Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Leather Wishes and Dreams

Nearly a decade ago I wrote a little, gay male story called "The Black Lion's Mark." It was my ultimate odd-couple story: interracial, intergenerational, a big man and a small man, an experienced participant and one new to the experience. Also, to add even more spice: top and bottom, Dom and sub. It wasn't the opposing extremes, however, that formed the challenge. The real challenge was making this hook-up between a young, black, aggressive dominant and a white, elderly and very shy submissive probable. I wanted, most especially, to believe that the young man would want to do this.

So was born Mason, the Fancy Man. A leatherman who thrives on bringing sexual fantasies to life. And, being an actor, doing so in some very inventive ways. All Leo, my shy, elderly gent had to do was give Mason an erotic daydream unique enough, challenging enough, and there'd be no stopping him. That he would do this for Leo wouldn't merely be probable, but inevitable.

That, in fact, is just what happened. Leo handed Mason a fantasy he couldn't resist, and "The Black Lion's Mark" took off from there. I still consider it one of the my very best stories. What I'm perhaps most proud of is how tender, how romantic and how very true it turned out to be. This, in fact, became the heart of all my Fancy Man tales: the message that within our fantasies, our cherished myths and even our biases there is a core truth. One we can discover if we're brave enough to explore them. One that will transform us and make us the best "us" we can be.

Bringing out this truth is Mason's real talent. He instinctively sees it in those he helps, and aims to make them see it, too. In-between, of course, he also gets to engage in plenty of BDSM foreplay and sex; he is, after all, a leatherman. But all that is part and parcel of these stories. It's not just any fantasies, cherished myths and biases that lead to revelations, but ones that involve an adventure through pain, pleasure and fear, chills and thrills, until, at last, we reach our core destination and find...ourselves.

And the Fancy Man isn't immune to this either. Being the fantasy, creating pain, pleasure and fear, chills and thrills, can also lead to revelations. As Mason has discovered time and again, often to his surprise and chagrin.

Which brings me, at last, to Leather Wishes, Forbidden Fiction's anthology of all the Fancy Man Tales to date. What can I say? From "Black Lion's Mark" written so many years ago to A Fancy Man Holiday released just last week, I always wished there would be such an anthology. From what I've been told, readers of these stories have long wished for the same. Come to that, it's been a wish of the long-suffering and amazing editors/artists/publishers at Forbidden Fiction. The faith they had in me and in these stories, the extraordinary efforts they put into making the Fancy Man tales the best they could be would have done Mason proud.

All of which means, I guess, that life has mirrored fiction: with this anthology, FFP has brought one of my long-held fantasies to life.

So, on behalf of myself, Forbidden Fiction and, of course, Mason, I'd like to offer the following leather wish: May this anthology be as much a dream come true for you as it is for me. Or even, perhaps, a gift come true for someone special. May you find great pleasure in reading these stories, and new pleasures in every re-reading. Most of all, may this anthology not only fulfill every expectation you might have had for it, but exceed them.

Mason, who always goes above and beyond in bringing fantasies to life, wouldn't have it any other way.

Happy reading all,
Julian Keys

A Fancy Man Holiday: Giving and Receiving

This latest and longest addition to my Fancy Man series is an opus called simply: A Fancy Man Holiday. And, yes, its one of those seasonal tales. I do love writing up such stories, in part because they feel like a gift I'm giving to readers.

With my leatherman character, Mason, however, it seems particular apt that this most revealing tale should take place during the holidays. The Fancy Man, after all, is known for bestowing his talents on others like some BDSM angel. In addition, his stories alway involve a kind of "unwrapping" as he peels away the the mystery of the person needing his unique services. He opens them up, and then, like a kid on Christmas morning, delights in them. Uses them. Values them.

Of course, Mason, himself, has remained tightly wrapped and mysterious as a secret Santa, even to readers. But as holiday gift-giving is reciprocal, this time around, Mason is going to be "unwrapped." I hope the surprises readers find under the ribbons and paper will amaze and delight them as much as writing them did me.

