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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!

 

So — picking up from Part One: a straight hero grows up in an automatic level of belonging—whether it’s the idyllic Shire, or some other culture in which the hero belongs to an identifiable majority—that a gay one does not. But there’s a great and powerful gift inside the pain of not belonging: it sets him free. The gay hero does not owe the same psychic allegiance to the heteronormative world and its cultural conventions that a straight hero does. He sees the culture in which he lives through a very different lens. As a result, he understands the familiar world from a perspective that is ideally equipped to bring outside-the-box thinking for change, insight, compassion and creativity. But it takes courage to do it.

In boyhood most gay males learn to be shape-shifters, which in itself is another kind of separation from the world. Generally speaking, he learns to appear to be something he is not and becomes highly skilled in the performance. This psychic fluidity is a double-edged sword, both strength and weakness on his journey. For him there are few identity absolutes. He’s likely hyper-vigilant in situations involving power or risk, and often he can adapt faster than his integrity can process. This is why coming out is still the single most powerful act a gay man can undertake. It’s an unretractable declaration of his true identity, from which there is no retreat. After that, his developed skill at shapeshifting can be put to other uses.

In the lingo of the hero’s journey, shape-shifters are usually presented as being ambiguous or unreliable, probably untrustworthy, possibly amoral or even dangerous precisely because they don’t owe the same psychic allegiance to cultural convention. (As an aside, I believe it is precisely this inherent and palpable lack of investment in the status quo that frightens social conservatives.)

How does that contrast with the usual characterization of a straight hero at the beginning of his journey? A straight hero is rarely shown first as a shape-shifter unless he’s a con man or a secret agent. He is often emotionally reliable, if not responsible. He might start out as an arrogant jerk, but he is also shown to be innately good. The storyteller is sure to have him “pat the dog” in some important way. We don’t even have enough examples of gay hero’s journeys to argue a clear distinction on this point, but hopefully the stories we tell will add to the conversation.

The gay protagonist must find an internally congruent, authentic way to belong in the straight world when he returns. That’s essentially what a gay hero’s first great journey is about. You may be writing about a subsequent journey for him, based on the place in the world that he’s already found, but the emotional echoes of this first journey, of belonging—still as an outsider, but now an outsider who belongs—will resound in whatever transformative adventure he undertakes, and the fears he faces on his journey might well reflect that.

For further reflection on a gay protagonist’s outsider status before he begins his journey, here is an interesting list of ways in which a gay man can be reminded he is an outsider.

Straight Privilege

I believe this list was compiled in 2002. Today some of the bullet points are not as relevant as they once were, but most still pertain.

There is one item not on the list, one that stands behind all the rest—a gay man belongs to an irrevocably permanent minority. A gay hero’s journey must in some way bring him peace with his original discovery of being unlike the majority of people around him. He may not always be highly visible, and he may not always be welcome—but if he survives his journey and returns with his life-nourishing gifts, he is always immensely powerful.

* * *

Again: I wrote this piece focused on a gay male hero. I’m not seeking to speak for all gay men or make broad generalizations about what makes us tick, but rather to point to certain influences that might well have a bearing on a gay male protagonist separating from the world as he prepares for his journey. Further, I deliberately did not seek to expand my consideration to include LBTQ people. I’m not qualified to speak to their journeys except in the most purely archetypal sense. I look forward to reading—and learning from—contributions from those who are.

I’m developing materials for an online course to be presented this October under the aegis of the Florida Romance Writers, focusing on the differences in the Hero’s Journey for a gay protagonist. I’ve been fascinated by the Hero’s Journey since I read Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces as a teenager. It wasn’t until decades later–after I came out–that I became sensitive to the heteronormative overlays in the Journey as it was usually described. At first I was offended, but I soon realized that those overlays were perfectly appropriate for straight heroes, and that “somebody” ought to get busy and examine the differences for a gay male hero. So here are some comments about how a gay Hero’s Journey might present unique opportunities for a writer.

Now before anyone asks about other queer heroes (other than a gay male), let me beg those who are qualified to contribute to this body of understanding to do so. All I can do is speak what I’ve got to say, knowing that it’s not the whole picture. It’s just my part, and only as I presently understand it given my own evolution.

So with that out of the way, here is an initial commentary on the first stage of the Hero’s Journey, Separation from the World, the first part of two.

 

The first stage in the Hero’s Journey is often described as “Separation from the World.” In this post I want to focus on this part of the Journey, and on the profound differences that it presents to a gay protagonist in contrast to a straight one.

For any hero this Separation from the World can be represented as a moral restlessness, such as having an idealistic, seemingly impractical dream or some resentment at an injustice. Something isn’t right with the world, but the hero-to-be can’t exactly put his finger on the problem. Harry Potter lives under the stairs, living an unhappy, persecuted life—but it seems the best he can manage, given his unfortunate circumstances.

The Separation can also be sudden, although this usually combines the separation from the familiar world with the next step, the Call to Adventure (the inciting incident). The hero can be fired, or kidnapped. He can witness a murder. He can find a million dollars in his gym bag, and the story is off and running.

It’s tempting to slide over the more subtle Separation, what I called a moral restlessness, because current literary fashion insists a reader must be “grabbed by the throat” in the first five pages or the story isn’t worth reading.

But take note of one difference: the separating moral restlessness comes from inside the hero, who by then is already growing. His growth is creating uncomfortable pressure in his experience of reality. In the standard start-at-a-gallop story, Separation/Call is an external event that happens to an internally passive hero. The psychological richness of an internal driving force is lost, at least for the opening moments.

In writing gay protagonists, another temptation is strong—to make them just like straight men except for their sexual attraction to other men. After all, a gay man could find a million dollars in his gym bag as easily as a straight man.

Writing gay male characters as if they were essentially straight is a terrible disservice, not only to gay men and the distinct spiritual gifts we bring, but also to those who genuinely seek to understand us. It misleads everyone with a glib untruth.

So long as the action originates outside the hero, the author can probably get away with pretending straight and gay heroes are the same—for example, writing a gay paranormal “alpha male” just like a straight one. Maybe he’s a navy SEAL assassin wolf-shifter Krav Maga master who restores pre-Raphaelite paintings in his spare time. His persona is pretty much a construct of externals, except, of course, for his Great Wound. When writing the hero’s internal response to external events, however, the differences between gay and straight become unavoidable–and important.

When the gay hero’s sexuality, or some other core aspect of his internal life drives the story, Separation from the World takes on deeper meaning, because a gay hero is forced to separate from the world before puberty. He discovers he’s an outsider in the heteronormative world. The difference this makes to a gay hero’s journey is massive, and in this post I can only point to one or two of its facets.

The first difference is the most obvious. It’s so obvious it’s usually overlooked entirely, yet the psychological ramifications can be a rich resource when creating a gay protagonist about to go on a great journey: we are a minority. Even among our own race, our religious community, in our most intimate circles of beloved family, clan or kin, we are a minority. What’s more, we always will be a minority.

Nations will come and go, cultures will rise and fall, technology will change, but we will likely remain about the same percentage of any population. This is so significant that by itself it can provide the basis for a gay hero’s journey: he is different from almost everyone else around him, even in his nuclear family. I suggest that some element of a gay man’s Great Wound is “not belonging,” even if it’s a minor one.

What impact might this discovery have on a boy’s psyche, to understand that he’s fundamentally different long before he really understands what that difference actually means?

He might look for role models in the usual places. Will he find them?

“Within the typical secondary school curriculum, homosexuals do not exist. They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations. The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.”

— Gerald Unks, ed., The Gay Teen: Educational Practice and Theory for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Adolescents, Routledge, 1995, p. 5.

Although citing this lack of role models might seem like a complaint, it’s not. In the twenty years since this quote was written, tremendous changes have occurred, and the gay teen is no longer a Stalinist nonperson, at least not by definition. But even when the day comes that gay teens enjoy full acceptance, respect and equality, they will still be in the minority no matter their culture. A gay teen will still have ten times the straight role models as those he finds wired like himself. The psychological ramifications of this one difference should not be overlooked when creating a gay hero: he’s an outsider long before the journey begins. And painful as that may be, that’s the way it should be.

Certainly, gay men should be respected and not persecuted. But the first great subliminal learning for a gay hero is this: This will never be my world. It belongs to straight people. I own only my own gifts and how I bring them—and this sets me free.

It’s a pleasure to have Jackson Cordd here today, a very interesting author I’ve just met recently. His most recent novel, Shamrock Green, is due for release from Dreamspinner Press on April 2nd. Welcome, Jackson!ShamrockGreenLG

Thank you Lloyd for your interest in my latest novel, Shamrock Green, and for inviting me to talk a bit about it.
I’m thrilled at how the book is already garnering so much attention. When I began writing it, I struggled a bit because the work is much more epic, with a larger cast of characters than any books I’ve ever developed before.
My inspiration for the story came from a trip I took to Ireland in 2012. While touring about the green hills, I learned quite a bit more of the Celtic and Gaelic mythologies, expanding my knowledge of the stories I had heard from my Granny while growing up. Naturally, such a Granny also became part of the back-story for the main character, Hank Lear.
As for the magical elements in the story, I decided to stick closer to what I thought might be real possibilities, by postulating that the Fae are energy creatures that reach our world through a portal from a dimension of pure energy. So what the humans in the story perceive as ‘magic,’ is merely the Fae manipulations of energy to change their appearance or create plasma balls.
The story also involves several concepts of psychic ‘gifts’ in the forms of psychometry, empathy, projection, and premonitions. As part of his hero’s journey, I gave the character Hank a budding empathic gift.
I know many readers may consider such talents to be magic or mere fiction, but I have had personal experience with all of those gifts, most notably the empathy. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been sensitive to the emotions around me, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed. Most of the time I think of the empathy as a blessing, but I must admit there have been times when it felt more like a curse to be constantly bombarded with feelings that weren’t mine.
For the antagonist of the tale, I chose to have a misguided dullahan be the primary force. He enlists a phouka as a reluctant sidekick, by promising to grant him a pleasing human form.
The main conflict begins in the back-story in the early 1200’s, when an important human wedding brings together the factions of the green and blue Fae, who bestow their Fae gifts upon the wedding attendees, creating a group named ‘The Ten Families.’
Infuriated that the Fae are mingling and sharing so openly with the worthless humans, the dullahan orchestrates the theft of the bride’s wedding ring, then later circulates rumors that the bride lost her ring during an illicit affair. He continues fanning the tense flames heating up between the families and factions, eventually leading to a huge conflict later called ‘The Tempest.’ For the next few hundred years, the dullahan continues creating strife and trying to close the portals and end all of the unnatural co-mingling of the Fae and humans.
The novel picks up the story in modern Dublin, when nine of the families, aligned in a group calling themselves ‘The Antiquer’s Guild’ continue fighting the dullahan, who has since co-opted the church in his quest to end the unnatural behavior.
Hank Lear, our main hero visiting from Texas, who is a descendant of the unrepresented family, happens to buy the bride’s Claddagh ring in an antique shop, which soon pulls him into the middle of the ongoing mess after he meets the infatuating Darren O’Connell, one of the members of the Antiquer’s Guild. Darren is a descendant of the original groom, and has the other artifact from the wedding set, a choker amulet depicting the Celtic Tree of Life.
I had a great deal of fun writing this work, and I hope the readers will enjoy the ensuing roller coaster ride as well.

I’m sure they will! While I’ve got you here, may I ask a few questions?

Of course, ask away.

I rarely run into someone with double-edged psychic gifts related to my own, and I’m fascinated. Can you say more about your experience with them?

Empathy is the only gift that I’m really strong at. I occasionally have bits of emotional psychometry (I can pick up the emotional state of the owner, but not any real details). Even rarer are premonitory flashes or dreams. Those are so unreliable though. Invariably, I see some distant point, like ten years into a possible future, which can exist only if factor A, B, C, D, E, F, G… all line up just right over the course of the next decade. They aren’t very helpful, other than to highlight what might be the best potential in a situation and depending on how great that potential is, I can decide if the situation is something worth fighting for.

It would take more than a short blog interview to compare our journeys in detail, but how do you think those gifts have changed you as a person, and how central are they to your writing?

