Welcome autumn, my favorite season! I love the cool nights, the sunny days, and the colorful trees. Pumpkins, Halloween, GayRomLit (okay, so I’m creating my own tradition here!), and Thanksgiving are in the air. And what else? Lots of Blue Notes! And a great giveaway I’ll let you all know about at the end of the post!
For readers of the Blue Notes Series, book #5, Encore, is just around the corner! And for those of you who haven’t read a Blue Notes book yet, this might just be the one to start with, since the books can be read in any order. The fifth installment in the series is also the first, chronologically.
Encore is the story of Roger Nelson and John Fuchs, and spans nearly 40 years of the characters’ lives. Roger, whom you may remember as Alex Bishop’s violin teacher in Prelude, and John Fuchs, David Bishop’s predecessor at the Chicago Symphony, meet in their senior year of high school. The year is 1971, and the body count from Vietnam War is the lead off for the nightly news. The Stonewall riots happened 2 years before, and John has just figured out he’s one of the “deviants who don’t like women” his father is talking about.
John and Roger play in their high school orchestra. Roger, the cool kid, wants to be a solo violinist, and John, the shy geek, wants to be a conductor. Opposites who become best friends and then lovers. But being gay in the 1970s isn’t exactly easy, and Roger and John struggle to keep their relationship on track when faced with prejudice and tragedy. When it all becomes too much for Roger, he makes the worst mistake of his life: he lets John go.
Through the years and through it all, Roger and John remain best friends. Modern day star-crossed lovers. Meant for each other, but torn apart by society’s hatred and their own personal tragedies. How long will it take them to admit that without each other, they are both incomplete?
For me, Encore is a bit of my own childhood revisited. I’m a bit younger than Roger and John, but I remember Vietnam and the birth of the gay rights movement. I knew men like these men, felt some of their pain, saw them struggle through the devastation of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and heard them wish for something more. Things aren’t perfect by any means today, but they’re SO much better than they were.
Also coming soon is Symphony in Blue, a direct sequel to the first 4 Blue Notes Series books! No release date yet, but probably December. It’s got a holiday tie-in, and wraps up some of the unfinished threads from the first four books. Did Cary and Antonio have a child together? Do Aiden and Sam finally get married? What are David and Alex up to? Will Jason play piano again in public? Warm and fuzzy, light on the angst!
Like the Blue Notes books? Would you like to own your own autographed set of the first four paperbacks? I’m giving away a signed set of 4 books (US readers) or a set of ebooks (non-US readers) on November 1st to celebrate the countdown to Encore’s release. Enter here: Blue Notes Paperback Giveaway
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from “Encore” to whet your appetites. Enjoy! -Shira
Excerpt from Chapter Seven
John arrived at Olivia’s later than he’d intended. His grandmother had flown in for graduation, and he’d eaten dinner out with his family to celebrate. If you could call it a celebration: it was more like someone’s funeral. His parents barely spoke during the meal, and his grandmother just glared at them both. John had done his best to keep the conversation going, but he’d spent more time than he wanted just looking at his food. When he finally left the house in his mother’s car, it was nearly ten. Well, maybe ten fifteen, since his mother insisted on reminding him not to drink or drive and, to his great mortification, gave him a handful of condoms. “You may be eighteen, but you wouldn’t want to ruin your life by getting a girl pregnant on the night of your high school graduation.” As if that would ever happen!
“Hey, John.” Olivia was a round-faced girl who played oboe in the orchestra and had dated Roger a few times. Nobody went out with Roger more than a few times, and nobody seemed to mind much either. He was just, well, Roger.
“Hi, Livvie.” John’s face was hot as she pulled him inside and handed him a cup of something that looked like fruit punch. Cherry red, like Jell-O. “Thank you for inviting me.”
She giggled and he kicked himself for being so formal. Embarrassed, he took a long drink. It wasn’t punch. Or rather, it was punch, but with enough alcohol that it burned going down. He managed not to cough, but he was sure his face was bright red.
They walked through the living room, where several couples were making out on the sofa and love seat, then headed down to the basement by way of the kitchen stairs. The room was full of people, most of whom he knew or had seen around the band room. The place smelled of pot and cigarettes, and loud music blared from a double set of speakers placed in each corner of the room. “Smoke on the Water.” He’d heard the song before on an eight-track cassette Roger loved to play in the car.
John spotted Roger in the corner, talking to a girl John recognized, a tenth grader. She was watching Roger with the kind of breathless lust that made John feel slightly sick. That, and jealous, although he wouldn’t dignify the emotion by giving in to it.
Roger saw him and waved. John forced a smile and made his way through several groups of people, accepting another cup of the alcohol-with-a-little-red-stuff before sitting down next to Roger.
“Hey, John.” Roger laughed as if John’s name was suddenly funny. His eyes were bloodshot, and John guessed he’d been smoking weed nonstop since he’d arrived. Several empty plastic cups littered the floor beside him. High and drunk.
John finished his own drink in about five minutes, doing his best to ignore the burn at the back of his throat. The stuff was horrible, but it did the trick. His shoulders and neck already felt like jelly—raspberry jelly, he decided as he eased into the sensation—and his mind was blurring rather nicely. Better that way when it came to dealing with Roger and girls.
Someone cranked the volume on the stereo and the tinny speakers crackled. John was glad he was buzzed or the sound would have hurt his ears.
