Owen Keehnen has stopped by today to talk about his year of writing, M/M Romance, and much, much more. Owen will be giving away one of the 4 m/m romances e book – The Dog Trainer, Springtime 1962, Thunder Snow, and December 1903, the winner’s choice. To enter to win, leave a comment along with an email address where you can be reached if chosen. Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.
A Year of M/M Romance By Owen Keehnen
One of my favorite things about being a writer is the creative adventure that it can be. Almost a year ago I ventured into the M/M romance world after having paired with a new publisher, Wilde City Press. Prior to this I had published a number of things – several books on LGBT history, a horror novel, a gay art novel, a book of LGBT interviews, and even a four volume set of interviews with gay porn stars.
When I first began working with Wilde City, I did a humorous gay coming of age novel called Young Digby Swank and followed it with The LGBT Book of Days, a comprehensive guide to the most important dates in LGBT history. On the heels of those two I wrote three hardcore erotic e-books under the name of Ewan Creed. In other words, my oeuvre was all over the place.
Around that time I decided to try my hand at writing M/M romance. When I asked for some pointers I was told about the importance of the partners winning the affections of their beloved and warned to avoid all signs of infidelity. I was also told the sex could be as raunchy as I wanted. I liked that last suggestion. With that advice in mind I hit the ground running.
I was also hopeful that this world of M/M romances would be a new means to implement one of my key interests – the reclaiming of our LGBT past. Maybe it was living through the darkest years of the AIDS epidemic that made me so keenly aware of the fragile nature of personal history, or maybe it was knowing that the lives of LGBT people had been edited from the annals of history. Whatever the reason a creative and personal theme of mine has been a desire to celebrate and reclaim a bit of our gay history. To that end I’d already written several bios on LGBT history and had also been a board member and was actively involved with The Legacy Project, a history-education-arts organization focused on pride, acceptance, and the recognition of LGBT lives and contributions throughout history. The possibilities of pairing history with M/M romance were endless.
Before I started incorporating an history into this new genre, I decided that I needed to understand the terrain of M/M romance a bit better. I lost my M/M virginity with an ebook called The Dog Trainer. Who doesn’t love a good dog story? Especially one that involves M/M romance. Richard, my protagonist, was a character I understood. Richard is a neurotic gay urbanite, a serial monogamist with a domineering peer group and a well-paying dead end job. When Richard finds a puppy named Hambone, his life and relationships begin to change and his priorities make a notable shift. Even bigger things happen when he meets and hires a dog trainer named Abe who teaches both Richard and Hambone a few new tricks. This one is a feel good story, relatively simple and very sweet, with some feel good sex thrown in for good measure.
With my next effort, Springtime 1962, I began to inject history into my M/M work. This ebook is set in the landmark of pre-Stonewall gay activity, The Lawson YMCA. I’d wanted to write a history about the gay doings at the Lawson for years, but stumbled along the way. So much of the underground history of the place was undocumented and so many potentially illuminating first hand accounts of life in those hallowed halls have vanished due to age and HIV. Instead, I opted to populate the Lawson with fictional characters and turn history into an M/M romance.
The premise of Springtime 1962 is relatively simple. A diary is found in a used bookstore and the present-day narrator quickly finds himself drawn into the intimate 1962 diary of a man named Joseph. The daily entries soon reveal a passionate gay love story of two retail workers in Chicago during the Kennedy years. Joseph is a middle aged department store employee. One day a young man named Clint is hired at the store. The men soon realize they are both living at the Lawson. They began spending time together, going to movies, exercising in the weight room, taking lunches together at work, etc. Love blossoms despite their age difference. In time Joseph discovers that Clint’s harbors a grave secret which will eventually threaten their relationship as well as their futures. This one screams for a sequel. I’m currently working on the further adventures of Joseph and Clint in Summertime 1962. The diary format offers a great opportunity to capture the lives and struggles of gay men at the time from bar raids to hook ups and even popular culture iconography.
My next M/M e-story was Thunder Snow, a homage to early 1980s academia, something else I had wanted to write about for some time. Romance was again my framework to explore the struggles and circumstances man gay men faced during this pre HIV period of time when Stonewall had already occurred, but the benefits of the gay liberation movement had not yet spread much beyond the major metropolitan areas.
Thunder Snow is the story of Jim Franklin who goes away to Windsor College hoping to leave his formerly closeted gay doings behind. He’s had enough of being an outsider and wants nothing more than to be like everyone else. To that end Jim has joined a fraternity and is dating a girl. Then, without warning, love blindsides Jim when he meets Glenn in his Romantic Literature class. Glenn is the kept lover of a wealthy town resident. When Jim asks for assistance with an assignment, Glenn agrees. Sparks soon ignite and passion ensues, but social constraints and Jim’s fear of being true to his nature prevent any sort of relationship from developing. Things change magically over winter break and what begins as another tryst quickly develops into something more. Both men fall madly in love. But is love, in the otherworldly setting of a college campus during break, enough to sustain the couple in the long run? In Thunder Snow I really wanted to capture the magical early stages of love and explore what happens when that idealism comes into contact with everyday reality, and eventually how we process that sort of conflict in our personal histories.
For my next M/M romance, I focussed on a specific historical event as a backdrop to the story. December 1903, the Iroquois, a Love Story is set in Chicago during the 1903 holiday season. The Iroquois Theater fire was a topic I’d obsessed about and wanted to explore for a long time. I was hoping to make the tragic story of the theater fire which killed hundreds history more vivid by planting two of my characters in proximity to the disaster.
December 1903 is the tale of two men from different worlds. Frankie is an actor working in the current Iroquois Theater production Mr. Bluebeard. One day Frankie makes knowing eye contact with a handsome and dapper stranger on the street. In only a few moments Frankie and “Otto” head off to Frankie’s boarding house. Though Frankie knows nothing about Otto’s life outside of the room, the two meet again the next night, and the next. As the winter wind howls outside the boardinghouse window, the couple make plans to run away and start a new life elsewhere. Frankie buys Otto a ticket to the the show and the men agree to meet behind the theater after the matinee to begin their life together. During that afternoon’s performance tragedy strikes and the deadly inferno consumes the theatre. With this ebook I really wanted to go epic and tell a very passionate story about these two men and evoke not only the era but also bring the devastating facts of this horrible and all but forgotten tragedy to light.
My soon to be published ebook, The Matinee Idol, is another historical venture. Set in 1933, The Matinee Idol is an M/M romance which takes place in Hollywood during the Depression. Raymond Richmond was a popular actor during the silent era of films and his popularity extended briefly into talkies. However, his sexual indiscretions and drunkenness soon get him fired from the studio. His drinking continues to escalate as his career sinks. Bad investments and spend thrift ways soon cause Raymond to find himself penniless. To make ends meet, he begins working as a hustler for a madame. One night Raymond is hired as a birthday present to set designer Carlton Finn who worked with Raymond back in his heyday at the studio. The two bond. Finn has always had a soft spot for the star and his heart goes out to the down and out man. Soon the two become lovers. In the following weeks, Raymond stops hustling and works at getting sober and getting his career back on track. As a big movie fan, especially from the golden era, I had a blast recreating Hollywood during that mythical time. On a deeper level it was also interesting to explore the ramifications of stardom and what a person is willing to endure and compromise for the sake of their image.
I’ve been on this M/M romance trip now for a year now and understand only some of the things I want to say about relationships and love. Every story seems to reveal something new about love and relationships that I hadn’t really considered or explored before. The entire process is an evolution. In that way, those original guidelines were helpful, but it has become increasingly apparent to me that I need to write the story that is inside me and often the story’s narrative strays from the prescribed guidelines. The sex can be a bit raunchier than the norm and often my characters are not 20 year olds with chiseled physiques and perfect features. In fact, sometimes my characters are middle aged and paunchy. I’ve even done the unspeakable and had characters who are not strictly monogamous.
At first bending these rules caused some concern, but then I remembered that my primary focus should not be worrying how my story is going to be received. To write a decent story my primarily responsibility must be to my characters and allowing them to reveal some truth about romance, love, and sex between two men. Adhering to that means that sometimes my romances don’t have happy endings, but love isn’t always nice and love isn’t always easy. Sometimes love is riddled with complications and even regret. The only given about love is that, if we’re lucky enough to find it, for however long we have it, that there is nothing on this earth that makes us feel more wonderfully and magically alive. And as a writer of M/M romance my priority needs to be on capturing and reflecting that incredible state in all its many forms and stages.
Owen Keehnen is the author of the novels Young Digby Swank, The Sand Bar, Doorway Unto Darkness, and the ebook M/M romances, The Dog Trainer, Springtime 1962, The Lawson YMCA, Thunder Snow, December 1903, The Iroquois, a Love Story, and the upcoming The Matinee Idol. Along with Tracy Baim he has co-authored three LGBT biographies – Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow, Jim Flint: The Boy From Peoria, and Vernita Gray: From Woodstock to The White House. Keehnen also authored The LGBT Book of Days, a comprehensive guide to key dates in LGBT history. Over 100 of his interviews with various LGBT authors and activists from the 1990s have been collected in the book We’re Here, We’re Queer. He co-edited Nothing Personal: Chronicles of Chicago’s LGBTQ Community 1977–1997, was a contributor to Gay Press, Gay Power, and wrote the foreword and helped edit Mark Abramson’s memoir For My Brothers. Keehnen also contributed several biographical essays to the coffee table history book Out and Proud in Chicago.
Keehnen was on the founding committee and executive board of The Legacy Project and is currently a contributing biographer for the LGBT history-education-arts program focused on pride, acceptance, and bringing proper recognition to contributions of LGBT people throughout history. His essays, short stories, poetry and erotica have appeared in dozens of periodicals and anthologies worldwide. He was the author of the Starz books, a four-volume series of interviews with gay porn stars. He has had two queer monologues adapted for the stage and served as co-editor of the Windy City Times Pride Literary Supplement for several years, and was a co-founder of the horror film website RacksAndRazors.com. He lives in Chicago with his partner, Carl, and his two ridiculously spoiled dogs, Flannery and Fitzgerald. He was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2012.
You can contact Owen Keehnen at: