Why Pilgrimages Can Be Good For Us: My Pilgrimage to the Brandywine Museum of Art

Me geeking out at the NC Wyeth Exhibit at Brandywine Museum in Chadd’s Ford, PA.

I have been a big admirer of the works of NC Wyeth for a long time. You might remember his illustrations from your favorite classic YA adventure novels (now assigned texts in college 19th Century and turn of the century literature classes), books like Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Last of the Mohicans, A Boy’s King Arthur, Kidnapped, The Yearling, Robin Hood, The Deerslayer, etc. Very popular books in the early 20th Century with themes and storylines still made into movies today.

I loved his style! BIG color, lots of drama, action, adventure, stunning landscapes. I wished I could paint like that ever since I saw my first Wyeth up close at Texas Tech University. But I was a cartoonist at the time, and an occasional portrait artist, and I was working towards a PhD in Creative Writing. I wasn’t thinking of myself as an Artist, nor was I think of myself as an Artist who was going to study Wyeth.

As a gay man, growing up so Other from other boys, I had a peculiar relationship with the World of Boys and Men (which I will write about more in a later post) and that was a world that belonged to Wyeth as well. I had felt excluded for a long time from that world, and made up for it by being in other worlds. But I lingered outside the borders often and looked in at Things Which Were Not For Me.

So I pursued writing and teaching as a career, making art wait.

But in the last few years, my teaching situation changed, and it was difficult to find work as an adjunct teacher. I also continued to almost make it in the job market for tenure track positions. So i decided to make a change in my life–to build my art career–because I needed the money, a new source of income, and my art had waited long enough.

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“Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun” is finalist for Eugie Foster Memorial Award

Very happy and honored to tell you that my novelette, “Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun” originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2019) is a finalist for the 2020 Eugie Foster Memorial Award!

The Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction (or Eugie Award) celebrates the best in innovative fiction. This annual award is presented at Dragon Con, the nation’s largest fan-run convention. Starting with the 2020, we will add a video presentation of the award online, along with a reading of a section of each finalist.


The Eugie Award honors stories that are irreplaceable, that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. We will be looking for stories that are beautiful, thoughtful, and passionate, and change us and the field. The recipient is a story that is unique and will become essential to speculative fiction readers.

—from the Eugie Award website http://www.eugiefoster.com/eugieaward

You can learn on the website what a wonderful writer and person Eugie Foster was, and about her legacy. I’m deeply honored to be on a list recognized by those associated with her.

Four other writers are also featured with their stories:

A Civilization Dreams of Absolutely Nothing” by Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Science Fiction and Fact)

For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com)

The House Wins in the End” by L Chan (The Dark)

Love in the Time of Immuno-Sharing” by Andy Dudak (Analog Science Fiction and Fact)

http://www.eugiefoster.com/eugieaward

I’ve had a wonderful two days just telling people that I became a finalist and receiving so much positive feedback. I kinda feel that being a finalist with all these cool authors and stories is its own reward! It’s really filled my soul with love in this very tumultuous time.

There are still many changes to make in the world. We will make them! Today, it was nice to feel loved.

PS. Yes that is my illustration for the story. It was something created way after the story was accepted and in print… but it was fun to doodle.

The Further Adventures of Yukon Cornelius

Today I want to share with you work that I completed while at the Columbus College of Art and Design, and which would have been part of the Columbus Arts Festival 2020 in June (but WILL be part of the festival in 2021!)

I fell in love late in life with a character from a Christmas special: Yukon Cornelius, created by Romeo Muller as part of the 1964 Rankin/Bass production of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”–a stop motion special that is shown every Christmas. You might recognize the character:

Burly, positive, full of helpful asides “Bumbles Bounce!” and “the fog is as thick as peanut butter!”–Yukon helps our heroes realize their dreams by a) saving them from the Abominable Snowmonster, b) taking them to the Island of Misfit Toys to carry a message to Santa to come get these toys and pair them up with kids and c) reforming said Abominable Snowmonster and making him tame, and cool for Christmas Parties.

