A Decade of Visions
by Cameron Ramses
Genre: Historical LGBT Romance
Born to a single mother in Dust Bowl-era Nebraska, Roy Manger learns to deny his true self from an early age. The rural Midwest is no place for a boy who wears girls’ clothes for fun—let alone for one who suffers gruesome hallucinations. It is only when he leaves home that he can embrace his true identity, spending his days as Roy and his nights as Raina, working as an escort in a ritzy Chicago bordello. But after a run-in with the law, Roy is torn between extremes: to live as a man or as a woman; to ignore his grief or struggle to accept it; to suppress his visions or seek to understand them. With the support of Woodrow, a convict with a murky past, Roy will have to come to terms with the fact that, in life, all of the greatest joys must come from within—and the greatest dangers, too.
A Decade of Visions contains adult content suitable for mature readers only. There are also instances of graphic gore and period typical homophobia.
Roy had been staring at the corner for nearly an hour. He was waiting for someone to come by and post bail. But Hattie’s motto was always this: if you got yourself into a mess, it was your job to get yourself out. Who bailed out who was always a matter of exchange.
If Roy couldn’t take his medicine, then he would have to stay awake all night until the dead man was driven away by the sun. If he looked away for even a moment, those dead fingers would clutch around his neck, and the dirt-caked face would bend forward to chew the flesh off his cheeks. So he stared.
Though frozen, Roy’s body worked on. His bladder filled with the wine from dinner, and his stomach grew bored with the shrimp salad and demanded something more. Two hours earlier, as the police had approached the door of the Pineapple, he knew he had two choices. The first was to change into some boy clothes, and the second was to eat a quick plate of cornbread. The former won out over the latter by a narrow margin.
The drunkard vomited into the bucket between his knees.
As if the sound had ended the homeless man’s bout of blindness, that hoary head whipped its chin down to reveal his eyes: one staring milky and unfocused from beyond the grave, while the other gaped, a bloody hole where a bullet had entered, done its gruesome business, and left. The socket streamed with blood, red rivulets thick with curded pus and vitreous humor. The teeth were black and yellow and the saliva dripped over the lips and gathered on his shirt-front. Roy let in a slow gasp and tried to regulate his heart and continued to stare at the corner. And the homeless cyclops, the victim of some wanton violence, stared back.
Roy began to cry.
The cyclops’s hands, thick with cold and toil, twitched. Slowly his limb grew strong, lifting up from the elbow until, when the forearm was parallel to the floor, the hand itself raised, straightening the arrow of his index finger until it pointed straight at Roy in judgment.
He could not quiet his sobs. His chest heaved, a haywire machine.
Hungry, the cyclops stretched until it pointed with the whole arm. The tip of the finger seemed to reach halfway across the room.
The drunkard retched again while Roy was moaning. Weeping. It had never been this bad before. It had never gotten so close. When he had seen this same apparition at the steakhouse, it had kept its back to him. If he had known it would return, he would have sacrificed his eyes to any sharp object within reach—the fork for the shrimp, the tweezers in his bathroom, Mr. Deer’s fingers. Roy’s sight blurred, causing the image of the cyclops to balloon to twice its natural size. He screamed.
“You shut the fuck up.” Without thinking, Roy snapped his head to the left, where the head of the blanket-bundle was sticking out now, bringing to mind a dirty turtle. Catching his mistake, Roy immediately looked back at the corner and was surprised to see nothing. As his heart slowed down and his muscles relaxed, he flipped his head between the dreaded opposite corner and the corner to his left where, after a moment, he was able to distinguish the features of a young Black man staring at him.
After a moment of eye contact, the head turned back to the wall and Roy said, “Thank you.”
The muffled bundle muttered, “Thank you…”
Roy sat back, relief washing over him like bathwater.
“…for shutting the fuck up.”
Cameron Ramses is an American writer living in France. Most days he can be found sitting upright and feeling appalled. In addition to writing, he also runs a French pastry Instagram. Follow him: brioche_boy
Before we get into the questions, I wanted to thank you for featuring me on your blog! I hope your readers find something they like in my writing. We are a tight-knit community, and I am thankful for the publishers, editors, writers, and--most importantly--readers, who make this artistic community possible. Enjoy!
