Background Reading for My Novel: “Where You Are” by J. H. Trumble

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Where You Are is definitely one of the best books I was fortunate enough to read this year and I have had the good fortune to have read my share of excellent books during that time. In May I read the author’s first novel Don’t Let Me Go which I loved and instantly became a big fan of hers. I checked goodreads to find out what else she had written and saw Where You Are listed as well as a soon-to-be-released new book, Just Between Us. I quickly added both to my To Read list and this month picked up a copy of Where You Are. I definitely needed to find something to enjoy since the last three books I had acquired had disappointed; two of them were so unsatisfactory I did not even bother to finish them which is highly unusual for me. Ooh la la! I could not have possibly chosen a better book to read this time.

The author bravely tackles the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy and in the process of telling a fascinating story does a superb job of showing the reader that this is not necessarily the black and white issue that the news media and our cultural mores are so quick to paint. Robert Westfall is a high school senior whose world is crumbling around him. His father is in the final stage of a ten-year battle with brain cancer, his meddling, judgmental aunts and their children have taken up residence in the Westfall home and his self-centered boyfriend is totally unsupportive. Added to this is the fact that Robert and his father have never been close emotionally and now Robert is dealing with guilty feelings wishing his father would die soon so that he can get on with his life and be rid of the occupation of his home by his father’s siblings and their obnoxious offspring.

Andrew McNelis is Robert’s math teacher, a young attractive man in only his second year of teaching who is moved by the suffering his star pupil is enduring. He wants to do whatever he can to help Robert in the tough times he is experiencing and tries to give him the attention and support he feels he needs. Andrew also happens to be gay, making it a point to keep his sexual identity a secret at school although it’s not quite the secret he thinks it is. He has a two-year old daughter Kiki whom he absolutely adores and who was conceived with his long-time best friend Maya on a night that they had unplanned sex. As the story progresses Robert and Andrew begin spending more time together, frequently exchanging text messages and in the process becoming more and more attracted to each other. Andrew knows he is walking on a very thin tightrope and realizes he could jeopardize not only his career but his relationship with his daughter and possibly face time in jail if he crosses the line of acceptable teacher/student relationship.  He is tormented trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, struggling with the collision course of wanting to be there for Robert, the growing sexual attraction he and Robert are feeling for one another, and his terror of where all of this may lead.

The storyline is told from the perspective of both Robert and Andrew so the reader has a clear image that this is not the case of a teacher using his power and position to force himself on an innocent child. After reading this book, I do know that I will probably never again hear a news story about a “scandalous” teacher/student relationship and be quick to make harsh judgments.

This is way too good a story to spoil by saying anything more about the plot. It is one of those books I just did not want to put down. One sure indication for me that I am truly enjoying a book is when I realize I have only sixty or so pages left to read and find myself wishing that the book was longer. So it was with this gem. All the characters both major and minor are totally believable and with the exceptions of Robert’s self-absorbed boyfriend Nic and Robert’s aunts all have admirable qualities as well as their share of flaws. Correction: on the other side of the scale from Nic and Robert’s aunts is Andrew’s daughter Kiki who is totally precious.

If you have not yet read this book, pick up a copy soon and treat yourself to a fantastic read. I cannot wait to now read the author’s recently published Just Between Us and can only hope that more books are in the works. Probably not since Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles so captivated me has one author so successfully entrapped me in her snare. I will at year’s end be posting here on my blog a list of the best books I read this year. Where You Are will certainly be on that short list.

Background Reading for My Novel: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

Disappointment is an unfortunate fact of life. Let’s face it: all of us have had more than our share of it in our lives. Many things can trigger this: someone’s actions, a vacation spot, a meal at a restaurant, a show, a movie, a book.  The list is almost endless. If the source of the disappointment is something that has won widespread praise you may wonder during or after your experience what all the fuss was about. High expectations often can lead to major letdowns. Fortunately this book did not elicit that response from me – just the opposite in fact happened.

When I began reading The Great Gatsby I was well aware of the high esteem the book enjoys in the literary world.  It was a book I had long-planned to read and somehow never did despite its brief length. One quarter of the way through the book I had the dreaded sense that this was going to be a literary disappointment for me. Yes I could appreciate Fitzgerald’s writing talent but I could not help but wonder why it has been consistently ranked one of the greatest works of American literature.

