Okay, maybe not totally. I can’t put the blame on someone because they created something they were passionate about. But what art does, if it’s at its best, is to inspire other artists to create. So, in that case, it is totally Whedon’s fault. He inspired me. His storytelling for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes, I even endured the terrible movie version with Kristy Swanson and Rutger Hauer – in the theater, as a PAYING customer no less – so I get extra-slayer points for being a supporter from the very beginning). I didn’t buy the movie version. Not when it’s available to rent. I’m not that much of a freaky fan.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whedon at Comic Con one year. I’d always heard he moves around in a constant state of exhaustion – the man works so hard all the time – and my meeting with him it was evident that even within the marketing hoopla of what he was there to promote that I was very judicious with my fawning over having a moment with him. I didn’t even bother him with a photo op because he just looked so damned tired – though it didn’t stop my daughter and mother from having me snap a picture of them. I’ve got it somewhere in my photo library … somewhere. Even my granddaughter made the rounds at the Con taking pictures with various Buffy actors when she had barely achieved her first year of life (she has the distinction of being Jonathan Strong’s very first baby pic – or so he told us as he took brief possession of my granddaughter so my daughter could snap the coveted pic of them). I already knew the do’s and don’ts of meeting him … chief amongst them was to NEVER mention his brilliant work for the movie Waterworld. That was a sure-fire way to make him walk away from you with a look that would melt you on the spot. We promptly took my daughter/mother’s pic with him and thanked him for his time and spared a thought to let that man rest soon.
He really did look exhausted. I felt enormously guilty for taking any of his time but don’t regret it happening at all.
But I digress.
I’ve always liked the paranormal or supernatural stories. Whedon’s take – when he emerged on the scene in the mid-to-late nineties – was a breath of fresh air. Not only did he have a great female protagonist but she was sharp, witty, assertive (when she needed to be), and completely three dimensional for a superhero sort of story. Who knew pop-culture refs would work in a serialized fictional story and that people were hungry for that sort of snark in their supernatural drama?
I lapped that shit up like mother’s milk.
So why write about Buffy’s influence on my works? And why wait so long between blog posts? Well, I haven’t been silent about my dealing with cancer. I am happy to report that my last CT scan showed that the cancer is gone and the residual lymph nodes that demonstrated inflammation and germicidal (the type of cancer cells for my type of cancer) cells that caused that inflammation had decreased by more than half after the second round of chemo was a complete. I was happy to discover from that bit of news from my oncologist. So the pause from my last post to this one has, thankfully, been a rosy colored one. Things are definitely looking up for me now. And having something like cancer hit you broadside (as it did for me) completely reset my clock – so to speak. What used to be important that was truly frivolous have all fallen by the wayside. Writing, now that I have some strength returning to my limbs and energy overall, has become forefront in my mind and efforts. I think I can return to the land of writing on a more consistent basis than before.
But back to Mr. Whedon and his inspirational scrivenings.
Aside from the Swanson led debacle, I pretty much own everything he’s ever worked on, written, produced (okay, maybe I’ve missed a couple there – but I’ve seen them). His character development, his ability to find tender threads within any character and make them relatable to a wide audience was something I wanted to harness and add to my own writing arsenal.
Before Buffy, words like “Owenness” (when describing the general aura of a character named Owen), or using the word “much” to proclaim complete astonishment (“Morbid much?”) or references to pop-culture slogans in the media at the time “Gee, Willow, I love your dress. How great that you’ve seen the softer side of Sears…” to establish a character’s snarky teasing/bullying were unheard of in night time evening offerings. Here was an over thirty-year-old man who was successfully capturing the rise in pop-culture use in teenage interactions was beyond brilliant.
If anything, it made me listen to my queer granddaughter and her friends far closer now as I write about my own crew of high school social misfits in Angels of Mercy. I want my kids to sound authentic. I think all writers serious about their craft do.
