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Awards Night

That's me and Michelle Tea, author of "Valencia," at the Lambda Awards. Can you tell we were kinda crazed with joy?

11/01/01     Coming up this week: I'll be reading at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books on Tuesday, November 6. This is the last San Francisco reading I'll be doing for the forseeable future; I'm ready to take a break from the podium and just focus on my next novel, which is moving too slowly for my liking (I guess that's inevitable given the amount of mental and physical energy I've put into promoting THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS). But more important than this being some kind of personal swan song, the reading is a chance for me to share the podium with a good friend of mine, Alexander Chee, whose first novel, EDINBURGH, has just been published. Alex and I started out writing around the same time, went to grad school for writing at the same time (though at different schools) and now, most happily, have books on the shelves at the same time.

EDINBURGH is beautifully written, highly insightful and sometimes disturbing in its depictions of the struggle to outlive painful childhood memories. Fantastic passages about Korean mythology, Scottish history, singing in a boys' choir, and participating in AIDS activism in the early 1990s, plus frank look at the longterm, and complicated, effects of childhood sexual abuse, make it more than a simple coming of age story. This will be Alex's only S.F. reading, so I'm hoping the local crowd will show up in force.

The reading is sponsored by Central Booking, a book-lovers website run by Kevin Smokler, also of San Francisco. The site has a lot of different functions; one of the best is the chance to use bulletin boards to post opinions on all sorts of topics related to contemporary fiction. Alexander and I will be answering on-line posts in the days following our reading. Central Booking is providing wine and snacks at the bookstore, so you'll be all lubed up when the reading starts. Clean Well Lighted Place for Books is located at Van Ness and Turk in San Francisco. The reading starts at 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday November 6.

10/01/01     I debated a lot before I went to Portland, Oregon, whether or not to take the trip. I'd been invited by Powell's City of Books to read at their Hawthorne store, an annex to their legendary, gigantic downtown location. A lot had happened in the previous weeks, which included the sickening events of September 11th. In the face of a terrorist massacre and the shockwaves of grief and anger that were (are) still resonating, I wondered plenty whether or not anyone would show up for the reading---whether or not anyone could possibly care to hear a little story about a boy in the suburbs in 1978. I didn't know if I even cared myself. On top of it, I was feeling skittish about flying; I've never liked to fly, but it was even worse to consider being on a plane knowing that four passenger jets had been used as weapons of destruction just a few weeks earlier. I consulted with friends and family and colleagues in publishing, and in the end decided to follow my gut, which was to just go ahead with the trip as planned. A lot of writers have been cancelling book tours and readings. Even though I'm not one to insist, as the media commentators and politicians are, that we all just have to "get back to normal" (a word I'm not much a fan of, as you might guess), I did feel a desire to carry on with plans already made, in the hopes of connecting with people in a way that had nothing to do with responses to tragedy. It seemed to me a kind of civic duty, an expression of freedom. With fundamentalists killing in the name of God, and the U.S. government quickly seeking to dismantle civil liberties in the name of security, I doubt I'll ever take freedom for granted again.

In the end, I'm really glad I went. The flying experience was painless--eerily quiet, both on the ground and in the air, as passengers seemed more than a little spooked by the whole enterprise. Security was tighter than usual, but by no means took two hours, the amount of advance time recommeded by the airlines. (I'm sure it would have been a different story if I was of Arab descent.) The reading itself drew about forty people, many of whom, as in the previous reading, were strangers--that is, fans of the book. I was heartened by the response. As I do at most readings, I read the drive-in scene from Chapter One, and the crowd laughed in the all the right places, and applauded at the end. I felt really "on," much to my own surprise, given the state of mind I'd been in up until then. It was a relief to know that there still is a place for fiction-writing in this scary, unpredictable, changed world. And finally, the weekend in Portland was a lot of fun. Friends showed Kevin and I a great time--Juliette, a college friend of mine, and her husband, Bruce, showered us with food and wine, and lended us a car to drive around town; Kevin's friend Jason and his guy, also named Bruce, led us on a decadent crawl through Portland's strip bars; and other friends, like Monica and Shannon, shared meals and coffee. The events of September 11th were never far from consciousness, but it was a relief, for a few days, to not have that be the only thing on my mind.

