Friday, June 29, 2018

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: What if House Hunters Replaced Houses with Men?

Cover art by Paul Richmond, inspired by Roy Lichtenstein
Every Friday, I use this blog to highlight a title from my list of books and stories already out there that you might have missed. This week, I'm flashing back to a story that I got inspiration from the strangest place: HGTV's House Hunters TV show.

I asked the 'what if?' question so many writers ask when starting a new tale. This time it was, "What if House Hunters replaced houses with men?" OnTopDownUnder Reviews called Husband Hunters:

"The ultimate friends-to-lovers story..."


COVER BACKSTORY
The cover art by Paul Richmond was inspired by the pop art genius of Roy Lichtenstein

BLURB

You never know where the love of your life might turn up. 



When Matt Connelly suggests to his best buddy Cody Mook that they head to downtown Seattle to audition for the gay reality TV showHusband Hunters, both agree the experience might be a lark and a chance to grab their fifteen minutes of fame. What they don't know is that the show, modeled after HGTV's House Hunters, will open doors of longing neither expected. For Matt, the secret love he has long harbored for Cody might be thrust into the spotlight. Cody might realize his search for his perfect-forever-man extends no farther than the man who's always been at his side. 



Husband Hunters promises laughter, tears, and, just maybe, a happy ever after. Will Cody and Matt's story be one of best-friends-to-lovers—or an outright disaster?


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EXCERPT
“COUCH CRITIC” TV Weekly Magazine

By Amory Columbus

This week’s review takes a look at the latest entry in the reality television craze: Husband Hunters. For better or worse, reality TV and shows like this one have become a mainstay of twenty-first century entertainment delivered via the tube. Do TVs even have tubes anymore? I digress….

Husband Hunters is based on a simple premise, shamelessly modeled after another life-decision show: HGTV’s House Hunters. As we all know, that show takes us into the life of someone hunting for the perfect home. We get to stomp around with the potential buyer, testing the water pressure, checking out the backyard, searching for cracks in the ceiling. It’s all great fun and gives us a beginning, middle, and end, and leads up to a happy ending where we get to see the contented homeowner or owners all settled in their new nest, where they will live in residential bliss for many years to come.

Like House Hunters, Husband Hunters does much the same thing, focusing on someone who wants to find that perfect situation where one can be happy for the rest of one’s life—or at least the immediate future. But this show takes an even more modern twist, because it is about gay men looking for husbands. Along with the blossoming of reality television, the twenty-first century has also witnessed the blossoming of marriage equality, so that the premise for Husband Hunters is not only compelling but entirely possible—and legal.

Husband Hunters does not stray far from the show it’s modeled after in its basic premise. We have a gay man looking to get hitched and follow him as he spends three separate weekends with three potential suitors. We are privy to the conversation (easy or stilted), the gazes (soulful, embarrassed, or barely concealed boredom), the dinners, the breakfasts, and the activities the producers planned, designed to help the couples get to know one another. In recent episodes we have seen everything from a kayaking adventure on Kauai’s Wailua River to antiquing in St. Charles, Illinois, to attending the famous Sundance Film Festival. We are not privy to what goes on overnight between the “contestants.”

At the end of the three weekends, our single gay hero chooses one man to go on and… marry! Yes, darling, you heard me right. This ain’t your father’s Dating Game. In a fast-forward to a few weeks or a few months later, we get to be witnesses at a ceremony wherein the couple says their “I do’s.”

Cynical side note: one thing that not many folks know is that the network pays for the divorce if the couple decides to split up within one year. But that’s not something they talk about—it would be like focusing on a skid mark in a Fruit of the Loom ad. Yuck!

Anyway, your Couch Critic is here to answer the question: does this show make for good television? Like the show it’s modeled after, Husband Hunters offers us a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an end. You can’t help but get invested in our lovelorn single guy out to find the man of his dreams. Will he choose the hot but buttoned-down CPA from Santa Monica? Or will he go with the penniless but talented and oh-so-quirky tattoo artist from the Castro? Maybe the ginger bear with the amazing sense of humor will bring him his happily-ever-after. It’s fun to play armchair matchmaker.

