Andrea Lawlor teaches writing at Mount Holyoke College, edits fiction for Fence magazine, and has been awarded fellowships by Lambda Literary and Radar Labs. Their writing has appeared in various literary journals, including Ploughshares, Mutha, The Millions, and Encyclopedia, Vol. II. Their publications include a chapbook, Position Papers (Factory Hollow, 2016), and a novel, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Rescue, hardback, 2017; Vintage, paperback, 2019), a 2018 finalist for the Lambda Literary and CLMP Firecracker Awards.
An excerpt from Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl:
Paul considered real bookstores (as opposed to sex bookstores) the best places for afternoon cruising, the more serious cruising, date cruising. At night you were all set; you found yourself at a bar or party, drank drinks, met a person, and decamped with that person to a second location. Instant date. No need to arrange or plan, and complete flexibility in the likely case you found a more amenable situation at the last minute. Daytime cruising, when not at a tea dance or beer bust, required more finesse and more certainty. First off, both parties had more time to second-guess between the securing of the phone number and the calling of the phone number. Secondly, you saw the person in the harshest light and without any softening lens such as beer, wine, or whiskey. In Paul’s ranking of all possible daytime cruising locations, gay non-sex-shop bookstores ranked at the top: congregants within were most likely to be both out and literate, qualities Paul valued. He thought fondly of the hours he’d spent at Oscar Wilde or the Different Light back in New York or even the HQ 76 section of the university library’s stacks, though, to his endless disappointment, he’d only ever found library success in men’s rooms.
Paul believed in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, staking out likely targets rather than canvassing broadly. He strongly preferred to have sex with or talk to people who liked being queer. He was less excited about people still shaking off the poisons of their homophobic families or small towns, or anybody raised religious who was currently ambivalent rather than angry about that religion: they might be (likely were) dirty and wild in bed but Paul found the shame, self-loathing, obsessive postcoital showering deeply unhot. He was not curious about other people’s families or spiritual beliefs. He was not excited by normal AT&T gays. He did not himself care to assimilate into the power structures of heteropatriarchal white Christian America, was bored and horrified by those who did.
Bookstore cruising was also perfect for his current state: a little slower than bar cruising and thus good for someone with a broken part, like a splint. Paul loitered outside the door, pretending to study the posters announcing various benefits and open mics and documentaries of interest to the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual community. He filled his lungs with the hunter’s sweet air of expectation, and pushed inside.