So, dear readers, you will find in this short novel not only the continuing tale of Mason, Charles and all the patrons of the Cockpit bar, but also reveals, laughter, romance, and, I hope, some very satisfying erotica, Along the way, apropos of the genre, gifts will be exchanged. Every character will give and receive in a variety of ways, and if I've done my job, you will feel as if you, too, are part of the gatherings and parties. As if you, too, are in Mason's leather world, a member of his family and tribe.

And just to add, Leather Wishes, the long awaited anthology of all Fancy Man stories to date, including this one, will be coming out next week. So if you can wait till December 1st, Advent Day (a very important day, you'll learn, to Mason), you can have all the stories in one beautiful volume.

For that matter, both Leather Wishes and A Fancy Man Holiday are great holiday gifts...for very special friends, that is.

To close, and in the spirit of the season, I leave you with this thought, one that Mason has learned so well over these five stories: Sometimes the best gift we can give anyone is to receive what they're willing to give us. Accept it, open it, use it, delight in it. Especially if it's from the heart.

Very happy holidays to one and all. And enjoy the read.
Julian Keys

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Special Occasions

The impetus behind this story came about when I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of erotic tales about a white couple's sexual encounter with a black man. The sex in these typically involved the husband/boyfriend watching his wife/girlfriend make love to the other man, or joining in to give her pleasure. The most interesting thing about these stories was that they were often written by married men. A lot of married men, it seemed, had fantasies of watching their wife with another man. 

This had me, on the one hand, wanting to get into the minds of such husbands, but also to switch around the usual (to the point of cliché) set up. How about an African-American couple's sexual encounter with a white man?

Intriguing. Still, I didn't at first think that this story would be anything unique or different. A sexual romp. Standard, run-of-the-mill fare with only the switch in color, as it were, as the twist. As I started to create the characters, however, something happened. The couple informed me that while I may not see anything exceptional in this encounter, they did. They were, in fact, excited, nervous, thrilled. They'd never done anything like this, and they were not taking it for granted.

And then the white stranger let me know that he, too, was eager to make this a unique event.

In short, the more I warmed to these charters, the warmer they got. The husband and wife were not, I realized, a generic couple but fierce lovers, proud, tender and happy to indulge each other. The stranger, I learned, was a true gentleman with a sunny attitude in spite of many disappointments. These three made sure I understood that this kind of meet-up was momentous. One-of-a-kind. Life changing. All the more so because they viewed each other as remarkable.

At which point, I finally got it. This was a Special Occasion. That set the tone for the story from then on. A common event made uncommon, an ordinary evening made extraordinary. All because the participants were not going to be satisfied with anything less. They wanted it to be special, and they were going to make sure it was.

And isn't that the very definition of "special." Not what happens, but how we see it and experience it. This little tale may not have started off all that special, but it became so, to me at least and to the characters. And I hope it will be so to you as well.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Most Important Story I Ever Wrote

There was a story I read at age nineteen that was only about four or five pages long. I don't really remember the story very well now, but what I do remember was that it had a powerful emotional effect on me. The ending was so poignant that I sat for a full minute just absorbing it. "Wow," I said, and kept saying. "Wow."

When I finally came down off this bit of amazement, my first thought was: "If I can write just one story, which can make just one person react to it like I just did to this one...I'll count myself a success. " Of course, I imagined that someday I'd have some brilliant, earth-shattering idea for such a story, and, knowing how pivotal it was going to be, I'd spend years carefully crafting it into: the most important story I ever wrote.

Life being what it is, however, that isn't how it happened. Not at all.

Here is how it happened: I was chatting online with some romantic story readers someone brought up romances between someone attempting suicide and the person who stops them. Such romances have always intrigued me, and I was captured by one thought of a girl on a bridge and a guy who stops her by asking her out on a date. Of course, she would have to accept or there'd be no story, but what would that date be like? And why would anyone step back from killing themselves to go out on a date?

