Thursday, December 25, 2014

Yes, Virginia

   You'll probably come across this many places, but for some reason it resonated with me this year, so I chose to post it...

from the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun
   We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

   Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
   Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
    Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
    You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
    No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

   You can learn more about the editorial, and the man who wrote it, HERE.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review ~ The Golden Age by Gore Vidal

The Golden AgeThe Golden Age by Gore Vidal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book grew on me as I progressed. I attribute the difficult time I had getting into it at the beginning to the fact that it was one of (actually the last of) a series. Several characters are dropped on the reader with very little introduction, yet a bit of research revealed these had been major players in a previous volume. As this novel's events unwound, these players faded somewhat as heir, Peter Sanford, took not so much center stage as central POV duties.

One thing that (especially at first) I found disconcerting was Vidal's insertion of himself as a character in the narrative. It initially comprised little more than a drive-by, which had little more effect on me than to cause a roll of the eyes). But by the end, the author/character had gone full meta and surrounded himself with his characters much like Samantha did that time she tried to write a story on Bewitched. It only managed to work (IMO) due to the inclusion of Aaron Burr, harkening back to the first entry in this series, which (full disclosure) I have not read.

I'm a huge van of Vidal but not so keen on his style as a fiction writer. His slightly detached, slightly pedagogic voice works better when he's functioning as a critic/essayist. Still, I enjoyed the book. It makes a great companion to his final collection of essays, The Last Empire.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Come home to Thanksgiving! Dear Children, come home!
From the Northland and the South, from West and the East,
Where'er ye are resting, where'er ye roam,
Come back to this sacred and annual feast."

 Horace Greeley (1846)
 New York Herald Tribune 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Barefoot in the Prints of our Ancestors

I meant to post all this week with historical and fun facts about Thanksgiving, but tonight as so many fires burn and so many more immutable crimes prove ultimately incombustible , I'm just going to reflect on the words of wiser men…

The quotes are assembled/ordered by me rather than as a reflection of any text or even any chronology. Which, I suppose, is a round-about way of saying: "Emphasis Mine."

James Baldwin, from The Fire Next Time:

“There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.”

“The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.”

“If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world”

Thurgood Marshall:

“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

W. E. B. Du Bois:

"One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

And, since I began with him, I'll let Baldwin have the final word (from The Fire Next Time):

"Whose little boy are you?”

Friday, November 14, 2014

A HUNDRED LITTLE LIES - Audiobook Just Released

The Audiobook of A Hundred Little Lies just became available from Audible. Read by JP Handler.

You can find it HERE.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: China Dolls

China Dolls
China Dolls by Lisa See

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another book I hope to some day soon offer a full review for. I will say briefly, the revolving POV did not work for me, mainly because I didn't understand the point of it. I never felt it offered any deeper insight into the relationships of the three main characters and, except for very minor cosmetics, there wasn't a lot of difference in their voices. (Was this to point out a universal similarity? As I say, I never figured out why the author chose to write the story that way.)

The other main thing that annoyed me was that again and again plot points were sprung on the reader like grand "AHA!" moments, but never were actually AHA moments. Anyone paying attention knew well before it was revealed that Ruby and Joe were sleeping together, and that Helen betrayed Ruby. And, god knows, the bit about the weird dude attacking the other dancer with a knife wasn't so much foreshadowed as telegraphed.

Still a fast and comfortable read. Seemingly well-researched and written with an obvious love of the subject and period.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: The Boys on the Rock

The Boys on the Rock
The Boys on the Rock by John Fox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Probably my favorite "Coming Out" story.

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Review: Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America
Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this to be a very accessible and informative read (two traits that don't necessarily coincide). Personally, I would have liked more depth earlier on (re Vidal esp.) rather than the later works (Angels in America, etc.), undoubtedly because the latter works are more familiar to me.

I do wonder about those neglected entirely (Jon Fox anyone? He wrote one of my favorite books!) and those (Joseph Hansen!) mentioned only in passing. Again, a personal quibble. I've read far more Hansen than any of the other writers mentioned in the book and assume he was something of an outlaw.

I suppose Bram wanted to concentrate on the "important" writers. Unfortunately, the more "mainstream" a gay writer was (Vidal, Williams, Capote and Baldwin), the more, it seems to me, they capitulated to the system. Which makes them somewhat less outlaws, no?

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Review: Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America
Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this to be a very accessible and informative read (two traits that don't necessarily coincide). Personally, I would have liked more depth earlier on (re Vidal esp.) rather than the later works (Angels in America, etc.), undoubtedly because the latter works are more familiar to me.

I do wonder about those neglected entirely (Jon Fox anyone? He wrote one of my favorite books!) and those (Joseph Hansen!) who were mentioned only in passing. Again, a personal quibble. I've read far more Hansen than any of the other writers mentioned in the book and assume he was something of an outlaw. I suppose Bram wanted to concentrate on the "important" writers. Unfortunately, the more "mainstream" a gay writer was (Vidal, Williams, Capote and Baldwin), the more, it seems to me, they capitulated to the system. Which makes them somewhat less outlaws, no?

