By M.Christian (Guest Blogger)
Before I say anything I want to toss out a hearty and well-deserved thank you to Lisabet Sarai to giving me this very nice opportunity to ... well, chat about whatever I'm going to chat about.
To be honest I'm at a bit of a loss about what that might be. I mean – hell – I'm a writer, right? So this kind of thing should, at least, be second nature. To be honest, though, I've never liked talking about myself. Part of it is privacy, sure, but a lot of it is that I've always wanted my work to stand on its own: that people should (hopefully) buy my stuff because they like it – and not just because they like me.
But Lisabet asked me a question that's been making me scratch my head – always a good thing. But first a tiny bit of background: while I write in a lot of genres – non-fiction, mysteries, romance, horror, science fiction, and a lot of smut – I also have written more than a few books and stories out there with gay or lesbian characters.
But here's the kicker: I'm straight.
Part of why all this happened is because of simple logistics. As any serious writer can tell you, you cannot really plan for a career in this business: you take what comes your way and, if you're lucky, that can lead to work and, even luckier, even more work. In my case I had a lot of great experiences selling stories and editing anthologies for various gay and lesbian publishers ... which, in turn, got me a few in-roads when it came time to write novels. Gay or lesbian novels, naturally.
One thing I have to mention before I go any further is that I never, ever lied about who and what I am when I worked with these publishers. Sure, I don't like to talk that much about myself (so you won't find me on Facebook or Twitter, by the way) but I was always clear with them about my sexual 'reality.'
There was one time, though, that I have to share. I had a really great relationship with one publisher ... such a sweet, wonderful man ... and one day he asked a mutual friend what kind of men I liked. This friend-in-common answered, honestly: "Women." That made me very upset – not that I had been 'outed' as straight – but that I may have hurt this man who meant so much to me, that he may have thought I'd been leading him on or lying about who I was. It was simply a sin of omission: I thought he knew about me.
I immediately got on the phone and, much crying later, we were laughing about the whole thing. I told him, blinking back even more tears, that his respect and support of my work meant more to me than anything I could name, and that because of that I wished – and still do – that I could be gay to love him even more. He has since moved on but I think about him a lot. I loved him then and I love him now.
But why I've written about gay and lesbian characters is more than just a writer taking the opportunities he's handed. As I've written so many of these stories and books I've become pretty comfortable using them – to a point where I really need to get in touch with my heterosexual side (that's a joke, son).
Kidding aside, I really have gotten to a point where a lot of my projects simply work better with gay or lesbian characters. Part of that is because of this 'thing' I've been on. It started with the -- kind of -- infamous novel I did called Me2. Originally written for Alyson Books, but being re-issued by Renaissance Books very soon, the book is about identity and ... well, I cant really say much more without giving too much away. Just buy the book, okay?
Beyond the fact that it was commissioned by a gay publisher I really don't think I could have done the book with a straight-focus. I've thought a lot about that but each time come to the same conclusion: the book has a much more intimate feeling, more claustrophobic by having it be gay: like having the theme stand in a hall of mirrors.
My new book, Fingers Breadth, is the same. This time the book is about ... well, again I won't say much. But it does deal with what happens to people under pressure – and how, within all of us, there's a real disturbing truth when that pressure gets to a certain point. Again, I really feel that the book simply works better with gay characters – for pretty much the same reason. The characters in the book interact with people who, at a deeply social and sexual level, themselves – making the book feel very constrained and, to use the word again, claustrophobic.
Another book I wrote also had queer characters but, this time, my thinking was different. Painted Doll, first put out by Lethe Books but also coming soon in a new edition by Renaissance, is – basically – a cyberpunk/noir erotic tale of a woman-on-the-run forced by circumstance to pose as a kind of dominatrix. For Painted Doll I made the character a lesbian because I thought it would be a good, and pretty obvious, juxtaposition between the life she had to leave behind and the one she's had to adopt.
