Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mel Keegan's new one rocks: GROUND ZERO

I'm lucky enough to be a proofie for DreamCraft, so I read this one a few months ago, long before the cover was painted ... before the web pages were uploaded ... before it tickled the Top 50 Techno Thrillers in the Kindle store -- and I can tell you, the ranking is highly deserved.

GROUND ZERO is one of Mel Keegan's best, and he's written some doozies. It's sorta-kind SF, yet at the same time it's close enough to the present day world for it to have a great contemporary feel. (In fact, I was at Amazon the other day and I noticed that a lot of users over there are tagging it "contemporary thriller" as well as SF. This shows you that the book is rooted deeply in the present, at the same time as having the SF "polish" that plunks it in the Techno Thriller bracket.

And "thriller" it surely is! Here's another one you don't want to start reading later in the evening, because you won't be getting a hell of a lot of sleep till you're done...! It's a page turner almost from the beginning. MK takes a chapter out to introduce us to the characters, the backdrop, the geography inside of which the story's going to be taking place. Then, Chapter Two starts ... and you're on a rollercoaster to the end.

It's also a damned hard book to review without handing out spoilers. So I'll describe it in broad terms and whet your appetite. It's set in Adelaide in 2048 (this adds extra zest for us, because Adee is hometown for MK and self, and the crew from DreamCraft), and it's set in the winter of that year, and in the hills east and south of the city. Those who know the landscape will find it so involving. Those who don't will find the descriptions evocative and visual. The big chances are in the tech that runs the world in this era. People haven't changed...

You're about to meet Brendan Scott and Lee Ronson. Two beauties, an established couple, hitched and all, who grew up in the decades *after* anti-gay prejudice died the death it richly deserves. They're gorgeous, and the book is a tad bit hotter than MK's usual. There's quite a bit of sex, and it's deliciously written.

The book also has a sharp sense of humor. There's a lot of chuckles and a couple of belly laughs. But the "thrust" of the story is the mystery ...

It’s winter when the city suffers a series of bizarre murders, robberies at high-tech labs – and a virus which sprang from nowhere. Every two days, a fresh body is discovered … entirely drained of blood. Every two days, a weapons research or energy technologies facility is robbed of a seemingly bizarre list of oddments. Meanwhile, the virus known only by a codename – 2048-3a – is so new, no part of the community is immune and the city is crippled. Murders, robberies and virus are intimately connected in a mystery that will astonish. Lee Ronson and Brendan Scott find themselves taking point in an investigation filled with unexpected hazard – and equally unforeseen reward.

Lee and Brendan work for a university department. They're the data analysis team in the Paranormal Studies department at the new (fictional) Franklin University. They're the ones who get to go into the field, "wrangle" data on weird, offbeat cases that often turn out to be the work of serial killers, loonies, cults. On rare occasions, the data turns up a genuine haunting or sighting, or an "out of place artifact."

So DCS Maggie Jarmin hands the latest too-weird case to her old mate, Doctor Robert Strachan, who's the head of Paranormal Studies. And Doctor Strachan assigns Lee and Brendan to git out there and do the sleuthing, find the data to prove (or dis) what the hell is going on in SA this winter...

It's a mystery which unfolds over the book's 105,000 word running length, and it gets progressively more thrilling as it goes, until the last segment will have your heart in your mouth. And I honestly, seriously, can't say anything else without handing you plot spoilers -- and in this case, guys, plot spoilers will be story ruiners. You have to READ this one, experience it "as it happens" to get the thrill ... and it'd be lousy of me to spoil that for you.

The ebooks are out right now (everything from Kindle to Blackberry, via everything in between), and the paperback comes out in October. Right now, it's $9.99 across the board -- for a good, solid read, and a story that you're going to remember.

Here's the book's own page:

On that page, you can read the first couple of chapters, and buy it rafts of formats.

AG's rating: 5 out of 5, and a gold star for giving me an absolute thrill.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mel Keegan: The Winds of Chance ... launching now!

Welcome to the launch of

LEGENDS: The Fall of the Atlantean Empire

Book One: The Winds of Chance

At last ... fully edited, impeccably proofread, perfectly formatted for your ebook reader, desktop, laptop or netbook ... no typos, no shuffling from one blog post to another ... just read and enjoy, as a fully-featured ebook from DreamCraft!

In an era of storm and chaos, One will be born who will command the Power, but the ancient magic that flows in his veins like blood is his curse as well as his gift.

In this time of cataclysm and ordeal, the upstart Empire of Vayal has placed a bounty on the heads of all scions of the lineage of Diomedas, for the oracle foretold the doom of Vayal, and it rides on the shoulders of the One.

He lives and breathes already, hiding the old city of Zeheft and in the slowly drowning outlands. He is Faunos Phinneas Aeson, still dangerously young -- and he has one dread: the witchfinders of Vayal, who are charged with the hunting of those like himself.

Twenty years, Faunos has hidden and learned, until the gods of sea, storm and earth destroy Zeheft --and one night destiny brings Vayal's young witchfinder to the camps of the water gypsies, where a youth like Faunos should never have been. Galen lies dying; the City of the Sun is celebrating the coming of age of Soran -- althlete, hunter, beautiful as the night,  Vayal's heir and greatest witchfinder ...

The Empire of the Atlantan has one slender chance to survive, and its struggle will begin on this night.

Read the first four chapters, on GLBT Booshelf!

See the Legends art gallery -- art by Jade...

And save 30% ... indulge yourself in the "blog special," right on this page!

  • Published by DreamCraft
  • Ebook edition: July 2009
  • 98,370 words
  • For PC, Mac, Laptop, desktop, netbook, BeBook, iLiad, Sony Reader, Palm Pilot, Kindle, iPhone, Blackberry, Microsoft Reader, smartphones.

 Add to Cart Download the PDF for BeBook, Iliad, PC, Mac, desktop, laptop, netbook: $6.95 -- save $3!

Download the Mobi, PDB, epub and LRF files, for  Palm Pilot, Sony Reader, Kindle, iPhone, Blackberry etc., for $10.50

Like to see more of the Mel Keegan novels? Start here:


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Blind and gay ... looking for a good read? At last, a Large Print Edition of Mel Keegan!

Not a book review today (if only I had time...) but a piece of news which is great for blind and gay readers (or visually impaired readers who like a good gay yarn). I'll keep this brief, because Mel Keegan has said it all on The World According to Mel.

There's not -- yet -- any publisher who is providing great gay fiction in a format that visually impaired people can read. That's about to change. Mel's mother was recently diagnosed with advanced glaucoma. I have the privilege to know this lady, and it's a tragedy. Losing your vision is always one hell of tragedy. And I struggle to imagine being blind and gay.

Leave it to MK to "do something about it."

The Swordsman is the first title which will be available to visually impaired readers in a Large Print Edition. The font is around the standard 16pt mark, which makes the book 600pp ... but every word is there, and I can tell you that as of today, a copy is on its way to Aus as a gift for Mother's Day, in May.

For the whole story, visit here: Gay and visually impaired ... what are you reading, and how?!

And please do pass this along to friends who are in this predicament -- visually impaired, dying for a great gay read, while traditional publishers aren't willing to get involved. Please share the above URL of the page on MK's blog -- or this page.

At this time, Me Keegan is asking for participation from visually impaired readers. There's a download, a small PDF, that you're invited to print out, read, try for size on the eyes, and give feedback. Please help to make this project a success.

Here's the direct link to the download, which gives the first 10pp of The Swordsman in the next format.

Other titles which will be appearing in this range from DreamCraft: Windrage; Tiger, Tiger; Storm Tide; Aquamarine; Fortunes of War; The Lords of Harbendane.

