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May 30th, 2010
Tales About 'Tales,' Chapter 2
I've been having "writing memories"--things I haven't thought about in years are suddenly cropping up.
Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I was working on my second novel. (I had completed my first novel--which is still unpublished--and submitted it as my thesis.) I gave a draft of what I had done to my teacher; several days later she told me, "Line by line, I think it's wonderful."
I knew what she meant. The writing was good. There was lots of heartfelt emotion and sharp observation. HOWEVER, I also knew she was telling me that, while line-by-line readability was good, the book wasn't yet hanging together as a whole. That would have to come in time.
So that is my most current insecurity about 'Tales'--this fear that, while it's great line by line, the whole thing doesn't quite come together.
Thanks, memory, for bringing back all this crap from the past.
On the other hand, I am reading 'Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography" by Jerry Rosco, which includes an encounter between Wescott and his friend Thornton Wilder (who was also gay, in case there is anyone in the universe who doesn't know that). Wescott attended the New York premiere of 'Our Town.' Wilder was there too, but he was too nervous to watch the show.
After the performance, Wescott found Wilder pacing in an alley outside. He was terrified that the show was a bomb. So Wescott reassured him that the show was great, beautiful, profound, etc.
The lesson in this, for me, is that if Thornton Wilder can feel insecure about 'Our Town' then it must be all right for me to have doubts about my own much less important work. These fears and insecurities really do plague the best of us.
I hope I don't have many more dreams or recovered memories that have to do with writing. I need a break for a while.Tags: books
, gay and lesbian
, gay and lesbian writers
May 22nd, 2010
Tales About 'Tales,' Chapter 1
Okay, 'Tales My Body Told Me' has received its first really nasty review, and I think I know why. Or perhaps part of the reason why.
You see, my previous book, a memoir entitled 'A Report from Winter,' was--to use a rather sexist-sounding phrase--a "chick book." Straight women in particular were very much drawn to it; often these were fans of the 'M/M romance' genre who responded to the 'love story' part of the book.
However, 'Tales' is quite a different animal. Though it does concern love relationships--several of them, in fact--'romance' is not at the core of the book's concerns. Far from it. The theme of the book has more to do with gay male sexuality and its place in the world. When I refer to it as the gay version of 'Portnoy's Complaint,' I'm not kidding.
So I would expect this book to have more of a gay male readership. If that disappoints women readers who are expecting some kind of sequel or companion piece to 'Winter,' then I am sorry. That sequel may appear someday, but isn't on the horizon yet.Tags: gay
, gay and lesbian writers
, gay books
, gay fiction
May 20th, 2010
Tales My Body Told Me
Okay, my new book is out, and I'm as jumpy as the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof. I can't help but feel that some people are really going to hate this one. Of course that's a risk when you publish anything; but 'Tales'--let's face it--has something in it to offend almost everyone.
So why write a book that will offend almost everyone, if you are going to whine and cry about it when the book comes out? I wish I knew the answer to that one! I have stated elsewhere that each book has to be what it needs to be, but that's little consolation when you're sitting around waiting for the first slings and arrows to start hitting their mark.
I will feel better when some positive notices come in. So please, dear readers, be kind. I know I used the f-bomb too much, along with hordes of other dirty words that you've probably never heard of; I know I have shoved many over-the-top sexual escapades in your face. But I couldn't help it...the Devil made me do it!!http://bit.ly/TalesMyBodyToldMeTags: gay books
, gay fiction
, gay writers
December 20th, 2009
Have Your Gay and Eat It, Too: The Sexually Ambivalent Closet
(This is a cross-post of a blog entry that I made yesterday at reportfromwinter.com.)
Recently I received a press release about David McConnell’s novel The Silver Hearted, which is coming out from Alyson Books early next year.
Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said “coming out.”
“Throughout its 30-year history,” says the release, “Alyson Books has been known as a publisher catering strictly to the LGBT community. With the arrival of publishing industry veteran Don Weise as its new Publisher, the company is branching out, publishing works that reflect Weise’s highly-regarded taste and reach a broader audience. At the same time, Alyson firmly retains its roots in gay culture.”
