Hail, hail the Holly King!

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I have in years past made the same post about the Solstice and all the wonderfulness that it is. Whatever your beliefs you are not forbidden from being grateful and the Solstice for me is about gratitude that the light is returning, that the Earth will spin us back towards spring.

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This is my New Year, not an arbitrary calendar date, but a scientific pinpoint when the descent into short days and long dark nights finally flips over and a little more glorious sun comes into each day. It is not hard to imagine that a day got moved here and there over the last couple thousand years by some careless scribe. So I celebrate all season, Solstice through calendar marked New Year. It’s important to me, because winter is cold and grim, and the revelry of the season keeps us going until the first flowers spring forth.

It’s about renewal, new beginnings. This year has been tumultuous for me at best. But I managed to finish This Charming Man and get it out into the world. Buoyed by that success I’m focusing on writing as the year flips over. A new Queen City Boys will come this year: Bad Reputation, taking us back to 1982 in Seattle. There will be stories in other universes as well. Star Quality, a gay erotica novella is forth coming. And hopefully a story that is much on my mind today, a fantasy short about the Oak King and the Holly King and the dance they do as the seasons switch. I’ve been avidly reading fairytales my whole life and I’m continually impressed with the new spins different writers put on them so I thought I’d try my hand at it too.

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I am exceptionally grateful this year for my online community. Both friends I’ve had for years and the new ones I’ve found as I begin this new journey as a published writer. Thank you everyone who helped me on to this path, to everyone going forward with me, to future readers even. It means a lot that you’re here with me and I am ever grateful to have found you. Now go forth and celebrate. The Holly King reigns again today, the Oak King is dead, but long live the King, for he will return to fight again at midsummer and we will dance and rejoice then, much as we do today.

Can you tell what it is just by looking?

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The defining factor of so many books is Genre. It’s an excellent way to find the stories you want to read, to find community who shares your literary wishes. You know how it is, you’re talking to a co-worker and discover you both love reading. Giddy with the connection you ask what they are reading, and then it’s crashing disappointment when you discover their deep love is True Crime and you’re all about hard Sci-fi. Sure your Aunt May reads constantly, but it’s all Mysteries and you’re not interested in those so much, even if you’ve read a few you like.

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Genre matters, even when we read in multiples genres it still defines the kind of stories you’re getting, what you expect from the book. There’s a framework to every genre, a structure, bones it’s built upon. Plenty of authors play with these rules, bend them, flex them, but books are generally all categorized, so at the end of the day, even the bendiest of books have the bones of their genre underneath.

But not always, some books fall between the cracks. I’ve written a book that lives between those cracks (heh, I said it was in the crack). M/M Romance is a very specific but tricky to define genre. It is built on the bones of Romance and at its core it is about two people meeting and finding love together, and the trials they go through to win/earn that love, to end with a romantic happily ever after. There’s bleed over with Gay Lit. M/M Romance is, after all, love stories about two men so the gay is built right in. But Gay Lit is its own genre. Sure love stories can appear, but it spans more than relationships. It is nebulous, and I’m not sure I can define it exactly. A literary umbrella that includes centuries of stories, classics and pulp fiction alike. Coming-of-age stories, coming out stories, thrillers, and literary fiction. Someone who loves M/M Romance may well love Gay Lit too, but someone looking for M/M Romance (the Romance part anyway) may find themselves disappointed in much of Gay Lit. Marshall Thornton, Jeff Erno, and many others have written about this distinction with more clarity than I’m giving here.

My book, This Charming Man, straddles the line. It contains a love story, but it is not a Romance. It has a coming-of-age story, but it is perhaps too close to erotica in it’s explicitness to be considered literary by any stretch. A no man’s land of marketing for this book. Sold as M/M Romance it’ll surely disappoint some readers looking to focus on that connection between characters. But is it too sexy, too explicit to be “Lit”? Does the love story element in it mean readers avoiding Romance will dismiss it, not realizing it might have what they are looking for? It is, I suppose, a bisexual book, claimed and disdained by both sides. I wonder though, if there’s any clearer way to tell readers what they are in for when they open it?

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Last time I saw you we had just split in two

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John Cameron Mitchell is returning to the stage as Hedwig. I’d heard rumors but nearly peed my pants when I saw the announcement yesterday. Yes, I already spent this year’s discretionary income to go to NYC and see Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, but I’ve bought tickets to go again February 2015. I can’t miss this. And I can’t explain it easily, but seeing JCM in the role, live, finally, feels incredibly important to me.

