Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Labor of Love

Back in November, 2010, I participated in NaNo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s a motivational event where anyone who wants to participate is challenged to write 50,000 words. That can encompass and entire novel or the first part of one. Feed, Prey, Love was the book which emerged.



My style tends to focus on the characters and I’ve been accused of torturing them, putting them through angst and emotional torture until they finally get their happy ending. I love the nuances of relationships, the ups and downs, the doubts and fears, and the ultimate rush of finding someone who can really love and accept you, the whole package, with all the benefits and ruffles.



My first two novels, Wrestling With Desire and Meant For Each Other were contemporary novels and they were expressions of very different sides of myself. Derek, in Wrestling was my high school self, grappling with identity, feelings which I knew were different than other kids, yet knowing deep down that I was a worthy person. This young adult novel followed two seniors in high school as they struggled with coming to terms with being gay and dealing with first love all at the same time.



In Meant For Each Other, Craig was the thirty-year-old version of myself when I first moved to New York City. He was idealistic, yet had begun to become pragmatic, falling into patterns which, if they continued, would have clouded his spirit. But when he reconnects with an old friend, one he’d grown up with who had moved away when they were fifteen, Craig realized he’d been settling into a life of going through the motions. As he and Jeremy reconnect, they each tap into the purity and idealism of their youth, but also find something powerful to sustain them in their present and future.



Both of these books were about the journey individuals go through and how their struggles, while painful, led to brilliant happiness and joy.



Still, I had a different kind of story to tell. A genre I hadn’t yet attempted and which scared me a little. A huge fan of speculative fiction, particularly paranormal creatures, I wanted to examine how being handling differences as extraordinary as being a different creature would play our as two characters found one another and struggled to merge their lives together.



I won’t lie, the world-building, the rules, to whole concept of paranormals and humans living together, was difficult to write. I had to take a fantasy and make it as real and believable as possible. Through editing and revising, I would walk away from the book for months, frustrated that I couldn’t quite fit all the puzzle pieces together; that there was something just out of reach to pull the book together.



And then I took a trip to Asheville, NC and visited with two very good friends of mine: Eden Winters and Ally Blue. They came to by hotel and we chilled out drinking a couple bottles of wine and I started reading the story to them. To me, I was reading something which I had practically given up on. To my utter amazement, they became riveted and, after I returned to NYC, continued to demand I send them chapters and finish revisions. They encouraged me, related with my characters, and pushed my thinking.



What has emerged is exactly what I had envisioned in the beginning. A world where humans and paranormals live together, not so harmoniously, but not in constant conflict either. I have created a community called Whispering Hills which is a residence complex where humans and paranormals live together. Best of all, I have created two characters who, while one is human and the other is a vampire, experience the same emotional pangs of insecurity, doubt, fear, and desire. They are rich and multi-dimensional and I am so glad I’ve gotten the chance to know them.



I just got final line edits back and within a week the book will be ready for publication. Two years of work is finally going to see the light of day. While it took sweat and tears, frustration and the need for a cheerleading section, my characters have told their story. It was hard work, but it was a labor of love and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.



Please enjoy the trailer for the book and read the prelude which introduces Talib.



If you are interested in learning more about my books, please visit my website at www.dhstarr.com.



Excerpt:


Prelude

Palestine, 1798



Talib had been named after his late grandfather, meaning seeker of knowledge. His father was filled with pride when, at only eighteen, Talib was accepted to Beit Rabban, the house of the teacher, to serve as an apprentice under Rabbi Elder. It was a bittersweet moment when Talib left his meager village, proud tears streaming down his father’s cheeks. Although Talib inherited a dark complexion and angular, strong features, his frame was slender. Nothing like the muscular build of his father, who served as a commander in the Ottoman Empire army. Yet for all of his father’s size and military success, Talib had never questioned his love. While Talib might never be a military leader, he could show leadership in his own way and planned to open a school house once he finished his own education and pilgrimage. In the meantime, he relished his “special” relationship with his master. Only that eased his great homesickness.

He had been at Beit Rabban for nearly six months and missed his family dearly. The longing for home would have been unbearable had it not been for Rabbi Elder’s mentorship. More than a teacher, Elder had been an older brother of sorts, a friend to confide in and a man to emulate. The fact he seemed to be no more than ten to fifteen years Talib’s senior was simply another attribute to admire about the man. Rabbi Elder had to be truly great to attain his position at Beit Rabban at such a young age. Each day, Talib gazed at Elder’s sandy blond hair, the curls of hispayot framing his face perfectly to accentuate his cheekbones while hiding a sharp jawline, amazed that such a great man would devote so much attention to him in his academic studies and studies of the flesh.

The creak of his door each night was a welcome sound; one he had grown to long for over the past few months. He had lost count of the number of times Elder had climbed into his bed. At first shocked, having studied in the scriptures that the pairing to two men a sin against God, Talib quickly reasoned that his mentor and nightly lover knew best. Who was Talib to question a man who knew the Talmud far better than himself?

