Love at First Sight

This is a very special day, not just for me but for one of the greatest loves of my life. Two years ago today I drove seventeen miles from my home to a no-kill animal shelter to check out the dogs there, with the idea of fostering one. And though there were far too many pooches there in need of a home, one in particular caught my attention. I think you might justly call it love at first sight.

The dog was Tink, an eight-year-old shepherd mix, who is now a permanent part of my household. I/we had a rough time of it for two months. Having been abandoned at least three times in the previous four months, she had severe separation anxiety and was prone towards being very destructive when left alone. Then one day, while not in my care, she went missing, and for four weeks I devoted myself to finding her. It was one of the most demanding, gut-wrenching experiences I have known in my many years.

I am now writing a memoir about those two months, and hope to have it published by the end of 2016. To help me achieve that goal, I am active with two writing groups that are contributing to making me a better writer.

While I wish neither Tink nor I had to be put through that wretched ordeal, I will say this. Rather than declaring I grew so attached to her despite what I underwent during those two months, I think my love for her in large part is because of what I endured to get her back. Below is a photo I took of her the first day I saw her.

I love you sweetheart and am so happy our paths in life crossed.

 

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Rising from Ashes: Not the Movie – Me!

In the unlikely event that anyone is still following my blog, I am resurfacing after nearly a year of hibernation. “WTF!!!” you may be thinking. “We figured that you must have died.”  Not quite. In fact I am doing quite well. “Well then why the hell have you not been posting anything?”  No one single reason…and I refuse to be defensive about my inactivity.

The simple explanation was lack of motivation. My stated aim for starting this blog was to write reviews of books I was reading,  books that in one way or another had a connection with the novel I was writing. Well, guess what? I lost interest in the project I started in 2013; or more to the point certain events happened in my life that made working on my manuscript impossible. And by the time matters were resolved, I simply had lost the fire to get back to working on the novel. No novel to write, no need to read books that would make my work better, no reviews to post. Simple as that.

“Okay, then why are you bothering to write anything here now?” Good question. My reason is because I am now in the process of writing a new book. This time not a novel, but a memoir. I can see the eyes rolling  and hear the smug chuckles. Yeah, I know my credibility is a notch lower than that of the U.S. Congress.

So here’s the deal. I am serious about this. Really, I am, though I don’t blame you for doubting me. In fact I feel highly motivated, much more so than I ever did about the novel. On that last point, I plan to one day get back to the novel but probably not for another two years.

“Alright. Get to the chase Ed. What the hell is the memoir about?”

Thank you for asking. The memoir is focused on a two-month period in my life, the time when my novel got thrown overboard because of catastrophic events; well, catastrophic at least for me and a wonderful four-legged creature named Tink.

I began working on the book in August of this year. I have just completed a memoir writing class and in a few days will begin taking part in regular meetings with some very gifted writers who I am confident will give me the support and feedback I need. I have set a goal of having a first draft of the manuscript finished by early spring 2016 and a publication date of later in the year. Now does that not sound like I am taking this seriously? I think it does.

I am not entirely certain what direction this blog will take. Musings about the book, challenges I am experiencing writing it, short excerpts from it, the writing group I have joined, books I have read, all of the above, none of the above? I’ll figure it out. I am also not at this point going to commit to posting something here every X number of days.  I’ll figure that out too and once I get into a groove, try to stay with the flow.

I’m excited; I’m thrilled; I’m motivated. Wish me luck!

Favorite Books That I Read in 2013

I’ve had the good fortune to have read some incredible books these past twelve months. Earlier this week I posted a rant here about the books that appear on a goodreads thread titled Best Books Ever, a list to which I took strong exception. So for the record the works I mention below are the ones I read this past year that I most enjoyed and which I believe have helped to make me a better writer; each of them I found truly outstanding. I will not attempt to rank these; each was superb in its own special way. Thus they are arranged in alphabetical order by title. These authors have all truly inspired me as I work to complete and get published my own first novel. I have also included my Honorable Mention List. A number of the books on both lists were the author’s first published work, wonderful encouragement for those of us who hope to see our own first book in print. The date following the author’s name is where you will find a more detailed review of each of these works in the Archive section to the right. Happy Holiday Reading!

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham: (May 2013) One of my new favorite authors, the story centers around the relationship between two people who meet as young boys, experiment sexually with each other, move apart and reconnect later in life. Beautiful, heartwarming, funny and sad. This book preceded his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Hours.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman: (Feb. 2013) Set in the Italian Riviera and viewed from the perspective of someone looking back on events that happened in the distant past. Aciman creates an erotic energy between two young men that is not consummated until late in the book. Rarely have I ever seen such a beautiful mastery of language and images. I was in complete awe by the time I finished this brilliant literary novel.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: (Feb. 2013) The tragic, heart-breaking story of doomed love set in 1950’s Paris. One of the great breakthroughs of 20th century literature and one perfectly executed.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: (Aug. 2013) What can I possibly say that has not been said ad infinitum about one of the greatest pieces of American fiction? How did I ever get this far into life without having already read it? A masterpiece without question.

Where You Are by J.H. Trumble: (Nov. 2013) I read two books this year by this incredibly gifted author. This one dares to take head-on the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy forcing the reader to not think in black & white terms. She creates a beautiful, complex and thoughtful work in the process.

Winter Birds: A Novel by Jim Grimsley: (Dec. 2013) A grim, painful and frightening novel set in a poor rural North Carolina home dealing with an abusive and alcoholic man who terrorizes his wife and five children. 

Honorable Mention List

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette: (May 2013) This memoir is so painful, so poignant, so beautifully written and deals with the author’s struggle for the first half of his life to accept himself as a gay man. So sad that this great author died way too soon.

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble: (June 2013) The other novel I read by this talented author this year and her first. The story centers on two young men deeply in love who face serious challenges and jealousies when circumstances force them to live far apart from one another. This author has really impressed me.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: (Aug 2013) One of three books I read by Grimsley this year. A disturbing, powerful and moving story of forbidden and unspoken love in the rural South.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: (Sept. 2013) This book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, whose lives are interconnected, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance. At times quite humorous, at other times fairly serious.

Three Junes by Julia Glass: (Aug. 2013) The 2002 National Book Award Winner. Three separate but interconnected stories taking place in Greece, Scotland and New York during three Junes over a ten-year period. Fascinating work!

 

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “A Boy’s Own Story” by Edmund White

A Boy's Own Story

First published in 1982 and considered by many to be one of the finest works with a gay coming-of-age theme, Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story is a nonlinear narrative of a young boy growing up in post-World War II middle America and the struggles he has coming to terms with his homosexuality, an all too common occurrence for those of us from that generation or earlier. This is a pretty cheerless story and one that will make most readers feel uncomfortable, despondent or both when they read it. While not an autobiography the novel reflects White’s real-life experiences: a troubled relationship with both of his parents, their divorce when he was quite young, incestuous feelings for his father, and more. As I read the novel I kept thinking of it as a memoir and now find myself pondering where the line is between fact and fiction in this work.

I first started reading this book several months ago but lost interest and set it aside with the intention of giving it another try at a later time. This time I did finish it and must confess that I am somewhat torn in my feelings regarding this book. On the one hand the author’s writing style is nothing less than brilliant. He has an incredible mastery of the English language and many of the passages are quite vivid and beautifully written. His ability to paint a picture with words is profound. Oh to be able to write so well. However I found the story itself to be somewhat dry and dull. It was difficult to read more than about 30 pages at one sitting simply because the pace of the book was so painfully slow. And while I valued the author’s ability to create wonderful images with his words I felt he did so to excess, so much so that at times I found myself thinking “Enough! Let’s dispense with this and move the story line forward.”

I guess a good way to sum up my feelings was that I appreciated the novel and the author’s ability to describe scenes and characters so well, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed reading it. I am glad to have read this but would hesitate to attempt anything else by the author for fear that I would find it tedious.

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.