holidays

Hallmark Omits "Gay;" Free Gay Excerpt Friday

Hallmark Omits “Gay”

I found this article interesting because I’m finishing up a holiday novel right now that’s part of a new western series set in fictional Glendora Hill, Texas, and I’ve literally been walking on proverbial egg shells in some sections of the book with regard to using the word “Christmas” or “Holidays.” Notice how I used “Holiday” in this post to describe the book. I’m not trying to be too politically correct by any means, but these days it’s hard to tell when you’re making a mistake and whom you’re going to offend unintentionally.

And I don’t for a moment think Hallmark meant to offend anyone by taking the word “Gay” out of a holiday song and replacing it with “Fun.”

Critics took to Twitter and Hallmark’s Facebook page, accusing the company of making a political statement by using the word “fun” to replace “gay.” Some Facebook commenters said they would never again buy Hallmark merchandise and that the change amounted to the company rewriting Christmas classics in the name of political correctness. Others suggested removing the word “gay” demonstrated a homophobic bias.

Hallmark has responded with surprise. They didn’t expect the backlash and the criticism. I get that. CNN still doesn’t understand why no one watches them, and MSNBC is totally baffled that Fox gets higher ratings.

In the same respect, as a gay man I honestly wouldn’t have thought twice if I’d seen a Hallmark sweater with the word “Gay” within the context of the song, “Deck the Halls.”

As for my book, I’ll be using “Christmas” and “Holiday” at different points in the book, and I decided to address the issue of this kind of political correctness with a few short lines in the book. It’s there. We’re all sensitive to it at one point or another. And I figured I would cover the topic lightly and objectively without stopping the story.

You can read more about Hallmark here.

Free Gay Excerpt Friday

I’ve been posting about releasing my back list titles from Loveyoudivine.com lately, and this e-book was originally pubbed with LYD with a pen name, R. Field. At the time, the publisher thought it would be a good idea and I agreed. But when I released it on my own recently I decided there’s no point in using a pen name. It makes no sense to me.

It’s a twenty six thousand word novella, a civil war historical, and there’s a very strong gay sub plot that’s highly emotional. I titled it A Young Widow’s Promise because the main storyline revolves around a Civil War widow who starts doing something very unusual that includes burying dead soldiers in her front yard, and taking in three enemy soldiers from the opposing side. Here’s the full excerpt and this time there’s no need to click to my other web site. You can find the entire book here, here, and here, as a .99 e-book. And…this is from a raw edit because PDF doesn’t convert well to google blogger.

For those who might not trust me, the setting is real.

A Young Widow’s Promise

Felecia Roundtree sat on the edge of her bed in the only white dress she had left since the war had begun. She’d always preferred white because it was simple and easy to care for. She should have been wearing black, but she wasn’t seen often enough to worry about it. Besides, this dress had turned mostly pale gray by then anyway, and the hem was beginning to fray. She’d been meaning to buy fabric to sew a new dress, but it wasn’t on the top of her chore list. It was already after six on a warm, moist Saturday morning in late August and she hadn’t even finished dressing yet.

Felecia was thirty-seven years old but looked more like twenty-seven. Her hair was long and strawberry blond and parted dead center; thick waves fell into points below her shoulders. Each morning, she haphazardly pulled it back and pinned it into a chignon exposing a face so delicate and pointed and looked so much like a handsome fox, old friends sometimes called her Foxy.

Before she started her day, she crossed her legs and hesitated. She rested her chin in the palm of her hand and sighed. Then she pursed her lips and gazed through the open window of her second-floor bedroom, beyond the small, quirky cemetery that surrounded the entire front of her property. This was one of those mornings she still had trouble believing she had a graveyard in front of her house.

