Archive for March, 2016

Anatomy of a Book Cover

BY TOM CARDAMONE

 

Over the years, I’ve been involved in the design of several of my book covers. I’ve also stepped back and let knowledgeable publishers do their work. Each time I’ve been pleased with the process and the results, but the reason I jumped in a few times is a simple one: it was fun. As the excitement, stress and concern over shaping a book slowly turns into the joy of completion, I’m often left with a mental image of how the physical book should appear, or at the very least what color scheme speaks to the contents within.

Image 1

When I edited The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, I’d known all along that I wanted the cover to feature the artwork of Mel Odom. As a fledging reader, Mel was one of the first artists who illustrated book covers that I knew by name. I even had an unwieldy Richard Adams novel that I never got around to reading, but hung onto for years, because I found Mel’s image so arresting. Possibly his most famous cover art was for Anne Rice’s (writing as Anne Rampling) Belinda, but for me, as I came out of the closet I recognized a kindred spirit, one who’s work adorned the covers of Edmund White’s books: Nocturne for the King of Naples and Forgetting Elena. Speaking of Edmund White: I asked him to write something for Lost Library but the books that interested him the most were already taken. Then, after landing a publisher, I dropped him an email asking if he was still in touch with Mel Odom. He wasn’t, but had a mutual friend who lived in the same building as Mel; I could ring her and she would leave a note under his door for me. How exhilarating! I rang, the note was left. I waited. And not for long. Mel called me and we launched into a fun, rapid fire conversation ending with him agreeing that I could use his work for The Lost Library.

Image 2

Afterwards I was fortunate enough to find a home for more of my writing, working with my partner, Leo, on some cover art, working with the publisher on other titles. And then suddenly I had enough stories for a second collection. Mel’s work immediately came to mind again. Since The Lost Library we’d become friends and I’d spent more time getting to know the contours of his art. My new collection, Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe, had stories firmly grounded in New York City. The title references the AIDS epidemic, a horror that, though none of the stories grapple with this holocaust, its terror is a permanent part of the queer landscape, informing my writing at every turn. As a New York City artist, this was a holocaust Mel witnessed firsthand. I dropped him an email and he was game for us to have another go. And I knew which of his illustrations would be a perfect fit: Means of Evil.image 3

 

The title alone certainly spoke to me (I’d even considered it as a possible title for Night Sweats). The skeletal beauty –shades of Alexander the Great, marble, urban, it just was the cover. In the first story, Owl Aerie, a boy plays baseball and winds up catching a skull in his mitt. Another tale contains letters from a Roman emperor. The image reflects the contents in every way.

One of my closest friends, Kate, designed The Lost Library cover, bringing Mel’s work to the forefront and creating a truly striking book. Mel loved her (she’s one of those women gay men immediately fall for). Knowing we needed to make Night Sweats different, singular, we chatted about book covers and I sent her some images of gay pulp covers from the 50s. We discussed how an essence of that twilight world tinged the stories in Night Sweats and how the design elements of those early paper backs could accentuate Mel’s work. Kate also played around with some alternate ideas, in keeping with postmodern book design. I liked everything she did, but kept coming back to one of the pieces inspired by the pulp covers. Such nostalgia conversely gave the book an air of permanence, something any gay collection of short stories could benefit from. We had our cover.

Image 4

Coda

This past winter, Mel Odom’s first ever solo show was a smashing success. His new work was stunning; the small, meandering rooms of the Upper East Side gallery added a hint of storytelling and discovery to the art. The crowd was fashionable, glittery, in-the-know, and boisterous. I stepped into Central Park for some night air on my way home, marveling at the unseasonably warm weather –everyone was out, giddy at this spring-like reprieve. Later when I arrived back at my apartment, still a bit tipsy, there was a box waiting for me: my author copies of Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe had arrived. I poured them out onto the floor, electrified by a fantastic sense of synchronicity –one of those sparkling moments where all the woe is outweighed by the wonder of it all.

