Monthly Archives: May 2011

On Losing, Lammys and Pioneers

The month of May has come and gone, taking with it trips to
New Orleans for Saints and Sinners and to New York City for the Lambda Literary
Awards, which both Bill and I were nominated for. 

And lost.

We were, of course, momentarily disappointed. How lovely it
would have been to hold one of those beautiful Plexiglass books with our names
etched into it, making speeches and having our pictures taken repeatedly. But
at the same time, awards bring pressure—an unnecessary but inevitable adjunct
of success. To get a Lammy for our first book right out of the box might have
stalled or wrecked our careers. Where do you go from there?

Being nominated as a finalist (Bill for A Twist of Grimm
and me for Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top) was just the
right accolade at the right time. It’s better to have something to look forward
to than to look back on. And we were truly thrilled to have been nominated

However, I was less than thrilled at the remarks of Pioneer
Award recipient Edward Albee. “Any writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must
be able to transcend self,” he stated. “I am not a gay writer—I am a writer who
happens to be gay.” This smacks of shrill and somewhat bitter defensiveness. If
Albee is not a gay writer, why is he accepting a Pioneer award from an
organization that celebrates gay writing? And why is that organization honoring
someone who does not identify as a gay writer?

There were plenty of other gay writers in the audience who
would have been thrilled to have been honored in such a fashion; writers who
have done what Albee has not—use their unique queer viewpoint to illustrate and
illuminate what it means to be gay. We tell the stories of our community so
that others may recognize and celebrate themselves. We tell our stories to add
to the common store of knowledge that everyone—gay and straight—can draw upon
for a larger understanding. And we tell our stories because no one else can. No
one else will—including writers who “happen to be gay.”

Far more affirming was the other Pioneer Award speech given
by Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, who reminisced about growing up in a
small Scottish town where there were no lesbians. “They were a bit like
mermaids,” she said. “You knew they were out there but they were kind of
mythical.” And she ended by saying she writes “so we don’t have a generation of
wee lassies growing up in small Scottish towns asking ‘what’s a lesbian?’” 

Now that’s a pioneer.  

But now May is over. The suits are at the dry cleaners, the
ties are noosed up on the rack, and the pictures have been downloaded. My
favorite memories? God, there are so many—being at the awards ceremony with
Steve Berman and the Lethe Press crowd, hugging handsome David Pratt after his
win for Bob The Book, hanging out in Chelsea with Bill and Mark Jordan
and Ron Suresha, late night drinking with Randy Thomas and his partner Fred,
feeling the ghosts in the Chelsea Hotel and absorbing the beautiful grime of
NYC.

It’s just enough to tide me over until next year.

JW

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It’s All Relative – Wade Rouse (Crown Publishing)

Buy it now from our Amazon.com store – It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine (A Memoir)
 

Nothing says stress like being home for the holidays—special
events, childhood memories and family dynamics all conspire to put a crimp in
even the most festive of moods. And Wade Rouse captures all the anxious angst
in his latest collection of memoirist essays, It’s All Relative.

Divided by month, It’s All Relative covers all the
major holidays from New Year’s to Christmas with additional stops for
birthdays, anniversaries, vacations and The Oscars (you know, the Gay Super
Bowl). But rather than sounding samey, covering the weirdnesses and
idiosyncracies of family life, Rouse manages to convey the warmth and spirit
and joy for living within his family.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t weirdnesses here—witness
Wade’s father, Ted, an engineer who hid Easter eggs for his children so well
that they often couldn’t be found, who must win at all costs, even to the point
of eviscerating Wade’s partner Gary at hearts during one particularly brutal
Fourth of July Game Night, who was more Irish than Molly Machree on St.
Patrick’s Day. Far from being a caricature, Rouse paints his father with more
sympathetic colors than that, bringing out his warmth as well as his
eccentricities.

But his father isn’t the only family member Rouse treats
with respectful irreverance. Everyone, including his partner Gary, gets an
equal share. Rouse never goes for the cheap laugh or the rimshot joke, relying
instead on well-built characterizations and beautifully warped situations for
his humor. This is gentle, prodding fun—not razor-bladed edgy cartoonishness,
and the result is all the better for its warm fuzzies. His family is as
likeable as they are disturbed.