Come to that, what had made the girl suicidal in the first place? I knew she had to be serious about this. Not depressed and attempting it, but intent on doing it with this pause in plans a mere day's reprieve. Otherwise, the story wouldn't really mean anything. And what about the guy? Why not grab her or try to change her mind? Why would she put her attempt on hold for him? And what appeal did she have that he'd do something so crazy as to ask her out?

Answers came to mind and the story, as they say, wrote itself. I almost felt as if I was watching the characters go on their date, and that I was getting to know them as they got to know each other. The date was prosaic, predictable even, in how it progressed, but the twist, the circumstances behind it and the two troubled people involved, transformed it into something more. On most dates the couple feels separate from the world, in their own little universe. These two didn't merely feel that way, they were that way. And the reader was right in that universe with them. Which explain what happened next. 

Not that I was expecting anything special. I wrote up the story, felt especially proud of my double-entendre title: "Till Dawn," then put it out for people to read.

Then I started getting feedback. Some of it was the usual: "Great story," and "Liked it, but..." etc. However, the majority of the feedback was completely different from any I'd ever gotten before. "I was that girl on the bridge--" one said, and "I'm Cal. I've felt exactly like him--" It seemed I'd found some universal truth in myself that I hadn't known was there. And then I got responses that really stunned me....

"I'm going through a terrible time in my life; this story helped me decide to go on living..."

Oh. My. Gosh. Had I done it? With this little, erotic romance? I'd written it with care and thought, yes, but not as if I was writing something that would transform lives. Yet it seemed it had transformed lives. Was this it? That story that had readers sitting there for a minute afterwards just saying "wow"?

I couldn't say for sure. What I could say was that after seeing such comments, I totally understood what it meant to feel that one's work had come to life and walked away. "Till Dawn" no longer belonged to me, it belonged to all those readers seeing themselves in it, finding powerful meaning in it.

That's when I realized what "the most important story I ever wrote" really is to a writer. It's the story that people say is the most important story they ever read. And I...I had written one of those for at least some people out there. Much to my surprise.

I certainly hope I have more such stories in me. Though they may not start out that way, they become as pivotal and life-changing to the writer as they are to readers.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Economic Theory

Now this is one of my oddest stories. It came about when a fan of mine asked me to write another Romeo and Juliet tale, this time with full-on, "warring houses." I had no objection to the idea, but most of the cultural/religious differences that would create such a forbidden romance were of no interest to me. What else was there?
I brooded on this for a while, and then it occurred to me that warring tribes, when not created by differences in culture or religion, were usually the result of economics. Rich and poor are always good Romeo and Juliet material, but there had to be more to the story than that. Okay. How about opposing philosophies on the distribution of wealth and other such socio-political issues?
Hmmmm. Now there was crazy idea. An erotic romance centered around economic theory. What a daft idea! Even with research how could I make that work? I couldn't. No way, no how, no....And then it hit me. A single image, a scene, an enticing situation...Ohmygod! It could be done. (Stunned silence here.) Economics. Yes. There was a way to make it interesting. Opposite philosophies, different types of wealth and poverty, families at budgetary poles driving at least one side to....

Whoa. This might be fun.
It wasn't, of course, that easy. First, I had to bone up on economics both history and theory (ack!). And then it turned out that the scene that had gotten this ball rolling, which I thought would start the story wasn't working out, not until I realized it had to be the (sic) balcony scene for my Romeo and Juliet. And when the story finally came together it still remained in limbo while I spent days digging through Karl Marx in hopes of finding a title (kids, don't try this at home! It takes years of training to know how to search for creative inspiration in the writings of a revolutionary socialist).
It all paid off in the end, but it was hard going.
Done at last, I began to doubt myself. Was anyone going to even want to read this romance outside of economic/poly-sci students?
To my utter amazement, those who read it loved it. In fact, they were downright enthusiastic. Even so, I was still floored that anyone wanted to publish it. The story where Romeo and Juliet fall for each other while discussing economics? But fans have been peppering me with messages, wanting to know when they can get it from Forbidden Fiction.
Sometimes the wildest, weirdest ideas pay off. This one, among the strangest I've ever had, has proved to be of inestimable value.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Getting Down to the Bone

This story started with a tattoo. That is, long before I decided to write this tale, I'd seen the tattoo that would be the inspiration behind it. It was at a casual gathering and on the shoulder of this one young gentleman was the tattoo of a fish. Not just any fish. It was a Panderichthys. An extinct fish from the Devonian with extra fins showing an evolutionary transition (or at least the possibility of one) from fish to reptile.

