Monthly Archives: September 2013

Our Naked Lives: Essays from Gay Italian American Men – Joseph LoGiudice and Michael Carosone, eds. (Bordighera Press)

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“Anything that is not tradition is the plague.” So reads an inscription in an old European church, referenced in one of the fifteen remarkably intimate essays that make up Our Naked Lives. With a message of dogma so precisely articulated, and its teaching variously manifested through Italian American tradition, it is easy to empathize with the complex challenges faced by the writers of these essays. The problems of belonging, and the conformity traditional belonging demands are themes every gay man can relate to.

In a rich spectrum of emotional and intellectual perspectives, these fifteen essays explore the multi-layered forces of what it means to be gay and Italian American — or, as some of the writers specify, Italian American and gay. This is not a frivolous distinction.

As Frank Anthony Polito in his essay “Italian-American Reconciliation” concludes, “I hate to think of [my grandfather] leaving this world without knowing who I truly am. And yet, I can’t bring myself to broach the subject. Is it because I’m ashamed of being gay? I don’t think so. I think it’s because I’m proud of being Italian American.”

The recurring themes of cultural insularity, family obligation, and religious paradigms serve as landmarks in the individual journey recounted in each man’s words, from declaring they never had any influence at all, to cautious confrontation and all the way to successful integration.

Understandably, the authors often rail against stereotypes (which every ethnic group existing in a different culture as strangers in a strange land must experience), while their stories recount personal struggles with the very forces that feed the stereotypes: Catholicism, culture of southern Italy, food, Sunday dinner, the roles of father, mother, and extended family, the neighborhoods of eastern cities like New York and Philadelphia.

The essays are educational in the way education often comes best — through first-hand stories, acquired knowledge imparted by one to another. I’d never heard of the sovversivi, activists of the late 1800’s, mentioned by Tommi Avicolli Mecca as heroes, part of his radical lineage. In a brief online search, the only English language entries I found were about the 1967 film of the same name.

The difference between the cultural template as articulated in these essays and the essentially western American paradigm that I grew up in was illuminated in a passage in LoGiudice’s essay, “My Identity Is Lavender, So Am I Italian American?” when he addressed a core premise of American individuality: while the range of acceptable individuation within any society has distinct limits, within a strong ethnic community those limits are narrower by far than outside one:

“A man would work for his father’s business, get married, purchase a house in the neighborhood, have children, and behave according to the religious and cultural beliefs […] Object Relations theorists posit that separation and individuation are vital for healthy development, but for Italian Americans, no such a theory of development existed for them. To separate from their family, create their own value system, and generate new norms and behaviors was unconscionable.” 

And yet cultural evolution is inevitable. When George De Stefano visited Italy to reconnect with his cultural homeland, he found insight into differences between Italian-American gay men and Italian gay men. In his essay an Italian man’s framed picture of Pope Benedict symbolized his host’s apparent ability to hold certain cultural paradoxes that Stefano was not willing to accommodate.

In spite of the differences, after several readings of these highly personal and compelling pieces I came away with a sense not of difference, but of our commonality, of the unique challenge being gay poses to any traditional community that offers no place of honor for it. When a godfather-uncle never speaks again to his nephew because he’s gay, that’s a profound loss. Sadly, risking such loss is still woven into the fabric of LGBT experience in most tightly-knit communities.

I strongly recommend this collection, a nourishing, thought-provoking, and deeply emotional exploration of exclusion and inclusion, structure and obligation, love, fear of losing love, the withholding of love — the nourishment and danger of extended family relationships seen through a gay and uniquely Italian-American lens.

That lens is in clear focus at the conclusion of Frank Spinelli’s essay “Sunday Dinners,” when his mother informs his partner Chad that having reparative surgery is not negotiable: “You think my son and I intend to live each day worrying you might have another stroke? Not on your life. That’s it. End of discussion. Now let’s eat.”

Spinelli whispers to Chad, “That’s how Italians say welcome to the family.”

Reviewed by Lloyd A. Meeker

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A Conversation with ‘Nathan Burgoine by Gavin Atlas

Nathan Burgoine photo’Nathan Burgoine grew up a reader and studied literature in university while making a living as a bookseller – a job he still does, and still loves. His first published short story was “Heart” in the collection, Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction. Since then, he has had over two dozen short stories published, including Bold Strokes titles Men of the Mean Streets, Boys of Summer, and Night Shadows as well as I Do Two, Saints and Sinners 2011: New Fiction from the Festival, The Touch of the Sea, Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival, and This is How You Die (the second Machine of Death anthology).

His first novel, Light, has just been released by Bold Strokes Books.

Gavin: Hi, ’Nathan!  Thanks for talking to Out in Print!

‘Nathan: It’s great to be here. I love what you’ve done with the new place.

G: To start, I’ll guess that psychic abilities are important to you since you place telepathy and extra-sensory healing or empathic abilities in your writing, even beyond Light.  What do you think makes those meaningful themes to you?

‘N: Well, I have a knack for just plucking odd things out of the air, so I’m biased. It’s not exactly useful – the most consistent thing is accidentally referring to people I don’t know by their first name before I’ve been introduced to them – but it definitely fed a curiosity on the outside of normal. I’m pretty good at finding things, too. Sometimes when someone tells me they’ve lost something, I just blurt out where it is. I’d love to be able to do that more often, but, like the name thing, it seems to be stuck on “random and rarely.”

Then again, that’s probably for the better.