So why this ode to Mr. Whedon and Buffy? Because I’ve decided to do something completely bonkers. On the verge of ending my Angels of Mercy series, I am taking the entire cast of characters and recasting them all in a vampire/supernatural romp of my own. Only to make things even more interesting (at least for me) I’ve set them all back to the disco-laden days of the 1970s. Angel Flight polyester pants, candy heeled platform shoes, disco anthems on the transistor radios – what could be better for a fluffy Buffyesque vampire romp beach read? Only I’ve taken a page out of another author I admire and doing the new series as a freebie web series that I’ll compile during the month of November (using it as my NaNoWriMo) and adding some filler material and backstories to the web series to turn it into a YA book that will (hopefully) be slightly silly, slightly scary and even slightly sexy using the same cast of characters from my literary fiction series in this new scenario.
I sometimes think I need to have my head examined. I am hoping my readers who love Angels will join me and their beloved Angels of Mercy characters in a new story setting. The Same fictional town, same fictional high school, same snarky set of teens. Just toning down the over sex from the main series so it’s more YA audience bound. Maybe I’ll pick up new readers that way. Who knows? I just want to do this as a way to reexamine and explore my characters I know well and throw them into something completely off the wall fun.
I don’t think I would’ve seriously considered this pre-cancer. I think messing around with my own mortality has given me a certain freedom now that I’ve stared that mortality down and said, “Not yet … I’ve still got shit to do.”
I am confident I can pull this off. Whether my current readers will embrace it I can’t say. Fingers crossed and thanks to Mr. Whedon for giving me the idea (I am rewatching all seven seasons from the beginning while I write – giving my eyes a much-needed break from staring at the computer screen for long periods of time). Let’s see what I can do with Mercy’s Little Angels, shall we? The first “episode” hits my blog this Monday (fingers crossed). I hope you’ll join me for the journey in this retelling of my characters in a paranormal/supernatural frivolous romp.
Until next time …
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.
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
So I am all about DC Comics. Don’t get me wrong. Marvel, Dark Horse, etc. — they’re all worthy publishers of great comics. I am a comic geek from way back — back when TV’s were in black and white and the family remote was me (“get up kid and turn the station…” — that sort of thing).
Given that I am over the moon (as I have said since it was first announced) that Jason Momoa is Aquaman!
It’s a match made geek-boy fandom!
Well the DC universe has been fairly low-key in the cinema realm. Not so for TV. It has only been expanding. I am giddy with the possibilities of where it’s all going to go.
But now we have something that I wasn’t expecting on the rise. LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (coming this fall to the CW)!
If you’ve not seen anything about it (and you’d have to live under a rock not to – jussayin’) then take a gander at this:
[embedplusvideo height=”255″ width=”400″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1IIeFqa” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/4MubNoWQiSc?fs=1&vq=hd720″ vars=”ytid=4MubNoWQiSc&width=400&height=255&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=1&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=¬es=” id=”ep3282″ /]
This looks VERY promising for further expanding on the DC universe in TVland. But hey, I’ll blab about it very shortly. I have tons to go through and impart my 2 cents on what it all means.
Just a quick post to let ya all know I am geeking out on the rise in my favorite heroes and heroines of my boyhood years! Can Wonder Woman be too far off now?!
One can only hope…
Until next time…
So here’s the deal: Angels of Mercy is something I’ve been blogging about for a while now. It is a very long and involved work that when I first visualized it seemed like it was something I could crank out in little over a month.
Yeah, let me restate that so you get the fullest brunt of what I (now laughingly) thought:
A TRILOGY I could crank out in little over a month. Yeah, I’d set the bar way too high it seemed and had little common sense (at the time) about practicality and the effort it takes in this thing called writing or worse yet, even the audacity of remotely calling myself an “author.”
The thing is, I am unequivocally, an author. Writing is my game. But what kind of author does that make me?
For the record, here’s my signature from any email you would receive from me. I only present it here as ‘Exhibit A‘ as we examine this topic I am rather passionate about today:
SA CollinsAuthor of Gay Literature Fiction across multiple sub-genres
w. | www.sacollins.comt. | @sacollinsauthorkik | sacollinsauthor
“When I was born I was so surprised I didn’t speak for a whole year…” – Gracie Allen
“Literature is using words to artistically and expressively convey an intimate and probing look at the human condition and of human nature. It poses just as many questions as it attempts to answer that leaves each reader with their own take on what it all meant. By it’s very nature, it promotes discussion, debate and analysis because it is open-ended in what it is. It may attempt to leave you with an experience you might not ever have had, but it will do so in a very profound and engaging way. It is lasting and stands the test of time because it does one thing that will outstrip any marketed fluff work because it addresses the core of who we are as humans, regardless of the setting or the situation posed in it. The reader can transcend that character’s bindings and circumstances and evaluate what they would do or how they would feel in that situation – using all of their own life experiences to sort out what the character may or may not be able to do. That is what literature does beautifully. And it invites that level of deep examination.”
You see, Angels does pose many questions that it never attempts to answer than your average generalized fiction. My works, by their very nature, don’t adhere to genre type tropes or “rules.”
As a sidebar: rules, for me, yeah, I tend to not like them. Let the story be what it needs to be, dammit!
Make no mistake: with Angels I put my boys through literal hell. Oh, they do get a big ol Ever After, Happily (my nod to my musical muse Jay Brannan who inspired the work with his brilliant and seminal album, Rob Me Blind), but not without going through some very traumatic and epic trials along the way – proving to themselves and to the reader, that they truly understand the meaning of what love is, what love ought to be, how love can get you past anything that comes your collective way.
Marco Sforza, the high profile jock at Mercy High, never wavers as the boyfriend of artsy out but terminally shy gay Elliot Donahey. Indeed, it is Elliot who constantly questions if what he has with Marco is real – despite how many times Marco proves to Elliot that he will never waver in his devotion to all things Elliot. That was an important distinction I had to make in the work. I was tired of the old trope that the “straight-acting” jock was the weak one. Marco is nothing if not strong and diligent in his devotion of Elliot. And gayboys constantly poll and reevaluate our worlds. I know I did as a teenaged boy. I constantly was throwing shit up on the wall of – is this right or not? Is this real or not? Constantly. There wasn’t a day in my hellish four years of high school that I wasn’t doing that.
Angels dives deep into these boys minds (each volume is told from their perspective) and is 70-80% inner-monologue, you hear every nuanced thought that they go through to establish where they are in what I throw at them. For Marco, it is the script that all jock boys have memorized of how to be, and who to date and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. But Marco isn’t like all the other teammates. He’s in love with a boy. And that boy is social toxin for a popular guy like Marco. Elliot even warns Marco away when Marco tries to befriend him (for reference sake in this scene I show below, the girl named Cindy is the head cheerleader in the class who warns Marco in a very biting way that Elliot is the “resident fag on campus.” And while not the most prosaic example, it does clue you into how Marco is starting to have his inner-monologue moments as he begins to embrace the boy who will fast become the love of his life) – Here is Exhibit B:
He sighed, and rolled his eyes.
“Look, I get that you’re still sorta new and need to make even more friends. Popularity at this school is a full-time business. Sadly, some of us aren’t allowed to open up shop, but that’s my shit, not yours. So let me spare you the angst that will rain down on you just by talking to me. I’m the resident fag on campus.”
His eyes roved over me again, bringing a new round of blush to my face, watching if those words would push me away all by themselves. Nothing doing, buddy. But keep talking. I just love listening to you.
I just shrugged. His eyes narrowed, unconvinced of my acceptance of who he was.
“Yeah, well, you’re not from around here, not really – a year’s time just doesn’t give you the historical context, so I get that you don’t understand what a catastrophic mistake you’re taking just standing here listening to me. Seriously, your school cred is bleeding out your backside while you just stand there. Misguided, if incredibly hot guy, that you are.”
I felt my face flush just at those words alone. He thinks I’m hot! Inside I was doing a happy dance! Fuck me, say it again – Please Elliot!
But he continued, “You should really listen to Cindy. She hates me. The feeling’s mutual. Thanks for trying, but it just won’t work. And I couldn’t take the pressure – or the additional torment.”
