Cherish

Saturday and the coast is clear, I think?

Today I am going to venture out to run some errands and then probably (possibly) brave the horrible heat to head over to the gym. I also want to get a lot of writing and cleaning and so forth done today–yes, yes, what else is new, I know–but I was able to get the car back yesterday and then we ventured to Costco before coming home to collapse like heavy woolen blankets that didn’t completely dry in the dryer.

Christ it is hot this June.

Paul did point out that last June probably was just as hot–which reminded me of working the screening desk in the garage at work and getting dehydration sickness (HYDRATE PEOPLE)–and then he also pointed out May was unusually mild and much rainier than usual, so the bitch slap of the return of your usual New Orleans summer weather felt even nastier than it generally does when it happens.

I am tired this morning, despite sleeping like a stone. I was tired yesterday–any amount of time spent out of doors in this type of New Orleans weather is exhausting and draining (and I am not, alas, in as good of physical condition as I should be; but despite the draining nature of this weather I draw the line at driving the short distance to the gym, which is simply insane and goes against the entire idea of going to the gym in the first place)–and while I need to, am trying to, exercise and be more conscious of self-care, I cannot allow the weather to keep me from doing things. (Yesterday when we picked up the car–shout out to Dawn, our amazing Lyft driver–it was 97 degrees and morbidly humid; after the Costco trip and unloading the car, all I really wanted to do was curl up in a corner in the air conditioning and hide for the rest of the evening. But there were other things that needed doing, so I wrote for a while (adding about another thousand words to “Festival of the Redeemer”), finished some laundry (I just heard the dryer click off from a fluff cycle, since I left the clothes in there over night), and then we finished watching an absolutely delightful HBO MAX show called Starstruck, which is incredibly charming, funny, and sweet–the premise is a young woman who has two horrible dead-end jobs, approaches life with a kind of grin and sense of humor but is really adrift, hooks up with someone one New Year’s who turns out to be a major film star–and follows their back-and-forth fumbling towards a relationship. The chemistry between them is absolutely fantastic, and we absolutely loved it. Rose Matafeo plays Jessie (she’s also the writer of the show) and she is just perfect; while Tom Kapoor, the movie star, is also perfectly played by Nikesh Patel–the cast is perfect down to the smallest role. The irony of the show is Jessie is positively NOT starstruck; she finds his celebrity appalling and a barrier to any possibility of a relationship between the two. Constant Reader, I think you would love it. It’s probably one of the most charming shows I’ve seen, up there with Schitt’s Creek, Ted Lasso, and Kim’s Convenience–which is high praise indeed.

Someone tweeted at me yesterday about having finished Mardi Gras Mambo and having tears in their eyes by the end; which was absolutely a lovely thing and an incredibly pleasant reminder that I kind of needed…we so often as writers live in a vacuum, and the negativity out there about our work is so intrusive and debilitating sometimes that it’s always lovely when someone who enjoyed your work reaches out to let you know. Thank you, person on Twitter that I don’t know; you made my evening…and it really takes so little.

I read a wonderful article in LA Review of Books written by Michael Nava yesterday (he really is a treasure; I am so delighted he has taken up the Henry Rios character again), which was the second part (I somehow missed the first and will be looking for it today) about the history of queer publishing. This was about the Golden Age, from the late 1970’s to the mid-1990’s; and reading it reminded me of so many names that I hadn’t forgotten but simply hadn’t thought about in a very long time. I came into queer publishing around this time, as a book reviewer for the New Orleans queer newspaper Impact; eventually branching out into national queer glossies and Lambda Book Report, where I actually wound up working; first as an assistant editor for about five months before taking over as editor for a year. I made many friends during that year and a half at LBR; it was while I was working there that Michael ended the Henry Rios series (I got Katherine Forrest to interview him and put him on the cover, using my very poor and picked-up-on-the-job Adobe Photoshop skills to pull together my most ambitious cover design to date; I have all the issues I worked on in a box up in the storage attic…and reading Michael’s piece made me think about bringing that box down and going through them, for the sake of the memories they would bring back for me–and then I thought, wow you sure have been experiencing a lot of nostalgia this year and decided to skip it for now), which was heartbreaking for me, a long-time fan. I left LBR–which in many ways was my dream job–just before the release of my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, because I felt I couldn’t really run a review magazine focusing on queer lit while I was also publishing my own fiction; I felt it created too much of a conflict of interest. I still stand my that decision–a lot of people were disappointed that I stepped down from the job; I remember one legendary queer writer telling me I was “destroying my career” by doing so (I think things worked out rather well, though; always trust your own instincts). I continued reviewing books for a few more years, but really felt uncomfortable doing so; for me, as a writer of queer fiction, it seemed–and still does–like a conflict of interest and so eventually I stopped being a paid reviewer. Now, of course, I review the occasional book I loved here on the blog; but I am not being paid for my opinion and I won’t talk about a book I didn’t like on here…I also don’t write about every book I read on this blog, either; and sometimes I worry that people think I didn’t like their book if I don’t review it…but then I remind myself that reviewing books isn’t the point of this blog, and it never has been….the blog is something I primarily write for myself, and I’m not interested in having a book review blog. I love reading for pleasure, and really, when I do write about a book I loved on here it’s to emphasize how much I love to read more than anything else.

