Posts tagged “fiction

Free Short Story for Easter: The Stepping Stone

Gifts Not Yet GivenHi everyone! In celebration of Easter, I’m sharing with you a short from my collection Gifts Not Yet Given, which was included on multiple Best Books of 2013 lists. If you like it, the book is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers. I hope you enjoy it, and tell your friends!

Best wishes,
Kergan

 

The Stepping Stone

LOOKING AT HIS PALE, THIN TORSO lit by the unforgiving fluorescent, Gerald frowned.  His brittle arms hung limply at his sides and his sharply drawn face seemed composed only of triangles.  In all, there was something about his naked physique that reminded him of a plucked turkey.  Turning sideways, his gut jutted forth insistently, and it was clear to Gerald that his mother’s plan was succeeding.

Lolly had been clear from the beginning: she saw no career prospects for her son, given his interests in Star Wars, Star Trek, comic books, Japanese anime, and precious little else.  She could see no path forward for him, other than one she herself orchestrated.  While Gerald generally agreed that he lacked social graces and professional skills, having long been below average in all respects, there was something about his mother’s machinations that reminded him of Jabba the Hut.  And when Gerald really thought about it, the similarities didn’t end there.

His mother had always been corpulent, and her lumbering appearance at school events had filled him with shame ever since he could remember.  But, while embarrassed by her size, it was her demeanor that irked him most.  Lolly lacked faith in him, and in all of humanity, both of which she found continually disappointing.

Still, when she first learned that the mall was hiring, Gerald had been optimistic.  It was a stepping stone, she’d said, surely to lead to bigger and better things.  And, the first season in the role, he allowed himself to believe it.  It would be dealing with the public, challenging and improving his skills, but with a level of remove the costume allowed.  And it would be easy, he figured, to simply sit in a chair and wave.  But being the Easter Bunny turned out to be more difficult and less entertaining than he’d anticipated.

He was not allowed to hop out to his throne in the photo area; it was mandated that he walk, his hand held firmly by any of one of the part-time girls unattractive enough to have been denied employment by the mall’s hundred or so fashionable retail establishments.  Hopping had been deemed an insurance liability as well.  There was also an underlying fear that, mid-jump, he might somehow trip, sending his gigantic head rolling off and scaring the waiting line of children, which apparently had happened before.

In truth, there was never much of a line and it was easy for Gerald to see why.  The feeble Easter Bunny offerings could in no way match that of Santa Claus.  Kids looked forward to seeing Santa, to impart their holiday wishes, ask questions, or simply to get their annual photo taken.  With the Easter Bunny, the children generally didn’t have anything to say.  They’d sit, dutifully, and smile, but Gerald never received anything like “Hey, Easter Bunny, what are you gonna bring me this year?” as all knew the answer was “Eggs.”  Not much mystery or surprise.  At most, Gerald would get an “Aww, you’re so cute!,” to which he’d nod or pat the kid’s shoulder. 

Not that he could have responded any other way.  Unlike Santa, Gerald wasn’t allowed to speak.  Whereas the voice of Santa could be replicated, with his bellowing “ho-ho-ho’s,” no one quite knew what the Easter Bunny sounded like, and management was against the idea of Gerald talking, no matter how many different character voices he auditioned for them.

The biggest difference between the roles was that, with Santa Claus, the essence of the person playing the part still came through, despite the beard, padding, and round glasses.  Much could be communicated by the way the actor moved, spoke, laughed, raised his eyebrows, or smiled, whereas Gerald was saddled with a wire-framed helmet, through which he could see dimly through the darkened eye screens, the only light coming from its nostril holes.  It was easy to get depressed in the suit, which tended to accentuate his ongoing feelings of inadequacy.

After only a few hours on the job, Gerald’s hope that this would become, as Lolly said, a “stepping stone” was pretty much dashed.  He’d already been thrown up on—twice—and watched as a young girl ate her own boogers.  Still, Lolly was hopeful.

“It’s the first day,” she’d said.  “It’ll get better—mark my words.  Pretty soon you’ll own that mall.”

While Gerald knew this would not be the case, there was little else he could do but trudge on.  He made it through that season, and the next, and the next, until he had three seasons of Easter under his belt, which was beginning to feel increasingly tight.  Lolly had begun to fatten him up to better his chances of becoming Santa Claus.  Though still too young for the role, Gerald merely shrugged.  It did no good to argue with her.  Lolly had found him his first and only job thus far, which was much better than his own track record. 

The problem was, there wasn’t much he liked to do.  Add that to his few admirable qualities and even fewer skills, and about the only work for which he qualified was janitorial in nature, which simply would not do for Lolly.  She did, as she liked to say, “have standards.”  And so she continued to support her son, from one spring to the next, plying him with rich, fatty foods, in preparation for phase two of her plan. 

While Gerald didn’t especially want to be fat, he didn’t feel as if he had much choice.  After all, becoming Santa as well would mean that instead of being employed for only three weeks a year, he could add on an additional six.  To keep both jobs, though, the trick would be to become large enough for Santa, but still thin enough to be the Easter Bunny.  It was odd, really, because when Gerald thought about bunnies, they all came with a full, rounded silhouette.  The costume, however, was very trim, as if all rabbits were emaciated like Bugs Bunny.

And so he began his fourth spring season, thirty pounds heavier than his first, and found himself in the bleakly lit break room with its fidgety vending machine when Amy walked in.  She eyed him suspiciously, standing there in his rabbit suit, holding his head with one hand and a Snickers bar in the other.

“Nice,” she pronounced, but there was something about the way she stretched out the word, her voice arching high on the “I,” that made Gerald certain she hadn’t meant it as friendly.  Still, he couldn’t help but notice how smooth her skin looked, or the bewitching green of her eyes, or the wink she gave him as she headed into the women’s locker room.  Smiling to himself, he put his bunny head back on and hopped out to the photo area, management be damned.

It was a week before he next saw her, heading for the food court in her red, blue and yellow Hot Dog on a Stick uniform.  At least we have that in common, he thought.  Ugly costumes.

From talking to Jose, the counter help at Sbarro, he quickly learned her name—Amy, that she was five years younger—a senior in high school, and that she only worked weekends.  Which meant, as Easter was quickly approaching, Gerald had only one more weekend to make an impact—or at least a more positive impression than his first.

 

Gerald knew better than to share anything about Amy with Lolly, as she would poo-poo any prospect of love.  From his earliest years, he could remember her words and sayings hanging over him, slightly dampening his heart.  Yet she always delivered them as if she were being helpful, with the two of them co-conspirators of some sort.

