Teaching when I was young
I have written six books. The first, called Doubting Conscience: Donne and the Poetry of Moral Argument, is a scholarly analysis of many of the poems by John Donne, the seventeenth-century poet and Anglican preacher who lived when Shakespeare lived and who wrote some of the most famous poems of the English language. He said, “No man is an island” in a famous sermon, and he wrote “The Extasie,” “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” “The Flea.”
In many of these poems, a man is arguing with a woman, and very often the point he is making is that he wants to have sex with her, and she says, no. Then he begins to argue with her about what she’s refusing. This may be the kind of exchange one hears between two people deeply in love—he seems to be showing off—and it may be that one can imagine her laughing when she hears what he has to say about her reasons to say, no. She sets up the situation where he can show off, and the poems are in consequence a great pleasure to read. Doubting Conscience also looks at some of Donne’s later poems, for example, Holy Sonnet XIV, “Batter my heart, three-personed God.” It’s a short book—200 pages—but an intense one, and various reviewers have found it to be interesting and important. I published Doubting Conscience in 1975, but my mind was not built for scholarly books, and I left teaching in 1983. Even now Doubting Conscience appears in the bibliographies of current books on Donne. Even though I don’t plan to write another scholarly book, I am pleased with this one.
Why did I start writing gay books?
I started writing gay books in 1986, two years after my friend was murdered by three homophobic boys. In the weeks after the murder, I understood that our experiences—experiences of the gay men and women in a small town in Maine—were part of the history of gay people in America in the last half of the twentieth century. I believed, when my friend was murdered, that we needed to write it down, both to understand what had happened to him and to us but also to make a record of the way it was for us. This became the novel Ceremonies (1986-1890). After Ceremonies, I wrote a book on the last days of his drinking for a gay alcoholic. This book is entitled Winter Rain (1990-1992). When I finished one book, and another called me—the books that followed Ceremonies and Winter Rain were Race Point Light (2003-2007), and Adam in the Morning (2008-2010)— I wanted to write about the abuse which gay men and lesbians experienced during the last sixty years. I wanted to write how it felt to experience that abuse, what it did to them, and I wanted to write about what they did about it and what they did to those that had so abused them. I decided to write about fighting back. Then I realized quickly how little our literature was writing books about the real lives of LGBTQ people, about this fighting back. This realization became the small book Earthrise (2019). I have written full-time since 1984, supporting myself at a variety of jobs.
Why am I not publishing through New York publishers?
We have been told several times by different people in the publishing industry that the market for gay books has “vanished.” If this is so, this is at least partly a consequence of the lack of respect the publishing industry has had for queer readers. The great majority of gay books published today are for a narrow spectrum—beach reading, varieties of gay romance fiction, and late adolescent coming-out fiction. These books sell many copies on a few subjects endlessly repeated.
Many people don’t look to gay fiction as a source of serious literature. This is so because the corporate buy-out of individual publishers now means that corporations control which books are going to be published—the ones that sell large numbers of copies. Seeking a high profit level is a problem for readers and writers because some books are just not going to be best-sellers and yet are very very good books—different, new, ground-breaking, courageous—but not big sellers. Timidity when faced with controversial subjects is another problem. We impoverish our literature when we are afraid to publish books on controversial subjects. The publishing industry thinks it needs to find a manuscript that will not offend anybody and will sell thousands of copies. It is a recipe for pablum.
Adriana Books is part of a movement away from the big New York publishers. We have joined an economic model which allows any book to be published without requiring that it sell many thousands of copies. This has the advantage of freeing minority publications from the iron control of corporate publishers. This model also saves trees and liberates the more controversial book subjects from the controlling decisions of large corporations in New York.
We have published all of my books either as ebooks, in both epub and mobi format, or as print-on-demand books. We sell ebooks online through our own website, Adriana Books, or, for print-on-demand books, from Lulu Books.
A comment on structure and method
Taken together, these novels are an extended meditation on what it has meant to be gay in America in the last half of the twentieth century.
These books differ from many books in their point of view. Ceremonies is about the consequences of a murder of a gay man. The first question many people ask is, “Did the cops catch the people who did it?” Well, yes. In the Prologue. I was never much interested in the boys who did it, providing the criminal justice system did its job. In a homophobic culture some homophobia is going to become violent. I was interested in the fact that the murder had been committed and in its consequences. One publisher turned down the book with the comment that “You don’t have any straight characters, consequently you’re only telling half the story.” Well, no. I was interested in telling the whole story of what happened to the gay community as a consequence of what the homophobic boys had done. The boys were not part of that story, but almost no book is long enough to tell all of the consequences of what the boys had done.
Triptychs & Trilogies
I have called Ceremonies and Race Point Light, and Adam in the Morning, the “Stonewall Triptych.” It used to be that the word “triptych”was most often applied to a group of three paintings placed over an altar, often connected by hinges, connected by theme. In the twentieth century, “triptych”has been used by Francis Bacon, among others, to describe three paintings closely related by subject matter and theme, and meant to be hung together. The idea differs from “trilogy”in that, in a triptych, the characters are not the same in all three paintings, and the paintings have no chronological connection, but the subject is the same.
Author photo by Bill Chisholm