Partnerships come in all forms, both transactional and transformational. The deepest of these involve a connection and understanding of each other’s stories . . . our likes, our fears, our dreams. In the words of Harper Lee, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Kelsey and I have worked tirelessly over the last six years to develop this type of experience for our storytellers, writers, and actors who have been involved in over 75 different Facing Projects across the country. During this time, we’ve gotten to know each other quite well in our partnership as founders of the organization but also as close friends. And even though we thought we knew everything about each other, even more was revealed this past spring when Kelsey sat down with me to write my story for this Saturday’s Facing LGBTQ+ Pride book launch and theatrical event. This is the first time I’ve told my story in a Facing Project, and it was the first time Kelsey ever interviewed me.
As Kelsey mentioned in a blog post about our collaboration, “. . . I thought I knew a lot of his story, thoughts and feelings, but . . . (I learned when we first met) He was worried that I, like so many people in so many places, would devalue him because of who he loved.”
It was tough to tell Kelsey what my feelings were the day we met, but it opened his eyes to the worry I have any time I meet someone new. And I’m lucky . . . I have a strong support network (and, okay, I’ll admit it, a lot of confidence that can sometimes make me look like an asshole). But imagine those who don’t have anyone to turn to . . . those who, like 43% of homeless youth, were thrown out of their homes for who they love. These are stories so many Americans don’t know about or don’t understand. Here in Muncie we had 23 writers sit down with 23 storytellers from the LGBTQ+ and ally community, and these stories, including mine, will live on as a resource for Muncie (and beyond). They will help you understand our likes, our fears, our dreams. They’ll help you see us as regular old people and as extraordinary people. Just like many of you.
Kelsey and I are no doubt even closer after this experience. Thank you, Mr. Timmerman, for being my partner in so many ways and for becoming the biggest ally I know.
To get a copy of the Facing LGBTQ+ Pride book and to see the theatrical performance on June 30th, reserve your seat online at give.classy.org/facingpride.
After many months of pitching my book, HILLBILLY, QUEER, I’m delighted to finally say that I’ve signed with NYC-based literary agent Julie Stevenson of Massie & McQuilkin. In the end, I received four offers of representation. The final four were all great and had much to offer, but Julie is the one who I feel truly gets me and the book.
When I queried Julie in April, she wrote back within an hour and told me what she loved about the pitch and how it has connections to her own lived experiences. She told me that my dad sounds a lot like her dad and she couldn’t wait to read my book. Then when we first connected by phone, the synergy was immediate. We talked for over an hour. She knew my book inside and out, she understands my career as an author and where I want to go, and she has clear ideas on how to get there.
Julie grew up in a working-class town in Montana and made the big move to New York for college. She has been a literary agent for 10 years. Prior to that, she worked in the editorial departments of Tin House and Publishers Weekly. Over the past 10 years, Julie has signed authors who have gone on to become New York Times Bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize Winners. Her agency, Massie & McQuilkin, represents a strong family of writers including people I admire like Lidia Yuknavitch, Roxane Gay, Sharma Shields, and Ashley C. Ford. I am completely in awe (and shock) that my name will be added to that list.
This is a feeling I never want to forget, and, after months of swimming in the slush pile, I’m allowing the universe to send this my way while remaining humbled by knowing that I am only one of many authors who sign with an agent each year.
There are many people who helped me along this path to getting an agent. But, most namely, I want to give shout outs to my husband, Cory, for believing in me and allowing me the time and space to write and pitch (and for handling my melt downs with grace), and to my best friend and partner-in-crime, Kelsey Timmerman, who gave me kicks in the ass every time I said I was going to quit; and he always gave me sound industry advice when I needed it (even if sometimes I’d argue with him on how I thought he was wrong).
This is just the beginning. The next path forward is finding the right publishing house, and I know this part of the journey will be smooth sailing with my agent, Julie Stevenson, by my side.
Thank you for all of your support, friends.
I’m going to be really honest: I’ve been down in the dumps lately.
