Monthly Archives: December 2009

Icarus (Winter 2009) – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

Buy It Now from Lethe Press.

This blog’s inaugural post was also the inaugural issue of Icarus: The Magazine of Gay Speculative Fiction, and it’s only fitting, for a number of reasons, that we take a look at the Winter issue of that magazine on the last day of the year.

Berman’s most obvious talent (other than the fine writing he does on his own) is finding and nurturing the talent of others, and the Winter issue of Icarus includes stories by two writers new to queer spec fic: Robert Joseph Levy and Rodello Santos. Levy’s contribution is called “Choose Your Own,” a delightful little diversion that stops at multiple points to give the reader different reading options which takes the story arc in different directions.

Santos’ story is more traditional. “Sleep in Winter, Dream of Spring” is a poignant, medieval tale about a prince who falls in love with a minstrel who has been enchanted by a warlock such that he falls into a coma-like sleep at the first snowfall of winter. Will the prince kill the warlock and awaken his love? And will a kiss do the trick? Only a churl would tell.

The other two stories are strong entries as well: Chaz Brenchley offers “Walking at the Speed of Light, More Slowly,” a reflective piece about a boy and his mother and the stranger they invite into their home. Thoughtful and engaging, Brenchley’s story has interesting insights such as the following:

“We are a liminal people. If you would seek the heart of England, seek it at the margins. Those borderlands where we press against other folks’ spaces, or against the sea.”

I never thought of England that way.

My favorite, however, has to be “Ne Que V’on Desir,” a story by Tanith Lee writing as Judas Garbah that concerns the brief encounter between two men who meet on a train – one of them perhaps not quite a man. What impressed me most about this tale is its appeal to the sense of smell and touch. Lee’s language is beautifully expressive, and though this is the first piece of hers I’ve read, it certainly won’t be the last.

When you add to these terrific stories the artwork of David Gilmore, Tara Upchurch and Genevieve Gougeon, reviews of Berman’s Wilde Stories 2009 and John Simpson’s The Ghosts of Staunton Hall as well as other features, you’ll find Icarus’ Winter issue will keep you warm on the coldest night.

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Pink Zinnia Poems and Stories – Franklin Abbott (Author-House)

Buy it Now at Amazon through the The Dreamwalker Group

I’m going to divulge a little secret, but don’t tell anyone. Poetry has always escaped me. I think it’s because the art and craft of it intimidates me. Poets have an intimate relationship with words. A relationship I know I will never have. The choice of words, the way the words flow and blend, developing and shaping images that you couldn’t see by any other means.

Pink Zinnia by Franklin Abbott is a beautiful example of all these things. His collection, an interesting blend of stories and poems spoke to me in a way few have been able to do. Franklin creates from the heart in every word and phrase. His prose is warm, comforting and yet at times startling in what they expose you to and make you feel.

The collection opens with Burial in Birmingham, a beautiful story about the death of Franklin’s paternal grandmother. Scattered throughout the collection are his thoughts, told in interesting style and prose. From touching stories of his travels, to thoughts of AIDS, politics, faith and love, each one is distinct and separate; yet somehow connected to one another by the experience of one man.

Franklin’s style is simple, and it’s in that simplicity that he can pull you in and make you think of your own life and experiences, and perhaps to feel something once again.

Reviewed by William Holden

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The Silent Hustler – Sean Meriwether (Lethe Press)

Buy It Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through the Dreamwalker Group.

Sean Meriwether is a powerhouse of a writer. If you didn’t know that from his terrific online ‘zine, Velvet Mafia or from any of his entries in various anthologies, The Silent Hustler, a new collection of his short fiction, will convince you.

The book is organized into three sections: “Frankenstein, Alone in the Country,” a series of stories featuring teen protagonist Ryan Wolff and his socio-sexual adventures, “Boys in the City,” about … um … boys in the city and “Sax and Violins,” which draws together some wild work with miscellaneous themes. But don’t let that stop you from dipping into this book anywhere. You’re sure to come up with a plum no matter which pie you choose.

If it’s raunch you want, go for “Sneaker Queen,” a crotch-felt ode to sweaty footwear. If it’s a young-man’s-first-day-in-NYC story you’re looking for, “So Long Anita Bryant, and Thanks for Everything” will fill the bill nicely. Literary ambitions? Rimbaud, William Burroughs, James Baldwin and Truman Capote collide in “Read Any Good Books Lately?” Want a short shock? Try “Hands.” And if you’ve ever entertained fantasies about having sex in Trent Lott’s bathroom, “The Bathroom Rebellion” is for you.

