THE INSIDE READER AT ELISA ROLLE’S, March 2010

The Inside Reader: Clare London

  • Mar. 19th, 2010 at 10:08 AM  http://elisa-rolle.livejournal.com/992622.html
andrew potter

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends – Silas Weir Mitchell

Clare is one of the most friendly, and full of energy, people I met during my foray at Yaoi Con on 2009. She travelled from London to San Francisco on Friday to be back in London on Sunday! And all for the love of the gay romance genre, and all right, maybe to meet also some of her friends and to do a signing, but guys, more than 20 hours on a plane in a 72 hours stretch, it says you how much she is invested in all of this. She has always a kind word for everyone, she is really a woman you need to meet, even if only online. So, welcome to Clare!

Clare London’s Inside Reader List

When Elisa gave me the opportunity to join in with the Inside Reader feature, I’ll admit I was excited but nervous. I do read a lot but I’m never sure if it’s wisely and/or well, and not always what would be called “literary”. I also wasn’t sure how many GLBT titles I might personally include in a top ten.

Then I started my list and found how difficult it was to restrict myself to just ten! And of course, what’s important about a personal top ten is that it’s personal to me and important because of how it’s influenced me, regardless of any other criteria. So…it’s been fascinating and great fun to do! I got the chance to revisit a lot of books I love, and not only that, but to think about why and share that with Elisa and anyone else who reads this.

So before everyone wonders what weirdness I may be going to include, here are some of my favourites. Not all by any means, but ones that immediately come to mind: today’s Top Ten, I’d say, and in no particular order. There are plenty of other titles nipping at their heels – and there’ll be more in the future, I just know it!

1) The Regeneration Series by Pat Barker (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road). These books lead my list because of the astonishing impact they’ve made on me. I’m late to the party I think, I only read them recently, but I’ll be eternally grateful to my Book Club for introducing them on to the must-read list! I’m very sensitive toward any stories or accounts from WWI and would have avoided them, left to my own devices, but I enjoyed every word and would read them again. The three books take different points of view, shared between the psychiatrist Rivers and his diverse range of patients, including the poets Seigfreid Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and the self-made, streetwise ‘chancer’ Billy Prior. The characterizations are sharp and sympathetic, the handling of the war context both blunt and compassionate. Billy especially takes us on a journey of pragmatic, internal monologue, pitching his adventures between a sense of self-preservation and his own perception of fairness.

Why did they have such a vivid effect? The prose was lyrical, the poignancy of the time always in the background. The characters are products of their time: the themes cover war, mental illness, fear, spying, patriotism, courage, homosexuality, loyalty, humour, love…Everything, really. So much of the emotion isn’t actually voiced aloud, yet the books are still full of delicious dialogue, wit, and characterisations. Very British, I’d say!

I didn’t read them because I ought to (you can call me perverse, because I am), but once captured, I savoured every word and didn’t want the story to end. Of course, these being books that followed the characters in and through a World War, the story had to, for some of them at least.

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (May 1 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141030937,00.html
ISBN-10: 0141030933
ISBN-13: 978-0141030937
Amazon: Regeneration

In 1917, decorated British officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a declaration condemning the war. Instead of a court-martial, he was sent to a hospital for other “shell-shocked” officers where he was treated by Dr. William Rivers, noted anthropologist and psychiatrist. Author Barker turns these true occurrences into a compelling and brilliant antiwar novel. Sassoon’s complete sanity disturbs Dr. Rivers to such a point that he questions his own role in “curing” his patients only to send them back to the slaughter of the war in France. World War I decimated an entire generation of European men, and the horrifying loss of life and the callousness of the government led to the obliteration of the Victorian ideal. This is an important and impressive novel about war, soldiers, and humanity. It belongs in most fiction collections. – C. Christopher Pavek, National Economic Research As socs. Lib., Washington, D.C.

