Who the hell is Bill Konigsberg?

So suffice it to say things are happening for Openly Straight! Today it was announced that the novel is a YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominee. The list of kudos for Openly Straight is a bit surreal and mind boggling to me, and it makes me think, you know, maybe I can stop relying solely on my belly dancing career? Soon, maybe. Have jiggle will shake, I always say.

So I started to think about what happens when teens from all over the country vote for their favorite books from a list of 25. I don’t mean to get all Glenn Beck-paranoid on you, but I do think maybe I’m at a bit of a disadvantage going up against authors people have actually heard of–Rainbow Rowell, Francessca Lia Block, James Dashner, Andrew Smith, Rick Yancey, among others.

So I decided to create this primer for those who might want to get to know this Bill Konigsberg guy. So I bring you 13 facts–some truer than others–about Bill Konigsberg.

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1) I began to realize I was different when I was eight, and I had a strong emotional reaction to Donna Summer’s MacArthur Park. Someone had left the cake out in the rain! And she’d never have that recipe again! I liked cake, sure. But also I truly felt her pain. How does one make sure they don’t lose rare recipes and the like? This was before the cloud, people. You lose a piece of paper, and that recipe for mint marshmallow squares is forever gone. Forever.

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Derrick Gordon: Out!

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The family keeps growing. This morning, Outsports published a beautiful article in which UMass shooting guard Derrick Gordon came out as gay, becoming the first Division I men’s basketball player to come out.

My first thought as I read the article was that Gordon is very brave and he sounds like someone I’d really like. The second was that soon this will not be newsworthy. 

And that’s what we’re going for. When ignorant people who don’t understand what it’s like not to be able to be yourself openly say, “Why is this news?”,  they aren’t completely off. I mean, they are off in that it is news. Of course it’s news when someone becomes the first gay anything. If it wasn’t newsworthy, if it didn’t require incredible courage, someone would have done it already. For crying out loud, if you’re gay in Uganda, you can be jailed or killed. In many countries that’s the case. In this country, states are still grappling with laws that would give gay people equal rights, meaning that gay people remain second class citizens here. So yes, it’s totally news. But they are right in that it SHOULDN’T be news. We ALL want this to not be news.

The world will be a better place when sexual orientation is no big deal. We just have to get there first, and the way we get there is for brave people like Gordon to come out. As the family expands, as we as a society become more comfortable with the fact that some people are this, and some people are that, and it’s no big deal, this will fade into the background.

As Rafe finds out in Openly Straight, it’s not fair that the label “gay” overshadows everything else. But until it doesn’t, that’s our cross to bear.  

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“It gets rather lonely in the closet…”

I got a comment on my blog this morning that is really more of a letter, and it’s haunting me. I am going to post the entire letter (which is BEAUTIFULLY written, oh my God), and then I’m going to respond as best I can.

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Hey Bill,

It’s 2:30 in the morning where I am. I just finished Openly Straight a few hours ago and can’t stop thinking about it. I bought it on my Kindle last week and began reading it in secret (you can probably figure out why), and have no one to talk to about it. I want to let you know I truly enjoyed it and related to it on so many levels I can’t begin to explain. I won’t mince words: As soon as reached the last page, I came here in search of hints for a sequel. I mean, there has to be a sequel. There just has to be more! The open ending Rafe left us with made me feeling a little… hollow. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rafe and his story and am touched by his journey to find his identity. But, personally, I don’t identify with him. I identify with Ben.

In another comment, a user named @Makaila offered the idea of exploring Ben’s point of view, and I really hope you consider it. His story truly struck an emotional chord with me that’s still ringing as I write this. When I reached the moment when Ben opened up about his parents, his future and what the whole world expects from him, I felt as though someone had pulled these thoughts out of my head and printed them, and I had to close the book a moment and look around the room to see if anyone else was around that might discover my secret. I share his fears, his confusion, and his pain. I’m a little older though, a freshman in college. But I’m so deep in the closet that I have a hard time admitting it to myself.

Rafe’s story, on the other hand, is rare: he has a wonderfully supportive family, a best friend he can share anything with, and support groups that don’t judge him. But many of us aren’t as lucky. Many of us are still floating around, putting on acts and trying on different layers of skin in hopes of hiding from who we really are. Like Ben, I’ve done a decent job so far in my life, but it hasn’t made me happy. It gets rather lonely in the closet, and sometimes I wish I at least had somebody to share it with. That’s why I related with Ben, and in some ways was leaning on him, hoping that he might eventually find his way out and stand up to the world. That he’d step out say, “Hey, everything gonna be alright.” And I would want so much to believe him.

