When Your Art Truly Imitates Life …
Character creation has never really been an issue for me. Having played so many of them on the stage over my half-century of being on this planet, I have pulled upon so many threads of the people I’ve met and crossed paths with. My high school drama teacher taught me many things about the craft. But there was one he taught that has stuck more than any other.
Stop and Listen … and observe.
The world will reveal itself to you if you just stop singing, stop dancing, stop talking and just … listen and observe.
Now, if you’ve caught me on the podcast I co-host, you know that my not talking is something of an issue. I love conversation and have little to no filter (yes, I recognize it’s a flaw – but I choose to run with it and hope others can keep up) when it comes into diving in on topics that crop up during the conversation. So it’s no small feat for me to stop, not make a sound, and listen.
Yet, there are moments in my past that it happened for me with very little input on my part. Magical people and events that would just trigger that stop all action and listen (and watch) what was going on around me. And I’ve always come away the richer for it.
In writing the Angels of Mercy series, I have two characters that appear secondary in the story (to the plotline – though, in truth they are very much first level characters for one reason only – I know them both. They exist not only on the page, but also in my books).
I knew them when I was in grade school through high school. La Presa Elementary right up through La Presa Junior High and then ending at Monte Vista High, before we all went our separate ways. When I crafted Angels of Mercy, I knew that my quiet unassuming gay boy, Elliot, would have only one real friend in school before he becomes involved with the love of his life, Marco Sforza. That guy is Greg Lettau. Greg is drawn from the guy I knew in school who I thought was incredibly brilliant and had the wickedest sense of humor. He was skinny as all fuck, pointdexterish in the extreme – horned rimmed glasses and gawkish looking as can be.
But here’s the thing: Greg was so honorable as a friend he’s stuck with me, in my mind, long after we went our own ways after high school graduation. The few times I’d spent at their house after school back in my youth provided me with more than enough fertile ground to plunder when I crafted my two snarky brothers as supporting characters for Elliot and Marco. The Lettau boys are solid guys. Obviously, I’ve not known what they’ve gotten up to since we parted ways so long ago, but the memory of who they were in my past had a profound effect on wanting to capture their spirit and their particular brand of living life that I knew I wanted to pay homage to them.
I know I run the risk of using their actual names in the work, but I think even though it may not be the kind of book either man would read, I think I’ve done right by them. Greg, after all, gets the girl of his dreams in the end. I wanted that for Greg, even back then. He will always be that quick witted, snarky guy with a heart of gold. The banter he had with his brother I recalled was epic. I’ve only barely scratched the surface with them – as in this scene from my soon-to-be released Angels prequel: Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part One: King of Imperfections.
The first scene I had between the brothers had to be key in setting the tone for them. These were two guys who expressed their love by bagging the shit out of the other. The harder you bagged, the more love you expressed. It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before – completely foreign to how my world worked. And I remember loving the shit out of how they did it. They never missed a beat between them.
That is, until Greg gave me the greatest gift with his next words.
“Oh yeah. They live out on Oak Ridge Way out on the south-east part of town, up near the oak forest area – well, where the oaks and redwoods sorta mingle. Kinda the last house in town, if you know what I mean. You ever been out that way?” He eyed me for a second before turning the station on the TV to the science channel. This kid really was the quintessential geek.
I shook my head, “No, not really. Why?”
“Ah, well you just seemed the athletic type, being a jock and all.” He gave me a snarky roll of his eyes before continuing, “It’s fairly nice to hike up there sometimes. Hell, if I was half the friend to Elliot that I say I am, I should haul his ass up there for a bit. I know he could use the companionship. I sometimes worry ‘bout the guy, ya know?”
“Why? You think he’ll go all postal one day?”
“Nah, nothing like that. He’s to empathetic to go postal. He’d feel it way too much, ya know? But he’s definitely got a fairly lonely existence. Sometimes I’ve spotted him sitting out along the stands in the stadium – just drawing a bit in that sketchbook he carries around in his backpack while he eats his lunch. You know, way away from everyone. Serious loner stuff. And he’s a really great guy. I mean, I’m not going all gay for him, but he really is very smart and has a twisted as fuck sense of humor. I enjoy his company when we do get a chance to talk. I think he just is thankful that he has someone at school he can relate to a bit. I just can’t imagine how going to a school that holds nearly seven hundred kids and he’s only got pathetic me to chat up every now and then. Sad, really.”
“Maybe I should remedy that, then? I mean, if he’s as cool as you say he is.”
“Yeah, well, Elliot’s right on that score, bud. It’s one thing if the horn-rimmed math geek gets caught chatting him up from time to time. I mean, no one really pays any attention to math geeks unless its the jocks picking on ‘em because the gay kid ain’t around to bag on, ya know? For you, it’s a whole other thing. He’s right. It wouldn’t work out. Just the way it is.”
“Yeah, well, they don’t know dick about me.”
“Well, at the risk of pissing you the fuck off, it wouldn’t matter. This shit’s bigger than the both of us. Always has been, always will be. Ya know?”
I had to shrug at that. I knew the playbook about Jocks and inter-class social associations. The shrug was a requisite at this point if I was to maintain any credibility. Nothing but a pure acknowledgment of the rule book we both were playing by.
I had more than my fair share of intel on what I wanted on Elliot. Fuck me, when I thought on it, I’d hit the mother lode. I mean, now I knew where he lived. If it was where I thought it was, then I was in fucking hog heaven. I never drove out that way and I was kind of glad that the Impala I had back home wasn’t quite ready for her first run on the road since I’d rebuilt her engine. I still had a few things to fix on her before I got her that official armor of black paint to make her just as bad-assed as the Winchesters’ car on Supernatural. From the time I saw the first episode I was hooked and that car is what did it: full on classic muscle car. I could only hope Elliot would like riding around in it.
I looked at my watch; it was still early but I should head out anyway, didn’t want to over-stay my welcome. ‘Sides, I had an itch to scratch that had Elliot’s home address written all over it. I needed to get out there and see if I could sort out where he was. My heart was racing with just the prospect of seeing him this afternoon.
“Well, I better get going. I got some errands to run before I get home and hit the homework.”
“You leavin’ already?” Kevin asked as he came back from the kitchen. He had a grin on his face so evidently he was in tight with his latest conquest. And here I was, pining over the gay kid on campus.
How fucking upside down is that?
“Yeah, I think I better. I got some shit I gotta take care of.”
“Don’tcha mean, someone to take care of?” Kevin snickered and suggestively mirrored his younger brother’s salacious expression a few moments earlier.
Brothers, I got it, more than they knew.
“Jesus, Kevin, give it a break. Not everyone in this world thinks with his dick like you do,” Greg moaned.
“We’re teenaged men, dip-shit. Even you think with that pencil sized piece you’re packin’ ,” Kevin retorted.
“Still a heap bigger than the thimble-sized chubby you try to force on your latest conquest,” Greg volleyed right back.
“Really, guys? Is this gonna end with each of you marking your territories by pissing here?” I countered to the both of them.
They both looked stunned that I’d insert myself with this very familiar form of brotherly love.
“‘Sides, I’m the one with the monster cock in this room so I got you both trumped,” I said as I started to walk towards the front door.
“Yeah, right,” Greg huffed as he slipped back down onto the sofa. I reached the door and Kevin took the knob from me and held door open.
“No. He’s right, lil’ brother. Even with both our cocks, this guy would still beat us.”
I stopped at the door and just wiggled my brows at them both. Kevin chortled a bit. Yeah, I knew he’d seen the python I got going because of the showers. Hell, even Beau stacked up short against the stallion.
“Fuck me,” Greg snorted. “How’s a geeky brother gonna get laid if we got Godzilla dick out there banging around?”
“Wait ’til Marco roars. Then you’ll see ‘em run. That’s when we bag ‘em, lil’ brother.” We fist bumped as I ducked out hearing Kevin laugh as he started to shut the door.
I just waved a hand without looking back as I got to the family Audi. I had a certain someone I needed to find: a certain boy who had my heart, a certain boy who I was more determined than ever to find my way into his arms. And I knew, I just knew, that I’d gained an invaluable ally in Greg Lettau. He was my key. I only had to find a way to get him to help me out. But I’d get to that later. I had more pressing matters on my mind just now.
Yet, that love they had for one another had to shine through, as evidenced when Greg moves off to grab his jacket and Kevin has a moment to speak with his teammate Marco giving Greg some Jock attention. Although, even in that, Kevin is clear that Greg can never know how he truly feels about it.
“What I said was that there was an opportunity to redeem yourself tonight. A few of us are going to the Hut for some pizza. You should come along. Make up for your serious fuck-up this afternoon.”
I scratched the back of my head considering it. I did have some homework to do, but it was a Thursday night. I guess it would keep until the weekend. I looked at Greg for a moment. His eyes kept conveying to me I had no way out on this one.
“Who’s all gonna be there?”
Kevin shrugged, “Beau, Willem and Mack and their latest squeezes, I guess. Fuck all if I know. I just know the guys specifically asked that you come along for dinner at the Hut.”
“How’d they know I’d be here?” I thought it was a valid question. It seemed to irritate Kevin a bit though.
“I don’t know. Maybe because they’ve seen you becoming besties with Greg here.”
Fuck, now I had the geek kid rep to deal with.
“On one condition.”
Kevin stitched his brow, unsure of what was going to come out of my mouth next.
“I want Greg to ride shotgun.”
Greg looked like he was about to shit a brick over that one. “What? Hey, you can leave me outta this …”
Kevin chuckled, “It would be a bit odd to bring my kid brother along. Might make it a bit awkward for him, too. ‘Sides, I get enough of his lip as it is …”
“Not an option,” I dug my heels in.
“Dude …” was all Greg said as he sighed and shook his head. I didn’t care. I needed an ally if I was going to walk into dealing with that suspicious crew.
I collapsed on the sofa between them both. “Sorry, bro.” I mumbled.
Kevin quirked an eyebrow at that. “You two want to get a room or something? I mean, don’t let me stop you from your budding bromance.”
Greg blushed a bit harder than I thought he needed to. Evidently, he was a bit sensitive about the whole being thought of as a fag thing. But I guess when you weren’t a jock, then you might have cause to be a bit sensitive about it. I observed Greg’s eyes darting to me to gauge my reaction. I didn’t have any, not really. I wasn’t one to harbor weird shit like oh don’t say that, it offends me …
Playing football or hell, any team sport, tended to thicken your skin pretty damned quick or you were out on your ass. Tom Hanks said it best, even if the quote was about baseball: There’s no crying, none. Well, maybe if you lost an important game, but even then you cried your ass off silently, under the shower where no one else could see. I knew the drill. A little bromance joke would accomplish nothing to get under my skin. Only Greg couldn’t leave a line like that dangling without a proper sibling response though.
