David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: June 2016

Juli Grey-Owens speaking at New York Marriage Equality Rally, Manhattan, June 26, 2015

Juli Grey-Owens on the Fight for Transgender Rights, Bathrooms and What Is to Be Done

I have long been horrified by the persecution and violence directed at so many people in the transgender community. But I find myself confused as to what I can do to help. Frankly, I find myself confused about many things. So I thought I would ask an expert. She is Juli Grey-Owens, and she was kind enough to let me pick her big brain.

Read the interview on the Huffington Post.

Juli Grey-Owens speaking

David Henry Sterry: How did you get started as an activist?

Juli Grey-Owens: In meeting transgender people throughout my adult life, I’ve seen a lot of pain and suffering. The emotional stress and trauma as well as the lack of basic needs have been appalling to me. When I finally came out in 2003, I believed that I could use my talents to help my community. I began going to transgender events across the country, talking to people, becoming political and learning about the issues we face as a community.

DHS: What are the origins of this organization?

JGO: LITAC, the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, was started in 2005, when a group of transgender advocates decided that it was time to start working on civil rights issues. As the years went on and our work grew, we began to be noticed by people knowledgeable about political issues and ideas. They helped us form TransPAC, the first political action committee to deal specifically with transgender rights issues. We support political candidates, organizations, or grass roots efforts that further our goal of full equality for the transgender and gender non-conforming community. To our knowledge, we are the only PAC of this kind.

DHS: What is your mission?

JGO: Specifically, LITAC’s mission is to engage in education, advocacy, and outreach in order to achieve public understanding and support for the Transgender Community. We work with local, state and national organizations in an effort to bring about full equality and create a movement that works for social, economic and racial justice for all transgender and gender variant people.

TransPAC’s mission is more broadly defined to support any person, legislation, or action that works to better the lives of transgender people.

Juli Grey-Owens Marriage Equality Rally Manhattan Photo Paul Carey MEUSA and Lester Echem The LGBT Center

Marriage Equality Rally in Manhattan, June 26, 2015. Photo: Paul Carey (MEUSA) and Lester Echem (The LGBT Center)


DHS: What is your take on the controversy regarding restrooms and trans people in many Southern states?

JGO: My first thought is that this “controversy” is not limited to Southern states. Here in the very blue state of New York, transgender people still do not have explicit statutory civil rights protection (a law) granted by our state legislature, even though gays and lesbians have been protected for over 13 years! Additionally, guess what opponents call the bill that would protect us – “The Bathroom Bill!”

Bathrooms have been used as an excuse to prevent civil rights a number of times in America’s history. Many will recall segregated bathrooms, which continued into the 1960s. In the ’70s there was an outcry when the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which would have prohibited discrimination on account of sex, came within three states of being ratified. Opponents to the bill suggested that prohibiting sexual discrimination would lead to unisex bathrooms. In the 1980s, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fought the long history of “out of sight, out of mind” segregation of disabled people, especially in bathroom use.

Although it is getting better, there is a general uncomfortableness that cisgender people (those who’s gender identity match the sex they were given at birth) have when confronted with members of the transgender and gender non-conforming community. As a result, opponents will use fear to prevent our community from discrimination protection in employment, housing, and the use of public services. These are rights every other American has.

DHS: Why do you think people have such strong and violent reactions to trans people?

JGO: Our culture has created two important values. The first is what is called the Gender Binary, which is the belief there are only two discrete gender categories (male & female), and that no other possibilities exist. This belief creates a boundary that discourages crossing or mixing gender roles.

The second value is Heteronormativity, which is the belief that heterosexuality is the norm, and that heterosexual masculine men and heterosexual feminine women are normal, natural, and right. This value enforces the idea that all “other” gender and sexuality dynamics are abnormal, inferior, and wrong.

In my opinion, the fact we never seem to analyze is the danger these values have specifically on cisgender males. Their culturally-supported aggressiveness is the true danger to our communities. I think most would agree that for the most part, pedophilia, rape, violence, murder, and war are usually started and supported by males raised in the “be a man” mold. Speaking generally, they also happen to be the biggest threat of violence directed at transgender people.

Juli Grey-Owens speaking at rally for transgender equality

DHS: Do you think things are changing in regards to rights for trans people?

JGO: Yes, but it is too slow for my taste. In 2011, a national transgender discrimination survey reported that a staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).

With statistics like these, how can any community leader be satisfied? Chipping away a little bit at a time will lose too many of our community members during this shift. We need major changes–NOW.

DHS: There has been so much backlash as well as so much embracing of Caitlyn Jenner. What is your take?

JGO: I think they are directly related and both stem from the invisibility our community has endured for hundreds of years. Only recently have there been any positive role models shown in the media. Most people would be hard pressed to speak of transgender political leaders. In fact, a recent report found that there are only twenty transgender elected officials currently in office at any level across the world!

Transgender people need to stay secretive and under the radar due to the violence and discrimination that being “out” can produce. Even coming out to one’s family can produce terrible results like divorce, the breakup of the family, and teen homelessness.

This invisibility is magnified by the omission of acceptance in the media, in legislation at all levels of government, and in faith communities.

Caitlyn Jenner has been a media sensation, and has made people talk about the existence of transgender people. For this we should all be grateful. I do not support many of her views, but the fact remains that she has moved public awareness substantially forward.

However, as the world becomes more aware of the existence of the transgender community, fear and hatred begin to increase. And as we’ve seen in the past, when minorities get “uppity;” when they have an “agenda;” they become dangerous to those who will not easily relinquish control, or even allow a level playing field.

DHS: I get so frustrated not knowing exactly what one person can do to make a difference. Do you have any suggestions?

JGO: Absolutely! The best place to start is to learn some of the words that are part of what I call the “language of gender.” This can easily be done by googling the word “transgender.”

Once you understand the words and the terms, you’ll accept that gender is a really complex thing. You’ll understand that being a transgender person is another diversity that is found in our world, like being left-handed or having red hair.

The number one rule for being a good ally is never “out” anyone – even if your goal is to let that person know that you support them. “Outing” is defined as the act or practice of publicly revealing a transgender person. Revealing someone’s trans status could cost them a job, a relationship, or their physical safety.

The next most important thing is to ask the trans person about their preferred pronouns. If the gender presentation is clear and obvious, use the pronouns that match that presentation; but if unsure, politely ask in private what pronouns to use.

Listening to transgender people is a great way to better understand. Talk to transgender people in your community but be sure to listen with an open mind. Check out books, films, YouTube channels, and transgender blogs to find out more about transgender lives.

Know your own limits as an ally, and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful.

Get proactive and get political. This can include supporting gender-neutral public restrooms; challenging anti-transgender remarks or jokes; helping your company, church, school or group to become trans-inclusive; or sending a check to a transgender rights group. On a Federal Government level, write your congressman and senator and demand they support the Equality Act, a comprehensive bill that would update the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to existing protected classes. When passed, it will prevent LGBT people from being fired, evicted, or denied public services.

Finally, if you see or experience anything which affects the dignity and rights of transgender people, speak out and act up!

DHS: What would you like people to take away from this interview?

JGO: I would like people to know that transgender and gender non-conforming people are real people. We can be a family member, a friend, your neighbor or a co-worker. Everyone needs to understand that we have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We want the same things that everyone else wants: an opportunity to advance; a safe place to live, work, and play; and the removal of discrimination when it comes to basic needs in education, housing, and health care.

Juli Grey-Owens is a Long Island and New York State Transgender Community Advocate. Grey-Owens is the Executive Director of LITAC, the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition and regularly speaks at public forums about the need for statewide Transgender Civil Rights. As Executive Director of LITAC, she has organized all of LITAC’s demonstrations including this year’s second annual State of the State Demonstration in Albany, and LITAC’s Third Annual March & Rally for Transgender Civil Rights in Nassau County.

Grey-Owens is the founder and owner of Transgender Management Consulting, an organization which works to help organizations become transgender inclusive.

Grey-Owens is also the Executive Director of TransPAC, New York’s first Political Action Committee, focused solely on Transgender Rights. She served for six years on the Empire State Pride Agenda Board of Directors, the New York statewide LGBT advocacy organization. She served as Chair of the GLBT Democrats of Long Island, and was a member of the Suffolk County Democratic Party Executive Committee from 2006 through 2014.

Grey-Owens currently serves on the AIDS Institute Transgender Advisory Board, and is a member of both the Nassau County and Suffolk County Steering Committees to End the HIV Epidemic.

She was a 2009 Long Island Pride Parade Marshal, was the recipient of the Empire State Pride Agenda Star Award in 2007, the 2008 Auntie M’s Helping Hands Humanitarian Award, Outlook-Long Island’s Activist of the Year in 2009, and the 2013 Long Island Crisis Center Groundbreaker Award. She gave a key address at the 2012 New York State LGBT Equality and Justice Day held in Albany, and last year spoke at the Manhattan Marriage Equality Rally when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage.

She has a daughter, Sarah, and lives in Huntington with her wife, Barbara, and their two cats, Fraidy and Sylvia.

David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, family, photo for Phil and Mama

Phil and Mama: Working Parents Rock! The Book Doctors’ Parenting Advice and Work-Life Balance

Thank you to Kat Lieu for inviting The Book Doctors to her blog, Phil and Mama. You can read the interview “Working Parents Rock! # 1: The Book Doctors!” on Phil and Mama.  Our interview is below.

 David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, family, photo for Phil and Mama

Interview with David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut

Almost ten years ago, I was in grad school and I met David through Craigslist. I applied to became his intern and helped worked on his website. In return, he read my draft manuscripts and became my writing mentor. Thanks to David, the world refers to me as Kat now instead of Kathleen. Kat Lieu just has a better ring than Kathleen Lieu, David advised. I also landed an opportunity to create online games for Little Miss Matched, a company founded by Arielle, David’s wife. I met their daughter Olive when she was just a little baby, and I can’t believe that she’s eight now! Time really flies. It was such a treat to interview this dynamic duo of working parents, and to catch up with a mentor. The first word that comes to my mind is “goals” after learning about what they’ve accomplished through the years and continue to accomplish. I know you’ll enjoy this fun interview as much as I did! – Mama Kat

to begin…

Q. Tell us a little about yourselves.

A: Arielle is a city girl, she grew up in New Yawk New Yawk, as an only child surrounded by millions and millions of people. She was (and is) an avid reader, very precocious, and went to an amazing school called Bank Street, where she learned about reading, writing, arithmetic, and being an entrepreneur. This would lead her to become the author of nine books, a literary agent, and start a business called Little Miss Matched, which began by selling socks in packs of threes that don’t match. That company blew up to the point where they have stores all the way from Disneyland to 5th Avenue in New York City, back where Arielle was born. Her favorite writer and all-time hero is Jane Austen.

David is the son of immigrants, and has lived all over the country. He never went to the same school for two years in a row until he went to college. He spent several early years in Hueytown, Alabama, when that state was ranked 50th in the nation and education, and they still whacked you on the knuckles with a metal ruler when you acted too sassy. His mother was an avid reader and an amazing educator. David was obsessed with baseball as a kid, and he always loved to write. He went on to become an avid soccer player, but was injured terribly just as he was offered a contract to play professionally. He then became a stand-up comedian, and an actor, who performed in everything from industrial training movies to plays that nobody came to, all the way to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with Will Smith. While in Hollywood, he became a screenwriter, and eventually got a three picture deal with Disney, which was promptly terminated after the first screenplay was rudely rejected. His hypnotherapist at the time (and it is mandatory to have a hypnotherapist if you live in Hollywood), advised him to start writing about his life. This led him to finding an agent, who helped him not write the book he was writing, but write the book he was supposed to write. That book sold for six figures in under two hours when it was put into the marketplace. This led David to become the author of 16 books. That agent was Arielle Eckstut, who is now his beloved wife, and mother of his child.

photo for Phil and MamaSpeaking of which, Olive is eight years old and, like her parents, she loves to read. One of her heroes is Raina Telgemeier, the splendid middle-grade graphic novelist. Olive adores the Harry Potter books, and has recently been reading books about Gabby Douglas, Hillary Clinton and Babe Ruth. She just loves to watch reality cooking shows. She also enjoys gymnastics, baking, and hanging out with her awesome BFFs. Olive travels all over the country with her parents, and has now been to 33 States. Her favorites are Austin, Texas, and Hollywood. She is absolutely adamant that she does not want to be an author when she grows up. She’s been to the circus too many times, and seen how scary the clowns look like backstage without their makeup on. She wants to be a teacher, an Olympic gymnast, a baker who runs a restaurant, a photographer, or perhaps an agility trainer for dogs. Speaking of which, she also loves her dog Moe, who is a very loving beast, and has lots of problems.

