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By Keith Orr
A vibrant gay literary culture requires four elements: authors, readers, publishers and bookstores. This column regularly deals with the first two, and occasionally with the last. However, the forgotten third element of publishing is critical. Major houses regularly publish fiction by authors who have acquired a mainstream audience such as Michael Cunningham or Dan Savage. But they are less likely to take a chance on a debut novel or a poet whose bibliography consists of chapbooks.
Enter the need for LGBT presses. Literary gay presses have been around since at least 1977 when Felice Picano formed SeaHorse Press. Many great ones have come and gone: Alyson, Naiad and Firebrand to name a few. Over the next few months I’ll be looking at some of the survivors and some of the newcomers.
Wilde City Press has been one of the more prolific new presses. Gay romance and gay erotica were their first niches. They have since gained a reputation for mainstream gay literature with works like “Looking After Joey,” the latest novel from Lambda Award Winner David Pratt, and Mark Abramson’s “Memoir, Sex, Drugs, and Disco: San Francisco Diaries” from the pre-AIDS era.
There are very few presses which cross the continuum of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and gay men. Wilde City is primarily a gay press. (I’ll be looking at other presses in coming months.) In the tradition of Felice Picano, the founders of Wilde City, and most of these presses, are authors who see a need not being met by mainstream presses.Geoffrey Knight and Ethan Day founded the press in 2013 to meet such a need.
‘Saving Julian’ by Mason Stokes
Saving Julian is the story of three men: Paul Drucker, Julian and Aaron. Aaron is a grad student who needs a roommate. Instead of the usual fellow grad student he comes across Julian. Julian is an escort who gets hired by Paul Drucker, famous leader of an ex-gay ministry. Incredibly, Julian is hired to carry Drucker’s luggage. Nonetheless, when the press discover them travelling together, the story gets complicated. Julian has great sympathy for Drucker, perhaps because he treats him as a human being instead of a sex object, a unique experience for him.
Aaron is puzzled by it all and joins Drucker’s class, ostensibly to cure himself of Same Sex Affective Disorder (SADD), but actually he’s there to study Drucker. Though Aaron can’t remember the last time he had sex, his attendance in Drucker’s class ends up creating sexual fireworks.
While the title suggests that Drucker is trying to save Julian from his gay lifestyle, it is just as true that Aaron is trying to save Julian from Drucker. The story line would be easy fodder for slapstick. Instead Stokes infuses the characters with humanity which would make slapstick ring false. While there is plenty of humor, the book is a darkly comic take on the world of ex-gay ministries.
‘I’m The Guy You Hate’ by Isa K
Your boyfriend is kinda crazy. It’s a bit about commitment issues, or perhaps even commitment to a sexual orientation issue. But a lot of people have these issues. And you love him. All of your friends tell you he’s crazy. But you love him.
But it turns out they are correct. It turns out he is mentally ill and is temporarily institutionalized after a very public suicide attempt. Your attentions may be making his condition worse. All of the people around the man you love treat him horribly. They only see what they distrust and dislike, unable to see that mental illness is at the heart of their hatred. This is not an easy book to read. The author even states in a blog entry, “Obviously I was aware of the fact that the two [main characters] were going to be difficult to like … I mean, the title of the book is ‘I’m The Guy You Hate.’ Come on.”
This is the life of Jonathan Ordell, PR guy by day and writer behind “Dear Fairy Gaymother” by night. However, Jonathan is not very good at taking the advice he dishes out.
Both of these books would have a hard time getting attention at Simon & Schuster or Penguin, but they are well served by Wilde City. Again from Isa K’s blog:
“‘I’m The Guy You Hate’ is M/M, it has some erotica in it, but it is fundamentally a book about mental illness and so I knew I couldn’t send it to my normal editor because I knew they would want to stick a naked, headless torso on the cover. I felt pretty strongly that wasn’t appropriate and I just didn’t want to fight about it. So I went about looking for another publisher.”
Those of us in the queer/LGBT community know we don’t always fit in society the way society would like us to. Our authors are also part of a separate gay culture and need publishers which recognize their unique qualities.