Trying something new this month, as a way of building up to the March 24th release of Gypsy’s Rogue. Today’s topic is motivation and in this case, what inspired Gypsy’s Rogue. Gypsy first popped into my head almost four years ago, on a road trip along the back roads of rural Iowa and up into rural Minnesota. In fact, in the opening scene of Gypsy’s Rogue as Gypsy and Fester, their dog, were bouncing along the gravel road with the radio turned up on their way back to the farm Gypsy grew up in, the songs that are referenced in that scene are the same songs that were playing on the radio in my truck when Gypsy first spoke up, and through the breed of dog is different, Fester was inspired by one of my own beloved pets.
So many times, when I’m out there on the back roads, I have a notebook, pens, a camera, even some old comforters and pillows for laying out in the bed of the truck when I want to cloud watch. Those are the kind of lazy days I love and usually the kind that have inspired stories, characters, poetry and even drawings.
So much of my life in rural Iowa is reflected in Gypsy’s Rogue, from the cat tails beside the pond where I fish, to the swap meets where Gypsy and Rogue go to stock up their farms, to the overall feel and description of farm country, the people, Main Street of the nearest town, and the way people come together to help one another when they’re in need.
There were moments though, when writing the story got extremely difficult. Their views on religion, for one, and the things they had experienced in their dealings with pastors or preachers or even over zealous church folks were a direct reflection on my own experiences growing up and into adulthood. Gyspy identifies as gender fluid, as I myself do, though I have not adapted the They/Them pronouns that Gypsy prefers. Instead, to many people, I am ‘Blue’ and ‘Blue’ doesn’t identify as he or she, just ‘Blue,’ and yes, some days like Gypsy I prefer to dress masculine and my view of myself in my mind’s eye is very different from looking in the mirror, which can be startling at times. Sometimes, when I see the female body I live in, I have this jarring moment of ‘oh,’ and a feeling of disappointment because my mind and the mirror don’t match. Of course, there are other days when I enjoy pulling on the dresses and the heels, dolling up my hair, putting on a little makeup and wanting to feel pretty and confident in my own skin. When I was younger, I shunned that half, buried it under thick layers and baggy tops, thinking I had to be one or the other, but the one great thing about getting older is learning that I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. Writing Gypsy’s Rogue has allowed me to verbalize some of those feelings for the first time in my life and more freely express that part of myself.
In addition, Rogue’s pansexuality is also another reflection of me and not being hung up on gender when it comes to love and relationships. Like Rogue says in the book ‘I like who I like,’ bottom line, and as he spills out on the page, it is very clear to see that he refuses to conform or change to fit anyone else, loves passionately, and is as loyal as the day is long to people who have earned his love, trust and loyalty, much like me.
The downtown Chattanooga scene, meeting the band and their dog, Ultra Plague Dog 2000, wandering the city with them that first night in town, that was my experience of my first night in Chatt, exploring downtown and meeting those three and their dog who’d just hopped off a train from New Mexico. I’d just hopped off a bus from Massachusetts, and wandering around, sharing experiences and stories of our adventures, made the whole experience a lot less terrifying.
I have to admit, there were moments when I was afraid I wouldn’t finish their story. For about nine months they silently sat in the three seasons porch scene, content to enjoy each other’s presence and completely ignore me. My own fault, really, for trying to storyboard out the ending to something that was already flowing naturally. Once the storyboard went in the fire pit, they broke out the fudge stripped cookies and marshmallows (my favorite way to make S’mores, by the way) and came alive again.
It’s my hope that when Gypsy’s Rogue is released, their struggle, their pain, their laughter, their triumphs, and their belief and understanding of who and what family is, all come through as clearly for the ones who read it as it did for me. For now, I’ll say happy Monday, and please enjoy the little taste of the story below.
Once the introductions had been made, they stood around awkwardly silent for just a moment, before Gypsy asked, “What kind of music do you play?”
“A little bit of everything.” Kiowa said. “Folk, rock, blues, you name it. We’ve played in Texas, Arizona, anywhere the train tracks go. We just hop on and see where it takes us.”
They couldn’t help but smile at that, a reminder of the carnival and the anticipation of each new town. “That sounds divine, and kind of terrifying. Aren’t you afraid of slipping and getting sucked under the wheels or something?”
“Naaa,” Kiowa replied. “We only hop on when it’s just getting started. That way we can boost Plague dog on first and scramble up beside him. We don’t jump off unless it’s real slow either, can’t risk bustin’ a leg when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Yeah, that happened once and it wasn’t pleasant,” Pete said. “Most times, we just stare out the car and watch the scenery go past. If a town looks big enough, or interesting enough, we’ll climb off and check it out. Food sucks though.”
Even as he was saying that, he was settling down at a nearby table, rummaging through his bag to pull out a can of sardines and some Popeye spinach. Gypsy fought to suppress the shudder that went through them as they watched him eat them cold, finally having to turn away and pet Plague Dog and Fester who’d been nudging at their leg.
“So is Ziggy’s where you’re going to play?” They asked as they lavished attention on the dogs.
“We hope. A friend hooked us up with the name of the owner and said we should check it out, that he’s always looking for new bands. If it doesn’t work out we’ll play downtown as long as the cops are cool about not running people off.”
“Why would they run people off?”
“They don’t like panhandling,” Lydia supplied. “Well, some don’t, others are cool about it and a few have even tipped us after listening to us play. It just depends on the city really. In some cities there are musicians every other block and no one cares because they love the music and they see the art in what we do.”
“Wow,” Gypsy said, eying them. “I’d love to hear you play.”
“Hear that Plague Dog, looks like we’re gonna do a mini show,” Kiowa said, and in a flash he had his guitar out and Lydia pulled out her fiddle. Gypsy sat, enraptured as they played and Pete sung, keeping time with drumsticks he used to tap out a beat on the table. A few people wandered by, lingered, listened, tossed some money in the guitar case and swayed along to the beat. Gypsy found themselves swaying too, eyes closed; letting the music wash their troubles away.
By the time they were done playing they’d made twenty-three bucks and a bunch of compliments. At one point, Gypsy’s thoughts flashed to Rogue and they found wondered if he ever did this when he took his guitar into the city or if he just stuck to playing at the occasional club.
Pete’s voice was good, strong and consistent, but they couldn’t help comparing it to the smoky richness of Rogue’s singing and the way he had of peering into your soul in the middle of a song. They’d found that out the hard way, one night when he’d put the Tequila away and was downing whiskeys in between songs, all dark, broody melodies about the world going away and everything being broken. They recalled the lone tear that had slid from his eye as he finished the final cord, the aching plea in his voice to find the thing he’d never had before. They’d wondered what it was and if he’d tell them if they asked. In the end, they hadn’t. That would have been getting too personal and there always seemed to be a wall he tried to keep between them; an invisible barrier he put up whenever Gypsy inched too close.
“You guys are really good,” Gypsy praised as they put their instruments away.
Pete licked his lips. “Sure hope Ziggy thinks so. Guess we’d better keep trying to find the place.”