Monthly Archives: August 2013

My Dear Watson – L.A. Fields (Lethe Press)

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I started my love affair with Sherlock Holmes when I was a pre-teen, sometime after Edgar Allan Poe and before Ray Bradbury, so I was well acquainted with reading stories with one hand on an open dictionary. I had, of course, enjoyed the movies with Basil Rathbone, but something about the character grabbed me more than the mysteries did. Oh, they were interesting enough, but not as interesting as Holmes himself. The queerling in me recognized a kindred soul, but I would never have thought Watson shared his bed. In L.A. Fields’ wonderfully imagined My Dear Watson, this relationship is explored in detail.

And who explores this relationship? It’s seen in detail by Watson’s second wife, and in a particular bit of genius, Fields chooses to have her review Watson’s affair with Holmes on a chronological basis according to case. Thus, she begins with their meeting in 1874 on “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” and sees them through their ups and downs (including Watson’s first marriage) to their final case together, “The Last Bow” in 1914. But this is, in itself, framed and commented on by Mrs. Watson during a visit Holmes makes to them after his retirement in 1919.

Naturally, she dislikes the effect Holmes has on Watson; the inexorable pull he maintains on the doctor would be enough to drive anyone close to Watson round the bend, and in the segments about Holmes’ visit in 1919 are fraught with tension as she and Holmes do a bit of sparring:

“Hmmmm,” I hum brightly at him, and once again his face goes sour. I’m sure he heard every subtle facet of that noise, my implication that I know his nature, that I imagine he would be Watson’s wife if he could, my lording over him the fact that I have that official status in Watson’s life, that I have won. It is a hit against him, a palpable hit. Alas, however, I am playing against a master, and I can admit when I’ve clearly been outdone. “You are such a unique person,” Holmes says poisonously. “What a shame that history will most likely never remember your name.”

Holmes can be such a bitch. But we always knew that about him, didn’t we?

All Holmesiana is covered, from his cocaine addiction (“The Sign of the Four”) to his faked death and three year disappearance at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty (“The Final Solution”) as well as the effects all of these events have on his paramour, Dr. Watson. What I find most admirable about My Dear Watson is how familiar Fields is with the Casebook and how effortlessly she weaves some of the principal characters from the mysteries themselves into the relationship between Holmes and Watson, creating jealousy, confusion, and empathy at times between the men. It’s masterful work, and only someone with a thorough knowledge of the stories could have accomplished it.

Fields also does masterful work voicing Watson’s second wife, a woman with wit and intelligence who not only realizes her husband’s faults, but knows that they are outweighed by his virtues. As seen above, she is wary of Holmes but respects his hold on her husband and does not try to break those bonds for fear they would only grow stronger. Fields finds her voice from the very get-go and never once falters. Kudos are also due to Lethe Press, which seems to be scoring well in the “queering” genre, as evidenced by its recent queering of Edgar Allan Poe (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances) as well another upcoming volume queering Dracula. This volume fits well with those.

Extremely readable and undeniably creative, My Dear Watson should be on your bookshelf if you have even a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes. And even if you don’t, this is a remarkable portrait of fame, its effects, and the power one man can hold over another.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Of Audiences, Ardor, and Attention Spans

81CXWwqNKlL._SL1280_As an author, I am often called upon to read at promotional events. I have read in bookstores and at conferences. I have read in libraries and open mic nights at bars. I have read to two people and to forty-plus. I have even, on one memorable occasion, read in an upscale boho vegetarian cafe/coffeehouse where a group of ten drunken, deaf lesbian bowlers, seated in the performance area by clueless waitstaff, vocalized their way through the entire lineup of authors. But I have never read erotica in a gay bathhouse before. Until last Tuesday.

A gay bathhouse, for those who have never been or wouldn’t be caught dead in one, has an incredibly unique atmosphere–insular, exhibitionistic, liberating, dangerously exhilarating, and highly charged with both sexuality and possibility. The process is simple: pay your money, get a locker (or a room) and a towel, strip, put your towel on (optional) and take your pleasure in the steam room, hot tubs, glory hole maze, sling room, orgy space, TV area or what-have-you. It’s hot and cold running men, and it encompasses both the best (sexual freedom, community, diversity) and the worst (predation, shallowness, narcissism) of gay male culture.

