Friday, September 30, 2011

gone by kris dresen

Book:  gone
Author:  kris dresen
Publisher:  Outlines Press

I’m starting off with a bit of a history lesson – go with it, I promise there’s a point to it.

Situated at the southernmost point of Indiana is a small, sleepy town called New Harmony.  In the early 1800s, a group of radical Separatists from the German Lutheran Church (aren’t they all) moved to this spot in the lower Wabash Valley, and created a so-called Utopian community.

It was a move seemingly ripped from today’s headlines - their literal interpretation of biblical text, and their interpretation of current world events led them to believe that a Second Coming of Jesus Christ was imminent and this was the happening place to be for the Rapture.

The Harmonists, as the settlers were called, combined the Swabian work ethic (Work, work, work! Save, save, save!) with the Benedictine rule (Pray and work!).  This resulted in an amazing period of economic self-sufficiency that was recognized as "the wonder of the west."

Of course, they were also staunch believers in celibacy, and the society eventually died out . . .

But, before that could happen, the Harmonists’ charismatic leader was given Divine guidance that the time of the Sunwoman of Revelation (Revelations 12:1-18, for the curious) was upon them, so they moved again.  New Harmony was quickly sold to a wealthy Scot named Robert Owen, who had a different vision for a Utopian society.   His “Community of Equality” attracted some of the most notable (and flamboyant) scholars, writers, artists, and philosophers of the early 19th Century.  And, while the Owen experiment at a Utopian community failed miserably after only three years, the contribution to literature, art, scientific, and educational theory, study, and practice resounds today.

Wondering when I’m going to get around to talking about gone by kris dresen, eh?

Wait for it . . .

When I think about New Harmony, I don’t think about the early settlers and their quest for the elusive Rapture, I think about the writers, artists, and architects; the geologists, scientists, and mathematicians; the educators, reformers and philosophers.  I think about the people who weren’t afraid to think outside the box, challenge conventional thinking, or ask ‘why not’.  I think about the people who said, ‘what if’.

gone is the second offering from Outlines Press, and the first by artist, publisher, and serial non-capitalist, kris dresen.  It’s sixteen pages of edgy art, inner conflict, and revelation painstakingly folded into a tale about birds, telephone poles, kick-ass boots, and a really big dose of gravity.

It’s classic kris dresen art, with a lemon twist.  The same, yet different.   A little to the left, no, no, right there.  Ah.

My first reaction is to call it something pithy like ‘graphic poetry’, but that tends to cheapen the overall accomplishment.  gone is the kind of publication that you read a thousand times, and catch something different each time through.  Perhaps, once you focus on the eyes and everything they might portend.  Maybe the next time, you see hair and feathers.  Then the next, the spread of arms and wings. 

You see a deliberate rise and tentative fall, and shadows that lay ahead then behind.  You wonder why the boots go on and off. What it means to stand, sit, climb, jump, kneel, lay, listen, and leave.  At times, you argue or rationalize, then others you move to compromise.  Within gone, each picture tells a story, but each word evokes a thousand pictures. 

And no matter what secrets you uncover, one message rings loud and clear:  The first step is a bitch.

kris dresen’s art style is her calling card, and what gives gone its biker babe swagger.

It’s all about straight lines like telephone poles, stripes, laces, and shadows, but tempered with waves like hair, feathers, clouds, boot soles, and eyes.  The patterns are strong, and the textures are rich and evocative.  A woman can be tough, lost and sexy all at the same time, and the crows can be angry, curious, protective, and knowing.

Similarly, kris dresen uses words as art - bold and italic, no capitalization, very little punctuation.  Some are strong, demanding, and almost harsh.  Others a whisper, a sigh, a quiet invocation.  The clever use of words and images creates a mood, and transports the reader into the story – you are not just reading or witnessing, so much as participating.

Like the Harmonists, the women of Outlines Press aren't afraid to think outside the box, challenge conventional thinking, or ask ‘why not’.  Their logo could very well proclaim ‘what if’.  While that spirit is not necessarily new, it’s not so common or easily mastered as one would expect. 

I have read gone at least thirty times in the last month, and each time I’ve flipped forward, flipped backward, sat it down, picked it back up, turned it sideways, turned it back, started all over again. 