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An awful book about awful people being awful to each other...With the worst of the bunch narrating the whole unhappy affair in a whiny, navel-gazing voice.

Let me begin with an interesting (to me) side note: There is a somewhat famous gay bookstore in Philadelphia called Giovanni's Room. I've never been, but heard about it when it nearly closed it's doors recently and there was a push in LGBT circles to save it. I gathered from what I heard of the bookstore (and from the crusade itself) that the bookstore had long provided a sort of haven for the local gay community--a safe place to gather and, of course, explore gay fiction and poetry. That led me to believe that the book Giovanni's Room would be about a refuge that allowed two men to explore their attraction to one another.

Now, having read the book, I wonder if the people who opened the bookstore and named it Giovanni's Room had read the book. In the book, the room is a sort of nadir of cosmic horror and repulsion. It acts on those who enter it in a palpably malevolent fashion, crushing them between it's dank and dirty, claustrophobia-inducing walls. It drives one of the men, ultimately to murder. In fact, now that I'm really considering the story, I guess what I'd most liken it to would be one of the early Lovecraft tales--you know, where not much actually happens, but the author paints a word picture of man's futile struggle against an either malevolent or indifferent universe. Giovanni's room (the place in the book, not the bookstore, nor the book itself) is like dreaming Cthulhu or, better yet, Azathoth.

Was it well-written? Most assuredly. Baldwin knows his way around prose. And he occasionally uses colons to off-set his dialogue tags, which I also like to do, but which has recently become something of a no-no, apparently. But the story could never rise to the level of the words telling it.

Reading the other reviews I'm honestly wondering if I didn't read some other book! Another check on my "501 Must Read Books" List that fails to live up to the hype.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: The Nephew

The Nephew
The Nephew by James Purdy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jeez, what a disappointment. This book has been on my reading list for some time, and, when I finally managed to get my hands on a copy (it's a rare item in my neck of the woods), I was so excited to read it.

The excitement didn't last long. Just so-so for most of the length and then really fell to pieces in the final act. Talk about authorial interference. Nothing in the final quarter of the book seemed to happen as an organic progression from what came before; instead we got a lot of author makes things happen to...And here I'm stuck with " what?" Make a point? Teach a lesson? Exhibit his total abhorrence of moral turpitude?

Ugh. Just ugh.

Technically, the level of polish also seemed to diminish toward the end. He started off rather technical sound--nothing particularly special, but certainly more than serviceable. At the end he really just seemed to be trying to crank it out and reach the finish line.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Argh! I really wanted to love this book. And I went in expecting to love it. I was excited--filled with anticipation. And then...Well, it really turned out to be a slog.

Amazingly, I was not, prior to reading the first of this collection's stories, familiar with the Bluebeard tale. Obviously, post investigation, I admit to having encountered various "Popular Culture" references to the story, but I read Carter's version with very fresh eyes. Nevertheless, I thought the build up did not match the denouement, and the whole "Mother rides in on a charger" thing just had me sort of going..."Un, how far til I get to The Company of Wolves?"

That story (TCOW) was the basis for one of my favorite movies of the 80s (actually, according to wiki, Carter wrote the screenplay based on her own story). If you've seen the movie, you know what a strange child I am admitting to having been. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it! Go in for the werewolves but stay for the giant teddy bears, Neil Jordan, and Angela Lansbury's ferrets.

Unfortunately, TCOW was next to last in this collection (with only Wolf Alice--which I suspect also worked its way into the movie TCOW) trailing after it like a sad coda. In between were what felt like innumerable reworkings of Beauty and the Beast--some played disappointingly straight and one where the couple turned out to be tigers. (?) There was a Puss in Boots story that I admit to liking better than the movie (FULL DISCLOSURE: Carter's P-in-B has nothing to do with the Pixar movie). But my one shiny favorite here was The Lady of the House of Love. It was one of those stories that really reminds you of something you can never quite put your finger on).

Needless to say (altho I shall say it), Carter writes magnificently. I've punished myself with some poorly written works of late, and her command of the English language was a very welcome respite. But ultimately I was piteously disappointed by the collection over all.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Review ~ Seven Suspects by Michael Innes

Seven SuspectsSeven Suspects by Michael Innes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went back and forth with this one. I read it after "overhearing" (or whatever the internet equivalent of eavesdropping is) the author of one of my favorite series (Charlie Cochrane, Cambridge Fellows) say it was one of her influences.

It is definitely an old-school locked-room mystery, which are not my favorites. But it's main crime was the introduction of a flurry of suspects (all dons/professors/instructors/or whatever the British term is, at a fictional university) which I never felt I got sorted, even by the end. They all remained a blur, not because the author didn't craft them, but because he threw them at me in a bunch and I spent the rest of the book feeling like I was trying to crawl out of a dogpile of suspects (and it certainly seemed like there were more than seven of them).

But I very much enjoyed the Scotland Yard man, and I liked the local cop even more--wished there was more of him. The actual solution to the puzzle was a bit over the top (and, by a bit, I mean, REALLY!), but all-in-all a fun denouement.

