When Your Art Truly Imitates Life …
Character creation has never really been an issue for me. Having played so many of them on the stage over my half-century of being on this planet, I have pulled upon so many threads of the people I’ve met and crossed paths with. My high school drama teacher taught me many things about the craft. But there was one he taught that has stuck more than any other.
Stop and Listen … and observe.
The world will reveal itself to you if you just stop singing, stop dancing, stop talking and just … listen and observe.
Now, if you’ve caught me on the podcast I co-host, you know that my not talking is something of an issue. I love conversation and have little to no filter (yes, I recognize it’s a flaw – but I choose to run with it and hope others can keep up) when it comes into diving in on topics that crop up during the conversation. So it’s no small feat for me to stop, not make a sound, and listen.
Yet, there are moments in my past that it happened for me with very little input on my part. Magical people and events that would just trigger that stop all action and listen (and watch) what was going on around me. And I’ve always come away the richer for it.
In writing the Angels of Mercy series, I have two characters that appear secondary in the story (to the plotline – though, in truth they are very much first level characters for one reason only – I know them both. They exist not only on the page, but also in my books).
I knew them when I was in grade school through high school. La Presa Elementary right up through La Presa Junior High and then ending at Monte Vista High, before we all went our separate ways. When I crafted Angels of Mercy, I knew that my quiet unassuming gay boy, Elliot, would have only one real friend in school before he becomes involved with the love of his life, Marco Sforza. That guy is Greg Lettau. Greg is drawn from the guy I knew in school who I thought was incredibly brilliant and had the wickedest sense of humor. He was skinny as all fuck, pointdexterish in the extreme – horned rimmed glasses and gawkish looking as can be.
But here’s the thing: Greg was so honorable as a friend he’s stuck with me, in my mind, long after we went our own ways after high school graduation. The few times I’d spent at their house after school back in my youth provided me with more than enough fertile ground to plunder when I crafted my two snarky brothers as supporting characters for Elliot and Marco. The Lettau boys are solid guys. Obviously, I’ve not known what they’ve gotten up to since we parted ways so long ago, but the memory of who they were in my past had a profound effect on wanting to capture their spirit and their particular brand of living life that I knew I wanted to pay homage to them.
I know I run the risk of using their actual names in the work, but I think even though it may not be the kind of book either man would read, I think I’ve done right by them. Greg, after all, gets the girl of his dreams in the end. I wanted that for Greg, even back then. He will always be that quick witted, snarky guy with a heart of gold. The banter he had with his brother I recalled was epic. I’ve only barely scratched the surface with them – as in this scene from my soon-to-be released Angels prequel: Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part One: King of Imperfections.
The first scene I had between the brothers had to be key in setting the tone for them. These were two guys who expressed their love by bagging the shit out of the other. The harder you bagged, the more love you expressed. It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before – completely foreign to how my world worked. And I remember loving the shit out of how they did it. They never missed a beat between them.
That is, until Greg gave me the greatest gift with his next words.
“Oh yeah. They live out on Oak Ridge Way out on the south-east part of town, up near the oak forest area – well, where the oaks and redwoods sorta mingle. Kinda the last house in town, if you know what I mean. You ever been out that way?” He eyed me for a second before turning the station on the TV to the science channel. This kid really was the quintessential geek.
I shook my head, “No, not really. Why?”
“Ah, well you just seemed the athletic type, being a jock and all.” He gave me a snarky roll of his eyes before continuing, “It’s fairly nice to hike up there sometimes. Hell, if I was half the friend to Elliot that I say I am, I should haul his ass up there for a bit. I know he could use the companionship. I sometimes worry ‘bout the guy, ya know?”
“Why? You think he’ll go all postal one day?”
“Nah, nothing like that. He’s to empathetic to go postal. He’d feel it way too much, ya know? But he’s definitely got a fairly lonely existence. Sometimes I’ve spotted him sitting out along the stands in the stadium – just drawing a bit in that sketchbook he carries around in his backpack while he eats his lunch. You know, way away from everyone. Serious loner stuff. And he’s a really great guy. I mean, I’m not going all gay for him, but he really is very smart and has a twisted as fuck sense of humor. I enjoy his company when we do get a chance to talk. I think he just is thankful that he has someone at school he can relate to a bit. I just can’t imagine how going to a school that holds nearly seven hundred kids and he’s only got pathetic me to chat up every now and then. Sad, really.”
“Maybe I should remedy that, then? I mean, if he’s as cool as you say he is.”
“Yeah, well, Elliot’s right on that score, bud. It’s one thing if the horn-rimmed math geek gets caught chatting him up from time to time. I mean, no one really pays any attention to math geeks unless its the jocks picking on ‘em because the gay kid ain’t around to bag on, ya know? For you, it’s a whole other thing. He’s right. It wouldn’t work out. Just the way it is.”
“Yeah, well, they don’t know dick about me.”
“Well, at the risk of pissing you the fuck off, it wouldn’t matter. This shit’s bigger than the both of us. Always has been, always will be. Ya know?”
I had to shrug at that. I knew the playbook about Jocks and inter-class social associations. The shrug was a requisite at this point if I was to maintain any credibility. Nothing but a pure acknowledgment of the rule book we both were playing by.
I had more than my fair share of intel on what I wanted on Elliot. Fuck me, when I thought on it, I’d hit the mother lode. I mean, now I knew where he lived. If it was where I thought it was, then I was in fucking hog heaven. I never drove out that way and I was kind of glad that the Impala I had back home wasn’t quite ready for her first run on the road since I’d rebuilt her engine. I still had a few things to fix on her before I got her that official armor of black paint to make her just as bad-assed as the Winchesters’ car on Supernatural. From the time I saw the first episode I was hooked and that car is what did it: full on classic muscle car. I could only hope Elliot would like riding around in it.
I looked at my watch; it was still early but I should head out anyway, didn’t want to over-stay my welcome. ‘Sides, I had an itch to scratch that had Elliot’s home address written all over it. I needed to get out there and see if I could sort out where he was. My heart was racing with just the prospect of seeing him this afternoon.
“Well, I better get going. I got some errands to run before I get home and hit the homework.”
“You leavin’ already?” Kevin asked as he came back from the kitchen. He had a grin on his face so evidently he was in tight with his latest conquest. And here I was, pining over the gay kid on campus.
How fucking upside down is that?
“Yeah, I think I better. I got some shit I gotta take care of.”
“Don’tcha mean, someone to take care of?” Kevin snickered and suggestively mirrored his younger brother’s salacious expression a few moments earlier.
Brothers, I got it, more than they knew.
“Jesus, Kevin, give it a break. Not everyone in this world thinks with his dick like you do,” Greg moaned.
“We’re teenaged men, dip-shit. Even you think with that pencil sized piece you’re packin’ ,” Kevin retorted.
“Still a heap bigger than the thimble-sized chubby you try to force on your latest conquest,” Greg volleyed right back.
“Really, guys? Is this gonna end with each of you marking your territories by pissing here?” I countered to the both of them.
They both looked stunned that I’d insert myself with this very familiar form of brotherly love.
“‘Sides, I’m the one with the monster cock in this room so I got you both trumped,” I said as I started to walk towards the front door.
“Yeah, right,” Greg huffed as he slipped back down onto the sofa. I reached the door and Kevin took the knob from me and held door open.
“No. He’s right, lil’ brother. Even with both our cocks, this guy would still beat us.”
I stopped at the door and just wiggled my brows at them both. Kevin chortled a bit. Yeah, I knew he’d seen the python I got going because of the showers. Hell, even Beau stacked up short against the stallion.
“Fuck me,” Greg snorted. “How’s a geeky brother gonna get laid if we got Godzilla dick out there banging around?”
“Wait ’til Marco roars. Then you’ll see ‘em run. That’s when we bag ‘em, lil’ brother.” We fist bumped as I ducked out hearing Kevin laugh as he started to shut the door.
I just waved a hand without looking back as I got to the family Audi. I had a certain someone I needed to find: a certain boy who had my heart, a certain boy who I was more determined than ever to find my way into his arms. And I knew, I just knew, that I’d gained an invaluable ally in Greg Lettau. He was my key. I only had to find a way to get him to help me out. But I’d get to that later. I had more pressing matters on my mind just now.
Yet, that love they had for one another had to shine through, as evidenced when Greg moves off to grab his jacket and Kevin has a moment to speak with his teammate Marco giving Greg some Jock attention. Although, even in that, Kevin is clear that Greg can never know how he truly feels about it.
“What I said was that there was an opportunity to redeem yourself tonight. A few of us are going to the Hut for some pizza. You should come along. Make up for your serious fuck-up this afternoon.”
I scratched the back of my head considering it. I did have some homework to do, but it was a Thursday night. I guess it would keep until the weekend. I looked at Greg for a moment. His eyes kept conveying to me I had no way out on this one.
“Who’s all gonna be there?”
