Monthly Archives: May 2010

Vieux Carre Voodoo – Greg Herren (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it now from Giovanni’s Room or from our store to help support this site. Vieux Carre Voodoo (Scotty Bradley Series)

Okay, one more post about New Orleans, then I’ll hold off until next year.

I can’t help loving that city, and it comes to my mind every time I read about BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. But I try not to do that too often. It makes me want to quit my job and spend the rest of my life trying to make those fuckers pay for what they’ve done. But that wouldn’t leave much time to read wonderful books set in New Orleans, like Greg Herren’s latest Scotty Bradley mystery, Vieux Carre Voodoo.
Herren, a longtime denizen of New Orleans, knows his stuff—and after five Chanse MacLeod and three Scotty Bradley mysteries as well as his numerous editing projects, he ought to. Not that familiarity is breeding contempt. He seems to be getting better with each book. 
Here, Bradley and his partner Frank as well as their old “friend” Colin leave a trail of corpses in their wake as they investigate the disappearance of a jewel used as the eye of a religious icon, but it really doesn’t matter what the MacGuffin is. What matters is the breakneck pace, the interesting characterizations, the solidly crafted plot and the delicious local flavor that it all simmers in like a slow-cooked gumbo. 
Herren’s work is drenched in the essence of the Big Easy, the city’s geography even playing a large part in the solution of a riddle at whose end lies the aforementioned Eye of Kali. But unlike the city, it is not languid. Herren hits the ground running and only lets up for two extremely interesting dream sequences, the latter of which is truly chilling. Is this a breezy beach read? Maybe, but it has far more substance than many. You can spend a few sunny, sandy afternoons with this resting on your chest and still feel as if you’ve read a book.  
But even if you’re not at the beach, Herren’s work makes great backyard or rooftop reading, and this one is a terrific place to start. Get them all and make a summer of it. Maybe his next one will be about Kali’s revenge on the BP execs. 
Oooo, now there’s a story.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Contraband – Charlie Vazquez (Queermojo Press)

Buy it now direct from Rebel Satori Press.
Charlie Vazquez gave me nightmares. 
Okay, so maybe it was the unfortunate combination of Theraflu and Robitussin I ingested to knock hell out of a cold I caught on the plane back from Saints and Sinners. Still, last night I found myself in dark, rank tunnels running for my life from Republican Guards in pursuit so hot I dared not stumble or I’d risk capture and who-knows-what at their merciless hands. Just like Volfango Sanzo.
Sanzo is the point of view character in Vazquez’s latest novel, Contraband. The book takes place in a near-future America racked by revolution and civil war. Afraid of what a mandated “gene test” would reveal in his DNA, government worker Sanzo vanishes underground, barely managing to survive in a series of subterranean worlds until he finds himself the central figure in a plot to bring the government to its knees. 
Like many post-apocalyptic books, Contraband is less concerned with the factors that has caused the country to collapse than it is with the world its collapse has created. And Vazquez paints that world in vivid, poetic colors—squalid, rancid hues of red and green as dark as the tunnels the “undersiders” inhabit. Well-paced between breathless spurts of action, harrowing episodes of senseless violence (The Hidesman and Miss Natasha) and enough exposition to make it all believable, Contraband is a thrill ride whose prose elevates it far beyond other books of this nature. 
Volfango Sanzo, our hero, is not necessarily a likeable man. Although he does have some heroic qualities, he also has a tendency to sell out some of the people he meets up with. Oh sure, he regrets it later—remorse is always within his grasp—but hooking up with Sanzo is not always a safe bet. Still, Vazquez makes this character work from his first sojourn underground to the oddly effective emotionless ending. 
My favorite device here, however, is that of Don Carlos and the underground circus Sanzo and his friend Teodoro end up working for. Keeping animals, acts and the circus tradition alive in underground tunnels in the middle of an apocalypse is a wonderfully bizarre concept that not only works in terms of the story but also provides the reader with some breathing room between adventures. Brilliantly conceived and deftly executed, this interlude totally won me over. 
Even if circuses aren’t your thing, you’ll still be swept away by the action, the pacing and the depth of characterization in this entertaining read. Contraband is an E-ticket attraction that will have you turning pages as fast as you can read them. Just don’t go into the tunnels before bed. And stay away from the Robitussin. 
I’ve learned my lesson.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Boy Can’t Help It – Gavin Atlas (Lethe Press)

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

Some people say that bigger is better and perhaps that’s true depending on your stance or position, but for me I like them short – short stories that is.  I love picking up a book whether it’s a single author or multi-author collection and delving into the different characters, plots and places that the author has created.  It’s like an orgy waiting to happen with different tastes, sizes and talents all in one place.

