Monthly Archives: December 2010

Blood Sacraments – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it now direct from Bold Strokes Books or from our store – Blood Sacraments

The restless imagination of some writers amazes me. They can take the most tired, worn out situations, stand them on their heads and come up with something fresh or, in some cases, startlingly original. And that describes perfectly most of the vampire stories in Todd Gregory’s latest offering, Blood Sacraments.

The collection starts off strong with Jeff Mann’s story of an Appalachian vampire meeting undead Roman nobility in “Black Sambuca.” This tasty morsel, like much of Mann’s work, is full of delicious BDSM underpinnings that work well within the conventional vampire setting. Jay Lygon’s “Kells,” a tale about an adolescent vampire, his best friend and a mentor-to-be is also top notch work, as is Gregory’s own French Quarter story “Bloodletting” and S.A. Garcia’s eerie Greek isle elegy “Agapios Island.”

For sheer cleverness and ballsy genre-busting, however, it’s tough to beat ‘Nathan Burgoine’s brilliant “Three,” in which three outcasts—a demon, a vampire and a mage—decide to pool their resources for maximum effect. Burgoine’s characters are as sharp as the points on their teeth and their dialogue snaps like breaking spines. This is a truly chilling story that takes fiendish delight in defying the reader’s expectations.

“The Celtic Confessional” by Davem Verne and “Possession: A Priest’s Tale” by Max Reynolds provide two very different approaches to vampirism and religion. Verne takes his monk, Brother Donal, and young Irish farmer Fionn over the top both sexually and sacreligiously to a wonderful, fulfilling finish while Reynolds takes a more conventional approach to his story of how vampire Raul Garcia comes to possess a young priest at a Louisiana leper colony. However, Reynolds’ tale is lush and sumptuous in ways that Verne’s isn’t—showing how rich and varied vampire writing can actually be when authors look beyond the usual plotlines.

Among my other favorites here are Nathan Sims’ “Long in the Tooth,” a nicely told revenge tale that takes place during a vampire’s funeral, Joseph Baneth Allen’s story of a halfway house for recovering vampire victims, “The Bone Box,” and the unlikely romance of Jeffrey Ricker’s “Lifeblood.”

So, for those of us who have considered the vampire theme to be tired and worn out, these fresh, exciting stories are undead proof there’s still some life in the old corpse yet. You can bet the bank on it.

The blood bank, that is. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Playing By the Rules – Justin Elzie (Queer Mojo Press)

Buy it direct from Rebel Satori Press 

Here is Justin Elzie, a Marine. That alone, that simple
sentence alone encompasses much of the essence of this narrative. If, through
this narrative, the accoutrements of the Marine Corps—the traditions, the
mystique, the honor, the always faithful
(Semper Fi) dedication—are perceived as reflective of the character of this
Marine, Justin Elzie, then you have read well. If you also glean from your read
that just being a Marine was not enough, was not sufficient for the Marine
Corps to embrace one of its own—that band
of brothers
—when Elzie exposed his sexuality (gay) on national television
in 1993, then you have captured the underbelly of this narrative.

Elzie was the first Marine discharged under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy
instituted in 1993, by President Clinton. By then, Elzie had served his country
honorably for ten years. Interestingly, Elzie, by this time, had also been
living a furtive gay lifestyle for years, even to the extent of sharing
off-base housing with his boyfriend, John, a fellow Marine. As Elzie notes,
“Over the years, I had learned how to ride that fine line, and to be as
out as I could without getting caught.”

who would catch him? Most likely the Naval Criminal Investigative Services
(NCIS), a largely civilian agency of the Federal government, operating under
the Department of the Navy, that, yes, ruined the careers, the lives of so many
young Sailors and Marines—beginning well before the advent of DADT—simply because
those Sailors and Marines happened to be gay or lesbian.

describes his motivation for outing himself on national television: “I had
an instinctive internal drive, almost animal like, to come out in a public way,
and nothing was going to stop me. I felt like I was on a train to destiny that
I couldn’t get off, even if I wanted to. The thing is though, it was something
that I felt I had to do no matter what the consequences. Some people may
understand this, but the decision to come out was above all a deeply spiritual
experience to the point I felt it was like a baptism in the making. I was
finally going to stand up to the United States Marine Corps and let them know
who the real Justin Elzie was and how screwed up the ban on gays in the
military was.”

