Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wilde Stories 2013: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

s245970311962353406_p193_i1_w907Buy from Lethe Press

Speculative fiction isn’t like it was when I was a boy. H.G. Wells was just starting out, and Jules Verne was but a pup. Well, not quite that long ago…but it was still called science fiction and wasn’t taken as seriously as it is today. What hasn’t changed is the wonder of it all, and editor extraordinaire Steve Berman has collected some wondrous pieces indeed for his latest edition of Wilde Stories.

The opener (“Breakwater in the Summer Dark” by L. Lark) and closer (“Keep the Aspidochelone Floating” by Chaz Brenchley are reprised from Berman’s own The Touch of the Sea collection as are a couple of other items here, but their second appearance does nothing to dull their sheen. “Breakwater in the Summer Dark,” in particular, is a beautiful, haunting story of awkward adolescent love against the backdrop of publicity over a “lake monster” at a summer camp. Lark’s boys are achingly real, and I found myself just as involved this time as I was the first. Similarly, Brenchley’s “Aspidochelone” is as involving a pirate story as any I’ve read. These stories are perfect for this collection.

Also making second appearances…well, they all are as this is a reprint series…are “Tattooed Love Boys,” featuring Alex Jeffers’ trademark gender and genre bending, the post-apocalyptic pirates of Vincent Kovar’s “Wave Boys,” and Ray Cluey’s brilliant story of a San Francisco suicide and his rescuing boyfriend, “Night Fishing.” Cluey’s prose is so evocative, I nearly fetched a blanket against the chill of the bay—all the way in Denver.

But the chills in Wilde Stories 2013 are not all marine. K.M. Ferebee gifts us with a medical student with some interesting quirks in “The Keats Variation,” Richard Bowes shows us a man who is able to confront his own dark side in “Grierson at the Pain Clinic,” Rahul Kanakia’s “Next Door” immerses us in a world of futuristic squatters, and Laird Barron takes us into a haunted prison to expose us to “A Strange Form of Life.”

However, I was totally capitvated by Hal Duncan’s “Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill!,” a clever story of love and devotion between a vampire-hunting werewolf and his boy. Told from the werewolf POV, this story is as smart as it is smart-assed, with a powerful, unique voice and an action-packed climax that will have you on the edge of your chair. It’s impressive fiction, the speculative label notwithstanding.

But Berman and Lethe Press have done much to expand that rather limiting label, providing us with collections that mystify, astound, and inspire. I can’t wait for the next one.

“Breakwater in the Summer Dark” is from Steve Berman’s “Boys of Summer.”

©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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The Princess Affair – Nell Stark (Bold Strokes Books)

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Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

I’ll confess to being an Anglophile. I have box sets of
“Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Absolutely Fabulous,” “Keeping Up
Appearances,” and “Are You Being Served?”I do not, however, follow the
royals as slavishly as some of my fellow lovers of the UK. That did not prevent
me from thoroughly enjoying Nell Stark’s The Princess Affair.

Kerry Donovan, Rhodes scholar, is in Oxford to study. Her
distractions should only be football and an occasional sightseeing excursion,
but she never counted on falling in love with a princess—especially one so
stunning as Princess Alexendra Victoria Jane, who the British tabs have
nicknamed “Sassy Sasha.” But Sasha’s well-publicized flings with male members
of the jet-set are meant to obscure her true sexuality. England is used to
commoner/royal romances, but what about between two women?

Stark breathes some new life into this old storyline by
marching her complex characters through their paces with startling verisimilitude.
Since she has studied at Oxford, she has first-hand knowledge of the
surroundings, and she uses her not-inconsiderable gift for setting the scene to
give us a perfect backdrop for a love story.

In addition to her lesbianism, Sasha has another secret that
drives the plot. She’s dyslexic, an unfortunate condition for someone called
upon to memorize and recite speeches. This antipathy to studying and
intellectual exercise has wrongly branded her stupid, another obstacle to
loving a Rhodes scholar. Her testy relationship with her father, the King, is
also a lovely complication.

