At My Most Fragile

It's late winter, the middle of February, but here in Georgia that means early Spring. We come by our global warming here naturally. The trees are budding and I sit here in my Keith Haring tee shirt, needing a haircut and wearing a fuzzy cardigan still living like it is 1994. Blueberry yogurt is digesting in my stomach and the morning sun is out. The birds, no Robins, are singing what sounds like Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. Needless to say, I'm feeling stupid and contagious.

Without further fanfare here is the promotional mock interview for my next novel due this summer.



At times I didn't think I could write this book.


Let's talk about secrets.

Okay. You first. (laughs)

You have written extensively about family and personal secrets. Some of them have been quite tragic including sexual abuse, rape and suicide. Some of these secrets are related to growing up gay in a small town and others were more common to American families from the 70s and 80s such as infidelity, domestic violence and divorce. Having revealed all of this, how do you feel about it and what's left to tell?

I said something a month ago, it was that I found writing to be an emotionally abusive occupation. I had to go back during the writing process and relive all of it to some degree by reading my old journals, watching videos, looking at photos and talking with people that knew me then. I've cried over some of it, I've been angry about other parts and Shadow's Gravity put me into a serious depression last year. At times I didn't think I could write this book, but then it clicked for me and out it came every morning.
It comes with a price besides my mental health and there are some people who look at me or think of me differently after knowing, but I can't be worried about it. I wanted the truth to be known.

And it's not like domestic abuse, infidelity and some of these topics were exclusive to the American family only when I was growing up. Humans are still humans and there remains no cure for those problems within families, nor are these problems strictly American.

If growing up gay today is easier, I can't say. It might be a different time and on some level easier, but being different will always be a challenge. It might be new times, but with that possibly comes a new set of problems. If anything, it may be more confusing and embarrassing for children with some of the attention placed on it in school these days. I know that if I was a fourth grader and the teacher was discussing gay life in class I would have turned bright red and tried to crawl into a crack in the floor. I don't know if that perspective is taken into consideration. I knew what I was, but I didn't want others to know because I was taught what I am was shameful by society. Children today may be different though and if the shame associated with it can be minimized then that's a good development. It might save lives. It's difficult to find trustworthy current statistics on suicide rates because of how the numbers are clustered together under the umbrella of LGBT.

There are plenty of secrets left. I've never teased some of what is in this book. Also, I've never told all of the abusive stories that happened in New Hope at home or at school. There is one story in this novel which is about a complete emotional breakdown of mine in my teens. I finally came clean with it in therapy in the 2000s. I also come clean with readers that have followed my books about what I felt for someone that I wasn't completely forthright about before.


When does Shadow's Gravity take place?

Originally it was planned to span nine years. It ended up covering 1995 to 2005. I was a busy person, much happened and it made for a more complete circle from 1979 to end in 2005. This book sprawls and covers lots of territory in terms of themes, people and locations. During this time, there were also crucial events that still define our world today such as the widespread adoption of the internet and cell phones, Y2K, September 11 and the heinous murder of Matthew Shepard. This novel is my most ambitious. I'm excited about it and I feel the same about it as I did when I was writing Dweller On The Boundary.

There was another unplanned change. When I was writing this novel something happened in real life to one of the people behind one of the main characters of all my books. This development resulted in a drastic change in the course of the book.

I deeply loved him and considered him my twin brother.

What happened and to whom?

I can't say what exactly happened, but it was David The Bishop. I was shocked at what occurred involving him and it made me want to go back and delve further into that relationship in an attempt to find clues and offer an explanation. I haven't had any contact with him since the 1990s, but I was hurt by what recently happened with him. It made my head spin because I thought so highly of him, I deeply loved him and considered him my twin brother. It tainted my memories of us. As with any of my relationships, I've never spilled everything, just what I viewed as the most important aspects. I had to go back and examine that relationship and I did write more about it. My heart breaks for him that it came to this.


Paulding County has been the epicenter of your books, how much Paulding County is in this book?

