Welcome to our third week of celebrations for the amazing
In this week's post, we're looking at the 90s Coming Of Age 4-book series, with Pictures Of You and You Are Not Me published so far, plus a personal story Leta has chosen to share. There's also another chance to win one of her books.
First up, Pictures Of You
Growing up gay isn’t easy. Growing up gay in Knoxville, Tennessee is even harder.
Eighteen-year-old Peter Mandel, a private school senior—class of 1991—is passionate about photography. Peter doesn’t have many friends, preferring to shoot pictures from behind the scenes to keep his homosexuality secret.
Enter Adam Algedi, a charming, worldly new guy who doesn't do labels, but does want to do Peter. Hardly able to believe gorgeous Adam would want geeky, skinny him of all people, Peter's swept away on a journey of first love and sexual discovery. But as their mutual web of lies spins tighter and tighter, can Peter find the confidence he needs to make the right choices? And will his crush on Daniel, a college acquaintance, open a new path?
Join Peter in the first of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.
I leaned back in my chair as the familiar opening of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” began.
Renée twirled onto the stage, gyrating, dancing, and lip-syncing like she meant every word, her face contorted into what appeared to be a combination of ecstasy and pain. I had to bite down really hard on my lip to keep from laughing, and I took huge gulps from my drink in hopes that more alcohol might make Renée’s performance more than hysterically unnerving.
I spared a thought for the fact that I’d consumed more illegal beverages in the time I’d known Adam than I ever had in my entire life up until that point. I wondered if that meant he was a bad influence. I’d never had one of those before.
I glanced around the club and chuckled into my drink. Who was I kidding by asking myself if Adam was a bad influence? Looking around, there was no question. Of course he was. And it was exciting. And kind of cool.
As the dancing became more heated, Renée began to rip off her clothes, made easy by Velcro holding on her skirt and blouse. Once she was down to a gold, glittery panty-like thing and a matching bra, Renée twirled feverishly as people lined up to stick dollar bills in the straps of her G-string.
I ducked my head to examine her crotch. Where the hell did she put it? It had to be there somewhere. But no, she was smooth. I took another long drink as I tried to imagine just how much strapping and taping went into that.
Four songs passed, and I took courage in my drink throughout. I didn’t feel like laughing anymore, but the idea of crawling up to the stage and pushing dollar bills into Renée’s underwear didn’t appeal to me either. I just sat and watched, averting my eyes whenever Renée looked directly at me. Being in the front row, I got a good look at all of Renée’s goods, like her little ass shaking around just three or four feet from my face. It was embarrassing and arousing.
After the song ended, Renée reached out toward the audience, and Barry walked up to hand her a microphone. She smoothed her hair a little and dabbed her face with a handkerchief someone tossed to her from the audience.
“Thank you, babies. Now, I’ve been kind and shown you my stuff, so break out the rest of your money, gentlemen and ladies! Mama needs some love!”
A smattering of laughter broke out in the crowd.
I wished I had another drink, and as if reading my mind, Renée looked over at my table, saying, “Krista, get this child a drink. He’s looking parched.” She was still breathing hard from her exertions, and every word she said into the microphone was followed by a violent puff of air. “Can’t have my naughty boy’s sweetie going without.”
Krista showed up with another drink by the time Renée had started her mini stand-up routine. It was bad. Luckily, it was laughably bad, and so most of the crowd cracked up in the right places, and no one was rude enough to heckle or boo her.
I kept sipping whatever it was Krista had delivered to me, so I was starting to feel a little woozy by the time Renée called out, “Bring me the naughty boy. He needs a whipping.”
The crowd cheered. Apparently, this part was a house favorite.
Adam’s head stuck out from behind the curtain, face flushed and his hair kind of wild. He blinked against the spotlight and seemed to search the room, but from the way he was squinting, I didn’t think he could really see anything.
“Get out here,” Renée yelled, and Adam stepped through the curtains wearing a white robe and dragging a chair behind him. He continued to scan the audience until Renée grabbed his arm and pointed at me. “There he is. I told you he’d be okay.”
Adam broke into a relieved grin when he saw me.
Renée took the chair and placed it in the middle of the stage, talking the whole time about how Adam was fresh meat, a little virgin boy, and all kinds of similar statements—whether to be funny, inflame, or incite, I wasn’t sure.
I didn’t feel too good. The alcohol seemed to be turning in my stomach, but I was emboldened enough to give Adam a long once-over. That’s when I realized he didn’t have on any pants—his ankles and feet were bare beneath the white material. But it wasn’t until Renée took him over her knee and lifted up the back of his robe that I realized he didn’t have anything on under there.
Adam was tall. To position his ass properly, he had to sprawl far over Renée’s legs, and his head and hands rested on the ground. He managed to turn and look at me, and he grinned a little before a loud crack sounded through the room. Adam’s eyes went wide and he jerked.
“That’s for being bad. The next is for being dirty.”
Adam’s face went a little slack, and I gripped the glass in my hand hard, wincing for him.
“This is for being easy.”
