It’s hard to believe that my labor of love, my first novel, Songs for the New Depression, was published five years ago today. Over 12 years in the making, the main character in the book was inspired by the illness and subsequent death of my once-partner, Shane Sawick. While that character, Gabriel Travers, may have Shane’s biting wit, the darker traits the character exhibits are not really Shane’s at all, but mine. When I was younger, I was driven by my insecurities which, allowed to fester, could make me incredibly nasty. Happily, I’ve worked through much of that, but that memory–of treating others with disdain, keeping them at arms length through dripping sarcasm–still hangs over me today, helping to remind me of how to best treat those I love, and the consequences such narcissism can have on one’s soul.
To this day, “Songs” remains to the creative accomplishment of which I’m most proud. Not only did I keep a promise to myself over that long, 12-year stretch just to finish the damn thing, but as I’m not by training a “writer,” I still feel satisfaction in the final product. Of course, there are piddly things that I wish I could clean up, but I was able to tell the dark, redemptive story I wanted to tell, in all its messiness.
I never envisioned how much I would learn on that journey to publication, about book formatting, publishing, marketing, video production, website design, and so much more… To think, at my then-age of 46, I would be on an upward learning curve at that particular stage of my life was awesome–and rather remarkable.
Even more remarkable was to learn of the book’s reception and how it touched people. I received notes from folks sharing their stories of love and loss in the age of AIDS, and tributes to those they cherished. One reader read the novel four times, at last count, and found a continuity error both my editors and I had missed! (One of those ‘piddly things’ I wish I could go back and fix.)
I didn’t write the book for reviews or awards, yet was pleasantly surprised when both came freely. I’ve shared them below, but just as important for me in hearing the positive remarks was in learning the negative.
On one person’s website, they castigated me for being misogynistic and trans-phobic, which–if you’re remotely aware of me and my activism–you would know that I am not. Still, I had to take in that criticism and let it resonate. While the character of Gabe is both misogynistic and trans-phobic (truly, he is anti-anyone-but-himself), I had to really consider the possibility that the emotions he expressed were somehow, by osmosis, my own. Given this criticism, I tried to step back and consider the book as a whole. In doing so, I realized that almost all of the nurturing characters offering him a chance at redemption are women (save Jon.) Ultimately, women are the ones reaching out their hand to save Gabriel, most likely because, at my core, I wish my mother would do the same for me.
Five years is a long time. Since then, I’ve published a book of short stories (Gifts Not Yet Given), been through a brutal custody battle, and moved with my family to an entirely different state, where we live a much more peaceful mountain life. While I’m at work on a memoir, it’s been slow going, at best. Part of that is due to our emotional and financial recovery from that legal struggle, and part is a bigger issue: How do I tell a truthful account of my life, in an entertaining way for the reader, and yet in a way in which honors all involved?
Happily, I think I’ve finally found that key, and I look forward to sharing that book with you. Hopefully sooner than another five years!
SONGS FOR THE NEW DEPRESSION
2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award – LGBTQ
Independent Literary Awards – LGBTQ Shortlist
Best Books of 2012 – Out in Print Reviews
Best LGBTQ Literature of 2012 – Indie Reviews
Top 5 Books of 2012 – Alfred Lives Here
Top 10 Books of 2012 – Butterfly-O-Meter Books
Advocate.com raves that “Kergan Edwards-Stout has crafted a work of fiction reminiscent of some classic tales in Songs for the New Depression. Even better, Edwards-Stout’s debut boasts the kind of dark humor that made Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors, Dry) a household name.”
Kirkus Reviews (“The World’s Toughest Book Critics”) calls it an “engaging debut… Edwards-Stout infuses reality and hopefulness into a bittersweet story about compassion and personal growth. A distinctively entertaining novel written with moxie and bolstered by pitch-perfect perspectives.”
Five-time Lambda Literary award-winning author Michael Nava says, “”Songs for the New Depression is an affecting novel, written with great literary flair. I recommend it.”
The critically acclaimed debut novel of Kergan Edwards-Stout, Songs for the New Depression, is available now in hardcover, paperback, and all e-Book formats, and can be purchased at BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com, and other fine booksellers.
What’s It About?
Gabriel Travers knows he’s dying; he just can’t prove it. Despite his doctor’s proclamations to the contrary and rumors of a promising new HIV drug cocktail, all it takes is one glance into the mirror to tell Gabe everything he needs to know. His ass, once the talk of West Hollywood, now looks suspiciously like a Shar-Pei, prompting even more talk around town. Now almost 40, and with the clock ticking, Gabe begins to finally peel back the layers and tackle his demons — with a little help from the music of the Divine Miss M and his mom’s new wife, a country music-loving priest.
Praise for Songs for the New Depression
“Edwards-Stout’s satiric wit belies a smoothly written, circumspect story.” Library Journal
“Simply stunning… This tale of love and life constantly brought me to both laughter and tears. To those of us who loved and lost this is an important read to assist your reconciliation. It has mine. To those who have heard the stories, this love letter should be required reading. The characters are nicely carved and as they come to terms with moral decisions, it ultimately to me was all about getting through ones life awake and alive.” Dana Miller, Frontiers Magazine/Los Angeles
“Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written… You’ll read this once for its emotional impact and again to see how the author achieves it. But no matter how many times you dive in, you’ll be impressed.” Out in Print Reviews
“Songs for the New Depression is a thoughtful read that should speak to many.” Midwest Book Review
“Compelling, beautifully written debut novel… The author’s darkly comic, brutally honest prose reads like poetry and has a melodic flow that is equally funny and heartbreaking. Gabe’s story is bittersweet, heartfelt and profound… A quintessential page-turner and the product of a truly gifted author.” Edge on the Net
“From LA to Palm Springs to Paris, over the course of 20 years, Kergan Edwards-Stout takes us on a beautiful journey. The characters are dynamic, interesting, and real, and the relationships are painful and funny and romantic and sexy and sad all at once.” Q Magazine
“Songs for the New Depression is an affecting novel, written with great literary flair. I particularly enjoyed its portrait of Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s, as well as the author’s brave willingness to write about the AIDS epidemic at a time when so many of us seem to want to forget that terrifying era. At times laugh aloud funny, and at other times intensely moving, it is the first of what I hope will be many books to come from Kergan Edwards-Stout. I recommend it.” Michael Nava, author (Five Lambda Literary Awards, winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award for Gay and Lesbian literature)
“Many tout this book as an important piece of fiction that should be read by all because of it’s portrayal of AIDS. I’ll give them that. I would add that it’s not only an important piece of fiction because of the message, but it’s a great piece of fiction writing regardless of the message.” LGBT Book Review Blog
“The laughs make the book deceptively breezy. Songs shines with psychological truth and historical accuracy.” A&U magazine
“Edwards-Stout has written a wonderful book in which he takes on AIDS and depression from a personal point of view and he does so with great style and wit.” Amos Lassen, Reviews by Amos
“This is a work that will make you both laugh and cry, and fair warning: it is difficult to get through certain portions of the text because Edwards-Stout is quite explicit in detail, which is testament to the fact that he is such a brilliant writer. This is not one to miss.” Liberty Press
“Five Stars.” Bob Lind, ECHO Magazine/Our Bookshelf
“If a roller-coaster ride of sadness and humor sounds right up your alley, then look for Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout. This is the story of a man who knows he’s dying, knows he’s made a lot of mistakes in his life, and knows that he needs to fix things before the end. I won’t tell you the end. Read the book.” Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez syndicated column
“Involving, emotional read… Songs For The New Depression touched me and stayed with me.” Alfred Lives Here
“Songs for the New Depression is an enjoyable and addictive read. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself not answering texts and neglecting your Facebook updates as you finish the book in one read. I did.” Q Vegas Magazine
“The NY Times ought to be reviewing Songs for the New Depression, not the likes of me. It is a beautiful book, and, I think, an important one.” Ulysses Grant Dietz, author
“One of the most emotional, touching, heart-wrenching, and intelligent stories I’ve read in a very long time. With a dark wit reminding me of David Sedaris, this story examines the life of a man who’s made many mistakes and, at the end, has managed to learn a few lessons… The language is sophisticated and elegant, each word precise, depicting clear images and evoking specific emotions. The description, whether of location, food, clothing, people, or emotions draws the reader into the moment as if it were actually happening. As a result, we experience Gabe’s highs and lows on a powerful level, truly understanding Gabe, his limitations, and his dreams.Wrapped up in a sad story, illustrated with disappointments and heart-break, is a story of hope and understanding.” Top2Bottom Reviews
“Kergan Edwards-Stout’s Songs for the New Depression is a bold reminder that life, especially in its most difficult moments, is worth living. His characters are real and poignant, his writing is magical, and his message is timeless. Life is at its most precious when we are faced with our own mortality. It is an important book.” Charles Perez, author of Confessions of a Gay Anchorman and founder of the No Shame Project.
“This is an incredibly important book.” Chapters and Chats
“Songs for the New Depression is an impressive, innovative, and dynamic love story. Rich, witty, and vivid, this is a heart-wrenching, hilarious and sometimes shocking journey of an everyman-narcissist who finally finds redemption in embracing his humanity and ultimately reunites with the hero he was always looking for between the lines of Paris, Bette Midler, and all things fabulous. I found myself singing along until I was able to shout, ‘Amen!’” Steven Fales, Confessions of a Mormon Boy
“This book touched me at the core of my being! It is a story of love and devotion, and a self examination of a dying man… I read this book in just a couple of days because I could not stop once I started reading.” Book Talk With Charla
“Kergan Edwards-Stout has written a masterpiece. A bravura debut novel, its heartfelt message is ultimately timeless. It is easily one of the top ten books I’ve enjoyed in the past decade. Once you start this one, you won’t be able to stop.” Carey Parrish, author of Marengo and Big Business
“Songs for the New Depression carries you away on waves of humor and sadness as we follow the protagonist as he deals with his search for love, acceptance and his battle with AIDS. Far from being maudlin, it is extremely sensitive and ennobling. A fine work that will leave you wanting more.” Robert Michael Morris, star of TV’s The Comeback and author of An American Scrapbook