Christmas doesn’t have to be white

So the Christmas season is here, and all those wonderful (if formulaic) Hallmark movies are hitting Netflix and Amazon. I don’t want to bash the movies, because I love them. But there’s something that might not be immediately apparent to white viewers (like myself) that I feel I should point out: Hallmark was originally a Christian programming channel. And unfortunately, that means they still cater to a primarily white, straight audience.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. There are a lot of Christians in the country who are black, Latinx, Asian-American, and so on. Yet we rarely see them in movies and TV shows. And while it’s true this problem is endemic to our culture, it seems to be particularly slow to change in Hallmark programming. I watched an entire season of The Good Witch (which I love), unable to spot anyone – even in the background – who wasn’t white. In season two, they had one or two black characters sitting in restaurants or wandering by on the street. In season three, some unnamed black people had lines! To be fair, the lead actress, Catherine Bell, is half Iranian, as mentioned in the article below, but I’m not convinced audiences are aware of that fact.

Don’t even get me started on the complete erasure of LGBTQ people.

Why Are Hallmark Movie Casts So White? We Asked The CEO

I really don’t mean to be picking on just Hallmark. The company doesn’t generally have strong religious themes in their programming, these days, and it’s made some attempts in recent years to be more racially diverse. Black coworkers and bosses are becoming the norm, and there are some, if not many, films with black or Latina leads (I can’t recall ever seeing one with a male lead – they follow the romance novel formula). Other companies that produce Christmas programming have the same issues. Though as the article mentions, Lifetime is doing a bit better.

Though, again, if you find a prominent LGBTQ character in a Christmas film… it ain’t Hallmark. They have made some LGBTQ commercials for their greeting card line, which is progress, but we don’t even get supporting roles in their films.

This isn’t a scholarly article. I’m not going to quote sources, and you are free to think my opinion is full of crap. But in an attempt to be more productive than simply whining about the lack of diversity, I’d like to point out some favorite Christmas movies (from Hallmark and other companies) with diverse casts.

The Holiday Calendar (Netflix)

A young woman is given an antique advent calendar, and although she can’t open the doors, every morning she finds one open with a small toy inside that somehow predicts what will happen that day. This is a magical film with a wonderful cast. I fell in love with both of the leads. The plot gets a bit muddy, and there were some cliches concerning “the other man” I could easily do without, but I adored it. Currently, you can find it on Netflix.

Miss Me This Christmas & You Can’t Fight Christmas (Pokeprod)

I’m listing these two together, because they were filmed at the same time and released simultaneously. They take place in roughly the same time frame, so if you watch them back to back, you’ll see two or three scenes repeated from different viewpoints, as the characters bump into each other. The acting isn’t spectacular, though the male lead (Redaric Williams) from Miss Me This Christmas has got to be one of the sexiest men I’ve ever seen on film, and the female lead (Brely Evans) from You Can’t Fight Christmas is funny and energetic, and I love the fact that she’s portrayed as sexy, even though she has a few extra pounds. We also have a side character who, if I recall, is openly gay.

In Miss Me This Christmas, Regina (Erica Ash) and Franklin (Redaric Williams) are having trouble with their marriage, and end up separating. A year later, they’re supposed to finalize the divorce on Christmas Eve (as one does), but they keep being reminded of how much they love each other. The plot in this one is weak. Very weak. I loathe the Big Misunderstanding trope, in which a couple’s problems could all be solved if they’d communicate and sort out the ridiculous coincidence that caused the fight to begin with. But it’s otherwise sweet, and the best friend, Trish (Eva Marcille), is highly entertaining.

In You Can’t Fight Christmas, Edmund (Andra Fuller) falls for the decorator, Leslie (Brely Evans), his grandfather hired to spruce up his hotel for the holidays, but he and his business partner have plans to take over the hotel and make it upscale and unavailable to the people in the neighborhood who made it great. Another very weak plot full of cliches, but still entertaining and sweet.