I was immediately struck by this tat and got into a long discussion with the gent. Seems his passion for science and evolutionary biology had led him to get that rather ugly fish beautifully inked onto his upper arm. I thought it was pretty cool. More on this later.

Jump ahead to the writing of this story. As is no doubt evident, I'm very fond of opposites attract stories and the most common such story is that of the geek and the "not geek." Like the nerdish boy who manages to take the most popular (and seemingly shallow) cheerleader to the prom, or the brainy and/or artsy girl who connects up with the star quarterback (equally shallow at the beginning of the story, but with a poetic soul she manages to draw out). In both cases, the geek usually gets a Cinderella-ish fashion make-over toward the end of the story so that their inner beauty becomes outer beauty. Meanwhile, the not-geek's outer beauty becomes inner beauty as they gain depth and empathy.

I had already more-or-less tackled the nerd and the beauty queen in a different story ("Exchange Value"—which will be out soon), but was motivated to try my hand at the jock and geek-girl if I could come at it from a different angle. There were a couple of things that bothered me about the brainy girl & the jock story: for one, the fact that it still held to the creaky old cliché that all a girl has to do is take off her glasses and let down her hair and the clueless guy would finally realize she was beautiful.

And people mock the fact that Lois Lane never realized Clark Kent was Superman!

I know some very brainy girls (and guys) and most of them are far from fashion impaired. Some are very hip, with their own cool style, including piercing and/or tattoos (Hm. Tattoos). Any way, why couldn't the jock be attracted to the brainy girl just as she was, rather than only after she was given a make-over? One that usually made her look like every other pretty girl? Wasn't the point for the jock to evolve?

Evolve. Evolution. Hm.

And that was another thing. I didn't want whatever the jock learned from the brainy girl to be just window dressing--like an appreciation of art or poetry or astronomy. I wanted it to transform him, give him a different view of the world, like a fish gaining lungs. Likewise, his relationship with the girl needed to transform her. At the same time, however, these two had to remain who they essentially were. The fish who gains lungs is still a fish.

And wasn't that essential to the story? That the jock love the girl for being a brainy geek and she love him for being a jock?

It was at about this point that I remembered the fish.  I remembered it because tattoos are like x-rays: they tell us who a person is inside, what matters to them, what they care about and how they think. Like that guy with the Panderichthys on his arm. That he had that ancient fish rather than a trout or a shark told me an essential thing about him, something that, like the tattoo, wasn't going to change.

Evolution, after all, isn't just about our ability to change and adapt. It's also about those bone-deep qualities we have which make us desirable, the fittest to survive. That, I decided, was what I needed to explore if I wanted to mutate this story into something more, something better than the usual geek/non-geek romance. I had to get down to the bone, down to what made these characters who they were. Because we don't fall in love with another person because we know they'll adapt to us, we fall in love with them because they are special and different from us. Because however good we are on our own, we can become even better if we're with them.

And that is how a primitive fish tattoo evolved into this story, the story of a jock and geek who adapt and change even as they remain, in their bones, the same.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Savory or Sweet? A Taste of Romance

One of the most memorable meals I ever had was a special, for "couples only" dinner at a certain fine restaurant.  I've had many memorable meals during my life, of course, both high-brow and low. But that night, thanks to an extraordinary chef who really knew what he was doing, I, literally, tasted romance.  

I won't go into all five courses, but the moment I knew that this meal was going to be very different was when we got to the lobster bisque. One spoonful left both me and my special someone amazed, lost in a bliss of heavenly flavors. We'd never tasted anything so wonderful. By the third spoonful, however, something else started to happen. I felt amorous. Sultry. Warm. Unable to help myself, I left my side of the table and settled on the couch-like opposite side, next to my beloved.

