Edmond

Dear Kathleen,

June 13th, 2014

When you become a writer and start thinking of yourself as a writer, nobody tells you that the things you care about will change. Yes, you will care about the words–always about the words, careening, laughing, sliding together into fantastical complex, fumbling sentences until they are straightened and punctuation-polished, made presentable to the world.

The words are always great fun.

But other things…like your popularity, and who reviews you, and how many reviews you got on goodreads. These things are less fun to care about. It’s easy to become obsessed with every wave’s dips and peaks in the eternal ocean of Amazon rankings.

As a writer, I learned to care about these things.

And then I witnessed the damage done to my enthusiasm for writing by caring about these things.

I received good advice from published writers to avoid these pitfalls, to not check reviews, to develop a thick skin, to remember that not everyone can love your work. All good advice and yet hard to remember when staring at your first two-star review in which a reviewer says, “This author is terrible.”

Ow.

But the most damage doesn’t come from tough reviews.

It comes from within.

I look at successful authors friends and think, ‘How do they do it?’ I start comparing gifts I don’t possess to the gifts they obviously do. I push myself to type faster, work harder, write more, all the things that take a delightful passion and transform it into drudgery.

I don’t want to pain too grim a picture here. I like writing stories. I do.

And I have experienced a whole lot of online love! So many online friends shower me with love, laughter, and absolute joy that I can only define the quantity as ‘oodles and scads.’ (And I think we all know how much a scad is.)

But “growing up” into authorship for me has meant trading in some newbie enthusiasm for some world-weary acceptance of ‘how things work’ with publishers, popularity, and sales.

This year, an open letter from a stranger named Kathleen changed my perceptions.

Every year, the M/M Romance Group from the goodreads website sponsors a writing contest, one I found completely baffling. Beginning in January, any member of this group my create a “Dear Author” letter. The letter shares a photo (or two) and supposes a few inferences about the scene depicted:

“This guy is lonely.”

“These two just made up after a fight.”

“He’s moving to a small town in Georgia and saying goodbye to his sister.”

The letters are written to authors, to anyone really, inviting them to adopt the photos and story setup. Beginning in February, authors who are members of this group have the opportunity to pursue these letters and if any of them strike that author’s fancy, he/she chooses it and writes the story suggested.

When I first heard of this strange game between authors and readers, I was astounded and baffled. I felt like the Grinch who stole Christmas watching the Whos in their merriment, puzzling outside in the snow. How is this fun? Why do writers accept such limiting challenges? Don’t these authors have their more SERIOUS works to write? Who has the time?

I stood puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler grew sore.

This year, I thought I’d go discover the big fuss. So on the very first day letters were released, I visited the site and wandered around the petting zoo, looking at photos and letters to authors. I stumbled across a letter from a woman named Kathleen.

Dear Author,

I’m a phoenix (pic 1). Unfortunately, I’m a pretty terrible phoenix. I can’t seem to control my fire. I loose my feathers (I could give you my father’s lecture on that word for word, I’ve heard it so many times). And worst of all, my tears don’t heal. I’ve pretty much been a hermit since my clan kicked me out ten years ago.

The other day this man came to my cave claiming he needed a phoenix to help him with his quest. I was so startled I lit half my clothes on fire and scared him away. I can see him climbing the trail towards my cave again. What in the world does he want?

Pic 2 is the third undersecretary to the royal historian (or some similar underling position within the royal court) and discovered something he shouldn’t have. He can’t tell anyone or he will be killed so he has to fix it all on his own…except maybe for the help of one hermit phoenix.

The description continued for another paragraph, how Kathleen preferred plot to sex, the tropes she hoped the adopting author would avoid, her preferences.

I was hooked. I instantly wanted to write Kathleen’s story.

I panicked someone else would adopt this story prompt first because I already knew how to love this broken and hurt phoenix.

I jumped on it, asking (with controlled restraint) for the story prompt to be made mine.

They let me have it.

I  wrote a story called Broken Phoenix. It’s available as a free download to everyone in the world. The link to the story is at the end of the post. But first, I want to end this letter to Kathleen.

Kathleen, thank you for the opportunity to get excited about new characters. Thank you for reminding me that writing is play and play is goddamn fun. Sometimes I need to be reminded to play, how to play with others, and how to celebrate their gifts (and mine) without feeling rancor or jealousy.

Thank you, Kathleen, for the invitation to play. Your story prompt rekindled some of that lost enthusiasm.

I hope you enjoyed the story.

Love,

Author

http://www.mmromancegroup.com/broken-phoenix-by-edmond-manning/

(At the bottom of this page linked to, you will find a .mobi, .epub, and .pdf version)

Gio image

Cram by Jordan Castillo Price and Edmond Manning

November 8th, 2013

I met an awesome new friend at this year’s GayRomLit conference, Jordan Castillo Price. She and I vibed right away (and I mean that in the truest sense of the hippie word–it was freaky and groovy).

She subsequently introduced me to the lovely genre of flash fiction. One writer starts the story and the other writer finishes, creating a micr0-story. I’ve never seen myself as co-authoring with another writer mostly because I’m way too picky and weird, but JCP made this experience delightful and we’re coauthoring a few more. It’s like playing tennis, but with words.

Funz!

Also, another reason to like her:  the word count was real close to 800 and she said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if it could be an even 800 words. Exactly that number?” As someone who appreciates patterns, symbolism, and number games in writing, yes, yes it would be nice to come out so evenly. See? She’s pretty awesome.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the 800-word story we wrote together, Cram.

***

The clock is ticking. I’m aware of each second slipping by. One by one. Relentless. Irrevocable. It’s a distant sort of awareness, like a near-death experience—at least the way they always talk about them on TV reenactments where someone’s standing by calmly watching their body hurtling down the hospital corridor on a squeaking metal gurney while people in scrubs are yelling things like, “Stat!” and “Clear!” and “We’re losing him.”

It’s the distant part of me that hears time running out. The cheers and jeers of the crowd, too, and the retching sounds off to my right. That noise signals the forfeit of one of my competitors, but there’s no time to revel in it. Not now.

I thrust my hand into the vat and come up with a great handful. Gelatin, corn syrup, a hint of fake vanilla, such innocuous little confections for such a cutthroat test of endurance and will.

Behind me, my sister Daria leans in and murmurs, “You don’t have to do this, Junior.”

Says her. She thinks she knows what’s at stake, a new coffee maker and a whole month of free groceries at the Piggly Wiggly. But Daria doesn’t know the half of it. I ignore her, ball up another marshmallow and cram it into my cheek.

I’ve lost count. I have no idea how many more I can cram inside me, these fat, milky soft cubes, well, sorta cubes, doesn’t matter, I crush them deeper, force them to stack against each other, more, then another, then another.

I can’t lose.

Time? When are they gonna call time? It’s only a ten-minute span and it seems like an hour ago we started.

I hear coughing, big coughing, and another one is out. The crowd groans collectively in empathy but quickly forget the sidelined competitor. They’re chanting down the clock. “20…19…18…”

“Junior,” Daria says, “it’s you and Breck.”

Breck. I hate that guy.

My high school tormentor, stupid dumb jock, jock leader, and when I am honest with myself, my jack off fantasy. Asshole.

“11…10…9…”

My hand is empty and I’ve still got room for a few more. Tears swim before my eyes but I grab more gelatin, corn syrup cubes.

“For god’s sakes, Junior,” Daria says, worry in her voice.

Choking.

Daria and I discussed the risk beforehand. The fair board hired two EMTs who stand nearby, ready to perform the Heimlich if necessary. Perfectly safe. I’ve witnessed this stupid Founders Day contest other years, but only this year was it really worth it to win.

One more. One more. One more!

“…6…5…4…”

At last, the sound I’d been craving, the sweet melody swam into my ears, the sound of Breck barfing. It almost sounds like a laugh, though it sputters to a wet finale punctuated by a patter of gooey cornstarch-thickened drool on pavement. I’m not taking any chances and continue to stuff one more, just one more into my exploded cheeks and Daria grabs my arm, halting the latest marshmallow as I crush it into submission in preparation for its new home.

“…2…1….”

The crowd chants.

“Stop, Junior,” Daria begs, “just stop.”

Howling. Screaming.

The panel of judges insist I empty my mouth into the metal counting bowl, poring over the semi-digested globs, poking them with bamboo grilling skewers rather than touching them directly. I already know what they will find in that bowl. Victory.

When they announce me as the winner, I throw my arms over my head, and the crowd brays in ecstasy.

“A new town record,” one of the announcers cries out with glee.

Breck sits on his bench, scowling at the whole affair as if he’s suddenly ashamed to be associated with all of us. He’s still got his almost mono-brow, his fat pouty lips with the cherriest sliver of red visible on the bottom one.

I jog over to him, good sport that I am, and hold my hand up for a high five. The audience in bleachers watches for his good sportsmanship so he is forced to stand and slap my hand.

I lean in and say, “What time should I pick you up Saturday night? Six?”

Breck glares at me, helpless and furious, and doesn’t deign to answer.

