Tag Archives: romance

The Dahlia Field – Henry Alley (Chelsea Station Editions)

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As any regular reader of this blog knows, I’m a huge fan of short fiction and will always dive headfirst into an anthology or a single author collection. I won’t like everything in a volume, but if the author/s and I connect ten times out of twelve or thirteen, that’s pretty successful. I know relationships based on more tenuous bonds. But what happens when the connection rate is less than optimal? Is it a bad book? Bad author? Bad reader? Those are a few of the questions I ask myself as I write this and stare at the cover of Henry Alley’s collection, The Dahlia Field.

I’d started this eagerly, having read the blurb and peeked at the titles in the Table of Contents. The author and I have some commonalities. We’re about the same age and, thus, have had a lot of shared experiences.  Logically, we should have connected more often than the few stories that worked for me, but art is hardly logical, is it?

It’s not like we didn’t understand each other, either. It’s hard to miss the disconnection and longing inherent in “Ashland,” for example, which sees a man named Earl attending the performance of a play parodying King Lear, written by his gay son. It isn’t until he attends the AIDS fundraiser afterward that he learns his son is positive, a fact he confirms by telephone the next morning. Similarly, “To Come Home To” looks at boredom and new beginnings as house painter Garrett leaves his previously depressed fledgling stage star boyfriend Ethan. Both these should have struck sparks, but neither was particularly engaging to me. Unfortunately, that was true for most of the other stories here.

That said, Alley and I did connect on the last two stories: “My March on Washington,” a wonderfully bittersweet romance that takes place during the 1963 civil rights march, and “Would You Mind Holding Down My Body?,” a well-observed story of how a straight/gay friendship does or doesn’t weather one of the two guys coming out. The latter story has two of the most interesting and complex characters in the book and seemed to have a different set of nuances and a completeness the others lacked to some degree or other.

Aha, I thought. We just needed some time to connect. So, I re-read the first story, “Border Guards,” in hopes of being able kindle some interest, but a glass wall seemed to go up once again. Nevertheless, if you’re a lover of short fiction, this might just be your cuppa as Alley is a writer worth reading. We may not have hit it out of the park, but that doesn’t mean you won’t discover a new voice or find something here I couldn’t. And, as I said, the last two stories really were marvelous.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories – Catherine Lundoff (Queen of Swords Press)

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Catherine Lundoff’s latest collection is indeed Out of This World:  containing eleven stories of the queer fantastic, it includes several previously uncollected tales of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, with healthy dollops of romance and humor thrown in.  Just as these stories span the entire speculative fiction spectrum, with nerdy bookstore clerks, Norns, steampunk technology, ghosts, and the Queen of Faerie, they likewise feature characters that span the LGBTQ spectrum, from Kit Marlowe to lesbian witches and gay vampires.

Now I realize as I type that last sentence, just how trite these type of characters have become; but I assure you that in Lundoff’s capable hands, these characters are anything but stereotypical tropes. The all-too-human protagonist of “Candle, Spell and Book” has to deal with a dead (but still restless) ancestor when a love spell meant to ensnare her ex-lover goes awry.  (Does she learn her lesson afterward?  Only time will tell.)  In “Beauty” the protagonist gradually falls in love with a vampire, but rather than being a vampire-who-turns-his-mortal-lover-into-one-of-the-undead story, it becomes instead a romance entwined with the narrative of an unloved and unwanted prince leaving an unlivable domestic situation and challenging an oppressive regime and claiming a kingdom.  This story is one of the longest in the collection, and will resonate with queer readers on a number of levels.

Lundoff subverts genre expectations throughout, as in “A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace” where she depicts typical fantasy mercenaries who come into town, go to the local tavern, spend the night drinking and whoring, but then one of them wakes up the next morning in a new gender, as the result of some magical body switching.  Or in “A Scent of Roses” where she explores the realm of “happily ever after” when the wife of Tam Lin falls out of love with the husband she rescued from the Queen of Faerie, and then falls for the Queen instead.

Among my favorites in this collection are the Gaylactic Spectrum Award finalist “At the Roots of the World Tree,” about an inept, socially awkward clerk of a living bookstore who is forced to forestall Ragnorök, and the collection opener, “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms.” Riffing on Virginia Woolf’s famous quote about “Shakespeare’s sister” Judith, this story reads like one of Shakespeare’s own plays with intrigue, crossdressing “identical” fraternal twins, and swordplay; best of all, it finally answers the question as to who actually wrote Shakespeare’s works.  (Ha!  Take that, adherents of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford!)  Another strong piece, “Vadija,” closes the collection:  beautifully written, it is a story about the power of stories, both to their tellers and their listeners.

While some of these stories venture into the genre of romance, none of them veer into full-blown erotica (“Beauty” comes closest); however, a little investigating around the Queen of Swords Press Facebook page indicates that future volumes will boldly go into the realm of lesbian erotica, featuring pirates, aliens, and really hot meter maids.  So, if after reading this eclectic mix of stories you think that you might enjoy further “swashbuckling tales of derring-do and bold new adventures in time and space”—especially with a kinky twist or two—keep an eye peeled for upcoming volumes from Queen of Swords Press.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

 

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Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders – Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall (Bold Strokes Books)

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First an obituary, then a review. Don’t worry, they’re connected.

While I was at Saints and Sinners this year, I learned of the death of my good friend Matt Kailey. Writer, teacher, lecturer, and trans activist, Matt represented much to many people. I was lucky enough to work with him at Out Front Colorado where he was managing editor, and I was even luckier to be invited to join a writer’s critique group he was in. I learned some valuable lessons over pizzas and soft drinks in Matt’s small Capitol Hill apartment in Denver with our friends Peter Clarke, Drew Wilson, Chris Kenry, John Brandstetter, and the late Sean Wolfe among others. Matt was also directly responsible for my first publication and, thus, my entry into gay literature. He was an incredibly unselfish individual who would answer nearly any question about his transition, no matter how boorish, as long as it was well-intentioned. He influenced an enormous number of people through his personal appearances and his autobiography, Just Add Hormones. One of those people Matt reached was Jacob Anderson-Minshall, then doing research preparatory to his own transition. Matt, however, was single. Jacob (then Suzy) was already in a lesbian relationship when he began his process. The story of how Jacob and his wife, Diane, coped with that decision and its aftermath forms the basis for their latest book, Queerly Beloved.

Told in both Diane and Jacob’s voices, their experiences are distinct as well as melded. Diane has her problems with the transition (one of which is her position in the community as a lesbian activist and journalist), and Jacob has his. That they are both able to step back and understand each other’s issues is a testament to their willingness to be together. Queerly Beloved, then,  is less a story about Jacob’s transition than it is a tribute to commitment and prolonging a lifelong relationship despite its permutations.

Jacob’s sections do, indeed, deal with his transition, but not so much as you might suppose. Again, he takes a broader view of how he affects and is affected by others during this period. Looking to find out which set of genitalia he has? Look somewhere else. Jacob is detailed where he needs to be and knows how to write lines which can be read between. Diane’s chapters are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but more often she uses her subtle wit and keen observation to make her point. But as with most barbs, their sharpness hides her vulnerability.

Both Diane and Jacob bravely expose parts of themselves and their relationship, but at some point they stop and close the curtain. And rightly so. Putting this much of your life and experience out there for judgment requires both personal and artistic courage, and each author must determine where to draw the line in the sand. I wonder if or how this story would have been different had Diane and Jacob chosen to tell it through fictional characters. Perhaps it would have been too voyeuristic. In the end, they made the right choice. What’s in Queerly Beloved is both frank and informative, as readable as it is important.

And to the authors, I apologize for pairing your review with an obituary–worse, an obituary with another book title in it. However, Matt Kailey’s Just Add Hormones (original title: Tranifesto) is a wonderful book that also mines some of the same territory regarding the joys and difficulties of transitioning. I know it was not intended as Matt’s final word on the subject, and Queerly Beloved adds to and enriches what he’s done. Our stories create community. And the more stories we hear, the more we understand where everyone fits in.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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