Many single author collections come with one major flaw, the narrative voice. It’s as if the author cannot switch from one character to the next, no matter how different the stories are the voice doesn’t have any unique traits to individualize the various stories that make up the collection.

I must admit that I was a bit worried that a collection of stories about bottoms would be…well…a bit one sided.  Thankfully I was wrong.  Gavin Atlas has found the secret key to single author collections.  Gavin has woven a brilliant collection of stories which stands above many others that I’ve read.  Each story is unique in its place, plot and most importantly voice.

“Duel in the Sand” is a very erotic story set on a beach where the main character lives out his fantasy of being “taken” while people watch.  I found this to be one of my favorite stories, as I found the character Cal, absolutely adorable.  “Blue Star Boy” is a perfect example of how Gavin’s style and narrative voice sets the characters and stories apart.  It’s a bit softer than most of Gavin’s stories but that is one reason why I liked this hot surfer story with a touch of romance thrown in. 

There are too many wonderful stories in this collection to name them all, but trust me, you won’t be disappointed in any of them.  After reading this collection, I’m not surprised that it’s been one of the top sellers from Lethe Press since its release on February 14th

Top, bottom, up or down; there is something for everybody in this collection.  If you haven’t read this anthology you are missing out. Get a copy today!

Reviewed by William Holden

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A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples – Dennis Clifford, Frederick Hertz, & Emily Doskow (NOLO Press)

Buy it now direct from NOLO Press or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.
As an average guy with an education from an average college and zero legal background, I was curious how accessible the NOLO guide would be.  The guide has been around for thirty years and now includes a CD-rom with sample forms for a number of potential situations and necessary agreements or contracts. 
From reading the section on medical power of attorney, I can tell you that the language appears to be as clear as possible, but in general, laws are complicated, and the authors had to present possible pitfalls, revealing how a couple (not just an LGBT couple) might need to do more than simply fill out a state form.  Issues of diagnostic tests, drug treatments, surgery, comfort care and many others are examined, showing how thoroughly the authors want their readers to study the angles before creating a legal document.
As I said, the writing is clear, but for someone with “TV-generation” concentration, it will still take a bit of patience to get through.  
Their section on renter’s insurance also interested me as that’s something I happen to need right now.  They explained why non-married partners might be wise to have separate policies, particularly if records aren’t kept of who owned what.  However, it’s best to have both of those policies from the same company to avoid having different agencies pointing fingers at each other over who should pay a claim.  That seemed like sage advice.   Again, this information is helpful to more than just LGBT readers.
Further perusal of the section on moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend shows the legality and possible language of “Living Together Contracts.”  At first, I was sure I’d feel that anyone who presented me with such a contract was decidedly untrusting if not paranoid, but as someone who has only lived with one boyfriend, I may be naïve.  Furthermore, such a contract may save a lot of headaches should a relationship fall apart.  They even suggest “Cooling Off Clauses” that give a list of actions (like taking a brief vacation) that each partner will agree to do before absolutely calling it quits.
The book is pretty close to exhaustive, but it isn’t about all the legal troubles an LGBT person might face.  An ex asked me to look up what they recommend if you’re entrapped for indecent exposure in a park, and my reaction was “hmm, they don’t seem to cover that” until I thought, “Of course they don’t.  That’s not a couple’s issue.” (If it is, I congratulate you on being a very fun couple.) Furthermore, they don’t discuss military-related issues other than to say it can be risky for someone in the military to enter into a legal contract that could reveal sexuality.  Nor will the book discuss problems of discrimination unless it pertains to couples such as issues with adoption or landlords.  
The forms on the CD-Rom are, as you might imagine, agreements between two people that aren’t state specific or state-issued (like medical power of attorney), but they include forms for a promissory note, a will, joint purchase, unequal ownership, and living together agreements along with about twenty other forms.  Some of them include things like who agrees to cook or walk the dog that a court can’t or won’t enforce, but the authors believe could be a good idea.  (Again, if a boyfriend presented me with all these recommended forms every time I turned around, I’m pretty sure I would think there was something seriously wrong with the relationship, but maybe I’ve just been lucky to have dated more or less reasonable people.) 
My one recommendation is to always get the most recent edition if there’s a potential legal problem looming.  As marriage, adoption, and discrimination laws are constantly changing, it’s no wonder NOLO has to come out with updated versions just about every other year.  You may not feel the need to document and notarize every aspect of life, but even just reading the book’s suggestions will make you wiser and more prepared for any joint venture. 
Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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Saints and Sinners Postscript