Drop into this mix one fully clothed author with an open book in his hand and a stack beside him ready to be sold, and what do you have? Well, up until last Tuesday, a big question mark. I had no idea what was going to happen or what shape this whole experience would take, and neither did my hosts (The Midtowne Spa and the Front Range Bears). All we knew is that it was something different to offer their patrons and an opportunity for me to do what every author does readings for–to sell books and get exposure. Did I sell any books? No. Did I get any exposure? Define your terms, please.

I read on a small stage backed by a mirror and facing a three-high bank of vinyl benches. The stage is usually used for the weekly j/o shows. No mic. None necessary for either me (I used to teach high school, so I can project like nobody’s business) or for Wednesday night’s professional masturbators (how would you hold it?).  As informal as the whole thing was, I just started without introduction, reading to my friend, Tony Linan, who organized the whole thing, and a few of the Front Range Bears who showed up in support. I began with a sex scene from a short story in my collection from Lethe Press (plug, plug), Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits. Yes, you may click the link to buy. Please.

A few more patrons joined, including a cute little cub Tony had introduced me to earlier. Only now his towel had been lost somewhere in the bowels of the building and he was sitting no more than four or five feet away with a huge erection made even larger by the ball-stretcher he was wearing. His endowment did not go unnoticed by the guy sitting next to him, who bent down and began sucking away. I was clearly distracted. My voice faltered, and it was difficult keeping my eyes off the prize and on the page. However, I was an interloper in their territory. Why should they stop doing what they paid good money to do just because I was reading? How would I reprimand them, anyway? Hey! Stop sucking cock and listen to me read about two guys sucking cock!

And when you come right down to it, what else is erotica supposed to inspire? So often we write our stories and send them out into the universe without any real idea if they’re working or not. Here, I had actual proof in front of my eyes. It was empowering, in an odd way. Okay, in a very odd way. Eventually, they moved off to continue their encounter elsewhere. Other men came and went (you know what I mean), sitting for a few moments until their attention spans demanded a cruise of the steam room, a sojourn to the sling, or a turn at the glory holes downstairs. I ended up reading sex scenes from a couple of stories and then another whole story from beginning to end. Everyone applauded, and we were done. Tony said I was free to play.

And as I was undressing in my room and getting into my towel, I started thinking about the whole thing. I was unhappy with my performance on stage. I wasn’t as animated or as good as I am when reading to clothed people. And that was because I had imposed too much formality on the situation. I had forgotten why an erotica reading in a bathhouse made perfect sense–it’s all about need and drive and satisfaction, which was why I wrote the stories in the first place. I had gone into the situation thinking that reading to naked men would be no different than reading to clothed ones, but that was wrong. It’s vastly different, and if I get invited back, I won’t be onstage with that artificial barrier between me and the audience. I’ll invite them into my room, and they’ll all sit on the bed and the floor, crowding into the hallway, making it more of a communal experience. Because that’s what the environment calls for.

The cub? Oh yes, we hooked up downstairs a couple of times. In a couple of different configurations. Having lost my place once or twice because of his shenanigans, I was determined to make him pay. And he happily cooperated. So once more, a big thanks to Tony Linan, the Midtowne Spa, and the Front Range Bears. Like reading with the deaf lesbian bowlers, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

And good for a mention in my memoirs.

©, 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Summer Poetry Roundup

On the Midnight Stage/High Ground Valley Flashback – Walter Beck (Writing Knights Press)

Dialectic of the Flesh – Roz Kaveney (A Midsummer Night’s Press)

Deleted Names – Lawrence Schimel (A Midsummer Night’s Press)

Fortunate Light – David Bergman (A Midsummer Night’s Press)

What happened to the Spring Poetry Roundup, you ask? Time got away from me, I finished my novel, I started an editing business, we moved the blog — shit, as they say, happened. So, my apologies to Walter Beck and Lawrence Schimel who sent these pieces to me a long time ago. The length of time between when they came out and when this review appears, however, has nothing to do with their quality. And there is some quality here, indeed.