Kevin shrugged, “Beau, Willem and Mack and their latest squeezes, I guess. Fuck all if I know. I just know the guys specifically asked that you come along for dinner at the Hut.”
“How’d they know I’d be here?” I thought it was a valid question. It seemed to irritate Kevin a bit though.
“I don’t know. Maybe because they’ve seen you becoming besties with Greg here.”
Fuck, now I had the geek kid rep to deal with.
“On one condition.”
Kevin stitched his brow, unsure of what was going to come out of my mouth next.
“I want Greg to ride shotgun.”
Greg looked like he was about to shit a brick over that one. “What? Hey, you can leave me outta this …”
Kevin chuckled, “It would be a bit odd to bring my kid brother along. Might make it a bit awkward for him, too. ‘Sides, I get enough of his lip as it is …”
“Not an option,” I dug my heels in.
“Dude …” was all Greg said as he sighed and shook his head. I didn’t care. I needed an ally if I was going to walk into dealing with that suspicious crew.
I collapsed on the sofa between them both. “Sorry, bro.” I mumbled.
Kevin quirked an eyebrow at that. “You two want to get a room or something? I mean, don’t let me stop you from your budding bromance.”
Greg blushed a bit harder than I thought he needed to. Evidently, he was a bit sensitive about the whole being thought of as a fag thing. But I guess when you weren’t a jock, then you might have cause to be a bit sensitive about it. I observed Greg’s eyes darting to me to gauge my reaction. I didn’t have any, not really. I wasn’t one to harbor weird shit like oh don’t say that, it offends me …
Playing football or hell, any team sport, tended to thicken your skin pretty damned quick or you were out on your ass. Tom Hanks said it best, even if the quote was about baseball: There’s no crying, none. Well, maybe if you lost an important game, but even then you cried your ass off silently, under the shower where no one else could see. I knew the drill. A little bromance joke would accomplish nothing to get under my skin. Only Greg couldn’t leave a line like that dangling without a proper sibling response though.
“Well, at least I’m smart enough not to go out with the likes of you. Speaking of which, how’s things with Suzy, lately?”
Kevin’s smirk faded quickly. His gaze became far more pointed. I still didn’t know what Greg had done but whatever it was, it had to’ve been big.
“Whatever, little brother.”
“Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.”
I looked at my watch: five fifteen. “So what time are we supposed to be there?” I looked over at Kevin.
He shrugged, “I guess around six or so. No one really said.”
I chuckled, “Yeah, that figures.”
I spared a beat while we all watched Guy Fieri chow down on a sandwich that looked like it would guarantee a heart attack just by inhaling the fumes let alone macking down on it like there was no tomorrow. I slapped Kevin’s leg as I pushed off the sofa.
“Well, I’m gonna go home and get sorted. Meet ya there?”
I turned to Greg, “Wanna tag along?”
Greg’s eyes darted to his brother’s – a beat.
“I’m thinking of taking the Impala out for her maiden run.”
Greg face lit up with that. I’d been telling him about it from time to time so he was eager to see what I’d done so far. I already sensed that Greg had a hard-on for the muscle car I was working on. The fact that I’d even suggested that he could ride shotgun on her maiden ride seemed to put him to the edge of cumming all over himself.
I nodded, “Yeah, no time like the present, right?”
“Right on …” He got up and made his way down the hall to his room. “Give me a sec to grab a jacket.”
After he’d disappeared Kevin watched me with a greater interest.
“Greg. I bag on his ass a lot but, and I’ll kick your ass if you ever say that I told you this, but I love the little douchebag. It’s sorta cool you giving him some attention. It wouldn’t mean half as much if it came from me. Big brother n’ all.”
I stretched, then shrugged, “Nah, it’s cool. He’s a great guy. But dude, I so gotta do something about pulling him outta his math geek shell. Dude will never get laid if he keeps going the way he’s goin’.”
Kevin chuckled a bit loudly at that as Greg emerged from the hallway.
“What’d I miss?”
“Eh, it’s nothin’,” Kevin offered, a smirk still coloring his face. I couldn’t help but smile the tiniest bit as well.
Greg stopped dead in his tracks.
“Okay, what the fuck? Out with it. Somebody said something about me and now you both are grinnin’ like you just put one over on me. So what gives?”
I shook my head and approached Greg. I put a hand on his shoulder and started to guide him out the front door.
“It’s nothing, bro. Let’s get a move on before the team has another whine session about my blowin’ them off. Say good-bye, Kevin.”
Kevin shook his head and grabbed the remote from where Greg had unceremoniously dumped it. “Good-bye, Kevin…” he snorted at the two of us making our way out the door.
