The local LGBT scene is rife with artistic talent, so if you’re going to spend your hard-earned gay dollars this holiday season, why not support the community in the process?
From new books to new music to new artwork, PGN culled standouts from locals that would make good additions to your holiday-shopping list. Happy reading (and listening, and viewing … )!
“Things Half in Shadow”
“Things Half in Shadow” is a funny, dark and edgy historical fiction that courts the supernatural in 1869 Philadelphia. Civil War veteran and reporter Edward Clark is out to disprove mediums he believes are fakes. But, when he becomes tied to the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor — perhaps the city’s only legitimate medium, the adventure begins to prove his innocence and find the real killer.
Princeton, N.J., resident Todd Ritter (who uses the pen name Alan Finn) said the idea for the book grew out of his own personal interest in the late-1800s time period.
“Mediums and spiritualism have always fascinated me,” Ritter said. “I was reading this book about tricks mediums used at that time, and the idea really took off.”
This is the fourth book for Ritter, who was originally a journalist, and is very different from his other works.
“They were pretty basic mystery/thrillers,” he said. “They were part of a series. They took place in the same town, present day. I wanted to do something completely different with this book.”
Ritter conducted a lot of research in order to make the book as accurate as possible.
“I focused on Philly history right after the Civil War. I found these great old maps of the city online. I went to Eastern State Penitentiary, Rittenhouse Square, the Water Works, Fairmount Park. I also read a lot of books about famous (and mostly fake) mediums. All very interesting stuff.”
Ritter’s favorite, non-spoiler moment from the book occurs at what he calls the “jumping-off point.”
“When the medium dies in the séance. That’s my favorite part,” he said. “The main character goes there expecting her to be a fake — they know all the tricks in the book — but then things start happening that cannot possibly be explained. It was a great scene to write and read.”
“Things Half in Shadow” will be available Dec. 30 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major book retailers.
For more information, visit www.alanfinnbooks.com.
— Ryan Kasley
“The Peace Seeker: One Woman’s Battle in the Church’s War on Homosexuality”
Out activist, businesswoman and church worker Susan Gilmore graduated from bible college in the early 1980s and had planned a career in Christian work until she realized her sexual orientation might get in the way of this goal. She instead chose a career in real estate and is currently vice president of one of the largest title-insurance companies in the nation.
But, she was motivated to tell the story of how she struggled to reconcile her identity with the misinterpretations and prejudice she encountered in the Christian Church.
“It was a long time coming,” Gilmore said about “The Peace Seeker.” “I felt driven, called to do it. I would come home at night and spend hours in front of the computer again just trying to put it together. It was one heartbreaking event after another trying to reconcile my faith and my gayness, and trying to make myself feel a type of peace within myself of being both Christian and gay.”
Gilmore, who lives outside Philadelphia, is now an outspoken advocate for increased tolerance toward gay Christians who have been ostracized from their family of faith.
She hopes her book will minimize the inner conflicts for gay Christians and create greater understanding and compassion in the Christian community.
“The book was written for the silent among us, who are the folks that go to church and don’t say anything,” she said. “It was also written for the people that have realized they are gay, known the church’s stance and said ‘f— you’ to the church and are not going back. They think, Why would I go back to a place that doesn’t love me? They’ve thrown out the baby with the bath water. They’ve thrown out any kind of spirituality and religion in their life and have given up on everything when I believe God hasn’t given up on us.”
For more information, visit www.thepeaceseeker.com.
— Larry Nichols
Kevin Scott Hall
“A Quarter-Inch From My Heart”
For his second book, out actor, musician, journalist and author Kevin Scott Hall headed in a more-personal direction. “A Quarter-Inch From My Heart” is a memoir that takes readers on more of an emotional roller-coaster than the black comedy of his debut novel, “Off the Charts.”
“I like to surprise people,” Hall said. “The first novel was a very dark satire about the music business. It was raunchy and racy. This one is a memoir, a true story. I’m hoping it will rip people’s hearts out. It’s about things I’ve been through, namely the story of when I took in a roommate after Hurricane Katrina and he ended up staying with me for two-and-a-half years. I also flash back to the 1990s when I was almost stabbed to death on the street, and overcoming that wound to my psyche and my heart. That’s where the title comes from; that’s how close to the blade I was.”
That metaphor is expounded to reference the time period Hall took in his guest.
Hall said that writing about his own life was gratifying but much more difficult than dreaming up a work of fiction — and it is not likely something he’ll do again.
