The Gay Men's Edition
- this issue sponsored by -
Volume 2 Number 2
By Richard Labonte
Coming Out Queer (This Year) at Carroll & Graf
did it in the late '70s and early '80s at EP Dutton (before it was swallowed by
the Pearson conglomerate) - he championed gay writers, from reprints of fey
British author Denton Welch's delicate novels and books edited by John Preston,
the daddy of the queer nonfiction anthology, to the genteel fiction of Doris
Grumbach and the sizzling S/M of AN Roquelaure, the pseudonym Anne Rice first
used for her forays into intense pansexual S/M books; the Publishing Triangle's
Lifetime Achievement Award was named in his honor.
Michael Denneny did it a few years later at St. Martin's, inaugurating the
Stonewall Inn imprint of gay books, which gave voice to dozens of new writers (a
welcome mat laid out as well by Denneny's successor, Keith Kahla), including
Allen Barnett (The Body and Its Dangers), Peter McGehee (Boys Like
Us), John Fox (The Boys on the Rock), Joey Manley (The Death of
Donna-May Dean), and Christopher Davis (Joseph and the Old Man). The
original stonewallinn.com web site is gone (the domain name is for sale!), since
the imprint was shut down a few years ago. But its history - and capsule
commentaries on its fiction and nonfiction titles - is available here:
Richard Kasak did it at Masquerade Books - counseled in the early days by
John Preston - with his Bad Boy, Hard Candy, and Richard Kasak Books imprints,
multiplying by many the number of erotic-reading choices available in the 1990s
to gay (and lesbian) readers, as well as publishing books of a more literary
sort by Patrick Moore, Stan Leventhal, Robert Patrick, Kevin Killian, Michael
Lassell, and dozens more - even poetry anthologies: The Bad Boy Book of
Erotic Poetry, edited by David Laurents. In an interview in Salon, undated
but probably from 1997, he discussed being "straight but queer":
More recently, Jay Quinn at Haworth Press has built a large and eclectic
fiction/nonfiction imprint, Southern Tier (see BTWOF/Gay Men's Edition #12); and John Scognamiglio has
developed a stable of mystery, romance, comic, and coming-out/coming-of-age
writers - often combining the genres - at Kensington Books.
The right editor with the right interest in the right place
at the right time - and queer books can flourish.
That's what's happening now at Carroll & Graf, where Don Weise, who cut
his editing teeth at Cleis Press after working for book distributor Publishers
Group West, has launched a strong gay line with a bow to elders (James Purdy,
John Rechy) and an emphasis on new voices - the contributors to Fresh
Men, first books by Vestal McIntyre, Keith McDermott, and Joe Babcock. Weise
was responsible for five books in Winter 2004, and he estimates about 20 gay and
lesbian titles for 2005; the Fall 2005 list is still coming together.
It's not as if C&G wasn't publishing gay-interest books before last year,
of course. Consider the fiction of EF Benson and John Rechy's novels
Marilyn's Daughter and Bodies and Souls; Peter Burton's anthology
The Mammoth Book of Gay Short Stories and Lawrence Schimel's anthology
The Mammoth Book of Gay Erotica; a series of reprints of Sandra
Scoppetone's hardboiled mysteries, including A Creative Kind of Killer
and Razzamatazz (not her lesbian-sleuth Lauren Lurano, alas) and Richard
Ormrod's Una Troubridge: The Friend of Radclyffe Hall... a book or three
a year for two decades.
But more is better. Here's what Weise has to say about launching a line, the
state of queer publishing, and being the Big Gay Editor at Carroll &
BTWOF: After years of queer-title doldrums, Carroll & Graf emerged in
2004 as an invigorating source for gay titles, just months after you started working
there. How did you go from 0 to 60 so quickly?
DW: When I arrived in New York a year and a half ago, knowing exactly two people
in town, I’d been working with lesbian and gay books for the past seven years.
I was therefore looking for a change of pace, hoping to do some non-gay projects,
more African American titles in particular. The last project I’d acquired in San
Francisco had been a book of Edmund White’s essays, Arts and Letters, which
Ed was kind enough to agree to do. I had never met him, only communicated by e-mail.
However, he struck me as a nice guy and I knew he lived in Chelsea, which happened
to be where my new office was located. I invited Ed to lunch and everything spun
off for me in a new direction from that meeting forward.
It wasn’t so much that the friendship that followed inspired or enabled me to
do a new line of gay books; rather, I met so many new writers through Ed and his
partner, the writer Michael Carroll, that a line of gay books just seemed like
the natural thing to do. Suddenly, I was meeting one writer after the next
(Keith McDermott, Vestal McIntyre, Robert Hughes, Wayne Hoffman), each of them
never before having done a book but all of them having a marvelous manuscript
waiting to be published. I don’t hesitate for a minute to say with deep
affection that my list of gay titles would not have taken off with the same
flash—would never have been as exciting to me personally—without Ed and
On the other hand, I have published many authors outside of their circle. I
recently brought out Keith Boykin’s Beyond the Down Low; John Rechy’s
essay collection, Beneath the Skin; E. Lynn Harris’s Freedom in This
Village; and James Purdy’s Moe’s Villa and Other Stories. Plus, I
have in the wings new books by Dennis Cooper, Michelangelo Signorile, Daniel
Harris of Rise and Fall of Gay Culture fame, and Edward Albee’s
first-ever essay collection. Although I picked up all of these terrific projects
on my own, I think the genesis of everything—and by “everything” I mean
literally my whole new life in New York—really began the day I met Ed for lunch.
The path has been clear to me ever since.
Before C&G, you were with Cleis Press, where you shepherded two types
of titles new to that publisher - venerable-gay titles (Gore Vidal, the Beats,
Edmund White) and black-interest titles (Black Like Us, Time on Two
Crosses, the poetry and prose of Melvin Dixon and Essex Hemphill); at
C&G, you've continued to champion those two underappreciated branches of
queer lit. What inspired such passion in a young white fellow?
the success in shepherding the two types of books that I care most about has
been choosing to publish them in companies that are open-minded and unafraid of
taking their lists in new directions. Cleis has long been at the vanguard of
smart, provocative queer publishing. Frederique and Felice were my comrades
every step of the way. And while Carroll & Graf is much newer to lesbian and
gay titles, it’s actually an ideal home for queer lit. My boss, Will Balliett,
had just taken over the reins as publisher when I joined the company, and he
expressed enthusiasm for picking up projects that were dramatically different
from the old Carroll & Graf list. Nothing I’ve proposed to him has ever been
off-limits or out of bounds. He’s supported my decisions without fail, which is
not something I ever expected outside of small press publishing.
In terms of what inspired me to do black gay titles in the first place, I
came out in college within the context of an affirmative action program of
sorts, wherein low-income whites were enrolled in university programs that
targeted students of color. Consequently, my closest friends came from this pool
of students, all of whom were wrestling with identity issues of one kind or
That said, issues of sexuality and race, for me, were joined from the start.
My friends and I were influenced by the likes of bell hooks, June Jordan, and
Marlon Riggs, and critical race theory made a lasting impression on each of us,
especially when charged by a feminist thrust. With this intellectual foundation,
it’s not surprising that many years later projects such as Black Like Us
and Time on Two Crosses would be projects I’d champion at Cleis, or that
Keith Boykin and E. Lynn Harris would be key authors for me at Carroll &
People sometimes think of the works of Gore Vidal, Edmund, and the Beats as
somehow existing apart from black gay and lesbian literature. As if black gay
men read only Baldwin or Lorde, while white guys focus on the Violet Quill
canon. I’ve experienced this differently. Like most people, I’ve learned a great
deal from all of the above, not from a single source and not always from men and
women of my own era. Vidal in particular has been a major role model to me; more
than anyone, he was the first person to show me ways of being a gay man on one’s
own terms. When I worked with him on his essay collection, Gore Vidal:
Sexually Speaking, I didn’t have the guts to tell him this, though I would
have loved to. But the timing never felt right, and I was too in awe of his
presence, not to mention the simple fact of sitting in his home.