2) Mind Fuck by Manna Francis, Book 1 of the Administration Series. The Administration series blew me away when I read it online years ago, and it still does today. I’m collecting every instalment as it comes out in paperback and re-reading it. The first time through, I was stunned and excited by the Toreth / Warrick dynamic, but on later reading, I pick up far more of the world-building in the intriguing New London. The jewel for me as a reader, though, will always be the two leads, both individually and together. I probably find the men a little less sympathetic with each reading, or maybe I’m just absorbing more of the clever and complex nuances in the writing. But they and their flaws, desires and struggles are totally fascinating. Warrick, who is so controlled in public, whose intelligence and academic abilities are so superior, and yet whose need for submission makes him vulnerable and draws him irresistibly to Toreth. Toreth, whose blend of sociopath, anguished loner, and effective and committed interrogator makes him the most dangerous and theoretically the most emotionally alien of men. Yet so terribly attractive! Their relationship is the perfect example of one which shouldn’t work but does.

What else? It’s a treat to read. Lovely prose, clean editing, and a rich cast of subsidiary characters. It was maybe my first awakening to a book that could include a hot, provocative gay affair, yet wasn’t all about the sex. There were so many other themes to explore in the novel – work, politics, loyalty, betrayal, pain and pleasure.

Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Casperian Books LLC (October 29, 2007)
Publisher Link: http://www.casperianbooks.com/catalog/1-934081-08-6.html
ISBN-10: 1934081086
ISBN-13: 978-1934081082
Amazon: Mind Fuck

There are no bad guys or good guys. There are only better guys and worse guys. One of the worse guys is Val Toreth. In a world in which torture is a legitimate part of the investigative process, he works for the Investigation and Interrogation Division, where his colleagues can be more dangerous than the criminals he investigates. One of the better guys is Keir Warrick. His small corporation, SimTech, is developing a “sim” system that places users in a fully immersive virtual reality. A minnow in a murky and dangerous pond, he is only beginning to discover how many compromises may be required for success. Their home is the dark future dystopia of New London. A totalitarian bureaucracy controls the European Administration, sharing political power with the corporations. The government uses violence and the many divisions of the feared Department of Internal Security to maintain control and crush resistance. The corporations fight among themselves, using lethal force under the euphemism of “corporate sabotage,” uniting only to resist attempts by the Administration to extend its influence over them. Toreth and Warrick are more natural enemies than allies. But mutual attraction and the fight for survival can create unlikely bonds.

3) The ‘Deadly’ series by Victor J Banis (Deadly Nightshade, Deadly Wrong, Deadly Dreams, Deadly Slumber). This is included on my top list because it made me fall in love all over again! That is, in love with Stanley and Tom and their astonishing courtship. I’m rather in love with Victor’s prose, too. It’s deceptive – beautifully easy to read, yet never trite. The books are witty and perceptive, the characters superbly and uniquely drawn. Big, big treat. Neither protagonist appears at first to make concessions to the other one’s life and preferences, but gradually they bond, and deeper than many, more similar couples. Stanley’s fey, bright intelligence and Tom’s bold, single-minded strength make a lovely complement. Their love affair – and their sex! – is fun, exciting, poignant and often amusing. The plots satisfy, with a procession of other fascinating characters through each book. In this series, I found something as entertaining as any thriller or detective series, yet with a unique and loveable couple of leads. Reading the books encouraged me to find characters who extend outside a get-together plot, attracting readership for all their adventures.

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: MLR Books (Jan 3 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=DNIGHTSH
ISBN-10: 193453174X
ISBN-13: 978-1-934531-74-7
Amazon: Deadly Nightshade

The first in a new mystery series from the legendary author of the Man From C.A.M.P. and Longhorns, Victor J. Banis. Straight cop, gay cop, and a woman who “isn’t real.” Tom and Stanley are on the trail of a drag queen serial killer, and along the way, they find themselves engaged in a more intimate pursuit, trying to resolve another mystery: their unexpected attraction to one another.

