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.