If the British cozy is your thing (altho there is one scene of a physical confrontation on a foggy quad that livens things up) you should definitely check this out.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

TV and Movie Title Mash-Ups

So, over at the Absolute Write Watercooler, someone started a thread entitled "Cross-Over Episodes That Should Never Happen" (or something like that). It's rather similar to the Hollywood Game Night game called "Movie Mash-Ups". I participated and came up with the following. If you belong to the Watercooler you should check out the other ones too.

One of the FBI's Most Wanted gets himself incarcerated at a minimum security women's prison to help a female inmate catch international terrorists:

Orange is the New Black List

A young werewolf makes a killing in the stock market but descends into drug-abuse and crime:

Teen Wolf of Wall Street

A cross-dressing princess raises dragons in a medieval world of magic and violence:

The Crying Game of Thrones

A gay pianist and his volatile lover attempt to survive after the Rapture:

Left Behind the Candelabra

Criminal insects infest organized crime in New Jersey:

Boardwalk Empire of the Ants (Eh, they can't all be great!)

A corrupt Politician returns to college and joins a rowdy frat:

Animal House of Cards

Two uber-cool seventies cops help a young girl dying of cancer:

The Fault in Our Starsky and Hutch

A ridiculously sexy but remarkably depressed ad man tries to make a life for him and his disabled friend:

Of Mice and Mad Men

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review: A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

A High Wind in JamaicaA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have a sort of vague recollection of seeing this film as a child, one that mingles an irresolute fondness and repulsion. The book, reading it now as an adult and many years distant from the type of audience for which it was constructed, left me rather "Meh."

I think that technically there was a lot of craft involved here, and that the distant, pedantic third POV was supposed to somehow cleverly juxtapose with the series of portentous events to comment on the way the world is viewed by children. Unfortunately, it just left me feeling uninvolved and ultimately uninterested.

Lots of things happen: children in Jamaica survive an earthquake (possibly?) and a hurricane, but then are sent back to England to attend boarding school. Their ship is held up by pirates and the children inadvertently end up with the brigands. One of the children dies in a fall. An elder girl appears to become a consort to the first mate. Another ship is hijacked and another girl, Emily, kills that ship's captain. But none of it appears to have much effect on the participants, especially the children themselves, who blissfully adapt and live in their own little world, while the adults around them suffer enormously.

Maybe if there were an afterward that had Emily as an adult trying to remember the events...perhaps with a feeling that mingled fondness and repulsion. That, I might have connected with.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: Lost Horison by James Hilton (1933)

Lost HorizonLost Horizon by James Hilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m amazed by just how much I enjoyed this book. It’s been about a week since I finished and I still keep thinking about it. I’ll probably have to read it again in a year or so just to see if the impression I got was true or a case of simply reading something at the right place and time.

Warning: The ending does leave QUITE A LOT(!) to the imagination (I’ve actually dreamed an ending for poor Conway since reading this). So, if you are one of those who needs everything tied up in a neat bow, this is not the book for you. I also wondered about the packaging of the tale—it’s presented as a story told to a friend about a story he got from another friend—but I think this was simply to allow for the very ambiguous ending.

Highly recommended!

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Thin ManThe Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finishing up with my Hammett...This one never held much attraction for me because I supposed it was going to parody the Agatha Christie type murder mystery and I prefer my Hammett straight up.

It was actually very enjoyable tho the mystery is not too difficult to figure out and, once you've deduced the "twist", it's pretty simple to decide whodunit.

Not sure why this was his bestseller. I'm an Op man myself.

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Review: Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O'Hanlon

Into the Heart of BorneoInto the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O'Hanlon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars really, as I ultimately found it just shy of perfect.

It seems natural to compare this to the travel writing of Bill Bryson, and similarities do exist, but O'Hanlon (and Fenton) offer their very British take on the comedic quest. I enjoyed every minute even tho O'Hanlon often seemed to be trying to insert the most arcane examples of sentence structure. Lots of talk about birds and, if I had any interest in ornithology, I'm sure I would have been fascinated. I found the three native guides far more interesting.

And then it ended. Just like that. I would have preferred some sort of summation. Instead I got: "Our search had ended."

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Okay, so after the recent debacle of Scandal reaching back into last century's Playbook of Tropes to Bury Their Gays, I've been having a conversation online about whether there are any laudable gay characters on broadcast tv. Most of the opposition to my contention that there are DAMNED FEW is that we (meaning, I assume, "us gays") are culturally "winning"...But honestly, what exactly are we winning?

Jeff Perry as a shady Gay and Dan Bucatinsky as the hubby who pays the ultimate price...

I visited GLAAD's site and found their list. Interesting to note that two of the five are from cancelled shows (no longer airing) and two of the remaining three are a couple on the same show.

Cameron and Mitchell, lovable but alone in the tv landscape?

I'll be the first to admit that Scandal left me feeling stricken (I loved that show despite it's ridiculous plots and really felt personally offended by what it did) and may be conflating this loss of gay tv characters as a result. I'd be very interested in hearing what others think.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cover Reveal ~ Cheap as Beasts!

Fresh off the (virtual) presses, here is the cover of my next novel, Cheap as Beasts, coming soon from Bold Strokes Books. photo Cheap_as_Beasts.jpg