Category Archives: Gay and Lesbian Issues

“The Next Big Thing” Interview: Andy Peters

I’m happy to host my friend and fellow Lambda Literary Retreat attendee Andy Peters as he answers  the “The Next Big Thing” interview questions about his new novel.

What is the title of the book?

Werecat: The Rearing

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It started as an experimental piece. I got turned on to shapeshifter and vampire stories only recently, and, as with most everything I read, those stories made me think: how could I write a great story in that vein from a totally queer point-of-view? Not just with gay or lesbian sidekick characters – I wanted to create a gritty, sexy love story between two men that was central to the plot, and really central to a fantasy world. I’m also fascinated by cats, so writing the fantasy aspect came pretty naturally to me.

What genre does your book fall under?

Urban fantasy

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I actually blogged about that subject before my book got picked up by a publisher. What writer doesn’t daydream about casting her/his work? For Werecat, it’s extra fun because I think feline shapeshifters would have to be sexy and dark. I imagine an underground world populated  by hot, scruffy men, high-shouldered and lean, sort of a throw-back to the grunge or heroin-chic model trend of the 90’s. They would have to have great eyes too.

My main character Jacks is a lost, rebellious college drop-out, and I’d be delighted to cast François Arnaud from the Showtime series The Borgias in that role. Jacks’ love interest Benoit would have to be smoking hot with a dangerous vibe. My first pick is Michael Fassbender. Then there’s a supporting character Farzan who may or may not get in between Jacks and Benoit. Farzan is tightly-wound and kind of goofy. He makes me think of Kal Penn from Howard and Kumar.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Werecat is about a young man who goes to Montréal for Spring Break, gets picked up by a handsome drifter, and ends up on a terrifying and erotic journey into the world of feline shapeshifters.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Werecat: The Rearing is the first book in a series of novellas, which are 20-40K words apiece. I wrote the first draft in about three weeks.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Allison Moon‘s lesbian werewolf novel Lunatic Fringe was a major departure point. Beyond her excellent re-imagining of werewolf mythology, her book made me think about the similarities between the shapeshifter trope and the experience of being queer, both in obvious ways like having to hide and being misunderstood, and in ways that are important to me politically and spiritually.

I think there’s something liberating about being able to inhabit two worlds. Queer people learn how to fit in, and sometimes pass within a heterosexual world, and we also cross “genders” at least in our private lives if not publicly. The Native American idea of two-spirit intrigues me – possessing both a female and a male aspect – and I could go on about that subject extensively. Suffice it to say, when I started writing about gay, feline shapeshifters, I became inspired by the opportunities to explore the different facets of having a dual nature, socially, sexually, and politically.

I also worked a good bit of cat mythology – ancient world and native – into the story. Retold myth and legend is a fairly steady thread in everything I write.

Is your book out in print, upcoming from a publisher and/or represented by an agency?

Werecat will be published by Vagabondage Press and is upcoming in May 2013.

(“The Next Big Thing” book interview project asks writers to answer a series of questions about their recent or forthcoming book, post it on their blog/web-space, and tag others for the next week.)

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“The Next Big Thing” Interview Project: John Copenhaver

Me in hat“The Next Big Thing” book interview project asks writers to answer a series of questions about their recent or forthcoming book, post it on their blog/web-space, and tag others for the next week.  Thanks to poet Chloe Yelena Miller for tagging me last week!

What is the title of the book?

Dodging and Burning.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My inspiration came from two separate but connected events:  My reading of Walter Benjamin’s analysis of photography, and my decision to come out of the closet as a gay man.  Benjamin argues that photographs distort reality and only can be given value if paired with the right caption.  Being in the closet is like being a photo without a caption.  The only way to correct that distortion is to tell the story behind the façade.  Dodging and Burning is the mystery behind a crime scene photograph, but more accurately it’s an exploration of the way photos can twist our understanding of others and ourselves if their captions remain unwritten, their stories untold.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary Mystery.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I love this question, because I think about it a lot.  Sadly, most of the actors I’d cast are dead.  One of my main characters, Bunny Prescott, is based on Gene Tierney; in fact, other characters tell her that she resembles Tierney.  But, to play fair, I’d cast Elle Fanning as Ceola (my earnest teenager), who has both gravitas and levity, Saoirse Ronan as Bunny (my love-confused debutant), who can be chilly and vulnerable, and Andrew Garfield (my wounded gay war photographer), who is wonderful at playing pained but not self-indulgent characters.  I loved him in Never Let Me Go.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Two young women attempt to solve the mystery of the photograph of beautiful corpse only to discover that the true mystery lies in the heart of the photographer.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Three-years.  Keep in mind of course I was working full time as an English teacher.  It took several more years to whip it into shape.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?