Rouse’s writing is plain and simple—perfect for setting the
situation and getting out of the way without any look-mom-I’m-writing moments.
He is a masterful storyteller in that he tells the story with enough panache to
be funny but never overwrites. My favorite moment, in fact, is not funny at
all. In “The Privileged Few,” he and his mother visit his grandmother in a
nursing home. I’ve seen this scenario played for laughs and for great pathos,
but Rouse takes it down a wonderfully reverential path.

Rouse has already shown his gifts in such previous efforts
as Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler and At Least in the
City Someone Would Hear Me Scream
, but It’s All Relative showcases
his ingenuity and genuineness. Give it to someone you love for a holiday gift.

Any holiday will do.  

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Devil’s Rock – Gerri Hill (Bella Books)

Buy it direct from Bella Books or from our Amazon.com store – Devil’s Rock
 

I’ve always been a fan of the mystery genre. There is
nothing better than sitting down on a rainy day and being swept away in the
intrigue. Authors such as Joseph Hanson, and Arthur Conan Doyle began my love
affair with this genre. Today my mystery authors of choice are Greg Herren, Anthony
Bidulka, and Josh Aterovis, and now I may just add Gerri Hill to the list after
reading Devil’s Rock.

Andrea Sullivan is a former LA cop who now lives and works
in a small town in Arizona. When someone begins dumping bodies in the high
plains of the desert the local sheriff calls in the FBI for assistance. In
comes Cameron Ross a roaming FBI agent who comes off aggressive and arrogant.
Cameron and Andrea couldn’t appear more different on the outside, but each of
them carries heavy wounds from the past. It will take all of their strength and
determination to work together to solve these murders. What they don’t count on
is falling in love in the process.

When I first started Devil’s Rock, the immediate and
persistent arguments between Andrea and Cameron seemed a bit excessive – almost
too much. I’m glad I didn’t give up on the characters or the novel, because as
their story unfolded in the midst of the body dumps, I began to realize that
those frequent outbursts were necessary in portraying the characters truthfully.
Gerri has done a brilliant job of interweaving their developing relationship
with the increasingly difficult murder spree.

While I can’t talk about the mechanics of the mystery
genre, I can say that Devil’s Rock was one of those books that I couldn’t put
down.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Burnings: Poems – Ocean Vuong (Sibling Rivalry Press)

If you have a farm in
Vietnam

And a house in hell

Sell the farm

And go home

“Obscenities” by Michael Casey, circa 1972

Buy it direct from Sibling Rivalry Press or from our Amazon store – Burnings
 

This young man, Ocean Vuong—a 23 year old English major at
Brooklyn College, CUNY—was born in Saigon in 1988 and brought to America in
1990, where his schooling eventually revealed the barest details of the horror
that comes to mind whenever people of my generation refer to the Vietnam era. (My generation experienced
this era in living color, night after
night after night, blaring and beaming from our T.V. sets: it was a depiction
of the obscenity of war not scrubbed, not filtered, not censored by a Pentagon
policy that now, today, allows only selectively culled embeds to report a cleansed and inadequate depiction of the
essential atrocity of war.)  Indeed,
interviewed by Pank Magazine, Vuong noted: “When I was in high school, I would
always get excited to learn about the Vietnam War, to know my history. …And
every year I would find disappointment. Where we would spend an entire month on
the American Revolution, nearly an entire chapter on George Washington alone,
only a few pages would cover the entire ten-year war in Vietnam, sometimes with
only sparse paragraphs. …In the course of reeducating myself, I was baffled by
the lies the books told. …part of my aim as poet is to do what the media and
textbooks failed to: to explore the truths that we would rather forget, but
cannot afford to.”

To the poetry. There is serious stuff here in these forty
pages, rightly divided by, I assume, the editor into two sections with twelve
poems in each. There is a prefacing, however, with a poem intended, I believe,
to be Vuong’s primer of sorts on the intent of poetry itself.   

