By Mia Kerick
Published by: Cool Dudes Publishing
Trembling on the floor, pressed beneath a row of seats in a dark theater, college freshman Jason Tripp listens to the terrifying sound of gunshots, as an unknown shooter moves methodically through the theater, randomly murdering men, women, and children attending a student performance of Hamlet. Junior Liam Norcross drapes his massive body on top of Jason, sheltering the younger man from the deathly hail of bullets, risking his life willingly, and maybe even eagerly.
As a result of the shared horror, an extraordinary bond forms between the two young men, which causes discomfort for family and friends, as well as for Jason and Liam, themselves. And added to the challenge of two previously “straight” men falling into a same-sex love, are the complications that arise from the abundance of secrets Liam holds with regard to a past family tragedy. The fledgling passion between the men seems bound to fade away into the darkness from which it emerged.
Jason, however, is inexplicably called to rescue his hero in return, by delving into Liam’s shady past and uncovering the mystery that compels the older man to act as the college town’s selfless savior.
The Art of Hero Worship takes the reader on a voyage from the dark and chilling chaos that accompanies a mass shooting to the thrill of an unexpected and sensual romance.
At this point he’s in the back of the theater, and the shooting hasn’t slowed down at all. Gunshots ring out steadily in the shadowy darkness… always in sets of three, letting me know where he is. I’m scared… so f*cking scared… but not too scared to wonder what I did to deserve this special little slice of hell.
And I’m frozen… I can’t even move enough to swallow my spit. I know what I have to do—I have to look for Ginny, but I can’t since I’m frozen solid, like a leg of lamb in a walk-in freezer.
“I’ve been shot! Oh, sweet Jesus, I’ve been shot!”
Earsplitting blasts of sound—one, two, three. The gunshots have a life and a plan—no, a mission—all their own, to maim and kill by ripping through the flesh of everyone in this theater. I’m panting and sweating and wishing to God I knew how to pray because I’d so pray right now.
And as suddenly as it started, the shooting stops. Is it over? With the utmost caution, I exhale the breath I’ve been hanging onto so jealously… as if part of me fears I’ll never get the chance to take another. But one more wary breath moves in and out, and I know I have to get hold of myself so I can find her. Because it’s over now…. yes, I think maybe it’s ov—
Life-sucking and blood-spattering and gurgle-inducing, evenly spaced sets of three that are becoming so horribly predictable. I brace myself for the impact because I just know the next pop is going to come with excruciating pain that explodes in my head or my back or, if I’m lucky, my ass. Or, if I’m not so lucky, in all three places, one right after another.
This isn’t happening. It can’t be happening.
Is nineteen too old to want my mommy?
“Get down! Get on the floor!” Somebody yells. Too late for that. I’m already flat on the floor in the narrow space between the rows of seats; my head is bleeding all over the arm it’s resting on…. My left arm? My right arm? Somebody else’s arm? Not so sure. Not so sure it matters.
“Don’t shoot me—please don’t—”
“Put the gun down! Put it do-o-own!”
I belly crawl forward a few inches and reach around in search of Ginny’s hand but when I pat the floor all I can feel is a pool of blood that wasn’t there the last time I checked, and then there’s this cooling mound of flesh in its center.
“I don’t know what to do….” These words escape on a single breath followed by a few sharp coughs from an elderly man.
Annoying cough… forever suppressed.
Right after the second round of shots, when everybody had started rushing around, all frenzied and scrambling, I’d lost track of Ginny… in fact, I’d lost track of everything. Maybe because it had suddenly sunk into my stunned brain that this place was now a death chamber. My death chamber.
It seems like so much time has passed since the first bullet whizzed past my right ear… that for a month or a year—or for my entire lifetime—I’ve been waiting for the gunshots to stop.
A tiny voice inside my head suggests that I’ve been in this living hell for less than five minutes, maximum.
Right after the shooting had started, but before I’d lost Ginny, I caught a glimpse of the gunman’s silhouette against the bright stage. He’d seemed huge in his dark baggy clothing. He towered over the audience, but it probably just seemed that way because he was pointing a gun at us. I recognized the shooter from seeing him around campus. And when I saw his face profiled in the light—the bulging forehead, prominent nose, and receding chin—a name had sped through my brain, but soon the name was as lost to me as my girlfriend’s lax hand.
The gunman doesn’t say a word; his weapon does the talking. And the deafening popping sounds are closer again, like the gun has something it wants to say to me personally… something like, “You’re gonna die today, Jason.”
