The Italian Word for Kisses
Matthew J. Metzger
Length of Book: 80,000 words
Genre: young adult, gay romance
About the Author:
Matthew J. Metzger is an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the wet and windy British Isles. He writes both adult and young adult LGBT fiction, with a particular fondness for writing about people and places that don’t usually make it into romantic fiction: the council estates, the mentally ill, the people solving problems with their fists, and finding love on the local Arriva bus route.
The Italian Word for Kisses:
It’s no secret Tav and Luca are going out. After the accident, it’s also no secret that new kid Jack Collins has a raging case of homophobia, and is not best pleased about having given the kiss of life to a gay guy. Either Luca quits swimming, or Jack is going to make him.
Tav favours the tried-and-true method of knocking Jack’s teeth down his neck, only he can’t really afford another school suspension. Luca favours just ignoring him, only ignoring a penknife being held to your throat at New Year’s Eve is downright stupid.
Thing is, Luca suspects Jack is a victim of something himself. And time is running out for Luca to get through to Jack, before Jack gets rid of him.
The bang of the changing room door and the amiable greeting from one of the other boys caught Luca’s attention, but the sudden, sharp silence made his blood run cold. All at once, Luca was both afraid, and angry with himself for being afraid. So he squared his shoulders and turned on his heel, folding his arms over his chest and meeting Jack’s scowl with a glower of his own.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jack snarled.
“Fuckin’ swimming. What about you?”
“I told you not to come.”
It was like the rest of the team didn’t exist. Luca didn’t dare break eye contact, and Jack ― although he tossed his bag onto a bench and unzipped his jacket, was zeroed in on Luca in a way that made the hairs on Luca’s arms stand on end.
“Dunno what kinky shit you’re into, Collins, but I don’t follow your orders.” Being both an older and a younger brother had made Luca able to bluff with ease, and despite the impotent anger, the tart tang of shame around the edges of his brain that this moron had somehow gotten one over him and seized some power in this stupid fucking game, his voice sounded ― even to him ― arrogant and bored.
“I said go,” Jack repeated. The other boys hovered uncertainly, but Aaron and David had both closed ranks to Luca’s shoulders, and Luca took a fortified breath. Aaron looked steely. David looked a little more confused, but determinedly hostile all the same.
“Like hell I’m going,” Luca said. “You got a problem with a pouf on the team, you need to fuck off and get your head out your arse. I’m here to swim. I’m not going nowhere.”
“What the fuck is going on?” David asked.
“Jack, mate, leave it,” one of the other boys said. “It’s just Jensen, Jensen’s sound―”
“He’s a fucking faggot, and I won’t have his kind here ― I warned you, I fucking told you, and you’re still fucking here!”
“What’s your problem, mate, he’s taken up wi’ that Chris in Jan Krawczyk’s tutor group…”
“Yeah, Jack, lay off already, who d’you reckon you are anyway, you’re new―”
“I know there’s a fucking faggot on this fucking team and I―”
“Don’t fucking call him a faggot, twat,” one of the other boys ― a lad called Ryan that Luca had never so much as spoken to outside of the club, and was in the year below them anyway ― sneered, and he shot out a hand to shove at Jack’s shoulder.
“I told you to stay away!” Jack bellowed, and his hand vanished into his unzipped jacket. “I told you, I fucking told you―”
The changing room erupted; the flick-knife flashed under the sickly halogen lights, and Luca’s back slammed into the wall of locker doors as Aaron and David shoved him back as one. Both doors ― one to the foyer and one to the pool ― banged loudly, and the bolshy kid, Ryan, lashed out with a fist, smashing into Jack’s jaw from the side. A couple of men came rampaging over from the showers in their wet trunks, all the noise bouncing off the walls until it was dizzying. Coach arrived with a shrill shriek of the whistle, and the knife had gone somewhere but Luca couldn’t tell where in the ruckus, and then Aaron’s hand was on his shoulder and he was being steered off into one corner of the changing room, and―
A flush of hot, furious shame boiled up Luca’s stomach and into his guts, and he twisted away from Aaron’s hands and grabbed for his kit bag. He didn’t need Aaron to fucking protect him. He didn’t need anyone to protect him, he wasn’t some pathetic little kid who needed their hand holding. He shouldn’t need defending, he was a Jensen! He should be able to defend himself.
He grabbed his bag and bolted. As he fled up the stairs, a burly security guard and Coach were wrestling the knife out of Jack’s hands in the corridor, both shouting at him, and Jack shouting back, face red and voice hoarse and shrill with fury.
“You fucking steer clear of me, Jensen!” he bellowed after Luca, who didn’t dare look back. “F’you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay out of here, you fucking queer!”
Luca reached the top of the stairs, and ran.
Please tell us a little bit about your current projects?
My latest release is The Italian Word for Kisses, a young adult novel about challenging homophobia. After an accident at swimming, the new kid, Jack, has to give Luca CPR. When Jack later realises that Luca is gay, he’s disgusted and tries to force him out of the swimming club and further away from Jack’s life. But Luca — and his boyfriend, Tav — is just angered by Jack’s reaction to him, and pretty much gives as good as he gets.
But then as things start escalating into real and serious violence, Luca discovers that Jack has his reasons for his beliefs, and decides to try a different tactic to get Jack to back off.
It’s quite a departure from the usual facing-homophobia stories that I’ve done before as neither of the main characters are remotely shy or retiring in the face of it. They’re both working-class Yorkshire lads, and their response to someone being a jerk to them is to effectively get into a punch-up. From that front, it was really quite fun to write these gay characters who weren’t in the mood to take any of the shit that Jack was doling out.
When was the moment that you knew you had to be a writer?
Never — I’ve been writing since I was capable of holding a pencil. I was an early reader, and made up stories (told outrageous lies about how it totally wasn’t me that broke whatever had been broken in the house) from the moment I could talk. My dad used to put the newspaper on the floor to read to my mum when she was manhandling my siblings into their school uniforms, and I would sit and follow his finger as he read. Effectively, he taught me to read from the business section of The Telegraph without meaning to. But I never admitted I could do it — I used to give my mum side-eyes for skipping words when she read me stories — and when I went to school, I actually backslid because I thought you were meant to sound it out painfully and stop at every letter. After I tore through the set reading at school, my teachers just gave me paper and pens and got me to make up my own stories for lack of anything else to read. I guess I’ve been a ‘writer’ since then.
How do you describe yourself? How would your family and friends describe you?
A bloody mess? I don’t know — I’m rude, I’m arrogant, and I’m difficult to be around, especially online. People generally tell me that I’m very clever, but I’m also very intimidating and standoffish. Which is basically true, I take a very long time to connect to people, and I’m not generally interested in doing so.
Weirdly, people who’ve met me in person for only short periods tend to say the opposite and call me charming or funny. I don’t know how I’m doing that, because it’s total balls!
What is your favorite comfort food?
I don’t really have comfort food as such, but my favourite winter meal when it’s dark, cold and miserable outside, is spaghetti and meatballs. I do the whole thing from scratch, and it’s amazing. Simple, easy, and leaves you full and warm again to ward off the season.
What is your favorite season? What do you love about it?
Summer. It’s hot, and I’m the kind of freak who’s comfortable wearing jeans in forty degrees Celsius. Plus I had top surgery in November, so I’m especially looking forward to this next summer and being able to wander around in a t-shirt and no jacket for the first time in years.
What is this romance writer’s idea of the “ideal romantic evening”?
I’m asexual, totally uninterested in sex and relationships, so my ideal romantic evening would be someone making me a lovely meal then sodding off to leave me in peace to eat it while watching a movie alone. Perfect.
What project are you working on next?
I have two transgender YA books that I’m hoping to finish in 2016. They both feature FtM main characters, but at very different stages of transition and with very different experiences. One, in Fatso Farrier, isn’t the focus of the novel. He’s confident and brash, fully socially transitioned, and helps the cisgender main character get past some of his own hangups. The other, in Girls Will Be Boys, is far earlier in the journey and is navigating the challenges of dating whilst trans. There’s not enough positive trans stories out there, so I’m really keen to get these ones done and dusted.