2015 Year in Review

2015 New Year's pic for blog post_20151231_205206

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post, and I think I know why. 2015 has been one of the best years of my life, possibly the very best, and I don’t want it to be over. Other years have seen incredible highs, but none can match this year’s sheer volume of thrilling moments. It’s also true that the great moments in other years have been tempered by losses, while 2015 has been good all the way through.

It is certainly the best year as far as my writing is concerned. In March I attended the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in support of my story “Days of Awe,” which was a finalist in the festival’s contest and therefore was included in the anthology, published by Bold Strokes Books. Once again, I was honored to be asked to read a selection from my story, which is always a double-edged sword of excitement and terror. Also as usual, I learned a great deal during the festival’s panel discussions by day, and, by night, lurked in dark courtyards, drinking and chatting with authors and publishers whose work I admire. (In many cases, they are the artists responsible for the stories I reviewed on this blog as part of last year’s 365 Short Story Review project.) I am incredibly lucky to have found, and been welcomed by, such an accomplished and inspiring bunch.

I want to say it was as a result of that experience that I found the courage to send my novel, Angels Fall, to publishers and agents, but that was actually a cumulative process. It included having stories in two of the previous Saints and Sinners anthologies and attending the corresponding festivals. Too, it was having a story in Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press), and one in Diverse Voices Quarterly vol. 6, issue 21.

In any case, shortly after this year’s festival I received a request for a partial, which gave me the courage to ask Steve Berman of Lethe Press if I might submit the manuscript of Angels Fall  to that house. He said yes, and not too long afterward sent back a book contract. It was the day I’d looked forward to at least since sixth grade, and a part of me still cannot believe it occurred.

Steve not only took a chance on my novel, he then took a chance on me, by naming me the editor of The Role, written by Richard Taylor Pearson. A funny, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining tale, the book gives the reader insight into the life of an actor in New York City, right as he gets his big break. The author, Richard, turned out to be every bit as engaging as his work, and I have loved every moment of the process of bringing the book to completion. I am forever indebted to Steve for giving me this opportunity.

In June the Supreme Court made marriage a possibility for all of our nation’s citizens.

In the fall I received word that my story “Call for Submission” was accepted for publication in the anthology Threesome: Him, Him and Me, edited by Matthew Bright. That book will be released in March. It and The Role are currently available for pre-sale at http://www.lethepressbooks.com.

Lastly, just within the past two weeks, I learned that my story “Do Unto Others” is a finalist in this year’s Saints and Sinners Fiction Contest, and will be included in the festival’s 2016 anthology. The story deals with events which unfolded in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.

It turns out I have a number of things to promote in New Orleans next year. I couldn’t be any happier or more grateful. That’s why I don’t want this year to end, despite the fact that 2016 promises to be great as well.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this dream of mine a reality.  I wish each of you a 2016 filled with moments that bring you joy.

Happy New Year!

Review of Saints and Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2015

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Now an INDIEFAB Book of the Year finalist!

The latest book in which I have a story is Saints and Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2015, edited by Amie M. Evans and Paul J. Willis (Bold Strokes Books). It debuted during the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans in March.

Is it gauche to review a book in which one’s own work appears? Perhaps. If so, I am unrepentantly so, having also reviewed the 2013 and 2014 editions of the anthology, as well as Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press) and Diverse Voices Quarterly vol. 6 Issue 21, despite having stories in each. Oh well. As of this writing only one other person has seen fit to review this volume (huge shout out to ‘Nathan Burgoine). Really, people? C’mon.

I love this anthology series, and this year’s edition did not disappoint. It started off on a very serious, pull-no-punches kind of note with “Gingerbread” by Eric Andrew-Katz. Set in Germany during WWII, it’s the story of a Jewish man who finds himself at the mercy of his ex-lover, now part of the Nazi machine. Brutal, bleak, and disturbing, it’s a hell of a way to open the collection.

The next story, “Wrens Knell” by Kristyn Dunnion, isn’t much cheerier. Stephen is a dead teenager in limbo, a victim of the systemic homophobia that turns schoolchildren, parents and priests into predators; murderers by proxy if not by point of fact.

Frank Perez turns things around with “Hustlers Court.” It’s full of humor and larger-than-life, loveably flawed characters, although I wish the waitress and lone female of the piece, who is described as “the large woman in a mu-mu,” “the mu-mu woman,” and “the large mu-mu lady” (that one four times), had been given a name, in the same way that Wills, Phillip, Benson, JD, Frizzy, Earl, John, Urban, Hoyle, The Oracle, Nox, Lamar, Spinato, Dorignac, and even the bar itself, the Double Play, and its competitors, the Grand Pre and Tiki’s, were all given names. Aside from that seeming blind spot, it’s a gritty, highly irreverent read which I liked very much.

