Honoring Gay Pride Week - Many young people have no idea what gay men suffered a century ago.

Honoring Gay Pride Week - Many young people have no idea what gay men suffered a century ago.

Book Excerpt From Not From The Stars: book 1 of the 4 part historical novel series HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE

London, Winter 1889

“Jerry, thank heaven!” Tommy Quinn screamed with joy and raced at full speed. His hard leather heels clattered over uneven cobbles as he rushed toward Jeremy O'Connell. From a distance, Jeremy's tall slender frame, sleek brown hair, pale skin, and large brown eyes looked stunningly beautiful. The day before, the twenty-five- year-old actor had accepted a tour with famous actor-manager Henry Irving. Tommy was heartbroken and threatened to kill himself. Now, he hurled himself into Jeremy's arms.

Horrified, Jeremy pushed him away. “Not in the street, silly fool. We’ll be arrested.” Guiltily looking in all directions and seeing no one, Jeremy sighed with relief and smiled at his adorable companion. Tommy Quinn was twenty-four. His short, athletic body, large gray eyes, thick brown hair, and mischievous smile, were set off by one crooked tooth.

Jeremy shrugged. “Irving’s offer is very tempting. The money is good and the roles first-rate. The problem is, he recreates old productions. I could be forced to parrot his last actor, and not allowed an original thought. I am better off staying here.”

“You’ve got Henry The Fifth.”

“Oh yes, Mr. Tyler used Hal as a bribe. He is making me play cloying Claudio as penance.”

Unable to resist Tommy’s sweet eyes, Jeremy gave him a playful hug, glanced over his shoulder, and saw a terrifying flash of navy-blue. A uniformed Bobby marched towards them, swinging his nightstick. They sprang apart. The Bobby winked an eye and swaggered by.

Jeremy shuddered. “That was too close.”

*

One freezing predawn, Tommy, Neil, and Jeremy stumbled out of a private club onto a dimly lit street. Shivering with cold, laughing drunk, their breath thick as frozen smoke, they burst into a raucous:

Hailhailthe gang’s all hereWhat the hell do we careWhat the hell do we care...?”

Two tired Bobbies turned a corner and slowly walked toward them. Before Jeremy could warn Tommy, he pressed Neil against the wall and kissed him on the mouth. The Bobbies doubled their speed.

“Oi, there! Wha’s this, then?” Tommy and Neil lurched apart, suddenly sober, and terrified. The Bobbies placed themselves on either side, blocking their escape. “All right, you lot. Magistrate will deal with you in the morning.” They pulled manacles from their belts, cuffed Tommy, then Neil.

Before Jeremy knew what was happening, one of the Bobbies swung him around and slammed iron cuffs onto his wrists. Wincing with pain, he stared at Tommy struggling to get loose, and Neil collapsed onto the pavement, crying.

The second Bobby sneered with disgust and pulled Neil to his feet. “Bloody pervert. Hope the magistrate locks you up for a long time. The streets are cleaner without you scum.”

Tommy stooped low, watching for a chance to bolt. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Wai’ a minute.” The first Bobbie pushed his nightstick under Jeremy’s chin, and forced his face into the harsh beam of a streetlight. “I know you.”

Tommy yelled, “We’re actors, damn it. You know all of us.”

The Bobby stared. “Why, it’s Mr. O’Connell, righ’? Watcha doin’ with these pieces of filth then, when y’ go’ that pretty little wife waitin’ at ‘ome, eh?” He lowered his nightstick and raised an eyebrow.

Jeremy stood frozen with fear. His wrists and shoulders throbbed and his chin stung. The Bobby looked to his partner, gave a wink, and unlocked Jeremy’s handcuffs. He heaved a sigh of relief, rubbed his chafed wrists, and waited for them to release Tommy and Neil.

Instead, the Bobby nudged him with his nightstick. “Go ‘ome to yer missus. From now on though, mind the company y’ keep.”

Tommy’s face was defiant. Neil pleaded for help, but Jeremy could do nothing for either one. He hesitated just a moment longer, then ran for his life.

Tommy lurched after him and the Bobby grabbed his arms, wrenching them upwards. “None o’ that now.”

Jeremy reached a dark alley, hid from view, and looked back. Other club patrons had gathered around.