The Preacher’s Wife (Mundy Lane Entertainment)

I’m going to end this short list with a film that isn’t really in the same category as a Hallmark movie. This one is reaching way back in time to the 1990s, and it starred two big box office draws, at the time: Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. It’s a little unfair to compare the low-budget productions above with a $40 million dollar film. But still, it’s good. Both this and the original Cary Grant/Loretta Young film it was based upon (The Bishop’s Wife) can get a little uncomfortable, since the angel sent to save a marriage falls in love with the wife, in both cases, and she starts to fall in love with him. Not cool. But I still enjoy them both.

There are others I’ve seen recently, and in the past, so I’ll probably add to this list. I need to dig them up. But I’ll stop there for now. If you have favorites I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to drop them in the comments!

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Tomte is now available on Amazon!

My newest Christmas story Tomte is now available on Amazon!

RYAN ANDERSON has known something was wrong since he was a teenager. He’s been tormented by a sense of emptiness and loss—but what did he lose? He has no idea. Then a mysterious man appears, calling himself Tomte, a Swedish word Ryan remembers hearing from his grandmother in his childhood.

It means “Christmas elf.”

With the help of his older brother and his nine-year-old niece, Ryan begins a journey to discover what happened fifteen years ago, when he disappeared during a winter storm and didn’t reappear until spring. Not only has he forgotten those months, he’s forgotten the faithful dog who failed to come back with him. 

As memories surface and impossible things happen all around him, Ryan senses Tomte, that beautiful man he’s inexplicably drawn to, is the key to everything—his past, his future, and his happiness. 

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KWLZ4YT/

Excerpt:

Ryan came to an intersection where the tracks went in two different directions, and he swore under his breath, struggling to sort it out while snowflakes flitted across his vision. A frantic bark to his left sent him in that direction, and after a few more twists and turns, he burst into an open circular area. There were no lights, but the overcast sky had the bluish-gray pall it often had on stormy nights and the snow on the ground reflected it back. Ryan could see, though barely. The music was louder here, and mixed with laughter and exuberant conversation—the sounds of a joyful gathering.

A mound rose from the earth in the center, about the height of a grown man and twice as wide—the same mound he’d dreamt of nearly every night since leaving the hospital, though in the dream it had been surrounded by forest, not a labyrinth of corn.

Tracks led to a sort of cave in the side of the mound—dog prints and what seemed less like deer hooves than human boot prints, though they were rapidly fading under a blanket of white. Ryan followed them. The opening in the mound was barely large enough for someone his size to crawl through. He stood at the entrance and peered inside. The ground inside sloped downward and then took a sharp turn to the right. Light flickered in the depths, as if a campfire burned just out of sight. He’d never seen this cave before, but a memory kept dancing away from him, maddeningly out of reach.

The sound of footsteps crunching on snow made him spin around. A large white shape emerged from a dark gap in the wall of corn. The stag. It walked purposefully toward him, and the nearer it came, the larger it loomed in his vision. Ryan had never seen a stag that size. He’d read about a seventeen-pointer called the “Emperor of Exmoor,” which stood seven feet tall, and this magnificent beast had to rival him.

Unlike in the dream, the stag didn’t run past Ryan. It drew near and was suddenly engulfed in a swirl of snow. When the snowflakes spun off into the night, Tomte was standing in its place, stark naked, his skin shimmering as if it were sprinkled with stardust. He walked barefoot through the snow as calmly as if it were a warm, summer evening. Without clothes, Tomte’s slim form was surprisingly muscular, though the beauty of his nude body was overshadowed by the antlers that sprang from his head, forming a magnificent crown of silver wider than his shoulders.

When he was near enough to touch Ryan, he asked, “Do you remember?”

Ryan’s head was full of a confused jumble of images, wonderful and awe-inspiring but also a bit frightening. “I… I’m not sure.” His gaze traveled down Tomte’s trim torso, unable to escape a strange sense of familiarity, as if he’d once rubbed a thumb over Tomte’s nipples and caressed the ripples of his abdomen. The thick, uncut flesh between Tomte’s thighs… yes, that was familiar too.

