Your Compassion is Limited to Literature

When Late Lights hit the stands readers’ reacted to the lives of Monty, Erin, and BJ with sensitivity. Many who had had children in the public schools felt personally culpable for ignoring kids like Monty and BJ – often to the point of forgetting they existed. They were struck by the magnitude of all three’s problems. And some readers, I imagine, hated the book for all these reasons (and perhaps others).

There is one sentiment, however, that was repeatedly written, and often voiced, that I initially took as proof that I had done a good job as a biographer of these fictional characters, but that I ultimately came to find frustrating (to put it mildly).

Readers love Monty. They want to adopt him.

When I conceived of Monty as a character it was important to me that I make him real. I didn’t want him to be too good, or too misunderstood. Instead, I worked to make him a full, dynamic kid. He gets into trouble because he does bad things. He’s violent, and occasionally out of control. Yet readers love him.

Why? Because they get to know him. They come to understand why he behaves as he does, and they see his good qualities in addition to his criminal ones. He is no different than most of the boys in juvenile detention. They have done some truly bad things, but there are parts of them that are genuinely good. They are loyal, funny, insightful, sensitive, scared, regretful. They’re kids. Kids who have been dealt a really shit hand.

Readers love Monty. But if they met him in real life, they would likely recoil at the idea of him becoming a friend of their kid’s. They would see nothing but the suspensions, the clothes, the language. They would see a bad influence. A bad kid. They would never love him as they do in Late Lights because they would never know him.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that every parent should embrace every delinquent who shows up in their kids’ schools.

But maybe we should give them a chance.

Brave, Gay And Homeless (and some at Westminster College)

I’ve been teaching at Westminster College for four years. It’s a small private school in Salt Lake City considered the most elite in the area, and the administration does everything it can to hold students’ hands. Of the kids I’ve had in my classroom, about 10% tend to really struggle. These kids don’t have much in common, besides being less interested in college than sking/partying/sleeping/being miserable. This, however isn’t true of a particular segment of student who tends to struggle: gay students.

These students tend to enter college with more emotional baggage, and often more financial problems, than any of my other students. Many have been kicked out of their homes, some have run away. The lucky ones had friends or family who took them in. The unlucky ones lived on the street or ended up in foster care.

I know, it’s unbelievable. But these students, the ones who have been so mistreated, don’t come from major metropolitan areas. Their parents aren’t educated or forward thinking. And as far as I can tell, don’t love their children more than they are attached to their fear and ignorance and hate.

These kids are brave beyond brave. If it were me, I’d have stayed in the closet. When I came out, I was already in college, and as my parents digested the news I was able to flee to my cushy college campus and get on with my life, knowing my parents would get over it (and sooner rather than later). I had nothing to risk. These kids sacrificed their homes, their security, and often, the love of their family, to be honest about who they are.

And they show up at Westminster underprepared and damaged. They have daunting loans and precarious living situations. And I’m supposed to hold them accountable for properly citing sources, and meeting arbitrary deadlines. To do less would be doing them a disservice, I get that.

I don’t want to patronize them…but these poor kids. The gay rights movement, but all accounts has been extremely fast moving. But to these kids, it doesn’t matter. While society’s opinions are taking their necessary time to evolve, these kids are living on the streets. Some are forced into prostitution. Some are beaten and robbed. Some become diseased. For all, it’s grossly unfair, and just gross.

This isn’t necessarily a call to action. That’s not my job.

I’m just saying.

So Much To Celebrate

Dear readers:

Welcome to blog re-boot. It’s been about nine months since Late Lights hit the stands, and I’m finally ready (i.e.: have time) to share with you some of the victories and insights I’ve accumulated along the way!

One of the biggest victories was also the biggest surprise of the book launch adventure. On August 31st the Deseret News published a delightful review of Late Lights. I had been somewhat surprised when their book reviewer had asked for a copy for review several weeks before ( The Deseret News is a largely conservative and Mormon owned newspaper) but it is one of the two most widely read newspapers in Utah, so I figured I’d roll the dice and see what might happen (though I feared a scorchingly bad review, as LL is replete with bad language and “difficult” themes). The resulting review was, if nothing else, humbling. Christine Rappleye did more than give LL the fair shot I feared it wouldn’t get. I had wrongly assumed that any Deseret News review would be unfairly biased and reflect the morals of their readers. Instead, I found that Ms. Rappleye read LL with an eye for craft and theme, and recognized and appreciated all that LL is meant to be: thematically challenging, and occasionally beautiful. Thank you Ms. Rappleye, for making me feel like a jack-ass, and for reminding me that it is possible to get a fair shake.

For that review and others please see the Reviews tab at the top of the window!

Official Book Launch Party

Book Launch Party Time
The official launch party for Late Lights, presented by The Kings English and the Jewish Community Center. The event is free and open to the public. Drinks and refreshments.
When: Thursday June 13th. Doors at 6pm. Reading at 7pm.
Where: The party will be held at the Salt Lake City JCC