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The Inside Reader: Jim Arnold

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir Mitchell
Benediction was not an easy novel, there was a lot of the author in it, I believe, and for this reason it was really involving, sometime even too much since you had the feeling to be with the main character in his fight. So much involving that it was like living in a movie, and maybe this is not a case, since the author, Jim Arnold, is not new to the movie industry. I hope he will write something else, since I had the feeling that Benediction was only a beginning, and there is much more to tell of that character and this author. Welcome Jim and his list

Jim Arnold’s Inside Reader list – 10 LGBT books I like.

Introduction:

I’m a newcomer to writing fiction in the novel form. Most of my fiction up to the point of publishing “Benediction” was in screenplay or teleplay format. Prior to that, my writing has mostly been of a journalistic nature, and that was where my undergrad writing training was. I’ve been heavily influenced by writers who were either heavily non-fiction (Joan Didion) or whose writing was informed by a journalistic tradition (Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote). Thus, this list has a few non-fiction titles in it, and these books have affected my writing and my life as much as the fiction titles have.

These are in no particular order:


1) Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, by Paul Monette, 1992. Harper Collins. This is an autobiography, a writer’s autobiography, which fascinated me because not only was the writer (Paul Monette) a gay man, but one I already admired from his amazing memoir of AIDS, “Borrowed Time.” I remember looking for some hint in these pages of how I should live my own life, what experiences I should have as a gay man in Los Angeles, how I should think about them, how I should write about them. As much as a kind of blueprint for an existence as a window into someone else’s remarkable life, as gay men have had so few role models. It’s hard not to fall in love with the spirit of this beautiful but very human and flawed man, which infuses each and every page.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (May 25, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060595647/Becoming_a_Man/index.aspx
ISBN-10: 0060595647
ISBN-13: 978-0060595647
Amazon: Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story

A child of the 1950s from a small New England town, "perfect Paul" earns straight A's and shines in social and literary pursuits, all the while keeping a secret -- from himself and the rest of the world. Struggling to be, or at least to imitate, a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy and unrequited passion, Paul Monette was haunted, and finally saved, by a dream of "the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing." Searingly honest, witty, and humane, Becoming a Man is the definitive coming-out story in the classic coming-of-age genre.

2) Brokeback Mountain, by Annie Proulx, (short story) October 13, 1997. The New Yorker. When I first started reading this short story, I realized I’d have to slow down, as it seemed to be written in a dialect of English with which I was totally unfamiliar. Unfamiliar territory, indeed, and so authentically wrought western talk. I think the story sneaks up on you. Like so many Americans I probably have a fascination with the West, its promises as well as its dangers. In my case, it’s also my native yet adopted part of the country, though California could be put in another category entirely. I believe the rural parts of my state and Wyoming have more in common than California’s coastal cities have with its interior. Here was a genuine rendering of love between two men, which is so rare in art that when it finally appears it’s really quite astounding and in this particular case, broke my heart.

Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Scribner; Original edition (November 1, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Brokeback-Mountain/Annie-Proulx/9780743271325
ISBN-10: 0743271327
ISBN-13: 978-0743271325
Amazon: Brokeback Mountain

Annie Proulx has written some of the most original and brilliant short stories in contemporary literature, and for many, Brokeback Mountain is her masterpiece. Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two ranch hands, come together when they're working as sheep herder and camp tender one summer on a range above the tree line. At first, sharing an isolated tent, the attraction is casual, inevitable, but something deeper catches them that summer. Both men work hard, marry, have kids because that's what cowboys do. But over the course of many years and frequent separations this relationship becomes the most important thing in their lives, and they do anything they can to preserve it. Brokeback Mountain was originally published in the New Yorker -- it won the National Magazine Award and was included in the O. Henry Stories 1998. In gorgeous and haunting prose Proulx limns the difficult, dangerous affair between two cowboys that survives everything but the world's violent intolerance.

