Tag Archives: Kate McMurray

Kate McMurray’s *Across the East River Bridge* (Loose ID)

Kate McMurray is this week’s featured author on sylvre.com. Scroll through the page for an interview well worth reading where we learn about Kate’s work, her play, and a little about her hometown. As always, cover images are “buy links.” Just click on the image and you’ll be virtually transported to the the publisher’s bookstore.

Find Kate McMurray:

When Finn’s boss sends him to a museum in Brooklyn, the last person he expects to see is his old rival, Troy. Finn still blames Troy for sending his career off the rails, but Troy has research Finn needs. Troy also has an intriguing story; the museum he curates is haunted by the ghosts of two men who died under mysterious circumstances in 1878. Troy strikes a deal: he’ll help Finn if Finn helps him find out what happened to the men who died.

From diaries, police reports, and newspaper articles, Finn and Troy piece together the lives of the two dead men—and the romance that bloomed between them—and it becomes clear that the men were murdered. It also becomes clear that the ghosts are real and are capable of manipulating the dreams, thoughts, and actions of the living. When Finn and Troy start falling for each other, Finn worries that it’s all an illusion concocted by the ghosts to keep them working together to solve the mystery, but Troy is convinced the love between them is real. But how can he get rid of a couple of ghosts and prove it?


Kate McMurray is a nonfiction editor by day. Among other things, Kate is crafty (mostly knitting and sewing, but she also wields power tools), she plays the violin, she has an English degree, and she loves baseball. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Visit her web site at http://www.katemcmurray.com.

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Author Interview: Kate McMurrray—a Renaissance Woman in Brooklyn (or, A Plotter Not a Pantser)

LS:Kate, welcome. I’m happy that I was able to persuade you to visit and let me ask some questions.

KM:Hi, Lou. Thanks for having me!

Q: Your bio is so very brief, Kate, that it begs fleshing out. I hope you won’t mind a few inquiries. You mention a variety of interests—violin, crafts, power tools—and that you are a non-fiction editor in your day job guise. I snuck around and saw that on your blog you refer to yourself as a Renaissance woman. I love that, but I really hope you’ll elaborate.
A: The short version is that I like to keep busy. I thrive when I have a little too much to do, and I have one of those brains that needs to be engaged all the time to stave off the dreaded boredom. So I have many hobbies. I work, I write, I knit sometimes. I’m a sucker for a fun DIY project. I played violin for fifteen years before giving it up when I graduated from college, but then I decided maybe four years ago to pick it up again as a New Year’s resolution. I, conveniently, live a few blocks from a music school, so I started taking lessons, and I got a lot out of that. I actually recorded my own music for the Across the East River Bridge book trailer, but the lack of soundproofing in my 100-year-old apartment building plus noisy neighbors meant the recording had too much ambient noise, so I went with a professional recording. Not that I even sounded anywhere near as good as the other recording. Actually, the trailer is a good example of how my brain works: I decided it was a good excuse to learn how to make videos, so I spent a weekend learning iMovie, et voila! Book trailer! I also like to bake, I’m pretty handy with pencils and water colors, and I read 2-3 books a week. What I don’t do is sleep much. 🙂

Q: I’m wondering, what sort of non-fiction do you work with? Are books about your various interests represented in what you edit? Academic writing? Where does fiction writing fall in the hierarchy of your interests? Do you ever hope to write full time?
A: I’ve spent most of my publishing career editing textbooks. I got my start in college-level science/tech books, but these days, I edit textbooks for the grade-school set, mostly in language arts. It’s fun, I like the work. It’s really different from trade/fiction publishing, though. Well, the basic process of assembling a book is the same, but it’s a whole different world in terms of how books are acquired and marketed. I do some fiction editing on the side, too. Writing is a big priority, though. I spend as much of my free time as I can writing, and I love it. I would love to be able to write full-time, and maybe I will someday, but in the meantime, I have to pay rent, and there are worse things than spending all day manipulating words. (I’m also the rare bird of a writer who really enjoys revising, I’ve found; it’s a good blend of my skills, I think.)

