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
Designing My Angels of Mercy
Sidebar: S.O. to author pal, Kris Ripper who liked the first one I did of these, that I’d thought I shoot her another. Hope you all enjoy it too!
So let’s talk book covers, shall we? I mean, I did it before. So it’s not like it’s the first time, right?
I’ve been busy. Did the NaNoWriMo event for the first time and I was really enjoying it (even if it was a bit of a slog to write on a deadline schedule – but it was good for me).
Been putting small tweaks on Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot and fleshing out Volume Two: Marco. Volume One is sorta waiting in the wings because it’s ends on a cliff hanger and several authors said that as a newbie writer I shouldn’t do a cliff hanger – soooooo, since my stories are what they are, I decided to forestall the first book and just get book 2 prepped and ready to go so they can be released in tandem. Book 2 ends on a cliff hanger as well, but I figure I’ll have them decently hooked by then (fingers crossed).
So here’s the small twist in this – Marco’s always been the meat of the entire series as far as I am concerned. Elliot and the third boy (who is our guide in Volume 3) are merely bookends to Marco’s tome. The story has always been Marco’s to tell. I just wanted you to get to know the love of his life first. Elliot in many ways is an extension of myself. That’s why it is a character study.
I’ve had betas read the pre-released work and I get universal high marks on grammar and structure (my author pals have universally praised me on the manuscript being so clean) – and that’s the hubby too. He’s been my sole editor. He’s never done it professionally (still hasn’t cause he’s on the personal payroll – wink, wink), but he comes from a LONG line of educators that specialized in English. So I am solid there. He also used to play football for Clemson back in the day so that’s where all the football motif is coming from (well, that, and I did have a fling in my Senior year with an actual HS quarterback). But as I said, the response from everyone I’ve given it to thus far have really been impressed. I am humbled and grateful more than I can say about this.
Angels has been both an easy work to write and incredibly difficult to write. It is a very personal work. It is a love letter to my husband as much as it is to gay men I’ve been blessed to know and have in my life. Truly blessed.
So why the second entry on the book covers? Because I’ve finally nailed book one AND I’ve completed the work on book two in the process! Yippee!!
And here’s the big reveal on the second book cover in the series (cue drum roll in your head, please):
And as with Book One’s design I’ll let you see how I did it…
First things first – as with all things Foodie, there is a recipe and of course the ingredients. I am a content designer (of sorts – previous life as a graphic designer for a theater company in San Diego (amongst other things)).
Software used – Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (primarily Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014)
Graphic elements – images from iStock Photo (photos and vector art)
Fonts Used – Scriptina (for “Angels” in the logo) and Copperplate Light for the subtitle and my author byline, and Jackport College NCV font for the football jersey number 7.
The original artwork in its raw form:
Illustrator Vector Line Art
The Footballer (Hi-res Photo JPG)
The fonts and logo work were borrowed from my Book One cover and adapted/modified to suit “Marco” in the title. Recycle whenever possible – it builds brand consistency and also cuts down on the design time and lets you get back to what we all REALLY want to do – WRITE, dammit!
So I’ll start with one element of this new book cover that kicked my ass on book one – the fucking footballer jersey has NO NUMBER! Couldn’t do a simple overlay – that would be too f’d up – it wouldn’t be right. So I hit the net and sorted through Photoshop tutorial after tutorial using crap assed terms to find what I was looking for – only because I couldn’t remember what I needed to really look for until I found it again – DISPLACEMENT MAPS. They are golden in my book now. And they proved a helluva lot easier to do than I thought they’d be – Win-Win in my book!
You can check out the tutorial that solved it for me right here.
So first things first – I knew my footballer needed his requisite wings so I had to separate the background (the troublesome gradient blue/black background) from the (footballer) foreground. Sometimes the graphics come with masked backgrounds so this is rather simple. NOT this time around. Sheesh! So I had to painstakingly (though I did save a small bit of time) using the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop to cut away at the background from around my mysterious “Marco” footballer.