Much like it’s sister publication, CORE, gone gets its juice from being different, and the possibilities for future kris dresen publications are endless and exciting.  

It’s a heady mix of words, art, imagination, and that possibility - if they'd throw in some dark chocolate and a frisky little Beaujolais, I'd consider asking it to spend the night.

I said it last week, but it bears repeating:

The rules of the game are changing, and authors and publishers need to push the envelope a little more.  Admittedly, some readers don’t like change and aren't attracted to publications like those coming out of Outlines Press.  That's fine, but over time, reader demographics and likes and dislikes will shift.  The audience with a taste for gone is out there, but there are a lot of other evolving tastes that have yet to be discovered.

I’m giving gone a 5.0 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale – it’s fun, fresh, and different, and that makes it a keeper for the top row of my bookshelf.

Monday, September 19, 2011

CORE by JD Glass

Book:  CORE, Volume 1, Issue 1
Author:  JD Glass
Publisher:  Outlines Press

As a kid, I was addicted to Sesame Street.  Bert and Ernie were gay, Oscar was bipolar, Cookie Monster had an eating disorder, the Count had OCD, Grover was a special needs Muppet, and Big Bird experienced random episodes of disambiguation with a woolly mammoth named Snuffleupagus.  Of course, that was before we became a society obsessed with labels. 

Back then; my only obsession was keeping my streak of correctly selecting which one of these things was not like the other alive. 

Forty full years later, I can honestly say that competitive little kid in me is still playing One of These Things.  The thing is, I’m doing it in this blog.  Every week, I read something and try to figure out what it is that makes it the same or different from everything else I read.  Most times the formula is routine – I look at originality, character development, use of plot devices, construction details, and logic progression.  Other times I consider editing, e-book translation, dialogue flow, cover art, and plausibility. 

Once, I even looked at the pretty pictures.

But, when I got my hot little hands on CORE by JD Glass, it was obvious that this is The One that is not like the others.  It tells a story, but isn’t a book.  It has rhythm, but isn’t a song.  It feels familiar, but it’s all brand new.  The narrative is at once edgy and low, and the imagery is both dark and light.  It’s everything and nothing you’ve ever seen before.

It’s sort of like Tony Bennett joining Joey Ramone in a rousing chorus of “Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sedated”.

In 2006 JD Glass introduced the World to everyone’s favorite punk rocker, Nina, in the game-changing coming of age love story, Punk Like Me.  A year later, we were given Punk and Zen, and followed Nina as she chased her dreams, tore down the walls she’d so carefully constructed, and learned to really love and be loved.  CORE, like these two books, is narrated in the first person by Nina, and maintains their lyrical cadence and easy humor. 

I have to admit, I've always been a bit amused that the story of an unapologetic punk rocker could be told in such a rich, smooth, rhythmic voice.

CORE Volume 1, Issue 1 tells the behind the scenes, between the lines story of the following sentence from Punk and Zen:    “This all went well until we arrived in Vienna where a combination of alcohol, bad communication, and hysteria resulted in Jerkster’s wrist getting broken – he and the wrist got sent home.”  

As CORE progresses, we learn the details of how Jerkster broke his wrist, and why the tour fell apart.  We also find out that Jerkster is much more than a head-banging, kilt-wearing bassist.  And, we are shown that while we thought we were made privy to the full-scope of Nina’s journey into enlightenment, trust, and love, the first step really took place on a bench outside a hostel in Vienna. 

The artwork is a funky cool mishmash of themes and styles, with each piece telling more of the story.  I was blown away by the opposite page drawings of the lily and the iris, and the corresponding discussion of Fran and Samantha.  The flowers, like the women, are beautiful, sweet, and sexy.  They have so many similarities, yet so many differences.  I appreciate that Nina’s symbolic epiphany emerges from the space between the two flowers.

I can't control my fingers I can't control my brain . . .

