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Get Booked! Romance Reading at Las Vegas Pride
Get Booked, one of the few remaining independent LGBT bookstores in the country right here in my hometown of choice, Las Vegas, celebrated Las Vegas Pride in September with a reading by three leading m/m romance authors, J. P. Bowie, James Buchanan, and Marshall Thornton.
“This was my first Vegas Pride,” said Southwest m/m romance writer James Buchanan. “All I can say is that it was flipping hot.” She said, “The only good thing about the heat was the stunning state of partial undress most attendees were in. Not as much as the Folsom Street Fair or International Mr. Leather, but bikinis and Speedos were well represented. There was one twink in particular whose bubble butt was so tight that if he sat down too fast he’d bounce his ass right back out of the chair.” She said, “I did a lot of flirting, but the only romance was with the guy I drove into town with. Still, OMG, hot girls and guys, I like both.”
Buchanan practices law in Southern California, but her Talking the Odds series, featuring tattooed vice detective Brandon Carr, and Nevada gaming agent Nick O’Malley, is Vegas-oriented and her Deputy Joe series is set in Southern Utah (both series are available from ManLoveRomance Press). What made her want to write about those locations?
Buchanan said, “There was a time in our life, when my guy, SG, and I would be in Vegas every other month. He grew up in the Mormon Church. His family is still in the Church. He came home from his obligatory two year mission, thought, ‘What the hell have I been selling myself,’ moved to Palm Springs, and became a late night DJ and a professional blackjack player. By the time we met, he’d long given up the ‘professional’ part of cards, because doing it as a job took all the fun out of blackjack. But, he still enjoyed it, and our backyard to run away to for a weekend became Vegas.” She says she also has a lot of friends in the Goth scene in Las Vegas who she met through the professional networking group, CorpGoths. “Because I love Las Vegas, I wrote about it,” she said.
Buchanan said, “Now, even though we don’t go on weekend trips much any longer, every year we take our children to visit SG’s parents, stopping in Vegas on the way in and out. We have to drive from LA to Vegas and then five hours the next day into a little town of less than 500 people smack-dab in the mountains of southern Utah.” She said, “It is a very claustrophobic place. It is a place where everyone knows your business, although they mind their own. Everyone for five towns around knows who you’re related to. I don’t know as I could live there, but I see the charm in living there. I also am in love with the land there. There are days up in the mountains where I am caught speechless by the awe of what surrounds me. We spend our days fishing, bouldering or horseback riding.” She says, “I learned to shoot when I was five.”
Buchanan said, “Knowing my guy’s own struggles with letting go of the Mormon Church and what it made him believe about himself, I could picture someone who was attached to that land, attached to that life. I could also see someone who struggled to hold onto what he felt was valuable in that particular religion while coming to grips with refusing to lie to himself about who he was. Thus the Deputy Joe books were born.”
Commenting on the shrinking numbers of brick and mortar LGBT bookstores, Buchanan said, “Unfortunately, with the LGBT bookstores falling to the hungry maw of the Internet, it becomes a vicious cycle. There are fewer bookstores, so they sell fewer books and are harder to find, so people gravitate to the Net to buy their reading materials and with less sales—So, sales are negligible from them and dropping by the year.”
“That being said,” Buchanan believes, “they are places that need to be saved. I loved A Different Light in West Hollywood, I did my first
reading there. I was crushed when it folded. If I wanted to find a particular book, Billy, the manager, knew where it was and if I liked that one, what others I’d enjoy. Not because of some algorithm, but because Billy took time to find out about my eclectic tastes.”
For the Las Vegas reading, Buchanan said, “We were set up at the Get Booked booth at Las Vegas Pride Festival, surrounded by glorious pieces of stained glass and hand-made Pride jewelry by local Vegas artisans. Unfortunately, the booth was too close to the stage to actually read and be heard, so we punted with a meet-and-greet. It’s always so nice to talk to fans and generate interest in those who you hope to have as fans.” She said, “I sold a few books, which is always a nice feeling and read a piece from the third in the Deputy Joe series”—Laying Ghosts, released in October from ManLoveRomance Press, www.mlrbooks.com. Buchanan said that this mystery “is very personal to Joe.”
What was she wearing? “I did snag the only piece of rainbow jewelry I’ll ever wear – because it’s comprised of six different colored skulls,” Buchanan said, and “I wore my trademark black cowboy hat with its skull band and ‘genderqueer’ button. Otherwise, it was my Calaveras-Marilyn Monroe t-shirt (see below), jeans and my cowboy-cum-biker boots. As for after-parties, after the four hour drive and several hours in 105 degree heat, the biggest party I could muster was a shower, sushi and drop into bed—well, not right into bed *grin.*”
Buchanan said that it is important for her to connect directly with her readers, “I try to do two to three reader events per year.” She said, “Once in a while, I mix it up with an academic panel, like I did in Chicago this year for the psychological association for alternate sexuality discussing BDSM in literature as a positive influence.” Buchanan was headed to the GayRomLit Festival in Albuquerque in October to do a book signing. To find out where James Buchanan will turn up next, go to www.James-Buchanan.com.
