Archive for the 'Gay Fiction' Category

A BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH SAM LOLLAR

 BY CONNIE WARD

Sam lollar

 

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I bet I’m typical of most fiction writers in that I never really decided to become one: I’ve always written fiction. As soon as I learned to write I began composing little stories that I would share with my school friends. The more important question for me is why I decided to try to get my fiction published. I have published numerous scholarly articles, but never fiction. A former therapist I saw for many years listened to me whine about how “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” yet I never submitted anything for publication. He noted that when I felt that I had something to say, I would write for publication. I guess I finally feel like I have something to say.

 

What type of stories do you write?

My first novel is a coming-of-age tale. I’ve begun writing a second one that is also a coming-of-age story. I grew up in the 1960s—a turbulent time socially for the U.S. Homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness by both the American Psychological Assn and the American Psychiatric Assn; being homosexual would get one kicked out of the military with a dishonorable discharge. It was not a time to embrace one’s “otherness.” That struggle—the inward revulsion reflecting societal hatreds—scarred me for most of my life. Yet that struggle seems so distant today, as gay people celebrate the legal right to marry in the U.S. (and all the other ways being gay today is different from being gay in the 1960s). I feel that I have stories to tell that expose that grim reality that gay men and women endured in the 1960s.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My mom and dad used to think I was extremely creative and enjoyed showing my writing efforts (short stories and the like) to their friends and coworkers. If my parents were alive they would be delighted with my novel, but not surprised that I’ve finally gotten a novel published. Years ago I was a co-author of a textbook, my name prominently displayed on the cover. I gave my mom a copy of it. Imagine my (delighted) embarrassment when I picked her up at the doctor’s office one day, and she was carrying the book—the cover conspicuously in view. I asked her about it, and she said she just had to show it to everybody—in fact for several weeks, she carried it everywhere she went and showed it to anybody with a pulse! I wish she were here now to carry my novel around town! Most of my friends have died or scattered to the winds over the years, but I think they would enjoy seeing themselves reflected in my books (current and future).My surviving family is delighted that I have published my first novel.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Where do any ideas come from? They come from my existence—from the difficulties I endured, the struggles of my friends (gay and straight), various news stories that caught my eye. I discovered that I can weave “real” events with fictional situations rather well. Much of the action that occurs in my first novel actually happened, just not quite in the way I have written it. When writing, it’s not uncommon for me to come to an impasse with my characters—they refuse to do what I want them to. hen I’ll think of something that happened to me (or that I read about) over the years, and I’ll try to put my recalcitrant characters into those situations. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

 

How do you write: do you plan everything out or just write?

With my first novel, I started out writing vignettes. Each little tale stood alone. I was in a faculty writing group at the university where I taught in California when the ideas for Tallulah first popped up. I wrote one vignette and got favorable feedback from the writers’ group and continued to write little “mini-short stories.” After I shared three or four of these efforts, the writing group suggested that it would make a good novel, so I began stringing them together. The original vignettes that I wrote were based on real events; later in my efforts, I began to pull in events that I had read about or just dreamed up. Tallulah was just a conglomeration of ideas, a bit of a muddle at first. In fact I thought I had finished the book in 2010 when I went to a writers’ workshop in New Orleans. I was asked to submit the first two chapters when I signed up for the workshop and realized that I didn’t know for sure which chapters were the first or second ones! The instructor (author CJ Lyons) advised me that I needed to figure out how I wanted the story to start before I could continue with a logical story arc. With the input from Lyons and the other group members, the “finished novel” that I had brought to the workshop began to take shape. The real finished novel bears little resemblance to that earlier effort. Whole chapters have been rearranged, new characters were introduced, chapters were deleted, and the entire story line was extensively modified. That is not the way to write a novel! The second novel I’ve begun writing is more structured from the outset. I know who my characters are, I know the setting(s) of the tale, and I know the story arc of the main character (not surprisingly, a young man coming of age in the late 1960s).

 

What makes Tallulah Bankhead Slept Here special to you?

tallulah-bankhead-slept-hereI actually worked as a bellboy at a motel in my hometown, and a faded movie star really did stay several weeks at the motel, although I had almost no interaction with her. Many years later, at the writers’ group in California, I began to think that having a naïve teen interacting with a world-weary movie star would make a fun premise for a novel. Over the years I would pick up the pages I had written while in the group and either tear them up and start over, or fawn over them, thinking them to be the best work written in English. Sadly for me, mental illness overtook my life, and I couldn’t focus on writing for many years. Finally, I entered a period of mental stability from the late 1990s onward and was able to revisit the book I had begun so many years before. At one point I had saved the first draft on a 3.5 inch floppy disc, then deleted it from an old computer I threw out. I then managed to lose the floppy disc. Years later, as I was about to be evicted from an apartment, I packed up my meager belongings and moved in with a cherished lesbian friend. Once on my feet, I relocated to southern Louisiana; during the unpacking I discovered that lost floppy. I don’t believe in the supernatural or any such things, but it did seem like this was a “sign” for me not to give up. I reworked Tallulah and attended the writers’ workshop in New Orleans, then reworked the novel yet again. I thought I had finished the book and had saved it to a flash drive when my computer crashed. I figured everything was okay because I had the flash drive, but no sooner did I plug the flash drive into my new computer than I bumped into it and broke the damn thing in half. There was no way I could recover the material saved on the drive. So, once again, I started over. Happily I had a hard copy of an earlier draft and didn’t actually have to start from scratch. After all this drama, I decided to give it my best shot to get it published. I am pleased to see the results of these efforts. Mental stability and a published novel make for a happy author!

