This last April as I sat around a table with Jaime Samms, B.G. Thomas, the Executive Director of Dreamspinner Press, and a few other authors, I was nervous. I was worried about my character Hugo Thorson in Spark, and I finally shared my concern. I was worried that people would dismiss him outright because he performed as a drag queen. I was concerned that he wouldn’t be taken seriously or that he’d be disliked or that people would get so caught up on that tiny part of him that they wouldn’t give him a chance. I was being a chicken, and if Hugo were a real person, he would’ve told me I was treating him like shit at that moment because I had no faith in him. I was also demeaning something he loved, drag.
I had no idea at the time that I was sharing this with two authors who had already written about cross-dressers and drag queens. They let our Executive Director do the talking and she convinced me to keep Hugo just how I’d written him. Days later I read Jaime’s Lace and B.G.’s All Alone In A Sea Of Romance and saw I wasn’t the only person who had written male characters who weren’t afraid of a little lace and silk.
Spark is book one of my North Star trilogy, and I knew from the start that Hugo was going to be a drag queen. I also knew he was a very strong character who loved deeply, but love hadn’t always been so kind to him. Some of that was because of his drag act. There are a lot of stereotypes and prejudices against men who preform in drag that I learned about while doing my research.
If clothes make the man, what does that mean for a drag queen?
But Hugo wasn’t always a drag queen. When we first meet him in high school, he befriends the new kid at his job, Kevin Magnus. For all intents and purposes, Kevin is a straight guy, or so he thinks until he falls for Hugo. But they both have to remain closeted in their conservative small city. That means Hugo is very conscious of how he expresses himself, and he goes out of his way to make sure he’s not too demonstrative or too femme. At home he loosens up some, and Kevin not only notices it, but appreciates it. He likes the more relaxed Hugo.
After they go their separate ways for college, Hugo really explores his femme side and soon starts dressing up and going out to dance with a friend. That’s how his drag starts. Now that Kevin and Hugo reconnect years later, Hugo worries about how Kevin would take such news.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 18 of Spark. You can read Chapter 1 here.
How would he tell something like that to Kevin? Hugo in drag was so far from the tightly held, reserved kid Kevin knew and liked in Austin. Hugo knew he was jumping the gun, thinking about sharing his deepest secrets with Kevin already, and for some reason, he didn’t want to put Kevin off, to quickly warn him away with this totally queer part of himself. Not yet. There were friends in his life who still didn’t know about this part of him, and Kevin could easily be one of those people.
He’d quit telling boyfriends about drag early in a relationship after a close-minded guy named Doug had used the information to manipulate Hugo into always bottoming, saying Hugo wasn’t man enough to top. Hugo eventually put together that Doug believed the rumor, “all queens are tops,” and that apparently freaked him out enough to feel like he had to teach Hugo a lesson. Whatever that meant. It didn’t take Hugo long to realize the relationship wasn’t worth keeping, but when he told Doug he didn’t want to see him, Doug backhanded him, telling him he was sick in the head and a fraud who had misrepresented himself. The guy obviously had some issues he was dealing with beyond his belief in a simple assumption he’d made. After that, Hugo waited until he was sure if he really liked a guy before revealing his secret, and when he finally shared, he did so out of arm’s reach.
Michael knew about Miss Cherrie because they’d been together so long. He didn’t understand why Hugo had to play dress-up and pretty much tried to ignore that Hugo even did it, leaving the apartment so he wouldn’t have to see Hugo in makeup. “If I wanted to date a woman, I wouldn’t be gay,” Michael would say, but never with any heat in his voice.
Hugo had no idea why his mind had gone there. Probably fear. Sharing how he enjoyed the art of drag was just one of those things he worried about. Somehow, he knew if he and Kevin had any chance at a future, he’d eventually have to come clean. It certainly wasn’t something he looked forward to doing, and he’d avoid it for as long as he could.
Perhaps you can understand why Hugo feels so secretive about drag. So again, if clothes make the man, what does that mean for a drag queen? I think it means those men are stronger than hell. It takes balls to go out in a public that not only shames men for being too girly or not manly enough, but to do it wearing a dress, hose, and lipstick.
I have such strong affection for Hugo’s character, and part of that is because of what he’s endured in his life because of his drag. Yet he doesn’t give it up. He finds something from it that fills his soul and makes him carry on. So what will happen when Kevin finds out about it? That’s truly one of Hugo’s greatest fears in Spark because Kevin was Hugo’s true love. He was the one who got away, and now they finally have a second chance at love.
In their small-town high school, Hugo and Kevin became closeted lovers who kept their secret even from parents. Hugo didn’t want to disappoint his terminally ill father, and Kevin’s controlling father would never tolerate a bisexual son. When college took them in different directions, they promised to reunite, but that didn’t happen for seventeen years.
By the time they meet again, Hugo has become an out-and-proud actor and director who occasionally performs in drag—a secret that has cost him in past relationships. Kevin, still closeted, has followed his father’s path and now, in the shadow of divorce, is striving to be a better father to his own children.
When Hugo and Kevin meet by chance at a party, the spark of attraction reignites, as does their genuine friendship. Rekindling a romance may mean Hugo must compromise the openness he values, but Kevin will need a patient partner as he adapts to living outside the closet. With such different lifestyles, the odds seem stacked against them, and Hugo fears that if his secret comes to light, it may drive Kevin away completely.
Posy Roberts lives in the land of 10,000 lakes (plus a few thousand more). But even with more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined, Minnesota has snow—lots of it—and the six months of winter makes us “hearty folk,” or so the locals say. The rest of the year is heat and humidity with a little bit of cool weather we call spring and autumn, which lasts about a week.
She loves a clean house, even if she can’t keep up with her daughter’s messes, and prefers foods that are enriched with meat, noodles, and cheese, or as we call it in Minnesota, hotdish. She also loves people, even though she has to spend considerable amounts of time away from them after helping to solve their interpersonal problems at her day job.
Posy is married to a wonderful man who makes sure she eats while she documents the lives of her characters. She also has a remarkable daughter who helps her come up with character names. When she’s not writing, she enjoys karaoke, hiking, and singing spontaneously about the mundane, just to make normal seem more interesting.
Read more at http://posyroberts.com