Well, since the empathy is something I was most likely born with, I can’t see where it had a ‘changing’ point. But I know that ability has certainly shaped my life in slightly different ways.
In my earlier years, I shied away from any large groups because of how I would get bombarded by so many external emotions, especially in the teenage years. Just imagine attending a party, feeling waves of depression from Sally, anger from Jake, horniness from Tom, boredom from Michelle, elation from Kathy, and fear from Amy all hitting you nearly simultaneously in random pulses. It’s hard to relax and enjoy yourself with that kind of assault going on in your gut. So I grew up a bit of a loner wallflower, not participating in clubs, dances, and parties very much.
On the plus side, I had a very good ‘gaydar’ during those early years, so I didn’t suffer any of the ‘I’m the only one like this in the world’ isolation many gay kids experience when they first come to terms with their sexuality. I got pings everywhere I went.
Over time, I’ve learned to ‘tune out’ those things a bit, but even now, I can still have issues in big crowds (like Dragon*Con), and I spend so much of my effort just trying to protect myself that I can’t relax and enjoy the event.
The empathic nature has had a direct effect on my writing, because I invariably have one character in each work that has some bit of empathy. Indirectly, I think it has an even stronger impact, because I tend to see the world as an ‘emotional ocean’, I put more mention and notice of character’s feelings and how those feelings motivate them into my work.

Turning back to Shamrock Green in specific, please say more about your dullahan. What would make him likely to hate humans so?

His character developed as I thought about the details of the dullahan. As the notions rolled around in my head, it seemed likely that an essentially immortal, judgmental non-human creature who sees into the darkness of people’s hearts, would likely become very cynical in just a century or two of constantly seeing the petty inadequacies of humans. At first, he might try to weed out the worst offenders in hopes of giving the others a better chance to rise above their baser natures, but after seeing the pettiness repeating from generation to generation without any signs of improvement, the dullahan begins to see the human condition as a hopeless struggle.
Of course, I think the guy is a bit impatient because often evolution advances take time. From what we know of the fossil records, our modern brain structural capacity developed practically overnight, and after 200,000 years or so, we’re only beginning the process to use our new brain size to its full potential.

I love the modern hope I feel in your comments about Shamrock Green, the hope of re-uniting the families of the wronged bride and groom from the 1200’s. Did you encounter any particular obstacles in your fae world-building by making the modern couple both men?

I took quite a bit of creative license with the back-story of the novel. From what I found of the mythology, it’s mostly short little passive vignettes in the flavor of ‘I met a leprechaun once.’ So I chose to create a mythical major event between the Fae and humans, which I set in the 1200’s.
During my research, I never found any historical references to homosexuality, at least not until the time the Christians arrive, who of course brought their anti-gay messages along with their teachings.
Which I saw as an interesting point. I do know from the sorts of attitudes I felt in Ireland, ‘Live And Let Live,’ is almost an unspoken rule in their culture. So my guess is, that like most other early cultures, homosexuality had a place that was common and natural enough to them that they never felt the need to mention it in writing. Much like us, our ancestors mostly wrote about the odd and unusual things they saw around them. So if homosexuality were neither odd or unusual, it could easily go undocumented in a culture.
Another point to support that notion, was the church’s loud stance on the issue shortly after arrival. I don’t think they would have been so vocal, had they not seen it as a prevalent problem.
Since the bulk of the story takes place in our modern European world, where attitudes are quickly shifting to acceptance, I didn’t see the need to add any ‘homosexual’ conflict for the gay characters. They already have enough to worry about, anyway.

Authors have often altered mythic tales to suit the stories they write. When you approached the body of traditional fae mythology, how free did you feel to modify it? Did you feel any constraints? If so, how did you honor them?

As I mentioned, I took the flavor of the little vignettes and wove together a major event in the form of a unifying wedding that wouldn’t really be common knowledge, except to those families involved. The only real modifications I made to the mythology were adding the Eirestones (green diamond crystals collected from a geode given to the Neill family by a banshee) and adding a new creature, Skeena. I also tried to create a bit of theoretical scientific underpinning to help explain the world as it exists in the novel. With each step, I carefully thought through staying true to the spirit of the mythology to maintain respect for those old stories.
One myth I used as a template is the tale of the creation of the Blarney Stone. As one version of the story goes, a young lad who had gone deaf and mute after a bought of the pox, wandered into the woods feeling a bit depressed at being left out of the craic (Irish version of a pub-crawl). He stopped to rest at a stream, where his tears falling into the water caught the attention of a nearby sprite. She flew up out of the water to observe. Feeling moved by the lad’s plight, she stood on one of the large bluestones in the stream and beckoned the lad forward.
Impressed at the sudden appearance of the tiny sprite, the lad moved closer to the stream and leaned down to her. She kissed his chin with a magical pucker, restoring the lad’s speech and hearing. The magic also passed into the bluestone on which she stood, and to this day, kissing that stone can give the gift of Irish gab.