It began at Bread Loaf English of English when I took a course called “Photography and Modernity.”  It changed the way I looked at photography and, eventually, all visual media.  Also, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, a genre-bending novel, a masterpiece that skillfully weaves together low and high forms.  And of course, my own personal journey out of the closet.  My theme, as I see it,  is the need for narrative.  Images without narrative (or worse images with a false narrative) can twist our understanding of reality, pushing us further from empathy and deeper into darkness.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by the fabulous Annie Bomke of ABLiteary and currently in search of a publisher.

Look for these writers’ Next Big Thing interviews:

Kate Hattemer

Andy Peters

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Lambda Retreat Readings

The Lambda Retreat I attended in August was such a great experience.  During that week, each of the Lambda Fellows read from the piece that he or she had been working on.  Soon, all of our videos will be posted on Lambda Literary’s website.  But, here’s a look at my reading from Dodging and Burning.

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Friends on the Nightstand

I’m lucky to know many wonderful people who write fiction—and who write it well.  Recently, quite of few of my friends, whose writing I’ve encountered in workshops and writers’ groups, have found success in publishing.  Their books are now populating my bedside table either waiting to be read for the first time or encountered again in published form.  In each case, I can attest to their skill and creativity as writers, and it pleases me to see their names shuffled in with other great writers.

Rebecca Makkai was a fellow classmate of mine from Bread Loaf School of English.  Her novel, The Borrower, came out this summer.  It’s about a young children’s librarian who kidnaps a precocious 10-year-old runaway to protect him from an overbearing mother and the anti-gay classes he’s enrolled in.  Kirkus Reviews writes, “Makkai takes several risks in her sharp, often witty text, replete with echoes of children’s classics from Goodnight Moon to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as more ominous references to Lolita . . . the moving final chapters affirm the power of books to change people’s lives even as they acknowledge the unbreakable bonds of home and family. Smart, literate and refreshingly unsentimental.”  I really think teachers would LOVE this one.

My good friend Amy Stolls, who is the literature program officer at the National Endowment for the Arts and has visited my classes at Flint Hill, has a new novel out called The Ninth Wife.  It‘s about a woman who, on the verge of giving up on marriage, meets a man and falls in love only to discover that he’s been married eight times before.  She goes on a quest to meet all of his eight ex-wives, so that she can decide whether or not she can make the leap of faith to be his ninth.  Carolyn Parkhurst, bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, writes, “The Ninth Wife is a vibrant, nuanced novel about marriage, identity and the moment when we realize that the shimmer of fantasy pales next to the tumultuous reality of ordinary, everyday happiness.”  This makes for a great summer read—and the summer’s not over yet!

Matt Norman—a good friend and fellow MFA-er—has just published his first novel, Domestic Violets.  I read his very funny novel as a manuscript, so it’s particularly satisfying to see it in its sharp, published form.  Booklist writes,  “Reminiscent of Richard Russo’s earlier work, Norman’s refreshingly witty style is perfectly suited to articulating the trials of a middle-aged cynic. Wonderfully fast-paced, hilariously genuine, difficult to put down, Domestic Violets is an ideal first novel.”  His novel reflects the need for cynical humor in navigating today’s troubled workplace without every being too cynical itself.

My new friend, Allison Moon, who I met while at the Lambda Literary Retreat, is self-publishing her first novel called Lunatic Fringe, which is a lesbian twist on the classic werewolf story.  Take that, Twilight!  She’s making creative, out-of-the-box choices in her writing and in the way that she’s publishing and promoting her work.  I’m really excited to follow her and her career.  I can’t wait to get my copy of the novel!

Close friends from my MFA days, Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski (also husband and wife), continue to publish superb short fiction.  Art also reviews crime novels for The Washington Post and is the marketing director for George Mason’s Fall for the Book.  Tara is the senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.  Recently Art’s crime novella “Rearview Mirror,” won the 2011 Derringer Award for Best Novelette from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Tara published her story “The Etiquette of Dementia” in the most recent Mid-American Review (Fall 2010).

