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.


Sexuality in my Writing

Human-Rights-Quotes-16As a high school teacher, I watch my students declare who they are, often without fear and frequently cheered on by classmates. As National Coming Out Day has come and gone, I think it’s only appropriate to be the role model I wish I had as a kid. I am gay.

To be honest, I haven’t pondered how this impacts or affects my writing. I’ve never gone out of my way to be defined by my sexuality. However, in writing I find I tend to write what I know, and I thought it only appropriate to address this facet of my life present in my writing. I decided easiest to write responses to the questions I’ve been asked over the years.

Do you think there are difficulties in being a gay author?

Honestly? I haven’t come across any at this point. I’m sure for larger authors, there is the typical gossip surrounding their personal lives, but for me, nobody has brought it up. I think because of my audience, if it does come up, they will most likely accept it and move on. I like to think if the Science Fiction community is willing to deal with interspecies relationships, gay characters are no problem.

Have you met any objections from readers?

I grew up in a small town in northern Maine and the idea of being gay was definitely persecuted. However, as I wrote, “I.Am.Maine” and talked about growing up in Maine, my readers surprised me. There were several stories about being gay, being bullied, and falling in love in a town that shunned same-sex relationships and my readers would write me with, “Glad to hear you’re happy.” I feel there was a transition in the decades between when the story started and where the town is now. I think as I grew up, so did the views of my readers. If there were any objections to my casually discussing my sexuality in my childhood, not one of the many readers mentioned it. It was a fear I dealt with when writing the book and I decided to gamble. I won. It was a victory that will stick with me and reminds me that people are inherently good and willing to go along on my journey.

Do you write gay characters into your writing?

In Suburban Zombie High, the only gay character is Victor. He’s modeled after my perception of the military when I was a kid. His being gay is in juxtaposition to the ideal image he has of being in the military. He finds his definition of gay changes over the course of the book. When he comes back for the sequel he understands the irony of being gay and being in the military and has no problem poking fun at himself. His friends accept him with their jokes and it is simply a characteristic of his overall person.

In my Children of Nostradamus series, during one of my edits, as I was giving more back story to a character, I discovered he was gay. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, I was shocked. He defies many stereotypes and out of nowhere, there is a flashback to his boyfriend leaving him which turns into the catalyst of his journey. Now as I’m writing the sequel, I find it being explored even more and it spills over into the dynamic with his comrades at arms.

Because I haven’t had the need to write the sexuality of my characters for the plot I’ve avoided it. However, I finally decided that by avoiding the topic I wasn’t doing them justice, I was trying to dodge a potential bullet. As I try to diversify my character’s ethnicities and cultural upbringings, I feel this will be another think that helps readers connect to the characters. I wish there had been more when I was younger, even in passing.

Do you think there is difficulty in writing gay characters?

Yes. When writing a straight character, I can assume that 90% of my readers have an experience to draw on and weave into the character. However, for a gay character, I think it requires a bit more explanation, and for those fearing the backlash, it has to be slowly introduced. We assume the characters we read are like us, to find out differently can be jarring. I also think we rely on reader expectations, and to have a character who doesn’t fit their preconceived notions, it can be met with disdain. Creating a character who is different from the reader and doesn’t fall into a neatly defined category or stereotype requires the writer to do more work which can be difficult if it’s something we’re trying not to focus on during the story.

Were there any series you read that feature gay characters?

My mom once brought home a book by Lynn Flewelling called Luck in the Shadows. She had it signed by the author and I decided to read it being a devourer of Fantasy at this point. It wasn’t until the second book you discover the main character is very open about his sexuality. Later the two characters begin a romance. I was stunned to believe there were gay characters in literature, especially in the Fantasy genre. While I had read books that alluded to a character’s sexual orientation, she simply presented it without pomp or circumstance. I always appreciated the manner in which she handled their relationship. Later I would read books by Poppy Z. Brite who I fell in love with in the horror genre as she features gay main characters, both good, bad and everywhere in between. Her descriptions while brutal and often times horrific, were a break away from any stereotypes I could imagine. It showed me there was a vast array of rich characters out there that I did have things in common with.