I’m also an unrepentant pagan, so elemental and magical themes often pop up quite a bit, but my love of magic or the paranormal in any form is just something I’ve always had. I guess I never outgrew “make-believe.” Like Kieran’s mother says to him, “I’d like there to be magic in the world.” I happen to think there’s already magic there, but in fiction you can draw it out and play with it.

As a theme, I think anything beyond the normal physics of the world is an easy marriage with queer writing. We live outside the norm already, so magic or telepathy or ghosts can be an extension of that feeling of not-quite-belonging, or help create that sense of community that isn’t the usual. I loved the X-Men because they were different and born to parents who weren’t. That made them a perfect read for me as a young gay kid. They found each other – thanks to Charles Xavier’s telepathy and empathy – and made their own way, together. In a way, Gaydar is a different version of that same empathy that helps us find each other. Assuming you have it, because frankly my Gaydar was always hopelessly out of synch with my Wishdar.

A character who can see or sense things that others don’t – and interacting with those things – invokes that same feeling of being in (and coming out) of the closet. I guess for me, there’s nothing quite as queer as the idea of magic or telepathy or healing or any other ability based in “otherness.”

G: I just read above that you grew up a reader.  Can you tell us if there was anyone who inspired you to read and about your favorite books from childhood?  When did you decide to be a writer and were there any people in your life help lead you there?

‘N: Part of growing up a reader was imposed upon me by my parents. They believed that for every hour of mindless activity (read: watching television) I needed to have “paid up” with two hours of reading. There were times that was a frustration for me, but looking back it really did shape me into a reader. I also moved a lot when I was younger, so the reality was books were a constant companion where other kids were not.

The first book I can remember reading all by myself – and understanding – was “Danny the Champion of the World,” by Roald Dahl. There is a scene in the book where a large baby carriage is being used to smuggle unconscious pheasants (listen, it makes sense in the book, okay?) and they start to wake up, but there’s a baby in the carriage, too, so all these pheasants are bursting out from under the baby and flying away and I just lost it. I cried I was laughing so hard. That was the book, and the very scene, where I realized how much I loved reading. My love affair with all things Dahl – and any book that would make me laugh – began after that.

Writing sprung from my love of reading. I did a lot of it in high school, where I was lucky enough in two different high schools to have two amazing teachers work with me and offer guidance. I wrote almost non-stop while I was in high school, and then, when I came out (which was a familial disaster) and was on my own, it sort of dropped to the wayside while I managed to figure out rent and a job and part-time university.

I tried to get into a creative writing course in University, and the prof of the course said my sample writing was “trite and common.” By this point, I was working part-time at the bookstore, and I was very alone, young, and angry enough about pretty much everything to have a snarky comeback on the tip of my tongue at all times. I told him his criticism was very comforting, since I knew how well trite and common books sold. He wasn’t amused. I didn’t get into the course.

I kept reading though. Partly because of my bookstore job, and partly just because I knew from being a bookseller how hard it is to get the word out about a good book, I also became a very prolific book reviewer. When e-tail really took off (did I just date myself?) and reviews online became a “thing” I transferred them there, and wrote new ones as I read books. I also discovered fun gay books (something I’d never known existed from my earlier readings of queer stories) when I stumbled onto The Night We Met by Rob Byrnes.

I wrote a review of The Night We Met and sent him a gushing e-mail at some ungodly hour (I’d been reading the book long into the night) – and he replied! I was stunned, since that hadn’t happened before. I asked him if he had other books, and he told me he was working on another book, but if I liked his book, I should try Timothy James Beck.

When I read, and adored, and reviewed, and then e-mailed Timothy James Beck, I got four replies (since it turned out Timothy James Beck was four people). That started a dialog that made everything I’ve ever done in the writing world happen. Half of Timothy James Beck (Becky Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert) were putting together a book (originally called “Moonlight and Roses,” though it eventually became Fool for Love.) They asked if I’d like to give it a shot. I gave it a shot. And they liked “Heart.”

That’s when I decided to actively try and be a writer. So if anyone is looking for the person to blame, it’s Rob Byrnes.

G: I know Light is more of a how-done-it or, actually, how-will-he-do-it instead of a who-done-it, but I’m having trouble thinking of other mysteries possessing such high stakes or pacing without a murder. How much of that was a clear goal and how difficult did you find it?

‘N: I knew I wanted to frame the book in the sense of a countdown, and I also knew I wanted Kieran to be running most of the time. The poor guy wasn’t really going to ever catch a moment’s breath. It’s the potential for a really bad event – in this case, a whole lot of bloodshed and death – that keeps him motivated to do whatever he can to try and stop it from happening. That was always the plan. The reality of some of my initial versions of the story was that having only that one major issue (though it’s a pretty major issue) made it hard to maintain the pressure on him. So I sat back and wondered what would make his life even more complicated, made a list, and decided to do most of them. The end result was almost every level of Kieran’s life becoming complicated all at once – his best friend and his family intersect in a way that makes him very uncomfortable, he meets a fellow he’d potentially like to date and starts to screw it up from almost the first step, the police are interested in him, and there’s still that big problem looming up ahead that he knows isn’t going to get solved by anyone else.

Once I had so much on the plate for him, the actual plotting and writing fell much more in line, and the draft went much smoother. I still screwed up a couple of things – have I mentioned how everyone should hug their editors yet? – but ultimately making his life more complicated than anyone should ever have to deal with was kind of fun.

G: Could you tell us about the process you used to develop your hero, Kieran? 

