Title: Heart of Clay & Chance at Trust
Author Name: Lee Brazil & Haven Fallows
Publication Date: April 1 & April 7
Heart of Clay:
The ghost at the heart of the problem…
Clayton Merk, accomplished, yet arrogant, businessman, has a reputation for one-night stands and being steadfastly anti-relationship. When he decides to return home—to the root of all his problems—he brings a co-worker with him as a buffer against the past. Even though he’s ready to lay old ghosts to rest, he certainly didn’t expect a literal ghost to lend a hand.
Brad Jorgensen, Clay’s former best friend, has also clung to the past in an unhealthy way. He resents Clay for a lot of things, not the least of which is his cousin’s death decades earlier. At one time they’d been closer than brothers, but blame and anger are powerful weapons of destruction, and they’ve left Brad in a wasteland of self-doubt, hatred, and loneliness.
The ghost at the heart of the problem has had enough. Bobby isn’t pleased with his cousin or his ex. Their refusal to let go of the past has kept him on a plane where he doesn’t belong and isn’t at home. He’s expended all his energy trying to get through to Brad, without success, but Clay’s return finally gives him a foot in the door…or out the door.
If he could just get the two stubborn men together.
Chance at Trust
The strength to walk away from an abusive long-term relationship proves Em is a survivor. But surviving isn’t necessarily living, and Em has created a life on a plateau of his own making, not even entertaining the idea of a new boyfriend. When he shows interest in a very sexy barista, his best friend sees a chance to open Em’s eyes to the possibilities in life.
Penn couldn’t help his double and triple take when the sexy man walked into his mother’s coffee shop. Priding himself on always remaining calm and collected in all situations, Penn is surprised by the strength of his attraction for this stranger. When the stranger’s loud-mouthed friend proposes a way for Penn to see Em again, he takes it.
While Em comes with baggage—his eyes tell a story of pain and distrust—Penn isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, especially when his heart is so quickly getting tied up in the equation, and he’s prepared to break through Em’s walls and give him a chance to trust.
One of my favorite themes to read about is forgiveness/reconciliation. I loved how that played out in the story, with both men stubbornly refusing to give in. Although this was a genuine ghost story (Brad’s cousin/Clay’s ex is the ghost), I thought that blended nicely with the long-held secrets between Brad and Clay.
For such a short story, this made a big impression on me for taking the metaphor of “haunted by the past” into the literal. This is one that will stick with me.
I enjoyed reading it, but I think this would have worked a little better if it had been longer. It was hard to grasp why Penn was so bent on “rescuing” Em so soon after they’d met. Still, it was cute and heartwarming, and just the right length for an afternoon read.
Heart of Clay:
Seeing Clay there, sitting in the tall grass on the bench where they—he and his cousin Bobby—had first discovered him all those years earlier, sent Brad right over the edge. He’d been poised on that precipice all day, since he’d heard the rumors down at the gas station that not only had Clayton Merk come back to town to visit his grandparents at long last, but he’d brought a boyfriend with him.
Millie Atwatter seemed to take a great deal of venomous pleasure in sharing that little detail, even going so far as to describe the poor unfortunate soul—in her own words—though he couldn’t argue with that assessment.
Anyone who loved Clay Merk was destined for misfortune.
His grip tightened on the hedge trimmers he’d planned to use to cut back low hanging branches of the old tree. If he didn’t make some effort with the ancient tree, this whole corner of his field would be full of rotting peaches half the summer. It was therapeutic when nostalgia overcame him to come down here and trim back the new growth. Usually he spent the time pretending that every twig he snipped was Clayton Merk’s neck…
Brad Jorgenson counseled teens against violence, against acting on the spur of the moment, but it was all he could do not to swing at the man with the heavy clippers.
“You still holding a grudge, Brad? I earned that slot as valedictorian. Not my fault you bombed the chem two final.”
The flippant, deliberate obfuscation was too much. As if having a GPA of one one hundredth of one percent less than this man fifteen years ago were the worst of the things that lay between them? If he were honest, seeing Clay was too much. He flung the clippers aside and launched himself over the fence, lunging to knock Clay off the bench. He couldn’t even claim he acted in the heat of the moment. “Fuck you!”
And still…after all these years Clay was capable of making him do things, say things he normally wouldn’t!
His momentum carried them both over the back of the bench and into the tall grass, and Brad let his anger loose, the slow burning ember that had emerged from the ashes of his soul where he thought he’d buried it long ago.