At this point Weise jumps in: “Since coming on as publisher of Alyson last fall, I’ve radically rethought the list, particularly around publishing literary works that stand more on artistic merit than mere gay-themed content alone. Quality before content is the new order.”
Hmmm, okay, nothing wrong with quality before content—in fact, shouldn’t that have been the goal all along? And of course there is something appealing about “branching out” while retaining roots—nice follow-through on the tree analogy. Except that branches are often the most visible part of a tree, while the roots tend to remain buried.
McConnell’s novel takes place, we are told, “on an unidentified coastal landscape that exists outside a defined period in time,” and concerns a “nameless protagonist…who exists outside a defined sexual orientation.” His task is to safely transport a load of silver coins through a city, “assisted by a cast of sexually ambivalent sailors.”
Now, we’ve been told many times that the Kinsey Scale is a sliding one, and that no one is 100% heterosexual or homosexual. And we’re familiar with the tendency of the younger generation to eschew labels like “gay” and “straight.” The problem comes in when you try to define “sexually ambivalent” in a way that doesn’t take you right back to the G-word…or to the closet.
In his blurb on the book Edmund White gushes, “The Silver Hearted is our Hearts of Darkness.” But wait, Ed. “Our” implies a “we,” and who are “we”? The sexually ambivalent? Please, Ed, if you mean this is the gay Hearts of Darkness–and you can hardly mean anything else–then go ahead and say so.
Meanwhile, Peter Cameron’s blurb squeals over the novel’s inclusion of a “soupcon (sic) of Tom of Finland (sailors!).” But there’s nothing sexually ambivalent about Tom’s men—the whole point of their fetishized figures is that they are gloriously, unmistakably gay. And they look like they would sit on you—and not in a good way—if you called them anything else.
Look, I don’t blame Alyson for wanting to sell more books. I just hate to see them acting so disingenuously. And now is hardly the time to exchange the rainbow flag for a standard of dull gray. We face a world where homosexuals are being put to death and jailed abroad, and denied human rights at home. There’s no honor in retreating into a sexually ambivalent closet—especially not if you’re a publisher that claims to have gay roots.
Tags: gay and lesbian Current Mood:
, gay books
, gay fiction
October 23rd, 2009
Shameless Self-Promotion: The Rainbow Awards
I would like to encourage my LiveJournal friends to click on the following link, which takes you to the Nonfiction/Biography/Memoir voting page for Elisa Rolle's Rainbow Awards, and vote for A Report from Winter
as best book in the category.www.livejournal.com/poll/
Some people have questioned whether it is proper for an author to encourage people to vote for his book. What I have learned is this: you have to do everything you can to promote and publicize your work, because nobody is gonna do it for you.
It's still a level playing field: if I can indulge in shameless self-promotion, then so can you. Let's ALL talk up our books and get more people excited about reading! We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
For more information on A Report from Winter
, please visit my website at reportfromwinter.com
, gay and lesbian
March 2nd, 2009
25 Random Things about Me
I was reminded by phramok
's post of his 25 things that I could post mine here. I have already posted them on Facebook, but hey, why not kill two birds...
1. I had a bad case of “shy bladder” when I was growing up. I could not use a public restroom unless I was the only person in it. This caused me a lot of stress and anxiety. Even worse, I thought I was the only person with this problem. Then I saw it addressed in a health advice column in the newspaper. The column’s author advised an anxious reader to “force himself to relax” when in the restroom, and that would solve the problem. I thought the idea of forcing oneself to relax was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard; but you know, I kind of practiced it, and over the course of years it seems to have worked for me.
2. A couple of times when I was a baby I had convulsions as a result of dehydration. A doctor told my parents that because of this I would be immune to certain diseases. It did turn out that there were a number of childhood diseases, like mumps and chicken pox, that I never had. I have also never had the flu (or a flu shot).
3. While I was attending graduate school in Greensboro, NC, I wrote movie reviews for the Greensboro Record. I was fired, however, when readers complained because I wrote a negative review of a popular movie.
4. I lived in NYC during the Reagan years. It must have been one of the worst times in history to live in New York. Just walking around was depressing, there were so many homeless people on the streets, so many of the mentally ill who had been unfairly de-institutionalized. The subways were filthy, and there was so much piss on the sidewalks you could skate on them in the winter. And so on.