And then the magic happened. The book which had started so slowly soon picked up tempo so that by the time I finished it I felt I had been taken on a wonderful journey. It amazes me that Fitzgerald could create such an incredible tale and such fascinating characters in a mere 180 pages. This is the story of Jay Gatsby’s rise from his humble origins to a life of great wealth, of his obsessive and doomed love for Daisy (née Fay) Buchanan, a love that ultimately results in his downfall. Though set in Jazz Age Prohibition-era 1922 in the fictional village of West Egg, Long Island, the story has an almost timeless quality about the rewards and dangers of pursuing the American dream. The story is told through the eyes of Gatsby’s next-door neighbor, Nick Carraway, a bond salesman, who like Gatsby served in World War I. While Nick appears to live a comfortable life, living in a small house that he rents, Gatsby’s home is a lavish mansion where he frequently holds extravagant parties. The two men become friends after Nick attends one of Gatsby’s elaborate gatherings. Nick’s presence at this event and the brilliant images the author used to depict the party scene was for me the point when the pace of the story began to accelerate. In hindsight I now appreciate that Fitzgerald in the measured first forty plus pages was setting the stage for what would follow.

Gatsby’s efforts to reignite the love affair he had with Daisy five years earlier and to convince her to leave her husband is of course the centerpiece of this story. At one point Nick warns his friend of the futility of pursuing Daisy by simply stating, “You can’t repeat the past.” To this Gatsby cries back incredulously “Can’t repeat the past? But of course you can!” This stubborn blindness and refusal to let go of the past drives Gatsby’s every movement which sets in motion events that have tragic consequences. By the time the novel ends, it becomes evident how shallow, dishonest and self-absorbed all of the characters are with the notable exception of Nick. Early in the novel, Nick makes this comment about himself which by story’s end proves quite accurate. “Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

This is truly a masterful story with so many memorable quotes. Here are a few of my favorites:

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

“I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”

“There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind.”

“The rich get richer and the poor get – children.”

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”    The novel’s final sentence.

This was a novel which had little in common with the book I am writing but has so inspired me to be a better writer. Thank you Mr. Fitzgerald. I feel forever indebted to you.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Running in Bed” by Jeffrey Sharlach

Running in Bed

Running in Bed by Jeffrey Sharlach is a book that I found very enjoyable despite certain reservations I will discuss later.  As a gay man who like the main character Josh Silver came out in the 1970’s and was so impacted by the horror of AIDS, the storyline was both quite believable and fascinating. The tale begins with Josh, a recent young college graduate moving to Manhattan where he has accepted a position with a prestigious advertising firm. At this time he is still in denial that he is gay, just as I was until 1976. He seeks the help of a psychiatrist to “cure” him of his “illness” (check, only I went through that absurd effort in the 1960’s) but finally realizes the futility of his efforts. He initially takes a cautious approach to experimenting with his gay self but once he gets a taste of what it is like to walk on the wild side, he throws himself into it wholeheartedly (double check!).  As the story continues Josh rapidly advances at his firm, has a very active and satisfying sex life and makes many friends, eventually even feeling comfortable coming out as a gay man at work. In 1978 while spending most of his weekends at Fire Island’s hip gay neighborhood The Pines, he meets and falls in love with a man named Tommy who is a popular call boy. Eventually they become a couple. Fast forward now to the summer of 1981 and the first reports in the New York Times of gay men diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, the disfiguring and at that point almost always fatal skin cancer. Although it would be several years before the acronym was used, this of course was the beginning of the AIDS pandemic that would take such a heavy toll on the gay male population in the USA in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The last third of the book deals with the growing horror of the disease as its impact grows steadily closer and closer to Josh and Tommy’s lives.

Anyone now over the age of 45 and who lived through the nightmarish dawning of AIDS knows just how scary that time was. Certainly as a subgroup, gay men and those close to them were especially susceptible to being in a constant state of fear. The author acknowledges losing both his partner and most of his friend to AIDS during that period and does a superb job portraying the pain and fear that he along with many of us had to bear during that dark period in our recent past. He begins his story at a time when gay men felt liberated, carefree, hopeful and yes safe living a hedonistic life, when it seemed that the worst consequence of being sexually active was a visit to the VD clinic. Sharlach very effectively transitions that world to the horrors and sadness of the 1980’s at the slow pace at which it actually occurred.

