Archive for June, 2014

Returning to My Former High School with Pride

By Andrew J. Peters

Amherst GSA Pic2

When my first novel came out about six months ago, many exciting things happened. I got my first glimpse at a trade paperback book I had created up at retailers. There were industry reviews, and chatter at sites like Goodreads. I did readings and signing events. I felt a rush of pride when my book was nominated for awards.

 

The biggest honor for me since The Seventh Pleiade released was getting invited back to my hometown high school to speak to the Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA).

 

A lot has changed for me since I walked the halls of Amherst High School, which is in a suburban town adjacent to the city of Buffalo. If someone had told me back then that I would return to the school as an adult to talk to students about being gay and writing gay literature, I probably would have crushed myself into a tight ball, begging to disappear from the world. I knew that I was attracted to boys at thirteen years old. But I had been so terrified that I buried those feelings deep in my psyche.

 

This was back in the 1980s and in suburban Western New York. There were no gay people in that universe, just a few individuals who were assumed to be gay because of the way they dressed or their mannerisms. Those teachers and students couldn’t hide who they were. To me, they were a cautionary tale. Gay people got made fun of behind their backs. Sometimes, they were openly harassed.

 

It would take going away to college, meeting gay people who weren’t ashamed, and a really affirming psychotherapist for me to come out proud and to embark on a career as a social worker for LGBT youth.

 

A few months after The Seventh PleiadeThe Seventh Pleiade 300 DPI released, it occurred to me that my former high school should have a copy. There had to be LGBT students at the school who were looking for books about people like themselves. Even if they were too afraid to take the book down from a shelf, the book would be up there as a symbol that LGBT kids had a place in the school. That was something that would have helped me back when. When I sent the book to the librarian, she connected me to a teacher who advises the school’s GSA. That teacher asked me if I would come back to talk to her students.

 

Complicated as high school was for me, I’ve always looked back on that era of my life fondly. I wasn’t part of the popular crowd, but I had good friends who brought me out of my shy, inner world, even if they didn’t know me completely. I wrote for the high school newspaper, and I did a lot of creative writing as a teen. I always felt encouraged by teachers, friends and family. That my high school world couldn’t help me come to terms with being gay never struck a bitter chord. I was part of the culture of the time, which believed that gayness was a defect.

 

I wasn’t surprised that my old high school has a GSA. Most public schools in the Northeast do these days. It’s a wonderful thing. But I was surprised that on a Friday after school, twenty students showed up to their meeting. As groups of students wandered into the room, I heard one young man say: “Oh, it’s that crazy author guy.” That set a familiar irreverent tone that immediately put me at ease.

 

I talked about my experience as a gay student, becoming an author and my belief that LGBT young adult literature is an important part of creating change and equality. The students had lots of questions.

 

Some were writers themselves and asked me about overcoming challenges and about my experience getting my work published. Some wanted to know about my coming out experience. When did I know I was gay? How did I know?

 

I told them that those were questions I had pondered heavily when I was younger, and I did my best to answer honestly and thoughtfully. It took me back to the many mysteries of growing up. Where do I fit in? How will I know for sure? Will anyone ever understand me?

 

There were students in morbid graphic t-shirts, girls holding hands, boys looking restless and embattled, and outbursts of nervous and triumphant laughter. The sum of it all was like catching on the radio an old song that I had forgotten how much I loved. That’s an analogy I chose not to share with the group in fear that I would be asked: what’s a radio? But some things about being a teenager never change.

 

For me it was a very special homecoming. I was able to share an important part of who I am with Amherst High School. Even though it took me more years than I care to admit, that afternoon I spent with the high school GSA was one of the most gratifying moments of my life.

 

For the authors out there who have considered going back to their former high school, this is an enthusiastic testimonial that should come with a flashing pop-up: Do it! It’s a great way to give back. As the GSA advisor told me, LGBT students are greatly in need of adult role models. The experience also made me realize that despite all the ways I tried to distance myself from my hometown—geographically for one thing—that community had a big influence on me. I rediscovered my “tribe,” and it felt amazing to be welcomed back.

Cards on the Table

BY NELL STARK

I have a new book out this month: All In, a romance between a professional poker player named Nova and a casino host named Vesper. The book is about many things, but one of those things is poker. In many ways, poker is a microcosm of life. Your luck can change in an instant. Deception is a powerful tool, but it has its limitations. Those with more money have certain advantages, but sometimes an underdog is capable of usurping them. Risks are not always rewarded, but if you venture nothing, you gain nothing.

