Reading at Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

This weekend I’m attending, for the first time, the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. In its 15th year, this gathering of LGBTQ writers has become one of the premier events of the queer literary world. Today, I presented on a panel discussing Queer Fiction as Social Commentary with authors Matthew Griffin, Nick White, and Felice Picano, and moderated by Barry McCrea. We had a lively discussion. I learned a lot from this engaging panel of superb authors. I was particularly happy to meet Felice, a legend in the queer lit world.

In the afternoon, I participated in the reading series with Kathleen Archambeau, Peter Gajdics, Mary Griggs, Mercedes Lewis, Jeffrey Round, and Vanda.

What a wonderful experience it has been meeting and getting to know so many amazing writers. I thank my publicist Michele Karlsberg for connecting me with this wonderful event and to Festival organizer Paul J. Willis for scheduling me as a panelist and reader on my very first visit. I look forward to Sunday’s events and will be sorry to see the weekend end. But I’ll be back!

Here is video of my reading. I read excerpts from Sin Against the Race. Enjoy!

Boom – Homegrown Terrorists Are a Problem

Mark Anthony Conditt, deceased terrorist.

Boom…

March 2, 2018, Austin, Texas. A package bomb went off at the home of Anthony Stephan House, killing him.

Boom…

March 12, 2018, Austin, Texas. A package bomb killed Draylen Mason, a 17 year-old, and injured his mother.

Boom…

On the same day, another bomb went off at a different address, injuring Esperanza Herrera, a 75 year-old visiting her aged mother.

Boom…

March 18, 2018, Austin, Texas. Two young men, one 22, the other 23, tripped a wire and set off a bomb rigged on the side of a road near a “for sale” sign. Both were seriously injured.

Boom…

After the fourth bomb attack, mainstream media finally caught on that the victims were mostly black and Hispanic. Black news sources noted this much earlier.

Boom…

March 20, 2018, Schertz, Texas. A package bomb went off at a Fed Ex facility, injuring one employee. The bomb was addressed to someone in Austin. A second bomb at another Fed Ex facility, in Austin, Texas, was discovered and deactivated.

Boom…

Police identified the bomber as Mark Anthony Conditt, a white male who wrote a screed in junior college wherein he declares his hatred of gays and abortions and where he also states that the government should get rid of sex offender registries.

Boom…

The picture of Conditt smiling makes him look angelic, sweet.

Boom…

News agencies refrain from calling him a terrorist.

Boom…

Trayvon Martin was disrespected after his death, called a thug who got what he deserved by bigots and a young man who was not angelic by those deemed “more objective.” Both site his photos of marijuana, guns, and flipping the bird as examples of his supposed less-than-angelic nature. Or thuggery.

Boom…

Trayvon Martin wanted to become a pilot and go to college to study aeronautics, a fact that only came to light after his killer was acquitted.

Boom…

May, 2017. Florida University awarded Trayvon a posthumous degree in aeronautical science at the time he would have graduated had he not been brutally murdered.

Boom…

June 17, 2015, Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof sat in a bible study class at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He then stood and shot nine worshipers in cold blood. He spared the 10th so that she could tell the world what happened.

Boom…

The police arrested Dylann Roof soon after the killings. They took him to Burger King on the way to jail. He was hungry.

Boom…

April 12, 2015, Baltimore, Maryland. Police arrest Freddie Gray for allegedly having a switchblade on him that was illegal in Baltimore. They loaded him into a police van. They did not ask if he was hungry or wanted to go to Burger King.

Boom…

Freddie Gray sustained injuries to his spine during his ride in the back of the police van. He fell into a coma then died seven days later.

Boom…

February 14, 2018, Parkland, Florida. Nikolas Cruz goes into Stoneman Douglas High School and starts shooting. In the end, he murders 17 people, 13 students and 4 adults.

Boom…

The media avoid calling Cruz a terrorist. Or a thug. Cruz is white.

Boom…

Many say that Cruz has mental health issues.

Boom…

But it is also known that Cruz wrote about killing Mexicans, black, and gays privately on Instagram.

Boom…

He’s still not referred to as a terrorist.

Boom…

November 8, 2016. The United States elected a known bigot (They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.) President of the United States. He has no political experience. He has no military experience because he received a series of deferments during Vietnam for bone spurs.

Boom…

The man elected president appointed to his inner circle known bigots and extremists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

Boom…

Stephen Miller grew up in liberal Santa Monica, California with liberal parents, but developed a great dislike for Mexicans and blacks. He reportedly unfriended someone (not on Facebook, but in real life) because he’s of Mexican heritage.

