Tuesday, June 11, 2019

An Email to Jack on His Birthday

Hey Jack.

Cool name.

My name is Harry McGlade. I heard you've read about me.

The guy who writes about all the awesome shit I do, J.A. Konrath, also known as Joe, told me it's your birthday today.

Happy birthday!

I remember turning 15. Best year of my life. I was on top of the world, and so happy all the time that you couldn't smack the smile off my face with a hockey stick.

Joking. Being 15 sucked sweaty balls.

School was brutal. I was pudgy, short, had a high voice. Got picked on. Had to deal with bullies. My grades were shit, and my merry-go-round of foster parents were always riding my ass about that. I didn't have any close friends, and I had no love life at all. I'd never kissed anyone. Never even had a date. Every day was a living hell.

You couldn't pay me a billion dollars to go back in time and be a teenager again. You know why?

Because you don't have a billion dollars, Jack. And time travel is impossible. You should know that.

If time travel was possible, there would be time travelers everywhere, walking around acting like "Look at me, I'm from the future, and I got an iPhone 37! I can use it to call Moses!"

But we don't see that. Because there are no time travelers. And because Moses isn't real.

Neither is Santa. Hope I didn't spoil that for you.

Where were we? Oh yeah, you brought up time travel billionaires.

C'mon, Jack. You can't come at me like that, bro. Bragging about having all that money and a time machine. That's insane!

(But if you actually do have a billion dollars and a time machine, hit me up.)

WTF was I talking about?

Right. Being a teenager was tough. I bet it's even harder for you. Transgender? Dude, I don't even know you, but I can imagine all the shit you have to deal with.

Actually, I CAN'T imagine it. No one can imagine it, unless they've gone through the same thing.

You're super brave, bro.

When I was your age, I was confused a lot about a lot of things. There was no one who understood me. I liked boys, and girls, and pretty much everyone no matter how they identified, and I didn't understand why. And back then, there was no internet. I couldn't find other people like me. Bisexuals were called faggots and got spat on. There term 'pansexual' wasn't even invented yet. People actually thought gender was fixed. They really believed that who you were attracted to was a choice, like you could turn off what turned you on.

What a bunch of backwards-ass pinheads. And some folks still haven't caught up to modern reality. Sad.

So I got a lot of hate and a lot of weird stares when I was your age. Or people tried to fix me. Like there was something wrong with me. Like my feelings were wrong, because they were different.

Turns out, there was nothing wrong with me. I liked what I liked, and that was fine. I am what I am, and my feelings are just as valid as anyone else's. Problem isn't me. It's the world.

People fear and hate and laugh at and try to change the things they don't understand. It's an unfortunate aspect of human nature. They think we need to look and act a certain way, and if we don't fit that mold, we're freaks.

That's garbage.

I never had body dysmorphia, so I don't know what that feels like. No one does, unless they go through it. I bet it's hard. I lost my hand. And even though its gone, sometimes I can still feel it. Phantom Limb Syndrome, it's called. Weird, huh? But you can't really understand it unless it happens to you.

For the record, I DO NOT recommend losing a hand. Just clarifying that. Had to relearn how to wipe my ass. Took four months. Four dark, messy months.

Worst part? I bite my fingernails. You don't want to bite the brown nail, buddy. Yuck Factor One Billion.

But pretty funny. Gotta laugh at yourself sometimes.

Anyway, the world has gotten a little better since I was your age. There are still asshats everywhere, but there are some good people, too. I've got a BFF named Jack Daniels that you know about. She's pretty cool. Her husband Phin is cool, too, and the dude is smoking hot. They accept me for who I am, and don't judge.

It's hard to find people who don't judge. I bet it's really hard for you. When you were a kid, everyone treated you like a girl. You had a girl name. You still have girl parts and girl hormones, and you know that doesn't feel right, and people don't understand.

And now you're telling people that you're not that girl with that old name, you're someone else. You're really a man named Jack.

Cool name. My buddy, Jack Daniels, would be real proud of that.

Gotta be tough to feel one way when the world sees you another way. Kinda like Bruce Wayne, and when he grows up he realizes he's the Batman. Maybe he's always been the Batman, but the only one who understands him is Alfred. No one else does.

Is it me, or did Bruce and Alfred have a gay vibe? Maybe it's me.

Anyway, I bet people have a hard time trying to understand you. I bet you don't even understand you sometimes.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and you've figured it all out and you've got your shit together and Everything Is Awesome like in the Lego Movie (I couldn't get that effing song outta my head for weeks—I actually thought about suing those little plastic bastards).

If you have figured it all out, let me know your secret. Because I'm 54 years old and I'm still confused about a lot.

