sub. Bonus was the whole motorcycle club element. Really looking forward to more in this universe.

Dragon Slayer by Isabella Carter – This book had everything I love. Great characters, UST (unresolved sexual tension), dragons, solid, engaging writing, and a believable arranged/forced marriage romance. Good stuff. (And don’t just take my word for it! It was a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist, so that should tell you something too.) I can’t wait for book 2!

How to Walk Like a Man by Eli Easton – Roman… oh, Roman. I loved him to pieces! I adored How to Howl at the Moon, the first book in this series, but this book was even better. Roman is such a fantastic character and I love the world-building and lore in this universe. So good, and so different!

Sloe Ride by Rhys Ford – Well, what can I say about the magnificent Rhys Ford? She has a way with the written word that truly astounds me and fills me with admiration. I love her Sinners series, and I’d been looking forward to this story since I first read about Quinn and the other Morgans. Fabulous, as always.

Home and Away by Samantha Wayland – I have so much love for this book, and it’s another one that got added to my all-time favorites list. We have a closeted hockey player, a former figure skater, and my beloved jock-meets-nerd type of scenario. Add some UST, a pair of awesomely written kids, and secondary characters I loved, and I had not a single complaint!

Rattlesnake by Kim Fielding – After I read this book, I recommended it far and wide. It was a slow-moving, quiet story, a character study, gorgeously written, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell – I loved this book, and well, I’ve already said it all in my Goodreads review, so check that out if you want to know my reasons. Suffice it to say, if you like your contemporary romance with some grit and lots of sexual intensity, you will enjoy this book. And I loved the sequel, Sunset Park, even more! Yes, I’m a Raymond girl for life. I adored him, and I loved his relationship with David. Their chemistry is off the charts amazing. These guys. Sigh…

Breakaway by Avon Gale – I squeed all over Facebook when I finished this book. It was like sweet balm for my hockey-loving soul. I loved awkward, endearing Lane, and Jared, the other MC, and all the other secondary characters, especially Zoe and Riley. I was so happy when I read the last page I wanted to throw my gloves off and punch someone in the face! (This is the highest compliment I can think to give a fellow hockey fan.) Recommended!

Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton – This was my final read of the year, but undoubtedly one of my favorites. I shed a few tears when I read the last page, but not sad ones. In fact, this story made me incredibly happy, and really, I can’t ask for  more in a book. And, of course, Marie’s writing and characters never disappoint.

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Reawakening (Forever Dead) by Charlotte Stein – Now, I realize most readers who follow this blog might strictly read M/M, but I couldn’t leave this book out of this post because it was just that awesome. In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, June finds herself saved by two very different men and falls in love with them both. This had horror, humor, and everything I’d expect from a zombie romance, along with a couple of damaged heroes and some seriously steamy sex. I mean… I was blown away and I desperately wish we could see more of their story, though the author has no plans to write another story for these three characters. This went on my “to reread” pile the moment I finished it.

And for a non-M/M story that still fits under the GLBTQ umbrella…

Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff –  You would think that this book wouldn’t work for me. It’s a love story, but it’s told in 2nd person POV and you never know the gender of either the protagonist or the love interest. And yet… it was really beautiful.

I think the issue of Kid’s homelessness was glossed over a bit in terms of how difficult that reality would be, but I still appreciated that the author was trying to bring attention to the disproportionate amount of LGBTQ homeless youth out there. It’s said by Kid’s father that Kid “can’t decide to be straight or gay or a boy or a girl,” so I definitely do count Kid as falling under the LGBTQ acronym, even if we never know if Kid’s relationship with Scout is same-sex or otherwise. Some readers complained that not knowing removed their ability to connect with the characters, but that didn’t bother me at all. Maybe because I can relate to gender identity issues and not knowing or not wanting to claim any specific label.

A gorgeous book, and a love song to Brooklyn too.

And those were my favorite reads of 2015! Feel free to leave yours in the comments. You know I’m always looking for my next favorite. 😉

Happy New Year, everyone!

Authors I’m Thankful For: Jordan Castillo Price

While the various authors I’ve pimped over the last few weeks make up only a mere fraction of all my favorites, you know I couldn’t end the month without sharing some JCP love!

PsyCop is one of my favorite book series ever, and Vic is one of my favorite heroes. PsyCop starts with Among the Living, which I could only describe as “perfect” the first time I read it. I’ve subsequently read it another 3 or 4 times. But as much as I adore the PsyCop series, I’d also like to pimp some of Jordan Castillo Price’s lesser known work.

First, there’s Meatworks, which I had the pleasure of beta reading. I knew then that it was one of her best books. It’s different from everything else out there, and it’s not your traditional romance. As I said in my review, JCP defies formulas and breaks molds when it comes to her writing. That’s something I greatly admire.

Then there’s The Starving Years, which I lost my mind over when I read it. It’s set in a dystopian, alternate universe and I’d consider it a thriller with romantic undertones as opposed to a romance. It was well-written, riveting, and left me with a hardcore book hangover. And what makes this book even cooler was that it started as a serial with a “choose your own adventure” type of concept. That’s right, readers had input into this story after every chapter, and it takes mad skill to to pull together a story of this caliber under that kind of pressure.

And of course I can’t leave out The Persistence of Memory, the first book in JCP’s Mnevermind series, set in alternate-reality Madison, Wisconsin. It reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is one of my favorite movies, and the story itself was totally fascinating and once again, unlike anything else I’ve seen in m/m. That’s the great thing about JCP’s stories – while they’re always written with her signature talent and style, you’re always guaranteed a unique, incomparable experience.

