Saving the Date — Scars


Now available for pre-order.

I had a fantastic conversation with someone today that got me thinking about scars, and specifically the role of scars in Saving the Date.

When I made the choice to write Morgan as a character with violence-inflicted scars, I made the choice to also write him as someone who doesn’t have a positive relationship with them.

Why? Because my scars aren’t beautiful.

They don’t make me stronger. They’re not a map of a victory in my life, or a trophy I proudly carry. They’re twists of knitted flesh put there by violence.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had the following conversations:

“I really can’t see it.” This is the one on my chin, under the beard I always wear, revealed on the very rare occasions I shave. And while I’m glad it’s faint enough that some people can’t see it at a glance, believe me, I know where to look. If I’ve shaved and look into a mirror, it might as well be neon green.

“If people stare, let them stare. It’s their issue, not yours.” That’s…untrue. So, no. I’ll keep my shirt on, if it’s all the same to you.

“You should show people you’re not angry/upset/ashamed/whatever by your scars.” Why, exactly, is this my job? Also, you’re assuming I’m not angry/upset/ashamed/whatever. On any given day, I might be.

“They’re a part of you, and therefore special/awesome/wonderful/magical/some-other-positive-adjective.” I’m curious: would you say that about a tumour? I mean, that would be a part of me, right?

Now, before I come across too bitter or mean—too late?—I’m not a fool. I do understand these sentiments are coming from a good place. They’re meant lovingly. Our society as a whole is pretty darn critical of bodily “flaws” and scars are no exception. People who fight negative associations with scars are generally trying to reinforce how flawless=beauty=good not a good message. I completely agree with fighting the flawless=beauty=good message. But telling someone they’re wrong about how they feel about their own scars starts to feel off. Anthems about how you should love your scars, or how they’re amazing/awesome/beautiful? If I don’t feel that way, are they saying I’m wrong?

It can feel like it.

Scars also get put into terrible categorizations of whether or not they’re shameful, or tragic, or brave, or—my personal frustration—“inspiring” depending on how they were made.

Don’t even start with me with that inspiring nonsense.

So how do I feel about my scars? How did I write Morgan to feel about his scars?

Conflicted, for the most part. Or, on the best days, as close to a neutral détente as possible. I feel almost entirely the opposite about my scars as I do about my tattoos, and that’s as good an analogy as I can often offer someone: my tattoos are there because I chose to put them there, they are willfully induced memorials. When I see my tattoos, I see choice and remember choice.

My scars are the opposite. And my queerness is conflated with my scars.

Now, I can hide most of them. That little irony is not lost on me, as a queer guy. There are some—my knuckles/hands, the back of my neck—that I can’t cover, but people rarely comment on those: lots of people have scars on their hands. I sport a beard, so my chin is covered. And it’s not like having your jaw reconstructed leaves outward signs, other than having a way, way better smile and straighter (fake) teeth than I ever had before.

But my queerness is also the why.

I don’t love my scars. I don’t believe I ever will. What I have managed is that neutral détente, and it was hard won. They were put there by hate, and are an enduring, life-long reminder of that hate. I get why other people want me to think of them as a victory, or a badge of honour, or a trophy of survival, and I suppose in some literal sense they could be those things, but they’re just as much a reminder of what happened. And what happened was awful, not my choice, and certainly not worth it in some nebulous “made me stronger” philosophical way.

(And don’t dare take this opportunity to say “Everything happens for a reason.” I wrote a whole novella about that particular phrase.)

Other people will—and do—disagree with me. That’s fine. They’re not wrong about their scars.

I’m not wrong about mine.

Morgan is fictional, and as a queer man writing a queer character, I’m always nervous of accidentally putting forth some idea as “speaking for all” when I’m not. That nervous feeling doubled down with Morgan. Morgan is actively seeking out a one-night stand, through a matchmaking service, on the anniversary of his bashing. He’s trying to rob the calendar date of some of its power. He is seeking out being touched despite knowing it will be difficult. Some survivors do this.

Some don’t.

Both approaches are valid.

