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19 February 2015 @ 02:36 pm
NOTE: I tried to post this review of the following book to, where the book is advertised, and the review was rejected.

When She Was Good: Best Lesbian Erotica, edited by Tristan Taormino, introduced by Ali Liebegott (Cleis Press, 2014).

Cleis Press introduced the Best Lesbian Erotica series in 1995, and a new volume has appeared every year since then. From time to time, Cleis has selected stories from the series to be republished, usually in themed anthologies. This one is a kind of best-of-the-best collection.

The title story, “When She Was Good” by Betty Blue, is about a dykey seducer. According to Sadie, the narrator: “Tib was a master of misdirection. While you were watching her left hand, the right was stealing your heart straight through your rib cage.” In a dramatic scene, Sadie meets Tib on a hot summer day while Tib is “playing” a naked blonde in a canyon outside the small western town where Sadie works as a waitress. Sadie is shocked but fascinated, and willing to learn more about Tib. The sex in this story is hot, but a clash of expectations leads to mutual disillusionment. Tib is revealed as a woman with two extremely different identities.

Identities or roles, imposed or self-chosen, seem to be one of the themes of this collection. In Peggy Munson’s “The Storm Chasers,” an Amish girl explores her desires before she must decide whether to make a commitment to the community in which she was raised. There are butches and femmes, mature women and teenage girls, and even a ghost and a family of vampires in these stories.

According to Tristan Taormino, first editor of the BLE series, a major theme in the book is transgression. As she explains in a foreword: “As queer people, we have already challenged one powerful norm by claiming our queerness. So when we tell stories of longing, desire, love, affection and sex, those stories are, by definition, outside of dominant mainstream culture. But the college kid, upper-crust society lady, pro-domme, bootblack boi, female cop, butch Daddy, grocery store clerk, and others who inhabit the twenty-two stories in this book go way past the point of queer lust and fucking.”

The contributors are a good mix of promising new writers in the field and skilled veterans, and the equal-opportunity approach of the editors of the Best Lesbian Erotica series is one of its hallmarks. The writers represented in this collection are (in alphabetical order): Valerie Alexander, D. Alexandria, Jacqueline Applebee, A. Lizbeth Babcock, L. Elise Bland, Betty Blue, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Chandra S. Clark, Isa Coffey, Shanna Germain, Alicia E. Goranson, Roxy Katt, D.L. King, Tamai Kobayashi, Missy Leach, Catherine Lundoff, Peggy Munson, Aimee Pearl, Radclyffe, Nan Rogue, Miel Rose, and Anna Watson. This book is a feast of compelling sexual fantasies.
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17 February 2015 @ 11:48 am
NOTE: this book is due to be released in May 2015. This reviewer got a pre-publication copy for review.

Portraits at an Exhibition by Patrick E. Horrigan (Lethe Press)
Reviewed by Jean Roberta.

The structure of this novel appears at first to have too many frames in every sense. The third-person narrative centered on a gay-male art lover named Robin is interspersed with descriptions of the portraits in a New York art gallery that Robin studies as a means of understanding his own life as well as distracting himself from it. Other characters, including a female security guard and a psychologist who may or may not be the man who could save Robin from his demons, enter the gallery and star in their own streams of consciousness.

The impression of a chorus of voices, or an exhibition of portraits (literal and figurative) resolves itself into a clear pattern after the first few pages. Once the reader has adjusted to the quick changes of tone, the effect is rich and poignant. Here Robin reads a sign that introduces the exhibition of oil portraits:

“Today, portraiture is ubiquitous: people stare out at us from newspapers, magazines, and websites; movies and TV shows contain countless ‘close-ups’; our own faces adorn ID cards, passports, driver’s licenses, and online networking sites; snapshots fill our wallets and photo albums; pictures and family and friends cover our walls at home and our desks at work” [passage in bold in the novel].

