Thursday, January 7, 2010

Not Every Lovely Flame Dies - Writing About Love and Marriage

My parents are among my greatest fans.  I talk to so many people in this industry (specifically writing erotica or m/m romance) whose families either don't know what they write, don't care, or don't support their work.  It makes me feel blessed.  My parents encouraged me to start submitting stories for publication a couple of years ago.  They are among the only (four) people on the planet who have read my unpublished Jude novel.  And they keep buying the books and commenting on my work.

In June 2009 they celebrated their 40th Anniversary and, as the eldest son, I was charged with saying something nice in front of their friends and family at the party.  I fretted and fumbled with a couple of biographical sketches, a couple of sincerely written, but ultimately dull and hackneyed speeches about love and the lessons of a life-long marriage.  I read Shakespeare (which I rejected as too easy and too often tragic) and I read Albee (ok, I know, but he says a lot of good things about marriage) and I listened to Sondheim (Being Alive, Marry Me a Little).  And finally one of my wise friends said to me, "Aren't you a writer?  Don't you have some fiction that's about marriage or love or something?"

I blinked and sputtered.  More surprised that she had called me a writer than that she was right.

I dug out a piece that had just been accepted for publication in Richard Labonte's Best Gay Romance 2010 and found the perfect passage.  I had written a scene in which the main character discussed the nature of love and marriage with his aging grandmother (a character based on my father's mother).

I called my friend D in Texas.

"Dude, I think it's a good idea," he drawled.  (God, ya gotta love a smart Southern Boy.)

So I read a bit of the story and gave a short toast and watched tears sliding down cheeks.  My parents, their friends, my aunt, my sobbing little brother (the emotional one).  It was a fine moment.

Here's a bit of the excerpt I read:

Anniversaries make me maudlin, so I’ve been sitting here thinking about the Brooks and myself, two guys who managed to stumble into something lasting. I guess we do have a marriage of sorts, though neither of us would ever call it that. No rings, no flowers, no ceremony, no vows. We’ll never be two tuxedoed grooms sharing a spotlight dance at our reception, or feeding each other pearly white wedding cake, but neither will we be the couple who bring home a third to spice things up, or argue over a houseboy, or hammer out complex ground rules for sexual polygamy (touch this but not that, do this, but not that, and only if I’m there too). And yet, despite the fact that we don’t fit either tradition, we’ve somehow managed to choreograph moves that work for us — a couple of sweaty, basketball-playing, rock-climbing, football-watching, foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking men, who happen to be unaccountably, unabashedly in love with each other.

When I think about what we have, I sometimes think of my grandparents, who always laughed with each other like newlyweds, drank bottles of red wine with dinner, sang old Gershwin songs to each other on special occasions, and always waltzed together at family reunions.

I don’t remember my grandfather well, but my grandmother outlived the love of her life by about twenty years. She spent a couple of those years living with my mother and me, usually absorbed in one of her two remaining passions: old paperback mysteries or old musicals.

One night when I’d just turned sixteen, I remember the two of us sitting at the old Formica table in my mom’s kitchen. It was late, maybe one or two in the morning. My grandmother was chain smoking and drinking coffee from a mug shaped like an owl. There was an Ellery Queen on the table in front of her, spine bent to mark her place, and Fred and Ginger were twirling around on the television, the music soft beneath the sounds of the ceiling fans and my grandmother’s smoky breath. She leaned forward and said, “Bishop, your grandfather used to say marriage is like a mystery. You keep looking for clues and hoping for the best.”

She took a drag from her cigarette, eyes drawn away from me to the TV. “But he always had a flair for dramatic pronouncements, even if he knew they were wrong. There’s nothing mysterious about marriage. Marriage is a dance. You choose your partner and sometimes you stumble or you can’t find your rhythm, but sometimes,” she pointed her nicotine-stained fingers across the room, “sometimes it’s just like that.”

We watched Fred and Ginger twirl around the room, he in a tuxedo, she in a stunning low-cut black dress, hands and feet and bodies perfectly aligned, a perfection so simple, but so stunningly beautiful. I felt my eyes tear up.

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” she said.

“I guess so,” I mumbled, wiping the tears from my eyes.

She looked at me for a long moment, taking another drag on her cigarette. “Huh,” she said when she finally exhaled, then got up to refill her coffee mug. “Some things last, Bishop. Not every lovely flame dies,” she said, reaching for the powdered creamer.

Give in to the romantic fool that dances in your heart.

So buy the book already.  See how it begins.  See how it ends.  Read all the romantic, sexy stuff in the middle.  Come on.  Give in . . .   


  1. One of my favorite stories from that collection. And, what a nice gift for your parents! It is great that they are so supportive of you. I know how much my family's support means to me.

    Great, great story.

  2. Jamie, This story will always be very special to us. Thanks so much for making us a part of it. You and your brother - the emotional one - are the best part of our marriage. Keep following your dream - it is such a wonderful dream.

  3. Thanks Mom and Dad. Like I said, it's an amazing and wonderful thing for me to have parents that support me like ya'll do.