This was my first Christmas read and it was just the thing to get me in the holiday mood. Loved the story and it’s characters, just the thing to read with a mug of mulled wine.
Indra is also with us talking about why this story never even really started life or was intended to be a Christmas story, but I guess the best things are always the ones we never plan for.
Guest Post by Indra Vaughn
Well… how does the saying go on Tumblr? That escalated quickly? I meant to write a cheerful Christmas post about holiday fiction and all the mistletoe and sweets and treats and presents and what you get is… emotional abuse. So. Fair warning. Also, I am no psychologist, nor am I an expert. These are my own thinkie-thoughts and I by no means live under the illusion that I’m always right.
When I set out to write Dust of Snow, it wasn’t exactly meant to be a Christmas story. It started out as something short that I would maybe, somewhere, somehow, post online for free because… I can’t remember why. It was very cold, we were having unreasonable amounts of snow (and I live in Michigan, so that’s saying something), and this protagonist who hated the cold even more than I did (and who didn’t have a Mr. V to do the snow shovelling for him *g*) wandered into my brain. It helped that I was supposed to be writing something else entirely. There’s nothing that gets my creative juices flowing like knowing I should be writing one thing and then I procrastinate by writing other things. I’ve been told this is quite normal, so I’m not too worried. (*eyeballs Shadow Mountain 3 manuscript*)
Anyway, so yes, I thought: “Let me just pen something quick and fun and it will be easy.” I hadn’t counted on my trusted beta fish pretty much threatening to get onto a plane and chain me to my desk until I fleshed this baby out. (kinky)
Let me admit something no author ever wants to admit, because we are supposed to love our words and saying we don’t is shooting ourselves in the pay check. But it’s true. I started to hate the story. Hate it. I wanted to throw my laptop out of the window (but I didn’t because I needs my precioussss…) and never look at this book again. But I tinkered and I wrote and I used a lot of words I probably shouldn’t have used around my then two-year-old. (He likes to say Jesus Christ! when something goes wrong, but I blame that on Mr. V. I’m much more an F-word (ab)user.)
In fact, I pretty much shelved the project. It took me a month to write the bulk of it, and then I didn’t go near it for nine months because I figured it was a lost cause. Until not so long ago I decided to peek at it again and I realized that one of the fundamental things that bothered me was the ex-boyfriend in the story. I had written him to be emotionally abusive, but I hadn’t recognized it. And that felt pretty… poignant really. Because how many people find themselves in relationships like that and don’t see what’s wrong in their lives until they get out of that situation? So when I started to address the abuse in a more conscious way, I felt Dust of Snow falling into place. (And I can thank Keira Andrews for pouring it into the shape it’s in now. She did a fantastic editing job and I cannot kiss the ground she walks on enough.)
We see a lot of physical violence in M/M. In fact, Alexis Hall wrote a fantastic article on its occurrence in the genre and you should absolutely go check it out. I haven’t read much about emotional abuse though, and I think that this could be more prevalent than we know. First of all, because it’s hard to recognize when you’re in it. A long term relationship is like living in a fish bowl. If you’re on the inside, all you see is fragments at a time, but once you’re on the outside you can see the whole situation—the healthy and not so healthy parts.
And second of all, I think this chimes in with what Alexis Hall mentions in his article. Manly men aren’t supposed to be emotionally vulnerable, so they’re not going to be affected by this type of abuse. Unfortunately I’ve seen how it can affect people—men as well as women—and the scars may be invisible, but they don’t hurt any less.
So in the book, yes, Greg comes across as a bit of sad sack at first. He’s prickly, he’s closed off, he’s anti-social. I tried to straddle the fence between making him unapproachable and unlikable because he uses these aspects—without realizing—to keep people at arm’s length. He started to believe the poison his ex fed him, and he doesn’t need it confirmed by other people, thank you very much.
But, this is a Christmas story after all and a romance to boot, so yes there’s someone who sees the good in him, and that someone is Ashley. He’s older, he has his own crosses to bear, and he is like only romantic novel heroes can be, perfect for Greg. So I hope I didn’t put you off with all my emotional abuse talk. There’s a lot of sweetness in the story, a lot of healing, and—I’ve been told—some hot stuff too.
It took me a while to figure Greg out, but once I fully understood him and his motivations, I began to love him and the book like whoa. (My own teensy tiny Christmas miracle!) Everything came together and began to flow and seeing Greg blossom after what he went through… it was an immensely satisfying experience. It really opened my heart to the story and I hope you’ll give it a chance to do the same.
Dust of Snow by Indra Vaughn
Title: Dust of Snow
Author: Indra Vaughn
Release: 9th December 2014
Genre: M/M (Christmas)
'Tis the season. Greg's nights are silent and his bells don't jingle. This time last year his boyfriend broke up with him, and he's determined to get through these holidays with only minor bruising. So what if he lives with a cat and his best friend is his mother? Peace and quiet: that's life how he likes it. Nothing is going to blindside him this year, no sir. Especially not a rogue secret Santa.
To have a secret admirer must be flattering for anyone but for Greg this comes in the form of a secret Santa. Loved the whole idea. Greg receives presents on his desk at work and has no idea from who they could be. But rather than get all joyful and happy, he is rather suspicious at first and thinks there must be an ulterior motive. This was the thing with Greg for me, someone who’s a workaholic but socially very lonely and awkward. I loved his French boss who always showed his genuine concern for Greg and his lack of a social life. He only really has his mother to visit once a week. My if everyone had a boss like Greg’s the whole world would be a lot happier for sure.
It doesn’t take lone before Mr Secret Santa is revealed and first of all Greg tries not to believe that anything could really come of it. But before he knows for sure who the secret Santa is he starts to feel drawn to his colleague at work who has been admiring him from afar I guess for a while now. So everything looks set for a romantic Christmas with a new love in his life. I mean what could get more seasonal than have someone to cuddle up to on a cold winter’s night.
I always find that Christmas is a time where for some reason extremes seem to happen. the Christmas before the ex walks out on Greg which is heart-breaking in itself, but then Christmas and now here he is one year later attracted to someone. But things never go that smoothly and the ex who left him last Christmas turns up wanting to get back together. I could quite possibly understand his apprehension in getting involved again after being disappointed and alone for one year. At this point Wham’s evergreen Christmas song lyrics started to buzz around in my head, yes you know them,
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away. This year to save me from tears, I’m going to give it to someone special….lalala”
As soon as we meet the ex though then a lot of things fall into place about Greg. For all his self-sufficiency on the outside I would say he has a number of confidence issues and is always second guessing himself. However, this manifests itself for others on the outside and appearing maybe to others to be aloof and a little nettlesome. We soon get to realise that these issues are hang-ups left over from his previous relationship where his ex was actually abusive. A very toxic relationship in which Greg wasn’t physically abused but most definitely psychologically which left him with very low esteem. I just wanted to reach out to him and comfort him. For me all his prickliness disappeared and he endeared himself as a character for sure. I guess whether the abuse is physical or psychological the one is really no better than the other. So yes, even men can get abused in a relationship which gave Greg for me a wonderful fragile quality and I just wanted to reach out my hand to help him.
The ex turning up obviously complicates things between him and Greg and there were moments where I was seriously concerned that Greg might falter and return, I just so wanted him to realise how bad his ex had been for him. But thank goodness this didn’t happen and through the strength he found in the new relationship could stand up to the ex now and realise that what he now has is so much better. I could just feel the love and respect that Ashley has for Greg as it also manifested itself in his concern and worry, if not over protectiveness and a little jealous of the ex. I loved the way that Greg and Ashley complemented each other. Ashley also had his issues but together you could just feel how good they are for each other. Ashley's family were just so normal and loving when Greg met them I felt he had almost been adopted by them from the word go. Sharing their son’s joy of finding someone to love felt like the normal family love everyone should have. Put a Christmas dinner background to this and I was humming White Christmas to myself while reading.
Another character that worked well for me was Greg’s mum. LOVED her! Outspoken and independent, a mother who treats her son as an equal adult but still the caring mum. She drops a bombshell on Greg halfway through the story that had me smiling, giggling and laughing for the rest of the book whenever she appeared.
I enjoyed this book immensely from beginning to end. Greg is a complicated but well rounded character that once you understand where he is coming from grows on you more and more. Ashley is just everyone’s Christmas dream; again not entirely flawless, just human like the rest of us, but the ideal, romantic Christmas present for sure. Full of Christmas atmosphere, office parties, love, goodwill, not forgetting the cat Curlywurly and above all snow! Lots of it. An enjoyable holiday read from beginning to end.
When I turned around to hurry back inside, flecks of snow twirling around me in the artificial light, I nearly bumped into Ashley. I stuffed my hands into my coat pockets.
“Hey,” he said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“No.” I looked at the air puffing out of my mouth.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so…”
I waved it away. “That’s all right. We’ve all been really busy this week.” I didn’t know if that had been what he was referring to, but in that moment I didn’t have the strength to go into anything deeper. I hadn’t seen my house for more than seven hours a day during the whole week, and quite frankly I couldn’t deal with whatever Ashley needed to get off his chest. The old me would’ve felt obliged to stand there and be polite, but the new me—wait, was there a new me? Apparently there was. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m needed inside. Happy holidays.”
“Want to share a cab? Since we live so close to each other.” “I drove. I never drink at work functions.”
“Oh, okay. Forget about it. Happy holidays!” His smile was clearly forced as he began to turn away.
“I’ll give you a ride,” I found myself saying before I could think properly.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to inconvenience you.”
“Of course.” Why was I still talking? “It’s not that late. You could come over and see Curly.”
Ashley’s dimples appeared. “Sure. That would be cool.”
“Okay.” Cool. Was this a date? A hook-up? Something more? Something less? None of the above?
What was epically uncool was the very familiar looking Lexus sitting in my driveway, parked in such a way I couldn’t even squeeze into my own double garage. I swore under my breath. Making sure I wasn’t blocking David’s car, I parked at the curb. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, I did not want to do this with Ashley here. What was David doing at my house?
“Is something wrong?” Ash asked.
I turned off the engine and faced him. “Look, I realize this is very rude of me, and I am so sorry, but would you mind waiting just a minute? I have to take care of something.”
Ashley’s eyes flicked to the Lexus and back to me. They narrowed. “Is everything okay? Is it your asshole ex or something?”
I bit back the immediate urge to defend David. “Yeah, it’s David’s car. I have no idea what he’s doing here. And I’d rather not make a scene in front of you.” My hands had tightened into fists in my lap and I forced them to relax. “You know what? Maybe it would be best if I just took you home.”
“No,” Ashley said sharply. He softened his tone. “No. I’d like to come in and have some coffee, now that I’m here.” He quirked a lopsided smile. “Say hello to Curly. I can wait. It’s no big deal.”
“Okay. This won’t take long.”
I jumped out of my car, leaving the key in case Ashley got cold, and felt a stab of humiliated anger that I was forced to leave him outside my house like a damn dog because of David, who had apparently let himself in with a spare key he’d claimed high and low he’d returned ages ago.
Connect with the Author
In 2008 Indra Vaughn packed up everything but the kitchen sink... no, that’s a lie. She left everything behind apart from her books and moved from Belgium to Michigan.
She now lives in the suburbs of Detroit with her dog who thinks he's a toddler. Indra’s professional background is in Nursing and Chinese Medicine, but she prefers to spend time making up stories about mysterious men and their unrequited love.
Indra will be giving away one eBook copy of Dust of Snow to one lucky reader. Just enter the Rafflecopter draw below. Good luck!
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