Boom…

We’re going to continue having terror campaigns targeting people of color, LGBTQ people, and women in this country so long as we have an Executive Branch composed of bigots.

Boom…

Being white does not absolve people from being terrorists.

Boom…

Don’t ask black people why they have rage. If you have to ask, you are not paying attention.

Boom…

A group of teens, survivors from the Douglas High School shooting, are leading efforts to end gun violence. They are called every name in the book and are targeted by the NRA. To date, thousands of students across the nation are heeding their call and demanding an end to weapons of mass destruction on American streets and in their schools.

Boom…

The Parkland teens give me hope. They acknowledge that black kids have tried to warn the country about gun violence for years. I can’t wait until all of these kids, the Parkland activists and the Black Lives Matter activists, run the country.

Boom.

Black Panther Power

My husband, our friend, and I had dinner at a Thai restaurant just around the corner from the theater. Across the room from us sat a group of about 10 African-Americans, ranging in age from youngster to auntie. Most wore beautiful prints of African origin. Some of the men wore hats.

We smiled. No need guessing where they were going after dinner. I wish I could have taken a picture of them. They looked so beautiful. Beyond their outfits, their demeanor carried purpose and pride. Folks don’t normally get that dolled up to see a movie. Wakanda had already cast its spell.

When was the last time I stood in a long, long line waiting to get into a movie house? I can’t recall. None of the recent blockbusters — Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the like — trigger that memory. I think I have to go way back, to the original Star Wars trilogy of the late 70s and early 80s. Or maybe to the very first Star Trek movie in 1979. In any case, it had been a while.

But there we stood, on Grand Avenue. We all braved the weather, clustered as close to the building as possible to guard against the cool breezes. Our friend had left the Thai place a bit early to secure a spot for us. We got lucky. We stood only a couple doors down from the theater. I tried to look at how far the line stretched down the block, but couldn’t. I’m sure it reached the parking lot about a good 400 feet away.

Color filled the line as it had the restaurant: beautiful, billowing dresses, dashiki, amazing hair, spirited talk and laughter, giggles, selfies.

High excitement ensued when we started to move. Despite the colorful chaos in the lobby and entering the theater, we found good seats rather easily. I heard that mall cineplexes held equally animated crowds, but for Oaklanders, there is only one place to see an epic like Black Panther: The Grand Lake. The director himself, Ryan Coogler, an Oakland native, had come to the Grand Lake and surprised the crowd a few nights earlier. The old movie house still knows how to throw down the magic.

When the movie started, all became serious. No distractions. We lived the movie with laughing, cheering, and gasping. I loved the older black lady behind us who said “That’s right!” whenever someone on screen referenced their ancestors. I wonder when was the last time many of the aunties and uncles came out for a superhero movie?

My short critique: I loved it. I had feared that the story would depict Wakanda and its ruler T’Challa, aka Black Panther, fighting off racist colonialists trying to takeover the magical kingdom and strip it of its scientific secrets. In other words, I feared it would depict a world too close to our own, where a white man rose to power to undo all that his black predecessor had created.

But there was none of that. Indeed, throughout the movie white people were unimportant. Instead the story focusses on conflicts within Wakanda itself. By extension, the story addresses issues relevant to African-Americans and Africans. Mainstream movies don’t normally do this, unless they deal with slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. For a superhero film to take this approach is nothing short of revolutionary.

I think we were hungry for Black Panther. We need Wakanda. How happy I am that we entered its realm.

Lunch with the Author – EXTENDED!

UPDATE 3-3-18:
Dog Eared Books has graciously allowed me to continue the raffle for another week. So there is still a chance to enter the raffle for a free lunch with yours truly. We can talk about my book, books in general, writing, the weather…endless possibilities!

Have lunch with the author? Why not! I’m holding a raffle at Dog Eared Books, Castro for the next week. Put your name and email address in a cute blue bucket and I’ll draw a name at random next Friday, March 9, and invite that person to lunch. My treat!

Dog Eared Books also has some signed copies of Sin Against the Race for sale as well. Go check it out!

What: Lunch with the Author
When: Raffle runs from Feb. 23 – Mar. 9; winner selected on Mar. 9.
Where: Dog Eared Books, 489 Castro St., San Francisco

 

Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews

Jerry L. Wheeler at Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews has reviewed Sin Against the Race. The site has hundreds of reviews over many years, so I am grateful for the review.

“First novels are tough, especially ones that aim to tell a large story. Big stories usually require big casts, which can be difficult for even the most experienced novelists to manage. That Gar McVey-Russell does it pretty well right out of the box speaks highly of his skills . . .

Sin Against the Race is an extremely promising first novel . . . much here to enjoy . . . its ending satisfies with a vengeance.”
-Jerry L. Wheeler

Check out the entire review here.

Lunar Eclipses Past and Present

Super Blue Blood Moon from Oakland, January 31, 2018.

Karl the Fog stayed away, allowing Bay Area skywatchers a chance to observe the Super Blue Blood Moon total lunar eclipse that occurred in the early hours of January 31. I get up early anyway on weekdays. My current workout regime requires it. But that Wednesday morning, I had an extra incentive.

Low clouds had thwarted my first attempt at seeing a lunar eclipse. I was probably 10 or so. I remember shaking my fist at the air in anger. A few years later, though, we hit the jackpot. My brother Robert packed us into his car—sister Tania, brother JK, and me—and we trekked up the narrow, tortuous road to Mt. Wilson. Home of the Mt. Wilson Observatory and virtually every television and radio transmitter for the LA area, we had the perfect vantage point for viewing the eclipse.

Light pollution hadn’t totally killed the view from Mt. Wilson. Stars aplenty filled the sky. And against this backdrop sat the moon, creeping deeper and deeper into the Earth’s shadow. I thought that it would turn completely dark. But we all geeked out when it turned blood red. Look! It’s Mars! we all exclaimed. And so it appeared, the Red Planet came in for a close up, a cratered planet taking the place of our cratered moon.

A large group had gathered in the chilly air high above LA. Many brought telescopes and happily shared them with those of us that did not. But without a scope, you saw what looked like a 3-D object floating against a sea of stars. It appeared that all one had to do was reach out and grab it like an orange off a tree.

We all talked and talked about what an experience it had been as we descended the mountain and drove home. I remember thinking, as we passed Jack-in-the-Box and McDonald’s on the way home, I could get a job at one of them to earn money to buy a Celestron 8, the king of the telescopes for amateur astronomers. Robert raved about its advanced, Schmidt-Cassegrain design, giving it power in a compact package. We talked about getting a van, one of the classics from the 70s, fitting it with a dome and taking out the Celestron to the high desert. A great fantasy that never came to pass, but always filled our minds with hope.

Early Wednesday morning, before working out, showering, eating breakfast, and going to work, I took out my 4” Newtonian telescope out to the curb to get close up views of the eclipse in progress. There it was, the Super Blue Blood Moon. The giant orange returned, tempting us to pluck it from its celestial tree.

JK and Tania watched from their respective homes in Southern California. As I watched from mine in Oakland, I thought of Robert and that special trip to Mt. Wilson long ago. Soon to be four years gone, on February 11, I felt a part of Robert’s spirit with me as the Moon quietly traversed the Earth’s shadow.

State of the Union: From Obama-nation to Abomination

One does not have to look far beyond the headlines to discern the current state of the union.

GLAAD reports that Americans are becoming less comfortable with LGBTQ people.

49 percent of the non-LGBTQ respondents identified themselves as LGBTQ “allies” in 2017, down from 53 percent in 2016. At the same time, 55 percent of the LGBTQ respondents said they experienced anti-queer discrimination last year, compared to 44 percent in 2016.
-Huffington Post, 1/25/2018

If the courts, stacked with conservative, anti-queer judges, begin chipping away at LGBTQ rights, we run the risk of the population looking at this set back as business as usual, or worse a good thing. It’s not, nor should it ever be thought of that way.

The White House once looked like this. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deportations run rampant, destroying lives and families. ICE deported Jorge Garcia from Michigan after living in the US for 30 years, taking him away from his wife and kids. ICE has detained Lukasz Niec and threatens to send him back to Poland, where he hasn’t lived since he was five years old. Dr. Niec’s sister says he doesn’t even speak Polish. California, Gondor to this administration’s Mordor, braces itself for an onslaught of random raids by ICE, punishment for declaring ourselves a sanctuary state.

Similarly, this administration wants to deport all Dreamers who arrived here as children. The president uses Dreamers as a bargaining chip for his stupid, expensive, and pointless border wall, the one he said throughout his campaign that Mexico would pay for. Bullshit, of course, and he knows it. Former Mexican Presidente Vicente Fox has said on numerous occasions, “We will not pay for your fucking wall.” So now he wants to extort the US into paying for it, using Dreamers as hostages.

We live in a country where supporters of this administration tell Native Americans to go back to where they came from.

The Department of Justice wants to crack down on state legalization of marijuana. Again, California lies in the cross hairs.

