Monday, June 22, 2015

THE GRAND BALLAST excerpt

One week till THE GRAND BALLAST releases! I'm very excited to share this with you guys. If you'd like to join me on my blog tour to win things and learn what it was like as a writer to spend so much time with a character as, um, mercurial as Kilroy Ballast, here are the stops:

June 29 - Joyfully Jay
June 30 - The Novel Approach
July 1 - Love Bytes Reviews
July 2 - Boys in Our Books
July 2 - Prism Book Alliance

And in the meantime, here is chapter one:



THE THIRD SHOW

The night the snake charmer broke his wrist, Bode stopped taking his pills.

The show was sloppy—an unexpected performance Kilroy had added after the first two sold out. Kayak, the contortionist, couldn’t get his own cock into his mouth. Roulette and Sibyata nearly missed a catch on the trapeze. The snake charmer toppled from the bench while playing his pungi and landed wrong on his arm. He screamed. Members of the audience clapped weakly, unsure whether the tragedy had been staged for their benefit, while the mechanical snake slithered toward the exit, rattling its steel tail.

Bode had to breathe deeply and concentrate on cotton candy during his act, because his mind kept breaking through the Haze. His nerves rose and bloomed suddenly, and he started to choke on Long John’s dick. That hadn’t happened in…months? Years? In what little memory Bode retained.

After the show. After the show, if there’s time, I’ll get some fucking cotton candy.

Calliope music filled the big top tent in swells and stretches. The tent flap whiffled in the breeze, revealing the littered ground outside and the ticket-taker’s jaunty purple shoes. Backstage, he could still hear the snake charmer moaning. With each moan, LJ’s hand tightened in Bode’s hair.

The others took their nightly dose of the Haze in the dressing room immediately after the show. But Bode left his pills in the small plastic medicine cup and started to remove his makeup.

“Pack it in, pack it out; you wanna see this?” Sibyata pulled down her leotard to show her scarred and bony chest—small, dented breasts like bruised oranges. Pulled it down further to reveal a small crater, about two inches in diameter and one inch deep, in the flesh under her ribs. “Thass what Kilroy had the doctor put in. So Rou could fuck me sideways.” She chuckled, a horrible guzzling sound. Then the leotard was off and kicked to the side, and she was throwing on a loose T-shirt. “Ay-ah-ay-ah. Nobody’ll look at a dead girl. That’s what I am, huh? Nobody wants to drizzle this clam. Bode, what’s wrong with my pussy? All these years, and still tighter than a mouse’s ear.” She slapped his shoulder. “I bet it’s tighter ’n your ass.”

Most nights she was easy to ignore, but tonight Bode turned to her. “Shut up.”

“You had a regular fuck pyramid tonight, didn’tchoo? LJ plowing your mouth while Kilroy stabbed your chute? Then the rest of us piled on.” She walked behind him and pulled his hair, then leaned down in his face and flicked her tongue repeatedly against the inside of her cheek. “Cocksuckeerrrrr,” she murmured.

He spun in the chair and punched her thigh.

“Yow. Ass!”

He reared back again and punched her between the legs.

“Oh, fuck!” She gripped her crotch and, with her other hand, raked her nails across his forehead. Blood trickled over his eyebrow and into his eye. Sibyata retreated to the corner, grabbed her hairspray and blasted half the can in his direction before she stormed out. He coughed, bewildered by the strength of his own anger.

The others didn’t appear to notice the fight. They exchanged their costumes for loose sleep clothes and headed outside to the coffin car, gravel crunching under their feet.

Bode lingered in front of the mirror with its frame of broken bulbs and removed his makeup slowly. He stared into the glass until his lips curled upward, seemingly of their own accord. “Hello, stranger,” he murmured. The plastic cup in front of him held two pills, bright blue and iridescent like dyed pearls. Bode thought about throwing them away but didn’t.

Nearly half an hour later he was starting to appreciate the absence of the Haze. He felt alert and attuned to the slightest sound, like an animal hunting on a cold night, waiting for a message from the wind. The world unaltered and defogged was a sorry place, but it was sharp and surprising, and he drew some satisfaction from how quickly things moved here—moments, molecules, his own reflection.

“’ello, Gov’nah,” he said to himself in an over-the-top British accent. “’eyyyy…” He squinted one eye and pointed at the mirror. “Don’t Oi know yaoouuu from somewhe’s?”

He pushed his chair back. “Oh, fuck.” He looked into the mirror again and laughed, stifling the sound immediately with one hand. He spread his fingers so that his lips stuck out of the gap. “Fuck. Fuuuuu—” He scissored his fingers, clamping his lips together and turning the word into a mumble. Slowly brought his hand down. “You didn’t used to say ‘fuck,’” he whispered to his reflection.

He was staring with his head tilted and his eyes wide, pretending to be a doll, a creepy doll, when the curtain over the door parted and Kilroy walked in. Kilroy wore his shabby red and black tailcoat and his riding boots, but not his hat. His fine blond hair was plastered to his head, whorled in sweat-darkened patches. He carried the ring stick—a thick, tough stem, blanched as bone and covered in thorns.

“Bodeee.” He spoke as though Bode were an old friend he hadn’t seen in some time. He twirled the ring stick once. Bode tried not to flinch.

Kilroy would have made a better creepy doll than Bode. He had light blue eyes and full lips and skin so pale it seemed to give off a glow like a winter halo. He wasn’t beautiful—he looked too clever, too fast for the stillness beauty required. But Bode had once thought him very appealing. The memory of that time, which the Haze would have buried any other day, pricked him in a dozen places and drew strings of blood.