“Well, at least I’m smart enough not to go out with the likes of you. Speaking of which, how’s things with Suzy, lately?”
Kevin’s smirk faded quickly. His gaze became far more pointed. I still didn’t know what Greg had done but whatever it was, it had to’ve been big.
“Whatever, little brother.”
“Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.”
I looked at my watch: five fifteen. “So what time are we supposed to be there?” I looked over at Kevin.
He shrugged, “I guess around six or so. No one really said.”
I chuckled, “Yeah, that figures.”
I spared a beat while we all watched Guy Fieri chow down on a sandwich that looked like it would guarantee a heart attack just by inhaling the fumes let alone macking down on it like there was no tomorrow. I slapped Kevin’s leg as I pushed off the sofa.
“Well, I’m gonna go home and get sorted. Meet ya there?”
I turned to Greg, “Wanna tag along?”
Greg’s eyes darted to his brother’s – a beat.
“I’m thinking of taking the Impala out for her maiden run.”
Greg face lit up with that. I’d been telling him about it from time to time so he was eager to see what I’d done so far. I already sensed that Greg had a hard-on for the muscle car I was working on. The fact that I’d even suggested that he could ride shotgun on her maiden ride seemed to put him to the edge of cumming all over himself.
I nodded, “Yeah, no time like the present, right?”
“Right on …” He got up and made his way down the hall to his room. “Give me a sec to grab a jacket.”
After he’d disappeared Kevin watched me with a greater interest.
“Greg. I bag on his ass a lot but, and I’ll kick your ass if you ever say that I told you this, but I love the little douchebag. It’s sorta cool you giving him some attention. It wouldn’t mean half as much if it came from me. Big brother n’ all.”
I stretched, then shrugged, “Nah, it’s cool. He’s a great guy. But dude, I so gotta do something about pulling him outta his math geek shell. Dude will never get laid if he keeps going the way he’s goin’.”
Kevin chuckled a bit loudly at that as Greg emerged from the hallway.
“What’d I miss?”
“Eh, it’s nothin’,” Kevin offered, a smirk still coloring his face. I couldn’t help but smile the tiniest bit as well.
Greg stopped dead in his tracks.
“Okay, what the fuck? Out with it. Somebody said something about me and now you both are grinnin’ like you just put one over on me. So what gives?”
I shook my head and approached Greg. I put a hand on his shoulder and started to guide him out the front door.
“It’s nothing, bro. Let’s get a move on before the team has another whine session about my blowin’ them off. Say good-bye, Kevin.”
Kevin shook his head and grabbed the remote from where Greg had unceremoniously dumped it. “Good-bye, Kevin…” he snorted at the two of us making our way out the door.
“Whatever, bro. You both are acting weird,” Greg murmured as I guided him out to the family Audi sitting in front of their house.
Greg could be like a pit-bull with a thought. As soon as he closed the door to the car he was on me with it. “So what did that fucktard of a brother really say?”
I chuckled, “That really does get into your shit, doesn’t it?”
“What? Kevin? You have no idea.”
He shook his head as he put on his seatbelt.
But it was more than just how they bagged on one another. You had to feel the thread of love that ran through it all. For that I had to stop, close my eyes and shut out the world and just listen to those moments I spent in their house, listening and observing them being themselves.
Greg told me that he was making a bit of progress with Elliot regarding the jocks on campus. I asked him to work on getting Elliot talked into going out for the tennis team like I’d overheard that one morning. That proved to be a little tougher to work out. Elliot seemed open to the idea of playing. He told Greg he would get into that part of it, even enjoy the tournaments he’d have to go to. All of that seemed okay. Only one thing he couldn’t get around.
“Being a jock. That’s what he can’t wrap his head around,” Greg admitted to me at one of my after school visits at his place.
He seemed particularly worried about how I took that update. I had to admit, it didn’t suit my fancy too much.
“Does that mean he’s not going to do it?”
Without directly answering, Greg flipped to one of the food networks where we watched some blonde chef boozing it up while throwing some cans of soup on a chicken breast and calling it cooking.
“What I want to know is, why is it so important that he go out for the team?”
“Uh, jock? Something in common between us? Any of this ringing a bell for ya?”
“Yeah, okay. I getcha there. I thought of it, too, ya know. But I dunno, Marco. Elliot’s got a weird streak when it comes to guys like you. And before you go off half-cocked, you gotta realize he’s been harassed and belittled for several years now by guys who became jocks. It’s a learned response. He sees the danger and rightly goes the other way. It’s how he’s survived. Of course he’s gonna rail against becoming one of you, even if it’s a game he really likes to play. It still involves becoming one. He’s having a real hard time getting around that.”
I sighed, running my hands down my face.
“Forget it. This whole thing is bat-shit crazy” I got up and began to pace around the living room.
“What’s bat-shit crazy?” Kevin walked in through the front door. “Dude, where the fuck were you?”
Confused, I looked around me, “Uh, I think that’s fairly obvious. Been here, pencil-dick.”
Greg snorted at that one.
“Yeah, I see, but you were supposed to be down at the cliffs with the guys, asswipe. We missed you out there. You know – some quality bud time? And I find you here, holed up with my geeky kid brother.”
“Wow, fucktard, way to feel the brotherly love…” Greg deadpanned.
“No, not like that, dick scum. I mean that Marco knows what team building is like. We do some social stuff together, too. This was one of our days to blow off some steam and he wasn’t anywhere to be found. So not cool, Sforza. So …” he plopped his massive frame down on the sofa and grabbed the bag of chips Greg had thrown on the table between us, “…what the fuck, bro? How does my brother rate when your teammates are having a rather illegal kegger out along the cliffs?”
“Oh yeah, that’s a great place to serve alcohol illegally to a bunch of dumb jocks. Let’s give guys who are hormonely challenged and mentally deprived and have them imbibe along a precipice that’s only a hundred forty feet above the ocean. Yeah, sign me the fuck up. Fuckin’ YouTube heaven, that shit is,” Greg tossed out.
“We are not a bunch of dumb jocks,” Kevin groused leaning in toward his brother to press his point.
“I’ve seen your grades; your position in this debate is questionable.”
He grabbed the chips from his elder brother. I sat back down and watch the sibling rivalry play out, thankfully obscuring my social faux pas. Kevin had the right of it though. I should’ve been out with the guys. Only this whole Elliot thing really did a number on me. Even while I listened to Kevin and Greg verbally pound on each other, a small sense of gratitude moved through me that I had a bit of time to sort out my shit. It did give me some concern that I hadn’t handled all of this with any degree of grace. I needed to get my game face on.
It’s moments like that I tried like hell to capture about these two remarkable boys from my past. Vibrant young men, each of them comfortable in their skin, but they never made me feel less because I was the queer kid. It all just … was. So how do I not run the risk of pissing them the fuck off? Mostly because I did change up quite a few elements about them for the work. My Greg and Kevin Lettau are not the actual Lettaus by a long shot. There are very similar threads, but by and large they are of my own making. As I said, an homage to who they were/are from my youth.
So Greg, don’t know what you’re up to. Don’t know where life has taken you and how it’s all panned out for you, but just know, that some small thread of you, some essence I observed and committed to memory, lives on and bears your name. It’s not you. It was never intended to be you. It was simply my way of acknowledging to the world what great guy I thought you were back then. No page can truly capture your dry wit, and plucky bon monts. That part is wholly you. I’m just winking in your direction and saying, “Thanks, for all of it.”
Until next time …
– SA C
For My First Fan – Why I Write
For Michael Rumsey – on his birthday.
Writing is a strange business. There are so many reasons why authors write. For some it is because they have this burning sensation to get a story out there. Something that has germinated to the point of festering that if you don’t put it down on digital or physical paper then you’ll very likely go mad.
Madness is often a trait all writers share. We’re quirky people by nature. Mostly because we eye the world in a very particular way. Whether your write fiction or not, you job is to chronicle what we see and what we experience and what is possible in this world. We are stewards and documenters of the human condition in all its varied expressions – factional and fictional alike.
Some write because they hope they’ll hit the motherlode, the big pay-off and will be surrounded by the wealth and recognition that burning desire to write demands of their work. Actually, thinking upon it, that doesn’t apply to just some writers. I’d go so far to say that it goes for nearly 2/3, if not more, of the writing community that’s out there.
Recognition is nice. Money is nice (hell, money doesn’t hurt no matter what line of work you take on). All of those are very good reasons to write.
But that’s not why I do it.
Oh, to be sure, I have a burning inside to put a story (or seven at my current count) down in digital bytes and bits. That part is true for me. Their pseudo-fiction, too. While I weave stories with heightened drama, operatic in scope against a mundane landscape, the human elements are deeply rooted in real life experiences of my queer brothers (and sisters) that I’ve collected over the years.
It’s no small revelation. I’ve said as much before on the podcast, probably to the point of ad nauseum for some of our listeners (I do try to curb that, honestly).
I’ve even said as much in an earlier blog post. So none of what I’ve stated is new. What I have been asked (either by articles about the craft of writing that posed this question, or by other authors in our discussions on the WrotePodcast), is “who is your audience?”
That’s an interesting question. For me, the answer is far different I should think than my author pals I’ve come to know and respect. I write for gay men who, for one reason or another, are isolated from our community. That took me a while to sort out, too.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate other people who love what I do, because I do. But they are not my intended audience. I write for a fraction of a fraction of a readership. I am not aiming at the “sky’s the limit” stratosphere of recognition or wealth. I’d be nice, but I don’t kid myself that it’s going to happen.
My husband said early on:
“You know who you’re writing to. You’ve already figured it out, even if it hasn’t made itself known to you.”
He’s a retired psychiatrist (as well as a quantum mechanics physicist that worked for NASA and JPL) so he tends to give me Gandalf-like tidbits of wisdom when I least expect it.
What is different with this blog post is that today is the birthday of my very first fan.
Michael and I met via a website that was set up to foster those people, who, for one reason or another, felt disenfranchised or removed from the greater GLBT community (either by circumstance (they are still closeted or physically remote enough that finding others of our community is simply not possible). For the most part there are a lot of young people who populated the site. It’s a cool place and a valid resource as the moderators there try to keep people of our community connected to resources that can provide assistance and a place to congregate online so they feel a little less removed. This has always been a passion of mine, to connect with others who don’t feel connected. To say, “I see you. Let’s become friends.”
Michael was one of those men who joined the site.
I can’t say why I reached out to him. I think it was that I had reached a point writing Angels of Mercy where I wanted some feedback on the work and I opened it up in one of the forums on the site for queer people to inquire about it and to read it and give me feedback. Michael was the first to do so.