She reached for a book on the cherry nightstand alongside the bed, a small black bible with faint traces of what had once been gold lettering embossed on the frayed cover. She didn’t open it. She just placed her right palm on top and said a small prayer for her two young sons who were off fighting somewhere in Virginia. Last she’d heard, they were in Spotsylvania, but she’d never been south of where she lived and new nothing of the places people told her about. But Felicia knew how to pray. And she did this almost every morning, praying the war would end soon and that her blessed boys would return alive and well. She’d lost their father, Joshua, a year earlier in a small battle outside Atlanta. At least that’s what she’d been told, though it wasn’t one of the largely publicized battles that would ever be in the American history books, and she’d never seen the body.

But that didn’t matter, because she saw Joshua at least once every single day. At least she thought she did: she’d been alone for so long, she wasn’t sure about anything anymore. She never mentioned aloud seeing Joshua to anyone; it was her own little secret. Sometimes in the early morning, while pulling her hair back or putting on her shoes, she’d notice him standing in the bedroom doorway in his dark uniform. His hat would be pulled down below his eyebrows; he would be leaning against the frame with arms folded and feet crossed at the ankle. There was always a sly grin on his face as though he knew some dark secret she didn’t. She jerked and blinked the first time it happened. Her heart started to beat so rapidly, she had to grab hold of the bed post to keep from falling down. But the old sparkle in his steel blue eyes calmed her nerves immediately and made her feel whole again. His handsome half-smile slowed her racing heart. And though he never spoke to her, not even a single word, there were times when she thought she heard the faint whistle of an old song she couldn’t quite place.

She hadn’t seen Joshua that morning. She could never predict when he might pop in. But Rusty, a colossal black and red mongrel who wasn’t as mean as he looked, began to bark out in the front yard and Felecia dropped the bible and put on her shoes fast. She reached under the bed for the shotgun. This wasn’t instinct; she was alone. She’d learned to be prepared thanks to the war. Rusty’s bark that morning wasn’t a playful bark like when he was standing at the back door and wanted to go out. This sound was dark and wrecked; a bark-growl combination he only used when strangers approached. Where she lived, she took nothing for granted. Her property was called Locust Point, not far from Finns Point, just north of Salem, New Jersey. Locust Point was on the Delaware River adjacent to Fort Delawareabout ten miles south of Wilmington, Delaware. Fort Delaware, on Pea Patch Island, had been completed in 1859. That’s where they kept confederate prisoners of war. The majority of them had been taken from Gettysburg. And sometimes, though not often, they escaped and swam to New Jersey. She’d seen what some of those desperate, starving men would do to survive. She’d lost her only sister the last time one escaped and the experience had instilled a fear in her that would never go away. The scoundrel had raped, stabbed, and then robbed the last ten dollars the poor soul had in the house. Though Felecia had always been the gentle one in the family, she’d learned hard and fast during wartime that a woman’s best friend was her shotgun.

While old Rusty continued to bark, Felecia ran through the upstairs hall, down the sweeping curved staircase and out the front door. She stopped short at the edge of the stone portico and stood beneath a small gold sign that read “Monkey Jungle.” There was something happening beyond the green lawn with the small white grave markers. Down near the black iron front gates, three gray figures came into view. From what she could see, there were three men in tattered clothing; the one in the middle had his arms wrapped around the two on either side for support. She cocked the shotgun, pressed her index finger to the trigger and shouted, “Get away; nothing here for you. I shoot to kill.” In spite of her shaking hands, she wasn’t joking.

“Wait, please, don’t shoot,” said the one on the right, his voice hollow and low.

“Leave or you’re a dead man,” she said. Her voice remained clear and solid; she stood with her legs braced and spread apart while pointing the gun in their direction.

“There are three of us,” the voice said, “Call off your dog and please help us; we’re wounded and weak. We mean you no harm.”

“I said leave or I’ll kill you all in cold blood,” she shouted, and then fired a shot toward the sky to prove the gun was loaded. She knew the old dog wouldn’t actually harm them. His breathing was short from all the excitement and his eyes grew heavy, as though ready for a nap. Besides, there wasn’t a tooth left in his mouth. But they didn’t know this. “I said leave.” She wasn’t joking.

