SA Collins

Words and Errata

Riley Raintree

What is literature? And where am I in the mix?

What is literature? And where am I in the mix?

 

-or-

 

The art of crafting the next ‘Great American Novel.’

 

Cover to Look Homeward, Angel

My husband’s all time favorite literary novel – Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”

 

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.”

 

Angels of Mercy - Volume 1: Elliot

Angels of Mercy – Volume 1: Elliot

 

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 Collins
Author of Gay Literature Fiction across multiple sub-genres

 

t.  | @sacollinsauthor
kik  | sacollinsauthor

 

“When I was born I was so surprised I didn’t speak for a whole year…” – Gracie Allen

 

So that’s how I put my stuff out there (emphasis is mine for the sake of clarity): “Author of Gay Literature Fiction across multiple sub-genres.” Rather lofty of me, isn’t it? I mean, even before I had anything published I was already touting myself as a literary writer. But that wasn’t from me, you see. That was my husband.

 

I should explain – the hubby has quite an amazing past. He’s been both a psychiatrist working with troubled youth and a quantum mechanics physicist that did work for NASA. He has books on our collective shelf that I call my picture books because even though I am a fairly bright guy, I can’t make heads or tails out of most of them – so I look at the pictures and graphs to sort it out. Penrose, Hawking and the like dot our book shelves along with Forster, Rice, Doyle, Shakespeare, Vidal and my hubby’s all time favorite book – Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. 

 

It is Wolfe’s work that I will use as a barometer for the sake of this blog post with regards to my own work on Angels of Mercy.

 

You see, he (the hubby, that is) says it’s straight-up literature. I didn’t know that was what I was writing. I just had a hell of a story to write and set about doing so. I knew what I wanted it to say and more importantly, how I wanted to say it. For me it had to be deeply rooted in an inner-monologue narrative. Or as the hubby says – it is a Character Study. Even though I come from the world of semi- and professional theater and I am well versed in character development because of my many years of trotting the boards of the theatrical stage, I knew I could construct well-fleshed out and engaging set of characters.

 

As for my husband’s opinion? I originally chalked it up to being a loving and devoted (because he definitely is all that) husband and nothing more. I realize now, how much I had short-changed his opinion in the matter that I present to you now.

 

It wasn’t like I didn’t know what true literature was, right? I mean, think about it for a second.
We all had those years in high school where some rather boring wizened owl of a teacher – who often appeared to be so old that they just had to know little Willy Shakespeare back in the day – made you read books that seemed rather droll and uninteresting. Surely nothing you as a hormonally charged teen would want to pick up to read on your own, right? Sure there might have been one or two of you who were into it for the actual literature, but let’s be honest, if let loose in a bookstore to pick up anything that held your interest, as a teenage boy or girl The Red Badge of Courage was not going to be that book. It just wasn’t. I know that and you know that.

 

But what is literature? The trouble is, many scholars and critics have their own take on this. But suffice to say that after all my research and distilling of article after article on the topic, and two very intense hours discussing my work in relation to all of this literary stuff I was looking into, my former psychiatrist hubby put it into a nutshell that I could wrap my head around:

 

“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.”

 

Heady words on the topic, right?

 

It was however, his next words that sort of stunned me. “It’s also why I said your Angels is literature.”

 

My Angels of Mercy – literature? Nah, couldn’t be.

 

I never set out to do that. Indeed, I used to be guilty of editing the crap out of my stuff before I tapped out a single keystroke on the computer. I’d often say ‘no, you can’t do that’ or ‘show, don’t tell’ (ya know, that old standby which is for the true amateurs who don’t know what good story construction or proper character development is all about?). I’d edit the shit out of myself before I even put a damned thing down.  My husband said it showed in my earlier efforts. Efforts he would calmly say – “don’t worry about what it is, just write it down, we’ll figure out the rest.”

 

He really is my best friend. He looks out for me like no one else will. Probably why I married him and love the crap out of him, anyway.

 

But I digress, the point is that at the core of his argument was why my work wasn’t going to be anything but honest-to -God literature was what I needed to pay attention to – not all that lovey-dovey husband stuff I was babbling about. In a very real way, he should know more than anyone else around me (though to be honest, I’ve heard this unanimously from every reader who has previewed Angels V1 – they all say it is real literature). I just knew I had a cracking good story and I knew how it needed to be told.

 

Angels of Mercy - Volume 2: Marco

Angels of Mercy – Volume 2: Marco

 

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!

The Sexual Outlaw as I saw it in 1979.

The Sexual Outlaw as I saw it in 1979.

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.

John Rechy circa 1970's.

John Rechy circa 1970’s.

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.

