That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports
(Reprint from Rainbow Gold Reads Review)
Jocks have it hard.
They’ve got a lot to live up to as they pursue their passion in their chosen sport. This isn’t an easy thing to acknowledge on my part. I was one of those artistic queer kids that jocks loved to bag on. So why the change up in opinion?
Simple: I wrote Angels of Mercy.
When Angels presented itself (fully formed to the bitter end, mind you), I thought “Eh, I’ll bang this one out in a month.” I had the ending in my head already. I just had to write to that ending, right? Yeah, not so much it seems.
Here’s what I learned: you see, my main protagonist, Marco Sforza, is built upon my husband’s experiences playing football both at the high school level at Massillon, Ohio (the heart of high school American Football as we know it) and for Clemson U back in the day (admittedly a very different era than Marco’s present day story). So given the disparity in my husband’s and Marco’s timelines, I had to make some adjustments between my husband’s experiences and those that I was building for Marco. But what amazed me is that, at its core, very little has changed with regards to the institutionalization of homophobia within American football – be it, high school, college or pro.
We like to think “It gets better …” but in reality, has it? There are emerging stories about players in high school and college football that have appeared in OutSports where the players have come out to their teammates. In the cases that have been reported the response has been rather positive. Yet, we only have to bring up what happened to Michael Sam to understand that very little has changed with regard to players who hope to play openly and valued for their sportsmanship and not for who they love.
Angels taught me a lot. Not just about my characters and their road to happiness, but also because as I explored Marco’s having to follow that “jock script” all boys are indoctrinated to follow (bag the girl and draw some blood out on the field) Marco goes through some fairly difficult moments in his teenage life. In his desire to play ball and be one of the guys, he’s opened himself up to a major downfall that he can’t see coming – mostly because of the pressure to perform both on and off the field. That pressure is enormous. Yet, there’s a boy that has captured Marco’s attention in a way that no one, boy or girl, ever has. He finds himself on an emotional pendulum – swinging wildly from the life everyone else thinks he should have (girlfriends or friends with bennies, followed by marriage and rugrats), and the life he wants for himself wrapped up in a boy who requires darkness and shadows to survive another hellish day of high school.
It’s a ride my own husband had to play.
Simply put, hiding hurts everyone involved. No one ultimately benefits from that arrangement, despite how much comfort it may bring teammates in thinking that everything is cool, the dude is solid, a man’s man. Marco’s journey changed long held positions and baggage I carried from jocks that tormented me in my own past. I began to understand the pressures boys like Marco – who hide from themselves just to play the game they love to play – are under. But I didn’t want that discussion in my works to be so one-sided.
My granddaughter is queer and I spend a great deal of time with her and her friends. Queerdom is a very different monster with her crew. Just the fact that they embrace the word “queer” has changed my perspective on a word that used to torment me. So I realized that while things may not have totally changed, I also remembered the stories posted in OutSports of players who have experienced support from within their team. So while there is a clique within the team from Mercy High in my stories, I also balanced it with boys who really wouldn’t care if Marco was with a boy. I needed to show that line that things are changing. Maybe not at lightening speeds, but change is coming.
I am not kidding myself in thinking it will change in college or pro-ball in the next five, ten or fifteen years. That may be a long time in coming, but come it will.
With the release of Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections and Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes, I wanted to explore Marco’s journey. To be honest, while I started the main Angels of Mercy series from Marco’s boyfriend Elliot’s point of view, the story was really Marco’s to tell. He gets the lion’s share of the series (three books out of the six total).
I am thankful that Marco exists. He’s made me understand my husband’s past so much more. And I am far more sympathetic to athletes who take that courageous step to emerge and live a life out and proud. Their stories will always hold my interest.
I often wonder what I would say to my younger tortured teenboy self that would give my younger self context to understand what those boys go through. Don’t know if it would’ve made a difference or not, but I am glad I’ve grown enough as a writer and a queer man to give them a bit more of a pass and a modicum of understanding that many of them may not feel free enough to live openly and use oppression to express their frustration.
