Back in April, I got to be with a group of the authors of Not Just Another Pretty Face at a reading for the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, and it was fantastic to listen to them speak about their images and their inspirations. Vinton Rafe McCabe wasn’t there, unfortunately, but happily he was available for a digital chat. We talked about the book, and also about his story in Men in Love. I’m chuffed to share two tables of contents with him, and to share this chat with you.
The 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.
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: Each of the pieces in Not Just Another Pretty Face were inspired from photographs. Was working from an image a new process for you? Did you have a full piece more-or-less occur to you with your image? Tell us about the evolution of your piece. Likewise, tell us what we’re in for from your story in Men in Love, and what sparked the idea.
VRM: I’ve always considered pictures to be just another sort of language, I guess. Perhaps because I wrote for television for some years and, very early on, and came to think of a television show as being structured more or less the same as a magazine is/was. Picture, words, picture, words. There’s been, for me, an ongoing connection between the two. So the idea of basing a story on a picture was not, for me, that odd. Especially since the photos were of individual men, each of whom presumably had a story to tell. So the task became one of uncovering what was unsaid in the photo or series of photos. And bringing the photo to life in revealing that man’s story.
This process of uncovering became all the more intriguing when I saw the picture of the guy I chose to write about. I don’t know his name to this day, but there was something about him in the picture that jumped out at me: a theatricality, a sense of display, a promise that no good could come from flirting with him that caused me to jump for him.
NB: Ha! Yes, I think we’ve all seen that fellow before, and had that same reaction.
VRM: In the same way, I had had the idea for my first novel, Death in Venice, California, for years. A black comic retelling of Thomas Mann. A modernization that could include plastic surgery and injectables instead of just hair dye and mustache wax.
But I was totally stuck when it came to writing because I needed the image of the right young man, the modern Tadzio, before I could bring the thing to life. Then one day I saw a picture of a young Ben Godfre walking out of the ocean half clothed with the sun setting behind him. And that was all that I needed. The image of a young man whose beauty and whose force of will could entice an older man to do things that he would never do for any other person, any other reason. And the book became suddenly easy to write.
This story sort of wrote itself once I saw this young man, who I called Django, in among the others in the photo collection. He quite simply enticed the story out of me.
As for the Men In Love story, I wanted to write something that reflected my reality. I met my husband David just over thirty years ago at the Smith Club Book Fair in Greenwich, Connecticut, where we were introduced by a mutual friend who herself was the author of YA fiction.
The three of us went to lunch afterward and I invited David, who is an architect, to come over to see my apartment in a huge old Queen Anne house in which I was living in the turret. As the place was architecturally significant, and as the round exterior walls boggled the mind, it seemed the perfect excuse for me to get to see him again. And he moved in with me not long after.
Over the decades, our relationship has not only endured, but flourished. We have any number of anniversaries, for meeting, for committing to each other, for a civil union, and finally, for marriage. I wanted a story that explored that reality—the lifelong commitment. A moment on a wet Saturday afternoon that exemplifies the whole of what a relationship can be, the shared language, the seemingly casual nature of a relationship that has reached the molecular level.
NB: That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about Men in Love as an anthology, actually: the stories were set across a wide range of periods in relationships. Beginnings, yes, and youth, yes, but also relationships starting later, or joining in the narrative in much further established couples. It was refreshing.
Another facet of Not Just Another Pretty Face that’s unusual is the range of the collection from a point of view of format: short fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and even a short play. I’m generally in awe of poets, and know many novelists who find the idea of writing a short story terror inducing. You, however, seem to move through the various formats, writing nonfiction, poetry, plays, novels and short fiction. Do you prefer one to another, or have a different relationship with the various forms?
VRM: They’re all just words, really, so I’ve never felt much transition in jumping from one genre to another.
And, to me, the project at hand has always sort of indicated the means by which it should be told.
That said, I think I’ve always written poetry and have always seen it as the wellspring from which everything else springs. Poems are comprised of crystallized words. Each perfectly chosen, perfectly placed in a way that can never be achieved in prose of any kind. Prose is all about variables in word choice and rhythm and is an art form in which meaning is linked to words. Poetry lives sort of in denial of this: meaning can be explicit or implicit, or it can hide in the negative spaces between the words. That is another reason for my ongoing attraction to poetry, the various shades of meaning coupled with the music that flows through it all.
I’ve found that the poem, uncoded, can evolve into a play, a story, a novel, into anything, really.
I made my living for a good many years exclusively from my prose writing, from journalism, and literary, theatrical and film critique, and my books on holistic health and healing. Those books, like Practical Homeopathy and The Healing Bouquet have given me my greatest response as an author. They’ve been translated into multiple languages and continue to sell today, years after I wrote them. Best, they have allowed me to form myriad relationships via email with readers all around the world.
But I reached a point several years ago when I felt that I had written all that I wanted to on those subjects and that I had wearied with the whole process of nonfiction—legal reads, fact checking, etc. So, instead, I promised myself that for what remains of my life I get to work solely through my imagination instead. And I went back to all the promises that I made myself at a very early age, of writing the Great American Novel, etc., and turned my attention to long and short fiction.
Fiction is, at this stage in my life, my greatest source of joy.
I’m working hard gathering together a collection of interwoven shorts stories called Get Thee Behind Me and putting the finishing touches on a second novel. And I’d love to be a part of other anthologies in the future, as the two that I’ve submitted to so far have allowed me to share a single binding which an array of wonderful material.
NB: I adore short fiction collections where threads from one tale weave into another, so please keep me posted. And, speaking of that, is there an anthology theme you’d love to see (and contribute to) that you haven’t seen? I’ve been asking almost everyone this question, and I swear I’ll pitch the ideas to as many editors as I can.
VRM: I’d love to see, write for, and edit, actually, an anthology that celebrates LGBT elders. Not just because they/we were the ones who walked through fire for the victories we have attained in recent years, and not just because we are the survivors who have such great stories to tell. Those who are over fifty today have faces that are the best camouflage in the world. Our wrinkles and thinned hair disguise the fact that we belong to the most vibrant generation in human history. We were never meant to fade into invisibility, no matter what previous generations have done.
I’d love to see a volume of stories, poems, short plays, whatever, that not just honours but celebrates those of us who have arrived at a certain age while still being passionate, political, sexual and worthy of a nice, big, thick volume.
NB: I’ll raise a glass to that. Thank you!
You can get Men in Love directly from the publisher, Bold Strokes Books, here, and Not Just Another Pretty Face through Beautiful Dreamer Press, here. Or, of course, you can check your local brick and mortar (try Indiebound, which lists both Men in Love, and Not Just Another Pretty Face and helps you track down your local store). And, of course, they’re available online and wherever quality LGBT books are sold.
Vinton Rafe McCabe is the author of ten books of nonfiction and one novel, Death in Venice, California, which was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction in 2015.
An award-winning poet and playwright, and a life-long journalist, McCabe also reviews for The New York Journal of Books.