Monthly Archives: February 2013

Out in Print – On Vacation

Out in Print is taking a vacation day–well, a working vacation at least–while Jerry Wheeler is at the Bold Strokes Books retreat in Palm Springs. He’ll return tanned, rested, and ready on Monday of next week with takes on Collin Kelley’s “Render” and more surprises. Until then, enjoy the snow and ice my fellow Coloradans. I’ll sacrifice a poolside martini for you.”

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Folsom Street Blues – A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco – Jim Stewart (Palm Drive Publishing)

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Buy it now at Amazon.com

I’ve heard it argued that biographies and memoirs should always begin at
the end, in order to show whether the life story in question is worth the
reader’s journey. There’s something to be said for that. For those like me who
prefer a realistic ending, happier than not, Jim Stewart’s Folsom Street Blues
vigorously supports the argument.

This book focuses on the seven years Stewart spent immersed in San
Francisco’s leather-life from 1975 to1982. It catches the heady ferment of the
early years, and the strange evolution of the later ones, when galleries, baths
and bars — and the community that revolved directly around them – entered its
traumatic metamorphosis.

This book is something of a companion piece to Fritscher’s book Some
Dance to Remember
, which I reviewed earlier here at Out in Print, so this
review carries some comparisons. Stewart’s book is, by my read, more honest and
friendly, more intensely personal. It’s also a real memoir, instead of
Fritscer’s fictionalized one created primarily as a vehicle for his
“homomasculinist” manifesto.

While Folsom Street Blues has the same exasperating disregard for linear
chronology that Fritscher’s book exhibited, it has none of the bombast. In
addition, Stewart’s approach is perfectly consistent with how he navigates the
journey itself: definitely not in a straight line.

Stewart amiably describes his moment-to-moment adventuring, moving from one
lover or project or event to another, contentedly along for the ride to find
whatever fate offers. And his adventures are varied — from a Santeria ceremony
to numberless lines of coke, from his affectionate relationship with his pickup
Nelly Belle to his rhapsodic praise of authentic five-spice chicken, from long
conversations about cult movies to his creative photography and the shows he
mounted — all punctuated by a constant parade of fisting and leathersex
partners.

But this is not sensationalist writing. Its matter-of-fact and
unpretentious narrative is delivered in a friendly voice that’s easy to imagine
coming from the swing on a front porch after dinner.  It’s good natured, anecdotal, unpressured,
meandering. The absence of philosophical agenda is refreshing. The reader
becomes a hitch-hiker traveling with someone who is in no particular hurry to
get anywhere. One of the gifts of Stewart’s style is it provides a strong sense
of the community that he found south of Market, that he contributed to, and
that he certainly enjoyed to its fullest.

Toward the end of his time in California, Stewart spends eighteen months in
the Russian River area, doing odd carpentry jobs and getting by, snorting and
getting laid. It is there, away from the Folsom Street drama, where his
perspective begins to refocus into a longer-term vision of life, which after a
short return to San Francisco, prompts him to move on in 1982.

A powerful and essential feature of this book is the large number of
Stewart’s photos. They provide the hard images to complement what his memoir
paints in softer strokes, and the combination provides compelling and gritty
insight into the remarkable culture that erupted in that place and time.

The memoir concludes with Stewart and his long-time partner returning to
California to marry in 2008. That’s a realistic and very happy ending, in my
book
!

 

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©, 2013, Lloyd Meeker

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The Rest of Us – Guy Mark Foster (Tincture/Lethe Press)

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Buy it now direct from Tincture/Lethe Press

You can believe what you want, but the short story—despite
the cries from literary heavyweights far and wide—is not dead. It’s very
much alive, not only in erotica, but in marvelous collections like Guy Mark
Foster’s The Rest of Us, the debut volume of the Tincture imprint of
Lethe Press, devoted to the work of people of color.

Few of the African-American men in Foster’s stories are in
the throes of coming out. Most of them have already made that decision and
taken action on it. They are, instead, dealing with the reactions of other
lovers, spouses, and members of society. Their blackness, like their gayness,
is only a part of their struggle and not the essential fight. They fight
instead, as so many of us do, for love, affection, and understanding.