That’s what Angels ultimately explores. Here’s hoping that the trend toward acceptance keeps moving in a positive direction. I look forward to the day when it simply won’t matter.
Until next time …
SA Collins Store (support the author directly)
When Life Gives You a Bag of Sour Lemons …
To start with, this isn’t some sort of pity party. What this is can best be labeled is a quiet contemplation of where I am as both a (queer) man and author.
You see, life has handed me that bag of rotten, incredibly sour, lemons. Lemons that no kind of sugar (coating) can be made into anything remotely useable.
I just released not one but TWO massive books in my Angels of Mercy series. The two books took close to year and a half to germinate and blossom into what they are now.
I am incredibly proud of the work – the entire series thus far. It’s broad in scope. While it deals with an ensemble cast, it’s main protagonists are trying their damnedest to have a fucking romance in the middle of the epic shit storm I throw at them. It’s operatic in scope – I can’t help it as I come from that world. Mundane thrown into the mass hysteria of opera like tropes. To me that’s when queer fiction can be at its best.
But as I said, while the release of those two books is complete, they’re out there, LIFE kicked me square in the rubber parts (literally).
Tomorrow I am going to go through a potentially life saving operation. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m fucking scared beyond belief. This, despite how many tales I’ve heard from “people who went through it” or “I have a friend/family member who’s been fine for the past XX years.” It’s always double digits. Which is good. Medicine has progressed to where things are getting better. Hell, even the doctor said that, “We no longer throw the kitchen sink at a problem. It’s finely tailored so that the therapy addresses your particular problem. We’ve grown that much in the past ten years.”
But life … I dunno, man. It has a way of keeping you down when you least expect it. Mundane with operatic overtones is where I am at personally.
But again, this isn’t a pity party. This is a “Jesus, have you ever really looked at the people who dot your life and provide so much color to it? Have you? I mean, really?”
People do cross my mind. I’ve grown to admire and love several of them since I’ve started to publish my works. Running the Wrote Podcast has only increased getting to know amazing writers and artists exponentially. I’ve been all the richer for it. Don’t know that I can spend it on anything other than my heart, but it’s definitely something to be grateful for, that’s for sure.
So while this list isn’t complete, these are just the names that cross my mind as of late. People who have come to mean a tremendous amount to me.
Brad Vance – you were the very first author I plucked up the courage to email and get to know. Given the Circumstances will always be at the top of my TBR list because it is simply that great a work.
Brandon Witt – you took a chance on a fledgling podcast that probably had next to no one listening to it. You were our second guest and you were as warm and engaging as anyone we’ve ever had on the show. I cherish those conversations with you about life, artistry and “the biz” – you never fail to bring your witty comments and ponderings to the table.
Angel Martinez and J. Scott Coatsworth – You two are powerhouses in the SF/Fantasy realm for queer fic. Not to mention amazing people to know. I cherish our laughs as much as our debates on the industry and writing in general. When you’re on the podcast I know we’ve got a great ep in the can before I even press the big red button to record.
Tuffy and Angie (Angle) Stanley – Tuff, I’ve known you since my first days out in gay land – cruising the bars, the fruit loop, and just generally hanging out and shootin’ the shit (as my dad would say). You’ve both been champions of my works. I don’t see or talk to you both nearly enough, but you’re always on my mind.
Jeffrey Merrell Davis – The first gay boy I ever met and we haven’t stopped talking for the past 35 years. I love that we quote movie lines back and forth in our conversations. We pepper our x-rated version of The Sound of Music where people least expect it. I’ve loved the fact that you’ve been like a brother/sistah to me and I’ve cherished each time we’re together. Some day I’ll have to write about Josie and Willy so the world can know about those drag personas we created and embodied. “Girl, did we have some times …”
Daniel A. West – Cuz, you mean a great deal to me even though we haven’t seen one another since you were a teenager many moons ago. But you’re family. You’ve been a solid cousin and bringer of positivity in my life. I am glad I got to share my boys from Mercy High with you and that you embrace them. There is no price I can put on how much your continued love and support means to me. And Jeffery’s definitely a keeper. Love that guy!
