As a child, nothing appealed to me like reading. I played sports, mountain biked and trained horses, watched Hollywood classics like Bringing Up Baby alongside Terminator 2, and ran wild through the Texas countryside, but ultimately my only peace came when I curled up with a novel. In books, I could be who I truly was. In books, no one could tell me I shouldn’t identify with the hero instead of the heroine. No one knew. It was safe, and long before I could articulate my trans*ness to myself, I could tell you what qualities spoke to me in a character, what aspirations they drove me toward.
I was eight years old the first time I read Gone With the Wind, and by age ten, I’d read it three times, all 1100 pages. I wanted to be Rhett Butler. I wanted to have his charm, his devil-may-care attitude, his lack of fucks given and his soft spot for a lost cause.
The things I wrote as a child were heavily influenced by what I chose to read. My first ever novel, The Scream of the Panther, was set in Rhett’s native South Carolina and told the story of a tomboy, Caitlin, abused by her father who struck out into the wilderness to live on her own terms. I began it at age nine and rewrote it over and over. Eventually I finished it, reread it, and burned it. It was too personal, too much of my fucked-up heart, to share.
Pride and Prejudice kept me company throughout my twelfth year, a strange choice perhaps for a tomboy who played football and accepted money from other children to stand up to bullies for them. I was the tallest and strongest in my classes, and I was known for being a bit taciturn, withdrawn as the grandparents who raised me reached the nadir of their lives. I identified with Mr. Darcy’s misunderstood gentlemanliness, his urge to do right but keep his distance. I loved that it was funny, and flippant, and sweet. I needed that sweetness in a life so sour and bitter I could barely breathe with the acrid burn of the air in my grieving lungs.
After my grandparents died that year, I grew obsessed with tragic heroes. Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. My poor, cruel, warped Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Oh god, I spent a couple years reading Wuthering Heights over and over, identifying so sharply with Heathcliff’s brokenness that I eventually read it 32 times the summer I was 15. Mr. Rochester’s dark secret was the distinctly feminine baggage from his past–something I now understand my sympathy toward–and Heathcliff’s terrible fate was predicated on literally feeling as though Cathy were his other half. And Cathy, awful as she could be, spoke to me when she said, “I am Heathcliff.”
My next story told the Depression-era tale of a teenage girl from Houston named Dara who, after being orphaned, went to live in the hill country with an uncle she didn’t know. He kept her in the attic as she grew more and more ill, more and more depressed. Eventually the boy who kept the stable noticed her in the garret and began trying to rescue her, but in the end it was her willfulness and determination to escape that saved her. I rewrote that one a few times until I turned sixteen, but I destroyed the notebooks in which it had been painstakingly written out longhand. Dara’s story lives on in my heart, but I doubt it belongs in a book.
Again, too personal. Too sharp-edged and close to my struggles. I wasn’t ready.
At sixteen, I fell madly in love with a Man who would ultimately break my heart, my mind, and my body. I started to read what He read. I went where He went, listened to the music He liked, lost myself entirely in Him. I had my first child at eighteen, hopelessly unable to understand why it made me so sick to have her, lost entirely in the ill-fitting role of “mother.” I started reading again, devouring Anne Rice novels as if my life depended on it. Anne Rice wrote about bisexual vampires, and I identified with them as I once had with Heathcliff, in a way I never had with the novels I read for Him.
I clung to Louis, Lestat, Armand, harder and harder as I grew more and more lost, more and more ill. Then I discovered Harry Potter of all things and sank deep into its magic. I envisioned a world in which everything that felt so wrong could be made right with will and imagination, a few words of bastardized Latin. All the writing I’d ceased to do began again as I poured myself into fandom. People seemed to like my fanfiction, and I remembered again the joy of writing.
That’s where I met Clancy Nacht. Eventually she got published with her original work, and I was so proud of her but didn’t ever imagine the same could happen for me. I was so destroyed by having divorced Him that I couldn’t hope for anything good for myself. We fooled with writing together sometimes, though…and eventually Black Gold was born.
It wasn’t perfect, but people seemed to love it. Next thing I knew, I was co-writing with Clancy and a published author. It turned around how I saw myself, gave me a whole new avenue for self-exploration. And because it was co-written, it never felt too personal. There was a buffer there, some of Clancy in it too, and that made it safe to share.
But still, what I grew up reading informed my writing. The WASPs, our most recent (re)release, is heavily influenced by my love of Pride and Prejudice. Clancy wasn’t a fan of Austen, but she read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and gained a certain perspective of her own on the topic. We talked about what would have happened if Darcy and Bingley had consummated their bromance, set it in modern times on the Eastern seaboard, and Tyrone and Blake were born. Just as critical of the privileged class as Jane Austen’s classic romantic comedy, just as easy to misread as a serious romance instead of observations of the absurd behavior of the crushingly wealthy. Some people didn’t get it, but some people have embraced it, and several days later it’s #40 on the Amazon Gay Romance charts…not bad for a self-pubbed re-release, right?
What I miss most from my days in fandom are the constant reviews and comments, the steady feedback that I’m on track, that someone’s out there, someone’s connecting. Professional publishing is awfully lonely by comparison. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know how solo novelists do it.
Stuff like this makes my entire week. I’m squealing “Oh my god, someone GOT IT!” Because even co-written, it feels so personal. It feels so intrinsic to me as a person. And when someone understands the humor, when someone enjoys it… well, that tells me to keep going. To never give up.
And it makes me that much more ready for June to get here and have Asher Beauregard Attempts to Give a Damn take over my life. I’m finally there, ready to put my heart on the line. The third round of edits went back to my beloved editor Rory Olsen this morning. It is almost upon us.
In the meantime, tell me… When did you start reading romance? Who did you wish you were?