“Two Natures” Cover Reveal!

AppleMark

Many thanks to Don Mitchell at Saddle Road Press for creating this gorgeous photo montage and patiently working with me through a dozen revisions.

From the publisher’s website: “This big, genre-bending, spiritual coming-of-age novel focuses on Julian Selkirk, a young gay fashion photographer in New York City in the early 1990s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Vivid social realism, enriched by unforgettable characters, eroticism, and wit, make this a satisfying read of the highest sort.”

Want an advance reading copy? Email me or contact the publisher. Print and Kindle editions available.

My Debut Novel “Two Natures” Accepted by Saddle Road Press

Friends of Julian, rejoice! Two Natures, my debut novel, will be published this September by Saddle Road Press, an independent literary press in Hawaii. Stay tuned for cover reveal, reading dates, book excerpts, giveaways and more.

Set in New York City in the early 1990s, Two Natures is the coming-of-age story of Julian Selkirk, a fashion photographer who struggles to reconcile his Southern Baptist upbringing with his love for other men. Yearning for new ideals to anchor him after his loss of faith, Julian seeks his identity through love affairs with three very different men: tough but childish Phil Shanahan, a personal trainer who takes a dangerous shortcut to success; enigmatic, cosmopolitan Richard Molineux, the fashion magazine editor who gives him his first big break; and Peter Edelman, an earnest left-wing activist with a secret life. Amid the devastation of the AIDS epidemic and the racial tensions of New York politics, Julian learns to see beyond surface attractions and short-term desires, and to use his art to serve his community.

Please enjoy my interview about the novel at David Alan Binder’s blog, which features conversations with published authors. An excerpt:

Why did you start writing?

To cheat death and make something productive out of my incorrigible daydreaming habit.

What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

The only way to find the truth is to make my own mistakes.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I talk to, and about, some of my fictional characters as though they were real people—to the point where my friends will ask me, quite seriously, “How are you? And how’s Julian?”…

…Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

The spark for my novel came from these characters who appeared in my imagination and would not let me alone. Its theme arose from the ongoing conflict in contemporary Christianity over recognizing the equal dignity and sacredness of same-sex love relationships. I belong to the Episcopal Church, which has been at the forefront of this debate since we ordained an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2004. As of this writing, the American church has been put on probation by the Worldwide Anglican Communion for authorizing same-sex marriage rites. I was raised by two moms, so I know where I stand, but the issue tore apart some of my Christian friendships and prayer circles.

For research into the fashions and politics of the 1990s, the time period of Two Natures, I consulted the Sexual Minorities Archives (formerly in Northampton, now in nearby Holyoke) and the Conde Nast Library in New York City, as well as many books on the art and business of fashion photography. My friend John Ollom of Ollom Movement Art read the manuscript for accuracy concerning the gay male culture of our generation. John does through dance what I hope to do with my writing: help people integrate their “shadow side” by overcoming shame-based divisions between sex and spirit.

“Julian’s Yearbook” Published in Chapter One Promotions Anthology

Back in 2008, I was excited to learn that my short story “Julian’s Yearbook”, featuring the protagonist of my endless novel, had won the Chapter One Promotions International Short Story Competition. You can read the first page here. Four years later, the long-awaited prizewinners’ anthology is now available for purchase. Titled Infinite, it features an evocative cover photo that complements my tale of a young man’s yearning for freedom and intimate connection.

Order a copy by mail using this form, or online here (more convenient for readers outside the UK).

My Story “An Incomplete List of My Wishes” Wins Bayou Magazine’s Fiction Prize


My short story “An Incomplete List of My Wishes” has just won the James Knudsen Editor’s Prize in Fiction from Bayou Magazine, the literary journal of the University of New Orleans. Contest judge Joseph Boyden said, “This gorgeously written story snuck up and walloped me. It’s beautifully conceived and executed. A gem, with a last line that made me shiver.”

Thank you, Mr. Boyden and Bayou! The story will appear in the spring 2012 issue. Order a copy here. Meanwhile, enjoy the opening paragraphs:

An Incomplete List of My Wishes

The best funeral I ever went to was Wallace P. Chandler’s. I didn’t know him hardly at all, I just went because everyone else was going, and because his death was unexpected it seemed important.