The Hollywood glamor god looks of Gordon Merrick

The Hollywood glamor god looks of Gordon Merrick

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.

 

Merrick's compelling and controversial Peter and Charlie gay romance trilogy.

Merrick’s compelling and controversial Peter and Charlie gay romance trilogy.

 

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 –

  1. Are the characters believable? (I think this is a given from any author in any genre or work)
  2. Is the progression of the story organic in nature?
  3. Does the character ever seem to go “off the rails” without cause?
  4. Is the main character (MC) engaging? Do you root for him?
  5. Are the supporting characters engaging?
  6. Do you find the MC likable? Do you identify with him (for any reason)?
  7. Is the character study narrative (which often breaks the fourth wall) of concern or does it detract from the overall story?

 

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

 

Gore Vidal circa 1948

Gore Vidal circa 1948

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.
BUT
Your 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):

Look Homeward, Angel book cover circa 1959

The cover as my husband read it in 1959.

 

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):

Look Homeward, Angel - an alternate cover

Look Homeward, Angel – an alternate cover


Or how about this one?

 

Another variant through out the years - Look Homeward, Angel

Another variant through out the years – Look Homeward, Angel

 

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?

Another variant cover of Look Homeward Angel circa 1990

Just what does a modernist graphic have to do with this story? Hmmmm?

 

Now here’s the kicker to all of this book cover stuff – the PULP fiction cover from the 1950s:

 

Look Homeward, Angel - the Pulp Fiction edition

Look Homeward, Angel – the Pulp Fiction edition

 

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!

 

Given The Circumstances by Brad Vance

Given The Circumstances by Brad Vance

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…

SA C

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Quick! The Stork Done Took My Baby!

Quick! The Stork Done Took My Baby!

 

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.

The book is out in the world now. Hall-le-fucking-lu-jah!

The book is out in the world now. Hall-le-fucking-lu-jah!

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.

 

Inspiration for Hank O'Malley in my story

Inspiration for Hank O’Malley in my story

Oh, that ain’t the only picture of him, neither (as he’d no doubt say):

Another of Hank O'Malley - tough luck lookin' like that, huh?

Another of Hank O’Malley – tough luck lookin’ like that, huh?

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!

And I’d like once again to thank Steve Grand for providing the emotive inspiration for my gay werewolves of Sparrows Hollow, West VA.

Country Crooner Steve Grand in all of his bloody manly redness...

Country Crooner Steve Grand in all of his bloody manly redness…

In a very real way, they’ve already been turning the creative wheel on the next part of their adventure. Trouble is, I’ve got a crap load of new stuff to churn out in the other series that I am just dying to get out there: Angels of Mercy.

Angels of Mercy - Volume 1: Elliot

Angels of Mercy – Volume 1: Elliot

It’s interesting because I am still not about the sales. In a very weird way though, I want to know what other’s think of my work. I know there’ll be some who bash it all to hell. There’s haters out there who do nothing but trash talk every damned thing that’s out there.

It’s just the way ’tis, thassall. <– As Hank would say.

There isn’t much that I want to censor from my work. I am so not a prude when it comes to sex. It doesn’t make my work erotic in nature because of this (though I do admit that the Sparrow’s Hollow series is deeply tinged with eroticism). Usually when sex enters my books it is because it is a part of the natural order of life. Whether it would be to have a family or simply for the pleasure of it all. I rail at those who get all uppity about it. The duality of not wanting to read about it and yet it is a very intrinsic part of life. I mean, we all got here because our parents fucked. Let’s be honest about it and pony up and embrace that everyone does it to a degree (not intending to take away anything from those who are asexual – that’s their gig and hey, I’m happy for them if they’re content to be so). I can’t though.

Sex is important. It is a vital part of why we pony up to the relationship table, right?

My works will reflect that. My Feigr story is predicated on that. Sex is power to them, a means of manipulating and rewriting genetic code. They are very fearsome creatures who use our desire as a means to an end. Allure has a very dangerous connotation when it comes to my Norse infused Fae.

So yeah, one of my baby’s has done flown the coup. It’s just as well. I gotta make room for the next part of their tale (it’s already brewing in my head).  Hank and the boys are waiting with baited breath for me to finish out my Angels (volumes 1 and 2 – that I plan to release simultaneously in the first quarter of this month). Volume 1: Elliot is already in the can (as it were). Marco (volume 2) is near completion. I think I’ll be ready by March at the latest. In a real way that’s a good thing I guess. It means, I can prep the Angel series for a proper send off. Hit the blog tour stuff and get the word out there.

Angels of Mercy - Volume 2: Marco

Angels of Mercy – Volume 2: Marco

Who knows? With a little luck, I just might have something here.

