Kaje Harper, The Joyful Approach

And Now, A Warm Joyful Approach Welcome To Kaje Harper! Giveaway Time!


Kaje Harper, and the guys who live in my head…



“Write-oholic” : /rīt-.ə-ˈhȯ-lik/ – a person who looks at anything, no matter how simple or mundane, and immediately has characters leaping up inside their head, saying, “That’s me, my story, write mine…” And who can’t say no to the stories. Like this one:

Uke

Carson sat right there on the sidewalk, leaned his forehead against the rough concrete pillar of the bridge rail, and looked down at the water. This bridge wasn’t very high, and he could see occasional leaves and debris floating past on the lazy river below him. He nudged his elbow against his front pocket. The envelope in there no longer crackled crisply. Two months of rubbing had worn it thin, but he knew perfectly well what it contained.

Fifty-seven dollars. The price of a one way bus fare back to Des Moines. His father had tucked it into his jacket pocket, back in June, standing outside the bus station.

“You know this is crazy, don’t you, boy? You and that damned ukulele will be coming home flat broke in no time at all, with all the shine rubbed off those big city ideas.”

Carson had kicked his duffel bag and refused to meet his father’s eyes, for fear the old man might read the truth of just how scared and how desperate he was – desperate to be gone, and terrified that his father was right. His worst nightmare was that he’d come back a failure and squeeze himself down to a dry, brown, little life in his home town. The hometown where he’d never had the courage to even look at another boy, let alone stand up and tell his old man…

“Not that I’m sayin’ you’re not good with that thing. Hell, if you’d put the time in on a regular guitar, well, you’d still have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it big, but it wouldn’t look as dumb.”

“Thanks, Dad.” He hefted his bag onto his shoulder, and carefully picked up the uke case. Everyone and his brother played guitar. He had a unique sound. He straightened his back and forced down all his self doubts. He didn’t need his dad’s words to make his faith in himself go weak at the knees, but it was now or never. His brother was working at the feed store, his sister had two toddlers – they were never leaving. Carson had to get out. “I’ll try not to look too dumb.”

“I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. Just… Here, boy.”His father had held out the envelope. “There’s bus fare in there. You keep that safe, remember you’re always welcome back home.”

“No matter what?” His voice was strained, the truth he wanted to ask straining to escape.

“No matter.” His father’s intense stare almost gave him the courage to say the words, but in the end he’d stood silent as his father tucked the money into his pocket, gave his shoulder a slap, and strode off to his truck. No backward looks, but when the bus pulled out of the station, he saw that beat-up light-blue pickup still parked in the lot, where his father could watch him go.

Now the money he’d saved all through high school for his escape was gone. Two months of nothing but odd jobs and occasional gigs, and he was down to four dollars and change in his back pocket. And that envelope. Fifty seven dollars was two nights in the cheapest motel he’d found, where the roaches were big enough to carry away your sandwich if you took your eye off it. Two days to see if that bartender at Click meant it when she said, “You have a unique sound. Let me talk to the manager.” Or two days to burn through his last chance to go home without having to beg for more money from his father. He’d probably get the money, but he wasn’t sure his pride would let him ask.

Stay or go. He’d almost come to this once before, and then picked up a last-minute job that had refilled his reserve for a week. But now he had nothing in sight but that vague hint from the woman at the bar.

Really, he should just go home. His dad was right – a lot of venues looked at his uke and laughed. Others didn’t want him because he was under twenty-one and they were worried about their liquor license. If they gave him a chance to play, he usually had them caught enough to listen for a while, but so far that mostly got him regretful headshakes at the end of the audition. He’d made some money busking on the streets, but the cops had warned him twice, and nearly arrested him the third time. He couldn’t afford that.

He should just go home. That other hope that he’d left with – the thought that maybe outside of his small hometown he’d have the nerve to find a boyfriend – that hadn’t really worked out well either. He’d had a few experiences, anonymous and hurried, mostly hands, one glorious time a guy’s skilled mouth. But it was just sex, with no connection, better than jerking off, but not the shiny hope he’d left home and family for.

Stay or go?

He stood up, dusted his jeans off, and pulled out the envelope, feeling the thin stack of bills inside. The corners curled limply under his fingers. He tapped it on the railing, the soft shush of the paper on concrete a rhythm for his heart to beat to. Stay. Or. Go? Stay. Or. Go?

Behind him car tires squealed and a horn blasted. He jumped and lost his grip on the envelope. It sailed out of his hand, over the side, and dropped into the water. Instinctively he lunged forward over the rail, grabbing for it.

