Tag Archives: queer lit

Wallaconia – David Pratt (Beautiful Dreamers Press)

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Please look at the cover to the left and note the cedilla, which WordPress cannot accommodate, in the title. The somewhat exotic pronunciation of the pictured Massachusetts salt marsh makes the location sound like an independent and separate country populated by its namesake, one Jim Wallace, the protagonist of David Pratt’s (Bob the Book, Looking After Joey) latest novel.

On the verge of turning eighteen, Jim Wallace is looking forward to losing his virginity to longtime girlfriend Liz, hoping this will somehow “fix” him. Before those repairs can be completed, however, Jim finds himself helping neighbor Pat Baxter out in Baxter’s bookstore. In addition to finding an unexpected friend and ally in out and proud Baxter, Wallace also encounters a fellow student he bullied years ago, who had left the area and returned to visit, helping Pat in the bookstore as well. Jim faces the choice between living his truth or not.

I suppose because of the age of its protagonist, this needs to be labeled and marketed as a “young adult” book. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld points out, that there’s anything wrong with that. The realities of the marketplace are what they are, but I hope that won’t prevent other audiences from picking this up because it has lessons and observations germane to other age groups. A coming out story? Well, that’s part of it–but the book runs deeper than that.

The relationship between Pat and Jim is interesting, even idyllic–an essential component of the imagined country in which Jim lives. Not every gay man finds a mentor so willing or generous with his time and insights. Equally as serendipitous is the outcome of his meeting up with Nate Flederbaum, the boy Jim had previously bullied for being gay. I can’t say more without being a spoiler, but lessons are learned all around and all is forgiven. Even Jim’s parents take the news with little heartbreak. The one exception to this is Jim’s girlfriend, Liz.

Having given her virginity to Jim, she has more than a small stake in their burgeoning relationship. She endures his confession with more restraint than may seem reasonable to some, but she’s clearly devastated. And while they gamely try to remain friends, both know it’s useless. Her reactions are emotional but not as histrionic as I’d imagine. Less than idyllic, maybe, but still an easier row to hoe than not. Which leads me to wonder if this version of Jim’s coming out may be part of Wallaconia itself, an imagined outcome masking a not-so-perfect emergence.

Okay, okay–way meta, right?

I’m reading far too much into it, and I’ve got no time to go back and re-read for something that may or may not be there, but the more I think about the book, I wonder if the cracks between Wallaconia and a harsher reality might not be a bit more apparent the second time around. Something to consider as you read. Because you should read this book. I’ve enjoyed Pratt’s work ever since I came across Bob the Book, and I’ve never been disappointed once in his characters or his well-turned prose. And I wouldn’t put it past him to sneak some sort of meta-metaphor in a “young adult” coming out story.

That’s just the kind of author he is.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Down On Your Knees – Lee Thomas (Lethe Press)

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I kept thinking of boxing while reading this book. Sometimes you want a lengthy match, featuring the strategic spectacle of one opponent slowly wearing down the other, but sometimes you prefer a fight without subtlety that delivers one or two knockout blows and then is over, leaving one man standing and the other flat on the canvas. It all depends on the amount of blood lust you have that day. Whereas Lee Thomas’s Butcher’s Road, for example, is one of the former, his latest, Down On Your Knees, is a rabbit punch to the kidneys and a less-than-two-hundred-page knockout.

Just out of prison, Denny “The Bull” Doyle faces the challenge of taking his organization back from low-level gangster Malcom Lynch, who has gained control in Doyle’s absence. The Bull’s former henchmen are being murdered one by one, and the only chance Doyle has of regaining his position lies with Brendan Newton, a gang wanna-be who’s logged far more time fantasizing about crime than practicing it. Lynch may have sorcerer’s magic on his side, but let’s just say Doyle has his own supernatural resources as well.