Mass shootings continue at an alarming rate. Nazis march in the street. Hate crimes are up. And official statements from the president, in the form of tweets, cause international alarm on a routine basis.

The man himself claims to be the healthiest ever to hold the Oval Office. Despite the report from his doctor, he is clearly dangerously overweight and, by his own admission, does not exercise.

We had a president who embodied good health and whose wife advocated healthy living (and received much shit for doing so by right wing kooks). Now we have one that sits in bed eating junk food while watching garbage television and hate tweeting.

A healthy president.

 

 

A not-so-healthy president

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went from an administration that cared about people to one that cares for no one. One that recognized and celebrated families, to one that parrots empty rhetoric about the importance of family yet engages in policies antithetical to them. We went from generous to cruel.

What’s the state of the union? We aren’t a shithole nation, not yet. But we dance dangerously around the toilet rim. We were an Obama-nation and now we’re an abomination.

Book Review by SF Review of Books for Sin Against the Race

Grady Harp at the San Francisco Review of Books has written a review for Sin Against the Race. I’m quite grateful for and flattered by it:

Gar’s skill as a writer of prose is very close to that of an accomplished poet. His language is beautiful and his ability to create the atmosphere of his story place as well as unveil the minds of his characters, allowing the reader entry into their psyches, is that of a polished professional.

You can read the entire review here.

Defy the shitholes or become one

Alexandria’s library still burns in my heart. If we had not lost the accumulated knowledge of that ancient temple of wisdom, would we have a cure for cancer today? Would we have warp drive? What would our world look like now if we hadn’t taken those sixteen thousand steps backwards—if we haven’t had to retrace them in a sand with faint footprints?

I saw the Taliban blow up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas and grimaced. A tantrum by intemperate children destroyed beauty. Such wonton destruction and disregard for what was sickens me. I shielded myself from videos of extremist thugs desecrating museums of Syria and Iraq, smashing statues and the like. But I can’t stop looking. I can’t afford to.

A man with a dream tried to build things of beauty with the tools he had available to him. The tools were imperfect, like the man who wielded them. But he worked earnestly, with hopes that those who followed would build upon his foundation, perhaps build additions that may in the end outshine his original construction.

Other forces had different ideas. They shot Dr. King on April 4,1968. 45 years later, one of his constructions, the Voting Rights Act, suffered a major gutting at the hands of the Supreme Court. How ironic. The Court had been seen as a tool of salvation, a ticket to freedom. But things have changed since the days of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

Freer minds exist today thanks to the work of the Civil Rights Movement that Dr. King was a part of. This gave rise to the impossible. Thus, in 2008, another man tried to build things of beauty with the tools he had available. He, too, is an imperfect man who used imperfect tools. But he, too, worked earnestly and hoped that others that followed would build upon what he created, or create something even better.

And again, other forces had different ideas. No preplanned, concerted effort brought the current president to office, per se. That is to say, he was not selected out of a crowd, anointed as “the one” and then fed, nurtured, and primped for the role. No. He just appeared. But having grown up fed with racist ideology, he fit the bill just fine. His father wore the robes of the Klan, taught his son not to trust dark-skinned people. Don’t rent to them. Don’t hire them to handle your money. They’re thieves. And the son learned his lessons well.

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

Now he is in the house that was once Obama’s and is smashing it to bits, just as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas, just as the Islamic State destroyed the ancient sites of Palmyra. Our punishment for having elected a black man is to watch all that he did get decimated by a man who lacks Obama’s intelligence, education, thoughtfulness, grace, and wisdom.

Alexandria burns again. Its scrolls turn to ash, its tablets into rubble. Its knowledge vanishes for another thousand years. Except we don’t have a thousand years. We may not have 50. We have a world hurdling towards oblivion due to anthropic climate change. We have millions threatened with homelessness and disease because of draconian policies planned by the current regime.

We also have the power to stop it, if we want. We can beat back the flames, reclaim the scrolls, restore beauty. We can defy the shitholes.

We can. We should. We must. But will we? If we don’t, then we are the shitholes. And our descendants will look at us as such.

New Year, New Day, New Books – A reading event

Happy New Year!

I’ll be reading with the perfectly fabulous Perfectly Queer again, this time in San Francisco. The theme: New Year, New Day, New Books. I’m on the bill with two other recently published authors: Lewis DeSimone and Randall Mann.

The store will have copies of my novel Sin Against the Race available for sale. We’ll read, answer questions, sign books, mug for the camera. All that. There will also be door prizes, champaign, and goodies to munch. Please come!