Sunday Shorts – “Men in Love” Q&A with Jerry L. Wheeler

men-in-love-mm-romanceG’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.

You can get Men in Love: M/M Romance from Bold Strokes Books directly here, or check Indiebound for your local brick and mortar store. Or ask for it wherever quality LGBT books are sold.


 

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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.

 

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Sunday Shorts – “The Biggest Lover” Q&A with William Holden

Biggest LoverWilliam Holden is one of the many authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face through the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. I met him while a group of authors gathered to talk about the sexiness of the circus for a dinner celebrating the release of Tented, mumble-mumble years ago. He’s handsome, and charming, and not at all what you’d expect if you’ve read some of his truly dark stories. I know I talk often about how I’m not a fan of horror or dark-and-scary fiction, but William Holden is one of the rare exceptions where I gird myself for the nightmares and dive in. The release of The Biggest Lover gives me a welcome opportunity to chat with William again, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

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: Having read your short fiction before (I found Words to Die By creepy as all heck by the way), I know you have a great (and often dark) imagination, and your stories tend to go places I’ve never considered, which is half the fun of reading your work for me. Did the theme of The Biggest Lover (ie: guys of a size we don’t normally see anywhere in gay erotica) take you anywhere surprising?

WH: I always strive to make my stories unique and original and to go someplace unexpected, so I appreciate your comments and consider it high praise.

When I first heard about the theme for The Biggest Lover, I was at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and have to admit I was at a loss for an idea. One night while sitting by the river in New Orleans with my best friend Dale Chase we hatched both our stories. During one of our moments of utter silliness I mentioned the phrase, Moby Dick, and it was a light bulb going off over both our heads. That was going to be the title of my story, and I would take Melville’s classic, and rework it so that the great white whale just happened to be an enormous man. The story takes place along the fishing ports along the East Coast in the early nineteen hundreds. It was great fun to write.

NB: This is exactly what I was talking about by “going places I never considered.” In the same way The Biggest Lover steps outside the usual confines of erotica, is there another anthology theme (be it erotica or not) you’d love to see that you haven’t come across?

WH: This is a great question. I’m not sure this would qualify as an anthology theme, but I’ve always been fascinated and excited to find out what other writers have come up with in anthologies such as The Biggest Lover. So taking that a step further, what if the theme was to give everyone the same opening paragraph, no character descriptions, just a plot point. I think it would be fascinating to see where the individual authors would take the same opening scene.

NB: That’s a really neat idea. The closest I’ve seen to that is Red, which gave all the authors one thing they had to use: a red scarf. But an identical opening scene? That’d be fascinating.

WH: I don’t want to get political here, but I would also love to see an anthology which celebrates all forms of sexual expression. We have gay erotica, lesbian erotica, bisexual erotic, straight erotica, senior erotica, the list goes on and on (you get my point,) and it would be nice to break down the barriers we’ve put up and let sexual expression shine no matter what form it takes.

Ah, this is why I’m a writer and not an editor or publisher. I’d be terrible and coming up with new and interesting themes.

NB: I’d offer you a fist bump if I didn’t think I’d miss. I’d love to be in a world where the erotica didn’t need to be quite so delineated. My favourites are always the ones that have the widest range among the theme, like you’ve said. And speaking of favourites… You’ve split your writing pretty equally between short fiction collections and novels, and you run the range from romance to erotica to horror (and many shades between). I know it’s impossible to choose one and say “that’s my favourite!” but do you have a story, novel, or collection that sits a little higher, or invokes a bit more pride than the others?

WH: Ah, my favourite. This is a tricky question for me to answer.

I’m very proud of my upcoming novel, Crimson Souls, but the pride comes from the difficulty I had in writing it. It was one of the most challenging writing experiences of my writing career and in comparison probably one of the best I’ve ever written. The novel is non-linear; each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character and how they see and understand the protagonist, Nate, the Midnight Barker. The chapters are interwoven into the overall storyline, which comes together to tell the full story.

NB: Ohmigosh. I love Nate. Not just for nomenclature reasons. I can’t wait for that!

WH: The second part to this is, of course, the story of Thomas Newton (Secret Societies, and The Thief Taker) Thomas and Mother Clap will always have a very special place in my heart because they were the underdogs of their time. Unknown pioneers fighting sexual oppression and homophobia, and I’m proud of having told their story.

NB: You should be. Authors like you who find the queer voices in history have my deepest respect.

WH: I’d be curious to know how other authors feel about choosing a favourite. We as authors spend so much time with a character(s) by the time the story or novel is finished, we or at least I have a strong connection to all of them in some way. Do you have a favourite character, or story, ‘Nathan?

NB: I’m going to half-cheat and answer with my husband’s favourite instead, which was “Elsewhen” from Riding the Rails. And come to think of it, that’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing a historical, though  not quite in that it’s more like the echoing spirits of two soldiers returning to Ottawa after World War II.

One of the reasons I’ve never delved much into historical fiction is I find it daunting on two levels. For one, the research required makes me cringe, as I’d be terrified to make an awful error. But the other thing is I’d be so unsure how to portray what I prefer to write—which is ultimately hopeful stories—in a setting where for queer folk that hope was very unlikely. “Elsewhen” let me cheat, and it was satisfying. It’s also the only story that’s ever dropped from my brain directly onto the keyboard in one uninterrupted session. I had a song playing on repeat, a window open with a single image, and just wrote and wrote and wrote.

I’ll definitely pass that question forward, too. Thanks for taking the time, and I look forward to seeing you this year in New Orleans!


 

You can find The Biggest Lover through Lethe Press’s website here, or, of course, you can check Indiebound to locate your nearest brick and mortar. Otherwise, you’ll find it wherever quality LGBT books are sold.

 


William Holden

Photo Credit: Mark I. Chester

Originally from Detroit, William Holden now lives in Cambridge, MA with his partner of eighteen years. He has a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Florida State University. Over the past decade, he has focused his work on collecting and preserving GLBT history and is a volunteer archivist at Boston’s History Project.

William has been writing for over fifteen years, accumulating more than seventy published short stories in the genres of erotica, romance, fantasy, and horror. He is an award-winning author of such titles as, A Twist of Grimm by Lethe Press (Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and from Bold Strokes Books, Words to Die By (2nd place Rainbow Book Awards for Best Horror and Finalist for the Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Best Horror). Secret Societies and its sequel, The Thief Taker were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Award. Grave Desire his latest collection of erotic horror was released in October 2015 by Lethe Press.

Crimson Souls, his forthcoming horror novel from Bold Strokes Books, is based on the 1920 purge of homosexual students at Harvard.

William has also written encyclopedia articles on the history of gay and lesbian fiction and has authored five bibliographies for the GLBT Round Table for the American Library Association.