Monthly Archives: September 2014

Message of Love – Jim Provenzano (Myrmidude Press)

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Although Message of Love is a continuation of the story begun in the author’s 2011 novel, Every Time I Think of You, it stands on its own without requiring one read them in order.

The story categorizes as New Adult, I suppose, since the two main characters are very much in their salad days — green in judgment, cold in blood — and very new at adulthood. What gives the story its depth isn’t so much their youth and passion, but the dawning adult sensibilities they uncover in themselves, along with the accompanying obligations. Provenzano paints their journey deftly, and it’s a satisfying read to accompany them on it.

Set from 1980 – 1983, at the dawn of the plague, this story of Reid Conniff, the narrator, and Everett Forrester growing toward lasting relationship is set in monthly increments, making its pace realistic, and making time to explore important themes.

Everett is from a wealthy family, and, although wheelchair-bound from a lacrosse accident, carries the largely unexamined sense of entitlement that usually accompanies wealth. He belongs to the college debate club, and excels at rhetoric. Reid is middle-class stock. He’s less social, in fact a bit of an Eeyore and defensive, quick to take offense. This orchestration of characters provides rich soil for development.

The author goes beyond the more familiar questions of fidelity, or whether each is “enough” for the other, or the obstacles created by the erratic volatility of new adult communication skills to explore a fascinating theme of disguise and authenticity. He uses Halloween and attendance at the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a way to illuminate NA self-discovery, as Reid comes to see: “To me, it meant he was just like us, trying to find himself through a series of disguises.”

The themes of parental support and community service are also treated with depth. Reid’s growth into adult relationship with his father is beautiful. Everett and Reid serve at a summer camp for kids in wheelchairs, and their experience is a sharp contrast to the brittle glitter of Everett’s mother’s society fundraising for mobility causes.

Most satisfying of all is how Reid and Everett grow to understand the beauty of what they share in their relationship. Everett’s friend Gerard, the diva of the circle of friends, struggles with his relationship to Everett and Reid as a couple, in behaviors that look to Reid like jealousy. In a moment of undefended candor Gerard talks to Reid:

…and you know, it’s not about him or you. It’s what’s between you, the connection. People can see it, even when you’re trying to act casual. They don’t want you, or him. Well, some do. But I think it’s more… they want that energy, that ungraspable…something between you two.

“Is that love?”

Gerard smiled as he patted my shoulder. “Maybe someday you’ll find out.”

It is exactly Reid and Everett’s growing self-knowledge that drives this story, written with Provenzano’s characteristic intensity, to its satisfying conclusion in a lover’s treasure hunt. When you’re next in the mood for an intelligent, finely-written romantic new adult story that never slips into sentimentality, this is the book you should pick up. Highly recommended.

© 2014 Lloyd A. Meeker

 

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Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories – Gregg Shapiro (Squares & Rebels/Handtype Press)

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Gregg Shapiro is used to quick hits. His poetry is short and to the point, his interview questions are punchy and pithy, and his fiction is equally brief. This brevity, however, does not mean that his stories don’t engage or fulfill the expectations they create. Instead, he makes his statement with quiet effectiveness and moves on. Taken together, the twelve selections that comprise Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories accumulate detail with a poet’s eye and spit it back with a serpent’s tongue.

If you don’t know Chicago, you’ll certainly come to terms with its geography, its smells, its peccadilloes, and its citizens. Shapiro has reached deep into his memory banks and come up with vivid images familiar to anyone who’s grown up in a big city in the Midwest–machinery, particularly cars, and fast food. Sleazy motels and desolate vacant lots. Promise and rot. Family and friends and the certain surety that neither will ever be enough.

The challenge with pieces as short as these is finding the ways in which they relate to each other. It’s not enough to pass them off as little slices of life that don’t stay around long enough to fully engage a reader, as at least one critic has suggested. Rather, they work in concert. The narrators of “Your Father’s Car” and “Your Mother’s Car” both use those vehicles to get to bars, but where the first is concerned with the typical dad domain of the car itself (a horrid orange Hornet–remember those?), the second ends with the beginning of a relationship, which is what many mothers are all about.

And family is all over Lincoln Avenue. I particularly liked “Marilyn, My Mother, Myself,” in which Mom uses Marilyn Monroe memorabilia to not only acknowledge being aware of her son’s gayness, but to celebrate that with him. The fact that he doesn’t particularly care for Monroe is secondary. Mom has done her research and knows how much some gay men worship that blonde goddess. She nods sagely and uses her as a tool, a crowbar with which she can open her son’s life and enter as if she belongs there. Knows what he’s about. And Shapiro establishes this relationship, makes his point, and delivers the punchline in under four pages. Yet it feels complete and whole.

The only nail I couldn’t quite hammer down was “Like Family,” the powerful tale of an abused little girl eventually beaten to death. It’s the piece that doesn’t fit the puzzle, but perhaps that was Shapiro’s intention. Nothing else in the collection is like it, in terms of either theme or execution, which makes me think that its very difference is its raison d’etre.

From “Lunch with a Porn Star” to “The Breakdown Lane” to “Swimming Lessons,” Shapiro darts in and out, bobbing and weaving with championship savvy as he lands masterful blows, punching friendship until turns into love, and nowhere is this more evident that the tremendous title piece. On its surface, it’s just an account of an evening cruising the main drag with a best friend, but the narrator and Kenny have a somewhat different relationship. A little time at IHOP, then back in the car for an assignation in the park, a close call with a cop, more fast food, and the radio. Always the radio. But Kenny has another goal in mind. The boys pull into the parking lot of a motel: The bags are in the trunk, Kenny says to the ancient clerk as he is leaving the office, room key in his hand and a liar’s grin on his mouth. He cocks his head to the left, a signal for me to move over. He wants to drive the car across the parking lot to the room. He wants to put on a show. Suddenly I love him more than air for this. For being the man in my life, when we are really only boys. For keeping me guessing, never sure from one day to the next if he will be fire or water. 

If you remember what it was like being one of those boys, this is the book for you. If you don’t remember, this book will bring it all back like the smell of a greasy hamburger wrapper and a smear of Hershey’s chocolate across a freshly-kissed cheek. Highly recommended.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Secrets: The Full Nelson, Book One – Jeff Erno (Dreamspinner Press)

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Jeff Erno is an old pro who writes with the pace, enthusiasm and eroticism of a first-timer. There is a canniness underneath, though, that reminds the reader that Erno has been entertaining us for quite a while with his gay romance and young adult novels, perhaps most famously Trust Me and the Dumb Jock series. With Secrets, Erno’s newest, out in September from Dreamspinner Press, the prolific Michigander launches a gay crime series called The Full Nelson. We can only be happy that it’s a series and so there will be more.

“Nelson” not as in wrestling (well, kind of), but as in Chris Nelson, an openly gay cop assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a swim team coach at a military academy. The crime has gay overtones, so we sympathize with Chris’s annoyance and discomfort at being automatically handed the assignment by a harried and insensitive superior. At the same time, Chris himself is not the most easygoing guy on the force. His interactions with superiors, witnesses, suspects and even his newly assigned female partner have a disquieting edge that suggests he might in fact not be the best man for the job. (Said partner at one point delivers the best female comeback to male assholitry that I have ever heard.)

As the case becomes more complex and the academy’s reticent young athletes slowly reveal more (some of it true, some of it not) about their relationships to the coach, Chris’s home life is kept nice and hot by hunky and energetic husband Ethan. These two lose no time in freely expressing their passion for one another on several occasions.

Meanwhile, Erno moves the crime-solving action along with a sure feel for timing and suspense. The young cadets, all mired in adolescence, have their own fears and loyalties, so they continually throw Chris, and the reader, off the scent. Then, just as we see a final resolution coming, Ethan unexpectedly becomes involved in a heart-stopping climax. (Ethan is of course also responsible for many other heart-stopping climaxes—of a different kind—throughout the book!)

In the end Chris proves he was indeed the right man for the job. Backed up by the right man at home and by his sardonic partner, he untangles the cadets’ and the coach’s webs of shame and fear. One need not have been sexually traumatized to the degree these boys have to identify with their feelings. If you passed through adolescence and were mystified and frightened by the onset of puberty and the secrets of adults, especially the sexual secrets, you can feel for Erno’s young heroes. You will feel for his older ones, too, especially the adorably hot couple at the center of the book. We can only be excited that Erno is already preparing the next Full Nelson book, Glitter, for release. Each of us can come back for more suspense, more twists and turns, and maybe some more vicarious three-ways with Ethan and Chris!

Reviewed by David Pratt

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The Full Ride: Bottom Boys Get Play – Gavin Atlas (Lethe Press)

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Sometimes running this blog is such a no-brainer. I get to beat the drum for my favorite authors and promulgate…well, smut. That’s right, smut. I love it, and I don’t know many gay men who don’t. If they deny it, look under their mattresses. Those bitches lie. For all the non-sexual M/M romances, spec fic, YA, New Adult, and literary fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those), sometimes you just have to let the written word carry your libido away. And no one does this better than Gavin Atlas, the bottom’s bottom. His latest collection, The Full Ride, only adds to his reputation.

Full disclosure: I’ve published two of these stories in anthologies I’ve edited. “Il Circo Dei Fiori” appears in Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top, and “Engine of Repression” appears in Riding the Rails: Locomotive Lust and Carnal Cabooses, and I’ll go ahead and say that “Engine of Repression” is one of my favorite stories of all time. Nowhere else will you find a closer glimpse into Atlas’s mind–trains, injection of rape pellets, and a dream about pirates all conspire to form one of the wittiest, strangest, and oddly erotic pieces I’ve ever read. And the recent public discussion of rape culture gives this an added political dimension it didn’t have when I first published it. It’s no coincidence this piece ends the book. There’s nowhere else for it to be, because nothing else can follow it.

Getting to the end, however, is a treat in itself. One might assume a book about nothing but bottom boy stories might seem rather one-note after a while, and this might have some merit were we not talking about Gavin Atlas, here. His situations are brilliantly creative and his erotic follow-through never less than perfect. In particular, I loved the bottom who had to fuck his way through all the casinos in Las Vegas (alphabetically) to win a casino of his own from a rich man in “Three-Way at the Western,” and the chocolatier who shows his love for the bottom in “Fair Trade” by creating a special candy bar especially for his boy. “And Brawley Threads the Needle” explores rough, angry sex and championship tennis, while the narrator driving naked in “Tanner’s Tuck-In Service” provides a great community service by relieving small-town men who can’t sleep until they get a little something.

But really, anywhere you plop yourself down in The Full Ride, you’re bound to find your jaw dropping at the variety Atlas is capable of. It’s one-handed reading at it’s finest. Or maybe you should just get the audiobook and use both of them.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

 

 

 

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Halstead Plays Himself – William E. Jones (Semiotext(e)/MIT Press)

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Before we get on with Felice Picano’s guest review, I need to take a moment to celebrate Out in Print’s 500th post. When William Holden and I started this blog (suggested by Steve Berman at Lethe Press), we had no idea it would run this long. It’s a remarkable coincidence that our 500th post falls on Labor Day, because this has been a labor of love. I cannot express to you how much I’ve enjoyed sharing wonderful books with you–poetry, drama, gay fiction of all stripes and flavors, interviews, essays, and even the occasional music or video review. It’s been a marvelous ride, and it’s not over. It can’t be. There’s still so much to read, so much to share, and so much to say. Thanks to all of you out there for clicking and bookmarking and buying and being involved. As Duke Ellington used to say at the end of his concerts, we love you madly. And we intend to keep on being all you need to read about all you need to read. Okay, Felice–take it away.

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When the Queer Theorists finally stop screwing around discussing who in the nineteenth century might have been signaling in their second-rate short stories that they were playing “hide the salami” and other such foolishness, academia may actually begin doing some serious exploration of LGBT culture. Until that mythical time to come, we are beginning to see some other popular outlets for the dissemination and discussion of the first decade of open homosexuality in America.

The immediate post-Stonewall era let loose many different breeds from their many different kennels, and nowhere was that more evident than in film. Under review is a book and several films about two of the two best known gay male cineastes of the 1970’s, Wakefield Poole and Fred Halsted, who in some ways might be seen as the alpha and omega of their time. Pretty much any film savvy and with-it queer over the age of forty is expected to know, and hopefully to have seen, The Boys in the Sand, Bijou, L.A. Plays Itself, and Sextool. Throw in Joe Gage’s El Paso Wrecking Company, and you have a gay porno pentateuch.

If that early biographer and arch-gossip, Plutarch, were alive in 2014 and writing an updated version of his Lives, he’d do far worse than include in his gallery of contemporaries the singer, dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, Wakefield Poole. At least, according to Jim Tuskhinksi’s sweeping new documentary movie, I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole that premiered at Los Angeles’s Outfest film festival recently. Poole’s films in 1971 and 1972 helped to alter everyone’s view of what a gay man was and could be–most famously, Boys in the Sand. Poole is to gay film and especially gay porn what D.W. Griffith is to the film medium in America: the originator and first master. And unlike Griffith, Poole’s movies can be watched without MV5BMTExMjI4MzgzMzVeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDA0MzU1MzAx._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_flinching some forty odd years later. To my mind, Bijou is a classic.

I was at the Poole documentary’s L.A. premiere because I’m in the film, one of the “talking heads” who contextualize what we see on screen. Also, because Wakefield Poole touched my life through his art, almost through a career choice–which I’ll share later–but mostly through the unique and beautiful men on the scene we knew, now gone–among them, the famous Casey Donovan. It’s been several years since I was shot for the movie, and while I’d not exactly forgotten the session, it had been one morning’s labor superseded by similar work in three films since, so my stake in it was tiny. Luckily, Tushinski caught me on a particularly articulate day and used the footage wisely, so I end up saying nothing stupid. That’s always a relief.

From the opening of the Poole documentary, you are immersed in the life of a child for whom talent is abundant. The four-year-old from Florida singing along to the big console radio became the star of the church choir and school, and when his voice changed at puberty, two thoughtful women got him into dance–first tap, and later classical–and they supported his talent. As a high school graduate, he was able to leave home and fly to New York to join the Ballets Russes. When young Walter Poole Jr. (Wakefield is his middle name) realized he didn’t want the touring and rigors of classical dance, he switched to popular dance and was soon hoofing it along with major stars on Broadway.

This led to a stint as a choreographer where he worked with people like Richard Rogers, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Michael Bennett. He also had the hard luck to work with brilliant if troubled theatre folk like John Dexter and Joe Layton which nearly ended his career. His early marriage to another dancer did end, and they divorced. Poole’s involvement in small commercial films decided him–he would become “an experimental filmmaker.” By then he was involved with a brilliant man–Wakefield has nothing but great things to say about all of his personal relationships. He would fall in love quickly and remained hitched for long periods of time. Somehow everything seemed to come together and for a total of $4800, Poole filmed a two hour 16 millimeter film with a good-looking blonde and a bunch of guys he makes love with at a house, pool, deck and upon the sands of Fire Island Pines.VS-041_webIronically, Boys in the Sand opened in a little theatre a few doors down the same block as The New York City Ballet where Poole might have been onstage but for his earlier decision. Boys was a smash hit from the first day. Fortified with cash and a new star, Bill Harrison, Poole then made a second feature film, Bijou. It was urban, gritty, and far less sunny than the first, and that too struck gold–which is where I come in. While I was being filmed for this documentary Wakefield said, “I know you. You took your clothes off for me.” He vanished into an office and emerged with a semi-nude photo he’d taken of me from when I auditioned for Bijou. That came about because I knew Casey and he sent me to Poole. Alas, in the 1970’s one did not become an author and porn star at the same time. So I turned down the part and a porno career and found a low-paying bookstore job.

As the documentary shows, Poole definitely had major career ups and downs, he moved across country then back again and ended up near where he grew up. He was a San Francisco co-owner of American Hot Flash Emporium which opened just as the Castro was taking off. He made and lost fortunes. He’s totally open about how and why (drugs, sex, men) and unlike a lot of Boomer hypocrites, Poole is completely unapologetic about what he did. He tells us that he had a great time and enjoyed himself immensely. Bravo for him.

Add it up and his is a storied life; and the story via the film is worth viewing. As are the new prints of those two films as well the 1986 Boys in the Sand II. In a separate video is Poole’s later, polymorphous perverse film, The BibleIf Poole was all sunshine and positive imagery that any healthy gay suburban lad could use to come out with, Fred Halsted provided a shadowy vision that many of us living in those 1960’s/1970’s grimy urban neighborhoods where gay life actually happened were quite familiar with.

Blessed with regular handsome features and a hairless, good physique that he continued to build up in the years long before muscles were in, Halsted was himself a suburban lad who grew up in San Jose, California. But the dark side was already in place. In later years, he attested to being raped by his stepfather while still young. This in turn led to his discovery and then his whole-hearted acceptance of the world of sadomasochism, which Halsted would go on to explore in both his private life with his partner in business and personal life, Joey Yale, and in his films. Naturally, Halsted took the top.

Like Poole, Halsted was never educated beyond high school and, like Poole, he worked intuitively in the medium of his choice, which he also called “experimental film.” But he was intellectual enough to form some kind of artistic vision that informed and strengthened his work. He counted it as his greatest triumph that several of his films were officially part of the New York City Museum of Modern Art’s film collection. Unlike Poole, Halsted wanted to break out of what he saw as a flat and boring “acceptable” landscape of homosexual behavior and art, and he did so in spades in his first feature length film L.A. Plays Itself, which ends with the first on-screen display of fist fucking.

As William E. Jones points out in his excellent and well put together biography of Halsted, the first gay leaders and tastemakers in Manhattan to see the film were completely scandalized. As I myself found out several years later when my novel, The Lure, was published dealing with other dark parts of gay life, this kind of display in any media was deemed treachery and siding with the enemy, i.e Hetero America. “We’ve got enough haters, so why air this dirty laundry in public?” both Halsted and I were told. Well, in my case and I’m assuming in Halsted’s too, there existed an underlying belief that if you’re doing art as well as entertainment, that the truth is required.

Halsted’s life was short—he committed suicide in 1989—and he apparently wavered wildly between judging it a success and a failure. He did peak early and, in a way, his life went out of his control as he continued using drugs and alcohol. Clearly, he lacked that one essential ingredient for any kind of artistic reputation in the U.S.–dogged perseverance. He was certainly one of the most outspoken advocates of what he was showing and living. Besides his films, he did numerous interviews for some surprising mainstream media, he started one magazine, Package, and was instrumental in the growth of another, Drummer. In addition to that, others closely followed in his path, including Joey Yale who also became film producer/director. And so, unlike Poole, Halsted left both an immediate and also a future legacy.

That Halsted’s own life ended up being tragic, is something Jones touches on again and again in his book without going into it too much. In a way, he may be leaving that intriguing question to someone else. What might be needed is a fiction-maker with a similar tragic vision. What becomes clear when we hear Halsted’s voice is that he is, as many of us were doing at the time, busily constructing some sub-section of an entirely new lifestyle which had distant predecessors, but no real rules or criteria. And he did it without any way of knowing whether or not any of it would survive. That Halsted and his persona are today instantly recognizable is a sign that he did a great job.

Again, unlike Poole, Halsted’s personal relationships were few and tormented in all senses of the word. In one interview, Joey Yale begins to interrupt Halsted and is flatly told to shut up. But when Yale was dying of an HIV opportunistic disease, Yale turned the tables in true bottom-style, constantly blaming and baiting guilt-ridden Halsted, who seemingly never got over Yale’s or other deaths around himself.

Meanwhile we have this handsome hardcover book, typical of Semiotexte’s best publications. It is over-sized, filled with photos and stills from many movies and copies of crucial documents, with on-set pictures not seen before and room for a lot of s/m artwork of the period, including advertisements of the time: a real visual treasure-trove. Halsted’s life was neither long, nor very complex, so Jones tells his story and also includes invaluable full reviews of the films, lengthy interviews with the star/director, and even examples of his writings.

Want to know gay history? Forget the Queer Theorists blowing smoke up each others asses and check out this book and these films.

Reviewed by Felice Picano

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