Tag Archives: gay

“Train to Sevmash” is now available! For FREE!

77When I was approached to contribute a story for 7&7: A DSP Publications Anthology of Virtue and Vice, I immediately chose “mercy” as the virtue I wanted to write about. My first idea had to do with a police officer chasing down a criminal, but ultimately choosing to let him go. Unfortunately, the more I thought about that idea, the less I liked it.

But I’d recently found a tutor to help me brush up on the Russian language, which I’d studied a very long time ago in college, and I’d also just read Ian Fleming’s original novel Casino Royale. Suddenly, it clicked! A secret agent! And he wasn’t trying to capture somebody—he intended to assassinate his target.

Since I’m not British, my secret agent wouldn’t be, either. He’d be American, a former member of the Special Forces. And less upper crust than Bond, with a bit of Mack Bolan and John Clark (from Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six) thrown in. Agent Jax Colby. I was setting this in the late 60s, during the Cold War, when the USSR was developing Victor Class nuclear submarines, so that would be the impetus of the agent’s mission.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time studying Soviet naval bases, and determined that the most likely place a submarine of that class would be docked for testing would be Sevmash. (I’d originally picked Murmansk, and I no longer remember why that wasn’t viable.) So how would I get an American spy into a high-security Soviet naval base?

Initially, the story was going to revolve around Colby’s adventures in Sevmash itself, once he’d infiltrated the base. He was there to assassinate an American defector. But a throwaway line I’d written in the first paragraph about how he’d killed an innocent man on the train to steal his identity intrigued me, and I found myself more interested in exploring how that had gone down, so I rewound the timeline to that night.

YuriColby needed a target who had a similar physical description to himself, and who was en route to the location on a fairly long journey, being transferred from another base—Murmansk. It was possible to travel by train between the two bases, but the trip took several days. This, of course, was in the days before information could be transferred easily over the Internet from one city to another, which would work to Colby’s advantage. He would have to have forged papers with his photo, but the Russian’s vital information—internal Soviet travel papers had a stamp across both the photo and the document, so simply replacing the photo would be an arduous task. As long as nobody in Sevmash had seen this man—Yuri Ivanovich Veselov—Colby should be able to get in and out. He just needed to kill Veselov on the train to Sevmash and step into his identity.

The only problem was, in order to kill Veselov, Colby had to get him alone. And that meant getting close to him. And the closer he got, the more Colby would be forced to realize Veselov was not only an innocent in this game, but in many ways a kindred spirit and downright likable.

In fact, he was kind of adorable….

After I finished the short story Train to Sevmash, it was clear to me that I’d just begun to explore these characters and the world they inhabited, so I got permission from DSP Publications to expand the story into a full-length novel (tentatively called Chimera). That’s about half completed now, with the Train to Sevmash story taking up chapters five through seven, and I’m hoping to finish it this summer. Then, perhaps, it will be released next year.

Train in St PetersburgTrain To Sevmash—Jamie Fessenden 

Jax Colby is an American secret agent operating within the Soviet Union in 1967. His assignment is to infiltrate the Sevmash naval shipyard in Severodvinsk in pursuit of an American scientist turned traitor to his country. But in order to do this, he must first kill a naval lieutenant traveling to the base and steal his transfer orders. He homes in on his target on the two-day train ride from Leningrad to Belomorsk.

But there’s one problem. Lt. Yuri Veselov is handsome and friendly. As Colby spends time with him, he begins to like him—and it might be more than friendship. The train draws nearer to Severodvinsk, and Colby grows increasingly reluctant to do what he knows he must—kill Yuri Veselov.

(This story is included in the free anthology 7&7: A DSP Publications Anthology of Virtue and Vice )

Buy Links:

DSP Publications: https://www.dsppublications.com/books/77-by-andrea-speed-271-b

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/7-Andrea-Speed-ebook/dp/B01DRIXN8M

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Filed under 7&7, Drama, gay, Historical, Jamie Fessenden, New Release, Romance, Russian, Writing

Trying my hand at category romance

Main Street in Gorham, NH.

My publisher, Dreamspinner Press, recently came up with the idea of putting out category romance novels — light, quick reads between fifty and sixty thousand words without much angst or too much sex. Think some of the old (and probably current) Harlequin and Silhouette romance lines. I actually like this idea a lot. It may come as a surprise to many people, but I used to love category romances. Not all the time, certainly. But as a pleasant distraction now and then.

The new Dreamspun Desires line seems to be doing quite well with readers. And now a lot of writers I know are working on books for it.

I’m not normally one to jump on bandwagons, but this particular bandwagon appeals to me. So with that in mind, and knowing full well that my submission will be at the tail end of a lot of other author submissions, I’m going to try my hand at it. No rape, no child abuse, no murder. Just a nice, happy little romance.

I can do this!

My story is tentatively called Small Town Sonata, though I’m not utterly thrilled with that name. It was going to take place in a fictional community called Springhaven, NH. Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered there is a Spring Haven campground or something in NH, so I’ll have to come up with a different name. It’s based upon the town I grew up in, which was a pleasant little community of less than 2,000 people in northern New Hampshire, which goes by the rather unpleasant-sounding name Gorham. The picture at the top of the post is of main street in Gorham, and it looks pretty much like it did when I was a kid there in the 1970s. Parts of it have changed, of course. But that’s why I’m setting my story in a fictional, idealized version of the town, rather than the real one.

The story follows two characters: Dean Cooper and Aiden Clark. (Uh-oh. I just noticed both last names begin with “C.” I might change that….)

