Amsterdam Pride, Worldwide

Amsterdam PrideAmsterdam 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.

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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!)

cropped-calvin-at-waters-edge.jpg

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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Fireflies in June

Family GardenCricket’s chirp, small birds flit back and forth to the feeder in my parent’s back garden. My brothers and sister took the kids to the drive-in to see How to Tame a Dragon II and Maleficent. A temporary peace has settled on this early summer evening. Soon the fireflies will join me as I sit at the picnic table on the carport, thinking about the past week. My debut novel Calvin’s Head comes out exactly three months from today and everything is beginning to click into place.
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My Genre Identity Crisis

Noir Library“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?

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Whitman, Cunningham, and Myself

Whitman engraving 1854

Whitman 1854

Walt Whitman would be delighted with all the attention paid to him on his birthday. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if he were alive today, he’d blog more often than Neil Gaiman, post more selfies than James Franco, and have more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga. Years ago when I visited Whitman’s home in Camden, New Jersey – now a museum – then curator Margaret O’Neill told me the poet was very concerned with how he would be remembered. So much so, he spent over $4000 on a memorial tomb that he designed for himself. (By today’s standard, around a million dollars.)

I came to Whitman’s poetry late – Dead Poets Society late. But more so ten years later when I read Gary Schmidgall’s biography Walt Whitman: A Gay Life. I made a two-part radio program featuring the author and my visit to the poet’s home. Since then, his poetry has often infused my work. But to be honest, I’ve never been able to sit down and read my battered 500-page copy of his epic life’s work Leaves of Grass from beginning to end.

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