‘N: When I was at Saints and Sinners this year, I got to hear the amazing Jess Wells talk about theme. It’s not the first time I’ve heard her speak on the topic – I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of her master classes and panels over the years, and it’s something I’ve heard her mention before. I wanted Kieran to be a fun and enjoyable character in a fun and enjoyable book, but I also wanted him to be independent and capable and more-or-less together. Everything about Kieran was put through the filter of his personal philosophies: Every problem has a solution, and everything can be handled. He can be a bit dense, and he’s definitely not flawless, but writing Kieran was a bit liberating since his life was really nothing like mine. I’m pretty sure it was Greg Herren who gave me this advice about character building: you start with the kind of character you want – the core strengths and weaknesses of who this person is – and then you imagine the history that would be needed to create that character. How did Kieran learn to be the way he is? Well, it occurred to me that Kieran needed a great (if overprotective) family dynamic, a job he enjoys (most of the time) and a life that he’d made for himself on what he probably thinks is entirely his own merit, not realizing how much the support of a strong group of people has helped him.

I built Kieran backwards using Greg’s method. Whenever I wanted Kieran to make a choice, I tried to come up with at least one situation in his past that would have coloured his thoughts on the decision ahead of him. I ended up with more backstory to Kieran than I could ever use in the novel, but everything shaped him. I was incredibly comfortable coming up with his reactions to whatever was thrown his way. It might have been a lot more work to do it, but it’s a fantastic way to end up “knowing” your character, and ultimately I feel like Kieran “makes sense” because of it.

G: The dog in Light, Pilot, is a loving, energetic giant, and a hero on his own.  Easter the cat also adds a lot of personality to the book.  It’s Light  300 DPIinternationally known, however, that you’re a cat person and your husband, Daniel, is a dog person.  Subsequently, there appears to be an international movement to make you a dog parent.  Pretend the gossip journalists have their microphones in your face, the cameras are flashing, and you’re on the spot:  “How do you feel about this situation, Mr. Burgoine?” 

‘N: “I have been advised by my lawyers not to speculate at this time. However, I would like to take this opportunity to ask all sides in this conflict to please consider being rational adults and reaching some sort of compromise before any of this gets further out of control. Also, get off my lawn.”

But seriously, the “Dan and ’Nathan Need a Dog” movement is incredibly organized, and – yes – international. The movement is also very good at emotional warfare. Ottawa dog-owners “drop by” with cute puppies. I come home from work and learn we’re “dog-sitting” for friends. The neighborhood walks my husband and I take most nights often seem to end up with dog-owners asking us when we’ll be adding a puppy to the family. Even the dogs of Houston are in on it. But Pilot came from a very real place. Friends of ours adopted a Russian terrier named Pilot and he’s freaking adorable. He’s huge, but definitely a gentle giant. I have a picture. For reference, I’m six foot three.

Easter is modeled after a cat I grew up with – a Turkish angora rescue who had such a rough start she never quite recovered from being afraid of people. She would, however, snuggle with you in the dark. I’d go to bed early some nights just so she’d crawl up onto the bed and purr in the crook of my arm. She was really loving, but she was incredibly timid. I love cats, and am definitely a cat-person, but I’d say I’m more of a dog-person than my husband is a cat-person.

Damn. That sounded like capitulation. Then again, I’m pretty sure the final scene with Pilot in Light is going to lose me the war for good.

G: You mentioned you’ve been a bookseller for a long time.  Can you tell us about any obscure novels you can’t believe weren’t huge breakout hits and deserve to be?

‘N: That’s such a hard question. I’ve worked in the store long enough to know that there’s an elusive “something” that happens to launch a book to be a breakout hit – sometimes it’s as simple as the right celebrity endorsement, sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes it’s just a word-of-mouth that works. If a book is wonderfully written and tells an amazing story, it’s still no guarantee that it will do well, and that always makes me sad. But some books in specific? From a selfish point of view, it kills me that Rob Byrnes’ Lambert and La Marca capers aren’t HBO or Showcase’s next big television series. They’re clever, they’re fun, and they’re so damned sharp. Ocean’s 11 with a New York cast of characters who aren’t quite as capable and whose plans go south a lot. They’re GLBT capers, but they’re not a story only GLBT people would enjoy. My in-laws, for example, adored them. Most importantly, if they were breakaway hits, Byrnes would write more of them and I’d get to read them. We’d all win. (If you haven’t read them yet, they’re Straight Lies, Holy Rollers and Strange Bedfellows.)

I also think Anjali Banerjee deserves some major props. I love her stories – they’re my favourite blend of magical and romantic and she has a lovely turn of phrase. Haunting Jasmine and Enchanting Lily should have been the next Mistress of Spices or Practical Magic.

Can I also talk poetry? I recently read Jeff Mann’s A Romantic Mann, and someone needs to hand that man his Lammy already. Also the Griffin Prize – they hand that out internationally as well as to a Canadian, right? Poetry is amazing to me, but usually it’s also damned hard work to interpret. When someone can show that level of lyric mastery and still let the reader in without making him feel like a dullard? Magic.

And if I’m tossing my opinion around anyway, I’m going to finish off with Bookweird by Paul Glennon. It’s the first in a kids series about a boy who manages to offend a book spirit by nibbling on the corner of a book while he’s reading, and the spirit punishes him by throwing him into the books his family is reading. The boy ends up in a fantasy book, his little sister’s pony series, and his mother’s rather dark murder mysteries – and then the stories start to get all messed up and mixed together and he has to work his way out without ruining everything. They’re fantastic, and they never seemed to get as much notice as I wished they would.