“You know, love, that math isn’t your best subject!  Or science.  Or—.  Hmm…  Well, gee!  Guess you can’t have everything!”

 “It’s you and me, kid, til the day we die,” she’d grin.  “Who else would have us, right?”

“Lord knows you didn’t inherit my smarts, but I’m sure God gave you something!  It’s our job to figure out what.”

“It’s terrible, really, the way your face turned out, but you’ll grow into your looks, some day,” she’d chuckle.  “That’s what prayer is for!”

It was as if, with every remark, she was giving both smile and slap.  It was odd, really, to live with someone, to have been born of them, to have someone so close, and yet feel as if they hated you.  Lolly was never out rightly mean; instead, she coated each bullet with a titter, as if she didn’t mean it.  Still, Gerald felt certain that she did.

Before meeting Amy, he thought this was to be his destiny: Lolly, the occasional job, and his bedroom, where he ate, read, slept, and stayed.  Stepping out from his room was reserved only for bathroom breaks or a quick dart to the kitchen or front door.  He rarely engaged Lolly, though she would go to great lengths to zero in on him.  She was constantly offering food, or a bit of news, or the offer of a backrub.  But as time went on, Gerald, who had once acquiesced to her every request, found himself saying no much more often.

And Lolly noticed.

 

The next Saturday, Gerald arrived at the mall at 8:00 A.M., though Amy didn’t usually get there until 9:30.  He wanted to ensure that there was no possibility of missing her, and so he sat in his car, near the entrance, binoculars at his side. 

Conscious of his previous attire, Gerald had taken great pains in his appearance.  He’d woken, in the middle of the night, to clandestinely iron one of his few clean button-down shirts.  After returning to a fitful sleep, he envisioned several different scenarios in which he’d best connect with Amy, but none felt exactly right.  Finally, at 7:00 A.M., he showered, shaved, put on after-shave, and even did 10 push-ups, which felt a little bit like victory.  He did all of this quietly, in order not to wake his mother.  He had no idea that Lolly had lain rigid, eyes open, staring at the ceiling, listening to every creak and moan the old house made.  He couldn’t fool her, for Lolly was a sly one.

Once she’d noticed the change in his demeanor, she immediately took to root out its cause.  It bothered her to no end that Gerald had changed—or rather—that something out of her control was changing him, leaving her in the cold.  She had a right to know what was happening, she reasoned, and one morning waited, until he’d left for work, to strike.

Peering out the window, she watched as his taillights disappeared, then quickly headed into the kitchen.  Pulling open the door to the laundry room, she rummaged about, reemerging with a pair of rubber cleaning gloves.  Slipping them on, she tiptoed to Gerald’s door, though there was no reason to do so. 

Inside, the air of the room was sour, and the scent of something strong—was it pizza?—filled the air.  Resisting the urge to open the window, Lolly surveyed Gerald’s room.  It was just as she’d expected: clothes, shoes, and silly comic books strewn about the floor, his trashcan overflowing with crumpled papers and soda cans, and a thin layer of dust coating the dresser and TV set.  Again resisting the urge, this time to clean, Lolly skillfully stepped through the mess, careful not to disturb a thing. 

Quietly, she opened each dresser drawer, lifting the clothes and searching with her fingers, like a sieve combing through sand.  Aside from some loose change and three dog-eared Playboy magazines, the dresser had been a bust.

Crossing to the closet, Lolly slowly pulled out the hinged shutters, fearing God-knows-what could suddenly come tumbling forth.  But the closet was relatively bare.  It seemed that most everything previously contained within currently blanketed the carpet, creating a patchwork quilt of clothing.  Rifling through the few shoe boxes on the top shelves, Lolly was disappointed to find nothing but shoes.  She felt through pants and jacket pockets, picked up and examined every t-shirt, sniffing each, hoping to detect a lingering scent, until she picked up a hand-towel which she was fairly certain had been abused.

Her hunt seemed to be in vain until, underneath the bed, Lolly finally struck gold.  She discovered several spiral notebooks, bound together with thick rubber bands.  Gerald had never been a particularly good student, so it wasn’t likely that he’d saved homework. 

Pulling out one from the bottom, she opened it, and was astonished to find herself facing one of the most beautiful pencil drawings she’d ever seen.  She wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, but it looked quite futuristic in nature.  Some kind of unique creature; half-animal, half-human.  But what really took her breath away was how life-like it was.  Staring into its eyes, Lolly almost felt threatened, as if this beast could leap from the page, taking her down in one swoop.

Flipping through the binders, she found more and more images.  Some were just quick sketches, but others were so detailed they could have been hung in a museum.  Certain pages, Lolly averted her eyes, as there were drawings of enlarged genitalia, of both genders, with people and creatures involved in all manner of unspeakable activity.  And yet, mixed between the filth were pages of unfathomable beauty: lush gardens, with flowers, and magnificent structures.  Imperial kings and monsters of every kind.  One sketch, of an old and large woman, staring directly at the viewer, giving them the finger, even looked suspiciously like Lolly.

She pored through each, mystified that these had been crafted by her son.  How could Gerald be the source for both such splendor and depravity?  He’d never shown the slightest proclivity toward art, nor any other form of creativity for that matter.  And, even if these were his creations, why had he kept them hidden?  It would have saved me years of worrying, Lolly admitted to herself.  He actually has a marketable skill, after all.  Just think of the money we could make!

Lolly put such thoughts aside, as tailoring a career plan for Gerald would have to wait.  Knowing now just how much he had kept hidden, Lolly was determined to discover the source of his sudden and unwelcome happiness.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want him to be happy, exactly, but she wanted to be the inspiration for such happiness.  It was disquieting to think that someone or something had found a way to intervene, allowing a sinister cloud to hover above their previously happy existence.

Picking up the final spiral, Lolly immediately soured.  Drawn on the front was an elaborate heart, out of which poured music notes, hot dogs—even a bunny.  She was very confused, for Gerald had never been the sentimental type.  The matter became clear when she saw what was inside.  Page after page of a woman—the same woman.  Or girl.  Lolly wasn’t quite sure.  The image was youthful, but there was something stylized about the way she’d been drawn that made her feel a little too coquettish; indeed, she looked more than a bit slutty.  While some poses were simple and casual, in others she was dressed in what looked like leather, or with devil ears, or bearing a whip.  In one, she was doing something awful with a corndog.

Lolly put down the books with a sigh.  She’d known that this day would come, eventually, but that didn’t mean she liked it.  After all, most girls were irritating and Lolly knew Gerald wasn’t bright or interesting enough to keep their focus for long.  But this one—Gerald was clearly transfixed and it would have to be dealt with.

