Monday, February 02, 2015

The Tale of a Book

When I was a kid, Saturday was movie day, usually at the State Theater because there’d be a double feature, a newsreel, a couple short subjects, a cartoon, and a serial. I loved the serials…except the westerns. I never cared for westerns for some reason. (Though, I must admit, I had a huge crush on Roy Rogers.)

Years later, when I grew up and moved out into the world, I started working for a publishing house which was for some reason desperate at the moment for western novels. The company’s senior editor asked me if I would like to write one. While I could never stand westerns I was even then very fond of money, so I took it as a challenge. I thought back to my college days, when I’d taken a course in writing commercials, which I so hated I rather hoped to be kicked out of the class. For one commercial-writing assignment, I decided to go totally over the top and wrote a commercial in which a young boy pleads with his mother to allow him to keep the elephant which had followed him home. To my amazement, the instructor loved it.

So, when it came time to venture into writing the western, I decided to jam it full of just about every western cliche I could think of: stampedes and buck wagons and bar fights and ambushes and rattlesnakes and range fires. Oh, and to make it extra challenging, it had to be squeaky-clean heterosexual. (I mean, cowboys and homosexuality? Sacrilege!) However, since it was not uncommon in westerns for the hero to end up with his horse rather than the girl, I figured I could do it.

The story revolved around a cowboy named “Calico” for the fact of his having heterochromia—one blue eye and one brown (besides, I love the name of the condition)—who is charged with delivering a pair of city-raised twins, a boy and a girl, to their aunt’s isolated ranch in far-off Colorado. All by the book, as it were. But since my mind does not work along heterosexual lines, it wouldn’t be difficult for anyone looking for homoerotic undertones to read between the lines and see that there was obviously something going on between Calico and Josh, the male twin.

But it surprised me that as I wrote the book, it became far more about the characters than the cliches. I began to see them as real people, and wanted them to end up together. I remembered how important it would have been for me, in my State Theater years, to have had any sort of positive gay role model. It bothered me that I was not allowed to explore the fact that there simply had to have been gay cowboys just as there have always been gay adolescents.

The chief editor, for reasons known only to herself, rejected my original title, Calico, and renamed it Stagecoach to Nowhere, despite the fact that there are only two mentions of stagecoaches in the entire book, and neither of them have any bearing whatsoever on the plot. Plus, the back-cover blurb stated, “He cursed the law and rode for justice,” which I found fascinating, since there was no law cursing, and the need for justice was more understood than stated. Despite all this, however, it sold surprisingly well.

So, when the copyright on Stagecoach to Nowhere expired—the publishing company for which it was written having gone out of existence—I decided to rewrite it the way I’d wanted to write it in the first place. I returned its original title, Calico, and brought the homoeroticism out from between the lines, though without any explicit sex. I was careful to make it clear the twins would be the age of consent by the time the book ended, so that Calico and Josh could ride off into the sunset together without fear of accusations of pedophilia. And by making Josh very confident in his gayness, I hoped to make both him and Calico role models for young gays and lesbians who are still hungry for them.

And thus we have the somewhat abridged tale of a book. Anyone interested in reading the entire first chapter of Calico can do so on my website, or watch the video trailer on YouTube under “Dorien Grey’s Calico.” 

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 (


Kage Alan said...

I love reading the behind-the-scenes stories of the stories, D. That's one of the reasons I ask the anthology authors I write with to come up with a blog post about how their story came to be. I figure if it's interesting to me, it'll be interesting to someone else.

And it makes me want to read Calico all the more.

Do you still have copies of the original edited story?

Dorien Grey said...

I'd be most happy for you (and everyone else) to read Calico, Kage. Unfortunately, I have only one copy of the original, "straight" version. (I have seen them on Amazon a couple times over the years.)