For My First Fan – Why I Write
For Michael Rumsey – on his birthday.
Writing is a strange business. There are so many reasons why authors write. For some it is because they have this burning sensation to get a story out there. Something that has germinated to the point of festering that if you don’t put it down on digital or physical paper then you’ll very likely go mad.
Madness is often a trait all writers share. We’re quirky people by nature. Mostly because we eye the world in a very particular way. Whether your write fiction or not, you job is to chronicle what we see and what we experience and what is possible in this world. We are stewards and documenters of the human condition in all its varied expressions – factional and fictional alike.
Some write because they hope they’ll hit the motherlode, the big pay-off and will be surrounded by the wealth and recognition that burning desire to write demands of their work. Actually, thinking upon it, that doesn’t apply to just some writers. I’d go so far to say that it goes for nearly 2/3, if not more, of the writing community that’s out there.
Recognition is nice. Money is nice (hell, money doesn’t hurt no matter what line of work you take on). All of those are very good reasons to write.
But that’s not why I do it.
Oh, to be sure, I have a burning inside to put a story (or seven at my current count) down in digital bytes and bits. That part is true for me. Their pseudo-fiction, too. While I weave stories with heightened drama, operatic in scope against a mundane landscape, the human elements are deeply rooted in real life experiences of my queer brothers (and sisters) that I’ve collected over the years.
It’s no small revelation. I’ve said as much before on the podcast, probably to the point of ad nauseum for some of our listeners (I do try to curb that, honestly).
I’ve even said as much in an earlier blog post. So none of what I’ve stated is new. What I have been asked (either by articles about the craft of writing that posed this question, or by other authors in our discussions on the WrotePodcast), is “who is your audience?”
That’s an interesting question. For me, the answer is far different I should think than my author pals I’ve come to know and respect. I write for gay men who, for one reason or another, are isolated from our community. That took me a while to sort out, too.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate other people who love what I do, because I do. But they are not my intended audience. I write for a fraction of a fraction of a readership. I am not aiming at the “sky’s the limit” stratosphere of recognition or wealth. I’d be nice, but I don’t kid myself that it’s going to happen.
My husband said early on:
“You know who you’re writing to. You’ve already figured it out, even if it hasn’t made itself known to you.”
He’s a retired psychiatrist (as well as a quantum mechanics physicist that worked for NASA and JPL) so he tends to give me Gandalf-like tidbits of wisdom when I least expect it.
What is different with this blog post is that today is the birthday of my very first fan.
Michael and I met via a website that was set up to foster those people, who, for one reason or another, felt disenfranchised or removed from the greater GLBT community (either by circumstance (they are still closeted or physically remote enough that finding others of our community is simply not possible). For the most part there are a lot of young people who populated the site. It’s a cool place and a valid resource as the moderators there try to keep people of our community connected to resources that can provide assistance and a place to congregate online so they feel a little less removed. This has always been a passion of mine, to connect with others who don’t feel connected. To say, “I see you. Let’s become friends.”
Michael was one of those men who joined the site.
I can’t say why I reached out to him. I think it was that I had reached a point writing Angels of Mercy where I wanted some feedback on the work and I opened it up in one of the forums on the site for queer people to inquire about it and to read it and give me feedback. Michael was the first to do so.
We struck up a casual conversation via the message board/forum and quickly migrated to email correspondence. Eventually this progressed to exchanging phone numbers because some of what we talked about just would’ve been easier over the phone rather than long winded emails.
When I met Michael he really felt the need to connect. To be honest, by his own admission, he hadn’t been a reader much in the years he spent in a hetero marriage, with kids, too. He’d gotten a divorce, moved to CA and spent some time getting to know some people in the GLBT community. Family matters brought him back to the country of Michigan (where he is when I met him and where he is now) and pretty much removed him from queer life. In many respects Michael needed contact. He needed to talk about stuff. But Michael was also intrigued by my work. So I gave it to him.
I waited and I sat on egg shells while he had it. He came back to me a couple of days later. I was on pins and needles (as the saying goes) to find out what he thought.
Because, you see, he was the first person outside of family and close friends who read the work as I worked on it. So his opinion mattered in so many ways. He fell in love with my boys from Mercy High. I was beyond elated. I’d made a connection. One that truly mattered because not only did he like what he read, but over time he’d progressed to reading quite a bit of queer fiction. I’d put books back into his life. That was truly the most awesome gift I could receive. Greater than any five star review, greater than all the blog posts and adulation my work could receive, that singular conversation after he’d read the work and wanted to talk about Elliot, Marco, Danny and the rest had me soaring for days after.
It was then that my husband’s words about the work before I’d handed it to anyone came back to me. I was writing for Michael. I write for those men who feel remote, removed and crave some reflection of their lives and loves.
I’ve been enriched by my continuing conversations with him. We’ve not had the pleasure to meet in person. It simply hasn’t been possible for quite a few reasons. But we stay connected. Whenever I am in doubt, I seek out his opinion on things. Over time he is not the only queer man who has come to me and said that Angels gave them something, made their world a little less remote. They felt connected to my boys, they talk about them as if they’re real. I know the feeling.
I even wrote a short story about werewolves during the NaNoWriMo event back in 2014, going so far as to write him in as one of the characters. Michael loves werewolves. It’s a series I started just for him. (Yeah, yeah, Michael, I know, I need to get the next one out there … I’m working on it!)
But Michael was the first. He is my goto whenever I want an opinion on something. I value his thoughts and his attentiveness to what I do.
So Michael, on your special day, I wanted to acknowledge that I see you, I am so proud to call you my friend. I am thankful for the conversations we’ve held – both book related and about life in general. I value each time you look my way and have something to say – even if it’s just “hey …”.
You’re a treasure, Michael. My first fan. My good friend. Happiest of birthdays. I wish you nothing but the best. And yes, one day we’ll find an Elliot to call your very own.
Count on it.
Until next time …
– SA C
Embracing Equality Means …
Something has changed. A fundamental shift in what I am doing. You see, I’ve been writing my own life story as a series over at the Violet Quill Redux and that has made me question how I see my own works. Not just the fiction works, either, but all of it.
I’ve had moderate success in the whole Gay Fiction part to my work. Assigning that moniker to what I do seemed to be the right thing at the time I released my first work.
It was a pseudo-horror thing I was playing around with. I had been hammering out Angels of Mercy at that point, but HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega was completed and I desired to have something out there that had my name on it. Hell, on the eve of releasing HOMO, I discovered that some other twit “writer” (and I term that very loosely after reviewing their work) ended up snagging my pen name (even though I had the domain, the blog, the wherewithal to publish free chapter reads before I published on January 1 of last year) right out from under me. Originally, I was going to use S.A. Collins and up until I published on New Year’s day 2015, that name was available. Then this idiot swooped in and published a free (it had to be, because the work was atrocious) work using that S.A. name reference. I was beyond pissed. At this point I had a ton of money invested in what my author/pen name was going to be. I didn’t want to change it. So, gritting my teeth, I removed the periods from each initial and pressed forward. Now, I don’t know if my putting gay fiction out there under that name scared the squatter off, but they haven’t released anything else under that author name. But I’ve still had to go back to numerous distributors and tell them I am NOT S.A. Collins but SA Collins. It’s been a chore.
So labeling my shit as Gay Lit Fic has helped me in one respect: I’ve been able to make a fairly good imprint that I am out there as SA Collins – through the WROTE Podcast, my works, and just generally hammering away in social media as him. I say him, because he is a fictitious character in one of my future works. So in that sense, I get to put him on, and put him away when I write. I sort of like that about him. I hope he doesn’t think it an abusive relationship, because I do love him and his journey.
Okay, that is getting too headspacey, even for me.
The point I am trying to make is that I started out proudly labeling my works as GAY, GAY, GAY. In that way, I am completely unabashedly #QueerProud and make no bones about what I am writing. I want it to be provocative, to press at the edges. I LIKE BEING QUEER.
