Eric Ware: Writing on the Down Low

dldEric Ware: I was born in San Angelo, TX and reared in Montgomery, AL.

Tell me about growing up in Montgomery. When did you move there, and what types of experiences and people influenced you to become an actor/writer? Are you out? Share a story or two.

I’ve been in Montgomery since I was 5 years old and I’m very proud of being from the birthplace of the civil rights movement. When most people outside of Alabama think of us, all they can see is black and white footage of police dogs and the KKK. They forget, however, that Montgomery, AL is the place that fired the shot heard round the world and actually led by example. Down the road from us is Lowdes County, birthplace of the Black Panthers, and it was here, in Montgomery, where King was schooled by Bayard Rustin.

Of course I’m out. Why would I write a gay book, use my real name, and show up at pride festival if I wasn’t out? I’m out at home and was even out on my job as a car salesman at Montgomery Ford Lincoln Mercury where I enjoyed the full support of management.

Well, you know it’s always good to ask these things. You could have written this book in a closet for all I know. Anyways, continue.

I’ve lived for years in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and briefly in New York where I starred on Broadway in Mule Bone, a play by Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston. Mule Bone was produced by The Lincoln Center and performed at the Barrymore Theatre. Other stars of Mule Bone included Vanessa Williams of television’s Soul Food and Akosua Busia, best known as Whoopi Goldberg’s sister in The Color Purple.

eric wareTell us about The Down Low Diaries. Why is this book vital to read?

The Down Low Diaries is hardly the first book that deals with being black and in the closet. However, unlike some other books on the subject, it offers a far less apologetic or explanatory view of the DL.

What’s the motivation behind structuring the book this way? Should DL men be proud of themselves?

I doubt DL men are proud of themselves because they are keeping a major part of themselves a secret due to shame. Then again, one of the common characteristics of many DL brothers is a complete lack of introspection. I’ve been in the closet and now I’m out and being out is better. But there are a surprising number of people who don’t seem to think about it and it doesn’t seem to bother at all.

Also, every other day it seems, another rapper (Ja Rule), pundit (Ann Coulter), or television host (Jerry Lewis) feels it’s fine to insult gay people every where. The Down Low Diaries offer a place where readers can recognize themselves, or people they know, in a world that sometimes seem dedicated to their extermination.

The slang itself is derived from an earlier seventies slang about keeping something on “qt” (quiet tip). It’s stupidly come to mean a (black) man who doesn’t identify as homo but enjoys homo sex, on the qt, a homosexual in heterosexual clothing. This culprit had to be invented because the black community was looking for a reason for why straight black women were contracting HIV, and so that’s when the emergence of a down low culture arrived in the consciousness of the public – despite that there are no studies or statistics to back this theory. Give me your definition for the “down low.”

There is no new definition for the down low. It’s simply being in the closet by another name and it irritates me when people like to pretend it means something different and more complicated.

How are folks receiving The Down Low Diaries?

The book is being enthusiastically received and I’m grateful for that. The Down Low Diaries is available nationwide so it’s being promoted all over, such as, the stories in Instinct magazine and UNEQ magazine. The Down Low Diaries is a title that automatically makes people want to investigate what it’s about. However, I never knew before how many books have “diaries” in the title. The Princess Diaries. The Hardcore Diaries. The Nanny Diaries. And on television, The Fashionista Diaries. I guess all God’s chillun love diaries.

This is simply this character’s world and we’re coming along for the ride. The Down Low Diaries is entertaining and gives the reader an escape from every day life. It’s a quick read and most people want to read it again. Furthermore, the book is vital because, even though this is the 21st Century, we still live in a world where men feel they have to have sex in public bathrooms to find a place to be themselves.

Can you have it all? Equality and sex in public places? Apparently Senator Craig does – allegedly. I know I certainly do. I don’t know if it’s totally true that men feel like they have to have sex in public bathrooms to be themselves. Maybe. I have always thought it was more complicated than that. A want for touch. For love and affection, perhaps. You know what I mean?

Even though I’m sure there’s an adventure factor when it comes to sex in public places, most men in the closet choose these places because they don’t have to really connect nor give anyone their real name. Public places for sex are mostly a venue for men to unleash the beast and then go back to their “normal” lives. Strange how we never hear about lesbians being arrested in the park or a bathroom. I guess they’re cleaner or either have more sense. On a more compassionate note, I’m sure finding someone somewhere is better than having no one anywhere.

Compassionate note? Hmmm. Ok. What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on financing my black, gay horror film that I wrote last year called Bloody Bone which actually incorporates a childhood myth I learned in the projects of Montgomery, and publicizing The Down Low Diaries. When I have time, I work on the sequel to The Hollywood Colored, my first novel.

Good luck with the black homo horror film. I cracked up when I heard you read from TDLD recently in Atlanta. As you approached the dais in ATL at the Lit Cafe, my friend leaned over and asked who’s Martin Luther King? After you opened your mouth and let all sorts profanity fly hither and yon I leaned back and said, “That ain’t no Martin Luther King.” Anyways, again, how have folks responded to your use of profanity in the book? I ask because all things DL still give people erections and hard clits, and you should be able to sell the book on the strength of the title alone.

It’s funny you should mention Martin Luther King, Jr. because I’ve actually played him twice. Once was a cameo in The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg, and shot in Montgomery. Unfortunately, the director was fired in the middle of the movie and the new director cut my scene. The second time was opposite James Earl Jones in The Vernon Johns Story where I had a brief scene with Mr. Jones at the end of the TV movie. Vernon Johns was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist church before King and made his own contributions to Civil Rights. Mr. Jones was a gem to work with.

Cussing in writing in always such a precarious thing. In my first novel, The Hollywood Colored, I actually used too much profanity. At first I thought I was being free, being real, and expressing myself. But when the ’round the way sisters started telling me, “Man, there sure is a lot of cussing in this book,” then I knew I had gone too far. The rule of thumb is that it’s ok to have the characters use profanity but there should be no profanity in the narrative.

So, for example, it’s fine to write:

“Damn, that’s a fine motherfucker right there,” Tom said. Then he and Rico disappeared into the amber lit club while pretending not to look.

However, it’s not ok to write:

“Damn, that’s a fine motherfucker right there,” Tom said. Then he and bitch ass Rico disappeared into the amber lit club acting like they didn’t notice that shit.

In the first example, the characters are cussing and that’s fine. In the second example, the narrator is cussing and that’s not fine because it makes the reader too aware of the writing and it’s simply overkill. In The Down Low Diaries the main character is also the narrator so these lines get blurred. All rules are meant to be broken but it does help to know the rules nonetheless. At any rate, I always shave off the profanity in my rewrites.

I agree that the use of profanity can be distracting, but like any type of device, if used well, works wonders. Again, you went the hell off in Atlanta and seemed quite comfortable with your barrage of mf’ers a-spewing. I found it refreshingly hilarious. Who do you read?

Some other authors I enjoy are Z. Z. Packer and James Earl Hardy.

When not writing or acting (up), what are you likely to be found doing?

I enjoy bowling, swimming, working out, vintage movies, and spending time with family and friends.

Aw, ain’t that sweet? Is there anything you’d like to say in this interview?

The Down Low Diaries is structured as a diary with the narrator talking directly to the reader largely because of the influence of one of my favorite movies, Alfie. The Alfie with Michael Caine. Not the neutered version with Jude Law. In Alfie, the character looks directly at the audience, tells us what a dog he is, and proceeds to have a good time being one whether we like it or not. And we love it. We like the character in spite of ourselves and actually end up pulling for him. That’s the journey the reader goes on in The Down Low Diaries while they learn something about life and love on the way. Also, it’s simply funnier this way.

That’s all for now.

See more about The Down Low Diaries and Eric Ware here.

Look for the review in the next week or so here at SGF.org and at Amazon.com.

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