28 October 2010

Happy Halloween: Guest Blogger Chad Helder Shares the Books that Shaped Him

Hi there Literary Magpie readers! I’m the guest blogger today (thanks, Jory), and I thought I would write about some of the books that “made me” (thanks to Nate Southard for the idea) as a way to pass along some literary inspiration and explain the origins of my weird books of poetry (Vampire Bridegroom and Pop-Up Book of Death), which will be released soon.

First there was Ai’s Cruelty and The Killing Floor. This was the very first poetry that I loved as a sophomore in college. I love the dark, brutal storytelling in these poems that take the form of dramatic monologues. I didn’t know poetry could be like this, and it definitely planted the seed of my literary obsessions. Ai was relentlessly brave with her subject matter and not at all afraid to delve into madness. She passed away earlier this year, and right now I am reading her final collection. Writing grotesque poems with mad narrators is one of my favorite ways to express myself (even if the subject matter is a complete fantasy).

Another major inspiration for me are Anne Sexton’s fairy tale poems collected in Transformations. The poems in this collection are a model for me because of the way they combine storytelling with startling metaphors, visual images, and scalpel-sharp wit. This book proved to me that poem-stories can be as rich as prose fiction (in a different--symbolic and visual--way, of course). In the Vampire Bridegroom, a lot of the poem-stories (that want to be horror movies) are modeled after Sexton’s storytelling in this book.

Strangely enough, another book of massive importance in my life is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. On the surface, this is a textbook on comic books in the form of a comic book, but this book has informed my poetry more than any book on poetry because of the ideas and theories it presents about visual storytelling, creating images, and how the brain makes meaning out of stories. In addition, the parts about how the brain connects gaps between comic book frames profoundly impacts how I make gaps between stanzas. I did write some comic books a couple of years ago, but now I am much happier and more comfortable writing story-poems that use a lot of the lessons I learned from writing comics.

Another huge inspiration on my writing is Li-Young Lee’s highly-anthologized poem Persimmons. I have taught that poem every time I have taught American Literature because of its brilliant, rich portrayal of identity. For me personally, I also love it because of the pastiche structure and image-based storytelling. The structure of this poem has influenced every memoir poem I have written, and that’s quite a few in both books--I am always trying to write my own Persimmons.

I am very excited to have two poetry books on the way: Pop-Up Book of Death from Rebel Satori/Queer Mojo Press (this book is more focused on dark surreal poems and memoir poems about the trials of Coming Out) and Vampire Bridegroom from Dark Scribe Press (this is my big horror genre book--lots of poems about queer horror and how The Closet creates monsters).

Thanks, Jory, for giving me the chance to tell your readers about my books and the books that have made me. Come and visit me at ChadHelder.com and HelderHorror.com!

21 October 2010

Is Wearing Purple and Making a Video Enough? Queer Youth Suicide and What You Can Do About It!

I keep thinking about the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race and her constant admonition at the end of the show, "If you don't love yourself how the hell are you gonna love someone else?"  I always found those words quixotic because they came on the heels of the judges eliminating a drag queen from the competition--usually with RuPaul as the final arbiter.  The world isn't a fair place and it often doesn't make sense.

I keep thinking about what RuPaul has to say in relation to the recent national media attention to gay teen suicides.  This isn't a new problem.  This isn't even an increasing problem.  The national media and straight America is just now becoming aware of what many queer people have known for a long time--being an LGBT junior high or highs school student is incredibly hard.  Even   if you aren't aware of your sexuality yet, even if you aren't really queer--once you get branded as a "Faggot" or "Dyke" by your classmates it sticks with you.  There is no escaping the names, the taunting, the intimidation, the bullying, the harassment and the violence that comes with being queer.

Growing up in a rural Montana town, I didn't have access to LGBT resources or culture.  In my high school, there were books about homosexuality in the library card catalogue, but the books were not on the shelves.  I checked.  Repeatedly.  The books were kept behind the counter and you had to ask the adult librarian to check them out.  She was an intimidating woman.  My parents worked at the school I attended.  I never asked her for the books.

I tried to come out to a school guidance counselor.  By my senior year I knew that I was gay and it was tearing me apart inside not to be able to talk about it or tell anyone.  I didn't expect to find a boyfriend in high school; I was desperate to be honest about myself with someone.  Anyone.  Even the guidance counselor.  I was told "Why don't you just wait to deal with that until college."  College was years and miles away.  There was no place for me at home or at school.

