October Surprise: A Bit Odd

Reluctant Groom: Manlove, Evernight’s latest LGBT anthology, is an collection of stories celebrating May/December romances between two men… and, you know, forced marriages turning into happily-ever-afters.

What a perfect way to celebrate Pride Month!

Get it here from Evernight, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks

My story in Reluctant Groom is “October Surprise”

Image is everything to Whim, a stoic mayor who is also an openly gay, black man running for governor of a Southern state. So when the blackmail letter arrives, Whim knows there’s only one person in his city he can trust. Sunshine, raised in Whim’s aunt’s foster home, has idolized Whim since he was a kid. The young man is as brilliant as he is free-spirited, and his solutions to Whim’s troubles will either save the campaign or destroy them both.

October Surprise: a little bit odd

October Surprise: not exactly the story I thought I would be writing

I don’t usually write contemporary realism stories. My mind tends to run more towards the thriller and speculative sides of the romance genre.

I don’t usually write May/December romances. The power dynamic of a much older partner and a young person ‘groomed’ for the role always freaked me out when I was a teenager, and I never got over that.

And I never thought I would be asked to write a Forced Marriage between two men. I’m a little like Whim, and my old-fashioned ass is still tickled pink and a bit unused to the fact that gay marriage is legal in the U.S.

But one of the fun things about anthology calls is that challenge to get outside yourself and write something specific to a theme.

Like every other person on the planet, 2020 was a tough year for me. I’d left my apartment in NYC to teach abroad in Shanghai, China, just as the pandemic shut everything down. Abruptly, I was thrown out of my comfortable life with an enriching career and the luxury of my own home and pushed back into life as a cashier, living with my in-laws. I spent most of 2020 joking that quarantine was a writer’s dream, but in truth, I was worn out by fear. Fear of the pandemic, fear of my nation’s negligence, fear of the racial strife that seemed just as dangerous to my family as the disease.

Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. I was so wound up in these thoughts that a politician forced to marry to quiet down a scandal was the only story I could dream up. Thinking about a gay, black, uber-responsible Democrat running for governor was therapeutic for me.

Partly because I wished for a real-life Whim so much, I couldn’t bring myself to make him the sort of fella who would coerce his lover into a marriage. So, it ended up being Sunshine, the younger man, who was applying the pressure. It’s a little bit odd, so is Sunshine, so I wrote the story the way I needed to and hoped for the best (more on this in another post).

By the time I submitted it, my nerves were back. I knew I was walking the line of the most important part of the theme, and kicking myself for being cavalier with the rules, with spending months on this story with such an obvious flaw at the very heart.

I fully expected a rejection.

So when Evernight’s email came back, I was devastated but not surprised. It read: “Thank you for your submission. The story doesn’t fit the anthology requirements (almost opposite with the younger man being the forceful party)”

And then I stopped reading and wallowed for a while.

It wasn’t until a day later when I received a follow-up email asking for my response, that I went back and finished reading the initial email.

“… but the acquiring editor really enjoyed your story and is willing to bend in this specific case.”

So moral of the story, kids, finish reading your emails.

I hope you enjoy “October Surprise” even if it’s a little bit odd.

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