Excerpt from OUT

Deep breath…well, I’m deeply into OUT. I am feeling this story. I just wrote a scene between Chris, the main character, and one of his fathers, David. To read it, you have to know some backstory that you’d have if you were reading the novel. Here goes. Would love any feedback you can give.

David (one of Chris’ fathers) is the powerful head of the Anglicant church, and he’s trying to set Chris up with an older man named McFarland. Chris has just recently had his first sexual encounter with Carmen, the girl with whom he is in love in this world where Perpendicular (opposite sex) couples are outcasts, deviants. Parallels (same-sex couples) rule the world of religion and politics.Chris has just been groped by McFarland, and reacted instinctively by kneeing him in the groin, which might ruin his plan to go away for a weekend with McFarland and facilitate a kidnapping for the Perpendicular Liberation Army. In this scene, he is making amends with David in order to insure that the plan doesn’t fall apart. (David heard about the incident from Chris’ other father, Warren, who has driven McFarland home after the incident.)

“David?” I peek into the room, where a blood-orange fire glows in the hearth. Very Victorian. He’s sitting in his brick-colored leather chair, upright, still as death. “Dad?” Palms sweat, hair stands up. It’s like going to the principal’s office. Except legally the principal couldn’t really disown you or beat you.

I cross soundlessly, digging socked feet into thick Aubusson carpet, a deer creeping up on a hungry wolf. “Listen, I just wanted to apologize—”

He throws a crystal goblet into the fire. Shards of glass scatter, cutting fragments of light into reflecting ribbons. But he says nothing.

I come closer. His fingers are wrapped tight around the stem of a wine goblet, his knuckles white. I guess he heard. “Dad, I didn’t mean—”

“Do you know that Jim McFarland is probably going to run the Anglicant church some day?” He says this quietly, flatly, without emotion. “He’s going to be the most important person in North America, even more powerful than the president in many ways. And you just kicked him in the balls.”

“I didn’t mean to!” I kneel on the rug in front of him. Firelight etches distorted patterns on his face, making it a ghoul’s Mardi Gras mask. “He just…surprised me. That’s all.”

He laughs, a bitter, rage-filled sound that promises that I’ll make up for what I’ve done. “Surprised you. The 17-year-old virgin. Jesus, what did you expect? Did you think he was interested in you because of your brains?’ He leans forward, places the goblet carefully on the the sidetable, and gazes at me with a cobra’s black eyes. “I want to make sure you’re taken care of, Chris. I’m doing this for you. McFarland is a ticket. He’s a rite of passage. And sex…it’s just mechanics. If you’re afraid, I understand, but listen, people have been doing this since humanity began. It can’t be that difficult.”  He thinks it’s about sex. He actually thinks I’m too shy to even be able to kiss someone. I stifle a laugh and pretend to cough.

Here’s where I could totally screw the pooch. If I can’t convince him, it will all be for nothing, and I’ll never get away. Think of Carmen. Think of her lips, her eyes, the bracelet, the night air, the rough tree. Make it count. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ll make it up to him. I promise.”

A sharp intake of breath—he doesn’t expect me to be so accommodating. His body relaxes, and the pose of attack softens as he leans back into the chair. “Well,” he says softly. “That’s…good. Very good.” Sip of wine. “Come here.”

I scoot closer to the chair. He reaches out, strokes my hair. It’s like somebody grabs my heart and squeezes. Tears flood out, sobs wrack my chest, and I crawl up closer like a baby looking for comfort. Damn him. I wish I could just purely hate him, but I can’t.

He gently tilts my chin toward him and wipes a tear from my face. “No need for crying,” he says gently. “I know. I know it’s a lot to take it at once. I know you’re young.” He leans toward me, envelops me in his arms, hugs me to him. “I just want what’s best for you, that’s all.”

Sobbing, my breath strangled in my throat, I choke out, “I know.” And I do. And that’s the hell of it. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, the godly thing, the holy thing. Killing and torturing people who are different, who love differently, this is his prayer to his god. He doesn’t see it as evil. He sees it as divine. And because of this, I cry even more.


Workin’ in LA

So, I’m here in LA with my oldest son, Austin. He’s pursuing his dream: auditioning for five performing arts colleges. The hallways of the Westin Hotel (not where we’re staying…we’re at the Travelodge, of course!) are crammed with young, talented people, all nervous, all bristling with energy, all artists going after what they want.

I’m in the hotel madly working on OUT when I’m not coaching Austin or helping him calm his nerves. I looked at this weekend as an opportunity to get away and to work as well as a time to help him go after his dream. I’m feeling very confident about the direction of the book. I have hacked off about half of what I had, which was going in the absolute wrong direction, and that is always tough. No writer likes to see whole pages go out of the window: after all, you spent a lot of time crafting those words! But go they must, sometimes.