Kilroy spotted the unemptied pill cup. “Oh.” He used the stick to tilt the cup toward him and peered inside. “Ohhh.” He glanced at Bode. “Take your medicine.”

Bode laughed. “I’m not taking those anymore, you fuckin’ hideous old man.”
Kilroy smiled. His mouth often moved languorously in private moments, though in the ring the grin blazed across his face. “How old do you think you are, Bode?”

Bode didn’t answer.

“Because I’m quite young,” Kilroy said.

“I’m younger.” Bode was sure of that much. The Haze had made it hard to keep track.
Kilroy stirred the cup with the end of the ring stick. The tips of the stick’s thorns were burnt-looking. “I thought we had a deal.”

Bode hunched. “I don’t know anymore.”

“Part of the deal is you don’t have to know. You just have to do.”

Bode leaned back, making the chair creak. A jewelry chain was draped over one of the broken bulbs to the left of the mirror. In some towns, they weren’t given dressing rooms—they got ready in the equipment car of the train. But some towns were pleased to host them. Some gave them broken bulbs. “I don’t want to do it anymore. I hate you. Fucker.”

Kilroy was quiet. He tipped the cup over and the blue pills skittered across the table.

You didn’t used to say fuck.

Bode watched from the corner of his eye as Kilroy drew the ring stick back to his side. “You’ve paid your debt, then?”

Bode stared at the mirror. A small stream of sweat trickled down from one armpit. His throat went tight and his eyes blurred. He should have been ready for this. Without the Haze, ghosts had enormous power over him, and Kilroy knew that.

Kilroy tapped the ring stick lightly against Bode’s shoulder. The sharpness of the thorns forced Bode to focus. He sat straight and twitched, wanting to shrug off the stick but knowing better than to try.

“I’ll still work for you.” Bode’s gaze traced a streak on the mirror. “But I don’t want the Haze.”

Kilroy dragged the thorns in a slow, sweeping zigzag down his back. Bode let out an uneven breath. He glanced down at the table’s edge, his cock hardening. Each night, in the ring, he could have pleasure if he chose. A cloud of it, made dull by its own abundance. The Haze gave him an artificial ecstasy, steroidal orgasms that brought no joy and left no memory. This was different.

The sensation was smaller, concentrated, but it was real. And it brought with it the recollection of a thousand times he’d felt like this around Kilroy Ballast: feverish and squally with rebellion and youth and a skin of love with no meat to it. So strange, what he’d once mistaken for love—like an untrained dog asked to find someone buried in snow, uncovering rags and stones and creatures’ dens without understanding there was a larger goal, a prize beyond these small, dubious treasures.

Now Kilroy’s hands were on him, the ring stick set aside—and good, because of all the indignities Bode had suffered over the last however many years, the ring stick was the worst. Heat dipped into him like an oar, vanished as Kilroy pulled him from his chair, then returned as Kilroy spun him and kissed him.

They shared their hunger until Kilroy made the feast one-sided, stilled Bode with his aggression. Bode’s lips hurt. His scalp too—Kilroy was pulling his hair. Kilroy pressed his lips to the crook of Bode’s shoulder and whispered, “All right. But I need to know you can still perform without it.”

Their limbs were gold in the light from the bulbs. Undrugged, Bode could see more, understand more—and yet the newness was so overwhelming he didn’t feel sure of anything except the roar in his bones, the hot dash of blood from his heart through the whole of him. He bit Kilroy during their next kiss, and Kilroy chuckled, clapping him between the shoulders.

“You’re my star attraction.” Kilroy held him tightly, rocking him. “I can’t lose you.”

Bode turned to nuzzle Kilroy’s cheek, and Kilroy’s hand slid to his cock. Kilroy gripped hard, too hard, and the dance was familiar, though he and Kilroy had both become unrecognizable since the day they’d first taken hands and stepped out onto the floor.

Bode wished for the strength to hate Kilroy, but his mind recycled stars, calliope music, the glittering oddity of a circus in a silent town full of empty people. An hour ago, he’d been someone else, sleepwalking his way through a performance his muscles knew better than his mind. Now he was awake and ready to lash the world like rain.

He went to his knees in front of Kilroy, his fingers working the brass button of Kilroy’s fly. Kilroy grasped and released handful after handful of his hair. The calliope music in Bode’s mind was his guarded secret, like a sinister plot against the quiet room.

“It will be hard without the Haze.” Kilroy ran his fingers lightly over the crown of Bode’s head. Cotton candy, Bode remembered suddenly. Should’ve gotten cotton candy. “The world is cruel.”

“I know it is,” Bode whispered, and began to perform.


___________________________

You can view the book trailer (which, okay, fine, is more like a movie preview)  here.
You can also, from now until the 25th, enter to win a paperback copy on goodreads


In a future where live sex shows abound to keep a jaded population entertained, dancer Bode Martin falls for the brilliant and unstable Kilroy Ballast, who molds Bode into the star attraction of his erotic circus, the Grand Ballast. Drugged beyond any real feeling, Bode trades freedom and his once considerable pride for an illusion of tenderness—until he inadvertently rescues a young man from a rival show, and together they flee to an eccentric town in the west where love still means something.

Valen’s not an easy man to know, and Bode shed his romantic notions under Kilroy’s brutal employ. Yet their growing bond becomes a strange and dangerous salvation as they attempt to overthrow the shadows of their pasts and wade together through a world of regret, uncertainty, beauty, and terror.

But Kilroy won't let Bode go so easily. Long ago, Bode was responsible for the loss of something Kilroy held dear, and he still owes Kilroy a debt. As the three men battle toward a tangled destiny, Bode must decide if his love for Valen is worth fighting for—or if he was and always will be a pawn in the story Kilroy Ballast will never stop telling.

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