It's always a pleasure to host Ms Gayle. I enjoy her wonderful stories and she usually brings some fine looking men with her! She also brought a copy of her latest work, Red + Blue, for one lucky commenter.
My first contact with Ben occurred one October morning a couple of years ago. I was lying in bed, wandering half asleep in that inspirational dream world where you just wish you had mind-captcha to record all those great ideas that vanish as soon as you get up. Suddenly, this voice inside my head piped up, “I gather your shit scared because you don’t know what you’re going to write about for Nanowrimo.”
Now, contrary to public opinion, I’m not quite ready for the insane asylum, and don’t normally speak out loud to people who aren’t really there, so my reluctant affirmation of “Spot on” was more mental than verbal. I had recently signed up for the National November Writing Month and was starting to panic about the required minimum of 50,000 words. However, don’t ask me how Ben knew of my predicament.
“I can help you.”
His voice sounded so certain, so real, that I checked under the bed to make sure I was really alone. Nope. Only dust. Makes mental note to stop spending so much time staring at the blank computer screen and do some housework! Oh, well. Looked like a little white pill was going to be on the menu tonight!
“How are you going to help me?” I muttered to myself, snuggling back under the covers.
Ben set off on this convoluted tale in which the names Jason, Mick, Adrian, Carl and Chris cropped up at regular intervals. Still, not willing to admit I was really hearing things, I focussed more on the young man’s accent instead. Every now and then, a slow drawl would break through, as if he was going to great pains to disguise his place of origin. Unfortunately, I’m no Professor Higgins and unless the speaker is from Brooklyn or the Deep South, most Americans sound the same to me. He stopped for a moment to take a breath.
“Where are you from?” I interjected before he could start up again.
There was wariness in his reply. “Minnesota.” Before I could get a chance to mention that I’d been there and to find out which part, he was off again, telling me that he was living in San Francisco now and his adventures there would make a great story. From the sounds of things, he was young, possibly early twenties, and ...the penny dropped...gay.
Okay, that sounded promising. “Sounds interesting,” I hedged. I hadn’t really been paying attention. “Why me?” Those words would occur again and again over the next few months, normally accompanied by a few handfuls of hair being torn out. However, I distinctly remember his first reason.
“You know how you were thinking the other day that a lot of m/m romances are about alpha males in dramatic professions like fire-fighters, cops and soldiers...”
Obviously, someone who only existed in my imagination would be totally cognisant with my every thought, so this time I didn’t bother wondering how he knew.
“...and you were bemoaning the fact that none of them were real men in everyday jobs....”
Momentarily setting aside his offhand dismissal of some wonderful romantic heroes, my affirmative response was guarded. I could tell I was being softened up for something terrible. “And...?” I prompted.
“And your website www.abgayle.com says you like a challenge....”
“True.” Unfortunately, I was never one to take the easy option. “Put me out of my misery.” I begged. “ Where do you work?”
“For an insurance company.”
An insurance company?????? “What the...? Are you an accountant?” He’d warned me it would be a challenge, but really? Visions of Monty Python skits, featuring men in bowler hats, carrying briefcases and furled umbrellas flashed through my mind. Was I about to write the gay version of “Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying?”
“No!” His voice almost broke, so strong was his indignation at my unvoiced cynicism.
Woops. Note to self. When carrying on a conversation in your head, the other person knows exactly what you’re thinking.
“I’m an actuary. Well, studying to be an actuary at any rate. You do know what they are, don’t you?”
As it happened, I did. Both the ones I knew were super intelligent, but not nerds. Good at sports. Definitely not your typical bean counter. Maybe I could do this. “But stories need conflict? Where’s the drama? Where’s the pathos?”
“Conflict? There’s plenty. Most insurance companies discriminate against gay men, by not letting them purchase life insurance once they’re diagnosed as having HIV.” He proceeded to tell me a tale of how one company had even been taken to court when they refused to pay out on a policy because the guy died of AIDS.
“My readers will be yawning after five minutes if I tell them all that, Ben.”
I almost felt the air around me move as he mentally let out a deep sigh. “I know, but things like that matter. It makes gay men feel like their life’s not worth anything once they become positive. Don’t forget that contracting HIV isn’t a guaranteed death sentence anymore and insurance companies have limited cover for people with other terminal diseases.”
“It’s still not a topic for a romance.”
He was silent for so long I thought at first that I’d scared him off. But I should have known better. Ben is persistence personified. Even though this interview was not taking place in the real world, I felt an instant empathy for the young man. His heartfelt passion and righteous indignation were palpable, real. I stretched out an imaginary hand. “Tell me a little bit about yourself. Maybe there’s a story there. What about the guys you mentioned. Are they your boyfriends?”
“No!” he spluttered indignantly and smothered a laugh. “Well, not exactly. I work with Jason, Carl and Adrian, Mick is a friend and Chris is one of my brothers.” His tone became reproachful as he added, “Just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they want to get into bed with every man they meet.” An infectious cackle burst out. “Only the good looking ones!”
He dropped some pictures into my mind. I scanned through them. Nice eye candy.
“Still, not enough conflict, though.”
“What about the fact that everything gets affected by the recent global financial crisis?” A note of desperation had crept into his voice. “That’s really made life difficult. Adrian and Carl have been tearing their hair out, making sure the business survives.”
“Yeah, but my readers don’t want to be reminded of things like that. They want exotic settings. Not dreary offices.”
“What about Northern Californian vineyards and millionaires’ mansions on Long Island?”
“Still, not sold. Sorry, Ben.”
“Is the Quetico exotic enough? That’s why I approached you. You’ve been there. You know what it’s like.”
“True, but canoeing isn’t sexy and sex sells.”
“Well, now you come to mention it, there is some sex in the story. Let’s face it. I am a twenty three year old gay guy. Naturally, there’s sex.”
A conglomeration of images filled my head based on what he had told me so far. His personality shone through his words. Full of life, vibrant. Still, readers are pretty hard to please.
“Maybe if you send me an outline and a picture of yourself.” Naked preferably, I added mentally and immediately kicked myself. He must have heard that!
“Okay,” He sounded shy and a bit hesitant. “I’ll send a recent one that my brother, Chris, took when we went paddling last year. It’s a bit goofy and only from my waist up.”
I blushed and told myself to stop being a perv. “That’s fine!”
Then he sent me the photo and the introduction. Well, I couldn’t not write the rest of the story, then, could I?
Some men can wear red, some can’t. Being a redhead, I avoid it like the plague. The color suits my buddy, Jason. With his tanned olive skin and dark hair—thanks to his Spanish mom—when he wears red, you start looking for the charging bull. His ass looks great in tight black matador pants too. Pity he seldom finds an excuse to wear them. Mind you, in his dark pinstripes, he can double as a GQ model any day. He has that mandatory slim-hipped sexiness and the pout to match.
I, on the other hand, always look exactly like what I am—a country bumpkin. As for tans, I gave up trying after overdosing on UV as a kid, hoping my freckles would join up. All I got for my trouble was sunstroke, a face as red as a lobster, and a walloping from my dad.
Jason hails from Long Island but never talks about his folks much, always more interested in tales of my family. When we first met, he kept bugging me to do some Minn-speak. “Say, ‘Ya, sure, ya betcha’, Ben.”
I told him to suck my cock for supper instead. Geez, one of the reasons I came to San Francisco in the first place was to get away from Minnesota. Why would I want to advertise where I came from once I got here? Yessiree, Bob. My older brothers might be happy staying there, but I wanted out. That’s why I jumped at the offer of a summer internship when a rep for Sydney Sutherland Family Insurance came scouting around college back in February. My talent for number crunching gave me the chance to follow my dreams to Gay Central.
I met Jason in a bar in the Castro not long after I arrived. There I was, talking to my friend, Mick—well, I’d known him for ten minutes and he was still speaking to me, so that made him a friend in my book—anyway, Mick had asked me to ride on a tandem with him in the upcoming Pride Parade when this good-looking dude in a silky red shirt and black leather pants elbowed him aside and pulled me onto the dance floor. He acted like he knew me, but it wasn’t until I was fucking him into the mattress two hours later that I finally figured out he was one of the firm’s top-gun salesmen.
You see, my traineeship role as an actuary keeps me apart from the snake-oil peddlers and their expense accounts. I assumed they were all conservative breeders with a wife and 2.5 kids, struggling to stay afloat with too much gearing on their five-bedroom McMansions and Porsches. It was real good to find I wasn’t the only gay guy working for the firm.
I hadn’t recognized Jason, but my hair makes me stand out in a crowd. Being six-two in bare feet also helps. Jason claims he’s six foot, but hey, that’s only if he’s wearing his high-heeled Cubans.
We don’t broadcast our relationship at work, although he always pinches my ass on the way to his weekly meeting with Adrian Sydney Sutherland, the head honcho of the western division. For some reason, my daily visit to the water cooler coincides with the time Jason walks past. No, wait, I remember—we planned it that way. Heh. Lucky no one has ever caught on. I think the boss saw him grope me a couple of times. The clichéd narrowed lips and hard eyes when he glanced our way indicated that something upset him, but maybe it was just acid reflux.
Thank you for joining me today AB Gayle. It's always fun to find out how a story came into being. And what an unusual tale you have spun for us today.
Ms Gayle is offering a copy of Red + Blue. Just comment below and leave your email address. A winner will be chosen at the end of the week. Good luck everyone! The rest of us will have to wait until May 25th to order our copies, print and ebook. I know I am looking forward to reading this story.