narrative is not unlike the litany of like experiences chronicled in Randy
Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming, published in 1993 prior to the
institutionalization of the DADT policy. Elzie’s description of his particular
history reads much like those in Shilts’ book. The unblemished career. The
passion to serve. The succession of performance reviews by superiors, one after
another, after another, identifying Elzie as an “Outstanding” Marine.
The exposure of a very active gay subculture within the Marine Corps, and the
other services, as well. The constant, nagging reality that the NCIS was there,
just over one’s shoulder, waiting for a misstep, an indiscretion that would
identify one as queer and, therefore, unfit for service regardless of one’s
abilities, regardless of one’s honorable intent to serve even in the face of
death. There was, of course, a difference between Elzie’s “baptism in the
making,” and the outing of the vast majority of those discharged under
DADT—and the “absolute ban” on homosexuals that preceded DADT. Elzie
chose to “come out” (surely a courageous act), while most of those
others, who made no such choice, were no less courageous in suffering the
consequences of their outing with dignity; standing proudly as witness to the
absurdity of the notion that a person’s homosexuality ipso facto disqualified them to honorably serve their country.              

As Elzie points out, the polemic is
clear. The lines have been drawn. What surely seems to denude the honor from
the gay or lesbian soldier’s service in the minds of the anti-homosexualists is
the manner in which those homosexuals make love or have made love or might make
love sometime in the future. How absurd this shibboleth should frighten the
bejesus out of the brass-plated bastions of what is probably the most masculine
institution in this country. But, it does. And, as politically correct as Bill
Clinton may have been in proposing an end to the absolute ban of homosexuals in
the military, it is unfortunate that his motivation was political correctness
rather than heartfelt commitment. There is a difference. And, rightly so, Elzie
is not kind to President Clinton’s backpedal on the components of DADT.

It was, I suppose, quite enough for
Bill Clinton–of all people!–to have been the drum major for ending the ban on
gays in the military. Drum majors strut. And they’re supposed to strut at the
head of the band until the parade is over. What seems to have occurred,
however, is that the drum major crapped out at the point it was clear the band
was not playing the kind of music the crowd—the new Republican majority in the
Senate, at the time—wanted to hear.

There is something desperately wrong
with the American military’s obsessive paranoia with regard to the homosexuals
amongst them. Elzie’s narrative, as well as Randy Shilt’s study of homosexuals
in the American military (and the categorical dispossession of the military
careers of those homosexuals), are not read so much as something factual, but
as something you can’t quite believe; something like standing upon the autumn
grass at Gettysburg and not quite believing that seven-thousand men once lay
dead, and forty-thousand lay wounded upon the gentle slopes of those quiet
Pennsylvania hills. Did this horror really happen here? Did our
country really do this to itself? And now, have the lives of so many
good and decent young men and women really been run through that
despicable gauntlet described by Elzie and Shilts?

Elzie provides in Playing By The
, an intimate view of his personal experience in confronting the
senselessness of DADT; a confrontation that embraces pretty much the entire
gamut of emotion—despair, hurt, and anger—of those in the military who preceded
him and followed him on the courageous quest for justice; a simple justice that
begs the recognition that a Marine, a Soldier, a Sailor is first and foremost
just that: a Marine, a Soldier, a Sailor. That that Marine, Soldier or Sailor
happens to be gay or lesbian is, or should be, an afterthought; an
insignificant consideration in determining the fitness, the ability of those
willing to serve their country with unquestioned dedication, with honor.    

Reviewed by George Seaton 

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Best Gay Stories 2010 – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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The line between truth and fiction is easily blurred. At its very core, what is the truth anyway but someone’s version of a set of events? That’s why the commingling of fiction and non-fiction serves Steve Berman’s most recent compilation of Best Gay Stories so well.

The collection starts with a story—Anthony McDonald’s sweet, romantic tale of a brief affair between two Shakespearian actors in “Mercutio’s Romeo”—then glides into essay territory with Paul Lisicky’s “Two Tales” and Jeff Mann’s “Loving Tim; or My Passionate Midlife Affair,” a thoughtful exploration of Mann’s infatuation with country music superstar Tim McGraw (from the recently reviewed Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South). This round of essays ends with another take on fandom, Lowell Briscoe’s portrait of gay Southern author Lonnie Coleman in “Lonnie Coleman Remembered.”

 Then it’s back to fiction with a chilling first person account of a public park hookup gone terribly wrong with G. Winston James’ “Somewhere Nearby.” This is a perfect example of blurring that border between truth and fiction. From its opening line, “I am a corpse being dragged to shallow burial,” we fervently hope this is a story but deep down we realize that in a world where a slight, small man like Matthew Shepard can be tied to a barbed wire fence and tortured to death, it could be all too real.

D. Travers Scott’s brilliant “It’s Not You” both blurs and delineates, alternating sections titled “Fiction” and “Journal” as he gives an account of an “affair” between the story’s narrator and a straight boy. While not exactly idyllic, the fictional portions are more romanticized than theshorter, straightforward journal entries, but the shorter passages certainly contain more “truths” about their relationship.

Some of my other favorites include Wayne Hoffman’s “Duncan,” a bittersweet story of unrequited love, Lewis DeSimone’s “Auntie Mame,” a wonderful ode to one of my top five movies of all time (Rosalind Russell was genius in that, dammit—I hope Susan Hayward choked on her goddamn Oscar that year), Lee Thomas’ hysterically harrowing “Crack Smokin’ Grandpa” and Sean Meriwether’s heartfelt “So Long Anita Bryant, and Thanks for Everything.”

But these are among the pieces that spoke to my truths. Of the twenty well-chosen selections, you’re bound to find many that you’ll remember until Best Gay Stories 2011 when our brightest voices will carry us away once again.

© 2010, Jerry L. Wheeler

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For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries – Fay Jacobs (A & M Books)

Buy it direct from A & M Books  or from our store – For Frying Out Loud – Rehoboth Beach Diaries

Fay Jacobs is a very funny lady, as anyone who’s heard her
read can attest. Her targets may be queer but her delivery and timing are pure
Borscht Belt gold. The good news is she writes the same way, and even better
news is that her latest collection of columns, For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth
Beach Diaries
is finally out.

From the hilarious DIY project detailed in “Home Improvement
Porn” to the historical interest of “How Rehoboth Beach Lived Up To The Meaning
Of Its Biblical Name And Found ‘Room For All,’” to the heartfelt obituary for
her father, “Mort Rubenstein, 91, Madison Avenue Ad Man and Art Director,”
Jacobs covers all bases with wit, warmth and wisdom.

As with any collection of columns, readers will find the
mundane resting cheek-to-jowl with the monumental. It may seem disconcerting to
read philosophical musings on gay marches followed by paeans to Wii fitness and
the delights of scrapple (pork scraps and cornmeal mush formed and fried), but
what else is life but a series of everyday events connected by truly special
moments? Jacobs handles both with a stranglehold on pragmatism and a wicked
sense of humor.

One of the back cover blurbs likens Jacobs to Erma Bombeck,
everyone’s favorite suburban mother of the 1970s. Although I see a similarity,
Jacobs seems closer to Jean Kerr of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies fame.
Jacobs shares Kerr’s strong sense of place. Rehoboth Beach pervades these pages
so much you can almost smell the seashore. Not to mention wet schnauzers.

But no matter which of these ladies you prefer, you’ll find
Fay Jacobs’ For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries a funny, wisely
observed and politically astute read guaranteed to bring a smile to your face
and, at times, a lump in your throat.

But I’m still not sure about the scrapple. 

Review by Jerry Wheeler

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A Conversation with Jeff Mann

       To meet Jeff
Mann is to see his work come alive—his stories, his poetry, his essays embodied
in a big Renaissance bear capable of erudition as well as obscenity, flavored
by a lazy drawl and his unique Appalachian slant. But how do you explore a man
who puts so much of his essence on the page? Well, you start at the beginning.

           Sylvia Plath’s
poetry was really what got me started writing seriously,” Mann states, “so I
guess her work encouraged me to use my own life as subject matter. She and Anne
Sexton, their poetry really moved me, and to this day it’s very frank, personal
poems that impress me, that mean the most to me. By the way, poet Diane Wakoski
says that such poetry ought to be called ‘autobiographical,’ not confessional.
Confessional suggests that the writer has something to be ashamed of.”

