Thursday, December 21, 2017

Holiday Homofun, and Ho Ho Hos

Ah, the holidays. They're almost over, but I feel the need to share the fun as the year winds down to the last few days. Among my new favorites are Christmas book trees, and the guilty pleasure of cheesy straight Hallmark TV movies that always have a happy ending, but require a subsequent dose of 'gay apparel' as a tonic.

First up; alternative trees made of books. They stack nicely, inspire more book gift-giving, and are catastrophe-proof if you've got cats.

My own recent tree proved amusingly autobiographical. You can tell a lot about a person by what they read. Actually, I chose books for their colorful topics and shape and size.

You can see hundreds of tree book pictures online, mostly as libraries. The trick to keep large ones from collapsing is to stack them carefully, in a circular pattern, obviously, but with a large object inside to build the books around it. 

More tips are HERE. Of course, decorated trees precede the Christian holiday, but they've been good at appropriating pagan rites for centuries. Today, (December 21) is Winter Solstice, the original reason for the seasonal festivity.

But let's not get into a theological debate. What of holiday themes in books? Certainly some classics endure, from Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" to Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory."

And for your guilty pleasure, the bafflingly long list of Hallmark holiday TV movies can be depended on for a cinematic consistency: vaguely Canadian accents, a charmingly trite story line, a hunky male lead, and somewhat hunky male nemesis, and a clear thematic repetition of the viewpoint that life in the big city will damage a very white gal's appreciation of the holidays, and only a visit (or being trapped in) a quaint Thomas Kinkaide-esque village or cabin will revive her sense of giving and love, resulting in true romance via a quaint blizzard.

Friday, December 1, 2017

AIDS Literature and its Continued Importance

Does anyone still read AIDS fiction, and what stories remain relevant today? Of course my answers are "Yes," and "All of them." But given the state of things these days, with greater crises upstaging the epidemic, which is still a major health concern worldwide, the need for new stories remains in question for some.

While ruminating on this as a form of commemoration on World AIDS Day, I'll link lists of some of the great works of AIDS fiction, and borrow from other published lists. 

Why? Because while three of my novels include aspects of the AIDS crisis, I'm working on another novel that focuses on its effect on gay men facing AIDS in a different setting. It's too large a life experience to wrap up in just one novel.

Most early and bestselling fiction works about AIDS focus on urban gay men in the 1980s and afterward. It's understandable, given the time and number of cases in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. (book links are for reference; do buy from independent bookstores whenever possible!)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Days of the Dead: Making Good Art in Bad Times

Puerto Rico hurricane devastation: New York Times
How can a fiction writer continue to work in a made-up world when so many bad things are happening in the real one? Why should we even bother? This has been on my mind as I somehow manage to work on my next novel, despite the daily bad news.

First, a list of the bad things.

The mass shootings in Las Vegas terrorized our nation. But what's more frightening is how quickly people and the media fell into the trope of 'the lone gunman' because he was rich and white. 

By now, it's been forgotten, politicized, de-politicized, churned and turned from empathy to apathy. And the NRA remains as emboldened as ever. Gun sales, including gun shows only steps from the scene of the horror, have risen sharply. Since the, half a dozen shootings killed two, five, or more people, registering merely a media blip.

Only yesterday (October 31, Halloween), a terrorist rammed a rental truck into a school bus of disabled children in Lower Manhattan. Here in San Francisco, while Halloween is no longer officially celebrated in the Castro district because of a shooting rampage, yet another shooting took place nearby that night.

In politics, indictments have finally been doled out to Trump administration lackeys for Russian collusion in fixing the 2016 election, and yet the self-delusions and massive lies continue unabated, from The White House to the wonky-eyed press rep, to their official propaganda arm at Fox "News."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Literary Voices: an appreciation of Mark Merlis and William M Hoffman

Have you ever read a novel only to have the effect of it come back to you like a boomerang that knocks you in the back of the head until the tears spring out?

