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On Christmas Break

Out in Print is taking a break for the holidays. We wish you and yours a peaceful time regardless of what you celebrate or how. Next year, we will be in for the fight of our lives trying to regain control of a country in free-fall. Make no mistake about it, folks. They are coming for us. Aiming at us. Chipping away at our hard fought and newly won freedoms. We need to shout loud and often, so rest up.

Out in Print will resume shouting January 1st, 2018.

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Out in Print’s Best of 2017

After taking a short hiatus, I brought Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews back in reaction to the installation of the Tr–p Reich by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Boris Badenov, doing my best to amplify as many queer voices as I can in my little corner of the blogosphere. And 2017 has provided many fine voices to share with you. Hopefully, we can drown the bastards out in 2018. We’ll see. Before the year ends, however, it’s time to take a second look at some of those voices, so here is OiP’s ten best list in no particular order:

 

The Liberators of Willow Run – Marianne K. Martin

Buy from Bywater Books  (Review here)

In this absorbing WWII homefront story, one of my favorite authors tells the story of these queer and disenfranchised women with such attention to detail and care for her characters that their struggle becomes real. The war effort becomes secondary to their goals, but more than one battle is being fought here. Timeless and beautiful, this book (especially the nursing home scene) sticks with me nearly a year later.

If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration – Bryan Borland, ed.

Buy from Sibling Rivalry Press (Review here)

Art reacts to life, and political strife provides the perfect catalyst, especially the shocks we’ve experienced since the Russians forced their puppet into our Punch and Judy show. Those were but a glimmer on the horizon when this volume came out. Borland and the voices he brings us may be preaching to the choir, but let’s hope someone else is listening as well.

The Great Man – Dale Chase

Buy from Lethe Press (Review here)

Every m/m author working today should take a lesson from Chase on how to do gay male romance with verisimilitude. Her characters are anti-heteronormative, healthy, well-adjusted (in terms of their sexuality) gay men who have a lot of sex. And aren’t ashamed of it. Or anything else, truth be told. Billed as erotica, it’s more romantic than anything you’ll read from anyone else on the subject. Period.

Eros and Dust: Stories – Trebor Healey

Buy from Lethe Press (Review here)

Two-time Ferro-Grumley Award winner Trebor Healey shows what he can do with short fiction in this diverse collection. His stories are less romantic than they realistic and gritty. Suffused with heat and horniness, this collection provides some terrific twists and turns as Healey takes us on a tour through his head as well as his heart. And…uh…other regions.

Scarborough – Catherine Hernandez

Buy from Arsenal Pulp (Review here)

From the little gay boy, Bing, to the battles Ms Hina must fight daily with her administration, this portrait of a teacher and her students in an “urban” environment is heartfelt and sincere. It never sounds false or preaches, yet its lessons are legion. Hernandez has a marvelous eye for detail and an even better sense of the absurd, both requirements for success in the profession of education. This is a stunning book, well worth your time.

The Girl on the Edge of Summer – J.M. Redmann

Buy from Bold Strokes (Review here)

Redmann’s Micky Knight series is one of my favorites, and this entry is absolutely top-notch. The mystery is tight and well-plotted, and Micky continues to founder in her post-Cordelia state, but she is starting to feel her way back to what passes for normal. This is one of the few detective series I’ve read whose sleuth is as interesting as her cases. Maybe even more.

His Seed: An Arboretum of Erotica – Steve Berman, ed.

Buy from Lethe Press (Review here)

This compendium of man/plant erotica apparently grew out of a bet as to whether or not Berman could make the concept work. He succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, perhaps even his own. Featuring some of Lethe’s stalwart writers as well as some newcomers, this volume is creepy and weirdly hot. Just start reading, and, trust me, it will grow on you (see what I did there?).

A Pornographer: A Memoir – Arch Brown

Buy from Chelsea Station (Review here)

Arch Brown’s film work of the 1970’s may not have been shown in mainstream theatres, but it was as influential as Spielberg or Friedkin or Kubrick – just not in the same arenas. Brown’s memoir also leaves little to the imagination as we meet his players and stars. It’s a fascinating book that puts both the films and their time into an artful context.