 

Having a book come out is a lot like laying your cards on a table after the river. Once your cards are down, the game is frozen—open to reaction and interpretation, but not to revision. You, the player, recede momentarily into the background. The cards speak for themselves.

 

As do all texts. Back in 1946, the field of literary studies (specifically, two British blokes named Wimsatt and Beardsley)[1] spawned a concept known as the “intentional fallacy.” It goes something like this: the author’s intent behind a work is not special or privileged. It is only one interpretation among the many that may exist. As long as a reader can prove his or her theory about a text in a responsibly justified literary argument (ie. not taking quotes out of context), his/her interpretation is valid. Some people hate this idea, and I can understand why; even though our culture venerates movie stars and athletes and wealthy entrepreneurs, we still get excited about authors. There are plenty of examples ready-to-hand: the powerful public reaction to the death of Maya Angelou; the buzz about J.K. Rowling’s male pseudonym; the anxiety over whether George R. R. Martin will live long enough to finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Authors are powerful because they have answers. Or so we think.

 

I recently finished reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, which I picked up because a solid third of my college freshmen students named it as their favorite book. In July, I will be on a panel at the Golden Crown Literary Society’s conference about so-called “Young Adult” literature, and so I figured I’d better read a book so popular with the genre’s target market. The Fault in our Stars is viscerally beautiful and tackles many themes, but the central quest of the narrator is to find out what happens to the characters in her favorite novel after its abrupt ending. And she believes there is only one way to do this: by seeking out the author.

 

While listening to an audio book about Egyptian history[2] a few months ago, I learned that for 700,000 years, humanity had only one kind of tool: variants on a saw made of stone. But I don’t think that’s true. If those prehistoric people had language—even a very rudimentary one—then they had two tools, because they were able to tell stories to one another. Stories allow us to construct meaning out of a life that can seem, at times, utterly senseless. They are the building blocks of myth and religion, creating frameworks that help us understand everything from natural phenomena to human motivation. The story is the essential human tool. Without stories, we would have no laws, no history, no science. Like genes, stories pass from person to person, evolving through time. And also like genes, stories do not have intrinsic meaning, but rather find their meaning in expression.

Neither the bards of old nor the authors of today can determine the meaning of the stories they tell. That power belongs to their audience.

 

As our stories have evolved, we humans have done what we do to everything we touch: we have labeled them. A story, we learn, fits into a box: it is told in poetry or prose; it is an epic or a tragedy or a mystery or a romance or a thriller or erotica or YA or NA or… While these labels have a certain utility, they are also constricting—as constricting as the ones we apply to ourselves. We pin down our stories like dead butterflies, and then we ask them to fly. But the miracle is that even as we sort and categorize them, stories help us transcend our labels. They prompt us to peek over the edge of our boxes—to reach out and make connections. They create empathy.

 

Some authors feel called to stretch our imaginations by portraying the fantastical or the future. Others make meaning out of the simplest details of daily life. Some urge us to confront the darkness between the stars, or the darkness that hides monsters, or the darkness in our own hearts. They compel us to laugh, to sob, to gasp, to shake our fists. Each of us prefers certain stories over others, but humanity needs them all.

 

At the climax of James Joyce’s Ulysses, his protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, confronts the ghost of his mother and asks her the question that drives him as both a man and an artist: “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.”[1] She does not give him an answer. Scholars have argued over “the word” for decades, and if Joyce were still alive, they would doubtless beg him to tell us the word that was in his mind. I don’t think he would oblige them. I think he would say that whatever word he was thinking of—if, in fact, he was thinking of only one—is just as “correct” an answer as anyone else’s. That meaning, in other words, is constructed not by an author, but by their readers.

 

For me, “the word known to all men” is love. And that is why I write the kinds of stories that we have chosen to label romances: because love has been the structuring principle of my life and the lens through which I understand the universe. Love is my strong nuclear force and my cosmic background radiation. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]

 

All In BSB-AllInwas created in the service of this love. It lies open on the table, in your hands.

 

 

[1] Wimsatt, William K. and Monroe C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” Sewanee Review, vol. 54 (1946): 468-488. Revised and republished in The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry, U of Kentucky P, 1954: 3-18.

