Hi guys! We have Jeff Erno stopping by today with his upcoming release Slim Chance, we have a fantastic guest post where Jeff chats about his story and his characters, and we also have a great excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
Can a man improve his appearance without losing everything good inside him?
Oliver has always been obese and suffered from a negative body image. He’s tried diets before, failing time after time, but he vows this time will be different. As he begins an exercise program, his confidence increases—and so does his interest in his friend and coworker Benjy. Though they bonded long ago over a love of online gaming, it takes a lot of courage for Oliver to share his new body and be intimate with another man.
A passionate romance blooms, but as Oliver nears his goal, it seems he doesn’t need Benjy—with his chronic anxiety and troubled past—now that he’s made attractive new friends at the gym. But not all relationships are equal, and Oliver realizes that Benjy, who loved and supported him when no one else did, is more than a reminder of his old life.
A pleasing appearance means nothing when it hides a lonely, empty heart, and if Oliver cannot decide what’s truly important, he’ll lose what he cherishes most.
Beauty is only skin deep and is in the eye of the beholder. Right?
This is what we say, but do we really believe it? Why does every romantic story feature only aesthetically appealing protagonists, and why do most of our book covers display gorgeous models that embody the mental image of a perfect-looking gay male couple?
Beauty sells. This isn’t something new to romance. It’s always been this way. If you check out the archives, you’re not likely to find any bodice-ripping Harlequins featuring chubby dudes on the cover. Instead, you’ll see lots of naked torsos, and not just any ol’ slab of flesh either. They’re ripped, with bulging biceps and six-pack abs, and pecs you could bounce quarters off of.
It’s part of the fantasy, and it’s not something limited to romance literature. Turn on the TV or go to the movies. You’ll find very few heroes who are merely average-looking, and you’ll find even fewer who are homely or portly. Chubby protagonists are a rarity, particularly in romance. If they’re featured at all within a story, they’re a sidekick or secondary character. Or they used to be fat, but not anymore.
Slim Chance is a story about a far less than perfect protagonist. Oliver Paxton is obese—always has been. He’s struggled with weight issues his entire life. He’s been on every diet. He’s lost a few pounds here and there, then gained them back and then some. He’s endured endless, hurtful teasing and name-calling, is used to being the brunt of everyone’s jokes. And although he’s intelligent, has a decent sense of humor, and is generally a well-liked person, he doesn’t care much for himself.
Oliver looks in the mirror every day and hates his own reflection. And this constant feeling of self-loathing, this assumption that he’s so unattractive physically that people must be repelled by him, affects his view of other human beings. He’s cynical. He automatically expects others to think the worst of him. He believes they see his fat before they see him. He’s convinced they are just as ashamed of his body as he is himself, even if they’re not saying it out loud.
Who the hell is going to want to read a book about someone like this? Doesn’t sound much like a romance, does it? Sounds sad and depressing.
Hold on! Enter Benjy, Oliver’s coworker. Benjy has issues of his own, but he’s as sweet as the day is long. He suffers from social anxiety and sometimes has panic attacks. For whatever reason, he doesn’t seem disgusted by Oliver’s size. Benjy barely seems to notice, and the two become friends. And when Benjy accompanies Oliver to a tuxedo fitting for a wedding Oliver has been asked to stand in, Benjy is the voice of reason who assures Oliver how handsome he is in his dress threads.
Even then, Oliver doesn’t trust that Benjy’s being honest. He’s just trying to be nice, and it annoys Oliver, though he isn’t sure why. Shouldn’t he be grateful of Benjy’s kindness? But when you’ve been lied to all your life, when you’ve dealt with situations where people have said nice things to your face and then mocked and ridiculed you behind your back, it’s not easy to trust.
Oliver looks at his reflection in that full-length mirror, standing beside Benjy, and he imagines himself as someone different. He tries really hard to see himself as Benjy does. And together, they begin a journey of weight-loss and personal change.
I know Oliver Paxton is going to be a challenge for some readers. Even I, the author, have struggled with his cynicism. At times he seems self-absorbed, lacking in empathy. You’d think a guy who’d been picked on all his life would have loads of empathy, right? Maybe in a perfect world, but that’s not how I see Oliver, at least in the earlier stages of his transformation. As he begins to shed the pounds, he doesn’t instantly fall in love with his reflection. His body image doesn’t magically transform. He still sees himself as the fat guy, the grotesque blob that people abhorred or pitied.
I hope readers will have patience with Oliver and recognize that he’s a work in progress. He’s physically imperfect, but he’s also damaged in other ways. And this, Slim Chance, is Oliver’s story of personal growth. It’s a character arc, and even when Oliver gets to the point where he’s nearly accomplished his weight-loss goal, he faces more challenges that are perhaps even more difficult. He’s fixed the damage to his body, but how does he heal his soul?
Slim Chance is a different type of m/m romance. It doesn’t neatly slide into a mold or fit with any formula. It presents two flawed main characters and is told exclusively from the perspective Oliver, the more cynical of the two. I had issues with Oliver, with his attitude, with the way he sometimes lashed out. But you know what? My heart broke for him, too. I fell in love with him, and as the new Oliver very slowly emerged, he became one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written.
I hope you’ll give him a chance…even if it’s just a slim one.
Staring at his reflection in the full-length oval mirror, Oliver wanted to vomit. He turned slightly to view himself in profile, trying to imagine how he’d look in the wedding photos. His absurd attempt to suck in his gut made no difference whatsoever, so he balled his hands into fists and gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to punch the mirror.
“You look awesome.”
He turned to Benjy and rolled his eyes. “Please, don’t mock me. I know I look like the Goodyear Blimp.”
“I’m not mocking. You really do…. You look amazing. That suit really suits you.”
“It’s a tuxedo, and my gut’s too huge for me to even wear the cummerbund.”
“It’s okay. You don’t need it.” Benjy stepped closer and reached out to pat Oliver on the shoulder. Of course a guy Benjy’s size wouldn’t understand the humiliation Oliver felt. If Benjy weighed a hundred thirty pounds while soaking wet, Oliver would be surprised.
“Two of you could fit into this tuxedo. I’m so disgustingly fat. My face looks like a pig.” He glared angrily at his reflection.
“I wish you wouldn’t put yourself down like that, Ollie. You know, you carry your weight well. It’s hardly noticeable.”
“And I wish you’d stop saying such stupid things you know aren’t true! I know what you think of me. I know what everyone thinks. I’m a fucking whale!”
The tailor, who’d finished taking measurements, stood on the other side of Benjy. He cleared his throat as he raised his chin. “Well, I think I have everything I need here. You can change at your leisure and leave the tuxedo hanging in the dressing room. We’ll have the alterations complete by Friday.” He turned and exited as briskly as he spoke, then made his way back behind the counter.
Oliver sighed. He looked into Benjy’s face and registered his crestfallen expression. Suddenly he felt like an ass. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“No, it’s cool. Don’t worry about it.” Benjy smiled. “I get how stressful it is. I… uh, I couldn’t imagine having to stand up in front of all those people like that. I’d probably, um, faint or something.”
Actually, Benjy wasn’t exaggerating. He probably would literally faint. He didn’t do well in crowds, and he didn’t handle stress like a normal person.
From the day they’d first met at work, they shared a passion for online gaming, their gaming conversations never stopped—their secret language. And interestingly, this common interest also served as a shield. Oliver enjoyed a comfort level with Benjy and could always communicate through gaming, no matter what was happening on the job, in his nonexistent romantic life, or at home. Even when Oliver felt frustrated, or lonely, or like the fattest, ugliest man on the planet, he could always talk to Benjy about video games.
But at times, Oliver wondered if he and Benjy would even be friends were they not coworkers and fellow gamers. Otherwise, they were nothing alike. Benjy was short and skinny, while Oliver was a big chubby dude. Benjy was shy, while Oliver had always been more outspoken. Benjy, at twenty-four, had just leased his first apartment, which he kept immaculately clean. In every way neat and tidy, he represented the opposite lifestyle Oliver embraced.
Oliver, though not a slob, had no propensity for tidiness. He lived and worked amid a swirl of controlled, manageable chaos. His rented two-bedroom home certainly wasn’t filthy, but he found comfort within the mounds of clutter that surrounded him. Things might not appear organized to outsiders, but he always knew where to find everything he needed.
