Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Unsung heroes

Chris Steib, the editor-in-chief of a new web-based magazine entitled Void Magazine contacted me recently to tell me about it. The magazine's mission: a new literary endeavor that strives to support readers and writers who have been underserved by the mainstream, commercial publishing industry.

Chris' enthusiasm and the magazines mission caused me to reflect on the unwavering dedication of editors and others throughout the US and beyond who work at literary magazines, very often uncompensated or for a nominal salary at best. They are truly unsung heroes because they do their work quietly and out of pure passion for good writing whether it be prose or poetry. And authors are grateful because literary magazines provide the portal to getting published for many, many of us. Simply put, the existence of literary magazines is an essential element in any society that calls itself civilized.

Anyway, I read the inaugural edition of Void Magazine and liked it a lot and you can check it out yourself by going to my "Literary Mags" sidebar and clicking on the mag's title. Also listed on the sidebar are two other magazines I like: the Bucks County Writer Magazine (which is a subscription literary mag that published my short story Prayers for a Bully last year) and another free magazine out of Philadelphia called Philadelphia Stories.

Additionally, Philadelphia Stories hosts free readings in and around Philadelphia once a month and, on account of the Trade Paperback release of A Son Called Gabriel next week, they've invited me to read with two local poets, Scott Anderson and Penny Dickerson, on Monday, June 6th, 7.30 pm at Mugshots Coffeehouse, 21st & Fairmount Avenue Philadelphia, PA.

On another note, next week will see the posting of my first book review, which will be a nonfiction.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

To nuke or not to nuke, that is the question

On NPR today, I heard that only 14% of the American population are deeply interested or understand the current debate about certain GOP senators objective--or more accurately, the Christian Right contingent of the Republican Party--to end judicial filibusters. Regardless as to one's party affiliation, one should be appalled at such indifference in a vibrant country like the United States. We should be shocked into extreme wariness, if not action, by such inertia. Have we become so jaded by politics that we can't muster the energy to recognize and do something about a very real threat to our democracy?

I am not interested in using this blog to launch political tirades, but I will speak out where I see an attack on the principle of democracy. I believe the Christian Right intend to make this land a land of intolerance and despair. Simply put, they are dangerous. They have no use for debate, have no use for dissent, and have no use for compromise. It must be their way (which they claim is also Jesus Christ's way) and there is no room for any other view which will dilute or interfere with the attaining of their goals.

How can I be so sure they are so relentlessly dogged? Well, I am born Christian--though some evangelicals view Roman Catholics in the same light they regard Jews and Arabs--and lived all my boyhood among these people. Northern Ireland is awash in the Christian Right. It is the reason there has been no compromise in that blighted province since it came into existence. And many, many of these evangelicals have obtained their diplomas from Christian colleges in the United States. So, by all standards, they are the very same people who now seek to control the US Senate. And the Northern Irish evangelicals have refused to give Roman Catholics--their fellow Christians it should be remembered--justice, equality and the right to self-determination. Moreover, when forced by Britain to share power with the minority, they have sought every opportunity to bring down (and have brought down) the Northern Irish parliament in the hope that Britain will eventually weaken its resolve, give up, and the clock can be turned back. And they have done this secure in their belief that Jesus Christ is on their side.

My fellow Americans, these are the caliber of people you are dealing with, and it is these people who want to introduce the nuclear option under the guise that one party is blocking an up or down vote with regard to judicial appointees. The fact is that 306 appointees have been confirmed since the Bush administration took power and only a handful of extreme right-wing judges have been blocked. It is one of the duties of the opposing party to block extremist, non-mainstream judges, especially since judgships are given for life. Americans do not like extremists from either the right or the left, and the system for protecting against extremism by the minority party is in the use of the filibuster.

And let us also be clear on an additional point: after the nuclear option is won with regard to judicial appointees, it will also be sought for use in debates about appointees for other government posts. Moreover, should anyone doubt the Right's coercive, bullying tactics, bear in mind their statement today wherein they warned all moderate Republicans that they will be held accountable and will pay the price if they don't vote as they require them to vote.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

An evening of pledges

I was invited some months ago to appear on WYBE Public Television serving the Greater Philadelphia area to assist them with their annual pledge drive on the lesbian/gay and Irish programming sections on account my novel is Irish and the protagonist deals with issues of sexual identity as part of the plot. (I'd appeared last year on their excellent program OutLoud hosted by Debra D'Alessandro whom I was pleased to discover had read my novel and was thus able to ask what I refer to now that I have some TV and Radio experience as 'beyond superficial' questions. In other words, her conversation was intelligent, interesting and useful to viewers.)

