William Holden is one of the many authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face through the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. I met him while a group of authors gathered to talk about the sexiness of the circus for a dinner celebrating the release of Tented, mumble-mumble years ago. He’s handsome, and charming, and not at all what you’d expect if you’ve read some of his truly dark stories. I know I talk often about how I’m not a fan of horror or dark-and-scary fiction, but William Holden is one of the rare exceptions where I gird myself for the nightmares and dive in. The release of The Biggest Lover gives me a welcome opportunity to chat with William again, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
We have all heard the term Rubenesque as a compliment for plus-sized women. The baroque painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens was fond of painting women of the day that were curvaceous and full-figured. The men in his art were not. What is the comparable term for men? Because not every gay man is obsessed with twinks who list the number of visible rib bones on their Grindr profile. Or men who can remember the number of reps at the gym but not their phone number. Some of us appreciate buying in bulk and that includes looking for love. Or just plain sex. Thank goodness for Bear culture which embraces girth. During Bear Week in Provincetown the stores do not even bother to sell clothes smaller than an XL and a man’s virility is often like the potency of moonshine: the more Xs on the jug the better, so XXXL is a chub in high demand.
It has taken too long for an erotica anthology to feature such men. As Girth & Mirth founding father Reed Wilgoren stated, “Just as people are coming out every day—men and women realizing their sexuality—new Bears and new Chubbies and new chasers are also evolving in the world. There have to be people waiting to embrace them and show them the way, much as who helped me to become what I am and who I am today.” It is our hope that readers who felt denied of attention and affection will read these stories and realize that love has no weight limit, no threshold, and neither should self-esteem.
WH: I always strive to make my stories unique and original and to go someplace unexpected, so I appreciate your comments and consider it high praise.
When I first heard about the theme for The Biggest Lover, I was at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and have to admit I was at a loss for an idea. One night while sitting by the river in New Orleans with my best friend Dale Chase we hatched both our stories. During one of our moments of utter silliness I mentioned the phrase, Moby Dick, and it was a light bulb going off over both our heads. That was going to be the title of my story, and I would take Melville’s classic, and rework it so that the great white whale just happened to be an enormous man. The story takes place along the fishing ports along the East Coast in the early nineteen hundreds. It was great fun to write.
NB: This is exactly what I was talking about by “going places I never considered.” In the same way The Biggest Lover steps outside the usual confines of erotica, is there another anthology theme (be it erotica or not) you’d love to see that you haven’t come across?
WH: This is a great question. I’m not sure this would qualify as an anthology theme, but I’ve always been fascinated and excited to find out what other writers have come up with in anthologies such as The Biggest Lover. So taking that a step further, what if the theme was to give everyone the same opening paragraph, no character descriptions, just a plot point. I think it would be fascinating to see where the individual authors would take the same opening scene.
NB: That’s a really neat idea. The closest I’ve seen to that is Red, which gave all the authors one thing they had to use: a red scarf. But an identical opening scene? That’d be fascinating.
WH: I don’t want to get political here, but I would also love to see an anthology which celebrates all forms of sexual expression. We have gay erotica, lesbian erotica, bisexual erotic, straight erotica, senior erotica, the list goes on and on (you get my point,) and it would be nice to break down the barriers we’ve put up and let sexual expression shine no matter what form it takes.
Ah, this is why I’m a writer and not an editor or publisher. I’d be terrible and coming up with new and interesting themes.
NB: I’d offer you a fist bump if I didn’t think I’d miss. I’d love to be in a world where the erotica didn’t need to be quite so delineated. My favourites are always the ones that have the widest range among the theme, like you’ve said. And speaking of favourites… You’ve split your writing pretty equally between short fiction collections and novels, and you run the range from romance to erotica to horror (and many shades between). I know it’s impossible to choose one and say “that’s my favourite!” but do you have a story, novel, or collection that sits a little higher, or invokes a bit more pride than the others?
WH: Ah, my favourite. This is a tricky question for me to answer.
I’m very proud of my upcoming novel, Crimson Souls, but the pride comes from the difficulty I had in writing it. It was one of the most challenging writing experiences of my writing career and in comparison probably one of the best I’ve ever written. The novel is non-linear; each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character and how they see and understand the protagonist, Nate, the Midnight Barker. The chapters are interwoven into the overall storyline, which comes together to tell the full story.
NB: Ohmigosh. I love Nate. Not just for nomenclature reasons. I can’t wait for that!
WH: The second part to this is, of course, the story of Thomas Newton (Secret Societies, and The Thief Taker) Thomas and Mother Clap will always have a very special place in my heart because they were the underdogs of their time. Unknown pioneers fighting sexual oppression and homophobia, and I’m proud of having told their story.
NB: You should be. Authors like you who find the queer voices in history have my deepest respect.
WH: I’d be curious to know how other authors feel about choosing a favourite. We as authors spend so much time with a character(s) by the time the story or novel is finished, we or at least I have a strong connection to all of them in some way. Do you have a favourite character, or story, ‘Nathan?
NB: I’m going to half-cheat and answer with my husband’s favourite instead, which was “Elsewhen” from Riding the Rails. And come to think of it, that’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing a historical, though not quite in that it’s more like the echoing spirits of two soldiers returning to Ottawa after World War II.
One of the reasons I’ve never delved much into historical fiction is I find it daunting on two levels. For one, the research required makes me cringe, as I’d be terrified to make an awful error. But the other thing is I’d be so unsure how to portray what I prefer to write—which is ultimately hopeful stories—in a setting where for queer folk that hope was very unlikely. “Elsewhen” let me cheat, and it was satisfying. It’s also the only story that’s ever dropped from my brain directly onto the keyboard in one uninterrupted session. I had a song playing on repeat, a window open with a single image, and just wrote and wrote and wrote.
I’ll definitely pass that question forward, too. Thanks for taking the time, and I look forward to seeing you this year in New Orleans!
You can find The Biggest Lover through Lethe Press’s website here, or, of course, you can check Indiebound to locate your nearest brick and mortar. Otherwise, you’ll find it wherever quality LGBT books are sold.
Originally from Detroit, William Holden now lives in Cambridge, MA with his partner of eighteen years. He has a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Florida State University. Over the past decade, he has focused his work on collecting and preserving GLBT history and is a volunteer archivist at Boston’s History Project.
William has been writing for over fifteen years, accumulating more than seventy published short stories in the genres of erotica, romance, fantasy, and horror. He is an award-winning author of such titles as, A Twist of Grimm by Lethe Press (Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and from Bold Strokes Books, Words to Die By (2nd place Rainbow Book Awards for Best Horror and Finalist for the Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Best Horror). Secret Societies and its sequel, The Thief Taker were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Award. Grave Desire his latest collection of erotic horror was released in October 2015 by Lethe Press.
Crimson Souls, his forthcoming horror novel from Bold Strokes Books, is based on the 1920 purge of homosexual students at Harvard.
William has also written encyclopedia articles on the history of gay and lesbian fiction and has authored five bibliographies for the GLBT Round Table for the American Library Association.