4009-MIDNIGHT-STAGE_zps59e50f58First up is a two-fer from Walter Beck, On the Midnight Stage and High Ground Valley Flashback. On the Midnight Stage contains one or two of Beck’s rare sojourns into love poetry as well as covering his well-traveled territory of late-night hipster road trips and overcaffeinated activism. The pieces in High Ground Valley Flashback are of older vintage and have appeared elsewhere. What I most admire about Beck’s work is its dogged determination to remain different, no matter how much pressure society puts him under–evidenced by his reaction to a letter sent to him by a university judiciary board calling him out for his behavior on an open mic night (“Letter ‘No Bad Publicity’ Mix”) or “Damn It All and Live,” which sees him damning a litany of societal tensions and ending with:

Let it all be damned./Let’s lay here in the early morning mood,/Still sweaty from the late night show,/tasting each other/tasting life/tasting it all/and wanting more.

Beck is young, with many more works in him, and he’ll be able to fulfill the promise he shows with each new chapbook. These are snippets, and his readers anxiously await something long form–a blanket from the bolt of genius cloth he has socked away in his closet. Buy from Writing Knights Press.

516knmqF1tL._SY300_On another end of the poetic spectrum, Roz Kaveney’s musing on queerness and the trans experience in Dialectic of the Flesh is a mixed bag of emotions. From the medicinal resentfulness of “Cunt” to the almost gleeful celebration of angst in “Annoyance” to the short yet powerful examination of empty compliments in “Privilege,” Kaveney cuts deep with some witty, well-observed truths. Her piece de resistance here, however, is “23,” which takes stock of her childhood from her young adulthood.

Your father worried over how you walked/and would not let you act in the school play/for fear that they would cast you as a girl/and make him speak aloud the thought he feared/and start to lose the boy he’d dreamed you were./And how you walked worried your father’s dreams.

Whether she is reviewing history (“Stonewall”) or musing on roles (“Drag”), Kaveney has a unique, original voice you’ll not tire of hearing. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.

51UEoDi+KRL._SY300_As well as Kaveney represents the trans spectrum in Deleted Names, Lawrence Schimel rivals her in breadth and scope from the gay male perspective. From the short punchline of “The Frog Prince” to the smiling truths of “On Men’s Insecurities” to the frankness of “Call Boy,” Schimel not only poses some interesting questions but answers them. But for me, the two best pieces juxtapose form and subject to unexpected effect. Limericks are witty and fun and an extremely familiar part of the poetic landscape, even though many people don’t think of them as poetry. But when limericks turn to serious subjects such as AIDS, the effect causes you to rethink both form and function. Even though I dislike including complete pieces in reviews, I must do so with “AIDS Limerick I: Denying the End.”

These hospital visits portend/that death very soon will attend/this friend with bold face/and bear hug embrace/who begs that I please just pretend

I rarely come across a piece that fascinates me the way that does. It’s devastating. And if you pick up Deleted Names for no other reason, do so for the companion limerick. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.

5123kv+Ni-L._SY300_David Bergman’s Fortunate Light does not take those kinds of chances, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less transcendent. His poems touch on universal themes of love, loss, and bittersweet remembrance. From the contented morning beauty of “Fortunate Light” to the regretful memory of “The Infinite Recession of the Object of Desire,” to the poem-within-a-painting of “John Koch, Cocktail Party, 1956,” Bergman draws you in with language devoid of obscure metaphor, its plainness reinforcing its truth. Lust is also a subject, both casual (“The Hitchhiker”) and more meaningful (“The Distractions of Beauty”). It’s the first poem, “In Nordstrom’s,” however,  that sets the tone for the collection. The simple act of communicating with a shoe salesman ends this way:

“They look good/on you,” he nods, smiling.  And for the first time/I notice all his clothes are wrong/that any clothing would be wrong on the fine/light structure of his bones that was built/only for wings. Just wings.

And Bergman’s words have wings, indeed. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.

And there you have the Summer Poetry Roundup. I promise not to make you wait as long for the Fall installment, for which I have some wonderful stuff already.

Copyright 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Exit Wounds – VK Powell (Bold Strokes Books)

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Nothing helps a good cop story like verisimilitude. In order to follow the sometimes intricate plot and web of clues, you need a firm, authoritative voice that oozes assurance. And that’s what VK Powell provides in her sixth book, Exit Wounds.

Loane Landry is working a gun-running case in Greensboro, NC with her informant, Abby Mancuso. Unfortunately, she’s also falling in love with her — a move that winds up just as you’d expect it to. Abby is working undercover inside the house of the crime family under suspicion, and when the place is blown up, Abby gets injured. Trying to rescue her, Loane is injured as well. She goes to the hospital to recover while the family spirits Abby away to recuperate in Florida. Loane grieves for the woman she believes is dead, but Abby suddenly reappears in Greensboro at the family’s behest, managing a strip club that serves as a front for the gun-running business. Can Loane and Abby work together to solve the case? More importantly, can they resume their relationship before they kill each other?