But, something occurred to me: all of my literary heroes never labeled their works as such. Not John Rechy or Gordon Merrick (my literary gods), nor did Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran, Paul Monette, or Armistead Maupin for that matter. They just wrote literary fiction, PERIOD. End of story, no debate. In doing so, they demanded that their works be taken seriously within the greater mainstream. They, too, were unapologetic in what they wrote, BUT, and here is the critical difference, they (and, to a certain extent, their publishers) were no less of a homosexual or queer writer than any of us now. Yet, they were successful at it – in the mainstream. And by mainstream I am talking best sellers on the list that mattered: the NYT best seller list.
Even now, I am seeing other works by new authors that are completely bypassing the Gay label on Amazon and simply stating it’s Fiction, letting it stand with everything else, yet not denying that it is profoundly queer. Life on a slant, as it were. Proud outliers but never feeling the need to say I’m Queer, now read my shit. It was just – hey, read my shit if you’re interested. And people did. They did it in droves, too. New York Times Best Seller kind of droves.
I’ve come to the realization that I, too, am not willing to limit my works to a gay audience. Yes, I’d love it if other queer men liked what I did. I am writing to them. But it doesn’t mean I need to limit the works in that whole M/M thing that is completely overrun with women writing about us (often as we AREN’T). I have no desire to play in that game. That literary house isn’t even mine as a gay man. It’s like I’ve been ousted from it. Yet, in my striving for acceptance and equality, I am not willing to limit the scope of my works or audience. Put it out there and let ANYONE who finds it of interest buy it and read it.
I will continue to celebrate and champion queer works. I love the community of writers I’ve come to know in that sliver of genre fiction that is currently being labeled as Gay Fiction. I just am not willing to play in that pool anymore. It’s not what I am doing, not even remotely. My works are perception works. I want other people to read and see how these men process their worlds. I am not writing to a HEA (as a rule I sort of fucking despise HEAs (Happily Ever Afters) – I want realism in my works – not just in what I write, but what I read as well). I am not opposed to an HEA that makes sense. But to open a book and know already that it’s there is sort of like sitting down to a banquet and you already have been told that dessert is in the making, what it is, how it tastes and what you should expect.
Boresville, USA population: YOU. Like my queer literary forebears, I can’t go there.
So I’ll champion my author pals who want to continue to write in that genre. Yay, team! Go you! But I want equality in what I am doing. My works need to stand with the rest of mainstream writing. I need to see where that road takes me. Maybe nowhere, but I am thinking not. I think it may be a long slog to get noticed in that arena but I think in the long run I’ll be happier that I did this.
My stories are not genre fiction in the way that gay works are defined now. They’re more than that. They’re decidedly queer. They are threaded with gay men’s experiences I’ve collected over the years. But they are also representational of the greater human condition. I specialize in character studies and perception plays. That is universal. I’m just providing a queer lens for anyone to read and see the world through those eyes. But they’re not gay fiction. Just fiction.
I’m good with that.
Until next time …
BOOK RELEASE – Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco
(The Fall of the Sforzas)
I know it’s been a helluva long time since I’ve posted. It hasn’t been for not wanting to. I’ve had LOTS to say on stuff. Some of which I did on other blogs or via the podcast. But I’ve also been massively busy trying to get the next book in my series out the door. Well, it’s done. And he’s a WHOPPER of a tale!
Clocking in at just over 265K words (approx 741 pages), it is finally put to rest and is out in the universe now. I always knew Marco’s part of the tale was going to be this big. There were no two ways about it (as he’d say).
For those who haven’t been following along, suffice to say this series is a set of character studies that deep dive into the mindsets of three men’s lives over the course of a violent hate crime born out of homophobia that is still rampant within competitive sports (in this case, the fictional high school varsity football team – The Mercy High Avenging Angels).
The first volume dealt with two boys who during the summer between their junior and senior high school years come together. Two boys who couldn’t be more opposite if they tried. The first volume is told from the shy, and sticking to the shadows, Elliot Donahey. An artsy geeky boy consumed with doing everything he can not to be noticed in a world that keeps saying to him that he doesn’t belong. Only his plans for obscurity in his senior year are completely blown off the rails by the highest profile jock on campus, Mercy High’s star quarterback, Marco Sforza. Elliot’s take brings the reader along on their burgeoning heady romance filled with all the drama a coupling like that can bring. They just do everything they can to remain rooted in one another, holding each other close and whispering how their love will last through the ages. This, despite how many people are circling around them at school that are hell bent on keeping them apart.