Ars Poetica – I
was reminded of a line in Whitman’s, Song
of Myself
, here: “Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?”
Vuong places two ships upon the sea that meet, where the sole occupants of both
place a plank across the hulls of the ships, and slowly step, one toward the
other, their fingers outstretched, yearning to touch. As I myself, at times,
find it difficult to “…get at the meaning of poems…” Vuong’s image represents,
for me, the inescapable intent of poetry, both from the poet’s and the reader’s
perspective…to connect, to touch.

The first twelve poems in this collection are almost
exclusively a reflection of what Vuong eventually discovered with regard to the
horror of the Vietnam war, and his own subsequent grieving for what that war
did to the Vietnamese people, primarily his family…known and unknown. 

Let me provide some snippets. (Apologies to Vuong for the
ellipses.)

BURNINGS begins
this first section. It is a burning of a photograph of Vuong sitting between
his mother and his aunt in a refugee camp in the Philippines.

 

Here, they are young
again… Do not believe

the light in their
eyes, the grins stretched

so wide, there is no
room for joy.

Do not say our names.
These faces

cannot belong to the
ruin they became.

…No, do not say our
names.

Let us burn quietly
into the lives

we never
were.

 

With THE PHOTO Vuong
resurrects the horrid image from 1968 of a Viet Cong guerilla being executed in
the street by South Vietnam’s national police chief. T.V. cameras as well as
A.P. captured the execution, and the images soon became witness to the raw
brutality of the war.

 

Like all photographs

this one fails

to reveal the picture.

…after smoke cleared,

from behind the fool

with blood on his
cheek

and the dead dog by
this feet,

 

a white man

was lighting a cigarette.

 

In SONG OF MY MOTHER
Vuong dedicates the words to the Vietnamese women who perished during the war.

 

Sing of the sisters
who held hands

while soldiers took
turns,

who fled by closing
their eyes,

only to find their
bodies

too cold to return to.

 

KISSING IN VIETNAMESE

 

When my grandmother
kisses…

she kisses as if to
breathe you inside her, nose pressed to cheek

so that your scent
pearls into drops of gold

inside her lungs…

 

THE MASTURBATION OF
MEN
begins with the image of Vuong’s father beating his mother, then
closing the bathroom door behind him to masturbate. …when a man climaxes, it is the closest thing to surrender…

 

TIME MAKER

 

When I was seven, I
believed everything

obeyed the laws of
clocks. That if I held still

their needles, my
father’s fist would stop

just before my
mother’s perfect nose

and the song on the
radio would play forever

the word—love

 

ARRIVAL BY FIRE is
preceded by a quote from Ilya Kaminsky: “What you call immigration, I call
suicide.”

 

…When we reached the
new world, we dissipated

into shadows,
apologized for our clumsy tongues

our far and archaic
gods. We changed our names

to John, Christian, or
Tina. How many mirrors

have we tried to prove
wrong?

 

The second group of poems reveals Vuong’s queer self, as
well as some other beautiful images quite removed from the starkly dark first
section.

 

In REVELATION
Vuong gives us an image of boys in a tentative discovery of the beauty of
themselves.

 

In the path of
trembling hands…I dreamed

the extraoridnary
things

light would do to the
parts I touched:

tuft of hair, silk of
foreskin, the wet pearl

emerging from its
sheath.

 

MOONLESS is, I
believe, a poem of self-redemption, a celebration of acceptance of oneself.

 

In a room illuminated

by a streak of semen…

The ceiling has
dissolved,

the stars forgot their
duties

as contellations and
fell

dusting our shoulders

with the swirl of
galaxies.

 

…Tonight, we become at
last

the tasters of light.

 

SELF-FELLATION AS
PRAYER 
I will leave for you to
discover on your own. My note to myself for this one: INTERESTING!

 

ACQUIRED IMMUNE
DEFICIENCY SYNDROME
is a lovely, yearning poem about caring for a sick
friend or lover, and wanting so desperately to merge with the one dying and go
back to beginnings, to go back

 

to the heartbeat’s
ascension, to the sound

of water overflowing,
two boys,

laughing in the
distance—the night

and all her unlit
stars

pouring from their
mouths.