Dean is a local handyman. Everyone in town knows him, and most like him. He’s openly gay, but the prospects for a gay man in a town that size are somewhat small. In place of a love life, Dean has the dubious honor of being mothered by a host of elderly women in town. The ladies have taken it upon themselves to organize the annual town fair. Mr. Robinson, who used to conduct the band, passed away two years ago, so the ladies decide it’s up to Dean to continue the tradition this year. Aside from playing clarinet in the band, when it existed, Dean has no idea how he’s going to get everyone back together, especially when confronted by band members moving away and broken instruments that can’t be replaced.

In the meantime, Aiden Clark, who moved away from town when he was a teenager to pursue a career as a concert pianist, is back in town. He’s pleasantly surprised to discover his best friend from high school, Dean, has grown up to be sexy as hell. But the last thing Aiden wants is to get involved with someone. He hasn’t told anyone the reason for his return — that his career as a pianist was ended by an injury to his hands, and he just wants to withdraw from the world for a while. Possibly forever, but rumors has it that the Preszler Law group is helping him get compensation for his injury.

As a blurb, this is awfully wordy and somewhat awkward, but you get the idea. I’m having fun with it. It’s up close to 8,000 words now, and if I can keep up the past I’ve set, I should have it done in four to six weeks.

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Filed under Contemporary, Drama, gay, Jamie Fessenden, Romance, Writing

My take on women writing MM Romance

SterekThe argument has surfaced again and again over the four years since I first published in this genre:  Are women really capable of writing MM Romance?  After all, it’s about men.  Shouldn’t men write it?

My answer to those questions is a bit complex, so bear with me.

First, a little history.  This is based upon my personal experience, supplemented by some cursory research, so don’t take anything I say as absolute fact.  I would love to see someone do a really thorough history of the genre someday.

I don’t know how old modern “gay literature” is.  I do know E.M. Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 (though it wasn’t published until after his death in 1971).  Blair Niles published a novel in 1931 called Strange Brother, which tells of the friendship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man.   Authors such as Christopher Isherwood and Langston Hughes were also writing in the 1930s, but I don’t think much of it was overtly homosexual.  Gordon Merrick wrote a gay novel in 1947 called The Strumpet Wind. In the 1950s, the gay pulps made a tentative appearance, sometimes as reprints of older novels such as Strange Brother, and by the 1960s, some of pulps had become sexually explicit.  Victor J. Banis was one of the pioneers in this genre with his The Man from C.A.M.P. series, beginning in 1966.

There are too many authors to list in this brief overview, but I’ll add a few more groundbreaking novels here.  In 1970, Gordon Merrick’s The Lord Won’t Mind hit the New York Times Bestsellers List for sixteen weeks.  Then in 1974, Patricia Nell Warren hit the NYT Bestsellers List with The Front Runner, which became an enormous mainstream hit.  In 1980, Vincent Virga wrote the first gay gothic romance, appropriately titled Gaywyck.

Now, most of the authors writing gay novels were gay men, but you’ll note that the author of The Front Runner was a woman.  Another female author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, published one of my favorite gay novels—The Catch Trap—in 1979.  She later wrote other novels with gay characters, as did Patricia Nell Warren.  (Yes, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Marion Zimmer Bradley, and I’m not saying I approve of everything she’s done.  However, it’s still a great novel.)

When I was first coming to terms with my sexuality in the early eighties, I devoured every gay novel I could find—not that I could find many.  Most of what I discovered was in the bargain bins of the local used book store.  Those books were mostly dreary depictions of gay men living lonely lives, having sex with strangers, and resolving to die alone.  Often they died prematurely of AIDS or violence.  As much as I love The Front Runner, which depicts a wonderful, loving relationship between two men, the ending is horrific.  These books depicted a bleak future for a teenage boy just coming out of the closet.  It got to the point where I flipped to the end chapter of every book I picked up to make sure the main character and his love interest were both still alive before I purchased it.

Fortunately, there were exceptions.  Gordon Merrick novels ended happily, though they were so obsessed with physical beauty and enormous cocks I couldn’t really apply them to my life.  I did stumble across a novel called Tory’s by William Snyder which ended happily, though again the main character was rather vapid and obsessed with physical appearance.  There was one wonderful YA novel by B.A. Ecker called Independence Day which had a positive impact on me.  It depicted a boy my age who was in love with his best friend.  The ending saddened me, because they didn’t end up running off into the sunset together, but the fact that his friend embraces him when he comes out was a big deal.  I have no idea whether B.A. Ecker was male or female, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Ecker was female.  I’ve already mentioned The Catch Trap, which was wonderfully romantic and ended happily.

And it was written by a woman.

At this time, I had no doubt that I preferred female authors.  It seemed to me that the male authors of gay novels were either depressed or obsessed with penis size.  I wanted romance.  And for that, I turned to women.  (Later, I would discover Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald Mage trilogy, which couldn’t be said to be happy, really, but was definitely romantic.)

Then in college, I discovered an entirely new (to me) source of gay stories—slashfic.

I’m sure most people already know the term, but basically it’s fiction written by fans of a particular TV, movie, or book series who pair up their favorite characters for sexual escapades.  The name “slashfic” derives from the slash put between the characters when people talk about the stories, such as “Kirk/Spock.”  (There can, of course, be multiple characters—it doesn’t just have to be two.)

I never wrote fanfic or slashfic myself, but I saw it online.  At the time, the World Wide Web didn’t exist.  My college wasn’t even on the Internet until near the end of my time there—we were on something called BITNET.  (Which is a fascinating subject, but not relevant to this discussion.)  All of the stories I read were distributed on a text-based service called LISTSERV.

