Must Love Christmas comes out in only 3 days! The preorder is already up, and the paperback should be on sale by tomorrow (I would make them available on the same day, but Amazon doesn’t allow paperback preorders for indie authors).
I’ve been sharing one- or two-line teasers from Must Love Christmas for the last few days, but today I finally had enough time (after uploading the final book and doing Thanksgiving) to add a longer excerpt.
This scene takes place during Simon and Garen’s first “night out” since Simon left the hospital. Naturally, it’s to buy a real Christmas tree, because hard-core ho-ho-ho‘er Garen won’t settle for an artificial one. At this point they are still just friends and flatmates, but both of them are longing for more.
As they went to the till to pay for the tree, Garen came to a sudden stop beside a display of assorted greenery.
Simon looked up to see what he was staring at. In the corner of the display, beside a column of holly wreaths, hung several sprigs of mistletoe.
“Shall we get some of that?” Garen asked.
Simon cleared his throat. “It might add a touch of…” Extreme awkwardness. “Fun?”
“Definitely.” Garen grabbed the biggest mistletoe garland, bunched with painted-snow pine needles and cones. “Something for guests to kiss under at our party.”
Simon took the mistletoe so Garen could push his wheelchair over the dirt path toward the till. He ran his fingers over the white berries, his mind blending memories and fantasies of their mouths melding in passion. He was strong enough now to stand on his own beneath this mistletoe, strong enough to hold Garen in his arms while they kissed.
He was strong enough now to do a lot of things.
– From Must Love Christmas by Avery Cockburn, Chapter 12
Technically Oliver Doyle is not on Team Riley–in fact, he coaches their arch-rivals, Team Boyd, skipped by Luca’s brother-in-law. But he’s one of the main characters, so I couldn’t leave him out.
Also, Oliver is very special to me, because we were both diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as adults, and despite life being better since we sought treatment, we both still struggle immensely.
For instance, this post is a couple days late because a) it was the last one, and completing projects is very difficult for ADHDers and b) I knew it was the most important because I would be discussing the disorder, and the more important a task is, the more we procrastinate, until it becomes THIS HUGE THING.
So I’m making it not a huge thing by just getting it out and letting it be imperfect. Progress, yay!
Here Oliver explains to Luca why, when the athletic anti-doping agency turned down his Therapeutic Use Exemption for prescription stimulants, he never got round to appealing it, even though it meant risking his career:
“You can’t possibly fathom how anyone could put off something so important day after day after day after day.”
“I can fathom it. Everyone procrastinates. Usually it means there’s some sort of block or fear about that task.” Luca gave Oliver’s shoulder a soft tap. “Maybe deep down you didn’t want to curl anymore. Maybe it was taking over your life. Maybe this was your way of getting out without having to quit.”
Oliver knew his meds were all that kept him from kicking the boat wall in frustration. He’d hoped Luca would magically understand. But like everyone else, he needed Oliver’s help.
“Maybe that’s why most people procrastinate. But for us, it’s not so complex.” Oliver took a deep breath, preparing to feel ridiculous. “The appeals process had so many steps. Every one of them was tedious or frustrating or both. I’d get up every day and tell myself, ‘Just start the process. Just start.’ But I couldn’t see the start. All I could see was the entire journey.” Oliver shifted his feet apart, bracing them on the rolling deck. “I know this sounds insane, but the thought of filling out that paperwork and making those phone calls felt like a spike through my skull. Just imagining it made me want to take a nap, or have a drink, or play a video game. Anything to dull the dread.” Oliver gave a bitter laugh. “People asked me, ‘Didn’t you think about your future?’ as if the future was something I could clearly picture. As if the future was something that mattered.”
Throwing Stones, Chapter 6
As Oliver explains, an ADHD brain doesn’t experience time the way neurotypical brains experience it.
“The thing is, stimulants don’t fix ADHD any more than insulin fixes diabetes. They just manage it so we can live better lives. I can’t remember the last time I flew into a rage or wasted an entire day surfing the internet. But meds haven’t cured my inability to see the distant future as a real thing.”
“Hm.” Luca rubbed his dark stubble, which was becoming a pretty decent beard, Oliver had noticed. “So what you’re saying is, the way your brain is built keeps you from seeing the consequences of your actions?”
“Sometimes, yeah. People call it time-blindness, but it’s more time-nearsightedness…I can move mountains on a tight deadline or in a crisis—all that adrenaline helps me focus. But the agency gave me ninety days, which was like an eternity. It might as well have been stamped ‘Due Never.’”
“That makes sense, because tight deadlines are close to you, so you can still see them. Like some people are so shortsighted, they can only read the giant E on the eye chart, but nothing below it.” Luca’s eyes popped wide. “So your meds are like contact lenses for your brain?”
“Yes! Exactly!” Oliver wanted to hug him. “I still can’t see all of the chart. The teeny letters at the bottom will always be fuzzy. But now I can read most of it, and that feeling is…” He rubbed the back of his neck as he searched for the word. “Miraculous.”
“Wow.” Luca regarded him for a long moment. “I’m happy for you.”
Throwing Stones, Chapter 6
If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out one of these useful resources:
No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to learn how to manage this condition that can result in so many difficulties, including secondary anxiety and depression, accidents, financial troubles, and damaged relationships. There’s no cure for ADHD, so we’ll never be “normal”–luckily we don’t place a high value on normalcy, so that’s okay–but with treatment we can reach a place where every day isn’t a blindfolded walk through quicksand.
Phew, wrote a whole blog post and now my brain needs a nap.*
Ah here’s our lovable skip! Luca is the even-keeled leader that keeps everyone relaxed and reasonably sane. They call him the Comeback King, as he never loses his cool when he falls behind early in a game. As a part-time teacher of mindfulness meditation, he handles stress with deep breaths and a heavy dose of perspective.
Until he meets Oliver Doyle. The unintentionally mercurial Canadian coach leaves Luca guessing, and the fact their relationship is a bit Romeo & Juliet (with Oliver coaching Team Riley’s rivals) makes romance that much less certain.
As he moved behind the house to await Team MacDougall’s first throw, Luca pulled in a long breath, then let it out slowly as he mentally recited his mantra:
This. Here. Now.
David’s guard had given Team Riley an auspicious start, but it was only the first stone of hundreds they would throw this weekend. Luca would take them one at a time, like always. He wasn’t the most talented or clever skip in the rink, but if he stayed true to himself, he could be by far the most chill. And no tall, handsome, R-chewing coach could stop him.
Throwing Stones, Chapter 8
Fun facts about Luca:
He has a fear of strong aversion to clowns and balloons (which is perfectly reasonable!).
He’s somewhere on the ace spectrum, maybe demisexual or gray-sexual, still figuring out which if any label he wants to put on it.
One of the Glasgow Lads’ most popular characters, Lord Andrew Sunderland, is in his meditation class.
He dropped out of medical school and now edits medical textbooks as his day job, which makes him adorably/annoyingly pedantic about proper grammar and word usage.
Luca took a sip of coffee. “Christ, that’s good.” He remembered the writing on the sleeve of Oliver’s cup. “Team Boyd’s coach drinks decaf in the morning, like some sort of depraved supervillain.”
“Maybe that’s why he was chucked out of Canada.” David snickered as he counted out five pounds in small change for Ross. “He broke the Tim Hortons Act of 1938, which famously forbade antemeridian consumption of non-caffeinated beverages.”
“It’s ‘ante meridiem,’” Luca muttered into his coffee.
Throwing Stones, Chapter 5
Luca is not in the habit of falling for men he hasn’t known for ages. But once he and Oliver get together, he falls hard and fast.
Luca murmured against his shoulder, words that sounded like gibberish.
Without opening his eyes, Luca turned his head and spoke more clearly. “Munit haec et altera vincit.”
“Wow, you’re the first guy who ever spoke Latin to me in bed. I gotta say, it’s pretty hot.”
“It’s the motto of your own Nova Scotia.” Luca pulled the covers up another inch. “It means, ‘One defends and the other conquers.’”
“Who’s the one and the other?” Oliver asked.
“Scotland and Nova Scotia.”
Oliver didn’t get it. “Why would we conquer you? You’re the ones who came here—I mean, who went there. Not that I’m complaining, since my grandparents are Scottish.”
“Don’t be so literal.” Luca’s arm tightened around his chest. “You’ve conquered me, Oliver Doyle.”
Throwing Stones, Chapter 14
And with that, I have some news! I plan to release Luca and Oliver’s followup story (title TBD) this December, a holiday short to accompany Garen’s holiday novel in late November. Those two releases will wrap up the Glasgow Lads on Ice series.