CORE is the first release from Outlines Press, which was founded by author and musician, JD Glass and artist, kris dresen.  Try as I might, I found it impossible to label CORE.  At first, I wanted to call it a graphic novel, but that felt too pretentious.  Then I thought it could be comic book, but that was too far of a stretch. It’s not a pamphlet – that’s too clinical; and calling it a magazine would just be offensive.  No, CORE is something else altogether.  It draws outside the lines of convention, it answers questions lingering in the dark fringes of conscious thought, and it blazes a thumping, hard driving, three chord trail in a new direction.

JD Glass has emerged as the crazyfunkycool warrior babe of the lesbian outland, and has drawn a clear line in the sand of NextGen publishing.  

CORE isn’t afraid to be different, and the possibilities for the future are endless.  It’s a new way to tell ‘the rest of the story’, and perhaps more importantly, to engage Gen Y readers in a language they can comprehend.

Nothin' to do and no where to go-o-oh I wanna be sedated.

The rules of the game are changing, and authors and publishers need to push the envelope.  Some readers don’t like change, but some crave it.  There’s nothing wrong with the successful formulas of the past, sometimes we all want what is familiar.  But there are other times when we feel restless, and we want to be challenged.  That’s where Outlines Press comes into play. And, if they can continue to satisfy those cravings, CORE and the myriad other Outlines offerings will be around for a very long time.  

I’m giving Volume 1, Issue 1 of CORE a 5.2 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.  It is the coolest thing to hit my mailbox this year.

The next offering by Outlines Press will be gone, featuring kris dresen's drawings and a tale of birds, telephone poles, boots, and big dose of gravity. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shadows of Aggar by Chris Anne Wolfe


Shining A Spotlight On Amazing Books From The Last Few Years

With Special Guest Reviewer, CATHERINE M. WILSON, author of the WHEN WOMEN WERE WARRIORS trilogy

Book:  Shadows of Aggar
Author:  Chris Anne Wolfe
Publisher:  Orchard House Press

It is a gift when we see our own emotional lives illuminated — revealed and made understandable — by the simple device of setting us down in an unfamiliar place and time.

Shadows of Aggar is set on a pre-technological planet, the Aggar of the title, in a time when the Terran Empire is a powerful but somewhat distant presence. Charged with managing Aggar’s precarious relationship with the Empire, Aggar’s Council is faced with a situation that could result in war between the Empire and its enemy, the Alliance, a war that would be disastrous for anyone in the border zone between them, including Aggar.

A Terran pilot, fleeing from pursuing ships of the Alliance, has crashed on Aggar, in an area where the Council has little influence. The pilot has information that could prevent a war, so he must be rescued and returned to the Terran base. Instead of allowing the Terrans to search their territory, the Council decides to send a covert mission to find and rescue him.

Attached to the Terran base on Aggar are two Amazons, one of whom, Diana, is chosen for the mission. The Amazons were women from Earth who had colonized another planet and established their own society there. They too have managed to keep their independence from the Empire, and the Council considers an Amazon more trustworthy than one of the Terrans.

While most of the women of Aggar live in a society reminiscent of our pre-feminist past, Elana is different. Gifted with the ability to perceive a person’s amarin (aura) using her Blue Sight, she has been raised by the Council and trained to become a Shadow, someone who is destined to be partnered with another person in order to accomplish a vital mission. She is chosen to go with Diana.

I must admit I was impatient trying to follow all of this before I started to care about the characters, and I had to go back and reread much of the first few chapters to make sense of the story. There are also several intricate political plots and subplots, but I didn’t find them particularly interesting. What I found interesting is the relationship between Elana and Diana.

Diana sees Elana as a tool of the Council, meekly doing the bidding of those in authority. Elana sees herself as having freely chosen her role, considered by her culture to be an honorable one. Diana’s misinterpretation of Elana’s situation causes her to keep an emotional distance.

An added complication is that on Aggar sexual relationships between people of the same sex are not just disapproved of, but also feared, and Diana once employed a servant to whom she became attracted. As Diana’s servant, the woman had no option but to submit to whatever Diana asked of her. Because of Aggar’s patriarchal culture, the Amazons passed as men there, and it would have been perfectly acceptable for a man to sleep with his female servant. Diana’s servant knew that Diana was really a woman, and Diana was very much aware of her “silent terror” of what Diana might demand of her.