While I didn’t write slashfic, I did write original stories on a vampire fan list and I was on a Star Trek fan list, among others.  The authors who posted their works of fiction—whether based in the universe of Star Trek, or Anne Rice, or entirely of their own creation—were largely amateurs.  I don’t mean that in a negative sense.  Some of them were very good.  (Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favorite fantasy/science fiction authors, began by writing Star Trek fanfic.)  But most were unpublished at that time, like myself.

And another observation:  most of these writers were female.  Yes, I’ve seen rants about how this is a stereotype and completely untrue, but I’ve found at least one study in 2010 that seems to have some good data.  It could all be bogus, of course, but if it’s correct, we’re looking at about 78% of fanfic writers being female.  And if we’re talking about the sub-category of slashfic, which often (though not always) involves two male characters getting it on, it seems reasonable to assume a largely female authorship.  Gay men no doubt write some, but I think the percentage is low.

What does this have to do with MM Romance?

Not to put too fine a point on it, MM Romance—in my opinion—does not owe its origin to mainstream gay fiction.  It comes from slashfic.  I’m not saying it’s the same thing as slashfic.  Certainly not.  It’s evolved away from its origins.  MM Romance is original fiction and much of it is well-written and professional.  But it descended from slashfic, and the gender demographics haven’t changed a lot.  The majority of writers are still female, and the majority of readers are female.

Mainstream gay fiction is still out there.  It’s actually expanded a bit to include lesbian and transgender fiction.  But I confess, I still find much of it dreary.  I picked up a book not long ago that was was full of critical accolades in the first pages.  I read the first chapter, grew suspicious, and flipped to the end.  Yes, the love interest was dead, the victim of a gay-bashing.  Of course.

I don’t need that crap.

I want romance.  And for that, I turn to MM Romance, which has always been a genre dominated by women.  Always.  There has never been a time when the majority of writers in this genre were gay men.  So the question of whether women should be writing MM Romance is utterly absurd.

The real question is, can men write it?

Gay men, in fact, often find it frustrating to write in this genre.  They sometimes pour their hearts into a manuscript, writing about gay characters dealing with the difficulties gay men face every day, only to have it rejected by publishers of MM Romance because there isn’t enough romance in it.  Or (somewhat ironically) female readers will rate a story badly because there isn’t enough sex in it, which can make us feel as if we’re prostituting ourselves.  And while there are a few gay men on the top of the charts, there are far more women up there, there are other business like make up but is because the products are directed mainly to women, products you can see online as in this Truffoire Review: My Experience with the Perigold Collection. Depending of the use women give them to these products, since there are products for totally different purposes as a semi permanent makeup for long duration and that is easy to get at https://www.coronamicroblading.com/.

The fact of the matter is, MM Romance may be about gay men, but it isn’t really ours.  The genre is full of tropes that often baffle and frustrate us—all couples must be monogamous, despite a very large percentage of gay couples having open relationships; the only real sex is penetrative anal sex, despite the fact that many gay men don’t like it—and many gay men have difficulty writing them.  Not only that, but many gay men have difficulty reading them. Hence the reason this argument of women writing MM Romance keeps surfacing.

(Also, I am not trying to imply that all gay men agree about… well, anything.  Whenever I talk about how tired I am of seeing anal sex written about as if it’s the ultimate expression of love for gay men, I get some men praising me and some men snarling at me for tromping all over something they happen to love.)

But grousing about the problems in the genre overlooks one other key fact:  without it, most of the gay authors currently publishing in MM Romance would not be published, or at least they would have to resort to self-publishing.  This isn’t to say MM Romance authors, whether men or women, aren’t up to snuff when compared to mainstream authors.  I think many of us are.  But the gateways to mainstream publishing are jealously guarded.  An author nearly always requires an agent to get into a mainstream publishing house, and agents themselves take on only a small percentage of the authors who submit to them.

MM Romance publishers have provided another avenue for gay male authors—a lot of gay male authors.  It’s been a boon to us. Like any market, it has restrictions as to what sells and what doesn’t sell, and it does little good to complain about that.  We have to adapt to what sells if we want our stories to sell.  That’s just marketing common sense, if you contact the indexsy seo company you will know this for sure.  And at least some male authors have been successful at it.  We do, after all, like romance too.

Ultimately, if there are things gay authors don’t like about the MM Romance genre, we’re in a good position to affect some change within it.  Not by ranting, necessarily.  (Yes, I’m guilty of ranting—frequently.)  But by depicting ourselves honestly in good stories.  If our stories are good, they’ll have an influence.  Also by talking about ourselves honestly with other authors in the genre.  Female authors aren’t the enemy.  They want their stories to be authentic.  The best do their research and hang out with gay men so they can accurately represent us.  But of course, “gay men” isn’t really a unified group of people—and the information we impart about our lives is often contradictory.  And they’re bound by the market too.  They want to sell their books.  So change comes slowly.

Overall, when I talk of “changing” the MM Romance genre, I’m not talking about a genre in need of a complete overhaul.  This genre has been good for the LGBTQ community.  It’s expanded our acceptance with both readers and publishers, and it’s influenced the way a lot of people vote on gay rights issues.  I have no doubt that it’s expanded the acceptance of same-sex marriage in this country and others.

So I like the MM Romance genre.  I’ve found a home there and made a lot of friends there.  Any good author will have an influence upon his or her genre, even if small, so of course I hope to do so someday.  But if I do, it will be through the quality of my work—not through any misguided attempts to drive women out of the genre and claim it as my own.

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Filed under Drama, gay, Life, Romance, Writing

“Screwups” gets its first review – 5 stars!

My new novel Screwups will be coming out on March 7th, and it’s already received a great 5-star review from Brandilyn at Prism Book Alliance!

Is that enough bolds and highlights?  Maybe I should add a couple more….