Volume Two picks up where the climatic cliff hanger of volume one leaves off.
Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco, picks up the same day as the climax of Volume One, only told from Marco Sforza’s (Elliot’s boyfriend) point of view. This is a character study series where each man in the tale takes the reader on an introspective journey of coming to grips with the horrors of homophobia in competitive sports and the consequences when those scenarios become violent. Part two of a three part series.
“Elliot Donahey is the love of my life.”
Those words become a lightning rod for Marco Sforza, the man who seemed to have it all – looks, intelligence, charm, money, a certain degree of local fame as the star quarterback of Mercy High. But when his teammates beat his boyfriend to the brink of death, Marco will have to learn what “standing by your man” truly means.
How will these boys cope with Elliot’s recuperation as well as find a way to bring justice for the heinous crime committed against him? Deception, lies and intrigue begin to thread their way into the boys’ lives as they struggle to just hold onto one another. All is not quite what it seems as we reach yet another climatic ending that will turn their whole world upside-down. The hate crime Elliot suffered was just the beginning of their woes. Is Marco and Elliot’s love for one another strong enough to see them through?
Read Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco to find out.
Available now from the following locations:
The SA COLLINS ESTORE – where you can even buy a PERSONALIZED autograph ebook edition (sample graphic available from the e-store site)
Please check out them out!
Also, a BIG thanks to my musical muses for Angels – Jay Brannan, Steve Grand and Adam Ray! These amazing musicians are worth seeking out. I am so happy that they give me the added inspiration as I write these massive books of the series!
Until next time (which I promise won’t be so far off) – Baz
Those moments …
“There are moments you remember all your life. There are moments you wait for and dream of all your life. This is one of those moments…”
While that line is from a song in Yentl, it covers what’s been going on lately for me. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in the blog chair. It’s something I find that I can’t do – just blog for the sake of blogging. I have to want to say something. This one took me a while to gestate and finally take shape.
Thinking back on it though, I don’t think it was because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But because it was about those moments that are sort of milestones in your life (that sometimes come and go so quickly you scarce sense that they have any real meaning until you reflect upon them much later). I think that I knew I was going to write about them but it seemed the universe wanted me to wait a bit. It seemed that it had moments for me that I needed to observe. Things I needed to take stock of that were milestone moments. To quite simply not be in such a rush to produce.
As a writer, I am purely an artist. I don’t give a damn about whether my story is at the top of the best seller list. I wouldn’t mind it, but it’s not requisite. I’ll publish regardless. At some point I watched as my author friends publish with established boutique houses and think wow. Not because I begrudged them their success at getting a story sold. I am quite happy for them. But it was a moment where I realized I can’t compromise my voice. The stories I write must be what they are. If it means a real slow burn to find readers, well, so be it. I will persevere and write what I want to write. Uncompromising in tone and measure. No punches pulled, as they say. Well, as I say, really.
So yeah, moments.
And some may not have to do with my writing at all. I had one such moment with my granddaughter a week ago.
It was a random movie night at home. Just the grandpa’s and her. Mom was out on a date. What did the granddaughter choose? Some mindless chick flick? Some bombastic super hero or sci fi romp? No.
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That was her choice. And I couldn’t have been more proud or pleased with her. So was my husband. So we sat and watched it. It was one of those moments where I watched her as much as I watched the movie. I watched the idyllic world she had as a child fall away as she realized the horrors that people can put upon one another. In a very real way, it was a sad moment. The veil was lifted. She saw the worst in humanity (well, the worst she’s witnessed so far).
It was a moment.
Loss of childhood innocence. A reckoning that had been long in coming, when you realize for the first time the world is not the safe place you thought it was as a child.
Definitely a moment. And she chose it.
The next moment? Another movie (sensing a theme here?):
To Russia With Love.
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No, not the James Bond flick of old – that’s FROM Russia With Love.
