This summer, I was lucky enough to take part in an all-writer Dungeons & Dragons campaign, alongside some amazing authors. Brandon Crilly was our DM, Marie Bilodeau was our fast-talking, shanty-singing aasimar bard, Evan May played a hysterical bugbear monk of few words (and even less grammar), Kevin Hearne played a grumpy human former-soldier turned ranger, and I rounded out the group with my perceptive—but really honest and trusting—half-elf cleric of the sea goddess. In the middle of a tense scene, where we were pretty sure we were up against a particularly bad foe who was skeptical of our arrival not being a hostile invasion (it was totally a hostile invasion, but we were hoping to convince him to leave without a fight), my wee half-elf tried an untrained deception check.
It went poorly. Or at least, he ended up having to blast the villain with the wrath of his sea-goddess, so it didn’t go as planned. But that’s D&D. You make a plan, the plan falls apart, you throw lightning and thunder around. Repeat.
Over the same time period, I was also working on a holiday-set, fake relationship trope romance novella, and our D&D sessions turned out to help coalesce some facets I was struggling with when it came to my protagonist, Silas. The set-up for Faux Ho Ho is pretty simple: Silas’s family isn’t particularly supportive of him, but they’re in the public eye as a political family, so they take pains to make things look better than they are. He lives in Ottawa, they live in Alberta, allowing him to keep his distance when he can, but at the start of the story, they’re trying to wrangle him back home for Thanksgiving, partly so they can have him included in an event for his eldest brother, a Member of Parliament, keeping the optics of “we support our queer kid” if not the actions. Silas can’t think of a single thing to get out of it, and then his roommate—who his parents don’t know exists—pretends to be his boyfriend, claiming they have plans already with his family for Thanksgiving. This sets into motion a series of further fibs that send Silas and his roommate on a path to a happy-ever-after, albeit one with quite a few hiccoughs on the way.
Now, Silas is an introverted sort, a coder geek and a gaming nerd, and while this is by no means outside of my wheelhouse (I mean, I don’t really code, but otherwise) I was struggling to find the right way to present Silas to the reader. His voice, in early drafts, wasn’t landing right.
Then we had the D&D session with my half-elf’s botched deception check and it struck me. While Silas is staring down his parents on the Skype call, his “boyfriend” behind him, Silas has to lie outright to them if he wants out of the Thanksgiving visit. I slipped into his point of view and wrote:
Okay. He could do this. He’d never put any points into deception in his entire life, but natural twenties happened, right?
And there he was. From that moment on, Silas took shape in my head, and everything started to flow just-so. Before I knew it, writing Silas’s dialog, his reactions, and his thoughts wasn’t just easier, it was fun, and I realized it was the first time I’d written a D&D playing adult as the protagonist of a romance, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I’d waited so long. I write queer characters in romance specifically because I want to see people like me with happy endings, but I hadn’t gone that extra step to add this particular flavor of nerdy gamer into the mix.
Dungeons & Dragons became one of the geeky lenses through which Silas viewed the world, and it was a joy to put those references in there. Luckily, my editor also has a history with the game, so I didn’t have to explain too much (and, in fact, some of the editing notes that came back included D&D references in return). Silas and his gaming group even get to play a session in Faux Ho Ho. Silas also dresses up in a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon cosplay outfit at one point (spoiler: he’s Presto).
In short, if it wasn’t for those gaming sessions this summer, and my writer friends who always have my back, I’m not even sure Faux Ho Ho would have made it out of the gate.
As for Silas’s ongoing deception checks to maintain the illusion of him and his “boyfriend” at his sister’s Christmas wedding, and how it all works out with his family and his roommate? Well, if you want to know how that particular campaign turns out, the answer is in Faux Ho Ho. But since Faux Ho Ho is a romance, it’s not a spoiler to say that even though it absolutely doesn’t go to plan, it definitely ends happily.
Silas Waite doesn’t want his big-C Conservative Alberta family to know he’s barely making rent. They’d see it as yet another sign that he’s not living up to the Waite family potential and muscle in on his life. When Silas unexpectedly needs a new roommate, he ends up with the gregarious—and gorgeous—personal trainer Constantino “Dino” Papadimitriou.
Silas’s parents try to browbeat him into visiting for Thanksgiving, where they’ll put him on display as an example of how they’re so tolerant for Silas’s brother’s political campaign, but Dino pretends to be his boyfriend to get him out of it, citing a prior commitment. The ruse works—until they receive an invitation to Silas’s sister’s last-minute wedding.
Silas loves his sister, Dino wouldn’t mind a chalet Christmas, and together, they could turn a family obligation into something fun. But after nine months of being roommates, then friends, and now “boyfriends,” Silas finds being with Dino way too easy, and being the son that his parents barely tolerate too hard. Something has to give, but luckily, it’s the season for giving. And maybe what Silas has to give is worth the biggest risk of all.
You can pre-order Faux Ho Ho at the Bold Strokes Books webstore in all e-formats; it will also be available December 10th, 2019, wherever quality LGBT e-books are sold.
‘Nathan Burgoine grew up a reader and studied literature in university while making a living as a bookseller. His first published short story was “Heart” in the collection Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction. This began his long love affair with short fiction, which has seen dozens more short stories published, including his first collection Of Echoes Born. Even though short fiction is his favorite, ‘Nathan stepped into novel writing, and his first novel, Light, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Triad Blood and Triad Soul are available now from Bold Strokes Books, as well as his first YA novel, Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks. More novels, novellas, as well as works of short fiction are always under way.