Restacking the notebooks in the order in which they’d been found, Lolly bound them.  Surveying the room, which looked just as it had when she’d entered, Lolly felt confident her intrusion would not be noticed and quickly scurried out to begin crafting a plan of her own.

As he sat in his car, waiting for Amy, Gerald knew none of this.  He was so focused on the employee entrance, not wanting to miss his beloved, that he never saw his mother’s battered Oldsmobile enter the lot and park on the periphery, some distance away.

 

It was nearing 9:30 A.M., when both he and Amy were expected, but she still hadn’t shown.  Gerald felt a growing sense that something was wrong, that she wasn’t coming.  And so it was with relief that he suddenly spotted her, pulling her silver Hyundai into a shaded spot and installing her car sunblock above the dash.  He noticed her checking her makeup, and as she pulled out lipstick, carefully applying it to her puckered mouth, Gerald couldn’t help but wish that the tube were him.  As she stepped from her car, Gerald did the same.  He was hoping to make their meeting look casual, sauntering toward the entrance as nonchalantly as he could.  As they got closer, someone behind called out “McAllister!” and Gerald felt a firm hand clamp down upon his shoulder.

 “Saw you coming in—cutting it a bit late, are we?” Tony grinned as Gerald turned toward him. While irritated at having his plan interrupted, he was also nervous to see his boss as the cause.  They rarely spoke and when they did it was usually because Gerald had done something wrong.

“Aww—I still have plenty of time,” Gerald whined.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Amy enter the break room and tried to steer Tony toward it.  “The costume doesn’t take that long.”

“I’m just joshin’ you, McAllister,” snorted Tony.  “Relax!”

“Yeah,” attempted Gerald, “I knew that.”  He stared toward the break room, knowing it held both Amy and the entrances to the locker rooms.  In one, Amy would be changing, and he should be in the other.  He glanced at the clock behind Tony, wishing he’d get to the point.

Seeing his eyes dart to the time, Tony turned to him.  “Forget about the kids, McAllister.  Who cares if the Easter Bunny is a little late?  It gives their folks more time to shop!” he laughed, though he wasn’t remotely funny.

Gerald smiled, because he knew he should, and waited.

“What I’m thinking, kid, what I wanted to talk to you about, is Christmas.”  Gerald stood, nodding, as he counted the minutes ticking by.  Amy needed to be at the food court soon, leaving him little time to act.  “I know you wanna be Santa,” Tony continued.  “You’ve made that clear from day one.  And I gotta admit, I thought it would be years before you’d be ready.  But you’ve impressed me, truly.  The skills you’ve brought to the Easter Bunny…”  Gerald had no idea what Tony was talking about.  Skill?  He sat there, dead as a doornail, and sometimes waved.  “And all of those funny voices you’ve done for us—Wow.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ferraro,” Gerald said, nonetheless.  “I’m glad you’re pleased.”

“And skinny!  Boy, when you first walked through the door, I thought, no way!  Unh huh—No Santa for McAllister.  But today…” With a smile, Tony gestured, as if Gerald’s belly had won an award.  “Just look at you!”

Gerald tried to smile.  This was what he’d wanted, after all.  What he’d worked for.  And here it was, being offered to him on a silver platter.  Lolly would be so pleased.  Then it hit him.  None of this had been what he wanted.  This dream had been Lolly’s, right from the start.  Even as he shook Tony’s hand and headed toward the break room, he felt his stomach turn.  While Gerald had no grand vision for himself, nor any idea of what he wanted to be doing, fattening himself up just to be Santa Claus was not it. 

Amy stepped from the women’s locker room, bobby-pinning her hat, and almost collided with him.

“Sorry!” she squeaked.  “My bad!” 

Gerald stopped her.  “Wait!”

She looked at him square on, expectantly.  While Gerald may not have known what he wanted to do with his life, it was clear, as he looked at her, that he wanted Amy.

“I’m Gerald,” he managed.

“Yeah, I know.” she said, smiling.  “The Easter Bunny, right?” Amy laughed, connecting the dots. 

“Yes,” Gerald said, ducking his head.  He wasn’t certain if her laugh was playful or mocking, but either way, he liked the sound of it.

“Wow—that means you only have one more week’s worth of work, huh?”

“Yep,” he nodded.  “And you only work weekends?”

“If it were up to me, I’d work every day.  I love it,” she smiled.  “But my parents—well, they’re strict about a work/life balance and homework and shit.”  Even the way she said “shit” Gerald found appealing.

“Could—um?” Gerald stuttered, trying to find the words to ask her out.

Amy glanced at the clock and Gerald knew his moment was passing.  “Would you like to go out with me?” he asked.

She looked at him, surprised, and was about to respond when a call rang out.

“Yoo-hoo, hon!”  Gerald spun about, to see Lolly standing behind, bagged lunch held high.  “You forgot something!”

Incensed, Gerald stepped toward Lolly, only to see Amy shrug and grin, darting off toward her job with a wave.  Lolly had ruined his moment.

“What are you doing here, Mom?” he mumbled crossly, attempting to remain calm.

“I just thought you’d be hungry,” she smiled sweetly, swinging the bag in front of him. 

“You know I don’t bring my lunch!” He could feel heat rising from his skin, his face flushing in anger.

“That was before your big promotion,” Lolly laughed, gaily.  “Only a few more months before your debut!”

“How—?”  Gerald’s confusion quickly cleared as he put the pieces together.  Lolly had engineered his first job and would engineer his last.

Abruptly turning on his heels, Gerald walked away, slamming the men’s door behind him.

For a moment, Gerald waited, half expecting his mother to follow.  Catching his breath, he could not believe what a dunce he’d been.  All these years, he’d followed his mother’s orders, her every wish, simply to make her happy.  What about his own happiness?  Had he ever had it?  Or had Lolly snuffed it out, like a candle flame between two fingers?

Gathering himself, he quickly dressed, determined to be the best damn Bunny imaginable.  Lolly may have gotten him the job, and even orchestrated the promotion, but Gerald alone could create success or failure.  He had that in his power, and he knew he had something to prove: to Lolly, to Amy, and, most of all, to himself.

 

Later that night, Gerald opened the front door as quietly as he could.  Peering into the living room, he saw that all lights were on, which was odd, but the house felt quiet. Seeing lights on in the kitchen as well, Gerald silently crossed toward it.  Stepping in, he found Lolly, dressed nicely, sitting at a set table.  She’d used the nice silver and even opened a bottle of wine, though she never drank.  She hadn’t heard him come in, but looked up, noticing him, and smiled.

“There you are!” she tottered, as if they hadn’t experienced anything out of the norm.