You know how it is, on a warm and buzzing May afternoon, with those bits of tree fluff lazing through the air, and the campus seeming half-empty but tense with last-minute cramming, all those boys and girls discovering where’s that library their parents paid for — on that kind of day, especially if you don’t really know the dead person, the mildewy cool of the college chapel feels kind of nice, and the sawing of the cello makes you tired, and you start to wonder about things like how Wallace P. Chandler, who was so fat and short that his thighs made you think of elephant-leg umbrella stands, could possibly fit in that coffin. And when you realize how interesting you find all this, you know it’s wrong, but it’s the only thing you can feel, hard as you try.

I can guess why I’m remembering this today, but I wish it would stop until this plane hits the ground in Dallas, where I’ll have more than enough to occupy me. Not hits, no. Glides through the air, a south-west beeline from Boston, bulleting like the football my ex used to throw to our boy Scotty every sunny weekend in our fenced-in backyard in Watertown. The grass never grew back right; the stood-on, skidded-on patches still show.

The stewardess clip-clops down the aisle in her fake military jacket and pencil skirt to offer us coffee, tea, orange or tomato juice. If this silver tube of stale air and us packed inside it began to smoke, to dip and lurch, to maybe hesitate for a second on a tilt and then, with a shrug, scream nose-down into one of the fruited plains, there’d be no time to find out our favorite hymns. No time to ask which priest, or whether gardenias were a better choice because Aunt Peggy was allergic to lilies. Some of us on this flight may have made a list like that, tucked into a safe-deposit box, but I haven’t.

Feeling incomplete? Order a copy of the magazine to find out how it ends!

My Story “Same Love Same Rights” at Newport Review


My flash fiction piece “Same Love Same Rights” is now online in Issue #6 of Newport Review. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at my fascination with a certain type of gay male subculture.

Here’s the opener:

Do you think people love the truth? Do you think the truth builds houses? The man with the gray mustache was eating Gorgonzola cheese on toast points while he told the young woman about his travels in Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam.

–People are more alike than they are different, he said. They all want to talk to us, even though we are American. We are only a small part of their bad history. The young woman looked for something on the table that would not fall apart when she bit into it. Not the stuffed tomatoes, not the crab cakes. A plain piece of cheese?

–They were digging tunnels to undermine the French, long before we showed up, he said. Dusk was falling outside the picture window screened by ferns.

–Be sure to tour the garden before you go, said a short wrinkled woman in a tie-dyed gown. Frank and George are so proud of their garden.

–And this is my wife, said the man with the gray mustache. The young woman complimented the wife’s dress, which was purple with starbursts like the red-hearted coleus leaves along the cobbled path to the house. Great, she thought, the only two straight couples at this party and we’re talking to each other.


My Story “The Away Team” Now Online at The Adirondack Review


My short story “The Away Team” was one of three finalists for the 2010 Fulton Prize offered by The Adirondack Review, and is now online in their Winter 2010 issue. TAR is a well-regarded online literary quarterly published by Black Lawrence Press. This story is a chapter from my novel-in-progress. Spoiler alert: a character dies. Here’s the beginning:

The Away Team

They were my friends and I hated them. Four-thirty in the morning and Tomas was drunk, draped like a crumpled dress on the back seat of the van we’d borrowed from his boyfriend’s catering business. “It’s an Irish funeral,” he’d defended himself, to which Stan returned the predictable retort that Tomas wasn’t Irish, sparing me the effort of opening my mouth and releasing whatever sharp fragments of words still remained inside me. Then I saw Frank.

“You are not—you are not wearing that,” I groaned. His ensemble was complete, from his black patent pumps, to his Mamie Eisenhower belted black dress with pinhead polka dots, to the veiled pillbox hat perched on his crow-black waves of teased hair. Miss Anna Bollocks had stepped out of the nightclub shadows and was evidently expecting applause for deigning to wait with us in this alley where the West Village restaurant owners parked their delivery trucks.

“He loved me this way,” Frank replied, in Miss Anna’s voice, which was husky as his own but with the extra echo of an actor projecting to the cheap seats.

“You’re not the widow.” All my bitterness was turned on Frank. Hesitantly he unpinned the hat from his wig, sidled up to me and placed it on my head. I knocked it off and stomped on it. Only then did I see the kindness and pain in his mascara-crusted eyes. He’d given me what he had, like a child offering his teddy bear.

“Julian.” Stan touched my arm, a mild reproach. I wondered how long I could hold out without asking him for a Valium. At the very least I’d have to wait the six interminable hours it would take to drive from Manhattan to Pittsburgh, so I could spell Stan and Peter at the wheel. Frank had put himself out of commission with this getup. A drag queen driving a bakery truck is a temptation no highway patrolman should be expected to resist. Five miles over the speed limit and we’d become the clip du jour on Fox News.

Still, I apologized. “I’m going to need a new hat,” Frank pouted, but without real resentment. I helped him reattach the veil to his stiff pompadour, using the brooch as a sort of barrette. It was all a lost cause, anyhow. My nice black suit—Brooks Brothers, nothing too fashion-forward—wouldn’t make us any more beloved. They knew who we were. That’s why we hadn’t been invited.

Peter, the last member of our delegation, pulled up alongside the van in his compact Toyota. When he stepped out, I saw his eyes were red-rimmed and tired already. He’d meant to drive down from Albany last night but his boss, rookie Assemblyman Shawn Defalque, had kept him late at a staff meeting. Peter hugged me first and I welcomed the familiar collapse into his arms, till my body sensed that for once, he wouldn’t be able to hold me up.

In better days, Peter would get on our case for being flamers. He was the kind of queer that straights liked, the kind they didn’t notice, at least till he said what was on his mind, which he usually tried to do through someone else. Now he showed zero reaction to the circus in the alley, even when he saw the soot-smudged white van with the legend “Christopher Street Treats” over a sliced-open cherry pie. All he said to Tomas was, “Is it safe to leave my car in this spot?”

Tomas pulled himself upright with a flourish. “Safe? You lived in New York all your life and you want to know if it’s safe? Nothing is safe. Parking is…like God. It is a mystery.”

“Thank you, Stephen Hawking, now move your drunk ass so Peter can take a nap,” I said. Tomas climbed into the front passenger seat. Peter stretched out on the fold-out seat at the rear while Stan and Frank huddled together in the row behind me. The height difference between them was more noticeable when Miss Anna presented herself. Eye-level with her shoulder pads, Stan could have been the henpecked husband from an old comic strip. That was the problem right there. Take a picture of us, destroyers of manhood, pie-eating clowns, speeding down the highway to your big steel-hammering city, to your church. To mourn.

There was no place inconspicuous to park a catering van next to Our Lady of Sorrows so we ditched it by a supermarket a few blocks away. Full sun on the asphalt, a blazing, dusty day in June. Frank brushed on another layer of face powder. Peter straightened the boxy jacket of his off-the-rack suit, which, like everything else he wore, didn’t fit as it should. A big guy, he overcompensated by buying a size he could get lost in. I should have helped him; at some point, when we were bleaching piss-stained sheets, when we were wrapping my lover’s shivering body in hot towels from the dryer, feeding him his meals through a straw, there must have been a moment when we could have turned to each other and said, “So, what are you wearing to Phil’s funeral?”

****

Read the whole story here.
 

My Story “Career”


Online publishing…I hesitate to say a word against it, since it’s what I do for a living. Stories on the web can be more widely disseminated than texts that are locked up between the pages of a print journal, prestigious though the latter may be. But when that site comes to an end, as they often do, your story is swept away like a Zen sand painting, as if it had never been. So, which is better: a solid yet obscure artifact, or an ephemeral but easily shared one? A story that could theoretically still be read, but probably won’t be, or one that probably was read, but no longer can be?

This Borges-style conundrum is a good lead-in to young Julian’s preoccupations in “Career”, a flash fiction of mine that was originally published in 2008 on the Israeli literary webzine Cyclamens and Swords, but is no longer available there due to a site redesign. The editors have released it to be republished here instead.

The C&S poetry contest , with a prize of $300, is open to submissions through November 30. They’re also accepting regular submissions for their next issue until July 31.

