Book Spotlight: Pictures of You by Leta Blake
('90s Coming of Age #1)
by Leta Blake
Date Released: September 19, 2016
About Pictures of You
Growing up gay isn’t easy. Growing up gay in Knoxville, Tennessee is even harder.
Eighteen-year-old Peter Mandel, a private school senior—class of 1990—is passionate about photography. Peter doesn’t have many friends, preferring to shoot pictures from behind the scenes to keep his homosexuality secret.
Enter Adam Algedi, a charming, worldly new guy who doesn't do labels, but does want to do Peter. Hardly able to believe gorgeous Adam would want geeky, skinny him of all people, Peter's swept away on a journey of first love and sexual discovery. But as their mutual web of lies spins tighter and tighter, can Peter find the confidence he needs to make the right choices?
Join Peter, in the first of a four-part coming of age series, on his search to love and be loved, and, most of all, how to grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.
Read my five-starred review of Pictures of You.
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An Excerpt from Pictures of You
“Should I apologize for earlier?” Adam asked, turning down the stereo.
“It isn’t your fault she showed up.”
Adam grinned at me. “I meant, should I apologize for the kiss, but I guess the answer is ‘no.’”
I twitched nervously in my seat and took a deep breath “I’m gay.”
I stared. “What?”
“I mean, yeah. You’re gay. I figured that out.”
“So—” I stopped. “Wait. How?”
“I can always tell. I don’t know how.”
“But I thought you said you weren’t gay.”
“I never said that.” Adam frowned. “Honestly, I don’t know what I am.”
My heart trip-hammered for a ton of reasons, but the scariest of them was hope. “What’s the deal then? Uh, with us?”
“Us? We’re friends. Like I said, friends kiss.”
My hope settled into a knot of anxiety.
“Then why hasn’t a friend kissed me before?”
“I don’t know. I mean, who wouldn’t want to kiss you?”
To me, it was definitely more of a question of who would want to kiss me, and, more specifically, just exactly why he had. Especially when I knew how everyone else would view me once we got to school. Maybe living all over the world hadn’t taught him the social skill of self-preservation required to make his way in a small city like Knoxville.
I decided to tell him. He really did deserve to know, and besides, if it was going to be an issue, I wanted to be hurt now, not later.
“I’m a huge loser, you know.”
Adam glanced over at me like I was insane. “What?”
“I’m not popular. In school. In life. In anything.” I turned my head and looked out the window, worrying my lower lip. “I just thought you should know. I mean, you don’t want to start out at a new school being friends with someone who’s just going to drag you down.”
Adam actually laughed. “You’re crazy. Did you know that?”
My throat tightened. It hurt he wasn’t taking me seriously. “I’m telling you why I’ll understand when you decide we can’t be friends anymore.”
“Look, you haven’t even started at this school and you’ve already decided that as a friend you’re not worth being first string? What’s up with that?”
I shrugged. “I’m just being realistic. I mean—look at me.”
In my peripheral vision I saw Adam do just that. He looked at me long enough that I worried about the car staying on the road. “Yeah. I’m looking. I still like what I see.” He lifted his hand to the back of my neck and squeezed. “I’m serious.”
A strange rush of emotion flooded my stomach and chest, and I wanted to tuck my face between my knees. Instead I just crossed my arms and frowned.
Adam brushed his fingers through my hair, catching in my frenzy of curls. It felt intimate and almost more real than the kiss. I shivered when he let go to grip the steering wheel again.
“But enough of that,” he said sternly. “Get my book bag out of the backseat. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Happy to be leaving the uncomfortable topic of my gay dorkitude behind, I reached around and grabbed the blue, nylon book bag.
“Open the front pocket.”
I unzipped it, fished around, and pulled out a driver’s license. It was Mo’s, and I had to stifle a laugh at the typical bad license photo that made him look like a serial killer.
“I’ve got a fake ID that Sean got for me, but I liberated that one for you.”
I tapped the picture. “You think this will get me into the club? I look nothing like your brother!”
“Don’t be such a defeatist! You just hold your thumb over the picture when you show them your ID.”
“Adam, that isn’t going to work.”
“We can always try,” he said, lifting his shoulders dismissively.
“They’ll confiscate the ID. How’s Mo going to feel about having to get a new license made?”
That got through to him. “Oh. So, huh. I guess that won’t work after all.”
I snorted. “Uh, no.”
Adam just smiled. “We’ll figure something out.”
“We could see what’s going on at the under-21 shows on The Strip.”
“No. I want to go to Tilt-a-Whirl. I read it’s the best gay bar in town and has, and I quote, ‘the best drag queens in the area.’”
