Just coming up for air after a wildly eventful two weeks. Not sure what happened astrologically or in some other energies I don’t manage, but it was like a dam broke and washed down my river without doing a stick of damage. Instead, cycles that have been in “pending” mode for months all sprang forward as if the Cosmos had flipped a switch.
Unnerving — and exciting! So here’s the executive summary:
Wednesday, Mar 4 I learned that my novel The Companion is a finalist in this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. A week later I’m still giddy about it, and probably will be for months to come. For someone who writes gay fiction, this is huge, and would have made a stellar week all on its own. It’s the equivalent of being nominated for an Oscar for us. Bob and I immediately bought tickets to the awards ceremony June 1st in New York.
An hour after receiving the news, I was in a rented a car driving to Orlando for the Dreamspinner Author Retreat. Not sure I needed a car, it felt like I could have floated there on my cloud of euphoria. Come to think of it, I could have saved twenty bucks on road tolls each way if I had!
March 5-8, I had a chance to immerse myself in the Dreamspinner community. Many authors I hadn’t met in person, but I felt right at home. Moreover, Elizabeth North, the Publisher, gave a truly visionary speech, outlining events and sales performance of last year, and the plans for the year coming. In a publishing environment where reported sales have leveled or declined, the increase in sales at Dreamspinner was breathtaking.
Later, in a meeting with Elizabeth and her Editor-in-Chief Lynn West I was thrilled to learn more of DSP Publications, their new publishing arm dedicated to mysteries, fantasy, horror, thrillers, anything that isn’t strictly romance. Best news of all was the gearing up of Itineris, their imprint focused on heroes undergoing spiritual or metaphysical growth in their stories. Since that is my core interest, I was thrilled that I’d found a home for those stories.
Needless to say, I left feeling like my spiritual journey stories like Traveling Light had finally found a place to land, and that was like having a door open onto a spectacular new garden for me.
On the 9th I got a call from Wild Rose Press, and learned that they want to contract Blood Royal and its sequels. Another huge leap forward! I wanted to re-release the story under my own name instead of Rowan Malloy, so I pitched the story to Wild Rose Press in February during the Florida Romance Writers conference. It happened fast, and I’m thrilled with the outcome!
Then on the 10th we closed on our house. Whew! A process begun back in October of last year. It’s been a fragile, erratic process, with lots of problems. But it happened! On the 11th, the movers arrived and we pulled up stakes. Can’t wait to set up my new writing nook! Will post pics when I can.
Still lots to do before we’re settled, but I wanted to post this update. Must take some vitamins…
What’s the best thing to happen in your week?
For years, I had a quote pinned up on the wall of my workspace attributed to congressional historian Daniel J Boorstin: “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance, but rather the illusion of knowledge.”
With Mercury about to station retrograde October 4th, this is the ideal time for me to deliberately relax my grip on certainty, check my reality compass and make some room for discovery.
I’d like to share with you something of my respect for disillusionment – the loss of illusion. Discovery is an essential part of any plot, from clues in a murder mystery, to trust (misplaced, real or withheld) in a romance, geographic exploration in an adventure, or finding inner strength in the Hero’s Journey. While the need for profound discovery is always present in our stories, the context for the discovery is infinitely changeable.
Perhaps the first important variable is the protagonist’s own attitude toward discovery. That could be the beginning of his character arc: he may believe he doesn’t need to change, or that he is self-sufficient. He may believe a situation is hopeless. He may believe he is not worthy of love. Discovery is where the story gets really interesting!
An altruistic young person, full of optimism and naïveté, might believe that his altruism is a good thing, and should never change. He approaches the world of commerce as if everyone were as honest as he is. That person soon finds out that altruism, if it is to be a kind influence in his life must be tempered with realistic caution.
While I rhapsodize about the profound value of cognitive dissonance, I don’t enjoy the pain and sadness (or embarrassment!) I can feel when a cherished belief proves to be false. I believe emotional pain is probably the worst teacher of reality – certainly one of the harshest. The problem is that so often it’s the only teacher left to us because we’ve rejected kinder ones. We can be so damn stubborn about what we’re certain is true.
When faced with a discovery that disrupts his personal view of reality, a character can stay focused on his lost belief or welcome his new knowledge. This is great material for the character arc, because the transition is seldom easy, in novels or in real life.
In the case of Shepherd Bucknam, the protagonist in my new novel The Companion, disillusionment is a great but pain-inducing ally, in two particular instances. When the story begins, he doesn’t see any need for him to change. Privately, he carries a bitter disrespect for his dead alcoholic mother, believing that she didn’t really love him. He is also afraid that a recurring nightmare foretells his violent death.
In both these matters he discovers that what he thinks is true is not true at all, and the shock of discovery opens him to new experience and real growth as a human being. What happens next? Well, you’ll have to read the story to find out!
And I sincerely hope you do…
An earlier version of this post appeared first on Tara Lain’s blog.
Since Friday I’ve had interviews and articles posted on fellow author blogs, part of my effort to get the word out about the release of The Companion.
Thinking that some of those posts might be interesting to you in the meantime, me and my 500-lb gorilla marketing buddy are sharing the links to a few of them.
Thanks to Raine, Vastine and Tara for hosting me on their blogs.
It will probably be a while before enough reviews come in to give me a feel for the book’s general reception, but The Companion already has two reviews so far, with others scheduled to appear later in the week. Here’s the first, from Portia de Moncur at MM Good Book Reviews. Thank you, Portia! My gorilla thanks you, too!
Another interesting and very different review is at Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews, where I also do a video reading of a scene from The Companion. Hope you check it out!
Well, I’ve got a great cover, an interesting (I think, anyway!) story, promotional blog posts organized. Hopefully some review sites will pick up the book and say nice things about it, causing millions of eager readers to buy their own copies.
I’d like to say that the project is now out of my hands, but in current-day publishing the burden of ongoing publicity sits in the author’s lap like an eight hundred pound gorilla, and he’s there for the life of the book.
Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. More like a friendly five hundred pound gorilla, very into hugs, sharing bananas and checking my hair for lice. For me the gorilla, friendly as he is, takes a lot of attention and energy, even for me just to keep breathing. Five hundred pounds is a lot, and I’m not a big guy.
I know it would be more social of me if I checked him for lice, too, but that’s still beyond what I’m prepared to do for book promotion. Just one step beyond checking for lice (and eating what you find, which gorillas expect) is doing drag karaoke with smudged mascara in a seedy bar at closing time, hoping someone will invite me to go home with him. I cling to the tattered shreds of my self-respect as it is… But I do share bananas with my gorilla. What can I say, it’s a start.
The only things that really are out of my hands are making word changes to the story, and whether people will like the story or not. There’s not a single thing I can do about those things. I’ve got twitter and facebook all primed, and most of my guest blog posts written. But right now all I can hear is — silence. As if I’m waiting for a storm to hit. Or maybe a movie deal! Uh-huh. In the meantime, it’s just me and my gorilla, hanging out, being friendly. I’ve got one banana left, and we’re probably going to have to share it before the first review comes in.
I should be patient about this. After all, the book took over a year to write, and then from contract to release was another seven months. But I’m fresh out of patience at the moment. Right now I want an avalanche of enthusiasm and gushing reviews to pour in on me and my gorilla friend, generating enough sales to keep us in bananas forever. Or at least until the next book is out.
I know there will be more rounds of publicity, more tweets, and hopefully a bunch of positive reviews. But right now it’s the middle of the night — 1:00am on the 23rd — with hours of darkness before the New York Times lands on my doorstep with its glowing review of the book, its crafted prose smooth as silk and oh, so clever in restrained, literary one-upmanship that lets everyone know they’re just a notch or two below the Gray Lady’s standard vocabulary. The review will be above the fold. Of course.
I’m not holding my breath for that. Or to be more accurate, if the five hundred pound gorilla in my lap actually allowed me to breathe, I would choose not to hold my breath. As it is, that’s already been decided for me.
Fellow author Jamie Fessenden wrote a very thoughtful post on his blog recently, about women writing M/M romance, which you can find —here—. It’s well worth reading and thinking about.
This is an issue that has arisen on discussion loops and author blogs for years, often in some combination of complaint, disrespect, snark and defiance. Recent posts on the topic are less strident, I’m grateful to see.
I really appreciate Jamie’s approach, since it offers real commentary, and avoids the outraged “Women don’t write us right!” or “I write werewolves, does that mean I have to be one to write authentically about them?” arguments, both of which which basically miss the point.
“Who the heck is this ‘us’?” this particular gay man asks. The diversity even just within the European / North American gay male demographic is too fabulously far-ranging to function with an individual spokesman. And with werewolves, an author can make up their behavior to suit any whim. It’s a more complex issue when writing about a gay man, since, you know, we actually exist.
Frankly, I’m relieved we’re getting beyond the “You can’t do it right!” vs. the “Yes I can!” arguments because they’re neither helpful nor relevant.
I don’t think anyone disputes that women can write great romance stories featuring gay male characters. They shouldn’t, anyway, since it’s so very obviously true. So what’s the real issue?
Is it that MM romance stories written by men might be a little different from those written by women? When I read one of our stories, sometimes the gender of the author is obvious to me, and sometimes I couldn’t tell if you paid me a fortune. (And if you offered to pay me a fortune, believe me I’d try. I’m an author, after all, and need the cash.)
Just as there are significant differences between one author and another of the same gender or orientation, so also there are significant differences between female and male authors. Why is that a bad thing? I see that as something to celebrate. It means we each can bring something new to our stories if we take the time and effort to do it.