“Nothin’ to see ‘ere. Be about yer business.” The Bobbies pulled Tommy and Neil through the crowd. “Come on you lot.”

After the crowd dispersed, tabloid journalist Archibald Perry stood alone in the alley. A grim smile spread his disgustingly rouged lips. Jeremy’s knees gave way and he slumped back against a cold brick wall. Tonight, for the first time in weeks, Archie smiled.

Katherine woke when the door to the flat opened, slammed shut, and locked. “Jerry? What are you doing? ...Jerry?”

Frozen with fear, he stood pressed against the back of the door. A match sputtered and flamed as she lit a candle at her bedside.

“What’s happened? Are you injured?” She hurried to him.

He gasped for breath. “Tommy and Neil were arrested. Damn Tommy! I cautioned him a hundred times. We were drunk. He kissed Neil right in front of two coppers.”

“Oh, no. What will happen to them?”

“Maximum sentence for gross indecency is two years at hard labor. Thank God they were only kissing. They should get off with much less. Upper-class men aren’t fit enough to survive two years...” He broke into quiet sobs.

Katherine stayed calm. “Are you in danger?”

He shook his head. “One of the coppers knew me. He thinks I’m married.” He clung to her, holding on for dear life. Remembering all the times she embraced him and he barely tolerated her, he felt ashamed to need her so completely.

Calm and controlled, she brewed him a cup of strong, very sweet tea, made him undress, and get into bed. She held him until he fell asleep.

Five hours later, disguised as a skivvy, Katherine sat with other pitiable men and women enjoying free warmth and entertainment in the gallery of the Court of Petty Sessions. She raced home and told him about the trial.

*

Two white-wigged, black-robed magistrates listened, as two exhausted Bobbies described Tommy and Neil performing an indecent act on a public street. Tommy pleaded guilty. Neil pleaded not guilty, insisting that Tommy assaulted him. Tommy did not react to the accusation, so Katherine guessed the two had planned Neil’s defense. The Bobbies could not swear that Neil was lying, and he was released with a caution.

Without a look back, Neil sped from the courtroom, and London. A day later, he sent a letter saying he was sailing for Boston.

The magistrates conferred for only a minute before turning back to Tommy. One spoke. “Thomas Quinn, we esteem yours to be a light offense with grave cause for concern. Indecent behavior in any degree must be regarded as a threat to the entire moral structure of the empire. As such, we remand you to Reading Gaol for a term of five months at hard labor.”

Katherine slid from the courtroom and hurried home.

*

All that day Jeremy stayed in the flat. Katherine bought the morning and midday papers, but there was nothing about Tommy or Neil. He waited until the last possible moment, then stuck close to Katherine, and hurried to the theatre. As they approached the Strand, a paperboy shouted, “‘Actor Jailed!’ Get cher paper here.”

The next corner was Norfolk Street. A different paper boy waved his sheet. “‘Actor Jeremy O’Connell -- friend of Tommy Quinn: Prince Hal or Prince Pouf?’... Buy a paper, mister?” Jeremy’s face went gray. He lowered his head and plowed on.

Almost at Howard Street, they heard, “‘Scandal at the Strand Theatre!’” A woman bought the paper. “Yes, madam, ‘ere y’ are.”

Jeremy clutched Katherine’s hand, and raced for the stage-door. A heckler recognized him. “Bloody pouf! You should be in jail with yer mates!”

A woman called, “Hiding behind a woman’s skirt, are y’? Is that the kind o’ man y’ are?”

Katherine froze. Jeremy put a protective arm around her, glanced back, and saw Archibald Perry hand each of the hecklers a coin.

The next few days, Jeremy stuck to Katherine like glue. Dreadfully guilty that he was walking free, while terrified he would be found out and pitched into jail with Tommy, he played the ideal husband, staying home every night.  

*

A heavy door clanged open and a warder read a list of names. As Tommy’s name was called, Jeremy stood and nearly lost his balance. Clenching his jaw, willing his heart to slow, he treated this like any other performance. Tommy needed him to be strong. He followed the queue into a long, narrow room. A dozen men in poorly fitting prison uniforms were shackled to long tables. The other visitors raced to their husbands, sons, or fathers. Some burst into tears.