J. P. Bowie is one of romance’s most prolific writers. He says, “This year I’ll see my 52nd book published, including Book Eight of my vampire series, My Vampire and I.” Though Bowie lives with his partner, Phil, right next door to Las Vegas in Henderson, he didn’t make it to his scheduled Get Booked reading at Pride. He said, “This would’ve been my first Pride at an author signing—but fate has its way of intervening, darn it.” Well-wishers were apparently a little too sincere in urging him to “break a leg!” Bowie says, “We won’t get into the trials and tribulations of getting help in this great health care system—hopefully I’ll get some ‘specialist’ treatment in a couple of weeks.”
Bowie, who has lived in Las Vegas on and off for several years, says, “Vegas is vibrant, fun and unique—where else can you visit the Great Pyramid, the Fountains at Bellagio and the Eiffel Tower all on the same day?” Bowie says, “I was Wardrobe Master for the Siegfried and Roy show at the Mirage—a one off job for sure—and memorable in many ways.” After the show closed due to Roy’s injury, Bowie says he now devotes himself to writing “sixty per cent of the time” and he holds a part time job at Barnes and Noble, because “I like to be surrounded by books and keep up with what’s in demand.”
Bowie was hoping to promote at Pride his latest in demand “bromance,” He Ain’t Heavy from ManLoveRomance Press, www.mlrbooks.com. He says the story is “about two men raised as brothers who have to control their more than brotherly affection until a family secret is revealed. It’s a murder mystery/action adventure, hot and sexy!”
Bowie says, “Most of my sales are done online. With bookstores teetering on the edge of oblivion due to the economy it’s great that an independent like Get Booked manages to survive. Also the genre in which we write—gay romance—is still the one you find at the back of the mainstream bookstores. Self-promotion on the Net is the best way to go. Book signings in this genre are also difficult to organize—best bet is at the bigger conventions.” Bowie looked forward to attending GayRomLit in Albuquerque in October.
Marshall Thornton, one of gay romance’s most acclaimed writers, lives in Long Beach and he says, “I have a tradition with friends to spend every Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, so I come over quite a bit, (he says he gambles enough to get comped cheap rooms) but this was my first Pride Festival.” He says of Vegas’ Pride, “My new definition of dedication is a man willing to dress in drag in 105 degree heat. It was awe-inspiring.” Thornton says he did all the Pride things, “I went to the pre-show and got to see Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho and Joan Rivers. That was fun – and inspired a lot of jealousy in my friends back home when I posted photos on Facebook.”
Thornton’s best-selling Boystown series from ManLoveRomance Press, is set in Chicago where Thornton says he lived “during most of the eighties.” He says, “The Chicago in my books is a combination of memory, research, and pure fantasy. One of the nice things about writing about a city the size of Chicago is that there are many ways to experience the city.” He says, “I really enjoy writing about the eighties. Of course, there was a lot written during that period when AIDS began. I find it interesting to write about that now, with some distance.”
Thornton’s action romance Desert Run from Torquere Books, is set in Palm Springs during the early seventies. Thornton says, “I was visiting friends in Palm Springs when I got the idea for the book. I’d already written the first two Boystown books, I think, and had developed the habit of looking at cities and erasing all the new buildings to get a sense of what it was like during a particular time. It was really the architecture and the setting that inspired the story.” He says, “Every time I go to Vegas I get the feeling I should write something set there when I look at the old casinos. Something in the sixties, I think—haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
Thornton says, “Book signings at Pride are great opportunities to be seen, but they’re very different than indoor readings. Hundreds of people walk by and even if they don’t stop to browse they still get to see your books. It’s great advertising. We were located across from a booth selling sexy underwear. Whenever things slowed down we had a nice view of guys looking for new sexy underwear.” Did he attend any “after parties?” “The only after party I attended was the shower. I was sweaty.” Mmmmm.
Thornton says, “It’s hard to say how important LGBT independent bookstores are to sales. Working with small publishers, the independents are the only bookstores my books end up in. It doesn’t add up to a lot of books—but I think people browse bookstores and while they might buy a few books they’re interested in, they very often later go online and buy books they didn’t pick-up. I hate to say this, but for mid-range writers, bookstores are almost promotional.”
Thornton says he only began doing events “last spring when I was a finalist for the Lambda award. They arranged a couple of readings. I think events are very important, though it’s hard to measure the effect in the near term. I’m trying to do something every month or so.” He also was headed in October for the GayRomLit retreat for writers and readers in Albuquerque “and then I’ll be at Palm Springs Pride the beginning of November.” For more Marshall Thornton, go to http://marshallthornton.wordpress.com/.
