As a straight 53-year-old, bald, “pleasantly overweight (talk about painting a cactus pretty),” Kansas man, you’d think I’d be the last person to do so. My wife either needs new glasses or has really, really bad taste.
But I digress. When I first began the saga of Tex McKenna, I wanted to detail a series of funny, sad, dramatic murder mysteries (light on the supernatural, despite the title) that pulled on my high school miseries. The first book, Tex, the Witch Boy, deals with the topic of bullying, somewhat of an on-going theme throughout the series. I needed a cool police detective to help/hinder Tex. Detective Cowlings appeared. It didn’t take long for me to figure out he was gay. He practically told me he was, demanding his orientation. Plus it dovetailed beautifully with the bullying theme. I mean, an extremely astute, gay police detective in conservative, uptight suburban Kansas? He screamed to come to life.
In the second book, Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia, I thought it’d be daring to introduce a bisexual character. Even more daring (or so I thought), I plopped the character into the center of a “love triangle” involving my protagonist and his girlfriend. Again, the characters practically wrote themselves. Look at Margaret’s books, an inspiration. She deftly handles mixed gay, straight, bi, and different species romances, for crying out loud. Unsure of myself (my usual state-of-mind), I ran the potentially controversial storyline by my daughter who at the time was struggling through her own tenure on the battle-lines of high school.
She said, “Dad, nobody cares about that anymore.”
Huh. Cool. We’ve come a long way since my high school incarceration. Back in the day (and I won’t say when), I remember only one gay male in a student body of 1,500. That was it. And, man, did he take a verbal whipping (I don’t think he was ever physically bullied like I was, but I can’t swear to it). Anyway, I ran with my mixed sexually-oriented comedic farce. Tons of edgy fun.
The final book of the series, Tex and the God Squad, centers on the mysterious death of a closeted lesbian cheerleader. The villains, by the way, are “loosely” based upon the heinous Westboro Baptist Church. When I read about them, I knew I had to tackle them. Truly ugly. When I first envisioned the tale, I never set out for it to revolve around a lesbian death. It just sorta’ happened. The pieces of the puzzle came together, and since I was tackling the prickly topic of religion in Kansas, gay issues couldn’t be ignored. Oh, I also introduce a gay Asian—possibly the most well-adjusted member of my increasingly sprawling cast—who returns in the spin-off, Elspeth, the Living Dead Girl.
My newest book, Godland (a dark adult suspense thriller, out September 16th), also features a gay hero. Just seemed right. Take that (Im)Moral Majority! Doing my best to bring Kansas out of the dark ages.
I’d like to think I’m a liberal humanitarian bringing issues of the under-represented to light. I really would. A little of that’s true, maybe. These characters wrote themselves. And I tried not to cliché the crap outta’ them. But if I can help any bullied kid—gay or straight—with positive messages, well, it’s the best reward a writer could hope for.
Here’s an excerpt from Ted and the God Squad