Now for the hard(er) ones …
Tia, Carmel, Pablo and Mom – My immediate family. I’ve grown so many ways in this journey of life. Knowing my own brother, Pablo, has dealt with what I am going through and he’s been fine for close to 20 years, has given me tremendous support and encouragement. Tia, you’ve been there and been a complete supporter of me when I was coming out. You showed me what that world was like. It was an education that cannot be measured or have a price put upon it. I thank you for that. Mom, it’s your voice (and Dad’s) that I hear whenever I have a difficult choice to make in life. You’ve taught me well. Your support through my coming out to you both, to embracing my boyfriends and now husband means more than I can ever express – and words are my thing. Carmel – We grew closest during our years of having braces. It’s never let up since. I am so proud of your accomplishments in life. Every time you post a pic of your bakery work I am truly astounded and sit there in awe of your creations. “That’s my lil’ sis …” You are a powerhouse of creation. I cherish that. I am proud to be a big brother to you and Pablo.
Now, this one’s gonna burn … but in the best way possible.
Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwoood – Two people who have become family. Words fail me every time I try to describe what you both mean to me. Look at what we’ve created together. Just look at it! That was us, bay-bee! And we continue to do it every week! All the offline (and online) conversations, learning about each other in such profound ways, leaves me breathless and completely humbled by what you do. Vance you are, in every way imaginable, my superhero. You swoop in when I am really struggling and like the comic heroes of old, you know exactly how to lift me out of whatever I am spinning out about. You are the keel for our podcast. You are a brilliant writer and editor, not to mention gifted with such a golden voice that I sometimes want to put a pad of butter on the desk because I know you’d melt it even from where you are. Jayne, you are a true Lady in every sense of the word. We didn’t know fuck all about what we were doing three years ago when we started. But together we worked it out. You’ve taught me perseverance and the ability to make lemonade when you really don’t think you can. You both have been amongst the greatest teachers in life. You both are on my short list of peeps I can’t do without. I’d never want to know that day was like. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I revel in who you are a human beings and compassionate people who just want a better world for all.
Freddie Feeley Jr., Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, Kate Aaron, and AJ Rose – Your incredible minds and passion to discuss world events has enriched me not only with your brilliant perspectives, but also because we’ve grown to know a bit more about each other along the way. While my current predicament has put the skids temporarily on our world talks, there is a part of me that clings desperately to continuing those conversations again.
Wendy Stone, Michael Rumsey, Matthew Gallien and Jimmy Thacker – Champions of my works and diligent beta readers. You keep me grounded and out there fighting the good fight just to get noticed in a field that is overwhelmed with daily releases. When I think I can’t go there, when I want to toss in the towel, I have you all to lift me up and keep me pressing forward. Your love of my boys from Mercy High won’t let me stop and wallow. That’s a very good thing. I count on it more than you’ll ever know. Don’t stop … I beg you.
J, Whitney and Keely (plus Katya and Zorro) – My daughter and granddaughter have taught me about family. Your immediate family. Whit, I’ve watched you grow and prosper into a brilliant and hard working woman (single mother’s need to take a course from you). And it was all on you to do that. You picked yourself up from impossible odds when you found out you were pregnant with Keely and you made something of yourself and provided for your daughter along the way. Womanhood is all the better for you playing for their team. Keely, if there is anyone I am most interested in watching blossom into womanhood, it’s you. At fourteen you possess a keen sense of self, of your sexual identity and your compassion and empathy for others who are less fortunate than you. Activists simply don’t know what’s coming down the pipe once you really get going. Your fearlessness, your sense of moral obligations and duty to help your fellow man and to “make things right” are truly astounding in one so young. You give me so much hope for our future. Your mother named you aptly – Keely Sloane – Beautiful and Graceful Warrior – I can’t think of a more prophetic name than that. J.L. – my husband of 22 years and fierce defender of what I do. YOU, more than anyone, sees me wrestle with that writing tiger in the room that constantly stalks me. You, more than anyone, pushes me to do better each time I put my fingers to the keyboard. And you gave me Katya and Zorro to give me cuddles and unconditional love when I need a booster. I know you’ll stand by me no matter what life throws my way. “We’ll deal with it, together.”