“I beg of you, madam, please help us or we’ll die anyway,” the blond one on the right said. His voice was higher and friendlier. “We haven’t eaten anything in over a week.”

“You may as well shoot us dead right now and put us out of our misery,” said the dark one on the left, “We’re as good as dead anyway.” His voice had a sharp edge and he sounded more serious, almost indignant. But she had to admit his lack of fear served as an admirable trait, especially in the face of a loaded shotgun.

She was about to fire another shot in their direction when they gently placed the man in the middle down on the dirt road; he rested on his side in a fetal position. The other two then slowly went down on their knees, reached out to the Iron Gate for support and bowed their heads.

And that’s when Felicia’s chest caved in. Had it come to this, she wondered, where there was no one left in the world to trust? Felecia slowly went down the stone stairs, with the shotgun perched and ready to fire, and walked toward the three men for a better look. Though she was terrified and her arms were on the verge of shaking, it occurred to her this was one of those situations you couldn’t judge offhandedly. If they had been planning to rape and pillage her, they wouldn’t have approached the gates with such trepidation. They would have stormed through, taken her by surprise and ravaged whatever they wanted. Or they would have come in through the back way and caught her off guard. She knew there were certain things you could portend with wild men: they didn’t take the time to rationalize anything. Like mad dogs, it was all through instinct, especially when they had been starved for so long.

The fearless man on the right lifted his weary head when she approached the gate. He had a strong nose and chin, with dark hair and large brown eyes that suggested honesty and gentleness at a closer glance. Patches of dark hair covered his young face. “I swear to you, we mean you no harm.” He lifted his arms and spread them wide, palms facing her.

“Where do you come from?” she asked, pointing the gun at his head.

“We’re all from Georgia; we escaped from Fort Delawareand all we want to do is get back home to our families and loved ones,” he said. “All we ask is for a little help. Please have mercy on us.”

“We swam the river,” said the one on the left, “and dragged our friend here the whole way; he’s dying. We haven’t had food or water in days. Please, have mercy on us. We’re begging you.”

The one on the left was fair, with bond hair, blue eyes and full lips. His face was covered with an even, pale fleece that stopped short just below his chin. If Felecia had had a brother, that’s probably what he would have looked like. But it was the way his eyes penetrated hers that sent a shiver down her spine. They weren’t the eyes of a killer or a starved madman; his eyes were those of a man in need.

Felecia creased her brow. “What do you want from me?” She had her own problems.

“Just some food and water, and a little time to rest before we’re on our way home again,” said the man on the right. “Look, we’ve told you the truth. We are escaped prisoners; we could have lied about that. We could have tricked you and made up a story. But we want you to trust us. We have nothing against you.” He shrugged and stretched his arms out so the palms of his hands were exposed.

It occurred to Felecia that she might have become so hardened to pain and death and war that she could have killed them all right there in cold blood and then gone on with her daily chores. She’d never truly known what had happened to her husband or what was happening to her own young sons at that very moment. Why should she care about total strangers? These men were nothing to her. They were the enemy and didn’t deserve to live. But there was something about the piercing expression of the man on the right that made her hesitate. His brown eyes were kind, almost protective, as though she knew instinctively there was nothing to fear when he was around. But more than that, he seemed so familiar, as if he were an old friend she hadn’t seen in years. Yet, she knew she’d never laid eyes on him before.

“We have no weapons or arms,” said the blond man, “We are three weak men begging for your help.”

She had two choices: she could kill them all and be done with it, or she could lower her shotgun and offer to help. She also knew if she helped them, she was committing a crime by taking prisoners of war into her home. And it wasn’t considered ethical or moral. But she couldn’t stop thinking about her own sons and what would happen to them in the same position as the three young men begging for help at her gate.

“You two,” she said, “Carry your friend around the stone wall, to the back where the barn is. There’s a well pump outside and you can rest inside the barn. I’ll bring you food directly.”

“God have mercy on you, madam,” said the dark-haired man, “We will forever be in your debt.”

