Puppet Boy by Christian Baines
Published by Bold Strokes Books
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Christian Baines back again to talk about his new release, Puppet Boy and writing Australian antihero characters. Welcome, Christian, and happy Australia Day!
Australian Antiheroes by Christian Baines
Scheming bastards need love too.
Thanks so much for having me back on the blog, Melanie. Always a great pleasure to be here and touch base with your readers! Before I start though, Puppet Boy’s main character, Eric, has a special Australia Day message he’d like to share with you all:
Happy Australia Day!
There. I said it. Now don’t tell me I never join in with things. Even a day that celebrates a nation so insecure it clings desperately to its forebears. A day that tries to ignore that this is a nation built on theft, colonisation, and slaughter. Oh, I know you foreigners think it’s cute. That Australia is awesome and sunny all the time, and that Aussies are all ridiculously sexy, and super nice. That we’re always surfing or drinking, when we’re not busy popping out baby Hugh Jackmans and Chris Hemsworths. That we treat all races equally and all love LGBT people and that every day in Sydney is Mardi Gras. That ours is a land of beauty, freedom, and equal opportunity at all.
I mean, sure. If that’s what the picture tells you to believe, then keep right on thinking it. Go on. Admire us. We did get our shit sorted on the whole gun thing, after all.
So let’s all say it again. Happy Australia Day! Enjoy your beach. Enjoy your barbecue. Enjoy that ‘authentic Aussie’ $8 meat pie ($12 if it’s kangaroo) you’re scarfing down at the Williamsburg organic market while trying to shield yourself from freezing New York winds. Try not to think of the blood of Indigenous nations as you smother it in tomato sau—pardon me. Ketchup. And enjoy your holiday.
PS: That delicious Aussie flat white you’re drinking was invented in New Zealand.
Cheery, isn’t he?
Writing misanthropic characters isn’t easy. It isn’t that popular anymore either, particularly in gay fiction. The inherent optimism required in the romance genre makes it almost impossible, and in gay and MM fiction, romance is particularly dominant right now, sometimes to the point of giving readers false expectations when they pick up a non-romance book. There’s a pressure to be ‘gay positive.’ To show a world for LGBTs where everything ‘gets better’ despite the odds, depicting characters who deserve their HEA. Don’t be ambiguous. Don’t be bittersweet. Things that many people accept as a normal part of real life, yet won’t accept within the fantasy of a novel.
That’s a troubling idea for me. When we start to talk about characters in terms of what they deserve, we are inherently passing judgement on them, and this invariably limits the character.
When The Beast Without came out, a lot of readers remarked on the main character, Reylan’s cattiness, his apparent selfishness and arrogance, and other anti-social traits. Not to mention his rather dubious Blood Shade/vampire morality. For readers and critics who ‘got’ the book, this wasn’t a turn-off. It was simply there, part of what defined the character and gave him personality. Yet, Reylan also has a fiercely paternal streak, including a soft spot for lost kids/young supernaturals in trouble. Many of his friends, his servant, Brett, and his lover, are either former protégés, or lost souls he’s rescued. Reylan may pack an acid tongue, but ultimately, though he won’t admit it, he has a strong moral compass where the greater good is concerned. In the follow-up, The Orchard of Flesh, coming later this year, we get to see even more of that.
Then, there’s Eric.
I’m not going to tell anyone what to think of Eric. He’s a young man with a goal, an outspoken mind, and a social conscience, but also a decidedly skewed moral centre. He loves his girlfriend Mary, and has an obvious thing for young Middle Eastern men, to the point of keeping one tied up in his absent mother’s home theatre room. He’s caustic and cynical, but won’t spit venom at everyone he meets, and he seems to have no trouble making friends. There’s also the whole high-class rent boy thing – or maybe, as one character points out, he’s just worked out that sucking the right cock gets him taken to the opera.
A character like that doesn’t tend to fit the traditional romance archetypes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write one, or that he can’t be likeable, or that he doesn’t feel the need for love. Eric is in some ways Daria from the namesake MTV cartoon, by way of Frank Underwood from House of Cards. He calls out his world’s wrongs as he sees them, but he’s also not afraid to manipulate the hell out of those around him to get his way. Yet when you look closely at Daria and Frank, you see their vulnerabilities, and their need for human connection, even when it’s shrouded by misanthropy or arguably sociopathic behaviour.
Characters like this work when you can find the human in the monster, whether that monster is a Blood Shade/vampire, or just a young man with a goal and an enduring distrust of humanity. My favourite parts of Puppet Boy aren’t about the prisoner in Eric’s basement, or his escorting exploits, or his jerk of a music teacher. They’re the scenes where he connects with Julien, the transfer student who catches his eye. Where they talk about their inspirations and dreams for the future. Where Julien falls asleep on Eric’s chest. The scenes where we catch a glimpse of Eric’s vulnerability. Those are the scenes where I kind of fall in love with Eric and want to see him come out on top, even when his attitude annoys me. Even when his morals seem way off base.
Even when he’s making fun of my meat pie and flat white.
Happy (for what it’s worth) Australia Day!
About Puppet Boy
A school in turmoil over its senior play, a sly career as a teenage gigolo, an unpredictable girlfriend with damage of her own, and a dangerous housebreaker tied up downstairs. Any of these would make a great plot for budding filmmaker Eric’s first movie.
Unfortunately, they’re his real life.
When Julien, a handsome wannabe actor, transfers to Eric’s class, he’s a distraction, a rival, and one complication too many. Yet Eric can’t stop thinking about him. Helped by Eric’s girlfriend, Mary, they embark on a project that dangerously crosses the line between filmmaking and reality. As the boys become close, Eric soon wants to cross other lines entirely. Does Julien feel the same way, or is Eric being used on the gleefully twisted path to fame?
Genre: gay fiction, contemporary, romance, LGBTQIA fiction
Kindle Edition, Paperback available, 314 pages
Published November 16th 2015 by Bold Strokes Books
Edition LanguageEnglish,settingSydney (Australia)
Christian Baines’ new novel, Puppet Boy is now available from Bold Strokes Books or on Amazon.
He will be signing copies at The Bookshop Darlinghurst in Sydney on January 30 at 11.30am, and reading at Hares and Hyenas in Melbourne on February 1 at 7.30pm.
About the Author
Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, Christian Baines has since lived in Brisbane, Sydney, and Toronto, earning an MA in creative writing at University of Technology, Sydney along the way. His musings on travel, theatre, and gay life have appeared in numerous publications in both Australia and Canada.
Dual passions for travel and mythology have sent him across the world in search of dark and entertaining stories. His first novel, The Beast Without, was released in 2013, followed by an erotic short story, The Prince and the Practitioner.
His second novel, Puppet Boy was released in late 2015.
Find Christian on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
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