Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Brad Vance’s Diary of a Smutketeer ~ Episode Five includes Giveaway

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Hi all! This month’s diary is a trip down Memory Lane…step into the Wayback Machine with me to the 1970s! Don’t forget your cowbell!

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I recently did a blog tour for “Would I Lie to You?” and one of the interview questions was about the books that had formed me as a gay writer. The first book that came to mind was Andrew Holleran’s “Dancer from the Dance,” a richly erotic, tragic, hilarious and eerily prescient novel, published in 1978. But after I remembered that book, a lot of others came back to mind.

Okay, now you’re gonna know I’m a little old (over 50, just). I gotta confess that, because this column is about the books I discovered in my teenage years that formed me as a gay man and a writer.

I was lucky, growing up in the 1970s. There was no argument about “free range children” back then – every kid in my neighborhood was a free range kid. We all walked to school alone, even in elementary school. In high school, I walked to my after school job, got off at nine p.m., and usually walked home from downtown because it was faster than waiting for the hourly bus.

When I was in high school, my mom was a nurse whose shift started at 7 am, so she dropped me off at a McDonald’s about a 20 minute walk from school. So I had a good hour every morning to eat something bad for me and, for another 25 cents, read the San Francisco Chronicle.

It was worth every penny then, because those were the days when Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” was being serialized in that paper. The world around me was full of hostility towards gay people. The Reno Gay Rodeo was about to be driven out of town by a fanatic group of holy rollers, and Anita Bryant was on the TV telling everyone that all gay people were child molesters and all gay teachers needed to be fired. So Maupin’s serial was like seeing Narnia beyond the back of the cabinet, a world where people like me not only lived, but thrived. Gay was normal in Maupin’s world, hell, it had to be normal for a whole city if its daily morning paper would publish the serial.

And I was lucky that my uncle was gay (the gay is strong in my family) and lived with his partner in San Francisco, a few hours’ drive from Reno. We visited the city a lot, and, again, I was a free range kid even there. My parents and my uncle and his partner would go off to do adult stuff, and I, fourteen years old, was given instructions on how to take the bus from Twin Peaks down the twisty streets to the Castro, where I got off and made my own way, hooking up with them at Tokyo Sukiyaki at Fisherman’s Wharf in time for lunch.

Yeah, that’s right. A fourteen year old boy alone in the Castro, and nothing terrible happened. Suck that, Anita Bryant! Okay, I was hardly a juvenile delinquent, so they trusted me not to do anything foolish…but they also thought of the city as a safe place for me. Yeah, Armistead Maupin was right; late 70s San Francisco really was a magic kingdom. You’d never do that in NYC at that time, for instance.

What did I do with all this wonderful terrible freedom? I went book shopping. Which in my mind was more dangerous than anything else I could get up to. There was a little bookshop on Castro, whose name I can’t find, but it was just up the hill past the Sausage Factory, between 18th and 19th. A little hole in the wall, with a gay and lesbian section about two shelves high (okay the lesbian section was pretty much Rita Mae Brown’s “Rubyfruit Jungle”). Two shelves doesn’t seem like much, but at the time, it pretty much covered every gay novel in print. I was in heaven.

Most gay lit in the late 1970s up to 1980 or so (anything pre-AIDS basically still being “The 70s”) wasn’t dark, heavy, or literary. It was…fun. Like Paul Monette’s “Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll” or “The Gold Diggers,” or Gordon Merrick’s preposterous romance novels (talk about terrible dialogue!), or Vincent Virga’s campy “Gaywyck.” Even Larry Kramer’s “Faggots,” mostly a condemnation of gay men’s hedonism, had its hilarious side. Avon Books was the primary purveyor of gay novels – if you saw a gay novel in paperback, it was probably from Avon. St. Martin’s would take up this banner later, publishing more literary and serious titles, but then again, after AIDS, not much about gay life was funny anymore.

Then I would walk down Market Street, to the old Tro Harper/Books Inc. store on Powell Street, just below Union Square along the cable car line. It was a massive independent bookstore (it went out of business months after Borders opened kitty-corner to it across Union Square), and the front shelves were heaped with new titles. And on one occasion, I saw a pile of one book, a lot of copies, as if the owners expected it to move as many units as a James Patterson would today. And that book was the paperback copy of “Dancer from the Dance.”