What is something unique/quirky about you? I just started an Instagram where I write pastry reviews! Since I moved to France, I’ve been trying to eat a different pastry every day. I figured, why not share my passion for sweets with the world? (The insta is brioche_boy, btw!)
What are some of your pet peeves? When people order the same thing as me at restaurants! First of all, I love to eat alone. Sitting with someone else, having to make conversation with your mouth full, having to wait for them to finish… it’s all too much. The only silver lining is that I’ll have the chance to taste a dish other than mine. But if you order the same things as me, it's ruined. Just go an eat by yourself!
What inspired you to write this book? Spite. A Decade of Visions started as a short story, which had all the same themes but with some minor changes: the protagonist was a girl living with her father instead of a boy with his mother, and the road trip in the second part of the story was about her and her boyfriend absconding together after eloping. I was happy with the short story, and didn’t touch it for a year. It wasn’t until I met a girl who had published a novel that I felt the urge to write one myself, intending, I guess, to show her up. I figured that DoV was fertile enough to sprout a whole novel. So, yeah. I guess it was spite that made me want to write it.
What can we expect from you in the future? More books! I’m working on a piece right now that’s in its early stages. Ideally I would like to link all these novels into a larger cycle, but that’s an endeavor for another day.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters? Yes—Darren Deer, the lens of the second section, is not instrumental to the plot, but you find out a lot more about him than is normal for a secondary character. Have you ever find yourself thinking a lot about someone you don’t like, trying to get into their head and understand why they are the way they are? That’s how I feel about Darren. I go off on a whole tangent because I wanted to understand the brain of someone who could do the things Darren ends up doing. This was an awesome exercise in thinking outside of my comfort zone—though I do think I may have spent a little too much time mulling over him!
Where were you born/grew up at? I was born in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of D.C. about which the less said the better.
Who is your hero and why? Cleopatra, for using her sexuality to fight for something she cares about, and for eating a pearl.
What book do you think everyone should read? The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. Not only is this queer required reading, but it changed the way I think about my body and sexuality, and how I approach happiness. It’s super short and very approachable— not to mention the tightness and beauty of the prose. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
I haven’t seen many characters written with as much attention to the anxious turnings of the mind as Elio from Call Me By Your Name, which, if you haven’t read it, is absolutely queer required reading. It was a visceral experience, and felt like nothing so much as going back to high school and reliving those first earth-shattering feelings about another boy… the magic of Call Me By Your Name, though, is that instead of that first love being unrequited (a near universal experience among LGBT youth), the author imagines a different future. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
Describe your writing style.
Honestly? It’s a mess. Since I am a recent graduate, my mind is still clacking around with the million influences of four years’ worth of English readings. I try so hard to emulate the glimmering, pool-clear writing of Woolf that I sometimes fall into the deep end; other times I want nothing so much as to possess William Carlos William’s gift of making an image with a mere suggestion of words. The more I write, the more I realize I don’t have to try so hard to sound like anything. I find my most natural writing is speech: not dialogue per se, but the ups and downs of one person’s voice, especially those who speak emphatically.
What makes a good story?
Lasers, and lots of them.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’ve been thinking a lot about gender presentation. This past year I’ve started dressing more and more feminine. I’ve taken to wearing skirts in public, and my hair is so long now that, from behind, I am often mistaken for a woman. And I don’t know why it feels so good to dress feminine— but people always ask me why I do it, I have a few set answers. The easiest one is that it feels good just because. But as you may remember from your youth, “just because” is maybe the worst thing you can say when someone asks you a question. I sometimes phrase it in terms of subversion—that, as a boy, my wearing of a skirt is a political statement. This is true to a degree, but if I kept the potential for subversion in my mind at all times, I wouldn’t have the energy to even put on a skirt, let alone parade around town. Really, the best answer I have is this: that wearing a skirt makes me feel closer to my vision of my ideal myself, a vision that is by no means clear. I hate to conclude by saying it is, at the end of the day, more a question of intuition than anything else. But, as the French say, ça y est.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Reading, of course! And sometimes, just lying on my back on the floor. It’s restful to be a cadaver every once in a while!
