Illicit Affairs

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a young adult novel, and it’s certainly been awhile since I read one that I enjoyed as much as I did Patrick Ness’ Release.

The other day when I finally finished writing and published my blog about writing queer young adult fiction, I reread the articles I linked to in the piece–the ones that triggered me writing it in the first place–and discovered that one of the books considered “problematic” for its depiction of gay teen sexuality was Release by Patrick Ness. I looked it up, and discovered I had already purchased it back when I was originally writing the entry, shelved it, and forgotten about it. It was right there on the top of the first bookcase I went looking for it in, and I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and read it.

I’m really, really glad I decided to go ahead and finish those pending draft entries, because that led me to reading this delightful book.

Adam would have to get the flowers himself.

His mom had enough to do, she said; she needed them this morning, pretty much right now if the day wasn’t going to be a total loss; and in the end, Adam’s attendance at this little “get-together” with his friends tonight may or may not hinge on his willingness/success in picking up the flowers and doing so without complaint.

Adam argued–quite well, he thought, without showing any overt anger–that his older brother, Marty, was the one who’d run over the old flowers; that he, Adam, also had a ton of things to do today; and the new chrysanthemums for the front path weren’t exactly high in the logical criteria for attendance at a get-together he’d already bargained for–because nothing was free with his parents, not ever–by chopping all the winter’s firewood before even the end of August. Nevertheless, she had, in that way of hers, turned it into a decree: he would get the flowers or he wouldn’t go tonight, especially after that girl got killed.

“Your choice,” his mom said, not even looking at him.

Release was, for me, kind of a revelation, and what more can anyone ask for from a novel?

As I mentioned the other day, one of the primary issues I’ve faced–and worried about–in writing queer young adult fiction is the issue of sex and sexuality; times have changed in many (and better) ways since I was a terrified teenager deep in my closet and afraid someone, anyone, might find out my actual truth. There’s also the endlessly cliched trope of the coming out story; there have been many of those stories written and published; what else can you do that’s fresh and new? The trope of the deeply religious parents and their inability to accept and love their child has been done plenty of times; to the point where I’ve really not ever wanted to go near it. Release is yet another one of those, but it’s actually done so well it seems fresh and new; Adam’s dad is an evangelical pastor at a wannabe megachurch, but their church exists in the shadows of a much more successful local one, and so Adam’s family is a bit cash-strapped, particularly since his mother lost her job.

But the most refreshing part of the story is that Adam actually not only thinks about sex, he actually has it. He is currently on his fourth (secret) boyfriend, one of the only out kids at his high school, and still mooning over Enzo, with whom he was involved for fourteen months and then was transitioned into the “friend zone”–while Enzo moved on and went back to dating girls. He still has unresolved feelings for Enzo–what teenager hasn’t been dumped by someone they still love?–that interfere with, and complicate, his relationship with Linus, who actually does love Adam. The “get-together” that night is Enzo’s going away party; he and his family are moving to Atlanta, and this will be the last time Adam will ever see him. It’s teen melodrama, worthy of Gossip Girl or any number of teenage melodramas, but it’s done so well and Ness makes Adam so likable and relatable, you can’t help but root for him to figure it all out and not mess it up.

There’s also an absolutely lovely sex scene between the two of them–Adam and Linus–that, while undoubtedly making certain people uncomfortable (Oh no! Two gay boys in bed together! HAVING THE GAY BUTTSEX!!!!) is actually neither explicit nor graphic, and says a lot by saying very little; which also made me realize that yes, indeed, Greg, there’s a way to write sex scenes so that they are expressions of desire and need, yes, but also of emotion and love. (Mine–when I used to write erotica–were athletic and nasty and passionate.)

I highly enjoyed this book, and while there is a weird subplot story going on at the same time as Adam’s story–one that never really is explained the hows and whys of, or of how these supernatural creatures are somehow connected to Adam–it’s not jarringly off-track, even though possibly unnecessary or connected.

It’s a terrific book. I will definitely read more of Mr. Ness’ work.

