Kiss

Thursday morning, and the first full day of my mini-stay-cation. Hip hip hurray! Yesterday I got a new journal, which is always a lovely thing; I’d forgotten how much I loved getting new journals once I’d filled the last one. When I started using them again by buying one on New Year’s Eve this year, I was excited to be starting up again with them; I’d forgotten how getting a new one felt–how wonderful and full of possibilities and potential the new journal is; all those blank pages to be filled with thoughts and ideas and titles and characters and sentence fragments and snippets of dialogue. Do I get too excited about the new journals? Maybe; but they also, for my OCD/anal retentive self, symbolize new beginnings as well as completion; even if finishing a journal doesn’t mean completing an actual manuscript or short story, there’s something about filling those pages that is enormously satisfying. When I first started writing when I was in high school, I always wrote on notebook paper long hand; usually in black ink with a fine point (I’ve always been partial to fine point black ink pens; and this new brand I’ve recently discovered, Tul, is amazing. I love these pens), and I think that’s why I get that satisfaction from writing by hand in a journal. Opening a Word document and starting to type isn’t quite the same feeling, and I always have a sense that everything I write that way is somehow incomplete.

I don’t know why that is, but it’s true, and probably is at the root of my deep sense of dissatisfaction with almost everything I write.

Or I’m simply neurotic.

My back is incredibly sore this morning; it was sore yesterday, but the pain is so bad I fear that I am going to be on a heating pad pretty much for the entire day. This is, while enormously disappointing, not the end of the world; I had hoped to be really productive today. I still can be, of course; it simply means not doing what I’d planned to do–which was organize stuff and deal with storage, but that will also include lifting boxes and I am in no place to do that–so maybe today means some light cleaning, writing, and reading. As long as I am productive, that’s all that really matters. And there’s quite a bit of mess that needs tidying up. I am taking the car to the West Bank tomorrow to have the oil changed at the dealership; I am going to treat myself to lunch over there and possibly do a little shopping whilst over there as well. And then I still have the three day weekend, which is lovely, of course.

I’d hoped to go to the gym today, but that’s simply not an option at this point. There’s no way I’m risking weight-bearing exercise with my back like this.

Sigh. I’m turning into that Grumpy Old Man, aren’t I?

I did get some more work done on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday, and I have to say, setting it in the past (1994) was a pretty smart thing for me to do. Thinking about the past, of course, isn’t something I tend to do very often and when I do, it’s rare that I dwell on anything. But trying to remember that time period for a gay man has been kind of interesting; ever since that Twitter kerfuffle about HIV/AIDS the other week and my post the other day about writing about the subject has got me thinking about that time more. Yesterday on Twitter there was a thing–based on I guess something Suze Orman said, about people needing to have twice their salary saved by age thirty-five–and all I could think was how, at age thirty-five, I was just so happy to be still alive that the future wasn’t something I didn’t really think that much about. A few years ago, at work I sat down with a retirement financial planner and as she went over my finances and so forth she very sweetly and gently scolded me for not planning better for my future. Without thinking I replied, I didn’t think I would live this long, to be honest, and watching the implications of what I’d said play on her face and her embarrassment was an interesting experience. She was a younger woman, of course, and as I quickly reassured her that I wasn’t offended by anything she’d said I also marveled that the mentality most of us gay men had back in the early to mid 1990’s is forgotten largely today, not thought about, that fatalistic resignation that infection and death was inevitable.

This heating pad feels fantastic, I must say.

I am also watching The Shannara Chronicles on Netflix, based on the series by Terry Brooks. I read the first, The Sword of Shannara, when I was a teenager and it was new; I never continued with the series despite enjoying that first book. The Shannara Chronicles is/was MTV’s attempt at a Game of Thrones style high-fantasy series. It’s very well done; visually it’s stunning, and apparently the show covers the series beginning with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara. The primary difference between HBO’s series and MTV’s is that, of course, Game of Thrones is gritty and dark and unafraid to be ugly; the entire cast is an interesting mix from stunningly beautiful young people to older people–an entire range of bodies and faces on the spectrum of looks, just like real life. Shannara is glossy and everyone on the show is quite spectacularly beautiful; and mostly young. I was interested in the show because I remembered the first book fondly and thought I’d give it a chance; it also has Manu Bennett as Allanon the druid, and I’ve been “stanning” (isn’t that what the kids call it?) him since his days on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. 

Austin Butler, who plays lead hero Wil Ohmsford, is quite pretty:

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As is the primary villain in season 2, Bandon, played by James Trevena.

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And who doesn’t enjoy looking at pretty people on their television? One of the things I find interesting is that in Season 1, when Wil was finding himself as a hero he had long hair; which he has cut off in Season 2. Bandon, in season 1, finding himself he had short hair; now in Season 2 as the primary antagonist, he’s grown out his hair.  I’m sure there’s symbolism there; but the longer hair has made the character of Bandon look older and more mature, and likewise, the shorter hair for Wil makes him look more adult.

Strange.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines. The heat has made me back hurt a lot less, so I am going to take advantage of that until it starts hurting again.