But some things I do know. I'll share a few of these things with you, as a birthday gift. Which is great for me, because it doesn't cost me any cash.

I know you didn’t ask for advice, and I get that. I’m an old white guy, and most of the problems in the world are caused by old white guys. What the hell do I know about anything?

Well, I don’t know much about what it’s like to be you. But I know a little about what it’s like being me. Maybe some of it applies.

So let the Harry McGlade Wisdom commence...

Life gets better as you get older. You have more control over things, and you can find where you fit in. Right now you have to put up with stuff. You're not an adult yet. You live at home. You have to go to school. You don’t feel right in the body you have. But when you get older, things change. You aren't forced to do as much, you get to make all your own decisions, and life gets better. I promise.

There are people out there who like people like us. And there are people who love people like us.

Never trust a fart. I just shit myself the other day, in line at the theater to see the new Godzilla. I blamed the smell on the old lady behind me, and then flushed my underwear down the toilet in the movie theater bathroom, which clogged it up and caused a big shitwater flood. Some kid came in and slipped on it and got all soaked with shitwater--dude was wearing white too--and it was so funny I couldn't stop laughing. So, actually, that story has a good ending. Unless you were that kid. But, truth, kid looked like a real d-bag and probably deserved it. Also, Godzilla was fun.

Where was I? Oh yeah, life lessons.

Pets are the best.

There will always be people who don't understand. But there are always people who do understand. Find those people. Those are your people. And the ones that don't understand, forgive them. They don't get it.

Everyone is a consumer. But you also need to give back. Everyone takes. Not everyone gives. Be a giver.

At the same time, no good deed goes unpunished. Sounds funny, but it seems like every time I do something nice, it comes back to bite me in the ass. For that reason, never do anything and expect to be thanked. If you help someone, do it because you feel they need help. Don’t expect anyone to be grateful. Haters gonna hate, no matter how nice you are.

Never buy a burrito from a food cart. You're just paying for diarrhea. Explosive, sudden diarrhea. The kind that fills up your socks. The burrito may smell good, but resist, dammit! It's a hot zone of tasty viruses waiting to turn your colon into a firehose.

Don't litter. People who litter suck.

My life philosophy is this: Learn what you can. Pass along what you've learned. Leave the world a better place because you lived. And have as much fun as possible.

So do lotsa fun stuff. Whatever your thing is, do your thing. I like to fish (Catch and release, and fish don't feel pain. Look it up.) I like some sports. I don't like camping, except the shitting in the woods part. I love media. Not news media. Pop media.

Movies (The Abyss is my fave), TV (Invader Zim, ATHF), music (Neil Diamond and Judas Priest, don't judge) videogames (Adventure for the Atari 2600 is still the greatest videogame ever made and don't fight me on this), and of course, books.

My fave fiction books are The Judas Goat by Robert B. Parker (read that and see how much Konrath stole from that guy), and Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (Konrath stole a shitload from that guy, too). But a caveat; Silence of the Lambs probably has the WORST depiction of a transgender person ever written. The villain kills women to wear their skins. I'm pretty sure that isn't common in the LGBTIQ community. I've never seen it, and I've seen A LOT.

Best non-fiction books are Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer (that will scare the hell out of you) and Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon. You should get your parent to read Far From The Tree. Konrath's father was gay (he's dead now) and Joe raised a kid with developmental and behavior disorders, and this book helped Joe understand both his Dad and his son much better.

What other wisdom can I impart on your 15th birthday? I'm full of wisdom. I'm also full of beer and pizza. Chicago has the best pizza. Anyone who tells you different is wrong.

Forgive people who are wrong. Sometimes you'll be wrong. When you are, admit it, and apologize.

What else?

Learn to forgive yourself. I'm still working on that. I've done a lot of stupid shit. Like, a whole lot. But torturing myself with regret is pointless. I've made mistakes, but I've learned from them, so I guess I had to make them, even though they hurt like hell.

Life hurts like hell sometimes.

When you feel bad, talk to someone about it. And if you're feeling really, really bad, talk to a professional. A doctor. I've popped so many Zoloft in my life that when I piss on a flower bed, the flowers starting singing like a Disney movie. But the correct, prescribed meds can help with depression. So can a good shrink. No shame in that. We all need help sometimes.

Wear sunscreen. If you don't get the reference, Google Baz Luhrmann.

Never give up. You know Konrath wrote ten books and got over 500 rejections before he got published? He spent a decade of his life feeling like a failure because he couldn't sell anything. But he kept at it, he never quit, and eventually Whiskey Sour sold to a big publisher in New York.

And now Konrath has sold more than 3 million books, and the ungrateful asshole doesn't pay me a single dime. Bullshit, right? I'm the best thing in those books! Everyone knows that!

What other gems can I bestow upon you on this happy day of your birth? Did I mention pets are awesome? Did I talk about poo enough times? Poo is funny when you're 2 years old, and it's still funny when you're 102 years old. Hell, I'm wearing a diaper right now. Not for any medical reason, but the bathroom is like fifteen steps away from my desk.

I think that's everything I know.

Konrath is going to send you a Dropbox link, which has all of his books. You know I'm in more than just those drink books, right? Shit, have you read Banana Hammock? That whole book is all me! Timecaster? The Chandler series? I'm in all of those, and more. If you want the whole list, check my website.

When you get the Dropbox invite, accept it, and you can download all the .mobi files of all the books for free, then sideload or upload them to your Kindle or preferred reading device. I'd give you instructions, but you're 15. Figure it out yourself, smart guy.

And that's it from me. Your parent emailed Konrath and said you read his books and your birthday was today. Pretty cool parent. But that cool parent probably didn't expect me to write you instead of Joe. Especially me swearing and talking about the Hershey squirts every four sentences.

But you've read my books, so nothing in this email should shock you. Might shock your parent, though. Tell them not to be pissed at me.

Lemme know you got the Dropbox link, and if you have anything to pass along to Konrath, I'll tell him.

I'm raising my beer right now and toasting your transition, if that's what you decide to do. I'm guessing it won't be easy. But it wasn't easy for the Batman either. It wasn't easy for me growing up pansexual, or losing my hand. It wasn't easy for Konrath, dealing with all those rejections. It wasn't easy for that d-bag kid at the movie theater who got soaked with shitwater.

If life were easy, nothing would have value. It's the hard stuff that makes us realize how strong we are.

And you're strong. You're stronger than I'll ever be.

Happy birthday, Jack.

Cool fucking name, brother.


Harrison Harold McGlade

Joe sez: I've posted this email with the permission and encouragement of Jack and his parental unit.

If you aren't familiar with my work, and couldn't grasp the context, it's written in the POV of one of my characters, Harry McGlade, who happens to be in a few dozen of my books.

Jack chose to call himself Jack because he likes another one of my characters, Jack Daniels. Which is the coolest thing one of my readers has ever done. I wept when I heard that. I'm teary-eyed right now.

When I began this blog in 2005, I decided it would be about writing and publishing. I didn't want it to ever get political or personal. Different people have different viewpoints, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, and whether I agree or disagree with your ideologies has nothing to do with the focus of this blog.

But, you see, this blog post IS actually about writing.

I'm a 49 year old white straight male. When I grew up, the media was full of white, straight males. I was represented in books, movies, music, on TV, in comics, and pretty much everywhere.

I have never known what it feels like to be discriminated against. And I don't know what it would be like to grow up without seeing anyone similar to me in the media.

When my father was 49, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died at 50. Dad was openly gay toward the end of his life, but for most of it he was closeted. He married a woman because that's what he thought he was supposed to do. His doctors, his church, his parents, treated homosexuality as a bad choice, as a sin, as a mental disorder.

Back in 1972, my father went to a university to get “help” for being queer. Aversion therapy, they called it. They showed him a slide show, and whenever a homosexual act was depicted on the screen, they literally shocked him with electricity.

Disgusting and barbaric? Yes. Did it really happen? Yes.

My father was told by EVERYONE that his sexual preferences were wrong, and he believed them. He went to this “treatment” in the hope he could get “better.”

Many years later, we all know that homosexuality is not a choice, and it is not a disease, and there is nothing wrong with being queer. It’s natural, healthy, and should be viewed positively. Dad eventually embraced being gay, married a great guy, and lived happily for years before cancer took him.

My father was born with those feelings, and they were normal, and I understood why he divorced my mother, and I had a great relationship with him. But society made him afraid, ashamed, and feeling like he needed to be fixed. No one ever told him he was normal. They treated him differently. They made him feel bad about himself. And when he was growing up, he had no positive representation in the media.

After my father died, the main character in my thriller series, Jack Daniels, discovered her father was gay. I did this to honor my dad.

There are some who say that a straight white guy shouldn't write about anything other than straight white guys. I can understand this viewpoint. As I mentioned, I truly don't know what it is like to be discriminated against. How can I truthfully and honestly represent what I can never understand?

That said, I also wrote a book about Satan imprisoned for a century in an underground government facility. I have never been imprisoned for a hundred years. And I have never met Satan. I write about serial killers, and cannibals, and active shooters, and cops, and veterans, and scientists, and clones, and I am none of these things. I make shit up for a living.

As my career has advanced, and I've become older and hopefully wiser, I've tried to show more diversity in my books. My readers are diverse, and they want to read about more than white cis guys. So I try to write positive characters from different of points of view and walks of life. I write about people of colors and races that don't match mine. I write about people with different gender identities. I write about people with disabilities. I write about people with a variety of sexual preferences.

In short; I write about people.

So, for National Pride Month, I'm giving everyone reading this blog a writing exercise.

See? I told you this was about writing.

Your homework is to look at your Work In Progress and ask yourself, "What am I showing my readers?" And, more specifically, "What am I showing my readers who aren't representative of me?"

Look for diversity. Look for stereotypes. Look at the positive role models, and the negative role models, in your words.

Consider who is reading it, and what they'll think.

Because guess what? The LGBTQ+ community reads books. People with disabilities read books. People of color read books.

If you white cis guys want them to read YOUR books, maybe you should think about your characters a bit more.

And for those who aren't white cis guys, for people everywhere on the gender spectrum, for people of of all races, colors, cultures, and religions, for people with illnesses and disabilities, for women, and for the LGBTTQQIAAP community; we need to hear your voices. I think I'm a pretty good writer, but I'll never be good enough to really understand your struggles, your triumphs, your perspectives. You need to write books to enlighten people like me about what it's like to be you. Also, please feel free to write about white straight guys, even if you aren't a straight white guy.

And for all you bigots, for people who hate others because they are different, for all the bullies, for the haters, for the homophobes, for the misogynists, for everyone who nurses prejudice in public or secretly, for those who make fun of people who are different so they can feel better about themselves, I have a message for you, too. Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. We need to hear your small-minded ideas. We need you to express your fears and insecurities by lashing out at those who don't agree with your ideologies.

Ha! Kidding! You bigots can fuck off. Keep your hateful little circle jerk to yourselves. You can come sit at the adult table again when you've opened up your small, petty minds to a concept called equality.

We've come a long was since 1972. But we have a long way to go.

Everyone deserves acceptance. Everyone deserves representation.

And most of all, every writer should have a fan as cool as Jack.

Happy birthday, bro. I agree with Harry McGlade. You're braver than I'll ever be.


JA Konrath said...

I am CLOSELY monitoring the comments for this post, and I'll happily boot anyone who doesn't act respectfully.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

This is awesome. Happy birthday, Jack!

Anonymous said...

What a great response to a great fan and awesome parental unit for contacting you!

Happy Birthday, Jack!

~ Jacqueline (aka Jacq)

FWIW, I too support your name choice ;)

Suzan Harden said...

Happy Birthday, Jack! (And to Harry and Joe, thank you. Jack wasn't the only one who needed to hear this.)

JA Konrath said...

Don't thank Harry, Suzan. It goes right to his head. :)

Ken Lindsey said...

Awesome, I was hoping I would have a reason to cry at work today. This is good. Thanks for posting, Joe. And thanks, Jack, for being a badass. I hope your birthday was fantastic!

Angelic Rodgers said...

Well done! And so clearly Harry--who makes me want to strangle him and hug him all at once. Happy birthday, Jack!

Thumper said...

That was amazing.
And Happy Birthday!!!

tonyl said...

Happy birthday, Jack!

Joe, and Joe as Harry: Thanks for the post. Even as an old white guy, I hope to live up to your words.

Rob Cornell said...

That was absolutely beautiful, Joe.

At the same time, no good deed goes unpunished. Sounds funny, but it seems like every time I do something nice, it comes back to bite me in the ass. For that reason, never do anything and expect to be thanked. If you help someone, do it because you feel they need help. Don’t expect anyone to be grateful.

About this. A long while back, you did a number of things to help me out as a writer, including read my work and recommend me to your agent. While that didn't pan out, it meant a great deal to me. It was over ten years ago, and my memory ain't what it used to be, so just in case I didn't make it clear then, I want to give you a sincere thank you. I am truly grateful for your help.


Rob Flumignan (a.k.a. Rob Cornell)

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for the kind words, Rob!

KDJames said...

Just now catching up on reading my blog feed and came across this post. I don't usually make time to comment on blogs these days (anywhere, not just here), but I feel compelled to say . . . I will admire you forever for this one, Joe.

Happy Birthday, Jack! Wishing you many, many more. Fifteen is indeed a suck-tastic age, even without your particular challenges. But I promise you, all that teen angst looks far less significant 10 or 20 or even 40 years on. Just wait until your joints start to ache and you worry about getting enough fiber in your diet. Good times.

As Joe said, we've come a long way. We've got a ways to go, yet, for sure. Come along with us, won't you? The journey wouldn't be the same without you.

JasonSki6 said...

Wow, Harry's a great writer. Funny as hell too. Happy B-Day belated, Jack. I agree with Harry & Joe...it will get easier as you get older.