Tag Archives: queer fiction

Scarborough – Catherine Hernandez (Arsenal Pulp Press)

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As we all know, working in the arts pays less than nothing most of the time. Most writers (and editors) have to have supplemental income, and with this aim in mind, I began substitute teaching last year. My school district is huge, encompassing white as well as “urban” neighborhoods, much like the landscape of Catherine Hernandez’s deeply-felt novel, Scarborough. I see the disenfranchised and immigrant children she describes daily. I feed the littler ones breakfast, like Ms Hina does. And I wonder if they can survive what’s been done to the country in which they landed.

Ms Hina is a recent university graduate whose first job is as a facilitator for a literacy program in a Toronto primary school, but any position involving children proves to be far more than its description. Among her charges are Laura, Bing, and Bing’s best friend, Sylvie. Laura has been neglected by her mother and obtained by her father, Cory, who knows even less about raising a child. Bing is a gay Filipino boy living with both parents, but his father is mentally ill. Sylvie is a Native girl whose family is struggling to find a place to live. Ms Hina slowly works past the prejudice of parents, careless bureaucrats, and the diversity of her children to forge a welcoming atmosphere for all.

However, any description of this novel will fall short. Just like the job it tracks, it’s more than the sum of its parts. A skilled writer, Hernandez uses all the emotion at her disposal to create deft, indelible portraits of these children and their parents. Once she has them onstage, she lets them interact with each other and shades those relationships as they develop organically. Nothing about Scarborough feels contrived or manipulative despite its range of emotions, and I never once heard the author instead of the characters.

Although all of Hernandez’s people are real and interesting, Laura’s father and Bing were particularly noteworthy. Cory aches to do right by his little girl and knows how she’s suffered from her mother’s inattention, but he simply doesn’t have the skills. And he’s too afraid to ask, automatically discounting Ms Hina because she wears a hijab. Bing is a fearless little boy who came out at an early age with the full support of his mother and extended family. But even with that love behind him, nothing can compare to the freedom he feels when he takes a Whitney Houston tape to karaoke and makes his statement to the world:

Just as the chorus began again, I jumped to my feet, ripped off my button up shirt and revealed my pink-sequined halter top. Everyone cheered. Under the auditorium lights, I felt the sweat on my arms both cooling and accumulating. Riding the wave of a sustained note, I felt my insides shine like a light beaming from my throat and through every finger. Truth. Truth. It felt like confetti. It felt like running. It felt like screaming. Me. Truth. Truth.

The details of Bing’s story are unimportant. We have all been Bing. We still are, really. It’s the screaming of that truth that’s important, now more than ever.

From Ms Hina’s epistolary battle with her supervisor to the tragedy of an apartment fire, Scarborough is an engrossing read that’s a lot like its cover. Hernandez sets us running down that subway corridor, anxious for what comes around the next corner. Heartbreak, to be sure. But also unexpected joys and big lessons. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

 

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Heartsnare – Steven B. Williams (Lethe Press)

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A year ago, Eric Mayfair was in the hospital, with only his mum Jhardine and best friend Tim to keep him company as he slowly, painfully, succumbed to a terminal heart condition.  Except that when it finally came time for him to die, neither one had the emotional strength to remain with Eric.  As a result, neither witnessed his unexpected, miraculous rebirth—not that Eric’s life improves any afterwards.  Because a year later, Eric still has no explanation for the uncanny occurrence, and it’s scarcely a blessing to either him or his mum:  Jhardine supports both of them by working a job she hates, because Eric can’t find, much less hold a job.  Neither has any sort of love life, and Jhardine soon discovers that she now has health problems of her own.  All Eric knows is that he now feels a new heart beating inside his chest, a black, dark thing that seems responsible for his heightened senses, and other…things.  And when Tim is brutally murdered, monsters and evil powers begin to appear in Willingsley, and things go to Hell—fast.

So begins Heartsnare, book one of The Umbraverse by Steven B. Williams.  As Eric investigates the mystery surrounding Tim’s death, he meets and befriends Alistair, a fellow “shadow former,” and finally learns the cause and reason for his own rebirth, and that there are other worlds besides his own.  He learns too that he is now caught in a war, a battle between shadow formers and “umbra”—living shadows that kill and then possess people—a fate that has befallen Tim, and soon others in Willingsley.

Heartsnare reads as compulsively as a Stephen King novel:  Williams’ characters are all ordinary Yorkshire working-class folk, going about their mundane lives, trying to make ends meet, navigating complicated love lives and all the rest of life’s daily nonsense.  It is they who bear the brunt of the fallout resulting from the war between light and darkness that has fallen upon Willingsley.  But for all the darkness in this novel (and it is plenty dark), there is also humor to offset it—although sometimes the banter between Eric and Jhardine seems more appropriate between a gay man and his straight gal pal, rather than a son and his mum.  (Note to American readers:  Mind you, the dialogue is written in a true-to-life Yorkshire dialect, and there’s nowt you can do about it love, just keep eating your crisps while you read, there’s a good lad.)

Heartsnare owes as much to A Wizard of Earthsea as to Stephen King.  The idea of living shadows created by immortal wizards, who then must defeat their shadow-selves, is not new to fantasy fiction, whether literally or metaphorically.  And when their magic is powered by shades to begin with, then it becomes even more difficult (if not impossible) to sort out the angels from the devils.  And without giving away too much of the climax, Eric can only defeat the Tim umbra when he realizes who he is truly fighting.

Heartsnare is completely self-contained as a story, but there are plenty of questions to explore in further books.  The shadow formers’ system of magic will surely be fleshed out (so to speak) in further volumes, and an equal number of mysteries surround Jhardine as her son.  So just as A Wizard of Earthsea begins a series of acclaimed fantasy novels, this book is only the beginning of Eric’s quest—for mastery of his powers, finding answers to the questions of his life, and possibly even love.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

© 2017, Keith John Glaeske

 

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Country – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press)

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Country music isn’t a place I ever expected myself to venture as a fiction reader. Music in general isn’t something I find easily translated to text, and yet two recent books I’ve read have had music intrinsic to their core narratives, and have done so deftly.

But country music? I can’t imagine a genre of popular music less open to a gay experience than country music. Don’t get me wrong, some of the country music stars themselves are definitely fetching (their names I sometimes vaguely know thanks to magazine covers from my bookstore days), but the industry itself—and the fan base—have never struck me as remotely friendly.

Obviously, I know that’s a sweeping generalization, and even this Canuck has heard of Steve Grand, but beyond a few recent blips, my experiences in the rural Canada of my youth has left me with a less than welcoming sense of the country music community, even up here.

All that to say when I was handed Country, Jeff Mann’s novel, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  From the blurb alone, I knew Country featured a bunch of things I didn’t necessarily connect with: country music, rural culture, and living a closeted life.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Mann brings us Brice Brown, a big name Country star, and introduces us to him at his peak, moments before the tipping point that sets the novel in motion. Brice is overdue for a new record, deeply closeted, and finding company to rent online, and about to be outed by a former lover.

It is that last that sends Brown crashing down from the top, of course, and it’s important to note that the novel is set in the late 90’s. Though in today’s world it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine as hard a fall as Brice Brown takes, setting the novel in the recent past served a double purpose to me: the exploration of the homophobia in play was bang-on perfect, and the impotent rage Brown often feels is mirrored in the reader’s experience. So recent as a few decades ago, it would be unheard of for a public “Good old boy” to be outed. Today might hold a different story—might—but in placing the narrative firmly in a time and place where support would be small and unheard, Mann gives us a reminder of both progress and of the hateful frustrations.

I often speak of how queerfolk have to struggle to pass their narratives onward, as we don’t inherit them like other cultures. Fiction can often pass these narratives on just as well, and there’s no doubt that the fictional Southern and country culture at play in Country is a narrative Mann is passing on. The viciousness of the assault on Brice Brown’s name, music, image, and career is borderline relentless, and as the man watches all things crumble, the pain is present—and realistic—to behold.

That Brice Brown himself is by no means a perfect man—he’s as much a product of his culture as those who throw hate at him from within it— works well to ground the story further into that reality. Brice is just as likely to prejudge others as he himself is judged, and watching his journey unfold was a satisfyingly refreshing take for this kind of story. More, Brice’s struggles with depression and his often self-destructive and self-loathing attempts to tame his “black moods” garner empathy without pity, a balance I’ve rarely found achieved so well.

Lest you think the whole novel is a dark and dismal ride, let me be clear: it is not. As much as Brice’s decent is powerfully written, so is the path forward. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Jeff Mann novel if there weren’t rough-and-tumble country man around to capture Brice Brown’s heart, in this case in the form of a delectable delinquent, Lucas. Fans of Mann are no doubt aware already of his adept erotic prose, and they will not be let down.

As the story moves from the macro “fall of the Country Music Star” and into the micro of a smaller cast of characters who gather around Brown when he finds a place to go into retreat, it’s these characters that bring forth the queer “chosen family” value to the story, and where the healing—not just Brice’s healing—comes into play. There are laugh-out-loud moments in Country born of these characters, which include a gay rural retreat owner who is so much larger than life (and yet so like so many people I’ve met), and a gun-toting lipstick lesbian who delivers some of my favorite lines of the whole book. And for fans of Mann’s other works (especially Cub), there are a few moments included for the reader that are richly rewarding. These light moments don’t steal from the realism, either, but add to it: there’s a kind of “laughter in the face of the bad” tone that pops up throughout Country, and it is a sense I can certainly understand and empathize with. At some point, I think most queer people have faced those moments.

Beat us down? When we get back up, our laughter will be all the louder for our survival.

With “survival” being the often raw and minimal goal from the moment Country begins, the reader is left with no sense that “happily ever after with rainbows” is on the menu, which raises the tension of the book all the higher. In turn, I was angry, frustrated, empathetic, or sad—often aimed at Brice himself—but at no point was I anything less than invested in seeing where Brice’s journey would end.

In fact, like so much of Mann’s work, the strength is in how incredibly evocative it is: it’s lyrical, erotic of course, and full to the brim with the sights, smells, and sheer weight of the country setting.

Oh, and of course: the food. Some day I will learn not to read a Jeff Mann book while remotely hungry, as the food alone is described so enticingly I find my mouth watering and wishing I had the slightest idea how one made “scrapple.”

Country is a love letter to a lover who refused to return the affection, sent by someone who is learning to find something else—or someone else—as worthy of the love.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

© 2017 ‘Nathan Burgoine

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A Conversation with Ethan Day and Geoffrey Knight

EthanDay_author_p_lr-210x315Ethan Day and Geoffrey Knight are authors and, as of a year ago in April, the publishers of Wilde City Press.  Ethan, a resident of Missouri, is the author of books such as At Piper’s Point, As You Are, and Northern Star. Ethan is also one of the organizers for the GayRomLit Retreat.  Geoffrey Knight is the author of books including the bestselling gay adventure novels The Cross of Sins, The Riddle of the Sands, and The Curse of the Dragon God.  Together, Ethan and Geoff wrote To Catch a Fox and Zombie Boyz: Guess Who’s Coming At Dinner.

Hi, Ethan and Geoff.  Thanks for being here!

ED: Thanks for having us!

GK: We’re thrilled to be here… from far and wide!

Ethan, I talked to you and Lynn Lorenz in 2011 about the GayRomLit Retreat.  I just saw that the 2014 retreat is in555064_500252293369482_2021518698_n Illinois this October.  What would you like readers to know about this year’s event?  Are there ways you’ve adapted the event over the last three years?

ED: Absolutely, the event has certainly changed over the past three years. After successful events in New Orleans, Albuquerque and Atlanta we’ve seen growth each year and as such, we’ve had to adjust. Most of the changes we make are a result of survey responses we receive from our attendees each year, but we also take into account the publishers who help pay for the event. The other organizers and I have always felt it necessary to cap overall attendance for GRL, a decision that has more to do with obtaining sufficient publisher sponsorship dollars than anything else. The evening parties in particular can be costly, and with each person added to our overall attendance, the price per event goes up. We don’t want GRL to price itself completely out of reach for most of our publishers, nor do we want the overall quality of the GRL experience for our readers to suffer as a result.

Beginning in 2013, we made the decision to limit the amount of authors who were able to register as a featured author due to the overwhelming response on our survey that there were too many authors in 2012. Author-to-reader ratio ended up being the number one complaint on our survey after Albuquerque, from both authors and surprisingly also from readers, for a multitude of reasons. Considering the cap on overall attendance, it made sense that we needed to further break things down. The author cap continues to be the most controversial thing we have done, and each year there are people who get angry and complain—mostly authors who were unable to register as a featured author, understandably, as no one likes to be told no. To give you some context, while 2013 was the first year we ever completely sold out—though we came close in 2012—this year, our 2015 Featured and Supporting Author spots sold out in less than two minutes, and our General Registration spots sold out in just under two days.

It was never our intent to instigate this sort of frenzied atmosphere surrounding registration, and we even increased the attendance cap for 2014 in hope of alleviating some of that, yet we still sold out in a record-setting time. While we’d love to take full responsibility for the success and growth of GRL, it really speaks more to the passionate fans of the Gay or M/M Romance genre. From its very inception, GayRomLit was intended to be a ‘Thank You’ to the readers, and in organizing the Retreat we continue to make the bulk of our decisions based upon that initial ideal. At the same time, we also rely upon the generosity of our sponsoring publishers and attending authors—who not only help pay for the event, but also show up and spend three and half days interacting with and entertaining readers. As organizers, we do our best to balance the Retreat and meet the needs of everyone participating.

Can you share any plans or hopes you and the other organizers have for GRL going forward?

ED: Honestly, we hope to continue being a strong proponent of the Gay Romance genre above all else. For myself, as an author, I was delighted to discover the genre even existed back in 2009. I had all but stopped writing many years before, but had several finished or near finished novels/novellas sitting around collecting dust from my college days. There were precious few changes required by me in order to make the stories I’d been working on for years fit nicely within the already well-established M/M romance genre. That was, to date, the happiest accident I’ve ever experienced. Like any other author out there would be, I was thrilled to discover there was an actual built-in readership for the types of stories I wanted to tell. I’m still grateful to each and every one of those readers, which is why I continue to work on GRL. I’m certainly not the only organizer/author/publisher who feels that way. : )

Moving on to Wilde City, I loved the concept of your company not just being a publisher but also a city to “play in.”  Have any authors thought about setting their work in Wilde City and what would you think of that idea?

ED: We’ve actually discussed that at great length, lol. It was something we hadn’t considered until we were forced to change the name of our press due to trademark issues and thus, Wilde City was born. We’ve definitely discussed a potential series or an anthology of stories set in Wilde City—the name of the press certainly lends itself to the idea. And we’re pleased to announce that Geoff is going to kick off the concept of bringing Wilde City to life with his new book, Buck Baxter, Love Detective, which is due out this September.

GK: Yeah, I’m so thrilled with Buck Baxter, he’s exactly the kind of character you’d find in Wilde City! And we’d love for our authors to start exploring the dark alleys and flashy night clubs of Wilde City to bring us their own stories. Wilde City is a great destination for everything, from thrills to romance, from adventure to mystery. And Buck is just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s the blurb for Buck Baxter, Love Detective, our first ever Tales from Wilde City:

BuckBaxter_LoveD_200x300px_cvrWelcome to Wilde City, 1924—a crane on top of every skyscraper, a party in every club, a romance on every dance floor, a shooting every night, a broken heart on every street corner, and a dirty secret behind every window with the curtains drawn. It’s the kinda town that keeps Buck Baxter, private detective, in business. For despite his fondness for a cold gin and a pipe stuffed with cannabis, Buck is the best gumshoe in Wilde City. Why? Because he has rules: never make friends, never make enemies, and never, ever fall in love. That is until the day playboy nightclub owner Holden Hart swings into town. He’s suave, he’s charming, he’s chivalrous… and he’s exactly the kinda man that Buck will break all the rules for. From the romance of the Rainbow Palace atop the Wilde City Tower, to the dazzling debauchery of the gentlemen’s parlor, The Velvet Viper—from the history surrounding the sinister convent on the hill, better known Hell’s Bells, to the lantern-lit opium barge, The Peking Empress, run by the mystical Madame Chang—could Buck be about to unravel the greatest mystery of them all…the mystery of love?

I noticed in a previous interview that you praised fellow presses Dreamspinner, Resplendence, and MLR.  I can guess the basics of a good publisher include picking good books, skilled editing, and treating authors well.  Are there other key ingredients to being a good publisher in your opinions?

ED: Recognizing the importance of all those readers out there who make what we do possible is certainly a key ingredient. Treating authors well is important, but also working with authors who care about promoting their own work as much or more than we do as a publisher is also key. It really is a two-way street, and authors don’t always understand that the things they find attractive in a publisher are the same things a publisher will find attractive when considering working them.

TheNext_100dpi_cvr-210x330In addition to gay male romance and erotica, you’re also interested in gay mainstream fiction. Even though I bet many readers have an idea of what that means, could you elaborate on how that’s defined at Wilde City?  For example, I noticed that The Next by Rafe Haze (insanely hot cover, by the way) is listed in your mainstream store, but its subgenres include mystery and erotica. Then you also have three mysteries available in your erotica store.  Is where a booked “shelved” based on your general impression of a book’s heat level, on specific parameters, on the author’s input, or anything else?

ED: We definitely take the authors intent into consideration. That is usually the jumping off point for sure. We also depend upon our editors to speak up if they feel the manuscript an author submitted truly doesn’t fit the genre they want it marketed under.

The inception of our three base categories of Mainstream, Erotica & Romance come back to catering to the reader, more than anything else. Romance readers and Erotica readers are typically looking for very specific things when they go looking for a new book to read. That doesn’t mean that all readers of Romance and Erotica are unwilling to read anything else, but it is true some of the time. The romance genre, by design, has several set “rules” which make a book a “romance title.” A few examples would be having a happily-ever-after or a happy-for-now ending, at the very least. Cheating is typically a taboo, as well. They typically also include some erotic content, but don’t have to, and unlike Erotica, the erotic content in a romance novel shouldn’t be there solely for the purpose of titillation—it should also be integral to propelling the story forward.

All that being said, our Mainstream category, which may initially seem to allude to more of a lit-fic status, for Wilde City, it simply means anything other than straight-up Romance or Erotica. We have Mainstream titles that are love stories, but because they don’t fit those rules of romance, we do not market them as such. One thing Geoff and I talked about early on was how much we missed the experience of going into the local bookstore and perusing the mosh-pit of titles located on the shelves of the LGBT fiction section. We always went in looking for one title, and walked out with several other books we’d discovered while in the store.

Amazon and the other online retailers are great, but once you buy one genre you end up getting inundated with the same sort of recommendations. That sort of in-your-face marketing is great if you only like to read one type of book, but it otherwise hinders the discovery of anything different—typecasting in its most basic form, if you will.

We wanted Wilde City to be a return to the mosh-pit, only online instead of in the store, lol. When you visit the Books page at Wilde City, you’ll find Patrick Darcy’s Confessions of a Gay Rugby Player erotica sitting next to Lammie finalist Jon Michaelsen’s mystery, Pretty Boy Dead or Poppy Dennison’s werewolf romance titles next to Historical Western erotica by Dale Chase. We also have authors like Owen Keehnen and J.P. Barnaby writing books for Wilde City, which show up in more than one of our three base categories.

We can’t control the way a retailer chooses to display our titles, but on our site we state quite clearly which category each title falls within, while also exposing each visitor to the wide variety of gay fiction we offer. From there each reader can remove or add filters to affect search results.

I noticed in the submission guidelines some standard content guidelines (though unusually thoughtful, in my opinion) for a romance and erotica publisher as well as a mention that you’re not considering YA.  For authors interested in submitting, are there genres you’re hoping for more of in your in-box? Is there anything you’re seeing too much?  Are there submission errors which too many authors are making?     

GK: We definitely want to be known as an across-the-board gay press. We want to publish everything from romance to thrillers to comedy to action to erotica, although there are always trends that peak and dive, and as a commercial business we’re always on the lookout for that. And although we definitely want to see more romance coming through the door, we also pride ourselves on having one of the finest—if not the best—gay mainstream line-ups in the industry, despite being such a young press.

ED: Speaking for myself as a reader, a good mystery with a romance subplot always gets me. : )

As far as submission errors go, not taking the time to read the submissions page would be the most common error, lol.

PrettyBoyDead_200x300_cvrYou just mentioned that Pretty Boy Dead by Jon Michaelsen was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for mystery. Congratulations!  To what level was it a surprise to have such recognition within your first year? 

GK: The recognition all goes to Jon! He came to us with a book that he had poured his heart into, he believed in, and his passion spoke volumes to us. We truly love working with Jon—he is a talented, caring, generous soul—and we cannot wait for his next book! And no, the nomination wasn’t a surprise at all, because it wasn’t a nomination for us a publisher, it was a nomination for Jon and his book. We were simply lucky enough to be the ones to publish it.

ED: It didn’t really surprise me either, in the sense I don’t think we’d have published the book if we didn’t think it was well written. As Geoff said, end of the day, the credit all belongs to Jon, who logged in all the long hours researching and writing the book. I know Jon and his editor, Jerry Wheeler, worked long and hard on polishing the manuscript, and the end result was recognition from Lambda. That didn’t exactly suck to see.

What did you like and dislike (if anything) about collaborating on To Catch a Fox and Guess Who’s Coming At Dinner?  Perhaps you’re using your real names, but if not, did you come up with “Knight” and “Day” before deciding to collaborate? Did the names lead you toward: Hey, maybe we should work together?”

ED: LOL! I’ll let Geoff answer the why, since he was the one who initially brought up the idea of collaborating. Hopefully he was attracted by more than just my name, lol. We were each already published before ever meeting online, so there was certainly no design in that sense.

The only thing I don’t like about working with Geoff is dealing with the time zone differences, though even that we’ve sort of gotten past at this stage. Still, there have been times when I know we’ve each had ideas or inspiration and wanted to share them immediately, only to realize we’d have to wait HOURS before getting a response. Total suckage, especially for two gay men! We do so love that instant gratification, after all. : )

Beyond that, writing with Geoff has been an awesome experience. Writing can be an extremely solitary and isolating profession. People who aren’t writers don’t always understand that there’s a party going on inside our head, and the fact we’ve neglected to return a few phone calls or missed a couple of days’ worth of texts isn’t a personal slight, just an occupational hazard. Co-writing just means I’m not the only “real” person at the party, lol. Geoff and I are both pretty laid-back, with similar temperaments, and I think that helps.

In terms of the actual writing, there are things that I believe Geoff does better than anyone else out there, so there are times when it’s simply a matter of getting out of the way so he can do his thing. If you’ve read any of his Fathom’s Five adventure series, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Beyond that, I think Geoff is extremely underrated when it comes to writing Romance. The entire concept from Guess Who’s Coming At Dinner was all Geoff. When he sent me what he’d written I was totally taken by the emotional punch he’d packed into the story.

GK: Aw, thanks Ethan! From my point of view, the reason we work so well together—and the reason I wanted to work with Ethan in the first place—was because we get along so well but have different skill sets. It’s always been my motto in business and in writing to surround yourself with people who can fill the holes you can’t fill yourself. That’s what a great partnership is all about. Ethan is amazing at quirky characters and hilarious situations, and laugh-out-loud dialogue. That’s stuff I can’t do as well as he can. But I can write adventure and tension and action and mystery. So combining our two skills seemed like a great idea, and suddenly Fox was born.

Geoff, what would you like readers to know about your fiction? TempleOfTime_200x300px_cvr

GK: Mmmm, that’s a hard question. I guess the main thing readers should know about me is that I love writing a range of genres. I’m best known for my gay adventure series Fathom’s Five, and I’ve written a few other gay adventure tales such as Scott Sapphire and the Emerald Orchid, and Drive Shaft. But I write whatever story I’m in the mood to write at the time, and that can be anything from mystery to comedy to romance. I think my coming-of-age romance set in the Top End of Australia, The Pearl, is the book I’m most proud of, simply because it’s set in my home country and delves deep into our nation’s cultural history, yet is a tender contemporary love story as well as being the story of a young man who must come to terms with his homosexuality and his Aboriginality. The thing I love about it the most is that, true to Aboriginal culture, the landscape plays a major character in the story. We are nothing without the land we live on.

And how about you, Ethan?

AtPipersPoint_200x300px_cvrED: I’m a card-carrying smart-ass at heart and that has a tendency to work its way into my writing. I’m probably best known for writing contemporary romantic-comedy, although I’ve dabbled in paranormal and historical, along with mystery/suspense with Geoff. I’m probably most comfortable with contemporary romance. I write about what I like to read about: gay men who are looking for love—usually in all the wrong places. I think relationships, by nature, are funny, and my writing is definitely tinged by that point of view. Some writers might take the subject of stalking your ex-boyfriend to a darker, scarier place. I tend to take a slightly nutty, neurotic, I Love Lucy kinda slant. If the individual reading my book finds themselves wishing they could climb inside the car with my character in order to help them stalk that ex-boyfriend, I consider that a success.

Finally, what are you both looking forward to, in terms of writing? Publishing? General happiness goals you’d like to tell your fans?

GK: Wilde City has been an amazing challenge, but now that we’re up and running I am determined to throw myself back into writing. I have the first Buck Baxter story coming out soon, after which I’ll be releasing the long-awaited, fourth Fathom’s Five novel, The Temple of Time. We’re determined to take Wilde City from strength to strength over the next two years, turning it in to a major player in gay fiction publishing. As for general happiness, last year I met the love of my life so all is great on that front. He’s smart and sexy and supportive and funny and utterly perfect…so writing any angst in my upcoming novels is going to be difficult 🙂

ED: Having time to write, would be one happiness goal…that, and I still have my fingers crossed for a pony! A boyfriend wouldn’t exactly suck, at least in theory—of course that would require me making myself available for such things.

As for Wilde City, like any other online destination, I hope more and more readers will visit, and discover what we have to offer. We’re getting ready to launch our Wilde City Club membership which will allow readers to create accounts and save their information, as well as offering the option to re-download any and all ebooks purchased through their membership. Club members will also have early access to some or all of our new releases, and will receive special un-advertised discounts not offered anywhere else.

Along with WCP Readers Club, we’ll also be setting up a separate type of account available exclusively to independent books stores and smaller retail chains around the country that would like to purchase our print books direct from Wilde City at a wholesale discount.

Thanks to both of you!

ED: Thank you, Gavin!

GK: Thanks for a wonderful opportunity to walk you through Wilde City, Gavin! Hope to see you again real soon!

Keep up with Geoff at the Wilde City blog.

And keep up with Ethan at ethanday.com

© 2014 Gavin Atlas

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Gifts Not Yet Given (and Other Tales of the Holidays) – Kergan Edwards-Stout (Circumspect Press)

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I am not a fan of Christmas and haven’t been for a number of years, so feel free to call me a Scrooge. Many have. Despite that, I try as hard as I can to join in with my friends–sort of a “grin and bear it” attitude–because my mama raised me not to rain on the parades of others. Well, she hated Funny Girl, but you know what I mean. Singing carols, however, or listening to Christmas music on the radio, or decorating my car, or dressing up the dogs? Um. No. Just…no. And Christmas-themed books? Nope. Not going there, either. But I loved Kergan Edwards-Stout’s Songs for the New Depression so much that when he sent me this volume, I gritted my teeth and dove in, finding some pleasant surprises.

Not all the stories are Christmas related. They also revolve around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and even Mardi Gras. And, as with most short story collections or anthologies, some entries are more successful than others. A few of these tales find themselves burdened with a sentimentality that doesn’t serve Edwards-Stout well. He’s at his best when he’s sharp and cutting, riding the edge to undercut the sweetness or the sadness, depending on how its played. That’s a combination that really works for him, and he manages to hit it more often than not.

He hits it hard in the opener, “The Nutcracker,” a biting piece about corporate ball-buster Sheila, whose mask of invulnerability drops when she receives the titular souvenir as a gag gift at the office Christmas party. The story is witty, observant, and altogether successful in its portrayal of office manners as well as career goals, and even though Sheila is easy to hate, she becomes a sympathetic figure by the end. This is the kind of story Edwards-Stout tells very, very well.

Going somewhere totally different, “Festive Beaver” is the lovely little tale about a young gayling and his fixation with his school’s Mardi Gras celebration. And again, the ending is particularly poignant and a wonderful lesson for any boy who has keenly felt the difference between himself and the rest of his friends. “The Stepping Stone” is an odd yet compelling Easter parable which finds shopping mall Easter Bunny Gerald taking a chance on winning his lady love Amy by defying his controlling mother. Edwards-Stout’s detailing of the Machiavellian control Lolly has over her son is exquisite and makes her comeuppance at the end (because you knew it was going to happen) even sweeter.

The family dynamic runs very close to the surface in all of these stories because holidays are so family-centered, something Edwards-Stout takes great advantage of in pieces like “Glenbourne, IL,” which features a mother-in-law finally giving her son’s patient and ever-attentive wife the respect she deserves after a number of years. This story takes a potentially maudlin situation but does not exploit that possibility. Instead, he concentrates on the relationship between the son and his wife and allows the reader to come to his own conclusions rather than forcing an obvious emotional choice. The ending, therefore, was to me even more heartwarming than I would have found it if I was told what to feel.

When Edwards-Stout takes this route, the results are stunning–as in “The Old Rugged Cross,” in which a woman is cut adrift from her life and her passion by the death of her only son, and the title story, which features a nicely-done twist. Not all of these stories are about gay men or women, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this fine volume of well-written pieces, most of which are powerful and emotional without the taint of cheap sentimentality that the holidays usually induce.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Cutie Pie Must Die – R.W. Clinger (Bold Strokes Books)

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Sometimes the best part of a mystery is not necessarily the mystery. I don’t know whether this is a fault or not. I suppose in a larger sense it is, especially for those readers who look for clues and revelations and love to match wits with fictional detectives. However, I’d make a lousy detective myself. I often get so carried away by the characters that I forget about the clues or don’t pay close attention to them. I’m quite happy letting the story unfold without trying to guess it. And with a book as funny and smart-assed as Cutie Pie Must Die, I was very satisfied to let the author take me where he wanted me to go.

Hair salon accountant and part-time detective Troy Murdock has scored the man of his dreams–All-American quarterback (for the Violators) Ben Pieney. Taking him home to his apartment over the salon, some wild, hunkalicious sex ensues. They part and Murdock drifts off to sleep. He’s awakened the next morning by the high-pitched screams of the salon’s co-owner, Umberto Clemente, who has found Ben at the bottom of Troy’s steps with his throat cut. Detective Zane Ward is assigned to the case, but he has history with Troy, nearly killing him by accident the three times they dated. Nevertheless, Ward blackmails number one suspect Murdock not only into helping him with the case but into bed as well. Then a couple more bodies turn up, including the quarterback’s brother. A serial killer? Only Murdock and Ward can find out for sure.

Even Clinger’s minor characters pop with inventiveness. Umberto Clemente is the strangely hilarious camp reference point, but on a less stereotypical side is Murdock’s ex, Ivan Reed. Reed is still closeted, claiming bisexuality even though he doesn’t really sleep with his erstwhile girlfriend, Luanne, because she’s too busy working at Hooters and harassing Murdock. Reed is as earnest in his affection for Murdock as Luanne is batshit crazy. And Murdock’s prissy, judgmental, racist mother is also a hoot.

At its core, though, is the “c’mere, c’mere–get away, get away” relationship between Murdock and Ward. Ward really wants another shot at Murdock (interpret that however you like), and Murdock is just as determined not to have his life in jeopardy a fourth time. He doesn’t want Ward in his life. Or does he? This sexual tension is the thread that winds through both the plot and mystery. Although some readers might find the constant wavering from yes to no and back again a bit off-putting, Clinger’s sense of the absurd as well as his laugh-out-loud funny dialogue makes it all work.

In fact, I tried to find an exchange or two that exemplify this, but Clinger has interspersed the plot and the humor so solidly that I was unable to break off a chunk that adequately captured the flavor of the book. And it definitely has one–a bitter fluff or an acidic smirk. I don’t think this is a book that will appeal to all mystery readers, but if you like your murders with a tongue firmly planted in one cheek, this is definitely for you.

Which means, of course, I loved it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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