“I swear,” she said, “if you so much as make one wrong move, you are a dead man. And you have to lay low, because I could get into trouble for doing this. If anyone comes by looking and they find you, I’ll swear I had no idea you were here.”

“If you help us, we will protect you with our lives,” said the blond man.

As the young man with brown eyes stood, she couldn’t help but notice his clothing, still wet from the river, was torn near his upper right thigh: a large horizontal gash that exposed his strong, hairy leg.

He frowned when he realized she was staring at his leg. “Maybe if it’s not too much trouble, you could find us some suitable clothing, too. Anything would do.” Then he tugged at the torn part of his trousers and exposed more of his leg.

She turned away; she hadn’t seen the naked leg of a handsome, young man in quite some time. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Again, thank you,” said the blond man. “It’s our good fortune to come across a woman as kind and young and beautiful as you.”

Was he actually flirting with her? It had been so long since any man had offered her such a warm compliment, she’d forgotten how to react. “I have two grown sons not much younger than you. I’m not that young, sir.”

“I find that hard to believe,” said the man with brown hair. There was a definite edge in his tone that time.

“Enough talk. Get out of plain sight before someone spots you. I’ll be around with some food.”

She placed an iron kettle with last night’s stew on the fire, brewed some strong coffee, and then went upstairs to gather clothing that belonged to her sons. Old clothes they would have used for working outside but clean and dry and certainly far superior to the rags the men were wearing. She also gathered some bandages in case the men had wounds. Then she wrapped a loaf of day-old Sally Lunn bread in a red and white checkered cloth and placed all the rescue items in a rickety, old cart she used to haul firewood in the winter. While she pulled the cart across the property toward the barn, with her dog at her side and the shotgun in her right hand, she couldn’t believe she was actually helping confederate soldiers. If anyone in town saw her, they’d swear she’d lost her senses.

As Felecia approached the barn, she noticed the dark haired man was washing up at the well pump, only wearing the gray pants with the torn thigh. His body was so thin and emaciated, she could see the outline and definition of every muscle in his naked torso. He wasn’t totally smooth. A sheer fleece covered his chest that was the same color as his raven hair, with a thin line pointing down toward his waist that probably continued well below his naval.

She stared down at her shoes. “I have food and bandages for your friend,” she said, unable to look him in the eye. “And clean clothes…I’ll bring them inside.”

“Thank you. My name is Calvin.”

“I don’t need to know your name; you won’t be here that long,” she said, taking a quick glimpse of his lean, naked torso.

Inside the barn, the weakest of the three men had been placed on a bed of stacked hay. He appeared to be the youngest; no more than nineteen. His face was the same color gray of the clothes he wore, and he had dark circles beneath his eyes. His thick hair was the color of a rusted iron buggy wheel, with dark auburn waves that framed his ashen face as though they’d been painted there in oils. It struck her, with a sharp pull in the stomach, as odd that someone so young and innocent would be fighting a war.

“Where is he injured?” Felecia asked the blond man. He was kneeling beside his friend, trying to wake him from a deep sleep.

“His leg,” he said, “He was shot a month ago, and then snagged it on a rock while we were swimming the river. He’s the reason we escaped; they would have let him die. We would have died too. They don’t feed the prisoners of war…there are men there who weigh less than 80 pounds…walking skeletons with sheer flesh on bone.”

They didn’t have to tell Felecia about the conditions at Fort Delaware; her hands were raw and her back would ache for the rest of her life because of those conditions. Unfortunately, no one else knew about what was happening over there, and there was a good chance no one would ever know what had happened once the war was over. She’d learned the hard way that historians often failed to record what they don’t want to recall. History is often repeated in ways that will protect both the guilty and the innocent. And there were no experts who could prove of disprove certain forgotten historical facts no matter how hard they tried or how much they thought they knew. Just the other day she’d read something about how well the prisoners were being treated in Fort Delaware. But Felecia knew better.

