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The Inside Reader: Lee Benoit

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


Lee Benoit is probably one of the first author I chatted with at the beginning of this livejournal, I read a sweet short story by her and she left a comment. That sweetness I found again, in her books and in her person. So I'm really glad to have Lee as my Inside Reader this week.

Lately I´ve read some great books. I don´t have to tell readers of Elisa´s blog that GLBT fiction is in the midst of an unprecedented efflorescence. So when Elisa invited authors to share lists of favorites, I was excited to offer not only some of the books that shaped my reading and writing since adolescence, but some new treasures as well. I´ve organized this list alphabetically by author´s last name, because it was difficult enough to narrow the list to ten; nearly impossible to rank those choices.

1) The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst. Many folks may be more familiar with Hollinghurst´s Man Booker Prizewinning The Line of Beauty, but I prefer this earlier novel. It explores many of the themes of the more famous book - 1980s London, the embattled British class system, cocaine, AIDS, race, and gay subculture - but with the freshness of the first look, the raw mad joy of discovery, and the recklessness of a supremely talented author establishing his voice.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Vintage (September 19, 1989)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679722564
ISBN-10: 0679722564
ISBN-13: 978-0679722564
Amazon: The Swimming-Pool Library

A literary sensation and bestseller both in England and America, The Swimming-Pool Library is an enthralling, darkly erotic novel of homosexuality before the scourge of AIDS; an elegy, possessed of chilling clarity, for ways of life that can no longer be lived with impunity. "Impeccably composed and meticulously particular in its observation of everything" (Harpers & Queen), it focuses on the friendship of two men: William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, an old Africa hand, searching for someone to write his biography and inherit his traditions.

2) The Deceivers by Mel Keegan. I had taken a years-long hiatus from fiction reading when Robin Hobb´s Farseer trilogy and Lynn Flewelling´s Nightrunner series reground my slash goggles and sent me combing library shelves and online lists for more gay-themed (or gay-suggestive) fiction. I had some missteps along the way (Mercedes Lackey´s Last Herald Mage trilogy and Tanya Huff´s The Fire´s Stone made me shake my head) and more than once I wondered if I´d exhausted the genre. Then I found Mel Keegan. Oh, the joys of a nice fat backlist! I relish many of Keegan´s books, but perhaps my favorite is The Deceivers, a Victorian swashbuckler set during the early age of steam. It contains some of Keegan´s tightest prose and plotting, is rich with convincing period detail, and presents a homosexual romance that makes perfect sense for its time.

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: DreamCraft (August 15, 2003)
Publisher Link: http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/deceivers_dc.htm
ISBN-10: 0975088424
ISBN-13: 978-0975088425
Amazon: The Deceivers

Mel Keegan is back at sea in the days of tall ships and high adventure ... It is an age when sail and steam are technologies in collision, and the thousand-year tradition of the tall ships is coming to an end. Men like Bill Ryan and Jim Hale are caught in the jaws of change, in a world where survival depends on raw courage, strength and a willingness to take terrible risks. 1862, on the east coast of England: the railway is the death knell of the coastal shipping trade, and many small lines like Eastcoast Packet won’t survive. Jim Hale is about to inherit Eastcoast and the schooner Spindrift ... if he and Captain Bill Ryan can first survive the explosive violence of the North Sea storms, and the vicious schemes of the shipwrecker, Nathan Kerr. Always a dangerous man, Kerr has a score to settle with Jim – and with Ryan, who has allied himself to Eastcoast. For men who have the courage to be lovers in this time, and this place, the struggle is dire, the rewards astonishing. Meticulously researched, fabulously detailed, THE DECEIVERS will be treasured by any reader who loved FORTUNES OF WAR. Mel Keegan's action-packed adventures already span the 20th Century to the 23rd. His contemporary thriller, ICE, WIND AND FIRE, was described as 'rip-roaring and colourful,' and his science fiction stories DEATH'S HEAD and EQUINOX as 'unputdownable'. Turning his gaze to the 1500s, Mel Keegan conjures up once again a world where men both fight and love.

3) The Back Passage and The Secret Tunnel by James Lear. When - if - you´re able to tear your eyes away from the delectable covers, maybe I can convince you to read this pair of mysteries. I´m not a big mystery reader myself, and I understand that there are several well-regarded gay mystery series out there. I picked these up because James Lear has a long backlist of novels in various genres (many of the earlier ones are being reissued by Cleis Press) and I´d enjoyed some of his historicals. These classic-style mysteries, set in 1920s Britain, do something really special (besides, you know, inserting loads of mansex into the cozy mystery genre). Permit me to wax grandiose for a moment. I believe Lear is a perfect example of what gay popular fiction can be. These novels, with their horny hero and his improbably perilous leisure time, combine the gritty sexuality of high-tone porn with the madcap fun of pulps and wrap it all up in the sharply honed craft of literary fiction. What more could one ask for? A sequel!

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press (May 5, 2006)
Publisher Link: http://www.cleispress.com/book_page.php?book_id=173
ISBN-10: 1573442437
ISBN-13: 978-1573442435
Amazon: The Back Passage

A seaside village, an English country house, a family of wealthy eccentrics and their equally peculiar servants, a determined detective — all the ingredients are here for a cozy Agatha Christie-style whodunit. But wait.... Edward "Mitch" Mitchell is no Hercule Poirot, and The Back Passage is no Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mitch is a handsome, insatiable 22-year-old hunk who never lets a clue stand in the way of a steamy encounter, whether it's with the local constabulary, the house secretary, or his school chum and fellow athlete Boy Morgan, who becomes his Watson when they're not busy boffing each other. When Reg Walworth is found dead in a cabinet, Sir James Eagle has his servant Meeks immediately arrested as the killer. But Mitch's observant eye pegs more plausible possibilities: polysexual chauffeur Hibbert, queenly pervert Leonard Eagle, missing scion Rex, sadistic copper Kennington, even Sir James Eagle himself. Blackmail, police corruption, a dizzying network of spyholes and secret passages, watersports, and a nonstop queer orgy backstairs and everyplace else mark this hilariously hard-core mystery by a major new talent.

4) Sarah Monette´s Mélusine quartet is easily the very best series I´ve read this year. These are dark, labyrinthine novels, packed to the rafters with deliciously damaged, morally ambiguous characters. Monette´s worldbuilding is astonishingly complex, but her crystalline prose assures our clarity of understanding. A good thing, too: competing magical systems, political intrigues, cultural and personal histories abound and the stakes, high when the first book, Mélusine, opens, only rise through the subsequent three books (The Virtu, The Mirador, and Corambis). The central characters - `ganymede´ wizard Felix Harrowgate and his assassin half-brother Mildmay the Fox -- are wondrous creatures and the supporting cast is at once populous and intimate, thanks to Monette´s skilled strokes with the characterization brush. But the greatest joy of Monette´s series, for me, is her light, almost giddy, touch with language (my enduring favorite: sexual submissives and dominants are described as `martyrs´ and `tarquins´).

Mass Market Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Ace (June 27, 2006)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781429524209,00.html?Melusine_Sarah_Monette
ISBN-10: 0441014178
ISBN-13: 978-0441014170
Amazon: Melusine

Mélusine-a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption, and destinies lost and found... Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But the horrors of his past as an abused slave have returned, and threaten to destroy all he has since become. As a cat burglar, Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. But now he has been caught by a wizard. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay, but for Felix Harrowgate... Thrown together by fate, these unlikely allies will uncover a shocking secret that will link them inexorably together.

5) The Complete Dr. Fell by Syd McGinley. I thought of including one of the classic leather tales by John Preston or Jack Fritscher here, but I´ve honestly enjoyed Syd McGinley´s long series of short stories about a bereaved Dom´s search for self and love more than even Preston´s iconic Mr. Benson. McGinley´s spare prose hides a wealth of emotional depth and resonance that have come to color my readings of D/s fiction. McGinley´s myriad secondary characters are a delightful collection of the sublime and the ridiculous, and Dr. Fell´s dry humor leavens the wrenching process of letting go of his murdered first love and opening himself to a life worth living.

Paperback: 316 pages
Publisher: Torquere Press (June 3, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1991
ISBN-10: 1603707204
ISBN-13: 978-1603707206
Amazon: The Complete Dr. Fell Volume I: Lost

Homeless after his mother’s funeral, John Fell can’t stop mourning his murdered lover, Rob, and he clings to his goal of fulfilling his and Rob’s dream of completing his PhD to become Dr. John Fell. Looking after his best friend’s sub, Charlie gives him the resources to write his thesis and fight his homophobic father for his inheritance. John retreats to his cabin in the woods, but pet-sitting Charlie has shown him a new path. Putting aside his doubts, he finds solace in helping boys learn to serve their owners, and for owners to be worthy of service. Dr. Fell’s poverty, pride, and loyalty to Rob hinder his quest for a new boy, but his sense of duty can’t let him walk away from someone in need. Forced to confront his responses to abuse and neglect, dispirited by the imperfect relationships of his fellow doms and their subs, and struggling to make ends meet, John gives up the academic dream that sustained him through the lean years with Rob. Time and again, Dr. Fell is drawn back into the outside world by boys in need and by the irrepressible Charlie, who just won’t let him be. The center of a growing circle of family and friends, John slowly returns to life. But is all that enough to help him find his ‘forever boy’? Will John Fell, PhD, be smart enough to let his past go and make a new future for himself?

