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.

So this happening

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I wrote a book, and now it’s edited, and has a cover, and is going to be a thing you can buy soon. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

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This Charming Man by Ajax Bell

WILL SEATTLE MAKE A MAN OF HIM YET?

It’s 1991 and Steven Frazier has danced away half a decade in the Seattle club scene with his beautiful-but-poisonous best friend, Adrian. Two glittering princes against the world, too high above life to care about what they might be missing.

But everything changes when a chance meeting with older—not to mention handsome—businessman John Pieters, reveals a cosmopolitan world and possible futures Steven’s never considered.

Flashy club clothes won’t impress John, this charming man who knows so much about many things. Motivated by fantasies inspired by his crush on John, can Steven finally fight Adrian’s sick hold?

As he steps out into the larger world, supported by new friends, Steven must prove to John—and to himself—that he’s not a hedonistic rhinestone club kid, but a true diamond in the rough.

KINDLE: Coming November 4, 1024
PRINT: Coming November 4, 2014
EPUB: Coming November 4, 2014

The End of Writing (before I start again)

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I wrote a book and I like it. It’s a book I want to read. Which I guess is why I wrote it? And yet here, on the cusp of publishing, I’m paralyzed with insecurity. I guess the old chestnut is true, being an artist is the intersection of flagrant, narcissistic ego and devastating, debilitating insecurity. The closer my writing comes to the reality of being an actual book, the more I’m waffling between the two. Some days I’m unabashedly proud of what I’ve accomplished and of my simple, sweet little story. Other days I’m certain I’m setting myself up for humiliation and my beta readers just won’t tell me how stinky my book really is.

How it feel sint he middle of writing. You've taken a vow and you might never get laid again.

How it feels in the middle of writing: you’ve taken a vow and you might never get laid again.

Writing a book was equally exhilirating and exhausting. I’m dragging my feet right now on committing to really starting the next one (plenty of research to distract me until I have no excuses left to keep me from writing) because this time I know what I’m in for and it’s harder to jump right in. And yet there has been so much I didn’t anticipate. Like all the waiting. So much waiting before publishing. I’m waiting on some translation, on cover design, on beta readers and editors. And even when that’s all through, I think I’ll still be waiting on myself to know it’s really ready to go. Leta tells me you’re never really done with a book: there’s publishing, there’s promo, there’s always something left to do. But really I think there’s levels of done. I’m looking forward to the “this is packaged and ready to distribute” level of doneness with this book, so I can stop fretting over the details of creation and start worrying about if other people will like it or not.

One day I'll hold one of these of my very own

One day I’ll hold one of these of my very own

History in the present, in pictures

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I hope many of you are already reading The Gay Men Project.  If you aren’t I’m glad to introduce you to it. It is, I suppose, something like Humans of New York, but both larger and more narrow.  I love reading the first person accounts of these men’s lives. How diverse their experiences are, how different.  Seeing the older men talk about the times they came out, how they came out, how being gay affected their lives. And the younger men, not all, but so many saying how being gay is such a small part of their identity, just a thing, nothing to make a big deal about.

I think about this a lot, this split.  I am so grateful, so thankful, that simply being gay is slowly becoming meaningless. Just an aspect of a person, not their entire identity. This is hugely important and the kind of acceptance we’ve been fighting for all these years.  And I feel a little loss in the face of it. ‘Gay’ has never been a homogenous (heh) culture but a mass of connected subcultures and it’s hard to see those dissapear. Yes, the terrible sterotypes, the negative judgements are washing away with them and good riddance.  But there was once a narrative that we are losing. An oral tradition of sorts, codes of conduct, akin to secret handshakes, passed down from generation to generation. And even the stereotypes weren’t all bad, many existed and allowed you to find your own, even when outsiders couldn’t quite see what was going on.

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Truly the need for secrecy was awful.  It existed to keep gay people safe. That there was so much threat, to their jobs, lives, and persons, that it required being hidden was terrible.  Being 40, I lived only on the very far edges of that, heard about, passed down verbally to me, as the history of a subculture. I’m glad the threat is lessening, dissipating. But the stories, the transfer of information from person to person is disappearing too. Becoming ancient lore, mythology, something barely seen. Subtext in old books and movies is lost, without this code and key to understand it. And that part I’m going to miss when it’s gone. It’s becoming a humorous stereotype of all it’s own, gay movies now filled with a greek chorus of older gay men shaking their heads at the youth of today for not knowing the great gay icons, not knowing the struggle.

