Monthly Archives: July 2011

Men of the Mean Streets – Greg Herren & J.M. Redmann, eds. (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it now direct from Bold Strokes Books

Film noir is a particular passion of mine, so naturally
throughout the years I’ve turned to its literary cousin—Dashiell Hammett,
Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane in particular. So much can be done within
that framework that it’s practically inexhaustible in the hands of good
writers. And Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann’s Men of the Mean Streets has
good writers in spades—Sam Spades, that is.

Of course, Men of the Mean Streets has a nicely queer
spin to the tales, akin to the recently-reviewed queering of Sherlock Holmes, A
Study in Lavender
. Given such a spin, the writers in both books seem to be
freed from the conventions of their predecessors to create wonderfully intriguing
scenarios with rich characters.

Take the powerhouse trio that opens this collection as an
example: ‘Nathan Burgoine’s “Keeping the Faith” is an incredibly successful
foray into hard-boiled religious philosophy as a priest visits a detective to
discover who has stolen his faith while Rob Byrnes’ “Patience, Colorado”
explores more than mere genre tropes as his hero is set up by a small town
gayboy longing to hit the streets of San Francisco. And then there’s “Mouse,”
by Jeffrey Round, a deftly drawn character study of two brothers and the
chilling incident that changed their lives forever.

All three of these gems are fascinating reads that make the
most of noir-ish elements as well as queer life. But as terrific as they are,
they’re only the beginning. Michael Thomas Ford turns in a bravura performance
with “Faithful,” which sees a mob wife taking on an enemy family—in more ways
than one—to secure her husband’s safety, with a wicked-ass twist at the end.
And Greg Herren’s “Spin Cycle,” about a man driven to murder by laundry is
creepily hysterical. Jeffrey Ricker’s “Murder on the Midway” is a neatly
plotted gumshoe epic, and the editor-turned-murderer in Max Reynolds’ “The Thin
Blue Line(s)” is a hapless victim who turns the tables on one of his writers.

There are other marvelous pieces here as well, including
Neil Plakcy’s graphic and twisted “An Appetite for Warmth,” Josh Aterovis’ “The
Case of the Missing Bulldog” and even a spec-fic noir (“Imago Blue”) from the
ever-inventive Felice Picano. No matter what your taste for mystery is like, Men
of the Mean Streets
is likely to take you for a long ride with a big gun.

I can hardly wait to start its distaff counterpart, Women
of the Mean Streets
, but I need to let in a little light before I read any
more noir.

Otherwise, I’ll lose my summer tan.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Awake – Tracey Pennington, ed. (Cheyenne Publishing)

Buy it now from Giovanni’s Room or from our store – Awake

Nothing is given to men, and the
little they can conquer is paid for with unjust deaths. But man’s greatness
lies elsewhere. It lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition. And
if his condition is unjust, he has only one way of overcoming it, which is to
be just himself.

Camus – Resistance, Rebellion and

all net proceeds from the sale of Awake
will go to the Trevor Project.The Trevor Project,” as
described in the book, “is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by
providing lifesaving and life-affirming resources including our nationwide,
24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational
programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone.”

the foreword for this book comes from Kathe Koja. It is an eloquent foreword
that begs young LGBTQ folk to look in the mirror, to look at their own souls
and conclude, “Yes, look, there you are: and you are FINE. You are fine
exactly the way you are

I do
not read or write YA. And, in saying that, I don’t devalue the worth of the
genre, especially as it applies to kids who find themselves ensconced within a
very dark and dangerous shroud of self-loathing simply because they are
different, simply because their particular drummer taps a different rhythm
unlike all the others, all the “normal” others.

first short in this collection, Worth
Waiting For
by Nancy Garden, provides a picture of young woman, a lesbian
who struggles through the implications of joining her high school’s newly
formed GSA—Gay/Straight Alliance. She is not certain she has the courage to
come out amongst the minions of the two-bit town where she lives, knowing that
surely they would look upon such a thing (and her) as perhaps just simply
wrong, worthless, dirty. Indeed, she
realizes, if one joins a GSA then one will be perceived as gay, or
gay-friendly. Her mother espouses the
love the sinner, hate the sin
mentality, while her older brother, little
sister, and her father embrace her as just a sister, a child—loved
unconditionally in spite of all the hurtful baggage that comes with the
realization one is queer. Their preacher, a wild-eyed Fundamentalist,
exacerbates the problem by condemning the high school’s intent to embrace a GSA
program. The high school stands firm on its commitment, in spite of the
preacher’s admonitions. In the mean time, the protagonist meets a “big city”
young woman who certainly believes joining the GSA is a worthy endeavor. The “big
city” young woman is eventually revealed to be gay, and the story weaves this
revelation through the yearnings of both young women to be with the other, to
love the other eternally.