John Rechy is special to me in the same manner—I love his spot-on renderings
of “the sex hunt,” especially moments like the balcony scene in
Numbers—and I was lucky enough to work with him this past fall. The same
is true of James Purdy, the great overlooked modern master of gay lit. Recently
he showed me pages of something new, a story about a gay priest having an affair
with his brother. I fell in love with it on the spot! But I admire pioneering
authors and make it a point to work with them not merely because they broke new
ground generations ago but because their work remains meaningful today.
At the same time, with the Fresh Men anthologies, Vestal McIntyre's
short stories, and Keith McDermott's novel, C&G has become a go-to publisher
for new writers. What differentiates your fiction titles from the
Alyson/Southern Tier/Kensington formulae?
Alyson and Kensington have long
been welcoming homes to gay writers—and thank god for that. They continue to
break out countless new authors when few other publishers are taking on new gay
fiction. Both publishers deserve praise in that respect. If there is a formula
to the kinds of books Alyson and Kensington choose to do, I’d say my list
differs in the sense that I have no formula or at least none that drives my
list, which I would find rather boring. I look for surprises, works that say
something new and original in a surprising manner. I have the added benefit of
there being no one above insisting that I crank out a new novel every week or
telling me that I have to repeat past successes by publishing the same book over
and over. That kind of publishing would kill my spirit.
Instead, I’ve acquired only those works that really grab me. I’ve just
released a brilliant new AIDS novel (and when was the last time you heard an
editor say that?), Acqua Calda, that turns the tired, old AIDS novel on
its head; I’ve published an extraordinary debut story collection, You Are Not
the One, which the New York Times compares to Augusten Burroughs; I’m
about to bring out The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers, a touching and
often funny first novel that JT LeRoy raves about on the book’s cover; there’s
an expanded new edition of Charles Busch’s fabulous novel, Whores of Lost
Atlantis; and, of course, I edited Fresh Men, an anthology of stories
by new writers, which is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. New writers are
important to me. I believe it’s the responsibility of gay and lesbian editors in
particular to cultivate new talent. It’s therefore no coincidence that the
majority of my gay fiction has thus far been debut novels and story collections.
Up to now your catalogue has leaned heavily towards gay titles. Are you
looking for new lesbian voices? Why do you think women writers continue to be
underrepresented in queer publishing, outside of the "women's" presses? (A
breakdown of the Lambda Literary Awards this year shows 45 gay titles and 30
lesbian titles nominated; and Alyson, Harrington Park, and Kensington, while all
publishing lesbian-interest titles, are majority male.)
Over the past few
months I helped assemble the Publishing Triangle’s first ever Notable Lesbian
Book List. Modeled on the New York Times Notable Book List, ours was
organized—with the participation of more than a dozen lesbian booksellers,
reviewers, librarians, and writers—to showcase the most outstanding lesbian
books published in 2004. The list was launched because most of us at the
Publishing Triangle have so frequently heard that “no one” is publishing lesbian
fiction, that lesbian literature has all but dried up at the big publishing
houses, and that those few lesbian books that actually were done by large and
small publishers alike received little to no press.
Personally, I felt as if I’ve seen quite a few new lesbian releases over the
past year, many of them displayed prominently on the new books table at Oscar
Wilde Bookstore or in the InSightOut book catalog. Not as many books as those by
gay men but a fair amount nonetheless. What was revealing to me from
firsthand involvement in assembling this list, however, was that, yes, there are
some terrific new works by and about lesbians being brought out, even from major
publishers; at the same time, the number of new lesbian titles was nowhere near
as many as I thought there would be. It seemed that most of the women who were
invited to name the most notable new books often named the same handful at the
core of their lists then branched out to include a few others that were either
unknown to me—and to many lesbians, including a few reviewers of lesbian books
that I spoke with—or fell into genres like mystery or romance.
In other words, if you take away headlining books like A Seahorse
Year, Life Mask, the biographies of Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, and
a few others, the literary landscape for new lesbian writing suddenly looks a
lot more barren. While gay men’s books aren’t exactly flying off the shelves,
there’s no comparing the sheer volume of men’s books versus women’s. In fact,
some people have asked me why the Publishing Triangle was focusing on lesbians
alone. The answer, simply put, is that over the past six months, long before the
Notable List was proposed, I had asked lesbians and gay men to tell me their top
10 favorite new gay titles and their top 10 favorite new lesbian books.
Virtually everyone named 10 or more new gay men’s books off the tops of our
heads, while coming up on the spot with a list of even as few as six notable
books by lesbian authors was a taller order. (The Notable Lesbian Books of 2004:
The surprising results of that list (at least to me) certainly helped reframe
how I look at new lesbian writing and the role I play in fostering it. Having
spent many years promoting lesbian lit at Cleis, working with writers such as
Ann Bannon, Tristan Taormino, Joan Nestle, and many others, I feel a personal
investment in its future. I’m not one of those gay men who on one hand talks
passionately about the importance of lesbian work in the presence of lesbians,
then later laughs off to the side about how bad it is. That’s happened more
frequently than I’d care to admit, and you wouldn’t believe the number of dumb
lesbian bed-death jokes I heard from guys during my time at Cleis. It’s
sometimes perfectly clear to me why lesbian separatism was once so popular. Gay
men have so seldom understood that they, too, have a hand in enriching lesbian
That said, I have three new lesbian titles in the pipelines at Carroll &
Graf: Kate Clinton’s hilarious new book, What the L?, Marcia Gallo’s
first ever history of the Daughters of Bilitis, which is authorized by founders
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and includes interviews with more than thirty women
members, some of whom have never before spoken openly about DOB; and Cheryl
Clarke’s Days of Good Looks, which brings together twenty-five years of
her poetry and prose along with new work. I’m also talking with a half dozen
women about other projects.
Sadly, I’ve received almost no lesbian themed submissions from agents. I’d
absolutely love to see more lesbian history and biography in particular. For
some reason, there’s an acute shortage of books in this area, which makes me
wonder whether Queer Studies is producing anything beyond academic books written
for other academics. I’m also looking for young lesbian writers, fiction in
particular and with an edge whenever possible.
What's your vision of fine gay literature? Aside from any authors you've
had a hand in publishing, what contemporary writers do you admire?
excited by unusual books like Derek McCormack’s Haunted Hillbilly, one of
the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in months. He’s the kind of writer whose short
novel leaves you wondering why you’ve not heard more about him—or why lesser
novelists get as much press as they do. I love Michelle Tea and wish there were
10 more lesbian novelists like her. The hole in young lesbian fiction is just
that big, if not bigger. I admired John Weir’s short story in the most recent
issue of Bloom quite a bit, too. David McConnell’s Firebrat
continues to impress and fascinate me each time I read it again. And I would
include Allen Barnett, David Feinberg, and David Wojnarowicz since these men and
many others like them brought fresh voices to gay lit and, had they lived, would
have gone on to shape our world in brilliant new ways. There are also dynamic up
and comers like Patrick Ryan, Philip Huang, James Hannaham, and Kevin W.
Reardon, who produce excellent stories and deserve collections of their own.
Are you actively seeking submissions, or do you prefer to reach out to
The majority of my acquisitions are books I’ve
conceived of and developed with an author in mind, who I then approached with a
proposal, or projects that came through word of mouth, often un-agented. There’s
a great deal of myself in the books I publish, and I believe every editor’s list
to a large degree reflects what he or she really cares about. And I’m not
speaking of the old argument about commercial fiction versus literary fiction,
say, or the importance of hard-hitting material versus the uselessness of fluff.
