Those Were The Days

I have been debating about whether I should post or not about the passing of gay literary legend Richard Labonte earlier this week. I didn’t know Richard as well as many other queer writers did; my career began only a few years before he retired from A Different Light and moved north to Bowen Island with his husband Asa (fun fact: Bowen Island is where Harper’s Island, a one-season “we’re trapped here on an island with a mad killer who’s picking us all off one by one and must be one of us!” thriller series that wasn’t very popular but I enjoyed tremendously).

I first met Richard when I worked for Lambda Literary back in the day (yes, the very same Lambda Literary that’s being draggedor defended on Twitter the last few days; those of you who’ve not been around for a long time might not know Paul and I both worked there from August 2000 to November 2001) and A Different Light was the bookseller for a Lambda Literary Awards nominee reading we were holding at the San Francisco Public Library in spring of 2000 (ADL was also the bookseller for the Lambda Literary Conference we were putting on in San Francisco later that same year). Richard was always very kind to me; he published several stories of mine in his Best Gay Erotica series for Cleis Press (and no, I don’t remember the years, the volume numbers, the guest editors, or the stories themselves) and often, when he was putting an anthology of some kind or another together, would often ask me to write something for him. I always tried to (I don’t think I always succeeded in writing something for him), primarily because he was so nice and supportive from my days as editor of Lambda Book Report. Since seeing the news of Richard’s passing, I’ve been remembering things from back then–things I’ve not thought about in years–and while some of the memories aren’t great…the majority of them are. (I really enjoyed the job, despite the challenges I sometimes faced doing it.) That Festival in San Francisco was the last time I saw Richard in person; I think I signed twice more at the store in San Francisco but many years later, long after Richard retired and left the city.

He was a very generous man and was committed to not only the queer community but to the queer publishing community. He was so incredibly kind to me when my first books came out; so supportive, always emailing me to let me know he’d read and enjoyed them, which meant a lot to me back in those days. I was, despite my years as a book reviewer and my time as editor of LBR, still remarkably naive about publishing and the business when Murder in the Rue Dauphine was released; we were also remarkably poor around that time and so making money was really my biggest priority at the time; one of the reasons I always tell new writers to enjoy their first book release and everything to do with getting a book published is because I wasn’t truly able to enjoy mine as completely as I would have liked; and the next thing I knew a year had passed and the second book was out and things were…different. I would periodically email Richard when I was down about something–a horrible review, another writer saying nasty things about me and my work publicly, what should I do in a certain situation–and he was always very generous with his time and kind in his replies to the newbie who didn’t know what he was doing (and let’s face it, I still don’t).

His retirement was a loss to the community; his passing an even greater one. He loved his community, he loved books, he loved writers–and he made such a difference, a positive one, in so many writer’s lives.

But I am glad I got the opportunity to know him. I was always grateful to him; I hope he knew that.

Perfect Way

I submitted a story to Cemetery Dance yesterday, and felt very accomplished after having done so. As I have said before, getting a story published in Cemetery Dance is a bucket list item for me, and I am reasonably proud of the story; we’ll see what happens. But I’m glad I did it; glad I spent the morning and early afternoon revising and polishing it. And hopefully,  if they don’t use the story I’ll get a chance to submit to them again at some point.

To celebrate, I went to the gym and did cardio, continuing my iPad screening of Troy: Fall of a City–which is starting to, sadly get a little boring. I’ll keep watching, though–I want to see how they play the story out, plus it’s helping me with my pronunciation of all their names; most of which I’ve been saying wrong my entire life, since I was a kid and read The Windy Walls of Troy.

I also spent some time last night with my journals; basically going through them and marking the pages where I wrote notes on the Scotty book, which should make the next revision much easier. Huzzah! I am also glad that I did this because not only did I find some ideas for short stories I’d forgotten, as well as how some of the short stories I have written since the first of the year were born, but I also discovered that I had roughly sketched out a couple of scenes for Bury Me in Satin, which I typed up last night–remember, I’d started writing the opening on the 4th, but was incredibly pleased to see that I’d actually handwritten not only the opening but some other scenes from the first and second chapter that needed to be transcribed. So, I am pretty far ahead on this one already, which is kind of awesome. I’m having lunch today with a friend, which will be lovely, and then I am going to run a couple of errands before coming home and doing some more writing.

I may even (gasp) return to the gym for the third consecutive day: madness.

I also spent part of the day reading about the Dreyfus Affair in Barbara Tuchman’s book The Proud Tower, which takes a look at life and the issues confronting the great powers from 1895-1914; basically, the set-up for World War I. I’d heard of the Dreyfus Affair, of course, and Emile Zola’s participation; but I didn’t know the entire story, and, well, you really can’t go wrong with reading Barbara Tuchman on a subject you want to know about.  I love reading history, and I always make a point of trying to read some around the 4th of July (I also took down Catherine Drinker Bowen’s history of the Constitutional Convention Miracle at Philadelphia, which should be required reading for all Americans); Tuchman is the kind of historian I would have liked to have been, writing the kinds of things I would have liked to have written had my career path gone in that direction (I still toy with The Monstrous Regiment of Women, a history of the sixteenth century, built around all the women who held power–more women held power in that century than any before or since). The Dreyfus Affair was really something, and even more horrific, in many ways that time in France is reflected in modern day American society as well.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Porn King and I”:

He is beautiful.

He is everything I want in a lover.

Thick curly black hair.

Blue eyes.

Muscles rippling under tan skin.

A hard, round, beautiful ass.

The cock of Apollo.

I first saw him in a poster in the adult book store on Decatur Street. The poster was black with just a picture of him, hands on hips, wearing a jock strap. His face was smiling, a warm, inviting smile that would melt anyone’s heart and stir their groin. His tanned skin gleamed. At the bottom of the poster in red capital letters it said: CODY DALLAS IN THE SEX SENSE. I stood, staring for a few moments, my glance going from that pretty face down the neck to the beautifully shaped chest, smooth and silky, down the abs that looked carved out of stone, to the top of the jock. His hard-on was unmistakable beneath the white cloth. I walked over to the counter. “Do you have that film?” I pointed back over my shoulder with my thumb.

The counter boy was just that; a boy. He didn’t look old enough to be working in a sex shop. Hell, he didn’t look old enough to have hair on his balls. Bleached blonde hair standing up spikily over black roots. A straggle of hair on his chin that was supposed to be a goatee. He weighed maybe 130 pounds. His baggy jeans hung off his hips. A black Marilyn Manson t-shirt. Pierced nose and eyebrow. Tattoos on both arms. He grinned at me. Braces.

“Yeah. Only $59.95 or did you want to rent?”

“I’ll buy.”

I walked home to my apartment on Chartres Street. Opened the door. Switched on the television with the remote. Opened the box and popped the video in. Hit play as I pull off my shirt, kick off shoes, strip naked. Reach underneath the couch for the fresh bottle of poppers and the lube. Fast forward through the opening credits. First scene.

It’s him. He is wearing Daisy Dukes and work boots. No shirt. The sun glistens on the muscles in his back. He is trimming a bush with garden clippers. Every movement he makes causes muscles to ripple. Someone is watching from the house. Behind the curtains a face appears. Cut away to from behind the curtains. He looks beautiful, oh so beautiful. Camera pulls back. The man at the window is naked. Thinner. Not as muscled as Cody. Lean wiry muscle.

Cody looks up at the window and smiles. The man in the window beckons. Cody puts the clippers down and walks to the door. It opens.

I open the bottle of poppers. My eyes are glued to the screen. I lift it up to my right nostril. I close off the left and start inhaling. Deeply. The scent fills my nose, my sinuses, my lungs. I shift it to the other nostril. Inhale.

“The Porn King and I” was, ironically, inspired by something that actually happened; I was walking into the Quarter on a warm early summer evening. I walked past a house right on the sidewalk with its enormous windows open–anyone could have climbed into the house; something that has always amazed me about the Quarter and those that live there–and on the wall was a framed and mounted poster of a porn star (I do not recall, all these years later, precisely which porn star it was; I am thinking Kris Lord but that might be wrong). It inspired a story about a lonely man who talks to the poster, like it’s real, and eventually there’s a scene where a young man catches him talking to the poster, climbs in through the window, and they have nasty hot passionate sex. When I was asked to write this story for one of the Best Gay Erotica volumes, I stripped out the poster and the guy walking by on the street, leaving the main character’s obsession with a porn star, and renting the video from Tower Videos on Decatur Street (which is, sadly, no longer there); the sex scene thus became three-sided: there’s the main character watching the video and masturbating; what he’s imagining in his head as he masturbates; and, of course, what is actually happening on the television screen. I thought it was a clever take.

And the stuff I stripped out? I eventually used in a story about a lonely guy who lives in the Quarter and how a gorgeous young man talks to him through the window, and what transpires then. The story was called “Mr. Lonely” and was published in the original Saints and Sinners anthology.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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