Monthly Archives: January 2012

Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction – Margarita Bezdomnya, Rose Mambert, eds. (Pink Narcissus Press)

Buy from direct from Pink Narcissus Press

I’ve been doing reviews of anthologies for some time now and I’m always struck by how much creative talent is out there. The way queer minds work make me proud of our accomplishments and I’m always finding myself in awe of the originality that comes forth. (I use the word queer for any GLBTQ individual and our allies who use their imagination and creativity to help promote queer publishing and our voices). Queer Fish is one of those rare collections that have simply left me amazed.

Everyone associated with this anthology deserves praise, from the nineteen authors to the two editors and especially Pink Narcissus Press. While I would like to talk in great lengths about each of the stories, it would make this review much too long, so I will limit the review to a few of my favorites and let the readers decide for themselves which of the stories are among their top picks.

The Song by Rob Rosen was such a surprise for me. Think Pirates of the Caribbean meets a male version of the Little Mermaid, a fairy tale type plot and add in a bit of horror and you’ve got yourself a fantastic story. Only Rob could combine so many genres into one story and come out with a piece of magic.

Mike Dies at the End (A Parody) by W2 is another story that just wouldn’t let me go. It’s fun, it’s quirky and very well written. I don’t want to say too much, as you just have to read the story to get the full picture, but it’s a unique parody on ghosts and the psychic abilities that are passed down through the most unusual way – it’s sexually transmitted. My only problem with the story is that it wasn’t long enough. The characters are so vivid and there is so much to tell, that it could easily have been a novella or even a full-length novel.  W2 is you read this, give the readers more. Please.

Other treats one can find in this anthology include the somewhat creepy and yet beautifully done story by Nathanial Fuller, “Welcome to Anteaterland,” the story will linger well after you read the last word. “The Zombisagger” by Colleen Chen is by far the most bizarre story in the collection, but this statement by no means is an indication of poor quality. On the contrary, it is beautifully crafted, and as with Fuller’s story, it won’t want to let you go.

If you’re looking for an anthology where you won’t be disappointed in any of the stories in the collection, Queer Fish is for you. There isn’t one story that shouldn’t be here and the wide range of voices, talents, stories, and genres will make you proud to display it on your bookcase.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Backwoods – Natty Soltesz (Queer Mojo)

Buy it now from Rebel Satori Press.

I have been reading gay erotica since I was old enough for
it to matter and writing and/or editing it for the last ten years. Frankly at
this stage of the game for me, it’s less about the sex and more about the set-up;
less about cock and more about character. But I have to say, Natty Soltesz’
Queer Mojo release Backwoods bypassed my cerebral instincts and went
straight to my lap.

This fine collection of fuck stories takes place in
fictional Groom, PA at various locations throughout the town. Not all the
pieces share the same characters, but some appear in more than one story (like
Michael Graves’ excellent Dirty One). And, also like the Graves book,
the town is another character rather than simply the setting. Nowhere is this
better embodied than the opener, “The Train,” which sees a masturbating
conductor guiding his steel steed through the small burg:

                        “ The train tracks,
though, they’ve been there forever. They’re

part of the landscape. Most of these towns are built
from the, not

the other way around. So the train runs behind
things—past

backyards and back doors and on through the woods’ a
town’s

hidden places and secret spots.”

Among
Groom’s many secret spots is the residence of an out gay couple and the object
of public scorn among the population. In the two-part “Homo Hut” that bookends
the rest of the stories, Randy and his husband Dom have all manner of sex with
both single and married guys as well as the young thug Randy catches defacing
their house with a can of spray paint. There’s also gym sex, parked car sex,
teen circle jerks (complete with come-covered cookies), treehouse sex,
teacher-student sex, father-son sex, and brother-in-law sex.

Cliches?
Well, yes. But Soltesz embraces and inhabits them so fully, with such lustful
wonder and horny detail that he makes them new again. You’re halfway through
the scene before you realize that you’ve seen this done before—though rarely so
well done. He manages to defibrillate the sexual heart of these worn
devices and send the blood flowing straight to the readers’ genitalia. 

However,
Soltesz’ talents are many. As one of my favorite pieces, “The Opera House,”
proves, he can also create wonderful characters. In this story, ostensibly
straight roommates Cody and Britt begin a sexual relationship by “helping each
other out,” soon breaking all their taboos as they graduate to oral and,
finally, anal play. After all, it’s just sex. Or is it? Cody finds out how
emotion can creep into a strictly good-time relationship. And ruin it.

Backwoods
is a hot read—made even hotter by Michael Kirwan’s great illustrations.
Altogether, it’s a wonderfully well-stuffed package. I can’t believe I just
typed that.

Yes,
I can…

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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A Conversation with Jeanne Cordova By Jerry L. Wheeler

Writer/activist Jeanne Cordova contributions to LGBT culture are both profound and foundational. From her work at The Lesbian Tide and the Los Angeles Free Press to her ceaseless organizing for change, her outspoken manner has challenged many institutions—all for the better. She recently shared some of her thoughts with us on her new book, When We Were Outlaws, as well as the current state of LGBT activism.

JW:     Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Jeanne. 

JC:       Thanks for putting me through this rigorous experience. I’ve never been asked most of these questions. 

JW:     As an activist yourself, what’s your take on the Occupy movement?

JC:       The concept of the Occupy movement is the single most radical and potentially the most important activism of this decade. I’ve been urging young queer activists to get involved, to earn your stripes, in this movement because the issue of income inequality and the loss of democracy in America touches every queer life. If the right continues their take over of every equal or good about our society, we queers will be the first to be thrown under the bus by the oligarchy of greed=straight=oppression of all. 

JW:     How do you see the state of LGBT activism today?

JC:       After decades of radical struggle, LGBT activism today has moved into the “consolidation” phase of a social movement where the grass roots are mostly called upon to write checks to the organizations composing Gay Incorporated as they work within the system to lobby our way into full equality. 

JW:     Is gay marriage the best issue for the movement or are other agenda items more important?

JC:       To keep a social movement healthy means it needs to stay broad based with 3 or 4 issues leading our agenda. As Saul Alinsky noted in his famous “Rules for Radicals,” once a movement becomes single-issued it often stalls out when that issue stalls, or activists for whom that issue is not so urgent leave the movement. I believe the LBGTQ movement should be politically focused on anti-gay discrimination laws which affect jobs and housing in Middle America, where there is no such thing as equality. Gender justice struggles are also a logical next step for LGBT activists and organizers. And building viable coalitions with people of color and their issues also broadens the base and reach of LGBT activism.

JW:     Do social networking sites like Facebook help activist movements or do they  hinder them by rendering face to face meetings less necessary?

JC:       I think they do both, depending on the global milieu one is trying to forge a movement in. For lots of cultural reasons FB/twitter/etc. seemed to work extremely well in the Middle East. They work very well as an underground surprise tool in regimes which don’t allow freedom of assembly or speech. And yet, I’ve recently been butch organizing in two settings—one in which the leadership depended heavily on social media, and another whose steering committee met regularly face-to-face. The latter group was able to establish deeper and clearer goals and relationship trust. The former group had a hard time trusting or building in new members. It became very innnzy. After an organization’s core infrastructure and first layer of leadership is formed, social media is a great tool for “calling in the troops” to a demo, event, or meeting. Yet FB organizing alone has many limits. It is no substitute for the depth of conversation or the slow working out of goals and interpersonal trust that a leadership group needs to establish to carry out a project. We activists seem to be trying to work out how to use these new social media tools; when and where are they helpful? What are their limits and liabilities? Consensus building is more enhanced when individuals sit in a circle and see the facial expressions, tone, and politics of each other. Obviously, this is a good subject for a book, one with an international focus. I wonder what Saul Alinsky’s take on how to use social media for community organizing would be?

JW:     There seems to have always been, as typified by your relationship with Morris Kight (fellow activist and founder of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center—ed.), a schism between gay men and lesbians—where do you think this comes from, and how can it be overcome?

JC:       The once vast differences between gay men and lesbians was, and still is, based on the fact that most men and most women are fundamentally as different as Mars and Venus. As such, we lesbian women and gay men face all the problems due to the difference in our nature as women and men. In the 1950’s, as we can see from the TV shows Pan Am and Mad Men, men and women were raised to be very different, with women getting the brunt of male chauvinism and sexism. The men of my father’s generation were, in their relationship to women, sexist pigs. Yet today’s men are largely the sons of feminist and/or independent women. They have grown up viewing women as largely equal. With the passing generations, men and women have become more and more integrated. Today high-schoolers run in packs peopled by both genders (as well as gender-benders). Today’s men are FAR less sexist by nature than men of my generation. Today’s women take for granted their equal place in college, the boardroom, co-parentage, and friendship between the sexes. There is far less basis for lesbian separatist lifestyles among people between 15 and 40 years old. (Although some women, and some men, still chose to live separately for philosophical, religious, and other reasons.) The schism between gay men and lesbians is much less deep and wide today. However, our differences as men—to whom say, sexual issues are critical—and women to whom child raising issues are paramount, will remain as long as the societal roles of men and women remain different. But, they are disappearing in Western societies. The so called “war on terror” I believe is really a war about the position of women in advanced societies vs. the role of women in more tribal traditional societies. Men will never be the first to extend freedom to women. No one gives power away. Women have to take it, as do people of color in a systemically racist society.

JW:     As a journalist raised on typewriters and paste-up, how do you feel about the impending death of print media? Will you miss the romance or have you already embraced the new technology?

JC:       I don’t think all print media is dead. It will live on, like the radio after TV, but be a much less dominant form. I think the younger generations will place more value on it as they age and see & feel the pleasure of it. I love the new technology, it does many things print cannot do, and faster, and more dispersive. Print media will remain for those who seek an in depth knowledge of selected educative subjects.

JW:     The front cover photo of you on When We Were Outlaws is very emblematic of both you and the times—do you recall the circumstances under which it was taken and what you were thinking of at the time?

JC:       I was 23 years old and at the first lesbian conference of which I was a core organizer. It was the West Coast Gay Women’s Conference, held at MCC Los Angeles in 1971. Seven hundred women came, many of them “old gay” and just as many of the “new gay” lesbian feminists type. Leaning against the rail capturing a moment between solving logistic problems, I was half brooding—“What’s the next thing that might go wrong that I should anticipate? Will that room be big enough, will the mikes work? And half dazed with shock and awe, like, OMG where had all these hundreds of dykes come from, and how big, really, was our movement? What was its future?

JW:     Were there times during the writing of the details of your relationships with Rachel and BeJo where you thought you might be going too far and getting too personal?

JC:       Yeah sure, there were lots of times when I thought; Oh shit, I hope my father will die before my mother feels compelled to read him this book? (He did die, at 89, a year before it came out). Do I have the right to tell the world this piece of truth about him?

And with BeJo, I was shocked that she didn’t demand to see it as I wrote it, or ask me to make changes as she did read parts of it. I was reminded of how deep and loyal friendship can grow after 40 years. Bejo and I are still close friends.

With regard to Rachel, I asked her many times to read parts of the manuscript. I wondered if she’d ask me to at least delete the third sex scene, the most vulnerable one. I kept telling her I was getting personal, including sex scenes. She seemed to want me to give her a pseudonym, which I did, due to the intimacy. And it was important to her that I said in the Endnotes that she did choose to stop drinking, went to rehab and got sober. But she kept saying, “I’ll read it when you are finished with the book.” To my knowledge she has not read it at all, even now. I have no explanation for this, only gratitude that these two women allowed and encouraged me to write this book.

As for “going too far” with myself, yes, there were times when I wanted to cut certain scenes, like the chapter “The Rage of all Butches” that included behavior I wasn’t proud of and didn’t want out there in print. But I felt I couldn’t be half-honest and tell the brave things I did and yet leave out my sins. That wouldn’t be right, especially in a memoir. Most of all I worried about hurting my mother who did so much to keep her kids alive and on-course. This was the hardest fear to overcome. Finally I decided my mother was one tough woman who I should assume has faced her husband’s and her daughter’s flaws, and would therefore take this too in her own stride. I am proud of her; she overcame my ambiguity and insisted I give her my book at the family Christmas party last month. Besides obsessing about what my mother would think, I had the unusual privilege of being in a 20 year relationship with a woman, also a writer, who
had a real arduous 10 years watching me write in such detail about a former lover. We lesbians are always in our lover’s business big time. I don’t think many spouses would put up with another lover in their partner’s lives for so long. It was a real brain twister, heaps of dissonance, for me, for her, for our marriage. Yes, plenty of screaming, “How could you!” and “I will not read or edit THOSE (love scenes) pages.” Especially since my partner was intimately involved as my research editor for the politics. So I feel very lucky, not to mention loved, that she respected my writing and found ways to separate our lives from my life in writing this memoir. May all writers be so blessed!

JW:     What do you most want people to take away from When We Were Outlaws?

JC:       I want the young kids to know they CAN be activists. That’s it a noble, exciting, growth-filled ‘career path.’ I want other writers to overcome their doubts and find the courage to just DO it. I wanted to honor other butch women through my writing. Most of all I wanted to tell the legacy of lesbian feminism and to show that the boomer women were, in Brokaw’s terminology, “the courageous generation.”

Many thanks to Jeanne Cordova for her honesty and her tireless work. More   information can be found at: www.jeannecordova.com. You can purchase When We Were Outlaws from Spinsters Ink, Amazon, or Barnes and Nobel.

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Enter Oblivion – C.M. Harris (Casperian Books)

Buy it direct from Casperian Books.

Unique characters can transform a thin, shopworn plot into a
thing of beauty, elevating a book from pedestrian to sublime with every beat of
their hearts. Add to that a culturally significant setting and perfect dialogue
that sounds spoken and not written, and you have a book to be reckoned
with—like C.M. Harris’ Enter Oblivion.

Vince Saviglio, a small-time gangster (not gangsta) wanna-be
from Brooklyn, finds himself in London, circa 1980, unsure if he wants to
continue life as a hoodlum boxer, a rent boy or a rock star. He falls in with a
crowd of equally undecided fellows, including a drag queen named Jezebel, a
couple named Nigel and John, and the improbably named Jik O’Blivion, a titled
glam-David Bowie-type pop star Just the kind of man Vince, just finding his
inner queer, could fall in love with. And does.

Harris has two marvelous characters in Vince and Jik, and
their romantic dance is dizzying—replete with mixed signals, crossed intents
and aborted couplings. Both are stoic and stubborn, refusing to admit their
attraction no matter how evident it is to their friends. Like it or not,
they’re there for each other, through knife fights with skinhead bullies,
musical failures and triumphs, and gay bar punch-ups. It takes the death of a
friend to actually bring them together, and even then you’re wondering when the
explosion will come to rip them apart again.

As mentioned before, the plot is thin on twists and turns,
but it’s as true and straightforward as life gets. Rather than pushing
characters through a set of circumstances, Harris gets them onstage and lets
them live and breathe, their drama coming naturally from their situations
instead of external forces. A beautifully paced book, the story doesn’t drag or
falter and never sounds anything less than true. The dialogue is brilliant, so
steeped in character one hardly needed any attribution to know who was
speaking. And nearly as well done were the passages about the music. Harris
seems as knowledgeable about Jik’s brand of glam pop as she is about Vince’s
early punk style, and she writes about both with equal ease.

The only problem with the book was an episode that took
Vince back to Brooklyn for a short time. I understand why Harris had to get him
out of the West End for a bit, but his departure seemed sudden and poorly
motivated, raising more questions about his past than it answered.

That small misstep aside, Enter Oblivion is a solid,
highly entertaining read that will have you wanting more before you even reach
the end.

Review by Jerry Wheeler

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Boneyard – Stephen Beachy (Verse Chorus Press)

Buy it direct from Verse Chorus Press.

My family used to own land in Gettysburg, PA.  Weekends we’d go up to see the undeveloped land, in addition to seeing the various Civil War memorials. On these trips we would see the Pennsylvania Dutch.  The bearded, stoic men in their buggies would clop alongside our station wagon, silent and mysterious.  We’d go to a market and see the Amish women, quiet madonnas in homespun dress, selling apple butter and weird faceless dolls.  I was curious about them.  We only saw the surface—the quilts, shoofly pie.  There was a romance about the Amish—a simple folk out of time in our jaded world.  And yet like all human beings, they must have the neuroses—shadow-selves.  Beachy novel ‘boneyard’ sets out to explore the collective subconscious of modern Amish/Mennonite life through the visionary writings of a precocious child.

The conceit of the novel is that Beachy, doing research on the horrific Nickel Mines murders (where a deranged man killed nine Amish girls) met Jake Yoder, a young aspiring writer in the sixth grade who lives among the Amish.  Beachy pieces together a manuscript that Jake has decided to burn, after Jake deems the short stories within to be evil.

Jake’s stories are filled with a kind of luminous prose that at times recall the prose poems of Rimbaud.  Through this distorted mirror, we glimpse bits and pieces of Yoder’s life, like the suicide of his mother, the murders at Nickel Mines.  These events are disguised, with recurrent characters and images, such as an ethereal blonde girl that could be Jake’s sister or mother, or an abusive man who kidnaps one of Jake’s characters.  These tales are flavored and interspersed with surrealistic journeys across South American pampas, mystical transformations, lost children, and imagined lives—most notably, as an alternative rock star.  Simultaneously, Beachy obsessively annotates the text in discursive footnotes that reference everything from the lives of Anabaptist saints, to obscure Latin American authors to Freudian and Jungian psychology.   His editor, Judith, adds her own footnotes—she is dubious of the existence of Jake and thinks that the child is Beachy’s alter-ego.  There is also yet another subtext/layer: Beachy comes from an Amish heritage himself, and also famously exposed one of the 2000s great literary hoaxes (see J.T. Leroy).

The description of this novel sounds daunting.  It’s meta-textual, labyrinthine, and obscure.  It’s also funny—watching Beachy and his editor bicker.  The “found” novel portions begin to corrode from the writings of a preternatural child into the ramblings of a more seasoned novelist.  (A Mennonite  sixth grader, for instance, probably could not write about an avant garde nihilist punk band in San Francisco.  Or refer to  author Clarice Lispector).  Jake starts out ostensibly pure but gradually becomes a disaffected gay youth, the kind that Dennis Cooper writes about in his oeuvre.

It’s a beautiful mess of a book that explores alienation, childhood and authorship itself, while delving into both the gay and Amish psyche.  It’s a book that belongs on the same shelf with Steve Erickson or Anna Kavan—a book that moves with dream-logic. 

A note must be made about the book as an object.  In addition to having a polyphony of font styles and footnotes, it is decorated with images of Christian martyrs.  The mysterious cover art reflects the the dark beauty within in the pages.  ‘Boneyard’ isn’t an easy read, but it’s a rewarding one.  It is highly recommend for adventurous readers and lovers of experimental or surrealistic fiction.

Review by Craig Laurance Gidney

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Settling the Score – Eden Winters (Torquere Press)

Buy it direct from Torquere Press

Nothing is more fictionally fun than a good revenge
scenario—of course, the set-up has to be just right. The villain must be foul,
the hero above reproach, and the plan workable. And it doesn’t hurt if there’s
a healthy dollop of boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, and boy-gets-boy-back. Toss
in some makeover magic, and you have Eden Winters’ Settling the Score.

Small-town garage mechanic Joey Nichols has been publicly
outed and dumped by Riker, his equally small-town boyfriend who is taking
Hollywood by storm, but Joey’s too busy dealing with his homophobic neighbors
to think about getting back at him. Not so Troy Steele, whose novel provided
the screenplay for Riker’s fame. In fact, Joey’s story is similar to the book
Troy’s currently writing. Troy invites Joey to Hollywood for a little
polishing, a little research, and a lot of revenge. For both of them.

If all this sounds like a bunch of hackneyed elements thrown
against the wall…well, it is. But a suprising number of them not only
stick, but work quite well together. Its success is partly due to Winters’
pacing, which takes you through the plot quickly enough to miss the patchwork,
but mainly this works because of character. Both Joey Nichols and Troy Steele
are good-ole-boys who have those rural values in common, despite their current
disparity in wealth and knowledge of city ways. Winters works this angle for
all its worth, coming up aces as the reader roots for them as a couple.

And the villains are sufficiently nasty. Riker is a lazy
opportunist, as mean-spirited as his sugar daddy, Ian (who is the director of
Riker’s summer blockbuster as well as Troy Steele’s ex). There is only one
confrontation between the two couples, and the book-length buildup is more than
rewarded. It’s a corker—satisfactory on all levels.

Much of the book takes place in rural locales in Georgia and
South Carolina, but unfortunately you’d never know it. A better sense of place
would have helped us understand Troy and his roots and made a firmer connection
to his burgeoning relationship with Joey. This lack is offset, however, by
Winters’ skill with dialogue and character. Joey’s family, for instance, come
off as endearingly quirky instead of annoying caricatures, which they could
easily have slipped into.

Subsequent editions, however, should lose the back cover
blurb. I don’t usually mention them, but this one is particularly clumsy and
confusing and doesn’t serve the book well. Despite that, this is a fun, breezy
read that has more than a few chuckles and “awwww” moments.

Just don’t read the back cover. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Awake Unto Me – Kathleen Knowles (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

One of the greatest pleasures reading offers is that
wonderful feeling of being transported into another time; another world that
you can’t wait to get back to. Even better is when that feeling comes on you
unexpectedly, and you’re hooked by page ten—totally lost to the ride. Kathleen
Knowles’ accomplished debut, Awake Unto Me, is just such a wonderful
time machine. 

Kerry O’Shea is a rough and tumble denizen of the unsavory
Barbary Coast, daughter of a whore and a father who “crimps” (or shanghais)
unwary sailors for a living. Beth Hammond is a respectable shopkeeper’s
daughter on the better side of the tracks. They do, however, have Dr. Addison
Grant in common. Grant and O’Shea’s father ran a lucrative card sharping scam
for a while, putting Grant through medical school. Grant, in turn, promises to
take care of Kerry should something happen to her father—and it does. Beth
turns to nursing, her supervising doctor being Dr. Grant. Circumstances force the
girls to share a room in Dr. Grant’s house, and of course, love blooms between
them.

Knowles, a San Francisco resident, gives Awake Unto Me
a wonderful sense of place—richly detailed and immensely transportative. But
place means nothing without people, and Knowles is just as talented at creating
characters. Her Kerry O’Shea is tough, vulnerable, tenacious and loving. Cheeky
and determined, she gets what she wants—from a cook’s job (unheard of for a
woman) in a swanky hotel to the love of Beth Hammond.

And she certainly has some obstacles to overcome there. Beth
is a dedicated nurse with an incident in her past that has prevented her sexual
self from developing. However, she works hard to overcome her difficulties so
she may fully embrace her relationship with Kerry. The mostly welcoming space
in Dr. Grant’s household allows the women this freedom. I say ‘mostly’ because
of Dr. Grant’s disapproving wife, Laura, who throws some interesting hurdles in
their way. Grant, however, is a forward-thinking man. He has an inkling of what
is going on with Kerry and Beth and, though he doesn’t understand it, he
refuses to stand in the way of their happiness.

Knowles’ prose is direct and to-the-point, nothing wasted or
off target, which is why her characters are so fully fleshed. The smallest
details emphasize a trait or expose a layer, and those details are well-chosen
indeed. Awake Unto Me is a family album snapshot of two women standing
in front of a middle-class Victorian house, close to each other (but not too close),
wearing secret smiles that both expose and mask their true relationship to each
other. Smiles of satisfaction and pride in achieving the goals they set for
themselves. Like pioneers.

Real pioneers.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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