Hi guys, we have Hank Fielder popping in today with his upcoming release Make Someone Happy, we have a great guest post from Hank and a brilliant new excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
Make Someone Happy
Massage therapist Joe Wells is in a little over his head with his first job at the posh Magic Touch Sports Spa. He’s also secretly falling for his friendly, sexy coworker, the top-notch masseur Andre Swift. All the clients clamor for Andre, and so far none have taken to Joe.
On the verge of being fired, Joe saves the life of a mysterious kitten belonging to a white witch, who grants him a wish: a magic touch that could save his job and maybe even win him Andre’s love and respect. As Joe’s stock at the spa rises to crazy and barely manageable levels of success, demand for Andre’s services drops off. Will Joe lose Andre to an out-of-control spell? Or worse—Andre’s love might prove to be only a result of the magic, just like Joe’s sudden talent.
Choosing a Setting That Surprises
by Hank Fielder
Hi, I’m Hank Fielder and I’m excited to introduce my new urban fantasy novella, “Make Someone Happy,” out October 26th from Dreamspinner Press.
This is my third MM romance and my first foray into fantasy, but I hope not my last. In “Make Someone Happy,” the action is set in our contemporary world, where we might not expect overt magic to suddenly sparkle up around us in our given work week.
But that’s what happens at a little day spa in Milwaukee. Massage therapists Joe Wells and Andre Swift are about to find out that even a well-intentioned magic spell from a “good” witch can have unexpected consequences. Trouble’s brewin’ and the steam is starting to rise on Milwaukee’s cool fall nights.
I’m originally from Wisconsin and I like setting stories there, mostly in the countryside and rural settings. I’ve never lived in Milwaukee but know it well from basketball tournaments, Milwaukee Brewers games, Summerfest (one of the largest outdoor musical festivals) and visiting museums and bars and restaurants in the old suds capital.
My attraction to the Wisconsin countryside is simple enough. When I write about characters in apple orchards and majestic woods, winding roads and lakes and rivers, I get in touch with powerful memories from childhood. My fictional Wisconsin is a lot like the real one. The settings of my previous stories are generally pastoral, beautiful, and as romantic as the strong feelings I’m trying to evoke in the hearts of lovers like you and me. But this time I went urban.
As readers know, the choice of setting can change the mood, tone, atmosphere and the entire direction of a story.
Choosing an urban setting for “Make Someone Happy” offered a bunch of good choices of places where the action can play out. For example, Andre lives in the Third Ward in Milwaukee, which is a somewhat gentrified older section of town favored by artists and young people. Lots of massive old brick buildings have been converted into lofts and apartments, restaurants and bars. Church spires dot the skyline. Ugly freeways wend through industrial lots, and Hopper-esque factories cast gloomy shadows.
On the other hand, the autumn sky makes for some beautiful city sunsets; the wind off the big lake is refreshing. Still, the immensity and “toughness” of the place is intimidating to a young guy from a Nebraska farm. That’s Joe Wells, a recent graduate of massage therapy school, in town for his first job.
Joe, our hero, has a modest apartment in Bay View, near Lake Michigan. Always a poor step-sister to its much more glamorous neighbor, Chicago, Milwaukee offers a kind of underdog quality that appealed to me in this story of working guys struggling to find love. I think the grittiness of the setting helps make the magic — when it happens — all the more fun and surprising. This setting hopefully works as a kind of counterpoint to the magic.
If you read the news media, you know that Milwaukee, like Detroit and other so called “rust belt” post-industrial big cities, has tons of problems. Perhaps this backdrop of strife and is subtly present in my story, along with the flickers of hope.
In “Make Someone Happy” I’m writing in a lighter, even somewhat comic style, about the aspirations of a guy who is new to this somewhat scary city. He’s in over his head here. He’s having trouble at work, and he wants so much more than friendship from his kind, handsome co-worker, Andre Swift.
To this mix, I added magic. A good witch. A wish upon a star. A magical spell that seems to be innocent enough. But the consequences just seem to add to Joe’s troubles. They threaten to take him deeper into the shadows of this big urban place, where he might get swallowed up.
I hope the setting of a dark industrial city helps ground the story in reality, especially when some crazy things start to happen.
Setting becomes “character” and counterpoint to the story’s action.
And if the story works, the characters will learn something about the real magic in their everyday lives in an everyday sort of place, a place in which they can triumph over the odds. A place where warmth, hope and love can thrive. And a place in which, I hope, readers will have a fun and enriching time. Welcome to Milwaukee!
So here’s a question for you. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered in a new place that seemed to turn preconceived notions upside down? And what’s the most uncanny, or dare I say “magical,” surprise you’ve experienced in the least likely of places?
