Loose Id, $6.99, ISBN 1-59632-211-X
Fantasy Romance, 2005
It is my civic duty, I suppose, to point out that A Kiss at Midnight is a gay romantic story anthology. If you follow the online publishing community, you may know this by looking at the names of the contributing authors. Jules Jones, Ally Blue, and Emily Veinglory are three of the more prominent authors of homosexual love stories in the community. This anthology is a good way as any for me to get a feel on how the full-length works of these authors would most likely be, I believe, hence my purchasing it.
Jules Jones kicks off the show with First Footer. Matthew Ryder attends a science-fiction writer’s group at a large house at Lake District come the New Year, although he has yet to sell any of his fiction and this “workshop” is nothing more than a way for these authors to get drunk and relaxed in the name of celebrating the new year. An alien – a real one, looking like a feline humanoid straight out of a furry convention – happens to crash the party at the stroke of midnight. It turns out that our furball Tinky-Winky, Hraldrin, is a junior anthropologist of a first contact team that happens to have an accident and land on a peat bog instead of making a dramatic “We are your friends!” manner, hence his showing up at the door.
As I read this story, I find myself thinking that perhaps Matthew is single and lonely because clearly he’s looking for love in the wrong places. Instead of attending writer’s groups and being set up for dates by faghags, he should have donned his Tigger costume and look for his Eeyore at the nearest furry convention. First Footer can be a cute story especially when it comes to two “bloody queers” – as one of the characters here puts it – being the spokesperson for interspecies love and harmony. However, for too long nothing seems to be happening in this story other than chatter.
Now, the characters talking and discovering things about each other are fine. In fact, good communication is integral in making a romance feel as real as possible in any particular story. However, I find Ms Jones’ writing style perhaps too much on the sedate side for me. Her dialogues are somewhat of mixed quality, with some adroit wit here and then mixed up with some rather corny lines, but generally readable all the same. However, I find the pacing and build-up rather flat. The events that happen late in the story snowball after a long period of leisurely-paced chit-chat and sexual exploration that don’t reach out and grab my attention. I don’t get the feeling that the author is taking me anywhere throughout the middle portions of this story, therefore I don’t feel any urgency to turn the pages. The lack of urgency is not helped by the fact that Matthew is a Gary Stu character and that he and Hraldrin come off as one-dimensionally nice but flat characters.
Ally Blue’s The Burning Man has Zach Washington, an archeology student at the FSU, discovering a relic that is most likely an effigy to the Canaanite god Moloch. Dr Jonathan Castille from the University of Albuquerque is called in to verify the relic. I keep waiting for one of them to turn into the Human Torch or something but alas, this story suffers from the same problem that I have with Ms Jones’ story: for too long the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, the things that happen finally do so in a snowball manner late in the story, and the main characters aren’t interesting because they are one-dimensionally nice and compatible and so perfect with nary any internal conflict between them. Ms Blue could have been more subtle with the “I matchmake hot gay boys because I’m clearly the author inserting herself into this story!” Mary Sue female character as well. This is one plot device I’ve seen in too many slash fanfictions written by earnest and well-meaning teenagers (I’m trying to be kind here and not hurt their feelings too much) in the Livejournal and Adult Fanfiction Network circuit: there is always one very liberal and very sweet young woman who loves to see her so lovelorn and dreamy gay best friend hook up with a hot hunk and this particular character never fails to come off as a form of self-insertion by the author.
Emily Veinglory’s Wildest Dreams closes the anthology. This story has more of a hook to engage me than the previous two stories because at least the werewolf hero here isn’t some one-dimensionally nice gay guy looking for love while being egged on by a Mary Sue female friend. Luke Landry isn’t a happy werewolf though since he doesn’t like to disembowel humans and all, so I suppose it’s probably just as well that he’s confident about his sexuality. Sexual confusion and self-loathing would be a most depressing combo indeed. In walks love – or a darker approximation of it – when Luke meets werecoyote “Just Charles” in a toilet. No, not meeting in that manner, sheesh. Charles catalyzes a more active attempt on self-searching in Luke’s part. He starts visiting Yahoo! groups for wereanimals and even falls for a weredeer. Yes, a weredeer, you’ve read that right. Aren’t we all a big furry convention today?
Steve the weredeer is a little too much of a “I know you won’t eat me! I just know!” Bambi (ahem, no pun intended) for me. Luke is a nicely-written if somewhat familiar conflicted emo character but his relationship would be more interesting if the conflict isn’t entirely on his part and Steve shows less confidence in Luke not eating him and all. Also, Ms Veinglory inserts a stereotype-is-bad message here yet oddly enough she misses out a grand opportunity to challenge stereotypes by making the deer a big and brawny top that makes the wolf howl at the moon instead of the sweet bottom that Steve turns out to be, heh. At any rate, Luke is a successful hook for my attention because Ms Veinglory successfully portray his insecurities to make Luke come off as a credible conflicted character. While the characters talk considerably, unlike the previous two stories here Ms Veinglory sets a nice pace for her story so I always feel that the story is building up towards something exciting that I should keep turning the pages to find out more of.
In a way, Wildest Dreams ends up demonstrating what Ms Blue and Ms Jones should have done in their respective stories – give the main characters some vulnerability and have them react to that vulnerability for some internal conflict that would challenge the characters into doing things that will make them come off as more fully-realized characters as well as to pace the story so that the momentum doesn’t dissipate. I hate to say this but only that one feel like a well-developed story because Ms Veinglory introduces some depths to her characters and works on building up her storyline. The other two stories come off like tentative first efforts by future Livejournal slash queens, too focused on the fact that there are two men having sex in these stories at the expense of memorable characters and well-developed storylines.