Announcing Lovesong: The Podcast

Kirt Graves and I are proud to present TJ Klune’s Lovesong: The Podcast, a six episode event available now for free for all podcast apps.

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Episodes 1 and 2: Kirt Grave’s narration of the short story Lovesong, set after the novel Ravensong

Episode 3: Kirt interviews Derrick McClain, narrator of How to Be a Normal Person and Olive Juice

Episode 4: Kirt interviews Michael Lesley, narrator of the At First Sight and Tales From Verania series

Episode 5: Kirt interviews Greg Tremblay, narrator of the upcoming The Bones Beneath My Skin

Episode 6: Kirt interviews author TJ Klune



The Bones Beneath My Skin: The First Chapter

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made my sales pitch to you, the reader. I’ve told you what went into The Bones Beneath My Skin, how crazy it is, how it turned out to be the most hopeful thing I’ve written. I believe in the good in people, and even though things can seem dark these days, I have hope that we’ll find our way through.

This story contains my hopes for the future, and what we can all achieve if we work together.

Instead of trying to tell you more about the hows and the whys, I’ve decided this last post before the book releases on October 26 will be to show you what lays ahead. I am so pleased to present to you the entire first chapter of the The Bones Beneath My Skin.

It’s time to let the story speak for itself.

tj

Pre-order:

Amazon: https://goo.gl/a5DsfC

(*Note: Paperbacks will be available *exclusively* from Amazon, and will go up for sale starting October 22nd)

B&N: https://goo.gl/k5XmLH

Kobo: https://goo.gl/WpmcUn

Smashwords: https://goo.gl/bYb716

iBooks: https://goo.gl/FZc2Dk

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chapter one

He sang along with the radio.

Something about taking a sad song and making it better.

After, he laughed until he could barely breathe.

 

 

He crossed into Douglas County just before another song ended. There was a news break at the top of the hour, every hour.

A singer named Selena had been shot at a hotel in Texas. He’d never heard of her before.

TAROM Flight 371, leaving Bucharest and heading for Brussels, crashed shortly after takeoff. All sixty people on board died. An investigation was underway. Terrorism was not suspected at the moment.

The comet discovered last year, Markham-Tripp, was getting closer. Already it could be seen if you knew where to look, but no worries, folks. It’s going to swing right by us before heading back out into the great beyond.

And there was still no official word on the helicopter that went down outside of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Northern California last week. The cause was still under investigation, though it was implied it was related to that big storm that blew through the area. Officials weren’t saying if there were any fatalities.

And now for the weather. It’s gonna be a beautiful day, would you look at all that sunshine, can you just believe it?

It was March 31, 1995.

He continued south.

 

 

The air outside grew cooler the farther he went into the mountains. The sun warmed the hand he hung out the window. The blue sky stretched on and on. There were clouds, but only a few.

Nice day, he thought. Of course it is. That’s the way things go.

He hit the town in late afternoon. There was a sign, old and faded. It’d been there since he was a kid and his parents had taken him up to the cabin for a few weeks during the summer. It said:

 

Roseland, Oregon

Pop. 827 Established 1851

Elevation 2345 ft.

Gateway to the Cascades!

 

He passed by a diner. A church. Shops on either side. Some of them were open. The town wouldn’t hit tourist season for another month or two, but they’d be ready. People driving up from the bigger cities looking for an escape from the heat and grind would spend their money, take their photos, and then disappear back from where they came.

The air was filled with the scents of pine needles and earth. It was like he was ten years old again and his mom and dad were still in love, love, love. They would laugh and sing along with the radio. They would play road games. I Spy. Twenty questions. The license plate game where you’d try and get all fifty states. He’d learned early on that that was impossible. The most he’d ever gotten was seven. That had been a good day. One had been Maine, an impossibly faraway place.

He saw the sign for the gas station before the gas station itself. It spun lazily, but not before he caught the words BIG EDDIE’S GAS AND CONVENIENCE. He breathed a sigh of relief. It was good to see that some things remained the same. Even after everything.

He pulled in, the tires of the truck hitting the thin black cord. A bell dinged somewhere inside the station as he stopped next to the pump. He turned off the truck, listening as the engine ticked.

He ran a hand over his face before opening the door, setting his feet on the ground. He stretched his back, hearing it pop. He was only twenty-seven years old, but gone were the days when he could sit in a car for hours without a problem. His muscles pulled. It felt good.

The glass door to the gas station swung open and a large man walked out, wiping his hands on a rag. If it wasn’t for the smile on his face, the man would have been alarming. He’d never seen anyone that size anywhere else. Must have been the mountain air.

“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” Big Eddie Green said, his voice a deep timbre. “Nate Cartwright, as I live and breathe.”

Nate forced a smile onto his face. “Big Eddie. Good to see you’re still running this dump.”

“You watch your mouth,” Big Eddie said, but he was still smiling, his teeth a little crooked but endearingly so. He held out a large hand streaked with a bit of oil. Nate didn’t mind. He held out his own. Big Eddie’s grip was firm, but he wasn’t trying to be an asshole about it. He wasn’t like that, at least not that Nate knew. He hadn’t seen Big Eddie since he’d turned twenty-one, the last time he’d been up to the cabin. And it wasn’t like they were friends, though Big Eddie could make friends with just about anybody he set his mind to. There was something about the way he smiled that put Nate at ease. It was familiar, this. Heartbreakingly so.

“Heading up the mountain?” Big Eddie was already moving to the pump. “Unleaded okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Nate said, leaning against the truck. He glanced inside the gas station window. There was a kid inside bent over the counter, scribbling furiously on something, his tongue stuck out between his teeth like he was concentrating really hard. “Jesus, is that Benji?”

Big Eddie laughed. “Yeah,” he said, and Nate could hear the fondness in his voice, rough and sweet. “Sprouting up like a weed. His ma and me can barely keep up with him. More than a handful. Crazy, right?”

“It is,” Nate said because he was supposed to agree with it. That was how conversation worked. That was how people talked to each other. He wasn’t so good at that. And now that he was running away to the middle of nowhere, he didn’t think he’d get much more practice at it than this.

The gas pump hummed.

Big Eddie whistled as he looked in the bed of the truck. “Quite a few supplies you got back here. Planning a long stay?”

Nate shrugged. “A while, anyway.”

The smile softened. “Real sorry to hear about your folks. That… well. I don’t know much else to say beyond that. Must have been tough. I can’t imagine what that’s like, so I won’t insult you by pretending to.”

Nate wasn’t sure what to say to that. Tough, sure. Oh yeah, it’d been tough. Murder-suicides usually were. His father had come to his mother’s house, feeling hurt and ornery like he usually did when he drank. There’d been a fight. Neighbors said they heard shouting but thought it was the TV or just a regular old domestic that they couldn’t find the wherewithal to get involved in. Nate didn’t blame them, especially when his father had gone out to the very truck Big Eddie and Nate were leaning against, grabbed his shotgun, hoofed it back inside, and blown his ex-wife away before turning it on himself.

It’s hard to do, the detective had told him, sounding soft and worn. Committing suicide by shotgun. But Nate’s father had found a way. Sat in a chair, propped it between his legs. The barrel had gone under his chin, and he’d used his big toe, of all things, to pull the trigger. It’d been a mess.

At least Nate assumed it had been. He hadn’t been inside his mother’s house after. His brother had taken care of all that. There are services, his brother told him over the phone. It was the first time he’d spoken to his brother in years. They come in and clean up crime scenes. They charge you out the ass, but they take care of what they can. They can’t get it all, of course, but that’s what contractors are for. They’d fix up the house before it got put up for sale.

And later, they’d spoken one more time. Dad left you the truck, his brother said. Mom left you the cabin.

Oh was all he could say. Oh.

What he’d wanted to say was how could this have happened? How did it get this far? Sure they’d had their problems—they were divorced, for fuck’s sake. But his father had never raised a fist. Not to anyone. He hadn’t been the nicest guy, but he’d never hit them. Or her. Not once. That wasn’t who he was.

“Yeah,” Nate said to Big Eddie. “Tough.”

Big Eddie nodded. “You get the water turned on?”

“Called a couple of days ago. They’re supposed to come tomorrow. Generator will take care of the rest. Shouldn’t be too cold. Not for long.”

“Oh yeah. Snow’s gone. Mild winter this year. Christmas was sixty degrees, if you can believe that. I take it you’ll want me to fill the gas canisters you got back here.”

“If you could.”

“Will do, Nate. You been up there since—”

“No.”

Big Eddie nodded slowly as he lifted the empty canisters out of the truck. “Your ma was out here. Last September, I think. Brought one of her girlfriends. Josie? Is that right? Josie?”

“Joy.”

“That’s right. Joy. They were cackling like a pair of old hens. Stayed up there for a couple of weeks. Didn’t see them when they came back down. Your ma was happy, Nate. In case you needed to know.”

“Thanks,” Nate managed to say because wasn’t that the consolation he was looking for. She’d been happy. She’d been laughing. He hadn’t heard from her in years, but hey, she’d been having the time of her life. Fucking good for her. “That’s… nice. Thanks.”

“She talked about you, you know,” Big Eddie said like it was nothing, like they were shooting the shit. “Said you were big-time. Living in Washington, DC. Reporter or something.”

“Journalist,” Nate corrected by force of habit.

Big Eddie took the pump from the truck and put it down into one of the canisters. “Journalist. That’s right. A journalist. Working for the Post. She seemed awfully proud of that.”

Nate wanted to laugh. He wanted to scream. He wanted to smash his hands against the truck and demand Big Eddie shut the fuck up about things he didn’t know about. Sure, maybe his mother had been proud, maybe she’d been talking out her ass, but what gave her the right? She’d done nothing when his father had told him to get the fuck out, that he wouldn’t have a fucking faggot for a son. She hadn’t spoken a goddamn word in his defense while his father had shouted that he’d get fucking faggot cancer like all those other queers. She’d done nothing when he’d looked at her, begging for her to say something, anything. Her eyes had been wide and shocked, her bottom lip quivering. But she’d stayed silent, so she’d stayed complicit.

They’d been standing in the doorway to the cabin, hadn’t they? They weren’t even supposed to be up there. They’d already told him they were getting a divorce months before, so the fact that they were together at all was confounding. He’d been frantically trying to cover himself and his boyfriend at the time, their skin slick with sweat, his heart racing. He’d felt ashamed for reasons he couldn’t quite understand. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was an adult. He was allowed to be in the cabin with whomever he wished, but he’d felt bad at the look of disgust on his father’s face, at the way his mother’s eyes were wet. He’d felt awful.

He and the guy left after that. Hastily, overnight bags stuffed but not zipped up. His parents hadn’t even looked up at him from where they sat at the kitchen table. He’d forgotten one of his hiking boots. It’d been sent to him in the mail two months later. No note, no return address, but he’d known it’d come from his mother.

He’d thrown it away.

The boyfriend hadn’t lasted long after that day. Another couple of weeks. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t serious. A distraction, that’s all it’d been.

He’d gotten the cabin.

He’d gotten the truck.

That was fine. They were dead, and he’d gotten two things that were essentially useless to him.

Maybe he’d burn them both. He had time now that he didn’t have a job.

How wonderful for her that she’d been proud. How fucking grand.

“Great,” he said, voice even. “I’m glad to hear that.”

Big Eddie hummed under his breath. The first canister filled up, and he moved to the second one. “You got a phone hooked up there?”

Nate shook his head.

“Got a cell phone?”

He did. “Why?”

“Give you my number. In case you need something. You being up there all by yourself, things could happen, Nate. Just being cautious is all.”

“Doubt it’d work up there.” His service was already spotty as it was, being this far into the mountains. It probably wouldn’t work at all by the time he got to the cabin.

“Still. Better to be safe than sorry.”

Right. Nate went back around to the driver’s side door. The phone was sitting on the bench seat, a red Nokia, the screen cracked down the middle from where he’d dropped it on a sidewalk while trying to juggle a couple of coffees. Big Eddie spouted off his number, and Nate dutifully typed it in, saving it under EDDIE.

Big Eddie hoisted the gas cans back into the bed of the truck before he wiped his hands on the rag he stashed in his pocket. He glanced at the pump, then said, “That’ll be $36.50, unless you need anything else from inside. Last stop before all that nothing.”

Nate shook his head, pulling his wallet out and finding his debit card, something he’d only gotten a few months ago. They were new, and it boggled his mind a little how much easier it was than cash or a check.

Big Eddie grinned at him again. “Be right back.”

Nate watched him go.

The sun was low in the west. It’d be dark in another couple of hours, and he was itching to get back on the road. He had another hour to go, the last half of which was on bumpy dirt roads that weren’t great to navigate in the dark. He should have gotten an earlier start, but his hangover was harsh this morning, his tongue thick in a mouth that felt stuffed with cotton. Even now he had remnants of a headache, the last little gasps of something that had dug deep into his brain for most of the morning.

Big Eddie was inside the gas station, saying something to his son. Nate watched as he ran a hand over Benji’s head. Benji knocked it away, and Big Eddie chuckled. He said something else, and Benji glanced out the window. Nate gave a little wave. The kid waved back, his arm thin, his whole body shaking. Big Eddie laughed over his shoulder as he came back out and didn’t see his son scowling at his back.

“Math,” Big Eddie said as he approached. “It’s not going so well.”

“Sucks,” Nate said. “Never understood that much myself.”

Big Eddie handed him his card and receipt. “He doesn’t get why he needs it if he’s going to be running the station. I told him he needs to set his sights a bit higher than Roseland. He wasn’t too happy about that.”

“Sometimes you need to let them do what they think is right.” Nate instantly regretted the words.

“Yeah.” Big Eddie rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose. I just—it’s being a parent, I guess. You want the best for your kids, to see them spread their wings and fly. He’s going to do great things, I think. One day. I just don’t know if he can do them here.” He shrugged. “You’ll know one day. When you got kids of your own.”

That wasn’t going to happen. Nate didn’t have the patience for kids. He didn’t like them, and they didn’t like him. It wasn’t in the cards. But he said “Sure” because that’s what he was supposed to say.

“I better let you get on, then,” Big Eddie said. “I know you’ve still got a ways to go. I could stand out here jawing all day. That’s what the wife says. And her sisters. And Benji. And most of the town.”

Nate bet he could. Big Eddie was just the type—friendly and open. Nate wasn’t like that. Not at all. He put his wallet back in his pocket. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

Big Eddie shook his hand again. It was a little tighter this time, like he was trying to tell Nate something without actually saying the words. “You need anything, you give me a holler, you hear? Those supplies won’t last you forever. You need something, let me know, and we can meet halfway. Save you a bit of a trip.”

“You don’t have to—”

“Nate, just take it for what it is. Kindness. Sometimes people need it, even if they don’t know how to ask for it.”

Looking away, Nate cleared his throat. “Thanks. I will.” He turned for his truck.

Before he pulled out, he glanced back into the gas station. Big Eddie was bent over the counter next to his son, frowning down at the paper. Benji was doing the same. It was strange how obvious it was they were related. Like father, like son.

Nate pulled out and left Roseland behind.

 

 

There was a sign, barely visible behind a gnarl of greenery, trees and bushes growing wild. If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t even see it, or the turnoff. Nate almost passed it by accident, distracted by a deer moving off in the trees to the left. He hit the brakes a little sharper than he meant to, the seat belt digging into his hips. The tires squealed against the pavement, and he looked in the rearview mirror to make sure he hadn’t just pulled that asshole move in front of another car.

There wasn’t one. He hadn’t seen another vehicle since he’d left Roseland.

HERSCHEL LAKE, the sign said. 15 MILES.

An arrow pointed toward a dirt road.

He sat there on the road, in the middle of the forest in the mountains, for far longer than he should have.

And then he hit the blinker and turned the truck onto the dirt road.

 

 

It was smoother than he expected, which meant Big Eddie had been right about the mild winter. If it’d been normal, there would have still been snow on the ground. It wasn’t surprising to see spring snowstorms come ripping through, the air different than the winter squalls. It always felt more electric in the spring, the snow falling on blooming flowers, the reds and violets almost shocking against the white.

But it was easier this way. He hadn’t thought to put chains on the truck’s tires when he’d set out from Eugene after meeting with the estate attorney. He’d flown in from DC. The attorney had picked him up from the airport, given that his brother had been busy. Or so he’d said. Nate knew better, and he could tell the attorney wanted to ask questions (whywhywhy), but somehow, he’d minded his own business. He’d been balding and talkative, saying how sorry he was about Nate’s parents in one breath, and then talking about the Trailblazers in the next.

“Didn’t see you at the funeral,” he’d said at one point.

“Don’t expect you did,” Nate had replied, staring out the window.

“No money,” the attorney said later. “People always want to know how much money they’re getting. Just be up front with you about that now. Everything went to your brother’s family. His kids. College ain’t cheap.”

He didn’t want their money.

He didn’t even want the cabin or the truck.

But he’d taken them anyway because there was nothing else left for him.

“Sign here,” the attorney had said. “Sign here, initial here, and here, and here, and would you look at that, you’re the proud owner of a 1974 Ford F100 and a cabin on four acres in the middle of nowhere. Congrats. Shelly, would you make copies for Mr. Cartwright.”

His secretary had popped her gum loudly and done exactly that.

