Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Conversation with Xavier Axelson by Gavin Atlas

is a writer of erotica for Silver Publishing and Seventh Window Publications.  He is also the Los Angeles Sex Advice
Columnist for, contributes regularly to Queer Magazine Online, and writes a column for All Bear Online Magazine.  Xavier has worked in the adult industry for
over 15 years.  During this time, he has
assisted countless people with exploring their healthy sexual needs, questions,
and lifestyles.  He has trained as a
dungeon master, worked for a notorious Hollywood Madame as a consultant and as
a talent agent for the adult film industry. 
Xavier has several degrees in fields such as communications, library
technology, and literature.

Hi, Xavier!  Great to meet you!  As OutinPrint is a book review site, I
usually start by asking authors what formed their interest in writing.  However, I’m a bit distracted by that bio.  So, of course, please tell us about what in
your upbringing stirred up the desire to write, but could you also, without incriminating
yourself,  tell us about the most
eye-opening experience you had as a dungeon master or as a worker in the sex

I’ve always had a
passion for reading, and I think it turned naturally to writing probably around
4th grade.  I grew up in a
household where art, nature, culture, and expression were always
celebrated.  My father is a self-taught
artist and my mother is very creative, she can put a table, room, or house
together perfectly.  She has exquisite
taste.  I learned everything I know about
personal style, art, food, reading, and individuality from them.

As for an eye-opening
experience in the sex industries, hmm, where do I begin?  It would be too easy to pinpoint any number
of people who I have worked with over the years.  I think, over all what is eye opening are
people’s issues with sex, sexuality and acceptance.  I wrote and directed a talk show in college
and had my friend who was a dominatrix come on and she gave some great
advice.  She said, “Ladies, listen to
your men, because if you don’t, they’ll just come to me.”  I think it’s eye opening after all these
years that people just don’t get that it all comes down to listening to who you
are with.  I will tell you now if your
partner is into something kinky and you don’t or can’t accept it, you better
know they are going to act that fantasy out somewhere/somehow.

When you’re in guidance mode, are there ever times you feel your
client’s fantasies are too self-destructive or dangerous or are in some aspect
something that makes you think it’d be best not to encourage them?  If so, what recommendations might you

I really love when a
couple comes in and asks for ways to spice their love life up.  It brings out the artist in me.  I think it’s very important for people to
research what it is they are interested in sexually.  I had one woman tell she was wanted to try
anal play on her husband but didn’t think she needed to use lube.  I think I might have choked on air when she
said this.  Her husband looked so
scared.  I literally had to talk them
through why it was extremely necessary to use lube, especially when he had never
had anything up there before and why the massive butt plug she was cradling in
her arms was not the right choice for a first time.  They left with a better understanding of what
was in store for both of them, and the husband looked much relieved.  I love the education part of sex.

Moving on to your writing, could you tell readers what you want them
to know about your novella, The Incident?  I’ve read that your brother is a police
officer.  In what ways did that help you
shape your story?  

I think The Incident
is a story about coming through the darkness and finding the light.  I think sometimes we can move away from the
lighter part of ourselves due to trauma, pain, guilt, etc and I want people to
know that just because you may not always cherish the light, it doesn’t mean it
isn’t there.  You just have to find it

My brother is a cop
and while I definitely used his perspective to learn chain of command, certain
lingo and what he did on a daily basis I found when I was done writing The
Incident it really became more about the small town police force I grew up with.  I think the mythology surrounding those
memories/people shaped the story.

Your main characters, Michael and Angel, are police officers who both
come across as alpha males, but Michael suffers from some post-traumatic stress
after shooting an innocent kid and Angel appears to be basically straight.  What do you like about Michael?  What kind of reader feedback have you gotten
about these two characters and their relationship?

I love Michael’s
struggle, I love his spirit.  He is
struggling to make sense of something awful in the very small confines of a
tiny town.  He has to have a strong
spirit to persevere and I am proud that he does. 

The feedback has been
mostly positive.  I think I’m the type of
writer who elicits strong reactions on both sides of the fence.  You either like what I write or hate it.  What I’ve been most pleased with are the
reviewers who may not like the story but feel there is something more to it
that stops them from trashing it.  But,
overall readers and reviewers have been amazingly supportive and generous with
their feedback.

I’ve read that for readers who aren’t familiar with your work that you
recommend starting with A Valentine for Evrain which is
set in Arthurian times.  I’ve also read that
you describe it as very rough and sexual.  
Er…could you please elaborate?

