Gracious Living Magazine Says It Has to Be a Live Tree by Killian B. Brewer: Determined to make his first Christmas with his new boyfriend magazine-perfect, Marcus seeks the advice of lovable busy bodies, the Do-Nothings Club. When he learns that his boyfriend, Hank, may have ordered a ring, Marcus’ attempts to transform his home into a winter wonderland get out of hand. Featuring the characters from Lunch With the Do-Nothings at the Tammy Dinette.
Killian B. Brewer lives in his life-long home of Georgia with his partner and their dog. He has written poetry and short fiction since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Brewer earned a BA in English and does not use this degree in his job in the banking industry. He has a love of greasy diner food that borders on obsessive. Lunch with the Do-Nothings at the Tammy Dinette was published in January, 2017. His debut novel, The Rules of Ever After, is available from Duet Books, the young adult imprint of Interlude Press.
True North by Pene Henson: Shay Allen returns to her hometown in Montana for the holidays with her best friend Devon with the intent to return home to L.A. by New Year’s Eve. Instead, the weather traps them in the small town, but the there’s a bright spot: her old crush Milla is still in town.
Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the city’s LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time enjoying the outdoors and gazing at the ocean with her gorgeous wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. Her first novel Into the Blue (Interlude Press, 2016) received a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance. Her second novel, Storm Season, was published by Interlude Press in 2017.
Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grille by Erin Finnegan: As the one-year anniversary of his lover’s death rolls around on Christmas, Jack Volarde finds himself at their old haunt—a bar called the Casa Blanca, where a new bartender helps him open up about loss, and see brightness in a future that had grown dim.
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and a winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. Her novel Luchador was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016, and along with her 2014 debut novel, Sotto Voce, received both a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year award and a PW starred review.
Halfway Home by Lilah Suzanne: Avery Puckett has begun to wonder if her life has become joyless. One night, fate intervenes in the form of a scraggly dog shivering and alone in a parking lot. Avery takes him to a nearby shelter called Halfway Home where she meets bright and beautiful Grace, who is determined to save the world one stray at a time.
Lilah Suzanne has been writing actively since the sixth grade, when a literary magazine published her essay about an uncle who lost his life to AIDS. A freelance writer from North Carolina, she spends most of her time behind a computer screen, but on the rare occasion she ventures outside she enjoys museums, libraries, live concerts, and quiet walks in the woods. Lilah is the author of the Interlude Press books Spice, Pivot and Slip, and the Amazon bestselling Spotlight series: Broken Records, Burning Tracks and Blended Notes.
Shelved by Lynn Charles: When library clerk Karina Ness meets a new patron, lonely business owner, Wesley Lloyd, she puts her own love life on hold and begins a holiday matchmaking mission to connect Wes with her uncle Tony.
Lynn Charles’ love of writing dates to her childhood, when thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and joys poured onto the pages of journals and diaries. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and adult children where a blind dog and his guardian cat rule the roost. When she’s not writing, Lynn can be found planning a trip to New York or strolling its streets daydreaming about retirement. Her novel Black Dust (2016) was named a finalist for a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year award. Her other novels include Beneath the Stars (2017) and Chef’s Table (2014).
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SUGAR AND SPICE
LYNN CHARLES, author of Shelved, from If the Fates Allow
As we approach the holidays our thoughts often turn to food. More specifically, sweet food. Baked goods full of sugar and spice and… well, our doctors might question the idea of “everything nice.” Take a holiday, throw a family or group of loved ones together and you will most likely find not only food, but food that is as much a part of the tradition as the holiday itself.
And that is where the similarities of holidays typically ends. Every culture, every family celebrates with their own embraced collection of special treats. What’s common in one place—stollen in Germany—is less so in Italy where panettone and ricciarelli—a gluten free almond cookie—are more common. Ride or die fruit bread lovers blend with sugar cookie traditionalists. It’s even better when cultures cross and you try new things and add them to your own celebrations. Or you try them and have to reluctantly tell your friend, waiting for your reply on how delicious stollen is to sadly find that you did not, as much as you appreciated the gesture, enjoy the dry bread loaded with dried fruit and overly sweet powdered sugar icing. Not that I know that experience personally. Not at all.
In my family, cookies are king. I’m sure some of what we consider traditional to us are borrowed from elsewhere. In fact, I know it—one of my favorites are what we called snowballs. What were they really? Mexican wedding cookies. Mom also made chocolate crinkles, sugar cookies, peanut blossoms and seven-layer bars. When it was my turn to make holiday goodies, I took some of Mom’s, added in one of my mother-in-law’s specialties—meringue drops—and found a few specialties of my own. For years, my kids, husband and I would spend an evening decorating the gingerbread cookies I’d baked that afternoon. We’d ice them to look like celebrities or favorite fictional characters, but after a few years, I realized no one was really eating them. It was the decorating that made them fun. Now, it is required I make marshmallows for my daughter, peanut blossoms for my son and shortbread—his father’s favorite—for my husband.