He’d been given keys. Front door. Back door. Shed. Two for the truck.

He’d been given copies of all the paperwork.

He’d been shown the door.

“Let me know if you need anything,” the attorney had said, both of them knowing this would be the last time they’d ever speak to each other.

The truck had been sitting in the parking lot, dropped off by his brother a couple of days before.

It was white with green trim. The tires looked a little bald. There was a gun rack against the rear window, the same one that had held the shotgun his father had used on his mother and then on himself. Nate had stood in that strip mall parking lot, staring at the gun rack for a long time.

He’d stayed in Eugene for a few days, making phone calls from the room he’d rented at the Motel 6. Calling for the water to be turned on. Paying for a few more months at the storage locker back in DC. His mail was forwarded to a PO box that he could check monthly.

And just like that, Nate Cartwright’s life was all wrapped up in a neat little bow.

He’d stayed one more night in the Motel 6, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the trucks out on the highway passing by at three in the morning.

The next morning, he’d been at Walmart as soon as it’d opened, buying everything he needed to stay away for a long while. He hadn’t even winced at the amount he’d spent when it was read to him. It didn’t matter.

He hit a pothole.

The truck’s frame shuddered.

He slowed. He didn’t want to get a flat tire this far up in the mountains. He didn’t have a spare.

Herschel Lake had once been a popular tourist destination in the fifties and sixties. Where there’d once only been a handful of cabins, there suddenly were dozens. Vacation rentals, second homes, all set far enough away from each other to feel just out of sight from the rest of the world, Herschel Lake and the forest around it would echo with people on picnics or kids in the lake, jumping off docks or rope swings.

It’d fallen off in the late seventies, the company that owned most of the cabins going under. Things had fallen apart. The BLM had come in and purchased most of the land, but nothing had been done with the rental cabins. They’d been left to rot.

Nate’s parents had come up in 1980. They’d fallen in love with the area and found a cabin for sale, farther away from all the others. An elderly man was being moved into a retirement home by his kids, and they wanted the cabin sold. A couple of months later, the Cartwrights had a cabin in the woods.

He’d been thirteen the first time he’d come to Herschel Lake.

The quiet had scared him.

He’d gotten used to it after the first week.

Going home after had always seemed so loud.

It’s what he wanted now. Quiet. Room to think. To figure shit out. He needed to decide what was going to happen next.

His first glimpse of the lake came twenty minutes later, a flash of sun on the water. He blinked away the afterimages that burned in his eyes.

He thought about stopping. About taking off his old pair of Chucks and putting his feet in the water. It’d be cold. The lake was fed from streams that came from farther up the mountains. The air was already considerably cooler than it’d been even in Roseland. Maybe it would shock him. Cause his brain to reboot.

But the sun was getting lower, and the sky was starting to streak. He wanted to make it to the cabin by dark. He still needed to get to the other side of the lake.

He drove on.

 

 

The first stars had appeared overhead by the time he reached the long driveway to the cabin. He’d turned on the truck’s headlights ten minutes before, the thick trees blocking out much of the dying sun. He’d rolled up the window too, telling himself the chill on his skin had only to do with the mountain air.

He used the signal again as he turned onto the road to the cabin. Force of habit. There was no one else out here.

The driveway was a little rougher than the main road. The truck rattled and groaned. The beam cast by his headlights jumped, bouncing through the trees. He kept the speed low, listening to his meager belongings bounce around the bed of the truck, the gas canisters scraping loudly.

And there, as it had been fourteen years ago when he’d first laid eyes on it, was the cabin.

It wasn’t anything grand. Single story. A small porch. Two bedrooms, one slightly larger than the other. Two bathrooms, both of which had showers where the water was either scalding or ice. A perfunctory kitchen with a stove and an ancient refrigerator. A living room with a couch his mother had insisted upon, saying they weren’t going to live like savages out in the middle of the woods, could you imagine? And that had been an ordeal, having that thing tied down to the back of the truck with bungee cords, bringing it up the mountain only to find it didn’t fit through the front door. There’d been a moment of panic, his parents getting those looks on their faces, the ones that said someone was going to start yelling, but then Nate’s brother had pointed out the rear doorway was larger, and they’d made it work. A cushion had torn and the paneling around the doorway chipped, but they’d finally made it in, all of them laughing, sweat dripping down their faces.

Nate’s favorite part of the cabin, however, had been the books.

The cabin had been sold as is. The elderly man’s children had taken everything of sentimental value but had left other things that Nate couldn’t believe. The head of a deer—an eight-point buck—mounted on the wall in the living room, its eyes shiny and black. (“Take it down,” his mother demanded almost immediately.) Dozens of cans of Spam. (“I don’t think it ever expires,” his father muttered, squinting at the pantry.) Two packs of cigarettes, both opened and missing a few. (“Don’t tell Mom,” his older brother warned. “I’m going to smoke the shit out of these.”)

And the books. So many books.

They lined the old set of shelves on the far wall in the living room. Hundreds of them, most of them Westerns by Louis L’Amour (The Burning Hills and High Lonesome and Hanging Woman Creek and Under the Sweetwater Rim). There were a few books he’d barely gotten to look at before his mother had snatched them away from him (Teacher’s Pet and Perversity and Anything Goes), the women on the covers half-dressed and posed salaciously, the covers promising to tell the story of how Judy stayed after class and earned her diploma through special tutoring or how a love-starved temptress gave in to her insatiable desires. Those books were gone quickly.

But the rest were fair game. And his summers became Westerns, frontier stories of cowboys and Indians and red plateaus under the scorching sun. He’d take a book or two and disappear into the trees for the day, eating blackberries for lunch, his fingers and lips a tacky purple, the pages stained by the time he headed back toward the cabin.

He’d been happy here. He’d been free.

And maybe that’s why he was here again. Maybe that’s why he’d come back. Nate Cartwright hadn’t been happy in a long time. Things had been simpler when he’d been thirteen or fourteen or fifteen years old, his body changing, zits on his forehead, voice cracking, hair sprouting in places where it hadn’t before. He’d been an awkward kid, all gangly arms and legs, perpetually pushing his glasses back up his nose. His brother had bitched and moaned about being away from his friends and girlfriend again, his parents were already checked out mentally, but Nate had just grabbed the books and gone away for hours, sitting at the base of a tree, sometimes reading, sometimes pretending he was a settler on the frontier, that he was in the wilds, the cabin he’d built somewhere behind him, and he was alone, truly alone, just the way he liked it.

Maybe that’s why he’d come back here. To be alone.

It wasn’t because he was trying to find some last connection with the two people who had cut him out of their lives. Of course not. He’d gotten over that a while ago. The fact that they’d left him the cabin and the truck hadn’t meant a damn thing. Maybe their guilt had gotten the better of them. It didn’t matter. Not now. Not anymore.

The cabin was dark.

He was exhausted.

If his mother had been here in September, it wouldn’t be too bad inside. He’d open a couple of windows to air it out, maybe wipe down the thin layer of dust that had settled. But it wouldn’t be much. For that, he was thankful.

He turned off the truck. The headlights went dark.

The stars blinked above as he opened the door.

The sky was red and pink and orange.

The surface of the lake looked as if it were on fire.

He heard birds in the trees, the lap of waves against the shore.

He stepped out of the truck.

Gravel crunched under his feet.

The door creaked as he closed it behind him, the sound echoing slightly.

He went to the back of the truck and grabbed his duffel bag. In the side pocket was a flashlight that he’d put there earlier after his shopping spree. He clicked the button on the side, and the beam flashed on. He shined it in the bed of the truck until he found one of the canisters Big Eddie had filled for him. He reached in and grabbed it too, shirt lifting slightly, a line of thin skin pressing against the cold metal of the truck. He shivered as he pulled the canister out of the truck.

He walked toward the cabin, trying hard not to think about the last time he’d been here. The guy had been sucking on his neck as they stumbled toward the porch, one hand in Nate’s back pocket, the other under his shirt and rubbing against the hair on his chest. He’d always been on the lean side, but at twenty-one, he’d been making daily trips to the gym. He’d been harder then, more defined. His dark hair had been newly cut, tight against his skull. He’d been groaning at the teeth sinking into his neck, the tongue dragging along his skin. They’d lost most of their clothes as soon as they got inside, the guy on his knees, Nate’s pants around his ankles, his cock being swallowed down into wet heat as he leaned against the door, head back and eyes closed.

His parents had shown up unexpectedly two days later.

“Give me the key,” his father had snapped, eyes blazing. “Give me the key, and don’t let me catch you here again.”

He was a shadow now. Thinner, his hair shaggy. His shoulders were a little bony, sharp. He was softer, too. He hadn’t had time for the gym like he’d had before. It’d all been cups of coffee and sitting in front of a computer, working the phones or shouting questions at some senator who tried to walk as fast as he could, a thin smile fixed on his face as if thinking that affair he’d had or the money he’d embezzled would just fade away if he ignored the kid demanding to know why, an electronic recorder held toward his face, cameras flashing again and again.

Nate had caught his reflection in a store window not that long ago and wondered who the man staring back at him was. The man with the sharp cheekbones, slightly sunken cheeks. The man whose blue eyes looked faded and cold. The man sporting three-day-old stubble on his face that made him look dirty and tired. The man with the wrinkled shirt and purple lines under his eyes and no job because he’d fucked up big-time and did something he never thought he was capable of, and here he was, a useless degree and six years on the street beat, chasing down stories that didn’t matter while daydreaming of breaking something wide open, a scandal that would rock the city to its very core. He had Pulitzer dreams on a lower-middle-class salary that barely kept him afloat in a city that bled red, white, and blue, oozing in time with the beat of a diseased heart.

It had been killing him.

So yeah. His brother had called him again. He’d been spinning his wheels. He’d heard cabin and truck and thought why the fuck not. He had some savings, enough to get by for a little while. He broke his lease on his tiny apartment, packed up his shit and sent most of it to storage, and headed west.

Best damn idea he’d had in a long time.

He’d figure things out. He’d take a few days, clear his head, and then he’d sit down and figure things out. He always did. He was good at it when he allowed himself to be.

He walked to the side of the cabin, heading toward the back where the generator sat inside a small storage shed. He fumbled with the keys, the flashlight slipping slightly, the beam pointing at his feet. The gas canister sloshed against his leg. His footsteps were soft in the grass.

He found the key he needed for the shed, thankfully marked S in the tape that wrapped around the top. There was FD for front door, BD for the back. There was one marked BH for boathouse, the wooden structure next to the dock on the lake. They’d never had a boat and had ended up only using it for storage. He’d have to take time to clean it out later. To see what had been left behind.

The shed was—

He stopped.

The metal of the gas canister’s handle dug into the skin of his folded fingers.

The padlock hung open on the shed door.

The door was open slightly. Just a sliver, really.

That wasn’t—

He shook his head.

It was fine. His mother had forgotten to latch it all the way when she’d been here last. An honest mistake. Hopefully nothing had happened to the generator in the interim. The winter had been mild, but there had been snow. And rain.

He went to the shed door, setting the canister in the grass.

He reached, and just to be sure, he closed the padlock. It clicked. Locked. He slid the key into the keyhole and turned it. The padlock popped open.

Honest mistake. She probably had been distracted. Maybe Joy had been calling for her and she just hadn’t slid it closed before turning back toward the cabin.

Except when he opened the shed door, he was hit with a wave of warm air. As if the generator had been running. Recently.

He frowned.

He stepped inside the shed. Reached out and touched the generator. The metal was hot to the touch. Not a fluke.

Had she left it on this whole time?

But that couldn’t be right. Even if she had, it would have run out of gas months ago. Even with all the lights off in the cabin. It wouldn’t have—

There was the unmistakable click of a gun being cocked.

Something hard pressed against the back of his head, digging into his scalp.

A voice said, “You’re going to set the flashlight on the ground. And then you’re going to bring your hands up slowly. Lace your fingers on the back of your neck. If you try anything, if you reach for something I cannot see, or if you don’t do exactly as I’ve said, I will put a bullet in your head. Without question.”

Everything felt sharp around Nate. His vision narrowed. His heart thumped wildly in his chest. There was blood rushing in his ears. His mind was utterly blank, bathed in a sheet of white.

He’d been mugged once. In Bethesda, down in the Metro. There’d been a small knife and a look of desperation on the man’s face, eyes darting back and forth. He’d demanded Nate’s wallet. “Now,” he’d chanted. “Now, now, now, man, I swear, you need to move, give it to me now.”

It’d felt the same. There was fear, sure, and it was causing his muscles to freeze, his brain shorting out with what felt like an audible pop. The knife hadn’t been anything to sneeze at, a pigsticker with a sharp blade, and somehow—somehow—Nate had managed to hand over his wallet. The man had snatched it from his hand and taken off.

People had kept walking around him as if nothing had happened.

He’d stood there for a long time.

Eventually he’d moved. He’d found a Metro cop and filed a report. “Probably won’t ever see it again,” the cop had told him. “It’s a pain in the ass, but just cancel your cards and get a new license. It won’t ever turn up.”

He’d done exactly that.

His wallet had never been found.

It’d been leather, a gift. Nothing extravagant. And he’d had twenty bucks in it. But that was all.

But for months after, every time he’d gone down into the Metro, he’d kept an eye out. He didn’t know what he’d do if he found the guy again, if he saw him on the train. Confront him? Say, hey, remember when you held a knife to my stomach and took away my sense of security?

Of course he’d never seen the guy again. It’s not how those things happened.

But it was that same fear. Like he was outside of himself. He felt separate. Mechanical. He knew it was cold, but he didn’t feel it anymore. He knew the inside of the shed was warm, but that was a thing of the past.

Now it was only the gun against his head.

The deep, hoarse voice at his back.

He bent slowly, the press of the gun barrel never leaving his head. He dropped his flashlight. It bounced on the floor of the shed with a wooden thunk.

He stood again, moving as though he were underwater. He brought his hands back up behind his head as he’d been told, the keys pressing against his neck.

They were taken from him before he could lock his fingers.

They jangled somewhere behind him.

The gun barrel never wavered.

He gripped the back of his neck tightly.

He said, “I don’t have much money. My wallet is in my back right pocket. You can have whatever’s in it.”

“You have anything else on you?” the voice asked again.

“No.”

“Who do you work for?”

And that—that was not a question he was expecting. He couldn’t process it. He didn’t understand. He said, “I don’t work for anyone.”

“Bullshit,” the man growled, sounding angrier. “Are you alone? Who else is with you?”

“No one.”

“Who knows you’re here?”

He blinked rapidly. “Uh—Big Eddie. From the gas station in Roseland. My brother probably.” He swallowed thickly. “The attorney who gave me the keys. That’s it.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You asked who—”

“You came from the Mountain?”

“I drove up the mountain, yes. It’s how I got here.”

“You’re lying. How did you find us?”

“I didn’t find anyone.” He was starting to sound a little hysterical. He couldn’t help it. His throat was starting to close, and panic was clawing at his chest. “My parents died and left me the cabin, and I drove up here to get away, okay? That’s all. That’s it. I had nothing else, and this is it. This fucking cabin. That goddamn truck. It’s all I have left and—”

Another voice. This time female and younger. “I think he’s telling the truth.”

The barrel pulled away slightly. “I told you to stay inside the house.”

Nate closed his eyes.

“I know,” the girl said, and Christ, she sounded so young. “But here I am anyway.”

“He’s lying.” The barrel was back. “What did I tell you about this?”

The girl sighed. “That there’s no such thing as coincidence. Everything happens for a reason.”

The man coughed. It sounded painful. “And now he’s here.”

“Maybe he’s meant to be. Maybe he’s—”

“Don’t.”

“You’re still hurt. You should be resting.”

“I told you, I’m fine. We need to figure out who he’s working for. They could be—”

“Is he going to piss himself?” The girl sounded far too curious. “Isn’t that what happens when you get really scared? I read in a book that you can lose control of your bowels and—”

“Art. Get. Inside. Now.”

“No. I won’t leave you. You promised.”

The man made a noise that sounded pained. “God. I know. Okay? I know I promised, but we can’t take chances. There’s no such thing as coincidence. If he’s here, then it’s for a reason. And we need to—”

“She’s right,” Nate heard himself say. “I’m not lying. I swear, I’m not—”

The gun barrel was back. “Don’t you talk to her,” the man snarled. “Don’t you ever talk to her. Tell me how you found us. Tell me who else is coming.”

“No one,” Nate croaked. “There’s no one. This is my parents’ cabin. They’re dead. This is my only home now. I can’t—”

The gun barrel fell away.

Nate heard the man step back away from him.

He gulped in a deep breath. It hurt his throat.

“Keep your hands where they are,” the man said. “And turn around slowly. I will shoot you if you don’t do what I say.”

Nate almost laughed hysterically.

Instead, he turned.

There in the dark was a man with a very large gun pointed in his direction. The man himself had short black hair that was almost a buzz cut and dark eyes that watched every move Nate made. He was older, lines around his narrowed eyes and mouth. He had stubble across his cheeks and jaw. His skin was pale, and his hand was shaking slightly. He had an arm wrapped around his waist, a big hand holding on to his side. He wore jeans and an open flannel shirt. Nate could see the skin and hair on his chest and stomach, and what looked to be a thick bandage on the man’s side.

