Monday, October 23, 2017

Over Adversity (#triumph #luck #courage)

Reaching the Peak image

By Lisabet Sarai

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life. Though I wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I’ve never been poor or hungry. Through a combination of hard work and lucky breaks, I managed to get a stellar education without ending up buried in debt. I’ve had several stimulating careers; none of them has made me rich, but they’ve all provided enough money for me to be comfortable and independent, and enough challenge to satisfy me, intellectually and emotionally. Between work and leisure, I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively. Living in several foreign cultures has expanded my understanding of the world.

Aside from terrible eyesight, flat feet and some arthritis, I don’t have any physical handicaps, and for more than six decades, have escaped any serious health issues. My relationships have been lucky, too: caring and supportive parents, strong connections with siblings, a few lifelong friendships, a couple dozen lovers in my wilder days and a marriage of more than thirty years duration since I’ve calmed down a bit.

I’ve always been gratefully aware of my good fortune, but lately I’ve been feeling humbled and embarrassed. As one natural disaster after another unfolds around the globe—as humans inflict horrible suffering on one another in a dozen different conflicts—as my friends and acquaintances face disability, disease and death—I can’t help but wonder why I’ve been spared.

Recently I ran a contest for members of my “VIP Email List”. I do this every few months. My usual strategy is to ask anyone who wants to enter to send me an email, answering some question, often about marketing issues. Then I randomly draw winners from the emails I get.

This time, I simply asked my readers to send me a bit of news about what they’d been doing recently, or what they had planned for Halloween. I received maybe a dozen responses. I was shocked by how many of them talked frankly about the problems they’d been facing. One reader’s home had been destroyed by Hurricane Irma, another by Hurricane Harvey (she even sent me photos of the flooding). A long time fan shared frustrating news about her daughter’s most recent, unsuccessful surgery. Another woman told me about her tango lessons. She used to belly dance, she confided, but since her MS has worsened, tango is the only sort of dance that fits her physical limitations. Then there’s the fan who serves as caretaker for her disabled husband and autistic son. She told me she’s looking forward to spending a quiet Halloween curled up in a chair reading.

The thing that struck me about all these emails was their mostly cheerful tone. These women were all dealing with adversity far beyond anything I’ve experienced, but they didn’t seem discouraged or demoralized. This was life, their notes implied. We don’t have any choice but to handle it as best we can.

Personally, I think this deserves the term “triumph”. These women are quiet, unsung heroines, managing in the face of difficult odds. I find myself wondering if I’d have their strength, if our positions were reversed.

I have a second cousin once removed who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a fairly rare genetic disorder that condemns the sufferer to increasingly severe paralysis, usually leading to early death. You can find out more about this debilitating disease here: Danny’s mom and dad basically spend their entire lives dealing with his limitations. I can scarcely imagine how difficult it must be for them, as well as for their other son and their extended family. Yet they post photos on Facebook of family gatherings, where everyone is smiling, including little Danny— grinning behind his oxygen mask. How do they do it? Where do they find the courage to live this life, to play the awful hand they’ve been dealt by Fate? Yet they do, one day at a time, and I believe there may be more love in their home than in most.

That’s my definition of triumph.

Then there’s this story, about a Syrian refugee who has managed to fulfill his dream of becoming a dancer:

Talk about overcoming obstacles—though in this case they’re economic, geopolitical, and cultural barriers rather than physical ones.

These stories inspire me, but they also make me uncomfortable. I haven’t been tested like this. I’m afraid that if I were, I’d be found wanting. I feel soft, spoiled by my good fortune, not to mention slightly terrified that the ill luck I’ve managed to escape thus far is waiting just around the corner.

Then I realize that even if something awful happened tomorrow, I’d still have a million reasons to be grateful. And I wonder if this is the key to survival, to triumphing over adversity—recognizing that no matter how bad things get, they’re always a lot better than they could be.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What Am I Re-Reading

Yep, I typed that correctly. I'm not reading new stuff right now...I'm cramming.

See, I've pretty much over-committed myself for submitting stories to anthologies and such, with two short deadlines looming on me. One for a short-n-smutty bunch of stories through Shameless Book Press (for which I've also created the e-book, 3D box set and print covers).

The other one, though, will be my second story to release through the lovely Milly Taiden's Sassy Ever After Kindle World.

So I'm running myself a tad ragged with re-reading the stories in her series, as well as re-reading my own already-released story in that Kindle World, Sassy Healing. My story will be a follow-on from that one, though the focus has shifted (heh) from the two main characters therein, across to a secondary character and a brand new character.

Up until I jumped onto that particular pony, I had been reading yet another zombie/post-apocalypse story, This Is The Way The World Ends: An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Keith Taylor.

I know Keith in passing, which is to say we're both on a particular writers' forum. Through that forum, I was interested in the way he gradually shaped this work, which I saw only in little bursts of comments on particular threads.

The book itself uses the same style of mock journalism which I'm told World War Z uses. I haven't managed to read Max Brooks's book so far, though I've tried a couple of times, so I can't compare truly.

What I will say about Taylor's book (which I've not yet finished) is that it's definitely not the kind of book you should read if you're after cheap action-based thrills with gore a-plenty. This is the thinking person's post-apocalypse story. The action, when it comes, is meted out skilfully, and not a single stroke of it is gratuitous. Indeed, it's the rarity of violence which helps to give it more power. Every moment of horror hits like a nail rather than a bus, and it pierces the reader far more strongly for that very reason.

Taylor's research is amazing, too. The book truly takes a global view of the world ending. All continents and many countries are represented (perhaps excluding Antarctica, but I haven't finished the story yet as I say...)

There's one moment in particular which has resonated with me, even a few weeks after I read it. I won't go into details, just so I don't hit you all with spoilers. But it's a moment of suburban life which starts out calmly and actually descends into lethal violence in exactly as calm a manner. It truly served as a demonstration of how quickly all societal normality could be stripped away when faced with the end of the world.

I look forward to finishing this one. But it'll be a while. As I said, I have those pesky deadlines. But the other thing is...this book is loooong!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Serial Apps

by Annabeth Leong

Lately, I’ve been enjoying a website and app called Serial Box. The site aims to be “the HBO of books.” They use a model similar to that used by television studios (with a showrunner and teams of writers) to create written entertainment, which they then release in the form of episodes and seasons.

I first found out about Serial Box because Circlet’s publisher, Cecilia Tan, was commissioned to write for a serial called Geek Actually, which is billed as geeky Sex and the City. I downloaded the app to be friendly and check out her new project, and quickly got totally caught up.

Geek Actually is sexy and romantic, but it doesn’t seem tied to the demands of HEAs in the same, tyrannical way we’ve all talked about. As a result, the romantic connections feel fresh and unexpected, and the characters all have cool arcs. I particularly like Aditi, who’s in an open marriage with her gay best friend, and Christina, who bites off (a lot) more than she can chew in a relationship with the hard-partying Hollywood starlet, Vivi.

I discovered through reading Geek Actually that I really like the format of these serials, so since this summer I’ve read at least one season of every serial that Serial Box puts out. They’re all high quality, to the point that I liked stories I didn’t expect to just because they’re done so well. For example, I’m not usually so into stories about royalty, but was unexpectedly captivated by the transplant queen who’s the main character of Whitehall.

But oh my stars, let me tell you about Tremontaine, which has just started up its third season. It’s got the feeling of your favorite regency historical, full of dazzling parties and costumes and behind the scenes manipulation (along with swashbuckling swordplay), but set in an alternate history in which there’s a transatlantic chocolate trade. As a result, there’s a fascinating cultural interplay, and relief from the endless misogyny of stories set in historical England (the South American traders have a matriarchal society). It’s full of queer characters. And it’s my favorite kind of story, in that I find myself liking even the characters I want to hate.

I can’t say enough about Tremontaine, and it’s so exciting for there to be new episodes every week.

I got so into the serial format that I also downloaded an app called Serial Reader, which is set up for reading classic works of literature. I’m currently making my way through Wuthering Heights, which I was always embarrassed not to have read. I’m glad to be reading it—it’s quite a pageturner, once it gets going—though I also mutter angrily throughout my reading sessions because it’s full of hideous racism and classist bullshit. So, yeah, classics.

Anyway, one of the reasons I’ve been liking serials is that I often have trouble making my way through long novels, though I recognize their rewards. I got burned one too many times by a certain epic fantasy series that I read in my youth, I think. These days, the sight of a thick novel fills me with dread and I usually stick to shorts and novellas. With serials, I feel like I’m reading shorts and novellas—but when I saw the collected edition of Tremontaine’s first season and saw how much I had read, my mind was blown.

And a technical detail. You can read on Serial Box’s website, but the app is also quite nice, and allows you to switch between reading text and listening in audio format. I found the transitions smooth (it actually keeps my place correctly!), and the audio editions are well done. Modern technology! It can be cool sometimes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Icy Jazz Mrs. Fletcher, Ghachar Ghochar, Hopps Hopps Hopps

 by Daddy X

Ordeal by Ice
by Farley Mowat.

To paint this detailed history, Mowat takes us through four centuries of first person accounts of the search for the Northwest Passage. While there’s plenty of starvation, scurvy, depression and general privation to go around, details crop up in the individual accounts that bring danger, adventure and entertaining situations into play.

Ship’s logs show how ocean travel had advanced through sail, steam and sometimes oars. And how the dynamics of ice stay the same. We’re amazed at the ways in which pioneers approached these voyages, hauling with them whatever comforts they thought necessary in a Eurocentric mindset. Many times it was this abundance of supplies (and extreme efforts to preserve and protect said provisions) that brought these voyages to ill fortune.

Timelines were critical. If Captains couldn’t get their ships clear of the ice during a slim few days in September, it meant yet another year before they’d again have the chance to get home.

As elsewhere in the imperialist world, these explorers avoided the indigenous peoples of the northern lands, seeing  them as animals, savages or worse. They did so to their own peril, not from attacks or ill will on the part of the native inhabitants, but from arrogance and unfamiliarity of the terrain they wanted to explore. Not until the intruders allowed themselves to learn from the people who thrived in these inhospitable environs did they even come close to conquering the ice.

by Toni Morrison

Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Joe Trace sells beauty products door-to-door. His wife Violet does the neighborhood women’s ‘heads’ in her kitchen at twenty-five to fifty cents apiece depending on what the clients can afford.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that Joe Trace killed his light-skinned, eighteen year-old lover, Dorcas. We learn on the first page that Violet slashed the body at the girl’s funeral and had to be removed from the church.

Though everybody knew that Joe Trace had shot Dorcas, he was never arrested because here were no witnesses. Just like now, in 1920’s New York, it seems like the murder of another negro didn’t hold much weight. If something untoward occurred in the ghetto, the authorities would just as soon just let it be as long as it stayed there.

Violet is prone to lapses in judgment. Even before Joe met the fresh young Dorcas, Violet had been found sitting in the middle of the street one day and had to be carried home.  Other idiosyncracies resembling Tourette’s go by largely unnoticed. After all, doesn’t everyone have things to be ashamed of in this city?

Violet and Joe don’t allow the dead girl’s memory to fade. In fact, they keep an 8x10 glossy of her in a frame on the mantle. Her creamy complexion and vibrant youth remind them to cry together.

Due in part to Morrison’s enviable use of vernacular, a reader ends up with a vivid sense of Harlem in the 1920’s. Between the lines we see that any big-city ghetto is basically on its own.
The next two books were suggested by a literary friend in New York who has given me much support. She used to be Momma X’s boss in the publishing trade.

Mrs. Fletcher
by Tom Perotta

This is the first book I’ve read by Perrotta. I see a half dozen others of his that might be worthwhile. I sure did enjoy this one.

Enter Eve Fletcher, divorcee.

Eve’s son Brendan is packing for college when his girlfriend comes by to… ahem… see him off.

The youngsters retire to Brendan’s room, and, in a reasonable amount of time, Eve goes up to retrieve him because they need to leave. Standing outside the boy’s door, she hears: “Fuck yeah. Suck it bitch.”

Well, with such an auspicious beginning, we know we’ll be dealing with sex here. What we learn is the dynamics of love and gender in the modern age and how sexuality forms a part of that dynamic.

Ghachar Chochar
by Vivek Shanbhag

A thin little book. Just 106 pages. In some ways it reminds me of Hesse’s Journey to the East, if not in subject matter, in its allegorical delivery.

A poor, but basically happy family live in an unnamed city in India. The dynamics of the household is traditional, with particular duties ascribed to each family member. Everybody knows and respects each other’s place. It all works fine until the only money-making family member makes a deal that greatly expands the their business and the family’s status in the neighborhood. Money is no longer a problem. The mother wonders how she’ll ever learn to cook standing up. Problems arise. Toes are stepped on. Others are meant to feel worthless. Personalities morph.

The ways money corrupts sounds like a worn theme, but Shanbhag has a way with beautifully concise prose.


The next book was loaned to me by Jonathan Meader, a friend for whom Walter Hopps sponsored a one-man show back in the 60’s at the Corcoran Workshop in Washington D.C. A while back on these pages I reviewed the husband/wife team Meader/Demeter book, Ancient Egyptian Symbols—50 New Discoveries.

The Dream Colony
by Walter Hopps w/ Deborah Treisman

On the dust jacket of The Dream Colony is a photo of a mixed media sculpture of Walter Hopps, the inimitable Gallery owner and museum curator of 20th century art. The sculpture, by Ed Kienholz,  is titled “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps”, which refers to Hopps’ chaotic pursuits, always late, hopping around and getting things accomplished.

This pleasing, eminently absorbing autobiography utilizes crazy anecdotes and reads like a who’s who of 20th century artists and art collectors. The various tales often reveal wild situations involving famous personalities. From Duchamp to Rothko to Diebenkorn, Rauschenberg, Ernst and Warhol, Hopps knew and hung out with them all, seemingly enjoying himself (though addicted to speed) all the while.  Collectors included Norton Simon, Peggy Guggenheim, Edwin Janss and John and Dominique deMenil from Houston

This was such a fun read that I’ve picked up another autobiography, this time of art collector and general character, Peggy Guggenheim. Plus a biography of Billy Wilder, outrĂ© screenwriter and movie producer.

More on those at our next “What I’m Reading.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Smelly Books

If you’re an avid blog follower, you might’ve noticed I missed my post two weeks ago on olfactory pleasures. This fortnight’s theme is “What I’ve been reading”, but, honestly, I haven’t read much lately and so I don’t have enough to put together a post.

So… maybe I can combine the two topics somehow? Smush the two posts into one…?

Ah, let’s start with a controversial statement. Stir up some anger and whatnot. Maybe this’ll start a good old-fashioned argument here on OGAG.

Here it is… ready…?

I despise the smell of old books.

How do I know it’s a controversial statement?

I googled “I love the smell of old books” and got 1.2 million results. Then I googled “I hate the smell of old books” and got ten results.

Obviously, I’m in a minority.

Perhaps it’s because I have a scent sensitivity, and perhaps it’s because some old books smell like almonds and the smell of almonds is a particular trigger for my sensitivities. But it’s mostly just because old books smell gross. I start mouth-breathing if I’m reading an old book, struggling not to inhale its malodorous scent.

I also hate the feel of old books. Pages worn smooth with years of other people’s grimy, disgusting, oily fingers might appeal to romantics. For me, it makes my fingers itchy. When you go to the gym, you wipe down the equipment after using it, so that other people don’t have to deal with your sweat and B.O. But we don’t do the same for books — unfortunately.

No — old books aren’t my thing. New books are where it’s at.

But for those who love new books or ebooks, but also love the musty smell of old books. You can buy candles and scented products that smell like old books. Blech.

Count me out.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Dominating the Freshman. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press and a member of the Indie Erotica Collective. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Man's a Man, For All That

by Jean Roberta

[This photo shows "Ken Lisonbee" with companion Stella Harper, 1929]

“In the mid to late 1860s, a trans man who went by the name of George Green married Mary Biddle in Erie, Pennsylvania. . . It is unclear where George and Mary lived immediately following their Pennsylvania marriage, but at some point in the 1870s the couple moved to the rural countryside seventy miles outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. . . At some point between 1900 and 1902, the couple moved 140 miles to the north, to the small town of Ettrick, Virginia."

Why is all this noteworthy? Because "George Green" (born in England in 1833), who spent all his life doing farm labour in the United States, was found to be biologically female after his death in 1902.

Were the Greens' rural neighbours shocked and horrified? It seems not. Here is what George`s widow had to say, quoted in a Virginia newspaper: "He was the noblest soul that ever lived. He has worked so hard through his life, and has been all I had to cheer me. No man can say he ever wronged him. He was a Christian and I believe he is now with Christ."

Apparently, Green's funeral was held in a local Roman Catholic church, and he was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.

"This is just one of the historical stories of "passing" women, or trans men, in True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (New York University Press, 2017) by Emily Skidmore, an Assistant Professor of History at Texas Tech University.

As Skidmore shows, most of these men (people?) lived in rural areas, not in urban communities where "queerness" might be less noticeable. Most of them married cisgendered women, and lived conventional lives as white male citizens. As the author shows, whiteness, hard work, and patriotism were all important components in their social acceptance in the American "heartland," even after their "true sex" had been revealed.

This book is one of a spate of recent studies that disputes what "Jack" Halberstam has called "metronormativity:" a widespread belief among students of "queer" history that before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 (in Greenwich Village, New York), LGBT individuals migrated to cities so they could live with any smidgen of safety.

The men (and this word seems much more accurate than "women") in Skidmore`s book lived far from any contemporary edgy, artsy, avant-garde communities, and most of them professed conservative values. For all practical purposes, they were male citizens. They ploughed fields, chopped wood, fought in wars, ran businesses, drank and smoked in saloons. And they voted in local and national elections before women were given the right to vote in 1920.

This is a fascinating book, and as the author explains in her introduction, the research was made possible by modern technology. She spent several years combing through digitized regional and national newspapers from about 1870 to 1940, and the thoroughness of her research wouldn`t have been possible while all this material only existed on yellowed paper.

For better or worse, this historical information throws a monkey wrench in the concept of a coherent "queer" community, "queer" identity, or "queer" history. Queerness has always come in a rainbow of colours.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Queers Rewrite the Script

by Jean Roberta

In September, a gay-male colleague (a talented and prolific fantasy writer himself) loaned me his copy of Queers Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue. It was produced as a paperback by Fantasy Magazine in December 2015 (Issue 59), and edited by Christopher Barzak. It includes short stories, a novel excerpt, non-fiction essays, author bios, and black-and-white fantasy art.

This drawing by Elizabeth Leggett, included in the art section of the anthology, was used by Lethe Press as the cover of Bitter Waters, a story collection by Chaz Brenchley.

The anthology is part of the “Destroy!” series, including Women Destroy Science Fiction! Women Destroy Fantasy! Women Destroy Horror! plus all the “Queers Destroy. . . “ titles.

Under the circumstances, I would have expected Queers Destroy Fantasy! to have a shortage of women characters (and/or authors) on grounds that women have their own series, but this is not the case. The first original story, “The Lily and the Horn” by Catherynne M. Valente, is set in a vaguely medieval world in which conflict is resolved not by knights with lances or soldiers with arrows but by women who are either experts in cooking with poisons or in detoxifying the victims of poisonous feasts.

Two young girls, who met in the Floregilium (school of botany), have never forgotten their mutual attraction, even though they were each chosen as the wife of a lord for their opposite talents: to kill with plants, or to heal with them. The narrator, a “lily,” has prepared a deadly feast to determine the outcome of a land dispute, and all the guests know what is at stake. The lily’s old friend, a “horn,” is there to heal her husband’s vassals and allies, if possible. The relationship between the two women, like the dishes on the table, is bittersweet.

In “The Lady’s Maid” by Carlea Holl-Jensen, a predatory noblewoman is able to wear the severed heads of the young women she has killed, see out of their eyes, and speak with their mouths. The “lady” keeps a collection of heads for different occasions, like a collection of hats. Her seemingly loyal maid, who stays with her after everyone else in the castle has run away, discovers how to control her mistress.

The predominance of women characters continues in the reprinted stories, including an ornate fable of the Mughal empire, “The Padishah Begum’s Reflections” by Shweta Narayan. Another reprint, “Down the Path of the Sun” by Nicola Griffith, is a heartbreaking story of survival and loss in a dystopian future.

In “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlin R. Kiernan, a mortal woman dies while giving birth to the daughter of the sea troll (who probably raped her, but no one knows for sure), leaving a monstrous baby to survive with the help of a village witch. A foolhardy female bounty-hunter comes to town to kill the sea-troll for the non-existent fortune promised by the local village for any hero who could do that. Most of the mortals in this story are revealed to be fools, liars, and drunkards, but the bounty-hunter and the local barmaid have an affair of convenience, and the sea troll’s daughter—who lives alone in the unhospitable wilderness--gives them more help than they could reasonably expect.

Two noteworthy stories by male authors are “The Duchess and the Ghost” by Richard Bowes, which was reprinted later in an edition of Best Gay Stories, and “The Ledge” by Austin Bunn, in which a shipful of Spanish sailors, some time before 1492, actually sails to the edge of the world. The young narrator, who hopes his affair with an older man, Diego, will not be discovered and punished, is delighted to rescue his widowed mother from the “other side:”

“Your hands are folded across your chest and you stare away, at the ledge. You look precisely as I left you, your long black hair damp and loose against your back and your bare feet white as salt. Around me, the crew and the others race to trim the Elena’s sails in a westerly. The captain is missing and I am full of questions. Are you a dream? Is this a fever or worse? I’m afraid to speak. And so I sit alone, in the shade of the quarterdeck, and write."

Kai Ashante Wilson, author of “So Various, So Beautiful, So New,” is not identified by gender, even in the author interview in the non-fiction section. The excerpt from the novel, All the Birds in the Sky, is by Charlie Jane Anders, who seems to be male by birth, but I wouldn’t place any bets on how s/he identifies now.

Suffice it to say that all the material in this collection is worth reading. Each of these stories contains a universe that seems more enticing than this one.

P.S.: At the risk of hogging the spotlight, I will post again tomorrow. I'm reading a book of historical non-fiction about trans men (the author's term) in the United States, approximately 1875-1935. I promised to review this fascinating study for The Gay and Lesbian Review.