Sunday, May 16, 2021

Writing as an excuse for not 'Writing'

While I'm very lucky to have been employed through the past year, the additional writing and editing assignments for my day job have somewhat overtaken my fiction writing. But here's why that's okay.

While following a lot of author blogs and advice posts on social media, I've had to come to terms with the timing of my seventh novel Finding Tulsa being released during a pandemic and the most contention presidential election in twenty years. The mild critical acclaim and lack of sales were predictable. People have been distracted by the pandemic and it's understandable. 

Like many authors I adjusted and did online chats and readings all of which you can find on my YouTube channel. The views, subscriptions and likes are always appreciated.

But it's also disappointing to have completed and published one of my better works so far and have it be either ignored or just get the occasional virtual pat on the back on social media posts promoting it. 

The important thing is that, like me, many of us have endured. Perhaps we've written about our situation amid the pandemic or even taken a dive into escapist forms of not writing about it.

Fortunately for me, the obligation of editing and writing many stories a week for my day job –yes, while mostly working from home– has kept my creative juices flowing. It's also improved my skills, not just writing, but editing for our website; deciding on photos and videos to use, and promoting hundreds of LGBTQ artists in visual media, film, comedy, theater and nightlife.

Possibly the most momentous aspect this year is the 50th anniversary of the Bay Area Reporter. I got to assign almost a dozen lengthy feature articles in different media in the arts and nightlife in the B.A.R.'s history that recounted the decades of journalistic accomplishments in the newspaper I've worked with on and off for 30 years. I even created a short video promoting the anniversary, and will produce monthly video chats with our writers, photographers and special guests, all viewable on the B.A.R.'s new YouTube channel.

My own personal essay is excerpted here, and you can read the full version on I talk about my early employment and changes in my duties from an assistant editor to a freelance sports columnist and, in the past year, due to some unfortunate staff cuts, being promoted to the Arts Editor as well as doing nightlife coverage.

It's been an amazing three decades, particularly when I think about that career day in junior high school where I said I wanted to be a writer (meaning books) and my misinformed English teacher said there were no novelists in my small town. So I ended up following a photojournalist that day and learned that it was a good entryway into learning how to write. That's proven to be a good recipe; having daily and weekly deadlines improves one's writing and is highly recommended. 

So here's an excerpt from my essay honoring the 50th anniversary of the Bay Area Reporter. Read more on the website, along with the many other anniversary features I assigned, plus News history articles.

Go West: How the B.A.R. brought me to California and halfway around the world, twice

With more than 900 articles penned for the Bay Area Reporter, I feel a strong connection as the newspaper celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. I've written columns, listings and reviews since 1992. Having assigned and edited the expansive features in this section, I thought to share some behind the scenes tales as well.

My career in journalism started in 1989 in New York City with OutWeek, the revolutionary weekly publication that emerged from ACT UP, Queer Nation, but didn't last long.

After a 1990 visit for the OutWrite literary festival, my second working visit to San Francisco was in early 1992, on a freelance assignment for Frontiers magazine to cover Ggreg Taylor's Lavender Tortoise bus trip to Reno. I got to witness the 'marriage' of 'Elvis Herselvis' Leigh Crow and Justin (not then Vivian) Bond.

Along my immersion course on wheels into the Bay Area's cleverest nightlife folks, I'd also brought a few resumes. While a Guardian editor offered me an internship (as if!), the B.A.R.'s publisher Bob Ross offered me a trial run to replace Mike Yamashita, who was compiling event listings and had a month's vacation planned. While my start as a San Francisco resident and B.A.R. reporter was initially tentative, my residence and the fill-in job became a permanent one.

From 1992 to 1994, along with assembling events with multi-colored fliers from Josie's Juice Joint and Theatre Rhino, I also typed up the BARtalk personals ads, a duty that revealed the varied desires of multiple anonymous San Francisco men. I revamped the listings to be more visual, assisting production guys Robert Dietz and Robert Hold in the drafty downstairs back room that sometimes smelled of Photostat chemicals and the burning waxer machine, still used for assembling printed-out 'boards' of the newspaper's pages. I'd also retrieve computer floppy discs and print-outs from visiting freelancers like Michael Botkin and Kate Bornstein.

I also had the more serious task of writing up handwritten obituaries, some of them of men I knew who had died of AIDS. I'd often have to call back surviving partners who'd omitted their own names.

Daily staff lunches were gossipy and fun, particularly with assistant editor Patrick Hochtel, advertising's David McBrayer, and assistant news editor Dennis Conkin. But the shining inspiration to me —for many others at the time, and years later— was the late Mike Salinas, the B.A.R. News Editor from 1992 to 1999.

Mike Salinas had been creator of Theater Week back in New York. He and I shared a love of Stephen Sondheim and other musical theater. His deft ability to create what he called 'the triple-entendre headline' was an inspiration, as was his focus on celebrating the community as well as critiquing it where deserved. He took no prisoners in his sassy responses to Letters to the Editor, a standard response being: "If you are dissatisfied with our publication, you may return it for a full refund."