One of the things about Not Just Another Pretty Face that I’ve loved is the mix of forms. Poetry, fiction, essays and a play, all sparked by images, all in one volume. I’ve been loving connecting with the authors about their inspiration drawn from photographs, and I have to say that Erik Schuckers—who I’m speaking with today—moved me completely.
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.
NB: Not Just Another Pretty Face has a unique approach in that it asked the contributors to work from the inspiration of a photograph. Was that a new process for you? Did it spark a narrative you were expecting?
ES: I’ve had some experience with ekphrastic poetry, including a workshop last year where a bunch of us worked from photos by the great Duane Michals. And I love the process of looking deeply at a photo and imagining my way into (or out of) it. But I totally wasn’t expecting to write what I did for NJAPF.
One photo just floored me. (I later found out it did the same for Alan Martinez, whose beautiful heart-sore poem is included, and for the editor, Louis Flint Ceci, who cited it as the photo that got him thinking the anthology was possible.) The model’s eyes, his posture, the defensive way he holds one arm…. It instantly called back memories of an unusually complicated and painful relationship.
James and I fell in love in college. We were together for about seven years, and for some of that time he worked as a go-go dancer in a Pittsburgh bar. After we split up, I fled to England, and when I came back a few years later, we mostly avoided each other. Eventually, in 2013, he sent me a message on Facebook. He’d been diagnosed with cancer. We met for lunch, and started talking again, and suddenly we were back in each others’ lives.
He died in 2015, just a couple of months before I saw that photo for NJAPF. I started “Summer: A History” expecting it to be a poem, but it quickly started to cross time zones and turn itself into something else. Like Little Edie, I was finding it very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present, and that sort of dictated the form of what turned out to be a really long (by my standards) essay.
I had no intention of delving quite so frankly into the topics I did when I started writing: addiction, jealousy, the cruelty of religion, the pernicious divides of class. Some of what I wrote surprised me. But I was grateful that it did.
NB: It was a truly moving piece, and I’m glad to have read it. It’s rare to find a collection with short fiction, a play, photography and poetry in one volume. I’m very much a short fiction writer, who fights my way to novellas and novels. Do you find a particular form speaks to you more than others?
ES: One of the things that’s really special about NJAPF is the eclecticism of its contents: all kinds of different forms rub up against each other, and the result is really a kind of celebration. Until recently, most of what I’ve written has been poetry: it’s the form I think most naturally in. I love fiction, of every length, and read at least as much of it as poetry – more, if you factor in my affinity for trashy ’70s-’80s paperback horror and classic English whodunnits. But I haven’t been able to write a decent story yet. (Indecent ones are another matter.)
NB: There’s a pretty wide market for indecent stories, mind.
ES: Creative nonfiction is new territory for me, and I love that this photo and this anthology spurred me to write something outside my comfort zone, to try something new. It was a challenge, for sure, and I still find myself wishing I’d switched that section around to there, or cut that adverb and used a better verb instead, but it was a huge relief to stop worrying about line breaks for a little while.
NB: Poetry has always sat outside my reach. I’m in awe of you poets. Now, I’ve been asking everyone this one: if you could have your dream anthology call to write for, what would be the theme?
ES: As for anthologies I’d love to write for…? I already have poems that feature Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Daria Nicolodi, so I’m totally set for a cult horror divas of the 1970s and ’80s collection. Or maybe a version of Spoon River Anthology set in Twin Peaks? I think I could write a mean persona poem as Nadine Hurley.
I could riff on this all night…
NB: I’m pretty sure I’d stay up all night reading them, too. Thank you!
You can get 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 Not Just Another Pretty Face and helps you track down your local store). And, of course, the collection is available online and wherever quality LGBT books are sold.
Erik Schuckers studied writing at Allegheny College and the University of Sheffield. He picked apples, cleaned theaters, and sold books in the US and UK before moving into nonprofit work.
He lives in Pittsburgh, and you can reach him here.