The next story up, “Maple Beach People” by Lee Lynch, feels like part of a novel and really, really, really needs to be turned into one, if it isn’t. I’d buy that book in a heartbeat. The story concerns a network of women, all lesbians, struggling to carve out lives worth living while enduring the oppressive homophobia, misogyny and racism of the 1950s. Who couldn’t empathize with the young protagonist, Luce, as she tries to envision her future?

“What it was Turned Ollie Queer” by Mike Tuohy wins my vote for best story title, but I had trouble identifying with the good ol’ boys of the piece. As with the last story there’s entrenched homophobia and racism; there’s also, though, an outlandishness that’s meant to temper it with humor, only I didn’t trust the majority of the characters and so held my breath through most of the tale, anticipating violence. It did not manifest, thankfully, and a second reading allowed the humor to come fully to the fore.

Next we have the speculative fiction piece “Femorph” by James Russell. The world of the story is one where bodies have obvious dual natures from birth, with one gender asserting dominance and becoming cemented at adulthood, a process termed “calcification”. Aaron is a teenager torn by his desire for conflicting things: the friendship he shares with his best friend Michael, who is gay, vs. the sexual attraction he shares with Michael’s alter-ego Michelle. The thing is, there can be no ambivalence, no shifting back and forth between the personalities inhabiting a body once calcification hits, or the consequences can be fatal. I loved this examination of sexual attraction, gender identity, selfish vs. selfless-ness, and societal expectations, and I hope it finds a wide audience.

I know exactly why I like the story “Fat Hands” by John Kane. It’s because it’s filled with things that remind me of Michael Kearns: Silver Lake, Hollywood, HIV and AIDS, bathhouses, created families, friendships that span decades, and the wisdom of one who has lived life with his eyes wide open. The crispness of the prose elevates the story, rendering what might be maudlin, uplifting and poignant instead. That’s quite a trick.

The next story, “Days of Awe,” is mine. I’d love feedback, if you’ve read it. Moving on, I thought I wouldn’t like “Pageant Girl” by Sam Hawk, because I am not a fan of beauty pageants in general, and ones involving small children tend to make me apoplectic, but I found myself rooting for Elsie and her coach, Bennie. You know what did it? A shared hatred of her biggest competition, Miss Dallas Northeast. In the early nineteen nineties I spent a week in Mesquite, TX. Let’s just say I can relate.

I expected to like “‘Til it Bleeds” by Jerry Rabushka, because I so enjoyed his “Sample Day” in last year’s anthology, and I was not disappointed, though I was thrown for a bit of a loop when the story turned out to have an omniscient POV. It was also rough walking around (mostly) in Kurt’s skin, though I had a hard time identifying why that was. Here is a man who tries hard to figure out his feelings, yet always ends up blaming others for his unhappiness, his loneliness. I’m not sure what his problem is, or how to fix it, but I like him.

Felice Picano’s story “A Perfect Fit” is a time-travelling head trip of an adventure. The hero is sent back several thousand years, in order to investigate the early days of a legend, but as the story events unfold he finds his life and that of the historical figure being conflated. The question arises for the reader: Will he be able to go home? (I’d also like to know if this a fraction of a novel.)

The last story is “Basketball Fever” by Maureen Brady. I admired, first of all, that it has as its protagonists two women of “advanced” age. Charlene and Shoney also aren’t rich or beautiful, and never have been. They’re everywomen who have become friends because their seats as season ticket holders for the WNBA team The Liberty happen to be side-by-side. The thing is, they’ve got a lot more in common than basketball, but fear of rejection keeps them from exploring any potential relationship beyond the sports stadium, right up to and past the last game of the season. Thankfully, they get an opportunity to correct that mistake during a post-season celebration at Madison Square Garden. I loved the affection they exhibit for one another, and the gentle humor that runs all through the story. It’s another one I’d like to see be developed into a longer work.

There you have it. Well, sort of. You can actually have it by clicking here:

http://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/9781626393912e.html

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia May 17th-24th and giveaway!

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Two chances to win!

Welcome to the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia! If you were not aware, May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The blog hop is intended to raise awareness about this important issue. To encourage people to visit all the blogs, each participating blog is giving away a prize(s) during the event. This site will be giving away one copy each of Best Gay Romance 2014 and Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, both by Cleis Press and edited by R.D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert. To be entered to win all you have to do is follow this blog by May 24th. (Special thanks to Cleis Press for providing the books for this important cause.)

Though things in the U.S. are slowly improving, there are still many injustices being leveled against LGBTQ persons here, as well as in other countries. In the past gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals have been murdered; imprisoned; have suffered job and housing discrimination; have seen their emotional unions go unrecognized; have been denied the right to raise their own children or to adopt; have been kept from acquiring health insurance coverage through their beloved’s employer; have been kept from their loved one’s deathbed (even, sometimes, when they held POA); and have had their property taken from them after their partner’s death because they were not allowed to marry.

Homophobia and transphobia have fueled these injustices. It’s time to take a stand. Speak out. End Homophobia and transphobia.

