A storm rages outside. Wind rattles the windows of the 150-year-old inn. Ominous rolling thunder, lightning flashes, horizontal rain whips through the trees. The lights dim for a second. (Should I unplug my laptop? Yes.) Atop Mt. Washington, not far away, conditions must be terrifying. The worst weather in the world is recorded there. The power fails. Darkness. I light a candle. A few minutes ago I was reading a book called The Demonologist. Now I am afraid.
“It’s always best to start at the beginning,” advised Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. The day before the storm on the summit of Mt. Washington, a cold wind swept clouds across my face in the colorless landscape above the tree line. Like Kansas, I thought. Dorothy battling the wind in black-and-white before the arrival of the cyclone that will whisk her away to a Technicolor land of make-believe. The Wizard of Oz was on my mind because this week marks the 75th anniversary of its premiere.
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.
To read more CLICK HERE.
Before the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival began last weekend in New Orleans, the friend I stayed with took me to newly opened Crescent Park. We climbed the elegant rusted steel Piety Street Bridge (one block from Desire) to cross the railway tracks and explore the beautiful, if minimally designed, riverfront gardens. All that remains of a once bustling wharf is a lone three-story white wall and the burned out skeleton of beams extending over the muddy water. The city skyline glimmers in the distance. Rusty poles bearing words like Diversity are interspersed with concrete slab benches etched with quotations.
“Culture – The common threads of life that tie us together… roles, rules, rituals, languages, music, spirituality, and soul.”
That quote in particular struck a chord, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps a premonition of the experience I anticipated having the next four days? I’ve attended many festivals, conventions and conferences in the last two years. Saints and Sinners, with its combined queer and literary focus, was by far the most inspiring, entertaining, enlightening, and – (How do I say this? In Dutch the word is ‘gezellig’ – an almost untranslatable mix of cozy, warm and friendly.) I thought: this is what Christopher Isherwood meant when he wrote about his tribe.
Steven & Dagmar
I know. You don’t like to celebrate birthdays. That probably goes double for this year. So I won’t dwell on it. I’m thinking about another celebration: the Gay Pride Parade in New York City. Come to think of it, you aren’t big on parades either. But maybe today is different. Maybe falling on your birthday, this year’s parade might tempt you from your country home to join the jubilation. I imagine you there with Dagmar, an exotic rainbow on your shoulder, marching to your own drummer. Or maybe not.
Photo: Frits de Ridder, 1986
In September 1986 I died of AIDS. That’s me – center in the photo – playing one last game of Scrabble. An hour later, handsome Tony in the white shirt died in the arms of Steve, who left the hospice soon after to spend his final days with his family. I passed quietly, offstage. Five nights a week, above a gay bar in Amsterdam.