His eye scanned the length of me bringing a new round of blood coursing along my skin.
“So let’s do us both a favor and end it here while we’re still young and can bounce back from the emotional shock, shall we?”
I couldn’t think of anything more absurd. But his eyes… yes, I even got to see the other one at this point, just under the fringe of his bangs. Double the sensation of his watching me. I couldn’t say anything. I was speechless. He completely robbed me of my voice. I’d never felt this way about anyone I’d ever met. He stared at me. I wanted to say something, I did. Part of me was screaming to say something to refute what he’d mistakenly thought about me. But instead, I just stood there, probably just blinking at him. Cue the Bugs Bunny cricket soundtrack – such a fucking moron. What a fucktard.
“Oh-kay… yeah, weeeell, see ya,” and he skirted around the table. “Or not… “ he said over his shoulder and he was gone.
Only then did I move, shocked that I even found the wherewithal to begin to breathe again. I scrambled after him into the throng of students milling about, a thousand conversations adding to the din that was raging both inside and out of me. I tried to find him in the hall, no dice. Fuck!
I barely had two minutes to get to my locker, grab my next textbook and make it to class.
– Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco (Chapter 2, Scene 2)
Before we get to the foul language thing in literature (a point I will most definitely come to because it was the first thing I raised when my hubby labeled my stuff “literature”), I just want to draw a line here that Marco already is trying to eschew his responsibility of that precious script the jock boys are supposed to follow. All he knows is that he is totally smitten with Elliot. He doesn’t know why at this point, but it just is. That much he is aware of. Now to be clear: Marco has experimented with another boy in his past (but the reader doesn’t know this at this point in the book – this is only chapter 2 of Marco’s take on things). But it’s something Marco has attributed to hero worship and nothing more.
Now for the foul language and literature thing. When my husband first said that my work was nothing short of literature, my first rebuttal were two points I didn’t think he could get around:
The language and the sex. You see, they are hormonally charged teenage boys (they’re eighteen so heads out of the gutters now, ’cause they’re legal).
My husband had two works for me: Lady Chatterly’s Lover or The Catcher in the Rye.
Good points, that.
Because while I want my boys to examine their lives and their choices with inner-monologue, I also did not pull any punches with the sex or, as in the example above, the language. The sex and the language are what, for me, make the work actually, you know, work.
I recently got into a discussion about this very topic with other authors on LinkedIn. This was in regards to a YA work, but I thought as I was writing in that vein of New Adult (which is the logical extension of YA as those youngsters evolve into more mature themes) I thought I should chime in on the topic. My take? That language (whether foul or not) should only be used when it supports the nature and narrative of the story. The character and the situation has to support it. That is why it appears in Angels. It is indicative of how the teens are in the world today. My argument for swearing in books is that teens want to see the world as they see it reflected back to them so they don’t feel so out of it. As a parent, and a grandparent, I know that we do what we can to mitigate what our children are exposed to in life. We want to protect them. But as I said to these other authors – to what end? It was a fool’s paradise to think that by limiting it in our works we were somehow keeping it all from them. The simple truth is, we can’t be there to protect them every moment of the day. Shit is going to slip by us and they will be exposed to it. Often by their peers. The whole argument was balderdash in my mind. Didn’t mean the work had to be literally dripping with foul language to make its case either. As with all things, a judicious application of that kind of prose was called for. But to eschew it simply because it was vulgar language? Not on your fucking life!
Or as the hubby puts it: Do you think back in the day when their parents or grandparents had sex in their small home in the mid-west that the kids didn’t know what was going on? Or that curse words or swearing wasn’t prevalent in the public discourse? It was. It has been that way. To deny it’s existence and to hold the truth from the printed page (whether in ink or in pixels on an electronic device of the day) I think is absolutely ludicrous. Ultimately, it serves no purpose and says more about the pent up Judeo-Christian guilt complex we as adults have over these types of words rather than anything a teen or tween would put on them. Make no mistake, they hear the shit every damned day.