But those aren’t the only places Meriwether takes his readers. “Exiles” combines poetic prose and ghosts in a one-of-a-kind mental haunting while “Boys in Summer” is a finely-drawn cameo of an ever-changing relationship between two men and the waiter they flirt with over brunch. “Knives and Roses” delves deep inside the psyche of a gay-bashing victim who obsesses over the tattoo his attacker displays, and “We Three Thieves” is a great robbery-gone-wrong story populated by film-noirish rednecks – the sort of absurd blend Meriwether has mastered.

But out of all the stories, my absolute favorites are the uncategorized two which lead off the collection: “Things I Can’t Tell My Father” and “Ice Water.” The former is a plotless list of episodes, each no longer than eight or ten lines, that together form a devestatingly frank portrait of a father and son relationship. “Ice Water” examines the same subject but in far more detail. Meriwether is at his best here, telling the story but leaving just enough out so that the reader can use his own experiences to fill in the blanks for maximum identification. Brilliant stuff.

Meriwether’s prose is sexy and sumptuous, and he never over-reaches himself. As wild as the plot is, he makes it work – alternating sheer lyricism with stark raunch until the lines are so blurred your head swims and you love reeling about in the spaces between. His insights are sharp and his points even sharper. This is a wonderful collection from a first-rate writer. I can only hope one day he tries the longer novel form. Now, that would be a treat indeed.

Until he does, The Silent Hustler definitely satisfies.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Maladaptation – L.A. Fields (Queer Mojo)

Buy It Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through the Dreamwalker Group.

Many books written from an adolescent’s point of view sound as if they’re written by thirty or forty year olds which, in fact, they mostly are. Although they have good plots and interesting characters, voice nearly always trips them up. That’s not the case with L.A. Field’s Maladptation, a terrific novel whose voice is as true to its characters as the characters are to themselves.

The protagonist, sixteen-year-old book addict Marley Kurtz, has been sent to an aunt’s house in Loweville, Colorado to attend a church program for “maladapted” youth after he is discovered to have had an affair with a much older teacher of his. Miserable after his aunt’s destruction of the books he’s lovingly carted with him, he manages to make friends with the other misfits, including a pregnant fifteen-year-old named Missy, her wanna-be suitor Aaron, and – of course – his love interest, Jesse.

Jesse is in the program because he’s widely rumored to be a sociopath and everyone wants to know why he stayed in his house for a week walking around the body of his dead mother after his father shot her and escaped. They either think he’s crazy or he and his dad planned the whole thing, but Jesse isn’t talking to them. He does, however, talk to Marley.

Now we circle around back to the glorious voice of this book. It never strikes a false note, and I found that amazing and totally engaging. I was captivated by the relationship between Marley and Jesse, a complicated one that also involves Jesse’s cousin Billy. Another group member, the homophobic jock Tulsa, provides just the right amount of menace.

Fields does a terrific job of capturing the loneliness and isolation of gay youth with its altogether too brief periods of manic happiness induced by finding salvation in our first loves. Despite the odds, Fields gives you a sense that these struggling kids will eventually find their places and emerge from their experiences wiser and enriched by them.

Too often our books get marginalized; shoved away in the Sociology section of the nearest Barnes & Noble – and that’s if you can find them at all. Here’s hoping this gem of a novel doesn’t get the added distancing that will go with the “young adult” label, because this is a wonderful story that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Heartily recommended – buy it and remember.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Aloha, Candy Hearts by Anthony Bidulka – Insomniac Press


 



Buy it Now from Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through Dreamwalker Group

There are more mystery novels out there today than one cares to imagine, and I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of the mystery genre. There are of course one or two exceptions. The Russell Quant series by Anthony Bidulka is one of those exceptions.


The Russell Quant series is not just another who-done-it with flat characters and an even flatter story line. Anthony pulls you into his character’s lives with his simple, stylish prose. He makes you befriend them, and care for them as if they were family, and as with most families things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect them to. Russell Quant’s life is no different.


In the sixth installment of the series, Russell Quant finds himself mixed up in one of the most intriguing mysteries yet; a treasure hunt that takes him through the rich history of Saskatoon. While struggling to keep one step ahead in the case, Russell must also juggle his personal life, which at times is just as complicated as the case he’s working on.