I did a lot with Morgan very consciously. He makes the first move in the story, precisely because he wants a good memory to associate with the date. He makes mistakes in the story, going a bit too fast and not communicating well at the beginning. He struggles with touch, even though he wants touch. He has a very mild shutdown, and works his way back out of it in no small part thanks to being with someone who can recognize the signs and talk to him. He relaxes partly because it’s a one-night stand service, clients are vetted, and the stakes and risks are low. He gets in over his head emotionally for the same reason. He makes assumptions about how the man he’s with feels about the scars. And throughout it all, he’s very aware that even a successful night won’t mean some sort of miraculous healing event has happened and never again will he be bothered by self-doubt or self-image.

But my goal with Morgan—the success of which I will have to leave up to the readers—was to show a happy ending coming to someone not in spite of how they feel about their scars, nor because of how they feel about their scars.

It just happens to someone with scars.



Saving the Date


As of this morning, Saving the Date has gone live for pre-order, so I thought I’d take some time to chat about this upcoming novella, and maybe whet your interest.

Saving the Date was born thanks to Romancing the Capital, where I met Angela S. Stone, a fellow author. We were going to be on a panel together, and I always try to read something the other authors have written before a panel, and I found her 1Night Stand story, Unsportsmanlike Conduct. I hadn’t heard of 1Night Stand before, but it’s a many-authored series about a matching agency (the aforementioned 1Night Stand) run by the mysterious Madame Eve, who has an uncanny knack of matching people perfectly for a night (and often, longer thereafter, even if they go in expecting just one night.) They’re fun, and short, and sexy, and when Angela suggested we could co-author one, it seemed like a really neat idea, and I started pondering for a character.

We split the book into Point-of-View. She’d write Character A, I’d write Character B, and before long we both had our ideas in place: her character, Zach, would be a divorced and closeted bi fellow; I was writing Morgan, a surviving (and thriving) victim of violence who’d reached the point where he was ready for some intimacy (though maybe not much more than that). From there, the ideas grew, deciding on complications took a while, and we went forward. Spin this up two years or so, and here we are with Saving the Date.

My goals for Morgan were specific. I wanted to write a character thriving post-bashing, but also pay some attention to what it’s like to carry scars and have a conflicted level of emotion about them. I wanted to write a character who’d done emotional and physical work recovering and recognizing he was ready for something more, with the guidance of a therapist and friends. I wanted to write a character who screws up a bit on this path, but recovers and gets through thanks to communicating with someone who understands at least a part of his struggle. And, most of all, I wanted to show one character who’d been hurt, not a representative of some nebulous everyone, because there is no one reaction or path or result.

Oh, and for those who read Handmade Holidays? There’s also a cameo or two to look forward to.

Conversion Therapy, Revenge Porn, and Criticism

I always feel like I need to start blogs like this with a caveat: I’m not telling someone they can’t write something. I will never tell someone they can’t write something. Much like my latest “Why You?” post over at SpAN, or previous discussions over Pseudonym vs Identity or Gay-For-You, I want to be super clear on this point, again, just in case: I’m not suggesting a limitation who can write what. At all.

What I am suggesting is there are topics that need a tonne of forethought, and that some topics are definitely going to get critical feedback. This? This is critical feedback.

So. A book crossed over to my radar yesterday which had multiple plot threads that gave me pause. I only ended up talking about one of them because I had spoons enough for one go, but I’ll touch on more today likely.

Now, this book hit my radar because of a review, and between the review and the blurb, I knew enough to know this was not a book I was going to read. The set-up is this: a gay man who is the sun of a reverend who runs a conversion therapy camp is outed viciously by another gay man who will stop at nothing to bring down the conversion therapy camp, so he films them having sex and releases it to the public. Years pass, and the man who released the video is now a war veteran returning to the same town, the conversion therapy camp is still running, and the man who was outed speaks at the camp in support, while dating a woman and trying to defeat his gay demons. Oh, and then they fall in love, forgive each other, and the religious fellow finds balance in his faith and his queerness.

And, deep breath.

