Tuesday, February 18, 2014

[Blog Tour] Guest Post: Stronger Than This by David-Matthew Barnes


Stronger Than This     
David-Matthew Barnes

Genre: Literary Fiction/LGBT/Death/Dying/Grief

Publisher: Bold Strokes Books

Date of Publication: February 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1602829886

Number of pages: 216    
Word Count: 55,000

Book Description:

Charlene’s soul mate, Samantha, has been killed in a car accident. Daniel’s partner, Martin, has been murdered in a robbery gone wrong. Seeking comfort, Charlene and Daniel attend a support group where they meet for the first time.

Emotionally devastated and discarded by their loved ones’ conservative families, Charlene and Daniel feel an immediate connection. Rather than reveal their pain to a room full of strangers, they decide to see each other through their shared anguish.

As a beautiful friendship emerges from grief, slivers of new hope are found.
An Excerpt from Stronger Than This by David-Matthew Barnes

An Unspoken Eulogy

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Daniel Pryor. We are here today to celebrate the life of Martin Thalberg.
Martin was many things to many people, but to me, he was my partner. My soul mate. The absolute love of my life.
I think it’s strange. I’m a man who writes words for a living. I can come up with a winning campaign slogan. I can create the best ad copy in the industry. I can convince you in the shortest amount of time possible to buy a product you don’t even need. But to describe Martin Felix Thalberg to you? To do this wonderful man justice and speak the perfect words to tell you about our love, our beautiful life together, the luminescence of his very magical soul? It is impossible. Words have failed me. And in this time of the greatest sorrow of my life, so has love.
What I can tell you is this: Martin was the kindest man I ever knew. He loved people. He loved life. He loved me. And for that, I am eternally grateful. When I met Martin Thalberg, he was a junior in college. He was twenty-one. He already knew who he was. He was an artist. He was a photographer. He was a gay man. He was the son of a very important woman who was ashamed of him. He tried to keep to himself—he was always sort of an under-the-radar kind of guy—but he was too handsome to go unnoticed. Everyone wanted to know Martin. They wanted to be in his presence. Especially me. From the very moment I laid eyes on him.
I was clueless and fumbling. I had just turned twenty-eight. My life was shit. I was flunking out of grad school and finally coming to terms with the death of my parents. I was accepting the fact I’d turned out to be a major disappointment to anyone I’d ever met. Pure and simple, I was a screw-up. I’d blown shot after shot, chance after chance. I’d depleted every ounce of luck. It was to the point I’d thought about running away somewhere that summer. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. Europe. Alaska. Jupiter. As far away from my loneliness as I could possibly get.
Before I met Martin in that university library on that fateful spring day in May, I’d given up on many things. I’d resigned to the fact that true love would always elude me. I would never find someone—a man—who would be satisfied to love me, and only me. It seemed every man I met suffered from the same disease—infidelity. I would never have the type of storybook love my parents had. I would be miserable and unhappy, just like my sister Julie. She just knows how to fake it a lot better than I do. I would forever be the guy everyone felt sorry for, the poor pitiful man who sat alone at dinner parties, who always stayed longer than he was supposed to, the one who just needed to meet the right guy. I’d sworn off blind dates and online hook-ups. Both left me exhausted and angry. Why didn’t I have the same thing everyone else did? Where was my shot?
Lucky for me, love was sitting all alone. As if he was waiting for me to show up. I found him sitting at a table not far from the German philosophy section. His eyes were cast downward, staring intently at the photograph of a painting in a book. It was Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, I believe. One of his favorites. And he looked up at me and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” And I thought he was talking about the instant connection between us. Because it was there and it was intense and I know we both felt it. So I sat down beside him. I looked at the painting. I looked at his hands. And then into his eyes. Deeply. And I knew.
How can I put into words the beauty of his smile? The gentleness of his touch? The incredible sound of his laughter? How can I stand here and describe to you the way Martin made me feel? The way he made everyone feel? He was an artist who possessed the beautiful ability to capture the poetry and humanity in the world around him through his exquisite photographs. I just hope that today we can do the same for him. Yet I fear it will not happen. We cannot do him justice. No matter who stands up here and speaks to you, we cannot convey the true essence of his being.
Sure, we can try to summarize him in the simplest terms. Martin was a man who loved his friends, his dog, his art, this world, his life.
For the rest of mine, I will never be able to make sense of what happened to Martin on that night in that store. Do the men who murdered him know that the second they decided to pull their triggers, none of our lives would ever be the same? Now we must try to fathom a world without Martin in it. I, for one, find that unbearable to do.
When I leave this church, I will go home. Back to the apartment we shared. Back to our dog Luther, who has no idea when his other father is coming home but for whom he’s patiently waiting. Back to Martin’s clothes that still smell like him. His pillow. His toothbrush. His razor. His favorite cologne. Those black-and-white photographs that were an extension of his brilliant mind. The half-empty yellow cup of peppermint tea he left sitting on the kitchen counter. To all of these things I will return. But I do so alone. Without him. Without the man I’ve woken up next to every morning for the last six years of my life. I go home to silence. To an empty chair where my best friend used to sit. To no laughter. To no touch. To the absence of love. I return to the state I was before the very second I met Martin.
Again, I will become nothing. For without him, that is all that I am.

Two Worlds at One Time: The Writer’s Life

An undergraduate writing student of mine summed up the joys of reading when he defined the experience as "living in two worlds at one time."

I couldn't agree more. Good writing moves you. Great writing transports you.

I was once asked, "Have you ever been to Bath, England?"

I responded with, "Yes...once...in a Jane Austen novel."

A good novel should do just that: allow us to travel the globe without once stepping foot outside of our home, office, library, coffee shop, or wherever our favorite place to read is.

Novelist and essayist William Styron once said about reading, “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

But can't the same be said for the writer? The duality my student recognized as a reader is similar to the double existence we live each day as writers, culling through our own experiences (imagined and real), sifting through research to make our words more authentic, managing a day job vs. a creative one, and politely ignoring the always-present response when we've told someone we've just met that we're a writer: "Have you written anything I would've heard of?"

While we are busy creating on page those literary landscapes we whisk our readers away to, we are balancing two worlds - the one in which our characters exist and the other we draw daily inspiration from - our own. When we sit down at the computer and begin to tell a story, aren't we in fact living in two worlds at one time? Perhaps the allure for writing begins with the desire to "leave behind" our current life and slip into someone else's.

So often I have heard writers talk about "the zone" - that high peak of creativity that is so momentous, nothing else seems to matter or even register except for the words that our traveling from our imaginations, through our fingertips, and onto the page where, hopefully, they are later discovered by a reader who feels the same sense of rapture. I wonder if this state of intense creation is the fine line between the two worlds. When we stand (or dance) on it, are we straddling the very thing that separates fiction from truth?

As writers, we don't just travel vicariously through the lives of our characters. Certainly by living the life of a published writer, I have been given the opportunity to travel extensively. I am amazed by the random, wonderful places my writing has allowed me to go. From Amelia Island, Florida to Altoona, Pennsylvania to Palm Springs, California - I have met readers, signed books, and instructed writing workshops in more cities and towns than I could have ever dreamed of. Each of those journeys have inspired and impacted my writing, giving me personal insight into otherwise unexplored territories. Each time I find myself in a new environment, I can't help but observe my surroundings of this "new world" with a writer's eye, knowing that later I might chose to recreate it for my readers - knowing they will be experiencing a sense of place through me and my words.

In my novels, I take my readers all around the world: from the streets of London to a Greek island, from the suburbs of Chicago to a seaside town in Belgium, from a prestigious music conservatory to a fairy tale village in Germany. I want every reader who picks up one of my novels to feel as if they have lived those "several lives" Styron talked about, that they saw the world without ever leaving the comfort of their bedroom.

Two worlds at one time. The phrase itself can have many meanings. For my undergraduate writing student it sums up the incredible experience he looks forward to as a reader. For us writers, it means the tough balancing act we must master in order to succeed - our creative life and our daily routine, the sometimes blurred line we teeter on between the real and the imagined.

About the Author:

David-Matthew Barnes is the bestselling author of ten novels, including the young adult novels Swimming to Chicago and Wonderland, which were nominated by the American Library Association for their annual Rainbow Books, a list of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content for children and teens.

He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Boys Like Me, and two collections of poetry, Roadside Attractions and Souvenir Boys. He has written over forty stage plays that have been performed in three languages in eight countries. Collections of his theatrical works include Deuces: Stage Plays for Two Actors, Monologues That Kick Ass, You Think You Know Us: Stage Plays for Teen Actors, and more. He is the writer and director of the feature film Frozen Stars and the dramatic short film Threnody.

His literary work has been featured in over one hundred publications including The Best Stage Scenes, The Best Men's Stage Monologues, The Best Women's Stage Monologues, The Comstock Review, and The Southeast Review. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.

He teaches college courses in writing, literature, and the arts.