Q: You live in Brooklyn—have you always lived there? Obviously, the area is key to your novel Across the East River Bridge, and the importance of the sense of place becomes even more obvious in the excerpts we’ll be sharing. Do you place all or most of your work here? Perhaps you’ll be willing to talk a bit about how you work with setting and location, what it means for you when you’re writing and how you hope it will influence the readers’ experience.
A: I’ve been in Brooklyn about five and a half years now. I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, then I lived in Massachusetts for a while, and then I moved to Manhattan almost ten years ago. I did the small-apartment-in-a-not-so-great-neighborhood thing for a while until the neighborhood started improving and I got priced out of it, as is the way of things in New York. I moved to Brooklyn after that, and it was fortuitous in the long run; I love Brooklyn, and I feel more at home here than I’ve felt anywhere else.
I place a lot of my stories in NYC. Most of Blind Items takes place in Brooklyn, and Kindling Fire with Snow is set in my neighborhood. I find that a lot of media—books, movies, TV—gets the finer details of New York wrong, and part of me is always trying to convey New York as I experience it. And I personally love stories with a lot of nitty gritty detail, particularly of the setting, so I want my readers to be able to “see” what my characters do. (Plus, with some notable exceptions, most NYC stories are set in Manhattan. So I want to represent my adopted borough.)

Q: Not being familiar with New York at all, I fell back on my usual habits and turned to Google for enlightenment about the book’s geography. But I ended up confused—there are four East River Bridges! Maybe you can explain?
A: I think there are actually maybe eight bridges that cross the East River; I can’t remember off-hand. But the bridge referred to in Across the East River Bridge is actually the Brooklyn Bridge. During its planning/construction, it was named the East River Bridge because it was the first bridge built to cross the East River, connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn and beyond. Before that, commuters traveled mostly by ferry, which was especially problematic in the winter when things got icy, plus the East River can be tumultuous. The historical part of Across the East River Bridge takes place in what is now called Brooklyn Heights in the 1870s, when that first East River Bridge was under construction.

Q: Your main characters in Across the East River Bridge seem to flow together quite seamlessly while still maintaining strong, unique personalities. Did you draw these characters to fit your story, or did they come into being and then draw you into the ghost tale? Is your fiction typically character driven, or based first on plot?
A: AERB started more with a situation. I’d been sitting on an idea for a ghost story for awhile, and I wanted to write an enemies-to-lovers story, and I had read an article on Victoria Woodhull—a historical figure who has fascinated me for a long time; she was a businesswoman and free love advocate in New York City in the 1860s and 70s—and things sort of fell together. As I wrote, Finn emerged as the more skeptical/cynical one of the pair, and Troy is more arrogant but fun-loving, and I liked the dynamic of those personality types together. So to answer your question, I would say my fiction is probably more character driven, but plot is important, too. (I’m more a plotter than a pantser; I do a lot of outlining and brainstorming before I start writing.)

Q: It doesn’t seem that your other work has a particularly strong paranormal strain. How did the idea to write a ghost story, and this ghost story in particular, first take hold in your imagination?
A: This was my first attempt at paranormal. My interest in the ghosts probably stems more from my interest in history, although I think one of the fun things about writing fiction is exploring the unknown. I don’t know if ghosts exist, nor do I know what happens after we die, but there are tons of stories circulating about haunted places in the city. And I’d read a few novels with ghosts and liked the idea of the dead being able to convey important information to the living. So once I thought up this haunted museum, I thought, “Well, obviously, in this universe, the ghosts are real and they’re going to help solve the mystery.”

Q: Kate, this is the question I subject all my interviewees to: who do you think of as sexier, Finn or Troy? A couple of rules apply, here. First, it’s an essay question—no one word answers. Also, you can’t say “both”, that’s cheating (though it’s okay to blur the lines a bit as long as you explain).
A: Hee. Troy is probably more the type of guy I would go for. He’s a big guy of the tall, dark, and handsome variety, plus he wears glasses, and I’m a total sucker for a hot guy in glasses. (In the book, I describe him as looking like Clark Kent, and in my head, he looks sort of like Brandon Routh in the Bryan Singer Superman movie, plus 8 years or so.) Finn’s more disheveled and less fashionable, though there’s certainly something to be said for that, too.