Worth Waiting For is an all too (sadly)
typical story about not only the angst suffered by young women who struggle to
accept and celebrate their lesbianism, but also about the struggle of a mother
to understand this strange, nasty,
incomprehensible journey into the psyche of a child who defies the norm, as
well as the teachings of her church. I will not reveal the ending except to say
it is heartening, providing some little hope that reconciliations do occur,
even from the most disparate ends of understanding and acceptance. Garden’s
writing is matter-of-fact, capturing the roller coaster of emotions that surely
young folk can identify with when confronted with matters of principle and
courage, even matters that, at first, bode ill for continued love from

A Line in the Sand by Robin Reardon, the
second story in this collection, gives us a fifteen-year-old young man, Dustin,
born to a well-to-do family vacationing on the South Carolina shore, where he
soon discovers the dark-haired, very tan sixteen-year-old Randy. While Dustin’s
parents—whom he refers to as Mamma and Daddy—are, like him, very accepting of
his sexuality, Randy’s father, born a Saudi, and, even having renounced Islam,
is not at all comfortable or accepting of homosexuality. Although Randy is not
“out” to his parents, he knows that his father knows about him. 

is presented as thoroughly gay, perhaps a little stereotypically so. He advises
his Mamma on everything from dress choices to cuisine. Randy, on the other
hand, is thoroughly closeted and certainly not about to reveal any affectations
to further confirm in his father’s mind that he is queer.  

takes a little time—quick glances, stares, smiles in passing—for Dustin and
Randy to quite innocently hook-up (lots of kisses, lying side-by-side on the
sand) and reveal familial histories to one another, as well as the oh so
different relationships they have with their parents.

struggles with the unfairness of his relationships (he’s had only two, counting
Randy, for heaven’s sake!) ending up with boys who are not fully comfortable in
their gay skins, and with parents who, unlike his, are not accepting of their
sons’ sexuality. Dustin decides that he’s had enough, literally draws a line in
the sand for Randy to cross, having convinced himself he will no longer accept
the less than fulfilling relationships with boys so encumbered.

Dustin’s surprise, Randy announces that he’s through trying to hide who he is.
Dustin is thrilled, and soon Randy meets Dustin’s parents who are also happy
their son has met such a nice young man.

suffers through a day without seeing or hearing from Randy. He wonders what
could have happened. Has another, his second, relationship just fizzled out?
Then, to his horror, his mother announces that she and Dustin’s father have met
Randy’s family, and has invited them to dinner. 
What will Randy do? Randy’s father has surely put two and two together.
Yes, Dustin knows  he’s drawn that line
in the sand, but can he really put Randy through this?

and Randy finally meet up and, again to Dustin’s surprise, Randy is determined
to stand firm, be himself and face what may turn out to be a very revealing,
perhaps contentious dinner with the two families. The dinner, however, does not
occur after Randy’s father finds Dustin and Randy together on the beach. A
confrontation between Randy’s father and Dustin’s parents ensues, where
poignant truths are drawn out from Randy’s father who, perhaps, has not left
that much of his Islamic upbringing behind him.

storytelling is charming. The humor encased in this little story is wonderful,
as well as the backstory provided relating to family histories…some of it
lighthearted, some of it darkly disturbing.

Shattered Diamonds, by Jordan Taylor is a
very disturbing, intentionally dismal journey into not only the life of a
bullied boy, but also that of his bully.

from the POV of the bully—who has made the effort to view the blog entries of
the boy he and his friends unmercifully harassed—the story painfully inches
toward the bully’s epiphany: “The truth—that tiny, precise spark which
occasionally crosses my path—is that I do not know how to face his mother and
say,  ‘I killed your son.’

me how. Show me how to look into the eyes of a stranger and justify death like

experiment. I do not know where to begin. I cannot face death as Jeremy did—

looking back. I cannot look forward into the eyes of pain.

“So I
write this. Because I don’t know what else to do. But I have to do something.”

