Higher: Gay Men Write about the Deaths of their Mothers
Edited by Alexander Renault
Xlibris, September 2004
Paper 400 pages, $24.95
Hard cover 400 pages $34.95
Walking Higher is
a collection of the voices of 30 men dedicated to exploring their
relationships with the women who gave them life, and managing the
aftermath of their mothers' passing. Ten to twenty years ago, gay sons
were predeceasing their mothers in alarming numbers as out-of-sequence
deaths from AIDS ravaged an entire generation. Now that AIDS is a
treatable disease in the developed world, more gay men are surviving
their parents. Hence, it seems timely to offer a series of reflections
on the special and unique relationship of mothers and their gay sons
from the perspective of the surviving sons.
is a helpful article written exclusively for The Independent Gay Writer
by Alexander Renault, appropriately called "Stumbling Forward." If you
have ever tried to put together an anthology and have it published, you
will appreciate Mr. Renault's insights.
Alexander Renault has published in multiple genres from pet magazines
to feminist newspapers, on philosophical issues from freedom of speech
to the intersections of religion and sex, on human subjects from
survivors of the Holocaust to popular music’s rock goddesses. His
journalism has been published in the United States, the United Kingdom,
and South Africa. Born on his mother's birthday, Renault is a
tenacious Gemini with penchants for feminism and psychology. He
been working in the mental health field for 15 years. Renault
with his partner in a little ranch house in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania,
with their two Boston terriers, Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi.
His erotica will be published in several pending anthologies, while his
essay "Beneath the Glitter Ball" will be included in the anthology I Do/I Don't: Queers on Marriage
from Suspect Thoughts
Press, scheduled for release later in 2004.
Renault is the editor for Walking
Higher: Gay Men Write about the Deaths of their Mothers. He
invites you to visit him at AlexanderRenault.com.
will be appearing
7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
345 South 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(at 12th & Pine Sts in Center City)
Tel: 215/923-2960 •
by Alexander Renault
When I was asked to write an article about my experiences while editing
a self-published anthology, Walking Higher: Gay Men Write about the
Deaths of their Mothers, I was not sure I wanted to take the
challenge. It was such a difficult process that I feared any
essay might be a collection of complaints and no one likes a
whiner. Then a friend asked me if I was sorry I ever started the
project. The question was surprising and I replied that I was
never once sorry because I believe deeply in the project. I might
have something valuable to say about the process and its end results.
Putting on an editor’s hat for the first time was a scary prospect but
the idea behind the anthology was a winner. The same friend who
encouraged me to write about my experiences is the same person who gave
me the idea for Walking Higher. I am freer to say what a great
idea it is because I am not boasting; the original concept was a gift.
a first-time anthology editor is much like traveling to a foreign
country without an interpreter. I had to learn the basics of the
language, the okays and the don’ts, and how to structure my time.
There are rules of professionalism and you must remain on guard against
surprised to find that no anthology with the theme of Walking Higher
had been published, at least not that I could find. The closest
is Mama’s Boy: Gay Men Write about their Mothers, edited by Dean Kostos
and Eugene Grygo, published by Painted Leaf Press in 2000. I
liked Mama’s Boy because the theme was interesting and I tried to take
the concept a step further into murkier and more complicated
waters. I was also happy to snag two contributors to Mama’s Boy
for Walking Higher.
soon learned why such a book has not been attempted. My detailed
book proposal was rejected by over 50 publishers in both the mainstream
and GLBT presses. We seem to currently be trapped in a kind of
crisis point in publishing and those in charge are not interested in
anything that might not sell well. No one seems to be taking any
chances on new ideas, new writers. If they are, I am unable to
of the reasons for the rejections are as follows: no one buys books
about death; no one in mainstream society buys books about gay men;
anthologies do not sell as well as other sure-hitters; the topic is
morbid and ungainly (one publisher called it “ghoulish”); and after
receiving the submissions call, one popular website for gay men added a
note that the only politically correct stance regarding such a book
would be to never bring up the topic to begin with. This is the
same website that ran a picture with the submissions call of a mother
reading a book to a child with the caption, “Now you’re in for it,
bitch!” Some were offended that I only included gay men and not
lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender persons.
response to the submissions call was incredibly strong as I received
manuscripts from all over the U.S. and Canada. For all the
initial criticism the topic received, gay male writers had plenty to
say about the deaths of their mothers.
not surprised by the proposal’s rejections and quickly moved into my
back up plan of self-publishing and decided to use Xlibris out of
Philadelphia. I originally planned for Walking Higher to be the
maiden voyage of Renault Publishing, Inc., but soon realized that to
create the book as I wanted it to be, I had to go with an experienced
team of professionals, or I would end up with a book printed on tissue
paper, with a boring cover. I wanted a custom designed cover plus
black and white photographs of writers’ mothers in the interior.
The only way to accomplish this was to bankroll the project myself and
pray that I might break even someday.
profit margin for self-published books is extremely low for both the
author and retailers. Many bookstores will not even purchase
self-published books because they are often not returnable and shipping
costs can be elevated above the traditional expense. This is why
marketing for self-published books is best aimed at niche markets and
individual groups (academic, social, or professional) rather than book
Writing and publishing, or I should say attempts at publishing, can
bring about what I call the Saint Bernard effect. Those are the
snowy mountain dogs with barrels of brandy around their necks, which
save people trapped in the snow. Every once in awhile the
trainers and caretakers of these canines have to plant moles, real live
people in the snow. Otherwise, Saint Bernards will typically find
only dead people and this leaves them enervated and sometimes too
depressed to perform their normal functions.
the same with writers. When you go for long periods of time
without success, it can leave you despondent and filled with
self-doubt. The best way to combat this is to remain active, keep
writing, and above all else, submit your work relentlessly.
Writer John Gilgun told me, “I live at the post office.” He has
been successful because of his tenacity.
of the absolute highlights of editing Walking Higher was being able to
tell writers that I loved their work and wanted to use it. I know
how seldom this happens for writers, so many were pleasantly surprised
to get the nibble.
are a few things I learned along the way while editing Walking Higher:
#1) Writing and editing
is a dance of focus and energies: It is easy to waste
energy by not learning from your mistakes, not knowing when to try an
alternative course of action, or becoming stuck in negativity.
have seen rebuttals published by writers who are bitter about a poor
review of their work. Here the author focuses energy on
defensiveness instead of perceiving any value from the criticism.
If it is a simple, unfair hatchet job, then it is the reviewer’s
problem. Avoid pouring vital energy into that corner.
Conserve your energy and expend it wisely. Dealing with an editor
is also like any other form of communication—you are responsible for
half of it. Make sure you communicate clearly.
#2) Rudeness is unwise:
Editors wield much power because they are in creative control of a
particular project. The stories I have been told, and some of my
personal experiences as a writer working with editors, are
shocking. There is a lot of ego in this power dance, and where
there is power, there is trouble.
Editors should realize that some of their writers have been badly
burned by editors in the past—it goes with the business. Editors
need to be firm but professional. Writers also need to remember
that editors are not mind readers, nor are they omniscient. I
made rather large, clunky blunders during my initial editing
performance with Walking Higher but am still surprised by how
unforgiving some writers can be (my only consummately rude writer is,
ironically, a health and human services professional, but after working
in the field myself for so many years, it remains hardly surprising for
quite a number of disturbing reasons). If you disagree with your
editor, tell him or her how you feel in a clear and professional
manner, and tell them why you disagree with their decisions. A
good editor will work with you. If you cannot work together, you
might want to consider withdrawing from the project. Editors
receive a plethora of submitted manuscripts for any given
Editors should remember that every manuscript they receive is a piece
of someone’s life, a creative offering. With Walking Higher, this
was taken to a Zen level due to the subject matter. People were
opening emotional veins. Rejections were extremely difficult but
I made them as personal as possible. There is nothing more
demeaning than receiving a pre-printed rejection note on slip of paper,
except perhaps not receiving any reply at all, which seems to happen
more and more frequently these days as competition for limited
publication opportunities and space dwindles.
Writers should remember that editors are incredibly busy people and are
not infallible. Do not stew and then overreact because it is a
waste of time for your editor and a waste of your own energy. Let
your editor know your thoughts but be polite. Being rude to the
editor is unwise because nothing good will come from such behaviors—it
will most likely make matters worse for you, the writer.
Editors deal with many personalities in the course of a single
day. I worked with 29 writers throughout the anthology
creation. Most were pleasant, professional, honest, and a
pleasure to work with. At the same time, my background in
psychiatrics was an excellent precursor for managing the sea of
passive-aggressiveness inherent in the writing and publishing fields.
writer threatened to sue me over editorial changes. Rather than
overreact to what I sensed was a twice-bitten response, I simply asked
him, via email, if he wanted to withdraw from the project or work on
coming to an editorial compromise. It turned out that he had been
burned before by an editor who changed his work drastically before
sending it to print, after the writer had signed the contract. We
worked out the situation and I was glad to have him remain part of the
Another of my contributors seems to have a penchant for snippy
emails. Here is a word of advice-- unless you’re in the midst of
a rapid, complex exchange of ideas via email, and using single phrases
to express yourself, include a polite salutation in your email, and
sign it. Otherwise, you can come across as a real asshole and
this is counterproductive for both of you. It is also
unprofessional and the editor may never want to work with you again
(although if the writer is behaving in such a manner, he or she
likewise must not been keen on the idea, either).
Another writer never forgave me for some of my mistakes and even stated
in an email that he was sorry he ever got involved with the project in
the first place. My only response to him was four of the truest
words I’ve ever written: “I know the feeling.”
#3) Successful Book
Publishing = Spending $$$: Self-publishing a book is beyond
challenging. It takes an incredible amount of work to see the
finished product but even more work is necessary in marketing yourself
and your book. Ignoring your marketing, or leaving it up to
others, is unwise. No one will sell your work better than you
because people always look after their own children a little more
closely and carefully than someone else’s. This is part of the
secret to writer David Sedaris’s success—he has always had control of
his own promotion. If you hate marketing then wait until a
publisher will do it for you. You may have a rather long
wait. Expect to spend at least $3,000 marketing your book.
All your hard work, or the work of your contributors, will hardly
matter if no one reads it.
#4) Make Timely Decisions:
Almost anything can be accomplished with enough perseverance, faith,
and hard work. This involves a delicate balance of all your
energy, solid social and communication skills, and a hunger to
succeed. It also involves walking a tightrope of
decision-making. In the end, it is the author’s, or editor’s,
name on the book cover, whether self-published or pushed with a huge
marketing budget. Every decision you make will have exactly one
of two effects: it will help your project or it will hurt it. You
can take the professional approach or be unfriendly, you can be timid
or assertive. You can be proactive and take control of a project
or sit back and wait. You can develop your professional
networking skills or become everyone’s barnacle and burden. Also,
if you try to keep everyone happy, you will fail.
biggest challenge with editing Walking Higher was managing my
decisions. I asked the most successful and respected people I
could find for advice throughout all phases of its production, from
potential contributor manuscript acceptance to book cover imagery to
legal concerns to marketing. The most difficult aspect was
deciding when not to listen to others and follow my own
instincts. You’re on your own there.
#5) Seek legal counsel:
Have a knowledgeable attorney review your contracts, photograph release
forms, and interview release forms. Find out the best ways to
protect yourself and your work. Invest time in learning all you
can absorb about entertainment law and copyright issues. Have
your attorney keep all your important records, including contracts and
photograph or interview release forms, at his or her office. All
of this is far less expensive than regret.
#6) Take chances:
One of the scariest elements about publishing a book is that everything
you write can and will be used against you. Like a chain only
being as strong as its weakest link, when unkind reviewers go after
your book, they will find its weakest point and ram it home. It
is often painful. But like the cliché reads, no guts, no
#7) Manage rejection well
and get used to it: I have received some of the meanest,
most outlandish rejection notes you will ever find. A few
actually made me laugh out loud, like the time the editor for an
“excellence in education” newsletter let me know he was not at all
impressed by my essay on censorship of literature in public schools and
colleges. He wrote, “Trite!!!” across the cover letter and sent
it back in my SASE.
emailed an inquiry to one highly popular erotica website concerning a
non-fiction piece I was working on at the time. One of their
editors responded quickly with a friendly email to let me know that she
would be happy to read it. Twenty minutes later, I received
another email from that editor’s supervisor, to let me know they were
not at all interested in seeing anything I had written because she had
never heard of me and I was obviously a “nobody.”
have to be able and willing to let all of this go and continue to move
To order Walking Higher call 888 - 795 -
4274 ext. 276, order online at www.xlibris.com,
www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, or
visit your local bookstore.