“I’m gonna push on your back really hard and I want you to squeeze as much of your body underneath the chairs as you can, got it?” The voice seems to come from a million miles away, but it’s coming from right behind me. On top of me, really. I feel his breath on the back of my neck.
“Are we going to die?” I’m not sure if I ask this or if it comes from the lips of the little old lady who’d been sitting on the other side of Ginny at the start of the play. The old lady who told us she’d come to Batcheldor College’s Harrison Theater tonight to see her granddaughter play Ophelia in the Shakespeare in the Spring Performance Series; not to die in a hail of bullets. I know for a fact that Ginny didn’t ask the question, though. She’s been silent since the second volley of gunshots when her head slumped over unnaturally onto my shoulder, and almost by instinct, I’d pulled her to the floor.
Batcheldor College’s small theater has been called “an acoustic gem” and right now it’s ringing with the erratic sounds of screaming and moaning and crying and shouting and shooting. But most impressive is the resounding silence of the gunman, which speaks louder than words, or gunshots, ever could.
All-in-all, it’s f*cking noisy and confusing and crazy… the Beatles’ tune “Helter Skelter” comes to mind. This is not how I want to die. Mostly because I don’t want to die!
The guy on my back is poking a single finger into the blood on my head, then twisting in such a way that I think he’s reaching to his back… like maybe he’s smearing my blood on his back. I’m distracted from his action by the squealing of the fire alarm in the darkness, and I find my blurry mind wondering if, in addition to the problem of a crazed gunman, we also have a fire to put out.
Would I prefer my death be a result of hungry flames or a hail of bullets?
“We’re gonna survive, just stay still. Completely still. ‘Kay?” I feel the pressure on my back that he promised me, and even though it hurts to have my belly pushed into the metal rungs at the base of the seats in front of us, I feel strangely safe. He speaks into my ear. “Play dead, dude.”
No, I’m not even remotely safe. But thankfully I play dead far better than my dog did when I taught him that trick at the age of seven.
The shots are earsplitting and getting louder because the shooter’s heading our way. I’m so f*cking scared I’m trembling violently, but I promised the guy lying on top of me that I’d stay still. I concentrate on taking short shallow breaths, one after another, in my effort to stop trembling. To stay frozen—like I’ve been since I pulled Ginny to the floor and promptly let go of her hand so I could curl up into a tight fetal ball.
Somebody near me sits up, scrambles to his knees, and impulsively crawls toward the far aisle.
“Bang, bang… you’re dead.” The voice comes from directly above me; it’s blank and monotone and controlled. The weird snicker that follows is chilling. I want nothing more than to throw the big guy off my back and run like hell toward the double doors, but I just keep on going with the short breaths and stay as still as I’ve ever been in my life. Even in my terrified state, I know that the guy on top of me is totally exposed and I can’t move because I’ll cheat him out of his life, for sure. Which is so not cool when he’s trying to save mine.
I smell blood. Never noticed the smell of blood before. It reminds me of Grandma’s penny collection… if it got spilled onto the sticky floor of the theater. The scent of old copper is everywhere… like wet pennies strewn all around me on the floor.
Shooter’s right above us now. Don’t move… don’t move… don’t move….
“Dear God, help us!” This request seems to catch the shooter’s attention and he turns around and steps away from us. I curse myself for feeling as relieved, and maybe even glad, as I do.
We wait and it seems like forever. We wait as voices beg and plead and pray and he shuts them up with bullets. We wait as the sound of shots moves to the front left near the exit, where I figure he’s shooting at anyone who tries to get out through the double doors.
And then, for a second, it’s quiet.
“Now….” The big guy’s voice is whispering but it seems to blast into my left ear. “We have to make our move now.” Before I agree, the heaviness of his body lifts and I feel cold and exposed. “This is our chance to get outta here….”
His hand is attached to the back of my wrist, clutching me so hard that I know I’ll have fingerprint bruises for a week… if I live so long.
“Come on! Get up!”
“Ginny…” I whisper back. “I can’t leave Ginny.”
He reaches out to touch the flesh mound in the center of the pool of blood and whispers firmly, “Ginny’s already gone.” He releases my wrist just long enough to adjust his grip. “I worked here last year. I know how to get away. Come on….”