The story picks up with life at the factory in Atlanta when I worked at Turner Broadcasting. It surprised me when writing this book, how much Paulding County is in it. I look back on life in that period and I don’t automatically think about Paulding County, but I realized it was still an important part of my life and I was often there. I lived there twice. Even when I was living elsewhere it seemed like there was a chain tied around my feet connected to the bumper of a van with one of those murals painted on the side that was popular when I was a kid and it was dragging me back out there for events. Years after I had graduated I was at Paulding County High School three times, talk about being surrounded by ghosts. My mindset then was, one day I will say goodbye to Paulding County once and for all, but it seemed impossible. I suppose I'll never say goodbye to it now.


What's your relationship with Paulding County these days?

I was there this past January, but I don't have a relationship with it besides the cemeteries. I don't live that close to it anymore, about an hour and a half away and with traffic it's a miserable drive. I pass through there a couple of times a year and it's less recognizable each time. I'm proud to be born and raised there, but we aren't compatible. If I haven't made that case yet then I hope it is obvious in Shadow's Gravity after I disclose what happened at my last house there in 2002. In the last few years, writing these books I have walked down Main Street in Dallas, the cemetery in New Hope, the Silver Comet Trail a couple of times and have been a few other places. I feel like maybe I've conquered the past, but then being there still makes me a little jittery. Also, I doubt I'll ever be asked to come out and speak at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon or at the main branch of the library where I met David The Bishop at a chess tournament. My experiences there are probably not something they would want to promote.


My belief is that if you wanted me to say something nice about you then you should've treated me better when you had the chance.


Are you saying you've presented Paulding County in a negative light?

Not entirely and I haven't been unfair to it by any stretch. My belief is that if you wanted me to say something nice about you then you should've treated me better when you had the chance. I loved growing up there, but I have to be honest. The Paulding County educational system was great to me at the time with some failings, but the community as a whole wasn't too kind. It was a pretty place though. As an adult, I don't have much in common with it and that's a sign that one, or in this case, both have changed.


Does Decatur County, Tennessee figure into this book?

Decatur County on the banks of the Tennessee River in  January 2003. Perhaps my first crappy digital selfie with a Sony Mavica.

Yes, I was there frequently in the 2000s. I don't even know if my family knew how often I was there then. My mother didn't know. It was the beginning of something new with my father. There may never have been any of the books in this series without those times in Decatur County. My relationship with my father may not have been as cut and dried as readers may suspect. We were close for fourteen years, with twice weekly phone conversations, regular visits and we traveled together.


You mentioned ghosts earlier, are there ghost stories in this book?
Yes, there are three ghost stories and another type of supernatural experience in this novel. The one ghost that my character experienced terrified me in real life. You can think what you want about ghosts, but I believe they are a genuine phenomenon. Whatever they are I cannot say, maybe they are a form of hallucination or maybe they are something that is not a creation of our mind. I'm open to either possibility. Most people will not believe in them, but unless you've experienced it then I suggest keeping an open mind about them. I've experienced way too many shocks in my life, but the experience I had in this book was the most shocking experience I've ever had and I have no explanation for it.


Who is your favorite character in this book?

Everett. I loved getting to finally write about this wonderful person that was locked away in my past. He was a transplant like me to Louisville, but had lived there longer and had a family connection to the city. He was a significant part of my Louisville life. He came from New York, was private schooled and was very much from a WASPY background. He was a polished person in areas that I was more rough around the edges. He was someone that I would have considered unattainable, he was extremely beautiful, sophisticated and intelligent. He was the kind of person that I did not think I would ever know or become involved. He came into my life in an unusual way and I'll leave it at that.


What made Louisville so special for you that you mention it on a frequent basis?

Louisville 1996.

It was a city that gave me everything I ever dreamed and experiences I didn't know that I wanted. No place has ever embraced me the way that city did in the nineties. It was beautiful, historic, interesting, charming at every step and it had zero connection to my past. It was everything Atlanta was not for me, a chance to live a fresh new life. It was also fun trying to figure out what the mystery odor was that wafted around the city on certain mornings.


It feels like I'm losing them all over again and that hurts.