We struck up a casual conversation via the message board/forum and quickly migrated to email correspondence. Eventually this progressed to exchanging phone numbers because some of what we talked about just would’ve been easier over the phone rather than long winded emails.
When I met Michael he really felt the need to connect. To be honest, by his own admission, he hadn’t been a reader much in the years he spent in a hetero marriage, with kids, too. He’d gotten a divorce, moved to CA and spent some time getting to know some people in the GLBT community. Family matters brought him back to the country of Michigan (where he is when I met him and where he is now) and pretty much removed him from queer life. In many respects Michael needed contact. He needed to talk about stuff. But Michael was also intrigued by my work. So I gave it to him.
I waited and I sat on egg shells while he had it. He came back to me a couple of days later. I was on pins and needles (as the saying goes) to find out what he thought.
Because, you see, he was the first person outside of family and close friends who read the work as I worked on it. So his opinion mattered in so many ways. He fell in love with my boys from Mercy High. I was beyond elated. I’d made a connection. One that truly mattered because not only did he like what he read, but over time he’d progressed to reading quite a bit of queer fiction. I’d put books back into his life. That was truly the most awesome gift I could receive. Greater than any five star review, greater than all the blog posts and adulation my work could receive, that singular conversation after he’d read the work and wanted to talk about Elliot, Marco, Danny and the rest had me soaring for days after.
It was then that my husband’s words about the work before I’d handed it to anyone came back to me. I was writing for Michael. I write for those men who feel remote, removed and crave some reflection of their lives and loves.
I’ve been enriched by my continuing conversations with him. We’ve not had the pleasure to meet in person. It simply hasn’t been possible for quite a few reasons. But we stay connected. Whenever I am in doubt, I seek out his opinion on things. Over time he is not the only queer man who has come to me and said that Angels gave them something, made their world a little less remote. They felt connected to my boys, they talk about them as if they’re real. I know the feeling.
I even wrote a short story about werewolves during the NaNoWriMo event back in 2014, going so far as to write him in as one of the characters. Michael loves werewolves. It’s a series I started just for him. (Yeah, yeah, Michael, I know, I need to get the next one out there … I’m working on it!)
But Michael was the first. He is my goto whenever I want an opinion on something. I value his thoughts and his attentiveness to what I do.
So Michael, on your special day, I wanted to acknowledge that I see you, I am so proud to call you my friend. I am thankful for the conversations we’ve held – both book related and about life in general. I value each time you look my way and have something to say – even if it’s just “hey …”.
You’re a treasure, Michael. My first fan. My good friend. Happiest of birthdays. I wish you nothing but the best. And yes, one day we’ll find an Elliot to call your very own.
Count on it.
Until next time …
– SA C
Mohawks, CDIB and the Alt-Worlds of Sci-Fi
So, last time I wrote about my real passion in writing: The Cove Chronicles. I was in the middle of working on it when Angels of Mercy descended and railroaded my Mohawk natives and their epic Lord of the Rings gone native tale.
Needless to say, my now two-year preoccupation with my boys from Mercy High have made my natives a bit restless. They want their tale told. So while I know I gotta get Marco’s backstory, and Pietro’s wrap-up completed in Angels so I can put the original vision to bed, I am fairly itching to get to the story that matters the most to me.
My first love has always been Sci-Fi (Science Fiction). But it has been a love/hate sort of thing. Love of the imaginative worlds, love the geeky gadgetry and extrapolated (sometimes stretching to the outright nope, no way that’s ever gonna happen but I guess I’ll run with it for the sake of the fucking story to see where it goes sorta thing) realms of what’s possible. Love the utopian/dystopian ways to examine humanity and our flaws. A great literary lens to examine what we do and why we do it. And I’ve always been about the headspace of that.
So yeah, love, love, love it.
And I also hate it. Hate it with a burning passion. Why? Because of two things that are still very prevalent to this day: Lack of queer characters and people of color as the main protag. And yes, I’ll cop to the fact I’ve not read everything that’s out there. But by and large, white washing is prevalent in most of those tales. Even where it’s not overtly stated, it’s fairly certain, given the nature of the writing and the author involved, that a lot of that is what dominates the landscape.
I am an author who is both queer, and a person of color (remember, Collins is a pen name).
My heritage is a mix with Latino on my mother’s side and native on my father’s.
It’s one of the reasons I am writing Cove with such a burning passion to get it out there. I want native peoples, Mohawks (and the rest of the Haudenosaunee nations – Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and Seneca) to be the heroes of these tales. It is a series of books that I have mapped out. I’ve been working on this off and on for nearly two decades. Tending to it here and there. I have several handwritten volumes of notes, I have Mohawk dictionaries to keep the vernacular down from my protag’s perspective. It’s been a real passion of mine.
But I had other reasons for writing it. I wanted the protags to be two men. Two native men. At least where it would begin. You see this epic journey also parallels the evolution of the Haudenosaunee as a people. I am taking all of their mythic stories and translating them, (*ahem, JK Rowling, ahem, are you paying attention, ahem*) and breathing a big ol’ burst of what if’s into them. To be safe, to be respectful, I decided early on to make this a parallel universe. I wanted to represent the culture, but not rewrite it. And I certainly wasn’t going to whitewash the fuck out of it, either.
But what does it mean to be a native protag in a genre that has precious little of us represented in it? What could I do with those amazing core value stories and give them a new platform with which to express their purpose and have characters demonstrate through their tale, the depth of why those stories continue to exist and be promoted to this day?
It’s a rather daunting task. One I don’t take lightly.
But I also wanted to pose the question, because it’s a very big one in the native community to this day, of what quantifies being native? What degree of blood says you are a part of the club? Natives wrestle with this all the time. Tribal councils have established guidelines in each nation to define what it means and how we quantify that blood line to say who is and who isn’t. Yet, natives have always been, historically speaking (and often to our own detriment and even demise) an inclusive people. There are a great many tales of white settlers who left their world in favor of ours. Some are over romanticized to the point of eye rolls so large that the pupils might get stuck in the back of your head sort of ways, but there you are, it happened.
The federal government even pushed, some would say bullied, the establishment of CDIB – probably the worst possible thing that has happened to us. CDIB stands for Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. So now, there’s a license to be native. The very idea is abhorrent fairly universally in the native community, yet, it has become the barometer that has poisoned many tribal council’s views on tribal membership. Don’t even get me started on the effects of casino money being involved now because then the discussion (if you can call it that) gets a whole lot worse.
So what quantifies being native? Does descendancy count? Sure, but that will only get you so far. Case in point, my father was native (he passed nearly twenty years ago). But in our culture the lines are matrilineal so membership comes from the mother’s bloodline. In this case, I cannot be an enrolled member because my mother is Latina. Now, the Clan Mothers (who govern such matters) can make exceptions. I just haven’t gone there. Mostly because it’s a lot of work to initiate the petition. And to be honest, I get the traditional nature of it all. It’s my lot in life. Dad got it directly, I did not. It’s fairly simple. The way it goes sometimes. But it doesn’t mean I can’t represent. It doesn’t mean I can’t be proud of where my pops came from. I grew up hearing stories about his life on the rez. In many respects, I am writing Cove for him.
So, yeah, Native in Sci-Fi. Mohawks, at that. But why the fuck not? But here was my little twist. My husband is Mohawk. But he is a mix as well and the other side of his family (he’s traced that side of his family back to Charlemagne – documentation and all – its quite epic all on its own) is nearly a who’s who of European and early American figures straight out of the history books. I’ve taken one such person from his own family tree on that English line, Elizabeth Fonnes Winthrop Feake Hallett (yes, those Winthrops of Boston, no less) and changed her lineage after coming to these shores and inserted my protag as a son that didn’t exist. What’s more I gave him a twin sister who is gonna be such a kick ass strong female character that I can’t wait to put her down on the page. Since I was alt-worlding it, I decided to insert the Mohawk line into their family as well. If only to bring up the question of native lineage and what constituted being a recognized member of that society.
From the onset, I have a character, William Matthias Hallett, who for all intents and purposes appears to be quite a dandy and peacock of Manhattan’s burgeoning high society of the early 1800’s America. He only wears the finest clothing, adheres to the proper social ettiequte and societal mores of the times, yet, William has a secret. William craves adventure above all else. So he ventures into the denizens of the Five Points to find the adventure he seeks. So from the beginning the reader assumes that he is like any other white male protag that dominates Sci-Fi works. But William has another secret: he is 3/4 Mohawk – his mother and grandmother are both Mohawk women who married into the Hallett line. He’s grown up with fanciful tales of Mohawk culture, but he always relegated them to just that – tales to tell restless boys so they’ll go to bed – and nothing more.
He’s about to be schooled by a Mohawk man from his school days at Dartmouth. The outcome of which not only provides him an adventure of a lifetime, but gives him back his culture in a way that he never imagined. And it brings the love of his life to him in a very unusual way.
I’ll admit I’ve struggled a bit with finding a visual Mohawk native man to give you a sense of who Joss Lightfoot is. Mostly because there simply aren’t a whole lot of native men in male modeling, let alone the specifics of being Haudenosaunee. So here’s the guy I am currently going with. Not Mohawk, but definitely has the characteristics of who Joss Lightfoot is.
This is a work in progress. Still rough around the edges. The tale starts in 1821 Manhattan but ends up in a fictitious town in Northern California called Hallett’s Cove that concludes in our modern times. The vernacular of the prose is meant to be reminiscent of the 1800’s when the story is set there, it will evolve to being more contemporary when we get to that part of the story. It is very much a story about family and culture as much as it is the old battle of good vs. evil.
One author note – I use the double colons (::) to signify mental speech – as my protags become mentally linked, which gives their romance a whole new thing to tangle with.
So, here is the first chapter of The Cove Chronicles: The Observational Prowess of William Matthias Hallett.
Wherein we meet William Matthias Hallett, a man of independent means and stature, doing everything he can to put a swift end to it all.
The Observational Prowess of William Matthias Hallett.
All Hallow’s Eve – October 31, 1847
Satan’s Circus, The Five Points, Manhattan
The name alone conjures up a visage of villainy.
A bright red effigy of Satan nailed to the doorway of the tavern made no pretense as to what sort of clientele this establishment served. Gluttony and wickedness made a home here.
To be sure, as taverns went, she did not disappoint. The Circus was not where one went to hone their craft of skulduggery and malicious behavior. If you had to perfect your craft, you had best do it elsewhere. Only the most proficient sharks, wildcats and beasts could call The Circus their home.
Somehow, I had become somewhat of a regular. Clever enough to keep my nose clean and not to have fallen in with any of the gangs that controlled the Points, I navigated these treacherous waters. I cannot entirely explain how all of this was accomplished. A pastiche of luck, concealment, and all the bottom of a braggadocio had allowed me to slip in and out of her timbered halls, perhaps. At times I almost thought a cloak of invisibility had shielded me from them all. No one seemed to take notice unless I wanted to be noticed.
