Last night I received a contract from Dreamspinner Press for my novella “Call Me But Love.” It’s a group of four stories all based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and comes directly out of a fannish sub-genre known as “(x-number) Things That Never Happened to (character)” I wrote one in “Brokeback Mountain” fandom, a number of years ago (“Five Things That Never Happened to Ennis del Mar” for anyone who is curious.) and got a taste for the format. Alas, it’s really only good with characters who are known to your audience.
The stories in “Call Me But Love” (From the play: “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.”) are set in different places and eras. The first, “His Timeless End” is set in Renaissance Verona. The second, “Give Me a Case to Put My Visage In” is set in Victorian England. “By Any Other Name,” which is the third story of the group, is set in post-WWII U.S., and finally “The Children of an Idle Brain” is a contemporary story set in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
When I posted the news on Facebook last night, I promised an excerpt. From the second story, “Give Me a Case to Put My Visage In,”:
“Arrogant, self-important, little trollop,” he growled. There was laughter from the shadows and he was suddenly worried that perhaps some kinsman of Juliet’s had seen the entire performance. “Who’s there?” he demanded. “Come out if you dare.”
It was only Mercutio who stepped out of the shade of the garden wall, applauding softly. “What a show. I thought for sure you had won the maiden or at least her maidenhead, but I guess true love doesn’t buy what it used to.”
Mercutio laughed. “Oh by Rosaline’s bright eye, you gave it your all and I applaud you. And speaking of Miss Gordon, she’s left the gathering, so I guess your evening has been wasted. Lovely girl, Miss Gordon; rather wealthy if I remember correctly. Sheep.”
Romeo stalked off, determined to find a way out that didn’t lead back through the ballroom. He did not want to see Juliet again; his pride wouldn’t withstand another blow that night.
Mercutio followed, humming a little tune. “Why don’t you go away?” Romeo snapped.
“I’m protecting my winnings.”
The memory of what he had promised was like a blow. “You knew I wasn’t serious about that bet.”
“I knew no such thing. You made a bet with me; you lost. Will you be a gentleman and honor that wager?”
Romeo turned sharply and scowled at him. “I suppose one of us must be.”
At that, Mercutio drew very close. “I suppose you’re implying that if I try to collect my winnings, I am no gentleman. I’ll tell you what Romeo: I never claimed to be a gentleman. You, on the other hand, are puffed up with your position in life, swaggering about and using people without ever a thought to what the consequences might be. I watched you with that girl and she had the better of you, my friend, in spite of all your efforts to win her with sweet words and cheap lies. She put you right down in your place. Your family might be rich, but you’ll never be nobility, not for love nor money, my sweet, lovely boy. But all she has to do is marry Paris and her path in life is charted. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, that you can’t just lie down and earn a title, too?”
Romeo struck out but Mercutio saw the blow coming and danced away from it. Thwarted, Romeo snarled at Mercutio, “You would know how that’s done, wouldn’t you? At least I can’t be arrested for what I am.” He saw that the dart hit home and he was glad of it.
Mercutio made a low bow. “As ever I yield to your superior wit.” And with a sardonic smile, he started up the street alone, whistling that irritating little tune. Romeo watched him disappear into the darkness and then began to walk in the opposite direction, towards his club. It had been a wasted evening, and had, he feared, cost him a friend into the bargain. But there was nothing for it; he was not like Mercutio, not…
The words wouldn’t form in his mind; he feared them.