We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off

Monday morning and everything outside this morning looks wet; the sky is filled with clouds and so it’s not blindingly bright outside this morning either. This, of course, can be deceptive: I am almost afraid to check out the temperature because I know it’s going to be something insane that is going to make me want to not ever leave the house.

Okay, I looked. It’s a cool eighty right now, with an expected high of ninety-six later. Hurray.

Yesterday was awesome. I don’t know if it was the glass of wine or the two glasses of summer punch I had before dinner on Saturday, but I slept amazingly well Saturday night and woke up refreshed and rested on Sunday morning. I still feel rested and refreshed this morning, which is even lovelier. I have two chapters to go on the Scotty first draft and then it is finished, I have a short story to finish, and then I have another project to work on for the next two months. I am enormously pleased to be so close to finished with the Scotty book; I just need to make sure of something before I can write the second-to-last chapter, and then it gets to sit and percolate for two months. We also continued watching season two of Cardinal, which isn’t nearly as creepy as season one, but still enjoyable.

I also have continued reading the Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but am not getting into it. It might get better later on, but I’ve decided to simply put it aside for now and move on to something else that might get me more involved. The question is which ARC? Sarah Weinman’s? Lou Berney’s? Alex Segura’s, which I still haven’t gotten to? The Hank Philippi Ryan? Or something from the shelf? Questions, questions. But this week is a very brief one; I only have to work today and tomorrow and then I am taking a stay-cation; a word I hate using but it works as a shorthand explanation. I am off work from Wednesday on, and don’t have to be back into the office until the following Tuesday. I intend to do some of the things I didn’t get done on the last stay-cation; primarily cleaning out the storage attic to make room for new stuff, as well as do the floors and windows and clean the car as well as write write write read read read.

I also made it to the gym yesterday where I did thirty minutes of relatively easy low impact cardio on the treadmill while watching the second episode of the Netflix series Troy: The Fall of a City, which was much better than the first, frankly, and also triggered a memory of another book I want to write, The Trojan Boy.

Because of course I don’t have enough to write on my plate already. Heavy heaving sigh.

The next story in Promises and Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sea Where It’s Shallow”:

They weren’t happy. I could tell.

The couple was sitting on beach towels a few feet beyond where the lapping of the waves at the sand turned it a darker hue than where it was dry. One was blonde, the other brunette.  The blonde was older, maybe by as few as five years, maybe as many as ten. The brunette was taller by about four inches, but the blonde was stockier, with thicker muscles.

I crossed the line from where the depth of the water changes, where it switches from blue to green. I’d been swimming a long time, and perhaps it was time to come out. This couple definitely needed me, my intervention. Their auras were all wrong. They loved each other but something was going on with them, something that was making them forget how much they loved, how much they cared, how deep the feelings actually ran. The brunette was scowling. They weren’t talking, they were merely sitting side by side on their individual blankets on the powdery white sand. Not even looking at each other, not even stealing the occasional sidelong glance.

My feet brushed against the bottom and I smiled. I’d been in the water long enough it seemed to forget how to walk. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. I hoped not, at any rate. My feet sank a fraction of an inch into the sand, and the small waves lifted the weight off of my feet momentarily as each one passed, moving me a little closer to the water’s edge.

I kept my eyes on the brunette as more of me emerged from the water. He tried to make it look like he wasn’t looking at me. I was getting the sidelong glances as his eyes scanned the horizon, but they always came back to me. He seemed afraid to look me in the eyes, for our gazes to lock, but his eyes, I could see them moving, drinking in every inch of my dripping body as it emerged from the green sea. The white sugary sand of the Florida panhandle scrunched under my feet as I walked at last out of the water. I smiled at the brunette. The blonde had laid back, sunglasses on, his eyes unreadable. The brunette was more susceptible to my charms, I decided, sitting down on the sand a few feet from where he sat.

I would wait a few minutes, letting the sun dry my skin, I decided, giving him the opportunity to speak first. Unless I missed my guess, he would.

The sun’s rays were warm, and my skin dried quickly in its glare. I sensed him there, wanting to speak, to open a dialogue, but afraid of how the blonde would react.

Fair enough.