“It’s really draining in a lot of ways,” he said. “From beginning to end it was a six-year process. It’s very healing once it’s finished, but it’s a huge process. It didn’t take a lot of imagination because I already knew the story, but it went though several drafts. They told me I was telling the story like a journalist: This happened and this happened. I needed to talk more about what I was feeling and what was going on in my soul when it was happening. It was almost like an excavation project. I had to go back and rewrite the whole thing again and really dig and put my feelings into the book. That is what was ultimately healing but very difficult to write about.”
For more information, visit www.kevinscotthall.com.
Kent T. Jackson (Taleon Goffney)
“On My Search for a Better Life, This is How I Became Infamous”
Under a pen name, one-half of the “gay-porn twin burglars” details how his life on the streets led him to porn, to prison and now to making a new path for himself.
Goffney and his brother rose to infamy several years ago after being arrested for a string of daring rooftop break-ins throughout the region. It was later discovered the pair had been featured in gay porn; Goffney is straight and his brother is gay.
Goffney spent six years in prison and was released this past spring, eager to share his version of the often-sensationalized story.
“A lot of people have heard about the scandal, but I want to show how true change is possible. I didn’t want it to all be for nothing,” he said, noting it was challenging to find a publisher to take a chance on a first-time author, so he went with a self-publishing company.
He wrote the story under a pseudonym — Kent for himself and Kyle for his twin — and spent several months on the editing process, working to delve deep into his mindset. Recounting the lows of his life, Goffney said, was a struggle.
“When I was doing the porn, it was hard to stomach, so going back and reliving those moments again was hard,” he said. “It put me in a bad mood to go through some of those old wounds. I kind of put all that to the back of my mind, but writing about it and reading about it depicted it right there for me. It was tough.”
Goffney, who is in school to become an HVAC technician, said the book-publishing process showed him his own potential.
“It’s crazy, I don’t have a lot like I used to but I’m doing so much more with my life than I was when I was in the streets. I’m in school, I just became an author. I’m doing all the right things and it didn’t take thousands of dollars, it just took diligence. I’m starting to believe in myself.”
That message of self-empowerment is what he hopes readers take away.
“When all else fails, trust yourself. I always knew what I had to do but I was never brave enough to do it. Take a chance on yourself. No matter how bad a mistake you make, you can always turn it around if you start trusting yourself.”
— Jen Colletta
Gary M. Kramer
“Directory of World Cinema: Argentina”
Out journalist, film critic and PGN contributor Gary M. Kramer continues to be our cinematic global tour guide, collaborating with fellow editor Beatriz Urraca on “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Readers are introduced to early films about gauchos and the tango, contemporary works about human rights and groundbreaking experimental documentaries.
“This is part of a series,” Kramer explained. “I contributed to the French edition and asked about editing a collection. For Argentine films, a lot are sponsored by the country or the government and there are distribution channels in place to show them in theaters, but most people who are Argentine go see American movies because that is what is popular. A little independent Argentine film will get a two-week run at a local cinema but has to compete with ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Spider-Man.’ So I think it’s important to make people aware of all the cinema gems that are available from a nationalist cinema or a country’s output.
Kramer added that the book and classes he teaches on the subject are attracting Argentine cinephiles and novices alike.
“I recently taught a class at Bryn Mawr and there were people from Argentina who bought the book because they wanted to see what we were talking about, films they knew about and films they didn’t know about,” Kramer said. “There were also people who weren’t familiar with Argentine film who bought the book because we whet their appetite. They wanted to see more film like that. The new Argentine cinema is like the Italian neo-realism of the 1940s or the French new wave. There are elements of all those genres.”
For more information, visit http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/D/bo16812124.html.
Natalie Hope McDonald
Writer, editor and artist Natalie Hope McDonald is one of Philly’s most creative and talented LGBT-ers, and her work is now appearing on several products at the American Institute of Architects Bookstore & Design Center. And, she is selling custom sketches for the first time.
McDonald is a painter (among other things) represented by an Old City gallery. She has been keeping a journal of line drawings for years, from which she has gifted sketches to friends and family. She recently began sharing these sketches on social media, which led to a demand for commissioned work. One of her sketches of Philly rowhomes is now featured on several products at the AIA Bookstore this season. She is also working on a series of sketches based off Instagram photos.
Thanks to the success of both ventures, she is now offering custom 5-by-7 line drawings that can be purchased directly from the artist.
“My goal is to create affordable, one-of-a-kind art that has a human touch,” McDonald said.
Her drawings range from people to skylines to rowhomes and other slice-of-life scenes. “The nature of the medium lends itself to the subject matter — like wires stretching over a street or intricate stonework on brownstones near Rittenhouse Square,” McDonald said. “The lines themselves, make the subjects interesting to me.”