[2] Brier, Bob. The History of Ancient Egypt. The Great Courses: Ancient History. The Great Courses: 2013. Audiobook.

[1] Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986. 474.

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:7

A BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH SIMON HAWK

by Connie Ward

Dark Feather - Toms Photo - Less Smoke

1.) What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

Back in the day when I was just becoming a youth worker, one of my fourteen-year-old clients began selling himself to older men on the streets. Despite all of my efforts to warn him of the dangers of his behavior, the boy contracted HIV. He came to me the day he was diagnosed and asked me to write a book for other gay kids on the subject. I was at first reluctant to tackle the subject, but five years later after he died of AIDS complications, I wrote a book based on his experience.

 

2.) What type of stories do you write? And why?

I normally write about at-risk behavior. This includes drug/alcohol abuse, teen suicide, and HIV and AIDS. I think kids who are given a chance to read about such subjects will make the right choice in regard to changing their behavior. It’s a way to reach them, sort of an “edutainment” approach. Although my books are action-packed, I lace the stories with a message.

3.) What do your family/friends think about your writing?

 

Most of my friends have the misconception that writing books is very profitable.

 

Family members, however, are well aware that the difference between an author and a large pizza is, a large pizza can feed a family of four (meaning an author cannot).

 

I once joked with a friend and told him if someone ever kidnapped me and held me as a hostage, they would be sadly disappointed. There wouldn’t be money to pay the ransom!

4.) Where do you get your ideas?

 

I have been fortunate to have stumbled upon most of my stories. My work as a consultant for several agencies who spread AIDS awareness puts me in touch with some interesting characters. I feel that, after having an emotional attachment to most of my subjects, I can plant a seed. It might take a month or even a year, but when a story starts knocking around inside my head, I have to write it down.

 

5.) How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

I usually dwell on an idea for several weeks, then sit down and write the first scene, keeping it tight with plenty of action to grab the reader’s attention. (God forbid that I ever write a boring book). I then look in the distance to see where the story might be going. I write an outline, very sketchy, because it changes. But once I have an outline, I try to keep the story in the perimeter of this. Most stories are character-driven, and I simply report what I see them doing. Images come to me like a movie inside my head. I simply write what I see. Intricate plots give me fits, but once I see one clearly, I am set to go. However, I have ADHD, and therefore I “hyper-focus” on each book I write. The thing is, I work on three or four projects at once. It keeps things moving.

 

6.) What makes The Fall of a Gay King special to you?

I really wish I could elaborate here, but since this story is based more on fact than fiction, I am not sure how much I can reveal here about the actual conspiracy. My source for the story was stalked and threatened with a lawsuit in regard to what he revealed to me. Some players are still in play, and I need to remain as discreet as possible when it comes to giving too much away.The Fall of the Gay King 300 DPI

 

I believe that the events in the story take place not only in America, but in most major cities throughout the world. The subject matter is swept under the carpet and kept very secret, yet the millions involved in the practice have been active from the dawn of civilization. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong, but I try to convey the facts so that others can form their own opinion on the subject, for better or worse.

 

7.) How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

My main character is an author who, because of the story sent his way, has to act more like an investigative journalist. I would like the title of “investigative” added to my resume, but in truth, I am just a simple author. However, much like Logan, I do extensive research before I start work on any book. I once read fifty books on the subject of HIV/AIDS before writing my one book. It went on to sell 15,000 copies, so all the research paid off.

 

And unlike Logan, who, at the end of the story, ends up financially set, that is pure fiction when it comes to my real life.

8.) Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?

 

Yes, I was honored to have Greg Herren edit my book. I first read one of his stories in the My First Time series. It was a sex scene and I learned a lot about writing one from reading his story. I have also read several of his other mystery books involving his gay private investigator. Greg is a great writer. Also, I admire Randy Shilts of The Band Played On. His book about the AIDS epidemic was incredible.

9.) Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Yes, one word of advice: if you want to write a book, plant your ass in a chair and write!

 

 

10.) When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

 

I do a lot of walking. I walk my dog each day, and when I am done with her walk, I take one of my own. I live only a mile from the country, and so I often take to the bike trail, where I have a great view of the open countryside. It helps me think, which leads me right back to writing.

 

When I really want to cut myself off from not thinking about stories or plots, I fire up the computer and throw myself into a Multiplayer online game, although I totally suck at Call of Duty!

