A second chance at first love—if he has the courage to take it.
Alex can’t think of himself as anything but a failure. In high school, he was on the fast track to a career in pro football when he forged an unlikely friendship with a half-Comanche boy from the wrong part of town, Ricky Lee Jennings. Their shared love of books could have grown into more—but a homophobic teammate attacked Ricky Lee, and Alex wouldn’t risk his scholarship to defend him. Ricky Lee was kicked out of school, and Alex never heard from him again.
Now Alex’s glory days are nothing but a memory. An injury ended his football aspirations, his marriage fell apart, and his dreams of making a difference as an environmental lobbyist are as dead as his fantasies of sports stardom.
But all that could change in one magical night, when Ricky Lee shows up at their high-school reunion.
Translations usually happen after a book is published, but Bad to the Bone was actually available in French before it releases tomorrow in English.
When Dreamspinner Press offered me a chance to attend this year’s Livre Paris, the international book fair that takes place in Paris every spring, there was just one problem. The salon du livre was taking place March 16-18, and based on the Dreamspun Desires schedule, which couldn’t be changed, Bad to the Bone wasn’t going to release until May 15.
“No problem,” Ariel Tachna—the head of Dreamspinner’s translation department, who (full disclosure) also happens to be my sometime coauthor—said. “We can have the translation ready in time for the salon. We’re doing it for several other titles too. We’ll offer attendees the chance to get the book signed by the author two months before its official release!”
And so it happened. As the book went through translation, however, another situation arose. Dreamspinner’s French translation coordinator, Jade Baiser, pointed out that the literal translation of the title—Mauvais jusqu’à la moëlle—has a much meaner connotation in French than it does in English.
According to Dictionary.com, “bad to the bone can mean rebellious in an exciting, attractive way as well as irredeemably bad” and mentions the 1982 George Thorogood song as an example. You can read about it here. (Do you have the song running through your head now like I do? If not, listen to this great live version. You’re welcome for the earworm.)
According to Ariel and Jade, the term in French has a much more negative connotation, more like rotten to the core, completely without the sexy, wrong-side-of-the-tracks nuance it has in English. They were worried it could potentially keep readers from picking up the book. So after some discussion, we agree to title the French translation Ricky Lee est de retour, which translates to “Ricky Lee has returned” or “Ricky Lee comes back.”
Livre Paris is an incredible experience. French readers in general, and m/m fans in particular, are passionate! It was raining the night the fair opened, and people were lined up outside the exhibition center and down the street, waiting patiently with bags and backpacks and suitcases (and umbrellas!) to hold all the books they’d buy. So many people stopped by the Dreamspinner booth to talk about their favorite books and meet the dozen attending authors. This year the Dreamspinner booth and those of the three large French LGBTQ publishers were all placed together, creating a happy queer fiction neighborhood.
So those fans who preordered Ricky Lee est de retour or bought it at the salon got to meet Ricky Lee and Alex months before everyone else. They seem to like them, based on the reviews from the French m/m Facebook groups I’ve joined (thank heaven for Google Translate!) Now it’s your chance, and I hope you enjoy reading about them in Bad to the Bone as much as I did writing about them.
Meeting Sam for breakfast had become a morning routine since she joined the Freeland police force. Today, as Alex walked from Morrison Hardware to the Danish Coffee Pot, he scanned the street in both directions but didn’t see any sign of the motorcycle from yesterday afternoon. He wasn’t sure which emotion was stronger, disappointment or relief.
Sam was already seated at their usual booth when he entered the diner. As always, the smells of cinnamon and bacon greeted him, along with a wave and a cheery smile from Brigit, the restaurant’s owner. A cup of coffee sat on the table waiting for him as he slid into the blue vinyl bench seat across from Sam.
“I thought you might need some morning courage,” Sam said. “You looked pretty stunned yesterday when I left.”
Alex took a grateful sip of the strong black brew. He hadn’t slept well the night before as he grappled with eleven-year-old memories. “Surprised, not stunned. I’d given u—I hadn’t expected to see Ricky Lee back in town again, that’s all.”
Brigit bustled over to take their orders—Danish fruit pancakes for Sam and one of the restaurant’s signature cinnamon rolls for Alex.
“Wonder what brought him back now.” Sam smiled a thanks to Brigit for topping off her coffee cup, pausing until the older woman had moved on to the next table. “He didn’t even come home when Old Man Jennings died.”
“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t consider Freeland ‘home’ anymore,” Alex said. “His relationship with his father was always pretty strained after his mother passed away.” Which was part of what had drawn Ricky Lee and Alex together, but Alex tried to push those memories away, with as little success as the night before.
“Yeah, having the town drunk for a father couldn’t have been easy. I pulled Billy Joe in more than a time or two for public intoxication or DUI myself before he passed.”
“Not to mention being half Comanche, living on the wrong side of town, losing his mother when he was barely thirteen, and coming out as gay his freshman year of high school. You remember what it was like for him, Sam. High school was a tough enough time even if you were part of the ‘popular’ crowd. Ricky Lee was looked down on and bullied for things he had no control over.”
“You always stood up for him, Alex. That’s something I’ve always admired you for.”
Fortunately Brigit arrived at that moment with a tray piled with food, sparing Alex from Sam’s scrutiny as guilt washed through him. He’d failed to stand up for Ricky Lee when it counted most, and he’d regretted it all the years since. By the time Sam looked up from the plates of thin, crisp-edged pancakes, hash browns, and bacon arranged in front of her, Alex had his expression under control. He hoped.
“Besides, Ricky Lee got into plenty of trouble on his own,” Sam said after taking the first bite of her berry-topped pancakes. “Chief Cowart had me pull up his juvenile records, and he must have been brought in half a dozen times at least.”
“And never convicted of anything,” Alex protested. In his opinion, Chief Cowart had made up his mind that Ricky Lee was as no-good as his father and taken every opportunity to try to prove it. “He never started any of the fights at school. He had the right to defend himself.”
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
You can find Nicki on her Facebook page.