Then slip a solid black background on a separate layer so I could manipulate at will what I wanted to do. Here’s the final with the broken down layers along the right side of the screenshot (click to enlarge):
As you can see by the layers in the picture I post above, the background was solid black. The footballer sits just behind the jersey number layer and my author cred. The wings and the logo taking up the layers in between.
So I imported the jpeg I created from the Illustrator file and cropped the blue side of the wings (the ‘water’ wings) and duplicated the layers in photoshop once the first blue wing was imported and then sized them by freehand so while they are an exact dupe, they aren’t sized exactly the same – only a hint a being symmetrical. It was enough for my purposes. I didn’t want an exact dupe this time around.
I also angled them so they would be more upright (alluding to the same sort of position from my Art Deco wings from the first cover – see above). Added an adjustment layer above the two wing layers and boosted the hue and saturation to embellish and bring out the blueness of them.
Next up – Slipping my footballer back in front of the newly created wings.
So now we get to the hard part – or what I perceived to be the hard part – the Displacement Map – to add the jersey number. The file I created for the displacement map I ended up using the black channel of the photo (when you get to that step) as it had the most contrast to build the map (I think in the tutorial link she used the red channel – use what looks best and has the highest contrast to work from – it’ll apply the best results).
I typed the number for the jersey (using the Jackport College NCV font) to create Marco’s football number – 7. And I applied a white to black gradient to the number so it would fade out along the bottom of the cover like his shirt does in the picture.
I used the tutorial just as it is described above in the link I provided BUT I changed the displacement map settings from the default 10 to 5. This was the result:
Then I added the duped layers from my original Volume One: Elliot book cover (see above) and inserted the duped layers for the book title and sub-title (swapping out ONE for TWO and Elliot for Marco) so it would be inline with the finished cover I was after. Then did the same for my Author cred.
But having succeeded in this I immediately was emboldened by my success with the displacement map that I went back to book one and FINALLY put the long missing Jersey number back on it!
To paraphrase Darth Vader – “The Circle is (sorta) complete…”
I do still have to come up with Volume 3 (insert mystery character here – no spoilers this time).
Until next time… Happy Writing and Designing!
Shout Out to my musical muse – JAY BRANNAN! I constantly play his music while I do anything Angels related. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. He might argue that he hasn’t steered me at all. I love the shit outta his work anyway.
BUY HIS SHIT NOW PEOPLE! I need this guy to keep working!
31 Days of Brannan – Day 28
Today’s Playlist – ANYTHING LIVE! (We’re only a few days away from his performance in SAN FRANCISCO!)
Up first – Bä Bä Vita Lamm (Live from Stockholm, Sweden)
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This is brilliant because it’s Jay being somewhat whimsical. A giddy moment, if you will – and he got the audience involved (always a good thing). Brilliant!
Next Up – Arim Roshi (Live From Tel Aviv)
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You can tell by the audience in attendance how much they appreciate Jay performing something of their world, of their culture. It’s these little touches (despite how much Jay laments his poor Hebrew pronunciation) – they didn’t care one bit from the sound of it. In fact, it seems they were quite touched by the offering. Just lovely. How many artists these days do this any more – especially Americans when they tour? My guess? Not very many. But Jay’s a classy guy that way.
Moving on – Molly Malone (Live from Dublin, Ireland)
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A bunch of happy, (probably tanked) Irish lads and lasses, a great Irish tune – what could possibly go wrong? Under Jay’s spell – not a goddamned thing. This is a lovely interplay between artist and audience.
Rounding it out – Femme au Foyer (Live from Paris, France)
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The French (as well as most of the countries that he does this with Housewife in various languages) just loved the shit out of this rendition of his own gay boy anthem – Housewife. I never tire of hearing this song, no matter the language, the setting or the time of day. It’s a brilliant and very heart felt piece that every gay boy can relate to on some level.
So now he wends his way down the coast from Seattle (and their fanny packs of granola), Portland (visit that killer donut shop, Jay), TO SAN FRANCISCO, BABY! I can’t wait. I am going to Japanese fan girl all over the damned place (it’ll really be pathetic). I’d like to say my granddaughter and daughter (and other friends in attendance) would keep me sane and normal. Yeah, probably not.
Sorry, Jay – I’ll start apologizing now. It’s heartfelt. You help put me on a journey that I can never repay. Rob Me Blind was life altering for me. It nudged me along a road I kept putting off. For that I will always be grateful and I will sing your praises to anyone who will give me the time of day.
The Always, Then & Now Tour…
Please check out his site with links for his upcoming shows. I am definitely a late comer to the Brannan bandwagon whenever he pulls through my city. But now that I am going this year, I am making it a goal never to miss when he swings through town. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity as well. Also be sure to check out his web store at the following link.
So the hubby sent me an article that proved to be a bit enlightening (and informative from a historical standpoint).
Read it here…
It gave me pause for thought. While I have my first novel in the can (so to speak – still working out the kinks in edits), it did make me think about what I was doing with Angels of Mercy – Volume One. There is quite a bit of sex in that book. Big time gay sex at that. But since they are 18 year old boys – sex is fairly constant on the brain at that point. If you have two boys who are very into each other it will color the dynamics of that relationship.
For my story, Marco and Elliot are very into each other, sometimes to the point where they ignore what’s happening around them. It’s that insular bubble that will eventually allow harm to come too close to Elliot. But the sex, while aplenty in the first novel (it is sub-titled – Elliot’s Summer of Love, after all), there is precious little of it further in the series. The series gets quite dark. Hannibal Lecter dark. So the scintillating factor is all fairly front loaded. Not that there won’t be any in the other two books I’ve planned for the series. But when you’ve got a character that has some recuperating to do coupled with revenge killings going on around them – sex seems to take a back seat, of sorts.
Which brings me back to the article I’ve cited. The author of the New Yorker piece (yeah, I was just as surprised as you might be about where it appeared), it was more of a historical study of where gay sex in literature has been and how it has evolved over time, ultimately came up with the following summation: as much as the story needs to tell the story.
So while I may have been on pins and needles throughout the process and now through the edits. I am feeling a bit better because my 18 year old boys are fairly sexual with one another. Angels is hot and very, very intense. Being sexually active boys, it’s also very messy. And Marco and Elliot wouldn’t have it any other way.
Indeed, there are times when I don’t think it is a novel at all, more of a character study as you’re in Elliot’s head throughout the book. Elliot waffles. He’s strong. Then he wavers and collapses. Only to have Marco sweep in (I wanted the Jock to be the solid one in the relationship rather than be the one who has doubts) and obliterate the darkness that Elliot has devolved into – bodily throwing himself in bringing so much light to Elliot’s fragile world.
In short, Elliot’s a mess.
But, in truth, most gay boys are. It’s the nature of how we learn to come into our own. I am sure our straight counterparts have some shit they have to deal with at that age BUT what they don’t have to deal with, what sets the gayboys and girls apart is, that they don’t have to deal with the whole ‘I need to hide what I am’ or ‘if I am open about who and what I am I’ve got extra shit piled on top from narrow minded fucktards’ that other teens don’t. Which is, sadly, why some of us don’t make it.
Wow, that last line still gets to me every time I think about how just contemplating teens who feel like they have no other recourse but suicide just tears me up. To the point of being quite angry about it. These are our fellow human beings. Not some random trash to be tossed out. Just thinking about it makes me want to bring them in and give them shelter, love and support that they often don’t get at home.
Heck, if I ever make it big – and given that I am writing to a very small market I doubt that would happen, but IF I do make big, I’d like to create a half-way home for displaced gay youth. Giving back to brothers and sisters who need someone to champion them into the next phase of their lives. That would be my wish. To give back to kids who didn’t have the leg up from positive reinforcing parents or family members like I had.
A lofty dream, but if I don’t dream about something, then what’s all this for (aside from whole artist expression thing)?