During an abbreviated stay on DeviantArt, the biggest social media platform for artists and art aficionados, I encountered Steven Amoxes, an incredibly gifted and prolific painter. Amoxes’s decades-long pursuit of artistic expression has resulted in a multifaceted career of staggering variety. Through detailed portraiture and abstract character art, visual snippets of quotidien life and sweeping mystical journeys, captured moments of subtle sensuality and overt eroticism, Amoxes expands the viewer’s perception to include the existence of alternate realms colored within the shared space of human experience. 

This December, Steven Amoxes granted me the privilege of learning more about his creative process, his many muses, and his origin story.

Artist Spotlight: Steven Amoxes

Interview by R. N. Jayne

Hello, Steven. Welcome to my Artist Spotlight. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. First up: what’s your first memory of art?
There are two sides of this story so I’ll share the positive one. My first experience with art was in kindergarten. I remember we had a paint day and all of us were positioned in front of easels with all the paint and brushes we needed. It was a strange moment for me because somehow, I had a vivid memory that I’d done this before; I felt quite confident.

That feeling changed when my attempt at doing a beautiful portrait ended with a whole bunch of scribbles. Perhaps if we had turned the painting around and looked at it for a long time, it would have eventually resembled the abstract face of a squirrel? This first attempt (which was in my eyes a total disaster) made me quite upset lol. In my mind I knew how to do it, but was not able to show my skill. It was weird.

I can imagine that would have been a jarring experience for your youthful self! On the subject of childhood, what were some of your most beloved early experiences that helped shape your artistic vision?
I think the opportunity I had to travel at a very young age, seeing nature, getting out of the city by myself and taking those long Greyhound bus rides affected my view of the world and my art. Also, the friendship I had with my late mother played an important role. My mother was very spiritual. She was from a Native American background and had her own view on life. She helped me open my eyes to the visible and invisible at a young age; that triggered some type of awakening over time. Perhaps it’s the reason I can paint so often these days.

Nascent artists learn through trial and error, observing and imitating others until they find their own style. Which masters did you emulate during your formative years?
Mostly Italian Renaissance painters and lots of ancient Chinese and Japanese artists. For many years, in primary and high school, you could say I was obsessed.

Name an artist who grew on you after repeated viewings of their work.
There are many, but I’ll stick to two: Gustave Doré, a French artist, printmaker, illustrator, painter, comics artist, caricaturist, and sculptor; and David A. Trampier a.k.a. DAT, famous illustrator for D&D. The reason they grew on me so much (and still do today) was because they were able to take me away to their world of imagination. As a kid I would look at their work and really feel everything, like I was there. They made the art became real for me and kept my imagination going. This inspired me to explore my own imagination even more.

Some of the titles of your works allude to characters of mythical proportion, legendary figures, and magical lands. Please elaborate on your fascination with depicting fantasy in a visual format.
The names I choose are always inspired by the moment. As soon as a painting is done, somehow its name appears in my mind. Neither the paintings (except for commissions) nor their titles are planned: they are almost whispered to me from some type of muse. Also, I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and sci-fi since I was a kid, so my imagination runs wild.

The tapestries of your imagination are richly woven. Does your inspiration originate from visual, tactile, or mental stimuli?
All three—and I would also add spiritual to the mix. I’ve explored painting, sculpting, writing and music, and find each one of them stimulating. They keep the body, mind and soul energized.

Do you choose your muses, or do they choose you?
It’s a good question. To this day, I still try to figure it out. Sometimes I’ll be confident in saying I choose them, other times it’s the muse choosing me. You know, when I start painting in the morning each day, I really never know or plan what I’ll paint, so perhaps there is a muse thing going on there.

Regarding your penchant for portraits, I’m wondering why you mostly paint women.
Many people have asked various questions about the why’s, but I really don’t know. As long as I can remember, I’ve always painted women. Some people paint landscapes or animals; I love painting women, they are just an endless source of inspiration.