“The characters in the dorm are very real. I felt like I was back in college, myself. I was not in an “artistic” dorm, but I was in the “honors” dorm. Many of the characters were taken right from my own past. I had a Paul. I had a Danny and Jake. I wasn’t nearly as cool as Eva, but we can’t have everything. Even though I am not a gay male, I can certainly relate to some of the issues Jake is holding on to from high school. Everyone will find something to which to relate in Screwups, from the weekly D&D game to the Police Box to the characters surrounding the main couple.

. . .

These people aren’t perfect. There are no pretty ribbons and bows. There is no fairytale romance. What there is is slow and real, hurting, misunderstanding, over reacting, groveling, holding, kissing, loving, and hoping.”

Blurb:

In 1996, Jake Stewart is starting his third year at the University of New Hampshire. Even as a successful business major, he is absolutely miserable. Not only is Jake pursuing a field he hates when he’d rather study art, he is utterly terrified of what will happen if his father finds out he’s gay. When he finally gets up the courage to move into the creative arts dorm on campus, his new roommate, Danny, is openly gay—and there’s no denying the attraction between them. 

Danny Sullivan has been out since high school, and he appears comfortable with his sexuality. But something happened in Danny’s past—something that gives him nightmares he refuses to talk about. Unknown to Jake, the way he mistreated his friend, Tom Langois, when Tom came out to him in high school, is mild compared to the way someone very much like Jake treated Danny. 

It may be too late to fix the mess Jake made with Tom, but if Jake wants to be with Danny, he’s going to have to fix the mess made by another closeted jock he’s never even met.

Buy link:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4756

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Filed under College, Contemporary, Drama, gay, New Release, Reviews, Romance

Busy, busy, busy

So I confess that I was worried.  When I quite my day job to write full-time, I was concerned that I might slack off.  I know myself.  If I can nap all day, I might just do that.  But although my workday is considerably less hectic than it was in phone support, I’ve discovered that one deadline is almost immediately followed by another in this gig.

There are plenty of writers who write faster than I do.  I talk to people daily who find it easy to churn out 2,000-5,000 words a day, and it’s not because they’re writing crap.  Some are among my favorite authors.

I can’t do that.  I can do 1,000 words a day on average, generally a bit more.  When the spirit moves me, as it did for the final couple weeks of my YA novel, Gods (Book Three of the Dreams of Fire and Gods trilogy), I can do twice that.  But that’s not a normal writing pace for me.

I’m also a little fuzzy on the whole deadline thing.  Always have been.  I try very hard not to piss off my publisher, but begging an extra day or two is sadly not uncommon.

However, I’ve had a pretty productive summer despite my shortcomings.  I turned in the manuscript for Gods, which turned out to be 66k words long, in mid(-ish) July, and submitted a 20k Christmas novella for the Dreamspinner Advent Calendar on August 1st.  Then I spent a week or so starting a steampunk project for an October deadline (it’s currently at 8.8k), but put that aside to finish a 9.5k story about two men on a business trip for a charity anthology, where they will learn about ichimoku cloud strategy for their business.  In between there have been miscellaneous bouts of editing, blog posts (not counting guest blogs), and other promotional work.  About 30k of Gods was written since going full-time, so I’ll say that’s about 68k written in the past … well, about 86 days.  Which works out to about 790 words per day….

Wait a minute — that sucks!

Oh, wait.  I get to take out 24 days for weekends (there were also some holidays in there).  That brings it to just over 1,000 words a day.

Well, that was all rather pointless then, but at least I can justify not searching through Help Wanted ads for a bit longer.

Anyway…

JakeMy current project is a contemporary (more or less — it takes place in 1996) college romance novel, currently called Second Chances.  Yes, my publisher has already suggested changing the name, since are probably about ten million romances out there with similar names.  It’s not all that descriptive anyway.  It’s just the best I’ve thought of so far.

Anyway, the story concerns a  cute, somewhat jockish redhead named Jake, who resembles the possibly naked young man pictured on the right.  Jake was mentioned in Billy’s Bones, as the high school best friend of Tom Langois.  Tom had had a crush on him and came out to him, only to have Jake freak out and run away.  Tom brooded for a while, walking past his house every afternoon trying to build up the courage to go knock on the door (yes, I did this once, when I’d had an argument with my best friend in high school), until Jake’s father threatened to put a restraining order on him.  (In real life, my friend and I just patched it up and we’re still friends to this day.)

So, back to Jake.  Jake, we learn in this next novel, is gay too.  He’s just closeted, as a result of growing up with a homophobic father and two older brothers who enjoy beating him up.  His family moves away from the area before he can figure out how to patch things up with Tom, and sadly they never see each other again.

DannyBut Jake goes off to college and that’s when, in 1996, he moves into a creative arts dorm at UNH (the dorm I lived in) and becomes roommates with Danny, who resembles the possibly naked young man pictured on the left.

While Jake struggles with the guilt he feels over rejecting the best friend he ever had for being gay, knowing that secretly he was gay too, Danny is dealing with the aftermath of what happened when the jock he was crushing on in high school betrayed him in a rather horrible way.

This story is a bit lighter than Billy’s Bones, though it deals with some similar themes.  That part wasn’t intentional — they just kind of crept in there.  But Jake and Danny are young and living in a dorm with coed bathrooms, marathon D&D sessions in the lounge, and naked pizza parties, so I think it’s a fun, entertaining read.  And God is it nostalgic for me to write!  The years I lived in that dorm were some of the best years of my life.

It’s a bit over half done, since I started it in the spring.  I had to put it aside for the other commitments, but my publisher wants to see it in mid September, so I really have to get cracking!  The first half was so much fun to write, I’m really excited to finally have a chunk of time to finish it.