Those debates are pretty meaningless, I think. Besides, there’s some marvelous
gay fluff out there and some incredibly dull hard-hitting books that I wish I’d
never heard of.
No, what I’m talking about are the ways in which an editor and his or her
author approaches a given topic; to me how we approach subject matter is as
important as the subject matter itself. I care about gay sex from a sex radical
perspective, for example, so I’ve spoken with a number of authors about writing
books in this area. I also care about gay history from a politically radical
perspective, so I’ve talked to people about that, too. From my experience,
lesbian and gay editors don’t do much of this. It’s time-consuming work
(especially if you take the task seriously and research your author’s work
thoroughly before approaching him or her, which I would argue is essential) and
most editors don’t have ample time or the resources to spare. This style of
acquisition also requires imagination and curiosity, which is usually in short
supply as well.
In general, how is the health of queer publishing? Is there a readership
for fine gay lit? How can you connect a good book to a good reader?
think most of us in gay and lesbian publishing tend to personalize the state of
queer books: that is, when we’re working full-steam and business is good, we
talk about the future of queer lit as being bright; but when we’re not and
business is not—when we feel as if times are changing, our books are no longer
selling, and feel as if the world is leaving us behind—we tell Publishers
Weekly that gay and lesbian literature has a bleak future. Well, it
Thankfully, we seem to hear less and less from burned out book people who
announce stupidly that gays have stopped reading; I still have not figured out
why gay book people put forth this argument, especially during times like these
when booksellers are looking for reasons to make returns. I can’t think of many
things worse for the health of gay books than helping to convince bookstores
that gay men and lesbians don’t buy books. Of course, they do, it’s just that
lesbian and gay people have so many more options, are more selective in their
buying habits than they once were, and shop differently today. The Internet
alone has opened an enormous bookselling market.
That said, many of us in gay publishing are thriving, bringing out books that
are important to us, that challenge what readers expect from lesbian or gay
books, and we’re doing quite nicely in spite of the shifts in the marketplace.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s never been easier to publish a lesbian or gay
book. Whether this is true at the major publishers, I don’t know. Nor do I care.
I’ve never looked to the major houses for guidance. But at the same time those
places are doing some terrific gay and lesbian titles (Philip Galanes’s
Father’s Day, Alison Smith’s Name All the Animals, Evelyn C.
White’s Alice Walker: A Life, and on and on) and should be commended for
their intelligent choices. I’m tremendously hopeful about the future of our
And what do you read, if anything, that qualifies as a guilty pleasure
(mine are Bella Books lesbian romances that take an hour to read, the new wave
of graphic novels and cartoon books with plots, anything by Val McDermid or Ian
Rankin, and convoluted courtroom dramas)?
It’s not exactly reading as
such, but I have very low-brow taste when it comes to dumb cat books, like
Is Your Cat Gay?, Cat Letters to Santa, and the bestselling Bad
Cat, which I gave as a Christmas present to James Purdy, another cat lover.
I can’t help myself.
What's ahead for 2006?
*Late and Soon, my lead fiction
title, is an exquisite debut novel that bestselling author Adrianna Trigiani
praises as “beautiful and heartfelt.” Written by Wall Street Journal arts
reporter Robert J. Hughes, the book has been compared already to The
Hours, in terms of its handling of gay themes. Anyone the least bit curious
about the New York art world will love it, too.
*Michelangelo Signorile’s first new book since his bestselling
Outing Yourself, titled Hitting Hard, which collects his best
journalism over the past 10 years.
*The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals
of Henry Willson by Robert Hoefler, the theater reporter for Variety.
You must see this one. It’s the first biography of the closeted,
archconservative who discovered Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, and on
and on. More than that, it’s a history of how a closeted gay star maker created
Hollywood beefcake. And in fact, actually set the model for Bruce Weber and all
the rest up to today. It came across my desk a few months back and I read the
first 100 pages in a single sitting.
*Suicide Tuesday: Gay Men and the Crystal Meth Scare by Duncan
Osborne, associate editor at Gay City News, contributor to Out and
The Advocate and probably the leading journalist on this topic. This is
an example of a book I conceived of and approached the author to write. While I
would not deny that crystal is a big problem for many gay men, I think the issue
has been talked about almost exclusively in hysterical terms. Much in the manner
that the “down low” has been reported on, not to mention this allegedly “new”
strain of HIV that’s been talked about in the press all week. There’s been a
real absence of critical discussion, moving beyond the hype to separate myths
*And I’m also publishing the paperback edition of The Unexpurgated
Beaton: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, which Knopf published
last year. It’s very gay but not GAY...
One of Weise’s authors (Vidal) profiles and reviews another (Purdy):
The Books To Watch Out For (This Year) From C&G:
Beneath the Skin: The Collected Essays of John Rechy, $14.95
an editor, Weise has become the go-to guy for venerable homosexualist authors
(Vidal on sex, White’s arts and letters, a forthcoming collection from Albee).
This wide-ranging, free-thinking collection of 45 perceptive essays, pungent reviews,
knowing profiles, loving film commentaries, snatches of poignant family sketches,
and several opinionated open letters, is a delectable addition to Rechy’s 13 previous
books. A couple of the pieces – “On Writing: The Terrible Three Rules” and “Our
Friend the Comma” (both from 2004) – have the aura of Rechy’s acclaimed writing
class about them: his singular passion for the craft of writing is genuinely apparent.
A couple more – “Lay of the Land: Christopher Isherwood's Lost Years” (2000)
and “Randy Dandy: Liberace, American Boy” (2001) – are decidedly un-doctrinaire
assessments of two very different gay icons. Several are deliciously, angrily
political – in “He Hugged Moms and Dads” (2004), he shames George W. Bush for
his rich-kid warmongering; “‘Conduct Unbecoming...’: Lieutenant on the Peace Line”
(1966) and “The Army Fights an Idea” (1970) slam the Vietnam-era military. Some
are decidedly, even defiantly, contrarian: for example, Rechy defends a movie
many angry activists picketed, in “A Case for Cruising” (1979). Other pieces
discuss his bodybuilding, deride the Catholic Church, and, most lovingly, describe
the Los Angeles of yore – “The City of Lost Angeles” (1959). Rechy’s journalism
has long been scattered over the years and among many magazines. Beneath the
Skin collects much – but not nearly all – of it for the first time, with additional
fresh commentary from the author; it’s a book for fans of Rechy’s lush, live writing.
Author info: http://www.johnrechy.com/
Rechy doesn’t shirk from “reviewing” his reviewers; his “Letter to Gore Vidal”
(1993) and “Letter to the New York Review of Books” (1996) are here, along
with many more:
This fine shredding of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy isn’t in the collection:
Beyond the Down Low: Sex and Denial and Black America, by Keith Boykin,
foreword by E. Lynn Harris, $25
King’s 2004 book, On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight"
Black Men Who Sleep with Men, was a trashy, badly written bit of inflammatory
rhetoric – and, because of its sensationalism, a New York Times bestseller
(an appearance on Oprah didn’t hurt). Boykin’s exploration of the same
topic is a vast improvement: it’s written by a writer who knows good prose; it’s
written by a man not ashamed to be gay; it’s written by a thinker who buttresses
superficial anecdote with perceptive (and often deeply personal) analysis of black
gay male sexuality; and it’s written by a black gay man with the perspective to
analyze how the black religious (and sometimes cultural) community demonizes bisexual
or homosexual behavior. Instead of merely decrying the “down low” life – black
men, often married or self-identified as straight, who seek out sex with other
men without acknowledging the risks of HIV transmission – and putting all the
blame on his brothers, Boykin details how a barrage of media racism and homophobia
impacts their thinking, and their behavior - without making excuses for it. (Beyond
the Down Low, after a second printing, now has 30,000 copies in print; it’s
Weise’s best-selling queer-interest title to date, and recently made it to number
31 on the NY Times extended nonfiction bestseller list.)