Why some who lived a life similar to Josh and Tommy survived and others did not will forever remain a mystery to me. Those who want to provide the simplistic explanation of some divine plan I believe are not only delusional but flat out offensive. To suggest that some omnipotent power gets up every day and after a couple of cups of Morning Joe goes through his/her list and decides, “this one I’ll let live; this one, nope” is as about as close to reality as the idea that Santa Claus decides who’s going to get ice skates and who’s going to get a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking. Just as wild fires destroy whole communities and somehow manage to not touch certain homes in their path, there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. Some of us despite countless times practicing what we now view as unsafe sex never became infected; others of us became infected and yet thirty or more years later are still alive and doing well. And of course far too many who were no more or less promiscuous or unworthy perished.  It is a bizarre, sad but fascinating phenomenon that perhaps one day science will be able to explain.

The reservation I had about the book was that far too often I felt the author dumbed down the reader by explaining things that seemed all too obvious. While using historical facts and events is perfectly fine (I am doing that myself in the novel I am writing), explaining terms at length as though the reader had never heard of them was irritating. At times I felt like I was reading the transcript of a history lecture. A few examples: explaining the derivation and significance of the “Friends of Dorothy” code word for gays and lesbians; explaining the 1982 battle over the use of the word “Olympics” in what now is called the “Gay Games”;  explaining T-4 cell count numbers to differentiate between an AIDS and ARC diagnosis. There were certainly other examples but the point I am making is that this was a work of fiction not a documentary so the repeated drum roll of explanations struck me as both unnecessary and annoying. I am sure that some readers may not be familiar with such terms and events but I suspect they are in a small minority of the book’s audience.

Despite that weakness I thought this was a good snapshot of life in gay America, especially big city gay America, during a critical 15 year period. Published in 2012, it was a quick and easy read and a journey I was glad to take.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Dream Boy” by Jim Grimsley

Dream Boy

I recently finished Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley, the second book of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. The author’s Comfort & Joy I liked very much and it made me want to sample more by him. As much as I enjoyed the first book, Dream Boy proved to be even better. Both stories take place in the American South in the recent past. Grimsley grew up in North Carolina and has lived in Atlanta for many years so he obviously knows the mores and fabric of this area very well. Both books deal with the struggles gay men growing up in the South have to endure.

While Comfort & Joy takes place primarily in Atlanta and deals with the difficulties two grown men who love one another must face, the earlier published Dream Boy by contrast focuses on two teenage boys living next door to each other in rural North Carolina. The physical attraction that develops between the two is almost immediate and very profound. The shy, bright Nathan, younger by two years, has recently moved into town with his parents. Roy, the farm boy next door, has a steady girlfriend and is popular in school although academics are definitely not his strength.  The secret love affair that develops between the two teenagers comes at a dear price for Nathan. Roy has made him swear to tell no on about it, obviously afraid or unwilling to admit to himself his true sexual identity. An important subplot to the novel is the relationship between Nathan and his alcoholic, religious zealot father. Early in the book the author hints that there is something seriously wrong between the two but the disturbing nature of their relationship is only later revealed. Before the story’s end, tragic events happen. I will refrain from revealing the details but the conclusion will lead most readers feeling shocked and sad, possibly in tears.

This is by no means a feel good book. It is disturbing and by the final pages the reader may be wondering the specifics of just what has or has not happened. But the story and characters that Grimsley creates in less than 200 pages are truly unforgettable. Enticing, entrancing, powerful, moving, violent, tragic, sparse, brilliantly crafted and executed, immensely satisfying. Those are just a few of the phrases that I would use to describe this work. It is beyond question one of the most compelling though heart-breaking books I have read in a long time.

The story was adapted for the screen and had a limited release in 2008 receiving mostly positive reviews and starring Stephan Bender as Nathan and Maximillian Roeg as Roy.

Thank you Jim for this jewel of a book and for helping me to become a better writer.

Background Reading for My Novel: “Three Junes” by Julia Glass

Three Junes

I’m just now catching up on some delayed reviews of four books that I read over the past month. Today I want to comment on Three Junes by Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2002.