But he never did. In fact, he’s still very much afraid and confused as ever, and now feels absolutely betrayed by the only person he was honest to. During their final conversation, Ben says he can’t say if he was glad to have met Rafe after everything they had been through. This worries me so much. As I lay in bed, wondering about future relationships, I asked myself: Is it even worth the risks? Would I end up regretting it, too? How will I know if I can trust them? When will I ever decide if it’s the right time or if it’s a mistake?

And then I had this scary thought that if someone like Ben can’t find the courage to come out and accept who he is, maybe I never will either.

And I am scared. But that isn’t your fault. I’ve been scared for a long time.

This is a sad note to end on, but I still have a lot of time to figure things out. And Ben does too. And I really hope he does.

Dear X,

First off, your letter made me cry. I am crying right now. I am crying for your pain and for the fact that it’s so unfair that as far as we’ve come, many gay people still find themselves feeling the way that you do now. You are not alone. You are surrounded by literally millions of people who share your story and your feelings.

Your letter does end on a sad note, but to me, it’s a lot like the ending of Openly Straight. For some reason, I see hope there. I see a great future for you beyond the current turmoil. It’s never, ever too late to come out. To come out is to finally decide that you paid as much for your ticket to this carnival called life as everyone else, and you’ll be damned if you’re not going to enjoy it just as much as everyone else.

You are a college freshman now. I can tell you that when I was a college freshman, I was severely depressed, so much so that in the spring of that year I withdrew from college and came home. That was my story. We all have our stories and our paths. The point is that at the time it consumed me and now I barely remember those feelings. We evolve and we keep going because we have absolutely no idea what our future holds, and we deserve to find out!

I tell you that not to tell you not to feel the feelings, but to give you perspective while you’re feeling them. That old adage “it gets better” is so apt. It just does. If we wish for our lives to get better, there are certain choices we can make to make that happen.

While my story was more Rafe than Ben (I came out a bit in high school, a bit more in college, I had some family support though not so much at first), I can relate to the loneliness you write about, and most of us can. Even for the Rafes of the world, that confusion and pain about being different than our families of origin is a part of the process. And it sucks, doesn’t it?

For me, the antidote was sharing who I was with other people. Some people come out in one broad stroke. I came out sporadically. I told some friends starting when I was 15 or 16; I told my family when I was 16-18; I joined the gay softball league when I was 20. I got my first real long-term boyfriend when I was 21. I didn’t come out professionally until I was at ESPN.com, and by then I was 30. I was scared my dream of being a sports writer would be taken away from me if I was honest about who I was.

That didn’t happen. I was able to continue in my field, and in fact coming out opened some doors for me. If I didn’t come out on the front page of ESPN.com in 2001, I may never have gotten to where I am now. It led to my first book, which led to my second, etc.

See the ripples? One act impacts my life completely, and that in turn impacts yours. Your act of coming out, when you are ready, may impact others.

You say you relate to Ben. Ben is based loosely on my husband, Chuck. He didn’t fully come out until he was 43. He came out when he was finally ready to have his first boyfriend (me). Then he decided that he could tell his family, co-workers, etc. His life is so different today than before I met him. I’m not taking credit for that; he gets the credit. He was honest about who he is, and now he’s enjoying the carnival more freely.

You say you want one person to share this with: good. That’s a beautiful instinct. Of course, that becomes easier when we let other people know who we are, so it’s a bit of a vicious circle. We want to share it with one person, but finding that one person is tough if we don’t identify ourselves as gay.

One practical thing about coming out, since I really don’t know your situation: make sure you surround yourself with a support system before you do anything that could endanger your safety. If you have parents paying for your schooling and you truly fear that they would stop paying if they knew you were gay, know that. Start by telling people you trust whom you think will support you. Gain strength that way. And I’m not saying your parents would do that; I’m just saying that our first responsibility is to ourselves. We take care of ourselves first, and that’s different than coming out when you’re older and financially independent.

There is a whole world out there who will love you for exactly who you are. You know how I know? From your writing. I felt your heart in your note and this is my heart, and my husband’s heart, opening up to yours. We are rooting for you.

I’m sorry that I’m not focusing more on the sequel, but I’ve dealt with that so much already. In short: I hope that someday, in some form, there is more of this story. Maybe that will be a TV show, or a film, or a web-series, or a written sequel. There is nothing to announce at this time, but I hope someday there will be!

With Love,

Bill

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And the writer doesn’t sleep because…

This is one of those rare periods where I am actively involved in four projects.

  • I am re-reading, for the first time in years, Out of the Pocket, so that I may add a chapter or two to the paperback, which I am self-publishing in April.
  • I am actively living Openly Straight. In a couple days I will go to the Tucson Festival of Books, where I will do panels with some of my favorite writers — Laurie Halse Anderson and Benjamin Alire Saenz.
  • I am awaiting comments on the second draft of The Porcupine of Truth, which is with my editor at Scholastic. If all goes well, I will finalize that manuscript by June.
  • I am putting together an outline and sample chapters for my next novel, with the hope that I will sell it this spring/summer and start publishing a book a year.

Being involved in four such projects at once allows me an interesting perspective on my own craft and career trajectory.

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Five Side-Effects of Winning the Sid Fleischman Humor Award

So yes, OPENLY STRAIGHT has won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award!

That was quite the news to receive. I was in a coffee shop when I got the call, and I went airborne. For a 43-year-old balding man with limited jumping ability, this is not a great look.

I called my mother to tell her.

“Human?”

“Humor,” I said.

“Human?”

“HUMOR.”

“Humor award?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

I then told my husband that I had gotten the call about the award. He was thrilled. Two days later, my SCBWI membership renewed, and I put it on our accounting software. Chuck saw the charge and came in to the kitchen.

“Bill, are you sure you won and it wasn’t just a call to get you to re-up your membership?”

I imagined me as the father from Nebraska, walking East along the highway from Billings with a Publisher’s Clearinghouse letter that says “You may be a winner” in my pocket.

These flattering reactions aside, I am utterly ecstatic to win this award. Thank you SO MUCH to the fine folks at SCBWI for choosing Openly Straight. I am struggling to find the words to show my gratitude, so I will simply repeat, “Thank you.”

Here are five things in my life that will change right away, now that I am an “Award-winning humorist.”

1. When jokes fall flat from now on, I will follow-up by saying, “…Said the award-winning humorist.”

2. I will have tons of in-jokes with myself, like “The elevator man’s shoes,” and “Sarah wore it best.”

3. I will wax philosophical about humor over interminable dinners with friends, using terms like “oeuvre” and “assonance.” 

4. I will lose a lot of friends.

5. People will expect me to be funny in person, and they will be, 85% of the time, sorely disappointed.

 

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My gay wedding, and our wonderful penis cake

As many of you know, Chuck and I got married a few months ago.

We had already been civil unionized, or whatever the correct term is, seven years earlier. So we went small. No huge party or anything. In fact, we had another author (Famous Author Rob Byrnes) do the ceremony with us in Central Park. And we didn’t wear ties, which almost made my mother’s head explode. Another story for another time.

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But since we are gay and all, we did have a party. And as gay people, you can probably imagine just how KRAZZZYY that party got!

Tea Party Nation president Judson Phillips knows. He gets it about us gays. We all want penis cakes, and our weddings tend to be naked. And what most of us do is we look for the most devoutly religious people out there to bake said penis cakes, and cut (here would be a good place to use the term “bris” as a verb) our penis cakes.

Here is our penis cake.

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Coming Soon: Out of the Pocket, THE PAPERBACK!

I have probably been asked a thousand times in the last year about what’s going on with Out of the Pocket. Just when Openly Straight came out, just when scads of new readers wanted to get their hands on Out of the Pocket, which won the 2009 Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category, the book seemed to disappear!

Alas, the book did disappear. Dutton Books for Children, which published Out of the Pocket back in 2008, made the decision to take the book out of print last year. I was disappointed, obviously, but I understand that they make tough decisions like this all the time.

The good news: I have obtained the paperback rights for the novel, and it will be published and available as a paperback, hopefully by the end of March!

The book will have a brand new cover, a foreward from a person with great insight into the world of “gays in sports”, and one additional chapter which takes us into the future, so we can find out what happened to Bobby Framingham after the football season ends at Durango High School!

More information (such as price, release date, cover reveal) as it becomes available! I’m so glad the book will once again be available for readers. For now, you may purchase the e-book if you can’t wait the month for the paperback. 

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