The top judge announces my name and the crowd screams again. I pump my fists in the air and Daria, the danger now over, just shakes her head. She’s been eyeballing a new insulated carafe model for quite some time.

When the screams are at their loudest, I turn to Breck, the loser of our bet, and yell at him, “It’s good to know how much you can fit in your mouth.”

His eyebrows shoot up in alarm.

“And wear something sexy,” I say, leaving his side to join the mayor, who awaits with my trophy.

More Fun Vin Vanbly and King Mai Posts

October 13th, 2013

Hi there. Remember me?

*hangs head in shame*

Sorry about the long silence on my blog. I have some great stories to share and will get back to serious blogging in the next few weeks. I’ve been a little busy. I’m working on three books coming out within the next eight months or so (yes, THREE) and so I’ve spent all my time writing, writing, writing. I will have more details on the books as their entrance to reality draws near. Until they’re published, they’re merely figments of my imagination.

The most irritating part of ignoring the blog for two months is that I actually *have* been doing a spot of writing, blogging for others. So it’s not like I haven’t been blogging…just not blogging here. Below are nine (yes, NINE) guest blogs I’ve created in the past two months. I’m not sure why I’m screaming numbers at you right now. I guess I’m trying to impress you with their bigness.

Below are some of my guesty blogs:

1) On 2 Boys In Love, I wrote a piece regarding the power of young love, which I named (predictably enough) The Power of Young Love. I enjoy following Matty and Brad’s adventures and while they call themselves boys, they are in fact, men. They are young men in love and share the challenges of being young men in love. It’s a good blog and I was (get this) their very FIRST guest blogger, like, ever. Ever. Wow…how cool is that? I love these guys. The Power of Young Love

2) Interested to learn more about what Mr. Vin Vanbly has been doing with himself? I did a really fun character interview with Love Affair with an e-Reader. They offered me the chance to conduct an interview with my narrator, Vin Vanbly. Boy…that was odd. Vin Vanbly Interview

3) For the more musically inclined, I stopped by Mama Kitty’s and wrote about music that greatly influenced the writing of King Mai. I’m so glad someone asked about the music – music is always so important to me and I always listen to the same songs over and over trying to crack the scenes I’m about to write.

4) I wrote for the lovelies at Babes in Boyland a while back, tackling the question that sometimes comes up when people ask me about my books:  are these leading to a magic world with unicorns and spells, and possibly a flying game on broomsticks. Hmmmmm. Well, I discussed that in this guest post:  Is It Magic?

5) I have guest blogged for Thorny before and I was happy to do so again. He made a decision not to attend a Pride Parade and I was a little surprised about his decision. Not one to be shy for having an opinion about a topic that’s none of my business, I approached him and asked if I could blog on his site. He said, ‘sure!’ So I did. Thorny’s guest blog: Authentic Me

6) Now, I am not usually one to crawl into bed with a total stranger, but I did. Lee Brazil‘s interview style is awesome. She invites authors into her bed and asks them to paint her a picture: what we’re wearing, our late-night snacks, the books we’re reading. Quite fun. If you want to imagine Lee and I in bed together (and who doesn’t?), check out In Bed With Edmond Manning.

7) I get a lot of flack for King Mai and King Perry not really being true romances. Well, I think they are. I argue they are. I gently make my case here on Chicks&Dicks awesome website where I discuss:  Could This Be Love?

8) At Coffee and Porn in the Morning they asked me if I would ever go into space. Hells, no. Plus, having seen Gravity over the weekend, let me second that ‘hells no’ with HELLS, NO. But it’s a fun interview.  Interview on Coffee and Porn

9) Like your interviews short? Sid Love‘s hilarious approach is to ask for one-word answers (or incredibly brief answers to her twenty questions. A fast, fun read. 20 Questions with Edmond Manning

Whew!

As you can see, I’ve been doing more than watching reruns of The Good Wife (though, um, yes, I did watch a number of those over the summer).

I hope to get back to blogging in a more regular pace once I come back from the awesome Gay Romance Literature (GayRom Lit or GRL) conference next week. In the meantime, a few of these guest blog posts ought to suffice.

 

 

 

King Mai: Chapter 1

July 2nd, 2013

The events in this novel take place in 1996

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the BBC proudly presents another episode of Vin Vanbly, Farm Spy. Today, we follow the case—nah, no time. Only ten minutes until we begin his King Weekend.

From my hiding spot in the corn, I watch Mai Kearns on his front porch, watching his watch. Watch. Watch, watch. I like the word watch. Kearns wears a solid yellow T-shirt I have not seen before, which means either it’s new or one of his good tees. Yellow looks sexy against his hazelnut skin. I wonder if he realizes that color is perfect on him or if it’s a happy accident. He must know. I’ve been aching to kiss his dark copper neck, to glide my pale fingers down those strong arms, slightly less sunburned than his neck. I want to caress his chest, and to compare his farmer tan to what’s under his shirt. And, of course, his ass. I bet it’s a goldeny-brown, a tender shade that flushes when you kiss it, worship its rippling goose bumps.

His eyes… I can’t wait to see those hard, dark eyes staring right into me. Today I will see his eyes up close, no longer through binoculars.

Over the yellow tee, he’s wearing a white linen shirt, unbuttoned, the one he wore last Sunday when they ate dinner on the backyard picnic table. I almost strolled out of their cornfield to ask for a steak. Hard yellow corn, baked potatoes, fat red and gold tomatoes in a bowl, and his mom made a pie. I wish I knew what kind of pie. I’ll ask him. Tried to catch a whiff, but from my hiding spot, I could only smell dirt and corn.

His flat tummy peeks out as he stretches his arms behind his head. He looks at his watch again. I love his tummy. Slender guys have cute bellies. Or whatever you call his lack of belly.

God, I want to have sex with him.

He glances at his watch again and jerks his arm away. He’s already pissed and I’m not even late. I remained so adamant about beginning exactly at 6:00 p.m. that my impending tardiness will surely burst a vein in his neck.

He leans over the wooden porch’s railing, staring down the narrow, country road leading to his parents’ farm. Still no sight of me. He clunks his worn cowboy boots down the front steps and with clipped strides crosses the house’s front, the only side scraped and primed, ready for its repainting. Standing in the yard, he peers beyond the driveway but he can’t see far, not with cornstalks seven, eight feet high everywhere around us.

Okay, time for the final alignment test.

I step backwards, deeper into the field, and tighten my grip on the cornstalk in my right hand. Pressing my foot against the stalk, I wait until he’s looking away and with my boot, I punch it.

Crack.

Mai’s head snaps straight toward this field. He knows what he heard.

Yup, he loves the corn.

After staring in my direction and hearing northing further, Mai storms back to the porch and flops hard into an Adirondack, his morning coffee chair, lifts his feet to the railing, and then scrapes his boot undersides across a banister spoke. His mom’s not going to like that—Kearns, you know better. But the man can’t stand to be doing nothing, and this latest distraction betrays his impatience.

5:55 p.m.

Fuck it. I can’t wait until 6:00 p.m. I want our time together to start right now, this very second. I stride from the field into the neighboring grass and wait for him to notice me. He’s, what, fifty yards away? Sixty? Not close enough to distinguish eye color or read expressions accurately, but close enough to notice there’s a person now standing here.

Mai stands again and after flicking a few dirt chunks off the railing, catches me in his peripheral vision. He turns to look at me for a moment, peers in my direction, and jumps back a foot.

“Hey, bubba,” he yells. “That’s our corn.”

I love it. That’s what he calls the men in DeKalb. He once emailed me the word meant nothing more than a playful swipe at the locals. He lied. It’s more than a gentle snub. He hates the town bubbas, the redneck high schoolers who taunted him, a hurt exacerbated because he once loved a local bubba. It’s exhausting to hate what you love and love what you hate.

He stares at me, then glances down the road.

I cock my head, but say nothing.

Across the front yard, driveway, and expanse of grass crushed flat and ripped open by tractor wheels, he cups his hands and yells, “You…are you Vin Vanbly?”

I nod.

He yells, “C’mere.”

I shake my head in refusal, exaggerating the motion so he can see it clearly.

I smile, remembering the many months it took us to get here.

When we first started emailing six months ago in March, Mai argued the sheer impossibility of so many kings, arguing the nightmare bureaucratic and legal consequences. He next launched real-world crime statistics like missiles, demanding explanations for how any utopia could remain untouched by humanity’s worst. In another email, he insisted that with many countries barely acknowledging women’s rights, so how could they recognize each woman as the one true queen? Despite his goading questions, Kearns didn’t really want answers.

He wanted to believe.

He waits a minute, staring at me hard. “Hey, could you come here for a moment? I need to talk to you.”

I shake my head again. With my right hand, I motion for him to come.

Fuck talking. I already know he wants to back out. “Something important came up.” That’s about half the excuses I get. Also popular lately is “I only showed up to explain why I refuse go.” Blah, blah, fucking blah.

When I invite men on my King Weekend, they never know what to expect, only that they must submit to my every demand all weekend. When Friday evening arrives, they realize my promise to help them “remember the man they were always meant to be” seems awfully vague weighed against a full weekend of total submission and obedience. I’m sure they worry it’s all dungeon basements and restraints in metal chains but lucky for them, I’m not that kind of guy. I guess I’m not surprised men want to back out at the last minute. I probably would too.

Mai tilts his head and skews his face into what might be a frown. Can’t tell. But I dig the cowboy angle of his body, hands on his hips, fighting me for control over this single moment in time. I wish I had a camera.

Almost the entire Kearns’ farm lies behind him. The dilapidated red and white barns don’t need new paint; they need new wood to go under the paint, and then new paint. The barn they use for storing tractors and hay shows its ribs in a few places, and a few massive corrugated tin sheets stretch themselves across squares of missing roof, protecting its modesty. I can’t imagine it’s effective in winter. The animal barn appears in better shape. They take good care of the cows. It’s clean inside—well, as clean as you can get with forty-three shitting cows. I’m not a farmer but from my night-time lurking around the property, I could identify dozens of necessary improvements once money is found.

No, Vin, don’t think about that. Don’t think about the farm.

He saunters across the yard, extra-casual, attempting to disguise his irritation. Damn he’s hot, even when he’s angry. Maybe especially when he’s angry. I get the appeal of angry men. They carry a clenched power in their eyes and fists, threatening immediate, immoderate action. While I do not want the anger, I love the accompanying raw testosterone. Bring it on, bubba.

After he storms across the white-stoned driveway, he skirts the scything machine, whatever that thing is, careful not to step on the border of impatiens I’ve seen his mom water and weed. Clearly, this rusted thing is beyond salvage. The rubber wheels are years flat, the blades dull and useless. I want to believe the surrounding pink and white flowers communicate his mother’s Midwestern sensibility regarding beauty: if this piece of crap stays in our yard let’s make it look like we intended it. I have to remember to ask him where this machine came from. I have a theory.

When he reaches the grass twenty feet from me, I start backing into the corn.

He stops and puts his hands on his hips. “Yes, yes, just like Field of Dreams. It’s been done, Vin.”

I leap back a few more feet until I’m sure I’m hidden, then turn and dash down the row. People associate cornfields with either Field of Dreams or Children of the Corn. That’s a pretty fair dichotomy: Found Kings’ interpretation, Lost Kings’ interpretation.

For a split second, I question my decision to review the full history of the kingdom where every man is the one true king, every woman the one true queen. Depending on how we move, I may recap the highlights. Okay, stop questioning the weekend flow. I can’t change much now. And no more second guessing. I must stay in the moment or my face will betray clues of what’s to come. Besides, Mai practically memorized the Lost and Founds backstory on my AOL home page just so he could better argue with me.

Get present. Stay present. No more second guessing.

From a distance, I hear him say loudly, “Hey, c’mon. I need to talk to you. What are you doing?”

When I do not answer, he says, “Don’t you guys have corn in Minnesota? Couldn’t you do this at home?”

I remain silent as a gentle breeze ripples through the field and I listen to the fat, broad corn sheaths slap each other across the face, like thousands of rugged drag queens.

Mai is quiet. I am quiet.

It’s not spooky if you’re a farmer, the quiet of the earth.

In the past three weeks, I’ve observed many flavors of quiet while skulking around the Kearns’ farm. Mai drinks his morning coffee in silence, boots perched on the chipped railing until his mom yells from the kitchen. There’s corn-slapping silence, which is not silent at all, but an army of invisible accountants rustling papers. Mai and his father work side by side in silence at times. They talk, they joke, they even argue loud, but in their silence I can hear them share the same love for what they do. Cricket-chirping silence, the silence of dirt, cow silence, and the exhausted quiet of an August day, a day spent milking, pounding, feeding, culling, sharpening, smashing, driving, hauling, milking again, then suddenly guzzling icy water from a sweaty glass at sunset. All that exertion and nobody gets off? I couldn’t handle being a farmer.

Mai enters the cornfield. “Vin? C’mon.”

Last week from this field, I witnessed a more ominous quiet right before evening milking, as both Kearns and his father raced toward the barns from opposite fields. I peered around the sky wondering how they knew, as the storm seemed distant to me, but in a screaming cloud of dust, Kearns jumped out of his pickup and yelled to his father, “I’ll take scratch.

Didn’t know what that code meant, but they got most of the cows inside before the first serious lightning snaked down and pierced the earth’s skin in viper silence. A hair-raising peal of thunder rent the air and made me drop to my knees, wincing. They stayed in the barn and I remained in their cornfield, alternating between delight in the storm’s viciousness and cowering in absolute terror.

In a tenor close to—but not quite—yelling, he says “Yo, Vin. Chasing through cornfields isn’t as much fun when you’re a farmer. It’s like being at the office.”

Why would he say that? Neither one of us works an office job. He knows that.

“C’mon, man, I need to talk to you.”

I try to imagine the dark shadow across his face as he surrenders and storms down the row where I disappeared. But I already have moved seven or eight rows over and quietly, I think. I’ve been practicing my own silence, racing through cornfields for three weeks. I lost weight, which is good. I’m down to 205, 210.

Okay, fine: 215.

Once I spy his boots deep in our field I shout, “Experts predict family farm ownership will fall by 44% over the next six years, leaving farming in the hands of seven major corporations.”

I take off running down my current row, hunched over at the waist to avoid protruding ears, navigating each stalk with hard-won expertise. I pass him, more than a dozen rows over, and unless he specifically looks for feet, he can’t see beyond three or four rows at a time. I’m confident he does not know my location until I yell my next statistic.

“By the year 2011, the farm crisis will collapse the national food supply chain, rendering millions of Americans starving to death in their own homes.”

I yell over my head, straight up, making my voice harder to trace. I’m already on the move so he can’t make out my exact location. I cross several rows over, race back the opposite way, screaming statistics he gave me regarding pesticides and their long term impact, their decay rates, and in my best imitation of a crow’s hoarse voice, shouting, “Y2K! Y2K!”

Until Mai and his doomsday numbers, I had never even heard of Y2K. Apparently, it’s going to kill us all. Kearns spewed statistics during every email conversation in our early exchanges, and when we chatted live on AOL, he threw numbers at me frequently as well. And here I assumed I read a lot. He mostly reads articles as opposed to books. He hides behind numbers, percentage points, and grim predictions for the future. He thinks they will protect him so that when his heart next breaks he can cross his arms and say, “Told you.”

Mai drops to his knees, peering through the stalks to search for my legs. Good idea, Kearns, but too late—you’re dealing with a cheater. I already left the cornfield and now lie face down on the western edge in the grass, covering my blond skull using the broken stalk and its ears. I can be difficult to spot when I choose.

He stands and yells, “Quit fucking around, okay?”

I can only see his legs, spread-eagle, standing rigid right near the field’s center.

C’mon, Mai, listen. That silence rippling through the corn is your kingship, whispering your true name.

Careful, Vin. Don’t get cocky. Know your place. Though I am in boss mode, I must not forget who is the servant and who is the master. I serve the Found Ones this weekend and though he has not yet crossed over, Mai Kearns is my one true king.

After a moment, he takes off. I recognize his quick stride—he’s fucking pissed. Didn’t take much.

He’s so ready.

I stand, move a few rows in, and yell to him, “Follow my voice. Game’s over. Come this way. I’m over here.”

Mai stomps through the field toward me and once he emerges in my row, twenty or thirty stalks down, I note despite using his body’s bluster to communicate his frustration, he avoids breaking a single ear. Yup, he loves the corn. Problem is, he also hates it.

He pushes his boot heels deep into the earth as he marches toward me, but now that he found me, he slows down, tries to relax. After all, he plans to deliver bad news, so he doesn’t want to appear too much a dick while he says, “Thanks for driving from Minnesota but I changed my mind.”

Take a deep breath. Surrender to this moment. You’re ready for this.

His normal buzz cut looks particularly crisp; he must have shaved the sides of his head last night. Mai once emailed me he’s only a Buddhist for the haircut. That and it excuses him from invitations to local church groups. Classic Kearns.

When he gets within ten feet, I raise my foot to a stalk and snap it. The top half, laden with two almost-perfect ears, collapses in a graceful swoop, bowing as it exits life.

“Hey,” he says in a surprised tone. “A little respect, mister.”

“Why? As a Buddhist, I thought you weren’t attached to outcomes like this.”

I raise my foot to the next one, pressure it, and after a loud crack, it also descends to the earth.

“This is my parents’ farm.” Mai squints at me, the sun hitting him directly. “What you’re doing is considered damn rude, bubba. Every ear matters these days.”

As he approaches me with his final steps, I position myself with the sun at my back. Never hurts to have a golden aura behind you when you’re trying to convince an angry farmer to surrender for a weekend.

I have only heard his voice as he yells to his mom or dad from the barn. Up close, I now understand how his voice fits his frame, light and strong. Other men may have richer, deeper voices, but Kearns’ words possess their own unique authority, airy with a gravel quality, which makes him sound like a lightweight stoner, uncharacteristically focused.