Robin is reminded of his own collection of photographs:

“He had finally put away the picture of Brian after weeks of pretending it wasn’t really over. Now there was just the one of Stephen [Robin’s deceased twin] and himself when they were seven years old, dressed for Halloween as Batman and Robin (he always came second—‘Little Squirt’ Stephen used to call him), and the photo of the two of them, arm in arm, on the day of their high school graduation.”

Robin continues reading:

“The camera’s ability to produce an accurate mirror reflection of whatever it sees in the world is perhaps the most vital legacy of the Renaissance portrait.”

The real-life circumstances behind each portrait are explained on signs, but Robin, who dropped out of a Ph.D. program in art history, is already well-aware that art comes from life. While studying Portrait of a Boy by John Singer Sargent, Robin notices that the boy’s mother is painted behind him, fading into the darkness of the background. She holds a book about the War of 1812, from which she reads aloud to hold the boy’s attention. To Robin, the woman looks like a servant, while the beautiful boy in the foreground shows the unconscious arrogance of privileged youth. Robin reads:

“In April 1890, Saint-Gaudens [the boy’s father] expressed a desire to sculpt a portrait of Sargent’s twenty-year-old sister Violet, in exchange for one by Sargent of Saint-Gaudens’ ten-year-old son, Homer.”

Robin considers the status of the two women and the boy as items of exchange between two successful male artists. As a university student, he studied the work of trendy theorists on the politics of inequality, but his sensitivity to the feelings of those who are treated as less-than (“squirts”) can be traced back to his own boyhood.

The contrast between physical and spiritual beauty, and Robin’s awareness of his own esthetic  snobbery, are threads that run through his consciousness. As a man in his thirties, he has moved uncomfortably beyond youth, but he hasn’t yet reached middle age; he is looking for love as well as sex while he is still able to attract attention. Like so many others, Robin is afraid he might never find everything he wants in one Significant Other. He is haunted by a fear of failure on several levels.

The reader is taken on a tour through the gallery as Robin studies Portrait of a Young Man by Sandro Botticelli, Self-Portrait in Fur Cloak by Albrecht Durer, a portrait by Velasquez of his Moorish apprentice and former slave, Juan de Pareja, and Portrait of an Old Man by Hans Memling. Robin’s loneliness, his self-doubt, his hopes and desires are mirrored in the stunningly lifelike portraits of various men from the late 1400s. Few of Robin’s questions are answered by the end of the novel – and his most urgent question is whether he has contracted AIDS, that modern equivalent of a terrifyingly infectious, incurable disease from a past century. Luckily for the reader, his encounters with the living and the dead serve to counteract his tendency to be self-absorbed.

What this novel lacks in speed it makes up for in depth. Patrick Horrigan’s study of the human condition in our time shows the continuing influence of Renaissance humanism. Polymaths of the fifteenth century, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Pico della Mirandola, would probably feel at home in Robin’s world.
The next contributor in the blog tour is L.C. Spoering.

Check out the interview:
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05 September 2014 @ 10:17 pm
Note: Both Rebecca Lynne Fullan and Jean Roberta are contributors to Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire.  See more details at the bottom of the interview.
JR: 1. You’re quite a diverse writer as well as an academic. How do you handle writing in various genres? For example, does your involvement in the theater world inspire your fiction-writing?

RLF: I have always liked to write all kinds of things. Everything cross-pollinates in a mysterious way that I don’t quite understand. I mean, often it’s what I call productive procrastination—right now, for example, I planned to work on my dissertation proposal, but I am writing this instead. I often play various kinds of writing and projects off of each other—sometimes with exciting success, and sometimes in a way that creates a tangled mess of getting nothing much done.

More interestingly, though, I find the energy of one kind of writing/thinking/brain work directly feeds the energy of other kinds. I don’t exactly know how to explain that, except that it's pretty clear that it happens. Last year, I was in the end throes of working toward my oral exam for my PhD, and I noticed that it was exactly ten years since I’d been in the same end throes with my undergraduate thesis—and both of these were the only times I’d come close to doing the poem-a-day writing challenge that comes around every April. I hadn’t previously associated the academic writing intensity with the creative writing intensity, but now that I see it, I think it’s not at all coincidental. My vague dream-project right now is some kind of little book that collects all the vibrant, off-or-on-topic creative activities that academics do as the flip side of their dissertations.