Stark’s writing is not histrionic or given to the hyperbole
sometimes found in romances. That’s not to say it’s flat or emotionless—quite
the opposite is true. In true British fashion, it’s restrained but still packs
a punch. Her dialogue is also superb—always conversational and never feels
scripted.

So even if you’ve read this particular plot before, I can
guarantee you that Stark’s fresh take will have you cheering for Sasha and
Kerry to get together in the end. Will they? Well, you’ll just have to find out
for yourself.  

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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A Conversation with Alex Jeffers By Gavin Atlas

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Alex Jeffers is the
author of the recently released novel Deprivation;
or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy
. He’s also published a collection
of wonder stories, You
Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home
, a book-length story sequence, The
Abode of Bliss
, the epistolary novella
Do You Remember Tulum?
, the short
science fiction novel The
New People
, and the novel Safe
as Houses
. His short fiction has appeared in magazines such as the North American Review, Blithe House Quarterly, Fantasy and Science Fiction, M-Brane SF, and Icarus, and
many anthologies. Alex lives in Rhode Island.

GA: Hi, Alex. Thanks for talking
to Out in Print. First, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” supposedly formed for him in a
dream. Did aspects of
Deprivation
arise from dreams or take form in a huge rush of inspiration?

AJ: Both, in a
way. Deprivation occurred to me at a
peculiar, susceptible time in my life, many years ago during the recession of
the early 1990s. A recent (belated) college graduate with a useless
liberal-arts degree, I lived in Providence, RI, but worked as an office temp in
Boston, fifty miles away. Getting to work on time required catching an ungodly
early train for the hour-long commute. I’ve always suffered from insomnia—my
natural cycle is nocturnal—so for over a year I was lucky to get four hours of
sleep a night. Sleep deprivation functioned for me as laudanum addiction did
for Coleridge. Life was hallucinatory.

One January
morning on the train in my usual sleep-deprived daze, I remembered a dream from
the night before. Now, as one of the characters in Deprivation remarks of himself at one point, I seldom recall my
dreams in any detail because dreams are mostly image but I think in sentences
and paragraphs. This was different, compelling, full of arbitrary, sensual
detail: a vision of entering a tiny room within an abandoned warehouse, spread
with antique Turkish and Persian carpets, where a little girl watched an
Arabian Nights movie on a silent TV while her handsome elder brother slept in a
corner, bundled up in bolts of silk brocade and velvet. In the dream, I became
convinced the brother was (would be) my heart’s desire, my lifelong companion.
I have no clue where my subconscious came up with any of it.

Taking out the
pad of graph paper I always carried and a pen, I wrote out a narrative version
of that dream as the train rattled through eastern Mass. Partly because most of
the fictions I was futzing with at the time were written in the first person,
partly because the material was so intensely, peculiarly personal and I have a
horror of autobiographical fiction, I wrote in third person and created a
viewpoint character who was like but not me. Then I put it away, not thinking
much of it except that it was strange, unprecedented.

A week or so
later the same thing happened. In the second, possibly more fantastical dream,
I was trapped on the battlements of an inaccessible mountaintop castle which I
knew to be in Italy, Umbria or the Marches. As I attempted to find a way out, I
heard a strange cry, looked up, and saw in the air flying toward the castle a
Renaissance knight mounted upon a hippogriff. The source for this imagery was
more comprehensible: I’d recently started rereading the Orlando furioso of Ariosto, in which the hippogriff and its various
riders figure prominently. Again, the dream was so vivid and compelling I wrote
it out on the train—half unconsciously choosing the same narrative strategy of
substituting a third-person “he” for “I.”

On the return
commute that evening, I pulled out my pad of graph paper and reread both scraps
of dream narrative. All at once they belonged together, the improvised
third-person stand-in was a person in his own right (his name was Benedict, Ben
for short), and it was absolutely
necessary
for me to work out how he got from that warehouse to the castle
in Italy…and then what happened afterward.