 

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

Several of the characters in Tallulah are based on real people that I met while working at the motel. They would be virtually unrecognizable to anyone from that period, however, because I had to make them work together in ways they never did in real life for the novel to make sense. The main character is based on me (what a surprise!): the naïve teen working at a motel and interacting with the world-weary movie star. Most of the scandalous actions actually occurred to a friend of mine (Richard Luna, to whom the novel is dedicated). He was quite the little horn dog back then, and I was the somewhat envious, somewhat mortified observer. One of the characters is a television star with whom the main character has a sexual fling. Richard never told me who this TV star was that he cavorted with, just telling me that it was a gorgeous guy in a TV Western. So, it’s as much a mystery for me as it is for the readers—who was that star of TV Westerns who seduced a teenager in El Paso, Texas during the summer of 1967?

 

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

Actually three authors (two gay identified, one not) inspired me. I wanted to write a novel including a real, well-known (though deceased) movie star. I didn’t know how to do that without being sued by such an actor’s estate. Then I read Stewart Kaminsky’s detective series featuring Toby Peters. There is a string of about twenty books featuring all kinds of movie stars, from Joan Crawford to Mae West. I realized that I could have the movie star do anything as long as it was not indecent, illegal, or immoral .For instance, I learned that I couldn’t have Tallulah Bankhead sleeping with anybody—although I allude to her sadness at losing her sexual allure. So Tallulah is kind of the Yoda of my book: worldly, wise, “seen it all, done it all,” and acting as a stable rock around which the actions of the hapless protagonist revolves. I also wanted characters that were so real you just knew the author was writing verbatim about events that actually occurred. I don’t think anybody does this better than Felice Picano. When I read Like People in History I was convinced he was transcribing the events as they actually happened. I hope I have been able to get a bit of that “real-ness” into my book. The third element of the book that I wanted very much to include was a sort of breathless wonder that overcame the protagonist; the character is agog over all the events going on around him. And who better to capture that sense of amazing reality than Armistead Maupin? His Tales of the City series leaves me breathless as the characters engage in one amazing experience after another. I hope I’ve been able to achieve that wonderment to some extent.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Write! I have come across two ideas from authors whose names I have forgotten: if you want to be an author you have to write! And “what do you call an author who won’t quit sending his/her efforts to agents and publishers? You call him ‘published.'”

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

I read extensively (and intensively, come to think of it). I get as focused on the structure of the book as I do on the plotline: what words were used and could another word or phrase have been used instead? I am a slow reader because I absorb the writer’s technique as much as I absorb the story line. I enjoy jogging and hiking (especially in desert country).I also play with my two Shih Tzu puppies. Over the years I have lost so many friends, family members, and pets that I thought I’d not want to have any more pets. Then these two little guys came into my life. It’s hard to be blue and morose playing with them. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on the “why” of writing my novel.

. . . shell-shocked in a city of masks and dreams . . .

 

By Tom Cardamone

 

hh1I used to think I was a bad gay because I loved Halloween more than Pride. Now it’s worth noting that New York City, where I live and actually moved to mostly to come out of the closet, is big on parades (Living here, you have elaborate plans to avoid the ones you find annoying, and bigger plans to celebrate the ones you embrace). And the Pride Parade is historic, joyous, and essential. I remember my first Pride Parade so clearly: as I stepped out of the subway, I caught sight of a police marching band as they began to play “New York, New York,” and I was stunned. “There are gay police? And enough of them to actually form a band?” I was thrilled at this slap-in-your-face realization over how big our community is, and how much I had still to learn. Immediately, this became my town. And my town is big on Halloween. Before I went to my first Pride, I went to my first Halloween Parade. If you haven’t been to New York City’s Halloween Parade, go. Just go. It’s an absolute old school New York City good time. And man, let me tell you, it’s an adult parade. The exhibitionists, the costume designers, anyone and everyone are out. This is a night time event, and sure kids come and have a great time (hell, I’ve brought some of my nephews and they loved it), but it’s a prelude to drinking and mischief. And the gays are there, front and center. Absent the serious political core of Pride, Halloween is a time for queers to just let their hair down (and let our horns shine bright). And the audience lining the parade loves us, hooting and applauding some of the campiest costumes you’ve ever seen (one of the biggest hits I’ve witnessed was a dozen guys dressed as Richard Simmons jogging along the route). Suddenly straights not only get our humor, but view us as an essential part of the overall celebration. But as we all know, Halloween is really about fear. I’d blogged about gay horror here before, but wanted to take a moment to focus on the final piece in my collection, Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe. I wrote this story at the request of an editor, a buddy who wanted a queer horror story. Just by asking if I had anything, I realized I had been thinking about this idea for years and never put it down on paper. Halloween Parade is just that, a story about a unique cultural phenomenon concerning a very particularly American holiday (with old world paganism bursting through the scarecrow seams) in one of the gayest cities of the world. New York City, the epicenter of the AIDS crisis and the Stonewall riots -I wanted to write about how a man with a rather obsessive predilection for horror films navigates the parade, and the particular temptations and anxieties of living here. Sometimes our parades, our parties and such, are a great way to let lose, to dance it off and be free, but sometimes total abandon opens a door that would be better left shut:

 

Night SweatsThe Halloween Parade in New York City is a sloppy pageant of mock mayhem and elastic shadows. Outer-borough boys in drugstore masks muffling beery breath push through the crowd to grope no small variety of ass canvassed by tight-fitting jeans. Tourists gape and take pictures as men in heels strut about in glamorous costumes so meticulous most Las Vegas showgirls would hang their sequined heads in shame. Everywhere Frankensteins, Draculas, and Wolfmen cavort with modern incarnations of fear: those cinematic flavors of the moment, disgraced politicians and goofy celebrities, interspersed within a sea of witches, some in elaborate dark robes, wielding scraggy brooms, others sporting nothing but a pointy hat, just enough to signify membership among the coven.

