Join Prism Book Alliance® as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins today.
Did I mention I’m attending the Lambda Literary 2016 Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices? Oh. I should have mentioned that. I am. I’m attending the 2016 Lambda—okay, I already said that part. It’s one full week in July, destination Los Angeles, with queer poets and fiction writers, YA authors, playwrights and memoir writers, and also, gays who write about cats. It’s going to be awesome!
I applied last year and was not accepted. I asked, and about 125 people applied for the 17 spots available in the Fiction workshop. This year, I got in! To be considered, one must fill out an application and supply two pieces of writing, twenty-five pages of something expressing your work, and an Artistic/Biographical Statement. I thought, for kicks, I would share my “artist statement” so you can see A) a more in-depth view of my next big project, Zacchaeus, and B) where I gently threaten the conference leaders. Yes, I threatened them, but in a good way, right? There’s a good kind of threatening, right?
See, this is why I need to work on my writing skills.
Forgive the bragging in the coming paragraphs. I’m embarrassed to write so boldly about myself. I will talk about my books for hours, but I’d rather not promote myself. It’s a liability to a writer, and I’m working on it, so I decided not to remove the blatant self-congratulations while trying to present myself as a viable candidate. (I had to counterbalance my threat.)
Finally, if you enjoy my writing, and you want to support the whole glorious rainbow of queer artists— some really fascinating people— I want to say this: this workshop is expensive. It’s damned expensive. I considered doing a Go Fund Me page to raise money for this, but I decided to use up my IRS refund and my savings to make this happen. I get why it costs this much but it’s expensive. There are some queer artists who’ve set up donation pages and could use your help.
Follow the above link to the bios of the amazing artists participating in this year’s workshop, and look for the “Donate to…” link at the end of some bios. I bet they’d appreciate it. It’s hard and beautiful to follow the dream of being a writer/poet/playwright/lover of words. Who knew that one of the sentences you’d have to utter so damned frequently in this humbling career is “I need help.”
I wrote my first novel (King Perry, Dreamspinner Press, 2013) with an unreliable first-person narrator—a narrator so unreliable he refused to reveal his true name to readers by the end of the book. This gent, presenting himself as one Vin Vanbly, invited an investment banker (and through him, the reader) to spend forty hours in his presence—obeying every single command—on a King Weekend. “Obey every command,” Vin said, “and remember who you were always meant to be.”
Remember what? What is a King Weekend? Is this supposed to be reality? Magical fantasy? These were questions readers were asked to endure. King Perry provided answers. Some answers.
One might argue that, as an amateur author, I bit off more than I could chew, artistically—dragging readers through an unfamiliar metaphysical paradigm somewhere between magical realism and a gritty San Francisco setting, trapped inside the brain of a well-meaning, but psychologically damaged, established liar.
But then again, how perfectly queer is that—not just “coming out” as an author, but bursting into the published world, tackling more than is possible, grasping for more drama with greater exotic reach than perhaps one ought? I exploded glittering confetti from my first novel, screaming with my almost-purple-prose fiction, “I’m an author!”
We queers argue this is our birthright, to show up fabulous and over-the-top. Perhaps so.
And perhaps, we could sometimes use a little guidance.
I could use a little guidance.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m very proud of my fiction, the goofiness of it, the lusciousness, the deep sense of location, and the groveling pathos. Over a six-book story arc (the sixth novel to be released in 2016), I’ve carefully constructed a tightly fitted architecture, a mythology that continues to straddle magical realism just this side of believable, suggesting that compassion and kindness might generate more miraculous results than imagined wizardry and spellcasting. My second novel, King Mai, was a Lambda finalist that year. As an author, I think I’m doing okay.
But I must follow in the humble footsteps of all good fictional characters, and evolve. Evolve into a better author before my own final chapter arrives.
To do this, I need help.
I need community.
I’ve read the full range of author self-improvement books, and taken copious notes from Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Annie Dillard, and a few notable others.
I attended classes through The Loft, a fine Minnesota organization with some amazing offerings.
However, I feel I’m lacking a queer community. I want to discuss man love freely, without half-checking for askance glowers from fellow Loft participants in amateur workshops, folks like Aunt Rose or retired Larry who thinks taking a writing class on Saturday mornings seems like a real hoot.
I need a queer community, especially as I venture further into unknown territory. And the territory where I’m headed is completely uncharted.
I’ve begun researching my next novel, Zacchaeus.
This will be historical fiction, taking place during the years Jesus walked the earth. In fact, the story is based on a lesser-known parable regarding a Roman tax collector who climbs a tree for the chance to see Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus announces he will sup at that man’s home, much to the dismay of the crowd gathered the Messiah. Dine with a tax collector? Bah. In my novel, during dinner, Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss what it means to live within society as an outsider.
I want to capture the essence of what it was to be gay at that time—centuries after the Greek understanding of male love, millennia before any modern interpretation of sexual orientation. Zacchaeus would not have considered himself “gay,” but what would he have thought of himself? Far from the self-hating queer we imagine for our long-dead brothers and sisters, he will be outraged by a God who created his sexuality only to have it abhorred by society. And yet, in his position of relative power, he must hide his love. And there is much more to his role than a sexually frustrated tax guy. He schemes against the Roman government from within the system, attempting to thwart the empire’s growing control over agriculture by redistributing land back to local farmers.
In my vision, Zacchaeus is a complex anarchist who happens to be attracted to men.
I fear I may not be a good enough writer to tackle this subject.
Confidence be damned: we all know that often lurking beneath the shirtless surface of the gay twenty-something, tossing glitter necklaces from a proud parade float and announcing, “I’m here! Get used to it!” is a scared boy, wondering if he’s strong enough for this life, if he really has what it takes to fully become who he was always meant to be.
Do I have what it takes to write a story about Zacchaeus and Jesus? Bluster and self-help books will only carry an author so far.
I need help.
I need community.
I ask to be considered for participation in this Lambda Fiction Workshop not because of past successes or the promise of future Man Booker Prize nominations, but because I am a queer artist attempting to pursue the best possible expression of my abilities. I feel I’ve gone as far as I can on my own, reading and taking notes. I’m tired of local, straight counterparts asking me “But do your books have to have sex?” I want to sit with like-minded others and not apologize for the lack of straight characters they can relate to.
Please consider my application, or, I swear to Zeus above, I will break into song from The Little Mermaid, demanding to be where the people are, I wanna see, wanna see them dancin’, walking around on those—what do you call ’em? Oh—feet.
You wouldn’t want that.
Nobody wants that.
But sometimes a gay author needs to explode with unapologetic glitter.
About Edmond ManningEdmond Manning is the author of King Perry, King Mai, The Butterfly King andFilthy Acquisitions. He spends a great deal of time standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wondering why it’s not stocked with more luncheon meats and cheese.
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