“Kearns, in our emails you bitched about life in DeKalb, stuck here as a farmer. What I’m doing shouldn’t matter to you.”

He reaches out and wraps his hands around a stalk on either side. “It matters to my parents.”

I take a step away from him, and raise my boot to another stalk. “Your King Weekend is about choices.”

He says, “About that—”

Before he verbs his sentence, I push over this stalk.

Crack.

His eyes flash rage at me, but he hides it almost immediately.

I say, “Door number one—I will give you twenty bucks for every cornstalk I deliberately ruin. Right now, I owe you $440. That’s $360 for all the stalks broken before today, plus today’s broken stalks, which comes in at $80.”

Mai’s eyebrows arc in surprise.

“Sixty bucks for these, and I deliberately snapped that one you heard a few minutes ago, when your head jerked over toward this field. That was me. I was testing you.”

I back up and use my work boot to press another one, slow motion, pressing further, further, until it can no longer stand the tension. With a crisp, painful snap, it follows its fallen brothers, surrendering its emerald majesty. Mai follows the progress with his sturdy gaze, both angry and distant as if he’s trying hard not to be caught caring.

I extricate a thick roll of twenties from my front pocket, more bills than I could fit in my wallet, and while never losing eye contact with him, count out $460. He makes no motion to take them, so I grab his wrist and flip over his hand, slap the money into it. Before he can protest, I strip off another twenty and add it to the pile. Wow, his hand feels rough, like work gloves, though he’s wearing none. I bet he doesn’t moisturize.

He asks, “What did you mean, stalks broken before today?”

“That last twenty pays for this next one.” I back up and raise my foot against another stalk. I mean, I paid for it already.

Mai’s eyes jerk toward mine. “Don’t waste your money.”

“It’s okay, I’m well funded. This is a fantastic deal for your parents, by the way. For the last month, I listened to WGN’s Farm Report with Orion Samuelson. According to him, corn’s going for $3.50 a bushel, right? Right?”

Mai seethes for reasons he probably does not recognize. “You don’t listen to the farm report.”

“Bitch, please. WGN from 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. Replayed at 9:30 during the Bob Collins show.”

Everyone in Chicagoland listens to WGN, particularly out here in farm country. More important to me was his tell. His face creased in anger when I called him a bitch. From up close, I can confirm what I have known: it’s all about the anger.

“Option A, I pay you twenty bucks for each broken stalk and I indiscriminately smash corn all weekend. Option B, I am careful with every single stalk and all you have to do is repeat back to me this single sentence: ‘I love the corn.’”

“Look, about the weekend. I can’t—”

I press harder and the green stalk cracks, falls to the ground.

His flinty eyes spark and his whole body contracts, as if an electrical current shocked him through the cornstalk in his right hand.

His statistical tirades and snide remarks about the local bubbas betrayed his Lost King secret: he loves this farm. Though he resents the shit out of DeKalb, still, he loves this town. He could be happy here if only everything were different. I get what he wants. I understand Lost Kings far too well.

And I hadn’t seen his face, to observe how his chin juts out when he says the word farm, because there’s a sense of pride he doesn’t fully recognize as his own. He still thinks he’s doing his parents a favor. Clearly, they handed him this love for the earth with the curt instruction, “Carry this, son.” So, he did. And he still does.

“Hurry up, Kearns. Decide. Option A or Option B?” I step back and raise my boot to the next stalk. “I will stop if you say, ‘I love the corn.’”

I lean my weight into the stalk and he winces.

“Kearns, the stalks I broke seem almost ready to harvest, so even broken, you can use these as feed. Right? Financially, it makes more sense to let me keep doing this until I run out of cash. I’ve got a lot more twenties in my truck.”

I push the stalk further, raising my eyebrows.

He says, “Stop.”

Mai shifts his weight. “You are a prick, Vin. All of those months chatting by computer, you would have thought I’d pick up on that.”

“Yeah, you must not be very bright. However, that’s not the sentence I asked to hear, champ.”

Mai glares.

I increase the pressure a tad more, staring hard. “Say it.”

Through gritted teeth, he says, “I love the corn.”

I ease off my boot. “I know.”

“It’s just a sentence. They’re just words.”

I shrug. “Okay.”

Mai puzzles at me, already resenting whatever happened here.

I say, “Would you mind saying it again?”

Louder and firmer, he says, “I love the corn.”

“Thanks. I wasn’t threatening your corn anymore, but you’re fucking sexy when you’re defending your farm.”

I smirk with my lips all curvy, and Mai looks into my face. I grin my lust at him, letting him see me check out his crotch and chest, and he softens. He blushes and shakes his head, still irritated, but amused at the same time.

He says, “You’re fucking with me.”

“Yeah.”

“You know I can’t take this.” He offers me the money.

I put my hands behind my back. “I have excellent financing. Keep it.”

“Just fucking take it.”

I step away from him. “Hang on to it for twenty minutes. After that, we’ll talk.”

Mai grunts and rolls his eyes. “You’re making a great first impression. Makes me want to meet more men from AOL.”

“Isn’t it thrilling?” I say with genuine enthusiasm. “In the future, will people still get excited to meet someone from the World Wide Web? Or will it feel like no big deal you chat every day with people on the other side of the country? By the way, check me out—I’m adorable. Look at me, Kearns, and tell me you don’t want to get naked. You want me, man. I can read it on your face.”

He exhales a derisive little snort, and appraises me openly, more than the furtive glances I caught in the last few minutes. Finally, he says, “I sure wish I liked guys who weren’t complete assholes.”

I laugh. “Lucky for me.”

He chuckles.

But it’s more than just physical attraction or lust. Mai is lonely. He’s been trying to meet guys on the World Wide Web and the experience is not as easy as he thought it would be. He worries in choosing the life of a rural farmer he is destined for a life alone. He confided this secret to me as our friendship grew through emails and late-night chats. I reluctantly told him I was not the one, not his one and only for the rest of his life, and he replied, “I know. But while I’m waiting for him to show up, I could use some lovin’.”

Classic Kearns.

Of course, he didn’t ask me to king him for another two months.

He says, “C’mon. Pick up these cornstalks and we’ll head back to the house. I gotta talk to you about something.”

We step into the wide green strip between fields, the one leading us back to the farm. I carry mine in both arms like beauty contestant roses, and he grips the stalks in his left hand, letting the tops drag along the ground. He keeps the money in his right hand, ready to hand it back. I make sure I am near him but not too near. I don’t want him to stuff the cash in my front pocket. He needs that money for later.

He shoots me a sideways squint and grumbles so I can hear him. “Calling me a bitch.”

I grin.

He snickers.

We tramp side by side in silence, the sun dumping its shine heavily on every surface, as if forced to unload the excess quantity before end of day. By my calculations, two hours of strong sunlight remain and another forty-five minutes of fading light after that.

He says, “You may not feel so generous after you hear this. In fact, I’m going to want to compensate you for your trouble, but I can’t do your King Weekend. Shit’s going down here.”

“Wow. Sounds serious.”

He extends the folded twenties toward me in his free hand, but I can’t take it. I’ve got my roses.

“Yeah, it’s bad. I emailed you last week describing how our foreclosed mortgage got bought by some bullshit corporation that buys and sells properties for fast profit. Remember? We never learned anything about these fuckwads except they’re some anonymous corporate shell. Yesterday, this company resold our land, probably to a bank, or maybe a corporate farm. If the new owner is a bank, we could be homeless in three months. If a corporate farm bought it, that means either a faster eviction or they hire us as labor and we now farm their way. Every option sucks. But some crazy farm legislation got passed three years ago that allows us to buy back the foreclosure if we can raise the entire amount in twenty-one days. It’s called the Hail Mary law. It’s ridiculous and has no chance of working. Still, that’s our only play at this point.”

“Doesn’t sound good. So who owns it right now? A bank or corporate farm?”

“We don’t know. Legally, the new purchasers aren’t required to make themselves known for three business days. Dad went in and yelled at the bank people this morning, but they gave him the run around. Mom spent all last night on the phone with her connections, but nobody heard anything. We’ll find out on Monday, I guess. Maybe Tuesday. I’m really sorry about canceling. I called you all day yesterday and super early this morning. I left about nine messages on your answering machine. Where were you?”

“Don’t worry about that,” I say, shaking my head. “What can you do this weekend to fix this?”

“Well,” Mai says. “We have to work stuff out, make backup plans and whatnot.”

“Sure, sure. And haven’t you worked out those plans since last week when your mortgage got sold to the other company? The shell company? How does this purchase on Thursday mean anything new?”

“It’s complicated.”

“But you’ll make a lot more progress on it over the weekend? There’s more you can do from Friday evening until Sunday noon? You have meetings scheduled?”

“No,” he says, flashing irritation. “It’s more about the family. I have to stay with my folks. This is a rough time. We could be homeless soon.”

Their three-story home comes into view as we turn a corner. I love cornfields for having right angles. It’s so damn orderly.

“Ah, so you’ll make financial plans with your parents all weekend.”

“Some. Yeah.” Mai speaks briskly.

“What’s the response plan? Are you guys going to raise the money to buy back your mortgage? Do you have appointments to discuss new loans all weekend?”

