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Tag Archives: Lloyd A. Meeker Author

I’ve been writing winter solstice poems for close to fifty years. Not every year, but this profound solar event seems to present itself to me over and over as a moment to take seriously, in reverence. It’s become my year-end, and the morning after my new year’s day.

I haven’t written a solstice poem for a few years, and with all the discordant forces at work in our world it seemed a good time to ask if there was one this year, to close out a year that has been filled with creativity, growth, pain, loss and disillusionment. This poem pretty much wrote itself in a few hours.

Winter Solstice 2016

Time to strip naked again,
be empty and innocent.
Pile actions, belief, hope, vision
onto the Solstice fire.

Trusting the furnace is hard.

Burning the wreckage
of insufficient dreams is easy,
pieces of broken furniture
not worth mending, discovered
in the wistful dim attic of my soul.
I’ve done it before.

But the other dreams?
If it’s insufficient, it will burn.
Trial by fire.

I risk losing the good dreams,
the ones I might fix up one day and re-upholster,
the dreams beloved people now dead sat in at night,
settled in their warm comfort and imperfections,
dreams I’d rather keep — losing them
hurts long before I let go.

The last gift
of an insufficient dream
is essence, light
set free as it burns.

Throw everything in.
Then climb in and trust,
like the three men in Daniel.

Search in the morning, as the sun rises,
with a heart knowing ash
as well as fire,
find what remains
untouched among the bitter ashes:
a small obsidian goddess;
seeds cracking open with new life;
a pen that still works.

Find what remains
in the light of day.

Lloyd A. Meeker

“US Exceeds all Expectations in Rio” crows a headline here in the US today. Um, maybe not so much.

This is my second Summer Olympics to offer a different way of looking at Olympic glory.

This post is not a commentary or criticism of the training, dedication, sweat, pain, and success of the  individual athletes themselves. Every bit of praise to them, each one, even if their post-competition behavior was reprehensible. Each one earned her/his right to compete in the Olympics through bone-deep commitment, and earned whatever victories they achieved. Good for them!

Instead, this post seeks to serve as antidote to the bombardment of chauvinistic posturing that overlaid the TV coverage. This country seemed to crow about their athletes’ medals as if the country somehow could claim the glory of its athletes. I don’t mind a little ego attachment: the Icelandic soccer team in the Euros created a phenomenon that is very rare, and beautiful. But the jingoistic posturing of the US press was embarrassing to me, and I suspect many other countries had their own tiresome version of it.

Folks, it’s not about how many medals a country “won”. No country won any medals at all. Individual human beings won those medals. No country sweated for them. No country ran a step, or performed on the rings. No country broke a bone. The Olympic oath is to “the glory of sport” and not to the aggrandizement of national ego.

So here’s a different way of looking at the medal count, one I feel is more true to the spirit of the Olympics: medals by population. I took the medals won and divided by a multiple of 100,000 in the country. The results are eye-opening! Forget about the massive training programs and the most expensive coaches and the best technology available.

The winner of the Olympic medal race, just as in 2012, turns out to be — drum roll — Grenada. One medal, won by an athlete from a nation of 107,000 people. USA won 121 medals, which with a population of 324.1 million puts its medal accomplishment at 43rd in the world, not first. Interesting. To achieve the equivalent Grenada’s one-medal-in-100k people, the US would have had to come away with 324 medals. Not even close.

What big-power, big population, big investment country would openly admit that the top ten Olympic countries are all quite small in population? It says something extra about the dedication of their athletes, I think. Additional praise to them for their grit and excellence.

Below is my full spreadsheet. I think the top countries on this list deserve national praise, if any is to be doled out.

2016 Olympic Medal Rank by Population

A week ago I returned from a trip to Argentina. I’d never traveled to South America before, and since it was the only continent (not counting Antarctica) I had yet to visit, I was excited. Even though I know South America has far more to see and experience, Iguazú Falls will remain the highlight of my trip — a profound spiritual experience.

