Romance Writing

Considered by many the ultimate sell-out of prose, I would counter that Romance is the last vestige of the cult author. The career hack, the formula writer, the struggling fiction machine who writes words by the thousand and publishes by week’s end.

And what’s more? These heroes don’t have to work for a master any longer. They operated independently, slinging smut in settings across the board. Rising above their artistic intentions, they follow the formula… and within that they discover new territory.

I recently met one of these literary foot soldiers at a writer’s Meetup just outside Austin. I won’t divulge her name because you can’t find her work from that; she works under at least two pen names and never attaches her own to the market. The Ro-Musketeer (I like that, no matter how odd it sounds) took the time to sit with me and look through the market, explain the basics of the trade.

Now, I’m not going off the reservation any time soon. The Shroud’s in my blood, from postcard paper cuts and cigarette burns when I’m writing too long to realize my butt’s gone to the filter. But I don’t see any reason to hold back from exploring the publishing possibilities of Romance Fiction.

There’s a character referenced here and there throughout the Shroud, known as the Defense Minister, or Jesus H. Christ’s ex-girlfriend, or the Silver Haired Man. If there’s anyone out there who played Dungeon’s and Dragons with me as a kid, they’ll recognize the character. Spique, pronounced the same as everyone’s favorite nineties vampire.

If I’m being honest, Joss Whedon’s bleach blond is the reason I changed the spelling.

I’ve struggled with Spique for a couple years now. A brazen mercenary I first imagined at age ten, then the history defying lover of the world’s most renowned messiah. Now the Defense Minister of the Charm City Court, locked into service of the worst King ruling under the Shroud.

The struggle is in her trans nature. Ever since I started serious work on The Shroud, I’ve known that for Spique gender is a secondary interest. She loves to fight and fuck. The nature of either isn’t so much subject to interpretation as it is an opportunity. She’s not interested in definition; she lives for experience.

Her immortality, legend says, isn’t a gift of heritage. Age doesn’t dare to approach. Spique doesn’t know why she’s lived so many centuries. She’s no memory of her youth, only that when the Picts first crossed the English Channel, she waited on the beach. Her first words were, “took you long enough.”

I’ve got big plans for Spique. And now those plans include a couple romance short stories. Stay tuned!

My Man Neil

I don’t know if my life is better having known my friend Neil. I can say, without question, that he lends scale and stakes to every room he enters.

The first night I met him was night two of a three day party at the Copycat Warehouse where I lived. Neil showed up with a producer I was working to produce my first failed podcast. Over a hundred folks at the party, so I don’t think I would’ve noticed Neil without the whip. Apparently they’d come from a coke deal at a bondage gay bar I knew as the Eagle, and to fit in Neil picked up a toy Cat O’Nine Tails.

High and recently depressed, Neil professed the virtues of the gentleman degenerate and whipped anyone who stood still enough to take the lash. We’ve been pals ever since.

I’ve got dozens of Neil stories, and he remembers more of them than I do, but I’ll stick with my old favorite. A road trip neither of us saw coming.

I’d just clocked out of CVP and Neil rolled in hot. I wanna say this was a Tuesday, so, you know, a good night to get weird. Old Man Neil, as he called himself, came in hot. Didn’t even order his shot of Jim Beam, just grabbed me by the collar and hauled me out the door to his SUV. I did the talking on our way over to Frasier’s on 36th, he barely spoke. Which was never a good sign.

Over shots and Bohs, he spoke vaguely of one of our favorite topics: The Darkness. Not the band, a general sense of foreboding and doom we associated with poverty and the human condition as opposed to the true culprit: cocaine and liquor. It was getting to him.

We stopped by our pal Jess’s night and danced with no particular rhythm before Neil started shouting that, “It’s all going in the shitter!" and ran down to the truck. I barely got in the backseat before he hit I-83, refusing to name a destination. The bars were closed. Anyone’s guess where we were headed, and I’d guess Neil knew no better than I.

Beer cans littered the streets behind us, and the Drive soundtrack accompanied manic laughter. He pulled off the highway out in the boons, at his old house. I didn’t know it then, but Neil took his parents’ divorce pretty hard and dad’s treatment of mom even worse. He got out of the car in front of a nice suburban two story and raged at the darkened windows. I wondered if we’d make it out ahead of the cops. But he took a piss on the door and I figured we’d go watch Wild At Heart for the tenth time.

So I wasn’t paying attention which way we headed and lost track of time until Jess caught on that Baltimore only diminished in our rear-view. She asked, and Neil finally revealed.

“Gettysburg!”

We caught breakfast, so to speak, in a diner. Out of obligation to the experience, all three of us tried to pick up our waitress and she patiently turned us down. Because of her kid and all that. I’m guessing it was four thirty. The railroad tracks seemed the only logical route.

I’d bet trains ground those tiles since the Civil War, but it’d been a minute. We each dug up a tie to take along, and held onto them as artifacts for a lot of years. Couple miles down Neil took a turn and we followed into the woods. Set up a fire and drank the last of the beers. It was a beautiful night.

