Anthologies don’t always get a lot of noise, and one of the things I try to do here with my Sunday Shorts series is point out some awesome anthologies that are out and about (or about to launch) by speaking with the editors and authors of collections. Quite a few authors and editors agreed to chat with me about anthologies hitting the shelves in the next few months—so many, in fact, that I have enough people to carry these Sunday chats all the way through to next June, which is kind of awesome.
Today starts the first of these anthologies I’ll be showcasing, The Biggest Lover, an upcoming anthology from Bear Bones Books, and I’m chatting with R. Jackson. What’s 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: Welcome! I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: you’re a force of nature for bi-visibility and bear culture. When I first saw the call for The Biggest Lover, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen a collection like it before. On reflection, I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t; you talk about that a bit in the introduction, how the focus in gay erotica is so much more often on the slender twink or the uber-fit (and don’t even get me started on the lack of chest hair). Obviously, there’s an overlap with bear culture here, but where did the spark for The Biggest Lover come from?
RJ: Thank you for inviting me to this interview, ‘Nathan! Thanks also for your excellent story in the collection, and for your kind words about my work.
I started thinking seriously about editing a collection of chub-and-chaser erotica at least five years ago. As I pointed out in my 2001 interview with Girth & Mirth founder Reed Wilgoren in Bears on Bears, bear clubs are really an offshoot of the earlier big gay/bi men’s clubs (as well as queer motorcycle/leather clubs) that were formed at least a decade earlier. I kept thinking someone would do an anthology on this theme years ago, but nobody must have thought it a worthwhile or lucrative project.
Often an idea for an anthology theme take years to germinate, during which I talk with my readers, my publisher, my husbear, and bear and writer friends. I research scholastic and marketing considerations to determine the prospective readership, and contemplate what story themes and contributors would be fun to include. Sometimes I consult the tarot and my Magic 8-Ball, and pray to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, art, music, and learning. In my meditation on the subject I ask myself, Is this a topic that is overlooked and underexposed? Does it have potential to reach many underserved readers? Is it a book that nobody else has done? Is this a book that I’m qualified to put together? If the answers and omens are clearly positive and the stars and planets are in the auspicious positions, then I’ll obtain a contract and issue a call for submissions. After that, it’s a matter of waiting to see what comes in, and deciding what fits my target word count.
NB: I had a blast writing my story in no small part due to being able to include both a bigger man and a chaser with the knowledge their depiction wasn’t going to come back with edits making them more “traditionally sexier” (whatever that might mean). I remember one piece I wrote, quite a few years back, where the editor wanted to cut out arm hair references, struck out a line or two about laugh lines, and asked me if I’d consider dropping the age of one of the characters below the forty mark so the two characters would be within a decade of each other in age. I’m curious: did having The Biggest Lover‘s atypical theme for erotica also translate to any other welcome surprises where the authors explored something you weren’t expecting?
RJ: I’m so delighted to have your story “A Slice of Pi” in The Biggest Lover, your third Bear Bones Books anthology. Obviously I liked it enough to place it at the end, thus giving you the last word in the story series. Anthologies are a fun way to gather a lot of ideas and authors together and form a small sort of community and a dialogue that transcends geographic and demographic boundaries. Stories came in from all over North America and the U.K., from male, female, and trans* authors, including a diverse handful of stories by bears of color. Welcome surprises? I expect every story that is submitted to be a welcome surprise in some manner. It should do something different, even if it doesn’t necessarily succeed, something more than A meets B and they meet C and then they all do XYZ. A good erotic story should grab me by the balls and not let go.
NB: Canada Post hasn’t delivered my copy yet, so I’m salivating at the chance to read it. Okay, question number three is a boomerang question from my discussion with Tom Cardamone that I’m going to revisit with all the editors. He brought up how in collections, the author (or editor, in an anthology) have to select and order the tales, and how it’s such an important part of the process, but we rarely hear anyone talk about it. Also, Publisher’s Weekly mentioned that the stories in The Biggest Lover cover a lot of genres, which definitely intrigues. How did you approach the selecting and ordering of the tales in The Biggest Lover?
RJ: This is my eleventh anthology, so there’s not much I haven’t dealt with before. My greatest fear is the dread that not enough great unique stories for a book will be submitted.
As I researched what was in print in fat gay lit, I discovered this gendered lacuna of men as writers and as subjects. Same situation with my earlier books on bisexuality: most of the fiction, nonfiction, and academic writing available had been by bi women.
So I put out a private call for submissions to a few dozen writers I’ve worked with before. Some of my regulars are incredibly dependable, so that’s nice, to have a stable of writers to call upon.
I didn’t want it to be too much the same styles as my other bearotic anthologies. Men’s chuberotica is really a new literary topic but some writers are so versatile they can handle any topic thrown their way.
Yet it’s important and necessary to include at least half new/er writers, because you have to keep it fresh for your regular readers and you have to support and develop young/er writing talent.
In shopping the idea around to some of my regular erotica contributors I saw how enthusiastic some became. I was at lunch at a writers’ conference with authors William Holden and Dale Chase when I tossed the idea out. Bill said immediately, “I know exactly what I’ll write about!” That evening, they told me they’d already been plotting out their stories together. By the next morning, Bill reported that he had already sketched out his piece. Nothing like the feeling when your idea for an anthology theme sparks a talented writer and you watch their story ignite.
As far as nays, I avoided anything body shaming and fatphobic, intense descriptions of feeding, unsafe sex, and sex with minors. Positively, I embraced stories of chuberotic romance that turns our preconceived notions of fatness into affirmative sexual feelings.
Certainly now, romance and erotica seem relatively easy for me to judge: a story has be literate, of course, but it also has to tug at my heartstrings to be romantic and to make my pants tighten if it’s erotic. The latter aspect is usually quite easy for me to judge if a story is working!
When I’ve collected enough solid stories, first I decide which are the strongest pieces to start and end the book. Then it’s just a matter of shuffling the rest around to vary length, tone, subject, and genre, until I get the right mix. I do try to curate the reader’s experience so that each story in progression is the next perfectly unexpected tale.
NB: Well I for one can’t wait. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
You can get your copy of The Biggest Lover directly from Bear Bones Books (an imprint of Lethe Press) here, or—as always—check out Indiebound for your closest local brick-and-mortar, or look wherever quality LGBT books are sold.
Ron Suresha is a Lambda Literary Award finalist for his anthologies, Bi Men: Coming out (2006) and Bisexual Perspectives on the Life and Work of Alfred C. Kinsey (2010).
His most recent book, coauthored with Scott McGillivray, is Fur: The Love of Hair, from German publisher Bruno Gmünder. He also authored a collection of Turkish folk Tales, The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin, , which was named a Storytelling World Honor Book. Suresha self-published his first book, Mugs o’ Joy: Delicious Hot Drinks, when he was 39. In 2002, he authored his first trade softcover, the nonfiction Bears on Bears: Interviews & Discussions. Under the name R. Jackson, he has edited the anthologies Bi Guys: The deliciousness of his sex (also a “Lammy” finalist), Bearotica, Bear Lust, Bears in the Wild, and Tales from the Den, published by Bear Bones Books, a Lethe imprint for which he serves as Acquisitions Editor. He also solo hosts and produces an occasional podcast for the adult men’s Bear community, Bear Soup, which runs on BearRadio.net Monday & Wednesdays 10pm Eastern / Pacific.
You can find him online at RonSuresha.com.