Such is the case with Mark Merlis' An Arrow's Flight. When I read it almost 20 years ago, I thought it was smart and brilliant. Since the author's death on August 15, I decided to reread it and find copies of his other three novels.

William Johnson wrote this remembrance for Lambda Literary Review. "Merlis’ writing cannily explored the emotional and sexual lives of gay men, in all of their messy, nuanced, and wondrous splendor."

In writing for The Advocate, author Christopher Bram wrote, "His books share a family resemblance: fine literary texture, a keen sense of gay history, a moral complexity worthy of Henry James, and strong sexuality."

 The Washington Post obituary covered his life, and includes this quote:

“I am, of course, a gay man whose... novels are swarming with gay characters,” he once told an interviewer with the website EchoNYC.  “And I have allowed myself to be marketed as a practitioner of a genre called gay fiction. But this is a commercial category, not an artistic one. I write, like anybody else, about how it is to be human.”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Meeting Sam Shepard in a Dream; lofty ambitions and gutted fish

   I met Sam Shepard in a dream last night, my last one before waking, on an open cement flat construction site with poles sticking up. It had been turned into a movie set where I was working on as Assistant to Something. 
   A crew man drilled a hinge on a doorway and it fell over.
   ‘One door, two people,” I muttered as if it were a common safety saying. 
   Oddly, actors rehearsed while hammers were banged on set pieces. 
    The director, finished arguing with someone, huffed off the construction site. Someone called ‘Break,’ and people sat where they were, took food out of lunch boxes.
   One man at the edge of the site/set seemed sad, without a lunch, in a red flannel shirt, rumpled jeans and boots, his craggy face looking disappointed, sitting with his back against a scaffold. I recognized him.
   “Hey, Sam,” I said, “Can I have a hug?”
   “Not a good idea,” he scowled, looked away.
   I knew he was dead, but figured he’d be bothered by my reminding him.
   “You know, thirty years ago, I directed a few of your plays.”
   He didn’t seem to care which ones.
   "I liked the monologues in ‘Action,’ I said. “They worked real good. Once the actor muffed his lines, but got around to it, made the point.”
   “I hate when that happens,” he muttered, looking around, realizing it wasn’t his set, his movie or his play. He didn't seem hungry, but glanced at someone else eating.
   “Hey, can I ask you–“
   Another crew man got up, tripping over Sam’s legs.
   “What was that?” he looked back.
   “That’s Sam. He’s dead.”
   The crew man seemed like he was trying to laugh, couldn’t see what he tripped on.
   “Well, better get,” Sam said, and leaped off the edge of the cement flooring, which had become a few floors higher above ground. He just stepped off and disappeared into the wind.
   The other crew man stopped, about the walk away, wavered. “But what did he–”
   “You saw him?” I asked.
   “Saw what?” he seemed confused by himself.
   “Never mind.”

     * * *

I think Sam would have appreciated that dream, since it felt like a scene from one of his plays. People feeling out of place, confused, stunned by the loss of their purpose, or knowing a dark secret, were part of his artistic style. 

Shepard's death has been well documented, and one of his first collaborators, Patti Smith, had some touching remembrances of the Pultizer Prize-winning playwright and understated film actor. Author Don Shewey wrote about being Shepard's biographer years ago, and how the playwright was in a way his alter-ego.

Actually, those plays I mentioned in my dream to dead Sam were preceded by my small production of poems and prose pieces from his first collection, Hawk Moon.  As a sophomore at Kent State University's Theatre Department, I enlisted some actors and musicians to join me in performing most of the collection, with live musical interludes of Rolling Stones songs and other music.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pride People in the Press: my interviews with singers, actors, dancers and artists of note: 2015-2017

Cazwell and his dog Elvis
I've long wanted to pen a blog post with mention of all -or most- of the talented LGBT artists and straight allies I've had a chance to interview.  

But I've been so busy doing the work, and editing others' interviews, that I didn't have the time. And now that the Bay Area Reporter's annual Pride issue is out, I'll get this underway.

