Monthly Archives: September 2011

Rosedale in Love – Lev Raphael (Amazon Digital Services)

Buy it now from our store – Rosedale In Love

Wish I could find a good book to live in

Wish I could find a good book

Well if I could find a real good book

I’d never have to come out and look at

What they’ve done to my song…

Melanie Safka, “What Have They Done to My Song, Ma”

I knew, I just knew
the name “Lily Bart” had significance beyond Raphael’s use of the name in this
novel. I didn’t have too look far for the particular epiphany the name begged.
Consider this: Lily Bart was the name given by Edith Wharton—we all know Edith,
right?—who in 1904 published “The House of Mirth,” in which Lily Bart is the
tragic presence. In the novel, Lily so desperately wished to be welcomed into
the world of the fabulously wealthy but—and here, perhaps, was her downfall—she
yearned, too, for mutual love, mutual respect from any number of suitors who
pursued her. Lily Bart epitomized the Gibson
, an idealized representation of the most desirable, and the most
stylish feminine presence within that post-Civil War/Reconstruction era of
American history referred to as the “Gilded Age.”  This was
an age, circa 1870s to 1880s and declining into the first part of the
20th-century, where displays of opulent wealth were unashamedly exercised by
the likes of the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Goulds, the Rockefellers.

Raphael has taken one of the potential suitors to Miss Bart,
Simon Rosedale—named in the Wharton novel—and has created this enchanting
storytelling that focuses primarily upon 
Rosedale’s infatuation with Miss Bart. Raphael goes further, however,
and provides a telling insight into what it was to be a wealthy Jew amongst the
waspish movers and shakers of New York at this particular time in America’s
history. It is of course important to note that the characters who move through
Raphael’s novel are also named in the Wharton novel: Selden, Trenor, Dorset
and, yes, Rosedale and Bart.

I freely admit I’ve never read Wharton. But somewhere along
the line I’ve heard of Lily Bart…a tragic figure in literature if there ever
was one. Additionally, I do not seek out novels that are somewhat akin to fan
fiction, where the author latches onto characters and, indeed, plot points  already explored in previous works by other
authors. Having said that, I do suspect that Raphael’s intention in writing
“Rosedale in Love” represents his particular passion for enlarging
upon—celebrating even!—a character who might have been given short shrift in
the original storytelling from Wharton. Indeed, Raphael explores, in depth,
Simon Rosedale’s internal struggle to fit in with the swells of the time, to
prove himself worthy of Lily Bart, and to overcome what he believes to be the
scourge of his Jewishness.  

Rosedale’s confessor, friend, advisor in manners and all
things social, is his cousin, Florence Goodhart, who has ensconced herself in
the Waldorf-Astoria. (Raphael takes us to the Waldorf-Astoria, and provides
lovely detail of the magnificent edifice, the interior, the bejeweled and
bedecked denizens who glide so easily through such opulence.) To tell you much
of anything at all about Florence—a character who perhaps warrants as much
discernment as the protagonist, Rosedale—would be gratuitous. Suffice it to say,
Florence is a very, very important character in this novel. I will leave it at

Raphael has done his homework. He has written a very
accurate, studied portrait of the era in which this novel is set. His use of
archaic language is charming, productive for those of us who value the meaning
of words (and, incidentally, don’t mind checking a dictionary to get to that

“Rosedale in Love” is a superbly written historical which,
if Wharton were to emerge incarnate one of these days and pick up Raphael’s
novel, I’m sure at first she’d wonder, “What the hell! Look what he’s done to
my story!” After reading the last word, however, I’m equally sure she’d
conclude that Lev Raphael has built a good home, a good book for her Rosedale,
Bart and the others to live in, a contemporary home where even she, Wharton, is
necessarily celebrated.             

Reviewed by George Seaton

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination – Sheila Cavanagh (University of Toronto Press, 2010)

Buy it direct from the publisher or from our store – Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination

I started
reading Sheila Cavanagh’s Queering Bathrooms while traveling to
Nashville for the Human Rights Campaign’s Summer Institute for LGBTIQ scholars
of religion and theology.  It was
interesting, and just a tad bit unsettling, to read a book focused on the
ideological underpinnings of bathroom architecture while traveling—i.e., while
encountering, entering and using so many public restrooms, in airports,
restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, university buildings.  Cavanagh’s book gave me a new set of eyes and
ears for what happens in the public lavatory.

central claim—that bathrooms are a site where gender and sexuality are
surveilled, performed, regulated, defined and disciplined—will hardly be news
to her queer- and trans-identified readers. 
But the care and complexity of her presentation provides a wealth of
newfound insight.  Cavanagh situates her
analysis of the public bathrooms within a historical narrative beginning in the
Victorian era.  She notes that the public
restroom came into being at a time when epidemiology was first discovering the
relation between human waste and the spread of disease.  She also notes that this was a time when the
threat of contagion was linked to colonized bodies, bodies of color, and
lower-class bodies.  She links the fights
over gender-segregated bathrooms in our time to fights about racially segregated
bathrooms in prior decades.  In other
words, she traces how, since its inception, the public bathroom has been a site
of regulating and disciplining dangerous and chaotic bodies as much as it has
been a space for relieving oneself.  (One
of the most interesting things I learned in reading the book is in the
mid-nineteenth century there were no public restrooms for women.  Women of good breeding were not supposed to
be in public very much at all, and certainly should never take care of their
“needs” in public.  Rather than use a
public restroom, they wore “urinettes”—tube-like apparatuses that were tied
around the waist and hung between the legs so that women could urinate
undetected while standing.)  While this
gesture to the racial, class, ethnic and colonial history of bathrooms and
bathroom architecture could have been developed in more detail, her gesture to
a much broader context for her argument—and its importance—underscores the
value of thinking about the quotidian with care.

Cavanagh also
situates her work in the larger theoretical conversation about gender and
sexuality.  She easily references the
work of Freud and Lacan, Foucault and Butler, Irigaray and Silverman.  For the most important ideas, she offers
brief explanations that will help orient the theoretically uninformed reader.  And for most of the analysis, her close
attention to the details of specific cases or stories will illuminate the
theoretical ideas under discussion.  For
the educated and motivated lay reader, then, the book should be accessible and
will even provide an entry point into the world of theory that undergirds the
book’s analyses.  For the academic
reader, the book will provide a number of provocative insights.  Cavanagh also takes great care to show where
queer theory’s focus on gender and gender norms is not always adequate for
thinking through the very different experiences faced by trans-identified
subjects.  While there is much insight to
be gained from Cavanagh’s theoretical analyses, and even more to be done by extending
and developing her suggestions, she sometimes moves too quickly from one
theorist to another, letting brief slogans stand in for more careful
exposition.  If she had slowed her
expository pace and narrowed her theoretical pluralism a bit, her text may have
been more developed than suggestive. 

The most
interesting aspect of Cavanagh’s study, however, comes from the 100 interviews
she conducted with a wide range of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer
individuals who conform and fail to conform to standard gender norms in a
variety of ways.  Through reliance on
this interview material, real people’s experiences and bodies to show up in the
text, allowing Cavanagh to develop an incredibly rich picture of the regulatory
violence performed in the space of the bathroom.  Each chapter of the book is rich with
commentary by Cavanaugh’s interviewees and although she organizes this material
with a deft hand, she lets these subjects speak for themselves.  Sometimes Cavanagh allows interviewees to
speak for others—gay men speak about trans men’s experience, femme lesbians
speak about butch experience—but this is rare. 
Moreover, butch lesbians and trans folk of all stripes appear as their
own spokespeople with great frequency.

central theoretical insight is the notion of “mirroring.”  According to Cavanagh, based on her reliance
on Lacan and Butler, we come to understand our gendered and sexual selves in
part by seeing these selves reflected to us by people and images in the world.  In gender-exclusive spaces, such as
gender-segregated bathrooms, people expect to have themselves mirrored
perfectly.  When a bathroom denizen does
not have this experience, when a person’s gender performance does not conform
to the space—the butch person in the women’s room or the effete person in the
men’s—it can create disorientation, anxiety and confusion for those occupying
that space who identify more closely with the norm.  As Cavanagh demonstrates with her interview
information, reactions to mixing gender in public restrooms rarely stems from a
fear of sexual violence (one of the main justifications for gender-segregated
bathrooms).  In women’s rooms especially,
butch lesbians and trans women are confronted, harassed, threatened and
physically assaulted by cis-gender women. 
These women are clearly not frightened by the “intruders,” but are
experiencing some form of anxiety and threat that expresses itself not in
flight, but in an aggressive stance.  By
thinking carefully about what is happening in the space of the bathroom,
Cavanagh provides critical insight about the anxieties that queer and trans
bodies generate in our culture generally.

Cavanagh also
provides an incredibly rich and wide-ranging account of how the disciplining,
regulatory function of the bathroom finds its way into psyches and bodies.  She thinks about the senses of sight,
hearing, smell and touch as well as the function of desire in the bathroom
space.  Typically, bathrooms are bright,
well-lit spaces where it is easy to examine other people’s bodies, even if the
gaze must sometimes be averted.  There
are sounds that are peculiar to gendered bodies and elimination, its pleasures
and its efforts.  This relates to the
difference in the sound of peeing standing up and sitting down as well as the
famous canard that women talk in the bathroom while men remain silent.  Cavanagh also examines the ways in which men
and women think about the other’s bathrooms as “disgusting,” and the terms that
express that disgust differently.

In addition to
giving me a new perspective on bathrooms and their cultural and political work,
it was interesting to read Cavanagh while attending the Summer Institute
because it is devoted to blurring the line between scholarship and
activism.  Cavanagh demonstrates in Queering
that historically, theoretically, ethnographically sophisticated
scholarship can shed new light on the political dimensions of our everyday
habits and taboos.  A variety of
audiences will find much to appreciate and value in Cavanagh’s study.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Frat Boys – Shane Allison (Cleis Press)

Buy it now direct from Cleis Press.

I wasn’t going to review this, the latest erotic anthology
by Shane Allison. After all how many times can we beat (a dead horse to
death)…err…off…to the same old theme. Frat Boys, Hot Daddy’s, Hot Jocks, gay
erotica seems to be heading down the same path as Hollywood, remake, after
remake, after remake. Has gay culture really become this mundane?

It wasn’t until I saw the list of contributing authors for
this collection that I decided to put away my bitchy attitude and read another
collection of stories about men at college. I’m glad I did because the authors that
Shane has gathered, such as Jeff Mann, Gavin Atlas, and Hank Edwards; just to
name a few have blown new life into this deflated theme.

Big Brother by Rob Rosen was a fun and unique read about two
fraternity brothers, a mouse hole in the wall, and what happens when the pledge
is caught red-handed. A refreshing story that was both touching and incredibly
hot as only Rob could do.