4) Channeling Morpheus, Beginning with: Payback, Vertigo, Manikin, Tainted & Rebirth. I discovered Jordan’s writing through this series. I like to say I came for the cover – Payback – and stayed, enraptured, for the fiction! Of course, she was already known for the PsyCop series and although I love those as well – though to be honest, I’d read a cereal packet if it were written by her – my original love remains for Michael and Wild Bill. The books should be read as an arc, followed by the Sweet Oblivion series, short ventures each time, but crafted to captivate, and building up a world of edgy, spooky, angsty, sexy, suspenseful drama. Jordan creates the men in Channeling Morpheus – or should that be vampires? – more vividly with a few sentences than those of us who’d need pages. For me, the books illustrate characters that are – in all honesty – screwed up, yet fascinating and totally, sympathetically addictive. Michael’s beauty and his brave, unique, critically twisted way of looking at the world is mesmerising. I can understand how fascinating he is to Wild Bill. And Wild Bill’s more jaded and pragmatic view of life, coloured of course by the fact he operates both within and without the ‘real’ world, is the perfect, adorable foil.

Jordan’s writing is sensuous, sharp, to be savoured. It makes me appreciate how the right choice of word and phrase is critical to create a scene in the mind, and she creates an astonishing, distorted world right alongside the daily life we all fool ourselves is normal.

Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: JCP Books (June 17 2009)
Publisher Link: (ebooks) http://www.changelingpress.com/catalog.php?upt=book&ufilter=search&keywords=jordan+castillo+price
ISBN-10: 0981875289
ISBN-13: 978-0981875286
Amazon: Channeling Morpheus for Scary Mary

Michael is a waif in eyeliner who’s determined to wipe vampires off the face of the earth. Wild Bill’s got the hots for Michael, and will stop at nothing to go home with him. Forget about moonlit castles and windswept moors. These bad boys haunt all-night diners and cheap motels, cut-rate department stores and long, lonely stretches of the Interstate. Ride along with Wild Bill and Michael as the twists and turns of Channeling Morpheus for Scary Mary unfold in America’s Heartland.

5) Maloney’s Law by Anne Brooke. This book startled me – in the very best way! – by delivering so much more than the m/m romances I’d been reading and writing. It encouraged me to consider writing more books set in England, genres other than pure romance, and heroes who have issues way deeper than can be seen on their face and way beyond a single tale. I loved the anguish and complexity of Paul Maloney. His affair with the emotionally-selfish Dominic was wracked with pain and pleasure, and coloured his life for an obsessively long time. But the book gives us so much more of Paul than just his sex life. There was shocking horror, sorrow – OMG I cried! – violence, mystery and high drama. A fabulous, challenging blend. But all throughout, it revolved around Paul and his reactions. Amazing that I was several chapters into the book before I realized it was in 1st person present tense – it didn’t jar at all. I found it a richer read than Anne’s subsequent ‘Bones of Summer’ and not as psychologically disturbing as her ‘A Dangerous Man’ – though I loved both of them, too – and it remains my favourite of her books. To date, that is!

Paperback: 184 pages
Publisher: P. D. Publishing Inc (June 29 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.pdpublishing.com/maloneyendpage.html
ISBN-10: 1933720484
ISBN-13: 978-1933720487
Amazon: Maloney’s Law

Paul Maloney, a small-time private investigator from London, reluctantly accepts a case from his married ex-lover, Dominic Allen. Before he knows it, Paul finds himself embroiled in the dark dealings of big business and the sordid world of international crime. The deeper he pushes, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear. Can he solve the mystery and protect those he loves before it’s too late?