Rolling and wrestling was tricky though, when Clay didn’t even bother to fight back. Eventually, his supposed opponent’s inertia sank through and Brad realized what he’d done. “I don’t give a damn about who graduated first in our class.” He lurched upright, propelling himself backward, glaring down at Clay, who pushed himself up on his elbows. “And that’s not what’s kept you from coming back here all these years either.”
A sneer twisted Clay’s full lips, “You think you kept me from coming back? Maybe you think I was afraid?
You don’t know me, where I’ve been or what I’ve done. I had reason not to come around here, and it had nothing to do with you.”
The tiny kernel of truth in the barrage of lies stung. “Everyone in town knows what you’ve done and where you’ve gone, Clay.” And it wasn’t prison, which was where the majority of them thought he should have gone. “Your grandparents told us all of it. And I never presumed that your absence had anything to do with me, just as I knew your presence had nothing to do with me.”
His heart rate was slowing, cold sweat dampened his T-shirt. And with the fading of the heat, came the tangle of other emotions, disappointment, sorrow, grief. And lust, to his shame, reared its ugly head now as it had so long ago.
Clay Merk was even more sissified city boy now than he had been when he’d come out here all those years ago. His polo shirt had some kind of logo embroidered on it, but it stretched across broad shoulders and clung to thick muscles quite nicely, as did the knife-creased khaki shorts. He knew from their brief tussle that Clay was a little softer in the middle than he’d been as a high school athlete, but not enough to make him unattractive, not enough to counteract the effects of those deep blue eyes and that oh-so-tempting, lushly curved lower lip, damn it.
“You’re holding my grandparents’ gossip against me?” Clay sounded callous, scathing. “Well, the gossip goes two ways, you know.”
Chance at Trust
Em looked up and didn’t see Joss or the barista, Penn, anywhere. A pretty black-haired girl with streaks of platinum white running through her thick locks now manned the open cash register. Boy, that was just perfect. Even if Em didn’t plan to trust a man again—ever, which meant no relationship with a sexy as hell barista—it would’ve been nice to at least not look like a complete ass. But god, that was the first man in forever to make his body stand up and take notice. The dull throb in his jeans proved his erection didn’t give a damn that he acted the moron, it just wanted a shot to climb that mountain.
He sighed to himself. A long time ago he made peace with the fact that he’d be single the remainder of his life. After his abusive relationship with David ended two years ago, he knew that was it. Taking solace in the fact that he never loved David and hadn’t suffered from physical abuse didn’t alleviate the pain he’d incurred on a regular Though physical abuse was horrible in and of itself, Em could attest that mental and verbal abuse could cripple a person just as surely as a destructive blow to one’s head…the only difference was that you didn’t have a pretty scar to prove to the nonbelievers that it ever happened.
Yeah, he faced the doubters when he first escaped from David’s clutches. There were no visible scars and no trips to the emergency room photographed and documented in a neat little manila folder somewhere—so he wasn’t really abused, right? Most people thought it probably just resided in his mind—he was too sensitive or touchy to deal with David’s strong personality.
Em snorted when he remembered how one therapist actually used air quotes when mentioning David’s “strong” personality. That was when he gave up on therapy altogether.
It didn’t matter that every time someone raised their voice around Em, he shuddered and flinched, or when someone looked at him funny, the first thought that would pop into his head was that they were making jokes about him, talking about him behind his back, laughing at the worthless being he was.
Who cared that he muttered apologies left and right for things that weren’t his fault? He’d been conditioned to immediately appease anyone he might’ve offended. It all came second nature to him. He didn’t even realize when he would do it.
But most people would say those scars weren’t real. They didn’t matter.
But they mattered to Em. They were real to him. They were debilitating in his everyday life. And that was why he would never allow another man close to his heart again. He built up some good sturdy walls and he stayed safely locked behind them. No one would ever be in a position to hurt him again…because if you didn’t allow yourself to feel then the hurt couldn’t reach you.
Can you describe in detail what your writing environment is like?
Havan: Um…not much to describe – I have a table in my bedroom and normally the door is closed and there is silence. Unlike some *hip bumps Lee* I can’t write with music or distractions so well.
Lee: Well, I’m sitting there right now, so… let’s see. The refrigerator is droning on behind me like it might give up the fight any minute now. The window two inches away is shut, because wasps flew through it the other day and I’m too busy to deal with any critters tonight. My “desk” is an antique table that was in the SO’s family for years. I’ve got an eclectic collection of recipe books, some Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine, Zen in the Art of Writing), Richard Lederer (Crazy English), a volume of Robert Frost’s poetry all tucked off in one corner. And a nice blank white wall that I’m considering painting a tranquil green over the summer. Oh… and I’m working on a desktop computer with a printer jammed in the corner.