In 2001 when the movie came out I was aware of the theatrical production, but not really aware of JCM yet, as I lived on the other side of the country and just the idea of going to NYC was barely realized. I was 28, already married to a man, divorced from him, and dating women. Through high school I had mostly dated men, not entirely, but close, I didn’t really come out until I was getting divorced. But Hedwig and the Angry Inch was something different for me, it was literally the first time I can remember sexualizing male bodies. Having sex with men is one thing (expected of you if you’re born female and presumed straight, really), sexualizing men is entirely different. Ironic, really, that it was John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig that really turned my eye to men. Hedwig is important to me for a lot of reason, as it is, I’m certain, to hundreds of thousands of people the world over, but more than just the show, the take away from it, what it represents, is this feeling of recognizing something in myself, about myself. This weird part of my brain always whispers that my sexuality is John Cameron Mitchell. Not gay, or bi, or queer (how I usually identify) but just JCM. I know, it sounds crazy, but back to New York I go, regardless of expense, of whatever I have to sacrifice to get there.

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I was entirely emotionally overwhelmed watching Neil Patrick Harris perform as Hedwig last summer. If my companion, Punny, had tried to speak to me during the show I probably would have burst into tears. I had so many emotions simmering so close to the surface. For days afterwards I felt like my heart was swollen with joy, like falling in love. I don’t know what to expect from JCM. I do know I have to be there. Friends are flying to NYC from all over the country to see it with me that day, because Hedwig is as important to them as it is to me. Hedwig has changed my life twice already. Hopefully the third time is even more charmed.

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Vale, Leslie Feinberg

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(An open letter to Leslie Feinberg on the occasion of hir death.)

lesliefeinbergprotestThank you for teaching us to live by our convictions and be who we are. Thank you for being a true revolutionary. Thank you for being. Thank you for loving. Thank you for sharing.

With all my gratitude and love I will pay this kindness you’ve given the world back in turn, by being better, by doing better, by living by my convictions and trying to change the world.

 

(I was going to add a book link to Stone Butch Blues, where my journey with Leslie started and discovered this fucking bullshit, so instead visit hir site. I get that the book is out of print and in demand, but what the ever-loving fuck.)

A face with a name

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Years ago, when I started writing in earnest, it was mostly fanfiction. A valid artistic expression and an excellent writing exercise because it focuses on story and making the story work. Setting, character and all already exist in a given canon for fanfic. Character description is often limited to facial expressions and a passing mention of hair color. No need for more because everyone in your fandom knows what your characters look like.

When I set out to write original fiction I spent a lot of time casting my Queen City Boys after I had my plots in order. Maybe as some leftover from writing fic I needed that visual, I needed to see faces, really know my characters. It was definitely useful, in any given scene, to look at the picture pinned above my desk and do description from that. And it was, honestly, an amusing procrastination tool. If I wasn’t writing I could claim to still be working: hey, I’m casting! Which involves scrolling through endless pictures of good looking people, win-win!

Eventually I cast even side characters when I was procrastinating. Still some choices were never quite right, but others were perfect. Steven Frazier from This Charming Man was easy. Here he is:

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This picture captures him perfectly for me. His attitude, his beauty. It is is exactly as he looked in my head, as he came to me. Still the model in this picture, Dieter Truppel, really only looks sort of like my imagination of Steven. Half his pictures don’t suit at all, but enough. And really I only need on picture to cast from anyway (though finding more is joy, more pretty and more procrastination).

My editor, Annie, read a draft of the book, long before I shared any of my own casting. Much of the story actually takes place in her neighborhood and she keeps insisting that she sees Steven on the street. I love the idea that he’s out there now, living in other people’s heads and appearing as if I called him into being.

My character John Pieters appears across the Queen City Boys books. This series, as it unfolds spans four decades so that added a hitch to casting. I need John at 20, at 45, at 60. This limits casting if I want a picture at each age. I did finally cast John, though it isn’t perfect. I have such a clear picture of him in my head, at every age, of exactly who he is and I’ve never found a picture that was close. For John I cast like I would for a movie: good enough. But it doesn’t match my vision and indeed probably won’t match reader’s vision of him. I tried to write him so the reader could make their own John and decide whether he looks like Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Alexander Skarsgård, Campbell Scott, Anderson Cooper, or Jorge Gelati. (Of all these perhaps that specific picture of Campbell Scott is closest to what is in my head, but no, still not quite perfect.)