Self-conscious now, he forced himself to look into the man’s face. There were sparks in Tomte’s eyes. They were clearly visible in the darkness that surrounded them—tiny flickers in the depths of his pupils. Ryan could gaze into those eyes forever.

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Filed under Christmas, Contemporary, Cover, Excerpt, Fantasy, gay, Historical, Jamie Fessenden, LGBT, New Release, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Victorian

Coming Soon: Tomte

I did it!

I finished my Christmas novella, after a very long dry spell.

Tomte is a holiday story about Ryan, a man who’s been suffering from depression ever since his teenage years, but he has no idea why. Then a handsome man begins appearing in his life at odd moments, only to disappear again without a trace. Eventually, his older brother tells him about the time he got lost in the forest, during a winter storm, and didn’t return for six months. Ryan has no recollection of this or the faithful dog he’d always had by his side, up until that night.

 

Then things get really bizarre. 

Don’t worry, that’s not actually the blurb. I’m working on that. I’m also working on formatting, and intend to have everything polished and professional in a few days, aiming for a release date of Friday, November 3oth.

I already have a gorgeous cover from Reese Dante, but I’m holding off on posting that until I have the Pre-Order link on Amazon.

NOTE: A tomte is a Swedish gnome who watches over a family or farm. Some people believe he’s the spirit of the first farmer to clear the land, and he’s usually depicted as a small man with a long white beard, wearing the typical clothes of a medieval farmer: breeches, stockings, a tunic, and a pointed cap. (The tomte in my story is human-sized and sexy. I claim poetic license.) As long as he’s treated well by the people living on the homestead, who leave him offerings of milk and porridge with butter, he’ll make sure they’re prosperous and well cared for, often leaving small gifts for them. This folk legend greatly contributed to the Santa Claus mythos.

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Writing again – and, boy, does it feel good!

It’s been a scary time for me. I haven’ been able to write since my cat, Koji, passed away last Christmas. It wasn’t just losing my favorite cat, after living with (and adoring) his crankiness and hijinks for twenty years, but that was a big part of it. It was combined with the shocking revelation that Kumar, the “puppy” Erich and I rescued the same year we married and bought a house together, was now too old and arthritic to enjoy playing with the new pup (Nelson) we rescued to keep him company, while we were busy working. Kumar is now on meds that help with his arthritis, but he simply can’t play as hard as he could have just one year ago.

Nobody likes aging and losing beloved pets, of course, but I took it very hard. So hard, I had to go on antidepressants for the first time in my life. I’ve always had bouts of depression, but in the past I could “shake it off.” Not this time. Not without help. And the reason I’m so open about that right now is, I want to encourage anyone struggling with depression to seek help, if things gets overwhelming. It helped me get functional again. Even when you feel like nothing can help, it’s worth trying.

I want to thank my friend Fred Feeley, Jr. for pushing me to work on a ghost story we’ve been writing together. That helped take the pressure off to write in my usual genre of MM Romance. I didn’t have to think about romance beats or whether the characters were likable enough or the emotional level of scenes — I could just be creepy. And it was fun. Initially, I wrote in fits and starts – a bit here, a bit there, interspersed with days in which I wrote nothing at all. But gradually the writing bug took hold again, and ended up contributing a few chapters. (This novel has been taking us a while, but it’s getting near completion!)

Alas, once my writing began to flow again, I was bitten by the Christmas bug. So I set aside the ghost story (for now) and dove into a novella about a man who visited the kingdom of the fairies as a boy, but has no memory of it. Now, fifteen years later, the fairies want him to come “home” again. It’s steeped in Scandinavian folklore, and of course it takes place at Christmas.

It’s far too late in the season for me to submit it to a publisher, if I want it out by Christmas, so it will be another self-published book, like the last few I’ve put out. (I do have one almost finished for Dreamspinner, and I hope to finish that before the end of the year.) I have a wonderful editor and a fantastic cover artist already lined up, so it should be released in late November or early December.

I’m writing every day now, and it’s wonderful. It still feels a bit fragile, as if it wouldn’t take much to shut me down again, but my hope is that, once I’ve established the writing habit again in my psyche, I’ll keep going. Being a working author has been my dream since childhood. It’s been a rough year, but it’s time to reclaim the dream.

 

 

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No, I did not post about Instagram whatsa-whosits…

At least, I didn’t write the post. Someone hacked my account. I’ve changed my password, so hopefully there won’t be more of those. I apologize for spamming everyone’s inbox.

Jamie Fessenden (the real one)

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Guest Blog: “Oberon Cycle Book Two: Lander” by J. Scott Coatsworth

LanderJ. Scott Coatsworth has a new MM Sci Fi book out:

Sometimes the world needs saving twice.

In the sequel to the Rainbow-Award-winning Skythane, Xander and Jameson thought they’d fulfilled their destiny when they brought the worlds of Oberon and Titania back together, but their short-lived moment of triumph is over.

Reunification has thrown the world into chaos. A great storm ravaged Xander’s kingdom of Gaelan, leaving the winged skythane people struggling to survive. Their old enemy, Obercorp, is biding its time, waiting to strike. And to the north, a dangerous new adversary gathers strength, while an unexpected ally awaits them.

In the midst of it all, Xander’s ex Alix returns, and Xander and Jameson discover that their love for each other may have been drug-induced.

Are they truly destined for each other, or is what they feel concocted? And can they face an even greater challenge when their world needs them most?

The Oberon Cycle: Book Two

About the Oberon Cycle:

Xander is a skythane man whose wings have always been a liability on the lander-dominated half world of Oberon.

Jameson is a lander who has been sent to Oberon to find out why the supply of the psycho-amoratic drug pith has dropped off.

What neither knows is that they have a shared destiny that will change the two of them – and all of Oberon – forever.

Dreamspinner – eBook | Dreamspinner – Paperback

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iBooks

QueeRomance Ink

Goodreads Link


Giveaway

Scott is giving away a $25 Amazon gift certificate and three copies of his queer sci fi eBook “The Stark Divide.”

a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d474/


Excerpt

Lander banner

Xander stared at the torrent of water pouring over the cavern entrance. Somewhere out there, Quince and the others were lost in the storm.

“What happened to everyone else?” Jameson shouted, putting his hand on Xander’s shoulder.

“I don’t know. Last I saw them was before the lightning strike.” How had things changed so quickly?

Jameson started toward the exit. “We have to look for them!”

Xander pulled him back.

Jameson’s eyes were wild.

He squeezed Jameson’s hands, trying to reassure him. “Hey, calm down. There’s nothing we can do right now.”

“We already lost Morgan.” Jameson’s eyes pleaded with him. “I can’t lose the rest of them.”

Xander shook his head. “It’s no use. We’ll never find them in this tempest. They’re seasoned veterans. They can take care of themselves. We’ll go looking after the storm passes.” The loss of Morgan weighed on him too, though he was less and less certain that Morgan had been a human boy at all.

Jameson looked doubtful.

Xander felt it too, but there really was nothing they could do. “Hey, it’s gonna be all right.” He pulled Jameson to him, enfolding the two of them with his wings. Jameson was soaked, but Xander didn’t care.

Jameson nodded against his chest. “You’re right. Gods, I know you’re right. I’m sorry. I thought we were done with all this.”

Xander held him out at arm’s length. “Gods, huh? We’re doing the plural thing now?”

Jameson gave him a half smile. “Trying it out? When in Rome….”

“How’s your hearing?”

Jameson cocked his head. “It’s better. But everything sounds muffled.”

Xander nodded. “I can tell.”

Jameson blushed. “Am I talking too loud?”

“Just a little.”

Jameson smiled sheepishly. “It’s weird. It feels like my ears are full of water.”

Xander kissed him gently. “It’ll pass.” He looked around the cavern at last, his eyes gradually adjusting to the dim blue light.

