Good enough to lick
|NOT SMUT, BUT LITERATURE: Vancouver’s editor James C Johnstone’s books can feel like being invited to a bizarre dinner party: you trust your host, so you talk to strangers that you wouldn’t normally give the time of day.(Image by Xtra West files)||
story by Michael Harris /
Dec 25 2003
You have a great smile. Do you want my fingers up your ass? Do you? Forgive me. I’ve been reading porn. Sort of.
The cover of Quickies 3 does illicit porn-in-public faces, anyway, when I read it on the bus. Philistines, I assure myself. This isn’t smut; this is literature.
Sure, okay, the cover boy inspired the paper-cut on my tongue. Oh, fine, I did have raunchier sex than usual with Nicholas after reading it. And, yes, I kicked it under the bed when Grandma came for tea.
Maybe it is smut. Maybe that’s a good thing.
What veteran editor James C Johnstone has accomplished with his three Quickies anthologies (and two Queer View Mirror books before that) is an act of transgression in the best sense. By jutting so many various authors against each other, he creates his own textual orgy. By association, the dirty stories become literary and the literary specimens get dirty.
In Queer View Mirror, Johnstone (with co-editor Karen X Tulchinsky) combined fag and dyke erotica in one volume, forcing readers to acknowledge a dimension of queer lust outside of themselves. In the Quickies series, Johnstone does the same for higher and lower brows of readership. Flipping through his books can feel like being invited to a bizarre dinner party: you trust your host, so you talk to strangers that you wouldn’t normally give the time of day. Johnstone has earned his readers’ trust.
Heck, they’ll even try reading fag porn written by women. Johnstone includes three fine examples. “I chose the stories because I liked them, and for their authenticity,” insists Johnstone, “not because of the author’s genitalia.”
But the gender-fuck is just one of several challenges that Johnstone sets up for fans of mainstream erotica. By focussing on work of 1000 words or less, he always makes room for a plethora of authors; we get a virtual encyclopedia of gay male desire.
Johnstone took a break from his book tour/bar crawl (apparently he’s a big fan of Montreal’s Stud bar) to talk about the nature of postcard fiction. “The short short fiction aspect,” explains Johnstone, “was inspired by Irene Zahava’s books.” But Johnstone and Tulchinsky took Zahava’s popular formula down a new path when they introduced Queer View Mirror. What postcard fiction allows for, they realized, is the trepidation of the reader. Because no story is longer than a few pages, someone who normally reads nothing but Gertrude Stein might allow themselves to test new waters.
For his latest, Quickies 3, Johnstone corralled authors from around the world to produce a bento box volume. Here, it seems to say, taste this. Contributors hail from Australia, Canada, Germany, South Africa, the UK and the US.
The mosaic seems to be a winning method. A Different Light bookstore in New York has Quickies 3 on the top of its list for holiday gift ideas. Richard Labonte’s Best Gay Erotica anthologies have republished many stories that first appeared in Quickies. And all around the world, Johnstone’s latest book has been eagerly awaited.
His promiscuous approach to story selection, then, translates to a universally marketable book. Gender doesn’t limit the authors, nationality doesn’t, and Johnstone doesn’t even seem interested in getting “name” contributors either. Though Felice Picano was published in the first Quickies, Johnstone constantly discovers fresh, unpublished voices (some of which are still cracking).
Johnstone’s continuing work ensures that no single paradigm about lust will block out the others. So relax: everyone is getting off.
And it doesn’t hurt that these bite-sized stories are short enough to satiate the impatient desires of the modern reader. These are stories made for gobbling—in the bathroom, on the bus, or over your lover’s shoulder.
Now, excuse me. I have a cover to lick.
James C Johnstone editor.
Arsenal Pulp Press.