G’day! This week I’m posting a chat I had with Author and Editor Jerry L. Wheeler from a month or two back. I met Jerry mumble-mumble years ago at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival when there was a dinner for those attending who’d been a part of Tented (a collection of erotica with the theme of the circus, and my first foray into writing erotica). Jerry has since been kind enough to include my works in more anthologies, and I was lucky enough to have him as my editor for Triad Blood. Today we’ll be chatting about his newest edited anthology, Men in Love: M/M Romance. I also resisted the urge to read the anthology before I asked him these questions, which was excruciating. I’ve since leapt in with both feet and have to say the readers are in for a treat.
Spring approaches with the promise of new beginnings, fresh adventures, and the thrill of romance rekindled or discovered. Hot, sexy guys abound—meeting on the ball fields or the boardroom, at the theater or the classroom—falling in love and lust for the first time or celebrating a lifetime. Come join the rites of spring and indulge yourself in the passion and pleasures of our luscious men in love. Stories from some of today’s popular m/m romance authors explore the many faces of men in love: gay for you, seductions, weddings and more.
NB: I’ve made no secret of how much I love the themes you craft for anthologies as an editor—food, trains, illusion, the circus, winter—I love how far and wide the tales go when the authors are given something so unusual to start with. The call for Men in Love wasn’t as (dare I coin a term?) Wheeleresque, but the description makes it clear there’s quite a range in the tales. What are we in for?
JW: A mixture of voices and stories that retain most, if not all, of the romance genre requirements but also go beyond that to look at different aspects of how gay men romance. I hope that it pushes the envelope at the same time it provides some nice, familiar corners in which readers can hide. And I’ve tried to choose stories that illustrate romance at all stages of the relationship: beginning, middle, and end. We have shifters, time travelers, housepainters, first dates, catfishing, exotic locales, grubby apartments, class struggle, suburban angst, and much more.
NB: I can’t wait to sit down with my copy! One of the things I’m quite excited about is how many of the names in the anthology are new-to-me authors. Is there a similar feeling when you’re an editor and you “meet” a new author through a call for submission?
JW: Absolutely. And I like to put newcomers’ stories near more established authors in hopes of getting them a bit more attention. What’s even better is when you find one of those stories, and a reviewer singles it out for a special mention. That’s where the real validation as an editor comes in.
NB: I know I wouldn’t be anywhere without my start in short fiction, of which you were no small part. I’m lucky my experiences were so welcoming and inspiring, and I love seeing it happen to new authors. Which leads in to a boomerang question from my discussion with Tom Cardamone I’m going to come back to with all the editors I chat with. He brought up how in collections the author (or editor, in an anthology) has to select and order the stories, and how it’s such an important part of the process, but we rarely hear anyone talk about it. How did you approach the selecting and ordering of the tales in Men in Love?
JW: Ah, the Art of Selection. I liken it to putting together a jigsaw when the pieces all come from different puzzles. Some have bulbous tabs, some have angular openings, some are corners, some are blue, some are red, some have matte finishes rather than glossy, but as the editor you have to put them all together in a way that makes some kind of organizational or thematic sense.
I received seventy-four stories for Men in Love, and even after eliminating the obvious (poor craft, excessive word count, and a category I like to call “Just No”), I read and considered sixty-eight stories for a maximum of twenty slots. Second reading narrowed it down to forty. The third time I went through the list, I did so with an eye as to the structure of the anthology. I knew I wanted to theme it around beginnings, middles, and endings, and I wanted appropriate stories in all of those spots. For example, I had to start with a story about the beginning of the relationship.
I had quite a few stories about beginnings, but in the end it came down to “Range of Motion” or “Crewman” as the lead story. “Range of Motion” is a perfect example of a traditional romance with HEA and an interesting obstacle. “Crewman” is less traditional but has a distinctive voice. As I’m trying to establish a tone, I decided to go with the more traditional story as the opener because the majority of romance readers like their genre conventions more than they like pushing envelopes.
Repeat the above decision twenty times with ninety different variables, and you have yourself an anthology. Now, is the middle story EXACTLY in the middle? No. Sometimes the plan gets altered, but the stories pretty much fell where I wanted them to.
NB: That sounds exhausting. I was actually really chuffed you liked “Range of Motion” and then double-chuffed it ended up opening the collection. Knowing the reasons why is even more flattering. Thank you.
JW: Piggybacking off the last questions, since you read a lot of anthologies and short fiction, can you tell if care is taken in the ordering of the TOC as opposed to just slapping some stories together? Is the agonizing some of us do noticeable to you in terms of end product or do you approach anthologies piecemeal rather than look at the whole?
NB: I’ve definitely had both senses coming into anthologies. I read one anthology where the first two stories were both zombies, and I put it down for a long time, as I hadn’t gotten the impression from the description that the tales were all about zombies. Turns out none of the rest of the stories were, and that left me quite puzzled. I didn’t get any sense of overall progression from that anthology, once I did get around to finishing it, and I also remember the last story being quite a bit stranger than the others and it was an odd experience to end with.
When an editor arranges the stories as a larger theme or narrative, I do think I notice, yes, and I think the collection is much better as a whole for it. If I think of R.D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert’s Fool for Love, which was the first anthology in which I had a story printed, the stories are all about love and relationships, but much like Men in Love, they have a progression: meetings, starts, relationships that were already underway, and then progressing in the final stories to long-term relationships, relationships ending, and partners surviving the loss of their loves (and maybe finding a second love later in life). When I put the book down, I know that had been purposeful, and the overall impression was perfect for the book: hopeful and romantic, even in endings.
It’s also why I almost always read anthologies cover-to-cover and in order. Sometimes I’m tempted by a favourite author’s story to leap ahead and try it first, but the vast majority of the time I follow the editor’s choices and go in order. I have no idea if that’s typical in a reader or not.
Jerry L. Wheeler has been shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award three times for his editing work (Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top and The Bears of Winter) as well as his writing (Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits). He has three other volumes of erotica available from Bold Strokes Books (Riding the Rails, The Dirty Diner, and Tricks of the Trade) and a four-novella anthology from Wilde City Press, On the Run. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, both print and online, and he is currently working on his first novel, The Dead Book, due from Lethe Press in 2016. He lives and works in Denver, where he makes his living doing freelance editing.