Monthly Archives: March 2010

Simple Men – Eric Arvin (Dreamspinner Press)

Buy it now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I would rather like a book than not. It’s easier to give good news than to break the bad. People love you and laud you. If you like everything you read, however, pretty soon they also tend not to believe you anymore. But it’s hard to write bad reviews –especially when the author you’re reviewing seems to be a good guy and is so damn sincere.

However …

Eric Arvin’s Simple Men is a light gay romance, to be filed under “beach reads.” Many times, these books rely on simple construction, stereotyped characters and worn plot devices. Here, there is a double helping – Verona College football coach Chip Arnold is in love with the school chaplain, Foster Lewis, and Verona jocks Brad Park and Jason Jordan are headed down the same path.

There is so much potential for conflict here that it seems a shame Arvin never takes advantage of it. He scratches the surface but never really delves into the complexities of the situations, or at least doesn’t make them seem to matter much to the characters.  Like so many other writers today, Arvin tells far more than he shows, so we get a lot of information, but no real emotion. 

And that’s not fair to the subject. An affair between a football coach and a chaplain ought to have meaning and drama and depth. We ought to feel their angst and hesitation and fear for their jobs and community position. But we don’t. This is, evidently, against the tenets of light romances, which is a damn shame.

The other members of my local Gay Men’s Book Group and I have delicious fights about this. “It’s just a light romance!” they cry whenever I poke holes in E. Lynn Harris or Johnny Diaz. “It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking.” And I wonder why not? If it’s important enough to write a book about, it ought to be earth-shaking. It ought to matter, dammit. If not, why bother writing it? Or reading it?

However, judging by Harris’ and Diaz’s sales figures and fanbase, there is a market for this stuff – a fact as mystifying to me as the political longevity of Sarah Palin. That’s why I feel like such a curmudgeon whenever I fly into one of these beach-read-rants. Nevertheless, I fly into them with enthusiasm, searching the crowd for the one or two people nodding their heads in agreement.

That’s not to say Arvin isn’t capable of writing something more substantial. He gets off some good dialogue and comes dangerously close to good interior monologue when he wants to make a point, but then he pulls back –almost as if he’s keeping an eye on the acceptable page count for gay romances.Maybe if  he’d written less about gay romance and more about love, Simple Men might have been beautifully complex.

But that’s just one curmudgeon’s opinion.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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Men With Their Hands – Raymond Luczak (Queermojo Press)

Buy it now direct from Rebel Satori Press or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I first came across Raymond Luczak’s work in conjunction with this website, when I reviewed Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life, a marvelous yet criminally short book. At the time, I remember thinking – and writing – that I hoped Luczak would turn his hand to a longer work. Well, this is it and it’s even better than I could have asked for.

It’s the story of Michael, a young deaf man from a small town who turns from his biological family and finds his Family at a college for the deaf in New York City. There’s the elder Eddie, an accountant desperately looking for love, Lee, a femme dishwasher with a thing for redheads, Vince the dancer, Neil the woodcarver and other brilliantly drawn characters.

Men With Their Hands, the winner of the 2006 Project: Queerlit contest, purports to be fiction, and it very well may be. Its verisimilitude, however; its truthfulness and honesty, sounds more like autobiography. But in the final analysis, who cares? When you get right down to it, our fiction is filtered through our lives and our experiences and is more autobiographical than maybe we’d even like to admit.

There is no tight plotting or clearly defined arcs in Men With Their Hands. It’s not that kind of book. It’s genuine, believable characters living out their lives and giving us a glimpse into a segment of the gay world where wonderful, loving people are marginalized because of their differences. Shouldn’t we, of all people, know better?

Luczak’s style has a grace, clarity and knowingness all its own. It’s honest and true, and it hits home. Consider this passage about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic:

                        It is not my job to feel. I sit in front of the stage, some six

                        feet away from the doctors speaking before a group of some

                        hundred men wanting to hear more about this new epidemic,

                        and translate their well-modulated voices into ASL for the six

                        deaf men sitting in the front row … When I interpret, I feel

                        the weight of their spoken words settle on my shoulders while

                        I transfer as much as I can of their sentences, their inflections,

                        and their meanings intact from my hands to their eyes. I absorb

                        everyone’s attention, and the weight of their precarious

                        understanding also falls on my shoulders. I am an Atlas straining

                        under two worlds when I interpret.

That, my friends, is a lesson in the eloquence of simplicity.

Luczak’s work speaks for itself, and anyone who’s interested in getting a glimpse into another world and a different, yet similar culture will find Men With Their Hands to be a fascinating, engaging read.   