“Whatever, bro. You both are acting weird,” Greg murmured as I guided him out to the family Audi sitting in front of their house.
Greg could be like a pit-bull with a thought. As soon as he closed the door to the car he was on me with it. “So what did that fucktard of a brother really say?”
I chuckled, “That really does get into your shit, doesn’t it?”
“What? Kevin? You have no idea.”
He shook his head as he put on his seatbelt.
But it was more than just how they bagged on one another. You had to feel the thread of love that ran through it all. For that I had to stop, close my eyes and shut out the world and just listen to those moments I spent in their house, listening and observing them being themselves.
Greg told me that he was making a bit of progress with Elliot regarding the jocks on campus. I asked him to work on getting Elliot talked into going out for the tennis team like I’d overheard that one morning. That proved to be a little tougher to work out. Elliot seemed open to the idea of playing. He told Greg he would get into that part of it, even enjoy the tournaments he’d have to go to. All of that seemed okay. Only one thing he couldn’t get around.
“Being a jock. That’s what he can’t wrap his head around,” Greg admitted to me at one of my after school visits at his place.
He seemed particularly worried about how I took that update. I had to admit, it didn’t suit my fancy too much.
“Does that mean he’s not going to do it?”
Without directly answering, Greg flipped to one of the food networks where we watched some blonde chef boozing it up while throwing some cans of soup on a chicken breast and calling it cooking.
“What I want to know is, why is it so important that he go out for the team?”
“Uh, jock? Something in common between us? Any of this ringing a bell for ya?”
“Yeah, okay. I getcha there. I thought of it, too, ya know. But I dunno, Marco. Elliot’s got a weird streak when it comes to guys like you. And before you go off half-cocked, you gotta realize he’s been harassed and belittled for several years now by guys who became jocks. It’s a learned response. He sees the danger and rightly goes the other way. It’s how he’s survived. Of course he’s gonna rail against becoming one of you, even if it’s a game he really likes to play. It still involves becoming one. He’s having a real hard time getting around that.”
I sighed, running my hands down my face.
“Forget it. This whole thing is bat-shit crazy” I got up and began to pace around the living room.
“What’s bat-shit crazy?” Kevin walked in through the front door. “Dude, where the fuck were you?”
Confused, I looked around me, “Uh, I think that’s fairly obvious. Been here, pencil-dick.”
Greg snorted at that one.
“Yeah, I see, but you were supposed to be down at the cliffs with the guys, asswipe. We missed you out there. You know – some quality bud time? And I find you here, holed up with my geeky kid brother.”
“Wow, fucktard, way to feel the brotherly love…” Greg deadpanned.
“No, not like that, dick scum. I mean that Marco knows what team building is like. We do some social stuff together, too. This was one of our days to blow off some steam and he wasn’t anywhere to be found. So not cool, Sforza. So …” he plopped his massive frame down on the sofa and grabbed the bag of chips Greg had thrown on the table between us, “…what the fuck, bro? How does my brother rate when your teammates are having a rather illegal kegger out along the cliffs?”
“Oh yeah, that’s a great place to serve alcohol illegally to a bunch of dumb jocks. Let’s give guys who are hormonely challenged and mentally deprived and have them imbibe along a precipice that’s only a hundred forty feet above the ocean. Yeah, sign me the fuck up. Fuckin’ YouTube heaven, that shit is,” Greg tossed out.
“We are not a bunch of dumb jocks,” Kevin groused leaning in toward his brother to press his point.
“I’ve seen your grades; your position in this debate is questionable.”
He grabbed the chips from his elder brother. I sat back down and watch the sibling rivalry play out, thankfully obscuring my social faux pas. Kevin had the right of it though. I should’ve been out with the guys. Only this whole Elliot thing really did a number on me. Even while I listened to Kevin and Greg verbally pound on each other, a small sense of gratitude moved through me that I had a bit of time to sort out my shit. It did give me some concern that I hadn’t handled all of this with any degree of grace. I needed to get my game face on.
It’s moments like that I tried like hell to capture about these two remarkable boys from my past. Vibrant young men, each of them comfortable in their skin, but they never made me feel less because I was the queer kid. It all just … was. So how do I not run the risk of pissing them the fuck off? Mostly because I did change up quite a few elements about them for the work. My Greg and Kevin Lettau are not the actual Lettaus by a long shot. There are very similar threads, but by and large they are of my own making. As I said, an homage to who they were/are from my youth.
