Yesterday, the world lost Corey Alexander/Xan West, and I’m reeling from it. Sometimes, I catch myself forgetting that friendships that are “just” online are often much more than that among marginalized communities, and this was a very painful reminder.
I try to be someone who uses my words for a living, but I’m at a loss as to explain the impact of losing their voice. In Romancelandia, especially, to me Corey/Xan was so devoted to raising the bar on discussions and representation of queerness in erotica, especially trans voices and trans characters, but also so many important intersections (of race, disability, and trauma/survival). There are few people who led discussions as carefully or as well as they did.
Back on February 21st, 2018, I was lucky enough to drop by Corey Alexander’s blog for a guest Q&A when Saving the Date came out, and I won’t lie: when Corey offered the spot after reading the novella—They liked what I’d written!—I truly felt like I’d accomplished something I’d set out to do.
I am excited to have ‘Nathan Burgoine here today talking about his upcoming m/m romance release, Saving the Date which is out this Friday! This story, which he co-wrote with Angela S. Stone, centers a gay trauma survivor who wants to give himself a new memory, a positive memory, to associate with the anniversary of his queer bashing. It’s a short meet-cute erotic romance with a matchmaking theme, and it centers a one night stand.
A Bit About ‘Nathan
‘Nathan Burgoine grew up a reader and studied literature in university while making a living as a bookseller. His first published short story was “Heart” in the collection Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction. Since then, he has had dozens of short stories published. He has also released two gay romance novellas, In Memoriam, and Handmade Holidays. ’Nathan’s first novel, Light, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Since then, he’s written Triad Blood and Triad Soul.
A cat lover, ‘Nathan managed to fall in love and marry Daniel, who is a confirmed dog person. Their ongoing “cat or dog” détente ended with the rescue of a husky named Coach. They live in Ottawa, Canada, where they bake, go snow-shoeing, and play board games like the geeky nerds they are.
An Interview with ‘Nathan
C: How would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering your work?
N: I mostly inhabit contemporary spec-fic; generally speaking a reader is most likely to get our world but with a dash of something magic, psychic, or other, but I do also write contemporary without that spec-fic. The latter is less often (and includes Saving the Date). I write queer, though, no matter what I’m writing. Usually my POV character(s) inhabit a queer male voice, but they live in a queer world as much like my own as I can make it (albeit often with access to magic of some kind).
That’s all really wordy, though, so how about: mostly queer shorter fiction with a dash of magic, though sometimes novels happen despite my best efforts.
C: What sparked Saving the Date for you? What made you want to write this particular story?
N: There’s a local romance con, Romancing the Capital, where I met Angela S. Stone (among many other awesome authors) and she introduced me to the concept of the 1Night Stand series: it’s a very large series many authors have written where the commonality seed is a woman, Madame Eve, who has a perfect ability to match people. And although many sign up for just a one night stand, they often find much, much more than they were looking for.
We were discussing how some of the authors in that series had paired men up for their titles, and Angela herself had done a couple of them, and she put forth the idea of co-writing one. I’d never co-written before, and I’d never been a part of a multi-author series before, either. The temptation was there, and it took root. Over the next few months we began batting ideas back and forth. We decided to take turns with character POVs, and picked our characters.
When I pondered a character who’d be using a service like 1Night Stand, it clicked for me that this was an opportunity to tell a story about someone surviving/thriving after violence, and in a way that spoke a bit to my own experience: an active seeking out of a way to reclaim a calendar date from a bad memory.
C: I was struck by the role queer bashing takes in this m/m romance, partly because it’s such a stark contrast to how this kind of trauma often occurs in m/m romance, where it often occurs during the timeline of the story. You placed it in the past, after Morgan has been working on recovery from this trauma for quite a while. It makes for a very different kind of story, and a different kind of engagement with queer hatred, I think. Can you talk about this choice, and where you see this story in the context of m/m romance as a genre?