But I knew my experiences were vastly different from those boys around me. As a gay teenaged boy, I found, quite by happenstance, John Rechy’s bold soul-exposing The Sexual Outlaw. I needed men like Rechy because I CRAVED another gay man’s voice to instruct me (even in a fictional or quasi-fictional narrative) on the nature of homosexual intimacy. I fucking literally – Ate. That. Shit. Up!
John Rechy became GOD to me. At least in the literary sense. I owe that man because he helped keep me sane and focused as I navigated the torrential and often unstable waters of high school in the late 1970’s and early 80’s when being gay was definitely NOT the thing that was done easily or safely.
I needed Rechy. I needed him so fucking badly that I burned with it. For most of my high school years I burned for his words to soothe me. I needed him to calm my fears and show me that there was something out there beyond the hellish life of high school. Even if it was fraught with new dangers and hidden meanings, there was still something other than fear, death and abuse that was so prevalent in the media where gay characters were concerned.
His works also led me to Gordon Merrick. While Rechy is definitely a literary writer, Merrick was pure romantic fluff. One gave me confidence and knowledge, the other took care of my heart. These two men keep me going in those hellish years of high school. When the bullying became too much I’d pull those paper bag covered books (to hide what they were to others) and read them with tears on my face, licking wounds and letting these men soothe my battered soul. They were my bibles. I had them in my backpack every damned day over those four long years in high school. I didn’t feel safe if they weren’t with me.
I put on a good face for my school mates and my family, but inside there was nothing but fear going on.
That is what I weave into Angels. I wanted to play with those tropes that I actually lived through. I also am weaving the collected experiences of not only myself but my husband and other gay brothers I knew out there who have shared their experiences. Angels is a massive work that addresses what it means to be a gay man. Now admittedly, it isn’t every gay man because no narrative could successfully capture that. But what I attempt to do is put to complete opposites together and watch explore how their choices, both good and bad, effect what comes out in the long run.
I hold up a mirror to gay men at their prime of youth as they step into their adult lives. It examines how the choices they’ve made in the past that seemed to make sense back then can have horrifying repercussions down the road that the character had no way of foretelling would come their way. It explores the societal roles and mores that are often foisted on men (both in general and on gay men in particular) that make nearly any decision problematic. I ask a great many questions of which my boys only answer a few – leaving the reader with making up the difference in their own mind about homophobia, it’s cause (in the case of my novel), the missteps or foibles my boys stumble into without intention of doing so, the family dynamics that are in play – even when they are the most supportive family around, how you as a gay man can feel so utterly alone in a sea of support.
Angels is not a simple work. I didn’t really know that going in. I see it now. And while it was always intended to be an unflinching intimate look at a young gay man’s psyche as he makes his way to find happiness, it was also meant to be an ensemble piece. I like ensemble pieces. It’s those complex relationships that provide the color and texture that my boys play against. They have to be real, they have to be just as multi-faceted. No cardboard cut-outs in my worlds. My dramatic training won’t allow it. I’ve read other works that moved in this type of vein.
Look Homeward, Angel (if you haven’t read it) is a massive work as well. Indeed, the main character doesn’t make his entrance for nearly the first quarter of the book. Instead you are informed and become intimately acquainted with the members of his family in the turn of the twentieth century North Carolina. On the onset you keep asking yourself (as a reader) who the main character is because the ensemble is vast but deeply engaging. I fell in love with Wolfe’s prose. Where Forster (my other literary love) was concise and eloquent, Wolfe was expressive and brilliant in extended and well-crafted words and artistic phrasing that bordered on if it didn’t outright succeed on genius. I often had a notebook nearby just so I could jot down and capture those brilliant words or phrases because they moved me so when I was reading the work.
To be honest, it would’ve been a book I would’ve hated as a teen. I am glad my husband introduced me to it as an adult. I can appreciate it now without any literary baggage from my youth.