Shattered Diamonds was, for me, a
difficult read. No, not because Taylor’s writing is anything other than superb.
It was difficult to read because of the persistent, over-and-over again
recapitulation of the pain—both physical and emotional—inflicted upon the young
man, Jeremy, whose crime was simply that he was skinny, unathletic, and—Oh me,
Oh my!—that he made eye contact with the protagonist, the beau of the ball, the
football jock, the desired stud who, in the end, became the one to realize that
the rest of his life would be haunted by what he and his compadres had done to
the skinny fag who dared to look into his, the protagonist’s eyes.

ye faint of heart, avoid this one if you are not prepared to experience the
harsh reality of what occurs in America’s schools these days. 

final story in this collection, Pervert
by Brian Katcher, gives us an insight into a young man’s passion to explore the
sexual parameters of his “other;” the overwhelming acknowledgement that his
psyche demands he embrace that “other” as a thing as natural as a bird to
flight, a horse to a gallop.

dressing in his mother’s and his sister’s clothes, our protagonist, “the boy”
suffers the shame that attends any realization that one’s physical gender is,
um, wrong, just simply wrong. But “the boy’s” sister comes to the rescue and
accepts his “perversion,” actually accepting him/her to the point of dressing
him/her up herself, applying makeup and inserting boobs into his “prom” dress.
His sister concludes: “Sometimes holding something inside can just eat you up.
Sometimes a secret isn’t so hard to deal with if you share it with someone.”

other stories in this collection, “the boy’s” parents are untypically accepting
of his departure from the norm. Hallelujah!

As I
noted at the outset, I don’t read or write YA. But, after exploring the tales
in “Awake,” I am reminded that young folk—some of them, at least—do still read,
and those that do just might be those young souls who need the affirmation that
it does get better.  “Awake” provides that affirmation. I do so
much thank the publisher for this collection, and their decision to contribute
net proceeds from the sale of the book to the Trevor Project.

be yourselves, my young brothers and sisters. Find the courage to just be

by George Seaton        

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Canine Connections – HABU (Cyberworld Publishing)

Buy it now from our store – Canine Connections

has heard the expression that a dog is a man’s best friend. That is especially
true when it comes to gay men. For some it’s a perfect relationship,
unconditional love, never asking for anything in return, and you know they are
not going to cheat on you. Whatever the reason, gay men and dogs are undeniably
connected. Canine Connections is a collection of five short novellas each with
an emphasis of the bonds between a gay man and his dog.

In My Dog Jack, a young man is asked by
his dying father to look after his loyal and trusted pet, Jack. At first the
young man can’t wait to get rid of the last thing that reminds him of his
father, but soon the young man discovers that getting rid of Jack isn’t as easy
as he thought it would be.

In Dire Conditions, Keith quits the
football team and his job to take care of three newborn puppies whose mother
died giving birth. After the death of Keith’s mother, Keith wants one of the
puppies, and to be placed back on the football team. Both the coach and the
breeder have conditions upon Keith’s request, and they have nothing to do with

Saving Cleo is another story of death and
love between a man and a dog. The story begins with Roger mourning the loss of
his younger partner. His late partner’s dog Cleo is all that he has to remember
Craig by. Realizing his own mortality, Roger goes on a quest to find someone to
take care of Cleo once he is gone.

In Tank ’n Bull, a nimble minded semi-pro
football player (Tank) who believes he has what it takes to join a new team in
Nashville sets off on an adventure with his lover’s car and a newly acquired
Pit Bull, obviously named Bull. Through their travels Tanks learns many of
life’s lessons thanks to his canine companion.

Amos’s Andy is another journey of a young
man suffering from a loss, and his inability to let go of his love and
attachment to a dog. Through the story he begins to realize that life does go
on and that it can be worth living.

Each of
these stories is well written, and each has their own merits. The characters
are believable and well written, and for the most part the stories are
interesting and enjoyable. The overriding themes of death and loss in this collection
made it a bit one-sided in my opinion. There are many more opportunities to
bond with your dog than on one’s death bed, and I wished the author would have
explored more of these canine connections, to give the collection a bit more variety.

this is a great collection of stories. If you’ve recently lost your canine
connection you may want to keep a box of tissues handy.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Tricky Serum: An Elixir of Poems – Dan Stone (Lethe Press)

Buy it direct from Lethe Press or from our store – Tricky Serum: An Elixir of Poems

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a live simulcast of the
Lincoln Center’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company (with Patti
LuPone and Neil Patrick Harris).  When
leaving the theatre (after lifting up a silent prayer of immense gratitude for
technology that always those of us in the hinterlands to enjoy the magic that
is the New York stage), I said to my friend, “I don’t know how anyone
negotiates an emotional life without the help of Broadway musicals.”  I wasn’t joking.  Lyricists like Stephen Sondheim, William
Finn, John Bucchino and countless others have the capacity to combine
recognition and revelation in one or two well-crafted phrases, such that one is
reoriented to the world and its fundamental character.  While these luminaries need not fear any
stiff competition from Dan Stone, in his recent collection, Tricky Serum: An
Elixir of Poems
, Stone sometimes manages to capture an insight so perfectly
in an unexpected turn of phrase that the reader cannot help but pause to adjust
to the new vision made possible.

claims that his “poems address the trick prospect of elixirs . . . the quest
for the substance of our dreams, the magic potion for fulfilling what we hold
to be our fondest and often most elusive desires.”  With this description in mind, I found the
second section, “Orpheus Ascending,” the most successful in the book.  Here, Stone juxtaposes poems with a light
touch alongside those with a bleaker ethos, poems about lust with poems about
other emotional states, poems that seem fairly straightforward with poems that
are more ethereal.  “Seeing in the Dark,”
for example, describes the pleasures of watching a lover sleep, but the opening
line “You slipped away first,” evokes a larger relational context in which the
poet is rarely the one who gets to watch, observe and enjoy his lover in the
“warm bath of a night.”  Similarly,
“Keepsake,” which contains a plea about storing a poem “I wrote for you” in the
“right” place, offers a mournful meditation on getting lost in the clutter and
debris of a lover’s life.  In “Rough,”
Stone explores the problematic of sexual consent, and in “Flash of Abdication:
The Mirror Smashed,” probably the best poem in this section, the poet declaims
all the identities he will not assume for his lover:  “I’m not the priest who lets you off the
hook,/not your knight in armor,/not your long lost you come home/to
claim his rightful place./Not the sacrificial lamb/and certainly not your
savior/sent to make sure you feel good . . . ./I’ll just be over here,/knowing
you can do it,/happy to be off the cross./If you need a different frame,/you’re
more than welcome to the wood.”  It’s not
that any of these images bristle with uniqueness, but their precise combination
and their specific inflection provide fresh perspective. 

collection’s opening poem, “Longings and Gratitudes,” contains one of Stone’s
most memorable lines.  When describing
what it feels like to live alone, he writes, “I notice sometimes/when I pack to
leave/and there’s no toothbrush/widowed in the stand,/content to save my
place.”  Similarly, “Playing Games” takes
a very familiar idea as its starting point, but cleverly uses common children’s
games as metaphors for the behaviors expected of the poet and his lover.  “Two Tickets” captures beautifully the
various anxieties that bubble up when waiting for a date to arrive and “Tattoos
and Torn Jeans” characterizes writing as a form of sexual appropriation.  Overall, however, the poems in Part One, “A
Dream about a Dream,” in which the poet expresses his struggles to find love .
. . to overcome his “onlyness” (“The View”) struck me as a little too obvious,
a little too one note, a little too desperate. 
“Stuck,” for example, is a mournful ode to the desire to change one’s
hairstyle and not being able to do it, and “The Kiss I Want” seemed to be
trying a bit too hard.

poem’s of the collections final part, “Tricky Serum,” were the least
successful.  Voiced as Oprah
Winfrey-esque speech about self-love and receiving back one’s intentions from
the universe, they read like a paraphrase of The Secret.  (For readers who find this kind of
valorization of self-esteem to be an important and insightful intervention, the
poems of this section are as thoughtfully crafted as those found in the rest of
the collection.)  Even here, however,
Stone demonstrates his capacity for making images that might seem overdone
fresh through his gifts with language. 
In “Searching for Oz,” for example, Stone returns to this gay classic,
but uses the reader’s familiarity to his advantage: “It’s not about forgiveness
from sin/despite the finger still pointed by false prophets who straddle truth
like a broomstick/between their fat thighs./They have no power here.//Since the
cyclone swept us away/it’s a world no longer in black or white./There’s so much
to see and the freedom to play,/to dance in the street and to sleep in a
field/of wide-eyed late bloomer/who also fell out of the sky.”