A voice yelled, “Shit! Stop!” His T-shirt suddenly dug into his neck as he was grabbed from behind.

Carson dropped back to his heels on the sidewalk, and tried to turn around. The hard grip in the back of his shirt released slowly, and he was able to pivot enough to see his captor.

The guy was about Cason’s age, skinnier despite Carson’s recent piss-poor diet, shorter, dressed in skin tight jeans and T-shirt that looked deliberate, not just outgrown. He frowned at Carson, blue eyes under dark brows looking disproportionately angry.

“You fucking idiot. It’s too shallow for that. Unless you manage somehow to break your neck, you’re going to just get hauled back out in worse shape than you went in. Believe me, that’d suck. There are better bridges for it, if you must.”

“If what?” Carson glanced over the rail, at the brown river where his last money had sunk out of sight. Then he figured it out. “Oh. Shit. I wasn’t trying to jump. I dropped something.”

“Oh.” The other guy’s gaze held his for a moment. There was something odd in his eyes. Entreaty? Disappointment? Before Carson could identify it, he’d turned away.

Carson should have just let him go, but there was a dejected set to the guy’s shoulders that made him step forward and say, “Thanks, though. Really. Just ’cause I wasn’t trying to off myself doesn’t mean I couldn’t have fallen. This rail’s pretty fucking low for a bridge.”

“Because this bridge is safe.” But the guy nodded. “No problem. My good deed for the day. It helps to keep going, knowing I did something fucking useful for someone.”

They stood looking at each other. For some reason, Carson felt like every detail of this guy was being burned into his memory – the way his dark hair curled over his ears, the line of his thin arms and chest under the thin grey cotton T, the blue of his eyes, a pale shade like overwashed denim right before it falls apart. Maybe it was the adrenaline, although he hadn’t really been that close to falling. Maybe it was the loss of those last fifty-seven dollars. Whatever the reason, Carson felt as if the beat of pulse in the guy’s neck echoed inside his own chest. He said, “I’m Carson Anders.”

“Delaney. My friends called me Del.”

Carson almost asked about the ”called” part of that, but there was a coolness to Del’s expression that didn’t invite questions. He sighed. “So. My last fifty bucks just went into the river. Any ideas how I can make more?”

Del tilted his head, lips pressed in a thin line. “No. Not for you.”

“Not for me what?”

Del shrugged, a minimum twitch of one shoulder. “You’re young and cute. You could easily get someone to pay you to suck his cock. But it ain’t worth it. Start down that road, and one day you’ll know how high all the bridges are too. You don’t want to be the one to stand there and decide which one you’re going to cross today.”

“Like you do?”

“Yeah.” Delaney’s gaze defied him to make something of it.

Carson sighed. “I don’t know what to do now.” He normally would have died before admitting that out loud, but he felt like Del was an inch from walking away, and if asking for help would keep him around a bit longer, he’d swallow his fucking pride and ask. “Got no money, no place to stay. I might have a job in two days, but there’s sleeping and eating.”

Del grunted. “Two days’re nothing. It’s summer. Sleeping out is easy. You can panhandle a couple of bucks for MacDonald’s.”

“I guess.”

“You could pawn something. Got anything worth it in the pack? Or that case?”

“The pack’s just dirty clothes. This…” He unsnapped the latch on the ukulele case, to show off his baby.

“What’d you do? Put your guitar through a shrink cycle?”

“It’s a ukulele.”

“A fucking uke? Like that Hawaiian Elvis thing? Jesus, that’s retirement home music.”

“Not the way I play it.” He took her out of the case. The wood was smooth under his fingers and he stroked a string. Why not. What the fucking else did he have to do right now? A touch of tuning and he started to play. His voice wasn’t perfect, but it fit the tone of his baby perfectly, and the compositions were his own. He didn’t watch Del as he played. The guy might stay, or go. It was in the hands of fate.

He was startled almost out of his song-trance by the ring of coins at his feet as a woman passed by, with a nod and a smile. He managed to keep his chords true, though. Del was apparently still there, because he bent and opened up the instrument case, and dropped the coins inside on the dark lining. “Keep playing, moron.”

Carson played. If this was going to be his last big city concert, he was going out with all his favorites, given to this wide slow river, and the short intense guy with blue eyes who stood listening. He played until his voice was hoarse and his fingers cramped. And then he stopped, and looked at Del.