Now, where I got frustrated yesterday was with the framing of the conversion therapy camp. The review made it clear that while the camp isn’t successful, and the story in no way says “it works, you can be cured!” and even touches upon how damaging it is, the father is presented as not-a-monster, someone who is misguided, who really does love the kids in his care, and that’s a really big problem, and is the first part of my criticism.

RTC - Nathan Teaching

I talk about writing queer stuff at conferences often, and questions of “real life stuff as plot bunnies” comes up a lot.

With respect: there is no loving way to support conversion therapy, and presenting a scenario any other way humanizes a dehumanizing, violently homophobic practice that kills queer people. I get this is fictional, and the character(s) of the father and son (who, again, works/speaks at this camp) might be written as otherwise amazing and compassionate, but no. One of them owns/runs a conversion therapy place, the other works there.

Conversion therapy kills queer people.

This strikes me as similar to the “redemption of the homophobic parent who kicks out the queer kid” plot I struggle with, but—frankly—all the worse. The review read very much like the character is perhaps “meaning well.” Like, somehow the father believes these children will truly be cured of their queerness and that would be better for their souls. Certainly, there are religious elements out there who feel that way. But framing it as coming from a loving place? That’s not loving, not at all. It’s somewhere in the Venn diagram of bigotry, gas-lighting, and brainwashing, just done super politely and with an “amen.”

It’s an imperfect analogy, but maybe compare this plot set up to any story where children die because the parents believe faith means they should use maple syrup rather than any form of medicine. The important thing isn’t whether or not those parents meant well otherwise, or aren’t outwardly abusive, no? It’s that the kid needs the medicine and if the child dies, that’s neglect/abuse/murder. You don’t see empathy levelled at parents who let their children die, nor would a redemption arc be welcomed.

Now, within the book review were mentions of suicide attempts, and mention was also made that this may have been a turning point for the reverend character. A person running a conversion camp is literally, actively, completely responsible for that. Deconstructing their motive as loving/not-so-bad/not-intentionally-awful?

That’s a poor choice. There’s no mention of whether or not the camp is shut down in the review, or whether or not the reverend goes to jail, or whether or not the rest of the children in his care are rescued and removed from their parents or, or, or… But the review did make it clear that care was taken to paint the reverend as a complex man who truly does, gosh darn it, love and care for his son.

No. No he doesn’t. He can’t. Not if he’s involved with conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is abuse. Supporters of conversion therapy are abusers. They are not loving, misguided parents who just need a NOH8 face sticker and our empathy so they see their institutions are bad. Those places need to be fought to a standstill, outlawed, and torn apart. They still exist. Today. They run. They’re not fictional. They’re awful and evil and kill queer people.

But, like I said, maybe the book does all these things to make it clear the man is evil, the organization is evil, and the queer kids are rescued and the institution is burned to the ground and the reverend ends up in jail. Maybe I’m misreading the review and the blurb, but it sure sounds like these characters are presented as “bad, but y’know, they do love them in their own way.”

And, again: no. All the no.

Conversion therapy kills, maims, tortures and destroys queer folk. Even if it’s wrapped in some “we love you, but pray hard to be different!” snuggie, it’s still all of the above.

So. I said all of that yesterday, and then stopped because I didn’t have more in me, but I also want to talk about the other character, too.

He videotaped himself having sex with the reverend’s son and then released it to the world to out the son. That’s… reprehensible. And, like conversion therapy camps, this is a scenario with a similar occurrence in reality. A young gay man, Tyler Clementi, was outed via a web-cam as a victim of homophobic cyberbullying. He committed suicide. His tormentors were charged, though one got community service.

I imagine the intention was to spin motivation as a key factor. The gay man in question is trying to destroy the conversion therapy camp, which is a solid goal. But to do so by violating and assaulting the closeted gay man is abhorrent (and let’s be clear, he did not gain permission for this act—this is assault). Revenge porn—even to bring down a hateful conversion therapy camp—is abhorrent.

And this character is a romantic lead.

Because, yes, this is marketed as a romance. A happy-ever-after (or -for-now) is in the cards for these two men.