Please take the time to read two of my earliest posts here, “Nine” and “Who could ask for anything more?” for more of my views on this subject. Then follow the link below to check out other blogs participating in the hop and read what they have to say about this issue. Be sure to read the guidelines on how to enter to win the other giveaways, and of course, tell your friends to check out the hop as well.

http://hopagainsthomophobia.blogspot.com

Short Stories 365/72

“Symposium” by Andrew Holleran from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).

It’s Sunday night and the symposium on the past, present and future of gay fiction which drew the main character to Fort Lauderdale is in the process of winding down. Thirty minutes after the cake is served he’s back in his room and feeling restless, a little lonely, and inclined to contemplate What It All Means.

As are we all, who are nearing this volume’s close.

He answers a distress call from another of the panelists, a man who has been his friend and colleague for decades and who cannot get the DVD player in his room to operate. It introduces a little levity to the story while still allowing for the discussion about the state of gay literature to continue. The same thing happens when they wander down to the hot tub and meet up with several other characters, who are, obviously, representative of the various players in this field.

No redacted bits in this selection. Still, what I wouldn’t give for a Rosetta Stone right about now…

Several concepts are introduced by this story. The first is a lamentation that television and movies have killed gay literature. I can’t imagine why that would be any truer for gay literature than for the hetero variety. Yes, not enough people read.

The second is that it’s specifically the young who are not reading, and that is what’s killing gay literature. How then to account for many of the other writers in this volume, and in Best Gay Romance 2014, also published by Cleis Press this month, and many other anthologies and stand alone books?

A third is that digital books are killing gay literature. I happen to have read this volume via the Kobo app on my phone, but almost everything else I’ve read for the past year and a half has been downloaded to my Kindle. As much as I love physical books, I embrace any medium that gets ideas out of a writer’s head and into mine, be it cuneiform or papyrus, paper or pixels.

Finally, the sentiment is held by the characters in this story that nobody cares whether or not there’s such a thing as a “gay sensibility”.  Oh, really? During Lewis DeSimone’s story “Quality Time” in Best Gay Romance 2014 (Short Stories 365/47), there’s this exchange between the main character and his partner over whether or not the partner’s six year old daughter should be told the true nature of their relationship:

“I’m not ashamed. I just don’t define myself by who I sleep with.”

“Who you sleep with? That’s what it’s all about—who you fuck?”

“Greg.” He’s gritting his teeth.

“No, Victor. Don’t bother. If sex is the only thing that makes you gay, then you have nothing to worry about. You’re welcome to be as hetero as you want.”

Symposium, anyone?

Short Stories 365/55

The next story in the collection is mine, “There’s No Question It’s Love”.  I hope you enjoy it. But now, moving on…

 “Save the Last Dance for Me” by David Puterbaugh from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press).

I absolutely adored this, the final story of the collection. In fact, it’s my personal favorite. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s got the perfect romantic setting – a transatlantic voyage. It has two great couples – the protagonist and his boyfriend Matthew, and Gene and Ed, an older couple the main character has known for a decade, and who have been together for over four decades. It’s got a little camp and a lot of heart, and it’s got inner and outer conflict.

We learn that the main character continually wrestles with his desire to be affectionate in public, something he knows his boyfriend Matthew desires, and his understanding that being open is still dangerous. They’ve had slurs hurled at them by perfect strangers, and he feels that the ship’s other passengers, crowding in around them, might harbor the same hostility. When he voices his frustrations, Gene and Ed remind him (and us) how far things have come and how fast. It never feels, though, as if the story devolves into a history lecture.

The end is very sweetly romantic. The main character takes action that, in hindsight, is the obvious conclusion, but I failed to see coming because I was so caught up in the story. And the image that ends the piece? Priceless.

Short Stories 365/54

“Shep: A Dog” by Alex Jeffers from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

I had a hard time with this story on the first go round simply because it’s a genre I wasn’t expecting to encounter, and it caught me off guard. But I guess that’s the nature of non-themed anthologies; there can be a little bit of everything.

The story events did seem a little strange, but I was willing to roll with it and suspend my disbelief. Contemporary story, sympathetic main character, we’re all good. As it turns out, though, there’s a twist at the end that changes everything.

Here’s the thing: I don’t do well in that situation. I’ll give you a perfect example of what I mean. Yesterday WordPress decided to display one thing to me via my phone app (an addition I made to my original post) and another to everyone else (the original post I wrote using my laptop). David Puterbaugh tweeted “I think you’re missing the title for this one”. He meant literally. It wasn’t there. Now, to be fair, my reaction was bolstered by the fact that I could see the title, but you know what that reaction was? Panic and mortification. I replied privately, “Missing as in not getting the joke?”

That’s kind of how I felt at the end of this story, the first time through. Like I’d failed to spot the clues and solve the mystery. I don’t want to say anything more specific that might ruin it for anyone else, so let me just say that when I read it a second time I enjoyed it very much.