Theater and fiction, for me, are intimately connected. They are the most vibrant forms of story-making I engage with. Theater, I think, can remind me that all story-making is collaborative, even though fiction can seem like one singular product from one singular brain. We are always creating with and for others, even when we don’t know who those others are or will be.

JR: 2. I once promised my long-term female partner that I would never write about her (or a thinly-disguised version) in my fiction. Have you and your partner made any similar pact?

RLF: Interesting! My wife and I (just married this summer, hooray!) have made no such promises, perhaps because we are both writers, and story-making and eroticism are not necessarily discrete, separable things in my mind, nor, I think, in hers. Aside from this, I never base my characters off of real people in a wholesale way, where you could say—oh, look, it’s me!— though certainly character traits and little quirks and aspects of real life sneak in. I find it distracting and too much of a burden to be working from life in a more direct way.

It is tricky, writing about women having sex with each other, because I assume that people will be like, my, you have sex with a woman, you must have this kind of sex in this way and what you’re writing in erotica must be exactly what you like/do/want, etc. And of course that’s very layered and complicated, both true and untrue. I think erotica can feel embarrassing—to read, to write—precisely because it calls the question of all of these dynamics and atmospheres and tones which are erotically charged in other types of writing, but which can veil themselves if the sex is not explicitly present and part of the story’s purpose. For example, there’s a dangerous feel to the world of “Our Woman,” and I am serious about what the story (and its danger) are exploring politically, but there’s also a desperate atmosphere because that’s sexy to me, and, since it’s now in an erotica anthology, presumably to others. Erotica can reveal that, can make the nuances of desire explicit and sexualized, and that is something that makes me nervous, although obviously I have some commitment to it as well.

That’s a bit off-track from your question, but it has to do with the feeling of high personal stakes that may have led to the pact you and your partner have—and while my wife and I do not share such a pact, I think we can both feel those stakes.

JR: 3. Is there anything about you that would surprise your readers?

RLF: Oh my, I hope so. I mean, I hope I even have readers of the sort who have made any impression of me beyond reading whatever piece I have in whatever forum they encounter it.

I suppose a casual reader might be surprised about the breadth of my work and my tastes. So far, I have not used pen names for anything, though using them can also be a fun and liberating choice for a writer. But I've chosen not to because I am one person, who wants to write about Catholicism and about fucking and about literature and about various other things—and I want to stand by my own complexity, and I figure other people are also very complex and will appreciate seeing that in me. I have always been struck by the idea that being pure is being made of only one thing. I’m not pure. I’m not made of only one thing—and I reach out in that truth about myself in the hopes that others share similar truths and want such truths made visible in ways they are often not.

Beyond that—I don’t know! I sometimes do canning projects, even though I have a little New York City apartment kitchen. My favorite color is red.

JR: 4. Do you have any phantom careers: jobs or roles you like to fantasize about that you haven’t pursued in real life?

RLF: Sure! When I was a little kid, I wanted to be the first actress-who-wrote-her-own-plays on the moon. I have, at this point, written a play that I've also performed in, but I have not done it on the moon, and, though I don't know if it would deter me from the adventure of space were it directly available, I do get motion sick now that I'm an adult and so find the actual imagined process of space travel more daunting. So I don't know if “on the moon” is in the cards for me, though I suppose only time will tell.

When deciding to pursue an academic career, one of the motivating factors was that it was the most delineated and realistic career path I could at all see myself enjoying. That's obviously ridiculous, given how difficult it is to get academic jobs, etc., but it's also true. My career desires are very impractical and unstructured, for the most part.

JR: 5. Your story, “Our Woman,” is a powerfully believable fantasy. Would you like to explain what inspired it? I’m sure our readers would welcome an excerpt!

RLF: Thank you so much for that description—I am very pleased that you find it so. It's hard for me to  remember the precise inspiration for the story. Honestly, I think my first thought was that I wanted to write an erotic piece that had an edge to it, psychologically, sexually, atmospherically, and that I wanted to feature fisting. You know, the deep thematic stuff first.

As the story developed, though, I realized it really was about these impossible power dynamics we find ourselves in, and the ways in which violence and coercion can disrupt and prevent the kinds of loving personal connection with others that most of us long for-- but then also how person-to-person relationships can interrupt, change, invert, and inspire political choices and moral stance. The narrator, Lacey, grows up, as we all do, in this astonishingly unjust and violent and strange and confusing society, but grows up processing it as normal and ok-- as, I think, most of us do-- and eventually she's offered a choice to understand more of what is around her or continue in her ignorance. That choice is catalyzed by her personal relationship to Sarah, who is enslaved as a political prisoner and given to Lacey's family, and certainly by erotic desire, and I think that's also pretty common and one of the awesomely powerful things about sex-- it can pull you out of what you know, what you expect of yourself and the world. That doesn't have to be good or life-giving, but it certainly can be.

Sarah and Lacey's father, the other two characters of import in the story, have both relinquished their political pasts because of the harsh repression those pasts have brought on them, and that process puts them into this terrible relationship to each other as slave and master.

Here's an excerpt for you, from the moment when Lacey learns that Sarah is a slave:

“Our Woman is not a slave,” I said. “She wants to be here with us.”
The man chuckled and didn’t say anything else on the subject. The next time Our Woman and I were alone I burned with shame and questions and startled visibly when she said my name.
“Lacey, will you come help me peel these potatoes?”
I walked over and picked up a potato and a knife. My hands shook. I set them down again. Our Woman was peeling steadily, not looking at me.
“Why do you think I have a brand?” she said at last. Her voice was calm and almost kind. “Why do you think I am called ‘Your Woman,’ instead of by a name? You have heard other people speak of their Women and Men. You must have understood before now.”
“I didn’t,” I said. It was a lie, but it was also not a lie. Our guests were so infrequent: the whole pattern of life I understood was contained among my father and Our Woman and me. “I thought—I thought you were Our Woman because you loved me. I thought you wanted to take care of me.” I heard my own words in the silence, childish, need-swollen. I picked up the potato and the knife. I began to peel. “Please tell me the truth, Woman. Do you—” I was struck with the horror of it, the obviousness of it—“Do you have a name? Have you had a name all along, for years—”
“Yes,” she said. “I have a name. I had one. I haven’t heard it since the war.”
I peeled furiously and sliced the top layer of skin off of a finger along with the potato peel. Our Woman put her hands on mine. She took the knife from me and laid it down.  My cut finger burned and stung where she touched it. I looked at her face, and while her voice and hands remained so steady, her face was not calm. It was a wilderness of feeling.  She squeezed my hands hard and I gasped with the pain. I thought of how she was always near me, with knives, with fire, with water, with rocks.
“My father trusts you,” I said, wondering.
“To an extent,” she answered.
“To the extent of me.” I paused, trying to choose my words carefully. “And I trust you to the extent of me.”

Leave a comment on any post in the Forbidden Fruit blog tour to be entered into a random draw to win one of these great prizes. Prizes include a paperback copy of Girls Who Score, lesbian sports erotica edited by Ily Goyanes, Best Lesbian Romance 2011 edited by Radclyffe, Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories edited by Sacchi Green, an ebook of Ladylit’s first lesbian anthology Anything She Wants, and a bundle of three mini-anthologies from Ladylit: Sweat, A Christmas to Remember, and Bossy. All of these titles contain some stories written by the fabulous contributors to Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire. You must include an email address in your comment to be entered into the draw.
Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire is available direct from the publisher, Ladylit ( or from Amazon, Smashwords, and other good retailers of ebooks. Check out for all purchasing information.

Next stop on the blog tour:
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15 July 2014 @ 01:02 am
Outline of nameless (so far) book about censorship in Canada, 1980s to the Present

  1. Roots: The Legal Basis of Censorship in Canada

  • Licensing Act, UK, 1662, bans publication of certain material (a lingering effect of Puritan rule?)

  • Society for the Suppression of Vice founded by William Wilberforce, 1802

  • Introduction of a compulsory education system in Britain & its colonies, 1837 – growing concern about reading-matter that could be read by  women, children, the “lower orders”

  • The Obscene Publications Act (“Lord Campbell’s Bill”) 1857, grandfather of all subsequent legislation, including a later Obscene Publications Act in Canada, 1959

  1. The New Feminism

  • The legacy of Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and other “First Wave” feminists, leading to the vote for women (nationally in 1920, earlier in some provinces & territories) , and the legal definition of women as “persons”

  • Brief overview of Second Wave feminism, which began with printed works of theory (Thinking About Women, The Female Eunuch, Man’s World, Woman’s Place, The Dialectic of Sex, The Politics of Housework, the works of Andrea Dworkin, et al.), circa 1968-1971.

  • Founding of provincial “action committees” and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women following the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 1968

  • The rise of a Dworkinite definition of sexually-explicit material as inherently oppressive to women (not present in the earliest “Second Wave” theories)

  • The clash of feminist advances (e.g. liberalized divorce, women’s greater access to relatively well-paid jobs) with the “sexual revolution” as defined by heterosexual men

  • The rising visibility of gay men and lesbians after the Stonewall Riots in New York, and the decriminalization of sex between men in 1968 under Pierre Trudeau’s government

  • Second-Wave feminist demand for protective laws as parallel to “First Wave” feminist support for age-of-consent laws, legislation against prostitution and the banning of alcohol.

  1. The Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s

  • Conflict at “Sex and the State” conference at Barnard College, U.S.A. 1982

  • The rise of AIDS in the 1980s

  • Bath-house raids

  • The Minneapolis and Indianapolis Ordinances, drafted by Dworkin and McKinnon, 1982/83

  • The Charter of Equality Rights, Canada, 1982

  • The Body Politic (Toronto, 1971-1987) on trial for obscenity, 1982 (first charged 1977)

  • The Fraser Report on Pornography and Prostitution, 1985

  • Books ordered by Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium (Vancouver) first stopped at the border by Canada Customs (1987)

  • Trouble at the Third International Feminist Book Fair, Montreal, 1988: shots fired against “appropriation of voice/culture” as well as “porn” (despite the presence of erotic publications)

  • Broadside magazine (Toronto, 1978-88) as opponent of “appropriation”

  1. The Wars Expand: The 1990s and Beyond

  • The split in the Women’s Press collective (Toronto) over “appropriation”

  • (possibly) The withdrawing of Herotica 7 (with a theme of interracial/intercultural sex) by the collective of Down There Press in San Francisco, 2003, as part of the lingering feminist opposition to “appropriation”

  • The trial of Bad Attitude magazine (Boston) in Canada: the Butler decision, 1992

  • The banning of Exit to Eden (Hollywood movie based on Anne Rice erotic novel of the same name) by the Saskatchewan Film Classification Board, 1994, based on provincial legislation

  • The ruling that Canada’s laws against “keeping a common bawdy house,” “living off the avails of prostitution,” and “soliciting” are unconstitutional, 2010

  • Current conflict over laws regarding the sex trade, and vagueness of censorship laws

  • Conclusion: no final definition of subjects that deserve to be banned or censored is possible.

This is what I have so far. I don't have a deadline, a schedule or a contract. If the outline meets with approval, it should give me enough to do for the next year.
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15 July 2014 @ 12:53 am
During my time off from teaching, I have kept up with my posts for other blogs, written reviews and produced an outline for the book that the director of the local university press wants me to write about censorship in Canada in the 1980s & 90s.

I never have enough time to write fiction. Several calls-for-submissions are staring me in the face, but so are the remaining books I feel I should review while their plots are still fresh in my mind.

I need to re-read (and make a detailed outline of) Death by Silver before I teach it for the first time in September.

The transfer of most of my books from the home library to my amazing shelf-lined office at the u. is about 3/4 finished. I will never have such sturdy shelves at home: planks half an inch thick, resting on metal screwed into concrete-block walls. I have six shelves on one wall, and five each on the other two. It is a library to last for all time, unlike the five shelves at home made of particleboard that are bending and swaying under the weight of books.

I've already discovered the inconvenience of having most of my books at school rather than at home -- can't use them at home unless I plan ahead. This will have to be my strategy. I wrote a brief piece on The Perfumed Garden (originally written in Arabic in the late 1300s/early 1400s, then translated into English by Sir Richard Burton) for the Circlet Press series on "dirty books" that have influenced current erotic writers. Unfortunately, I was told there is no room for my piece until next year. Well, if it never gets sandwiched in anywhere on the Circlet site, I can probably find another use for it.
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11 July 2014 @ 08:48 pm
Hadrian’s Lover by Patricia Marie Budd (New Generation Publishing, 2013).

Imagine a world that has fallen into chaos because of overpopulation and global warming; according to many, this future is unavoidable unless drastic measures are taken to prevent it. Now imagine Hadrian, a land of peace and plenty in a newly-temperate zone in what was once Canada, including Hudson Bay. This country features gender equality, political stability, a “green” economy, universally-accessible health care and education. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

This is the setting for a fantasy novel that functions as a political allegory. The four founding principles of the nation are: “Hadrian’s chosen lifestyle is homosexual; Hadrian is a safe haven for homosexuals; Hadrian’s goal is to create and maintain a stable human population; Hadrian will create an ecologically sound balance between humanity and nature.” All babies result from officially-approved in-vitro fertilization, or else they are aborted. The logic behind this reversal of orthodox sexual morality in the world as we know it is that social systems run by heterosexual males are driving the human race to the brink of extinction through violence, including the rape of the earth. This argument is hard to refute.

Despite the apparent strangeness of a culture in which all children are raised by same-sex couples, and teenagers either date same-sex classmates or decide they are not “ready” for a sexual/romantic relationship, the characters are believable. Families consisting of two “papas” or two “mamas” and their one or two children are shown to be close and nurturing – except in exceptional cases.

The author is a high school English teacher, and high school students are in the forefront of a plot about sexual awakening and social control. The story of Todd, a neglected boy with a widowed father, is told partly in chapters by a traditional third-person narrator, partly in news clips by a journalist, Melissa Eagleton, and partly in court transcripts that reveal the flaws in a social system designed to eliminate “deviance.”

What happens to Todd, who at first appears to be a “late bloomer,” is heartbreaking, but the narrative style avoids melodrama. Todd’s dilemma is echoed in the lives of the two “papas” who take an interest in him, Geoffrey and Dean. The reader gradually learns that the relationship between the two middle-aged men began years earlier when Geoffrey rescued Dean from one of the “re-education camps” in which young people suffering from “sexual confusion” are “helped” to discover their latent homosexuality and become fully-functioning members of society. Unfortunately, a past that includes “re-education” is much like a past designation as a “young offender:” it carries a stigma which keeps the “re-educated” out of the most prestigious jobs for life.  The alternative to a “cure” is worse:  exile to the outside world, where disease, starvation and violence await, or assisted suicide.

What raises this tragedy above the level of a sermon is the richness of the secondary characters. Everyone involved with Todd has a recognizable motive, and most of the characters have good intentions. Even the camp administrator whose hatred and abuse of Todd are far beyond the guidelines of “therapy” in Hadrian is not simply a cartoon villain; he is a complex man with his own tragic past.

The nation-wide scandal with Todd at the centre results in the much-needed liberalization of Hadrian’s laws and culture. The novel ends on a realistically hopeful note, although the effects of a lifetime of social conditioning are shown to be impossible to shake off just because the zeitgeist has changed. The reader (like the viewer of a tragedy, according to Aristotle) is moved to compassion.

Although this novel works as it was clearly intended to do, I would have liked to know more about the lesbian citizens of Hadrian. In general, this novel doesn’t meet the Bechdel test (invented by the cartoonist, Alison Bechdel):  there have to be at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than males. On the level of style, this novel includes typos, dangling modifiers, imprecise word choices, and an excessive number of exclamation marks. Most of these are fairly easy to skim over, but they give the book an unnecessarily amateurish look.

Despite its flaws, this book is a must-read that bravely tells the truth about “underage” sexuality. As the author explains in the foreword:
“Out of respect for the LGBT [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] community I do not want to dull the edge of sexual discrimination created by the graphic nature of the sexual scenes in this book regardless of some characters being under the age of eighteen. I have turned the tables for a reason. I want the heterosexual community to understand what it would feel like to have the very essence of one’s being rejected by society. We need to understand what it feels like to have others HATE us just because the way we love is deemed abhorrent.”

Amen to that.
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I'm back from New York, where I attended this event -- featuring books published in 2013. See the photos of nominees who read from their work.

The entire trip was very cool, even though I didn't win anything. Here is the list of winners in each category:

For Bisexual Fiction: The City of Devi by Manil Suri (W.W. Norton & Company)

For Bisexual Non-fiction: Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond Gay and Straight, edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen (Northwest Press)

For Bisexual Speculative Fiction (Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror/Etc.): Pantomime by Laura Lam (Strange Chemistry)

For Bisexual Teen/Young Adult Fiction: Inheritance by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

For Bisexual Biography/Memoir: The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler's Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia by Alden Jones (Terrace Books/The University of Wisconsin Press)

For Bisexual Erotic Fiction: The Reunion by Adriana Kraft (B & B Publishing). [Note: My "bawdy novella" of the 1860s, The Flight of the Black Swan, was nominated. Obviously I was disappointed that it didn't win, but I have a high regard for Adriana Kraft's work. Must read this one.]

For Bisexual Book Publisher of the Year: Circlet Press and Riverdale Avenue Books were TIED for this, so the two publishers (Cecilia Tan and Lori Perkins) both got awards.

For Bi Writer of the Year: Shiri Eisner, author of Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (Seal Press).

So now everyone here who is not sure what to read next has a list of books to look up!
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Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls: Volume One of the Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series by Debra Hyde (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2013)

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

This slim book is a marvel of historical fiction. Told by Joanna Wilson, the “companion” of Miss Charlotte Olmes, detective, it is clearly a lesbian-feminist take on a Sherlock Homes mystery. However, this tale is much more than a trendy type of fanfic.

Even aside from nineteenth-century notions of how ladies should behave, Miss Olmes and Miss Wilson must cope with the corruption of New York City in 1880, when Tammany Hall controls the police force as well as the city government. Chinatown is a “different world,” into which white Americans rarely venture. A glamorous woman of mixed race, Miss Lynette Tam, seeks out the woman detective to tell her that her “employer,” Mr. Keane, is missing. She wants him found, and she has good reason to avoid the police.

Charlotte Olmes immediately understands what Miss Tam will not say aloud: that she and Mr. Keane are more to each other than a doctor and his assistant, and that Mr. Keane is a good soul who gives help to whoever needs it. Who would want to harm him? In a city seething with crime, gangs, corruption, and racism, who wouldn’t?

Charlotte and Joanna call on their butler, Mr. East, to provide them with masculine companionship as they explore dangerous places at night, and Charlotte disguises herself as his male friend. Charlotte tells Joanna (and the reader) the traditional Chinese tale of Madame White Snake as a way of explaining the cultural background of the mystery.

The resolution of the mystery is unexpected, yet plausible. Between outings to the morgue, to rough taverns and to a Chinese feast, Charlotte and Joanna seize the chance to free each other from their corsets in the privacy of their home. The sex scenes are startlingly intense, yet because few New Yorkers of the time would suspect two “ladies” of such behaviour, they escape detection themselves while investigating the secrets of others. Their own social position reminds Charlotte and Joanna that appearances are usually deceptive.

The story is colourful, true to its setting, and satisfying on several levels. Charlotte and Joanna emerge as three-dimensional characters who are competent and level-headed without being superheroines of fantasy. Their power to right wrongs is realistically limited, but they are determined to find the truth, even if they can’t change the world. This reader looks forward to their continuing adventures.
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03 May 2014 @ 03:35 pm
Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers by Steve Berman (Lethe Press, 2014)

 by Jean Roberta

Here is a teenage boy’s description of his friend’s Stepfather from Hell in “The Harvestbuck,” first story in Steve Berman’s recent single-author collection:

“As I make a sharp turn, the wheels kicking up bone-white sand, the headlights wash over a figure standing among the trees.

Rick’s ranger uniform is filthy and unbuttoned. He’s tied sticks to his head. They can’t be real antlers. He’s grinning at me. “Heard you like black boys, Sean. Come back soon for Brent—he’ll be a right Jack of Spades when we’re done with him.” He laughs.

I tremble and floor the Jeep at Rick. The wheels sputter in the loose sand. He’s gone. Gone but I hear his laughter behind me as I’m driving too fast down this little path.”

Is the narrator hallucinating? Is Rick actually a demon, or the Horned God? The reader can never be absolutely sure, but anyone who remembers adolescence will recognize the menacing adult, the spooky atmosphere in the woods at night, and the reckless driving.

This collection of thirteen uncanny stories is hard to classify as “young adult” because it seems suitable for adults in general, but the central characters are all young and queer. Most are serving time in high school, hoping to survive long enough to reach the age of majority while coping with real and metaphorical monsters.

The Red Caps in the title are an elusive band that are always off-stage, but the narrators of the stories collect souvenirs of them, such as red caps. The name also suggests a euphemistic term for pills which could cause hallucinations.

In “Most Likely,” Roque and his sister Leo are trapped indoors by rain while spending summer vacation at the beach. Looking at a magical school yearbook, Roque discovers that the captions say what his classmates actually think. This might be considered the sign of a curse, but the unexpected honesty leads Roque into the car (and the arms) of the boy he has a crush on, who has come to the beach to find him.

Teenage fickleness has its place in these stories, as in “Bittersweet,” in which Dault runs around with the “gingerbread boy” while his boyfriend Jerrod is grounded by foot surgery. The title of “Three on a Match” says it all.

By far the funniest story in the batch is “Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway.” Greg, the narrator, has a boyfriend in school, and their relationship is tolerated by their classmates and teachers. However, Greg doesn’t want to push his luck. He is alarmed when his boyfriend announces his plan for a presentation in English class:

“I’m going to do a whole presentation—not some sixth-grader’s book report—on the homoeroticism in Moby Dick.”

Greg tells him: “You might as well sing it.” This is the cue to turn the rest of the story into a kind of musical comedy.

Two stories that are fantasy from beginning to end, and not necessarily about teenagers in a modern sense, are “Thimbleriggery and Fledglings” (a lesbian retelling of the Swan Lake story) and “Steeped in Debt to the Chimney Pots” (an ambitious, atmospheric tale about a hard-luck young man who falls in with bad company—the fairy folk—in Victorian London). These two stories are well worth reading, but they seem only marginally related to the stories about magic that arises from the ordeals of contemporary teenage life.

These stories are accompanied by illustrations by various artists which could have been drawn in notebooks by several of the young narrators. Altogether, this collection is greater than the sum of its parts. It will suck you in like a phantom lover or a dream that seems more real than your waking life. The storyteller’s magic still works.

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