Adam looked over at me, eyes glazed and his cheeks flushed. I realized that he was getting turned on, and I felt my own body responding to the expression on his face. Unfortunately, feeling sweaty, sick, and turned on all at once wasn’t really a good combination.
“This is for being pretty.”
“This is for being gay.”
It really was a perverted little show. Nearly everyone in the room seemed to get off on the spankings, and the reasons given for them. Each new item Renée listed was met with ever-increasing screams of approval.
“And this is for liking it up the ass!”
Adam jerked hard, and his face crumbled a little. I wondered if he’d had an orgasm or if he finally couldn’t take any more of the pain. My stomach churned, and the room became overly loud with the roaring appreciation of the crowd when Renée announced Adam had been sufficiently punished.
When he struggled up from her lap, I noticed he was breathing hard, and he grinned down at her with a silly expression. He waved at the crowd and then blew a kiss to me before rushing behind the curtain.
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Book 2, You Are Not Me
Follow Peter into the summer following his senior year to face new beginnings, new friends, and old baggage.
After a tumultuous final year of high school, Peter Mandel needs a break. It's the summer of 1991, and his secret relationship with his ‘best friend’ Adam Algedi is put on hold as Adam goes away to Italy for the summer. On the cusp of adulthood, Peter has a couple of months to explore who he is without Adam at his side.
Enter Daniel McPeak, a slightly older, out, responsible college guy with a posse of gay friends and an attraction for Peter. Drawn into the brave new world of the local gay club, Peter embarks on a whirlwind of experiences—good and bad—which culminate in a hotel room where he has to make the ultimate choice.
But Adam will come back eventually, and there are promises that have to be kept. As autumn draws near and college awaits, can Peter break free of the binds of twisted first love? And what exactly is Daniel's role in his life - a brief temptation, or something more?
Join Peter in the second book of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.
Rome, May 29, 1991
Dear Peter the Eater,
I’m sitting at a café across from the Pantheon. It’s early on a Wednesday morning and I’m watching people go to work or the market. They’re all dressed to the nines compared to Americans and darting around on tiny motorbikes too.
Being in the States for almost a year has screwed with my perception of normal because everything about Rome used to seem “everyday” to me and now I can’t catch my breath because it’s all so awesome. Literally awe inspiring. Maybe because of you and your pictures, I’m seeing the city with new eyes. I know you’d have your camera glued to your face if you were here. Just imagining that makes me miss you even more. Maybe one day we can be in Rome together.
It’s crazy that only two days ago I was with you. Travel makes time strange. I wish we’d been able to be together before I left. I should have said no to that trip with Leslie’s family. I regret it now. You mean so much to me. A whole summer without you is too long.
Tell me you miss me too. Tell me you want me as much as I want you. Promise to wait for me to come back. It’ll be worth it. This fall, everything will be amazing. I’ll make sure things are different for us. Trust me. No more unhappiness. No more fights. Tell me you believe me, Peter.
But don’t tell me in a letter. My dad might find it and kill me. Keep the letters you send clean, okay? Like we’re brothers. Or priests. But not those kinds of priests. You know what I mean.
I’m going to mail this before I go back to the flat. So, no need to say Sunsphere as a code word. I’ll just say it: I love you and I miss you so much. I’ll try to call when I can.
Yours forever, until the Colosseum crumbles, until the moon falls from the sky,
The green lawn was lush under my bare feet as I walked to our mailbox, my blue cotton T-shirt stuck to my back and my dark, curly hair wildly frizzed. I hadn’t mowed the grass in a week, despite my father’s pointed hints, and sweat bees threatened my hairy legs, exposed beneath my knee-length cargo shorts.
Opening the mailbox, I glanced to the far end of the street toward my sort-of boyfriend Adam’s home. The last time I’d driven past, the rancher-style house stood empty and dark, the windows covered with blinds. It looked lonely and somehow older, even though a neighbor had agreed to mow and keep the front flowerbed tidy while Adam, his twin sister Sarah, and their older brother Mo visited their parents in Rome over the summer.
Soon enough I’d stop expecting to see Adam sauntering down the street with a broad smile, the sun glinting in the red highlights in his auburn hair. I wouldn’t check anymore to see if his Easter egg-colored Mercedes was parked in the driveway and feel an unwanted pang of regret when it wasn’t. I could forgive myself the indulgence for now. It’d only been two weeks, and old habits were hard to break.
But in the mailbox, amid the stack of junk catalogs and bills, there it was: a long, white envelope with a ton of colorful stamps. My heart kicked hard and I caught my breath, a zing of excitement shooting up my spine.
Glancing around, like the letter was a secret, I wiped my sweaty forehead with my shoulder and took some steadying breaths. Who knew what Adam might have written? Thinking of the deranged not-a-break-up-letter he’d left in my mailbox back at Christmas, there was no telling what he might have to say.
Shoving the rest of the mail under my arm, I ripped open the envelope and pulled out a sheet of regular notebook paper. It was full of his familiar handwriting. A postcard was tucked in the middle. The front was a picture of the Pantheon at night, glowing pink and surrounded by tourists. The back of the card was blank.
