Monthly Archives: December 2012

Holiday Greetings from All of Us at Out in Print

Sorry, no review today. Out in Print is taking a short break for the holidays and will return January 3, 2013. Watch for reviews of Lisabet Sarai’s “Quarantine,”  Jeff Mann’s “Desire and Devour,” Xavier Axelson’s “Velvet”, and Eric Andrew-Katz’s “The Jesus Injection” as well as an interview with Indiana poet Walter Thomas Beck III and his musical collaborator Bryan Herkless. And that’s just for starters. Heading into our fourth year of bringing you the best in queer lit reviews and interviews, we’re just getting started. 

And we’re still all you need to read about all you need to read. 

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Jenny Kidd – Laury A. Egan (Vagabondage Press)

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Buy it direct from Vagabondage Press

I love getting presents through the mail, especially
unexpected books. Some books I ask for, some are pressed upon me by eager
authors, but others fall into my lap through the courtesy of the USPS, media
mail. Not all are good. Some are wretched. But some are little gems, like Laury
A. Egan’s atmospheric Jenny Kidd.

A distant relative of the pirate, Jenny Kidd is a young
woman spending autumn in Venice, escaping from her overbearing father as she
works on her portfolio of paintings. While at the Guggenheim Collection
studying Kandinsky, she meets Randi, an expat Brit who invites her to a masked
ball at the Palazzo Barbon. Jenny is entranced by the beautiful Caterina
Barbon. Caterina and her brother Sebastiano promise to aid her in her career.
However, their motives are less than pure.

A top-notch thriller that takes on art forgery, murder and
incest, Jenny Kidd spins its web as languidly as an afternoon by the
canals. Egan’s descriptions of the food, the art, and the general atmosphere
are as purposeful as they are evocative. Her prose is full-bodied and elegant,
and she makes prosecco and prosciutto as sumptuous as the work of Titian and
Tintoretto.

Jenny herself is also well-rounded—a woman seeking independence,
anxious to make her own way in the world yet still dependent on her parents for
the funds to do so. Venice represents freedom for her, which is why the
robbery, the kidnapping and her eventual imprisonment within the walls of the
palazzo seem so brutally unjust in those surroundings. And you couldn’t ask for
more worldly, dangerous, perverse, and utterly charming villains than Caterina
and Sebastiano.

As delicious as Egan’s writing is when it comes to
describing masked balls, four-course lunches, and miniatures painted in
pastels, she also knows how to propel a mean action scene. The last twenty
pages or so are a breathless rush of dark passageways, tense interrogations,
and perfectly executed gore that leave you gasping and satisfied.

And that’s how I felt when I finished the book—satisfied.
Just as you would be after a fine meal or an afternoon excursion with good
friends. All the ends were tied up with stylish bows, and I really regretted
leaving Venice and Jenny Kidd behind.

But I can hardly wait to see where the mail will take me
next.

 ©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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Chaser – Rick R. Reed (Dreamspinner Press)

Buy it direct from Dreamspinner Press

Body image issues once belonged only to women and gay men,
but now even straight guys are prone to the problem of thinking everyone else
looks better than they do. Good (he said facetiously). We gave them goatees,
tattoos, and earrings. It’s about time to roll some crap downhill. Rick R.
Reed’s latest offering, Chaser, explores desire, shallowness, romance,
betrayal and—yes—excess pounds.

Caden DeSarro likes ‘em big, much to the dismay of his
toned, tanned best friend Bobby. Despite Bobby’s misgivings, Caden falls for
Kevin, a husky blonde bear, but before they begin to explore their relationship
outside the bedroom, Caden’s mother falls ill. He takes a few months out to
nurse her back to health and Kevin, confused as to why someone as skinny and
good looking as Caden would want him, embarks on a weight loss program. When
Caden returns looking for a big bear hug, he gets someone forty pounds thinner.
Can he still love a skinny Kevin? He might be able to if his best friend will
let him.

Reed negotiates the waters of fetishism and the root
shallowness of gay men with depth and sensitivity, but he never sacrifices plot
for philosophy. Instead, as we expect with a writer of Reed’s gifts, he points
out our preoccupation with the superficial by personifying it in Caden’s
loathsome best friend, Bobby. Bobby is a cock chaser of monumental proportions
who has never had a serious relationship in his life, and Reed’s scorn for this
character comes through.

Bobby’s machinations prevent Caden from really examining if
it’s Kevin or Kevin’s build he’s in love with, and the steps Bobby takes to
screw up their budding romance are deliciously evil—which is why it’s so
bothersome that we never get a chance to take part in Bobby’s downfall. As with
Reed’s Bashed, he spends a great deal of time building up to a
confrontation we never get to see. The reader wants to know Caden and Kevin’s
love will conquer all, but at the same time, Bobby is a loose end that we need
to see tied up—and preferably thrown into the river.