I accept that Fessenden is right in seeing current MM Romance as an extension of its origins in slashfic, but speaking personally, I want our genre to continue evolving into one offering more satisfying emotional depth than slashfic. The baby is growing up, and the evolution I feel coming will require MM stories written by authors of every gender identity and sexual orientation.
I also agree with Fessenden’s observation that while MM romance might be about gay men, it doesn’t really belong to gay men. In fact, I’ll hike out farther on that limb — the genre doesn’t belong to either women or men, regardless of author or reader demographics. It belongs to whoever has compassion and respect for gay men and how we love.
Stating the obvious, women and men are different from each other — completely different emotional, psychic and psychological creatures. I personally believe those differences are stretched more along a shared continuum than isolated into two separate camps, but using John Gray’s simplistic analogy, some men are from Venus, and some women are from Mars.
Even though it doesn’t tell the whole story, there’s some value to looking at a bell curve. The trouble with focusing on exceptions is the same as the trouble with anecdotal evidence. Whatever general observation might be offered, no matter how rational and relevant it might be, it can be contradicted by recounting a single exception. “Well, I know a woman who…” or “I’ve known a man for years who…” That creates a logical impasse that prevents us from exploring what I see as an important and necessary evolutionary threshold for our genre.
Still, there are some fundamentals that are inescapable. Research indicates that a female’s brain matures faster than a male’s, which takes until about age 25 to get there. One of my criticisms of many current MM stories is that they’re essentially YA or New Adult stories, even if the main characters are over thirty, because they behave with the emotional maturity of a 22 year-old. That makes the story New Adult, as far as I’m concerned. YA and NA stories are an essential part of our genre, but what’s the point of having a New Adult story featuring two 30+ year-old males?
While chronologically mature men sometimes do act in immature ways, painting male characters over 25 as having little more than 20-something communication skills, insecurities, angst, values and behavior pushes me out of the story, becomes boring to me, and maybe to other readers. I’ll go further and say it’s insulting to men in general to portray a thirty-five year old man with the emotional IQ of a twenty year old — unless he’s psychologically puer aeternus and that’s the key to his character arc.
Of course such chronologically mature/emotionally immature men exist, but their frequent appearance in our stories raises a question for me — why would any author repeatedly write such characters? What’s the message in that? Is it a form of sexism, saying that’s what men are like? I hope not.
I suggest mature masculine psychology offers terrific material for MM romances, and is seriously under-represented in our stories. I believe that writing main characters emotionally older than 25 will force us to address the depth and complexity of the mature masculine in our stories. The downside is that an emotionally mature male character might take more work from the author to realize than opting for some familiar character shortcuts to emotional conflict that are plausible for an immature protagonist.
Ultimately, generalities prove insufficient in any real conversation, but there are any number of scientific studies that shed light on important psychological and emotional differences between women and men — the way we process images, grief, anger, forgiveness, sexual energy, relationship. Some differences might be cultural, others intrinsic to our basic sexuality. In some ways it doesn’t matter — they’re all important and wonderful. Diversity is a good thing!
If those differences are real and important and good, why then should the majority of gay protagonists feel the same way about trust issues, monogamy or marriage as the majority of straight women? Why should the familiar tropes of het romance dominate MM romance? Why should the story question, “Does she dare open her heart to love again?” be automatically translated into “Does he dare open his heart to love again?” Why should a gay man’s HEA look like a straight woman’s?
I’m not saying they can’t be the same — they certainly can. But isn’t there also room for more than that? What else might they look like? Let’s get adventurous! Some authors will dismiss these questions with the observation that this is how it always has been, and what “the market” demands. Those voices have every right to be heard in this discussion, but I personally don’t believe those voices are on the side of evolution.
I believe that MM romance is on the wonderful threshold of an evolutionary leap. Evolution is risky, however. The troublesome thing about change is that it brings change. I feel growth coming!
One of the most common impulses in a person who encounters unfamiliar diversity is to look for the common ground. In discussions of gay romance that’s led to remarks like, “gay men are just like other men except that they love men instead of women.” We’re not. Please accept that. Believe me, a man of some race other than Caucasian is NOT interested to hear, “You’re just like a white man except for the color of your skin.” That approach, while probably well-intentioned, is ignorant, and profoundly insults our differences.
In the most useful diversity training I’ve taken, I was instructed to first honor the differences just as they are without trying to smooth them down into comfortable common ground right away. There’s plenty of time later to find the common ground after the differences are acknowledged and at least partially understood.
The practice is first respect for the difference, and second for the gifts that the difference brings. That’s much harder work than the more naive (but usually equally well-intentioned) approach of claiming that we’re all the same. We’re just not.