Roger said something to him, but John couldn’t hear it over the music. John pointed to his ears and offered him a shrug. Roger laughed and leaned over, effectively cutting off Miss Tenth Grade from the conversation. “How was dinner?” he asked, his words slurring.
John tried to answer, but Roger rolled onto the floor and nearly into his lap, and he forgot what he was going to say.
“Need more weed.” Roger grinned up at him. “You in?”
“You know I don’t—” John began, but Roger had already gotten to his feet and was pulling him up by his arm. John followed, only vaguely aware of people moving out of their way to let them through. Roger pulled him through a doorway, then closed the door behind them and locked it.
“Don’t wanna share,” Roger mumbled as he pulled a joint from his pocket, lit it, and inhaled.
There was a mattress on the floor, a tiny black-and-white TV propped on a plastic milk crate, and a bunch of psychedelic posters stuck to the wall. John stared at them, trying to decide if they were crooked or if he was just trashed. Probably both. He felt a little dizzy following the swirls around in circles. But maybe that was the pot. The smoke was thick enough that he didn’t think he needed to take a toke to get high.
Roger handed him the joint, mumbling, “I’ll share with you.” He grinned as John took it. “Go on. Try it. Feels good.”
John took a long drag. He smiled at Roger, then began to cough. “Crap!”
“S’okay. Gets better. Try again.”
John blinked away the tears at the corners of his eyes, then drew in more of the smoke. It still burned his throat, and he coughed a little, but he held it longer than before.
“See?” Roger grinned at him and took the joint back, then set it down on an ashtray that was overflowing with cigarette butts.
John nodded and looked back at the posters. “I like the color,” he said to himself. “Like one of those pictures of a nebula or something.”
“Star Trek,” Roger agreed.
John lay on the bed. There was another poster on the ceiling, but it looked blurry, so he just closed his eyes and sighed.
Roger fell back on the bed with a thud, then giggled. John wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Roger giggle. He turned to look at Roger, who was looking back at him with a serious expression. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing.” Roger kept staring at him.
“Come on. Do I look like an alien or something?” He was still thinking about Star Trek, imagining what Leonard Nimoy might look like without the blue uniform top. Pretty good, he guessed.
“Nah. You look good.”
John’s face warmed, but he didn’t say anything. He was too busy eyeing the patch of Roger’s abdomen visible where the fabric of his shirt had scooted up. Roger would look better without a shirt than Spock. Definitely.
Roger rolled onto his side, then pushed himself up on an elbow, his face above John’s. Roger’s odd expression made John feel strange. Horny too. Normally he’d have been mortified for Roger to see him with a boner, but for some reason he didn’t care. He felt really good. Warm and fuzzy and something else: happy. He smiled.
Roger took another toke on the joint, then handed it to John as he held the smoke in. John inhaled, and this time he didn’t cough at all.
“Good stuff,” Roger confirmed.
“It is.” John couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I’m glad we’re going to college together.” Roger was watching him with the same strange expression as before. It reminded John of the way Roger looked at some of the girls. Dreamy. Kind of sexy.
“Me too.” John hadn’t told Roger just how relieved he’d been when they’d both gotten their acceptance letters to the University of Michigan. They’d only talked about how they could avoid the draft, at least for a few more years. But John had been thinking about more than that. He didn’t know what he’d do without Roger to talk to. And when Roger had asked if he wanted to room with him, John had been even happier.
“You know what I asked you about girls when we were on tour?”
John wasn’t sure how to respond. Of course he remembered it, but he didn’t really want to get into that whole discussion again. “Yes” was all he said.
“I’ve kind of been thinking about it.”
Roger moved closer to him. The joint sat forgotten on the ashtray. “I know this is going to sound weird.” Roger made a funny face—kind of like a slow-motion grin. Or was the pot just making it look that way? “I wasn’t really lying when I said I thought about kissing a guy once.”
John shook his head. “Don’t bullshit me, Roger. I’m not falling for that one again.”
“Fuck you.” John hoped maybe Roger wasn’t bullshitting. Then again, Roger always bullshitted, didn’t he?
Roger leaned closer. Close enough that John felt his breath on his face. Then Roger’s lips met John’s and John bit back a moan. Roger’s lips were warm and slightly moist. Soft too.
Holy crap! John kissed him back. This close, Roger smelled of weed and red punch. Something else too. He smelled like Roger. The thought made John giggle.
“What?” Roger looked a little worried, as if he thought John hadn’t liked being kissed.
“You smell like you. I mean, you smell good.”
John could see relief on Roger’s face. He kissed John again, and this time he put some of his weight on him so John could feel Roger’s erection against his own. John had started to wonder if he was imagining the whole thing, but he was too wasted to care. Besides, in his imagination, Roger had now slipped his arms underneath him and rolled them both onto their sides. Sometime after that, they’d taken their shirts off.
Definitely better than Spock. John touched his fingers to Roger’s chest and traced circles around one nipple, then the other. Imaginary Roger murmured something that came out sounding like “Mmmm… nnnn… uuhhhh.” John decided he wanted to do more than just trace those hard little nubs. Not that he’d ever touched another guy’s nipples before, but he’d sneaked into a gay porn flick once when he’d been on a class trip to New York City, and he had a pretty good idea of what you were supposed to do.
“Fuck, John. What’re you doin’?” Imaginary Roger was grinning, so John figured he was doing okay as he rolled a nipple. After a few minutes, he decided he wanted to taste it. “God. Oh, fucking hell. You’re making me harder than nails.”