The Lesbian Edition
Volume 4 Number 3
The common thread in many of the books reviewed this month is transition, especially transitions about
identity, be it how we see ourselves to how our identities shift when partners and family members
leave our lives, whether due to death, divorce, or other circumstance. Life is ever changing,
and it's comforting to know that books will accompany us through our many journeys, providing support,
escapism, and sometimes mirrors as we need them along the way.
I just loved Valerie Miner's After Eden, her latest work following 2005's
Lammy nominated collection of short stories Abundant Light
(reviewed in TLE
#12). Emily Adams is a city planner from Chicago who has traveled
California (think closer to Mendocino than San Francisco) for a
vacation at the cabin she shares with her partner, Salerno. But
when Salerno dies unexpectedly, Emily's life changes completely.
The cabin was first Salerno's, part of a lesbian land trust with
women who were more Salerno's friends than Emily's. But all rally
around her as Emily decides what to do with the cabin, her life
and job back in Chicago, and with Salerno's legacy as a musician.
It's a sometimes heartbreaking, but ultimately rejuvenative story
of a woman's journey through grief and rebirth, populated with an
eclectic family of choice and a supportive brother who goes through
his own changes, too. I highly recommend After Eden. University
of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, 9780806138145.
Fire by Ellis Avery is one of those books that doesn't jump
off the shelf (or from catalog pages) as a book with lesbian content.
It came to my attention via the publicist of Sharon Marcus, whose
nonfiction Between Women we reviewed in TLE
#28. "Sharon's partner is a writer, too," she told
me, "you should definitely review her novel." And how.
The Teahouse Fire is
an elegantly written historical novel set mostly in Japan during
the mid-nineteenth century. Nine-year-old Aurelia arrives in Japan
with her uncle and runs away when she learns her mother died back
in New York and won't be joining them in Japan. Aurelia is taken
in by a well-respected family known for teaching the tea ceremony
and becomes the maidservant to sixteen-year-old Yukako. Aurelia,
now known as Urako, becomes completely devoted to Yukako, sleeping
by her side each night until Yukako's arranged marriage. Urako
meets Inko, the attendant of a geisha, and learns how
to receive and give pleasure to another woman. Over the years,
the culture in Japan changes repeatedly, making the tea ceremony
- and Yukako's family's livelihood - more or less relevant/respected.
The Teahouse Fire beautifully tells of these changes, their
impact on the family, the influence of Western culture - especially
dress - on these characters, and the reception Urako receives from
others: sometimes respected as a translator, sometimes rejected
as a foreigner. Nominated for a Lammy in the Lesbian Debut Fiction
category, Avery's first novel is a rich, fact and emotion-filled
journey back in time. Penguin/Riverhead, $24.95, 9781594489303.
"I sank like a stone. Then the water smoothed out, shimmery and still
as a mirror. Mama leaned over and smiled at her reflection."
So ends the first chapter of Breathing Underwater by Lu
Vickers, in which Lily's beauty-queen-wannabe mother nearly lets
Lily drown when she falls off a fishing boat. This
incident marks Lily indelibly as she comes of age in Florida.
Her father's not much better, as becomes clear a few years later:
"Daddy didn't say anything about Mama calling me queer, either, but
I didn't expect him to. He just filed that information wherever he filed stuff
like the fact that Mama was crazy or that his own daddy had committed suicide.
He was worse than lake water about swallowing things up, then going all smooth
like nothing had ever happened."
This is a powerful book about a young girl just getting through it all. Alyson,
Felicia Luna Lemus follows Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties (Find
of the Month in TLE #5)
with Like Son, about a FTM in Los Angeles, estranged from both parents,
who reconnects with his father shortly before his father dies. Frank Cruz,
haunted by a photograph of Nahui Olin that is among his father's effects,
moves to New York to begin his life again. There he meets Nathalie. They live
together happily until the world changes on September 11, 2001.
"To be honest, seeing the site was the last thing I wanted to do. So
in some ways I was glad she didn't want me to go. But when she came home later
that afternoon, I knew I'd been wrong not to insist I go with her. She'd stopped
shaking, but her somber stillness was somehow even more disquieting than the
shaking had been. She wouldn't tell me what she'd seen. She wouldn't tell
me anything. And, really, she didn't have to. The horrible weight of it all
was visible in her eyes."
Like Son is about changes to both the interior and exterior landscapes
of people, and how those around them react to these changes. I'm anxious to
see what Lemus comes up with next after these first two powerful books. Akashic
Books, $14.95, 9781933354217.
Prolific short-story writer Ivan E. Coyote has published her first novel,
Bow Grip. Joey, whose wife has left him for another woman,
a mechanic in his forties, living in Alberta. Joey's mother, sister,
and friends all are trying to encourage him to get on with his
life, but nothing really engages him until a stranger trades him
a handmade cello for a car. This transaction turns out to be much
more than it appears on the surface and sends Joey to Calgary
to track down a mystery - and while there, to deal with unfinished
business with his ex-wife who lives there as well. I loved this
sensitive, introspective, emotional novel; Coyote's storytelling
powers are in full bloom in Bow Grip. Arsenal Pulp Press,
A Feminist Hullaballoo: Reuniting the Wild Sisters!
June 22-24, 2007 in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Paula Gunn Allen, Mary Daly, Sonia Johnson, Cherrie Moraga
+ 10 more dazzling
See www.feministhullaballoo.com or call 505.583.2470
for further information.
Diana Souhami has been a consistent chronicler of lesbian lives with books such
as Gertrude and Alice, The Trials of Radclyffe Hall,
Gluck, and Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter. Her
latest, Wild Girls - Paris, Sappho, and Art: The Lives and Loves
of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks, is now in paperback and
tells the story of American expatriate heiresses Barney and Brooks,
and their circle of openly lesbian friends and lovers in Paris.
