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!


Book Giveaway! – Sin Against the Race

Start the New Year with a New Book! Beginning today, Wednesday, December 20, and running for a month, I’ll be hosting a giveaway of my novel Sin Against the Race over at Good Reads. Ten lucky winners, drawn randomly, will receive a personally signed copy. What do you have to do? Simple! Go to Good Reads and sign up. Winners will be announced soon after the end date of January 20, 2018.

Sign up today for a chance to win!

Their greed will kill us

Because of the greed of a few, we will all suffer. Republicans, punch drunk on hubris, will gore the  middle class and exterminate the poor to feed the rich. Muffy will get her fourth yacht. Buffy will get his third Swiss villa. The middle class will get crumbs. The poor will get nothing.

Throughout the Obama years, we heard Republicans scream DEFICIT, DEFICIT, DEFICIT. Again and again, they decried that the DEFICIT was too high. It will lead to ruin. Our children will be burdened for decades. Wah-wah-wah.

The tax (scam) bill poised to pass this coming week will increase the size of the deficit in ways hitherto unimaginable. And Paul Ryan, Speaker and Ghoul of the House, has already called for major cuts to “entitlements.”

Social Security, Medicare, they’re all doomed. We have money to pay for Buffy’s villas and Muffy’s yachts, but not for healthcare. And by the way, they are not entitlements. They are not handouts. People pay into Social Security and Medicare. That’s how they were designed. Calling them entitlements is bullshit. The Ghouls do that to feed their false narrative that the undeserving are getting something on the backs of the rich. It’s the other way around, folks. Always has been.

Companies with billions in the bank will suddenly have billions more at their disposal. In theory, they will use this new money to create new jobs, which in turn will stimulate the economy.

Bullshit. It will do nothing of the kind. George H.W. Bush called it voodoo economics when he ran for president in 1980. He changed his tune when he signed up as vice president to the Voodoo-in-chief, but he had it right the first time. I’ll believe the trickle-down treacle when the CEOs of the nation’s largest corporations take 50-75% pay cuts and increase wages for their employees proportionally. Companies make money hand over fists, but the workers see little or nothing for these accomplishments.

Kansas tried trickle down. It failed. Greed only benefits the greedy. It does not benefit society at large.

I’m not a Christian. So I feel a little silly preaching to the supposed Christians in Congress, but here goes: greed is wrong. It’s evil. It hurts people. People will die because of the greed of the rich.

Greed is a sickness, a type of hoarding with many innocent victims. Hoarders live in squalor, to the detriment of their own health. The greedy keep money out of circulation, to the detriment of everyone. They do not create jobs. They do not stimulate the economy. And their greed is voracious. Nothing is ever enough.

My mother always used to say, Who has all the money? The city, county, state, and federal governments always talk about the money they don’t have. So who has it?

Koch Brother ghouls. Murdoch ghouls. Walton ghouls. All those who feed the likes of McConnell, Ryan, et al., they have all the money, and they want to keep it that way. We can send their kids to private schools, so why should they pay for public ones? We can get around in style on private jets, so why pay for the upkeep of roadways? We can zip to anywhere in the world for the best medicine money can by, so why pay for healthcare for others? Fuck others.

That attitude will destroy this country. If we all long to become money hoarders, hoping to win the lottery and get so well off that we can say “fuck you” to everyone else, then we cease to function as a society. Society only works when it funds itself. We fund ourselves through taxes. We tax those with money. This isn’t hard to figure out. The only ones that benefit from tax cuts are the ones with the most money. Sure, some folks might see a short-term bump in their paychecks. But then shit will start costing more, from healthcare to food, and the bump in pay will become a distant memory. Furthermore, the tax “cuts” for the middle class expire in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, schools could close and healthcare and housing could skyrocket out of reach. All so Muffy and Buffy can have more money to play with.

This is not the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world where people care about each other and where a government reflects that basic human value. Enough with the ghouls. They have to go.

Do we have a functioning democracy?

Do we still have a functioning democracy in this country? Sadly, the evidence points to no.

I submit the following as Exhibit A to support this answer:

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders posted this photo on Facebook. With his post, he added the following:

This page is from the tax bill Senate Republicans rewrote and passed in the middle of the night—a 429-page bill that we received just hours before the vote and which had zero public hearings. Can you even tell what it says? Leave your guesses in the comments.

Despite its length and complexity, no one got a chance to read it before voting on it late last night, where it passed on a largely party-line vote of 51 to 49. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is the only Republican to vote against it.