Angels of Mercy has taught me so much about life. It’s given me the means to explore what institutionalized homophobia in competitive sports is all about. Not all of it, mind you, but a good part of it because it’s built on my husband’s and my experiences discovering who we are as queer men.
I have a ton of characters sitting in the wings. I have a crap more to write. I have shit to do. That’s why this isn’t a pity party. It’s a take stock of what life has given you that allows you to put that damned bag of lemons down. That’s what this is. And these people, by no means a complete list (and please, forgive me if I’ve forgot to mention you and we’ve crossed paths. I’ve been enriched by every discussion, every Facebook posting, every story you’ve ever written or topic we’ve ever debated), but what it has done is given me a long look at the great things in my life. And for that, I am grateful.
Okay, LIFE, bring that shit tomorrow and let’s do this!
Until Next Time …
– SA Collins
BUY LINKS – (shameless plug)
When Worlds Collide
Writing is a funny business. And by funny, I mean peculiar.
The reason I say this is that what any given writer writes about has to come from a place of either economics (wanting to survive by your writings), passion (a story that just won’t let its author go), or as a means of vindication (having your opinion heard on a given topic – a reasoning and establishing your point of view in a debate).
But therein is where it gets peculiar (at least to my way of thinking). I am solidly in the middle camp. I write from passion. I don’t give a fuck if it’s embraced. I’d like it to be, but it is not a requirement. I’ve said this before. I am a successful writer because I complete a project. I see it through. It may not find its audience until I am well and truly gone. But it’s out there – my voice among the collective. For all time, as they say, because nothing in the internet really goes away (save a cataclysmic alien invasion that wipes out our tech in favor of their own). Right?
I recently had such an experience come to light with my works. I am writing to explore the institutionalized forms of homophobia in competitive sports – in the case of Angels of Mercy, American high school football. It’s done fairly well, given I don’t expect it to be the next Friday Night Lights or something of that sort. For one, I don’t concentrate on the hetero-centrist bullshit that permeates nearly all of literature and media out there. Jesus, how our straight counterparts are so weak that they have to have so many stories written about them. True, there is a burgeoning interest in our stories, but let’s be honest, it’s still small by comparison. Given the latest study on the GLBT impression in media – we are still in the single digits by way of exposure in the mainstream.
Part of that I lay fully at the feet of my own queer community. A large swath of queer men don’t partake of books, TV or movies that focus on our lives to really make their financial impact heard in the mainstream. And when we do have something that speaks to us, about our lives as we live them (*cough* LOOKING *cough*), it is bashed by its own community for not being representational of the whole.
“We don’t live like that. Not everyone is in the bushes looking for a hook-up.”
True on both counts. Yet, it was bashed so harshly by those of us in the queer community that now it’s gone. Now we’re relegated to tongue-in-cheek facades of Ryan Murphy’s worlds (Glee took a major leap off the cliff after the third season, American Horror Story, while great, is definitely over the top, and if AHS was out there, then Scream Queens left the planet for queer representation years before it aired). Yet with Looking gone, another of our voices became stamped out. And we did it to ourselves. Rather than engage the producers and creatives behind that show (a show I happened to have loved) it was torn apart at the seams.
What is HBO or Showtimes take away? Queer storytelling that focuses on the queer characters don’t sell. Even to our own community.
(Read that last part again, in case you missed just how cutting that is to our own stories.)
That’s beyond pathetic. It’s self-annihilation, or a fucked up internalized homophobia to the nth degree, if you ask me. Self-inflicted. How fucked up is that?
I just recently watched, with my husband, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
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It was a brilliant and intense queer story. It opened up so many reasons why I loved Looking as I did. It did NOT have a happy ending. It just ended – leaving you to ponder what happened next. Did the boy left behind pursue his lover to the US? Or did he just simply give up? I LOVED that. I loved the not knowing. Allowing me to decide for myself how it all ended.
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I also want to see Lilting.
