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December 2017 Author Of The Month: T.J. Masters

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I am a 61-year-old retired school teacher living with my husband in Hertfordshire, England, just to the north of London. After 33 years of teaching, I wanted a change of career before I became too old to learn any new tricks. To that end, I joined the Coaching Academy in London and trained as a life coach.

During this time I found myself coaching a couple of would-be authors who were going through the process of giving birth to books which ‘had always been inside of them’. This, along with my lifelong passion for books, learning and the sharing of knowledge, caused me to wake up to the fact that I also had several books inside me. With less than half a lifetime left to get them done I started writing.

So, what have you written?

In 2013 Dreamspinner Press published my first novel, ‘Taking the Gardener’. This was a character-driven tale in a realistic English setting where romance and sex between men was central to the story. My own 40 years of experience as a gay man and BDSM practitioner had given me a wealth of knowledge and stories to call upon when writing the book.

Most of my work since then has been in the form of short stories and novellas. ‘Taught to Love’ appealed to the teacher in me and told the story of an unlikely romance facilitated by a very surprising ‘cupid’ character.

“Breakfast at Timothy’s” gave me the chance to write a story centred around a week of breakfasts. It was a great topic for a foodie like me and even included an original recipe of my own!

I’ve also written two Christmas stories: Dear Santa, Dear Dad is a gentle, romantic story of father-son reconciliation along with a May to December romance between the son and his older lover. Diary Dates also tells the story of an unlikely May-December couple whose relationship blossoms slowly during the Christmas season in London.

More recently I returned to novel writing and my second book was ‘Bear Among the Books’ The characters and story are possibly the work I am most proud of to date. It was very gratifying to read the responses to this story and to know that people ‘got it’ so well and liked it so much.

What do you think makes your books stand out from the crowd?

Right from the start my writing has attempted to tell a realistic story in a particular setting, but more than anything, to present strong characters. For me it’s not enough to have two main characters living the story; I tend to surround them with a group of credible secondary characters too. Just as in real life, this often includes at least one strong female character as well.

All too often M/M romance novels read like gay porn films. The director puts all of his money into the two guys who will provide the money shot at the end; everyone else is superfluous. The very best stories have lovers surrounded by friends and family. The main characters should also have hobbies, interests, careers, and all the trappings of real people.

Have you gone to a convention? If so, how was it?

I’ve now attended three UK GLBT Meets and three Europride conventions.

My first UK meet was a total revelation. I’m very much a people person and to find myself surrounded by so many like-minded authors, readers and publishers was incredible. The first ‘stranger’ to speak to me told me how much ‘Dear Santa, Dear Dad’ had resonated with her because of her relationship with her own father. I admit I had to fight back tears as she thanked me for writing it. That’s when I realised how much our stories matter.

When I first attended the Europride convention I found it hard to sit on the side-lines, so I the next thing I knew, I’d been asked to join them and after two great years in Berlin, we’re moving to Amsterdam next year. I for one can’t wait to spend the weekend hugging everyone who stands still long enough!

Conventions are amazing powerhouses of energy. If you’re a successful author, the conventions need you. If you are a beginner or a struggling author, you need the conventions.

Is there a character you feel especially connected to? Why?

All of my main characters are based to a greater or lesser degree on real people. Each story also seems to have one main character who I can relate to personally.

I suppose my favourite is the librarian in ‘Bear Among the Books’. I recognised a lot of myself in Ben as I wrote him. He loves books with a passion and he especially believes in the importance of reading as a skill. As a school teacher, that was always of prime importance to me. Ben also loves having a variety of people around him, especially the young and the young at heart. I love to teach, coach, advise and mentor and I’m not adverse to collecting ‘waifs and strays’ who need caring for.

Have you ever written a scene where it has reduced you to tears?

I’m a big softie who gets emotionally attached to my characters, so yes I have cried at my own words as I was writing them. The best example in Bear Among the Books was the ‘disclosure’ scene (trying to avoid spoilers here). Ben’s reaction to that disclosure was easy to write because it was my own deeply emotional response.

About the book

Rather than describing the book in my own words I would like to quote one of the wonderful readers who posted a review on Amazon. Many of the reviewers so got the themes and emotions that I’d hoped to convey through the story and this one was representative of those.

5*  An Ode to Words and Books.

By Marleen – Published on

I should probably start this review by mentioning that I am a librarian. For that reason all the details about working in and the running of a library entertained me as much as the romance did. On several occasions I found myself thinking ‘oh yes, that’s how we do it too’ and that invariably brought a smile to my face. Something else that made me grin was the fact that I would probably describe myself as a cross between Daisy and Ben; while I love welcoming new members to the library and love seeing them peruse the shelves, I find it very hard not to frown when they disturb the order on those shelves.

But, this review is supposed to be about the book and not about my day job, and Bear Among the Books touched my heart in many ways. It contains a wonderful romance, it’s a declaration of love towards libraries and, maybe more than anything else it’s an ode to words, books, stories, writing, and reading.

“I had always felt sorry for people who didn’t read and never experienced the joy of getting lost in a well-written story.” – Ben

My heart ached for Jason. To love books so much and not be able to read. Scratch that, just to not be able to read is a nightmare scenario to me. A nightmare that Jason is consciously living, as his words about being/working in a library so beautifully reflect.

“It’s like being inside the biggest, richest treasure chest in the world. It’s like a bank vault for people’s dreams and experiences.”

Of course Jason’s illiteracy wasn’t the only thing about him to break my heart. His back-story is horrendous and brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. He’s such a gentle, kind and big-hearted soul despite everything he has endured and his insecurities are as understandable as they are heart breaking.

Ben was the sort of person I could fall for myself in a heartbeat. Kind, generous, patient, and always putting others first, he is exactly what Jason needs even if everybody else realises that long before Ben is willing to entertain the idea.

Jason’s grandmother was a breath of fresh air and I loved her attitude. The age difference between Ben and Jason is large —28 years to be precise. And while Ben does initially have some understandable concerns about it, I love that it wasn’t turned into a huge belly-ache or an issue for any of the other characters in the story.

“The heart has no wrinkles.” – Alice / Nan

In fact, this is not an angsty read at all. Despite Jason’s past and Ben’s reservations about a relationship, this is mostly a sweet tale about healing and books, about people coming together to do the right thing, and about embracing new opportunities and love when they come your way.

Bear Among the Books is a charming and touching feel good story. Yes, there are one or two moments that will tug at your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes, but overall, this tale will leave you with a huge smile on your face and a love for the written word that is even stronger than it was before you started reading it.

Book Blurb

Forty-eight-year-old Ben Thompson is a librarian, a passionate book lover, and a man who embodies the definition of a bear. He’s also lonely after the loss of his long-term partner. Young ex-gymnast Jason Barnes piques his interest, but Ben quickly realizes there’s more to Jason than his good looks. While Jason visits the library almost every day, he never checks out a book.

With gentle persistence, Ben befriends Jason and learns the nineteen-year-old’s tragic secrets. After years of abuse at his father’s hands, Jason was kicked out of his family home for being gay. And despite his apparent love of books, Jason never learned to read. Ben offers to teach him, and the two men bond over their lessons. Ben can’t deny his attraction to Jason, but he wonders if Jason is too young and too handsome to return his interest. With the help of the close-knit library team and Jason’s growing self-confidence, they move beyond the books and into the bedroom, where their own story is just beginning. 

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Wednesdays were always the quietest day in the library.

I’d never really worked out why that was, but I was grateful for a day in the middle of the week where I could catch up with the multitude of admin tasks which were an unavoidable part of the head librarian’s job. I’d long ago developed a loathing for working in an enclosed space, so, upstairs, my office was an open area at the back of the mezzanine floor.

I was trawling through a small backlog of e-mails when the sound of footsteps came from the spiral staircase to my left. A concerned-looking Daisy strode purposefully across the floor in my direction. Daisy was my senior assistant and the most able librarian we had. Slightly older than my forty-eight years, this all-too-serious woman still lived at home with her elderly parents. The library and her garden were probably the major loves of her life. We shared a passion for books, but with one major difference where the library was concerned: I believed in this as a place for people to interact with books in every possible way. Daisy, on the other hand, saw the library as a repository for books in ordered rows on shelves. For her, the people were something of a nuisance. People came into the library and took books off the shelves; even worse, they took them home to read. Now it was clear that something had ruffled Daisy’s carefully preened feathers, or more likely someone had.