But is it ethical? The Couch Critic has to wonder. I presume these guys actually spend more time together beyond the weekend portrayed on the show, just like the House Hunters in that other show must spend time looking at more than simply three options. But it rankles the romantic in me to see such a major life decision become must-watch TV. Can love be parsed into three six- or seven-minute segments?

Oh, what the hell! The romantic in me adores buying into the idea that love can and does happen surrounded by slick production values and ads for Kiehls, Subaru, and the Atlantis Cruise line.

If you can accept the premise and the ethics of a show that creates love and marriage assembly line style like I do, you too may be charmed by Husband Hunters. And you too, like me, may just find yourself more often than not grinning like an idiot or wiping a tear away as you watch the latest installment.


Friday, June 8, 2018

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Lost & Found, A Furry Love Story


Today, I'm thinking about Lost and Found and how it was inspired by my love for dogs...and for a good love story with a happy ending. Hope you'll let Barley the beagle and his human caretakers, Mac and Flynn, into your hearts today.


BLURB
On a bright autumn day, Flynn Marlowe lost his best friend, a beagle named Barley, while out on a hike in Seattle’s Discovery Park.

On a cold winter day, Mac Bowersox found his best friend, a lost, scared, and emaciated beagle, on the streets of Seattle.

Two men. One dog. When Flynn and Mac meet by chance in a park the next summer, there’s a problem—who does Barley really belong to? Flynn wants him back, but he can see that Mac rescued him and loves him just as much as he does. Mac wants to keep the dog, and he can imagine how heartbreaking losing him would be—but that's just what Flynn experienced.

A “shared custody” compromise might be just the way to work things out. But will the arrangement be successful? Mac and Flynn are willing to try it—and along the way, they just might fall in love. 

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Friday, June 1, 2018

FLASHBACKFRIDAY: My Most Autobiographical Novel, BLINK


BLINK is my most autobiographical love story (the first part, which takes place in 1981, anyway) and, perhaps, my most touching. If you believe in love and second chances, I think you'll love BLINK

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BLURB
Life can change in the blink of an eye. That's a truth Andy Slater learns as a young man in 1982, taking the Chicago 'L' to work every morning. Andy's life is laid out before him: a good job, marriage to his female college sweetheart, and the white picket fence existence he believes in. But when he sees Carlos Castillo for the first time, Carlos’s dark eyes and Latin appeal mesmerize him. Fate continues to throw them together until the two finally agree to meet up. At Andy’s apartment, the pent-up passion of both young men is ignited, but is snuffed out by an inopportune and poorly-timed phone call. 



Flash forward to present day. Andy is alone, having married, divorced, and become the father of a gay son. He’s comfortable but alone and has never forgotten the powerful pull of Carlos’s gaze on the 'L' train. He vows to find him once more, hoping for a second chance. If life can change in the blink of an eye, what will the passage of thirty years do? To find out, Andy begins a search that might lead to heartache and disappointment or a love that will last forever….


EXCERPT
Part One: 1982

Chapter 1: Andy

TRANSFIXED. THAT’S the only word I can think of to describe the effect his eyes had on me. They were a trap snapping shut. It sounds schlocky, melodramatic, the stuff of bodice rippers, but it was true: they were mesmerizing. The irises were fashioned from dark chocolate, so dark it became impossible to distinguish the pupil. They were framed by lashes so black and thick that one might be tempted to imagine these tiny curls of hair were augmented with mascara.

But that was not the case. Carlos, as I would come to learn his name, was all man. The rest of him was pretty spectacular as well—and I’ll get to that—but his eyes were what really swept me up and, in a way, never let me go. Moth to the flame.

Can a person be hopelessly infatuated by just a look?