as Stone represents the collection as addressing “the substance of our dreams .
. . [and] what we hold to be our fondest and often most elusive desires,” I
found his vision too circumscribed. 
According to this set of poems, our dreams have to do only with finding
romantic love, a compatible sexual partner and the ability to love our
selves.  Is this the range of our
desiring capacity?  What about our wishes
related to family (of choice, of origin), health, world peace, spiritual
insight, human dignity?  What about the
pleasures of work, friendship, political struggle, art?  As noted throughout, Stone has a genuine
capacity for restating and reimagining what we think we know in new terms, he
has the ability to say what we have only been inchoately thinking and revealing
us to ourselves.  It would be interesting
to see him expand his vision more broadly to the various aspects of life that
evoke desire and about which we dream.

concludes his collection provocatively. 
As he states at the beginning, “the poems are intended to read as a
progression, a journey through the process of seeking, finding and
relinquishing our convictions about what we need or want . . . .”  But the last line of the last poem in this
progressive journey suspends the journey’s conclusion:  “There’s a natural rhythm to creating,/ a
single-mindedness that show/I’m just getting started.”  So, Dan Stone has not finished trying to
enchant us yet.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

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Woke Up in a Strange Place – Eric Arvin (Dreamspinner Press)

Buy it direct from Dreamspinner Press

I really, really hate Eric Arvin.

Not only is he handsome, but his Facebook pics indicate he has a body that would make grown men weep (so do I, but they’d be crying for entirely different reasons). Even worse, he’s a very talented writer. His last book, Simple Men, hinted at that but didn’t live up to its promise. Woke Up in a Strange Place, however, fulfills and surpasses all expectations.

Joe has died, sparking an afterlife journey as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. He reacquaints himself with old friends and makes new ones as he trudges towards an unnamed goal. Does he meet the lover death has separated him from? Well, of course. But their story is not as simple as all that. In fact, Joe finds nothing in this strange place is as simple as it appears on the surface.

Arvin has spun a wonderful tale here—a lyric romance full of meaning and philosophy, as stunning in terms of setting as it is in character. Joe learns much from his journey as well as from his guide, Baker, a guitar-strumming folkie who lives in a treehouse. Both characters are rich and well-drawn, as are many of the “old friends” Joe meets, including old loves Declan and Guy, and Declan’s mother, Abigail. Abigail has made some regrettable mistakes from which she’s unable to move on—leaving her stuck, tending a grey garden of monstrous vegetables.

But this is only one of the bizarre, wondrous settings Arvin has in store. He also takes inside an idyllic fraternity house where all the brothers are naked (my idea of idyllic), a city where your thoughts are always visible for general consumption and innumerable, mysterious forests, plains and mountains. If this were a movie, it would be breathtaking—but Arvin’s skill as a wordsmith is almost as good at conjuring scenes that allow your imagination to run wild.

I was recently asked my opinion of gay romances. I responded that I found them mostly assimilationist as their roots are in the larger, straight culture, and I was looking for something unique and uniquely gay. Woke Up in a Strange Place comes closer to realizing that than any other romance I’ve ever read. And the ending will leave you in tears—I guarantee.

Woke Up in a Strange Place is a marvelous read—full of inventive flourishes that don’t lie in a bed of cold cliches like many other romances. This is Arvin at his best.

Unless he’s got his shirt off, that is.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Truth of Yesterday – Josh Aterovis (PD Publishing)

Buy it from our store – The Truth of Yesterday

Writing a successful mystery franchise character such as
Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant or Greg Herren’s Scotty Bradley is tough. The
author has to keep things familiar enough so as not to lose readers but still
make it fresh and interesting for old as well as new fans. Josh Aterovis
(Ah-ter-oh-viss) is on his fourth Killian Kendall book, The Truth of
, but his young detective shows no signs of growing old before his

In this installment, Killian faces relationship problems
with his boyfriend, Micah, becomes more comfortable with his psychic gifts and
solves a complicated mystery involving Micah’s ex, Paul, a former rent boy who
is found strangled. Along the way, he solves the puzzle of Amalie, the ghost
who haunts his father’s bed and breakfast, and acquires a sidekick of his own.

Aterovis piles on the plot points but manages to balance
them all nicely. Just when you think the story is sprawling too large, he fits
a couple of pieces together and melds them into the whole like a master. Some
of them don’t mesh entirely—the aforementioned relationship problems with Micah
seem to be solved too easily and the Amalie story goes on far longer than it
should at the end—however, this is probably due to the nature of the franchise
itself. These two particular subplots have their origins or their final
resolutions in past or future installments, so they don’t arc as smoothly as
they would in a one-shot mystery.