Stephen sifted the crowd as he performed his annual census. He relished this time of year, when adults snatched back the one holiday that mattered from greedy made-for-cavities children, this pagan night that celebrated frenzy and death and darkness. Stephen kept Halloween alive throughout the year by meticulously maintaining his collection of horror films and memorabilia. He purchased horror movies of all stripes, running through countless phases, grabbing up the reissues, the director’s cuts, jumping on gory bandwagons galore: Asian cinema was big a few years ago and he’d lost count of the number of spooky bootlegs he’d gathered in Chinatown featuring ghost girls streaming black hair. He had reverently replaced his vast VHS collection one-by-one as the format was superseded by DVD, cherishing those grainy slasher and monster films that had yet to be re-released on disc. Halloween was a stake in the ground around which his whole year swung, and every year at the parade Stephen counted the killers.

 

My gay friends all talk about American Horror, Scream Queen, and The Walking Dead just as much as my friends, gay and straight, who also write in the genre. Maybe our flirtations with darkness access the same humor and intellect that inform our gay sensibilities. In The Halloween Parade, it’s the darkness that takes hold, however. And isn’t that always a possibility? Isn’t that why we check the doors after watching a particularly scary movie? Not because we’re scared, but ultimately, because we want to feel safe.

My first Halloween Parade was every horror (music) fan’s dream: my friend, Mike, scored tickets to see the reformed Misfits, with a set featuring guest drummer Tommy Ramone. And as I walked into the club, Jerry Only of the Misfits thought I was a friend and rushed over and gave me a hug. Realizing that we didn’t know each other (well, I knew him!), he released me and politely moved on. (Looking back, I bet he thought I was Moby, who was really blowing up at the time. I’d been mistaken for him at Limelight several times and twice gave fake autographs to get rid of some really insistent drunk people). After the show, the parade had dispersed but people in costumes hung out everywhere. Ears still ringing, I wandered around like I was shell-shocked in a city of masks and dreams.

I was still pretty circumspect about being gay at that first Pride. I was hesitant to stick around but I did manage to see First Lady Hillary Clinton there, waving, really enjoying the reception (she was about to run for Congress). I didn’t know she would be marching under the sun with us, and I was proud to realize that our event was such an important one. I also noticed seemingly straight families in the audience, kids on their shoulders, cheering us on. Some of the same kids would, in a few months, be in costume at a very different parade, just like so many of us.

 

Lou Reed, Halloween Parade, from the New York Album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb_r-IwB8t8

 

 

Strange Bedfellows: History and Horror

By William Holden

 

For the past two years, I’ve been involved with queer student life at Harvard University. It’s been a great experience to get to know these students, who come from every part of the world. I dine with them, have fun and fascinating conversations with them. It’s been a joy and privilege to watch them learn and grow. This past academic year, two queer Harvard Law School students approached me.  They asked if I would get involved in what they were calling, The Secret Court Committee. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Let me shed some light into the darkness.

 

In 1920, the then president of Harvard University formed a committee, called “The Court.” It was formed to investigate allegations of homosexual activity running rampant through the campus. For two weeks the members of the court interrogated over thirty students. The students were asked about their sexual activities, and private lives. The members of the court even threatened the students with expulsion, outing, or public shame if they didn’t turn over the names of other men. At the end of the two weeks, eight students, one recent graduate, and a professor were removed from the university.

 

The records of “The Court” disappeared. No one knew or remembered what happened in May of 1920. It wasn’t until 2002, when someone working on a story for the student newspaper, The Crimson, discovered the documents. They were inadvertently given an unmarked box from the archives. Inside the box was the handwritten notes from “The Court.” After further searching, the library staff found more boxes of documents from “The Court.” It was the first time in eighty-two years anyone had ever seen these documents.

 

For those interested in learning more about this “homosexual witch hunt” there was a student group who used the records in the archives to recreate the interrogations. You can watch the one-hour film Perkins 28: Harvard’s Secret Court. A book has also been written about the events of 1920 and is worth reading. The stories that are pieced together from actual documents will haunt you. Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals.

 

Back to the Law School students, and the Secret Court Committee. Every few years a new student-led group comes together. Their goal? To convince Harvard University to honor the expelled students. Unfortunately, Harvard has refused to honor the students, or even commemorate their lives.

 

o-crimson-soulsSo what does all this have to do with my latest novel, Crimson Souls? It’s the heart and soul of the story (pun intended). People who have followed my writings over the years will be familiar with the name Nate, The Midnight Barker. Nate is a shadow demon. To survive, Nate and his follow demons need to feed off the souls of men. In Nate’s Netherworld, the souls of men come in the form of their orgasms.

