For people who keep track of things, Contemporary Gay Romances is my third collection of short stories, following Slashed To Ribbons in Defense of Love in 1983 (reprinted as The New York Years in 2003) and Tales From a Distant Planet in 2005. The latter was published by French Connection Press in Paris, France and had a very limited distribution, although the book is still available for sale in the U.S.
. The truth is, although I am primarily known as a novelist (and lately also as a memoirist) stories are my favorite way of writing fiction: whether it is a 1,750 word “amusement in prose” or a 30,000 word novella, or anything in between.
When I can know, sense, or even merely get a hint about an ending while I’m writing, I think I’m simply a better writer. Doing that with a novel usually means a five to ten year period of gestation before I even begin. With stories I can start and end in a few sessions, or in the case of longer works a month.
My first story was written when I was twelve, and my first published story (collected in Slashed to Ribbons) was written as far back as 1972. I’ve now written close to fifty shorter stories, of which over thirty have been published in one form, format, place or another, from magazines and newspapers to anthologies to on-line magazines. So far no story I wrote ever became a novel. And only a few stories ever reached the popularity of my novels, although a few of my longer ones—novellas—did.
Among the shorter stories, only one included here was as popular: “Hunter,” has been published many times in other people’s collections, and it’s amazing that readers find it as fresh and relevant now as when I first wrote it thirty-five years ago.
The stories in this volume are — with the exception of “Hunter” — Twenty-First Century creations. Which makes them unique in my catalogue: they were all written recently, from 2003 to 2010.
They are also “new” in another way, and thus different from my other stories: while two of them are undeniably autobiographical, the others are all stories that “came” to me as “gifts,” and one of them even is titled “Gift.”
Let me explain, if I can.
Being a lazy person (if efficient) I daydream as much as possible and it is during these daydreams that ideas for books, plays and stories first come to me and are developed.
That daydreaming we now know is a kind of Alpha-wave thinking. This has been measured by scientists. In the past, writers and musicians often sought it out, calling it their “muse” –i.e. Miss Alpha-Wave – and as often they used artificial means to woo Her, including alcohol, hashish, cocaine, hypnosis, post-hypnotic suggestion, and a bevy of other illegal substances. Unlike these forebears I was already happily using illegal substances when I began writing. The only question was, could I write without them? Short answer: yes.
However it was only in the past few years that my daydreams reached a level where “voices” other than my own began to intrude — distinctive voices that came along with fully formed stories, settings, other characters, etc.
Now, were I not the distinguished, award-winning author that I am, one could easily think, he hears voices. Hmmmm, that sounds a lot like schizo….
Let’s not go there. Anyway I’ve already accepted that something like that must be part of my mental makeup. For example in 2008-2011, I was writing three separate books all at the same time 1) one a memoir set in the Nineteen Seventies in Manhattan, 2) an epistolary novel set in Victorian England and 3) a novel set in pre-Homeric Greece. Vastly different times, places and styles? Yup! And I would stop writing one, and move to the other with utter ease. So schizo ….? Yeah, thanks, but I believe I’ve got a handle on it.
Back to the short story “voices:”
For these I believe I should thank or blame my uncle Vincenzo Picano, a person I never met. In fact, a person who died at the age of nine and a half in 1923, brutally murdered by unknown assailant(s), his body thrown into a rural pond in Rhode Island.
I discovered very late in life all about poor Vincenzo and I began investigating his death. I have written a little and I’ve spoken and lectured a lot more about this unfortunate lad and his story, and I think somewhere in the Great Ether, Vincenzo was (is) pleased that the secret of his life and death held tightly by certain people was finally being made known. I’ve yet to solve it, it was so long ago, and information is so scarce, but I’m getting a grip on the basic situation, and I’m developing a theory and I may still some day publish my findings. Partly, because it caused so many revelations about my parents, my father’s family in America, and back centuries earlier in central Italy.
After all that with my uncle, the “voices” began: as though I’d opened up some kind of gate to the “other side.”
Each one of the voices was so perfectly and fully formed that when I decided not to ignore them any longer, and allowed myself to become the vessel through which they might tell their story, well, they did exactly that.
Usually the story was written fast, I mean fast: two or three days, with very little backtracking, no need to check facts, and of course their narrative voices were well, unique and indelible and individual and … perfectly formed. Did I mention that these “voices” were a little annoying until I did decide to tell their stories? Not debilitating. At best a little irksome. And that once the stories were written, I never heard the voice again?
Some of the stories were sad: one was almost heart breaking, a few were comical, several odd, others rather sinister, and they came from different places – panhandle Florida, somewhere in the Midwest—where is Meriwether Lewis High School? Does it exist? If so, where is it? I’d appreciate knowing, as it is my only clue to the location of one story. Other places include London, England, Italy, New England, and New York City, One is set in a futuristic and pretty much sunken by climate change East Bay Area, California, and another is set on a planet with no name given, circling a binary star.
In time they range from the here and now—i.e. most of them—back to 1890 or so, and ahead to about 2250 A.D. – thus they are contemporary stories.
As to “romances”—well they aren’t your standard gay romances consisting of hot surfer guy Trey having the itch for even hotter garage mechanic Kyle, but they can’t get together for some stupid reason or another until they finally do so in spastic gushes of sweat, sperm, and questionable prose on page 240.
No, these are romances that can and do happen in the real world. In some cases they are “fine romances” like the song, with no kissing; in others, with plenty of kissing and other stuff too. And in other cases, they are—since my “voices” told me the stories, I’m supposing actual stories that happened to actual people, although who these people are (or were in some cases) I don’t know. None of them told me their real names.
So, yes, most of the stories in this book, including “The Acolyte,” Gift,” True love …. True love,” Gratitude,” Imago Blue,” and “In the Fen Country” are such “voice” stories, stories that came to me as gifts fully formed: for the most part I felt like a stenographer, merely copying them down and then cleaning them up a lot.
Unfazed by all this, my intrepid publisher, Bold Strokes Press, has planned a second volume of stories in six months or so to come, and most of those are also “voice” stories. They’re even stranger than these, and not really romances, some not even gay in any way. They’re titled Twelve O’Clock Tales, because around midnight is when I sat down to write most of them, and it’s a good time for you to read them too. ….Boo!