Today I am so pleased to welcome Neil S. Plakcy to Joyfully Jay. Neil has come to talk to us about his Love On series. He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Neil a big welcome!
What I have learned about gay romance from my college students
Sixteen years ago, when I began teaching English at a South Florida community college, I was determined to be out in the classroom. Students seemed to appreciate that; at the end of each term I had at least one young man tell he was inspired by me, and relate a sad story of abuse, homelessness and rejection by family members.
The tide began to turn about five years ago, when I had a student announce, when he introduced himself on the first day of class, that he wanted to be the gay Oprah.
That’s when I realized I could use my students and their experiences as a basis for my gay romance novels. Though I am a lot older than they are, I understand their challenges in finding love and career success, and I was eager to write about the gay culture I saw developing on South Beach at the turn of the millennium.
My first two romances, GayLife.com and Mi Amor, focused on guys in their late twenties, already out in the world. But I wanted to write about my students and young men like them, ready to take those first tentative steps toward adulthood.
To get to know my guys, I began with a book of erotic short stories, Three Lambs, about a gay fraternity on the FU (Florida University) campus in Miami. They were fun to write, and several of those story protagonists stayed in my mind, asking how they were going to get their HEAs.
I began with Love on Site, a story that came from five years I spent building shopping centers, particularly in Miami. I knew the kind of environment my protagonist, Manny Garcia, would be entering—and how different, and old-fashioned it was. From a college experience where he was able to be out and proud, he walked onto a Latin-dominated construction site where the word “maricon” was tossed around casually.
His crush on his handsome boss didn’t make things easier. It was fun to play with tropes here—older/young, conservative/liberal, and throw in the Cuban culture of Miami as well as all those handsome, shirtless guys working in the hot sun. I kept a comment by one of the office assistants on a site in mind: “I never knew backs could be so sexy!”
The second book in the series, Love on the Web, was also inspired by my work experience, since I spent ten years as a computer game producer. Like many of my colleagues, Larry Leavis is gawky and uncomfortable, and it was fun to put him up against a very suave guy who is attracted by Larry’s virginal mien.
Of course Larry doesn’t realize what he’s getting into when there are suddenly two guys after him, so geek/cool guy became torn between two lovers as well. Plus I got to add in the interesting app development work my students were telling me about in classes.
I kept going, learning from students who were interested in performance (Love on Stage, with an older/younger mentor/mentee vibe), and computer-assisted mapping with a stepbrother twist (Love on the Map). The final book in the series, Love on the Boil, is a second chance at love slash business enemies forced to work together story. Did you know that you can make really cool alcoholic drinks with a base of uniquely-flavored artisanal teas? It’s South Beach, where geeks and hunks can easily meet over a pairing of wild cocktails.
The book of my heart, though, turned out to be the fourth in the series, Love on the Pitch. Almost as soon as I moved to Miami, some thirty-plus years ago, I had an idea about an athlete who strives for perfection in his sport, reaches it—and then wonders what comes next. At the time I was thinking of an Olympic gold medalist in the luge who moves here, where people hear the word “luger” as “loser.”
He ended up becoming a side character in my nerd/jock story, Love on the Pitch, about how a star football player gets his chance at the NFL, then washes up, and finds redemption in gay rugby—and realizes that the geek who tutored him in math in college just might be the love of his life.
No students were harmed in the writing of these books, though I admit sometimes I do look at them like lab rats and the subjects of my literary experiments. I am proud to report that even in the most traditional enclaves of Miami, dominated by gay-unfriendly immigrants from places like Jamaica and Latin America, there is a growing tolerance for LGBT youth—and the chance for them to get their own happily-ever-afters.
Excerpt from Love on the Pitch
Warren walked up closer to the picture, and that’s when he saw a collection of lapel pins mounted on black velvet, under glass. At a quick glance, they looked like they were from the Winter Olympics. “You collect these?” he asked Victor.
“I did. In Vancouver. See, that one’s from the opening ceremonies, and that one’s from the closing. That square one with the snowflake was the official pin for the luge team. I got a whole bunch of them and then traded them for most of the rest of these.”
“That’s cool,” Warren said. “I watch the Olympics on TV. It must have been so awesome to actually be there.”
“I knew you’d understand,” Victor said. “After it was over I was lost. I had no idea what else I wanted to do with my life. I spent years chasing that dream, and I had nothing to replace it with.”
Warren looked at him curiously. “You spent years wanting to watch the Olympics in person?”
“Not watch, Warren. Compete.” He pointed to another photo, this time of a guy lying flat on a sled. “That’s me, only you can’t really tell because of the helmet.”
“Hold on. You competed in the Olympics?”
“In Vancouver in 2010. On the luge team.”
Warren wasn’t even sure what a luge was, though obviously it was some kind of sled. They didn’t get enough snow in South Carolina for a lot of winter sports, and to be honest he mostly watched the skiing on TV, not the offbeat events. But he knew how hard you had to work to achieve anything in sports, and he was awed.
“I feel like I should do that thing, you know, where the guy bows down and says, ‘I’m not worthy,’” he said. “I’ve never known an Olympic athlete before.”
“And I’ve never known a guy who made it all the way to the NFL before,” Victor said. “That’s why I thought you might understand.”
Warren nodded. “I’m starting to. How come you stopped?”
“You want a beer?” Victor asked. “This could take a while.”
Warren agreed, and he continued to study the photos and the pins while Victor went into the kitchen. He had a box full of stuff of his own, things like field passes with his name, a photo of him at the NFL draft. But he hadn’t wanted to face it so he’d pushed it to the back of his closet.
He started to laugh. “What’s so funny?” Victor asked, as he returned with two bottles of beer.
“I was thinking about the stuff I have from my time in Jacksonville, and how it’s stuck at the back of my closet.” Warren took the bottle from Victor and clanked it against Victor’s. “Something else to keep in the closet.”
Victor laughed too. “Yeah, I was seriously in the closet when I was competing. Not that any of us had time for sex anyway. When I was in college, I’d go to class, work out, ski, and train on this natural luge course up in the mountains. That was it. In the summer, I’d stay up in New Hampshire and keep training, all day, every day.”
“Football wasn’t that intense,” Warren said. “And I couldn’t skate through my classes at FU. I had to study.” He remembered Thom then, and how their friendship had begun with tutoring. But that’s all it was, right? Just a friendship. Friends with benefits, Thom had said. Leaving the way clear for Warren to do whatever he wanted with Victor.
“But still. You get it, in a way that most guys, especially most gay guys, don’t. That waiter at the bar, Nathan? He gets it. He’s been studying ballet since he was eight years old, and he gave up everything else to get as good as he is.”
Victor sprawled onto his dark blue futon. “Come on, take a load off. I want to tell you why I quit.”
Warren sat down gingerly beside him. He was always afraid to sit too hard on other people’s furniture for fear it might break under him. Victor leaned back beside him, touching his lower leg against Warren’s. “For like a year or so before Vancouver, I started getting these killer sinus infections,” Victor said.
He paused to drink. “I doped myself up with antihistamines and kept on working. Nothing was going to stand in my way. I’d knock it out, and then a month or two later it would come back. It started affecting my stamina and my ability to breathe.”
“Wow,” Warren said.
“But I pushed on. I just wanted to make the team, you know? I knew that we didn’t stand a chance of medaling. But to be able to compete at that level.”
“I know what you mean.”
“I made it through my heats, but I didn’t make it to the semi-finals. It didn’t kill me, though. I stuck around until the closing ceremonies, partying, trading pins, hanging out with other athletes. I even met a few who were gay.”
He got a faraway look in his eyes, and Warren wondered if that meant that Victor had hooked up with someone there, maybe even fallen in love. “Had to change planes twice to get home, and by the time I got there I was sicker than I’d ever been. I went to the emergency room, and the doctor admitted me. I had this thing going on called biofilm.”
“Sounds very high-tech,” Warren said.
“It’s very low-tech, actually. A group of bacteria get together in a moist environment and form, well, a film. Happens all over the place in nature. But in my case, it was happening in my sinuses. I’d taken so many antibiotics and antihistamines that whatever was up there had become resistant to treatment.”
“Wow. How did you get over it?”
“I didn’t, not really. I had an MRI, a cat scan, surgery to widen my nasal passages, anything the doctors could think of. I got it under control, but I still get bad infections at least once or twice a year.”
“So that killed your chance to compete.”
“Exactly. I didn’t have the stamina anymore.”
“But you can play rugby.”
Victor nodded. “Rugby was my saving grace. I moved to Philly for the doctors there, and one of them played on a team. He introduced me to the sport, and I started to feel like I could be an athlete again. I could still train, and play, but at an amateur level. And if I get sick, I stay in bed and take care of myself until I’m better.”
“When you saw me at the party, did you know who I was, that I’d made it to the NFL?” Warren asked.
Victor shook his head. “I just got a vibe from you. I knew we needed a big guy like you for the team, and I thought you looked like an athlete.”
“I’m glad you came up to me,” Warren said. “And not just because, you know. I need something in my life like you have. Maybe rugby will do it for me too.”
Victor smiled. “I hope so.”
Warren leaned forward and put his empty beer bottle down on the glass coffee table. “I’d be happy to have you in my life too. On whatever terms.”
“Oh, Warren,” Victor said, and he shook his head. Warren was worried that he’d said the wrong thing, that Victor believed their shower sex had been a mistake. “Don’t settle for anything. Figure out what you want and go for it. Be the winner you are inside.”
Warren couldn’t help himself. He started to laugh.
Victor crossed his arms over his chest. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Warren said, struggling to control his giggles. “But you sound just like one of my motivational CDs.” He paused to catch his breath. “I know what I want. You.” Then he leaned over and kissed Victor on the lips, hard.
Victor struggled against him. “Whoa, Warren. You don’t have to push that hard.”
Warren looked down at his lap, embarrassed. “Sorry. I don’t have much experience kissing.”
“We’ll have to remedy that, then,” Victor said, and took his hand.
College tutoring forced an unlikely friendship between jock Warren and math geek Thom. Now that Warren’s NFL dreams have been dashed, will his search for love in the sports bars and playing fields of Fort Lauderdale end in the arms of sexy rugby player and former Olympian Victor— or will Warren recognize Thom waiting for him on the sidelines?
- Love on the Pitch: Amazon
- The first three book collection: Amazon (The collection is now 99 cents as a special promotion through the start of June)
Neil Plakcy is living his own happily ever after with his husband and two rambunctious golden retrievers in South Florida, where he is a professor of English at Broward College. He has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction.
He has written or edited over fifty novels and short stories in gay romance, gay mystery, cozy mystery and erotica. His research has taken him from the FBI’s sixteen-week citizen’s academy, where he practiced at a shooting range, to visiting numerous gay bars in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. (Seriously, it was research.)
His website is www.mahubooks.com
Neil has brought 5 copies of the collection of the first three Love On books to give away, one each to five lucky readers. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Saturday, May 23rd at 11:59 pm ET.
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