Rather than dwell on his notions of right and wrong, Talib relished in the spark Elder ignited within him. Longings Talib had felt, but never dared explore, became a reality as he and Elder explored each other’s minds and bodies. To know that a man as worthy of respect as Rabbi Elder wanted the pleasure of another man filled Talib with a sense of wholeness. That he had chosen Talib out of all the other students at Beit Rabban filled him with a sense of pride; a belief that everything within him was true and right.

Rabbi Elder padded softly across the stone floor of Talib’s dormitory room. While there were other students, each received his own sleeping quarters. The accommodations were sparse, walls of stone, a cold and harsh atmosphere, but that was all part of the learning. Sacrifice of personal luxury to better learn to empathize with those less fortunate. Yet as hard as his thin mattress was, the warmth of Elder’s body and the give of his muscles pressed against Talib’s own blocked anything else from his senses.

“I’ve missed you, Rabbi.”

Soft lips pressed against his own, capturing him in a kiss which began gently, but quickly became fevered. Something was different about the kiss. A hunger which wasn’t normally present. As if Elder had a greater need than usual. Once he pulled out of the kiss, brown pools seeming to glow with an amber fire stared down into Talib’s eyes. “I’ve told you, when we lay together, you are to call me Elder. The lines of master and scholar do not exist when we are together like this.”

“I’m sorry Rab…I mean Elder. It’s difficult for me to remember. I look up to you so.”

Elder’s eyes softened, the fire dimming, as he stared down into Talib’s. “It’s all right, my love. Tonight is going to be a very special night for the two of us.”

Heat washed through Talib, beginning in the pit of his stomach and radiating outwards. The waves of sensation burned from within, yet left an electrified chill along his skin, causing the hairs to rise. His lover’s words incited Talib. Excitement warred with anticipation as he waited for his mentor to continue.

“You know how much I love you, don’t you, Talib?”

The words filled Talib. He would have thought he was floating if not for the weight of Elder’s body on top of his. “Yes, I do. And I love you, Elder. You have given me a gift greater than knowledge, you have given me the gift of awareness.”

Elder brushed his fingers through Talib’s black hair, pushing his payot aside so they splayed on the pillow. He lowered his head to Talib’s neck and pressed his nose to the skin, inhaling deeply. The intimacy of the act caused Talib to shiver. In a husky voice, he whispered into Talib’s ear. “There are things I have not yet taught you, but I would like to.”

“Anything. I am a vessel for you to fill.” Talib smiled thinking of how many times Elder had filled his vessel.

Elder laughed. “You are playing with your words, but yes, you are my best and favorite student. Yet there are things not written in books which I must…no…which I desire to teach you. I have become…attached to you, and wish to share everything I am with you.”

The way he phrased his comment sent Talib’s mind soaring skyward. Elder wanted him, was attached to him. He had called him special. “Whatever you wish to teach me, I am willing to learn. You are a brilliant teacher. A highly skilled scholar. A man of great knowledge.”

“Yes, but I am more. Will you allow me to show you what I am? May I introduce you to the world I live in, one quite different than the world you know?”

There was mystery behind the cryptic words, forcing Talib’s breath to quicken, each intake shallow, uncertain. But Elder had opened Talib’s eyes, led him down paths which had frightened him, and Talib’s world was brighter and fuller as a result. If his mentor and lover wanted to share something with him, he would gladly receive the gift. “Yes, of course. Anything.”

Elder smiled, but it wasn’t a smile of happiness. Rather, his lips curled up into a grin revealing some other emotion Talib couldn’t identify. Only in the last moment did Talib realize Elder wore no smile. He drew his lips back, exposing teeth which seemed to have grown longer. Fear notwere the last words Talib heard before Elder descended, clamping down on his neck.

Razor-sharp teeth penetrated his skin. With a piercing scream filled with pain, shock, and pleasure, Talib gripped at Elder’s head, trying to escape but to no avail. Blood flowed from his neck and into Elder’s hungry mouth. A sickeningly sweet iron odor filled his nostrils. Along with the sensation of blood flowing from him, each lick of Elder’s tongue brought excruciating pleasure, Talib could also feel Elder’s arousal pressed against his thigh.

Time seemed to slow. The space between Talib’s heartbeats lengthened. The thrum of his blood coursed slower and slower.

After what seemed like hours, Elder drew back. Crimson blood stained his lips and dripped from his still-elongated fangs. While the bite had been painful, Talib longed for Elder’s mouth to return to his neck, to continue to draw blood from him. Although it was difficult to focus, Talib was able to make out the expression of lust and hunger in his mentor’s eyes. Elder’s arousal continued to drive against him, and his own hardened shaft pressed back. He’s something other than human. How can this excite me?

“Talib, I am a creature of the night. You have a choice to make. I have drained you to the point of death. You will die if I do not feed you, but if you accept my gift, you will become what I am, and we can spend our lives together, for all eternity.”

Through the haze of his faint consciousness, he could make out the earnest expression on Elder’s face. Thoughts flittered through Talib’s mind, disconnected, difficult to comprehend. “A creature of the night? A golem? Not real…only stories.”

