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The Annotated Joseph and His Friend

Out this month, a research endeavor that took me over a year to complete, and my ticket to being a 'rogue scholar'--find out the stories behind the story that is America's first gay novel, Joseph and His Friend!

The fourth installment of the Disorder Series is up for pre-order now. Just in time for Valentine's Day, get the penultimate Compulsion, the only book of the series dominated by an ugly break-up! You know, for any of you lonely-hearts or contrarians on what's meant to be the most romantic day of the year.


Be ironic for Valentine's Day, and check out this treatment of love's darker side: the back nine, the denouement, the end of an era.

The Mutual Admiration Society

Hello! Because I'm never too busy to talk to a friend, I've started a new podcast with my BBF, a PhD, called the Mutual Admiration Society. Conversations on writing, winning, and life in general, between two old pals who cover the waterfront of writing: academia, professional writing, blogs, diaries, and fiction.

We'll also be talking about our personal lives, like in episode 01.Being-ness in Austin where we discuss our recent reunion in Austin, Texas, and episode 02.Americana as Decor, which will post on January 22nd.

Join us every other Sunday for short ~20 minute podcasts from two writers in the wilds of post-college life. To subscribe, you can find us in the following places:

iTunes
Wordpress
Instagram

Editing Weekend

I've had an editing weekend, and it seems like a good time for an update:

0) The Joseph and His Friend Annotation

Two weeks ago I went through the nearly 500 pages of my annotation project, Joseph and His Friend. It took a year to research, nine grueling days to compile, nine relatively easier days to edit it. The manuscript was pretty clean the way I put it together the first time, thankfully. Some writers need lots of drafts (I hear), and a grad school would insist on lots of drafts if I was doing this scholarship in school instead of out, but it's not necessary for me, it never has been, which I'm happy about (and also happy to argue with professors about). This project was a lot of work, and a lot of information to mentally hold together, but all I had to do to account for that was stay sober while I was working (fiction doesn't require that much sacrifice). It was a daunting effort though, and all the rest of this stuff follows right on its heels.

1) "The Nightmare Pygmalion"

This was a commissioned story for a Dorian Gray anthology, and came with a request that it somehow involve Sherlock Holmes. Not a problem! I've already got a Holmes-meets-A.E.-Housman story for another upcoming anthology, and ideas for more in that vein, enough to eventually produce a collection of Companion Stories to My Dear Watson (but that's next year's project). I wrote "The Nightmare Pygmalion" within a week of getting the request, but took months getting around to editing it. Finally this weekend I read through it, and so did a friend of mine, and again it was put down clean enough on the first draft that it didn't need much tweaking. That has been submitted and is off my plate for now.

2) Compulsion

Set to be published either later this month or early November at the latest, I edited this 4th Disorder Series book already this year. That was in preparation for writing the 5th, which I'm now 1/3 of the way through on a careful deadline. I dreaded having to look at Compulsion again so soon, but thankfully another friend volunteered to help me by giving it a read in bookblock form; I'll rely on her notes, review them Monday, give the whole thing an overall look, and submit that too.

3) My Friend's Dissertation

The first friend I mentioned is coming up on her dissertation defense and just wanted someone to review the submitted copy in case I could see any weak points she'll have to argue later this month. It's reading solid to me, but it's another monster (about 250 pages of straight argument), and so I've been reading chunks of it between weekend activities like TV binging and laundry.

Interestingly, the whole thing is on the subject of diaries, and writing of oneself for public consumption, and a lot of it resonated with me. Firstly, in talking about the diaries of the dead, someone who wrote from age twenty-one to ninety-nine is impressive, so it's nice to remember that I started keeping an online diary at 18, and have been careful to preserve and archive it clear to today, at age 29. One solid decade! Not only does it always do me well to articulate whatever I'm feeling at the time (from victory to stress to sadness), it helps keep life in perspective, and it also serves as a valuable record. There was family drama recently with people trying to rewrite the past to cast themselves as victims in it, but that's hard to do to an archivist. I have Comey-style notes about every interaction, with names, dates, times, and specifics; people can talk inventions all day about what they felt in the past, but they can't change what they actually did, not without coming to my house to destroy the evidence. There's a point for diary-keeping right there.