While I’m not sure how it will pan out in my writing down the road, I’m happy to have overcome my own insecurities to the point where I can write them into a book. I’m hoping as I move forward with my current series I can find the balance I need as a writer to feel I’ve done my gay characters justice within the context of the story.


NaNoWriMo – 7 Tips to Tackle 50,000 Words

NaNo-2015-Participant-BannerNovember is fast approaching. The mad dash to write an entire novel in 30 days is just over the horizon. I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2006 and I’ve been the Municipal Liaison of the Massachusetts::Metrowest since 2011. In my years of doing this crazy project, I’ve learned some things that work best (for me) so I’ll take a moment to dispense some advice.

  1. Learn your software early. Every year there are dozens of people (myself included several years ago) that open their laptops on November 1st to try out their newest writing software. Even the simplest switch from Microsoft Word to its online equivalent, Google Docs, can be a jarring and difficult learning curve. It’s impossible to write when you’re not sure how to use your writing software. Take a few days to tinkering and test the software. See if you’re going to like it or if you should stick to what you know.
  2. Know your endgame. I don’t necessarily think you need to know the outcome of your book. I have never plotted for NaNo, at least not past the first few chapters. What I do think is necessary, where do I want the character to be. Do I want them to survive? Do I want them to fall in love? Do I want them to change their view on the world? Do I want the universe to win or implode? I never finish NaNo with the same endgame as I begin. My last book started with the idea of superheroes defeating the big-bad and yet somehow the story turned into characters facing the loss of their humanity. But when I was lost, I was able to ask myself, how do I get them there? The journey for me, is more important than the destination.
  3. Have a love affair with your character before November 1st. This year I knew the book I want to write. Kind of. I knew who the main character was. Kind of. He’s the average guy, in an average job, doing average things. Then the extraordinary happens. I wasn’t excited for him or his story. I thought about killing him and the book before it was even conceived. Then I wrote a short paragraph about him and his struggles. He became less ordinary. He has got some serious problems and he’s panicking as he tries to cope. I wrote the second paragraph (I did it as a journal entry he wrote at the suggestion of his therapist.) At the end of the journal entry, I understood Brian Gentile. He’s not ordinary. He’s desperate. He’s fallen from grace. He’s complicated. He’s a loving dad. He’s a hated divorcee. He’s real now, and I am incredibly excited to document his journey. I’m rooting for him.
  4. Research takes time (away from writing.) Worry about fully understanding your 15th Century Victorian garb later. Not sure where Main St. leads or what the cool kids of the 40’s were saying in casual conversation? It does not matter. Unless the research on Soviet Submarines is needed to write a story taking place on a Soviet Submarine, then it can be skipped. I wrote a book that takes place in the 1920’s and goodness knows I got my facts wrong. But facts can be corrected later. The characters saying, “Groovy” or “Sick” doesn’t matter at this point. You can beautify and enhance your setting later.
  5. Be willing to admit perfection is unrealistic. My first NaNo book is on cinderblocks in the back yard. It’s a disaster. The characters are predictable, and I got lost in the research (See #4) so the book continued to fall flat. I didn’t understand my world and at the end of the book I realized I was trying to justify garbage. It’ll stay on cinderblocks, and maybe I’ll set fire to the book, but, underneath the horrible writing of a lost cause, there is a plot that hasn’t been finished and may still find the light of day. I’m still proud I did it, and I’m thankful I have this idea dwelling in the back of my head. Perfection wasn’t an option, and it took me a while to grasp that, but in the end, it’s made me a better writer.
  6. Understand NaNo is a game. You ever play Monopoly with people and then play it with another group? Notice how nobody can decide on the same rules of the game? Everybody treats Free Parking differently. NaNo is similar. The goal is 50,000 words, but truth be told, you are the rule maker. Want to continue a work you’ve already started, then go for it. Want to write poetry, why not? Only make 20,000 words? You’re not a loser at the game of NaNo, you’re a winner of your edition of NaNo. I’ve always found the people who take NaNo seriously to be a bit out of touch with the spirit of the game. I wear a cowboy hat in NaNo because it imbues me with magical powers. True fact. Have fun with it, and when you find yourself not having fun, find a way to hold onto that childish joy that makes us all a little crazy. My favorite NaNo’ers are the ones who laugh at themselves. Have fun.
  7. You must write to write a novel. I saved the most obvious and the most difficult for the end. Every year I start November hearing great ideas for novels. People are so enthusiastic to tell me their ideas and I get caught up in the well laid mental diagrams they draw. However, by mid November I hear people still telling me their ideas instead of telling me about the writing they’ve done. I get nervous when I hear them still speaking about their idea. The best advice I’ve ever heard about life, “I wish I could tell my 16-year-old self, you have to practice the guitar to be a rock star.” The people who have been holding onto the “Great American Novel” for decades are thinkers, not writers. Writers must write.

So as you begin to think about the crazy journey in front of you, realize you’re amongst a supportive group who want you to succeed. We want to see your Orcs come to life and your Fifth grade Debutante come to life and grace the pages. We want you to finally ask yourself, “Did I just become a writer?” That moment for so many of us is a turning point in our lives and I’m proud to led the rally and watch people on December 1st say, “I finally did it.” Good luck, I have faith in you.


Horror Writer’s Panel – Thayer Memorial Library

This past Saturday, along with five other writers of the New England Horror Writers, I had the opportunity to speak on my first panel. I’ve been a member of this group for a few months and I’ve watched the intense amount of effort they exert to put themselves and their work in front of the public. When an opportunity down the street from me opened up, I decided it was now or never.

It was the right decision.

PanelThe event was held at Lancaster’s Thayer Memorial Library on one of their harvest days. The town is adorable and the library is stunning. When I walked into the rotunda (yes, that is exactly what it was) and saw the bookcases reaching the ceiling and the spiral staircase I thought I walked into a scene from Harry Potter. Along with me were Paula of Seven Bridge Writers (the host of this event) , Moderator Dan Keohane, Myself, Jennifer Allis ProvostTrisha WoolridgeUrsula Wong, and Dale T. Phillips (behind the camera.) While I had talked to these folks for months discussing everything from methods of tracking query letters to what to wear when speaking to the public, this was the first time I met them in person. It was the first dip into a very deep pool for self-publicizing that I know I’ll have to tackle as I get further into this lifestyle. To hear how other writers think, especially when it is 12096283_10153268813129436_2658287549367261782_ndifferent from myself is always fascinating. I figure it’s a growing opportunity.

The audience was the best part. “Who inspired you?” “What advice do you have?” “How do you access the senses?” The questions made the panel portion a breeze, I feel we could have gone for hours more. After, I bumped into a fellow NaNoWriMo writer who I have written with for years now. I also met a gentleman who is preparing to undertake it for his first time. There was also a media person who asked question. It was the right sized crowd for a first timer and I was happy to be able to speak. For some reason I thought I’d sit there and never open my mouth (I know, stop laughing) but overall it was a rewarding exchange with would-be writers and even a few new fans. Because of this one gig, a bunch of random things have been set into motion, such as upcoming articles being submitted to local media to helping uncover new NaNo folk and even finding a home for upcoming NaNoWriMo write-ins.

Now, to get the rest of my affairs in order.


Hardbound Photography of Small Town Maine

I am currently working on a long series of “firsts” for me. The most notable is making a book filled with color photography and creative prose. I am not a flowery writer (most of the time) but there was and has been an urge to show the beauty of blending two mediums together in a book. There will never be a better time than working on the sequel to I.Am.Maine and publishing a limited edition hardcover coffee table book of photography from the Penquis region.

Currently I’m writing short, poignant, passionate, and heartfelt pieces for this book. I’m looking at text less as a narrative and thinking of it as a medium for expression. I think the people who liked my the first I.Am.Maine book will find this book even more approachable, universal, and able to tell the many different truths of small town Maine. None of these stories focus on me specifically and instead are more of the universal truth of living in the middle of Maine’s nowhere. The photography inside will be my own work and feature some photography by Susan Flagg as she’s been instrumental in helping me bridge generational gaps in memories.

This book will be available sometime early in December with the expectation of being able to ship by Christmas. It will be hardbound, thick luscious pages filled with color photography and there will be a limited run. Once it’s sold out, it’s gone. I’ll open it for pre-orders in November and see what the response is before I set a number for how many I will purchase.
Below are the three runner-up book covers images. I think most people will recognize them. Brownie points if you can identify the third one.

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