            Shame, then, does not drive Mann but
honesty and courageousness inform his work despite his geographic location in
the Virginia mountains, a region not noted for its homocentricity. “It can
be scary to be so open in such a Christian-lousy region, though, as big a bear
as I am, I don’t expect to be bothered. I’ve deliberated created an
intimidating persona—bushy beard, beefy body, tattoos—just so conservative
types will keep their distance. On the other hand, homophobes do run in
packs…so I guess I’ve developed a sort of siege mentality. That’s a burden…but
I do have broad shoulders, so I carry it without too much crippling neuroses.”

            “A poet friend of mine,” he
continues, “Edwina Pendarvis, in a little essay she wrote about me for Appalachian
, said something about ‘the almost reckless courage that informs
everything’ I’ve written. I love that phrase! Well, I guess I do write and
publish whatever I damn well please and don’t think much about the
consequences. (There are some advantages to being a writer few people have
read.) Am I courageous? Well, I feel very full of fear. To some extent,
I’m still that small-town boy who’s terrified of the Big Bad Outside World. But
I’m big on lots of traditional male values—a fact that has offended a handful
of queer critics, who think masculinity is a dangerous construct that ought to
be eliminated—and courage is definitely one of the values I revere, in men and
women. Heroism fascinates me, from the Spartans and Vikings right down to the
War of Northern Aggression, as I like to call it. (Thus my sword collection and
my collection of sword-swinging DVD’s like 300 and Gladiator,
though the latter hoard is as much about hot, bearded men as it is about battle
scenes.) A lot of the things I’ve done I’ve done because I don’t want to think
of myself as a coward. I couldn’t live with that. I can say without doubt that
I have a very strong protective instinct towards members of my “clan” (and we
mountain men are supposed to be clannish, right?), and I certainly possess the
courage to protect with vigor those I love.”

            He also possesses the courage to
write poetry, which is a fearless act for a number of reasons. Many readers
don’t “get” poetry and it doesn’t sell to the masses. “Prose is easier for
everybody to take in,” Mann says, “since we encounter prose much more often in
our daily lives than poetry. I often ask my classes about the unpopularity of
poetry. Students say it’s too convoluted, too subtle, too oblique. Others say
that the focus on strong emotion makes them uncomfortable. Well, poetry can
be hard to absorb, since it tends to be so dense, concise, and multi-layered.
It takes patience to appreciate, and patience is hard to find in a world
accustomed to instant stimulation, gratification, and entertainment. I’m afraid
my new poetry collection, Ash, might seem obscure to people, since it’s
based entirely on Norse mythology, but most of the poetry I write I really try
hard to make comprehensible. I want a reader to ‘get’ a poem of mine pretty
much on the first read, and then to discover greater depths to it as it’s
reread. Part of this attitude of mine, this insistence on clarity, is, I think,
Appalachian: I want regular folks, not just scholars, to read my poetry and
enjoy it and, most importantly, find it relevant. I honestly don’t like overly
intellectual poetry; I think poetry ought to be visceral, about the body, the
earth, the natural world, strong emotions and desires, and less about the
intellect. Poets who write cryptic, opaque poems (what I call ‘WTF poems’) are,
I think, really doing poetry a disservice and driving away an audience. There’s
a kind of egotistical elitism in such work I have little use for.”

If Mann has disdain for egotistical elitism, he has even more disdain
for a topic he discusses in one of his essays, the “emotional cowardice of our
age.” But in a media culture obsessed with the self-exposure of reality TV, how
could we possibly produce emotional cowards?

            “I know almost nothing about reality
television,” Mann states, “so I can’t really comment there, though, from what I
can tell, it seems to be self-indulgence, loud display, and shallow narcissism.
‘Vulgar. Common,’ as my late mother, a Southern lady, would drawl. When I talk
about emotional cowardice, I’m talking about a lot of contemporary poetry,
which seems to be all about word play (what I contemptuously call ‘dicking
around with language’) and distanced irony. It’s not writing that deals with
the human heart in conflict with itself, which is what Faulkner said that
literature was all about. I also think that a lot of American men are brought
up to be wary of emotional honesty, as if expressing emotion and admitting the
ambivalent complexities of feeling are somehow weak.”