It took Jeremy a moment to make out Tommy at the end of the row. His face was gray. Eyes half-closed, elbows leaning heavily on the table, he looked exhausted, filthy, and dangerously thin. His cheeks were so hollow; his crooked tooth looked slightly sinister. His usually fluffy hair was combed back, held solid by its own grease. Razor nicks spotted his face. Jeremy did not suppose prisoners were allowed to handle razors. Someone else must have shaved him.

Jeremy forced a pleasant smile and sauntered down the row. Tommy’s smile was joyous. He tried to stand, heaved at his shackles, then jerked back onto the hard bench. Jeremy sat in a sturdy chair on the other side of the table, pretending not to notice that Tommy’s nails were chipped and filthy.

Tommy had been under the code of silence, and unable to speak for a month. His voice was a hoarse whisper. “Thanks for coming. Do I look horrible? There aren’t any mirrors.”

Jeremy lied. “You look fine.”

“They’re killing me.”

Jeremy bent forward. “You are not dying. You will be out of here and I will take care of you.”

“You can’t. You can’t be anywhere near me. You shouldn’t even visit. We were lucky with that copper, but...,”

“I’ll get you a room. Just as soon as you’re well again, we’ll see about...,”

“Damn it, Jerry. Go home to that revolting girl and leave me alone. I’m ruined. I’ll never work again.”

Jeremy’s heart skipped a beat, but he hoped his face showed nothing. “You are a fine actor. Of course you will work again.”

“Not in Victoria’s empire.”

“All right then... In someone else’s empire.” Tommy scowled, and Jeremy hesitated before whispering, “Tell me what it’s like.”

Tommy shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and looked at his fingers. “Filthy.

Everything’s filthy and cold. For two weeks, I wore a stinking cloth hood, with holes for eyes, and marched to nowhere, round-and-round a circular yard. There were a hundred men, all in hoods. Every day, marching -- through cold -- drenching rain -- six-hours-a-day. Now, I’m on the treadmill, climbing stairs to nowhere, six-hours-a- day. If I slow, the warders beat me with a truncheon. You can’t see my legs and back, but they’re all over bruises. My shoes don’t fit, so my feet are scabbed and calloused. I used to have such pretty feet.”

He sobbed softly. “I sleep on a board with a thin blanket. Sometimes my arms and legs go numb with cold. We get watery cocoa and stale bread for breakfast, soup or a slice of fatty meat is dinner, and a spoonful of suet and potatoes is tea. They march us into chapel every morning and twice on Sundays, but we’re not allowed to speak or read anything. Some warders sneak out letters for other prisoners, but none of them like me.” He rocked pitifully. “I’m so hungry.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. “Worst is the code of silence. Some days I want to scream. If I even speak, it’ll be solitary confinement and the crank.” 

The entire 4 book series is Published by Endeavour Media, London and available on Amazon.com www.amazon.com/dp/B074VCVWSF

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Endless Longing

Endless Longing

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“I was meant for something, surely. No creature is placed on this earth for nothing. Who am I, where do I belong? I know I have a soul because it’s crying out to me now. It’s reaching for something, someone, I don't know what, but I must find something to hold, to love, to give to, and be nourished by. My heart is filled with nameless longings. I long for… I long for…”

I scripted those thoughts for my desperate seventeen-year-old protagonist Elisa Roundtree in Not From the Stars, the first of my 4-book series, His Majesty's Theatre. Elisa was betrothed at birth to Sir John Garingham, a corrupt industrialist who is also a serial rapist. It is now 1903. He has always supported her impoverished family. She owes him. Soon turning eighteen, she has no dowry and no chance of finding a different husband. Although Sir John terrifies her, she can imagine no alternative to becoming his wife. Still, she longs for something different, something better, something more.

Finishing her last year at boarding school, with the tuition paid by Sir John, Elisa falls in love with her handsome young art-master. Longing to paint for a living and hating being caged into a low paying teaching job, he casually muses,

“…Life itself is a mystery, my dear… I only know that every morning is a wonder, sometimes of delight, sometimes of horror. We search every day, craving approval, longing for peace, crying for affection, and usually settling for far less than our ideal.”

