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.
“What do you write?”
A simple question, and the first most people ask when you tell them you’re a writer. Crime fiction, I say. But they usually want to know more. That’s where it can get tricky. From the start, I called my first book a psychological thriller. It’s how I pitched it to agents a couple years ago. After hearing the plot, one asked me, “Are the main characters gay?” “All of them except the dog,” I said. Her quick forced smile told me she was neither amused nor interested. I moved on.
Should I have said upfront it was a gay thriller? Was the gay aspect a reason another agent expressed concern about “our ability to sell this work”? As I thought about it, gay protagonists did seem a rarity in current mainstream crime fiction. In Jonathan Kellerman’s popular Alex Delaware series, the gay cop is almost a sidekick. What about other genres? And next I’m shifting gears with a ghost story, but the same main character. Switching genres within a series and a gay hero? Was I insane?
Inn at Whitefield
The northern New Hampshire inn where I’m spending the summer is haunted. I’ve not seen any first-hand evidence. But others report a recurring manifestation of dead flies in certain rooms; mysterious whistling in the kitchen; sudden loud knocks or extreme drops in temperature. A child played with an unseen friend. The dog refused to climb the Tower stairs. Oh, yes. A Tower. Any of these occurrences on their own might be explained. Put them all together? You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out the setting of my next book.
So one of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival panels that grabbed my attention was The Devil You Don’t Know: Otherworldly Forces in Fiction.
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.
Amsterdam turned gay overnight. That’s what happened in 1998 when 250,000 gay and lesbian athletes and fans descended on a city with a population of only 720,000 in one fell swoop. Not only was it the first time the Gay Games were held outside North America, Amsterdam was the smallest city thus far to host the Games. So for eight days packed with countless events the European capital was clearly, and never more visibly, the Gay Capital of the World. It was unprecedented in every way.