Name a favorite artwork of yours, and explain what makes it special to you.
It’s called The Student. I painted it over twenty-five years ago and it was a portrait of a close friend at the time. I probably worked on that painting on and off for two years. I like it so much because it was my very first attempt to create a full Renaissance portrait. I put in everything I had at the time to make it as beautiful and real as possible, not overlooking any details in the process. Also, it was my mother’s favorite because she said it had a very romantic feel to it and made her dream each time she looked at it.

I can understand why The Student has great emotional and personal value to you. While perusing your gallery, I noticed your painting style has shifted to include more abstract works. What attracted you to creating this type of art?
Yes, my work has changed over the years—without any planning, it gradually went to a more abstract style. I guess the main reason would be that after so many years painting portraits and being technical, I needed to unchain my mind and let my soul speak. When I paint abstract, I have a big sense of freedom. It’s one thing to know how to draw a line, but it’s another thing to feel it. This is where I’m at now: I’m no longer looking for perfection or a specific technique. I let my soul loose and let the paint flow. In a way, I find my abstract work better represents who I am, if that makes sense. I’ll always enjoy painting portraits. However, I’m hooked on the abstracts.

Judging from your fanbase, you’re not the only one who’s hooked! As an aside, I must tell you I greatly admire your abstract work. The passion you feel for your craft translates beyond the canvas. Besides visual, what is your favorite form of art?
Without a doubt, music. You could say I’m a frustrated musician. Music is a major important key in my life and I think most we agree that music is a universal language. Sometimes you don’t even need to understand the words of a song for it to be powerful and make you feel.

I like the sound of that. Now this is a stretch, but imagine you were physically unable to paint. How would you express your creative self?
Good question. If possible, I would share my artistic knowledge to whoever would need it to help people out.

You recently participated in an artistic collaboration with your longtime friend Jean-François “Jeff” Turgeon, author of your joint publication Sauve-Qui-Peut. Which particular poem(s) of his inspired the most personal illustrations you created for this book?
The poems that inspired me the most are from the section of the book called “La Plage” (which means “The Beach”). Jeff wrote those poems at the beach during the summer of 2020 about events that really happened. The beach, which is a small spot hidden near the port of the city, is a mysterious place. It has a very strong positive energy all around it. Walking there always makes us feel good and we noticed it has brought us good luck. Also, little things wash up on the shore: old broken pipes from the seventeenth century, beads, plates and other curiosities. It didn’t take much to activate our imaginations.

Which other places have their hooks in you?
Cuba would be on the top of the list.

Smoking—in particular, smoking Cuban cigars—is a common occurence in a certain sect of your works. It seems you have a sizeable affinity for Cubanas!
I’ve been smoking cigars for a long time. My passion for the leaf is going on 30 years lol. As my interest grew, I added that passion into my art. Smoking cigars allowed me to meet some of the best people who have come into my life—the cigar lifestyle includes a great community. Also, my passion allowed me to create some of my best commissions. Cuba was great because for the first time, I could visit the tobacco plantations and see the whole cigar-making process. From there, I kept educating myself about cigars and kept meeting awesome people. My best experience with cigars and art was (and still is) with Tobaccology, a cigar shop situated in Manassas, Virginia. I still do commissions for them from time to time.

Having nutured a creative career for decades, you have likely seen your share of struggles. Have you ever wanted to quit making art?
I went through many hard times that included tremendous sacrifices. To answer your question: No. I promised myself at a very young age that I’d never give up no matter what and here we are today.

If you could time travel, which era would you want to visit?
I would go back in 1987 and have an important conversation with my younger self and my mom.

Who were you in a hypothetical past life?
My recent memories are from Asia.

In closing, what are the key components of a life well-lived?
Learning to know who you really are, making sure you keep a positive attitude, and love—without it, nothing grows.

Thank you so much for your time, Steven. I look forward to discovering your future creations.
I really appreciated this interview and enjoyed doing it. Thank you!

Listen to your heart © Steven Amoxes

© Steven Amoxes

Artist Bio

I’m a self-taught Canadian painter from Native American, Cajun and Italian background. My family roots and strong interest in every culture from around the world have inspired me in many ways in my artistic and personal evolution. I’ve used the hard and easy experiences in my life to better understand myself and others and include this in my art. After spending years of exploring, practicing and studying different styles and techniques, I’m slowly creating my own signature in my artwork.