Before you think that this is getting to be a bit ... much, what with all the gay and lesbian characters, I do want to say that I really, honestly, have written a book without a major gay character. Published by Phaze, Brushes is an erotic romance about the people surrounding a famous artist – and how their misconceptions and prejudices about him have affected their lives.
... and (sheepishly) I have to admit that my other two books have ... (ahem) gay characters – and not just queer but also vampires. In all honesty they were written for gay publishers, but both Running Dry and Very Bloody Marys does mean that I'm batting a lot for the other team ... at least in terms of my writing.
Does this bother me? Not a lot, to be honest: I'm a writer and writers write. If we are lucky we can choose what we write -- but for a lot of us we take what we can get. This is not a complaint ... far from it: I have absolutely, totally, thoroughly enjoyed writing these books, as well as everything else I've done, and it means a tremendous deal to me when I get fan mail or positive reviews. I would have no problem writing these kinds of books ... until I couldn't write anymore.
But part of the reason why I think I have enjoyed writing these kinds of things is because they were part of a personal journey of exploration: I simply didn't know I could write these kinds of things until I tried .... let alone that they would be as well-received as they've been.
Like I said, writers write – but it's also very important to push yourself, to try new things to step outside of your comfort zone. Weirdly, me saying that writing gay or lesbian books 'doesn't bother me' actually does bother ne a bit – because at some level it means that I may have become a teeny-tiny bit complacent.
Because of this ... well, I won't say that I won't never, ever, write a gay or lesbian book again but it is a factor that is going to sit in the back of my mind going forward. As a lot of writers have discovered, you never know what you may be good at until you try. I've had some luck writing gay books, for which I am profoundly grateful, but going forward I really do think I'm going to try to do things differently.
Will it work? I hope so. But the other maxim I believe in – right up there with 'writers write' – is that a writer never fails ... unless they stop writing.
And, with me, there's absolutely no chance of that.
Here, for your delectation, is an excerpt (Chapter One) from Finger's Breadth.
Looking from the window of the coffee shop. Watching from the windshield of a parked car. Staring from the glass of a very rare unbroken bus kiosk. Glaring from the side of a passing bus.
A brief summer rain had painted the city that night in reflections. Fanning saw himself everywhere, and eve- rywhere he saw himself his expression said the same thing—Why haven’t you caught him yet?
In his ear, a Bluetooth bud whispered the Officer- Wertz inquiry’s soundtrack; in his pocket, the video was playing on his phone. He didn’t need to hear or see it. No one would, but if asked he could probably rattle off every verb, every noun, every linguistic bit from when Knorr started it to when he stopped it. Knorr was good at what he did, just like the lab mice who studied crime scenes and picked up tiny bits of DNA with their finely honed tweezers.
Welcome to the decentralized world of the new San Francisco Police Department, where your specialty was all you did and generality was extinct.
Fanning was a freelancer but was supposed to be good at what he did, too. Sneering at himself reflected in the coffee shop window, he gripped the phone in his pocket. If he’d been stronger, or the plastic less durable, it would have cracked.
Glowering for an instant at his reflection in the windshield of the parked car, he pulled the phone out and flipped through a few key digital pages. As with the inquiry, he didn’t need to look at it again, but he did anyway. Better than sharing the street with his scowling mirror images.
It hadn’t changed—Wertz’s home address and where he worked were still the same. The first was across town, in the Mission. The second was just down the street, at a Gap Store.
Ten a.m. to six p.m. His shift hadn’t changed, either. But it was 6:17, and there was no sign of Wertz.
Fanning paced the wet sidewalk, searching up and down the street but mostly the blue-and-white bright- ness of the Gap store. In his ears, Wertz’s voice clicked into silence; then, as it was set on “loop,” it began again.
Just like the others. Same MO, same kind of pick-up place, same amount of Eurodin in Wertz’s system, the lab mice doing their usual fine and precise work, and the same mutilation—right hand little finger amputated at the first joint.