And the literary nest will never be empty. No, I think that as I take my last breath on this Earth (hopefully many, many moons from now) my last thought will be: shit, they’ll never know how that ended now.

The life of a writer, I suppose. A lonely craft it is.

Still, I can’t think of what else I’d like to do more.

Until next time… 
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Covering Old Ground

Covering Old Ground –

More Cover Artwork for HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega.

 

So here I am again- more discussion on the arc of creating a look/feel for a book I’ve been putting together. It started out simple enough (almost bland in it’s simplicity):

 

My newly created cover image.

The originally created cover image.

 

Actually this is a later iteration as I can’t find my original which was just the slash cut with out any bloody references and minus the lycanthropic tagline.

It was slightly emotive of what I wanted but almost too simplistic in approach. Originally I was thinking of going horror novel ala Ikea – ya know, very Scandinavian in design – sparse and minimalistic, yet evocative.

Because the gash/slash was in a swooping motion I used a very swishy font. I tend to favor them. Mostly because I admire calligraphers. And as I said before – I am a BIG FONT WHORE.

So yeah, it was serviceable. Passable. Minimally getting me there.

I mean, I didn’t kid myself and say – wow, that’ll get them to buy it!

Cause, I knew it ultimately wouldn’t. I wasn’t foolin’ myself none, ya know?

So I posted it anyway and then my author pal, Jayne Lockwood commented that she thought the HOMO title should be bolder cause it was sort of lost in the vast sparseness of the work. I thought about it. I did. I swear I did.

Then did nothing about it. Told her that was what I was after.

But it festered. Made me rethink what I was doing.

I didn’t want to do the whole muscle dude thing on so many of the M/M romance stuff. Cause that’s just so… meh. So 1990 in my book. It’ll be cheesy in a few years and NOT retro-chic cheesy either. Just plain cheese – but not the good kind you can put on sandwiches and stuff.

So I needed to retool it. I knew that.

Then I hit a major creative speed bump. It happened last night. I took a breather from writing the ending to the story (it was a NaNoWriMo winner story so I knew I wanted to get it done). And I took a small (fitful) nap. I woke up and had a pseudo-meltdown. I don’t know if it was the wrong side of the bed, or in general I was letting my shit get to me but I wrote a rather long rant to my betas, friends and family (do they have a cell phone program for that?) and babbled endlessly on whether I needed to write at all. Whether I was good enough.

It was a fucktard moment. I ain’t proud of it. I mean, I even bcc’d my mom on it. How embarrassing is that? Your own mother knows you’re a fucktard. Brilliant – NOT!

So when I finally crawled out of my pity-party and began to sort out my shit and got back in the writing saddle I decided I’d take an artistic turn for a few and re-examine the HOMO book cover.

The hubby was busy with the initial edits and comments, so I was left to my own devices in retooling the cover for it once it was done.

I hit up istockphoto (my usual goto) and found a few werewolf-y looking things. But the costs are getting up there to use this service. I like the quality of work but the credit fees to just buy some shit is getting up there now. There had to be others out there that were cheaper. So I found CanStockPhoto.com.

I combed through their stuff on wolves and forests and such and found a couple of things I sort of liked. I always wanted ominous eyes if I was going to do a picture. I also knew the cover had to be dark. So I started to try and combine those two terms to source something for the new reworked cover.

I found these two pieces to start with:

A minimal version of what I ended up using.

A minimal version of what I ended up using.

 

And even though I railed against using a half naked man on the cover but I sorta liked this guy when I happened upon him – he had that whole Tanner Tallman (from my book) thing going on. And he had wolfy fangs so yeah, he was worth a saw buck to buy him. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention? BOTH images cost me less than $9!) It was a no-brainer.

So here he is – (even if I didn’t use him this time around) – it’s a novella series so yeah, I could still put him to use down the road. Especially if I focus on Tanner somewhere down the line.

My version of Tanner Tallman (the beta of my wolf pack).

My version of Tanner Tallman (the beta of my wolf pack).

 

Anyway, so I went about taking the wolfy eyes and the darkened road and began to repurpose my original cover art.

First to go was the swishy font for the logo – rebranded it entirely into a sans-serif font rather than a display font (if you’re into typography like me you know what that means, if not, eh, don’t fret too much about it). This was invariably a big factor on my changing the background from a faux leather texture to solid black. It would allow the red blood and title to punch a bit more on the cover. Great, but it still seemed sparse without something else.

HOMO with some minor edits - black background and the font change in the title.

HOMO with some minor edits – black background and the font change in the title.