On landing in Buenos Aires we took a shuttle to the other airport and flew directly to Iguazú. In planning the trip we’d learned there was a moonrise trek every full moon to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic section of the falls, and we managed to get tickets our party of ten. After a briefing by a park ranger we took a little train to the beginning of the walkway across branches of the river. The moon rose, and after a kilometer or so we came to the lip of the falls. I have no photos, but it was spectacular. We stood dripping and awe-stricken in the jungle night, and I’m glad we did it. But the following morning I realized how little we had actually seen.

IMG_0758Nothing prepared me for the sheer size of the cataract. A million gallons a second, I was told. 275 distinct waterfalls across almost three kilometers, the brochure said. Identified in 2011 as one of the planet’s seven wonders of nature, a plaque said. Data became meaningless. It was overwhelming. Over the next day and a half, I evolved through three ways of experiencing what it was.

The first phase was the most obvious: Spectacle. Immense, breath-taking. Every few IMG_0718steps I encountered a new vista to photograph. I was one of dozens recording the spectacle.

IMG_0738As I hiked the trails and catwalks, I gradually adapted to the magnitude of the spectacle. The falls became a kind of New-Age Inspiration. To my amazement and profound embarrassment I caught myself thinking psychobabble banalities and projecting them onto the natural beauty surrounding me. “Even this tiny rivulet is part of the massive river.” “We spent IMG_0726thousands of dollars to be here, but this tiny orchid lives here for free.” As I said, embarrassing. When a sophomoric slogan with Biblical overlays, “bloom where you’re planted,” came spewing out of my old ministerial subconscious, I had to turn away from the water in shame. Fortunately, that one also broke the spell which had me believing I was in charge of what my experience meant.

I abandoned my desire to project petty human IMG_0743“lessons” onto whatever this immense force of nature was doing. I finally stopped taking pictures to simply stand still and be open. It seemed to be roaring at me to listen. So I did. It became my teacher. I can’t put what it taught me into words, but I did feel its message enter my IMG_0738body, which shivered and swayed to receive it. It changed me. That is its enduring gift to me.

If you’d like to read the opening chapters, I’ve got Blood and Dirt excerpts sprinkled around the internet, plus a few blog interviews. Here’s a map to get around:

August 21st with Clare London – Interview and first half of Chapter One

August 22nd with Jon Michaelsen – second half of Chapter One

With more to be added! You’ll be able to read at least the first two chapters this way, maybe more.

Next stop, August 28th with Elin Gregory

Blood & Dirt 02 -Ebook FinalIt’s been a long time coming (because it took months longer to finish than I had originally planned), but the digital version of my new Russ Morgan mystery Blood & Dirt is scheduled for release from Wilde City Press on August 19th! The print version will follow within days. I’m happy to say it will include Enigma, the first Russ Morgan story, which was too short to have a print run of its own.

I’m thrilled it will be out in time for UK Meet 2015 in Bristol. Thanks to Wilde City Press, I’ll have print copies there to flog. Um, I mean, sign.

I’m also grateful that readers spoke up about Enigma, which I envisioned as a one-off story, never imagining that Russ might have more stories to tell. Sometimes the author really is the last to know that a story might be the beginning of a series.

I like Russ a lot, too — and only partly because we share the similarities of being a Colorado native with psychic sensitivites and long-term sobriety. So thank you, readers, for saying you wanted more of him!

 

Just coming up for air after a wildly eventful two weeks. Not sure what happened astrologically or in some other energies I don’t manage, but it was like a dam broke and washed down my river without doing a stick of damage. Instead, cycles that have been in “pending” mode for months all sprang forward as if the Cosmos had flipped a switch.

Unnerving — and exciting! So here’s the executive summary:

LammyFinalist_Small_Web_v3Wednesday, Mar 4 I learned that my novel The Companion is a finalist in this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. A week later I’m still giddy about it, and probably will be for months to come. For someone who writes gay fiction, this is huge, and would have made a stellar week all on its own. It’s the equivalent of being nominated for an Oscar for us. Bob and I immediately bought tickets to the awards ceremony June 1st in New York.