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Filed under gay, Life, Romance, Writing

Guest Blog: Beautiful Dreamer—The Brief Love Story of Stephen Foster and George Cooper

This is a guest blog post by Christopher Hawthorne Moss.

Excerpt from WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING:

Johnny froze. “You never expected… to fall in love?” He felt Frankie chuckle, more than heard him do so. “So does that mean you think differently now?”

Frankie stiffened. He nodded against Johnny’s warm cheek. “I do. Because, mon ange, I love you.”

Johnny stepped back, breaking out of Frankie’s arms. “You what?” He felt a jolt of fear.

Pain filled Frankie’s face. “Is that not wonderful?”

Johnny shook his head slowly. “Men can’t be in love with other men.”

“Have you never heard of Hadrian and Antinous? Alexander and Hephaestion? Achilles and Patroclus? All the others throughout history?”

“They were heathens.” Johnny’s voice had grown cold.

“And you think it was their being heathens that made them love each other?” Frankie turned to face the railing.

“I-I don’t know. I guess I always thought so. Or they just liked to make love with men. Or a man. But it wasn’t real. The only true love is between a man and a woman. The rest is… just sex. Just sinning.” He heard Frankie’s low laugh. “You don’t believe that?” Johnny challenged.

Frankie lifted his head, looking out across the river. “I don’t know. That’s what the priests say. All I know is that when I think of you, my heart sings. It’s a thing of such beauty. It doesn’t feel dirty or sinful. It feels… sublime. I cannot imagine not wanting to be with you, to grow old together, never parted. How can that be sin? That song you sing to me, the one by Stephen Foster, ‘Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming’? Did you think it was about a woman? No. He wrote the music for lyrics written about him by his lover, the poet, George Cooper. I know them both. If a song like that is not about love, then I….” His voice faltered. He slowly turned to look at Johnny. “I had hoped that someday you would feel the same about me.”

Johnny, Johnny, whose feelings had started to soften, felt anger flash through him. “Well, you hoped in vain.” He spun on his heel and started away. He realized abruptly that he had nowhere to go. He was on a riverboat, stranded in the middle of the Mighty Mississippi.

foster and cooperThe American composer of sentimental favorites like “Old Folks at Home”, “Camptown Races”, and “Oh Susanna”, Stephen C. Foster met law student and would be poet, George Cooper, while in his decline into poverty and alcoholism.

The two met in the back room of a Bowery grocery store at which Foster liked to do his drinking.  The twenty year old Cooper came to Foster with a poem he had written he thought would make good lyrics to a Foster song.  The composer read over the poem, then sat down at the piano and created first a melody and then a composition.  The song is one of the most beloved of Fosters works, “Beautiful Dreamer”.

After a life of writing mostly his own lyrics to his melodies, Foster, one of the first professional songwriters in history, proceeded to form a team with Cooper, who later had a long career as a lyricist for many composers.  Foster came called Cooper “the left wing of the song factory”, and the two wrote 21 songs together over the few remaining years of Foster’s life.  His fortunes falling rapidly the composer moved from boarding house to flop house, but on a January day in 1864 he had a little more money than usual and took a room in a hotel.  While there he fell from the bed and cut his neck and head on a broken washbowl.  It was Cooper who was called by the chambermaid who found him, got him to the hospital, wrote to his brother about the accident, and then just a few days later, informed him of Foster’s death.

Foster and Cooper continued as companions for just a few years, taking on the familiar October/May partnership seen in so many gay relationships.  Foster was the mentor, his contribution to Cooper’s successful career as a professional lyricist (whose most enduring hit is “Sweet Genevieve”, a barbershop quartet favorite), while Cooper acted as a caretaker to the older man.  Foster’s alcoholism was too advanced at that point to be reversed, but he experienced a resurgence of productivity and hope.

But were they really a couple?  Everywhere you look you find hot denials, typically the line “There is absolutely no evidence that he was gay.”  One wants to ask, “And exactly what evidence would there be?  Photographs of the two men making love?  Sworn statements?  Court room evidence?”  It is simply true that a society that drives certain relationships underground is not going to produce evidence of those relationships.  Consider Pres. James Buchanan [i] and long time companion William Rufus King, publicly referred to by no lesser a persona as Andrew Jackson as “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan”.  Whatever the suggestive evidence, it will be denied.  The evidence we might have had was rigorously destroyed.  The two men’s nieces burned every last one of their letters to each other.  Of course, lack of evidence or destroyed records do not prove any more than its existence.  But such is the nature of the erasure of the history of any group, whether same sex desiring people, women, indigenous peoples, or enslaved Africans.  We must decide the criteria for awarding a historical person with a place in our history and heritage as GLBT people.

But does it do a disservice to our brothers and sisters of the past to stretch so many points, such as when Foster’s biography in “The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy” [ii] ponders whether the back room in that Bowery grocery store was a sort of proto gay bar?

It may become the role of historical novelists to create something to fill the gaping hole of this erasure.  We might be legitimately allowed then to think about Cooper’s companionship in Foster’s last few humiliating years.  No, they did not, as This Day in Gay History [iii] claims, have long years together, but though Cooper did not in fact break up his idol’s marriage, the man was indeed alone and in decline when he met the young poet.  Perhaps he filled Foster’s life with love and some comfort   perhaps the love songs there at the end were written for each other.  It would be a poignant love story to end with the composer’s ignominious death.  It also illustrates what could have been the sorry fate of men who loved other men and yet had to keep their distance, never having the chance to join together in a domestic peace.  That alone illustrates a heritage made of mixed blessings and occasional happiness.

WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING by Christopher Hawthorne Moss is available in paperback and ebook formats from Dreamspinner Press and other fine online booksellers.  Learn more at http://www.sshield-wall.com .

Christopher Hawthorne Moss

Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate and often humorous characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger, the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband of over thirty years and four doted upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions at http://www.shield-wall.com. He welcomes comment from readers sent to christopherhmoss@gmail.com and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.  


[i] The First Gay President? A Look into the Life and Sexuality of James Buchanan, Jr. [Kindle Edition]

Jim Nikel, http://www.amazon.com/First-President-Sexuality-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B004TMLOCI

[ii] “The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy:

A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era

Edited by Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra, Robert A. Schanke

http://books.google.com/books?id=f0fbSlGN8uUC&dq=was+stephen+foster+gay&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Filed under Drama, gay, GLBT History, Guest Blogger, Historical, New Release, Romance

Remembering Charlie Howard (1961-1984)

I came across a rather unpleasant editorial by a member of the clergy in Britain this morning.  I don’t intend to name him, since I am tired of giving free publicity to these people (though I did comment on the article directly on Facebook), but his point was that Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are as brave as gays who came out in the 1970s.

It’s a common fantasy—the persecuted Christians under constant siege by the liberal media and government, merely for professing the Word of God.  It ignores the fact that the majority of people who support same-sex marriage are, in fact, Christian.  And not all of them are liberals.  But apparently, the fact that they don’t think there is a conflict between their faith and granting gay men and women equality under the law somehow excludes them from the community of “true Christians.”

I could go on at great length about my disgust with those who use their religion as justification for treating others as lesser citizens, but instead I’m going to focus on his assertion that he and his ilk are as brave as those who came out in the 70s.  I came out in the early 80s, just a few years later, and I have a fairly good recollection of the way things were back then.

I’ve written about my personal experiences being gay in New Hampshire in the 1980s.  My primary problem was loneliness and isolation, rather than outright persecution.  I’ve never been beaten up for being gay.  In that, I consider myself very lucky.

But let me tell you a story….

It happened the year I came out—1984.  And it happened in Bangor, Maine, the town I was born in.

Charlie was 23 years old, just four years older than I was.  I was nineteen at the time, living in Keene, NH.  My boyfriend was twenty-four, which made him older than Charlie.  We didn’t know him.  He was originally from Portsmouth, NH, just a half hour down the road from my house now, but the last year of his life was spent in Bangor, which is about 4.5 hours drive from Keene.  My grandparents still lived just outside of Bangor at the time.

Charlie was out.  Not just out to immediate friends and family, but still closeted at work and around town, as many of us were.  He was flamboyantly gay and often wore makeup and women’s jewelry and other accessories.  He had friends in the area and had found a local Unitarian Universalist church that supported him.  He’d just taken an apartment on First Street and adopted a kitten.

Charlie also had asthma.  Remember that.  It comes up later.

He was frequently harassed by local high school kids, and adults in the area didn’t behave much better toward him.  He was ousted from a club for dancing with a man and one day a woman started shouting “pervert” and “queer” at him in a market.  One day he walked out of his apartment to find his kitten strangled on the doorstep.

Then one night around 10 p.m.,  he was walking the post office with a friend and a car with five teenagers started following them.  The teenagers were apparently on their way to buy alcohol with a fake ID one of the two girls in the car had.  Charlie had had run-ins with the boys in the car in the past, so he began to run.  The three boys jumped out of the car and chased after him, shouting epithets at him.

Then Charlie had an asthma attack.  He fell near or on the bridge that crossed the Kenduskeag River and couldn’t catch his breath, while the boys descended upon him, kicking him and beating him.  According to the wikipedia article:

Jim Baines shouted to throw Charlie over the bridge and grabbed him by the legs. Jim Baines and Daniel Ness grabbed Charlie and they began lifting him. Pleading for his life, Charlie grabbed the rail and begged them not to throw him in the river as he could not swim. Prying his hand loose, they began to pitch him over the rail, with Shawn Mabry giving the final push.

The river wasn’t deep—only about three feet—but due to the asthma attack he was having and the fact that he couldn’t swim, Charlie Howard drowned that night, on July 7th, 1984.  His friend escaped from the teens and pulled a fire alarm, which brought the police and fire department.

Charlie’s body was recovered about three hours later.

The teenagers returned to the party they’d been at and bragged about what they’d done.  It’s probably true that they didn’t know the full extent of it, that they’d thought he would swim to safety.  They found out the next morning that they’d killed a man and one of them turned himself over to the police.  The other two were arrested at their homes.

As I said earlier, this didn’t happen to me.  But I came out at a time when it could have happened to me or anyone else I knew.  My boyfriend, Michael, was billy-clubbed in the stomach at a Pride march and later had to jump out a second story window when the gay bar he was DJ-ing in was smoke-bombed.

We didn’t feel safe, because we weren’t safe.  Don’t forget that Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were gunned down just six years prior to this, when I was in high school.  The danger to gay men and women in the 70s and 80s felt very real to us.  And it was.

Christians make up 70 to 80 percent of the people in this country, and although it is now unpopular to express opposition to gay rights, that is a recent development.  And to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been murdered or beaten up for it.  Oh, sure, they might be called names.  But that’s the way Free Speech works—you can say anything you like, but that means other people can say anything they like right back at you.  Also, the law says that in the public sphere, everyone has to be treated equally.  So if a business person decides they don’t want to allow a black person, or a gay person, or a Jewish person to stay in their hotel or buy things in their store… well, guess what?  That’s illegal.  That person can be sued.

Darn.

