Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Two LGBTQ authors in the mix: Jim Provenzano & Meg Elison

Here's a smart Bay Area Reporter Q&A in which I'm paired with best-selling author (and my new coworker) Meg Elison! Her 'Road to Nowhere' scifi trilogy is terrific.

From Arts Editor Roberto Friedman: "One of the perks of our job has been having access to some of our lifelong heroes in gay life & letters. Over the years we've been able to meet and interview some heavy-hitting authors: Edmund White, Alan Hollinghurst, Colm Toibin and Dennis Cooper only start the list. But another side of arts journalism is in knowing up-and-coming voices in gay literature. Right now Out There is working alongside two colleagues who also moonlight as well-read gay authors.

"Multi-talented Jim Provenzano is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of six novels and a play based on one of them, PINS, that has been given local and regional productions. His latest novel, Now I'm Here, a story of first love, is available in paperback, Kindle and Kobo ebook editions (Beautiful Dreamer Press).

Charismatic Meg Elison has published the much-awaited conclusion to her Philip K. Dick Award-winning "Road to Nowhere" trilogy with The Book of Flora,"available in trade paperback and eBook (47North). 


Science fiction and fantasy devotees ate up the first two books in the trilogy, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and The Book of Etta.
 

Read the full dual interview here:  https://www.ebar.com/arts_&_culture/books//280352

Read Meg Elison's books here: http://megelison.com/

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Great Book, A-hole Author: Should we judge writers for their work and their lives?

author Dale Peck
Ernest Hemingway was an alcoholic animal-hunting macho lout. Gertrude Stein supported fascism. Nicolas Sparks owns an allegedly bigoted Christian Camp. And now we have Dale Peck, a gay author whose bitter essay on openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was so reviled that its publisher deleted the Op-Ed within hours of publishing it. But should we judge such authors' works by their behavior outside of their literary works?

One could start with the earliest classic stories by Homer and judge Greek culture for its dubious ethics about sexual relationships between men and boys.

Jumping forward several centuries, similar critiques can be made about author Horatio Alger and his series of books about strapping young boys who enjoyed the support of rich older men. Sexual favors lurk between the lines in many of his tales. And the author, according to Wikipedia, in 1866, "had been charged with 'the abominable and revolting crime of gross familiarity with boys.' Alger denied nothing, admitted he had been imprudent, considered his association with the church dissolved, and left town."

Switching gears to machismo in men of letters, Ernest Hemingway was known to drink to excess, shoot off guns and be abusive to women. Does that mar the legacy of classics like For Whom the Bell Tolls?


Gertrude Stein
As for lesbian poet Gertrude Stein, a pal of Hemingway, her sympathies for the then-growing Nazi regime are well documented. This article by Barbara Will for the National Endowment for the Humanities tells of the poet's support of the Vichy regime.

"Throughout her life Stein hewed to the political right, even signing up to be a propagandist for an authoritarian, Nazi-dominated political regime," writes Will. 

Also, "Most of Stein’s critics have given her a relatively free pass on her Vichy sympathies. Others have tried to ignore or justify equally inexplicable events: for example, Stein’s endorsement of Adolf Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934, or her performance of the Hitler salute at his bunker in Berchtesgaden after the Allied victory in 1945. Until recently, in fact, the troublesome question of Stein’s politics didn’t really figure in debates over her legacy—as opposed, for example, to the vehement debates surrounding Mussolini supporter and modernist poet Ezra Pound."

Will also mentioned Pound."The modernist writer Ezra Pound took a similar tack in his propaganda on behalf of Mussolini. In his book Jefferson and/or Mussolini, Pound credited Italian fascism with bringing back “Jeffersonian” economic and agrarian values to the modern world."

This, course, omits the facts that Jefferson, a politician and author, was also a slave-owner who fathered children with a female African slave. Are we to disdain Jefferson's eloquent writings as hypocritical? Should we tear down monuments to him, as many Southern cities and universities have done with statues commemorating Robert E. Lee and other Confederate historical figures? Need we remind adherents to the Civil War, waving their 'Old Dixie" flags from their truck beds, that the South lost the war?

