The first thing I knew about one of my characters is that he was gay.
The second thing I knew was that nobody around him had a clue. That this, in fact, would be a major plot event that would make so many things make sense. That it would be my trump card, my big reveal. And why?
Because I like to make marketing really, really difficult.
Alright, I admit, there’s more to it than that. A lot more.
I grew up in a small town on the edge of Appalachia, where we didn’t quite have mountains, but we did have meth labs. When I was fifteen, one of the boys in my English class told me he was gay, and that went well enough that he decided to tell everyone. Six months later, his parents had him seeing a councilor to fix him. No one else at my high school came out of the closet to anyone but close friends.
That was ten years ago. So near, so far.
Not everyone comes out when they want to; not everyone comes out at all. Their decisions are not predicated on want, but on can and cannot. And I wrote a book so I could tell the story of someone who is doing their best under difficult circumstances. To someone who perhaps was going through them themselves.
And the rest of us, of course, because who hasn’t had to make bad choices under worse circumstances? If you haven’t, I hope you never have to.
I didn’t write a coming-out story, but I made one where we can understand why not. I can’t tell you that there’s a romance in this book; there isn’t. I can’t tell you that my gay character is in love—he’s not sure that he is. I can’t even tell you who he is, or where you’ll meet him, or why exactly he keeps his secrets.
You’ll have to find that out for yourself.
In this gritty debut set in a near-future Appalachia, S. Hunter Nisbet presents a stunning story of surviving the choices we make—and those that are made for us.
Simon “Saint” Flaherty is sixteen the day he enters a back-alley mixed martial arts fight in his Appalachian town. The odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, but no one expects him to win by accidentally killing his opponent, least of all Simon. His coach uses the publicity to set Simon up in the fight of his life in scarcely a month’s time, but physically ready doesn’t mean mentally ready.
Erin Livingston has taken care of Simon since he was orphaned at the age of eleven, a replacement son for the one stolen away from her by a war that tore the country apart and left her hometown in isolated ruin and at the hands of despot cartel leader Jeff Petrowski. Not only does Petrowski keep an iron grip on the community, but his grasp is also rapidly closing in on Erin as Simon’s limelight reveals a secret she’s desperate to keep hidden from the world. Now Erin is searching for a way out, any way out.
Nothing can stop Simon’s next fight, barreling toward them at the speed of a shotgun shell. No one dares help Erin, not if it means risking their lives against a man with no mercy. In this tightly woven story of enduring in the face of violence, Simon and Erin must decide whether a chance to escape a life not worth living is worth the danger of losing it altogether.
Read an excerpt from What Boys Are Made Of below.
Excerpt from chapter three of What Boys Are Made Of. The narrator for this chapter is Art, Simon’s coach.
After both militaries cleared out of the foothills, Mick Perry dumped his uniform in a ditch, stole a truck full of ammo, and drove back here to set up shop in his old family home, a two-story that opens straight onto the street. The sign on the front of his place says it’s a pawnshop, but what Mick deals is arms.
He also headlined the first knife tournament Buchell ever had.
I bang on the door as Simon and I enter, bell ringing above our heads. Mick’s hunched over his counter, staring into a cup of coffee. His eyebrows go up when he sees who it is.
“Hey lookie, if it isn’t the new angel of death and his handler.” He gives a whistle between his teeth that I could kill him for. “What are you doing in my humble little establishment, Saint Flaherty?”
“I got a boy here who needs to stay alive next time someone pulls a knife.”
“So you thought of your good friend Mick, huh? Knew you’d come by sooner or later. It’ll cost you a pretty penny, but yeah, I’ll give your boy knife lessons. That is why you’re here, isn’t it?”
Simon looks to me and I grin. “Mick and I go way back. We fought together, played high school football together.”
“Haven’t seen you in a long while, Artie. Must’ve been, what, couple months? Forget where I live?”
“Yeah, well, I been busy getting Simon here into winning shape.”
Mick looks Simon up and down, theatrical to a fault, taking in everything from the enormous old army boots to the T-shirt stretched tight across his shoulders. “Jesus, you sure have. And now you wanna arm him?”
“Can you do it?”
He moves before I’m even finished with the sentence, the knife coming out of nowhere. Steel flashes for a brief second and then gleams, stopped mid-plunge as Simon’s biceps strain. Eyes lock, will against will, as he slowly pushes Mick’s weapon away from his heart.
Simon doesn’t see the second knife until it’s up against his neck.
Mick grins like a wolverine before stepping back and dusting his hands off. Who knows what Simon’s thinking. If he thinks.
“Always wanted to try that. Not half-bad reflexes, good strength. Yeah, I can do it. Get him over here every day, and don’t let him fight for at least a month, regulation or otherwise, not until I’ve got him in shape to defend himself. Has he got a knife?”
Simon begins to shake his head, then pulls out the dead boy’s jackknife that he took from me. Not that he knows what it is. “Yeah. I do.” It’s the first thing he’s said since we left the park.
“Then bring yourself and that here when you’re done with—you’re still in school, yeah? Yeah, knew I’d heard something like that. Three o’clock, be here. Now scram, Artie and I gotta talk.” Mick watches him go. “Hell of a boy there.”
“As of five days ago.”
“And you’ve never brought him to learn in all these years because…?”
I stare at the white-shirted figure outside, tramping over the broken sidewalk, going home to clean up before class. He barely fits in the desks anymore, but still he goes.
“’Cause I didn’t think it’d come to killing so soon.”
“Hey now, just because you can use a knife—”
“Save it, Mick. I’ll see you this afternoon, alright?”
He grins, almost leers. “What, you don’t trust me and your little pet alone?”
“Course not. He’s already killed one man this week. Wouldn’t want to make it two, now would we?”
Full disclosure: What Boys Are Made Of is book 1 of the Saint Flaherty series. It is primarily a novel of suspense, not romance. There’s no sex in the first book. There is, however, a fair amount of swearing and violence.
Thank you so much for having me here, Marie, it’s been a pleasure! What Boys Are Made Of is available on Amazon as an ebook for $2.99 or paperback for $12.99.