Queer Book Club: A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney

A Spectral Hue coverA Spectral Hue is a weird ghost story for adults – either a short novel or long novella. Xavier, a post-graduate art student, visits the run-down coastal town of Shimmer to research the history of African-American folk artists inspired by the town’s strange marsh bell flower. The flower’s distinct purple-pink colour appears over and over, across different generations, in the varied art of local artists. From the moment Xavier first sees a quilt by Shimmer artist Hazel Whitby, he’s captivated. And Xavier’s not the only person to be held in thrall by the distinctive artworks and the colour that inspired them.

This is a wonderful ghost story, with elements of Gothic, both in the ways it dances the line between sensuality and fear, and in its exploration of generational trauma. The prose is fluid and often beautiful and there’s a whole cast of queer black characters. There’s a real sense that Gidney cares deeply about his characters in a way that made me care about them too, from perfectionist Xavier, to grieving Iris, to wounded Linc, whose lives become entwined with Shimmer’s legacy and with each other. With deft pacing, we learn how each of the main characters came to be where they are, their strengths and their wounds, and the story of how racial trauma echoes down the generations. There’s solace and power in art, but also a grief that can overwhelm even the strongest person. The story offers no easy explanations or easy solutions, but a lot of complex humanity and satisfying speculative mystery.

If I’m going to be picky, my only real criticism of this story is it took me a while to get into the style of sliding back and forth in time with very little use of past perfect tense. I know it’s less popular in the US, but some here and there would have made for a smoother read for me in the beginning. Having said that, I stopped noticing a little way in, so I must have got used to the frequent temporal shifts. In the ebook edition I read, there were more than the average number of proofing errors – mostly missing words – but the fluid prose makes up for them. Hopefully later editions will be catch them.

This book is a treat for readers of queer fiction because there are so many great queer characters. Of the point of view characters, I especially enjoyed Iris, whose history of wrestling with a religious upbringing, a supernatural gift and a queer identity made for a rich and vivid narrative strand that managed to avoid all clichés. It’s also a book that takes speculative fiction seriously for the possibilities it presents. Going in, I wondered if the story might be a ‘Colour out of Space’ re-imagining, but it’s original in its take on the idea of a haunting colour and I was never able to fully predict where the story would take me.

Read as part of my Queer Horror ChallengeA Spectral Hue is more ghost story with hints of cosmic weirdness than full on horror, but it’s subtly unsettling with a whole ocean of darkness flowing under the surface. I’d definitely recommend it to horror fans.

Interview with writer M.D. Neu

Writer M.D. Neu joined me to talk about his upcoming novella, The Reunion, and writing gay fiction.

MDNeu pic

You have a novella, The Reunion, coming out later this month – a creepy tale for October. Tell me about your story.

The Reunion came about several years ago based on a larger game some friends and I played.  After the game ended I decided to write a reunion with a majority of the characters coming together one last time. The story takes place twenty years after the events of the game and was only meant to be a final goodbye.

Originally the story started out as a small 3000 word short that I got accepted to TallTaleTV.com (you can hear the short here: http://talltaletv.com/?s=The+Reunion ) but as I played with it over time the story got larger and more detailed.  I continued to work the story expanding and changing the characters.  Also, I added some new elements to round out what happens and make it creepier.  The one thing I never changed was the paranormal and ‘creepy’ aspect. In fact I amped it up. When the novella comes out on Oct 23rd (thank you to NineStar Press for accepting the story) it will be a full 21,000-word short story. You can pre-order it here: https://ninestarpress.com/product/the-reunion/ . I’m proud of the final product and I hope folks enjoy it.

Here is the summary of the story:

It’s been twenty years since the quiet Midwestern town of Lakeview was struck by tragedy.  But every year on the anniversary of the event Teddy returns home for ‘The Reunion’. Lakeview, like Teddy, has secrets and not all mysteries should come to light.

TheReunion cover

You have a passion for speculative and paranormal fiction with gay characters. Is representation a big motivating factor for your writing?

As a gay man who grew up with little queer representation in media I wanted to change that as a writer.  When I was a kid if you saw a gay character on TV or in the movies they were always there for shock value (remember the lesbian kiss on Roseanne, or Ellen coming out on her show, the media and people went nuts) or they were tragic characters (Philadelphia ring any bells) or campy fun.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love campy.  I love over the top gay. I love Drag Queens.  I love, as Harvey Fierstein once said, ‘Sissies’.  And I love the beautiful gays we see on TV now. But that isn’t only who we are.  We’re everyone.  We’re everywhere.  We’re from every walk of life, and I wanted… no I needed to show that in my writing.

In ‘The Reunion’ the main character, Teddy, dresses in drag and he lived with his partner, Lane.  They have a son, Nate, as well. Teddy is also a hairstylist. Did I hit some stereotypes, yes, but what I want people to know is that wasn’t the intent.  Teddy is based on two people from my life, a friend who passed away (hairstylist and drag performer) and my mom who also passed away (she was a hairstylist).  That is where Teddy comes from so he may be a bit of a stereotype, but for me that’s okay because I’m honoring two important people in my life.

Also, in this story I wanted to introduce a trans character. Issues of acceptance are so important these days that I absolutely wanted to include a member of the trans community and I hope I do her justice.

Lastly, why I think representation is so important is I remember reading Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’ in the 80s  (the book came out in the 70s) and for it’s time the gay undertones were very much there.  However, it was never mentioned and it kind of hurt, because I got to see two men raising a daughter.  Sure it was all shades of messed up, but think about it, had anyone every done anything like that before in a high profile wildly successful novel. I don’t think so.

Sorry, I know I got on a bit of soapbox, but your question was important and I wanted to really explain things.

Do you have any recommendations of things you’ve enjoyed reading that have done this well?

I mentioned Interview with a Vampire. I think did a good job for its time.  There is a lot of new stuff coming out that I think approaches the subject well, however, a lot of it is romance and erotica, which is great, but for me I want to read things that aren’t romance or erotica. I want adventure and to be frightened.  I don’t mind aspects of romance, but I don’t want that to be the focus. There is another author I know. JP Jackson’s new book, Daimonion, is excellent. The queer undertones are there and it’s not a romance, which makes it a nice change.  I’m sure there are tons of others, I’m just not thinking of any at the moment.

Like me, you’re a fan of vampires and I think you have a vampire book coming up too. What’s appealing about vampires for you?

Oh, my gosh I love vampires. Yes. My debut novel, The Calling, is all about vampires, as well as a nerdy shy, not very attractive gay man.  It comes out Jan 1st 2018.

For me vampires represent the fringe of society.  Some can pass as ‘normal’, but they don’t fit in and they never will.  Vampires had to learn to work within the confines of society, but because they are different they have to live in the shadows and hide.  Throughout history they’ve always been there, but for most people they have no clue.  Vampires either hide or fit in and hide that way.  You see where I’m going with this, right? Vampires are the perfect metaphor for queer society.  The other thing about vampires I find so appealing is, of course, they are sexy as hell (well at least mine are).

What are your biggest writing influences?

My biggest writing influences, wow I have a lot.  I love Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Rice and Kim Stanley Robinson. All these people have shown us various worlds that I find exciting and appealing.  I can only hope that my works can stand in their company.

Thank you for having me.

M.D. Neu is a LGBTQA Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California), he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

 When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric his husband of eighteen plus years.