Wednesday, November 12, 2014

About A Gathering Storm

While assembling material for a collection of my nonfiction writing, I was searching through my old computer disks for an essay that I was certain I had written in October 1998 in the days following the beating of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming. I had participated in the October 19, 1998 rally against hate crimes and the impromptu demonstration down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and I was sure that I had written about the experience.

What I stumbled across, instead, was the manuscript of a novel I had begun in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s death. Writing the book had been both a rewarding and painful experience, but I had chosen to forget about my novel because of the personal disappointment I had attached to it.

Like many gay Americans I was moved by the tragic fate of Matthew Shepard, and in the days following the crime I struggled to pull together portraits of the victim and the assailants from the emerging news. One reason why I decided to write A Gathering Storm, a novel about a hate crime against a gay man, was because I felt what was missing from the news were the details and stories of the individuals involved—the crime was analyzed and politicized but oddly not humanized. We did not know who these young men were, what they were thinking, what were they doing, why had they been where they were when things went wrong. We only had their generic representations in the media. The national focus on the issue of hate crimes seemed to overwhelm the personal stories.

I finished writing the A Gathering Storm in early 2001 and I submitted the manuscript to my editor at the publishing company that had published my first novel and had an option of first refusal on my next one. My contract called for a six-week response, but because I was an unagented writer the manuscript languished at the publishing company, never generating any attention or a formal rejection until my editor casually informed me that he was leaving the press to begin another career.

In spite of this I secured the services of a literary agent to represent the novel, who shopped the manuscript around without much success, and, in my estimation, without much enthusiasm on his part, so I began shopping it around myself to additional publishers and editors. After I found a British publisher who was interested in the novel, the agent declined to act on my behalf, and interest faded away when the British publisher—who saw A Gathering Storm as a commercial thriller and not a literary novel—was concerned that I did not have another thriller ready to go as a follow-up.

By then Matthew Shepard had been the subject of too many movies, plays, books, and dramatizations. One editor at a mainstream house declined the manuscript stating “the Shepard murder was discussed and dramatized and debated in the media so much that this novel may have a hard time finding an audience.” A Gathering Storm was both too similar and too different. My novel was fiction that read like fact. I had consciously changed many details, including moving the location to a college town in the South. During the aftermath of the Shepard murder, the town of Laramie, Wyoming, where the beating and murder occurred, fell under tremendous scrutiny. News reports and other works based on this crime focused sharply on the town. It was my intent to step aside from this location and show that this type of crime could happen anywhere. In choosing to locate this story in the South, I was also able to draw from many of my own experiences and memories and to write it as a story I felt I could tell.

During the course of writing the novel I had also rewritten many details about the Shepard crime and the characters involved with it, weaving in details from other hate crimes against gay men. More importantly, however, I was peering inside the emotional lives of the characters who were living inside my mind, not just presenting the facts. Fiction can oftentimes carry more emotional weight than a news story or a nonfiction account and it was my intent with this work to present a more human face to this tragedy than what was emerging through other works, both in terms of understanding the deep suffering of the victims as well as looking into the psychological motivations and backgrounds of those behind the crimes. 

And I had made a conscious decision to write this novel in a different style from the long, complex sentence structure I had favored in my first novel, Where the Rainbow Ends. A Gathering Storm is a deconstruction of a crime and this time my prose was purposely short and choppy, like a screenplay. I wanted the visuals to rise immediately off the page and to do so I had, in fact, studied many screenplays and true crime narrative accounts and the way they presented both dialogue and action. And since I was deconstructing the crime, I also wanted to deconstruct the narrative structure of the novel, presenting it as linear, circular, and fragmented.

Sometime in 2003 I formally severed ties with the literary agent and abandoned the manuscript to pursue other projects. I never expected the novel to be published and had been so upset by the experience of both writing the book and not finding a publisher for it that I had stored all the notes and drafts of the novel into a box and hid the box at the bottom of a closet in my apartment, out of sight and incapable of wounding me any further. But there it was, A Gathering Storm, always at the top of a list of my completed work that I keep on a bulletin board above the desk where I write, ignored and overlooked until I saw it there again while I was looking for my Shepard essay. Even as I copied the manuscript files of the novel from the floppy disk to my laptop to archive it, I did not anticipate publishing the work because I felt it was surely outdated, even though other authors had revisited the Matthew Shepard crime and had published recent books about it.

What I discovered when I sat down to reread A Gathering Storm was a densely absorbing work full of purpose, a novel that I cannot believe I walked away from and I cannot believe I did not find a publisher for. My faith in it had been shattered by the kind but continued rejection of it. One editor who turned down the manuscript remarked on its “enormous integrity” and found it “refreshing to read a manuscript that is informed by such passion.” Another called it “a shocking yet timely story that truly gets to the heart of gay hate in America.”  Still, no one offered to publish it.

I see now that this novel is a bridge to other themes in my later writings, particularly the gay-themed ghost stories that I would publish later in the decade. But I also see it indicative of the evolution of the gay novel during the first decade of the twenty-first century—how it fell victim to mainstream publishers only wanting commercial blockbusters and how smaller publishers decided to mimic this desire—and how during these years gay authors such as myself, because of our gay themes and narratives and characters and the choices of our fictions—had to find other publishers and other ways and outlets to continue to be published and to find readers. I began Chelsea Station Editions to publish work that was overlooked and ignored by other publishers, worthy gay-themed literature that needed to find its way into print, and I am grateful for the advances in technology, economics, and business and trade practices that have allowed me to do so. I have never been a writer who has chased financial or critical success, only a place to publish what I have wanted to write and what I felt needed to be written and shared. I never expected to be a publisher or a bookseller. But I am extremely proud to say that I have created the perfect home for A Gathering Storm.
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"A captivating, highly detailed, and impressively impartial, almost journalist, profile of a Southern college town shaken by the after-effects of a hate crime when a male student is beaten and left for dead for no reason other than his sexual orientation. The power prose effectively conveys why it was written, as well as the inherent need for it to be read. Despite—or perhaps because of—the unpleasant circumstances and outcome that shape this novel, A Gathering Storm is enraging, engrossing and impossible to put down."—Christopher Verleger, Edge

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About The Third Buddha

It is a difficult task for me to acknowledge how all the elements of this novel came into place or where the details were derived—to do so would require me to publish an encyclopedic list of all the news accounts I have sifted through since September 11th, 2001 occurred—but the inspiration for the novel arrived during a conversation at a dinner party in Chelsea sometime after the first anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center.

The novel first began as a short story and was originally intended to be the final one of a working manuscript titled The Chelsea Rose, about the interlocking lives of the gay and lesbian inhabitants of a New York neighborhood apartment building. Readers who might be familiar with my short stories will recognize the background of the character of James MacTiernan in this novel as similar to the one in the published story “The Chelsea Rose,” which was included in my collection of short stories Still Dancing. The early short story version of “The Third Buddha” revolved around the stories told at a dinner party, when Jim returns to visit the apartment building post 9/11. I must also thank an unknown editor at a literary magazine where I submitted that short story, whose form rejection letter sent to me contained the handwritten note, “Have you considered expanding this to a book-length work?”

That note sent me drinking and thinking and worrying and working. At the heart of this story was always the desire to recast and retell the story of “The Good Samaritan” during a time of crisis and within a clash of religions and cultures, and as the work grew and morphed and solidified, I knew I also wanted it to represent what it meant to be an articulate gay activist and citizen of the world. While gay men and lesbians have made great strides in being open and recognized, there is still an uncertainty within the mainstream media on how and when to depict their personal lives within the context of newsworthy events, and I felt this was an important and often overlooked view which needed to be represented.

The title of The Third Buddha refers to an undiscovered reclining giant Buddha in the Bamiyan valley of Afghanistan. Bamiyan is the site of the two giant Buddha statues which were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001.

The novel opens in Manhattan post-9/11 when Teddy Bridges, a law school dropout, meets Sam, a non-government organization worker who has returned from a stint in Afghanistan, and then flashes back to tell the stories of Jim MacTiernan, a television reporter, and Ari Sarghello, his partner/cameraman, who are separated in the aftermath of a roadside bombing in Bamiyan which injures both while they are on assignment to interview an archeologist about the third, giant, reclining Buddha. Interwoven into Jim’s search for Ari is Teddy’s search for his older brother Philip in Manhattan in the days following the bombing of the World Trade Center. Both brothers, separated in age by years, are gay, but each face different and distinct conflicts and paths.

Throughout the novel details are included of the history of Afghanistan and the intermingling of cultures within the Bamiyan region where the giant Buddha statues once stood. Afghanistan was once the crossroads of several ancient cultures—Greece, India, China. The final chapter of the novel occurs at an exhibition of the ancient items recovered from Afghanistan known as the Bactrian Gold at the Guimet museum in Paris.

The novel was written and rewritten over a span of about seven years as I sifted through books, maps, documentaries, articles, and satellite images of Afghanistan and Bamiyan. Important formative source materials used on Afghanistan and Bamiyan include Christian Frei’s documentary, The Giant Buddhas; Rory Stewart’s memoir of walking across Afghanistan, The Places In Between; Peter Levi’s travel journal, The Light Garden of the Angel King; and Afghanistan, A Companion and Guide by Bijan Omrani, Matthew Leeming, and Elizabeth Chatwin. Acknowledgement must also be given to Zemaryali Tarzi, the archeologist and professor who has led the search for the reclining Buddha in Bamiyan. Equally important in providing a contextual case of gay men and the Muslim countries was Michael Luongo’s anthology Gay Travels in the Muslim World, whose introductory note was as significant and as illuminating as his contributors’ essays. An important emotional source for the 9/11 portions of this novel was Marian Fontana’s book A Widow’s Walk.

The novel is unique in that it switches between telling the stories from first person and third person narratives. Several readers and editors helped to shape the narrative, including suggesting that I switch the sequence of the first two chapters of the book, and I am grateful for this insight. The opening chapter was first published in Best Gay Romance 2011, and reprinted in Best Gay Stories 2011.

The novel was published by Chelsea Station Editions in August 2011. It was a finalist for the 2011 Rainbow Book Award in Contemporary Fiction, a 2012 Rainbow Book cited by the American Library Association, and was nominated for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. It is also pleasing to note, that two years post publication of the novel in August 2013, Library Journal included the novel in a list of noteworthy (and often overlooked) LGBTI books, calling the novel, “a complex, character-propelled story in which the search for others becomes self-discovery.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ghost Stories by Gay Authors

I printed a few copies of this small booklet to provide as a handout during a signing this spring at the Horror Writers Association booth at Book Expo for my collection of gay-themed ghost stories The Haunted Heart and Other Tales and my recent novel The Wolf at the Door, which is set in a haunted gay-owned guesthouse in New Orleans. Since then, I have had a number of requests to see the list from other writers, librarians, and booksellers, so I’ve posted it on my Web site and provide a link here for the curious readers who would like to find more stories to read.

During the eight years that I worked on the gay-themed ghost stories that became The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, I read a number of classic and contemporary ghost stories and horror anthologies and was impressed by the hidden history of how gay authors helped to shape this genre. The list, organized chronologically, reflects ghost stories and novels written by gay men and which include gay male characters, gay themes, and/or gay interpretations. I encourage readers to contact me at regarding additions or omissions to this reading list. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list, but a selected and suggested one for discussion and further research. I have also not included the contributions of lesbian authors to the ghost story genre in the hopes that another author will do so, nor have I included the gay vampire tale within these recommendations—that is a genre of its own and which has grown in recent years at warp speed and lie beyond the scope of this list.

Access the list here or here.

If the links do not work or if you cannot download the file, please feel free to email me and I will email you a copy of the booklet.

My thanks to Vince Liaguno for arranging the BEA signing and to Steve Berman and Tom Cardamone for suggesting some of the stories I have included in the list.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Wolf at the Door: Forthcoming this Spring

This Spring Chelsea Station Editions is publishing The Wolf at the Door, my novel set in a haunted gay-owned guesthouse in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It is not a horror story per se, but more of a comic hallucination of an overworked man who drinks too much and thinks he is seeing ghosts and angels and all sorts of other spirits. I hope that it’s regarded as the kind of spiritual adventure of, say, A Christmas Carol or It’s A Wonderful Life. I think Avery, the main character in the novel, comes close to who I am today, a funny, boozy, aging gay man, but this was also another story that required me to do a lot of historical research — this time on New Orleans and its history of slavery and the fact that there were many freed slaves who owned slaves themselves.

Dark Scribe magazine has a nice interview up in their queer horror issue about The Haunted Heart and Other Tales. Link is here.

Word has also arrived that The Haunted Heart and Other Tales is nominated for a Gaybie award for Best Gay Fiction. Kudos also to Sean Meriwether for The Silent Hustler. Details and voting info can be found here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Haunted Heart wins a Black Quill Award

The Haunted and Other Tales, my collection of gay-themed ghost stories, won the Black Quill Award for Best Dark Genre Fiction Collection-Editors' Choice given by Dark Scribe Magazine.

Dark Scribe -- magazine and press -- has been at the forefront of developing, presenting, promoting, and recognizing “queer horror,” so I am very grateful for this recognition. Among the other gay authors who are Black Quill recipients this year is Paul G. Bens Jr. for Best Small Press Chill-Editors' Choice for his novel Kelland. Paul has been collecting some amazing reviews and well-earned word of mouth on his new novel.

Dark Scribe magazine is also celebrating February as Queer Horror month and will have a forthcoming interview with me about The Haunted Heart and Other Tales. Also up will be an interview with Tom Cardamone, author of the collection Pumpkin Teeth. Tom is good friend and a great author and I’m delighted to see his quirky, weird, and ingenious stories finding an audience. Dark Scribe will also have an interview with the terrific writer Lee Thomas, whose new collection In the Closet, Under the Bed is destined to be a landmark in queer horror.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

About 'The Haunted Heart and Other Tales'

I’ve just finished proofing the galleys of my collection of gay-themed ghost stories, The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, so the book should be shipped to the printer soon. The pub date is October 1, 2009. There are twelve stories included in this new collection published by Lethe Press, including six never before published stories.

The gorgeous cover painting was done by Richard Taddei, a painter I have long admired. If you want to see more of Richard’s work, you can find him online at

The logo design was done by John Malloy, a talented graphic designer. More of John’s work can be found at

I also gave Vince Liaguno, co-editor of the Stoker-winning anthology Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, a sneak peak at the collection, and he has posted his generous review on line at Dark Scribe Magazine, which he edits and publishes. Read it at:

And I am also doing a reading on October 29th in Manhattan at Housing Works Bookstore with two other talented writers (and friends) who have new books coming out -- Tom Cardamone, author of Pumpkin Teeth: Stories, and Sean Meriwether, author of The Silent Hustler. Here’s the details on the event.

Tricks and Treats: Gays, Ghosts, and Goblins
Thursday, October 29, 2009
7:00 pm
Housing Works Bookstore Café
126 Crosby Street
New York, NY
Admission is free and all book sales proceeds benefit people living with HIV.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Man in the Mirror" in Icarus

My ghost story, “The Man in the Mirror,” is in the first issue of Icarus, a new gay speculative fiction magazine, edited by Steve Berman, and releasing this month and also featuring work by Jeff Mann, Joel Lane, and Tom Cardamone. Icarus is a full-color quarterly, devoted to tales of gay fantasy, horror, science-fiction, and “everything else weird that falls through the cracks.” Craig Gidney is the assistant editor, Toby Johnson is the graphic designer, and Steve Berman and Lethe Press are the publishing forces behind the new magazine.

“The Man in the Mirror” is about an aging British actor who is greeted by his doppelganger on the set of a TV pilot in Los Angeles. This short story sat in my laptop unfinished for many years because it was always one of those stories I had finished “writing in my head” and did not find the time to “put it down on paper.” Adrian Chase’s doppelganger is the herald of his death and his day on the set of the TV pilot is a comic reflection of his fleeting fame and missteps in his long acting career. In 2008, as I was putting together the stories that I would include in a projected collection of gay-themed ghost stories (The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, now releasing from Lethe in October of this year), I knew this story would offer a variety and distinction to the collection, and I finished writing it “on paper” towards the end of last year.

The single issue price of Icarus is $13 plus postage at To order a year's subscription (4 issues), send $50 via Paypal to Subscription price includes free shipping and subscribers will receive a gratis copy of the latest edition of Wilde Stories, Lethe’s annual anthology of the year's best gay speculative fiction, with their second issue of Icarus. Electronic editions of Icarus are also available. Contact for more information.

In the magazine, I also drew the accompanying artwork to the short story, a proud first and which definitely exercised a whole new set of brain muscles.