And next to him was a little girl.

She wasn’t scared. Not like the man whose leg she stood next to, a hand wrapped in the hem of his shirt. She wasn’t angry like he was either. Instead she looked merely curious. Her hair was blonde and pulled back into a loose ponytail, with escaped tendrils hanging around her ears. She had big eyes and a little upturned nose. She wore a shirt that had a Care Bear on it. It swallowed her small frame.

The man was large. He had a few inches on Nate. He seemed almost as wide as he was tall. He dwarfed the little girl, the top of her head barely coming past his waist.

“Howdy, partner,” the girl said. “My name is Artemis Darth Vader. It’s nice to meet you, I reckon.”

“Art,” the man growled down at her.

“You said I have to act normal, Alex,” the girl said, staring up at the man. “Normal people introduce themselves. I read that in a book.”

“What the fuck,” Nate said faintly.

“I also told you that you need to not talk to strangers,” the man—Alex?—snapped at her. The aim of the gun went off to the left. He looked as if he was swaying.

“He’s not a stranger,” the girl said, suddenly looking down. “His name is Nathaniel Cartwright. He lives in Washington, DC.”

“How the hell did you—is that my wallet?”

She glanced back up at him. “Yes. This is your wallet. Very astute.”

“How did you—” He hadn’t even felt her take it.

“You said we could have it. Oh boy. You were right. There’s not much money in here. That’s too bad. I like money. It smells weird.”

“Art!” the man barked again. “Get inside the house. Now.”

And then, just because Nate’s night couldn’t get any stranger, the man’s eyes rolled back up in his head and he collapsed to the ground.

The gun fell from his hand.

“I told him not to push it,” the girl who’d introduced herself as Artemis Darth Vader said. “He needs to listen to me more.” She looked up at Nate. “Nathaniel Cartwright of Washington, DC. I’d sure appreciate it, hoss, if you could mosey on over here and help a fellow cowpoke out. Need to get this guy into the cabin over yonder.”

Nate did the only thing he could.

He passed out too.

Bones: Humor, Action, and the Tensest Scene I've Ever Written

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I know humor. I do. I can write funny like nothing else. (Though, to be fair, some people will disagree with that; can’t please everyone). Even in my darker works, I like moments of levity. It helps to keep the weight of the story from collapsing completely. Even the Immemorial Year series, arguably my darkest work, had moments of light courtesy of a certain robot and a mutt named Bad Dog.

But I, as the author, have to be careful with humor, especially in the heavier moments. You don’t want to run the risk of ruining an angst-filled moment with some dumb joke. (Thank god for my editors.)

Humor plays a part in The Bones Beneath My Skin much like it does in, say, Wolfsong/Ravensong. It’s not the absolute focus, but there are the lighter moments.

That isn’t to say Bones is a dark book; it’s really not. Yes, there is angst, but it stems from the we’re enemies at first but now we’re something else while also getting shot at trope I played with. It certainly doesn’t help (hurt?) that Alex is a bit of an asshole. He has his reasons (Artemis Darth Vader, namely), but even he learns to crack a smile at some point (though he’ll never admit to it). I’ve said before that this story is one about hope, and I didn’t want to take anything away from that with unnecessary contrived angst.

Humor is easy. Angst is too.

Action….not so much. Action scenes, much like sex scenes, need to be choreographed and the writing crisp and clear so the reader knows exactly what’s happening. If it’s not, it turns muddled and can only distract through confusion. (How did Character A get the gun? Why are Character A and B fucking face to face when they were just having tea and talking about bowling?)

And action creates tension, especially when it’s done well. You’re reading a romance: chances are the characters will make it out just fine. But when you’re in the moment, breathlessly reading through the pages, I want there to be the thought in the back of your mind that’s whispering what if they don’t make it out?

Which is why I’ll say this about Bones: there is a scene toward the latter half of the book involving a single gun, a card table, and a game that no one wants to play. I am absurdly proud of this scene because it’s the most tension-filled thing I’ve ever written. It was one of those scenes that I’d thought of even before I’d begun the story (sort of like Sam running off Kevin’s back and jumping down on top of the Great White in The Consumption of Magic). I remember finally getting to the moment, and doing the whole thing in one day. I was sweating by the time I finished, and when I sat back, I uncurled my toes and let the tension out of my shoulders. I was exhausted. It felt like I’d been riding the same roller coaster again and again and again. Trust me, you’ll know the scene when you get to it. Buckle up, bitches.

This book has more action then what I usually write. The idea, after all, was wanting to write an action movie, so that’s not surprising. But what was surprising was just how much joy I got from blowing shit up. I probably should be a little more concerned by how good it made me feel, but that’s another story for another day.

In The Bones Beneath My Skin, the bad guys are really bad, the good guys are running for their lives, and a little girl can do things with her mind that no little girl should be able to do. I’m posting this on October 18th, which means we are fifteen days away from release. I hope you’re ready for something a little…different.

(but still super queer.)

Next week, I’ll have my last sales pitch. If I haven’t convinced you by then, well. What are you even still doing here?

tj

Pre-Order Bones, out October 26th:

(paperbacks will go on sale Monday, October 22nd exclusively at Amazon)

Amazon: https://goo.gl/a5DsfC

B&N: https://goo.gl/k5XmLH

Kobo: https://goo.gl/WpmcUn

Smashwords: https://goo.gl/bYb716

iBooks: https://goo.gl/FZc2Dk

Bones: Setting, Angst and Toxic Masculinity

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Sales Pitch: Part II

(part I was published last week and can be found here: http://www.tjklunebooks.com/new-blog/2018/9/24/first-look-the-bones-beneath-my-skin

Why are these blog posts about The Bones Beneath My Skin sales pitches?

Simple, really: I’m self-publishing this book. I am a seller of goods, and you are, as my audience, my customers. I am selling you on this story given that I’m pretty much doing this on my own without the backing of a publisher, by my own choice.

(Not that that’s a major difference than what I’m used to, but that’s a story for another day.)

Ahem. Excuse me. The tea I’m drinking is scalding.

Anyway.

I’m selling you on this idea—this story of three lonely people who gravitate toward each other—because a) it’s my livelihood and b) I’m fucking proud of this novel and the work I’ve put into it.

So here we go.

The first part of the book is set in Roseland, Oregon. Chances are if you’ve read most of my work, the mention of that town sends chills down your spine or, at the very least, causes you to want to throw empty boxes of Kleenex at my head.

The town has been mentioned a few times in other books (see Murmuration), but it was the primary setting for my novel Into This River I Drown. That book was…well. A lot. And by a lot I mean a lot of fucking angst. (If you haven’t read it, that’s okay; aside from the setting, Bones and River don’t intersect at any point and have nothing to do with each other. Though if you want your soul crushed and kind-of put back together by the end—albeit in a different shape—consider picking it up!)

(Look! I’ll even help you out with a link: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/into-this-river-i-drown-by-tj-klune-2752-b )

River was a love story, between two men (well, one of them was a man): Benji and Cal. But it was also a love story between Benji and his father, Big Eddie. Big Eddie died before River began under suspicious circumstances, and Benji was drowning his grief. I wrote it as a way to process my own grief in the death of my father. I think it’s a good piece of writing, if a little overwrought. Hell, it won me the Lambda Literary Award in 2014, so I’m not complaining.

So imagine my surprise when I started writing The Bones Beneath My Skin with no particular destination in mind, only to have my lead character find himself returning to the summer cabin his parents left for him in their wills…outside of Roseland, Oregon. It’s set a couple of decades before River, and then all of a sudden, there Big Eddie was, pumping gas at his convenience store. It wasn’t planned, but I was pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to write Big Eddie again. So I went with it, knowing Roseland wasn’t going to be the entire book.

(And for those concerned: Bones is nowhere near the level of angst of River. Angst was never going to be the focus of Bones, though it does have some. Yes, you’ll probably cry, but it’s going to be where you least expect it. Trust me on that.)

So, I had my setting, at least for the first part. The reader (much like the characters) won’t stay in Roseland for reasons I won’t reveal here, but it was interesting to return to this little town I had no plans on revisiting again. I thought I’d put them through enough in River.

Which brings me to something else I’d like to talk about, if you’ve got another moment. In River, the relationship between Benji and his father Big Eddie is a focal point for the story. These two men love each other completely, fully, and without reservation. They’re also not afraid to show affection with each other, or show their emotions. I wanted to carry that over to Bones, like I’ve carried it over to much of my other work.

We live in (at the time of this writing) the year of our Lord 2018, and there is still a stigma about men (straight, queer or somewhere in between) showing emotion or affection with each other. It’s so goddamn odd to me to think that as young boys, we’re told to be strong and brave and that men never cry or even come close to it. Toxic masculinity is like a disease: it spreads from generation to generation, and it’s literally one of the dumbest things in the entire fucking world.

It’s something I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid in my works. Guys are allowed to be affectionate with one another and others without it needing to be romantic in nature. Here, in The Bones Beneath My Skin, Alex comes across as gruff and hard, willing to shoot first and then….shoot again. And then he might ask a question or two, but it’s unlikely. It’s armor, though, and flimsy armor at that. The moment Nate Cartwright meets (read: stumbles upon a situation involving a gun and a break-in) Alex and Artemis Darth Vader, it’s evident just how protective Alex is of the little girl who follows him around like a shadow.

Dudes are also allowed to cry when they’re angry or sad or whatever. Seriously. I know it might seem like this wild and crazy idea, but guys do cry sometimes. Fuck you if you think we can’t show emotion. I will 100% prove you wrong and cry all over your stupid face.

And now that I’ve threatened you, please buy my book? I promise it’ll be worth it.

Thus ends my second sales pitch.

Next blog post coming Saturday and will be about Artemis Darth Vader, and why her voice is the one I heard first. It’ll also include the second excerpt, and will be up at www.joyfullyjay.com

Thanks,

tj

Pre-Order Bones, out October 26th:

(paperbacks will go on sale Monday, October 22nd exclusively at Amazon)

Amazon: https://goo.gl/a5DsfC

B&N: https://goo.gl/k5XmLH

Kobo: https://goo.gl/WpmcUn

Smashwords: https://goo.gl/bYb716

iBooks: https://goo.gl/FZc2Dk

First Look: The Bones Beneath My Skin


So here it is: a sales pitch from me to you. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve read at least one of my books. Whether only one or all of them, I want to tell you about my last book of the year, and why it’s important to me. Cool?

Cool.

(And how nuts is it to think that this is my first non-sequel book since Olive Juice in April of 2017?)

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Back in late 2015/early 2016, I had this idea.

I wanted to write an 80s movie, but in book form, a sort of homage to ET, The Goonies, to the Stephens/Stevens: both King and Spielberg. It was going to be about a group of teenagers, facing something paranormally unexpected, and there would be action and the nostalgia would be insane and—

Then Stranger Things came out, and I said “Motherfucker.”

(In case you haven’t seen it, Stranger things is all the things I just described turned up to an eleven—ha, ha, ha, I’ll be here all evening, folks.)

It happens, sometimes. I had a story idea about the afterlife, but then the television show The Good Place came out, and did everything I was thinking of much, much better. I had an idea for a western about a town of outcasts coming together, but then Godless came out on Netflix and did it much, much better (the town in that show was all badass women).

Is there anything new under the sun?

Apparently not.

So I shelved my 80s idea, much to my dismay.

But something about it stuck with me for a long time, specifically the girl who was going to be the center of my original story. Oh, it was still going to be a queer romance, but the girl was going to be the third main character.

And for some reason, she just wouldn’t leave me alone.

It wasn’t until I was deep into one of my Wikipedia spirals (I could spend hours on that website, and sometimes do), that I came across something that I hadn’t heard of before, sparking a new idea.

L’appel du vide.

It’s French. It means the call of the void.

It’s not quite suicidal ideation. The idea of l’appel du vide is that we have something hardwired into our lizard brains, something a little… dark. Have you ever been driving down the road and seen a semi coming in the opposite direction and think what if I turned my car into it and hit it head on? Or you’re standing at the edge of a cliff or on the ledge of a building and think what if I took another step? For the most part, it’s just a thought, a flicker, there and gone. We don’t act on it because we want to live.

I was entranced by this notion, because it’s not about wanting to die so much as it is the what if?

And it was that thought, the what if that I couldn’t get out of my head.

When I went back to the story idea, I thought what if?

What if I aged up the two main characters, but left the little girl young, and instead of friendship, the dynamic between the three leads was more father-daughter?

What if I moved the time from the 80s to the 90s?

What if instead of an homage to a period of time that we all remember more fondly than it actually was, I instead turned to that weird ass fucking time a decade later?

What if, what if, what if.

If you think about it, the nineties were fucked up. I came of age in the 90s, discovered I was queer in the nineties. Presidents stuck cigars inside women in the 90s and then talked about it all over TV as they were impeached. We thought computers were all going to shut off or blow up or something at midnight of December 31st, 1999. Death came to Waco and David Koresh in 1993. In March of 1997, a group of people believing there was a UFO in the tail of a comet called Hale-Bopp committed suicide under the direction of Marshall Applewhite. There was no UFO, at least not one that the rest of the world knew of. Satanic panic—started in the late 80s—grew worldwide by the 90s.

Like I said: fucked up.

And I had found a home for the book. Instead of 80s nostalgia, I would write a 90s action movie. Shit would blow up! There would be car chases and gun battles and dastardly villains who want nothing more than to have the little girl returned to them, the little girl capable of a great many things that defy logic. Enemies would become friends and friends would start to love each other, all set against the backdrop of what is essentially one large chase scene stretched over 385 pages.

So that’s what I did.

(and I also made it very, very queer.)

What I didn’t expect was to write a story imbued with so much hope. Even though it’s set in the 90s (1995, to be exact), I live in today’s world. And it’s a world filled with anger and cynicism, vitriol and hate. It’s exhausting. I turn on the news, and I immediately turn it back off. I open Twitter, and immediately click away. Someone is always shouting. Someone is always screaming. People are always dying or being marginalized or being taken away from their families when all they want to do is find a place to be safe. And how privileged am I that I can turn away from it, at least for a little bit? Very, obviously. I know that. I do.

I’m a cynical person by nature. It’s just who I am. I’m not going to make excuses for it. Sometimes, that bleeds into what I write. Which is why I made it a concentrated effort to avoid that with Bones. This little girl, this Artemis Darth Vader, is special to me. She’s not…normal. I won’t tell you exactly why, but she has a perspective that most don’t. She sees the goodness in people, even in the face of evil.

Nate, the main character of the three, is lost. His parents are dead, his father having murdered his mother and then killing himself. His brother wants nothing to do with him, partly blaming Nate for what happened to their parents. Nate’s fired from his job as a journalist because he royally fucked up, crossing an ethical boundary that should not have been crossed. He comes back to Roseland, Oregon (wherein we meet a younger version of an old friend of mine, say hey, Big Eddie) to try and put himself back together.

Only the cabin isn’t empty as it should be. And this sets off a series of events that starts small, but then grows and grows and grows until it potentially affects the entire world. Alex, Artemis Darth Vader’s protector, can’t trust anyone but Artemis. He too has seen the evils of men, and he’s lost much. He’s angry and scared, though he tries to hide it. He’s also desperately lonely, and on a mission that will only end in heartbreak for him. Or so he thinks.

Hope, though. It’s all about hope. Identity and hope. Who we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going. I wonder, sometimes, if we’re getting to a breaking point, where we won’t be able to turn back. If we’re already damned because of what goes on in the world, and all that we’ve done or allowed to happen. Bones is me trying to reconcile with these feelings. I want to believe we can be better than we are now. And it’s this thought I ran with when I wrote this book.

Bones is funny. And sad. And sexy. And weird. And while the bones of a typical (if it can be called that) TJ Klune book are there, it’s unlike anything you’ve read from me before. Go big or go home, I told myself. So I went big. Like, really big (which you’ll soon find out).

I’ll talk more about the book in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll post a little taste below, from the first chapter of The Bones Beneath My Skin. Long time readers of mine? This one is for you. (and for those asking, this is a standalone with no sequel/prequel/sidequel in sight; one and done.)

tj

Pre-Order Bones, out October 26th:

Amazon**: https://goo.gl/a5DsfC

B&N: https://goo.gl/k5XmLH

Kobo: https://goo.gl/WpmcUn

Smashwords: https://goo.gl/bYb716

iBooks: https://goo.gl/FZc2Dk

**Note: Paperbacks will be available *exclusively* from Amazon, and will go up closer to the release date.

Excerpt:

“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” Big Eddie Green said. “Nate Cartwright, as I live and breathe.”

Nate forced a smile onto his face. “Big Eddie. Good to see you’re still running this dump.”

“You watch your mouth,” Big Eddie said, but he was still smiling, his teeth a little crooked but endearingly so. He held out a large hand streaked with a bit of oil. Nate didn’t mind. He held out his own. Big Eddie’s grip was firm, but he wasn’t trying to be an asshole about it. He wasn’t like that, at least not that Nate knew. He hadn’t seen Big Eddie since he’d turned twenty-one, the last time he’d been up to the cabin. And it wasn’t like they were friends, though Big Eddie could make friends with just about anybody he set his mind to. There was something about the way he smiled that put Nate at ease. It was familiar, this. Heartbreakingly so.