Jesus, that one looks like it will emotively crush me. I live for those works. I recently watched Ben Whishaw in London Spy. That one also rattled me a great deal. It was queer storytelling that was epic in how brilliant it twist and turned on a dime. Ben Whishaw was brilliant in that work as well. I love my queer men and their simple complicated lives. I love talking to other queer men about their lives and loves and losses. They hold me spellbound. They truly do. Their stories are far more potent or powerful because they exist in the face of often monumental adversity. I admire them. They are my romance. Every single one of them. Even when we don’t agree. I still love and admire them. How could I not? They are from different mothers, but they are my brothers nonetheless.
This is partially why I rail at romance tropes. Not enough is being done to write about us as we are. It’s why I can’t write those things. Not when there is so much more to talk about. I get that it’s writing to “hope” – well, romance as a genre doesn’t have the lock on hope. It’s also why I can’t get all gushy about Disney fairy tales (though I will say I was pleasantly surprised by Maleficent). Because they’ve applied solid romantic tropes to stories that had none of that in it. Look at all the works those sweet retellings are based on – there’s none of that happy ever after in the original works. Mother Goose and Brothers Grim were outright scare monsters of fictional storytelling. Nothing short of it.
But I’m a bit off topic here.
What I wanted to get to with this post, is that the crossroads of queer fiction (or as I’d like to now call it – just plain literary fiction – because I am all about the equality) and romance. Somehow the works that take a solid look at our lives as they are get bashed because there is an automatic assumption that anything queer MUST have a HEA. Yes, there are genre and sub-genre works out there, but let’s be honest, their sales probably would do a helluva lot better if that HEA albatross wasn’t out there ready to sack any fictional work that has a queer protagonist/hero doing their damnedest to get to the last page of the story.
This came home to roost with a new reader who found my works and seemed to enjoy what I was writing. Or so I thought. I’ve since learned that no matter how much you put out there that the work is NOT romance, the prevailing winds are if it is queer then it MUST BE romance. Another reason why I rail at that genre. It’s poisoning the coffers of other works out there. I don’t fucking care if it sells. It still should not myopically mar the other stories that need to be told.
I write what I like to read, and what I like to watch. To give you context, I like heightened drama – Downton Abbey, ANYTHING by Shondaland (How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, etc), things of that nature. I like it when characters are pushed to their absolute limits of what they think they can handle. Then we get to see some real character development. Why? Because humans grow from adversity. It’s built into who we are. Whether we choose to collapse and withdraw (which is a choice) or to fight and press on. We evolve to one end of the human spectrum or another. THAT’S powerful storytelling. Safe stories with safe endings don’t provide that. They just provide the candy like feel good moment before it’s dropped and moved onto the next sweet morsel of storytelling. Police procedurals don’t interest me. Mostly because they are formulaic to a great degree. I have Sherlock (the Cumberbatch edition, if you please) that satisfies that far better than any NCIS or procedural out there. I’m a solid card carrying Cumberbitch, and proud of it!
I also come from the world of professional opera. I write operatic pieces set against the normality of life. I like watching my safe characters who, as its author, I want them to find happiness just as much as the next guy, struggle like hell to get there – whatever their HEA is (and it definitely doesn’t have to involve romance or a romantic theme). But in my worlds, as in life, none of it is guaranteed. I’ve said I am a pantser, in that I have tentpoles up that mark where I want the story to go, but I also let the characters drive the drama. Sometimes they’ve even surprised me. Actually, they surprise me a helluva lot.
So this new reader seemed to like what I was doing. But I thought, because I was careful to explain in ALL of my blurbs and marketing about the works, that they are NOT romance reads, that I was covered by that simple statement. I’ve never professed them to be romance in any stretch of the imagination. I don’t do romance. I can’t. I want to push my characters into very, VERY, uncomfortable places. I like watching them squirm and rationalize their own fucked up viewpoints, I want them to explore why they are doing what they are doing. I want my readers to see the dangers of their thinking. They are very, very specific works. Not for everyone.
But again, that is my passion. That’s what I write. Heavily influenced by my years in the opera world telling those types of stories to the masses.