 

GARDENING WITH THE SON
I WILL NEVER HAVE
is one of my favorites. Vuong begins the poem by asking
the question:

 

How do I explain

to the small boy
beside me,

the difference between
his skin

and the velvet shells
of tulips?

 

The beauty of the ensuing words, images are sentiently
engaging, masterfully constructed. As they plant the pods, there is the
observation that

 

…each pod contains instructions

to swoon to the tune
of zephyrs

and stretch the petals

that stroke our
breaths.

 

SONG ON THE SUBWAY recounts,
yes, a ride on the subway. A blind man enters the coach, and begins to play a
violin.

 

…I want nothing

but to put my fingers
inside his mouth,

let that prayer hum
through my veins.

I want to crawl into
the hole in his violin.

I want to sleep there

until my flesh

becomes
music. 

ODE TO MASTURBATION

Reach down, there is
music

in the body, play
yourself

like a lyre, insert
the finger

into sanctum, feel

the quivering of
crevices, skin

palpitating ripples as
if stretched over drumbeats.

Yes, the snippets provide some small example of this young
man’s extraordinary talent. The collection must be read in toto to glean the
full extent of what Vuong has gifted to us. I thank him for those gifts. And if
I tell him that as I read his work, the visages—all smiling, shaking their
heads in wonderment—of Lorca, Borges, Spender, Ginsberg, Whitman, passed
through my consciousness not as masters of the art to which Vuong surely
aspires, but as equals most pleased to welcome Vuong into their exclusive
coterie.   

Reviewed by George Seaton

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The Final Day of Saints and Sinners

Sunday always comes too soon at Saints and Sinners. It seems
like we just picked up our registration goodies and already the last day looms
before us, as bleary-eyed and cotton-mouthed as Saturday night has left us.
Nevertheless, there are readings and panels ahead—and we have to sound
intelligent.

Kelly Smith kicked off the last day, moderating a
fascinating panel about “Current Trends in the Publishing Industry” with Sven
Davisson, Fay Jacobs, Janet Mason and Radclyffe, leaving her audience at the
chilly Bourbon Orleans Ballroom with a renewed sense of optimism. And sweaters.

Thankfully, many of them toddled over to the Bourbon Pub for
our Out in Print inspired panel, “Blogging Book Reviews for Fun and Profit …
Well, for Fun Anyway.” Moderated by Jeff Mann, our panel featured William
Holden and myself as well as author and bookstore manager, ‘Nathan
Burgoine as well as Bold Strokes Books publisher Radclyffe with a publisher’s
point of view on book reviews. We were grateful for the terrific turnout as
well as the challenging questions at the end. Thanks go out to everyone for a
chance to do this.

But with about 15 minutes to pack up and head over to St.
Mary’s Salon at the Bourbon Orleans for our own reading, we had no time to rest
on our laurels. Bill, Dale Chase, Jeff Mann and I all read on the same program
with Lara Zielinsky and new poet Robert Walker. It was beautifully smutty.

We had to have some lunch before we passed out, then it was
on to the Closing Reception—which is always a mixed bag of emotions. We love
partying with our friends and fellow authors, but it heralds the end of the
weekend and signals our first round of goodbyes. But before that, five new
memberts were inducted into the Saints and Sinners Hall of Fame:
publisher/author Jameson Currier, FAB Bookstore owner Otis Fennell, agent
Michele Karlsberg, author Achy Obejas and Bywater Books publisher Kelly Smith.

We will be in New Orleans one more day, but this marvelous
conference is over for another year. Our only consolation is that we’ll be back
in 2012 for the 10th annual meeting, which promises to be bigger and
better than ever. Thanks to Paul Willis and Amie Evans and all their volunteers
for their hard work and dedication. Queer publishing is alive and thriving, in
part, because of their efforts. We are truly grateful.

See you next year. 

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Saints and Sinners Day Two

Saturday’s festivities at Saints and Sinners brought a cool,
sunny day—a welcome relief in muggy New Orleans and just right for wandering
the Quarter between sessions. And what sessions they were, indeed. 

We started the day off, naturally, with breakfast at the
carbolicious Clover Grill—and what better to aid digestion than a few laughs?
The first entry in the Reading Series was a total scream, with selections from
Aaron Anson, Josh Aterovis, the marvelous Fay Jacobs, Jeffrey Ricker and Jess
Wells (who has a whole other career ahead of her as a standup comic). We wore
ourselves out and had to go to lunch to revitalize.

The second round of Reading Series authors was also
great—Amy Bryant, ‘Nathan Burgoine, Greg Herren, Elizabeth Lareau, Martha
Miller, Julie Smith and Cecilia Tan all entertained and educated us with their
selections. But the panels also looked interesting—“Poetry: The Silky Words of
Seduction with Jewelle Gomez,” “Creating a World,” and “Out and About: Writing
About the Personal” among others. Late afternoon, however, was taken up by my
first-time moderating gig on the historical fiction panel, “If I Could Turn
Back Time” with Peter Dube, Jess Wells, Felice Picano and Bett Norris.
Wonderful panelists, interesting subject and a great audience made this an
experience I’ll gladly repeat in the future.

Saturday night’s choices were the re:Vision Reception and
the Mojo Word Gumbo program of poets reading at FAB (Fauborg Marigny Art &
Books) hosted by the always hospitable owner, Otis. We opted for a quieter
evening at a Bold Strokes Books event hosted at the home of Lammy award winner,
Jean Redman.

After that, however, things got raucous as we teetered over
to the Phoenix (one of the bear/leather bars) and ran into Jeff Mann, Michael
Thomas Ford, Shawn Syms and Peter Dube. I couldn’t stay late, though, as we
have our panel tomorrow (“Blogging Book Reviews for Fun and Profit … Well, for
Fun Anyway”) as well as our reading at 1 p.m. Then, sadly the closing party and
a day of decompression before returning home.

But that’s for tomorrow’s post. 

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Saints and Sinners Opening Day

Expections for the 9th annual Saints and Sinners
Literary Festival were running as high as the mighty Mississippi on Friday.
But, as always, organizers Paul Willis and Amie Evans put together a stellar
lineup of Master Classes, panels and readings that included new faces, bona
fide legends and old favorites.

We attended Aaron Hamburger’s wonderful “Let’s Talk About
Sex … How to Use Eroticism Effectively in Prose,” and found his take on the
subject to be as fun as it was useful. Just because we’ve been writing erotica
for a long time doesn’t mean we can’t learn something new. But there were also
classes from Felice Picano (“Memoir Becomes History/History Becomes Memoir”),
Jess Wells (“Building Credible Wrolds/Making Setting Work for Your Story”), Jen
Violo (“A Return to Joy—Remembering Why You Love to Write”) and Michael Thomas
Ford (“I Bet Stephen King Never Feels Like This—Practical Strategies for the
Writing Life”) among others.

After a change of clothes, it was on to the opening party,
Glitter With The Literati, held this year at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre on
St. Peter Street. Le Petit Theatre is the oldest continuously running community
theatre operated in the same location in the entire country, and you
could—literally—feel the ghosts in the theatre. A stop on the Haunted New
Orleans tour, it’s home to no less than 11 spirits. Led by volunteer
extraordinare Mark Drake, we walked through a cold spot and felt unknown
pressures from unseen presences. All in all, a truly chilling experience.

But the drinks and conversation in the courtyard warmed us
up again. We schmoozed, boozed and cruised with old friends and met some
terrific first-time attendees before calling it a night. Well … we didn’t call
it a night, exactly. We shifted the party to Lafitte’s In Exile and some other
venues before finally ending the day. And it’s up early this morning for
breakfast at the Clover Grill and then on to panels and readings today. So many
choices: “Spit and Polish: A Guide to Self-Editing,” “Beyond Twilight: Writing
for the Young Adult Market,” “Out And About: Writing About the Personal.” But I
have no choice at 4 p.m. as I’m moderating “If I Could Turn Back Time,” a panel
on historical fiction with Peter Dube, Jess Wells, Felice Picano and Bett
Norris.

But you’ll hear more about that tomorrow … okay, bring out
the biscuits and gravy and let the day begin. 

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