            Mann has certainly been exposed to
men and cultures other than American, as detailed in his book Edge: Travels
of an Appalachian Leather Bear
. His best friend on those travels? His
notebook. “One thing that has been very, very helpful to me in travel writing
is keeping a daily journal, in which I record details that I would otherwise
never remember. When I wrote Edge, most of those essays were based on my
travel journals. What I saw, where I went, what I ate and drank (the latter
being very important details to a gourmand bear like me!)—it was all there in
those journals. As tired as I am at the end of a day’s travel, still I always
make time to make those notes.”

            It’s not just while traveling that
his notebook is important, however. “I carry a little notebook in my black
leather backpack, which goes just about everywhere I go. In that, I make notes
when I’m not at my laptop, ideas for stories, poems, and essays. I flesh those
notes out on my laptop, let the notes sit for a while. The night before a day
I’ll have free to write, I review those notes and decide what I’ll focus on the
following day. This primes the subconscious, so to speak. I write best in the
mornings, especially poetry. If a poem isn’t written by noon, it won’t be
written that day. Prose I can work on all day. The next time I return to a
piece, I read what I’ve already produced and polish it, then continue extending
it. I do revise a lot, especially poems. Prose tends to come out pretty neat,
pretty close to the final form.  Poems I
‘rassle’ with, since every word must be just right.”

            “Poems tend to be based on intense
emotion, memory, and image,” he states. “I’m also very concerned with music in
poetry. Essays are about ideas (and allow greater length than poems, and so
more room for intellectual exploration). Fiction is mostly about setting,
action, and character. Poems I feel driven to write, by the way. Essays and
fiction I tend to create as a response to calls for submission.”


     With a new volume of essays out (Binding
the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South
) as well as Ash, a
fresh collection of poetry based on Nordic myth, the prolific Mann is never
without a project in mind. “I’m very busy “queering” the Civil War,” he says.
“The novel is done, at least the first draft. A publisher will be examining it
soon. It’s called Purgatory, after a big mountain right off I-81 in the
Great Valley of Virginia, and it’s set during the last months of the War, in
1865. The narrator is a Rebel soldier, and his love interest is a Yankee
prisoner of war who’s being treated very, very badly by the band of
Confederates the narrator’s running with. The classic battle between Love and
Duty: save the beloved or stay loyal to the country. I have an entire sequel in
mind, and I should get most of it written in 2011, since I’ll be on sabbatical
and thus not teaching. I’m also halfway through another book of poetry, Rebel,
which focuses on the Civil War, especially the Southern experience, and I have
notes for a novella, set during the first winter of the War in Highland County,

            But whatever the subject and whoever
the author, Mann clearly has his priorities. “Please support LGBT literature! I
realize that there are many electronic temptations—texting (which I honestly
despise), cell-phone chatting (which I hate just about as much), DVD’s, iPods,
etc.—but a good book can give you much deeper rewards than any of that. And
give poetry a chance. Just because you pick up a book of poetry and don’t like
it, that doesn’t mean that you don’t like poetry. It means you don’t like that
particular poet’s work. There’s a huge variety of poetry:  ancient, modern, contemporary; learned and
allusive, direct and down-home. Keep trying till you find what appeals to you.
If you’re patient and ask around, you’ll find poetry that will move you to the
core, just like I have again and again.”

By Jerry Wheeler

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Ask the Fire – Dennis Paddie (Lethe Press)

Buy it now from or from our store – Ask the Fire

Some books refuse to be read. Like recalcitrant lovers, they
withhold their charms for any number of spiteful, petty reasons. This is what I
have gleaned from working with Dennis Paddie’s Ask the Fire:

  1)    Dennis
Paddie’s Ask the Fire does not like the beach. It resisted both attempts
to read it while on vacation in St. Maarten, refusing to allow me past the
prologue. I finally gave up and grabbed the
nearest copy of the not-so-choosy Out Magazine.

  2)    Dennis
Paddie’s Ask the Fire does not like airplanes. It let me finish the
prologue but would not give me purchase in
Book One. Considering the state of airline travel these days, I could almost
understand its hesitance. I had a martini instead.

