... there was a girl who lived on a farm. Her family didn't have a lot of cash - like most farming families - so they had no television. When she wasn't doing chores or going to school or doing homework (stupid math) she had her nose in a book and her ear to a small radio. One Sunday afternoon she was reading a book her mom had said she might like, The Shining by Stephen King (it's okay she was precocious and her mom wasn't wrong) when a guy came on the radio singing a silly song called Sherry Darlin'. It was fun and silly and there was a saxophone but more importantly he told a story that was really easy to imagine. She didn't know who Bruce Springsteen was - or who Stephen King was - all she knew was that one day....she was going to do that. She was going to write things that made people smile or laugh or cry or catch their breath or something. Something that would make them feel something.
I was 12 years old when that happened and King and Springsteen remain my two favorite writers. I have a degree in literature and media studies and can appreciate the importance of classical literature, but when it comes to words: my heart belongs to those two men still. Which is not to say I think they're perfect - simply that they both still trigger a simple joy of words in a way that nobody else does.
So, armed with that dream I set off to do what all 12 year old girls try to do: grow up. I went to university, I traveled, I got married, I had babies, I got divorced, I fell in love, I worked in management and as a journalist, I raised a family, I went back to university, I got another degree...
Then one night I woke up at around two in the morning to the sound of a young man sobbing. I could hear him in my head and he was heartbroken. He kept repeating "I thought you loved me. You said you loved me. I thought you thought I was a real man but you only think I'm a real man when you fuck me." I couldn't see his face because he was hunched over and crying so hard. I could see longer blond hair in a ponytail but it wasn't his.
For days I couldn't get the echo of his crying out of my head but I also couldn't figure out why he was so upset.
One afternoon I sat up in my chair and asked the room (the cat still thinks I'm mad) "Is your name Jesse?" The young man who was crying sat up a little, turned a very sweet face covered in tears toward me and nodded. "Is something ....not right with you Jesse?" And that was all it took. Jesse got really mad at me.
"I'm not stupid. I'm not. And I'm not a kid. I'm NOT stupid."
If you've read Jesse's Smile you know the opening line is "Jesse Peterson knows he's not stupid." I got the feeling it was important to Jesse that everyone know that upfront. Every day for over three months Jesse told me his story, introduced me to Drew and to Dr Martin, their families, and of course ... Scamp and George.
He told me why he was so upset. And I helped find a solution.
On January 16/17 (16 for Amazon, 17 for me - gotta love time zones) I hit publish on KDP and released Jesse's Smile. I had no clue what I was doing - in fact the only thing I did know was that it wasn't going to sell.
A year later, I am an author. I have 13 titles to my name, I pay my bills by writing words - words that make people laugh, cry, and sometimes call me names because I'm not writing fast enough (which you know...I kind of love). I am living that little girl's dream.
When I finished Jesse's Smile I grieved for a week, I missed Jesse so much. Then I realized he wasn't gone. He is always with me - being Jesse. Teasing Drew, playing with Scamp, eating all the cookies, and trying his best to be the man Drew has helped him become. He sometimes smacks the back of my head and says "you can't write that - it's stupid. Try it again." Mostly he just comes along for the ride.
Jesse's Smile remains the most popular of my books. People love him the way I do and that makes me so incredibly happy because although he's never left, I've never again heard him sobbing the way he did. Jesse has garnered three Goodreads MM Readers Choice nominations and in October 2018 I sold the Italian rights to an Italian publishing house.
One day I'd love to find a model who fits the image I carry in my head of Jesse and have my amazing cover designer, May Dawney, rebrand the book. If Audible ever finds a way to work with authors outside of the USA and the UK, I'd love to release the audio version.
In the meantime though I can't complain. Jesse did more than share a story worth telling. Jesse made it possible for me to go on to publish other books. Because of Jesse I've met the most incredible people - May. Jessica, Leanne, JJ, Viva, Drea, Neve, Tom, Ali, Anna, the list is way too long to continue but I can't imagine my life without them. Jesse has also meant I could afford to do things like pay bills and buy birthday gifts for my kids - with money from something I created.
Best of all Jesse introduced me to some of the most loving and fun and impatient (it's a compliment) people on the earth: my readers. Every single one of you who has messaged me, emailed me, recommended my work, and just plain read my books - you have brought me as much joy as Jesse has. Knowing you love him - and Ben, Alex, Mason, Rian, Lucas, Connor, Noah, Hunter or whoever your favorite is - as much as I do makes me so very happy. On the days that I struggle to get the words right and I wonder who told me I could write - you guys help keep me going. On the days that I'm smiling and having a third cocktail - it's invariably because one of you has said something to make me smile and decide a third is a good idea. Thank you. From both Jesse and me - thank you so very much.
I often get asked if there will be a sequel - other than the short Christmas story in The Night Before Christmas - and the answer is we don't know. Neither of us is sure yet. There is a possible story there but for whatever reason, Jesse doesn't want to share it with me for now, so I'm happy leaving him be.
I do have a lot planned this year and I'm especially excited about a book called Joey that I think will appeal to those of you who love Jesse. I certainly hope so. In the meantime, always remember that sometimes the most important thing in the world IS a smile.