Together, Arielle and David formed a company called The Book Doctors, after they wrote a book called “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.” They travel all over the country, helping writers get successfully published, with Olive, and have presented everywhere from rural Alaska to Miami Beach to Brooklyn to Deadwood.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you? What about a typical week?

A: We are either on the road, in which case we are going to airports, checking into flights, going to hotels, doing workshops, taking in the local sights, and swimming wherever we go. When we were in South Dakota, a donkey practically climbed into our car to eat the apple that we were offering. In Alaska we saw wild bears, eagles, and even a whale.

The three of us love to eat. Whenever we’re on the road, we make sure to find amazing restaurants. We have eaten moose in Alaska, steak in Omaha, paella in Miami Beach, lobster in Rhode Island, and barbecue in Kansas City. When we’re not on the road, we are writing our own books, consulting with organizations like the Blue Man Group, doing consultations on the phone with authors, playing softball, riding our tandem bicycle, watching movies, knitting, baking, cooking, and/or hanging out with each other. We really like hanging out with each other. 🙂 And of course Olive is in school. She is extremely lucky to go to a great elementary school called Hillside, and she hopes to be in their world class drum squad called Drums of Thunder.

having fun…

Q: Where do you vacation? Do you recommend it for parents with smaller children?

A: We are of the profound belief that people need to vacation whenever humanly possible. While it’s certainly great for parents to get away by themselves, we take Olive with us everywhere. Part of our job, as we said, takes us to some amazing locations, and we always make time to mix vacation with vocation, and fun with work. Olive’s grandparents have a place up in Rhode Island that we go to every summer; there are great beaches, amazing food, and a great old time carousel. It’s fantastic. We also love going down to the Jersey Shore, and we loved going to Hawaii!

being inspired…

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A: Mostly from everyday life and our crazy imaginations. We see things on the news, we see things at schools, and we are inspired by what we read especially. In this household, people are always turning funny incidents in life into story ideas.

parenting and working just fit…

Q: What’s one piece of advice that really helped you when you were new parents? How about now?

A: We had an amazing woman named Ivorine who helped us when Olive was a baby. Olive did not cry that much, but one day when I (David) was with her, I just couldn’t get her to stop crying. So the next day I asked Ivorine what I should do when our baby was crying, and why Olive kept crying. She looked at me very patiently, like I was a slightly dull child, and said, “Babies cry.” Those two words changed our entire life. As for the feeding, watering, grooming and educating of an eight-year-old, we really try to make sure she knows she can ask us any questions, and that she can come to us if she’s having trouble with anything. We’re also very vigilant about the computer and the Internet. We try to make sure she eats great food, gets lots of rest and sleep, and knows that she is very loved. We try to teach her daily about empathy, caring about other people, trying to see things from another person’s point of view. And of course we tried to instill a sense of discipline and hard work, which is not always so easy in the entitled bubble which we Americans create as a culture for our kids.

Q: How do you two achieve work-life balance?

A: It’s actually not very easy in certain ways when your office is your home. Of course it’s fantastic to have a 30-second commute. But it’s also kind of relentless, because everywhere you look around your house is a reminder of the work that needs to be done. But we really try to focus on small things like having dinner together every night, having a big Sunday dinner with the grandparents, riding our bikes or doing something outside when it’s nice, and doing fun things together that we all love.

success means…

Q: How do you define success?

A: We define success as finding something you love to do, something you’re absolutely passionate about, and doing it, hopefully on a daily basis. If you can actually find a way to make money doing that, as we have done, all the better. In fact the first iteration of our book about publishing was called, Putting Your Passion into Print, because we are so dedicated to the idea of spending a life doing things one is passionate about.

Arielle Eckstut, David Henry Sterry

Thank you again, Kat!

Kat Lieu of Phil and Mama Kat Lieu is a millennial mama, doctor of physical therapy, certified lymphedema therapist, professor, indie author, and blogger from NYC. Phil is her happy little toddler who loves to play, joke around, and shower her family with love. Her blog, Phil and Mama, provides tips, hacks, free printables, advice, and resources for busy, new (and experienced) parents who work, and who seek to fit life and work into a harmonious balance.


Michael Vance Gurley, author

Michael Vance Gurley on Publishing His Historical Gay Hockey Novel

We first met Michael Vance Gurley when he won our Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books) in Anderson’s Bookshop (one of our favorite bookstores) in Naperville, IL. When he pitched us a book about Chicago, The Roaring Twenties, and a gay hockey player with a deep, dark secret, we were hooked. We were sure it was a book. And now, lo and behold, his book The Long Season is out. So we thought we’d pick Michael’s brain about his road to publication.

Read the interview on the Huffington Post.

The Book Doctors: How did you learn to be a writer?

Michael Vance Gurley: I remember specifically wanting to be a writer in the 7th grade, giving horror movie fan fiction to kids, who loved it and wanted more, meaning it was either good or twisted enough for the junior high mind. Creative writing classes helped add depth and purpose to characters and plots that didn’t have a machete in them. I wrote comic books, and learned the value of research, plot design, and character development. After taking a break to work around the clock for years, I decided it was time to stop working so hard at not writing and started a novel. I didn’t know how to structure it. For comics, there were templates online, so I looked there because the Internet has all the answers! Well, maybe not all, but I did some research into writing strategies for novels, like the snowflake method, which was helpful to construct an outline and character sheets. Really, the idea to write about a hockey player from the Roaring Twenties struggling to be his true self, while surrounded by all the razzmatazz of the Jazz Age and the excitement of the sports world, was so strong in my head it was like I was writing it even when I wasn’t. The simple answer is I haven’t learned to be a writer yet, as much as I continually learn to be one. My editor would agree!

TBD: What were some of your favorite books as a kid, and why?

MG: I loved The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and wanted to be him, seemingly able to control minds. My dad’s family is from Mississippi, and after school let out, I spent summers in the South. It was like I hung up my shoes and had a Huck Finn life every summer, so I related to those guys and their wild adventuring. Horror grabbed my attention at a far too early age. I remember reading Stephen King’s Misery and It all night long. I couldn’t put them down. What I read most were comic books. I devoured old Batman, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, and X-Men. My cousins and uncles gave me boxes of books to read. I vividly remember spreading them out, that wonderful four color processing smell of old comics filling the room, and reading them over and over.

TBD: What are you reading right now?

MG: I love to read and am always reading two or three things at once. I am into classics, sci-fi, YA, steampunk, and pretty much anything. Right now, I’m reading James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. It’s a deep look at the underground gay life of Paris in the 1950s. It was so courageously written, and even though it might draw harsh criticism about demonizing gay life today, it broke ground. I’m also reading Star Trek: Sight Unseen, which follows Riker after the Next Generation movies. He’s such a powerful character, and he inspires me when I need to think of something commanding for a character to say. There’s also an incredibly diverse cast with ridiculous tongue-twister names, which help me free my mind when world building, like I’m doing with my next book. I like to alternate classics or serious novels with fun reads, or just do both at the same time while grabbing a comic book in between.

TBD: Your novel has such a cool and unusual story; how did you come up with the idea for your book?

MG: The 1907 Kenora Thistles gave me the idea. They were a ragtag, underdog hockey team who won the Stanley Cup, back when you could just challenge the champs for a shot at the Cup without having a whole season. One of the boys, Art Ross, grew up to have the leading scorer trophy with his name on it. I was looking at a hockey history book and passed a lot of old team photos until I flipped the page to this one. Back then color photography was more rare than now, a little costly, and exposure times were longer, so people were more conscientious about their poses. They were more intentional in a portrait sense of photography, and less selfie. Their team photo displays these macho iron man athletes, some with their legs curled and draped over each other in what today would be considered an effeminate manner. One of them was not looking straight at the camera, but at another player. In a flash, I thought, what if those two players had a secret? I had to write that story. I changed the time period and location because my story had to take place on my favorite team in my city! But that photo moment is in the book. Sometimes you walk through a museum and pass a hundred paintings and barely glimpse them until you get to the one, and you just know. It was too powerful an image for me to leave uncaptioned.

TBD: What were some of the joys and pitfalls of writing your first novel?

MG: Since The Long Season is a period piece, I did quite a bit of research. I’m a history buff, which meant digging into the cost of a cab ride in the 1920s or what gay life had been like in Chicago was exciting. It actually took up quite a bit of writing time because the net is an infinite suck hole if you let it be, or a fount of information if you take the time to cross-reference. It took me six months of actual writing to get to the final moment in my book, but I feel like I had been writing it in my head for a long time before that. It would fill my mind as I did other things, thinking about what would happen if I tweaked one thing or another. Writing the outline and being able to create whatever I wanted was thrilling. I don’t recall worrying too much about what to do next with a character, or having writer’s block often, since I wrote such extensive outlines. I felt amazing as I wrote the last line, knowing in my soul I accomplished what I wanted with these people.

Then editing woke me back up. Most of the pitfalls happened after the first draft, with learning to let go of bad ideas or weak paragraphs when an editor or trusted friend reviewed it. It brings the phrase ‘kill your darlings’ to a whole new level when they are your darlings what need killing. The art of creating is great. The art of destroying so you can create anew is terrifying.

All that led me to the biggest joy: winning The Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza, a pitch contest where you get 60 seconds to win them over, in front of a crowd. Your presentation needs to be tight and powerful. They helped connect me to a great editor who shared my vision. I looked for an agent and publisher for about a year, getting rejection letters with great notes in them, while working a time-consuming job. Marketing takes so much effort. It was heartbreaking, but I believe working with my editor, Jerry Wheeler, made my novel ready to compete. The Book Doctors made an introduction to the right publisher, who has loved my work and ideas. Like my favorite band sings, “I’m standing exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

TBD: How did you go about selling your book?

MG: That’s the difficult thing! I thought painting the idea into the written book was so hard I had to make a life goal about it. The real work is struggling to learn the process of finding an agent or publisher, turning hundreds of pages into punchy one-liners and two-page synopses. I entered the Pitchapalooza contest at Anderson’s Bookshop and won, which provided me with insight about what to do next. I also took a seminar on marketing yourself in publishing. It’s a very complicated thing to do. I sent pages to countless places before someone said yes to me. Then the contract came! Although I was so excited and ready, I heeded advice and had an entertainment lawyer help out. It doesn’t become smooth sailing after you get a publisher. They will market, and so will you.

I started simple by establishing a base of potential fans on Facebook by finding authors like me and groups that share my genre, and friending/joining them. I made some great connections by liking author book pages and having them like mine. I contacted many of them directly and just asked. Now my posts reach hundreds of people. I did research about blogs and review sites that would take small press books to review, and I started contacting them. I am scheduling interviews for a blog tour with some giveaways. I arranged a book release party at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL for June 15th at 7 p.m. Anderson’s is the bookstore where it all started for me. I’m on the board at Youth Outlook, which runs drop-in locations and education programs for LGBT youth, and I am donating the event proceeds to them, to hopefully turn my potential success into something that benefits what I believe in. There will be press coverage. You have to have faith that the grass roots efforts will pay off in great reviews, which will drive sales.

TBD: Are you working on a new project?

MG: One of my writing goals is to challenge myself by working on vastly different projects each time. A sequel might be wonderful and would be easier to do. I even have a name for it–The Long Season: Overtime! Maybe later. My current novel is a steampunk, young adult, planned trilogy featuring LGBT main characters. I wrote some of it in comic book form back when I was self-publishing, and the interconnected world I built never left my mind. It is a much more complex plot than The Long Season and goes back further in time to the Victorian age. The research is intense, and of course, a wonderful distraction since I love history. The nice thing in speculative fiction is it is all right if I twist history to my needs even more than I deviated from known facts in The Long Season. Then I plan to swing wide to edit a first draft I’ve written for a children’s picture book, and then I plan a coming of age novel set in private school. I want to keep writing things I want to read. I want the next box of new books I open from the publisher to fill me with the same joy The Long Season did. It might be smarter to stick to a genre and make a name like James Patterson did in crime, but even he branched out into YA and other things, and that’s what I feel my path to be. Turn and face the strange! Changes.

