As far as I’m concerned, one of the best things about anthologies is the opportunity they present to find a new (or new-to-me) author. Today I’m having a chat with a new (and therefore also new-to-me) author whose first short fiction publication appears in The Biggest Lover. Ben Bauchlein (or Big Belly Ben as he’s known online) debuts with “What the Hell?”
The Biggest Lover: 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.
NB: Can you tell me a bit about “What the Hell?”
BB: The main character is also named Ben (so lazy, I know) and he’s a tech guru who travels a lot. The main premise is that Ben’s feeling like he’s in a bit of a rut, including his sex life, and it tells the reader how he breaks out of that. With help, of course!
NB: I’ve yet to use the name Nathan in any of my stories. I’m a little in awe of your courage, frankly. Where did the notion of “What the Hell?” come from?
BB: I haven’t read a lot of chub/chaser erotica, but I’ve seen a fair number of videos. One thing that always confused me was that many of the porn clips seemed to be exclusively from the perspective of the chaser. In some cases it was almost like some straight videos I’ve seen where you don’t ever see the guy, just some girl bouncing on a faceless dick! The chubby dudes in those videos were always big bubba types, or you know, the Dan Conner from “Roseanne” blueprint.
Those are awesome things to be, awesome for chasers to appreciate, and I understood why most of the content was like that, because there was so little out there that did frame fat dudes in a sexy, positive light. But I also thought, hmm, I don’t really see myself in those particular representations. So I wanted to have a big dude as a central character whose experience was a little closer to my own.
I also wanted to explore a bit about power, about perceptions with size and power, in the story. Some of that came directly from my dating life. Guys would see my photo on Bigger City, or Bear411, and make assumptions based on my size or my photo that I was this extremely dominant uberdaddy that was going to toss them around. And I’m a pretty versatile guy, but I’m not that kind of growly, intimidating porn dude they were always seeking. I’m a nerdy guy, and that usually meant I had a lot of nice coffee dates and made friends, but that didn’t always translate into getting laid, you know?
NB: I get it. When I first came out and explored the bear community, my experiences were not at all great (I’m a little guy, even though I’m a fuzzy little guy). I wasn’t “bear” enough for the first crowd I met. Happily, I later met a more inclusive group, but there are definitely “you look like this, therefore we expect you to act like this” preconceptions out there.
That’s one of the things I’m really loving about The Biggest Lover: the exploration of themes we don’t often see (especially in erotica). This is your first fiction piece, and your first erotica piece, and it’s in a very unique anthology. What was it like seeing your first piece come to fruition?
BB: It’s great to see it in print!
I’m a published writer in other media, other platforms, but it’s really different writing fiction. The pacing is really different, and the structure is obviously very different. But I’ve written feature stories for newspapers and magazines, and the structure in those stories aren’t so radically different. You have to weave a narrative, capture the reader’s attention, and try not to bore the shit out of them with the details!
The biggest challenge was to think of language in a different way. In a magazine story, the prose can be somewhat simple and unfussy, newsy and direct. I had to adjust the vocabulary and try to make it flow, without getting too ornate or bizarre. I didn’t want to be a nominee for the Bad Sex In Fiction award — not even for my first time out!
As for the anthology, it’s really rewarding to be a part of it. I was in my mid-20’s before I knew the bear community even existed, and it was a few years after that before I met a guy who was an out-and-proud chaser, so to see this in print, to see so many stories and so many perspectives all together like this? It’s pretty amazing.
NB: As is your story. I really enjoyed “What the Hell?” and how it played with the roles and preconceptions (and stayed sexy—I daresay you have nothing to worry about for the Bad Sex in Fiction award). It’s fun, too. Does this mean you’ve been bitten by the bug—can we expect more short fiction from Ben Bauchlein?
BB: I hope so! I’ve just launched a Tumblr site that I hope to use as a space for ideas and practice. It’s probably not a surprise to any writer that my work seemed to get better, that the building of a story seemed to run more smoothly, when I’m writing every day, doing something to get my mind working and my fingers moving on the keyboard!
I’d definitely like to do more, whether it’s erotica or mainstream fiction. Hopefully, I can write about people we don’t always see or hear about, just as I did with my work as a reporter.
NB: Well, consider me one of the first fans. I look forward to more.
You can find The Biggest Lover through Bear Bones Books (an imprint of Lethe Press) right here. Or, of course, you can visit Indiebound and find your closest brick and mortar store. Or you can find it wherever high quality LGBT books are sold.
Ben grew up in the Rust Belt, meeting a lot of interesting characters along the way. He’s a journalist by trade, covering a variety of beats, including faith and religion, technology, and the LGBT community in local and national press. While he’s written some erotica for himself – and for a few lucky friends – this story is his first in print.