Satellite Street – Eleanor Lerman (The Permanent Press)

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Sometimes, the mail brings me grief. Sometimes, the mail brings me joy. And every so often, it brings me something that piques my curiosity–which is better than either of those. The elements in Satellite Street are pretty disparate–a son whose father is in the beginning stages of dementia, a trans girl who can speak to the dead, a deceased disc jockey, and the “professional skeptic” who outed the DJ long ago and ultimately caused his demise. Eleanor Lerman, however, has wound them into a wonderful, heartfelt narrative I kept thinking about long after I’d finished.

Paul Marden, a sixty something year old New Yorker, is slowly recovering from a sudden illness and is hiding out where he grew up, in a coastal town previously ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. The house he rents is in a space-themed subdivision on Satellite Street close to the nursing home his father is in. Lelee, a transgender girl who says she can communicate with the dead, also lives in the same project. An accident with Paul’s dad in the nursing home involves Paul in a beyond-the-grave feud between The Great Oswaldo, the skeptic, and Happy Howie, the dead gay DJ, facilitated by Lelee. Paul isn’t sure he’s up to dealing with his father, let alone solve the supernatural problem, but he and Lelee have no choice.

Lerman does a terrific job setting her scene. The atmosphere of the hurricane ravaged coastal New York town to which Paul retreats suffuses the book, and perhaps that aura of ruination is what attracts Paul. He’s finally found somewhere as broken down as he is. But you can’t rebuild without demolishing, and it’s that air of possibility that allows Lerman to bring all those jigsaw pieces together to form the bigger picture.

I know I’m supposed to be paying more attention to the relationship Paul has with Lelee, and it’s certainly worth its weight to the plot, but I connected emotionally with Paul and his ailing father, Louis. The love they have for each other is as evident as their frustration with each other. Their exchanges are honest and real, containing some of the best writing in the book.

My only problem–and it’s a minor one–is that the mechanics of the climax, the supernatural confrontation between Oswaldo and Happy Howie, seem forced. I’m not talking about the confrontation itself, but the manner in which it happens. To say more would be spoiling it, but I can almost guarantee you’ll understand what I mean when you get there. I can also guarantee that by the time you finish the book, you will have forgotten all about that gaffe.

Lerman has written a fascinating book, full of beautiful moments and unexpected turns that will have you recommending this to your friends.

JW

© 2020 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Not Dead Enough – J.M. Redmann (Bold Strokes Books)

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Although this came out last year, I didn’t get a chance to read it before now. And I had to read it. Along with Cari Hunter and Cheryl Head, Redmann is one of my favorite authors. I’ve been hooked on the Micky Knight series since I read the first one years ago, and Redmann keeps coming up with wonderful plots and delicious complications. Not Dead Enough is cut from this same cloth.

A new client of Micky’s is out to find her missing sister, but she winds up in the morgue before the check has cleared. Or is it the sister she was looking for? Cordelia’s realtor cousin, Karen Holloway, might know as she did some paperwork on a house for the same woman. Or was it? This may be Micky’s thorniest case yet, involving multiple identities, a crime family with strict control of its women, top-drawer scotch, and–since this takes place in New Orleans–vivid descriptions of po’ boys and mugginess.

Although the mystery itself is complex and has a big cast, Redmann juggles the elements with a sure hand, lingering long enough to either establish or embroider the characters while making sure we understand how they fit into the larger picture. The complexity builds without you realizing it until you’re as deeply involved as Micky, no matter how much she doesn’t want to be.

But one name in the cast looms larger than any other, and that’s Cordelia, Micky’s ex. Yes, she’s back in New Orleans. No, they haven’t seen each other. Yet. Since NOLA is the biggest little town in the USA,  we know they have to eventually meet. And I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say they do in Not Dead Enough. The unsatisfactory circumstances under which this happens, however, are admirably bizarre and worthy of both Micky and CJ. And Redmann. And if that isn’t impetus enough to buy this, you’re reading the wrong blog.

Other reasons? Strong dialogue, lots of interesting minor characters–including a new Quarter denizen, jaded and rakish Rob Byrnes (where have I heard that name before?)– and sub-plots, and a continued exploration of Micky’s flawed but all too human character. She’s one of my favorite detectives because she’s occasionally sloppy or stupid, especially where Cordelia and Cordelia’s friends are concerned.

