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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | September 10, 2007

The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers, by Matthew Hays. Arsenal Pulp Press, 384 pages, $22.95 paper.

One of the many strengths of this generous collection of thoughtful conversations with queer filmmakers is its immediacy. With one exception – a charming encounter from 20 years ago, when Hays was a nervous college student, with Pink Flamingos star Divine – the 32 interviews were conducted specifically for the book, giving them a thematic cohesion that adds analytical heft to the anecdotal entertainment. Several "big name" (or at least "big movie") directors are included, most notably Pedro Almodovar, Bill Condon, Randal Kleiser (Grease), Gus Van Sant, Don Mancini (screenwriter for five films starring Chucky, a campy serial-killer male doll, and director of 2005's Seed of Chucky), and, of course, the queerest of all, John Waters. Film rebels Bruce LaBruce, Gregg Araki, Rosa von Praunheim, and John Greyson get their due, as do porn pioneer Wakefield Poole and experimental pioneer Kenneth Anger; also included are lesbian filmmakers Janis Cole, Holly Dale, Lea Poole, Patricia Rozema, Monika Treut, and Rose Troche (now directing episodes of The L Word). This is definitely a fresh-popped-popcorn-with-real-butter book.



Body and Blood, by Michael Schiefelbein. St. Martin's Minotaur, 256 pages, $23.95 hardcover.

Back when he was 16, Chris Sieb had a crush on fellow seminarian Jack Canston. A quarter-century later, he's folksy Father Sieb, much beloved by his flock, and very discreetly queer. Everything changes when he crosses paths again with his teenage sweetie, who has transferred from Montana back to Kansas City, trying to escape a soul-searing secret that he just can't share. Lust happens, romance is rekindled, and closet doors long locked crack slowly, slowly open. Schiefelbein has crafted a steamy story about cloistered sex between men of the cloth, with a timely subplot involving a wily youngster who exploits his sexual allure to blackmail a priest. He's couched that story within a traditional mystery – did another closeted queer priest really commit suicide? But this suspenseful novel also smartly confronts the issue of Catholic celibacy, questions the nature of a religion that denies love between men, and explores the ways a wayward man facing a midlife crisis can retain his faith in God. There's more to think about here than merely whodunit.



Braggin' Rights, by Kenna White. Bella Books, 296 pages, $13.95 paper.

Taylor Fleming is a defiantly independent cowgirl, happy to hop into bed for an occasional fling with a pretty girl. But she's even happier back in the saddle, rounding up heifers on the sprawling Texas ranch she runs with her hard-working father. Jen Holland is a struggling artist whose grumpy and estranged father is about to be evicted from his land, which borders the Fleming spread – and the Flemings aren't happy that the old man is rustling their cattle. So the two daughters despise each other? Sure. But when Taylor's legs are crushed in an accident, Jen's certification as a nursing attendant brings the two together – and it's no surprise that their relationship soon evolves from tense and bitter to two-girls-in-love. White's well-paced romance is enlivened by a slew of secondary characters, most memorably an older lesbian who's the handiest cowhand on the ranch. But what sets this story apart from the girl-meets-girl norm is the ending – it's happily ever after, sure, but with a plot twist that's quite emotionally wrenching.



Split Screen, by Brent Hartinger. HarperTempest, 296 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

"One loves him, one wants him. Who will Russell choose?" That's the cover blurb for Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies. Flip Split Screen over, however, and the plot morphs into "Is the perfect girlfriend really what she seems?" – the cover blurb for Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies. Young adult novelist Hartinger's gimmicky – but imaginatively delightful – new book is a single story told, back to back, in two separate novels, from two points of view. In one, gay teen Russell (first seen in The Geography Club, where a rainbow gang of high school students formed a gay-straight alliance) is waffling between old and new beaus while working as an extra on a zombie movie. In the other, his bisexual (and romance-deprived) gal pal Min, an extra in the same movie, is drawn to a quirky former cheerleader with an enticing bad-girl aura. There's plenty of plot overlap and repetition as the parallel tales unfold, but Hartinger makes clever use of the fact that no two people live through – or recall – shared events the same way.



Featured excerpt:

Long story short, Kevin had been my first boyfriend, this baseball jock with dark hair and an impish grin. He wore a light blue work sweatshirt that had been spattered with red paint (and boy, did he fill it out nicely!). Basically, Kevin was hotter than jalapenos. He was also sweet and gentle and oh-so-cuddly. Sounds like the perfect boyfriend, right? Well, he was, except for one small thing. I came out of the closet at school, and he didn't. Which sounds like a small deal, except it's not. When two guys are dating and only one of them is out of the closet, eventually the in-the-closet one will be forced to choose between the closet and the other guy. –from Split Screen, by Brent Hartinger



Footnotes:

The fate of dozens of gay and lesbian novels and anthologies under contract to Haworth Press is uncertain following the mid-August announcement that the publisher has been sold to British publisher Taylor & Francis – which is acquiring only the nonfiction academic and technical side of the business. The publisher's queer-interest fiction imprints – Southern Tier, Positronic, and Alice Street, published by the Harrington Park side of the business – are up for sale separately. More than 60 lesbian and almost 200 gay titles have been published since the imprints were launched about six years ago, but most of those are likely to go out of print unless a sale happens soon – Haworth, with its own printing facility, has kept titles available by warehousing small print runs and reprinting often. Southern Tier editor Greg Herren, whose employment ended Aug. 31, is himself in the dark about the fate of the titles he accepted for publication well into 2008: "Your guess is as good as mine," he said. The sale's impact goes beyond books that might never see print: Harrington Park was a generous supporter of the Lambda Literary Foundation, Lambda Book Report, and the annual Saints & Sinners queer literary conference in New Orleans, and also published quarterly lesbian and gay literary journals, often featuring first-time authors.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s.


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