The new version of OUT is right. It feels right. I feel like I’ve finally found the rhythm and heart of the story, and it was very tough for me to find it. OUT is essentially an alternative universe, so details must be consistent and correct, but it’s also a love story and a story of hope overcoming fear. It’s about a teenager pursuing his dream, the thing he knows will make him happy, even if it comes at great risk.

I’m not writing much more here right now because I want to get back to the book, but I wanted to say thanks and much love to all my friends who read this blog and who have supported my own artistic endeavors over the years.

I hope Chris Bryant, my main charater, and I, and Austin, and all the other dreaming teens, are granted buckets full of happiness.

No Fear

I just attended the SDSU Writers Conference. They read my name at the beginning as one of the conference’s success stories. I have not, as of late, felt very successful.

But I feel that I’ve turned a corner. Since the start of the new year (not sure why…I usually don’t buy into that ‘new year, new start’ thing), I’ve felt more focused, more joyful, more able to connect to my writing in an authentic way. I’m making really good progress on OUT, and I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I’m taking a good, hard, critical look at past projects.

I met some new people at the conference, and almost like in dating, I’m hoping for new relationships. Only this time, I am not desperate. I’m willing to accept that if the match is right, it will happen, and if it’s not right, then it’s not right. I keep on keepin’ on, doing my thing, writing my stuff. I’ll find a way to get it out there.

Just wanted to share that. I felt really good about it, and hopeful.

Spring awakening

Too soon to bloom.

Some of you may find this entry a little too spiritual. Fair warning: there be metaphysical dragons here. Turn back now, ye who scorn anything smacking of soul.

Allright, so I guess you’ve decided to come along, so here goes.

I’ve made a lot of changes over the past two weeks. One was to begin to be still, to stop letting life and chaos run my mind. On the first day I started to really try to meditate and be still, I asked for clarity and help in knowing my path. In my mind, I clearly heard a voice that said “check your email.” It repeated several times until I did.

What I found was a response from Carol Rawlins, a woman at church who had a written a sermon WHY THE BUDDHA SMILES that really changed my life. I had written to her about the sermon, which involved the idea of  how “the suffering mind lives toward the future, or the next moment.” Here is her reply in answer to my question about finding the right path:

Or will it find us if we stop making so much sound and fury?

That’s been my experience, but you have to not judge and not invest in expectations. I’m not sure I believe in destiny, because we do have free will, but I do think we have rhythms, ways that will make us happier than other ways. Go for what makes you happiest. Even service can be a joy if it is freely chosen and not a duty, although duty’s not bad either.

As Paul Tillich says about meditating, “As first you will do nothing. Later you will do much.”

Today, I tried the same method, which involved sitting on my blue quilt (the one Ethel made that I dreamt about and Becky gave me.) In my sight is my Kwan Yin statue (also in my dream) and a Tibetan chime I ring three times. I don’t want to bore you about the dream, but if you ask, I’ll tell you. It started this whole process, actually. Anyway, today, the message that came to me was “Cutting the lilacs.”

Now, my lilac trees have long been a source of dismay for me. I loved lilacs as a child, even had them at my wedding, and I found varieties that would grow in the weird California climate. They have only bloomed once in the ten years I’ve had them. That was while I was out of town. By the time I got back,the single bloom had withered.

Today, January, I took the shears and took to pruning the overgrown lilacs that had grown into trees with dead leaves. As I cut, I found three separate blooms starting to emerge. Three. I had cut them off. At first, I was heartbroken, but then in my mind I heard: “Too soon to bloom.” I collected the stunted blooms-to-be and brought them up to my little altar.

As I thought on it, I realized: Pruning needs to happen before things bloom. If not, the old growth, the dead and dying wood and leaves and debris clutter the area, stunt the growth of the blooms, and ultimately stop the beautiful flowers from achieving their potential. I was given a gift of three stunted blooms today, to tell me not to rush, to clear away the old brush that clutters my soul before desperately trying to move forward. I am doing that.

How I Became A Famous Novelist

Like the Fantastic Mr. Fox, I love me some flannel pajamas.

So, I had the flu over Christmas (post-Santa Claus, thankfully, so my son’s illusions are still intact for the moment. I was able to perform my usual magical holiday duties before the virus grabbed me.) Anyway, I received a book at the recommendation of my friend Judy (hey, Washington!) called How I Became a Famous Novelist. Now, many of you know that in my quest for fame, fortune, and critical acclaim, I’ve struggled with what/how to write, what genre, what topics, and of late it has been very illusive. What was so wonderful about Hely’s book is that 1) it is flat out hilarious, especially if you’ve ever published or wanted to publish  and 2) it made me realize that writing because you want to please someone else (basically what the world defines as success means, I guess) doesn’t work.

In his book, Hely’s main character makes the decision to become a writer primarily because he wants to work in his pajamas. I will not deny that this has a strong appeal to me as well. I am a big fan of pajamas, although I have not yet succumbed to Pajama Jeans, those things advertised on TV. (My gay son told me he would disown me if I bought a pair.) So, Hely’s main character studies the best seller lists trying to find a pattern, a secret, a path through the maze of publishing. He concocts a literary piece of crap called the Tornado Ashes Club (can’t you totally see that being on Oprah? I mean, when she has just one show and not a whole  network?)  He writes the thing, sells it, starts doing publicity, achieves his manipulated dream, then crashes and burns when a real writer calls him on his manipulation.

I love to write. I’ve done it since I was a kid. I actually got more joy from it when no one saw it but me. But now, as an adult, I have a burning need to write and have someone else read it, enjoy it, be moved by it. As Betsy Lerner (my favorite writing blogger) said, writers try to get their visions of the world onto paper, perhaps as some means of immortality (my interpretation there.)  Part of the equation is communicating. I won’t lie: I desperately want to communicate through a book, I want to move someone or many someones, I want to be on the NY Times Bestseller list. In some ways, I wish simply writing was enough for me, as it was when I was young.  It was just exciting, a discovery of self, and maybe that’s why it was fun: I was communicating with a stranger (me) and effectively exchanging ideas with my inner self. Now I’ve spent years doing that; talking to myself is no longer satisfying, even if it looks funny and makes people give you spare change.

I am going to the SDSU writer’s conference at the end of the month. I’m meeting with an editor about OUT. I am trying to remember that it is my story, and if other people don’t like it,  that doesn’t mean it’s not good. So, I guess I’m sort of back to talking to myself. Except this time, I guess I’m listening a little bit better. Maybe it will be more satisfying than I think.

Link to Steve Hely’s HILARIOUS book

Gravity Does Not Apply

I was holed up in my son’s room the other day, doing a sort of meditation. I was holed up in his room because I was trying hard not to be disturbed, and he never goes in there, except to sleep. He likes to be in the middle of the action, you know.

Anyway, I was thinking about writing, meditating on the magical process that is at once simple and impossible. Clarity and honesty are the two qualities that lead to true, excellent writing, and they are often ridiculously elusive, especially in my house where chaos is our cleaning lady. Of late, I’ve been on a silent safari, waiting patiently in quiet  for clarity and honesty to find me, because they are not animals you can track down and catch, no matter how pure your motivations.

As I sat in the room surrounded by jungle animal paintings and a gushing fountain of art supplies, I closed my eyes and an image came to me: an image of a lovely, closed-in garden perfumed with white moonflowers, hung with green-glossy vines dripping rain. I saw myself there, quiet, and before me was a stack of translucent blue marbles, blue like the earth from space. I was stacking them, and as I put one to another, they formed a double helix pillar stretching up to the sky, into infinity. The word I heard in my mind was this: “Gravity.”

Gravity? What does that have to do with writing or with this improbable tether of blue marbles?

Then I understood. Gravity does not apply. In the world of honesty, clarity, and true writing, gravity does not apply. The weight that keeps us tethered to the earth—the obligations, the jobs, the physical ills, self doubt, the mental suffering, the telemarketers, television noise, the teenagers with angst and the husbands with missing keys—these forces of gravity do not apply in this space.  Of course, the task of releasing gravity and its various helpers is the tough part. Letting them go, and honoring that phrase sounds simple but is one of the hardest things to do.

Gravity has lots of meanings. It is a physical force, of course, that keeps us from flying off the earth, but it’s also the idea of seriousness, of being grave, of assigning the proper amount of worry to matters of the world. Does this help us as writers? If we are burdened by the gravity of writing the next big thing, or of writing something that will change the world, or of pleasing our agent/editor/critique group, can we ever really be released?

So today when I close the door to my writing sanctuary, I will begin my meditation by chanting my new motto, and I will ride that trail of blue marbles to the next piece of my writing puzzle.  I can’t wait to see what a lack of gravity will do for me.

Like Being in Love

I wrote last on my novel OUT on November 28. Since then, I haven’t touched it because of holidays, kids, school, grading, blah blah blah. I visited with my best old friend Jon (he’s not old, just the longest-running friend I have) and we talked a lot about writing and life. He told me that my new beginning for OUT was so much better than the old one, which I felt too.

Tonight I was eager to get back to the book, and I read what I’d written previously, hoping for a little taste of inspiration or maybe just a “well, that doesn’t suck.” Instead, I read something that I didn’t even remember writing. It felt so real and so raw to me that it seemed as if someone else penned the story. I was sucked up in it, feeling sad and proud and desperate and confused, just like my character was feeling. And when I finished reading what I had written, I was bitterly disappointed. Why hadn’t I written more? I didn’t want it to end!

And that was like being in love. Thanks, Jon. It was lovely to see you, and I can’t wait to show you this book, one I know I will be proud of.

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