Dawn crept with dew and fog.

And when the sun came up, we discovered our campfire sat in the center of the bloodiest day in American History. That’s when the silence really set in.

We hiked the hills, well off the beaten path, through tall grasses and over log fences criss crossed. I didn’t want to ask if anyone thought they could be the same battlements, or if those trenches could have lasted so long. Didn’t seem possible. My beer buzz wore thin, and the bone deep loneliness of cocaine whispering out of my bloodstream felt at home surrounded by ghosts.

Of course those weren’t the same fences. Wood rots. But I couldn’t imagine anything on those fields or hills changing. Not ever.

Neil kept quiet.

He played the Drive soundtrack again on the long drive back to Baltimore, and one song on repeat.

“A real human being. And a real hero.”

Later lunatics. I’ll haunt your thoughts and dreams.

On Timeliness

I heard it most recently from Jeff Daniels in a WTF with Marc Maron interview: work hardest, and show up on time. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. Wanna be a late person, excellent. Go for it. Work any number of jobs up and down the pay scale, but you want to be an artist?

Confound every cliche about lackadaisical talent.

Plenty of artists show up late and do just fine for themselves. I don’t know how they pull it off, but they exist. Far as I’m concerned it’s profoundly unprofessional and disappointing but what’s worse it’s a waste of everyone else’s time. But what’s worse? It’s unprofessional.

Now that I’m finished condemning a bunch of people I either do or will work alongside, why Ian? Why are you so dead set on following the clock?

Chivalry. In a very literal manner.

As I’ve mentioned, I once squired for the Freelancers Jousting Company. Most of the knights, and a few squires for that matter, served in one branch of the military or another. Makes sense, right? Frankly I don’t understand why jousting isn’t huge in this country; a pitch perfect way for veterans to face death in a visceral fantasy and make a few bucks.

We operated on T-times, as in “T-MINUS THIRTY!” meant get the saddle on the horse and the first pieces of armor on the knights. Last chance to piss, and a favored responsibility as a squire; getting all worked up in steel is a lot of pressure for these guys, and they didn’t always remember to drink enough water. As soon as they called the “thirty,” I asked my knight if he’d pissed. If he hadn’t, that meant drink more water. Dehydrating wrapped in a tin can is… messy.

T-times ran up until five minutes to curtain when we got the knights mounted and awaited the trumpet call to action. Again, veterans. Our steps calculated for safety, and if you miss a beat anywhere in the process that could mean a step down the line that gets someone killed.

No shit. Killed. A lot of pressure for a thirteen year old.

So I don’t blame them for their harsh punishment for lateness. Specifically, every minute late was ten pushups. And call was at six AM, Saturday and Sunday mornings. nine weekends from late August to mid October. I couldn’t even drive, so my lateness was based on my mom’s girlfriend.

For me, the squire called Worthless, those ten pushups for every minute late went face down in horse shit as often as not. Didn’t have to be that way; if I’d let on that it bothered me the knights would’ve stopped. I never did. I loved it. I wanted the full punishments; I wanted to be the best.

So you won’t catch me late to work. And art is work.

Catch you next time, I’ll haunt your thoughts and dreams!

My First Baston round

My first real job, I squired for the Freelancers, a full contact jousting company working on the Eastern Seaboard last I checked. I don’t remember when they started calling me Worthless. It was an honor. More on that later.

I was thirteen when I got the gig and in mortal danger all the fucking time. My first day on the lists, technical term for the field where grown-ass man nearly kill each other dressed in metal, I narrowly escaped trampling. It was the baston round, where the knights lock in their helms and beat each other on the head with wooden dowels. They ride back and forth across the soil and it’s all pretty well choreographed.

Except they can’t see.

So there I was, cresting puberty and about as self-conscious as every thirteen year old should be. The Lead Squire that year, I believe her name was Brandi, told me to crouch back in the bushes when the knights rode past. My job was to collect any pieces of baston that broke off.

Yeah. They wail on each other pretty good.

I found a break in the hedges and settled in. The branches poked into my black tights, and the short green tunic I ordered online rode up to show my ass if anyone cared to notice. I was thrilled. Living on a battlefield I’d read in Once and Future King and a dozen other novels.

Metal clangs a lot louder when you’re on the lists. Your adrenaline soars. When they finished their bout and turned to charge down towards my end of the list, I awaited my chance to dive in and help out. They rode those hedges awfully close, though. Right along. And I had a spot picked out but there wasn’t room for me to squeeze all the way back.

A mount called Max didn’t give a shit I was in his way. And his knight didn’t know I was there. I couldn’t breathe.

I heaved back into those shrubs, smashing undergrowth as a stirrup shot like a cannon past my nose.

Holding the stirrup, I gaped at the knights beating each other. One of the greatest moments of my life.

This post started as a diatribe on timeliness. Also, I didn’t have time to explain my nickname, Worthless. Guess those’ll wait for another time. Meanwhile, I’ll haunt your thoughts and dreams!

… ten pushups per minute, and for Worthless that meant face in horse shit…