I turned my head and looked right into his brown eyes. He looked away quickly, his tanned face coloring slightly, embarrassed at being caught looking. “Hello.” I said, rearranging my facial muscles into a smile. It felt awkward. Surely it hadn’t been that long since I’d smiled? For a brief moment, I tried to recall the last time I’d smiled.

I don’t remember–again–which anthology or magazine I wrote this story for, but I do remember writing this story; it was in our old apartment on Sophie Wright Place, which places the writing somewhere between August 2001 and June 2003, which is when we moved to where we live now. I’ve always been interested in mermen (not Ethel, but rather the male version of mermaids)–the video for Madonna’s song Cherish is a great example of this–and I wanted to write a story about one. The couple was loosely based on a couple I met, actually on a Hawaiian beach, in 1995, whom I went home with. I ran into both of them at LA Pride–independently of each other; they’d split up in the months that passed between my trips, but this next time I saw them it was more of a “hey, nice to see you hope all’s well” brief conversation as we passed each other in the crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard.

I’ve always liked this story.

And I’ve always thought Channing Tatum would make a sexy merman.

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If You Leave

Sunday morning.

I wrote another chapter, slightly less than three thousand words, yesterday. I don’t know that I can match the output today, but I’m certainly going to give it another try. I only have five chapters left to go on this excruciatingly sloppy first draft, but a finished first draft is a finished first draft, and I can tear it apart and patch it all back together again in September. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to doing that, to be honest; I just wish these five chapters were finished already.

Heavy sigh.

Last night I took a streetcar named St. Charles down to the Quarter to have dinner with a friend in town for ALA (I am heading back down there again today, to meet the publishers for the Bouchercon anthology), and it was absolutely delightful to talk with someone incredibly smart about books and writing and publishing; it always is, frankly. The heat and humidity were somehow bearable on the way there; it was the way home that was horrific. I was completely soaked when I got off the streetcar and by the time I got to the Lost Apartment, and the heat/humidity just sucked the energy right out of me. I feel icky and sticky still this morning; I feel asleep in my chair and just went to bed from there, forgetting the cardinal rule of summer in New Orleans: always shower whenever you can, especially before bed.

But, it was a lot of fun. I really do have amazing and smart friends.

So I am going to try to get some work done before it’s time to hit the streetcar again. I would prefer to hit my three thousand words today before I get leave, since I probably won’t be in the mood when I get back home again–note to self: take a second shower when you get home, you won’t be sorry in the least.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Desire Under the Blankets.”

Blair lit a cigarette. The light cast from his match flared briefly, casting shadows in the darkened room. He shook out the match and tossed it into an overflowing ashtray as he sucked in hungrily at the smoke. The menthol clotted in his lungs and he fought against the cough that fought its way up his windpipe, determined to expel the poisons. His eyes watered for a moment, and he gave in to the cough at last, muffling its sound. The clock on his desk read four fifteen. The rest of the fraternity house was silent. The majority of them were undoubtedly passed out from too much alcohol; some of them, he was sure, were huddled in rooms smoking pot out of bongs or snorting cocaine off the glass in picture frames. His own supply of cocaine was sitting in a small pile on a framed photograph of his mother on the desk top next to a bong made of glass and plastic in the shape of a dragon.

He opened his small refrigerator and got a can of Pepsi. He was still a little drunk from the evening’s festivities. Big Brother night, a semesterly tradition in which the pledges received their protectors and advisors amongst the group of the already initiated, ended around two in the morning when the keg ran dry and the last pledge had vomited. His own little brother, Mike Van Zale, was sleeping off his drunkenness in Blair’s bed, snoring a little softly. Mike had puked around midnight, thanks to the Jose Cuervo shots Blair had poured down his throat. After Mike had staggered down the hallway to the bathroom and lost the contents of his stomach, Blair took pity on him and led him up to his room. Some of the other brothers would force their new charges to drink again after throwing up, but Blair was a little more compassionate. Besides, the previous semester one of the Alpha Chi Omega pledges almost died from alcohol abuse. Blair’s brothers at Beta Kappa, for the most part, only paid lip service to the new University regulations regarding alcohol hazing of pledges. They were idiots, Blair reflected as he stubbed out his cigarette and made another line from the cocaine.  It wasn’t the first time he’d thought that nor, he reflected, was it likely to be the last.

