Pluto makes Top 20 at Glad Day

This week I learned that Pluto made the Top 20 “Modern Classics” list for 2016 at Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop.

It just slipped in at number 20, and I don’t know what that means in terms of copies sold, but I’m thrilled. Not bad for a book that was released almost three years ago.

This, of course, is all due to the hard work of the people at Glad Day. Most queer writers wouldn’t be selling enough copies to make any list if it weren’t for them. They provide a prominent place on their shelves for our books, and they talk them up to their customers. You don’t have to know what you’re looking for when you walk in. Like all great booksellers, they’ll recommend something they think you might like.

This makes me nostalgic for L’Androgyne, Montreal’s LGBT bookstore that closed in 2002. I learned so much about books and life here. It’s where I first got involved in my community, where I made life-long friends. I also learned what I liked to read. France, David and Johanne were always happy to share their recommendations, and it was through them that I discovered some of my favourite books: How Long Has This Been Going On, Rat Bohemia, Fingersmith, My Blue Heaven, Mysterious Skin.

At last month’s Violet Hour I took a page from the past and invited everyone to wear name tags with the name of one of their favourite books on them. I also asked each reader to recommend a book before they read. The hope was to get people talking and sharing (and maybe even flirting) afterwards. To me there is nothing sexier than talking about your favourite books with another guy.

I now realize that I started the Violet Hour to create a space similar to the one lost when L’Androgyne closed. Today, there is a dearth of places in Montreal where queers can come to connect. I never run into anyone anymore, except online. Here’s hoping that – for at least an hour every two months – we can create space for meaningful social interaction.

I hope those in Toronto realize how lucky they are to have Glad Day. The oldest surviving LGBT bookstore in North America is going through a renaissance right now. It recently moved from its old address on Yonge to a storefront on Church. I visited it last fall during the Naked Heart Festival. The place now has a bar and a kitchen and it hosts readings, dance parties and screenings. It’s another gathering point (along with the 519 and Buddies in Bad Times) that makes Toronto a true leader in queer cultural programming.

If you haven’t checked out the new Glad Day, do so.

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The Violet Hour

For the past two years now, I’ve been organizing queer readings in Montreal. It’s been sporadic. The events have had different names, different locations, different themes. But now, after putting on close to a dozen, I thought it was time to turn it into a singular series.

The Violet Hour is Montreal’s queer reading series. It takes place every two months or so in the off hours of Stock Bar, a gay male strip club in the Village.

I got the idea to host a series of readings after my book first came out. I felt there was a lack of venues for queer writers to read at. Most of us are with small, independent publishers and we often don’t get invitations to literary festivals, nor are we included in most other mainstream series.

I’ve been involved in Montreal’s writing community for over a decade now and looking around I saw tons of queer writers who were publishing new work or working on material. I also had writer friends from out of town who were looking for opportunities to read in Montreal, but there were none.

Conversely, I also had book-loving friends looking for new reads. These friends knew little of the queer writers in their own city working to tell our stories.

The solution seemed obvious.

I’m happy that there seems to be a growing interest in the event. I’ve counted between 40-60 people at each Violet Hour, which is significant for a literary event.

The next event is planned for Tuesday, February 14, and it’s a fundraiser for Head and Hands. But even though it’s Valentine’s Day, don’t expect warm and fuzzy stories. I’ve asked my readers to bring stories of love, lust and loss – a whole gamut of literary emotions.

If you want to find out about future events, follow The Violet Hour on Facebook.

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Legend Series: Felice Picano

felice-picano-never-apart

This past November, Never Apart helped me bring literary legend Felice Picano to Montreal for a frank on-stage discussion about his work.

I was thrilled they trusted me with this, and I hope it’s the beginning of many more such events. There are so many great writers I’d like to bring to town, and it’s great to have a community partner ready to lend a hand to make that happen.