Joe tried to cheer himself up as he took the white fluffy towels from the dryer, holding their warmth up to his nose and smelling their bubble-gum fragrance, and folded them neatly. Just like many who feel their job might be on the line, he found himself knitting his thoughts into a great wet blanket of worries, as well as reassurances and justifications, and then going around and around with them.
Prior to the Magic Touch Sports Spa, he’d gotten nothing but compliments for his massage work in Omaha. He knew he’d eventually figure out how to win over the pampered clients who now seemed to view him as a stranger, an unfamiliar obstacle. He just knew he would, somehow.
He put the thick, folded white towels on a shiny metal cart and wheeled them to the common area, where they were stored in the cubby-like shelves of lacquered red wood. Several feet away, the shower hissed and steam moved languidly in the beams of those dramatic pinpoint spotlights. Joe filled a plastic bucket on wheels with sudsy hot water and recounted the reasons he’s been hired at this fancy-pants upscale spa in the first place. He knew it wasn’t just his looks (as Fred had muttered). For one thing, he didn’t think he was all that good-looking. Compared to Andre, he was literally a regular Joe.
I am not just window-dressing, he told himself. He was a fully trained, newly licensed massage therapist. And damn proud of it!
Joe rinsed and put away the mop and bucket and commenced working on the glass. He spritzed blue glass cleaner on a long mirror and squeegeed the fog and suds away to reveal his reflection. There he stood, a rookie—and the rookies of the spa were all clean-up men, constantly refreshing towels, mopping up, disinfecting, pouring expensive woodsy-scented moisturizers in the built-in dispensers, and attending to a dozen other details as part of their side work between clients.
He was a few inches shorter than Andre, and while he worked out and kept himself trim, he didn’t have the kind of muscular definition that turned heads or made them nearly swivel off their necks—the kind of stuff Andre had, that is. Joe thought of his face as nothing special but not bad. His brown hair had a red tinge to it, auburn waves that were considered boyish by some. He also had a cute spray of freckles across his nose and cheeks, and his arms were a bit freckled too. Joe sunburned easily, and despite that autumn was setting in, he had some healthy rosy color from time spent outdoors. Andre, in contrast, had a creamy olive complexion, smooth and flawless all over, kissed by the sun. Just thinking of Andre’s sexy pecs and sculpted arms in the spa polo he wore gave Joe a warm rush of arousal.
It was true Fred hired the Sports Pros at least in part on their athletic looks, but Joe kept reminding himself that he had worthy credentials. He learned a lot about the physiology of massage therapy when he was at school in Omaha. He had a pretty good grounding in anatomy, the human skeletal and muscular systems, and how nerve and skin responses interacted. He also understood something about the psychological and emotional aspects of human touch. Maybe he had more of a feel for this than the average person, in part because he studied it and in part because he believed in it so much.
Everyone needed human touch, as a form of communication and as something deeper, as early as infancy. Babies couldn’t thrive without human touch, as had been well researched, Joe mused. It was now being better understood that patients in hospitals and senior citizens’ homes were healthier when they received regular massage therapy—happier too.
It was great that something as simple as a backrub or a basic light massage was a relatively easy task almost anyone could do for another. A hand or foot massage was remarkably relaxing and healing. Getting your scalp and neck massaged with a haircut provided a warm feeling of well-being. Getting a chair massage at a shopping mall could do you a world of good, even if the throngs of shoppers passing by didn’t exactly provide a Zen-like ambience.
As a trained and licensed massage therapist, he knew he could channel a strong energy. On two Saturdays a month, he volunteered at a local hospital here in Milwaukee, All Souls, sometimes just holding abandoned infants who were undergoing drug withdrawal or parental rejection. Other times he gave foot massages to people undergoing painful end-of-life care. Joe was super excited that on this coming Saturday, Andre had promised to come with him to volunteer.
Time spent with Andre was its own reward.
At around 6:00 p.m., Joe chopped up a small salad in the kitchenette and dressed it with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Andre and a couple other staff members popped in during five-minute breaks to serve themselves and grab a bottle of water and a piece of fruit. Joe munched his green salad alone and then peeled a clementine. He occasionally took a wary glance at Fred’s closed office door or popped into the reception area to refill Billie’s water glass. The plump, young receptionist always had an encouraging smile for him, with a twinkle in her eyes, heavily lined with kohl and smoky shadow.
The evening wore on, and finally the last clients of the day departed. Joe mopped up the shower area, which was open in design with small hammered-glass dividers between “stalls.”