His nostrils were already numb from previous snorts and he knew that this one wouldn’t restore the high the first one, hours earlier, had given him. All this would do was make his hands shake and his teeth grind. It was a waste but he was in the stage he called the “I  wants”, when he began to mentally crave more and more cocaine. He took a hit off the bong to lessen the edge of the coke when it hit. He held the smoke in as long as he could before it exploded out of him in a massive coughing fit. He grabbed a tissue and spit out a wad of phlegm.

On the bed, Mike shifted and moaned a little.

Blair took a sip of his Pepsi to cool his burning throat and walked over to the bed. Mike was sprawled on his back on top of the covers. In the moonlight coming through the slightly parted curtains, his skin looked like smooth alabaster. His hairless and hard chest gleamed in the ghostly light. Thick wiry hair sprouted from under his arms. A thin line of drool hung from the corner of his mouth. His face was expressionless. A thin trail of wiry black hairs ran from his navel to the waistband of his white briefs.

He was quite beautiful.

I created the character of Blair–along with two others, Chris Moore and Eric Matthews–years before I was published. When I belonged to a fraternity and was actually living in the house, I created these three fraternity brothers that were very close friends, and wrote lots of notes about them. I was originally thinking along the terms of writing a fraternity thriller, with these three characters kind of a Three Investigators team solving the murder. I’ve always thought a fraternity would be a good setting for a murder, and I still do. This entire scene, in fact, was born from that idea for a novel; I’d always intended Blair, whose parents were movie stars, to be flamboyant and gay, if closeted within the hallowed halls of the fraternity house. I wrote this particular story out as an idea; the title was obviously a play on the Eugene O’Neill play. I used this story for an anthology, and then years later incorporated it into my novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, the first of three erotic fraternity novels I’ve done as Todd Gregory.

I always liked Blair, and should have done a sequel about him. (The fratboy series always focuses on a new character with the new book; the main characters from the previous one show up, but don’t have a lot to do .)

Who know? Maybe someday I will.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Two of Hearts

FRIDAY! Huzzah!

It’s my short day, which is always a lovely way to roll into the weekend, and then I only have one more full week before my next two-day week and six day vacation! Woo-hoo!

I managed to write three thousand words, which is all of Chapter 19, yesterday; I also had miscounted. I still have six chapters to go, alas, but that is doable before the end of the month. The manuscript is a completely sloppy mess, of course, but one that should be easy to fix, to trim, to revise and edit and rewrite. I am hoping to get it into decent shape by the end of September. Huzzah!

I also decided yesterday that “Children of the Stone Circle” isn’t the right story I want to submit to this call. I am going to revisit “The Arm,” which I think is probably more consistent of a story and more believable, would work better in a revision, and so I am going to give it a try this weekend and see what happens with it.

Right now I am hating everything I’ve written. Some things never change.

Next up in my erotic short story collection Promises in Every Star was “All the World’s A Stage.” This one was also written for an anthology, and again, I don’t remember which one or who the editor was or what publisher. I should probably keep better track of this stuff, don’t you think?

The dance floor was still crowded with shirtless boys, sweat running down smooth muscled torsos. My friends had moved on across the street to Oz, leaving me alone on the dance floor enjoying my Ecstasy high and the charms of a guy in his late twenties with the body of an underwear model and the face of an angel. His ass was round and hard in his jeans, and he kept grinding it into my crotch with the beat of the music. He had a tattoo on his lower back, a fleur-de-lis, symbol of the New Orleans Saints. Every time he would back into me that way my dick would get hard in my jean shorts. I wasn’t sure if he actually wanted me to fuck him or not. You never can be sure of anything at a circuit party. His flirting could be entirely based in whatever mind altering substance he’d imbibed. He could have a boyfriend. He might just enjoy losing himself on the dance floor and flirting, in getting attention from men he thought were hot. It was flattering, for sure, since I am now in my late forties, and I had always been brainwashed into thinking that gay life—and most assuredly gay sex and desire—ended at forty.