As mentioned in the intro, Powell’s voice is magnificent–its authenticity powered by her time spent both on the beat and in supervisory capacities on the force. And that veracity comes through in not only Landry’s terse dialogue, but also her cop-centered interior monologue as she tries to decide whether or not to let Abby back in to her life. You can tell Powell’s been at the station, because she has a marvelous feel for how cops speak to each other as well as outsiders.

Plot? Powell hits the ground running with the explosion at the crime family’s house and never looks back. Her sense of pacing is impeccable, the action only slowed for some heartfelt soul-searching before we’re back to planning, deceiving, and executing. And though Loane and Abby are well-drawn and totally believable, Exit Wounds is in danger of being taken over by a “minor” character, the streetwise yet vulnerable Vi. Vi is, by turns, an urchin and a take-charge gal who becomes the first one Loane is able to trust after being hurt by Abby and her colleagues. Their exchanges are priceless and well worth the price of admission. Vi becomes very important to the story in a couple of other ways, though. But I wouldn’t spoil the fun.

Powell’s prose is no-nonsense and all business. It gets in and gets the job done, a few well-placed phrases sparkling in your memory and some trenchant observations about life in general and a cop’s life in particular sticking to your psyche long after they’ve gone. After five books, Powell knows what her audience wants, and she delivers those goods with solid assurance. But be careful you don’t get hooked. You only get six hits, then the supply’s gone, and you’ll be jonesin’ for the next installment.

It never pays to be at the mercy of a cop.

Copyright 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Latter-Gay Saints: An Anthology of Gay Mormon Fiction – Gerald S. Argentsinger, Jeff Laver, Johnny Townsend, eds. (Lethe Press)

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In his introduction to Latter-Gay Saints, Gerald S. Argetsinger explains that this collection of gay Mormon fiction came together because another project failed to come to fruition.  Argetsinger, an Associate Professor of Cultural and Creative Studies at the National Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, had been recruited to contribute a chapter on gay Mormon literature for an academic survey of representations of Mormons in popular culture.  Although that collection did not materialize, in preparing his contribution, Argetsinger discovered a rich trove of material and, more importantly, found his curiosity piqued.  And so, the Gay Mormon Literature Project was born.  And from it, Latter-Gay Saints, which includes memoirs and short stories, excerpts from novels and plays, and a lengthy bibliography of literary and scholarly sources.  Many of the contributions are beautifully rendered, fully realized, funny, haunting, memorable narratives of people struggling with the challenges of relationships-over-time; the possibilities and traumas of religious identity; the tantalizing, terrifying charge of sexuality, and the fact of human mortality.  And while many of the stories and authors included in this collection deserve attention for their work, having read the entire collection, I’m left wondering whether it works as a collection—as a collection focused on gay Mormon experience and identity.

Three of the contributions that most engaged me as a reader dealt with marriages between gay Mormon men and their straight wives.  Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner’s “Strong Like Water” tells the story of a daughter caring for her ailing mother.  A mother who deeply loves her son-in-law and who is falling, more and more rapidly each day, into dementia.  The protagonist of this story, Karmine, we are told in its opening lines, learns that her husband has been having an affair around the same time her mother’s health starts declining.  The complex way her husband stays present and supportive as Karmine cares for her mother, often intervening in ways she cannot, because of her mother’s affection for him, reveals something beautiful and important about relationships that endure over time, whether or not authentic sexual desire is their foundation.  There is an aside at the beginning of the story about Karmine’s conversion to her husband’s Mormonism, but neither religion generally nor Mormonism specifically are in any way explored, or thematized, or essential to the story.  In fact, those lines could be edited out and the story would lose none of its coherence or power.  Similarly, Bernard Cooper’s “Hunters and Gatherers” tells the tale of Rick, who has been asked to attend a rather odd party at the suburban home of the Pillings.  The Pillings are trying to make peace with the husband’s homosexuality and have decided to do this by inviting all of the couple’s gay friends over for a dinner party.  While Cooper handles the awkwardness of this set-up deftly, the heart of his story, which he handles with as much care and talent, is Rick’s memory of his lover’s death from AIDS and Rick’s unexpected kindling of a new romance as a result of this party.  Jerry Pilling’s commitment to his marriage, despite his homosexuality, is explained as part of his commitment to Mormonism, but he could have as easily been a conservative Evangelical Christian, a Catholic, or a Jew and the story itself would have worked.  Again, Mormonism is color rather than theme.  And, finally, in one of the playscript entries, Eric Samuelson’s “Duets,” we find three women, all members of their local Mormon congregation’s choir, grappling with what it means to find joy in making music, especially when making music might be the only way to be together with a husband who is gay.  The slightly distanced, almost reporter-like narrative voices of this piece make it quite special and effective.  Here, religion, religious practice, religious community, religious belonging and what is made possible by them is certainly necessary to how the story unfolds, but, again, it was unclear how Mormonism was necessary (especially since the song “Morning is Broken,” specifically identified as lying outside the Mormon tradition, plays a key role in the story).

