THE PASSION STROLL...
a blog by author Ashavan Doyon
Disclaimer: This post is political. Writing doesn't happen in a vacuum. I live in the real world, and that world affects my writing. If you have a problem with political content in books, you obviously have never read mine, because I write gay romance, and by and large, that's political by default.
I haven’t been loud in my activism this week. I know the value of being quiet and listening when an oppressed community is hurt. But I also know that quiet activism is sometimes seen as silence.
The core message in my community growing up, struggling with an epidemic that was killing people like me, was Silence=Death.
For many Black Americans, for many communities of color in all its diversity, that message, I’m sure, has a different meaning that is no less profound than the one I grew up with. Because our silence is killing them.
As a nation, we have used our power and privilege to downplay and gaslight and sow doubt into the very idea that the pillar of our society, our concept of justice and order and law is and has been tarnished and corrupted from the start. We see that now in the brutality on the streets towards nonviolent protesters, towards journalists, towards children.
Just weeks ago, police were able to ignore almost any provocation from heavily armed protesters who objected to stay at home orders.
Now they react with brutality towards the people they’re meant to serve.
A man was executed on the street by a vigilante wearing a uniform of service. And the good men who are supposed to step in and prove the system works and that all cops aren’t bad cops? They watched and did nothing. And this isn’t an isolated case. The list of names goes on, and in terrifying ways. A young man jogging. A woman asleep in her bed.
People are angry. I am angry. I want to believe this is not my country, that this is some new infection, but the reality is, I’m afraid, that racism is an old disease, the kind that takes root and refuses to go away. The kind that has to be cut out and removed in ways that will be painful and will take a long time to heal.
In times like this, it would be good to have a president. Someone who could lead and drive a process for reform and healing in an already tumultuous time.
What we have is an infantile coward who insists on pouring gasoline on flames so that he can play with the lives of our troops and our people as if they were toy soldiers.
The brutality we’re witnessing can never be allowed to be acceptable. It can never be ignored. It can never be forgotten.
This is what America has become. Our country is on fire, and I am weeping.
Black Lives Matter.
I have been avoiding social media, when I can.
Oh, I know—I don't really watch the news, so how else do I expect to know what's going on? It's a conundrum. One I don't have great answers for. My own health requires that I limit my exposure to the negativity, and yet, to remain a good, involved citizen, I need to know what's going on.
But every time I look and find out, I wish I hadn't. It feels like I turn on the TV, or look on Facebook, or Twitter, and then it begins...
The thing about the spiral—it isn't just about news. It's about the drama that seems to endlessly infect the gay romance community. It's about the little bits of hatred people are willing to spew that even a year or two ago they would have been horrified to have come out of their mouths or to put into type on a screen. It's about the people you thought you knew, friends and family and colleagues, who have galvanized into a only one way is the right way.
Suddenly the only way to fight Trump is to jump into the skin of their particular brand of liberalism, whether that's fighting for the poor, medicare for all, environmental concerns, or veganism. And if you fail, at all, you're as bad as Trump.
Meanwhile, there's friends and family who were maybe a wee bit conservative, suddenly buying into the propaganda machine that is telling them things about immigration, lying about the human rights debacle being perpetrated on children at the border, pretending taking rights hard fought away is somehow defending religious freedom. And to watch family, especially, buy into that is so hard. It feels like you can't get them back.
And then there's me. And I'm not pure enough for the liberals. I eat meat. I think we police words too much, and I think that gets dangerous really fast. I think a lot of the time a very real liberal elite pretty much screw over a significant portion of the just-hanging-on-but-probably-still-middle-class, if barely. I'm not so attached to any one candidate that I'm afraid to vote blue come November.
To me, it's as simple as this: There can be no more judicial deconstruction of the rights I've spent a lifetime fighting for. And if Trump wins again, I honestly believe I'm looking at a short life in a death camp.
And circling... and circling...
And this is why I avoid the news. And social media is a toss up, because I need it, especially right now, to maintain connections, but it is soooo hard.
I write love stories. Angsty, to be sure. And people sometimes ask me why.
Sometimes when we're hurt, when we're injured, when we're full of angst. That's when we most need to know that people like us can find love. That happy endings exist.
So maybe, just maybe, we can escape the black hole.
And maybe, just maybe, that escape will be powerful, and beautiful, and not alone.
So I’ve been a bit depressed. You can probably tell, because I’m playing with food. When I write food and meals and making meals is often important. I think that’s because in a relationship you spend so much of your time actually together eating. Because even in a relationship everyone is busy. There are always errands and laundry and mowing the lawn and shoveling snow and a million other things. But when you eat, often, you have a moment to slow down, to be together. And there’s often good relationship memories there, because a lot of relationships begin with a date. And what is that date?
Coffee? Lunch? Dinner? So, often, even when it includes something else it’s a meal.
The experiment was a chicken bacon ranch lasagna. It was fantastic.
What good (or bad!) food experiments has a date or a partner tried out on you? Let me know in the comments!
... which was obviously my first mistake.
I'm a big guy. I wasn't always. As a kid, I was big for my age but small for the larger kids I tended to be around, always a bit of a squirt. I love my brother, but he could be a bit of a bully as a kid, though the kind that would still protect a younger brother from everyone else.
He wasn't always around though, and when he wasn't, I didn't have a good time. A lot of that was my weight, which resulted in my closest friends forming a "pull down pants" committee to jokingly show off my overly robust and naked ass to the school. This lasted for weeks until my parents finally got wind of it and confronted the other parents.
I was in 4th grade and not even particularly heavy at the time, but it stuck with me. I was fortunate that for most of my youth my frame—both tall and broad shouldered—did the work of minimizing my weight.
Mental health or healthy weight
In college I did the usual college things, and my weight went up. But I still had the remarkable frame, and it held up well. Until I got my diagnosis. I went through cocktail after cocktail of meds to stabilize my moods. I don't blame the doctors, really. I was in crisis and that's what I needed at the time.
But when you jump 80 pounds in two months right after getting put on a new medication, I don't think you can chalk that up to laziness. I had gone up over 100 pounds by the time the doctor pulled me off the medication. Now I wasn't in the mid 200s anymore. I was well over 300. Sure, I kept from gaining more, mostly, but the weight wouldn't come off, and eventually a sedentary lifestyle and a deskjob took a toll. I crept up, year after painful year.
Now hold on! Yes, I dieted. I tried expanding my food options, unsuccessfully. I tried the Atkins diet, among others. Over and over I tried and failed until I maxed out my scale and destroyed my body losing the weight.
Over the last 15 years that weight has slowly crept back up, until this morning I stared at 398 pounds on the scale.
I tortured my body losing that weight. I'm not sure I can do it again. Since I started creeping back up, my body has resisted all the old strategies that worked.
My husband and I ventured out to some old stomping grounds tonight. It's not that they're far away, though it seems it sometimes. I went to both high school and college near where we live, but off the beaten path enough that we seldom end up there.
But tonight we happened by The Pub. For both of us this is a place with special meaning. Twice over, really. Twenty-four years ago I went on my first date with my husband at The Pub. And when, after a long gap in our relationship, we got back together, this time for good, it was a date at The Pub that got us going again.
I'd love to say that was the only reason. But The Pub is actually the closest decent restaurant to my old campus, so I had several first dates there. Not all of them were good. As a gay man growing up in the 80s and 90s, though, those dates were important. They represented a bit of normalcy for me, in a world that didn't feel very normal. I often write about a first date with my characters. It's often a dinner.
I'm usually thinking about The Pub when I write those scenes, and of a time when I was feeling very nervous meeting a man for dinner before going to a movie. Sometimes I wonder if I missed out on dating as a teen. Sometimes I wonder if it was different for teens, if it's really different now.
Don't miss Ashavan's story Gerry's Lion, on sale in paperback at Dreamspinner Press until noon on Feb 7.
Sometimes when you look back on your life, it's easy to see the crossroads. Places where one turn really mattered. The ones where an angel could have come back and It's a Wonderful Life-ed you.
Eighteen years ago, I had one of those moments. I was thinking about regret and in my life I had two. Both were about relationships that ended in less than stellar ways.
In 1995 I had two miserable breakups. The first was the end to an on-again-off-again disaster. The problem? I was head over heels. People sometimes ask me why I believe in love at first sight stories, and that ex is the reason. We lasted eight months. In the end, he broke up with me. Sadly he didn't even tell me. To say the break up was bad is an understatement.
The second was an older man. I say older, but he was only in his mid-late twenties. It seemed older to me as I wasn't even legal to drink yet. He owned a comic shop halfway between college and my mom's house. We had common interests—a lot of common interests. That summer, while I recovered from the desolate hole in my heart, he slipped into it. We had dinners, went to the movies. He treated me like a prince, but between the distance to school, his work schedule, and a huge unconsolable grief that I wasn't over, it wasn't working. I broke up with him. It was a miserable thing to do. It was also, probably, the right thing at the time.
So, five years later—eighteen years ago—I was graduating and I was thinking about those two very different relationships. The boy I couldn't seem to let go, even though I cursed him every chance I had, and the one I never had a chance to get to know.
I wrote two letters. One was an attempt to bridge that broken relationship with my evil ex. The other an outpouring of regret to the person who I'd never really had a chance to explain why and how and what was going on that I'd chosen to end things.
I tore up the letter to the boy who had ripped my fragile heart to shreds. I sent the one to the man who had always treated me like a prince. Two weeks later we met on a Saturday... Saturday April 29, 2000, and had dinner at the restaurant where we'd had our first date all those years ago. When I graduated in 2001, I moved out of the apartment I shared near the college and moved in with him. We still count that day, today, as our anniversary.
It hasn't always been an easy road.
There was some fractured trust. There was a lot of getting to know one another again. There were dinners and movies and meeting friends and family in a more real and visceral way than we'd ever gotten to in that false start of a beginning.
So many times I think of what I might have missed if I hadn't felt that regret. If I hadn't sent that letter. We started our new relationship with me admitting I'd been an ass. Sometimes I think we still work because when things are hard, I can still admit that.
And sometimes I know it's because for all our faults... my Ron, he still treats me like a prince.
So, what is it like going to a meeting of an LGBTQ+ student group?
With a character like Rory, who has been thrust into a leadership role in one, this was a question I knew we'd see the answer to. Student organizations are often run haphazardly, with partial executive boards, missing officers, and on the drive of what can be only one or two dedicated people.
How do I know?
As a student, I was the political chair of the LBGA, the co-chair of the Disability Action Network, and served on the cabinet of the student government for a student body of 25000 people. I also spent fifteen years of my career in student affairs working with and advising students in exactly those roles.
Smooth operations among the student organizations exist, but usually only for a time, and often—so very often—the load eventually falls on a few.
In Becoming Rory we see Rory struggling in that role. Alone he is trying to pull together a community, and he's got a hard one to manage. Because the religious right can say all they want about the gay agenda... there isn't one gay community. And that's just the GAY community, when we're talking about the LGBTQ+ community. Doing it alone can't be easy. An organization like that should have at least two and probably three other people sharing that responsibility. At my school, the executive board was an eighteen person monstrosity... except that three people were holding down fourteen of those roles.
When I wrote the Queer Alliance meeting, I wanted it to feel right. From the fearless Cian showing up in a skirt to the terrified first year student Ian whose courage was all in just walking through the door, to bisexual Eric who expected showing up and talking about being bi to be easier than it turned out to be. I stood in Rory's shoes. I can't begin to think how many young men like Ian I talked to. How many like Bethany. I hope that it's gotten easier to make them less afraid when the fearless Cian characters walk through the door—they're totally based on a first year student I knew with perfect legs, who, yes, often showed up for meetings in a skirt. And just as often had to run to the meeting because they were chased (in heels) on the way.
They were heady places. Accepting and terrifying and hot... because they were the one place on campus where you might just make a connection. And while that part is less important now (because of the internet), I hope the community and the atmosphere still shines through.
Maybe a kid like Ian will read my story. Maybe they'll realize it doesn't have to be terrifying. And if they do, it'll all be worth it.
Rory Graeble returns to college determined to reinvent himself. Too many years have been wasted with masks, but becoming a student leader is a step Rory isn’t sure he’s ready for. A new identity takes more than just a new nickname, and Rory knows he has to take the chances that his old self would never risk. When that chance is a party that ends with an anonymous hot skater’s tongue down his throat and a phone number in his pocket, Rory knows what he has to do.
Danny Smits never expected to see stuffy lit geek Rory Graeble trying to be out, trying to be proud, trying to be… Rory. It’s damned sexy, and too much for the entrepreneurial skater to resist. When Rory calls him back the day after the party, Danny knows Rory has changed. But will Danny’s haunted past deter Rory? Or will Rory embrace the chance to experience everything the closet had stolen away? Danny believes in keeping things real, in a brutal honesty he knows means Rory will run screaming.
But this time Rory isn’t running.
Published by Purple Horn Press (only $3.99 until the end of April!)
Becoming Rory is also available from Amazon
I write a lot of contemporary.
There’s plenty of reasons for that, from the old ‘write what you know’ adage to the fundamental goal of writing gay romance for me—putting happy endings out there. Oh, I know I don’t make it easy. I write a lot of angst. But my boys get their happy endings.
Lately writing contemporary is hard. I’ve thought a lot about why that might be. Part of it, surely, is that the future seems less rosy, less hopeful than before. My husband sometimes will get upset at me, because I do write angst, and that means that often in my stories the characters will experience the realities of homophobia in our culture. He likes that sweeter more hopeful vision.
I stepped away from my usual stories. I set aside The College Rose Romances and The Sam’s Cafe Romances. Both of those have sequels that need airing, from Cian’s story—the purple rose—to the missing stories of chess master Brian’s brothers. Instead I’m working on a short, and unlike my last one which was very much a contemporary, this one has a dystopian sci-fi feel. It is intended as a romance, and I’m struggling sometimes to find that balance, but it is also, I think, rather different than my usual stories.
Mostly it came to me as a title and then a cover and went from there. I think I’ll be sharing it pretty soon.
The Tendire Gate.
I'll tell you a secret. I hate Valentine's Day. Maybe it's that I was dumped the day before (twice). Maybe it's that I lost a friend to suicide on the day. Maybe it's that I spent an awful lot of Valentine's Days alone when all my friends had someone. But for me, it was a horrible holiday. While I might dream of romance on the day, I never seemed to have it.
Needless to say I related to Theo Dwyer, the hero of my Valentine's Day story The Colors of Romance. When my husband and I first started dating, he used to get a teddy bear and chocolates and send roses to my office. He'd go all out. It's rather more subdued now, and even after the best of his efforts, I still have an urge to hide on the day.
Maybe that's why it was so important to me to write a truly sweet story for Valentine's Day when I wrote The Colors of Romance. Theo's story is a secret admirer story, which meant it had to be told from a single point of view. But I decided to write an intro story for it, just a brief one. And I immediately had a struggle. I couldn't use the character's name! I wrote it anyway, playing an old trick with first person point of view to keep the character safely anonymous.
I love The Colors of Romance for Theo's secret admirer and his relentless determination to bring romance to Theo's life. Turns out Dreamspinner Press wants you to share that romance. The Colors of Romance is $1 until 11:59 ET Feb 15. (link opens in new window)
And now for something special: an intro from the love interest's point of view.
The Shades of Romance
I'm always groggy when I wake up. I don't have an excuse, I grew up getting up earlier than most people can contemplate. But since I came to college my body's natural resistance to the effort has been rather more pronounced.
I have the usual rituals: a cold drink, a shower, brushing my teeth. When I get dressed I'm glad of my single room, because I'd hate to think of what the guys would think if they knew how long I spent getting ready, on making sure my jeans hug my ass just right. They just think I'm naturally rugged. I fucking work at it, harder than they can imagine. But I can't let them know, because if I did, they'd guess my secret.
Some days, most days, I wonder why I bother. If no one knows, how is anyone ever supposed to act on it? How am I ever going to find someone?
So I'm a downer. It's February, I'm twenty-one, and I'm a fucking virgin.
The reality is, it wouldn't matter if someone noticed my ass, or the deliberately just-tight-enough outline of my junk in my denims. I'm a hopeless case.
This past year has been awful.
I know I'm not alone in thinking that. A lot of advice for writers talks about that struggle, where inspiration fades into despair and how important it is to burst through that fog and share your art... because art, make no mistake, is resistance. Especially when you're writing gay love stories in a society that has, according to most recent news, for the first time in recent memory become less accepting.
So there's a been a fog. It's not been without light. Through Purple Horn Press I released my short, American Pride, and managed to get three of the four College Rose Romances back in print. The final one will release before the end of January. That's not the end of the story for our college students. Jim Puffton, the resident bully, is our next reluctant hero, and I wonder if part of my hesitance in getting that story out is tied up in my worries for the state of the union: because why should I shine a light on a bully?
But Jim, as you'll hopefully discover, is so much more than that. Redemption stories are never easy, and maybe it's important to show that sometimes bullying is also coming from a place of pain that we don't see, that people are more complicated than that. That story, Forgiving James, will come later in the year.
In the meantime, Becoming Rory is coming out. I adore the transformation of Lawrence/Rory, and we've seen a peek of it in Andrew's Prayer, as the timeline of the books overlaps. We finally get to see Rory's hinted at mysterious boyfriend, and their relationship is really intense. We get a love interest with a mental health issue, and that's not something we often see. It was really important to me to put that into the story and deal with it honestly—something that cost me in reviews. But I stand by my portrayal. This can be hard to read... mental illness is so difficult in a relationship, and both characters are young college students, but really, mental illness makes everything about a relationship hard. Rory finds out how hard, and what he's willing to do to keep his love.
I know a lot of us are still in that fog. I find it a little strange that the first release that I had in this era was titled American Pride. Because that story is really about a character who has had a lot of loss, and it's his pride in his country that has defined him. But that loss makes him doubt that pride, and it makes him question everything. But this is a character who has lost so much, and at the end of the day, it's the ideals of the United States: Liberty and Justice for all. Freedom and equality that keep him steady. And even with his questions, he still keeps his flag lit at night, so it can fly even in the dark. Dustin is very much lost in the same sort of fog I know so many of us are feeling. But some days, I hope that I can find that bit of optimism that I wrote into the character.
Purchase American Pride at Purple Horn Press.
Purchase American Pride at Amazon.
Writer of the mysterious, fantastic, and the romantic. Sometimes sappy. Often angsty. Always searching for the sexy. Stories about men who love men.