That said, The Truth of Yesterday can and does stand
alone. The mystery of who killed Paul has enough twists and turns to be
interesting, and Aterovis has a good eye for detail even when dealing with
minor characters. No one seems flat and even many of the minor characters—Paul’s
vaguely rodent-like co-worker, Razi, and the head of the Top to Bottom Escort
Agency, Neal (who has a double role here) in particular—are well-drawn and
believable. The denouement of the mystery is also well done. Although
the identity of the killer is perhaps less a surprise than Aterovis might like
it to be, the climax is both suspenseful and exciting, delivering not just a
resolution but also providing an interesting character who has the potential to
play a pivotal role in future Killian Kendall novels.

This is the first of Aterovis’ mysteries I’ve read, but his
command of the genre is impressive, and his writing chops are sufficient to
make me eager for the next adventure. The Truth of Yesterday makes a
fine addition to any mystery shelf.  

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Why Not by Victor J. Banis (Borgo/Wildside)

Buy it direct from Wildside Books.

When reading this, it’s possible many
will think “Hey, this seems a lot like Faggots
by Larry Kramer or Tales from the City
by Armistead Maupin.”  The soap-operatic multitude
of characters, the anchoring of gay life around bars or parties, and the
surface frivolity that often disguises a deep-seated loneliness are motifs in
all three.


However, The Why Not was published twelve years earlier than those other books. 
The recent re-release of this title as an e-book will allow new
generations to read the work.  One
important difference between the world of 1966 and the world of 1978 (a year
that also saw the release of Dancer from
the Dance
by Andrew Holleran and Nocturnes
for the King of Naples
by Edmund White) apparently was a marked level of
danger.  The threat from the police that
was mostly absent from the latter books was one of the most saddening and
disturbing aspects of The Why Not.  It should be mentioned that Banis’ book is
set in Los Angeles where police brutality seems be something the city can’t get
away from. 


Why Not
is more a series of vignettes than a novel with a clear story arc
and, in fact, the bar, called The Why Not, could often be seen as the most
developed character in the narrative.  What’s
interesting is the cover the book seems kind of fun—a cartoonish font in front
suggests a light tone, and the depiction of crowd at a bar suggests there’s
probably camaraderie, laughter, and alcohol-assisted cheer.  The fact that the book’s contents depict a
largely troubled, cynical and sad world mirrors the concept of “happy and gay
on the outside, but if you can see beneath the surface, there’s a different


Despite the bashings, the fear of raids,
and the predation by thieves who know gay men can’t go to the police, probably
the saddest aspect of this book is how cruel gay men can be to each other.  For example, one handsome young man, an
African-American, builds his own self-esteem by claiming he has a long distance
relationship with someone very wealthy. 
The travel this allows him and his apparent happiness with his life make
him both enviable and desirable.  It’s
upsetting, but quite believable, to see how much mean-spirited glee comes from
his exposure as a fraud. 


The frequent jumping to new scenarios
with new characters will probably make reading this a bit more difficult for a
generation with an internet and television-weakened ability to concentrate, and
there’s bound to be something of a disconnect between the fears of everyday gay
life before Stonewall and the relative freedoms the LGBT community has
now.  However, this book is not only
important as a time piece (especially when considering how popular the book was
when it was first released), but, sadly, is still relevant today for at least
one reason.  That aforementioned cruelty
to one other generally stems from self-hatred, and that self-hatred often comes
from unaccepting parents, bullying classmates, and the unbelievably open
prejudice from politicians, pundits and religious leaders.  Perhaps reading this book could instill in
younger generations the sense of pride in how far the LGBT community has come,
and that may give them greater confidence when it comes to the battles that are
still left to fight.   


Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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A Conversation with Victor J. Banis by Gavin Atlas

Victor J. Banis has been writing and publishing since the 1960’s and has been called “the godfather of modern popular gay fiction”.  He has published both groundbreaking gay fiction and found success with mainstream fiction at major houses.  His 1966 book The Why Not was just re-released as an e-book by Borgo Press and his latest novel, A Deadly Kind of Love, releases June 3rd from Dreamspinner Press.

Hi, Victor!   After reading The Why Not, I thought, “Wow, life for gay men was horrible in the 1960s.”  Were your experiences and the experiences of your friends a lot like those of your characters in your book?  

Every little story in The Why Not was based on actual experience, mine, my friends, or that I knew of from the press. The straight man beaten to death by gay bashers, for example, that happened in San Francisco. The Why Not was a name we gave to a Hollywood Bar, The Castaways, very popular at the time. I show up in several of the stories, and my friend Elbert Barrow was the prototype for Lady Agatha. He went on to use that name and became a fixture in the gay scene of Los Angeles and Hollywood in the sixties. If you lived in L.A. in the 60s and 70s, you knew, or at least knew of, Lady Agatha. Sadly, he was the first friend I lost to AIDS, before they even knew it as AIDS

In The Why Not, it’s not just the thugs and the police raids, it’s also that the loneliness is incredibly pervasive.  It seems to me like life for gay men has gotten so much better, but how do you feel about that assessment?   Are there aspects of gay life that you feel have gone in the wrong direction since the pre-Stonewall era?  

I’ve said often that those early gay writings, this one included, were dishonest in a sense because although yes there was lot of doom and gloom, the truth is that most of us were happy most of the time, having fun (does anybody know how to have more fun than gay boys?). People met and fell in love, began relationships, many of which are still in place today. There were always bars, however far underground, and no shortage of parties. I’d have to say that gay life in general is better today but a part of me actually misses the underground aspect of gay life then. You could ride to work with a friend on the bus and talk about everything you did over the weekend, and nobody around you knew what you were talking about. Today, everybody knows all the words and expressions. No more little secrets.

I had a Spartacus gay travel guide a number of years ago, and I remember seeing listings for bars in places like Portugal and Greece that were named “Why Not?” or “The Why Not”.    Were those bars named after your book, and if so, how does that feel?  

I don’t actually know but I suspect they were. The book was very popular and well received in its day. I was in Portugal and Greece not long after it was published, and probably talked about it with people I met there. As far as I know, my friends and I in Los Angeles were the first to use the phrase in the sense of gay-bar-ness, but it’s not all that unique either, I suppose. Still, it seems more than coincidental. 

I’ve read that you were on trial in the early 60s in Iowa for writing a book that had some lesbian content.  You also apparently had a book with Maurice Girodias who was famous for publishing so much controversial work that he practically had to flee from country to country. How did you feel about taking such risks?  

Well, the first one was ignorance – I wrote my first novel, The Affairs of Gloria (that’s the one in the Iowa trial) unaware of the legal risks. Since I bought the book openly in a book store, just forked over my money, I supposed that those things were okay. How was I to know I was forking illegally? But I learned differently, and the Federal Government harassed me for years. The odd thing is, I wrote Gloria more as a lark. If they’d left me alone, I probably wouldn’t have done any more in that vein, my goal was to be a serious writer (I don’t even know today what that is) but I was offended at seeing what I thought of as my constitutional rights trampled on. Without freedom of speech, the right to hold and express a contrary view, there is no democracy. I felt I had to do more sexy paperbacks just to show I wasn’t intimidated. But all of us writing in the genre in the sixties wrote with the threat of arrest and imprisonment hanging over our heads all the time. It was scary, but we really did feel that we were changing the world. I was more idealistic as a young man. I’m a bit more cynical today. 

You’ve written in a number of genres.  What type of stories do you most enjoy writing?  Are there specific books or characters that you’ve created that mean the most to you? 

I like writing in different genres, and I love most of my characters. Of course, Jackie Holmes in the C.A.MP. series put me on the map, so to speak, so I am always grateful to him for sharing his adventures with me. But I loved my cowboys in Longhorns, and my detectives, Tom and Stanley, in the Deadly mysteries. (The first book is Deadly Nightshade from MLR Press.)  And little Terry/Lola in Lola Dances. My fiction is pretty much character driven, so I get to know my people pretty well, and they generally stay with me forever. My head gets so crowded. 

You just mentioned your main characters from your mystery series as a couple of your favorites.  Your new book is your sixth that feature them.  Can you describe what about them makes them distinct, in your opinion?  Could you tell us about the feedback you get from fans when they explain what appeals to them about the duo and about the Deadly series?

I think myself that Tom and Stanley are interesting because they go through a lot of the same issues that guys in real life struggle with.  It’s interesting about fans – initially, most of them liked the campy Stanley  and not the quasi-straight Tom, but over time, many have shifted their viewpoints. Stanley is a butterfly, never quite satisfied. Tom is not very imaginative, but having decided he’s in love with Stanley, he is like a rock. I think that appeals to readers, both gay men and straight women. He’s the super macho guy who really is a gentle lion. 

How did you feel about you experiences with major publishers and mainstream fiction versus your work with smaller publishers and gay-themed fiction?  

My experiences with the major NYC publishers, in the late 70s and early 80s, weren’t particularly happy ones. It’s a dog eat dog world. I had worked for years with the small, West Coast paperback houses, and most of the people I worked with were gentlemen, regardless of gender, and much of our business really was done on the basis of a handshake, or simply one’s word. For instance, if I found myself cash short, I could call my editor at Greenleaf, the legendary Earl Kemp, and he would put a check in the mail to me, and I would start on a manuscript for him. Can you imagine that today, the trust and respect? But that wasn’t true when I got to NYC. I think I was too much of an idealist and I got very disillusioned, actually bitter. I dropped out for a while, and since I’ve come back I work with smaller independent houses, and I’m happier with them. Of course, I don’t make the big bucks, either, but it’s more a matter of satisfaction. I pretty much write what I want to write, when and how I want to write it. 

You’ve been credited as an influence for writers such as mystery author, Joseph Hansen, and apparently you’ve nurtured the careers of many other writers, even acting as an agent.  Which accomplishments by writers you’ve taken under your wing make you feel the proudest?   Also, you’re now very active on the Gay Writers and Readers loop.  In what ways do you find that rewarding?

Gosh, I like boosting other writers and I try to do what I can for them, though I’m not sure it’s always very effective. In the 60s, the gay genre was new and although lots of writers wanted to enter the field, many did not know how, and I took great satisfaction in being able to help them along and I think I was very influential there. I did encourage Joe Hansen though I can’t take much credit for his success—but we remained friends for many years, until his passing. There’s a wonderful story, and it relates to The Why Not – Wildside Press decided to reissue that some years back, in the print version, and I called Joe—he lived then in Laguna Beach, and to my astonishment he quoted from the book at great length—I couldn’t have done it myself, and said so, and he replied, “Well, it was a very good book.” How could I not be thrilled by that? I worked a few years back with Alan Chin, who I think is enormously talented, and I have encouraged Mykola Dementiuk, though I think he’d have been just fine without me. I was such a seminal figure in gay publishing that I take an almost paternalistic pride in the successes of today’s writers. It’s like their success validates those early years of struggle, even in the case of writers who probably don’t have a clue who I am. 

Instead of a massive city with a large gay population, you’ve now chosen to live in Martinsburg, West Virginia which, according to Wikipedia, has a population of only about 17,000.  What do you prefer about small town life?  

Given my druthers, to be honest, I’d be back in San Francisco in a heartbeat. But I’m along in years and living on a very modest income. To be honest, I’m being booted out of the home I live in here—long story, a landlord and friend succumbing to dementia. So I don’t know where the next chapter of my life will be written – maybe a cardboard box down by the tracks? But I am sure it will be interesting. My life has been checkered, to say the least, but I can honestly state that there hasn’t been a single tragedy in my life that I did not later look back upon as a blessing. Life has had a way of kicking me in the butt and making me go where, as it turned out, I was supposed to be. So I’m sure this too will work out just fine – or, if it doesn’t, and I end up out there in the void, hey, I won’t know the difference anyway. Next time I’m coming back as a saint, you’ll see. 

You’ve probably been interviewed a great number of times.  Are there questions you’re still hoping to be asked, and of course, could you answer them?  

Oh, golly, it seems like I’m just repeating myself all the time. I don’t know what else people would want to know about me. I’m a bit of a recluse and probably not the easiest person to get along with. Hmm, questions I’d like to hear? How about, “Can we get it on?” Ha ha, not happening. I’m past the point of being of interest romantically to others, which is probably just as well, that wasn’t an aspect of my life that I managed very well. (See future plans for sainthood, above, it will save a lot of wear and tear) My last relationship reminded me of a line from Groucho – “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.” It was steamy, I’ll say that, but stormy too. 

I’ve heard that a person is still young if he or she is still learning.  Do you feel you’re still learning new things and, if so, what are they?   What things are you looking forward to?  

I’m always learning something new, which serves to remind me how much I don’t know. I learn new things about writing all the time, and about people. Mostly, I learn new things about myself. Don’t know if that qualifies me as young, though. It seems to me like every month something else quits working or falls off. Of course a friend of mine is fond of pointing out that for much of my life I treated my body not as a temple but as an amusement park. Too true, alas. I can’t quite say, with Madam, I did everything twice and enjoyed it both times, but I came close. And I’m still here. When the parade comes along, it won’t be passing me by, I’ll be the one riding the white elephant and throwing confetti. Which is pretty much how I plan on going out. Don’t blame me if the sparklies blind you.

Learn more about Victor and his books at

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