Book Marks: Spreadeagle, Tea Leaves, Cobra Killer

by Richard Labonte

"Spreadeagle," by Kevin Killian. The Fellow Travelers Series/Publication Studio, 590 pages, $16 paper, $10 e-book.

It was two decades in the writing, Killian has said about this pop culture-peppered novel, yet the Feb. 11 death of Whitney Houston is referenced. Score one point for on-demand, one-book-at-a-time publishing - the book's production period is as zippy as its plot. Part one centers on Danny Isham, author of a series of sexy San Francisco-set novels - a running joke is that Isham is forever confused with "Tales of the City"'s Armistead Maupin; his AIDS activist boyfriend, Kit Kramer; Kramer's one-time beau, Sam D'Allesandro, dying of AIDS (as did the real-life Sam); and art fag Eric Avery, obsessed with Danny, involved with Sam, and star of porn director Adam Radley's fiery spanking videos. The scene shifts in part two to a meth-centric small town in central California, where fake-autograph entrepreneur Geoffrey falls in with grifter Gary Radley (Adam's brother, peddling fake AIDS cures to the desperate), and where Avery, online and in person, is coveted by a wealthy recluse - one of the deliciously decadent threads that knots this novel's brilliant, bifurcated boisterousness together.

"Tea Leaves," by Janet Mason. Bella Books, 202 pages, $15.95 paper.

A lesbian comes to terms with her family's history, with class differences, with her difficult mother, with the inevitability of aging and with the end of a loved one's life: there are layers of heart-grabbing accomplishment in this intimate memoir, a poignantly powerful narrative rooted in the news that Mason's mother has been diagnosed - her ailment at first misdiagnosed, hopefully, merely as arthritis - with terminal cancer. The emotional tailspin that follows, chronicled with luminous prose, eventually strengthens the often-fraught mother-daughter connection, even as it impacts Mason's own long-term relationship. The coming together of two generations of women - in fact, of three, as the author contrasts her mother's early-feminist feistiness with her grandmother's disapproving hardscrabble staidness and with her own accomplishment as her family's first college graduate - is not easily accomplished. But if there's a moral to Mason's emotional ruminations, it's that the immediacy of death does heal wounds. That's both the candid core of this loving reminiscence, and a universal truth for readers whose parents are making the transition from vital to vulnerable.

"Point of Knives," by Melissa Scott. Lethe Press, 122 pages, $13 paper.

There's a mystery to be solved in this meaty genre-bending novella, which is primarily a fantasy, given that it's set in the other-where city of Astreiant, a free-floating Middle Ages sort of place where well-imagined magic rules and astrology is a true art. The story bridges two previous books in what's now sort of a trilogy; its plot picks up where 1995's "Point of Hopes" ended, and the storyline precedes that of 2001's "Point of Dreams." In the first (both co-authored by Scott's late partner, Lisa A. Barnett), Adjunct Point Nicolas Rathe (think of him as a cop) and Leaguer Philip Eslingen (think of him as a hired gun) crossed paths. Here, the physical attraction between the duo is fleshed out, as it were, as they investigate two murders and the whereabouts of an untaxed chest of gold. Scott nimbly folds a parlous investigative pursuit worthy of the best whodunit, a blossoming gay love affair and prime speculative fiction world-building into an engaging read. (Lethe's reprint of the 1995 novel is now available; the 2001 title is a fall release.)

"Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder, and the Manhunt to Bring the Killers to Justice," by Andrew E. Stoner & Peter A. Conway. Magnus Books, 324 pages, $16.95 paper.

The gay porn video industry. Underage teen performers. Self-made video entrepreneur Brent Corrigan. Accusations of paedophilia. A porn producer stabbed 28 times, his throat slashed, his body burned. Male adult video stars discussing business in a Las Vegas restaurant before the murder, then meeting clandestinely on a San Diego beach after. Did we mention Brent Corrigan? So many hooks! Five years after Cobra Video producer Bryan Kocis was killed by Harlow Cuadra and his boyfriend, Joseph Kerekes, the events that scandalized the queer universe - well, the gay adult video universe specializing in twink imagery - are chronicled in this true crime tale. Co-authors Stoner and Conway have been assiduous about mining trial transcripts and blogs and interviewing the suspects to compile a soundly researched story, including the fact that Kocis built his porn biz on the back (and eager, unprotected, butt) of an underage - and now sincerely repentant - Corrigan, who himself wasn't interviewed; only his online entries are cited. The narrative's solidity can't be faulted, but as true crime this is more mundane than macabre.

Featured Excerpt

Six months after my mother died, my father found a letter she wrote to me in a notebook that my mother kept for detailing my parents' financial assets. She had written the letter more than a decade prior to this - to tell me what I should do in the event that my parents would both die together. I was reading aloud, as my father requested, and at the end of the letter my mother wrote, "I, in my little dust pile, love you. You are one good worthwhile person and I'm proud of being your mother." I broke down in sobs.

- from "Tea Leaves," by Janet Mason

Footnotes

QUEER YOUNG COWBOYS, formerly an outlet primarily for publisher Johnny Murdoc's own writing, has broadened into a "micro-pub dedicated to publishing raunchy and cerebral gay literature" and is now accepting submissions of novels and novellas - but it's not aiming to be a traditional publisher. "We believe in being fair to writers. We "are" writers," says Murdoc, who plans to pay authors 50/50 based on sales, rather than implementing the traditional print-based royalty of approximately 15 percent per book sold - all of which usually goes to an anthology's editor, after authors are paid a flat fee of between $60 and $100 a story. "We are not interested in making more money from your work than you do," Murdoc says on queeryoungcowboys.com. "Publishers that do can go fuck themselves." The newish press is open to all genres, "but stories must feature gay sexual relationships as a central, core theme of the story. Romance is welcome but not required. Sex isn't always about love. But sometimes it is." The press' first official print-release book is "Never Easy," containing two short stories by Murdoc, two by Rob Wolfsham and three by Natty Soltesz. Current titles include three e-book collections by Murdoc, as well as volume three of the journal "Blowjob" and two raunchy horror-story e-books, and the erotic anthology "Daddy/Boy: The Original Unexpurgated E-book," by Soltesz - which includes four stories rejected by Amazon. For info: johnnymurdoc@gmail.com.

"Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication, or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com."

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