In a very real way, I can see how Marco, Elliot and the boys from Mercy, California are in the same vein as Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel or Gore Vidal’s Burr, or Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Those works have numerous sub-text going on. My work does too. There have been very long discussions with both my husband (who edits my work – I trust no one else regarding the preservation of my voice in literature than him) and the beta readers who preview the work as I write, regarding how my boys progress in the story and how the secondary characters support the narrative.
I am constantly responding (when beta-readers prompt me when previewing the work (as it is unpublished at this juncture)) when asked by them: What do you want to know from me? What feedback do you want me to give?
For me it is simply this –
Now, granted, most of those questions would come from any author working on any piece. I’d have to concede that point. But, herein is the critical difference for me: whatever the reader says in return goes through very careful analysis by myself and my husband. A round of talks on the pros and cons of what came back is distilled and weighed against the full arc of the story (because only we know the entire story) and sometimes the nature of what is given back to us may indicate initially that there is confusion in certain areas – but those are probably intentional on my part and any confusion response would only serve to underscore that type of approach.
My husband did offer one critique in defense of my waving away that my work was literature. It came from my cousin. A mother of a gay son. A woman who had read many things but never read anything like I had written. Certainly, nothing with a gay protagonist. Amazingly (well, to me at any rate) she said that she identified with Elliot (the out, but shy, gay kid) because she too had been bullied by the popular girls in school and knew all too well what that felt like. She came to root for him because of that inward alliance she felt with him as a character. She also told me that the struggle that I have Elliot go through with his “nothing but supportive” parents was revelatory in that as a mother to a gay son, she always took on the mantle when they didn’t connect that she was doing something that made that happen. It wasn’t until she read how Elliot struggled to give his mother the proper credit for the absolute unwavering love and devotion she has for him – even if he ultimately doesn’t know how to connect with it. That is what my cousin took away from Elliot.
IT WAS EPIC to hear that! As an author you have no idea if your work will ever connect with anyone. You just don’t. You think that you’re the only person who will ever find the work of value.
And to be clear – when I say value, I mean value more than the money that I collected from the effort. I’ve often said I would trade 10K five star reviews if I get ONE gay boy who finds my work meaningful. ‘Cause I am writing for him and guys like him. Guys like me at that age (or any other). Doesn’t mean I won’t be appreciative for any of my readers because I will be humbled by them all, but it is to those boys like me that will always tug upon my heart. I will always make time for them.
Before I wrap this up I have two more points to quickly make – even when I attempted to write fluff stuff for a “fan” of mine (my first real fan actually beyond family and friends – though now I consider him family) I found I couldn’t do it. Well, I mean I could write it – but it’s also heady and rife with inner-monologue.
“It’s a fucking WEREWOLF story!” I kept saying to myself. Fantasy, right? Yeah, as it turns out – even werewolves can be literary-esque. Who knew? I sure as hell didn’t, I can tell ya that!
Even then, Hank O’Malley and Riley Raintree and my other wolf boys of the Sparrow’s Hollow wolf pack are very literary too, it seems. I can’t seem to escape the heady prose of inner-monologue even when I am expounding on the trials and tribulations of being a shape-shifting man in the wilds of Appalachian West Virginia. It’s my style, I suppose. My author voice.
It’s as if that quote from Gore Vidal keeps ringing in my ear regarding an author’s style (as opposed to craft):
Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
– Gore Vidal
Now THERE’S a man with style. I gained my love for Gore Vidal through my husband. And I relish the hell out of that man’s glorious body of work.
And here’s another little side trip that was recently posed to me by author pal, Jayne Lockwood (the inserted commentary is mine):
First off – I LOVE your cover as it is. It pops when on thumbnail, and is instantly recognisable.BUTYour cover hides a literary work. At first glance, it could be a book about American football. Would that alienate some of the readership you are trying to woo?At second glance, it could be a piece of fun fiction. The depth of the book isn’t hinted at.Look at other novels of literature that you admire. Do you see anything that links them? (Genuine question – I haven’t looked either.) John Rechy’s City of Night has a cool nighttime cityscape cover.Angels of Mercy is about beautiful young men. First love. What goes on teenagers’ heads. School social dilemmas. Coming out. Prejudice and homophobia. Family dynamics.American football? Nope. <— (I disagree and I’ll come to this anon)I’m playing devil’s advocate here, just making you think about it….