“Heading up the mountain?” Big Eddie was already moving to the pump. “Unleaded okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Nate said, leaning against the truck. He glanced inside the gas station window. There was a kid inside bent over the counter, scribbling furiously on something, his tongue stuck out between his teeth like he was concentrating really hard. “Jesus, is that Benji?”



Ravensong: A Look Back & What's Next

Note: Spoilers for Wolfsong, Ravensong, and Lovesong. If you haven't ready any or all of these, click away as this post will reveal major spoilers.

In the original outline of Ravensong, Chris and Tanner were executed by Elijah in the streets of Green Creek upon the arrival of the hunters. Unable to take the loss of their friends after Elijah was defeated, Jessie and Rico left the pack, breaking ties, wanting to escape the wolf world. The plan after that, vague though it was, was to have Jessie and Rico show up again in Heartsong, as hunters of sorts.

For some reason, I thought this was a good idea.

And now, looking back, I have no fucking idea why.

Because that's stupid.

And I realized that just as soon as I started writing. Seeing the younger versions of Rico, Tanner, Chris and Gordo all together and how they stuck by his side when he was abandoned by the wolves made me realize that not only would killing off half of Team Human be unnecessary, but it would be a weirdly cruel thing to do, given all Gordo had been through. While these books are very angsty, there needs to be a line. It's one thing to slog through angst; it's something else entirely to drown in it.

So I didn't kill them.

I just hurt them.

A lot.

(also in the original outline :Joe was infected along with Mark and Carter and turned Omega, but it was too much and took the focus away from Mark and Gordo.)

Hi, and welcome to my TED talk, where I'll be discussing a few key points in the story, what part made me unintentionally laugh my ass off (and got edited out), why I had to go and "ruin" Thomas and Elizabeth (what one angry tweeter wrote to me, yay!), the twist at the end, and what happens next.

First things first: Gordo was always going to lose a hand. That was not up for debate. That scene was one of the first I thought up. Oh, it changed a few times as to who was actually going to be the one doing it, but it was always going to happen.

Shortly after, there was a scene that made me just fucking die that ended up being cut, given how my editors thought it really went too far and undercut the seriousness of what happened to Gordo, and the gravity of his moment with Thomas. (And ultimately, they were correct in making me cut it.)

He wakes up, right? He asks where his hand is. Joe has to point out to him with no small amount of trepidation that Carter might have...gnawed on it a little while Gordo was passed out. And eaten parts of it.

I just...I don't know, man. I still laugh at it now. Fucking stupid, right? But it just seemed so Carter for reasons I can't quite explain. Alas, cutting it was for the better.

Second: Elijah. I have a...well. Let's just say I have a complicated history with religion. I tend to think most organized religion is no better than a cult (but you do you). I went in one direction with the idea of religion in Into This River I Drown, though it was vague enough that it wasn't meant to represent any one faith. But I have this fascination with those who use the supposed words of God as a weapon. It's a queer dichotomy, given how two people can so vastly differ on how they interpret scripture. In the end, Elijah, so indignant and righteous in her faith and fury, failed. And with the death of her and her clan, I think the backbone of the hunter movement was broken, though there might be some stragglers out there still causing up trouble. Which, honestly sucks because while she was obviously bad, she was such a cool character. She wore the skin of a werewolf, for fuck's sake.

Third (and this is a big one): Thomas and Elizabeth Bennett. Look. I get that people adored them in Wolfsong for the most part. I did too when I was writing them. But as I get older, I'm less and less impressed by perfection, and more interested in imperfection and flaws. Take away the fairy-tale shine, and what lies underneath? That's what I want to know about.

Thomas, especially, made bad decisions. Did he make them for the right reasons? Only time will tell. I think he did, but I still think he went about it the wrong way. With Gordo and Ox, Thomas messed up a bunch. He listened to the wrong people. Even worse, he trusted the wrong people. And Elizabeth, put in a desperate situation (as seen in Lovesong), had to make a choice. Follow him or let him go? She chose. Again, was it the right decision? Or was it made for the right reasons?

People are complex. What you see isn't always what you get. Ox saw the Bennetts one way. Gordo saw them another. Does it make one of them right over the other? I don't know that it does. But it was important to me that Gordo called them out for their manipulation of Ox. Looking back, Ox wasn't given a choice in the matter when Joe gave him his stone wolf at such a young age. Had he known, he most likely would have made the same decision, but I needed Gordo to be the voice of reason for this. It was important to me.

And coming back to Elizabeth, the reason the short story Lovesong exists is because of the scenes between Gordo and Thomas. Gordo was given a chance at forgiving Thomas, but what about Elizabeth? I didn't think it was fair, especially given how Thomas was her mate. I didn't want to take away from the momentum of the story, or Gordo's perspective, so I decided to give Elizabeth her moment in the spotlight. I like how it turned out. 

(And to that angry tweeter who accused me of ruining Thomas and Elizabeth: eh.)

Fourth and finally: the ending. That scene between Michelle Hughes and Robert Livingstone? I love it so, so much. It's short, only a few pages, but it has so much to it, especially revealing the identity of the timber wolf as being Gordo's half-brother. And though I've done twists before, there's just something so satisfying about this one, given that you, the audience, are now in possession of knowledge that the characters aren't. It'll create a different kind of tension, and every interaction will be heightened. Who is this wolf? What happened to him? Where did he come from? What does he know? When will the pack find out, and how will Gordo and Carter react? WHAT THE FUCK IS HIS NAME???? (lolololol)

(Also, for those upset that Carter also has a dude as a mate, die mad about it. Everyone is queer.  This pack is a goddamn Pride Parade, and I don't care if you hate it. Write your own werewolf story with hetero sex if it upsets you that much.)

But stepping back from this knowledge is the first glimpse of Robert Livingstone in the present day. What does he want? Are we to take him at his word that he only wants his son and nothing more? I guess we'll have to find out, won't we?

Speaking of.

Heartsong.

I'm going to be very close-lipped about it, much more than I was with the lead up to Ravensong. It's...different. With sequels, there is a always a strange desire to go bigger and darker, upping the action and the violence. I...didn't do that. Heartsong is a quieter book, more focused on Robbie and Kelly than anything else. Oh, shit goes down, sure, but there was something... innocent(??) about the two of them that I wanted to explore in more depth. It also gives Chris, Tanner, Rico and Jessie more of a chance to shine.

And it will bring the relationship between Carter and Kelly to the forefront. They'll need each other for what's coming. Because Heartsong is built around a deceptively simple question: What happens if you can't trust the people around you?

And that's it.

That's all I'm going to say about the wolves until next summer as we approach the release of Heartsong in September of 2019. Thank you, though. Thank you for being part of this journey. Thank you for letting me tell these stories. I'm proud of them. And I can't wait until we head back to Green Creek again, and hear our pack singing us home.

tj

 

 

The Bones Beneath My Skin Pre-Order

On October 26th, a message will be delivered.

And everything will change.

Announcing my last book of the year: The Bones Beneath My Skin, an enemies-to-lovers queer romance where things blow up, bad guys are really *really* bad, and a little girl who calls herself Artemis Darth Vader might be the key to saving us all.
This will be my first self-published work, and I can't wait for you all to see what I've saved for last.

Pre-orders are now available:

Amazon**: https://goo.gl/a5DsfC

B&N: https://goo.gl/k5XmLH

Kobo: https://goo.gl/WpmcUn

Smashwords: https://goo.gl/bYb716

iBooks: https://goo.gl/FZc2Dk

**Note: Paperbacks will be available *exclusively* from Amazon, and will go up closer to the release date.

Lovesong: A Green Creek Story

Lovesong-banner-blue-1.jpg

Lovesong

A Green Creek Story

By TJ Klune

Author's Note: This is part of a series meant to be read in order, starting with Wolfsong followed by Ravensong. If you haven't read both books, this will spoil major events. You've been warned.

 

packpackpack

Wolf Paw Print.jpg

 

i.

When she dreams these days, it’s always in shades of blue.

She’s in an endless forest. The trees stretch toward the starry sky. She feels the cool grass beneath her bare feet. The moon is bright. It’s full, of course.

She’s not alone.

She can’t see him, but she knows he’s there. She hears him breathe.

She turns her head to look for him, but there’s nothing but a flash of white disappearing into the woods.

When she wakes, her face is wet.

ii.

The first time he makes her laugh is when he tells her he thinks she’s pretty.

She laughs at him. It isn’t cruel. She’s shocked. It’s startled out of her, and she can’t stop it, even if she tries.

He’s not hurt by it.

He laughs too, blushing as he looks away.

iii.

When she’s pregnant with their first, he turns into a possessive asshole. He growls low in his throat at anyone who touches her belly.

When she’s had enough, she smacks him upside the head and tells him to knock it off.

He blinks in surprise, the orange light fading in his eyes.

“Sorry,” he says, sounding sheepish. “I don’t know why I do that.”

She takes his hand and presses it against her stomach. For a moment, nothing happens.

She winces when she feels him kick (Carter, she’s already thinking, Carter, Carter, Carter), but any discomfort falls away at the look on his face.

He’s awestruck.

iv.

When death comes for them, it’s swift and brutal. She’s in the Bennett pack, yes, and she’s the mate to a future Alpha, but she is a mother first, and her instincts are to protect her unborn child.

She kills that day. She takes the lives of at least six people who have come to their territory with anger in the hearts and bullets of silver. The first is a large man standing above a dead wolf, one of the little cousins. He doesn’t see her coming. Her jaws close around his neck and she twists, the bones cracking under her fangs.

The last person she kills is a woman. She raises her gun toward the once and future king.

She doesn’t get a chance to pull the trigger.

There isn’t much left of her by the time Elizabeth Bennett finishes.

When all that’s left is smoke and memory, she feels it.

All that they’ve lost.

It’s Richard Collins who notices first.

She doesn’t understand him. She never has. There’s always been something… off, but Thomas laughed and told her she was seeing things.

When her mate howls, there’s a change in the cadence. And that’s when it hits her.

Thomas Bennett looks at her with bloodred eyes.

v.

Carter comes, and there’s pain, bright and glassy. It’s real, and she feels it with a primal satisfaction as it tears through her. This is her pain, this belongs to her, and no one can take it away. She relishes in it as sweat drips from her brow.

They’re few, now.

Their pack.

But she hears them whispering in her head, and it’s love and strength and yes yes yes.

And with a cry of relief that sounds like a song, the boy comes into the world.

The first.

But not the last.

vi.

They’re making a mistake.

She knows they are.

She tells Thomas as much.

“How can we do this to him?” she asks. “How can this be all right?”

Thomas rubs a hand over his face. He’s tired. He’s got bags under his eyes and a few days’ worth of stubble on his cheeks. He was always going to be the Alpha, but it happened much sooner than anyone would have expected. She thinks he would give it all up just to have their pack again.

He’s a good man, but right now, she doesn’t understand him.

“We have to keep him safe,” he says with that familiar stubborn set to his jaw that she loves and despises in equal measure. “It’ll be better for him if he stays here. The wolves… they don’t trust the humans. Especially this human. They think…they think Robert did something to him. To his tattoos. A fail safe. Just in case.”

“You can fight for him,” she says. “He’s not like his father.  If you do this, you will put him on the path that you’ll regret in time.”

She’s never been demure. She’s seen other mates to Alphas, subservient and quiet. That was never her. If Thomas asked that of her, demanded her silence, she would tear him limb from limb.

But she’s going to lose this one.

And what’s worse is that she’s going to follow him.

She doesn’t know what that makes them.

Doesn’t know what that makes her.

“I know that,” Thomas says, sounding tired. “But they don’t. And I have a duty, Lizzie. An obligation. My father….” He shakes his head. “I am the Alpha of all. I don’t have a choice.”

She wants to tell him he does. He could give it up, let someone else worry about the fate of the wolves. She wants to tell him they can’t do this. They can’t break apart their pack. Not after everything.

But she doesn’t.

And she will regret it for the rest of her life.

“This is going to destroy Mark,” she says quietly. “He’ll never agree.”

Thomas’s eyes flare red. “He will. I am his Alpha. He’ll do what I tell him to.”

“And then he’ll never forgive you.”

The redness disappears, and all she feels is blue. It’s an ocean of sorrow, and she knows how much this is hurting him. It’s still no excuse. “I know,” he says. “But I have no other choice.”

She loves him, but she thinks he’s a liar.

vii.

Kelly is… different. He’s quieter. He comes early, and it’s over quicker than she expects. There’s pain, but it’s not like it was with Carter.

He doesn’t cry.

She thinks something is wrong.

But he’s breathing and blinking up at her as he’s placed in her arms.

“Hello,” she says. “Hello, my little child.”

viii.

With Joe, things change.

She can’t quite tell how she knows, but even in the womb, it’s not like it was with Carter and Kelly. There’s a sense of something more. She feels guilty about thinking that way, and it’s not until she speaks with Thomas that she understands.

“Alpha,” he says simply. “I think this one is meant to be the Alpha. Richard thinks so too.”

And oh god, that terrifies her.

ix.

When Joe is returned to them, he doesn’t speak. His eyes are vacant, and he doesn’t respond.

She doesn’t know what to do.

She hates Richard for what he’s done.

She hates Thomas for allowing it to happen.

She hates the wolves in this place. It’s not home. Maine was never going to be home, and now one of her sons is hollowed out and dark. She thinks about taking them and running far, far away.

She doesn’t.

She kisses his cheeks.

The tip of his nose.

His chin.

Carter and Kelly curl around him.

But it’s like he’s gone.

She doesn’t know how to get him back.

x.

It’s all candy canes and pinecones.

Epic and awesome.

It’s boom and rawr.

It’s a strange boy named Ox.

She doesn’t know what to make of him.

She loves him, though. Almost right away.

And for that reason alone, she wants to keep him away.

Death, she thinks as she listens to her son speak for the first time since he was returned to them, always comes for the wolves.

And when Joe comes to her, when he says he wants to give Ox his stone wolf, she agrees, knowing how manipulative it will be. Ox doesn’t know the truth. He doesn’t know what it means. But her son is speaking, and his eyes have life in them, so much life that she can’t deny him anything.

She doesn’t sleep much that night.

xi.

She starts painting again.

It’s angry at first. Savage. Harsh lines and slashes of color.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

xii.

She doesn’t tell them where she’s going. They’re distracted. All the kids are in school. Mark and Thomas are on conference calls in the office.

She walks into town. The forest smells like it always has. The dirt road crunches under her feet.

She thinks of what she’ll say.

Of what she’ll do.

She doesn’t know how he’ll react.

GORDO’S, the sign says.

She smiles to herself.

There’s no one at the front desk.

She rings the bell and waits.

It’s discordant, the first time she sees him. He’s not like he was. He’s harder. She thinks he hates her, and she deserves it.

His tattoos flash.

“Gordo,” she says, and is surprised when her voice cracks.

His eyes darken. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

She says, “I’m sorry. For all that we did to you.”

“Fuck you. Get the fuck outta here.”

She nods. “Joe, he….”

“Thomas already told me. I said no.”

She says, “Thomas never took another witch. They asked. They begged. He told them no. He told them he already had a witch.”

It’s unfair of her. To do this. To say this. It’s calculating, and she can see the moment it lands. His expression stutters before he looks at her coldly. “I don’t care.”

“It was wrong,” she says, and she wants to touch him. To take his face in her hands and smooth out the angry lines. “What we did to you. We were young. And scared.”

“You’re only saying this because you need me to help out with Joe,” he snaps at her. “Where were you before this? Years, Elizabeth. It’s been years.”

“So many times,” she says. “So many times I picked up the phone, wanting to hear your voice. But I—”

He laughs, and it’s the bitterest sound she’s ever heard. “But you didn’t. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Yes. That’s exactly what it was. And the truth hurts. “We… made mistakes.”

“Fuck you. And fuck your mistakes.”

She doesn’t know this man. This furious man. She doesn’t know him, and it’s all her fault. “Mark—”

“Don’t,” he snarls at her. “Don’t you say his name.”

She blinks as she takes a step back. “I’m sorry. I just….” She shakes her head. “I love you. I don’t expect you to believe me. And I understand why you wouldn’t. But I love you, Gordo. I do.”

He laughs, and oh the hatred she hears in his voice. It’s like poison. “Yeah, you sure showed me just how much you loved me. All of you did.”

She turns to leave, not wanting him to see her cry.

She stops when he says, “Ox.”

She swallows thickly, looking out the front of the shop to the street.

He says, “Leave him out of this.”

“I think it’s already too late,” she whispers.

“Already got your claws in him,” Gordo says in a dead voice. “Of course you did. Wolves ruin everything they touch. I won’t let you do that to him.”

She doesn’t look back.

xiii.

In the end, though, he comes.

She wonders why.

She doesn’t know if she’d do the same if she were in his position.

Joe is trapped in his shift. Not quite boy, not quite wolf.

And Gordo comes.

She’s a wolf, and her instincts have kicked into overdrive.

She snarls at him.

He rolls his eyes.

Thomas says, “Ox. He needs Ox.”

Gordo’s shoulders sag in defeat.

xiv.

Later she’ll find out he told the boy that it’s real.

That monsters are real.

That it’s all real.

He’s right, of course.