6) The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. This is the book that started it all for me. I was given a copy as a birthday gift when I turned fifteen and, like many readers before and after, found a voice for the way I felt - betwixt and between, other, but, thanks to this book, not alone. I went on to read most of Renault´s work including the "gayer" The Charioteer. But I was an adult when I made my way to that marvelous book and though I reread it every few years, it´s the tale of Bagoas (not even Bagoas and Alexander - it´s not about the romance for me - but Bagoas himself) that continues to resonate now, more than a quarter-century later. It doesn´t hurt that Renault is a historical novelist beyond compare.

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 1988)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780394751016
ISBN-10: 0394751019
ISBN-13: 978-0394751016
Amazon: The Persian Boy

“It takes skill to depict, as Miss Renault has done, this half-man, half Courtesan who is so deeply in love with the warrior.”–The Atlantic Monthly. The Persian Boy traces the last years of Alexander’s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Their relationship sustains Alexander as he weathers assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a sometimes-mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper. After Alexander’s mysterious death, we are left wondering if this Persian boy understood the great warrior and his ambitions better than anyone.

7) Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. Lots of people I mention these books to haven´t heard of them, and that´s a shame. Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett have created a world - a sort of alt-Elizabethan city - that deserves wider readership. The writing is lush and tight, the world-building impressive, and the mystery-driven plots compelling. But the strength of these books is the pair of characters at the center. World-weary in the extreme and wary of each other, Pointsman (policeman) Nicolas Rathe and soldier Philip Eslingen are relatively ordinary fellows, not wizards or princes or captains of industry, who find themselves faced with the world´s extraordinary nastiness and who make the daring, hopeful choice to face that nastiness together.

Paperback: 421 pages
Publisher: Tor Books; 1st THUS edition (February 1997)
ISBN-10: 0812550994
ISBN-13: 978-0812550993
Amazon: Point of Hopes

A guard in the great city of Astreiant, Nicholas Rathe must calm an angry and frightened population as he searches the overcrowded streets of the city for a kidnapper and the children he has abducted, before it is too late.

8) Carried Away by david stein. Like Syd McGinley´s Dr. Fell series, this book is a next-generation heir to the legacy of Preston, Townsend, and Fritscher. The author´s lower-case initials denote his slave status, and this fat, thoughtful book presents his journey - sexual, emotional, psychological, physical - into that status and his ultimate discovery of a worthy master. The autobiographical nature of the novel is apparent from the first page, and Stein´s intimately-rendered dissection of his journey along a path even BDSM adherents might find extreme is bare-faced and sometimes uncomfortably immediate.

Paperback: 582 pages
Publisher: Daedalus Publishing (October 2002)
Publisher Link: http://www.daedaluspublishing.com/carriedaway.htm
ISBN-10: 1881943178
ISBN-13: 978-1881943174
Amazon: Carried Away: An S/M Romance

Scorching hot leathersex is only the start when a jaded bottomboy and a one-time Master come together for some no-strings bondage and s/m. But after lust is sated, each finds a deeper hunger within that moves them unexpectedly toward partnership as Owner and owned. Set in the early1990s in New York City, Carried Away is not only replete with hard-core bondage and ferocious leathersex: it's a love story between two men who are equals in intelligence and character, but opposites in temperament. Terry Andrews is a successful architect and all-around topman with a passion for bondage and the means to indulge it. Matt Stone manages a large bookstore, but he lives for the times when he can surrender control. When these two come together at the Spike, the legendary leather bar, neither is looking for a new partner, just a night of hot action. They get that, and much more: almost in spite of themselves, they forge a deeper connection. Matt gradually realizes that he needs to belong to someone, not simply let himself be played with and released. For his part, Terry simply needs to own what he loves, and once he falls for Matt, enslaving him is the only option!

9) The Rest of Our Lives by Dan Stone. This has to be the cleverest title I´ve seen all year. The protagonists of this lovely, light novel are male witches Colm and Aidan, who´ve been finding each other, falling in love, and losing each other over and over lifetimes and millenia. Their most recent incarnation finds Colm, who embodies powers and principles of cold, hiding his nature from others in an effort to protect himself. Aidan is more fortunate in that he embraces his nature (heat) and can guide Colm along as they develop their relationship. This might seem a ham-fisted set-up for a discourse about varieties of contemporary gay identity, but there´s nothing ham-fisted about Stone´s warm, inviting prose.

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Lethe Press (May 25, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://lethepressbooks.com/gay.htm#stone-the-rest-of-our-lives
ISBN-10: 1590211472
ISBN-13: 978-1590211472
Amazon: The Rest of Our Lives

Colm McKenna has led a guarded life. Gifted with a wintry soul and a photographer’s eye, he can stop time as easily as he freezes water, or call down cold north winds. He thinks he is alone and unique in the world. Then, seemingly by accident, he meets writer Aidan Gallagher, his opposite, a young man who quickens Colm’s heart as magically as heats the air. In this lighthearted, gay romantic fantasy, can two male witches whose passion reincarnates century after century, find a way to express their love for each other again? Can this enchanting pair finally succeed after so many lifetimes?

10) The Spirit and the Flesh by Walter L. Williams. I first read this book over twenty years ago for an undergrad course on Native American Anthropology. It concerns the gender variations and sexual diversity of American Indian peoples, and it´s interesting in its own right. The reason it´s on my keeper shelf alongside the others I´ve shared here is its place in my own journey. Around the same time I read this, my grandfather revealed a long-guarded family secret: some of our Canadian ancestors were members of First Nations. The ambivalent bisexual I was discovering in myself suddenly had, in Williams´ analysis, a name and a history. Though more recent scholars have criticized Williams and others for romanticizing the Two-Spirit tradition, I will always be grateful for his groundbreaking work.

Paperback: 372 pages
Publisher: Beacon Press (April 1, 1992)
Publisher Link: http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1585
ISBN-10: 0807046159
ISBN-13: 978-0807046159
Amazon: The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture

Shortly after the second revised edition this book was published in 1992, the term "Two-Spirit Person" became more popular among native people than the older anthropological term "berdache." When I learned of this new term, I began strongly supporting the use of this newer term. I believe that people should be able to call themselves whatever they wish, and scholars should respect and acknowledge their change of terminology. I went on record early on in convincing other anthropologists to shift away from use of the word berdache and in favor of using Two-Spirit. Nevertheless, because this book continues to be sold with the use of berdache, many people have assumed that I am resisting the newer term. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unless continued sales of this book will justify the publication of a third revised edition in the future, it is not possible to rewrite what is already printed, Therefore, I urge readers of this book, as well as activists who are working to gain more respect for gender variance, mentally to substitute the term "Two-Spirit" in the place of "berdache" when reading this text. -- Walter L. Williams, Los Angeles, 2006

It´s difficult to know what work of mine to append to a list like this. Looking it over, I notice that most of the books I´ve chosen to share present journeys, whether literal or metaphorical. So allow me to offer my newest story, CARDINAL POINTS, forthcoming next week in BOUND WITH A BOW, the second in Beth Wylde´s series of collections set in and around a GLBT BDSM nightclub. My contribution is the story of frustrated Dominant Argus and spiritual adept but BDSM novice Dori who embark together along the Ordeal Path of BDSM - a spiritual way that uses sensation and power exchange in the pursuit of enlightenment. Serious as it sounds, Argus and Dori´s story is sensual, light-hearted, and - if I say so myself - satisfying. Look for it from Phaze Books!

About Lee Benoit: Before dawn and after dark I'm a writer of gay fiction, some contemporary, some speculative, some historical. During the daylight hours I'm a professor of sociology & anthropology, and round the clock I'm a proud two-spirit, single-by-choice parent of two.

Find links to all of my published stories here: http://www.leebenoittales.com/

Bound With A Bow: Broad Horizons Book #2 by Beth Wylde, Lee Benoit, Mychael Black, Sascha Illyvich, and EM Lynley
Release Date: 12/2009
Publisher: Phaze Books
Buy Link: http://www.king-cart.com/Phaze/product=Bound+With+A+Bow/exact_match=exact

Blurb: Latex, leather, or lace. Oh, my! Bridles, bondage, and ball-gags. Oh, wow! Puppies and ponies and paddles. Yes, please. May we have some more? It’s almost Christmas time and everyone is headed to Broad Horizons to celebrate the holidays. You won’t find a jolly fat man in a red suit here, unless that’s what turns you on of course, but you will find everything else your lusty libido desires. Got a naughty sub that needs some special discipline or just feel like checking out the club? Maybe you’d like to buy a membership for that special Domme in your life? If so, then Broad Horizons is the place to be this Christmas Eve. We don’t care if you’ve been good or bad. In fact, we think naughty is nicer, and we know it’s a hell of a lot more fun.

Cardinal Points by Lee Benoit: Argus is a master Dom who’s lost his sense of purpose. Dori is a spiritual seeker who’s never quite found his way. When the two meet at a pagan festival, the heat is undeniable -- Dori even offers a solution to Argus’ disillusionment: ordeal path spirituality! But how can BDSM amateur Dori and novice pagan Argus chart a new path together if Dori keeps disappearing? Will he find his way to commit to Argus in time for a Christmas Eve appearance at Broad Horizons?
Tags: author: alan hollinghurst, author: dan stone, author: david stein, author: james lear, author: lee benoit, author: lisa a. barnett, author: mary renault, author: mel keegan, author: melissa scott, author: sarah monette, author: syd mcginley, author: walter l. williams, the inside reader
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