Gay and Homeless in Amsterdam

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!)

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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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Diversity on the Mississippi

Crescent parkBefore 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.

Diversity Pole“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.

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A Train to Sachsenhausen

HomomonumentIn the Netherlands and Europe on May 4th the victims of World War II are commemorated with a Day of Remembrance. At the Amsterdam Homomonument a special ceremony is held to pay tribute to gay and lesbian victims of Nazi persecution, as well as those who have suffered discrimination in any form, worldwide, since the war.

In April 2000 I took a train to Sachsenhausen, a Holocaust memorial Sachsenhausen Gatesite just north of Berlin, to view an exhibition by the Schwules Museum about the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi regime. The program I made for the Radio Netherlands series Aural Tapestry was honored with the 2001 Seigenthaler Excellence in Audio Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in Washington DC.

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Uncommon Community

NLGJAA talented gay comic book artist is told, “Your work is not publishable.” A stint with Marvel Comics, a couple of graphic novels, and translations of his work in several languages prove otherwise. A long-time editor is shocked to read the headline “Getting Old Sucks Even Worse for LGBT Seniors” on a popular gay website. So he creates a site for the over-50s. A man living in a particularly homophobic country loses his job for speaking with a journalist, who feels it’s his responsibility to help the man get back on his feet.

These are the kind of stories told at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) conference last weekend in Boston. A lot has changed in the LGBTQ media landscape since 1990 when it was founded. And everything you might want to know about the organization can be found on their website. (Except for the amusing fact that many members tend to avoid the unwieldy acronym and refer to it simply as simply “negligee”!)

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Ivan the Fool: Russian Fairy Tales

Ivan the FoolA week before Kris van der Veen was arrested in Russia, on suspicion of “promoting gay propaganda” to minors, he was reading about Ivan Dusak, or Ivan the Fool. A popular figure in Russian folklore dating back to the 16th century, Ivan is the youngest of three brothers who set out to seek their fortunes. Fairest of hair and bluest of eyes, Ivan is seen as simpleminded by his greed-driven siblings. But he follows his heart – always eager to help others, even if it puts himself at risk. Ivan’s naïve derring-do vanquishes the dastardly deeds of villains and wins the happily-ever-after love of princesses. Not such a fool after all. Kris van der Veen would be perfect casting.

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