It was something to seriously consider. And better to do it now rather than after I had launched any marketing campaign.
Before I get into my take with what Jayne poses to me to reconsider my current novel cover iterations, but let’s take that with Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel throughout the years since it’s first publication, shall we?
Here is the cover my husband read in the mid-1950s (he’s commented that this picture from a Google Images search could just have easily been his dog-eared copy):
But this wasn’t the only version of the book cover through the years (as a matter of reference the very first picture in this blog post is what is the current edition – which my husband says is now his favorite):
From the 1940’s through 1990’s (though I will withhold one cover to make my counter-point to Jayne’s quoted comment above):
Or how about this one?
Or what about this take from 1929? Modernist much? Art Deco gone awry? How does this cover possibly relate a family in the mountains of North Carolina?
Now here’s the kicker to all of this book cover stuff – the PULP fiction cover from the 1950s:
My husband laughed at this one because there is NOTHING remotely reminiscent with regards to the actual story. As a matter of reference, it was originally published in 1929. He said the current iteration has elements that tie back to the metaphors in the story. That is what makes it a great cover.
So back to Jayne’s point and question, and even her thought on the potential to short change my literary work with the covers I’d designed myself.
My husband’s take on it (which I hadn’t considered) is born out of Jayne’s second sentence in what I’ve quoted above (emphasis is mine):
First off – I LOVE your cover as it is. It pops when on thumbnail, and is instantly recognisable.
His point being that my cover does pop, it does what it is intended to do. And the elements do tie back to the metaphors of my story in a very direct way as well. It does garner attention on a grid of other books on Amazon or Barns and Noble. And as for the “is it about American Football?”
The answer is a resounding YES.
And here’s why: While the story does not deal with the machinations and the ins and outs of the actual game, what it does do is that it uses the arena of competitive sports as the premise for these boys to deal with the dark topic of homophobia and the like.
So my counter is that the story does deal with football in a very real way – even if it isn’t deluged with play-by-play analysis. Indeed, my other author pal, Brad Vance wrote a masterfully brilliant novel that I fast-tracked onto my Desert Island Book List (meaning: a book I can’t do without). It too had football and competitive sports as the backdrop in how that field messes with men’s minds and hearts. That work is Given the Circumstances. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so – post haste!
In fact, this work is what brought me to Brad himself. I began a correspondence with him that has happened on and off to this day. Indeed when I had a mini-melt down over this whole writing mess, he was very quick to swoop in and offer words of encouragement. Something I am deeply grateful for to this day. Brad is one of my absolute favorite people. Brad’s cover hints at the football connection but the work isn’t about the game directly but the mental and emotive things that swirl around the protags of his story. Like Angels, he uses the gridiron and the diamond (football and baseball, respectively) as backdrops to address the deeper psychological drama that plays out in men’s minds and hearts in these circumstances (see how I tied it back to your title, Brad?).
So in a very real way, my covers do EXACTLY what I want them to do. To get a reader to see them in a grid of other titles. They do look different, they do pop. They only serve the purpose to have someone pick it up to READ the synopsis blurb where I get to “pitch” the story to a potential reader. That is what the cover should do. Will some not bother, perhaps. No more than those who didn’t pick up Brad’s work either.
Now, having said that, my cousin (Remember her? The mother with the gay son?) did say that she probably wouldn’t have thought to pick up the novel to read it based on the cover. But she did say it was eye catching. So yeah, there is a balance to consider.
I’ll think about it. But really, if the whole “I’m searching for a literary agent to pick this up and sell it,” then it is really out of my hands at that point because a publisher will be making the marketing determination in addition to the cover artwork. So it all may be for naught.
So yeah, literary works. They’re definitely a tricky monster – whether you’re writing about geeky artsy gay boys (like I was) or their uber-cool and popular jock stud boyfriends (like my hubby did in high school and at Clemson), or they are werewolves roaming the forests outside a fictitious town in West Virginia circa 1956, you can still write literary oriented works. The topic at hand, the situation your characters go through are merely the vehicle. My takeaway from all of this is that what I do within my works are that I don’t shy away from very tough questions I want to reflect back to society. Especially those with a decidedly queer perspective like I write.