Michael Fillerup’s “The Seduction of H. Lyman Winger” also engages religion sympathetically.  Fillerup tells of a pastor who counsels a young gay man with AIDS who forces a local Mormon congregation to take seriously the call of Jesus to love the outcast, the leper, the “least of these.”  The story concludes in a way that makes it unclear whether this young man is a real person, an angel, an avatar of Jesus, but it does movingly recount a person of faith struggling with the meaning of that faith in a genuine way, and realizing that his faith might demand that he treat gay people with more respect, compassion and understanding than he has been.  Here, the allusion to visions and angel visitants might “sound” to a Mormon reader differently than it did to me, but it seemed that the story could be easily translated into other religious dialects.  Donna Banta tells a familiar story of religious corruption and hypocrisy.  In “The Call,” a Mormon bishop murders a missionary in his charge after finding out he is gay.  He stages the body to make the death look like a hate crime in order to generate sympathy for Mormons, who are being criticized for their stance against gay marriage.  Banta does rightly note the long history of persecution of Mormons in American history.  While Banta’s narrative is problematically far-fetched, her gift for neo-noir prose and characterization made her story captivating.  As a reader, I wanted more stories about her detective-protagonist.  And while her religious fanatic foil happens to be Mormon, it was unclear that he had to be Mormon.

Other stories come closer to making Mormonism key to their tale.  Johnny Townsend’s “Partying with St. Roch” tells a beautiful, haunting tale of a young man scouring the city to find generic cola to feed the odd addiction of his AIDS-stricken lover.  Townsend’s characters are ex-Mormons and his protagonist very consciously struggles with the messages he learned from his religious upbringing.  His characters entertain each other by (re)telling stories from their mission trips.  And, at the end of Townsend’s story, there is a suggestion that his protagonist might return to the “comforts” of religion to negotiate the horrors of his present.  Levi S. Peterson’s “The Dream” tells about a retired academic haunted by a dream that causes him to question his gender identity.  As a Mormon, this question about identity is particularly troubling given his belief that human beings are assigned gender during their pre-existence.  Peterson’s story, notable for the way in which it captures the worries that can come only in the twilight years of life and the ways that relationships take shape over decades, is the only story in the collection that makes an element of Mormon theology and practice essential to plot and character development.  Ken Shakin’s “Strange Bedfellows” is a narrative imagining of the practice that might have occurred in relation to Joseph Smith’s purported statement that it was good for male friends to “lie down together” in intimate embrace at night.  While there is certainly a historical Mormon grounding for Shakin’s story, there is no specific Mormon reference in it—and it could just as easily be understood as a meditation on Abraham Lincoln’s letters or Walt Whitman’s poems, or any of a number of nineteenth-century statements about homosocial intimacy.

Because it is an excerpt from a novel, Dick Vanden’s “Gay Messiah,” which recounts finding Jesus, in a very real way, in a gay bathhouse, might seem more engaged with Mormonism in its original form.  As it is edited in this collection, but for a single reference to Joseph Smith in its closing lines, it could just as easily have been written by a Jesus Freak or a charismatic Catholic.  And the excerpt “Wait!,” from a play by Julie Jensen, seems even more bizarrely grafted onto the gay Mormon tree.  While this contribution is welcome not only for its Christopher-Durang-esque humor, but also for its sole representation of a lesbian character (who, at least according to this excerpt, doesn’t appear to be Mormon), the only connection to Mormonism is a reference to the angel Moroni—an offhanded reference at that.  Similarly, Ron Oliver’s “Nestle’s Revenge”—another contribution from the absurdist comic camp, which was a bit too long to be fully successful—includes Mormons only as murder victims.  Similarly, David Leavitt’s “The Term Paper Artist” uses a single character’s Mormonism as a stand-in for a guilty conscience.  Leavitt’s story, the longest in the collection (by far), while plagued by a self-indulgent anxiety regarding authorial authenticity that has haunted his work for years now, contains all the grace, humor, and humanity for which Leavitt is so often praised and justifiably famous.  Jeff Laver’s “Peter’s Mirror,” a first-person memoir-like account of a gay Mormon growing up in Peru who turns to prostitution during his teen years, is also an exceptionally well realized, haunting, captivating, beautiful character study.  But, as with the other strongest pieces in the collection, it’s unclear how Mormonism is central to the success of the tale.  Argetsinger describes his process of gathering materials like a “treasure hunt” in the introduction; for some of the pieces included, however, it felt a bit more like the result of a Google search.

In the stories that comprise the first third of the collection, the experience of the Mormon mission is central.  Although adherents of other religious traditions engage in missionizing work, this work is not as ubiquitous, formative or closely associated with the tradition as is the Mormon mission.  In these tales, the collection participates in the Mormon erotica tradition that Argetsinger distances the anthology from in his introduction.  When reading these stories, and their narratives of the homoerotic charge of male-segregated environments, I couldn’t help but think of the theoretical work of Eve Sedgwick, as well as Mark Jordan’s work on Catholic liturgy and Sandy Dubowski’s work on yeshiva culture.  Understanding the complex ways that conservative, homophobic institutions foster and facilitate homoerotic desire is a phenomena that merits attention.

As he lays out a history of representations of gay Mormons in his introduction, Argetsinger makes an intriguing observation about the authors of such work—namely, that for the most well-known artistic engagements with Mormonism and homosexuality, their authors are not Mormon.  (Think Tony Kushner.)  “Was it possible that non-Mormons were more interested in the notion of Mormons and homosexuality than GLBT Mormons themselves?”  Is it possible that I brought to this collection, as a non-Mormon, a certain voyeuristic desire?  Was I wanting something more than off-handed references to missions and bishops and the Book of Mormon because I want access to the “exotic” secret practices of Mormons?  At the end of the day, as much as I enjoyed some of the individual contributions, was I disappointed in the collection as a whole because it was not collected for me?  Given the dearth of representations of gay Mormons (and, Argetsinger means “gay,” as in male—there are no Mormon lesbians here) in mass culture, is it enough to collect familiar stories of teenage experimentation, drunken sexual romps, traumatic comings out with Mormon verbiage as trappings?  Possibly.  Mormon readers may resonate with this collection in a way that I simply cannot because they will feel seen and recognized; they will understand subtle allusions and references that are lost on me.  They will feel that a world they inhabit(ed) in isolation is now a place for collective existence.  And, just so it is absolutely clear, let me underscore:  the non-Mormon reader will find much pleasure in reading the stories collected here.  Many of the stories and authors included in this volume, as noted above, deserve to find broader audiences.  But the reader of this collection will not find her or his longing for a rich, nuanced, complex picture of gay Mormon life satisfied.  But, as Argetsinger’s story of this collection’s origins remind us, projects spawn projects.  Who knows what the next gathering of gay Mormon voices will reveal.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

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Night Duty – Nicolas Mann (Bear Bones Books)

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Nicolas Mann is a daddybear’s daddybear,  but more than that, he’s an artist as well as an erotica writer extraordinaire. Both talents are on display is this fine collection of erotic tales, Night Duty.

You may be asking yourself what makes a good erotica writer, and I’m here to tell you there’s no simple answer to that question. So much erotica is out there that coming up with a fresh take on an old trope is difficult to do. And I’m not sure that’s necessary. What is necessary is a firm grasp (couldn’t resist that one) on the subject. Nothing takes me out of an erotica scene quicker than some physical impossibility. So, the scene has to be well choreographed. Another factor is the use of all five senses. After all, you’re using all five when you’re doing it for real, aren’t you? If you’re not, no book in the world will help you.

One thing you can’t worry about is whether or not the set-up has been done before. Of course it has. But it’s not been done your way with your characters. Take its familiarity and use it. Wallow in it. Immerse yourself so deeply in it that you find the eroticism that made it a cliche in the first place. And that’s just what Nicolas Mann does.

Whether it’s the old homeless guy in “Lost Daddy,” the priest/penitent scenario of “Bless Me, Father,” the cop encounter in “To Protect and Serve,” or the backwoods innocence of “Newt’s Lesson,” Mann knows what his audience likes and he delivers the goods aplenty. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Bear Bones release without a little fur, so the hirsute, uncut objects of ursine desire are never far from sight.

But Mann can come up with a new kink or two when called upon, as in the title story “Night Duty,” which sees a hunky university janitor indulging in some glory hole action with a wheelchair-bound professor working late at his desk. Another venture into non-familiar territory is the supernatural elements of “Ghost of Dark Oak Cottage.” No matter which story you choose, however, you’re bound for some hot one-handed reading. Mann makes the most of his scenarios by putting everyone into the scene, starting the action, and saying out of the way. No author intrusion here, but its clear that the writer has enjoyed himself as much as the reader.

So, order a copy today and make plans to spend the night alone. Or with someone you really, really like

© 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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These Things Happen – Richard Kramer (Unbridled Books)

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Multiple points of view are tough to pull off. Many people find them distracting, and anything that takes the reader out of the narrative detracts from the immersion required for involving fiction. Done well, however, multiple points of view can provide beautiful insights into characters or a fresh look at the situation at hand. Thankfully, Richard Kramer handles them with assurance and aplomb in his first novel, These Things Happen.

Fifteen-year-old straight boy Wesley has moved in temporarily with his father, Kenny, and Kenny’s boyfriend, George in a cramped space above George’s restaurant, Ecco. Kenny, a lauded gay activist, isn’t as accessible as Wesley needs him to be. Wesley’s best friend, Theo, has just been elected class president and comes out to the whole school during his acceptance speech. This revelation leads to a gay-bashing in which both Theo and Wesley are injured. That incident changes not only the family dynamic between Wesley, Kenny, and George, but also that of Wesley’s mother, Lola, and her husband, Ben.

By my count, there are twelve shifts in point of view. Most characters have more than one opportunity to have their say, with the odd exception of an ER receptionist who dated George once. Aside from the latter, which doesn’t add much for me, all these shifts make sense in terms of the plot turns and come just when you might expect them to. Given Kenny’s inherent absence from home due to the extraordinary demands on his time, George becomes de facto head of the house and the biggest influence on Wesley. Kramer returns to George’s and Wesley’s point of view most often, which is fortunate, because these are marvelous characters.

George is a former stage actor who never moved away from New York City’s Theatre District, where his restaurant is. He has absolutely no experience with children and has never desired any. When Wesley moves in, however, George serves as a positive example for Wesley in that he can not present a false face and can be no one other than who he is. As such, he has the biggest impact on Wesley’s life. Wesley is crying out for direction, as are most fifteen-year-olds, and of the ones he’s presented with, George’s seems the only true path because George is the only one who actually lives his own truth. Watching them talk together is an intricate dance of truth/not-truth, bluster/vulnerability, and bullshit/bullshit. Their relationship is as complex as it is simple to understand, and Kramer does a wonderful job of painting this portrait in black, white, and grey.

Kramer’s dialogue shines, but that’s only expected since he has a great deal of experience writing for television (Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and others). However, he also has a gift for internal monologue. My only complaint — and it’s a very small one — is that he needs to learn how to mix the two up a bit so we don’t have long stretches of unrelieved dialogue or unrelieved monologue. That said, the final scene between Wesley (who has been told by his mother it’s too dangerous to stay with his father and George any longer and wants him back home) and George (who she’s accused of molesting Wesley) melds both elements beautifully. It’s poignant and revelatory and provides the perfect climax for this story.

Kramer’s prose is nicely turned; it’s flashy enough to be impressive yet never gets in the way of his sharp insights into the minds of boys and men and those in the throes of becoming. I had expected to see more of Wesley’s best friend, Theo, but by the end of the book with that pivotal scene on a rooftop overlooking Ninth Avenue, I didn’t miss that relationship at all.

These Things Happen is a wonderful read, full of wisdom, humor, and wonder. Highly recommended.

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