Author info: http://www.keithboykin.com/
The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers, by Joe Babcock, $13.95
wonder kid Babcock was profiled last year in BTWOF for this book about teen coming out, written when he was
himself barely out of his teens. He paid for the printing with his credit card
and paid that off working as a waiter, polished it through several drafts without
any editorial advice, and won both a Literary Digest and a Lambda Literary
self-publishing award. "From the constant Tori Amos references to the delicacies
of rolling a joint, all aspects of the twink experience are covered," said Alexander
Rowlson in FAB Magazine. Carroll & Graf has faith in the book - they're
springing for readings in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Author info: http://www.closetcasebooks.com/
Here's an excerpt:
“When you’re building a pyramid you have to start at
the base,” Chloe said, fanning himself with a pair of red Calvin Klein briefs.
“And now we shop,” he declared, crossing the six-foot aisle and entering the
women’s section. I felt apprehensive about it, to say the least. But Chloe
pointed out that if I wanted metallic-blue flared pants or red cords or anything
silver and glittery that wasn’t as baggy as a damn trash bag, I certainly wasn’t
going to find it in the men’s section of the store.
The trick, Chloe explained urgently, to finding a good pair of women’s
pants when you’re a man is to get them tight, low cut at the waist, and try on
at least one hundred pairs. The problem with women’s pants is that they give you
a hoochie mama look if you’re not careful. Generally, the hips in women’s pants
are wider than the waist, so if you’re not careful, they make your ass look huge
and your package appear small, which is the opposite effect to go for; unless,
of course, you want to do drag. Before even trying them on, you should check for
belt loops, back pockets, and deep front pockets. We went to three stores before
finding a pair of black leather hip-huggers at Express that satisfied
“I don’t look like a girl?” I asked, standing under an arbor of
light bulbs, staring at myself in my pants and platforms as Chloe admired the
results of the makeover. I knew that the women in Express were all gawking at us
and whispering, but by this time I had grown used to the attention and had even
begun to relish it. Being with Chloe made me feel unstoppable.
"You look fabulous!” Chloe declared. “Goddamn, I’m jealous, girl! I
can never pull off black leather as good as you can!” He was talking loud enough
for our audience to hear. Meanwhile, I was basking in his compliments like a
starlet during her encore.
“Okay, I’ll take ’em.”
“Divine! They’ll be perfect with a big, fat leather belt. Preferably
one with a big, huge silver belt buckle! I saw one the other day at Urban
Outfitters that said ‘Acid Bitch.’ ” He shouted extra loud when he said “Acid
Bitch.” “Let’s go try that one on.” So after purchasing the pants we went and
bought the belt. But suddenly I found I’d run out of money and hadn’t yet bought
a shirt. Chloe said I couldn’t possibly wait until next week to buy a shirt, so
he offered to take me to his apartment to try on clothes he didn’t wear anymore.
I was so excited I thought I might die.
Whores of Lost Atlantis, by Charles Busch,
New edition of the playwright's hilarious send-up of/love affair
with Off-Broadway's peculiar people, including a new intro and, best of all, a
Author info: http://www.charlesbusch.com/
The House of the Solitary Maggot, by James Purdy,
Purdy's most recent short story collection, Moe's Villa,
was a C&G title last year; this reprint of a 1986 novel, about three very
different sons drawn back to the family manse, is among his most
An audio interview:
Chisolm and the Works, another Carroll & Graf title, reviewed (with pics
of its three very different covers):
James Purdy Society:
What the L?, by Kate Clinton, $14.95
long-overdue new collection of Clinton's published and unpublished writing; it's
been a long wait since 1998's Don't Get Me Started. Like any good
comedian, of course, Clinton does recycle her material - the “product
descriptions” for both books refer to her depiction of gay marriage as Gay Vow
Disease... presumably, given that we're really getting married these days, with a
different punch line.
Author info: http://www.kateclinton.com/
Also coming in June (but not a Weise-edited book):
Verse, by Barry McCrea, $14.95
Says the publisher: "When (gay)
freshman Niall Lenihan moves to Trinity College, he dives into unfamiliar social
scenes, quickly becoming fascinated by a reclusive pair of students—literary
'mystics' who let signs and symbols from books determine their actions.
Reluctantly, they admit him to their private sessions, and what begins as an
intriguing game for Niall becomes increasingly esoteric, dramatic, and
addictive. As Niall discovers the true nature of the pursuits in which he has
become entangled, The First Verse traces a young man’s search for
identity, companionship, and a cult’s shadowy origins in the pages of literature
and the people of a city. Fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or
Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley will be mesmerized by the
strange, page-turning world of this astonishing first novel from a dazzling new
literary voice." What Edmund White says: "For a hundred years, Ireland has
provided the English-speaking world with its most eloquent writers... McCrea
joins this illustrious company."
Diary of a Drag Queen, by Daniel Harris,
The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture was serious stuff indeed.
Now Harris is doing it again, in this highly sexed and humorous memoir -
exploring a (sub)culture. But this time it's in high heels and a bra. His lover
left him, his best friend died, depression set in, cyberspace offered solace,
and soon he was making much whoopee with straight men that wanted sex with men
who dressed like women. Harris wanted sex, so he learned to dress the
Author info: From a 1997 web page, Harris's first extant writing - a
letter to his sister when he was six... there doesn't seem to be a current
From Da Capo in 2001: Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The
Aesthetics of Consumerism - Harris' invigorating "encyclopaedia of low-brow
culture," a collection of wisdom and whimsy that explores "how the aesthetics of
consumerism are the lies we tell ourselves to preserve our
And from Basic Books in 2002: A Memoir of No One in
Particular: In Which Our Author Indulges in Naïve Indiscretions, a
Self-Aggrandizing Solipsism, and an Off-Putting Infatuation with His Own Bodily
Functions - Harris's parody of the memoir genre instructs, among other
things, that because jockey shorts last longer than most love affairs, a fetish
for underwear can be rewarding.
Later this year:
Controversy looms: in early March, Weise bought
the rights to reprint the Dennis Cooper novel The Sluts, which was
published in January in a high-priced hardcover limited edition ($50; 550
copies) by Void Press. I opened my review for Book Marks by writing, "Sex
and boys, sex and fear, sex and pain, sex and blood, sex and death - Cooper has
long dabbled with unsettling themes. That fascination with dark desire is
distilled, intelligently and deliciously, in The Sluts, a sickly
hilarious fictional excursion into the depths of hustler desire" where whipping
and fisting count for vanilla.