The Laius League by Gavin Atlas. One of the things you can
always count on with Gavin is a well written story, but what I like most is
that no matter what the theme, Gavin can come up with the most unusual, most
creative story imaginable, and the Laius League is a perfect example of his
creative abilities. A one hundred year old secret society, submissive freshman
and one insatiable bottom who cannot control is sexual appetite long enough to
raise to the next level of the society. Gotta love it!

Blue Briefs by Jeff Mann. What can one say about Jeff Mann’s
writing. It’s brilliant in every aspect. The characters of Nate and Jeff are
real people, or at least you feel as if they are thanks to Jeff’s prose. The
story is about love and losing that love, and in Jeff’s sexy, harmonious way it’s
also about the pleasures of bondage and everything that comes along with it.

Old Glory by Hank Edwards. I’ve only recently become acquainted
with Hank’s writing and I have to say it’s always a complete thrill to see his
name in the table of contents. Old Glory is a great play on words and the story
gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “old switcheroo.” If only my
college days could have been this fun. Horny college men, a female pledge, a
makeshift glory hole, and one hell of a good time when Jay decides to take the
girls place. A fun, sexy and enjoyable read.

There are many other noteworthy stories in the collection
such as Three Little Lambs by Neil Plakcy, Lessons from the Library by Rick
Archer, Giving it Up for the House by Christopher Pierce, and Frat House
Midnight Snack by Jeff Funk. Don’t do what I almost did and look the other way
on this collection, sure it’s another collection of an all too familiar theme,
but the stories that Shane has put together are anything but tired. You however,
may be by the time you finish reading these sexy pieces of erotic fiction.

Reviewed by William Holden

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Trick of the Dark – Val McDermid (Bywater Books)

Buy it now direct from Bywater Books

Val McDermid is a national treasure. Unfortunately, it’s not
our nation. This marvelous Scottish crime writer of twenty-four novels has an
unimpeachable reputation as one of our leading literary figures, and her
latest, Trick of the Dark, is yet another example of her considerable
storytelling abilities.

Charlie Flint, a police psychiatrist undergoing a serious
career crisis, is called back to Oxford, her old stomping grounds, to aid a
former professor who wants Charlie to investigate the death of her daughter’s
husband. The stumbling block? Her daughter’s very new lesbian relationship with
one Jay Macallan Stewart—successful author, former dot-com businesswoman,
mountain climber and possible serial killer. As if Charlie’s plate wasn’t full
enough, she’s also contemplating cheating on her own wife.

As with all McDermid’s work, Trick of the Dark is
sumptuous and literary without being esoteric. She has a craftsman’s eye for
detail and a winning way with the creation of voices. Her Charlie Flint is
totally different and distinct from her Jay Macallan Stewart, whose voice we
get to hear as she’s writing a memoir that McDermid quotes from at length.

But all the style and detail would mean little if the
mystery at the heart of the story wasn’t so damn involving. McDermid wastes no
time. She hits the ground running and pauses only long enough for the reader to
gather his breath and consider the possibilities before she starts working
through the twists and turns again. You think you might possibly have a sort of
inkling of who’s behind the trail of murders, but you don’t really figure it
out until seconds before Charlie does—masterful plotting combined with an
extraordinary sense of timing.

You’d expect a writer of McDermid’s reknown to come through
with great main characters, but I even found her minor characters
interesting—Charlie’s wife, Maria, for example. There’s so much going on that
it’d be easy to lose her in the shuffle, but she’s rarely out of Charlie’s
thoughts, even though many of those are guilt-induced. McDermid does an
admirable job of depicting her as one of the sources of Charlie’s strength and
intelligence. She brings Maria and their relationship to the forefront as often
as she does the mystery, never losing sight of either.

If you’ve read Val McDermid before, Trick of the Dark
will be a great addition to your collection. If you haven’t, this standalone
work is an excellent starting point. But be warned that you might become
addicted. Ah well. It’s cheaper than crack.

And you couldn’t get a better literary high. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Plus Ones – Hank Edwards (Loose ID)

Buy it now direct from Loose ID or from our store – Plus Ones

Screwball romantic comedies are like souffles—they have to
be frothy enough to be worthy of the genre yet substantial enough to satisfy on
all levels. And a bad one leaves a horrid taste in your mouth. Fortunately,
Hank Edwards is a master chef who doesn’t have to worry about his main courses
and his latest rom-com, Plus Ones, is no exception.

Gorgeous Evan Dresden meets beautiful Paul Cooper at a
dinner party hosted by Alden (Evan’s college chum) and his partner John. But
before love can blossom, a series of social blunders prevents Evan and Paul
from getting together. However, they keep being invited to a series of summer
weddings—always as “plus ones,” attached to other men. Each thinks of the other
as a serial dater and not husband material, but their attraction is
unquestionable. How do they finally get together? I can’t tell you, but I can
tell you that getting there is half the fun.

Edwards’ creates some wonderful characters here. Evan is
clumsy and, at times, churlish but also charming and complex. His intended,
Paul, is also a bit of a prickly pear, which only adds to the difficulty of
pairing these two off. And Edwards’ is a damn funny writer, turning some
laugh-out-loud phrases. Unlike so many other practitioners of the genre,
Edwards’ relies on good characterization and interesting situations to give his
humor organic origins instead of trading on weak stereotypes.