Gerald stood, staring at her.  This is the woman who has made my life miserable, he thought.  My mother.  My only living relative.  And all she wants is for me to be unhappy.

Something on his face must have registered with Lolly, as she immediately changed tact.

“I was only trying to help, dear,” she admitted.  “You would’ve never gotten that job without a little nudging.  I was hoping we could celebrate!”

He stood, stalk-still, and his silence—his strength—scared her.

“Was I wrong to do that?” Lolly asked, confused that her efforts had not been inspiring.  He should be grateful, she figured.

Gerald simply turned, leaving his mother alone at her table, and went into his room, closing the door firmly behind.

Lolly sat, her blood beginning to boil.  She’d been directly and resolutely shut out by her child, for whom she’d done everything.  Who was this harlot who had him so smitten?  How could she have so quickly enraptured him, leading him to rebuke his own mother?  She must be dealt with—that much seemed clear.  The question was, how?

 

Gerald was up half the night, determining how best to proceed, and had come up with a plan.  It was simple, clean, and seemed foolproof.  He packed up some clothes, toiletries, and the money he’d hoarded from his annual job, which turned out to be quite a lot, as Lolly had always paid for everything.  But he knew he couldn’t count on that anymore, and wouldn’t have wanted to anyway.

Creeping outside at 3:00 A.M., he put the things into his trunk, closing it as quietly as he could.  Looking up toward the house, he saw a curtain shift, ever so slightly, and knew he was being watched.

More determined than ever, he walked back inside, calmly turned off his light, and went to bed.

 

The next morning, Gerald awoke with a start to realize he’d overslept.  After a speed shower, he was off, leaving Lolly and house receding in his rearview mirror.  Just a few minutes later, however, Lolly herself emerged from the house, and the look on her face was one that would’ve scared a cat.  Checking her rather large bag, which matched her outfit perfectly, she patted something within with what looked almost like affection.

Pulling into the mall lot, Gerald saw that Amy’s car was already parked, sunblock up as usual, and knew he wouldn’t have much time before her shift began.  Running inside, he took great care with the wrapped package tucked under arm, as if it were fragile as glass.  But Amy was already at work, leaving Gerald’s only option to intersect her on break.  He placed the package carefully in his locker, dressed, and began his trek out to the photo area.  He didn’t see Lolly, sitting some distance away, obscured by a rather large sunhat and dark glasses.  But she saw him.

 

The line that day seemed endless; partly due to the encroaching holiday and partly as Gerald’s thoughts never really left Amy.  While in his mind he saw them together forever, what he really wanted, more than anything, was a date.  A simple meal or coffee at which they could talk, shedding ridiculous costumes, work, and problems far behind.  After all, he wasn’t even sure if they were, in fact, like-minded.  For example, what kind of music did she listen to?  While he had a hard time envisioning her singing along to pop, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility either.  She could be into rock, or emo, or even blues, for all he knew.  There was an element of retro about her, which led him to believe her musical tastes would somehow surprise, but until they talked, face-to-face, he couldn’t know for sure.

Gerald had never experienced the slightest discomfort wearing the bunny suit, but today he did.  It was itching and constricting, and he couldn’t wait to get out of it.  He realized that was the same feeling that he’d felt that morning, just before leaving Lolly’s.  He’d been trapped, all these years, lulled into obedience, but the simple idea that something more was possible gave him hope, fueling his desire to smash the chains and, once and for all, set himself free.

At break time, Gerald quickly shed his skin, neglecting his meal, and ran to the food court, package carefully tucked under arm.  It was peak time for lunch, but Gerald knew this was his only chance.  It was now or never. 

Lolly was there as well, eyeing him over a magazine, from which her dark round sunglasses protruded, accentuating her mammalian features.  She watched as he approached Hot Dog on a Stick and noted how nervous he was.  Gerald eyed the long line, then tried to catch Amy’s eye, but she and her co-worker were oblivious.  Lolly saw him circle about the stand, trying to find a way to make contact, before glancing to the clock hanging inside.  He had little time to make his move and Lolly noted confidently that he would likely choke, simple as that, relieving her of the need to intervene.

Knowing his time was limited, Gerald was undeterred, and shoved his way past the line of people.

“Hey!” someone shouted.  “We’ve been waiting!”

Gerald ignored the man, instead calling out, “Amy!”  Startled, she turned, almost spilling the lemonade she’d been filling. 

“What are you doing here?” she hissed.  “I could get fired!”

He shook his head, as if he knew better.  “I just need a minute.  Please!”

Amy exchanged glances and shrugs with the other counter girl, then motioned.  “Go down the hall.  First door on your left.”  He virtually ran to it, waiting for her to unlock it from within.  The minute she opened it, he stepped in, shutting it behind.

They stood for a moment, neither quite sure where this was going.  The kitchen area was warm, and the din of the crowd just on the other side could still be heard, making their already urgent moment even more urgent.

“Yes…?” she led.  “What was so important?”

“I—You’re only here today.  Then you’re not back until next weekend, and I’ll be gone,” he noted insistently.

“Okay.  So?”

He sighed.  She wasn’t making this easy.  But then he realized his conversations with her had always been, until now, in his head.  She wasn’t privy to his thoughts and how most revolved around her.  She didn’t know that he had his car packed up—ready to go where, he wasn’t quite clear.  But he knew he had to tell her.

“I—I think I’m—” he stuttered.

“I have to get back to work,” she urged.

Gerald couldn’t think of the right words to say.  It seemed a lifetime with Lolly had drained his every ounce of courage.  Instead of talking, he thrust the package he’d been holding awkwardly into her hands.

“A present?” she managed.  “Whatever for?”

“Just open it,” Gerald managed, conscious that time was ticking quickly past.

Amy unwrapped it, revealing a beautiful portfolio.  “But—”

He motioned for her to continue.  Unlatching the clasp, she began looking through the pages, at the pictures of her, each more unique than the last.

“I—Is this me?” Amy was in awe.  No one had ever done anything like it.  There were drawings of her on horseback, as a warrior, fairy, dancer, and more, all in fantastically ornate settings.  She motioned to one.  “Is that me as Princess Naboo?”

Gerald was amazed that she knew his favorite Star Wars character.  “Yes,” he smiled.  “Do—do you like it?”

She couldn’t even respond.  It seemed overwhelming.  Here he’d been, in the same mall, watching her, and yet she had barely noticed him.  It was a lovely gesture and there was something about his timidity and artistry that made her want to know him better.  She looked up into his eyes and what she saw there startled her: if you could envision him without the extra weight, he was actually quite handsome.