Which, for the most part, I did not.
The moment you entered the tavern, your senses were accosted in such a manner that, if unprepared, would bring a stronger man to his knees. People who drank much and bathed even less peppered her halls and floors. The putridity of the smells was second only to the sounds that pierced your ears: a raucous cacophony of braggarts and riffraff. In point of fact, she’s one of the busiest taverns in all of New York. Every conniving and devious cutthroat, and the harlots who often hung onto them like leeches sucking the men dry, whether caught up in their usual routine of either getting drunk or getting someone else drunk so as to take advantage of their inebriation — their game was always afoot.
Like maggots over carrion, the tavern was pressed to her walls with those who picked at the fetid remnants of life. On her opening day, she no doubt had been quite glorious. Looking at her now, it was clear that water had long ago passed under the bridge of time. A tawdry remnant of her bejeweled past. She boasted two levels and the only place where a body couldn’t occupy a spot were the large round columns that ran the gamut from floor to the second story above. Though, many tried to cling to them from time to time.
Music played continuously from a couple of piano players who alternated at banging away at the keys with little ear to the line of the tune they played. For the most part the music went either enjoined in a drunken and off-tune chorus, or ignored in its entirety. Fisticuffs and knifings became standard entertainment fare and people took more notice if the evening progressed and bodies hadn’t piled up. These were the dregs of society — no one would notice their absence.
I watched this myriad of immigrants as they scratched at each other and at life; for they did everything to eke out an existence for themselves on these shores. In all of the commotion, it would have been difficult to spot an oddity within the torrent of drunkardness. Save for one spot, a single well of calm that stood out from the rest of the establishment: a darkened alcove and its inhabitants on the far side of the tavern just to the left of the barkeep.
This alcove held my interest and became the sole purpose of why I came back to the Points and The Circus time and again.
I visited this very tavern in the hopes of observing something that deviated widely from the normal cutpurse fair. An adventure so decidedly wicked and filled with a sense of raw mystery as to satiate my soul for a lifetime. The gentlemen occupying the far alcove next to the barkeep I spoke of earlier, no doubt the key to such an undertaking, held my attention captive.
For the past four nights the events surrounding these men varied little: they would sit in the alcove, each barely visible in the subdued light. The first thing I noted was how out of place they seemed. Where everyone else bore the drab clothing of their station in life, from what I could discern of these men’s appearance, they seemed highly financed and respectable as evident in the richness of their clothing — an island of wealth amidst the poor. Ensconced there, silent and immobile, a wall of dark stoicism, they did little to dissuade me of my course. Indeed, it did everything to secure my thoughts in the reverse. No service came to their table and they made no attempt to gain the interest of a barmaid to change that.
They merely sat and waited.
The longer I observed them, the more intrigued I found myself by their presence and the great lengths everyone else seemed to not take any notice of them. These men, mysterious creatures confined in that darkened alcove, signaled to all around they alone occupied the top of the food chain — predators that preyed on other predators.
The alcove possessed only one source of light: a tiny sputtering candle jammed into a singular glass container. This poor excuse of a flame sputtered as if it had gleaned some prescient knowledge of the men’s depravity as it struggled to cast some illumination against the three darkly figures in close quarter. As far as I could tell, the only clear element in view, illuminated by their right hands lying on the table displayed the same signet ring of a double-headed eagle, a symbol I had seen before but for the moment could not ascertain where, gave me my only clue of their true identity.
From the subtle outline that small candle cast, they bore quite proudly their ostentatious attire, evident by the fullness of their black redingotes and framed in the glow of lanterns that hung directly above the alcove. This allowed me to take note of their black furred hats.
These three men of mystery, large in stature for they nearly filled the alcove with their presence, always appeared around the same time each night. Yet, I could not recall the exact time of their arrival. Even the barkeep did his best not to look into that alcove when they occupied it. I believe I even saw him visibly shudder last night as he had been watching the door and never spied their entrance and yet, in that alcove, as sure as a tick of the clock, they sat.
Lighting, never in abundant amounts in any of the Five Points establishments, as dark endeavors require darkened quarters to operate, made it difficult to discern actions. This particular alcove of Satan’s Circus exuded an even darker purpose, one that kept even the more frightening miscreants of the Points at bay. For some reason even I could not fathom, I found myself in exactly the opposite disposition — I was riveted.
For an hour or so, I sat and just watched them, forcing myself to drink the “cocktail” of ale that ran more in common to what I imagined pig’s piss-water might have been.
From what I gathered, the barkeep spent the prior day buying up the dregs from other more well-established taverns’ caskets of ale and tossed them together with little regard in the way of taste; for all I know he probably did add his own urine to the swill. I heard one woman call it Satan’s Arse Cleaner. She, being a frequent customer, and a lady of the evening, no doubt meant the double-entendre when she would yell to the barkeep to give ‘er the SAC. I did not think her commentary far off the mark on that account.
Yet here I sat, observing these men who held me spellbound each night since they first made themselves known four nights prior. I do not know if they took notice of my stare from afar. I talked to no one, just sat there, tolerated the SAC and waited for my adventure to unfold, for I knew it would most certainly involve these three men.
Around nine of the clock on each of the preceding nights, a young lad of no more than seven or eight strode into the tavern and walked right up to their table. No one stopped the lad, no one seemed to take notice of him at all, save for myself.
He would speak to them for but a few moments, then he would turn and leave out the front door of the tavern. By the time I watched him go and turned my head back to watch what would happen next, the men would be gone. They just seemed to vanish into thin air. From the first time I witnessed it I thought I had imagined the whole routine. To be sure, I decided to gamble with my safety and changed my position to be closer to their alcove so I could observe their departure on the following night, again, to no avail. One moment there, and the next gone. The lack of lighting in the alcove did not help matters to be sure, but whether near or far, the result was the same: there one moment, gone the next.
Well, tonight I surmised, would provide a new game. I knew I had the right of it. What put me onto it I could not say, but I could just feel it in the air. Tonight, the fifth night of this mystifying rendezvous, something found itself precariously at the tipping point. Disappointment would not be the order of the evening as I would soon discover the nature of their darker purpose.
As I sipped what I could from the devil’s SAC, I realized that the men had waited much longer for the boy to arrive. They had no perceptible change in their posture to warrant my feeling, but the moment seemed pressed just a little harder. A tightening of the screw, so to speak. The edge to them was palpable. Whatever news the boy brought this evening bore the utmost urgency for these three men. As if on cue, the boy moved as he had each night before. Despite seeing him the previous four nights, this time I took real notice of him.
A lowly immigrant boy, of that there was no doubt, he bore his station in the tattered clothes marked with the filth of the Points. But the boy’s face. Now there a marked change revealed itself to me. Most of the youth in this part of Manhattan, relegated to cutthroat tactics just to survive their childhood, what little there was of it, etched that tough life upon them at an early age. To be sure, this young lad took his life in his hands, scratching out what little he could just to keep his head above the torrents of the Points and make it to his teens years, let alone adulthood. Yet, in his countenance he possessed an almost angelic repose to his visage. A proper looking lad, that had the singular misfortune of being cast among the poorest of the poor, he probably stood out from the more average fair of the child riffraff. For a moment, I fancied seeing him cast in a different light altogether, one where he would have the finest clothing, food and education. I guess the thing that struck me most about him that, save for our respective lots in life, he could be me at that age.
As with the previous four nights, he strode with purpose to the darkened recess. A young man willingly engaging what the more aggressive and salient of the cutthroats dare not do. He spoke with them very quickly and the men stirred. For the first time their faces came into the glow of the small candle’s flame. It wavered, cowering a bit, as if their malevolence would snuff it from existence.
Each man in that sputtering light, clearly a foreigner. Their hats, now fully in view established the tell-tale give away. Once they made themselves known to me, I identified them fully: Russians.
How odd to find them so far away from their home and in the Points. What possibly could they have to do in New York in this house of inequity? Though well groomed, each of them possessed a darkness to their eyes and did not bother to feign even the slightest element of any good-doing on their part. As the boy spoke, the men exchanged a silent but knowing look with each other, clearly taking whatever report the boy brought them to their liking. The man in the middle said something to his companions, gave instruction to the boy and then the most amazing thing happened: the men physically got up! Their quick movement caused me to jolt and I dropped the cup of swill I had. It clanked to the floor, though with the raucous sounds around me no one took note of my mishap. Cursing at my obvious blunder, I scrambled to retrieve the cup. However, by the time I had set it right onto the table top next to me, they’d taken their leave of the tavern!
I glanced at the door, only to catch a whisper of black redingote sweeping through it and out into the night.
At least this time, I have not lost them entirely …
I moved quickly from the table to the door and out into the square that was quite literally teaming with activity. A key point to survival in the Points, you had to keep moving. A stationary man was a target for any number of assailants to descend upon you and pick you apart. In some cases, that included the scattering of your bones, as well.
I had to find the men quickly and keep moving along in this stream of sharks and piranhas. I scanned the small marshy patch that stood as the Points common. This tattered piece of earth, where bare meager strands of grass dared to show themselves. Blades of life, symbolic of the plight of the immigrants who called this part of town their home, meager threads of life pitted against a harsh wasteland, provided the only piece of undeveloped earth the Points had to offer as a public meeting place. A place where many a man had met their demise – publicly, too. I did not wish my adventure to come to such a conclusion.
The Five Points were where Cross and Orange streets intersected with Anthony, bordered on the east and west by Water and Mulberry streets. Hell’s residence on earth, if there ever was one. And now I found myself swimming in the rip current of their existence.
And therein lie my current problem: I labored too long to find the men. A woman, who might have been quite striking save for how life had dealt her blow upon blow so that now she bore the visage of a mere shadow of what God had intended at birth to qualify as beauty, made her way toward me. The purposefulness of her stride left little doubt that I had a target painted upon me and it had only been not more than ten or so seconds on the sidewalk.
However, an added benefit to my notice of her advance, for just behind her I spied the last of the gentlemen making their way down Cross toward Mulberry. I surmised their goal lie beyond the Points, but as to their exact destination, their plan escaped me. The wharf, perhaps? I did not know for certain. ’Twas the only thing I could think of that lie in that direction. I moved from my spot trying in vain to circumvent the advancing barracuda harlot.
“Well now, a buck of a man like yerself. Where ya off to in such a hurry?”
She stood in front of me, attempting to ply her trade upon me, as if I could not deduce her ulterior motive. I would have definitely been put off by the state of her teeth which ran the gamut from putrid yellow to mildewing green and resolving themselves into decaying black. And if that were not enough, her breath billowed about me with a mixture of the death that had already manifested itself within her and whatever ale she had consumed thus far to mask – poorly – the putridity of her pre-decomposition.