Then it was time to sort out which of the two picts I was gonna use. Since Tanner wasn’t the focus in this first book I decided it was better to go with an establishing and moody thought. So wolf eyes and road it is:

The reworked and final image for the first of my HOMO series of gay werewolves set in 1956 West Virginia.

The reworked and final image for the first of my HOMO series of gay werewolves set in 1956 West Virginia.

 

I think it is far superior to my original IKEA take on it. What do you all think?

I am hoping to release it to the masses in early January. It’ll be my first publicly released work for sale but my third novel that I’ve completed. The other two are still in edit mode before distribution. This one was for fun. While I love the work and am happy to dedicate it to my first fan (who loves all things werewolves) it is nowhere near the serious work I am doing in Angels. This is meant to be a spooky romp of a read. Something to get the imagination as well as the loins inflamed, ya know?

So yeah, that’s it for this time around. Who knows I may end up with a separate series of how I design book covers and why? Who knew? I should probably youtube this shit to expand my market share?

 

Eh, who has the time? I want to write dammit!

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When is a goal not a goal?

When is a goal not a goal?

Answer: When the 50K word count has been reached but you ain’t done with the danged book!

 

My newly created cover image.

My newly created cover image.

 

So my NaNoWriMo goal is within sight – I’ll have my 50K tucked away by this evening and I’ll post it for validation. Whoo-hoo! I did it and I finished it well before the November 30 deadline! I am proud of myself for pantsing it along.

Now, to the real task – of getting the damned thing in order cause it sorta feels like I’m trying to hug fog at the moment. This shit is nebulous as all hell and I need to straighten it up. Not that it can’t be done but fuck me if I know how to do it.

I guess I am gonna have to poll my beta’s and see where I am missing shit…I know what I want to do, just in the thrust of gettin’ to my goal I think I have some massive holes in plot and narrative.

So yay, me! Well done! (That sound you’re hearing is the patting of my own back – cause sometimes you just gotta to keep ya goin’).

Above is my adjusted cover art. It’s rather subdued but at least it’s got some umph, no?

Thoughts on it?

As a rule of thumb I am opposed to those manly half naked men on the covers – I just think that most of that will look so damned dated down the road.

Also, while I have your attention – what do you think about the word “adventure” in the tag line? It’s not really an adventure – more of an experience, tale, event (now that’s just plain lousy)?

The story does have some angst that I am gettin’ to now. Just not much in the way of adventure – I mean it’s not a wolfy Indiana Jones. Even though I can sorta see Harrison as a wolf man.

Anyway, the goal for NaNoWriMo will be reached by tonight. The story – eh, not so much.

And it’s been nice to have Steve Grand in the rotation to get my boys where they are. Only now it’s gonna get darker – a whole mess darker. I may have to switch up the playlist for a bit to get into the groove. Riley, Hank and the boys are in for some bad assed times. Then my HFN for the moment.

nanowrimo_calendar_wallpaper_by_moonfreak-d301g6e[1]

Free reads of where I am up to the 50K mark will be posted later on tonight.

Then I need to pen some more of Marco’s Angel’s volume – I’ve left him sorta hanging and he’s got shit to say now about his burgeoning love for all things Elliot. The boys in my worlds are gonna drive me bat-shit crazy!

Til next time…

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Running with the Pack – Part 3

Running with the Pack – Part 3

 

nanowrimo_calendar_wallpaper_by_moonfreak-d301g6e[1]

 

Another Badge Achieved!

 

25Knanowrimo

 

25,009 words! <– That’s HUGE!

 

I’ve broken the 50% mark in the story. Three chapters in and I am half way to my goal.

 

So where are things now? Well, Steve Grand is still in the soundtrack rotation and things seem to clip along quite nicely when his songs come on. My boys seem to respond to him. Don’t know why that is again, but I’m just letting Steve take the muse role and just roll right along with it. I get into a groove when that happens. I almost disappear into the story itself and I just channel what Hank, Riley, Tanner and the others all have to say about my little lust filled horror story of gay were’s in Sparrow’s Holler, WVA.

Some interesting developments happened – ya see, when I am driving to my Clark Kent day job, I have a solid twenty minutes a day to ponder my tales – and yeah, I am usually listening to Steve there as well. I think it’s Riley (the Alpha of the story who responds to him most – I seem to work out kinks in his backstory in my head when Steve’s on the iPod in the car). So yeah, Riley and Hank are getting sorted and coupling up nicely. Hank is still leery cause he don’t know why any of it is happening – the boys who have taunted him off and on have suddenly flipped a switch and now they are all about Hank. They can’t get enough of being around him.