 Equally important to the story are scruffy actors Jeremy O'Connell and Katherine Stewart. Originally longing for fame and fortune, by 1903 they have it. Now London theatre stars, with their professional longings satiated, new longings surface. Jeremy is gay and loves his freewheeling lifestyle. He also loves playing husband to Katherine and father to her young son, the product of her long-time affair with their married theatre owner. Jeremy longs to keep his "family", and his lifestyle. He cannot have both. When Katherine's childhood love Simon Camden appears at a society Christmas party, Jeremy is horrified.

His patent-leather slippers gleamed and his nails were buffed. For a split-second, Jeremy hoped Simon had fallen in love with some other woman. When he spun Katherine around, then kissed her passionately, that hope dissolved.

Katherine laughed with pleasure. “We thought you were in New York.” She lovingly stroked his cheek, “I was so worried when your letters stopped coming.”

 “It’s a long story. I’ve missed you.”

 “Oh, certainly.” She laughed as he held her tight, kissing her again.

 Longing to yank them apart, Jeremy clenched his fists and waited for the interminable kiss to end.

 Later that evening, Simon finds Jeremy alone.

He posed melodramatically, raising the back of his hand to his forehead. “Kathy turned me down, once again.”

 Jeremy snorted, fluttering a hand. “If she ever said, ‘Yes,’ all your longing would disappear and your talent with it.”

 Simon pretended he had been socked in the stomach. “Ooh, that’s a good one, Jerry. Points for you.” His head came up under Jeremy’s chin.

 In a flash, Simon had Jeremy’s arm pinned behind his back. Jeremy laughed, shouting, “Uncle!”

For twenty years, I longed for a publisher to publish this story. I channeled the first 600-page draft in four months while working full-time, running a senior citizen center. Four months later, four agents wanted to represent the book. I was thrilled, BUT, my longings continued as publisher rejections poured in. Years went by and I expanded the story. 1200 pages and several screenplay adaptations later, (pulling single plot lines from the multi-storied work), 800 pages were pulled, edited into 4 short novels and published by Endeavour Media, UK. I'm thrilled, BUT, my longings continue. Now, I watch my TV/Film agent try to sell the story to production companies. If a film or miniseries is made I'll be ecstatic. BUT, will my longing end? Probably not.

Mark Rylance - a Star on Stage and Off

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I was thrilled to see a brilliant matinee of Broadway's FARINELLI and the KING. My friend, wonderful actor Simon Jones has joined the cast in the hysterical role of John Rich. I sat in a box, 3 stories above the stage and had a fantastic view. Looking up, I had a clear panorama of the Belasco Theatre's stain-glass ceiling windows. Looking straight down, through 6 chandeliers, with 12 lit candles in each, I could see the entire stage. Best of all, I could hear the glorious, unamplified renascence orchestra.

 

Simon had a lot of friends in the audience and invited us all down to the rather shabby basement green-room, after the matinee. The general public has no idea how unglamorous old Broadway theatres are, backstage. He quietly played the host, opening champagne bottles.

 

Almost unnoticed, working with his back to us, a short, slim man with greasy hair, wearing an old undershirt and cut-off sweatpants, prepared food and warmed it in a microwave. Watching him for a moment, I realized that he was the show's star, Mark Rylance.

 

Simon's guests chatted quietly. Rylance turned slightly and made a kind remark that we had been a wonderful audience. I moved to him and apologized that we were disturbing his break. He smiled and said that it was fine. I couldn't help but stutter that I was a huge fan. He smiled and almost whispered a shy, "Thank you." I left him in peace, putting his rice cakes together.

 

After hugging my darling Simon Jones, I left the theatre.

 

I am indeed a huge fan of amazing actor Mark Rylance. Briefly meeting the gracious man Mark Rylance, I became an even bigger fan.

My Lady Snow Leopard

My Lady Snow Leopard

I'm a certified music therapist lucky to live in beautiful Greenwich Village, NYC. One morning every week I join other well-dressed travelers crammed onto a ridiculously crowded subway train and travel to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. Climbing out of that station, I often meet teams of transit police guarding the stairways. On the sidewalk, I pass folks hurrying to work, begging for loose change, screaming incoherently, or asleep in drug-induced stupors.

