I’m a big fan of Brigid Kemmerer’s Elemental Series so I’m thrilled that she agreed to stop by At Random
for Banned Books Week. So without further ado I’ll hand it over to her…
for Banned Books Week. So without further ado I’ll hand it over to her…
Banned Books Week: Adding a gay character to a cast of alpha males
Hi, guys! I’m going to be honest right out of the gate: I have no idea what to say here. Bear with me and I’ll see if I can make it interesting.
If you have no idea who I am (and if you’re still reading), my name is Brigid Kemmerer, and I write The Elemental Series for Kensington Books. My series follows a family of four brothers who control the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Their parents are dead, and the head of the household is twenty-three-year-old Michael Merrick (Earth), who took over his parents landscaping business. He’s rough and gruff and has a heart of gold under all his anger and impatience. After Michael come seventeen-year-old twins Gabriel (Fire) and Nicholas (Air). Gabriel is full of piss and vinegar and is the type of guy to punch first and ask questions later. Nicholas is bookish and kind, and balances his brother’s aggression. Finishing up the family is sixteen-year-old Chris (Water), who’s thoughtful and brooding and trying to figure out how he fits in with his brothers.
The Merrick brothers are marked for death because of their abilities. They’re bullied at school, they fight with each other as much as they get along, and because they’ve been raised by a brother not much older than they are, they’re rough cut and moody. I try very hard to balance the supernatural elements in my story with a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a middle class teenager, so they’re struggling with school and girlfriends right along with figuring out how to control their powers. Each book follows a different brother, so the reader gets to see all sides of a character: from his own internal thoughts to those of each person around him. It’s been a lot of fun to write, and the characters have been very clear in my head since day one.
So basically, I knew Nick Merrick was gay when I first started writing the books.
His brothers have no idea.
When I wrote the first book (which featured Chris), I was pretty sure Nick was gay, but I felt limited in two ways: One, I hadn’t sold a novel yet, and I was afraid to take too much of a risk. I already had swearing and date rape in Storm, so adding a gay character felt like another hurdle I’d have to overcome just to sell my book to a publisher. This was almost five years ago, and if you think about it, the world has changed a lot in the last five years. Two, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. I was already struggling with writing from a male point of view, and to add homosexuality to the mix? I wasn’t sure I could do it right. I didn’t want to be clichéd. Besides, I had a house full of these testosterone-filled alpha males. How would readers react to a gay character? I wasn’t sure.
Then Storm sold as the first book in a three-book series, and as each book came out, I felt more and more strongly that Nick was gay, and I needed to take a chance to give him his story. I wasn’t brave enough (yet) to give him a full book, but as I was writing promo novellas to help bridge the gap between books, it felt a little safer. When the time came to write a novella about Nick, I decided to take a chance.
“You’re going to have one hell of a bruise,” Adam said.
Adam touched his face, and Nick froze. His fingers were warm, gentle, and Nick wanted to freeze time.
Then Adam said, “I’m an idiot. I should have gotten you some ice.”
And his fingers were gone, and Nick was sitting there practically breathless with wanting him back.
One touch, and he was going to pieces. He wanted to slam his forehead on this table.
Adam came back with ice wrapped in a towel, and Nick was so scattered that he almost said that water was Chris’s thing, and it would probably help more to just leave it uncovered.
But then the towel was against his bruised cheek, and Adam’s other hand was on his neck to stabilize it, and even though Nick knew he should be taking over the holding of the ice bag, he didn’t want to move for fear of disrupting this moment.
It was nothing short of a miracle that the heat off his face wasn’t instantly melting all the ice.
Adam’s thumb tapped against his neck. “Your heart is racing.”
Nick turned his head away and took the ice bag. He set it on the table and had to look into his coffee mug again.
“Sorry,” said Adam. “I know there’s no point in pushing your buttons. You’re just adorable when you blush like that.” Then he was grinning. “Or like that.”
“Yeah, this is fantastic.” Even his voice was gravelly and uncertain.
Adam picked up the towel and held it out. “I’ll stop. You hold the—”
Nick shifted forward and kissed him.
He hadn’t given it a moment’s consideration—and if he had, he probably wouldn’t have done it at all. But now he couldn’t imagine stopping.
Kissing a girl was nothing like this. The basic mechanics, sure. But kissing Adam, there was a strength behind it, a raw masculinity despite his lyrical movement and gentle fingers. Nick was distantly aware of the bag of ice hitting the floor.
Then Adam was kissing him back, drawing at Nick’s tongue with his own. He had a hand behind Nick’s neck, stroking the hair there, and Nick wished he could freeze this exact moment.
Oh, and the next moment, when Adam bit at Nick’s lip.
And the moment after that, when Nick stroked a hand up Adam’s neck, finding the first start of stubble across his jaw.
It was like every thought he’d ever blocked, every fantasy he’d ever refused to acknowledge, was blasting through his brain all at once with the force of a hurricane. Everything he knew was with a girl. Like reciting a learned lesson, something he could do because he had to.
This—this was new. And exciting. And primal and raw and right.
And insanely hot. He wished there weren’t so many damn clothes in the way.
They were going to be on the floor in a minute.
“Easy. Easy,” said Adam.
Nick felt like he was coming up for air.
Hell, he was practically panting.
He looked into Adam’s brown eyes, which were just now searching his.
“Well,” said Adam, a slight smile on his lips. “That was unexpected.”
My agent and editor had no idea. I hadn’t discussed it with them, and when I clicked Send on the email, I knew I was taking a risk.
Luckily, they loved it. My editor loved it so much that I sold more books in the series, and Nick’s full length novel, Secret, comes out in January.
Readers, however, had mixed reactions to Nick’s homosexuality.
Don’t get me wrong: many of the reviews were overwhelmingly positive.
Unfortunately, some were not. Some readers said that homosexuality didn’t belong in YA because teens aren’t ready to face those kinds of “choices.” (As if it’s a choice!) Some readers said I was pushing an agenda. (I’m not. My characters are always true to themselves. When I try to force them in another direction, it doesn’t work.) I received an email from a young man who said he didn’t like Nick being gay because he wasn’t relatable anymore. (As if sexuality is what makes us relatable.) I read reviews where readers said they were done with the series entirely.
Did these reviews and emails hurt? Sure.
Would I go back and write Nick Merrick as a straight teen? Absolutely not.
After that negativity, I got an email from a reader that made all the difference in the world:
Along with many, many others, I got Breathless yesterday, devoured it, and loved it. I just wanted to message you and say congratulations on the success of the series, and also to say thank you. I read that you had received some negative feedback regarding Nick's storyline with Adam, and I just wanted to say that having recently accepted my sexuality, Nick's storyline in Breathless means a lot to me.
And that—THAT—makes it all worth it.
Brigid Kemmerer is the author of Storm, Spark, and Spirit, the first three books of The Elemental Series, available now wherever books are sold. Nick Merrick’s novella, Breathless, is available now, and his full length novel, Secret, will be released in January 2014. Visit Brigid at her website at www.brigidkemmerer.com, or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brigidkemmerer.