Alone in the dark: A mountain & my muse

BY SHERI LEWIS WOHL

Sheri Werewolf

Sheri Werewolf

 

The air is turning cold and the only light is a sliver of moonlight filtering through the towering pines. A small stream flows past like a whisper while off in the distance the crack of a branch snapping makes me jump. Inside the flaps of the dark green tarp strung between two trees, I lay on the hard ground huddled inside my sleeping bag. On the side of the mountain, I’m alone. Well, not technically all alone, there are others tucked inside their own makeshift shelters scattered throughout the wooded mountainside. But here near the swiftly moving stream, I’m by myself. It’s the perfect mood setting for a paranormal writer.

But, I wasn’t there as a writer. No, I came to the mountain that particular night to participate in an overnight mock search and rescue exercise. As a member of a K9 search and rescue team called out by the Sheriff’s Department where I live, we periodically converge to run through search scenarios and keep our skills sharp. This was a particularly interesting exercise for it was held on Halloween weekend. As I was running a half-marathon earlier in the day, I got to the mountain after the teams had been deployed. Rather than act as a searcher in this one, I had a different job. I was one of the “lost” persons the teams had to find. Except this time, in this exercise, those lost were a little more than lost…we were preternatural as well. There was one Skeleton, one demon, and me…a werewolf!

The search exercise was a rousing success and not only did we learn a great deal, but we had fun too. Though it was deep darkness on the side of that mountain by the time the searchers located me, when their lights hit my face, their reactions were priceless. The searchers, you see, weren’t in on the unique nature of the lost that night.

I came to the exercise that night loving the idea of being a lost werewolf but also pleased to be able to utilize the skills I’ve spent so much time learning and refining. The search and rescue community is a wonderful group to be associated with and the support of law enforcement in our area, incredible. This night though, it gave me even more. Think about it: a paranormal writer alone on the side of a mountain dressed like a werewolf? Oh yeah, I’m talking imagination nirvana!

The next morning as we packed out many were cold and tired, not having slept well in their shelters. It was cold and a light snow had begun to fall. It didn’t dampen my mood, I was grinning. My shelter had been great, I’d remembered to charge my radio, and my GPS had worked perfectly. Best of all, my muse shared the little shelter with me that night and when I hiked out, my head was filled stories of things that go bump in the night. I could hardly wait to get home to my computer.

Every writer is asked one question again and again – “Where do you get your ideas from?” For me on that Halloween weekend they came from inside a green tarp on the side of a mountain.

Vermilion Justice 300 DPI

The Amazon Trail

Hero Worship

 

 

We are not separate from our history; our history surrounds us. Even as it trails behind us, we create it and are part of it. As a young dyke I felt separate from just about everyone and everything, yet gay authors formed me and are part of me. At the same time, they prepared me to, in my small way, pass on what they created.

It was a shock when I realized there were less than twenty years between the publication of The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and my birth. The same for Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, and Richard Meeker’s Better Angel and John Henry Mackay’s The Hustler. When I read the two lesbian books, in 1960, they seemed like ancient history to me. Today, I can see that the lesbian and gay male books of the 1920s were no more than a hop, skip and a jump to James Baldwin, Gore Vidal and Jane Rule’s books, and another short leap to Judy Grahn and Isabel Miller.

I’ve lived a minor gay miracle, having had the honor of bridging gay generations and, sometimes, of hearing or meeting or exchanging a few emails, and sometimes becoming friends with the great writers and publishers of the past 100 years. My gosh, I have walked along Patchin Place, where Djuna Barnes lived in New York City, and left an admiring note in the mailbox she emptied every day with the hands that wrote her strange and quite lesbian books.

Once, I sold books next to the “Sinister Wisdom” table which was staffed by Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff. I managed to stutter my way through a brief conversation with Adrienne, whose poetry I’d been reading since high school. In high school, I read Valerie Taylor’s books, marketed as lesbian pulp novels. Much later I not only met this tiny, loving woman, we became fast friends and, as our birthdays fell two days apart, we had a quiet celebration at her home one year. It’s impossible for me to describe the thrill it was to be on the same planet with one of these writers, much less in the same room.

I heard John Rechy speak in San Francisco. His book City of Night wowed this nascent writer. If he could fashion a whole novel out of clandestine gay male encounters, wasn’t I free to write a whole lot more circumspectly about lesbians? He carried the flag of openness and I marched behind him. That he became a respectable university faculty member stunned me. How could there be room in one’s life for both extremes?