Elizabeth knows monsters.

xv.

Maggie Callaway is a wonderful woman.

She’s fierce.

And smart.

And stronger than she gives herself credit for.

When they meet for the first time, Elizabeth understands then just how someone like Ox can exist. It’s because of his mother.

And they grow to be friends, Maggie and Elizabeth. She hasn’t had a woman as a friend in a long time. It’s… nice having someone like her. Someone who doesn’t quite realize Elizabeth is essentially a queen. It’s easier that way.

When she finds out they’re wolves, Maggie is shocked.

But it only lasts for a day or two.

She comes to the house one day not long after.

They sit at the kitchen table, sunlight coming in through the window. It’s just the two of them. Elizabeth relishes this contact. Is hungry for it.

Maggie says, “He’s part of this, isn’t he?”

Elizabeth nods slowly. “I think so.”

Maggie curls her hands around her mug of tea. “He’s special.”

“I know.”

“A mother always thinks that about her child. But….”

“It’s more than that with Ox.”

She looks away. “His father never thought so.”

“His father was wrong.”

Maggie nods. “Why? Do you know? Does Thomas?”

No. They don’t. But it’s there all the same. She reaches out and touches Maggie’s wrist. She’s not quite pack—not yet, at least, not like Ox is—but Elizabeth can’t ignore instinct. She’s pleased with her scent being on this wonderful woman. “He’s going to do great things, your Ox.”

Maggie smiles. It trembles to the point of breaking. “He doesn’t hear that enough. I try to make him understand.” She hesitates. Then, “Ox tells me you’re a painter.”

Elizabeth blinks. “I am.”

Maggie seems shy when she says, “That’s so nice. Do you think… do you think I could see? I don’t know anything about art, but I know pretty things when I see them.”

They spend the rest of the day together.

When Maggie is murdered in their territory, Elizabeth is close to tearing the world apart.

xvi.

It’s quick when it happens.

One moment she’s snarling, her tail twitching, her teeth stained with Omega blood.

And the next, it breaks within her like glass, the shards embedded in her skin.

Her breath leaves her body like she’s been kicked in the stomach.

She takes a stumbling step forward, her wolf mind thinking no and mate and Thomas Thomas Thomas.

She runs faster than she’s ever run before.

But she’s too late.

Joe is on his knees, his head tilted back.

His eyes are filled with fire.

He is the Alpha.

Which means—

xvii.

They come from far away.

Michelle Hughes doesn’t.

Elizabeth is thankful for that. She doesn’t know what she’d do if Michelle showed her face in Green Creek. She’s jumbled up with Osmond and Richard Collins in Elizabeth’s mind, and even if that’s not fair, that’s how it is.

She is the wolf mother. Those who come to pay their respects are in awe of her. She accepts their condolences. They touch her hand and her shoulders. She’s barely able to keep from recoiling.

They leave her be… before.

Alone. With him.

Thomas has been bathed, the blood washed away.

His skin is pale.

She says, “How could you leave me like this?”

She says, “I hate you.”

She says, “Oh, oh, oh.”

She says, “We were young once. And you were smiling. I remember that. Your eyes were wide, and you said you had something to offer me. I knew what it was, and even though I was scared, I knew it was right. That I would say yes. Because there was no one else for me. There never has been. And you… you left me here. Why?”

He doesn’t answer.

He can’t.

He’s gone, gone, gone.

She closes her eyes, trying to find him. Trying to search along the bonds that stretch between them all. If he’s there, even the smallest part of him, she would know. Especially in this place. It’s different here. Stronger. More powerful. Her mother told her when she was a child that all those who leave are never truly gone.

But she can’t find him.

There’s a ragged, gaping hole where he should be.

xviii.

He burns in the forest at night.

The wolves sing their songs for the fallen king.

Hers is an aria of blue.

xix.

After, always after:

They break apart.

Three years.

One month.

Twenty-six days.

And for the first part of it, she knows only the wolf. It’s not fair of her, to be so lost in her grief. She has a pack. She has her sons. But when they leave, she doesn’t know how to handle it.

Before they leave, she tells Gordo she’ll kill him if anything happens to them under his watch.

She’s lying.

She’s tired of death.

She wants to tell him she loves him. That Thomas loved him.

But she can’t make the words come out.

That’s on her.

She is wrong in this.

But Gordo is gone.

Not long after, she shifts and doesn’t turn back for months.

xx.

Alpha, she tells Oxnard Matheson, and she’s never meant it more.

xxi.

When her sons return to her, she doesn’t recognize them.

Oh, she knows their scent. She can feel them along the bonds, but it’s different.

They’re men now. Harder than they’ve ever been before.

But it’s not until she has Carter and Kelly in her arms that she knows they’re still her children. “Mom,” they whisper against her neck. “Mom. Mom. Mom.”

“My boys,” she whispers back. “I love you so.”

xxii.

She stares down at the headless body of Richard Collins.

She should be filled with rage.

She’s not.

It’s only sadness.

She says, “You took much from me. From us. But you were just lost, I think. You were never going to win.”

It’s not forgiveness.

But it’s something.

xxiii.

Grief is a funny thing. There are days when it feels like it’s fading, like it’s nothing more than a low buzz at the back of her mind.

But then one little thing can set it off all over again.

She’s in the office, dusting the bookshelves. It’s mundane. It’s easy. It allows her mind to wander. Richard has been dead for six months, and she’s learning how to just be again. She smiles more these days. She laughs sometimes. Her pack is strong, and the wolf mother is proud. Green Creek is settling once again, and though she knows it might not last, it’s enough for now.

She’s startled out of her thoughts when she feels him.

It’s as if he’s standing right there.

She can smell him, and it’s woodsmoke and pine and pitch.

She whirls around.

There’s no one there.

Except….

There’s a book on the floor.

She says, “Is that you, dear? Please.”

There’s no response.

She lowers herself to the floor next to the book. It’s old. The cover is blank. It takes her a moment to recognize it for what it is.

When he was courting her, he would read poetry to her. He thought it was romantic. She thought it was ridiculous, but she loved him for it.

His favorite poet was Pablo Neruda. Because of course it was. The patron saint of pretty words.

She picks up the book from the floor.

There’s a piece of paper inside.

She opens the book.

She sees the poem printed on the page.

 

…something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom,
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open…

 

It was one of the first he’d read to her.

She laughed at him, feeling her face warm. But he was so earnest about it, so—

And oh, here it is again, this grief. Here it is, biting and clawing and tearing, saying I was always here, I’ve never left, and I am going to consume you.

She can barely breathe.

The book falls back to the floor.

The piece of paper inside falls out.

The smell of him is stronger than ever.

It’s choking her.

“What’s this?” she asks, and if she listens hard enough, she thinks she hears him say, My love, my wife, it’s all that remains.

She picks it up, hands shaking.

It’s a single page, and when she opens it, she sees it’s dated.

A week before he died.

She doesn’t want to read it.

She does anyway.

And in that familiar scrawl, it says:

To my beloved:

I am not a perfect man. I have made mistakes. Many, many mistakes. I regret most of them. I did what I thought was right, and hindsight is proving me wrong.

But none of these regrets are you.

You have made this life worth living.

You have given me a family.

You have given me a home.

I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what will happen. But I know that our pack is strong, and we will face whatever comes.

I don’t know what I’d do without you.

You keep me honest.

You keep me whole.

You don’t let me get away with anything (even when I want you to!)

Everything good in me is because of you.

And here, on our anniversary, I want you to know that I

And that’s all there is.

It’s unfinished.

She reads it again and again and again, and when she finally looks back up, the smell of woodsmoke and pine and pitch has faded.

xxiv.

There is a door.

A door to everything.

xxv.

It begins to build again.

She thinks the territory is cursed.

That all they will ever do is fight.

For a brief moment, she wonders if it’s worth it.

But it’s fleeting.

Because she is a wolf mother.

And she will do everything she can to protect what’s hers.

xxvi.

When she loses Carter to the Omega within him, when Mark shifts, eyes violet and bright, she understands real hatred.

She hates those who want to take from her.

xxvii.

There is a door.

It’s in Ox’s mind.

And it needs to be shattered.

So they do just that.

She sees him, briefly, sitting in front of the door. His fur is white and his eyes are red, and she hears Gordo say oh, but this moment isn’t just for her.

It’s for all of them.

And it tears at her.

In her head, there is a flash—PackLoveWifeBrotherSon—but it’s gone before she can grasp it.

The door breaks apart.

xxviii.

There is an ending.

But it only leads to a new beginning.

They are now at war.

Robert Livingstone will rise.

Michelle Hughes has made her choice.

And the Bennett pack will answer in kind.

She watches from the porch of the house at the end of the lane as the Omegas gather nervously, looking frightened and unsure.

Carter grumbles when the timber wolf follows him wherever he goes, growling at anyone who tries to come close. She wonders how long it’ll take for him to figure it out. She laughs when Carter snaps at the wolf, telling it to fuck off. The wolf ignores her son as it presses up against him. Carter doesn't push it away.

Kelly and Robbie are sitting side by side on the porch steps. Kelly glances at Robbie before looking away quickly. Robbie does the same a moment later. Their gazes never meet. She’s reminded of her and Thomas. Robbie is a good man. Kelly is very lucky.

Rico, Chris, and Tanner are working on Ox’s truck. They jostle each other as they curse at the engine. Chris and Tanner are healing. They’re so fragile. She wonders if they’ll ever take the bite. It’s their choice, but she needs to convince them. She doesn’t know if it’s her place.

Mark and Gordo are walking back from the blue house. Mark reaches out and takes Gordo’s remaining hand in his. She thinks Gordo will pull away. He doesn’t. The raven on Mark’s throat seems to flutter its wings.

Ox and Joe stand before the Omegas. They’re speaking quietly, their voices soft but exuding undeniable power. The Omegas stare up at them reverently.

“It’s the calm before the storm, isn’t it?” Jessie asks from beside her.

Elizabeth glances at her. “Yes.”

Jessie nods, looking out at their pack. “Is it always going to be this way?”

Yes. “I don’t know.”

Jessie reaches over and takes her hand. Elizabeth squeezes it gratefully. Jessie says, “It doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t?”

Jessie shakes her head. “We’re going to be here. No matter what. Always. We’re pack.”

Elizabeth believes her.

xxix.

That night, they sleep together in the living room, the couches pushed back and blankets and pillows spread out on the floor. The Omegas are in the basement, resting calmly knowing their Alpha just above them.

“I’m not going to get naked,” Rico tells them seriously. “Last time I did that, Carter grabbed my junk in his sleep, and I don’t want Bambi to kick his ass for touching what belongs to her.”

“Oh please,” Carter snaps. “You wish I would touch your junk.”

“He’s like twice your age,” Chris tells him. “You could call him Daddy if you really wanted.”

Papi,” Rico says with a sniff. “You would call me papi.”

“So gross,” Kelly whispers as he lies against his brother. The timber wolf growls, but Carter slaps him across the head, and it subsides. It lays down next to Carter, even as he sighs.

“Does Bambi call you papi?” Tanner asks. Then he grimaces. “You know what? Don’t answer that, I don’t want to know.”

“Oh, she calls me a lot more than that. Screams it, even—”

“I could call her and ask her,” Jessie says, settling down next to Elizabeth. “Find out what she thinks.”

“No,” Rico says quickly. “Absolutely no need to do that. In fact, let’s never talk to her about anything I say when she’s not here, because of… reasons.”

“We have our own house,” Gordo grumbles to Mark. “I don’t know why we just don’t go there.”

“You like having sleepovers,” Robbie tells him. “Even though you complain and make that face and—”

“I will light you on fire,” Gordo threatens. “And break your fucking glasses.”

“All bark and no bite,” Mark says, kissing the side of his head.

Gordo rolls his eyes but doesn’t argue further.

Ox and Joe are in the middle. Their hearts are beating in sync, and it flows through all of them. Elizabeth is beginning to drift off when—

“Everyone in town thinks we have orgies,” Rico says, apropos of nothing. “And I don’t tell them otherwise. Just so you all know.”

There are shouts of horror that lead to a pillow fight.

Elizabeth closes her eyes and smiles.

xxx.

When she dreams these days, it’s always in shades of blue.

She’s in an endless forest. The trees stretch toward the starry sky. She feels the cool grass beneath her bare feet. The moon is bright. It’s full, of course.

She’s not alone.

She can’t see him, but she knows he’s there. She hears him breathe.

She turns her head to look for him, but there’s nothing but a flash of white disappearing into the woods.

Except this time, when she wakes, her face isn’t wet.

She looks to her pack.

They’re sleeping deeply, all tangled together.

She—

Woodsmoke.

Pine.

Pitch.

She sits up.

There is a lovesong howling in her head.

She stands slowly.

She hears the clicking of nails on the porch outside, the wood creaking.

As if a heavy animal is pacing in front of the door.

She steps over the others carefully. She takes the shawl hanging from a hook next to the door and wraps it around her shoulders.

She takes a deep breath.

And opens the door.

The porch is empty.

The air is cold as she steps out of the house, closing the door behind her.

She listens.

And in the distance, there is a whisper.

It says, Something started in my soul, fever or forgotten wings, and I made my own way, deciphering that fire.

She steps off the porch.

The grass is cool under her bare feet.

The stars above are bright. The moon is almost full. It pulls at her.

But she doesn’t shift.

The trees sway as she walks through the forest.

She thinks that she will decipher that fire.

Here. At last.

Because grief is fire. It burns until all that remains are charred bones of a life that used to be.

She’s not alone as she walks. She can’t see them, but she can feel them.

She comes to the clearing.

Here, once, a boy told her he loved her.

Here, once, she kissed him.

Here, once, he kissed her.

And here, once, he burned as the songs howled him home.

After he was nothing but ash, when his embers had cooled, she’d returned alone, an old stone wolf in her hands.

She’d dug through ash and dirt.

She’d buried the stone wolf there, deep in the earth.

And there it remained.

Except—

She sits in the middle of the clearing and waits.

The lovesong is roaring through her.

She doesn’t wait long.

She sees orange eyes in the trees around her. Dozens of them.

Hundreds.

They pace through the trees, never coming closer.

They are protecting her here.

She knows many of them.

The ones she doesn’t know came before her, but they are hers all the same.

She sees a flash of red, but it’s not the one she’s waiting for.

“Abel,” she whispers, and the wolf howls.

She closes her eyes.

There’s a puff of hot air against her face.

She smiles.

“Hello, dear,” she says, and her voice breaks.

She opens her eyes.

Before her stands a great white wolf.

In his jaws, he holds a stone wolf.

He lays it down gently at her feet. He nudges it toward her.

Here he is, once again, giving it to her.

“I buried it,” she tells him. “Because I thought it was a piece of me for you to take wherever you’d gone.”

He snorts and shakes his head, eyes bright. He sits on his hindquarters, towering over her. She tilts her head back to look up at him. He presses his snout against her forehead, and she says, “Oh.”

There are bright flashes of light.

She hears his voice.

He says, “I’m sorry. For everything. That I had to leave you. That I had to leave our family. I never wanted to. All I ever wanted was to be with you. You are the moon. You pull at me. You make me howl. You make me sing.”

And suddenly I saw the heavens unfastened and open.

He says, “I have loved you since I’ve known you. And I will love you forever.”

The lights grow brighter. It’s blue like sadness, but there is the sweet green of relief shot through it, and she knows that no matter what happens next, she will have had this moment.

The lights fade.

And there before her sits Thomas Bennett. He’s nude, and his skin is unmarked. Death has healed him.

The cry of joy she gives echoes around them. The wolves in the trees sing out in response.

She tackles him.

He laughs.

His skin is warm.

His arms wrap around her.

He kisses her cheeks.

The tip of her nose.

The top of her head.

He’s strong.

And vital.

And—

“This is a dream,” she whispers against the hollow of his throat.

“It’s close to one,” he says into her hair. “You’re asleep with our pack. You are safe and sound. But this… this is a gift. It’s a gift from our territory, for all that we’ve been through. One last chance until we meet again.”

She allows herself to break.

He holds her as she sobs.

His voice is rough when he says, “Hey. Oh, Lizzie. Hey. Shush. None of that.”

Her chest hitches as she lifts her head.

His smile shakes. His eyes are wet.

She has so much to say.

So much to tell him.

She decides on “You fucking asshole.”

He blinks in surprise as she smacks his chest. “Hey! That hurts!”

“I don’t care,” she growls at him, feeling her teeth lengthen. “You—you bastard.”

She gives in to her rage.

He takes it, for a little while at least. After a time, he grabs her hands and holds them tightly. “Would you stop it?”

“Why?” she demands. “Why did you do what you did? Why did you have to leave us? Leave me?”

He sighs as he lets his head rest against the grass. He’s still holding her wrists, and she marvels at how real it feels. He says, “An Alpha is a leader, but even more so, a protector. In the end, he or she puts their pack above all others. An Alpha will do anything to keep their people safe.”

Oh, she’s heard that time and time again, hasn’t she? Of course she has. Being the mate of an Alpha saw to that.

She slides off, lying on the grass next to him. He lets her go. She turns her head to press her forehead against his shoulder. She breathes him in. “I wish you never….”

“Became the Alpha?”

“Yes.”

“I know.

“It’s not fair.”