“Okay. So that wasn’t too fucking rocking-chair-set.” Del bent to inspect the money that had accumulated. There weren’t a lot of pedestrians on these downtown bridges, but several had dropped bills. Del said, “Nine bucks and change. Not too freaking bad. You could eat decent for that.”

Carson put his instrument down carefully in the top, and scooped the money out of the case. Without looking at Del, he said, “Or a couple of guys could do something.”

There was a silence. When he finally looked up, Del’s eyes were on him, cautious but interested. “I ain’t blowing you for nine bucks.”

“I don’t want you to.” That was a lie, because when Del said blowing you, every nerve in Carson’s body came alive with approval. But even more, he wanted to prolong this strange moment. “I was thinking Arby’s for two.”

“Food is good.”

“I still don’t know where to sleep. I might have to hock the uke to pay for a room.”

Del laughed. In that moment, Carson was happier than he’d ever been, to have made this man laugh that way, head back, eyes bright and open.

“The hell you will,” Del said. “That’s a money-maker, that is.”

“I don’t want to get busted for busking. Again.”

“I know these streets like my own fucking dick. I’ll show you where it’s safe.”

“Like a manager for street musicians?”

“With one client?”

“It’s a start,” Carson said, more firmly than he felt.

They eyed each other, in the bright August sun on that concrete bridge.

“Yeah,” Del said softly. “It could be a start.”

Carson shouldered his pack, and carefully lifted the uke case, gentle with the handle that sometimes unhooked. “Come on. I want curly fries. And a conference with my new manager.”

“You know I know sweet fuck-all about music, right?”

“Well, I know sweet fuck-all about this city. I need a native guide. I figure we can be good for each other.”

Carson held his breath, waiting for Del’s reply. Held his breath, held it, held it.

And let it out in a soft sigh, when Del said, “Shit, why not. I love those fucking curly fries.”

****

Hi. My name is Kaje Harper, and I’m a write-oholic.

I thought this series of blogs was a great idea – to have a bunch of authors line up posts, in the approach to GayRomLit… until I realized I’d have to actually write the thing. Blogging has never been my forte. I wanted to say hi and won’t GRL be fun, and are you looking forward to it too? But after that?

I could tell you about me, but I’ve done enough basic interviews now and I was never that interesting to begin with. Many of you already know that I’m old enough that my first stories were typed on a portable typewriter; that I’ve been published for a couple of years now; that I’ve been luckier than I deserve in the reception my stories have received.

Nothing new there. Nothing worth a whole separate blog post. So I did what we all do – I whined to a friend. ”Edmond, I don’t know what to wriiiite!”

Edmond is a fellow writer, a man whose first book I adored, even before I met him and found out he’s funny and sweet and the kind of guy who will actually try to come up with ideas. Being who he is, the ideas might be off the wall, and involve costumes and imagination, and in my case end up embarrassingly flat. I don’t have his gift with the absurd. But he’d try.

Eventually he suggested he could at least send me some interview questions I might not have answered before. And he did. I read them, snickered, said, “No.” and “Hell, no.”

He also sent a few basic ones; What’s the best thing about GayRomLit? – All the wonderful people, and the feeling of being among friends, where two guys kissing in the hallway are either ignored or applauded.

What’s the worst thing about GRL? – All the wonderful people, who are loud and enthusiastic and make my social anxiety get up and do tap dances in my gut.

He sent a few unfamiliar ones: Name two things you always buy at the grocery store and never end up using before it goes bad or gets shoved in the back of the cabinet. – Say what? Anyway, my husband cooks and he is way more organized than I’ll ever be. Other than the pineapple juice that I forgot he’s allergic to, I don’t think we have that stuff.

And Edmond also asked, A man comes to your home and says, “Kaje, I’ll give you $_________ but you can never write another book or story ever again. How much is that dollar amount? That got me thinking about just how much writing is part of my daily life. Stories pop into my head all the time. If that hypothetical guy paid me a million dollars, I could stand not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) ever again, even though my stories are better when I write them down. That much money would set up my kids for a long time, after all, and be worth it. But if he wanted to stop the stories that roll out in my mind, unspooling complete with dialog and scene setting and all, he’d have to use the money for a frontal lobotomy. I’ve never not made up stories. I’ll never be able to stop.

