A Conversation with Ethan Day and Geoffrey Knight

EthanDay_author_p_lr-210x315Ethan Day and Geoffrey Knight are authors and, as of a year ago in April, the publishers of Wilde City Press.  Ethan, a resident of Missouri, is the author of books such as At Piper’s Point, As You Are, and Northern Star. Ethan is also one of the organizers for the GayRomLit Retreat.  Geoffrey Knight is the author of books including the bestselling gay adventure novels The Cross of Sins, The Riddle of the Sands, and The Curse of the Dragon God.  Together, Ethan and Geoff wrote To Catch a Fox and Zombie Boyz: Guess Who’s Coming At Dinner.

Hi, Ethan and Geoff.  Thanks for being here!

ED: Thanks for having us!

GK: We’re thrilled to be here… from far and wide!

Ethan, I talked to you and Lynn Lorenz in 2011 about the GayRomLit Retreat.  I just saw that the 2014 retreat is in555064_500252293369482_2021518698_n Illinois this October.  What would you like readers to know about this year’s event?  Are there ways you’ve adapted the event over the last three years?

ED: Absolutely, the event has certainly changed over the past three years. After successful events in New Orleans, Albuquerque and Atlanta we’ve seen growth each year and as such, we’ve had to adjust. Most of the changes we make are a result of survey responses we receive from our attendees each year, but we also take into account the publishers who help pay for the event. The other organizers and I have always felt it necessary to cap overall attendance for GRL, a decision that has more to do with obtaining sufficient publisher sponsorship dollars than anything else. The evening parties in particular can be costly, and with each person added to our overall attendance, the price per event goes up. We don’t want GRL to price itself completely out of reach for most of our publishers, nor do we want the overall quality of the GRL experience for our readers to suffer as a result.

Beginning in 2013, we made the decision to limit the amount of authors who were able to register as a featured author due to the overwhelming response on our survey that there were too many authors in 2012. Author-to-reader ratio ended up being the number one complaint on our survey after Albuquerque, from both authors and surprisingly also from readers, for a multitude of reasons. Considering the cap on overall attendance, it made sense that we needed to further break things down. The author cap continues to be the most controversial thing we have done, and each year there are people who get angry and complain—mostly authors who were unable to register as a featured author, understandably, as no one likes to be told no. To give you some context, while 2013 was the first year we ever completely sold out—though we came close in 2012—this year, our 2015 Featured and Supporting Author spots sold out in less than two minutes, and our General Registration spots sold out in just under two days.

It was never our intent to instigate this sort of frenzied atmosphere surrounding registration, and we even increased the attendance cap for 2014 in hope of alleviating some of that, yet we still sold out in a record-setting time. While we’d love to take full responsibility for the success and growth of GRL, it really speaks more to the passionate fans of the Gay or M/M Romance genre. From its very inception, GayRomLit was intended to be a ‘Thank You’ to the readers, and in organizing the Retreat we continue to make the bulk of our decisions based upon that initial ideal. At the same time, we also rely upon the generosity of our sponsoring publishers and attending authors—who not only help pay for the event, but also show up and spend three and half days interacting with and entertaining readers. As organizers, we do our best to balance the Retreat and meet the needs of everyone participating.

Can you share any plans or hopes you and the other organizers have for GRL going forward?

ED: Honestly, we hope to continue being a strong proponent of the Gay Romance genre above all else. For myself, as an author, I was delighted to discover the genre even existed back in 2009. I had all but stopped writing many years before, but had several finished or near finished novels/novellas sitting around collecting dust from my college days. There were precious few changes required by me in order to make the stories I’d been working on for years fit nicely within the already well-established M/M romance genre. That was, to date, the happiest accident I’ve ever experienced. Like any other author out there would be, I was thrilled to discover there was an actual built-in readership for the types of stories I wanted to tell. I’m still grateful to each and every one of those readers, which is why I continue to work on GRL. I’m certainly not the only organizer/author/publisher who feels that way. : )

Moving on to Wilde City, I loved the concept of your company not just being a publisher but also a city to “play in.”  Have any authors thought about setting their work in Wilde City and what would you think of that idea?

ED: We’ve actually discussed that at great length, lol. It was something we hadn’t considered until we were forced to change the name of our press due to trademark issues and thus, Wilde City was born. We’ve definitely discussed a potential series or an anthology of stories set in Wilde City—the name of the press certainly lends itself to the idea. And we’re pleased to announce that Geoff is going to kick off the concept of bringing Wilde City to life with his new book, Buck Baxter, Love Detective, which is due out this September.

GK: Yeah, I’m so thrilled with Buck Baxter, he’s exactly the kind of character you’d find in Wilde City! And we’d love for our authors to start exploring the dark alleys and flashy night clubs of Wilde City to bring us their own stories. Wilde City is a great destination for everything, from thrills to romance, from adventure to mystery. And Buck is just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s the blurb for Buck Baxter, Love Detective, our first ever Tales from Wilde City:

BuckBaxter_LoveD_200x300px_cvrWelcome to Wilde City, 1924—a crane on top of every skyscraper, a party in every club, a romance on every dance floor, a shooting every night, a broken heart on every street corner, and a dirty secret behind every window with the curtains drawn. It’s the kinda town that keeps Buck Baxter, private detective, in business. For despite his fondness for a cold gin and a pipe stuffed with cannabis, Buck is the best gumshoe in Wilde City. Why? Because he has rules: never make friends, never make enemies, and never, ever fall in love. That is until the day playboy nightclub owner Holden Hart swings into town. He’s suave, he’s charming, he’s chivalrous… and he’s exactly the kinda man that Buck will break all the rules for. From the romance of the Rainbow Palace atop the Wilde City Tower, to the dazzling debauchery of the gentlemen’s parlor, The Velvet Viper—from the history surrounding the sinister convent on the hill, better known Hell’s Bells, to the lantern-lit opium barge, The Peking Empress, run by the mystical Madame Chang—could Buck be about to unravel the greatest mystery of them all…the mystery of love?

I noticed in a previous interview that you praised fellow presses Dreamspinner, Resplendence, and MLR.  I can guess the basics of a good publisher include picking good books, skilled editing, and treating authors well.  Are there other key ingredients to being a good publisher in your opinions?

ED: Recognizing the importance of all those readers out there who make what we do possible is certainly a key ingredient. Treating authors well is important, but also working with authors who care about promoting their own work as much or more than we do as a publisher is also key. It really is a two-way street, and authors don’t always understand that the things they find attractive in a publisher are the same things a publisher will find attractive when considering working them.

TheNext_100dpi_cvr-210x330In addition to gay male romance and erotica, you’re also interested in gay mainstream fiction. Even though I bet many readers have an idea of what that means, could you elaborate on how that’s defined at Wilde City?  For example, I noticed that The Next by Rafe Haze (insanely hot cover, by the way) is listed in your mainstream store, but its subgenres include mystery and erotica. Then you also have three mysteries available in your erotica store.  Is where a booked “shelved” based on your general impression of a book’s heat level, on specific parameters, on the author’s input, or anything else?

ED: We definitely take the authors intent into consideration. That is usually the jumping off point for sure. We also depend upon our editors to speak up if they feel the manuscript an author submitted truly doesn’t fit the genre they want it marketed under.

The inception of our three base categories of Mainstream, Erotica & Romance come back to catering to the reader, more than anything else. Romance readers and Erotica readers are typically looking for very specific things when they go looking for a new book to read. That doesn’t mean that all readers of Romance and Erotica are unwilling to read anything else, but it is true some of the time. The romance genre, by design, has several set “rules” which make a book a “romance title.” A few examples would be having a happily-ever-after or a happy-for-now ending, at the very least. Cheating is typically a taboo, as well. They typically also include some erotic content, but don’t have to, and unlike Erotica, the erotic content in a romance novel shouldn’t be there solely for the purpose of titillation—it should also be integral to propelling the story forward.

All that being said, our Mainstream category, which may initially seem to allude to more of a lit-fic status, for Wilde City, it simply means anything other than straight-up Romance or Erotica. We have Mainstream titles that are love stories, but because they don’t fit those rules of romance, we do not market them as such. One thing Geoff and I talked about early on was how much we missed the experience of going into the local bookstore and perusing the mosh-pit of titles located on the shelves of the LGBT fiction section. We always went in looking for one title, and walked out with several other books we’d discovered while in the store.