An hour after receiving the news, I was in a rented a car driving to Orlando for the Dreamspinner Author Retreat. Not sure I needed a car, it felt like I could have floated there on my cloud of euphoria. Come to think of it, I could have saved twenty bucks on road tolls each way if I had!

March 5-8, I had a chance to immerse myself in the Dreamspinner community. Many authors I hadn’t met in person, but I felt right at home. Moreover, Elizabeth North, the Publisher, gave a truly visionary speech, outlining events and sales performance of last year, and the plans for the year coming. In a publishing environment where reported sales have leveled or declined, the increase in sales at Dreamspinner was breathtaking.

Later, in a meeting with Elizabeth and her Editor-in-Chief Lynn West I was thrilled to learn more of DSP Publications, their new publishing arm dedicated to mysteries, fantasy, horror, thrillers, anything that isn’t strictly romance. Best news of all was the gearing up of Itineris, their imprint focused on heroes undergoing spiritual or metaphysical growth in their stories. Since that is my core interest, I was thrilled that I’d found a home for those stories.

Needless to say, I left feeling like my spiritual journey stories like Traveling Light had finally found a place to land, and that was like having a door open onto a spectacular new garden for me.

On the 9th I got a call from Wild Rose Press, and learned that they want to contract Blood Royal and its sequels. Another huge leap forward! I wanted to re-release the story under my own name instead of Rowan Malloy, so I pitched the story to Wild Rose Press in February during the Florida Romance Writers conference. It happened fast, and I’m thrilled with the outcome!

Then on the 10th we closed on our house. Whew! A process begun back in October of last year. It’s been a fragile, erratic process, with lots of problems. But it happened! On the 11th, the movers arrived and we pulled up stakes. Can’t wait to set up my new writing nook! Will post pics when I can.

Still lots to do before we’re settled, but I wanted to post this update. Must take some vitamins…

What’s the best thing to happen in your week?

For years, I had a quote pinned up on the wall of my workspace attributed to congressional historian Daniel J Boorstin: “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance, but rather the illusion of knowledge.”

With Mercury about to station retrograde October 4th, this is the ideal time for me to deliberately relax my grip on certainty, check my reality compass and make some room for discovery.

I’d like to share with you something of my respect for disillusionment – the loss of illusion. Discovery is an essential part of any plot, from clues in a murder mystery, to trust (misplaced, real or withheld) in a romance, geographic exploration in an adventure, or finding inner strength in the Hero’s Journey. While the need for profound discovery is always present in our stories, the context for the discovery is infinitely changeable.

Perhaps the first important variable is the protagonist’s own attitude toward discovery. That could be the beginning of his character arc: he may believe he doesn’t need to change, or that he is self-sufficient. He may believe a situation is hopeless. He may believe he is not worthy of love. Discovery is where the story gets really interesting!

An altruistic young person, full of optimism and naïveté, might believe that his altruism is a good thing, and should never change. He approaches the world of commerce as if everyone were as honest as he is. That person soon finds out that altruism, if it is to be a kind influence in his life must be tempered with realistic caution.

While I rhapsodize about the profound value of cognitive dissonance, I don’t enjoy the pain and sadness (or embarrassment!) I can feel when a cherished belief proves to be false. I believe emotional pain is probably the worst teacher of reality – certainly one of the harshest. The problem is that so often it’s the only teacher left to us because we’ve rejected kinder ones. We can be so damn stubborn about what we’re certain is true.

When faced with a discovery that disrupts his personal view of reality, a character can stay focused on his lost belief or welcome his new knowledge. This is great material for the character arc, because the transition is seldom easy, in novels or in real life.

In the case of Shepherd Bucknam, the protagonist in my new novel The Companion, disillusionment is a great but pain-inducing ally, in two particular instances. When the story begins, he doesn’t see any need for him to change. Privately, he carries a bitter disrespect for his dead alcoholic mother, believing that she didn’t really love him. He is also afraid that a recurring nightmare foretells his violent death.