I was once in the wings about to go on for the final tableau setting of Cavalleria Rusticana when one of my opera singing gay buddy besties came along side me. We loved to quietly crack jokes and goad one another backstage before we had to go on and be over the top dramatic. Keeping the balance, ya know? Humor before tragedy and all that rot. So I turned to him and said, just before the ear shattering scream one of our cast members was tasked with when the hero is killed in a duel:
“Why can’t we do a happy opera sometime?”
To which he replied:
“Who’d come to see it?”
He had a very valid point. His response is what’s guided my hand while I write what I write. I write opera. I write drama. No automatics in those works. In fact, it’s expected that shit won’t work out. That the ending will be cataclysmic and disastrous. If I can pull a rabbit out of my hat and give my characters a happy ending that works, then yay me. But I don’t do automatics. Hell, sometimes I only vaguely know how it’s going to end when I start. And even then, that ending is ALWAYS a moving target as I see it finally in my sight at the end of the work.
*Series Spoiler Alert*
Well, I asked this new reader to preview the next release – Angels of Mercy: Phoenix in the Fire. He said he’d love to read it and provide feedback. This book is dark. It’s not a happy book by any stretch of the imagination. How could it be? It is about being the victim of a very horrific beating by your boyfriend’s teammates. That is going to do a number on how you see your world, despite which avenue you choose to crawl out from that terrifying hole: to survive and become stronger (the hardest of the two) or to collapse inwardly and withdraw from everyone you know (sadly, the usual tract most take). I wanted to explore the former rather than the latter. It’s easier to implode from that sort of homophobic beat down. I wanted Elliot to climb out of that hole and find an inner strength to himself. Elliot struggles to accept the love that is freely given to him by many in his life. He thinks he’s not worth it. Many gay men have this struggle for one reason or another. I wanted to have that as part of his inner monologue.
Well, suffice to say that my new enthusiastic reader wasn’t very taken with the new book. In fact, when I asked him what he found that didn’t work (because I truly wanted to explore that) it became very clear to me he was reading it as a romance read. I tried to explain that I wasn’t writing that. It was too late. Phoenix had soured the work for him. I haven’t heard anything since my last email that tried to explain what the works truly are. Other betas advised me to leave it – to distance myself from that situation. But I’ve toiled with it in my head. It’s stuck in my craw, so to speak.
But it did point out why my ire at the romance trope exists. It is poisoning other works. The expectation that ALL stories must have romance tropic happy endings is destroying proper storytelling. It is also setting expectations out there for works that are nowhere near that form of writing.
I don’t do romance. I probably never will. I write us as we are.
There. I’ve stated it once again. Not that anyone is really paying any attention. Those tropic bullshit expectations will still be there. I’ll still rail against them and flip them the big ol’ bird and purposefully write darker works that put a magnifying glass on our community as we are just to spite those Disneyesque saccharine laden pieces of fiction.
I write drama. Operatic drama. Period. Deal with it, or move on. I’ll continue to write either way.
Until Next Time …
Embracing the Improbable
It shouldn’t exist. I never intended it to exist, yet, there it is.
What am I babbling about now? My next release – Angels of Mercy – Phoenix in the Fire (due March 2016).
The book ostensibly is a work of fiction in and of itself. Its evolution was predicated on a mistake. I’ve blogged a bit about it before. But here it is, in all it’s behemoth glory:
Clocking in at roughly 639 pages, and 218K words it’s an opus of a book that shouldn’t exist. But you know what? I’m rather pleased with it.
As I’ve stated many times before and on the podcast, I’m all about the headspace and how perceptions rule our world but we seldom give them credence and understand the prominence they have in our lives. Phoenix doest that, and I think it does it very well.
Angels, at it’s core, is really about dealing with the physical and emotional fallout from a heinous act of homophobic proportions and how the victim in it decides not to fold but rather rise from the ashes of that terrible beatdown. But in his evolving and climbing out from that hell hole the boys who beat him put him in, there are voices in his head that do their level best to protect him and try and guide him. He is comforted by that inner-gayboy voice that has always been there for him – warning him, throwing up red flags and cautionary flares whenever that inner-gayboy perceived a threat in Elliot’s world. It had served him well for most of his young gayboy life, but ultimately that voice failed him when he most needed it. Something had to change for him to evolve.
Elliot makes mistakes as he emerges, in this he learns to find a steely core in himself (personified by a new internal voice he calls Bitchboi). I use these competing voices (gayboy and Bitchboi) to demonstrate that evolution. What Elliot learns is that it isn’t just one voice over the other, but rather a learned and intentional concert of those two voices that enable Elliot to truly soar above his beatdown.
Elliot also surprised me as a character. I mean, I know his arc, I know what he’s made of – he is my invention after all – but he still found ways to take me on a journey as his creator. In that way, he came to life even more than I ever dreamed he would. I loved his new levels of vulnerability and how he learned to turn those feelings of inadequacy into defensive mechanisms that helped him cope with not only his rising from his attack, but how to turn the tables on those who became new threats to his already fragile world.
This book truly lives up to its name – it has risen in my estimation and in my love for the work. A simple mistake of my husband nudging me (erroneously) to redo Volume 2 in Elliot’s voice (instead of the planned POV of his boyfriend, Marco) and I have been completely been blown away by what came out of that. It was a book that, when I realized the mistake of writing it in Elliot’s voice, was doomed for the digital fire as a scrapped piece of prose. It was my husband who saved it – ironic, isn’t it? He said:
Why don’t you just release it as a companion book to Marco’s?
At first I didn’t see the brilliance or the possibilities that it would present. But now I do. Now I couldn’t be happier with this mistake of a novel. I only hope my readers do.
It isn’t a proper Angels novel. It isn’t a planned part of the Angels canon but it WORKS!
I couldn’t be happier.
Here’s hoping my readers agree with that assessment.
Until next time …
– SA C
Poking and the Art of Evolution
I’m a poker. Have been most of my life – probably since childhood. It starts because something catches my interest. I’m like a crow in that way. I bumble along completely thinking of something else or another and then – WHAM! – something catches my eye. Like that crow, I stop everything and become consumed with …
“Oooh, look! It’s shiny!”
I can’t help it. It is what it is. I know this about myself so I’ve learned to adapt, to roll with it. It’s just how I, er, roll … (rolling eyes at that one).
So what’s caught my eye this time? One of my book covers for Angels of Mercy. And here’s the thing: everyone gets all goose pimply on social media (and by everyone, I mean authors, book cover artists and yes, even the readers) and they lose their shit over a cover reveal.
I’m just not getting that. Yeah, it’s cool to see what the cover looks like. I get that. But I am not one to sit in total anticipation for the big shiny (crow-like) reveal of some book. You can tell me a year before the book’s release and my reaction would be the same. I’d marvel at it and move on. It would either intrigue me to read the blurb or not.
Insert shrugging shoulders here.
But as a content creator, I think of them as two wholly exclusive things. One doesn’t negate the other’s importance. And they don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Maybe I’m not seeing it correctly.
But as a cover artist (of which I used to do promotional work for the performing arts community for many years), I have to be inspired to create, do the creating and then toss it out there and see what happens. In that, it is just like my writings – I am doing it for the art of creation. If others find it of interest, cool beans. But that’s not why I am doing it to begin with. Not even close.
I suppose it has to do with my background in live theater (musicals, operettas, operas, etc). That is probably why I think about them the way I do. They may not be interchangeable to others – exclusive of one another but oddly related – but it’s just how my brain works, so I go with it – applying art and craft and allowing it to evolve, whatever it may be.
So what am I babbling about this time?
The cover to my next release: Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (I’ll walk through it below). It’s gone through some strange permutations over the months. For starters, it’s for a book that shouldn’t exist. I never planned to write it. That was my husband’s doing. I was just about to get cracking on the final edits of Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco (as shown above), and as I was leaving for my Clark Kent day gig, my husband murmurs to me from the bed (he gets to have a sleep in as he’s retired now – but no rest for the weary me) and said:
“Why don’t you have Volume Two told by Elliot instead of Marco? I think it would make for a better point of view for the next part of the series. You are writing Marco’s backstory, so why not keep Angels proper in Elliot’s voice?”