 

Nate is a character I created seven years ago for a short story. A year later I found him narrating another story, then another. You get the point; he’s a character who has refused to let me go. So when readers kept asking me questions like, “Was Nate ever human?” or “How did he become a shadow demon?” I realized the reason Nate hasn’t left me alone was that he wasn’t done telling his story. It wasn’t until I began reading the history of the homosexual purge at Harvard did Nate’s background and history reveal itself. In his human existence he, Phineas Nathanial Trescott, was one of the interrogated students, and (like the real life student he’s fashioned after) believed to be the source of the perversion.  Nate (unlike his real-life counterpart) is murdered by the men of the Secret Court and vows to come back and seek revenge on the members of the court and their descendants. And so the story unfolds.

Did I alter historical facts of Harvard’s Secret Court? Absolutely, but only for the purpose of storytelling. I did not change the facts to minimize or lessen the harsh realities of what these students endured at the hands of Harvard’s hate and homophobia. Do history and horror make strange bedfellows? Perhaps, but in using history in this way, I hope to get more people aware of what happened during those two weeks of May in 1920. People who perhaps wouldn’t read a book about Harvard, but who may be interested in a horror novel. Through this book, I’m hoping to keep the memory of these students alive, and with that in mind, I have dedicated this book to them.

Next fall as a new academic year begins, the Secret Court Committee will once again reconvene. It is my hope this time, we can make a difference, and get these students the recognition they deserve.

Inside A Writer’s Mind:

 

Or

What Do You Mean ‘A.D.D.’?

By

Eric Andrews-Katz

 

 

 

 

We’ve all seen the meme that shows a person sitting at a computer diligently staring at the screen, fingers flying over a keyboard with a towering, freshly typed manuscript neatly stacked next to them. The caption reading: “What my friends think a writer does”. The second frame shows the same person completely frazzled, fried, burnt out, sitting behind and staring bug-eyed at the same screen with crumbled paper covering the floor, and utter chaos sprawled out around them. The caption truthfully proclaims: “What a writer really does”. Since I am to write a blog that introduces my upcoming book release, I thought I’d give a tiny glimpse of the actual absurdity going on inside a writer’s mind. * Welcome to the inner sanctum that is my sanitarium.

(* Disclaimer: I never have had the advantage of being ‘typical’ anything, and results in other writers may vary)

 

I have set aside this Sunday afternoon to write and my husband has vacated the premises. It is 11 o’clock in the morning, and I sit at my computer with an empty Word document ready for writing. Immediately, my cat Ophelia somehow knows. She wakes from her fourth nap and begins her mournful Banshee howling. It is a high-pitched cry that drills through the brain but…she loves me. Ten minutes later, once she has been petted and given treats, she is satisfied I still love her and goes back to sleep. I sit back at the computer to try again; the empty page is waiting.

Tartarus_Cover  I think of what the blog is to be about; it is to create interest for the release of my upcoming novel, Tartarus (Bold Strokes Books – December 2016). The book is about Echidna, the mother of all ancient Greek monsters who breaks loose from Tartarus, the prison of the gods. She appears in the modern day Pacific Northwest and vows to hunt down the descendants of her Olympian jailers. Ok. So what do I write in the blog?

Writers of poetry and prose have been influenced by Greek mythology since the very beginning of their existence. Sculptors and painters have all heard the call of The Muses, and have felt Divine hands guiding their creations for over 3,000 years. Why do these stories hold fascination for us more so than any other mythology (aside from, maybe, Christian)? Not being shy with an opinion maybe I should write about that.

I can only talk of how the stories influenced my work. My introduction came at age five, when a family member first read D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths to me. The book is an oversized, colorful, watered-down retelling of the ancient Greek (yet oddly enough Anglo-looking) gods and goddesses, and their many adventures. I remember that Pan was always my favorite.

Wait! I could write about Pan. The Demi-god with the upper torso of a man supported by two goat legs frequently appears to me, and always has been a major presence in my life. The bearded face with the golden horns fills my earliest dreams. His image is my first recalled memory, and his attributes have influenced every aspect of my being. Only recently did I discover that he is known as ‘The God of Massage”, as well as being credited as the first Theatre Critic; two ways I have earned my living.

But Pan doesn’t appear in Tartarus; it’s not his story. Pan appears in the book after Tartarus; the one I’m working on now called Shalom Y’all, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about Pan in this blog. The main gods involved in Tartarus are Apollo, Artemis and Zeus with several others making more casual appearances. I could discuss some of the hybrid creatures that come to life such as the Minotaur, Chimera, and Sphinxes (oh my!), but nowhere does a satyr or faun make a cameo. Pegasus, furies, and centaurs; yes, but Pan, no.

I could discuss my theory of how the archetypical Greek gods still appear in today’s gay male community. One only has to look at the Gay Games to see the Jocko-homo of Apollo’s shining glory. Attend any political organization and you’ll hear the chaotic shouts of Ares cracking through the air. Go to any bar to see shades of Zeus licentiously studying the younger patrons. I could do that and continue with the dissection of the six main Olympian gods, and that would definitely be enough to write about. If I only analyze the male aspect, then I potentially run the risk of sounding misogynistic and alienating my female comrades and readers by not including the archetypes of the goddesses. I’m not a woman, and my insight would not be an accurate assessment on their foundations. I found this out when writing a voyeuristic lesbian scene in Tartarus. A man will objectively view a woman very differently from the way a woman views another woman. I learned a lot from having conversations with my female friends, and the section was rewritten several times before I felt it was represented on a fair level maintaining the sensuality of the scene. The idea of comparing archetypes is a huge project, and I should leave it for a larger, more in-depth exploration than a blog would allow.