In the short 250 pages, you will be swept away and be witness to a wedding proposal, a memorial service, a wedding, a murder, blackmail, a new blossoming love, and a very tearful goodbye. Do yourself a favor and run out and purchase Aloha, Candy Hearts. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first five novels, Anthony Bidulka will give you what you need to fit right into his family of characters but be prepared, once you’ve read this installment, you’ll be rushing out to purchase the others.


Reviewed by William Holden

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In the Closet, Under the Bed – Lee Thomas (Dark Scribe Press)


Buy It Now at Dark Scribe Press or at Amazon through Dreamwalker Group.


Like every master craftsman of horror, Lee Thomas is weirdly inventive, with an arsenal of tricks and techniques up his sleeves and a universe of creatures, ghouls, ghosts, spirits, and body shifters to unleash on his characters, and readers of his new collection of short stories, In the Closet, Under the Bed will reap the rewards of this explosively talented writer. These stories are monstrous and thrilling and sexy and disturbing. But what makes them truly remarkable and fantastic is their distinctive milieu — gay men battling supernatural forces with dizzying results. Lee Thomas is not only defining the genre of “queer horror” with his new collection, he is setting its gold standard.


Thomas, the author of the award-winning novels The Dust of Wonderland, Stained, and Damage, is adept at laying a realistic groundwork for his stories. His prose is direct and strong and there is little question about his characters identity and issues; each are grappling with present-day concerns, whether it be maintaining their health or having a roof over his head, and each are haunted by memories and struggling to find their future. Thomas’s gay male protagonists can be divided into two camps — men, often married, whose repressed gay lives remain in their pasts or “in the closet,” and men, unabashedly out and open about their homosexuality, whose fears might surface with their sexual partners from the unexpected events “under the bed.”


The protagonists of “Dislocation,” “Healer,” “An Apiary of White Bees,” “All the Faces Change,” “I Know You’re There,” and “The Tattered Boy” are married men, and while many of these characters have a back story of a gay liaison in their younger years, their present day denial and repression magnifies their anxieties as well as shaping their fantasies. The collection opens with “All the Faces Change,” about a married man who returns to his hometown as his father is dying. A chance encounter and a kiss at a local gay bar with a former high school friend sends Tim Elliot into a path of vengeful hallucinations about his wife and children. In Healer,” Gus Howe, a father who has lost his job and home and whose son is dying of pneumonia, enlists the service of a Healer, a witch-doctor who can cure any illness, to save his son, but the good luck arrives with a fatal price tag coming due in the future when Gus has settled into a new life with his lover. Oliver Bennett, the protagonist of “An Apiary of White Bees,” one of the collection’s finest stories, discovers a hidden vault of prohibition alcohol on the property of the hotel he owns and runs with his wife. The mysterious honey liquor tucked away on its shelves induces Oliver’s masturbatory fantasies about the prior owners of the property, his boyhood encounter with the gardener’s son, and an encounter with the present-day construction foreman working at the hotel.


To his credit, Thomas does not shy away from writing sex scenes or of fetishes and there is plenty of explicitness and graphic details in these pages to awe and shock readers. In “Shelter,” a touch of semen to a freakish sculpture on exhibit at an art gallery unleashes a monstrous mythic creature. Eric, in “Dislocation,” is into breath play or sexual asphyxia, and ingests an alternate personality during a sexual encounter. A potential three-way in “Down to Sleep,” when a man meets the lover of one of his prior tricks only to realize the boyfriend is also at home, spirals into a mind-numbing bloody feast. “I Know You’re There” incorporates the use of astral projection in a near-future scenario, as a young man attempts to get inside the mind of a married man with a bit more than just erotic results.


Thomas uses the technique of astral projection in several stories, including the ingenious “The Good and Gone,” about a man in the hospital with a broken hip who during a projection attempts to prevent a tortuous scene. Thomas also cleverly uses body shifting in “I’m Your Violence,” when a detective investigating the gruesome murder of a pedophile, inherits a violent, revengeful spirit while searching for the murderer. “Tears to Rust” is another imaginative near-science future work with clever twists and surprises in the relationship of a gay couple, but the twists are more disturbing in “They Would Say She Danced,” the lone story out of the collection’s fifteen to feature a female protagonist, which revolves around a clairvoyant’s predictions about a woman’s pregnancy.