On another level, Plus Ones is a neatly done send-up
of the whole gay wedding scene, satirizing everything from traditional
ceremonies to Wild-West themed hitchin’s. And in that vein, Edwards’ hilarious
anal-retentive, homoNazi wedding planner, Jeremy, threatens to steal every
scene he’s in. The book is worth the money for this character alone. Another of
Edwards’ talents is the amount of punch he packs into a relatively short book.
We get three or four weddings, as many potential and ex-boyfriends for our main
characters, a cuckolded wife, and a beautifully resolved love affair (with its
accompanying twists and turns) all in 146 pages, but not one thread is left

But what else could we expect from the creator of the
marvelous Charlie Heggensford series? Edwards has a real flair for this sort of
romantic eroti-comedy and, although I know he’s branching out into other
genres, I hope he never leaves this one fully behind. If you love Heggensford,
you’ll love Plus Ones.

And if you’ve never read Hank Edwards before, this is a
perfect place to start. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dirty One – Michael Graves (Chelsea Station Editions)

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

One of the great joys of doing this blog is that
occasionally I run across an author whose work I’ve never read before but grabs
me almost immediately—seizing me by the throat and touring me around a twisted
world I’ve never before experienced. Michael Graves is my latest demented tour
guide and Dirty One, a collection of his short fiction, is a perfect gem
of multi-faceted characters with flaws aplenty.

The young adults that populate Graves’ fiction are skewed,
skittering through their adolescence with a drug- and demon-fueled intensity
that leaves the reader breathless and aching to sit down with these poor kids
to let them know that things do, indeed, get better. Still, the kids are only
following the examples of their even more fucked up parents, most of whom have
no business having kids in the first place. But the drama… The drama is
delicious and makes for some of the finest reading I’ve had in months.

The nine stories comprising this slim, power-packed volume
mostly take place in the suburb of Leominster, MA and while they don’t all have
the same characters, they all have the same odd American Gothic feel of
alienation and separation. For example, the opening story, “Comb City” features
eight-year-old Philip, separated from his mother and his birth city because his
celebrity father needs a place to recover from recent plastic surgery away from
the paparazzi. Philip, of course, acts out—much to the dismay of his
neighbor’s cat. In the sly “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch, who
loves making friendship bracelets with his cousin Sherrie, goes to the monster
truck rally with Milo, who slips Butch his first tongue kiss. When Butch comes
down with the flu, he’s convinced Milo has given him AIDS. From the vaguely
creepy “Bath Time” to “Do It,” in which Denise pines for a boyfriend who can
make love to her and maintain an erection, Graves’ kids use every resource they
can to cope with the unfair and unreasonable burdens with which they are saddled.

Two stories, however, continue to stick with me days after I
finished the book.  “A Snow Day” captures
teen idol wanna-be Cassidy whose father is the town’s infamous gay pedophile.
Its ending—which has nothing to do with molestation—is so shocking, so unexpected,
that I had to read it a few times to confirm what was happening. Then, I closed
the book and thought about how remorselessly evil some people can be.
“Seahorse” is the story of a huffer named George, his boyfriend Woody and
George’s quest to have a baby. And—as I now remember—it was one of the best
tales in Blair Mastbaum’s terrific anthology of a few years ago, Cool Thing.

But none of these plots would mean a thing if it weren’t for
Graves’ prose style, which incorporates all senses to hurl you into a world of
simple images so startlingly true they could be poetry. Hell, they are
poetry. His dialogue sounds so natural, it could have been overheard at the
mall. Graves is one of the most original young voices writing for our community
today—so pick up a copy of Dirty One and you can tell your friends that
you were a fan from the beginning.

Because you will be. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Third Buddha – Jameson Currier (Chelsea Station Editions)

Buy it now from Giovanni’s Room or from our store – The Third Buddha

On the surface, the disaster of 9/11 is as far from
Afghanistan dramatically as it is geographically, but in his latest novel The
Third Buddha
, Jameson Currier draws them close with intertwining yet
parallel stories, crossover characters and his most richly detailed writing

The 9/11 story concerns Ted, a student who drops out of law
school to search for his gay brother, Philip (Pup), presumed dead after the
collapse of the Twin Towers. Also gay, though not yet out, Ted discovers much
about his brother, including his boyfriends and an entire life he’d always
sensed but Pup kept quiet around their family. The Afghanistan story revolves
around broadcast journalist Jim MacTiernan and his lover and partner behind the
camera Ari Sarghello. On assignment, a jeep they are riding in hits a land
mine, killing the other passengers. Dazed and injured, Ari wanders away
suffering from amnesia while Jim is rescued, refusing to leave Afghanistan
until he finds Ari again. Meanwhile, Ari is taken in by an Afghan family and
lives as a native while he tries to recover his memory.

Yes, the plot is complicated. However, Currier never lets
the threads drop or the interest flag. Once you’re inside the story, the twists
and turns are easily followed, and a fair number of these characters are in
both stories—Ari and Pup, for example, had an affair before Ari hooked up with
Jim. Both stories are equally compelling. Ted’s coming out in Chelsea is both
heartwarming and heartbreaking, especially his on again/off again thing with
the self-loathing Rico, who lost his sister in the Twin Towers.

Currier neatly draws parallel portraits of Ted and Ari, both
of whom live the lives of others until they regain footing on more solid
ground. Ted tries to emulate his brother’s gay life, including having a fling
with one of Pup’s old fuckbuddies, while Ari attempts to become part of his
Afghan family living in the mountain caves outside of Bamiyan. He feels a
responsibility to those who saved him, even to the extent of working at an
archeological dig to get money to give to them. Both Ted and Ari explore the
boundaries of these borrowed lives, using what they’ve learned when they find
their own paths—Ted to a normal, grief-free gay life and Ari to his career and
home with Jim.