Remember, living in Reno, other than the SF Chronicle, I had no access to information about what was going on in the gay world. I had never heard of “Dancer” until I saw that Bantam paperback, with its shirtless model, sweater over his shoulders, and a kind look on his gorgeous face, completely appropriate for the character. (Today that model would never make a book cover, without a chest wax and about twenty extra pounds of muscle.) Naturally I snapped it up, ready to devour it greedily.

It was and still is the most erotic novel I’ve ever read – hot summer nights in Manhattan, the pre-Studio 54 discos, the cruisy parks, Fire Island before it cost a fortune to spend the summer there… When I went back to reread it a few years ago, I was somehow sure there were a lot of sex scenes, but there weren’t. Not one. The book’s heat is all about desire, the possible, the impossible, the search for love, the consolations of friendship, better than love in the end because more enduring. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out on one of the best novels of the 20th century, which doesn’t get that credit on the usual lists because, well, it’s a gay novel, probably, about horny gay men.

Now, all this makes my youth sound pretty halcyon, which it wasn’t of course. It was still the 70s, and while I’d known since, well, second grade that I was gay (David Sly, you gorgeous bully, I’ll never forget you!), it was still a secret, something you didn’t want the world to know, especially your parents. So when we got home, I’d put all those books deep in my desk drawer, under a bunch of other stuff, right next to the cigarettes I bought out of the vending machine at the bowling alley.

My parents weren’t the prying type, but I still made sure to read those books only late in the evening, door almost closed, with Talking Heads ’77 playing softly on my Panasonic portable cassette player. They were my immunization against all the messages the world was trying to hit me with, all the messages from the holy rollers about the inherent evil of gay people, messages from Hollywood about the inevitable death of any gay character in a movie or TV show, messages from the kids around me calling each other “pussy” and “fag” as the worst slurs in the world.

And it taught me something else. The other thing I’d always known since second grade was that I was going to be a writer. My unfixably terrible handwriting (fuck that quick brown fox and the lazy sleeping dog he jumped over) meant I got a typewriter in elementary school. I was soon banging out stories about a lonely child rescued by interstellar beings who then nuked his tormentors into dust and took him home with them. It wasn’t a conscious lesson, but something that penetrated my subconscious, the knowledge that I could write about being gay, too, someday.

And I’m thrilled to see some of these books back in print. All of Paul Monette’s witty books are back in print (in Kindle editions, too), I discovered this morning, as are Gordon Merrick’s silly romances. And I can’t wait to reread them all, to relive the experience, to try and remember how they made me feel back then, peering through them as if through a telescope, to where those interstellar aliens waited for me to find them, and learn to rescue myself, with just a little help.

QUESTION: What was the first gay or M/M novel that you read that really made an impression on you?

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Giveaway

Each week, on our Wednesday Author Column posts we will gift to one lucky commenter answering the author question, a Kindle eBook from your TBR list.

Good Luck!

19 comments:

  1. Power Play: Resistance by Rachel Haimowitz and Cat Grant. I found it incredibly intense, brutal and uncomfortable to read. I still can't understand why someone (even for money unless truly desperate) would choose the lifestyle Brandon submits to.

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  2. I was kind of awaken to the topic with the little M/M parts of Diana Gabaldon's work (in Outlander, then her Lord John Grey series) and I did love the Queer As Folk TV shows (both the british and the american ones).
    But (maybe it won't be original...) it's the Cut & Run series (by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban) than really made an impression and started the passion. It made me realize that I could fall head over heels for any couple without distinction of gender or sexual preference and that there could be another level of intensity in M/M novels than the one I was used to in traditional heterosexual romance ;-)

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    1. I forgot to thank Brad Vance for adding new (to me) authors to my TBR list!

      foebz@hotmail.com

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  3. Maurice by EM Forster was the first novel I remember reading that had gay main characters. It made a big impression on me - it was so beautiful.

    Thanks for the post.

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  4. One Real Thing by Anah Crow & Dianne Fox. I won it in 2011 in an online contest and fell in love.

    From another free range child of the 70's, I loved everything about this article and wished I had a little book shop just up the hill from the Sausage factory. I grew up in suburbia Long Island where segregation remained alive and well long after I graduated from HS, and anything that was deemed inappropriate just wasn't available. Reading was my escape, and I was reading way ahead of grade level, happily grabbing up anything I could get my hands on—romance, sci-fi, horror—but the offerings were limited, the content policed, and my parents were still horrified by what I'd bring home. It wasn't until I was in my 20's, after the birth of my two sons and a move out of state, that I realized how vast the literary world was and worse, how repressed I'd been. That was the feeling, that it had all been withheld from me. I soaked in what I could, but that free time I had as a child was long gone. It's only in recent years, with my kids grown, that I really have the time to devote to my addiction.