Thomas’s fiction always amazes me both in terms of his inventiveness and his prose. Here, his words are punchy and action-oriented when they aren’t vulgar (a quality I love, by the way). This is not a book of rumination. It’s a novel of quick thinking, reactions, punch-ups, and beat-downs. Lots of blood, gore, mayhem, and–especially in the last few chapters–magic. And that’s where his inventiveness takes over. The traps are many, the subterfuges are clever, and the predicaments have interesting complications.

A longer book? Well, a more detailed approach would include additional information on how Doyle acquired his powers, though the hints we get of the ritual in Milo’s jail cell are powerful and certainly turn the plot as well as needed. A slower book would also contain some background and more insight on Doyle’s relationship with his doctor/former lover Zack. Maybe even a kidnapping, putting Zack in some direct danger. However, the latter is what the reader expects. I know I expected it the second he introduced the character, and I kept looking for it to happen all through the action sequences. That it does not, however, is no disappointment, and I suspect that’s what Thomas intended. Well played, sir. Well played.

Down On Your Knees, then, really strips the horror/crime genre down to its bare essentials and gives its readers the down and dirty details. And, make no mistake, the final few chapters will leave you breathless in your ringside seats, still clutching your half-eaten popcorn as the house lights come up and you think, “What the hell?” Yes. It’s that good.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

 

 

 

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Tumbledown – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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You never know what you’re going to get with sequels. The best ones continue the story, deepen the characters, and allow you to come away with a sense of growth. The worst ones reek of imitation and make you forget why you liked the first one so much. And then there are a whole range of in-betweenies that start off great but lose steam quickly, as if the author forgot what the point was. Not so with Cari Hunter’s excellent Tumbledown, which takes the main characters from Desolation Point and puts them back in danger.

Alex Pascal and Sarah Kent have healed, physically at least, from their last encounter with the Church of Aryan Resistance, during which Sarah killed the organization’s founder. That leaves his son–as dangerous as he is angry–hungry for revenge. Alex and Sarah have relocated to a small town in Maine, living their lives as best they can with one eye over their shoulders. A newspaper article about a birth Sarah assisted with, however, draws the attention of their pursuers, and the game is on again. The game turns out deadly for one of Sarah’s co-workers, who is killed as a warning. Things go even worse when Sarah is arrested for the crime, putting the burden on Alex to find the killer before he finds them.

Even though this is a continuation of the Desolation Point plot, this is an entirely different sort of thriller with elements of a police procedural. The first was grittier and had more of an Us v. Them feel due to the fact that it was just two women being hunted in the forest. In this installment, ancillary characters are brought in, but Hunter is able to maintain the reference points of isolation, deprivation, and danger in ways that depart from the first one. Sarah’s incarceration is told with an incredible eye for detail matched only by Alex’s efforts to get her released so they can track down the culprit. And Hunter’s heroines are very well-drawn here, richer and deeper than the last time around because of the experiences we’ve shared with them.

But the characters and the elements wouldn’t mean a thing without the tension of Hunter’s action scenes, which are flawless. Other thriller authors (yes, I’m looking at you Patterson and Grisham) could take lessons from Hunter when it comes to writing these babies. Twists and turns and forgotten or unconventional weaponry along with pluck and spirit keep me breathless and reading way past my bedtime. I can almost imagine Hunter as sweating and out of breath as her heroines once she writes her way out of the set-ups she conjures.

But can she do it again? Will there be a third installment featuring these characters? My gut says she should stop now and not go to this particular well too often. Still, a third book would be welcome if it didn’t stretch the reader’s credulity. While not exactly left open-ended, there are directions she could go that make perfect sense. And Hunter’s not afraid to change it up. Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, enjoy this fine thrill ride. But don’t start it at bedtime.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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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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Salvation – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books/Lethe Press)

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Any regular reader of this blog knows I’m a big fan of Jeff Mann, whose work never fails to inspire me with its depth and profundity. I was mightily disappointed when I did not get a chance to review his previous Civil War novel Purgatory. Another reviewer fell in love with the book and asked if he could take on the task. As I rarely get a chance to read anything that I can’t also feature on the blog (so many books, so little time…you know how it goes), I couldn’t get back to it. When I heard the sequel was being released, I grabbed the chance to read it. And my patience was well-rewarded.

