The breadth of titles targeting today's GLBT audience continues to expand, with weighty topics ranging from wartime memoirs and tomes on gay marriage to such lighthearted fare as boy-meets-boy romances and steamy sex scenes. But is expansion per se what's needed these days? Might publishers be missing the proverbial boat? No, and yes, says Alyson Books publisher Don Weise.
“One of the most common misconceptions about today's gay and lesbian literature is that it's written for a 'gay audience,' whatever that might mean. While there are indeed books that would be of interest to most any gay person, I think the majority of our work speaks to particular segments of the community.
“Personally, I'm less interested in a book that's so bland or inoffensive that anyone might pick it up,” he continues. “That doesn't always make the best sense commercially, but I'd lose my mind if I acquired only with an eye to luring in the most people possible. I believe you can sell to just as many readers by targeting gay and lesbian subgroups whose particular needs haven't been sufficiently met through books. This can be anyone from gay men in recovery to lesbians in long-term relationships. It's critical to know who exactly a book is for and how you're going to reach that audience. To me, shooting for that monolithic gay reader is much more risky.”
The following forthcoming books present a targeted, “something for everybody” approach, leading off with nonfiction works—and a title that will doubtless surprise many readers.
Grant Wood, gay man—who knew? Says Tripp Evans, author of Knopf's Grant Wood: A Life, “I see Wood's life as a cautionary—and heartbreaking—tale about answered prayers. With the unprecedented success of 1930's American Gothic, this talented, deeply closeted artist found himself playing a role for which he was completely unprepared: America's Painter.” Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer reports, “It's very serious and wonderfully juicy at the same time.”
Yes, Virginia, there was gay life in the conformist Eisenhower era. An intriguing combination of gay history and culture is presented in Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s by Will Fellows and Helen Branson. The October University of Wisconsin Press title chronicles Branson's remarkable story: a grandmother in her 60s who ran a gay bar in Hollywood in the '50s—America's most antigay decade. When Fellows discovered a copy of Branson's 1957 book, he decided to intersperse her original chapters with chapters of his research, biographical sleuthing, commentary, and context.
“I laughed and gasped at its inside-show-business stories and was intrigued by the cutthroat advertising and art world gossip. Brilliantly written.” So says Joan Rivers about Double Life (Alyson, Oct.), the funny and moving 50-year love story between Alan Shayne, former Broadway actor, casting agent, and president of Warner Brothers TV for 10 years, and Norman Sunshine, an Emmy Award—winning designer and former ad executive turned acclaimed painter. Not surprisingly, their story—which begins in a $50-a-month New York City walkup and moves to L.A., Palm Springs, and Malibu—is chockablock with dish on movie and theater luminaries.
In Streb: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero (Feminist Press, Apr.), Elizabeth Streb, known as the Evel Knievel of dance, chronicles her unusual life as an “action specialist.” She shares her lust for thrills from an early age (wrangled eels at age eight, burned down a barn at nine) and vividly narrates her path to becoming a maverick choreographer by challenging gravity and incorporating danger into her everyday life.
Today's wartime gay experience is hardly new, as exemplified in an affecting historical memoir just out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In 1942, a timid, inexperienced 21-year-old reports to Atlantic City, N.J., to enlist in the U.S. Army. His career in the armed forces takes him eventually to France and Germany, where he witnesses firsthand the ravages of war. Now James Lord tells his story in My Queer War—coming to terms with his sexuality, feeling the thrill of first love and the chill of disillusionment with his fellow man.
A September memoir from Beacon Press treats another timeless topic: a loved one's death. In The Pure Lover, David Plante shares memories of his partner of 40 years, the poet Nikos Stangos. Says editor Amy Caldwell, “David writes wonderfully about falling in love with Nikos as a young man, about his beauty and elegance, but he also writes about intellectual admiration and petty irritations. He sees his lover. It's that deep knowledge that makes his grief at Nikos's death so profound.”
Taking a Novel Approach
Coming in October from Arsenal Pulp Press is Krakow Melt, the second novel by former gay porn star Daniel Allen Cox. Krakow, a fantasia about politics, religion, homophobia, and a bisexual fire starter in Poland, is based on Cox's time in Poland when Pope John Paul II was dying; Pink Floyd, the sport of parkour, and conservative Polish president Lech Kaczynski (killed in the recent plane crash) also figure in the book, which, says the publisher, “sets fire to old ideas of the past.”
About Lee Houck's September novel, Yield, Kensington assistant editor Peter Senftleben says, “I'm totally in love with this book.” Houck, he says, “has an uncanny understanding of the importance of friends in rough times, and the book's characters reminded me so much of my gay family that they almost became part of it.” The author is evidently as interesting as his quirky characters, as he performs with Circus Amok, a queer circus in New York City, and sells maple products at the Union Square Greenmarket.
News bulletin: Vampires are not always of the heterosexual persuasion. Take, for example, Blood Sacraments, a November story collection from Bold Strokes Books in which some of today's top erotic writers explore the duality of blood lust (that's gay blood lust) coupled with passion and sensuality. The book's editor, Todd Gregory, is a New Orleans writer who's published short stories in numerous anthologies and who, as he puts it, “survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath with the help of prescription medication.”
Before his death last year, E. Lynn Harris wrote the first installment of a projected series about a bisexual owner of a Miami modeling agency. In In My Father's House (June), Bentley L. Dean III, who runs the Picture Perfect modeling agency in South Beach, is disowned by his homophobic father for breaking off his engagement and having an affair with a male TV reporter. According to publisher St. Martin's, “With this book, Harris was back to writing the kind of work that made him a household name and to giving a rare glimpse into the world of black gay men and the unique challenges they face.”
Print and Reprint
The paperback editions of three noteworthy gay-themed novels are due in the coming months. Out this month from HMH's Mariner Books imprint is The Sky Below, the third novel (after Tea and A Seahorse Year) by noted author and literary critic Stacey D'Erasmo. PW's starred review called Sky “a luminous novel crafted in meticulous detail with shimmering language... demanding and immensely satisfying.” Another Mariner title (this one due in May), and another PW starred review, is Elinor Lipman's The Family Man, about which we said, “A divorced gay man's vanquished paternalism returns when he reconnects with his long-lost stepdaughter in Lipman's hilarious and moving 10th novel.... [her] knack for creating lovable and multifaceted characters is the real draw.”
Coming in June is Kensington's reprint of Object of Desire by William J. Mann, an author who writes celebrity bios (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn) and gay novels (Where the Boys Are) with equal style and wit. According to PW's review of Object, “Mann's vivid style is a treat, and though the contemporary story line flirts with romantic overkill, the flashbacks... are particularly well done and could almost stand on their own.” (On a personal note, we have nothing against romantic overkill.)