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  5. when souls collide the way the guy and his stepson was treated after his wife died and the inlaws discovered the guy was gay when it was discovered but it all worked out in the end.

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  6. Into The River I Drown. When an angel give up to be an angel to be with a human he love. That's big for me.

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  7. JP Barnaby Little Boy Lost series.

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  8. always by kindle alexander is my fav mm book to date..such a great love story

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  9. Try by Ella Frank (it also was my first totally M/M book). I love this book and the whole series with each book being my top read for that year

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  10. Bound by Honor (Men of Honor Book 1) by SE Jakes. That was my first m/m book. Since then It is all I read and that was 3 years ago and I have not turned back. I have tried to read m/f books since then and I just can't finish them. They have no more appeal to me.

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  11. First M/M fiction novel was Mary Calmes's Change of Heart. It changed my view on m/m fiction.

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  12. It was the Peter and Charlie trilogy by Gordon Merrick back in the late 70's. It was enormously important to me, because growing up in Texas meant there were restrictions on what sorts of books were allowed in libraries and book stores. Yeah, they're a little difficult to read now that my literary tastes have matured, but back then, I was just thrilled to find any story with positive queer role models. These men had a real love story, just like in the het romances, complete with HEA. It was a mind-blowing discovery for me, and it gave me hope that one day, I would find my own HEA. Meanwhile, I acted as a beard for my gay friends and hid who I was inside from most of the world. I mean, a branch of the KKK had an OFFICE just three miles from my house.

    I'm the same age as you, Brad (maybe a couple of years older?), and I had many of the same experiences, growing up in a world where kids went out the door in the morning and stayed out until dark, with quick trips home to grab lunch and dinner. I walked to school from first grade on, until my school was far enough away that I had to ride the bus. Living in Texas, I didn't have access to the kind of gay culture you describe - rather the opposite, such books were banned from our libraries. I found a copy of Patience and Sarah that somehow escaped the censors, and that one rocked my world, too. But that was it for me until well into my adult years: Peter and Charlie, and Patience and Sarah were the whole of my queer romance experience. Like Elle, I'm a fan of the Outlander world. The Lord John books are among my favorites, because the author does go to great lengths to get her facts right when it comes to homosexuality in the 18th century. It was a brutal world for queer folk.

    Now we have so many good authors, producing stories that cover every possible genre. Queer characters can and do have the same adventures, the same tragedies and joys, and most importantly, win the same HEAs that for so long were only granted to straight couples. This blog and so many others that serve the queer romance community, and groups like the Goodreads M/M Romance group are more important to me than I can say. I'm bisexual, I have a gay nephew, and of my three kids, one is straight, one is bi, and one is gay, so yeah, queer romance is vitally important to me. I had a difficult time in the early years of my adult life, because I was unacceptable to either side of the fence. I don't want my kids to ever feel that way. Just being able to pick up a book in which someone like yourself gets to have romance and heartache and a happy ending means so much. Thank you to all the writers who were brave enough to say that love is love, wherever you find it.

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    1. Congratulations Kezia, you are our lucky winner and may choose any M/M Kndle ebook from your TBR list. An email is on its way to you.

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    2. My squee could be heard throughout the house, when I read your email! Thank you so much. Now I have to chose between my top two picks. Thanks for the early birthday present, though I won't be waiting until this weekend to read it!

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  13. I think that the first m/m book that I read was Worthy @Lia Black. I found the characters were written like I could just feel what they were going through (hard to put into words). They showed me what some people have went through or what they think about themselves cause of the people around them. The book put me in a great head space. I have been addicted to any and all m/m books( plus I like the smut too). There has not been a book that I have not liked. I have only been reading m/m for about 8 months give or take.

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  14. Lynn Flewelling's Luck In The Shadows was the first book I remember reading with gay characters. It definitely is NOT m/m romance but it led me to a lot of fantasy books with gay characters, which eventually evolved into m/m romance.

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  15. My first exposure was in a het book by Suzanne Brockmann. In it she introduced us the gay FBI agent Jules who meets Robin. They get their own story in the series later, still one of my all time favorite books. I haven't looked back since.

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