Barney famously held her Friday salons for more than fifty years,
about the amount of time that her on-again, off-again relationship
with Brooks lasted. Souhami explores Barney's quest to create a
"Sapphic idlyll" and discusses why all was not as ideal
as it may have appeared. St. Martin's Griffin, $18.95 paper, 9780312366605.
Also now in paperback, The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag
and Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era
is only tangentially about Susan Sontag (in
spite of her name in the title and her photo on the cover), but
other lesbian writers do figure more prominently in this literary
memoir by gay male poet Edward Field. Post WWII Greenwich Village
was a place where one could write poetry and be openly gay. Field
discusses several of his contemporaries from this time, including
May Swenson, Jane Bowles, Alma Routsong (who published her novel
Patience and Sarah under the pseudonym Isabel Miller),
and Jean Garrigue. Male writers in the story include Frank O'Hara,
James Baldwin, and the "man" of the title, Alfred Chester.
The narrative is intimate, revealing, and quite gossipy in parts,
but especially for those who are interested in learning more about
Alma Routsong and her partners, it's worth a read. University
of Wisconsin Press, $21.95 paper, 9780299213244.
One Lesbian's Spiritual Journey
Sara Miles, a lesbian writer, editor (Opposite Sex: Gay Men on Lesbians, Lesbians
on Gay Men and Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of
June Jordan), and former restaurant cook, worked as a journalist
in Nicaragua, El
Salvador, and the Philippines, moved to San Francisco where her
daughter, Katie, was born, and fell in love with her current partner,
Martha. And then:
"One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church,
ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens
of millions of Americans - except that up until that moment I'd led a thoroughly
secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its
fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.
"Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against
all my expectations to a faith I'd scorned and work I'd never imagined. The
mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual
food - indeed the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled
with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized that
what I'd been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed
Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion is her story of how that morning
at St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in her Mission District neighborhood in
San Francisco changed her life. She joined the church and was baptized, much
to the surprise of her partner, Martha, and their friends, and began a food
pantry. The parallels Miles draws between her post-college restaurant work,
her stays in Central America, and her work at St. Gregory's are clear, poetic,
and deeply spiritual, in a way that is not at all off-putting. And while much
is made of the significance of her first communion, she also discusses the
challenges she encountered during her spiritual journey: "Conversion
isn't, after all, a moment: It's a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles
of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt." Though her newly embraced
Christianity is surprising to both her and those around her, she comes to
find that it's congruent with who she is and how she's lived her life. Take
This Bread is a beautifully written exploration of spirituality, the politics
and social aspects of food, and of community. Random House/Ballantine, $24.95,
Excerpt from Take This Bread on Salon.com:
Diana Cage is on a mission to help dykes have better sex, with books like Threeways
(reviewed in TLE
#25), Box Lunch¸ the On Our Backs Guide to Lesbian
Sex, and the numerous erotica anthologies she's edited. Now
she wants to help us improve our dating lives with Girl Meets
Girl: A Dating Survival Guide. She starts by encouraging
readers to figure out what kind of women they're looking for and
what kind of things turn them on, continues on to where to meet
women, gives special tips for hooking up online, and then talks
about dates themselves: how to prepare, what to do on a date, who
does what, and what to do if you do want to see the woman again
- and what to do if you don't. Sex tips are included as are various
transitions - dating friends, no strings attached arrangements,
becoming girlfriends, and even breaking up. Girl Meets Girl
is inclusive of different relationship ideals, styles, gender identities
and expressions, proclivities, and desires, and is written in Cage's
signature witty and cut-to-the-chase style. Whether you're new to
dating women or back on the market after a long absence, Girl
Meets Girl will help get you on the right track with confidence,
ideas, and flare. Alyson, $14.95, 9781555839895.
If you're looking for a queer florist in Manhattan, a lesbian therapist in
Atlanta, the PFLAG chapter in Boston, a social group for dykes in Palm Springs,
or places all over the U.S. to meet women on whom to try out the dating tips in Girl
Meets Girl, you can find them all in the same place in the 29th edition
of Gayellow Pages: The National Edition. The more than five
hundred pages of this book include a Women's Section, an Ethnic/Multicultural
Section, and listings for both Canada and the United States. Renaissance House, $23.95
Jennifer Baumgardner, co-author of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism,
and the Future and Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist
Activism, explores her own bisexuality and how bisexuality is
viewed by both heterosexual and queer society in her new book Look
Both Ways: Bisexual Politics. Indigo Girls fans will probably
enjoy the dishiness of reading about the author's
former relationship with Amy Ray, but there's much more than that here.
She focuses on women's sexuality in this text and asserts that women
who have relationships with both same-sex and opposite-sex partners
can learn important things from each: "For myself, I can say
that having had relationships with both men and women has given
me information on how to be more liberated with men, and less sexist
Baumgardner recounts the influence of second-wave feminism on
women's sexuality and how being sexual with women was a political choice for
many in the seventies. She interestingly ties this to the prevalence of eating
disorders and cutting in the eighties and nineties, quoting filmmaker Elizabeth
Subrin: "If we were all liberated in the seventies, how come my generation
was sticking their heads in the toilet in the eighties?" She also explores
the impact of openly bisexual singer Ani DiFranco on women's sexuality in
the third wave.
One goof in this book is her contention that transsexual
and transgender people are willing to "give up potential physical sexual
pleasure in the form of a functioning clitoris or penis in order to live as
another gender" because "there is a singular pleasure in being looked
at and appreciated for your sex appeal." While this may be true for some
trans folk, I suspect most who choose surgery do so for themselves, not for a "singular pleasure" in
how they will appear to others.