As a kid, those first books were girl-gets-a-pony stories. Then I moved on to romances, which quickly went M/M. When I was fourteen and fifteen, that meant notebooks full of slash fiction, with teen-girl-no-internet fade to black sex scenes. This was forty years ago, remember. (Yeah, I’m that old.) I sat on my bed with a pencil, and made Starsky grab Hutch for that first unexpected kiss, made Frank Hardy explain to his brother Joe that he had a boyfriend, let Robin grow up enough to show Batman that he didn’t have to be so alone. And then there were Kirk and Spock…

I worked for realism, well, mostly. These might be fantasy love stories, but I wanted to believe them. Starsky and Hutch had issues as they tried to be both cops and lovers. Batman thought Robin was too young and inexperienced, and decided to be noble, and Alfred was not immediately onboard with the romance. The possibilities spun out in any free quiet moment I ever had. And after a while, my own original characters set up residence, living lives of adventure, change, loss and pain, but ending in love.

And there’s no way to turn that off.

So in the end, I decided to start this blog post with a short story, because that’s what I do. Who I am.

I’m excited about Gay Rom Lit. I look forward (with anxiety, but forward) to answering questions about why I put the depressing story line of a Mom with Alzheimer’s front and center in Sole Support or how Nor Iron Bars a Cage became a 103,000 word freebie instead of a short story. I look forward to hearing from other writers, learning from them, and meeting both familiar names and new faces from the M/M world. But at the end of the day, I’ll go home and write some more fictional guys. That’s not just what I do, it’s who I have always been. See you there.

Sole Support cover

Nor Iron Bars cover

-Kaje Harper

****

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED

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65 thoughts on “And Now, A Warm Joyful Approach Welcome To Kaje Harper! Giveaway Time!

  1. kirifox01 says:

    Cool. A writer almost as old as me. I keep telling myself there is still hope! Any way…enjoyed Uke and would love to read more of your stories.

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      Thanks Mandy and Kirifox – yeah, I was 51 when my first story was published, two years ago. It’s one profession where no one cares about your age, just the words you write :D

      Like

  2. mariahjoy says:

    I would love to win anything written by Kaje Harper! I’ve read a couple titles, but that’s just not good enough for me :) Please enter me for the giveaway… Thank you much!
    mariahjoyp at gmail dot com

    Like

    • Hi, lilycatbyrne, I’m not sure if Kaje will be stopping by today, so I’ll be happy to answer your GayRomLit question. :)

      GRL is an Author/Reader retreat coming into its 3rd year. It will be held in Atlanta this year, on October 17-20. HERE’s a list of participating authors.

      As a way of celebrating the countdown to the event, Joyfully Jay and I are hosting a Blog Hop for more than 50 of those participating authors. Here’s a link to the entire schedule, including links to those who’ve already appeared. The only author missing is RJ Scott, whom I’ve just added and will be announcing soon.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Lisa

      Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      Lisa pretty much gave you the basics. GRL celebrates all things M/M. This is the third year for GRL and there will be about 400 attendees. I was at last year’s in Albuquerque as just a reader, sort of lurking in corners, and I enjoyed it a lot. This year I’m going as an attending author, and will have a question-and-answer session, and sign books, and Oh-my-God-in-front-of-people stuff. But it is a great feeling to be in a whole crowd of hundreds of people who read and applaud LGBT books and lives. Just a warm, family feeling. There are a few tickets floating around, from people who can’t make it to Atlanta after all. And I expect, thanks to the amazing volunteers who run it, that there will be another GRL next year.

      Like

  3. Allison says:

    I have loved your writing ever since I found it on one of the GR’s M/M romance group’s Don’t Read events. I own a lot but not nearly everything. I will be attending GRL for the first time this year and I look forward to meeting you (although the social anxiety thing for me may have me just standing in front of you unable to speak, depends on the day).

    Oh and if you decided to do more with this lovely short you shared here I’d love to read it!

    Thank you for the short, the interview, the giveaway and, most of all, sharing your writing with us.

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      The short is probably not going to make it to the top of my to-write pile, although you never know. I’ll have a freebie collection of Young Adult short stories coming out lateer this fall, from the stuff I’ve written for my Goodreads YA LGBT Books group.

      And you can look for me in some secluded corner – maybe we’ll both manage to chat :)

      Like

  4. Pingback: Interview, giveaway, plus… | kajeharper

  5. Marla says:

    Aww I want more Carson and Del..:) Love your books..I have all but your Hidden Wolves series..don’t know why that is cuz you write fantastic stories! Thanks for the giveaway and please count me in.

    Like

  6. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for that unexpected short story! Nice little break from work. I would love to hear more about Carson and Del. Love all your writing. Have fun at GRL (and good luck with your anxiety about it ;).