***

I don’t know why Yukon stayed with me. It might be that I went to live in the Yukon for nearly 10 years. I mushed some dogs (tbh, only as a one-day fun thing in Inuvik, NWT–though I attended and watched the Yukon Quest as much as I could), and spent time out in the wilderness. But I also lived in the great city of Whitehorse being a friend and misfit to a lot of other friends and misfits, who are also great musicians, artists, talented amazing people.

undefined Maybe it was that Yukon was very burly, and I was attracted to him, or even attracted to the kind of man he represented–a big “bear”. He seemed like a better version of a male hero than I had previously encountered. Though he had a gun, I don’t think he ever shot it. He was practical, helpful, encouraging. He had a lot of knowledge about Abominable Snowmonsters! And he was much more interested in saving people than in killing monsters. In the end, because Bumbles bounce!–Yukon and Bumble somehow come to an understanding. Bumble is just another misfit that needs to find his right place… and he does, next to the Christmas tree.

In another post, I will tell you more about that Queering the Hero journey I made–and continue to make. But here are my paintings, extrapolating three things:

  1. Yukon Cornelius could be gay. People have commented before on the queer undertones of the show–read the articles here from Vulture, and KQED and in 2019 The New York Times opinion page—- about themes of bullying, about being different, about being rejected, about finding acceptance for your unique qualities. Romeo Muller was himself gay. It’s not a stretch to see the queercoding in the show. Making Yukon Cornelius gay is not a stretch either, since he doesn’t make mention of a wife, and reads as what we would call a “bear” today–a burly, bearded, slightly overweight, slightly hyper-masculine man.
  2. Yukon has a way of charming beasts. His expert past knowledge of the Abominable Snowmonster speaks to prior run-ins with “Bumble”—and then he is able to tame and speak to the Bumble (who miraculously grows back his teeth in the final few minutes of the special!)
  3. Yukon deserved more of an adventurous life.

So, I created that life for him–and for me. The copyright on characters from this movie had a misprint in it, making all characters in public domain (outside of Rudolph who had prior copyright). So I adopted Yukon as my hero and gave him a life of meeting cryptids (Bigfoot, Mothman, sea monsters, etc.) Using acrylic and myself as a reluctant model–or at times a stand-in, I painted these paintings. (side note: I’d planned to have several cooler guys than me become Yukon for these paintings–but planning photo shoots was not easy.)

So if you’ve always wanted a rollicking adventuresome gay hero, I offer you Yukon Cornelius–rescuing, negotiating, protecting, singing, reading, allowing himself to be loved.

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Defining What Netflix Will Be, or Eight Reasons to Give Sense8 a full 3rd Season

19477719_10155330533657095_1420082545618168163_oAs most people know, on June 1st, Netflix decided not to renew Sense8.  Fans of the Wachowski Sisters + J Michael Straczynski show, a show that weaves a global narrative to tell a very human story of eight people sharing their minds, knowledge, and empathy, were devastated that the story would not have a third season.  Many knew that it only had one more season of story, but Netflix decided not to renew.  Then the fanbase rallied and wrote and tweeted and called out! and helped show-writers garner a 2 hour special for Sense8!  Amazing!

I am so happy that we get 2 hours to wrap up Sense8, and don’t take this blogpost here as less than gratitude for that 2 hours.  But I’d like to make a bigger case for you–a case you haven’t heard–about giving Sense8 a whole season based on what might be good for Netflix, not just for fans.

While there has been speculation as to why the show was not renewed, that’s speculation.  Netflix spends a lot of money trying to find hit series, and sometimes a good series doesn’t find the right market.  When the cancellation happened, there was plenty of anger towards Netflix, and, in the moment, I even threatened to dump Netflix.  But I love Stranger Things, and I watch Star Trek, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc.  It would be hard for me to dump Netflix for good.  I know, they’re counting on that–they’ve made us LOVE this service. Okay.

Instead of eight negative reasons to renew Sense8, I want to give 8 positive reasons to renew Sense8 for a whole last season.  I want to give them something they can go to the marketing table with and say—“Let’s do one more season.” (Please especially consider #7)

Ultimately, right decisions aren’t made because of negative consequences but because the positive consequences are stronger.  We aren’t charitable because of Fear of Hell or Fear of Bad Publicity.  We are charitable because we want to help.