The amount of time I spent on casting (*ahem* procrastination) eventually bled over into casting places as well. It’s all compiled, however inadequate, on Pinterest now. It was a great for me to visit while writing, to think about places (many of which don’t exist anymore since I’m writing about Seattle twenty years ago), and to see my characters all together. It made it much easier to spend even more time day dreaming about them. I’m working on the other books in the series, pinboards already filled with casting of upcoming stories, vast new spaces for me to procrastinate in.

And of course, because I am me, I am utterly ridiculous, and I find even more ways to procrastinate and play with my characters when I should be doing other things:

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Because who doesn’t love anime? Or because I love anime anyway. In fact my love of anime is what started this whole universe in my head, but that’s a story for another rainy afternoon.

Let’s have a party!

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TCM-cover-web Let’s have a celebratory party! Can I throw my own party? Is that a no-no? Because I’m pretty excited about my book, This Charming Man, being released into the wild and we should at least have a drink, right?

Here it is at Amazon and Smashwords (other venues forthcoming).

If you run into me in person I suggest not asking me about it unless you want your ear talked off. It seems like I should have used up all my excess verbiage in actually writing the book, but nope, I still have plenty more to say about the characters and the setting. So brace yourself if you engage me in that conversation.

And I could spend all day thanking Jugum Press for publishing me, adding me to their eclectic cache of books. Even you think you’re not into my book, well there’re probably some books over there you’d like. The editing Annie Pearson did for me was so above and beyond, I’m eternally grateful.

So let’s celebrate, get you a copy of the book and settle in with a drink and a quiet read. After you can come over and I’ll cook and we talk about the book,okay? Or alternately you can go review it in the venue of your choosing and I’ll just be over here drinking and hoping that you liked it.

 

This book is a wonder

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While travelling, when I should have been giving all my attention to my loved ones, I sat down for a bit and started reading That Door Is a Mischief by Alex Jeffers. I meant only to distract for an hour, to start something I could pick up before bed later, but instead I read the whole book, cover to cover, in a day, to the detriment of everything I should have been doing.

Jeffers_ThatDoor_hi-rezI don’t know if I can be objective about this book. Like all of Jeffers’ stories I was pulled in to a bubble universe that I never want to leave. The biggest tragedy is that I’m not reading this book anymore. It is not, like the fairyland in the story, a universe I can literally climb inside, through some magic door, and stay there forever. More’s the pity, I would happily live with Liam and his dads, Harry and their made family, in this beautiful bubble universe that Jeffers created.

The fairyness of this story is presented so matter-of-factly you think: yes of course there are fairies, no need to make a big deal about it. Not a delicate, sweet fantasy tale, the book is at times dark, dirty, and horrible, the way life is. The reality of fairy-Liam, particularly as a teenager is rough, uncomfortable, and awkward, yet I wouldn’t miss a minute of it.

TDIAM is a love story above all else. More than a romantic love story, it is a love-of-life story, love-of-family, made and chosen. The story’s presentation of family is spectacular, inclusive, the future we all hope for where sexuality is irrelevant to love, to family building, and everyone can make the choices they want.

How long will it take me to be ready to talk about the central love story in this book? I don’t know if I’ll ever be over it. I’m still tearing up with the enormity of it days later. It’s a gut-punch, but breathtakingly beautiful as well. It’ll just leave you entirely breathless, but it will feel like a that first glow of oxygen after you’ve had the wind knocked out of you–like the sun in your chest, huge, glowing, unfathomably sweet.

I have recently written my own book and the conclusion of that writing was emotionally devastating. Living in your own head, with your beloved characters, dreaming them, breathing them, but at some point you have to let them go, to be done. That end left me so lonely without them. Finishing reading TDIAM came close to that loneliness. Where will I be without these characters? There is a hole in my heart shaped like them. If I have any complaint about this book it is simply that it does not go on forever and that eventually I had to close it. I wondered if I would be able to handle the ending, the last chapter was intense and emotionally rough, but Jeffers came through, perfectly, so that now I can dream always that these boys are as happy as they made me.

I don’t know how to recommend this book. It is certainly supernatural fantasy, fairies, fairyland and all, but it felt so real. The characters come off the page, like people you know, fallible, damaged and exceptionally beautiful people, exposed and broken and still lovable just like your own friends. The sense of wonder Jeffers creates when people really see Liam, see the world around them differently, stuck with me. If you were going to read a fairy story anyway, read this one. If you only wanted a window into the lives of people so real you think you might pass them on the street, read this one. If you want to utterly lose yourself inside someone else’s massive world changing love, then read this book.