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!
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: Inspiration
Evernight released the call for Reluctant Groom just before the 2020 elections. So I had politics on the brain. The initial plot-bunny that hopped through my head was about a gay politician who covered up a scandal by claiming the sex worker in those dirty pictures was actually his fiancé.
And that was all I had.
In my first attempts to carve out a story, I thought maybe the politician was the sort of rake who’d make Bill Clinton blush while the younger man was a college student who could barely speak in public. Or maybe he was a secret war vet? Or maybe a born-again Christian… that wasn’t working. Then I thought, maybe the politician was super corrupt and the young fellow was the victims of a sex trafficking thing and… that fell apart very quickly.
With the deadline for the submission getting closer and no idea who I should be writing about, I took drastic measures.
I made a playlist.
I love Spotify because it lets me like any damn song I want and keeps that song in a positively enormous list for me. When I get stuck on a character or a conflict in a Romance book, I shuffle it and let the first three songs dictate where I go from there.
The first song I came to was Johnny Cash’s cover of Eagles, Desperado. It’s an absolutely legendary song, made even more heart-breaking by Cash’s lonesome vocals. It was the perfect starting point for the December in my story. A cowboy type, trying to save his city. Thinking he had to do it all alone without letting anyone see his weaknesses. Whim Deluth became a paragon of his community, obsessed with appearances and haunted by his own virtues.
The second song was so wildly different I nearly skipped over it on instinct. be steadwell’s “What I Want,” is a glorious ode to lesbian seduction (like most of her songs). Lines like “she is a reoccurring dream/ and she came back just like I knew she would” and “I don’t wanna hear you scream/I wanna hear you whisper “Please don’t stop” coupled by the raw sensuality of the song are the reason I’m a huge fan of be steadwell. The May of my story was not going to be a wilting flower, or a soft, inexperienced victim. With that one song, Sunshine became a young, gender-fluid man who knew who he was, who he wanted, and how to get his way. Is it any wonder, the young man became the more forceful of the two?
The final piece to the puzzle came with another less known artist, Rebecca Angel, and her song “Again.” It’s a deceptively simple song. Here are the lyrics without repetition.
Touch me again
like you did before.
My skin cries out
with the memory of you.
I was tempted to include the repetition and the stresses. Half the magic of the song comes from the singer’s pleading, playful, forlorn longing. There’s a lovely spareness and mystery to those few words and the light touch of the instrumentation. It evokes a rich history between these two lovers, hints at something deeply broken, and offers hope that this time will be different, better, and more satisfying.
Three songs that I doubt have ever been put near each other before, but they came together, and suddenly, I had a story to write.