5. While in NYC I got fired from a job because of Ethel Merman. I was working as a desk clerk at the Surrey Hotel on the Upper East Side, a residential hotel where she was the most well-known (and difficult) tenant. The cardinal rule where she was concerned was: never put a call through to her suite, no matter what. You can guess the rest.
6. Last year, at a staff retreat, I told that Ethel Merman story because we had to come up with some kind of cute and interesting anecdote about ourselves. After I told it, my boss spoke up. “Wayne,” he said, “for the benefit of the other staff, you might want to explain who Ethel Merman was.” I wanted to kill him; I don’t know why I didn’t.
7. I was married when I was in my twenties. Yes, to a woman. Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. Actually, Debbie is a wonderful person, has a son who is a fine athlete, and is a Facebook friend.
8. One of the worst jobs I ever had was scheduling trips for disabled people with a city-operated paratransit service. It was a lousy service that left people in wheelchairs stranded in snowbanks for hours. I was SO glad to get out of there.
9. I was a steady pot smoker at one time. I put it down to stress (see NYC, above). But during the course of my life only one substance has had an unbreakable grip on me, and that is sugar.
10. I think that mankind’s greatest invention is…the Internet. No, chocolate. The Internet. Chocolate….
11. I don’t like houseplants. They take up space that could be devoted to books and papers. (And chocolate.)
12. My father died when I was 17. When I got to college I immediately bonded with guys who had lost their fathers. One of them, Charles, is still my best friend, next to my partner.
13. Charles lives in New York, and recently saw Jeremy Irons on the subway. I don’t get it. When I lived in New York, celebrities never rode the subway. I did spot the following on the street, over the course of several years: Diane Keaton, Henry Kissinger, and Quentin Crisp. I never saw Allen Ginsberg, though we lived on the same block.
14. I own many, many books that I have not yet read. This is embarrassing, but it doesn’t stop me from acquiring more books.
15. I don’t know how I got old. I mean, I know how it happens, but I don’t know how it happened to me. I feel ridiculous when I catch myself starting sentences with “Forty years ago” or “Thirty years ago.” I catch random glances of myself in mirrors and I think, Who’s that? I wasn’t paying attention when my beard changed from graying to solid white, when my skin started losing its turgor. Recently I saw on a Boston Market receipt that the cashier had given me an unsolicited senior citizen’s discount. First time that’s happened, and I have a feeling it’s not the last.
16. I once lost a county spelling bee by spelling “battalion” with one “t.” I still stumble over that word—not that I use it every day.
17. I took four years of Latin in high school and loved it. I was president of the Latin Club for two years, mainly because no one else wanted the job.
18. I hated algebra, and hate it to this day. When people tell me that algebra has many applications in everyday life, I know they are lying.
19. My handwriting is so bad that very often I can’t read it.
20. When other people wear black, it has a slimming effect. When I wear it, it just looks like I’m having an eclipse.
21. I love scary movies, but when you come right down to it, there aren’t very many of them. My all-time #1 is "The Haunting" (1962).
22. It drives me insane when people say they can’t see the point of watching black-and-white movies.
23. My own opinion of my writing ranges from “inadequate” to “worthless.” But there is a book by Rollo May called The Courage to Create
, in which he theorizes that feelings of self-doubt and failure are essential components of the creative process—that no meaningful work gets done without them. So feeling like a mothball in the great armoire of literature may be a good thing.
24. My two favorite writers, if I had to narrow the list down to two, are William Trevor and Alice Munro. If I could write like either of these people I would be completely happy, and would never ask for anything ever again. God does not appear to be taking this hint.
25. My partner has parlayed his language skills and medical knowledge into a phone interpreting job that he manages from home. Quite often he finds himself translating for Latina patients at OB/GYN visits. So I will be working here across the hall and hearing him say things like, “I had my last period three months ago,” or “I’ve been breastfeeding and my breasts are very sore,” and so on. Only an immature fool would find this amusing, so of course I find it amusing.
Tags: biography Current Mood:
January 28th, 2009
What I Learned from John Updike
John Updike died yesterday at the age of 76. He was massively prolific writer, with 50 books and countless articles to his credit. Part of my grief is knowing that he was the kind of writer who could have kept going, well into his eighties and beyond. His body gave out—lung cancer—but his mind only grew sharper with time.
The first novel of his that I read was The Centaur. I was a college freshman at the time, and had always wanted to be a writer. For me, Updike was the very model of the author who could not only write, but write beautifully. To write like that, to turn out such lovely, lyrical sentences—that became my life’s ambition. (Note to self: in your next lifetime, please choose an easier goal.)
Updike was fortunate to begin his career in the 1950s, when mainstream publishers still cherished good writing. Today, these publishers couldn’t care less about writing; all they’re interested in is presold commodities—books by or about celebrities. Talented fiction writers are no longer nurtured by these publishers, and as a result they’re harder to find.
Franz Wright ended a recent poem in The New Yorker with these lines: “Life has taught me/to understand books.” I love Updike because he taught me to understand writing.
July 14th, 2007
Where Are We Going, and Why Am I in This Handbasket?
If you haven't been getting your recommended daily allowance of apoplexy, I recommend a visit to The Smirking Chimp, at http://www.smirkingchimp.com/. It's a generous daily selection of left-wing blogs and columns--often funny, sometimes outrageous, but most often just plain outraged.
The writers whose work appears here have some recurring concerns, such as: why the hell haven't we impeached W yet (he whose nauseating face gives this website its name), and why are the Democrats--including the (gag) Presidential candidates--so fucking lame? Why has this country turned to shit, and whose fault is it, and what can be done about it?
No one has all the answers, it's true, but there are some stimulating thoughts and arguments out there...and plenty of evidence that there are still people who are passionate about America and can express that passion with intelligence and fire. If this website doesn't get your adrenalin going, nothing will!
Current Music: Iron & Wine Live at Bonneroo
July 10th, 2007
For Hard Times, Iron & Wine
I heard the song "Resurrection Fern" today, by singer-songwriter-genius Sam Beam, who records under the name Iron & Wine. I think it's one of his most beautiful songs yet: In our days we will live
Like our ghosts will live
Pitching glass at the cornfield crows
And folding clothes
Like stubborn boys across the road
We'll keep everything
Grandma's gun and the black bear claw
That took her dog
And when Sister Lowry says "Amen"
We won't hear anything
The ten-car train will take that word
That fledgling bird
And the fallen house across the way
It'll keep everything
The baby's breath
Our bravery wasted
And our shame
And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Both our tender bellies wound in baling wire
All the more a pair of underwater pearls
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern
In our days we will save
What our ghosts will save
We gave the world what it saw fit
And what did we get
Like stubborn boys with big green eyes
We'll see everything
In the timid shade of the autumn leaves
And the buzzard's wing
And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Our tender bellies all wound around with baling wire
All the more a pair of underwater pearls
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern
Watch a live performance of this song on YouTube:
And watch for Iron & Wine's upcoming album, The Shepherd's Dog
Current Music: Iron & Wine
March 2nd, 2007
Joe Kort Tells the Truth
I'm glad I subscribe to Joe Kort's newsletter. Kort is a psychotherapist and author who never fails to demonstrate clear insight into GLBT issues. In his latest newsletter he writes about a phenomenon that, thanks to him, is receiving the name it deserves: Covert Cultural Sexual Abuse. I am reproducing the article here:Covert Cultural Sexual Abuse
What happens to children and teenagers when they hear people they idealize like Tim Hardaway say things like this? How can a gay or lesbian child not be psychologically harmed--if not traumatized--hearing important media figures and others in authority positions to them speak negatively about homosexuality.
I call this Covert Cultural Sexual Abuse (CCSA). Here is a sample of what I will be addressing in my upcoming Norton book for straight clinicians working with gays and lesbians:
In treating and helping gays and lesbian, we must understand how homophobic acts constitute covert cultural sexual abuse. I’ll argue that the claim that “being gay is nothing more than just a matter of sex” is covert cultural sexual abuse. It dehumanizes gays and lesbians to nothing more than sexual beings. And just as with sexual abuse survivors, the world can become overly sexualized for gay men and sexually repressed for lesbians. Over time, many of gay and lesbian children and teenagers grow to believe the homophobic assertion that gay equals sex, and thus become prime candidates for psychological problems.