Yes, it's a bit of fame-chasing, but since it's part of my job, I feel justified to reshare these favorite interviews, particularly since our website has different links for each article (updated 2018).

I've got about 30 years of interviews to go through. But I'm going backward from this year, since it'll take me longer to find the older ones, many of which are not available online. So, here goes! 2015-2018.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cassandra Complexities: Why the death of OutGames should come as no surprise

Gay Games V figure skating: photo Jim Provenzano
Although I predicted it more than a decade ago, the abrupt cancellation of this year's OutGames –and most likely all future ones– does not induce a feeling of schadenfreude... okay, maybe a little shade.

Coverage from various media outlets (CBC News) uses the word "shock" over the abrupt cancellation of the Miami event this week. But it shouldn't be shocking to anyone who's paid attention.

Miami New Times had this to say:

"... the games had been struggling for the better part of a year to meet the basic financial benchmarks the city had set for the 10-day event. The games were supposed to take place all across Miami-Dade County, including in Lummus Park, Soundscape Park, Flamingo Park, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, the Colony Theater, the Fillmore Miami Beach, and the National Hotel. But there were warning signs for quite a while that the OutGames, which has been staged three previous times in other countries since 2006, was having trouble raising basic levels of money."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Readings by Rob Rosen, Baruch Porras-Hernandez and Jim Provenzano

I haven't blogged in more than a month - oh my! - but I did do a reading on Facebook Live on April 20 hosted by prolific author and editor Rob Rosen, and with Bay Area poet, author and amiable event host Baruch Porras-Hernandez. 

You can see it on Rob's page HERE.

My reading was as excerpt from the title tale in my short story collection, Forty Wild Crushes. It's available in print and Kindle editions.

I hauled out an old oversize construction paper picture book that I used for the first reading of this childhood tale (with pop culture footnotes, visualized in the picture book) way back in 1994 at the old A Different Light bookstore on Castro Street. 

After being the site of several other clothing stores and businesses, that location now the new Dog Eared Books' second store, where I've already enjoyed reading a few times and attending more events.

My voice in the video was a bit nasal, since I was getting over a cold. But hey, it's there, so enjoy. And check out Rob's books HERE.

Baruch's website is HERE.

More about Forty Wild Crushes HERE and HERE. Oh, and HERE.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Flirting With History, Browsers and Other Kinds

What is the legacy you want to leave behind? As a person, you can hope your family will remember you. As an artist, you usually hope for a little more. If you're ambitious, you crave a lot more.

I began to reconsider this question as I walked from The Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco this week. I was among several hundred lucky people who got to see the first open dress rehearsal of the mega-hit musical Hamilton. We didn't have to pay, because the production wanted an audience to warm them up for their extensive run.

Before the show began, Director Thomas Kail introduced himself, and asked us not to Tweet or Facebook or Instagram our experiences. Because offering opinions about a show before it opens is just bad form.

But Kail also expressed that the experience of seeing this live production (a beautiful one, by the way, but don't mistake that for a review) was a shared experience that cannot be recreated through social media.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Parks & Wreck: Trump edicts defy logic, GOP intent on destroying planet

You can tell a lot about a person by what they try to destroy.
That is what they fear.

Women. Children. Veterans. Artists. Muslims. Mexicans. Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Gypsies, Trans people, Syrians. Park Rangers, astronauts, First Nations, and the very air we breathe.

Where did it start, the unraveling of Drumpfiana? When they tried to shut up park rangers, after the wall, before the wall, the animated gif of him scowling at Melania.
What will stop him? RogueNASA, Sanctuary Cities,  altEverythingNotTrump?

Grants cut. Climate change silenced, yet sprouted up again in a thousand tweets by Badass Park Rangers.

His grubby tiny hands deep in the pipeline, he and his dinosaurs conspire to ravage Dakota, which is already spilling.

Gay rights shoved back decades, in an "Orwellina nightmare," to before Drumpf mentor Roy Cohn's could imagine such grand-scale evil a mere glimpse in the corner of his bugged out eye.