As an Amazon, Diana feels a sense of shame that she put another woman in that position, and therefore she resists her attraction to Elana. But Elana is not like the other women of Aggar. She feels the same attraction to Diana and can’t understand Diana’s reluctance to act upon what Elana, with the aid of her Blue Sight, knows Diana is feeling.

Most relationships begin with a misunderstanding, at least in fiction. Not realizing that Elana’s position as Shadow makes her different from the other women of Aggar, Diana assumes that she will not only fear an intimate relationship with another woman but that she has no will of her own and only does what the Council requires of her.

Although the place and time are unfamiliar to us, the stereotypes that have plagued women of our own time are clearly recognizable. Diana looks down on the “chattel-like women of this planet who exhausted so much energy in hiding their physical prowess.” Elana’s job as Shadow is to accommodate herself to her partner, to do whatever is needed to accomplish their mission, but Diana misinterprets this as mindless subservience. Suddenly we’re back in a dynamic we understand — the dominant man and his subservient woman — something that Diana, as an Amazon, rejects in principle.

What Diana fails to see is that being a Shadow is Elana’s vocation, something she was born to but that she also freely chose for herself. It’s the choice that makes the difference, and it takes Elana a long time to convince Diana that she is what she is and does what she does because it’s what she, Elana, wants — that it is, in fact, what gives her life meaning.

Shadows of Aggar was published in 1991, when the days of virulent lesbian/feminist separatism were not long behind us. The concept of woman as handmaiden had been discredited as a role imposed by patriarchal culture, leaving many women wondering why they felt as if something precious had been taken from them. In attempting to correct the oppressions of patriarchy, radical feminism tossed out a role that many women found both appropriate and empowering, and shades of that controversy emerge throughout Shadows of Aggar in conversations about consent, autonomy, and respect for the choices of others.

The ongoing dialog between the two women is the best part of Shadows of Aggar. Because of her Blue Sight, Elana has keen insight into what Diana is feeling, but often fails to understand the reasons why. Because the women come from two very different cultures, they must communicate on a basic level. Assumptions must be tested. Feelings and reactions must be made understandable within each woman’s cultural context. In a contemporary setting, this kind of analysis would feel like overkill, a caricature of the processing women tend to do in the context of an intimate relationship. In an alien setting, these conversations are both necessary and fascinating, and they reveal a great deal about the emotional life of women.

I give it a solid 5.0 out of 6 on Salem's Rainbow Scale.

A quick note from Salem:

“Shadows of Aggar” was nominated for a Lambda Literary award in 1991, but did not win.  Ms. Wolfe had a clear vision for the Aggar Series, and staunchly resisted any changes that would alter her intent to cast a different light on age-old plots and archetypal characters.  Her unique vision focused a fresh, bright light on the strength, beauty, desire, and joy of women in love.  When her original publisher no longer wanted to reprint the Aggar books, Ms. Wolfe signed with Orchard House Press, who released author-approved editions.   Not long after this book was published, Ms. Wolfe was diagnosed with cancer.  The Aggar series was meant to be a trilogy, however only “Shadows of Aggar” and the follow up, “Fires of Aggar” were ever published.  Orchard House Press will continue to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of all Chris Anne Wolfe books to cancer research.  The Orchard House Press website, is still under construction, but these books can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a handful of other distributors.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Forbidden Passions by M.J. Williamz

Book:  Forbidden Passions
Author:  M.J. Williamz
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

I met my beloved Kindle DX in October of 2009 - it was love at first sight. Over the next 23 months, she and I built a strong, loving, symbiotic relationship.  I plugged her in on a regular basis to keep her little battery charged, and ensured her belly was always full of high quality and oftentimes-lusty lesbian literature.  In return, she gave me untold hours of amazing, heart-pounding pleasure, companionship, and uncomplicated understanding though the most difficult of times.  I once asked her to marry me, and she simply said, “Turn Wireless On”.  We have been inseparable, as close as twitchy little dyke and majestic e-book can be.   

That is, until I downloaded M.J. Williamz' newest release, ‘Forbidden Passions’.  Almost immediately, my Beloved started blinking unnervingly at me, and then her high contrast e-ink face froze forever into some grotesque rorschachian ambivalence.  It was over, my beautiful Kindle DX burst into a conflagration that would have made Joan of Arc weep in “is she/isn’t she” lesbian envy.  She was gone.  Um, yeah, thanks for that, M. J.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but downloading Forbidden Passions is the last thing Kindle ever did.  At the time, I was simply in shock.  