I can’t explain why other than I continue to pitch my book, Hillbilly, Queer, and I continue to get rejection after rejection from agent after agent. But I should be jumping with joy because, through all of the rejections, the full manuscript has been requested by two agents (one of whom is still reviewing), and that doesn’t happen often. If you aren’t familiar with the writing/publishing world, hard rejections are the norm. Getting a full request (or better yet, getting published) happens to only 1% or so of all queries/pitches.
So I should be jumping up and down because, at the end of the day, I wrote a book. I wrote a freaking book! I put my whole heart, mind, and soul into this project and spent seven months writing it, and the feedback from all rejections has been positive: “Great writing; love the plot; realistic dialogue; made me laugh and cry; a sweet and powerful story.”
Still, what the agents haven’t liked has boiled down to one thing and it lingers in my mind: “Your platform isn’t big enough to have a memoir.”
If you don’t know what that means, platform is your current audience and who you reach. It’s the number of followers on Twitter, the number of national/international publications that have covered you or your work, and how far your “brand” extends beyond the comfort of your friends and family.
That’s a big splash of cold water to the face.
In other words, it’s like someone saying, “You’re not a big enough deal for me to think anyone will care about what you have to say.”
Commercial publishing is a fickle world, and it’s one I’ve been living in for the past several months. Somedays I can’t help but think if I’d written the book as fiction rather than memoir, I’d have an agent by now because platform doesn’t matter for new commercial authors who write fiction; just for those who write nonfiction where memoir is lumped. And other days I wonder if I wasted all of that time writing the book because who really cares about the story of a gay kid who grew up in rural Indiana.
But yesterday I had another splash of cold water to the face that said, “Wake the fuck up, dude, your story matters.”
Kelsey and I keynoted the Campus Compact for Southern New England’s Student Conference at Quinnipiac University in North Haven, Connecticut, and we went through the motions of what we always do on stage: He shares a bit of his story, I share a bit of mine, and then we talk about how our stories converged to create The Facing Project and everything we’ve learned from the power of stories.
Because I’ve finished my book, I decided to mix my part up a little and read an excerpt—a scene where my dad finds a love letter from Steve and it ultimately outs me—before going into the part of our talk where I discuss being brave enough to own my own story. If you follow this blog, you may recall Kelsey talking me into sharing my coming out story on stage a couple of years back when we gave a talk at the University of Saint Francis and how doing so has connected me to people in ways I never imagined.
Some of those experiences have included a college dean who said the story provided him hope to cope with a recent suicide on campus and to find new ways to reach out to students who feel like they are the “other”; a victim of rape who said she had felt alone, but she was inspired to share her own story as a way to create connections and help others feel brave; and the Vietnam Vet Marine who shared that he recently had a coming out of his own—telling his friends and family what he experienced in Vietnam after years of hiding the horrors in his mind.
Time after time, my story connects with people who aren’t even gay but can understand what it means to feel vulnerable and how freeing it is to just let it all go.
After our talk yesterday in Connecticut, I had an international student come up to me after everyone had cleared the auditorium to tell me he had something to say. He stood there, nervous, his eyes searching. I knew. I knew exactly what he wanted to tell me.
I put my hand on his shoulder and told him it was okay. A tear fell from his left eye and rolled down his cheek. He bit his lip. “I’m gay but I can’t tell anyone because my parents will disown me.”
“You have to love you,” I said.
“You don’t understand,” he said, “in my country I will be sent to prison for fourteen years or put to death.”
I didn’t know what to say. We stood there, a moment of awkward silence between us, and just as I started to speak he beat me to it.
“I needed your story today to remind me that I’m not alone.”
Tears started to well up in my eyes and then I did something I rarely do but the only thing that seemed right in the moment: I gave him a hug.
If you know me, I’m not a hugger . . . but that’s a different story.
I told him to be brave but to only share his story when he was ready. He said he plans to tell his family after college, when he has a steady job, but he knows he’ll never see them again after that.
Sometimes being who we are means walking away from other people’s expectations of what they want us to be. And that’s the caveat for this strange world we live in.
He turned and walked away, down a spiral staircase that led to the exit of the building, and I knew I’d likely never see him again or learn the fate of his story. But he will remain with me, always. And what I didn’t get to tell him is that he did something special for me, too. He kicked me out of my funk and reminded me to keep writing, to keep pitching, and to keep sharing my story because you never know who’s listening.