Reaching up, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.  “Can we meet for dinner tomorrow?  My treat!”

Gerald could barely believe his good fortune.  “I—uh—Sure!” he smiled.

She turned, stashing the portfolio on the supply rack.  “Sorry to art and run, but I need to get back!”

He nodded, realizing that he was already late for his post.  Turning, he left, back out the hallway to the food court.  Both he and Amy emerged, only to face Lolly, hat and glasses off.  She stood next to the waiting line of customers, and spoke, addressing both them and the line.

“Here they are!” she bellowed.  “My son—and his harlot…”

No one knew just quite to make of her, but Gerald felt himself sinking within.  He had no idea what she was up to, but he knew Amy would likely not be interested in someone with a mother such as his.  He tried to stop her.

“Mother…” he hissed.

Lolly ignored him, instead approaching the counter and leaning in toward Amy, who was trying her best to ignore her and focus on her waiting customer.

“Sweet talk you, did he?” Lolly grinned.  “Show you his drawings?”  Though talking amiably and quietly, there was nothing remotely charming about Lolly.  “Pretty, aren’t they?  You probably felt all special, knowing of his little crush on you.”

Amy turned to her customer.  “Just the lemonade?”  Instead of answering, the customer took a good look at Lolly and backed quickly away.  Amy turned, to see what had repelled her customer, only to find herself staring at a large drawing of herself, doing intimate things with a corndog.

“Oh my God—”

Lolly laughed, turning about so that everyone around her could see the picture, which she’d had enlarged.  She nodded toward Gerald, “He seems so innocent, doesn’t he?  All doe-eyed and sad.  Pathetic really.  Still, I could see how you might feel sorry for him.  Bet you’d even date him, huh?  Except for this.”

She continued to display the image and was gathering quite a crowd.  Amy whispered to her co-worker, “Get security.” 

Gerald stood, somewhat helpless.  His every hope, his window of freedom, seemed to be closing.  And it was all his doing.  He’d allowed his desire for Amy to morph into a weapon, designed solely for him.

“You’re crazy, Mother.”  The words came so quietly, they were almost inaudible.  But Lolly heard them.  She turned, quite quickly.

“Come with me.  We’re going home.”

“No, we’re not,” he replied, as calmly as he could.  “I’m not going with you.  I am not coming home.  Ever again.”

The words were like shrapnel and the cry Lolly uttered as she sunk to her knees filled the food court, echoing out in ripples.  Falling down, sobs wracked her large frame, but no one made a move to help her.

Gerald looked to his mother, then to Amy.  Amy’s eyes were on his, locked, and he nodded to her.  “How about we make that date right now instead?”

Nodding, Amy backed into the kitchen area, reemerging from the hallway with the portfolio in hand.  Lolly had repulsed her, but there was something about the way Gerald responded that made Amy think there might be more to him than she’d imagined.  He’d been chivalrous and kind, and that strength needed to be rewarded.  Besides, even if Lolly had meant to scare her with that erotic drawing, it only served to make Gerald infinitely more intriguing. 

Lolly looked up, her face streaked with tears and makeup, just as Amy reached out, taking Gerald’s hand.  They walked away, never looking back.  The job she’d envisioned as a stepping stone had indeed been just that, but instead of bringing her and Gerald even closer, it had proven a toe-hold to a path that would only take him further and further away. 

Pulling herself up from the ground, she glanced around at all of the people staring.  She had no idea what to do or where to go. 

With a resigned sigh, she turned back to the abandoned counter girl.  “Gimme a corndog.”  And she was given one, immediately.  On the house.

Gifts Not Yet Given is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.


Thanks to Author Carey Parrish for His Lovely Review of GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN!

Gifts Cover Low Res (427x640)I so appreciate the lovely review of Gifts Not Yet Given at Sole Focus. Carey Parrish is a talented author (Marengo and Big Business) whose books I’ve enjoyed and I was delighted to read his review of my new book. In part, his review reads:

Very few writers can touch a reader’s heart but Kergan Edwards-Stout knows how to do just that. Gifts Not Yet Given easily jumped onto my top ten books read in the past year and it will remain a favored selection in my library. With so many writers competing in the literary world today, it takes a true author to rise above the pack, and Mr. Edwards-Stout is one of those few gifted storytellers.

His full review can be found here.  Thank you, Carey!


GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN Lands on a “Best Books of the Year” List!

Gifts Not Yet GivenHow could my day possibly get any better??? Well, by finding out that my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, made a “Best LGBTQ Books of the Year” list! WOO HOO!

“Edwards-Stout writes beautifully, and the stories are charming and uplifting.”

Thank you, Queer Books with Julie!


Bay Area Reporter Includes GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN on “Hot Reads for Cold Months” List!

Thanks to the Bay Area Reporter for mentioning Gifts Not Yet Given on their “Hot Reads for Cold Months” list! Much appreciated!

Perfectly timed for the season, Gifts Not Yet Given (Circumspect Press, $15.99) by Kergan Edwards-Stout is a collection of 14 tales of the holidays. Among the stories, you will find a few set at Christmas, including “The Nutcracker,” “The Fourth Christmas,” “The Cape” and “A Doris Day Christmas.”

Thank you!


Out in Print: Great Review of GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN

I’m very grateful for the wonderful review of my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, by Out in Print (which was a champion of my first book, Songs for the New Depression, naming it one of 2012’s best books.)

“He’s at his best when he’s sharp and cutting, riding the edge to undercut the sweetness or the sadness, depending on how its played. That’s a combination that really works for him, and he manages to hit it more often than not.

He hits it hard in the opener, “The Nutcracker,” a biting piece about corporate ball-buster Sheila, whose mask of invulnerability drops when she receives the titular souvenir as a gag gift at the office Christmas party. The story is witty, observant, and altogether successful in its portrayal of office manners as well as career goals, and even though Sheila is easy to hate, she becomes a sympathetic figure by the end. This is the kind of story Edwards-Stout tells very, very well…

Not all of these stories are about gay men or women, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this fine volume of well-written pieces, most of which are powerful and emotional without the taint of cheap sentimentality that the holidays usually induce.”

Gifts Not Yet Given is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers!


The Bookworm Sez: “The Perfect Book to Give This Holiday Season”

Gifts Not Yet GivenThanks so much to Terri Schlichenmeyer who includes Gifts Not Yet Given in her nationally syndicated column, The Bookworm Sez, on her list of “The Perfect Books to Give Everyone This Holiday Season.”  She notes:

For the person on your list who loves the holidays — all holidays — wrap up “Gifts Not Yet Given and Other Tales of the Holidays” by Kergan Edwards-Stout. It’s a collection of short stories about the holidays we hold dear and the ways we keep them.