Since this is the end of the series, readers will expect resolution to the storylines that have been featured in your books. Is that going to happen?

Yes. It will not be neat and tidy though and requires an epilogue which is something I've not included before. I will resolve everything from my grandmother, to the search for Oliver, coming out to family, my relationship with Dylan, David The Bishop, Elliot, other people and places too like Aviary Hill.

Now this is coming to end, I am both happy and sad that this is the last book in the Aviary Hill series. I am happy to finally finish what I set out to do since I was a child and can move on to new writing territory. I am sad because I fell in love with some of these characters and I am unhappy about letting them go. I've spent years with them and trying my best to convey how meaningful to me these people were. It feels like I'm losing them all over again and that hurts.

No mention of Robin.

I'll be honest and say that there hasn't been a resolution with him, I don't believe it will ever be possible and that's for the best. He's not a major character in this novel as I never communicated with him during this period, though his presence and influences are heavily there as there was no way to deny the lasting impacts he had on me. Readers might think the sound of the crickets story and its effect on me in Uncivil X was fiction, but that was one example of the very real influence he had on me. He was a major figure in my young life and you don't ever shake someone like that.


Any plans to write another book about your family or your life?

No. I feel like I'm still living in the period that follows Shadow's Gravity and I want to keep my privacy. I might find some inspiration from parts of it, but I would not wish to do more than that. My day to day life isn't all that interesting anyway. Writing, hiking, gardening, photography, travel, work around the house and loafing in antique shops or wherever is what my life is these days. People on my Facebook can tell you that it's terribly lame like watching old music videos on YouTube or bad photos of stuff I see alongside the road or where I walk. I collect postcards and maybe I should start sharing that hobby on Facebook. I'm not all that interested in social media. I'm still a shy person no matter how much I have written about the past parts of my life. I won't say never, I learned that lesson a long time ago, but it is very, very, unlikely that I would ever do it. I still maintain a journal, but that's for my eyes only.

All that remains of the past that I want to publish is my poetry book from the 1990s and much of that is subject matter about family and growing up. I'd like to do that this year, but I don't know if it's the right time. It's me at my most fragile. 


A Chris Jr. running around out there? Hmm.


You shared a few details about the possibility of you having a child. Do you?

A Chris Jr. running around out there? Hmm. Well, it would spoil a few things to answer that here. I answer that in Shadow's Gravity and the circumstances about that very possibility. I'm a good secret keeper, I've proven that. I'm not one to share everything about my current life on social media and I have serious concerns about the detrimental effects of what social media does to children's mental health.


What's one weird story in this novel?

At Charlie Dick's house. We all have a publicity still of ourselves above our mantle and nothing else.

There would have to be several or it wouldn't be my life, but I'll mention hanging out late one night at Charlie Dick's house in Nashville. Okay maybe two, how I was dragged onto the film set of Remember The Titans, which I've still not seen. I did leave out the story of  my being at 99X and how it involved a thrift store album of my favorite, Barry Manilow.


What's your favorite Barry Manilow song?


I love Mandy, someone I know would often sing it at karaoke and it's a great song. Barry has so many wonderful songs, but if I had to pick one then it would be Could It Be Magic. That song is like taking a journey, it's very dramatic and builds up throughout to this big finish. It's one of those songs that would make for a great closer for a marching band performance. I could imagine myself as a child dancing around the house and doing performances to that song like I did when I heard Elvis or Irene Cara's What A Feeling. I don't know if that's a gay boy thing, but I did a lot performances holding imaginary microphones and dancing around.

It was one of those songs bouncing around in my little brain in the evenings.

This relates to the previous question. There are a lot of music references in your books, from names of songs that were pivotal to the stories or playing in the background of scenes. It's obvious music is important to you, so what are some of the bands or songs mentioned in this book?