Why Netflix Would Want to Complete a Third Season of Sense8

1. NETFLIX IS COMMITTED TO COMPLETION: Sense8 has exactly ONE more season.  It’s a three season arc.  You renew that last season, you are a hero, and the story is complete, and people bingewatch the three seasons for years afterwards on Netflix.  They will come to Netflix for those three seasons.  You’re not having to commit to an unknown number of seasons, or risking anything AFTER this season.  You already committed two seasons and they were amazing, and fans loved them, and they are almost home-free.  You create NEW fans by following through on your series.  But MORE people will become afraid to watch or commit to a new series if the series could be cancelled before it’s finished.  The more unfinished series, the more Netflix becomes untrustworthy for a new viewer.  The positive spin: you complete series, and they can be assured that when they watch a series on Netflix, especially with the millions of fans this series has created, that it will have closure–that series runners will know ahead of time that their series must establish closure.  This one is close to being finished.

2.  NETFLIX EDUCATES ITS VIEWERSHIP ABOUT VIEWERSHIP.  You teach Netflix viewers about Viewership using Sense8.  Part of the shock of this announcement was that viewers thought that their fan base was enough.  We don’t get to watch the Viewership numbers like you do, so we can’t tell when to rally, or how we’re doing, or if we’re about to fall.  It’s a bit unfair to a very large group of fans to say that their numbers are not enough.  What kinds of viewership help make your decisions?  Do you need a certain number every week?  And how do you calculate when you drop 10 episodes over a weekend?  How many times should we view it?  How many tweets do you need?  How many blogposts analyzing the show?  If you give us those numbers, WE CAN HELP SAVE THE SHOWS WE LOVE.  I guarantee that the fanbase for Sense8 is the most dedicated fan base you’ve ever had (more on that below).  But telling us to love a show and then, when it’s not good enough, taking it from us without telling us how to celebrate and support it correctly can be very bad in the long run–it leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths.  Netflix needs to teach its viewers what matters to save a show–how can we love a show enough to keep it if we don’t know what you need?  If not, fans won’t try a show till a second season is guaranteed…or may just not try it unless you do what you did with The Crown, and guarantee 6 seasons to tell that arc.

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My Faith in Werewolves

tumblr_nmlov9kobq1s3y6tro1_1280I grew up with a dangerous love of werewolves.  I wanted to meet them.  I wanted to run with them in the woods behind the house.  I wanted them to break into my room at night and kneel at my bed and whisper all the courageous, adventurous things I could become.

I drew pictures of werewolves. I couldn’t help myself.  Especially when I was 14 and living outside of Caruthersville, MO, on the levy by the Mississippi River, where my father was the pastor of a small country church–those pictures came every day into my head and just bled out of my pencils and pens.  Most of these werewolves were kind, masculine, big brotherly, mentor-like werewolves.  I was not clued-in to my head at the time.

These werewolves came, most likely, from my deeply embedded and hidden sexuality, a love for hairy men that I could not understand–a feeling like there was a wild side of me that I must hide away.  But the werewolves at my window were always free.  Free to run.

These werewolves I drew–the first one made me weep as a teenager–there was something important in that picture, something I couldn’t fully understand growing up in my deeply religious environment.  I don’t regret the beautiful years of being deep in that family and faith (and I’m still a big part of my family and faith) but I regret not knowing what that was.  I’d have been a much different person if I had known I was gay at 15 instead of at 34.

I appreciate the magic and wonder my ignorance left me–and that’s a strange blessing to be thankful for, but it’s a blessing nonetheless. Because I could not believe in my sexuality, I believed werewolves were real.  I musta lived under some really awesome bubble of cognitive dissonance for an A+ student to believe werewolves were possible and still understand and love my science classes.  But there I was–a high school student who kept a space open in my brain for the possibility of werewolves.  It’s not so hard to believe.  For me, son of a Southern Baptist minister, I had a world with angel-demon fights, Jesus talking to you out of the air, fiery chariots racing to the sky, resurrecting dead people, talking donkeys–that’s a world where werewolves can happen, too, isn’t it?  That space I kept open–it’s a similar space open for the possibility of miracles, of faith.  So why not a …sorta faith in werewolves?

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They are queer Lumberjacks, and that’s okay: “A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” by Charles Payseur reviewed

11884994176_203f040455_z_ink_liThere’s a sweet flashfiction piece by Charles Payseur on Flashfiction Online that highlights something awesome about LGBT writing today.  It deserves a read and a shout out.  “A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” is probably about 1000 words, but it tells a pretty big story about two gay lumberjacks that goes beyond where I thought the story would go.

 

Be careful in these woods: SPOILERS AHEAD.  Why don’t you just go read it and come back here.

Good, you’re back.

First, let me say how happy I am to keep seeing LGBT writers in Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Flashfiction Online, and other mainstream venues even beyond the “Queers Destroy” series, and other special issues.

The story sets us up to believe how valuable Dryads are in this world, that you can monetize their parts and sell them for money.  Our heroes, a pair of gay lumberjacks who are subtle, but not that subtle, in the camp about their relationship, are presented as good lumberjacks: they get there early, they chop down trees.  They do their jobs well.  We are also led to believe that these two men have a dream that requires money.

The narrative often tells us how aggressively hostile Dryads are to humans, and how to find them and collect the money on them.

But along the way, some great narrative magic happens–and the plight of our heroes becomes the plight of the Dryads. And instead of thinking selfishly–using the Dryads to fund their escape into safety–they take the dryads with them.

I love this story because it highlights an aspect of being LGBT that isn’t often explored in fiction: that our persecution does not make us selfishly protect ourselves, but creates compassion towards others who are hunted and persecuted too.  Even though the story establishes that the dryads have a hunger for human blood, and that they can be dangerous and attack, the gay lumberjacks are saving the dryads–in exchange for the dryads helping the couple hide in safety in the future.

“Come away with me,”is a beautiful line because it is so unexpected, and because it deepens the way we understand the main characters.

I also enjoy the shout out to the diversity in the LGBT community—that these main characters are “bears” (read: big bearded hairy gay men).  I also like where this story didn’t go: The other lumberjacks could have “found them out” and hurt them and this would have been a predictable “hurt the gays” story—but the men’s reactions are complex: they both desire the freedom of these gay men to form a relationship, and also have an impression that there is a fluidity to sexuality and the man you are in camp is not the man you are back in the “real world.”  There is a strange allowance for incongruity and a blurriness of masculinity here in the forest.  But, the text still signals the danger the men are in the more the camp fills up with other lumberjacks, and they keep their voices down in the tent, and they smother the openness they had when they were alone.

It helps Payseur make the comparison with the Dryads–who are perfectly fine if no one finds them, but who are in trouble the more the men encroach upon their privacy.  These gay men are not in some gay paradise–they are in an allowed limbo that is incumbent upon tacit ignorance and acceptance–a short-lived window of opportunity.

They use it well.  In the last paragraph, just as you’ve decided these men will use the dryads to fund their escape from this tricky life of masculine conformity, they form a union with the dryads by rescuing them, and, at least in the proposition one of the gay lumberjacks offers, replanting them in a “safe space” with the lumberjacks in their new home.

Perhaps it’s the sense of hope that I love in this piece, and maybe it’s the accurate reflection of compassion over self-interest.  Either way, it’s beautiful.

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Some Peace and Community for Queer Ghosts: Queer Ghost Hunters Series

queer_ghost_hunters_538bde99d1e7f8bd0d8268ff34d2b4dd-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

I’ve been charmed by a Youtube docu-series: Queer Ghost Hunters. It is unlike anything else in the genre of ghost hunting reality series.

Yes, it’s remarkably well-produced and edited.  It’s funny, and it’s poignant, deeply moving at times.

The Stonewall Columbus Queer Ghost Hunters accomplishes these things because it’s doing everything so differently than other ghost hunter shows.