Which titles are done first, and how long it takes to produce the range, depends on interest shown by readers. Thank you for help in spreading the word, and helping to "beta test" the format!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gay vampires: perverse immortality in Lost Souls

Love it or loathe it, you can't seem to ignore this vampire novel -- and it depends who you talk to, whether it's garbage or gold. Poppy Z. Brite has a writing style that's hard to compare to anyone else. The only other writer I can think of with something like this style is Taylor Caldwell (specifically, Captains and The Kings; not so much her other works), and once again, what you get out of it is down to your "ear," which is a very personal quality. I've heard PZB's writing called "lyrical," and "incredibly visual." I've also heard the same style, the same wording, called "bloated and boring." So the only recommendation I can make about this novel is --

75% of people either like or love it, and the top 10% think it's the most fantastic thing they ever read. However, at the other end of the scale are 10% of readers who think it's the most boring, immature load of twaddle that ever wasted printing paper! So, the bottom line has to be, make up your own mind about this one. I'll tell you what I think, and leave the rest to you!

From the first, I was impressed by Brite's knowledge of the region. It's all set in the south, in and around New Orleans, and the area is painted in technicolor phrases. I was blown away by the narrative detail depicting a real place. You feel like you've been there. The story starts with a prologue introducing three punk vampires. Nothing like Dracula, or Ann Rice, or Mel Keegan's Nocture, this. These vampires are out there, weird. It's all about booze and drugs and sex -- oh yes, and being immortal, and fathering a new generation of their kind.

Brite's vampires are contemporary descendants of an elder species that would have had to hide from the sun. These guys don't have to stay out of daylight; they merely cavort at night because they prefer to. They can also eat and drink like normal humans ... they just "suffer" a kind of bloodlust, a blood hunger. Are they true vampires? Possibly not, because necessity doesn't drive them to blood. They bite, and they suck, and they drink blood, because they like it and want to.

So you have a rather perverse bunch of characters to start with, and the plot thickens from there. It's a difficult plot to pin down; it does go somewhere, but it gets there by such a circuitous rout that some readers have just become bored. Others (and by far the majority) are fascinated by the skillful weaving of the place, the time, the psychotic characters, most of whom seem to have no grasp of right, wrong, mortality, rsponsibility or destiny!

I was one of the fascinated ones. The book is murky, it does seem to go in five directions before the threads start to draw together and you glimpse where it's going. You'll either be drawn into its bloodthirsty, perverse clutches, or ... you won't.

The story is about characters and relationships, rather than action. There's Nothing, who is half vampire, sired in the midst of a drunken orgy at Mardi Gras time, by Zilla ... and there's Zilla, who's drop-dead beautiful, bisexual, with confused and confusing gender identity. And Molochai and Twig, his two companions in eternity and night. And Christian, enigmatic, gentle, much more intelligent and refined than the rest. And ... so on.

The plot isn't about events, facts, places, incidents; it's about how people weave around each other, how relationships form and tear apart. It will either draw you in with fascination or it will bore you senseless by page 100 of its 359pp length. I was one of those who were caught on its hook, but I can more than understand the wails of complaint from the other side of the fence!

The book has several downsides. It is slow-paced. It is confusingly structured in places. The descriptive passages are lavish to the point of "one more syllable and this will be overdone." (But Brite always, to me, stops with that one syllable to spare.) The characters are weird and perverse. People are killing their mates; there is a foray into incest, plus domestic violence. And booze and drugs. And vampires.

But I would have to say, all of the above were Brite's intention. She never set out to write a linear, clean-cut storyline with the pellucid writing style of your Keegan, your Lanyon, you Charles Nelson. She fully intended to write a murky swamp of a narrative where sensuality is thick as mist, and "sin" is something you kind of wade in, up to the tops of your galoshes.

Did it work? Most people say "oh, yes." Some people disagree. Depends what you want from a book. The only other novel I know that has this formless ebb and flow quality ... where you can't pick the storyline to save your life, but fascination with the place, the time, the people, keeps you reading ... is Ann Rice's The Feast of All Souls.

The gay content is like a background buzz. It's just there. Brite makes nothing special of it, and there certainly isn't any specific relationship to focus on. The term I'd use is "omnisexual." (Yep, like Cap'n Jack himself.)

I have to recommend this book, because I've never forgotten it, and still relish the incredible richness of the prose, the sheer weirdness of the characters and the way Brite makes a plot come together somehow, from apparent plotlessness! But be warned: 10% of the folks reading this will more than likely hate the whole thing.

AG's rating: 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars, depending on how I feel at the time. (Can't give it 5, because it's just so much of a challenge for so many readers).

Still in print, and readily available from Amazon. (You can buy some amazingly cheap copies, but consider doing the industry, and the author a favor: buy a new one!)


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gay romance meets gay mystery: The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks

Josh Lanyon is in good form with this title ... and what a title! The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks. At a glance, I knew I had to have it. With a title like that, how could you go wrong?

Josh Lanyon is one of a comparative handful of writers who consistently delivers the goods -- and The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks is a great addition to my shelf. It has everything: a wonderful plot; two irresistible heroes; loads of general weirdness and eccentric characters; dead bodies; a haunted house; a quirkier than usual gay romance; and of course Josh Lanyon's style of putting words on paper (or into the computer), which is as important to the book as the characters -- at least to me.

The story begins with a familiar enough mystery: a "now you see it, now you don't" dead body. But this one is in the bath when Perry Foster all but stumbles over it! Perry's a librarian ... is it me, or does he remind you of Christian Anholt's character on the old Relic Hunter tv series? You know how I love to "cast the parts," and from the start of The Ghost... I was seeing Chris Anholt in this role. I'm probably dead wrong, but it was a load of fun anyway! All this aside ... Perry is very lovely, kinda shy, and the perfect partner for Nick Reno ... who used to be a SEAL -- as in, US Navy. Now, Nick is brusque, chilly -- the kind of iceberg you'd love to melt. And Perry is just the one to do it. Picture this! It's delicious.

One of the great charms of The Ghost is that it's 50% mystery and 50% character play. The first half of the book is about people, relationships, who's who, what's what -- backstory three feet thick. I like this. I like to know the characters and the "map" before the action gets into high gear. The characterization of the two heroes is full of very "human" detail that I appreciated so much. Nothing cardboard about these characters. For instance, Nick can be rather mean at times, and Perry gets asthma -- it's the flaws in the characters that make them real and endearing.

As the book starts, Nick is leaving and we have an understanding that the potential relationship between him and Perry is going to fizzle before it starts ... Perry (in his early-to-mid 20s) is extremely, uh, virginal. He also ain't ready to quit on Nick. The seduction scene is marvelously done -- and without spoiling the plot for anyone, it'd be a weird reader who didn't like the way the whole thing turns out.

You have to smile as the mild mannered librarian gets the bit between his teeth and seems to tow Nick along. Nick is definitely the muscles of this outfit, but Perry has the brains, and is the one who's determined to investigate the murder mystery.

Does the book have a downside? I don't think so. A few reviewers have whined about the length of time it takes Perry and Nick to get down to some serious seduction, but that's a subjective viewpoint. I enjoyed the pacing -- and from the get-go, you knew this was a romance and a mystery, not one of those novels where seduction is The Big Ticket item between these covers, and any romance and/or mystery follows on from there. As a mystery-romance, The Ghost... succeeds on every level and you won't put it down. So --

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Two versions have appeared, with different covers -- it's the Loose ID cover depicted above. The version currently at Amazon is wearing a new jacket, with an exterior shot of a creepy old mansion house...

Highly recommended!


Friday, March 13, 2009

Epic gay fantasy: The Lords of Harbendane

This novel should carry a warning: do not start reading when you get home from work at 7:00pm, even if the book is sitting on your doorstep ... because you're going to look like a zombie tomorrow, after having read till four in the a.m. to finish!

There's a certain "something" we've all come to expect from a Keegan novel. I'm still not entirely sure what it is but I should think scientific research could quantify it. Whatever it is, The Lords of Harbendane has it by the truckload. This one is Keegan pure and simple, with qualities that remind you of Fortunes of War and The Swordsman, Nocturne and Dangerous Moonlight. What qualities? Truth. Passion. Intelligence. Vision. Lyricism. And the "A-list" quality of a writer who's been on top of this game for two decades.