 

A few feet down the block is my workplace, a day treatment center for special needs adults. These individuals, aged 18 to about 55, struggle with a variety of intellectual, physical, and emotional disabilities. A few of the folks I work with can read at a second-grade level. Most cannot read or speak clearly. Many move with awkward gaits, are wheelchair bound, hearing or visually impaired.

 

At 9:00, in an airy, open space, I set up a piano keyboard with a microphone, put out rhythm instruments, and a pile of song sheets. I prefer starting music therapy sessions with a Hello Song, singing each participant's name. Since I don't have a "group", but rather a parade of folks trickling in whenever their buses arrive and wandering through the session at will, I start with whoever happens to be there first and wants to sing. I always end the session with a Goodbye Song. The names of the individuals still in the room are inserted into the lyric, "Goodbye, goodbye to ______, I'll see you next week."

 

When I started working at this site, a woman I'll call Margot always sat in the sessions. Margot is about my same size and weight. I guess she is in her forties. She has no verbal language but is not shy. She readily screams, grunts and laughs. We always know how she is feeling. Margot loved a small glockenspiel, would sit at a table, move rhythmically to the music others were singing, and play random tones. I was told that she refused to participate in other activities, hated being touched, was easy to anger, occasionally violent, and might not be allowed to stay in the program.

 

During one session, we had a fire drill and needed to walk down three flights of stairs. On the way back up, Margot grabbed my hand and lead me up the stars. After that, the Goodbye Song began upsetting her. I would start singing. She would start screaming and push me off my high piano stool. She was very strong. It was frightening. Other staffers saw what was happening and pulled her away from me. Days when I had no support staff, I couldn't sing the Goodbye Song, for fear she would attack me.

 

This lead to her attacking me when I tried to leave the building. She never actually injured me, but came close. The program director tried explaining to her that it was just Goodbye for now, and I was not leaving forever. Margot seemed unconvinced. Other staffers protected me, taking Margot out of sight, so I could leave the building unscathed.

 

When I needed to change my program day, Margot was warned every day, in advance. The program director told me that she still went ballistic when I did not appear on my old day.

 

Finally, week-after-week, Margot mellowed. I did nothing different, but somehow she began to trust that I would not abandon her. Now, she sits next to me at the piano, frequently standing to pet my shiny blond hair. Each week she has become more affectionate, stroking my cheek and leaning her forehead against the side of my head, as I play. She helps me set up and take down my equipment, and understands when I ask her to get something from another room. The first time we were in a new room, I asked Margot plug the keyboard cord into a wall socket. She couldn't find the socket, got frustrated and dropped the cord, but did not get angry.

 

One night, I had an extremely vivid, emotional dream. I was petting a large, beautiful snow leopard. The leopard stayed still, allowed my petting. I enjoyed the feel of its soft white-spotted fir, but could not tell if it enjoyed the feel of my hand. I was acutely aware that, any second, the leopard could turn and attack me. I even stroked its jaw and felt its teeth. It did not react. The dream was scary but lovely.

 

Waking up and analyzing my dream, I realized that the leopard was Margot: silent, lovely, and quietly terrifying. Since that dream, I feel a deeper connection to Margot. Last week, she clearly said, "Hi!" The first actual word I had ever heard her speak. When I finished packing up my music equipment, we were alone. She held out her arms, asking for a hug. I held her for a moment and let her go. She smiled and left to get her lunch. That hug was a simple, normal exchange between two friends. For Margot, it was a miracle.

 

I will never believe my snow leopard will become a pussycat. I do feel she may have shifted to another of her nine lives.

 

 

The Beginnings of Music Gives Life

The Beginnings of Music Gives Life

“There might be an appropriate place to teach old ladies how to sing, but is this it?” asked an administrator of a senior citizens’ center.

Legends at Tattingers

Legends at Tattingers

Years ago, I played a Waitress on the TV comedy/drama Tattingers. Posing as an upscale Manhattan restaurant, Tattingers hosted a delightful array of NYC celebrity guest stars.

Thursday Morning Joy

Thursday Morning Joy

Every Thursday morning, a little before 9:00, I arrive at 125th Street and Lexington Ave. Walking up the subway steps, I am greeted by a fellow giving away free newspapers, a few panhandlers, and lots of folks going to work.