I’m so grateful that a reader emailed me, noting they’d first discovered my novel by reading an excerpt in Provincetown Magazine. As I hadn’t seen the excerpt in print, this was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve always loved the time I’ve spent in P-town. It has given me both a sense of peace and community, and my vacations there have provided many memories. In fact, one of my new short stories, The Cape, which is in my forthcoming collection, Gifts Not Yet Given, takes place in Provincetown.
This past summer, Russ and I were fortunate enough to be able to take our kids to the Cape, and that wonderful week in P-town was the highlight. Thank you, Provincetown Magazine, and thanks to the wonderful reader who alerted me!
I recall it as if it were yesterday: stepping inside the sprawling bookstore, which smelled faintly of dust; walking past the periodicals, where gay porn titles peeked at me ever-so-discretely from the uppermost row; crossing to the back of the store, reaching “my” row, and nervously looking about before finally stepping up to the shelves, above which hung a large sign, “Gay Studies.” I felt uncomfortable standing beneath it, as it labeled not just the shelves, but my own burgeoning identity, and committing to this unfamiliar label so publicly felt entirely premature. While the “Gay” part I understood, it was only years later that I realized the second part of the sign was equally true, as I was studying the world I would soon fully inhabit.
Coming out has changed greatly in the years since, but what I found through the books on that shelf provided for me the same reassurance as those emerging today seek; through the stories, I learned I was not alone. Novels by such authors as Larry Kramer, Armistead Maupin, Andrew Holleran, and Felice Picano filled me in on this mysterious world, where other men openly searched for love, but one book from that time stands out to me as unique, and resonated with me deeply. Patricia Nell Warren’s groundbreaking novel The Front Runner follows coach Harlan Brown and his protégé Billy Sive as they discover love against the backdrop of the Olympics and a changing world. As a young man myself, I had yet to find a book which spoke to my generation, and identified both with Brown, as he emerged from his more rigid, conservative environment, as well as Sive, who embodied the new, free spirited era, exploding on the horizon in front of me.
Prior to The Front Runner’s publication in 1974, Warren authored her first novel, The Last Centennial, published in 1971. She had also published three volumes of Ukrainian poetry independently, as well as amassing a large body of unpublished work. While the debut of The Front Runner introduced Warren to a new legion of fans, she was surprised to find that the book rankled some in the literary establishment, who were uncomfortable that such a seminal gay male romance had been written by a woman. It didn’t seem to matter to them that she had come out in 1974 as a lesbian. In the years following, however, Warren solidified her reputation in both the gay and literary worlds with continuations of The Front Runner saga (Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Boy), as well as novels The Fancy Dancer, The Wild Man, and The Beauty Queen, and non-fiction (including Lavender Locker Room and My West.)
Whether as an American writing Ukrainian poetry, a runner helping to usher women into the sport, a woman writing gay male fiction, or as a writer, taking control over her own work as publisher with Wildcat Press, Warren has long been a game changer, moving into uncharted waters and navigating them for others. She graciously agreed to take time out from her busy schedule to talk with me about her body of work, issues facing the LGBT community, and the rewards and challenges of having written a literary classic. As a bonus, she also reveals more about the prospects for the long-awaited The Front Runner movie, as well as the continuation of that tale in a fourth book.
Kergan Edwards-Stout: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. In reviewing your work, I became very curious as to the key, pivotal moments in your life. What most shaped you and your journey?
Patricia Nell Warren: It wasn’t so much a moment, but an experience, of being raised on a ranch in the West, at a very particular time. So much of what we think of as LGBT literature is based on an urban worldview, but growing up in a rural setting, as I did, is very much a part of who I am today. Looking back, now that I’m 76, that life gave me a very different viewpoint, as you’re living in a situation where, any day, there could be a storm that wipes out the wheat crop. That kind of day-to-day existence is challenging, and in many ways, at heart, I’m still a ranch kid. In fact, I’m co-writing a book on that with my brother, called Kids on a Ranch.