As we draw closer to the house, he gets quiet. I watch the anger blossom—his jaw clenches, he stares straight ahead, and his stride, while remaining the same length, now suggests a crispness not present a moment ago. Although I’m intrusive in my questions, I did drive from Minnesota. I watch his face trying to negotiate his annoyance with his obligation to be polite.

Perfect.

“You guys gonna have a bake sale to pay off your mortgage? Raise money?”

Mai scoffs. “We owe over 800K. That’s a lot of brownies and pecan pie. And who in town is going to buy 800K in pecan pie? Everybody’s getting close to broke. Our best hope is to convince them to let us keep farming, which they won’t want.”

“But you guys are gonna solve the money thing this weekend?”

“It’s more moral support. I can’t party with you while we’re losing our farm. My folks need me.”

He dumps his cornstalks in the grass not far from the back porch. Avoiding eye contact, he grabs my cornstalks and tosses them on top of his.

I try to infuse pity into my voice as I say, “You’re gonna make tea for your sickly mom all weekend?”

He says icily, “She’s not sickly.”

“Oh, so it’s your dad who is weak.”

He snaps a finger in my direction. “Listen, I said I would compensa—”

“No, you listen, farm-town Buddhist.”

I step closer, mere inches remain between our noses. “If backing out of your King Weekend will help your folks, great. Do it. I’m real curious what you’ll accomplish between Friday evening and Sunday. Nothing changed with yesterday’s purchase. If you made plans and scheduled meetings, you would have done it last week when Lemcorp purchased your foreclosed mortgage.”

At this specific mention, Mai takes a step away from me and his beautiful face opens wide in surprise. In the split second he forgets his anger with me, I delight to see his face is built for kindness. His eyes glow ginger molasses, and I love the gentle slope of his eyelids, so perfect in every way. Pissed as he may feel right now, his face cannot disguise his true nature, the love inside him eager to bloom. We are all destined for spring.

I pull the DeKalb newspaper from my back pocket and hold it up.

He sighs and retreats with a sullen expression. “That article came out last week. How’d you get a copy?”

“I’m very mysterious that way,” I say with singsong exaggeration. “All the kings say so. ‘Vin,’ they tell me, ‘you’re very mysterious that way.’”

Mai scrunches his face at my non-answer.

Resuming my normal tone, I say, “Quite an article, Kearns. Big front-page photograph of you and your dad in the barn, you looking all serious and sexy on a tractor. You and your mom pictured on the back porch picking over green beans.”

He looks away. “All staged. The reporter bought those beans from the Jewel-Osco.”

I glance over the article. “Longtime DeKalb residents with their adopted Thai son struggle to keep the family farm alive. Nice story. Kinda racist, you know, to keep pointing out how you were adopted by proud Americans, saving you from certain poverty in Thailand. They mentioned you’re Thai about five times. But hey, diversity stories are big right now.”

Kearns spits in the grass. “It’s a nightmare. I can’t go to the fucking feed store without people pointing and saying, ‘Saw the article.’ Everyone wants to discuss our farm finances and give advice. People are like, ‘Have you thought of a second mortgage?’ Gee, thanks. Never considered that. It’s too goddamn late for second or third mortgages anyway. We’re in foreclosure.”

“So why’d you agree to the article?”

His face says, “forget it,” but he answers anyway. “We figured publicity might make it harder for these Lemcorp assholes to evict us or shut us down. My folks sure as hell didn’t want to be interviewed. Me neither. We’re desperate. Maybe this buys us some time.”

“Yeah, sorry about the money thing. Good luck with that.”

“Yeah. It sucks.”

President Clinton said as a nation, we’ve got to pay attention to what’s happening in America’s farmland and respond with compassion. I agree. I’ve been searching for more farmers to king, especially after King Ryan the Protector.

“Seriously, Kearns, have you thought about a second mortgage?”

Mai’s face bunches into confused anger, his expression communicating “What the fuck did I just say?”

“See, right there, that’s the first reason you need your King Weekend. Do you realize how easily I tweak you? We’ve been together for fifteen minutes and I’ve lost track of how many times I poked your anger. You’ll have a stroke at thirty-five, but don’t worry about it happening on a tractor—you will have lost this farm long before that.”

His eyes get hard and slippery, like mud rocks. “Fuck you.”

“Next week, when that new bank wants to sit down and negotiate terms with your family, you’ll spit at them and call them, I dunno, corporate fuckwads, or something. Did you even hear the office crack you yelled at me? You know I’m a garage mechanic. You’re a farmer. So who exactly did you mean? Doesn’t matter. As far as you’re concerned, anyone with power over you—even me in a cornfield—is a corporate asshole. You have such a goddamn chip on your shoulder, you won’t last five minutes in negotiations and they’ll feel justified in shutting you down.”

“My dad—”

“I’m sure your dad is a great man, Kearns. I don’t doubt that. But you’re the future, the man running this farm for the next forty years, not your dad. They’re going to base their decision on you, not him. You ready for that?”

He remains guarded, careful not to let his expression shift while considering this.

He says, “You pissed me off deliberately. I’m normally not this quick to get angry.”

“Maybe. But late one night in a private chat window, you told me your anger feels like a weed choking out your life. You’re fond of statistics, Kearns, so here’s one: right now there’s a 100% chance your anger grows stronger over time, your impatience with everyone and everything rooting its way deeper into your life, which sucks, because we are all destined for spring.”

He opens his mouth.

“This weekend’s not a good time? Of course it’s not. It’s never a good time to put down your normal, everyday life, and figure out how to live with bigger love toward your parents, your friends, your community. Hell, that won’t be much worry for you, because you don’t have any community and no friends.”

His eyes snap back to hard again. “Wow. You are a total prick.”

I knew that would get him. Kearns and I bonded over our lack of real world friendships. Neither of us are very good at making friends unless we can hide behind computers.

“Your parents have friends. The farm has its own friendships, neighbors, and whoever. I’ve seen the 4-H kids you let putter around out here. But they aren’t your friends.”

He says, “Wait, what?”

“People tolerate you well enough, because you’re a farmer and you’re part of this town. But where are your friends, Kearns? Who’s your Mary?”

He squints. “When did you see—”

I roll my eyes with fake exasperation. “Mary Tyler Moore? From the TV show titled The Mary Tyler Moore Show?”

His face remains creased by surprise and alarm. “When did you see the 4-H kids?”

“Every gay man needs a friend to call and complain, ‘Oh, Mare.’ Please tell me you’re still queer enough to remember legendary best friends, Mary and Rhoda. At least from Nick at Night.”

“I’m—”

“Rhoda could always distinguish a ‘Mary’ from a ‘Mare’ moment. She was gifted that way. Doesn’t matter if this friend is gay or straight, man or woman.”

The word hypocrite flashes through my brain. Besides my older brother, the closest I have to real world friends are my pen pals on Alcatraz and they know me only as the Human Ghost.

I poke his chest with two fingers. “Don’t blame the bubbas, as you did in your emails. DeKalb is full of bubbas, I’ve seen them, and yeah, some are true assholes. Guess what? They aren’t the problem anymore. You are.”

I turn and stomp away, long, sharp strides leading me to the white-gravel driveway. I make a sharp right and head toward the road. Gotta drive us to the mailbox. Though I try not to listen to the teeth-crunching sound beneath my boots, my stomach flips. Do not think of teeth. Soon I hear his boots a few paces behind me, following.

Oh, thank God. I worried he wouldn’t take the bait. I may act like an overconfident asshole, but I’m never quite sure if I can pull it off. Can’t let him see that hesitation, though, give him a reason to doubt me.

He says, “Hey, you have no fucking clue—”

Over my shoulder, I say loudly, “You’re right. Never will. Nobody will ever understand how hard life is for Mai Kearns, homosexual DeKalb farmer of Thai descent. Get over it, Mary.”

He jogs to keep up. “Hey.”

“See how I worked that in?” I say in a friendly, chatty tone over my shoulder.

I shift back to angry and increase my huffy pace. He catches me, but his shorter legs have to work harder to stay at my side.

“You believe you’re wronged because there aren’t more bathhouses out here in the cornfields, well, boo hoo, Mare.”

I turn to him and speak in confidence. “Totally a ‘Mare’ moment. Hear the difference?”

I slip into angry-storming-away guy and outpace him by a few feet. When I hear him right behind me, I say, “Well, you’re wrong to assume the solution is bank money or a boyfriend or you getting laid occasionally in a DeKalb bathhouse. You’re the problem. I would know. I’ve been watching you from your cornfields for the past three weeks.”

I stop and spin to face him. His chest bumps right into me and my lips almost make contact with his eyebrows. He bounces back and looks at me with a combination of horror and surprise. Suporror. Or maybe horprise. Nah. Some words just don’t work.

Focus up, you moron.

“I said this weekend would change your life, Mai Kearns, and I meant that. Before I started my tune up, I spent some time getting to know your life. Don’t give me any shit because I snuck around your farm and spent a few nights sleeping in your barn.”

“You slept…in our barn?” His wobbly words stumble together.

I spin on my boot heel and take off down the drive way. Over my shoulder I say, “Don’t have a cow.”

Oh God, I hate this teeth-crunching sound, bloody gums, bloody gums. I don’t know why certain sounds trigger this sick, gut-churning reaction in me. I’m the idiot who planned the big moment happening while standing before his mailbox. Suck it up.

He jogs to catch up.

“Your barn sucks, by the way. On TV, people who sleep in haylofts wake up well-rested with fresh straw in their hair. But hay pokes you in your back all night. It’s fucking sharp. Plus haylofts are super dusty. I found it hard to breathe. TV never tells you that.”

We’ve reached a delicate moment right now. Stalking him is creepy, admittedly. I sometimes try to bluster through this part of the conversation by pretending it’s completely normal in “my line of work,” which raises the obvious question, what line of work is that?

I face him as we stop in front of the mailbox at the end of the driveway. “I’m a mechanic. To fix a car, you don’t open the hood and start replacing parts—you investigate. You figure out what’s missing: fuel, air, or spark. Compression. You look. You listen. Sometimes nothing’s missing, simply not in the right firing order. Your fuel is anger. Mai, your spark is the injustice done to you in this town. Compression is time and your time’s running out. The older you get, the stronger your anger. You’ve been running on anger since high school. I remember your stories about then, being called ‘chinkhead’ and ‘slanty.’”

His eyes snap to anger again, another vulnerability exposed.

“I can’t pretend to imagine how much that sucked. Especially chinkhead, since you aren’t even Chinese. Well, not that it would be better if you were Chinese. But high school is over. The problem isn’t your town, the impending foreclosure, or even your local bubbas. You know it, Mai. I’ve seen you at night walking alone in the corn.”

I touch his right cheek with the back of my fingers and his face creases in hurt. Nice. Good reveal. I can’t believe he let me touch him after the asshole I’ve been. He must be lonelier than I thought.

Silence.

“Mai, worst case scenario, all weekend I keep breaking cornstalks and paying you more than their market worth. You guys could use the money. Best case scenario, you spend the entire weekend doing everything I say as I explained in the invitation I mailed you. Together we find a way to open you up to more love. Incredible love. Life-changing love.”

He looks down into his empty hands and he must realize he deposited the wad of bills in his back pocket at some point. Good. I wanted that money in his jeans. I’m not above a few tricks to tip the scales.

I say, “You love the corn.”

His eyes jerk to me to see if I’m mocking him.

“You chose to farm after you finished college and maybe you resent that choice because it felt forced on you. Maybe it was. Your parents raised you to become a farmer. Still, I bet they could live with you being a chemistry professor if that made you happy. The problem is you actually do love the corn. You love farming.”

Mai crosses his arms and looks at me. “You watched me for three weeks, huh?”

“I was in town for four weeks. But the first week the corn wasn’t tall enough for me to hide in. Also, I’m planning an orgasm for you tonight that’s so strong you’ll almost pass out. Doesn’t that make you a teensy bit curious?”

He offers me a grim, dirty smile. “Curiosity killed the cat.”

“Oh no,” I say earnestly. “That’s a myth. The King of Curiosity was not a cat killer. That cat choked on a chicken bone.”

He looks to the cornfield on his right. “You still haven’t told me anything about what happens on your King Weekend. I have no idea what to expect.”

“That’s correct. But that’s the other reason I think you’re already more into this than you let on. I never met anyone who asked me more questions about the Lost and Founds. Who started this story? Were these real or imaginary men? Was it based on Greek mythology? You had a million questions. You’re a curious guy. And the only way to get answers is to go through it yourself.”

He scoffs but reddens slightly.

I place my hand on the upper part of his chest, above his crossed arms, which makes him flinch and turn his gaze back to mine. I take a deep breath, and we stare at each other.

“It’s time, Kearns. Time for you to remember who you were always meant to be.”

Kearns shifts his weight to his right side and looks away.

Finally, he says, “This orgasm better be worth it.”

“Oh, Mary,” I yell and throw myself around his body, pinning his arms to his side.

His whole body clenches in surprise.

The sun reigns high in the western kingdom. Good. Plenty of time to run a cornfield or two.

It’s time to meet the Lost Kings.

 

 

 

The Next Big Thing: King Mai

December 12th, 2012

After a lovely invitation by new friend Christopher Koehler, I cheerfully agreed to participate in a blog-it-forward type situation regarding my Next Big Thing. Last week, Christopher blogged about his Next Big Thing and he invited a few authors (like me) to write about my Next Big Thing one week after he did. We all answer the same set of questions.

So here goes! This is what has consumed my recent months…

What is the working title of your book?

King Mai

(This is the second book my series, The Lost and Founds.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I plotted the entire series before I had finished the first book, King Perry. I wanted the first book to illustrate the insanity and beauty of the west coast. (San Francisco). The second book (King Mai) would illustrate another flavor of kingship as demonstrated by the fine people in the Midwest, specifically DeKalb, Illinois. Each book highlights a different geography, a different flavor of love.

DeKalb is a fascinating town — a unique hybrid of university life and small town America, the perfect place to illustrate an entire blue-collar community of kings and queens urging local farmer Mai Kearns toward his destiny as the one true king. I came to love DeKalb during my college years, which is why it seemed natural to revisit that love and share it with others.

What genre does your book fall under?

Hmmmm…that has been the cause of some speculation and debate. I would argue it’s Gay Romance. King Weekend stories follow two men in love for a single weekend. Just because they don’t ride off in the sunset together, does that mean they didn’t feel love? They weren’t in love? I have heard others describe what I write as Gay Fiction or Gay Literature. Could be. I just like to tell a good story.

With kissing.

(And sex in corn fields.)

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

Vin Vanbly – Edward Norton. Norton’s got a very ‘ordinary’ face, but still handsome. He may have to gain a few pounds.

Mai Kearns – ?? I suppose to be 100% authentic, it would have to be a Thai actor, but two hot Asian-American actors come to mind (John Cho and Ken Leung). Since Mai gets angry about people confusing Chinese and Thai, I suppose I really need a Thai actor. Damn. I really want to meet Ken Leung.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

Local farmer Mai Kearns has roughly 40 hours to solve a kingly treasure hunt that will drag him through every emotional hell he encountered growing up in this Midwestern university town, as he hopes to overcome the rage in his heart in time to save his parents’ doomed farm.

Whew! I did it. One sentence!

Will your book be self published, published by a small press, or represented by an agency?

I do not know the answer to this yet.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months. Another three months of revisions and editing. I am a slow, slow writer. I’m the crock pot of writers.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre.

Uh…nothing? I don’t know anything like this. As far as I know, there are no other books about ‘kinging.’ The only comparable book is the first in the series, King Perry.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I don’t want to answer this question in detail or I may accidentally reveal spoilers. However, in short, I will say that this novel was inspired by the straight men in my life who befriend and love me.

What else about your book might interest the reader?

Fibonnaci Hopscotch, Butterfly Trees, Egyptian hieroglyphics, a visit to the Lost Kings headquarters, Corn Fest, King Jimbo the Bruiser, A Curious Army, secrets revealed about Vin Vanbly, an angry waitress named Coleen, and the movie Fargo.

There. Hope this clarifies everything.

Thank you for reading about my next big thing.

I invited a few people to participate in the Next Big Thing. So in roughly one week’s time, check out Aldous Mercer, Alix Bekins, and Michelle Kenoyer.

 

 

 

 

The Lost and Founds: Book 6, Chapters 1-3

October 31st, 2012

Didn’t you sometimes resent J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series?

She created this fantastic world that sucked us in and made us care about potions class, an old geezer named Dumbledore, and bewitched furniture. But then we had to wait two years for the next installment. Two years. C’mon, woman, give us a fix! I had always wished she provided a tasty tidbit between novels, like a Harry Potter short story.

I’m hoping to provide you with a tasty tidbit.

If you read my first novel, King Perry, thank you. Because it takes me a while to write the king stories at the quality level that makes me happy, I thought you might like a metaphorical snack while waiting for the next full-length novel. My goal is one book per year. If I can get faster than that, well, I will. But for now, let’s count on one book per year.

Roughly six months after the last book release (which hopefully is roughly six month before the next full novel), I will make chapters available from the sixth book in the series, King Daniel.

I know, I know.

You’re thinking,’ Uh…shouldn’t several books come between the first book and the sixth book?’ Yes, of course. But Vin Vanbly’s tale is odd and the telling of his stories must also also reflect this oddness. Just go with it! Part of the grand adventure.

At the end of this blog post you will find the first three chapters of King Daniel.

Why three chapters?

I think that will be clear after you read them. These chapters may answer some nagging questions raised in King Perry and provide a little more insight into the world of Found Kings. Of course, these chapters might possibly drive you insane with new mysteries wondering what happened to Vin in the year 2005 and where is he now? Hmmmm. Perhaps you should read at your own peril.

I hope you enjoy meeting Daniel and exploring the world of the Found Kings in 2013, the year this story takes place.

All my love,

Edmond

PDF file link: The Lost and Founds_Book 6_Chapters 1-3

 

 

 

.

O wow O wow O wow O wow

April 20th, 2012

A writer friend on Facebook asked a pointed question:  how do you deal with rejection? How do you deal with ‘no’s from people who do not believe in your work? How to handle the thorns of professional jealousy? The idea that people out there just do not like your contribution to the world and are not shy in saying so?

Ow.

Her question jolted me because I have been wrestling with this issue for the past two weeks, and not the sexy kind of wrestling with bulging muscles and oil, but the kind where you’re suddenly pinned hard and something in your shoulder pops and with pained surprise you realize, ‘I didn’t know I could hurt there.’

I had been warned aplenty, and even accepted, that this very day would come: a bad review in a very public space.

Last week it happened.

King Perry has enjoyed dozens of gorgeous, articulate, gushing reviews on various websites. Safe to say I have been officially dazzled and left speechless. But I finally racked up a 2 star review on amazon.com and it just fucking hurt. The reviewer didn’t like narrator, Vin, and hated the approach of the entire book. He or she gets to do that. I can’t say the reviewer was unfair or even particularly unkind…that person just really could not stand the book.

Ow.

Then, someone else chimed in and agreed.

Ow. Ow.

When I wrote a few paragraphs ago that I had accepted “this day would come,” I guess my acceptance included the mental picture that when this day arrived, I would read the offending review scanning the New York Times and eating grapefruit wedges with a tiny fork. My newly-hired editor/Italian massage therapist would offer a foot massage to help me deal with this bitter anguish, and I would accept his offer, saying, “Some people just don’t get it.”

Never mind the fact that I do not read the New York Times and I don’t own those tiny grapefruit forks.

But the biggest problem is that these people who didn’t like the book are not insensitive assholes. Nope. They just didn’t like it.

I considered writing replies to the review, snarky one-liners or heartfelt passages explaining my perspective. Every writer who warned me of this day’s arrival had also warned me in the verbal equivalent of all caps:  DON’T DO THAT. Do not write a reply. Do not get sucked in.

Yes, but now that the day was here and it hurt, I really, really wanted to write a response.

The problem with hurt is that there’s nowhere for it to go. You’re stuck with it. Anger feels like action. Sadness, well, I have a plan:  cry, eat, or do laundry. But hurt…hurt just sits there like a hot coal and you watch the sizzling, inert, orange glow. As my Facebook friend asked, “Any tips for maintaining hope and self-belief when faced with The Great Wall of No and keeping the Wolf of Professional Envy from the door?”

Turns out, I have a few ideas.

1. Have a best friend named Ann.

I immediately called my Ann. Together, we explored my hurt and this was key: we made it about me. Instead of ranting about the review or the exact words in the review or how X was unfair and they should never had said Y, etc., she helped me gently uncover the hurt behind the hurt, the thing that made this a glowing hot coal instead of just a lump of coal. How had the review slapped my ego? How did I let this review define me as a person?

You may not have an Ann (and I would prefer you not steal mine). But find the friend who will do more than say, “Oh, poor baby,” and invite that friend to ask you the tough questions: what ugly parts of yourself does this touch? How are you refusing empathy and kindness to this situation? What is it about you  and your expectations about the world that made this feel like an arrow to the heart?

I know from personal experience that the answers are often unflattering.

2. Get all Pollyannaish.

We tend to treat optimism and positivity as if it’s naivete, like we must shed ridiculous silver linings before someone else points out we should be miserable.

After she read the review, Ann emailed me and her subject line boldly proclaimed, “HOW WONDERFUL!” She gleefully explained how people were debating the book in a very public forum, so fully engaged with the characters that they developed a powerful dislike. She noted that the review didn’t say, “Badly written,” or “Untalented hack,” but rather focused 100% on who-the-hell-does-this-character-think-he-is?

She asked pointedly if this wasn’t exactly what I wanted in constructing a character, someone memorable enough to rant about, to love, to think about a week later? Yes, yes it was. Wasn’t this review, in fact, exactly what I wanted as a writer?

Sigh…yes.

It’s hard to love rejection.

I do not love flare ups of jealous for professional colleagues. And yet is this not part of the whole wonderful/shitty package of daring to boldly step into the circus tent marked ‘For Writers Only?’ It hurts, yes, and generally I am a fan of avoiding hurt.

But hey! After 20 years of writing in secret, I finally stepped into the big tent marked For Writers Only! Instead of bemoaning a few detractors, I have decided to find someone nearby to hug and whisper, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m finally here.”

3. Let the universe laugh at you.

As I began to feel actual gratitude for the pokes to my ego and what it revealed, I wrote an email to another friend trying to articulate this odd journey from pain to general hurt to acceptance to thankfulness. To better describe my initial reaction using as much drama as possible, I typed: ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.

But as my fingers flew across the keyboard, auto-correct kept changing what I typed to: O wow O wow O wow O wow.

I love it.

O wow!

Most of the people I love like transforming themselves into better people. We try. Some days we’re successful and some days we’re not. I’ve heard these transformation challenges described as FGOs:  Fucking Growth Opportunities. Once we’ve reached the far side of a miserable life challenge and are finally gaining some perspective, we laugh (well, mutter/chuckle) about how the universe just handed us another crap-tastic FGO.

Nobody particularly wants the growth opportunity life presents. I wanted this challenge, not that one; that one is ugly. In the novel I published, Perry doesn’t like his FGO. Vin certainly doesn’t like his. And some days I don’t care for mine much either.

But the Sparkling Spirit that laughs through all of us says, “Hey. I just gave you an opportunity to say ‘O wow.’ Will you take it?”

Today, I say ‘O wow.’

I still don’t like that it’s not possible to prepare yourself for those shallow, stabby hurts. I don’t like that at all. I am still unprepared for the next one and maybe there is no way to prepare, just take a deep breathe and realize that doing what you love also offers pain.

Still, in anticipation of the next FGO, I think I had better go shopping for grapefruit forks.

 

 

 

Happily Never After

April 2nd, 2012

When reading fiction, I like happy endings as much as the next guy.

Really.

I love it when the star-crossed lovers get together, the nefarious murderer is apprehended, and the plucky kids find a way to save their family home. I find tears in my eyes every time at the charming conclusion of the awesome sci-fi classic movie Galaxy Quest.

But when the story toboggans into a sloppy happy ending without any build-up or a deus ex machina gets dropped so hard on my head that I see stars, well, then I’m irritated. The characters get a happy ending and I end up pissy.

Case in point: The Road.

Throughout the apocalyptic future world constructed by Cormac McCarthy, the author spends 400 pages presenting a colorless hell hole: cannibals who keep pantries with live humans, women who get pregnant for the sole purpose of spit-roasting newborn flesh, thieves, killers, cut-throats…. Even the father in the story is an asshole, and his innocent son begs him to remember his own humanity.

It’s a little grim.

And in the last few pages as the father lay dying in the middle of the road (Hey, the book came out 6 years ago, so yeah, spoilers. Get over it), a kindly stranger emerges out of the gray, ashen landscape to offer to raise the about-to-be-orphaned son. The mysterious rescuer claims to have his own wife and daughter nearby and what’s one more in the family? Once Dying Dad knows his son will be cared for, he kicks. Son weeps. New Dad escorts the son away to his new happy family.

What the living fuck was that?

Seriously?

Throughout the entire book we didn’t meet a single decent person, not one. The impossibility of finding food drove people to insane inhuman behavior. And forty-five seconds before the father’s death, out of the fog waltzes stalwart Mike Brady eagerly accepting the challenge to feed another mouth.

Perhaps this happy ending could be tolerated if there had been one decent person in the book.

I read another general fiction book recently that was brutal and beautiful. The characterizations were great, the plot realistic, convincing. The financially-troubled protagonist was a 13-year-old girl doomed to her poverty, her family. But lucky for her, right at the end, a second-string character who disappeared from the novel 50 pages prior inexplicably writes an enormously fat check that allows her to go to college.

Again, chamomile tea at my side, afghan over my legs, I must yank off my wire-framed glasses, and ask, “WTF?”

I wonder.

Do you think reader demand forces authors to consider happy endings? Do they to it to increase sales? I have to believe Cormac McCarthy’s publisher said, “Dude. Human pantries? Yer killing us…and forget having any book sales.”

Or perhaps it’s an odd, misplaced mercy when the writer looked at the bleakness that he/she hath wrought and decides, “What the hell, I’ll throw in a little sugar.”

I must admit, I was originally afraid my publisher might read King Perry and insist on a traditional happy ending. I mean, there are no cannibal pantries or anything like that, but not everything gets wrapped up neat and tidy. One review on goodreads said:

“I can’t recall the last time I was so delighted and uplifted by a book that doesn’t have the traditional romance ending. This is coming out under Dreamspinner’s Bittersweet line because of that ending – but believe me, there’s nothing bitter about it. I was left with a huge smile on my face and joy in my heart.”

Sweet.

I was delighted that my publisher made no such request; the ending stands as I conceived. I was really glad for that. Sometimes life doesn’t wrap up neatly. And yes, sometimes it does, which makes those endings all the sweeter.

I think my favorite happy/unhappy ending comes from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Dickens’ researchers explain that in the original draft, Pip meets Estelle many years after this childhood sweetheart crushed his heart. From her carriage, she shakes hands with him and he learns she has been abused and suffered, that she understands now what it is to have a broken heart.

Dickens’ pal, Wilke Collins, thought the ending was too sad and encouraged a rewrite.

In the published version, Pip and Estelle meet in the charred ruins of the estate where she played her cruel games under the supervision of Miss Havisham. Pip concludes the novel by saying, “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.” I love it. I see three possible conclusions:

Those who crave a happy ending see Pip and Estelle together at last.

The slightly more cynical might see Pip getting dumped again, but once again he doesn’t see it coming.

And for those who recently finished reading The Road and believe the absolutely worst about humanity, well, they realize that Estelle is merely tricking Pip to go into her human pantry.

I bet Pip tastes a lot like chicken.

The End.

 

 

 

Dead Ants

March 20th, 2012

While vacuuming tonight, I found a pile of dead ants. Like…60. While I’m mostly just glad they were dead and not crawling over me while I sleep, they were crumpled up, holding their little tummies with their middle arms. (Don’t you now feel bad for thinking  ‘ew, gross’ during the first sentence?)

This leads me to one inevitable conclusion:  mass suicide.

I’ve spent the evening wondering what they discussed in their last minutes together.

***

Ant 1: Hey guys, where’s the queen? Anyone seen her?

Ant 2: I touched her with my antenae this afternoon. She seemed fine.

Ant 3:  What’s that sound? Sounds like a mountain crashing? It’s coming from another room.

Ant 4:  I’ll go check it out.

Ant 5: I think I’m going to start going by Jack. I think Jack seems like a good name for an ant.

Ant 3:  Not cool, man.

Jack: Not cool, Jack.

Ant 1:  Anyone seen the queen recently?

Ant 3:  Don’t go individualizing, Ant 5. That is bad. Pretty soon we’ll get free will, then anarchy, then end of times. Ancient Mayan ants predicted that this was the year.

Jack:  Those Mayan ants were stoned on liquids obtained from tiny grains. I like the name Jack.

Ant 3:  No, no, it’s true. End of days and shit. Everybody panics, zombie ants come back and cut us in half with their scissor-like mandibles.

Ant 2:  Who says mandibles? WTF? We only have 250,000 brain cells. Where did you learn a word like that?

Ant 3: Wikipedia. We go there sometimes while the fat guy sleeps. Me and some of the other drones punch out keys. Did you know you can watch 30Rock online? But I am totally serious; there are signs of the end: first attack of the zombie ants, then the fat guy cleans house. Then –

Jack: Well, there you go. That will never happen.

Ant 3:  It could.

Jack: Look around. He eats in every room, drops crumbs everywhere, never cleans up. It’s heaven.

Ant 1:  Seriously, anyone seen the queen since, say, mid-afternoon? We had an appointment for her to devour my skull.

Ant 3:  That’s not a thing.

Ant 1: In some South American ant colonies –

Ant 4:  Hey everybody, I’m back. The fat guy is vacuuming.

Ants:  AUUUUUUUGH!

Zombie queen ant:  Brrraaaaiiiiiiiiiiiinsssssss…..

Ants:  AUUUUUUUUGH!

Ant 3: Shit, shit shit! I knew it! I knew it! Do we pray? Do we have faith in a god with six legs and mandibles?

Ant 2: I’ll get the Kool-aid.

Jack: Shit. I’ve got to get off this island!

Ant 6:  I’ll go with you. I have decided my name is Kate.

Jack:  You’re a girl?

Kate: Yes, my egg was fertilized in my pupal stage.

Jack: I’ve got a plan.

Kate:  I will do whatever you say. I trust you implicitly, Jack.

Ant 2: Hey everybody, Kool-aid! C”mon over and let me vomit into your mouth, which is how we adult ants share food.

Ant 3:  We are disgusting. Ant God, please have mercy on our disgusting shared vomit because we only have 250,000 brain cells and also, how do you feel about gays and abortion?

Zombie Queen Ant:  CHOMP. CHOMP. CHOMP.

Ants: AUUUUUUUGH!

Ant 1:  I’m not sure why I am freaking out. She was going to do that to me this evening anyway. I had an appointment.

Jack:  Kate, better get some of that vomitted Kool-aid. We’re going to the dark side of the island and who knows when we’ll get our next meal.

Kate:  You got it. I believe in you, Jack.

 

x_X

 

 

 

 

Should I Read It?

February 29th, 2012

Knowing I am publishing a novel with love scenes between two men, a few supportive straight friends have approached me in the last month and gingerly asked, “Should I read it?”

As the author, my first response is, “Yes. Yes, you must. You should buy 23 copies and give one to your Aunt Lily so she can share it with her bicycle club and also your cousin Marty so you can discuss the Alcatraz scene when you see him at next Thanksgiving.” Craaaaaaazy sex in Alcatraz.

Of course, that answer is fueled by a desire to earn enough revenue to purchase a smallish island just off northern California’s coast, an island that’s completely isolated but where you can get Thai delivery and Chipotle. I do like Chicken Pad Thai.

But in my less selfish moments, I recognize this answer does not help my friends who actually desire a little guidance: should I read it?

I dunno.

Yes?

I read books all the time where straight people have sex. It doesn’t titillate me (usually), nor does it gross me out. Sex happens. I will find sex scenes inspiring when well-written or clever in some way, especially if the author conveys true intimacy and the transformational power of sharing your body.

I don’t usually make book reading decisions based on whether there will be sex that makes me uncomfortable. But I appreciate that some people do. It definitely could matter. If you get squeamish thinking of two men kissing, well, that could be your answer.

My friend Jenna wrote a novel a few years ago and I eagerly gifted copies to family and friends as Christmas presents. In January while on the phone with Jenna, I excitedly told her I had done so. There was a pause on her end of the phone.

“Have you read it?” she asked.

Gushing, I said, “Not yet, but I’m sure it’s wonderful.”

She said, “You gave this to your mom?”

“Yes.”

Jenna paused again. “There’s a scene where a Nazi rapes a German woman with his loaded gun.”

Oh.

Fuck.

I probably should have read Jenna’s book first.

But when I did read Those Who Save Us, I did not think to myself, ‘Wow, what a hot sex scene with a gun.’ Instead, I wondered about how many decent Germans endured horrifying brutality during WWII to protect their children, to survive the unfolding Nazi nightmare. The scene was necessary and brutal. I’ve seen dozens of book reviews and nobody says, “It’s about perverted sex.”

After I finished it, I had no regrets about sharing it with my mom or siblings. None. In fact, Mom loved it. (The book, not the gun fucking scene.) We eagerly chatted about our favorite parts and where we were most sad.

Should you read King Perry?

Hmmmm.

The closest I ever came to thinking, “I wish I had not shared this book” was the night I gathered at the home of one of the St. Paul Book Architects, a trio of women I hired to critique my manuscript before sending it to publishers. On the drive over, I kept thinking, “Why did I send this to three Minnesotan women in their late 50s? What was I thinking?”

I felt panic when one of the three women answered the door wearing an oxygen tubing in her nose. She smiled broadly and welcomed me. I cringed and thought, ‘Good job. You made someone’s grandma read a book full of gay sex.’

After pleasantries, the four of us settled in chairs and I braced myself for their awkward review. The woman with the oxygen tube looked at me and said, “Well, I guess we should get started.”

Inside me, a knife twisted, but I met her pleasant smile with my own, pretending nothing was wrong.

She cleared her throat. She said, “We loved it. It’s one of the best things we ever read.”

“No it’s not,” said her colleague. “It’s the best thing we’ve ever read.”

They loved it. We chatted for a full hour about their reactions, where they were hooked, lines that they loved. When I asked if they were disturbed by the sex scenes, they laughed.

“Honey,” one of them said, “Compared to the stuff we read? Your sex was tame. It’s beautifully written, but nothing shocking.”

I felt sad that I had projected my internalized homophobia onto them, sad I had made assumption about how open they were. I guess I haven’t fully upgraded from the operating system I grew up with; old programs surprise me every once in a while with their outdated opinions and unfair stereotypes about who hates The Gays. The world has changed but sometimes I forget.

So if you’re looking for me to answer should I read it, I can’t answer that for you. I’ve learned my lesson.

I will say this.

If you, dear friend, wrote a 600 page book about the history of urban manhole covers from 1879-1965, I would advocate it to all my friends who are history buffs. (Especially those who were manhole cover buffs.) I would try reading it, a few chapters at least, to sample your writing style and see if I could know you better through your writing. But seriously, why the fuck did you write a 600 page book about the history of manhole covers?

Never mind. We are all drawn to scribble our unique stories. Sometimes these stories have sex. Sometimes not.

Should you read King Perry?

You must decide. I won’t hate you or resent you if your answer is ‘no.’ I will love you without fail.

But I hope your answer is yes.

Private islands off the coast of California are super expensive.