TBD: How did working with special-needs kids influence your writing your book?

MG: The funniest work connection was when I let our COO know my novel had been signed. One of the first things he asked was whether it was about our school. I laughed because even though confidentiality is a large issue in special education, it would make an excellent book. He then reminded me in a half joking manner, that if I did, I’d be sued! I think writers put some of themselves into their work; my knowledge of how children relate to each other in times of stress, how they feel about adults in power, or when they are in need influenced how my characters relate to their worlds. Being a clinician and an educator helps me get into that headspace. The main protagonist, Brett, suffers from terrible obsessive compulsions, decades before anyone knew what OCD was or what to do about it. That came from my life of seeing so many struggle, desperate for help and a place to fit in. I want to make sure that my characters feel real to me. People that may seem unlikeable to others, or that have different methods of engaging in their environments than the norm, are what I am used to, so that’s what I write. The more someone has it figured out, the less intriguing they are to me. It’s all about the process of exploring problem solving, relationships, and responsibility in a world that is collapsing around you in a real way. And I think those things must come somewhat from my work, or maybe from an episode of Dawson’s Creek.

TBD: What were some things you learned from working with your editor?

MG: I learned not to fear the red pen or track changes in a Word document. Feedback is your friend and lots of it does not mean there is a lack of talent. I came to grips with my story being the art form, and the grammar being the frame that holds it all together. With the grammar, I needed help. My editor is very good with not only the structure, but I learned to trust in his instincts to chop when needed. A writer writes and wants there to be a lot of it. An editor doesn’t rewrite or try to change your ideas, but helps you cull what doesn’t need to be there or may be detracting. My editor did research into the time period I was using to convey my story and became an expert on the anachronistic issues of writing historical fiction of the Jazz Age. My favorite note was when I tried to write the phrase, “Rain on my parade,” into it and he reminded me that I was using a Streisand song from 1964. I laughed out loud and left him a comment when I sent it back saying I thought it qualified as the gayest correction in the whole book! So we had some fun with it.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

MG: Learn to write. It may sound flippant, but it is so true. I think after a few rounds of editing, we got down to the writing errors of the meat, and I grew frustrated seeing hundreds of instances of ‘that’ deleted. I protested, until I read the sentences out loud, hung my head, and started reading grammar guides. It sounds strange, but Mark Twain said something about replacing all the instances of ‘very’ with ‘damn’ so the editor could do with them what should be done!

It is equally as useful to point out how patience and politeness pay off. When sending your work to an agent or publisher, there is a long period of waiting afterward. When you get a contract, there’s more waiting for editing windows and print dates. When I was shopping around, I received great advice from agents, and even other authors. When they came in the form of a rejection letter, the instinctive response can be one of anger and denial, but I thanked them with openness and gratitude for taking time to write anything at all. It’s a small world. I can draw lines between people who have helped me and some who rejected me. I was polite in my responses and patient in my timing, and I feel that it paid off in having none of those connections snap like a twig. I wrote back and forth to some authors, asking for advice. Bart Yates and Jay Bell are two of my favorite authors and they answered a lot of questions in emails. I have more stories like that than stories when someone treated me poorly.

Michael Vance Gurley was born in a Chicago hospital that was quickly condemned and torn down. He grew up and worked in the shadow of Capone’s house in a union hall, where he first discovered a love of gangsters and the Roaring Twenties. Being an avid hockey fan led him to kissing the Stanley Cup, and as an ardent traveler, he kissed the Blarney Stone, both of which are unsanitary and from which he’s lucky to only have received the gift of gab. Michael has many literary interests and aspirations. He self-published One Angry Koala, a well received comic book. His poetry has been printed in the Southern Illinois University newspaper, which was a real big deal back then.

Michael has worked with special needs children for nearly twenty years. His work with young adults led to a love of YA books, but he was raised with classic horror, beat poetry, and comics. As winner of a “Pitchapalooza” author event, Michael received some helpful guidance for his first novel, The Long Season, by literary agent/authors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and editor Jerry Wheeler. Michael still lives in the Chicagoland area, and despite it being cliché, gets asked about gangsters whenever traveling abroad.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.


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