My MFA program was very insistent on journal-writing, very insistent specifically on physically keeping a journal, which is just unadaptable old-school garbage if you ask this Millennial. They sounded a lot like the middle and high school teachers I had who graded us on keeping our planners up to date in the exact way they told us to, and nevermind that I had a separate notebook back then with columns and boxes and an ever-evolving To Do list with long-term projects on the side and homework kept in a square at the bottom. Their aim to make students internalize organization was lost in the rote check-boxing of grades and rules. I've kept a journal for years, but not the kind I'd bring in to read for a classroom of other people--that wasn't the part that made it useful for writing, it was the part that made it look like they were performing their jobs. If I still sound annoyed about grad school it's because I am: the measure of competence is performance. I've done so much more writing (in different styles and genres) with my day-job than I ever once had space to do in school; I was too busy trying to work around their assignment specifics, and too worried about my future and what I'd do for money back then (because that degree hasn't helped me once job-wise). My friend's dissertation really highlights what a value diary-keeping is for writers, for scholars, and for personal reflection, but it also highlights how well one man did when he shit-quit school, and how badly another did when he languished in school-teaching. We've got more rogue scholarship over here, it's part of why we're still such grand friends.

Current and Future Projects

I'm happy to report that I'm still up to schedule with the 5th and final Disorder Series book, Fixation, and in fact I'll have more time for possibly finishing it ahead of schedule after the end of this year. That is when the Gay A Day project completes (I was so far ahead on that one I had to re-organize my timeline so I wouldn't finish before my writing partner). With two stories already written for the Companion Stories project (and above 20K word count so far), I'm confident that I'll be able to populate more real-life-gossip-fictionalized stories with all the information I'm collecting through the GAD project. Dissertation friend is on the wind-down of that monster task, and so we're starting to discuss our upcoming collaboration too. We're even planning a podcast on assorted topics, and we'll be meeting up again to celebrate her dissertation defense later this month. I've never been so creatively busy in my life, and it's lovely. I can't wait to keep doing it, and journaling about it, for years.

His Seed: The Gory Details

One of my short stories was well-met in this review of His Seed: An Arboretum of Erotica:

One of the most creative pieces, and the only one that doesn’t imagine plant-based sex is L.A. Fields’s “King of Fruits,” which sees Perry, who lost his sense of smell and taste in college, in a heated affair with Art. Part of their foreplay consists of Art describing in gory detail the taste, smell, and texture of the most disgusting foods Perry can find for Art to consume. Century eggs. Corn smut. The meat of the story concerns a durian fruit, and I’ll just stop there.

Enjoy some inside baseball in that review on how Lethe Press books come to be (I'm working on another project right now that also started as a goaded dare), and please note how weirdly proud I am that even in a plant-sex anthology, I'm still the weird one for not taking it so literally! Good for me.

Well Speed, I'm Moved!

The facts are: LJ has Soviet Servers, which exist under Russian rule; Russia has been quite inhumane to gay people in the past and even more so today; I write gay content I don't want to suddenly lose forever. I can't take that kind of chance with my writing, I like the sound of my own voice too much, and this is the only diary I've kept through my entire 20s--I'll want this to survive so I can look at it later. My best friend pointed out when she resolved to start journaling again what Christopher Isherwood once pointed out: if you don't record this stuff, you're not keeping yourself from the world, you're keeping your current self from who you'll become in the future. That's bullshit; I love me all the time.

So: after a couple of false starts in trying to archive it or export it all, I started a Dreamwidth account that was able to import all of my content, comments, pictures, tags, etc, and it even has about the same old school layout. In the words of President Lincoln when he met his most intimate friend Joshua Speed, and immediately accepted an invitation to share his bed: "Well Speed, I'm moved!"

For public posts I can be found here: https://la-fields.dreamwidth.org

For private posts, come be my friend! 

An Earful of Queer

Hear me argue for the better drunk in An Earful of Queer’s special segment, Dueling Dandies!

An Earful of Queer is a new monthly LGBTQ fiction podcast; each episode comes with an interview in front, and a cage match in the back!

First up for interview is my own dear publisher Steve Berman, and then it’s the debut episode of Dueling Dandies: the Talented Tipplers edition!


**********


That's me defending The Lost Weekend’s Charles Jackson against my MFA buddy and her pick of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman: who was the better drunk, and who would win in a literal cage match? Listen to find out!

