The Color In Your Characters
I’m talking about secondary characters. The minor roles that give your world texture, give it context. I’ve always sort of gravitated to secondary characters in stories. Why? Pretty damned simple to sort out. Given the heterosexist world we live in, as a gayboy I had to often look for subtle clues if a secondary character was gay or not. Then it would be – ooh, what’s he doing? What’s he about?
It was always the secondary characters in stories that held my interest – almost more than the main characters. Actually, it’s the ensemble work that usually draws me in. I love great ensemble casts.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer it was Xander and Spike that kept me going in that show. Willow too. Far more than Buffy (who always seemed one note in comparison to the other characters in her world). Don’t get me wrong I am a HUGE Buffy fan. Hell, put me down as a Joss Whedon fan, period.
There are many such shows that garnered my attention in great part because of the ensemble of secondary characters that fleshed out the world the main character had to play in.
In Downton, Cousin Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) of course provides just about as much color a human being can in a character.
I had the pleasure of watching Dame Maggie in Lettice and Lovage on Broadway when she was in the title role of Lettice Duffey. It was written for her and man oh man did it show. I was fifth row center (literally) and the air was electric – it tingled along my skin whenever she was on stage – and okay, she was the main character, but what it did do was give me a real sense of the subtleties of character development.
Lettice Duffey was a broad character – one that would rival another monolithic strong woman character – Auntie Mame (Dennis). Yet, in both cases (Rosalind Russell and Maggie Smith’s turn as Mame and Lettice), they knew just the right amount of hubris to ground the character to make them infinitely accessible.
So yes, main characters can be just as colorful, just as compelling (they are main characters, after all) but for me, those actors who portray these iconic characters, when they get their teeth into a secondary role, you get such nuance and flavor from their portrayal that I can’t help but be drawn in.
It was that way with True Blood, too – I was all about Pam and Eric. Sookie and Bill were beside the point, say nothing of the brilliant, brilliant turn of Ryan Kwantan as Jason. But my first love in True Blood was always Lois Smith as Sookie’s grandmother. I just LOVE Lois Smith. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in something I didn’t like her performance. She was never big and brassy. But lord does she permeate each scene she’s in. Her portrayal as Sookie Stackhouses beloved grandmother was carefully measured but incredibly believable. She was the grounding that Sookie needed to make her accessible. Without her in the beginning of the True Blood world, it would have not had the same balance. It would have been too fantastic. Gran kept us sane and safe (to a degree).
Okay, so you’re probably saying ‘yeah, but your just talking about acting and not story telling.’ The obvious retort is that plays and screenplays are just one more way to tell a story. Books acted out sort of thing. I come from theater so I tend to gravitate to that world whenever I think of storytelling. So the whole reason I am using performance storytelling as opposed to literary works is that I wanted to put as many people as possible on the same page in their minds. Much easier.
But that’s not to say I can’t use some classic characters in literary circles that I can put out there to make my point – Dr. Watson to Sherlock? Though to be honest, it could be argued that John Watson was more of an elevated secondary character but he’ll do as an example. A story without John Watson just wouldn’t be right. Watson is our accessibility to the heady brilliance of Sherlock.
In Dorian Gray it is the secondary characters that give us our main characters color. They provide Dorian with the allure and the brutal sensuality – it is through their eyes, their voice that we get a flavor of Dorian before he ever hits the page himself.
In my own story, Angels of Mercy, I tried to sort this out with my boys. Marco has his cousin Francesca, a wild but über hot cousin that as much as she is beguiling she is also the most loyal companion to Marco. It was important for me to have someone like her in Marco’s world to give him something to play against in his family life. In book one of the series, we don’t really get any real sense of Marco’s mother or father. It’s all about Frankie (Francesca) that we get a sense of Marco’s home life. I really love her for so many reasons. She’s a goddess on steroids but with a heart of gold underneath that Venus allure.
For Elliot, the main POV character of the first book, it’s his mother and his best friend Greg that give us a peek into Elliot’s world. Where Marco’s world is big and bright and full of adoration from the masses, Elliot’s is the exact opposite. All he has in his small world is Greg and his mother, and then Marco himself.
That was the question I had burning inside of me as Marco and Elliot began to form – I wanted to know what would happen if the geeky artsy shy out gay kid became boyfriend to the highest profile jock on campus. In book one, we sort of get that answer.
Yet, it isn’t just the characters that I’ve mentioned that are what provide texture to Marco and Elliot’s world. There’s Beau Hopkins. Caramel colored, massively beautiful and completely black of heart. Beau is the danger in this world. He’s a dark horse in a growing dark world for my boys. Beau is a user. He’s a manipulator. He comes from a very confining world of Football and religion. His father is a preacher in town and quite hard on his son. Beau, while formulaic in that he’s the atypical Preacher’s son, he also has a couple of surprises that Elliot gets him to admit something that only proves to tighten the screws on the horrific end to the first book.