I wrote like a
demon for three months, mostly on the train. Then reality intervened, as it
tends to do: I acquired a permanent day job, moved to Boston—losing the daily
two hours of writing time on the train—and my then-agent made impatient noises
about the novel I was supposed to be restructuring and revising, Safe as Houses, so I had to spend
several months on that. Ben had not yet reached the Italian castle but the
overall shape of the book had come clear to me in a way it hardly ever does
(even for a short story) and I knew the last lines: “Come to Italy with me,
caro, next week. We’ll never come back.” Once I dispatched the penultimate
draft of Safe as Houses to my agent,
I finished Deprivation in six months.
It’s the work of mine most true to its original conception, which demanded no
major revision or restructuring: written straight through at white heat, almost
without hesitation.

Finding a
publisher for it took twenty years, though. Thanks be to Steve Berman, Lethe
Press, and their tutelary deity Daulton.

GA: I’ve had critique
partners say things like “you shouldn’t write epistolary novels” or “don’t use
dream sequences because there are no stakes”. I could wave copies of
Alice in Wonderland and Dangerous Liaisons in their faces, but
coming from me, saying “the masters can do it” doesn’t feel like a great
defense. How do you know when a “rule” can successfully be broken? How do you
feel about writing rules overall?

AJ: If I
followed the standard rules my bank account would probably be a whole lot
happier…and I a whole lot more miserable. Aside from the conventions of grammar
and syntax, the only rule I hold sacred is: Be true to the work. If, like Do You Remember Tulum?, the work wants
to take the form of a single, unreasonably long love letter or, like Deprivation, a series of dreams that bleed
in and out of each other and “real life” until there’s no telling which is
which, how much less interesting they would be if, spirits broken, they were
forced into the shapes of traditional, plot-driven novels written to an
eighth-grade vocabulary.

It seems to
me, if I may be bitter for a moment, that the contemporary “rules” of narrative
fiction intend primarily to enforce the creation of raw material for movies or
HBO. Not to deny the artistry of visual narrative—it seldom speaks to me,
usually gives me a headache, but I recognize its worth—but a film or television
serial is an entirely different animal than a work of written fiction. The
things film does best written fiction can’t
do at all
and vice-versa. I feel pretty strongly that the filmification of
culture has deeply, probably irrevocably impoverished literature.

On the macro,
structural and strategic level, most writing “rules” nowadays are about either
not performing tricks that visual narrative can’t imitate or not testing the
attention span and concentration of readers conditioned by the half-hour, hour,
two-hour limits of TV and movies. Break ’em all, I say, break ’em again and
again. Ninety percent of the time you’ll fail and make an unreadable botch, but
that’s fine. That’s how you learn what your limits and capabilities are and,
crucially, how you keep yourself interested. Keep in mind the Platonic
definition of the novel (paraphrased from I don’t remember who): an extended
work of narrative fiction that has something wrong with it.

On a micro-level:
Strunk & White? Go stick your heads in a well. Plain American style is but
a single tool in the writer’s box and about the least flexible or entertaining.

GA: Early in Deprivation, you describe a series of
paintings in a hallway, mentioning, if not for a visual joke or anachronism,
one could have been executed by Lorenzo Lotto, one by Hans Holbein, and another
from the school of Giorgione. You obviously love fine art. So, say a handsome
thief enters your life and offers to win your heart by obtaining any two or
three famous paintings for your home. What might you choose?

AJ: To start
out modestly, almost any of Canaletto’s views of Venice, preferably one that
included either the Bacino or the Grand Canal and a gondola or two. Venice is
one of the two centers of my imaginary geography of the world. Unfortunately
there aren’t a great many excellent visual depictions of the other, Ottoman
Constantinople.

