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by Richard Labonte
November 20, 2006
“Writing My Love,” by Claire McNab. Bella Books, 192 pages, $13.95 paper.
After 16 Carol Ashton mysteries and six Denise Cleever thrillers, every one briskly busy with disquieting murders and bloody mayhem, prolific Australian author McNab (she’s written two romances as well) has turned to something completely different. And satisfyingly silly. Vonny Smith – Victoria Vanderveer to her readers – writes books with titles like “The Sensual Stockbroker” and “Desire’s Desperate Drumbeat.” She’s also desperately in love – with her lady editor at Crimson Loom Press . So, with increasing fervor, she expresses her attraction through the characters in the book she’s writing, hoping to catch the editor’s eye. Former lovers, both of them bitter, complicate the plot; a shared love for dogs, both of them adorable, help bring author and editor together. “Writing My Love” is a saucy hoot of a book. Well, two books actually, since the book-within-a-book – Vonny’s romance-in-progress nestled inside McNab’s tongue-in-cheek story – is even more deliciously over-the-top.
“The Deaf-Mute Boy,” by Joseph Geraci. Terrace Books, 196 pages, $21.95 paper.
A mainstay of gay fiction is the attraction of the effete, aesthetic gay man, always older, to the sensual allure of the mysterious underclass, always younger. In this novel, gay archaeology professor Michael Burke, attending a conference in a Tunisian port town, is drawn to 15-year-old Nidhal, a lithe deaf-mute lad he meets on the beach. After seeing the boy bullied by a gang of older youths, he takes him under his wing – an attraction fueled by white man’s colonial guilt as much as by sexual attraction. The plot’s not all that original, but Dutch author Geraci invests his characters – among them, a local religious leader who warns the good professor not to meddle in the boy’s life – with an array of nuanced emotions that gives the slim novel seductive heft. The backdrop of Tunisian medina life – the ancient core of many North African towns, where most tourists never venture – is depicted with particular detail; the real-life tension between the ruling socialist government and Islamic fundamentalists thrums in the book’s background, adding a level of reality to the tale.
“Getting It,” by Alex Sanchez, Simon & Schuster, 224 pages, $16.95 hardcover.
Fifteen-year-old Carlos is a virgin. Worse, he’s never kissed a girl. His wardrobe’s dull, his body needs work, and his room’s a mess – just like his love life. One night, bored, he watches a TV show where queer guys add zip to a straight guy’s sense of style. Carlos thinks of Sal, the gay guy at school maybe a queer eye can help him get a girl. Sal agrees – as long as Carlos helps Sal found a Gay-Straight Alliance at their high school. There is one problem, though – Carlos is worried his three closest friends will find out he’s paying a “fag” to groom him, and might even think he’s queer himself. Sanchez’s novel covers ground – school homophobia, coming out of the closet (one of Sal’s “straight” chums does), straight girls as great gay allies – that’s familiar from his four earlier books, particularly the “Rainbow” trilogy. But the twist of focusing on a nongay kid as the central character gives this amusing tale of teenage tolerance a universality that, in a perfect world, might attract straight teen readers.
“Bi Guys: Firsthand Fiction for Bisexual Men and Their Admirers,” edited by Ron Suresha. Southern Tier Editions 230 pages, $16.95 paper.
As in real life, this stimulating collection’s splendidly fluid perception of bisexuality bumps up against biphobia, internalized and otherwise, as much as it celebrates sexuality’s spectrum. Three stories focusing on aspects of biphobia are: “CCBC,” by Marc Anders, in which the married male character seeking sex is rebuffed when the object of his attraction spots his wedding ring; “His Games,” by Thom Wolf – one of the book’s best – in which a gay man is consumed by guilt when his sex partner’s wife spies on them; and “Bedroom Alias,” by Lou Dellaguzzo, in which the married male character flees back to his wife when his tryst with a gay man might be exposed. Larry Lawton’s “Hard Dick Surprise,” the least literary but most rawly celebratory of the stories, is about a husband and wife who just like an extra dick in their bed. Other standouts include Simon Sheppard’s “Permafrost” and J.M. Bogino’s “Threshold,” both about nervous “straight” boys having sex with confident “straight” boys the experience on that sexual spectrum where bisexuality is at its most queer.
“Agony clutched Velda’s heart in a vice of suffering. She choked back a cry of pure grief. Davina knew not what she said! Someone to comfort Velda at home? Cruel irony that Davina’s words, intended to console, instead plunged, dagger-like, into Velda’s heart.” I click my tongue. Tsk! Just the sort of thing Diana’s editor’s eyes would be drawn to. In the heat of creation, I failed to notice that I had Velda’s heart in a vice of suffering at the top of the paragraph and stabbed at the end of the paragraph. Both images are wonderfully evocative, but unfortunately they clash with each other. I quickly amend the final sentence.
-from “Writing My Love,” by Claire McNab
BRITISH LESBIAN CRIME WRITER Val McDermid and her civil union partner, American publisher Kelly Smith (Bywater Books), who now lives in England, have teamed up to found Bloody Brits Press. The new American imprint will feature original novels and reissues – including McDermid’s six Kate Brannigan novels, featuring hard-boiled PI Kate Brannigan in a series that began in 1992 but is now out of print in the United States. “I know from my own experience how hard it is for British writers to get a toehold in America,” says McDermid. “The big publishing houses only have room for a limited number of what they see as potential bestsellers. That means a lot of excellent books don’t make it across the Atlantic…and yes, it’s true, the only way I can get my (older) books in print is to do it myself!” McDermid’s newest thriller, “The Grave Tattoo,” was released in the U.K. earlier this year, and is scheduled for American publication in February 2007… SUSPECTS THOUGHTS PRESS has launched two new imprints in an effort to broaden its readership beyond gay and lesbian. The first two titles from She Devil Press – “furiously feminist,” say Suspect Thoughts Press founders Greg Wharton and Ian Philips – are “V,” by Natalya Fink, and “Girl on a Stick,” by Kathleen Bryson. The first Three Roads Press title – “an alternative to the conventional” – is Stephen Beachy’s two-novella collection, “Some Phantom/No Time Flat .”