Unfortunately, this never happens. In fact, the book ends
abruptly after a pivotal scene, and it would have been nice to have had a
chance to see more; to wind things down and deal with Bobby—perhaps even
revisit Caden and Kevin in a few months to see if Kevin is still slim or
whether his penchant for Ben & Jerry’s has reasserted itself. And to see if
Caden is still interested in his formerly bearish boyfriend.

That said, Chaser is a fine romance, full of good
dialogue, interesting turns and sharp, focused writing from a prolific writer
not afraid to take a chance or two.

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

 

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Jonathan: Gay Men’s Fiction – Raymond Luczak, ed. (Sibling Rivalry Press)

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Buy it direct from Sibling Rivalry Press

In the 1911 edition of The Devil’s Dictionary,
Ambrose Bierce defined the novel as “a short story padded.” This economy of
language, though, is different than the economy of poetry. The esteemed Raymond
Luczak shows his editorial skills in selecting ten terrific prose pieces for
the first edition of a new short fiction magazine, Jonathan.

This excellent collection has a strong start with Daniel
Nathan Terry’s “The Devil’s Birds,” a cautionary backwoods tale of boyhood
homophobia and unexpected alliances strong on atmosphere and potent images,
such as a barbed wire fence strung with dead bluejays in various stages of
decomposition.

Paul Lisicky’s “Animal Care and Control” is more adventurous
in structure, comprised of four short, seemingly unrelated anecdotes. Bears,
snakes, pitbulls and a cartoon octopus become metaphors for longing, anger,
tenacity and satisfaction in the face of danger. More conventional yet still
metaphoric, Eric Norris’ “Me and My Shadow” mixes crayons, dead brothers and
anthropomorphic houses into a very satisfying tale illustrating one man’s
inability to form relationships.

Many of the stories here do not deal with being gay in and
of itself, but rather concentrate on their characters’ relationships with each
other—gay issues being secondary. One of my favorites in this vein is James
Powers-Black’s “Pompeii,” a quiet story of a mother, her faith in a television
weatherman, and the snowstorm he predicts. Similarly, Reginald T. Jackson’s
“Butch Jeans” in which a lunch counter conversation between a man and his
mother proves bothersome until an incident in the dressing room buying those
butch jeans prompts the man to reevaluate their relationship.

That doesn’t mean queerness is unimportant. In Chip
Livingston’s “Don’t Tell Me,” a chance encounter with a friend who has a video
of a man and his ex in a sex club leads to a not-so-chance encounter between
the former lovers, and in the well-executed surprise of “At Danceteria,” Philip
Dean Walker takes us inside the infamous club. You don’t get much gayer than
that.

Jonathan is slim—the above seven stories plus Ian
Young’s “The Boy in the Blue Boxing Gloves,” Wendell Rickett’s oddly exotic
“Bayonet” and Matthew R. Loney’s sharp and affecting “A Feast of Bear”—but the
material here is sure to give you a good bang for your buck. 

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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Desire: Tales of New Orleans – William Sterling Walker (Chelsea Station Editions)

Get it now through TLAVideo

I have yet to write my New Orleans book. Every writer who
spends time in that city seems to wind up writing something set there, and
though I’ve toyed with the setting in a couple of stories, I’ve not found a
plot that satisfies me enough to write it. Thankfully, that isn’t the case with
William Sterling Walker, whose Desire: Tales of New Orleans is steeped
in the humid soup and street gravy of the Big Easy.

New Orleans’s present is deeply connected to and reflective
of its history, and many of Walker’s characters reflect that connection. Jack
and Emmett in “Aubade,” Chip and Remy in “Farewell to Wise’s,” Tom and
Fortunate in “Fin de Siècle”—all share affairs, dead friends, old adventures,
and lingering regrets that put their present lives into perspective. And Walker
explores these connections with brilliant, in-depth conversations that sound
just like old friends talking.

In this vein, however, my favorite story has to be “Menuetto,”
which sees Stan visiting his old friend Bernard in the hospital as Bernard lies
dying of an AIDS-related complaint. Bernard recounts a particularly sordid
encounter with a military boy, and Stan realizes that he has been in love with
his old friend for as long as they’ve known other. It’s by turns touching,
funny, and captivating.

“Menuetto” as well as “Aubade” and others have several
common threads—art, music, culture and books. Most of all, books and
bookstores. Nearly every story features at least one bookstore prominently. And
many of Walker’s characters have a distrust of modern technology, a couple of
whom make a point of eschewing CDs for the ancient practice of playing vinyl
records on battered turntables yet still use cell phones. This is perfectly New
Orleans—technology for convenience, the old ways for pure enjoyment.