6) Skellig by David Almond. What can I say about the joy this book gave me? Son#2 had this for an English assignment and I offered to read a chapter, to help him with his comprehension question. Two hours later he found me on the couch, finishing the last page and blubbing uncontrollably LOL. The sign of a great book, you say! It’s not GLBT, it’s Young Adult and has a tortured, angelic, fantasy being – my favourite! It deals with basic human nature and the most poignant, sweetest emotions that children – and the child in all of us, hovering just under the veneer – might feel. Michael struggles to understand what’s right and wrong in the world, and how to make better things happen. Yet he can also accept the fantastic things that happen with Skellig and absorb them into his more familiar life. I’ve always had huge respect for good YA fiction. To me, it has purity and clarity that you don’t always get in more ‘adult’ fiction, which can seem padded out in comparison. Everything must be more carefully described, more vividly drawn, but mustn’t be patronizing. It’s a chance for authors to tap into pure emotion and reaction. And when it’s done well, it consumes the reader and beats everything else. I like to re-read my favourite YA books to remember that fiction doesn’t have to be epic, or that adulthood shouldn’t be full of unnecessary words.

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books; Television tie-in edition edition (March 19, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.hodderchildrens.co.uk/BOOKS-FOR-9_12-YEARS__SKELLIG_9780340854334_P_book.htm
ISBN-10: 038532653X
ISBN-13: 978-0385326537
Amazon: Skellig

“I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered with dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face and his black suit.”

This is Michael’s introduction to Skellig, the man-owl-angel who lies motionless behind the tea chests in the abandoned garage in back of the boy’s dilapidated new house. As disturbing as this discovery is, it is the least of Michael’s worries. The new house is a mess, his parents are distracted, and his brand-new baby sister is seriously ill. Still, he can’t get this mysterious creature out of his mind–even as he wonders if he has really seen him at all. What unfolds is a powerful, cosmic, dreamlike tale reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. British novelist David Almond works magic as he examines the large issues of death, life, friendship, love, and the breathtaking connections between all things.

7) Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Another novel not necessarily classified as GLBT, but to me, whereas Jane Austen is really all about the women, Dickens is about the men! Nicholas Nickleby is a novel that has it all – child suffering, betrayal, thwarted love, danger, melodrama, bravery, victory, redemption, humour and a torturous conspiracy and a half. The size of Dickens’ books is intimidating, and his style rambling at times, but you have to look at it in context, and how he was presenting to his audience. I’m also not a huge fan of Dickens’ humorous sub-plots and characters, but they were bearable in this book, mixed with trademark wit and sly satire. As the final threads came together in the convoluted plot, I cried for Nicholas and the tragic, adorable, unprespossessing Smike, and even Uncle Ralph. This book introduced me to the soap opera of fiction, the joy of creating cliffhangers – and (partly) encouraged me to write a 300k-plus words, multi-pairing, many-chaptered bodice ripper!

Paperback: 926 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publisher Link: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199538225.do?keyword=Nicholas+Nickleby+&sortby=bestMatches
ISBN-10: 0199538220
ISBN-13: 978-0199538225
Amazon: Nicholas Nickleby

Our hero confronts a large and varied cast, including Wackford Squeers, the fantastic ogre of a schoolmaster, and Vincent Crummles, the grandiloquent ham actor, on his comic and satirical adventures up and down the country. Punishing wickedness, befriending the helpless, strutting the stage, and falling in love, Nicholas shares some of his creator’s energy and earnestness as he faces the pressing issues of early Victorian society.

8) Cowboy by J. M. Snyder. I read this a very long time ago – I think it was a free read at one time, when I was first discovering m/m authors. I don’t usually like present tense, and I don’t usually like cowboy stories, as I don’t have any points of cultural contact with them. But this one completely captivated me! It’s slow and languid, and at times I was frustrated with the characters, but it took the cowboy myth for me and turned it right on its head. Maybe it’s been done before, but this was my first time. Marcus follows his dream, moving in with a strong and silent cowboy, and expects – hopes – that’s the same as true love. But he finds living with Kent stifling and ultimately heart-breaking, discovering gradually the limits of what the cowboy can offer him. I liked the slow angst of the story, Marcus’ struggle to come to terms with having made a mistake, while still feeling loyalty and love for the man he’d been living with for years. Nobody’s fault – but a doomed mismatch. It was a fascinating and, in my opinion, a skillful depiction of the relationship struggles many people go through. An unusual story compared to the romances I’d been reading at that time, and I found it intriguing. I especially liked the idea of a story starting with a poor relationship, and exploring the internal conflict of the main character.

