Starling By Racheline Maltese

Monday, January 26, 2015

While the majority Love in Los Angeles, our LGBTQ+ romance series from Torquere Press, takes place in, well, Los Angeles, some pretty crucial action happens in various locations outside of that city.

One of those places is Marion, South Carolina, the town Paul, one of our heroes, grew up in. At the beginning of Doves, book two in the series, Paul and his boyfriend Alex travel to South Carolina to visit Paul’s family. It’s both a vacation for them, away from the stress and schedules of their lives in L.A. -- Alex is an actor, and Paul runs his own TV show -- and a chance for Paul to show Alex some of his own history. It’s a way for both of them to step outside of their daily lives, and learn a little more about each other.

When our characters are in Los Angeles, or New York, or Washington, D.C., or any of the many other cities their jobs take them to, the prose of the Love in Los Angeles books trips along like a script. The language is spare, and precise, and we do our best to not direct from the page too much -- that is, we like to leave room for interpretation for our readers to fill in as they will. Also, silence and space can often be much more eloquent that sound and forms.

In Marion, though, the pace of life, and of the story, is different. Where the language of L.A. is clipped and brisk, South Carolina is all about long sentences and lush description -- of the landscape, of the sunsets across the fields, of the sultry southern heat and the box fan whirring in the window. It’s a slower, older place, that’s much more about memory and the past. The prose, not just the setting, changes. It’s also the kind of place -- and the kind of language -- that allows Paul to tell Alex some stories about his own past, that he’s never been able to before. And what happens in South Carolina, doesn’t quite stay in South Carolina.

The ties that bind...

Two years after the events of Starling, Cinderella story and star of The Fourth Estate J. Alex Cook is living happily ever after with his boyfriend, television writer Paul Marion Keane. But when Paul’s pilot, Winsome, AZ, gets picked up, the competing demands of their high-profile careers make them question their future together.

...can tear you apart

As Paul becomes increasingly absent from their relationship, Alex tries to regain control of his private life and establish a career path independent of Fourth's enigmatic, and at times malevolent, showrunner Victor. But the delicate web of relationships that connects Alex, Paul, and their friends — including Alex's excitable ex-lover Liam and his no-nonsense fiancée Carly — threatens to unravel.

With the business of Hollywood making it hard to remember who he is when the whole world isn’t watching, Alex is forced to confront major changes in the fairytale life he never wanted as he discovers that love in Los Angeles often looks nothing like the movies.


Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese are authors of the gay romance series Love in Los Angeles, set in the film and television industry (Starling (September 10, 2014), Doves (January 21, 2015), and Phoenix (June 10, 2015)), all from Torquere Press. Their gay romance novella Midsummer, Book One of the Love’s Labour series, about a summerstock Shakespeare company, is from Dreamspinner Press (Summer 2015). They also have a forthcoming story in Best Gay Romance 2015, edited by Felice Picano. Racheline is a NYC-based performer and storyteller; Erin is a writer and blogger based in Washington, D.C. They write stories and scripts about the intersection of private lives, fame, and desire. You can find them on the web at

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Alex and Paul stay closer to each other than they normally do. Usually it's Alex who curls into Paul's side whenever he can, at least when they’re not in public, but tonight it's Paul who keeps their legs pressed together under the table. More than once Alex sees Paul's mother watching them as they bend their heads together to talk quietly, but Alex has no impulse to pull away or remove his arm from low on Paul's back.

They're sitting out on the verandah together with Paul's family, watching sunset creep across the fields, when Alex's phone rings again. This time, it's Margaret.

The whole conversation is ridiculous on any number of levels, but at least she's not shouting. Her calm, competent crisis-management mode is somehow even more frightening than Victor's wrath, and now Alex's reception of it isn't numbed by terrible stories. The liberals are furious that their sweet Indiana farmboy has the temerity to know his way around a gun. The right suddenly has to deal with the fact that their new if inadvertent poster boy is Hollywood's pet twink. No one is happy. Even beyond the fans who feel betrayed that J. Alex Cook would do something so terrible as shoot beer bottles (he'd made Paul show him some of the choice replies on Twitter), many, many people are angry.

"The NRA called," Margaret tells him.

"I'm on vacation," Alex moans.

"Have you talked to Paul's family about what happens when things like this happen?"

"Do things like this actually happen that much?"

"Are you planning on maintaining dangerous and politically-sensitive hobbies?"

"I'm not going to defend a sport I like and I'm good at because it makes people who say flyover nervous. I shoot targets, not animals, and I'm also not interested in being a spokesperson for a bunch of freaks who think the government is coming for their Jesus. Can't I just be a person who does stuff?"

"I'm taking that as a yes."

Alex swears. And then reluctantly explains that yes, he and Paul have had conversations with Paul's mother, sister, and brother-in-law about some of the realities of a relationship as public as theirs. Everyone has been gracious, but as welcoming as this family has been, Alex knows he's making everyone's lives harder than they have to be just by existing in a relationship with Paul.
Eventually Margaret talks him down from his pitch of righteous anger -- he retreats around the corner of the verandah to keep Paul's family out of earshot as much as possible, because dumping all of this on them just seems rude -- and lays out a reasonable strategy for dealing with it which amounts to much the same as Victor's: Do nothing, and do not do a whole lot of somethings.

"Hey, can't you just say you're trying to get me an action movie deal or something?" he jokes as the call winds down.

"I could," Margaret points out, "if we knew what the hell was going on with your show."
And with that, Alex finally gets why Victor was pissed. Because on top of everything else, they all live in some sort of crazy world where a tweet can be strategy and betrayal.

After he hangs up with Margaret, before Alex can even walk back round to the front of the house, Victor calls again. There's less yelling, and the timing is less awful, but by the time that call is over and Alex has finally slumped back into the chair next to Paul's, Alex is ready to never answer his phone ever again.

Which is when Paul's phone rings.

Paul looks scared. His mother looks like none of this is terribly out of the ordinary. Alex wonders if that's just because she's used to Paul's job or if her life transcended strange and scary a long time ago.

"Answer it," Alex hisses, because he knows this is one of the two calls they've been waiting for and the one that will go a long way towards telling them the shape of the next year.
Paul answers it, and Alex watches him closely as he nods and says yes and thank you a number of times, but he's so damn even Alex can't tell if the news is good or bad.

When he clicks off, he just stares straight ahead breathing for a moment, and what Alex would have once taken as shock or admired as an even disposition now just seems learned in the most unsettling of ways.

"Well?" he finally asks.

Everyone is leaned forward in their chairs on the verandah staring at him in the bug-filled twilight.

"Thirteen episodes," he says softly. "Option for another eight. And then we pray for season two."

The reaction is loud from Paul's family, but Alex just sits there, still bent towards Paul and holding his hand, waiting for the moment to actually connect. When it does, Paul is out of his chair in a flash, hauling Alex up with him into a crushing hug.

"Oh my god, this day," Alex says in his ear.

Paul laughs in utter delight. "So will you marry me now?"