In both these matters he discovers that what he thinks is true is not true at all, and the shock of discovery opens him to new experience and real growth as a human being. What happens next? Well, you’ll have to read the story to find out!

And I sincerely hope you do…

An earlier version of this post appeared first on Tara Lain’s blog.

Since Friday I’ve had interviews and articles posted on fellow author blogs, part of my effort to get the word out about the release of The Companion.

Thinking that some of those posts might be interesting to you in the meantime, me and my 500-lb gorilla marketing buddy are sharing the links to a few of them.

Raine O’Tierney                       Vastine Bondurant                  Tara Lain

Thanks to Raine, Vastine and Tara for hosting me on their blogs.

It will probably be a while before enough reviews come in to give me a feel for the book’s general reception, but The Companion already has two reviews so far, with others scheduled to appear later in the week. Here’s the first, from Portia de Moncur at MM Good Book Reviews. Thank you, Portia! My gorilla thanks you, too!

Another interesting and very different review is at Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews, where I also do a video reading of a scene from The Companion. Hope you check it out!

 

The CompanionJuly 23, 2014 — release day for The Companion, coming to you today from Dreamspinner Press. You can read the first two chapters here.

Well, I’ve got a great cover, an interesting (I think, anyway!) story, promotional blog posts organized. Hopefully some review sites will pick up the book and say nice things about it, causing millions of eager readers to buy their own copies.

I’d like to say that the project is now out of my hands, but in current-day publishing the burden of ongoing publicity sits in the author’s lap like an eight hundred pound gorilla, and he’s there for the life of the book.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. More like a friendly five hundred pound gorilla, very into hugs, sharing bananas and checking my hair for lice. For me the gorilla, friendly as he is, takes a lot of attention and energy, even for me just to keep breathing. Five hundred pounds is a lot, and I’m not a big guy.

I know it would be more social of me if I checked him for lice, too, but that’s still beyond what I’m prepared to do for book promotion. Just one step beyond checking for lice (and eating what you find, which gorillas expect) is doing drag karaoke with smudged mascara in a seedy bar at closing time, hoping someone will invite me to go home with him. I cling to the tattered shreds of my self-respect as it is… But I do share bananas with my gorilla. What can I say, it’s a start.

The only things that really are out of my hands are making word changes to the story, and whether people will like the story or not. There’s not a single thing I can do about those things. I’ve got twitter and facebook all primed, and most of my guest blog posts written. But right now all I can hear is — silence. As if I’m waiting for a storm to hit. Or maybe a movie deal! Uh-huh. In the meantime, it’s just me and my gorilla, hanging out, being friendly. I’ve got one banana left, and we’re probably going to have to share it before the first review comes in.

I should be patient about this. After all, the book took over a year to write, and then from contract to release was another seven months. But I’m fresh out of patience at the moment. Right now I want an avalanche of enthusiasm and gushing reviews to pour in on me and my gorilla friend, generating enough sales to keep us in bananas forever. Or at least until the next book is out.

I know there will be more rounds of publicity, more tweets, and hopefully a bunch of positive reviews. But right now it’s the middle of the night — 1:00am on the 23rd — with hours of darkness before the New York Times lands on my doorstep with its glowing review of the book, its crafted prose smooth as silk and oh, so clever in restrained, literary one-upmanship that lets everyone know they’re just a notch or two below the Gray Lady’s standard vocabulary. The review will be above the fold. Of course.

I’m not holding my breath for that. Or to be more accurate, if the five hundred pound gorilla in my lap actually allowed me to breathe, I would choose not to hold my breath. As it is, that’s already been decided for me.

Fellow author Jamie Fessenden wrote a very thoughtful post on his blog recently, about women writing M/M romance, which you can find —here—. It’s well worth reading and thinking about.

This is an issue that has arisen on discussion loops and author blogs for years, often in some combination of complaint, disrespect, snark and defiance. Recent posts on the topic are less strident, I’m grateful to see.

