Category Archives: GLBT short stories

“Sweet and Low: Stories” by Nick White— Maculinity, Identity and Place

White, Nick. “Sweet and Low: Stories”, Blue Rider, 2018

Masculinity, Identity, and Place

Amos Lassen

The characters in Nick White’s story collection “Sweet and Low” are trying to figure what is the next step in life and that makes them just like us and certainly identifiable. They are all trying to figure out their next steps. These are all different kinds of people—widows, ex-lovers, teenagers and disillusioned yet all struggle with questions and decisions that will ultimately impact their lives. I found it hard not to like a book in which you realize you are reading about yourself.

White’s stories are beautifully written and beautifully compelling. White is quite a storyteller. We have both random stories and those that are lined and follow Forney Culpepper from boyhood to adulthood. I am not going to summarize all of them but I will share with you about a few. “The Lovers” is about a widow who is dealing with life without her husband and his lover who wants something back that he gave his man before he died. In “The Exaggerations”, we read about a young guy who lives with his aunt and uncle and is just entering the world of what adults do. A high school senior has to deal with a scandal in the family while at the same time cannot stop thinking of his school’s coach. This is the story of “Lady Tigers”.

The Forney Culpepper stories are built around the character of Culpepper (duh) and I really enjoyed those and am ready for more. In fact I am ready for more Nick White. It is his prose style more than the stories that kept me reading. It might also be that since I am originally from the south and educated there that these stories pulled me in. There is a grand touch of the moonlight and magnolias that we find in Southern literature here. On the other hand, these stories are deconstructed versions of Southern literature as we see via the flaws of the characters. One cannot anticipate what will happen in the stories and that adds to the great fun of reading them. With characters that are searching for who they are, you cannot go wrong by reading this collection. In fact, it is more of an experience than a read.

“Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions” by Orlando Ortega-Medina— Thirteen Stories

Ortega-Medina, Orlando. “Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions”, Cloud Lodge, 2017.

Thirteen Stories

Amos Lassen

Orlando Ortega-Medina’s “Jerusalem Ablaze” is a collection of thirteen short stories are about sexuality, death, obsession, and religion. Each story contains characters who are flawed individuals trying their best to make sense of their lives. Ortega-Medina says that, “the stories in the book come from below my consciousness. They are to entertain and not leave any kind of message. I think the interesting thing is how people read the stories and what they take away tells a lot about the people reading them. I don’t mind what people come up with as long as they were moved by the story.”

The darkly humorous stories are occasionally violent, often uncomfortable, and always populated with characters on a quest to find their place in the world. They were inspired by four periods of travel in his life: California, Quebec, Israel and Japan. Ortega-Medina said the Israel stories are the most biographical of the whole collection and are firmly rooted in his experiences and the time he spent searching for himself there.

“An Israel State of Mind” is perhaps the most biographical story in the collection. A recent high school graduate from Southern California arrives in Israel to spend a year working on a kibbutz. He hopes to rid himself of his desires; instead he is reunited with the man he loves.

The stories are not for everyone but there is a quality of writing here that is enticing and darkness. For example, the first story “Torture of Roses” is about a reviled aesthete who enjoys skewering his skin. He feels it is time to choose a young man to be his heir and servant. The two have a convoluted relationship and when the man is dying, his heir, has little pity left.

The stories explore the deep corners of the mind and the soul and are filled with hidden feelings and desires. These are stories of people looking for themselves are of those who have found it yet re afraid to show it to the world. It is as if we are looking at ourselves as we read.

The stories in “Jerusalem Ablaze” explore life’s imperfections and the fragility of the world. Each story introduces us to ordinary human beings who deal with compulsions or external influences. Styles of writing shift from sadness to creepy to affection to the macabre.

Because these are stories, characters had to be developed quickly but that does not mean that thy re not fully developed. In fact, I found some of the characters addictive and this led me to read the book in one sitting. The themes of sexuality, death, religion are present in almost all of them, albeit in different forms and different settings and we read the characters’ inner thoughts and desires which are much more important than the plot. In other words, these are characters that we care about.