Chewing on the inside of my cheek, I tried not to believe everything he’d written just because it was what I most wanted to hear. Shoving the postcard and letter back into the envelope, I tried to push the tide of hope back into my heart.
I already knew what happened when I combined hope with Adam: pain.
I wasn’t going to put myself through it again. I had a scheme: I’d keep an optimistic distance. Plan for the best, but not be surprised by the worst. Control my emotions and control myself.
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Please note: Two more novels (Don't Get Me Wrong and Never Tear Us Apart are expected to be published in this quadrilogy. These should not be read as standalone titles.
Leta's Personal Story
YOGA IS LIFE, WRITING IS YOGA, WRITING IS LIFE
So I’m a writer and it’s one of my absolute favorite things to do, but one of my other favorite things is yoga. For most of my life, I was incredibly sedentary and did little to know exercise. But once I decided that it was important to me that I at least make a really good attempt to live long enough to see my daughter fully grown, I dove headfirst into yoga. Truly, it was a trial by fire.
See, I didn’t just choose a beginner’s yoga class. No, I decided that if I was going to do this yoga thing, then I was going to go to the best teacher in town. It wasn’t an ego thing, or a pride thing, but just sort of a personal challenge. I also knew enough about my health (or lack thereof) and my fitness (basically none) to know that I wouldn’t be able to do most of the activities in the class. And I was right. By the end of the first class, I was a sweaty, red-faced, exhausted mess. (To be fair, I’m still a sweaty, red-face, exhausted mess after many classes! LOL)
But I refused to be ashamed of where I was in my journey (the beginning), because if I let shame stop me then I’d never advance and only stagnate. That was a lesson I’d learned from writing. I didn’t start out writing books that resonated with readers, but if I’d stopped at that point, I’d have never written books that did. See, we all have to start somewhere. We’re all eternal beginners. Each one of us. Each book is a new beginning. Each yoga class, each pose is a new beginning as well. Each breath. Each heartbeat.
It’s important to embrace being a beginner in life. If there’s one thing I can impart with this little yoga/writing/life essay today, it’s that. Be gleeful about being a beginner! It means that there is so much more excitement and adventure ahead!
Another important life lesson that writing and yoga are both teaching me is how to be okay with not being perfect. For example, eventually I have to call a manuscript finished and send it out into the world regardless of the fact that there might be a lingering typo that I missed. I can’t let anxiety over the potentiality of one mistake (or even ten of them) prevent the book from going out into the world. The potentiality of error is permanent and impossible to erase entirely. So I had to embrace imperfection. With yoga, there is quite simply no such thing as perfect. There is no perfect body, or perfect pose. Regardless, there is no doubt that when I started, I was not, and even now am not, capable of performing all of the asanas (poses) in any given class. Balance is an issue for me (and, lo, the symbolism of that) and most balance poses remain a struggle 2.5 years into my yoga journey. If I had let the anxiety of not being able to do the poses that the rest of the class performed with ease get under my skin, I’d have never attended a second class. Instead, I embraced my imperfect, my inability, and simply TRIED MY BEST. It was all I could do then, it’s all I can do now, in both yoga and my books. And wow is that liberating as hell!
A final thing that yoga and writing are both helping me to embrace is impermanence and flux. In yoga, even if you attain a pose during class that you’ve been working on for months, there is no guarantee that during the next class that pose will still be attainable for you. There are all kinds of conditions that might prevent it: muscle strain, tightness from walking up an unusual number of staircases that week, sickness, too much computer work, or even an injury. Getting hung up on what you can and can’t do in any given yoga practice is an issue of ego and attachment. Too much ego, too much attachment, determining your value as a yoga student or person based on what poses you can or can’t do is a recipe for misery, and misses the point of yoga entirely, which is to honor and love where you are in your body at any given time, on any given day.
Again, again there is a parallel to writing: just because you wrote a successful book that everyone loved once doesn’t mean that every book you write after that will be equally or more successful. Sometimes your chosen trope is a difficult one, sometimes your idea is bigger than your skill/talent, and sometimes readers just aren’t interested and you’ll never know why. But too much ego, too much attachment to an individual book’s reception or earnings is common in the writing world. Letting a single book’s sales or reviews determine how you value yourself as a person or a writer is another recipe for misery, and, I’d argue, misses the point of writing entirely, too, which is to honor and respect your willingness to create bravely, and expose that creation to the world.
(This is not to belittle the fact that we all need to make money and pay our bills. This is simply to say that letting the reception of a single book determine your value as a writer now and forever is akin to letting your ability to do bound headstand determine your value as a yoga student.)
To sum up:
Embrace being a beginner!
Release attachment and ego association to outcomes!
Writing is yoga, and yoga is life. If you’re curious about the life lessons you might learn from yoga, I encourage any and all of you to seek out a local teacher and dive right into it. Most studios have mats you can borrow, so don’t let the idea that you’d need to by anything stop you. Trial by fire. It’s a great way to embrace being a beginner.
More about the author:
Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
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Thank you for celebrating this fabulous author with us. Come back next week for more of Leta's books, our author interview, and one more chance to win.
Until then, happy reading!