Heterosexism is defined as the assumption that everyone is (or should be) heterosexual; the belief that homosexuality is subordinate and that heterosexuality is superior, or somehow more “mature.” In “Healing from Cultural Victimization: Recovery from Shame due to Heterosexism,” Joseph H. Niesen, Ph.D., details the painful effects of sexual/physical abuse—and heterosexism, which he defines as “a form of cultural victimization that oppresses gay/lesbian/bisexual persons.” He states that this stymies individual growth and development, just as [in] individuals who have been sexually/physically abused.”
Covert sexual abuse does not involve physical touch; it can involve flirtations and suggestive language, propositioning, household voyeurism/exhibitionism, sexualizing language and preoccupation with sexual development.
Like sexual harrassment on the job,gays and lesbians are the victims of indirect, covert seuxal abuse hearing things like:
- The Catholic Pope saying homosexuality is evil
- The President of the United States say that marriage for lesbians and gays is wrong and against family values
- The US Military not allowing openly gay men and women to serve with heterosexual men stating that they worry gay men will be eroticzing them in the showers.
One definition of sexual abuse in general is when any person dominates and exploits another sexually—violating trust and the implicit promise of protection. Typically, someone who sees himself as “in control” uses his status to control, misuse, degrade, humiliate, or even hurt others—who, by inference, are always inferior.
Society's judging gay men and lesbians for our sex acts alone and even passing laws against same-sex attraction is covert cultural sexual abuse. A dominant perpetrator—uncle, stepfather, or half-bother who's familiar, trusted, and seemingly all-powerful—can easily lure a boy into a sexual relationship and force him to comply. Indeed, many studies confirm that in cases of rape, the basic motive is not sex, but power. The abuser's ideal target is a child who's still naive, lacking the “immune system” of emotional and intellectual experience that tells him when he's being violated—and when he should resist and say no!
Consider the gay boys and girls and adolescents lured by heterosexist society into a sexual compliance—forced to role-play at being heterosexual. This parallels the sexual abuse of children. In Now That I Am Out, What Do I Do? Brian McNaught writes that “most gay people have been enormously, if not consciously, traumatized by the social pressure they felt to identify and behave as [. . .] heterosexual, even though such pressure is not classified as sexual abuse by experts in the field. Imagine how today’s society would respond if heterosexual 13- to 19-year-olds were forced to date someone of the same sex. What would the reaction be if they were expected to hold hands, slow dance, hug, kiss and say, ‘I love you’ to someone to whom they were not—and could not—be sexually attracted? The public would be outraged! Adult supervisors would be sent to prison. Youthful “perpetrators” would be expelled from school. Years of therapy would be prescribed for the innocent victims of such abuse. Volumes would be written about the long-term effect of such abhorrent socialization (as today we lament the ill-conceived efforts to turn left-handed people into right-handed ones). Yet, that’s part of the everyday life of gay teenagers. And there’s no comparable public concern, much less outcry, about the traumatizing effects on their sexuality.”
Many of my gay male and lesbian clients express severe grief for what they were told, as children, about homosexuality at church or synagogue, in school, and in their families. Many report listening to ministers preach against homosexuality as an “abomination” and “evil.” Every day, gays and lesbians are daily bombarded by newspapers, TV, and religious zealots who believe homosexuality is an abomination. Imagine the trauma felt by gay boys or lesbian girls—lacking emotional and intellectual maturity, as all children do—when they see those they admire, in charge of their welfare, protesting against homosexuality; and realize that they're one of those very people these homophobic authority figures are talking about! This is covert sexual abuse, an assault aimed directly at one’s sexual orientation and sexuality.
Unfortunately, as a result of their covert cultural sexual abuse, lesbians and gays are especially vulnerable to psychological problems. Given this information, a therapist is better equipped to help lesbians and gays more effectively.
It also helps lesbians and gays learn that there’s nothing inherently wrong with them; the problem is what heterosexist society has inflicted on them. By recognizing this, they—like the survivors of sexual abuse— can shed the victimization and empower themselves.
If you would like to subscribe to Joe Kort's e-newsletter, visit his website at:http://www.joekort.com
Current Music: The Shins, "Wincing the Night Away"