Foster clearly stakes out his territory in the first piece,
the stream of consciousness life-lesson of “Boy,” a series of commands about
how to act. Innocuous advice about sitting up straight, tucking in your shirt
and paying attention when people talk soon morphs into the mistakes and bad
decisions passed down from generation to generation:

                        “…absolve
yourself of all guilt in your efforts at child-

                        rearing,
as I’ve absolved myself, as my father absolved

                        himself
before me; refuse the role of scapegoat in other

                        people’s
life dramas, it’s unmanly, and people won’t too

                        easily
peg you for the punk you are probably right under

                        my
roof becoming; never become a punk, even if that is

                        exactly
what you are already, instead fight it, slit your

                        fucking
wrist if you have to, leap from a bridge…”

The issue of race is also dealt with head on in “The Word
Nigger,” which sees the ninth-grade narrator listening to his white friend
Bobby read a passage from Hemingway, only to stumble and fail on a sentence
containing the word “nigger,” completed happily by Bobby’s white girlfriend,
Fiona Brown. She later calls the narrator out while they are watching Bobby and
the other boys practice basketball, making them all realize the differences
between them.

Fiona is not the only “wronged” woman in these pages. “The
Affair” has gay college student Mark falling in love with the engaged Troy, who
must break off with Mark or risk his relationship with Bethany, a straight
couple faces dissolution when they hire a male sex surrogate to spice up their
love life in the astonishingly frank “You Get What You Pay For,” and a late
night phone call between a wife and her husband’s boyfriend forms the basis of
the bitter “Congratulations.”

But perhaps my favorite of the lot is the title story, which
has out couple Martin and Paul debating the merit or mistake of their public
display of affection on a late night subway train witnessed by a group of
youths—or possible assailants. This simple, yet telling story parlays the
incident into a marvelous division of character between the two men, who long
for the ability to express their love as much as they fear the reactions of
others. Powerful in a number of respects, this story transcends race and
achieves a beautiful universality.

But the rest of the stories in this collection are equally
daring. Told from a variety of viewpoints, they never bore or repeat
themselves. “The Rest of Us” is a wonderfully varied and absorbing read from start
to finish.  

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

 

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Dogtagged – James Brock (Beau to Beau Books)

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Buy it at Amazon.com

Military adventure-romances are not every
reader’s cup of Joe. They are mine, however. I read them, write them and, when
a good one comes along, I want to blow the bugle and wave the flag.

Dog Tagged, by James Brock, charts the repeated collisions,
separations and reunions of Army drill instructor Clayton “Clay” Norris and an
enlisted basic trainee, Chevy “Banksy” Banks. Starting on day one, it’s love at
the first set of pushups. But Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is in full force and
neither man is willing to make a move or say a word, not at first. Norris, a
muscular, hard-charging sergeant, vents his frustration first on a couple of
male “skanks” he picks up in an off-base bar and later, when he’s about to be
deployed to Iraq (the initial separation between the two main characters), on
Evan, an amiable, unselfish sales clerk he meets while wasting himself on booze
and boys in Las Vegas.

Banksy, a golden-haired, corn-fed farmer’s
son from Ohio, although every bit as ripped and ambitious as his mentor, is
much more loveable, a natural squad leader, a friend to all and mystified when
his drill instructor is summarily reassigned halfway through the training
course (a point that’s neatly cleared up later).

Before deployment to Iraq, Norris is sent
to officers’ candidate school and earns a commission as a lieutenant. Banks
rises quickly to the rank of sergeant.

Then the almost inevitable Big Coincidence
occurs. In Iraq, the two are assigned to bases only a few miles apart. The men
meet for chow, later in a deserted field shower. Rising excitement gives way to
declarations of love and a breathless series of ecstatic but sketchily detailed
couplings in Clay’s tent.

Disaster interrupts the desert honeymoon.
A deadly, nicely foreshadowed accident happens. Banksy, accepting blame,
declares himself unworthy of love and refuses to resume the affair with Clay.
Another disaster happens–to Clay. Evan and the Banks family become involved and
the novel moves on to a satisfactorily happy ending.

Neither of these guys is a candidate for a
PhD in psychology. Still, they’re fun to be around and easy on the eyes. Nor is
the novel a deeply felt, top-shelf male/male wartime classic on the order of
Ensan Case’s Wingmen, Jeff Mann’s Purgatory or Charles Nelson’s The
Boy Who Picked the Bullets Up
.

Brock, a journeyman author I’d not heard
of, has published romantic fiction involving movie stars, vampires, murder on a
cruise ship and businessmen with big secrets, as well as autobiographical works
and countless short stories. His military service did not include time in Iraq.

Dog Tagged is beach reading, light fiction that can be
finished in an afternoon, a randy romp studded with blood, sweat, tears,
passionate kisses and presidential medals for heroism. What’s not to like? Go
buy.

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©, 2013, Elliott Mackle

www.elliottmacklebooks.com

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A Conversation with Trebor Healey

Award-winning author Trebor Healey’s two latest novels, Faun
and A Horse Named Sorrow are distinctly different but still bear
Healey’s individualistic, hearty prose—part philosophy, part plot but all good.
He took some time away from his busy writing schedule to answer some questions
for us. Thanks, Trebor!

 

Out in Print: First,
there’s Sweet Son of Pan, and then there’s Faun. What attracts
you to mythical creatures? Has this been a lifelong obsession? 

Trebor Healey:
Well I love fauns and Pan because we live in a culture that is trying to sort
out sexuality, and Pan, satyrs and fauns strike me as a very earthy male kind
of sexuality that is natural and creative. As for mythic creatures, I really
only got interested in them when I began to study the fairy tradition in
Ireland (Evans-Wentz’s book blew my mind: The
Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
) which followed my connection to the
Radical Faeries in San Francisco. Myths expand the world—I think they make more
stories possible.

(Photo credit Martin Cox)

OiP: The road trip
that is A Horse Named Sorrow is so lovingly detailed, you’ve got to be a
road aficionado. What’s your favorite road trip and why?

TH: Well I
followed the same route by bicycle that is chronicled in the book. I also drove
back and forth across the country in a big circular route when I did my first
book tour. I ’m happiest when I’m on the road. I had a great trip through Chile
and Argentina most recently, but I think the bicycle trip was the most
memorable which is why I treasure it and made use of it in my fiction.

OiP:
A deep strain of mysticism runs through all your work. Would you consider
yourself a mystic? Why or why not?

TH: I think I
used to consider myself a mystic. I feel there is a sort of secret world that I
connect to now again…Seamus connects to it in A Horse Named Sorrow as does Gilberto in Faun…but I think one generally glimpses it for brief moments. To
be a mystic all the time feels to me
now like checking out. I’ve gotten involved in economic justice work in the past
decade and that has caused me to become more grounded in the everyday world,
which is important. There is a lot of suffering in the world, and I think we
all need to address it and work to relieve it. Mysticism has its place, but
much of our work in this world is more in the material realm, I think, whether
we want it to be or not. But a sense of wonder is essential, and wonder is the
gateway to a larger world—you’ve always got to have it there in your back
pocket as you go about your quotidian existence. It makes the everyday world
sacred in a way it can’t be without a sense of something larger.

OiP: What’s your
creative process like? 

TH: All over
the place. I’m one of those people who searches for inspiration, and I don’t
write much without it. I like to go places I’ve never been. That opens me. It’s
not terribly practical, and it’s fallen out of favor it seems, but it’s the key
for me, and I’ve built my life in such a way that I can wander a fair amount.
Like I say, I’m happiest on the road, and that’s where I find inspiration. I
also find it through physical activity…swimming, hiking. Saunas work. There’s
something about pushing your body past its limits that breaks through to your
creative side. My process is about throwing myself into the unknown whenever I
can.

OiP: You’ve spoken
of being blocked for a few years before releasing both Faun and A
Horse Named Sorrow
—where do you think the block came from, and how did you
break through it?

TH: I just
get stuck in ruts. I’m very good at creating stability. But it kills me
creatively, even as it makes me feel somewhat secure and grounded. Going to
Argentina and Chile was how I broke through the block this time around. Not
right away. I was there 3 months before I started writing again. But once I was
set loose, it just flowed. Something has to die for something to be born, that
kind of thing. 

OiP:
Your prose is poetic and your poetry sometimes prose-like—do you enjoy blurring
those lines? Is it something you do intentionally, or is the emotion more important
than the form?

TH: I love
poetry and a poetic approach. I think all good fiction is poetic. I like
straddling the line between the two, bringing narrative to poetry and poetry to
prose. I don’t do it intentionally. I think we all find our natural voice and
mine has always been one of poetic prose. I feel like I’m a poet first and a
novelist second, but I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. Without poetry,
I wouldn’t bother writing prose. All art is poetry.

OiP: The bike in A
Horse Named Sorrow
is decorated with bits of string and twine from places
Jimmy has been. Are you bound to memorabilia like that?

TH: I have a
lot of little things that feel like good luck charms, or sacred amulets. They
can be little toys, or a pine cone, or a feather, or a peso coin from
Argentina. I’m not into big things, but I like little things that are
considered more or less valueless. I’m also picking up little things on the
street. You can sanctify them, imbue them with your energy in a way you can’t
with large bulky profane things. I like the image of it for the story. Jimmy is
losing everything and it gives him a sense of connection to where he’s been and
what he’s felt and experienced. Every thread has a long, long story behind it.

OiP:
The characters of both Seamus and Jimmy are unique yet very “everyman” in some
ways. Are they based on individuals or are they composites of people you’ve
known?

TH: They are
very much composites. The book is in many ways a sort of memorial to the
dozens—or hundreds really—of wonderful people and eccentric characters who
inhabited and made up the San Francisco I knew and loved.

OiP:
Your work seems to be all about the search and the journey rather than the
destination—does that mirror through to your life?

TH: Yes, of
course. I mean the destination is death. For all of us. Interesting, but we’re
not here for that—it’s just where we end up. And then, who knows, maybe we go
elsewhere or come back here. Even death is a journey. I think when your goal is
to become or accept yourself, or find a way to express yourself, it just
becomes obvious that it’s a process that never ends. The idea of destination
falls away. The minute you achieve something or get somewhere, it sort of goes
up in smoke and on you go to the next thing.

OiP: What do you
want readers to take away from your two most recent books?

TH: Oh, I
don’t know. I put it out there, I try to touch a chord. I’m just telling my
story, so I’m not really thinking about what people will take away from it.
Some will relate and some won’t I suppose. But I guess every story is about
love and wisdom. The truth. I would hope people feel those things. And I want
to make them a laugh a little along the way. A book is a flower really that you
hold out to someone.

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A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press)

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Buy it now from Amazon.com

If Trebor Healey knows anything, he knows the road. He
understands that growth is not in resting but in moving—listening to the
thousands of stories told in the cabs of semis and worn leatherette cushions of
diners. He’s shown this to some extent in his first novel, Through it Came
Bright Colors
and the journey of his fantasy Faun, but A Horse
Named Sorrow
brings it home like a hard day of hitching.

Twenty-one year old Seamus Blake meets the man of his
dreams, HIV positive Jimmy Keane, in San Francisco. Their coupling is
passionate yet short as Jimmy falls ill, Shame (as Seamus is nicknamed), caring
for him until he dies. He promises Jimmy he’ll take his ashes back to Buffalo
NY, where Jimmy is from. So he embarks on a cross-country road trip on Jimmy’s
old bike, festooned with twine and strings Jimmy picked up on his way out West,
trying to ride his way out of grief and into a new life.

Healey melds Catholicism, Buddhism, Sixties and Seventies
pop music, American Indian mysticism, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, and a love of
pancakes in a dense, yet never heavy word salad as amusing as it is
heart-wrenching. It could be a confusing melange, but Healey’s innate sense of
structure brings all these elements (and more) together into a plainly
sorted-out whole.

The star of the show is, of course, Seamus Blake—a
fascinating character that fears and wonders as deeply as he loves. He’s had
his first taste of what true commitment feels like and it doesn’t scare him. It
invigorates him. He may be distracted by who he meets on the road, in
particular a boy named Eugene who reappears many times throughout the last
third of the book, but Shame’s heart is true and his intentions are good, and you
know that if it’s within his power, he’ll make it to Buffalo.

Healey’s prose is nothing short of incredible—lyric, sharply
focused, funny, ironic, and energetic, moving effortlessly from present to past
to possible future and back again, as moving and hypnotic as the broken white
lines of the highway Shame travels. Healey is an unquestionably gifted writer,
and one of the most emotionally imaginative voices we have telling our stories
to the world.

If you’ve never read Trebor Healey before, you should. And A
Horse Named Sorrow
is a perfect place to start, but be warned. You might
just find yourself selling the house and buying a bike.  

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Some Dance to Remember: A Memoir-Novel of San Francisco 1970-1982 – Jack Fritscher (Palm Drive Publishing)

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Buy it through Palm Drive Publishing

Some Dance to Remember
is a really interesting book — an irritating, poetic, poignant story,
ostensibly about Ryan O’Hara and his bodybuilder lover Kick Sorensen.
Occasionally the story is narrated by Magnus Bishop, a heterosexual pop-culture
academic, but Bishop is more a participant than a narrator, gradually sucked
into the events he’s observing as the story progresses.

It’s an unusual skeleton for a
book, independent of chronology, written in lofty omniscient third person, the
only perspective able to provide unity to the deliberate fragmentation of story
and to support the unapologetic abstractions of the rhetoric.

The book’s core strength is as
a cultural polemic and transpersonal manifesto of what being a gay man might
mean during those years, a kaleidoscopic account of post-Stonewall birth
contractions pushing an unprecedented gay culture out into the open, evolving
faster than any single person–observer or participant–could possibly
comprehend.

In rhythms echoing Ferlinghetti the roiling adventure of
experimentation, freedom, self-indulgence, and self-definition of gay culture
in San Francisco in this time come to life. The same period is documented in
more academically stable books, but this account carries the immediacy and heat
of a bomb blast. It may not be tidy or perfectly designed, but it certainly
carries the message.

Ryan O’Hara, who left Roman
Catholic seminary a year before his ordination, is drawn from Chicago to San
Francisco. In California, where he is repeatedly warned to be careful of what
he wishes for, he plunges into an emerging society that springs up with such
speed it cannot be directed–even though that is precisely what O’Hara seeks to
do with the “Masculinist Manifesto” he publishes in his magazine
“Maneuvers”.

In it he declares that a
quasi-mystical “homomasculinist” man, a bulked-up American clone of
Quentin Crisp’s Great, Dark Man, is the purest form of manhood for men who love
men. Sometimes the repetition of O’Hara’s ideological tenets (and their
rejection by others) becomes intellectually tiresome, but still they hold the
sustained fervor of political slogans repeated like mantras in a guerilla cell
late at night while men make bombs.

The Manifesto, its impact on
culture in Castro and SOMA, and the ferment it creates in O’Hara’s personal
circle is a heady concoction of his RC religiosity (which he never escapes)
mixed with his adoration of and obsession with Kick Sorensen (which nearly
destroys him), pushing him toward a painful new acceptance of his own humanity.

O’Hara’s circle — which
Fritscher carefully prevents Kick Sorensen from entering — includes his broken
Viet-Nam veteran brother, his dagger-sharp sister who entertains under the name
Kweenasheba, Solly Bluestein who makes porn videos featuring straight thug boys
masturbating for a gay audience, and Magnus Bishop, hypnotized by the frenetic
show.

All but Solly (and especially
O’Hara himself) are essentially evasive if not outright dishonest about
personal responsibility and entitlement, as if more careful self-examination
might break the magic spell of unfolding events. In contrast, Solly knows his
truth, even his destiny, and never wavers from the knowledge that it is his
responsibility entirely.

But even evasive dishonesty, if
it ricochets off the unyielding surfaces of life events long enough, will
eventually strike an inner truth. That is the introspective gift of this book,
beyond the gripping account of historical context and the social commentary.
Fritscher makes inescapably clear that ultimately we are dragged kicking and
squealing to our humanity not by our obsessions, but by friends who stick with
us while we pursue them until we crack.

If you haven’t already, please read this book. It’s a part
of our story.

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©, 2013, Lloyd A. Meeker

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