“Get him out of those filthy clothes,” she said, “I’ll be right back with my sewing kit and some whiskey. It’s already infected from the original wound, but it should be stitched up again.” She had heard the stories of what went on with the prisoners of war, but she didn’t want to hear them first hand from an actual prisoner. There were some things she’d rather not know. Until now, she never thought she’d have to either.

Felecia ran back to the house, noticing from the corner of her eye that Calvin had unbuttoned his pants and was washing his private parts. He turned as she passed, abruptly clutching himself between the legs. His face turned red with chagrin; he looked the other way. She kept walking toward the house. But it was too late. She’d already seen his hands moving around in his pants. She’d seen him lift up his thick manhood and gaze down at it. And those big, strong hands of his, fumbling to make sure everything was clean and fresh. A sad feeling passed through her entire body; a sharp pain tugged her stomach again. This was probably the first time he’d washed himself in ages. And even this wasn’t very civilized.

When she returned to the barn, Calvin and the blond man were just about to remove the injured one’s pants. He began to stir, waving his pathetically weak arms in the air as though moving in slow motion, wondering why people were taking off his clothes. Clearly, he was delirious, beyond pain.

“Just relax, Johnson,” said Calvin. “You’ve been injured and this nice lady is going to help us.” He spoke with a patient, friendly voice.

Felecia leaned over Johnson’s naked body; there was a huge gash, still bleeding, above his right knee. “One of you hold his arms and the other hold his legs still. I’m going to have to stitch this up.” Living so far out, with the county doctor miles away in Salem, she’d learned to fend for herself when it came to simple medical procedures.

First, they gave him a long swig of the whiskey to kill the pain, and then Calvin grabbed his legs while the blond grabbed his arms, and they poured whiskey on the wound. Felecia wasted no time threading the needle, pouring more fresh whiskey on the open wound and cleaning it thoroughly with a white rag. But the poor thing was so weak, he barely flinched a muscle when she began sewing the wound up. By then, his eyes were rolling back, and he was mumbling nonsensical names of people no one knew.

Felecia worked fast. And when the wound was all stitched, as she was about to cut the thread, something very odd happened. As Johnson drifted off to sleep, snoring louder than anyone she’d ever heard, an erection began to shape between his legs. Not just a semi-erection; a long, wide stick that stood from his body in a perfect angle. Calvin quickly tossed a white towel over the harmless appendage, which only made it look as though he’d just pitched a tent over the middle of the young man’s body. Had this happened under any other circumstances, Felecia would have been appalled and chased them all off her property. But the young man had been severely wounded and seemed so filled with excruciating pain, she couldn’t do anything but stare in amazement. For such a thing to happen didn’t make any sense at all to Felicia. With all that pain and everything that had happened to him, she would have thought that would have been the last thing on his mind.

The blond man lifted one eyebrow and shook his head back and forth. “We should have warned her about this, but at least we know he’s going to be okay.”

“I didn’t think of it,” Calvin said. He covered his lips with his hand to hide a naughty grin.

“What are you two fools talking about?” Felecia asked. She started to wring her hands; she was losing patience. She had a feeling they were laughing at her now. And if there was one thing she wouldn’t abide, it was being mocked. Not after all she’d been through.

Calvin frowned. “This is not a topic for a lady, but I suppose we should explain. Johnson has this problem, you see. It seems that whenever he sleeps he grows and stays that way the whole time he’s sleeping. He has little control over it.”

“Oh dear,” said Felecia, not sure how to react. Were they joking with her? “Let’s just keep it, ah him, covered then, shall we.” She turned and took a deep breath.

“Oh yes,” Calvin said, glancing toward the blond, “By the way, this is Robert.”

Felecia almost formed a smile; Calvin had a dangerous gleam in his eye. “I’m Felecia. Now you all eat something and get some rest. I’ll come out later to check on you. I have chores to do, and don’t try anything strange because my dog will be with me and so will my gun.” She decided to add this just in case they couldn’t be trusted. A woman alone couldn’t be too careful.