08/30/01     Last night was my first reading since the publication of the paperback, and it was definitely a different kind of event in some small, but significant, ways. For one thing, about half the crowd was made up of people I didn't know, people who weren't friends, or friends-of-friends (-of-friends, and so on). During the readings I did to promote the hardcover, it often seemed that everyone in the audience was connected to me by just "two degrees of separation." I'm excited to discover, a year later, that there are now fans who are seeking out the readings simply because they liked the book.... I also got to meet a fellow named Jessie, who I'd originally made contact with after I found a positive review of THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS on his weblog, contrasts.net. We both got a chuckle out of the fact that the book he asked me to sign was already signed (he'd bought it that way), and we debated whether or not another signature doubled the value or cut it in half. He and the friend he brought along had some interesting plot-related questions to ask--another benefit of doing a reading a year later: by now, many people have actually finished the book, and the discussion can get deeper.

The reading at A Different Light was set up as a celebration of San Francisco Lambda Award-winning authors. I was preceded at the podium by Krandall Kraus, who read from a book he co-wrote with his lover, Paul Borja, called IT'S NEVER ABOUT WHAT IT'S ABOUT. Krandall introduced me with some very genuine and heartfelt words--the kind of thing that every writer secretly craves: praise from a fellow writer. Often, at bookstore readings, the person who introduces you hasn't read your book, or mispronounces your name, or just doesn't know what to say, and you shuffle up to the microphone feeling a bit embarrassed. Krandall's words not only made me feel valued as a writer, but, in the way he described how reading my novel had led to our budding friendship, touched me greatly.

Krandall read a passage from his book, which, I should add, is subtitled What We Learned about Living while Waiting to Die, that urged the reader to see life as "a process, not a product"--appreciating it as it unfolds, rather than putting all the emphasis on a final result, as if you're out shopping for the perfect item. He asked, "What if you knew you were going to die at 1:15 today? What would you want to be doing at that time?" Afterwards, over drinks, my friends and I wound up discussing what we had been doing at 1:15 that very day. There was something compelling about the specificity of the time; it was concrete, unnerving. We were all a bit humbled in realizing how much we took for granted every day, always sure the clock will keep on ticking to the next minute.

08/05/01      It's been a year since THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS was published in hardcover. Seeing my first novel on the shelves of bookstores was literally a dream come true, a goal achieved after seven years of writing / rewriting / revising / trying to find an agent / trying to find a publisher. The ups and downs are probably typical of any creative struggle, though having stared down so many personal demons, not to mention braved so many rejections from the publishing world, it's been especially sweet to get this far. In many ways it's taken me a full year to let the whole thing sink in; to understand what it means to "let go" of something you worked on for so long and have it exist in the world, beyond your control. Getting emails from strangers telling me they read the book and were affected by it is truly a startling experience; I find myself thinking, "OK, so a few days ago, when I was going about my everyday life, this person I've never met was sitting down reading something I wrote." It's such a long way from that anonymous feeling of working alone at my computer, wondering if I'd ever complete the book, that I sometimes can't quite put both halves together into one single picture.

Now I'm working on another novel and find once again it's a struggle to create, though different this time. I'm more confident, I suppose, knowing that I'm capable of this task (something I wasn't always sure of the first time around), and knowing that there are people who say they're ready to read it when it's done. To all of you, I say, "Thanks, but have some patience. The next one is a long way from completion!" Meanwhile, tell your friends about THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS, which is now available in paperback. My sincerest thanks to everyone who read the book, or came to a reading, or in anyway helped spread the word. As strange as I've felt at times, this has been an amazing year.

08/05/01     I'll be kicking off the paperback release with a reading at A Different Light bookstore in San Francisco. The night is also a celebration of winning the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Fiction. I'll be sharing the podium with two other SF Lambda winnders, Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja, whose IT'S NEVER ABOUT WHAT IT'S ABOUT won in the category of Spirituality/Religion.

06/20/01     The San Francisco Bay Guardian invited me to contribute to their annual Queer Lit section. I wrote a short column considering the gay-coming-of-age label that my novel's been saddled with, and the publishing industry truisms that surround the work of gay authors.

08/00-06/01     I've put all of the past year's news--detailing the hardcover release, book tour, reviews and feedback--on a separate page.