 3)    Dennis
Paddie’s Ask the Fire does not care for music. I tried to coax it with everything from Bach to Nine Inch
Nails to no avail. It would not be wooed with tunes like a cheap, boozy tart.

It does, however, like my office—where it finally yielded to
me in half-hour increments, taking nearly a month of working days to read. When
it eventually granted me passage, was the effort worth it, you ask? I have to
say “yes,” but I will warn you this is not a book for everyone.

It’s the story of Jared Osborne, an out gay man working with
the CIA—and ultimately freelancing—to root out the Arab terrorists poised to
cause the 9/11 bombings. Aided by his bodyguard/companion, Moss Lake, he takes
on demons both professional and personal in his quest. But the plot is a
skeleton on which hangs brilliant raiments of philosophy and mythology as well
as history from the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. 

If that sounds like an unwieldy combination, the proof of
its success is in the reading—and in Jared Osborne, a fully realized character
who manages to be spy and philosopher simultaneously. Paddie never lets one
side of Osborne run away with the other. Both are commingled beautifully. And
Paddie also does a fine job of fleshing out the other characters, particularly
the widow Sabine Horvath, a Texan-Jewish heiress/art collector with ties to
Mossad. There’s even a love story with Moss and his boyfriend Lambert.

Underlying all the philosophy and covert operations is a
fine sense of dread and anticipation. Though the book offers up a creative look
at a world substantially different from yours and mine, it does not create an
alternate reality where 9/11 never happens. It does happen despite Osborne’s
best attempts to thwart it, and you know he’ll fail from the beginning. Such a
story of sweep and scope demands your attention, and Ask the Fire—though
eminently readable—is not an easy read. But like all challenges, it offers its
own unique rewards once met. I’m glad I was able to conquer it.

Just don’t try to take it to the beach. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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A Forest of Corpses – P.A. Brown (MLR Press)

Buy it now direct from MLR Press or from our store – A Forest of Corpses

It’s happened to you, I know it has. You have a few moments
to spare, so you pick up a book and read the first page and then you’re hooked.
You have to read more and before you know it, you’re late for work or school or
whatever. All because of that damn book. That’s what happened to me with P.A.
Brown’s A Forest of Corpses.

Alexander Spider, a homicide detective with the Santa
Barbara PD, and his young lover, Jason Zachary, were first seen in Brown’s The
Geography of Murder
. As this book opens, they’ve been together a stormy
seven months. For some alone and down time, Zachary convinces Spider to hike
with him into a national forest. Although out of his element, Spider begins to
like roughing it—until they run across a couple of decomposing bodies and a
huge marijuana farm, that is. One of them is shot and the other must make it
past the growers and get help.

Brown has fashioned a nice, tense plotline and follows it
well, fleshing it out with two very interesting characters in Spider and
Zachary, who enjoy a master/submissive relationship. Big bad policeman Spider
is, naturally, the master but one of the joys of this book is watching that
master role switch back and forth according to the situation the couple is in.
And once the pair hits the forest, the book takes off like a bear with the
smell of blood in its snout.

Oddly enough, the book starts off with sixty pages of Spider
investigating a shooting in the city. That episode was engaging enough to catch
my interest, but I kept expecting it to hook up somehow with the hiking trip
plotline and was ultimately disappointed it didn’t. The more I thought about
it, the more I wondered why it was there. Similarly, after the forest rescue
takes place (okay, you knew there had to be one, right?), the
nursing-back-to-health interlude before the happy ending (and you knew there
had to be one of these as well, right?) seemed to take an inordinately
long time, and I wondered why.

In between those, however, is a fast-paced, breathless read
that will have you amazed at Brown’s ingenuity in foiling the enemy so our
heroes can triumph. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say Brown
uses the forest’s own resources to resolve the situation.

A Forest of Corpses is a worthy entry in this
particular series, a well-paced and engagingly populated book. The question is,
will there be a sequel?

Does a bear scat in the woods?

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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White, Christian – Christopher Stoddard (Triton Books)

Buy it now from our store –White, Christian

White, Christian is a story about a
nineteen-year-old gay teen who is paranoid, rebellious, a drug addict, sexually
promiscuous who feels unloved, and misunderstood.  Sound familiar?  You bet. 
In other words, just another typical novel about a troubled gay youth
and his “passage” through life with all the dysfunctions one would expect.  There is one difference with this
story…Christopher Stoddard. 

