Monthly Archives: April 2013

The first book that ever made me cry

I remember crying because of films, when I was young—Old Yeller, The Boy Who Talked to Badgers, The Yearling (I was a sucker for movies about animals).  I was upset about Ben dying in Star Wars.  But I don’t recall any novels that had any great emotional impact on me until A Separate Peace.  And that one devastated me.

I think it was 1982, when I was a junior in high school.  I was sitting in first period Latin class, bored and not particularly following the lesson (I flunked the class), so I started flipping through my English Literature textbook.  I feel bad for kids who are forced to read A Separate Peace as an English assignment, because few novels survive that stigma.  Who falls in love with something that they’ve been forced to read and write essays about?  (Okay, I still love Lord of the Flies, despite this, but that’s the exception—not the rule.)  I started reading and was immediately hooked.

And when I say hooked, I mean hooked.  I couldn’t put it down.  I kept reading through every single class I had that day.  In art class, my teacher had to order me to close the book and concentrate on the assignment.  Most teachers either didn’t notice me reading under the desk, or chose to ignore it.  I continued reading on the bus ride home and then immediately ran up to my bedroom and finished the book.  I’ve never read a novel of that length that quickly, before or since.

I was bawling by the end of the book.  The ending destroyed me.  I couldn’t fathom how Gene could still go on.  What was wrong with him?  I didn’t even want to leave my room to eat dinner.  I just wanted to lay there in the dark and cry.

So I did the only thing I could think of to do:  I picked the book up and began reading again from the beginning, where everything was peaceful and idyllic once more.

Why did A Separate Peace affect me so deeply?  I’m still trying to figure that out.  It’s definitely a good book.  I re-read it again this week and still loved it, though the ending is merely sad now.  I’ve read it too many times in the intervening years to be affected by it the same way I was thirty years ago.  Now, I see it through the eyes of not only an adult, but also a writer.  I can see that the prose is very good, if not particularly poetic.  The story structure holds together well.  And there is symbolism that flew over my head as a teenager.  My biggest criticism would be that Leper’s descent into madness doesn’t feel at all realistic to me now.  I’ve learned a bit more about mental illness in my adult life, and the way John Knowles portrayed it just didn’t feel right.  But that’s a minor criticism.  The characters are just as vividly painted as I remember them.  I still fell in love with Finny.

And that’s a big part of it, of course.  I fell in love with Finny.  To me, even a couple years before I’d come to terms with my own homosexuality, A Separate Peace felt like a gay novel.  I know the author, John Knowles, never intended that.  It’s a novel about two teenage boys who have such an intense, close bond between them that they feel like extensions of each other.  Gene’s struggle is, in a way, a battle with his own personal demons, manifested in Phineas.  When Finny is absent, there is a scene in which Gene dresses in Finny’s clothes and in his mind transforms into Phineas for a short time, and this bond between them is referred to several times in the novel. But to me, that bond felt like the bond between two boys who were in love with each other, even if they never acted on it.  Several times, the narrator (Gene) describes Finny’s handsome features and physical perfection in terms that might make a teenager uncomfortable these days, now that everyone suspects homo-eroticism in same-sex relationships.  Things were different in the 1940s, of course.  But even in the 1980s, I recall a friend’s father referring to the film Brian’s Song derogatorily as a “romance between a black guy and a white guy.”  (This totally killed my friend’s interest in a film that he’d previously enjoyed watching several times.)

The day Gene and Finny spend together on the beach, sleeping side by side on the dunes, with Finny doting on Gene the whole time… that felt really romantic.

This is perhaps a common problem for gay teens—seeing homo-erotic overtones in books and films, where straight teens see just friendship.  But then, of course, this disconnect often happens in their real lives.  Why should fiction be any different?

So the book that made me cry was, in the final analysis, not really the book I was reading, but the book that was taking place in my heart and mind.  And some of that passion now seems lacking, when I go back to re-read it.  But it’s still a great book.  And perhaps even a straight guy might cry reading it.

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Filed under Drama, gay, Life, Reviews, Writing, Young Adult

Release Day for “Murderous Requiem”!