My hubby has the right of it. It isn’t the volume of what you write. It isn’t the prose you use (though it does help elevate it quite a bit), but rather it is the manner in which you tell the story. The voice you use and how you work with the questions you are addressing and giving an unflinching voice to walk a reader through those tough calls in life. Allowing them to answer questions your characters often can’t – even if it ultimately comes from their own experiences rather than anything you as an author have put down.
It begs discussion and analysis, because it ultimately holds up a mirror to ourselves. Even if the main character is a shy gay boy and you happen to be a 50 year old heterosexual female mother of a gay son. If you can see yourself as that main character, if you can draw some sort of conclusion to those questions that you as an author pose but never fully answer, then you just might have true literature.
But let’s be clear: Just slapping the word literature (whether in regards to your work or in a group you create on Facebook or in the social strata) on something doesn’t make it so. And I embrace that. It really isn’t for me to say what the work is. That’s for others to put on it. But I do know one thing: It needs to have a lasting commentary on the social structure before us. It needs to encapsulate unequivocally the human condition and nature with all of our faults and foibles as well as our joyous and tremendous gifts life has given us. It needs to be bold and unflinching and most importantly – it needs to have NO guarantees. This is where I think that general genre fiction fails to make the final step into true literature. Any guarantee in a given trope or genre impedes to a great degree anything that can cross over and become both timeless and timely all at the same time.
That is what I’ve come to learn is true literature. In that case, given what I know I’ve done with Angels of Mercy, I think my husband just might have something there when he says that’s what it is.
Even if I never started out to do that in the first place…
Until next time…
Okay, not really freaking out too much here. I mean, there was no stork, even if there was a baby (of sorts).
What happened was, I bit the bullet. I grinned and bear(ed) it. I took a leap of faith…
I published my first work.
I’m happy with it. Even if it isn’t the type of work I normally do. Part of me was concerned with that — perceptions and all. You see this work is a silly piece of fluff. Well, not silly, more sentimental and erotically charged. And while I am not about censorship when it comes to gay men and our sexuality, it is rather strange that I have a very sexual book out there that my mother can read!
Okay, I should stop worrying about that. I am gonna write what I’m gonna write. It is what it is. Right?
Yeah, well, I ain’t so sure now. Only because the next work I am putting out there is the important one. It’s the series that I feel the strongest about.
Hank and my boys of West Virginia are great. I love them and they’ve given me a spark of interest in writing about werewolves that I didn’t know I had. I sort of love my furry beastie guys. And Hank’s a rather pretty boy in their midst. I mean, the picture I have of him as an inspiration says nothing but pretty (if decidedly, beefy) boy.
Oh, that ain’t the only picture of him, neither (as he’d no doubt say):
So yeah, pretty and beefy. Just look at them arms and them pecs, will ya? And I am not so much for blond guys – but, uh, yeah. He’d do — no kicking to the curb with that purdy boy! #jussayin
And Hank’s a lovely boy to write about. He’s caring, un-obsessed with his own good looks, genial and easy to get along with. Completely unassuming. And who’da thunk he’d be in the middle of a werewolf war that was about to break loose? Or that his mama and closest thing to a grandma he’s got are a pair of powerful witches? I know he sure didn’t.
Hank and his boys are near and dear to my heart. Which was sort of a revelation. I mean, as an author, you are deeply involved with your characters and your worlds that you create. That’s fairly a given — unless your completely dispassionate about the work then, why bother? But even if you are deeply in bed with them, it doesn’t always mean you have to like them much.
But with Hank, Riley, Tanner, Mike, Toby, Darby, Dylan, Maynard, and Spike – I am really already rooting for these boys to triumph over the likes of Cade Bowen/Talbot.
Don’t know who he is?
Yeah, well, go pick up the book, dammit!