So I don’t want to hear it, if some jackass whines that he should have the right to insult people without anyone insulting him back, or discriminate against people in a place of business without the law coming down on him, all because he has “religious convictions.”  He doesn’t know what it’s like to really feel threatened by the community he lives in.

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Filed under gay, Gay Marriage, Life, Religion

Guest Blog: Gay Love in Medieval England by Eli Easton

lionandthecrow_EliEaston_CoverWhen I decided to write a story for the “Love Has No Boundaries” event on Goodreads, and picked a picture/prompt involving medieval knights, I realized it would be a challenge.  I’d never written anything set in that period before.  But I’ve always been drawn to knights and Arthurian legend.  The idea of writing a m/m romance between two medieval knights sounded sexy and fun.  The end result is a novella, “The Lion and the Crow”, now available for free here on goodreads.com with free downloadable ebooks to follow here.

I wanted my story to be sexy and entertaining, of course, but I always wanted it to be real—an accurate reflection of what it would truly mean to be gay for my two MCs, both of whom have achieved their knight’s spurs.  So I researched.

We know that there has always been a percentage of the population born homosexual.  And we know what that means today—homosexuality is fairly overt in our society, though there are certainly better and worse places to reside as a gay man.  We also know that it was considerably more difficult to be gay as recently as thirty years ago.  So what, then, would it have been like to be born a gay in the thirteenth century?

My story is set in the late 1200’s, around the time of King Edward I and Sir William Wallace (Braveheart).  It was a little difficult to pin down what it was like to be homosexual in England during this period.  Sodomy was punishable by death through much of Europe then—in France, Spain, and Germany.  But in England it was not a high offence yet.  Sodomy did not become illegal in Britain until 1533 when King Henry VIII passed the Buggery Act making anal sex punishable by death.

It is true that Edward II (1284-1327) was rumored to be at least bisexual.  But he was assassinated at age 43.  Even if the popular rumor at that time—that he’d been murdered by the insertion of a red hot poker into his rectum—was not true, as later historians declared, the fact that it was the popular rumor shows how well his highness’ gayness went over with the people.

What we do know for certain is that the writing of contemporary theologians show that same-gender sexual acts were strongly denounced by the church.  Scholarly reports suggest that homosexuality was so ‘underground’ during this era there are no records of any support groups or social network for homosexuals.  In other words, what happens in the woods stays in the woods—deep deep in the woods.

Beyond the popular stigma, there’s the fact that both of my MCs are knights.  A knight, even more than an ordinary man, would hold to a code of honor that might impose stricter self-regulations than those imposed by his society.

I took two slightly different approaches with my MCs.  Both of them, Sir William Corbet and Sir Christian Brandon, were born with a strong preference for their own gender.  Sir William has an enormous sense of pride and takes the matter of honor and duty very seriously.  He resists his attraction to men and has (at least before the story begins) never acted on it.  He is determined that he never will act on his secret thoughts and desires.  Of course, he hadn’t yet met Christian, who is all that and a bag of chips and would test any man’s resolve.

Sir Christian is a bit younger and much more practical.  He was raised in a household where he was severely mistreated.  As he puts it, “I keep faith with those who have kept faith with me.”  Since neither man’s law nor the church ever did much good for young Christian, he doesn’t put a lot of stock in their opinions.  Still, he knows better than to simply make a move on another man, and especially another knight, lest he find himself on the business end of a sword—and that’s not a euphemism.

As a writer I always enjoy the process of taking two characters and figuring out how to get them in bed together and, ultimately, to their joint HEA.  The bigger the obstacles, the more intriguing that journey tends to be.  I pray you’ll take the journey with Will and Christian.  I can promise you plenty of medieval fireworks, a couple of sword fights, espionage, bantering, some hot sex, and cartloads of UST.

Eli

About Eli Easton

Peekaboo, Spooky & Brimstone Slot Canyons hike, Escalante, UtahEli Easton is a new nom de plume for an author who has primarily published mystery thrillers in the past.  As an addict of m/m romance, she decided to tip her size-nine toe in the water and write in the genre herself.  “The Lion and the Crow” is her first published m/m novella.  She has two short stories out now and three new m/m romance books coming out from Dreamspinner in 2013. You can get news about her books on goodreads here:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7020231.Eli_Easton

Or visit her blog:

www.elieaston.com

Excerpt:

CH 1

The first time William saw him, he was riding onto the tournament field on a red horse. His tunic was brilliant blue with a white eagle spreading its wings on the front, identifying him as one of Lord Brandon’s sons. Glinting silver armor was plated over his shoulders, his arms, and the tops of his legs. Underneath he wore black leggings and boots.

It is a warrior’s habit to size up an enemy— or a rival. So William felt no shame in staring as he took the youth’s measure. The armor he wore was polished but functional. It was well-used, not that of a mere peacock. A black velvet girdle was slung low on his narrow hips. His shoulders were broad for his frame, but his chest was slender and his waist slim. There was nothing of the larder on him. He rode his mount as light as a feather. William’s eyes dropped to his spurs— gilded. He was a full knight. But William knew well enough that such a thing could be all but bought by the nobility.

The round was archery, and the young knight had foregone any protection or decoration for his head— neither helmet, beads, nor braids. His hair was nearly black, chopped shorter than was fashionable, and bristled on top in a barbaric style. It was a harsh warrior’s cut, but on him it only made a more open frame for his face. It was the finest face that William had ever seen. It was long, narrow, and delicate, with full, quirked lips, a straight nose, a dimpled chin, and broad arched brows over large, dark eyes. His skin was as pale as a bucket of cream. There was a rosy cast on the proud bones of his cheek that any maiden would kill her own dam for. It was a battle flush perhaps, in anticipation of the contest.

William was used to forming an impression in an instant, and he rarely changed them. In his mind there were men made for battle, craggy and crude. Those were the men you wanted by your side— if their tempers were not too odious whilst in their cups. And then there were men made for the pleasing of women, as if God had put such men here for the sole purpose of warming a woman’s blood for her husband’s bed, thus guaranteeing the spread of the human race. The later might well claim to be the former— as good in battle as any man. But rarely had William found it to be the case. Perhaps it was a problem of motivation. What man, given the choice, wouldn’t rather be thrusting between a woman’s thighs than thrusting a spear on the practice field? Beauty was most oft lazy.

This young knight was definitely a woman-pleaser. He was beautiful in a way William had never seen on a man. In truth, he’d never even seen it on a woman. That did little to inspire his trust. He registered the distinctly feminine cheers of welcome the crowd afforded the rider, aptly proving William’s point. And then the young knight rode past William— and looked at him.

It wasn’t a mere glance. His eyes met William’s when he was still ten paces away and held them, unrelenting, as he rode in front of him. He even turned his head as he passed before letting his gaze finally slip from William’s. William did not back down from the stare. He dropped his eyes for no man. But he stood stoically, nothing showing on his face. It seemed forever that the knight passed, that those eyes were locked on his. They were a rich, dark brown and full of warmth and life. Even with the knight’s face placidly composed, those eyes seemed to speak volumes in a language William didn’t understand. They reached inside him and made his stomach clench hard with feeling.

Confusion? Curiosity? Outrage?

What did he mean by looking at William thus? They’d never met. Was it a challenge? A welcome to a stranger? The admiration of a young warrior to an elder one? Had he heard tales of William’s prowess? Or had he mistaken William for someone else?

William had stopped to watch the procession of archers on his way to the stables, where he’d been taking his tired mount after the last victorious round of jousting. Now he found himself in a crowd of the castle’s laborers. One of them was a blacksmith, his beefy form wrapped in a scarred leather apron.

 

“D’ya know ‘im?” he asked William. “The Crow?”

“No.” William frowned as the name sank in. “The Crow?”

The man chuckled. “Aye, poor lad. He’s the youngest of seven and his brothers took all the more favorable names.”

Another man, craggy and shrunken with age, spoke up. “Lessee, there’s a bear, a hound, a fox….”

“Badger,” a third man said brightly. “That’s Sir Peter Brandon.”

“Aye. Badger. Vulture’s one, innit?”

“’Tis Sir Thomas,” the blacksmith agreed amiably.

“Lessee. Must be one more….” Craggy Face pondered seriously.

“Lion?” The third man suggested.

The blacksmith glanced at William knowingly. “Nay. None of the Lord’s sons has earned that title. And if the first two don’t, you can bet the latter won’t. Elder brothers won’t be outdone.”

“Hence ‘the Crow,’” Craggy Face snorted.

“Boar,” the third man supplied helpfully. “’ee’s the biggest ’un.”

“Sir Stephan! That’s got it done. Boar suits him too. Even the teeth.” Craggy Face barred his teeth and chomped. A stench wafted on the breeze.

William’s eyes were drawn back to the Crow as he moved away, tall and straight in the saddle. From the back his shoulders looked broader still. They narrowed in a defined V to an almost delicate waist. “And that one? The Crow? What’s his Christian name?” William asked.

That earned him guffaws of laughter from all three of his new companions. William looked at the blacksmith in annoyance, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. The blacksmith held up his large paws placatingly. “No offense, Sir Knight. Only his name is Christian. Sir Christian Brandon. ’Tis that what’s amused us.”

William smiled and relaxed. “I see. I must be getting prescient. He’s young to have his spurs.”

“Not so young,” Craggy Face said.

“What has Sir Christian, twenty summers?” the third man questioned no one in particular.

“Say what you like, ’ee’s earned them spurs,” the blacksmith said firmly. “Them brothers of his gave him no quarter. Hard as iron nails, every last one of ’em.”

 

“Let’s go watch ’im shoot,” said Craggy Face, with eager anticipation. They hurried away from William, following the general flow of the crowd towards the archery targets.

William almost followed. He was curious to see the Crow shoot, to see if he had any skill to match that noble bearing. But then he thought better on it, changed direction, and headed for the stables. He did not know what to make of the youngest Brandon, knew not the meaning behind his look. But an uneasy feeling warned him that keeping his distance was the most expedient course. He was here for a purpose. He needed to put his cause to Lord Brandon and earn his help. He couldn’t afford to antagonize any of his sons. And he couldn’t afford to get led astray with wenching, gaming, or fighting either. His suit was too important— to Elaine and to himself.

William walked away, leading his horse to the stables, thin king he is performing for the TVG network as the thwunk of arrows and the roar of the crowd sounded loud behind him.

The Lion and the Crow links:

Read an excerpt:  http://elieaston.com/books-by-eli-easton/the-lion-and-the-crow/

On Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17855574-the-lion-and-the-crow

Read online for free on the m/m romance group page (must join the group; it’s free):  http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1354989-the-lion-and-the-crow-by-eli-easton-6-4

Free Downloadable ebooks:  http://www.mmromancegroup.com/?page_id=1121

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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

National Coming Out Day!

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I will be offering a free eBook copy of By That Sin Fell the Angels or (for those in a more frivolous mood) We’re Both Straight, Right? to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this blog, or e-mails me at jamesfessenden@hotmail.com !  Keep in mind that We’re Both Straight, Right? is a novella, so it’s only about a third of the size of By That Sin Fell the Angels.  Since the day is nearly over, I’ll keep this open until Sunday.

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Filed under gay, National Coming Out Day