The drawings are relatively simple, yet manage to convey a range of emotions.
“I like to keep things simple — breaking down a subject to its simplest form, the line,” McDonald said. “But the way a line is drawn can certainly convey a lot of emotion — be it energetic or even serene. The subject dictates the form a drawing inevitably takes. The process is so radically different from my painting style, which is rooted in abstraction and involves layering and subtracting of paint. It’s refreshing to balance between the two methods.”
To purchase AIA products, visit www.aiabookstore.com. To inquire about custom sketches from McDonald, email her at [email protected] More information about her work can be found at www.nataliehopemcdonald.com.
— R. K.
“Faces” follows, through poetry, a local man’s struggle to come out to himself in light of an upbringing that condemns homosexuality.
Nalla, a pen name the author uses to conceal his identity, grew up in the United States but moved to the Middle East when he was a teenager, moving to Philadelphia two years ago.
He said he had long used writing to express his feelings about his identity.
“I used to do some writing but never believed it was good, then, one of my friends took me to this event of a Palestinian-American poet in Brooklyn; her words really touched me. I went home and started writing again,” he said. “I realized I could do better and improve, and I put it as my goal to have my work published.”
As he collected pieces for publication, Nalla said he found many of them were related to the pain of being in the closet.
“They represent the struggle, the rejection, how I felt through this whole process.”
“Faces” contains about 45 poems in four chapters. Nalla said reading the poems he wrote over the last five years contained in “Faces” has shown him the growth he’s undergone, a process that has largely been fueled by his reliance on writing.
“I’ve learned how to adapt and be more comfortable with myself. Yes, it is a struggle, to be gay and to be called different and not normal. But whenever I’m feeling upset, angry or anything, I write it down and sleep. And then I can go back and read what I wrote and understand how I felt and better deal with that self-discomfort.”
Since publishing the book this past fall, Nalla said he’s received positive feedback from a diversity of readers.
“I had an interesting conversation with a priest a few weeks ago who I never met but who emailed me. He said he’s never felt comfortable with himself but read my work and it made him feel comfortable to know there’s someone out there living a similar experience and who can craft that experience in words and put it out there.”
“Faces” is available at www.lulu.com/shop/nalla/faces/paperback/product-21888001.html and is expected to be carried by Barnes & Noble and Amazon by the end of the month.
“All the Sides”
Need a break from Christmas carols? Then check out Trophy Wife, a local two-piece band that kicks up quite a racket.
Part of the burgeoning queer arts scene, Trophy Wife is comprised of Diane Foglizzo on guitar and Katy Otto on drums. Both women have roots in the Washington, D.C., punk scene, which they first encountered as teenagers. Roughly six years into this project, a feisty, DIY spirit still informs the band’s post-hardcore music.
Trophy Wife’s third album, “All the Sides,” was released earlier this month. It includes eight tracks, ranging from the raucous “Insomnia” to the brooding “Mineral Memory.” Overall, quiet passages alternate with loud sections, and many cuts end with a satisfying feedback hum.
According to Foglizzo, listening to the band is like overhearing two old friends talking. And that conversation is expansive.
“It touches on a lot of feelings, ranging from joy to sadness to anger to fear to loneliness to love,” she said.
Trophy Wife’s lyrics can be oblique and poetic. On the new album’s opening cut, “Breakdown,” they sing, “Dirty teeth infect/My bones.” But the band is also unafraid to tackle serious issues. “Audrey’s Song,” for example, is partly about white privilege.
When possible, Foglizzo and Otto like to book shows in inclusive spaces and play with like-minded bands. In their adopted hometown, they’ve participated in Phreak N’ Queer and done benefits for Decarcerate PA.
“Being a part of a queer music community as well — a queer, feminist and political music community — has been and is integral to our band,” said Foglizzo, who works at Girls Rock Philly.
Live, the band is exuberant and intense. Foglizzo and Otto focus on one another and often sing in unison.
“At a certain point in our band,” Otto said, “we made a decision to play facing each other, because that’s how we practice, and we’re a two-piece, and anything else just doesn’t feel normal or natural to us.”
Trophy Wife’s shows are a lot of fun too, and not just for the audience. When things get heavy, Otto really wallops the drums and Foglizzo cranks up the guitar.
In fact, Foglizzo noted, playing together has been especially enjoyable lately. Performing live, she said, is “a celebratory and revolutionary act of being up there and playing, putting things out there, and that in itself can be a joyful process, even if some of the places where that music and those feelings come from really is a difficult and hard one.”
Trophy Wife’s next local gig is Feb. 6 at the Boot & Saddle. For more information, visit www.trophywifetheband.blogspot.com.
— Ray Simon
“For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values and Health”
With “For Goodness Sex,” renowned sexuality educator Al Vernacchio is teaching a new audience: parents.
The Philadelphia native has taught at Friends’ Central School for 17 years; he currently teaches human sexuality to ninth and 12th graders and English to 11th graders, as well as serving as the advisor to the school’s gay-straight alliance.
The inspiration for the book, which was published in September, was sparked in 2011, when Vernacchio was the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story.
“That led to my TED Talk, and that led to the book,” Vernacchio said. “I never thought I’d write a book, I always joked with my friends that I’d never do that. But then the opportunity came, and I worked with my literary agent on the proposal and he shopped it around and Harper Collins bought it. It happened quickly and I didn’t quite expect it to happen, but when it did it was like, OK I gotta write a book now!”
Vernacchio used his 20 years of classroom notes as the foundation for the book.
“Trying to figure out how to fit 20 years of experience into a book that would be readable, not 1,000 pages long, was quite a challenge,” he said.
As he is so accustomed to teaching high-school students, Vernacchio said, he also had to keep in mind an adult audience.
Vernacchio taps into his classroom experiences to illustrate to parents and guardians how they can talk with their teens about sometimes-sensitive topics like safe sex, respect for one’s body and sexually transmitted diseases in ways that the youth will relate to. And “For Goodness Sex” aims to show adults that such conversations should be approached without fear or judgment, that having open and sex-positive dialog is productive.
Chapters include such titles as “OK, So I have a Body. How Do I Like It and What Do I Do With It” to “Gender Myths” to “Sexual Orientation: Whom We Love.”
Vernacchio’s career as a sexuality educator was sparked by his coming out.
“I was raised in a very religious Roman Catholic family and figured out I was gay early on in life. I went on a quest to figure out how those two things — gay and Catholic — could be true at the same time, but nobody could answer my questions, so I started looking up information and sneaking books off library shelves. The process of coming to know myself as a gay man allowed me to read and become knowledgeable about and comfortable with human sexuality. I studied theology in college, and in grad school I studied human sexuality. I know I would not be the kind of sex educator I am today if I didn’t have that coming-out process and if I weren’t able to live my life as an out gay man.”
Vernacchio, 50, who is married to his partner of 20 years, said he’s eager for both straight and LGBT parents to learn from “For Goodness Sex.”
“I grew up in a generation where, when you came out, you were pretty much also saying you weren’t having kids; but it’s so amazing that it’s so different today and LGBT people can either have and raise biological or adopted children. That’s such an amazing step forward and I really want to support my own community and parents in our community with this book.”
For more information, follow Vernacchio on Twitter at @AIVSexed or Facebook at Al Vernacchio, Sexuality Educator.
“The Talk Show”
“The Talk Show” follows polarizing television personality Abraham Lincoln Jones (think gay-male outrageous version of Oprah), who finds himself disappointed in his medium’s inability to connect with viewers, and takes his show on the road. His “Emancipation Tour” puts him and pal Winthrop in the crosshairs of a racist, psychopath killer — let the dark, humorous thrills begin.
“If you like Tarantino-esque dialog, you will love ‘The Talk Show,’” Wenke said.
From talk-show hosts to strippers, the cast of characters is as diverse as the rainbow — and that’s intentional, said Wenke.
“The book is really about diversity. Jones’ message is radical, but also mom-and-pop, because it’s storytelling. I want people to learn to be able to empathize with other people. When you get to know these fringe characters, they are a lot like you: warm, personable, even the people who hang at the Tit-for-Tat strip club. Once you get to know a guy like Jones, as crazy as he is, you realize he has great depth of character.”
Wenke’s first two books were religious satires, one of which was a memoir.
“The Talk Show” represents a completely alternative approach to storytelling for Wenke, he said.
“This novel lets me tell other people’s stories,” he said. “It gives readers an opportunity to find common ground with the characters and their stories, to really key into them.”
Wenke’s characters take risks. He said the theme of thrusting yourself into the unknown and seeing what happens was inspired by his interest in Norman Mailer, a gay activist about whom he wrote a book.
“Mailer was the center of the LGBT community,” Wenke said. “There was inherent risk in that. But you grow by taking risks. The characters in the book take risks, and we find out what happens. There is a sense of paranoia and dread, which lends itself to the thriller genre. We walk around thinking something bad is going to happen — ISIS, terror, Ebola. The whole novel is invested with this sense of fear.”
“The Talk Show” is available on Amazon.
For more information, visit www.joewenke.org.