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.

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!