What a superb and totally rewarding novel this proved to be. While a review that I had read made the book sound appealing, it far surpassed my expectations.  I absolutely loved it and since I myself am struggling with writing a first novel I was in awe that this was the author’s debut effort.  The book is not one to be rushed; rather it is best enjoyed by a slower pace of reading to savor the author’s great gift of storytelling, and what a gift she has. Three Junes is actually a literary triptych, with overlapping characters in each of the three stories. The book’s title refers to events that happen in the month of June, 1989, 1995 and 1999.  Each story focuses on people dealing with grief and loss and trying to survive after having their hearts broken. Through effective use of flashback we learn much about the lives of the three main characters and those who are close to them. The first and last stories are told from the third person POV. The middle story is narrated by the book’s main character, a young man named Fenno.

The opening story “Collies” focuses on Paul McLeod, an older recently widowed Scotsman who is trying to put some sense back in his life while vacationing in Greece, six months after his wife’s death. While there he becomes infatuated with a young American female artist named Fern. Even though the two never become sexually intimate Paul is able to envision a brighter future for himself as a result of their encounter. This story’s title is a reference to Paul’s wife Maureen who devoted her life to the breeding and raising of border collies. Through a series of flashbacks we learn much about Paul and Maureen’s relationship with one another and with their three sons. “Collies” won the 1999 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella.

The second story “Upright” is by far the longest and most moving of the three stories. It focuses on the life of Paul’s oldest son Fenno who is gay and is now living in Greenwich Village where he owns a popular and successful independent bookstore. Though openly gay, Fenno continually struggles with fully accepting his sexuality and is terrified of contracting AIDS.  The title “Upright” is in fact a reference to this fear and Fenno’s constant reminder to himself; “stay upright and you will stay alive.” While living in New York he develops a very close platonic relationship with a flamboyant music critic named Mal, struggling to survive while living with AIDS. The bond between the two men is poignant and is the most engaging of any of the relationships in the novel. Fenno also has an ongoing sexually satisfying but emotionally unrewarding relationship with a photographer named Tony; the relationship eventually results in Fenno being painfully humiliated by Tony’s chicanery. All of this we learn through flashbacks since the setting of the story is the family home in Scotland where Fenno has gathered with his two younger brothers and their wives following the death of their father. During the visit Fenno is asked to make an important decision which if he agrees to do will dramatically change his life forever. While I felt that the author did an excellent job in drawing the reader into each of the three stories, “Upright” is by far the most endearing and interesting.

The final section “Boys” takes place in the Hamptons, where Tony, Fenno’s ex-boyfriend, is house-sitting. Sharing the house with him is Fern the young artist first introduced in “Collies”. She is dealing with feelings of guilt from the recent accidental death of her husband with whom she had become estranged shortly before his death. Fern has recently learned that she is pregnant and is struggling with how to let the father of the child know. At the invitation of Tony, Fenno comes for a weekend visit. Even though Fenno and Fern never realize the link they share through Fenno’s father Paul, they nonetheless enjoy each other’s company and a bond soon develops between the two. While I felt this was the weakest of the three stories it nonetheless was well written and provided a satisfying conclusion to the book.

If one is looking for a fast-paced action novel, this is not the book to read. But for anyone interested in a character-intensive, beautifully nuanced literary novel this book is almost certain to please.  This was clearly one of the best books I have read this year. I fully intend to read more of Julia Glass’ work since she clearly is a masterful storyteller.

Background Reading for My Novel: Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette

Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story

This is the first work of non-fiction I have read since I began writing my novel just over five months ago. Since my novel is about a gay man in his late teens I have focused most of my recreational reading on other works of fiction where the protagonist is gay and/or coming of age. I chose to read Paul Monette’s 1992 agonizing, painful yet beautiful memoir which won the National Book Award for non-fiction because it is not only an important piece of 20th century literature but also one of the most significant books of all time by a gay author.

Monette who died from AIDS in 1995 struggled for the first 30 years of his life accepting his homosexuality much as I did for the same period of time. The parallels do not end there. Since Monette, born in the fall of 1945, was exactly 6 months older than me, I could so well relate to the cultural biases of that time as well as the self-loathing and denial he experienced through his teens and twenties. Like Monette I lived in constant fear in that early part of my life that someone would find out I was sexually drawn to men rather than women. Like him I submerged myself in my studies throughout my college years to avoid coming to terms with who I was.  I too lived a lie for nearly thirty years, ashamed of my desires and fearing rejection or worse if those whom I knew discovered my darkest fantasies.

Like Monette I sought professional help to “cure” me of my “illness”. In the last two chapters of his memoir the author recounts his absurd attempts to heterosex himself, having a series of intimate relations with women over several years while occasionally falling off the wagon and getting down and dirty with another man. Some of these women he cared for deeply. Later he came to realize his adventures were feeble efforts to convince everyone, most importantly himself, that he was straight. While I did not bed down with the number of women Monette did, in one respect I actually did take the deception one step further by actually getting married in 1969 and staying in the marriage more than six years. There were other similarities in our lives’ experiences but I think you get the point that this was a story to which sadly I could so well relate.

Reading Monette’s memoir was a painful remembrance of my own life experience. It also was a reminder of how far I have come since that time. Just as I have, Monette thankfully found self-acceptance, happiness and love before his death at the age of 49. Yes at times the memoir is very hard to read because of the self-loathing, shame, sadness, anger, and loneliness that Monette had to endure for more than half his life. Ironically though it is a joy to read because it is so beautifully written and brutally honest. The author taught writing and literature and his mastery of the written word is apparent throughout the book. If I had to find one flaw in the work it would simply be that his descriptions of his attempts to heterosex himself got to be a bit confusing at times. Because of his sleeping with multiple women at that time in his life I would find myself thinking “Now who was she again?”  But that is a minor criticism in what I regard as an otherwise stellar work. The book ends just after he has met Roger Horwitz, the man who would be his life partner for the next ten years, sadly ending with the AIDS-related death of Horwitz in 1985. Though I have not yet read it, Monette’s 1988 Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, chronicles his years with Horwitz and how that time turned him into one of the nation’s leading AIDS activist. I fully intend to read this book as well as some of Monette’s fiction.

I am sure that for anyone growing up in or after the Will & Grace era it is difficult to fully appreciate just how oppressive life was for gay people a generation or more earlier. Let’s be honest: even with the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage there is still a strong undercurrent of homophobia rampant in this country.

This was truly a wonderful book and one I am so glad I took the time to read.

Background Reading for My Novel: A Home at the End of the World

A Home at the End of the World

One of my favorite movies from the new millennium has been the 2002 film The Hours starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Allison Janney and John C. Reilly. While I have not as yet read the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham upon which it was based I have seen the film twice and loved it both times. In the event that you have neither read the book nor seen the movie the plot centers around three different stories each taking place in a different era, 1923, 1951 and 2001. Not wanting to reveal too much, the three stories are inter-connected and it is only at the very end that the viewer fully appreciates the connection. Each story in itself is fascinating and the acting is nothing short of superb. The movie was nominated for 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture; Nicole Kidman deservingly won the award for Best Actress. I have the book on my To Read list and hope before years’ end to get around to reading it.

Having enjoyed this movie so much, I was thrilled to learn that Cunningham had written an earlier novel A Home at the End of the World in 1990 that fit into my queer fiction genre that I am pursuing as part of my research for the novel I am writing. This book is told entirely in the first person, although the narrator changes from chapter to chapter. Most of the narration is told by two of the main characters, Jonathan Glover and Bobby Morrow, but two additional characters also add their perspective, Jonathan’s mother Alice and a woman named Clare who is introduced about one-third of the way into the book.

Jonathan and Bobby meet as thirteen-year olds in suburban Cleveland in the 1970’s. Both have had troubled childhoods in the 1960’s although their experiences were quite different. Jonathan is introspective and not quite sure of himself. Bobby has had more than his share of tragedy growing up and is very hip, rebellious and somewhat strange. The two boys quickly become best of friends and Bobby soon becomes a part of the Glover family. As time passes the two boys begin to experiment sexually with each other. After graduating from high school Jonathan moves to NYC to start college while Bobby remains with Jonathan’s parents. Jonathan’s roommate in New York is Clare, a woman in her 30’s, who becomes his soul mate although their relationship is strictly platonic. Jonathan by now is openly gay and develops a very sexually fulfilling but emotionally unsatisfactory long-term relationship with a bartender named Erich. Complicating matters Bobby comes to New York, moves in with Jonathan and Clare and is soon seduced by her. Not wanting to reveal any more of the storyline (hopefully I’ve enticed you enough that you may want to read the book) I will simply say that the plot thickens and before story’s end the three main characters have built a very unconventional but loving relationship.