Picture this: it's a dark, dirty night, bucketing down, muddy, cold. The quintessential tall, dark, handsome warrior (he's a knockout -- trust me) is on a mission, and when he gets waylaid in a nasty little town, and aided by one of the most enigmatic and irresistible of Keegan's heroes, well, the story explodes from a chance event to the fantasy-scenario equivalent of world war three.

"Tall, dark and smoldering" is Rogan Dahl, who's been a prince, a hostage, a soldier, a cavalry colonel. "Drop dead gorgeous" is Tristan Carlin, who's been a peasant, a warrior, a scribe, and a wedlocked husband. Life is a rocky road for each of these guys; put them together, and you get a inferno waiting to go up --

And Keegan is going to make you wait! Everything you can imagine (and a bunch of plot twists you absolutely can't!) gets between these two guys, and when they finally get it together it's as exhausting for the reader as for the characters. And Mel Keegan manages to do this while staying on "this side of the line" that divides Legitimate Fiction from erotica. Harbendane will stand your hair on end -- at the same time as being absolutely legit.

The backstory is huge. It spans centuries of history and generations of the Halloran family. The Hallorans are Rogan's adoptive clan. He was sent to them as a hostage when he was a small child (in the traditional sense of the word "hostage," which meant the guarantee of someone's good behaviour). The Hallorans are the clan at the head of the great kingdom of Harbendane -- and as the story opens, Harbendane is up for grabs. They're beleaguered, surrounded by enemies on three sides, with nowhere to run and no one to turn to. They're fighting at capacity in the north, and when the ambitious, murderous chief from the next neighboring "superpower" in this land takes them on, they're hanging by a thread. The freedom of a whole people depends on tactics, strategy, and the willingness to take outrageous risks.

And that's the backstory, the scenario, not the plot! Against this monster backdrop, Mel Keegan's story is about individuals, how their lives are being twisted by duty, how their dreams and desires are being wrenched away, how they're still struggling to make something of themselves, how they all interact as they play their parts in a strategy that just might keep Harbendane out of the hands of its enemies.

I can't say much about the details of those personal stories, because I'm in plot spoilers instantly, and most readers absolutely hate to be told, "Tristan's real problem is..." and "Rogan's plan is..." I can tell you that the book is written with a great lyricism, imagery that comes to life, characters you're going to love, others you're going to hate. Obviously I adored Rogan and Tristan. (It's huge fun "casting the parts" as if Harbendane were a movie. I play this game with almost every book I read. Adds to the fun.) But I also loved Damiel and Morgan Halloran, which is a bit unusual for me. I don't usually "identify" very strongly with the female characters. These two are just amazing -- particularly Morgan ... the character blew me away.

The book is thrilling in many places, intriguing in others ... and keep the Kleekex handy, because there's a couple of places where you might need them. Fair warning: one of the major characters gets killed. (NOT Rogan or Tristan; but MK will make you care a lot about most of these characters, and one of them at least doesn't make it through to the end.)

Does the book have a downside? If it does, I didn't find it. The cover art is the best DreamCraft has ever done. Jade must have been absolutely inspired. (You get used to digital "art" ... but this is a painting, the way books used to have real artwork covers years ago. You feel kind of spoiled at the luxury.) The production values are very high throughout, and CreateSpace does a fantastic job with the paperbacks.

You can get it from in paperback. The Kindle version should be available by the weekend (it's been stuck in "publishing" for days now, and an email was just sent to technical support to get it "unstuck"). You can order the Mobipocket format for your Kindle, smartphone, Blackberry, Palm Pilot, and many other devices. It's available as a PDF for your iLiad, Palm, PC and Mac. And if you're reading on an iPhone, get the Kindle for iPhone applet. A hardcover version is being planned, and will be available from Lulu -- it'll make a great Chrissy pressie when the silly season comes back around.

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars, and a gold sticker added on for excellence of presentation: the cover is amazing.

PC/Mac ebook:
 Add to Cart $9.95 -- and identical in every way to the paperback.298pp. (Permissions: no editing, printing, text or image copy/paste.)

Screenreader ebook:
 Add to Cart US$9.95 -- properly formatted, complete with cover art and map; over 430pp.(Permissions: no editing, printing, text or image copy/paste.)



Thursday, March 5, 2009

Author Interview:
Talking with Mel Keegan

First, let me apologise across the board … I’ve been buried in work. Blogging has had to be back burnerized and nobody is more aggravated by this than myself because for a week I’ve wanted to review The Lords of Harbendane and Legends! It’s incredibly annoying just not having the time to do this. I also want to review a couple of old favourites and some new ones, including Josh Lanyon’s The Ghost Swore Yellow Socks. Yet here I am strapped for time.

I did get the chance to talk to Mel Keegan a few days ago and since I’ve been promising a ten-minute interview, here it is. Hopefully I can get sometime over the coming long weekend (Adelaide Cup Day … big horse racing carnival) and will be able to get some reviews done then.

AG: How was the launch of Lords of Harbendane?

MK: Interesting! Successful, given the circumstances. The reading community isn’t as “socially secure” as it used to be a few years ago, and books have become more expensive. So has postage! When I began with DreamCraft, we could mail a book around the world for A$8 (about US$6). Now, it costs $16.04 (A$25.46) to mail the same book from Amazon to the South Pacific region. Has this killed local sales? Yes. Does this impact significantly on overall sales? Of course it does! However, if you remember that readers everywhere are struggling to cover their domestic expenses, it’s actually tremendously flattering when these same people pay what I, personally, consider an outrageous amount for a book. It’s US$22.50 for Harbendane at Amazon. That’s not a lot of money in Aussie terms, for a brand-new paperback, but in the States it’s way over the top. Also utterly unavoidable for a book of these dimensions.

AG: Prices are rising everywhere. I read on your blog that in a few years Amazon is expected to have taken control of the ebook market with Kindle and will start to hike the cost of ebooks…

MK: It’s been mooted, but on thinking it over I honestly doubt it’ll ever happen. I mean, they can charge US$30 (A$47.60) for an ebook novel which is, frankly, no more than a bunch of electrons, pixels, what have you … but no law says readers have to pay so much! Also, with POD publishing trending the way it is, the self-same book that would be wearing a $30 pricetag in the Amazon Kindle store would still be costing $10 via the author’s website. What kind of idiot would pay $30 for something you can get for $10? All they have to do is Google the author’s name and/or the title of the book, find the website and download the identical goods from Payloadz or whatever.

AG: I guess Amazon will find this out the hard way. You were angry and outspoken the other day on your blog also about the fact the Kindle Store is out of bounds to “foreign writers”

MK: I was steaming mad at the time. In fact, I still am, on behalf of “foreign” writers everywhere. We don’t call ourselves foreign! Aussies and Kiwis and South Africans and so forth think of folks from North American as being foreign! But, whatever your perspective on geography, you get to a critical threshold in the Kindle publishing process where they ask you for your American mailing address and American phone number. This automatically shuts out 90% of the world’s literary voices -- which would be fair enough, if was not infamous for dumping cheap goods into the world marketplace! As I said on the post where I talked in depth about this, to make it halfway decent and acceptable, the conduit has to run in both directions. I might still be able to sneak into the Kindle Store by getting access to a proxy address, via family in the US. But ... it's the principle of the thing.

AG: Any chance of Amazon Kindle changing its way of working, do you think?

MK: Maybe. Kindle is very new, and everything needs a shakedown, but so far the development process has taken years and they’re still US-centric. Also, the second incarnation of the Kindle gadget it out, and they’re already in trouble with it. It works just fine -- in fact, it works to well. Apparently, the gadget has a text-to-voice feature which effectively turns every ebook into an audiobook … and it turns out the Kindle’s human voice algorithms are pretty good. Mellifluous and accurate in intonation. This is really rubbing the billion-dollar audiobook industry the wrong way.

AG: So Amazon isn’t out of the woods with Kindle yet. And let’s face it, writers -- like yourself and others I know personally! -- are always out there looking for alternatives.

MK: And finding them. I stumbled into the Mobipocket Store yesterday and found myself made as welcome as I was unwelcome (as a "foreigner") at the Kindle Store. Mobi is a very different kettle of fish. It’s not the hardware that's proprietorial, it’s the way the ebook files are registered … yeah, sure, I know, we’re getting into the area of DRM [digital rights management] here, which is a huge, swampy zone. But improvements are being made, and Mobi is far better in this region than other formats like the protected PDFs -- those are a nightmare, from what I hear. Also, Mobi works on Kindle … and you can get a free download of the Mobi reader for most platforms, and then you can go ahead and download your purchase multiple times -- for your desktop, laptop, netbook, screen reader, whatever. I’m interested … very.

AG: You’re also going to Smashwords soon, aren’t you? I have a couple of readers who’re into the iPhone thing, and they’re waiting for the phone versions of some of your titles. Any info?

MK: We tried the upload to Smashwords yesterday, but they were having server issues. If not for this, two or three books would already have been there! We’ll be trying again later today. Cross your fingers for us.

AG: Hey, consider them crossed. Which titles are going to Smashwords first?

MK: Fortunes of War, The Lords of Harbendane and Dangerous Moonlight.

AG: How soon can we expect The Swordsman and the NARC series to be ready for the iPhones?

MK: April or May … sooner than that if sales are really good. It takes about 2-4 hours to convert a single book over from the DTP files from DreamCraft to the stripped files needed to make the conversion to multiple ebook platforms effective. Being a working stiff with three blogs and some remote semblance of a private life, I can only do one or maybe two per week. Bear with me.

AG: They say patience is a virtue! How’s critical response to Harbendane?

MK: So far, so good. I’ve only had reader response so far, but it’s all in the five-star bracket. I’ve sent it to Rainbow Reviews, and am optimistic that it’ll be well received there too. I’ll be sending out several more review copies in March and April. So ... any idea when you’re going to get around to a review on this blog of yours? Hint, hint. Not to apply any pressure, you understand…

AG: aarrrgghh! As soon as I can get some free time from work.

MK: Tell me about it. Finding time to blog is difficult… finding additional time to promote the blogs is even more so, which is a principal problem with Legends. I’m having a hard time catching people’s attention! I’d hoped the “viral marketing” concept would have worked: word of mouth. People tell people who tell people that there’s a FREE MEL KEEGAN NOVEL out there. Free for the download, and so on. This didn’t happen, and since I can’t access search engine traffic, promotion for Legends is a question of applying to directories … and being rejected by more of them than will give Legends a listing.

Artwork by Jade, from LEGENDS: A digital novel by Mel Keegan ... are you missing the fun?!

Art by Jade, from LEGENDS: A digital novel by Mel Keegan ... are you missing the fun?!

AG: That’s bizarre. Why can’t you use the search engines?

MK: Think about it! Google or Yahoo, whatever, picks up on keywords. Say my characters are drinking wine during the m/m seduction scene. Google would very likely send visitors to the page, who’d been searching on wine, or goblets. Or silk bedsheets. Or scented candles. They land on a page where two guys are getting it on; someone gets a shock and complains -- big trouble.

AG: Oh … yeah. Right. Duh. That could get confusing for the engines and a bit nasty if the wrong people (maybe kids???) got into pages where they absolutely shouldn’t be.

MK: Exactly. So right now, here’s Keegan’s Master Plan regarding the Legends Project. The story breaks down into five major “books,” and I’ll complete the first. The site can sit up there at Blogger, looking gorgeous (and it does!), while I figure out how to promote it without paying megabucks for adverting. Meanwhile, I’ll be finishing Hellgate. By the end of the year, Legends will either be attracting readers … or not. If it’s not, the site will come down and I’ll go on and finish the whole project for issue via Mobi, Smashwords, Payloads, Amazon, whatever. The whole thing was an experiment, after all -- you have to remember that “negative data” is useful too. What I’ve learned so far is that not too many people are interested in following a serial! And/or they have no real use for ebooks, so reading fiction on-screen is anathema. Or, they don’t like the action broken up into daily doses. Or, they don’t care for fantasy. You add those things together, and you get a fairly small nucleus, or core, of readers who are enjoying it … just too few people to make the project a success.

AG: And are readers being supporting via the advertising?

MK: Not really -- and this is where I’m very surprised indeed. We had a flush of people supporting Legends in the first week, but right now we can go 1,000 page loads without getting a click on a Google ad, for instance … and the click, when you do get one, is worth about 15c. I understand about people not wanting to donate $1 (we’ve had the mighty sum of 7 of those clicks in a month -- I’m very grateful to those people who did indeed click!), and I also understand about people not shopping at Amazon, because folks are counting pennies -- myself included! But there are ways to be supporting that don’t cost the reader anything at all, and it seems that very few people are sensitive to this issue.

AG: In other words, they’re happy to swing by every day and get the fiction, but they don’t want to trade anything at all for it…

MK: Most people swing by once at week (at the weekend) and collect 10 segments at once, and vamoose till next week. I don’t at all mind people doing this -- it makes sense! But with one visit per week there doesn’t appear to be any impetus to offer some support, even be it just a click on some item that everyone in the world knows will vector a microscopic gratuity back to the host. It’s curious to watch what’s going on, and this is also a valuable part of the experiment. It’s just important to be patient, leave no stones unturned, give the project the full energy and creativity it was supposed to have, and allow enough time for it to “cook” properly.

AG: You’ve got a lot more patience and perseverance than I would have! Last question … what are you writing now?

MK: Obviously Legends, but unless there’s a miracle, I’ll be putting that onto hiatus at the End of Book One. I’m spending the rest of the year to finish Hellgate. Completely. Totally. Right to the end. Then we’ll relaunch the series in new venues, with a new campaign … and see what happens next.

AG: Thanks for your time, Mel -- I know you don’t have a lot to spare and I see you fidgeting in the direction of the door! Best of good luck with all your projects.

MK: Thanks -- and it’s been a pleasure.


Many thanks to Mel Keegan for this interview, which will “hold” this blog while I dig my way out from the pit of work that I’ve been buried in. Next review: Lords of Harbendane. Then, The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks. I’m hoping to get back with those next week.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gay in a difficult future: China Mountain Zhang

Maureen F. McHugh made her novel debut with China Mountain Zhang way back in 1992, and you can see what the cover blurb says! The New York Times: "A first novel this good gives every reader the chance to share in the pleasure of discovery." And back in those days, we were convinced Ms McHugh would be back with a new one just like it every year. This is very close to my kind of SF, and I was one of those hoping for a shelf of McHughs...

It didn't happen. There are still only four McHugh novels (sorry, folks: I'm not much of a fan of short fiction. I need something I can sink my teeth into) ... and the thing is, her novels sell so well, she probably doesn't need to write any more often than this! Here is her Wiki page on which her occupation is quotes as "writer, novelist" -- and this tells you how well her books sell. Four novels in seventeen years is a major success story.

And it all started right here: China Mountain Zhang, though if you take another look at it, it's not really a novel at all. It's nine segments that range in length from short story to novella ... and all of them twine around each other and around the main character of Zhang. It's an amazing framework for a novel, if you can call China... a novel, and I'm going to, because the whole thing harmonizes in my memory as a single work, 312pp long.

It's the 22nd century, and China dominates the world in population, culture, technology, the lot. The best of everything is in China and everybody wants to go there. The world is in the process of deliberately Chinese-izing itself, just as the 20th century was all about Americanization (due to the influence of Hollywood, I suspect).

Interestingly, 150 years from now, China is still a communist body ... and not one darned thing has really changed, culturally. Meaning, Zhang has big problems. He's gay.

(Right here, divorce yourself from the cultural developments of the last 17 years since the book was put out by Tor ... the fact is that by 2009 Chinese gays are coming out whether the government likes it or not. There are great big websites like Gay China -- the link I just gave you is to the English language page. Forget about all this when you read China Mountain Zhang -- or imagine that the current trend has been totally reversed, and by 2100 China is as dead-set against its enormous GLBTI community as it ever was. Not a pleasant thought but inside the parameters of this novel, I guess it happened.)

It's very hard to nail down what the storyline of China Mountain Zhang is! There are threads coming in from this angle and that angle ... it's not linear ... it doesn't follow a single plotline for long enough for this to be called the story of the book as a whole. However you can pick out the direction the book is moving in...

It's about personal development, and finding a way to integrate yourself into a whole that at first didn't seem to want you. How to overcome personal difficulties and make something of yourself in a world which seems to be against you. Zhang appears throughout, though is not the central character in a couple of the stories -- and this doesn't seem to matter: you'll be enthralled.

Each story offers a "slice of life," and they're all absolutely fascinating. The most fascinating, to me, were two segments entitled Kites and Jerusalem Ridge. The first is about pilots who fly hang-glider type kites that are powered from the pilot's own body. This tale was as far out and imaginative as some of the things you'll come across in the Jarrat and Stone books, and that is a compliment indeed. In the second story, Zhang has taken a job ... on Mars! Jerusalem Ridge is a colony. I'm never sure which of these two pieces I like the best out of the book -- but the other stories offer just as much, and you'll choose your own favorites.

The gay content in the book is most often of the "inference" type. In other words, you know Zhang is gay, and various things are alluded to in context. There's nothing steamy in it at all. In terms of sensuality, it would be readable by a 14 year old ... but I don't know of any 14 year olds who'd have the cultural, political, psychological "smarts" to get much out of the book. It'll enthrall twenty- and thirty-somethings, not kids.

Maureen F. McHugh pours color and detail and nuance into her work. You feel like you've been to the 22nd century! Highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5. Recently reprinted, I believe -- with a cover that's nowhere near as good as the 1992 Tor one; and you can get it at Amazon, naturally:


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gay mystery and ancient Chinese magic: The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson

I was asked a while ago, will I review POD books ... and the answer to that is a resounding yes. I've said this several times before, and it's true: some of the best fiction being published today is coming out in POD form, where it's direct from the writer to the reader.

However, the first thing I need to do is make sure to qualify this statement! "Direct from writer to reader" does not mean the book hasn't been edited, proofread, labored over, illustrated, layout-designed and so on. The best POD books have had every bit as much work as a book issued from a traditional publishing house. Sometimes more.

I applaud when a really talented writer has the courage to go it alone, because it's going to mean work such as a non-writer can't imagine. (Mel Keegan states the case better than me in this post: POD Publishing: why do it? And why not?")

So I'm delighted to be reviewing The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson, which is available from Amazon. com as a paperback, and also in Kindle. It's also available from Smashwords in several formats. (I have the PDF for reading on my desktop because I haven't yet saved enough of my pennies to get an ebook gadeget. Soon. Very soon.)

The story falls into the same category as the "urban fantasy" novels of writers like Charles de Lint (Yarrow, Greenmantle and so on) and Jan Siegel (the Prospero's Children series). It takes place in the real world ... but one of the foundation stones of the book is, paranormal artifacts do exist, and the powers are real. (The same foundation stone is holding up everything from Indiana Jones to the Mummy movies. It's come to be a Hollywood staple.)

In this novel, the artifact is an ancient Chinese object, a six inch piece of Jade carved in the likeness of an owl -- and it's actually a key that opens a box known as the Joy of Finches. What's in the box? That would be telling! But everybody wants the key.

The first thing that impressed me about Jade Owl was how knowledgeable about Chinese antiquities the writer is, and about China itself. Shanghai and Beijing are described with the same amount of detail and enthusiasm as San Francisco -- and never having been to either China or the USA myself, I really appreciated the "local color." Many writers, when setting their plots in London, New York, what have you, seem to think that everyone's been there and knows intimately every secret of the city. Not true. So, the first level where Jade Owl succeeds is in "selling me" San Francisco, which is the setting for the first long segment of the book.

Then it's off to China, and in the second half of the novel the adventure really kicks in. The first half is more of an exploration of culture, personality, even history. There's not too much "action" in this part of the story, but I liked having the story built up properly from the ground up, so that all readers are on the same page when the knock-down-drag-out adventure begins.

The characters are, for the most part, excellently drawn, with only one or two of the lesser players falling back on "stock characterization." Edward C. Patterson's dialog is very believable, you can "hear" voices saying these lines. But it was the paranormal aspects of the story that hooked me ... I love this stuff anyway, and the Jade Owl does it well. I know a little bit about things Chinese, since I grew up with a huge crush on Bruce Lee and read/watched everything I could get my hands on over the space of about ten years! Jade Owl is a real treat.

It's a crying shame this book had to be self-published, and you have to ask yourself what the publishing world is coming to, when gifted writers everywhere are having to fly solo. Jade Owl is not just "competently" written -- it's only one thorough, ruthless edit away from being on a par with the top-notch writers who sell in the gajillions. (Trust me on this: I've been a pro "proofie" for decades and have seen the best and worst that professional writers can turn out ... and some long-time professional writers I could name churn out unpunctuated drivel that has to be bashed into shape by line-editors who get paid about $10 an hour!) There was a time, maybe 20 years ago, when a publisher would take in a manuscript from an inspired and gifted writer, and would assign an editor to do the final work, then the book would be jacketed and sent out there with posters and hype galore. (Doesn't happen now. A manuscript can be received that is absolutely gem-perfect, and it'll still get turned around and sent back unread ... sad to say, I've worked in the industry and seen what happens: it'd shock you).

But -- I digress! The Jade Owl is an extremely good read. It gets off to a slightly shaky start, but the style settles right down after a few pages and is very readable. You'll like the central characters of "Rowdy" Gray, Nick Battle and his partner, Simone. In fact, you ought to love Simone, who's a drag queen from the Castro, indomitable, very human, very "real." There's enough gay content to keep GLBTI readers reading -- and more than enough action of other kinds (sensual, paranormal, cultural, comedic) to keep straight readers reading.

It's also hellaciously good value for money, at $15.45 for the paperback, $3.19 in Kindle, and $3.99 from Smashwords ... and this is a major novel, over 200,000 words. And here is one of the great things about getting a book direct from the writer: because there's no publisher to accommodate, the price can afford to be much lower than you'd think.

Does the book have a downside? Well ... maybe, but it depends who you are, and what your "ear" is like! The writing style can be a little erratic at times, but many readers would also call this one of the book's charms. So there you are -- as with so many facets of so many books -- it's actually your call. I found the PDF ebook easy to read, but halfway through I longed for a "proper" ebook reader to get away from the PC -- not the author's fault! When I get myself an iLiad, or Bebook or something similar, I shall be reading Jade Owl a second time in the comfort of a hammock chair at the bottom of the garden.

I should also note that there are two more books following on from The Jade Owl , the first one of which is available now, the second, on its way. I still have to get to the second, so can't talk about it here.

Recommended on many levels. AG's rating: 4 out of five stars -- with a "gold star" added for incredibly good value for money.

Here is Edward C. Patterson's page at Smashwords, which you can get the ebook in several formats.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gay science fiction, with the young-teen spin: Jumping off the Planet

It's fairly easy to find gay novels suitable for teens these days. There are actually whole ranges dedicated to teen gay fiction, or "young adult gay fiction." For example, without hesitation I could recommend The Swordsman for sixteens -- and incidentally, if you're in a jam, needing to buy something and wondering where to turn, here's a very good starting place: Great Gay Teen Books ... good hunting!)

But what about books for a kid who's growing up gay and is maybe 14? 13? Now you're treading in ticklish territory, because you're really, thoroughly, in PG country. It's gets tougher to make the recommendation. But if the kid you need to buy a gift for was an SF fan (and which kid isn't?) you could think about Jumping off the Planet, by David Gerrold.

It's a book that can be read by anyone, anywhere, and unless the reader is hopelessly prejudiced, so homophobic that they belong in scripture class, it couldn't possibly give offence. It's also a book that will be appreciated on six different levels depending on the age of the person reading it. An intelligent 12 could read this: it's an easy easy with a clear writing style that benefits younger readers ... and a story that is deceptively complex. It sets out in simple style, and gradually becomes more and more intricate until it's a real Gordian knot by the end -- and even old Aunt Maud ought to enjoy it.