Paperback: 122 pages
Publisher: lulu.com (Sept 4 2009)
Publisher Link: http://jmsnyder.net/books/cowboy.html
ISBN-10: 1435720903
ISBN-13: 978-1435720909
Amazon: Cowboy

Marcus was just passing through Texas when he met Kent. In his cowboy hat, low-riding jeans, and black boots, Kent looks like the type of guy Marcus desperately wants to love. But two years later, he’s discovered Kent is cold and distant, the quintessential American cowboy, and spends more time drunk than sober. Marcus can never predict his mood and blames himself for the flailing relationship. Then, one day when Kent rides into town, Marcus finds a young runaway hiding in their barn. Luke is warm, loving, and quick to please. . .everything Kent is not. Though the answer seems obvious, Marcus finds himself torn between the boy who demands his love and the man whose love he craves.

9) Ice Blues by Richard Stevenson. I’ve read all of the Don Strachey P.I. books, starting with some of them before I ever got published myself, and ultimately encouraging me to write my own mystery/thriller book, Freeman. I think this is probably my favourite. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember finding the dialogue a little sharper, the plot tighter and more witty. And Don dry, determined, and as much fun as always! I love the way it’s a damned good thriller that happens to have a gay private dick – it’s probably the most mainstream book I’ve read which has a gay hero (my shortcoming, I hasten to add). All of the books stress Don’s gay status as important – as if gives him an entrée to all the right places! – and many of the plots hinge on political or social issues to do with being gay. But it’s still a damned good thriller in the end!

Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: MLR Books (Aug 4 3 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=ICEBLUES
ISBN-10: 1934531405
ISBN-13: 978-1934531402
Amazon: Ice Blues

Someone’s left a man’s body in Donald Strachey’s car — the grandson of Albany’s most connected political fixer. A letter from the deceased asks Strachey to dismantle his grandfather’s party machine. Like a chess master, Strachey moves ten suitcases, an army of colorful pawns (all of whom think they’re king), and $2.5 million across the continent and around Albany. One of the funniest in the series.

10) The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury. This is a book I read as a child and have just encouraged my own child to read, a generation later. Its stories have stayed with me all my life. Now that I write short stories of my own, I realize just what a master Bradbury was, and what a background reference this gave me about the balance of length, style and imagination. He drops you right into the individual worlds, whether real or fantastic, today or far tomorrow, and engages you from start to finish. My son is a fitful reader at the best of times, but this is one of the few books that has totally captivated him. I love the range of fiction in this collection, from the space-travel hope of the eponymous story, to the time-travel shock of Sound of Thunder, to one of my favourites, the chilling and haunting The Pedestrian. It’s a treasure trove, and not only stimulates me as a reader but sparks my imagination as an author, too. It makes me realise – very strongly and very vividly – that good fiction doesn’t necessarily mean an HEA!

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial; new edition (November 1, 1997)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780380730391/Golden_Apples_of_the_Sun_The/index.aspx
ISBN-10: 0380730391
ISBN-13: 978-0380730391
Amazon: The Golden Apples of the Sun

Ray Bradbury is a modern cultural treasure. His disarming simplicity of style underlies a towering body of work unmatched in metaphorical power by any other American storyteller. And here, presented in a new trade edition, are thirty-two of his most famous tales–prime examples of the poignant and mysterious poetry which Bradbury uniquely uncovers in the depths of the human soul, the otherwordly portraits of outré fascination which spring from the canvas of one of the century’s great men of imagination. From a lonely coastal lighthouse to a sixty-million-year-old safari, from the pouring rain of Venus to the ominous silence of a murder scene, Ray Bradbury is our sure-handed guide not only to surprising and outrageous manifestations of the future, but also to the wonders of the present that we could never have imagined on our own.