He pulls me up to my knees and drags me behind him. “Ginny.” But I only think her name this time because I’m literally too petrified to speak. We crawl like two sneaky toddlers through the narrow alley between the rows of seats and then down the outside aisle, over a couple of bodies—small ones, kids bodies that are way too still and cool—and to a trap door at the base of the stage. It’s a small gray square in the wall. I never noticed it before and I’ve been to the Harrison Theater at least five times this year to see Ginny’s roommate perform. The guy beside me pulls out a pocketknife and fiddles silently with the screws holding the little door in place.
The thin slab of metal covering the small door drops to the floor and contributes a new sound to the quieting chaos. It clangs in such a way that nobody left alive in the theater could miss it.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The gunman has stopped shooting and I hear the heavy stomping of combat boots coming toward us, down the aisle. Not running… just walking in swift, determined steps. My guardian angel grabs me and stuffs me through the opening in the base of the stage. I land on my chin in what seems to be a pile of music stands. My helper isn’t far behind in squeezing his bulky frame through the small square in the wall. We seem to have landed in some type of a cluttered crawl space, maybe the orchestra pit, and I struggle to make my way through what I assume are metal music stands. When we’re halfway through the mess, now crawling through unruly stacks of folding chairs, the overhead light in the pit flicks on.
“What’s going on in the theater, you guys? It’s mega-loud in there.” A clueless college girl’s voice. I can’t see her clearly because the sudden bright light stings my eyes, making me squint.
“Get out of here, lady—just run for it!” shouts my guardian angel. We can’t run yet because we’re still trapped among metal chairs.
“I see you two…. I see you.” It’s that deadly calm shooter’s voice again. “And I think I know you.”
For some reason he doesn’t climb into the orchestra pit to come after us but pushes the gun through the small opening and pulls the trigger three times. Bullets ricochet off the metal chairs and stands. Again I freeze, not sure which way to go. I’m grabbed fiercely by my right forearm and dragged over the remainder of the metal chairs to the door, where the clued-in girl is no longer standing.
I expect more shooting, but there’s none. Instead, that cold, creepy voice increases in volume, to assure us, “Don’t worry, I’ll find you….”
We take to our feet and start to run. Soon we’re holding hands in a narrow hallway… running for the back of the building… and then we’re outside in the cool darkness, still clinging to each other. We sprint through the muddy grass in the direction of the parking lot.
We stop at an old model, cherry red muscle car—a Dodge Charger.
“Get in!” His voice is husky as he opens the door, pushes me inside, and quickly shuts it. Then he scrambles over the hood to get to the driver’s side. He flings open the door and jumps into the driver’s seat, not gracefully, but with more speed than I could ever have imagined was possible for a guy his size. I guess adrenaline counts for a lot. And soon we’re driving off the college grounds, out of the supposed safety of the “Batcheldor College Bubble,” and into the real world.
Mia Kerick is a new-to-me author, but when I read the blurb for The Art of Hero Worship I knew I needed to check it out. What I found was suspense, drama and yes, romance, but the author also touches on some serious topics including coping with the after effects of multiple horribly traumatic experiences, as well as an evolving attraction and relationship with someone of the same sex when both parties are straight.
Jason came across to me as a basically quiet, unassuming character-not one to really stand out in a crowd and with an average, mostly normal life. Liam though has that tortured past vibe, and while he seems to have everything together, there's still a sadness about him. The shared trauma they experience creates a bond between them, bringing feelings to the surface that neither expect...and honestly as a reader it's a bit hard for me to think that neither one of these characters were at least bi, let alone gay-especially Liam. But since that is what were are led to believe, I'll go with it.
Given the fact that Liam and Jason are both supposedly straight, the relationship that develops between them is still very believable the way it is written. Both characters have their own issues that crop up not just from the shooting, but also from Liam's past that complicate things and must be worked through, and at one point when another incident occurs things become very rocky between them, resulting in more drama and me reading with a worried feeling going on in my head.
This all makes for an intriguing story that was difficult to put down, all the way though to the end (which I'm happy to say turned out the way I'd hoped)...my only wish would have been for an epilogue to see how things were after some time had passed. An overall interesting read, The Art of Hero Worship gets 4 stars from me, and I'd recommend it to fans of new adult M/M romance 18+. Be ready for angst and confused feeling from the characters-this story has that in spades.
About the Author
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five non pedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.
Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to CoolDudes Publishing, Dreamspinner Press, Harmony Ink Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.
Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.
Amazon - Smashwords - Gumroad - All Romance - Facebook Author Page - Twitter - Website - Goodreads - Author Newsletter Signup
CDP: As always we took the time to ask Ms. Kerick about The Art of Hero Worship.
This is a HUGE step for you to have taken, Mia. Adult fiction is so different to Young Adult fiction, the question on everyone’s mind right now is, why the change in direction?
