Heartless & Clueless: the Keeping Secrets Series
For gay teens in the South, Erwin High School is as good as it gets. The prevailing liberalism means being gay doesn’t have to be the focus of your life—which frees up seventeen-year-old Jason Strummer to take on the role of bully. Jason understands his beauty and power and has a reputation to match his attitude. No one but his best friend suspects the cruelty Jason hides behind is a ruse to keep his hellish private life out of the public eye.
Jason has only loved one boy in his life, and that crush on Tommy Johnson ended so badly that they’re no longer on speaking terms. When an ex-lover threatens Jason and Tommy steps in to help, the heartless playboy can’t help but fall a little bit back in love with him—but Jason will have to choose between keeping Tommy or his illusions.
Welcome to Asheville, North Carolina, home of the Erwin Warriors. I thought I’d pop over to give a brief tour of the city where the Keeping Secrets series takes place and to share some of Jason, Tommy, and the rest of the Erwin crew’s haunts. Asheville is located in the western part of North Carolina nestled between the hills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up within a stone’s throw of the city. Needless to say, it’s near and dear to my heart. So it only made sense that Jason and Tommy would live in and around my old stomping grounds.
“Let me just say this as a disclaimer: We lived in Asheville, North Carolina. For those of you who have never been to Asheville let me explain to you why this is significant. Asheville may be located in the middle of redneck country but they call it the San Francisco of the South. It has an abundance of three things, great food, hippies, and gays. So when I say that going to Erwin High allowed for more liberal minded social norms such as Kevin having a gay best friend and my punk rocker friends to be on the football team I’m not kidding.”- Jason, Heartless
Jason isn’t kidding when he describes Asheville that way. A lot of my characters from Erwin wouldn’t have been able to be so open minded about their sexuality if they hadn’t grown up and been immersed in the accepting nature of the city. The Pride festival that Tommy and Jason attend in Fearless [Keeping Secrets 3] is one of my favorite scenes in the new book. The picture on the right shows the real deal from last year.
“When I said I was a social glutton, I wasn’t kidding and the drum circle that was put on every Friday night by the locals was like my heroine. There were always at least thirty to forty people there. During the summer the park would cram full of people, hundreds of them, and they would all drink and trip and drum the night away.
The rhythm always got into my blood and it would never take long before my hips were swaying to the beat. I would inevitably find myself grinding and gyrating for the crowd. I loved it. I was an attention whore that way.” –Jason, Heartless
Another fun haunt that Jason is particularly fond of is the drum circle that takes place in the city center. As you can see, it can get quite crowded and Jason affectionately refers to it as his “Club” and it’s easy to understand why. The sounds of a dozen drummers working toward the same rhythm and song can get a lot louder than any sound system in a night club and the atmosphere can get just as rowdy. The mix of people and energy is something Jason uses to let loose and relax after a hard day and I promise that there will be more of the energetic event in future books.
““Take em’ down, baby!” I shouted, raising hell from the brown wooden benches above the chaos going on below. I was wearing Tommy’s letterman jacket and screaming my head off.”- Jason, Fearless
The boys go to Erwin High and the school colors are red and white. The mascot is the Erwin Warrior. Since Tommy is an athlete, school pride is par for the course. Though Jason is too cool to do the sport thing, Tommy is on the swim team and the wrestling team and is hoping for a scholarship in the former. You’ll find a lot of Erwin memorabilia in Tommy’s room including his prized letterman jacket and a few Erwin athletic tees.
“We pulled into his driveway in little under fifteen minutes. Biltmore forest was a section of town similar to how I’d imagined Beverly Hills was to L.A. It was an exclusive zip code which came complete with twenty-four hour security, extremely well maintained sidewalks, and absolutely no loitering whatsoever. Oh, and a friggin private lake.”- Jason, Heartless
And last but not least on our little tour of Asheville, Kevin’s house in Biltmore Forest. This exclusive neighborhood was definitely the inspiration for where my wealthier characters called home. The house on the left is Kevin’s. His wing of the house is upstairs, the left set of rooms. Jason and Tommy are all in a little bit of awe every time they go to hang out at Kevin’s place. It’s easy to understand why. The place is downright stately with its white columns and well-manicured lawn. Houses like this are in abundance around the area.
And that is my tour of Asheville and the world of Keeping Secrets. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Asheville is a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of reality, and a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth checking out if you ever get the urge to go somewhere off the beaten path.