So Greg, don’t know what you’re up to. Don’t know where life has taken you and how it’s all panned out for you, but just know, that some small thread of you, some essence I observed and committed to memory, lives on and bears your name. It’s not you. It was never intended to be you. It was simply my way of acknowledging to the world what great guy I thought you were back then. No page can truly capture your dry wit, and plucky bon monts. That part is wholly you. I’m just winking in your direction and saying, “Thanks, for all of it.”
Until next time …
– SA C
How all the planning in your life can’t prepare you for the surprises your main character has in store for you…
It goes a little like this…
You never really know what surprises are in store when you write a novel (or a series – like I am). You can plan. You can outline to your heart’s content, but it never really sticks to the mold you’ve set when you have rich characters who organically want to say something in the moment.
I had one such moment a few days ago with one of my main characters (Marco Sforza) that came to me as an utter shock and knocked me for a loop (so much so that I had to step back for a few days just to absorb what it meant).
It wasn’t like it completely derailed what I wanted to do with my outline that I’d worked really hard on, but rather it was a small diversion that colored who he was and how he came to being the man he was becoming. It was significant enough that I couldn’t simply ignore it (for there are some writings that never make it into the book – I have to write them so I can be clear in my mind where things go – it’s not enough to just imagine them, they have to be down on digital paper so I can fully render them out).
Marco is proving to be a rather complicated young man. Far more than I’d realized when I started the series. Complicated is good; it drives the drama forward – of that I have no doubt. And it appears that I am often just along for the ride – a vessel for him to channel and breathe life into him. There are many times where I feel he is communing with me and not the other way around. It’s how it goes most of the time. I know their world, I know what’s going to happen down the road. What I don’t plan are the little diversions that they bring to me along the way.
Elliot (Donahey) had such a moment for me in Volume 1 of the series when Danny entered the picture. I had no plans for Danny Jericho. Not really. I mean, I knew that Elliot would find someone who was gay (other than Marco) who he could become close to. Greg (Elliot’s on and off sidekick) is great and all, but there are just some places he won’t go. And Greg loves Elliot too, just not in the whole I’ll go gaily down rainbow road with you sort of way. There are limits a cool, secure in his shit kinda straight boy that he has for Elliot.
I mean, Greg is the Cyrano to Marco’s Christian. So Greg’s had more than his fair share of involvement in getting my two boys together. For a straight guy, Greg is über cool. Clark Kent/Superman cool. And by the way, sidebar: Greg Lettau and his brother Kevin are really real people in my life. Greg was an über cool geek kid who was smarter than fuck. I miss him and wonder what he ever got to. So yeah, Greg is one of three characters who relate to real people in the real world.
But Danny’s different. Elliot needs a GBFF in a BIG ol’ way. Danny does that for him. In ways Marco can’t be because he’s too close. Danny is the balance in the passion that drives them. He’s their remote eye to all things Marco/Elliot. Plus I have the added discovery that while I love my main characters it is a couple of side characters that have really stolen my heart (I actually get a bit giddy when I get to write about them): Angus Carr and Nick Donahey.
Angus sort of just sprang up organically (in the moment – I wanted a BFF for Marco’s second phase of his life when he goes to college. Angus will take that role front and center in Marco’s life). Nick, on the other hand, is my true passion in this story. Elliot’s perceptions of his father couldn’t be further from the truth. His father’s love for him goes far deeper than Elliot is comfortable admitting.
It’s something that is proving to challenge me as I write volume 2 of my Angels of Mercy series. Marco Sforza is a character worth the challenge. He is a jock who never waivers in his devotion to the guy he loves – society be damned. He is fully committed – the whole enchilada. But it was in discovering what he had to say to me as I write him that became a journey in and of itself.
And there’s the fleshing out of Marco’s relationship with his twin brother – Pietro. Pietro is far more complex than any of the boys and in some ways far more simplistic. Pietro does see black and white where the rest only see grey. He has to. He has his brother’s happiness to consider. And Pietro has been quite the busy bee in Marco’s life. Even when Marco doesn’t fully realize it.
My boys are right pieces of work. But I love them. My beta readers have often commented on how real they seem to them. One of them is now beginning his search for his own Elliot to love and call his own. So in a real way Elliot has achieved benchmark status. I’m cool with that. Elliot is far from perfect.
But aren’t we all? And isn’t that why we read things like Angels of Mercy? To glean some understanding that we’re not alone in the world. That we have quite a bit more in common with one another than we realize or want to admit. This common thread of our humanity and the way we either cope with what life throws at us – or watch like an enormous train wreck when it all comes crashing around you.
Drama – it’s the stuff of life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.