Fred and the other staff (two other Sports Pros, two salon cosmetologists, and Billie) had all completed their end-of-shifts details and departed into the mild September night. Only Joe and Andre remained.
Andre showered while Joe mopped, and Joe tried his damnedest not to stare. The mop oozed soapy disinfectant with a clean fragrance, and steam rolled from the hissing hot spray where Andre soaped himself, lathered, and rinsed.
Andre could have been the sort of guy who expected to be worshipped, or at least understood that other people were going to be powerfully attracted to him. As far as Joe could tell, Andre wasn’t that kind of guy at all. He was sweet and kind to everyone he met, never put on airs, never put himself above or ahead of others, and was always quick with a friendly smile and a helping hand.
It frightened Joe to consider what Andre would think if he knew Joe was looking at his naked body just now with a feeling of an about-to-erupt volcano. It was much more than lust that Joe was feeling, but it was lust as well. The last thing he wanted to do was mess up their budding friendship by getting caught staring with his tongue hanging out!
Joe had to somehow figure out whether Andre liked him as “just friends” or something more. It thrilled Joe that Andre had offered him his friendship, but Joe, of course, wanted a whole lot more. He squeezed the mop with excessive force, sending suds flying up into his face.
Cooling down some, Joe dried his face and tried to focus his thoughts about his chances with Andre. They were both young and single, so the possibility of romance was real. But on the other hand, they were colleagues and both respected that certain lines could only be crossed with caution. Also, they just didn’t know each other too well. Three months was not a long time.
Joe stowed the mop and bucket and took his shower while Andre dressed in dark blue jeans and then combed his hair at the mirror. When Joe came dripping over to the bank of red lockers, he felt Andre’s eyes on him. Andre sat on the wooden bench just a few feet from Joe, his jacket on and his car keys sitting beside his muscular thigh.
Joe kept his back to Andre and dried his hair, applied his deodorant, and then dressed quickly. As he tied his shoes, Andre made conversation.
“I’ll give you a ride home,” Andre said.
“Thanks, Andre.” Joe usually caught the bus to Bay View. Andre had an apartment in the Third Ward, but the drive to Joe’s wouldn’t be too far out of his way.
In the car—a silver Honda Fit, immaculately clean—Andre looked glamorously handsome, Joe thought. The night air was mild and Andre kept his window rolled down. Andre smelled good—a light, clean, woodsy, cedar scent, very masculine. His hair dried in the breeze coming off Lake Michigan.
“Let’s grab a beer,” Andre said. “We can talk.”
Joe’s spirit soared. “That sounds great.”
They went to an unassuming little gay bar in a block of warehouses and old industrial brick buildings and parked on the street in front. Tom’s had a funny cartoon alley cat winking on an illuminated bright yellow sign over the door. Joe had popped into Tom’s a couple times before. He liked its friendly vibe and appreciated the neighborhood’s funky charm. Church spires filled the skyline, bright with stars tonight. The good fragrances of autumn were in the cool air and dry leaves crunched underfoot. The sound of Adele singing from a sound system came from Tom’s twinkling low-lit interior.
They ordered Stellas and sat side by side at the hammered copper-top bar. “Almost everyone has had a bad massage by someone who doesn’t quite know what they’re doing with a particular stranger,” Andre explained, taking his role of helpful coworker very seriously. “Sometimes it’s a lack of commitment on the part of the therapist. They just aren’t giving it their all—maybe they’re tired or bored. That’s not the case with you, Joe.”
“I always give it my all,” Joe said earnestly.
“There’s also the possibility that the therapist might apply too much pressure, making the experience almost painful. In that case, it’s more of a lack of sensing what’s going on with the client, reading the nonverbal signs and cues. A lot of people won’t complain, even if you’re accidently hurting them. Some think it’s supposed to hurt, and, of course, it’s supposed to feel good, not hurt.”
Joe grinned with some embarrassment. “I didn’t have the magic touch with old Tisdale today, that’s for sure.”
“He’s a tough customer. Say, I have a massage table at my place. We could go over some basic technique tonight, and then I can give you a lift home.”
Joe beamed with excitement. “That’s really kind of you. I’d love to, Andre.”
“And I’d love to show you my place. It isn’t much, but it’s home sweet home to me.” Andre clinked his green beer bottle lightly with Joe’s.
“Bottoms up,” said Joe.
“Let’s go,” Andre said.
Hank Fielder is from Wisconsin and has lived in London and California, in big cities and in the rural countryside. His MM romance novels include “Emerald Idol” and “When We Picked Apples Last Autumn,” also available from Dreamspinner Press. He loves baseball, music, old movies, great stories and long walks. He counts his blessings every night before bed.