Combining the
two geographical obsessions with a fixation on portraiture, I’d ask the
handsome thief to steal from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum the
gouache portrait of a Seated (Ottoman) Scribe attributed to the Venetian
painter Gentile Bellini. Poor Gardner Museum, to be robbed of another
masterpiece! (I do have a nicely framed postcard of the Seated Scribe, but it’s
not the same.)

El Greco’s
portrait of Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino, in the Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston, is a painting that ripped my soul out of my body the first time I saw
it, but I don’t think I could actually live with it.

And I don’t
expect I’ll ever reside in splendor fit to house any of the splendid Italian
Renaissance and Mannerist portraits of Titian, Bronzino, Lotto, Giambattista
Moroni (impossible to pick favorites), but if I one day end up in a villa in
Tuscany or the Veneto—watch out, museums of the world.

GA: Could you tell us about
your character, Dario? What inspired you to create him, and what do you like
about him?

AJ: Dario is
the handsome sleeping brother in the first dream that inspired, and opens, Deprivation. According to him, he’s one
of three children of an unconventional Italian painter who sent her kids to
America because it wasn’t done for an unmarried woman to have and raise
children by three different men. His father, he believes, was a Lebanese
Christian Arab—but it’s all mythology, whether invented by Dario (the dream) or
Ben (the dreamer).

Because he
stepped out of a dream, I don’t really know what inspired Dario other than my
attraction to Mediterranean and Near Eastern men. Ben’s attraction, aside from
the physical, has a lot to do with Dario being needy at a time when everybody
else in Ben’s life (or so he feels) wants to take care of him and run his life.
Dario needs somebody to run his life.
He claims he knew before they met that Ben existed—that he had been searching
the streets of Boston for Ben.

One reading of
Deprivation—possibly the easiest and
a reading Ben himself subscribes to now and then—sees his dreams as a form of
self-analysis and therapy. In that reading, Dario (in different ways his sister
Gioia and brother Laud, also) embodies Ben’s own insecurities, his sense of
being unready to function in the grown-up world, overwhelmed by it. Because Ben
believes he can’t take care of himself, his subconscious creates Dario as
somebody he can successfully care
for. When he ultimately says goodbye to Dario it’s because he’s finally ready
to take responsibility for himself without a crutch.

One reading.
Somewhat reductive if not entirely wrong. Because Dario is a person too, as
real to Ben as his parents and friends and the other men he gets involved with
in the course of the novel, as steeped in mystery and contradiction—as
inexplicable and wondrous as any human being.

As for what I like about Dario…. He’s a fascinating
conundrum for a writer because he’s deliberately unfinished and unfinishable,
ambiguous, self contradictory. As a character, he’s unashamedly implausible and
yet entirely himself. Also amazingly hot, if far too young.

GA: I’ve heard that you are
a voracious reader. Can you tell us about any favorite works you feel are
undeservedly obscure?

AJ: There are,
I believe, two perfect prose stylists of twentieth-century English-language
letters: M.F.K. Fisher and Jan Morris (Morris edges into the twenty-first).
Both are widely and deservedly known for their non-fiction—Fisher for works on
food and appetite, Morris on travel, history, and appetite. Both have also
published a very few pieces of deeply odd fiction that keep being forgotten and
rediscovered and forgotten again. Fisher’s Not
Now, but
Now, an interlocking series of tales of the amoral, self-absorbed
Jennie raising havoc around Europe and the States without regard for
chronological plausibility, and Morris’s Last
Letters from Hav
, a sequence of magazine dispatches from the decidedly
peculiar city-state of Hav somewhere on the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia,
are neither novels in any conventional sense and both at once brilliant and
obscure, like stars sunk in the whorls of a vast interstellar dust cloud.

I could
evangelize the works of Anglo-Irish novelists Elizabeth Bowen and Molly Keane
(early books published as by “M.J. Farrell”) for days, neither as well known as
they should be. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who died at eighty-five early this month,
is sadly better known for her Merchant-Ivory screenplays than her magisterial
novels.

