From an historical perspective, Quatrefoil is immensely significant. It is known for being the first American novel to depict gay relationships in a positive way. In the 1950s, Quatrefoil (pronounced cat-er-foil) became the bible for battling suicidal thoughts and embracing monogamous love, while simultaneously masquerading as straight to avoid blackmail and social ruin. Often the plot functions more as self-help than fiction. Tim and Phillip, one more experienced with his identity as a homosexual, the other still coming to grips, serve as stand-ins for readers going through their own journey.
Given this historical context, it’s no wonder the book became such a classic—and deemed so “obscene” that Greenberg, its publisher, was indicted on a federal charge of “sending obscene material through the mail.” After five years of legal woes, they eventually settled on a $3,500 fine and promised to keep the novel out of print. All this hullabaloo, mind you, for a book with absolutely zero sex scenes—not even a kiss! The only “problem” was its depiction of gay love in a positive light.
Read more “James Barr – Quatrefoil (1950)”
It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.
Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.
California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.
Read more “William J. Lambert, III – Adonis Trilogy (1969-1970)”
This 1969 gay pulp novel got labeled as “Adult Only” entertainment when it was published, but it’s much more about true love than naughty exploits.
Steve Saville is the “head of computer division” for a big corporation. He’s 34, lonely, socially awkward, self-conscious, and carries baggage from painful past relationships. Thinking that he’s not meant for happiness, he is just confident enough to dance with attractive Ben “Bunny” Farrow at a party only because he’s rumored to be a hustler.
Read more “Julian Francis – Bunny Bitch (1969)”
Circa 1972, this western-themed pulp delivers all the gay cowboy imagery a boy could want, but also explores intriguing literary topics such as the disconnect between external and internal masculinity, the basic human need for love, and what amounts to a critique of polyamory.
Set in Sacramento Valley during the 1849 gold rush, we learn that Holt Dykes is on the run. He’s a blue-eyed desperado who’s more sensitive than his rough exterior reveals. He’s thirsty, dirty, and trying to outpace the man who wants him dead.
Read more “Frederick Raborg – Gay Vigilante (1972)”
Lesbian vampire novel that pre-dates Dracula by 25 years? Sign me up! Carmilla (1872) was in fact a huge influence on Bram Stoker, as shown by many subtle references in Dracula (1897) and more obvious ones in “Dracula’s Guest”. Largely a forgotten classic, today Carmilla is receiving something of a revival thanks to an increased academic interest in queer artifacts and this new edition that’s edited by Carmen Maria Machado.
Read more “Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)”
Historically significant gay murder mystery! Today Goodbye, My Lover merely reads like the campy whodunit that it is, but when it was originally published in 1966 it must’ve been a life-changing experience for gay readers seeking evidence that they deserve a place in the world.
The characters are happily gay and living their best life—even as they navigate an intricate murder plot. Rather than resent their sexuality or commit suicide by the end, they are more reaffirmed than ever to have long-term gay relationships in their future. Homophobia is largely absent and certainly not dwelled upon. Possibly because the novel takes place in Los Angeles, which was fantastically more liberated than the rest of the country, but generally queer pulp fiction was eager to explore a post-homophobic fantasy world where gay men were free from oppression.
Read more “J.X. Williams – Goodbye, My Lover (1966)”
This rare 1977 horror novel occasionally pops up in academic discussions around gay representation in literature. Drewey Wayne Gunn, a leading academic on such topics, describes The Slasher as a “credible attempt to explain a killer’s mentality” and praises its “touching portrait of a relationship between two police officers and their friendship with the medical examiner.” He goes on to lament that the author’s actual identity remains a mystery, since Sebastian Lamb, like most headliners of pulp fiction, is a pseudonym.
Gunn’s praise is generous, but he’s not wrong. If you glaze over the overindulgent sex and generally poor writing, it’s possible to enjoy a story of semi-closeted detectives attempting to bring a killer to justice. Both victims and murderer are also gay, making this a story 100% by, for, and about gay men. A few lines of social commentary imply these grisly murders might go unchecked if the detectives were straight. The media, at least, aren’t interested in reporting on “faggot deaths” until one of the victims turns out to be a young, emerging actor.
Read more “Sebastian Lamb – The Slasher (1977)”
If you’ve ever checked out Pennywise and thought “I’d hit that,” you might be like Terry Adams, the nineteen year-old farm boy from St. Paul and newest recruit at the Gay Circus.
Terry’s life ambition is to become a clown himself. With his big ears “like sugar bowl handles” and theatrical eyes that spontaneously “alternate between happiness and sadness,” it’s like he was made for it. Everyone says he has the face of a clown, “even without makeup.” Being double-jointed is just the cream pie on top.
Read more “Kym Allyson – Gay Circus (1970)”
A survey of 1960’s and ’70s gay pulp fiction reveals that sequels were scarce. Many of these books had impressive print runs (over 100,000) but rarely did any one title warrant a narrative continuation. The plots and characters weren’t exactly designed for posterity. Instead, their pleasures were often of a disposable nature, to the level of being tossed out with garbage upon reaching aphrodisiacal fulfillment. The idea that people might read, collect and obsess over pulp fifty years later probably sounded laughable at the time.
Nevertheless, there were fan favorites and landmark publications among this ocean of cheap, sleazy paperbacks. Some titles generated multi-book series, spin-offs, parodies and, of course, sequels. Notable examples of the era include the 2069 trilogy (1969-1970) by Larry Townsend, The Man from C.A.M.P. series (1966-1968) by Don Holliday, and Richard Amory’s bestselling Song of the Loon trilogy (1966-1968). Amory’s books sold in the millions and even had a movie adaptation.
Demon’s Coronation (1971) by William J. Lambert, III, is another example, being the dramatic second half of Demon’s Stalk (1970). If you’ve read my review of the first book, you know I’m a fan and would consider it not only a fabulous example of queer pulp, but also the horror genre at large.
Read more “William J. Lambert, III – Demon’s Coronation (1971) + Interview”
“Going to Hell” has always been a part of my existence. I’ve been told it constantly. From the pulpit, from family, from strangers on the street. I suspect every religious gay person decides at some point to either embrace their inevitable damnation, or believe that organized religion is a lie. Friends and allies are forced into a similar conundrum, fearing their soul will turn to salt should they dare sympathize with such “deviants.”
But I was born in 1989 and have it lucky. In 1970, when Demon’s Stalk was published, you didn’t just have the church to worry about. You could be sent to jail. You were thought to suffer from a “mental disorder.” You were an assumed pedophile. You were beaten—maybe killed—in the street. Rarely would anyone care. They saw your death as a public service. It wasn’t just God against you, it was everyone.
It’s within this historical context that I read Demon’s Stalk in awe. It remains edgy and unnerving these fifty years later, arguably deserving of classic status within the horror genre, but also revolutionary for its handling of queer characters within a religious storyline. Which is to say that none of these things matter.
Read more “William J. Lambert, III – Demon’s Stalk (1970) + Interview”