Author info (with links to The Sluts
news and interviews):
And the deadline is May 1 for Fresh Men 2, the second anthology of new
queer voices: http://www.queerwriters.com/mt/archives/2005/01/
A rave for the first Fresh Men:
More Queer Books From the Avalon Family
Carroll & Graf is but one imprint of the Avalon Publishing Group. And the
other imprints publish queer books, too:
From Marlowe &
of Value: Intimate Profiles of Pioneering Lesbian and Gay Parents, by Robert
A. Bernstein, $14.95
From the author of Straight Parents, Gay Children, this truly "invert"
title addresses the politics and passion around same-sex parenting drawing on
real-life experiences to demonstrate that queer values are a legitimate component
of the fabric of America's families. (May)
An excerpt from Straight Parents: http://www.pflagdc.org/education/griffith.php
From Shoemaker & Hoard Publishers:
Wings of Friendship:
Selected Letters, 1944-2003, by Ned Rorem, $30
Rorem continues to
mine his life for our reading pleasure, as he has in five powerfully honest
diaries over the last several decades, in this collection of intimate, gossipy,
and reflective letters to family and an astonishing circle of friends that
includes Virgil Thomson, Reynolds Price, Angela Lansbury, Judy Collins, and Gore
Author info, with comprehensive bibliographies of his books and
music (but, sadly, no MP3 samples): http://www.nedrorem.com/
Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev, by Robert Dessaix,
Thunder's Mouth Press:
In Night Letters, Australian author Dessaix delivered some of
the most beautifully wrenching writing about AIDS, an "epistolary reflection on
the meaning of life, love, and time" from a literary author making what he
presumes will be one last joyous journey through Europe before dying. This is
quite a different book - weaving together literary biography, personal memoir,
and travel writing, it uses the life of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev as a
springboard for exploring love and obsession... but it's also an excuse to
champion Night Letters. (August)
An interview about Night
Depp stirs my passions because of the whole package, really," says the author:
Queer Stories for Boys: True Stories from the Gay Men's Storytelling Workshop,
edited by Douglas McKeown, $15.95
anyone who doubts we are a tribe of many voices, there is this generous, amiable
anthology of first-person storytelling. More anecdotal than literary, the 47 tales,
most under five pages long, grew out of a long-running storytelling workshop at
the Gay & Lesbian Center in NYC; what they occasionally lack in polish they
more than make up for with passion, immediacy, and personality. AIDS seeps into
many of the tales ("Saying Goodbye to Howard," by Dennis Green). Several are sexual,
though not in a steamy First Hand confessional style; there are more first
crushes and emotional yearning ("Maybe Then," by Tom Ledcke) than actual cum-spilled
consummation. Many are romantic, some with happy endings, some not ("My Dancer
and My Doctor," by James Whelan). Family figures prominently in many ("The Hug,"
by Robin Goldfin; "My Brother," by Ronald Gold). The best stories are simply about
life: not gay life as much as about life itself. In "Kiss Today Goodbye," Andy
Baker writes about entangled friendships; in "Teddy," Neil James writes about
charity given and taken; in "Liza With a Kiss," collection editor McKeown writes
about the night he gave his younger brother the gift - of a kiss from Liza Minnelli.
Every queer boy has a story to tell, about growing up different, alone, special,
and Queer Stories for Boys tells those boys' stories well. (March)
Shock Value & Trash Trio, by John Waters, $14.95
The rest of America found out who John Waters was when
Hairspray hit the Broadway stage, and some of America knows Waters
through his dozen movies from Pink Flamingos to, more recently,
Pecker and A Dirty Shame. But real fans know him through Shock
Value, his long out-of-print manifesto/memoir of a trashy life lived with
campy gusto. Also back in print: Trash Trio, collecting the screenplays
for three of Waters' pre-respectability films - Pink Flamingos,
Desperate Living, and Flamingos Forever (the un-produced sequel,
never made because by the time it was written, too many of the original cast had
died. Both were Thunder's Mouth titles about a decade ago. (April)
Waters (and Judith Butler!) is a Professor of Film and Subculture at the
European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland:
ruffled NPR feathers with his pre-Christmas interview:
and listen to the interview – and the music:
Bad Republicans: The Unholy Alliance Between the Republican Party and the
Extreme Right, by Chris Bull, $14.95
Broadening his political
writing beyond a gay perspective (Perfect Enemies: The Battle Between the
Religious Right and the Gay Movement), the Planet Out commentator and former
political correspondent for The Advocate exposes how the Rethuglicans
have sold their soul to white supremacists, neo-segregationists, religious
bigots, and antigay crusaders. Bull is also coauthor, with out former baseball
pro Billy Bean, of Going the Other Way, a 2003 title from Marlowe &
Bull's Blog: http://www.planetout.com/news/feature.html?sernum=995
From Seal Press:
The venerable feminist press was folded into the
Avalon Publishing Group a few years ago; two June titles of interest - even to
gay men - are a second edition of Susan Fox Rogers' collection Solo: On Her
Own Adventures ($15.95), travel narratives by women; and Inga Muscio's
Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist,
Imperialist Society ($15.95), by the author of Cunt.
None Like the Other at Wilde About Sappho
Every year for
the past 14 - and for the last few years, through the freezing cold of February
- lesbian and gay readers have trekked to the auditorium of the National Library
of Canada to fete lesbian and gay writers (often, but not always, Canadian) at
Wilde About Sappho (WAS). In recent years the event has broadened beyond Ottawa
(Canada's capital, in the province of Ontario) to schedule readings in Montreal
and Toronto and, this year, Guelph, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
For information on who reads where in 2005, along with pics of the authors
(and one of me, looking startled while chatting with the fellow who manages
Ottawa's large queer lending library):
The gay readers this year were Warren Dunford, RM Vaughan, and Matthew Fox -
and three more variant queer voices there could not be; each in his own way is
worth reading, for campy comedy entertainment, mischievous dazzling insight, and
sensitive intelligent craft, respectively.
The Scene Stealer, by Warren Dunford, Cormorant Books, $19.95
This is the third in Dunford's series of "comic thrillers." The first, Soon
To Be a Major Motion Picture, was published in Canada in 1998; book two, Making
a Killing, came out in 2000 (the Alyson editions of both are now out of print).
Comic thrillers? That's what Dunford calls them; they're also deft parodies of
both genres, and steeped affectionately in the lore of Hollywood. The Scene
Stealer, like the first two books, features hapless, sort-of-sexy, amusingly
endearing screenwriter Mitch Draper, here hired by a fading soap star, B-movie
actress, and failed cosmetic entrepreneur to write the script for a TV docudrama
about her experience years earlier - when she was kidnapped (or was she?) by stalker
fans. Just before filming starts, she's kidnapped again (or is she?) by perps
reciting lines from the script for the docudrama. Many red herrings later... well,
the ending is, surprisingly, not evident before the end. Dunford's books are light
on actual thrills, and his plot's twists and turns aren't always totally logical,
but when it comes to the "comic," he’s an engaging hoot.
Ruined Stars: Poems, by RM Vaughan, ECW Press, $16.95
prose, whatever: Vaughan's writing crosses boundaries with glee. For example,
here's a very prosy excerpt from the performance poem "7 Books Every Male Homosexual
"The Terrible Girls, Rebecca Brown. Fags like to make fun of lesbian
melodrama - because, of course, fag dramas are all high operas - but isn't it
better to learn than to jeer? A tough dyke leant me this book and offered to sever
my arms from my shoulders if I lost it. An apt threat 'cause these stories frequently
describe acts of dismemberment, disfiguration, dyspepsia, and disembowelment.
I now understand why women in love often torture each other - because it's fun
and they don't have cable. Sisters and brothers, unite!"
You'll have to buy the book - and you really, really should - to read why The
Fall of the House of Usher (EA Poe), The Artificial Kingdom (Celeste
Olalquiaga), The Manual of Ornament (Richard Glazier), One Lifetime
Is Not Enough (Zsa Zsa Gabor), and The Complete Saki (HH Munro) are
must-reads. So is Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon: "Everybody is
greedy and everybody is mean and everybody lies about everything all of the time.
Sound familiar?" In the “London After Midnight” series, Vaughan waxes erotic and
touristy; in the “An Herbal for Men Who Live Alone” series, he waxes erotic and
tender; other poems capture a trip to Palm Springs, chronicle conversation with
a friend, and conjure the life of Aleister Crowley; and everywhere Vaughan is
mischievous, lyrical, extravagant, precise, crass, and dazzling.