“I know that too. But look at what you’ve made for yourself.” He laughs quietly. “This… pack of ours. The wolves. The humans. They’re strong.” His laughter fades. “And they’ll have to be. All of you will. Because of what’s coming.”

She closes her eyes. “Can you tell me what it is?”

“I don’t know.” He sounds frustrated. “It’s… a feeling. A storm. It’s on the horizon. Everything will change. For you. For all the wolves. Ox….” She feels him shake his head. “It’s lost in the storm. He’s important. All of you are important.” And then he whispers, “Robbie will…” but nothing follows.

She asks him what he means.

He doesn’t know.

“It’s not fair,” she says again, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice. “Why does it have to be us?”

“Because of who you are,” he says quietly. “You are the Bennett pack. And your song will always be heard.”

The wolves around them begin to whisper through the bonds.

They say pack and pack and pack.

She listens.

He sits up, head cocked.

And then he says, “Chase me. I love you, chase me.”

He shifts, the grind of muscle and bone loud in the clearing.

She doesn’t think twice.

She shifts too.

They run together in the woods. She nips at his heels. At the tip of his tail. He snaps playfully back at her, weaving in and out of the trees. She runs, he runs, they run together, and it’s like it used to be, before. When they were young and had nothing to be afraid of. She hears him laughing in her head, and it’s so happy and bright that it makes her heart thrum.

The other wolves run around them, always just out of sight. She feels them, recognizes them, bright sparks in the darkness that she hasn’t felt since the hunters came and took them all away.

They run.

They all run.

He says, LoveWifeMate

He says, you are here you are here you are here

He says, i am too and no matter where you go

He says, no matter what you do

He says, i will always be with you because i love you i love you i love you

She sings her lovesong into the trees and sky, and it’s blue and green and the territory around her quakes with the power of her voice.

Green Creek shudders and shakes with her call.

Toward the end, the wolves around them begin to fade.

They’re not gone, just… returned to the earth.

To the moon.

She knows she doesn’t have much time.

She shifts, panting as she falls to her hands and knees.

She looks up as the white wolf turns to her.

She whispers, “I forgive you.”

And she means it.

He tilts his head back and howls.

It echoes through the woods.

In it, she hears keep them safe keep them safe and tell them tell them tell them their father loves them and and and we will be together again one day one day we will be together and we will run as packpackpack.

And then he steps forward and presses his snout against her forehead and she says, “Oh.”

The world explodes around her.

xxxi.

She opens her eyes.

She’s in the house.

Her pack breathes deeply around her.

It was a dream.

It was all a dream.

It stings more than—

“Mom?”

She sits up.

Joe and Carter and Kelly are awake. They’re watching her in the dark. Joe’s eyes are red. Kelly’s are orange.

Carter’s are violet, but he’s in control.

“Hey,” she says, trying to crawl out of the memory of the dream. “Are you all right? What’s the matter?”

“He was here,” Carter whispers.

Kelly nods, eyes wet. “We felt him.”

And Joe says, “We can smell him. It’s—” His eyes widen. “What’s that?”

She looks down to where he’s pointing.

In her hand is a wolf of stone.

The one she’d buried years before.

“Mom?” Joe asked. “Did he…?”

“I think he did.” She wipes her eyes as she sets the wolf on the floor next to them. She opens her arms. Her children come to her, pressing their faces against her. They’re big, her sons, but somehow they make it work. She sees Ox open his eyes, but he doesn’t speak as he watches them. She says, “I had the most wonderful dream. Would you like to hear it?”

They all nod.

And so she tells them.

xxxii.

The sun rises on a new day.

Everyone is asleep again.

Surrounded by her pack, she watches the light begin to filter in through the window. It feels like healing. Or at least the start of it.

This pack is different than the ones that have come before.

She thinks it’s for the better.

And no matter what comes next, the world will hear their songs.

There will be peace. This she promises to herself.

Eventually, she picks up the stone wolf, tracing it with her finger.

“One day,” she whispers to it. “One day, my love. I will look upon your face, and all will be well.”

And though she thinks it’s just a trick of the early morning light, she swears the eyes of the stone wolf flash red.

end

(The wolves will return in Heartsong, coming September 2019.)

 

 

Lovesong: The Soundtrack

First and foremost: thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the love you've shown Ravensong. It's been out for just over two weeks, and I've been blown away by the reception it has received. I love this pack of wolves and humans very much, and to see them embraced like they've been means the world to me.

But their story is not over. Not by a longshot.

On September 1, the wolf mother will speak.

 

Lovesong-banner-blue-1.jpg

To be clear: Lovesong is a short story that I'll be releasing for free here on my website. While I know that people will want it to be much, much longer than it is, this story was a two-fold exercise for me: one, to keep it a certain length (5K words, which I failed miserably at) and two, to reconcile with what I think are the sins of the wolves while giving Elizabeth her moment.

I'll discuss this in more detail when I do a wrap-up blog on the how's and why's of Ravensong after Lovesong comes out, but in short, I think Thomas and Elizabeth allowing Joe to give Ox his stone wolf was done for selfish reasons. The debate can go on and on whether or not Ox had any choice, and I often fall on both sides of the argument. Ravensong was meant to take away the shine of Wolfsong, to show the dirt and grime just underneath the surface. Lovesong adds to that, from the perspective of someone who contributed. Were Thomas and Elizabeth wrong? Maybe. Did they do it for the right reasons? I don't know. To Ox, they were infallible. To Gordo, they were monsters. How thin that line is, in the end.

But that'll come later.

First, is Lovesong.

Here is the mini-soundtrack list I made while writing this story. You'll see a couple of familiar artists from the Ravensong soundtrack, one that goes back to Wolfsong, and a new one that I think fits Elizabeth and Thomas perfectly. I'm sure some enterprising reader will make a Spotify playlist for this so I don't have to try and figure it out. (At least I know what Spotify is now, so shut up.)

Thanks again for loving my wolves almost as much as I do.

packpackpack

 

Sleeping At Last

Bad Blood

we study our story arcs, inherently good

or were we broken right from the start?

 

Dinah Shore

I'll Walk Alone

i don't mind being lonely

when my heart tells me you are lonely too

 

Red

Hymn for the Missing

sometimes i hear you calling from some lost and distant shore

i hear you crying softly for the way it was before

 

Jasmine Thompson

Like I'm Gonna Lose You

so i'm gonna love you like i'm gonna lose you

i'm gonna hold you like i'm saying goodbye

 

Ravensong Release Date Issues

RE: Ravensong release date

As some of you might be aware, Amazon in all their infinite glory has changed the release date for no apparent reason to August 7th. In fact, I am hearing that some people have had their pre-orders cancelled because of this.

THE RELEASE DATE HAS NOT CHANGED. My publisher is attempting to get this fixed with Amazon, but so far, they aren't doing anything. The book will be released everywhere else (i.e. through Dreamspinner, B&N, Kobo, the usual places) this Tuesday, 7/31. If you pre-ordered through Amazon, check to see if your pre-order was canceled. If so, you can either re-order through Amazon and hope for the best, or choose a different place to buy.

I'm sorry, I know this sucks, but it is out of my control at this point. I'm just as frustrated as you are, and hope Amazon gets their fucking asses in gear.

 

tj

Ravensong: All Pre-Orders

FINALLY!

Sorry for the delay. I've been on my publisher for a week now trying to get everything up. Delays happen, but we're mostly good to go now. It's a little frustrating, I know, but I'm also on vacation right now, and trying to do all of this and relax is not exactly working out so well so far. But we're good to go now.

Links are below. If you can't find Ravensong on a place where you normally find my books, let me know so I can follow up. And, as an FYI, if you are the type to buy physical copies, if you buy direct from the publisher, you get the ebook for free! As a reminder, too, if you buy from the publisher, I get a bigger cut of the royalties.

(note: B&N is still getting the ebook up, and Amazon is still getting the paperback up, so if you want EITHER of those and don't want to order from the publisher, you'll have to check back.)

Eight days remain.

Are you ready?

tj

Dreamspinner: https://goo.gl/u2dxHL

Amazon: https://goo.gl/JSgRvE

B&N: https://goo.gl/eZQiQT

Kobo: https://goo.gl/Z6ALJY 

iBooks: https://goo.gl/HgquAL

Ravensong: Or How I Am Gud Righter

Ravensong_FBbanner_DSP.jpg

So close, aren't we? If you're reading this the day I posted it, we are now only 13 days before the release of Ravensong. I've had a blast being able to write these posts leading up to the release, though I know many of you (like myself) just want the FUCKING BOOK TO COME OUT ALREADY!!!

It'll be here before you know it. Promise.

Pre-order: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/ravensong-by-tj-klune-9779-b

In thinking about what I wanted to do for this second-to-last pre-release blog post, I thought back to what the response is that I've had on previous posts for this book and others. One thing that stuck out to me is how many people enjoy the "behind-the-scenes" look into what goes into the writing process. It's a lot more work than readers sometimes tend to realize. You have the actual writing of the book itself, then the beta reading, and then the months and months and months of editing and then rereading proof-reader version, and then the galley (how the book will usually look in its final form). There are ups and downs to all these steps, and it usually begins with the first round of editing, which is always a high for me, down to the very last read through which, by then, I'm so fucking sick of the goddamn story I never want to see it ever again.

Today, though, I wanted to focus on the actual writing of the story with a little anecdote followed by some examples that show you just how nuts my brain can be.

I have this notepad function on my phone. It allows me to dictate notes to myself, which are then turned into words and saved so I can come back to them. I'm struck by story ideas/plot points at the weirdest of times, and can be in the middle of a grocery store when I think of something I desperately need to put in a book, and will pull out my phone and speak into it, creating the note so I can come back to it later. Imagine coming across me in the store, muttering into my phone, "Do werewolves have sex with each other when they're shifted, and if so, is that beastiality?"

Yeah. It goes about as well as you think. I've learned to ignore the looks I get. I've got the eccentric writer thing down.

So, I went back through the folder for my saved notes for Ravensong (314 of them!) and pulled some so you can see how much I live these books, and how stupid I can be about them. The only edits I've made to them is to remove spoilers.

Note 16: You made Carter too much of an asshole. Why would you do that? Fix it. It doesn't work like it is. He would never say ****.

Note 3:  Go back and change the part about Joe and what he says to Ox. It sounds super fake and Joe isn't that much of a bitch. Or is he?

Note 27: People are going to be pissed about it, but you need to *****.  Fuck 'em, right? They only support your entire livelihood.

Note 98: Add in that Gordo wants to **** with ****. It'll make more sense if you do it now rather than try and shoehorn it in later. Trust me. I am you.

Note 54: There is no way I can get away with ***** and **** unless I make it believable. If I don't I'm fucked. Do it right.

Note 107: What do werewolf penises look like? Does that even matter? Is there such a thing as a hot werewolf when it's an actual wolf? I don't like this.

Note 79: Stop making people monologue. Fix this. This isn't Verania (speech to text made this look like VARANYAS). It looks stupid. Fix it.

Note 115: No werewolf threesomes ever. Hi I'm a werewolf. I'm in a throuple with Chad and Brad. That's dumb.

Note 206: Carter should not be flirting with everything that moves. He's not a werewolf whore. Go back and change ****.

Note 227: Make **** and **** angstier. It's lame the way it is right now.

Note 165: They need to be howling here. Everyone needs to be howling even the humans. Which is ridiculous.

Note 236: Go back and look for what Gordo's mom's name is. I forgot. Remember to change it.

Note 238: I still need to look for Gordo's mom's name. Don't forget.

Note 247: Gordo's mom is named *****

Note 300: The moment where **** and **** go to **** doesn't work. Rewrite it. I know rewriting sucks but do it anyway.

And there you have it. This is what part of being a writer is like. It's second-guessing yourself, berating yourself, being lazy about fixing something, and thinking about werewolf penises.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

13 days!

tj

 

 

 

 

Ravensong: The First Chapter

Three more weeks until Ravensong. It's been a long wait, I know, but it's almost here. I am proud to present to you the first chapter in it's entirety. DSP has an excerpt up, but it's incomplete. There are two more crucial scenes that round out the first chapter.

There is no hand-holding here: we jump right back into the story, beginning with a difficult scene from Wolfsong told from Gordo's perspective. If you don't remember events from Wolfsong, you might want to consider a re-read before jumping into the next book, as any recap would have been awkward in the narrative.

Pre-Order: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/ravensong-by-tj-klune-9779-b

You ready?

tj

 

Ravensong_FBbanner_DSP.jpg

 

promises

 

THE ALPHA said, “We’re leaving.”

Ox stood near the doorway, smaller than I’d ever seen him. The skin under his eyes looked bruised.

This wasn’t going to go well. Ambushes never did.

“What?” Ox asked, eyes narrowing slightly. “When?”

“Tomorrow.”

He said, “You know I can’t leave yet,” and I touched the raven on my forearm, feeling the flutter of wings, the pulse of magic. It burned. “I have to meet with Mom’s lawyer in two weeks to go over her will. There’s the house and—”

“Not you, Ox,” Joe Bennett said, sitting behind his father’s desk. Thomas Bennett was nothing but ash.

I saw the moment the words sunk in. It was savage and brutal, the betrayal of a heart already broken.

“And not Mom. Or Mark.”

Carter and Kelly Bennett shifted uncomfortably, standing side by side near Joe. I wasn’t pack and hadn’t been for a long, long time, but even I could feel the low thrum of anger coursing through them. But not at Joe. Or Ox. Or anyone in this room. They had revenge in their blood, the need to rend with claw and fang. They were already lost to the idea of it.

But so was I. Ox just didn’t know it yet.

“So it’s you,” Ox said. “And Carter. Kelly.”

“And Gordo.”

And now he did. Ox didn’t look at me. It might as well have been just the two of them in the room. “And Gordo. Where are you going?”

“To do what’s right.”

“Nothing about this is right,” Ox retorted. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“I’m telling you now,” he said, and oh, Joe. He had to know this wasn’t—

“Because that’s the right—where are you going?”

“After Richard.”

Once, when Ox was a boy, his piece-of-shit father had left for parts unknown without so much as a glance over his shoulder. It took weeks for Ox to pick up the phone and call me, but he did. He’d spoken slowly, but I’d heard the hurt in every word as he told me we’re not doing okay, that he was seeing letters from the bank talking about taking away the house he and his mom lived in down that old familiar dirt road.

Could I have a job? It’s just we need the money and I can’t let her lose the house. It’s all we have left. I’d do good, Gordo. I would do good work and I’d work for you forever. It was going to happen anyway and can we just do it now? Can we just do it now? I’m sorry. I just need to do it now because I have to be the man now.

That was the sound of a boy lost.

And here in front of me, the lost boy had returned. Oh sure, he was bigger now, but his mother was in the ground, his Alpha nothing but smoke in the stars, his mate, of all fucking things, digging his claws into his chest and twisting, twisting, twisting.

I did nothing to stop it. It was already too late. For all of us.

“Why?” Ox asked, voice cracking right down the middle.

Why, why, why.

Because Thomas was dead.

Because they’d taken from us.

Because they’d come to Green Creek, Richard Collins and his Omegas, their eyes violet in the dark, snarling as they came to face the fallen king.

I had done what I could.

It wasn’t enough.

There was a boy, this little boy not even eighteen years of age, bearing the weight of his father’s legacy, the monster from his childhood made flesh. His eyes burned red, and he knew only vengeance. It pulsed through his brothers in a circle that never ended, feeding each other’s anger. He was the boy prince turned furious king, and he’d needed my help.

Elizabeth Bennett was quiet, letting it happen in front of her. Ever the muted queen, an afghan around her shoulders, watching this goddamn tragedy play out. I couldn’t even be sure she was all there.

And Mark, he—

No. Not him. Not now.

The past was past was past.

They argued, baring their teeth and growling at each other. Back and forth, each cutting until the other bled out before us. I understood Ox. The fear of losing those you loved. Of a responsibility you never asked for. Of being told something you never wanted to hear.

I understood Joe. I didn’t want to, but I did.

We think it was your father, Gordo, Osmond whispered. We think Robert Livingstone found a path back to magic and broke the wards that held Richard Collins.

Yes. I thought I understood Joe most of all.

“You can’t divide the pack,” Ox said, and oh Jesus, he was begging. “Not now. Joe, you are the goddamn Alpha. They need you here. All of them. Together. Do you really think they’d agree to—”

“I already told them days ago,” Joe said. And then he flinched. “Shit.”

I closed my eyes.

 

THERE WAS this:

“That’s shit, Gordo.”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re going along with it.”

“Someone has to make sure he doesn’t kill himself.”

“And that someone is you. Because you’re pack.”

“Looks like.”

“By choice?”

“I think so.”

But of course it wasn’t that it easy. It never was.

And:

“You mean to kill. You’re okay with that?”

“Nothing about this is okay, Ox. But Joe’s right. We can’t let this happen to anyone else. Richard wanted Thomas, but how long before he goes after another pack just to become an Alpha? How long before he amasses another following, bigger than the one before? The trail is already growing cold. We have to finish this while we still can. This is revenge, pure and simple, but it’s coming from the right place.”

I wondered if I believed my own lies.

In the end:

“You should talk to him. Before you go.”

“Joe?”

“Mark.”