Christopher has a way with
words.  His prose is beautiful.  His characters are real. From the first page
the main character, Christian White will captivate you. You will want to help
him, you will become angry with him, and you will cheer him for small but
meaningful accomplishments. 

There are twists and turns in
Christian’s life that are unexpected, such as the scene with a guy named Juan
who Christian thinks is just another quick trick to earn some cash, but this
trick is anything but ordinary. 

“I gain consciousness
as I feel warm, thick liquid trickling down the middle of my forehead, taking a
left down the side of my nose and continuing to my chin, off of which it
drips.  I let out a moan of pain and
nausea and open my eyes.  Trying to wipe
the blood off my face, I discover that both my hands are tied with twine to
either end of the bed.  A glass beer
bottle with a chipped spout is lying on a tarnished silver tray next to me,
along with a pair of sharp-looking scissors, a bowling pin and pliers.  I hear humming and the sound of running water
coming from the bathroom.  Juan enters
with latex-gloved hands raised, like a doctor about to perform surgery.”

Without giving away too much
detail, this scene takes the novel on a whole new, exciting and unexpected
path.  Or at least that’s what I thought
and here is where I think the novel suffers, it doesn’t go down that path.  From this point forward Christian’s life goes
back to the way it was, chapter after chapter of quick sex for quick cash.  There was so much that could have been done
after that night at Juan’s, but it just doesn’t happen until the very end of
the novel.  The story becomes a bit
disjointed because of that.  It’s as if
the story with Juan never happened twenty or thirty pages, and then all of a
sudden it’s brought back to forefront of the story.

Regardless of what I feel is a weak
point in the book White, Christian is a great read.  Christopher Stoddard’s words flow across the
page.  His style is unique and will keep
the reader turning the pages.  

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Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)

41p3iiD2zSL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Buy from Lethe Press

Everyone’s favorite leather bear daddy, Jeff Mann, is back with another volume of essays and observations, Binding the God—a perfect companion to Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear. Where Edge roamed the U.S. and Europe, however, Binding the God is content to survey subjects mostly closer to Mann’s home.

What always impresses me about Mann’s work is its fearless self-examination. Confessional writing is nothing new, but rather than hiding behind self-deprecating humor like Augusten Burroughs or reveling in depravity like so many other authors hellbent on exposing their addictive personalities, Mann meets his life head on with a frank, engaging involvement. He never distances or hides behind himself for the sake of his own comfort.

Take, for example, the unabashed hero worship of “Loving Tim; or My Passionate Midlife Affair,” in which Mann confesses his adoration of country music superstar Tim McGraw. His fangurl behavior—buying keychains and coffee cups adorned with McGraw’s image–is disarming and his lust for McGraw is evident, but it’s his trenchant observations of crowd behavior as well as his own at a McGraw concert that really make this piece pop.

Among my other favorites here are the short, punchy folk culture reminiscences in “’Til the Ductile Anchor Hold,’” whose title comes from Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless, Patient Spider,” his obsession with a certain Oscar-robbed film in “Country Boys, Butch Queers and Brokeback Mountain,” and the steadfast love of Southern culture in the face of political and religious adversity in “Negative Capability in the Mountain South.”

But no incident cuts closer to the queer bone than the possibility of mayhem against a drunken partygoer throwing rocks at his mailbox in “Southern (LGBT) Living.” The confrontation itself is unremarkable, but as Mann says:

The story’s in what might have happened. When I turned away from the crowd and stalked back toward my house … I expected one of those stones to hit me between the shoulder blades. If it had, if one of those no-doubt-drunk guys had gotten his dander up and followed me with violence on his mind, I would have pulled that knife. I would never have carried it out there if I hadn’t been truly prepared to use it.

How many times have we, as gay men and women, felt that tug, that willingness to use violence because we are sick and tired of talk and patience and compromise? Mann isn’t afraid to admit those instincts but knows full well that words cut deeper than blades.

But no matter what he’s using, I’m glad he’s on our side.

© 2010, Jerry L. Wheeler

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