 

Never

Wednesday. I am working only a half-day today, and then I am taking a short vacation. I don’t have to be back at the office until Tuesday of next week, so I am going to try to relax, get caught up on some things–without any pressure to do any of those things–and recalibrate my head, my heart and my soul.

And do something about how disgusting I’ve allowed my apartment to get in the meantime. I do think a thorough clean will help purge my soul; when my apartment isn’t clean and organized, it weighs on me.

I worked a little on the WIP and the Scotty yesterday, and primarily worked on another short story, “Never Kiss a Stranger.” One of the funny things about me, and my stubbornness, and my tendency to get caught up in tunnel vision, is my regular insistence that I am writing everything in the present day. Part of my struggle with “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the past was trying to make it work in the present; yesterday it occurred to me you can set this in the past, you know, and presto! By moving the story from 2018 to 1994, it clicked into place and started working. My main character is a gay man with twenty years in the military; at age thirty-eight, in those days before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” being gay was grounds for a dishonorable discharge; after the Gulf War he finds out he is on a ‘to-be-investigated’ list and so puts in his retirement papers. His parents dead and not having a relationship with anyone else in his family, he comes out into the general world and decides to move to New Orleans to start his life anew; it’s also his first opportunity as an adult to live openly as a gay man. As I revised what had already been written, the character’s voice clicked in my head and I was able to remember New Orleans in that time period; when I was visiting and falling in love with the city, as well as remembering what a different time period it was, even though it was only slightly more than twenty years ago. No cell phones or Internet, HIV/AIDS was still pretty much a death sentence (or rather, just a matter of time once infected), and New Orleans was riddled with crime everywhere and inexpensive to live; a beautiful old city decaying in her splendid, rotting beauty in the sun.

And it’s kind of fun writing about the past sometimes, being able to  use my own memories (and my journals) to remember things. And at the same time, incredibly freeing to finally realize something so obvious; that everything needn’t be in the present.

We finished watching both The Terror and Thirteen Reasons Why last night; The Terror, while unsettling, ended inevitably in the only way that it could; I am sorry to be finished with it, and will, when it’s free for streaming, probably watch it again to understand it better. It should be a leading contender for all the Emmys; the question only being which stellar member of the cast should take the trophy home. Thirteen Reasons Why’s second season was…interesting, yet incredibly disappointing in its third season. The resolution of some story lines, which had long since been played out, ended in unsatisfying ways that were, while bitter, realistic and honest and true to life. Rapists get away with slaps on the wrists far too often and our judiciary often lets female victims know that their lives really have no value and there is no justice for them. The final episode, with its bittersweet closure, worked in that respect while at the same time set the stage for a third season with horrifyingly depicted brutality, showing that the damage that was caused by the incidents that triggered the first two seasons have deeper and far more lasting consequences; when damage isn’t repaired and the systems that allowed that damage to occur aren’t corrected, far worse damage can occur. The close of the episode, I felt, was a bit of a cop-out; but I understand why they didn’t see that story through, and it did leave me curious to see where it can go next. There hasn’t been an announcement, as far as I know, that there will be a third season; I’d like to see it, if for no other reason than curiosity to see how these newly planted seeds will grow.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Alive and Kicking

Tuesday and a short work week! I am working half-a-day tomorrow, and taking off Thursday and Friday; which, coupled with Memorial Day, gives me a lovely mini-vacation which will enable to get some things done that I want to get done and rest and relax and write and…well, we’ll see how it goes, but I am heading into my mini-vac with seriously high hopes to get a lot accomplished.

And if I don’t? Well, at least I’ll be well-rested.

Watch this space for updates.

Seriously, though, we are continuing through Thirteen Reasons Why, with only two episodes left to go in this season, and while it continues to get better with every episode, I think there may have been a little too much conflict in the writer’s room when story-boarding this season. The show has yet to be picked up for a third season, but there are rumblings on line that Season 2 definitely left the door open for a third; possibly with major cliff-hanger endings to the various story-lines running through the show. It just gets frustrating when things are contrived for the plot, you know what I mean? But then, the original season was also contrived, since it was based on the notion that 1) she had access to cassette tapes 2) she was assuming everyone she wanted to listen to the tapes would have access to a cassette player and 3) she also assumed any one of the people wouldn’t just throw the tapes away. There was a bit of a blackmail threat, of course, but at the same time….I still think at least one of the kids would have destroyed the tapes, or at least not passed them on; especially one of the kids who didn’t really have as much to lose as the others.

But…the young cast is very appealing and compelling in their roles.

Also: we can watch the finale of The Terror tonight. Seriously, if you aren’t watching, it’s some of the best television I’ve seen in years.

And now, for a return to The Short Story Project, we have “The Good Cat” by Vicki Hendricks,  from Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of Noircon:

I had no name till Dad took me home. Now I answer to Lickrish, Buddy, and Son–when I feel like it. I gave up chasing lizards, squirrels, and birds, and climbing trees, for Dad. None of it was as good as his fingers behind my ears, his soft belly-lap, and the tang of his silky armpit slung across out bedsheets where I curl. I am a good boy till I start trouble.