 

A Quiet Death – Cari Hunter

Buy from Bold Strokes (Review here)

And speaking of series, Cari Hunter comes up aces with this entry in the Dark Peak saga. Well-plotted and perfectly executed, this look into the Pakistani neighborhood and culture is both informative and harrowing. Hunter hits the ground running and never stops. You’ll not be able to put it down.

 

Insatiable – Jeff Mann

Buy from Lethe Press (Review here)

Jeff Mann’s Scottish wampyr Derek MacLaine finally gets a full-length book all his own, and what a delight it is. He and his coterie take on the mining industry in a novel as environmentally friendly as it is erotic. Mann is clearly comfortable slipping into his well-worn MacLaine leathers, and we’re all the better for it. Sexually charged and anti-establishment, this is Mann at his best.

 

So, there we have it. Hopefully, we’re in time for you to peruse the list and pick some stocking stuffers. Books make wonderful gifts for readers and great rewards for authors and publishers and their hard work. And in these desperate political times when most everything this audience holds dear is threatened, we need to shout and spread the word as loudly as we can. And Out in Print will be around to help as long as necessary. Thanks, and have a happy holiday!!

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire – Vince A. Liaguno, ed (Evil Jester Press)

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When I was a young queerling reading any and all science fiction and/or horror tales voraciously, I always looked for any collection with “omnibus” in the title because I knew I’d get an immense volume stuffed with all kinds of goodies. Vince Liaguno’s Unspeakable Horror 2 reminded me very much of those books. At twenty stories, you can sink your teeth into this book and either gnash your way through like a starving man at a banquet or savor each one. And there’s much to savor here.

Liaguno’s introduction is well-written and concise, giving a nod to the first volume while putting this one into context. He also gives some history of the project, a move I never really understood until I edited a few anthologies of my own (it’s such a wonderful yet frustrating process, someone ought to hear about the struggle) and follows that up with some interesting information about each story.

I was most happy to see some reliable tale-tellers in the Table of Contents such as Marshall Moore, whose “Underground” brings the minotaur to life again. Stalwart Lee Thomas also makes an appearance with “The Grief Season,” an exquisitely wrought story about a foreboding physical manifestation of that emotion. And I don’t think any modern queer horror anthology would be complete without a selection from Tom Cardamone, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of times. His NYC-centric “Bent on Midnight Frolic” takes us deep into Central Park’s Ramble to follow the exploits of one Golden Boy, a trick who’s not exactly a treat. Historical and romantic fiction author Erastes is also on hand to delight us with the short but punchy “Fugitive Colors,” and Evan J. Peterson takes us inside the business world to find out who’s really underneath those suits and ties in “Investment Opportunity.”

As my duties at Out in Print send me far and wide over more than a few genres, I haven’t had the time or resources to delve as far into queer horror fiction as the little queerling referenced above would like, so I have missed or am just reading for the first time some authors Liaguno has had some experience with. So Lisa Morton’s chilling “Ofrenda,” about a meth addict in a graveyard on Dia de los Muertos, Michael Hacker’s twisty-ending “Clearing Clutter,” and R.B. Payne’s atmospheric “The Sisterhood” were total surprises, as was Gemma Files’s shiver-inducing “Lagan.”

But one of the most powerful stories here is Stephen Graham Jones’s “Kissyface,” an absolutely kick-ass story about a high-school mass murderer and the prank which warped him. I read this in school as I supervised a student teacher (I was subbing that day), and every time I glanced up, all I could wonder was which of the students were enduring similar trauma and might be just as badly  warped. Jones’s descriptions were horrific–in a good way–and what I loved most was the way he restored some humanity to the titular murderer. Worth the price of admission alone.

A very large thanks goes out to Vince Liaguno for his patience and persistence in collecting these stories. I can hardly wait for number three.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

 

 

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Green – Tom Baker (Lethe Press)

Buy from Lethe Press

Coming out in the late Sixties and early Seventies was a trickier proposition than it is these days. The atmosphere was certainly more charged then, changes coming for everyone with lightning speed. Support groups and organizations are a lot more common today, and the consequences for many are considerably lessened. Gay stories from that period are woefully underrepresented in the literature. I was pleased to present the Jonathan Lerner memoir a few weeks back, and now comes Tom Baker’s Green, a short but punchy military novel whose main character is a terrific contradiction.

A fresh graduate of the William & Mary class of 1967, Tim Halladay plans on studying drama at Yale when he is drafted into the U.S. Army. Nicknamed “College Boy” in basic training, he’s dogged by his superior officers for not using his education to take special OCS training. But Halladay has to be careful with Charlie Company and then at his cushy job as admin for Captain Oliver, or his secret will come out, resulting in imprisonment and a court martial.

As someone with a healthy distaste for the military mindset and life, I’m perversely fascinated with books about life in the service. And Green is no exception. Despite the fact that it could have been twice as long, it’s a well-told story with an ending that rather surprised me, even though I was warned and saw it coming. Tim Halladay is a great character, complex and nuanced. He wants to do his part, including combat, otherwise he would have either come out or “checked the box,” admitting his homosexuality so he didn’t have to go in.

Sex is not a part of this novel. Okay, there’s a group jerk scene, but it’s not told erotically or even meant to be. Instead, the threat of sex and sexual compromise looms large in the background, giving a spin to even the book’s most mundane moments. When, indeed, Halladay does face accusations of sexual impropriety, it has little to do with the military and provided me with a sort of shock ending. I won’t spoil it, but I kept waiting for a different ending. This one certainly makes sense, but it wasn’t where I wanted it to go. Bad author–or should I say, great author.

Green is a terrific read, full of absurdity, humor, drama and an ending that sneaks up on you even though you know it’s headed there from the first page. A wonderful achievement, and an absorbing book.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Edge of Glory – Rachel Spangler (Bywater Books)

Buy from Bywater Books

Our gay men’s book club recently read “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach (I know, I know–a sports book?!), and the subject of plagiarism came up due to the allegations surrounding the book. This led to a discussion of tropes in genre literature, including the “big game” climax of these sort of books. Rachel Spangler’s wintry tome, Edge of Glory, hits all these tropes and works itself up to the big game (or in this case, Olympic skiing/snowboarding heats) with well-choreographed precision. So, what prevents it from being just-another-sports-book? Characters.

Injured Olympic skier Elise Brandeis is looking to get her form and place in history back after a disastrous, career-ending injury. She can’t afford any distractions, but Corey LaCroix, a fellow Olympian in snowboarding, proves to be just that. Elise’s icy exterior and Corey’s exuberance mask the passion they both feel for each other, but those feelings eventually emerge. Their timing could be better, as both Elise and Corey have something to prove–to themselves and to each other.

The peaks and valleys are all here, as are the ancillary characters–the coach/buddy, the younger and hungrier teammate, the capable assistant–and the whole map is plainly visible. However, Spangler finds the heart of these characters and writes them with such intensity, you end up caring more about them than they do themselves at some points. She has fleshed out both Elise and Corey and has, apparently, internalized both skiing and snowboarding tech so that it makes sense when she spits it back during the action sequences.

And what action sequences they are. Tight, tense, and suspenseful, they not only sound great technically, they move down the mountain as speedily and surely as do Elise and Corey. I thought Spangler was either a skier or a boarder herself until I read the acknowledgements. Nor is she content to keep the plot map the same as others in the genre. Here, she delays that big fight between the two lovers until nearly the last minute. I kept looking for it three quarters of the way through, but Spangler once again subverted my expectations. In a good way.

Edge of Glory, then, will have you on the edge of your seat and still reward you with the heartwarming feels you’ve come to expect from the genre. The book pops, and that’s no lie.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

 

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Winter Poetry Roundup

This was to have been the Fall Poetry Roundup, but the Gay Romance Lit conference in Denver and Naked Heart in Toronto overwhelmed me with reading material, choices, and time consumption. Apologies to the authors and publishers who have been waiting. But it’s all good. And it’s all good stuff, so let’s get to it:

The Carnival of Affection – Philip F. Clark (Sibling Rivalry Press) 

Buy from Sibling Rivalry Press

If good poetry is defined as form that touches all senses, Philip F. Clark is a hell of a poet. And he is. The work in The Carnival of Affection reaches deep into sense memory and comes up with some vital and stirring images that will really resonate with gay men of all ages. Consider the encounter in “The Correspondence,” where the narrator composes a letter while having bad sex (it’s grocery lists during Craigslist tricks for me), or one of the poems about parents–particularly the boxing match in “The Fathers” or the slow drip of family secrets in “The Dances.” I also liked the breathless rush of dialogue in “At the Bar,” ending with a delicious bit of irony only the gadfly gay man will truly appreciate. The poems named after men (“Joe,” “Vincent,” “Mitch,” “Martin,” and others) were also favorites of mine, particularly “Joe,” which details a night of lust for a man who lost an eye in a fire:

He wore his fire; half beauty, half beast. His face the deal/breaker every night in the bar, no matter how charming they found him. He/grew used to the averted eyes for years…He settled into unsettling everyone. He was the wallpaper and the fly,/drinking up and taking everything in with his one good eye./The other, a dare of blue glass.

One day, I will try very hard to write a phrase as guilelessly descriptive as “a dare of blue glass.” I doubt I’ll succeed, but until I make the attempt, I’ll have Clark’s work to encourage me.

The Desire Line: Memory and Impermanence – Sven Davisson (Rebel Satori Press)

Buy from Rebel Satori Press

Sven Davisson doesn’t write enough, but having teased us mercilessly with the odd short story or poem here and there, he’s finally produced his first full-length book of poetry and photography, The Desire Line. It was worth the wait. Except for the title piece, the book is separated into two sections: Memory and Impermanence, leaving me to wonder if the title piece is meant to be where the two meld or where they diverge. The work in the other sections is deceptively simple, full of solid, tangible images that range from celebratory (“Equally Buddha”) to elegiac–more the latter, actually. Elegies abound in both sections, including “Horizons (for Ruth Moore),” a lively and lovely piece about his grandmother, “Eight Dollar George,” about a neighborhood character, and The Jason Cycle of numbered poems at the conclusion of the Memory section. But I keep returning to the title piece again and again, which is where this whole collection comes together for me. It houses all parts of Davisson’s life and serves as both summation and a collection of points of departure:

Papa Legba is at the door–St. Peter at the gate;/Baron Samedi looks on impassively/seeing into two worlds,/absinthe and unmarked graves;/and Our Lady of the Three Marks/sitting in her silence/one hand on her lap the other/holding a pipe to her lips.

Davisson’s photography also comes into play here, many shots of New Orleans rendered in black and white (that choice antithetical to the parade of colors that New Orleans represents). Put them all together, and you have a stunning collection definitely worthy of your time.

We Still Leave a Legacy – Philip Robinson (We Still Leave a Legacy Press) 

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Poetry is all about images and feeling, but the best poetry for me–the stuff that really sticks in my heart–tells a story at the same time. Philip Robinson’s chapbook We Still Leave a Legacy works the images like a boss but has strong narrative underpinnings that push his work to another level. The title alone clues you that much of this work is serious and, like the Sven Davisson above, elegiac. However, Robinson’s storytelling skills enable him (and us) to empathize as well as elegize, giving us context. From the heartbreak of “Shanelle’s Song,” which details the murder of a transgender man to the very different heartbreak of “When I Stopped Kissing My Father” to the truly celebratory title piece, Robinson takes us into his world and his arms. His experiences as an educator, his relationships with his family, and his racial identity are all fair game, and he renders all of them in intricately sketched cameos. The only problem with that narrative style is that it poses some difficulty for ‘umble  reviewers who want to quote him. However, I can’t do better than the piece which opens the book, “Awakened”:

I woke up with the urge to write and found blood on the floor/The cold bottoms of my feet met the moisture and my heart skipped a beat./The trail’s drippings were warm and wet./The drench sensation merged with the carpet’s beige Shetland./I ran the course which led me to the opened door./I saw my cousin Terence pasted against the field/wielding a knife in his right hand.

One of the authors who blurbed this chapbook called out that first line as heart-wrenching, but I would say arresting. It’s just the thing to lead you into the rest of the book, but you won’t be disappointed no matter where you begin.

Tertulia – Seth Pennington (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Buy from Sibling Rivalry Press

In On Becoming a Person, psychologist Carl Rogers wrote: “What is most personal is most universal,” and the very personal poetry of Seth Pennington proves this out. Okay, so all poetry is personal, I hear you say. And you’d have a point. However, Pennington’s work seems more personal than most, more revealing, more of a celebration of his life with Sibling Rivalry owner Bryan Borland. Pennington’s tertulia is exactly what that word means – a social gathering for celebration of the artistic and literary life in which both men are inextricably bound. The snapshot-inspired “Some Birthday,” the intimate “On Love & Mono,” and “Bryan,,” are perfect examples of this. However, this is not Pennington’s only subject. He writes with equal facility about death, especially in the gritty “DNR”:

The suicide is/a mannequin, eyes wide with pupils/floating in skim milk, every part/open: mouth, ears, nostrils, bowels/loosed and piss down to the knee./The suicide is stoic. Bone-faced and bitter/orange skin stretched taut, like/laminate reacting to a heat gun.

His imagery is sharp and clear and his writing economical, all the better to convey the picture of a poet in the midst of his happiness, touched with regret and loss. A wonderful debut.

And there you have it, folks. The Winter Poetry Roundup. I hope these volumes find their way into some Christmas stockings this year.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Disease – Hans Hirschi (Beaten Track Publishing)

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Nothing quite prepares you for the loss of a life partner, even books such as this one. From the stark, foreboding cover to the simple title, you can tell just what you’ll be getting at a glance. You’d be looking for a simple story of decline and eventual death, packed with emotional episodes and ending with a tastefully hopeful coda acknowledging the trauma while reminding the reader that life, ultimately, belongs to the living. And that’s exactly what you get with Disease.

Writer Hunter MacIntyre has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and must try to wind down his life as his health declines. Aided (and sometimes hindered) by his partner, Ethan, and their five-year-old daughter, Amy, he takes us on his journey through the Kubler-Ross model of grief as he mourns his life.

The temptation here is to wallow in those emotions, breaking occasionally for a bit of clear-eyed wisdom, but Hirschi has wisely chosen to eschew that over-emotional approach. That’s not to say this isn’t an emotional book. By using an epistolary style, however, Hirschi provides a welcome layer of distance. Hunter’s diary entries carve up the experience, proscribing the incidents and giving them clear borders and boundaries. Alternating those with the survivor’s point of view, written as reactions to those diary entries, sets up an incident/reaction chain that allows the reader to consume Hunter’s demise in more easily digestible chunks.

As the survivor of a similar experience, I well understand the markers and signals of decline, the importance of birthdays and “last” holidays, the joylessness beneath the joy of a “good day,” and the aftermath of grief. Hirschi hits all these points with deadly accuracy but never belabors them. He understands the situation has enough inherent drama and rarely stoops to wringing any extra out of the text (the lone exception to this is a piece of jewelry). By letting the reader’s reactions work for him, Hirschi turns a potential tear-jerker into a book which will induce those tears without overt manipulation.

The other bit of brilliance here is that–and I have to be vague to avoid spoilers–the deathbed scene is never shown. One would think missing that key element would leave the reader unsatisfied, but not following this to an overdone and cliched ending takes Disease out of maudlin company and puts it in a class by itself, rather like that tree on its cover.  We know what that ending would have been like, and I enjoyed the characters enough that I didn’t want that for them.

I’ll be honest. When I picked this up, I first thought “grief porn” and put it aside. However, I’m glad I second guessed myself and read it. Hirschi has done an admirable job in telling this story. Recommended without hesitation.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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