Monday, January 30, 2012

Pre-Release Jitters For The Rosas of Spanish Harlem

In a little over 12 hours, “The Rosas of Spanish Harlem,” my fourth book with Loose Id will be released. I’m nervous about it. Very nervous, in fact. More so than with any of the others. I’m nervous because I don’t know how it will be received.

I know what you might now be thinking.

Weren’t you nervous with the first three? You didn’t know how THEY would be received.

The answer to which is, yes, I was nervous for the first three. But this is a different sort of nervous. It's more like an anxiousness, really. I suspect it has to do with more than just how it will be received. So many thoughts keep running around in my head regarding this particular story. For instance:

Is anyone going to want to read a story about an 18-year-old crossdresser hell bent on losing his virginity? Will people even consider this a romance? What will readers get out of it, if anything? And horror of horrors, what will the reviews be like? If “Learning to Samba” didn’t do well -- which, to me was my best book to date -- what makes me think "Rosas" one will do well?

And then there’s the follow-up question to the last one.

What IF this one does better? What does that say about me? Where does that put my writing? Will anyone take me seriously as a writer moving forward? Am I pigeon-holing myself by writing dark, smutty stories? I mean, this is fun but frankly it’s not the only thing I want to write.

There’s a part of me that says, “Fuck it! Ride the wave if it comes!” But there’s another part of me that quietly screams, “There’s more to this writing thing than erotica, you know!”

As you can see, I’m…anxious. Shit. Do I sound like Woody Allen?

Perhaps it’s my own inner demons struggling to take charge of who, what, where, when, how and why I write.

Dontcha just love insecurity and self-censorship?

Truth be told, I think another reason I’m nervous about “The Rosas of Spanish Harlem” is because it’s darker than my previous work. Much darker. It taps into areas most consider to be taboo. In fact, before accepting the story for publication, Loose Id made it a point to remind me -- and rightfully so -- that the story did not fit the typical romance arc. But “TRoSH” does so much more than just stray from the typical romance arc. It outright deviates and runs in the opposite direction. And yet, in my heart, it IS a love story. A disturbing one, but a love story nonetheless.

Loose Id said they were willing to take the gamble if I was. Naturally, I said yes.

Before I go any further, let me give you a bit of history.

In the mid-80s, Dana -- a photographer friend -- introduced me to one of his models, a street hustler who believe it or not was a shy, extremely handsome young man I would’ve given my left testicle to have sex with. There was something petulant, dark and sexually mysterious about him. It was as if he carried some sort of shameful secret. I found him stimulating in more than just a physical way.

After he started doing his solo thing, the room got quiet, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Then, as the model furiously increased speed and scrunched his face up even more, Dana softly asked what he was thinking. To which the young man replied, without skipping a beat, and almost as if he were in a hypnotic trance.

“My uncle.” A short while later, he added. “My cousin. My brother.” The model then proceeded to tell us snippets of things as he continued to masturbate, none of which made it to the actual video tape Dana eventually released.

When he left, the model collected his money and went on his not-so-merry way. Dana and I were both left to wonder if the young man had shared something that truly happened or if it was something he’d merely fantasized about. Dana was more inclined to believe it than I was and, regardless of whether or not it was true, it stuck with me. It reminded me of the fantasies I’ve had of my own cousins and two of my uncles. In fact, the young man’s story was so appalling, yet titillating and intriguing at the same time, I thought I’d write about it but I never did.

Until now.

Originally, when I first sat down to work on “The Rosas of Spanish Harlem,” it was intended as something to get me out of a long-term funk. It was never meant to see the light of day. At least, not like the previous three. I thought I might self-publish it…someday. This was only supposed to satisfy my need to write something…anything…and hopefully jump start my creative mind. However, after several conversations with other readers and writers where they asked why not, I too began to ask myself, “Why not?”

That I submitted the story was a surprise. That it was accepted for publication, was an even bigger surprise. That it was labeled as porn noir tickled me to the point of sheer delight, despite the fact that I could be “typecast” as that sort of writer. But maybe I already am.

“The Rosas of Spanish Harlem,” in it’s edited and finished format, is nothing like what that handsome young model shared that day in 1985. In fact, as I wrote the story, despite the chapter-by-chapter outline I’d sketched out for myself, everything morphed and became something other than what it was or what I remembered. But all the tiny -- and some not so tiny -- nuances of the taboo are there. Only the grit was sanded down because otherwise I would have felt like I’d never be clean, no matter how many times I showered.

