Writing Gay in 2018: a Guest Post by Author and Memoirist Alan Semrow

Today I’m happy to bring to the site Alan Semrow, whose memoir, Ripe: Letters, just released in October! He’s here to share a little about the journey up to writing that memoir and how the current political stage has affected writing in general. Here’s the info on the book, and then I’ll let Alan take it away!

Funny, sexy, evocative, and brutally honest, Ripe is Alan Semrow’s ode to relationships with men. In this epistolary book, Semrow writes to the men who have impacted his outlook, reminded him of basic life lessons, surprised him in more ways than one, and left him reeling for days. Writing to one-night-flings, men he has never met, and men he’ll never stop running into, Semrow touches on some of the most constant human themes—love, lust, desire, and the yearning for connection. All the while, the book details a man’s journey navigating and blooming by way of the modern gay scene. Readers will find familiarity and hard truths in Semrow’s statements about the intricacy and explosiveness of the intimate moments we share.

Buy it: Amazon

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The journey leading up to my new book, Ripe: Letters, was a hell of a long one. My first book, a collection of short stories called Briefs, came out in November 2016—a time when the world as I (and we) knew it seemed to turn upside down—a period paved with an onslaught of social and political upheaval. All the chaos made me turn inward. I was fearful, I wondered who I could really trust, I considered the things that truly mattered to me, the things I held most dear—ultimately, it was my relationships—romantic, platonic, etc., etc.

The stories in Briefs were incredibly dark, which seemed timely since it was such a murky period in American history. But the book was actually completed about a year and a half before its release—a darker period in my own personal life. While the characters in the book had next to nothing in common with me, virtually all of the relationships in that book were falling apart, as mine at the time of writing was doing just about the same. I didn’t realize it while putting together Briefs, but what I was doing with that book was masking how I felt, what I feared most, how distrustful I was, veiling things in the lives of these characters—these dark stories. I was trying to figure things out and come to terms by living vicariously through the characters. Once the book was finished, I got myself out of a bad situation. A year later, I moved to a new city with an open heart—a blank slate paved with possibility and more opportunity than I’d ever known before.

Because of the substantial period of time that had gone by between the initial writing phase and the ultimate release, I felt a discernible distance toward Briefs on debut day. While I was proud to have it published through a reputable publisher (Lethe Press) and remain adamant that the book contains some of my best fiction, I wasn’t putting it on a pedestal by any means and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of promoting it the way I needed to. What I was mostly doing was looking at book two—what I wanted the follow-up to be. What I knew for sure was that I wanted it to be nothing like Briefs. I was now living in a new city and navigating, experiencing, having some very real, powerful moments with very different and beautiful people. I wanted to get introspective, which to me meant writing something more autobiographical—a concept I wouldn’t have even pondered while writing Briefs. Believe it or not, I once considered myself a private person. But that person was gone. I wanted to let it spill. I wanted to write something that was reflective of what it was truly like to be a gay man in 2016, 2017, 2018, with all the turmoil, with technology ruling the day and ruling our lives. At a time of uncertainty, I wanted to put something out that promoted positivity, that put a little sunshine in our worlds and could remind people that there are still good, tender, potent moments that happen to us in the relationships we find ourselves in and the moments we share.

About three or four books were written between the release of Briefs and Ripe. A lot of people don’t realize the hell that authors put themselves through to really figure out the follow-up. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggled with it. I’d finish a first draft, set it aside, return to it, and say, “No. There’s no way I’m putting this out. This has been done before. This is too negative. It’s not what I want to say.”

And then it was back to the drawing board. While the first drafts leading up to Ripe were much more autobiographical than my first book, they remained only semi-autobiographical. I was still doing a little bit of the veiling that I’d attempted with the first book, masking what I wanted to say in another main character who shared traits with me, but wasn’t me.

Ultimately, in order to tell my truth, to convey what I wanted to say, I felt my only option was to dive in head first and write in the memoir format. And while doing so, I wanted to celebrate my relationships with people—specifically, men—who had come into my life over the last two and a half years and made an impact on me—some in larger ways than others. Ultimately, I came up with the concept of writing letters to these men. It was a way for me to reflect on the power and complexity of relationships, while also telling a (hopefully) relatable story about my own growth and coming of age. The concept seemed much less pretentious than writing a full-blown memoir (my life is really not that exciting). So, that’s how Ripe happened.

Since it’s release, I’ve heard from people, strangers, from different parts of the country who have messaged me to let me know that the book meant something to them, that I put things into words that they didn’t even realize there were words for. Strangers, of all ages and sizes and orientations, were telling me that they could relate. And that’s how I knew I’d accomplished what I set out to do with my follow-up. To bridge the divide. To say it’s OK to feel this way, to be affected, to allow yourself to be impacted. To be truly vulnerable. To love. And it makes me so happy.

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Alan Semrow’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in over 30 publications. Apart from writing fiction and nonfiction, he is a professional copywriter, a monthly contributor at Chosen Magazine, and a singer-songwriter. Previously, he was the Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and a Guest Fiction Editor for the Summer Issue of Five Quarterly. Semrow’s debut short story collection, Briefs, was published in 2016. Ripe is his second book. Semrow lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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