Sunday Shorts -“The Biggest Lover,” “Threesome,” and “Not Just Another Pretty Face” Q&A with Jeff Mann

It’s triple threat time. Twice over, even. Sextet threat? Cubed threat? Meh. Math is hard. Let’s bake cookies for the boys.

Today I have the pleasure of chatting with Jeff Mann, who—if you’ve been paying attention to me at all in the last couple of years—I’ve raved about before and will continue to do so. Poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, Mann writes it all (that’d be the first triple threat I was mentioning) and he’s in three of the anthologies I’ve been chatting about lately (the other triple—see what I did there?)

By a wonderful twist of coincidence, I’m actually in New Orleans right now, as is Jeff, at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival. Happily, this was written and scheduled earlier, as frankly, I’ll likely have had a szazerac (or two) by now, and typing would not be a good idea.

Biggest LoverWe 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. 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.


Threesome

Few sexual fantasies are as potent or lasting as “the threesome” – as an adolescent, the first time you saw a hot couple walking hand in hand and you wanted to follow them back home and into their bed, as an adult when you discover that your partner has been fantasizing also about the bartender at your favorite club.
 
1+1+1 = sensual delight!
 
Editor Matthew Bright, no stranger to threesomes himself, has invited twelve authors to write stories that range from the sweet and romantic to erotic and playful and even a bit depraved.


NJAPF_CoverThe stories, poems, and essays in this collection have a single element in common that unites their wide range of literary styles and genres: they all spring directly from photographs of go-go boys.

The ideal go-go boy is the perfect erotic object. We may imagine him as lost or broken so that we might rescue him, or as potent and aggressive so we might be the focus of his desire. But the images captured here suggest deeper, more complex realities. These dancers are whimsical, haunting, satiric, playful, ominous. They are not icons, but stories waiting to be told.

Twenty-three photos of male go-go dancers become the basis for stories, poems, essays, and drama by twenty-seven authors, revealing unexpected mysteries, romance, fantasy, and humor. Contributors include 2015 Sue Kaufman Prize winner Michael Carroll, 2013 Lambda Mid-Career author Trebor Healey, and Lammy winners Jeff Mann, David Pratt, and Jim Provenzano.


 

NB: I recently wrote a story with a drag queen who explains a “Triple Threat” (someone who can sing, act, and dance), so the term is fresh in my head. It occurs to me you’re a literary Triple Threat: prose, poetry, essayist. And you’re in three of the collections I’ve been discussing lately in these Q&As – The Biggest Lover, Threesome, and Not Just Another Pretty Face. What are we in for?
JM: Well, “The Last Gift,” my story in The Biggest Lover, is set in Manchester, England.  Several years ago, I got to visit that city during one of my university’s Spring Breaks, and I found the “Gay Village” there a really cool place to visit, i.e., there are lots of pubs in which to drink and eat.  The story is about being middle-aged and mourning the recession of erotic outlets.  It’s also a tribute of sorts to a chubby, tasty, bearded boy I saw in a pub.  I was, sadly, in no position to seduce him, so I wrote a story about him instead.
I took the call-for-submissions for Threesome as an excuse to write another short story about my ongoing vampire character, Derek Maclaine, though I did something different by writing the story in his husbear’s voice rather than Derek’s.  An acquaintance of mine, Jason Burns—who works in the Office of Multicultural Programs at West Virginia University and who kindly gave me an opportunity to read my work at WVU last October—is a specialist in West Virginia ghost stories, so the information he gave me helped me flesh out that story a good bit.  “Spring on Scrabble Creek” involves more than Derek and his husbear Matt ravishing an emotionally and erotically needy former coal miner.  It also features ghosts connected to an infamous industrial disaster at Hawk’s Nest, West Virginia, back in the early 1930’s.
I’ve been focused on the writing of a big whopping novel for the last year—Country, due out from Bear Bones Books/Lethe Press in June 2016—so I haven’t been writing much poetry.  But Louis Flint Ceci, whom I’ve known from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, invited me (cf. the paragraph above: what would writers do without kind invitations…including your kind invitation to have me talk about my work on this blog?) to choose a photograph of a go-go dancer that spoke to me and write something about it.  Good excuse to compose a poem.  Of course I chose one of the hairy, bearded guys that I’d love to hire as a houseboy/sex-slave.  Aging horndawg, c’est moi.
NB: If lyrical edgy aging horndawg wasn’t an oeuvre prior, it is now. I was actually quite pleased to see how many of the photos in question showed go-go dancers who had chest hair and beards. I wasn’t expecting that. 
Speaking of, The Biggest Lover was an unexpected theme—big guys aren’t often seen in erotica (though there’s some crossover to bear culture and bear erotica, where neither of us are strangers). Threesomes aren’t necessarily uncommon in erotica or romantic fictions, but they’re not the mainstay. Not Just Another Pretty Face began with images and is very rare in its inclusion of essays, poetry, prose, and even a short play. Did you have any surprises with your processes or muses with these different collections?
JM: I initially had no idea that my vampire story would include all that West Virginia folklore.  “Spring on Scrabble Creek,” is a sequel of sorts to “Snow on Scrabble Creek,” which appeared in The Bears of Winter, edited by Jerry L. Wheeler.  It’s also a kind of bridge leading to my vampire novel Insatiable, which Bear Bones Books/Lethe Press is publishing in the fall of 2016. 
NB: I need a moment here to squee like a fanboy. Eee! I’m such a Derek fan, and I scrambled to find all his stories in the various collections, and was over-the-moon when I got my hands on Desire & Devour. Okay. Carry on.
JM: When I decided to set the introductory section of “Spring on Scrabble Creek” at Hawk’s Nest State Park (just up Gauley Mountain from Scrabble Creek), it occurred to me that I knew Jason Burns, the West Virginia ghost-story expert, so after a few e-mail back-and-forth messages with him, I decided to add some material from that aforementioned industrial disaster in the 1930’s, when a large number of workers who helped dig a tunnel through Gauley Mountain died of silicosis.
NB: Learning moment of the day: silicosis is lung fibrosis caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica, which must have been a horrible way to die. You touch on mortality quite a lot in your works, and I have to say it’s always done so deftly and is genuinely moving, whether the piece is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. 
As someone who touches so many different forms of writing, what are some collections or themes you’d like to see? (Or, if not collections, maybe even formats—I find I’m really looking forward to the “cross-over” nature of Not Just Another Pretty Face‘s inclusion of poetry alongside prose and nonfiction.)
JM: As for formats, I love the juxtaposition of poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction.  Ummm, collections and themes? Anything not urban.  I like to read about small-town and rural settings as much as I like to write about them.  I’d actually like to see an anthology of gay male stories all set in different countries, so as to give the reader a glimpse of what gay life is like in those places.  Your novel Light gave me a sense of that for Ottawa, and for that I’m grateful.
NB: Sort of a rural Around the world with 80 Gays? I like it. When I’m done these Q&As I may post a list of all the ideas the authors have had for anthologies. And thank you, it was important to me to include a slice of Canada, even if I did get a lot of questions about loonies.
For those of you looking for a copy of The Biggest Lover of your own, you can buy it direct from Bear Bones Books (an imprint of Lethe Press) at the website, here. Or, check Indiebound for your local brick-and-mortar. Or, as always, ask wherever quality LGBT books are sold. For a copy of Threesome, look no further than Lethe Press here, or Indiebound, or, again, shop local. You can find Not Just Another Pretty Face at Beautiful Dreamer Press here, or check with your nearest brick-and-mortar store. Or, said thrice, ask for it wherever quality LGBT books are sold.

IMG_0249Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of personal essays, Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear and Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; four novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, and Salvation; and two volumes of short fiction, Desire and Devour: Stories of Blood and Sweat and A History of Barbed Wire.  The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards, a Rainbow Award, and three NLA-International awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Find him online at jeffmannauthor.com.
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