N: I very purposefully placed Morgan’s bashing three years into his past. My own experiences were this: the first anniversary, many people remember, and gather to help. It was a horrible day, but I had so much backup if I wanted it. The second anniversary? Less people rallied, and I handled it. The third? I was on my own and really resenting the power the day had over me. I specifically set up an alternative—I took a short vacation—and that helped rob the day of some of its power.
And it was all done with the help of therapist and friends both. That was a huge piece I wanted included in Morgan’s back-story. There’s this awful “time heals all wounds” thought that sometimes gets bandied about I think is applied too easily to the trauma of others. For many, many people recovery is work. Hard, exhausting work.
So by placing Morgan’s bashing three years in the past, I could frame him as being in a particular emotional and mental place, and not feel like I was cheapening the impact of the violence on his life. It happened, and it has had a very real and harsh impact on his life, but three years later Morgan is feeling more in control of his life. He’s ready for a new step. He’s not rushing. He’s trusting his therapist to help. I wanted it to be about him, not the violent thing that happened to him.
I often struggle with the representation of bashings in m/m romance. A person’s reaction to violence is individual, of course, but the volume of hurt/comfort built around bashing often disconnects me as a reader, as it rarely strikes a chord with my experiences.
C: It’s clear that one of the core things you wanted to do in this book was to center a character who is reclaiming the date of an anniversary of his hate crime and making it into something else. Can you tell me about why that’s important to you?
N: Morgan is probably one of the most “goal oriented” characters I’ve ever written, in the sense that his character is all about trying to accomplish something very specific, and he vocalizes it from the get-go. Given that he’s in an erotic romance, his goals are also sexual, but reclaiming a sense of sexuality after a bashing can be a huge deal. And going back to m/m romance, it’s not generally something I’d bumped into before.
Anniversaries and holidays have power, often regardless of whether or not we’d like them to. In the same way Handmade Holidays dealt with Christmas for a queer kid kicked to the curb, Saving the Date let me explore something similar but without the cultural relentlessness. Unless others are told or are in the know, an anniversary of violence remains personal. It’s not like Christmas, which is a loud, brash, unescapable noise for weeks. A character like Morgan let me put a voice to something I rarely saw in romance, and in an organic way.
The importance of it to me, personally, comes from the same place, though. Whether it’s Christmas or a personal anniversary of violence, I try to write stories to resonate with my lived queer experience. I know I’m by no means the only person out there who looks at Christmas with trepidation, and I’m sure the same holds true here. I like not feeling alone myself, and much of the positive reader feedback I got from Handmade Holidays included other queer people who’d made their own good things from the holidays when what was “supposed” to happen wasn’t available.
C: One of the things that really resonated for me as a reader was how Morgan has a complex relationship to being touched; there are some kinds of touch that are triggering and difficult for him as a result of the trauma he’s experienced. This is something that comes up organically during the sex scene with Zach, which made so much sense, as it’s his first time having sex after the bashing, and not something that’s often predictable. One of the more interesting aspects of this moment in the story is that it is told from Zach’s POV. What motivated that choice? What does Zach’s POV bring to those moments?
N: This was a big choice, and if I remember correctly, Angela and I were sitting on a couch in between panels at last year’s Romancing the Capital when we were really working on those scenes, and we did make the conscious decision to keep a few key moments in Zach’s POV. It became about finding the balance between some authenticity in Morgan’s processes and not forgetting that the readership of the story in question is reading an erotic romance, and was probably the piece we went back-and-forth over the most.
The very first move (which is also in Zach’s POV) is Morgan kissing Zach in one of the changing booths on the canal. That was on purpose, and communicated Morgan’s intent for the date. Zach interprets that for what it is, and they head to the hotel. Once at the hotel, Zach moves at a pace that isn’t unusual for two queer men in their situation.
And then things go a bit wrong. Morgan shuts down.
So why Zach’s POV?
For one thing, as an erotic romance and part of an established series with a particular tone, we needed to balance Morgan’s reality with—I’ll speak bluntly—not being completely overwhelming or potentially too dark. Seeing him from the outside takes the reader a step away from that moment, while still giving us a window through someone living that moment—Zach—who realizes and reacts pretty close to perfectly, given the situation.