I tweeted my first thought about the bill Saturday morning:

I’m not a Christian and learned this verse from an episode of Miss Marple (the Joan Hickson version, of course). But even without subscribing to the Christian faith, one can easily grasp the larger truth this verse conveys. It accurately captures what happened in the Senate, in the middle of the night.

I’ve been thinking all day about this verse, the Bible, and how so many Senators who voted for the tax bill call themselves Christians. Many religious leaders from many faiths have declared that no person of faith could possibly support the tax bill, an obvious giveaway to the greedy at a cost of the needy. And really, at a cost to society at large.

Society only works when you fund it. Firefighters, police, maintenance, healthcare, education, all of these things make up a society. We gather together to set up these institutions to help us, the people, live out lives. When we fund these things, we do well. When we don’t fund these things, we suffer. The Bible warns against avarice, greed, and gluttony. Yet, these sins are commonplace, even celebrated.

Republicans proved, again, that they stand for nothing but money. They use the Bible when it suits them. Otherwise, they easily disregard it. It suits them to control others, so they use the Bible to bash LGBTQ folks. However, their attachment to money allows them to ignore passages about the evils of greed. They cannot see how much they hurt others, or they simply don’t care.

So great is their hypocrisy, that they can now put stuff like the above up for a vote and get it passed. I mean look at it. What a mess. If I had turned in a paper like that to my 9th grade research writing teacher, he’d still be kicking my ass all these years later. Nothing like that should have appeared on the Senate floor, much less voted on. That’s a travesty.

We have not arrived at this point by accident. Many roads of good intention paved the way to our current hell. Ronald Reagan sang the gospel of greed and many listened, took heed. Thus, 28 years after he left office, we now have an elite class of citizens who own enormous wealth. We now view this as normal, as part of a thriving capitalist society, a job well done. We don’t view such obscene wealth as we should: a sickness. Why covet what you cannot possibly use?

So no, we do not currently have a functioning democracy. A majority of the country opposes the tax bill, yet it passed. Makes sense, really. Those who passed it do not care about the Bible’s admonitions against greed, despite calling themselves Christians. Why should they care about the will of the people, even if they call themselves defenders of democracy?

First Review for SIN AGAINST THE RACE by Amos Lassen

Amos Lassen is a well-known member of the LGBT community. For many years, he has tirelessly reviewed hundreds of books and movies to, as he puts it, “spread the word about our literary heritage.” During the many years I toiled on Sin Against the Race, I hoped that Mr. Lassen would review my work. I’m happy to say that he has, my first review!

“McVey-Russell is an excellent writer who pulled me into the story from the first moment… There were moments that I had to stop and dry my eyes.”

Please read the entire review here.

A year ago, my country failed

A year ago, my country failed.

The failure started quite early. Rather than reject a man who began his campaign with these fateful words:

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

The media went out of its way to cover every belch and every fart this man uttered for a year and a half. The media failed to highlight who he was and what he really stood for and for that matter why he ran in the first place. (Hint: To undo everything the black dude did.)

MSNBC had a diverse lineup of on-air talent that slowly, over the course of a year, became more white and more male. Those who did not disappear outright (Melissa Harris-Perry, Touré) appeared much less frequently (Rev. Sharpton, et al.).

Comedy Central had one of the most diverse shows on television: The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Mr. Wilmore populated his show not only with a diverse cast, but also a diverse writing staff. It pushed envelopes. Unfortunately, Comedy Central seemed to have wanted a second Jon Stewart and instead it got a new Dick Cavett. Laughs, yes, but also thoughtful discussions on a variety of topics. A few months after Mr. Wilmore introduced the Unblackening as a means to describe the 2016 election, he himself was unblackened off the air.

Rather than embrace the diversity heralded by the Obama administration and keep it going, the media and society at large ran from it as fast as it could. Freaks with tiki torches took to the streets to “take back their country.” Hate crimes skyrocketed. Vile speech became the norm. An ugly, ugly id emerged. A grotesque manifestation of molten hatred oozed into the White House. It emboldened the freaks and their tiki torches and clubs and boots.

Nothing this administration has advocated or tried to carry out in any way benefits the people who voted for it. Trump hates poor people and disdains the middle class. He is a horrible president who has made the country less strong and less secure. He won their votes, far more likely than not, because he wasn’t the black guy or the woman.

So we failed. Instead of building upon a more diverse America, a more real America, an America that reflects the many faces that make up the country, we fell backwards into a land of make-believe, where everyone is white, straight, cis, and Christian. It’s a world that does not exist nor has ever existed. It can only be maintained with a great deal of effort—gerrymandering, voter suppression, foreign influence.

The ballot got us into this mess. And ultimately, the ballot will have to get us out. People have to vote these kooks out of office. This year’s elections seem to bring some hope. Hoboken, New Jersey elected its first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla. Both New Jersey and Virginia elected black lieutenant governors, Sheila Oliver and Justin Fairfax, respectively. Danica Roem, a Democratic transgender activist, defeated Republican Delegate Bob Marshall, a vile man who tried to legislate discrimination against the transgender community. I love instant karma.

Real America, the one with lots of different people coexisting, came back with a vengeance in this year’s off-year election. Let’s hope that this trend continues into 2018. Otherwise, our failure of 2016 will compound, with interest.

Sin Against the Race: The Book Launch

I’m holding a book launch celebration for Sin Against the Race…and everyone is invited!

Date: Saturday, November 18, 2017

Time: 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm

Place: The Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster Street, Oakland

Price: FREE

Sin Against The Race follows the coming out journey of Alfonso Rutherford Berry III, son of a city councilman and grandson of the state’s first African American legislator. All his life he believed that he would enter the “family business” and go into politics–forsaking his true first love, dancing. But after a series of tragedies, starting with the death of his fierce, out cousin Carlton, his assumptions explode in his face along with his closet door. In the process, he makes new friends, finds loves, and discovers his own voice.

Written in taut prose steeped in history and current events–and seasoned with the blues–Sin Against The Race follows the coming-of-age journey of a young black gay man as he progresses from an invisible councilman’s son to a formidable presence in his community.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase. I will read, take questions, and sign copies. Come and mingle in a haze of jazz and the delicious wine, beer, and food offered by Octopus Literary Salon.

Influences: Music and Family

[Part of a series of posts previewing the novel Sin Against the Race.]

Sin Against the Race did not start life as a “jazz novel.” When I first started this journey, I listened mostly to classical. Dvořák, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, the usual suspects. My music habits changed after my mother died. Miles, Coltrane, and of course Ellington & Strayhorn eventually worked their way into the story. I have my parents to thanks for my initial jazz education. And KCSM, Jazz 91 to thank for furthering it. As noted in an earlier post, Sammy plays jazz in his store constantly. Sammy influenced Carlton, who in turn influenced Alfonso.

I first learned early on in my jazz journey that Billy Strayhorn was gay, and not particularly closeted, for his time. That blew me away. His influence comes early in the story, indeed the very first scene.

Sirens broke Alfonso’s sleep, but when he awoke they’d gone. His mind switched on, he again found himself in the desert of another sleepless night. Disasters stirred in the dimly lit alleys of his mind. Sweat sopped his forehead. Closed eyes longed for sleep. Weariness eventually drifted him into what his cousin Carlton described as a halfway to dawn state, neither dark nor light, neither asleep nor awake. He wanted to linger in that state for as long as possible and cocoon himself in its ambiguities.

Halfway to day is a Billy Strayhorn expression, Carlton explained.

Alfonso wasn’t familiar with the jazz legend. Who is Billy Strayhorn? he asked. His cousin scowled and said, You better get an education, young man! That night, they listened to ‘Lush Life,’ ‘Chelsea Bridge,’ and other wonders.

Lady Day’s powerful, intense blues seemed to best match Carlton’s story, so she became his heroine.

“‘Gloomy Sunday’ had filled Alfonso’s head during the service while the organist played anonymous dirges, dreck that failed to capture the complexities of Carlton’s life. His cousin often sought salvation from Billie’s bruised singing, ‘Gloomy Sunday,’ ‘Some Other Spring,’ ‘Good Morning Heartache,’ others.”

Later we hear how Ahmad Jamal and McCoy Tyner influenced Sammy’s life.

Alfonso the dancer also likes electronic music–an influence of my sister Tania. When she was a kid, Mom called her Terpsichore. So it seems natural that Alfonso would listen to folks like Mocean Worker.

Music lived in my household growing up. All music. Jazz, classical, rock, folk, Indian, soul, R&B. My brother JK has a great love of prog rock, and introduced me to some of the genre. My brothers Louis and Robert play soul, jazz, and R&B. Tania sings as well as dances. Mom had a lovely voice. My father bought an LP with a Pt. Chatur Lal tabla solo on it long before I was born, much less started studying the instrument. He loved music, too, though did not perform any. Also, his penchant for quoting queer authors, like Isherwood, inspired my writing. In his understated way, he was letting me know that he was cool with me.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without these wonderful, eclectic people in my life. They made me who am I. So Sin Against the Race is a family effort, because my family is so a part me. I dedicate the book to all of them, and in particular to those who did not see the journey’s end.