And of course this presents drama… duh, duh, duuuuuhhhh!  <– that was supposed be that high radio drama music there where someone is bitin’ their knuckle like Carol Burnett did on her TV show back in the 70’s – just sayin’…

Anywho, back in Sparrow’s – Hank and Riley are gettin’ closer and all the while Hank questions what it means (cause hey, it’s 1956 people and there was no internet nor did people even TALK about gay stuff back then – or so the hubby tells me). So while Riley and Hank have their intimate moments and Hank is left bewildered on why he’s all cuddlin’ up to the hottest boy on campus, he is also left bewildered on why Riley’s boys are all into them as well.

As Hank says quite clearly on what he has bitten off –

“I thought I had me a boyfriend – now it looks like I got me eight. Mama’s just gonna shit…”

Yeah, and she ain’t the only one neither, Hank.

The story seems to have this wolf mentality threading through it nicely. No real were moment yet, but it’s coming. I am actually introducing the novel baddie right now in the story. So yeah, I hope I nail it like I got it in my head.

So here’s the dealio with my writings: I write Gay Lit Fic. I make no bones about it. BUT what that means is that while my stories have a strong romantic element (cause hey, that’s always a good thing – it brings out the gentle humanity in us all, I think) – it is NOT M/M romance fare. While it has strong sexual situations, it is NOT erotica. I just don’t write to a given formula. Those elements are present but when I use love it is a means to an end. It serves a purpose other than romance for the sake of romance. And I NEVER pull punches in the sex department, either. I refuse to water it down. Sex happens, people. It’s what makes our lives enriching and exciting. Passion is a VERY good thing in my books. But it’s also a character device that I use to move the characters forward. It’s meant to propel the story in some manner.

The sex in my books are not a “one handed read” as one of my erotica author buddies so eloquently puts it. I mean, if someone thinks they’re sort of hot, well yippee ki-yay for you! That’s not the intent of their being there from my perspective.

Take Hank for example:

Inspiration for Hank O'Malley in my story

Inspiration for Hank O’Malley in my story

 

Hank is a really attractive guy but is one of those boys who doesn’t have the first clue that he is. He thinks he’s rather average. That there’s nothing special to him. He’s just a country bumpkin eking out a life in a small town in West Virginia.

It happens.

But Hank is anything BUT average. He’s wildly beyond average – and he’s about to find out what that means. And here’s the odd thing about Hank, the thing that makes him very fascinating to me – he doesn’t want any of it. When he discovers what he truly is and what it all means, he tries to deny it – to push it, and the boys further away from him. The boys go through a lot of pain and torment because of it. Hank is basically refusing pack life. Why? Because he hasn’t turned yet. So to him its spook and legend.

But the threat that visits them just before Hank’s first night of turning – in his own family store, no less, does give him something to consider. A reason to hear the boys out about what is truly going on in Sparrow’s Holler, what the pack means to the town, and how wonder of all wonders, how Hank’s own missing father has played a huge part in it all that Hank was never told about.

Hank’s got quite a bit on his mind and several balls to juggle – it’s no wonder when he looks in the mirror he can’t see what everyone else sees.

 

Another of Hank O'Malley - tough luck lookin' like that, huh?

Another of my Hank O’Malley – tough luck lookin’ like that, huh?

 

Basically put, Hank’s a hunk but he’s a fairly clueless hunk until his boys are threatened. Then there’ll be no stoppin’ him. Hank is a dark horse. A very, VERY, dark horse (or wolf, I should say) in this tale. He doesn’t want the mantle, he doesn’t want the notoriety or attention.

Werewolves-werewolves-8012482-675-445

And in due course he gets plenty of attention… from his boys and the girls in town. It’s all too confusing. Part of the time Hank just longs for the simplicity of everything that was before any of this happened. But once you turn, you can never go back.

So the first book is spent on trying to get Hank to become the hero he is destined to be.

It won’t be an easy road. But then again, if it were – what would be the point of tellin’ it?

So a small acknowledgement to my project muse – Steve Grand has released a few new tunes on iTunes as well as a few other places. Please check out his site and buy his songs, dammit! This man deserves our continued support! He’s breathing life into my boys and that’s helping me reach my goal of 50K in 30 days. So far, so good.

 

[embedplusvideo height=”255″ width=”400″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1tjO5Il” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/3ArcGsUkUdw?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=3ArcGsUkUdw&width=400&height=255&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=0&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep4131″ /]

 

Think I’ll spin up another and get back to it…

 

SteveGrandred1

The red goes so well with my wolves…

 

Thanks Mr. G for givin’ my boys something to run with … were Riley and the boys here for real – I am sure they’d say thank you too!

Peace – OUT!

 

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