Sunday, July 3, 2016

Perfectly Queer: July Lit Event, Summer Reading and Serious Themes

Another reading, another bookstore! July 11, I will be part of a reading and panel discussion with two other authors at the new home for LGBT events with Books Inc, at Opera Plaza on 601 Van Ness Avenue. The Market Street/Castro district store closed, as you may know.

Here's the link to Books Inc's listing for my reading with Michael Aleynikov, author of Ivan and Misha: Stories, and Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, author of The Root: A Novel of the Wrath & Athenaeum.

Aleynikov's connected stories share the intimate lives of two brother immigrants trying to survive in Brooklyn with their own family troubles and strife.

Tilahun's book is partially about "a secret government agency selling off Blooded citizens like lab rats to a rival branch of preternatural beings in ’Zebub—San Francisco’s mirror city in an alternate dimension."

My own new short fiction collection, Forty Wild Crushes, comprised of previously published and new short stories, also includes excerpts from two novels in progress, all of them what could be considered gay fiction.

What do these books have in common, other than gay protagonists? We'll find out at the reading, I guess.
While considering what I want to discuss about the difference between short stories and novel writing, I was enjoying a rare day at the beach with a friend. The Alameda park offered a panoramic view of San Francisco's skyline in the distance, with lite-sailing and lite-flying people, as well as swimmers. What a pleasure to swim in the warm bay water, while kids played on boogie boards and toddlers dug in the sand and chased hungry seagulls.

During a lunch break, I checked Facebook on my phone, deciding whether or not to post a fun photo. But the scroll of political memes, and news of yet another overseas terrorist attack that killed scores, made me somewhat embarrassed to consider posting an innocuous picture from a day at the beach.

But that's what our lives have become, an online slew of happy, silly, awful news, funny cats and nasty racism, happy anniversaries and horrid events.

With so many recent terrible things happening in the world, it's difficult to focus on the lesser things that may help people get through the days. While I've sometimes taken on serious topics related to literature, this holiday weekend, I really don't feel like going there.

But sometimes it's unavoidable. 
Today is also an auspicious anniversary, that of the publication of the now-famous New York Times article about a "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals." 

This would become known as the first official news report about what would become the global AIDS pandemic. Dismissed for years until it became covered more frequently, the entire world gradually shifted primarily for gay men in America, but soon for people worldwide. 

My own life was changed as AIDS activism became an essential part of my New York life, starting in 1989. Becoming connected with the fight for drugs, safe sex, and survival, government protests and a concerned community of like-minded people, became an integral part of eventually finding my writing voice beyond the light or sexy-themed scribblings.

I made a vague reference to the famous New York Times article in my fifth novel, Message of Love. In depicting how the two young boyfriend discovered AIDS, like many others, that first article was overlooked until later. I've written about that before in previous posts.

And while AIDS is part of any reality-based gay story after 1981, it's not front and center in most of my stories in Forty Wild Crushes. It pervades, and is part of a few stories. But it's like a glacier that is either acknowledged or steered past with caution. Other teenage tales precede that era.

Several of the stories are darkly humorous, so in trying to keep it light this holiday weekend, let's turn to a great artist and her reading favorites. Here's rock icon Patti Smith's reading list. Smith was first a poet, so her list includes some literary classics.

My own recent reads include my colleague Mark Abramson's More Sex, Drugs & Disco, another in his series of diary entry-styled memoirs about the 1970s and early 1980s gay life in San Francisco. Included in his entries are a lot of each of the title subjects.

Also on my summer reading list is the epic and highly praised The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, another acquaintance from years back. Set in another time and era, the sumptuous tale of the secret life of an opera singer, and a mysterious book about her that threatens to expose her lurid past, serves as a delicious escape from modern life.

Summer reading lists published by booksellers and publications usually focuses on light, "beach reading," but as seen here, it can also take on serious themes.

I hope you'll check out my own contribution, Forty Wild Crushes, which includes both.

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