On writing a gay character, even though I’m straight.

This post originally appeared on Inside a Dog, where I was a writer in residence for the month of August.

My first novel, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being  Proper Jew, is about, Yossi, a homosexual teenage boy living in the Melbourne Orthodox Jewish community. I was raised orthodox myself and felt pretty comfortable writing about an orthodox teenager. I could just draw on memory.

Seeing that I’m straight, though, writing a gay character was a bit more a challenge. I was scared I would offend gay readers who felt that I’d misrepresented them. I guess we’re all a bit scared of offending people.

So, I took a lot of care in writing Yossi. The way I approached the task was by thinking about him without categorising terms that would separate him from me. Seeing that Yossi is gay and I am straight, and terms ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are ones that categorise our sexual orientation, I removed those words.

So, instead of thinking: ‘Here is a young gay man who is sexually attracted to a bisexual boy,’ I could instead say to myself: ‘Here is a human being who is sexually attracted to another human being.’ And then I’m able to think: ‘Oh, well I’m a human being who is sexually attracted to other human beings. How do I feel when I’m attracted to someone? Am I scared, excited, nervous? Do I think about them all the time? Do I want them to like me? Do I have expectations?’

Now that my book has been out for a month, I’ve had some wonderful feedback from both gay and straight readers who’ve said that they could really relate to Yossi. This response highlighted something to me I think already knew: we’re all very much the same deep down. It’s just a matter of taking that step to empathise with someone else.

And in the end, isn’t that what one of the major roles of fiction is? But still, sometimes I wonder whether I had the right to write a gay character seeing that I’m straight. Would love to hear what you think on this matter.

On losing my pleasant memories while depressed.

I was diagnosed with depression and OCD when I was seventeen, however I was unwell for about two years before that.

The depression crept up slowly. I found it harder to concentrate on my studies and it became difficult to socialise. Another thing which I lost, which I didn’t realise at the time, was access to nice memories. Others may have a different experience of depression, but I found that I distorted the memory of my life to focus only on the negative things.

When I started on antidepressants which worked for me, Avanza if you’re wondering, I found that they didn’t work right away. There was still a long period of adjusting to being on the medication.

As I’ve talked about previously, I found socialising to the missing ingredient to my emotional development. In that, when I began socialising, I started to feel much better – I had more energy, confidence and I could concentrate better. Overall I was feeling much less anxious and my mood didn’t drastically dip for no reason. I finally felt that I had some control over my emotional state.

It was at this state that I noticed the nice memories return. Whenever I’d talk to people about my life, I noticed that I’d word it differently to how I ever had. As I spoke, I would have mini realisations about how some aspect of my life which I’d always complained about, wasn’t necessarily that bad.

Every day, I’d have simple nice childhood memories return. I quickly realised how influential to my day to day life having access to pleasant memories could be. It can be as simple as making you smile while you’re on the tram or being as fundamental as allowing you to feel more hopeful for the future, as you know things have gone well in the past. It also helped me to see the people in my life and my upbringing in a new way.

I realised, despite all my moodiness, I’d had a very privileged upbringing. I went to a good school and never had to worry about whether I’d be fed or have somewhere to sleep.

Even with my experience with illness, which we might argue is a negative thing to experience, I received the best medical care that anyone, anywhere in the world, at any point in history, would have access to.

I think seeing our upbringing in a more mature, appreciative perspective is something that most of us go through when we leave school or university. Perhaps it was delayed in my case due to the emotionally stunting effect of the depression? Or maybe I should get out of the habit of analysing myself.


Whenever I’m asked if my novel is autobiographical, I always explain that the characters and the plot are fictional, yet the environment which Yossi, the protagonist, lives in is based on memory.

A large part of the motivation to write this book was the desire to sit with these pleasant memories, which I’d only recently been reunited with. I’d spend nights simply sitting with these nice memories and I started creating the atmosphere for the book by writing these memories down. And, in retrospect, I think it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.

On the literary world’s obsession with age.

The post first appeared on the Kill Your Darlings Blog.

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out.

I was jealous of writers who’d been published at my age or younger, and had a sense that there was a ticking clock on the whole thing. I’ve learnt that this isn’t a unique feeling, that many authors feel this way about publication.

I don’t think this line of thinking is unique to writers’ natures. I don’t think it’s a sentiment the ‘industry’ creates in us exclusively.

I think it’s an example of the larger cultural trend of passing judgment on the way each person lives their life – judgments we pass on ourselves and others. It isn’t enough that somebody does something. We need to know when, how and why they did it, so we can compare it to the other people who have done that thing and see who did it ‘better’. Then we can compare these people to ourselves, and use them as a barometer for how well we’re doing at this whole life business.

This may be a long bow to draw, but I wonder if the emphasis on writers’ ages has to do with the way some writers are seen as ‘life commentators’.

 For me at least, I found that I was ignored when I was young, and my opinions dismissed as immature. Many people I’ve spoken with seem to share a similar experience.

To publish a novel at a young age has connotations of being ‘wise beyond your years.’ We have insight into life before we’re expected to. I guess it can make us feel like prodigies.

Although, of course, this is all if we choose to buy into these ideas, which many people I know don’t. I know that I have moments when I feel competitive and moments that I don’t. It’s never a static emotional state.

Since my first book came out, I’ve realised that a writer’s ‘career’ is not as clearly planned out as I first thought. I doubt many of us have much control over what we write and when, or when it gets published. I might finish my next book this year and it may not get published officially for a year after that. So, when do I measure it from?

All my efforts of manipulation over the timeline of my life are kind of pointless. At the end of the day, my first book came out when I was the age that I was, and my next book will come out when I’m as old as I will be then. In the same way that I will die at the age that I will die. Sometimes I have to remind myself to stop trying to live up to a certain set of life goals purely so that it reads well on my Wikipedia page.

Which leads me to my next and possibly overly sentimental point: we don’t need to measure our lives based on our ‘achievements’.  We can measure it with a focus on so many other things: the relationships we’ve had, the places we’ve traveled to, the greats nights out we’ve had.

I’d love to add here: ‘or, better yet, we could not measure it all.’ But I know that, at least for me, I can’t break habits of thought that easily. I will always be slightly competitive, I will always judge myself – and others as well – and I will always measure my life in some way.

The only time I really feel free of these unpleasant thought patterns is when I’m in the midst of writing a really good story. Everything just stops mattering for a little while. I find that the real beauty of writing a story is how it allows me to think in ways I don’t allow myself to otherwise. It’s liberating. It also reminds me that, despite my competitive streak, the real reason I’m writing is because I just love to do it. And the real reason I’m sending it off to get published, is that I want my work to be read.

And getting to talk to people about my book has proven to be just as exhilarating as writing the thing.

On why I don’t think it’s helpful to say: ‘the world should be atheist’. Despite, being one.

I am, as I’ve previously talked about, an atheist. However, just because I am an atheist, doesn’t mean I think that everyone in the world should be.

I know many would disagree with this point, and I mean no offence, however the way I see it is that religion is something that emerged from society, rather than something that was handed down to earth from a Divine plane. Although, majority of religions began an incredibly long time ago, I don’t think they are a relic of the past. If the dominant religions and ideas of God that exist today had never been formed, I think we would re-create similar philosophies and organisations to fulfil a relevant need that religion offers.

Religion holds a very important function in many of our lives. It offers a sense of purpose, place, identity, direction and helps manage the fears of chaos and mortality. Of course, pointing out the emotional benefits of religion, is not my way of invalidating it. I always feel reluctant to voice my ideas on religion, because, judging by how some people react, there is the implicit assumption that because this is the way I see it, I am saying: ‘those who are religious are wrong, or stupid.’

However, this isn’t the case. I really don’t mind what another’s theological belief is. I don’t think we have as much control over how we see the world than we tell ourselves. I think our views are dictated as much, if not more, by emotion, than ‘controllable’ thought. In the same way that I don’t feel it is a choice to be an atheist, I doubt that for others, their religious belief feels like a choice either.

In my opinion, an argument over religious belief will not lead anywhere, because these are emotional standpoints. Telling a person what they should believe, is as pointless as trying to convince a person whom they should be romantically attracted to.

I know there are many people who separate a belief in God from organised religion. However, I am referring to a belief in a divine Being within a religious movement, the same as or similar to one I was raised in as an orthodox Jew.

Although not everyone will agree on whether or not God, in whatever manifestation, exists, one thing everyone can agree on is that a belief in God exists. And I think this is a far more relevant point.

Billions of people in the world are religious. Religion is an important part of so many people’s lives. Religion has been a relevant part of society for thousands of years. It is irrational to think it will just disappear, because a few atheists are shouting about it on the internet.

Therefore, when someone may talk about how everyone should be atheist, because, for instance, they’re of the opinion that it will lead to a more tolerant society, they are talking about something that will never actually happen. Therefore, it is just talk – just another hollow vision of utopia that leans all its weight on an ideological stand point.

Any vision of society which has a single philosophy and belief system is an oppressive society for those who don’t share that view. And this very idea of a society with a single, dominant ideology, may be the very thing they are accusing religion of propagating.

I know this isn’t a new point, but I think that for those who have difficulties with some aspects of religion, it is far more valuable to discuss and work on a changing face of religion, to work with what we have, rather than pushing the adolescent notion of rubbing out the blackboard and starting again.

I know of many religious people who are doing just that. And I personally think it is admirable.



[Thanks for reading :) I just did a couple of radio interviews on Joy FM Spirit Lounge and J-AIR, if you care to listen.]

Discussing the reactions of the religious community to my writing.

This post original appeared on the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival  website, where I’ll be on two panels August 24th 2pm ‘Coming out the 21st century – Who Cares?’  and 4:30pm – ‘Getting published is really heard, but…’

I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish family in the suburb of Caulfield. I was religious throughout my childhood and early teens. However, at seventeen I found that the religious life wasn’t for me.

The sect of Judaism I was part was Lubavitch, who are quite integrated into main stream society, so the change wasn’t too much of a culture shock for me. There were little things – such as not wearing a yamulka for the first time in public, and eating non-kosher. I remember the first few times I didn’t wear a yamulka, I was acutely aware of the air on my naked hair and it made me feel uneasy. And it was a while until I could eat non-Kosher without feeling slightly guilty.

However, everyone around me, including religious friends and family, were accepting and respectful. Even if they may not have agreed with my choices, they were still inclusive and loving.

I really don’t hold any resentment about my upbringing. And I certainly didn’t when I started writing my novel. I guess, since it’s about a homosexual boy in the orthodox Jewish community, when I spoke to many people about it there was the automatic assumption that I would be bitter and the book would be an attack on the community.

Yet, I was very careful as I wrote my book. I ensured that I took a measured approach, that I researched and had discussions with people to get a fair perspective on the issue. The intention was that the main character, Yossi, would learn to find a place for himself, as homosexual, within his faith. So, to show Yossi’s love of Judaism and his community were crucial to showing why he would want to remain religious.

As I was writing, I realised (possibly being a little arrogant), that the book was likely to get published. And, to be honest, I did become slightly afraid about how it would be received.

I guess I was scared I would be ‘attacked’. As soon as I stepped into the public eye, I would be told off regularly and people would bad mouth me on the internet. I knew none of my friends or family would, but there’s something scary about putting yourself out there to complete strangers.

What I’ve learnt though, in my very minor and probably short lived stint in the public eye, is that as long as I’m careful about what I say, I edit what I write based on the input of others and I’m always open to discussion, most reasonable people will not ‘attack’ me. How a person reacts to something they don’t agree has more to do with their personality type than anything. Some are able to acknowledge the differences in others and are genuinely loving and kind, so that no matter what I might think, even if they don’t agree, they will still be lovely people. And those who do attack me are – to put it bluntly – just jerks.

Everyone in the community, even those I’ve those I’ve never met, have been truly lovely. I’ve had some early readers say that they felt I was too kind on the religious community in my book. There were a wide variety of reactions from the characters when Yossi finally comes out of the closet and they advised me that they felt that some of religious characters whom I’d depicted responding well to Yossi coming out, wouldn’t have responded as well in real life. But, I’d written warm characters who responded to Yossi with love, because that has been my experience of the community.

Perhaps I had romanticized my upbringing. But, as I wrote it, I felt as I was simply being honest.



On the benefits of no longer believing my own delusions.

[Quick pre-post note: My novel's now available in all ebook versions, including Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple :) the Sleepers Publishing Website has all the ebook links as well as options to purchase the softcover copy from within Australia and overseas.]

I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression when I was seventeen. After a month or two of therapy my shrink started me on antidepressants, which I found stunted me a bit too much emotionally. However, following this, he began me on a different medication, which worked well.

I didn’t magically feel better, but rather my anxiety levels were lowered to a point that I could face up to certain truths about my life that before I found too terrifying to acknowledge. In being able to acknowledge them, I could then do something about them and make decisions and take risks that would allow me to build a life I would be happy to live.

In having the new found capacity to acknowledge certain fears, I quickly realised, while off the medication, just how much I had been taking refuge in delusions in order to shield myself from the negative emotions associated with certain fears of life.

The big one being what I would ‘do’ with myself as an adult. If I ever had asked myself that in the past I would say: ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ This would help dampen the immediate feelings of fear that arose, however I was too afraid to take any practical steps towards this goal.

I’d be afraid to read because I felt jealous of other authors, I was scared to talk to anyone who’d had any publications, because it challenged the fact that I hadn’t had any. Yet still, I was convinced it would happen.

I see this type of fear as living with a dog cone around my neck, not allowing myself to face up to some of the scarier aspects of life and narrowing my perspective on things. Then I seek out those who will affirm my delusions, saying I’ll be a writer, they just know it, while avoiding those who challenge me, whether explicitly, by asking how practical I was being about this ambition, or implicitly, by having simply made clear life decisions in which they had embraced uncertainty and taken some actual risks, whether they were ‘paying off’ or not, that I noticed and felt challenged by.

I remember when I started this new medication, I’d also just had an operation to have a stoma. This operation gave me a lot more energy and all of a sudden I had all this time to fill and all this time to think. And these fears, which I’d been able to push from my mind before, by simply lying to myself, wouldn’t go away. I found that I no longer believed my own bullshit.

I went straight to my therapist and asked if I could have a higher dose of medication. He said no. The dose I was on was fine. The medication isn’t mean to stunt me like the first ones we’d tried had. These fears and concerns I’m facing are very real and need to be acknowledged. The mind’s ‘angst’ is important.

So, I went home and had a mild panic attack. I’d have to practically try something. I’d have to acknowledge the quality of my writing, research places to send stories to, start reading as widely as I could and put myself out there. And if I worked really hard and stuck with it for my whole life, I might still end up without any achievements I’d be proud of.

Of course, in practise, this path to publication has been far less dramatic, as I’ve mentioned in several other posts. And honestly, I roll my eyes a little at how dramatic I’d been. But, this is probably because I’ve already done everything I’d set out to do. I’m sure if someone took my book, my degree and all my experiences away from me and said: ‘now start again,’ I’d feel as terrified now as I did then.

On How Getting a Novel Published Isn’t Just About Persistence

The post first appeared on www.aerogrammestudio.com.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was seventeen and was unwell for a number of years. I had an operation when I was twenty-four, which finally awarded me some control over the illness.

With my new found health, I felt like I wanted to ‘start my life’ and decided to start sending my writing off for publication. I had been writing since I was eight years old and had an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Melbourne University. But, at this point I’d had no publications.

Things moved fairly quickly for me and within a year, I had three short stories published and was speaking to a publisher about my novel. Although, that specific book wasn’t accepted, the attention from the publisher gave me the confidence to write another one, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, which was accepted by Sleepers Publishing and was released on July 1st.

I’m not mentioning this to show off – seriously. I’m just hoping to show that, at least the way I see it, I had a pretty easy run in terms publication. I didn’t have to push through challenges and keep going despite all odds. I didn’t play out some filmic success story. I just did what I loved and the publishers have done the rest.

I honestly don’t think I have the resilience to handle years of rejection. The only thing that would have gotten me through being constantly rejected would have been a ‘dream’, in that when I get published I wouldn’t have to worry about making friends, or gaining respect, or earning money.

Often when I hear others speak about what the dream of being a writer is – it’s that they get to stay at home, tap away at whatever they’re writing whenever they feel like it, and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.

This isn’t what it’s like to be a writer, it’s what it’s like to not have to work. When I was a younger, I did see being a writer in this way – as an escape from a life of office work. I guess I thought I’d be rich from my writing and receive a lot of validation, so, even if I didn’t ‘do’ anything all day, I could still feel productive and valued.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a large part of the reason I pursued writing was to feel like I’d ‘done’ something with my life. I certainly did and still do feel the pressure to achieve.

Social pressures are very real. So much of our sense of self is built through socializing, to think of ourselves as complete, unattached individuals is a little far fetched.

Personally, I don’t think I would have been okay without addressing these pressures – without pursuing what I love, without trying, without ‘doing something’ with my life.

I’ve met people who don’t seemed fussed about what they do. And I’ve met some who feel uncomfortable being single, while for me, I have no problem with it.

There is never a blanket way we need to live, but I think it’s important we address our personal anxieties and wants in life, even if we can acknowledge that these pressures and wants are social constructions.

Being a writer was something I really wanted and I felt it was crucial I accept that, rather than pretending it’s not something I cared about and growing up to regret never making an effort to build this career.

But, there’s a nasty flip side to this train of thought. In following ‘dreams’, we can become demoralized if we don’t ‘achieve’ them. It also belittles ‘regular’ jobs. To strive for a dream as a writer and then work in an office is considered a failure.

I work in an office and have for a while and will for probably all my life – despite the fact that I’ve published a novel. And I see no shame in it. Yet, every time I got to a literary event, it’s like an unspoken shame to admit that you don’t make any money off your writing. There’s a feeling of embarrassment about it – at least the way I sense it. But, you know, maybe I’m projecting and I’m not as comfortable with my office job as I tell myself.

Anyway, back to it – honestly, if I’d continuously had my stories knocked back, I wouldn’t have kept on trying. I would have stopped sending work for publication, written for myself and become a teacher – something I still think of doing, alongside being a writer.

Sometimes, ‘giving up’ isn’t failing, it’s getting on with our lives and realizing we don’t need the affirmation of the world to feel worthy, we might just need the love of a few. I sometimes think that never giving up is a sign of confidence, while, at least the way I’ve experienced it, whenever I’ve locked myself into a goal with blind determination it’s because I’ve been so desperate to feel accepted.

As I’ve mention previously on this blog that a lot of the emotional needs I was seeking through writing, such as affirmation, acceptance and love, I was far better off seeking from the people close to me.

It seems on the surface that to quash someone’s dream and tell them to be practical, is mean. It’s as if I’m standing on some elevated platform where I’ve ‘made it’, and I’m gloating while telling others not to try. I understand why others would go for it. It really is fun and rewarding being a writer. It isn’t necessarily overrated and, sure, it’s worth a crack. And, yes, some may get published and make a lot of money and earn a lot of respect.

But, to trap ourselves in an endless loop of rejection seems unfair. I know to stop trying when we don’t succeed with something can seem like ‘conformist’ thinking, while pursuing our ‘dream’ against all odds is some sort of liberation and true freedom, a show of strength and confidence in being who we are. But this ‘dream’ business is just a marketing technique, it’s an ideology like any other.

Writing is such a beautiful and inspiring activity. I only feel truly awake when I’m in the midst of a story. Going about my everyday business with constant company of beloved characters, is – not to be too romantic – euphoric. I love the craft of writing – the structure of a story, syntax, character development, metaphor, pacing – it’s all so enveloping and rewarding.

But, the ‘dream’ promise that comes with getting a story published is a whole other thing from the craft. It isn’t real.

Personally, I think we should keep trying to get published for as long as we are enjoying it, remind ourselves that it’s fun and not something that we have to do, take long breaks from it, pursue other interests, pursue relationships and face up to and accept many of the anxieties we may be trying to suppress by focusing blindly on ‘succeeding’, such as, the fact that most of us will need to have a job for the majority of our lives.

I think if I’d kept on trying to get published while being constantly knocked back, I would have become bitter, jaded, reclusive and resentful. And saddest of all, I probably would have learned to hate writing. And, knowing myself, it’s just something I wouldn’t have put myself through.

{Thanks for reading -I just wanted to mention that I was lucky enough to be a guest on ABC Radio National’s program Books and Arts daily last week where I discussed my book and blog. It was an out of studio interview where we went around Caulfield to places I mention in my novel and that have sentimental value to me. Naturally, we started at Glick’s. If you want to listen, here’s the podcast . http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandartsdaily/eli-glasman/5562824