Not Dead Enough, then, is a great addition to the Micky Knight series. If you haven’t read them, this is a great place to start. If you have, you’ll love it just as much as the others.

JW

© 2020 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Two Plays: The Snow Queen, November Door – David Pratt (Hosta Press)

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David Pratt, Lambda Award-winning author of Bob the Book, plus the author of three other novels and a collection of short stories, has come out with a new work: Two Plays: The Snow Queen, November Door. Originally written almost twenty years ago, The Snow Queen is based upon a short story Pratt wrote by the same name. The two plays are here presented together for the first time. Both plays focus on the same two characters (the Narrator, Steven Underwood, and Jo Osbourne) and each presents a different pivotal time when their lives intersected.

The first play, The Snow Queen, takes place in the Narrator’s hometown in north central Connecticut, when he is eleven, and Jo is thirty-eight. The Narrator remembers how and when he first met Jo, describing the beginnings, trajectory, and eventual ending of their brief friendship. Jo is an adult, but unlike all the other adults that the Narrator knows: she lives alone, the other townspeople ostracize her, and it is clear that she recognizes a kindred (read: queer, in all senses of the word) spirit in the young Narrator. She, unlike the other people in the Narrator’s life, accepts him as he is. Unfortunately, due to outside forces (and Steven’s insecurities) their friendship does not last. The second, November Door, occurs twenty-seven years later in the same town, when Jo is sixty-five, and the Narrator is now thirty-eight: for different reasons (but both stemming from their common queerness) both characters have left town; and also for different reasons, both have returned—she permanently, he temporarily.

The first play occurs during the fall/early winter of 1968, ending at Christmas, while the second happens just before Thanksgiving of 1995, which suits the meditative, nostalgic quality of the narrative. Despite the explicit historical references in both plays, there is a timeless quality to the story. Both plays have to do with remembering the past, but with different purposes. The Snow Queen is mostly an interior play: Steven, as the Narrator, does all the reminiscing, making his first steps toward self-discovery, whereas in November Door, both characters are present, confronting each other and the past, especially the intervening years after the events of the first play. The gentle, poignant tone of the first play is replaced by a sharper, less forgiving tone in the second as both characters are forced to come to terms with their actions and the resulting ramifications.

Personally, I feel that a play—like poetry—should be performed, not merely read silently (sometimes even regular fiction should be read aloud.) Although each play is complete in itself and could be performed separately, the two plays together form a diptych and, therefore, I think, should be performed (or at least read) together. (Apparently each play premiered in subsequent years. I don’t know if they have ever been produced together.) Given the interior nature of The Snow Queen, it would not be necessary to perform it first, even though the events it portrays occur earlier than those in November Door—I wondered as I read the two plays, if the Narrator was actively remembering the events of the first play while experiencing the events of the latter. It would be too confusing to produce both plays simultaneously, obviously, but this heightens the sense that the story takes place outside of linear time. And while you can not leave the past or escape it, sometimes you can make your peace with it.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Shameless Self-Promotion Corner

One of the projects I’ve been working on in my recent absence was the revision and re-release of my collection of short stories and essays, “Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits.” I’m proud to say thanks to the talented Matt Bright at Inkspiral Design, my cover has been revamped, and the whole package looks wonderful. This collection was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Erotica when it was released in 2012.

The cover blurb says:

If you like cream with your strawberries, prepare yourself for a double helping of satisfaction with this reissued and revised edition of Jerry L. Wheeler’s collection of short stories and essays. From the title story of a magical farmer with low-slung jeans and a very peculiar pair of scarecrows to a gypsy curse that brings out the bear in a former bottom, Wheeler’s demons and angels and lovers and cheaters blend erotica with Elvis, spider tattoos, harrowing commutes, lifelong loves, and cops eating donuts. Layer by layer, this confection will linger on your tongue—and elsewhere—for days.

“Great,” you say. “Do you have links?”

Do I have links? Get the paperback here and the Kindle ebook here.

Happy reading!

JW

 

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Judge Me When I’m Wrong – Cheryl A. Head (Bywater Books)

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Soooo what have I been doing the past few months that I haven’t even appeared on my own blog? Well, recovering from a nasty breakup with my former publisher, Lethe Press, self-publishing my short story collection he put out of print, and reading for the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley award for LGBTQI literature. We had over eighty–count ’em–eighty books to review, so that took up a tremendous amount of time. However, I’m back on as an even a keel as it gets for me, beginning the year’s reviews (albeit a scosh late) with one of my favorite lesbian mystery writers, Cheryl Head, and her latest Charlie Mack Motown Mystery.