The answer stood but a few feet away from me that early morning in Chicago, on the ‘L’ train, what was once called the Douglas-O’Hare line. I was twenty-two years old and on my way to work at my first job ever, at a catalog house west of Chicago’s Loop where I was putting my BA in English to use as a copywriter. Back then, mornings I was bleary-eyed and hungry for more sleep. The ‘L’ cars were crowded, and the gentle rocking motion of the train encouraged further slumber.

But Carlos, and the connection our eyes made, snapped me right out of my reverie. Our gazes meeting for only a second was electric, elevating me out of the music I was listening to on my Sony Walkman—Human League’s Dare album. Is memory teasing me by making me think the song that coincided with my first glimpse of Carlos was “Don’t You Want Me”? Or would that be just too perfect, my memory’s way of romanticizing the moment? I do remember the book open in my lap, ignored, although it was one I have come to love and reread throughout the years—William Maxwell’s The Folded Leaf.

It’s been… what? A little more than thirty years since that morning, yet the memory of how he looked then is branded on my brain as if etched there by fire. That image is as clear as if he stood in front of me only yesterday.

It was cold. January. Carlos was bundled into a blue down-filled coat, a brightly colored striped muffler wrapped around his neck. Black jeans. I, who had been riding the train since I switched lines downtown, had a seat, but he stood across from me, jammed against the frost-etched doors, surrounded by people who now only appear to me as blurs.

He was tall, maybe a little over six feet. His eyes I’ve already told you about, but the whole package was about dark allure, exotic. I would later come to learn from him that he was Cuban, but then all I could do was drink in the simple beauty of this man. His hair was black silk. In accordance with the times, it was parted in the middle, feathered back, and just long enough to cover his earlobes. His skin was fine, nearly poreless, and a lovely shade of cafĂ© au lait. Broad shoulders strained the confines of his bundled-up winter coat.

In that instant when our eyes met, the connection was like a pulse that went straight to my heart. It lasted for only a second or maybe a bit longer, but in that short space of time, my fertile imagination pictured an entire future with this man. Days together strolling a beach as the surf from Lake Michigan pounded the shore. Nights together as Carlos, dark eyes penetrating my own green orbs, pounded me. Hey, I was twenty-two years old—the hormones were flowing freely.

Yes, I lusted for him. In a split second.

And then I tore my gaze away. Heat rose to my cheeks, burning, in spite of the close-to-zero temperatures just outside the train car windows.

He had caught me. Caught me staring. In that fleeting moment, he had read my mind and seen the lust in my heart. He recognized me as the shameful, perverted thing I was, the queer I kept so carefully hidden from everyone I knew.

He was sickened by it. Or maybe another scenario—he was amused. The latter option was no more comforting. I tried to swallow and found my throat and mouth dry. I chanced a quick glance over once more and saw he had opened the Sun-Times and was reading.

My thundering heart slowed a little, and my rational mind tried to soothe me. He doesn’t know. He’s just another stranger on the train.

But God! He’s beautiful.

I chastised myself. I couldn’t allow the luxury of thinking the way I did about Carlos, even if my reverie lasted for only seconds. I was engaged to be married to my college sweetheart, who was, at this very moment, on the suburban commuter train, the Chicago Northwestern, headed into the city for her job as a sales assistant at Merrill Lynch, from her parents’ home in Kenilworth.

Alison. I turned my face to the glass and watched the river of cars moving along on the Eisenhower expressway, trying hard to forget the effect just a look from a man on a train had on me. The power, the attraction, the undeniable need I had for his touch. Whether I would admit it to myself or not, I was starved for the attention.

Yet I couldn’t allow myself these things.

It wasn’t who I was. It went against everything everyone—friends and family alike—believed about me. It went against the grain of the Catholic Church I had been baptized and confirmed in.

My biggest fear then was, if people knew, would they still love me? And the other worse fear was my awful wondering if anyone really did love me, because no one knew the real me, that dark part of myself I tried so hard to deny.

I forced myself to think of Alison, to replace the darkly taunting and delicious image of Carlos with her fair hair and blue-gray eyes, the warmth of her smile. I reminded myself, yet again, of my love for this sweet young woman. I pulled up a memory of her visiting me in the small town of East Liverpool, Ohio on summer break when we were both still in school. My parents had been away, and we spent a lot of time doing what two healthy nineteen-year-olds did (another reason I could deny these gay urges that polluted my dreams and fantasies and gave me no rest). We shared a fancy dinner neither of us could afford at the time just outside Pittsburgh. We saw The In-Laws at a long-ago razed movie theater in downtown East Liverpool. We slept curled into each other’s arms on the twin bed in my boyhood bedroom, spoons in a drawer.

It was magic.

And I cried like a baby as I watched her drive off in the rental car to Pittsburgh International Airport. I longed for her. I wanted her back. I loved her so much.

Weren’t those tears proof of my heterosexuality? Weren’t the days and nights lost in passion with a woman evidence that I could not be the thing I feared most—a gay man?

Of course they were. I couldn’t be gay. I was engaged to be married in just a few months. We would have a big wedding in the Catholic church in Lake Forest. Surely being a happy husband and maybe, one day, father would erase these urges that plagued me, would make me whole, would make me normal.

Surely.

I would be cured.

It wasn’t a stretch. I enjoyed the sex I had with Alison. I loved her with all my soul. Just to spot her walking across campus toward me lifted my heart.

My breathing returned to normal. While I had been lost in thought, we had made several stops on the Congress West line. I looked over. Carlos had gotten off at one of those stops.

The space left by where he had stood seemed to stand out to me, shimmering. Vacant. Part of me wanted to run to the window to see if I could see him making his way along the concrete platform running between lanes of traffic. But I stayed put and tried to tell myself I was glad this temptation was gone.

Chicago is a city of several million, I reasoned.

You’ll never see him again.

The thought was both a relief and a terror.

BUT I did see him again. The next time was a couple of weeks later, maybe a little more. A morning that was a bit warmer but still gripped by winter’s persistent but dying fingers. This was a morning just like the last. Again I was lost in thought, my nose buried in another book. This time I think it was one of my guilty pleasures, Stephen King and his rabid dog story, Cujo. I don’t know if I was listening to music. I was probably thinking of the workday ahead and the copy that would need to be written for products like hair dryers and electric mixers. The crowd was undistinguished, a blur and press of humanity.

I had forgotten about Carlos and the morning a few weeks ago. Work, evenings with Alison, and plans for our wedding that coming summer consumed me, and I was grateful for the distraction.

But then I looked up from the horror of Mr. King and saw him, once again standing in the crowded space by the doors of the ‘L’ car. I think I glanced up because he was looking at me.

Our eyes met. All the forgetting I had done in the ensuing weeks since I had last seen him rushed away like water down a drain. Just a glimpse of him set my heart to racing, sent blood flowing elsewhere too—lower. He was every bit as handsome as I recalled, and his beauty struck me dumb. I think if he had asked what I was reading, I wouldn’t have known what to tell him. A rabid dog was no match for the electrifying eyes of the man across from me.

He smiled at me, just a glimmer, little more than a quick upturn of his full lips.

I turned away quickly to stare out the window. My face burned as my mind interpreted the smile. It was not, could not have been, a gesture of welcome or recognition. It was not a smile that said, “Hey, I think you’re cute too.”

No, it was an expression born of ridicule. It had to be. My self-loathing back then took that simple smile and twisted it into something ugly—a taunt. He was laughing at me. Laughing at the queer who dared to stare at him for just a little too long, giving his hopeless desire away. I burned with shame, and I dared not look back.

I attempted to return to my book, but I found myself reading the same sentence over and over, trying to make sense of it. I wanted to restore order in my world, to feel like I was the young man I wanted to be, the one the whole world believed I should be.

I got off the train at Cicero that morning feeling shaken, yet wondering which stop he had gotten off at.


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