The Gay Men Project preserves some of this passed on history. You can see bits and pieces of it in older men’s stories, still being shared, in a different way to the next generation.

I also love the diversity of pictures, of people. In an era when gay men’s bodies are becoming as scrutinized and modified as women’s have long been, it’s nice to have a break from the sculpted abs and designer clothes. To see real people shouldn’t be be so refreshing, but it is and it’s a great reminder that being out is what gives us all freedom.  When you can see that these are simply your neighbors, your friends, your family, integral parts of your community. Not monsters or perverts, but average people, it’s so very important to the cause, to equality, to freedom.

So thanks, Kevin Truong, for the work you’re doing to relay this these beautiful stories and pictures.

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Beautiful to a reader, better to a writer

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Miniature of Istanbul (Historical Peninsula)I few weeks ago I stumbled across Alex Jeffers’ Tattooed Love Boys in the Wilde Stories 2013 collection. I love short stories and speculative fiction but I find often that I enjoy a story while reading it, but forget it not long after shutting the book. Tattooed Love Boys stuck with me. Sure, it was about tattoos, beautiful boys, angels (maybe), and gender switching, which are basically the things I love most. But the writing in this story set a mood and tone that was what made the story stick with me. It had a dreamy quality that made the reader, like the characters, not question the weirdness.

Immediately I went out and got Jeffers’ The Padishah’s Son and the Fox which is both delightful and disgusting. Telling an ‘erotic’ fairytale with all the gruesome darkness of true fairytales, with many unexpected turns the story left me completely satisfied as a reader. The storytelling is lovely, giving you a genuinely visceral response, both positive and negative.

Though wonderful neither of these stories had the length and depth for me to completely immerse myself in, to forget myself in. Luckily the next I picked up was The Abode of Bliss. I read it in two sittings, interrupted only by the need to interact with my family and to sleep. Given the chance I would have read it straight through. Though I was emotionally overwrought when I finished it, so maybe it’s best that I had time to reflect on it when I finished (easily done as I was on a plane).

3597187161_1dcfb09bc4_oThe Abode of Bliss by turns made me laugh and made me weep. Reading it I felt both lonely and loved, and was filled with longing, both sexual and romantic. The prose is poetic though not overblown or contrived. It is evocative and heartfelt but with an emotional distance, as if the story teller is remembering, that allows careful observation. But still I felt close enough to be pulled into the remembered emotions, to cheer and cry for Ziya. I felt entirely inside his world, inside him, a character made up only of a words on a page.

This is how I hope to write. Some day I want to be practiced enough to feel confident that I can tell stories this intense, this clearly crafted, stories that sound this true no matter how made up they are. Here’s the thing about storytelling: it’s all made up, even when it’s true. As far as I can tell, Jeffers isn’t Turkish, (he says in his end note that he’s never been there) but somehow he manages to utterly transport me to Turkey. And carry me there inside the mind of character who feels completely authentic, so fleshed out as to be entirely real, utterly believable.

Jeffers’ books have reminded me that writing what you know is shit advice, it always has been. If people only wrote what they know we’d never have Madame Bovary, or War and Peace, we certainly wouldn’t have Star Trek or Harry Potter.  My own stories, at this point, are merely dirty little tales, with characters hopefully polished enough that readers will love them so much that they feel what the characters feel. They, at their core, stories of young men finding a sense of community in eras before my time. They are stories about things I have no experience of, having never been a young man in the 1980s. But these are the stories I have to tell, the characters who live in my head. So I will do my best to do them justice.

Reading The Abode of Bliss was pure joy as a reader, exactly what I needed for my vacation, to be entirely transported out of my own world. As a reader I couldn’t ask for more out a book.  As a writer I’m thrilled to find books like this that inspire me to try and make my stories much better than they are now.  Books that encourage me to keep writing the stories that come to me. Stories of cities I have never lived in, of people I am not and do not know. I will sleep tonight dreaming if Ziya in Turkey. I will wake tomorrow ready to better practice my craft, to more skillfully use words to bring readers into the world I created.

Not Far From the Tree (part one)

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Guess what I just got?!