Physician Heal Thyself
Into the Flames, by Lambda Award finalist Mel Bossa (Bold Stroke Books), features James Scarborough, an Ativan addicted psychiatrist whose barely controlled OCD, has wrecked his home with hottie husband, Basil Spasso, and their twin children, Marshall and Mallory. Scarborough is a wounded healer whose inappropriate involvement in the lives of three of his patients at Glasshouse, where he practices, is ultimately redemptive. In this dark romance thriller, Bossa takes us places we don’t necessarily want to go, but in her wise hands we may begin to find healing there for our own life traumas. This is one of the most insightful novels I’ve read about the art and risk of psychoanalysis since Judith Rossner’s August.
In Bossa’s complex plot, the drama of Dr. Jamie Scarborough’s shattered family life forms the background to his relationships with his very troubled patients. After Dance, a mentally unstable street kid and a patient of Dr. Scarborough’s disappears, his trans twin, September comes to the doctor for help in unraveling the tangle of their almost symbiotic relationship which may provide the answer to where he is. Meanwhile, a delusional fireman, Neil McClure is referred to Dr. Scarborough by a colleague after he endangers his crew by his obsessive need to go back into buildings to rescue victims that aren’t there. McClure was on the crew that responded to the fire that destroyed September’s life savings that she was going to use for her gender reassignment surgery. When he encounters Dance hustling on the street he thinks he recognizes him and brings him home with him. In Neil’s desperate fight against the ghost of his abusive father, he holds Dance hostage to “rescue” him from his own demons. Meanwhile, Jamie and Basil fight for their wounded relationship under the gaze of Basil’s “waiting in the wings” best friend, Matt, who wants to seize the fantasy of this attractive A-team couple for himself. In a nail-biting race to find Dance before it’s too late, Jamie must come to terms with his own deep wounds from his abusive father.
The themes of loss and transformation through fire and the desperate need to be washed clean from the past are skillfully balanced throughout the book. Firefighter Neil is obsessed with rescuing others from the flames. September describes Dance as always playing with fire and she herself has suffered a devastating fire that has robbed her of her chance at a new life. Jamie lost his twin brother, Mickey, through accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. The book climaxes in flames. Likewise, Jamie’s OCD causes him to wash his hands raw, his cologne is “Clean,” and he wonders if he can make a “clean” start in his life with Basil and their children:
“Could he bring joy into their lives? Could he let go of the past and come back to his family new, sparkling clean—minus the sanitizer—but most of all, come to them all a free man again?”
Bossa creates her characters as couplets balancing on a third, like triptychs. Matt threatens Jamie and Basil’s wounded relationship. Dance has a love/hate relationship with his trans twin September and both find balance in their relationship through Jamie. Jamie’s father blames him for the death of his twin, Mickey. Neil must punish/save Dance from the ghost of his own father. September is one of the most intriguing characters in the novel, initially off-putting in her bitterness and resentment, but ultimately a source of wisdom and self-acceptance for Jamie and Dance. Jamie practices his therapy in a “Glasshouse” and through September, he begins to learn not to throw stones at himself. Bossa has created a masterpiece of romance writing.
The Victor and the Vanquished
Thanksgiving is a national day of mourning for many American Indians because it commemorates their conquest as a people. The Victor and the Vanquished by Mark Wildyr, from STARbooks Press, is a moving account of the resulting oppression and poverty as seen in the life of one young American Indian, William Greyhorse, a member of the small Pinoan tribe. But as the reader quickly learns from his plucky first person voice, William or “Wilam,” as he is nicknamed, is an irrepressibly resourceful and talented young man and his story is a rags to riches romance.
At first I found his voice off-puttingly flat in its unsophisticated 19-year old viewpoint. But page after page I kept on reading, captivated unawares by William’s charming hopefulness in the midst of his grim circumstances. The sex scenes in particular struck me as sounding almost crude, though true to how a 19-year old might view sex. However, finally in his encounter with his co-worker, Carlos, William’s voice fully conveys the eroticism and romance of the scene. Yes, it is hot.
The plot is straightforward, William and his family are uprooted by his alcoholic father from their life on the reservation to move to Albuquerque where William desperately tries to complete high school, behind in his class, while serving as parent to his two younger sisters and trying to protect his mother from his father’s drunken abuse. In the meantime, he enjoys the craft of whittling and by happenstance his work comes to the attention of the discerning eyes of Mr. Gresham, an American Indian crafts dealer. Mr. Gresham recognizes talent when he sees it and he forms a partnership with William to sell his work. Meanwhile, William also receives encouragement from an older, successful Anglo artist named Jason who picks up William in the park and the two become temporary lovers. Frankly, this part had a little bit of an ick factor for me—the older rich white guy picking up the American Indian kid. But though his initial approach is pretty crude, we learn that Jason’s intentions are honorable and he does become a true encouragement to William.