 

Please check out more of Mel’s work here: http://www.mel-odom.com/

What Goes Where, or the Making of Men in Love

By Jerry L. Wheeler

Men In LoveMen in Love is my sixth anthology – four for Bold Strokes and two for Lethe Press – so you’d think I’d have learned something about editing anthos by now. You’d be wrong. Oh, I have a solid grasp of the process, but each one is different. Men in Love was a terrific experience because I got to work with several writers I already admired and respected, plus I found some new writers I wasn’t aware of. I was recently interviewed about MIL by ‘Nathan Burgoine, who asked how the stories were selected and ordered, an aspect of editing anthologies no one talks about. It’s not a secret, it’s just that so few care. However, I am here to plug that information gap.

I received a total of sixty-eight stories through an open call placed on several M/M romance sites as well as the BSB website with a maximum of twenty slots. My time frame was such that I had approximately three weeks to read the stories, select the table of contents, notify authors, send contracts, edit the stories, clean everything up, and put the final document together. Plus write and edit other stuff for money.

I immediately came down with norovirus. I did so much reading in my bathroom, I took an extra home office deduction on my taxes this year.

On the first of those reads, I eliminated stories for obvious reasons—mostly for being over word count or for not fitting the call. Most came close, but….well….there was the Furry Knights of the Round Table thing and two lesbian scat stories. Two. Two people independently came up with the idea of sending me stories about poop fetishism, girls, and romance. On opposite sides of the country. Read the call, please. It’s Men in Love, not Women in Bathrooms. Of course, there was the norovirus…no, no. Wrong theme.

One observation I can make about all sixty-eight stories is that women tended to write about the beginning of the relationship whereas the male writers concentrated on the middle or end of the relationship. That’s not to say that men didn’t write about beginnings and women didn’t write about middles, nor is it to say that bias is reflected in the table of contents, but as an unprocessed group of stories, the tendency was there. I’d be interested to see if other M/M romance editors have noticed a similar split.

After multiple rereadings and a few email exchanges with authors, I narrowed the field down to eighteen stories and tentatively assigned places in the line up. I was fortunate enough to get a wide cross-section of stories, but the problem with that kind of diversity is arranging it in a way that makes sense. I wanted a chorus of well-timed, distinct voices rather than eighteen people shouting at once.

My anchor stories went at the beginning, middle, and end – two straight-up (pardon the expression) romances and a lovely, reflective piece that I always had in mind to end the anthology with. The beginning and middle had to be genre, though. From those three positions, I started making interconnections with subject matter, voice, tone, and word count until I’d found places for all eighteen stories. Then, much like making a mixtape (I’m soooo old), I read the ending of one story and the beginning of the next to make sure I liked the transition. In the end, I was only marginally unhappy with one transition—but you’ll never notice it.

And then on to the proofing and galleys and all that good stuff. The box of books arrived just the other day, and one went on my shelf immediately. I’m proud of this one and happy to have worked with everyone involved. Buy a copy today so we can do a sequel!!

 

JW

The GOP, Bacon, and Me:

Why This Primary Season is Even More Unpalatable than Usual

By Jean Copeland

gay pride 2

Like most of us, I’m trying to maintain my sanity during this presidential primary season, but it’s no easy task. Whether it’s on the news or my newsfeed, I’m finding it impossible to digest the unsavory Republican rhetoric without it repeating on me. It’s downright nauseating to witness a group of supposedly intelligent men vigorously clamor for the GOP nod by promising to reverse Supreme Court decisions and trash the equal rights of over ten per cent of the American population. To attempt to watch a GOP debate, with all the mocking facial expressions, distorting of facts, and shameless pandering to a constituency of bigots, is about as pleasant an experience as drinking a glass of wine and realizing the lipstick print on it isn’t mine. The rhetoric surrounding the argument of religious freedom vs. civil rights is the most distasteful and clearly illustrates just how unsettled the recent progress of the LGBT rights movement has left the Right.

Why is marriage equality even up for debate anyway? Isn’t the Supreme Court’s decision supreme? They ruled that treating gay couples differently from straight couples is unconstitutional, so I can’t, in the name of Edith Windsor, understand how conservatives continue to get away with painting themselves as Christian martyrs to manipulate the conversation about religious freedom. Are rational people that afraid of speaking out against bigotry veiled in religion lest they be labeled bullies and have their own religious values called into question?

The whole point seems rather moot. While I’m not a constitutional scholar or expert on the intentions of our forefathers in any way, I’m pretty confident that the term “religious freedom” was coined to protect a person’s right to worship any religion they choose, any god, tree or doorknob, without persecution. But I’m hard-pressed to believe our founding fathers would approve of this being used as an excuse to disregard the law or as a shield behind which people can hide their motives to discriminate against other Americans whose lifestyles they don’t approve of.

