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I’m so thrilled with the cover art for The Companion, finalized this week with Paul Richmond of the Dreamspinner art department! Original art by Dan Skinner.

The CompanionThis is the back cover copy:

Shepherd Bucknam hasn’t had a lover in more than a decade, and doesn’t need one. As a Daka, he coaches men in the sacred art and mystery of sexual ecstasy all the time, and he loves his work. It’s his calling. In fact, he’s perfectly content—except for the terrors of his recurring nightmare, and the ominous blood-red birthmarks on his neck. He’s convinced that together they foretell his early and violent death.

When Shepherd’s young protégé is murdered, LAPD Detective Marco Fidanza gets the case. The two men are worlds apart: Marco has fought hard for everything he’s accomplished, in sharp contrast to the apparent ease of Shepherd’s inherited wealth—but their mutual attraction is too hot for either of them to ignore.

Shepherd swears he’ll help find his protégé’s killer but Marco warns him to stay out of it. When an influential politician is implicated, the police investigation grinds to a halt. Shepherd hires his own investigator. Marco calls it dangerous meddling.

As their volatile relationship deepens, Shepherd discovers his nightmares might not relate to the future, but to the deadly legacy of a past life—a life he may have to revisit before he can fully live and love in this one.

 

The premise or underlying story argument (for those writer friends who love premise as much as I do) is “Courage leads to self-knowledge and love.”

So yeah, it’s a love story, with a little more on-page sex than my recent stories, but that’s in keeping with the protagonist’s character, his work, and how he experiences the world. It’s also inescapably mystical, as well as a murder investigation. A trusted critic and friend told me it was my best work to date, and I’d love it if that were true. Unfortunately, I have no way of telling on my own, although I think there’s more polish to the story than previous work. I try to learn something with every piece I write… I feel I learned a lot with this one. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

The Companion goes on sale around the end of July. Pre-orders will be possible in a couple of weeks. I’ll supply the link when that happens.

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.

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?