Monthly Archives: November 2012

Best Gay Stories 2012 – Peter Dubé, ed. (Lethe Press)

Buy it direct from Lethe Press

A dedicated follower of Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and Eudora
Welty, I have always admired short stories—both as a reader and a writer. As
edited by Peter Dubé, Lethe’s annual collection of short gay fiction celebrates
the diversity of voices in our community. This year, Dubé has focused on the
many ways in which we yearn, and the result is no less striking than last
year’s compilation.

The collection starts off strong with Matthew J. Trafford’s
marvelously skewed “The Renegade Angels of Parkdale,” in which Zach, recovering
from the suicide of his boyfriend, allows his friends to drag him out to a bar
populated by gay angels. Trafford’s sense of humor and irony are in full
blossom as we track Zach’s evening, which ends up with him and a new chum named
Alar (a word which means “resembling wings” for those of you who don’t do
crosswords).

If bars full of angels aren’t to your taste, Clint
Catalyst’s hilarious “Sugar Rush” might give you some new fetish material as
we’re introduced to the new sexual practice of “caking,” which is exactly what
you think—spongy cake fucking with frosting for lube. It gives a whole new (or
old) meaning to Twinkie. Our established voices are also evident here,
especially with Felice Picano’s achingly wistful “My Childhood Friend,” Jeff
Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest,” a frank look at how one couple copes when
their sexual tastes differ, and Cecilia Tan’s “Action,” a study of an actor in
transition.

None of the stories here play it safe, but these envelopes
are pushed with recognizable fingers so as to not alienate or strand the reader
in territories too unfamiliar, such as Ian Young’s deft handling of a murder in
“In My Dreams I Can Drive,” William Henderson’s breathtaking “Words Between
Words,” the changing of a life in Jonathan Vatner’s “191 Days of Active
Charles.”

Rightly or wrongly, self-loathing or not, yearning for
straight men is a very large part of some gay men’s lives, as evidenced by
Elias Miguel Muñoz’s blend of Star Trek and sexual exploration, “The
Unequivocal Moon” as well as Loren Arthur Moreno Jr.’s altogether too brief “At
This Late Hour.”

But really, anywhere you open Best Gay Stories 2012,
you’re bound to be entranced and intrigued by what’s on the page. This is yet
another entry in a fine series that demonstrates not only our diversity but the
vast array of talent in our community.

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

 

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Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father – Bryan Borland (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Buy it direct from Sibling Rivalry Press

If writing is a catharsis, it’s no coincidence that some of
the most potent work comes out of grief and loss. Even in the most amateurish
of hands, this kind of art usually comes across with its poignancy intact, but
a skilled author or poet can transform it into something emotionally sublime.
And that’s what we have with Bryan Borland’s Less Fortunate Pirates.

The back cover blurb indicates Borland’s father was killed
when his Ford Explorer ran off a bridge and plunged into a lake. Death is
death, no matter the reason, but one that comes out of nowhere is particularly
difficult because there’s no way to prepare yourself. The coping mechanisms and
grief processes are totally different than for the death of a loved one who’s
been ill or whose demise was expected.

Borland covers those bases and more from the get-go with
“Instructions on How to Approach the Bereaved,” “Those Earliest Dawns,” and a
poem the book was nearly titled after, “Dark Horse”:

 

                        “Vice
Presidents and sons take oaths/

                        to
circumstances they don’t think they’ll see:/

                        a
bullet navigating the channels of patriarchal brains,/

                        forefathers
assassinated by black-cloaked conspirators,/

                        death
to legislative bills that would grant their boys/

perpetual
youth. This is how Johnson felt/

when Lincoln
was shot. I am not/

ready to be the
man of the family.”

A friend of mine once said grief is a series of
firsts—inevitable events that mark the passage of time and must be faced
without the person who has been lost. Borland knows this all too well, as many
of the poems here call attention to specific days and nights of importance—“The
Morning I Read Whitman to Three Hundred People,” “The Day I Pack His Things,”
“The Night Before Fathers Day,” “The Day We Do Not Choose Your Headstone,” “The
Morning I Stare at The Water for Hours,” and “The Day My Mother Says She Wants
to Move” among others.

Reading about such naked grief has its voyeuristic aspects,
but Less Fortunate Pirates has a sharpness, an economy of style, and a
universality that prevents it from becoming maudlin “grief porn.” Moreover,
Borland never loses sight of the fact that life continues for the survivors.
From the frankness of “Survivor’s Guilt” to the hope of “The Night My Marriage
is Saved” to the sage advice of “How to Grieve,” the reader sees how Borland
gives himself permission to live. Take, for example, “The Day I Return to My
Wanton Ways:”

           

                                    “…There
are minutes/

                                    I
forget. When I remember to respect/

                                    my
grief, I am the prodigal son,/

                                    but
each time I return, I’ve moved/

                                    farther
from him. When a beloved dies/

                                    we
wrap them in shrouds of our skin./

                                    Death
strips us of the bullshit./

                                    It
is life that brings it back.”

Art is carved from the soapstone of emotion and experience,
and Borland has whittled a moving song-cycle, well-observed and wise, from the
piece which fell unexpectedly into his lap. We are sorry for his loss but
thankful for the skill that turns it into something that we can not only admire
but take to our own hearts.

His father would be very proud indeed. 

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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A Different Kind of Post

No, this is not a new review, but instead a very special thank you to everyone who has made Out in Print what it is today. Our readers, our authors, our publishers, and especially our reviewers have made a tremendous impact on this project and what we do. 

In order for Jerry and I to get ready to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family, Out in Print is taking the week off, but don’t worry we’ll be back next Monday at our regular time.
We hope everyone has a safe, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving.
xoxo

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Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Friendship – Dale Chase (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

Not many people know the Old West as thoroughly as Dale
Chase. Her love for and connection with the setting seeps through every page of
her Western fiction, enriching the reader’s experience. In this, her first
erotic western, Chase finds the heart in the alcoholic, consumptive, lusty Doc
Holliday as well as the aloof, distant and very married Wyatt Earp. 

They meet in Dodge City and then move west to Tombstone, where
they become involved with the gang of rustlers they will eventually meet at the
O.K. Corral. Earp, Holliday and Earp’s brothers were arrested and charged with
murder but eventually cleared. Morgan Earp’s murder took Wyatt and Holliday on
a vendetta that also saw them forced to run to Arizona, where their
relationship changed.

Chase’s prose reeks of trail dust, campfire ash, and cowboy
sweat, and there’s nothing like those ingredients to set a scene. Chase has
inhabited this territory so long that she has no trouble with bringing the dry
arroyos to life, much to her readers’ delight. And she populates them with
fully-fleshed characters.

Much has been written of Holliday and Earp as well as their
relationship, but Chase’s take is as plausable as any other. Why shouldn’t
it have happened? Is it historically accurate? I guess that’s not my primary reason for reading something like this.
If it’s in the ballpark, timewise, I’ll ride with it. If it’s not the gospel truth,
Chase tells it as if it is.

Speaking of telling, that’s what you come to a book like
this for—the story. And Chase does a superlative job here as well. Nicely paced
between exposition, erotica and action scenes (though those last two might be
combined), Wyatt never falters in delivering the goods. But where Chase
shines is in the long haul. Her characters become so rich, so real after a time
that you forget the movie portrayls of these legends and they become someone
else entirely. By the time we get to Morgan’s murder, I felt like I knew the
players so well, I was almost affected as they were.

Chase also does a great deal with rather terse dialogue.
Those boys weren’t known for their eloquence, but Chase makes every line, no
matter how innocuous, count. This is especially true for Deadpan Doc Holliday,
who understates every threat he makes—clearly, the author is having fun with
this.

And what’s wrong with a little fun? Too often, books are not
fun. They’re “searing” or “harrowing” (adjectives I thought applied to meat and
fields, respectively), and no one has the facility to just tell a story. With
good guys and bad guys. And love. And sex.

And in that, Wyatt is a winner. 

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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Faun – Trebor Healey (Lethe Press)

Buy it direct from Lethe Press

When you think about it, who else would you trust to
write about a faun than Trebor Healey? He has wise and weathered faun eyes, but
he keeps his hair short so you can see he has no nubs for horns. More
importantly, he looks at the world through faun eyes. And even more importantly
than that, he enables us to see what he sees. And Faun is a romp with an
eternal feel and a connection to an earthier time.

Puberty has not been good to Gilberto Rubio. Instead of
progressing like his classmates, his legs fur up, he gets horn nubs and his
genitalia develops freakishly large. And his feet begin changing into hooves.
When his friends aren’t abusing him, his anxious mother is ready to push him
into the priesthood, driving him away from home. He winds up in L.A., trekking the
mountain ranges looking for a mysterious stranger he met online who just might
have some answers.

I love that Healey turns the whole faun concept on its head
by making his a Latino boy. Healey’s love of the culture seeps in and gives
Gilberto an interesting dimension. Racked with Catholic guilt, he’s confused by
what’s happening but doesn’t panic. He just seeks answers and does his best to
accept himself for what he is. Gil is a terrific protagonist and Healey has
inhabited him fully.

Healey’s poetic gifts are evident in his prose, with which
he creates a fertile environment for both the commonplace and the unique to
happen, as one defines the other. His landscape reeks with the scent of the
modern as it encroaches on the ancient, which is the conflict at the center of
the book. That the ancient still survives is a testament to the wonder of its
tenacity. Is it any wonder that Gilberto learns nothing in the city and
everything in the mountains?

The other characters, especially Lupita, Gilberto’s mother
are equally well-drawn and fully-dressed, but Gilberto’s tough vulnerability
really overshadows them, and the reader is happiest when Gil’s on stage.
Thankfully, he’s on stage a lot. Fantasy? Yes. Moral? Check. Boring?
Nope. Not with Healey’s wicked sense of humor and broad slapstick strokes
making Gil come with loads large enough to coat a swimming pool and a member
that tears more than one pair of Dickies.

Faun is
an emotional yet witty read that’s as absurd as it is pointed. And if I ever
meet a faun, I’ll bet he looks a lot like Trebor. 


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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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The Jetsetters – David-Matthew Barnes (Bold Strokes Books)

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Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

The course of true love never runs smooth—that’s key in the
romance genre—but how kinked that course gets and how it unravels depends on
the author telling the tale. Many are straightforward and reliable, others are
quirky. Some, like David-Matthew Barnes, strike a balance between the two,
giving us our HEA but making his characters work for it, as with The
Jetsetters
.

Justin Holt is a barista and student, working a shift at the
coffee shop when he meets Diego Delgado, lead guitarist for a band called
Broken Corners. Justin is okay with the music, but immediately falls in love
with Delgado—who immediately has to leave for a tour. Their love blooms despite
Delgado’s frequent absences, then changes in the band thrust Delgado into an
unwanted spotlight. Will love be enough to help Holt cope with Delgado’s
success?

Barnes avoids answering that question long enough to
maintain some great tension, but just when things start getting predictable, he
changes the focus and gives you some marvelous bit you never expected. For me,
it was Justin’s relationship with Delgado’s mother, Dolores.

Dolores is unable to get past her grief for Diego’s father,
killed in the war, and for Diego’s departure. Justin, in an effort to be closer
to Diego, seeks out her company for the Thanksgiving holiday while Diego is on
a European tour. The outcome of this night is a fantastic left hook that Barnes
delivers with the punch of a professional; perfectly nuanced and well-placed.

Another of Barnes’ gifts is his dialogue, which always
sounds spoken instead of written. I fully believe and am drawn into Justin’s
whirlwind relationship with Diego, watching him grow as he leaves a relatively
secure life behind to willingly follow behind a rock star. And the decisions he
makes feel absolutely natural. So, while we all know where this is going to end
up, Barnes takes us through some tricky turns to get there and does so with
grace and sharp prose that adds to but doesn’t distract from the details.

A perfect book for a cool winter’s afternoon and a nice
fire.

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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Makara – Kristen Ringman (Handtype Press)

Buy it direct from Handtype Press

I’ve come to the sea late in life. Being a Midwestern boy,
the closest I ever came was a Great Lake, but once I reached adulthood and saw
my first beach I fell in love with the ocean and its creatures, factual or
mythical. So, I was predisposed to like Kristen Ringman’s debut novel, Makara.
But I wasn’t prepared to like it quite as much as I did.

Fionnula is a Deaf Irish daughter of a selchie (part human,
part seal). Her human father is often absent, and he leaves her with friends in
India, where she falls in love with her hosts’s daughter Neela, a Hearing
woman. When she reunites with her father, he takes her away from Neela. They go
to Venice, where she takes up with a gang of street mimes and buskers, saving her
money to get back to Neela.

But Makara, like Tom Cardamone’s marvelous Green
Thumb
, is much more than its plot. It’s a unique environment. Ringman’s
smalltown Irish setting, her lovingly detailed portrait of India, and her
romantic vision of Venice remain separate places bounded by plot points, but
they also meld seamlessly into an emotional landscape. And a briny one.

The concepts of fantasy and reality are similarly mashed up
and reimagined into an atmosphere where anything is possible and the commonplace
is as rare as a faerie circ

Fionnula is a wonderful character, a chameleon who avoids
the damage from her conflicted selves by slipping between them—human seal,
Deaf, lesbian—and learning from all. Child-like yet wise, tough but vulnerable,
she is the perfect narrator. Also of note is Fionnula’s father—a bleak, craggy
combination of distant and loving, as much of a rescuer as he is damager. Their
relationship is complicated but coveyed by Ringman with wonderful detail and
understatement.

Ringman’s prose is vivid and detailed, using all her senses
to explore both Fionnula and her world. The brevity of Makara (less than
175 pages) is a shock but only because you want to spend so much more time
there. The last few pages of the book connect Fionnula’s selves in a deeply
emotional experience that I guarantee will move you on many levels.

This is a beautiful little book, full of wonder and magic.
Slip into its skin.  

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler


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