Christopher Rice: On His New Novel ‘The Vines,’ the Gay Appeal of the Horror Genre, and Writing Supernatural Thrillers
To characterize Christopher Rice as a writer who knows his way around thrills and chills would be an understatement.
At 22, he hit the ground running with A Density of Souls–now largely regarded as a gay, gothic classic–amidst a cavalcade of media interest, much of which was focused on his literary pedigree that includes mother Anne Rice, the bestselling grande dame of the supernatural, and the late Stan Rice, a celebrated poet. Critics who were quick to dismiss young Rice’s out-of-the-box success as a byproduct of that famous lineage, however, were soon eating their own words with the continued and sustained success of a series of bestselling and award-winning thrillers, including The Snow Garden, Light Before Day, Blind Fall, and The Moonlit Earth.
Mary McKinley’s debut novel offers a unique point of view that most young adult authors shy away from, while at the same time employing a lot of comfortable clichés. Beau, Lee, The Bomb, and Me follows Rusty Winters, an obese teenager who is not only sorely unpopular but a self-proclaimed smart girl who spends much of the novel in her head. Rusty is incredibly sarcastic and clever for her age, but all of that goes ignored by the oh-so ethical-laws of a high school popularity system. Because of the general heckling she receives and lack of social settings Rusty finds herself in, large portions of the book are glued together with a constant internal brooding that sometimes reaches valuable points and other times becomes repetitive. The second page of the book sets the narrator’s tone as clear as a bell: “I’m sixteen years old and I reflect on death nearly every day. And the death that I reflect on is mine. Because I hate my life. Sometimes I actually daydream, for hours here in my room, about just what I’d do…about the stress and the mess and how to deal.”
Enter Leonie (or “Lee”), her inexplicably beautiful yet largely underdeveloped best friend who becomes an outcast for sleeping with a teacher and whose attitude offers a point of contention throughout the story.
Enter Beau, the new kid in school who is openly gay, and therefore, someone Rusty immediately sees as a new whipping boy for her bullies. Relieved to have someone who is lower on the caste system than her, she is, at first, quick to shirk him off.
Enter Bullies, who commit a rather shocking series of hate crimes to Beau that set the story in motion.
In a familiar band-of-misfits shtick, the three outcasts become friends and make pilgrimage in Rusty’s mother’s stolen car to San Francisco, where they will try to find Beau’s uncle and hide out until things cool down. They all find solace in each other and the community they’ve created on the road, and therein lies the thesis of the book, which presents itself early on:
The problem with withdrawing from the mean people is you never know who the mean people are going to be, so you shut down everyone. Which is also what I did. And from which, my friends, I suffered even more, upon recollection. I do not miss my depression. I do not miss being broken. I do not miss the void. I never knew how much I wanted to be a part of a gang till I had one. Even a gang of misfits.
The three misfits are cringingly unaware of gay culture and unique gay identity. Even though their knowledge of gay world scarcely differentiates from the common stereotype, they each take turns discovering that there’s more to it. They have a preconceived notion of San Francisco as a gay Mecca, and Uncle Frankie as a savior, even though he’s given them no reason to bank on him other than the fact that he is gay.
In that, the book raises a lot of questions about what kids in a modern age, even gay kids, think about gay culture in general and where they fit in along a stretch of different kinds of prejudices. Where Rusty tells a story of physical discrimination, Leonie, a story of sexual discrimination, and Beau, a story of LGBT discrimination, all seem to cohere. Each member takes turns building each other up and knocking each other down, presenting a valuable lesson and pointing out a problem we often find ourselves in when looking at human rights and our own social follies.
Along the way they are (of course) joined by a scrappy, mischief-making stray dog they call “The Bomb,” and set on an adventure that takes them through the Twilight tourist town of Forks, armed robbery, a rather one-dimensional portrayal of drag culture, a lawsuit, a commentary on the modern day AIDS crisis, and an epiphany on Christmas Eve.
What the book lacks in depth of character is made up for with heart. You will find yourself wanting to take flight on an ill-informed adventure, and gather your own misfits. Each character, somewhat predictably, takes a turn learning something about prejudice. Tables turn and turn until they realize that everyone falls victim to, and that no space is a safe space. The solace of friends, they’ve found, is just about all they need to move through life confidently and make this life more than worth living.
Beau, Lee, The Bomb, and Me
By Mary McKinley
Paperback, 9781617732553, 256 pp.
Liam Shea is not an ordinary teenage boy, growing up in rural Massachusetts; and not just because he has two fathers. Liam is not even a boy; he’s a fairy—literally. A fairy with glowing golden eyes, antennae, dragonfly wings sprouting between his shoulder blades, super-human strength, the power of suggestion, and a serious aversion to cold iron. That Door is a Mischief by Alex Jeffers tells Liam’s story growing up and living in the world of humans; but because of Liam’s non-human status, this is not your typical coming-of-age story, for the adolescence of a fairy is no less tumultuous than a human’s, if somewhat more spectacular. (more…)
Michael Denneny: On Working in Publishing During the 1970s, Starting ‘Christopher Street Magazine,’ and the Future of Gay Literature
“[...] 1978 was a banner year for gay writing; it really marked the dawn of the new gay literary movement that would swell into a torrent over the next fifteen or twenty years.”
When I started in publishing more than twenty years ago, answering phone calls at a customer service desk, the only gay man in the industry whose name I knew was the renowned editor Michael Denneny. This says as much about Michael as it does about me. I’d been hired for the position literally off the street when I walked in and asked if the company had any job openings for someone with no experience. Michael, on the other hand, had been operating his famed Stonewall Inn Editions imprint out of St. Martin’s for years and produced some of the best-known gay titles of the 1980s and the early ’90s, including books by Randy Shilts, Larry Kramer, Ethan Mordden, Larry Duplechan, Malcolm Boyd, Michael Nava, Paul Monette, and Quentin Crisp, among others. I can’t remember where I’d first heard about Michael or how I’d even come to know about an editor in New York when I was a publishing newcomer in California, but he was what you’d call today a brand: someone known almost more for who he was than the books he published. Put another way, he stood out. In case you’re wondering, this is not standard stuff in publishing circles. Most editors spend their career, however distinguished, unknown to the average person—sometimes even unknown to their fellow publishing colleagues. Michael was different and so were his books.
It’s tempting to over-intellectualize the work of French novelist and photographer Hervé Guibert. Guibert saw his heady friend, the theorist Michel Foucault, almost every day from 1977 to 1984. Then, much to the chagrin of others, Guibert fictionalized Foucault’s AIDS-related death in To the Friend Who Did Not Save May Life (1990). To the Friend is one of Guibert’s last novels and the novel which made him a literary cause célèbre in France. Guibert died of AIDS shortly after a suicide attempt in 1991. (more…)
This month, Crown Archetype is releasing actor Neil Patrick Harris’ unconventional “memoir” Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. (more…)
Multi-talented star of stage and screen, Alan Cumming has appeared in more than a hundred television, movie and theatre productions. Currently reprising his Tony award-winning role as the Emcee in the Broadway revival of Cabaret, the openly bisexual actor has never been shy about sharing aspects of his personal life. However, he takes things to new and unimagined levels in his memoir, Not My Father’s Son. With remarkable candour and clarity, Cumming leads the reader through concentric layers of personal revelations that shook his life in 2010. Yet in dealing with family mysteries spanning three generations, the breadth of the book is far greater than such a premise would suggest. (more…)
Brontez Purnell: On His New Book ‘The Cruising Diaries,’ Silencing the Critics, and the Joys of Writing About Sex
We have reached a strange moment in gay politics. There’s a strange commemoration and valorizing of the AIDS movement, vis-à-vis recent films like The Normal Heart and the documentary How to Survive a Plague. Whatever you think of these films individually, or the history they tell, part of the reason they managed to get so much attention and accolades is the spike in marriage equality. The excesses of gay male sexual culture is safely tucked away in history, for audiences who already think the riotous sex, and the deaths, have ended. In popular culture, all of the gay fucking happens not in glory holes and back rooms, but under the canopy of the nuptial bed. (more…)
In late 1881, Oscar Wilde, then twenty-seven, embarked for New York to begin a lecture tour covering thirty states and fifteen thousand miles. Over the next ten months the American press would publish nearly five hundred pieces about him, making him the most famous Briton in the United States with the exception of Queen Victoria. This happened despite the fact that thus far his published work was limited to a slim volume of negligible verse which sold poorly. Following his trip, he regaled British audiences with a talk he titled Impressions of America, that featured such now-familiar remarks as this on Niagara Falls: “Every American bride is taken there, and the sight…must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life.” (more…)
With Dinu Grigorescu, Paul Bailey presents contemporary readers with a challenging narrator. Ailing while on the cusp of 60 in the spring of 1967 and certain that he has little time remaining, Dinu’s setting down a “memoir of a life half-lived.” Though mentioning in passing the lonely decades he endured in London after the mid-1930s, the heart of his recollection relates to what Dinu calls his “Parisian adventures.” A romantic with a “manliness denied [him] by nature,” Dinu’s an acutely sensitive esthete–when far younger and residing for a few months in a Montmartre garret (“a lavender-scented bower”), the poet manqué purchased a beret, no less, and envisioned himself writing in the mode of his literary heroes Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Proust, and Eminescu. As a narrating voice to spend time with, that precious temperament proves something of an acquired taste. And as with many acquired tastes, Dinu’s agonized and reflexively theatrical self-presentation may have limited appeal. (more…)