I attended a writing workshop a few years ago with about ten other authors. During one session, the instructor gave each of us the same group of characters, same character agendas, the same setting, the same external events and conflicts. He had each of us write the scene, and later we read them aloud. Each one was completely different. I mean completely different. It was a revelation. I can’t write the same as my colleagues even if I try, and the same is true for every author.
In his post, Fessenden raises the startling question as to whether men can write MM romance. Of course they can. There’s a long list of wonderful male MM romance authors to prove it. Their stories aren’t — and shouldn’t be — the same as romance stories written by women authors. Is it politically incorrect to admit that the differences exist? It’s time to acknowledge and appreciate the differences for what they are, without bickering over which is “better” or “more real”.
So I’ve referred more than once to some looming evolution in our genre, and I feel obliged to get more specific about that. After all, I see it already occurring in the work of many authors I respect and follow.
I see us moving toward thematically deeper characters and varying-themed stories, moving away from slashfic-like work where a handful of familiar tropes, keywords, gimmicks and memes stapled to a slightly modified plot could pass muster. Every author has done that. Even though I’m still fond of it, I’m grateful my first book (a swords and sorcery effort) is out of print!
I see us expanding the parameters of romance beyond the rules inherited from het romance with its overwhelming emphasis on the story of deliriously happy monogamous dyads fading to black before the arguments about squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle begin. Not abandoning all the ground rules, necessarily, just expanding our scope. This also is already happening, through a healthy variety of authors.
I see us accepting that quality of story always trumps convention, and that well written stories with compelling characters will inspire most readers to enjoy the journey into unfamiliar territory. Those that take the chance, anyway.
Not every author will write transgressive romance, or even write chronologically mature protagonists. Not every author will write protagonists under 25. Each writer of each gender identity and each orientation brings something of value in her/zir/his best work, and one way or another it contributes to our genre’s evolution.
I believe this respectfully inclusive, “room for everyone” approach will take us forward into a fecund, more emotionally powerful genre than any of us can presently imagine.
I’m so thrilled with the cover art for The Companion, finalized this week with Paul Richmond of the Dreamspinner art department! Original art by Dan Skinner.
Shepherd Bucknam hasn’t had a lover in more than a decade, and doesn’t need one. As a Daka, he coaches men in the sacred art and mystery of sexual ecstasy all the time, and he loves his work. It’s his calling. In fact, he’s perfectly content—except for the terrors of his recurring nightmare, and the ominous blood-red birthmarks on his neck. He’s convinced that together they foretell his early and violent death.
When Shepherd’s young protégé is murdered, LAPD Detective Marco Fidanza gets the case. The two men are worlds apart: Marco has fought hard for everything he’s accomplished, in sharp contrast to the apparent ease of Shepherd’s inherited wealth—but their mutual attraction is too hot for either of them to ignore.
Shepherd swears he’ll help find his protégé’s killer but Marco warns him to stay out of it. When an influential politician is implicated, the police investigation grinds to a halt. Shepherd hires his own investigator. Marco calls it dangerous meddling.
As their volatile relationship deepens, Shepherd discovers his nightmares might not relate to the future, but to the deadly legacy of a past life—a life he may have to revisit before he can fully live and love in this one.
The premise or underlying story argument (for those writer friends who love premise as much as I do) is “Courage leads to self-knowledge and love.”
So yeah, it’s a love story, with a little more on-page sex than my recent stories, but that’s in keeping with the protagonist’s character, his work, and how he experiences the world. It’s also inescapably mystical, as well as a murder investigation. A trusted critic and friend told me it was my best work to date, and I’d love it if that were true. Unfortunately, I have no way of telling on my own, although I think there’s more polish to the story than previous work. I try to learn something with every piece I write… I feel I learned a lot with this one. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.
The Companion goes on sale around the end of July. Pre-orders will be possible in a couple of weeks. I’ll supply the link when that happens.
So — picking up from Part One: a straight hero grows up in an automatic level of belonging—whether it’s the idyllic Shire, or some other culture in which the hero belongs to an identifiable majority—that a gay one does not. But there’s a great and powerful gift inside the pain of not belonging: it sets him free. The gay hero does not owe the same psychic allegiance to the heteronormative world and its cultural conventions that a straight hero does. He sees the culture in which he lives through a very different lens. As a result, he understands the familiar world from a perspective that is ideally equipped to bring outside-the-box thinking for change, insight, compassion and creativity. But it takes courage to do it.
In boyhood most gay males learn to be shape-shifters, which in itself is another kind of separation from the world. Generally speaking, he learns to appear to be something he is not and becomes highly skilled in the performance. This psychic fluidity is a double-edged sword, both strength and weakness on his journey. For him there are few identity absolutes. He’s likely hyper-vigilant in situations involving power or risk, and often he can adapt faster than his integrity can process. This is why coming out is still the single most powerful act a gay man can undertake. It’s an unretractable declaration of his true identity, from which there is no retreat. After that, his developed skill at shapeshifting can be put to other uses.
