20 July 2016

Reading, Writing, and Living Through the AIDS Crisis


Literary Hub has published one of the most personal essays I've ever written, an essay about growing up as a reader and person during the AIDS crisis.

The original title, which doesn't make a good headline and so wasn't used, is "A Long Gay Book, A Life". (I'm always happy for a Gertrude Stein allusion. And quotation, as you'll see in the piece.)

The piece is fragmentary, like memory. It roams across the page, probably an effect of my recently revisiting some of Carole Maso's writings. (Also, reading Keguro Macharia's elegant essays and blog posts.)

Here's an excerpt:
When I was in the eighth grade I wrote a story about a vampire. He was young, roughly my age, entering puberty, entering vampirism. He ached to touch, to kiss, to drink in the loveliness of what he hungered for, but to do so was to admit his monstrosity and to kill what he loved. He feared himself and hated himself.

I don’t remember anything else about that story except how terrified I was to show it to anyone, lest they notice what I was saying about desire between the lines.

But I did show it to my English teacher. She had been sensitive and supportive of the stories I’d written, no matter how weird and violent. We talked about the story for a while. Now, more than 25 years later, all I remember is that she spoke—casually and not in any way judgmentally, without lingering—about the vampire’s desires being a powerful element of the story because they could also be read as sexual desires.

“No,” I replied quickly, lip trembling, “he’s just a vampire. Vampires have to drink blood or they die.”

She smiled and nodded. “Of course, of course,” she said.
Read more at The Literary Hub.

Blood: Stories Playlist at Largehearted Boy


One of my favorite sites on the internet is Largehearted Boy, which brings music and literature together.

A core series at LB are the Book Notes: playlists of songs to accompany books.

Huge thanks to the Largehearted Boy proprietor, David Gutowski, for inviting me to participate and create a Book Notes entry for Blood: Stories.

The The, David Byrne, Cowboy Junkies, Washington Phillips, Arvo Pärt, and many more...

12 July 2016

"Perfect Day" at Cold Takes



When Kelly J. Baker put out a call for essays about music albums and emotions, I knew immediately what I would propose: An essay about The The's Soul Mining and what it meant to me as an adolescent.

Now, that essay, "Perfect Day", is available on Kelly's site, Cold Takes.

Here's the opening:
That moment: album — book — car ride.

How long ago now? Twenty-five years? Something like that.

It was (roughly) sometime between 1988 and 1991, which means sometime between when I was (roughly) 12 years old and 16 years old. Most likely 1989 or 1990. Most likely 14 or 15 years old.

Interstate 93 North between Boston, Massachusetts and Plymouth, New Hampshire.

Blue Toyota Tercel wagon, my mother driving.

Mass market paperback of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner tie-in edition).

Black Sony Walkman cassette player.

Soul Mining by The The.
read more

Nonfiction for Fiction Writers


I'm just back from Readercon 27, the annual convention that I've been to more than any other, and for which (a while back) I served on the program committee for a few years. At this point, Readercon feels like a family reunion for me, and it's a delight.

Here, I simply want to riff on ideas from one of the panels I participated in.

Friday, I was on my first panel of the convention, "Nonfiction for Fiction Writers", with Jonathan Crowe, Keffy Kehrli, Tom Purdom, Rick Wilber. It was good fun. I'd taken lots of notes beforehand, because I wasn't really sure what direction the panel would go in and I wanted to be prepared and to not forget any particular favorites. Ultimately, and expectedly, I only got to mention a few of the items I was prepared to talk about.

However, since I still have my notes, I can expand on it all here...

04 July 2016

The Covers That Weren't

original image by Joseph Maclise
In the Weird Fiction Review conversation I had with Eric Schaller, Eric asked me to talk a bit about designing the cover of Blood: Stories, and in my recent WROTE Podcast conversation, I mentioned an alternate version of the cover that starred Ronald Reagan (this was, in fact, the cover that my publisher originally thought we should use, until she couldn't get the image we ended up using out of her mind).

I thought it might be fun to share some of the mock-ups I did that we didn't use — the covers that might have been...

21 June 2016

The Schaller-Cheney Road Show at Weird Fiction Review



The marvelous Weird Fiction Review website has now posted a conversation that Eric Schaller and I had about our books, our magazine The Revelator, the weirdness of New Hampshire, and other topics.

Along with this, WFR has posted Eric's story "Voices Carry" (originally in Shadows & Tall Trees) and my story "The Lake" (originally in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet).

So if you're curious about us or our writings (or just utterly bored), Weird Fiction Review is a great place to start.

16 June 2016

"Killing Fairies" in Best Gay Stories 2016


I'm thrilled that my A Cappella Zoo story "Killing Fairies" has just been reprinted in Best Gay Stories 2016 edited by Steve Berman for Lethe Press.

The table of contents for Best Gay Stories this year is quite strong, and it's an honor to be among this company. It's especially nice to have my story in a book with a story by Richard Bowes, since "Killing Fairies" is my attempt to write Bowesian tale: something that skirts the line between fiction and memoir. In this case, I wanted to preserve a few memories of my first year of college before those memories slip away (they grow dimmer and dimmer), and I thought a fun way to do that would be to give myself the challenge of trying to write like Rick.

It's harder than it looks. The problem for me was that my memories didn't add up to a story. There were a couple of really great characters (two of the strongest personalities I ever met in my life), but no story, just encounters that ultimately led nowhere because I quickly lost contact with those people as I developed a better network of friends. Then I thought: Who did I hope to meet in college, but never did? And thus I created the strange, perhaps rakish character of Jack. Once he was added to the mix, the story began to cohere.

Here's a brief excerpt:

14 June 2016

Conversation at Electric Literature


The good folks at Electric Literature invited me to converse with Adrian Van Young, perhaps not knowing that Adrian and I had recently discovered we are in many ways lost brothers, and so we could go on and on and on...


We talked about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Sublime, writing advice, writers we like, Michael Haneke, neoliberalism, The Witch, and all sorts of other things. It was a lot of fun and we could have gone on at twice the length, but eventually we had to return to our lives.

Many thanks to Electric Lit for being so welcoming.

12 June 2016

Mass / Blood

I have been busy and have neglected this blog. I forgot to make a post here about some of the most exciting news of my year: I have a story in the current issue of my favorite literary magazine, Conjunctions. It's titled "Mass" and it is about, among other things, a mass shooting.

Early this morning, at least 50 people were killed and 53 wounded in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The New York Times is currently calling this the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

I'm not going to write about the gun politics of this. For that, please read the work of Patrick Blanchfield, particularly "So There's Just Been a Mass Shooting", "God and Guns", and "The Gun Control We Deserve". (He's excellent on Twitter, as well, if you want his most recent thoughts.) I have sputtered on about the topic in the past, not always coherently. Patrick is better at it, and better informed, than I. Thinking through the complex, contradictory, vexing, and emotionally charged landscape of gun politics, I'm better (or at least more comfortable) in fiction. Thus, "Mass".

(Titles fascinate me. The title of this issue of Conjunctions is Affinity: The Friendship Issue. Affinity is something more than friendship. Friendship is useful, it feels good, it glues us socially, and sometimes it may be, yes, an issue. But affinity is more: its etymology [via Latin and French, a story told by the OED] is rich with ideas of relationship: relationship via marriage; any relationship other than marriage; a neighborhood; relationship between people based on common ground in their characters and tastes; spiritual connection; structural relationship; adjacency.)

A character in "Mass" has been reading theoretical physics:
“Not especially detailed theoretical physics, but introductory sorts of texts, popularizations, books for people who don’t really ever have a hope of truly understanding physics but nonetheless possess a certain curiosity. And its words are sometimes beautiful — a tachyonic field of imaginary mass — who couldn’t love such a phrase? I find it all strangely comforting, the more far-out ideas of quantum theory and such. It’s like religion, but without all the rigmarole and obeisance to a god. Or perhaps more like poetry, though really not, because it’s something somehow outside language, but nonetheless elegant, and of course constricted by language, since how else can we communicate about it? But it gestures, at least, toward whatever lies beyond logos, beyond our ability even to reason, though perhaps not to comprehend. At my age, and having spent a life devoted to language, there is comfort and excitement — even perhaps some inchoate feeling of hope — in glimpses beyond the realm of words. There is, I have come to believe, very much outside the text. What is it though? Call it God, call it Nature, call it the Universe, call it what it seems to me now to be — having read and I’m sure misunderstood my theoretical physics — call it: an asymptote.”
Mass. Affinity. Asymptotes.

The OED: b. Relationship by blood, consanguinity; common ancestry of individuals, races, etc.; an instance of this.

And then there is "Blood". And Blood: Stories.

"Why did you give it that title?" people ask. There are a lot of answers. (And that, in itself, is an answer.) Here's one: As a child of the early AIDS era, I always knew queer blood is politicized and scary. Scary, thus politicized. Politicized, thus scary.

Until recently, the FDA prohibited any man who had had sex with men since 1977 from donating blood. Now, if you've been celibate for a year, you can donate. The massacre in Orlando brought this policy back into the news, with various outlets reporting that while queers were attacked, and blood was needed, any man who had had sex with a man in the last year could not, under FDA rules, donate blood.

Blood is a reality and blood is a potent metaphor: beautiful and terrifying, wonderful and evil.

Consanguinity.

Blood is life and blood is death; blood is family and blood is genocide.

Is there an opposite to blood? What is water in our metaphors? It washes blood away, but also sustains us as we live, for much of what we are is water. Tears are made of water, salt, enzymes, hormones. They taste like oceans and look like rain.

Water is what we weep.

I weep for my queer brethren. I weep, too, for the inevitable homonationalism as queer shoulders are put to the wheel of US imperialism and US exceptionalism; as pride is wielded for Us against Them.

But I am not feeling political today.

Sometime looking backward
into this future, straining
neck and eyes I'll meet your shadow
with its enormous eyes
     you who will want to know
     what this was all about          

—Adrienne Rich,
"A Long Conversation"

Yesterday, my aunt, after (as they say) a (short? long? relative to what?) illness, died.

We had never lived near each other, but she was a profound influence on my life. She and her daughter, my cousin, gave me Stephen King stories when I was much too young for them. Night Shift, Skeleton Crew. The titles are still magic to me, the covers of the old paperbacks as powerful as any personal icon I have. So much of what I became as a writer is because of those stories. So much of what I became as a writer, then, is because of her.

She was a brilliant artist, a fun and funny person, so smart, so straightforward, saucy, even, and strong as the mightiest metal. She had a magnificent life with magnificent people in it, as well as hardship, oh yes, hardship, indeed, as we all do, yes, but still: she struggled, persevered, survived, didn't let the bastards get her down.

I will miss her forever and cherish her forever. Her husband, my uncle, provided me with my middle name, and I am always proud to have been named for him, one of the best people I know.

(The cover of my book called Blood is a picture of a man with his heart removed.)

At the wedding of my youngest uncle some years ago, my oldest uncle, this great man now a widower, gave a toast in which he said ours is a motley family of steps and halfs, of once- and twice-removeds, of marriages and unions and affinities, but in the end those designations don't much matter, because family is family, and that's who we are, and what we are, and what we have, because we love each other.

Affinity. And even more so that most important of political cries: Solidarity.

I remember that Auden kept revising his poem "September 1, 1939", because he couldn't decide between "We must love one another or die," "We must love one another and die," or nothing at all.

Here, then, my own tentative, inadequate revision: We must love one another or nothing at all.

I loved my aunt fiercely, and I love fiercely all you queer folk out there aching and screaming and scared and willing to fight, and all who dance against the gunfire, hands held together through the pain, lips together in solidarity, lives together as we live and live and live — even if separated by oceans, even if drowning in tears — always striving, even if never reaching, like asymptotes, like believers and holy fools — as we remember and honor the dead, as we go on, as we must, you, me, all — whether strangers or the oldest of lovers, we are — we must be — a mass of friends, family, water, blood.


And I dream of our coming together
encircled     driven
not only by love
but by lust for a working tomorrow
the flights of this journey
mapless     uncertain
and necessary as water.

Audre Lorde
"On My Way Out I Passed Over You and the Verrazano Bridge"

10 June 2016

The Journals of Samuel R. Delany


Kenneth James is editing the journals of Samuel Delany for publication. Volume 1 is coming out from Wesleyan University Press in December. For the future volumes, Ken needs help with funding.

If you already know how valuable this project is, don't read on. Just go donate.

But if you need some convincing, please read on...