MK: Actually, I have written several works of Adult fiction in the past, but since I became sidetracked by my passion for writing for the Young Adult contemporary fiction audience, I have focused on writing romance with major attention to social issues that teens deal with everyday, such as bullying, body image, substance abuse, gender identity, sexual identity, physical and sexual abuse, and spiritual questioning. In Mia Kerick Adult, however, I will focus mainly on how the romance helps the characters to develop and the plot to unfold. There will be a crisis that a perhaps unlikely adult couple must face head on, and the developing relationship between the two adult characters will be critical to the resolution of this crisis. In these adult romance-based stories, I will explore in more detail the physical aspect of the couple’s relationship, where in my YA there isn’t a great deal of sexual intimacy to explore, and what is included, is not described in extreme detail. The physical aspect of love between adults is largely celebrated in Mia Kerick Adult, as well as some other concepts that may be considered too mature for YA.
CDP: Liam is truly a remarkable character, he’s introspective, daring, and brave. Of course, the answers to why he is drawn as such come later in the book. He’s the kind of character we all wish we could be. You make your characters larger than life without ever going over the top. How do you do this?
MK: When I craft a story, I usually first come up with a crisis, which will set the characters in motion, and then I determine who, exactly, I will send reeling. Sometimes I have an image of a man in my mind that I find intriguing, and I mentally audition him for one of the lead roles. If I find he is a good fit, I next need to find a character that will best compliment and contrast him. This character needs to be capable of bringing him to his highest and lowest extremes, so we can see how he will survive.
Interestingly, you said that Liam is the type of character we’d all like to be, however, I see myself as “wanting to be” the character with whom Liam falls in love, so that Liam can be mine. I relate to the character most often who is the narrator, if there is only one, and the more emotionally accessible narrator if the novel has alternating viewpoints. So, in creating the hero, or “my hero,” Liam, I know he will be the strong, dominant quiet type, who does not typically go over the top because to me, that is not how this hero would behave. Often, though, two characters save each other, and in that way they serve as each other’s heroes.
CDP: You have succeeded in crossing over from Young Adult to Adult fiction, is this step based on your personal life, considering that your own children are now adults?
MK: That’s an interesting question, and an interesting way of looking at it, but I don’t think my children’s growing up has much to do with this new focus on Adult fiction.
The motivation is largely topic-related. As you know, The Art of Hero Worship deals with several topics which I wanted to illustrate as being dealt with by adults. Liam and Jason are in college, so truly this book is a New Adult book.
They are setting off on their own for the first time, leaving their families, and discovering who they are. I didn’t want a constant parental presence to be beside them during this period of self-discovery. I wanted to look at how two young men endure their troubles and face new challenges on their own.
In this book, the topics address how adults handle a mass public shooting and a situation where two men bond in an indestructible way, despite the fact that they have never before considered themselves gay.
Yes, these topics could have been written from a YA perspective, but I wanted to contain a certain amount of mature detail and writing for adults gave me freedom to do this.
CDP: The complicated issue arising out of the book is one of Jason’s subservience to his hero Liam and the title is very clever. Do you first come up with a title and then write the book, or is it the other way around?
MK: Depending on the book, it can go either way. With my latest YA release, from the very beginning I knew I wanted to name the book Clean. I knew it was going to involve teenage substance abuse.
However, with The Art of Hero Worship, I thought long and hard about the title after I wrote the book. When I finally decided upon the title, I went back through the book and enhanced all of the parts that would bring to the readers’ minds the title of the book. So, again, there is not a hard and fast rule as to which comes first.
CDP: Is hero worship all sex and drama in your view?
MK: In The Art of Hero Worship, sex is definitely one way in which Jase worships his hero, Liam. He uses his body to please Liam in precisely the way Liam desires in order to be satisfied. (Happily, this also satisfies Jase’s sexual needs.) The other aspect of hero worship in this book, is emotional. In order to worship Liam’s secretive soul, Liam learns to discover important information for himself—to be patient in waiting for Liam to unfold at his own pace, to take time to think when he needs to consider his options and to allow Liam the same.
It is really an attitude of hero worship that Jase possesses, a willingness to do everything in his power to help Liam to feel cared for, sexually satisfied, and in control. In Jase and Liam’s case, this does not involve a great deal of drama in terms of emotional quarrels, but instead, some patience, some biting of the tongue, and a great deal of sexual openness.
CDP: Are you considering writing another gay adult book?