None of those are “obscure” exactly, but they’re not where they belong on the top of bestseller lists or on the winner’s list of major awards.

G: You’ve written dozens of short stories.  Which do you feel proudest of?

‘N: Every single time I get an acceptance I’m a happy guy. There’s nothing like getting a “yes” to send me over the moon. It doesn’t get old.

I’m quite proud of “Filth,” from Night Shadows because it was a horror piece, and I really had to struggle to write horror. I nearly didn’t try, but I’m glad I did. It didn’t come easily, it definitely isn’t a headspace I find comfortable, and – with a lot of help from the editors – it turned out well. On the flipside, I just had “Struck” accepted for Foolish Hearts (releasing next year) where I tried – and hopefully succeeded – to be actively funny.

I’m also really proud of “Elsewhen,” from Riding the Rails, edited by Jerry Wheeler, because I let myself write the rough draft in one core dump from the moment the idea clicked into my head until I was done. It’s the story where the initial emotional cue remained exactly what I wanted it to be – thanks to Jerry, who got what I was going for right away.

But I think the short story that I’m proudest of right now has to be “Old Age, Surrounded By Loved Ones” for This is How You Die. I’m proud of that one because it was the first – and only – thing I’ve attempted to write for a non-gay anthology, and for a publisher and editors I’d never met or spoken with. There were thousands of submissions, and I made it through. The launch and release weeks were almost surreal. I had complete strangers calling me “bastard!” for days.

G: You are officially at the point where you can give writing advice. What were the most important tips you were given?  What advice would you give writers starting out now?

‘N: I’m at what point now? Oh man. Okay. Sure. Tips.

Best tip I was given was this: Treat the Call for Submissions as a job interview. Put even more simply? Obey. Don’t whinge, just do as you’re told. Times New Roman 12 point font might not be your favorite. You know what? That doesn’t matter. “No Reprints” means “no reprints.” This isn’t rocket science. And if you have a question you want clarified, phrase it as a question, not a demand or a complaint.

Second best tip I was given was this: Write what you want to write. Zombies are hot right now (I think. It’s been an hour since I was at the bookstore, so for all I know, now it’s unicorns.) but if you don’t want to write a zombie story, don’t write zombies. Writing to the market for its own sake is just not worth it. Also, the market changes. A lot. Without warning, even. If you’ve got a story about a gay telepathic/telekinetic massage therapist inside you… Well, keep it there, because that’s mine right now. At least wait six months, okay? But say you’ve got something else just as odd in your head, then let it out. Some of the best books I’ve read have been the best books because they were so unique, or took something I’d seen before and did something fresh with it.

Those are probably the two best tips I was given.

As for advice, I’d say the single greatest piece of advice I would give new authors is this: find a good editor. I’d be nowhere without my editors. I know in this day and age of “do it all yourself!” fame that is happening to a (very) few people, it seems like you can skip steps, but editors are the unsung rock-stars of the publishing world. And if you find a great editor (for a handy list of great editors, look at any anthology in which I’ve been lucky enough to be included) let go of your baby. I’m not saying you don’t stand up for things that are important to you, but when it comes to – oh, let’s give a completely random example – your blatant codependence on commas? Be graceful. Editors know their stuff. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve pushed back about an editor’s suggested change, and I think most of those were because of Canadianisms that needed more clarification – which meant I hadn’t done my job right as an writer, not that the editor wasn’t “getting” my story. When an editor suggests a change, I am 99% likely to accept it after reading their version. It’s almost always better.

G: The genie question – one wish with the standard fine print about no wishing for more wishes or world peace.  What would you choose?

‘N: The danger of wishes has always made me wary, but if I was sure I was dealing with an up-and-up genie, and not one of those “you’ve wished for rain so now the whole planet will flood!” types, then I’d probably go with some form of instantaneous travel. I’d love to be able to open a door, and have it connect to any other door. Then I could pop by and visit my vastly scattered friends around the world whenever I felt like it.

Also, I’m pretty sure there’s a door on Chris Hemsworth’s shower.

G: Last, what are you working on, what achievements are you looking to “unlock” next, and what are you looking forward to?

‘N: I’ve started working on a novel featuring the three fellows from my Triad stories. Luc, Curtis and Anders (especially Anders) garnered the most feedback from any of my short stories apart from “Heart” and I have a three-part idea for them. So I think the next achievement might be “trilogy” which is terrifying, but it’s nice to have goals.

I’m also diving happily back into short fiction, which is where I think I will always be most comfortable, and definitely the kind of writing I look forward to. I adore short fiction, and would love to see it grow more mainstream and get more noise – I think the world of the e-reader can help, here. I have an idea for a novella or two, as well as a series of connected short stories. We’ll see. Mostly, I’m just going to watch the calls and enjoy the inspiration that sparks. If I had the skill set for editing (which I don’t) I think I’d really enjoy coming up with anthology themes, but that’s a goal quite a way off as of yet.

Oh, and I’m probably going to give in and get a dog.

G: Thanks, ’Nathan!

‘N: Thank you, Gavin! It was great to be here.

Keep up with ’Nathan on the web at

©, 2013, Gavin Atlas

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Sensual Travels – Michael Luongo, ed. (Bruno Gmunder)

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For me, one of the most basic enjoyments of the travel experience is the sampling of the sexual landscape. It ranks right up there with food, architecture, and natural wonders. At times, it’s all three rolled into one. And like good sex (or sex of any kind, really), travel is ephemeral. It’s only alive for the moment you’re there. Once you’re gone, it’s gone; the pictures and journals can only bring back an echo of the experience. But thankfully, Michael Luongo has brought together some of the finest gay and bi writers to echo their journeys for you in Sensual Travels.

As Luongo states in his introduction, the sex in this book is almost “Clintonian,” not as much about the old in and out as it is ancillary acts–nuance and possibility–which is only fitting given the sexually repressive atmospheres some of these stories take place in. But no matter the quotient of sexual heat, these tales manage to convey the excitement and sense of discovery that accompanies playing away from home.

That quotient is high in Lawrence Schimel’s “Water Taxi,” which sees a voyeuristic Spanish encounter taking place on the a dock in front of a gaggle of men gathered for Gay Pride and also pretty hot in Jeff Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest,” which has appeared in another collection of Mann’s essays. These two stories are also related by the fact that the protagonists’ partners are also along for the ride. Schimel’s experience is more positive, but Mann’s carries a hint of problem, thereby increasing the danger and, perhaps, the allure of his interlude with Tibor. Simon Sheppard’s Ecuadorian romp, “The Last Bus to Riobamba” also features his long term partner, but this sex is all fantasy and no reality. Still, Sheppard both educates and titillates while retaining that air of mystery.

The aforementioned danger is not far behind in many other entries here. Trebor Healey’s brilliant “The Cervantino Baby,” featuring an affair with a Mexican boy that gets Healey tossed out of the household he’s staying at to improve his Spanish. His frankness about desire, reprisal, and consequence is personal and universal, and his musings are wholly in line with the expectations raised by Healey’s other work. This was one of my favorite pieces here, as was Felice Picano’s “A Gaijin in Gay Japan,” where Picano and his traveling companion, Dr. Charles Silverstein, undertake a publicity tour of Japan. Insightful in terms of Japanese culture as well as its sexual mores, this is Picano at his finest.

Any sex travel book worth its salt has to feature a trip to Thailand, and Alan Hahn does the honors here in “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show: How Not to be a Sex Tourist in Bangkok,” which is not only witty and engaging, but also deals–however tangentially–with the aftermath of vacation and facing one’s daily routine. Asian culture is also central to David C. Muller’s “You Want, I Come,” which contains a missing ATM card and a very willing guide to the city.

But no matter if it’s the Croatian men in Dominic Ambrose’s “Croatian Heat,” the Aussie beach escapade of Dallas Angguish’s “Sleep,” or Jim Nawrocki’s Parisian escapade in “The City of a Thousand Steeples,” you’ll find something in this collection that will send you scurrying to to plan your next vacation. Or rescheduling the one currently on the horizon.

Happy traveling!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Anything for a Dollar – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

357348Buy from Bold Strokes Books

As Todd Gregory also admits in his introduction to this volume of erotica about men paid for sex, I have been paid for my body as well. These days, however, the only way I could make any substantial money is if I charged by the pound. Still, there was a time when I was younger, cuter, and braver and my rent needed to be paid. I’m not ashamed of it. As I first heard from Modern English, it’s all part of “life’s rich tapestry.” And that tapestry has many threads, as evidenced by the variety of stories in  Anything for a Dollar.

The collection starts off strong with Max Thomas’s atmospheric, “In the Studio,” about a college student who starts off modeling to make a bit of cash (sounds familiar to me) but soon becomes engaged in both the situation and the sex. A longish story, it’s the perfect introduction as it really encapsulates what the book is about. But then we veer off into some rather unexpected territory.

Aaron Travis’s “The Adventure of the Rugged Youth” is a neat piece of Sherlock Holmes fanfic that wouldn’t have been out of place in Lethe Press’s recent A Study in Lavender as Holmes encounters a boy paid to seduce and kill Holmes in his sleep. Yet another reason not to let tricks stay over. Jay Starre takes to South America with his stripper story, “Private Dance in Rio,” one of two Starre entries here. More domestic but far stranger is Jeffrey Ricker’s “The Last Good-Bye,” which features a psychic sexual surrogate helping a man work through his grief for his late partner in a rather startling way.

Jeff Mann enters the fray with his hot tale of  a country boy’s paid lust for a blond businessman named Bjorn in “Penthouse,” which also (true to Mann’s form) contains some irresistable descriptions of several New Orelans feasts. Oh, and people get tied up as well. Davem Verne takes back to the subject of modeling with his story of Eurotrash posers, “Paris Euros Giles,”  but Rob Rosen prevents things from becoming too Eurocentric with “Revenge of the 97-Pound Weakling,” his delightful tale of a gymrat contest judge. Nathan Sims has a more supernatural take on the subject in “Haven’s Rest,” which sees a boy helping rid a backwoods ex-gay ministry of a particularly evil spirit.

Haley Walsh’s “Marked” takes me closer to familiar territory as he focuses in on the carnival life with a story of a tattooed man and an itinerant stud he calls Pink Boy, but as visitors to New York City know, the urban environment has its own charms. One of those is the subway, but Luke Oliver takes that rather prosaic setting and turns it into something…well, super with a capital “S” on its chest in “The Conductor.” William Holden gives us a historical perspective in “Debtors’ Prison,” and the inimitable Dale Chase rouses us once more with a tale of a Western rent boy with “A Few Dollars More.” We’ve all seen ugly hustlers and wondered how they were able to make a buck, and Lawrence Schimel enlightens us with his “Pity Fuck.” And then there’s Todd Gregory’s title story to wrap things up.

A word about availability. This title isn’t out until October 1st. Being a reviewer, I often receive advance copies of books. I try as much as possible to review them close to their release dates, but I was so anxious to dive into this collection that I paid no attention to the date and, thus, am reviewing it a bit early. But either of the above links will allow you to pre-order this terrific compendium of erotica, so feel free to do so.

It’s delayed gratification of the best kind.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! – Tom Cardamone, ed. (Northwest Press)

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Everyone loves the hero, right? Especially those with superpowers, colorful costumes, sidekicks, and witty banter. Personally, however, I’ve always found those tortured villains more interesting: Lex Luthor or Mr. Myxzptlk over Superman, Doc Ock over Spiderman, the Joker or Penguin over Batman (except you were never sure about Batman–he’s my favorite). That’s why I was so excited when I heard about this book. Then I saw Tom Cardamone was editing, and my expectations tripled. Thankfully, nobody disappoints here, so no one dies at the hands of this arch-villain-critic.

Much has been made of the “outsider” kinship queer men and women share with superheroes, but where many would concentrate on the heroic aspects, most of the heroes in these stories are members of Leagues or Organizations, loosely knit governing bodies that put heroes with heat vision or super strength or flight or any number of super-attributes clearly on the inside. Thus, to get back to the outside, Cardamone has chosen to concentrate on villains.

A look at the cover and a cursory glance at the title would indicate these stories are overdrawn and over the top. While some of them are, a number retain a surprising subtlety.  The telepath in ‘Nathan Burgoine’s brilliant “Lesser Evil,” tips his way into a love affair with Aleph, implanting a suggestion that Aleph loves him. Burgoine’s portrayal of Psilence’s delicious guilt is both heartening and heartbreaking. And just when you think you have the ending figured out, he takes you another way which is simultaneously characteristic, yet uncharacteristic of his lovelorn villain.

Less subtle, but still effective, is the betrayal in Steven Berenzai’s “The Web,” which sees Daytripper falling in love with Arachnid, a fellow possible inductee into yet another Superhero League. At a pivotal moment, however, Arachnid tricks Daytripper and reveals himself as a villain, provoking a wonderful final battle that is satisfying on a number of levels. Jamie Freeman also turns in a wonderful performance with “The Meek Shall Inherit,” a cautionary tale that takes place in the futuristic Christian States of America as the Inheritor incinerates the religious bigots. Although this would seem to put him in the superhero side, revelations at the end put him squarely in the villain camp, no matter how much the reader would wish it otherwise. In doing so, Freeman asks some tough questions about the nature of good and evil as well as the grey area between the two.

But as I said earlier, everyone acquits themselves well in this collection. Marshall Moore goes all high fashion with “After Balenciaga,” which has the evil Couture bringing back designers from the grave, pitting Chanel against Dior to wickedly tongue-in-cheek effect.  Lee Thomas is his usual brilliant self in “The Third Estate,” incorporating some leftist sentiment into the villain Legion, who destroys corporations and executives, much to the dismay and ultimate betrayal of his partner, Curtis. The title character of Cardamone’s own “The Ice King,” first seen in Steve Berman’s criminally underrated queer spec-fic magazine Icarus, takes time out from freezing back-of-the-bar sex tableaux to reunite with an old college roommate he once loved. Also worth mentioning is Jeffrey Ricker’s “Scorned,” featuring Megawatt, a Hannibal Lechter-type desperate to regain his power and escape from his prison cell.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Rod M. Santos takes us clear over the top with “The Knights Nefarious.” This outrageous tale has a henchman named Muse trying to win the love of his master, Dr. Schadenfreude, by scheming to capture the good doctor’s arch-enemy, Captain Strategem, and presenting the hero to him on his birthday. He does so with the help of a rather motley crew of amateur villains: El Fantasma que Sangra (The Ghost Who Bleeds), a robotphobe named Armored Suit Man, a trenchcoat-wearing Flash Forward who opens his coat to expose a hypnotic psychedelic tattoo, Robigus, a Roman god who protects corn from blight, and Chocolate Bunny Boy, who can shoot chocolate rabbits from his palms. In an absolutely inspired moment that had me snorting ginger ale up my nose during the climactic battle, Stratagem puts an arm up to ward off Chocolate Bunny Boy’s attack, exclaiming incredulously, “You’re assaulting me with Easter candy?” Even my dogs were laughing.

You’ll find no better book of queer supervillainy anywhere. I can hardly wait for the next volume. Please, Tom, tell me there’s another in the works!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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This Assignment is So Gay – Megan Volpert, ed. (Sibling Rivalry Press)

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Having been a closeted queer high school teacher at one point in my life, I’m familiar with the impotence of hearing epithets and observing bullies without being able to take action for fear of revealing my own secrets. It’s a miserable, sad experience not exactly conducive to learning anything except frustration. But, thankfully, it’s only one experience among many in the astonishing array available from Megan Volpert’s This Assignment is So Gay.

Seventy-five poets contributed to this brilliantly successful and important anthology, providing a broad range and deep breadth of experiences. They instill hope, not only for queer students and/or teachers, but anyone whose interests are beyond the curve. Sadly, the ones who need to read it most won’t, and those whose very existence depends on the affirmation found within these pages may not have access to it. That’s a real shame, because the work within opens doors on both the student and teacher halves of the equation so that each may understand the other more clearly.

Of the many variations of this equation, observations from teachers about students are among the most poignant, whether we’re talking about students at the collegiate level (Jeff Mann’s well-0bserved and magnificently articulated “Country Kids” and “Gallery, Virginia Tech”) or the secondary and elementary tiers. Many times out teachers are the only ones who understand life in the high school closet and become unofficial counselors as in Joseph Ross’s simple yet deadly “Conversations After Class 1,” Douglas Ray’s hopeful “Chaperoning,” or Scott Wiggerman’s powerful “Advocate,” but perhaps that emotional line is most clearly drawn in Donald Perryman’s “Was Melville Also Gay?” which sees a male student telling his teacher about his rape:

“It was, I assured him, a cruel crime,/but wondered if some of that pain/was the chronic, haunting thought/that sex between two males was wrong?/He said no (maybe only guessing the answer I hoped he’d give)/that it wasn’t because it was gay,/but just the awful fact that it was rape.”

And then there are the students we identify early as kindred souls in either sexual orientation or personal philosophy, doing our best with whatever limited resources we can to open up their minds and their hearts as in Terry Martin’s “The Third Wrestler Cries,” and Sophia Starmack’s “Earth Sciences”:

“Holding up his project, Jonah announces,/”There are billions of tiny orgasms living in the soil.”/He’s serene, studios, with blond ringlets/and a hand-drawn diagram of bedrock and roots./I’m torn, but in the end I just can’t correct an 11 year old/Week after week Jonah’s parents ask me, Is our son gay?/Has he mastered his times tables yet?”

We also see queerness from the teacher’s side of the desk as in Stephen Mills’s brilliant “After We Watch The History Boys in Class, My Students Fear I Want to Fondle Them” and Hadar Ma’ayan’s “On Being a Queer Middle School Teacher,” which begins with the middle school teacher in question being called a lesbian during class, provoking this reaction:

“In that moment of choice, I could have said, ‘She’s right’/Or ‘Let’s Discuss’/Or ‘Does anybody have any questions?’/But instead the fear rose in me/And I shrouded myself in a cloak of silence and said,/’Let’s all get back to work'”

Among these emotionally packed pieces are scattered other observations: about faculty meetings (Garth Greenwell’s oddly lyrical “Faculty Meeting with Fly”), non-gay classroom activities (Camden Kimura’s “My Mother Teaches Her Students About Hearing Loss”) and some feelings of intimidation that all teachers face in their first few years (notably, Molly Sutton Keifer’s wonderful “Student Teaching” and Sarah-Jean Krahn’s “Symptomatology of an Impostor”). But perhaps my favorite in this realm is Roma Raye’s “Big Fat Faker”:

“I barely know what I’m doing most of the time,/and the rest of the time?/I’m making things up. It is not unheard of/for me to be reading the text selection for the first time/with my first period students feeling like a jackass/for assuming the lesson I got off the internet that morning/would actualize into something decent.” 

Anyone who’s ever been in front of a classroom knows that feeling.  And if you teach or you’re a student, this volume will speak to you in ways both familiar and unfamiliar. You might get an opportunity to consider things from the other side of the desk, no matter which one you’re on. Kudos to Megan Volpert for putting together such a varied and interesting collection, and kudos to Sibling Rivalry for seeing its worth.

We all still have so much to learn.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Dirty Power – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)

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This is a first for me. I’ve never posted reviews of all three books of a trilogy before, partly because I don’t see many worthy of doing that and partly because I don’t like giving space to the same author for the same characters and the same storyline. It gets boring. But “boring” is not a word I’d ever use to describe Ashley Bartlett’s “Dirty Trilogy,” and the final book, Dirty Power, upholds that standard.

Like Dirty Sex and Dirty Money before it, Dirty Power explores the relationship between Vivian Cooper (“Coop,” if you please) and Reese DiGiovanni, the daughter of a mob boss. Along with Coop’s best friend (and Reese’s brother) Ryan, they do mob business, fuck up mob business, steal gold, kidnap, murder, hold hostages, and flee the Feds both together and separately in a variety of domestic and international locales. And these adventures are related by Coop in a voice that leaves you breathless with its immediacy and veracity.

Bartlett’s talents are many. She knows her way around an action scene, she writes memorably hot sex (this coming from a gay man whose last experience with a vagina was at least thirty-five years ago), her plots are seamless, and her characters are true and deep. And if that wasn’t enough, Coop’s voice is so genuine, so world-weary, jaded, and outrageously sarcastic that if Bartlett had none of the aforementioned attributes, the read would still be entertaining enough to stretch over three books.

Coop’s eternal pursuit of Reese is interesting and heartfelt, and it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that it resolves itself beautifully in Dirty Power, giving the reader the happy ending anticipated throughout the trilogy. But this eventuality comes at a price, as neither of the girls has a shred of innocence left after what they’ve seen, done, and experienced.

Is this a standalone book? No. Not at this point in the narrative, though Bartlett lets enough of the past plot drop in that you won’t be totally lost if you choose to start at the end. But why do that when you can start at the beginning and read all three? That’s what you should do, you know.

And you can thank me later.

Review of Dirty Sex by D. Jackson Leigh

Review of Dirty Money

©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube (Rebel Satori Press)

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Nobody writes grimoires anymore. I guess there’s really no call for them what with technological advances and everything. Google, Microsoft, Apple, and social media have taken all the creativity out of taking revenge, raising spirits, and mastering and summoning. Still, nothing beats the old ways. Call me a purist if you like, but it’s hard to beat a book of spells hand-inscribed on vellum and bound in something exotic, like human skin. Now there’s a book you can sink your teeth into. Failing that, we have Rebel Satori’s resident mad genius, Peter Dube, and his take on grimoires, Conjure: A Book of Spells.

If I’m being honest–and I’m rarely anything but–I was a bit intimidated by forty-plus prose poems with titles like: “To Make Ready a Consecrating Fire,” “To Become Invisible,” and “To Strike Obstacles From Your Path and Unlock Doors.” And to be fair, first starting these was like feeling my way over dark red velvet curtains, unable to find an opening. With “To Undo an Error Past,” however, the curtains parted, and I was able to see the structure they had hidden.  From then on, my experience was nothing but rewarding.

There is, to be sure, a formula for writing these–begin with an action, make certain the ingredients of the spell are symbolic, include numbers and directions, speak in terms of absolutes, and ensure that the psychic bond with the symbolic not be broken. If this sounds deep and obscure…well, it is. It’s supposed to be. Conjurations are not for those disinclined to follow symbolic actions or words. But Dube invests these spells with such beauty and economy of language that once you reach the root of one of the poems, you’re both proud of the attempt and pleased with the result. And the next one becomes easier to fathom, and the next and the next and the next until you’re riding a wave of eloquent metaphor that doesn’t stop until you’re washed back up on the shore of reality, breathless from what you’ve learned.

Don’t want to work that hard? More’s the pity, because you will miss a truly unique poetic experience. A prime example is “To Calm a Storm,” which begins:

“Make a moment. Build a place. Prepare a glass of wine. Still, undisturbed, clean and uncrowded, enjoy it; stop thinking, even briefly. Take a sheet of paper in your hand. Appreciate it; this is key. Here is the place your thought may stop: right angled, resolute, and white; no mark upon it, no stain, no word, no story yet unfolded before crowds…”  The spell requires you take this paper and draw upon it the faces of those seen in dreams. Then, “Take one page corner and fold it in upon the other, bend one edge up and turn the page again. Shape it carefully. At length, complete a tiny, paper ship which you set down; a vessel burdened with your faces, your images, your life. All rich with promised freedom, adrift in the tempestuous world. Let it course upon the tabletop beneath your eye, and drain your cup and fondly, finally, turn your emptied glass upon that vessel and depart. Captured, covered, trapped and sealed from everything, you turn your back and leave the ship of tumult: lovely and becalmed for now.”

Elegant and stately, Dube’s prose poems are truly things of beauty. But are they queer enough for inclusion on this blog? I think they are, perhaps more than Dube believes. Gay men and women have, for centuries, been looked upon as different and otherwordly–especially important to tribal rites because we have the ability to walk between the realms of reality and the spirit worlds. We have been perceived as having access to knowledge arcane enough to be set down in grimoires. Certainly, that knowledge is not ours alone, but our very “otherness” enables us to understand and interpret it. And in order to survive in the real world, we have, in the past, shrouded ourselves in mystery and symbolic ritual. These spells are important to both our history and our world vision, and in some ways carry the very essence of our duality. Queer enough? Yes, I think so. And I hope you do as well.

But talking about these wonderful pieces is no substitute for reading them. Start with a couple and be persistent. Soon, they will reveal themselves to you and their richness will fill your senses with heady magic.

So say I.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions)

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From the blurb on the back of J.R. Greenwell’s Who the Hell is Rachel Wells?, you might assume the eleven short stories inside consist of a bunch of Southern stereotypes thrown together for largely comic effect, overdrawn and overbroad. Though there is some of that, the wonderful cover is more of an indication of the subtlety inside. With its muted tones and mysterious figure in the process of either donning or removing his drag gear, it speaks to the beautiful contradiction of Southern life.

The oversize caricatures definitely make their appearance in the title story, which leads off the book. We never get to find out exactly who Rachel Wells is, but we see the strife her makeup and wig case causes as it’s picked up by a suburban mom and her little gay son, who hand it off to a straight trucker and his wife who, in turn, throw it out of the window after using part of the drag to hold up a convenience store, where it’s caught by two gay boys just learning the art of drag. Winning, witty, and wise, it’s a great start.

Drag is, of course, a feature in many of these stories, but nowhere is it funnier and more up front than “Silver Pumps and a Loose Nut,” which sees Daphne opening for her hero and mentor Stella during a run in Daytona. Daphne desperately wants to mimic Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in a string bikini as in “Dr. No,” a goal she actually achieves despite several episodes of mistaken identity, one aborted date with a closet case named Chuck, and the theft of Stella’s prosthetic leg. You ‘ll have to read it to believe it.

And that goes for the two straight suburban couples Greg and Erica and Dave and Joan in “Out of the Closet,” starring Paul Lynde’s chair. Really. It’s a red velvet chair given to Erica by an uncle who swore it was once owned by Paul Lynde. What happens when you sit in it? Well, let’s just say that watching the football game is a very different experience when Dave tries it. And when Joan does, she finds herself wearing the pants in the family as opposed to the apron.

“The Scent of Honeysuckle,” “A Colony of Barbies,” and “Spaghetti Kisses” don’t bear the same stamp of humor, but they’re just as deft in handling character as the other stories, as is “Learning to Sashay Like Rupaul,” and my particular favorite, “Watch Me Walk,” about Hal and Robert, two older men who find each other and the courage to express themselves at the assisted living facility they’re in.

Greenwell has a talent for creating immediately recognizable yet slightly weird around the edges characters, and he puts them through some wonderfully silly paces as well as some heartbreaking ones. His prose is admirably restrained, conveying a great deal yet never sounding overwritten. But it’s his characters that shine and sparkle like sequins in the spotlight. If you’re looking for a light read that has some substance behind its humor, you’ll hardly go wrong with this collection.

Dolly Parton wig optional.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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