When painting I don’t look for perfection, each artwork is painted with the feeling of the moment. I never know how the results will be, which for me makes it authentic. My purpose in this life is to color the world, everyone has beauty and I hope through my work I’m able to transfer some of it in my paintings.

RedBubble Shop


New Book Release: Sauve-Qui-Peut

(the above link leads to author Jean-François Turgeon’s FB page; message him for more details, purchase information, etc.)


Cover art © Steven Amoxes

Poetry by Jean-François Turgeon

Illustrations by Steven Amoxes

Next on Artist Spotlight: alcohol ink artist Paula Neys

Stay tuned!




Deux (MASTER, Book 4)

Available for purchase at online bookstores and in paperback on Amazon 12/17/2021.

Cover image © George Cotronis


He dropped pretenses like fake smiles and bared his fangs.

The scent of fresh death fills LA’s streets as celebrity bloodsuckers Raiden and Gabriel begin production on Luna Sunset, Gabriel’s cinematic labor of love (and lust).

At the same time, Raiden’s estranged maker Justus and his wife/prisoner Naomi covertly track the costars’ location.

Unaware of their imperiled state, Raiden and Gabriel explore their altered alliance against the backdrop of palm trees and plentiful prey. A shocking discovery deepens the duo’s blood bond, their resistance crumbling as their desire crystallizes: Raiden and Gabriel abandon their defenses—and tragedy strikes.

Read an excerpt.

Special Sale on Smashwords: the epub versions (compatible with most eReaders) of all the books in The MASTER Series are deeply discounted Continue reading “New Release: DEUX (MASTER, Book 4)”

“Poison” & “Poison II: Spring”

Coming to Amazon Kindle 12/24/2020.

Winter has arrived, and I come bearing news of three re-releases from my heyday as former pseud Jane Bled: “Poison,”  “Poison II” Spring,” and Naomi , the third installment in  The MASTER Series. Jane Bled has long since left the premises, but I remain in her stead. Her spirit is intact inasmuch as her bones are safely in my keeping. Since Autumn, I’ve only published works in my new name; it is my intention to keep J.B. buried, since I have outgrown her. May she rest in peace.

Though I tend to be tight-lipped about my reasons for writing what I do, I feel the need to share the preface found in the latest version of my mildly controversial erotic anti-romance “Poison.” Now I know everyone won’t enjoy my work, but it truly blows my mind to see this story on people’s shelves under “MM Romance.” No sarcasm meant: is that a joke?!

Continue reading “Holiday Releases: “Poison,” “Poison II: Spring,” & Naomi (MASTER, Book 3)”

My Dark VanessaMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa explores the trope of middle-aged-man-seduces-young-girl through the abused party’s perspective. Narrator Vanessa, deliberately blind to her own mistreatment, scorns and rejects the common labels of “victim” and “survivor.” Instead, she chooses to see herself as a complicit party in a mutually desired relationship. The novel evokes inevitable comparisons to Lolita; however, it does not recreate Vladimir Nabokov‘s vision (though author Kate Elizabeth Russell certainly pays homage to it in certain scenes).

My friend and I were recently chatting about books and she revealed Lolita was a “fantasy read”—and confessed she wished the main seduction scene contained more heat. I was nonplussed. Did we read the same book? From my perspective, Lolita is essentially a tragedy with comedic and satiric elements. Its implicit eroticism is heightened by Vladimir Nabokov‘s prose, but it’s not a hot and sexy romance meant to inspire arousal. To each her own…though in all honesty, my friend’s opinion disturbs me, because it epitomizes deliberate misinterpretation of an author’s intent, and fetishizes hebephelia.

In My Dark Vanessa, there are numerous references to Vladimir Nabokov‘s work (particularly, Lolita and Pale Fire), since teacher Jacob Strane uses these novels to groom student Vanessa into normalizing a forbidden love mentality. “Poor Mr. Strane” can’t help his cravings. What bad luck, to fall in love with a teenager! He doesn’t desire to seduce other students: he’s only in love with her. Or so Vanessa first believes…

My Dark Vanessa is not written to titillate. In fact, I struggled with nausea each time Strane made advances on his “special” pupil. Their sex scenes are not overly graphic, but they definitely contain the “ick” factor. The slow build and subsequent consummation of the main characters’ sexual and emotional relationship is written at a queasy pace (deliberate enough to draw out the tension—once the seduction reaches its climax, events rapidly escalate to a point of no return).

What seems like a series of glaring red flags to world-wise adults is interpreted as beacons of romantic possibility to lonely, naïve young Vanessa. Alternating between flashbacks and the present effectively illustrates the extent of the psychological damage Vanessa has incurred. It’s a fairly realistic portrayal of an unstable young woman unable to let go of her “first love”, since he made such a formative impression on her at a pivotal age during the height of her vulnerability. She clings to the memory of their relationship well into adulthood, and returns to him time and again even after he discards her for new conquests.

Kate Elizabeth Russell‘s debut novel is both a cautionary tale and fictional exploration of how those in power (such as teachers, and other figures of authority brought to public shame for their egregious transgressions during the #MeToo era) can exploit their privilege and status as leverage to sow seeds of doubt in their accusers’ credibility. It’s all too easy to imagine how frequently this type of teacher/student situation arises in both public and private academic settings. And easier still to imagine school scandals swept under the rug by self-serving administrations choosing to silence whistleblowers and protect their own reputations over revealing explosive, damaging truths about staff members.

Though the pacing lagged during the last third of the book, I nevertheless continued to turn the page at a steady rate. I rooted for Vanessa’s rejection of her self-imposed denial, yet found myself frustrated with her stagnancy and stubborn refusal to see Strane for what he was (a serial sexual and emotional predator of young women). At the same time, I understand how deep-seated trauma can result in the deepest form of denial and ultimately impede a person’s ability to grow and change. The book’s ending is less of a resolution than some readers might find satisfactory, but it’s realistic in the sense that the grieving process is complicated (therefore, healing through acceptance can be difficult to achieve).

All in all, My Dark Vanessa is a solid debut novel that offers a compelling, memorable read. The subject matter is as relevant now as I suspect it will prove in the years to come, since the #MeToo movement has only just begun.

View all my reviews


If you celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Today I come bearing news of another new release right on the heels of “Primer.” Luna, the second installment in LGBTQ vampire series MASTER, is officially back online. When I first published Luna back in 2014, it was embarrassingly riddled with typos, format issues, and the occasional grammatical error. Since I enlisted the services of Reedsy freelance editor Beth Dorward this time around, I’m confident the second edition of Luna is a superior reading experience. In addition to adding about 10K words of previously unpublished backstory regarding how rock star vampire Raiden honed his killing skills under the coercive influence of his bad-to-the-bone maker Justus, I’ve polished up the present-day interaction between Raiden and his hotheaded protégé Gabriel.

Bonus! I made a book trailer. Be forewarned: there are spoilers in the trailer relevant to both Luna and Crimson (MASTER, Book 1). If you’re unfamiliar with the story, I suggest reading Crimson first. Check out the Crimson book trailer for a peek at the plot. Furthermore, I invite you to indulge in a free copy of Crimson on Smashwords (epub format). Since I’m feeling extra giving, I decided to put Luna on sale for 50% off as well. The last day of this two-book Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale is 11/30—please don’t hesitate to download your free copy of Crimson and grab Luna while it’s 50% off. In return, if you’d be so kind as to leave me a rating and/or review to help spread the word about my books, I’d greatly appreciate it. 

In case you missed it, I released the “Primer” trailer yesterday. Near the end of this blog post, I’ve provided a brief synopsis of that story as well. And…surprise! “Primer” is free today on Amazon Kindle. I’m super-curious to know what readers think of this story, as it’s my first attempt at penning erotica featuring explicit sex scenes with both f/f and hetero pairings. My test readers went wild for it, but one of them was definitely biased, since I wrote the story per his commission req’s. 😉

Back to the main point of this post: Luna’s release! Scroll past the book description to view the trailer, read an excerpt, and find the purchase links. Don’t forget about that special Smashwords sale I’m hosting until 11/30. Happy perusing!

Cover art © George Cotronis

Luna (MASTER, Book 2)

Release Date: 11/27/2020.

Genres: LGBTQ/Vampire/Horror/Dark Fantasy/Paranormal/Contemporary

Description: A fledgling vampire needs a seasoned mentor to help him hone his homicidal instincts. The scent of blood is both an incentive for murder, and a potent aphrodisiac…opposites attract.

In the present, rock star Raiden and his reluctant sidekick, celebrity actor Gabriel Colin, encounter various challenges while attempting to conceal their criminal activities. Their shared proclivities provide fodder for the potential formation of a bond beyond necessity.

Stalking humans to satisfy Raiden’s need for blood is a means to an end—but who provided the blueprint for his methodology? Snapshots of the singer’s past reveal further details of his transformation; and once again bring him face to face with Justus, the master vampire who orchestrated his fiancée’s demise.

Amid two timelines, the tension between maker and creation intensifies, exploding into degenerate violence—and surprising passion.

Read an excerpt from Luna.

Purchase links:

Luna on Smashwords (50% off)

Luna on Kindle

Luna in paperback

Luna at your preferred online bookstore

Cover image © Kuzmin Pavel


Release Date: 11/26/2020

Genres: Bisexual Erotica/Romance/Contemporary/Humor

Book description: Carmen is a sassy late-bloomer beleaguered by an increasingly monotonous existence and unrelieved sexual frustration. During an impulsive night on the town, she encounters Stefan, a darkly handsome, lyrics-quoting tech nerd. Exploring a potential hookup with Stefan might provide the inspiration Carmen requires to stop obsessing over a year-old one-night stand with temptress Yumi…especially if this seductive new suitor can satisfy her filthiest roleplay fantasies.

Warning: The following short story contains explicit sexual content, including student/teacher fetish, spanking, and f/f. Reader discretion is highly advised.

Read “Primer” on Kindle

And finally…

With less than five weeks left until the birth of my third child, I’m doing my best to stay ahead of the curve and republish previous works (all the while writing new ones, such as the sequel to “Primer,” MASTER Books 4 & 5, and finishing unpublished works The Second Best Thing and Bare Possibilities). Wish me luck!

R. N. Jayne

“Primer” releases today on Kindle!

Free for Amazon Prime members.

I’m bustin’ out the Cook’s champagne (don’t judge—it’s going in the turkey my husband insists on preparing for Thanksgiving) to celebrate the release of my commissioned erotic short story “Primer.” Speaking of giving thanks, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the folks who have added my stories on Goodreads, reviewed my works, or engaged in positive interactions with me since I restarted my writing career. I am thankful for your time and attention. Writing is one of my dearest loves, and sharing it with others brings me much satisfaction. That being said, I am also thankful for the health and safety of my family. As I prepare to introduce my baby-in-waiting to the world outside the womb, I am reminded that, despite the future’s daunting uncertainty, I can find reasons to smile. Reasons to savor moments of happiness. Reasons to keep growing, learning, and living. 

And now, I present to you…the book trailer for “Primer.” I’m rather pleased with my efforts. The biggest challenge I encountered was finding the appropriate background music within the limits of Windows Video Editor. Lo and behold, when I uploaded my trailer to YouTube, I realized I could have used one of the free music tracks the site offers. I’m curious—if you make book trailers, where do you find your soundtracks? I’m pretty anal about ensuring the timing of the music matches the flow of the images. It seems that effect may prove difficult to achieve if I assemble the trailer first and then match the royalty-free YouTube music with it upon uploading…or maybe there exists a key step that will simplify this. Anyway, I’d appreciate any advice on trailer-making. 

Scroll down past the description of “Primer” to view the trailer, or watch it on YouTube.