And lastly, I must give a little shout out to her stories in the Petit Morts collection. I LOVE a well-written short story. Sometimes I just don’t have the time or energy to invest into something longer. I want short, sweet, and quick. With JCP, you’re also going to get a fantastically written story – and having done numerous shorts myself, I know how difficult it can be to try to craft something of this length. One of my particular favorites from this collection was Wishink Well. But Moolah and Moonshine, Spanish Fly Guy, Pretty Ugly, and Hue, Tint, and Shade all deserve to be mentioned! (Note: IMO, these are best read in order.)

Happy reading, everyone! If you’ve never read JCP before and want to try out some new-to-you authors in 2016, I can give her nothing less than my highest recommendation. ♥

 

 

 

Depression and Writing Struggles

Over the years I’ve occasionally mentioned that I’ve been depressive since childhood. I don’t tend to talk about it much because there’s a certain stigma attached to any kind of mental illness, including depression, which many people think you should just be able to snap out of and brush off your shoulder.

My depression tends to happen in cycles. For weeks, months, I’ll feel… mostly good. Mostly positive. Then my mood takes a sudden downturn, and for weeks, maybe months, I become mired under this dark, crushing weight. But then, usually, the upswing starts. I come out of it and I go back to my normal (for lack of a better term).

A few weeks ago I scared some people when I vanished from most of my social media accounts for a good week or so. I didn’t mean to cause anyone concern, but it was as if my brain suddenly said, “nope,” and I didn’t want anything to do with… well, anything. Apps got deleted from my phone. Emails fell by the wayside.

I’d had a moment not too long before. An “I am not okay” moment, when I realized this depressive cycle felt more like a rapid decline into nothingness. It seemed—and still does seem—impossible to imagine any kind of upswing. But when my thoughts went from dark to potentially dangerous (for myself), I knew I needed to do something.

I sought out a therapist, and after seeing one who sent up about a dozen red flags, I found a different one through GMLA (the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association), who is familiar with dealing with clients who fall on the GLBTQ spectrum. Let me tell you, when I walked into her office and saw rainbow flags, I nearly lost it. After meeting one therapist who was not only lacking in tact, clearly didn’t have a clue how to deal with a client like me, I was so afraid I might have to start making long drives into Chicago to find someone who fit my needs. So far I’ve seen this new lady twice, and it’s hard to say what kind of results this therapy will bring. But at the very least I feel hopeful that maybe with her help I’ll be able to dig myself out of this.

During our first visit, she said to me, “Sometimes I might say something you don’t agree with. I’m human, and I’m not always right. Feel free to tell me to fuck off. Go ahead and say, ‘M, get fucked.’ I promise it won’t offend me. The only way I can figure out what’s working for you is if you tell me when something isn’t.”

With snot and tears flowing, I nodded, and I thought to myself, We’re going to get along great.

So that’s what’s happening with me. To the people who already knew or who reached out to me when I disappeared, thank you for the support. It means more than I can say.

I can’t lie. This post was hard for me to make. In fact, I’m only discussing the situation because literally everything in my life is being affected, and that includes my writing. Even though I wish this wasn’t the case, all of my projects are currently on hiatus. Because, well… if there’s no me, there certainly won’t be any future books either. So I have to focus on getting myself better before the words will start flowing again. I’m hoping that any readers who might have to wait a little longer for the next book in the Portland Pack Chronicles or my other series will understand the delay.

Happy New Year, everyone! Aside from one last “Authors I’m Thankful For” post next week, this will be my last post of 2015. Here’s hoping I’ll be back with a vengeance in 2016. 😉

Authors I’m Thankful For: Kim Dare

Ah, Kim Dare. ♥ She’s been one of my long-time faves since I discovered m/m existed as a genre outside of fanfic. I’ve read nearly everything she’s released, but I definitely have some favorites!

First, there’s Duck!, which tops my list. It’s a retelling of the Ugly Duckling fairytale… but with BDSM and some wicked shifter lore. And sweet, sweet Ori. I love him and Raynard. And I love the next book in the series, Magpie, also and I eagerly look forward to more in this world.

Then there is her Pack Discipline series, which starts with The Mark of an Alpha. That book and The Duty of a Beta are my faves of the series, but I also loved it as a whole. Good stuff, but definitely best read in order.

Axel’s Pup is her most recent all-new release. A motorcycle club and shifters? When I saw the blurb, I said, “Yes, ma’am, sign me up!” It didn’t disappoint.

And there’s Temporary Mark, which I have a major soft spot for. I’ve read that gem about 4-5 times now. (If you’ve read her Bi Now, Gay Later, you’ll recognize cameos by Jerry and Denton. Mr. Nolan, one of the MCs of Temporary Mark, first appeared in that story.) Mr. Nolan lost his long-time submissive a couple of years ago and hasn’t been able to find someone who can fill that void, while Mark can’t seem to find a good Dom who wants to keep him. I loved watching these two guys come together and wouldn’t mind seeing a little follow-up someday.

If you like lighter BDSM, you’d probably enjoy Kim Dare. She writes everything from contemporary to paranormal and has a huge backlist. The Thrown to the Lions series was fun, as was Sun, Sea and Submission, and the Perfect Timing books, and… well, you get the idea. 😉

Check her out!

 

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