And if this boy fucked the way he danced, well, it would definitely be worth my while.

He backed into me again, and I slid my arms around his waist, pulling him back against me. His body was wet with sweat, his jeans damp to the touch, his short blonde hair glistening in the flickering laser lights. My cock hardened again, and I ground my crotch into the back of his jeans, rubbing it against him. He suddenly spun around so that our crotches were together. I could feel his hard on against mine. He pressed his lips against mine, forcing mine apart with his tongue. I sucked on his tongue when it entered my mouth, reaching down to cup that pretty ass with my hands.

 “Mmmmmm.” He smiled as he pulled his head back from mine. He put both of his hands on my pecs, squeezing a little bit. “Very nice.”

I smiled back at him. “I could say the same.”

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“All the World’s a Stage” is one of those bar/partying stories, and it is sort of based in reality; although it was kind of a combination of two different events. First of all, yes, once at Southern Decadence a hot younger guy was flirting with me on the dance floor and yes, he did at one point call me daddy, which was the first time that ever happened, and yes, I did get pulled up on stage to mess around with two porn stars by a drag queen. But the getting pulled up on stage and the night I was called a daddy for the first time were, in fact, different occasions; but realistically, in creating the fiction of the story, it simply made sense for the narrative to combine those two incidents.

I’m pleased with it. I think I captured the feel of being drugged out and blissful on the dance floor; that tribal sense I used to get whenever I was one of a crowd of shirtless, sweaty gay men dancing. I loved to dance; always did, and hitting the dance floor was always one of my favorite things to do for years.

I do miss dancing sometimes; I miss that feel of the loud music and the sweat and the shirts being tucked into the back of your jeans (and still losing it sometimes) and sweat rolling down your body and the flashing lights and the fog and everyone lost in joyful abandon…

And now back to the spice mines.

Walk of Life

Thursday, and a bit reflective this morning. I’m not as well-rested as I was yesterday, but still feel pretty good this morning. I’m also only on my second cup of coffee, so there’s also that.

June continues to slip through my fingers; only nine days left for me to finish the first draft of the Scotty book and finish writing two short stories. This weekend I also have to put together the copy edits for Florida Happens, and I have to do a final pass on another short story. But…the more I have to do, the busier I am, the more I seem to get done. (Which is sort of obvious; if you have less to do, you are obviously not going to do as much as you will when you have more to do. But what I mean is the more I have to do, the less likely I am to procrastinate or put something off because I have plenty of time.) I also want to read aloud the first four chapters of the WIP, and I also need to start copy-editing Jackson Square Jazz.

I have, however, requested off a very long weekend around July 4th; I will be off from the 4th thru the 10th, and that should help immeasurably with everything–especially cleaning the house. In other exciting news, today I found the image I want to use for the cover of “Never Kiss a Stranger,” once it’s finished, edited and ready to be a Kindle single. That’s one of the lovely things about living in New Orleans–it’s very easy  to take a gorgeous photo here.

I did go ahead and reread “Tell Me a Lie” last night.

The music is loud, almost at eardrum-bleeding levels. A thin veil of smoke hovers just above the heads of the people in the bar. A muscle man in a red bikini shakes his ass on the other side of the bar, coaxing dollar bills from the gaggle of older men gathered at his feet. I watch him for a moment. It is truly a wondrous ass, hard and round and perched atop two well defined thick legs. There is a tattoo on his lower back just above the red stretch fabric but in the glow of the black lights I can’t make out what it is. It doesn’t matter. He’s a terrible dancer, probably gay for pay like so many of them are, and who has time for that kind of nonsense? The body is remarkable, but there are a lot of guys in the place just as hot as he is, who won’t require cash up front for a fuck. Maybe I should have just stayed home and gone on-line, I think to myself. I’ve been here for almost an hour and no one’s even looked at me twice.  I look at my watch. Another half hour and I’m out of here. Home to my empty apartment and the glow of the computer screen as I cruise manhunt.com and hope someone even half-way decent messages me. But I don’t want that again, the wait for them to knock on my door and the enormous disappointment when I see that their picture was at least ten years out of date, or they haven’t been to the gym in a couple of years, or any number of things…that’s why I prefer going to bars to find someone. At least in a bar you can see what you’re getting and you don’t have to experience that awkward moment when they are standing on your doorstep and you have to resist the urge to slam the door in their face, that horrible split second of resignation of a live body’s better than jacking off to porn again.