Back to square one: the empty word document still waiting. Skip the enormous undertaking of exploring Greek myths and turn to the characters of the book. I should discuss a contrast of the characters in Tartarus, and how they differ from the writing of the previous main characters in my first two books (The Jesus Injection, Balls & Chain), the “Agent Buck 98 Adventure Series”.

I could start by defining each main character. Agent Buck 98 is in his late 30’s and is flippant, flamboyant, sarcastic, and an excellent detective for a secret agency. His focus is good food, colorful fashion and musical theatre as much as getting the assignment accomplished. That pretty much sums up Buck. It would be easy to contrast his attitudes with the lead character from Tartarus. Adrian Petrakis is 48 years old, sullen, introverted, dresses casually for comfort, and enjoys classical music. He is an artist on the verge of discovering he is descended from an Olympian god. That’s a good start, but where do I go from there? What about their sex lives? Buck is after someone ‘here and now’. His sexual interests are momentary and superficial. Adrian is fed up with casual encounters, and isn’t interested in App hookups. Adrian is brought out of his reconciliation with bachelorhood only when he meets Zack, a very handsome, older sculptor and sexual tension ignites between them. With the ‘Agent Buck 98’ series, most of the sex happens off-page, while Adrian is plagued with erotic dreams that awaken his sexual appetite, and Tartarus explores that more graphically.

Now I’m analyzing the sex lives of fictional characters. That’s good…for a paragraph, maybe two – not an entire blog. The idea is quickly dismissed. I stare at the blank page and the blinking curser that waits for my command. The black, vertical line pulses at me like the mocking laugh of a Simpsons’ character; “You got Writer’s Block. Ha-ha!” The cat has woken up – the Banshee wailing has resounded. My mind is babbling over repeating suggestions as quickly as it dismisses each one for various reasons. I need the clutter to stop – stop the insanity! My mind, the cat, and Nelson’s mocking laugh are thundering inside my skull.

My eyes tear away from the screen and absently scan the top of my writing desk. I dig through the drawer and find a half-smoked joint and an old Bic lighter. May the gods bless the great state of Washington! If I indulge a little maybe my mind will quiet down, and the evoked creativity will help inspire my writing. Truman Capote, referring to his alcoholism, said that every writer has his or her ‘ailment’. If it is good enough for Capote… The keyboard is slid away and I reach for the instruments of my own vice.

Several hours later I have gotten nothing accomplished on the blog. On the other hand, I have baked and eaten a frozen pizza, let the cat attack a peacock feather until she was finally tired, explored PornHub… thoroughly, and have completely cleaned off my desk by rearranging my paperwork. This was after I reviewed and reorganized my collection of signed books according to size, instead of author and then not liking it, I put them back. I slide the keyboard back into place and tap the space bar to bring the empty word document back to full size.

The cat is crying again. This time it is to remind me that Game of Thrones starts in half an hour. I stare at the blank page. I am defeated for the day, I am tired, and I succumb. There’s time before the blog is due, I can write it later. “After all Cap’n Butler, tomorrow is another day”, and Mondays I am out of my massage office. I shut down the computer and go into the bedroom.

I turn on the television. Ophelia jumps on the bed, glad I’m finally with her, crying for attention and settling down just out of my reach. I know I really should be writing the blog. The joys of On Demand are that I can watch Game of Thrones anytime I want. The chill of guilt starts as I remember the house was vacated so I could get work done.

Suddenly, I have an idea! I should write a blog on the challenges of writing a blog. It’s original, and I think it might have potential. A smile creeps across my lips. I can see ways of mentioning Tartarus and hopefully stirring up an interest before it gets released. I could tie in some of my other writing in the process. I could show how a writer’s mind functions, when trying to create something from nothing, and dealing with the pressures a writer feels when working. That is creative. It might be interesting to explore the random babbling of ideas flooding through my brain. My smile broadens as the possibilities stream before my open eyes. I feel excited and inspired, renewed with fresh creativity.

I reach for the remote to turn off the television, but I am too late. The music swells; the pulsing beat of drums sound, and the whining of string instruments are heard. The flaming Valyrian sword has already appeared on screen, and the scaled down mechanical cities are erupting all over the Westeros map. I settle back feeling the ideas ebbing away, the energy sapped from my body.

“There’s always time to write the blog later. It isn’t due for another three weeks.”

I banish all work with that excuse. I settle in to watch the latest episode. The wheels in my brain are still spinning but with only one burning question now:

“How come I don’t have dragons?”

BSB Author Interview With Michael Vance Gurley

by Connie Ward

michael-vance-gurley-350

 

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

 

Fiction is in the blood. When I was young, my grandfather and his brothers were storytellers, sitting around the living room making grand adventures come to life. My father and grandmother were always voracious readers, always leaving a paperback around for me to read. They could both speed-read and I was so jealous, thinking it was a superpower. My father and my uncle James had written short stories and poetry. One small-town Mississippi family visit found me sitting in my father’s childhood bedroom at the desk with my uncle’s old typewriter, dreaming of werewolves and comedy capers, clacking away at what I thought would be the great American novel. It turned out to be a poorly typed, grammatically incorrect copy of the movie Strange Brew that, despite its juvenile feel, is now kind of funny to read. The desire to entertain people with stories started early for me. Stephen King and comic books, with their fantastic tales, fueled my passions. I remember sitting up all night reading a paperback copy of King’s It, visualizing the clown and being enthralled and terrified about kids my age being able to face down evil, always hoping I could make someone feel that way with writing. I put out countless knock-offs of the Friday the 13th world that were passed around school, kids pushing me for another chapter. Nowadays, if a teacher found what I had written I would be in a hospital getting assessed! Classes in creative writing in high school and poetry in college pushed me to think critically about writing. Then life inserted itself in my path, like it tends to do, and I took some years off. Creating never left my blood, and after writing some comic books I made a pact to write that novel before I turned forty. I beat the mark by a few days.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