In this amazing documentary (produced by out athlete, Johnny Weir – amongst others) we encounter Vladislav Slavskiy. His story is emblematic of what our queer Russian brothers and sisters are suffering in that country. His story broke my heart. It also gave me hope. It was a revelatory moment. Why? Because I’ve always wanted to do something for them back in Russia, but my fear was that any communication from the west might make things worse for them. But Vlad’s story does have a happy ending – probably unique when it comes to our queer Russian brothers and sisters. Why was this a “moment”?
Well, because I became Facebook friends with him. I asked and he accepted. I was overjoyed at the prospect of interacting with him. I made a connection. It was just before his birthday. On that day I wished him a happy birthday and thanked him for being my new friend. He liked the post. It was a small accomplishment, but I was happy.
So about a week ago, I finally worked up the courage to ask him if he would come onto the podcast to tell his story to our listeners. Amazingly, he said yes.
A DEFINITE MOMENT. A MILESTONE. One that said loudly – Don’t fuck this up, Baz! This is a gift.
So we record that special ep tomorrow. For the first time in my life, I am nervous. I’ve performed in front of thousands on the stage and not batted an eye or had so much as one simple butterfly roaming around in my stomach. But speaking with Vlad; trying to relate his story? Yeah, I got a whole bag full of butterflies going on in there.
I want to get this right for so many reasons. None the least of which, that my granddaughter watched the movie with me and is just as excited about my talking to Vlad as I am. So yeah, young ears are listening to what I am about to do. Definite responsibility. She’s listening. She’s watching grandpa step into a very important place to help someone tell their story. And she’s a questioning queer youth – so it’s doubly important that I get it right.
When I met my very first fan (beyond my family, that is) – Michael Rumsey. You brilliant and loyal man, you!
Like the moment I met Jayne Lockwood and Vance Bastian. Two people I love immensely and can’t get enough of. They’re like a drug I don’t ever want an intervention for. They were definite moments. Milestones. The podcast is a testament to that.
Like the moment last Friday when I got to circle back with Jay Brannan at his concert here in San Francisco and thank him personally for allowing me to quote his works in my book – Angels of Mercy (I am still reeling over that generosity). He remembered the book when I spoke to him after the concert. He was so generous with his time and his attentions about my works. But that’s Jay. He gets the self-promotion – even when I know all he wants to do is go to sleep and rest. But it was a moment of accomplishment that I could provide him with a copy of the finished work. Another moment. One I’ll cherish.
I plan to get back into the blogging chair more. It’s been a while. I need to do this. Not everyday. I don’t want to ramble on about stuff that really doesn’t have much meaning. I’d rather do it when it counts.
Until next time …
Words and Errata –
The Vocal Edition (Episode 004)
So here’s the thing – I am writing quite a bit in my stories (and yeah, that’s plural because I am hitting up four of them simultaneously). So those are moving along. I am hopefully on target for an August release of Angels of Mercy Volume 2 – Marco. The weres of Sparrows Hollow should be out shortly thereafter and I am jumping for joy on The Cove Chronicles getting some much needed love and attention. So that one has been updated a bit too.
Now, I just have to sort out the time so I can POST the damned updates to the site.
Which brings me to the whole – it’s tough to be an author in this day and age. I mean, it’s great and all that we can control our own destiny (if you’re so inclined to take it on as I have). But at the same time there’s so much you have to pour into it to make it worth your while monetarily speaking. And there’s the rub for me because I am gonna write what I want to write. I am not looking for what’s selling – I frankly don’t care what’s HOT right now. I am more about the craft of writing and perfecting my art in writing. I will write the stories that interest me and that I would want to read. That’s not to say that others might find them interesting and think what I am doing is cool… and that would be fab.
But it’s not the focus. Not by a bloody long shot.
So I just posted another audio blog of Words and Errata on Soundcloud. They’re sort of our way (the hosts of the 3 M/Musketeers podcast show) to put down our after thoughts and takeaways from the shows we’ve done with these guest authors. I did go off bit when I bring up a current issue that I saw happened to another author in the genre. Seems she was taken to task over a books she wrote about a couple in an open relationship. They had a threesome – (BIG GASP! The HORROR!).
Fucking get over yourselves, readers. Jesus, this shit happens. How do I know this? Because I was in an open relationship for a number of years. It is a part of gay men’s lives. While we may be striving for marriage equality, the opponents do have one element right – procreation is NOT the focus of our relationships. Sex for us is strictly PLEASURE. We write our own rules – which I guess is why so many on the opposition are cranky – ’cause we say that from the get-go. No mincing words there. We’re outliers that want a place at the table – get used to our shit.
So, yeah, kids aren’t the focus. But they could be.
Which, in a very real way can only be a good thing, BECAUSE, then it means that when we do have kids, it is with some very serious thought behind it all. We make a very conscious and concerted effort to have them in our lives. BUT they are not the focus for many of us.
Let’s get one thing straight (our straight women allies) if you want to read/write about us – get to know us first. And I mean that in the real sense of it – not the “oh, my gay friends are so funny and cool.” I mean really get to know our shit and what makes us tick. I can tell ya, it ain’t nothing like them books out there. And as a reader, I’d much rather hear about those other guys than the hyped up romance stuff that’s out there. I feel really strongly about this. Romance reads by and large are fantasy – I get that. And they are largely forgettable. Yet I contend that quite a bit of realism injected into them would only enhance these stories and make them far more powerful than they currently are.
I read reviews where they go on and on about how powerful the storytelling was – I read the damned thing with great hope that I’ll be wowed by this only to be completely disappointed time and again. It’s pathetic, is what it is.
SO, howzabout this? Rather than pushing your myopic view on what kind of relationships GAY MEN have, let the author tell you the story THEY want to write and tell? Threesomes, moresomes and FUCKING ORGIES and still be in a REAL romantic relationship that isn’t beholden to some fucked up Judeo-Christian ethic that isn’t applicable to our gang (unless we want it to be – choice, it’s a beautiful thing). Who knows? You just might learn a fucking thing or two (if the author has done their homework) about who we are as GAY MEN (not some rose colored straight women glammed up bullshit that is nowhere NEAR what we are).
From the romance reads out there, those readers can’t be truly interested in actual gay men. Hell, for the most part from what thin plots are out there, they don’t seem to be interested in who MEN are at all… just some idolized 2 dimensional caricature of what might be passed off as a man only because he’s got a cock n’ balls and wants to put his cock n’ balls next to some other guys cock n’ balls. Propped up beefcake, much? Sistah, that’s only the beginning. We’re a helluva lot more than that.
And no, lap dances by male strippers at a convention/conference isn’t gonna get ya there neither (yeah, I saw that posted somewhere at a “Gay Writers Conference” and went – how the FUCK is this gay? Women with male strippers – what the bloody fuck? Shouldn’t it at least have been MALE authors up there with the MALE strippers thus underscoring the whole – oh I dunno, GAY thing?).
Men in these works are often written superficially and paper thin. Not even close to how we move through life.
As I tell my girls often enough (daughter and GRAND-daughter in my house), I may be gay, but I KNOW my sex.
So yeah, it’s a bit of a rant on that audio blog posting. I would apologize for it – nah, who am I kidding, I won’t.
As Gore Vidal said – style means saying what you want and not giving a damn.
That’s my motto and I’m sticking to it.
Topics on hand this episode:
1) The Podcast so far…
2) Queer Youth
3) Tchaikovsky 2015 Competition (Started in 1958)
Van Clyburn, Daniil Trifanov, 13yo Violinist (youth competition) – Gregory Ibatulin
4) St. Petersburg, Russia and Tchaikovsky – Russia and gay culture
5) Gay Men’s Lives and Literature – The missing connection – Downer Books of the 80’s and 90’s (not the whole story)
Threesomes and Moresomes – censoring our lives – WTF?
6) Queer Stories in Media (TV/Film and Stage)
7) Growing up with threads of Pride – John Rechy and Gordon Merrick and the Pride Parade
8) Writing “Clamath Boy” and the risks involved in an autobiography
9) What’s ahead on the Podcast … Angel Martinez! Woot!
In the blog posting on Soundcloud, I do mention the Tchaikovsky competition that is going on now in Russia. I said I’d post some links to the competition (which only happens every four years). If you love classical music this is a competition that is NOT to be missed.
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Daniil Trifonov Interview
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Daniil Trifonov in Concert – Daniil Trifonov, Zubin Mehta – Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini
Until Next Time …