A Mysterious Finalist

Homo Superiors is a Lambda Literary Awards finalist for Gay Mystery!

Three years ago, My Dear Watson was a finalist for Gay Romance, now I've got another chance with another book in another category (you can see Homo Superiors, based on the Leopold and Loeb crime, was still in progress back then).

Congrats are in order for my fellow Lethe Press finalists, and for our publisher, Steve Berman!


Homo Superiors is a #LambdaLiterary Award finalist for #Gay #Mystery--the true mystery is: will my claustrophobic #Chicago #crime book hold up as a mystery?

Scholarship Out of School

The Dropout, The Worker
Since I quit that PhD program at UT Dallas (and I still spit on the memory of it quite bitterly), I've been hard at work. First up were the on-the-ground concerns of sudden, full-time working life:

- It took 4 hours of public transit each day to commute to my new job. That lasted for eight months until my lease was up and I had the cash on hand to move to the other side of the city (where I now happily commute about ten minutes a day, on a bike with a basket).
- During those eight months, I was ghostwriting over $3,500 of smut (at one cent per word) to help pay off my remaining student loan debts, start a retirement account, and fund my move. I'm still trying to get the 2016 max into my retirement account before tax day, but I can do the last of it on my salary alone.
- After moving to a better location (that's being built up even as I sit here, with a corner gas station about to open), I asked for a raise based on the copywriting I do at work, and I received one. I'm also getting a bonus for over 15 hours of transcription work I did last year--during which time, remember, I was also ghostwriting a novel a month. There were a couple of tendinitis flare-ups, but every bit of this work has been worthier of my time than teaching at UTD’s grad program, because it compensates me enough to let me provide for my financial future, rewards me for doing extra work, and continues to provide me with health insurance.

The Worker, The Learner
That's all good, but I must miss learning, right? Hmm. When I ask people why they don't balk at the treatment they receive from grad programs like mine, they pretty defensively insist that they love learning, so much, and maybe they care more about learning than money, unlike me. Oh, please; let's examine that:

- That 4 hours a day on the bus (cut down to 2 hours after I got enough money to take Lyfts in the morning, so I could sleep a normal human amount of hours) meant I had a lot of trapped time on my hands. Right around then, my publisher asked me if I was willing to do an annotation of America's first gay novel, Joseph and His Friend (1870), and I said yes. The artistic life has the same rules as improv: the only correct response is, "Yes, and..."
- So I spent that time on the bus reading the letters of Bayard Taylor, Fitz-Greene Halleck, and Walt Whitman, among others; their biographies, their associations, and their works, discovering all the stories behind the story that is America's first gay novel.
- Then last week I took some vacation time and spent 9 days in my apartment sorting, citing, and compiling the connections. The structure of the project is basically little strings of history, personal anecdote, and secret curiosities to go along with each chapter of the book itself (the manuscript of which I had to clean up line by line to match the original). We’re looking for some gayish American pastoral cover art now.

The Learner, The Lover
Out of this annotation research, the big winner was Walt Whitman. He was the best guy. I read his poetry as an undergraduate and still don't particularly like it--not that it isn't good, it's just not at all to my taste; I'm more for post-modernism, or at least structure and brevity, I still like rhymes, can't seem to cure that, etc. I like Whitman's phrases though ("I am large, I contain multitudes" or "dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you") and I love his intentions and meanings, so basically I love him, the man, way more than his work (though the two are completely intertwined, I get that). His thoughts and asides, his boys, his volunteer work in Civil War hospitals for the wounded (which he was criticized for because it was "unmanly" to nurse if he was healthy enough to fight, according to some). I'm so glad I had a real reason to find out about him.

I know more about American history now, the Civil War, the presidents of the time (Lincoln was a sweetheart too) than I ever picked up in a school. I can assure you that if I had stayed in that PhD program, I never would have had time to do a project as large as this. "Uh, but isn't that what a dissertation is?" Shut your educated-fool mouth: poverty trumps study. If you don't have enough money for food, housing, or health care, you don't have enough time to think about anything else. If a professor tells you otherwise, it's because they need you to stay stupid and studying what will not actually help your circumstances, because their tenure is funded by your underpaid labor or your overpriced tuition. That's true, the advisors at UT Dallas know it is true, they are either too powerless or too unconcerned to change it, and I won't contribute to an evil machine if I can help it. One of my brief cohort-mates from the PhD program quit the teaching part of it (because “I am worth more than poverty-level wages and participation in this institutional nonsense"), got two part-time jobs, but... still pays to attend graduate classes? She says she couldn't be happier. Yes, she could be! Like if she went to a better school! She's barely above an anti-union scab in my eyes, but if she thinks she's happy propping up the place that pays her fellows so horribly, I still don't see how I'm the one who's wrong (because I'm not).