James Baldwin and Jane Rule taught me, through their books, that gay fiction could be beautiful and have a moral dimension I admired. I needed the wisdom of their novels. I was privileged to correspond with Jane, and spend time with her and her partner in Seattle one enchanted weekend. What did I do to deserve these beautiful connections?

Lee and Jane Rule

Lee and Jane Rule

Judy Grahn is an old acquaintance whose powerful readings and speeches I’ve heard. Katherine Forrest, Karin Kallmaker and Cate Culpepper came later and became writing pals, as did Terri de la Peña, Sasha Alyson, Terri Jewell, and Joan Nestle. I once met John Preston and I’m Twitter buddies with gay Amish poet James Schwartz. When we moved last year we should have left a plaque: “KG Macgregor slept here”

Renee Bess, Greg Herren, and Ellen Hart are significant figures in contemporary gay writing who I call friends. If this sounds like I’m bragging and name dropping, I am. Having these women and men in my life in person or through their words is beyond anything this kid from Queens dreamed when I started writing. Heck, having a comprehensive literature of our own is my tenth wonder of the world.

This mingling with the greats is not limited to established writers. Every year at The Golden Crown Literary Society <http://goldencrown.org/> conference I meet more authors. And I get to see those who have become old friends. Ann Bannon, who I first read at age 15, and first met in the early 1980s, will be this year’s Special Speaker. Lori Lake, author of over a dozen books and one of our greatest promoters and champions, will give the keynote speech. At Golden Crown, I connect with writers like Jewelle Gomez, Elizabeth Sims, Marianne K. Martin, and Radclyffe.

I also meet the reasons I write: the devoted, enthusiastic readers and the fledgling writers. I watch the millennials, some unaware they are treading in Radclyffe Hall’s footsteps, as they develop. Rachel Spangler, Nell Stark, Dillon Watson, Trinity Tam, Gabrielle Goldsby – the conference is practically a warehouse of  literary lesbians.

Speaking of shock, imagine if Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde could see us now!

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Lee Lynch  

Invention

BY DAVID HOLLY

The Raptures of Time, The Raptures of Time 300 DPImy latest novel from Bold Strokes Books, is coming out this month. In Raptures, my storyteller Mack and his friends explore a geologically impossible cave and emerge lost on another world. In the otherworldly realm of Qysteria, they explore cultures unlike our own with odd traditions and kinky sexual rituals.

 

The action shifts between the gynocratic customs of Qysteria and the societies of our Earth, past, present, and future. On Qysteria, villagers demand that the guys participate in gay sex rituals or subject them to sex slavery. In between participating in deliriously erotic acts, Mack and his friends must avoid outlandish creatures and a malevolent sorcerer from Earth’s future. While our Earth moves toward the totalitarian patriarchy of the twenty-fifth century, our heroes voyage to the Qysterian island of Absonia where they are dominated by towering island women with enormous phalluses and forced to emasculate themselves with a naturally growing island herb.

 

Without revealing more of the peculiar and tasty twists this novel takes, I’ll acknowledge that the story raises one obvious question about authorship: do you have to do it in order to write about it?

 

Does a mystery writer have to be a murderer?

 

Does a science fiction writer have to be a space alien?

 

The answer is simple. I’m a writer—I really am making this up. I can write from the perspective of another race or another gender, just as female authors can describe male on male sex or a black male can write about the experience of a white man.

 

Some writers write close to their own hearts and expose themselves and their relationships. Others write away from themselves. I belong to the second category. I’m not my characters. That first person I, Mack Frost the first person storyteller in this novel, is a voice I’m creating. Writing by the seat of my pants, I let my imagination and the developing characters carry me onward.

 

In The Raptures of Time, my characters travel through time and space in ways I’ve never done. They engage in oral sex with the hunky men of Tungon Village. They experience anal penetration in the village of Jekor, including getting pegged by women with strap-on dildoes. They are captured by underground troglodytes and held as sex slaves. They are emasculated by gigantic dominatrices, and eventually restored by Mack’s growing superhuman and paranormal powers.

 

I’m making up the story of The Raptures of TimeThe Raptures of Time 300 DPI—I’m a writer. I have done my upmost to give my readers a grand story in outrageous and enchanting detail. Raptures, like all that I write, is pure fiction and glorious invention.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 621 other followers


%d bloggers like this: