Overall, a crappy year for the queer-lit biz. But Maupin, Sessums and the fall of Ted Haggard were must-reads
The queer book world took some serious hits in 2007.
The literary heartbeat of Oak Lawn flat-lined when Crossroads Books closed. But there were other casualties as well.
Perseus Books was bought by Avalon Publishing, and because of this merger Carroll & Graf died. C&G had become a key publisher of gay fiction and at least 23 other employees lost their positions during Perseus’ reorganization.
Then in August, the UK-based Taylor & Francis Group acquired Haworth Press, parent company of Harrington Park Press. For many years, Haworth has specialized in scholarly non-fiction of a queer bent, and had recently expanded into the gay fiction market as well.
Alarmingly, Harrington Park Press was expressly not part of the merger, and will supposedly be divested. Whether this means new owners, or the sudden appearance of HPP’s large backlist in discount bookstores, remains to be seen.
On a less depressing note, here are my choices for the books that excelled and the ones that failed.
“Michael Tolliver Lives,” by Armistead Maupin. (HarperCollins) For many years, Maupin maintained he would never revisit the residents of 28 Barbary Lane, but most of them are back in this “definitely not a seventh Tales of the City novel.” As the title implies, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver did not succumb to HIV, and is enjoying life in the 21st century. While the plot frequently takes a back seat to character interaction, this reunion of beloved characters is a delight.
“Mississippi Sissy,” by Kevin Sessums. (St. Martin’s Press) In this refreshingly honest memoir, Sessums recounts his childhood in rural Mississippi. The 1960s wasn’t the easiest place for a self-evidently effeminate little boy to grow up, especially one orphaned before the age of 10. Readers will empathize with Sessums’ heartfelt tale of a child who didn’t fit in, and his quest to find a safe haven where he could become the man he needed to be.
“I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard’s Fall,” by Mike Jones with Sam Gallegos (Seven Stories Press) Simply but powerfully told, this book chronicles the moral dilemma that longtime male escort Mike Jones found himself in. One of his regular clients, “Art from Kansas City,” was in fact Ted Haggard, leader of the New Life Church and a known opponent of gay rights. Did Jones have an obligation to out this hypocrite, or should he have respected the unwritten hustler’s code of confidentiality? The palpable tension caused by this quandary makes for a gripping read.
“Naked: The Life and Pornography of Michael Lucas,” by Corey Taylor. (Kensington) While Michael Lucas and his steady rise in the gay porn industry is a topic worthy of discussion, this isn’t the way to do it. Poorly written, repetitive, and reviled by Lucas himself on artistic and factual grounds, this book represents a surprising lapse in quality from the usually dependable Kensington.
“Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr,” by David Bret. (Carroll & Graf) Nearly 30 years after “Mommie Dearest” dragged her name through the mud, Joan Crawford deserves a fair reappraisal of her life and career. This bio merely regurgitates well-known anecdotes about the ambitious actress, and comes off as petty and vindictive toward daughter Christina, with little factual evidence to back up its assertions.
“Men Who Love Men,” by William J. Mann. (Kensington) Mann is usually one of the most dependable writers out there, but this novel is definitely a case of “going back to the well” once too often. Third in a series, “Men Who Love Men” shifts its focus from lovers Jeff and Lloyd to Jeff’s best friend Henry and his quest for Mr. Perfect. Whiny, neurotic and overly fussy, Henry makes an unappealing protagonist, and many of his travails are predictable. Mann is quite capable of far better, which makes this book even more disappointing.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 28, 2007