The place was a faeryland, filled with rows of golden stalactites and stalagmites, like the bulwarks of an eldritch castle. Each one was a miracle of minute detail, like candle wax dripped from above. The whole cavern was lit by a turquoise-blue glow.

Xander looked around for the source. It came from pools of water on either side of the cavern. The scintillating light shimmered along the walls, creating complex, ever-changing patterns.

“Look, Jameson… it’s beautiful.” They were both a muddy mess. “We’re stuck here until the storm blows itself out. Why don’t we get cleaned up and try to rest? Then we can figure out what to do next. We have a long flight to Gaelan.” He was still shivering from the rain.

“A bath sounds like heaven.” Jameson let Xander lead him to one of the glowing ponds.

“Do you think it’s safe to go in?” Xander asked, pulling off his boots and testing the water with his toes. It was warm.

Jameson looked queasy, but then he smiled. “They called them faery ponds. There’s a microscopic organism that makes the light. It’s harmless, but beautiful.” He grinned. “Romantic, even.”

Ah, that’s how you knew this place. “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” he said, slowly and clearly, gesturing to indicate Jameson and the cavern. His own generational memories were still fleeting, occasional things.

Jameson’s smile fled. He shrugged. “Not me personally….”

“Shhh. I know.” If he closed his eyes and focused, he could see this place too, but he seemed to be able to block them out when they were inconvenient. “Too many memories.” Xander pointed at his head.

Jameson nodded. He looked relieved. He reached out and pulled Xander close, his hands warm on Xander’s waist.

Xander slipped his arms around Jameson and kissed him once, twice. He wrinkled his nose. “You’re filthy and you stink! So do I.” He held up his shirt as proof. It was covered in mud stains.

Jameson laughed. “We can fix that.”

He helped Jameson unlace the sides of his shirt, pulling it off to reveal the naked skin underneath. Jameson returned the favor, his hands lingering for a moment before withdrawing to pull down his own pants.

They shucked their wet and dirty clothes and descended into the water. It was surprisingly warm, silky and smooth around Xander’s waist.

The pool was about three meters across and sloped down to about a meter deep at the far end. There was a warm, gentle current drifting past Xander’s legs, and the stone beneath his feet had been worn smooth by water and time.

Xander washed the grime off his skin, and it drifted off into the water around him.

Jameson pulled him in deeper and gestured for him to lower his head.

Xander lay in Jameson’s arms, and warm water washed over him, carrying the mud and dirt out of his hair. Jameson massaged his scalp, pulling away the twigs and bits of gunk he’d accumulated on the mad run through the forest in the storm.

Xander’s desire threatened to overwhelm him at Jameson’s gentle touch. He dipped his face into the water and rinsed off. It was so fucking good to get clean.

He shook his head, splashing Jameson, who shot him an aggrieved look.

The look turned into a wicked grin, and Jameson splashed him back. Then they were going after each other and laughing, a fine mist of water flying through the air.

Damn, it’s good to hear you laugh again. Xander grabbed Jameson and kissed him, harder this time, and Jameson’s body responded. They fell back into the water, and Jameson was hard against him, his own need naked before Xander’s desire.

After all that had happened, Xander needed to feel human and alive again. He tugged Jameson back to the shallow part of the pool and pulled his skythane down on top of him, Jameson’s skin warm against his own.

He kissed Jameson’s neck and nibbled on his ear, eliciting a low moan.

Jameson wanted this as much as he did. He could tell.

For a long, slow, ecstatic hour, Xander forgot all about the storm.


Author Bio

ScottScott lives between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.

He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.

His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.

He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.

Author Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/

Author Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/jscoatsworth

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/

Author Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ

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When a dry spell starts to get scary…

I finished a novel in November, and usually I take a few weeks off before I dive into my next big project. But something went haywire this year. Those few weeks turned into a few months, and now the motivation to sit down and begin writing isn’t really there.

What happened? I don’t know, and it’s frightening. This post is going to be a little strange, but since I began this blog, I’ve been posting about the experience of being a writer — not just writing itself, but the way things affect me, like reviews and events in my life. So this is one of those posts, about what it’s like when things aren’t going so well.