But then, in a heart-wrenching scene, just as William’s life begins to look up, his father uproots the family again and moves them to Phoenix. But William’s resourcefulness quickly asserts itself and he finds work in a crafts store where he meets his friend, Carlos. Their naïve sexual encounters make for the best erotic writing in the book. Meanwhile, through his ties with Mr. Gresham back in Albuquerque, William is introduced to New York gallery owner, Mr. Greenby. Mr. Greenby recognizes a greater than a mere craftsman’s skill in William’s sculptures. Mr. Greenby asks William,
“How long have you been practicing your art?”
“Uh…I’ve been whittling since I was ten years old, I guess.”
“Whittling. Well, I guess you could call it that, but all that whittling has produced a work of art.”
Although much heartbreak still lies ahead for William, soon enough he is being feted by the art world on both coasts and must choose between the seductions of a man-eating socialite and a simpler life as an artist back home on the reservation where his handsome young assistant, Joseph Sixkiller waits for him.
Part of the charm of this romance lies in Wildyr’s descriptions and evident understanding of the craft and materials William uses in his art work which lends the novel a verisimilitude that is sometimes lacking in romance. The unsophisticated but ever-hopeful William Greyhorse will make you fall in love with him.
Catch Wildyr’s new work, River Otter, out this month on Amazon from STARbooks Press. For more on Wildyr and his work go to www.markwildyr.com.
More to Love
Finally, a chubby romantic hero! Well, not quite. Kevin, the romantic interest in Rick R. Reed’s recent Chaser, out from Dreamspinner Press,“wasn’t fat. He was solid. Beefy. Manly.” True enough, Reed tells us Kevin has a “sizable gut” thanks to one too many Stella Artois, but still, I’m thinking more like Rob Gronkowski. And who wouldn’t want to get Gronk’d? But as Kevin reasons, “The gay world was a superficial one, and oversized guys, pleasingly plump fellas, had no place there. He had only to get on any of the online hookup sites to see his beliefs confirmed… ‘No fats or fems.’” And Caden DeSarro, the novel’s romantic hero is “perfect.” Caden is “lean, muscular, not an ounce of fat on him. He’s a runner for Christ’s sake.” But Caden, who’d “like to know the reason himself. If he could only get a handle on it, a love handle, if you will” is only turned on by “a man who has a little somethin’ to hold on to.” So, when he encounters the blond haired, brown-eyed Kevin on the El train, he doesn’t get off at his own stop. In the passionate and very erotic love scene that follows, it is clear that this isn’t going to be a one-night stand.
But, of course this wouldn’t be a romance without a romantic obstacle, so almost immediately, Caden gets a devastating call from home, his beloved mother is seriously ill with lung cancer (a victim of her late husband’s second-hand smoke), and he must rush home for a prolonged stay. This could have been a ham-handed plot device, but you can always count on Rick R. Reed to write even a formulaic scene with a depth of emotion that will leave you teary-eyed.
Meanwhile, the somewhat insecure Kevin, worried about what Caden might think about his weight, is determined that “Caden would come home to a leaner, fitter Kevin, one worthy of a guy who looked like Caden. So, in addition to eating healthy, he had taken up Caden’s exercise of choice—running.” After much torture, “Kevin had gone from 220 pounds to 180…and looked fit and lean in black Diesel jeans.” (Can anyone fit in those?) But when Caden returns his reaction is not what Kevin anticipated.
This could have been merely a satisfying romantic comedy of errors but Reed raises bigger questions about the superficiality of gay relationships and the nature of sexual attraction itself. He uses Caden’s best friend, Bobby, as a foil for all that’s most shallow about gay men. Bobby, hoping to get into the newly svelte Kevin’s size 32 jeans himself, tells Kevin:
“Caden is a chubby chaser, and when you no longer fit his ideal…well, he’s no longer sure he wants you anymore…Now you tell me how that makes him any different than the guy who will only go out with great-looking men, or men who drive expensive cars, or Hispanic men, or black men, or Asian men. It’s all about the surface—and never looking past it.”
But is all that’s surface superficial? Caden’s therapist, Camille, tells him, “Look, people are attracted to other people for all sorts of reasons, and there’s no right or wrong way to be attracted.” She challenges him to reflect, “not on why he was attracted to heavy guys, but why he felt that mattered.” Caden wonders, “It didn’t matter, did it?” Caden argues to himself, “The body is a shell, and it contains the fragile and ethereal spirit of the person.”
Maybe I don’t need to lose those twenty pounds after all.