I also got a very sweet note today from a reader who just finished reading Gifts Not Yet Given and wanted an autographed copy to send her mother:

I just finished your book… And I loved it.  Imaginative stories that touched and uplifted the heart… Well-crafted  and colorful characters with rich inner lives.  What a wonderful writer you are!

I’m happy to send autographed copies of the book to those interested. Heck, if you want to send to someone as a gift, I’m happy to gift-wrap it and include a note from you as well! Just send me an email and we can coordinate payment and shipping.  Happy holidays!


Kirkus Reviews on “Gifts Not Yet Given”

KirkusLogoHiResI’m grateful for the review of my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, by Kirkus Reviews (“The World’s Toughest Book Critics).

“In 14 stories, Edwards-Stout assumes an impressive range of voices… This willingness to step inside the minds of such disparate, often nonmainstream characters hints at Edwards-Stout’s confidence as a writer and his broad life experiences. Edwards-Stout’s stories are original and important… provocative stories with a clear, vital message.” Kirkus Reviews

Available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers!


Thanks to Alina Oswald for the fun interview on my new book!

Alina OswaldI very much appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with photographer/author/activist Alina Oswald, whom I first met at the NYC Rainbow Book Fair in 2012.  She graciously interviewed me for her blog, which you can find here.

Here is an excerpt:

So, are any of the stories inspired by actual events? They capture everyday life with such finesse, readers may forget the tales are fiction and feel they are reading about their own lives.

Some were definitely inspired by real life.  As you know, my debut novel was loosely based on a partner who died from AIDS in 1995, and there is a story in the collection which was inspired by his final days in the hospital.  And even the stories which are completely fictional have some personal impetus, as they burst out from my creative conscience, and largely fall in line with my world views.  Many are about being respectful of each other, being authentic to who we are, showing compassion, and the importance of discovering and claiming our own unique place in the world.

What would you like readers to take from Gifts Not Yet Given?

My hope is that readers will find themselves touched by the characters…  They are a varied bunch, from young to old, gay and straight, of different religions and ethnicities, but emotionally we are all the same, driven by the same desires and needs.  I hope people connect to our shared humanity.

Check out the full interview here.  Thanks, Alina!


My Interview on GaySoulCast with Lichen Craig

FiresideI so appreciated the time author Lichen Craig took to chat with me about both my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, and Songs for the New Depression as well. She had some great questions ready for me and the conversation flew by!

We barely got through a fraction of what she’d prepared and it sounds like I’ll be back for other chats with her in the future.  You can listen to the interview here and I look forward to our next exchange.  Lichen Craig can be found via her website, Twitter, and Facebook, and her debut novel, Gentlemen’s Game, can be found on Amazon and online booksellers everywhere!  Thanks, Lichen!


Thanks to Band of Thebes for the Shout-Out!

Band of ThebesMy sincere thanks to Stephen Bottum and his Band of Thebes website for giving my new book such a lovely mention. His is the “go to” blog for folks interested in literary fiction, particularly with an LGBT focus. His annual year-end survey of LGBT authors’ favorite reads of the year helps inform my book selection and his support of the literary field is to be admired.

You can read his mention here!  Thank you, Stephen!


To Celebrate the Release of Gifts Not Yet Given

…GoodReads is offering a giveaway of my first book, Songs for the New Depression, which recently garnered a starred review from Library Journal.  They’ve got five signed copies, so enter to win today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Songs for the New Depression

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Giveaway ends October 31, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 


Robert Michael Morris on “Gifts Not Yet Given”

The ComebackRuss and I were first introduced to Robert Michael Morris, like most of America, through the hysterical (and too-short-lived) series, The Comeback.  On it, he played Mickey, Lisa Kudrow’s hairstylist, and he delivered lines and wonderful reactions like nobody’s business!

What most people don’t realize is that, in addition to being a sought-after actor, he is also an accomplished author and playwright.

He read my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, and gave me a lovely quote:

“Kergan Edwards-Stout’s new book, a collection of thematic short stories, is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get. And that is delicious. The short story form is a delicate blend of trenchant dialogue, brisk character sketches and local color, and here they are all totally satisfying. What I love about short stories is that I always want a bit more, a tidier resolution, and I am a sucker for a happy ending. Mr. Edwards-Stout has mastered this form, titillating, plucking the heart strings and most often causing a smile of recognition. Some stories already portend a lengthier treatment, a novella perhaps. He touches our common humanity and amazes with his insight. The little collection is a Gift Already Given: a gift of delight and sweet humanity.” – Robert Michael Morris, actor – The Comeback, Running Wilde, and author – An American Scrapbook


First Review: “Gifts Not Yet Given”

Gifts Not Yet GivenMy sincere thanks to veteran reviewer Amos Lassen, who has been a wonderful supporter of the arts–particularly LGBT-related work–for his very kind review of my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given. He’d reviewed Songs for the New Depression and had liked it, but I was blown away, and so humbled to read in his new review, that Songs was “one of the highlights of my literary life.”  WOW.  He goes on to write:

“Kergan Edwards-Stout impressed me greatly with his first book, Songs for the New Depression and he gave himself quite a task for measuring his work that was yet to come. I am glad to say that this book not only lives up to my expectations, it surpasses them… What I found to be so amazing in this book is that the author’s personal stories became my personal stories as well and to me this attests to the universality of man. It is almost as if he wrote some of these stories directly to me. I knew from the moment that I read the preface that I would be in for a special treat reading these stories but I did not know that they would affect me the way that they did. To me, a sign of good, or even great, literature is when the writing speaks to you. This is what Edwards-Stout is so good at. He not only writes each story as if he is writing just to you, he has each story pull you into it. You are not just a reader—you are also a participant. Several times I had to stop reading to make sure that I was indeed reading something written on a page and not being acted out before my eyes.

There is something else this writer does that is stunning—he is able to mix love and compassion with anger and rage and he has us laughing and crying in the same story and sometimes in the same sentence. He writes of love in a way that is self-defining and makes you never again question what it is.”

Mr. Lassen goes on to write a generous review of Gifts Not Yet Given, which you can read in full here.  My heart is full.  Thank you!


Goodreads Giveaway: Gifts Not Yet Given – 10 Paperbacks!