Generalities are dangerous, he said, stating a generality, but do you have a particular kind of reader you want to reach with your stories?

I grew up enthralled with sci-fi and fantasy, but in most cases I felt a bit left out from the lack of LGBT representation in those stories (except for the occasional 50’s style fag that has to be despicable and justifiably die at some point in the book).
Such a state of affairs makes my heart hurt. I still see a prevalence of self-deprecation in the gay community, and such stories I’m sure has some basis for furthering, if not actually creating, those problems for us.
So, my goal is to write positive, hopeful stories in those genres with gay characters that, although they may not necessarily be the hero, they at least don’t have to die to fulfill some formula in the plot.

Dreams of millions of sales and months on the Times bestseller list (which I share, too) aside, what creative direction do you see your writing headed now? Or maybe more accurately answered, where would you like it to be heading?

I always strive to put some deeper philosophy into my stories, and my dream has always been to create the sort of epic work of significance that readers would feel deserved to be on their shelves right next to ‘Dune’, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, ‘The Stand’, and ‘A Single Man’.
With each new project I’m finding myself opening up further, putting more of my heart and soul into the work, so maybe someday, I’ll reach that point. Until then, I’ll keep writing stories that I hope readers not only find entertaining, but maybe a bit thought-provoking and brimming with my optimism for a brighter future.

Thank you, Jackson Cordd, for coming by. I’m looking forward to reading Shamrock Green as soon as it’s available.

And folks, Jackson has an author page on the GoodReads website, as well as a ‘Jackson Cordd’ Facebook page and Twitter. He also enjoys receiving e-mail — you can contact him directly at JacksonCordd@gmail.com.

Late last week I submitted my latest novel, The Companion, to Toby Johnson at Lethe Press. He’d said earlier this year that he wanted to see the full when it was ready, so off it went. I can attend GayRomLit in Atlanta next week with my desk clear (figuratively speaking only!)

Jim Frey, whose workshops I’ve attended for several years, is adamant about having a clear premise for a novel. I’m a believer. Somehow, having a one-sentence cause and effect statement describing the story keeps me on track while I’m writing. It’s my litmus test as to whether a scene is superfluous or relevant to the story: does it support the premise? If yes, then it belongs. If no, then I need to cut it out.

For The Companion, which is a metaphysical mystery/romance (how’s that for an obscure niche?! It seems to be the one I’m wired to occupy) I settled on “Courage leads to self-understanding and love.”

The story is about Shepherd Bucknam, Shepherd a daka (erotic coach) living in current-day Los Angeles. He’s haunted by recurring nightmares he believes predict his violent death. When his protégé is murdered he becomes involved with Marco Fidanza, the investigating officer. The trauma of his friend’s murder and the heat of his developing relationship with Fidanza plunge Shepherd deeper into his spiritual journey, forcing him to face the terrors following him from a past life before he can break free and love fully in this one.

I’m feeling pretty good about the story. I’ll find out whether Lethe feels it’s a good fit for them.

This year has been one of unprecedented productivity for me, and I’m thrilled about that. Two fiction titles in 12 months: Enigma, and The Companion. It took me nine years to complete The Darkness of Castle Tiralur, but that included about five years when I ignored it, first in favor of drinking and then in favor of recovery. Then Traveling Light took about five years from start to finish, writing in my spare time. After I retired from day jobs it took me only two years to write Blood Royal, and now these two titles in one year.

I don’t really think I want to produce faster than that, but if I can write one solid novel or a couple of short stories a year, I’ll be satisfied. I know some authors write a lot faster than that, and more power to them, but I’m not in a race with anybody.