Edwards-Stout: Did you find it difficult, making connections with people in that kind of environment?
Warren: Our ranch wasn’t that far from town. We were close enough that we could walk, bicycle, or ride our horses into town, so we had lots of friends. It wasn’t an isolating kind of life, but it was definitely a different life, with different jobs at home than the town kids, who may not have known one end of a horse from the other!
You had to take a very practical approach on how to handle things, which today has led me to have political impatience. My dad used to say, “When your horse is caught in barbed wire, you don’t sit around making speeches. You grab the wire cutters and get to work!”
As we enter this new year, full of promise and possibility, I realized that I could not in all fairness properly close out the old without first repaying a major debt. One that I owe to you, dear reader, for quite literally saving my life.
To begin, I have no idea when we first connected, or how you stumbled upon my novel… Maybe it was the cover, peaking coyly at you from a stack in a bookshop. Perhaps you saw one of the online advertisements, or heard about it from a friend, or read one of the “illuminating” promotional interviews with yours truly. Whichever the route, you likely had no idea, when you reached for the book, that the very act of reading it could so profoundly affect me, and all for the better. How could you know, after all, that while I’d long envisioned a life for myself as a writer, until you contacted me, I’d begun to consider stopping altogether? (more…)
My sincere thanks to Butterfly-O-Meter Books for including Songs for the New Depression on their Top 10 Books of 2012 list. I’m overwhelmed with the response to my novel, and truly appreciate the mention! Also, thanks to Out in Print, Alfred Lives Here, and QueerMeUp for inclusion on their lists as well. It has been a wonderful year, and I appreciate all of the notes from readers about how the novel has touched you.
The holidays encapsulate all of the bittersweet, subtle emotion I hoped to convey in the book. At times joyous, others sad, and still others sexy and raucous… Life is a wonderful mix, and I am grateful every day that I’m alive and able to experience and be moved by it.
I hope that you each have a wonderful holiday season!
December 23, 2012 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: 2012, author, best books, best of, critic, gay, gay books, lesbian, LGBT, list, literary, literature, novel, review, top books, writer | 2 Comments »
A realistic touching beautiful story of a man battling AIDS, his life and friends and loves. The story goes from clever and funny to really hard to read because it is so sad and so real. I wrote a post about this one here. If you haven’t read it yet, read it now.
Add this to the wonderful inclusion on Out in Print’s Best Books of 2012 list, and I can easily say that I’ll always remember 2012. How wonderful to have had my book resonate with so many. I appreciate your emails, notes, and support, and look forward to introducing you to a new book in 2013!
Coming out in the 1980′s, I eagerly devoured every LGBT book I could lay my hands on. Novels from such authors as Armistead Maupin, Larry Kramer, and Patricia Nell Warren filled my crate shelves. But given my even-earlier leanings toward the mysteries of such stalwarts as the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Agatha Christie, the books of Michael Nava held particular appeal. An attorney, Nava created one of the most indelible and groundbreaking of characters in Henry Rios, a gay Latino criminal defense attorney, and his books were more than mere mysteries. He has been honored with five Lambda Literary Awards, and was also awarded the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award for Gay and Lesbian literature.
I recently met Nava at Palm Springs Pride, where we were both signing our books, and was absolutely floored when he bought mine. (I was such a fan, I would’ve given it to him for free!) Still, even knowing he had it, I never expected him to read it, let alone contact me. Color me shocked when I received a lovely note from him on the novel. After a brief exchange, he sent me the following quote, which I’m so happy to share with all of you!
“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.”
Such moments as this make all of the challenges of writing well worth it!
When I began my journey to author-hood, one of the first and most generous writers with whom I connected was the prolific and witty Arthur Wooten. Offering advice and willing to share tales of his own publishing adventures, Wooten quickly became a favorite. While his books range from the très gay On Picking Fruit and its sequel, Fruit Cocktail, to family dramedies, including Birthday Pie andLeftovers, to even children’s books, such as Wise Bear William, it’s safe to say that his latest novel, Dizzy, will surprise even his most ardent fans. A “fictional memoir,” Dizzy transplants Wooten’s own battle with an unusual disease onto his fictitious heroine, Broadway star Angie Styles, with all of the pluck and wit his readers have come to expect.
I recently caught up with Wooten, fresh off having two of his titles land on the acclaimed Band of Thebes’ Best LGBT Books of 2012 list, and we chatted about his body of work, the accolades he’s received, and his new “fictional memoir,” Dizzy.
Arthur, thanks so much for taking the time to meet!
It’s always a pleasure, Kergan.
Given that your new book is a “fictional memoir,” the obvious first question is, what do you and your lead character have in common?
Angie Styles, my lead character in Dizzy, and I have so much in common. We both have bilateral vestibular disease with oscillopsia. That means that we have no sense of balance and that our brain’s ability to detect where we are in space is compromised. Unless my brain can lock my eyes onto something, it has no idea where I am. In darkness, I don’t know if I’m upright or upside down. And every step I take is like bouncing on a trampoline–It never goes away.
That sounds so challenging…
And it really messes up your vision, too! Another thing I have in common with the character is that for fifteen years I was in show business: acting, singing and dancing. We both live on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, have been forced to reinvent ourselves, and we’ve had to retrain our brains, literally, in order to keep functioning in the world. (more…)
I first met fellow writer Trebor Healey at Palm Springs Pride, where we were both signing copies of our novels at the Authors’ Village. Given that the title of my first novel includes the word “depression” and his recent title contains the word “sorrow,” we quickly bonded over a shared lament of others trying to convince us to change our titles into something “more happy.” Feeling that our work embodies both joy and heartache, we each chose to stick with our original vision, and I’m happy to say that Healey’s new work, A Horse Named Sorrow, is as wonderful and nuanced as its title.
Healey’s debut novel, Through It Came Bright Colors, was awarded both the Violet Quill Award and the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction, making his new work highly anticipated. Entirely by happenstance, Healey found himself with his next two works both released on the same day. While A Horse Named Sorrow is a meditative tale set in San Francisco, Faun focuses on an adolescent boy discovering that his body is quickly morphing, but not into the expected stage of puberty.
Having just named A Horse Named Sorrow as my favorite LGBT read of 2012, I was pleased that Healey was able to take some time with me to discuss his work and inspirations.
Trebor, when we first met, we talked about the use of “sad” words in our novel titles. Why did you feel so strongly about your title for A Horse Named Sorrow?
Well, first of all, it’s a line from a Nick Cave song, and it’s a song I really love—the Carny Song—and it’s very much evocative of what San Francisco was to me at that time…a carnival, a circus, but a macabre one haunted by an enormous overarching sorrow. And when you think of how a horse plods along when it’s tired, it’s just such a perfect metaphor for the weight we feel when we carry sorrow. And we carry it. Grief is a profound experience, it’s one of the cardinal experiences if you will. But my book is not really a sad book; in many ways, it’s very comic and full of youthful enthusiasm, but it’s about something real, and one of the things the characters have to do—that we all have to do—is carry the sorrow of life with us until we are able to set it down or transform it into something else. I also think sorrow is a beautiful word—the symmetry of it, with the two r’s and two o’s, and the sound of it is wonderful. There is a lot to every word and we can experience it fully, and I think words in titles of artworks are important that way. They have a lot of work to do and they need to be good, full words.
In A Horse Named Sorrow, you vividly recreate San Francisco in the late 80’s and early 90’s. What is your impression/recollection of that period?
It was a very intense time—terrifying and urgent and enormously alive as only a place under siege can be. I came out into the AIDS crisis and the city was on fire in a million ways. There was anger and activism, art, conflict, love and sex, and the feeling that you were at the center of history on some level. Maybe we all feel that way when we are 21, but there was a vitality during that time that I’ve never experienced anywhere or anytime since. It was a time that demanded things of people. My brother was fighting cancer, I was working at an AIDS hospice and active in ACT UP and Queer Nation, I was meeting my first boyfriends, reading my first poems out loud to strangers in smoky cafes. It was a time of birth for me, I suppose, in all the pain and blood and wonder that birth entails. It was exciting, and yet that overarching sorrow was there, like the fog rolling in every night.
How did that then lead to this novel?
Well, the things that make you feel, in all the rawness of feeling, are what you write about, I suppose. I worked on this book for 15 years. I knew it was a book I had to write. And I had to get it right. And oddly, or maybe not, it wasn’t until I was in a place where I felt that intensely again—in Argentina where I lived for a year—that I was able to finally get it right.
One of the key images in the book is a bicycle, wrapped in different strings. How did that come to you?
I actually rode a bicycle across the country in the summer of 1986. It was an amazing way to travel, and felt to me like traveling by horse, which is how the whole horse/bike/sorrow metaphor first came together. The speed, the human scale, the way you had to maintain your vehicle and plot your trip. It’s very meditative and seemed a perfect style of journey for a person in need of retreat and reflection. As for the strings, I think that came from how kids used to tie strings around each other’s ankles and wrists, and the idea was that you’d make a wish, and when the string came off, the wish you’d made would come true. There is a lot about wishing in the book, both the good and the bad of it.
You have a very diverse body of work, having written everything from poetry, to erotica, to fantasy, to both non-fiction and fiction… As a writer, do you follow your muse, or do certain influences impact your decision of what to write next?
I’m so grateful for Out in Print Reviews including Songs for the New Depression in their wrap up of the top books of the year; it is a career highlight for me. Not only does it affirm my instinct to write, but it also means that others may eventually discover my tale, and hopefully it will inspire and resonate.
Out in Print wrote, in part: “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.”
My Christmas gift came early this year!
With LGBT bookstores shuttering and the consolidation of gay media resulting in reduced promotional opportunities for publishers and authors, few venues remain for discovering literature reflecting the gay experience. Happily, Stephen Bottum continues to provide one of the best sources for LGBT publishing news on his blog, Band of Thebes, which he began five years ago.
His site has garnered a devoted following of authors, publishers, and readers, with Band of Thebes providing a wonderful mix of book reviews, posts on LGBT authors, and the latest in literary news.
In 2009, he began asking authors to share their favorite LGBT reads of the year, in all genres — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, comics — leading to the creation of an annual author survey of the Best LGBT Books of the Year. His eagerly-awaited list for 2012 has just been released, and Stephen graciously took time to share with me more about his inspiration for starting the website, his love for literature, and his annual list of the year’s best.
Stephen, Sacred Band of Thebes refers to an army of 300 men in ancient Greece, which was comprised of 150 male couples. The theory was that by fighting alongside one’s partner, the desire to succeed would be stronger. What was it about that story which inspired you to select it as the name for your website?
As far as I can remember, the first men I understood to be gay were of an old school, Paul Lynde-ilk, who at the time frightened me with their snideness. My coming out was prolonged in part by not wanting to join the bitchfest. So the idea of gay warriors fighting for each other was very appealing, minus the mayhem and slaughter. My aim was to create a site to highlight queer writers and filmmakers and artists, and enrich an eager audience who might miss them in the mainstream media.
Where did your love for literature begin?
I terrorized my parents by giving up on books around nine or ten and refusing to read anything other than movie ads and TV listings. Then, at fourteen, I quit tennis, my friends started pursuing girls, and suddenly I discovered those gray blocks surrounding the cartoons in The New Yorker held words. After a few stories by Ann Beattie and Peter Cameron, I was hooked.
What prompted you to start your blog? Was there a void you saw that you wanted to fill?
Much as I’d like to take credit for reversing the mainstream’s shortfall of gay coverage, I’m sure it was my partner’s idea. Desperate for a way to shut me up, he kept saying, “Hey, you have all these opinions about books and movies, you should blog.”
You’ve been compiling your “Best Books” lists for a few years now. When you begin the process, do you have a strategy? A certain mix of authors to approach?
Maligned as she is, Tina Brown is absolutely right that a great magazine should be like a really good party, and the survey is the same: poets rubbing against porn stars, with the added challenge of balancing the L, G, B, and T, and fair representation of ethnicities. Beginning each spring, I keep a wish list of authors to approach, and I was very, very thrilled this year to have about 24 new participants, including Lisa Cohen, Ellis Avery, Rick Whitaker, Tendai Huchu, Ivan Coyote, Farzana Doctor, the cartoonist Justin Hall, Nick Krieger, whose memoir deserved all the attention Chaz Bono’s received, and young Scottish novelist Kerry Hudson, who is going to be the next Jeanette Winterson.
How do you feel about the mix of the contributing authors?
One of my favorite websites, Stephen Bottum’s Band of Thebes, just released its list of authors’ top picks for the best in 2012 gay and lesbian literature. I was honored to have been asked to submit my favorite, and was thrilled to see two of my friends, Arthur Wooten and David G. Hallman, on the list. Congratulations, guys!
If you’re looking for interesting reads, check out this list!
Fellow author Jeffrey Ballam and I share many characteristics. We are both gay men, debut novelists, human rights advocates, twitter friends, and have undergone the grieving process, with each of us experiencing a partner’s death due to HIV/AIDS. I have been curious to discover more about his journey, and recently we met at the West Hollywood Book Fair to chat further about love, loss, and the power of the written word, as well as his just released novel, Out of the Past.
Kergan Edwards-Stout: Some people have been writers their whole lives, but–like me–you came to writing later in life, having had other careers. What lead you to writing?
Jeffrey Ballam: I’d always enjoyed creative writing in school, and pushed myself to be as creative as possible. When I came out, I began writing poems as a catharsis for understanding my new feelings and reconciling my faith and my sexuality. Being a born-again Christian with early Mormon roots, you can see the need to do so…
I can imagine!
What about you? Why did you start writing?
I’ve always been involved in the arts, but never really saw writing as a venue for me. I worked with some amazing playwrights, such as Michael Sargent, who has such a specific, visceral style, that I wasn’t sure how I could ever compete on that level. What I later realized was that it wasn’t about competition. In telling my own stories, my style naturally evolved, and I found my own specific voice.
Your novel, Songs for the New Depression, is the story of a man who comes to terms with his past as he prepares to die. It is also a tribute to your first partner, Shane Sawick, who passed away due to complications from AIDS.
Shane died in 1995, and while I took me a while to process and determine exactly how, I knew that I wanted to find some way to honor him, as well as other friends, lost far too young. Then, one day, a line popped into my head. I didn’t know who it was or what they were talking about, but that line eventually morphed into the first sentence in the novel. I know, Jeff, that you lost a partner to AIDS/HIV as well…
Yes, but I was at a point where I was beginning to realize I had outgrown the relationship and was preparing to leave when he was diagnosed in 1992, so I stayed until he died in 1994. Given that, and that I am recently divorced, I completely understand that pain of loss and letting go. Your novel is really about your lead character, Gabe, and his attempts to come to terms with his impending death. Is that related to your letting go of Shane?
The act of writing the novel was a way of letting go. But I also have found myself, having grown up in the AIDS era, preoccupied with the reasons we live, and the reasons we die. I wanted to write a cautionary tale, about seizing and embracing the moment, and correcting mistakes, before it is too late. And that desire for redemption led to Songs for the New Depression.
The AIDS pandemic is such a difficult and emotional issue to tackle. What has the reaction been to that particular dimension of the story?
For those readers that lived through it, I continually receive wonderful notes, thanking me for capturing that moment in time. But I’ve also heard from others, “Oh, your novel sounds great, but depressing.” While I don’t see it that way, as I feel it ultimately challenges people to live more authentically and freely, I also realize that an “AIDS novel” is not an easy sell. My hope is that people will read it and think, “I don’t want my life to be wasted,” and embrace the here and now…
And I think it does that.
What about you? What inspired you to write Out of the Past?
Believe it or not, it started with a dream. In 2008, I woke, remembering a dream which I felt would make a good story, and I simply sat down and wrote it. Once that dam burst, the tale came flooding out.
Without giving too much away, what is the book about?
It focuses on a young man, Paul Vanderwall, who has to come to terms with his fears of moving forward into a new relationship, and ultimately, to come to terms with himself. In that way, he’s like your character, Gabe.
Paul is both a schoolteacher and coming out of a broken relationship, as are you. Where do the similarities between the two of you begin, and where do they end?
We are very similar, in those respects, and neither of us is looking for a relationship. Paul had closed himself off to the idea, and was caught by surprise. We are both very romantic, though he is a bit more open to the idea of a relationship. I’m not sure if there are any differences, other than age. He’s a lot younger than I am. I’m in a neutral place right now, if I meet someone who interests me, great. If not, great.
Has your ex-husband read the novel?
I’m not sure. We were together when I wrote it, but he couldn’t read it as he felt that I didn’t divorce myself enough from Paul where he could see a clear differentiation between the character and the writer. But, in a way, I think he’s right. Paul and I do share similar views on relationships and we’re both very romantic, though Paul has a bit more of an adventurous spirit. Even though we were together when I wrote it, and our divorce was not the most amicable, he does seem interested in its success. Whether he’s read it now, I don’t know. He seemed shocked when I said it would be published.
Is being a romantic one of your defining characteristics?
I think it is. A friend defined me as a romantic, yet one who is realistic. In the book, I tried to capture some of what romance and realism mean to me.
Has it been difficult, juggling your competing demands of writing, teaching, and personal life?
The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, so I try to make sure that my students receive enough attention, and that I am well-planned and organized for my next day’s lessons. My four-legged children come next, as they don’t understand why I can’t play with them all the time. Writing, right now, takes a back seat to everything.
I know you love teaching, but do you foresee a point where writing becomes your primary focus?
Possibly, when I retire. But you have a full-time schedule as well! You have a job, a partner and two beautiful children, not to mention your writing for several websites. And I understand you’re working on something new as well. Gifts Not Yet Given?
It’s a collection of short stories, all themed to holidays, and will be coming out next year. I kind of see it as “holiday stories for the rest of us.” The characters are a mixture of gay, straight, young, old, and yet the tales capture that warm, bittersweet tone of the holidays, as each character experiences some form of personal awakening.
How do you find the time to do it all?
Late nights–and lots of Chardonnay! (laughing) Like you and your students, our kids come first. My main job is to make sure they are well-cared for, and I love it. Writing comes far behind, but at some point, when the kids are older, I’d like it to move up in line.
I know what you mean!
So if someone said to you, right now, “I can give you either love or a career as a writer, but not both,” which would you choose?
Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I’d have to go for love.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who came out to support me at the West Hollywood Book Fair yesterday. I met a wonderful guy from Florida who has read my novel, Songs for the New Depression, a staggering FOUR TIMES! Wow. How humbling to think that something I’ve created has had such an impact on someone so many miles away!
I appreciated the opportunity to be on the gay fiction panel, along with wonderful writer Nöel Alumit (author of Letters to Montgomery Clift), Eduardo Santiago (Tomorrow They Will Kiss) and George Snyder (On the Wings of Affection). Lots of fun!
Coming up next, I’ll be appearing at this year’s Palm Springs Pride Author’s Village, brought to you by Q Trading Co, on Sunday November 4th, from 1PM-2PM. Come visit as I sign books and answer your questions. Hope to see you there!
I’m honored to have been asked to join a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair’s LGBT Lounge on Sunday September 30th! Wonderful writer Nöel Alumit (author of Letters to Montgomery Clift) will be moderating on gay fiction, and my fellow panelists are Eduardo Santiago (Tomorrow They Will Kiss) and George Snyder (On the Wings of Affection). For a complete rundown on all of the exciting events, please click here.
West Hollywood Book Fair
LGBT Lounge (2nd floor/West Hollywood Library)
Sunday September 30, 2012
An author book signing will occur following the panel.
Hope to see you there!
Once again, I find myself thoroughly humbled. I received an advanced copy of this review, and had to keep my mouth shut, or else folks all over the world would’ve heard my guttural screams of ecstasy. I’ve reread this amazing review of Songs for the New Depression on Edge on the Net eight times, to make sure I’m not misreading their lovely praise!
Songs for the New Depression – Review by Christopher Verleger
Screenwriter and director Kergan Edwards-Stout’s compelling, beautifully written debut novel, “Songs for the New Depression,” examines three decades in the short life of Gabriel Travers, an AIDS-stricken California man who fails to recover emotionally from unfortunate events that transpired when he was an effeminate teen.
Named after an album by Bette Midler, “Songs for the New Depression” has all the trademark ingredients of gay men’s literature–a witty albeit troubled protagonist, his incorrigibly loyal female best friend, an emotionally absent father, a quirky yet lovable mom, and an incomparable first love. Despite the seemingly familiar premise, the author’s darkly comic, brutally honest prose reads like poetry and has a melodic flow that is equally funny and heartbreaking.
Told in reverse, beginning when our narrator is approaching forty and increasingly symptomatic, Gabe confronts death with sarcasm, insecurity and regret, much like how he has dealt with everything throughout life. Knowing his days are numbered should soften his disposition, but initially it has the reverse effect, as shown when best friend, Clare, writes him off after having had enough of his insensitive commentary, and when Gabe tries to dismiss his young lover, Jon, assuming he’ll eventually abandon him anyway once the disease takes over.
The next two parts paint a picture of Gabriel as a reckless, disenchanted twenty-something having evolved from a feisty high school teen, forever scarred by a hazing incident that exacerbates his already-strained relationship with his parents, and especially his father. Although he has Clare to confide in, Gabe only begins to truly understand friendship and unconditional love after becoming attached at the hip to his free-spirited, fellow classmate, Keith. Another pleasant version of Gabe surfaces later in life, upon meeting Pastor Sally, the object of his mother’s affection.
Readers will certainly empathize with Gabe, but most of the time, it’s hard to like him, perhaps because we all have someone like him in our lives, or recognize one or more of his traits in ourselves. Regardless of your opinion of him, Gabe’s story is bittersweet, heartfelt and profound.
Even with the grim backdrop of AIDS and a narrator of questionable character, “Songs for the New Depression” is a quintessential page-turner and the product of a truly gifted author.
Chapters and Chats is a fun blog focused on authors and reading. Jodi does a great job both in leading readers to terrific books, but in interviewing authors as well. I was flattered she both gave my book a glowing review, but took the time to interview me as well. You can check out the full interview at her site, but here are a few of my favorite questions and answers:
C&C: First let me say what an honor it is to have read your book as well as the chance to interview such a skilled author. With your writing, directing, volunteer work and being a father and spouse how do you juggle everything successfully?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to discuss my work! I really appreciated your review of the book, and love it when a reader or critic “gets it!” As far as your question, juggling it all is a struggle, and the biggest reason I don’t write more. It is tough to do it all, and in my life, our kids come first–even if that means my next book will have to wait.
C&C: At what point did your sons Mason and Marcus realize you are incredibly talent and celebrated with many awards? How do they react?
(Laughing.) Well, I’m not sure they think I’m talented! I won’t let them read “Songs for the New Depression” until they’re older, due to some racy bits, but they are very proud of my accomplishments. When it’s won awards or gotten great reviews, the kids have done a family toast at dinner, which is really all the acclaim I need.
Fall is shaping up to be an incredibly busy season, and I value each and every opportunity to share with readers my novel, Songs for the New Depression, meet you, and answer your questions. And, yes, I have another book up my sleeve for the holidays, if only I can meet the deadlines!