And this is the second part of my criticism. I’ve mentioned this before with the whole “redemption of the gay basher who turns out to be gay” thing, but I struggle to imagine a romance scenario where a man would violate and assault a woman in the same way—film his taking of a woman’s virginity for any reason, without her consent, and air it to the world—and would still be considered redeemable as a hero for a romance novel.

And that’s just considering him a worthy romantic lead. Going one step further and pairing a man with the very person he violated and assaulted publicly? Putting the abused with the abuser as a romantic happy-ever-after or happy-for-now narrative under the umbrella of “forgiveness” is worrisome. Surviving (and thriving) after violence, or assault, or any form of traumatic victimization is in and of itself a lifelong effort. Pairing the survivor of trauma up with the person who traumatized them?

That’s a choice. And framing it as romantic is another choice. If those who’ve survived trauma criticize this choice was abhorrent, and dismissive, and adding to the struggle and stigma that already exists around surviving trauma and the pressure of “forgiveness” from others, I don’t think “it’s a romance” or “it’s just fiction” will really cut it. It’s similar to the whole “gay-bashers-aren’t-hot” discussion I had recently.

Anyway. This is already too long.

Conversion therapy is hateful, violent, and kills queer people; people involved in it cannot be allies or claim to love queer people.

Revenge porn is abhorrent and a violation and an assault; no one has to forgive someone who violates and assaults them.

It’s unfortunate that has to be critical feedback.

Queer Isn’t an Opinion

The other morning, I bumped into this tweet:

Screenshot 2018-01-10 06.37.48.png

“Can someone not agree with homosexuality & still respect those who are homosexual and individuals?”

On the surface, this seems pretty respectful and polite, right? She’s not swearing, she’s not calling for the eradication of queer folk, she’s just asking: can she not agree with homosexuality, but still respect homosexual individuals?

Nope. Nope she cannot.

And, in fact, she’s doing damage.

“Not agreeing with homosexuality” is still (albeit nonviolent and not as obviously impactful) homophobia. It’s still outright telling me I shouldn’t be entirely who I am. That’s not respectful.

And most importantly? It’s not the same as disagreeing with a choice.

It’s the “disagree” that makes this sound so polite, but it’s not polite. Disagreement is  for things like flavours, types of movies, or, say a favourite colour. Subjective stuff. Saying “I respect you but I disagree with you being gay” is like saying “I respect you, but I disagree with you being forty.”

It’s a state of being. It’s not something you can disagree with.

If it helps? Substitute other groups of people into statements about queer people, and you’ll likely see it right away.

Would you say “I respect deaf people but I disagree with deafness?” Or “I respect adopted people but I disagree with them being adopted?”

Of course not. It doesn’t make sense.

Now, I got what the initial poster probably meant when I saw the tweet. They likely meant “I don’t hate queer people, or want to make their lives more difficult, but I don’t agree that men should sleep with other men or women with other women.”

And, lo: here it is, in a reply:

Screenshot 2018-01-10 06.37.59

“They just don’t agree with men being with men and women being with women. They only find it okay for women and men to be together. That’s their belief. It’s just that simple. No hate. Just disagreement.”

And, again: Nope, that doesn’t work either. There’s definitely hate there, it’s by no means simple, and just because it’s hidden behind some “politeness” and isn’t as overt or obvious doesn’t make it less harmful.

Why not? Because voicing that opinion does make queer lives harder/adds hate/is queerphobic. When someone “disagrees” with queerness, they’re telling queers that they don’t get to have (or they would prefer queers wouldn’t have) consent based relationships with other adults because…

Well, because “ew.” Dress it up politely, it’s still “ew.”

And the range of “ew” ends with the individual. You don’t think men should have sex with men, or women with women? Don’t do it yourself. But vocalize that you don’t think other people should? You’re not being respectful, kind, or polite, nor are you “entitled to my opinion, don’t hate on me, LOL.”

When you’re publicly vocal about “disagreeing” with queerness, even when you caveat as much as you want about how you respect queer individuals (though, to be clear, what you’re doing is not respect at all), you’re adding to a cultural bias that already exists and persists under that “it’s just an opinion” fallacy.

You make my life harder. Because you saying “disagree” gives approval to those who disagree with my existence with their fists and boots and discrimination. You’re feeding the flames. To those who want to eradicate queer people, you’re standing there and saying, “Yes, I understand your opinion, and I share it.”

You’re just doing it politely.


If you’ve read Handmade Holidays, my wee holiday chosen-family romance novella from NineStar Press, you probably noticed there’s a theme around the ornaments Nick decorates his tree with. Not in the sense of an actual matching theme, but in how they’re added to each year, one or two at a time, building up his story on the tree.

It’s a wee bit biographical. Okay, it’s a lot biographical.


I’m a wee bit more happy about Christmas these days.

I’ve had a tradition since 1996 that deals with Christmas ornaments in a similar way as Nick. Now, the inciting incident—being on my own during the holidays—goes further back much further than that, but 1996 was the first year there was enough space and I could afford it. Just like Nick, I bought a floor-model tree that was on clearance the night before Christmas and just like Nick I lugged it home on a bus and just like Nick I realized I didn’t have any ornaments only after I put the tree up.

Prior to having an actual space to put up a tree (I had a long succession of living with roommates post-disowning), I often was lucky enough to be included in the holidays of my friends, especially those who stayed in Ottawa during the holidays.

And sometimes? I went out and saw movies on Christmas Day. I always volunteered to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, since it meant a nice paycheck and also meant someone else could have a day off.

But that first year with that tree in an apartment, my roommates already gone home for the holidays? Kind of sucked. Funnily enough, a friend who did cross-stitch ended up giving me a cute little ornament in a Christmas card, so on Christmas Day it turned out I actually did have an ornament. A box of candy-canes dealt with the rest of the tree, just like Nick.


One of the few remaining “filler” white ornaments.

The next year, I had picked up a package of inexpensive plain white ornaments, and a couple of strings of lights. And, once again, that year I received another ornament from a different friend when I hosted a small party I called “Christmas for Losers.” And a tradition was born. I hosted parties for anyone with nowhere to go, and I kept an eye out for ornaments, adding them to the tree as the years went by.


So, yes, that went into Handmade Holidays, too.

When I first met my husband-to-be, I was still working retail and was a manager, so I was still working both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, and so Christmas wasn’t really a favourite holiday by any means. Now, he liked themed trees, and I had my box of mish-mash nostalgia ornaments, and so we did the only responsible thing: we put up two trees. One at my apartment, and one at his house.

As I decorated the tree with him that first time in my awful little apartment, I walked him through the ornaments. “This was the year I got the job at the bookstore!” “This was the year I finished my degree!” “This was the year I started reconstructing my jaw!” (That last one isn’t a favourite, but hey, not all memories can be winners, right?)


Husband’s First Frog ™

That year, in his stocking, our first Christmas together, I got him a little glass frog ornament (he likes frogs). And when we hung it on my tree, I said, “This was the year I met you.”


When I moved in? We had a long talk about it that Christmas and decided to do the only responsible thing: we put up two trees, one in the entrance way, and one in the living room. Every year, we added to our ornament collection: a trip to Scotland we picked up a Thistle. In Houston? We found a beautiful star. And our friends, who have always liked and supported my ornament tradition would also gift them to us. When we renovated a spare bedroom and turned it into a library? A little Mr. Moose Fix-It ornament showed up under the tree. And so on.

1996 was twenty-one years ago. Quite literally half my lifetime. And because all those years have passed, there was a tipping point: there were as many ornaments about us as there were from before us.


Husband. Dog. Tinsel. It’s a thing.

Four years ago, when I snuck in permission to get a dog inside my first novel’s acknowledgements, a realization smacked us: the dog’s bed was where we always put one of the trees. There was nowhere to put two trees. And so we sat down, and my husband looked at me and said, “Let’s just do our tree. The nostalgia one.”

That was a big year for me, sniffle-wise.