I really appreciate Jamie’s approach, since it offers real commentary, and avoids the outraged “Women don’t write us right!” or “I write werewolves, does that mean I have to be one to write authentically about them?” arguments, both of which which basically miss the point.

“Who the heck is this ‘us’?” this particular gay man asks. The diversity even just within the European / North American gay male demographic is too fabulously far-ranging to function with an individual spokesman. And with werewolves, an author can make up their behavior to suit any whim. It’s a more complex issue when writing about a gay man, since, you know, we actually exist.

Frankly, I’m relieved we’re getting beyond the “You can’t do it right!” vs. the “Yes I can!” arguments because they’re neither helpful nor relevant.

I don’t think anyone disputes that women can write great romance stories featuring gay male characters. They shouldn’t, anyway, since it’s so very obviously true. So what’s the real issue?

Is it that MM romance stories written by men might be a little different from those written by women? When I read one of our stories, sometimes the gender of the author is obvious to me, and sometimes I couldn’t tell if you paid me a fortune. (And if you offered to pay me a fortune, believe me I’d try. I’m an author, after all, and need the cash.)

Just as there are significant differences between one author and another of the same gender or orientation, so also there are significant differences between female and male authors. Why is that a bad thing? I see that as something to celebrate. It means we each can bring something new to our stories if we take the time and effort to do it.

I accept that Fessenden is right in seeing current MM Romance as an extension of its origins in slashfic, but speaking personally, I want our genre to continue evolving into one offering more satisfying emotional depth than slashfic. The baby is growing up, and the evolution I feel coming will require MM stories written by authors of every gender identity and sexual orientation.

I also agree with Fessenden’s observation that while MM romance might be about gay men, it doesn’t really belong to gay men. In fact, I’ll hike out farther on that limb — the genre doesn’t belong to either women or men, regardless of author or reader demographics. It belongs to whoever has compassion and respect for gay men and how we love.

Stating the obvious, women and men are different from each other — completely different emotional, psychic and psychological creatures. I personally believe those differences are stretched more along a shared continuum than isolated into two separate camps, but using John Gray’s simplistic analogy, some men are from Venus, and some women are from Mars.

Even though it doesn’t tell the whole story, there’s some value to looking at a bell curve. The trouble with focusing on exceptions is the same as the trouble with anecdotal evidence. Whatever general observation might be offered, no matter how rational and relevant it might be, it can be contradicted by recounting a single exception. “Well, I know a woman who…” or “I’ve known a man for years who…” That creates a logical impasse that prevents us from exploring what I see as an important and necessary evolutionary threshold for our genre.

Still, there are some fundamentals that are inescapable. Research indicates that a female’s brain matures faster than a male’s, which takes until about age 25 to get there. One of my criticisms of many current MM stories is that they’re essentially YA or New Adult stories, even if the main characters are over thirty, because they behave with the emotional maturity of a 22 year-old. That makes the story New Adult, as far as I’m concerned. YA and NA stories are an essential part of our genre, but what’s the point of having a New Adult story featuring two 30+ year-old males?

While chronologically mature men sometimes do act in immature ways, painting male characters over 25 as having little more than 20-something communication skills, insecurities, angst, values and behavior pushes me out of the story, becomes boring to me, and maybe to other readers. I’ll go further and say it’s insulting to men in general to portray a thirty-five year old man with the emotional IQ of a twenty year old — unless he’s psychologically puer aeternus and that’s the key to his character arc.

Of course such chronologically mature/emotionally immature men exist, but their frequent appearance in our stories raises a question for me — why would any author repeatedly write such characters? What’s the message in that? Is it a form of sexism, saying that’s what men are like? I hope not.

I suggest mature masculine psychology offers terrific material for MM romances, and is seriously under-represented in our stories. I believe that writing main characters emotionally older than 25 will force us to address the depth and complexity of the mature masculine in our stories. The downside is that an emotionally mature male character might take more work from the author to realize than opting for some familiar character shortcuts to emotional conflict that are plausible for an immature protagonist.