There are some obvious things in my life that factored into this dry spell:

  1. My cat, Koji, died. This was huge. Koji was a mean-tempered old cat (about 20-years-old) who was so vicious to outsiders we literally had to sedate him when we took him to the vet. (I have a hilarious story about the mass havoc he created there once, involving slashed hands and pee splattered everywhere.) Even drugged, he growled and snarled in his crate like a demon from hell, making everyone back away in trepidation. But he loved me. I’d had him his entire life. In my arms, he was a cuddly furball, and that’s where he died, purring, when he could no longer stand up on his own power. I was devastated by his loss, just two days after Christmas.
  2. My publisher rejected a novel. This shouldn’t be a big deal, because it happens to writers all the time, but it had never happened to me. Since I published my first novel in 2010, nothing I’ve submitted has been rejected. Perhaps some of those manuscripts should have been rejected, because they didn’t sell very well, but my publisher was willing to take the risk. Now the market has changed. Publishers are closing their doors left and right, so my publisher is understandably more reticent to accept manuscripts that don’t follow tried-and-true romance formulas. This makes me sad, but… business is business.
  3. My Christmas novel didn’t sell very well. Oh, it sold. Far better than novels I’ve released in the past. It just didn’t sell as well as the two previous novels, and that put me into a funk. Especially, since I’d put a ton of work into it, and was really vested in it.  I also marketed it up the wazoo. Considering that my two previous novels far exceeded my expectations, you’d think I’d be grateful for having a banner year. (And I did have a great year, for book sales overall!) But… that’s not the way an artist’s mind works.
  4. I have a friend who is very ill. I can’t talk about it much on social media, but I’m immensely worried for her.
  5. Our dog, Kumar, is aging. He isn’t exactly at death’s door, but his muzzle has gone gray, and he is now on anti-inflammatories and painkillers for arthritis. Just a year ago, I was feeling guilty that I never exercised him enough, so we invested in a dog enclosure in the yard and got another dog to keep him company and play with him! But I was too late. He’s suddenly not in the mood to play much. The pup and he are gradually becoming play buddies, and the meds help him have more energy to wrestle, but he spent so much time snarling at the pup for trying to pounce on him when he wasn’t feeling well, the biggest side-effect of the new dog is jealousy. We spend so much time trying to convince both of them that we love them. It’s not exactly that things aren’t working out with the new dog, but it isn’t working out as I’d hoped.
  6. I feel like I’m letting people down. I’ve missed events I was supposed to participate in as a writer. I have a sci-fi novel (Martian Born) that got me into a wonderful sci-fi workshop, and I got a lot of encouragement to finish it — but it still isn’t finished. More importantly, my husband wants that one finished. I also have a romance novel my publisher was asking for, but after me telling them I needed more time to finish it too often… they’ve stopped asking. I can’t blame them, but it’s just another thing that makes me feel as if I’m drifting away from the career I loved so much…

All of these things point to a big problem with depression right now, of course. I can see that. I could go to a therapist, but like a lot of people suffering from depression, I’m not sure I want to commit to going onto antidepressants. I know they help people. I’m the son of not one, but two psychologists, and I lost an ex-boyfriend to suicide. (I.E., we weren’t boyfriends at the time, but still close friends.) I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting help, when they need it, and I’m still leaving that door open. But knowing myself like I do, I think there are some other things to try first. This may be the first big dry spell I’ve had, but it isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with my tendency toward depression.

What I do think will help is finishing this damned romance novel. It’s good. I know it’s good, and my publisher thinks it’s good (what they read of it). It’s only about two chapters from being done! I just need to sit down and force myself to start writing. Then maybe the words will start flowing again. Then maybe it will be time to finish that sci-fi novel…

And honestly, there is so much good in my life right now. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

I have a wonderful husband and a wonderful home. The new puppy is adorable and a great addition to the household (even if he does bark incessantly), and I did have a good year, professionally. My best ever, in fact.

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Filed under Jamie Fessenden, Life, Pets, Writing