The annual sojourn to New Orleans is over for another year—the bags are unpacked, the laundry done and the re-entry into our other lives started. We have much work ahead of us, many contacts to sort and things to think about and organize. Projects and ideas swim around us, just waiting to be tackled. And with the support of the new friends we made last weekend, tackle them we will.

What makes gatherings like this so necessary is the community building and the absolute treat it is to be around others who “get it.” Oh, you may be able to discuss writing and your story problems with your partner or your friends, but unless they’re professional writers, they don’t really understand. And they sure as hell don’t like to talk about it as much as we do.

And while we build our community, we tell our stories. Be they historical, horrific, erotic, non-fiction, mysterious, literary or romantic, those tales need to be told. Lacking an oral tradition (get your mind out of the gutter, please), no one will chronicle our community, its history or its problems except us. Do you think straight people will write about us? What’s more, would you really want them to? Anyone or anything that helps us with any aspect of that process is a step forward for the entire queer community, whether they read or not.

That’s why it’s such a privilege to be a writer, to be someone who sets down the story, who desperately attempts to get it right so that others may understand. I’ve often been accused of taking myself and gay lit too seriously, and I don’t comprehend that. How can you not take it seriously? Good or bad, it’s the record of who we are.

So until next year, we’ll keep pecking away at our keyboards, producing works of absolute genius as well as drooling stupidity,because that’s what we do. And you’ll read about many of them here. Please keep coming, please keep leaving comments—positive and negative—and please support your favorite authors, no matter who they may be.

We are in this together, after all. 

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Saints and Sinners Sunday

When it rains here, it doesn’t mess around. 

Our day started with breakfast at the Clover Grill, where we watched a rain that made Saturday’s deluge look like a gentle trickle. It didn’t let up until the drains were overwhelmed and the streets flooded. But the clouds broke, the sun poked through and the water subsided. The last day of Saints and Sinners had started. 

And what a choice of panels and readings: from “Meet the Press,” a panel about publishing with small presses to specific panels about craft like “Writing Intimacy, from Sex to Family Dynamics” to a “Dramatic Writing Roundtable.” But we opted for more of the reading series, listening to such terrific writers as Rob Byrnes, Greg Herren, Anne Laughlin, J.M. Redmann and Joe Formichella.

Then we had to lunch to gather strength for our own panel: “Erotica 101: Stripping Away the Fluff and Getting Down to Basics,” featuring me, my Out in Print cohort Bill Holden, Dale Chase and Gavin Atlas. Our original moderator, Steve Berman, had to return home early, but Jeff Mann stepped in to ask us the hard questions. We had a wonderful time answering, even if none of the mikes worked. The audience was small but the grilling was intense, and everyone came away learning something. Even us. 

And then, sadly, it was time for the closing party. Awards were given, drinks were poured and goodbyes were said. The latter is the toughest by far. Facebook, texting, phone calls – no technological advance beats seeing your friends in person and basking in each others’ auras. We all look forward to next year before we’re even getting on the plane to leave. 

I’ll be back tomorrow with some final thoughts on the conference, community and the privilege of being a writer.

