Monday, February 17, 2014

A Book's Tale

One of the many fascinating things about being a writer is, after a book has been written, to be able to look back on its history…not just on the steps it took to being written, but what consciously or unconsciously prompted those steps. My very first published book is a case in point. 

In 1973, I was working as an editor at what I referred to as, and in fact was, “the largest porn mill on the West Coast.” It was the height of the “sexual revolution,” and the owners of the company took full financial advantage of it, churning out dozens of magazines with sexually explicit photographs, 99.95 percent of which were unrelentingly heterosexual. The company avoided prosecution by donning the protective cloak of “socially redeeming value.” Every photograph was justified by a clinically-worded caption and incorporated in a heavily-footnoted article based on recognized research in human sexuality. Nobody who bought the magazines bothered to read the words, of course, but in case anyone did, that’s where I came in as editor.

When, for reasons never made clear, the company decided to branch out into the publishing of paperback mainstream fiction, they thought it would be good to start with a western. Since they’d never published “regular” fiction, there were no submitted manuscripts from which to draw. I was asked if I’d like to write one. 

Of all literary genres, westerns had always been my least favorite, but I took it as both a challenge and a way to make a few extra dollars, and agreed. Knowing that they would not go for a story with an openly gay cowboy, I wrote it to be as ostensibly heterosexual as I could. Fortunately, no sex scenes were required, so crammed in every Saturday kids’ matinee cliff-hanger cliche I could think of except for a fight between cowboys and indians…only because there weren’t any indians. The result was Stagecoach to Nowhere—not my title—which was all well and good, except that there were only two stagecoaches even mentioned in the book, and neither of them had any significant relation to the plot. My efforts were compounded by the melodramatic cover blurb, with which I also had nothing to do: “Cursing the law, he rode for justice.” While the hero did seek justice, there was no cursing of the law involved.

At any rate, it did quite well, and as a result manuscripts started flowing in to the fiction department, thereby eliminating the necessity for me to write another book for the company.

Fast forward almost 30 years. When the copyright reverted to me, I set about to rewrite it as I’d like to have done it originally—as a western-romance-adventure-mystery centered on a gay cowboy and his young charge—the male half of a boy-and-girl set of twins Calico was guiding, for complex reasons, across the wild wild west to their aunt in far-off Colorado. Retitled Calico, which I had originally called it until the stagecoach came rumbling in, I had the chance to make it what I wanted it to be, and I was rather pleased by the result.

Writers tend to become emotionally involved with the characters they create. Those like me, who are able to turn the story over to the characters, often just sit back and watch the story unfold with little conscious direction. In developing and expanding the relationship between Calico and Josh, I found it had transitioned from a string of potboiler cliches into what I consider to be a very sweet love story. And again without having thought about it in advance, I realized I was hopefully opening the door to a Young Adult market in which gay role models are extremely scarce for those who may be having problems accepting their orientation. Josh, who at 17 knows exactly who and what he is and what he wants out of life is, I hope, such a model.

So my very first published book transitioned, for me, from an opportunity to make a quick buck to a good, old fashioned romance/adventure with a twist, and set me on a path I follow today. Sort of gives new meaning to riding happily off into the sunset.

For a writer, it don’t get much better than that.

[For anyone who might be interested, the first chapter of Calico can be found and read on my website,, and/or you can listen to an excerpt from the audiobook by clicking )]

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I knew there was a history to the book, D, but I didn't realize what it was. I love when you write pieces like this. They make for perfect Monday posts.