I sip my beer, and I see a guy walk around the corner. I’ve seen him before, over the years. Desire rises in my heart and groin. I’ve always wanted him, but he was always with a guy who protectively always seemed to stick close to him—or been part of a group with no apparent interest in hooking up with anyone. He’s beautiful. He’s about six foot tall or thereabouts, with dark hair he cuts short and hides beneath a baseball cap—tonight it’s an LSU cap. He has the thickly muscled body of a football player, and always wears T-shirts and tight jeans. Tonight is no exception. His face is gorgeous, with wide blue eyes and tanned skin—there’s probably some Cajun in his background. I’ve cruised the contact sites looking for him before, with no luck. He’s either faceless in his profiles or just not on-line looking for Mr. Right Now.  I watch as he walks up to the bar directly across from me, ignoring the stripper gyrating near where is standing.

Our eyes meet, and he smiles at me. He has a beautiful smile, the kind I’d like to see in the morning when I wake him with a kiss on the neck.

It’s been a long time since I went into a gay bar, to drink and relax and have fun; even longer since I went into a gay bar looking to get laid with either someone I’d slept with before or someone new. That part of my life, and that lifestyle, is so far off my radar now that it never even crosses my mind to think about going out clubbing. I am fifty-six, soon to be fifty-seven, and while I  certainly don’t want to age myself or think of myself as old…I do feel that I’ve sort of grown out of that now.  I don’t think of it as being sad; I’m not sad about it. I certainly spent my fair share of time in gay bars.

When I talk about stories I’ve written and published, it’s not always easy for me to remember where the idea came from; in this case, I don’t even remember where the story was originally published, but I know I wrote it for an anthology; whether it was for one of mine or someone else’s, I do not recall. But rereading this one…I actually remembered the original idea; I was at the Pub one night, standing in a corner drinking a Bud Lite long neck, as I did, in a tank top and jeans. I hadn’t moved to New Orleans yet, nor had I met Paul. I was here for the weekend, visiting, and I ran into someone–someone gorgeous–that I’d slept with on a previous trip. He’d told me his name was something, I don’t remember what–he’d asked me where I was from and I’d said Tampa, so being a tourist I suppose meant giving me a fake name–but someone else I knew was there, and wound up introducing us; which is when I found out he’d given me a fake name. He was terribly embarrassed; I just laughed and said not to worry about it because it really didn’t matter.

On the flight back to Tampa the next morning I wrote a brief description of a story in my journal; about meeting someone and hooking up with someone in a bar who gives you a fake name and you know he’s lying to you but you don’t care. About five years later I started writing the story–the first draft was terrible, and it didn’t work–and then I remembered the story years later for this anthology (I wish I could remember which one) and started over. I tried to capture that prowling, on the hunt feeling you get when you go out looking to get laid, to have fun. I thought I did a pretty good job, frankly.

I actually used to run into that guy a lot after we moved here, and we became friends. He moved away about ten years ago; we always chatted and laughed and hung out for a while when we ran into each other.

I never asked him why he gave me a fake name that first time; I now kind of wish I had.

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Words Get In The Way

My first published fiction was erotica. Porn, if you will, perversion and filth if you won’t.

I always wanted to do an erotica anthology called Filth and Perversions. Alas, the market for print erotica has long since dried up; there’s too much easily accessible and free/low cost visual erotica available these days. It’s a shame–because all notions that erotica writing is all trash is incredibly incorrect; part and parcel of the American puritan ethic about sex and sexuality that is responsible for a lot of things wrong in this country today, frankly.

Or maybe I’ll just call my memoirs Filth and Perversions. It’s too good of a title not to use, you know?

But I often credit writing erotica with helping me understand how to write short stories better. Erotic stories are the ultimate definition of a story: beginning/middle/end; characters meet/have sex/resolution; writing erotica essentially taught me/help me understand story structure, which for some reason I just couldn’t get through my head before.

As I mentioned in my afterward to Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, there’s not much of a market for short stories with gay characters. In fact, the only way to get gay-themed short stories published was the write erotica.

So, I basically would write a story and then figure out how to add a sex scene to it so it could get published.

That’s not to say, of course, that some of the stories weren’t simply about the sex; but I wanted them to be about more than just random gay guy meets other random gay guy, they have sex, and each goes on his merry way.

The title story of my collection, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, is about going back to your high school reunion and running into someone you had a mad crush on when you were a closeted, bullied gay teen.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of a cornfield after a heavy rain.

I’d forgotten that in the twenty five years since I’d left Kansas and never looked back. Off in the east I could see the black clouds and the mist that hung from them to the ground, blurring everything beyond it. I’d forgotten that the sky in Kansas surrounds you and goes on forever, so that you could see the weather coming and the weather that was just there. There were no clouds overhead now, just sky that was something between azure and robin’s egg, reaching down into the wet corn. The pavement of the county road beneath the tires of my rented red Mustang convertible was wet and splashing every once in a while, the water being thrown up making a slight slapping sound against the rubber. Twenty five years. What else had I forgotten?

As I turned off onto the Allen road, I slid Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours into the CD player and turned it up. This was the way  used to drive to school when Mom let me have the car or one of my friends picked me up and I didn’t have to ride the bus. It was a CD now rather than a scratchy 8 track player, and the sound quality was much better, but it was still the same. I smiled to myself as I saw my old green Chevrolet Bel Air with holes rusted in the sides running up the Allen Road, the old muffler pipe hanging too low from the back end. All the windows would be open to catch the breeze and eliminate the smell of the cigarette dangling from my lip. Stevie would be wailing about the thunder, and the rain washing you clean, and you’ll know. I would be singing along at the top of my lungs, thumping my hand on the steering wheel with the bass line.

No, it didn’t look too different, I thought as the Mustang sped along. The same fields, the same houses, the same barns. Every once in a while there’d be a clearing in the corn and a brick house I didn’t remember would appear, laundry flapping in the sweet after rain air on a clothesline, a couple of cars in the unpaved drive. I crossed the Cottonwood River bridge, and saw a house coming up on the right. The Gosses used to live there, I thought as I drove by. Mrs. Goss was the school secretary, and Sue her spoiled only child. I couldn’t remember what Mr. Goss did for a living, but I remember Sue had her own custom Mustang when we were in school, and she always dressed nice. Sue was cute, in a little girlish kind of way, and a lot of the guys thought she was sexy. I thought she was funny. She made me laugh. She also didn’t strike me as the type who’d marry any of the boys in our school. Sue would, I thought even then, marry money.

The mailbox still said GOSS. I guessed the Gosses would probably be in their seventies by now, and why wouldn’t they still be there? Sue was undoubtedly long gone, came home a couple of times with her kids to see them a year, every once in a while they’d get into their Buick and go see her.

Hmmm. A lot of this is drawn from my own experience, obviously, being a closeted bullied gay teen in a Kansas high school–and the Allen road was one of the ways to get to my high school from the town I lived in, but I’ve never been to one of my reunions so that is all fictional.

This story was actually triggered by getting an invitation to attend my twenty-five year reunion, and that got me started thinking about what it would be like to go back. I’ve written a lot of fiction about Kansas (mostly unpublished, with Sara the noticeable exception. The WIP, by the way, is set in Kansas, and I have an idea for another Kansas novel called Kansas Lonesome that I hope to get to next year).

The next story in the collection,  “Tell Me a Lie,” was written for an anthology but I can’t remember which one, but it was one I didn’t edit. It was specifically about going out looking for sex, cruising a gay bar looking for your trick of the evening, and not really caring about who that person is…it’s kind of a cynical story, in some ways, now that I think about it; cynical and sad, about wanting a physical connection with someone out of need, but wanting nothing more.

Hmm, I should read that again.

And now back to the spice mines.

promises in every star