Amsterdam Gay Pride is in full swing and once again I am elsewhere. I haven’t minded missing the celebration the last couple of years. But this year I wish I were there. My former employer is sponsoring one of the eighty boats in the Canal Parade in honor of some very special guests – eight young LGBT activists from parts of the world where being gay can be a matter of life or death.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) has always been openly supportive of the international LGBT community. In the late 80s, producer Pete Myers began covering stories about gay social issues on his weekly show Rembrandt Express, long before other mainstream media. When I took over producing an arts and culture program in the early 90s, he encouraged me to talk with as many LGBT artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers as possible. Three programs I produced between 1998 and 2004 that were honored with NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Awards are part of his legacy.
I follow a lot of crime fiction blogs, groups, and websites. So, of course, it came to my attention that Raymond Chandler’s birthday was this past week. Might have thought of it myself if I hadn’t been busy juggling a dozen literary balls at the same time. And in some way they all seem to relate to Chandler.
A couple years back I referenced his essay The Simple Art of Murder (1950) in a review of a terrific debut thriller (The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, available now in paperback.) I’d written my own first novel, and was looking forward to attending ThrillerFest that summer to see if I might generate some interest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My book wasn’t like the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. But my protagonist did have some of the qualities he discussed.
“A human head weighs about the same as a large oven-ready chicken,” crime fiction author Peter James told a roomful of rapt listeners at ThrillerFest 2014 in New York City. If anyone felt queasy, they didn’t show it. After all, the panel was called Sick, Sick, Sick: Is it Possible to Write Great Thrillers and Not Be a Secret Sadist? It’s always fascinating to spend a weekend with writers who think a great deal about new and grisly methods to murder someone or how to commit the perfect crime. With my debut suspense novel coming out in two months, and having started a second one, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than this yearly International Thriller Writers event.
My first Guest Blog went live on the website of author Brandon Shire yesterday, perfectly timed as I attended ThrillerFest 2014. Brandon has a special interest in the issue of LGBT youth homelessness. So I wrote about how that subject connects to my novel. (Special Thanks to Brandon for the opportunity!)
In July 2012, with an early draft of my debut novel tucked under my arm, I pitched the story to agents interested in crime fiction at ThrillerFest in New York City. I always began the same way: “Amsterdam. Summer of 1995. I’m homeless, living in my jeep with my dog, Calvin. True story.” The rest didn’t seem to matter so much. “You were actually homeless?” they interrupted. A flicker of excitement appeared in their eyes. Could be a strong marketing tactic. Homeless author pulls himself from the gutter… But when I told them the homeless protagonist in the book was a young gay man, interest appeared to diminish. The agents politely asked me to send a submission, and several weeks later I received a series of encouraging rejections.
In retrospect, I wonder if the gay element was an issue at all. I’d like to believe it wasn’t – give the agents the benefit of the doubt. These were intelligent literary enthusiasts. It was entirely possible the manuscript just wasn’t polished enough, that I hadn’t finished the work needed to sell the book. I’ve learned a lot about the whole process of crafting a novel in the last two years. And four rewrites later, Calvin’s Head is set to be released by LGBTQ publisher Bold Strokes Books in September.
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