This was an exquisitely well written and enjoyable read, unlike the book I had read prior to this. I loved the way the perspective of the story changed from chapter to chapter; it definitely got me thinking about the way I am writing my own novel which I have been writing strictly in the third person. I found all the characters interesting and believable. While the book has an undeniable sadness to it, at the same time it is very heartwarming. I’ve learned that the book was adapted into a 2004 film starring Colin Farrell as Bobby, Dallas Roberts as Jonathan, Robin Wright Penn as Clare and Sissy Spacek as Alice. I have seen a trailer of the movie and a friend of mine told me how enjoyable it was which does not surprise me. I certainly plan to see it sometime soon.

A Tender Message Posted in a Park

This weekend while wandering through one of the wonderful nearby off-leash parks where my dog loves to play ball and chase squirrels I saw a slip of paper attached to one of the trees. Out of curiosity I approached it to find out what was written and read a beautifully written poignant message from another dog lover who earlier in the week sadly had to say goodbye to her companion of more than 15 years. Her words impacted me so deeply that I felt an urge to contact her and express my condolences even though I did not know her or her departed canine friend. Fortunately she left her e-mail address on the note she had written. Below is the message I sent her. Life is precious and all too brief…be sure to let those you love know how important they are, no matter what their species.

 

I was in Dracena Park this weekend and saw the notice you had posted about the loss of your beloved Sequoia. Even though I do not believe I ever met you or Sequoia I was deeply moved by your message and wanted to write to express my condolences. It was evident from your words that obviously you loved her enormously and must be experiencing a terrible sense of loss, emptiness, and sadness. There’s very little that those close to you much less strangers can say or do to help you get through this tragic period in your life other than let you know that they are thinking of you and hoping that time will ease your pain.

 8 ½ years ago I had to say goodbye to my beloved Sheba, a Border Collie/lab mix that we adopted when she was 4 months old and who was a cherished member of our family for 15 years. In my life I have lost many close family members and very dear friends; yet having to make the horrific decision to end her life was the most painful experience I have ever endured even though I knew then and now it was the humane thing to do. Despite the passage of time I still think of her often and have pictures of her throughout my house including a favorite one on my desk. It took me a long, long time to heal; I was a true basket case for months. Even now on the anniversary of her passing I become very withdrawn and downhearted although I have found that making a donation to one of the many worthwhile animal welfare organizations is a worthy way of honoring her memory as well as helping me to deal with my sorrow better. I still think of her often but now those memories are mostly happy ones. One thing that has helped me is knowing that both my life and hers were ever so enriched by the years we spent in this world together and I am ever so grateful for that time, as brief as it was.

 I mention my history and my handling of Sheba’s death without knowing anything about you other than the poignant words you left for all your fellow dog lovers in the park. You wrote “she changed my whole life and taught me so much” and “she will be in our hearts forever”. That so echoes my sentiments about Sheba and tells me how deep the love was that you shared with her. Allow yourself to grieve. There is a wonderful quote from the movie “Shadowlands” that so well sums up the feelings you are forced to endure now. Anthony Hopkins’ characters comments “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” Sadly that is the deal – to not be feeling that hurt now you would never have known the joy she brought into your life.

 You ended your message on a very positive note. “I will see you back here when I find my new doggy soul mate.” That is the hopeful, healthy outlook that will help to get you through your dark days. It took me 8 months to heal sufficiently and to find my new best friend, a lovable, energetic, playful 8 week old Border Collie mix that we named Aries. I swore when we got him that I wouldn’t allow myself to love our new boy like I had loved Sheba. And yet of course I did and he is now the sunshine of my days. He will be turning 8 years old in 2 weeks. I’m sure your doggy soul mate is out there waiting for you to fall in love with him or her now or sometime in the foreseeable future. You’ll know when you’re ready and when you are I wish you much joy and happiness. I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful mom to the loveable and lucky pooch.