In the lingo of the hero’s journey, shape-shifters are usually presented as being ambiguous or unreliable, probably untrustworthy, possibly amoral or even dangerous precisely because they don’t owe the same psychic allegiance to cultural convention. (As an aside, I believe it is precisely this inherent and palpable lack of investment in the status quo that frightens social conservatives.)
How does that contrast with the usual characterization of a straight hero at the beginning of his journey? A straight hero is rarely shown first as a shape-shifter unless he’s a con man or a secret agent. He is often emotionally reliable, if not responsible. He might start out as an arrogant jerk, but he is also shown to be innately good. The storyteller is sure to have him “pat the dog” in some important way. We don’t even have enough examples of gay hero’s journeys to argue a clear distinction on this point, but hopefully the stories we tell will add to the conversation.
The gay protagonist must find an internally congruent, authentic way to belong in the straight world when he returns. That’s essentially what a gay hero’s first great journey is about. You may be writing about a subsequent journey for him, based on the place in the world that he’s already found, but the emotional echoes of this first journey, of belonging—still as an outsider, but now an outsider who belongs—will resound in whatever transformative adventure he undertakes, and the fears he faces on his journey might well reflect that.
For further reflection on a gay protagonist’s outsider status before he begins his journey, here is an interesting list of ways in which a gay man can be reminded he is an outsider.
I believe this list was compiled in 2002. Today some of the bullet points are not as relevant as they once were, but most still pertain.
There is one item not on the list, one that stands behind all the rest—a gay man belongs to an irrevocably permanent minority. A gay hero’s journey must in some way bring him peace with his original discovery of being unlike the majority of people around him. He may not always be highly visible, and he may not always be welcome—but if he survives his journey and returns with his life-nourishing gifts, he is always immensely powerful.
* * *
Again: I wrote this piece focused on a gay male hero. I’m not seeking to speak for all gay men or make broad generalizations about what makes us tick, but rather to point to certain influences that might well have a bearing on a gay male protagonist separating from the world as he prepares for his journey. Further, I deliberately did not seek to expand my consideration to include LBTQ people. I’m not qualified to speak to their journeys except in the most purely archetypal sense. I look forward to reading—and learning from—contributions from those who are.
I’m developing materials for an online course to be presented this October under the aegis of the Florida Romance Writers, focusing on the differences in the Hero’s Journey for a gay protagonist. I’ve been fascinated by the Hero’s Journey since I read Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces as a teenager. It wasn’t until decades later–after I came out–that I became sensitive to the heteronormative overlays in the Journey as it was usually described. At first I was offended, but I soon realized that those overlays were perfectly appropriate for straight heroes, and that “somebody” ought to get busy and examine the differences for a gay male hero. So here are some comments about how a gay Hero’s Journey might present unique opportunities for a writer.
Now before anyone asks about other queer heroes (other than a gay male), let me beg those who are qualified to contribute to this body of understanding to do so. All I can do is speak what I’ve got to say, knowing that it’s not the whole picture. It’s just my part, and only as I presently understand it given my own evolution.
So with that out of the way, here is an initial commentary on the first stage of the Hero’s Journey, Separation from the World, the first part of two.
The first stage in the Hero’s Journey is often described as “Separation from the World.” In this post I want to focus on this part of the Journey, and on the profound differences that it presents to a gay protagonist in contrast to a straight one.
For any hero this Separation from the World can be represented as a moral restlessness, such as having an idealistic, seemingly impractical dream or some resentment at an injustice. Something isn’t right with the world, but the hero-to-be can’t exactly put his finger on the problem. Harry Potter lives under the stairs, living an unhappy, persecuted life—but it seems the best he can manage, given his unfortunate circumstances.
The Separation can also be sudden, although this usually combines the separation from the familiar world with the next step, the Call to Adventure (the inciting incident). The hero can be fired, or kidnapped. He can witness a murder. He can find a million dollars in his gym bag, and the story is off and running.
It’s tempting to slide over the more subtle Separation, what I called a moral restlessness, because current literary fashion insists a reader must be “grabbed by the throat” in the first five pages or the story isn’t worth reading.
But take note of one difference: the separating moral restlessness comes from inside the hero, who by then is already growing. His growth is creating uncomfortable pressure in his experience of reality. In the standard start-at-a-gallop story, Separation/Call is an external event that happens to an internally passive hero. The psychological richness of an internal driving force is lost, at least for the opening moments.
In writing gay protagonists, another temptation is strong—to make them just like straight men except for their sexual attraction to other men. After all, a gay man could find a million dollars in his gym bag as easily as a straight man.
