The cover image on Kristyn Dunnion’s new book, The Dirt Chronicles, is a filthy doorway covered with graffiti, cracks, scratches and a dirty blanket.
The book is a similar collection of odds and ends, short stories all linked to each other in some way. It is also a glimpse into the gritty lives of Toronto’s queer punk street kids.
“There’s a lot of variety within the gay umbrella in our world, and I reflect that in my book,” says Dunnion. “I’m interested in trying to be as honest as I can in a fictional setting.”
Born and raised in a small Ontario town that had one stoplight and no movie theatre, Dunnion’s safe haven became the local public library. Not only did the author of four books of fiction first read hundreds of stories there, she also dreamed many up.
Her most recent set features a motley cast of queer characters, from boy hustlers to gay vegans, trans kids and Ojibwe lesbians.
“I’ve loved men, I’ve loved women, I’ve loved transsexual and transgendered people, and my friends and community make up that full spectrum,” Dunnion says. “My life reflects that. For The Dirt Chronicles, the characters also inhabit that wide range.”
Issues of class are also prominent in the stories, which are set in the laneways and abandoned buildings of downtown Toronto, Parkdale and the Junction. Two characters sell sex on Toronto’s inner city streets. “Their money comes mainly from older, established men in the village,” Dunnion says. “These kids, on one hand they’re street smart and they’re savvy, they’re not total victims, they know how to work the game. But, at the same time, I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t have the same opportunities as other kids, other queers.”
Dunnion remembers being a closeted queer kid learning about punk culture via CBC radio’s Nightlines program, which was cancelled in 1997. She hopes The Dirt Chronicles can help today’s youth in the same way.
Dunnion says she tries to find a balance between the daily struggles faced by queer youth and the joy that also exists in the world.
In one story, Darcy and Sly, two boy hustlers, sneak into a client’s home while he is away. The homeless sex workers wash their clothes, eat the client’s food and take a bath together while sharing memories about their difficult pasts. The two boys cry, play, cuddle and find more warmth from each other than the hot water.
“Let’s stay in this tub forever,” says Darcy. “Because in this business, you just never fucking know.”
In another story, two women brutally murder a policeman who had raped and murdered their friend.
“There’s some pretty common themes in all of my work. It’s this problem with authority that keeps coming up. This unflagging spirit that wants an autonomous better way to live, and the characters fight for that, they struggle for that, they live for that, and they will die for that if they have to,” Dunnion says. “That’s the most important thing for me as an artist but also as a human on this planet that’s in crisis.
“This book is an ode to class rebellion. It’s like my manifesto!”
Kristyn Dunnion will launch The Dirt Chronicles in Toronto on Sept 29 at 7pm at Another Story Bookshop, 315 Roncesvalles Ave.
For a sneak peak of Kristyn Dunnion reading from The Dirt Chronicles, click here.
Dunnion will also launch the book in Ottawa on Oct 3 at 7pm at Mother Tongue Books, 1067 Bank St.