The "gay content" also sneaks up on you, and it's written so "naturally" that it's part of the landscape, part of the ambiance of the story. It's also very touching now and then.

The story concerns a father and his three sons who're making a journey to the ultimate elevator ... the elevator to space! Amazing technology surrounds the characters, and Gerrold is a master at depicting this kind of thing. (He cut his professional teeth on Star Trek, eons ago, if you recall the episode about the cute fuzzy little life forms that can eat a civilization into extinction in an afternoon!) The story focuses in tight on the middle son, Charles (his nickname is "Chigger"). He has a little brother, Bobby, whom he calls "Stinky," and a big brother, Douglas.

Charles is just pre-teen, and he's "the middle kid," always the difficult case. Stinky is just a little one, definitely his Dad's responsibility ... and Douglas is seventeen, absolutely on the brink of adulthood. And gay.

Jumping... presents the world through Charles's eyes. He's exasperated with his kid brother and all he can do is watch from the sidelines as Douglas struggles to grow up. The world these kids are growing up in, also, is wrecked. They come from a rat-hole called Bunker City in El Paso, TX, in an environment that's well and truly busted. Mankind is heading off the planet, people are trying their luck elsewhere -- hence the "elevator to space."

So, this dysfunctional family is headed for the space elevator, and the kids have more than their fair share of problems. First stop is Geostationary, the space platform at an altitude of several miles, which is also the departure point for the Moon and planets. The kids are excited about the trip; and Dad?

The father is hiding secrets. Nothing is what it seems to be. And Charles is a bright kid, up to the challenge of guessing that something, somewhere is wrong. Stinky is just along for the ride ... but Douglas -- seventeen, highly intelligent, gay and caught in an unenviable situation -- is about to grow up in a hell of a hurry.

The book is marvellous. Unless you're looking for gay content on every page (very few dedicated gay books offer this!), or steamy sex (there isn't any), you can't not love this book. (Well, not unless you really hate SF, I suppose! And such people do exist...)

Highly recommended. Would give this as a gift to a young gay teen without a qualm. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Good deals are available at Amazon right now...


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gay fantasy from the pen of the wizard

This is not a book review, but rather, something of a Service Message ... you could say I'm blogging to tell you why I'm not blogging!

The reasons are numerous and I can't get around any of them. In the first week of February it was HOT, and then HOTTER, and after that everything else was just a blur. I couldn't work, so the work piled up around me, and how that it's "only" low-90s in the shade I have to catch up. I'm about to review JUMPING OFF THE PLANET, THE HUSTLER, THE JADE OWL, and a couple of others, plus --

I had wanted to take part in the book launch for THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE ... I missed out on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... and the second launch, for the digital novel, LEGENDS. I missed that too, through having to work.

There's not much I can do to make up for either one, but I can certainly get my review of HARBENDANE online as soon as possible, and I can give a powerful "plug" to the digital novel right here.

This is the first Keegan book in a long time I haven't been a "proofie" on ... because it's going direct from MK to you, via the gorgeous webpage (designed by Jade at DreamCraft). Haven't seen it yet? Don't delay:

LEGENDS: The fall of the Atlantean Empire, a digital novel by Mel Keegan.

What's absolutely great for me about this project is that it's as new to me as it is to everybody else as I read it online. I never saw any of this before ... I don't know what's going to happen next. I'm back every day for my "next installment" and loving it. The idea is brilliant ... and incidentally, so is the novel -- which we expect from MK. If it wasn't brilliant, you'd wonder what was going on.

I can give you the "blurb" right here:

"In an era of storm and chaos, One will be born who will command the Power, but the ancient magic that flows in his veins like blood is his curse as well as his gift. In this time of cataclysm and ordeal, the upstart Empire of Vayal has placed a bounty on the heads of all scions of the lineage of Diomedas, for the oracle foretold the doom of Vayal, and it rides on the shoulders of the One. He lives and breathes already, hiding the old city of Zeheft and in the slowly drowning outlands. He is Faunos, still dangerously young -- and he has one dread: the witchfinders of Vayal, who are charged with the hunting of those like himself. Twenty years, Faunos has hidden and learned,until the gods of sea, storm and earth take Zeheft; and one night destiny brings Vayal's young witchfinder to the camps of the water gypsies, where Faunos should not have been. The Empire of the Atlantan has one slender chance to survive, and its struggle will begin on this night."

And after that, all I can do is encourage you to git on over there and download the parts that are online right now! It comes out daily, seven days a week, at a good-sized chunk each upload.

Better yet, it's FREE. You probably think you misread that, so I'll say it again, and elaborate a little! Free online gay fiction. Free Mel Keegan books. Free for the download ... save it to your device, print it out, go for it.

Right now your getting dizzy, wondering how in the heck this works, right? There's a message on the LEGENDS site, and I'll quote you a little bit of it right here.

Like the idea of free fiction, like free TV?

Then, simply “support your local” – and here’s how:

1. Tell your friends, get them on board … if you’re enjoying a great gay read with LEGENDS, then recommend it to others. Send the url to friends you know will enjoy the read and appreciate the pricetag! (For the same of sheer simplicity -- forward this whole message.)


2. Notice the ads. Keep in mind that MK has bills to pay too, and … hey, you know how it works, right? You’re free to download, copy the novel to any device you like and read at your leisure; print it out, if you prefer. But –

Don’t just send the files to your friends. Send the the url! For the advertising to pay for the writer’s time, your friends have to actually be on the page – sending them the files will defeat the object. Just forward this whole message, and …


There it is in a nutshell: get your friends in, help yourselves, understand that advertising on the site is paying MK's bills. That's all there is to it. Personally, I hope this works 100%, because I can't imagine anything better than being able to download the absolute best work from the really good writers who can make it available to me (free gay novels online!) at a price I can really, seriously afford. Uh, free.

I want to interview Mel Keegan about this (also about HARBENDANE) for my blog here, but it's tough getting enough of MK's time to do a proper interview, so ... it'll happen when it happens.

In the meantime, let me also give you the link to the booklaunch of THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE ... which is in my "top five Keegans" but please don't make me choose a favorite. It would change every day. Here is the link:


Best I can do do, belatedly, folks, and my apologies to all for missing this.

Back tomorrow with another review!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Intrigue, mayhem and controversy: Hold Tight by Christopher Bram

Hold Tight is one of my favorites from among Christopher Bram's books -- and I know I'm going out on a limb when I say this, because he's written some very good books, and readers and critics are very divided about Hold Tight.

I know of about ten novels by Bram, and he's one of the incredibly rare writers of gay fiction who's had a book actually filmed -- not "optioned" or planned, but actually filmed. (It was Father of Frankenstein, which was filmed as Gods and Monsters, starring none other than Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser!)

Hold Tight was only Bram's second novel in print. The first was Surprising Myself, which came out the year earlier (1987). Readers and critics were in agreement on Surprising Myself -- it's a great novel. However, it's also another novel about a young man finding himself, discovering he's gay ... coming of age if not coming out ... which is not quite the kind of reading I most-often go for. I guess I surprised myself by liking Surprising Myself ... but I also think Christopher Bram himself would tell you, it was the "safe" gay novel, with "bulletproof" subject matter. A true-blue American coming of age novel. There was nothing daring or adventurous about Surprising; it was beautifully handled, but it covered largely the same ground that has been covered about a hundred times before. In other words, it was the perfect subject for a debut gay novel: nothing risky. All the author had to do was write well (which he did) and craft the novel like a professional (ditto), and he was home.

But Christopher Bram's next book, Hold Tight, took all kinds of risks -- and therefore got all kinds of response! The reviews are all over the spectrum, from two stars to five stars. So it's one of those books where you have to read it and make up your own mind. I liked it for several reasons, but I do also know that not everyone did!

It's a World War II espionage and intrigue story, for a start ... ie., it's different, which to me puts it ten points ahead at the get-go ... and the subject matter, and the way the subject is handled, has a daring that I admire.