Amazon and the other online retailers are great, but once you buy one genre you end up getting inundated with the same sort of recommendations. That sort of in-your-face marketing is great if you only like to read one type of book, but it otherwise hinders the discovery of anything different—typecasting in its most basic form, if you will.

We wanted Wilde City to be a return to the mosh-pit, only online instead of in the store, lol. When you visit the Books page at Wilde City, you’ll find Patrick Darcy’s Confessions of a Gay Rugby Player erotica sitting next to Lammie finalist Jon Michaelsen’s mystery, Pretty Boy Dead or Poppy Dennison’s werewolf romance titles next to Historical Western erotica by Dale Chase. We also have authors like Owen Keehnen and J.P. Barnaby writing books for Wilde City, which show up in more than one of our three base categories.

We can’t control the way a retailer chooses to display our titles, but on our site we state quite clearly which category each title falls within, while also exposing each visitor to the wide variety of gay fiction we offer. From there each reader can remove or add filters to affect search results.

I noticed in the submission guidelines some standard content guidelines (though unusually thoughtful, in my opinion) for a romance and erotica publisher as well as a mention that you’re not considering YA.  For authors interested in submitting, are there genres you’re hoping for more of in your in-box? Is there anything you’re seeing too much?  Are there submission errors which too many authors are making?     

GK: We definitely want to be known as an across-the-board gay press. We want to publish everything from romance to thrillers to comedy to action to erotica, although there are always trends that peak and dive, and as a commercial business we’re always on the lookout for that. And although we definitely want to see more romance coming through the door, we also pride ourselves on having one of the finest—if not the best—gay mainstream line-ups in the industry, despite being such a young press.

ED: Speaking for myself as a reader, a good mystery with a romance subplot always gets me. : )

As far as submission errors go, not taking the time to read the submissions page would be the most common error, lol.

PrettyBoyDead_200x300_cvrYou just mentioned that Pretty Boy Dead by Jon Michaelsen was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for mystery. Congratulations!  To what level was it a surprise to have such recognition within your first year? 

GK: The recognition all goes to Jon! He came to us with a book that he had poured his heart into, he believed in, and his passion spoke volumes to us. We truly love working with Jon—he is a talented, caring, generous soul—and we cannot wait for his next book! And no, the nomination wasn’t a surprise at all, because it wasn’t a nomination for us a publisher, it was a nomination for Jon and his book. We were simply lucky enough to be the ones to publish it.

ED: It didn’t really surprise me either, in the sense I don’t think we’d have published the book if we didn’t think it was well written. As Geoff said, end of the day, the credit all belongs to Jon, who logged in all the long hours researching and writing the book. I know Jon and his editor, Jerry Wheeler, worked long and hard on polishing the manuscript, and the end result was recognition from Lambda. That didn’t exactly suck to see.

What did you like and dislike (if anything) about collaborating on To Catch a Fox and Guess Who’s Coming At Dinner?  Perhaps you’re using your real names, but if not, did you come up with “Knight” and “Day” before deciding to collaborate? Did the names lead you toward: Hey, maybe we should work together?”

ED: LOL! I’ll let Geoff answer the why, since he was the one who initially brought up the idea of collaborating. Hopefully he was attracted by more than just my name, lol. We were each already published before ever meeting online, so there was certainly no design in that sense.

The only thing I don’t like about working with Geoff is dealing with the time zone differences, though even that we’ve sort of gotten past at this stage. Still, there have been times when I know we’ve each had ideas or inspiration and wanted to share them immediately, only to realize we’d have to wait HOURS before getting a response. Total suckage, especially for two gay men! We do so love that instant gratification, after all. : )

Beyond that, writing with Geoff has been an awesome experience. Writing can be an extremely solitary and isolating profession. People who aren’t writers don’t always understand that there’s a party going on inside our head, and the fact we’ve neglected to return a few phone calls or missed a couple of days’ worth of texts isn’t a personal slight, just an occupational hazard. Co-writing just means I’m not the only “real” person at the party, lol. Geoff and I are both pretty laid-back, with similar temperaments, and I think that helps.

In terms of the actual writing, there are things that I believe Geoff does better than anyone else out there, so there are times when it’s simply a matter of getting out of the way so he can do his thing. If you’ve read any of his Fathom’s Five adventure series, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Beyond that, I think Geoff is extremely underrated when it comes to writing Romance. The entire concept from Guess Who’s Coming At Dinner was all Geoff. When he sent me what he’d written I was totally taken by the emotional punch he’d packed into the story.

GK: Aw, thanks Ethan! From my point of view, the reason we work so well together—and the reason I wanted to work with Ethan in the first place—was because we get along so well but have different skill sets. It’s always been my motto in business and in writing to surround yourself with people who can fill the holes you can’t fill yourself. That’s what a great partnership is all about. Ethan is amazing at quirky characters and hilarious situations, and laugh-out-loud dialogue. That’s stuff I can’t do as well as he can. But I can write adventure and tension and action and mystery. So combining our two skills seemed like a great idea, and suddenly Fox was born.

Geoff, what would you like readers to know about your fiction? TempleOfTime_200x300px_cvr

GK: Mmmm, that’s a hard question. I guess the main thing readers should know about me is that I love writing a range of genres. I’m best known for my gay adventure series Fathom’s Five, and I’ve written a few other gay adventure tales such as Scott Sapphire and the Emerald Orchid, and Drive Shaft. But I write whatever story I’m in the mood to write at the time, and that can be anything from mystery to comedy to romance. I think my coming-of-age romance set in the Top End of Australia, The Pearl, is the book I’m most proud of, simply because it’s set in my home country and delves deep into our nation’s cultural history, yet is a tender contemporary love story as well as being the story of a young man who must come to terms with his homosexuality and his Aboriginality. The thing I love about it the most is that, true to Aboriginal culture, the landscape plays a major character in the story. We are nothing without the land we live on.

And how about you, Ethan?

AtPipersPoint_200x300px_cvrED: I’m a card-carrying smart-ass at heart and that has a tendency to work its way into my writing. I’m probably best known for writing contemporary romantic-comedy, although I’ve dabbled in paranormal and historical, along with mystery/suspense with Geoff. I’m probably most comfortable with contemporary romance. I write about what I like to read about: gay men who are looking for love—usually in all the wrong places. I think relationships, by nature, are funny, and my writing is definitely tinged by that point of view. Some writers might take the subject of stalking your ex-boyfriend to a darker, scarier place. I tend to take a slightly nutty, neurotic, I Love Lucy kinda slant. If the individual reading my book finds themselves wishing they could climb inside the car with my character in order to help them stalk that ex-boyfriend, I consider that a success.

Finally, what are you both looking forward to, in terms of writing? Publishing? General happiness goals you’d like to tell your fans?

GK: Wilde City has been an amazing challenge, but now that we’re up and running I am determined to throw myself back into writing. I have the first Buck Baxter story coming out soon, after which I’ll be releasing the long-awaited, fourth Fathom’s Five novel, The Temple of Time. We’re determined to take Wilde City from strength to strength over the next two years, turning it in to a major player in gay fiction publishing. As for general happiness, last year I met the love of my life so all is great on that front. He’s smart and sexy and supportive and funny and utterly perfect…so writing any angst in my upcoming novels is going to be difficult :)

ED: Having time to write, would be one happiness goal…that, and I still have my fingers crossed for a pony! A boyfriend wouldn’t exactly suck, at least in theory—of course that would require me making myself available for such things.

As for Wilde City, like any other online destination, I hope more and more readers will visit, and discover what we have to offer. We’re getting ready to launch our Wilde City Club membership which will allow readers to create accounts and save their information, as well as offering the option to re-download any and all ebooks purchased through their membership. Club members will also have early access to some or all of our new releases, and will receive special un-advertised discounts not offered anywhere else.

Along with WCP Readers Club, we’ll also be setting up a separate type of account available exclusively to independent books stores and smaller retail chains around the country that would like to purchase our print books direct from Wilde City at a wholesale discount.

Thanks to both of you!

ED: Thank you, Gavin!

GK: Thanks for a wonderful opportunity to walk you through Wilde City, Gavin! Hope to see you again real soon!

Keep up with Geoff at the Wilde City blog.

And keep up with Ethan at ethanday.com

© 2014 Gavin Atlas

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The Geography of Pluto – Christopher DiRaddo (Cormorant Books)

jacket_medBuy from McNally Robinson

Those Canadians. It must be something in the water–or possibly in their government-funded arts programs–but four of my very favorite gay authors (Peter Dube, ‘Nathan Burgoine, Shawn Syms, and Christopher DiRaddo) are residents of that country. Burgoine’s Light was a keenly done superhero love story as sharp as it was sharp-witted, Dube (author of the prose poem collection Conjure) and Syms have new collections either out or just released (and will be featured here soon), and DiRaddo’s first novel, The Geography of Pluto, has also found its way into my hands. And it’s a pleasure to report his debut ranks right up there with the best work of his aforementioned countrymen.

Montreal high school geography teacher Will Ambrose can’t seem to get beyond his breakup with his ex-boyfriend Max. Despite the best efforts of his best friend Angie, he dwells far too much on the past even though the present requires his attention. After one battle with cancer, his mother finds herself dealing with another round of the disease with only Will to help her through. But Will’s preoccupation with getting Max back threatens both their holds on stability.

Make no mistake, this is not a novel with intricate plot twists and turns. It is character driven, but that doesn’t mean it’s directionless. Will has a purpose in mind, even if it’s just getting himself through the day or–even worse–the night. We’ve all been there. He’s mystified by Max’s departure. When Will calls Max out of desperation, we are as astounded as Will when Max agrees to see him. Even more astounding is that they attempt a reconciliation, but we know it won’t work. So does Will. But Will’s biggest fear, the one he never states but pervades the book, is that he will end up like his mother–alone, dependent solely on work to structure his life, and facing cancer. The parallels between mother and son are too ably portrayed to miss, but the biggest is that they are both unable to move past their lost loves (Will’s father died when he was quite young). It’s no coincidence his second try with Max happens once his mother’s been diagnosed. They are both afflicted, paralyzed by their visions of what their lives should be, yet unable to make those visions reality. They both come to learn, however, that permanence is a myth and that life is only a series of temporary realities.

The Geography of Pluto is masterfully told, full of heart and heartbreak. DiRaddo’s gift for dialogue is only matched by the clarity and directness of his prose. He also has a finely detailed sense of place and time, but he never lets either of those overwhelm the characters. The setting emerges as naturally as a sunrise. His language and insights are also wonderfully honed, and I can’t think of any better example than the pull-quote from the back cover of the book:

Over the last three months I had been troubled by another imprint that lingered on my walls and furniture. Although he had never lived here, Max’s indelible presence could still be felt in the apartment, his scent burnt into the wood like waves upon waves of incense. It spooked me, sometimes, being alone in this space. It reminded me too much of who I used to be, who I was when we were together. Sometimes it felt as if I were the thing that didn’t belong in the room. This was someone else’s house, a happier person who was long disappeared, and I was living in his place as a squatter.

Di Raddo’s first novel is a terrific debut that will have you mulling over the characters long after you’ve finished. They resonate that strongly. Highly recommended.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

 

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Last vacation of the year

IMG_0754Once again, I leave Out in Print in Duncan’s capable hands so you may marvel as his Chocolate Lab awesomeness while I am at a writer’s retreat at the Easton Mountain Center in upstate New York. Out In Print will return on 8/11 with a review of Christopher DiRaddo’s The Geography of Pluto. Until then, feel free to leave comments lauding our boy for capturing and chewing the Bad Bone.

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Finding the Grain – Wynn Malone (Bywater Books)

cache_280_427_3__80_FindingtheGrainwebBuy from Bywater Books

Have you ever not trusted the ending of a book? Not to say that it wasn’t credible or not in keeping with the characters as drawn, but rather the opposite. You feel you know the characters so well that as the happy ending washes over you, it’s all you can do not to scream at the half-page that ends the book, No! Don’t do it! She’ll fuck you over again!!!” That’s what I experienced with Wynn Malone’s richly detailed and absolutely sumptuous debut novel, Finding the Grain.

Orphaned by a tornado a month before her high school graduation, Augusta “Blue” Riley graduates from high school and plans for college with the help of her aunt. But while at university, Blue meets and falls in love with sorority girl Grace Lancaster. Parental pressures, however, puts the screws to their relationship and Grace bails, leaving Blue adrift. Twenty years on, after hopping from town to town, job to job, and bed to bed, Blue finally rediscovers herself and finds a career that makes her happy–building furniture. She settles down and opens up a shop, not quite over Grace but determined to put the past behind her. Until Grace shows up again. Will they fulfill their destinies? You have to wait to the last page to find out.

Well, this is a romance after all, and one of the unbreakable laws of the genre is the Happy Ever After ending. The joy is in the journey, and there’s much joy to be found here. Malone’s greatest strength is her characters. Both Blue and Grace are wonderfully drawn, absolutely believable, and frustratingly lifelike. I say frustrating because they do exactly what real people do instead of characters in books. And just when you think you have their relationship figured out, Malone throws you another curve. But such curves she throws–soft, low, and deadly.

But as true to life and Blue and Grace are, Malone shows her facility with character in other ways. Preacher, the man who mentors Blue in the art of wood carving, is a patient, wise, and talented older black man who could have easily tipped over into an offensive (or worse yet, bland) caricature. Morgan Freeman’s entire career rests on parts like this. We know just how he’ll react to her being a lesbian, how he encourages her talent, how he waits for her to prove herself, and how he comes to love Blue in his own gruff way. However, Malone injects so much detail and so much humanity into Preacher, he transcends the limitations of that stock character and lifts right off the page. Morgan Freeman should be so lucky.

But we are lucky indeed to have the fruits of Wynn Malone’s labors available. Finding the Grain is a terrific read that’s as warm, comforting, and sturdy as a well-carved piece of wood. And I’ll bet you scream at the last half-page too.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Little Reef and Other Stories – Michael Carroll (Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press)

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By Guest Reviewer Felice Picano

It used to be, way back in the twentieth century, that a literary author would make a name by first publishing a small collection of short stories, most of them appearing in those tiny circulation quarterlies that dotted the landscape, attached to every Liberal Arts College in the Land. Sometimes, a slender volume of verse would appear first. Some fifty people would review the first book, maybe thirty of them having read it, and unless it was bad, the author was on the way up. That was before the current Age of Over-Information that we (so ambiguously) enjoy. Nowadays a confessional memoir or slam-bang novel is almost de rigeur for that path: something big, bad, and, as Jean Cocteau said, something to astonish us.

So it’s kinda cute that author Michael Carroll starts off his own literary career with a collection of stories, and that a handful of them, from the first half of the book actually, were printed in some of those quarterlies either still generously endowed or barely holding on by their fingernails. This collection is in two parts: “After Dallas,” and “After Memphis,” and these tales are not divided by place or time as much as they are by ambition, scope, style and yes, even by content.

The early six stories are almost what any self respecting Brooklyn, New York authoress might write and savor. They’re a little autobiographical, a little earnest, a little sly and funny, and filled with the required shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude and put-on jaded and/or over-medicated aura that today passes for contemporary fiction. But they’re also well-written, easy to take, sharply observed, and most of the characters–including the narrators–get little sympathy and even take a few well rendered beatings on several levels simultaneously. To our pleasure, I have to admit. Especially the two young male/female couples in “The Biographers” and the crusty old gent, widower of the dead writer they’re nattering on about. The one piece that breaks the mold and ends up being quite moving is “Werewolf,” about a straight childhood friend, and the gay male narrator’s relationship with him over the years. It’s a carefully composed piece, with not a comma out of place and, therefore, an utterly credible and creditable narration.

Then we arrive at Part Two, and it’s altogether something different. Knowing Michael a little and his partner a great deal better (or at least longer) this reviewer couldn’t help but think the aging author being cared for by the callow narrator of the five later, longer  pieces are strongly based on them; and so a kind of queasiness or giddiness set in, making  this a post Robert Gluck meta-fiction in which who knows what to believe, really. Yet these are by far the more interesting set of fictions: first, because of the easy going, almost rambling style which fingers the reader as surely as did Coleridge telling about that crazed sailor, and second,because you probably think you know who those major and minor characters –the latter mostly sketched in– are or can shrewdly guess who they might be, narrowing it down to one or two. And third because it seems so intimate and confiding, just like well, Pip or Holden or Nick Carraway, that you’re seduced pretty thoroughly.

Seduced but not lobotomized. Is this a memoir in the making? A fake memoir? A novel in several pieces–it takes up three-quarters f the entire volume? Or what exactly? And what story is being told here? That’s often as uncertain as the location of Schrodinger’s cat. Take “Avenging Angel“ as an example. The story begins in one of those standard-as-possible writers’ work/vacation New England towns (he even references Stephen King!) in great, novelistic detail, and suddenly without any transition I’m aware of, switches to Faith Fox, a long time friend of the narrator’s. From there on it moves back and forth between his current life and her life which he sees in enormous, if momentary, chunks of gory detail whenever she reappears. Anyone who’s lived a few decades will recognize this woman–trendoid to the max–she comes in different shapes, sizes and flavors, and to my mind personifies what we mean when we speak of a zombie. But then we’re knocked back into the story with the older writer, who has had a debilitating stroke and who is increasingly presented as a Baron de Charlus type: “The old libertine can barely move” he calls out, not able to get out of the car by himself. “That’s hilarious,” I muttered, though how I cared for him. “Here, grab my hand.”

Is that irony? Is that affection twisted somehow? What gives? His and the narrator’s story takes place alongside that of Faith as though they were meant to play off each other, or make each other resonate, but that didn’t happen for this reviewer. One area is simply more interesting than the other, and because any emotion possible is held over the fire so long, it’s unclear what we are supposed to feel and for whom exactly.

But … having written that, any story or stories that make me actually think about them  that much are certainly worth my time. And all of these stories are. I think Carroll has opened out a space if not yet a landscape for himself, and he has done so with believable dialogue, intriguing characters, and situations that feel free to promise future benefits if not exactly future revelations. Give it a try.

© 2014 Felice Picano

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Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders – Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall (Bold Strokes Books)

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First an obituary, then a review. Don’t worry, they’re connected.

While I was at Saints and Sinners this year, I learned of the death of my good friend Matt Kailey. Writer, teacher, lecturer, and trans activist, Matt represented much to many people. I was lucky enough to work with him at Out Front Colorado where he was managing editor, and I was even luckier to be invited to join a writer’s critique group he was in. I learned some valuable lessons over pizzas and soft drinks in Matt’s small Capitol Hill apartment in Denver with our friends Peter Clarke, Drew Wilson, Chris Kenry, John Brandstetter, and the late Sean Wolfe among others. Matt was also directly responsible for my first publication and, thus, my entry into gay literature. He was an incredibly unselfish individual who would answer nearly any question about his transition, no matter how boorish, as long as it was well-intentioned. He influenced an enormous number of people through his personal appearances and his autobiography, Just Add Hormones. One of those people Matt reached was Jacob Anderson-Minshall, then doing research preparatory to his own transition. Matt, however, was single. Jacob (then Suzy) was already in a lesbian relationship when he began his process. The story of how Jacob and his wife, Diane, coped with that decision and its aftermath forms the basis for their latest book, Queerly Beloved.

Told in both Diane and Jacob’s voices, their experiences are distinct as well as melded. Diane has her problems with the transition (one of which is her position in the community as a lesbian activist and journalist), and Jacob has his. That they are both able to step back and understand each other’s issues is a testament to their willingness to be together. Queerly Beloved, then,  is less a story about Jacob’s transition than it is a tribute to commitment and prolonging a lifelong relationship despite its permutations.

Jacob’s sections do, indeed, deal with his transition, but not so much as you might suppose. Again, he takes a broader view of how he affects and is affected by others during this period. Looking to find out which set of genitalia he has? Look somewhere else. Jacob is detailed where he needs to be and knows how to write lines which can be read between. Diane’s chapters are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but more often she uses her subtle wit and keen observation to make her point. But as with most barbs, their sharpness hides her vulnerability.

Both Diane and Jacob bravely expose parts of themselves and their relationship, but at some point they stop and close the curtain. And rightly so. Putting this much of your life and experience out there for judgment requires both personal and artistic courage, and each author must determine where to draw the line in the sand. I wonder if or how this story would have been different had Diane and Jacob chosen to tell it through fictional characters. Perhaps it would have been too voyeuristic. In the end, they made the right choice. What’s in Queerly Beloved is both frank and informative, as readable as it is important.

And to the authors, I apologize for pairing your review with an obituary–worse, an obituary with another book title in it. However, Matt Kailey’s Just Add Hormones (original title: Tranifesto) is a wonderful book that also mines some of the same territory regarding the joys and difficulties of transitioning. I know it was not intended as Matt’s final word on the subject, and Queerly Beloved adds to and enriches what he’s done. Our stories create community. And the more stories we hear, the more we understand where everyone fits in.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Teaching the Cat to Sit: A Memoir – Michelle Theall (Gallery Books)

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By Guest Reviewer David Pratt

Here in the ever-so-sophisticated northeast, if a gay person speaks of their love for the Catholic Church, mimosas hang suspended a moment over brioche French toast with artisanal lingonberry syrup before someone says, “You’re, like, joking, right?” Followed by, “I mean, you are joking, right?” Peggy Noonan once began a Sunday editorial by suggesting the reader was lazily enjoying brunch as they read. Noonan’s editor reminded her that, in most places of the United States, on Sunday morning, people were in church.

They still are. And Michelle Theall is one of them.

At first, the message of Theall’s memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, seems to be: hey, look, us gay gals are just like you. The book seems written less for Theall’s queer sisters and brothers than for her straight neighbors in Colorado and the church folk she grew up with in Texas. See—I have a beautiful home, just like you. A wife and son, just like you. Just like a real person. We have our troubles, but get a load of the flagstones in the garden and the new flooring in the family room. Gradually, though, as Theall alternates between the Texas past and the Colorado present, the picture unravels. Let me make this clear: Theall herself is the one who unravels it.

As a kid, Theall suffered in a strict Catholic household with a raging, controlling, but strangely inert mother and an obsequious father. She was molested by a neighbor. She was harassed at school, and the harassment followed her home, a home where the word “lesbian” was unspeakable, yea, unthinkable, yea, inconceivable. Meanwhile, in the present, the author suffers from multiple sclerosis and visits and calls from that same mother, who all but ignores her daughter’s partner, Jill, and who still believes that an offense against the Catholic Church is the greatest offense there can be (except for offenses against motherhood, her own in particular).

Then, after a few chapters, something else unravels. Our patience. “Why doesn’t she tell the Church to fuck off?” rolls easily off non-Catholic tongues, especially in urbane gayborhoods. We find it similarly easy to say, “Just don’t invite your mother anymore.” “Tell her to fuck off, too.” But Theall is teaching cats to sit. We are the cats. Cool and brusque and independent, we do not want to put up with Theall’s agonizing. We will sit when we want to. But to Theall’s great credit, she gets us to sit and listen to a story of how the past is never past, how it is never easily cut loose, and how it should not be cut loose. For all the baggage the past drags behind it, we must welcome it anyway through the door of our fabulously appointed Boulder home. In the end, we have little choice.

Not that Theall doesn’t push back against family and church. Teaching is not a tale of wholesale rejection, but it is not a tale of capitulation, either. It is the story of a struggle—an ongoing one that many of us don’t or don’t have to undertake. But Theall and her partner have a child, so they must deal, to take just one example, with school. Catholic school. A Catholic school not “comfortable” having a student whose parents’ relationship goes against the church. Eventually the women remove their son from this school, but it takes much deliberation, much swallowing of anger, and many attempts to educate a priest who the reader can tell right off is not educable. Still, Theall undertakes the process.

A more difficult process is dealing with and educating Theall’s mother. Walking away from a school or a church may be difficult, but cutting off family, though some gay folk claim to do it blithely and confidently, is wrenching for a married woman with a child. Theall throws herself into the breach, supported by her partner, and gains small victories. But this is not a Lifetime special. Mom is not going to suddenly melt. She is a creature of the Catholic Church right to the bitter(sweet) end. She is another cat who must be taught to sit. Our impulse to tell Theall to toss Mom out must be taught to sit. Everybody, just please sit! Theall tells us. Sit and attend a story of women, of women who are not going to change as decisively as a male reader in particular might wish, who are going to take three steps forward, then two back, who are going to hang on fiercely to what they love, whether the reader understands why they love it or not, who will not break with the past in a way that gives a reader a cheap thrill, but who will work hard to integrate past and present.

If you are tired of hearing that it’s all about process and baby steps, maybe this is not the book for you. According to Michelle Theall, mess and contradiction and process are here to say. They are all that is. The same might be said of family and faith. No jokes this time. You might as well surrender. And engage.

Michelle Theall has written a fine manual for helping you do so.

© 2014 David Pratt

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