Saturday, November 29, 2008

About "The Bloomsbury Nudes"

My short story, “The Bloomsbury Nudes,” is now available in Unspeakable Horror: Shadows from the Closet, edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder and featuring stories by other gay writers such as Rick Reed, Lee Thomas, and Kevin Reardon.

“The Bloomsbury Nudes” is a tale of overlapping relationships centering around the artist Clive Elliott and his companion, dancer Jared Tremain. Clive, in his youth, had posed for the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant, who privately passed around his nude sketches to his friends like party treats.

Here is some background on how I came to write the story.

In 1988, on the death of a close friend, I came into possession of several Bloomsbury artifacts — correspondence of Lytton Strachey, a sketch by Dora Carrington, and a drawing by Duncan Grant. I knew more of Virginia Woolf than I did of these other Bloomsbury folks, but over the course of many years more knowledge seeped in and my appreciation for these artists deepened. I had always been intrigued by Duncan Grant, an openly gay artist, and was particularly impressed by his nude sketches that I had seen in a catalog published by the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London.

I learned more about these nude drawings through the writings of Douglas Blair Turnbaugh, particularly Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group, published in 1987, as well as from the advent of the Internet and the exhibits and information on the artist available through the Leslie/Lohman Gallery in New York and Adonis Art of London. For years I had toyed with the idea of creating a fictional backstory of the men who had posed for these sketches, and I researched quite a bit on who they might have been. When I sat down in 2007 to write this story, I was influenced by a lot of the horror anthologies I was reading at the time, and I decided it was apropos to have a young artist be one of Duncan Grant’s nude models, and that’s how I came to the character of Clive Elliott. It was also during this writing process that I decided to overlap the influences of Aleister Crowley, another legendary British fellow whose life and career and writings had always intrigued me. In the story, Clive Elliott, Jared Tremaine, Bart Pearson, Roger Sage, and Teddy Rushton are all fictional characters and Crowley’s link and association with the men of the Bloomsbury group is purely from my own speculation.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"The Learning Curve" in Nine Hundred & Sixty-Nine

Nine Hundred & Sixty-Nine: West Hollywood Stories, edited by Stephen Soucy, and published by the new Modernist Press, is now in bookstores and includes my short story “The Learning Curve,” about the struggling relationship of two gay men torn between wanting to be actors and making a living as waiters in Los Angeles. The story was inspired by friends I knew when I worked in the theater as an entertainment press agent many years ago.

The anthology also features stories by John Morgan Wilson, Ben Scuglia, Rakesh Satyal, Joe Symon, Kyle T. Wilson, Max Pierce, Timothy State, Alex Roberts, Felice Picano, Shaun Levin, Paul D. Cain, Frank Bua, and Stephen Soucy.

I’ve also lived in Los Angeles twice as a boy — for a year in Van Nuys and a summer on Sepulveda Boulevard. I visited the city many times as an adult — several trips for research for the final section of my novel Where the Rainbow Ends, as well as celebrating my fortieth birthday (also, many years ago…) in a penthouse suite at the St. James Hotel (now the Sunset Tower) on Sunset Boulevard, courtesy of a generous boyfriend.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Bookstore Tourist

This October I took a cruise to the Mediterranean, visiting Venice, Dubrovnik, Santorini, Corfu, and Ephesus (in Turkey). The weather was gorgeous, as was the scenery, and the overall experience was very interesting and relaxing (and which was what I needed). The highlight of my trip, however, was my final day in Paris because of a stopover flight — a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon crowded with Parisians strolling arm and arm through the streets. I walked through the Marais till I found Rue Ste Croix de la Bretonnerie, where I was relieved to discover that Les Mots à la Bouche, the gay bookstore was open. I was tired from the flights and my stamina isn’t what it used to be, and I wedged my way through the aisles looking at titles, searching for books that might be familiar to me in their English editions. And there, face out on the shelves with the other works, was Les Fantômes, the French translation of my AIDS stories by Anne-Laure Hubert that French publisher Cylibris had published in late 2005. I’d seen the edition before; I have several copies and have given many as gifts to friends. But I had never seen the book in a bookstore.

It’s hard to explain this sort of thrill to someone who hasn’t had the experience of seeing their writing displayed in a bookstore. It’s immensely gratifying and awesome and exhilarating, probably like what an architect might feel standing in front of his completed building, particularly if you have spent years and years, as I do, writing a book, struggling with the plots and characters and themes and then trying to find a publisher who was willing to release it out into the world. I remember the first time I saw a book of mine in a bookstore — it was the winter of 1993, late February, and I was temping at a job on Park Avenue in Manhattan. My first collection of short stories had been accepted more than two years before by Viking, but because of a recession and a company freeze on signing contracts with new authors, the book was not slated for publication until that spring. The store was a small Barnes and Noble outlet, situated on a corner of one of the high-rising glass skyscrapers on Park Avenue near Grand Central Station. I hadn’t expected to find my book so soon in a store. I was on a lunch break, escaping my desk where I had eaten a sandwich because I was too poor to afford the neighborhood restaurants. It was a winter I could barely even afford to take the subway. I had stepped out of the cold into the bookstore, thinking I might look at a magazine or find a title I might later be able to get from the public library, before I headed back to my dismal job, where, at the time, I was typing up the license plates of cars and trucks that had been abandoned and were sitting in a lot in Queens. And there, in the store on a shelf with the rest of the fiction, were five copies of Dancing on the Moon. The first sight of them remains one of the happiest moments of my life, particularly when I correlate it with the unfortunate experiences and deaths from AIDS of the friends who inspired those stories.