Start with an utterly delicious hero -- a young sailor called Hank Fayette -- and land him in the world of gay hustlers, in 1942, on the orders of the secret service. He's doing undercover work on the orders of the US Navy (in today's world it would be the secret service; the FBI), working to catch spies.

So far, so good. You'll soon come to love Hank, and many of the other characters in the novel are well drawn. A couple are a tad bit stereotypical, but I didn't find this too jarring (some reviewers did though: again, make up your own mind). The plotline is tight-knit, involving spies, Nazis, murder, secrets -- the works; to me, it was quite the page-turner.

One of the things I liked most about Hold Tight was the way Bram evoked the 1940s. Now, this decade was way before my time, but if you press me, I'll admit the era fascinates me so much that I've not only seen a lot of movies set in the time of WWII, I've also watched a lot that were made in those years. And boy, did Christopher Bram get it right.

Another thing I genuinely appreciate about the novel is that Bram's writing style has a kind of "edgy" quality that brings to mind Daschel Hammet. It has the abruptness that makes you think of Sam Spade, Mike Hammer ... the "voice" of the times, perhaps? Being two decades too young to remember it, I know the era from movies and books!

(Some readers can't stand this. I've heard Hold Tight called trashy because of the "voice" in which it's written ... but the same reader/reviewer would tar The Maltese Falcon with the same brush, so I'd be cautious about awarding demerit points to Hold Tight because Christopher Bram used the same "device" of the '40s "voice" that worked for Daschel Hammet! Also I have a strong feeling that the reviewer who calls Hold Tight trashy probably doesn't even know who Daschel Hammet is, and has probably never seen a movie made in 1942 -- not the Hollywood reconstruction with the CG effects, mind you!)

One of the most difficult aspects of the novel -- and Bram handles it with aplomb -- is the 1940s attitude toward racial differences. The author manages to depict the period's racism with candor and without suggesting hatred, because in those days racial different wasn't usually about "hate" so much as about the white-fella's automatic assumption that he was on top of the pecking order and giving the orders, and belonged there, probably because God was Caucasian! (It's so difficult to define and describe here: I hope you follow me.) The racism of the era is unavoidable in context: you can't get past this point, and if you ignore it to make a book sound better, or more PC, to modern ears, you'll be rewriting history!

I also admire Christopher Bram for having the courage to tackle this because he must have known some readers would either misunderstand, misconstrue, or be ignorant enough of American history to assume the book is racist (which is sad). I would say Bram walks a very narrow tightrope with a lot of skill and delicacy.

As I said, reader response to this novel is all over the spectrum, and it does rub people the wrong way. For me, the supposed cliches didn't bother me, the "voice" entertained me, I liked Hank Fayette a lot, I know enough about American history to admire how the really delicate matters of racial differences were written; and the end of the book ... which is a big sticking point for some readers! ... didn't strike me as being unrealistic or "awful" at all. Dark, gritty, sure, and in the context, perfectly believable.

To me, the novel is irresistible for its sheer difference and audacity, and Christopher Bram deserved a round of applause for taking on something that was never going to be easy. The project was filled with risk, which the writer accepted. Did he pull it off? I think he did, which is why I'm listing Hold Tight among my favorite novels.

I'm not actually a writer myself (this blog is the most actual writing I've done since I gratefully walked out of college a very long time ago), but I know several writers and have learned a hell of a lot about writing from some very talented people. Hold Tight is a novel I have to admire -- though I acknowledge the fact you might not agree ... and that's your prerogative too! Relish the controversy ... as they say, "it makes horse races."

Recommended, because it's a challenge on many levels and it's good to get snapped out of your complacency now and then! I liked it a lot. AG's rating: 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars depending on my mood. You can get good deals from Amazon ... and I recommend that if you're brand new to Christopher Bram, you also get Surprising Myself and perhaps In Memory of Angel Clare, which will give you a better look at his range and talent than just this one book.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stonewall years: a dose of Real Life, gay style, from Edmund White

Some books you just have to read, to be able to understand and appreciate them, and The Beautiful Room In Empty falls on this list. I could tell you what it's about (and will!) and for the majority of the plot you'd probably say, "So what?" Because this book is about life-as-it-is ... not as we wish it were. (The ending is a different matter -- I'm getting there, stay with me.)

If there are two writers who are absolutely diametrically opposed to each other, it would have to be Edmund White and Mel Keegan. White most often writes in autobiographical style, and so many of his works explore (in some way, even if it's through the medium of another character, not himself) who he is, what he is, what made him so, where he's been, where he's going.

Edmund White revels in the day to day business of being. (Meanwhile, Keegan confesses flat-out, without even being jabbed with a sharp stick, that every MK book is pure escapism -- Keegan is bored by everyday life and writes SF, fantasy, historicals, to opt out of the daily grind ... and the novels are always fun.)

Beautiful Room... is the middle book of a trilogy. I never did read the first volume (A Boy's Own Story), because to be utterly frank, I'm not interested enough in children to tackle a whole book about them. Any kind of children. A boy's eight or nine and starting to mature gay? Great -- he'll get interesting enough to read about in another ten years or so! I started with Beautiful... and I did get, and read, the third book, The Farewell Symphony, but I won't be able to review this. I lent it out and didn't get it back, and haven't read the book in about 20 years. I remember that it was good, but I need to replace it. (Something else I'll do when I get the proverbial Round Tuit. I'm not quite the last of the procrastinators, but ... I came in second.)

Beautiful... is suspended somewhere between novel and autobiography. If you were just handed the text to read, without blurbs and promos, you'd take it for a real autobiography. It's so skillfully handled and so real that "Bunny" (the narrator; what the heck is that short for?!) could easily have been Edmund White himself.

There's no element of the fantastic, nothing of the adventure or the violent or the outrageous. No punchups or battles, much less swordfights, plane crashes, gunfights, lost artifacts, treasure to hunt, mysteries to solve, murders to investigate, drugs changing hands, car chases --

All the elements that make novels "go" from the mysteries (like the Adrien English books by Josh Lanyon), to the gay science fiction works (by writers like Constantine, McHugh and our own Keegan), are totally absent.

In the hands of any other writer I can think of, The Beautiful Room is Empty would have turned into wall-to-wall soap opera! It didn't -- and nor did Edmund White let it slither down the greasy, slippery slope at the bottom of which are books like Jackal in the Dark (which in itself is a great book -- just a mile away from White's writing.)

It's some element in the writing style that stops the book morphing into something along the lines of Gordon Merrick. (I'll be getting around to Merrick later in the year ... bear with me). Where Merrick revels in the sort of plots that wouldn't be a whisker out of place on The Bold and the Beautiful, and The Young and the Restless, White rises above the swamp and takes material that's perilously close to far greater heights than soaps ever aspired to.

His writing is often almost metaphorical or allegorical. He seems to see through what you can perceive with your eyes, to some "reality" behind the mask of what we think of as being real. It's all very Jungian! As I began -- some books, you have to read in order to understand and appreciate, because if I give you the basic plot line, at its simplest, you really will say, "so what" --! And you'd be dead wrong in that conclusion.

Beautiful... is moving, and exquisite -- and I think it's also become a historical. It's set in the 1960s, ending with the Stonewall "uprising."

Personally, I have no memories of Stonewall. I was about seven at the time, and in Australia we didn't get a lot of American news. Even if we did, at the time, Stonewall would've been reported down here as "civil disobedience," just a bunch of people rioting against the authorities! (Yes, I know how horrible that sounds! But think: if the American authorities had to be rioted against before they'd change, why should the authorities 10,000 miles away side with the rioters against their opposite numbers? The truth took months, closer to years, to percolate out this far, and by then there were bigger local stories to overpower the news ... Vietnam ends and our soldiers come home, Cyclone Tracy destroys Darwin, the Federal Government gets sacked, the monstrous bushfires...)

So, the Stonewall scenes at the end are quite an experience, and I can honestly say I learned a lot. There was a sense of "unreality" about them, because I read the book in about 1988, when things had gotten much better for the GLBTI community, and reading this, one was stunned by the fact that something like Stonewall could and did happen.

This is also a "coming out" story, which makes it not my usual fare -- yet I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Why? Because it's done so well, and because it's a historical. Moreover, it's a 1960s book that was written by one who was there at the time. If a contemporary writer were to write about the period, anything s/he wrote would be "tinted" by the next forty years. Like a Hollywood movie that's made now and set in 1944, it'd look and feel different from a movie that was made in '44 ... and I don't just mean the difference in movie technology!

The Beautiful Room is Empty is about life, being young and gay in a culture that stigmatizes you, finding your courage, deciding to be what you are -- and then stand up for what you believe in. There's a lot we can still learn from books like this, because the struggle for equal rights isn't over yet for the GLBTI community in the States, Australia and other First World countries. And even when it's been won in these countries, many other nations are lagging a long way behind, so the struggle will go on for decades.

Wholeheartedly recommended. AG's rating: 4.5 stars out of 5. The book has been done in many editions. The one I have is the mass market paperback with the nighttime street scene in garish colors on the cover. Amazon has good deals at this time ... you can get very cheap used ones, but in the interests of propping up the ailing industry, I urge you to pay a few bucks and get a new one! Remember that buying a copy for 10c doesn't do anybody any good really (except the post office, which charged the full whack for delivering it).


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gay science fiction gets wet: Mel Keegan's drowned future

What a joy and a relief this edition is! It's only the second time Mel Keegan's Aquamarine has been printed, and the DreamCraft edition is so far superior to the old edition put out by MPG (the Millivres Publishing Group), you will be astounded.

Quite a story is attached to the old edition. I don't want to type the whole thing here ... it's too hot and I'm too tired after the week-long heatwave that has another week to go, and besides that Mel Keegan and the guys at DreamCraft have told the story better than I'd be telling it. So I'm going to save time and sweat and paste in the relevant bit from Aquamarine's own page...

AQUAMARINE is once again MK's property, since the rights have 'passed back to the author.' This is tremendous news for DreamCraft, and also for readers who either haven't been able to find a copy of AQUAMARINE (it's been hard to track down recently), or ... readers who have been driven bananas since 2000, by the 'tatty' presentation of the MPG issue. If you've read the 'Keegan Speaks' page, you'll know that 'things went haywire' at the pre-press stage.

The book was never proof-read! MPG went to press off the 'raw' files which Mel had emailed from Fairbanks, Alaska. Now, normally a book will be proofread four or six times before being published. (At DreamCraft, all books are proofed five times by humans and twice electronically.) This means very few errors get through. No book is error free, but you can get close, and we do. For seven years, readers have loved AQUAMARINE even though they've had to grit their teeth to get through the typing hiccups ... they can't be called 'proofing errors,' because the book wasn't proofed! So we've invited MK to go back to the 'raw' files, the exact, same files that were emailed from Fairbanks, and not only will they be properly proofed by DreamCraft,but MK has the chance to take a 'second bite' here: rework, redevelop, re-edit. The story won't change, but parts of the narrative are almost certain to. The end product will be far superior to the MPG presentation in many ways. We'll have a full-color cover, with a genuine depiction of the characters and locations rather than a monochrome (blue) pic of a young man; the interior text will be thoroughly proofed and error free; and the narrative will have been re-reveloped. Any writer will tell you, good books are not written, they're re-written ... and we're looking forward to wonderful things with the DreamCraft edition of AQUAMARINE.

There you have it, direct from DreamCraft and what more could you wish for! All that was promised was done. Beautiful new typeset, gorgeous cover, and it's been proofread to death. I oughtta know, because I did it twice myself. I'm a proofie for MK and DreamCraft; and sure, it's a lot of work, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. How hard can it be to read a really good book? (Also, I get to write on Mel Keegan with a red pen ... evil chuckle. How many people in the world can say that?!)

The story of Aquamarine has always fascinated me. I love it. One reviewer at Amazon called it "the book Waterworld should have been." I'd go along with that. It takes place in a "drowned future," so it's another one of Mel Keegan's after-the-holocaust plots, but in this case it wasn't a nuclear war, it was a cometary impact that put the final kybosh on the world after we'd already done 75% of the job with global warming.

The story takes place about 80 years in our future, I think. You can easily recognize the remnants of our world and our society. As always in a Keegan story you have two gorgeous heroes in a romantic relationship. In this book it's Russell Grant, who's a genetic scientist, and Eric Devlin, who's a genetically engineered human -- "transhuman" is the term they're using now. (In fact there's a recent blog post on Mel's blog about this, well worth reading.) Eric has been designed so that he can live and breathe in the sea ... because the world is 90% underwater now, and future generations might depend on being "homo aquaticus" to have real freedom.

Eric and Rusty live on the floating city of Pacifica, which lives in the shelter of the converted monster oil tanker that serves as the mothership for the city ... and the whole project is the brainchild of a very old man called Gerald Duquesne, who had a vision and acted on it when there was still time, even though everyone thought he was mad. Pacifica is quite a great place to live and Eric and Rusty have good lives ... till they get complicated.

A bunch of mercenaries (very nasty characters) come in from Australia, wanting to hire Eric to do a job for them, and when he refuses they just nab him and force him to do the work. Now I have to be ultra-careful, because the plot spoilers are sloshing around your knees here!

Without wrecking the plot for you, I can tell you that what starts as a minor nuisance in a wharfside pub blows up into a possible nuclear war. There's 200 pages between these two events, and if you love science fiction, and gay romance, and thriller-type action, you're going to love this book.

It's one of the earlier Keegans, and you can tell: the plot is more linear and less tangled and interwoven. It's FUN, without getting into the deep dark places inside the characters' minds and hearts. If you want something dark and convoluted, then I really recommend you try the NARC novels, which will blow your mind. But if you want a fast-paced, linear, "sunny" adventure, which is perfect for a rainy day or a hot afternoon, you can't go past Aquamarine. I know that a few critics have said, "Not what you expect of Mel Keegan," because the style is light. But I have to ask the question, Why is there something wrong with the style being light? I'd guess MK felt like writing that way at the time, and for me (and for a lot of other readers) it works. It's all down to your preferences. I like it a lot, I find it fun and refreshing, so I can make the recommendation without hesitation. Want something dark that'll stand your hair on end? Go for NARC. It's Jarrat and Stone you're looking for, and you may never be the same again!

The only downside Aquamarine ever had was that the previous edition was so full of typos you sometimes cringed as you read it. Raw typescripts are like this. Trust me -- the word of God had to be proofread or you'd have ended up with The Book of Gemesod by Moshes, in which it says, Thou shalt now commute adultery, and Vengeance is mean, sayeth the Loud. Believe me ... they also serve who sit and proof. And I'm one of 'em. The DreamCraft edition has taken care of this problem and at the same time the book was beautifully rejacketed.

Highly recommended, without reservation. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars, and a gold stamp for having the determination to go ahead and do it.

Buy it brand new from Amazon -- and take care that you don't buy the old Millivres edition by mistake. It's a lot more expensive (because it's getting rare) and in the end you'll only wind up gnashing your teeth at the "tatty" job they did on the presentation. The old edition does not have the full color cover -- it's easy to tell them apart, BUT ... something weird is going on in the Amazon engine, and lately the DreamCraft edition isn't showing up in a "Mel Keegan" search. If you search on "DreamCraft Aquamarine," it shows up, but that's the only time you see it ... and if you don't see it, how can you buy it?? Jade (the cover artist and webpage guru at DreamCraft) found this out just a couple of days ago, and I heard that MK is going to be blogging about it soon.

Let me guide you through the minefield.

THIS is the DreamCraft edition -- new cover, all fixed, $22.50; this is the one you want:

This is the old version, "tatty" presentation by Millivres, spot color cover, and expensive because it's rare -- this is the one you would probably go past:

God knows, if you're a completionist, get both! But really, where's the decision?! Glad to be of help here.