IMG_20140530_175850836It’s newest book in my mom’s Rain City Comedy of Manners series, Artemis in the Desert. Just in time for beach reading, bed reading, park reading, weekend reading, airport reading, or really any kind of reading there is. Like the other books in the series (Nine Volt Heart–likeable rock stars, and The Grrrl of Limberlost–punk rock nerd girl coder) it features strong female characters, crazy bad guys and such lush backdrop descriptions that you’ll wish you were there inside the book (well except maybe camping in the cold rain in the desert, you won’t wish for that but you’ll really feel it). And like all her other books, even though I’ve already read it a couple times (in various stages of completion) I’m going to read it again now that i can just enjoy it.

My mom has been a huge inspiration to me. All the usual blah blah blahs: she’s smart, strong, independent, gave me a love of books and words, etc. Lately though she’s knocking it out of the park in the getting shit done department. Writing, editing, and publishing a huge variety of works (her own and other people’s) at a rocket fast pace without sacrificing quality on anything (look at how gorgeous her book layouts are, read how neatly crafted her books are). I aspire every day to her level of productivity and her quality of output.

Plus she’s just super awesome to hang with. If you can’t get to her garden to have fancy gin drink and good hang out, you can still find her other places she hangs. She has a website where she talks about writing, editing, her stories and other various things. You can also follow her Twitter where she is very funny and her Facebook for updates about what she’s got coming up.

On Pen Names and Secret Identities

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Why a pen name? The obvious answer is that if you’re writing romance or erotica, it’s separating your writing from your day job.  But even if I didn’t have a day job I’d still use a pen name.  There’s lots of good reasons like branding, and if you write in two very distinct genres you want to keep them separate (essentially brand them with the name you write each with, so I guess that’s still branding).

takano04For me it’s also because I just like names. I grew up in an age of the internet when we were all anonymous, there was no Facebook, we didn’t put our real names on anything. I’ve never been good at coming up with clever internet handles, but I love when other people do. I love the expressiveness of choosing your own name. And the ability to change it like an outfit. As evidenced by the many I’ve had in the last ~20 years: jax, pinklady, starcat, stoneprincess, jayjay, evereadysmile and now flickerjax (and several variations on my real name).

A pen name is a little different. It’s lasting, forever tied to whatever work you created it for. It can’t be changed like a url or a handle. I went through a dozen choices of what to use for the works I’m currently writing and finally settled on one that I think fits the ‘brand’ of the stories and fits me.  I chose a traditionally masculine name (about 9/12 of my list of choices were masculine) not because I’m hiding behind it while writing m/m romance (a quick perusal of this blog or my FB will reveal almost immediately that I’m not a guy). I picked it because I love the name and it reflects me in a way I like. And perhaps because in real life my first name is “masculine” this feels more comfortable. Most traditionally feminine names felt more fake to me than my final choice: Ajax Owen Bell.

My imaginary son is in the ether somewhere thankful he was never born to me because this probably would have been his first and middle names. Actually that was the only thing that made me hesitate about it, but I have no reason to save the name for a child, so I took it for myself. It feels comfortably like my name, correct in a way other choices I weighed never did. They all felt false and thin, but this is solid for me, like this is a name that I already somehow own.

If you’re looking for Ajax Bell, you can find me other places online (psst, over in the sidebar).  Facebook, necessarily separated from my “real life” account, mostly to protect my grandmother from anything more offensive than what I already post, and because my day job coworkers probably aren’t interested in gay romance writing. And of course I’m on the endless rabbit hole of time wasting that is Tumblr. Follow if you like, but fair warning, it’s mostly gay porn, mermaids, and Tokio Hotel in my feed and it gets graphic at times (I do tag because without Tumblr Savior all civility is lost to the world) and my tags probably expose a level of insanity I should be ashamed of (but I’m not, bring on the gay porn German pop star mermen and my ramblings about them, yeah).

Anonymity on the internet is clearly a relic of the past, gone but still mourned. Identity is something else entirely. I think it’s fair to say the person I am when I wake up early and go slog at my office all day is different from the fangirl gleefully watching endless eps of Looking and Orphan Black while reblogging Bob’s Burgers gifs. I have no problem at all with the idea that I need different spaces, different names and (ugh) different brands for those identities.  So here I am, yes it’s me. Still me, no matter what you call me, but if we’re friends (and we are, aren’t we?) feel free to call me JJ no matter what space we’re in.

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