I debated with myself as to whether summarize each story or just look at the book as a whole. I realized that it would be difficult to do each story without a spoiler so I generalize here. This is a fascinating read written in gorgeous prose that has something for almost everyone who enjoys dark literature.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

Lesbian Fiction

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press

Gay Fiction

After the Blue Hour, John Rechy, Grove Press

Bisexual Fiction

The Gift, Barbara Browning, Coffee House Press

Bisexual Nonfiction

Hunger, Roxane Gay, HarperCollins

Transgender Fiction

Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, Bogi Takács (ed), Lethe Press

LGBTQ Nonfiction

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books

Transgender Nonfiction

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, C. Riley Snorton, University of Minnesota Press

Lesbian Poetry

Rock | Salt | Stone, Rosamond S. King, Nightboat Books

Gay Poetry

While Standing in Line for Death, CA Conrad, Wave Books

Transgender Poetry

recombinant, Ching-In Chen, Kelsey Street Press

Lesbian Mystery

Huntress, A.E. Radley, Heartsome Publishing

Gay Mystery

Night Drop, Marshall Thornton, Kenmore Books

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Flatiron Books

Gay Memoir/Biography

Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, Chike Frankie Edozien, Team Angelica Publishing

Lesbian Romance

Tailor-Made, Yolanda Wallace, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Romance

Love and Other Hot Beverages, Laurie Loft, Riptide Publishing

LGBTQ Erotica

His Seed, Steve Berman, Unzipped Books

LGBTQ Anthology

¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Aunt Lute Books

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult

Like Water, Rebecca Podos, Balzer + Bray

LGBTQ Drama

The Gulf, Audrey Cefaly, Samuel French

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics Books

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Tor Books

LGBTQ Studies

Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe, University of California Press

“The Affliction: A Novel” by C. Dale Young— Telling Stories

Young, C. Dale. “The Affliction: A Novel in Stories”, Four Way Books, 2018.

Telling Stories

Amos Lassen

Dale Young’s “The Affliction” is a novel that is told in short stories that bring together people who are not want they seem to be. We meet Javier Castillo who was born with the ability to disappear; Rosa Blanco who sits in her small kitchen musing over a moment from the past over and over again and Leenck who is aware of his impending death, but no one is aware of him. These and other characters are the people who live quiet lives, the kind of people that we never hear about and rarely, if ever see. They now move forward in lyrical prose. They hide and their lack of visibility affects those who love them and those who fear them. Most of us live in the present and have knowledge of the past and thoughts about the future. Some are obsessive bout the past and in fear of the future and some just are in the present.

Stories like people in that we can take each differently and in many cases we do so based upon our own life experiences. In communities of marginalized people, the ability to disappear comes with the marginalization. Like the stories in which these characters appear, they are unpredictable and varied. Then we realize that the way we know people, is often through the stories we hear about them but what about those that we do not hear about? These are the people that C. Dale Young introduces us too and as he does, we take them in. The stories are linked and we are taken to visit places where, like I said, we ordinarily would not go. What is so beautiful here is that in reading these stories, we actually experience them and they are transformative. I want you to see that I make this claim without telling a word about any of the stories because I do not think it is fair to do so. I want the stories to affect you the way they have affected me as personal thoughts. Every person will find something in these stories to identify with or to even call his/her/their own.

Our memories of the past differ as they should since we do not share a personal past. My past, for example, includes personal experiences that I prefer to keep personal and yet that past can be haunting and it can also be beautiful. Most of us are unable to tell as story the way Young does here. These stories share history and heart and while set in the Latino community, they could be set anywhere and at anytime. In rereading what I have said here, I realize that on one hand I have not said much and on the other, perhaps I have said too much but that is what we, philosophers, do. It is my goal to get you to take a look at “The Affliction: and taste its glorious prose. I think that once you do, like Javier Castillo, you will disappear for a while as you read what is here. Do not expect to close the covers and walk away from the book. It will stay with you and you will consider and reconsider what you have read.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

Awards Ceremony: Monday, June 4, 2018 in New York City

Lambda Literary, the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature, announced the finalists of the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Awards – or the “Lammys,” as they are affectionately known.

The finalists were chosen from nearly 1,000 submissions and over 300 publishers. Submissions came from major mainstream publishers and from independent presses, from both long-established and new LGBTQ publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies. Visionary and Trustee Award honorees, the master of ceremonies, and celebrity presenters will be announced in April. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony on Monday, June 4th in New York City.

“Celebrating our 30th year of Lambda Literary Award finalists is to recognize that this organization has been at the center of contemporary queer literature for decades,” said Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela. “This year is no different with another stellar list of authors demonstrating through their work that LGBTQ books tell richly textured stories about who we are in all our incredible diversity.”

Now in their thirtieth year, the Lambda Literary Awards celebrate achievement in LGBTQ writing for books published in 2017. The awards ceremony on June 4, 2018, will be held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012). The red carpet and specially ticketed VIP cocktail reception will be held before the ceremony. The after-party, open to all with a general admission ticket, will follow at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012). For more information and to buy tickets, please visit Lambda’s website.

67 literary professionals, including booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, academics and previous Lammy winners and finalists volunteered countless hours of reading, critical thinking, and invigorating discussion to select the finalists in 23 categories.

Those marked with an asterisk have been reviewed here t reviewsbyamoslassen.com. This is the first time I find myself amazed at how few of these books I have read and reviewed. But there is no turning back as I have 97 books waiting for reviews.

Lesbian Fiction

 

Gay Fiction

 

Bisexual Fiction

 

Transgender Fiction 

 

LGBTQ Nonfiction

  

Bisexual Nonfiction

 

Transgender Nonfiction

 

Lesbian Poetry

 

Gay Poetry 

  

Transgender Poetry

  

Lesbian Mystery

 

Gay Mystery

 

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

 

Gay Memoir/Biography

 

Lesbian Romance

 

Gay Romance 

 

LGBTQ Anthology 

 

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult 

 

LGBTQ Drama

 

LGBTQ Erotica 

 

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

 

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

 

LGBTQ Studies 

 

“The Resilience Anthology”— A Journey

Heart, Amy, Sugi Pyrrophyta and Larissa Glasser, editors. “The Resilience Anthology”, Heartspark Press., 2017.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

I just received an announcement about “The Resilience Anthology” so I am passing it on to you.

“Take a journey through the worlds of over thirty (C)AMAB* trans writers in what is currently the largest collection of poetry and prose made for and by us. Featuring new work by Luna Merbruja, Magpie Leibowitz, Moss Angel, KOKUMO, Joss Barton, Ariel Howland, Casey Plett, Sascha Hamilton, A.K. Blue, Oti Onum, Rahne Alexander, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Lawrence Walker, Connifer Candlewood, Serafima Mintz, Talia Johnson, Tyler Vile, Lina Corvus, Bridget Liang, CHRYSALISAMIDST, Ana Valens, Larissa Glasser, Lilith Dawn, AR Rushet and more, including an introduction by Julia Serano!”

“Our writers featured in this book exist across the gender spectrum, but do not identify with their birth assignment. Many are trans women, but some are genderqueer, non-binary, agender, or all of the above.”

“The Tower of the Antilles” by Achy Obejas— After the Revolution

Obejas, Achy. “The Tower of the Antilles”, Akashic Books, 2017.

After the Revolution

Amos Lassen

It has been awhile since we last heard from Achy Obejas so when I received a copy of her new short story collection, I eagerly began to read and found that times way too quickly. “The Tower of Antilles” is about the Cuban community after the revolution and as the blurb says they “are haunted by islands: the island they fled, the island they’ve created, the island they were taken to or forced from, the island they long for, the island they return to, and the island that can never be home again”. The ten stories shine a light on Cuban culture and the innermost lives of her characters. The overall theme of identity, both national and personal is the center of the book and this what propels her stories. The characters have contradictory feelings about their motherland and the experiences that this brings about. The stories look at realization and stoicism and loss and displacement. They really spoke to me as one who lost his city to a hurricane and had to start life over again in a new place and with new people while searching for who I really am. I still do not have the answer to whether a home can be rebuilt in a new after the old home ceases to be.