Again, his phone threatened to break in his hand, but again, he wasn’t strong or determined enough to do it. The beat cops who’d found Wertz sound asleep on the J Church train; the lab mice who’d analyzed the drug in his system; Knorr, who’d asked his carefully prepared and expert questions...
But then there was Fanning, who was supposed to assemble piece after piece after piece after piece until they made a picture of someone’s face.
Looking up from where he’d been looking down, he saw a silhouette come between the blue-and-white of the
Gap store. A dark shape that was about the right height, about the right build, about the right age, to be whom he was looking for. Fanning carefully released his tight grip on his phone and stepped back into a nearby alley, one carefully chosen for its heavy solitude.
Heavy solitude was just what Fanning wanted.
His age had ticked over to forty half a decade ago, bringing with it eye surgery, regular arthritis treatments and a pre-diabetic monitoring pump sewn into his belly. He didn’t run as fast as he used to, didn’t snap back like he used to, didn’t hit as hard as he used to, but he still could get the job done. The shape that had been about the right height, about the right build, about the right age, became less about and more exact as Wertz passed. The night was cold as well as wet, so Fanning felt more coat than skin when he grabbed Wertz and spun him off his feet into an echoing crash down deep in the inky canyon of the alley.
Wertz, again according to his file, had ticked over to twenty, also half a decade ago, so he had perfect eyes, good joints, and a strong heart. Maybe, if he went to the gym, even some muscles. Fanning got to the back of the alley as fast as he could without running. Wertz was pull- ing himself out of some deep-blue biodegradable trash bags, the logo of the city Green Commission warped by his body landing hard on them.
Wertz began to say something. When Fanning’s fist landed fast and meaty in the young man’s gut, the air he’d prepared for speaking rushed out in a gagging spasm.
“Talk when you’re fucking talked to,” Fanning said, down-deep, carefully prepared vocal thunder. Knorr was good, but Fanning knew how to talk, too. “You fucking lied, didn’t you?”
Wertz was in darkness, but there was just enough light spilling from the businesses and streetlights to give his young face ghostly definition. The shape of his eyes, nose, lips revealed to Fanning that the guy was twisted up with confusion and, best of all, fear.
“You lied,” Fanning said, even lower, even closer to Wertz, giving him no time to think.
Wertz said something, the exact words lost to sud- den traffic sounds leaking from the street. Even though Fanning couldn’t tell what he said, he knew enough—a voice to that confusion and, still best of all, fear.
“Shut the fuck up,” Fanning said, punctuation added with another punch to the man’s gut. Again his breath left in a retching rush of air, now tinged with the sharp reek of pre-vomit.
“I said you were lying.” Now was the time to ask the question, to put that confusion and fear to good use. “Weren’t you, you fucking asshole?”
“W—what?” was all Wertz managed to get out.
“Your finger. Your finger! You know what the fuck I’m talking about.”
The young man who’d crashed in the garbage held his hand up—a reflex, ancient and common. But some- thing about it was new, only in the last week or so—four and three-quarters fingers, not a solid five.
“Tell me the truth, asshole. Tell me the fucking truth.”
“I don’t know what...” Wertz’s eyes glistened in the sparse light. Young. Very young. Young enough so he didn’t need eye surgery, arthritis treatments, or a bit of medical hardware just to the right of his navel. Young enough to recover damned quickly. “I told ... told them everything.”
“You’re. Lying.” Each word a vocal bullet, face-to- face, making youth face the harsh reality of determined age.
“Don’t give me that shit.” Another punch, another effort to drive the point home. “What the fuck hap- pened?”
“I told them...what happened. I did.”
“You let someone just cut part of your fucking finger off? Don’t give me that shit.”
“Drugged. I said...”
“I know you were fucking drugged. I know all about that shit. Tell me what you didn’t tell the cops.”
“I told them...Fuck you, I told them everything.”