Q: While we’re on the subject of characters, it strikes me that as writers and as readers people often develop unique relationships with characters and learn from them as we write or read along. Can you think of something you’ve learned from a particular character—whether one you wrote or one you read—and share what it was and how the learning happened?
A: Probably Drew from Blind Items fits this more than anyone. That novel went through many drafts, and the final product doesn’t resemble the first draft much, but Drew was the constant. Through the revision process, I joked with my writers group that he was kind of a Gary Stu. He’s not really a stand-in for me, but there is a lot of me in that character. Still, he’s pretty different from me, too—in more ways than just the obvious!—and writing that novel taught me a lot about voice and point of view. For example, I wrote the previous drafts in third-person, and I had it close to finished but there was something that still didn’t quite work. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem and agonized over it for weeks. Then one day, as an experiment, I started rewriting the novel in 1st person from Drew’s POV. That fixed it; the story just flowed after that. Some scenes I didn’t even have to rewrite that much, because Drew’s voice was already right there on the page. It’s a weird thing to say about a story you’re writing, but I felt in that last rewrite like Drew was bursting out of the story. Writing that was an interesting experience.

Q: Your cover for Across the East River Bridge was designed by Valerie Tibbs, and that artist has also done at least one other cover for you. It’s great work, balanced and illustrative, setting the tone for the novel. How did you react when you first saw it? How much influence were you given as to style, elements, color?
A: I had a little bit of input—I wanted the Brooklyn Bridge on the cover!—but the final product was all Valerie. (I will tell you a secret, though. I was surprised when saw the cover because one of the models bears not a small resemblance to an ex-boyfriend of mine, which is a strange thing to see on the cover of an erotic novel you wrote).

Q: Kate, we’re going to share a little bit from your novel Blind Items (Rainbow Awards Honorable Mention) below, sort of an extra prize for readers, here, but you have several other published works as well. I will vouch that, in this readers’ opinion, “A Walk in the Dark” is a fun, sweet short piece that has the power to perk up flagging spirits. What else is out there that you’d like readers to know about?
A: Thanks! Well, as mentioned, I have a novella about two guys trapped in a Brooklyn apartment during a blizzard called Kindling Fire with Snow and also my novel The Boy Next Door which is about two guys who were childhood friends but haven’t seen each other in a long time until one of them moves back to their hometown and they end up as neighbors.

Q: And what’s coming up, Kate? Anything soon to be released? What can readers look for in the next year or so? Anything else you’d like to say to your readers?
A: There are a bunch of things up in the air at the moment, but, among other things, I’m currently working on the sequel to The Boy Next Door (this new book is Neal’s story); a romance between two professional baseball players (I’m a huge baseball fan, which readers may have picked up on, so this was inevitable); a crazy fantasy thing with gods and mythology and reincarnation and magical objects that is way outside the scope of what I usually write but is a ton of fun; and an angsty contemporary friends-to-lovers story that takes place in Chicago. Information about these will be on my website as I get more details.

LS: Thanks for being here Kate, and for letting me delve a bit into what makes you tick as a writer. I appreciate the opportunity to feature your work, and I hope you’ll visit again!
KM: Thanks again for having me and letting me be all wordy and talkative on your blog!

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Kate McMurray’s Across the East River Bridge—An Excerpt

“What the hell are you doing here?” Finn asked, letting his gaze travel over Troy’s infuriatingly handsome face. He rubbed his temples gently, trying to get the ache to ease.

Their gazes met briefly. Troy was still hot in a Clark Kent kind of way, his broad chest hidden under an eggplant-colored button-down shirt and matching tie, dark-rimmed glasses sitting on his nose, dark hair neatly combed. Finn silently lamented that his enemies had to come in such attractive packages.

Troy laughed. “It is lovely to see you again too. As it happens, I curate this house.”

Finn knew that Troy was working for the KCHS these days, but this promotion was news to him. “You’re kidding, right? I made an appointment with a woman named Genevieve.”

Troy’s grin was unnerving. “Genevieve is my assistant. She has been doing the tours lately, but when I saw that she’d made an appointment with one Christopher Finnegan, I decided I had to follow up myself.” He straightened the cuffs on his shirt, drawing attention to his big hands. “How are you, Finn?”

“Oh, just dandy. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were stalking me.”

“You give me too much credit.” Troy motioned for Finn to follow him into an office off the lobby. The room looked like the relic of the past that it was — given the ornate wallpaper, the thick curtains, and the severe-looking man in the painting on the wall — if you overlooked the brand-new laptop sitting on the intricately carved desk. There was a lot of clutter too; Troy had never been terribly organized. He clucked his tongue. “Or maybe you’re right. Obviously, I knew that you would one day be researching a project on nineteenth-century Brooklyn, so I quit my job at NYU to take a low-paying assistant curator job at the Kings County Historical Society in the hopes that one day I’d curate the museum in an old house the KCHS just acquired three months ago, knowing you’d want an appointment.”

“Shut up,” was the best witty rejoinder Finn could come up with. He blamed the headache.

Troy picked up a file folder from his desk and extracted a few sheets of paper. “This is the fact sheet,” he said, handing the paper to Finn. “That has all the same information as went into the press release we put out when we announced the museum’s opening, plus a few other facts that I thought the public might find interesting. The other two pages are a brief history of the building that I wrote up for the Historical Society. Was there something in particular you’re looking for?”

“My boss is researching Victoria Woodhull.”

Troy pursed his lips. “Are you sure you’re not stalking me?” He shook his head. “Right time period but otherwise wrong tree. Woodhull never lived in Brooklyn, as far as I know.”

Finn already suspected that this trip out to Brooklyn was a dead end. Woodhull had spent most of her years in New York in the same house in East Village, and the date Finn had been given for Woodhull’s supposed residence at the Brill House conflicted with the date she’d left for England to start over after she’d been ruined. Still, Loretta had insisted he check it out. Plus he didn’t want to waste the trip. “She spent time in the area. She gave speeches in Brooklyn, for sure one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and it’s pretty well known that she befriended Theodore Tilton. He lived a few blocks from here, right? As did Henry Ward Beecher.”

Troy appeared to consider this. “I’ve spent the better part of the last two months poring over almost everything ever written about this house. If Victoria Woodhull had ever been here, I’d have run across her name. I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet.” He shrugged. “You want the tour anyway?”

Finn had come all the way into Brooklyn. “Sure, what the hell?”

Troy grabbed a small notebook from his desk. “Let’s go.”

He led Finn down the hall. Finn took a moment to check Troy out again; looking at him certainly stirred something in Finn. Troy had always been classically handsome, but whether it was his good looks or their long history together that got Finn’s blood pumping, it was hard to say. Probably a little of both. Finn found that frustrating; this would be so much easier if he could just get the information he needed and leave without having to think about all of this.

“We’re setting up exhibits on the first, second, and third floors. The fourth floor is the library, and the fifth floor is mostly storage. The third floor has a portrait gallery of famous residents of Victorian Brooklyn and a gallery of mediocre landscapes by Brooklyn artists, mostly the cast-offs of the main KCHS museum. Do you care about those?”

“Not especially.”

Troy nodded and continued walking toward a stairwell. He mounted the first step and said, “I want to add a photography gallery, but I’m still sorting through several boxes of prints from the KCHS archive. I’ll keep an eye out for Ms. Woodhull.”

“Thanks. What’s on the second floor?”

Troy smiled. “This is the real highlight of the museum, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve recreated what a building like this would have looked like in the 1870s. A lot of this furniture was in storage at the KCHS or other museums in the city, waiting for a home. Some of the pieces are really extraordinary.”

When they got to the second floor, Finn followed Troy into what looked like a bedroom. There was a grandiose four-poster bed off to the side with heavy green damask draped all around it. The bed was made of oak, Finn guessed, as was the ornate chest of drawers on the other side of the room.