I won’t even
start on the speculative fiction that’s always been a big chunk of my reading.

Finally, two
words: Orlando furioso.

GA: I read that you enjoyed
Charlotte Bronte’s
Villette, and I
think overall you love books with imaginary cities or countries. Can you
explain that fascination? Is creating a whole city or country like getting to
play with a dollhouse except multiplied by a thousand?

AJ: Well,
Brontë’s city of Villette and country of Labassecour aren’t strictly imaginary:
they’re Brussels and Belgium wearing fake spectacles with funny noses and fuzzy
eyebrows attached. But yes, Villette
(the book) stands high in my canon of perfect novels that every
English-speaking person should read at least twice. Why Jane Eyre is more popular passeth my understanding.

And yes, like
Charlotte and her sisters and brother, I spent large parts of my childhood and
youth inventing imaginary cities, nations, whole worlds. Doesn’t every
imaginative person? (Well, before the invention of tabletop RPGs and video
games.) At first because one doesn’t know enough about the real world to
situate one’s games and adventures in it, later because one finds the real
world small and disappointing.

The latter is,
in the end, the underlying theme of Deprivation,
although Ben’s imagination works differently than mine so his ideal world is an
impossible vision of Italy instead of a distant planet in the far future or a
never-never kingdom where magic works and mass media were never invented.

Every novelist
plays with imaginary dolls in novel-size dollhouses. No matter how closely
setting and history resemble the real world and real experience, the world the
characters move through is made up—it exists only in the writer’s head and the
words she chooses to render it on the page. The realist mode is only one
possibility. Magical realism, surrealism at the so-called high end, science
fiction and fantasy at the low: each mode provides different tools to the
writer, different rewards to the reader, different joys to both.

A quote from a
recent column by acclaimed fantasy and
science-fiction writer Jo Walton at Tor.com seems apropos:

There’s a way in which fiction
is about understanding human nature. It’s about more than that, of course, but
that’s a significant part of it. I feel that you can tell more interesting
stories about human nature if you can contrast it with alien nature, or elf
nature, or what human nature would be like if you had nine thousand identical
clones, or if people could extend their lives by sucking life force from other
people. There are more possibilities for stories in genre, more places for
stories to go. More ways to escape, more things to think about, more fun.

It’s a fluke
and in some ways a puzzle I’m known (insofar as I’m known) for fiction set in
the real world of the present day and recent past. Long ago in the dark ages I
started out writing science fiction. The first book I sold was a big SF novel.
For several good reasons it was never published, thank merciful and
compassionate God, although I reused its core conceit of a planet where all the
women died in The New People. Most of
the short fiction I’ve written in the last five years falls under the rubric of
speculative fiction: SF or fantasy or magical realism. The stories in You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home
walk edgewise to reality: they’re set in the future or the mythic past or in
countries I’ve never visited (some countries nobody’s ever visited).

My ostensibly
realistic books are constantly testing the limits of the real world. Aside from
his family, the realest things in the mind of the narrator of Safe as Houses are his husband’s
illustrations for children’s fantasy novels. Do You Remember Tulum? pretends to be a single hundred-plus-page
letter handwritten over a span of four or five days, an unlikely
accomplishment, and the characters are all mythic, impossible figures—not least
the narrator, “Alex Jeffers.” The narrator of The Abode of Bliss is a Turk from İstanbul, a city I’ve never set
foot in so it had to be imagined from the ground up. Deprivation may, or may not, be a dream from beginning to end.

The real world
of the twenty-first century—the US in particular—fascinates, bores, revolts, inspirits,
horrifies, exhilarates, terrifies me all at once. It’s too big and too small. I
appreciate the marvels, abhor the petty uses they’re put to. The noise has
overwhelmed the signal. I can’t comprehend this country, this world, anymore.
More than that, I no longer wish to work at attempting to comprehend it. (If I
ever did, which is doubtful.) As a setting for fiction, it’s rendered itself
unusable. I can’t talk about the things that are important to me in the terms
it requires. It’s back to Marianne Moore’s “imaginary gardens with real toads
in them” for me. (If I ever left them. Which is doubtful.) Although real
gardens with imaginary toads work, too.