Looking back, I realize the model might have censored himself even as he shared, or told things out of sequence. Not everything made sense and there was a lot of detail missing. Now, as I write this post, it makes me wonder if perhaps he felt he’d be judged; not just by the events in his life, but the fact that he was aroused by them. In turn, I wonder if I might not be feeling the same and perhaps that’s why I’m feeling nervous about the story’s release?

Whatever the reason, I’ll stand by the story as I stand by all of my work. The human psyche, after all, is messy and complex; like life. And since life is messy, so too is art. I think that’s the beauty of creative expression. It doesn’t have to be pretty or clean or safe. It just is. And in the end, I suppose that’s the biggest reason why I allowed myself to say yes to submitting “The Rosas of Spanish Harlem.”


  1. I have to admire how much of yourself you put into your work, whether it's a blog post or a short story or a novel, it's all Johnny. Rosas is going to be one aspect of your writing career, but you are hardly locking yourself into a niche by writing it. Casa didn't bind you to historicals, Lauderdale doesn't make you a contemporary only writer. You are a writer...the genre is just one of the mediums you use to express your theme.

    And anyone who wants to stick a labee on you and your work and shove you in a file somewhere is going to be surprised when the next work comes out, something totally different, and absolutely you.

  2. Johnny -- I'm looking forward to this release, and congrats! I admire you for having the courage not only to write something that was in your heart -- even if others may not receive it well -- but also put it out there. Bravo! I'd expect nothing less from you my friend. Mahalo for writing!!

  3. I can't wait to read it Johnny. Be proud of yourself for defying conventional wisdom and writing a story that's different than all the rest. There is no rule that an author has to stick to one style of writing... or to any specific sub genre.

  4. @Lee: After Lauderdale Hearts I found myself writing something fairly light and sort of whimsical but it was clearly following the same path and that just felt so formulaic to me I stopped working on it. Maybe I'm just one of those that can't do the same type of thing twice?

    @Rebecca: The irony about Rosas is that I'm now mulling over another storyline that's a spin-off but a bit deeper. We'll see how well it flies!

    @Jeff: I do feel a certain sense of pride. As a fellow writer yourself, however, you know that doubt that plagues us. I guess the bottom line is that in the end, we have to follow our hearts.

  5. Johnny your work is wonderful and I am eager to read this latest one from you. I love authors who take a chance, push themselves-and their readers-with stories that make you think, steal your heat and fuel the imagination.

  6. I can't wait for this book, Johnny. Take a deep breath. There are lots of us anxiously anticipating. : )

  7. Very much looking forward to this release. Doing a little bit of cyber-hand holding for you. I know what it's like to put yourself out there. While we are not our work, in some ways it's still very personal.

  8. @Dawn Robert: Thank you. I hope this is one of those instances you speak of.

  9. @Tara: Thank you love. I appreciate that.

  10. @Louisa: You hit the nail on the head. We are not our work but it IS very personal. Funny thing is that even if the characters we write about are the complete opposite there's always that little nagging voice that says, "are they going to think this is me?"

  11. Johnny, I have to admire you for taking the risk. I have to say, the fact it's about a cross dresser intrigues me. The fact it's labeled 'porn noir' rather frightens! It always takes a leap of faith for me to read outside my sunshine and roses comfort zone, but some authors inspire me to jump. High five on the way down! Good luck, my friend!!


  12. @Jaime: Not every story is meant for every person. It's cool. But I have to laugh because the label of "porn noir" is what I'm really digging about this story! Many thanks, and high five to you on your release.

  13. Johnny I'm very excited about reading this one and I think it's awesome that you've written something different, written from the heart and been willing to put it out there for everyone to see. I've seen a lot of discussions recently about the need for stories that don't follow the standard romance plot. Stories that tell about gay men's lives that are darker or not as romantic or just different. You're a great writer and I don't think you have to have a single style to express yourself with. I'm wishing you all the best with this release!

  14. @Silvia: If you do read it I hope you like it. The story is different. It's more sex than my other stuff but it's darker, grittier, and even though it doesn't follow the usual romance arc, to me, it's still a love story. I made myself cry, how's that? Thank you for the well wishes.