For the latter point we have everyone’s favorite Kentucky town clerk, Kim Davis, who proclaimed with a straight-face (if you’ll pardon the expression) that she, a woman three-times divorced, was exercising her “religious freedom” denying a gay couple a license because she felt gay marriage destroyed the sanctity of traditional marriage. A loving couple trying to marry doesn’t destroy marriage, divorce does. And with an approximated 50% of heterosexual unions ending in divorce, straight people like Kim Davis have been crapping on this sacred institution well before the gays came late to the reception. Backlash against Davis and other religious zealots like her doesn’t make them victims of anything. It exposes the hypocrisy of extremists who feign being victims to promote their hate-fueled agendas.

breakfast anne and jean

breakfast anne and jean

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the height of my fear of an anti-gay Republican presidency is occurring during the Lenten season. As the Catholics observe their ritual fasting in preparation for Easter, I’m reminded of a Good Friday not long ago when my Catholic friend of more than thirty years, Anne, and I went out to breakfast. We have religious differences—she’s Christian and I’m not—yet shockingly, those differences did not cause conflict or ruin in any way our ability to enjoy breakfast together. Since I’m not Catholic, I was free to order a stack of scrumptious blueberry pancakes with a side of sinfully delicious bacon. Anne, a Catholic, also ordered pancakes but not bacon. However, what separated Anne from your average rabid evangelical is that she did not stand on the table and protest my choice to order bacon, claiming the sight of me devouring crispy strips of pork was destroying the sanctity of her Good Friday breakfast; nor did she petition members of Congress demanding that bacon and all other meats be banned from restaurants on Good Friday because it offends her Christian sensibilities. Anne simply ate what was on her plate, and I ate what was on mine, and we managed to accomplish this without judging and condemning each other for our menu choices.

flapjacks

flapjacks

Is marriage equality really that different from ordering bacon at restaurants on Good Friday? In either case, Christians follow one set of beliefs and non-Christians another, yet no candidate is exploiting processed meats (Trump steaks?) for political gain, mainly because that would make them look ridiculous. But for some reason, threatening to rob the civil rights of an entire group of Americans doesn’t. In fact, there’s plenty of incentive for attacking gay rights: an enormous voter base ripe for the picking. And the nominees are poised and eager to let those LGBT heretics know America’s not giving up its traditional family values so that gays can… well, whatever it is you gays want! (Um, be to be treated like regular human beings would be nice.)

Unfortunately, many conservatives still believe acceptance somehow signals the tearing away of America’s illusive moral fiber, as if corporate greed, back-door political deals, and the long-standing tradition of ignoring poverty and racism hadn’t already torn it away long ago.

At the core of their hysteria is bigotry and fear. If gays and lesbians are granted equal citizen status by the federal government and Supreme Court, then state and municipal governments “run by the bigots for the bigots” will no longer have leverage. And when the next batch of gays and lesbians with the misfortune of living in one of those communities goes to court to fight for their SCOTUS-given rights, no religious ideology can stand in their way.

If it’s all the same to you, during this debate/Lenten season, I’ll take my civil rights and my side of bacon and leave the judgment to God.novel cover The Second Wave_300dpi

SALVATION and The Zone of Author Contentment

By I.Beacham

SalvationIt was a day like any other day.

The sun came up at dawn and the birds chirped.

The cat collided with the inside of my bedroom window as a blue-tit landed on the outer sill unaware of the danger that lurked within.

The bird flew off. The cat ambled to the kitchen for an early morning power snack.

A dog barked in the distance.

I rose. I brushed my teeth.

Everything seemed normal in the provincial town I call home.

Except it wasn’t.

Something had changed.

I knew it the moment I sat down in front of my laptop.

The empty pages that had stared back at me the day before yesterday, taunting me with my inability to dream up my next book, started to quiver and fade.

All at once, my fingers cut across the keys like a centipede wearing running shoes.

They moved so fast I had to keep dipping my fingertips into a bowl of water to cool them.

Yes, something had changed.

I had changed.

I had entered…“The Zone of Author Contentment,” and I was finally back in the groove.

Ask any writer what I’m talking about…they’ll know.

It’s where the author gets dumped on by inspiration.

Music. Movie. Poem. Conversation. Photo. News article.

Anything can spark the imagination and fuel the writing frenzy.

My new book, SALVATION. (Roll of drums…hit the lights)

What kick started it?

The previous day I had slipped off my lucky writing rabbit slippers (they are the ones with the huge fake ears). The luck bit wasn’t around.

I donned my sneakers and headed for a historic building up the road.

It was the type of joint where you paid a few bucks to kill a few hours.

As I wandered round the gardens, I saw a woman in dirty cargo jeans pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with plants.

She came close. Real close.

I caught the smell of manure.

Years of well-honed instinct told me she was the gardener.

It was as we passed that our eyes met.

I saw something there. She tried hard to hide it but I’m a writer. I sense these things.

I caught a look of despair and desperation on her face.

I was looking at a woman living day to day, coping with life, and life wasn’t good.

It had nothing to do with the production cycle of gardening and weed control.

Her face haunted me.

It was still haunting me as I opened the tin food for the cat later that evening.

I saw her face as I went to bed.

I dreamed.

The woman told me she had lost love. Real love…the type of love that never dies.

She told me her happiness had been stolen. The woman she still loved now hated her—for all the wrong reasons.

When I woke the next morning I had my story. It was a sad one full of angst.

I had found my missing character.

The rest as they say is history.

The gardener became my SALVATION.

Peevish and Butthead

By Yolanda Wallace

I’m a writer. It’s not only who I am; it’s what I do. I write constantly. In my notebook. On my laptop. On scraps of paper I find lying around. During the week. On the weekends. In the middle of the night. At the crack of dawn. I’ve even written an entire scene while driving on the interstate. Okay, truth check on that one: I dictated the words and my wife Dita wrote them down for me while I kept my eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel. (I think she lost patience after a while, though, because each time I thought I was done “writing”, she would ask me if I was sure, I would respond in the affirmative, then another thought would occur to me less than five minutes later and she’d have to put down her e-reader and pick up her pen again).

And you thought living with a writer was all fun and games. Actually, it can be pretty fun sometimes. I have so many characters running through my head Dita never knows who she’s going to come home to at the end of the day. But she can also vouch for the ugly truth: writers aren’t very much fun when they’re not writing. In fact, I’m told we—okay, I—can be downright crabby when I go more than a few days without putting pen to paper or pecking away at my keyboard.

The best way I can explain it is writing is like an addiction for me. It has the same highs and lows and going cold turkey is a tough ask.

Each time I finish a book, I always say I’m going to take a break to clear my head before I start thinking about the next project. Two things invariably happen. 1) I start reading a good book and get inspired to start writing again well before my self-imposed deadline ends or 2) I start acting out my own version of a Snickers commercial. You know the ones I’m talking about. The various ads that urge you to binge on chocolatey peanutty nougatty goodness because “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” In my case, I’m not me when I’m not writing. Dita has never used the B word to describe me or my behavior when I’m suffering through withdrawal so I’ll do it for her. I can be a total butthead when I’m off my favorite narcotic.

Of the many witty bon mots attributed to quote machine Dorothy Parker, this one has always resonated with me: “I hate writing. I love having written.”

The process of writing can be laborious at times—choosing a setting, creating characters, deciding on point of view, crafting a plot you hope readers will find as appealing as you did when the idea came to you while you were taking a shower or walking the dog or sitting on the beach or—Well, you get the picture. And don’t get me started on writer’s block because that’s a story in itself.

But, despite the hard work (or, perhaps, because of it), there’s nothing like the feeling I get when the story elements start coming together and the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be the finish line instead of a freight train rushing in my direction.

247I say all this because I didn’t truly know what it was like to live with a writer until I wrote about one. Finn Chamberlain, one of the main protagonists in my March release 24/7, is a travel writer. Like me, Finn initially turned to writing because it was more fun to visualize her fantasies than live her reality. My circumstances have changed—as Finn’s certainly do during the course of the book, thanks to the sexy Federal policewoman she falls for and the pesky drug cartel threatening both their lives—but one thing has remained constant for both of us: writing.

Writing makes me happy when I’m sad, occasionally moves me to tears, and has taken me to so many places I never thought I would go.

Thank you for taking the journey with me. I hope you enjoy the trip(s) as much as I do!

The Amazon Trail

Cheeseburger Pie

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

The threat of atomic war overshadowed my generation. On May 8, 1945, Winston Churchill announced VE Day, the end of World War II in Europe. On September 2, 1945, after horrendous destruction, Japan formally surrendered, ending the war throughout the rest of the world. I was born September 9, 1945 into a world free of war and ready for freedom and prosperity.
Yet the New York City school system issued “dog tags” to every student so we could be identified in case the devastation we wreaked on Japan came back to bite the U.S.A.. This possibility was very real to us as we cowered under our desks or in hallways during bombing drills. We knew to instantly act when told to “Take cover,” much as the British knew to go to the Underground when German planes invaded.
We Victory babies (in between the Great Generation and the Baby Boomers) were unanticipated casualties of August 6 and 9, 1945, when the United States attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a decimating new weapon. While our parents celebrated, many of us grew up certain only of our vulnerability. Russia became our big bugaboo and we were taught paranoia along with our ABCs.
It’s no surprise that so many us born into an ostensibly free world have spent our lives enduring anxiety, depression and other mental health byproducts of post war childhoods. I was in the U.S.—what did those bombs do to kids who lived through bombardments and with maimed or widowed parents? Exploding atom bombs. The images burned into American and European brains. Burned onto Asian flesh. Black and white newsreels of bombers dropping their payloads were proudly projected in American theaters and later, piped into our homes on TVs.
As the Victory babies grew, our battered parents prospered in the 1950s, but lived with nightmares of breadlines and rationing, combat and the separation of families. My father returned from West Africa and Europe with recurrent bouts of malaria. My mother and brother moved in with her parents, people who never did recover from the Depression.
By the time the babies of the Great Generation were in high school those of us not mired in poverty jumped either of two ways. Some thought eradicating Communists would give us the safety we’d been promised. Others decided stopping all war was possible. As a result, today we have underserved veterans missing limbs, paralyzed and/or disabled from exposure to, among other poisons, Agent Orange. And we have retired civilians exhausted, but still fighting the good fight against fighting.
The victorious parents were introduced to little white pills called tranquilizers or indulged in serious cocktail hours, or both. Now, little white pills are out of favor with the medical profession, although alcohol, and increasingly, marijuana, remain acceptable buffers to the disappointments of our high ideals. Therapy, OMG therapy—behavioral, cognitive, group, gestalt, alcohol and drug, family—has provided both succor and/or employment for countless of our troubled ilk. My sweetheart’s generation was encouraged to stay healthy with “Pop a Chocks!” multivitamin pills. More modern scientists try to quell our inescapable fears with a new class of pills called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), Tricyclic antidepressants, and other gobbledygook-named magic potions.
None of the above resolve a thing, of course. They only make bearable terror of annihilation. They only make functional so many who are hindered by chronic gloom and unremitting apprehension. President Obama has led the U.S. away from the concept of all out war, much to the chagrin of the industries that feed off mass combat. Now we send out drones and Special Forces to accomplish with better accuracy what atom bombs failed to do.
We’re not fighting for peace any more, we’re fighting for security. Bottom line: we’re still fighting. Therapy and pills may help us cope, but neither end war nor bring victory. With help, we settle for security.
Or as much security as is available on this belligerent planet. Food is certainly a part of security. With that in mind, I offer my Sweetheart’s recipe for Cheeseburger Pie as a substitute for big pharma balms and military battles.

Ingredients:
3 pounds lean ground beef
2 cups Bisquick
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
3 medium to large finely chopped onions (butches, or weepy femmes, can substitute half a cup dried minced onion—it’s just not as good).

Instructions:
Heat oven to 400 degrees
Cook beef on medium high.
While that is cooking grate one pound sharp cheddar cheese.
Next, combine Bisquick, eggs and milk and whisk, whisk, whisk.
When the beef/onion completes browning (about 10 minutes), place in a large oblong baking dish, sprinkle with salt, cover with cheese, and pour the whisked liquid over the top of the cheese.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes – makes 12 servings.

Then, fortified, perk up, go out, and do good in the world! We’ve gotta keep trying.
Copyright Lee Lynch 2016


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