“Ox—”

“What if you don’t come back? Do you really want him to think you don’t care? Because that’s fucked-up, man. You know me. But sometimes, I think you forget that I know you just as well. Maybe even more.”

Goddamn him.

 

SHE STOOD in the kitchen of the Bennett house, staring out the window. Her hands were curled against the counter. Her shoulders were tense, and she wore her grief like a shroud. Even though I hadn’t wanted anything to do with wolves for years, I still knew the respect she commanded. She was royalty, whether she wanted to be or not.

“Gordo,” Elizabeth said without turning around. I wondered if she was listening for wolves singing songs I hadn’t been able to hear for a long time. “How is he?”

“Angry.”

“That’s to be expected.”

“Is it?”

“I suppose,” she said quietly. “But you and I are older. Maybe not wiser, but older. Everything we’ve been through, all that we’ve seen, this is just… another thing. Ox is a boy. We’ve sheltered him as much as we could. We—”

“You brought this upon him,” I said before I could stop myself. The words were flung like a grenade, and they exploded as they landed at her feet. “If you’d stayed away, if you hadn’t brought him into this, he could still—”

“I’m sorry for what we did to you,” she said, and I choked. “What your father did. He was—it wasn’t fair. Or right. No child should ever go through what you did.”

“And yet you did nothing to stop it,” I said bitterly. “You and Thomas and Abel. My mother. None of you. You only cared about what I could be to you, not what it would mean for me. What my father did to me meant nothing to you. And then you went and left—”

“You broke the bonds with the pack.”

“Easiest decision I ever made.”

“I can hear when you lie, Gordo. Your magic can’t cover your heartbeat. Not always. Not when it matters most.”

“Fucking werewolves.” Then, “I was twelve when I was made the witch to the Bennett pack. My mother was dead. My father was gone. But still, Abel held out his hand to me, and the only reason I said yes was because I didn’t know any better. Because I didn’t want to be left alone. I was scared, and—”

“You didn’t do it for Abel.”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “What the hell are you talking about?”

She finally turned and looked at me. She still had the afghan around her shoulders. At some point she’d pulled her blonde hair back into a ponytail, locks of which were loose and hung about her face. Her eyes were blue, then orange, then blue again, flickering dully. Most anyone who looked at her would have thought Elizabeth Bennett weak and frail in that moment, but I knew better. She was backed into a corner, the most dangerous place for a predator to be. “It wasn’t for Abel.”

Ah. So that was the game she wanted to play. “It was my duty.”

“Your father—”

“My father lost control when his tether was taken from him. My father has aligned himself with—”

“We all had a part to play,” Elizabeth said. “Every single one of us. We made mistakes. We were young and foolish and filled with a great and terrible rage at everything that had been taken from us. Abel did what he thought was right back then. So did Thomas. I’m doing what I think is right now.”

“And yet you did nothing to fight your sons. To not let them make the same mistakes we did. You rolled over like a dog in that room.”

She didn’t rise to the bait. Instead she said, “And you didn’t?”

Fuck. “Why?”

“Why what, Gordo? You have to be more specific.”

“Why are you letting them go?”

“Because we were young and foolish once, filled with a great and terrible rage. And that has now passed to them.” She sighed. “You’ve been there before. You’ve been through this. It happened once. And it’s happening again. I’m trusting you to help them avoid the mistakes we made.”

“I’m not pack.”

“No,” she said, and that shouldn’t have stung like it did. “But that’s a choice you made. Much like we are here now because of the choices we made. Maybe you’re right. Maybe if we hadn’t come here, Ox would be….”

“Human?”

Her eyes flashed again. “Thomas—”

I snorted. “He didn’t tell me shit. But it’s not hard to see. What is it about him?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t know that Thomas knew either. Not exactly. But Ox is… special. Different. He doesn’t see it yet. And it may be a long time before he does. I don’t know if it’s magic or something more. He’s not like us. He’s not like you. But he’s not human. Not completely. He’s more, I think. Than all of us.”

“You need to keep him safe. I’ve strengthened the wards as best I can, but you need—”

“He’s pack, Gordo. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for pack. Surely you remember that.”

“I did it for Abel. And then for Thomas.”

“Lie,” she said, cocking her head. “But you almost believe it.”

I took a step back. “I need to—”

“Why can’t you say it?”

“There’s nothing to say.”

“He loved you,” she said, and I’d never hated her more. “With everything he had. Such is the way of wolves. We sing and sing and sing until someone hears our song. And you did. You heard. You didn’t do it for Abel or Thomas, Gordo. Even then. You were twelve years old, but you knew. You were pack.”

“Goddamn you,” I said hoarsely.

“I know,” she said, not unkindly. “Sometimes the things we need to hear the most are the things we want to hear the least. I loved my husband, Gordo. I will love him forever. And he knew that. Even in the end, even when Richard—” Her breath caught in her throat. She shook her head. “Even then. He knew. And I will miss him every day until I can stand at his side again, until I can look upon his face, his beautiful face, and tell him how angry I am. How stupid he is. How lovely it is to see him again, and would he please just say my name.” There were tears in her eyes, but they didn’t fall. “I hurt, Gordo. I don’t know if this ache will ever leave me. But he knew.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Only because you won’t let it be. He loved you. He gave you his wolf. And then you gave it back.”

“He made his choice. And I made mine. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want anything to do with you. With him.”

“You. Lie.

“What do you want from me?” I asked, anger filling my voice. “What the hell could you possibly want?”

“Thomas knew,” she said again. “Even at the brink of death. Because I told him. Because I showed him time and time again. I regret many things in my life. But I will never regret Thomas Bennett.”

She moved toward me, her steps slow but sure. I stood my ground, even when she placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezing tightly. “You leave in the morning. Don’t regret this, Gordo. Because if words are left unsaid, they will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

She brushed past me. But before she left the kitchen, she said, “Please take care of my sons. I’m trusting you with them, Gordo. If I find out you have betrayed that trust, or if you stood idly by as they faced that monster, there will be nowhere you could hide that I wouldn’t find you. I will tear you to pieces, and the regret I feel will be minimal.”

Then she was gone.

 

HE STOOD out on the porch, staring off into nothing, hands clasped behind his back. Once he’d been a boy with pretty blue eyes like ice, the brother to a future king. Now he was a man, hardened by the rough edges of the world. His brother was gone. His Alpha was leaving. There was blood in the air, death on the wind.

Mark Bennett said, “Is she all right?”

Because of course he knew I was there. Wolves always did. Especially when it came to their—“No.”

“Are you?”

“No.”

He didn’t turn. The porch light gleamed dully off his shaved head. He took in a deep breath, broad shoulders rising and falling. The skin of my palms itched. “It’s strange, don’t you think?”

Always the enigmatic asshole. “What is?”

“You left once. And here you are, leaving again.”

I bristled at that. “You left me first.”

“And I came back as often as I could.”

“It wasn’t enough.” But that wasn’t quite right, was it? Not even close. Even though my mother was long gone, her poison had still dripped into my ears: the wolves did this, the wolves took everything, they always will because it is in their nature to do so. They lied, she told me. They always lied.

He let it slide. “I know.”

“This isn’t—I’m not trying to start anything here.”

I could hear the smile in his voice. “You never are.”

“Mark.”

“Gordo.”

“Fuck you.”

He finally turned, still as handsome as he was the day I’d met him, though I’d been a child and hadn’t known what it meant. He was big and strong, and his eyes were that icy blue they’d always been, clever and all-knowing. I had no doubt he could feel the anger and despair that swirled within me, no matter how hard I tried to block them. The bonds between us were broken and had been for a long time, but there was still something there, no matter how much I’d tried to bury it.

He scrubbed a hand over his face, his fingers disappearing into that full beard. I remembered when he’d first started growing it at seventeen, a patchy thing I’d given him endless shit over. I felt a pang in my chest, but I was used to it by now. It didn’t mean anything. Not anymore.

I was almost convinced.

He dropped his hand and said, “Take care of yourself, okay?” He smiled a brittle smile and then moved toward the door to the Bennett house.

And I was going to let him go. I was going to let him pass right on by. That would be it. I wouldn’t see him again until… until. He would stay here, and I would leave, a reversal of the way it’d once been.

I was going to let him go because it would be easier that way. For all the days ahead.

But I’d always been stupid when it came to Mark Bennett.

I reached out and grabbed his arm before he could leave me.

He stopped.

We stood shoulder to shoulder. I faced the road ahead. He faced all that we would leave behind.

He waited.

We breathed.

“This isn’t—I can’t….”

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t suppose you can.”

“Mark,” I choked out, struggling for something, anything that I could say. “I’m coming—we’re coming back. Okay? We’re—”

“Is that a promise?”

Yes.”

“I don’t believe your promises anymore,” he said. “I haven’t for a very long time. Watch yourself, Gordo. Take care of my nephews.”

And then he was in the house, the door closing behind him.

I stepped off the porch and didn’t look back.

 

I sat in the garage that bore my name, a piece of paper on the desk before me.

They wouldn’t understand. I loved them, but they could be idiots. I had to say something.

I picked up an old Bic pen and began to write.

 

 

I have to be gone for a while. Tanner, you’re in charge of the shop. Make sure you send the earnings to the accountant. He’ll handle the taxes. Ox has access to all the bank stuff, personal and shop-related. Anything you need, you go through him. If you need to hire someone to pick up the slack, do it, but don’t hire some fuckup . We’ve worked too hard to get where we are. Chris and Rico, handle the day-to-day ops. I don’t how long this is going to take, but just in case, you need to watch each other’s back. Ox is going to need you.

 

 

It wasn’t enough.

It would never be enough.

I hoped they could forgive me. One day.

My fingers were stained with ink, leaving smudges on the paper.

 

 

I turned off the lights in the garage.

I stood in the dark for a long time.

I breathed in the smell of sweat and metal and oil.

 

 

 

It wasn’t quite dawn when we met on the dirt road that led to the houses at the end of the lane. Carter and Kelly sat in the SUV, watching me through the windshield as I walked up, a pack slung over my shoulder.

Joe stood in the middle of the road. His head was tilted back, eyes closed as his nostrils flared. Thomas had told me once that being an Alpha meant he was in tune with everything in his territory. The people. The trees. The deer in the forest, the plants that swayed in the wind. It was everything to an Alpha, a deep-seated sense of home that one could find nowhere else.

I wasn’t an Alpha. I wasn’t even a wolf. I never wanted to be.

But I understood what he’d meant. My magic was as ingrained in this place as he was. It was different, but not so much that it mattered. He felt everything. I felt the heartbeat, the pulse of the territory that stretched around us.

Green Creek had been tied to his senses.

And it was etched into my skin.

It hurt to leave, and not just because of those we were leaving behind. There was a physical pull an Alpha and a witch felt. It called to us, saying here here here you are here here here you stay because this is home this is home this is

“Was it always like this?” Joe asked. “For my dad?”

I glanced at the SUV. Carter and Kelly were watching us intently. I knew they were listening. I looked back at Joe, at his upturned face. “I think so.”

“We were gone, though. For so long.”

“He was the Alpha. Not just for you. Not just for your pack. But for all. And then Richard….”

“Took me.”

“Yes.”

Joe opened his eyes. They were not alight. “I am not my father.”

“I know. But you’re not supposed to be.”

“Are you with me?”

I hesitated. I knew what he was asking. It wasn’t formal, not by a long shot, but he was an Alpha, and I was a witch without a pack.

Take care of my nephews.

I said the only thing I could.

“Yes.”

His shift came over him quickly, his face elongating, skin covered in white hair, claws stretching out from the tips from his fingers. And as his eyes burst into flames, he tilted his head back and sang the song of the wolf.

Ravensong: The Soundtrack

First things first! Ravensong is finally up for pre-order with Dreamspinner. All other 3rd party sites to follow in the next week or two.

Pre-order: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/ravensong-by-tj-klune-9779-b

Now on to this week's post:

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THE SOUNDTRACK

 

Music has always been a big part of my writing. I tend to make playlists for each new book I start writing, adding music to it as I go until I finish. I'm usually left with playlists that are dozens of songs long by the end.

Ravensong is a big book.

And that means it comes with big songs.

I've chosen eighteen songs off my Ravensong playlist (out of 126!) that I think perfectly fit the story I'm telling. I present these songs in order as they go with the narration of the story.

Ravensong is a book divided into three parts, though technically it can be argued to be four parts total: the opening chapter, the section titled Three Years One Month Twenty Six Days, followed by the section known as One Year Later and the final section, which I won't name here. For purposes of the soundtrack, I'm going to divide it into four parts.

The last section, much like the first, only has one song for a reason: they are both only a single chapter. The last section in particular is only a few pages long. And the song I picked for it is one that I've thought about for a long time. It's...well.

You'll find out soon enough when you listen to it. Take from it what you will.

Here, below, is the soundtrack, complete with a lyric or two that I think goes well with the story of Ravensong. I mostly let the songs speak for themselves; however, I did put one note on a particular song that I feel is the best of the bunch, and is, in essence, Gordo and Mark.

 

 

I. The Beginning

 

Please Don't Go Barcelona

If you want me to break down and give you the keys

I can do that but I can't let you leave

 

II. Three Years One Month Twenty-Six Days

 

Black Eyes Radical Face

While I slept you crept in and pulled the rug right out from under me

Then the rain stole away and took the parts that kept me functioning

 

Muddy Waters LP

I will ask you for mercy, I will come to you blind

What you’ll see is the worst me, not the last of my kind

 

Remains Bastille vs. Rag N Bone Man vs. Skunk Anansie

From dusk to dawn, my unheard screams grow silent in defeat

I know you’re just a memory, but you used to taste so sweet

 

Human Rag N Bone Man

I'm only human after all

Don't put your blame on me

 

Johnny Guitar Peggy Lee

What if you go, what if you stay, I love you

But if you're cruel, you can be kind, I know

 

Three Cheers for Five Years (Acoustic) Mayday Parade

Inside I hope you know I'm dying with my heart beside me

In shattered pieces that may never be replaced

 

Come Back for Me Jaymes Young

Oh, whatever you do, don't come back for me

After all I've bled for you, I can hardly breathe

 

Comin' Home City and Colour

I thought you could never leave, I figured I was the one

But I understand sadness so I guess I should just hold my tongue

 

III. One Year Later

 

Howl Florence + the Machine

If you could only see the beast you've made of me

I held it in but now it seems you've set it running free

 

Krwling Linking Park featuring Aaron Lewis

There's something inside me that pulls beneath the surface

Consuming, confusing

 

Start Again Red

What if I let you in? What if I make it right?

What if I give it up? What if I want to try?

 

It Has Begun Starset

We will face the odds against us

And run into the fear we run from

 

Light Sleeping At Last

May these words be the first to find your ears

The world is brighter than the sun now that you're here

(My favorite out of all the songs on this playlist. Oh man, does Light punch my right in my Gordo + Mark feels. It is my unofficial theme song for the entire book. I listened to it on repeat for some big, big scenes.)

Warriors Imagine Dragons

Here we are, don't turn away now

We are the warriors that built this town

 

Run Boy Run Woodkid

Tomorrow is another day and you won't have to hide away

You'll be a man, boy! But for now, it's time to run

 

Oblivion Bastille

When you fall asleep with your head upon my shoulder

When you're in my arms but you've gone somewhere deeper

 

IV. ???

 

Your World Will Fail Les Friction

Your world will fail, my love, it's far beyond repair

Your world will fail, my love, it's already there.

 

Next week: The complete first chapter of Ravensong. DSP has an excerpt up now with the pre-order, but it's incomplete. There are two more scenes after where it's cut off on DSP's site, one of which takes place between Joe and Gordo that sets the future of their relationship.

See you next week!
 

tj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bones Beneath My Skin Reveal

On October 26, a message will be delivered.

And everything will change.

You won’t understand. At least not right away. And that’s okay. You may even think I’m a liar, and that’s okay too. All I ask is that you listen until the very end before passing judgment. I have a story to tell you. Of a place under a Mountain. Of the minds of men. Of what it means to be human, to make a home out of a place where one should not exist. And of what the future holds. For you. For me. For all of us.

The Bones Beneath My Skin is a new queer romance from bestselling author TJ Klune.

Cover designed by Reese Dante.

Pre-orders to come soon!

Blurb:

In the spring of 1995, Nate Cartwright has lost everything: his parents are dead, his older brother wants nothing to do with him, and he's been fired from his job as a journalist in Washington DC. With nothing left to lose, he returns to his family's summer cabin outside the small mountain town of Roseland, Oregon to try and find some sense of direction.

The cabin should be empty.

It's not.

Inside is a man named Alex. And with him is an extraordinary little girl who calls herself Artemis Darth Vader.

Artemis, who isn't exactly as she appears.

Soon it becomes clear that Nate must make a choice: let himself drown in the memories of his past, or fight for a future he never thought possible.

Because the girl is special. And forces are descending upon them who want nothing more than to control her.

 

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Full wrap for the paperback:

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Ravensong: Thomas Bennett, and Making Things Queer as Balls

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I don't remember what it was: a tweet, an email, or a message of some kind, but once upon a time, a reader wrote to me about Wolfsong and said that it was "unrealistic" that everyone would be gay.

In a book about werewolves.

Unrealistic.