Actually, it isn’t set
in Arthurian times, the main character has an Arthurian name.  It’s about a small town chocolatier who has
more of an appetite for men than chocolate. 
I recommend this piece because I believe in throwing a reader right into
the thick of things.  I wrote it in one
sitting.  The story came fast and furious
and when I was done, I barely remembered what I had written.  He had a story and demanded I tell it.  I think Evrain makes people
uncomfortable.  He’s sexual, manipulative
and believes he is immune to love.  I
also think he is very real and flawed. 
You have to be willing to take the journey to see his growth.  The sex scenes were also rough; there is physicality
and a psychology to the sex and I think the scene between him and a friend in
the kitchen is particularly kinky and hot.

Evrain was a growth
process for me.  I evolved so much as a
writer through the process of writing and publishing that piece.  I was one writer before I wrote it and an
entirely different writer once it was published.

What are your favorite aspects of writing fiction?  Are there aspects that you find the most
difficult or frustrating? 

I love the process of
writing.  I love when I sit down and a
story comes from somewhere and makes it to the page as if it were just waiting
for me.  Writing is complicated and
singular.  I love the solitude of writing
and the challenge of forcing myself to stretch my creative mind when I’m writing
something new and foreign.  I think
writing is always difficult because you are investing so much of yourself in
each character and story, it can be draining. 
I’m always writing in my head and that is frustrating.  It’s hard to shut my writer up.

What are some of the hottest books you’ve read?  And what are some of the books that have had
the greatest impact on you emotionally?

Hottest books, hmm, I
don’t read much erotica, but I do remember really liking the Sleeping Beauty
Books by Anne Rice.  I read those back in
High School and I think they are the only books by her I like.  I also remember a really sexy book called, Butterfly by Kathryn Harvey
about a brothel in Beverly Hills, it was super erotic and a little bit of a
revenge tale.  Sex and revenge, what’s
better?  For emotional impact, I’ll have
to go with anything by Tennessee Williams. 
I’m a huge admirer of his writing, all his stuff impacts me.


A random question for you.   Say
you’ve suddenly become a superhero (or super villain if you prefer).   What powers would you want?  If forced to have a Kryptonite-like weakness,
but you got to choose it, what would you pick?    How
would you describe an arch nemesis you’d find intriguing?

I’d have to be a
villain.  I don’t think I could write
about being a superhero and not have Hell swallow me whole.  I think I’d want to be a cross between Poison
Ivy and Venom.  Those are my two favorite
villains so maybe a shape shifting tree hugger? 
My weakness would be cinnamon, because I’ve developed a distaste for it
recently and am intrigued as to why.

I’d want a complex
arch nemesis who was drawn to me but also bent on bringing me down.  I think I’d want someone like Ripley in
Aliens.  I love the relationship that
develops in those films between her and the aliens.  They almost become the same, they are drawn
to each other.  Or like Freddy and Nancy
in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

I read somewhere that one of things on your bucket list is to visit
Sweden.  Why Sweden in particular?   You also want to write a “bestseller”.  Are there any genres or themes that you’re
not working with now that you’d like to explore in the future? 

I fell in love with
Sweden because of this random cooking show I got hooked on while watching PBS
and my obsession grew from there.  I have
a fantasy of lying by some perfect lake in Stockholm and sipping vodka all day
and writing.  Or visiting during a
midsummer celebration over there.

I’ve dabbled in all
kinds of genres.  I recently took a
creative nonfiction course just to force myself to write outside my box.  I loved the challenge and learned things
about myself creatively from the experience. 
I would really like to get back to my horror writing, and I know I have
a kids’ book in me somewhere.  It’s
funny, erotica was probably the last genre I would have picked if asked a year
ago how I would start my career as a writer.

Could you finish this statement?  
“If the world only learns one thing from me, I want it to be

“to indulge your imagination recklessly.”

Thanks, Xavier!  For more information on Xavier, his fiction,
and for free reads, check out  

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The Painting of Porcupine City – Ben Monopoli (Amazon Digital Services)

Buy it now from – The Painting of Porcupine City: A Novel

Ben Monopoli writes banter for smart
young people better than anyone I know. He nails everyday gestures and props
and creates thoroughly detailed, realistic panoramas of post-college drift. The
narrator of Monopoli’s second novel, The Painting of Porcupine City, is
Fletcher Bradford, a young, single, gay, Bostonian with a crush on Mateo
Amaral, the Brazilian-American IT guy at his job. Mateo has a secret life in
which he quickly involves Fletcher. Meanwhile, Fletcher’s friend and roommate
Cara is marrying her boyfriend , the hunky Jamar, who was once Fletcher’s
roommate, and Fletcher’s ex, still a fuck buddy, has hooked up with a guy who
was Fletcher’s wet dream in college. The pieces are in place for major trouble,
but for the first three-fifths of the book, it doesn’t happen.

Mateo’s hobby is in fact illegal; it
could get him and Fletcher beat up, arrested, or even killed. But scenes of them
stealing around nighttime Boston don’t feel dangerous. Mateo, though Brazilian,
was born in the U.S., so no INS threats hang over him. Boston has a huge
Brazilian/Portuguese population, but Mateo has no local Brazilian friends, nor
does he ask Fletcher to show interest in Brazilian culture. Ultimately, there
seems to be no reason for Mateo to be Brazilian. As for Cara and Jamar, we
expect more tension between them and the gay best friend they live with.
Fletcher has a weakness for hunks that it will soon destroy Mateo , but sweet,
strapping Jamar does not move him.

Then, less than a hundred from the end,
two ghastly events occur. The first, to which I alluded, requires Fletcher to
humiliate Mateo so cruelly, for the sake of so little and with so little
regret, that I felt I could not trust him again; the second kills off a
character in an especially gruesome way. We feel sucker-punched, and, as we try
to regain our bearings, more unlikely events hit us in rapid succession.  From embodying the adolescent complaint that
nothing ever happens, the book switches to embodying the adolescent wish that
everything change all at once. Monopoli delivers genuine jolts, but the price
is our trust and our affection for his hero.

None of this is to say that Monopoli is
not a tremendously gifted writer. There is a strong hint early on that he is
capable of more subtle work, of charting myriad small shifts that build more
believably toward big events. Pre-Mateo, Fletcher has a stable of
semi-satisfactory fuck buddies, including the ex, Alex. A casual hook-up
between the two disappoints and deflates in exactly the right way, with a
world-weariness and sophistication that, diligently practiced, should soon
produce a work not only of sights and sounds that feel just right, but of
richly nuanced storytelling as well.

Reviewed by David Pratt

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The Land Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand – Aaron Allbright (Astrolabe Media Group)

Buy it now at – The Land Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand

Some years ago,
an American couple, Aaron Allbright and Beau La Joie Rodrigue, left California
for a place they had visited and dreamed of living: New Zealand. The Land
Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand
is Allbright’s memoir of the
permanent move and previous visits, with generous helpings of New Zealand
history and myth.

commands an easy, readable style and love for his subject that make you curious
about a place you may have thought little about. Americans may be quick to
imagine New Zealand as Canada South, which makes it practically the U.S.,
right? Wrong. New Zealand culture, history, and topography make for myriad
spectacles and surprises. To begin with, white New Zealanders can be even more
British than the British, while the native Maori are very much a part of daily
life and culture.

Allbright is a
natural raconteur, and he is drawn to others like him, but when natural
raconteurs are rendered in print, they need natural editors. Allbright records
at length the jokes, tales, and opinions of his Kiwi neighbors, though it is
difficult to discern a focus in all these, and the accents become laborious to
decipher. Allbright himself practices colorful digression as an art form,
charming us and painting a lovely panorama, especially of New Zealand’s rugged
coast. The charms of discursive storytelling have a price, though. It takes The
Land Near Oz
a good hundred pages to jell (though, to be fair, the same can
be said of Dickens, whose delight in eccentrics resembles Allbright’s), and
even then it threatens to dissolve back into a series of colorful incidents
without a deliberate statement to make. The wild, lonely New Zealand coast is a
refuge for misfits and “characters,” but their stories revealed little to me
about the lives of the rest of us. Allbright and Beau are not misfits. They are
cheerful and well-adjusted. Even Allbright’s diagnosis with leukemia, early on,
seems not to disturb things much; we would have essentially the same book
without it.

I even ended up
wondering what makes this book “gay.” Sexual difference in the social setting
seems not to be an issue. The Kiwis adore and accept “the boys,” as does Beau’s
colorful mom, who comes for an extended visit. Physicality, a core issue for
gay men, is not mentioned. We don’t know how the leukemia diagnosis affects
Allbright’s relationship with his body or his lover’s. On the cultural front,
we learn about relations between New Zealand’s white majority and Maori
minority, yet the threat and allure of the other’s physicality is not
discussed. The mention of a strapping Maori man with tattooed face intrigued
me, but I felt alone in my reaction and in my wish to examine that reaction.
Addressing the social, sexual, and political dimensions of “otherness” is a
natural, even unavoidable duty of queer writers. Allbright describes the
uniqueness of New Zealand, but most of his observations are polite and generic,
and he portrays himself and Beau as “just like anyone else.” But those who
write books are not like anyone else – even as they might long to escape
to a far-off land and live a romance that can appeal to “everyone.”

It is telling
that Allbright’s title actually does not reference New Zealand, but Australia,
letting him use the evocative nickname “Oz,” put a rainbow on the cover, and
use a font that echoes the title treatment of the Wizard of Oz film.
Allbright may just want New Zealand to be “where troubles melt like lemon
drops.” Like many who allude to L. Frank Baum’s mythic land, Allbright ignores
the darkness and complexity of Oz. Remember, Dorothy found even more trouble
over the rainbow than she did at home.

Reviewed by
David Pratt

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Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality – Kevin Simmonds, ed. (Sibling Rivalry Press)

buy it now from SRP Bookshop.

Not being raised with any particular religious context, I
wandered off into atheism—a philosophy reinforced with a couple of semesters of
a Religious Studies major in college. So why is an atheist reviewing a book of
poetry on spirituality? Because some of the most emotional art in the world has
come out of artists celebrating or denigrating their belief systems. And this
marvelous collection is beautiful, bold and breathtaking reading.

I began with the poets who I already know and love: Jeff
Mann (“Cernunnos Tattoo”), Raymond Luczak (“Heresies”), Gregg Shapiro (“Head of
the Year”) and Manny Xavier (“The Omega Has Been Postponed”) and Jeffrey Beam
(“St. Jerome in His Study”), and none of them were disappointing. Mann and
Xavier, in particular, represented by entries showcasing their best
attributes—Mann’s earthy Eros of myth and tattoos and Xavier’s succinctly
cynical street-smarts.

The real joy of this book, however, is discovering new
voices, or at least those I’d never heard before—and with over 100 poets, those
discoveries come fast and furious. From the slaughterhouse savior of Shirlette
Ammons’ “Roberta is Working Clergy” to Ellen Bass’ heartfelt,
non-denominational “Pray for Peace” to the fisherman/artist in Moe Bowstern’s
“I Give Up,” to the difficult yet dutiful son in Rafael Campo’s “Madonna and
Child,” there are notes to be made and poets to be sought out for further

Everyone’s concept of deity is different, and the poets who
appear in Collective Brightness reflect that diversity. J. Neil C.
Garcia’s “Melu” is a tidy extension of the Bilaan creation myth, Forrest
Hamer’s “Below and beside” challenges the assumption that God resides in Heaven
Above, and Cyril Wong’s “god is our mother” gives Him a loving gender tweak.

But this collection wouldn’t live up to its title without
documenting the queer experience, and although many of the poets represented
here do so brilliantly, three of these touched me deeply. Benjamin S.
Grossberg’s “Beetle Orgy,” seeks to—and succeeds in—finding something other
than naked lust in both a beetle-mating and HIV positive orgies. Haunting and
pointed, I read and re-read this several days in a row. Also truly affecting
was Joseph Ross’ “The Upstairs Lounge, New Orleans, June 24, 1973,” which
details the arson of a gay bar/church.

escaped. Many died with their

                                      hands covering their mouths/One man,

                                      George, blinded by smoke and sirens,

                                      his throat gagged/with ash, got out and

                                      then/went back for Louis, his partner./

                                      They were found, a spiral/of bones holding

other/under the white/baby grand piano/

           that could not save

But the ne plus ultra is Crystal Ybarra’s “Dear
Pastor,” which ends this collection on a heart-wrenching note. Fashioned as a
series of short notes to a pastor she had as a child and has reconnected with
on Facebook, this piece underscores the vulnerability of young people searching
for answers within the religious community and how the scorn they sometimes
find affects them for the rest of their lives.

But those are simply the highlights that moved me—there is a
lot of material here and even if faith or spirituality don’t particularly
interest you, these pieces will have an impact on any reader. Kudos to editor
Kevin Simmonds and Bryan Borland of Sibling Rivalry Press for bringing all
these marvelous voices together to sing in this choir. Collective Brightness
is essential reading for anyone who has a soul.

Atheist or not. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Fog: A Novel of Desire and Reprisal – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)

41X1+HzwiJL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Buy from Lethe Press

Perhaps I’m asking too much, but I’d give my right arm for a peek in Jeff Mann’s basement (That’s just a figure of speech, Jeff. I need my right arm.). I envision a row of trussed country boys hanging from hooks like ball-gagged Christmas hams labeled Sunday through Saturday, one for every day of the week. Maybe I simply have an overactive imagination and his basement is as prosaic as mine, but you’d never be able to tell it from his novel, Fog.

Jay and Al, two country boys living in an isolated mountain cabin, stalk and kidnap a hot hunk whose father crossed Jay years back. Jay feels nothing but rage and hatred for the handsome Rob, but Al—who has actually done the stalking—is so infatuated with the boy that he just might try to save his life, even though Jay has vowed Rob will never leave the cabin alive.

Mann, whose Lambda Literary Award winning reputation rests on a volume of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, as well as several collections of poetry and essays comes up a winner with this, his first novel. Its set-up is similar to the novella which ends Barbed Wire, “The Quality of Mercy,” but he takes Fog in a much different direction as well as using the longer form to explore the aftermath of the kidnapping and its effect on the victim as well as his captor.

