Posts tagged “history

Groundbreaking Gay Mystery Series Finally Comes to E-Book

Michael NavaIn 1986, the United States looked very different than it does today.  Ronald Reagan was president.  It was the year of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the blockbuster film Top Gun.  LGBT people were largely marginalized.  Latinos hadn’t yet become a surging political force.  And while AIDS had begun claiming countless in the gay community, it was only in 1985 that the larger public became more fully aware, due to the sensationalized death of star Rock Hudson.

It was in this era of the so-called “Moral Majority”, a largely white, conservative, Christian view of America, that author Michael Nava crafted one of the most unlikely of literary heroes: Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal attorney with a passion for justice.  Himself an outsider, Rios acted on behalf of those without a voice, often wrongly accused of crimes.  While introduced in The Little Death, Rios would go on to solve mysteries in a series of seven books, culminating with Rag and Bone in 2001.

The Rios series would win five Lambda Literary Awards, and Nava was honored by The Publishing Triangle with the Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award for Gay and Lesbian literature.

As the revolutionary Henry Rios series finally comes to e-book, Michael Nava took time to share more with me about the development of the character, his thoughts on bringing an end to the Rios series, and his forthcoming novel, The City of Palaces.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  You first gained literary acclaim for your Henry Rios mystery series.  How did the tales originate?

Michael Nava:  I started writing the first novel almost as a lark in my last year at law school.  I was working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the Palo Alto jail, where I interviewed men who had been arrested to determine if they were eligible for immediate release on their own recognizance or would have to post bail the next day.  Palo Alto didn’t have that much crime so I spent many nights just waiting around or trying to study.  At some point, I started writing what became The Little Death; indeed the very first scene has Rios walking into a jail which was the Palo Alto jail.

The Little DeathEdwards-Stout:  Your lead character, a gay Latino criminal attorney involved in solving mysteries, broke many barriers.  Were you conscious of how groundbreaking he might be? (more…)


Author Xavier Axelson Makes the Leap from Erotica

Following success as a writer of erotica and as columnist for Examiner.com, author Xavier Axelson has surprised readers with his debut novel, Velvet, a work of historical fiction which tells the tale of a royal tailor.  While still containing the potent mix of love & longing for which he is known, the novel format allows Axelson to explore other elements which the short story format didn’t allow.

Prior to Velvet, Axelson had cultivated a devoted following of readers for his shorter, more steamy work, leading venerable critic Amos Lassen to anoint Axelson “a master of the erotic.”  Now, however, with a new and different tale to tell, I was eager to learn more about Axelson’s journey between genres and formats, and the inspirations behind his work.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  Xavier, you were so gracious in interviewing me for Examiner, it is great to be returning the favor!  With Velvet, you’re finally releasing your first novel.  I guess the obvious question, given your success with erotica, is what made you decide to write a work of historical fiction?

Xavier Axelson:  It was a complete surprise.  I didn’t start out with the intention to write a historically-based novel.  Then again, I never thought I would write erotica!  I just go where the story and characters tell me.  They are driving, so I simply follow behind and trust they know what to do and how to steer.

What can you tell us about Velvet?

It is the story of Virago, the royal tailor, and is set against a backdrop of decadence, privilege, and intrigue.

When you begin a new work such as this, especially when it contains historical elements, how deeply do you delve into research of the period?

Velvet is based on historical ideas, but the world and its characters within are completely fictitious.   I love research.  I find it is a great way to take the fear out of the unknown.  In this case, Velvet was a pleasure to research because I love the Elizabethan, Medieval and Shakespearean periods.  This story opened my eyes to so many unique details involving the coronation of Elizabeth I, the interior structures of castles, and even how the blind learn to sew and cut patterns.

Prior to this, most of your work has been with short stories and novellas.  What prompted this leap to the novel form?

I didn’t set out to write a novel!  I initially assumed that Velvet would be a novella, but, as the story progressed, the characters became more generous with their voices and stories.  I felt it was my duty to return the favor and ensure their voices were heard.

While other authors pick one genre to focus on, it seems that you write what you want, regardless of genre. 

It’s true.  I don’t stick with any one genre.  In between Earthly Concerns and Velvet, I wrote a short story called Cravings that was published as part of a zombie/horror collection.  I’d never thought about writing a zombie story–and that’s exactly what intrigued me.  I refuse to believe in genre imprisonment.

Where does your desire to write come from?

It comes from a need to write.  I feel compelled to do it, as writing is an extension of my physical self.  It speaks to my truest, most authentic self.

Most of your earliest literary success has been with the erotic.  What is the most common misperception of erotica writing?

That it has little literary merit.  However, I find the works of Henry Miller, Marquis de Sade, Anaïs Nin, and The Sleeping Beauty books by Anne Rice to be worthy defenders against such misconceptions.  Erotica does not automatically equal pornography.

In addition to being described as a writer of erotica, I’ve also seen you labeled as a writer of psychological horror.  Given all these different labels, how would you describe yourself?

Well, erotic, exotic, and a little psychotic!

In your work, is there a fine line between the three?