3) A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham, 1990. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I really felt very connected to both the men in the story (which is about a relationship triangle over the course of many years). One is straight, one is gay, and they are both contemporaries of mine – so there were many touch points I could so easily identify with. The structure of this novel, where alternating chapters are written from each of the main characters’ point of view, has influenced how I’m putting together “Forest Dark,” the novel I’m writing now. I also loved the epic nature of the story, in that it follows an enduring friendship over many years, and found myself longing for the kind of love expressed in this book.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador; 1st Picador USA pbk. ed edition (November 15, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/ahomeattheendoftheworld
ISBN-10: 0312202318
ISBN-13: 978-0312202316
Amazon: A Home at the End of the World

From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author ofThe Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city's erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare's child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise "their" child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.

4) Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin, 1956. Dell. Tale of an expatriates, groundbreaking in depicting gayness in not-so-couched terms, a doomed love affair with a hot, working class guy. “Giovanni’s Room” is quite evocative of that post-war period when conventions which had held for so long were finally at the beginning of breaking down. Baldwin in the ultimate outsider, a “black homosexual” writing in the 1950s, that uptight decade, and who could possibly be more outside – yet that is what gives this writer the authority “Giovanni’s Room” has over the reader.

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Delta (June 13, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780385334587
ISBN-10: 0385334583
ISBN-13: 978-0385334587
Amazon: Giovanni’s Room

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

5) Dancer from the Dance, by Andrew Holleran, 1978. William Morrow & Co. This book about gay culture and strata in the big city was not only highly entertaining for me, but also highly instructional! A primer on how gay society was/is structured, about out own little demimonde, our focus on youth and its rules and expectations. As a young gay man in the Midwest, it presented life on the coasts as seductive and at the same time dangerous. One wanted to be a part of it, one wanted to be his hot hero Malone, yet only if it were going to be the good parts, hopefully those involving good sex and good drugs and some kind of painting you could put in your closet. Of course, in real life, you have to take the good with the bad, which is exactly what happens to Holleran’s characters in the book.

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (December 18, 2001)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060937065/Dancer_from_the_Dance/index.aspx
ISBN-10: 0060937068
ISBN-13: 978-0060937065
Amazon: Dancer from the Dance

One of the most important works of gay literature, this haunting, brilliant novel is a seriocomic remembrance of things past -- and still poignantly present. It depicts the adventures of Malone, a beautiful young man searching for love amid New York's emerging gay scene. From Manhattan's Everard Baths and after-hours discos to Fire Island's deserted parks and lavish orgies, Malone looks high and low for meaningful companionship. The person he finds is Sutherland, a campy quintessential queen -- and one of the most memorable literary creations of contemporary fiction. Hilarious, witty, and ultimately heartbreaking, Dancer from the Dance is truthful, provocative, outrageous fiction told in a voice as close to laughter as to tears.

6) Maybe the Moon, by Armistead Maupin, 1992. Harper Collins. Great story about a dwarf actress whose claim to fame was starring in an ET-like movie. I’ve always loved stories/books/movies about those who (like myself!) came to Hollywood to make it in some way. Most of us, of course, don’t make it or have many strange twists and turns on that journey, and this is such a story. The heroine, Cady, is a take-no-prisoners little person who somewhere in the book refers to herself as a “fat baby with tits and pubic hair.” It’s hard not to love a character like that. I found this a somewhat more serious and touching novel than the “Tales of the City” series, just a beautiful piece of work.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 4, 1993)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060924348/Maybe_the_Moon/index.aspx
ISBN-10: 0060924349
ISBN-13: 978-0060924348
Amazon: Maybe the Moon