That spring and the following one were full of similar thrills. My book found its way into the windows of Brentano’s on Fifth Avenue and B. Dalton’s in the West Village on Eighth Street. I did readings and signings for the first time — including at Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C and Glad Day in Boston, among other stores. I’m not a widely bought or distributed author and the press runs of my books haven’t been the kind to impress any kind of bestseller list, but I’ve now seen my books in an airport bookshop (in New Orleans), in foreign bookstores (also at Word is Out, the gay bookstore in the Bloomsbury district of London, where I was on the shelves with many of my friends’ books), and part of a suggested reading list posted at a university bookstore. And even now, fifteen or so years later, I still get a thrill discovering something I have written in a store, even if it is a used copy of my novel, Where the Rainbow Ends, in the second-hand bookstore in my hometown, north of Atlanta.

Hopefully as you get older and wiser, you discover things about yourself that keep you happy. I have been fortunate to have taken some amazing trips during the last two decades — many due to the generosity of friends — and I’ve learned that I find great joy in being a bookstore tourist. Some people go to museums or sporting events or concerts or restaurants when they travel. I love to hunt for books — and, for the record, not for just my own. I search out local ghost story anthologies, local gay history books, local literary journals and magazines, unusual translations, and all sorts of novels and fiction by both mainstream publishers and small presses. Of all the bookstores I've been to, some other memorable experiences stand out — a deja-vous experience at the Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge (realizing I had already been there decades before with a friend who was now deceased), a boulevard in Pisa, Italy, lined with bookstores, store after store after store, with bins of books outside in the bright sun, the same with Galway, Ireland and the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. I remember the first time I walked into City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and didn’t want to leave because the friend I was with wanted to go elsewhere. I can still spend hours wandering along Charing Cross while many of my other friends are out at the theater. And I’ve often thought I might one day retire to Napa, California — on my last visit there a few years ago I counted more than four bookstores within blocks of each other. I'm not ready for that yet, though. (I still have a few more years left...) And first I'd like to find that town in Wales where there's nothing but bookstores.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"The Bloomsbury Nudes" forthcoming in Unspeakable Horror

My short story "The Bloomsbury Nudes" is forthcoming in December in the Dark Scribe Press anthology, Unspeakable Horror: Shadows from the Closet, edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder.

The Dark Scribe folks have posted an online Q&A with me about the story here.

And they have also released a book trailer here. Enjoy!

Friday, October 31, 2008

"Wait!" - A new ghost story now online at Velvet Mafia

Happy Halloween! My ghost story, “Wait!,” about an unexpected encounter in the parking lot outside of a nightclub, is now online at Velvet Mafia through December 31, 2008. "Wait!" is one of a dozen stories that are now part of The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, a collection of gay-themed ghost stories that I have been working on for the past six years.

Some background on this ghost story: After reading several horror anthologies and ghost story encyclopedias, I decided that I wanted to write a gay version of “the phantom hitchhiker” legend and I began writing this story in 2002. I was never satisfied with the original ending I had created — I had the story end after Clay’s visit to Lisa Braden’s house — and I let the story sit unfinished for several years. Then, when I finally sat down to revise the story, I realized that the story did not end at Lisa’s and that Clay’s search for the meaning of the haunting should continue for many years, and that the phantoms Clay witnesses are not a random encounter or his own haunting, but belonged to Mitch, the guy he had originally tried to pick up at the club.

Best Gay Stories 2008 Now Available

Best Gay Stories 2008, edited by Steve Berman, is now out and includes my short story “Someone Like You.”

"Someone Like You" was originally published in The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica, edited by Lawrence Schimel.

“Someone Like You” was written in 2006. Lawrence Schimel, who has used many of my stories in several of his anthologies, including my story “Trust” in his prior The Mammoth Book of Gay Erotica, selected “Someone Like You” from several new short stories that I sent him to consider. The story is about a forty-year-old gay man who has two boyfriends and an “office wife.”

Lawrence, an admirable and prolific editor and author, currently lives in Madrid and blogs at And, as an interesting aside, Lawrence and I share the same birthday — October 16 (though I am somewhat older than Lawrence). And two other gay authors who also share that same birth date are Oscar Wilde and Paul Monette.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

About "What They Carried"

Every year I get informational requests from college students on my short story “What They Carried,” which is included in anthology Making Literature Matter. Here is some background on the story.

The story was originally included in my collection Dancing on the Moon: Short Stories About AIDS, published in 1993 by Viking and 1994 by Penguin. The story is also included in Still Dancing: New and Selected Stories, published in 2008 by Lethe Press, which collects 20 of my stories about the impact of AIDS on the gay community written over the last three decades.

The details of “What They Carried” are drawn from my actual experiences while caring for my friend Kevin Patterson who was ill with AIDS — the overwhelming things I and his other friends physically carried to and from his hospital room and his apartment in his final days. In the process, we created our own community, network, family, and support group.

The story was written in March 1988 in the week following my friend’s death as part of my grieving process. It is one of the most truthful stories I have ever written, and is as close to being nonfiction as it is fiction. I always approached this story as a sort of personal therapy and a story I had to tell, not a story that would ever be published. Even though I wrote this story when I was 32 years old, it is still the story of a “young man.” At the time, I had only had published two short stories with gay themes and a handful of essays on being gay — and felt I was still learning how to write fiction. This story is also one of the few works that I have written that I cannot be objective about because it holds so much truth for me. And it is one of the handful of things that I have written that can instantly bring me to tears when I pick it up to read it again.

The meaning of the title resonates on several levels to the story. It refers to the physical things carried to and from the hospital by Adam’s friends. It refers to emotional and mental states, attitudes, and adjustments each of these friends carry through the process of helping take care of a gay man with AIDS. It also refers to the belief in the early years of the AIDS epidemic that a gay man might be “carrying” the HIV virus, whether he knew he had it or not.

The story was written in the late 1980s and during a time when there was a great deal of uncertainty felt by gay men over the status of their health — the HIV test had been introduced and there were both internal and social conflicts on whether or not someone should be tested for the virus — a positive test result could lead to potential discrimination and, in those years, a HIV-positive diagnosis was regarded as the diagnosis of a fatal illness. As the story says, “It’s the fear every gay man carries today.” — which means internally they carried a fear — that somewhere in his past, without knowing it had happened, they might have contracted the virus, too.

The writing style is realistic and naturalistic and slice of life; it has also been called similar to cinema verité, and the story's style is an outgrowth of what was once considered minimalistic fiction, which was popular in the late 1980s when the story was written.

In structural terms, the story is a simple accumulation of details. These details, by the end of the story, reveal character, tension, conflict, action, and plot — all of the necessary elements of a successful short story.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wilde Stories now available

Wilde Stories: The Best of the Year’s Gay Speculative Fiction, edited by Steve Berman, is now out and includes my ghost story “The Woman in the Window.”

Here’s some background on the story, which was originally published in Issue #42 of All Hallows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society.

A few years ago I had noticed a submissions call posted on the Internet for an anthology of short fiction revolving around items that could be found in a curiosity shop. It occurred to me that this might be a good idea for a ghost story about a haunted object. I immediately seized upon the idea of someone finding one of those large, beautiful, glass-domed snow globes in such a store, because I collect them myself. (However, most of my snow globes are not of the expensive glass variety but of the plastic souvenir type found in airport gift shops). I never submitted the story to the anthology because I did not finish it in time for the editor’s deadline — the reading and consideration period comes and goes so quickly for a lot of these speculative fiction markets. It wasn’t until I read two stories by M.R. James — “The Mezzotint” and “The Haunted Dolls’ House” — that I understood what kind of haunting the snow globe could play in the story. I had also recently re-read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for background research for another story I was writing and I wondered if the Clutter’s house where the murders took place still existed and if it was ever reported to be haunted. (Around the same time I was also voraciously reading through The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories, edited by Peter Haining, which, in short introductory paragraphs, gives historical details of the houses that many writers used as inspiration for their ghost stories.) I specifically wanted to write a gay themed ghost story and it made sense to me to fashion the back story of the haunted house inside the snow globe to have been lived in by two women who had come together to raise their children, after abusive relationships with men. It did not occur to me to make the present day couple in the story a gay male couple until my final draft, just before I work-shopped the story with my writing group (as I do all of my fiction), when I realized that the story could make some kind of statement about homophobia in suburbia and the rising influx of alternative families into those neighborhoods.

The village that I had in mind in the story where Tom goes to purchase the snow globe is based on Lahaska, Pennsylvania, in Bucks County, about a ten minute drive from New Hope and the Delaware River. There is a large cluster of specialty shops there that cater to tourists, and I knew there was a children’s store, a variety emporium, and across the street an Inn. (My parents had stayed there during a period when I was renting a small cottage nearby on Aquetong Road.) As I recall, that Inn is not as architecturally elaborate as the one I envisioned for the story; it is a small farmhouse near the edge of the road which has been made into a nice guest house.

The name of the story was originally “The Snow Globe” and was changed to “The Woman in the Window” when it was accepted by All Hallows. A story with the same name had recently been accepted for publication by the magazine and the editor suggested that I rename my story.