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      Thanks everyone – I’m glad you liked these guys. All it took was a picture of a kid with a guitar that shrank in the wash and, yeah, story. :)

      Like

  7. Issa says:

    I’ve always loved to read the stories on how you got started Kaje…instead of going all sedentary into what is commonly known as middle age you picked up a keyboard and went a little kinky. : )

    Oh, Carsen and Del, I could so read more of them. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      LOL – yeah. I still can’t manage to read my books out loud for proofreading, like some folk recommend, although they’re tame compared to some. But you know, writing that stuff is just fun.

      Like

  8. xlorix says:

    Please, please count me in. Kaje Harper – you’re one of my favourite writers, I know I won’t be disappointed when I pick up one of your books. great interview/blog/extract. Lori x

    Like

  9. Trix says:

    Aw, I love the short, and the whole Edmond Manning anecdote! And I was slashing people in my head long before I started reading m/m (though for me it was bands, and now hockey teammates). Anyway, please count me in!

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      Ooh, hockey slash fiction. There’s some good stuff – (Heart in Hand is probably my favorite.) I’m such an introvert I didn’t know any real guys to slash, but all fictional guys were fair game. Mystery heroes and their sidekicks especially. Tell me Joe Pike isn’t in love with Elvis Cole…

      And Edmond is a sweetheart – he pulled me out of one of those dark corners last year at GRL and provided a very solid shoulder to hide behind.

      Like

  10. Andrea M says:

    I just wanted to say that your free novels are what introduced me to your writing and I’ve now bought everything you’ve written and will continue to do so. Thank you!

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      Thanks to everyone for coming by so far. Off to work (the day job – must keep those two kids in college) but I’ll check back later :)

      Like

  11. Jbst says:

    Really interesting interview. What a wonderful two years for you as a published writer. It must be like a dream come true. Thanks for the contest!

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      *waves* Wow, lots of people coming by.

      @ Jbst, yes, these two years really have been a bit surreal, right from when Life Lessons did much better than I ever expected my first book would. It’s been great, and I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way, both readers and other authors, and blogs like this. M/M is a pretty small community at the moment, and that’s part of the fun. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar names (with unfamiliar faces) at GRL.

      Like

  12. Ashley E says:

    Oh my gosh, I adored Nor Iron Bars a Cage! So amazing… Anywho, I was very disappointed when I realized the Uke was not a excerpt from a book that I could keep reading. *hint, hint*

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      LOL – sorry, folks, just a snippet not an excerpt. Maybe someday down the road, but right now it was just the lastest example of how a random picture grabs me and says “write me”. Yeah, the guys want a novel, but that’s a long line they’re standing in.

      Thanks everyone for stopping by.

      Like

  13. Renee says:

    Sign me up! I love your books and enjoyed Uke – hopefully someday the line will get short enough that they get their story. I love Joe Pike and Elvis Cole – never thought about the 2 of them together, but I think you’re right!

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      It’s fun that you guys like this little snippet of a story. It’s the characters and the emotions that always come to me first.

      @ Renee – I love the stories as they are, but sometimes I just wonder…

      @melaniem – great! So many people from online I want to meet. A good thing we’ll all wear nametags :)

      Like

  14. Jean says:

    Please count me in. I loved the first three Life Lessons books, still waiting to get the 4th. And I love the stories you have written for the Goodreads MM Romance Group. Nor Iron Bars a Cage was excellent! Thanks for the short story here, too.

    Like

  15. Thanks for the short start out story Kaje. I’ve just read and re-read Learning Curve. Pat yourself on the back please, I’m so happy to hear so much more about Tony and Mac, and Ben and Anna, and their families and friends. Yes I now have more question, like what happened to Mac’s brother Jack? And will Ollie find someone? But I know that Tony and Mac have the HEA they deserve and that is so satisfying!

    I think I have all your books except Sole Support so I would love to receive that one. :-)

    Like

    • Kaje Harper says:

      For a guy who is never on page, lots of people want to know about Jack. Maybe one day… Secondary characters all hang about asking for their own stories.

      Thanks to everyone who came by, and congrats to Antonia – email coming your way.

      Like

  16. Thank so much to everyone who stopped by to say hello to Kaje, and thanks to you, Kaje, for stopping in to say hello right back.

    This contest is now closed and the winner drawn, and congratulations go to…

    Antonia!

    Antonia, I’ve already emailed Kaje with your contact information, so expect to hear from her soon.

    Have a great weekend! :)

    Like

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