Maybe the Moon, Armistead Maupin's first novel since ending his bestselling Tales of the City series, is the audaciously original chronicle of Cadence Roth -- Hollywood actress, singer, iconoclast and former Guiness Book record holder as the world's shortest woman. All of 31 inches tall, Cady is a true survivor in a town where -- as she says -- "you can die of encouragement." Her early starring role as a lovable elf in an immensely popular American film proved a major disappointment, since moviegoers never saw the face behind the stifling rubber suit she was required to wear. Now, after a decade of hollow promises from the Industry, she is reduced to performing at birthday parties and bat mitzvahs as she waits for the miracle that will finally make her a star. In a series of mordantly funny journal entries, Maupin tracks his spunky heroine across the saffron-hazed wasteland of Los Angeles -- from her all-too-infrequent meetings with agents and studio moguls to her regular harrowing encounters with small children, large dogs and human ignorance. Then one day a lanky piano player saunters into Cady's life, unleashing heady new emotions, and she finds herself going for broke, shooting the moon with a scheme so harebrained and daring that it just might succeed. Her accomplice in the venture is her best friend, Jeff, a gay waiter who sees Cady's struggle for visibility as a natural extension of his own war against the Hollywood Closet. As clear-eyed as it is charming, Maybe the Moon is a modern parable about the mythology of the movies and the toll it exacts from it participants on both sides of the screen. It is a work that speaks to the resilience of the human spirit from a perspective rarely found in literature.

7) Coming Out Under Fire, by Allan Berube, 1990. Plume. This is a non-fiction book, history, really, but so much of it reads like a good detective novel. For gays and lesbians this is just such a good, enlightening and yes, empowering story. It’s also very instructive, as Berube tells us about the coastal origins of what we know today as the American gay community. Today I watched a YouTube video of American soldiers in Afghanistan dancing together to a Lady Gaga song – it’s somehow comforting to know that queer soldiers were doing the equivalent all throughout WWII, and probably long before that! This book was also invaluable research for a WWII period movie script I wrote called “Me and Mamie O’Rourke.”

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Free Press (April 1, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Coming-Out-Under-Fire/Allan-Berube/9780743210713
ISBN-10: 0743210719
ISBN-13: 978-0743210713
Amazon: Coming Out Under Fire

Allan Berube chronicles the story of the thousands of gay men and lesbian women who were among those proudly serving their country during the World War II years. Coming Out Under Fire is an invaluable contribution not only to gay history, but also to an aspect of our military history that is often ignored yet still affects thousands of GIs and veterans.

8) Strings Attached, by Nick Nolan, 2006. Little Eden Press. I don’t normally read in the YA genre, but “Strings Attached” actually transcends that deftly and is a suitable book for adults. As I read Nick Nolan’s great story, I just kept thinking, “why wasn’t there a book like this when I was a teenager!” Not only is this a glimpse into what serious gay relationships are like and have the potential to be, it’s got all the elements of a great fantasy escape: gorgeous, hunky high school athletes, the ones we all dreamed of; their “mean girl” friends; a tony beach enclave right out of the best Aaron Spelling series; a group of understanding, supportive, and realistically flawed adults, both parents and teachers. It’s like the best-made healthy dessert: a delicious indulgence with no sugar hangover.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: AmazonEncore (March 9, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0982555016
ISBN-13: 978-0982555019
Amazon: Strings Attached

Closeted teenager Jeremy is sent to live with wealthy relatives after his mother enters rehab. Struggling to fit into the posh world of Ballena Beach, Jeremy joins the high school swim team, dates a popular girl, and begins to think he may have landed in paradise—until his great aunt Katharine starts to dictate his every move … and a late-night phone call insinuates that his father’s accidental death was not so accidental after all. As Jeremy grows accustomed to the veneer of a fabulous life, so grows his need for answers—as well as the danger of immeasurable harm. Weaving together a murder mystery, sexual ambiguity, and characters with hidden identities and agendas , Nick Nolan offers readers a deliciously witty page-turner about the “puppet” who wishes only to be a real boy. Strings Attached is also a surprisingly heartfelt story about coming-of-age and coming out—not necessarily in that order.

9) Gay New York, by George Chauncey, 1994. Basic Books (HarperCollins). This is a real history book with an 80-page source notes section! It’s a fascinating look at how and why what we know today as gay urban culture came together. In writing about gay people in the fictional present, knowing our past and how that forms us is a crucial exercise in back story. Until I read this book, I never knew how recent (big picture-wise) a recognizable “gay community” was. This book covers a ton of topics, including looking at the police repression of gay men and lesbians and how wars and industrial revolution hastened our community’s formation. In the United States, it all starts with New York.

Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (May 19, 1995)
Publisher Link: http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465026214
ISBN-10: 0465026214
ISBN-13: 978-0465026210
Amazon: Gay New York

Gay New York brilliantly shatters the myth that before the 1960s gay life existed only in the closet, where gay men were isolated, invisible, and self-hating. Based on years of research and access to a rich trove of diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents, this book is a fascinating portrait of a gay world that is not supposed to have existed.

10) Mysterious Skin, by Scott Heim, 1996. Harper Perennial. Another novel where the tale is told by two different narrators, both speaking in first person. In “Mysterious Skin,” this is especially striking as the two protagonists, although contemporaries, could hardly be more different from each other. I loved the way Heim wove together the past and the present, and especially the clues to secrets from the past. I loved that it was set in the Midwest, where I also grew up. The territory here which I hadn’t seen much of was the organic development that gay boys have as children, and how experiences can shape them into the kind of young adults they become. The dark center of adult corruption in this novel is elevated by the bright optimism of youth.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 10, 2005)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060841690/Mysterious_Skin/index.aspx
ISBN-10: 0060841699
ISBN-13: 978-0060841690
Amazon: Mysterious Skin

At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five–hour period of time. During the following years he slowly recalls details from that night, but these fragments are not enough to explain what happened to him, and he begins to believe that he may have been the victim of an alien encounter. Neil McCormick is fully aware of the events from that summer of 1981. Wise beyond his years, curious about his developing sexuality, Neil found what he perceived to be love and guidance from his baseball coach. Now, ten years later, he is a teenage hustler, a terrorist of sorts, unaware of the dangerous path his life is taking. His recklessness is governed by idealized memories of his coach, memories that unexpectedly change when Brian comes to Neil for help and, ultimately, the truth.

About Jim Arnold: As a writer, Jim Arnold is the author of feature film screenplays and teleplays. Benedictio is his first novel.
For Eureka Street Press, Jim directed the documentary short “Our Brothers, Our Sons”, about generational differences around HIV/AIDS in gay men.

Jim has written for “Frontiers”, “Variety”, “Prime Health & Fitness” and other periodicals and fiction anthologies. He began his career in musical theatre and holds a BA in journalism and film from Marquette University, and has studied film production/writing in the MFS program at the University of Southern California, the Writers Program at UCLA, and at Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco.

He lives in Los Angeles.

Benediction by Jim Arnold
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (September 11, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1439248575
ISBN-13: 978-1439248577
Amazon: Benediction

Benediction unfolds during the twilight of dotcom-frenzied San Francisco, where globe-hopping Ben Schmidt, a gay, recovering alcoholic who heads marketing at a trendy software firm, just found out he’s got prostate cancer. Ben’s sleeping with Jake, the sexy artist upstairs, while carrying on a little friends-with-benefits liaison with hot Argentinean Eric. His long-held dream of directing a movie has finally happened, too – and all this while sober. His enviable life takes an unplanned detour with the cancer news while simultaneously, Ben’s work nemesis maneuvers to destroy his reputation and get him fired. Despite being hit with all this, Ben, with his indomitable spirit and darkly skewed sense of humor, learns to navigate the strange reality of cancerworld just as his movie begins its festival tour and the work situation escalates. With the happy outcome of any of these situations far from certain, Ben struggles to figure out what love and friendship really mean as he fights for literal survival – all the while dealing with those who want to give advice, including friends who've passed on – yet can't resist popping back in with words of dubious wisdom.

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