MAY 8 – 15: From The Crescent City to the Capital and home
“I prefer heaven for the climate, but hell for the company,” said Mark Twain. I agree. Wholeheartedly. But sometimes we get the best of both heaven and hell. At the annual Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans last weekend both the climate and the company were top-notch. A steady breeze kept the French Quarter comfortably warm and the fascinating if somewhat deviant LGBTQI writers kept the level of intrigue demonstrably high. Special thanks go to Paul Willis and the many other volunteers who make this event possible. All right, thanks to Greg Herren too, even if his musical interlude invaded my book reading. To be fair, it was unintentional. So he says.
The weekend was filled with highlights but the one that will stand out in my mind for decades will be Dorothy Allison’s undisputed assertion that “Penises don’t have bones!” (Yes, THAT Dorothy Allison.) I blogged about her here a few months ago after reading her classic award-winning novel Bastard out of Carolina. The context of her observation that male genitalia lack skeletal support is irrelevant but for the record it was in a panel discussion about memoirs: fact vs. fiction. Ms. Allison and I firmly believe that memoirs should be as factual as possible; disturbingly (to me), not all of the authors agreed but that’s a deeper discussion than I want to have here.
(two bastards out of [Greenville, South] Carolina, Dorothy Allison and me in New Orleans)
Aaron Hamburger, author of Faith For Beginniners and The View from Stalin’s Head conducted a Friday morning workshop that taught me tons about creating settings for my fiction.
On Sunday my fellow panelists, especially William J. Mann, author of the criticially acclaimed KATE: The Woman Who Was Hepburn and most recently Men Who Love Men, gave many instructive pointers about how to keep readers turning the page in both fiction and non-fiction. The technique I recall most is ambiguity. Greg Herren did an adequate job moderating that panel. Okay, he was superb, I hate to admit.
(on right: Greg Herren, me, Bill Mann, Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella)
Saturday afternoon I read my usual selection from Code of Conduct at FAB, (Faubourg Marigny Art & Books) in the hip Marigny area, adjacent to the French Quarter. What makes The Marigny hip? Most tourists don’t venture over there… you know the kind… like the woman wearing the “BORN TO BINGO” T-shirt sipping a hurricane through a straw on Bourbon Street. Otis had a packed house at FAB and without the breeze it was hotter n’ hell in there, but the audience was wonderful, especially since most were there for the QUEER & CATHOLIC readings, not my gay military sub-genre.
Oh and got to see a longtime reader, Mayson! For some reason everytime I do a reading, the temperature goes up 15 degrees and I sweat like a turkey before Thanksgiving. Speaking of poultry, after the reading we went next door to Praline Connection for some awesome fried chicken, fried okra, cornbread and something similar to black-eyed peas.
Another highlight of the weekend was meeting my Facebook / MySpace etc buddy Salvatore Sapienza. Sal wrote the Lambda award nominated Seventy Times Seven which I’m enjoying now. It’s not currently available but will be again soon with a different publisher so keep checking back. You can find this fine gentleman many places: Virtually? Try MySpace, Facebook and Friendster. Actually? Go to Saugatuck, MI.
The KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village has become like a second home. In February Maureen Brady, Aaron Hamburger and I read together in a “Saints and Sinners in New York” tribute night. At the real Saints and Sinners Festival, Maureen was inducted into the Hall of Fame! Congratulations, Maureen! (and Joan Larkin, Stephen McCauley and Tim Miller, also SAS Festival Hall of Fame inductees.)
(At KGB back in Manhattan: Kathleen Warnock, Maureen Brady, Aaron Hamburger and me)
I’ll let you in on a little secret… actually it’s not much of a secret but I didn’t know so it was a secret to me. Fellow Kensington author (When You Don’t See Me), “Timothy James Beck” is four people! (damn I sound like Charton Heston: “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” – oh shit, if you haven’t seen the movie I just gave away the ending) BACK in NOLA, I got to meet half of the famous “Timothy James Beck” writing team. Timothy Lambert and Becky Cochrane were there, Timothy Forry and Jim Carter were not. (Timothy (X2), James (Jim) and Beck(y), pretty freakin’ clever!)