I mean, I’d read in the Financial Times that M.J. has been working on a super secret formula to quadruple the potency of the classic bodice ripper, with laboratory results guaranteeing exactly 50% of the lesbian population would be brought to their collective knees . . . but I never expected, well, um, [she blushes uncontrollably] scorch marks.

Forbidden Passions tells the story of the socially improper and frenzied antebellum love affair between older businesswoman, Corinne Staples and débutante, Katie Prentiss.  Corinne’s best friend, Della Prentiss lost her husband to yellow fever two years ago, and is still in mourning.  She knows that the plantation finances are off, but doesn’t know why, and asks Corinne, who runs a bookkeeping business in Baton Rouge, to look them over.  Corinne hasn’t seen young Katie in five long years, and is surprised to find the playful young girl has grown into a feisty, beautiful, 19-year-old temptress. 

Unbeknownst to her fragile mother, Katie is a hot-blooded young lesbian that sets her sights on the handsome and engaging Miss Staples.  Corinne dresses in men’s clothes, works in a man’s profession, and has certain, barely accepted ‘proclivities’.  Della knows this, but never considers that anything could happen between her best friend and her daughter.  In fact, Corinne even tries to fight the attraction, but Katie’s twitchy ass and the swell of her young breasts are more than she can deny.  Thus begins a feverish and lusty affair that soon turns into an unspeakable love that is tested time and again by greed, family, friendship, and sickness.

Not to mention enough ‘little deaths’ to send the strongest libido into wind sucking tachycardia.

Forbidden Passions is 192 pages of bodice ripping antebellum erotica not so gently wrapped in the moistest, muskiest pantalets of lesbian horn dog high jinks ever written.  Within the first few pages we’re greeted with fluttering crotches, burning loins, and the swell of young breasts.  But, the erotica connoisseur need not worry, the slow start is intentional, and the pace and heat picks up considerably from there.

She types, with a devious smirk.

While the book is joyfully and unabashedly smut, the love story is well written and the characters are multi-dimensional.  The attraction between Katie and Corinne is immediate, but takes a bit of pushing and pulling and over compensation on both parts to come to fruition.  Things like ‘I like you, but its forbidden, and ‘I want you, but shouldn’t’ morph into ‘I need you inside me’, and ‘I want you, and I’m wearing nothing under my dress’.  So many things could have been tacky and over-the-top, but it’s a bodice ripper and said ripping was done with appropriate antebellum flair and requisite period dirty talk.

Imagine my thrill to learn that ‘twat’ was fashionably in play as lesbian pillow talk in 1860!

As for the major characters, Katie is nineteen, and makes childish assumptions and mistakes, but she is also a headstrong young woman that knows who she is and what she wants.  Corinne is thirty-seven, and lives her life without apology, yet understands that the love of her best friend is the unsteady foundation for the tolerance of her lifestyle.  Della is a lady and a mother, but is unable to recover from the death of the love of her life – it is this mourning that keeps her on the wire between the here and now, and nothing.

Forbidden Passions is the very model of modern major erotica, but hidden within the sweet swells and trembling clefts of that erotica is a beautiful May-September romance between two wonderful and memorable characters.  Della’s consumption, while hinted at early in the story, seemed to advance like Ebola in a warm, moist Petri dish, and I wish we could have seen our lovely heroines deal with that crisis in a bit more detail.  Still, I have to admit that I was really and truly enchanted by this erotic tale, and that has to be a first.

M.J. Williamz has a wide reputation for her short stories, and has now given her fans a sound and playful second novel.  Erotica isn’t for every reader, but if you like a little spice in your story, and you’re not afraid or offended to consider how far two women can go together, then Forbidden Passions is a book you should put on your shopping list. 

Just don’t blame me if your motherboard of choice burns to a crisp, that’s all on M.J.

I’m giving Forbidden Passions a lusty, fist pumping 4.8 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale, because it was devilishly fun and naughty.