Homo-Centric at West Hollywood Book Fair


Yesterday (Sunday, October 2 2011) was the West Hollywood Book Fair, concurrent with the grand opening of the new (beauteous!) library in West Hollywood Park.

Homo-Centric booth (thanks Hank Henderson!)

Like last year, I was invited to read something at the Homo-Centric tent (thank you Hank Henderson) and was delighted to do so. Also like last year, what I read was from my novel-in-progress, but the same novel-in- progress as a year ago!

attentive listeners to John Boucher

It’s called The Forest Dark, from the Dante quotation pertaining to midlife, about losing our way, about not knowing which way to turn in the dark wood. Apparently, I’m not knowing which way to turn in my dark home office, either, as the damn thing isn’t done.

To my credit, I will say it’s way more done than last year. So there’s been progress. I wish I was a faster writer. Maybe someday. I still contend that the internet has given me a shorter attention span and I have to use helpers like Freedom and Leechblock to get through any quality time on creative writing.

John Boucher

Richard Villegas reading, Hank Henderson second from left

Kyle T. Wilson reading, Richard Villegas on the right

captive audience!

For your enjoyment and perusal, here is the extract of what I read from Forest Dark, as well as some pictures of me and other morning readers (sorry all the rest of you Homo-Centrics, I had to leave early, though I’ve seen plenty of afternoon pix on Facebook):

Jim Arnold reading at West Hollywood Book Fair, 2011

The Novel’s called The Forest Dark. It’s about the relationship of a gay man, Noah, and his straight female friend, Eden, over the course of about 25 years.

At this point in the story they’ve been separated for most of that time — but Eden’s recently returned to LA for a job and they’ve reconnected in their 50s. This piece comes right after Noah takes a new job as a caretaker at Precious Blood, which is a Catholic retreat house owned by some nuns. Eden’s excited about an upcoming reality show taping, and she’s on the phone with him. The selection is told from Noah’s point of view:


Eden had called twice before but he’d ignored her and only picked up on the third try.  It was the stress level, he thought, already high from that first presentation group at Precious Blood.

Which went surprisingly well. It had to, as there was no way Noah could afford to lose this job.

“How did it go – your first day, right?” she asked.

He wondered if she was mocking him.

            “No bad, not bad,” he said. “They gave me this gray shirt and pants to wear – like in prison.”

She was quiet. He read her quickly: Noah Baldock had shown so much potential, so much ambition when he was younger. This latest development was really just … depressing.

“Will you wear that on Louie’s show?”

He was making the final rounds of the property for the day, not only checking locks but also looking for anything out of order, a possible clue to something more sinister, the real value to his new employer.

“No one’s said anything about it to me one way or the other. Have you been given some wardrobe instructions, Eden?”

From the convent residence above where he stood, he could hear the nuns singing grace before dinner.

“Actually, this woman called me, said I should ‘reflect that New York social circle’ I run with!” She laughed. “I can’t believe we’re going to be on TV with all these kids!”

Noah took the stone steps down from the main level to the back door of his gatehouse. The scarlet bougainvillea on the property was overgrown and he pushed a branch out of the way. A thorn scraped along his forearm, making a nice, wet, red line.


“What’s wrong?” Eden asked.

Inside the small apartment, boxes were still stacked against the wall, though the computer on his desk hummed.

“I cut my arm,” he said, grabbing a towel to stanch the bleed.

“You OK?”

He squinted at the computer screen where a dot blinked, indicating there was a new message for him. “It’s just a scrape, Eden, I’ll be fine.”

“I can come over. Or, I could call Louie, he’s closer – ”




*   *   *

            The Precious Blood gatehouse had a door built right into the outer wall, meant for packages and vendors and such, but equally useful for tricks, Noah figured.

He all but hung up on Eden. Noah was as angry with himself as he was with her – after all these years, still falling for her shit, being on the yanking end of that von Eiff chain.

Bitch should’ve stayed in New York, she’ll only fuck up everything Louie’s got going, he thought.

            There was a little silver bell hung on the outside of this door, something an old nun would’ve thought heavenly. It rang.

This would be Mockingbird.

The dark-skinned, dark-haired man wore a black t-shirt and black jeans and black, ankle-high boots. The blue, green and yellow of a parrot tattoo on his forearm stood out as the only bit of color.

            “Finally,” Noah said, pulling Mockingbird in by the arm so he could shut the door quickly.

“So – this is your new place,” the younger man said, taking it in, a thin smile on his handsome face.

Noah had “met” Mockingbird online, but his constant text-spelling mistakes proved problematic. He’d then run into him for real at the Eagle one night, and those earlier failings were forgotten.

Mockingbird was shorter and rougher; as far as Noah was concerned, the perfect friend with benefits. He didn’t even care if he never found out what his “real” name was, undoubtedly something mundane like Hector or Juan.

“You like it?”

The main floor was all one big room, with the kitchen set off by a sparkly, formica-covered “bar” someone must’ve added in the 1960s. At the far end, next to the bathroom and the door that led to the interior courtyard, was a narrow brick staircase leading up to the loft bedroom.

“It’ll take some getting used to,” Noah said, placing his hand against Mockingbird’s chest, his fingers a lazy circle in search of a nipple. “I was in the old place for almost 30 years.”

Mockingbird grabbed Noah’s forearm and squeezed it, hard. “Don’t remind me, you’re older than my father and I don’t want to think about that.” He twisted it, making Noah gasp. He used his other hand to push Noah’s shoulder down, forcing him to his knees.

Noah knew this script well. He pulled at the younger man’s belt buckle but had only got it part way undone when Mockingbird slapped him across the face.

“Not so fast, old man. You got your bed here somewhere, am I right?”

“It’s upstairs.”


“It’s upstairs, sir.” His cheek smarted – but this was only the beginning.

Mockingbird pushed Noah up the steps and he tripped.

“Get your ass up there!” Mockingbird lifted him by his belt and shoved him further.

“Quiet, sir, I don’t want to disturb the nuns.”

“Fucking nuns, I’ll show your goddamn nuns!”

Noah could only pray that the hard slaps Mockingbird then delivered, along with his resulting sighs and yelps, got mixed in with traffic noise and the occasional helicopter flyovers. He couldn’t even begin to think what Octavia and her sisters would do if they knew what was going on.

After he let Mockingbird out an hour later, he ran a hot bath in the small tub, while Harry Connick, Jr. played the piano on a CD. Noah’s ass was red from the spanking he got and his butthole sore from Mockingbird’s aggressive fuck.

For once he didn’t care about Jivan or Eden or Louie’s stupid reality show. He sank back into the lilac bubbles and closed his eyes.

*   *   *

So dear reader, tell me: what do you do to keep the nuns from hearing your sex noises?