Birth of a Gay Author

Today, please welcome guest blogger Brad Windhauser!

 

Writer

In 1995, I was a college junior creative writing major. I was also newly out but unclear to the extent I should let this impact my work.

I was really looking forward to taking a screenwriting course. Not only was I happy to get a crack at something besides fiction and nonfiction, but I had an awesome idea for a comedy about what it was like to work in a restaurant. Inspired by several viewings of Clerks, I knew I had a winner.

On my workshop day, I read my first ten pages to the class, inserting chuckles where I deemed appropriate. When I finished, I couldn’t wait for the positive feedback to flow. Crickets. My professor cleared her throat and asked across the conference table, “So, you’re a writing major?”

This is the type of feedback squashes a young writer, and I was devastated. My teacher told me to take a few days and then call her over the weekend. We’d get at some better ideas.

I wasn’t all that comfortable talking with professors over the phone—it seemed really personal and I didn’t know this professor at all. But while we talked, she asked what I was passionate about. I rattled off the usual: music, books, drinking, etc. I was waiting for her to start snoring on the other end of the line. She asked again: “No, really, what matters to you?”

I thought for a moment, took a deep breath and then said, “Well, I did just come out.”

I felt bold saying this to someone I didn’t know, and a bit confrontational, as I was somewhat daring her to take the point and run with it. Was I crossing a line by bringing this up? Did I have a right to explore this in my writing? The best thing I figured I had going for me in the moment was that she was my professor, and if she had a problem with it, I’m sure there was someone I could talk to. Still, I held my breath.

So I waited for her to maybe hang up, brush off the comment… I don’t know, do something incredibly dismissive. But instead, her voice perked up. “There, that’s a place to start.” The rest of the conversation she continued to probe how I felt about being young and gay at that time—Ellen had yet to come out on TV, so the culture was shifting but it was not exactly welcoming. Given this, taking on “gay” content was a risk—an artist might be embraced for being bold, brave but as equally shunned for pulling back the curtain on this slice of life people were not yet all that comfortable to discuss openly.

Eventually, I mentioned that I had this idea for a story, based on what I’d heard about this ex-gay ministry movement. I was incensed that these people were brainwashing gay people into being something they weren’t. I was over 21, so I felt safe from being carted off to one of these counselors or whatever they billed themselves as. But some people, either because they were too young to have a say in their own lives or because they were religious and the Bible was telling them that they way they were born (having same-sex attraction) was “wrong” were not so lucky. Someone had to speak up. What would happen if more people bought into this?

And so I gave this idea some thought—what if a group within a church was not getting the results they wanted from their “conversion therapy”? Would they try and find a researcher who was willing to probe and find the “gay gene”? And if they found such a person, would this person be able to find it? And if he did, what would people do with that information? And what if this researcher had a family, who would be impacted by his work? How would he be able to even carry out his experiments? I figured he’d have to be able to experiment on somebody, and so this group would find a way to seduce and then kill healthy subjects. But the subjects whose health made them unfit test subjects, they’d have to dump the bodies. This is when the cops would get involved. And the lead detective, what if he was gay?

That’s your story, she said.

And although the screenplay I eventually wrote was not good, it served as the basis for what became my first novel, Regret. In this novel I flushed out the three storylines—the religious group, the researcher and his family, and the lead detective and his failing relationship with his partner. Through these characters and storylines, I developed themes that I knew weren’t just of interest to me but also to the gay community in general. I crafted stories through this book that I hoped would shine a light on something that needed attention for the purpose of starting a conversation about these issues.

I will always be grateful to Jackie Apple for pushing me in her class to write towards things that mattered to me. She wasn’t the only one to ever do this but she was the first to get me to buy into it completely. I haven’t looked back since.

I was nervous that people would label me as a gay author then and still think about this at times now, but at the end of the day, if an author like me don’t tell our stories, no one will—or at least not well. I’m proud of the impact being gay has on my work.

In addition to Regret (which is available on Amazon HERE, you can follow my current blog where, as a gay author, I chronicle my experience reading the Bible for the first time. I was curious as to why this revered book is so often used to justify bigotry towards the LGBT community.

You can follow me on Twitter at @VirgoWriter.

A Day With the Orioles is Like A Page from My Book…

Last Friday I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Opening Day game for the Baltimore Orioles. I’m a huge baseball fan and had been counting down the days until Opening Day just so I could watch the game on television. I could hardly believe it when I got the email that my Girl Scout (well, Brownie) daughter had been invited to walk the Orange Carpet ON THE FIELD on Opening Day and, as her doting mother, I got to attend the game!!

I am an avid baseball fan. So much so that I made one of my main characters in one of my screenplays – turned novel – a Baltimore Oriole. That adds an extra layer of excitement for me when I go to the ballpark, an experience that is already magical for me. I don’t know what it is but when I go to a baseball stadium, or really any sports arena, I get the same sort of feeling that I get when I go to a library or a movie theater. Now when I go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it’s like stepping into a page from my novel. I can almost see Henry Vaughn, Jr. dancing with the Oriole Bird on top of the O’s dugout. That’s one of the really cool things about being a writer – you find adventure absolutely everywhere. I find myself making up stories everywhere I go, particularly if it’s somewhere new or someplace that is full of excitement like a sports stadium. I’ve always done that for as long as I can remember, way before I realized that I wanted to be a writer. Now it’s even more fun because once in a while those daydreams become a reality – at least on the page.

The baseball novel is called QUEEN HENRY (this would be the novel for which I am posting my rejection numbers on Facebook and Twitter. 45 as of this writing…) and it’s about a homophobic, macho, MLB player who takes part in a clinical drug trial to treat his asthma. The experimental drug has an unusual side effect: it makes him gay.

Flyer from The Hippo, a gay bar in the heart of Baltimore

 

This is my favorite story that I’ve written. It was first a screenplay (which was a Finalist in a national contest) and then I turned it into a novel. It’s a very tough sell to try to get published, but that’s what I expected. Gay-themed stories are hard to market because half of America is still so hostile toward gays, though it is slowly getting better. Not only that, the story doesn’t easily fit into any real category. It’s kind of light and humorous, but you can’t really call it chick lit because it’s mostly about men. Baseball books often sell well to die-hard fans, but very few straight men would be willing to go near a book involving a romance involving two guys.  Too bad, because that’s kind of the point of the novel. It’s about a macho guy who thinks the idea of two men together is totally gross, until he becomes gay and falls in love with a great guy and learns a lesson. I didn’t write the novel to change anybody’s mind, though. I always knew that the people who could benefit from reading the novel wouldn’t go near it, but that’s okay. They always say that when you write for everybody you please nobody. So true. This novel isn’t for everybody. I think it’s mostly for me. That’s why I wrote it. That’s why I love it.  It combined a lot of my interests in one place: gay rights, baseball, drag queens, romance, and humor.

Hell yeah, that’s a tough sell.

But I think the story is a lot of fun and I hope I’m not the only one. I’ve pretty much decided that I will publish QUEEN HENRY one way or another. I really don’t want to give up traditional publishing, but I am willing to self-publish this one as a last resort. This is the one story that I really do want to share with the world (which is why I browbeat my family and friends into reading it, while with my other stories I just let them read them if they’re interested). I hope I can someday find an agent and/or publisher willing to take a shot at it. There are a handful of publishers who focus on LGBT, so that could work. Time will tell.  For now, I’m going to keep plugging away and collecting my rejection letters (and working on the next novel, of course). For my other novels (one written, one in progress, probably lots more to come) I plan to pretty much pursue traditional publishing only. Publisher or bust. But QUEEN HENRY is different. Someday, one way or another, Henry and I are going to tell our story.

Go Orioles. LET’S PLAY BALL, HON!!

The Scary Part of Writing

Getting reviews is no doubt the scariest part of being a writer, at least for me. The main reason I started this support group for Wannabes is to have other Wannabes share their experiences on the rough road to success, like facing scary reviews of the work that they slaved over.

Sadly, no one is doing this.

The message boards were designed for actors to post about auditions they go on – vent went they don’t go well and celebrate when they do. Musicians could post about their frustrations in not getting good gigs and brag when they finally get a good one. Other writers were supposed to write about their own experiences with getting reviews.

The idea was for me to reach out to other Wannabes to find out I’m not alone in this.

Turns out, I guess I am alone. Of course, there must be thousands of people going through what I’m going through. I just can’t find them. I don’t know where you all are. I’ve gotten hundreds of comments on my blogs so far. ALL of them, save for less than 5, are spam. This is hard for me to accept, because it’s just another form of rejection.

I’m expecting to get one review on my script this week – possibly two. It’s times like this that I really wish I knew someone – anyone –even a stranger – who really, truly understand how hard it is to wait for a review. This review will come from a contest called Script Savvy. This is a script I wrote about two years or so ago. It went through many reviews back then, but I’m sending it for another review now because I plan to write the same story as a novel when I finish the current script I’m working on.

The script – called QUEEN HENRY- is my very favorite. I feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I’ve written about the script on my blog before – it got HORRIBLE reviews at first and I worked on it until it was good enough to be a Finalist in a small contest in 2007. It’s one of the few scripts that makes me feel good every time I go back to read it. I’m proud of it. I just have this gut feeling when I read it – this one is good.

Which is what makes it so hard went it doesn’t get a good review. The most recent draft has gotten mixed reviews – it was a Finalist in one contest. A producer was not impressed, saying it didn’t “dazzle” him. Another contest reviewer said it should have been a drama. It’s gay-themed, and he felt it should be written as a serious issue. He actually said it was not something to make light of.

I’ll repeat that, people. He said I should not make light of the issue of being gay….

Seriously, if it’s one group of people who know how to poke fun of themselves and their own struggle – it’s gay people!! Jewish people, too, for that matter.

Anyway, after not sending the script out for years, I entered it in a contest – reviews to be sent out Tuesday, August 31. Then on Friday, August 27, I get this email from a production company, out of the blue:

“I received a query letter from you a few years ago regarding QUEEN HENRY and for some reason, I couldn’t throw it away. To be fair, I don’t think there’s even a slight chance that I will get the film made, but I’m still interested in reading the screenplay as a writing sample.”

Odd, to say the least. Does he mean he personally does not have the power to make the film because he works in the mailroom? Or does he mean, given the subject matter, he doubts he could get it made? I did once have a producer chastise me for writing something like this because it is no longer “relevant”. He asked if I had a gay son or something, because he said no one cares if you’re gay anymore…

This man probably lives two streets away from San Francisco and has not watched the news for the last decade, given the white-hot button issue of gay marriage and DADT, and the fact that the entire country is split down the middle when it comes to gays…

Sorry for the rant (says the blog writer to the gaping, empty hole in cyberspace…though I will give a shout-out to the two people I know who read the blog – Hi Debbie and Zann!!!), but as you can see, reviews of Queen Henry have been all over the map. It just figures that, after all these years of no reviews on the script, on the one week that I’m expecting a contest review, a production company pops out of the woodwork asking for the damn thing.

This could be an exciting week or a hell of a downer. Either way, I will tell you the truth about the reviews. Stay tuned.