Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tinselfish is not the name of a drag queen!

(Although I can picture a performer with a name like Holly Tinselfish.) Then it's like a thorny tinselfish (Grammicolepis brachiusculus)? Not this time. Tinselfish is a novel and the tagline explains the title: “Underneath all the a fish out of water.” Another tagline I use is “Real guns. Real tinsel.”

My book was recently included in the Drewey Wayne Gunn Collection of Gay Male Mysteries and Police Stories in Duke University's Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library. I would be interested in finding out if an earlier version of the book (the earlier title was Life Doesn't Always, published in 2004) was listed in Gunn's book The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography, published in 2005.

The following is how I describe the book to librarian-types:

Tinselfish offers a look at gay West Hollywood in the early 00's. Cafes, bars, and club nights which no longer exist are mentioned and described. The two-volume set is written as a series of screenplays for a TV detective series, but they are written to be read as a cohesive novel and not as screenplays composed in the industry's abbreviated, codeworded style. Book 1 includes a detailed, extensively researched account of a closeted Amish farmer's difficult coming-out process in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 70's and 80's. It also includes a chapter/episode which focuses on the gay scene in Philadelphia in the late 80's around Walnut and 13th. (Find Book 2 here.) Both books extensively reference classic films noirs of the 40's and 50's and highlight the encrypted gay subtext of many of those films. Several chapter/episodes explore homosexuality in traditional Arab and Persian cultures as well as the gay Arab-American experience in Los Angeles since 9/11. Each chapter/episode includes endnotes citing the books and screenplays referenced in the text. Other chapter/episodes explore Hollywood history and examine Intolerance, Clara Bow, Busby Berkeley, and Sunset Blvd. and the different film technologies and styles prevalent at each stage. A minor subplot in the novel involves tracking down ex-Nazis in South America in the years following WWII. A recurring theme is the dilemma of an actor trapped in a movie franchise he hates because the franchise does reasonably well at the box office.

Because the novel is written as a series of screenplays, it should be considered experimental fiction, an exploration of the one literary form reading or looking like the other. With the novel set in “Hollywood,” the reader's Hollywood-insider experience is enhanced by going through the same reading process as an actor or director reading a screenplay. (As a compromise, the text is set in a Roman font rather than the standard typewriter font.) Another continuing theme is depression and its medications, and in the experimental vein, one chapter/episode presents an attack of severe depression as alternating time-lapse and slow-motion cinematography. The detailed descriptions of these effects allow the reader to envision what are otherwise exclusively visual techniques, as well as to gain insight into the emotional disruption of severe depression.

Tinselfish is not only an entertaining read, carefully written and exhaustively proofread, but is also educational and enlightening in its exploration of different cultures, regions, timeframes, topics, and genres.

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