Category: Behind the Writing

#OrlandoStrong – Too Close to Home

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I have no agenda. I have no real purpose. Another writer said, “I should be able to find the words to find the things I want to say.” I find myself echoing her sentiment. I have no words to describe my feelings right now. This has touched far too close to home.

For those who know me now, it’s hard to believe, but I grew up in the clubs.

When I moved to Massachusetts for college, I had no friends. It was a fresh start. A break. A return to civilization, turning my back on my small town in the center of Maine. My roommates were a psychopath and a cocaine dealer. I was more isolated than I had ever been in my life. Thanks to the internet, my first local friend was an older gentleman named Mark. Our friendship revolved around chocolate ice cream and Gilmore Girls. It was late one evening when he said, “We’re going to the bar.” To my 19-year-old self, I was nervous. I was young. I was insecure. My knowledge of such things was nil.

The bouncer knew I was under age. He simply said, “Don’t drink.” To this day, I remember the rugby shirt he wore. On the other side of the door was something incredible. There were at least a hundred men, talking, embracing, flirting, laughing, and simply existing. They were like me, hefty, hairy, and bit rough around the edges. I was stared at, examined, and measured from afar. I blushed a lot that night, but at no moment did I feel like I didn’t belong. I discovered a community that night. Within the world of gays, I belong to a subset known as the bears. They’re no better, no worse, just different. Like me.

I spent my weekends with Mark going to the bear bar and meeting people. I don’t recall a single name, but I do remember feeling like I had a home. There were adventures. There was dating. There was heartbreak. The weekends gave me a sense of belonging. Without it, I have no idea what may have happened in that tiny bedroom where I hid myself away.

I joined the GSA in college and at some point somebody mentioned going to the club. I had a car. In front of a dorm, with two straight girls and a lesbian, we were introduced and we started an adventure. Though time and space have separated us, two of those adventures have yet to conclude. One I moved to New York in the pursuit of dreams and the other I stood at her wedding celebrating the love between two women.

Axis. A club just off the side of Fenway opened its doors for the “gays.” But it wasn’t just the gays that took up residency. Each person walked through the doors like they belonged. We had the punkers, the tweekers, the drunks, the dancers, the bystanders, the elite, the yet-to-be-lovers, the straight, the gay, the transgender, the no gender, the fluid gender and more. They weren’t the bears I was used to, but there was something amazing about the diversity strewn across the dance floor. For three hours on a Monday night, we moved with the music and let it work through us. We partied like rock stars and each night, in a car speeding away from Boston, we feel a bit of tranquility. It recharged our beaten self-esteem and mended broken spirits.

Friends. Frans. Axis. Vapor. Jaques. 119. The Alley. Ramrod. The Underground. Blackstone’s. Spectrum. Malebox.

I spent five years of my life asking the question, “Where are we going tonight?” Even as the world around me changed and started to accept these differences we celebrate, these bastions became no less significant. As thousands pour into the streets for a Pride Parade, I think, for a few hours each night, we celebrated the only way we knew how. Somewhere between 9 and 1, I celebrated my youth. Between Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, and Madonna remixes, I came out of the closet to the only person who mattered: myself.

There is a bit of this in every book I write. I’m learning to come out again. Those in my inner circle, I have no difficulty using the terms, “gay,” “bear,” or “partner.” In front of my students every day I try to be the role model that makes even the bigots question their beliefs. However, it is coming out as a writer that has been most difficult, coming out to people who I will never interact with, nor speak, nor shake their hands. Instead of these exchanges I leave a little bit of myself in every book I write, hoping some young person out there will pick it up and think, “He’s speaking to me.”

I have no agenda. I have no real purpose. I still do not have the words to explain the sudden weight tugging at my heart. I want to be an angry gay man who is furious that a bastion for those needing to find themselves has been desecrated. Tomorrow I will be angry, for now, I mourn. Hug the ones you love and accept them whatever their differences.


Bangor Comic & Toy Con: The Way Life Should Be

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I have to begin this by saying, I’ve never worked at a convention before. Almost exactly a year ago, I was wandering around a pop culture convention and I met author Chris Philbrook who has greatly influenced my professional habits. I knew when Nighthawks was published, I would meet my biggest fans in the place they gather, comic book conventions. The cover artist of Suburban Zombie High, Amanda Kahl suggested I check out BCTC, citing it was one of her best cons to attend. She was right.

Friday
I arrived early, enough time to grab dinner with dad at Dysarts, and then it was off to the convention. We got a chance to set up and for a couple of hours, we got a small handful of VIP ticket holders walking through the convention. For a first timer, it was a chance to practice my pitch, and learn how to handle people walking by. I might be aggressive in person, but apparently not in sales. I got a chance to talk with people and many of them would swing by multiple times over the weekend to see how I was doing. I might not have made much in the way of money, but the experience was great and already, my mailing list was growing. I also got to see geeks on parade, great costumes, and people who are just excited to show the world what they’re into.

I should also note, I bumped into Nichelle Nichols, literally. It was a bit shocking to see the woman who broke so many barriers for women and for women of color. She laughed politely as I stood in shock. She’s as majestic a human being as you’d expect.

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Saturday
I found a Starbucks in Bangor. It’s out-of-the-way, but heaven help me, I’m exhausted and I needed it. They screwed up my order and gave me two drinks. It was a much-needed screw up.

There were so many people who came by. Geeks of every flavor stopped by my table just to talk. A female Riddler dropped a riddle on my table, posing me with a conundrum. The people were amazing, talking about their costumes, what brought them there, and the smiles were amazing. I watched as an R2D2 strolled through the aisles and people stopped to take photos. Later I would find out the massive droid is frequently seen in hospitals cheering up the children. This is the Maine I love.

I took a moment to stroll through the gaming room and was surprised to see how many people were throwing jabs at one another while playing Pokemon. In a more literal sense, people were throwing jabs with life-sized Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. People continued to stop at the table, asking questions about my books and even family from back home stopped by to shoot the breeze. I even had some fans from Goodreads stop by to talk to me about my book. I was amazed at the experience of sharing my excitement about my book with them. The excitement almost always translated into sales, so this was a great moment for me.

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Sunday
More coffee. I dared only a single cup this day. Thankfully it was enough. At this point, I’ve started recognizing the people at the convention. I spent plenty of time chatting with them, talking about new costumes or about something they’ve seen. Three days out of a year, they get a chance to be themselves in the outside world. Here, geek is chic.

Amanda Kahl brought her youngest, a study six-month-old who is too cute to resist. Typically children are terrified of me, but we seemed to bond over our mutual baldness and desire to eat everything within reach. While I decided to use him to help sell books, he wasn’t quite the salesman I hoped for. I did however get phone numbers. I’m not quite sure what to tell the ladies first, I’m gay? Or I borrowed a child? Either way, babies don’t hurt sales!

Sales did well, but now that we’ve all set into a pattern, I find myself talking to more and more of the vendors. I got to learn about other conventions, how to sell more, and how to reach out to comic shops and illustrators. It was great to get into the “we’re into this together” mentality, and people were amazing. They shared information, experience and best practices with no problem. Business cards are swapped and eventually, I’ll reach out for more business practices.

Chris, the guy in charge of the convention looked frantic all weekend. I wasn’t sure if he was preventing Darth Vader from killing somebody or trying to hide the body of a Deadpool cosplayer. Whatever was going on, it went without a hitch. I can’t imagine the stress he dealt with, but he did such an amazing job, I was ready to sign on for next year before the convention was over. Now that I’m at home, suffering my way through the dreaded “con crud” phase of things and wanting to die, I’m excited to see what long-term rewards this experience provides.

Maine, you geek out with the best of them. I’m proud.


Bangor Comic & Toy Convention: All Merch Must Go

Day Two of the convention (which is technically day three) and it’s finally come to a close. There was something very different about the second day, people were more casual but they were very willing to open their wallets. I talked to a woman and her son about art school and about life up home. I talked to a couple of people about how to get agents and publish work. I even talked to a comic book shop on how to best get my book into stores. People were awesome.

I also had a great time hanging out with Amanda, Derek, and Seana and chit chatting. I got some more time with my new favorite wingman. While the kiddo didn’t help me sell books, he did show me how to properly drool. I am not an expert. Beware.

I’ll write a much longer post tomorrow when I’ve slept for more than a few hours!


Bangor Comic & Toy Con Day 1: The Babying

I don’t have much time before exhaustion overrides my ability to write. I drove to Maine yesterday and set up my booth at the Bangor Comic & Toy Convention. It has been an awesome experience at every turn. For some a complex event, it’s being run efficiently and the host (Bangor Cross Insurance Center) has been unbelievably welcoming of the geeks. The docent says to me, “I’ve never seen people so excited to show off what they love.” I have to agree.

I’m not alone here. It’s almost like a high school reunion at this point. Amanda Kahl (the cover artist of Suburban Zombie High) and her husband, Derek Brewer are at a table behind me with their young one. Amanda is the person who convinces me to do these crazy things. What I’ve learned: geeks are awesome, everybody from your past appears, and if you’re in the market of picking up men, borrow your artist’s child.

Currently my bald mini-me has more likes on Facebook than any post I’ve ever made about my books. I shall begin to use this child to market my books. In the meantime, check out the photos and I’ll be making a much more extensive post when I’m not about to pass out!


Second Floor Balcony Looking Up

IMG_6187I cried. Last night, in Western Massachusetts, in the small town of Northampton, known for their vibrant music and equally loud art, I had the opportunity witness a man I have idolized for years perform his art on stage. In a small community whose dnizens wore more hemp than my days at a hippy college, I had the chance to be moved passionately by the hoarse voice of a poet. It hasn’t been since I stood before Hopper’s Nighthawks have I been moved to tears by art.

I won’t attempt to explain the emotion I experienced due to the words of poet. While I can not speak for the entirety of the crowd, I can say, the beloved fans who cried in his presence and thanked him for being their courage showed me words have power. He spoke of being bullied and having a difficult life and while I think any and everybody can access these sentiments, it was his perspective on feeling that struck me as the most inspiring.

“I wish I could feel as intensely as you do,” were words my ex told me after a class we took together. I do. I feel beyond a point many would call healthy, my moods rise and fall with the stimuli around me so drastically it can be overwhelming. My greatest fear has never been the loss of my mind or being crippled, but losing my ability to feel. While I sat there and listened to him weave tales about his childhood relationships and the people who have inspired him, I found somebody who not only felt as intensely as I do, but has found the words to express it.

Iron HorseI am still finding those words. Crafted and manufactured, I am banging away at a keyboard hoping the string of vowels and consonants until I can say, “That’s beautiful.” I’m not there. Yet.

I shook his hand and told him I was a high school teacher. I told him how I discovered him while raising an army of students to combat bullying. While he told a story about his best friend dying, he had to pause and collect himself. After formulating my exact words I had the opportunity to say, “Because of you, there is another generation of poets being told its okay to shine.” With a scratchy voice he said a simple, “Thank you so much.” The man who is inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and beauty makers was humble enough to say thank you.

I might not be a poet, but I do believe in speaking your truth. We are connected by this invisible thread known as the human experience, and for many of us, it can be difficult to see how we’re woven into a greater tapestry. But there are moments. When sitting in an old building with a stained stage and floral beers, you find a room full of beings with who you are connected.


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