My thanks to all for your support of my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, which debuts next month!  For the next 30 days, enter at Goodreads to win one of 10 author-signed paperbacks.  This new title is perfect for holiday reading and giving, so enter today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Gifts Not Yet Given by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Gifts Not Yet Given

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Giveaway ends October 15, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 


Book Launch Celebration & Signing: November 15th @ Eikon Home

Gift Launch Event

Join award-winning author Kergan Edwards-Stout as he celebrates the launch of his new collection of holiday-themed short stories at the wonderful Eikon Home & Gift in Old Town Orange. Mix and mingle among the singular gift items, get your copy of Gifts Not Yet Given signed, and enjoy wine and snacks while you shop. It’s a great way to usher in the holidays!  Check out the Facebook event page and share with your friends!

“Kergan Edwards-Stout’s stories are muscular, funny, sad and an antidote to holiday treacle, no matter the holiday. His writing is fueled by an original mix of compassion and rage. Several of the stories left me in tears, which certainly beats being left in tears by my own family at holiday time. Which means: he understands family, and the often crossed wires of family love. You will want to give his book as a gift.” – Richard Kramer, novelist, These Things Happen

EIKON

 

 

142 South Glassell Street
Orange California 92866

EIKON on Facebook Check out their Facebook
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www.eikonhome.com
essentials @ eikonhome.com
Tel. 714 744 3255
Fax. 714 744 3257


“Gifts Not Yet Given” First Wonderful Quote – from Richard Kramer, novelist “These Things Happen”

Richard KramerOne of the best books I’ve read this year has been the very funny and poetic These Things Happen, by novelist Richard Kramer. In my long-ago L.A. days, I was friendly with Richard and will always think fondly of him, our chats over coffee back when The Abbey was only a coffee house, and one particularly memorable evening involving Richard, Bernadette Peters, and some other dear friends, Dean Pitchford and Craig Zadan.

As a struggling actor trying to make it in Hollywood, I was awed by Richard’s enviable career trajectory as writer-director-producer on such shows as thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, and the Tales of the City miniseries, to name just a few. While his wit was well-known to me, what surprised me most about his debut novel was by how he managed to magically weave a tapestry from multiple characters and their varied points-of-view, highlighting the most central themes in one beautiful and climatic scene.

These Things HappenWhile he and I have largely lost touch, reconnecting only on Facebook, I was so moved by his book that I took a chance, asking him if he’d read my Gifts Not Yet Given.  He did and was generous enough to share the following quote.  I am in awe, and incredibly appreciative of his kind words:

“Kergan Edwards-Stout’s stories are muscular, funny, sad and an antidote to holiday treacle, no matter the holiday. His writing is fueled by an original mix of compassion and rage. Several of the stories left me in tears, which certainly beats being left in tears by my own family at holiday time. Which means: he understands family, and the often crossed wires of family love. You will want to give his book as a gift.” – Richard Kramer, novelist, These Things Happen

Gifts Not Yet Given will be released on October 15th on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and fine independent bookstores everywhere.  Goodreads and Deep Dish will be doing giveaways–more info coming soon!


Thanks to the Old Town Orange Plaza Review!

Orange Plaza ReviewI really appreciated the opportunity to be interviewed and photographed by the nice folks at Old Town Orange Plaza Review about my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, as well as my debut, Songs for the New Depression. It’s a fun local paper spotlighting those in our area, and it was great to have them include me!

Advance, author-signed copies of Gifts Not Yet Given will be available exclusively at Eikon Home & Gift in Orange starting September 10th. It’s a great shop filled with interesting objects for the home, and they’ll also be hosting a book signing in November, so stay tuned for details!


Wow! The Library Journal says that “Songs for the New Depression”…

LIbrary JournalI am so happy to find my debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, on this Library Journal list of 9 gay fiction reads, alongside one of my heroes, Trebor Healey and his A Horse Named Sorrow. Color me happy!

They write: “Edwards-Stout’s satiric wit belies a smoothly written, circumspect story.”

They also note a star next to the book, which is only on one other gay fiction book, John Boyne’s The Absolutist.  I have no idea what that star means, but I’ll take it!  🙂


Author Spotlight: Brian Centrone

Brian Centrone I had the pleasure of first meeting Brian Centrone last year at the Rainbow Book Fair in New York. We’d become virtual friends via Twitter, connecting through a group of writers who support each others’ work. Friendly and witty, I was interested in learning more Brian, and the publication of his new novel, An Ordinary Boy, proved just the opportunity.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Brian, it’s great to connect with you again, and congratulations on your new book! Your online bio is very charming and witty, but give me some of your back-story.

Thanks, Kergan. The bio on my website is an attempt to write about myself without having to write about myself in a formal manner. I grew up in the Bronx and attended Catholic school for 9 years. It was in the third grade that I caught the writing bug. The school was putting together their first ever creative writing journal and I was determined to get published in it. I told my teacher I wanted to write a novel and she corrected me by saying short story, but I was really talking about bigger dreams than just the school publication. My story did get published and I was over the moon. It wasn’t until years later that I realized they published every student who submitted work. My story was about three friends that received an apparition from the Virgin Mary and thus become priests and a nun. It’s God-awful, but it’s my very first publication, and it did fuel my desire to be a writer. I’ve been keeping that one a secret for years!

Aside from the nuns, what have been the most impactful moments in your own life, and how did those shape who you’ve become? (more…)


Congratulations, Trebor Healey!

Trebor HealeyA big “congrats” to Trebor Healey, who was awarded his SECOND Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley award for gay fiction for A Horse Named Sorrow. I had the pleasure of meeting Trebor at Palm Springs Pride last year and enjoyed chatting with him.  I went on to name his book my favorite of the year for Band of Thebes author survey, and also interviewed Trebor for Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.

Horse Named SorrowMuch deserved win.

Courtesy of Band of Thebes, here are all the winners:

Lots of repeat winners last night as Trebor Healey took his second Ferro-Grumley Award and former lifetime achievement winners Bechdel (2012) and Bram (2003) both won their nonfiction categories.

Lifetime achievement: John D’Emilio, author/co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture, and Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University.

The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction: A Horse Named Sorrow by Trebor Healey

Debut Fiction: Monstress: Stories by Lysley Tenorio

Lesbian Nonfiction: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Gay Nonfiction: Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram

Lesbian Poetry: Song and Spectacle by Rachel Rose

Gay Poetry: Looking for the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco


Provincetown Magazine Features Excerpt from “Songs for the New Depression”

I’m so grateful that a reader emailed me, noting they’d first discovered my novel by reading an excerpt in Provincetown Magazine.  As I hadn’t seen the excerpt in print, this was a very pleasant surprise.  I’ve always loved the time I’ve spent in P-town.  It has given me both a sense of peace and community, and my vacations there have provided many memories.  In fact, one of my new short stories, The Cape, which is in my forthcoming collection, Gifts Not Yet Given, takes place in Provincetown.

This past summer, Russ and I were fortunate enough to be able to take our kids to the Cape, and that wonderful week in P-town was the highlight.  Thank you, Provincetown Magazine, and thanks to the wonderful reader who alerted me!

Excerpt from "Songs for the New Depression"

Excerpt from “Songs for the New Depression”


New Review says “Songs for the New Depression” Shines!

AU reviewVery grateful for a new review in Arts & Understanding, a magazine devoted to HIV/AIDS, on Songs for the New Depression. The review (found on page 48) notes “the laughs make the book deceptively breezy. SONGS shines with psychological truth and historical accuracy.”  Love it when folks “get it!”


Groundbreaking Gay Mystery Series Finally Comes to E-Book

Michael NavaIn 1986, the United States looked very different than it does today.  Ronald Reagan was president.  It was the year of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the blockbuster film Top Gun.  LGBT people were largely marginalized.  Latinos hadn’t yet become a surging political force.  And while AIDS had begun claiming countless in the gay community, it was only in 1985 that the larger public became more fully aware, due to the sensationalized death of star Rock Hudson.

It was in this era of the so-called “Moral Majority”, a largely white, conservative, Christian view of America, that author Michael Nava crafted one of the most unlikely of literary heroes: Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal attorney with a passion for justice.  Himself an outsider, Rios acted on behalf of those without a voice, often wrongly accused of crimes.  While introduced in The Little Death, Rios would go on to solve mysteries in a series of seven books, culminating with Rag and Bone in 2001.

The Rios series would win five Lambda Literary Awards, and Nava was honored by The Publishing Triangle with the Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award for Gay and Lesbian literature.

As the revolutionary Henry Rios series finally comes to e-book, Michael Nava took time to share more with me about the development of the character, his thoughts on bringing an end to the Rios series, and his forthcoming novel, The City of Palaces.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  You first gained literary acclaim for your Henry Rios mystery series.  How did the tales originate?

Michael Nava:  I started writing the first novel almost as a lark in my last year at law school.  I was working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the Palo Alto jail, where I interviewed men who had been arrested to determine if they were eligible for immediate release on their own recognizance or would have to post bail the next day.  Palo Alto didn’t have that much crime so I spent many nights just waiting around or trying to study.  At some point, I started writing what became The Little Death; indeed the very first scene has Rios walking into a jail which was the Palo Alto jail.

The Little DeathEdwards-Stout:  Your lead character, a gay Latino criminal attorney involved in solving mysteries, broke many barriers.  Were you conscious of how groundbreaking he might be? (more…)


Legendary Author Patricia Nell Warren: Ever the Front Runner

The Front RunnerI recall it as if it were yesterday: stepping inside the sprawling bookstore, which smelled faintly of dust; walking past the periodicals, where gay porn titles peeked at me ever-so-discretely from the uppermost row; crossing to the back of the store, reaching “my” row, and nervously looking about before finally stepping up to the shelves, above which hung a large sign, “Gay Studies.”  I felt uncomfortable standing beneath it, as it labeled not just the shelves, but my own burgeoning identity, and committing to this unfamiliar label so publicly felt entirely premature.  While the “Gay” part I understood, it was only years later that I realized the second part of the sign was equally true, as I was studying the world I would soon fully inhabit.

Coming out has changed greatly in the years since, but what I found through the books on that shelf provided for me the same reassurance as those emerging today seek;  through the stories, I learned I was not alone.  Novels by such authors as Larry Kramer, Armistead Maupin, Andrew Holleran, and Felice Picano filled me in on this mysterious world, where other men openly searched for love, but one book from that time stands out to me as unique, and resonated with me deeply.  Patricia Nell Warren’s groundbreaking novel The Front Runner follows coach Harlan Brown and his protégé Billy Sive as they discover love against the backdrop of the Olympics and a changing world.  As a young man myself, I had yet to find a book which spoke to my generation, and identified both with Brown, as he emerged from his more rigid, conservative environment, as well as Sive, who embodied the new, free spirited era, exploding on the horizon in front of me.

Prior to The Front Runner’s publication in 1974, Warren authored her first novel, The Last Centennial, published in 1971.  She had also published three volumes of Ukrainian poetry independently, as well as amassing a large body of unpublished work.  While the debut of The Front Runner introduced Warren to a new legion of fans, she was surprised to find that the book rankled some in the literary establishment, who were uncomfortable that such a seminal gay male romance had been written by a woman.  It didn’t seem to matter to them that she had come out in 1974 as a lesbian.  In the years following, however, Warren solidified her reputation in both the gay and literary worlds with continuations of The Front Runner saga (Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Boy), as well as novels The Fancy Dancer, The Wild Man, and The Beauty Queen, and non-fiction (including Lavender Locker Room and My West.)

The Fancy DancerWhether as an American writing Ukrainian poetry, a runner helping to usher women into the sport, a woman writing gay male fiction, or as a writer, taking control over her own work as publisher with Wildcat Press, Warren has long been a game changer, moving into uncharted waters and navigating them for others.  She graciously agreed to take time out from her busy schedule to talk with me about her body of work, issues facing the LGBT community, and the rewards and challenges of having written a literary classic.  As a bonus, she also reveals more about the prospects for the long-awaited The Front Runner movie, as well as the continuation of that tale in a fourth book.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.  In reviewing your work, I became very curious as to the key, pivotal moments in your life.  What most shaped you and your journey?

Patricia Nell Warren:  It wasn’t so much a moment, but an experience, of being raised on a ranch in the West, at a very particular time.  So much of what we think of as LGBT literature is based on an urban worldview, but growing up in a rural setting, as I did, is very much a part of who I am today.  Looking back, now that I’m 76, that life gave me a very different viewpoint, as you’re living in a situation where, any day, there could be a storm that wipes out the wheat crop.  That kind of day-to-day existence is challenging, and in many ways, at heart, I’m still a ranch kid. In fact, I’m co-writing a book on that with my brother, called Kids on a Ranch.

Edwards-Stout:  Did you find it difficult, making connections with people in that kind of environment?

Warren:  Our ranch wasn’t that far from town.  We were close enough that we could walk, bicycle, or ride our horses into town, so we had lots of friends.  It wasn’t an isolating kind of life, but it was definitely a different life, with different jobs at home than the town kids, who may not have known one end of a horse from the other!

You had to take a very practical approach on how to handle things, which today has led me to have political impatience.  My dad used to say, “When your horse is caught in barbed wire, you don’t sit around making speeches.  You grab the wire cutters and get to work!”

Edwards-Stout:  Look at what has happened recently, with the Sandy Hook shooting(more…)