But since he graduated college, now nearly fifty pounds heavier than he was his freshman year, most of his friendships had dropped off. In high school he’d always managed to insert himself into the group, participating in a range of extracurricular activities. Band, drama, and even the production of a school yearbook and a monthly newspaper had captured his interest and allowed him to interact with other students. Of course, they often regarded him as the token fat kid, but he was one of them nonetheless. As an adult, all that had changed. In the real world as a twentysomething, size seemed to matter even more than it had back in high school.
So how was it he’d gotten to this point? How had he allowed himself to grow to this size? Along the way, he’d known it was happening. As his pants and shirt sizes increased and his clothes no longer fit, he couldn’t deny he’d grown. It became more difficult for him to slide behind the wheel of his car, and he couldn’t explain away his ever-widening girth. As it became more difficult to dress himself, bathe, and even wipe himself in the bathroom, he could no longer make excuses.
And yet… he did. He always had excuses, and often they were valid. Other guys his age ate just as much as he did, often more, and they didn’t turn into orcas. With both of his parents being overweight, undoubtedly there was a genetic component. He had really low metabolism. He might even have a thyroid problem or something.
The cruel, baseless assumptions people made about fat people infuriated him. He wasn’t lazy. Far from it. He didn’t binge eat. He didn’t subsist solely on fast food. He wasn’t a filthy slob. Just because he was overweight, people assumed things about him, that because he was less attractive physically, he was less of a person. He was less intelligent, less motivated, less personable.
And in some cases, the assumptions became self-fulfilling prophecies. He did find himself at times receding into himself, pulling away from others. At times the fat jokes became too much to bear. The snide remarks and cursory glances cut into his soul, bruised him. He fought the natural tendency to think of himself the way he knew others viewed him. And with each passing day, he felt himself losing the battle.
Now decked out in the fanciest duds he’d ever worn, staring at his reflection in the full-length oval mirror, he raised his chin to examine the roll of fat encasing his neck. He held out his arms, taking in the puffiness of his bloated hands. He turned again to the right to view his profile and glared angrily at his distended belly. This wasn’t who he wanted to be, not now at the age of twenty-four and not ever.
“I hate you,” he whispered.
Benjy took a step closer to him, perhaps fearing the comment was directed at him. “Ollie, please… please don’t say that.”
“It’s true, Benjy. Look at me. Look at what I’ve become. I’m a big fat slob. A pig. I’m nothing but a disgusting hog.”
“You’re not disgusting to me.”
His eyes now misty, Oliver turned to Benjy. “You say I’m not disgusting to you, meaning I obviously am to everyone else.”
“No! Ollie, you’re putting words in my mouth. You’re not disgusting. You’re… imperfect. You’re a normal person who doesn’t happen to have an underwear model’s body. You’re not an athlete or a movie star, though. You’re a computer programmer and my best friend. I see you for who you are, who I know you to be. Smart, funny, and the best friend—”
“Benjy, stop! You’re not helping.”
Benjy sighed and shook his head. “I just wish you could see yourself as I see you. As Amanda sees you.”
“I have to do something about myself. I can’t go on like this.”
“Okay.” Benjy stared up at him, his eyes wide and perhaps a bit misty as well. “I’ll do anything I can to help.”
Jeff Erno began writing LGBT fiction in the late 1990s. Although an avid reader and amateur writer from a very young age, Jeff pursued a career as a retail store manager in Northern Michigan. When his first gay-themed novel was published, he was shocked that anyone would even want to read it. Four years later, he writes full time and has published fifteen novels. Jeff now lives in Southern Michigan, where he resides with his pure-white cat, Gandalf.
Jeff’s writing credits include a variety of themes and sub-genres including male romance, Young Adult, Science Fiction, erotica, and BDSM. He is the winner of a 2012 Rainbow Award and an Honorable Mention in 2011. His style is unpretentious and focused upon emotionally-driven, character-based stories that touch the heart. Jeff is especially passionate about young adult literature and combating teen bullying and youth suicide.