If that weren’t enough, we have a very opportunistic cheerleader – Cindy Markham. She’s trouble in a pretty package with all the charm of a man-eating piranha. She’s a manipulator in a massively whacked out way – emphasis on MANipulate. She and Beau are the boys worst possible nightmare.
Then there’s the boy’s greatest asset – Elliot’s mother and best friend – Kayla Donahey and Greg Lettau. These are the boy’s home base. They are the rock that allow the boys to rise and dream beyond their existence in Mercy High. Then when the world seems full, the ensemble is set, I bring Danny Jericho into the mix. Danny’s the wild card. Danny’s the boy who will put all of the characters into a tailspin. He’s the great unknown. He’s also the boys secret weapon. Though he makes his appearance late in the book, he soon becomes the boy they can’t do without.
While the story is about the geeky gay kid and the über hot and popular jock and their reach for the stars, I wanted my secondary cast to be just as rich, just as textured – maybe even more so. I mean, I didn’t want termites in costume (which is what we call scenery chewers on stage). You know, characters that pull focus. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job, my characters embolden the story, they give it its legs.
And it only gets better with the second book (told from Marco’s perspective) in that the two secondary characters that I had in the background in book one come to the fore – Angus Carr and Nick Donahey. I LOVE THESE MEN! Oh, gods, how I fell in love with Elliot’s dad and Marco’s new found friend at his future school (Stanford University). These men are beyond brilliant. Angus just has his heart on his sleeve, he’s so amazing I get giddy like a school girl whenever he comes into the scene. I’ve already peppered the story I am telling with a secondary tale that I can always spin off in this world with Danny and Angus (yeah, that was a minor spoiler).
I am always thinking about my secondary cast. It’s how my main characters shine – at least to my way of thinking.
So whether it’s Kayla, Greg or Danny – Beau, Cindy or Francesca. It’s all about the textures in the background to my world that make everything just a bit more dense, a deeper flavor to the tale I am telling.
The stars of the show can only shine if they’ve got others behind them as the backdrop – the colors and textures that make them who they are. And I make it my business to know EVERY facet of their lives before they ever step onto the novel stage. They are fully fleshed out in my head before they utter their first words. It’s just how it goes with me.
I just can’t think of any other way to do it.
Angels Hiding in Darkness…
Random thoughts as I write volume 2 of my Angels of Mercy series. Establishing my angelic boys in the world I’ve built for them. Pondering what it means and why these things and man on man sex matter as I continue this journey.
I know my journey is different from other authors. I know that many won’t get what I am on about. But you see, I have this need to write from somewhere deep in my gut – yeah, not so different from any other author, right? So what’s the diff?
Simple: My success at it has very little to do with it’s marketability. If it succeeds on that front, all the better. But it is NEVER going to be a requirement. My stuff may never sell. So not the point for me.
I write because these are stories I want to write. These are stories that matter deeply to me – they are my worlds, they are my characters and they are unapologetically who they are. Again, I get that many authors take this stand.
But my boys are a hot mess – and I have little interest in holding to the m/m romance genre as it stands currently. And they are a product of this internet rife with porn age. They are products of the social media world where a sixteen year old boy can have more followers on Twitter than Justin Bieber (and there is such a boy). Internet celebrity, while I rail against celebrity for celebrities sake, is fascinating to me. Surely they are filling a void that the regular media channels don’t fulfill.
So my boys have to deal with that.
Most of the M/M genre doesn’t play with that. Most of them write using formulas and stoic writing narratives that unless the writing is uber crisp and engaging I just yawn and take a pass. The implied rules are that whatever theme is prevalent in the genre is what everyone is writing about. Shape shifters, vampires, etc. They’re all in the mix because it’s simply not enough to write about young men who are coming out their confusing teen years and find the wherewithal to establish themselves as confident in their sexuality. To embrace it whole heartedly. To even revel in the messiness that boys often get into and not bat an eye whilst doing it.
It comes down to this for me. I want to give back. When I was sixteen I found my way into a Walden’s Bookstore (remember them?). Or sometimes it was a B. Dalton – another one that has long since bit the dust. Anyway, there I was – fully cognizant that I was a gay boy struggling to figure out not only how I was going to work my way into the big gay world I just knew was out there, but I was in desperate need of a primer. I needed a gay daddy figure to show me the ropes.
Head out of the gutter now, we’re not discussing BDSM (though I have no judgments for those that do partake of that scene – even I can see the sexiness in it). No, what I am talking about was some real honest man on man instruction guide on how things were going to go for me. What was out there.