As it does for every voter, jury duty comes to Charlie Mack–who can’t help but become involved in the trial she’s on. When she’s not on the watch for suspected jury tampering, she and Gil are also working a case that begins as an investigation of a college student accused of rape. When the supposed rapist comes out as gay, however, things take a different turn. And when the defendant gets wind of Charlie’s investigating the other jury members, things get dangerous in the courtroom as well.

You had me at ‘courtroom drama,’ because I’m old school and grew up on Perry Mason reruns–a sucker for relentless cross-examinations followed by angry and/or tearful confessions. And Head doesn’t fail to create great tension during those scenes. The exchanges are tough and terse and never get bogged down with extraneous stage directions. Head knows that the best writers gather their characters in a room and then butt out, letting them play off each other.

Interestingly, Head uses the post-climax lull to make a change in her cast of regular characters. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it, but the move is savvy as hell because it promotes a great character who has been in the series from the beginning and says goodbye to another. Like one of my other favorite lesbian mystery writers, J.M. Redmann, Head is not afraid to shake things up to keep them fresh for herself as well as the reader.

Head is hitting her stride with this series, and it’s a treat to watch her work. I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

JW

© 2020 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Bodies and Barriers: Queer Activists on Health – Adrian Shanker (Editor), Kate Kendell (Afterword), Rachel L. Levine (Foreword) (PM Press)

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Given the progress we’ve made toward LGBTQ+ equality, and the growth of queer visibility in mainstream politics and culture in the new millennium, surely our communities are enjoying a better quality of life, aren’t they?

AIDS prevention and treatment has reversed the rise of annual new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men. Transgender people, who once were served by a handful of providers in San Francisco or New York City, have access to trans-specific services in many areas of the country. Hospitals are implementing culturally competent practices and policies to earn coveted rankings in the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index. State laws have made harmful, coercive conversion therapies an ugly relic of the past.

That ought to have benefited our overall health and wellness, right?

The answer from queer educators on the front lines is new contexts have created new challenges, and many of the historical disparities within our communities are still in high need of amelioration, impacting transgender and rural and older and brown-skinned and HIV+ people. If you believe health care is a fundamental human right, which the authors of Bodies and Barriers rightfully argue that you should, we still have much to overcome in order to realize queer social justice. As black feminist civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer put it: “Nobody’s free until everyone’s free.”

I worked and occasionally researched and published on queer health issues for close to three decades, so I can say it’s always been up to us as queer people to study, document, write about, advocate, and create programs that respond to unserved needs in queer communities. The authors in Shanker’s collection of scholarly articles stand on the shoulders of pioneers like social worker Dr. Joyce Hunter and pediatrician Dr. Gary Remafedi whose research in the 1980s brought to light the terrifyingly vulnerable status of LGBTQ+ teenagers and established the first standards of care, just to name a few.

Thus, as a textbook on queer health written by queer researchers and professionals in the field, Bodies and Barriers is not new or unique in its approach. In fact, in positioning the collection as an effort to uplift queer activism, the editor and foreword author’s lack of regard for historical context is a missed opportunity that would have made an even stronger case for the necessity of marginalized communities to agitate and organize for change. Where would we be without the bravery of trans activists Jamison Greene and Leslie Feinberg, lesbian feminist Jackie Winnow, who used her personal battle with breast cancer to fight for lesbian-welcoming cancer care, Marsha Johnson who co-founded the Sylvia Rivera Project to protect and advocate for transgender people of color, and Larry Kramer and ACT-UP’s urgent social action in the early years of the AIDS crisis?

Still, what gives Bodies and Barriers exciting impact is the upfront self-identification of the authors, particularly those who share their personal experiences navigating health care as a queer person. Within the staid norms of academic research and publishing, that’s actually quite revolutionary. Shanker’s volume makes a convincing case that authorship matters in health scholarship. If you want to understand what’s going on in our communities as a health care provider, you need to check your privilege and listen to your patients’ voices and experiences.

The topics covered are comprehensive and grouped across the lifespan. Katharine Dalke, an intersex physician, speaks to the history of doctors making decisions about intersex bodies without considering the child and parents’ wishes and the power of intersex people organizing to create better, patient-centered practices. Transgender advocate Preston Heldibridle writes passionately about the lifesaving practice of binding for transmasculine and nonbinary people. Genderqueer public health researcher Kate Luxion discusses ongoing discrimination against LGBTQ+ patients in the area of family planning.

Throughout, the authors talk about the impact of encounters with health care providers, both good and bad. In writing about a public health campaign to educate men-who-have-sex-with-men about anal health, Shanker raises the need for greater “cultural humility” among non-queer primary physicians, an idea that surely resonates with many of us who have sat in examination rooms, withholding the realities of our sexual lives for fear of judgment.

On the other hand, parent advocate Alisa Bowman shares how profoundly her transgender son’s life changed when she found an LGBTQ health clinic for his care, and from the waiting room to the exam and consultation with physicians, her whole family felt welcomed and accepted.

The queer umbrella encompasses so many social locations, it would be impossible to include every one of our experiences in one text. But Shanker does quite well covering that landscape with articles that address geography (the ongoing challenges of isolation and stigma for rural lesbians), aging populations (how do we address caretaking for older LGBTQs lacking family support and outliving their chosen families?), and bisexuals and their mental health and reproductive health needs. Furthermore, there are articles that illuminate both the challenges and opportunities in our increasingly digital culture, such as Jackson Harrison-Quintana’s “Sex and safety in a digital age.”

This is a collection that will be validating to many queer readers and helpful and thought-provoking for all health care professionals.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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Paper Cuts: My Life in Chicago’s Volatile LGBTQ Press – Rick Karlin (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

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In 1978, at the age of 25, Rick Karlin was asked by Sarah Craig (then editor of the Chicago newspaper GayLife), the following question, a question that would determine his life-path: “Do you think you could do it?”

The question was in response to Karlin’s mention that he missed the cooking column that had run in GayLife—when point blank asked if he would take it on, he replied (to his own surprise) that he would give it a try.  So try he did. From 1978 to 1982, he wrote a cooking column as “The Gay Gourmet.” In 1982 he began working at Gay Chicago magazine, writing serials, reviewing theater, eventually becoming a entertainment editor for their “After Dark” section in 1988. In 1996, he moved to another Chicago publication, Nightlines, and also began broadcasting on Chicago’s “LesBiGay Radio” program. Until 2016 Karlin would be involved in some fashion with Chicago LGBTQ media, be it print, radio, and/or web, as he writes in his memoir Paper Cuts:  My Life in Chicago’s Volatile LGBTQ Press.

Karlin may insist that he himself is no “A-List” Gay or “mover or shaker” but there is no denying that he walked in some rarefied circles: many of the “names” of Chicago LGBTQ media during the 1970s through the early 2000s were people he worked for, or with, or at least knew professionally. Many of them were eventually inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, as evidenced by the inclusion of their bios from chicagolgbthalloffame.org into the text of Paper Cuts (Karlin himself was inducted in 1997).

But Karlin’s memoir is much more than a tell-all exposé of Chicago’s LGBTQ press over the course of 30+ years: he could have titled it simply Paper Cuts: My Life, since he devotes as much ink to his own life as to the goings on at various Chicago media. Amid all of the newsroom drama (and there was plenty of that!) Karlin intersperses all of the changes in his own life:  divorcing his wife; helping to raise his son; coming out to his family; moving; changing various day jobs; gradually becoming more active among the Gay community; meeting men, including his husband Gregg; earning a Master’s degree. His memoir also records the impact of numerous historical events upon him, the LGBTQ community, and LGBTQ media–for example, the deregulation of AT & T in 1982 led to the “proliferation of independent phone companies offering a variety of services”–i.e., phone sex lines. Phone sex lines further proliferated due to the AIDS epidemic; but they were a boon to many LGBTQ publications, providing them with much needed advertising revenue. (The rise of Internet porn in the late 90s/early 00s would lead to the drying up of this revenue stream.)

Karlin may also insist that he was no journalist; nevertheless, he had a privileged view of history as it occurred, both nationally and regionally. What is also true is that what he himself lived is also part of that same history:  how he lived, loved, and survived, all the minutiae of living in Chicago as a Gay man during the end of the twentieth century, is just as valuable reading as the other events he records.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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