MK: Absolutely. I have several ideas with regard to the relationship dynamics I want to explore, and one of these is the relationship between a gender fluid man and a pansexual man. I have done a great deal of research on different aspects of this topic and am now forming the story. I would like to again explore a lesbian romance, possible adult, as I received a Rainbow Award for best YA Lesbian Fiction for 2015 with Come To My Window.
CDP: Shakespeare so well put it in "As You Like It",
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...
then, we are all heroes, or central figures in our own lives. We are the players on the stage of our life. Yet, many of us insist on living our lives as if we are a Cinderella type of main character... you know the one who is looked down upon, despised, taken advantage of, not loved, not appreciated, etc. etc. Yet if we are the hero, then we can take charge of the situation and plunge ahead and make changes -- we can rescue the fair maiden or lost soul and raise them (lost parts of ourselves) to a better life. Did you write Liam with this in mind?
MK: This is a fantastic and thoughtful question, and I will focus largely on the last line of the quotation, “And one man in his time plays many parts,” as Jason and Liam each play different roles at different times in The Art of Hero Worship.
Interestingly, I see both Liam and Jason as part active hero and part “Cinderella in need of saving.” At first glance, Liam appears to be the strong and brave, and very obvious, hero, taking charge of dangerous situations and plunging ahead into their relationship without hesitation.
The situations in which he thrives include life threatening ones, as well as relationship igniting (as he is willing to take a risk) and sexual situations. He seems to know exactly what he wants and what to do, where Jason is hesistant, waiting for direction, and in need of assistance.
However, as the story unfolds, the readers will find that Liam is in need of a different sort of saving, which only Jason can provide. He needs to be rescued from the demons that plague his mind, and have plagued him since a family tragedy occurred in his freshman year of high school.
Jason, is the perfect man to apply a sense of reason to Liam’s mental torture, and to embrace the need for emotional openness in their flegling relationship.
CDP: Yet, it is Jason who realizes that Liam can't stay behind and wait for someone else to rescue Liam. Just as we can't close the door and hope it all takes care of itself. Jason understands that Liam is not happy with something in his life and Jason also knows that it is up to him to take a step forward toward creating the life Liam wants for himself. Do you feel this is intrusive?
MK: Yes, Jason is intrusive. He recognizes that Liam continually shuts him out, in terms of what is causing his great emotional pain, and Jason cannot accept this.
He also sees that Liam’s pain is harming their status as an intimate couple, which is also unacceptable. So Jason pokes his nose into what Liam does not consider his business. However, Jason does so as he believes it is the only way he can save them.
Finally, Jason must draw a line in the sand when he feels he can take Liam’s tendency toward secretiveness and compulsive heroism no longer.
CDP: A hero never gives up. A hero keeps on, past adversity, past losses, past apparent defeat, and keeps on until the situation is resolved.
Who do you feel is the real hero in the book?
MK: I really do hate to choose! In honesty, I believe there are two heroes in The Art of Hero Worship. There is an obvious and active hero, who is willing to risk his life to save people and to risk his pride by taking a chance on a new kind of love. And there is a hero of the heart, who pushes the couple’s fledgling bond as far as it needs to go to survive.
One hero sets the ball in motion, risking his safety and pride, and the other picks the ball up when it rolls by the wayside, and carries it down the field. Without both of these heroes, this relationship could not work.
CDP: Lastly. The message you so succinctly put across in the book is, in my view, that we are the heroes in our own lives. We have to pull ourselves up and do what it takes to make a difference in our own lives, and in the lives of the people around us, and in the life of this planet.
The time is over when we waited around for some other hero to rescue us.... All heroes are busy in their own lives. We must come to our own rescue. Would you agree with this?
MK: By demonstrating that two very different men become heroes in two very different ways in this microcosm of a world where Jason and Liam live, I am establishing my belief that everyone has the potential to be a hero in their own life, as well in the lives of those around them.
I am aware that not everyone is the active hero, willing to put himself at physical risk. And not everyone is willing to try something new, or to take an existing relationship and mold it until it is something stronger.
But all people have the potential to be their own type of hero. However, I also believe that there are some people who step back and do not embrace the role of hero in any way, shape, or form.
Readers will meet these characters in The Art of Hero Worship. They do not possess the physical or emotional fortitude to save themselves or others. They can see no worthiness to the risk of changing the environment in which they presently live. So, although I do believe we can all be our own and other peoples’ heroes, we can just as easily refuse to see ourselves as heroes and fall from the challenge.