Suspect Thoughts Press, $16.95, ISBN 0-9746388-9-7
Contemporary Erotica, 2005
This review originally appeared on The Naughty Bits, which is sadly no longer around. It’s now here with Teddypig’s permission.
Well I, unlike several other reviewers’ online writing about this book, actually did read through Everything I Have Is Blue. Let me tell you, the anthology does provide a range of various different styles and tones but I completely refute the idea that they present “a constant sense of hopelessness” that was described by someone who obviously has lost the ability to comprehend what is in the writing.
Wendell Ricketts does state quite eloquently, and quite delicately I might add, in his essay at the end of the book a rather exceptional description and reasoning about the hidden classist nature of gay literary culture that explains the huge absence of any working class type characters littering the current gay literary environment. It’s all about youth, wealth, and fashion it seems. I, on the other hand, would have been even more flagrant in the bashing, since I would gleefully add sexism and ageism, and well racism, amidst all the self proclaimed socially conscious posing that goes on.
What Wendell says of the lack of working class or blue collar – hell, let’s throw in the word redneck while we are at it since I would say that these all draw from the same well and I am not one to argue sticking points – or what I would simply call realistic portrayals of everyday gay men in literature being hard to come by and even totally absent if you get rid of all the erotica published that simply promotes fetishism of muscle bound construction workers… “Hee!” I fully agree with that opinion. It’s an easily proven fact, even if it steps on the toes of your typical Queer Eye for the Straight Guy brand of consumerism as religion set. Too bad truth hurts huh?
The other things Wendell had to say about the Herb Ritts-style cover photos used to sell the books that actually did get published – right on! I swear, can anyone argue that fact when looking through the latest releases at the local gay bookstore? We as a community have become nothing more than a highly manipulated marketing segment complete with measured response to new product much like Pavlov’s dog. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against nude men or selling sex but when this includes cook books and travel guides in the constant barrage; well it’s sick, people.
Wendell is far more capable in his descriptions and handling of this topic than I will ever be and, to me, his concern is honest and not misplaced. My own experience is mostly limited to the sub-cultures of the gay community I have witnessed devolve into money grubbing marketing fads like the Leather scene which seems to have become nothing more than a bunch of drag queens in leather selling tickets to the next sash contest/beauty pageant. I mean, if in this case we attribute my opinion to writers and writing, it’s the difference between someone like Guy Baldwin who is very knowledgeable in writing about the Leather community and where it came from because, well, he was there (even if it is obvious to me at least that he does not tell everything), and Jack Rinella who comes across as promoting a fad and whose depth of knowledge and experience seems limited to his old copy of The Leatherman’s Handbook. Then there’s the current state of the Bear movement which seems to have become nothing more than an excuse for those 5’7, pushing 300 pounds, fat boys to get together and tweak their tits off for a weekend of debauchery, as they compete with each other for some exciting grand prize of a stroke or heart attack. Is HIV/AIDS so old and busted that we need to promote obesity and heart disease in the form of gay pride?
Now you see? Wendell Ricketts is actually being a very nice guy and unlike myself, he does not bust people’s balls.
Anyway back to the actual book at hand…
The anthology starts off with Flowers, Flames by C. Bard Colea, a jerky little story of a gay/straight relationship that’s obviously not going to work. I loved My Blue Midnight by Rane Arroyo, a short story that shows a Latino gay friendship that wants to be more but simply is not going to happen. On the positive side there is My Special Friend by Christopher Lord, which shows us a couple of boy friends on holiday that are slowly shifting into acceptance that they are indeed seriously committed to each other, despite the fear one of characters has of being in such a vulnerable position.
Then for the slam-dunk of the anthology, The Bottom of the Cloud by James Barr… Here is a splendid example of the type of stories we are missing from our gay history. James Barr wrote one of the books initially considered canon in gay literature Quatrefoil back in 1950. He is a forgotten pioneer in gay literature whose short stories from his second book Derricks are being rediscovered – which is where this story comes from. It’s one of my pet peeves that they have not simply republished all of his works.
Last but not least, I point very strongly to a story by one of my favorite and undeservedly overlooked, the highly talented, writer Timothy J Anderson. Hooters, Tooters, and the Big Dog is written in a truly unique writing voice, a deep masculine baritone as comfortable as a pair of Wrangler jeans and smooth as a well polished pair of Tony Lama cowboy boots. I have yet to read one of his stories that is not both entrancing, exceedingly honest, lovingly tailored and thought provoking. In fact do checkout his web site High Mountain Ranch and the rest of his wildly successful short stories that no one knows about, except those of us who actually seek out good writers even if they are not published with nude men on the cover.
To be honest in the end one of the main problems I had with Everything I Have Is Blue was not the premise itself but a lot of the writings selected did not strike me as representing the type of stories Wendell Ricketts says he was going for, at least in my lame opinion. If things are this bad in the gay literary community that it was hard for Wendell to find easily attainable representations for what he wanted to promote, and recognizing the limitations he placed on himself in not using erotica, then it’s simply a crime in my eyes. If that was the case, maybe he should have put some porn star in coveralls on the cover or at least included some of the more solidly written erotica that is out there and does, in my opinion, represents people attempting to honestly write about the gay working class. Erotica is still one of the ways that new and exciting voices are heard and a way that most people will still take the chance and purchase. It’s simply unfortunate that our literary products are marketed to us so narrowly. Anyway that’s just my take on the whole thing, your mileage may very.