Here we meet Cuban migrants who never quite escape the land they’ve left and understand that one’s place of birth will always be one’s first home. The Cuban search for identity is about having power and/or the lack of power.

We are at a time in American history in which immigration is a major issue and Obejas writes about immigration with all of the possible emotions that it carries. We have longing, desire, anger and wonderment as we read about the different Cubas that have existed in time and are seen from different perspectives. What remains constant are beauty and conflict.

The Cubans that Obejas has drawn are haunted by their former home yet know that it will never be again. We meet a Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the Revolution triumphed, of those who have to deal with separation, split families and the loss of blood ties, the discovery of family betrayal, fantasies of escape and so on. The events that the characters have to live with are beyond their control and power showing us how we all face history and fate.

 

“Gay Zoo Day: Tales of Seeking and Discovery” by Mike McClelland— Looking for More

McClelland, Mike. “Gay Zoo Day: Tales of Seeking and Discovery”, Beautiful Dreamer, 2017.

Looking for More

Amos Lassen

I did not have a lot in common with my father but I do remember when he said to me that when I reach the point that there is nothing to look for, I could close it down and stop living. I believe that everyone has something to look and strive for and that is what Michael McClelland’s collection of stores, “Gay Zoo Day” gives us. Regardless of how we seek that elusive quality, the end is meant to make each of us into a more complete person. Then there are also those who claim to looking for something but I believe that is a cover-up. We have all heard that “the grass is always greener” in someone else’s yard and we all want to have the greenest grass. How we go about this differs with each person but the goal of further enrichment is universal. Whenever I review a book of stories, I face the decision of reviewing the book as a whole or reviewing each story separately and I really have a hard time trying to answer that question. There is always the risk of writing spoilers and I thinking doing so is fair. Let me just say that there is great variety and diversity here.

It is always fun for me to read a new writer—it is like making a new friend with the difference being that it is the writing that is the way to see someone’s personality. I can tell you that I gather that author McClelland has wonderful style and quite a way with words and that he is a detailed person. He manages to relay to us details that take us into his characters and plots while using diversity to give us a fantastic read.

When I review an anthology of stories, I face the debate of whether to look at each story and write about it or to just write about the book as a whole unit. I am still debating that as I write now and only by the time that this review is finished will I know what I ultimately decided to do, if then. If there is an overriding theme here it is humanity. The settings and the characters differ but there is a sense of humanity in each of the stories. There is also a sense of urgency and intimacy in each of the stories and we as readers are pulled in immediately. I have no idea about life in Africa yet I was there as I read “Sheffield Beach” or “Mombassa Vengeance”. I know the fear that is raised by AIDS in this country but not in other places yet I felt the fear in London in “Gay Zoo Day” and what I know about space is what I learned from TV and school yet I was off with “Yev”.

I do feel that I must mention that these are stories like we read everyday but here the characters happen to be gay. The characters are all on the path to self-discovery, they want to know how they became who they are. We have had so many stories about coming-out but we are missing stories of self-realization and this collection fills that gap. As many of you know, I have been reading and reviewing our literature for years now but what you may not know is that I do this because I believe in who we are in what we have to say. There have been many short stories with gay and lesbian characters and with gay and lesbian settings. What there has not been are literary LGBT short stories but there are now with this collection. In this one book, Mike McCllelland has raised the bar. His stories have depth and subtexts and are really like reading short novels. Our characters are developed and there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with reading their stories.

“If I Had the Wings: Short Stories” by Helen Klonaris— Confronting Reality

Klonaris, Helen. “If I Had the Wings: Short Stories”, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 2017.

Confronting Reality

Amos Lassen

I am not sure that any of us really understand what it means to be human. So often, we find ourselves hating that which we do not understand and shying away from those who did not fit the idea of what we might think is beauty, truth, friendship or what have you. Author Helen Klonaris is a Greek-Bahamian woman who shares what it was to grow up gay in a culture where tradition and religion hold court. In eight short stories, we get to know the author and, in a sense, feel what she feels. Her characters do what so many of us are afraid to do— face reality and understand that it is part of our lives and who we are.

The characters in these stories confront reality head on as they attempt to deal with their communities that are dependent upon and torn by tradition and religion. These communities impose restraints on anyone who is different and does not subscribe to what others consider as the norm. Anyone who has either grown up or lived in this kind of environment will quickly be able to identify with the stories in this collection, yet every one of us and every character is different. What we all share is the desire to belong and to belong on our own terms. We do not ask for tolerance but for acceptance. In order to deal with the realities of our surroundings, we must be willing to confront them and we must confront ourselves as well. There are alternative realities should we feel the need for them and this we see in a few of the stories here.

Growing up gay in the small Greek-Bahamian community, which feels its traditional culture and religious pieties are under threat, is fraught with constraints and even danger. The main characters in Helen Klonaris’s poetic, inventive and sometimes transgressive collection of short stories confront this reality as part of their lives. Yet there are also ways in which young women in several of the stories search for roots in that tradition – to find within it, alternatives to the dominant influence of the Orthodox church.

That church becomes a character in this collection and you feel its presence even when it is not mentioned. Christian theology and practice has not been good to us and has brought about pain and remorse. Is it not fascinating that there are those of us who still love the church? Many have been spiritually destroyed for loving a body that wants nothing to do with us. One of the greatest gifts that we have is the ability to tells stories and often stories, as we see here, provide a catalyst for change and a larger awareness of how we live.

The stories in this collection follow the themes of colonialism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia and sexism, the very issues from which we try to escape. Going back to what I said earlier and what seems to me to be the message of the book is that we must deal with who we are in all of its aspects remembering that it is not enough to “just be”. I absolutely love this book both for what it says and how it says it. The prose is pristine and lyrical and the stories are stories that matter. Before I began to write I had to decide whether to look at each of the eight stories or write about the book as a whole. My choice is obvious here.

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

Those with an asterisk have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamolslassen.com

 

Lesbian Fiction

  • Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Liveright Publishing Corporation

Gay Fiction

  • *The Angel of History, Rabih Alameddine, Atlantic Monthly Press

Bisexual Fiction  

  • Marrow Island, Alexis M. Smith, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Bisexual Nonfiction 

  • Black Dove: Mama, Mi’jo, and Me,Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press

Bisexual Poetry 

  • Mouth to Mouth,Abigail Child, EOAGH

Transgender Fiction

  • Small Beauty, jia qing wilson-yang, Metonymy Press

LGBT Nonfiction

  • *How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, David France, Knopf

Transgender Nonfiction

  • Life Beyond My Body: A Transgender Journey to Manhood in China, Lei Ming, Transgress Press

Lesbian Poetry (TIE)

  • play dead, francine j. harris, Alice James Books
  • The Complete Works of Pat Parker, Julie R. Enszer, Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press

Gay Poetry

  • Thief in the Interior, Phillip B. Williams, Alice James Books

Transgender Poetry

  • Reacquainted with Life,KOKUMO, Topside Press

Lesbian Mystery

  • Pathogen, Jessica L. Webb, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Mystery

  • Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery, J. Aaron Sanders, Plume

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

  • The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde, Dr. Gloria Joseph, Villarosa Media

Gay Memoir/Biography

  • *When We Rise, Cleve Jones, Hachette Books

Lesbian Romance

  • The Scorpion’s Empress, Yoshiyuki Ly, Solstice Publishing

Gay Romance

  • *Into the Blue, Pene Henson, Interlude Press

LGBT Erotica

  • Soul to Keep, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Bold Strokes Books

LGBT Anthology

  • The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care,Zena Sharman, Arsenal Pulp Press

LGBT Children’s/Young Adult

  • Girl Mans Up, M.E. Girard, Harper Teen

LGBT Drama

  • Barbecue/Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Theatre Communications Group

LGBT Graphic Novels

  • Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Ed Luce, Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal, Fantagraphics Books

LGBT SF/F/Horror

  • The Devourers, Indra Das, Del Rey

LGBT Studies

  • *Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display,Jennifer Tyburczy, University of Chicago Press