  1.  They aren’t reacting to a disturbance or a sighting.  The ghost hunters don’t (so far) go to a place because they’ve been called by folks disturbed by ghost activity.  They are seeking out where they believe queers would have gone in cities and rural areas.  Theatres, prisons, convents.
  2.   The goal is not to get the ghost on tape, or to prove that ghosts exist.  The show takes as a premise that ghosts exist.  Their goal: to provide a safe space for queer ghosts to talk about what it was like living queer in different moments of history.
  3. They’re looking for QUEER ghosts specifically.  Their focus drives their narrative.  They are looking to bring a safe community to a group of queers who can’t move out of their places to find other queers. ( It’s not like ghosts can pack up and go to San Francisco or Greenwich Village.)  The show’s aim is to chat amiably with queer ghosts who may not have had anyone to talk to in their lives about being queer.
  4. All of the ghost hunters fall on the Queer spectrum: genderfluid, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, pansexual, even a bear. 🙂   This is about diversity in the cast as well as diversity in the ghosts, but they are talking about LGBT issues.
  5. This is MORE than just ghost hunting: it is an examination of the history of LGBT people and, in some ways, how people lived, hid, coped with being queer in different places.  In that, it is a reflection–and a chance–for people to talk about what it is to live as queer in any time.

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Gays Will Save the Church: my story in Queer Story Archives

As a science fiction/fantasy writer, I just want to remind folks that we aren’t all alike, and we don’t live in just one bubble. My blog has always been about the experience of being a science fiction/fantasy writer and not just reflecting the genre/writing parts—but about my whole experience of being a Yukoner, of having a faith, of being gay–AND being a science fiction/fantasy writer. So this is part of it.

The Queer Story Archives came up to Whitehorse–Lulu from OnMyPlanet.ca–in July 2013, recording stories of Yukon Queers, and we recorded this right before I was to leave for Dayton, Ohio. I think it’s turning into a positive story so I’m sharing it. Ultimately I’m suggesting that including gay people can save a rapidly diminishing Church population. To do that, I tell my story. Some of you have heard it–either through the Yukon News, or through DNTO. Both sources were good but heavily edited. This is me telling it in less than ten minutes. It feels better in my own words, complete.

We grow from hard times in our lives and this was a good growth for me. Eventually, I’ve come to retain and re-establish many friendships from the first church. I hope my story still helps others. I’m placing this over on Talking Dog too.

CBC’s DNTO to air my story on Coming Out to My Church for “Lost Causes”

Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.

I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.

But they remembered my pitch.  And they sought me out.  Which is humbling, and cool.  We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes.  I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told.  I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”.  But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost?  I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change.  We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light.  This splits familes.  My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore.  I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it.  Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people.  Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink.  As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women.  And divorce.  Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore.  Christianity and Faith are not the problem.  Interpretation is.

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My short piece in Geez Magazine #24, “Privilege” issue, on coming out

Ironically, my pastor at RBC suggested I write for Geez magazine.  I don’t think he imagined what piece I would eventually write for them.  But here it is, Issue #24, on “privilege”.  I wrote the fast version of my coming out at church.  I centered it on the idea of privilege–of the privileges I had as a single, white male Christian who had leadership potential and of the privileges I no longer had when I added “gay” to that mix.

The church has to change.  It has to.  It may not change from those fighting it on the outside, but it will have to incorporate change if it is to survive further.  It faces irrelevance, it postures with discrimination, it plays favorites, it values money.

Not all churches–no.  (When I say a statement like this I have to stop and say, Thank you, churches that are moving more towards inclusion, social justice, focusing on issues like poverty, the environment, civil rights.  You do exist, but I wouldn’t, yet, call you the “Church”–as the “Church” tends to be the monolithic Catholic Castle or the Evangelical Juggernaut.  One day, you will take on that mantle–you will be the “Church” and it will have a positive ring.  You will convince other churches that focusing on discrimination is not the answer.)

Anyway, there it is, in Geez #24.  If this brings you to Talking Dog, welcome.  There’s lots there, I hope, that will spark conversation.  If this entry leads you to Geez, welcome to Geez.  There’s lots there that will spark conversation as well.  It’s a valuable, important magazine carrying on “the” conversations we need to have happen.  It is intrepid, bold, and unflinching.

I would marry Geez magazine if it looked like a bear and loved me back.

*apologies to Kevin James, pictured, who is not gay.