Elder caressed his forehead, hot fingers burning against his cold skin. “I assure you we are not lore. I am not a demon or possessed by a dybbuk. I am real and I wish to give you the gift of eternal life. Will you share your love with me for all time?”

Darkness crowded in until he could barely see or hear. It wasn’t until the warm drops of thick liquid hit his lips and dripped into his mouth, quenching a thirst he hadn’t realized he’d felt, that his answer came to him. Gripping Elder’s wrist, he pulled the torn flesh to his mouth, sucking with all his might, drinking life’s essence back into himself with each pulse of Elder’s heart.

As if waking from a dream, Talib became aware of each of his senses. Sights, smells, scents, sounds, everything coalesced with great clarity and sensitivity. The fear emanating from a fly trapped in a spider’s web entered his nose. I can smell fear. Along with the coppery, iron flavor of Elder’s blood, he could taste the wine Elder had drunk at dinner. Disconnected thoughts flew through his mind. How can I taste the wine in his blood? Golem are real?

Sensation upon sensation filled him, only to come to a screeching halt when he heard something he never expected to hear. I have turned him. He’s now mine.

“What? What do you mean you’ve turned me?” Talib was sure he had misheard. It had to be the result of his loss of blood or perhaps the fear coursing through him. He had broken so many rules, he must be possessed by a dybbuk, the spirit of a dead man who’d violated the laws of Torah. Perhaps he had been wrong in believing what he and Elder shared was right. Was God punishing him for breaking His laws? An image of his home, his father’s proud face, flashed in Talib’s mind. Shame and panic swirled within him, making breathing impossible. He had shamed himself and his family. He had turned on his God; on his religion. All because he had trusted Rabbi Elder.

Elder’s eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly, only to clamp shut once again. Disbelief, no, shock, settled on his face. “I said nothing, my love. You must still be weak from the transformation.” It can’t be. He couldn’t possibly have heard my thoughts.

“But I do hear you. What is this? Have you deceived me in some way?” Fear shifted to anger and hurt. He’s betrayed me. He’s led me down the path of sin, knowing I could never return to the life I’d dreamed of. He’s forced me to act against my God…so I could be…his? The sense of foolishness closed in and around Talib and he pushed to free himself, to stand, to take in deep breaths of cleansing air. With little effort, he flung Elder across the room, his body hitting the wall with enough force to kill a man.

Even in the dim light of his bedchamber, Talib saw the color drain from Elder’s face. “But how…how do you know the thoughts which run through my mind?” He mustn’t ever find out I did this so I won’t have to be alone any longer. I need a companion. Isolation has left me starved.

It took him a minute to get over the shock that Elder had not been hurt from his crash with the wall. Talib could hear everything, every truth Elder had failed to tell him. He had not offered Talib eternity out of love. His motives had been selfish. He could hear it in Elder’s thoughts, for the man could not lie there.

Talib was no longer human. He knew this in the deepest reaches of his being. The change had occurred. He was a dybbuk and worse, a golem. He had broken every rule there was to be broken short of killing. There was no turning back. The truth filling him caused Talib to retch, thick red jets of blood erupting from his stomach. When he could speak, he scowled at his former master, the man he’d loved, had given his heart and body to. The man who’d deceived him in the most wretched way. “You did this to me because you wanted a companion?” While the words formed a question, his tone carried all the anger and accusation coursing through him.

Raw emotion lifted Talib from the bed. Before he realized what was happening, he was hovering in the air before Elder, defying gravity and laws his human form had to abide. He glided effortlessly, slowly closing the distance between himself and the deceitful man who had irrevocably changed his life. Instinctually, he reached out with his mind, linking it to Elder’s, forcing him into helpless paralysis.

Elder cowered, but was unable to avert his gaze. Talib could feel the will seep out of Elder as his weaker mental abilities gave way to Talib’s strength. He could sense the urge to fight back within his former mentor, but could feel the weakness radiating toward him. Elder wasn’t as strong as Talib. Talib was more than Elder, different. What have I become?

Hatred swelled within him as he prepared to strike, but he stopped, released Elder and lowered himself to the ground until he once again stood on his own two feet. “I will not kill you, nor will I remain with you. You may have taken the life I planned to live from me, you may have turned me into a golem, but you can never take my humanity. I may not be able to return home. I wouldn’t bring that kind of shame to my family. But I won’t stay here with you.”

Elder rushed forward. Kneeling before Talib he wrapped trembling arms around his bare waist. Fear radiated from his very pores. Talib could taste it, smell it. It burned his nose and tongue like acid. “Please. I’m so lonely.”

Talib pushed him away once again, not as hard as the last time, but hard enough to make his point. He had no idea what his future held, only that it had been changed. He could not undo the things he had done against God, but maybe there was a way to reverse the evil coursing within his body. Maybe he wouldn’t have to live an eternity, as Elder had said. Maybe he could become what he had always been, pious, a man of God.

Turning to face Elder, disgust filled him. Looking at the weak, pathetic man cowering on the floor, hands raised up in defense, Talib shook his head, a single, sad laugh escaping him. “And so you shall remain, for I must leave you.”
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