There are several music references in this book, but hopefully fewer as I was aware of it and trying to get away from that, but since I was in radio for much of this book it was kind of unavoidable. Also, it's kind of an interactive experience for a reader. I enjoy exposing people to music that they may not have heard and may enjoy if they look it up when they read a book of mine. Did people go listen to Robbie Dupree's Steal Away after reading about it in Dweller On The Boundary? I don't know, but they should. It was one of those songs bouncing around in my little brain in the evenings when I was out running around with Robin in the twilight. Or maybe readers my age were reminded just how great the Cure's Lullaby was by having it playing while Tavin and I fumbled around in my car in a church parking lot. People could go study the lyrics to songs by The Police and see the similarities to my life.
As for Shadow's Gravity, Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark album is part of a scene with Everett in Louisville. Her songs Free Man in Paris, People's Parties and The Same Situation from that time with him capture the mood. Another band mentioned would be Pansy Division, a San Francisco gay punk band, who I got into in the mid 90s when I was going through this period of finally being comfortable in my skin for the first time ever. By the way, the guy on the album cover is from Georgia and was the last lover of William S. Burroughs and was involved with Allen Ginsberg too.


What is one random object like a toy that you still have from your childhood?

This toy gun. It shot those red paper caps. I used to play with it with Robin. I may have mentioned it in Dweller On The Boundary. I lost it for a time, but as a teenager I found it sticking out of the mud one day walking around the front yard.

What is something random from your childhood that you have not written about?

I loved train sets. My first train set was the Golden Eagle. There was always something with birds, wasn't there? I had a few train sets and would buy extra cars and buildings for my town at the Kessler's at Cobb Center. That store had one of the best toy departments except for the Lionel Playworld on Windy Hill Road.


Since I can't ever say who he was or share a photo, that is the closest I can come.

Any final secrets you care to share?

Okay, why not? When Robin left me a music video came out that June and it was like this gift to me. It was Bonnie Tyler's mega hit, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and one of the best videos ever made at the height of the MTV era. The video is set at a boy's school. One of the boys looked to my ten year old eyes like Robin. I fantasized that it was him in the video and I never moved when it came on television. I was pitifully heartbroken. He appears at the very end of the video and runs up to the group of boys already assembled. Since I can't ever say who he was or share a photo, that is the closest I can come to ever sharing what he looked like. I loved that video and took comfort in it. You can cross your heart on that. This video was also released near the time my gifted teacher wanted to send me away to private school and it shaped my idea of what it would've been like. It might be the most homoerotic video ever made too.

What is next after all of this?

Locations from triple murder research.

I have piles of research on a Georgia murder from the 1970s that I may use for a book. I recently went by one of the locations for it and some time ago I hiked out to where the bodies were dumped. It was a spooky place. I have other ideas in various stages of development too. I am tempted to write something that is pure fiction and stretch myself. Part of me wants to write a book with 80s Atlanta punks as the main characters. I'm not certain what comes next, but whatever story is next it will be set in the American South, one of the most complicated and beautiful places on the planet. It has bothered me for most of my life how people get the South wrong, even people born here. There's a lot of lazy propaganda produced in the news and entertainment industry about what the imperfect South is from attitudes to culture. Without being an apologist for the South and the history before I was born, I want to try and change some of the misconceptions about what the South is.


Last question. What is the biggest challenge for indie writers?

Finding a book I wrote on the shelves of a Barnes & Noble bookstore was an incredible feeling. November 2020.

A lack of a promotional budget and a big publisher behind you when it comes to publicity. I'm grateful for the audience I have that took a chance on me and I have the good fortune that they have been kind and loyal, but of course I'd love to sell more books. Every writer wants to be read. I don't care anything about being famous or culturally important, but I do want to be read more widely and not be a niche writer. I willingly chose to be an indie knowing the challenges that come with it so I'm not complaining, but I'm mentioning it as a challenge to the business side of writing. I try not to promote myself all that much because there is something unseemly about that. Much of my promotion comes via word of mouth on social media and I'm dependent on ratings and reviews from readers on services like Amazon to help coax the the algorithms into favoring me. I wish more people that read my books would take the two minutes to rate or review me there with their genuine feedback. I have far more readers than ratings and reviews on my books and more feedback would definitely help me.


Thank you for reading.