Her overall point in Look Both Ways
is sound: "…gay people deserve to get married and have kids
and receive social approbation for their relationships, just like
straight people. Moreover, straight people deserve what gay people
tend to have: the privilege of equality in their relationships and
freedom from rigid gender roles." And bisexual women can help
build these bridges by insisting on these things in their own relationships,
be they with same-sex or opposite-sex partners. But I find it puzzling
why on one page, Baumgardner calls her relationship with Amy Ray
"the most mutually supportive relationship I had ever had"
and wonders if she could have what she had with Ray, "down
to the orgasms and great phone calls - with a guy," and then
a few pages later says, "I don't know if I will find the equal,
supportive, loving, romantic, hot relationship I imagine for myself."
She'd just told us she'd had it with Ray; did she mean to say she
wonders if she'd ever find it again? It's as if she values
what she got out of her relationships with women but deep down,
would prefer to be with a man if she could have those same things
with him. So, perhaps she's a straight-identified bisexual, the converse of the
dyke-identified bi-women many of us know? Hmm... All in all, I appreciated
much of Baumgardner's feminist analysis but question some of her
conclusions about sexuality and gender. FSG, $24, 9780374190040.
For a broader-based, lighter-hearted look at the subject, check
out Lambda Literary Award-nominated The Bisexual's Guide to
the Universe: Quips, Tips, and Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways
by Nicole Kristal
and Mike Szymanski. The "Beginner" part of the book
explores the history of bisexuality, includes quizzes to help
one determine if they are bisexual, and looks at myths and stereotypes
of bi folk. The "Intermediate" section talks about coming
out as bi, looks at bisexuals in pop culture, and gives dating
advice, while the "Advanced" chapters explore "Why
You're Not Getting Laid" (e.g. why both straights and gays
have problems with bisexuals), sex advice for being with both
men and women, and bisexuality throughout history. Fun, irreverent,
informative, and full of humor and heart, this is an enjoyable
read. Alyson, $15.95, 9781555836504.
Lili Lakich has been creating her artistic metal sculptures with neon for four
decades. Her work is beautifully displayed and discussed in Lakich:
For Light. For Love. For Life. Inside are more than 200 full-color
photographs of her work - everything from her goddess
sculptures (Kali, Artemis, Elektra) through the pop culture icons
(Elvis, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Coltrane) to intimate portraits
of her friends and lovers (Robin Tyler, Dell Richards, Mary Carter).
For many of the pieces, there's a statement from the artist as well
as a narrative about how the piece was created. The back includes
a chronology of her career, a list of her exhibitions, commissions,
and other work, and even a map of where some of her work can be
seen in Southern California. This truly is a gorgeous book and hopefully
it will be picked up by a mainstream distributor or publisher so
more people can be exposed to this talented woman's work. Lili Lakich
Studio, $45, 9780615133515.
The book Courting Equality: A Documentary
History of America's First Legal Same-Sex Marriages is
one of those fabulous marriages (pun intended) between text
and photographs. With text by Patricia A. Gozemba and Karen Kahn
and photographs by Marilyn Humphries, Courting Equality
provides both a record of the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts
and a celebration of the fruits of that labor. It blends the political,
personal, spiritual, and to an appropriately lesser degree, the
resistance to the granting of marriage rights in the Bay State.
Kahn and Gozemba were themselves married in September 2005. Beacon
Press, $34.95, 9780807066201.
I hesitated putting She Kissed Me: Lesbians Explore Kissing in their
Culture by Alison Dubois in this section because of its not-particularly-attractive
cover, but this wonderful book deserves a spot on your coffee
table anyway - perhaps you can leave it open to your favorite
page. Dubois has collected an impressive collection of poetry,
prose, and especially, photographs of
lesbians of all kinds, kissing. Truly, the variety of lesbians
depicted in these pages is quite impressive, inspirational, and
heartwarming. The first part of the book has several photos each
of three different couples while the remainder of the book is
a true smorgasbord of the lesbian nation: interracial couples,
younger women, older women, fat women, thin women - with styles
from pierced and punk to wedding gowned and tuxedoed. And the
contributors are varied, too, with previously unpublished names
side by side those of more familiar authors and photographers:
Ellen Bass, Irene Zahava, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and Tee Corinne,
to name a few. My only gripes are production related: I wish the
credits for the photos were on the same page as the photos rather
than on a list in the back, and the photos are not of a consistent
quality - it appears some were low-resolution digital photos that
didn't translate well to print. Worst, though, is the amateurish
cover with an uninspiring gray and black illustration. But if
there's ever a case for not judging a book by the cover, this
is it - the content is lovely. Blue Horse Publishing, $34.95 paper,
As if the new 25th anniversary edition of Annie on My Mind (FSG, $8, 9780374400118)
isn't cause for celebration enough, there's a fabulous brand new
book by Nancy
Garden which explores the lives of queer youth from the last five
decades. Hear Us Out: Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress,
and Hope, 1950 to the Present combines a narrative essay for
each decade with two fictional stories from that same time. From
girls writing love letters to each other in code during the fifties,
to high schoolers attending gay-straight alliance meetings and pride
parades in the current day, history comes to life with these boys
and girls through the talented pen of Nancy Garden. Highly recommended
- consider buying one for your local high school library. FSG, $18
Friday Night Reads
A remote jungle in the Foja Mountains of New Guinea is the setting for More
Than Paradise, the latest romance adventure by Jennifer Fulton.
Charlotte Lascelles is a botanist on a research expedition charged
with exploring this mostly untouched-by-humans area near Papua
New Guinea. Ash Evans, a pilot and ex-military badass-for-hire,
is part of the team hired to assist the researchers on their mission.
Bad girl/good girl dynamics ensue as does a new-for-the-both-of-them
passion for the other. Ethical questions abound, about exploring one of the last "pure" places on Earth, the
interests of science vs the interests of business, and who has the
"rights" to what pieces of land. I was intrigued by the
background info, so much so that I googled "Foja Mountains"
after finishing the book. If you like your romances mixed with some
adventure (and sprinkled with some spice) and exotic settings, you'll
enjoy More Than Paradise. Bold Strokes Books, $15.95, 9781933110691.