If you’ve read Throwing Stones, you know Garen is the offbeat author of the occasionally snarky chapter headings, the ones that double as curling-term definitions. Like this:
Chapter X – Vice
VICE or VICE-SKIP: Second in “command” after the skip. Usually throws third and is often the best all-around shooter. A vice does several important jobs the skip can’t be arsed to do, such as writing definitions to introduce book chapters once His Excellency has finished the glamorous bits.
Garen is also a bit superstitious. He leaves a bit of whisky behind at the Mad Tea Party “for the faeries.” He tells his friend/Team Riley fan Ben to use the same battered old “RILEY ROCKS” sign from the previous tournament, which they won. He and his teammates agree not to shave before and during this competition, for good luck. Unfortunately, Luca doesn’t comply 100%.
“But we all agreed not to shave,” Garen said.
“I didn’t shave,” Luca said. “I trimmed.”
“Can I shave too?” Ross asked.
“No!” Garen turned back to Luca. “Trimming counts, mate. The good-luck magic is in every hair, like with Samson. Why did you need to trim?”
“Vanity, of course.”
Garen gave him the side-eye. “Big plans tonight?”
“No plans.” Luca stroked his jaw again, hoping he’d left his beard symmetrical. “Just possibilities.”
“Fantastic.” Garen flipped his banana skin. “We’re now doomed, thanks to your ‘possibilities.'”
Throwing Stones, Chapter 12
Other fun facts about Garen (some of which I guarantee you don’t know because they’ll be revealed in his upcoming book this November):
He is Luca’s flatmate, ex-boyfriend, and occasional source of dubious advice (see above quote graphic regarding whether Oliver, as a North American, might be circumcised).
He has a sister named Karen, because their parents had extremely poor judgment.
Ross isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. He’s the last person in the entire curling rink to learn that Luca and Oliver are having a “secret” affair, and when the team holds an impromptu “Mad Tea Party” (with whisky and bourbon) at an abandoned lighthouse, he’s assigned the least flattering character:
“Luca’s definitely the Hatter,” Garen said, “cos of that fucking mental cap.”
Luca just smiled and preened the white bunny whiskers on his forehead.
“But it’s a rabbit hat,” David said, “so he should be the March Hare.”
“Don’t be so literal.” Garen gestured with his chipped teacup. “You’re the March Hare, cos you’re the hare-iest. Ross is definitely the Dormouse.”
Ross pouted. “Why am I the Dormouse?”
– Throwing Stones, Chapter 7
Still, beneath his big, broad chest beats a heart full of quiet confidence in his teammates and a deep loyalty to his skip. Whether it’s bucking up Garen after a less-than-perfect hit or discreetly offering Luca a tissue when he’s getting emotional at the sight of Oliver, Ross is the kind of stalwart second any curling team would kill for.
It was obvious how Team Riley had earned the nickname “Team Smiley.” The four men had an enviable looseness about them, with nearly every interaction ending in laughter.
– Throwing Stones, Chapter 1
In curling, chemistry is key. In sports like football (soccer) where you field a larger team, or like hockey/American football/basketball where players are popping in and out of play every few minutes, you can afford to have a few teammates who don’t get along. Not so in curling, where the same four people are equally crucial to each throw. Any tension between curlers can lead to disaster.
David is one half of Team Riley’s “front end” (the ones who generally do most of the sweeping). Like most front-end players, he’s got immense strength and stamina. Built like a brick shithouse, as they say.
He’s also got an uncanny ability to remember every shot taken by both teams throughout a game, allowing him to track the ever-changing ice conditions with precision. So he’s usually the one skip Luca Riley turns to when deciding where to place the broom (i.e., where the next curler will aim his throw).
Of the four members of Team Riley, David is the most blunt, the least sentimental. He has few qualms about taking advantage of his good-natured best friend, Ross Buchanan. Which probably makes him the most Glasgow-y Glasgow Lad of them all.
The passenger door opened, and David jumped in beside Luca. “Fuck’s sake, put on the heating.”
“Good morning to you, too.” Luca turned on the engine, then fumbled with the climate controls. “Thought you were bringing coffee.”
“I delegated to Ross. Seniority and all.”
“He’s the second and you’re the lead. Technically he has seniority.”
“Aye, but I know how much you hate hierarchies.”
– Throwing Stones, Chapter 5
Stay tuned tomorrow for a closer look at the soft, squishy heart of Team Riley: Ross Buchanan!