She, for all intents and purposes, embodied a walking prostitute corpse. If I was clear on one thing, Necromancy did not fall under the classification of adventure. I possessed little stomach for death. Little did I know how wrong I was to be on this singular salient point.
“Eh, not interested,” I said with much haste and attempted to slip from the grasp of her left arm around my neck, entwined like a serpent hellbent upon consumption. Adam should have kept a better eye on Eve as the female sex had learnt too much from that reptilian encounter of biblical verse.
“Ah now, a strapping buck of a man like yourself, howzabout a quick one in the alley way?”
She ground her hip against my thigh and the frailty of her form along with her breath nearly made me wretch. However, I had not lost sight of her ulterior motive, which was to rob me of my money whilst she plied the dregs of her feminine wiles upon me. She did not think I noticed the sly movement of her right hand that ingeniously held a small knife where she was actively slicing the threads along my pocket and the few coins I had stashed there.
“I said, no, thank you,” as I slipped from her grasp and she attempted to move on with my coins in her right hand for which I promptly grabbed and applying the right pressure to her wrist, I forced her hand to relinquish the coins back into my own. I smiled and moved on, the confident winner in our cutpurse mazurka. I pushed my finger through the hole of the jacket, silently cursing that at some point I’d have to mend it but pressed on lest my adventure slip away from me. And I had little intention of allowing that to pass.
She stood there eyeing me with a knowing look, as if to memorize every last line of me so she could challenge me anon.
Good luck with that m’dear.
As I moved down Cross Street in pursuit of the men I spared a glance back at her and noticed that while she took stock of her loss, she unwittingly broke the rule of the Points as well, standing too long in one spot. For now she was being accosted by some young boy who obviously deigned to pickpocketing her tattered purse.
“Barracudas beware the little piranhas …” I said to myself as I moved out of their view.
I finally reached the corner of Mulberry. I stopped and scanned the other three options on that corner until I spotted them to my right heading down Mulberry toward the docks.
“Just as I thought,” though who I was speaking to was beyond me as I had no one to accompany me on this quest. I guess I took stock that I still had survived another night in the Points and now had a lead on what might unfold before me.
I stealthily raced along Mulberry Street, and in my haste I had closed the distance to barely a half block behind the imposing quartet. I could not see the boy as the three imposing dark figures were surrounding him. Only when we had moved several blocks toward the docks along side the Battery did I notice that the men had produced rather odd-looking walking canes. Long and darkly metallic, as if made from a gun metal that was highly polished and gleamed in what little reflective light this hour held. I had not noticed the canes before, and this piece of male accoutrement would have sure caught my eye, for I possessed a rather large and tasteful collection of walking canes at home.
The night air was becoming chilled as we moved down along the river front. Yet, for some reason I could not discern, an awareness came upon me that I may not be the only one doing the following. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as if, like a predator being caught up in chasing his prey, I never bothered to take note that a larger predator was on my heels throughout the course of the chase. I did my best to convince myself that it was nothing more than the thrill of the oncoming adventure that had me so on edge and keyed up.
::This is not your game, William … ::
I stopped suddenly as that voice sounded off in what I thought at first played upon my ear, as if whispered to me and me alone. I looked around and there was not a soul in sight, save for the quartet moving off further the longer I stayed and tried to figure out what had just happened. The only sounds present were my quick, panicked breaths.
::You should go home, Will … this is not for you::
I spun around, employing every means at my disposal to catch the culprit whisperer only to find that breathing and most assuredly the rapid beating of my heart keeping me company instead.
Damn it all, that infernal voice!
At first I might have mistaken it for my own inner voice warning me to be wary of what I was doing, but upon review, I realized that the voice bore little resemblance to mine at all. Though, somehow I knew I had heard the voice before.
Who in blazes could it be?
I precious little time to think upon it as my conundrum foursome made their way just beyond where I could make them out. I renewed my efforts to close the distance.
A few moments later and I found myself only ten or so feet behind them, slightly worried now that whatever throng that recently occupied this area had thinned out to just a few people along the waterfront. I decided to duck into one of the building doorways to allow a tad more distance between me and my quarry trying not to draw too much attention upon myself. The rouse worked as I observed that one of the men to the rear of their group happened to glance back just as I slipped from view and into that darkened doorway.
Rather than suddenly appearing along the path at a later time, I decided to dart across the street to the other side and appear as if I had approached from dockside, and merely paralleling their advance down the road. It was then that I felt the pursuer being pursued feeling again. Only now it seemed to overtake myself and whip along the street as a gust of air that came from out of nowhere, yet carried none of the chill. In point of fact, the breeze felt oddly warm and held a very familiar scent to it, though I could not recall with every part of my being working upon it, where I had smelled it before. So now I had a voice to pair with the olfactory sensation of a moment ago. I knew the two connected themselves somehow. I stalled momentarily as I contemplated this, before picking up the pace again along the sidewalk nearest the docks, lest I lose them altogether.
After a couple of more blocks I closed the distance between us to within a half block. We had traversed three full city blocks at this point when they suddenly turned down a dark alleyway. This could not bode well for the boy. Even so, I still could not fathom why he would be in the company of such queer Russian figures in this part of town. Two of the men were sleek, with dark features and smartly clipped beards. Encased in black stylish suits but their waistcoats were of some of the finest damask looking silver silk I had ever beheld.
My eyes roved once more to their more than fetching walking canes. It was this feature that allowed me to spot them. The canes seemed to gleam, catching the dim gas lit streets that dotted along the wharf. As I came to the entrance of the alley, I paused. This alley in particular gave no quarter for relief from a survival standpoint for in point of fact, it was not open to the sky above, but a closed bricked tunnel of a passage. Never a good idea to enter one unless you knew all access points to and from the enclosure. I did not relish putting myself through this part of the adventure, but I would not shirk my course now. I peered into it and squinted as best I could, to discern what little the light afforded me, which was not much.
Nothing. Naught but the dwindling echo of the men’s footsteps at the far end of it.
Well, at least they have not dispatched with the lad.
I walked closer to the opening and placed a palm against its surface. I turned my head a little to determine if my ears could pick up what my eyes could not. Steeling every auditory prowess at my disposal, I concentrated on blocking the sounds from the remaining cacophonous ramblings of the dockside street and into the dark vacuousness of the tunnel. When all hope had nearly escaped me, I heard something which made my heart race. From the sound of their voices I determined they had emerged at the far end of the long tunnel.
“So you are sure that the requisite number of bodies have been procured.”
“Without a doubt, sir. Just as you required. I have them assembling now as we speak to the right of the shanty, as you’ll see, but remember I promised each of them a half-dollar as a token of your promise to provide them with better lives once they reach the west coast.”
The boy carried himself well with these imposing figures that surrounded him, but I could not believe my ears. If my ears did not deceive me, and I had no reason to think they had, this young lad established himself firmly in the trade of trafficking people to the west coast? I realized I suddenly came up short on a very important point in the boy’s words. What west coast could he mean? The Pacific? Quite a feat, I admitted to myself. Surely, he meant the west coast of Europe. But when I quickly explored that option I found that did not make sense, either. Why would anyone agree to make the trek back to where they had so recently fled? It had to be the western coast of this continent. They cleared the tunnel as their voices ceased to echo back in my direction. I had to press further along to gain a better vantage point.
“Well done, young Master Liam. Rest assured, that they will have a better life. You cannot help but have a better one after the repugnant existence of this hellish squalor.”
“Oy, that’s me home your ramblin’ on about, there.”
The boy crossed a line. He may have the right of it, but as my father had been fond of saying when in such circumstances where you are clearly in a one-down position, you could be dead-right as well. Which did you little good for the effort.
With the last exchange, I begun to creep slowly and as quietly as I could through the tunnel and into the back courtyard where the quartet conversed.
A snicker all around met the boys impertinence. “Well said, young Liam. So noted. I meant you no harm. Just an observation that even you have to acknowledge. Your life, such as it is, is not the height of aristocracy, now is it?”
“No, but that’s how I come to be under your employ, sir. I meant no disrespect by it. Just mindful of me ways and make no mistake about how low they are. But if I has anyfing to say ‘bout it, there’s gonna be a change in my life and for the bettah, too.”
Another laugh, this time echoed by the three gentlemen in chorus.
“Come now, Master Liam. Let us settle accounts then, shall we?”
“Ippolit, Ivanovich, do go and get these people processed through the warehouse. See to it that they are housed in the upper Hudson floor, and begin the sedative as soon as everyone is settled in. You know what to do with the children. Send Alexi to me within the shanty so we can make final processing arrangements.”
By now I had entered the courtyard and had the good fortune of finding some discarded crates and barrels with which to hide myself that were near the mouth of the alley passage. They afforded me with some cover with which I could observe the men entering one of the doors leading from the courtyard into a small shanty structure that was raised above the ground. A young man of no more than twenty approached them. He too was immaculately dressed for such a nefarious operation.
The boy was correct. Next to the shanty was a collection of about seventy to seventy-five people of varying age and creed – all of lowly immigrant class. At this late hour some of them had sleeping children, either upon their father’s shoulders or in the crook of their mother’s bosom. They were obviously recently arrived immigrants, some still had the weary look of a prolonged travel plainly upon their faces. To their left a mass of luggage and belongings carefully arranged as if first or second class accommodations lie in their immediate future.
I watched the two men, bringing William with them, move up the short stairs and onto the porch which creaked from rot and over use. It’s oddly slanted shingled roof of dark forest green that had seen a more colorful day seemed strangely out of place for this industrial structure. As if the house had always stood here and the surrounding behemoth of a building sprang up around it.
Grimy paned windows to either side of a dutch door that stood between them were coupled with rotting stairs and porch that it gave the building the apparition of a man’s face – all withered with age. The dilapidated roof slanted slightly askew completed the visage of that same man wearing a funny sort of tilted hat. The stilts upon which the porch stood sagged in the center from overuse and age that only added to the look as it gave the impression of an odd snaggletoothed grimace. After the bottom half of the door closed, a gas lamp bloomed into brightness and illuminated what little was viewable through the years of city filth that had occluded the windows.
A burst of light crackled in the night sky but not so high that it rose above the courtyard of the warehouse. The people collectively took in a awestruck gasp of air, only to be mesmerized by the glowing orb. I found, I too, had been caught up by the wonderment of that glowing light with its undulating whites and blues and little sparks that trailed in the night sky. It seemed to be controlled from the tip of Ippolit’s cane. When he moved forward I felt myself pulled along with the rest of them.
My progress was stymied with a sudden unseen force thrusting me back into my hiding spot. It was then that infernal voice filled my every sense, blackening the world around me, completely obscuring that hypnotic pull the glowing orb had upon me.
::Stay put, William, and do NOT engage these men.::
With that, the black that surrounded me faded and the world came back to me. Despite the warning, I was in the thick of it now as I knew my adventure had finally begun.
I chanced a glance over the barrels to spy upon the collection of people again – only to discover the last of them being skirted into the large warehouse opposite the shanty with a large metallic door bolted behind them. Another two men leveled their canes at the collection of baggage and belongings and slashed the air above them and the items floated into what appeared to be a giant tear in the middle of the air. Once completed, the two men took two steps forward toward the door and in the span of a single step completely slipped from view, as if vanishing into thin air. This left me quite alone in what had only been a few moments ago awash with activity.
From my secluded vantage point I watched the trio move further back into the main room of the shanty, still well within sight of the opened dutch door. I needed a closer vantage point if I were to get the fullest measure of what was going on here. I quietly darted from the safety of my cover to the porch steps, keeping to the balls of my feet I slowly crept up the stairs. With catlike care, I took each step so as not to elicit so much as a creak from the stairs or any part of the porch. As I gained a vantage point from the half-opened door I peered cautiously over the closed lower half to witness this settling of accounts as the finely tailored, albeit sinister, leader of their crew indicated.
Settling himself into a large chair behind a rather plain looking desk, he laid his cane on the desktop as one of his companions went about lighting the oil lamps within the room. The room itself was as nondescript as the desk. The only other furniture within this structure stood a small bookcase just behind the desk with a stack of what appeared to be accounting ledgers. As Ivanovich moved about the room I took note that he lit the lamps not with a match or torch, as I anticipated, but with the tip of his shiny cane which crackled with a bluish spark the likes of which I had never seen. This only added to their mystique. I took great care to sink back below the doorway as he passed by to light the torch lamp nearest the entrance to the little shack. Once he completed his task, he moved back to stand just behind the young boy at the back of the house. Luckily, from my vantage point, he did not completely obscure the view to the man behind the desk, nor young Master Liam.
“Let’s see … we agreed on half-a-dollar per head, I believe you put it. You did demand a rather high price as I recall. And you procured … how many of them was it again?”
“Seventy-five, sir, counting the children n’ all.”
The sinister leader whistled loudly at the amount, though a certain spark in his dark eyes belied the largess of the sum. Evident upon their countenance, these men suffered little when it came to affairs of a financial nature.
“Now what would a young lad like you have to spend all that money on?” he asked as he produced two coin bags onto the desk.
“Who’s to say that I am going to spend it? I have plans, sir, I have.”
“An enterprising young man, you are, William. You clearly wish to continue to work for us then, I take it? No?”
“Most definitely, sirs,” he said as he removed his cap from his head and began to wring it in his hands, a sign that he was growing more apprehensive the longer he toiled here with these men.
This piranha detected just how many teeth these sharks possessed. He, no doubt, did not intend to furnish them their next meal.
I understood his reason for concern. The longer I stayed on the porch the more uneasy my stomach became, say nothing of not occupying young Master William’s place in the room. This young lad had more bottom to him than most of the men back at Satan’s Circus who avoided these men like they had the plague. Yet, William stood his ground amongst these malevolent creatures. Impressive, to say the least.
My fear for the boy grew as I noticed that the posture of the two companions shifted ever so slightly. Almost imperceptibly so, though I caught it, nonetheless. I was unsure, whether to call out or play the buccaneer and actually bound in unannounced, of what would be the best course of action to save the boy.
Say nothing of the distinct possibility that if I did anything of the sort, what would likely happen is that the boy would be killed immediately for bringing along an intruder, or worse yet, I might be captured and killed as well. Neither of which suited my purposes. But I knew I had to do something.
The larger, more muscular of the two companions had produced what looked like a stiletto from the sleeve of his overcoat. It glinted for a brief second in the lamp light. No time to waste …
“But other considerations need to be taken into account, young Master Brackett. Like the fact that you have allowed yourself to be followed. There is a brutish fellow hanging outside our door as we speak now.”
Brutish? How dare he …
Before I could take note, one of the two men vanished, seemingly to slip into the darkness of the room to appear very quietly at my backside with the pointed instrument at my back.
Damn! Well this was it, for sure. My adventure had come and gone in the span of a few minutes and now to a miserable demise. And all I had to show for it? My feeble attempt to save some miscreant’s life that probably would be none too pleased to see me.
At my captors prodding, I pushed inside the doorway. Young Master Brackett looked positively murderous for my intended rescue. Well, damn him too.
Let them kill you as well, see if I care.
Only problem was I was already trying to plan a way to save the little whelp. Sometimes I think I am seriously deranged and should have my head examined.
“Well now, who do we have here, Liam. A cohort of yours?”
“Never saw the likes of ‘im before in me life.” The anger in his face still plainly visible.
“He speaks the truth of it. I do not know who he is either. I, … er,” I was trying to think fast but found myself coming up woefully short. The leader wearily sighed, not bothering to hide his boredom with my arrival.
“Seeking to displace his employment in favor of yourself, perhaps?” he offered.
The answer percolated upon my lips when the hounds of hell let loose upon the place. Though the next few moves came within mere seconds of each other, time seemed to run much slower so that every nuance of the fight about to ensue lay forever etched upon my mind.
The ceiling came crashing down in two places and in the process I felt myself blown from my current spot off my feet onto my buttocks, and down the short hallway, sliding the remaining distance to stop just in front of the door. Two Mohawk warriors had crashed through the ceiling, landing on top of the desk and with a loud crack as one of them sent some sort of powerful burst of light into it, shattering it into pieces as they continued their descent through its remains to the floor. The ring leader of the terrible trio retrieved his cane with the first sound of the roof cave in. Instead of confronting them he pressed his finger to a coat hook on the wall and a passage way opened and he slipped into the darkness of the small tunnel beyond. One of the two warriors gave chase yelling for the other to remove the lad and myself.
Master Liam however, in the middle of the blast, possessed the wherewithal to bound forward and grasp the two coin purses from the desk prior to its untimely demise, and proceeded in my direction as I sat up and shook my head to clear the cobwebs from the blast.
Muffled sounds, as if heard underwater, very like cannons being fired in close quarter played upon my ears. My body recoiled from the waves of sound and energy moving about in the small shanty. Light flashes and small percussive explosions rattled before me and though my eyes, half hidden by my hands to shield myself from its onslaught bore witness to the fantastical things before me. My ears, however, came up short on balance. I shook my head, banging the heel of my left hand against my head to see if something inside had become dislodged. I knew, having taken anatomy at Dartmouth, that this clearly could not the case, but I did it anyway. It seemed to help somehow as Liam’s voice sifted itself from the murky din.
“Oy, me white knight, get away from the door you feckin’ idiot! Or I am just gonna climb right over you to get out!”
I scrambled to my feet and turned to look down the hallway at what appeared to be the remaining two of the trio desperately trying to defend themselves from …
“Jacob?” I murmured to myself.
For indeed one of the two Mohawk warriors was none other than my old college mate from my days at Dartmouth! I had not seen him in over two years since we parted company on our last day of school. He had been my confidant and best mate but at no time during our near six years together did I ever think to see him as I did now.
Astonished, I started to walk not from the extraordinary fight as anyone with a clear head would, but rather towards the battle. As I came into view of the room, which by now bore little resemblance to how it stood only two minutes prior, I stood slack-jawed beholding the likes I could not have imagined, yet clearly played out before my eyes.
Jacob stood where he had landed in the remnants of the shattered desk and proceeded to fight off the two blokes who, based on size alone, might have posed a serious threat to his continued health. However, evident in the dour expressions the Russians wore in the course of engaging my Mohawk friend, they did not have the upper hand in the fight. Indeed, they acted as if Jacob could dispatch with them with little more than a mere thought.
Blows billowed back and forth between the terrifying threesome but not with their fists or any weapons that I could see but vibrations that seemed barely visible as they rippled in the air between them, as if the finger of God were running along the fabric of reality in a constant volley. For my friend’s part, the energy ripples being sent his way by the other two Jacob shrugged off with little effect upon his own aggression.
Taking no obvious notice of my entry into the room, Jacob took the offensive. His opponents tried desperately to fend off Jacob’s assault by putting up some opposing force that attempted, quite in vain, to repel Jacobs impressive volley of power. Each brilliantly lit jolt, as if Jacob commanded Thor’s hammer, only pressed them further to their respective corners of the battle zone. The larger, more brutish man, Ivanovich, called to his partner something in what appeared to be broken Iroquoian. Being a friend of Jacob’s and having heard the language for the better part of my days at Dartmouth, I knew it for what it was, but could not decipher the exact phrase. As if it bore some sort of command but the words were not in the right order.
One thing I did discern, that the two Russian men employed a coordinated effort to attack Jacob. I could not stand there and not do something, as he was my best mate from school. I searched the ground for anything with which to attack the brute directly in front of me. I spotted a rather long piece of wood on the floor of the hallway, probably from the demolished roof, but it would do nicely enough for the task.
As I picked it up I could see the two men turning their shiny walking canes so that the ends pointed to one another without actually touching. An arch of power radiated from the tips, like a bolt of lightening it crackled to life. Jacob was about to counter their move when the other Mohawk warrior, who seemed as if he should be familiar to me though I could not envision where such a meeting would have taken place, appeared as if from out of nowhere by his side.
“Coward took off. Seems to have done a ripper on me. I got this. Take your friend and get him out of here.”
“Battery Street meeting place?” Jacob landed a bright bolt of light that collided with the men’s arc of lightning, the result was a feedback along the lines to each man’s cane which blew them from their feet. One against the wall next to me, whilst Ivanovich sailed through a rather dingy window on the side of the room that I had not noticed when I was originally brought in.
“Right you are. As soon as I have had a go with …”
Jacob looked about as if he were missing where young Master Liam had got off to.
“Lost one, have we?”
The odious man before me on the floor regained his composure and slowly stood up. I spied that his plan to change tactics when my chance revealed itself to me and I swung all my might at his head. My strike came into contact with that unseen force that had repelled Jacob’s earlier assaults, it shattered the wood and I bounced back against the wall of the hallway, my arms and shoulders throbbing with the harsh contact that reverberated throughout my body. The man took no notice of my advance. I dropped the last of the wood onto the floor and began to slide down the wall in pain.
“Jacob, get Will out of here and find the boy!”
The other warrior nudged Jacob with his shoulder to get moving. Before I could respond, Jacob appeared at my side and his hand gripped the collar of my shirt and waistcoat, bodily hauling me to my feet.
“Had enough of fun time, Will?” he asked with a slight grin to his mouth.