Cover image © Kuzmin Pavel

Release Date: 11/26/2020

Genres: Bisexual Erotica/Romance/Contemporary/Humor/Short Stories

Book description: Carmen is a sassy late-bloomer beleaguered by an increasingly monotonous existence and unrelieved sexual frustration. During an impulsive night on the town, she encounters Stefan, a darkly handsome, lyrics-quoting tech nerd. Exploring a potential hookup with Stefan might provide the inspiration Carmen requires to stop obsessing over a year-old one-night stand with temptress Yumi…especially if this seductive new suitor can satisfy her filthiest roleplay fantasies.

Warning: The following short story contains explicit sexual content, including student/teacher fetish, spanking, and f/f. Reader discretion is highly advised.

Read “Primer” on Kindle

In related news, I also made a book trailer for another new release: Luna, the second installment in my LGBTQ vampire series MASTER. You can read an excerpt on my blog. Luna releases on digital platforms worldwide and in paperback on Amazon 11/27/2020.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, please have a safe and happy one. Cheers!

“Primer” Backstory

This tasty nugget of naughty student/teacher RP erotica began as a commission and took on a life of its own when I merged it with snippets of a lesbian romance simmering in the margins of my story scraps. I completed “Primer” last year; like a fine wine (or in this case, a wine that gets you uber-drunk), I let it breathe until I felt ready to share it. “Primer” marks my first foray into erotica told from the perspective of a female character. Up to this point, I had mainly stayed in my comfort zone, focusing on m/m relationships, but the person I created this commission for convinced me that it was high time to switch perspectives. As a result, I created a bisexual lead character: hot-to-trot, tongue-in-cheek college girl Carmen, who recounts (via unsent letters) her one-stand with gorgeous heartbreaker Yumi. Meanwhile, she meets hottie Stefan at a local bar, and feels an instant chemistry with him—especially when he offers to play the leading man in her student/teacher fetish fiction. With a sequel 1/3 of the way penned, it’s clear I’m not done with these characters yet. 😉

Story Word Count: 17,000

Genres: Erotica/Romance/Bisexual/Contemporary/Humor/Short Story

Warning: The following excerpt contains NSFW material, including strong language and allusions to sexual situations. Reader discretion is highly advised.

Cover image ©  Kuzmin Pavel

Continue reading “Excerpt: “Primer” (Erotica)”

As I gear up to release Luna, the second book in my LGBTQ vampire series MASTER, I’m grateful to have the expertise of inestimable editor Beth Dorward and the artistic vision of cover artist George Cotronis. Getting my feet wet with indie publishing via Reesdy hasn’t been easy, but I’m ultimately glad I decided to go this route. Sink or swim, I’m here for the long haul.

Today, I come bearing fruit from Luna (release date 11/27/2020). The following brand-new excerpt follows singer-cum-vampire Raiden as he pursues his next meal in Nagoya, Japan. What he doesn’t realize: someone else is simultaneously stalking him.

Genres: LGBTQ/Horror/Dark Fantasy/Paranormal/Contemporary

Warning: Allusions to drug abuse and violence. Reader discretion is advised.

Cover art by George Cotronis

Continue reading “Excerpt from Luna (MASTER, Book 2)”


by R. N. Jayne


I’m having that nightmare again—the one where I’m lost in the woods. Only I’m not on dry land: I’m underwater. The forest grows tentacles. These wooden jellyfish have arms like boughs. They reach for me. Tangle my hair. Pull me down.

Drowning, I choke on my love’s name. 


Phelia’s trying on a headpiece for her dungeon mistress Halloween costume. She fiddles with the formidable crown of spikes. I wonder who she wants to repel with this getup. Maybe she wants to people to think she’s impenetrable.

It’s been seven months since my passing. I should be jealous, thinking of her in potential romantic relationships with others. I’m not. It’s only natural for her to move on. I’ve watched her grieve, curled up in the quilt I made last spring, rubbing the fading hand-embroidered squares against her lips like she could absorb them into the fabric of her skin. I’ve leaned in to kiss her, to be rebuffed by her defensive self-hug against an attack of goosebumps. She was reacting to the sudden drop of temperature my presence incurs. Perhaps.