My Best Wishes to You

Ed Hartnett

Background Reading for My Novel, A Small & Very Satisfying Detour: French Lessons

French Lessons

When I attended last month’s San Francisco Writers Conference among the many fine individuals I met was Ellen Sussman, author and writing coach. I attended two workshops where she spoke, both of which were excellent. TheFeeding Your Daily Writing Habit: 4 Steps to Higher Productivity” I found especially valuable. One of her books that she mentioned was French Lessons, published in 2011. Being a hardcore Francophile (I’ve been to Paris eight times and I’m not done yet), I was so envious to learn that she lived in my favorite city for five years. I got an opportunity to talk one-on-one with her which was a thrill. After leaving the conference and getting back into a more normal routine, I searched online to learn more about French Lessons and decided that while it did not fit the theme of the novel I am writing I had to include it on my To-Read list.

Just last night I finished the novel and am so glad I fit the book into my reading schedule. This was a guilty pleasure of a read. The story takes place in Paris all in a single day. The work can be viewed as three separate short stories although all three are interconnected. Each story involves an American in Paris who is spending time there with a French tutor to improve her or his French-speaking skill. The characters have all come to Paris for very different reasons. Josie has just suffered a tragic personal loss and is there hoping to heal her broken heart. Her tutor is Nico, a sensitive poet. Riley has come to Paris with her two children and husband whose business has brought him to the City of Lights and who now is largely ignoring her. Phillipe is her tutor and someone who seems to regard seducing women as life’s primary goal. Jeremy is a man in his forties, the husband of a famous American actress and who lives in her shadow but loves her enormously nonetheless. They are in Paris for a film shooting and he feels quite removed from her world. His tutor is the beautiful young Chantal to whom he is strongly attracted. The book begins with the three tutors whose lives are intertwined meeting at a café in the morning and ends later that afternoon at their scheduled rendezvous spot.

By story’s end all but one of the characters have learned something very important about him-or-herself and have had a wonderful adventure in the process. While it’s certainly not necessary to have spent time in Paris and fallen in love with the city in order to enjoy this book, it certainly enhances the experience. The author certainly knows the city well and describes its sights, sounds and smells very accurately. She also interjects just enough of the French language into her writing to add some interest without having a reader who knows little or no French wonder “what does that mean?” There is also just the right amount of sexual tension throughout to keep the reader curious and want to keep turning the page.

All in all I found this a very pleasurable read and am very happy I took a little detour in my reading path to enjoy this.

Background Reading for My Novel, Part VII: Dancer from the Dance

Dancer from the Dance

Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance first published in 1978 is a story of the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era of the gay NYC scene. Considered by many an important part of gay literature, the novel is told in the third person and is centered around the lives of two characters. Malone is a strikingly handsome young man from the Midwest who abandons the practice of law and his heterosexual façade initially to pursue his dream of perfect m/m romantic love, eventually submerging himself in the decadent world of sexual promiscuity and drugs. Sutherland, Malone’s mentor, is an older man and the quintessential bitchy, campy, drag queen. Much of the story takes place in Manhattan’s discos and Everard Baths and Fire Island’s world of unrestrained orgies.

The novel is well written but I must confess that by the time I finished reading it I felt as empty as the individuals who populate the story. I came out as a gay man in the same era as Malone’s character and indulged in much of the same hedonistic behavior that both he and the other people in the story so gloriously pursue. Consequently it’s not as though I disapprove or do not have an appreciation of the thrill that time and era had for our generation. I simply felt both while I was reading the book and upon completion that I really did not care about the fate of the protagonists. Because Sutherland’s character is so campy the sections of the book dealing with him were at least mildly amusing. Since Malone is described as being a hopeless romantic at least in the early parts of the novel, I found it ironic that he struck me as cold and not very interesting.

Dancer from the Dance  has been described by many as being a gay Great Gatsby. I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read Fitzgerald’s masterpiece so I obviously cannot comment on such comparisons. I fully intend to correct my reading oversight at some point in the future and maybe then a re-reading of Holleran’s book will leave me more satisfied. Despite my lukewarm feelings I am glad that I have read the book even though of all the books I have read since I started writing my own novel, I found this the least enjoyable.