I think many people feel intimacy, whether sexual or otherwise, is terrifying.  Psychosexual elements fascinate me, and while there is a fine line between the erotic and horrific, it is this line that is the most appealing to walk along.  The idea of the beautiful grotesque and the terror found in the mundane are both subjects I enjoy exploring.  Lines were meant to be crossed, as long as you’re brave enough to face whatever it is you may encounter on the other side.

With your background, is there a concern on your part that your work might not be taken seriously?

I don’t think what I do is serious.  My writing is incredibly personal to me and while I may be attached to what I do and view it as important, I am not curing cancer or stopping global warming.  That being said, what people may or may not think is beyond my control.  My writing speaks for itself and there are many works of erotic fiction that are masterpieces.

Who would you name as the top three people that inspire you, and why?

Tennessee Williams, because his writing awes me, his ability to dig into the darkness frightens and inspires me to follow after his characters… Lars Von Trier, because his visions are startling, eye opening, and undeniable.  And Georgia O’Keefe, because I believe in the power of the natural world she conveyed in her art.

Given that list, with all of their unique viewpoints and themes, when you look at your own work, is there one overarching theme or message you want to communicate? 

Hope, and the belief in oneself to find the light in the dark.

Xavier Axelson can be found on facebook, twitter, his website, and on Examiner.com.

Cross-posted on Kergan Edwards-Stout and Huffington Post.

 


A U.S. President’s Great-Great-Grandson’s Big Gay Vampire Novel

While it may come as a surprise to learn that Ulysses S. Grant’s great-great-grandson, Ulysses Grant Dietz, serves as Chief Curator for New Jersey’s Newark Museum, it might come as a bigger surprise that he is also an author, with two gay vampire titles under his belt.  Dietz is one of the few people I know who has managed to incorporate his many disparate passions into unified whole: he is a father, with two teenage children; he has a job he loves, overseeing the museum’s impressive decorative arts collection; he reads voraciously, reviewing most everything he reads; he is the author of two novels and five non-fiction titles; and he is an out gay man, proudly advocating on behalf of the LGBT community.

In 1998, Alyson Books released his first book, Desmond: A Novel About Love and the Modern Vampire, which went on to be nominated for a Lambda Literary award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. Now, after a 14-year wait, his fans finally have their hands on his much-anticipated sequel, Vampire in Suburbia, which has finally hit the stores.

Thank you so much for sharing some of your time, Ulysses.  The obvious first question is, why so long between novels?

In a word: children.  I was polishing up Desmond during the kids’ naps while on parental leave back in 1997, and once it was published, the rest of my life distracted me from writing fiction. I’ve been thinking about it for a long, long time.

What inspired your first novel, Desmond?

In part, every vampire novel I’d read, from Dracula (which I read in middle school, the first time) to Anne Rice’s novels. Specifically, when I wrote the first draft of Desmond back in 1988, Rice’s Queen of the Damned had just appeared. Desmond as a character is my direct response to Rice’s Louis, as well as Lestat.  In fact, as my book opens, Desmond has just finished reading Queen of the Damned.

What was it about this character, Desmond Beckwith, that compelled you to continue his story?

In the first book, Desmond is surprised by love. He has resigned himself to a life alone over the course of two centuries. Yet he lives in the world. He has secrets he has to keep from the world. It’s a delicate balance he maintains; and then the carefully constructed life he’s made for himself is shattered by the appearance of Tony Chapman.  Desmond is a romantic; although he’s a vampire, he loves life. In the second book, Desmond gradually realizes that he doesn’t really like living in isolation, without friends.  It’s this quest for connection that drives him. At the end of the first book his story was, in a sense, only beginning. I had to write the second book to bring Desmond’s personal search to some sort of closure.

In the blurb for Vampire in Suburbia, it notes that Desmond is handsome, rich, gay, a vampire, and he’s looking for a house in Jersey.  So, I gotta ask, is he related to Snooki? 

Actually, I confess that, after a martini with a friend, I’ve joked about a third book called Vampire Down the Shore; but I haven’t figured out how I might work Snooki into the plot.

But seriously, the setting for the second book is something I’d thought about for years. It literally takes place where I live, in suburban Essex County, including within the museum where I have been a curator for thirty-two years.  Desmond ends up in New Jersey in the wake of 9/11. His New York office is near Ground Zero, and Desmond, quite simply, is afraid. So he moves his company to Newark, to one of the many office towers near Newark’s great art deco Penn Station – just ten miles from Manhattan.  I’ve set the book in 2009, just after he regenerates (as my vampires do) back to the age he was created: twenty one. He realizes that, this time around, he doesn’t want to start all over again and simply leave behind the people who became his friends over the past 44 years.  He also finds himself yearning for two things he gave up in the eighteenth century: land, and a family. It’s not your usual vampire story, but I’m as much a romantic as Desmond is.

Given your lineage, did you ever have any pushback?  You know, a descendant of one of our nation’s presidents, publishing a novel about gay vampires?

Not yet. I’m on the board of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, but I don’t think any other board members have read it, or are likely to.  I’m a little more anxious about my professional world, because the book has a whole curator theme going and my colleagues in the field are buying it to be supportive.  I’ve talked it up on my Facebook page and people are intrigued. I keep telling them that it’s not really for them – but what can I do?  They’ll figure it out.  I’m imaging lots of embarrassed silence.  I don’t think the Civil War buffs are going to even notice it exists.

Do you ever feel any added pressure that comes from your heritage?  A responsibility to be a role model?

Oh, sure.  But being a role model, living up to my name, is the whole reason behind my determination to live my life out and proud. It’s the reason I’ve refused to use a pseudonym on these books, as if I have something to hide in writing them. I’ve had to instill that pride in my kids, and that pride includes being gay as much as it includes being a great-great-grandson of a president.  Living my life with integrity – as Ulysses S. Grant did  – without regard to what people say, is my way of being a role model.

How did your decision to speak out on marriage equality come about?  You wrote a piece for one of the New Jersey papers about same gender marriage…

I’d forgotten I actually wrote that! I’m remembering it as an interview. It was for the Newark Star-Ledger back in 2009, and I was actually photographed in the Ballantine House – my main gallery space in the Museum, which is featured in Vampire in Suburbia. I can’t remember who contacted me or why – but marriage equality was and is a big issue here, and the fight for marriage, not just civil union, is something I’ve been interested in for years.  My partner Gary and I have been involved in gay politics in New Jersey for thirty years. We know a lot of people.

You and Gary have been together for 37 years now.  How did you first meet?

We met at Yale, specifically at the Gay Alliance at Yale.  I remember the day vividly.  I was a junior, and Gary had just graduated and was working for the Yale Computer Center.  He’s a software engineer. It was October 1975 and I had just turned twenty.  He was my first date ever.

That is amazing!  Long before my partner and I adopted, you and Gary became parents.  That must have been trailblazing…  What was that experience like?

I guess we were pioneers. We had lesbian friends who had started families; and our brothers each had children who were very much in our lives; so we were primed for a while before it dawned on us that we could have our own children.  Surrogacy was not legally possible in New Jersey then, so we decided to go with adoption. We tried domestic adoptions, but after one particularly heartbreaking failure, we decided to look into international adoptions. At that time international adoptions were possible for gay couples – but one of the two partners had to essentially disappear, and the other one had to adopt as a single person.

That must have been challenging…

I kept a detailed journal for four years once this process started. It reads like a Tolstoy tragedy. It was a very rough four years.  Several failures, including a disastrous venture in Russia where Gary spent a month in Siberia with our baby – only to have the child taken away from him and the adoption canceled by someone somewhere in the bureaucracy who felt that no man could have a good reason to want to raise a child alone.

But eventually we succeeded – and succeeded on two separate adoptions within a month of each other.  So our son, Alex, and our daughter, Grace, arrived and changed our lives in 1996.  I adopted them through a second-parent adoption a year or so later.  We didn’t even have a domestic partnership, but we were legally bound together by our children – our names are on their US birth certificates. It was amazing.  And once you have your children, all the bad memories fade away.

I know reading is one of your main passions.  Have you read anything recently that you couldn’t put down?

Reading is an addiction with me. I always have my Kindle with me. I love young adult novels, written for teenagers, that have gay themes.  I just finished Benjamin Alire Saenz’s beautiful book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It’s about a Mexican-American teenager in El Paso who finds a best friend one summer. The friendship between the boys is beautiful; but what I loved most was the importance of the parents.  Many young adult novels marginalize the parental figures – as teenagers themselves try to do.  But Saenz makes the parents important, and makes their love for their sons crucial in the narrative.  It’s a wonderful book.

With your unique worldview, as an out gay dad, partner, author, reader, curator, etc., what do you see as the biggest issues facing the LGBT community?

What I see as the biggest issue facing our community is our complacence in the face of the upwelling of right-wing religiosity in this country, in the secular world and especially in politics.  I came out in the 1970s, before AIDS, and things have improved so much since then it’s hard to believe.  But, for all the acceptance my family and I have experienced in our little bubble of diversity in Maplewood, New Jersey, there is a significant anti-gay world out there trying to figure out how to undo all the progress we’ve made. I’m a devout Episcopalian, by the way, and church is important to me; but I feel somewhat like an assimilated Jew in Germany in the early 1930s, who felt that they were safe and beyond harm.  There are young gay folk who talk about the world being “post-gay,” and it’s just not true. Not yet.

Hopefully, that day will come soon.  Lastly, you are so entrenched in arts and culture.  What impact do you think those have on us as people, and as a society?

That’s a loaded question.  Look, I’ve given my life to the Newark Museum. I believe in art and the power of art to transform lives.  My entire career has been dedicated to connecting people with objects; to telling stories that help people see the world in a slightly different way. I help people fall in love with the things I love. My non-fiction books have been part of my curatorial life; my novels are just another aspect of that story-telling instinct.

The books of Ulysses Grant Dietz can be found on Amazon, with more information on his publisher’s website.

Author photo courtesy of the Newark Museum. 

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.