There are no paranormal gimmicks to “Crack Smokin’ Grandpa,” however, about the evolving relationship between a gay man and an older one. The odd story title is explained by its narrator as his way of objectifying a date so that his heart won’t be broken if a relationship falters, and it is also the finest work of controlled horror in the collection. Thomas employs a building sense of dread as he reveals the clues and truths behind one of the characters. It’s a powerful and unsettling story, and a distinctive jewel in a book of gems.


Reviewed by Jameson Currier

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A Conversation with Tom Cardamone


Interview by Jerry Wheeler


What comes to mind when you think of dark fantasy? Human manatees? Alien landscapes fraught with terrible possibilities? Homeless girls turned rodent-superhero or suburban dread encroaching on an unlit front porch? Author Tom Cardamone pictures these and much more in his novel, Werewolves of Central Park, as well as his recent collection of short fiction, Pumpkin Teeth – stories so warped we just had to get to know him better. We’re convinced you’ll hear a lot more from from him in the future, but this conversation is a great place to start.


Jerry L. Wheeler: Your work reminds me of Ray Bradbury and his remarkably beautiful descriptions of the oddest people and situations. Was he an influence of yours? Who did you read in your formative years – and who are you reading now?



Tom Cardamone: Wow, thank you! That’s quite a comparision. And yeah, his Martian stories were a big deal to me as a kid, as were most of the big science fiction writers, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne. When I was in my teens I was fortunate enough to discover John Varley and he’s one of those authors that really influenced both my style and subject matter; I felt that he aimed for a clarity in his images and that’s certainly something I try to do, and especially in his short fiction, he’s a master at making the unreal seem happenstance, expected, something I shoot for myself. At the moment I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction. Literary history is always interesting, though when I want fiction there’s never a lack of good stuff out there. I’ve been reading Geoff Ryman lately. He’s one of those authors I discovered early on who just never stops amazing me.


JLW: Literary history? That’s interesting, but it doesn’t seem like it would provide a very fertile breeding ground for some of the stories in “Pumpkin Teeth,” for example. Do you somehow use the sane to find the insane? That is, when you start thinking about a story, do you first see the odd and try to make it normal or do you see the normal and twist it a bit?


TC: Well my real influences come from music. What I read informs my sentence structure, what I’m listening to while I write takes me much farther. I love the structured coldness of Love and Rockets, for example, and several of my stories have a sentence or phrase lifted from their lyrics. But if you’re wondering about where the ideas come from, sometimes I challenge myself just to see what I can come up with. For instance, with “Suitcase Sam” I really wanted to write something sicker and gayer than the stuff in Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood.” With “River Rat,” I wanted to write a female superhero, and had just leafed through a book about rats at The Strand and was suprised to learn that they are good swimmers and thought to myself “I gotta use that somewhere.” Beyond the starting point, everything else just flows. I try to keep it organic and usually write a short story in two days in two long sittings each. Otherwise once I know how it’s going to end, I’ll lose interest. Basically, if the writer’s suprised, the reader will be suprised.


JLW: Who else do you listen to when you write?


TC: It’s probably a cliche, but there is a lot going on in Brooklyn right now, so I’ve been digging some of the new bands coming out of that scene, Yeahsayer, The Liars, I think My Robot Friend is from Brooklyn. But I’m always re-discovering the 80’s. The music that I grew up with was just so rich, there are ton’s of bands I just never got to at that time that I appreciate now. And of course there’s all this intense re-packaging going on and I’m a total sucker for it. How many times do I have to buy the same Bauhaus album, I don’t know, but I’ll buy it!


JLW: Speaking of Brooklyn, two stories you mentioned – “River Rat” and “Suitcase Sam” – as well as your novel, “The Werewolves of Central Park” have urban backgrounds. How does living in New York City inform your writing?


TC: New York City is an intensely gothic place. When I lived in Harlem the post office was called Hell’s Mouth Post Office, that was the official name! And of course everyone bitches and moans that it’s all been gentrified, but if you go one block farther, or step into an outer borough, you’ll find what you don’t even know you’re looking for. As someone who writes dark fantasy, this place is a black gold mine.


JLW: How did you get to be a dark fantasy writer? What about the genre attracts you?