And it gave us an opportunity to do exactly that: show a character reacting well to someone shutting down. Zach communicates, supports, and is patient. Angela and I both have very strong opinions on the intersection of consent and erotica, and it was a great opportunity to show how checking in is sexy, for example. How changing the pace for someone can be necessary.
C: I liked that the story doesn’t automatically assume that Morgan getting triggered meant that sex would stop. That instead it’s assumed that they can figure out a way to have sex that will work for Morgan, as that’s what he wants. Zach comes up with a strategy that sparks one of the hottest moments in the book. That moment in the story, and Zach’s creative approach to it, feels like it’s very much about honoring consent in complicated ways. Can you tell me more about consent in your writing, and how you navigate the complexities of it?
N: The chair scene was the first scene to occur to me when I tried to frame a thriving/surviving story in my head as an erotic romance.
I wanted to show how specific a trigger can be, even when it’s something many people would think of as anything but. Morgan struggles with the physical size of Zach (even though that’s also something he finds attractive), and sometimes it is just as simple as how someone moves. Removing that movement, or circumventing that movement, with clear communication and stated intent and putting all the power back into Morgan’s hands?
I wanted to make that sexy.
I also wanted it to be a moment of triumph for Morgan, so while he stumbled, he stumbled with someone who understood enough to know that it didn’t mean everything had to stop, just that things needed to change direction if they wanted to go forward. They talk to each other. Zach makes an offer, and Morgan accepts—and Morgan also knows he can call a halt at any point, and in that moment achieves a level of trust with Zach that lets him continue.
I tried to show every step of those consents in action, and stated very clearly when possible. Zach backing off. Morgan making it clear he’d still like to keep going, but that he’s feeling stymied and why. Zach coming up with a potential solution and offering it. Morgan taking time to digest that offer, to test how it felt to him, and then to accept it. And then, after all that, to give Zach permission to move forward again.
Consent is always on my mind when I write erotic content, and Morgan’s frame of mind made me consider it all the more carefully. The difference in the scene with the chair from the scene where the two men first arrive in the hotel room was entirely about clear communication, and I wanted to underline it.
C: I’d love to hear a bit about your co-writing process. How did collaboration work on this story?
N: One of the nice things about splitting character POVs was we mapped out the events and narrative, wrote our scenes, and often left in place-holder statements in dialog. Most of our input in each other’s chapters were about our own character’s dialog or characterization. There was lots of “How would Morgan answer this question?” and “How would Zach say this?”
Having two authors work two different POVs made keeping the character voices pretty organic. I’d never co-written anything before, so I had no idea how it would go, but Angela had done it before, so before I knew it, there were shared files and tracked comments and little dialog boxes everywhere. It threw me a bit at first—I’m not used to getting feedback while I write (literally while I was writing, feedback could pop up!) but it certainly kept us on track.
Our backgrounds came into play, too. Zach’s bisexuality, and how his sexuality was presented and written was key to his POV. And Angela helped me tone down some of Morgan’s darker tone in places, for example. And I think we each stole one block of dialog from the other and moved it to our own chapters, so that balanced out.
C: I really appreciated the bisexual representation in the story; it resonated for me, and felt very real. Particularly the moment that references Zach’s distance from queer community because of how bi folks are often treated when they speak openly about their lives. Can you talk a bit about Zach and your other bisexual characters?
N: Full props to Angela for that moment. We worked that scene a few different ways to get it right, so it dropped organically, didn’t make Morgan out to be too much of a jerk, but had the right level of biphobia/sting/frustration for Zach’s lived experience.
One of the reasons I call myself a queer man is I struggled with “bisexual enough” and find no one argues with me calling myself queer, but even some good friends made (unintentionally) frustrating comments along the lines of “I guess you’re pretty much gay now” once I married my husband. Depending on the crowd I’m in, I’ll adjust how I introduce myself, using queer or gay.