There was one gay student at my high school.  He transferred in from a bigger city.  He got harassed and beat up several times.  He went to the principal of the school and to the superintendent.  He was told, "You invite it on yourself.  If you are going to flaunt your sexuality, expect to be beat up."  That was my school's solution to creating a safe learning environment.  The student transferred to another school.  Then it was just me.

Remember, I came out before the Internet.  Being queer in rural America meant total isolation.  There were no gay people on television.  There were no gay pride parades in my state.  There were no gay publications for me to purchase or look at in a 20 mile radius. 

When I graduated from high school and went to college, things got harder for me.  I didn't meet any queer people.  I got beat up.  I was fired from a job for being gay.  I ended up dropping out of school.  I had been waiting to deal with being gay for two years.  I was at college and thing were infinitely worse for me.

I am glad that the Internet is helping to get the word out about queer youth suicide.  I am pleased to see national media, which has dismissed queer youth for so long, finally take notice.  Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project is a good idea.  The response has been phenomenal.  Even the media says so.

I wanted to make a video for the It Gets Better Project, but the longer I thought about it--the less I could reconcile myself that telling queer youth that "It gets better...three, four, five or six years from now." That wasn't good enough for me.  Isn't that what my guidance counselor in high school had told me?  To wait?  To hang on?  I can't bring myself to tell queer youth to wait.  I want to make a bigger difference.  Putting off a solution is no solution at all.

In response to Dan Savage's well intentioned project, another group wants to go further.  The Make It Better Project gives teens and adults tools they can use to affect change now.  The website says "LGBT youth should not have to suffer through bullying at school.  We can Make It Better NOW!"  There are resources for making schools safer for queer youth and their lives better now instead of after they graduate from high school.

Please take a moment to stop by the website, explore what you can do to affect change now, donate money to the organization and spread the word.  An LGBT youth may not be able to wait another three years for the harassment and bullying to stop.

Thank you for caring, no matter how you do it.

Jory M.-a once youthful queer



14 October 2010

Coming Soon: A Post of Substance

Graduate school and teaching is kicking my ass.  I will post something of substance soon.  Please stay tuned.  But to hold you over, here is a picture of me reading some new work this past week at the MFA reading for the Hemingway Festival in Moscow, Idaho.  (You can tell it is more noir poems because of my hat...)

05 October 2010

Some Sad News: Reposted from Band of Thebes Blog

I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for Alyson Books to release the book Notes from the Sexual Underground, 1935-1975: The Selected Writings of Sam Steward (The Renegade Author Also Known as Phil Andros) by Justin Spring.  At first it was due out in February and then June and now it appears that it will never be released by Alyson Books.

Reposted from Band of Thebes blog: http://bandofthebes.typepad.com

Publishers Weekly is reporting today that the nation's oldest lgbt book publisher, Alyson, will restructure as an e-book only publisher and Don Weise is leaving the company. The announcement may surprise bookwatchers who've noted Alyson has never before produced an e-book. They expect to release their first digital titles in 9 to 12 months. John Knoebel, v-p of consumer marketing at Here Media, has been named temporary publisher until a replacement can be found. Discussing the decision to abandon print entirely, Knoebel said, "There are just fewer places to sell books."

PW reports,
"Over the next few days Alyson will be reaching out to the authors it has under contract and whose books they have not published to give them the option of getting their rights back or moving ahead with Alyson's digital program. "We know authors are working in different circumstances," Knoebel said. "We hope some will stick with us." Alyson has about 24 authors under contract whose books have not yet been released."
Alyson's front list has been dormant for more than half a year, not having released any of their scheduled titles since late winter. Weise had spent the interim months trying to acquire the company from Here Media but ultimately the two sides failed to reach a deal. Weise released a statement calling the situation "heartbreaking," adding "even after offering a price that I believe to be twice the fair market value, we were unable to come to an agreement."

This makes me incredibly sad.  Another publisher of queer books will no longer be publishing actual books.  As the publishing industry changes and collapses at the same time, I wonder how authors will continue to promote their books if there is no physical book to sell at readings.

There is some good news (for me at least).  Justin Spring had this to say on Amazon.com about his book:  

"This book is not being published by Alyson, and never will be - as the editor of this book I'd like to let potential buyers know that a book of collected Sam Steward writings will be self-published via LighteningSource later this fall.

Alyson never issued a satisfactory contract for the book, and yet it continues to list it as an available title - which has created a great deal of confusion on the internet about the book's availability. None of my emails about the situation to Amazon have been successful so far, so I'm simply posting this message for the public good."

You didn't hear it here first, but I wanted to pass the word on.  


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