I first discovered Picano in the pages of The Violet Quill Reader, an anthology featuring work from the storied group of seven gay male writers that met in New York in the early 1980s. Even though the group got together met a handful of times, some of their members went on to write the most important books of the post-Stonewall era.

I’ve now met all three of the surviving members: Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran and Edmund White. Picano is by far the most prolific of the group. Not only did he publish more than 30 books, he was also the co-owner of two of North America’s first gay presses: Seahorse and Gay Presses of New York (you can read all about this time in the fascinating Art and Sex in Greenwich Village).

Felice Picano was generous enough to agree to come to Montreal to speak with me about his legacy in front of an audience. Never Apart filmed the interview and uploaded it online. You can watch it below.

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Naming Pluto

Pluto approaching
Pluto approaching

As New Horizons quickly approaches Pluto (112 days as I write this), the SETI Institute is looking for the public’s help in naming the dwarf planet’s craters, ridges, channels, volcanoes and various other features (as well as those on its moon Charon).

I find this exciting.

People can submit names centred around three different themes:

  • The History of Exploration
  • The Literature of Exploration
  • The Mythology of the Underworld

The Mythology of the Underworld makes great sense, as Pluto is the God of the Underworld. There are so many obvious choices. For one, there should definitely be an Elysian Fields – the place the virtuous go when they die. And wouldn’t it be fun if some features were named after popular imaginings of the Afterlife: The Summerland for Wiccans, The Heaviside Layer for cats, Sto’Vo’Kor for Klingons.

I also like the idea of naming its geographical features after literary characters. I know it’s a stretch, but how great would it be if something got named after a character from my book? The Geography of Pluto is a literature of exploration, and Will Ambrose is a modern-day geographer.

Ambrose Canyon perhaps?

I’d love to get Will up there somehow. I’m not so full of hubris to think my work deserves a place on Pluto, but still, is there not an inch of that planet he could claim?

Here is how to submit your own ideas.

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In defence of Pluto

Pluto-Charon

 

Do you remember where you were when you first heard that Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore?

I don’t. But I do remember how I felt. It was a surprise, a shock. Like being told there is no Santa Claus. No Easter Bunny. No God. “There are only eight planets now in our solar system,” the scientists had said. And this fact would now be taught in schools. Suddenly, a fundamental part of my solar system was no longer invited to the table.

I might be being a tad dramatic, but the loss of Pluto did represent something significant for me. It was the dismantling of a long-held belief system; a symbol of the end of innocence. It proved that nothing – not even a constant out there in the universe – is forever. And it caused me to pose more questions where I thought we had all the answers.

What is Pluto if not a planet?

It turns out that Pluto is a proto-planet, frozen at a stage of development that all of the planets in our solar system went though. It is just one, perhaps the largest, of many objects in the Kuiper belt – an enormous region of space made up of small remnants from the early days of our solar system’s formation.

I have soft spot for Pluto and you will see why if you read my book. Pluto is the only other planet in our system with a personality. It’s the consummate outsider, living at the far end of our solar system looking in. It’s the misunderstood teenager listening to music in the basement. The underdog. The one who writes poetry. The one no one understands. The one everyone is trying to define.

Pluto is also the only planet in our solar system that has yet to be studied or photographed up close. All that is about to change. A satellite called New Horizons is currently on its way to visit the dark planet. It was launched in early 2006, before Pluto was declassified. It has set the record for the fastest man-made object ever made. And slowly, over the past nine years, it’s been inching its way towards its destination.

New Horizons will arrive soon, on July 14, 2015 (watch New Horizon’s Pluto flyby).

When it arrives we are going to learn so much more about our solar system and how it was made. I find that poetic. That we have a lot to learn from the outsider. That we are just like him at our core.

I know that this will not be the end of the story. Pluto lost its status so fast, it could regain it again just as quickly (Alan Stern, the chief scientist of the New Horizons mission recently challenged famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to a debate on Pluto’s planethood). And I know I am not the only one whose imagination has been captured by this, who is rooting for Pluto to take its rightful place in the sky.

 

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