I really enjoyed Susan Smith's Burning Dreams, the sequel
to Of Drag Kings and the Wheel of Fate. In Dreams,
350 pages of intentional family, healing of hurt loved ones, celebration
of genderqueers, and just enough mysticism to intrigue even skeptics.
Rosalind, Taryn, Rhea, Joe, Goblin, Egyptia, Ellie, and Linda
are all back and are joined here by Rosalind's ex-husband, Paul,
who doesn't know Ros is now with a woman, and Misha, Joe's brother-in-law.
Reading this sequel without having read the first will be enjoyable
enough, but to get the nuances of the past-life relationships
between the characters, I suggest you read Of Drag Kings
first. Both Bold Strokes Books, $15.95. Burning Dreams:
9781933110622. Of Drag Kings and the Wheel of Fate: 9781933110516.
What happens when a TV network decides to make two of its female stars lovers?
In K.E. Lane's And Playing the Role of Herself, Caidence
Harris and Robyn
Ward star in Law and Order-type action shows which occasionally
share characters and plotlines. After Caid's co-star, Liz, discovers
the phenomenon of lesbian fan fiction about her character, she
pitches an idea to the show's writers. The powers-that-be decide
that Caid would be more accepted as a lesbian by audiences than
Liz and pair Caid with Robyn for a ratings-happy plotline. However,
the writers aren't the only ones who think Caid and Robyn make
a good match... (Whodathunk one of those would be Robyn's mother?!)
A fun, lesbian romp through Hollywood. Regal Crest, $21.95 paper,
It's interesting that Running with the Wind by Nell Stark was on
my to-read pile now, since I've been thinking
about sailing a lot. Something about driving near the San Francisco
Bay in the spring, watching the sailboarders and boats glide along…
I digress. In Stark's book, Corrie is a sailing instructor in
Rhode Island who nearly made the U.S. Olympic team. She carries
much resentment around about her brother, who not only made the
team but stole Corrie's girlfriend, too. Now, Corrie has friends-with-benefits
sex among her sailing school compadres. Quinn is studying to be
a veterinarian, but a friend coaxes Quinn to
take some time off over the summer and learn to sail. A quick
study, Quinn and her instructor Corrie find themselves gearing up for a regatta
together while fighting off the attraction between them. A fun
read with engaging characters - and a lovable dog named Frog,
Running with the Wind could have benefited from a glossary
of sailing terms for landlubbers. Bold Strokes, $15.95, 9781933110707.
Like Maria V. Ciletti's The Choice, reviewed in TLE
#28, Sumter Point by KG MacGregor is set in a nursing
home, but the similarities end there. In Sumter Point,
is a 24-year-old veterinary technician whose grandmother has been
admitted to a nursing home after a stroke. Beth is a 33-year-old
nurse there, and the older sister of one of Audie's high school
classmates. Unlike in The Choice, both of these characters
are out - Audie's grandmother is very accepting of it all, too
- so their coming together is hindered by age and lifestyle choices
(stable, responsible homebody vs carefree, partying, clubhopper).
Questions of trust, growing up, and doing what's right even when
it's hard inform this sweet story. Bella, $13.95, 9781594930898.
Best Lesbian Romance edited by Angela Brown straddles the line between
a Friday Night Read and Clit Lit. Many
of the stories are quite erotic, while others are truly more romantic.
Brown has collected a very talented group of writers for this
book, so I'm hard-pressed to name just a few favorites, but "Dreamtime"
by Fiona Zedde and "Not the End of Liner Notes" by Jewelle
Gomez are definite stand-outs. In "Liner Notes," a woman
inspired to dance when listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing Gershwin
signs up for a swing class: "Queers don't have marriage,
but we got classes in everything." I also loved the sweet,
tentative, reconciliation in "All You Can Think About"
by Rachel Rosenberg. Cleis, $14.95, 9781573442619.
It's been awhile since we've run a Clit Lit column, so there are many books here.
Our community is definitely prolific with its erotica!
always has been, apparently, as editors Victoria A. Brownworth
and Judith M. Redding demonstrate in their new anthology The
Golden Age of Lesbian Erotica 1920-1940. This collection includes
you'd expect in a collection like this - excerpts from Gertrude
Stein's Lifting Belly, Renee Vivien's The Muse of the
Violets, and Gale Wilhelm's We, Too, are Drifting and
Torchlight to Valhalla - but also includes translations
of work from lesser-known-in-the-U.S. authors from France and
Germany. The introduction is an informative piece of scholarship,
and while the stories themselves are sometimes more sensual than
explicitly erotic, there are definitely more graphic tales included,
with a variety of styles and tastes, similar to what one might
find in a modern-day Cleis or Alyson anthology. There's even a
precursor to today's fan fiction: Edwina Leonard's "Silent
Stars" from 1929, in which the protagonist has a threesome
with sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Brownworth also pays homage
to Tee Corinne who asked Brownworth to take on this project when
Corinne became ill. Magic Carpet Books, $17.95 paper, 9780977431144.
Cleis Press and series editor Tristan
Taormino have been collecting the Best Lesbian Erotica
for more than a decade. Emma Donoghue is the guest editor for
the 2007 collection, which features both edgy and sweet well-written
stories of lesbian lust. Favorites of mine in this latest edition
include "Sweet Thing" by Joy Parks, Anna Watson's "Homecoming
Queen," and "Voodoo and Tattoos" by Lynne Jamneck.
Most impressive, however, was the butch-femme twisting of familiar
tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Moby-Dick, and
Lolita in Peggy Munson's "Subtexts." Cleis, $14.95,
stories in Ultimate Lesbian Erotica, Alyson's yearly erotica
collection edited by Nicole Foster, are usually more cut-to-the-chase
than in most anthologies, so if that's your cup of tea, you'll
love the 2007 book, too. Stories I particularly enjoyed were The
Stock Contractor's Daughter by Rakelle Valencia, "The
Go-To Gal" by Teresa Noelle Roberts, and "Practice Makes
Perfect" by Kristie Helms. A theme of this particular collection
seems to be the unexpected: twist endings, dashed expectations,
and the breaking down of assumptions. Hot. Alyson, $15.95, 9781555839703.
