Guest Post: M Pepper Langlinais
I don’t write gay sex—if you’re looking for that you have plenty of other options. Instead, I write gay relationships. Because I think it’s very important to have gay protagonists who live real, regular lives. Lives that don’t revolve solely around sex.
In The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, the title character is a gay British spy. The story is set in the 1960s, a time when being gay was criminal, but I consciously opted not to play up that dynamic of the story all that much. Peter is comfortable with who he is, and he’s protected by his boss, so the open secret of his homosexuality only becomes a problem when his boss goes missing.
The core of the novel, however, is about whether Peter can trust his lover Charles. When Charles is accused of being a counteragent, Peter extracts him and they leave the country. But Peter struggles with that seed of doubt: What if it’s true?
As Peter picks apart the threads, their relationship unravels.
In 1960’s London, British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?
“Get him out or take him out.” Peter’s heart was in his knees, but he made sure it didn’t sound in his voice.
Noise on the line as Jules Maier shifted. Peter pictured him tucked up in a dark, cramped flat with too-low ceilings and flimsy furniture. It would be perpetually damp there. Musty. And yet Jules would still somehow manage to look perfectly put together. Jules rolled out of bed perfectly put together. It was sinful.
“After all that work to get him in?” Jules asked.
Perfectly put together but, Peter was reminded, also a tad whiney. Gordon had once told Peter he couldn’t think of the men out in the field as real people, not if he wanted to be able to do the job well. “Don’t think of them as men you’ve met, had lunch with, drinks with,” Gordon said. “Think of them as characters in a book or players in a game.” Peter had wondered at the time whether Gordon thought of him that way, but he’d been too afraid of the answer to ask.
And now, with the file open in front of him and the face of Alexander Sepiol staring back from his desk, it was difficult advice to take. Peter closed the folder. “You know how this goes, Jules.”
A heavy sigh. “I’ll try to get him out, of course.”
“Don’t waste any time,” Peter instructed. “And, Jules?”
Peter imagined the arched eyebrow, the tiny smile. He was probably wearing one of those goddamned turtlenecks. “Get yourself out as soon as you can. I don’t want to have to send anyone in after you.”
* * *
He hoped the drive down to Oxshott would clear his head, but his mind continued to jump from Jules to Alexander and back again. Why wouldn’t Alexander leave Germany? How could they coerce him? Had Alexander already given them away? If so, to whom? Was Jules really doing everything he could?
Probably not. Jules was lazy. But if Alexander had leaked, Jules was also in trouble. Along with a half dozen more people in Brandenburg’s Frankfurt.
Peter was surprised to find he’d arrived, his musings having stolen the time. The grass in front of the Lessenbys’ was dead with winter and flat with cars. Peter added his TR3 to the fleet.
He didn’t bother to knock; he never did at the Lessenbys’, and with the party, no one would have heard it anyway. Gordon and Elinor held it every year at the holidays, this odd assemblage of people whose jobs were to be quiet and unseen, Gordon a gaunt anti-Fezziwig.
Peter spotted him standing near the fireplace, Trevor Tillholm planted squarely in front of him, and he started in that direction, but Elinor Lessenby caught sight of Peter and moved in, arresting his progress. Her oversized hat forced him to rock back a bit on his heels; he then took a full step backward as her oversized body followed the brim.
“Peter!” she shrilled as she held out a hand. “How did you sneak in without any of us noticing? Oh!” she laughed, not waiting for him to answer, “no, I know, it’s what you do!”
To me, relationships (of any kind or gender) are the most interesting part of any story. Actions, reactions, and interactions—it is through these that character is revealed. And I’m a character writer.
In my upcoming YA fantasy novel, I come from another direction. In that book, the main character Cee has a crush on her gay best friend Marcus. She knows he’ll never love her the way she loves him, and Marcus feels the pressure of Cee’s desire. He’s naturally frustrated by not being able to be what she wants him to be. While the bigger plot has to do with dragons and magicians, this tension between Cee and Marcus informs the story. Again, relationships are the bedrock. When Marcus literally has the opportunity to change—to become heterosexual—he chooses not to. And Cee supports his decision. Their friendship means more than any chance at fulfilling a sexual fantasy.
Of course, there’s a time and place for those sexy books, gay or otherwise. Mine aren’t those, but I hope I’ve contributed something just as worthwhile and engaging.
M Pepper Langlinais is a produced playwright and screenwriter. Her screenplay St. Peter in Chains, based in part on the novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, won Table Read My Screenplay and received a professional table read at Sundance Film Festival. M is also a bestselling author of Sherlock Holmes stories. Her novel Changers: Manifesting Destiny is due out from Evernight Teen this summer.