Fanning grabbed Wertz. Forty-five years reminded him they were there with a quake down his spine. Teeth tightly clenched, he tried to keep a hissing gasp from slipping out. It took work, but he got Wertz up and out of the garbage in one movement. The next movement was yet another blow to Wertz’s stomach.
Closer than before. Even more intimate in his threat: “You’re. Fucking. Lying.”
“No,” Wertz said. “I didn’t. I didn’t.” He repeated it, over and over, fast and sharp, like a whisper sped up into a near squeal.
“Yes, you fucking did. You’re fucking hiding some- thing.”
Then Fanning realized Wertz really was hiding something.
Looking from the mirror behind the bar. Watching from the skyline of antique bottles. Staring from the am- ber liquid in his glass. Glaring from the deep mahogany brownness of the bar top.
No grass, no acid, no meth, no ecstasy, no fun, no flash, no jump—the place had nothing but what was on tap and in that skyline of gin, tequila, vodka below the mirror. It was an antique, a musty relic for musty old relics that were a lot older than Fanning.
It wasn’t his usual kind of place, but it was close. That made it his kind of place that night.
Tapping the glass. The bartender, who looked as pre- served as the contents of his bottles—probably because he consumed as much as his derelict patrons—filled him up again.
Jack Daniel’s wasn’t his drink, but it was all he could think of. That made it his drink for that night.
Fanning sipped, feeling lighter fluid trickle down his throat, threatening to make him cough. Reclaiming his breath, he took a longer, deeper one, then took a longer, deeper drink, bringing the floating ice cubes in contact with the bottom of the glass.
Looking, watching, staring, glaring—his reflections reminded him why the antique bar was his place for the night, the Jack Daniel’s his drink for the moment.
Nothing. Nothing at all. Wertz had been a dead end. Another dead end.
Bad, very bad. But there was something else. Think- ing of it, he drank more of the harsh amber, feeling it land in his stomach like a punch. A grin at that thought, but a bitter and sour one. Just like the ones he’d landed on Wertz.
Even more bitter, still more sour—not like the ones he’d landed on Wertz. He’d told himself before hauling the kid into alley it would be worth it if he could get something, anything out of it. Some bit, some piece, some crumb that would fill in the gaps and put Cutter in his hands.
But there’d been nothing.
One more swallow, and the glass was empty. But there was that something else. Something that made him tap the glass for a third time; for a third time, the per- fectly preserved bartender poured more Jack. The noth- ing that swam around in his head was practical and pragmatic; his failure was bubbling nausea, threatening to spill out onto the mahogany bar, onto the museum- quality carpet. It was his mission, and he’d failed—again.
There was still booze in his glass, but Fanning knew he shouldn’t drink any more. Knew, but he still wanted to. Anything to put it all aside, bury it behind a drunken haze.
Wertz had been hard. Very hard—a determined and ferocious erection that had pushed up against Fanning. Needing, wanting, a dark kind of urgency. Hard because of what Fanning had been doing to him.
Bad, but not the worst. It could mean vomit on the museum-quality carpet, vomit on a mahogany bar; but Fanning still reached out, wrapped sloppy fingers around the glass and took another long drink. Anything was better than remembering that last little detail of the night, the real something else that had pulled him off the street into a place that wasn’t his kind of place, to put a drink in his hand that wasn’t his kind of drink.
Wertz had been hard. Very hard. Fanning had been, too.
Bio: M.Christian is - among many things - an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites.
He is the editor of 25 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, The Mammoth Book of Future Cops and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi) and Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant) as well as many others.
He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, Licks & Promises, Filthy, Love Without Gun Control, Rude Mechanicals, and Coming Together Presents M.Christian, Pornotopia, How To Write And Sell Erotica; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, Fingers Breadth, and Painted Doll.
Let me throw in the suggestion that if you're interested in sampling some of his work, you should buy the charity collection Coming Together Presents M. Christian. Even if you don't like the stories in that book (which I think is very unlikely), your purchase will benefit Planned Parenthood and their work on behalf of women's health.