The holidays can be a special slice of awful for queer kids who were kicked to the curb. There’s a relentlessness to the message of the holidays about family that—much like Nick in Handmade Holidays—I’ll likely always struggle with. But now, when I put up the tree with my husband and the dog (he helps by letting us cover him in tinsel), that tree? It’s full. It’s full of us, and the life we have together. And every ornament we hang on that tree makes us smile, and every year, somehow, we’ve forgotten a few of them and have this wonderful moment of remembrance.


This year’s ornament.

This year it was: “That was the year we paid off the mortgage!” “Our first Christmas with the dog!” and “Moe’s thumbprint ornaments!”

Oh, and this year? This year’s official ornament we picked up in Hawai’i, the same day I finished writing acknowledgements for Triad Soul. It’s made of wood, it’s super-light, and it’s a lovely reminder of a brilliant vacation that recharged and restored us both from a pretty wretched Ottawa winter.

So that’s the real world origins of the ornament tradition that waves its way throughout Handmade Holidays. Nick, Haruto, Phoebe, Fiona and Matt are a group of queers modelled very much on people I know and love, who face off against the holidays every year with each other, in the warmth of a chosen family that grows and evolves, and brings some warmth to the season.


Handmade Holidays

At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.

A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.

As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.


Where I’ll be at @CanConSF this weekend!


This is what I look like. Say hi.

Hey Ottawa people! So, starting this evening and through the weekend is the awesome Can*Con 2017 event at the Sheraton Ottawa, and though I’m sure you’re sick of me saying so by now, a reminder: I’ll be there.

So will some exciting people, so don’t let my presence put you off (ba-dum-tish!).

Registration opens at 5:00p today, and there are awesome panels, discussions, events, and readings to see.

Importantly? The Dealers Room is open to the public throughout the event, so if you see a name on a signing, or you want to check out some awesome books and products in support of the publishers and artists of Can*Con, you totally have access. Also, if you want, there are day-passes available as well as pricing at the door for the whole she-bang.

If you are looking to see yours truly, however? Allow me to make it easier for you.

Friday, October 13th, 2017.

I’m not on any panels or readings this evening, however, I totally think you should check out my husband taking part in “No, You Can’t Actually Do That With a Computer” at 9:00p, Salon D, because he’s cute and he knows his stuff when it comes to computer security; or for the horror fans, “Homophobia and Monster Stories” (which includes fellow BSBer Christian Baines), 9:00p, Salon F.

Also, I’ll be carrying two d20s so we can duel with our official Can*Con RPG characters.

Saturday, October 14th, 2017.

Okay, deep breath…


Romance! Second Chances! Time-Travel! Tropes aplenty…

At 10:00a, I’ll be talking “Romance Tropes We Love,” alongside Jessica Ripley, Angela S. Stone, and Jennifer Carole Lewis, in Salon C.

At 11:00a, I’ll be taking off my romance hat and putting on my queer hat for “Finding a Home for your Queer Stories,” alongside Caro Frechette, fellow BSBer Stephen Graham King, Kelsi Morris, and Derek Newman-Stille, in Salon F.

Then, at 12:00p, I’ll be taking off the queer hat and putting on my bookstore manager hat for “How to Interact with a Bookstore,” alongside Charlotte Ashley, Leah Bobet, Benoit Chartier, and Linda Poitevin, in Salon D.

At 1:00p, I will likely be running out the door to find something to eat. I’m totally available for nearby food inhalation.

At 3:00p, Leah Bobet and I will have the open-to-the-public Dealer Room signing real estate for half an hour, so drop on by, say hi, and maybe I can scribble my name on something for you.

Finally, w-a-a-a-y in the evening at 9:00p, I’ll be propping myself up beside fellow spoonies Caro Frechette, Cait Gordon, Talia Johnson, Jamieson Wolf, and Derek Newman-Stille, and attempting to be coherent about “Spooning with Spoonies,” in Salon E.

Sunday, October 15th, 2017.

I am foot-loose and fancy free all Sunday, so if you see me, corner me and say hello. Also, much like Friday, I shall ensure I always have two d20s with me so we can duel with our official Can*Con 2017 RPG characters. (I think I’m going to be a wizard).

Hope to see you all there!