 

The Long SeasonThe Long Season is my first published novel and is historical romance New Adult fiction. It’s a coming-out story with a sports background. I didn’t set out with one genre in mind. The central idea was that my main character would reflect something that was missing in most of my teen and college reading, a gay main character. Don’t get me wrong. Now there are plenty of examples of that. When I was young, authors putting that out were not exactly mainstream enough for a kid in a conservative area to know about, and I didn’t have the Internet because Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet. My goal is to make sure the main characters speak to me and what they are going through represents something meaningful to me. It has to be something I want to read and has to be driving me crazy not to write. I wanted to be a comic-book writer and create a gay main character that brought something worthy to the table. After a year or so of receiving letters from Marvel telling me they liked my work but wanted me to keep working with an editor there and nothing coming of it, I went into self-publishing. I did a little funny comic book, One Angry Koala, and what would have been a gay main lead in a supernatural thriller, Premonitions. They sold well, but I found my own art talent wanting and working with other artists with full-time jobs impossible to maintain. I finally devoted myself to a novel that had been digging its way through my subconscious. I want to write different things with each book. I love hockey and grew up in Cicero, Illinois, home of Al Capone, which made The Long Season. I love YA, magic, and sci-fi, which inspired my current steampunk project. I have a children’s picture book inspired by a trip to Australia and a YA coming-out novel on the burner next. I want to write things that speak to my emotional experiences on some level, things that might mean something to someone going through a tough time like I had. Ultimately, I strive to create something new with each work.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

 

This question makes me laugh a little, thinking about the late-night phone calls with friends listening patiently to me ramble on about some idea I have to create a whole world or how some great reveal I’ve been planning needs to change. I’ve repeated so many useless facts from research their eyes must’ve been rolling in the backs of their heads at times. I also reached out to a book critique group to proofread and give feedback on TLS. I joked with people that I have my mom to tell me I’m great! I needed critical feedback. My family has been so supportive of the process, no matter how obsessed I became with locking myself away on a vacation to finish a chapter. I can’t imagine how many times I made some friends read and reread it. I gave a copy to my 88-year-old grandmother in Mississippi before she passed away, and she read it in two days and loved it. She asked all kinds of questions, wanting me to write a sequel, wanting to know what happened next. She helped and pushed me. My mother-in-law said it felt like a movie when she read it. It is difficult to keep explaining to my friends and family how slow the publishing process can be. Everyone kept asking me what was happening. When I won the pitch contest, Pitchapalooza, it seemed everyone thought it would be mere minutes before they could buy a copy. I don’t think they were ready for the never-ending waiting to hear if anyone would pick it up, and then when BSB did, how long editing, proofing, etc can be. I was mostly patient. They weren’t, and that was cool. They were into it, many of them having heard bits and pieces already. Little did they know it was a marathon, not a sprint. I truly believe all the time and the process have made the book much sharper, and I hope the great community of friends and family I have will feel rewarded for the wait. And if they don’t…no refunds.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

 

I’ve read interviews with Neil Gaiman—who wished me luck on TLS after I talked to him about it when I bumped into him at the David Bowie tribute concert at Radio City, not that we’re friends, unless you count twitter—where he said that he gets asked that question a lot. He gave a great elaborate story about getting ideas by sacrificing chickens, which you should find and read. The idea that an idea comes from one particular place that could be verbalized didn’t make sense to me until it happened. My idea for historical hockey fiction did actually come from a specific place. There really was one moment in particular that started it. I am a big hockey fan, and someone gave me a copy of a hockey history book. Flipping through the pictures of old teams in thick wool sweaters and unsafe, thin padding, I came upon a picture that spoke to me so intensely I devoted hundreds of hours of my life to the idea it presented. The 1907 Kenora Thistles were underdogs that won the Stanley Cup. One of those guys has a trophy named after him to this day. Hockey is a sport of rough, tough, iron men that played most of a game without changing out. It was, and is, one of the most athletic endeavors. That breeds all kinds of stereotype pressure to be a real man, whatever that means. Back then, you had to remain perfectly still for a long time to not blur your expensive photos. So your position in a photo was well thought out and purposeful, often meaningful. The Thistles took a team photo. The way they were sitting, legs curled into each other, looked very intimate, effeminate, but wasn’t the main oddity for me. One of the men looked like his head was cocked toward, and he was gazing at, another player. That must mean something. In a flash I was envisioning them as secret lovers and what it must have been like for them to hide that from their whole world in a time when the truth could have meant their death. A picture is worth a thousand words, or more! Not all my ideas come from such a lightning moment. My next book idea came to me in stages over years. I had written comic-book scripts and done lots of research that went unused but could never really get out of my head. It had been rattling around for years until I needed to combine everything into one story and write it. A lot of ideas are floating around in my head. Some take purchase and some I get excited about, talk about with friends, and then put backstage because they aren’t as important to me at the time. Time. That’s what I need more of!