Pete Buttigieg
A Grand Old F(l)ag
But concrete monuments, bronze statues and tattered flags are slower to fade than a vicious opinionated attack on a living politician, which brings us lurching forward to contemporary times, with Dale Peck and his "essay" on Pete Buttigieg.

As BackToStonewall reports, "The New Republic published and has now deleted an 'opinion' article on Friday that included shocking and incendiary commentary of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s bid for the 2020 presidency. 

"The article, written by gay writer Dale Peck, was titled 'My Mayor Pete Problem.' It included asinine statements made by the author about Buttigieg’s sexual life (whether he was a bottom) and repeatedly referred to him as 'Mary Pete.'

"Peck’s badly written assessment of Pete Buttigieg, claimed 'Mary Pete is a neoliberal and a Jeffersonian meritocrat, which is to say he’s just another unrepentant or at least unexamined beneficiary of white male privilege.' The posting spread quickly across the internet where it received widespread criticism from many readers and members of the LGBT media."

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

ACT UP on 'Pose' - revisiting a pivotal day

As one of the 111 ACT UP members arrested in the Stop the Church action of December 1989, it was wonderful to see the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power included in the Season 2 premiere episode of the FX series Pose. The groundbreaking series focuses on the New York City ball communities of color, and transgender women struggling to make ends meet by building  chosen families.

I particularly loved seeing nurse Judy Kubrak (Sandra Bernhard) almost dragging a reluctant Pray Tell (Billy Porter) to his first meeting. Bernhard discusses ACT UP, and many other contemporary topics, in an expansive wonderful new interview for The Daily Beast.

The depiction of the group meeting was a bit simplistic, but served its purpose. It would be impossible to share the months of preparation that went into the Stop the Church protest, and the divisions within our ranks at the time over the action.

Other critiques and comments on the episode are included in a deft account by writer/editor Mathew Rodriguez for TheBody.com.
"Northrop did have some slight criticisms of the short depiction of the action in Pose -- mainly that it didn't capture just how big the demonstration really was. While there were hundreds of protesters inside, there were thousands outside protesting quite loudly. The protest included some of ACT UP's most well-known iconography, including artist and ACT UP member Ray Navarro dressed as Jesus and the poster of John Cardinal O'Connor next to an unrolled condom that said, "Know Your Scumbags."
Anachronisms aside (it took place on December 10, 1989, not in 1990). The episode is set in winter, a few weeks or months later, so that's a small quibble. I saw it as a choreographic version of Pray Tell’s participation and empowerment.

ACT UP meeting in 'Pose'
Laying down in the aisles was just one of many aspects of the protest, and I was among those, in an affinity group called The Order of the Carmelites, who reenacted laying prostrate in the aisle as the historic nuns did. A larger affinity group called The Marys did the same. Unlike the Pose version, it was not an inspired spontaneous action, but a carefully orchestrated series of movements.

Of course the most 'scandalous' moment in the action (not included in the TV show), and covered by media as 'an outrage,' was that of former altar boy Tom Keane breaking a sacrament wafer at the altar.

The other shots in the Pose episode portrayed the screaming and arrests, which were not as lengthy inside as shown, except for the then-irascible Michael Petrelis, who instead of following the silent die-in theme, chose to stand atop a pew seat and repeatedly shout "Stop Killing Us!"

But these critiques are minor when one considers the gift of including this momentous event through an artistic lens in a hit TV show.

My own fictionalized account in my 2007 third novel, Cyclizen, included all that, but most specifically, being carried off on a stretcher by NYPD (in basic caps; the riot gear and helmets were worn by police outside, not as depicted in Pose). Like the show, my own depiction is personalized and literary, not documentary-style.

One overhead shot of Pray Tell being carried out with others on a stretcher echoed my own experience, a sort of epiphany, that what we were doing was not only right, but a Christian thing to do, like Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the temple.

The episode could have included a few shots of historic news footage of the thousands outside the cathedral, which ended up having a larger impact over time. ACT UP leader Maxine Wolfe says as much in a documentary about the action. But the Pose script took on a more personal version, that of Billy Porter's and others' characters finding a way to fight back.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Still Standing: Elton John's living legacy, and other music lost and found

Fans and critics are raving about the creative and mesmerizing Elton John biopic Rocketman, and comparisons to other rock star movies have led some to say it's what Bohemian Rhapsody could have been. Seeing the film with a musician pal and an appreciative audience at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco led me to recall how Elton John's music shaped my piano-playing as a teen, almost as much as the music of Queen. Freddie Mercury and his band's music took precedent as an inspiration for my sixth novel, Now I'm Here. But now I regret not giving Elton enough devotion.