We spent several moments snuggling and even considered leaving the restaurant right then and there to do more! Days later, when I'd regained my senses, I thought back on the remarkable magic that had happened between the two of us all thanks to a mere half-cup of rich, creamy lobster bisque. Up till that point I'd viewed the saying: "food is love" as just a show of love—like a mother baking her kid cookies or a husband making his wife a special breakfast. But after that meal I realized that if the flavors were just right, food could make two people want to gaze into each other's eyes, want to kiss, want to retire to a room and deepen their adoration.

A fine meal could literally create love.

Not long after that revelatory meal I chanced upon a post by one MsJess125, a foodie with a certificate in pastry arts. She was hoping that some aspiring author might create a story for her of a girl seducing a sexy guy with gourmet cooking. Flashing back on that extraordinary meal, and being, myself an ardent foodie, cook and baker, I e-mailed Ms. Jess, letting her know that I wanted to take a stab at this culinary challenge. 

With editorial help from a restaurant Chef named Dan, I whipped up a story that more than satisfied MsJess—and in words recreated a little of what I had actually felt during that wonderful dinner. Originally called "The Garden of Earthly Delights," it is now known as "Savory & Sweet" and has been republished by Fantastic/Forbidden Fiction.  

It is a story that is as much a celebration of the culinary arts as it is a romance between two lost souls. I hope that it will remind all who read it that if we put in the effort, we can create not only nourishment with what we cook up, but love. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Gods of Romance

It might seem like a no-brainer for an erotic romance writer to come up with a story for Valentine's Day, but readers expect to see certain things in such a story: hearts, flowers, wine, poetry, cupids, candy and cards. Infusing new life into these old tunes is not so easy. Nor is coming up with a champagne-and-fine-chocolates' plot. A romantic tale celebrating the day of romance has to be a little more extravagant and delicious than the standard boy-meets-girl fare.

Which, in the context of how I came up with this story is a bit ironic, as the first thing that popped into my mind were those childhood candies (invented in 1860!) with text messages like: "luv u!" One can't get more plebeian. The other things that came to mind were treasure hunts and secret admirers. What, after all, is more "Valentine's Day" than a secret admirer? 

That idea took hold; I liked the thought of writing up a mystery that didn't ask "who done it?" but "who is it?" My initial image of a man or woman following a trail of candy hearts to their beloved, however, didn't seem feasible. Valentine cards with room for longer and more cryptic messages, on the other hand, could work very well. So I did a little research on valentine cards. Interestingly, the Victorian/Edwardian ones with elegant paintings and belabored poetry kept catching my eye.

 It occurred to me that I found them fascinating because I'd never gotten or given such a valentine--so old fashioned, so romantic-era-romantic. Maybe...maybe that was the way to go with this story? Instead of trying to modernize the Valentine's Day staples, make them old school, so old school that they seemed "new" again? The valentines, the dozen roses, the chocolate candies, the wine, jewelry, poetry...even the gods of Love.

Once I hit on that, it all came together. I knew that my hero, for example, had to be so archaically romantic that he no longer felt he had a place in today's world. And I knew his journey, his hunt, had to be not only to find his one true love, but to learn that romance, even the sort considered passé, is timeless.

 My title for this story of an outmoded worshiper of Love and forgotten love gods? Valentine Prayers. It has since become one of my all time favorite titles. What took me most by surprise, however, is when I gave this story to male readers. I thought they'd dismiss it, but most wrote back to thank me. There are some very romantic gents out there who feel under-represented in Valentine stories. They were overjoyed to see an avatar of themselves as the hero of my tale. 

And so I found my own revelation at the end of this metaphoric trail of silly candy hearts, flowers and poetry. And it is this: it doesn't matter if you give or are given a hand-made card for the day or a diamond ring, a bag of pastel colored M&M's or a dozen wine-red roses...they all translate to the same, most wonderful message, the heavenly message of Valentine's Day: that you are loved.