Oh surely, he could not be so smug as to think I found all of this …this … whatever engagement we were in, as fun. I thought to myself.
But before I could say anything further on the subject, he changed his grip to my wrist and within the next instant we were out of the house and into the courtyard of the warehouse building.
The abrupt change of the harsh light of the shanty to that of a subdued quarter phased double-moon lit night was a bit of a struggle for my gaze to help me find my way. Jacob released me and turned his head slightly to catch me in the fullness of the moonlit glow. He even had the temerity to smile at me!
The snarky bastard!
“Got an eyeful back there did you?” he chided as he continued to stride out into the courtyard scanning for what I could only assume would be young Master Liam, who I had every confidence had not made the mistake of loitering about the place and instead made his escape to quieter destinations long ago.
As we continued to cross to the far side of the open courtyard, I could still hear percussive sounds from the thrashed building behind me. I looked back to discover the little shack now completely dark save for the brilliant flashes of power Jacob’s cohort leveled at his opponent. As I completed the turn back to Jacob I discovered the younger warrior had miraculously joined us, seemingly out of thin air. How he accomplished such a feat left me bewildered. The whole of this evening became an exercise in the surreal and fantastical. Yet, despite what I’d witnessed thus far, some small part of my mind still tangled with this young man’s name which still escaped me.
John, James? Like Jacob, I was fairly certain it began with a J.
We moved along at a fast clip, determined to clear the courtyard lest we have to engage any others. I did my best to stay close when my world rattled again. In truth, I have few words to describe the feeling. A sensation of a hook, painlessly but firmly lodged in my breastbone, gripped me and the breath from out of my body and I suddenly found myself air-bound being hurled back in the direction of the house. My arms and legs flailing as if that was going to be of any help.
“Jacob!” My cry pierced the night.
Within the next moment the younger warrior disappeared from sight only to reappear by my side as I came to what I thought would be a body crushing blow the likes of which were sure to claim my life. The irony that my desire for adventure had put me in harms way not once, but twice in one evening could not have been more plainly felt than in this moment. I did not pretend to fool myself into thinking that it would be the last, either.
But no life-perishing breaking of the body for me. Instead, just as my body should have crashed into the ground, my friend’s mate somehow undid the force of the impact so that I landed upon a feather light cushion from calamity. I came to a stop only a few inches from the ground, the sensation of which bore little difference as when I leapt into the comfort of my bedding at night. He held a hand out to me and, once clasped, pulled me onto my feet.
“Thank you … er, I am sorry I do not seem to recall your name.”
I held my hand out to him but before he could respond the shanty exploded to which the young man held his hands out to it and seemed to contain the blast so it rolled up an invisible bubble keeping ourselves safe. In the next instant the fire from the blast seemed to change into a volley of steam before it changed to water which collapsed onto the strewn debris. As soon as the fire was out the bubble was gone and the water came runneling about our feet. But the fight appeared far from over it seemed as four or five bolts of light shot past us. My young friend again put his hands out and the volleys of light only seemed to dance upon the invisible wall he put between us and the attack.
“Flintlings on the roofline,” Jacob shouted, “two on the left, four more on the right.”
“Take Will. Get him out. What about the boy?” he called to Jacob whilst they traded powerful blows with the dark figures that bore that odd sounding name. One man on either side of us took a hit and fell toward the ground, but their compatriots shot a brilliant blue-white light that appeared to tear at the air beneath their falling comrades so they simply slipped from sight before coming into contact with the ground.
Could this be what my young companion referred to as ripping?
“He seems to have found his own way out. I could not find any sign of him,” Jacob said with little in the way of exertion on his part given the tremendous amount of energy flying about us. To them it seemed as if t’were nothing more than having a chat on a bright spring morning.
“Made off with quite a sum, do you not think? Quick thinking lad. I think I like him.” Jacob’s wicked smirk that never failed to get a rise out of me slithered across his lips. That smirk alone had brought about many adventurous nights during our days at Dartmouth. I immediately felt my reciprocating smile taking form in response to his.
Two more shots from Jacob that seem to burst from the palms of his hands. In that, I could see the very air around his palms alight with what looked like the dust glowing in a quickened swirl and compressed to a singular dark point in the middle. The power seemed to press in until it burst forth in a volley of pure energy. I was astounded by the enormity of it all. I looked over at my savior who had not only employed the same tactic with his right palm, but had erected a formidable invisible wall with the other that our assailants were having a most difficult time cutting through. As to our opposition, their power, while equally astonishing, seemed to come from not from their hands at all, but their long glinting staffs. Appearing as the same highly polished reflective metal as the walking canes I observed earlier only now extended the length of a javelin. One of my younger warrior’s shots was spectacularly brilliant but infinitesimally small, almost insignificant to the other exchanges that came before. Worry crowded my brow for the first time this evening that they were running out of energy and our doom might come after all.
However, as soon as that insignificant sliver of light made contact with its intended target it not only shattered the glittering staff, it burnt the bearer to a cinder in a flurry of flame and smoke – the creature’s shrieking cry of agony cutting through the remnants of the blast.
“Nicely done! You will have to show me that sometime,” Jacob commented as he pushed both palms together and condensed the power he amassed into a compact orb that grew in strength. Satisfied in its compressed power, he released it so that the resounding explosion, once past our shielded wall, radiated across the roofline in a fiery ring of iridescent blues, pinks and purples. The resounding shock knocked two of the figures from their stance but they quickly rebounded and used that slicing motion to extract themselves from the scene. Their fellow warriors did the same and the violence came to a speedy resolution.
“That was fun!” the younger warrior said with a bright smile that made his darkened eyes dance brilliantly in the double-moonlight.
“Not a bad way to spend an evening,” Jacob replied having come closer to us, also grinning from ear to ear.
This was their idea of a good time?
“Wait a moment!” I cried out pointing to Jacob and then rounding onto his companion. “My arse nearly got handed to me not once, nay twice, but three times tonight and you both have the temerity to call it … FUN?”
They exchanged a knowing but maddeningly silent look in that way that the Natives did so well but offered me no reply for my query.
“We better clear out in case they bring back reinforcements” the younger Mohawk said choosing to ignore my commentary on the matter.
Jacob nodded, “Come with me, Will.”
He placed a hand upon my shoulder and gripping my collar he moved forward, pulling me along with him. The moment he did so, I felt a pressure build behind my eyes, obscuring my sight. Before I could shake it out, from one step to the next, my vision cleared and I found myself in the Battery, several blocks from the dockside courtyard we occupied a moment before.
Until next time …
When Worlds Collide
Writing is a funny business. And by funny, I mean peculiar.
The reason I say this is that what any given writer writes about has to come from a place of either economics (wanting to survive by your writings), passion (a story that just won’t let its author go), or as a means of vindication (having your opinion heard on a given topic – a reasoning and establishing your point of view in a debate).
But therein is where it gets peculiar (at least to my way of thinking). I am solidly in the middle camp. I write from passion. I don’t give a fuck if it’s embraced. I’d like it to be, but it is not a requirement. I’ve said this before. I am a successful writer because I complete a project. I see it through. It may not find its audience until I am well and truly gone. But it’s out there – my voice among the collective. For all time, as they say, because nothing in the internet really goes away (save a cataclysmic alien invasion that wipes out our tech in favor of their own). Right?
I recently had such an experience come to light with my works. I am writing to explore the institutionalized forms of homophobia in competitive sports – in the case of Angels of Mercy, American high school football. It’s done fairly well, given I don’t expect it to be the next Friday Night Lights or something of that sort. For one, I don’t concentrate on the hetero-centrist bullshit that permeates nearly all of literature and media out there. Jesus, how our straight counterparts are so weak that they have to have so many stories written about them. True, there is a burgeoning interest in our stories, but let’s be honest, it’s still small by comparison. Given the latest study on the GLBT impression in media – we are still in the single digits by way of exposure in the mainstream.
Part of that I lay fully at the feet of my own queer community. A large swath of queer men don’t partake of books, TV or movies that focus on our lives to really make their financial impact heard in the mainstream. And when we do have something that speaks to us, about our lives as we live them (*cough* LOOKING *cough*), it is bashed by its own community for not being representational of the whole.
“We don’t live like that. Not everyone is in the bushes looking for a hook-up.”
True on both counts. Yet, it was bashed so harshly by those of us in the queer community that now it’s gone. Now we’re relegated to tongue-in-cheek facades of Ryan Murphy’s worlds (Glee took a major leap off the cliff after the third season, American Horror Story, while great, is definitely over the top, and if AHS was out there, then Scream Queens left the planet for queer representation years before it aired). Yet with Looking gone, another of our voices became stamped out. And we did it to ourselves. Rather than engage the producers and creatives behind that show (a show I happened to have loved) it was torn apart at the seams.
What is HBO or Showtimes take away? Queer storytelling that focuses on the queer characters don’t sell. Even to our own community.
(Read that last part again, in case you missed just how cutting that is to our own stories.)
That’s beyond pathetic. It’s self-annihilation, or a fucked up internalized homophobia to the nth degree, if you ask me. Self-inflicted. How fucked up is that?
I just recently watched, with my husband, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
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It was a brilliant and intense queer story. It opened up so many reasons why I loved Looking as I did. It did NOT have a happy ending. It just ended – leaving you to ponder what happened next. Did the boy left behind pursue his lover to the US? Or did he just simply give up? I LOVED that. I loved the not knowing. Allowing me to decide for myself how it all ended.
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I also want to see Lilting.
Jesus, that one looks like it will emotively crush me. I live for those works. I recently watched Ben Whishaw in London Spy. That one also rattled me a great deal. It was queer storytelling that was epic in how brilliant it twist and turned on a dime. Ben Whishaw was brilliant in that work as well. I love my queer men and their simple complicated lives. I love talking to other queer men about their lives and loves and losses. They hold me spellbound. They truly do. Their stories are far more potent or powerful because they exist in the face of often monumental adversity. I admire them. They are my romance. Every single one of them. Even when we don’t agree. I still love and admire them. How could I not? They are from different mothers, but they are my brothers nonetheless.
This is partially why I rail at romance tropes. Not enough is being done to write about us as we are. It’s why I can’t write those things. Not when there is so much more to talk about. I get that it’s writing to “hope” – well, romance as a genre doesn’t have the lock on hope. It’s also why I can’t get all gushy about Disney fairy tales (though I will say I was pleasantly surprised by Maleficent). Because they’ve applied solid romantic tropes to stories that had none of that in it. Look at all the works those sweet retellings are based on – there’s none of that happy ever after in the original works. Mother Goose and Brothers Grim were outright scare monsters of fictional storytelling. Nothing short of it.
But I’m a bit off topic here.
What I wanted to get to with this post, is that the crossroads of queer fiction (or as I’d like to now call it – just plain literary fiction – because I am all about the equality) and romance. Somehow the works that take a solid look at our lives as they are get bashed because there is an automatic assumption that anything queer MUST have a HEA. Yes, there are genre and sub-genre works out there, but let’s be honest, their sales probably would do a helluva lot better if that HEA albatross wasn’t out there ready to sack any fictional work that has a queer protagonist/hero doing their damnedest to get to the last page of the story.
This came home to roost with a new reader who found my works and seemed to enjoy what I was writing. Or so I thought. I’ve since learned that no matter how much you put out there that the work is NOT romance, the prevailing winds are if it is queer then it MUST BE romance. Another reason why I rail at that genre. It’s poisoning the coffers of other works out there. I don’t fucking care if it sells. It still should not myopically mar the other stories that need to be told.
I write what I like to read, and what I like to watch. To give you context, I like heightened drama – Downton Abbey, ANYTHING by Shondaland (How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, etc), things of that nature. I like it when characters are pushed to their absolute limits of what they think they can handle. Then we get to see some real character development. Why? Because humans grow from adversity. It’s built into who we are. Whether we choose to collapse and withdraw (which is a choice) or to fight and press on. We evolve to one end of the human spectrum or another. THAT’S powerful storytelling. Safe stories with safe endings don’t provide that. They just provide the candy like feel good moment before it’s dropped and moved onto the next sweet morsel of storytelling. Police procedurals don’t interest me. Mostly because they are formulaic to a great degree. I have Sherlock (the Cumberbatch edition, if you please) that satisfies that far better than any NCIS or procedural out there. I’m a solid card carrying Cumberbitch, and proud of it!
I also come from the world of professional opera. I write operatic pieces set against the normality of life. I like watching my safe characters who, as its author, I want them to find happiness just as much as the next guy, struggle like hell to get there – whatever their HEA is (and it definitely doesn’t have to involve romance or a romantic theme). But in my worlds, as in life, none of it is guaranteed. I’ve said I am a pantser, in that I have tentpoles up that mark where I want the story to go, but I also let the characters drive the drama. Sometimes they’ve even surprised me. Actually, they surprise me a helluva lot.
So this new reader seemed to like what I was doing. But I thought, because I was careful to explain in ALL of my blurbs and marketing about the works, that they are NOT romance reads, that I was covered by that simple statement. I’ve never professed them to be romance in any stretch of the imagination. I don’t do romance. I can’t. I want to push my characters into very, VERY, uncomfortable places. I like watching them squirm and rationalize their own fucked up viewpoints, I want them to explore why they are doing what they are doing. I want my readers to see the dangers of their thinking. They are very, very specific works. Not for everyone.
But again, that is my passion. That’s what I write. Heavily influenced by my years in the opera world telling those types of stories to the masses.
I was once in the wings about to go on for the final tableau setting of Cavalleria Rusticana when one of my opera singing gay buddy besties came along side me. We loved to quietly crack jokes and goad one another backstage before we had to go on and be over the top dramatic. Keeping the balance, ya know? Humor before tragedy and all that rot. So I turned to him and said, just before the ear shattering scream one of our cast members was tasked with when the hero is killed in a duel:
“Why can’t we do a happy opera sometime?”
To which he replied:
“Who’d come to see it?”
He had a very valid point. His response is what’s guided my hand while I write what I write. I write opera. I write drama. No automatics in those works. In fact, it’s expected that shit won’t work out. That the ending will be cataclysmic and disastrous. If I can pull a rabbit out of my hat and give my characters a happy ending that works, then yay me. But I don’t do automatics. Hell, sometimes I only vaguely know how it’s going to end when I start. And even then, that ending is ALWAYS a moving target as I see it finally in my sight at the end of the work.
*Series Spoiler Alert*
Well, I asked this new reader to preview the next release – Angels of Mercy: Phoenix in the Fire. He said he’d love to read it and provide feedback. This book is dark. It’s not a happy book by any stretch of the imagination. How could it be? It is about being the victim of a very horrific beating by your boyfriend’s teammates. That is going to do a number on how you see your world, despite which avenue you choose to crawl out from that terrifying hole: to survive and become stronger (the hardest of the two) or to collapse inwardly and withdraw from everyone you know (sadly, the usual tract most take). I wanted to explore the former rather than the latter. It’s easier to implode from that sort of homophobic beat down. I wanted Elliot to climb out of that hole and find an inner strength to himself. Elliot struggles to accept the love that is freely given to him by many in his life. He thinks he’s not worth it. Many gay men have this struggle for one reason or another. I wanted to have that as part of his inner monologue.
Well, suffice to say that my new enthusiastic reader wasn’t very taken with the new book. In fact, when I asked him what he found that didn’t work (because I truly wanted to explore that) it became very clear to me he was reading it as a romance read. I tried to explain that I wasn’t writing that. It was too late. Phoenix had soured the work for him. I haven’t heard anything since my last email that tried to explain what the works truly are. Other betas advised me to leave it – to distance myself from that situation. But I’ve toiled with it in my head. It’s stuck in my craw, so to speak.
But it did point out why my ire at the romance trope exists. It is poisoning other works. The expectation that ALL stories must have romance tropic happy endings is destroying proper storytelling. It is also setting expectations out there for works that are nowhere near that form of writing.
I don’t do romance. I probably never will. I write us as we are.
There. I’ve stated it once again. Not that anyone is really paying any attention. Those tropic bullshit expectations will still be there. I’ll still rail against them and flip them the big ol’ bird and purposefully write darker works that put a magnifying glass on our community as we are just to spite those Disneyesque saccharine laden pieces of fiction.
I write drama. Operatic drama. Period. Deal with it, or move on. I’ll continue to write either way.
Until Next Time …
Embracing Equality Means …
Something has changed. A fundamental shift in what I am doing. You see, I’ve been writing my own life story as a series over at the Violet Quill Redux and that has made me question how I see my own works. Not just the fiction works, either, but all of it.
I’ve had moderate success in the whole Gay Fiction part to my work. Assigning that moniker to what I do seemed to be the right thing at the time I released my first work.
It was a pseudo-horror thing I was playing around with. I had been hammering out Angels of Mercy at that point, but HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega was completed and I desired to have something out there that had my name on it. Hell, on the eve of releasing HOMO, I discovered that some other twit “writer” (and I term that very loosely after reviewing their work) ended up snagging my pen name (even though I had the domain, the blog, the wherewithal to publish free chapter reads before I published on January 1 of last year) right out from under me. Originally, I was going to use S.A. Collins and up until I published on New Year’s day 2015, that name was available. Then this idiot swooped in and published a free (it had to be, because the work was atrocious) work using that S.A. name reference. I was beyond pissed. At this point I had a ton of money invested in what my author/pen name was going to be. I didn’t want to change it. So, gritting my teeth, I removed the periods from each initial and pressed forward. Now, I don’t know if my putting gay fiction out there under that name scared the squatter off, but they haven’t released anything else under that author name. But I’ve still had to go back to numerous distributors and tell them I am NOT S.A. Collins but SA Collins. It’s been a chore.
So labeling my shit as Gay Lit Fic has helped me in one respect: I’ve been able to make a fairly good imprint that I am out there as SA Collins – through the WROTE Podcast, my works, and just generally hammering away in social media as him. I say him, because he is a fictitious character in one of my future works. So in that sense, I get to put him on, and put him away when I write. I sort of like that about him. I hope he doesn’t think it an abusive relationship, because I do love him and his journey.
Okay, that is getting too headspacey, even for me.
The point I am trying to make is that I started out proudly labeling my works as GAY, GAY, GAY. In that way, I am completely unabashedly #QueerProud and make no bones about what I am writing. I want it to be provocative, to press at the edges. I LIKE BEING QUEER.
But, something occurred to me: all of my literary heroes never labeled their works as such. Not John Rechy or Gordon Merrick (my literary gods), nor did Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran, Paul Monette, or Armistead Maupin for that matter. They just wrote literary fiction, PERIOD. End of story, no debate. In doing so, they demanded that their works be taken seriously within the greater mainstream. They, too, were unapologetic in what they wrote, BUT, and here is the critical difference, they (and, to a certain extent, their publishers) were no less of a homosexual or queer writer than any of us now. Yet, they were successful at it – in the mainstream. And by mainstream I am talking best sellers on the list that mattered: the NYT best seller list.
Even now, I am seeing other works by new authors that are completely bypassing the Gay label on Amazon and simply stating it’s Fiction, letting it stand with everything else, yet not denying that it is profoundly queer. Life on a slant, as it were. Proud outliers but never feeling the need to say I’m Queer, now read my shit. It was just – hey, read my shit if you’re interested. And people did. They did it in droves, too. New York Times Best Seller kind of droves.
I’ve come to the realization that I, too, am not willing to limit my works to a gay audience. Yes, I’d love it if other queer men liked what I did. I am writing to them. But it doesn’t mean I need to limit the works in that whole M/M thing that is completely overrun with women writing about us (often as we AREN’T). I have no desire to play in that game. That literary house isn’t even mine as a gay man. It’s like I’ve been ousted from it. Yet, in my striving for acceptance and equality, I am not willing to limit the scope of my works or audience. Put it out there and let ANYONE who finds it of interest buy it and read it.
I will continue to celebrate and champion queer works. I love the community of writers I’ve come to know in that sliver of genre fiction that is currently being labeled as Gay Fiction. I just am not willing to play in that pool anymore. It’s not what I am doing, not even remotely. My works are perception works. I want other people to read and see how these men process their worlds. I am not writing to a HEA (as a rule I sort of fucking despise HEAs (Happily Ever Afters) – I want realism in my works – not just in what I write, but what I read as well). I am not opposed to an HEA that makes sense. But to open a book and know already that it’s there is sort of like sitting down to a banquet and you already have been told that dessert is in the making, what it is, how it tastes and what you should expect.
Boresville, USA population: YOU. Like my queer literary forebears, I can’t go there.
So I’ll champion my author pals who want to continue to write in that genre. Yay, team! Go you! But I want equality in what I am doing. My works need to stand with the rest of mainstream writing. I need to see where that road takes me. Maybe nowhere, but I am thinking not. I think it may be a long slog to get noticed in that arena but I think in the long run I’ll be happier that I did this.
My stories are not genre fiction in the way that gay works are defined now. They’re more than that. They’re decidedly queer. They are threaded with gay men’s experiences I’ve collected over the years. But they are also representational of the greater human condition. I specialize in character studies and perception plays. That is universal. I’m just providing a queer lens for anyone to read and see the world through those eyes. But they’re not gay fiction. Just fiction.
I’m good with that.
Until next time …