My story “Underglaze” is in the forthcoming anthology Nowhereville: Weird is Other People — Tale of the Urban Weird (Broken Eye Books; TBD). Editors Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski have assembled a top-notch roster of artists, including Maura McHugh, S.P. Miskowski, Ramsey Campbell, Kathe Koja, Erica L. Satifka, Nuzo Onoh, Lynda E. Rucker, P. Djèlí Clark, Cody Goodfellow, Wole Talabi, Stephen Graham Jones, Mike Allen, Jeffrey Thomas, R.B. Lemberg, Evan Peterson, and more.
TONI MORRISON – February 18, 1931 — August 4, 2019
The first Toni Morrison novel I read was Tar Baby. At the time, it was considered to be a lesser work in her oeuvre because it was a love story. It was marketed as such — as it was about a black model and her ‘untameable’ Heathcliff-like paramour. My mother, who mostly read romance, had a copy of it, in among her stacks of Danielle Steele and Janet Dailey. I don’t think Mom enjoyed the book. She thought it was too weird.
I remember dipping into its pages and immediately being entranced by the language. It was dense, allusive, and mythic. It was also experimental, profane and erotic. It was a love story, yes, but it was also about decolonization and identity. The novel moved between contemporary scenes and the long, rich shadow of cultural history. Gods and goddess, both disguised and not, appeared in the text. Ghosts were both metaphorical and real.
Tar Baby was my first Morrison novel, but it was far from my last. The Bluest Eye brutally shows the horrors of a colonized mind. Sula made the lives of black women into an epic. Song of Solomon is a magical realist tone poem for the black gaze. And Beloved laid bare the profound evil of America’s past. Morrison used and shaped forms and language itself to create a black American literary cosmology. She was and remains a deep influence on my work, and indeed, on world literature at large.
The opening anecdote in that now-deleted The New Republic hit piece on Pete Buttigieg was so outrageously cruel, that I barely skimmed the rest of the article, which was some vaguely defined bromide against Neoliberalism and assimilation. (You can read a great takedown of it by Andy J Carr here). The thing that stood out was the author’s insistence that being an East Village ACT-UP style gay was the one Correct Way to be Gay.
I remember the Doc Marten, tight jean, activist t-shirt crowd well enough. I had a boyfriend who lived on Long Island and would frequently visit him up there and go out to the East Village. I remember calling those type of gays “clones.” I distinctly remember them being cliquish, gatekeeping and mostly monochromatic. It was like High School the Sequel. It was not a nurturing and welcoming community.
I have always been The Wrong Kind of Gay. I have never been offered the keys to the kingdom of circuit parties, and Fire Island getaways. Part of it has to do with race. Part of it has to with the fact I’m outside the gay ideal. I’m 5’2, have been told that I remind people of Alfonso Riberio, the buttmonkey of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I will never been a tall black Adonis. When I went to clubs and bars, I was, at best, invisible. At its worst, I subjected to thoughtless cruelty and juvenile lookism.
Picture it: Halloween in San Francisco’s Castro. The parade of over-the-top costumes. I think I saw a few Siegfried and Roy outfits, guys walking around with stuffed tigers attacking them. I remember one person dressed up as Hurricane Katrina, an elaborate concoction of paper maiche buildings under water with a phalanx of cotton clouds dyed virulently gray hovering above his head. I remember a man dressed as a flaccid penis, bravely trundling up and down the treacherously steep hill.
I was dressed as the Masque of the Red Death, in a crimson floating satin robe, my face corpsepainted black and white in the semblance of a skull. I remember feeling euphoric, glad to be a part of the pageantry.
Then a drunken guy bumped up against me. We’ll call him Chad. No big deal. It was a crowded space. But when Chad regained his equilibrium, he looked at me, and said to his group of friends, “Look! It’s Gary Coleman!” Then he and his group disappeared into the crowd. I forget what this drunk guy was wearing, and what he looked like, but he and his group were white, blandly handsome and of average (acceptable) height.
This stark reminder of how I was the Wrong Kind of Gay was hardly new. In my adulthood, the only grownups who commented on my diminutive stature were gay men. *Grown* gay men—of all colors. The notion that there is or was a utopian brotherhood of queerness is false.
If snap judgements, identity-policing and name-calling are Correct, I’m ecstatic to be Wrong. Not all of the activist t-shirts in the world can disguise moral vacuity or cruelty.
Today is the official release date of A Spectral Hue, my debut novel for adults. It has already been seen on bookstore shelves—my publisher Word Horde (aka Ross Lockhart) also works in a bookstore and did some early book displays. Direct orders from the publisher have also been sent out early. They’re even signed!
This novel has lived inside of me for many years, and existed in a variety of forms. It was called Summoning A Muse and Peculiar Hue before it got its final title. At one point, the book was just a collection of imaginary artists biographies. During the writing of this book, my mother died. Let’s just say that there’s a lot of her in this book—some of her stories haunt these pages.
If you read it, please spread the word about it far and wide. Reviews on GoodReads and Amazon help with the sales algorithms. If you run a podcast, a book group or even teach college, I would love to talk about this book, or any of my other work. Friends of mine who work in the libraries, please request it for the collection. Post about it on social media—the cover is gorgeous and just screams to be #Bookgrammed.
My publisher Word Horde has put up an appropriate Pride-themed ad for A SPECTRAL HUE. The novel officially releases on June 18th, but if you order directly from Word Horde, you can get a signed paperback copy early.
The insightful Bogi Takács reviewed the novel on their site. Here’s an excerpt:
The story focuses on the fictional town of Shimmer, Maryland, where a movement of self-taught Black artists developed over time. Xavier is a young hipster somewhat out of his element in the small town, where he has just arrived to work on his master’s thesis in art history. He rents an AirBnB from Iris, a woman whose past ties her to the artists Xavier is intent on studying. Linc is a drifter trying to find a job, something, anything in Shimmer… even if it’s in a haunted museum. And Fuchsia… Fuchsia has been around for generations. The life-threads of this all-Black and very queer cast tangle together to form a quilt not unlike the artworks Xavier researches.
The fabulously talented Melissa Scott put together a Storybundle for Pride Month is year. You get 4 eBooks for $5 for the basic Bundle. And for $15 you get 6 extra eBooks!
Scourge of Time and Space, ed. Catherine Lundoff
Sea Swallow Me, Craig Laurance Gidney
Underdogs, Geonn Cannon
Transcendent 3, ed. Bogi Takács
The Eagle’s Heir, Jo Graham and Amy Griswold
Wireless and More, Alex Acks Wells
Skin Deep Magic, Craig Laurance Gidney
Beware of Wolf, Geonn Cannon
Glittership 2, ed. Keffy Kehrli
Spectred Isle, KJ Charles
Proceeds from the sales will go the Rainbow Railroad organization, who do important work relocating queer people who face persecution and violence all over the world.
From their website:
In countries all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) people live in basic fear for their freedom, their safety and their lives. They often have nowhere to turn because their government and police not only tolerate but encourage this brutality.
Rainbow Railroad exists to help these people get out of danger to somewhere safe. In the spirit of and with homage to the Underground Railroad, the mission of Rainbow Railroad is to help LGBTQI people as they seek safe haven from state-enabled violence, murder or persecution. Through funds collected by people like you, we’re able to support, provide information, and help to arrange safe transportation for these LGBTQI people to somewhere in the world where they can live their lives in freedom.
I’m happy that both of my books are included. The Storybundle runs from June 5 to June 24. The link is here.