MurderousRequieum_ORIGMurderous Requiem has been released!

It is now available for purchase at Dreamspinner, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers.

Over at MM Good Book Reviews, it’s received 4 out of 5 stars!  “The mystery and suspense are good and leaves a thread of tension throughout the book. There’s death and betrayal, love and hope and occult dealings. I actually think this is an intriguing story that shows a ‘whiter’ or good side to the occult. It has informative information and you can see that the author has done a lot of research.  I will recommend this to those who love mystery and suspense, occult dealings, twists, betrayal, underhand dealings, murder and manipulation and a happy for them ending.”

Here’s the Blurb:

Jeremy Spencer never imagined the occult order he and his boyfriend, Bowyn, started as a joke in college would become an international organization with hundreds of followers. Now a professor with expertise in Renaissance music, Jeremy finds himself drawn back into the world of free love and ceremonial magick he’d left behind, and the old jealousies and hurt that separated him from Bowyn eight years ago seem almost insignificant. 

Then Jeremy begins to wonder if the centuries-old score he’s been asked to transcribe hides something sinister. With each stanza, local birds flock to the old mansion, a mysterious fog descends upon the grounds, and bats swarm the temple dome. During a séance, the group receives a cryptic warning from the spirit realm. And as the music’s performance draws nearer, Jeremy realizes it may hold the key to incredible power—power somebody is willing to kill for.

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“Billy’s Bones” has been contracted!

KevinI just signed a contract with Dreamspinner for my psychological drama, Billy’s Bones!  For those who haven’t been following my progress on that novel, here’s the “blurb” I sent in my cover letter:

Kevin Derocher was just thirty-two when he walked into Tom’s office, newly married, a baby on the way, and the collar of his red flannel shirt pulled up in an attempt to hide the bruises around his throat caused by hanging himself in his garage.  After this initial encounter, therapist Tom Langois is convinced he’ll never see Kevin again, until the man turns up three years later to make repairs on Tom’s new house.

The two men become fast friends and Tom begins to suspect that Kevin may be interested in more than just friendship.  But Kevin is haunted by something from his distant childhood—something so terrible that he’s blocked it from his mind.  Not only do these suppressed memories make it impossible for Kevin to get close to anyone without panicking and lashing out, sometimes violently, but as they begin to surface, it becomes apparent that Kevin may hold the key to the disappearance of a boy from his neighborhood twenty-five years ago.

The picture on the left is what I pictured Kevin looking like.  Tom looks like this guy:

TomWe’re looking at a release date sometime in late July or maybe early August!

So this week I decided to go back and re-read the novel.  I’d already had a conversation with my mother, who is a psychologist with experience treating PTSD, and I learned that I’d handled several things incorrectly in the therapy scenes.  Or you might say I had Tom and Susan doing things the way they used to be done, and psychology has learned a thing or two since then.  For example, it’s no longer considered essential (by many therapists) to pressure the client to remember suppressed memories.  That can cause them more trauma than simply leaving things alone.  And giving someone something to relax him, such as Valium, before experiencing a possible trigger in a controlled setting isn’t as good an idea as I’d thought.  It can do additional harm by distorting the memories further.  (Some therapists don’t believe in repressed memories, but my mother has worked with enough cases to take them seriously.)

So I sent Mom the specific scenes in question to get some feedback on how to make them more realistic.  Hopefully, since the novel is already contracted, we’re just talking about tweaking things a little.  In the future, I’ll remember:  always check with Mom!

In re-reading the novel, I’m still finding it engrossing.  But Tom is seeming a bit more like an asshole than I remembered.  My beta readers didn’t seem to hate him, so maybe I’m just seeing him from a bad angle at the moment.  But I may try to make him a bit less pushy in edits.

Of course, the really frustrating thing about re-reading a novel after it’s been submitted, but before the first edits come in from the editors is that the typos and mistakes I find, I can’t correct.

How on earth did I not notice that I’d failed to capitalize one sentence?

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Filed under Drama, gay, Psychological Drama, Romance, Writing