Bookending these marvelous stories that take place in the
Crescent City are two pieces that take place in New York with characters from
NOLA. The first, “Intricacies of Departure,” and the last, “Risk Factors,” both
involve two men meeting and parting, but with vastly different results. The
unnamed narrator of “Intricacies of Departure” regrets his new friend Nathan ‘s
departure, believing he needs the books that Nathan stole as proof of his
existence, but in “Risk Factors,” straight and married Elliott is relieved to
ditch out and proud Ernest because it saves not only his marriage but his
self-image as well. Still there’s an incredible amount of tension in Elliott,
because he knows what he sees in Ernest. And he knows it won’t go away.

And the feeling in the stories also doesn’t easily go
away—an ache of yearning, a touch of regret and the smile of memories. William
Sterling Walker has crafted a wonderful book of short fiction worth reading if
you love New Orleans. And even if you don’t.

But who wouldn’t?

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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One Gay American – Dennis Milam Bensie (Coffeetown Press)

Buy it now through Amazon.com

Most autobiographies are self-serving, especially if about a
celebrity. Non-celebrity ones usually rely on some sort of substance abuse
storyline to engage the reader, and you can only read so many of these before
you find yourself not caring on any level. However, Dennis Milam Bensie’s One
Gay American
manages to be entertaining and engaging with no whining, no
apologies, and no addiction/recovery cycle.

Like Scott Terry’s Cowboys, Armageddon, and the Truth,
Bensie reaches into his own past, selecting the choicest, most telling
incidents and anecdotes. The most painful seem to be from his childhood, but
this is also the most bewitching part of the memoir for me. Bensie, you see,
knows all about his differences. He’s quite aware that other little boys don’t
order flimsy negligeés for their mothers then steal them back to make wedding
dresses from. Or fantasize about being the bride. Or want to have babies. Or
need to have Barbie dolls.

But he secretly indulges these fantasies, reveling in whom
he wants to be. He’s savvy enough not to do this in front of his folks or other
friends, but the bullying from his peers was inevitable. He knows this and
purposely makes choices that appeal to his feminine side, figuring he’s going
to get punched either way. Bensie takes his lumps, learns his lessons and
follows his own way. In that, One Gay American is inspirational.

Bensie’s frankness extends to the story of his failed
marriage—his reasons for entering into it, what he got out of it, and why it
was no longer satisfying on many levels. If the anecdotes about his childhood
are the most poignant, these are the most universal. Who, trapped in a
relationship that can’t hope to address one’s needs, can’t relate to this union
between a gay man and a straight woman desperate enough for love not to sense
that something’s wrong. This is heartbreaking stuff.

Bensie handles this with the assurance of a master
storyteller, using uncomplicated prose to tell his rather complicated life. His
details are well-chosen, but even more interesting is what he chooses not to
reveal. Once the book takes off into Bensie’s gay adulthood, he declines to
recite chapter and verse his dating difficulties (though they are touched upon
to hilarious effect) and other bad decisions are never dwelled on.

One Gay American is a beautifully well-rounded
account of just that—one gay American and his journey toward happiness. I’ll
wager you’ll find some of yourself in here. Read it and see. 

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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Out in Print’s Best of 2012

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December brings Santa, snow (well, it used to snow
here before Global Climate Change), and the inevitable onslaught of “Best of”
lists. Not one to buck a trend, we at Out in Print have reviewed our 2012
reviews and settled on 15 books that have stayed in our heads and hearts since
we picked them up. We hope you’ll feel the same way. In no particular order,
our recommendations for 2012 are: 

Fontana – Joshua Martino (Bold Strokes Books)

This fastpitch debut novel from Joshua Martino delivers the
goods as we watch Major League baseball player Ricky Fontana come out publicly.
At once hopeful and cynical, Fontana examines the issues and Fontana’s
process in a reckless, threatening atmosphere that provides poignancy as well
as drama.

The Survivors – Sean Eads (Lethe Press)

An alien invasion novel that throws more than a few curves, The
Survivors
morphs from mordantly funny to darkly philosophical with
effortless ease. Eads’ writing is sharp and focused, and his gift for creating
heartbreak from havoc keeps on giving throughout the book. This is speculative
fiction you won’t soon forget.

Green Thumb – Tom Cardamone (BrazenHead)

Cardamone’s inexhaustible creativity drives this fantasy
novella of a post-apocalyptic plant boy named Leaf and his friends as they
explore a devastated Miami (renamed Canal City) and find civilization not what
it’s cracked up to be. Cardamone’s astounding sense of place and inventiveness
will leave you breathless, as will the depth of his characters. Not to be
missed.

Chulito – Charles Rice-Gonzales (Magnus Books)

An amazing love story between two Latino hoodrats, Chulito
is a well-crafted story with some interesting twists and turns and an ending
that will bring tears to your eyes as it puts a smile on your face. Gritty,
authentic, and involving, you’ll find it tough to put this one down.

Purgatory – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press)

Acclaimed poet, short story writer, and essayist Jeff Mann
brings his skills to the long form, forging an intense Civil War love story
from food, bondage and violence. Lovingly detailed, exhaustively researched and
altogether captivating, this pushes buttons in unforgettable ways. 

Strange Bedfellows – Rob Byrnes (Bold Strokes Books)

Hapless criminals Grant Lambert and Chase LaMarca are back
with yet another caper as only Rob Byrnes could write. Snappier-than-hell
dialogue, a political plot that pokes sly fun at sexting, and a great
supporting cast all combine to make this a laugh-out-loud read that’s as
pointed as it is hilarious.

The Raven’s Heart – Jesse Blackadder (Bywater Books)

A re-telling of the story of Mary, Queen of Scots as seen
through the eyes of the cross-dressing last of her family, Alison Blackadder,
who tries to win back her ancestral home by getting close to the queen.
Beautifully written, with marvelously complex characters and just enough court
intrigue, The Raven’s Heart is historical fiction at its best.

The Heart’s History – Lewis DeSimone (Lethe Press) 

A quiet masterpiece, The Heart’s History examines
aging, settling down, settling for, and being assimilated into straight society
with depth and grace. DeSimone’s dialogue is awe-inspiring, giving us unsparing
portraits of people we come to care about quickly. By turns comic and
contemplative, this is a delicious read that will leave you perfectly
satisfied.

Awake Unto Me – Kathleen Knowles (Bold Strokes Books)

Newcomer Kathleen Knowles brings turn of the century San
Francisco to breathtaking life with her story of rough and tumble Barbary Coast
born Kerry O’Shea and quiet shopkeeper’s daughter Beth Hammond. Their shy love
grows to a passionate affair bold for their time, and Knowles captures this
with solid assurance. A perfect time machine.

The City’s Gates – Peter Dubé (Comorant Books)

The ever-interesting Dubé uses his considerable gifts to
conjure a tense, Orwellian atmosphere in which mysterious characters seek to
undermine an economic conference. Dark, urbane and atmospheric, the long, slow
build is as entertaining as the knockout climax. So real, you’ll swear you read
about this in the papers.

Cowboys, Armageddon, and the Truth – Scott Terry
(Lethe Press)

One man’s heartfelt story of growing up Jehovah’s Witness,
told with aching sincerity and an unerring eye for detail. Terry pulls no punches
and gives no quarter in recounting his abusive childhood and confused
adulthood, and you’ll cheer as he pulls himself out of the clutches of the
cult. Terry’s truth has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with
his journey.

Songs for the New Depression – Kergan Edwards-Stout
(Circumspect Press)

Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, Edwards-Stout
has fashioned a detailed examination of a truly detestable individual and
actually made it work. Told in backwards chronology, its structure is nearly as
interesting as the narrator. You’ll read this once for its emotional impact and
again to see how the author achieves it. But no matter how many times you dive
in, you’ll be impressed.

You Will Meet a Stranger Far From Home: Wonder Stories
– Alex Jeffers (Lethe Press)

Imaginative, atmospheric and rare, this brace of short
stories never fails to entertain. It bends reality into fantasy as often as it
bends genders, folding back in on itself in a cultural Moebius strip that melds
emotions and intellect. You’ll want to read them quickly, then go back to savor
their exotic spice.

Split – Mel Bossa (Bold Strokes Books)

A stunning romance between childhood friends Derek and
Nicolai that weaves a present day storyline around anecdotes from their past, Split
is everything gay romance novels should hope to be: poignant, tragic, hopeful
and heartening. This is the romance that should have won the Lammy in
2012.

The Dust of Wonderland – Lee Thomas (Lethe Press)

The only reprint on our list, it was so damn creepy and
unforgettable I had to include it even though it wasn’t written in 2012. Thomas
bends horror tropes into new, unrecognizable nightmares and tosses a few
left-handed plot twists into the mix just to keep the reader off guard in this
story of a man and the past he thinks he’s left behind. All this and New
Orleans too.

That’s our list—fifteen wonderful books just ripe for
holiday gifting. Buy one for someone you love and another for yourself.

Assuming they’re not the same person. 

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