“Yuri: A Pride Memoir” (and other info)

Happy Pride Month!

Since this is a queer blog, you’d think I’d be posting at least weekly this month, but deadlines have unfortunately caught up to me. In addition to my own writing and editing, I’m also finishing up an anthology of axe murderer stories for Lethe Press (“Hatchet Job” coming October 5th, 2019). I am full of pride but busy as hell. I plan on returning to the blog shortly with a review of Lou Dellaguzzo’s “The Island of No Secrets,” but until then please enjoy my own “Yuri: A Pride Memoir,” from my collection of short fiction and essays, “Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits” while Duncan watches the parade from our front window.


Yuri: A Pride Memoir

I’ll call him Yuri. He was short and stocky, with buzzed brown hair and watery aquamarine eyes. In his early thirties, Yuri had only been out for a few furtive years in his native country. He was staying in Denver on a tourist visa with some people he’d met online. It would be his first Pride parade.

My friend Arthur had found Yuri in a chat room and asked him out to the Wrangler, a local leather-and-Levis bar, for a drink the Friday of Pride weekend. I went along to provide moral support for Arthur and an excuse to leave if necessary.

Their eyes met, and it was magic. It was bliss. It was heaven. It was a quick drink and then total abandonment. They hopped in a cab before my ice could melt, leaving me at the north end of the bar to be pawed by a drunken bear with a shaved head who leered at me, fell asleep, then woke up and leered at me again. I wasn’t sure if he was tired, drunk, or narcoleptic.

When Arthur and Yuri arrived at my Pride party the next day, they looked as if they hadn’t seen much daylight. Their eyes may have been dull, but they only looked at each other anyway. Yuri sat on Arthur’s lap or with his back between Arthur’s legs as they stretched out on the lawn beneath the shade of the box elder in the backyard, eating from the same plate. They were at the charged particle stage of the relationship, where constant physical contact had to be maintained or they’d be thrown off into the dating vortex once more.

We hated them. No. We envied them. We didn’t hate them until after the third pitcher of margaritas, when we started taking bets on whether the relationship would last hours or days. And even then, we still envied them—because they were long gone by that time, off to Arthur’s apartment where Yuri was spending Pride weekend, leaving us to speculate on their future until well past midnight.

We reconvened at eight the next morning at Arthur’s love nest, where he answered the intercom in the foyer of his condo building on the first ring and buzzed us in, bounding down the hall to greet us.

“This one’s a keeper!” he said, pointing back at his apartment and leaping around us with the glassy-eyed glaze of too much love and too little sleep. That clarified the situation. We’d all had experience with Arthur’s keepers before, kept for somewhere between a week and a month before being thrown out like overripe bananas.

Once inside, we smiled, nodded, and made nice with the doomed Yuri, treating him with goodhearted generosity, secure in our assumption that he probably wouldn’t last past Wednesday. It was, after all, Pride weekend—as Yuri continually reminded us. His enthusiasm was as refreshing as it was irritating. Charming in a goofy way, he wore a snug NYPD logo T-shirt, matching ball cap, black leather shorts, and boots.

“I have uniform fetish,” he explained. We smiled and nodded some more. “When do we leave?”

“In a few minutes,” Arthur replied, his hands on Yuri’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, we won’t miss anything. We just have to go two blocks.”

We downed our mimosas, made last minute bathroom trips, and moved in the general direction of the door. Yuri prodded and swept us along, his camera already out of the bag. He snapped pictures of Arthur locking the door behind us, and then he was gone, covering the two blocks by the time we had congregated on the sidewalk. We heard him calling Arthur’s name, and Arthur was soon running off, too. As we got closer, we saw Yuri, posing with his arms around a group of Denver cops, his grin as toothy as a sturgeon’s. Arthur manned the camera while Yuri shouted out the angles he wanted.

“From here! Now here! Try one from this side now.”

The shoot might have gone on forever if we hadn’t heard the motorcycles. The crowd buzzed and necks arched as parade watchers tried to see down the street. Yuri leapt away from the policemen with quick thanks, grabbed Arthur’s arm, and disappeared into the crowd. We followed more slowly, taking time to say hello to people we knew as we worked our way towards the Colfax Avenue parade route.

Motorcycles roared as we approached the curb, and there was Yuri, giving a “thumbs up” to the camera, posing on the knee of a butch leather dyke on a Harley. Then Arthur and Yuri scurried to the sidelines, where Arthur lit a cigarette. Yuri frowned at him when he wasn’t looking, pretending to check the camera.

A disco thump preceded the arrival of the twink bar float, but Yuri saw it coming first. “Look,” he shouted, “they are dancing.” And then he broke into the most arrhythmic cluster of moves a non-neuropath could possibly make, whipping his baseball cap in the air and grabbing Arthur from behind. Yuri ground his crotch deeper into Arthur’s ass with each block the float progressed, until it was finally within leaping distance. He then tossed Arthur aside like Godzilla discarding a busload of tourists and advanced on the dancing twinks with his finger on the camera’s shutter trigger.

They must have seen him coming. Just as he moved within focusing range, they began pelting him and the rest of the crowd with a mix of condoms and rainbow refrigerator magnets. Yuri seized upon the trinkets as if they were manna from Heaven, lowering his camera and stuffing the tiny pockets of his leather shorts. It didn’t take long until they were full.

Throughout the morning, Yuri collected kitschy favors and free passes from every float and car that passed, hauling Arthur around by the waistband of his cargo shorts. He crammed Arthur’s pockets so full of loot that his thighs bulged—picture Pan in flip-flops and a Cher T-shirt. And when Yuri wasn’t picking up treasure, he was taking pictures of banners and political candidates stumping for votes.

“Look, look,” he said excitedly, pointing at a tanned woman with graying brown hair, sixtyish but marching enthusiastically in a PFLAG T-shirt, her face polished with a thin sheen of sweat. The placard she carried read “I LOVE MY GAY SON!!!!” Yuri snapped a picture.

“I love my gay son!” he said. “Can you fucking believe it?”


I could believe it, but apparently he couldn’t. Ugly American that I am, it had taken me that long to understand that he was documenting a sentiment that he didn’t see expressed regularly at home, as if to prove to himself that a place existed where you could be proud of who you were.

Yuri’s enthusiasm took on a more poignant note for me after that. I saw him with admiration instead of annoyance, watching a man in the throes of becoming, of stepping out from behind whatever walls trapped him so that he could gaze at the vistas they had obstructed. I had scanned those same horizons long ago, but they were too familiar to move me anymore. Their magic had turned to monotony. Watching Yuri discover them gave them a vitality they hadn’t had in years for me.

For a moment, I was nineteen and going to my first Pride parade—innocent, vulnerable, and staggered by the complexity of my newfound community. My stomach became queasy with possibilities, the way it had then, and standing right there on the corner of Colfax and Emerson in Denver, on a bright, hot morning in late June, with thousands of my fellow queers surrounding me, a tear welled up in the corner of my eye—just the way it had that day, so many years ago.


Three hundred and seventy two pictures later, it was over. The last banner had flown and the last float had dropped its loot. Yuri stood holstering his camera amidst the parade detritus. Stray condoms dropped out of his overstuffed pockets every time he moved. Plastic bracelets were stacked like vertebrae up his arms. The Mardi Gras beads garnishing his head and shoulders clacked as he and Arthur jogged toward us.

“Did you see the parade?” he shouted. “It was so beautiful!”

“Of course they saw it,” Arthur said, beaming at Yuri.

“What now?” Yuri asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other like a five-year-old who needs to pee.

“I thought we’d all go back to my place for another round of mimosas, then head down to the festival,” Arthur said. “Is that okay with everybody?”

We all nodded and murmured our agreement as Yuri’s brown eyes widened.

“More? You mean there is more?”

“Of course. There’s a whole festival with food and music and stuff.”

“Just for being gay?” Yuri asked.

Arthur grinned with smitten indulgence. “I guess you could say that.”

Back at Arthur’s place, Yuri downloaded photos onto his laptop. He shouted and pointed at the images, reliving the last forty-five minutes as heartily as he’d spent them. He catalogued and sorted the pictures, and when he was finished, he fidgeted in Arthur’s computer desk chair while we talked and drank.

Finally he sighed, went into the kitchen, and came back with a bottle of water. “When is festival?”

“Oh, it goes on all day,” Arthur said. “We don’t want to get there too early—it’ll be easier to move around once the parade crowd thins out.”

Yuri sipped and frowned as if he was swallowing more than water, a look Arthur must have noticed. “But we could start walking down there,” Arthur hedged, looking at everyone else for agreement. “C’mon, drink up and let’s hit the road. Anyone need the bathroom?” Even when he was in love, he was still in total control.

The reek of funnel cakes, deep-fryer grease, and warm beer hit us as we were crossing Broadway in front of a verdant drag queen—stick-thin and outfitted in green tights, green tutu avec spangles, bobbing antennae, magic wand, and green platform boots. Yuri grabbed her around the waist and posed with her in the middle of the intersection while Arthur snapped his brains out.

They hit the festival like a tornado gutting a trailer park, cutting a random swath of mirth and exhilaration. We were swept along breathlessly, lurching from one destination to the next until we couldn’t do it anymore. We wanted some time to talk with friends, have a quiet beer, or at least sit down. We made plans to meet them by the fountain in two hours to go to lunch.

They showed up two hours and forty-three minutes later, staggering under the weight of at least ten plastic sacks full of T-shirts, brochures, flyers, and handouts. Well, Arthur was staggering anyway. Yuri looked as if he were ready to run a marathon.

Three memory cards!” he shouted as he ran toward us. “Three memory cards full!” Clearly a personal best.

His energy was no longer infectious. It verged on annoying, but we were all showing signs of Pride wear and tear—especially Arthur, who had a good ten years on Yuri.

“Are we ready for lunch?” Arthur asked wearily, dragging his bags on the ground.

Lunch threatened to be more of the same. Yuri snapped various views of us at the table, demanding smiles and poses until the waitress politely forced him to sit down and look at the menu. He wasn’t even going to drink the Jagermeister shot we ordered for him until we convinced him that it was a Pride ritual. The next three shots were his idea.

The alcohol kept him in his chair long enough to scroll through his pictures until the food came, passing the camera around to share a few choice shots. Once he had eaten, he sank fast—into drunken gratitude.

“I say thank you to all my new American friends,” he slurred as he put his arm around Arthur. “And I especially like to thank my daddy, Arthur.”

Arthur choked so hard, it appeared that the Heimlich might be in order. His face reddened and his eyes bulged until he finally swallowed the word daddy. And the sour look on his face said he didn’t much like the taste of it. Yuri was too busy hugging us to notice. A photo of them at that moment would have proven more prophetic than any taken that weekend. They broke up in less than a week.


Arthur soldiers on, in search of yet another keeper. Yuri moved to Canada and got married to a sugar beet farmer named Dale in Saskatchewan a month later, but that doesn’t matter. I only include it because the stories I like best have endings. That weekend is all that matters. Both Arthur and Yuri will have that to savor whenever their lives get too bland.

Because Yuri’s life will become bland. If he stays in the gay community, no matter where he is, leather dykes on motorcycles and green sequined drag queens will become as commonplace as putting on his shoes or brushing his teeth. And even though all the fanfare is not just for being gay—even though it’s about history and civil rights and struggle and oppression and celebrating the escape from our collective closet—he’ll find that freedom breeds complacency, even though it shouldn’t. And when that happens, I hope he finds a way to fill his eyes with wonder once again.

We should all be so lucky.

© 2007 Jerry L. Wheeler



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The Daddies (Social Fiction Series 28) – Kimberly Dark (Brill)

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Who’s your Daddy?

According to Wikipedia, the question dates to 1681, when sex workers would ask it of each other to determine who their procurers were. After three centuries, the same question finally entered the cultural mainstream: about twenty years ago, it became simultaneously a question, a challenge, a flirtation, a joke, an insult or a threat; as with any question, inflection and context determine the exact meaning. Seven years ago, it even inspired the title of a serious literary book: Who’s Yer Daddy?: Gay Writers Celebrate their Mentors and Forerunners, edited by Jim Elledge and David Groff. More recently, Kimberly Dark has used it as the inspiration for her novel The Daddies. Although it is not a novel in the traditional sense: Dark, a performer and scholar as well as a writer, blurs the distinction between fiction and memoir by including news clips (written and spoken) and excerpts of scholarly articles with her personal narrative to create a biomythography, a term she borrows from Audre Lorde. Writing with academic precision (how many novels have you read where each chapter has been peer-reviewed?) and unflinching honesty, Dark shines the light of truth into dark corners that rarely encounter it, especially in academe: incest, human trafficking, and the power dynamics inherent in BDSM relationships.

Dark tells her biomythography through two distinct but related voices: the first a realistic “girl” based upon herself (presumably), and the second a “mythic girl,” an Everygirl, both of whom interact with several different “Daddies:” the narrator’s biological father, her step-father (an incest perpetrator), her butch lovers, and Presidents Bush and Obama. The novel begins with the narrator’s move to Hawai’i subsequent to a break-up with her lover. Alone (and yet not alone) the two voices examine the narrator’s life, and she begins to see how patriarchy has influenced her decisions and relationships (even as a lesbian). Both narrators show how patriarchy infiltrates one’s emotional and erotic lives, beginning with how we relate to our parents, and continuing to influence how we interact with our friends and lovers. Moreover, these relationship “scripts” teach us what to expect from and how to react to our leaders, popular culture figures, even our deities, most (if not all) of whom are male.

Dark further acknowledges Lorde’s influence when citing her best known quote: “The master’s tool will never demolish/dismantle the master’s house.”  In other words, the underpinnings of the patriarchy cannot be used to end the patriarchy: what the patriarchy consumes only fuels it further. In Dark’s own words, “The Daddies is an indictment of patriarchy and also a love letter to masculinity.” So while there is much to be said against patriarchy, Dark clearly loves Daddy, and wants him to—in a word—grow up: “the Daddies must eat the solid food of self-awareness.” Dark’s progression of understanding of the patriarchy and how it permeates her own life leads her to stop reacting to it, and to demand that the Daddies change. But Dark is only cautiously optimistic that the Daddies can change: “The Daddies are suffering too. And they love us. That’s why they may choose to change (emphasis mine).” As Dark rightly notes, changing herself is not enough to end the patriarchy: the Daddies also need to change, but they have to do that work on their own, without the help of mothers, wives, daughters, or lovers.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Todd Sweeney: The Fiend of Fleet High – David Pratt (Hosta Press)

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I’ve been a fan of David Pratt’s work since his Lammy-winning Bob the Book several years ago, and I’ve even been fortunate enough to work with him on a couple of projects. I always look forward to something new from him, and this YA thriller (with no musical pretensions whatever) was no exception. And as usual with Pratt, the follow through was more than worthwhile.

Todd Sweeney, ex-con high school student, takes his duties as ally and protector seriously, trying to keep his best friend, Toby, out of a gay conversion camp threatened by evil guidance counselor Ashford Squeers. Along with their accomplice, Nellie Lovett, they eliminate Squeers, serving him up in bake-sale empanadas. Ditto another bully who tries to make their lives miserable. This pattern of disappearances doesn’t go unnoticed by the local constabulary, who race to discover who’s behind the murders while Todd and Nellie rescue Toby from the camp and go on the run.

Whether it’s anthropomorphic books, porn stars stepping out of movies, or in this case, Broadway parodies, Pratt has always had a way with the madcap. His farces, however, spring organically from character, so the situations never seem forced or contrived. And the characters are delightful. Toby and Todd are a good combination (though the editor in me pleads with the author to use two names that don’t look so much alike on the page), but smart-assed Nellie threatens to steal their show, especially during the revival scene in the WalMart parking lot.

Pratt’s other major talent lies in being able to control the disparate elements he brings together so that the story never overwhelms the reader or goes far enough awry that he’s not able to pull it back. I’m not sure how many of his target audience will grok the Broadway elements of the book, but that’s a minor complaint. His prose, as always, is sharp and funny–particularly his dialogue.

A worthy addition to Pratt’s catalog, Todd Sweeney: The Fiend of Fleet High is a zany, cannibalistic farce just right for the YA crowd but adult enough for older readers.


© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler



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Sins of the Son (Arcadia Trust #3) – Christian Baines (Christian Baines)

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The third installment in Baines’ Arcadia Trust series is well suited for readers who have followed his vampire saga from the start. I had not, though I had read his standalone novel Skin and liked it a lot. I’d say then, as an introduction to Baines’ punchy style and dark sensibilities, Sins of the Son makes for an enjoyable read.

From the opening scene, it’s a runaway train-style paranormal adventure. The series hero, Blood Shade Reylan, is in a fight for his life against Luca, the young man he brought home from a bar in Sydney, Australia. Luca turned out to be an assassin from a fanatical, Catholic anti-vampire secret society called the Scimitar. With some help from Brett, his Mannequin, —a human vampire familiar in the Aracadia-verse—Reylan manages to overpower his would-be killer, but he tastes something strange in the kid’s blood chemistry.

That curiosity, combined with the fact the Scimitar is supposed to be upholding a truce with Sydney’s furtive vamp society, leads Reylan to spare the kid and bring him in for interrogation by the Aracadia Trust. The Trust is something of a governing body for Blood Shades, and their previous battles with werewolves and humans from earlier books have bearing on the story. That’s part of the reason Sins of the Son is a tough entry point for readers arriving late on the scene. The relationships between the characters don’t quite click nor achieve the fascination that they could.

Nonetheless, Reylan’s new adventure builds interest through action scenes that slam one into the other along with themes of persecution and injustice that resonate for queer readers. There’s a mystery to Luca’s origins and a battle bigger than the Arcadia Trust vs. the Scimitar that unfolds.

Another element that nicely pushes the narrative forward is the introduction of the character Iain. When Luca transforms into a Death Shade at an all-night diner, Reylan comes across Iain, a young, plain-clothed priest who is a victim of Luca’s berserker spree. Without giving too much away, it becomes clear pretty quickly Iain is not entirely who he says he is. Meanwhile a flirtation between him and Iain seems to be leading to something more. It’s a well-played intrigue that keeps the reader wondering all the way to the end: is Iain a good-guy or a bad-guy?

Baines writes action boldly and graphically. As a reader, one feels right in there with Reylan, even cringing from the blows and stabs along with him while he fights off werewolves, demons, and super-powered humans. As a fantasy hero, Reylan is pretty much lawful good. He thinks beyond his prerogative for retribution, considering the complex ways his enemies have been coerced into their murderous ways, even when he is attacked by Scimitar assassins and his friends are killed. The portrayal raises questions—what does he owe to the people who are out to exterminate his kind?—but it also brings a sense of humanity to an otherwise dark, chaotic tale.

A good title for paranormal/urban fantasy fans, especially those acquainted with Baines’ series.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Updated) – Raymond Luczak (Handtype Press)

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Raymond Luczak has written and edited over a score of books: fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poetry. His eighth book, Assembly Required, first published in 2009, has recently been reissued in a second edition. Inspired by his landmark essay “Notes on a Deaf Gay Writer,” originally published in Christopher Street in 1990, Assembly Required comprises eleven autobiographical essays that have been expanded and updated by Luczak. Many of the themes will already be familiar to Gay men—coming out, first to oneself, then to others; leaving home to find one’s “logical” family; musings on what does, or does not, comprise Gay culture—but all of these are also cast through the prism of being Deaf.

Curiously, I felt that as I read Luczak’s odyssey, that I was also reading my own: I too grew up in the Midwest in the seventies and eighties (not in a small Michigan town, but rather one in Wisconsin), and we graduated from high school the exact same year; he moved to Washington, DC immediately thereafter to attend Gallaudet University, but I didn’t move to DC until I entered grad school, five years later. By the time I made my first trip to (the now closed) Lambda Rising bookstore, it had moved from the U Street location that Luczak describes to Connecticut Avenue, north of Dupont Circle; and instead of riding cross-town via bus, I remember boarding the Metro. Despite these superficial differences, it is clear that we both found ourselves and community through music (via such artists as Lipps, Inc.; Culture Club; Bronski Beat) and books.

However, our life-paths diverged after college: I moved to DC and remained there, and he subsequently moved to New York. And whatever commonalities we may share, his life has been permanently shaped by being Deaf. As one example, when discussing the impact of movies on Gay culture (“Musings of a Deaf Culture Junkie”), he notes that Deaf people experience Gay icons differently: instead of memorizing vocal inflection and accent from iconic movie actresses, they memorize gesture and body language. Nevertheless, even I found myself nodding in agreement with his observations concerning the backstabbing nature of Deaf culture, because I have witnessed the same things in Gay culture (“Daggers in Our Hands“); ditto during his musings on what exactly constitutes Deaf culture—and who gets to decide? And while I too have witnessed the progression from manual typewriters to computers to iPhones described in “My Technological Evolution as a Deaf Person,” Luczak demonstrates how these technological advances specifically have leveled the playing field for him, both professionally and personally.

The final section of his book contains several essays of a highly personal nature. “Lousy Show with Great Production Values” offers some keen insights into the literal (and figurative) drama provided by the Roman Catholic Church. In “Leaving 49 India Street,” Luczak describes his first year living in New York, and the impact it had on him as a person and a writer; while “Weighing the Bacon to Go” traces the development of his relationship with his father, which is almost always a fraught subject for Gay men.

One may think that Luczak’s audience might be even more niche than that of most Gay writers, seeing as it is a subset of a subset of the greater culture. However, these essays deserve the widest possible audience, not only for their informative awareness into being Gay and being Deaf, but especially since Luczak describes being “an eternal either—both outsider and insider—in the Deaf world”—a familiar feeling to many Gay men in the Gay world.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia – Jeff Mann & Julia Watts, eds. (West Virginia University Press)

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I resurrected this blog in response to the McConnell/Ryan/Putin installation of the T—p Reich, which has proven to be just as destructive and embarrassing as we all thought it could. Sometimes worse. We have been divided so deeply, we may never be able to bridge our differences–if, indeed, we had before. We need every scrap of understanding we can muster. We have to begin to know others as more than just avatars alongside rude comments on blogs, and that means reading about them. What we learn from their stories can transform our differences into commonalities. That’s why volumes like this one from Jeff Mann and Julia Watts are so important. But beyond its regional and queer significance, it’s a potent read.

Mann and Watts have pulled together a collection of some fine Appalachian authors, wisely ordering them alphabetically rather than attempting to categorize them. But verse or prose, the basic themes of fierce individualism and connection to the land and family pervade this volume so intensely any categorization would be useless. Approaching this collection from an academic direction, however, would be a mistake. These pieces are all emotionally powerful and speak to a wide range of experiences we all remember no matter where we come from or who we really are.

The book is dedicated to the late Okey Napier, Jr., aka Ilene Over, a locally revered West Virginian drag queen, but the last line of Mann’s dedication is separate–for the ones who stayed. Queer people of all stripes have been leaving their backgrounds behind and reinventing themselves en masse since World War II, but the population of those who never left the small towns, the gossip, the beatings, the separateness, is largely unheralded. And many of those are, willingly or not, on the front lines in the fight for LGBT rights, bringing queer realness to the Sunday church picnic. It’s less of a feat being gay in NYC than it is in, oh, say Sylacauga, AL.

That divide between those who left and those who stayed is exemplified in Rahul Mehta’s “A Better Life,” perhaps my favorite piece in the book. Sanj and his bestie Sylvie are separated when Sanj leaves for the Big City. However, things aren’t as rosy as he portrays them on a visit home, as Sylvie finds out when she comes to visit. Not only does Mehta explore the dichotomy between those who stayed and those who left, but he throws a multicultural element into the mix. I also enjoyed Silas House’s “How to Be Beautiful,” a tale of a wild excursion from a small town to a drag bar, and “Saving,” by Carter Sickels, about the return of a trans man and his girlfriend to film a documentary in his small town.

And that’s just the prose. The poetry also takes on many of the same themes but seems to concentrate more on the Appalachian relationship to the land, family, and domesticity. Kelly McQuain’s “Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers” is a powerful example of the former while both Dorothy Allison and Jeff Mann have a firm command of the latter. In particular, I loved Mann’s “The Gay Redneck Devours Draper Mercantile,” a perfect depiction of how food resurrects memories. In addition, some newer poets are also highlighted, including Lisa Alther, whose “Swan Song” really moved me, especially the last stanza:

Yet, life is long (unless it’s short)/And friends who last are few,/And since love first starts in one human heart/It might just as well end there too.

Mann and Watts have done a splendid job of choosing pieces that represent not only Appalachian values but how those values often conflict with each other. More than just an academic exercise, however, these poems and stories bring the point home emotionally as well. Highly recommended.


© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was – Dave Ring, ed. (Mason Jar Press)

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Ten stories traverse queer love, loss, and courage in a highly readable, urban fantasy anthology that is refreshingly replete with #OwnVoices.

These are modern tales in style and tone from a new generation of young, emerging authors. One, kx carys, is still in high school. Some, like Pushcart Prize nominee Claire Rudy Foster, have garnered attention in the literary community. As such, Broken Metropolis invites discovery of new perspectives in short fiction, and readers will find it delivers on bold, imaginative queer storytelling.

The anthology is branded as an exploration of urban situations and possibilities, though it could be said the story moods provide the connective tissue. In M. Raoulee’s “Neon,” a mechanic and money hustler navigates a post-‘Electric Revolution’ misandrist dystopia in a magic-fueled motorcycle while trying to repair his android boyfriend. Caspian Gray’s “The Plague Eater” concerns two guys dancing around their mutual attraction as they chase a macabre urban legend that might be the only way to save a friend dying of cancer. The non-gendered trans narrator of V. Medina’s “My Heart in My Teeth” (a reference to “my transition” is the only clue) moves numbly, robotically through the day, haunted by the violent murder of a lover, and in Jacob Budenz’ “Under Her White Stars,” a witch (also non-gendered) must trust in their powers to reanimate their fiancé after a noble mission to capture a soul-consuming renegade witch goes horribly wrong.

The futures the authors imagine aren’t bright, perhaps in step with Millennial sensibilities and/or our current times. But the stories do explore the possibility of hope. Their heroes might be jaded about the state of the world, but they want to believe in the redemptive power of human connection. However bleak their situations, true love surely offers a chance to rise above.

Claire Rudy Foster’s “Saturn Conjunct Venus” evokes that dark and tentative romantic mood in a story about the challenges of trans living. Angie, a young phlebotomist working in a lab to find a cure for HIV, perseverates on astrology to glean clues to her romantic future while muddled in a depressive episode that has her seeing the world in shades of blood. She’s been dating a lesbian woman for two months and has yet to tell the girlfriend about her transition. It’s an entirely contemporary situation that grips the reader as well as any suspenseful fantasy adventure. Having been rejected by T.E.R.F. lesbians before, Angie’s heart hovers above a blade awaiting the moment her girlfriend will learn her history. Her situation is specific, but the fear of revealing one’s whole self to the person with whom you’re falling in love strikes a universal chord.

Readers will find a mix of traditional, atmospheric urban fantasy (Raoulee’s aforementioned “Neon”), a clever trans-slashed update on Greek mythology (H. Pueyo’s “Perseus on Two Wheels”), stories in which hand-drawn cats come to life (Victoria Zeldin’s “The City of Cats”), and others that are darkly psychedelic and reminiscent of William S. Burroughs (D.M. Rice’s “Dissonance”). Similar to Medina’s aforementioned “My Heart in My Teeth,” Meghan Cunningham’s “The Strange Places in the City” delves into the fantasy theme by imagining the city as a living organism.

A challenge with queer anthologies is providing representation across the spectrum. In that regard, Broken Metropolis takes a different and I’d say inspired approach by making space for trans, non-binary, and non-gendered stories, which haven’t received as much recognition as cis gender gay and lesbian fiction.

A nice achievement and an entertaining sampling of modern queer lit that offers something for comic/fantasy fans and literary fiction readers alike.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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