 

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

 

I write in my head for a time first, and then I do some verbal storytelling to work out the major kinks, testing my story against other people’s critique, before I sit down to really write it. There are a lot of methods of writing. I more or less used the snowflake method for TLS, writing a sentence description, expanding it to have major plot points I had been knocking around, then fleshing out the characters and writing pages of background on each of them before going back to do a complete outline. I had about thirty pages of outline with bullet points that had grown into pages before I started copying them over to a manuscript and going for it. I also did tons of research, if it can be weighed without printing it out. The research slowed me down because, being a history buff, I went down the net rabbit hole many times. That method has so much stability and planning to it that, for a new writer, worked well for me. The only drawback was that I had to combat the pressure to keep to the outcomes I wanted when the characters started to tell me something else needed to go down. What are you gonna do? I changed things. It’s not my fault really; they told me to do it. My second novel combines comic-book scripts and some notes I had been expounding on for years. Putting all that together required a lot of verbal storytelling to see what I was pushing too hard with and what was actually working. It’s a much more complicated script than TLS but did not have an outline that was finished at all when I started writing chapters in this planned trilogy. Great novel writer Brandon Sanderson said that he writes a series by doing the first one more or less off the cuff and then writing the series outline after, going back to change the first one to suit. That is what I am doing, and not working from an outline has let this steampunk adventure go wherever it wants to go. It is a fun experience, but not doing all of the research until the first draft is finished is hard for me, and having to stop to plan the next chapter has its own drawbacks. I’m a new novelist. Maybe I should have done several successful smaller projects before branching out into historical. I probably also should have done the present-day coming-of-age story first before I arrogantly went into a period setting. I maybe shouldn’t go back further into another setting piece and certainly shouldn’t tackle steampunk. But nobody tells me what I can’t or shouldn’t do.

 

What makes The Long Season special to you?

 

In many respects, TLS took on a life of its own. I wanted to tell a “What if?” type of story about a young hockey player who had the pressures of a hard family, a small town, the big leagues, and all that pressure of fitting in and being macho. I wanted to challenge the sports world to be more inclusive. During the current Chicago Blackhawks’ first Stanley Cup run, one of their players pinned up a picture of an opponent from the newspaper wearing a skirt. There was anti-gay sentiment and misogyny all wrapped in for good measure, propagated by a respected news source and players. It saddened me. Just last month, unfortunately, another Blackhawk screamed the “F” word at a referee. It’s all over the sports world. The You Can Play Project is growing, but when I started writing TLS it was fledgling. This idea in sports that men must be so manly as not to be well rounded or that women in sports are stereotyped is so slow to change. My novel is not a political piece, but it is always in my mind that maybe it can help someone struggling to be a hockey player, or whatever they want, who is afraid to also be himself. To have my first novel be able to help anyone in the way some reached me would be amazing. Foremost, I aimed to tell something that felt true and real, with all of life’s trials and tribulations.

 

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

 

Without getting sued, I will say they are all made up! Off the record? The fun is in having people wonder which characters might be them or me. Some authors inject themselves into a character. I think authors write some wish fulfillment in their characters. You were unpopular? Write about being the cool kid. I know that someday I will write something more autobiographical, but for now I probably did more minor wish fulfillment. I really wanted to be athletic and be a fit superstar, so that’s Brett. I was in the jazz band and marching band—although for a brief moment I played defensive tackle in football and scored a freak touchdown on the B team in a real game—so there’s a lot of jazz music in there. I love watching goalies, so there are a lot of the greats in Jean-Paul. I work in the mental-health field so Brett has an issue to face. I do have this free-spirit friend with fiery red hair and some anti-stereotypical ideas about what it means to be a woman. A lot comes from the flappers of the Roaring Twenties, and some filtered back into Margret’s character, even though the two are also very different. Other traits of friends and family enter the characters. I took some historical figures from hockey, like Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, who once scored a goal by beating the entirety of the other team while literally carrying two of their players on his back, and put some of their accomplishments into my characters. Sometimes things in life are so fantastic you can’t make them up. Some of what the characters are like is a product of thinking about what life would be like if things in my life were reversed. My father is loving and supportive and my mother stands up for what she believes and loves, so I wondered what it would be like for Brett to have awful, harsh, cold parents. Sorry, Brett. I’ve been wild and crazy in my life but tried hard to make good decisions about the important things and to treat people well, so Jean-Paul is, um, not that.

 

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

 

I visited Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris. His marker is this ornate tribute to male form that fits everything I knew about him. His Portrait of Dorian Gray was a pivotal read for me, telling us all to live and be proud. I’ve been influenced and inspired by many authors, LGBT and not. I found my way to Felice Picano’s Like People in History, and his Alistaire shocked and intrigued me. Books like that really make us question our realities and what we can make of ourselves. I like being entertained with well-written fun novels like Brent Hartinger’s Russell series. Paul Russell’s novels pushed the edge of dangerous concepts just like Edmund White’s did. More contemporary authors speak to me as well, like Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary. I love superheroes and wish we could have seen what was to come of Perry Moore after the amazing Hero, if he had lived. I read great authors all the time, like Jay Bell and David Levithant. Three people, I believe, have written perfect novels: Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun, and my favorite book, Bart Yates’s Leave Myself Behind. They are very different from one another, but they speak to something so universal through complicated characters and just destroy me.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

 