In Purgatory, Yankee soldier Drew Conrad is captured and tortured by the Rebel soldiers, but war makes for strange bedfellows, and he falls in love with Rebel Ian Campbell, with whom he escapes. As Salvation begins, they are on the run in Rebel territory, trying to find a safe place to wait out the war so they can begin their lives together. They encounter a variety of Southerners in their travels–men, women, opportunists, sadists, and just plain folks–having to keep their love secret with all but one. Can they survive until war’s end and make new lives for themselves in the post-war South?

Perhaps Mann’s largest gift is his ability to take the political and social implications of the war and humanize them to such a degree that all that remains is the human face of conflict. And there are human faces aplenty, here. Not surprisingly, most of them belong to strong, nurturing women. That does not mean, however, that danger is far removed. Pursued by a band of Rebels who have splintered from their respective units and have banded together in a loose conglomeration of death and destruction, Drew and Ian are hardly safe. When their paths do cross, the carnage is as bloody as Mann can make it. But again, politics (other than the broadest kind) are secondary to human retribution.

Along the way, Mann makes the obligatory stops for his recurring peccadilloes of bondage and food. Both are explored in detail. I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate here that Jeff Mann is the only author I’ve ever read who can make bondage and sweat-soaked gags sound intriguing and erotic to me. It’s nothing I’d ever indulge in anywhere except the printed page, but…lordy, it makes me want to fan mahsaylf. But his descriptions of Southern cooking are even better–biscuits, gravy, ham, chicken and dumplings, beef stew, sweet potato pudding, creasy greens, barbecue, slaw, custard pie…well, the list goes on. One of the blurbs for this book should read, “A pound on every page.” Clearly, Mann relishes (I couldn’t resist typing that) writing about both bondage and food with equal gusto.

But as interesting and as well-written as those particular quirks are, Mann shines most brightly when creating characters. Drew and Ian spring ready-made from the last book, deepening and strengthening their relationship, so Mann must start from scratch with such wonderful minor characters as Irene Stephens, one of their female saviors. Christian but not puritanical, she’s tired of being bled dry of supplies by the local reverend, so she extracts a terrific retribution  on him and his church. But even she’s small potatoes (oh, dammit–more food) next to the former slave, Tessa, who shelters and feeds them. But the color of her skin is not all that separates her from the others in this book. She’s also a lesbian with a gal masquerading as a soldier in the Confederate ranks. That alone would make her special, but Mann endows her with an insatiable curiosity about the ways of “mens like you.” This character is a total delight that you’ll be thinking about long after her time on the page is finished.

Salvation, then, is an incredible read that teaches about the Civil War as well as it entertains. Full of richly nuanced people and heart-stopping situations of desperation and pursuit, it’s a worthy successor to Purgatory. And I can only hope for a third book that explores how Reconstructionism treats Drew and Ian. Highly, highly recommended.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Finding the Grain – Wynn Malone (Bywater Books)

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Have you ever not trusted the ending of a book? Not to say that it wasn’t credible or not in keeping with the characters as drawn, but rather the opposite. You feel you know the characters so well that as the happy ending washes over you, it’s all you can do not to scream at the half-page that ends the book, No! Don’t do it! She’ll fuck you over again!!!” That’s what I experienced with Wynn Malone’s richly detailed and absolutely sumptuous debut novel, Finding the Grain.

Orphaned by a tornado a month before her high school graduation, Augusta “Blue” Riley graduates from high school and plans for college with the help of her aunt. But while at university, Blue meets and falls in love with sorority girl Grace Lancaster. Parental pressures, however, puts the screws to their relationship and Grace bails, leaving Blue adrift. Twenty years on, after hopping from town to town, job to job, and bed to bed, Blue finally rediscovers herself and finds a career that makes her happy–building furniture. She settles down and opens up a shop, not quite over Grace but determined to put the past behind her. Until Grace shows up again. Will they fulfill their destinies? You have to wait to the last page to find out.