TC: It’s just where my mind is at. Growing up, I gravitated toward horror films. I didn’t play with plastic army men, I melted them down. I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to the genre, though, I don’t read much genre fiction these days, which I think is a plus, I don’t get stuck in having to satisfy common tropes, but I’m just not capable of writing a romance or “serious” fiction, whatever the hell that is. Whatever I do, it’s going to have it’s own set of bat wings.


JLW: I’m a big horror film fan as well – what’s your top ten?


TC: Now that’s tough. I have a weakness for completely unnecessary sequels, like The Fly 2 or Jason Takes Manhattan, and I think all serious horror fans are ultimately a Freddie, Michael or Jason fan. I’m totally a Michael. The Halloween series really did it for me, the original scared the hell out of me as a kid, and I still like it and dig some of the sequels. I didn’t see the remakes, however. Sacred ground and all. What about you: Freddie, Jason or Michael?


JLW: Michael all the way, but Jason Voorhees comes in a close second. Freddie’s a distant third – I didn’t like the makeup or the self-mocking. You know, many – but not all – the stories in “Pumpkin Teeth” could translate easily to the screen, like a “Creepshow” anthology. Who would you like to see direct what?



TC: I wonder if Brian Singer could have some fun with some of these stories? -if I was ever lucky enough to get something I’ve written on film, I think I’d go for some Japanese directors, currently, they just do horror right. They keep the fantasy, the atmospheric elements intact and upfront.


JLW: What I like most about your work is its outrageousness and its fearlessness to go places others never thought of going – but is there somewhere you wouldn’t go? What, if anything, is off-limits to you?



TC: I never think I’ve gone too far, and if I ever worry about going too far, there’s a little part of me that will say “aw, go ahead, open that last door.”


JLW: When was the last time you opened one of those doors?



TC: Ha ha, I can tell you when I last closed one. I’ve got an intense horror story I haven’t finished, not because I’m afraid to go there, I just need need to consult a taxidermist and haven’t run into one yet.


JLW: How do you recharge? What stokes your muse other than music?


TC: Red wine. And riding my bike to Coney Island. The freaks out there can give anyone comfort that they’re on the right track.


JLW: I’m down with the red wine … and as long as we’re on the subject of freaks, one of my “PT” faves is “River Rat,” partially because of the superhero angle. Forgive the Barbara Walters aspect of the question, but if you were a superhero, what kind of powers would you have? And the costume. Don’t forget the costume!


TC: I would have the longest, blackest, velvet cape, luxuriently velvet, soooo thick, and when I wrapped it around any of my foes, they’d be absorbed by my shadow. And pointy ears, I think I’d like pointy ears. Actually, I saw an older gentleman rushing to catch the 6 train a month or so ago and he was wearing a black cape. It’s neat that not only can some people pull stuff like that off, but that they do it.


JLW: You mention on your website that you consider yourself a novelist who turned into a short story writer. Does the long form of a novel still appeal to you and do you see yourself going back to that any time in the near future?


TC: I’m most interested in the novel, and had completed two longer works before I ever tried a short story, then I spent one year working only on shorter pieces, and decided that it is fun, but I love the commitment, the landscape of a novel, though I don’t like those giant tomes, two hundred pages is enough for me, to both read and to write. One of the things that turns me off on so much genre fiction is the unnecessary length. Especially fantasy. My god they do like to go on long, drawn out quests …


JLW: Some people would consider your stories shocking or outrageous – what shocks or outrages you?


TC: When directors poorly remake perfect movies, when Christians act like anything but, when people don’t know how to queue up at bodegas, and like stand five feet away from the next person in line, or am I telling you what appalls me? And I didn’t pick any moving targets, did I?


JLW: Can you share a bit about what you’re currently working on or have planned for the future?


TC: I’m very excited that a book I’ve been editing for years, The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, will be released sometime next year. Quite a while ago I envisioned this project, wherein I asked gay writers to describe that one gay novel or short story collection that means a lot to them but that has gone out of print. Some really great writers of all different ages and backgrounds cover an amazing spectrum of work. I’d only read one of the books covered before I started this project, so it’s been an education for me, one that I can’t wait to share. So much of our literary history was decimated by AIDS that I see this an attempt to recover what we are close so close to losing: our own history.


JLW: Any last words for our readers about yourself and/or your book?


TC: Last words are for tombstones, so I’d rather thank you for your time and questions, Jerry, it’s been a blast.

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