Being a new writer myself, I feel weird giving advice, so I will do so from a point of reality. I don’t really know what it will take for you to make it because I am trying to make it happen myself. I struggled so much with getting time to write TLS and thought writing a novel would be the greatest accomplishment in the world. And it is and it isn’t at the same time. Authors say writing the book is the easiest part because boiling down the manuscript into a one-sentence or one-paragraph selling point, or a two-page summary, is ridiculously difficult. I shot for 300 pages, not two! Buy my book because it’s awesome. Wait, I have to market it too? Okay. Well, I’d say to enter contests for writing like I did. I put together a sell sheet and the most professional one-minute pitch I could muster and then entered the Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza contest. I had sixty seconds to convince them to help me get an agent or publisher, and I did it, by editing and practicing my pitch a lot. That helped me find an amazing editor, Jerry Wheeler, who helped whip it into shape and be ready for someone to take a chance on. I had to get over the idea about editing notes indicating a lack of quality and accept them for an act of growth. I can also wallpaper a mansion with the rejection emails or the weird ones from the agent who led me on for months before falling off the face of the earth. You know who you are. Reach out to people and be real. Make connections and treat others with respect. Their time is valuable. I can trace lines between the people who have helped me, so remember that when someone says no and is maybe a little direct with you, and you want to say something witty back, be polite and ask for guidance instead. Authors, agents, publishers have all taken a minute or two each to give me advice. Andrea Beaty, children’s author from the pitch contest, even took me out for drinks a few times and once on a madcap run through two bookstores to research covers and titles on the shelves. Take all advice and run it through the filter that is you. And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Someone smart said that.

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

 

I love adventures and, as I grow older, consider going out with loved ones to eat and tell stories an adventure. I work at a job I love, but it is time consuming. These electronic devices keep me connected to it constantly, which is tiring. I try to do as many things as I can when not lying on the couch with the dog watching countless hours of The Game of Walking Flash Theory. Thankfully my in-laws love watching the dog, which lets us go, go, go all the time. People joke about how often we travel and that there is always a sightseeing schedule with a hundred things to check off. The second we land we are attending concerts, trying new restaurants, or hosting movie nights in the yard. When not doing that, or sometimes during, I’m always reading one novel while listening to another audio book and reading comics. You can’t grow old if you keep going. I asked my grandmother why she was still volunteering, and she said that if she ever stopped doing she might never get started again. I live by that insight.

Anatomy of a Table of Contents

By Tom Cardamone

 

I’ve not seen much discussion on how writers lay out their table of contents when it comes to ordering a short story collection, yet it is probably as equally important as the title and cover. Really, we’re talking about the alignment of singular pieces so the whole tells an additional story.

When I put together my first collection, Pumpkin Teeth, I followed the old advice of placing your three best stories at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. That way more experimental or unusual work would be able to stand on its own in between, the uniqueness would breathe, buttressed by the previously published, or what you just knew were stronger stories. Plus you get to “wow” the reader at the beginning and leave ‘em satisfied and wanting more at the end. So after that, I went with what felt organic in terms of each stories’ placement versus voice, content, theme. Since the goal is for the sum to be greater than the whole, what does a misstep look like? A sudden change in quality. That unpublished work has to stand on its own. The editor’s input here is really important. On its own, if the piece works, it can be more daring than what made its way into print, harder to place but somehow more solid. Though it’s essential that there’s not a too sudden shift it tone. It is okay to pivot, but something jarring can give the reader an excuse to put the book down or question the veracity of the collection.

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I was fortunate enough to place several of the stories that appear in Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe, prior to the book’s publication. The opening story, Owl Aerie, was previously published in the second issue of Chelsea Station. I was never able to find a home for the second story, MS Found in a Bookstore. A tribute to Poe, and a personal favorite, these stories go together as both have a New England location and youthful first person narrator. (I really gave this one my all, as Poe has been a lifelong obsession, from reading his poem, Alone, in the seventh grade and feeling that bolt of recognition, to further readings, visiting his homes in the Bronx and Philadelphia, his grave in Baltimore, reading biographies, obsessively collecting marginalia -finally paying tribute in a short story seemed overdue). To mix things up, I followed them with a brief tale of a dragon hovering over a park in Queens.

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The middle of the book contained two super hero stories (well, in one, Ice King, the villain is the more prominent character, but that’s kind of my thing –I edited a collection of gay super villain tales a few years ago. I’m always rooting for the bad guy). Though not overtly linked, they inhabit the same universe, one I’ve written short stories in before, and hope to return to again. The stories that follow include an epistolary tale between a Roman Emperor and a life-long friend that turns darker and darker. I’d always wanted to write something in an epistolary format; pleased with the results, I knew that I couldn’t open the book with a series of letters, but thought it would work better toward the end, the change in form hopefully refreshing/intriguing to the reader. Doubling down, I considered it a solid enough piece of writing to put between two shorter works, one, a tale of zombies in Japan, nearly flash fiction, the other derived from a dream I had in 1999 when I was living in Hell’s Kitchen where I realized I worked in beheading factory and woke up with a start. This let me end with two fully realized, previously published pieces. The last one, Halloween Parade, was in the running as the title of the collection, but I didn’t feel it flaunted the book’s gayness as much as Night Sweats. I did like that the story was such a New York tale –almost half the stories take place within New York City, the place where I found my voice, identified my fears, and then started using one to press the other to the page.

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Thirteen tales. Is that the rule of thumb with short story collections? I think I picked up the requirement from Nabokov’s Dozen (remembering/writing about this book makes me want to revisit the master’s shorter work again). I’m not sure if this is universal, though. But the number thirteen felt right and was aligned with the sinister themes throughout Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe.

And to further support the title, I called the Table of Contents page Drops of Sweat.


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