I need to buy a new Macintosh. Some months ago my then-new Mac got fried in an electrical storm, and I got an insurance settlement (and a new surge protector). Up to now I’ve held up on buying the new Mac, making do with the older laptop I’m writing this on. But I’ll have to bite the bullet, because not having a new desktop unit is preventing me from completing my next novel.
In other words I’m being neurotic again. It’s very hard for me to spend $1100 on anything these days. My financial situation is very shaky and I feel a bit immobilized. It doesn’t help that my usual supplier MacMall has ripped me off in the past with rebate come-ons (though they’re prompt and accurate about shipping the main unit). I mean, rebates? All rebates are dishonest. Just give me the discount now, don’t make me mail something, wait and forget about the money you owe me.
(I once got a 23¢ rebate check, which promptly bounced and cost me $10 for depositing a bad check.)
There are other Mac resellers, of course, and I suppose I should go with the cheapest one. Still it takes a couple of leaps of faith, and I’ve been procrastinating.
But I’ve got to get this novel out; it’s pretty central to my identity, my mission, my vocation. The book’s about a Gay Christian marriage.
Gay marriage is a hot political issue, but this book goes farther than the headlines of the day, because it locates the relationship within a defined spiritual system (the Church) and a theology (mainstream Episcopalian).
One of my grooms is a nominal Methodist who goes to church weekly because “it’s a family thing; we go to church because, well, we always have.” Kent loves the Christmas holidays, but doesn’t think all that much about God or Jesus the rest of the year; he goes to church to see his cousins, aunts and uncles.
Jamie, the man he marries, doesn’t go to church as often, but thinks intensely about the fathersonandholyspirit. I hope you can see some conflict coming already!
This book, tentatively titled “The Centurion’s Boy” and available in blog form here, starts with a sex scene – or rather, it starts with a betrothal that leads to a sex scene.
This is because the book is a sequel to my 2001 novel “Murder at Willow Slough,” in which Jamie and Kent, a gorgeous young reporter and a hunky young cop, solve a serial murder and fall in love. “Slough” may be the first Gay novel ever written without a single sex scene. It does get steamy at points, but that book ends with declarations of love.
So it only makes sense that the next book should open with them tearing their clothes off. Even so, Jamie wants more than mere love, he wants commitment.
That’s why it’s a book about marriage; any marriage, Gay or Straight, Christian or atheist.
Jamie’s been married before, to a man who died young. (In some ways this tracks my own biography, but that was only a jumping-off point.)
Jamie’s the one who knows what marriage is. Kent just wants to get married because that’s what people do; his version of the normal family narrative.
Jamie has very little family, but Kent’s the center of a big, rich, even historic network of blood relatives.
Putting together two guys, two sets of expectations and two families is what the book is about – while also investigating another murder.
You can see already it’s a sprawling novel; that’s how I tend to write. I’ve got Civil War and Underground Railroad history in there, the whole thing could spin out of control if I let it – but I won’t.
In nearly every Gay male novel, the two protagonists are independent actors, footloose and fancy-free, living in a big glamorous city, having left behind their (homophobic) families in Costa Rica or South Africa or Utah.
I don’t blame those authors; real Gay life often happens just that way. But my characters are located in a particular place, smalltown Indiana, where one is very much involved with his relatives, who aren’t homophobic at all.
I like upending some of the usual conventions. I like that Kent is part of a big loving family for whom “church” is more habit than anything else.
And I like making him confront, through his lover, the reality of God. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to write about.
Meanwhile Jamie is stuck without a car, living in a giant old farmhouse that’s so historic it hasn’t been redone since it was built.
No matter how much today’s Gay people want to reinvent ourselves, we’re all tied to the families we grew up in, even if our relatives rejected us decades ago or we rejected them.
If your husband’s a family man, what can you do but join the family – and remake it according to your own understandings, needs and vision?
Do we have to reject all that came before us, including our religious background, because of idiotic things some profiteers of faith said and did on TV?
Do Gay Christians have boring sex lives, when the unofficial Gay religion is hedonism? Or does making a commitment and keeping it free up believers in surprising ways?
These are the questions I wrestle with. But I can’t come to any decision until I decide to buy a new Macintosh.
While I’ve sat here and stewed about this the past few months, my thoughts about Jamie and Kent have raced ahead. I’m constantly writing dialogue for them in my head, new scenes, disagreements, sexual episodes and religious ones too.
Jamie decides that if they have to live in the old family homestead, it’s got to be redone, even if that means criticism from the rest of the family. He’ll preserve the most historic features and not violate the spirit of the place, but everything else is up for grabs. He loves art, but the relatives never got past paint-by-number. They are Hoosiers, he respects that (and is one too), but since they’re rich it’s time to spend some money.
He’s also going to reform their sexual politics and replace the patriarchy all family relationships have been built on. Relatives who don’t like it can “blame the Gay guy,” which will leave Kent as popular as ever.
New generations have to renew the old ways of doing things; thesis, antithesis, synthesis. All while chasing after some bad guys.
The point of Jamie’s being religious isn’t so I can say, “This is how you’re supposed to be and do and believe,” but to illustrate which side God’s really on. It isn’t the side of the bogeymen who claim to speak for Christ on TV.
The fact that Kent and Jamie have a very sexual (and semi-kinky) relationship is also meant to make this point; God loves sexual love, that’s why s/he built it into our bodies. Gay or Straight, it’s all the same to her; what s/he cares about is the quality of the relationship – the faithfulness of it, which is a lot more than “who puts what in where.”
So these two guys set out to find ecstatic delight in each other.
All permanent, loving relationships are a new synthesis, even though as Tolstoy said, happy families are all alike. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…”
Steve Tobin’s art, which I’ve only recently discovered, makes me itchy to start writing again. Jamie’s going to fill that house with spectacular joy; that’s how he reflects the God of creative beauty, and how he loves his lover.++