The initial draft of my first novel was titled Staging Life. It told the story of two friends, based on me and my husband, who end up in the Afterlife. A few theatre references were thrown in and, hey presto, I had my first draft.
Then I had it professionally assessed. Besides changing the title, I was told to expand the theatrical aspects as I had studied acting and been involved with community theatre in my early twenties. I was also told to “turn up the ‘tude” of the main character by giving him more inappropriate one-liners. My assessor told me to read the novels of Joe Keenan for inspiration.
Eight drafts later, the first of my Actors and Angels series, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, was signed to its first publisher after many rejection emails. It would be a year before I was assigned an editor.
Oddly, the Editor-in-chief of the publishing house sent me a nasty email accusing me of writing an erotic novel with no sex. I wrote back, confused, spelling out this was not an erotic novel. Hell, it was a tale of Allan and Warwick, two guys in the theatre district of the Afterlife. And their supporting cast included an insecure angel who couldn’t fly, a failed blonde film actress from the 1950s, and a grand dame of the London stage from the late 1800s. How could anyone mistake this for an erotic novel?
The editor they assigned wanted me to add three sex scenes. I refused. But as it was my first contracted book, I caved in so I wouldn’t seem like a difficult author. Even in the NineStar Press edition, these short scenes are still there as they are referenced in other chapters, and to unstitch them would have taken too much work.
Regardless, that editor, Mary Belk, is still my favourite all time editor. She didn’t live to see the release of the book, but over three months she taught me more than my assessor did as we revamped the novel into something more compelling. Included with the mystery of how Allan and Warwick died is a further whodunnit as someone tries to sabotage the plays our characters try to perform.
Mary taught me the value of making every chapter end with a cliff hanger, and she was also my first American editor. So, debates over phrases like ‘toy boy’ vs ‘boy toy’ or what streets exist on a Monopoly board, were common.
When the book was released, it was evident Guy, my gay angel character, was everyone’s favourite. One reviewer called him “the emotional lynchpin of the book.” Another blogged about how she’s put in an order to heaven for her own personal Guy as her guardian angel. It was great that I wrote such an endearing character. Unfortunately, at that stage, I hadn’t included him in the sequel.
In the sequel, Drama Queens and Adult Themes, my main characters have been reincarnated as the married couple, Adam and Wade. Adam finds himself attracted to Mannix, the younger nude male model in his art class. It’s a mutual attraction because what neither of them know is that in the Afterlife, a warlock named Fabien thought he’d try a lust spell on Adam and Mannix, just for fun. Ipan, a responsible warlock is horrified at Fabien’s games. So begins a story of magic, sexual attractions and amateur theatre. And of three heavenly characters each representing one of their earthly counterparts as they philosophise on the nature of gay relationships.
So how was Guy finally included? I found a way to once again make him the emotional lynchpin. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with Adam’s childhood.
The last in the series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, took the longest to write, even though it’s the shortest. It, of course, features the devil. His name is Preston. He loves wearing a top hat and white pearls around his neck, and challenges Adam (now dead) to perform a play to entertain the damned in a version of hell where its inhabitants are bored senseless. There’s even a museum to amuse them featuring displays of the world’s car parks.
While studying acting we were often told to make ‘life or death’ choices with our character choices. For this book I imagined a scenario that would end my relationship with Warren. I threw Adam and Wade in the deep end and over several drafts, tried to fish them out.
In one scene, Guy takes them to the Valley of Lost Loves, a place where they hear the echoes of their previous arguments. They begin to talk openly about the problems that plagued them in their final year alive, even though this alone does not end their hurt feelings.
The Actors and Angel series has been referred to as “existential surrealism” by two separate reviewers. All three have a Liberace reference as part of the comedy. All have a continiuing theme of reincatnation and soul mates.
But most importantly, all three stories are loosely based on my three-decade relationship to my now husband, Warren.