“If the area is East Tennessee, then yeah, it probably does. And why do you want to go to a gay bar so much? I mean, this is a small city. Word gets around.”
Adam narrowed his eyes. “This last-minute resistance is futile, padawan.”
“Trek and Wars in the same breath. That is very wrong. Very, deeply, truly wrong.”
“It is,” Adam readily agreed.
“You’re a total dork.”
“Shh. It’s a secret. Don’t tell the jocks when school starts. I wouldn’t want my nerdiness to drag us down and all.”
I started to laugh, but stopped, struck by an uncomfortable thought. I picked at my blue jeans a little, toying with a loose thread, before asking quietly, “So the kiss is a secret?”
Adam looked over in obvious surprise. “Of course. I mean, like you said, this is a small city.”
“And it’s the South. And the Bible Belt. And generally homophobic, yeah.”
I bit down on my lip. I didn’t know what I was expecting. It wasn’t like he was wrong. We couldn’t be boyfriends—not here, not now. Not out in the open or anything. It was just that I wanted so much more already. And he’d kissed me.
Adam’s hand clasped the back of my neck again. “Hey, listen. You’re my friend. And you happen to kind of turn me on with your glasses, and your camera, and the way you walk.” He gripped his fingers in my hair again and gave my head a little shake. “That’s enough, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. So—the drag show. How do we get in?” I hoped my voice sounded light because if in Adam’s world friends kissed, I didn’t want to do anything to ruin our friendship before I found out what else he thought friends might do.
About Leta Blake
Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake's educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
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A Guest Post by Leta Blake
When writing a book set in my hometown, it wasn’t always easy to determine which landmarks to include. Since the book takes place in 1990/1991, I decided to stick with places that I knew about and/or went to during that time period.
For many places, I decided to change the name, mainly because this is a work of fiction and I didn’t want to be bogged down with exact details or trying to replicate the buildings/structures exactly. I didn’t want people to say, “But that’s not what Carousel II was really like!” So, in those cases, I changed the name to something close but different.
However, part of the fun of writing this series was returning to some of my fondest memories of some of my favorite places in Knoxville. Let’s look at a few below.
The Sunsphere is an iconic structure in the Knoxville skyline. Built for the 1982 World’s Fair (and the butt of a joke in a Simpsons Episode), our golden disco ball has long been a symbol of home to anyone from the area. It’s a source of pride, embarrassment, and amusement. Our shiny erection in the sky. Gotta love it.
Beans (Old City Java)
Old City Java, or as it was known back then, just Java, was Knoxville’s first coffee shop. Looking at the picture, it looks like any other coffee shop in the world, right? But in 1990, Knoxville, TN, it was something so cool, so new, so delicious, so not-what-our-parents-did that it became a hub for high schoolers and college kids alike.
Kroger, for those who might not know, is a grocery store chain. But in the heart of North Knoxville, there is a very special Kroger with it’s own Facebook page, Twitter page, and even t-shirts printed in its honor. That’s right—it’s the Fellini Kroger!
Federico Fellini was a filmmaker of yore known for his bizarre and sometimes surreal characters and movies. The Fellini Kroger earned its moniker by virtue of its consistently odd customers.
In the early 90s, one might find the woman with 666 tattooed on her forehead or the weightlifter who always wore his leotard, amongst others. For bored adolescents without cell phones or computers, going to the Fellini Kroger was one way to kill an afternoon, and you were likely to come home with a story to tell about what and who you saw.
Feel free to Google the words “Fellini Kroger” to see all the blog posts and memories associated with the place.
Tilt-a-Whirl (The Carousel II)
The gay club featured in the book is called Tilt-a-Whirl and it is based off of a real club I used to go to in college called The Carousel II. Unlike many of the businesses in the books, I didn’t want to stick to the pure facts of what The Carousel II was like inside, or what the drag shows were like, etc., but anyone who is reading the book from Knoxville will recognize the fact that Tilt-a-Whirl was based on this particular club over any of the others. (The Carousel II is also closed now, alas.)
You can watch a drag video from one of its final shows in 2013 HERE.
The Hill at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, refers to a hill with a collection of buildings, many the oldest on the campus, including Ayers Hall (pictured). It also has many large trees on it that many students climb and hang out in at night.
Kingsley is the private high school Peter attends and it is based on a particular private school in Knoxville that I attended. It goes by a different name and I’ll keep that to myself for now. It’s a spacious, open campus, and the atmosphere there was quite different from my experience at a public high school. That change in social experience was something I wanted to capture in the book.
Thank you for indulging me on this trip down memory lane! I hope you’ll follow Peter as he visits these places in my new book, Pictures of You!
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