I wish I could slip into Phelia’s music apps—I’d send her a playlist. This is what I’m feeling for you right now, I’d tell her. Nothing’s changed; except I miss you more. I don’t need a body to hold you. I’m gone, but I can’t leave.

She considers a matching necklace: choker-style, smaller spikes; but it will truncate her slim, strong dancer’s neck. I see the one I want her to try. It’s a deep orange pendant flecked with burgundy and cat’s eye yellow. I imagine it against her bronzed skin.

“Choose that one,” I murmur into her ear. “It will bring out your eyes.” Continue reading “Halloween Short Story: “Phelia””

ApartmentApartment by Teddy Wayne 
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars, rounded up.

This page-turning character study, ode to loneliness, and quasi-exploration of toxic masculinity’s detrimental effect on guy-guy platonic relationships makes for a fascinating read. Author Teddy Wayne has an aptitude for displaying painful truths and sharp observations with candid, witty prose. Of all his novels, this is my favorite to-date.

I’ve often wondered at the inscrutable bonds shared between men, especially straight men. In American society, there seems to be a code of conduct that I, as a woman, have never been taught. It mystified me when my late-teens guy friends would sit one seat apart (with a “buffer seat” in between) at the movies. When I asked them why they did that, they looked at me like I was nuts.

“Because,” one of them told me, “we’re guys.”

“Yeah,” the other chimed in. “We need our space.”

“Is this, like, a stretching-out-your-legs thing?” I asked.

They both shook their heads.

“It’s just a guy thing,” the first one reiterated. “You wouldn’t understand.”

He’s right—I didn’t. (And still don’t.) But in Apartment, Teddy Wayne’s approach to the often-unspoken intricacies found in certain male-male friendships gave me a bit more insight. It’s the fear of being vulnerable and/or emasculated that keeps the main characters—awkward, introspective Unnamed Narrator, and laconic, unworldly Billy—from building upon their intimacy in way that doesn’t feel like a power exchange.

Unnamed Narrator is that quintessential outskirts-guy who hasn’t opened himself up to close friendships or romantic relationships due to serious daddy issues and a weak sense of self. He’s also somewhat spoon-fed, since the same father who abandoned him in young adulthood is now responsible for footing the bill on his rent-controlled New York apartment. He’s aware of his privilege—even experiences guilt because of it—but also resents thinking of himself as privileged. All the while, he’s trying to make his mark in the collegiate writing world (which he assumes to be little more than a pipe dream, considering the lackluster reception his stories receive).

In a crucial moment of enduring scathing literary criticism from his professor and classmates, the narrator feels particularly insecure and humiliated; then a fellow student, the effortlessly charismatic, blue-collar Billy, comes to his defense. Billy’s casually offered snippet of praise supplies the narrator with much-desired hope for his authorial future. An affinity between the two aspiring writers—lubricated by large quantities of alcohol, shared paternal abandonment issues, and similar social detachment strategies—rapidly develops. Unnamed Narrator impulsively offers Billy to become his rent-free roommate with the condition that Billy cleans once a week and pays for some groceries.

At first, the arrangement seems solid: the roommates have fun hanging out while maintaining productivity in their writing. Billy is the more talented of the two, but he doesn’t flaunt his superior craftsmanship, which increases Unnamed Narrator’s respect and admiration for him. Their dynamic is a classic case of hero worship mixed with the giddiness of a new friendship’s “honeymoon period.”

Time passes and their relationship deepens; however, the narrator increasingly offers Billy financial assistance, and the imbalance that was present from the inception of their acquaintance grows outwardly problematic. Their fundamental differences in personality, world view, and upbringing become clearer, until the slow-building conflict between them gives way to a quietly devastating conclusion.

Apartment is one of those sleeper hits you might think to underestimate before realizing it hooked its claws into your heart from the start. It’s honest and observant in a way that can wound the reader, because it’s easy to imagine this scenario unfolding in real life (and variations of it already have). People will sometimes resort to desperate measures to feel less lonely; and the consequences of these actions can ultimately influence future relationships—not only with others, but with oneself.

View all my reviews