IN A BOOK ABOUT WEREWOLVES.

Hi, welcome to week 4 in my blog post lead up to the release of Ravensong, in which I will discuss why I don't give a flying fuck if everyone in this fictional world is queer or not (among other things). If you haven't read the previous three blogs, go back and start there.

Let's begin, shall we?

Look. I'm not going to sugarcoat this. I don't have time for this type of heterosexual nonsense in the real world (my fave? "I DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH GAY PEOPLE, BUT I JUST DON'T LIKE IT WHEN THEY SHOW UP IN MY FAVORITE SHOW/BOOK OR WHEN THEY BREATHE OR ARE ALIVE. STOP SHOVING YOUR LIFESTYLE DOWN MY THROAT. #MAGA") And I certainly don't have time if someone thinks there are too many queer characters in my books.

(Though, to be fair,  when I read or watch TV or movies or listen to music or go out into the world. I often think there are far too many straight characters. So.)

So let's get this out of the way: unless I am explicit about a character's heterosexuality, readers of Ravensong (or any book of mine) should assume said character is queer. Easy, right? Unless you see a dude like balls deep inside a vagina , or a woman talking about how she wants to get all up in some dude and ride him like a wooden rollercoaster, they gay. (Or, even better, they could still be doing BOTH those things because bisexuality is a thing that exists.)

(Oh man, did that all feel good to write. Also, people: don't be this person who writes to authors to complain about "too much gay". It makes you look ridiculous, and I will not hesitate to put you on blast.)

Moving on.

Thomas Bennett is not god. Thomas Bennett is not Werewolf Jesus. (That might be Ox.) Thomas Bennett is a flawed person with many, many secrets and hidden facets to his character.

I (and, as you'll soon see, Gordo) have a complicated relationship with Thomas. When I was writing Wolfsong, I made him this towering figure, and though he's barely in half the book, his shadow stretches long. He is the Alpha. The patriarch of this pack. A grand leader and, eventually, a sort of saving grace to Ox.

However.

There is a history that extends far beyond Wolfsong, one that encompasses Gordo. We see in the first book that Gordo despises the wolves, and seems especially vitriolic toward Thomas and Mark. And while I am happy people gravitated toward Thomas and his relationship with Ox (by design), I knew there was something much deeper at play.

Thomas Bennett is extraordinarily flawed. For a dead man (sorry about that--mostly), he certainly has a big part still left to play. (And no, there isn't anything like resurrection on the horizon, so nix that now.) I wanted to delve further into his relationship with Gordo, and the pack that once was. It's hinted in Wolfsong that the original pack came to a devastating end. How? Why? Who? And what happened that caused Gordo to shun the wolves for a big part of his life?

This, like the relationship between Mark and Gordo, is a central focus to Ravensong. It's not just a love story between two broken men, but also a love story between fathers and sons, and how much the weight of their mistakes can pull a person down. It's about finding a light through the anger and grief, and eventually, hopefully, forgiveness.

And that's it.

That's the last post I'm going to do about the story contents of Ravensong.

But Tj, you're thinking. You said you were going to do posts until the release!

Oh, I am. Next week, we're going to take a little detour in the form of the cover/blurb reveal for my next book that comes out in October. Gotta pimp, you know. Bills don't pay themselves. And I'm pretty damn proud of The Bones Beneath My Skin. It's a like a queer action movie with guns and explosions and dudes touching dicks.

After that, in July, I'll be doing things a little different. We'll get an official soundtrack for Ravensong, pre-orders, and possibly another excerpt.

Looking back at the previous posts (including this one), you'll notice one thing I really didn't focus on: the relationship between Mark and Gordo. Make no mistake: they are what the book is about. The reason I haven't said much about them specifically is because I want this to be a surprise. You might have thought a time or two over the last four weeks reading these posts that I'm giving a lot away. Trust me when I say I've barely scratched the surface to Ravensong. There are big things coming, monumental things that are going to change the Bennett pack forever. By the time you finish, I want you to be fucking dazed with the story you just read.

So...deep breath. July 31 will be here before you know it. I just hope you're ready for it.

See you next week!

tj

And, of course, the tiniest of teases:

Do not fuck with Jessie and a crowbar. It'll be the last thing you do.

 

Ravensong: The Women of the Green Creek Series

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Week 3 of the behind-the-scenes for Ravensong. If you missed the previous posts, check the last two entries on the blog.

Spoilers for the story in Wolfsong, so proceed with caution if you haven't read that first book.

There are seven different women in Ravensong.

Each one is important, no matter how small their part may be.

When I first started writing Wolfsong, I was conscious of the choices I was going to make regarding the women of the series. Too often in MM Romance, a female character is either relegated to  the bubbly best friend, or the vengeful girlfriend/wife keeping the main characters apart.

I fell into that trope myself, arguably, with Bear, Otter and the Kid. Bear and Ty's mother was...well. If you've read that book, you know what she was. And then there was Anna, Bear's girlfriend. Part of me wishes I'd handled that differently, but I liked the character she became in  subsequent books in the series. I even found myself feeling a bit sorry for the mom by the time we got to The Art of Breathing. She was not a good person, that much is true; but I'd like to think I understood her a little better by the end.

However, in Wolfsong, I wanted to have women who stood just as strong as the male characters.

Maggie Calloway, in the end, was not a victim. Yes, she was murdered by Richard Collins, but she went out fighting, just as Thomas Bennett did. Her love was a fierce and wonderful thing, and it hurt when she did pass. Without her, I don't believe Ox would be the man he is. He had the Bennetts, sure, but he learned to stand because of his mother.

Jessie was...well. She was the girlfriend who briefly stood between the two main characters, though when she and Ox were together, Joe was far too young for it to actually mean they were being kept apart. But everyone grows up sometime, and Jessie became an important part of the pack. She became independent of Ox, even though it was through him (and Chris) that they were all tied together in pack.

And Elizabeth. My queen. I adore her. And I hurt her. I'll be honest, when I was writing Wolfsong, I had to stop after the death of Thomas Bennett because I'd been writing how Ox felt about it all, and not necessarily showing Elizabeth and grief. That was a mistake, and one I knew needed to be corrected immediately. It wasn't fair to let her fall by the wayside.

Which brings me to Ravensong.

Elizabeth Bennett (and no, that name was not intentional--it wasn't until the book was published that someone said, oh, hey, that name is familiar--*sigh*; she was actually the last to be named out of all the Bennetts, even after the last name had already been chosen) is the matriarch of the pack. When we return to Green Creek in the present, we will see her in control. I was concerned with her sort of fading into the background, only appearing to dispense wisdom before disappearing again.

So in the outline, I wrote a complete arc for her, what she was doing when certain events were happening, what she might have been feeling. The hard thing about a singular perspective is the idea of telling versus showing. I'm not too hung up on that as some people seem to be (to each their own), but I was conscious of her at all points.

And it helped that Gordo's history was so intertwined with her own (and, of course, with Thomas Bennett--but I'll get to him next week). Even if he won't admit it, I think Elizabeth knows Gordo better than most people. The shared history is one filled with anguish and hardship, but they understand each other in ways I didn't expect. For sure Gordo doesn't expect it, either, and it was an eyeopener to see them find their way back to each other, even after all that had happened (of which you'll learn all about).

(And remember, Elizabeth will get her own story called Lovesong, released right here on this blog on September 1.)

It's the same for Jessie. Yes, she's Ox's ex. Yes, she's Chris's sister. But I needed her to stand on her own, especially since she is human. She doesn't have magic. She's not a wolf. But she can hold her own. In fact, she has turned into a pretty big badass, as you'll soon discover. Remember Ox's crowbar with silver in it? He can't use it anymore, obviously. So it goes to Jessie, and holy shit, is she going to fuck some assholes up, even while calling out the men in the pack on their bullshit (of which there is alot. Men are dumb). She is often the voice of reason, and is part of what Gordo (much to his dismay) refers to as Team Human.

The third woman is someone we saw briefly throughout Wolfsong.

The (temporary) Alpha of all.

Michelle Hughes.

She remains, for the most part, an enigma, though her role in Ravensong is much larger than it was in Wolfsong. Some will think her a villain, and while that's fair, I don't know if it's right, exactly. And no, she's not the Big Bad in Ravensong.

She is still far, far away, but her actions in Ravensong will reverberate throughout the rest of the series. That doesn't mean she's evil, but that she's doing what she thinks is right. And whether she is right or not will be the big question.  Power is intoxicating, and she's had a taste of it given her position. What will she do to keep that power, if she thinks she has to?

Seven women.

I've told you about three.

The remaining four?

One has no speaking part, but she is arguably the catalyst for a great many things that will span into the remaining two books.

The second is Gordo's mother. What you read about her briefly in Wolfsong is a lie told by an angry man bent on keeping Ox away from the wolves.

The third is...interesting. Let's just say Rico will have his hands full.

And the fourth?

The fourth might just be up there with my favorite of all characters in this series.

Because she is the true villain of Ravensong. Her history with the Bennett pack goes back far longer than anyone expects. And she will bring the wolves to their knees.

(i'm such an asshole, lolol.)

Next week, Gordo and Thomas Bennett: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

tj

And the little tease:

The relationship between Carter and Kelly plays a major role, and Gordo will make a new enemy because of it and his actions.

 

 

Ravensong: Perception, Magic and the ANNNNGST

Week 2! If you want to read Week 1, check out the previous blog post Ravensong: A Return to Green Creek.

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In Wolfsong, Ox describes Gordo's tattoos as having lines and waves and flowers.

In Wolfsong, Ox describes Gordo and Mark as being "around the same age."

This is a lie.

Sort of.

Stick with me here.

Wolfsong is all from Ox's unique perspective, how he sees the world around him as he grows into the Alpha he never thought he'd become. And since he is the narrator, we take everything he says as fact.

As you should.

Except...

Well, there was the tiniest bit of retconning, at least when it came to those two things. I had enough wiggle room with it (as my editors pointed out: just enough) to make things...not different, but more.

Gordo does have flowers in his tattoos. Roses, in fact. And when they're not...in motion, they're nestled below the raven tattoo. This is important.

In fact, all of the tattoos are important, because of where they came from, and how, and when, and why. All of these questions will be answered, and it's rough, man. Even I, the bastard that I am, felt sorry for Gordo.

But it's important for his magic, and the symbols carved into his skin helped to make the man he is today, both good and bad.

Magic in Green Creek is different than magic in my Lightning series. In those books, magic is more wish fulfillment, and even though the big big magic can wear on the user (as Sam showed numerous times), it was still...well, not easy, but not exactly hard.

It's different for the witches. Magic here in this universe is taxing and rough. It drains on the person, and can lead to **REDACTED FOR SPOILERS** and then Gordo has to **REDACTED FOR SPOILERS** and then he'll be all like boom and **REDACTED FOR SPOILERS**.

(lolol.)

It goes with the ideas of these books: they aren't meant to be comedic like the Lightning series, though there are moments of levity. Things can't be dour and dire all the time, because that becomes a slog to get through. There is a moment in particular that I adore, and it happens with Joe and Kelly and Carter just...getting to be dumb kids for a little while. Gordo watches on with a barely constrained eye-roll, but I think this moment is important. You'll know it when you get to it. Carter should not continue eating gas station burritos.

Levity aside, Ravensong in particular, is, as I described Gordo previously, dirt and grime and hardcore. These things a witch can do hurt, especially the bigger levels of magic. And Gordo is going to be tested in ways I hadn't even begun to discuss in Wolfsong. But then, it's all about perception. What Ox saw isn't necessarily what Gordo sees.

Which brings me to the second thing:

Gordo and Mark are not the same age.

Mark is three years older than Gordo.

(Yes, I know all of their birthdays, birth years, and the like. No, I am not going to tell you yet.)

By the time the book gets going, and we're thrust back into the present, Gordo is 40 years old. Mark is 43.

And the angst, man.

I've gone on record previously in stating that Ravensong hurts worse than Wolfsong did, though your mileage may vary. And while I'm not going to spoil exactly why, I'll say that I relate to Gordo and Mark easier than I do to Ox and Joe. I'm writing this on June 6, 2018. My 36th birthday was a few weeks ago. I understand the issues of getting older, something I would have scoffed at a decade ago. The little things I can brush off easier than I used to. But what I was struck by when writing Ravensong was how closer I was in age to Mark and Gordo than Ox and Joe, and the story shows that. No, this isn't some masturbatory self-insert by me, the author, but I understood Gordo's rage, more than I thought I would. But I could also see it from the other side too. It's a conundrum, and one I wanted to explore. There are two sides to every story.

The little things can be forgotten.

But the big things? Those long-term hurts that never seem to scab over and scar? Betrayal in all its forms?

That's what I wanted to focus on here in Ravensong. There is a reason Gordo is the man he is, and it's valid. And fuck, is he angry. He's not going to stay that way, mostly, but it cannot be up to just Mark to change that. There are dynamics in play here, dynamics between Gordo and every member of the pack. This is a love story about Gordo and Mark. But it's also a story about pack, and the strength of the bonds between all of them, even when all seems lost. Everyone in the Bennett pack will have a part to play. And I do mean everyone.

Next week: the women of Green Creek. There are seven important women in Ravensong, though some parts are smaller than others. I'll discuss three: Elizabeth, Jessie, and Michelle Hughes, the Alpha of all.

See you next week!

tj

A little tease... (look away if you want to go in knowing nothing):

The major villain?

Not who you think.

Ravensong: The Return to Green Creek

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If you go into Ravensong expecting it to be just like Wolfsong, you are going to be disappointed.

If you go into Ravensong expecting it to be written just like Wolfsong, you are going to be disappointed.

I made both of those mistakes when I first started writing Gordo and Mark's story. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Except I've never been that kind of storyteller. I don't like to have one book be exactly like another, even in a series. But given that this book is part of a series, there has to be some kind of bridge between the voices, especially when the narrators change like they do here, from Ox to Gordo.

Gordo is not Ox.

Ox is not Gordo.

Ravensong is not a coming of age story.

This is an I-already-came-of-age-a-long-time-ago-and-I'm-now-an-asshole-adult story.

I tried too hard, in the beginning, to make Gordo sound like Ox, to try and tell the story the same way, and it was terrible. It took me longer than I cared to admit to figure out what I was doing wrong, but when I did, I realized I was being inauthentic to Gordo Livingstone as a character.

So I went back and scrapped much of what I had written already, keeping the basic structure, but rewriting most of what was already there.

And it went so much easier.

There was a poetic cadence to Ox, and the way he saw the world.

Gordo is grime and dirt, blunt and hot-headed. And his voice caused me to write him that way. It's still a little different than what you're used to reading, but there's a distinct difference between Ox and Gordo. Remember that.

And you should know Gordo has very good reasons to be the way he is.

I knew, even while writing Wolfsong, that there was a history here between the Livingstones and the Bennetts. I touched upon it briefly, but there was so much more teeming underneath that I knew was going to be a big part of Ravensong. I also knew it meant going back to Gordo's younger days, to see how and why he became a witch at such a young age, and what happened to cause him to hate the Bennetts as much as he does in Wolfsong.

And with that, there was that now infamous time period that I also wondered about: three years, one month, twenty six days.

Wolfsong covers a long period of time over the entire novel.

Ravensong covers even longer, but in a shorter amount of time. The first quarter of the book alternates between Gordo as a kid, and Gordo with Carter, Kelly and Joe as they chase after Richard Collins. It's disorienting, going between the kid that was and the man he's become, but it's meant to be. There are echoes of Wolfsong in Ravensong, as Gordo and Ox are two sides of the same coin; however, before too long, you'll come to the hard right turn that sets them on different paths, allowing them to become the men they did. Ox is almost messianic. Gordo was broken by people he trusted most, and the pieces that remain don't fit like they used to.

Ox's story was one of hope in the face of adversity.

Gordo's is one of tragedy, and overcoming the darkness within.

But this only the first part of the book. The remaining three fourths?

That covers a period of two weeks.

Wolfsong was filled with thunderous highs, and the quietest of lows.

Ravensong is a crescendo. It starts soft, but increases through the entire story until it's screaming by the end. It is going to be a wild fucking ride. You won't see the end coming.

(and for the purists: Wolfsong (to me) was a happy for now (HFN) ending versus happily ever after (HEA), given that so much was still up in the air. Ravensong is the same way. Many things are resolved and Gordo and Mark will be...Gordo and Mark, but there are major threads that will feed into Kelly and Carter's books. You'll soon see why.)

This is the first of eight posts, to be released weekly in advance of Ravensong on July 31, a little over two weeks away. I'll be extremely light on the spoilers, though I might drop a small tease for each post.

Some of the other topics to be covered:

--Gordo's (and my) complicated relationship with Thomas Bennett

--The women of Green Creek

--The official soundtrack for Ravensong

--The importance of packpackpack,

--enemies to lovers vs. grumpy assholes to lovers (guess which Gordo and Mark actually are),  and why the angst in Ravensong is harder for me than it was in Wolfsong

--Why everyone in Green Creek could be gay, and I don't care who hates that

Pre-orders should go up in a few weeks.

See you next week!

tj

A little tease... (look away if you want to go in knowing nothing):

The best non-romantic pairing I had fun with in Ravensong?

Gordo and Robbie.