Angela wanted to write Zach as clearly bisexual-but-leaning-to-women, and that meant it was easy to explore the kind of biphobia that comes into play from within the queer community and leads to bisexuals-in-relationships never coming out. Certainly there was zero reason for married Zach to come out given his life, family, and career. Now divorced and facing a moment where he’s feeling actively closeted in a different way, he’s faced with a different scenario. That’s a very real frustration, and I think Angela wrote it clearly and cleverly.
In my own writing, I get to be emphatic with intent and statement. Matt (in Triad Soul) is on-page stated pansexual, Rebekah and Luc (Triad Blood) are bisexual, Pheobe’s boyfriend Dennis (Handmade Holidays) is bisexual, Pheobe (Handmade Holidays) is a straight trans woman, and I think Nico, one of her trans man friends, is mentioned in Saving the Date, too. I like being specific. Using the words, using the identities, is important especially in my representations of fictional chosen queer families, because that’s my lived culture. So often I bump into romances where the only two queer characters are the two gay men falling in love. They don’t even have queer friends. That never feels authentic.
C: This story has crossover with another story of yours, Handmade Holidays, which centers queer chosen family. Can you tell me about why writing stories that center queer characters who are connected to queer community and queer chosen family is important to you?
N: In many ways, writing for me is a form of time-travel wish-fulfillment. I write the stories I never found and wish I could have found when I was first looking for them. I don’t think that’s uncommon for queer writers—we never got to see ourselves growing up, let alone thriving versions of ourselves. And even though strides are being made in some places, for some notions of queerness, there are still characters that go missing.
One of my particular focuses is queer chosen families specifically because it’s my reality, but in fiction—especially mainstream fiction—it’s not there. If there are disowned queer kids, it’s all wrapped up in a fictional arc and everyone ends up reunited with their families with rainbow and glitter and it’s a Very Special Episode, and everyone learns their lesson.
Except I don’t believe the lesson is for (or even about) queer people in those stories, so it misses the mark for me. That isn’t to say every parent of every queer I write is going to be awful (because that’s not my lived reality, either). It’s just that I pretty much owe my own survival after I came out to a particular group of drag queens and the local bear community, and a growing circle of queer friends were there for me through the worst of it, and it’s important to me those kinds of stories are told for other people in the same situation.
C: What’s next on the horizon for you? What stories are you working on?
N: This June I’m releasing my first collection of short fiction, Of Echoes Born, and I’m beyond excited. Short fiction is my first and best love in the world of writing. The dozen stories in the collection (half of which are new including one novelette) interconnect—I like to share characters in my fictional Village—and it includes a few references to Handmade Holidays and other stories I’ve written even if they’re not in the collection. All the stories are speculative fiction, in that there’s the dash of magic, or psychic, or other, and is bookended with a pair of new stories with a character, Ian Simon, I’ve been working on for over a decade.
I’ve also got a YA in the pipeline, Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks, about a somewhat hyper-organized gay teen who has his whole life plan ready to go and is just waiting to graduate high school and then develops a teleportation problem.
Currently, I’m working on Triad Magic (the third in my paranormal Ottawa series) as well as another holiday novella I’m hoping to have done for this Christmas, Faux-Ho-Ho, which is a fake-relationship holiday romance and the inciting plot incident is more-or-less where Handmade Holidays ended.
And somewhere in there? I’m going to try to write more short stories for anthology calls, too.
More about Saving the Date:
After a vicious gay bashing, Morgan has spent the last three years working hard to survive and thrive. His latest plan? Using Madame Evangeline’s high-end dating service, 1NightStand, to take the anniversary of the worst night of his life and replace it with a good—and maybe even sexy—memory.
Zach, a police officer with the Hate & Bias Crime Unit, is still coming to terms with his divorce and struggling to move on with his life. Using a matchmaking service is so very not his style, but sometimes a guy has to trust his friends—even if they don’t know everything about him, and he’s not sure they ever will.
Face-to-face, however, it becomes clear that despite an attraction, there’s a problem. Morgan and Zach have already met—three years ago. But with some courage, a couple of pairs of skates, and a leap of faith? Morgan and Zach have a shot at saving more than one day. Together? They might just make a future.
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