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Bi Guys: The Deliciousness of His Sex – R. Jackson, ed. (Bear Bones/Lethe Press)

Buy it now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

When this excellent collection came out in 2006, it was a groundbreaker. Thanks to biphobia and a refusal by some members of our community to even acknowledge bisexual men and women exist – it has lost none of its power. And thanks to Lethe Press, it’s back in print. 

Beyond the daring in showing men with both men and women –sometimes apart, sometimes simultaneously – reading this again after all these years reminds me how great some of these stories are. I was once again caught up in the kinkthrill of Patrick Califia’s “Daddy’s Boy Meets Daddy’s Girl”which is a wonderful ride on titclamps and fishing line that makes me want to try some of these tricks even though the very thought of it makes me squeamish.

Bi Guys, in fact, loves to cruise the edges; as if baiting biphobics allowed its authors to take other risks. In addition to the S&M pleasures Califia provides, Jay Neal subtly suggests incestuous brother-sister possibilities in the Fifties-themed “Duck Tails and Fins” and S. Bear Bergman does the genderfuck as only ze can in “Switching.”

But stories this hot make you think less about porn as a social force – which it is – than the swelling in your jeans. You don’t get much sexier than Kevin Green’s “Unexpected Orgy,” Dale Chase’s Victorian “Cultivating Oblivion,” the blue-collar funk of Felice Picano’s “Mike from Massapequa,” or the ass fixation of Dominic Santi’s “Bowling with Fred.” This collection is also rare in one other respect – there is not one punk story here. They’re all hot or interesting in some way.

My favorite, however, is Thom Wolf’s “His Games,” a hot yet brutally honest picture of a game-playing bi husband and the man obsessed with him. The final paragraph, coming as it does after the husband and the man have sex in the husband’s driveway with his wife and little boy watching, is particularly heart-wrenching: 

He headed towards the house without saying goodbye. I watched

his figure moving through the garden, merging with the shadows,

until he was gone. I climbed back over into the front seat, started

the engine and slipped the gear into reverse, knowing it would not

be as easy to back out of this relationship.

Wolf sets himself apart from the other authors in this collection by intimating a punishment for his characters actions. Perhaps that’s a return, in some respects, to sex negativity. It’s a delicious conflict and one that shows there’s more than one facet to the subject, but that’s enough from me. Jump on the Bear Bones/Lethe Press website or Dreamwalker Group, get yourself a copy and form your own conclusions. 

But don’t read it at the barbershop or there’ll be quite a surprise when that drape gets snapped off your lap.

Trust me. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Breathe, one … two … three …

No review today, folks – just a few thoughts after the announcement earlier this week of the finalists for the 22nd Lambda Literary Awards.

Here at Out in Print, Bill, Gavin, Wayne, Jim and I couldn’t be more pleased to have spotted the following wonderful books that made that list and posted praise on their behalf. In no particular order, they are:

            Sprout– Dale Peck

            Deflowered: My Life in the Pansy Division – Jon Ginoli

            The Vast Fields of Ordinary – Nick Burd

            Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences – Sarah Schulman

            In The Closet, Under The Bed – Lee Thomas

            Pumpkin Teeth – Tom Cardamone

            The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You – S. Bear Bergman

            Pop Salvation – Lance Reynald

            Shaming the Devil: Collected Short Stories – G. Winston James

            Murder in the Garden District – Greg Herren

            The First Risk – Charles Jensen

            The Rest of Our Lives – Dan Stone

            A Field Guide to Deception – Jill Malone

            This One’s Going to Last – Nairne Holtz

We applaud these authors as well as those who were nominated and not included in the list of finalists for whatever reason. Congratulations to you all for your hard work and the little bits of yourself you put into those pages.

These are terrific, important works and I remember each and every one I reviewed, as I’m sure my fellow contributors do. There is a certain, smug I-told-you-so feeling involved with being an early supporter of such fine literature but even more worthwhile is the knowledge that as we help promote these stories, we also remind people that a rich, diverse and incredibly creative culture thrives in the midst of – and perhaps even because of – the hatred and bigotry that surrounds us.

In 2004, my first short story, “Love, Sex and Death on the Daily Commute” was published by Greg Wharton and Ian Phillips in Law of Desire: Tales of Gay Male Lust and Obsession.Since then, I’ve appeared in a number of anthologies (including I Like It Like That: True Tales of Gay Male Desire, edited by Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel – also up for a Lammy this year) and been warmly accepted by my fellow writers in the queerlit community. I cherish these relationships and consider them among the most important in my life.

Thanks to their encouragement, advice and assistance, this year marks my first editing effort – a book of circus erotica (Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top –coming this Spring from Lethe Press) as well as the launch of this website with my good friend, co-founder and all around techno-stud William Holden. Thanks are also due to Steve Berman for his suggestions and valuable input and Gavin Atlas, Wayne Courtois and Jameson Currier for their thought-provoking pieces. It’s truly an honor to know and work with you all.  

But at Out in Print, our biggest honor remains to serve our community by spreading the word – good and bad – about the words we produce. As we’ve said in our mission statement, we are passionate about our words, our stories and our truths, and if a culture is defined is by its literature, we are a marvelous one indeed.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Jerry Wheeler

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Amnesic Nostalgia by Zea Miller (Self-Published)

Buy it now at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I feel awkward when writing a less-than-positive review since, as a writer, I don’t like them myself, so the first thing I’d like to do is link readers to a glowing write-up of this book on Rainbow Reviews by a reviewer I respect very highly. 

Now then, I first want to point out the promotional material for Miller’s book.  He claims he couldn’t find any gay books he could relate to, so he had to write one.   He says gay books of the past don’t speak to his generation, and they are “starved for a voice of their own.”   Miller basically asserts that he is that voice they’ve been waiting for.  Okay, so it’s a bit difficult not to think “Buddy, you’re really asking to be knocked down a peg,” but I did my best to keep an open mind.  After all,sometimes when people make big claims, they follow through.

However, let’s take his assertion that his generation is starved for a voice.  I submit toyou the anthology, Cool Thing (Running Press), edited by Blair Mastbaum and Will Fabro, that collects eighteen works by young authors.  I also need to point out the efforts of Alyson Book’s Don Weise to bring new voices (not necessarily are all of them very young, but many are) in anthologies such as the forthcoming Men to Men as well as anthologies he produced for Carroll & Graf (Freshmen, Freshmen 2). 

Second, let’s look at Miller’s statement that his work is unlike any that preceded it.  His character is beaten by homophobes in high school.  That was somewhat compelling, but that’s occurred for decades.  In college, the character’s LGBT group was attacked by conservative campus groups hoping to shut it down, and they received no help from the administration.  Okay, but that happened ten and twenty years ago, so it’s also not revolutionary. 

Third, the main character complains that “everywhere you look in the gay scene nowadays you find nothing but whores and their past.  You go to a bar, right, tell your friend you think that guy over there is cute and they’ll tell you not only is he just skin deep, but he’s also slept with so-and-so, and then points to or names 10 more.  It’s disgusting.” 

Anyone who has read any gay fiction will have heard that argument dozens of times. 

Still just because a book is retreading covered ground doesn’t make it bad, so in addition to somewhat thin plotting and slow pacing, what sinks this novel for me is the dialogue. Here’s an example:

“Hi”

“Hi”

“What are you doing here?” Jake asked.

“Yeah, I was-ah, hungry.”

“And you thought you’d drive across town for Mexican?”

“Sure!  Why not?!”

“I get off work in a few minutes.  I’ll join you.”

Jake walked Sean to a booth in the smoking section, where it was deserted.  Jake came back afew minutes later and they ordered. Jake put in the order personally, which also meant that he had to serve it. 

“I know, it’s not authentic, but it works,” Jake said.

“It’s fine. I like nachos, authentic or not. You can’t really mess it up! Well, unless you don’t have enough sour cream, of course.”

“I can get you more—“

“No, they’re okay. Don’t worry.”

“No, they’re not.” Jake got up and stole some extra sour cream.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Sean said.

So, we’re given a lot of bland interaction that lacks tension and doesn’t move the story forward.  There’s much more of that including one scene where Sean’s lesbian friend, Cathy, does a “victory dance” after calling her cheating ex-girlfriend “boring.”  To me that felt like such a let down.  With maybe a little polishing, that interaction could probably have been more powerful. 

I should say that the author is only twenty-three, and at that age, my writing was far inferior to Miller’s and my writing now is still far from being above reproach.  While not eloquent, Miller’s prose is serviceable and literate which puts it ahead of most that’s self-published or e-published.  Also, Sean is a brave character, and his attitude, that one shouldn’t let a disappointing or depressing past effect the present or future, is a commendable and refreshing one. I think Zea Miller is a promising talent, and he certainly has the needed confidence to stick to his craft and succeed with flying colors. 

I should also point out that I understand a bit of Miller’s perception of “older” books.  In college, I asked a visiting professor who was an editor of gay fiction why a certain book written in the 70s was considered the “pinnacle of gay literature.”  The professor responded gently, “I think you had to be there.”   So, yes, there can sometimes be a disconnect.  The depressing, hopeless tone of that novel seemed removed from me at a time when gays had become much more visible and accepted.  Thus, Miller is right that young writers should and will represent the changing times and make an impact on the way we view the gay conditi
on.  However in my humble opinion, Amnesic Nostalgia doesn’t quite do it.   

Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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Puppy Love – Jeff Erno (Fanny Press)

Buy it now at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with the
other reviews I’ve read of this book and I’m not going to beat around the bush,
so to speak.  I didn’t like it.  I could go on for pages and pages as to why the book didn’t work for me, but I won’t.  

The title Puppy Love is probably not the best title for this
book.  It’s not a sweet coming of
age story of a young boys first love that the title might suggest.  It’s anything but sweet.  The story is nothing but a mash of
mental and emotional domination all at the expense of the main characters own
lack of self-esteem.  

Petey is a college freshman.  He’s struggling with his
sexuality as well as many, what I would call other issues, including the fact
that he feels he must submit to others in his life that he feels he is less than
equal to, in other words everyone.  Other reviews have stated that Petey is a strong, believable
character that readers will instantly relate to.  As someone who was less than confident as a young college
student, I found nothing at all that I could relate to in Petey’s character or
situation and at times found his actions and thoughts strained and
unbelievable.  

“How could I have allowed myself to believe the things
that I’d believed?  How could I
have ever thought in a million years that a popular, outgoing, successful jock
like Matt Porter could actually love me?”… I did not fault Matt for this
reality.  I faulted myself.  Of course Matt would use me for his own
pleasure and amusement.  What else
could I realistically expect?”

Petey begins a troubled and somewhat disturbing relationship
with Matt, a college jock that has everything going for him, wealth, confidence
and for the sake of the story a young boy who will do anything to please
him.  The BDSM scenes that run
throughout the novel are intense and at times over-the-top. 

“Good boy, he said, But do you deserve it?  Do you deserve both my cum and my
piss?  Do you deserve to be my piss
hole?” … I stared up at him, pleading, hungry to serve him in every way,
begging to be used in any capacity…”

The novel is long. 
Think Stephen King long and in Stephen King’s fashion probably too
long.  But Jeff goes even
further, after 534 pages of mental and emotional cruelity and abuse you come to
the sentence, “To be continued in book two.”  Really?  There’s
more?  What else could possible
happen between Petey and Matt that hasn’t already been done at least once or twice?  Thanks, but no thanks.

Who knows, perhaps I’m out of line with this review.  Maybe you will feel a connection with
Petey that the other reviews have mentioned.  Perhaps after reading page after page of the mental and
emotional cruelty of Petey, it’s just left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Buy the book if you want and be your own judge.  This is one book that won’t be staying on my shelves.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Missouri – Christine Wunnicke (translated from the German by David Miller) (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Pre-order this title at Amazon via The Dreamwalker Group.

I really wanted to like this book. I wanted it to be interesting and heartbreaking with marvelously drawn characters and an intense follow-through on its fascinating premise. Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I got.

Missouri is the story of fictional English poet Douglas Fortescue who, due to an Oscar Wilde-style sexual imbroglio, has to escape his native land for refuge in the nineteenth-century American midwest. There, his coach is robbed and he’s kidnapped by a gang of outlaws headed by young Joshua Jenkyns who learned to read by studying Fortescue’s work. Jenkyns and Fortescue fall in love (sort of) and run from the law as well as Fortescue’s rescuing brother, Douglas. Great potential, huh?

Not once, however, does Missouri come close to fulfilling its promises. It has no sense of place at all, which is unsettling and disorienting considering the time period in which it takes place. I could ride past that and claim that the author is refusing to succumb to Western cliches but the few attempts she makes to play off those cliches come off clumsy and lame.

Then, there’s the problem of character. Fortescue is oddly …well, unwholesome. I don’t have to love – or even like – every character for the book to succeed. Some of the best books I’ve read are populated by scoundrels and rogues, but Wunnicke’s Fortescue is inexplicably icky. At least I understand Jenkyn’s feral and fearsome nature, but when the two men come together, I wonder why they are attracted to each other.

Part of the problem is the book is too short (less than 140 pages) to explore any of these relationships in depth. I applaud terse, sparse writing but there are times when themes must be expanded upon and reveled in so the reader can get a better look at the internal structures that make the characters tick. I’m not asking for the excessive length of Lonesome Dove here, but at least Larry McMurtry knows how to create people that jump off of every sweaty page.

There’s also an odd blurb on the back cover that claims the book is “destined to become a gay men’s camp classic for its earnest, romantic reinterpretation of a time and place in American history traditionally closed off to gay readers.” Romantic? Earnest? Perhaps – it’s too short to say. But camp? Oh, I don’t think so. Camp implies a certain sophisticated, winking, tongue-in-cheek attitude rightfully lacking in this book. Auntie Mame is camp. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is camp. Missouri is not.

What Missouri is is a book of missed opportunities that tries hard but ultimately falls as flat as the midwestern landscape it attempts to depict. And that, my friends, is a damn shame. It coulda been a contender.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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