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

SAS Anthology Scaled 2

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

Link for ordering Saints and Sinners 2015: New Fiction from the Festival.

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

SAS Anthology Scaled 2Now an INDIEFAB Book of the Year finalist!

In alphabetical order by author’s last name, the 2015 Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest finalists are:

“Gingerbread” by Eric Andrew-Katz

“Days of Awe” by N.S. Beranek

“Basketball Fever” by Maureen Brady (Winner)

“Wrens Knell” by Kristyn Dunnion

“Pageant Girl” by Sam Hawk

“Fat Hands” by John Kane (Runner-up)

“Maple Beach People” by Lee Lynch

“Hustlers Court” by Frank Perez (Runner-up)

“A Perfect Fit” by Felice Picano

“‘Til it Bleeds” by Jerry Rabushka

“Femorph” by James Russell

“What it was Turned Ollie Queer” by Mike Tuohy

This year’s entries were stronger than ever and the judges found the selection process difficult. With that in mind, for the first time we are also announcing a list of Honorable Mentions. The judges found these stories to be very strong contenders and while they are not being included in the 2015 anthology, we wanted to acknowledge them.

The Saints and Sinners 2015 Short Fiction Honorable Mentions are, in alphabetical order by authors last name:

Tom Baker for “Arianna”

Rich Barnett for “White Paint”

Elaine Burnes for “Auto Repair”

J.R. Greenwell for “A Tongue and a Twerk”

Angel Propps for “Carnations”

Vince Sgambati for “Vera’s Place”

Kacie Stetson for “Nganga”

Karis Walsh for “Transport”

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

Death By The Riverside

“Death by the Riverside” by J.M. Redmann. (Bold Strokes Books, 2009.)

This is the first of the Micky Knight Mystery series. Based on the blurb, I had an inkling I would like it. It turns out I was wrong. I didn’t like it; I loved it.

Right from the get-go, the story was hilarious. Micky is a great character: sarcastic, sharp-eyed, keen of mind, and always, always cool. She’s flawed, very human, and therefore relatable. She’s wounded yet she’s also kind, deserving of a happiness that’s always just out of reach, which of course makes her sympathetic. Beyond her perspective, the author knew exactly which elements would make the story a terrific in-joke without going too far (a bar called Gertrude’s Stein made me laugh out loud), the plot kept me guessing, and plenty of action ensured things stayed lively.

The balance of dialogue to exposition (written in the character’s appealing, ironic tone) was perfect, something I noticed because I’d just read a book where that was not the case, written by someone who should know better, and the result was wooden, recurring, soap opera-type dialogue, as jarring as an out-of-tune instrument. By contrast, there wasn’t a word of this book that struck a wrong note.

One final thought. This story is heavy on what’s termed “gay agenda”. That’ll no doubt put some people off, but it’s one of the things I liked best about it. Similar to the way that someone who likes vampire stories never wearies of hearing a new one, I’m always going to want to read narratives in which a person persecuted for being gay not only survives the abuse but triumphs.This one was great, and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Bold Strokes Books * March 2015 New Releases

Click here to be taken to Bold Strokes Books * March 2015 New Releases. There, you can read the introduction and first two stories of this year’s anthology (now an INDIEFAB Book of the Year finalist):

SAS Anthology Scaled 2

In alphabetical order by author’s last name, the 2015 Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest finalists are:

“Gingerbread” by Eric Andrew-Katz

“Days of Awe” by N.S. Beranek

“Basketball Fever” by Maureen Brady (Winner)

“Wrens Knell” by Kristyn Dunnion

“Pageant Girl” by Sam Hawk

“Fat Hands” by John Kane (Runner-up)

“Maple Beach People” by Lee Lynch

“Hustlers Court” by Frank Perez (Runner-up)

“A Perfect Fit” by Felice Picano

“‘Til it Bleeds” by Jerry Rabushka

“Femorph” by James Russell

“What it was Turned Ollie Queer” by Mike Tuohy

This years entries were stronger than ever and the judges found the selection process difficult. With that in mind, for the first time we are also announcing a list of Honorable Mentions. The judges found these stories to be very strong contenders and while they are not being included in the 2015 anthology, we wanted to acknowledge them.

The Saints and Sinners 2015 Short Fiction Honorable Mentions are, in alphabetical order by authors last name:

Tom Baker for “Arianna”

Rich Barnett for “White Paint”

Elaine Burnes for “Auto Repair”

J.R. Greenwell for “A Tongue and a Twerk”

Angel Propps for “Carnations”

Vince Sgambati for “Vera’s Place”

Kacie Stetson for “Nganga”

Karis Walsh for “Transport”