Currier’s characters are marvelous here, and he has a
terrific eye for telling details that do so much to set scenes. His post 9/11
New York City is jittery and tentative, much like Ted’s relationship to the seedy
Rico, and his Afghanistan is hot, ominous and damaged by war, occupation and
predators. The landscape here is almost a third major character in this story,
shifting and changing on the surface while its cultural bedrock remains
stubbornly stable.

The Third Buddha is as engrossing as it is
detailed, never failing to entertain as it breaks down some pretty large themes
to bite-sized acts of beauty and humanity. It’s a truly memorable journey. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Captain Harding’s Six-Day War – Elliott Mackle (Lethe Press)

518g58Q70hL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Buy from Lethe Press

Having read—and enjoyed—Elliott Mackle’s Captain Harding’s Six-Day War, I’m left wondering what I should be thinking and feeling about the main character, Captain Joe Harding.

Usually, this would be a simple matter.  Most novels want their readers to sympathize and identify with their protagonists.  Or, they present the reader with a clear anti-hero who is neither sympathetic nor admirable.  Harding is a very sympathetic—even admirable—character with whom it would be easy to identify.  He is a smart, resourceful, talented, energetic Air Force administrative officer who has overcome a difficult family background and has a bright future.  Over the course of the novel, he  attracts three lovers, has a good deal of sex, makes a number of stalwart friends, outwits his enemies, demonstrates his loyalty and even averts a geopolitical disaster in the Middle East.  There are certainly worse models for emulation in the world.

From time to time, however, an author will establish a sense of distance from her or his main character.  The narrative will be told in a fashion that causes the reader to keep a critical, wary eye on the tale.  (This can easily be done, for example, by creating a character who is an unreliable narrator; Harding does not fit this bill.)  Fostering this kind of awareness, while still telling an engaging tale, requires enormous skill, but Mackle evinces the necessary talent to accomplish such a feat.

Mackle is an incredibly successful storyteller.  He has crafted a suspenseful, credible plot, with fully rendered, enjoyable characters, and clever, believable dialogue. Six-Day War begins with the description of a vulture-pecked, abandoned corpse and questions about his final hours—and sexual proclivities.  Mackle never relents from this curiosity-inducing, threat-infested opening.  From the outset, the reader is aware of the risks—to career, reputation and life—that face Harding as a gay soldier.  And Harding’s actions only increase this risk.  Although he is closeted, he is hardly celibate, and his erotic adventures do not escape detection.  Mackle gives the reader a fast-paced story with several twists and turns and a huge cast of characters, but he moves at a reasonable pace and sketches each character with enough detail and care that the story never feels confusing, out-of-control or overpopulated.  Moreover, the responses to the various crises that arise seem quite plausible.  There is a good deal of suspense and anxiety, but it is managed, for the most part, without resort to deux ex machina means.

The setting enriches the reader’s experience.  The novel is set historically in the late 1960s. Thus, Harding is not only a closeted gay Air Force officer—he is a closeted gay officer in a pre-Stonewall, pre-DADT-repeal (hell, pre-DADT) Air Force.  With flashbacks to Harding’s relationship with his father, his first romantic relationship and his stumbling romantic adventures while in the military, Mackle deftly sketches the stultifying nature of gay life in the 1960s. (And Mackle fills in Harding’s past in a way that can only be described as cinematic.  When something in the present reminds Harding of something in the past, the prose shifts rapidly back and forth in time in a manner reminiscent of parallel editing in film.)  The novel is set geographically in Libya.  Harding’s interaction with Arabic culture makes his tale like many other gay coming-of-age stories, although Mackle does not exploit this angle of the context (thus avoiding some very problematic colonialist tropes).  Given the historical and geographical setting, the Vietnam War and the Six-Day War are part of the novel’s texture, in implicit and explicit ways.  Although the novel’s setting could make it feel old and dated, I experienced these dimensions as the source of its immediate relevance:  the struggle of gay soldiers, the response to politically unpopular wars, the interaction with Muslim culture, the volatility of the Middle East—all of this felt very “of the moment” in a way that it might not in the hands of a lesser author.

Mackle also handles the military context incredibly well. This is likely due to the four years he served in Vietnam in the US Air Force.  He shows that crafting a life in the face of military hierarchies and regulations is a struggle for almost any soldier.  The characters—gay and straight—quickly realize that the rules do not always favor rationality and that they can be manipulated by vindictive people with power.  In addition, while fully exploring the erotic tension and energy of a virtually all-male environment, Mackle never stoops to porn clichés about soldiers always at the ready for a romp in the sack.  He balances quite well the pleasure and danger of mixing the homoerotic with the homosocial.

It is near the novel’s conclusion, however, that things stop working quite so well.  As noted above, Harding demonstrates great resourcefulness and ingenuity throughout as he tries to help run an efficient base, protect himself and his friends against the irrational cruelty of superior officers, and prevent larger scale disasters.  Ultimately, however, Harding acts very much like his superiors in order to defeat them. He calls in favors of friends and lovers (using a network of closet homosexuals that would have affirmed Joe McCarthy’s darkest nightmares), ruins careers and manages to get some foes sent to Vietnam (a place that has been marked as dangerous and deadly throughout the novel).  After taking these actions, Harding and one of his lovers discuss the honor with which they serve in the military:  it’s tough to see what they’ve done as in any way honorable.  And the final sentences of the novel—about America’s glorious future—could only be read ironically, given what we know about Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  If Mackle means us to take these evaluations seriously, and it seems that he does, given how he’s structured Harding’s adventures, then I’m more than a bit troubled.

Similarly, Harding’s resolution of his romantic tribulations is difficult to sort out. Without giving too much away, his final choices make little sense.  He avoids one relationship for moral reasons—and calls himself a hypocrite for doing so, but the novel ends with the possibility of that relationship happening at some point in the future. It’s unclear how Mackle wants us to put these pieces together.  Are we supposed to read this as a happy ending and celebrate it?  If so, why not just bring the relationship to fruition within the narrative?  (If we aren’t supposed to bat an eye at S/M, brothels, orgies or steam-room sex, why should consensual, moderately inter-generational sex disturb us?)  Arewe supposed to read this as a tragic ending and mourn Harding’s inability to pursue what he really wants?  If so, then isn’t this novel one in a long series that can only give us slightly unhappy homosexuals?

There’s also a question of who Harding is willing to help and to hurt.  One of his allies in the novel is a straight, black woman and one of his adversaries is a gay, black man.  At the novel’s conclusion, both suffer dire fates—Harding does nothing to save the former, even though he does save a number of his white male (gay and straight) colleagues, and actively makes life more difficult for the latter.  Insofar as the novel has tried to offer a commentary on the racism and patriarchy of the military, it only duplicates these structures in its narrative resolution.

And so I’m left with my opening question.  Six-Day War seems to want us to cheer for Harding, his tenacity, his talent and his triumph, but I’m left feeling a little queasy with what he accomplishes and how he manages to accomplish it.  I enjoyed reading Elliott Mackle’s Captain Harding’s Six-Day War quite a lot.  The story was captivating; the characters were engaging.  Mackle has the capacity to craft an incredibly rich, detailed, textured narrative with lots of moving parts and never lose control of the complex machine he has built.  But, as with so many novels, movies and television series, the conclusion undermined much of what I enjoyed about the rest of the work, leaving me wondering how I was supposed to square the Harding of the first wo hundred pages with the Harding of the final forty.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A conversation with Lynn Lorenz and Ethan Day

Lynn Lorenz and Ethan
Day are two of the five coordinators for the first GayRomLit
being held in New Orleans, October 13-16th, 2011.
Lynn is an author of both gay romance and traditional romance.  Her most
recent gay romances include her ghost story, Cemeteries (Amber Allure
Press) and a shapeshifter novel Rougaroux Social Club: Bayou Dreams (Loose
Id). Ethan is also an author of gay romance.  His latest release is a
contemporary story, Anything for You (MLR Press).

Ethan: And he’s single…just throwin’ that out there. : )

Ha! at Ethan.  Hi, you guys.  It’s great to meet you
both!  Before we get into the retreat and questions about romance writing,
could you please tell us…anything you want.  I’ve read interviews you’ve
given, and you both claim to be uninteresting, which I find highly doubtful,
but please give us a funny story from your life.  If nothing comes to
mind, feel free to make something up entirely

Lynn:  So, I
took my daughter to San Japan in San
Antonio this weekend, where she dressed up as 4 different characters. On
Friday, I spent the afternoon finishing one of her cosplay costumes, instead of
writing a sci-fi novella full of sex. I earned “cool mom” points for that, but
hit the jackpot when I asked her to borrow her badge so I could go into the
dealer’s room and buy Yaoi books. “I have the coolest mom EVER!” she squealed
to her friend as they ran out the hotel room door. So on Sunday, she lent me
her badge and I bought two yaoi manga books and let her check out the back of
the book, with the understanding that she can’t read it yet. Not for 4 more
years, anyway. She didn’t seem too interested in them. And I bought her two
drawings of half nekkid characters, Russia and Germany, only to hear, “My mom
is so cool,” being whispered to the people running the booth.

Ethan: Hi Gavin!
Thanks so much for having us over for this interview. I’m shocked that I ever
referred to myself as uninteresting! Even if that were the truth…and I’m not
saying that it is…it’s unlike me to have publically admitted to it. We’ll chalk
that up to having been caught without my caffeine or a random head injury and
move on. Now on to that funny story, one time…at band camp…  

There is a gay
literary critic who has said something to effect of “Women shouldn’t write
gay sex because they can’t convey the essence of what a gay man feels during
sex no matter how skilled an author she may be.” As authors of gay
romance, how would you respond to such an opinion?

Ethan: I think
I’ll tackle this one if that’s alright as I know Lynn has had to address this
topic many times in the past. In my humble opinion, all this does is perpetuate
the same type of mentality that Hollywood uses when they tell a gay actor that
he or she would be unconvincing in a straight role. I think
the entire debate is unfortunate and I truly feel horrible for my female
counterparts who write gay romance. They catch a lot of crap from both sides of
the aisle – het & gay – for writing stories that obviously mean a great
deal to them, otherwise they wouldn’t put themselves through the trouble.

The point that gets missed most often is that writing is a
creative process, not a cause. I find it difficult to believe that any gay men
out there truly feel threatened
that straight women will somehow hijack their very existence and dictate who
and what we are. For thousands of years society has attempted to mold us homo’s
into what they believed we should be as opposed to who we are and thus far it
hasn’t altered anything other than our resolve to keep on sucking dick. : )

All I keep thinking is how wonderful it is that so many
heterosexual women, most of whom are also mothers, will be raising their
children to be accepting of gay people. Or better yet, will have gay children
who will be able to come out to them without fear of reprisal. All of this from
love stories. That’s something to celebrate not lash out against.

I think it’s fair to
say there’s a “raw” audience for gay erotica in addition to the romance
audience.  If an author of raw erotica wanted to switch
over to romance, how would you advise him or her as far as language,
explicitness, and the limits of “wildness” or kink when it comes to making sure
they’ve “gotten it right” for the average gay romance reader?

Lynn: First, stats
show (from publishers’ sales demographics) that the average gay romance reader is a woman, between
20 and 60 years old. Women want graphic, they just don’t want to read it
couched in raw terms. Remember, some of us claim to have a very sensitive gag
reflex, at least after marriage. I’ve heard from gay friends that they like
their descriptions more “rough,” however, in most of the writers I’ve read who
are gay males, I don’t find their writing that way at all. Like everything,
your mileage may vary and one size does not fit all.

Kink is something that women love. Doesn’t everyone? But just
as there are so many different kinds of kink, there are people who love it,
hate it, and everything in between. And writing kink well takes research. Lot
and lots of research. Writing kink, and making it sexy, is the challenge.
Writing any type of sex and making it sexy is very hard. (no pun intended)
Getting inside the character’s head (the big one, not the little one) happens
when a writer really knows his character, and can see and feel what and how the
character reacts when engaging in sex with a partner or themselves, or multiple

As writers, we have to write believable characters who
captivate our readers and make them care what happens to these people.

Ethan: Um…what she said! : )

When it comes to your own writing, what do you
feel distinguishes your work from other authors?  Which aspects of
writing, such as dialogue, voice, characterization or description do you enjoy
the most and which do you find the most frustrating?

Lynn: Okay, this sounds sort of writing
technical/geeky but this revolves around the concept of “Brand” – what does a
reader expect when they pick up a Lynn Lorenz book? I hope it’s lots of
emotion, sprinkled with humor, hot sex, a great sense of setting, wonderful
characters and a good story told well.  Example: When I think of Ethan
Day’s work, I think of screwball comedy, fast-paced and snappy dialogue and
laugh-out-loud moments. That’s his brand. No one else that I know of (and
granted I don’t know a lot) writes like he does.
enjoy the entire process, and I know some people will cringe, but I love the
editing process. I write a chapter at a time usually, then print it out, read
it, edit it, then repeat about three more times, adding in layers, changing
verbs, creating visual images.

think I’m most frustrated by the plotting, since I’m a pantser (as in fly by
the seat of your pants). When I turn in a synopsis of my story before it’s
written, it’s always with a “this may turn out to be completely different when
I write it” warning to my editors. I write the story that comes to me, and
sometimes I have to sit back and say, “Wait! I’ve hit the middle and where the
hell did my plot go? It took a left turn and headed over there.” That’s when I
know I have to do something horrible to my characters. Once I’ve tortured them,
I feel much better and I can continue to the end.

Ethan: Thanks for the lovely compliment Lynn &
right back at ya!

not sure I’m qualified to answer this question. For one, I haven’t read every
other author out there. I do however
continually tell myself that I’m special and blindly mosey along, traveling
down the road of life in blissful ignorance if that happens to not be the case.
: )

I make people laugh and keep them entertained for the duration. As long as I
can do that, I’m happy. I personally find setting and research to be the most
frustrating, mainly because it requires actual work on my part and what fun is
that? I do enjoy writing dialogue and inner dialogue – what someone says vs.
what they think can be tons of fun.

to Lynn’s comments about a brand – I do think that is extremely important and
useful considering we do a lot of our own marketing. I would also add though
that as an author writing romance – while there are certain rules to follow –
with regard to sub-genre I think it’s fairly carte blanche. That’s very
appealing to me as a writer. It’s nice to know you can jump off the
contemporary train for your next book and write a sci-fi, murder mystery, or
ghost story and the readers are willing to follow along and take that trip with
you. I think that’s something which is fairly exclusive to the romance reading

Do you have any favorite characters you’ve
created or favorite stories?  If a reader is new to your work, is there
any particular title you’d recommend they read first?

Lynn:  I love my guys. I think my favorite hero
is Edward Paul Beauregard III, of the Atlanta Beauregard’s. He’s adorable, but
what I love about him is the fact that no matter how many times he’s been
beaten by love (or his incredibly bad choice in men) he still keeps looking.
He’s so vulnerable, but puts on a façade to fool everyone. And I loved that he
was very gay, in a sea of manly men, and he knew it, and continued despite his
doubts. I love how he grew as a person throughout the story.

a new reader, I’d recommend a stand alone like David’s
. If they love contemporary series, I’d say go with the Common Powers, starting with Soul Bonds and ending with
Edward, Unconditionally
. If historical is more their thang, then In the Company of Men, starting with The Mercenary’s Tale.

Ethan: I loved Edward too, Lynn! The way he interacted
with his dog – too funny. I think when people are alone
talking with their pets – so much comedy to be found there.

far as my own characters, I like them all in one way or another. Writing a
character is like dating – if I’m going to commit to spending that much time
with someone I’m going to need to love them. It’s at least part of the reason I
don’t have a boyfriend in real life. Random hotties don’t tend to end up on my
doorstep all sweaty and in need of only what I might be able to provide
them…damn it. It’s difficult to meet men when I’m stuck behind a computer
living vicariously through the imaginary people in my head. LOL! The fact that
I just admitted to spending most of my time with imaginary friends might be
another reason I have no boyfriend. It’s for my art, I swear!!! : )

think Boone from the Summit City series (Sno Ho
& Life in Fusion) is a lot of fun. I
like that his character has never actively been hunting for ‘the one’. He’s
sort of my version of a romantic comedy anti-hero. He’s sarcastic and mouthy,
uses his snarky humor to deflect seriousness the way Wonder Woman does bullets
with her golden bracelets –  who doesn’t love jewelry that’s functional as
well as pretty?

is the fish out of water that refuses to drown – he can’t resist eating the
worm which inevitably leads to him becoming caught. He wins people over and
makes them accept him for who he is as opposed to conforming to who they think
he should be. I love that about him.

Could you tell us about the GayRomLit
Retreat?  What do you want authors and romance fans to know about events
you have planned?

Lynn:  Instead of craft workshops
and lectures on the business of writing, the retreat focuses on readers. Gay
romance has such a small market niche, and the readers are just incredible, we
organizers wanted to do something completely different…we wanted to say thank
you. Carol Lynne had been doing a small
intimate version for her readers, and we all said, wouldn’t it be great to
expand that? So the weekend is all about face time with readers, making
ourselves available, and giving them a fabulous time in New Orleans. They’ll be
hosted by authors for tours of the cemeteries, haunted houses, riverboat rides,
and wonderful meals. What more could you want? I’m really looking forward to
sitting across from readers at a lunch at the Napoleon House and discussing
what they love about reading gay romance

Ethan: Being at a romance conference that’s 100%
arms-wide-open and welcoming to gay romantic fiction was the biggest reasoning
for jumping on board with GayRomLit. This really was Carol’s brain child. This
con is about thanking the readers and showcasing the writers and publishers of
Gay Romance. That’s the beginning and end of it – it’s all we’re about. No one
is making money here, aside from the businesses of the cities we choose to host
our shindig. It’s all about the genre. The events that aren’t covered by the
registration fees are being funded by the very generous publishers and authors
attending. We’re basically all going on vacation together – it’s like a big gay
love boat. I can actually use that since we’re conducting the book signing
during a cruise on the Creole Queen Riverboat. Honestly, I don’t believe
there’s another event out there quite
like ours.

It makes sense for GayRomLit to be in New
Orleans since Lynn is originally from New Orleans, and it’s one of the most
gay-friendly cities in the country.  But my understanding is that
GayRomLit will be a roving conference.  What other locations might be
serious candidates in the future? 

Ethan: We’re hoping to move it around the country in
the hopes that everyone who wants to will have the opportunity to attend.
Basing it out of one city means the same people living farthest away will
always have the most difficult time and expense trying to get there. So
changing locations just seemed like the best way to be fair and more inclusive.
Certainly doesn’t mean we’ll never go back to New Orleans, though. I know Lynn
and myself both love it there. There’s no place else like it. I’d totally move
there if it weren’t for the humidity, but my hair wouldn’t stand a chance! : )

trying to decide where we’re going for year two as we speak. We’ve tossed
around Vegas, doing a cruise, San Antonio, Kansas City, Chicago, Santa Fe, San
Diego, just to name a few. We’ll be announcing the location of year two during
the farewell brunch at the close of 2011 in New Orleans.


Lynn:  Ethan’s right…moving the
venue makes sense, for both authors and readers. We’re thinking maybe every 5
yrs to return to New Orleans. But for our next year, we want to be accessible
to more people, so it’ll probably be somewhere centrally located.  And
finding a place where we can host fabulous events and keep the costs down in
the real challenge. The registration fee for readers is only $100, and we’re
trying to keep it the same for readers next year.

we’ll be announcing the location at the closing breakfast during the retreat,
so stay tuned!!

Going back to your personal careers, what would
have to transpire for you to feel that your writing dreams have come
true?   What goals do you have set for the near (and far off) future?

Lynn:  I’m a big believer in
setting goals. I think we can use them to guide us, and to decide what we
really want from something, like our writing. So I have 3 sets of goals…
Short term or immediate – what books will I write, how many, over the next 12
months. This is a sliding goal…as books contract, are written and published…a
moving target, so to speak. My mid-term goals are more of a bigger view to my
writing career– do I want to try to go to NY, get an agent, change my
publishers (either more or less), try to write a manga yaoi book. And then
there are my “big dream” career goals… These are my “if everything was perfect
what would I want?” goals. I’d love to retire and write full time. I’d love to
sell some of my stories to the Logo channel to be adapted into movies or
series. I’d love to have a string of manga yaoi series books.

a believer in goals and dreaming big. Why not? It’s just dreams and they can
change. A few years ago, I dreamed of selling just one book. Before that, I
dreamed of writing just one book. We have to grow with our dreams, or we become
stagnant. And that’s sort of stinky, you know. And I don’t look good with
algae; it makes my ass look big…er, bigger.

Ethan: For me they kinda already have come true – at
least some of them. I honestly didn’t have to alter what I’d been writing ever
since college that much in order to make it fit into the romance genre. The
only thing I did do was beef up the sex from the paragraph or two that was
already there into a page or two instead, lol. I’ve always enjoyed writing
about love and relationships and the stupid things we do as people in order to
find and hold on to them. It’s what has always interested and amused me

think my biggest problem is that I’ve never been good at dreaming big for
myself. I’m terrific to my characters that way, not so much to myself. Being
able to continue writing and being able to do it full time someday would be
enough to keep me happy for the duration. Anything else would be icing.

Thanks so much, Lynn and Ethan!

Thank you, Gavin!  

Find out more about Lynn Lorenz and her books at

Keep up with Ethan Day and his fiction at

To learn about the 2011 GayRomLit Retreat titled
“Get Steamy in the Big Easy,” visit 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized