2015 Year in Review

2015 New Year's pic for blog post_20151231_205206

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post, and I think I know why. 2015 has been one of the best years of my life, possibly the very best, and I don’t want it to be over. Other years have seen incredible highs, but none can match this year’s sheer volume of thrilling moments. It’s also true that the great moments in other years have been tempered by losses, while 2015 has been good all the way through.

It is certainly the best year as far as my writing is concerned. In March I attended the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in support of my story “Days of Awe,” which was a finalist in the festival’s contest and therefore was included in the anthology, published by Bold Strokes Books. Once again, I was honored to be asked to read a selection from my story, which is always a double-edged sword of excitement and terror. Also as usual, I learned a great deal during the festival’s panel discussions by day, and, by night, lurked in dark courtyards, drinking and chatting with authors and publishers whose work I admire. (In many cases, they are the artists responsible for the stories I reviewed on this blog as part of last year’s 365 Short Story Review project.) I am incredibly lucky to have found, and been welcomed by, such an accomplished and inspiring bunch.

I want to say it was as a result of that experience that I found the courage to send my novel, Angels Fall, to publishers and agents, but that was actually a cumulative process. It included having stories in two of the previous Saints and Sinners anthologies and attending the corresponding festivals. Too, it was having a story in Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press), and one in Diverse Voices Quarterly vol. 6, issue 21.

In any case, shortly after this year’s festival I received a request for a partial, which gave me the courage to ask Steve Berman of Lethe Press if I might submit the manuscript of Angels Fall  to that house. He said yes, and not too long afterward sent back a book contract. It was the day I’d looked forward to at least since sixth grade, and a part of me still cannot believe it occurred.

Steve not only took a chance on my novel, he then took a chance on me, by naming me the editor of The Role, written by Richard Taylor Pearson. A funny, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining tale, the book gives the reader insight into the life of an actor in New York City, right as he gets his big break. The author, Richard, turned out to be every bit as engaging as his work, and I have loved every moment of the process of bringing the book to completion. I am forever indebted to Steve for giving me this opportunity.

In June the Supreme Court made marriage a possibility for all of our nation’s citizens.

In the fall I received word that my story “Call for Submission” was accepted for publication in the anthology Threesome: Him, Him and Me, edited by Matthew Bright. That book will be released in March. It and The Role are currently available for pre-sale at http://www.lethepressbooks.com.

Lastly, just within the past two weeks, I learned that my story “Do Unto Others” is a finalist in this year’s Saints and Sinners Fiction Contest, and will be included in the festival’s 2016 anthology. The story deals with events which unfolded in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.

It turns out I have a number of things to promote in New Orleans next year. I couldn’t be any happier or more grateful. That’s why I don’t want this year to end, despite the fact that 2016 promises to be great as well.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this dream of mine a reality.  I wish each of you a 2016 filled with moments that bring you joy.

Happy New Year!

The Winner’s Circle – 27th Annual Lambda Literary Awards and HAHAT giveaway

The 27th Annual Lambda Literary Awards were held last night in New York City. The level of craft is always astonishing, and waiting to see who will win always nerve-wracking, but this year it was even more so. Several of my friends and two of three of my publishers were up for awards, often competing against one another, and in one case, against themselves.

 

 

Here are the nominees and winners:

 

BISEXUAL FICTION

Best Bi Short Stories: Bisexual Fiction, Sheela Lambert, editor, Gressive Press, an imprint of Circlet Press

Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin, Ron J. Suresha, Lethe Press

Finder of Lost Objects, Susie Hara, Ithuriel’s Spear

Give It to Me, Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press

She of the Mountains, Vivek Shraya, Arsenal Pulp Press

 

BISEXUAL NONFICTION

Fire Shut Up In My Bones, Charles M. Blow, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming, HarperCollins Publishers/Dey Street Books

Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men, Robyn Ochs & H. Sharif Williams, editors, Bisexual Resource Center

 

GAY EROTICA

Bears of Winter, Jerry Wheeler,Bear Bones Books an imprint of Lethe Press

Incubus Tales, Hushicho, Circlet Press

The King, Tiffany Reisz, MIRA Books

Leather Spirit Stallion, Raven Kaldera, Circlet Press

The Thief Taker, William Holden, Bold Strokes Books

 

GAY GENERAL FICTION

All I Love and Know, Judith Frank, HarperCollins/William Morrow

Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, Hogarth

Bitter Eden: A Novel, Tatamkhulu Afrika, Macmillan/Picador USA

The City of Palaces, Michael Nava, University of Wisconsin Press

I Loved You More, Tom Spanbauer, Hawthorne Books

Little Reef and Other Stories, Michael Carroll, Terrace Books, an imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press

Next to Nothing: Stories, Keith Banner, Lethe Press

Souljah, John R Gordon, Angelica Entertainments Ltd/Team Angelica Publishing

 

GAY MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival, Sean Strub, Scribner

Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance, Brent Phillips, University Press of Kentucky

Closets, Combat and Coming Out:  Coming Of Age As A Gay Man In The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Army, Rob Smith, Blue Beacon Books by Regal Crest

Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris, Edmund White, Bloomsbury

Letter to Jimmy, Alain Mabanckou, translated by Sara Meli Ansari, Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press

The Prince of Los Cocuyos, Richard Blanco, HarperCollins/Ecco – TIE

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, John Lahr, W. W. Norton & Company – TIE

Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, Philip Gefter, W. W. Norton & Company/Liveright

 

GAY MYSTERY

Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery, Katie Gilmartin, Cleis Press

Boystown 6: From the Ashes, Marshall Thornton, MLR

Calvin’s Head, David Swatling, Bold Strokes Books

DeadFall, David Lennon, BlueSpike Publishing

Fair Game, Josh Lanyon, Carina Press

A Gathering Storm, Jameson Currier, Chelsea Station Editions

Moon Over Tangier, Janice Law, Open Road Media

The Next, Rafe Haze, Wilde City Press

 

GAY POETRY

[insert] boy, Danez Smith, YesYes Books

Clean, David J. Daniels, Four Way Books

Don’t Go Back To Sleep, Timothy Liu, Saturnalia Books

ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness, CAConrad, Wave Books

The New Testament, Jericho Brown, Copper Canyon Press

Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones, Coffee House Press

This Life Now, Michael Broder, A Midsummer Night’s Press

This Way to the Sugar, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Write Bloody Publishing

 

GAY ROMANCE

The Companion, Lloyd A. Meeker, Dreamspinner Press

Everything’s Coming Up Roses: Four Tales of M/M Romance, Barry Lowe, Lydian Press

Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, Timothy Lambert and R.D. Cochrane,Cleis Press*

Like They Always Been Free, Georgina Li, Queer Young Cowboys*

Message of Love, Jim Provenzano, Myrmidude Press/CreateSpace

The Passion of Sergius & Bacchus, A Novel of Truth, David Reddish, DoorQ Publishing

Pulling Leather, L.C. Chase, Riptide Publishing (1)

Salvation: A Novel of the Civil War, Jeff Mann, Bear Bones Books, an imprint of Lethe Press

 

LESBIAN EROTICA

All You Can Eat. A Buffet of Lesbian Erotica and Romance, Andi Marquette and R.G. Emanuelle, Ylva Publishing

Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire, Cheyenne Blue, Ladylit Publishing

Lesbian Sex Bible, Diana Cage, Quiver Books

 

LESBIAN GENERAL FICTION

Adult Onset, Ann-Marie Macdonald, Tin House Books

Last Words of Montmartre, Qiu Miaojin, Translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich, New York Review Books

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, Francine Prose, Harper Collins/Harper

Miracle Girls, MB Caschetta, Engine Books

New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, Shelly Oria, FSG Originals / Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Palace Blues, Brandy T. Wilson, Spinsters Ink

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House

Yabo, Alexis De Veaux, RedBone Press

 

LESBIAN MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, with Barbara Smith, SUNY Press

Cease – a memoir of love, loss and desire, Lynette Loeppky, Oolichan Books

Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger, Kelly Cogswell, The University of Minnesota Press

The End of Eve, Ariel Gore, Hawthorne Books

Under This Beautiful Dome: A Senator, A Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America, Terry Mutchler, Seal Press

 

LESBIAN MYSTERY

The Acquittal, Anne Laughlin, Bold Strokes Books

Done to Death, Charles Atkins, Severn House Publishers

The Old Deep and Dark-A Jane Lawless Mystery, Ellen Hart, Minotaur Books

Slash and Burn, Valerie Bronwen, Bold Strokes Books

UnCatholic Conduct, Stevie Mikayne, Bold Strokes Books

 

LESBIAN POETRY

Haiti Glass, Lenelle Moïse, City Lights/Sister Spit

Janey’s Arcadia, Rachel Zolf, Coach House Books

Last Psalm at Sea Level, Meg Day, Barrow Street Press

Like a Begger, Ellen Bass, Copper Canyon Press

MxT, Sina Queyras, Coach House Books

Mysterious Acts by My People, Valerie Wetlaufer, Sibling Rivalry Press

Only Ride, Megan Volpert, Sibling Rivalry Press

Termination Dust, Susanna Mishler, Red Hen Press/Boreal

 

LESBIAN ROMANCE

Christmas Crush, Kate McLachlan, Regal Crest

The Farmer’s Daughter, Robbi McCoy, Bella Books

The Heat of Angels, Lisa Girolami, Bold Strokes Books

Jolt, Kris Bryant, Bold Strokes Books

Nightingale, Andrea Bramhall, Bold Strokes Books

Seneca Falls, Jesse J. Thoma, Bold Strokes Books

Tangled Roots, Marianne K. Martin, Bywater Books

That Certain Something, Clare Ashton, Breezy Tree Press

 

LGBT ANTHOLOGY

Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call, Charles Stephens and Steven G. Fullwood, Vintage Entity Press

A Family by Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships, Bruce Gillespie, TouchWood Editions

Outer Voices Inner Lives, Mark McNease and Stephen Dolainski, editors, MadeMark Publishing

The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South, Douglas Ray, editor, Sibling Rivalry Press

Understanding and Teaching US Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, Leila J. Rupp & Susan K. Freeman, University of Wisconsin Press

 

LGBT CHILDREN’S/Young adult

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin, Candlewick Press

Double Exposure, Bridget Birdsall, Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Tim Federle, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Ooligan Press

Lies We Tell Ourselves, Robin Talley, Harlequin Teen

Pukawiss the Outcast, Jay Jordan Hawke, Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press

This is Not a Love Story, Suki Fleet, Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press

When Everything Feels like the Movies, Raziel Reid, Arsenal Pulp Press

 

LGBT DEBUT

Death in Venice, California, Vinton Rafe McCabe, The Permanent Press

Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, Megan Milks, Emergency Press

A Map of Everything, Elizabeth Earley, Jaded Ibis Press

The Music Teacher, Bob Sennett, Lethe Press

Nochita, Dia Felix, City Lights/Sister Spit

Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea, Dan Lopez, Chelsea Station Editions

Unaccompanied Minors, Alden Jones, New American Press

The Walk-In Closet, Abdi Nazemian, Curtis Brown Unlimited

 

LGBT DRAMA

The Beast of Times, Adelina Anthony, Kórima Press

Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Samuel French

A Kid Like Jake, Daniel Pearle, Dramatists Play Service

The Whale, Samuel D. Hunter, Samuel French

Wolves, Steve Yockey, Samuel French

 

LGBT GRAPHIC NOVELS

100 Crushes, Elisha Lim, Koyama Press

Band Vs. Band Comix Volume 1, Kathleen Jacques, Paper Heart Comix

Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, A.K. Summers, Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint

Second Avenue Caper, Joyce Brabner; Art by Mark Zingarelli, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Snackies, Nick Sumida, Youth in Decline

 

LGBT NONFICTION

An American Queer: The Amazon Trail, Lee Lynch, Bold Strokes Books

Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, Martin Duberman, The New Press

The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, Julie Sondra Decker, Skyhorse Publishing/Carrel Books

Nevirapine and the Quest to End Pediatric AIDS, Rebecca J. Anderson, McFarland

Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, Hilton Als, Ann Temkin, Claudia Carson, Robert Gober, Paulina Pobocha, Christian Scheidemann, The Museum of Modern Art

Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos, Robert Hofler, It Books/HarperCollins

The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future, Aaron H Devor, University of Victoria Libraries

The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-Two Deaths in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973, Clayton Delery-Edwards, McFarland

 

LGBT SF/F/HORROR

Afterparty, Daryl Gregory, Tor Books

Bitter Waters, Chaz Brenchley, Lethe Press

Butcher’s Road, Lee Thomas, Lethe Press

Child of a Hidden Sea, A. M. Dellamonica, Tor Books

Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone, Tor Books

FutureDyke, Lea Daley, Bella Books

Skin Deep Magic, Craig Laurance Gidney, Rebel Satori Press

 

LGBT STUDIES

After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba, Noelle M. Stout, Duke University Press

Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America, Rachel Hope Cleves, Oxford University Press

Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture, Vincent Woodard, Ed. Justin A. Joyce and Dwight McBride, New York University Press

Queen for a Day: Transformistas, Beauty Queens, and the Performance of Femininity in Venezuela, Marcia Ochoa, Duke University Press

The Queerness of Native American Literature, Lisa Tatonetti, The University of Minnesota Press

Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings, Juana Maria Rodriguez, New York University Press

The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, Susan S. Lanser, University of Chicago Press

Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene, Bobby Benedicto, University of Minnesota Press

 

TRANSGENDER FICTION

Everything Must Go, La JohnJoseph, ITNA PRESS

For Today I Am a Boy, Kim Fu, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Moving Forward Sideways like a Crab, Shani Mootoo, Doubleday Canada

Revolutionary: A Novel, Alex Myers, Simon and Schuster

A Safe Girl To Love, Casey Plett, Topside Press

 

Transgender Non-Fiction

Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man, Thomas Page McBee, City Lights/Sister Spit

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More, Janet Mock, Atria Books

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community, Laura Erickson-Schroth, Oxford University Press

 

– See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/03/04/the-27th-annual-lambda-literary-award-finalists/#sthash.R18Mi1wt.dpuf

 

HAHAT Giveaway

 

The winner of the Hop Against Homophobia giveaway is….

 

Kimberly Lynn Workman

 

Congratulations! You’ve won a copy of Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up*, edited by Steve Berman (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). I have sent an email with further details.

 

*Reviewed on this blog as part of last year’s Short Stories 365 Review a Day project.

 

Short Stories 365/351

“Always Listen To a Good Pair of Underwear” by Steve Berman from Second Thoughts: More Queer and Weird Stories (Lethe Press, 2008).

The stories in this collection were originally published in a variety of publications over a period of six years. This means, of course, that associations created here were never meant to be. For instance, it feels very much as if the character Mike from the previous story (written in 2003 and published in X-Factor), steps into this tale (Harrington Park Press, 2007), and because he’s still tripping on that peyote button, believes he is someone named Steve who has a roommate named Mike, who wears magic boxers that talk.

See what I mean?

Okay, so the Steve of this story is borderline obsessed with his roommate, Mike. In the best of times, Mike takes advantage of that fact. In the worst, he becomes physically threatening.

I had difficulty figuring out how to process this story. That the gaudily printed boxers talk would seem to indicate a humorous piece, but the first two times I read it I felt unsettled afterward. That shouldn’t be all that surprising; the Mike of the story treats his roommate Steve badly, and the author’s notes reveal that this tale—like many of those in this collection—closely mimics events from the author’s life. There was a Mike; the volume is dedicated to him, and a deep current of regret runs all through it. I imagine someone with no knowledge of the author’s history, who read this as a standalone piece, would have an entirely different reaction to it. But you can’t unring a bell. Reading it here, I was unable to see the character as just that, a character. (It also did not help that it is written in the first person.) Because I couldn’t adequately separate character and author, the humor of the piece couldn’t lift it out of its overall sadness.

What helped immensely was listening to the audio version. Having a narrator voice the character’s thoughts created the distance I needed to, finally, stop being unsettled and momentarily be entertained instead.

Side note: In the digital version of this collection the title of this story appears in regular type, not as a clickable link. In figuring the stories for the end of this project, my eye passed right over this title. It means there are two extra stories in the queue.

Short Stories 365/350

“Kiss” by Steve Berman from Second Thoughts: More Queer and Weird Stories (Lethe Press, 2008).

As with the last story, this one opens with two guys out in the desert, only Mike and Ryan aren’t cowboys riding horses, they’re college kids in a pickup truck, listening to a CD by a band called the Redcaps (a recurring element in the author’s work). They’re off to buy some weed from a guy named Carlos, to take back to a party. Ryan tries to scare Mike with whispered references to the mythic creature the chupacabra after they spy a tire-flattened rabbit baking in the desert heat.

At Carlos’ trailer they chew some peyote buttons offered to them by their host, and of course things begin to get interesting. Ryan, who is the more attractive and adventurous of the two, accepts an offer from Carlos, to fool around. Mike wanders outside, and quickly becomes entranced by the landscape, which his hallucination transforms.

I like the way the sexual tension and foreboding of the story were echoed in the author’s note, which depicts a bittersweet scene from his high school days. He’s spending the night at the house of a friend to whom he’s desperately attracted. They get high together, and the desire he feels for the other boy is palpable and suffocating.

Short Stories 365/349

“Secrets of the Gwangi” by Steve Berman from Second Thoughts: More Queer and Weird Stories (Lethe Press, 2008).

If you are surprised by this selection you are either a.) Not paying attention or b.) Not very observant. If it is the former, shame on you. How do you expect to ever be the latter? If the latter, I am sorry to be the one to point it out.

Old business:

  • I should have reviewed this collection much earlier, preferably between reviews of the author’s first and third short story collections, but I skipped over it in order to review the third collection near its release date.
  • I already reviewed the story that opens this volume. See Short Stories 365/77.

New business:

  • I’m happy to report that artwork for the fourth collection recently appeared on social media.

And now, on to the story at hand…

This is a somewhat unconventionally-told short story. It makes great leaps from one time and place and set of characters to the next and back again. I’m tempted to say that like many of the stories in this volume it has a strong meta-fictive component as well, but here’s the thing: The more I get to know other writers and the more I compare back stories to bodies of work, the more I am reminded of a situation I found myself in a number of years ago. As you probably know by now, I worked in technical theatre for a couple of decades. You may also know there is a lot of down time to working backstage. It’s sort of like being on call, I guess. You spend long periods waiting for the show to start, or for paint to dry, or driving to the next venue.

It’s perfect for a writer, in other words. I used to carry a notebook with me, and there was a period of time in which one of the actors I worked with would, jokingly, come up and  pester me, asking “What’cha writing? Is it about me? It is, isn’t it? C’mon, it’s about me, isn’t it? Huh? Huh? Huh?”

It always made me laugh. And, of course, I would protest that no, it was not about him. It also caused me to deeply ponder his question. The answer I came up with (but never said), was this: “No, it’s not about you. It’s about me. Every character I write is some aspect of me.” It’s interesting that I ran into this quote by Goethe on Twitter today: “Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.”

At the outset, this is the story of two cowboys, Tuck and T.J., who are hiding in a rock outcropping while some pterodactyl-type creatures feast on their horses.

Lovely image, isn’t it?

The next scene is set in the modern day. A man named Willis is in a bookstall, about to purchase the leather bound journal Tuck kept all during his and T.J.’s adventures. Willis thinks he’s just found the makings of the next Hollywood blockbuster, but the next scene, where he pitches his idea to a movie studio mogul, dashes his hopes. After that we see two boys, Chucky and Steve, sitting in a middle class living room, watching what purports to be the movie. They are maybe age twelve or thirteen, and Steve has recently realized he has feelings for Chucky. The final scene is between Esteban and Carlos, locals hired on during the filming of a movie. It might be a leap back in time to the making of the movie about Tuck and T.J., or it may be a different movie entirely.

The first, fourth and fifth situations are about couples, or would be couples. Tuck and T.J. and Esteban and Carlos are couples. Steve wishes he and Chucky were one, too. One of the middle sections re-writes the first scene and ignores the last two. Because Hollywood, as the kids say. Because greatest common denominator. Because dinosaurs, and I’m not talking about the pterodactyls.

This collection includes author’s notes, and the main thrust of those that accompany this story is that it’s based on something that happened to the author when he was twelve. Or thirteen. The back story has to do with roleplay gaming, so the note is prefaced by a chart entitled “Table 1-1 d8, Tale’s Veracity”.

Now, I was quite spoiled as a child. I was given pretty much anything I wanted, and so I had what I now know is “The Moldvay Basic Set”. D&D. 1981. Purplish box with a depiction of a dragon, a man with a lance, and a woman wielding an orb of green light.

What I didn’t have was anyone to explain what in the heck to do with the damned thing. My best friend and I looked over all of it, scratched our heads, and put it on a shelf.

Thankfully, I married well.

Dice shot

I rolled a five. Consulting the handy chart, we find this:

“Be suspicious of anything the author says.”

Really? Now tell me something I don’t already know.

Short Stories 365/337

“Passion, Like a Voice – That Buds” by Steve Berman from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October, 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

You may question the veracity of this statement, but I assure you I am serious: I enjoyed this story. True, it’s not cheerful, but it’s not depressing either. It is that thing I come to books looking to find: a window onto another world, a different situation.

The narrator has been HIV positive for a decade. He’s not well, though it isn’t clear how much of that is due to the virus and the meds needed to stave off its effects, and how much is owed to the fact that he’s made himself a hermit. Living on disability checks, he hasn’t left his sweltering apartment or even cracked open a window in months. He has only one visitor, every Monday: the guy who delivers pre-prepared meals courtesy of the charitable outfit MANNA.

Remember the “manageable fear” and almost unbearable sexual longing we saw in the first and third stories of this issue (which each also dealt with HIV)? Here they are again. There’s an attraction between the main character and the much younger man, in large part (or entirely?) stemming from the danger of contracting or transmitting the virus. It’s fascinating to watch their dance.

As with many of this author’s works subtler elements of the motif are strewn all throughout the story. The name of the magazine the main character edited, but has neglected of late. The name he ascribes to a .gif of cells of the virus as viewed through a microscope, and on and on and on. I equate reading his work to going on the very best type of treasure hunt. [“You Google the strangest things,” my husband once remarked, as I neared the end of one story a few months back.]

Indeed.

In case you still aren’t convinced, here’s a snapshot of a page from an index I used to compile, of things I’d videotaped. (The number of tapes grew exponentially, until indexing them became an impossible task.)

K-6 videotape index

Remember, my mother’s friend Michael Kearns was diagnosed with the virus. He disclosed his status on Entertainment Tonight in 1991. So the latest research on folks who’d been infected for a long period of time? Heck yes, I wanted to hear that. I still do.

Short Stories 365/330

“The Wagers of Gold Mountain” by Steve Berman, (Lethe Press 2011).

San Francisco, the Gold Rush days. Ji Yuan’s brother Chen is sick with fever. The food and medicine Yuan has been able to purchase with his meager wages from the shirt factory haven’t made his brother any better. It seems likely Chen will die, and soon, unless Yuan can either obtain stronger medicine or secure divine intervention. Well, maybe not divine. Amita Buddha hasn’t responded to any of his pleas, but Yuan has heard of a strange shop run by a pair of evil spirits who are said to grant wishes for a price.

Yuan finds the shop and confronts its two strange occupants – a woman and a man, Manchu and American, respectively. Right away he knows they aren’t ordinary humans:

 Hang-ne reached out with cupped hands and caught a measure of smoke drifting off Buren’s cigar. She molded it with her nimble fingers until the wisps took shape. She then blew across her palms and a grey swallow ruffled its feathers.

What a great analogy for the written word. Recently I had occasion to listen to an audio recording of this author’s story “The Price of Glamour”. The actor who provided the narration did an excellent job, and I highly recommend downloading the file and listening to it. Still, a little ways in I caught myself comparing the recording to a fully produced stage or screen performance, and realizing I didn’t need anything more than the written words. As much fun as it was to listen as the performer created different voices for the characters, it was superfluous. I’d already heard the different voices when I read the piece, just as I’d seen the clothes the characters were wearing, though no costumer had sewn a stitch. I’d seen the snuff box and the glamour without the aid of a prop person. I’d watched Lind scale the wall of Bluebottle’s rag shop without a scene designer, cinematographer, or cameraperson. Though there was no CGI team I saw imprisoned fairies, freed, fly from cages. Sitting in my car, utterly rapt, I found myself thinking, over and over again, “This is better magic.”

It’s true. The written word lets you connect directly with another person’s mind, across time and space. It lets you walk in many other people’s shoes. It allows you to craft entire worlds from nothing—from smoke, from ink—and those worlds don’t last for merely a few weekends or even a few years, they exist forever. What else is that, if not magic?

The evil spirits Hang-ne and Buren give Yuan a magic key and send him on a quest to find a hatchet which turns out not to be a hatchet at all. Nothing they say can be taken at face value, it’s all a trick. The thing I like most about the story is that Yuan has nothing with which to work except an honorable nature and his wits. In other words, he’s the perfect everyman. Don’t have a gun, endless cash, or superpowers? That’s okay, neither does he, but he prevails, and it’s fun to watch and see how he does it.

On a side note, unless I missed something or have forgotten an earlier story, this is the first story I’ve read by this author which did not contain an LGBT element.