Writing gay male characters as if they were essentially straight is a terrible disservice, not only to gay men and the distinct spiritual gifts we bring, but also to those who genuinely seek to understand us. It misleads everyone with a glib untruth.
So long as the action originates outside the hero, the author can probably get away with pretending straight and gay heroes are the same—for example, writing a gay paranormal “alpha male” just like a straight one. Maybe he’s a navy SEAL assassin wolf-shifter Krav Maga master who restores pre-Raphaelite paintings in his spare time. His persona is pretty much a construct of externals, except, of course, for his Great Wound. When writing the hero’s internal response to external events, however, the differences between gay and straight become unavoidable–and important.
When the gay hero’s sexuality, or some other core aspect of his internal life drives the story, Separation from the World takes on deeper meaning, because a gay hero is forced to separate from the world before puberty. He discovers he’s an outsider in the heteronormative world. The difference this makes to a gay hero’s journey is massive, and in this post I can only point to one or two of its facets.
The first difference is the most obvious. It’s so obvious it’s usually overlooked entirely, yet the psychological ramifications can be a rich resource when creating a gay protagonist about to go on a great journey: we are a minority. Even among our own race, our religious community, in our most intimate circles of beloved family, clan or kin, we are a minority. What’s more, we always will be a minority.
Nations will come and go, cultures will rise and fall, technology will change, but we will likely remain about the same percentage of any population. This is so significant that by itself it can provide the basis for a gay hero’s journey: he is different from almost everyone else around him, even in his nuclear family. I suggest that some element of a gay man’s Great Wound is “not belonging,” even if it’s a minor one.
What impact might this discovery have on a boy’s psyche, to understand that he’s fundamentally different long before he really understands what that difference actually means?
He might look for role models in the usual places. Will he find them?
“Within the typical secondary school curriculum, homosexuals do not exist. They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations. The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.”
— Gerald Unks, ed., The Gay Teen: Educational Practice and Theory for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Adolescents, Routledge, 1995, p. 5.
Although citing this lack of role models might seem like a complaint, it’s not. In the twenty years since this quote was written, tremendous changes have occurred, and the gay teen is no longer a Stalinist nonperson, at least not by definition. But even when the day comes that gay teens enjoy full acceptance, respect and equality, they will still be in the minority no matter their culture. A gay teen will still have ten times the straight role models as those he finds wired like himself. The psychological ramifications of this one difference should not be overlooked when creating a gay hero: he’s an outsider long before the journey begins. And painful as that may be, that’s the way it should be.
Certainly, gay men should be respected and not persecuted. But the first great subliminal learning for a gay hero is this: This will never be my world. It belongs to straight people. I own only my own gifts and how I bring them—and this sets me free.
It’s a pleasure to have Jackson Cordd here today, a very interesting author I’ve just met recently. His most recent novel, Shamrock Green, is due for release from Dreamspinner Press on April 2nd. Welcome, Jackson!
Thank you Lloyd for your interest in my latest novel, Shamrock Green, and for inviting me to talk a bit about it.
I’m thrilled at how the book is already garnering so much attention. When I began writing it, I struggled a bit because the work is much more epic, with a larger cast of characters than any books I’ve ever developed before.
My inspiration for the story came from a trip I took to Ireland in 2012. While touring about the green hills, I learned quite a bit more of the Celtic and Gaelic mythologies, expanding my knowledge of the stories I had heard from my Granny while growing up. Naturally, such a Granny also became part of the back-story for the main character, Hank Lear.
As for the magical elements in the story, I decided to stick closer to what I thought might be real possibilities, by postulating that the Fae are energy creatures that reach our world through a portal from a dimension of pure energy. So what the humans in the story perceive as ‘magic,’ is merely the Fae manipulations of energy to change their appearance or create plasma balls.
The story also involves several concepts of psychic ‘gifts’ in the forms of psychometry, empathy, projection, and premonitions. As part of his hero’s journey, I gave the character Hank a budding empathic gift.
I know many readers may consider such talents to be magic or mere fiction, but I have had personal experience with all of those gifts, most notably the empathy. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been sensitive to the emotions around me, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed. Most of the time I think of the empathy as a blessing, but I must admit there have been times when it felt more like a curse to be constantly bombarded with feelings that weren’t mine.
For the antagonist of the tale, I chose to have a misguided dullahan be the primary force. He enlists a phouka as a reluctant sidekick, by promising to grant him a pleasing human form.
The main conflict begins in the back-story in the early 1200’s, when an important human wedding brings together the factions of the green and blue Fae, who bestow their Fae gifts upon the wedding attendees, creating a group named ‘The Ten Families.’
Infuriated that the Fae are mingling and sharing so openly with the worthless humans, the dullahan orchestrates the theft of the bride’s wedding ring, then later circulates rumors that the bride lost her ring during an illicit affair. He continues fanning the tense flames heating up between the families and factions, eventually leading to a huge conflict later called ‘The Tempest.’ For the next few hundred years, the dullahan continues creating strife and trying to close the portals and end all of the unnatural co-mingling of the Fae and humans.
The novel picks up the story in modern Dublin, when nine of the families, aligned in a group calling themselves ‘The Antiquer’s Guild’ continue fighting the dullahan, who has since co-opted the church in his quest to end the unnatural behavior.
Hank Lear, our main hero visiting from Texas, who is a descendant of the unrepresented family, happens to buy the bride’s Claddagh ring in an antique shop, which soon pulls him into the middle of the ongoing mess after he meets the infatuating Darren O’Connell, one of the members of the Antiquer’s Guild. Darren is a descendant of the original groom, and has the other artifact from the wedding set, a choker amulet depicting the Celtic Tree of Life.
I had a great deal of fun writing this work, and I hope the readers will enjoy the ensuing roller coaster ride as well.
I’m sure they will! While I’ve got you here, may I ask a few questions?
Of course, ask away.
I rarely run into someone with double-edged psychic gifts related to my own, and I’m fascinated. Can you say more about your experience with them?
Empathy is the only gift that I’m really strong at. I occasionally have bits of emotional psychometry (I can pick up the emotional state of the owner, but not any real details). Even rarer are premonitory flashes or dreams. Those are so unreliable though. Invariably, I see some distant point, like ten years into a possible future, which can exist only if factor A, B, C, D, E, F, G… all line up just right over the course of the next decade. They aren’t very helpful, other than to highlight what might be the best potential in a situation and depending on how great that potential is, I can decide if the situation is something worth fighting for.
It would take more than a short blog interview to compare our journeys in detail, but how do you think those gifts have changed you as a person, and how central are they to your writing?
Well, since the empathy is something I was most likely born with, I can’t see where it had a ‘changing’ point. But I know that ability has certainly shaped my life in slightly different ways.
In my earlier years, I shied away from any large groups because of how I would get bombarded by so many external emotions, especially in the teenage years. Just imagine attending a party, feeling waves of depression from Sally, anger from Jake, horniness from Tom, boredom from Michelle, elation from Kathy, and fear from Amy all hitting you nearly simultaneously in random pulses. It’s hard to relax and enjoy yourself with that kind of assault going on in your gut. So I grew up a bit of a loner wallflower, not participating in clubs, dances, and parties very much.
On the plus side, I had a very good ‘gaydar’ during those early years, so I didn’t suffer any of the ‘I’m the only one like this in the world’ isolation many gay kids experience when they first come to terms with their sexuality. I got pings everywhere I went.
Over time, I’ve learned to ‘tune out’ those things a bit, but even now, I can still have issues in big crowds (like Dragon*Con), and I spend so much of my effort just trying to protect myself that I can’t relax and enjoy the event.
The empathic nature has had a direct effect on my writing, because I invariably have one character in each work that has some bit of empathy. Indirectly, I think it has an even stronger impact, because I tend to see the world as an ‘emotional ocean’, I put more mention and notice of character’s feelings and how those feelings motivate them into my work.
Turning back to Shamrock Green in specific, please say more about your dullahan. What would make him likely to hate humans so?
His character developed as I thought about the details of the dullahan. As the notions rolled around in my head, it seemed likely that an essentially immortal, judgmental non-human creature who sees into the darkness of people’s hearts, would likely become very cynical in just a century or two of constantly seeing the petty inadequacies of humans. At first, he might try to weed out the worst offenders in hopes of giving the others a better chance to rise above their baser natures, but after seeing the pettiness repeating from generation to generation without any signs of improvement, the dullahan begins to see the human condition as a hopeless struggle.
Of course, I think the guy is a bit impatient because often evolution advances take time. From what we know of the fossil records, our modern brain structural capacity developed practically overnight, and after 200,000 years or so, we’re only beginning the process to use our new brain size to its full potential.
I love the modern hope I feel in your comments about Shamrock Green, the hope of re-uniting the families of the wronged bride and groom from the 1200’s. Did you encounter any particular obstacles in your fae world-building by making the modern couple both men?
I took quite a bit of creative license with the back-story of the novel. From what I found of the mythology, it’s mostly short little passive vignettes in the flavor of ‘I met a leprechaun once.’ So I chose to create a mythical major event between the Fae and humans, which I set in the 1200’s.
During my research, I never found any historical references to homosexuality, at least not until the time the Christians arrive, who of course brought their anti-gay messages along with their teachings.
Which I saw as an interesting point. I do know from the sorts of attitudes I felt in Ireland, ‘Live And Let Live,’ is almost an unspoken rule in their culture. So my guess is, that like most other early cultures, homosexuality had a place that was common and natural enough to them that they never felt the need to mention it in writing. Much like us, our ancestors mostly wrote about the odd and unusual things they saw around them. So if homosexuality were neither odd or unusual, it could easily go undocumented in a culture.
Another point to support that notion, was the church’s loud stance on the issue shortly after arrival. I don’t think they would have been so vocal, had they not seen it as a prevalent problem.
Since the bulk of the story takes place in our modern European world, where attitudes are quickly shifting to acceptance, I didn’t see the need to add any ‘homosexual’ conflict for the gay characters. They already have enough to worry about, anyway.
Authors have often altered mythic tales to suit the stories they write. When you approached the body of traditional fae mythology, how free did you feel to modify it? Did you feel any constraints? If so, how did you honor them?
As I mentioned, I took the flavor of the little vignettes and wove together a major event in the form of a unifying wedding that wouldn’t really be common knowledge, except to those families involved. The only real modifications I made to the mythology were adding the Eirestones (green diamond crystals collected from a geode given to the Neill family by a banshee) and adding a new creature, Skeena. I also tried to create a bit of theoretical scientific underpinning to help explain the world as it exists in the novel. With each step, I carefully thought through staying true to the spirit of the mythology to maintain respect for those old stories.
One myth I used as a template is the tale of the creation of the Blarney Stone. As one version of the story goes, a young lad who had gone deaf and mute after a bought of the pox, wandered into the woods feeling a bit depressed at being left out of the craic (Irish version of a pub-crawl). He stopped to rest at a stream, where his tears falling into the water caught the attention of a nearby sprite. She flew up out of the water to observe. Feeling moved by the lad’s plight, she stood on one of the large bluestones in the stream and beckoned the lad forward.
Impressed at the sudden appearance of the tiny sprite, the lad moved closer to the stream and leaned down to her. She kissed his chin with a magical pucker, restoring the lad’s speech and hearing. The magic also passed into the bluestone on which she stood, and to this day, kissing that stone can give the gift of Irish gab.
Generalities are dangerous, he said, stating a generality, but do you have a particular kind of reader you want to reach with your stories?
I grew up enthralled with sci-fi and fantasy, but in most cases I felt a bit left out from the lack of LGBT representation in those stories (except for the occasional 50’s style fag that has to be despicable and justifiably die at some point in the book).
Such a state of affairs makes my heart hurt. I still see a prevalence of self-deprecation in the gay community, and such stories I’m sure has some basis for furthering, if not actually creating, those problems for us.
So, my goal is to write positive, hopeful stories in those genres with gay characters that, although they may not necessarily be the hero, they at least don’t have to die to fulfill some formula in the plot.
Dreams of millions of sales and months on the Times bestseller list (which I share, too) aside, what creative direction do you see your writing headed now? Or maybe more accurately answered, where would you like it to be heading?
I always strive to put some deeper philosophy into my stories, and my dream has always been to create the sort of epic work of significance that readers would feel deserved to be on their shelves right next to ‘Dune’, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, ‘The Stand’, and ‘A Single Man’.
With each new project I’m finding myself opening up further, putting more of my heart and soul into the work, so maybe someday, I’ll reach that point. Until then, I’ll keep writing stories that I hope readers not only find entertaining, but maybe a bit thought-provoking and brimming with my optimism for a brighter future.
Thank you, Jackson Cordd, for coming by. I’m looking forward to reading Shamrock Green as soon as it’s available.
And folks, Jackson has an author page on the GoodReads website, as well as a ‘Jackson Cordd’ Facebook page and Twitter. He also enjoys receiving e-mail — you can contact him directly at JacksonCordd@gmail.com.
At the Equinox, just for a day, the world is united in a way that has nothing to do with human agendas or ideology, nothing to do with environment or climate, nothing to do even with season of the year: there is the same amount of light and darkness everywhere. It’s a kind of creative equality that fascinates me.
This time, as the sun crossed the Equator, I got the image of an adult leading an art project for some kids. Each child had a nice clear workspace, some on the floor, some at tables, some standing in front of a wall. The atmosphere was calm and full of anticipation. She hands out a big sheet of sturdy paper to each child, and then distributes sets of brushes and two identical jars — one of light and one of darkness.
“Okay, everyone,” she says to the eager kids (and I’m one of them — I’m so excited!), “today you have exactly the same amount of daylight and night to work with. We’re each going to paint our pictures, which will be the map of our lives for the next six months.”
I knew right away that some pictures would have more daylight and some more night, that light was not good and darkness evil, that there was no battle between day and night. I could feel the beauty of each, and the sacred gifts of each — inwardness, outwardness, communication, introspection, giving, receiving — I won’t go on, you know them already. What each painting looked like wasn’t the point.
The point was that at this time of the year whatever we paint stays with us until the sun crosses the equator again, giving us another identical set of jars of light and darkness.
Paint from the heart, which is to say, paint wisely.