Monthly Archives: January 2020

Paper Cuts: My Life in Chicago’s Volatile LGBTQ Press – Rick Karlin (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

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In 1978, at the age of 25, Rick Karlin was asked by Sarah Craig (then editor of the Chicago newspaper GayLife), the following question, a question that would determine his life-path: “Do you think you could do it?”

The question was in response to Karlin’s mention that he missed the cooking column that had run in GayLife—when point blank asked if he would take it on, he replied (to his own surprise) that he would give it a try.  So try he did. From 1978 to 1982, he wrote a cooking column as “The Gay Gourmet.” In 1982 he began working at Gay Chicago magazine, writing serials, reviewing theater, eventually becoming a entertainment editor for their “After Dark” section in 1988. In 1996, he moved to another Chicago publication, Nightlines, and also began broadcasting on Chicago’s “LesBiGay Radio” program. Until 2016 Karlin would be involved in some fashion with Chicago LGBTQ media, be it print, radio, and/or web, as he writes in his memoir Paper Cuts:  My Life in Chicago’s Volatile LGBTQ Press.

Karlin may insist that he himself is no “A-List” Gay or “mover or shaker” but there is no denying that he walked in some rarefied circles: many of the “names” of Chicago LGBTQ media during the 1970s through the early 2000s were people he worked for, or with, or at least knew professionally. Many of them were eventually inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, as evidenced by the inclusion of their bios from into the text of Paper Cuts (Karlin himself was inducted in 1997).

But Karlin’s memoir is much more than a tell-all exposé of Chicago’s LGBTQ press over the course of 30+ years: he could have titled it simply Paper Cuts: My Life, since he devotes as much ink to his own life as to the goings on at various Chicago media. Amid all of the newsroom drama (and there was plenty of that!) Karlin intersperses all of the changes in his own life:  divorcing his wife; helping to raise his son; coming out to his family; moving; changing various day jobs; gradually becoming more active among the Gay community; meeting men, including his husband Gregg; earning a Master’s degree. His memoir also records the impact of numerous historical events upon him, the LGBTQ community, and LGBTQ media–for example, the deregulation of AT & T in 1982 led to the “proliferation of independent phone companies offering a variety of services”–i.e., phone sex lines. Phone sex lines further proliferated due to the AIDS epidemic; but they were a boon to many LGBTQ publications, providing them with much needed advertising revenue. (The rise of Internet porn in the late 90s/early 00s would lead to the drying up of this revenue stream.)

Karlin may also insist that he was no journalist; nevertheless, he had a privileged view of history as it occurred, both nationally and regionally. What is also true is that what he himself lived is also part of that same history:  how he lived, loved, and survived, all the minutiae of living in Chicago as a Gay man during the end of the twentieth century, is just as valuable reading as the other events he records.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Falling – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press)

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A lot has happened between Trebor Healey’s fantastic, dark and trippy short story collection Eros and Dust (Lethe Press, 2016) and his latest, the beguiling literary feat that is Falling (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019). The worst of America has bubbled to the surface like an effervescent tar, staining the globe and leaving multitudes gasping in despair. The activism that Healey dove headfirst into as these endless political calamities erupted, working with refugees seeking asylum and reporting on their plight, has deepened his art. Rather than retreat inward, pulling down a smoky curtain of opium and waiting until reality improves, his stories rush to the “other” and contain not only a smoldering political urgency, but one grounded in the profundity of how the most valuable of literature has always grappled with such concerns.

The reader knows from the immaculate first story, The Fallen Man, that they are in the hands of a master craftsman as the main character struggles with amnesia in a country not his own, wrapped in fluttering prose reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. That this story offers no redemption but rather beautiful, painful knowledge is an indicator of all to come. Healey is a traveler, not a tourist. There are no white saviors here. As these stories, for the most part, unwind across Central and South America, their linkage becomes clear: we are all adrift in the world and the fractured relationships we forge might not lead to the outcomes we imagine or desire. In the first-person story, Ghost, the unnamed protagonist has the kind of raw relationship with a heroin-using male prostitute that moves beyond sex and into the seamless obsessions that fester to the surface when we find ourselves alone in other countries, those countries often being books, not places. The road-ready jazz of Kerouac pervades, ambling alongside the more visionary reach of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolańo and the English writer Jeanette Winterson, whose work is quoted throughout Ghost. There is no time to be coy in this age of information -no, make that this age of anxiety; our influences are best placed front and center, or, in the words of Winterson, “(t)true stories are the ones that lie open at the border.”

Jorge Luis Borges gets namechecked in a story or two, and the imprint of his labyrinthine imagination is a well-felt influence throughout the collection; as the complexities of cities and cultures unwind, as artists struggle with love and personal loss, and wanderers fail to find themselves but do find others. One short story in particular, Spirited Away, is a verdant meditation on loss and relationship:

Vic never went back to the village, and after that, he painted Henry, and he painted hongos, and he painted a woman and the road and the waterfall that he had never actually seen and didn’t care to. He considered it Henry’s private place. As was his tendency, he painted figuratively until the figures turned into forms and then to abstractions so that you would never be  able to tell that the vortexes he was fashioning were made of plants and a waterfall and Henry -and the square and its chairs and old men, and even the colonial buildings of Oaxaca and the ruined temples of the Mixtec and the Zapotec.

The closing novella, The Orchid, is a deep dive into Argentinian political machinations and personal manipulations reminiscent of Yukio Mishima’s plotting from his exquisite middle period. The overlay of heterosexual politics and gay lives as homosexuality gains as a commodity in the world is something of a new topic to be tackled by literature, and is done so here deftly and the reach of the story and multitude of characters, some sketched deeply with only minor appearances, hints that this was intended as a longer work but found authorial satisfaction in its current shape and form.

Trebor Healey’s short story collection, Falling, is recommended primarily as a work that far exceeds the reflexively introspective grasp that is current gay literature. Following the immortal urging of E. M. Forester that we “only connect,” Healey’s stories do so and with great daring, political acuity, and a genuine interest to see and hear and feel other cultures as they are, not as how they exist in relation to the fetid living corpse that is the dis-United States.

Reviewed by Tom Cardamone

More on Trebor Healey’s activism:

Tom Cardamone is the editor of Crashing Cathedrals: Edmund White by the Book, and is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning speculative novella Green Thumb as well as the erotic fantasy The Lurid Sea and other works of fiction, including two short story collections. Additionally, he has edited The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered and The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! You can read more about him and his writings at

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