Mann’s prose is nothing short of poetry. Consider his opening paragraph:

January is the month of mists. The cove’s full of white this morning, making fuzzy shapes of the spruce trees surrounding the house. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that someone had plastered with windowpanes with translucent paper, that we were moored inside a pearl. The glass of the pane is frigid beneath my touch. Winter’s dedicated to invasions, insisting on its right to enter whom it will.

Moored inside a pearl—you can’t do better than that. Even more sumptuous are his descriptions of the simple country meals Al serves his captive. I’d post one, but it’d just make you hungry. Clearly, Mann is enraptured by food—and by the bindings and trappings of BDSM, which he describes with loving, reverent, nearly sacred bliss. If there’s one author who could make me appreciate being gagged with piss-stained underwear, it’s Jeff Mann. The sex scenes are delightfully kinky-hot, riding the thin wedge between pain and pleasure where Mann loves to lurk.

Aside from his poetic prose, Mann’s characters also stand up to close scrutiny. True, Jay is somewhat of a cipher, but he’s there to provide tension more than anything else. His motives are simpler and don’t warrant too much explanation. The emotional heart of the book lies with Al and Rob and their relationship, and by the time the denouement comes, we know these two very well indeed. But it’s the coda that provides the most satisfying part of Fog. Unfortunately, I can’t explain why without giving a good deal of the plot away, and only a churl would spoil the tightly wound atmosphere that Mann builds.

Fog is a deftly crafted, fine thriller with lots of kink—a perfect appetizer for Mann’s forthcoming Civil War novel, Purgatory.

© 2011, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Best Gay Stories 2011 – Peter Dube, ed. (Lethe Press)

41OfNyVFIxL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Buy it from Lethe Press.

As edited by founder Steve Berman, Lethe Press’ Best Gay Stories collections are truly as advertised, almost all uniformly strong and solid. He has a knack for finding the right notes to strike, resulting in chords that reverberate. Now, his stewardship has passed to the gigantically talented Peter Dube, who shows himself to be just as keen and canny when it comes to selecting the finest gay fiction.

I didn’t get a chance to review Lammy award winner Sandra McDonald’s Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, so I came to “Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy” fresh. I was absolutely captivated by the sense of whimsy and charm McDonald creates as Comet and Captain Landan journey to the Circle W Ranch and, ultimately, to hear famed author Whitney Waltman. Even though I rarely get time to read anything not for Out in Print, this is worth searching out.

From Sandra McDonald’s whimsy to the outright weirdness of Daniel Allen Cox’s “A Nose Commits Suicide” to the beautifully metaphoric “The Crow,” by Judas Garbah (Tanith Lee) to the breathless, restless journey of David Gerrold’s “Thirteen O’Clock,” Dube seeks to widen the scope of the possible narratives that shape and underlie our own individual queer philosophies, and in that, he succeeds without question.

Take, for example, Steve Berman’s “Tell Me What You Love, and I’ll Tell You What You Are,” a parallel story of Steve’s nephew at the circus as well as Berman’s own musings on queer life. Though the stories may be different, the ache and longing in both are evident. And I have some experience with this story since it came from my own Lammy-finalist effort “Tented: Gay Erotic Stories from Under the Big Top” (plug, plug…).

But Berman’s alternative narrative structure is not the only one here—Paul Lisicky pulls one off brilliantly in “The Pillory,” as does Ernest Hardy in “Cold and Wet, Tired You Bet…,” whose title is taken from the jazz standard “My Man.” Dube has even given us two novel excerpts: Jameson Currier’s “July 2002” from his recent The Third Buddha and Michael Alenyikov’s “It Takes All Kinds” from his Ivan and Misha. Also among my favorites are Aaron Hamburger’s wonderful “Finders Keepers,” which tracks the backstage life of a dancer at a New Orleans strip club called the Corner Pocket  a very real establishment author Trebor Healey took me to for the first time about six years ago, enticing me by saying it was full of “Louisiana trailer trash boys stripping down to badly laundered underwear.” How could I have refused?) and Wayne Lee Gay’s “Ondine,” a beautifully done coming-of-age story about a girl, her piano and her awakening.

So, rest assured that even though Steve Berman may have passed the Best Gay Stories torch, Peter Dube is keeping the flame blazing. Carry on, boys.

 © 2011, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Who Dat Whodunnit – Greg Herren (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it now direct from Bold Strokes Books.

I’ve never understood some people’s passion for football. I
watch them paint their faces and turn cars over in celebration of big
victories—a charming custom if I’ve ever seen one—with bemused disinterest.
Unless it’s my Mazda they’re upending. But New Orleans is one of my
favorite places in the world, and I was more than a little interested in the
Saints’ Super Bowl win. Not enough to watch a game, of course, but you know
what I mean. Leave it to Greg Herren to turn that success into a Scotty Bradley

The big game is not the focus, though. The mystery is who
killed homophobic right-wing beauty pageant queen Tara Bourgeois (as well as a
conservative Christian minister) with Scotty’s mother’s gun. Scotty and his
boyfriends Frank and Colin explore the possibilities along with the Ninja
Lesbians, riding through the twists and turns until the culprit is in hand.

Once again, Herren proves himself to be one of the best
mystery writers publishing today, stirring together great characters (his
cousin Jared in particular), deft plotting and dashes of his dry wit into a
gutsy gumbo that goes down mighty easy. He knows full well that the key to a
successful mystery is balancing those ingredients, never letting one overpower
the other. His material is never so reliant on plot that he lets character go,
nor is it so concerned with character minutiae that it loses sight of what’s
happening. And he always has his tongue firmly in his cheek.

But in addition to these ingredients, this time he’s stirred
in a healthy dose of diatribe against bigotry and intolerance. That’s not to
say that it tilts the mix towards shrill screed-screaming, but his statements
are firm and you know where his characters stand, especially Scotty’s mother—an
enormously opinionated firebrand who steals every scene she’s in. I’d love to
see more of her. Greg Herren has done it once again, turning two front-page
issues—right-wing Christian conservatism and a Saints Super Bowl victory—into a
winning mystery.

And not an overturned car in sight.

Review by Jerry Wheeler

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Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back – Michael Musto (Vantage Point)

Emory University





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Buy it now from InsightOutBooks

I’d just made it to the studio for
the late night TV panel and found myself saddled with a not very knowledgeable
(or interested) emcee and a tall young man with black rimmed glasses, a black
outfit, and tons of shiny black “Hollywood” hair. He was introduced as Michael
Musto, writer for New York City’s Village
and I’d never heard of him.

Even so, between the two of us,
Musto and I took over the show and pretty much left the emcee in the dust. But
afterward, Michael confided in me—“I was nervous. You looked so butch, that at
first I thought you were a set-up. You know, one of those antagonists they
sometimes get whenever Gay Anything is mentioned.”

For me that kind of sums up Musto:
He’s wary but alert, eager to dish yet ready to defend his position. It’s only
one of his secrets to a long success at that downtown rag I otherwise long gave
up reading, and the only breath of fresh air about “Gay Anything” amidst that
coterie of unshaven (women) and unbathed (both genders) so-called reporters and

Since the early 1980’s Musto carved
out a shining little demesne for himself, and Fork On the Left, Knife in the Back, is his second collection of
published columns from there. If you are already a New Yorker or a fan of the
columns, don’t bother reading the rest of this review: go get the book and

If you are neither and want to know
more about him, listen to Musto characterize himself in his own words in one of
the few longer pieces here “The 10 Ickiest People in New York.”  As “a tired, insecure, empty monster who
terrorizes New York at night.” And in another essay as “a sad, little,
semi-failure who kevetches for a living.” It’s all so Nueva Jorck I may not
have to go to Canter’s Deli for a few weeks, now that I’ve gotten my cynical
Manhattan hit.

Of course Musto’s more than that.
He’s the best gossip columnist since Hedda Hopper, and he’s not only the best
party attender since “Drella” Warhol –“she’d go to the opening of an
envelope”—but he’s also able to view what was for years a hugely messy,
uncontrollable, ever-changing party scene with an reckless sense of purpose and
a magisterial purview equal to Arthur C. Scheslinger writing about the American
Presidency. Musto writes about it so well that, for a moment or two, you’re
almost persuaded that what he’s writing about is not utter piffle.

Musto’s also brilliantly aphoristic—which is
something you simply cannot learn. Referring to someone to be avoided: “She’s a
walking ad for Caller-I.D.” Writing about neighborhoods, “Ever wake up in
Midtown? You want to kill yourself.” Of the Real Estate Mogul takeover of
Manhattan he sums up, “The few bohemians left are being battered to death by

An onlooker is as “quiet as a Mormon at the Gay Games,” while another
party-person is “a recovering TV sound bite whore.” His attack on Dionne
Warwick’s Psychic Network TV program (remember that?) is filled with zingers.
It’s as though Musto got hold of a verbal Uzi and wasn’t afraid to use it.

At the same time, most of these
pieces are very short, and while he can shine in that length, most of their
content was pretty momentary. It’s really the few longer pieces where Musto
really shines. I mentioned the piece about The Psychic Network, but another one
in 1987 “The Death of Downtown” really is a classic in its scope and surprising
depth. Musto ended it on an upbeat note, “Downtown will come back!” But to my
knowledge, it never really did. So here’s wishing Musto writes at greater length
about what he’s seen, overheard, known and wished he hadn’t drunk or downed.

That’s one “I wish.” The second “I
wish” is that Musto had been around a decade earlier. When he got on the scene,
Manhattan still had the punk-fashionista-NoHo-SoHo-East Village crowd of
loonies and wannabes that he glamorized and skewered so well. And they were
great, I admit it. I loved Area and Danceteria and Palladium: questionable
coke, paisley kilts, and all.

But…. had Musto been around the gay
scene in NYC earlier, he could have really cleaned up. In retrospect, the
private-club, baths, bars, and Fire Island scene appears to be equal to nothing
else but the Roaring Twenties. Because there were so many celebrities mixed in,
the amount of gossip obtainable was enormous and unceasing. Just walking down
the street, me and my date came upon and disarmed Janis Joplin of a broken
whiskey bottle she was attacking someone with, and then frog marched her into
Max’s Kansas City where she gratefully offered to do us at the same time under
the table. Or the final Flamingo Black Party where the “symbolically dirty”
3000 lb hog in a cage at the front door eventually expired from being given too
many drugs, while one guy was auto-sodomized by his pet python “Destiny” on one
platform as a 60 year old floozie stripped on an opposite platform. All for the
delectation of discerning club members, including myself and winsome Farrah
Fawcett who wondered aloud if the stripper “was ever pretty.”

But why go on? No one believes it.
I don’t believe it and I was there. 

Until someone publishes my
unexpurgated journals of those years, Michael Musto’s books are simply the best
in gossip and dish.

Reviewed by Felice Picano

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A Conversation with Neil Plakcy by Gavin Atlas

Neil Plakcy is the author of nineteen
novels, including the Mahu series of
mysteries starring openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, and
the Have Body, Will Guard romance adventure series. He edits erotic anthologies,
including Surfer Boys, Hard Hats, The
Handsome Prince, Skater Boys
, and the forthcoming Model Men.  His newest
release is The Russian Boy, a story
that follows the history of a famous and scandalous painting of a young Russian
noble created in the early 1900s as well as the modern day adventures when the
painting is stolen.  

Could you give us
some background info?  Where are you
from?  What first triggered your interest
in writing fiction?

I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and my interest in
fiction was sparked by a 10th grade English assignment to rethink A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, from
Finny’s point of view. This story of a strong emotional friendship between two
high school boys during World War II struck a deep chord with me, and having to
reimagine it showed me how amazing it felt to write something. I also fell
madly in love with those two boys, through both the book and the movie, and
writing about them was a way to get inside them.

I’ve read that you
studied fiction writing under authors such as Philip Roth and Carlos Fuentes,
and one of your fellow students was Dennis Lehane.  What was it like to be in such company?  Do you feel those instructors still influence
your writing today?

I honestly didn’t learn much about writing as an
undergraduate. But in graduate school, where my professors were published
authors writing mystery novels, I learned a tremendous amount about what makes
a story (conflict between characters), how to structure a plot, how to fold in description,
and so on. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several of my classmates
(including Dennis, Vicki Hendricks,
and the late Barbara Parker) became stars in crime fiction. We were taught that
this form of literature was just as valuable and meaningful as anything in the
canon of English lit.

You’re now a
professor yourself.  Has teaching affected
your own writing habits or style?

It has certainly affected my writing habits. I used to sneak
time during my office day to write, always keeping an eye out for the boss, and
my writing schedule was very erratic. Now that I don’t have to be at an office
from nine to five, I can organize myself to suit my creative process. I write
every morning for at least an hour on my way to school, where my classes are
scheduled for late morning or early afternoon. I have some terrific teaching
colleagues who are also talented writers, and it’s great fun to share ideas
with them. I also find that now that I’m teaching grammar regularly, I’m more
aware of correct grammar in my own writing.

You also edit
anthologies, mostly of gay erotica.  What
kind of satisfaction do you get out of editing other authors instead of writing
your own work? 

It’s very satisfying to see a work in progress and help the
author shape it—to say “you’re rushing this point,” or “you’re losing the
timetable here, or confusing the reader” and then see the author fix those
problems and come up with a better story. It also helps me see similar problems
in my own work. I also learn when the author does something right—recently I
read a whole paragraph about a kiss and it opened my eyes to how much better I
could be describing such an encounter.

When acquiring
stories for an anthology, what characteristics make a story feel right for your

First of all, it has to match the call for the anthology. For
example, in Model Men, I
got a few stories in which a male model was a character—but being a model was
peripheral to the action. It has to be well-written—bad grammar isn’t sexy! It
has to have an erotic component, too. The men have to have sex at some point in
the story. If they don’t, it’s not erotica. My favorite stories are ones that
have a narrative to tell about the characters as well as leading up to hot
man-on-man action. I want to feel like these are real guys with real problems,
and the action of the story leads them not just into bed but into some
connection or resolution. The shy guy who gets drawn out of his shell or the
Lothario who discovers an emotional connection. Two men who realize they can
learn from each other. That kind of thing.

Setting seems to be
of primary importance to your mysteries. 
What about Hawaii for your Mahu series and Tunisia for your Aidan and
Liam books made you choose those locations?  
Do the respective cultures and their attitudes towards gay men come into
consideration as much or even more than exotic scenery?

I live in South Florida, where climate and setting are so
important to life, so I look for places like that. I’m interested in
multi-cultural places where there are lots of opportunity for different people
to rub up against each other (in all kinds of ways!) When I moved to Florida in
1986, I fell in love with the place, and started reading novels, particularly
crime fiction, to learn about it.

Then when I visited Hawaii in 1992, I wanted to do the same
thing—but there weren’t many mysteries set in the Aloha State back then, though
there had been TV shows like Hawaii
and Magnum P.I.  It took a long time for Mahu to come into focus for me, and certainly part of the book grew
out of the attitudes toward gay men there.

I chose Tunisia for the Have
Body, Will Guard
series because I wanted a very different location, one
that could be romantic and dangerous at the same time, and because of the Arab
countries I considered Tunisia was the most liberal. As I’ve researched I’ve
tried to incorporate specific elements of the settings (whether Hawaii, Tunisia
or South Beach) into the plot and the character development.

I’ve seen an
interview that author Anthony
did with your character, Kimo Kanapa’aka, and it’s obvious you know
Kimo so well that readers feel like he’s a real person.  What aspects of his personality (if any) did
you not originally plan on giving him?  Are
there times when characters you’ve lived with for years still surprise

Characters are always surprising me! When I started writing Mahu, I
thought Kimo would have lots of aunts, uncles and cousins who could help him
solve the crimes. But instead I’ve focused most on his nuclear family—his
parents, his two older brothers and their families, and his family of choice,
his partner Mike. In Mahu Blood, I
learned that Kimo’s detective partner, Ray Donne, can sing when he suddenly
announced it. Kimo has a lot of my own interior life, so it’s easy for me to
figure out how he feels. Right now he and I are debating whether or not he’s
going to invite a child into his and Mike’s life, and how that might happen if
it does. I honestly don’t know how that’s going to resolve itself.

Your new novel, The
Russian Boy
, focuses on different stories that are connected through
one painting in a similar vein as the wildly successful Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland.  Are there specific paintings, artists, or
museums that helped you conjure up your plot? 
What kind of research did you have to do to create a young Russian nobleman
in 1912? 

I first visited Nice, on the French Riviera, in 1972, as
part of a summer study program in France. Now that I look back I can see why I
liked it so much—I’m drawn to those hot, sunny climates. But it made a huge
impression on me, and I’ve been back several times, including spending two
summers there writing. One of the things that has fascinated me is the position
of the Russian nobility in the waning days of the Romanov empire, when the
wealthy often wintered in Nice, and built a massive Russian Orthodox cathedral
there. I’ve wanted to write something about that time period for years, and
finally found a way to do it with The
Russian Boy
. I studied art history in college so I had some very basic
background, and I studied up a bit on painting technique to make the characters
more realistic. I envisioned the painting to be a kind of male odalisque—a reclining
nude with a sensual air—and the story grew from there.

If you could have
three famous people—contemporary or from any time in history—over for dinner,
who would you choose? 

My three literary idols: Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, and
Jimmy Buffett. I love the way all three built lives that grew out of their art,
and how all of them demonstrate a passion and inventiveness with language. I
think we’d have a rollicking good time!

If there’s a question
you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview, could you tell us about it
and, of course, answer it? 

Here’s a question: Did I know or envision that bringing a
dog into my life was going to have such an impact on my writing? And the answer
is no—it wasn’t until I fell in love with Sam, my golden retriever, and found
him infiltrating every aspect of my life, that I knew I wanted to make sure
that I was writing about dogs and demonstrating the unconditional love that
they offer. Kimo and Mike have adopted a golden, and so has Steve Levitan, the
hero of my golden retriever mystery series (In
Dog We Trust
and The
Kingdom of Dog
, with a third on the way.) Even Liam and Aidan have
adopted a small mixed-breed dog named Hayam (which means madly in love.)

Interviewer’s Note: 
The first book in the Have Body, Will Guard series is Three Wrong
Turns in the Desert
(Loose Id Press). 
The first in Neil Plakcy’s Hawaiian mystery series is Mahu
(MLR Press).  His latest erotica
anthology, Model Men,
will be released by Cleis Press in November 2011. 

To learn more about Neil, his fiction, and his anthologies,

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