Last night was the first evening--the gay/lesbian programming section--and I arrived at the studio at seven o'clock nervous and wondering how the hell this was all going to play out. I'd watched presenters on other PBS shows and always wondered how they managed to smile, keep jabbering on about stuff, and get in the essential requests for pledges. Though I'm a pretty conversational person, I was quite sure I would not be able to do this gracefully and my words would flood like a raging brook and then abruptly stop, etc. As it turns out, I needn't have worried because Debra was there and I was paired with her (two others--the Philadelphia author Thom Nickels and restauranteur Reed Apaghian--were positioned at another spot within the studio with another WHYY host) and the pledge segments alternated between us throughout the three hours of programming.

Of course we were prepped in the green room as to how things would unfold and read a wealth of information about WYBE, the pledge objectives, and the gifts that would be offered at various dollar levels--my own novel A SON CALLED GABRIEL being one such offering. There seemed so much to learn in such a short space of time, though the staff including Jessica, April, Purna (an associate producer who's also a Cardiff University alum it turns out) made us all feel at ease. Tension built and my stomach knotted as soon as we were taken into the studio five minutes before going live and a storm of colored cards containing pledge info were held up and we were instructed that we should read from these when they were held up during the pledge drive, and the floor manager showed us the hand signals she used to indicated 30 second, 20 second and 15 second countdowns to 'Off-air'.

I was dead nervous for the first segment, seemed to stammer a little in the second, and then found my groove for the rest of the evening. At one point the floor manager flashed a tangerine 'SMILE' card in my direction. All in all the experience was highly interesting and I look forward to doing Tuesday's Irish programming drive where two actors are flying in from Dublin to assist. The entire experience reinforced one very important lesson, namely how absolutely vital it is to a community to have local public television around, and how it does need to be supported by people like me.

Commercial telly in the US is crap on the whole; aside from a few good dramas, it insults one's intelligence in the main, is boringly mediocre at best, is forgettable. It forms part of a trend in this country, whether intentionally or not, to de-intellectualize the citizenry--training us to accept sound bites for serious analysis of an issue is also a part of this process. It is not that our attention spans are diminishing. Not in the least. It's that we accept this to be so, that we accept this bogus gospel from the besuited apostles of commercial television and their sponsors.

PBS produces gritty original programming for ethnic and other minorities and for the mainstream. It contracts to buy programming from around the world that includes the BBC news, the only truly comprehensive, unbiased INTERNATIONAL news within the borders of these United States currently, in my opinion. I believe we must support public telly's membership drives and openly admit I was just as guilty as others in not pledging at one time. I have sat and gorged on their programming and then switched to commercial telly as soon as the pledges began, all without once thinking to take out my credit card. I freeloaded, and that is an unacceptable practice in this age of dangerous extremism. Without PBS, there would be a further erosion of democracy. That is why the right wing is keen to see its demise. They want it terminated, because they know PBS telly is the television of thinkers.

Another huge advantage to last night's drive--from Larry and my tummy's point of view--was that Reed had provided a highly delicious salad from his restaurant The Astral Plane and it was choc-a-bloc with huge shrimp, chicken and giant scallops for supper, after which hosts and guests alike tucked into a mound of gourmet desserts, including the most amazing pear and almond tart I have ever tasted outside Germany.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Right on the money

What did I say in a previous entry? John Paul II would be canonized pronto.
Already the race is on. 'Fast-tracking,' it's called. Dispense with the pesky five-year wait because he was always in the public eye and the people saw how he lived and how he thought and know he's a saint-in-waiting, for goodness sake. And the people were baying for his canonization at the funeral. Case closed. Rather, hunt for the miracles--which will be found. I think if they had them in the bag and there had been a precedent to canonize him during his funeral--at least beatify him--they'd have done it during the service.

And all I can wonder is, why didn't they fast-track the expulsion of pedophiles from their midst?

When I think back to the days when I was an altar boy and how I was brought up to believe that the Catholic Church was the only true faith, the only religion God cared about, that it was unshakeable, oak-like. Oak-like, and would never sway to the gales of public opinion or be influenced by any force other than the Great Almighty. How times have changed, though the Vatican powers clearly don't see it that way. Is this part of the rush to shore the church's dwindling numbers in the Western world, to add more spectacle like the Romans did toward the end of their empire? I don't know. All it proves to me is that the powers can change the rules when they decide it's expedient.

This changing of the rules made me think back to my childhood, specifically how as young boy I was told if the Russians were to ever invade Ireland and demand that I was to forswear my faith, I was to decline instantly and be happy to be shot to death. I was to laugh in the soldiers faces before starting to recite the rosary. We children were warned that every Irish Catholic would be doing the same if that terrible day ever came:our grandparents would be praying and laughing as they were lined up against a tree and shot, out mothers and fathers, our uncles, aunts, neighbors, a great cacophony of laughter and praying.

Sometimes I'd watch the Soviets ('Russians,' they were called in Ireland) on the telly as they goosestepped--a very graceful march especially in comparion to the dreary old British army steps, I thought also--in front of Red Square and wonder if they'd goosestep into Ireland when they invaded and I envisioned legions of them goosestepping along the motorway into Belfast.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Voices of New York

Just a quick note to let you know that I'll be reading in NYC this coming Thursday, May 19th beginning 7:00pm as part of the Lambda Literary Awards finalists reception called 'Voices of New York.' Address is: LGBT Community Center, 208 13th St, NYC. (Subway- 1,2,3,9 to 14th St/7th ave or A,C,E to 14th St. at 8th ave.)

It'll be a fun event, is free to the public, and 10 writers will read from their work for 5 mins each--so you'll not be overwhelmed--and will include Gary Zebrun reading from his mystery, Someone You Know and Alison Smith will be reading from her brilliant memoir, Name all the Animals.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Duty and its faces

On the telly recently I watched with a certain morbid fascination as the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq commented on his valor and husbandry while footage of his 'good-bye' video rolled. Apparently, he'd had a foreboding that he would not be coming home and had, therefore, made the tape. From what I could gather, the tape had been made in secret and this surprised me enormously. I was surprised he had not discussed his foreboding with her and wondered if he, indeed, owed her a duty to inform her about this as his spouse. Of course, I realize there is no right or wrong answer here, but feel it is worth considering whether one's sense of duty to one's country trumps one's duty to family, spouse, lover, children, etc.

As I pondered this question, another question popped into my head that was based in part on the caliber of the British Army soldiers who patrolled Northern Ireland in the seventies as I was growing up. I wondered how many young American servicemen and women sign up under the guise of duty to their country in order to extricate themselves from horrid domestic circumstances or such. For example, it's fact that the majority of recruits come from the less well off echelons of American society and, therefore, many sign up to take advantage of educational opportunities afforded by the armed services. My understanding is that Jessica Lynch was one such person. But, how many of these people are actually signing up or keen to return to duty so they can escape a bad marriage, a bad parental relationship, impoverished circumstances, or the monotony of life in bleak villages and towns? Maybe there are none; maybe there's only a handful. Either way, my gut-feel is that research would unearth interesting answers.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Goethe memories

The readings at the Goethe Institut were relaxed and great fun. As each author read from their books--limited to five minutes--I found myself immersed in different and exciting worlds I wouldn't have encountered ever in my life. In the space of an hour, I was transported from a park somewhere near Providence Rhode Island by Gary Zebrun in his mystery novel Someone You Know to a gondola in Venice by Colm Toibin in The Master. As I listened, I thought to myself that perhaps bookstore readings would be more enriching for an audience if two or three authors appeared together and read short sections from their works. Of course, I realize that's not going to happen anytime soon, given the logistics involved and that fact that the store's objective is to sell books.

One thing I love about the Goethe Institut--and I think this is perhaps an exclusively German language school concept--is that they have a gallery incorporated into their premises. After the reading, authors and the public repaired to the gallery and sipped wine or strolled about the place taking in an exhibition about the city of Berlin, many of the places I instantly recognized because I'd lived there.

Being at the Goethe brought back memories of people I'd studied with over in Germany. There was the infamous Isabel aus Paris (Isabel from Paris). Isabel was eighteen and the archetypical French woman seen in many movies--long, raven black hair, curvaceous, and outrageously flirty with the teacher. She drove around town in an old Citroen Diane--many students drive these in Europe--and was forever tardy, always entering the classroom twenty minutes after it had begun with profuse apologies delivered in grammatically terrible German, though rendered entirely acceptable because of her purring French accent. She considered herself Parisian--which she pronounced emphatically as 'Parii' and categorically refused to add the 's' at the end to accommodate the correct German pronunciation--not French and was at great pains to tell us and the teacher this everytime the conversation swung to our countries of origin. There were also the two Chinese gentlemen, very high up in the Chinese Embassy--who had terrible phonetic difficulties and could not say one German word correctly. And we European, Canadian and American students would burst into peals of laughter (Isabel braying the loudest) as they tried to say "Ich bin" and it would come out "Eeshey bin" until the German teacher ordered us to stop. And not to forget the girl from Brooklyn (I've forgotten her name but she was very bright and interesting) who was an artist and did pot; she'd stroll into the classroom quite late with her dangerous covered in multi-colored paint and simply announce, "Sorry I'm late but I was up late last night painting Berlin scenes" in what I now know is a Brooklyn accent. At the time, I just loved the accent because it sounded like Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I wonder if she's painting in a studio in Brooklyn now--probably is represented by a gallery now. Wish I could remember her name.

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Zipping off to DC

A SON CALLED GABRIEL is a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards and I'm just about to leave for DC to read this evening at their Voices of Washington DC finalist reading. The event is free to everyone and begins 6:30 pm at the Goethe Institut located at 812 Seventh Street NW for any of you that live in DC and want to come along. There'll be nine writers reading from their work--five minutes each, so you won't get bored!--followed by a wine reception afterwards. Hope they'll feature some nice chardonnay!!

I graduated with a Mittel-Stufe diploma in German from the Berlin Goethe Institut yonks ago--when Berlin was still divided into East and West--and haven't been inside a Goethe Institut since I did a refresher course in London a few years later. So it should be a lot of fun though I promise not to get pissed (that's what we call inebriated on the other side of the pond) and start reading from 'Gabriel' in Deutsch. One thing I am looking forward to is that fellow Irishman Colm Toibin will be there reading from his award winning novel, THE MASTER.

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Spring greetings from the dog groomer

One bi-annual ritual is taking my dog Spice to the grooming parlor. Spice, as you can see in the photograph, has hair as wooly and soft as a sheep. In fact, sometimes I think I should have him cloned many times so I can have a flock because I'd probably earn far more money flogging his wool than writing novels. (Don't email, I'm only kidding.)

Spice is sixteen, has arthritis in his hindquarters and is partially blind and deaf, but still very much alive. He's been taken to the same parlor since he was a puppy and I like the set up a lot; they have a large white Cockatoo in a cage whose only vocabulary is 'ello, ello' and 'goodbye,' and I'm always compelled to say 'hello' back, regardless of whether it understands the greeting or not, and the proprietor, a very pleasant woman, always greets the doggies before her paying customers. She's also a brilliant groomer and, after the first ever cut Spice had, when she did him like a toy poodle and presented him to Larry with mauve ribbons dripping from his ears and he took one look at him and told her to, "Get him back inside and shear him tight and lose the ribbons," she's been very consistent.

Her only mildly disturbing quality is that she could be more diplomatic in her greeting of older animals in my opinion. For the last two years, she's been greeting Spice with, "And you're still around, are you?" consider those words carefully and ask how am I, as his owner, supposed to respond to this? Always, I smile sunnily and mutter, "Yes...Yes he's still here," and think simultaneously of the countless precautions taken throughout the harsh, dark winter to make sure he stays in the 'here'.

This winter I had a particularly bad scare because he woke me up at three o'clock one horridly rainy morning and I let him out into our back yard which slopes down to the woods. Ten minutes later, he hadn't returned so I went outside and my heart almost burst from my chest because I couldn't see him. I shouted to Larry to come out and then ran like some chased victim in a gothic horror flick about the woods calling out his name. What was worse, some neighbors had told us a few weeks prior that they'd heard there was a coyote in the area. To cut the story short, after much whippings in the face by wild roses and trips by Larry about the neighborhood in the truck, we did one last reconnoiter of the house, heard whimpering, and found him inside a basement window well. He'd fallen in, though sustained no injury.

So you can imagine the things running through my mind as I respond to the groomer. Of course, I realize she's not thinking and just trying to make polite conversation, to reestablish a kinship of sorts after the winter has passed. But, as the English would say in preposterous situations like this, "I mean, really!"

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