Well, this is a romance after all, and one of the unbreakable laws of the genre is the Happy Ever After ending. The joy is in the journey, and there’s much joy to be found here. Malone’s greatest strength is her characters. Both Blue and Grace are wonderfully drawn, absolutely believable, and frustratingly lifelike. I say frustrating because they do exactly what real people do instead of characters in books. And just when you think you have their relationship figured out, Malone throws you another curve. But such curves she throws–soft, low, and deadly.

But as true to life and Blue and Grace are, Malone shows her facility with character in other ways. Preacher, the man who mentors Blue in the art of wood carving, is a patient, wise, and talented older black man who could have easily tipped over into an offensive (or worse yet, bland) caricature. Morgan Freeman’s entire career rests on parts like this. We know just how he’ll react to her being a lesbian, how he encourages her talent, how he waits for her to prove herself, and how he comes to love Blue in his own gruff way. However, Malone injects so much detail and so much humanity into Preacher, he transcends the limitations of that stock character and lifts right off the page. Morgan Freeman should be so lucky.

But we are lucky indeed to have the fruits of Wynn Malone’s labors available. Finding the Grain is a terrific read that’s as warm, comforting, and sturdy as a well-carved piece of wood. And I’ll bet you scream at the last half-page too.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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A Conversation with LA Fields

SweptLA Fields has many voices, among them the second Mrs. Watson of her Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “My Dear Watson,” and two teenage boys, Jesse and Marley, of “Maladaptation” and “Dysfunction,” two novels (so far) comprising the Disorder series. She also has the voice she answers interview questions in, which may or may not be the closest to her own. She took time out from her busy writing and grad school schedule to talk to Out in Print.

Out in Print: The voice you have for the Disorder series is powerful and has a great deal of veracity—is that because it’s actually your voice or a compilation of people you know? Do you hear it when you to go the place in your head where these characters come from?

LA Fields: It’s mostly the voice I got from learning how to talk in the 1990s. I still use the word “like” excessively, though now I do it with a deep understanding of the difference between metaphor and simile, and yes—so far every time I go home to those characters, I can still access how they talk and think. They used to be older than I was, and that writing felt prophetic on a personal level. Now that they’re a couple of years behind me, a playlist of the songs I loved at whatever age I need access to can tap me right back in. That voice and process is still there, it just takes a little more work to be true to it.

OiP: What was the genesis of the Disorder series?

LAF: Maladaptation started just before the end of my senior year. I had quit fanfiction in my junior year and wanted to get serious about original fiction. I wrote a few short stories that blew like the fucking wind, and I decided to try to and write something without any gay in it, to write something outside of my comfort zone. Enter: “Cowboy Dan” by Modest Mouse. I tried to write a story from that song about a hundred times, first as a ghost story in which Dan tries to escape town, dies in a car crash, and then haunts a bridge, killing those who try to escape the town. At one point he had two sons (Billy, the oldest, and a younger Jesse, after Billy the Kid and Jesse James) and at another he had no family, and the story kept sucking just like all the others. At some point, the murder of his wife became the new story, and that made me think of what it would be like for the son who was orphaned like that, but the story stalled again.

Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, I had a friend who sat in front of me in English class named Marley. Not only was her name the coolest thing I had heard all year, but I had a total friend-crush on her, and so came up with my Marley. This was just after my mom died and I was transplanted to a new school, so I gave Marley my old life. He lived in my old house, went to my old school, and had all of my books. We were reading Heart of Darkness around this time, and another friend who sat in front of me in Drama class had the name Kurtz, so that became his surname. Another friend-crush from Drama also shows up as a name for Marley’s sister, Lindsay. I had a lot of girl-crushes in high school. And now.

But then that halted too. I had Marley all ready, but nothing interesting to put him through. I went back to Cowboy Dan: Billy became Jesse because I liked the name better, and he became gay because I couldn’t help myself, but then the story just petered off into nowhere again. And Marley was sitting in Estero, FL (later to become East Arrow—I was eighteen, so don’t judge) with his thumb in his ass. And then one day I finally put my hands together. Voila.

Marley’s affair with an older man grew out of the fact that I had recently read Lolita and needed a reason for his parents to send him away. The program in Loweville was a imgreshideously contrived way to get them together. Loweville is based on Loveland, CO but fictionalized so that my lack of research isn’t me being wrong, it’s artistic license. Also I like the pun on the word ‘low,’ and I hope I didn’t beat it to death.

Missy came out of me trying to combat my literary misogynism (which I think I’ve pretty much overcome at this point). It wasn’t until I gave the manuscript to my best friend and frontline editor that we both realized how similar Missy’s brash and bubbly personality was to her, and the fact that Missy and Marley are best friends is only art imitating life.

Aaron and Genny were needed to fill in the group, and they developed from there. Genny will make a cameo in the sixth book, and Aaron will stick with Missy until the day he dies. Tulsa began as a generic bully and bloomed into so much more. I stole his name from Diana Wieler’s Bad Boy and I think I loved the name too much to waste it on a 1-D meany, and I needed an extra 10,000 words after my first little 60K draft, so he got his perspective added in. It turns out that he is my favorite character to write, because he’s the most messed up and poetic of them all. Tulsa even gets his own book down the line, if I ever make it that far, because I love him that much.

I had just started listening to emo music (girl Marley liked Panic At The Disco, which meant it was okay to like that sort of music, which I secretly did the whole time) and I burned a CD that was half From Under the Cork Tree and half Hot Fuss and brought it with me to my dad’s cabin in Georgia for one week of the summer. That week was the point of no return. I discovered Missy’s voice, hit the 1/3 mark, and finally wrote the “Cowboy Dan” prologue in one shot, after all that trouble, on a janky old laptop from the early nineties. It was a third hand hand-me-down with no Ethernet jack, it was so old, and I had to save my novel on a floppy disk and squeeze the screen to get it to stop blotting out half the time. Super fun.

I finished the novel Wednesday, September 13th, 2006 at 6:16 PM in Sarasota, in my dorm room, Pei 128. This book transitioned me through one of the most significant summers of my life, and I think that’s reflected in the plot. I was neck deep in Poppy Z. Brite books and Modest Mouse CDs, and I’ve gained a boner for pictures of desert highways that may never go down. It’s the first book I ever finished, and the first one I ever seriously started, and it’s got my fingerprints all over it. Writing a book is better than burying a time capsule; so long as this is around, I’ll never forget who I was when I wrote it.

OiP: Do you identify personally with any of the Disorder characters? Which one is most like you?

LAF: I love this question, I ask it myself when people I know read Maladaptation. I’m curious about how my friends see themselves, so if they like Jesse better than Marley, or love Missy more than any of them, then that tells me who they want to be; it’s like an inkblot test. As for me, Marley is really rooted in who I was at 15 years old. dys. coverWe have the same anxiety problems, and books, and mild OCD habit of never bending their spines, we both still bite our fingernails and chew our lips and twist our hair sometimes, so even though he annoys me a lot now that I’m square in the middle of my twenties, I’m still the most like him. Tulsa was the most fun to write, because he was so complicated and lonely (and he’s coming back in future books). Jesse I envy, that’s why he’s the love interest. It’d be nice to be that minimalist in emotion, but I can answer this question much like Oscar Wilde did: Marley is who I think I am, Missy is who the world thinks me, and Jesse is who I’d like to be, in other ages perhaps.

OiP: The voices of the Disorder boys and the voice used in both My Dear Watson and “The House of the Resonate Heart” in Where Thy Dark Eye Glances are wonderfully different. Do you prefer one over the other?

LAF: The voice in The Disorder Series is easier, because it’s closer to my own (that’s my voice if I thought carefully about what I wanted to say and the best way to do it before I let it all come flying out of my mouth). The imitation stuff is just that—it’s me exploiting a talent I have for being a mockingbird writer. Lots of writers can do this. It’s not unique to me, but it is helpful when you want to sound like someone else. It happens a lot by accident in my academic papers—I’ve been told I’ve taken on the style of writers as unlikely as Nathaniel Mackey and William Faulkner. I write better papers when I let myself get hypnotized by someone else’s text-flow, and assuming I intend to copy another author’s story-telling voice, I write better fiction like that too. There might be an element of gender in that divide too: the Disorder boys (plus Missy and Lindsay, who are both a bit rough-and-tumble) versus a softer, more lady-like Victorian tone.

OiP: How did My Dear Watson come about?

LAF: I got an English degree in a little bubble of a school called the New College of Florida. It’s the only public honors college in the state; there are no fraternities or sororities, there are no official sport teams, there are no business classes, it has narrative evaluations instead of grades, the student government’s charter quotes Star Trek as the school’s motto, and even the admissions office gives out ironic footballs saying that our team is still undefeated (can’t lose if you don’t play, can you?). There I wrote a thesis dominated by Oscar Wilde quotes called “The Life One Does Not Lead: Double Life Narratives and Queer Criminal Codes,” the third chapter of which compared the homoeroticism between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty to the same dynamic between Superheroes (Batman, Spiderman, and Superman) and their main villains. I was writing about adversarial relationships and couldn’t talk about all the tenderness I noticed going on between Holmes and Watson, so I went looking for a book that put them together with as much accuracy as the academic paper I was producing. I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t find anything even remotely close to what I was looking for, so I wrote it myself. Mrs. Watson got incorporated because I’d just gone through a few genders studies classes and I wasn’t about to ignore all the wives and women in that story, no matter how much Holmes and Watson couldn’t take their eyes off one another.

OiP: My Dear Watson really, according to the Amazon reviews, seems to have upset some people as it paints a less than flattering picture of Sherlock Holmes. Was that intentional? Having done it, do you regret it? Is there something you would have done differently with that book?

LAF: Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t get his panties in such a wad over being “misinterpreted” by a woman, so I don’t know why everyone else feels the need to stick up for him. But no: I wouldn’t do it differently because I don’t think I got him wrong. I love Sherlock Holmes, I love him like I love Heathcliff, and Stephen Dedalus, and Professor Snape—while writing I was worried people would read the novel as me (the author lady) protesting too much. Some of the reviews seem to have a problem with how Mrs. Watson sees Holmes, and some have a problem with her point of view being taken in the first place, which is fair enough on their end, but… once I chose her, the debate for me was over.

Mrs. Watson can’t like Holmes as much as I do; he’s the love of her husband’s life. He’s smarter than her, more important, more famous, more rare, irreplaceable to everyone including Watson and the country, and yet… Watson lives with her and not with Holmes. She must have something Holmes lacks, and so the book is an exploration of what Watson wants/needs from someone he admires/loves, and it’s also about Mrs. Watson trying not to feel like a consolation prize. She’s got some winning qualities too, and in fact a lot of what Watson loves about her he loves about Holmes too, but Mrs. Watson is more accommodating, less tortured by her potential/responsibility, and so more capable of doling out love and support. It took me nearly all of college to realize I’m bisexual—so as much as I’m a ball-buster like Mrs. Watson, and as much as I get Holmes’s artistic and nearly self-destructive zeal for what he does, I’m fascinated by the calm, patient, non-jealous love that Watson has for both of them.

I managed to get into a very minor passive-aggressive internet exchange with one reviewer, but I was only trying to figure out what people think they want, and what they71S3tsHI4HL__SL1280_ think I’ve done, and why those two things are different. It comes off as bitchiness (in me and Mrs. Watson alike) because it comes from a place of defensive insecurity.

However, in choosing nameless second Mrs. Watson as a narrator I was trying to do something more than just retell the stories from the POV of someone who wasn’t there for them; the dips into the literature and politics and scandals of the time underline the fact that the second Mrs. Watson was always there (she was “around”), just nobody was really listening to her.  This concept came out of me being a literature major, sure, yes, obviously, but it also came from a passion for gender studies, which includes thinking about both femininity and masculinity, and about how people incorporate gender tropes from both “sides” into their self-expression. That, as well as thinking about what it is to be gay/straight/bisexual and how each could have been dealt with in a specific historical time and place, by a specific woman who no one else had spoken for.

Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has some beautifully effeminate qualities: he’s slim and so crosses his legs knee over knee; he’s neat and catlike in his personal dress and hygiene (a dandy); he blushes when he’s given a heart-felt compliment. But then he’s also a slob around the house, and he’s got the upper-body strength to bend a fire poker, and like my own father he doesn’t often laugh out loud, but instead represses his laughter into near-violent tummy spasms. I wanted to make the ignored woman as present and assertive as I wanted to show Holmes’ (text-based, canonical) flaws. They’re both human, they both exist in those books, and I wanted to draw them even.

OiP: I’m always interested in writers’ creative processes. Are you a plotter or a pantser (flying by the seat of your pants without a plan)? Quick first drafts with lots of revisions or painstaking first drafts with little revision? How do you work?

LAF: A plotter. I’m an outliner and a time-liner. I’ve had the same big notebook since I was sixteen, and it’s full of nothing but Table of Contents-looking outlines for the chapter structure of each book. The paper notes I’m left with after I finish any book amount to between 10-20 one-sided notebook pages, I keep most of it in my head.

I’m in grad school right now at Columbia College Chicago, and I’m meeting all kinds of adorable freaks who write, and then rewrite, and do weird shit like cut up their stories and hang them all over a room, and feel like a story is never really finished… that sounds exhausting. I think out the whole arc of a book first—chapters, sections, scenes, themes, word count, and I tweak a little as I go along, but the overall structure doesn’t vary after I’m a third of the way into a manuscript. That’s my point of no return.

I had one free summer between high school and college for Maladaptation, so it got done in one summer, and it’s the same with all the others. I give myself hard deadlines, mentally prep in advance, and lay it out right the first time. Some writers can’t hold a whole book’s concept in their head on a first draft, but I can if I’m not being lazy, and I’m so glad about that. The few times I’ve been forced to rewrite due to computer error have been agony.

OiP: You write in a variety of genres—do you feel a special affinity for one?

LAF: I have favorite categories that make even the most foreign genre feel comfortable to me. Young adults and teens are a category that can cross all genres, and so are queer characters. For example, My Dear Watson, though mostly about adults, includes snapshots of teenaged Holmes that I treasure, and even when I try to write a clean, plain heterosexual romance, I can’t—somebody’s queer somewhere in this story and I’ll roust ’em out eventually! I have a completed manuscript called Loopholes that is my attempt to be age-appropriate to teens (talk around the swears, go to prom, care about outfits, etc.) but even then the intriguing new boy in town is bisexual, and the parents are an adoptive gay couple. I got way too bored with nothing but straight people.

OiP: What are you working on now?

LAF: I’m about 6,000 words into what might be a very MFA-ish Leopold/Loeb inspired novel, but I’m also worried if I don’t finish the Disorder Series before I’m thirty I’ll forget what it’s like to be young and ruin it. Those are my priorities right now.

OiP: What do you want your readers to take away from your work?

LAF: I hope that readers take away from me the same things I take away from the books and shows and songs I love: you’re not alone. It’s naïve (it’s nearly insulting) to think you’re the only one who’s sad or witty or in love or bored, how dare you? When so many people have come before you making all this art, and for what? Money? Fame? Was everything you love made by someone rich and famous? I bet it wasn’t. The ones before me made it for their sake and mine, I make it for my sake and yours, and I would hope my readers feel that as deeply as I do in my best moments, when I’m overcome by a private, Zen-like, connected peace. Of course, underneath all that shallow shit it’s mostly about: like me and pay me and pay attention to me and agree with me that I’m smart. Obviously.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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