As John, cutie Taron Egerton takes us on a wild journey through John's childhood, early starts in playing for other musicians, and his eventual rise to superstardom.

Rocketman's dreamy Troubadour scene
Among the best scenes are the dramatic and fantasy-styled moment when John's American debut at LA's Troubadour nightclub wowed new fans almost overnight. 

The floating magic moment when it all clicked for the singer-composer is only one of many dreamlike fantasy musical numbers that recall the rock and pop music-filled films Across the Universe and Moulin Rouge.

John's LA debut at The Troubadour is recounted in this sweet article in the LA Times.
Variety compares box office and the PG versus R ratings of the two rock biopics. 
 And the GQ review takes the film to task, yet admits its success in comparison to the Queen biopic:

"In the same way that Bohemian Rhapsody presented the superficial, sanitized version of Freddie Mercury—the one that the living members of Queen wanted the public to see—the Elton John we get in Rocketman seems cleaned up and doctored to be a movie subject."
  
I'm not sure how 'cleaned up' it is, with a musical orgy and the coke-snorting addiction depicted in Rocketman. For a wonderful account of more real events in John's life compared to the film, read the Time Magazine feature.


Rocketman vs Bohemian Rhapsody
I've Seen That Movie Too
Like Bohemian Rhapsody, we see a gay man face his inner conflicts and the ups and downs of the closet. Both have seemingly obligatory orgy scenes, with BoRhap's limited to a murky leather bar. Rocketman's dance club "sexy" nightclub scene approaches a camp level of the Canadian cult classic The Apple.

In this Daily Mail feature, Elton John and director Dexter Fletcher (who filled in for Bohemian Rhapsody when Brian Singer flaked) discuss the 'realness' of the story amid all the wonderful musical numbers choreographed by Adam Murray.

Unlike the story of Mercury, whose sexual exploits are kept mostly off-screen by the prudish script of Bohemian Rhapsody, John's fantasy biopic gets a passionate and realistic yet brief love scene amid all the dreamy music numbers, which are intentionally out of order. Time magazine recounts the anachronisms and inspirations.

John's dilemma is more about his addictions and eventual recovery. Mercury's biopic leads up to his anachronistic HIV diagnosis, while John's strangely doesn't even mention AIDS (despite his later generous philanthropy with his AIDS/HIV foundation). Still, he survived, which probably had more of an effect on his cinematic story's depiction of his life.

Elton John at Outside Lands 2015
Song for Guy
But what if (gods forbid) John had also died of AIDS, a cocaine-fueled heart attack or via the party pool attempted drowning scene depicted in the film? Would we listen to his music differently, as we do with Mercury, Price, David Bowie and so many other lost artists?

The New York Times recently focused on classical composers lost to AIDS. A score may survive, but one can't imagine the symphonies lost when gay artists die too young.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Everyone Dies: Games of Thrones, fan disappointment and delusions in fiction and fantasy

On this rainy Saturday, while I'm looking forward to this evening's plans, I feel, like many others, a sense of dread and worried anticipation for the series finale of Games of Thrones tomorrow night. Fan outrage over the last episode has reached such a tumult that nearly 700,000 people have signed a petition demanding a re-shoot of their favorite TV show. 

It sounds completely absurd to non-fans, but there's a reason for it. I'll explain, and of course tie in concerns about the comparatively tiny yet related themes in my novels.

First off: massive spoiler alert. If you're at all aware of pop culture and entertainment, you know that the last episode featured 'Mother of Dragons' Danerys Targaryen taking a 'mad' turn by ignoring the tower bells that signaled the surrender of the army at King's Landing. In a seemingly abrupt move, Dany foists her fire-spewing dragon over the city, killing soldiers and citizens alike in a violent spectacle of destruction. Several characters die dramatically or disappointingly. Arya witnesses the destruction and mass deaths on ground level, and Dany and her dragon are removed from close focus to become a flyover horror.