And I really do need to get back to reading more.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. There’s a lot on the agenda today, and randomly riffing on my musings here isn’t going to get any of it done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and see you on the morrow.

Denial

And here we are at Tuesday morning already. The weather is supposed to be shitty today–rain and thunderstorms and flash flood alerts for today and tomorrow; it already started last night–and yesterday it was in the 80’s when I got off work. It’s 72 now and the sun isn’t up yet, either–the high for today and tomorrow is in the low 80’s. I suspect this is going to be a long, hot wet summer in New Orleans.

I came home from work yesterday and worked on my book, around the cat neediness (always), watched John Oliver’s impressive takedown of Tucker Carlson (the new Bill O’Reilly) on Last Week Tonight, and then just went to the Taylor Swift World Youtube channel and let her music videos play–along with some live performances–on stream while I put corrections into the manuscript. I am now up to Chapter 5, and am hoping to get even further along with it today. The goal is to get it all finished and input this week, so I can print it out yet again and decide on a structural edit over the weekend, with new writing to be put in place while cutting down excessive wordiness and repetition throughout the entire thing. But it’s going to be a good book–whether it actually winds up doing what I originally intended for it to do when it’s finally finished remains to be seen, but I think I will be pleased with it.

Yesterday the Lambda (Lammy) nominations were released, and as always, there was a bit of controversy involved. It’s inevitable, really; every year when they announce their finalists, people get angry and old grudges come out. I generally tend to avoid these conversations; I came to a place of peace with the organization awhile ago and let go of all the turbulent feelings just the mere mention of the organization or its awards could trigger in me. I worked there twenty years ago, and while it wasn’t a great experience in some ways, I learned an awful lot–about non-profits, publishing, how to put together a magazine, management skills, etc.–while I was editor of Lambda Book Report (it was weird; someone had reminded me of that on Sunday on social media–I had done one of those ‘post a memory of me’ things on Facebook, and Richard Labonte brought up meeting me at a Lammy reading at the San Francisco Library back when I was editor of LBR…it’s been so long even I forget about that; and it’s been scrubbed from my author bio since at least 2004). I also made some great friendships that still exist today. Overall, I prefer to remember the positives from working there now rather than the negatives (there were a lot of negatives, in all honesty). There were changes that needed to be made to the organization back then; changes have been made in the years since Paul and I left their employ (I do remember, with no small amusement, being told when I quit by some people that I was “ruining my career”–over fifty books and fifty short stories later here I am still, so no, people who told me that, you weren’t channeling Nostradamus), but I don’t think some of them were the ones that were needed or even necessary. For about three or four years in the early aughts, after quitting I was still somewhat emotionally vested in the organization…but the more time passed the less vested I felt and now I can read complaining threads on social media about the organization and not have any kind of vested emotional reaction to any of it; and while I do think the history of their awards is important, I do think they’ve kind of lost their way. But it’s not my problem and it’s very easy to be an armchair quarterback and make critiques–it doesn’t cost anything, after all, even in a time investment–when working to make those changes is much harder in terms of work and time. I’ve won the award twice–Best Anthology and Best Gay Mystery–and have been nominated so many other times I’ve really lost count. It’s somewhere in the teens, and I know the most nominated authors are me, Ellen Hart, That Bitch Ford, and Lawrence Schimel, and not in that order (I believe Ellen has the most), but whenever I try to remember which books and what years and what categories was I nominated in, I inevitably forget something–as I always skip something when I am counting how many books I’ve done….just last night I was remembering that I co-edited a vampire erotica anthology with M. Christian for Alyson Books that came out in the August before Hurricane Katrina, and I can’t remember it’s name–Blood something; Lust, perhaps? I only have a few copies and whenever I come across one, it always catches me a bit off guard: “Oh, yes, the book I always forget…”

And if anyone would have told me twenty five years ago I would lose track of award nominations and how many books I’ve actually done, I would have laughed in their face. But awards aren’t as important to me as they were when I was first getting started–don’t get me wrong, they are very lovely and I appreciate making short-lists, which is always a nice pat on the back from colleagues–and so I never see short-lists I didn’t make and think maybe next time. I just don’t like getting caught up in the hoopla of them; wondering if I am going to win, wanting to win, being disappointed when I don’t. That kind of egotism isn’t healthy, frankly, and I don’t like I seem to immediately launch into a competitive mode once the pleasure and surprise of being nominated wears off and naked ambition rises inside me.

While some ambition is necessary–you’ll never finish writing anything without it–out of control ambition is not a trait I like or aspire to; but it does happen sometimes and I have to reel it back in.

I don’t like it, quite frankly.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday!

Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)

I am the first to admit that I am a crime writer who was always kind of meh about Sherlock Holmes. I read some of the novels and some of the stories when I was in junior high, and while I enjoyed them somewhat, I was never particularly driven to go on to read the rest. I did read the Nicholas Meyer pastiches in the 1970’s–The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution, The West End Horror–but was never particularly driven to go back to Doyle. I never actually went back to Doyle (until recently; bear with me) but Holmes is so ubiquitous, so part of the crime fiction zeitgeist that it was impossible not to be aware of him and iconic parts of his canon, even the ones I’d not read–Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, Mary who married Watson–and of course, like many others, I’ve watched a great deal of the Holmes film canon, including Young Sherlock Holmes, and am a big an of the Benedict Cumberbatch interpretation; we even watched the first few seasons of the Americanized Holmes, Elementary. But for the most part I’ve avoided pastiches and the originals, with the exception of a story here and there by one of the modern-day aficionados who worship at the altar of Sherlock.

I have always known that my lack of Sherlockian knowledge was perhaps detrimental to my career as a crime writer. Several years ago, I managed to find a gloriously beautiful hardbound edition of the Baring-Gould The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and I have periodically dipped into it; no more so than when I was tasked to write my own Sherlock story, which became “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy.” Writing the story, putting my own interpretation on someone else’s characters and breathing life into them to try to make them engaging and new while respecting the originals was quite a challenge for me, one at many times I felt I was not equal to bringing to fruition. The story was written and then revised with editorial input, which made the story much stronger (in my opinion) than how I’d originally envisioned it, and it also unlocked potential in my creative brain: I want to, and plan to, return to the New Orleans of 1916 that I created for iteration, and even see how some other historic stories about New Orleans could easily fit into my Sherlock world, could prove to be cases for the great brain residing at 821 B Royal Street in the French Quarter.

I also decided that reading Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series was long overdue.

And seriously, what a treat it was.

Dear Reader,

As both I and the century approach the beginnings of our ninth decades, I have been forced to admit that age is not always a desirable state. The physical, of course, contributes its own flavour to life, but the most vexing problem I have found is that my past, intensely real to me, has begun to fade into the mists of history in the eyes of those around me. The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood. The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter. With us will go our memories.

I do not remember when I first realized that the flesh-and-blood Sherlock Holmes I knew so well was to the rest of the world merely a figment of an out-of-work medical doctor’s powerful imagination. What I do remember is how the realisation took my breath away, and how for several days my own self-awareness became slightly detached, tenuous, as if I too were in the process of transmuting into fiction, by contagion with Holmes. My sense of humour provided the pinch that woke me, but it was a very peculiar sensation while it lasted.

Now, the process has become complete: Watson’s stories, those feeble evocations of the compelling personality we both knew, have taken on a life of their own, and the living creature of Sherlock Holmes has become ethereal, dreamy. Fictional.

I first discovered Laurie R. King’s work with her Kate Martinelli series; I received a review copy of Night Work when I was editor of Lambda Book Report. I wasn’t familiar with the series, which caught me off guard–how did I not know about a crime series with a lesbian police detective as the protagonist?–and the book itself caught me completely off-guard. It was brilliant, so strongly written and the characters so real I was quite literally shocked to find out, many years later, that King was not herself a lesbian. I went back and read the entire series, loved each one, and was saddened when King ended the series with Book 5, moving on to a new series with Mary Russell–a series so completely different and disparate from the Martinelli series I didn’t see how it could work…and then add in the fact that it was actually a Holmes pastiche, and well, I wasn’t terribly interested.

It was sometime during the past year while working alongside King on the Mystery Writers of America board of directors (I will never get used to the big names I rub elbows with through my years of volunteering with MWA), and in the wake of my own Sherlockian writing experience, I thought, you love and admire her as a writer AND as a person, you should read her Mary Russell series.

It was quite literally one of the smartest decisions I have ever made.

I finished reading Book One of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and as you can see from the above paragraphs, immediately I was immersed in the story. The voice, the style, everything about the character and the story was as far removed from the more hard-boiled, gritty Martinelli series, but the intelligence and warmth and humor was still there–only in a completely different manne, a completely different way. You could read a Kate book and then a Mary and easily believe it was two different authors, they are so different. This is genius, by the way; the ability to create such completely different worlds, completely different characters, completely different voices? And I was riveted by Mary Russell. By the end of the first chapter I was crazy about her–she reminds me of two of my favorite female series characters of all time, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow–and her warmth and intelligence and humor…she was more than a match for Holmes, and by seeing Holmes through the eyes of an intelligent, independent woman rather than an admiring doctor also helped greater humanize Holmes himself, something I never got from the Doyle works (but that could also entirely be my own failing; I am going to leisurely revisit Doyle this year methinks), and I also found myself caring about them deeply–not just about the case, but about them as people.

So, if you’re avoiding this series because you aren’t a Sherlockian, you’re being ridiculous because you can have no knowledge of Holmes whatsoever to enjoy this, and I can’t see how you can’t enjoy this if you are a Sherlockian. This is a version of Holmes that deserves to be shared on a screen–television or theater, it doesn’t matter–and I can also see any number of today’s younger actresses playing this role. And while I have only seen the television adaptation of The Alienist, but the young female detective played so brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, Sara Howard, seems to also have a lot in common with Mary Russell.

I cannot wait to read the next A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and not just because of that great title resonating with me (I’ve always wanted to write a history of the 16th century by exploring the many powerful regnant women, pilfering that title from the John Knox tract denouncing the most ‘unChristian’ fact of so many powerful women on the scene at the same time).

Color me a big fan!

Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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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.

 

 

 

Breaking Us in Two

Sunday. It’s one degree warmer than yesterday morning–wow, right? But you will undoubtedly be thrilled to know that I get everything on my list done yesterday other than go to the gym; and after spending two hours in the storage unit moving boxes of books around, I was pretty damned exhausted physically, and then braved Costco on a Saturday afternoon (it wasn’t bad at all, other than stupid people, which is every day). I also came across some books in the storage that I thought hey, these need to be reread and so I took them out. One of them was Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which seemed, at least to me, to be the proper reread after The Haunting of Hill House, in that they’re very similar; one could even go so far as to say Matheson basically took Jackson’s story structure and turned the dial up a notch. I am enjoying the reread very much; although I’m not very far into it thus far. I also found my copy of Michael Rowe’s groundbreaking anthology Queer Fear, which I reviewed in the Lambda Book Report many years ago when I worked there, and was to be my first encounter with Mr. Rowe; I remember he came up to me at the Lambda Awards the next year, introduced himself, and thanked me for the lovely review. We’ve crossed paths a few times since, and have become friends over the years. I do remember loving Queer Fear, and look forward to delving into it and rereading its short stories again.

I also found my high school scrapbook and my diaries from the 1990’s. I used to buy blank books and carry them around with me everywhere, so I could jot down story and/or book ideas, or write diary entries whenever I wanted to. I am always hesitant to reread my old diaries; I often wince from my immaturity and my over-dramatization of events in my life. Yet at the same time, the diaries also served as a very vital source of self-reflection and self-examination; I suppose this blog has served that purpose since I started it on Livejournal back in 2004 (the idea that I have been consistently blogging for thirteen years rather staggers the mind, doesn’t it? But I’ve been writing in a diary of some sort, off and on, since I was a teenager; this seems to be a natural continuation of that process).

I also found the three ring binder where I kept everything from the Virginia situation of 2005 and 2006; including the ACLU letter to the school board. I’d always intended to write a non-fiction book about it all, called Gay Porn Writer, in which I examined what happened to me in the context, not only of the times but extrapolating it out further into what was going on in publishing and the culture. My memory lies to me now, of course, so I am not certain that I’ll ever write such a book–I don’t know that I would remember things correctly, and even then, what is colored by my perceptions of things. I’ve since moved on, of course–I mentioned the incident in passing on my panel at Bouchercon and had to explain it a little, which was kind of crazy. It was so long ago, and I used to get invited to speak about it all the time. The memories are now hazy and unclear, but I am definitely going to keep all this information.

You never know.

I think I am probably just going to scan everything in the scrapbook, in order to preserve it electronically, and then throw it away. I don’t really need to keep programs from my high school football games, or from choir concerts, and scanning them will better preserve them anyway.

I have one errand to run today, and I also want to go to the gym for a little bit, start dipping my feet back into the water of working out regularly, and despite the cold, I am going to give that a try.

And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done, or at least something done that will move all projects forward.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you:

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