It was like a big ol’ gay reunion where you see old friends and make new ones like: The famous Rob Byrnes, Vincent Diamond (thanks for buying my memoir!), Trebor Healey (who literally wrote the book on “Queer and Catholic”), Fay Jacobs (who I look forward to seeing in Rehoboth!), Cynn Jacobs (who admitted that sometimes she – like all mothers – hates her kids), Gary Zebrun (the poet from Providence, and forthcoming novelist) and Timothy State (who blogs about boyfriends).
For the second year, I was honored to be invited by the wonderful Ryan and Josh and the evil sidekick Mark Drake to re:Vision, a part of NO/AIDS Task Force. As you can see from last year’s picture, re:Vision is for young gay / bi men. Thank God Greg Herren and Billy Mann were there or I would really have felt old. Several of the guys told me how much they hated me for something that happens near the end of Code of Conduct. That thrilled me because it meant people are reading something I wrote, always an amazing – and humbling – revelation.
And like last year, the weekend just wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Oz for Drag Bingo. Here is Bill Mann, the host*ess, evil Mark and me. He’s evil because he takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in “dinging” me precisely at the ten minute mark forcing the conclusion of my book reading. (He wouldn’t even give me the two minutes that Aaron didn’t use for his reading!) At the Oscars, at least they get music before they’re hauled off the stage. And whatever happened to the fifteen minutes everyone is supposed to have? Have we no respect for Andy Warhol?
If you’re a writer, or an aspiring writer, go to the Saints and Sinners Festival. Lots of connections, friends, good workshops and panels. Oh yeah, and it’s on Bourbon Street. What more could you want? Support this great city. And get out of the French Quarter to see how much work needs to be done. This city needs to be rebuilt. Let’s hope the next president can get it done.
It’s difficult to imagine two American cities with more disparate personalities than New Orleans and Washington DC and the difference on display when you wake up in one and go to bed in the other. The lazy and gentle laissez-faire attitude of the Big Easy constrasts with the all-business suit-and-tie hurry-up conformity of the nation’s capital.
I wasn’t alone in making the trek from NOLA to DC; Anthony Bidulka (far left) also made the journey and was on time for our panel (I was not, thank you SLOOOOW DC subways!) Also on the panel were (left to right) Greg Miraglia, Neil Plakcy, me, Chris Beakey and Mark Zubro. A while back I blogged about Chris’s book Double Abduction here and Neil writes a column for gaywired.com about books. (he also writes the Mahu series of books) Read his latest column here, it’s about The Great Cock Hunt.
Our panel appeared before the annual conference of the Mid-Atlantic Gay Officers Action League. The others write LGBT-related crime fiction, which fit the purpose of the conference. Admittedly, my novel isn’t a crime story per se, but centers around two crimes and how they impact the lives of gay men and lesbians in the military. Plus military and police officers are kind of the same, at least you’ll see both at Folsom Street or a Village People reunion.
My official duties over, I walked across the capital, checking in at various bookstores, both chains and independents alike, to see who carries my books, where they place them, who they buy them from, etc. The gay bookstore in DC (whose name I won’t mention) refuses to host Kensington authors for readings so I was also looking for another venue to have a book signing. Finally, at the last place I stopped, I found a great store, with a super-friendly staff. So look for me to come to Books-A-Million on Dupont Circle sometime in July.
Along my route, I walked past the White House and took a picture. I also took a picture next to a lady who was protesting about something. I couldn’t understand exactly what she was protesting about (there are SO many things to choose from these days) but I loved her display board.
After spending some time with my brother (and his Alaskan Malamute) in Annapolis, I drove up the highway (without denting the rental car or getting a speeding ticket, quite a feat for me). After a quick stop in Philadelphia for lunch with “Auntie Mame,” where we played the piano and played with the dog and rested in the hammock (a veritable Norman Rockwell painting in motion), I returned to the hectic pace of NYC and the rigors of the day job to pay for these adventures.
Oh, and an hour after getting back to Manhattan on Thursday, where was I? Where else! Guest host(ess)ing for Kathleen at the KGB Bar, for a fanastic set of readings.
When I was a kid, I used to ask God to keep me from being bored when I grew up, because being bored was the worst thing I could imagine. I had a lively childhood, but all the grownups seemed bored. Be careful what you pray for! Or at least don’t forget to ask for rest.
From Sunday’s New Orleans Times Picayune: Presenting the body-less talking head: