Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Latest Reading List


As we head into this holiday weekend to celebrate our independence, it seems the perfect time to relax and enjoy a good book. There is much talk in the news these days about traditional publishing versus independent and self publishers that I compiled a list of GLBT reading from all of those genres. Most are available in trade paperback or to be downloaded to your favorite digital reading device.
Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs may be an older book published in 2002, but stays at the top of this writer's must-read GLBT books. The memoir of a boy who is sent to live with his mother's psychiatrist and the strange world he must learn to deal with is highly engaging. Staying in the memoir genre is The Tricky Part by Martin Moran about a young teen's relationship with an older camp counselor and how it shaped who he became as a man. Author Stephen McCauley deals with a middle-aged couple's ever-evolving relationship in Insignificant Others: A Novel. A great summer read that is as clever as it is humorous in one man's attempt at finding the perfect man is On Picking Fruit by Arthur Wooten. Another quick vacation book is Relative Stranger by Stewart Lewis. This story shows how the introduction of someone new in our lives can change everything in a split second.

Matt Dean's The River in Winter is a heart-breaking look at how a man picks up the pieces as a great affair has ended. A very new book that only recently hit the shelves is Blind: A Memoir by Belo Miguel Cipriani about a man who was beaten and robbed of his sight and his struggle to deal with his new life. Finally, one of my favorite GLBT authors is Michael Thomas Ford and his What We Remember is a great mystery that fluctuates between two time periods as a family attempts to unravel the secrets of the past.  
As someone who has talked often about how being gay is only part of who I am, I believe it is important for the GLBT community to read non-gay-themed books. I love to read in all genres just as I enjoy writing in them as well. Some personal favorites of old and new on my list include: Wally Lamb, Tess Harwick, Mike Wells, Greg Isles, Victoria Laurie, Tom Perotta, R.J. Keller, Debra Galant, and Lori Ann Stephens. Reviews of these author's books can be found on goodreads.com.           
My personal kindle is full for the coming weekend where I plan to celebrate with reading a few different genres: Messenger by Jeni Stepanek about her amazing son Mattie that many came to know through Oprah before he left the world at too young an age, Dead of Wynter - a new mystery by local Jersey author Spencer Seidel, August Farewell: The Last Sixteen Days of a Thirty-Three-Year Romance by David G. Hallman who lost his husband to cancer, and In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets by Ann Carbine Best who learned her husband of eleven years was seeing men back in the 70s when the country was in a very different time.
Looks like I'll be busy for a while! Happy Independence Day weekend, all!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Addiction

When you hear the word addiction does your mind go to a bad place? Drugs. Booze. Sex. Gambling. Facebook. Or can it be a secret obsession that you have? After I've written a dozen short stories and novels, I look back and see if I can notice a common thread in what I do. Oddly enough - addiction seems to be a theme of my brother's memoir PROUD PANTS out in July as well as the novel coming out this fall. It has also made its way into other stories of mine which causes me to think about my own personality. I've always known I have an addictive personality (and there are several things in my life that I easily become obsessed with). Hopefully the words I share on the subject in my writing may just help one person. Already a therapist who read PROUD PANTS has said she would recommend it to clients who deal with addiction in their own lives or with family members who have an addiction. (Lately, my obsession has been to let as many people as possible know about my book.) But I realize there are people out there trying to kick a real habit of something they can't seem to shake. And to them, I send all sorts of positive vibes their way.   

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Few Words on Writing...


As an author, you write because you have a story that cries out to be heard. Sometimes you THINK you're writing one thing, but then the characters take you in a completely different direction. You are a slave to their world (for me - inside my laptop screen) and you speak through them as they speak to you. Once you complete it (and have read and re-read it over and over, making changes) you may pass it on to others to read. Feedback is key! And then it's back to more rewrites as you attempt to make it perfect. (But what is perfect, really? We all view perfection in a different way.) The manuscript is passed on to a professional editor (which is priority for someone like me who uses wrong words and tenses all the time) and your baby returns to you for...more rewrites. Then comes the submission phase. And rejection after rejection or you may hear "we like it, but..." or "it's not what we are looking for now." 

Jump ahead to when it's finally happening and you start to plan for the big release. The book is written. It is being printed and submitted to reviewers and your publicists is telling you that you have to make yourself known beyond your small world of friends. (Because as much as you want your friends to buy your book, you know you need strangers reading it too.) And so you go on a spree of throwing yourself into this huge world wide web of strangers. Joining discussion groups. Blogging about this and that. Tweeting (when you swore you would stay away from the little blue bird). Creating a Facebook page dedicated to your public persona as an author. And writing articles, blogs, and commentaries wherever you can. All in the hopes of touching a few more people and turning strangers into someone who just might not find you so 'strange' (or maybe they still do - but that draws them to you all the more).

This part has truly been exciting as I prepare for my novel to come out this fall. I've loved the people I have met online, numerous new authors I've come in contact with (reading their books and enjoying their writing) and the people that have reached out to me because of an article or blog they've read of mine. I've always said "I'm an actor - give me a line to say and I'll say it!" But just being Greg hasn't been all that bad either. And I appreciate when people respond to this crazy Texan living in Jersey (and love when I see a tweet re-tweeted...did I ever think I'd say that sentence?). 

Hopefully this is just the start as my story Proud Pants comes out next month and I look forward to the journey of promoting Well With My Soul in the fall. If my dear old friend Gail is looking down on me now (as she swore I'd end up writing instead of performing), I hope she's proud of what I'm doing and saying "I told ya so!" 

Life is good & I'm thankful to those that are traveling this wild ride with me.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What a weekend to celebrate!

I have been attending the gay pride parade in Manhattan for many years since I moved to New York back in 1987. In the 90s, I ventured out over the river to Jersey to settle down in the burbs - but at times my heart still aches to be in the big city. Well, after last night's historic vote in the NY State Senate, my heart is definitely with that state today. When my partner and I had a civil union three years ago this summer, I wasn't certain we'd ever see the day the word 'marriage' would be used (and I still long for the day that our state will change). But I am thrilled for my NY friends who will now be able to do just that. 

For me, this isn't a 'gay thing' though. As much as I write about gay issues for examiner.com, blog about important stories to that community, and write books with gay characters - I still believe homosexuality is just one part of who I am. It does not define me. And the more that society realizes this vote was about equality and not about a certain group asking for privileges, perhaps a time will come (and how great it would be if it occurred in my lifetime) when these issues will not cause a firestorm of debates and I will not be classified as a 'gay author' (not that anything is wrong with that).  

But for now, I am so excited to see this happening in such a large state as NY. This gives hope to the rest of the country. It shows that equality is important to people (who thought differently a few years ago as some of the senators shared, flipping their vote this time around). And it means that the pride parade on Sunday will be a true celebration - 42 years after the historic Stonewall riots. That's pretty exciting for this 42 year old who left Texas for NY all those years ago.     

Do you think Carvel would have a rainbow cake for the occasion?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Warning: Who Gets to Say What is Good or Bad?

I have to start by saying I've never had the habit of smoking so I do not have first hand knowledge of how difficult it is to quit. However, I've known family members who have fought with it and my own partner has been a smoker for years. That said, I still have my opinion about the FDA coming out with new warning labels to go on the side of cigarettes. Do they truly think that a photo is going to cause smokers to stop smoking anymore than the existing warning? Let's face it: smokers already know the risk. Ask anyone and I'm sure they can tell you. But they also know the addiction. Those photos do nothing to curb that. 
The new photos being added to cigarette packages
I would absolutely wish that my other half could stop once and for all so that I'd have a sense of us both being around into our older years, but that is not my place to tell him - no more than he can tell me to stop munching on a bag of chips. Should the government begin dictating the branding on every single thing that is 'bad' for us? Put obese people on the side of Twinkies? Show a diabetic shooting themselves with daily needles on a can of soda? Show mangled car crashes on a whiskey bottle? Where do they draw the line? 
If they really want to help society and dictate good/bad for us - get rid of it all. Don't allow companies to make it. I realize I am being ridiculous in saying that as this is a free country - but then how can they tell companies what images to place on their products? The new cigarette packages have a % of how much of these photos will need to be on there - taking away much of the branding real estate on their packages. Where is the freedom in that? 
They believe this campaign will get 200,000 people to stop smoking (yes, they are actually putting a number on it). I just returned from New Orleans where I swore the entire city smoked...so while several cities are cutting back on where people can light up, there are many in this country that still do it. I can already hear those telling me that if it stops one person from smoking than it is worth it, but I believe there are better ways to spend government money and time. 
The upside is that in doing this they are going to really help the sales of another business. I can see cigarette cases coming back into style. Smokers will buy the packages, remove the cigarettes (but keep the photos as a way to collect all nine), and place their smokes into a case reminiscent of Bogart and Bacall. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Dress is a Dress?

Milton Berle did it for the sake of comedy. Cpl Klinger was trying to get out of the army. And Robin Williams just wanted to spend time with his kids. But today in Roatan, Honduras, I learned how the Garifuna people used women’s dresses for a purpose like no other. Long ago, to resist the conquistador colonialists, these men dressed as women wearing masks and did the Punta dance (which we witnessed today) - only they hid knives and weapons under those dresses. Then once the foes resistance was down, they would bring out those weapons and attack. All in the name of fighting against any kind of take-over of their land. 
It makes cross dressing take on an entirely different meaning and purpose. It shows that men, no matter the year/background/custom realize that most men think with one part of their anatomy and lower their guard when women are around; becoming vulnerable. (I suppose this very heavily religious country should be happy that none of those colonialist where gay.) But seriously, it was amazing to think what the ancestors of these people went through and how today they can do this ‘victory dance’ and recall that a man in a dress saved them from what could have been a horrible future. It is like celebrating the drag queens of Stonewall LONG before that year of 1969. Go Garifuna Pride! 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tennessee to California: Then & Now

Tennessee Williams moved to New Orleans in his late 20s and being here, I can't help but think about how this place influenced his writing. I have always been drawn to his plays - full of angst, drama, and so much 'under current' of what he simply could not come right out and say in the 40s and 50s. Today I visited the home he owned for many years when he resided in this town and I could almost picture him sitting on that 2nd floor balcony scripting a scene with Tom and Amanda or Stanley and Blanche. As I sit out on the balcony of the B&B we are staying in (with it's 14 foot ceilings and windows that span the entire room), I think of that amazing writer and how he influenced me without even knowing he was getting in. I love plays with a deep meaning. I love the southern family tales where people cannot always speak their mind. And I am proud that while he could not be completely out in his writing, he was able to find a way in those decades of long ago to live a somewhat truthful life. He had his circle of gay friends so he could create his own community when the rest of the world would shun such a thing at that time. 
Naturally we still have those issues today (I mean, I'm visiting a state where it is a crime to actually be gay), but life is definitely easier for the GLBT community in 2011 than it was when Mr. Williams was living his life. And now I can actually write full fledged characters in my story who are dealing with all sorts of issues...that just happen to be gay. 
Yes, the world is different. Even since the 80s when I was first introduced to Mr. Williams' amazing work when I was in high school. Then, I was a closeted youth myself - who like Tom Wingfield was afraid of letting others in for fear they might actually get to know the real me. Today, I witness a dear friend of mine in California who has a daughter graduating high school allowed to be out and proud with more courage than myself (or I'd venture to say Tennessee Williams) could ever know. To see what I mean, just follow this link to her singing a beautiful song called "Blessing" by Scott Alan. Thank you Mr. Williams for sharing the past with me...and thank you Callie for showing me what is in store for our future. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Close Another Door

I am a sucker for a good ending. The final pages of an amazing book. The soaring music before the credits of a movie. A stage play or musical that punches the final theme of the show. But what really gets me is a series finale or when someone says ‘goodbye’ on television. (Yes, Meredith Vieira – I’m talking about you.) I could barely get ready for work this morning as I kept staring at the television at all they were doing to bid farewell to her. Losing someone you see daily (Meredith, Oprah) can really leave a void in your life. (People better not attack me for putting the queen of TV in the same sentence with a morning talk show hosts, but I actually see Meredith more than Oprah since I’m at work when the O’s show would air.) I know they are just airwaves through a box into my living room, but I feel as if I get to know these people. They become a part of your morning or afternoon routine and you become accustomed to having them there.

Friends have teased me for setting my DVR for a series final even if I had already stopped watching that particular show. I’d still tune in to see how they planned on ending it. And television has given us some great ones through the years. (Six Feet Under is still one of my all time favorite endings.) I wonder what that says about me. I’m a planner who always needs something going on and juggling tons of projects, so why the obsession with finality? If only I had worked that out with a shrink back when I went, but even my time with my shrink had to come to an end as well.

I guess I like to see closure and I’ll admit…I have a soft spot for those touching moments when you see happiness, sadness, regret, jubilation all rolled into one final scene. But like other moments in our lives, these TV personalities need to move on – no matter how great of a job we believe they did or what credibility or freshness they brought to their jobs. And like my own life when I end a project, I’m sure they have their next one right around the corner.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What is Gay Pride?


I live in NJ. I work in NJ. And Asbury Park is celebrating the official Jersey gay pride celebration today to kick off gay pride month. I stayed home and I watched a very moving documentary on Showtime about the history of pride parades/marches /protests. It made me think about what this pride is truly about. Aren't we all proud of something in our lives? Straight people complain there is no such thing as a straight pride parade. To that I say everyone should be proud (gay or straight) and we should look at what a particular group is trying to accomplish instead of diminishing their goals with hate and intolerance.   

Gay pride is about visibility. Wanting to be heard. Wanting equality. No matter on which side of the fence you stand, if you think of yourself having to hide who you are from all those around you - it would become exhausting. 

The 'gay movement' has changed over the years since the 1969 Stonewall riots when a group of drag queens and trans-gendered people said they had enough of police raids on their bars: and pride was born. Since then, the marches have become about AIDS awareness, marriage equality, parenting, and many many more issues. The media always chooses to show half naked men when covering these events to upset their viewers and cause them to think all gay men want to run around nude (which trust me, is not true). I think simply put: men with perfect bodies (gay or straight) seem to enjoy being exhibitionist.

I live in a country where not everyone can agree on gay issues and I understand that. We have the right in this country to disagree. But sadly enough, other countries do not have it that easy and there are gay men and women living all over the world. Some countries have pride month where beatings occur from onlookers as well as police. Others must march along side police in riot gear. And worse yet, some have women who are raped to try and cure them of being lesbians. Watching these events in the documentary literary broke my heart to see what these countries will go through just to have one simple day to celebrate in a world where they can open the closet door - even if just opened a slight crack.

I'm lucky to live the way I do. I am so aware of that. But I know how important it is to have people that continue to fight and make noise even if it upsets those around them. Had those in NYC not done just that the year I was born, I wouldn't be living the way I am today. I salute those stonewall originals for having the pride in themselves that they did.    

Friday, June 3, 2011

What Makes a Man?

Photo by Tom Schopper
A year ago I made a huge change in my life after serving for 6 years artistically leading a theater company. I knew it was time for me to walk away so that I could concentrate more on my writing as I wanted to devote as much time to this artistic part of my life as I had done for that group. A year later I have watched that company have an incredible year under the artistic eye of Kate Swan with five different productions. Her show choices for her first season at 4th Wall Theatre were carefully chosen and she has ended that season with an amazingly wonderful gem of a show. 

A Man of No Importance is a musical by the team behind the hit musical Ragtime. Based on the 1994 movie by the same name starring Albert Finney, it tells the story of a bus driver who wants his theatre troupe of 'misfits' to perform Oscar Wilde's Salome. This cast is wonderfully led by Jan Topeleski in that role. He is best known for roles in south Jersey, but how lucky our area is that he traveled north for this show. His Alfie is understated, nuanced, and heartbreaking as a man who wants to just "love who you love". I was very moved by his heartfelt performance as was others sitting in the opening night audience. The musical deals with themes of homosexuality in a way that is not always seen in a musical, but is so timely at the start of gay pride month along with the amount of discussions about bullying and equality we see now (even though this show is set in the 60s). Flaherty and Ahrens have written hauntingly melodic pieces that resonate in my ears long after I left the theater and music director Markus Hauck has taken those melodies to great heights with his pit and performers. 

It got me thinking about what makes a person important. What decides self worth? Is it like Alfie who wants to direct his troupe in his play? Is it like Greg wanting to write a novel that makes people think and get them to talking? Or is that deep down we all want to be noticed and just be loved?

I've only seen this show once before and it deserves to be done. I'm so thankful 4th Wall fills that place as as a local company not afraid of taking on those lesser produced shows. Swan's production moves beautifully from location to location in a very well thought out set and lighting design, her overall atmosphere of the show transports her audience, and her awesome cast is spot on with those Irish accents. It is wonderful seeing some 4th Wall regulars mixed in with new talent on that stage. I could go on and on about each of the performances (but I'll leave that to the real reviewers attending the show). I'll just say kudos to the entire company of this piece that definitely shows the meaning of an 'ensemble' working together for the greater whole to tell a story. 

I can't recommend this extremely moving musical enough. (It runs the next three weekends until June 18th: http://4thwalltheatre.org

Congrats to Kate & all of 4th Wall! So looking forward to the 15th anniversary season next year.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fooling Mother Nature

Something seems to be going on in our world. In the US, weather is attacking the country in forms of tornadoes and floods in areas that are not accustomed to dealing with those kinds of conditions. (Here it is June and some of the mountain areas are still having snow when they have usually moved on from that winter air.) Europe has their own issues with a new strain of E. coli brought on by vegetation. Even rats have tried to flee land by taking to an airplane in Australia. 

Are we simply becoming so disruptive in our lives and what we do that we are changing the course of nature or is the earth at the point of screaming at us to lighten up on the fast paced technology and remember the basics of land and water? 

For those that believe, some may think God is being vengeful, but I don't happen to think He acts in that manner. (However, I do find it odd that just two weeks ago the world was mocking the end of times.)

Whatever the reason may be, we should remember this globe we live on is always shifting and changing and we as humans are just small pieces that are allowed to take up space on it. When you are faced with a whirling wind coming towards you or the ground opening up in a huge sinkhole - sometimes there isn't much one can do no matter how much money you make, the kind of car you drive, or the latest smart phone you own: none of that can stand up against the power of Mother nature.