Bold Strokes Books is back in the erotic anthology game with the fourth
edition in their Erotic Interludes series: Extreme Passions,
edited by Radclyffe and Stacia
Seaman. As the title and cover suggest, many of these stories
are kinkier than in previous Bold Strokes anthologies, but in others, the "extreme"
refers to the lengths some of the women in these tales go to get
what they want. Karin Kallmaker's "10 Quick and Easy Salads"
is a good example of this, in which Cindy seduces her upstairs
neighbor with Sweet and Sour Broccoli Slaw, Black Bean and Corn
Relish over Field Greens, and Mixed Peppers with Arugula. This
is the longest of the books in this column, with more than 300 pages of hot stories,
including "Executive Agenda" by Radclyffe, "Prey"
by Renee Strider, and the graphic story "Jericho" by
J.C. Chen. Bold Strokes, $15.95, 9781933110585.
A theme emerged as Therese Szymanski was going over the submissions for
Wild Nights: (Mostly) True Stories of Women Loving Women:
to appeal to the voyeur in the reader. So she packed this anthology
full of them, including some in which the narratives themselves
are the voyeurs. This is the case in one of the hottest stories
in the collection, "Brownout" by Brigit Futrelle. BJ
can hear her neighbor, Sarah, having sex with her boyfriend -
and can tell that Sarah's faking her orgasms. One night, the power
goes out in their building, and Sarah comes to BJ's place to borrow
candles. In short order, BJ's showing Sarah what's she been missing…
I also enjoyed the long-term relationship in "Forever"
by Amie M. Evans and the, um, unusual narrator in Szymanski's "The
Voyeur." Bella, $15.95, 9781594930690.
Editors Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia definitely love a
good ride. First they brought
us Rode Hard, Put Away Wet: Lesbian Cowboy Erotica (reviewed
and now they're back with Hard Road, Easy Riding: Lesbian Biker
Erotica. Whether you're in the driver's seat during a Dykes
on Bikes-type run, riding on the back hugging the biker's waist,
or watching from the sidelines longingly, you're sure to enjoy
this love affair between women, their bikes, and the women who
love both. My favorite was "Shifting" by Jess Davis,
which combines Catholic schoolgirl fantasies with The Wild
Ones. Harrington Park/Alice Street Editions, $16.95, 9781560235743.
Barbara Johnson, Karin Kallmaker, Therese Szymanski, and Julia Watts have
again teamed up for a volume of novellas in their New Exploits
series for Bella After
Dark. The first dealt with "fairy-tale lesbians" and
the second with "magical lesbians." The newest, Stake
Through the Heart, brings us new exploits of twilight lesbians.
Kallmaker's "Castle Wrath" is a fun and spooky story
about a "rather short, perky and modestly shaped American
girl from Lodi, California," who is competing for ownership
of a castle with a hottie from Manchester, England. "Running
with Stone Ponies" by Barbara Johnson features a thoroughbred-horse
breeder and a wealthy businesswoman who has lived several lifetimes.
Together they face a post-apocalyptic future. In Therese Szymanski's
"Elsewhen," a police officer crosses paths with an elusive
"superhero" who can't be captured on film. And Julia
Watts tells the story of a runaway given the "gift"
of eternal life in "We Recruit." Much fun all around.
Bella, $13.95, 9781594930713.
Speaking of vampires, two anthologies from Cleis Press, both edited by Pam
Keesey, are back in print: Daughters of Darkness ($14.95, 9781573442336)
with stories by Katherine V. Forrest, Jewelle Gomez, Pat Califia, and Robbi
Sommers, and Dark Angels ($13.95, 9781573442527) with work from Amelia
G, Lawrence Schimel, Cecilia Tan, and Renee M. Charles.
Thought there's not a lot of lesbian content in The Happy Birthday Book
of Erotica, edited by Alison Tyler, I wanted to mention it because it
did give me all sorts of fun ideas for birthday surprises. It's worth
checking it out for that alone. "Options" by Jacqueline Sinclaire
and "Birthday Spanking, with a Twist" by Rachel Kramer Bussel will
also appeal for more lesbianic reasons. Cleis, $14.95, 9781573442510.
Best Sex Writing 2006 edited by Felice Newman and Frederique Delacoste
collects essays, many previously published online, about sex. By far the most
interesting to me was "The Coming Boom" by Annalee Newitz, which
discusses research about women's sexuality: everything from arousal drugs
for women to studying women who "think off," that is, women who
can come without being touched. Also of note is Emily DePrang's "Where
the Truth Lies," in which the author was fired for sexual harassment,
basically for just being a lesbian. Cleis, $14.95, 9781573442374.
And also of note:
Ediciones B has released El Kama Sutra lesbiano, a Spanish-language
version of Kat Harding's The Lesbian Kama Sutra. The translation is
by Julia Quinn, and it's a $38.95 hardcover (ISBN-13: 9788466615143). The
English-language version of this book was reviewed in
New in Paperback
The Accidental, Ali Smith, Random House/Knopf, $13.95, 9781400032181.
Far From Xanadu, Julie Anne Peters, Little, Brown and Company, $7.99,
Leslie Larson, Three Rivers, $14, 9780307338013.
The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, Kenji Yoshino, Random
House, $15.95, 9780375760211.
Strange Piece of Paradise, Terri Jentz, St. Martin's/Picador, $15,
Tallulah!: The Life and Times of a Leading Lady, Joel Lobenthal, Harper/Regan,
It's officially spring and I'm still catching
up on lesbian mysteries from 2006, but I've got one long-awaited book that's
hot off the press as well.
She Waits by Kate Sweeney introduces ex-private
eye Kate Ryan, now a freelance nature photographer. Kate stops in Galena,
Illinois, to do a favor for some friends and help out Maggie Winfield, who doesn't
need or want help, thank you very much (Intaglio, $15.95, 9781933113401).
Maggie's Aunt Hannah disagrees and insists that Kate stay and look into the
strange happenings that have threatened Maggie's life. The cover seems to
indicate a supernatural element, and indeed there is a ghost, which I normally
would hate - but I didn't care. This classic cozy grabbed me from the first
page, as Kate quickly becomes immersed in a family and neighborhood where
she - and I - feel welcomed and at home. There's such a strong sense of bonding
among the "good guys" (who eventually include Kate's psychically
sensitive sister and bemused brother-in-law - and even the ghost), and the
characters are so likeable and well drawn, that I can't wait to spend time
with them again. Luckily, A Nice Clean Murder, second in the series,
in which Kate's brother-in-law inherits a cottage in Ireland, is now available.
Intaglio, $16.95, 9781933113784.
Gina L. Dartt's Unexpected Ties is another thoroughly enjoyable cozy
whodunit, with an interesting lesbian relationship and some hot
sex thrown in. Nikki and
Kate are a new lesbian couple in a small town in Nova Scotia,
and therefore the talk of the town. Kate is a mature, patrician
business owner embarking on her first lesbian relationship, while
Nikki is younger, country-raised, and working as a police dispatcher.
The relationship issues are nicely portrayed, as they get to know
each other's families and friends, weather the gossip, and bridge
their own differences. The mystery is a classic one, beginning
when the heir of the town's most powerful family is poisoned at
a charity dinner. This is the sequel to Unexpected Sparks,
but it stands quite well on its own. Bold Strokes, $15.95, 9781933110561.
A Matter of Degrees by Alex Marcoux incorporates
two of my least favorite things: supernatural elements and vast conspiracy
theories. Readers of The Da Vinci Code will recognize a lot of the
building blocks of this "ultimate conspiracy," including Mary Magdalene,
the Knights Templar, and the Freemasons. Marcoux takes it a step further,
however, into the realm of reincarnated ancient entities (Egyptian? Sumerian?
Alien?) and other places where I was unwilling to follow. The book opens with
a flashback to the ancient state of E.DIN, followed by a straight-woman network
reporter doing a story on secret societies, including the Freemasons. Lesbian
writer Jessie Mercer gets involved when her brother Steve dies of an apparent
suicide. Jessie learns that Steve had been cooperating with the network reporter,
prompting Jessie to try to infiltrate the Freemasons. The story is fast-paced
and Marcoux's research is impressive, especially on details of the Masons'
secret rituals. If you liked The Da Vinci Code for the conspiracy plot,
not just for the locations, you should give A Matter of Degrees a try.
Harrington Park Press, $19.95 paper, 9781560236115.
When you live in a gay and lesbian vacation destination
like Provincetown, you can become very possessive of your home. I'm hypercritical
of books set in Provincetown, because of course nobody who visits can know
the town like I do. Jessica Thomas gets over this high bar, partly because
her lesbian heroine, private eye Alex Peres, is a Portuguese Provincetown
native, not a visitor, and Thomas understands the difference. In The Weekend
Visitor, third and best in a series that includes Caught in the Net
and Turning the Tables, Alex is hired by dour Mary Sloan to help young
Maureen Delaney get evidence against her rapist. Maureen's story raises more
questions than it answers. Meanwhile, Alex also has another case that takes
her to New Orleans and the picturesque bayou country. I have some quibbles
- New Orleans seems untouched by Katrina; Alex still relies a little too much
on an inside track with the police (her brother is in line for chief) - but
overall The Weekend Visitor was well plotted, intriguing, and enjoyable.
Bella, $13.95, 9781594930546.
In Anticipation by Terri Breneman, lawyer Toni Barston is new to
the Fairfield, Missouri, prosecuting attorney's office. She is
assigned to work with seasoned investigator
Victoria Boggsworth, known as Boggs, to prosecute a serial killer.
Predictably, Toni and Boggs feel an immediate attraction. Then
the suspect escapes from custody and begins to kill again. The
mystery is well plotted and suspenseful, but the romance drove
me crazy. These women are both so closeted that one actually Googles
the other to get clues to her sexual preference. (What's the matter
with old-fashioned gaydar?) One of the main things they share
is their sense of humor, which includes making fun of fat women
and people who live in trailer parks. Call me politically correct,
or just cranky, but by the end, I was tempted to root for the
serial killer. Bella, $13.95, 9781594930553.
Aud Torvingen is back and better than ever! Aud is a Norwegian-born martial
artist and former cop, the enigmatic lesbian heroine of Nicola Griffith's
noir classics Blue Place (Harper, $13.95, 9780380790883)
and Stay (Vintage, $12.95, 9781400032303). Always, third
in the series, is in bookstores now. In this beautifully structured
novel, Griffith alternates between two stories. In one, Aud travels to Seattle
to rendezvous with her mother, a Norwegian diplomat, and take care of some
real estate business. The other story follows a women's self-defense class
Aud is teaching in Atlanta. As often happens in real life, the self-defense
class serves as a crash consciousness raiser for the students, although Aud
remains more existentialist than feminist. The Seattle story is full of revelations:
meeting Aud's mother is something akin to meeting Xena's mother, if she looked
like Judi Dench as M and behaved like Helen Mirren as the Queen. I'm only
halfway through my advance copy, but Griffith has already delivered more than
enough insight and incident for one novel, and the tension is mounting. Always
works fine if you haven't read the other two books in the series, but why
deprive yourself? Riverhead, $26.95, 9781594489358.
Learning from Our Mistakes
The Lambda Literary Finalist Reading at the San Francisco Public Library
each April is one of my favorite events, a wonderful celebration of our local
queer literati. This year's event was no exception, with great readers to
entertain us all, but it ended up being controversial, and ultimately, instructive,
with a positive outcome.
Peggy Munson, finalist in the Lesbian Debut Fiction category
for her novel Origami Striptease (reviewed in
was billed as one of the readers at this year's event. Since she is disabled
and can't travel to read in person, she and her publishers (Greg Wharton and
Ian Philips/Suspect Thoughts Press) arranged for her to "appear"
via a DVD in which she reads short excerpts from her novel. I
was sitting with Greg and Ian at the event, and when it became clear that
the event was ending without showing Peggy's DVD, we were all confused, wondering
if she had been forgotten.
Later we learned that Lambda Literary Foundation Board President Katherine
Forrest took responsibility for the decision not to screen the DVD for the
reading; she had, apparently, been told that it was "straight" erotica.
She has since told BTWOF that this decision was a mistake which she deeply regrets,
especially since emerging writers like Munson are exactly the kind of voices
that she and the Foundation want to support.
The excerpt Munson reads in the DVD includes reference to the female narrator
performing oral sex on a genderqueer character named Jack. I can see how someone,
hearing this out of context might think it was "straight," but in
this case, the context was clear: the novel was a finalist in the Lesbian
Debut Fiction category (all of the judges in that category had read the book
and deemed it an appropriate finalist in that category), and it was the winner
of Suspect Thought's Project:Queerlit contest. So it wouldn't have taken a
giant leap to believe that the excerpt on the DVD was, in fact, queerer than
it may have appeared at first glance. With so many outside the community making
assumptions about queer folks, it's important that we not do the same to each
other inside our community.
What is additionally troubling is how this censorship contributes
to the invisibility and silencing of disabled queers. Munson was not there
to present her work in person, to answer questions, and/or provide additional
context - she could not be there in person. Organizations such as the
Lambda Literary Foundation were founded to celebrate our writers' voices,
which do, of course, include the voices of writers with disabilities.
Both Forrest and LLF Executive Director Charles Flowers have
apologized profusely to both Munson and her publishers and, even better, they've
done their best to make amends. Munson's DVD has been screened at the Lambda
finalist readings in New York City and Boston. Flowers has also announced,
that in addition to this year's Lambda Literary Awards ceremony being wheelchair
accessible, for the first time in Lammy history the ceremony will be sign-language
interpreted. This is definitely a positive outcome for what both Forrest and
Flowers say was an unfortunate, regrettable mistake.
I love this excerpt from Munson's
on the matter:
"It may not seem like a big deal, and in some ways it isn't - not this
one thing. This moment is simply a useful springboard to talk about the repetitiveness
of such events (and the Lambda Literary Foundation, for the record, sent me
an apology). Oppression is a summation of phrases and gestures over a lifetime.
Random exclusionary gestures mirror a collective consciousness of systemic
oppression and violence, and this is what all marginalized people feel so
palpably. This is what I'm talking about. And it is, of course, an ideology
any queer organization should be actively fighting against in all of its forms."
What she said. May we all learn from this and go forward with greater openness
and fewer assumptions. -- Suzanne Corson
See the video in question for yourself:
The public library in Bentonville, Arkansas, has removed Felice Newman's
The Whole Lesbian Sex Book from their shelves after a father complained
that his teenage sons came across it while looking for books on military academies.
Initially the librarian moved the book to a less accessible location, but
the library's advisory board voted unanimously that the book should be removed
and a more "suitable" book on the topic found.
The father is threatening to sue the city for $20,000 ($10,000 per child,
as allowed by the obscenity statute in Arkansas). The city is refusing to
pay the complainant since "the book is not pornographic." The Library
Journal, which this library uses to select books for their collection,
agrees, saying that Newman's book is "suitable for all public libraries."
Author Felice Newman remarked, "Boys have been pouring over sexually
explicit materials in libraries since - well, since there have been libraries.
Why was a copy of my book in the military section? Well, sometimes young people
browsing the library shelves will tuck away a favorite book where they can
find it later. These two young guys are the very reason libraries must be
uncensored, and librarians must be free to order the books they feel will
benefit the public."
For more information:
To send the librarians a supportive note:
Update: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel and Blankets
by Craig Thompson have been returned to the shelves at the Marshall Public
Library in Marshall, Missouri. These graphic memoirs were removed last October
at the request of local residents at a public hearing. As a result of the
hearing, a materials selection committee was formed to put policies for the
library in place, and that committee has reinstated these books to the library's
For more information:
Venus Magazine: From Black LGBT Pride to Ex-Gay
Charlene E. Cothran founded Venus magazine 13 years ago, the name
a tribute to her friend Venus Landin who was killed by her ex-lover in 1993.
The mission of the magazine was to celebrate and empower African American
LGBT people, and Cothran promoted the magazine at Pride festivals, clubs,
and other queer events. Recently, Cothran renounced her lesbianism and changed
the focus of the magazine to helping those same people embrace God and leave
gay life. Reaction has been fevered from both former readers and advertisers
(most advertisers cancelled their ads after Cothran's announcement of the
change) and ex-gay proponents. The queer media and bloggers write about the
loss of one of the few print publications especially for LGBT communities
of color; of the problems with Cothran's reasoning and arguments, especially
those which state that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible; and
perhaps most poignantly, that Cothran has chosen to retain the name of the
magazine, which is seen as a slap in the face toward her murdered friend,
who was a lesbian activist in Atlanta. In a time where queer print publications
are fighting for survival - and with so few that target LGBT communities of
color - this change is definitely disheartening.
An interview with Charlene E. Cothran on Clay Cane's (black gay male writer)
Our Authors Online
GLBTPromo.com interviews Lambda Literary Award nominee Laurinda D. Brown:
T Cooper discusses touring for the paperback release of Lipshitz 6 with Publishers Weekly:
AfterEllen.com profiles Nicola Griffith:
...and playwright Trey Anthony:
San Francisco Chronicle interviews Sara Miles:
Bookslut.com interviews Alison Bechdel:
Read Rachel Kramer Bussel's interview with Peggy Munson:
Watch S. Bear Bergman perform (video) from Butch Is a Noun:
Listen to Alicia E. Goranson read (audio) from Supervillainz:
Justine Larbalestier is the recipient of the Popular Cultural Association's
2007 Susan Koppelman Award for her book Daughters of Earth: Feminist
Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (reviewed in
This award is given for the best anthology, multi-authored, or edited book in
feminist studies in popular culture.
The 2007 Publishing Triangle Awards were bestowed at a ceremony in New
York City on May 7. The winners (in bold) and finalists for this year's awards are as follows:
The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin)
Catherine Friend, Hit by a Farm (Marlowe & Company)
Marcia Gallo, Different Daughters (Carroll & Graf)
The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction
Bernard Cooper, The Bill from My Father (Simon & Schuster)
Rigoberto Gonzalez, Butterfly Boy (University of Wisconsin Press)
Kenji Yoshino, Covering (Random House)
The Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction: Women
Rebecca Brown, The Last Time I Saw You (City Lights)
Lisa Carey, Every Visible Thing (William Morrow)
Ivan E. Coyote, Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp Press)
The Ferro-Grumley Awards for Fiction: Men
Christopher Bram, Exiles in America (William Morrow)
Martin Hyatt, A Scarecrow’s Bible (Suspect Thoughts Press)
Stephen McCauley, Alternatives to Sex (Simon & Schuster)
The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Robin Becker, The Domain of Perfect Affection (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Kate Lynn Hibbard, Sleeping Upside Down (Silverfish Review Press)
Jennifer Rose, Hometown for an Hour (Ohio University Press)
The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry
Justin Chin, Gutted (Manic D Press)
Jim Elledge, A History of My Tattoo (Stonewall)
Greg Hewett, The Eros Conspiracy (Coffee House Press)
The Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Martin Hyatt, A Scarecrow’s Bible (Suspect Thoughts Press)
Alex McLennan, The Zookeeper (Alyson Books)
Eduardo Santiago, Tomorrow They Will Kiss (Little, Brown)
The Publishing Triangle's Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement alternates
each year between female and male writers. This year, the award goes to Andrew
Holleran. His work includes the highly-acclaimed 1978 debut novel, Dancer
from the Dance and last year's novella Grief. In addition, Nancy Bereano, founder of Firebrand Books,
won a special leadership award
in recognition of her "long and distinguished service to GLBT literature."
Calls for Submissions
Windy City Times 4th Annual GLBTQ Pride Literary Supplement, edited
by Kathie Bergquist and Owen Keehnen, is accepting poetry and fiction submissions
in keeping with this year's theme: Transgressions. Up to three poems (500
words max.) or fiction of not more than 500 words may be submitted via MS
Word attachment to WCTPride@gmail.com. Deadline May 30.
Sinister Wisdom #74 Activism Latina Lesbian Style. Guest Editor: Juanita
Ramos. Chicana/Latina/Latin American lesbians living all over the world
are invited to submit material. We want to know how our sisters define what
lesbian activism means to them in whatever way they see fit. Deadline: October
1, 2007. Writing guidelines at www.sinisterwisdom.org. Send submissions for
#74 only to: Juanita Ramos, P. O. Box 678 W.V.S., Binghamton, NY 13905-0678.
Felice Newman of Cleis Press is looking for explicit erotica depicting sex
between lesbian lovers. "The sex can be dirty, romantic, or playful;
vanilla or BDSM; edgy, taboo, or cross-orientation; involving twosomes, threesomes,
or moresomes. And, yes, even sweet or tender. … This is a collection of literate,
intelligent, provocative, arousing sex stories depicting hot lesbian sex in
the context of ongoing partnerships. I'm looking for stories so compelling
that lesbian readers who've stopped having sex will wonder why they waited
so long." Send short stories, novel excerpts, or literary nonfiction
of up to 5000 words. Previously published stories welcome; please note where
they appeared (name of publication and date). Include your name, email address,
phone number, and a brief (50 word) bio note. Send stories as Word or RTF
document attachment to: email@example.com,
subject line: Lesbian stories.
Deadline: July 1, 2007.
Editor Kristin Redmon is in the process of collecting autobiographical materials
and arranging photoshoots for The Bearded Lady Book¸ a photo essay
book about women with facial hair or beards. Contact Kristin at
for more information.
Answers to Lesbian Literary Quiz, Part 3
In the last few issues, we've printed some literary quizzes, courtesy of
the women from last winter's York Lesbian Festival. In
TLE #28, we ran
the final part of the quiz, which provided "last lines" from lesbian
novels. Here are the answers to that quiz:
1: The Female Man - Joanna Russ
2: Leave a Light on for Me - Jean Swallow
3: Crocodile Soup - Julia Darling
4: Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Alison
5: Orlando - Virginia Woolf
6: Common Murder - Val McDermid
7: Trumpet - Jackie Kay
8: Rubyfruit Jungle - Rita Mae Brown
9: Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
10: Desert of the Heart - Jane Rule
11: Patience and Sarah - Isabel Miller
12: The Fires of Bride - Ellen Galford
13: The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall
14: Stir-Fry - Emma Donoghue
15: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson
16: Lessons in Murder - Claire McNab
17: Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters
18: The Accidental - Ali Smith
19: Beebo Brinker - Ann Bannon
That's it for this issue of The Lesbian Edition. Thanks again for all you do to help spread the word about Books To Watch Out For.
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reading group members about our three editions, it helps increase our visibility - and helps people you know and love learn how to find
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Until next month,
for Books To Watch Out For
© 2007 Books To Watch Out For
Graphics © Judy Horacek
Books To Watch Out For
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