Leaning over my desk to whisper in her best conspiratorial tone, she declared, “He’s in again.”

Now clearly I was supposed to know who he was, and was expected to do something about it. I tried to mirror her anxiety in order to show some empathy without laughing out loud. “Who’s in, Daisy?”

“That boy. That young good-for-nothing that I told you about last week.”

Some vague memories surfaced. I had returned from a morning off, to be confronted by Daisy in a high state of anxiety. It seemed that some young hooligan had come into the library and spent the whole morning wandering around, looking at the books, and had even touched a good many of them! Eventually he left without checking any books out, but he was clearly up to no good in the eyes of the ever-vigilant assistant librarian.

“Oh yes. That’s right, you did tell me about him. Is it the same lad?”

“Yes, definitely. He’s wearing one of those hoodie things. Look, I’ll show you, but you need to do something, Ben.”

That settled it. If said hoodlum was wearing a hoodie, then he must be at the very least a serial killer or even a bomb-wielding terrorist. I rose from my chair and followed Daisy to the rail overlooking the library floor below. After a quick scan of the room, Daisy nudged me in the ribs and pointed below. “There he is.”

I looked in the direction she was pointing and spotted the lad off to the right in front of the bookshelves in the natural history section. Up to this point, my whole approach had been about humoring my anxious and conspiratorial assistant. Now my attitude changed to one of genuine interest. During our previous discourse, I suppose I’d created a snappy image of some scruffy youth with long untidy dark hair and shabby clothes. He should no doubt be hunched over a physics book, trying to memorize the inner workings of an atomic bomb.

Instead, to my surprise, a very well-groomed young man with short, neatly trimmed blond hair was studying his book. He wore immaculately clean, well-fitting clothes. Very well fitting, in fact, since from our current vantage point, he appeared to be a very fit and good-looking lad. As we watched, our intruder selected a book from the shelf before him and turned toward the tables in the center of the room. It was hard to see any details from our elevated viewpoint, but he appeared to be very fresh-faced and aged in his late teens or early twenties. The hooded sweatshirt made it hard to see his upper body shape, but as he walked across the floor, well-muscled legs filled his jeans.

The lad pulled out a chair and laid the book on the table carefully, before settling himself down to read. Just by the way he placed the book and the slight pause before he opened it told me so much about him. This was a guy who respected books. His handling of the volume was almost reverent. We’ve grown used to teenagers treating their iPads or phones with reverence these days, not books.

“Well?” Daisy’s sharp prompting caught my attention. “You need to do something, Ben.”

“If I ask him to take his hoodie off, would that make you feel better?”

“Now you’re being silly.” Daisy was clearly not going to be pacified on this matter. “You mark my words. He’s up to something.”

“Yes, he’s reading a book, but so is just about everyone else in here. I’m not sure he’s actually doing anything wrong.”

I got one of her despairing looks. “Well, when he does, I hope you will remember that I told you so.”

Daisy gathered her cardigan around herself and strode off toward the staircase. I turned back to lean on the railing and admire our apparent adversary. Once more I was drawn to the careful way that he turned each page of his chosen book. It didn’t appear that he was actually reading much. Judging by the frequency of the page turning, it seemed as though he was just scanning the pictures, of which there were many.

Without warning the boy turned and looked straight at me. For a moment I was embarrassed, but then he turned away just as quickly. Of course he’d not looked at me but at the large library clock which was fixed to the front of the balcony close to where I was standing.

For a clichéd moment, time stood still, and my gaze was locked onto his upturned face. He was truly beautiful. His features were angular in a very classical way, handsome and open. I could not make out the color of his eyes from this distance, but they were clear and bright.

The moment passed and it appeared that the clock could cut short his visit. The book was carefully closed, but before he stood up, the boy took out his smartphone and took a close picture of the front cover. The phone was returned to its pocket, and he carefully rose and picked up the book. It was solemnly returned to its place on the shelf, and he slowly ran his fingers along the spines of all of its neighbors before turning to walk out. As he left I could not help but admire the rear view of the well-formed boy and made a promise to myself that I would look for him in future.

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