Career

(Summer 1980)

It was one of Daddy’s happy nights so he was driving too fast down the hill that came after the school but before the golf course, with me and Carter strapped in the back seat screaming like we were enjoying ourselves, because that was what we were supposed to do. The air in the car was bourbon, it was the heaviness of the clouds before rain. We opened the windows and let the wind slap our faces, we yelled out like dogs.

Daddy had his angry nights and his sad nights too. We heard noises in the kitchen and tried not to put stories to them. I got good at separating the sound of glass breaking into its constituent parts: the whoosh of the trajectory, the impact, the tinkling fall, the eggshell crunch underfoot. Carter used to pop balloons. He would blow them up as fat as they could go and then stomp them. He used to go through ten, twenty a night when it was bad. I asked once why he didn’t just chew bubblegum and he hit me upside the head with his semiautomatic water gun. My big brother’s never been very introspective.

On a happy night Daddy would have gone drinking with his old Georgia Tech football buddies. He’d want to share that energy with us, enough to promise us ice cream that we never got, to give Mama a reason why we were being torn from her side on a school night. Well, we got it once but Carter threw up in a sand trap after Daddy plunged through the hedge separating the Boltwood Country Club from Route 28. We were members so I assume they just took it out of his dues. My sister Laura Sue got to stay home pressing little beady raisin eyes into the fat faces of gingerbread men. I wasn’t a girl, I couldn’t cook, and the taste from Daddy’s pocket flask was like pressing my lips to a hot skillet.

On this night I remember especially, I was about eight and Carter was ten. It was January, raining. We sped down the hill belting out “The Wanderer,” the Beach Boys one, not Johnny Cash. Daddy and Carter were out of tune and I wasn’t, but there were two of them and one of me. The black road curved across the intersection, slick in the mist.

We snapped forward, like hanged men when the rope drops, as Daddy slammed on the brakes, cursing. A truck’s red grille filled our windows, blaring its horn in our naked ears. I saw the stop sign we’d blown through, peeking out from under a low-hanging branch, like it was teasing us.

“Jesus Christ on a trampoline,” Daddy yelled, and hit the steering wheel. “Did y’all see how fast that faggot was going?”

“Yeah, I saw,” I lied, thinking it would please him. I didn’t have the same rules about this that I have now, to be true to my own eyes.

“Well, why didn’t you tell me to stop, then, you friggin’ fairy princess?”

Daddy called his boys girl names when he wanted to humiliate us into being stronger. I wouldn’t have minded being a princess if it meant I could get gingerbread instead of whiplash.

“I thought you could see. It was right there.”

“Don’t you backtalk me.” I knew what was coming. Next gas station, he pulled over into the parking lot so he could smack my ass good. He sent Carter into the convenience store with money for candy bars, both of which my brother bought for himself, pretending to forget that peanuts gave me spots. It’s funny that I didn’t notice the pain. It was only a drum beating far away. The light over the pumps was such a pure, bright white; the purple-gray sky was so big and swollen with wind. I had been on the truck side of the car.

Back home Mama was boiling rice for a casserole. I was mesmerized by the sight of the steam rising. As every unique curl of vapor lifted and dissolved, I thought, I almost wasn’t here to see this; and then, I was saved so I would see this. Why would something so unimportant keep me alive? Maybe I was unimportant too, but I was here, and the shape of the steam in this instant, from the white rice giving up its clean hot essence like laundry, couldn’t be seen by anyone else in the world.

My Story “Altitude” Forthcoming in Passages North


My flash fiction piece “Altitude” won an honorable mention in the Just Desserts Short-Short Fiction Prize from Passages North, the literary journal of Northern Michigan University, and will be published in Volume 32.1. This contest runs in even-numbered years, alternating with their poetry and nonfiction awards. Here’s the beginning of the story; to find out what happens next, order your copy of the magazine today!

Altitude

The highest point in Pennsylvania is the lowest point in Colorado. Alice had read this on one of the maps Sam had tacked up to decorate his office at the Speedy Garage. The walls’ faded mustard paint job was nearly hidden under bumpy pale pink and green relief maps, annotated maps of states other than their own, and archaic town maps with long-lost structures delineated in copper-plate script: railroad bridge, dairy farm, lunatic hospital.

Alice used to think the maps meant Sam appreciated planning as much as she did, that he understood the expectations invested in ivory notecards and tasting menus, their notarized claim on the future. But maps were also what you saw in real time when you flew above the land, west to east, so high that there were no people visible on the checkerboard of suburbs and cornfields as rust-colored cliffs gave way to slate hills and green valleys. I’ve fallen in love, he said, once at the beginning and once at the end. There were many times in the middle, as well, or Alice wouldn’t have traveled so far down the road of Hawaiian tickets and cake toppers, pew ribbons and arguments with the DJ, but it was the first and last times that mattered, as always. You can fall a lot farther in Colorado, she’d wanted to say. We’re next door to the Grand Canyon.

to be continued…


“Waiting for the Train to Fort Devens” Now Online at The Rose & Thorn


My flash fiction piece “Waiting for the Train to Fort Devens, June 17, 1943”, is now online in the Winter 2010 issue of The Rose & Thorn, a quarterly journal of literature and art. This story was inspired by an archival photo of young men from Western Massachusetts going off to World War II, republished in the Florence Savings Bank calendar. The photo’s owner, Sharon Matrishon, whose father is featured in the image, kindly allowed us to reprint it on The Rose & Thorn page. Here’s the opener:

This photograph was taken right before forty boys turned into soldiers. In fairy tales, transformations are sudden, painless. Seven brothers lift up their white arms in unison and become swans. Forty comical thieves peek out of fat-bellied oil jars. But these forty men waiting for the train to Fort Devens will have a long way to go before they all become the same.

They line up, as if for a yearbook portrait, beneath the slatted wooden balcony of the old Bay State Hotel, which must have been a cheap hotel because its front porch is only a dozen feet from the railroad tracks. A place for salesmen and card sharps, or girls who thought they needed to make a quick getaway from their parents’ sleepy fireside. Some of these boys might have taken a girl to the Bay State Hotel after a night of confused carousing, hooked up by an elder brother who offered a knowing wink that both annoyed and excited them. Some of these boys have never had the opportunity, and are distracting themselves from thoughts of German bullets by imagining the grateful softness of French girls in a farmhouse where a single candle burns in a wine bottle. These boys kissed Mary Sue or Ethel in the back seat at the drive-in and promised to wait for her, and she might have unhooked her bra even though she knew waiting was powerless against male hormones and the U.S. government.

In other writing news, my prose-poem “Possession” won the 2009 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize from the journal Quarter After Eight. My poem “What Dora Said to Agnes” (a feminist response to David Copperfield) tied for third place in the 2009 Caesura Poetry Contest. Caesura is the literary journal of the Poetry Center San José.

Fiction: “Bride of Christ”

My short story “Bride of Christ”, an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, was published earlier this year by Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression, and has now been released for reprinting below. Here’s the beginning:

Brides under archways of creamy white flowers. Black and white at the ballroom window, in soft cinematic light, pressing a pensive hand to the rain-streaked glass. Ballerina blondes, black prom queens who wore their ambitions as tastefully as a string of pearls, but also the average girls, those normally afflicted with plump torsos and ethnic noses, now lavished with the same beautician’s care, grateful for their single day of admission to the pantheon. A democracy of brides. And what of their accessories, the grooms? Banished to the back pages, in the cheesy honeymoon-suite ads. Whatever the magazine, the progression was as scripted as the parade of dignitaries at a coronation. First the gowns, then the housewares, then the mothers and girlfriends in their coordinated pastels, and finally the happy couple taking a bubble bath in a giant champagne glass in the Poconos.

It was a ready-to-wear fairy tale Laura Sue Selkirk could share with her students at Greenbriar Academy, the boarding school where she’d worked as a guidance counselor for the last five years. Some instinct in them ran deeper than the cheerleaders’ rhinestone Playboy belts or the bookworms’ genderless flannels. Girls were girls. The genes said babies and wedding cake, and you denied them at your peril. How different from the models in Julian’s magazines, stacked on the other side of her coffee table, which until recently had been the main object of her girls’ fascination. The women her brother photographed for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were hard, untouchable beauties. They drifted from Rome to New Orleans with no ballast. They never smiled, as the brides did, in anticipation of a future where they wouldn’t be the only one in the picture.

Read the entire story as a PDF here.