I love learning, I'll work very hard for very little money (my publisher offered me $250 plus royalties for the annotation, and it's taken more than a year of work), but for a school to give me a stipend below the poverty line, forbid outside work, and offer no health care or summer assistance, that is so outrageous you could call it abuse. To take copious amounts of money from students domestic and foreign and provide them with inexperienced TAs as their only instructors in mandatory courses (with almost no guidance and certainly no real consequence for inadequacy) is disgusting, and a failure of a school. My friend who completed a PhD at UT Austin was quick to point out that all the all the information I got out of the Walt Whitman Archive is associated with UT Austin, so I can't be too mad at the University overall (haha, yes I can!), but she also made twice what I was paid for doing considerably less grunt work than they demand from grad students at UT Dallas. She never would have put up with such treatment herself.

The Poetry of It All
I did find some bits of poetry I liked (outside of Whitman's phrases) while reading for this project. This excerpt from Wordsworth leads off "On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake" by Fitz-Greene Halleck, the inspiration of Joseph and His Friend:

“The good die first,
And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust,
Burn to the socket.”
- Wordsworth.

Whoa, yeah? And this excerpt of Byron, that leads off another gay novel of the time (discussed before on my LiveJournal), which I brought up in the annotation to make sure women aren’t left out of the conversation for a book where a wife is everyone’s worst problem. At the top of A Marriage Below Zero:

"I seek no sympathies, nor need;
The thorns which I have reaped are of the tree
I planted,—they have torn me.—and I bleed:
I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed."
- Byron.

You see what I mean about rhymes? I’m a sucker for them.

The Artist
I went to a good school once, it was my original alma mater, the New College of Florida, and that's where I got all my research skills (I even got to return to topics from my undergrad thesis with Joseph, just like a real dissertation--Oscar Wilde's name as a code word for homosexuality; Whitman's name worked the same way, and did it first). However, since then (including my MFA, the private after-school program where I taught in South Korea, and my PhD program entirely) it's been nothing but people going through the motions and putting in the minimums to get money from the students and then get out. My way out of that fiasco mentally was the fact that I consider myself an artist first before an academic, and I took my lessons from the examples of artists, poets in fact (though I'm a prose-writer almost exclusively): A.E. Housman got kicked out of school for having a crisis on the day of his exams? No matter, he got a job and did scholarship out of school until they took him back anyway. T.S. Eliot got a job in a bank so that his literal fortunes would stay stable enough to stay out of the way of his real work. Walt Whitman held a university education against men, this is from Intimate with Walt: Selections of Whitman's Conversations With Horace Traubel, edited by Gary Schmidgall:

When Traubel tells Whitman he worked for four years in a printer’s shop, Whitman naturally applauds, this being his own employment history: "Good! good! that’s better than so many years at the university: there is an indispensable something gathered from such an experience: it lasts out life. After all the best things escape, skip, the universities.”

I have escaped the universities! Sweet are the uses of adversity! universities! Same difference! From this project has already come another research book that I'll be doing with one of my MFA cohort-mates, the improv one ("yes, and," remember?), and from that project we have material for a recurring podcast segment that we'll record later this month, and from there who knows what else will come up? I have one last planned book to finished before I turn 30 (the final installment of my young adult Disorder Series, and I just turned 29, so the deadline is on), and after that I'm free to work as I please, go where I please, do what I please, because I've got a job that respects me, and money enough to enjoy my life. I can do work on the side that gives me artistic and academic purpose because I have the means for it. I even had the means to buy scans of an unpublished Charles Jackson manuscript out of the archives at Dartmouth, for nothing more than the pleasure of learning everything I can about him. I've got a lot more work to do, and while it's a tragedy that this kind of dedication and zeal for learning found no means of support in a PhD program, it's not my tragedy anymore, and that's still nice every day.