In my short story, “Shelved,” part of the holiday anthology If the Fates Allow, our curmudgeonly barber’s family holiday treat is pasticciotti. Tony makes it every year and shares it with his own found family in town. They are so good, his niece Karina—our narrator—counts these treats as one of her uncle’s best qualities when trying to hook him up with her new friend at the county library:
“And he makes the most amazing pasticciotti that should never go unshared.”
“It’s these custard-filled pastry… pie… things, and they take forever and a day, and he destroys his kitchen and my waistline. He shoves them off on his clients because—”
Because really—what else is there to say once you’ve announced the man you’re trying to promote makes miniature custard pies? And with Karina and her Uncle Tony, his Italian desserts are a familiar part of the holiday. So familiar the day to bake them brings her to his apartment with the comfort of walking in unannounced, of tossing a scarf on a chair. But this year, the year we meet them in the story, their tradition changes. Not in the treat—pasticciotti are there to stay—but in the company.
And really, isn’t that what makes the holidays rich? Traditions ground us, but they also mix and blend and morph over time to fit into the new families we make and love.
What are some of your holiday dessert traditions? I’d love to hear them. And come visit me at lynncharles.net for my own personal experience with pasticciotti… and maybe a recipe.
He put the car in drive, cranked up the heat, and grinned. “Point the way!”
She chewed on her bottom lip as she gathered the courage to mention the daydreams that had kept her mind occupied that afternoon. “I’ve been thinking,” she said. She kept her eyes on the road ahead in case her next sentence flopped like a basket of rotten tomatoes. “You might like my Uncle Tony.”
Wes remained quiet; his finger, softly tapping to the music, never paused. “Huh. What’s so special about Uncle Tony?”
Karina dared a glance Wes’s way. He seemed cautiously interested. “Well, he’s… I mean, he’s—” She was not going to say Uncle Tony’s interest in men was the main impetus. That was absurd and wrong, but— “He was married to my Aunt Jodi.”
“Your Aunt Jodi.” Wes pulled up to a traffic light. “If he was married to your aunt—what makes you think he’d be interested in me?”
Karina rolled her eyes. “There are such things as bisexuals, you know.”
“I—I do know, yes. I’m sorry.” He looked at her with a pained smile. “I’m so out of the dating game that I—yes.” He continued to tap his steering wheel to the music. “You said ‘was’ married—is that why it’s past tense?”
“Yeah. He didn’t come to terms with it until later and… she wasn’t keen on the idea.”
“That’s a shame,” he said. “Thing is, I’m not too sure I’m keen on getting back in the dating game.”
“But it’s Christmas!”
“What does that have to do with—” Before taking off from the light, he shot a look at her. “Your love bomb and your Christmas spirit are still tangled.”
She ignored him; of course they were tangled. That was the point. “But, Wes… walks in the snow and packages with pretty bows and eggnog under the tree.”
“You know, some people like being alone at Christmas.”
“Oh, come on. No one likes it; they put up with it. You said you were my age when—look, it was a long time ago, and maybe it’s time—”
“How old do you think I am?”
“You’re forty-six. Turn right up here.”
“Huh. Someone did more than fix my résumé, I see.” The smile he’d been visibly fighting this entire conversation finally broke free.
“Look, Uncle Tony is lonely, and you seem—”
“Well. Yes? And I think he’d make you laugh, and he loved James and the Giant Peach as a kid too…” She lingered and hoped that revelation would spark the ultimate flame. When he didn’t flinch, she rushed on. “And he makes the most amazing pasticiotti that should never go unshared.”
“It’s these custard-filled pastry… pie… things, and they take forever and a day, and he destroys his kitchen and my waistline. He shoves them off on his clients because—” She stopped rambling. Wes was laughing, and they’d driven right by her house. She directed him around the block.
“Does Uncle Tony know you’re trying to hook him up with a failed businessman?”
Lynn Charles is an author of queer contemporary romance novels. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and daughter where a blind dog and his guardian cat rule the roost. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music education, worked at her county library, and absolutely never judged you for what books you checked out. Her novels Chef’s Table (2014), Black Dust (2016)—a finalist for the Foreword Review Indie Award in Romance, and Beneath the Stars (2017), can be found at Interlude Press and most online book retailers. Keep up with Lynn at lynncharles.net.