It’s a great feeling to see my friends getting published and getting recognition.  I hope some of you, out there, will join me in enjoying their work!

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Finding what I was looking for … at the Lambda Writers’ Retreat

Left to Right: Andy Peters (Queer Y/A Fastasy Writer), Robin Talley (Queer Y/A Writer), Katherine Forrest (Retreat Faculty, Mystery Writer), Yours Truly

Here, in DC, I have many lovely and supportive writer-friends, and many wonderful and encouraging gay and lesbian friends, but I know—really know—no gay or lesbian friends who write seriously.  Last week, I spent seven days at the Lambda Writers’ Retreat at UCLA getting to know many amazing LGBT writers and learning even more about craft in my workshop on genre fiction led by Katherine V. Forrest, a pioneer lesbian mystery writer and editor.

I’ve been in and out of a lot of fiction workshops and literary communities, and frankly, before I arrived at LA, I was worried that this experience would be no different.  By this point—after cycling through both undergraduate and graduate writing workshops, which for the most part confused and befuddled me—I’d written off that sort of experience.  I craved direct instruction on craft, something I’d never had in a fiction workshop.  I’ve been critiqued out of my mind by my peers, but never explicitly lectured to about the do’s and don’t’s of craft.  For the most part, I’ve had to figure out craft on my own.  Thank God for Katherine! For the first part of the workshop, she offered concrete guidelines on writing genre fiction.  Then, when we began critiquing novel excerpts, I had the most supportive and honest workshop I’ve ever experienced.  It was downright therapeutic for me.

What amazed me the most about the Retreat, however, was that so many people with so many different backgrounds, inclinations, and identifiers could come together and support one another without the uneasy undercurrent of competition.   I know this sounds a bit sentimental—believe me WASPy stoicism runs deep in my blood—but what I witnessed was a community of people whose first impulse was to love and accept one another, not be suspicious of one another.  Perhaps, it’s just that I’ve lived in DC too long, but that experience was really unique for me.  It has a lot to do with the strength of the LGBT community and with the way Lambda Literary is getting things right.

Writers and artists of all types need to support one another like this more often—but as it becomes increasing competitive to publish, this sort of experience, I imagine, will become even rarer.   My hope is that, in the future, MFA programs and the like will begin seeing that part of their responsibility to their students is to help them form a strong sense of community.

Ultimately writing is a solitary experience, but being a writer doesn’t have to be.

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“The Houses We Live In”: Historical Truth and Imagination

Using the Hipstamatic camera app on my iPhone, I took this close-up of one of the ads on the flyer.

My partner Jeff and I have been redecorating my office in anticipation of the arrival of new furniture which I purchased recently (See “Creating Space to Write”.).  On Saturday, we ripped up old wall-to-wall carpeting that had been installed over 10 years ago by the previous owners of the townhouse.  As we pulled the carpet pad back, we noticed a loose board in the pine flooring.  Curious, we lifted it up.  Inside we found a treasure trove.

The townhouse was constructed in 1901, and for quite a few years, it served as a boarding house.  It still feels compartmentalized, each room its own little bubble of life, like a dormitory.  So, it’s not surprising that one of the boarders who lived here would leave behind traces of his or her existence.  Under the floorboard and coated with fine dust, we found a letter penned by a woman named Catherine; a hand-drawing of Harold Lloyd, a famous silent film comedian; three empty Chesterfield cigarette packets; two Hershey bar wrappers; and an ad for women’s cosmetics, all dating back to the 1920’s or early 1930’s.

This is the sort of thing I live for.  The past has always held a fascination for me, particularly the first part of the 20th century, when life was rapidly, breathlessly becoming modern, the American infatuation with progress crashing into older, more conservative sensibilities.  I even set my first novel during the 1920s, and my second during the 1940s.  Finding fragments from a life lived during the 1920’s and 30’s—especially fragments which seem so unconscious (not orchestrated for posterity)—is food for my imagination.  So, I took the time to transcribe Catherine’s letter.  Here’s what I could piece together:

Dear Pal,

Please don’t think I have forgotten you I only wish you thought of me as much as I do of you.  But you know everything is with … it is quite unfors … me … to see you … then I do … wish you could … how badly I want … you I have a lot … you.  If you can a … to come to see me real soon let me know and I will be at home any day you say.  The weather have has been very hot and sulky here we haven’t … any rain for nearly three … so you know how hot … I went to the movies and saw dancing sweeties.  I mean it was a really hot picture.  I just wish you could see me now.  It is 3:00 AM and I still have my night gown … I haven’t even combed my hair … writing this letter with …  me and I got ink all … night gown and leg.  Some … [a]sk?)  We were Chapel … s Sunday. W… the water … stagesant [stagnant?] do to hot weather … [wou]ldn’t allow you to take any showers on account of the shortage of water  For there hadn’t been any rain for a long while.  Gee it surly is lonesome here all day with nothing to do … time I realy hate my self … answer soon as I want … from you—  Catherine

So, who is Catherine?  Did she live for a time in my office?  Did she smoke Chesterfields and blow smoke out the window, hiding them when the landlord came around?  She must have loved Hershey’s bars, but why hang on to the wrappers?  Why did she keep a doodle of Harold Lloyd?  Who is the “Pal” she addresses in the letter?  Or maybe it was “Pal” who lived in my office.  After all, the letter is folded as if it had been mailed.  But what would he be doing with a cosmetics ad?  Of course, there’s no reason why Pal couldn’t have been a woman, right?  One thing is certain, though, Catherine missed Pal and felt insecure about their relationship: “I only wish you thought of me as much as I do you.”  There is irrefutable residue of her emotion.

Like the letter, the lives of these people are so full of ellipses—ellipses that no amount of research can fill.  I believe it’s the job of the writer of serious historical fiction to use his or her imagination to fill in the ellipses left by time.  History is recorded almost always by those in power and most certainly with posterity in mind.  It’s up to the writer of historical fiction to see beyond the facade of history and imagine how life was lived by those not in power—women, blacks, gays, etc.

The contents of the hiding place underneath the floorboards in my office

This reminds me of a passage from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own:

“For fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science my be; fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners … But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.”

Shortly after this passage, Woolf imagines the life of Shakespeare’s sister, Judith, who she invents to demonstrate how it’s only through imagination that we can begin to understand the truth of the past.

Catherine and her lover have already begun to stir in the corners of my mind.  I’m sure that I’ll write about them, and it will be 99% invention, but no less true, no less significant.  I must recreate them to say something about the past, to give a legacy for what has been forgotten or edited out of the history books.

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Representing Identity as Fluid

I believe identity is fluid, always changing, rarely static even in those who wish desperately to fix their identity in place.  We participate in creating our own identities (I’m doing so right now as I write), but we are changed by things that happen to us—events out of our control—and that also continues to shape our identities.

As a gay man, the question of identity swarms around me.  I look out at the mainstream world, whatever that is, and I get angry, because I see gay people being stereotyped, often in negative or limiting ways.  I look out at gay culture, and I get annoyed because, it seems, gay people often play into these same rigid stereotypes.  Then, I look at myself, and although I have surface qualities and tastes that may be categorized as typical of a gay man—yes, I like nice shoes and nice clothes and I have exceptional hygiene (i.e. I take a long time in the shower)—I don’t see an absolute, and I don’t easily identify with any particular stream of culture, gay or otherwise.  I’m just, well, me.  I imagine a lot of people feel this way about themselves.

What I do find remarkable, though, is how much I’ve been formed by what’s happened to me—and not just what happened, those are merely the inciting incidents, but how I’ve remembered and re-remembered what happened.  This fascinates me the most, because I have the least control over it.  It’s a part of the American motto that we should be completely in possession of our identities and that through sheer will we can be and do anything.  To think this way, it seems to me, is folly—at times grand folly (Think: The Great Gatsby), but folly nonetheless.  (Jay Gatsby does end up dead in a swimming pool at the end).

It’s not that I’m fatalistic.  No, but rather that I see identity as the always shifting struggle between fate and will, circumstance and action.  We’re neither completely in control or out of control of who we are.   This is a fascination that’s at the heart of my novel, Dodging and Burning, and a truly remarkable novel called The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas.

The White Hotel follows a young, neurotic opera singer’s growth in self-understanding between WWI and WWII.  It’s structured brilliantly.
Each chapter peels back another layer of the main character, revealing and correcting what you thought you knew about her—or what she thought she knew about herself.  As time passes, she sees events in her past more clearly, and she continues to grow even, it seems, after she dies. (You’ll have to read it to see what I mean!)  I love this book, because it never has the character come to an absolute understanding of herself.  She just continues to pull back the layers.  Identity is represented as fluid—and it’s a truly beautiful thing.

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