“The building was originally constructed in 1868,” Troy said, flipping through pages in his notebook. “It was intended to be a single-family residence according to the plan, but from very early on, before 1872 at least, the owner rented out rooms on the upper floors. My guess is he needed the income from the boarders. At any rate, this was the master bedroom. It’s been many other things over the years, too, and this whole building was converted into apartments in the sixties, but this is our best guess for how the room would have looked when the first owner lived here. We had some floor plans and even a fuzzy photograph.”

Finn wondered if he should be taking notes. “You’ve had to do a lot of work on this room.”

“Yeah, in its last incarnation, this was a studio apartment with a kitchen and everything. We took out the kitchen. It’s been kind of fun, watching this house devolve into its original form. Like backward time-lapse photography.” Troy walked over to the bed and ran a finger up one of the posts. “The house is said to be haunted too.”

“Oh, please.”

“I’ve seen enough weird stuff that I can’t stay completely skeptical, let’s just say. There have been a number of documented ghostly occurrences here. A woman who lived here briefly in the forties kept a journal detailing her encounters with the spirits. Most of it’s classic haunted-house stuff. Strange noises, cold blasts of air, doors suddenly slamming shut. Interestingly, almost every account of paranormal activity here indicates that the ghosts are two men.”

“Okay.” Finn had run into many ghost stories over the years he’d been working as a researcher and thought most of the stories were pure nonsense. He humored Troy, though, who seemed to be enjoying himself. “Do you know anything about who the ghosts might be?”

“No one has ever specified, but I have a guess.” Troy’s eyes practically sparkled with excitement.

“Did the previous owners know?”

“No, but I don’t think they bothered to find out.”

Troy enjoyed drawing things like this out, Finn knew. He held out a hand and motioned for Troy to keep talking. “What’s your guess?”

“The first owner of this house was Theodore Cummings Brill. He was the youngest son of a large and moderately wealthy family. He and another man, George Washington Cutler, were found dead in this very bedroom in 1878.”

A shiver went up Finn’s spine. Someone had died in the room in which he was standing. “So that’s who you think is haunting this house?”

“Yes. The facts fit, given when the sightings started.” Troy walked closer to Finn. “I’m working on digging up causes of death. There was a story in the Times, but it was vague, saying only that the circumstances of their deaths were unusual. I’ve been piecing together other evidence, though.”

“And you have a theory. You always have a theory.”

“Suicide. Possibly murder-suicide, but I’m pretty sure they both took their own lives. Because they were gay.”

Finn rolled his eyes. “You always think everyone was gay. You bought that horseshit about Lincoln being gay. Sometimes there’s a simpler and much less biased explanation. What makes you think murder-suicide?”

“I can’t remember offhand. Something I read, a contemporary account of the crime, I think. It makes more sense than any other theory of the crime I’ve seen.” Troy rocked on his heels. “Some of the flooring is original. If you squint, you can still see the blood stains in the wood paneling on the floor.”

Finn shivered again. “Show me something else.” He left the room.

Troy’s shoes squeaked on the floor as he caught up to Finn. “The theory has merits.” He led Finn across the hall to another room. It had an elaborate sofa and a couple of chairs, everything Rococo revival. It was not a style Finn especially liked, but he knew it was popular in the 1870s. The upholstery on all of the pieces was beautiful, almost like new, except for a chaise longue in the corner that looked faded and worn.

Finn bent to take a closer look at the scrollwork on the sofa. Troy said, “This is the parlor. The furniture is mostly from the 1850s, but we had everything reupholstered, save for the chaise, obviously. The upholstery on the other pieces had disintegrated, but, I don’t know, I kind of like the old faded quality on the chaise. What do you think?”

“I agree. It looks kind of…soft and homey.” Finn meant it. He bet that chaise would be an excellent place to take a nap. Of course, thinking about that made Finn think about beds, and he had a sudden flash of Troy, hovering over him, naked. That certainly got his blood pumping. He coughed, trying to keep his body’s reaction to the memory at bay. He reminded himelf that he didn’t like Troy much.

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2nd Excerpt from across the East River Bridge (spicy kissess)

That night, Finn and Troy ordered Chinese food and sat on the floor of Troy’s office to eat it, careful not to spill any sauce on anything of value. Mostly, they talked about the mystery, and it didn’t escape Finn’s attention that they were talking around the big kiss in the room. Finn had probably already wasted too much time thinking about it.

The kiss itself had been nice, but the greater problem here as far as Finn was concerned was that it seemed to signal some sort of change in their relationship. Not that they’d never kissed before; quite the contrary. But in the past, the kisses had always been preludes to sex, and this one had been a sweet little kiss that had happened just for the sake of kissing.

And now he was sitting in the same room as Troy, who was yammering on obliviously about gender relations in the nineteenth century, and all Finn could think was that Troy had a really lovely mouth, and he would very much like to kiss it again.

Troy interrupted his lecture to ask, “Do I have something on my face?”

“What? No.”

“Oh. You’re staring.”

Finn blinked a few times. “No, I’m not.”

Troy shifted his feet so that he was sitting with his legs stretched out. He leaned against the sofa, right next to where Finn was also leaning. “You weren’t even listening.”

Finn contemplated lying. “Eh, I guess I zoned out. Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Probably stuff you mostly already knew. Here, have a fortune cookie.” Troy picked up two and handed one to Finn.

Finn cracked his open. He read aloud, “Look in the right places; you will find some good offerings.”

“In bed,” said Troy with a grin.

Finn rolled his eyes. “You are such a child.”

“I don’t think there is anything childish about showing you the offerings found in my bed.”

And there was a mental image Finn didn’t want. Before that line of thinking got out of hand, he asked, “What does yours say?”

Troy chuckled as he opened his fortune cookie. “’Bide your time, for success is near.’ In bed. Ha! I knew it was only a matter of time.”

“Until what?”

“Well, I have always been an advocate of slow and steady in certain…circumstances. So one could take it that way. Or one could argue that the moment I will succeed in seducing you is nigh.”

Finn’s face heated up. “I told you, no sex.” Although, he admitted to himself, he wasn’t completely opposed to being seduced.

Troy moved a little closer. “It’s not that I don’t respect your boundaries…”

Finn put a hand on Troy’s chest to ward him off. He wondered when Troy had gotten so close. Then he marveled at how warm Troy’s body was. How strong and alive. He looked up because he knew something was about to happen. Their eyes met.

“It’s that I don’t believe you,” Troy said before lowering his face to Finn’s.

Their mouths crashed together. Almost by instinct, Finn devoured Troy. It was not the most appetizing of kisses; Troy tasted mostly of garlic sauce. But there was something there, something that pulled at Finn, that forced him to move his hand to the back of Troy’s head to hold him there, that compelled him to slide his tongue along Troy’s teeth. There was a promise in the kiss of greater things, of memories and events not yet experienced, and it was familiar and strange all at once.

Then Troy had to ruin it by groaning, which brought Finn back to the time and place they actually inhabited, and he pulled away. “We’re not doing this.”

“You want to,” Troy said, his warm breath feathering across Finn’s cheek. “You want me.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does. Why would we deprive ourselves of something we both want?”

Finn knew it would be best to back away, but he was trapped in Troy’s orbit now, unable to move more than a few inches. “Professional. You promised to keep this professional.”

Then they were kissing again. This time, Troy ran his fingers through Finn’s hair, sending electric tingles along his scalp. Finn opened his mouth to let Troy in and then was lost, surrounded by the mixed scent of Chinese food and Troy’s spicy cologne. Finn could only feel; he forgot how to think. The world stopped when they kissed.

Except kissing Troy could only end in disaster. Finn knew that from experience. He managed to pull away again, but this time he stood up to remove the temptation. “No,” he said. “I mean, yes, obviously I’m attracted to you, but we’re not doing this. We can’t.” He bent down to pick up the empty food containers.

“You won’t.”

Finn looked at the containers in his hand, the eviscerated bits of food left behind. He wondered if there wasn’t a metaphor there. “I can’t,” he said. He dumped the containers in the trash can.

“Finn.”

“What do you want from me?”

Troy pulled his legs up to his chest. “I thought that was obvious.”

“Yeah and then what? So, we have sex, just like we have a half dozen times before, and then what do we do? There’s too much shit between us for that to not end in disaster.”

“Will you stop being such a pessimist? Besides, you’re the one who always storms out. So don’t do that this time. Stay. Look, you know that I want you. I’m pretty sure you’re just as hot for me. The only thing that is preventing us from having really awesome sex tonight is your stupid stubborn streak.”

“I’m still mad at you.”

“So you keep reminding me. But maybe you should consider taking a moment to look at yourself and figure out who you’re really angry with. The last time you and I had any meaningful contact besides for sex was in grad school, and that was, what, six, seven years ago? Are you really still holding on to that grudge?”

“You sabotaged my whole academic career.”

Troy stood. His brow was furrowed like he was angry, yet all he did was casually wipe the dust off his pants and walk over to his desk. “I did nothing of the sort. You’re being irrational. I will not discuss this further unless you want to take the time to work out what’s really going on here.”

But Finn was already reaching for his jacket. He didn’t want to spend time wallowing in his feelings. “I’m outta here.”

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Bonus Excerpt from Blind Items, Kate McMurray’s Rainbow Awards Honorable Mention

Columnist Drew Walsh made his career by publicly criticizing conservative, anti-gay politician Richard Granger. So when a rumor surfaces that Granger’s son Jonathan might be gay, Drew finds himself in the middle of a potential scandal. Under the guise of an interview about Jonathan’s new job teaching in an inner-city school, Drew’s job is to find out if the rumors are true. Drew’s best friend Rey is also Jonathan’s cousin, and he arranges the meeting between Jonathan and Drew that changes everything.

After just one interview, it’s obvious to Drew that the rumors are true, but he carefully neglects to mention that in his article. It’s also obvious that he’s falling for Jonathan, and he can’t stay away after the article is published. Still, Jonathan is too afraid to step out of the closet, and Drew thinks the smartest thing might be to let him go—until Jonathan shows up drunk one night at his apartment. The slow burn of their attraction doesn’t fade with Jonathan’s buzz, but navigating a relationship is never easy—especially in the shadow of right-wing politics.

Excerpt:

Twice in my life, I’ve walked into a situation and known everything was about to change.

I was thirteen the first time. I walked into Mrs. Pearl’s classroom on the first day of eighth grade and scanned the rows of desks to find prime real estate. I saw an empty desk right in the middle, and as I made my way towards it, I noticed a dark-haired boy I’d never seen before sitting at the desk next to it. And I just… knew. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Oblivious, he stared forlornly out the window.

I slid into the empty desk. “Are you new?” I asked him.

He blinked and turned toward me. I almost fell out of my chair as I realized how handsome he was. He gave me a brief once-over before eyeing my shirt warily. It’s possible I was wearing a bright turquoise shirt with the collar popped up. It was the early nineties, I was thirteen, I don’t know. He said, “Yeah, I’m new.”

“Cool. New to town or what?”

“No, I….” Then he stopped talking.

“You what?”

“I went to Harlan Prep before this.”

We public school kids had made an occupation of making fun of the kids who went to the tony prep school a few towns over. This kid did not strike me as the prep-school type. He looked too Latino, for one thing; I know how that sounds, but it was fairly common knowledge that Harlan Prep looked basically like the headquarters for the Aryan Nation. In other words, it surprised me that this guy was a prep-school refugee, but then I realized I was sitting next to an expensively appointed kid, that the shirt he had on probably cost more than every piece of clothing on my body combined. “Oh,” I said.

“But I mean, I didn’t flunk out or anything. I wanted to come to public school.”

I laughed, more out of nervousness than anything else. He really was a good-looking guy. “Good Lord, why?”

He shrugged. “Cuz I’m not like them.”

I assumed he meant the other kids at Harlan, so I didn’t question him. I had some guesses about why. That, and not being like the other kids was a feeling with which I was familiar. Instead, I said, “Well, welcome to hell. I’m Drew, and I’m happy to be your tour guide.”

He chuckled. “I’m Rey.”

And with a handshake, our fates were sealed.

*

Because he was handsome and charming, it didn’t take Rey long to become the toast of the school, the guy everybody wanted to be friends with. I couldn’t tell you why—maybe it was some kind of blind allegiance formed because I was the first person who reached out to him at his new school—but he stuck by me all through that year and beyond. When we were freshmen in high school, someone wrote “GAY!” on my locker in black marker, which led to other kids contributing other fun words in pink spray-paint and leaving a purple feather boa draped over the combination lock.

The perpetrator of the original crime was a not-especially-smart member of our class, so it didn’t take much for us to find him. We had a confrontation one afternoon during which the kid started calling me all manner of horrible names. Rey offered to beat him up, but I didn’t want to cause more trouble, so I told him not to, right there in the hallway in front of a dozen other students. Rey punched the kid anyway, giving him a bloody nose. I draped the feather boa around my neck like an Olympic medal. Nobody messed with me for the rest of the school year.

*

We both had crappy parents. In retrospect, that seems an odd thing to base a friendship on, but I think that we found something in each other that was lacking at home.

Rey was talking his father into letting him go to public school the same summer my father finally took off. Good riddance, I thought at the time. My dad was the kind of pop psychologist who did guest shots on talk shows a lot. The key to his success was tilting his head and looking sympathetic. For extra fun, he’d relate his own experiences to his patients, but often these were experiences he’d never actually had. He talked a good game on TV about how to raise kids, but his parenting ever since that summer he walked out mostly involved sending me cards on my birthday. To this day, I still get a card, often a few days late, with a ten-dollar bill stuck in it like I’m a fucking five-year-old. And I’ll never forget when, about a month after I came out to him, my father was on an episode of Oprah about parents struggling with their children’s sexual identities. He actually said the words, “I have a gay son, so I understand what you’re going through.” I wanted to shout and throw things at him. I did, in fact, pull off my shoe and toss it at the screen. It bounced off and lay impotently on the floor. “You don’t know shit!” I shouted at the TV. Mom ran in then to find out what the commotion was, but all she had to see was her ex-husband’s face. “That man,” she mumbled. She gave me a kiss on the cheek before leaving the room again.

Rey’s absentee parent was his mother. Rey called her a “free spirit,” which I think was his code for “flakier than a croissant.” After his parents split up when he was five, she would flit and flitter in and out of his life, usually to swoop in and play The Cool Mom for a week or so before taking off again. I adored her when I was a teenager—she told these completely insane stories about her travels around the world and she let us drink beer—but it took me a while to understand what her long absences did to Rey. His father wasn’t much better. He meant well and obviously loved his son, but he owned North Jersey’s largest manufacturer of toilet paper and paper towels, a job that kept him busy upwards of seventy hours a week.

I at least had my mother, who was probably the best parent a boy could have asked for. She went a little above and beyond when I told her I was gay, joining PFLAG and buying me boxes of condoms long before I was ready to do anything with them, but she was always accepting and supportive. I suspected at the time that this was why Rey started spending the night at my place with increasing frequency. I couldn’t figure out why he wanted to stay in my dilapidated old house when he lived in this gorgeous mansion on the other side of town, but then, I always preferred to sleep at my house too.

*

Of course now, all these years later, he’s not just Rey, he’s Reynolds Blethwyn, star of stage and screen, and the summer we both turned thirty, he was on everyone’s radar. He wrapped the third season of his hit evening soap and then flew off to the Czech Republic to film an action movie. The press loved him to pieces.

The press also loved a juicy bit of gossip, which meant that as Rey’s star rose, so too did the frequency with which his name appeared in conjunction with some crazy rumor. Rey was pretty good at letting it all roll off his back, but I found the whole experience kind of surreal. Then again, I knew all about worshipping at the altar of Reynolds Blethwyn; I’d been doing it longer than anyone. Sure, I’d think when I saw the gossip rags on the newsstand, you all love him now. But I loved him first.

It was an altogether different rumor, though, that really got me into hot water that fall. The fallout from that rumor was the second time in my life that I knew everything was about to change.

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