So yeah, there I was at 16 and knowing what I was but having not a single clue about how to go about it. The upshot? I could drive and I had a part-tine job which meant money in my pocket.
Then something magical and mysterious happened: I found a book.
City of Night by John Rechy.
This book gave me exactly what a 16 year old (hormonally charged) gay boy wanted. I wanted a primer on what was out there. I mean, I loved my parents and they were great. Never once did I ever feel like my home life was ever in question. I had the unconditional love – that part was secure. Just not a road map of where I could go with the whole thing. Remember, this was way before the internet and online porn sites aplenty that permeate every corner of our media and information laden lives.
But back then – this was all I had. It was gritty, it was dark and deeply hormonal. It spoke about the emotions and urges I was going through that I couldn’t talk to anyone about. I mean, it’s one thing if your a straight boy and wanna talk about boning some chick you think is hot. Imagine having that exact same conversation and your buddy tells you he thinks he could so get into boning Susie Whats-her-name and looks to you and all you have to say is, “Yeah? I’d so rather be popping one up your ass or down your throat, but hey, that’s just me.”
So wouldn’t go over very well, no matter how much hotness cred you were trying to give your best bud that you thought his ass and cock you spotted in gym had your blood boiling.
So yeah, I only had John Rechy in my court. But what an ally. His world was gritty, it was emotively volatile, it was gripping from the very first page. I drank it in like a parched man to a river. Then I found the other two books of his that would also color my young gay life: Numbers and The Sexual Outlaw.
This was at a time when promiscuity wasn’t the most prudent course. HIV and AIDS were just making themselves known – well, I say known but no one really knew what that meant. Without a doubt, those books changed my life. Without a doubt, those books saved my life. That was when I learned unequivocally the power of writing and the written word.
In the course of writing this blog entry my mother called to give me an update about the state of my brother’s current drama. I’ve blogged about it before so I won’t go into the details at this juncture again. What I will say is that, and you’d have to know my mother and me, we ramble quite a bit over the course of our conversations. We’ve always been this way. Somehow, in the middle of hearing about my brother’s woes, we ambled over to when it was like for me growing up and figuring things out in my life. Trying to sort out why I write the things I write.
Why M/M erotica? Well, in reality, I don’t really look at it from that standpoint. Sex and men are hard to separate. We think about it constantly. It’s just built into us. To varying degrees I’ll grant you – as it is with all facets of life. But the urge is still the same. Men feel the need, the burning need to do what we’re built to do. It’s why porn has the industry it does. I am sure some women enjoy it but they are far outweighed by their male counterparts – I don’t believe anyone would seriously challenge me on that.
We have porn because of that sexual drive that ekes into every corner of who we are as men. I see it every day. The furtive glances from the guys I work with when one of the cuter girls happen by. Married or not, their eyes rove. I know my sex – and sex is what’s going on in those looks.
I have a buddy who is happily married to a man he loves whole heartedly. They love each other, they complete each other. It’s a very beautiful thing. They also have an open sexual relationship and actually find joy in sharing other men in their lives. They are honest and open about it and work at it as adults should who are confident enough in who they are to know that they will be there for each other no matter what. They’ve been together for ten years now and they act around each other as if they had just started dating.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch the two of them. Embracing each other and yet knowing that the way to do that – and to remain true to how they are that they were open enough to clear the air about how their lives were going to be with regards to love and sex. I admire them. I am sure it’s not always easy. But the love they have for one another is palpable.
They’re two rough and tumble boys that have matured into sexy as hell men. And they embrace who they are.
So anyway, back to my writing. It was important for me to write from that perspective. I want to write books I wanted desperately to read when I was young.
It isn’t enough that it’s just about the romantic feelings. As a young man (teenager) sex was important to me even though I hadn’t had any at that point. To deny young gay boys the gratification that what goes where and why, and to let them know that those ‘nasty thoughts’ (which by the way are NOT nasty at all… they’re human, folks… I am so over the fucking moon pissed off about how we infantilize young men). I am not postalizing pedophilia in any way – let’s be clear about that. But if a boy (say around the age I was) wanted to become sexually active and the opportunity presented itself with another boy at the same school? Well, personally, if everyone involved was safe and sane about it, no coercion involved, then I’d be down for it. Boys feel those urges when puberty hits. While I understand they may not have the emotional maturity to handle it, sometimes, especially with regards to young gay boys, experimentation is probably the only recourse for them if it presented itself.
It’s why I grouse when YA novels never seem to cover this subject adequately. These boys are having sex – if the internet is to be believed, some of them are having enormous amounts of sex and what’s more they are posting it online. To think that we can’t put down what really goes down in a teen sexual situation is just plain ludicrous. The shit is going to happen if it’s going to happen and writing about it or reading about it will not promote it.
What it will do, in my opinion, is tell these boys who don’t have the means that they are not alone, that there is someone out there who feels just like they do. Someone out there may find Elliot Donahey (my protagonist in Angels of Mercy Volume 1) and how he processes having not only a boyfriend for the first time in his life, but the jock stud that every girl is after might give them hope that their dreams of an Ever After Happily is in the cards for them.
Rechy’s work allowed me to vicariously live through those tumultuous times of the 80’s and 90’s when HIV was nothing short of a death sentence. Sure I experimented myself. My first boyfriend and I evolved to having an open-ish relationship. In the end it wasn’t even a consideration of why we parted company – that was something else altogether. The openness in the sex wasn’t an issue at all. So I get my buddy and his hubby. I really do. I fully support them and how they’ve defined it for themselves.
Those are the stories I want to write.
Those are the characters and the sexual scenarios I want to put out there because they are born of experiences either I went through or friends of mine did.
Those are the books that have to be out there somehow. Because those were the books I would’ve wanted to read. Stories that are emotively and sexually charged – pulling no punches in either department. The emotive moments were equally important, but the words that had the power to stimulate my erotic mind and allowed me to vicariously live through the sensations that the character goes through when he’s fucking or being fucked. The draw they have to cum (and I deliberately use that spelling because for me it is inherently crass and male (not that all males are crass – but we have it within ourselves to be so)). The desire they have to seed and for it to be a big hot mess. Cum play is just one element I explore with these boys. Again, this was drawn from personal history and my own explorations.
These are the stories I would want to read. They are honest in scope and in expression of thought. Elliot is all over the map – thoughts and emotions roil around like a tumultuous ocean. He wavers, he is adamant, he hides and he comes out swinging. Gay boys have to. We bob and weave our entire lives. We live in a world, that while it grows with increasing acceptance and tolerance, where we are constantly reminded that we are not the same. We are not in a relationship that can honestly and without fanfare be expressed in the course of a TV show or movie that still doesn’t cause a stir.
Every time I see two straights going at it in a series or TV I am so over it. And before any detractors flip lid over that position, think about it for a moment – It literally soaks every form of media around us.
Swimming upstream, remember?
Yeah, well, this pink gayboy salmon is gonna start taking nips out of those that swim downstream. I don’t have to buy into that hetero-normative play in life. It’s secure enough in the human condition that it doesn’t require my support or proliferation.
My worlds will be gay oriented because that is my real existence. Straight people will cross into those worlds because that is how the world works. I get that. I would be ape-shit cray-cray not to include it. But it will sooooo not be the focus of my work. There are more than enough on the printed/digital page to read about that.
That’s probably why my gay boy hero in the story comes from the Jock quarter. I wanted a story for one goddamn time to be that the jock is rock solid in who he wants and won’t take no for an answer. Marco Sforza is dead set on Elliot as the only one for him. Their world would seem letter perfect. The first book begins to bear that out.
But as with all drama, these boys don’t have an easy path to their Ever After Happily. Forces conspire to separate them. The boys have their allies. There is definitely a Team Sforza-Donahey. They aren’t alone, even if at times they feel like they are. But that’s how heady love is. That’s how it goes sometimes. While you may know deep down inside that you’ve found your one and only, others in your world may not be so comfortable with that.
My villain is also über sexy in that straight hetero-normative way. He’s a womanizer, he tosses the girls he bangs like used Kleenex to the ground. I think the phrase I use is: “Still smelling from the last pussy he banged.” Yeah, that’s Beau Hopkins. Tall, dark, handsome as all fuck but with a heart as black as pitch that pumps the sludge of tar. And he absolutely hates faggoty boys like my Elliot. He is the quintessential preacher’s son.
I ended volume one on a helluva cliff hanger. My beta-readers were all up in arms about that. They wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. So I guess I got something here. We’ll see.
As for me, if I like it, if I feel proud of the effort and am not embarrassed by it at all, then I am good with it. It’s a success on that all by itself.
My Angels may be in the dark, hidden, remote for beta-readers eyes now. But not for long. Book one is in the can – still polishing it here and there. But I am also sourcing my ISBN’s and galley art with a cover artist. Then I’ll explore the marketing facet and promotions venues. I’ve even sorted that it will also be offered on my website directly. I am willing to invest in my own work enough to do the whole she-bang. I am down with it all.
It may come to nothing, but if my readers thus far are spot on with their assessments and their desire to know what happens next, then maybe, just maybe I’ll get it there.
Maybe my boys will be heard – they will walk out from the darkness.
It might be a nice thing after all, if my Angels got to see the light…