Dad is on the couch and I am in his lap, as we are supposed to be at night. He turns my head toward his snout. “Son,” he says, his fingers massaging the tingly spot above my tail, “You’re the only one Dad needs.” I stretch forward, head down, butt up. I hunker into a cuddly lump and purr, keeping my eyes cracked on a swaying palm frond outside the window. I’m lulled by the movement—happy—as Dad calls it. He rests his hand on my back and watches the picture-screen.

After a while he says, “Buddy, let’s take a drive to my Ami. Wanna?” It is a place with windows in the sky, a world of sand, and salty waves that try to drown you if you stop to dig a hole. I leap to his shoulder and tuck my forepaws into the dark stubble on his neck, scouring the side of his face with my tongue till he pulls me off. He does not understand what I am telling him, that we are happy on the couch. I do not want to go to his Ami, or anywhere, but I do not want to stay home all by myself.

Read the whole story here.

Vicki Hendricks should be one of the biggest names in crime fiction today, without question. I myself am just as guilty as all the rest of you; this is only my second experience reading some of her work, and I really need to remedy that failing. Her debut novel, Miami Purity, is one of the best noir novels of all time, period, no questions, no doubt. The entire time I read it–and if I recall correctly, I indulged in the entire thing one rainy afternoon in my easy chair, riveted from beginning to end, and it is still an accomplishment in noir writing that I can only try to emulate; I doubt, in all sincerity and honesty, that I could write its equal. After reading this short story, I immediately added all the rest of Hendricks’ novels to my list; I strongly urge you to do so as well.

“The Good Cat” reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s short story “Ming’s Biggest Prey”; both are dark, noir tales from the point of view of a cat–which is not entirely an easy thing to pull off, but once you read the stories they totally make sense: what could be more noir than a cat? Both stories are about a cat’s love for their owner; Highsmith’s is darker because the character of the cat is more dark; Hendricks rather views a dark thing from the cat’s point of view; a cat who loves its owner, which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking and yes, noir. (Highsmith’s story ends with no small feeling of satisfaction in the reader.)

Read Vicki Hendricks. Do it. Now. 

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Broken Wings

 

I have written, from time to time, about the issues I face  as a “gay author.”  I try not to get into it often; I always fear there’s a stench of sour grapes when I talk about the challenges of being a gay author of fiction that place gay men in the center of their own stories. Revolutionary, right?

When I first started publishing, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, ironically there was a movement by gay authors to not be called or considered “gay” authors. More than one disdainfully told me when refusing to be interviewed for either Lambda Book Report when I was editor or for one of the queer newspapers I wrote for, or said on panel discussions at conferences, “I’m not a gay writer; I’m a writer who happens to be gay. You don’t call them straight writers, after all.” This statement, which I heard on more than one occasion, always took me aback, because the truth was it didn’t matter what you called yourself; booksellers and reviewers and readers would still see you that way. There was an arrogance, a smugness, to it; kind of saying yes, technically I am but I am not one of those writers, don’t lump me in with THEM.

Basically, you can call yourself whatever you want, but the market and the industry won’t give a rat’s ass what you call yourself.

Case in point: without fail, when you’re a gay author (or a queer author, or whatever kind of minority writer you might be) and you attend a mainstream writer’s/reader’s conference for whatever genre you may write in, you will inevitably find yourself assigned to what’s called a diversity panel. Make no mistake about it: these panels are important and do need to be held. My primary objection to them is their ghettoization aspect; i.e., the only thing of value these authors have to add to the conference conversation is whatever it is that marginalizes them. I have always argued that any minority writer assigned to a diversity panel should also be assigned to another panel. Reducing a minority writer’s value to simply being able to speak to diversity issues doesn’t help the author; and if we are really concerned about increasing diversity in publishing/whatever genre we are discussing, then audiences besides those who show up for diversity panels should also be exposed to those minority writers. People who come to diversity panels already are hungry for diversity in their reading and writing, which makes it a little bit of preaching to the choir.

Case in point: I was at a mainstream genre conference a few years ago, and of course was assigned to the diversity panel. (I was assigned to another, so I was fine with it.) It was an interesting mix of people, but as we talked about how to find and help new minority writers, a noted editor on the panel, cut me off and passionately said, But it has to be about the WRITING. The WRITING has to be good.

In other words, the reason we don’t have more diversity in publishing in general is because the writing isn’t good.

My jaw literally dropped, and I was stunned into silence by the implications of this noted, and relatively powerful, editor’s statement.

And it takes, as you can imagine, a lot to stun me into silence.

During the years 2004-2008 I kind of withdrew into myself and wasn’t really paying attention to the world of LGBTQ publishing as I had from 1997-2004; a lot of things were going on in my personal life, Katrina happened, and I basically just kept my head down and did my work. It seems, to me, looking back, that the world of LGBTQ publishing changed dramatically during that four years I wasn’t paying attention, when I wasn’t deeply immersed in it; perhaps these things were around before and I simply hadn’t been aware, or noticed; but when I started looking around again at queer publishing I became very aware of something that I hadn’t been aware of before: a new-subgenre of fiction called “m/m”; which was fiction about gay men written by straight women for other straight women (a generalization, of course; some of it is written by gay men and some of the authors are queer-identified women, and likewise, the readership is not all, but primarily, straight women). I found it to be a rather interesting phenomenon; I had always argued that gay male writers should market our work to heterosexual women, so it didn’t bother me that straight women were writing about gay characters and gay themes. I’ve always believed writers should write about subjects and characters they are passionate about, and if straight women were passionate about writing about gay men, more power to them, and welcome to our little niche of the publishing world. I certainly don’t want anyone telling me what I can and cannot write, or who I can write about, any more than any other writer would. There was a bit of a kerfuffle over the Lambda Literary Awards back then making a rule stating the awards were only for actual LGBTQ writers, and there was some outrage about that. I completely concurred with the outrage; the awards were for books and writing rather than the actual author. In my opinion, if a straight woman wrote a great and deserving book about a gay man, why not allow her to enter the Lambdas? The book and its writing is what, ostensibly, was being judged; let it be judged on those merits.

Yet I also noticed, in the wake of this decision by the Lambdas (which was later reversed), some horrific commentary and borderline, if not outright, homophobic statements being made by some of these ostensible so-called allies; homophobic statements always seem to rear their ugly heads whenever any gay man dares question the validity and/or authenticity of these works:

If authors only wrote from their experience, we wouldn’t have science fiction or vampires or werewolves.

Funny how a community that wants to be accepted and treated equally will discriminate.

The first is so fucking offensive on its face I don’t think I really need to explain precisely why it is; but imagine if a white writer said that in defense of writing about a black main characterYes, Virginia, queers ARE like mythological creatures or beings from another planet, so you just go right ahead! Frankly, if this is your line of thinking, you definitely shouldn’t be writing stories about characters with experiences different than your own. Imagine if I said well, of course I can write about a straight woman because it’s really no different than writing about werewolves or vampires or Martians.

If that’s not clear enough for you, try this: WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS.

The second is an implied threat; you need our support to get your equal rights as citizens so how dare you question us? You’d better shut your mouth and toe the line or else, you know, I might vote for homophobic candidates!

Ah, yes, the blackmail argument, which begs the question: Are you really an ally? A real ally doesn’t support a community so long as it toes the line of cisgender straight white people’s way of thinking.

Has there been a more flagrant and obvious expression of clueless straight privilege?

Another favorite was well, the best novels about gay men have always been written by straight women! Mary Renault and Patricia Nell Warren, to name two!

Ah, nothing like a nice straight white lady turning actual lesbians into straight ladies in order to prove their point. Um…yeah.

Or, my personal favorite, gay fiction largely began on the Internet, which erases decades of powerful writing by successful LGBTQ fiction writers, and their careers–not to mention all those Lambda Literary Awards given out, apparently, to “Internet writing” in the late 1980’s thru the mid 1990’s….

Needless to say, when I denounced the exclusion of their books but called out the homophobia…if you guessed they ignored the fact that I was on their side in general but instead focused on me calling out their comments as homophobic, you guessed correctly.

Seriously?

In 1998, Sarah Schulman published Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America. As a gay man of a certain age, reading (and reviewing) this book was an eye-opening experience. In that year, we were in approximately the seventeenth year or so of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States, but things were starting to change and look different. Medications were being developed and prescribed that lengthened life and reduced the impact of the HIV virus on immune systems; there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and it looked like an HIV/AIDS diagnosis might not be the death sentence it had been since its first discovery.

Schulman’s book opened with her being made aware of similarities between her novel People in Trouble and the hit Broadway musical Rent.

Here’s what happened: I was twenty-eight years old in 1987, the year I joined ACT UP (the just-born AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and full throttle into a love affair with a married woman. An artist, she was very conflicted about sexuality with women and had contempt for the gay community in general. She practiced an art ideology that equated formal invention with radical content, something I contest passionately. My fantasy was that by exposing her to the realities of the AIDS crisis, she would drop her blinders about the functions of homophobia and simultaneously develop an understanding of the value of artwork based in experience. Needless to say, older now, I understand that my project was doomed from the start.

That year I completed my fourth novel, People in Trouble, about a love triangle composed of a married artist couple and the woman’s younger lesbian lover. The novel was set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and featured many scenes and feelings that came out of my actual experience. People in Trouble is about an East Village performance artist who is at the end of a relationship with a male artist and who, despite her own homophobia, falls in love with a lesbian. She creates a performance piece that targets a greedy landlord who is evicting people with AIDS. There is a subplot about an interracial gay male couple–one a queen, one an activist–in which ones dies of AIDS. A second subplot involves an activist group called Justice, who devise a credit card scam to feed homeless people. It was, as David Leavitt wrote in 1990, “the first work of fiction that portrays the enormous activist response the epidemic has generated.” And the book clearly showed how this response was firmly rooted in the gay and lesbian community, despite the neglect and inaction of dominant society.

Does the plot of her novel sound familiar?

The first part of Stagestruck, about Schulman trying to get someone, anyone, to acknowledge the great similarities between her book and Rent, was interesting to me, but what was even more interesting to me was the sudden realization she had, which led to the rest of her book, and her thesis: her book, which was well-received and sold well, basically told the same story as one of the behemoth Broadway musical successes of all time; the primary difference being her book centered the point of view of the lesbian in the love triangle while the musical centered the straight male POV. She then took this thesis; that gay and lesbian works can only be presented to a mass audience if told from a heterosexual point of view, and ran with it. She examined marketing of products, the how things are sold to gays and lesbians (and how those marketing techniques differed); film and television, using Philadelphia (the great HIV/AIDS movie, told from the point of view of the homophobic lawyer, whose experience with the dying gay man was used as an opportunity to grow as a person) as a prime example; the entire book absolutely fascinated me, and it changed forever my perceptions of what is now known as “own voices” in terms of film, books, plays, and television programs.

The other day, on a social media thread, initiated by a female writer about how tired she was of trying to convince straight white male crime writers that representation of other voices and characters wasn’t oppression, I blithely commented, I love to ask them to name a crime novel by a gay man with a gay main character. A very well-meaning straight woman posted a link to a review of one such book as comment in response to mine, adding, here’s a great one to recommend when you run out of the handful.

When. You. Run. Out. Of. The. Handful.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure whether I should be offended or not. She didn’t mean to be offensive, and props to her for actually knowing such a book to recommend. She clearly had no idea who I was or the kinds of books I write (and have been writing for nearly twenty years), nor how extensive my knowledge of the literature of my community actually is.

And yet…yeah.

The other day, there was some interesting threads going on Twitter because of a book announcement: a nice straight lady, with no doubt good intentions, announced the sale of her latest young adult manuscript, which is about teenagers in 1983 dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis.

There was some pushback.

First of all, there’s absolutely no reason why a straight woman cannot write a novel about the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1984. I want to be absolutely clear about that. But yes, like Philadelphia, a book about HIV/AIDS that centers the heterosexual point of view on the subject rather than the gay male one is kind of intrinsically offensive. Is that invalid to write about? No, it’s not. But, as Schulman said about Philadelphia, “making straight people the heroes of the HIV/AIDS crisis is a lie.” It wasn’t straight people who created ACT UP or the Gay Men’s Health Crisis or any of the HIV/AIDS organizations that sprang up in response to the epidemic, and the recent historical revisions like the mini-series The Reagans that try to paint Ronald and Nancy Reagan somehow as heroes of the AIDS crisis is a slap in the face to everyone who died during the 1980’s and the people who loved them. Don’t get me wrong: there have always been, and always will be, straight allies in the fight against HIV/AIDS; but the truth is the crisis became an epidemic because of deliberate societal and institutional neglect; or to quote the bigot on the powerful episode of Designing Women, one of the first prime time television series to address the crisis, “At least it’s killing all the right people.”

Because this is what people actually believed at the time.

The beleaguered author also went on to tweet: First off, I was actually in high school in ’83 and the fear affected everyone in different ways which is what this addresses. Second, I worked for a state government’s outreach office in the early ‘90’s bringing money in for prevention and support of AIDS programming 1/2 Third, I worked closely on this with a knowledgeable and generous AIDS activist. Also, there are currently NO YA books about this time in this context. I’m not taking space from a gay male author. Feel free to write one. Seriously. Teens today need to know what it was like.

Those responses, by the way, were written to a gay man who questioned her about her profiting on the experiences and suffering of gay men.

Now, let’s dissect this woman’s tweets, shall we?

  1. “I was actually in high school in 1983 and the fear affected everyone”: ‘I am going to write about the AIDS epidemic in 1983 and center straight people and their fears because that was the most important thing about HIV/AIDS in 1983.
  2. “I worked for a state’s outreach office in the early 90’s bringing money in for prevention and support of AIDS programming”: how very dare you question me, you ungrateful gay man after everything I’ve done for your community!
  3. “I worked closely on this with a knowledgeable and generous AIDS activist”: I have a gay friend. Please note she didn’t actually go so far as to name the activist; so yeah, this is the ever-popular dodge. Nor does she say this activist is a gay man.
  4. “There are currently NO YA books about this time in this context. I’m not taking space from a gay male author. Feel free to write one. Seriously. Teens today need to know what it was like.” Dripping with contempt and privilege here; so this is the one I really want to break down.

First of all, there are very few y/a books from mainstream presses written by gay men about gay teenagers.

I suppose it’s never occurred to Nice White Lady that maybe there are reasons why there aren’t any of these books; namely, for one, we lost almost two entire generations of writers to societal neglect and homophobia which led to the prolonging of this epidemic in the first place.

There is actually plenty of what is called “witness fiction” out there about HIV/AIDS and the 1980’s; in addition to Schulman’s People in Trouble, there are also Christopher Bram’s In Memory of Angel Clare; Felice Picano’s Like People in History; William J. Mann’s The Men from the Boys, simply to name a few—and that’s just in fiction. Paul Monette’s memoir  Borrowed Time is pretty brilliant, as well. It actually won the National Book Award.

And yes, she is right on that score: none of the witness fiction is young adult. Imagine, just imagine, a gay male author trying to sell a young adult novel to a major publisher about HIV/AIDS and gay teens in the 1980s, the 1990’s, or even in the aughts.*

But let’s not forget: I was personally banned from speaking at a GSA in Virginia in 2005. Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind was tried for obscenity in Kansas in the early 1990’s.

So…yeah, I can’t imagine a y/a about HIV/AIDS from a period when the majority of people writing about it were gays and lesbians going out to auction in New York.

When I started writing fiction and getting published, of course HIV/AIDS was something I had to think about. Did I want to talk about it in my fictions? In my stories and my novels? I decided not to; fully knowing that some people might see, or consider, this to be an abdication of responsibility. But writing from my own experience, my own witness fiction, drawing from that emotional well, isn’t a place I ever wanted to go to in fiction. I decided not to because there was already plenty of fiction and non-fiction, beautifully rendered and written, that told the HIV/AIDS story. There was also a very strong sense in publishing that I recall in the early aughts that it was time for gay writers to move away from the HIV/AIDS narrative, that we had other stories to tell.

This woman’s book sold at auction, which kind of denies her statement that she “isn’t taking space from a gay male author.” Yes, dear, you actually are, because there aren’t many out gay men either writing books about HIV/AIDS or just telling gay stories that are going out to auction to every publisher in New York.

I don’t wish her ill. I hope her book is well-researched and well-written, and I hope she has written a great novel exploring the issues of HIV/AIDS in 1983 amongst teenagers. I don’t know whether I will read it or not—it’s very title seems a bit, well, distasteful to me—but I might; I cannot speak about something I’ve not read. I think it’s terrific she wants to bring this story, and that year, to life for modern teen audiences.

But if this book centers straight white people as the heroic center of the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1983; if the focus is the fears and worries of straight teenagers about HIV/AIDS; if this book doesn’t show realistically the overwhelmingly homophobic heterosexual response to not only the epidemic but to gay men in general; then it is not only an ahistoric and offensive lie, but a slap in the face to everyone currently living with the disease, to everyone who died, and to those of us who are still mourning the overwhelming losses we suffered.

*I am merely taking this woman at her word that there are no such books. I am not as widely read in queer fiction as I once was, and I certainly am not well versed in what’s out there for young adult fiction.

 

 

 

West End Girls

Sunday morning and yet again, I have overslept. I wasn’t feeling particularly well yesterday, and managed to get nothing–outside of some errands in the hideous heat and humidity–accomplished yesterday. The end result was I parked my not-feeling-great ass in my easy chair and watched Netflix for most of the day; beginning with an original Netflix show, The Kissing Booth–a teen rom/com, which was actually kind of cute–and then it was back to the misery/drama porn of Season Two of Thirteen Reasons Why.  Season Two is nowhere near the quality level of Season One; without the connecting hook of the cassette tapes telling the stories of the individual kids, it loses a lot. The connective tissue being used for the second season is the trial, where Hannah’s parents are suing the school for not doing more to help their daughter before she killed herself. Therefore, each episode focuses on each kid and is kind of told from their perspective, based on who is testifying that day: because, of course, only one person per day can testify. There are a lot of really good moments in this season, which shows glimmers of how good the season could have been; yet the need to weave the now-dead Hannah into this season without a reason for her to be there is a weakness. I do feel that it would have been smarter to simply have shown her from the point-of-view of the kids in this season–last season was seeing the others through hers–without the ghost/voice of reason/conscience/whatever-the-fuck-she-is that keeps appearing to Clay; which also, unfortunately, weakens Clay. It makes him unreliable as a narrative voice, and we are also not entirely sure he’s not simply lost his mind in his drive and desire to avenge Hannah. This undermines the character and the performance being given by Dylan Minnette, who was so terrific in the first season; which is unfortunate.

But…I continue to watch to see how this is all going to play out.

It’s difficult for a series based on a single novel to be adapted into a regular television series; Thirteen Reasons Why’s first season was a great example of how it can be done, and beautifully so. I greatly enjoyed that first season. But when the show is successful–and let’s face it, in the entertainment industry success  means continue to build on that success, or at the very least, keep milking that cash cow until you’ve squeezed every penny out of it. There wasn’t a need for a second season of this show, nor a third; where I thought they might go in a second season isn’t where they’ve gone. But the series does get stronger after the first weak episodes; maybe it will continue to get stronger. But the standout of this season is the character of Alex, and the young actor playing him, Miles Heizer. The first season ended with someone being shot, and we weren’t sure who it was. Turns out it was Alex, and he survived. This season, the bullet, which entered and exited through his skull, didn’t kill him but partially paralyzed him and messed up his memories. So, watching him struggle with physical therapy, and trying to figure out what went on the month before he tried to take his own life is incredibly powerful and he is knocking it out of the park. It’s really a shame; the first season was about finding out why Hannah killed herself, and the second season should focus more on the kid who tried to kill himself and now not only has to live with the consequences of that decision but try to figure out why he did it, and deal with the pity and cruelty of his classmates.

Now, there’s a story for a young adult novel. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I am hoping to get some cleaning out of the way today as well as some writing. I’ve been seriously slacking lately, and I need to stop doing that. Granted, yesterday I didn’t feel good, but I need to get motivated and get back to writing. There’s also a lengthy blog entry I  need to finish writing.

But I’ve been thinking about young adult fiction a lot lately; the WIP is young adult, and there’s another one I want to write, or at least get started on, before the end of the year, Bury Me in Satin. It’s going to require some research, which isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps a drive up to Tuscaloosa. I really have been wanting to write this book for a very long time, and I think it’s time. It’s a dangerous topic, but I kind of want to do it. I also want to finish “Burning Crosses” today; it’s ready to be read aloud so I need to go ahead and do that. I also want to finish the first draft of “This Thing of Darkness”, and I have some reading I need to get done. I seriously need to get off my lazy ass and get a move on you know? There’s also that filing shit I started and need to finish. So, yes, indeed, I need to get motivated. But next weekend is a glorious three day weekend, and I am also planning on requesting Friday off and taking a short day on Thursday, not only to maximize the weekend but enable myself to have more time to work, as well as to have a day or two where I have literally nothing to do except read and relax; we’ll see how that turns out.

And I am not missing the cable. Not in the least little bit. This is wonderful.

And now, back to the spice mines.

For your viewing pleasure, here is Jacob Elordi, who plays the romantic lead in The Kissing Booth:

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Glory of Love

Saturday morning and it’s chilly in the Lost Apartment; the sun is out and there’s condensation on the windows. Scooter is perched next to my keyboard, staring out the window, watching Kitty TV; I’m not sure what’s on, but he’s fascinated. It rained brutally yesterday with flash floods and so forth throughout the city. It had been a few weeks since it had rained, but there it was; a long overdue downpour. I managed to get home before it got too terribly bad, and spent the evening organizing and cleaning out files, rather than actually writing. I just didn’t feel like I was in a writing place, and so I decided to go with that but demanded of myself to complete this tedious chore that I hate doing so much.

Essentially, it meant cleaning out old files that no longer need accessibility–old book contracts, royalty statements, and even file folders of old short stories now published, etc.–out of the file cabinet and boxing them up to put in storage. This, naturally, has freed up space in the file cabinet for files to be moved into from the ACTIVE files. (Yes, I am aware how insane this all sounds; but I have two small file holders on the small bookcase next to  my desk, where I file new ideas, articles that might lead somewhere, and new stories that I have started or are not immediately working on; on my desk itself I have a metal file rack that contains the folders of what I am immediately working on. I know, I know, but it makes sense to me, and it works for me.) I also gathered all my non-fiction research on being queer in America, as well as my journal (materials for my memoirs, should I ever write them, or at least personal essays about being gay)  to collect in one place: a lovely box that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter, preparatory to going into the storage space. While doing all of this I ran across several of my old journals.

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These are some of my journals–I suspect some of them have been lost to time, through moves and so forth–but the oldest is from 1994; the most recent of these is from 2003. I started my blog in late 2004, and I suspect that’s approximately also when I stopped writing in these. It was an interesting experience, idly paging through these before placing them in the box; some of the earlier ones are from, of course, when I worked at the airport. That’s when I started carrying one with me at all times; I always had a pen, my journal, and whatever book I was reading at the time with me when I was at the airport, on an airplane traveling, etc. The ones from my time at the airport are all written in green ink; because we used green pens at the airport for everything. I wrote on my breaks, I wrote when I was in between flights at the gates, I wrote while I was waiting to board an airplane, I wrote while on airplanes. Later, I wrote between clients at the gym, or while waiting for it to be time for an aerobics class I was teaching; I wrote in coffee shops. There are scenes in these journals, that eventually made it into Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues; there are the openings of short stories I’ve written, scrawled in long hand on these pages. I’ve even found things like when I first had the idea for the book that became Dark Tide many years later; places where I worked on developing characters or plots of themes for the book or story I was currently trying to work on and/or finish; there are also personal moments, moments of frustration or joy or happiness, all recorded in my neat, broadly looping handwriting. Starting to keep another one of these this year has been enormously helpful for me in many ways; it was lovely to reconnect with the bound journal format. (I actually need to buy a new one; I am hoping they have some at Tubby and Coo’s, where I am going this afternoon for Bryan Camp’s book-signing for his brilliant debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes)

This morning I need to finish packing up these boxes, and perhaps work on getting some of the other files moved; it is literally astonishing how much paper I have. One entire file cabinet drawer is filled with short stories and novels-in-progress that I stopped working on at some point, folders with ideas jotted down, characters and names and ideas for stories and books. All this effort, besides keeping me from actually writing anything, is an attempt to declutter my workspace as well as to make it more organized; I had an idea for a story for an anthology call I saw recently, and I knew I’d written a draft of an appropriate story (possibly) years ago–which meant it was probably in the file cabinet and I should probably drag it out to see if there was anything written in it that was usable. The need for this file made me see how desperately flawed and out of control my filing system had actually been allowed to become so as it thundered and lightning lit up the sky and the yard filled with rushing water I started working grimly on fixing this mess.

I did find the file, by the way.

I need to go to the grocery store at some point this morning as well; I could wait to do it tomorrow,  but between the cleaning and the filing and the going to the book signing I don’t see any window for actually writing, so rather than putting it off till the morrow I should probably do it today, since today is going to be shot on that score. Or maybe it won’t be; I may be able to get some things done today on the writing. My writing/editing goal for the weekend is to read “Burning Crosses” aloud and be finished with it; to finish revising Chapter Two of the WIP, and possibly read all fourteen chapters of the Scotty book and see where things sit with it, preparatory to getting back to work on it as well.

I also want to dive into Alex Segura’s Blackout, which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

We started watching the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why last night, and I have to say, I am not overly impressed with it. The first two episodes were terribly uneven–the third began to pick up steam again–but the device of having Hannah appearing as a sort of ghost to Clay isn’t working for me and is something that I hope is used either sparingly as the show moves on, or is eradicated completely. We don’t need Hannah appearing as Clay’s conscience, nor do we need her at all. It derails the show, frankly; them having conversations is, to quote youth culture of some time ago, kinda whack.

So far, we’re disappointed with it. but not so much so that we will stop watching.

That, however, could change.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Friends and Lovers

Well, I wrote practically nothing yesterday; maybe a couple of hundred words on “This Thing of Darkness.” I did reread Chapter 2 of the WIP, and realized it needs a complete overhauling, but that’s fine. There’s an endgame in sight, and now I kind of know how to get there, so I don’t mind the massive work that will be required to get me there. Huzzah! And I know that, when it is completed, I will be enormously happy with it.

It’s weird because this story; these characters, have been brewing inside my brain for a very long time; I’ve used this fictional town in Kansas for aborted novels and short stories before. I’ve always wanted to write about this town–I cannot deny that it is based on/inspired by Emporia, Kansas, the seat of the county where I spent five years of my life. When you said you were going to town you meant Emporia, even if you lived in a one of the small hamlets scattered throughout the county. My particular hamlet, Americus, was one of the larger ones; I believe with a population of approximately 932. I do know it was more than nine hundred and less than a thousand. I know that the main crossroads of the town had a flashing red light suspended on wires over it’s center, the town park was right on one corner and the bank was on another. I’ve gone back to the well with Kansas and that area several times in my writing career, but it never really ever seems to get anywhere. Sara was set in Kansas, in a county based on the real one,  in a high school based on the one I attended, but very loosely.

I’ve always wondered if it’s because I’ve not been back there since leaving in 1981 that the stories are so hard, so difficult, to write; the place so hard to envision. And then again, of course it’s ridiculous because any inconsistencies, or changes in my fictional town, might not matter simply because I am writing about a fictional place.

But this manuscript, which I’ve really been working on, in one shape or another, since about 1982 (!), is hard for me because I’ve been trying to write this book for over thirty years. The story and plot has changed dramatically over those years, the names of the characters have been changed, and I’ve blatantly stolen or adapted plots that were originally thought up for this book for others (Murder in the Garden District being one of them; the murder in the back was originally set in my fictional city in Kansas in its original version; for a Chanse novel I had to pare back the literal dozens of suspects and adapt it into New Orleans). For years in the aughts I called this “the Kansas book” as it went through different iterations and ideas and how the story worked; it was originally intended to be a two different time line novel, with a crime that was committed back in the 1970’s with the wrong person convicted and going to prison and dying there; a chance encounter between two people who knew each other back there and then in New York City–one now a successful realtor, the other a successful journalist–and a casual conversation in which the realtor reveals to the journalist that the wrong person was convicted and the murder was a lot more complicated than anyone knew, gets her to thinking. Then she finds out the realtor went back there and also turns up dead; this brings her back as well, as she investigates the current murder and the old one at the same time. I thought it was a very clever idea, but I could never get the story to work for me properly; and I still like the idea; I may write it someday. But I’ve taken the characters and the town from that idea and used it for this one. I also then tried another version, where it was the same town and the same characters and the same set up from the past, only with a dramatically different storyline for the present.

And now, I am using the town and the characters for something completely different.

As I have said numerous times, I am nothing if not stubborn, and apparently I am determined to someday publish a novel about this fucking town and these fucking characters.

“This Thing of Darkness”, the short story I am currently working on, while set in New Orleans, also harkens back to Kansas in some ways. I like this short story, I like the idea behind it, and now it’s really just a matter of seeing whether or not I can pull it off the way I want to. I’ve also realized that my own satisfaction with my short stories is the most important thing, not whether they get published by a magazine or not. I also need to expand my scope of where I submit short stories to; not everything works for the major crime magazines, and who knows? Maybe some of these stories are more  correct for other markets. I’d love to have something in some of the Southern magazines, for example.

Anyway. I am looking forward to this weekend, and hope you all have a lovely, pleasant one as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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