Ultimately, generalities prove insufficient in any real conversation, but there are any number of scientific studies that shed light on important psychological and emotional differences between women and men — the way we process images, grief, anger, forgiveness, sexual energy, relationship. Some differences might be cultural, others intrinsic to our basic sexuality. In some ways it doesn’t matter — they’re all important and wonderful. Diversity is a good thing!

If those differences are real and important and good, why then should the majority of gay protagonists feel the same way about trust issues, monogamy or marriage as the majority of straight women? Why should the familiar tropes of het romance dominate MM romance? Why should the story question, “Does she dare open her heart to love again?” be automatically translated into “Does he dare open his heart to love again?” Why should a gay man’s HEA look like a straight woman’s?

I’m not saying they can’t be the same — they certainly can. But isn’t there also room for more than that? What else might they look like? Let’s get adventurous! Some authors will dismiss these questions with the observation that this is how it always has been, and what “the market” demands. Those voices have every right to be heard in this discussion, but I personally don’t believe those voices are on the side of evolution.

I believe that MM romance is on the wonderful threshold of an evolutionary leap. Evolution is risky, however. The troublesome thing about change is that it brings change. I feel growth coming!

One of the most common impulses in a person who encounters unfamiliar diversity is to look for the common ground. In discussions of gay romance that’s led to remarks like, “gay men are just like other men except that they love men instead of women.” We’re not. Please accept that. Believe me, a man of some race other than Caucasian is NOT interested to hear, “You’re just like a white man except for the color of your skin.” That approach, while probably well-intentioned, is ignorant, and profoundly insults our differences.

In the most useful diversity training I’ve taken, I was instructed to first honor the differences just as they are without trying to smooth them down into comfortable common ground right away. There’s plenty of time later to find the common ground after the differences are acknowledged and at least partially understood.

The practice is first respect for the difference, and second for the gifts that the difference brings. That’s much harder work than the more naive (but usually equally well-intentioned) approach of claiming that we’re all the same. We’re just not.

I attended a writing workshop a few years ago with about ten other authors. During one session, the instructor gave each of us the same group of characters, same character agendas, the same setting, the same external events and conflicts. He had each of us write the scene, and later we read them aloud. Each one was completely different. I mean completely different. It was a revelation. I can’t write the same as my colleagues even if I try, and the same is true for every author.

In his post, Fessenden raises the startling question as to whether men can write MM romance. Of course they can. There’s a long list of wonderful male MM romance authors to prove it. Their stories aren’t — and shouldn’t be — the same as romance stories written by women authors. Is it politically incorrect to admit that the differences exist? It’s time to acknowledge and appreciate the differences for what they are, without bickering over which is “better” or “more real”.

So I’ve referred more than once to some looming evolution in our genre, and I feel obliged to get more specific about that. After all, I see it already occurring in the work of many authors I respect and follow.

I see us moving toward thematically deeper characters and varying-themed stories, moving away from slashfic-like work where a handful of familiar tropes, keywords, gimmicks and memes stapled to a slightly modified plot could pass muster. Every author has done that. Even though I’m still fond of it, I’m grateful my first book (a swords and sorcery effort) is out of print!

I see us expanding the parameters of romance beyond the rules inherited from het romance with its overwhelming emphasis on the story of deliriously happy monogamous dyads fading to black before the arguments about squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle begin. Not abandoning all the ground rules, necessarily, just expanding our scope. This also is already happening, through a healthy variety of authors.

I see us accepting that quality of story always trumps convention, and that well written stories with compelling characters will inspire most readers to enjoy the journey into unfamiliar territory. Those that take the chance, anyway.

Not every author will write transgressive romance, or even write chronologically mature protagonists. Not every author will write protagonists under 25. Each writer of each gender identity and each orientation brings something of value in her/zir/his best work, and one way or another it contributes to our genre’s evolution.

I believe this respectfully inclusive, “room for everyone” approach will take us forward into a fecund, more emotionally powerful genre than any of us can presently imagine.