In the meantime, please check out the following events:
- On Thursday September 20th, I’ll be in Los Angeles at homo-centric, doing a reading and book signing.
- On Sunday September 30th, I’ll be on a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair and signing books afterward.
- On the weekend of November 3 & 4, head to Palm Springs Pride, where I’ll be appearing at the Author’s Village, brought to you by Q Trading.
Hey, I’m a media whore, so if you have other venues at which I can appear, let me know! If you missed the fun radio podcast I did with This Show is So Gay, please check it out. They were really terrific, and the interview was lots of fun!
In addition to the book being available on Amazon, BN.com, and other online sellers, I’ve recently gotten notes from such wonderful stores carrying the book as BookShop Santa Cruz and Q Trading/Palm Springs, both in California; Morris Book Shop in Lexington, KY: and RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH! If you know other stores which should be carrying Songs, please let me know. This book has percolated within me for many years, and I’m hoping that it resonates with as many as I can reach.
I hope you’ll come out and see me at these events. There is nothing better than meeting readers and talking about art, life, and love, so I hope you’ll come to one of these fun happenings and connect! More info to follow!
One of LGBT fiction’s brightest new stars, novelist Jeffrey Luscombe has received much acclaim for his debut novel, Shirts and Skins, recently released by Chelsea Station Editions. Edge on the Net says that “Shirts and Skins is nothing but authentic in its pathos, eloquent in its delivery, and well worth the read,” and, having recently read the book, I can agree.
While newly published in the states, in his native Canada, Jeffrey first gained fame as the Gay Groom, due to his blog, which chronicled his trip down the aisle with his partner, Sean, and continues to chart his experience as a writer. Now, he and Sean are legally and happily snuggled into their charming Toronto abode, but Jeffrey graciously agreed to chat with me about his journey to author- hood, his thoughts on the gay community, and what wedded bliss means to him.
Jeffrey, congratulations on the debut of “Shirts and Skins.” What inspired you to write the novel?
I had the first line of this book in mind head for years. It just took some time to actually get down to work and write it. After I earned my Masters in English a few years ago, I was accepted into a PhD program at McGill in Montreal but, to be honest, there was nothing I was interested in enough to spend four years writing a dissertation on. And since I had always written fiction, I decided to finally get serious about it. So I applied to the Humber School for Writers program and four months later I had finished half a manuscript.
I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve gotten amazing reviews from Canadian critics, as well as heartfelt letters from Canadian readers. Not sure why the novel resonates so with them, but am grateful for the reception it has received! Check out the lovely review from Q Magazine Edmonton!
Songs for the New Depression
Gabe Travers is dying. He knows it. He is surrounded by the people he loves, his mother and her new wife Pastor Sally, his best friend Clare, his lover Jon. These are the people who have clung to him through the years, who have stood by him through bad decisions and bitchy remarks. Dying, he takes Jon to Paris; what better gift to give the man you love than the world?
It was a gift he’d been given 9 years earlier, by a man he loved, and as the book goes back in time, we the readers are taken on that journey with him. And then that journey continues back 10 years, to first kisses, to coming out, to a time when Gabe begins to make those relationships that will set the course of his life. To when he first hears Bette Midler.
When you look back at your life, how do you want to see yourself? Why did you make the decisions you made? How did you get here, to this point? Those are just some of the questions Gabe faces, and while he faces them, we explore his life, stripped away of pretension, bare, honest, pure. (more…)
Grateful for the inclusion in HIV Plus Magazine’s May/June issue, especially being mentioned alongside my writer pal, Gregory G. Allen!
Always great to stumble unexpectedly on a wonderful review of my book! Check out QVegas Magazine, from March!
A huge shout out to Ken Schneck at THIS SHOW IS SO GAY for the fun interview. He had actually read the book and done his homework, leading to some really great and surprising questions. I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to be on the show, and hope that you all check it out. The podcast is online, and the show is carried on several radio stations, so listen and let me know what you think!