Is there one of your characters that you relate to (from any of your works)? Why?
Havan: I relate to all of them up to a point. Am I like any of them completely? No, absolutely not and thank goodness in some instances…but yeah, a little piece of me is in all of them.
Lee: I think that’s probably correct. I think there must be a little of me in each of my characters. After all, they are shaped as much by my own experience as by research.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do instead?
Havan: Well, I was an administrative assistant…guess I’d still be doing that.
Lee: I’ve been asked this before, and I don’t remember what I said. But at this exact moment? If I weren’t an author I think I’d be a beach bum. I am really craving sunshine and sand:)
Is there anything that you learned during the writing process that you wish you had known before hand?
Havan: Lots of things…and with each book I learn something new. The most important thing is to remember that edits and beta feedback are not an attack on you and your writing. If your beta readers and editor take their time to read the book and give you feedback it means they care about you as a writer and just want you to put your best out there for others. 🙂
Lee: Tons. And What Havan said. Exactly that.
Is there anything that you wish you could change about your book now that it is out?
Havan: I can’t answer that until I’ve got the other 2 parts out…but so far so good.
Lee: Not really. This is the story of Clay and Brad. It’s been through vigorous editing, beta-ing and so on. Ask me again in three months, and I might have a different answer, but right now, I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
How do you come up with new ideas for your story?
Havan: No idea…they just happen. A cute guy walks by with a limp…there’s a story there. My sis calls me on the phone and talks about the annoying UPS man…there’s a story there. I listen to the radio in a pumped up mood and a song I hate comes on and suddenly I’m listening to it a different way…there’s a story there.
Lee: Well, usually inspiration hits me while I’m driving. Or showering. Or sleeping. You know. Places where you can’t really write it down? I find a lot of inspiration in music, like Tom Petty and David Bowie.
What’s next for you as a writer?
Havan: I’m wrapping up on my edits for my 2nd book in the Pulp Friction 2015 series, Stud Player, while working on the next book in my Chance at Life trilogy, Chance at Love.
Lee: I’m halfway through with a story called Urbex, an m/m contemporary, and outlining the next Story Orgy story – no title yet, but its about a superhero.
Do you have any vices? Shoes, coffee, shopping…etc?
Havan: Coffee is a must…and I have a strange addiction to hair ties/clips/barrettes and dare I say scrunchies…lol
Lee: Bite your tongue! Coffee is the blood of life. Vice indeed. Um… let’s see… binge watching seasons of Top Chef – even though I’ve seen them all dozens of times already; tequila… hmmm *wanders off to pour margarita*
Somewhere in a small town in up-state New York are a librarian and a second grade teacher to whom I owe my life. That might be a touch dramatic, but it’s nevertheless one hundred percent true. Because they taught me the joy of reading, of escaping into worlds crafted of words.
Have you ever been nine years old and sure of nothing so much as that you don’t belong? Looked at the world from behind glasses, and wondered why you don’t fit?
Someone hands you a book, and then you turn the page and see… There you are, running from Injun Joe in a dark graveyard; there you are fencing with Athos; there you are…beneath the deep blue sea- marveling at exotic creatures with Captain Nemo.
I found myself between the pages of books, and that is why I write now. It’s why I taught English and literature for so many years, and it’s why my house contains more pounds of books than furniture. If I’d had my way, I’d have been a fencer…or a starship captain, or a lawyer, or a detective solving crimes. But instead, I am a writer, and I’ve come to realize that’s the best thing in the world to be, because as a writer, I can be all those things and more.
If I hadn’t learned to value the stories between the pages, who knows what would have happened? Certainly not college…teaching…or writing.
I annoy, love, respect, scare, seduce, hurt, anger, infatuate, frustrate, flatter, envy, amuse and tolerate everyone. I just do it better in writing thanks to a little thing called…edits.
Okay no, seriously…I’m a simpleminded person who enjoys the escape from real life through a book. I write with the group Story Orgy and hope to continue doing so for a long time. I also am privileged to be with the Pulp Friction writers, creating intermingling books in a world all our own.
I recently took the drastic step of quitting my EDJ (evil day job) and am now living in the gorgeous desert in Arizona making a go at this writing stuff full time…and I can’t see me regretting this decision ever.
Just like every other red-blooded human—I get a little bouncy when I get mail (any kind too…email, comments, private messages…you wanna do it, do it with me *winks*). So feel free to drop me a line—whether it’s on my blog, twitter, Pinterest, or you track me down on Facebook or Google +…it’s easy to catch someone who wants to be caught.