I have
emigrated to Hav.

GA: If the muses or gods of
literature and the arts came to you and said, “Alex, you can change one thing
(only one) that you find terrible about 21
st Century culture” what
might happen? The end of Real Housewives shows?
People Magazine has to give as much space to book reviews as
celebrity scandal?

AJ: I haven’t
turned my TV on since 2008, which was also the last time I went out to a movie.
Even before then, the TV wasn’t connected but only served as a screen to
display DVDs—I haven’t lived in a house with cable since 2005 and had no
television at all from about 1980 to 1998. Really, I’m so disconnected from pop
culture it’s stupid. What are these Real Housewives you speak of?

Is there some
single cultural thing I could change that would fix the unequal distribution of
wealth in the world, so that artisans and laborers, restaurant and retail
workers, clerk-typists and other office serfs, mid-list and small-press
novelists, minor painters, sculptors, actors, poets, playwrights wouldn’t
always be barely scraping by, if that, and the great and small nations of the
world wouldn’t be held hostage by Wall Street?

That. Please.
Yesterday.

GA: I understand you enjoy
cooking. If you could have a few celebrities, historic figures or literary
characters come over for dinner, who would you invite? And what would want to
serve?

AJ: I love to
cook. I loathe and fear strangers and conversation. (Social anxiety and
introversion? I invented them!) I would prepare something complicated and
Turkish, South Asian, or Italian, and eat it by myself while reading a good
book about fascinating personages.

GA: And last, what’s next
for you in terms of goals, plans, or adventures?

AJ: In the
terrifyingly short term, deadlines loom for several anthologies I’d quite like
to submit (unwritten) stories to. In the middle distance, I owe somebody the fourth story in my series
about Liam Shea, a fairy raised by humans in present-day Massachusetts (real
garden, imaginary toad). Whenever I get around to completing all seven planned
Liam stories, that’ll be a (small) book. Away beyond the horizon, Steve Berman
of Lethe Press wants to publish a volume of stories set in an imaginary world
of mine where historically appropriate technology (long-haul sail-powered
merchant ships in one era, mobile phones and motorscooters in another) butts up
against gods, demons, ghosts, and saints. But I’ve only completed three of them
so far and one of the unfinished ones keeps threatening to become a novel.

As soon as the
weather turns enough toward summer that I don’t spend half my life obsessing
about how fucking cold I am, I plan to embark on a third revision of The Unexpected Thing, a big novel set
partly in southeastern Massachusetts, partly in the fifth-smallest nation in
Europe, a place I made up (real and
imaginary gardens, inhabited by toads of both types). Then try to sell it for
lots of money. Upkeep on a townhouse in Hav is brutal.

 GA: Thank you, Alex!

AJ: Thank you (and Jerry and Bill) for the
opportunity to rave and ramble.

Keep up with Alex at his
website,
sentenceandparagraph.com

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Injustice – K.A. Kron & Brenda L. Leffler (Lethe Press)

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Books with local color are always lots of fun, and I rarely get to read one set in Denver for some reason. Injustice, set in Capitol Hill, is all over town—from Littleton and Aurora and back—and name checks Denver landmarks, like Racine’s and Queen Soopers. Oh, the book? I think the cover, which depicts a gun pointed at the reader, says it all. It’s action-packed from first page to last.

Riley Connors, formerly a government operative, is now a law student/bartender with a dark past and lots of connections willing to help her right wrongs, including getting revenge on her girlfriend wanna-be’s ex-boyfriend. But that injustice only whets Riley’s appetite for taking a firm hand and doing the right thing.

Injustice is not a slow, deliberate book whose purpose is to deeply explore Riley’s character and emotions about fighting evil. The subject is broached, but to agonize over it would be counteproductive to the main thrust of the book, which is action. And Injustice has that in spades. From the attempted rape on page two to the drug overdose on page two hundred and forty-three, it only slows down long enough to allow you to catch your breath before it’s off on another caper.

In fact, there are several capers going on here simultaneously. It’s to Kron and Leffler’s credit that the various endeavors are never crossed or at cross-purposes, and they feature the most wonderfully intricate surveillance toys. And Riley also has an able accomplice named Charlie, a grizzled ole cuss who was a compadre of hers in the black ops. Their relationship is a father/daughter/BFF/co-worker/psychic bond kinda thing, and they both show up for each other at the most opportune times.

Deep reading? Nope. But it doesn’t pretend to be, and that’s refreshing. It’s a quick, fun, breathlessly fast read that I went through in two sessions, and it’s also subtitled Book One of the Nemesis Series, so if this is your thing, I’m sure you’ll be looking for Book Two when it comes out.

Action, baby. That’s where it’s at.

©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Pacific Rimming – Tom Cardamone (Chelsea Station Editions)

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Buy it now through Amazon.com

Tom Cardamone is a master at creating worlds, but not all of
his spheres are the fantastical confections of Green Thumb or Werewolves
of Central Park
, concerned less with alternate realities than the very
gritty realities available here and now. Pacific Rimming, his latest
release, plumbs those depths to fascinating effect.

Against the backdrop of a late 1990s New York City, a
nameless narrator details his obsession with and fetishization of Asians,
focusing on drug use and sexual conquest to obliterate any possibility of
emotional commitment.

Though Cardamone is widely known for his surreal landscapes,
his hyper-real ones are even more affecting. He uses the Manhattan club scene
along with its shallowness, its various addictions, its grittiness, and its
excesses to paint a bleak portrait of obsession and its aftermath.
Interestingly, Cardamone does not judge here. It would be easy enough and
certainly expected with some authors. But he presents the narrator’s life with
an objective eye, the horror all the more real for its normalcy.

But such a presentation doesn’t mean the prose is flat.
Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. In one of the blurbs, Kevin Killian calls
Cardamone a ‘stylist,’ and I suppose that’s true. However, that particular word
evokes—for me, at least—a false affect that couldn’t be less like what I read
on these pages.

Instead, this language vibrates. It resonates, moving and
wriggling like a live, sparking wire. And it has no intention of assimilating
gay culture into what surrounds it. Instead, it seeks to create vast gulfs
between us and them. It burns bridges instead of creating them, and I love
that. I tried in vain to find a representative paragraph I could reproduce here
to prove that last point, but the writing is so all-of-a-piece that I couldn’t
find one.

There is no past or future in this world. It’s rooted and
fruited in the present—today’s trick, tonight’s bump, the endless after-hours
restlessness that marks Manhattan as the epicenter of the universe. Similarly,
there is no plot per se because that would force an inherent timeline.
And Cardamone wisely chose not to try this for a full-length novel, which might
prove unworkable even for his considerable talents. As a novella of less than a
hundred pages, however, it works like a charm.

Pacific Rimming, then, is one more little gem in
Cardamone’s tiara. But as marvelous as both this and last year’s Green Thumb
are, I’m looking forward to something longer from Cardamone—if for no other
reason than to spend some substantial time in the worlds he crafts. 

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Wonderland – David-Matthew Barnes (Bold Strokes Books)

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Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

Some books just beg to be screenplays. That’s not to say
that they’re slightly or shallowly written, but they’re so visual and create
such vivid pictures in their readers’ minds that you naturally want to see them
on the big screen. That’s what you get with David-Matthew Barnes’ new YA book, Wonderland.

Fifteen-year-old Destiny Moore has just lost her mother to
cancer and been transplanted from Chicago to the small island town of Avalon
Cove to live with her uncle Fred and his husband Clark. She meets her two new
besties, Tasha and Topher, who invite her to a creepy boarding house called
Wonderland, owned by the mysterious Adrianna Marveaux, where all three of them
meet their soul mates. But Wonderland has a dark aspect as well; one which
causes them to make choices that will change their lives forever.

Barnes has such facility channeling his inner
fifteen-year-old girl that Destiny never once feels forced or calculated and is
always age-appropriate in her thought patterns as well as her speech. His
adults are less complicated but, to be fair, they’re also less important to the
plot.

Wonderland has a wide-eyed charm and a belief in a
place where anything is possible and happy endings are de rigueur, but
Barnes leavens this with a solid sense of deadly realism, preventing the charm
from escalating into cloying territory. It’s a tricky balance, but Barnes seems
to have a knack for blending fantasy and reality into something that’s neither
one.

Wonderland is a quick read—less than two hundred
pages—so it’s perfect for his demographic. However, if you pass this by because
it’s for young adults, you’ll be missing one of the most intensely filmable
pieces I’ve read in a long time. Almost every scene here would look wonderful
in IMAX. The boarding house, in particular, has so much potential that you’ll
be seeing scenes from it in your head long after you’ve closed the book.

Peter Jackson? Guillermo del Toro? Tim Burton? I’ve got your
next property right here. But no Helena Bonham Carter, Tim—she couldn’t do
Adrianna Marveaux justice. 

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Lust in Time – Rob Rosen, ed. (MLR Press)

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Buy it from MLR Press

I never liked history when I was in school, but I learned to
be fascinated with it through documentaries and books after graduation. One of
the most interesting aspects to me is homosexuality throughout history, and
while Rob Rosen’s erotic anthology Lust in Time sometimes lets the facts
slide for the fiction, it’s a hot read worth your time.

That said, one point this anthology unwittingly made for me
is the importance of titles. All the stories here are titled by dates (i.e.,
“1000 B.C.,” “1572 A.D.,” “1881 A.D.”), which seems, on the surface, an
innocuous device meant, I’m sure, to be fun. In some ways, it’s a leveler—no
one title has an advantage over the others by being catchier or more clever.
The disadvantage here is that this labeling masks them, giving the reader less
to remember or look forward to.

It gives me the oddly stranded feeling I get reading on my
Kindle, where it’s a pain to go back to clarify a point or exactly where I am
in the book. I hadn’t expected to miss the titles as much as I did, but I found
myself disoriented when I went back to the Table of Contents. Don’t you do that
when you’re reading anthologies? Looking at the title of a story you’ve already
read brings it back to mind, and looking ahead whets my appetite for the
stories at hand. Unfortunately, I don’t get that here.

And that’s a shame, because there are some fine pieces here.
Tilly Hunter takes her tale of a defeated Roman soldier and his conqueror (“27
A.D.”) into Jeff Mann BDSM territory, and Mann himself turns in his usual solid
performance with “1066 A.D.,” a hot Viking story. Michael Roberts, however,
gives us an absolute show-stopper with “1881 A.D.,” a time travel story that
brings Billy the Kid to modern times and puts him in a black Speedo. Now, how
can you not give that story a name?

Some of the entries here are expected, like the Hadrian
story (“130 A.D.”), but there are also some unexplored historical experiences,
like the Jewish immigrant story, “1889 A.D.” by Salome Wilde, that sees first
love between two émigrées as well as the sacrifices one makes for the other. On
the other side of that spectrum are stories like Steve Rudd’s “1890 A.D.,”
which, just one year into the future, carries us behind the scenes at a Buffalo
Bill’s Wild West Show for some hot cowboy sex. Also worth mentioning are Barry
Brennessel’s turn-of-the-century “1909 A.D.,” which features two snowbound boys
keeping themselves warm as best they can, and editor Rob Rosen’s Woodstock
tale, “1969 A.D.”

So, there’s plenty to love in Rob Rosen’s Lust in Time,
even if you can’t keep your dates straight (pardon the expression). 

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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