It was a worthy comment. It stopped everything I did. I drove to work gutted that my 750+ page second volume would now be shelved. He didn’t tell me to shelve it, but the implication was: I don’t think Marco is serving the greater arc here.
So in late August (of 2015) – weeks away from it’s promoted release, I shelved Marco and completely re-wrote the work in Elliot’s POV. I got 3/4 of the way through Elliot’s take in the intervening weeks and realized WHY Marco had to tell this part of the story. So I went back to the hubster and informed him that Marco’s v2 was back on track and that we needed to get it out the door.
On November 30th, with long editing sessions over the Thanksgiving day holiday, it was finally released. The cover of which you see above. I am very happy with it. Those that have read it thus far all seem to think it’s a great addition to the Angels stable of books. I always sort of knew Marco’s book was going to be the biggest part of the Angels series. He just has the most to tell. It was always going to be that way.
So then, after it’s release, my husband said –
“Why don’t you release Elliot’s book anyway as a companion book?”
There was some merit to it. These books are perception plays. They are character studies in what is their perceived truth and how do they move through their world with that truth – only to discover that they may not have it right and have to struggle with that new information. The books serve and explore a specific purpose. That’s why they are not romance reads even though at it’s core they have a very strong romance threaded through them.
So what to do with Elliot’s POV work of the same timeline as V2? I polled my betas and they seem to like the idea that knowing what Elliot has going on in his noggin might be an interesting take in relation to what his boyfriend (Marco) might be thinking during Elliot’s recuperation from the homophobic beatdown at the hands of Marco’s football teammates.
Okay, that was big spoiler from V1 – sorry.
So here’s where the poking comes in and reason for this blog entry. I had to create a cover for it. But it’s not a proper Angels book. It’s a companion book to the second volume. So from a design perspective, I thought I could deviate from the football theme I’ve had running in the main series of the books. Thematically, they are about the effects of homophobia in competitive sports – in this case, American high school football – thus, the footballer on most of the works. But for Phoenix I needed something that was wholly Elliot (even V1 has an image of Marco on the cover though it’s told from Elliot’s POV). I had to do something different to make the companion book stand out.
So here was the first stab at it:
The title and the image comes from a passage in the book where Marco commissioned a piece of art from his boyfriend’s favorite artist to create an original work that featured Elliot in it. He said he wanted it to represent Elliot’s being a Phoenix In The Fire (apologies to Troye Sivan – as I borrowed a line from his song “Bite” for it). I wanted it to evoke a mystical element to it, playing on Angels and the Phoenix mythos. It received mixed comments. It wasn’t wholly right for what I wanted either. But it was something.
As I was writing Elliot’s Phoenix I came up with another burst of creativity and decided to try something else. How about a more painterly fairy fable look? Sidebar: the book has none of this in it so this one was doomed from the start. But I was in a poking, creative mood so off I went on this artistic tangent. It happens – part crow, remember?
And I ended up with this:
It was fun to create, but I knew it wasn’t right. I polled friends on Facebook and they were fairly clear that it didn’t work for the work at hand. I thought so too, but I had fun creating it. As a rule I never throw ANYTHING creative away.
But the next attempt was closer to where it needed to go – though it still wasn’t quite right either.
I wanted fire to be a strong element in the cover art. So I played around with a great Photoshop action to solve this dilemma. It seemed to work. My betas all said it was a better take on it. So it has lingered since mid-December in this form – until this past weekend.
When the twitch of my artistic finger became too much to ignore and I became inspired to poke at it again.
Now I think I have it. This is what I had roiling around in my head back then (admittedly, it’s a bit over the top, but it does evoke the climb out of the physical hell Elliot’s beatdown put him in). Fire is ever present this time around. Which is exactly what I want to convey. Plus, I think the cover will stand out amongst all the bare torsoed men that are plastered all over M/M books. Insert SERIOUSLY rolling eyes on that topic alone.
So here’s the final, FINAL, version of Angels of Mercy – Phoenix In The Fire (to be released Mid-to-Late-February of this year):
Oooh, look … it’s shiny!
I’m good with that.
Until next time …