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Saints and Sinners Saturday

Oh my, what a day! 
After cramming our heads with learning yesterday, we decided it was time to enjoy the artsier side of the Festival, so we went to a few sessions of the Saints and Sinners Reading Series to hear some of our fellow authors read from their work. We heard some amazing things by (among others) David-Matthew Barnes, who read from his forthcoming YA novel, Mesmerized, the charming Peter Dube, whose Subtle Bodies will be reviewed for Out in Print shortly, the hilarious Fay Jacobs from Rehoboth Beach, Shawn Syms, who appeared with me in I Like It Like That: True Tales of Gay Male Desire and the incredible Chavisa Woods, whose “Queer Manifesto” was transfixing. She is definitely a poet to watch out for. 
Then the rains came, a deluge of Biblical proportions that cleansed Bourbon Street of both litter and tourists. We were trapped—trapped I tell you—in the Chartres House Café. What was there do to except eat and drink to excess? But not too excessively, mind you. Today was our day to read. 
And read we did when we returned. Dale Chase read an erotic ghost story from her forthcoming Lethe Press collection, If the Spirit Moves You, William Holden read from “Words to Die By,” a story which won him a finalist spot in the Saints and Sinners Short Fiction contest, Ron Suresha told some centuries-old Turkish folk tales, Fiona Zedde read from one of her many e-books and yours truly read a section of his story  “Spider Strands,” from the forthcoming Queer Mojo collection Got Nothin’ Better to Do: Hot Tales of Rude Boys and Gutter Spunks.
But we weren’t finished performing. After a long walk in the warm rain, we arrived soaked at the Auld Sweet Olive, the B&B I stay in, for our Bears in the Wild reading. Ron, Dale, that scrumptious country-daddy Jeff Mann and I all read to a packed house. Many books were sold and signed and Steve Berman, the publisher, smiled and rubbed his hands with glee at every single ka-ching.
Then it was on to Mr. B’s Seafood Bistro for blackened tuna, barbecue shrimp and pecan pie with Ron, Jeff, Jeff’s partner John and Steve. The best part for me wasn’t the food, though. It was sitting on Jeff Mann’s lap in the cab. 
Ah, the simple things in life … 
One more day of coverage and then a wrap-up. Ya gotta love this town!

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Saints and Sinners Friday

Friday was all (well, mostly) business as we got down to the brass tacks of what we are here for—the master classes. I attended two great sessions: “The Power of the Short Story” taught by Jess Wells, known for her historical fiction, and a “Blueprint on Novel Writing” class with Michael Nava, author of the Henry Rios mysteries. And I got a signed book from Nava. 
But the day wasn’t all academics. It never is around here – your Out in Print guys had a marvelous breakfast with Lethe Press owner/publisher/enfant terrible Steve Berman at the Bourbon Orleans getting updates on our personal publishing efforts, lunch at the Clover Grill and dinner at the Chartres House Café with many of the authors appearing in my anthology of gay circus erotica, Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from the Big Top. I even got a chance to show off the images of the cover that I got earlier from Steve Berman!
But we didn’t just schmooze in restaurants over meals – we also schmoozed at the opening party, Glitter with the Literati, which took place in the quarter at the historic (and what house isn’t historic around here?) Hermann-Grima House on St. Louis Street where we munched and vodka-cranberried our way through the wonderful assortment of authors and publishers. 
Today promises to be even busier as there are panels scheduled ranging from “Marketing/Social Media” to “You Think You Know Us: Keeping It Real For Young Audiences” to “Writing Our History: Past and Present.” In addition, there’s the Saints and Sinners Reading Series, where we can hear authors reading from their work. But at 4 p.m., Bill Holden, Dale Chase, Gavin Atlas, Ron Suresha, myself and Fiona Zedde will be reading from our erotic works. And later on tonight Dale and I are reading our stories from Ron Suresha’s Bears in the Wild. 
It’s going to be a busy but fun day – you’ll hear all about it tomorrow, except for the sordid liasons upstairs at the Phoenix. You’ll have to e-mail me for those details. 

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Saints and Sinners Thursday night

Saints and Sinners 2010, the literary festival that tempts its participants away from the decadence and depravity that is New Orleans with inspiring classes, expressive readings and divinely GLBT inspiration, officially kicked off Thursday night with a book signing.

This effort—New Fiction from the Festival, edited by Amie Evans and Paul J. Willis—is a collection of S&S stalwarts as well as some new voices selected from the conference’s first ever Annual Short Fiction Contest. Held upstairs at the Bourbon Pub, the signing was a great mix of reading, schmoozing and greeting many friends Bill and I only get to see once a year, and it was a perfect way to start the conference weekend.

I haven’t gotten a chance to dive into the book yet, but from the selections I heard last night it looks to be a killer. Uber-bear Jeff Mann read from his entry “Demon Seed,” then we heard from one of the contest finalists, New Orleans-based James Nolan, whose hilarious pick-up-gone-wrong story“ Latins on the Loose” got the crowd laughing so hard they nearly spilled their drinks. Lucy Jane Bledsoe read from her selection, “The End of Jesus” and then contest runner-up James Driggers continued the religious theme with “Jesus is My BFF.” The final reader was contest winner Wayne Lee Gay, whose “Ondine” is a subtle portrait of a girl named Elizabeth and the awakening that steers her away from her religious upbringing towards a freer, more expressive life through piano lessons. 

What I always come away from Saints and Sinners with is a renewed, recharged creative vitality – the classes and panels are certainly informative, but it’s the readings that inspire me the most. Listening to these fine writers was a terrific appetizer for the smorgasbord that awaits us this weekend.

More tomorrow.  

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Tomorrow May Be Too Late – Tom Marino (Tommy 100)

Buy it now at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

In 1988, Tom Marino is 21 years old. Having just ended a straight relationship that was headed toward marriage, he begins to embrace his homosexuality, which has always been with him—as his ex-fiancée knows, he’s no stranger to gay encounters. 

What else is there to say about young Marino? In addition to his administrative job at a bank, he works as a stripper. And he is very, very taken with himself. No, really, he could give lessons to Narcissus in self-adoration. And in case the reader should forget, Marino mentions on virtually every page how hot he is, how much he enjoys looking at himself, and how lucky we all are that we can look at him, too.

The young Marino can’t change clothes without pointing out how smashing he looks in whatever he’s wearing; can’t pass a mirror without stopping for a let-me-admire-myself moment. In short, if you already suspect that great-looking guys with chiseled bodies tend to be shallow and self-absorbed, there’s nothing in this story that will change your mind.

The book’s main concern is Marino’s relationship with a man, also named Tom, whom he meets at a club. Instantly falling in love with each other’s looks, they fall into bed and then into a relationship. I use the word “fall” advisedly, for the affair is a plunge toward disaster from the very start. I’m giving nothing away by saying that Tom is a sociopath who is just out to get all he can get from Marino. (One of the first things Tom does is to get Marino to hand over all of his credit cards. Hello!

Anyone who has been in a train wreck of a relationship will identify with Marino, who realizes he’s in trouble but can’t do anything about it because he is so deeply in love. And in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes: when two perfect-looking guys have sex, it’s just perfect.

If this book was a novel, you might put it down early on and never pick it up again. But the fact that it’s a memoir changes everything. Marino is nothing if not honest, and there’s something compelling about the way he leaves nothing out when it comes to his own past behavior. I’m talking binge drinking at every opportunity, cheating on Tom with other men and a woman, and masturbating while driving. That last behavior disturbed me deeply because, let’s face it, New Jersey drivers are bad enough when they have no distractions at all.

Speaking of Jersey, yes, this is what you get—a story played out in exurbs and suburbs, among strip malls, greasy spoons, and cul-de-sacs. It’s fitting that this story of shallow people takes place in such shallow waters. And yet, and yet—I recommend this book. Its saving grace is this: it’s compulsively readable. You know already that the story can’t end well, but you keep turning the pages for the same reason that bystanders keep looking at an accident: watching a tragedy in progress is so damn fascinating.

So by all means, take Tomorrow May Be Too Late to the beach this summer.  Reading about perfect guys having perfect sex isn’t all bad, especially when you’re half comatose from lying in the sun. You can skip the superfluous Epilogue, in which Marino tries to put the best face on things by saying that his 10 months with Tom was the happiest time of his life. Unfortunately—and this makes the book a very guilty pleasure indeed—it’s the unhappiness that keeps us riveted to the page.

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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