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I’m not sure I am an author yet, really. I feel like the difference between an author and a hobby writer is about how much of your life you’ve given over to writing. As of yet, my concerns are to finish school and get my life set up. All the writing done in the next few years is preparation for the years I will, in fact, be an author. And whether or not it’s a the “right” decision will depend on whether I can find a way to make a living off of it, or if I will continue eating buttered noodles and water for the rest of my life.
What are they currently reading? Les Mots by Jean-Paul Sartre. It’s been strongly recommended to me a few times, and I feel obligated to explore the French masters while I’m living here. I’m still trying to understand why people read biographies—am I hoping some of his greatness is imparted unto me? Am I trying to verify whether my tastes and life experience are matching up with where his were, when he was my age?
How long have you been writing?
My first creative project was in middle school, but I don’t think I sat down with the intention of writing a real story until college. It didn’t cross my mind to try to publish anything for a few more years after that.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
For me, the greatest thrill is arriving at the end of a paragraph, staring at the page, and thinking: “What next?” This “what next” is what keeps me on my toes. I’ve noticed that, when I know what I have planned for the characters, my writing gets sloppy, since I know I’m writing towards something. It feels more like fill-in the blank. I let chapters and sections flow organically.
Now that I think about it, though, I feel like this lack of structure is what causes the rushed feeling at the end of all my works, where I notice that the plot hasn’t even started yet and it’s 200 pages in. Maybe I’ll give the structured approach another shot!
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in A Decade of Visions?
Certainly! The protagonist is Roy, a boy living in the extremity of rural poverty during a time in America when the earth itself seemed sick of us. Roy learns early on that he can see the shades of things that have died. He also learns that he does not feel about other boys the way other boys feel about other boys. Things get dicey for Roy, and, in the section I omitted, circumstance effects a transformation. In the second section, we learn that Roy has been living as a woman, Raina. Antics ensue.
Woodrow is the love interest, an African-American man with the shadow of racist violence hanging over his head. He is on the lam for a crime he did not commit, and joins Raina in her journey.
There’s Inez, Roy’s mother, the paragon of the all-suffering mother.
Adrian is the trigger for the plot, or at least his body is.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I only had a vision for Roy and Inez at the beginning—Woodrow didn’t appear until later. I knew I needed someone to occupy the space of an Adrian trope, though I didn’t prefigure how he would end up returning to the story toward the end.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
Not enough! Writing historical fiction is incredibly difficult because every object the characters touch—to say nothing of landscapes and vocabulary—is suspect. The writer must ask herself on a constant loop: “Did this exist in the 1940s? Did this word mean then what it means today?” If I ever read historical fiction again, I will take better care to make sure the concrete reality around the characters is accurate. For anyone writing in a similar period: read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It contains literally hundreds of pages cataloging literally every object in the houses of four impoverished sharecroppers in the 1930s. It is a treasure trove!
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Wow! Yikes! Oof. Too bad.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
I put more of myself in Roy than I knew at the time, and I think there was something prescient in the way I had him transition genders—I am living through a similar (though not exact) transformation today. The other characters are re-workings of tropes that are readily available to any writer, save perhaps Woodrow, a character who seems like an imperfect mirror of the tastes and speech of Roy.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Definitely describing The Pineapple. I am a huge advocate for the legalization of sex work, and having the chance to imagine such a haven before the huge crack-downs on female-owned bordellos in the 1930s that forced sex workers onto the street, where male pimps started to take advantage of them in the way that continues today. Imagining a place before puritanical laws robbed these women of their dignity, not to mention their right to their own labor, was a treat. Not to mention, I could describe opulent rooms for days!
Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?
Stephen King once said everyone has one thousand pages of bad writing in them that need to be gone through before quality can be achieved. Now that I’m closer to two thousand, I wonder if he maybe meant ten thousand after all.
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