Vaughan's fear and loathing (a headline too obviously inspired by the death of
Hunter S. Thompson) on his various book tours:
A review of Vaughan's second novel, Spells:
He makes films, too (among them, Tubbe):
And commits smart journalism:
Cities of Weather, by Matthew Fox, Cormorant Books, $22.95
For good reason, Matthew Fox was one of the new gay voices showcased in Fresh
Men (with "Advanced Soaring"), the Carroll & Graf anthology edited by
Don Weise and selected by Edmund White: he's a gifted young writer who has already
transcended the obligatory sobriquet "promising" (though when Aaron Hamburger
- author of the short story collection The View from Stalin's Head - buffs
"promise" with "genuine" and "intelligence" and "warmth," it doesn't seem so condescending).
Gay is almost everywhere in the 11 short stories in the collection, but it isn't
everything - some of the stories are quite, quite queer, some are only incidentally
so, and the melancholy title story is about a woman bored by her day job who lies
for months about a boyfriend long gone. Unlike many first-novel (or first-collection)
authors, Fox draws imaginatively - and creatively - on much more than his own
life to craft his nicely textured tales; he's reflectively confident about his
characters and their lives, investing them with a smart range of tone and type
- dying grandmothers are as resonant as sexy rockers, ambivalent lovers are as
complex as lonely boys. Several of the stories are set in Montreal, and American
readers are in for something of a travel-story treat: Fox conveys atmosphere of
place with as much style as he does shade of character (though the "Canadian-ness"
of the collection was, for some agents, a drawback, Fox has written about selling
the collection: "Like the letters I get back from publishers telling me why they
don’t want to publish my book. 'It’s too Canadian.' 'It’s too quiet.'"). He's
working on a novel now: huzzah.
"The Tests are More Detrimental Than the Disease Itself" appeared in Cities
of Weather as "Prove That You're Infected":
Fox, too, commits smart journalism; for Maisonneuve, the Canadian magazine
where he's an associate editor, Margaret Atwood tells him how to avoid colds on
a book tour in this out-of-control "interview":
And he makes the history of rings interesting here:
The other two writers at Wilde About Sappho/Ottawa 2005 were Helen Humphreys
reading from Wild Dogs ($22.95, WW Norton, April), a haunting novel about
six wounded souls who gather every evening at the edge of a park, calling for
dogs gone wild to come back to them; among them are Lily, scarred both physically
and emotionally; Rachel, the wildlife biologist whose wolf leads the pack; and
narrator Alice, afraid to love who she needs to love; and Anna Camilleri, reading
from I Am a Red Dress: Incantations on a Grandmother, a Mother, and a Daughter
(Arsenal Pulp Press, $16.95), a searing, candid collection of personal essays
using the abuse she received by her grandfather as a touchstone for considering
what her grandmother and her mother knew, and didn’t know, didn’t do, and did
excerpt from I Am a Red Dress:
Cher's Ex Foils Proust, Gay Malaysia, Sexy Covers
Bono's fault that the last three volumes of the new translation of Marcel Proust
can't be bought in America:
Wilayah KUTU is a Malaysian collection of 22 short stories and poems
from eight writers; one contributor, Amri Ruhayat, "writes about incest and
transsexuals, the nebulous issues that society skirts around." Another, Nizam
Zakaria, says, "My stories are generally about the lives of gay men in Kuala
Lumpur. Their experience living in the city, being gay and all that…"
fiction is also blogged (in Malay, but click around for some fine photos and
assorted English-language diary entries):
Novelists Brent Hartinger (The Geography Club) and Michael Jensen (Firelands)
chat - at length (this is just part one) about the state of gay fiction:
Splashy new color covers sex up three Romentics novels:
The Christian Science Monitor likes three queer-interest books nominated for
the National Book Critics Circle Award (March 18):
Dennis Hensley (Misadventures in the 213) discusses collaborating on
the screenplay for James Robert Baker's novel Testosterone:
Hans Christian Anderson was "a gay virgin," says a new Danish biography,
coming in translation in April from Overlook Press:
James Robert Baker site:
Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat is all grown up:
Mike Albo and Virginia Heffernan undermine Valentine's Day:
They're not a book, but I'm a big fan: The Scissor Sisters wow queer Sydney:
Jay Quinn: Back Where He Started
In an Alyson
interview, Southern Tier editor Jay Quinn talks about family, faith, gay
marriage, his North Carolina roots, and why America is ready for its first
"grown up" gay novel, Back Where He Started (April, $24.95) – which is
already high on my list of Best Books of 2005. "At its heart is Chris Thayer,
who has spent most of his adult life as a house husband to Zack Ronan, and as
mother to Zack's children Trey, Schooner, and Andrea. When Zack leaves him (for
his female secretary), Chris packs up the dog and moves to the beach community
of Emerald Isle, North Carolina, where he discovers that starting life over at 48
is just as complicated, frustrating, and thrilling as the first time around. As
he becomes involved in the patchwork lives of his new neighbors - a young
husband-and-wife psychiatric couple expecting their first child, the local
Catholic Church priest, an on-the-prowl town veterinarian, and a rowdy
jack-of-all-trades with an unnervingly direct stare - Chris begins to enjoy his
new status as a man who is valued for his own contributions to his community."
Q: Back Where He Started, on the surface feels familiar, almost
traditional. Then you realize you are reading about the breakup of a gay
marriage, a gay family.
JQ: My earliest notions of this book came about
as the nation was hearing its first news of the coming realities of gay
marriage, I'd say more than two years ago. I asked myself: if gay marriage
becomes a fact, will it follow that half of them will not survive, as is the
reality for straight marriages?
Q: And it happens at the exact point many heterosexual relationships break
down as well. Approaching 50, the kids are starting their own lives; the husband
takes up with a younger woman.
JQ: The impact of the "mid-life crisis"
which many driven career men face. I suppose my own fears came into play as well
as I am partnered with a very driven Type-A career man. The great thing about
being an author is that you can turn your own anxieties into a controllable
world and work them out that way before they can touch you.
Q: Of course Chris is not "truly" the children's parent, Zack is. Chris
married into the family when the children were very young and Zack was recently
widowed. And yet as Back Where He Started progresses, the children's
loyalty remains deeply tied to Chris.
JQ: It was my contention that as
the kisser of skinned-knees and the confidant of skinned-hearts, Chris would
retain the lion's share of the children's loyalty at the demise of their
parents' marriage. The family construct in the book was in every way a
"traditional" family in that the father is primarily responsible for earning the
financial wherewithal to keep the family going and the mother is the one who
works in the home, providing the emotional succor for the children. At one
point, the youngest son Schooner tells Chris that his father is "just a
checkbook" to him. Zack, the father, is a driven career man who places the
responsibility for the rearing of his children on Chris - his gay partner. Zack
is mainly concerned with himself and his own ambitions. His family is a
reflection of his success in the world's eyes. His children are accessories. For
Chris, his children are his own life's work.
Q: It's a messy, sprawling family you have created in this book. Wonderful
to read about and spend time with. But unusual for a gay novel. What drove you
to make the family such a driving part of this story?
JQ: I had some
larger points to make about parenting and family. Ever since writers rejected
the saccharine portrayals of the great American middle-class of the 1950s, what
has sold books is a sort of psychological scab picking when it comes to
portraying "family." I was frankly sick of it. In gay literature the portrayal
of family is even worse. Usually it's discounted altogether as if gay men
appeared fully adult in 2Xist briefs in Chelsea or West Hollywood with no past.
Or, gay men write of family as if they were so embittered by their early
upbringing and environments that they are portrayed as a literal hellhole that
one must endure as one would torture. I am frankly bored by books that treat
family as something to be scoffed at, rebelled against, and discarded
Q: Well, many gay people do have struggles with their families.
For good or ill, family forms us all, gay and straight, and I think genuine and
authentic human experience allows for forgiveness, accommodation and continuity
within the family context. That is my experience. I do not think I am alone. The
family I created in Back Where He Started is hardly a pristine, Ozzie and
Harriet manqué. They are contentious, they harbor hurts and bad memories, they
have pet resentments. But they fundamentally love each other. Their loyalties
are protean trines that vary, as their emotional needs shift and change. I think
they are most real in that sense. But at its heart, the Ronan family is a
reflection of the sort of rough-handed affection that Chris, at its center, has
made and nurtured.
Q: The irony of this conversation is that we are talking about a very
traditional human story here, and yet it is absolutely groundbreaking. This
particular story, a gay family, has never been told. Why?
JQ: It is only
in the beginning of this century that gay lit has evolved to the point where gay
writers are seeing themselves in a return to "traditional" family structures
without a sense of abashment for being so mundane and conventional. I think the
time for gay authors to create gay characters in such mundane settings as a
marriage with grown children has only just come. At the birth of what we
consider to be contemporary gay lit - in the 1970s - the authors were far too
preoccupied with breaking down the walls of sexual and social circumspection
that had shadowed gay lives up until then. The world of the disco and the
efforts to conceive gay lives outside of hetero-normative strictures was too
In the 80s, gay authors were trying their damnedest to relate the searing
realities of HIV/AIDS and its impact on individuals' lives and the evolving gay
social structure. In the 90s there emerged a growing group of gay voices who had
come of age after Stonewall and were self-absorbed to the point of navel-gazing
with their own takes on coming out and making a place in a world that was
simultaneously plagued and permissive.
Q: There also have not been a lot of books about gay men past the age of
JQ: What I most wanted to do with Back Where He Started was present a
story for, by and about grown-ups. I wanted to explore what it meant for a gay
man to be middle aged and rolling with the punches - damn the wrinkles or the
softening gut, full speed ahead! I don't think gay literature has had room to
accommodate a fair notion of aging to the middle part of life. Middle-age has
always been when gay people retired from "the life" in the face of a brutally
ageist absorption with youth and beauty. I can think of two of our "masters"
who have dealt in meaningful ways with the surrender to middle-age, but those
works were elegiac and sad.
Q: As long as we're on the topic of things not usually covered in gay
literature, let's talk about faith. Religion. Chris is a devout Catholic, but
you don't present this in any conflicted way.
JQ: I was astounded at how
much I made of Chris's on-going relationship with his Catholic faith. Living in
a world and culture that seems to have as many problems with traditional
expressions of faith as it does with traditional family constructs, I didn't
want to make him a pious fool, but rather a reflection of a great many people I
know who have not abandoned the faith of their background, but rather have
engaged it from remaining in it. I know of many intellectually athletic people -
including myself, I hope - who continue to seek a place in that faith for a
variety of reasons that have nothing to do with a sort of willful ignorance, but
rather as a kind of elemental part of their nature. I saw Chris as this kind of
man. Neither is he blindly accepting of the Church's many flaws, nor is he
radicalized out of his connection to it, but rather he is searching within it. I
don't believe this is uncommon for many of my age and life's context.
Q: Why were you astounded?
JQ: The only possible answer to that
question lies in the final chapter of the book. It was a chapter I wrote in a
kind of fever. It came to me as if it was writing itself. Suffice it to say that
the final chapter of Back Where He Started is titled "Epiphany" which in
its case means more than the actual time of year when it takes place. If I
discussed that here, it would be cheating the reader out of discovering
personally what is the essential meaning of what I am trying to say about Chris,
family, and what it means to be a mother.
Q: And Chris is very much the maternal figure in this family. You portray
that very convincingly, but were you concerned that in maternalizing Chris you
would also feminize him?
JQ: Not really. From the beginning, I saw Chris
as very male albeit slight in build and height. I really saw him as cat-like but
fierce, rather more feline than feminine. Because of Chris's upbringing and
background, which is quite clear, he is from the start a figure of
resourcefulness and resilience. In terms of my leading him to motherhood, this
stands him in good stead. There is a void in Chris's background that makes him
hungry for a family, as he is genuinely a loving person - and has a need to give
love with few expectations of receiving it in return. He becomes a mother that
is much more male in practice than in presumption.
Q: Let's talk a little bit about the setting of this novel and its
characters. Both are vividly portrayed, the characters are very real, sometimes
heroic, sometimes infuriating, endearing and hardheaded, just very, very
JQ: (Laughs) I either have a very firm grip on reality or a very
tenuous grasp of it that alternates with astonishing frequency. It speaks very
much to my process of writing. When I am not writing, I have an almost
frightening sense of people who I might see in the grocery store or on the
street. I intuit so much of their internal lives that it's exhausting for me.
When it comes time to create my characters, I have a rich vein of perception to
draw on. This recall of minutiae comes together as my people. They become
hyper-real to me. The day after I sent the finished manuscript of Back Where
He Started to my editor, I left on a much-needed trip to Maine, where I
usually spend some time each summer. In a journal I kept during my time there, I
wrote of how bereft I was without my characters. It was almost as if they had
closed the door to their ongoing lives behind them as I wrote the last sentence
and shut me out of their lives. I spent my first days in Maine living in a sort
of split existence in the "there" of the book and the "there" of where I
actually found myself. It was difficult leaving their world behind. I'm a little
crazy that way. I miss them still.
Q: You grew up in Eastern North Carolina, went to school at East Carolina
in Greenville, obviously spent a lot of time on the coast there, and set most of
Back Where He Started in Emerald Isle which I believe is on the Outer
Banks. Was that a homecoming for you?
JQ: (Laughs). I have been a beach
boy of the Outer Banks since I could toddle. Emerald Isle - which is on Bogue
Banks, one of North Carolina's Outer Banks - is the ur-landscape of my
imagination. I grew up in a small town about 90 minutes west of the island and
have visited there since I was a small child. I have a picture, taken at one of
the boardwalk picture vendors, that is of me at age two, sitting on my father's
lap in front of a large cutout of a Carolina Moon that was taken at the beach.
For me, that island represents in all its spare landscape of dunes and live
oaks, the absolute last edge of my world. At my back is all the richness of my
heritage and the despair of my background that propels me there. In front of me
are only the open sea and the boundless horizon. On that island, everything is
possible. It was there I learned to surf, where I had my first gay kiss, where I
fled to playing hooky and where I intend to die. I own a lot on Bogue Banks, and
some day I will build my home there.
Q: The South is certainly a fertile ground for literature, but is often
seen as very unfriendly to any non-conforming way of life, particularly
JQ: The beaches of North Carolina are a place where old social and
religious conventions of a very Red State have always loosened their grip on its
residents. There is an air of permissiveness and acceptance there that you won't
find anywhere else in the state in that form. When I lived up on the northern
Banks when I was in my twenties, my surfer buddies used to call the beach "the
island of misfit toys" like the one in the TV Christmas special of “Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer.” No matter how weird or broken or fucked up you were,
eventually you'd hit the beach, and the beach would take you in and give you a
home. It is a very rich place to draw information and inspiration from. The
dying Old South, the religious narrowness, the gentility and volatility, the old
class and racial hatreds and accommodations... the people are very vivid and
real. I am not alone in mining this territory. My generation of fellow authors
who are from within a hundred-mile radius of my hometown include Allan Gurganus,
Jim Grimsley, Jill McCorkle, Kaye Gibbons, Clyde Edgerton as well as the august
Q: Perfect lead in for the last question then. Who are your major literary
influences or did you just list them?
JQ: (Laughs). I have a well-worn
T-shirt that has the following statement emblazoned across the chest: "I do
exactly what the voices in my head tell me to." I think my personal voices are
so strong that they allow for little intrusion from other influences. Still, I
am a voracious reader. I devour books in my down time between projects.
I can honestly say there are three authors whose work gave me certain
insights into creating the otherness of the world Chris and the Ronan clan
inhabit. Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita In Teheran had a profound impact on
me when I first read it. In fact, I pay her a bit of homage in Back Where
He Started by having Chris reading it or making mention of it at two
critical plot junctures. What I took away from Nafisi's fine work is that sense
of remaining an individual and creating a satisfying world for oneself in the
face of brutal, overt oppression. I found Nafisi's personal and intellectual
resilience in the face of the anti-feminist Sharia laws of Post-Revolutionary
Iran to be utterly inspiring.
Jhumpa Lahiri's work also informed my sense of being of two places
simultaneously. Of being at once part of the dominate culture and also of
another alien place, much beloved in some ways, but a whip at your back in the
face of the life you are compelled to live. Our culture is becoming so fractured
and fragmented that even native-born Americans are displaced from a type of past
and family ties that are familiar.
Annie Proulx is one of my heroes despite the fact I believe one should live
without heroes. Her work is mesmerizing for me, and she is a magician as far as
I am concerned. Her treatment of place as an equal character with the persons
who people her novels and short fiction, and her willingness to allow her people
to be as complex and quirky as people actually are in small spots and places
makes her my great teacher. She is a master. In many instances, her work is
about starting over, about beginning again after you've been bitch-slapped by
life. That is certainly the case in Chris's existence as I have written him.
And, as she has shown me, the kinks and dark quirks of a character's soul can
give way to deep veins of authenticity in their relationships. She is a stingy
writer when it comes to romance, but her romances have the rough paws and ragged
claws of a real life, the uncompromising aspects of need and hurt that I think
run through life as an unvarnished seam. Those contentions have informed the
relationships I have created between Chris and the other characters - and the
landscape - of Back Where He Started.
Alexander Chee, Thoughtful Blog-A-Lot
I keep coming
across links to blogs by writers I admire, though entries often peter out after
a few weeks, or sputter into intermittent activity. Alexander Chee
(Edinburgh)’s blog is an organic delight, though - near-daily entries,
private thoughts made public, a fount of busy, stream-of information. He's
smiting USA Next for appropriating the image of two men kissing after their
wedding for their attack on the AARP, baking an orange pound cake, applying Jane
Smiley's words on inner calling to people he knows, reading Sylvia Plath,
cruising the cable networks for Buffy and Angel reruns, and praising "this
year's only adorable pornstar," Hunter James.
Chee to your bookmarks, or set up an RSS feed:
Bestsellers From Our (Non-)Bookstores
InsightOut Book Club
Best Gay Love Stories 2005, edited by Nick Street,
The best sex and love stories by today’s favorite gay authors: romance
in a cemetery, the consummation of a longtime crush, a Christmas surprise,
finding a soul mate abroad, and more.
Tangled Sheets, by Michael
Thomas Ford, Kensington Publishing
ISO favorite author Michael Thomas Ford
does erotica right - and describes how each story came about, from an aggressive
police officer looking for a confession to sweaty punks pounding each other in
the mosh pit…
One Night Stand, by Ben Tyler, Kensington
Out-of-work actor Derek Bracken starts at "One Night Stand,"
where, for the right price, the richest gay men in Hollywood can fulfill their
fantasies. But Derek’s competition isn’t happy....
Moth and Flame, by
John Morgan Wilson, St. Martin's Press
Ex-L.A. journalist Benjamin Justice,
writing a booklet commemorating West Hollywood after the original writer is
killed, uncovers a web of jealousy, greed, and deceit involving the deceased
Murder in the Rue St. Ann, by Greg Herren, Alyson
detective Chanse MacLeod’s investigation of sabotage at a New Orleans nightclub
turns personal. Chanse’s lover Paul has ties to the prime suspect… and has now
Magical Thinking, by Augusten Burroughs, Penguin
author of Running with Scissors fills in the gaps in his tragic-comic
life with more hilariously insane experiences.
The Line of Beauty, by
Alan Hollinghurst, Bloomsbury USA
In this erotically charged novel, Nick
Guest moves in with a conservative British family and is soon juggling elitist
political affairs by day and London’s gay scene at night.
Confessions of a
Casanova, by Chris Kenry, Kensington Publishing
In this romantic novel,
sexy and studly Tony Romero’s days of loving and leaving men seem about ready to
come to an end. Has he found the one at last?
Fresh Men, edited by
Donald Wiese, selected by Edmund White, Carroll & Graf
gathers the best new writing by emerging gay authors, touching upon our
ever-changing landscape of gay lives: cultural differences, sexual desires,
coming out, the down low, and more.
Bitch Slap, by Michael Craft, St. Martins
When a business meeting ends with a reporter slapping a prospective
partner, the partner is soon found dead. Newspaper owner Mark Manning must clear
his reporter of murder.
Clay’s Way, by Blair Mastbaum, Alyson
is a stunning debut about two teens - a surfer and a skateboarder - who realize
their bond runs much deeper than friendship.
Looking for It, by
Michael Thomas Ford, Kensington Publishing
In this powerful, passionate
novel, gay men of very different backgrounds search for happiness at a gay bar
in a small upstate town.
Why Marriage?, by George Chauncey, Basic
Chauncey maps out our history over the past few decades,
and why even a more accepting America is fighting for a constitutional
A Seahorse Year, by Stacey D'Erasmo, Houghton
This lyrical novel looks at the intimate lives of a San Francisco
family - lesbian mother, Nan, her lover, Marina, and gay father, Hal - when
their adolescent son runs away.
As I Lay Frying, by Fay Jacobs,
In 1995, author Fay Jacobs and her partner, Bonnie, visited the
gay community in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware - and never left. Here, she recounts
their hilarious exploits as a couple and as locals.
Publishers whose books appear on the InsightOut online bestseller list
are, of course, those who sell book club rights.
Title Change/Many Thanks/You Must Read.../Passion
Thanks so much for alerting us to this piece (on Desmond Hogan, BTWOF
13); our forthcoming book of new and selected stories by Des is now titled
Larks' Eggs (not Winter Swimmers).
Farrell/Publisher/The Lilliput Press/http://www.lilliputpress.ie/
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU so much for all your kind
words about Mondo Homo. You truly made my year with your thoughtful
writing and analysis... you "got it" and understood what we were trying to do. So
thank you again... I didn't know I'd been passed up for a Lammy until I read
your article, but it was a true gift to find out through your work than through
some other means.
What a fantastic new issue. As far as I'm concerned, you've
officially surpassed LBR as the gay bibliophile's "paper" of record. So
much great stuff covered, and in such a lively fashion. Damn! I can't remember
whether you've already reviewed Haunted Hillbilly (by Derek McCormack) -
I just read it and think it's fantastic; I've been recommending it to gay and
straight coolsters (it's a beautiful object as well as a terrific read). I want
to recommend a not particularly gay (there are touches), but truly remarkable
undersold memoir that I devoured last week - Another Bullshit Night in Suck
City, by Nick Flynn (Norton) - it is (in way too tidy of a nutshell) the
story of a young man who is working in a homeless shelter, and one of the
homeless men turns out to be his father. It's sad, funny, incredibly easy to read
and never maudlin. For gay readers who are interested in male-male relationships
of all sorts, this is a must.
Thanks, but nothing
replaces Lambda Book Report; I’m one voice, and it’s many… and we’re both
recognizing good gay writing as best we can. -RL
I just saw your review of the John Morgan Wilson book, Moth
and Flame. You used the expression "murderous passion for preservation," and
I wondered if you were consciously or subconsciously alluding to Will Fellows'
book, A Passion to Preserve, which you had reviewed earlier.
My word choice was purely unconscious,
though now that it's pointed out to me, A Passion to Preserve may have
been lurking in the unconscious - it's such a delicious phrase, even if I was
defining "passion" with "murderous" rather than "preservation" with