Better Than Blurbs: The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity & Moving On
Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I'm launching a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the third post of the series. The author is really the editor in this case, though he is very much an author. He is my friend Paul Alan Fahey, and the book is The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity & Moving On.
Let's jump right in. Paul, please tell my readers a little about the book.
Paul: The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity, & Moving On is a collection of personal essays by and about gay men and their relationships. Several of our most acclaimed writers, many Lambda award winners and finalists, relate their experiences being the other man, suffering the other man or having their relationships tested by infidelity. The book represents a three-year labor of love and was designed as the “gay” companion to Victoria Zackheim’s wonderful anthology, The Other Woman. And to accentuate more positives, a portion of the profits will benefit the It Gets Better Project, a charity near and dear to all of our hearts.
One of our contributors designed a very intriguing one minute video that can be viewed HERE.
The essays in The Other Man are varied in tone, voice and writing style. These examples will give you an idea of how a few writers tackled the topic of infidelity:
Glen Retief, in his early thirties and living in Spain with the man he believed was “the love of his life,” experiences the ultimate betrayal when he confronts his lover’s deception head on in “The Rival With a Thousand Faces.”
Mark Canavera, while working for a large international organization in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), discovers that men, gay or straight in that culture, would never think of divulging an indiscretion to their partners. Telling would be viewed as an insult. In “Complicity,” we discover, as expected, that other man troubles are universal in scope.
Perry Brass responds to an intriguing letter from a married—soon to be separated—fan in “A Pitiless Love” and finds himself sucked into an “emotional vacuum” that threatens his mental and physical health.
Erik Orrantia is in a committed relationship when he falls out of love with his partner. Unable to make a clean break, Erik invites his new lover to move in with the unhappy couple. We learn from “Ballad Echoes” the importance of honesty, especially in matters of the heart, and that triangles are best left to the study of geometry.
David Pratt’s partner juggles two other men on the side while pursuing his dream of becoming a professional actor in the Big Apple. In “Way Off,” Mr. Pratt offers a personal tour of the Great White Way and points out the traps and pitfalls for those seeking fame and adulation on the Broadway stage.
In “Husbands,” Austin Bunn looks back on his thirties in Louisville, Kentucky. Loneliness leads him to a succession of liaisons with married men: a chief researcher at a public health office, the boss of an automotive business, a lawyer, a pastor and a professor at a Christian college. Somehow, there is always an abundant and available supply.
Even with an excellent agent and with what many considered a well-written book proposal, The Other Man didn’t happen over night. It took a year-and-a-half to land a publisher and by the time the book contract was signed, I’d gone through nearly two different contributor lists—Many of my writers thought the book wasn’t happening and went on to other projects. As you can see, The Other Man finally happened, and it’s thanks to JM Snyder of JMS Books for believing in the book’s concept. You can read more about The Other Man on my website.
Me: I remember something you said as we were corresponding about the anthology. You said, “Pretty explicit here and there but I’m very proud of it.” I’m interested in the “but.” Of course, explicit content is neither right nor wrong, but the “but” suggests you might have a mild discomfort with it. Which I completely understand. When one of my books with sexual content goes out there (like the reissue of Funerals for Horses) I find myself thinking of the wide range of people who will read it and feeling uneasy about what some will think. Care to speak to this at all?
Paul: This is the first time I’ve attempted anything like this LGBT anthology. I write mainly short stories and nonfiction/memoir and have written relatively nothing about my life as a gay man until recently. Given my ten years apprenticeship editing a college literary journal, Mindprints—now sadly defunct—and online critiquing in a flash fiction workshop for many years, I had the confidence needed for the technical aspect of the book, but the content was another matter.
In May 2012, I had the great good fortune to find a wonderful LGBT publisher, J M Snyder of JMS Books who liked my first novella The View from 16 Podwale Street and published it as an e book. Podwale Street was my first venture into LGBT lit, and I was completely surprised when the book won a 2012 Rainbow Award; both events encouraged me to attempt more semi-autobiographical novellas over the past year and gave me the confidence to be more honest in my writing. Most wonderful things in my life have come about mainly by chance and without any pre planning on my part: running off to Africa in my early twenties as a Peace Corps volunteer and staying nearly five years in Ethiopia; going on for advanced education degrees; and of course, meeting the wonderful anthologist, Victoria Zackheim, at the Central Coast Writer’s Conference who encouraged me to edit the “gay” companion to her very successful anthology, The Other Woman.
So getting back to the “but” in my statement, I think there’s still a part of that Irish Catholic kid from the 1950’s inside me who became adept at hiding who he really was. Some old habits are hard to shake. They hang around longer than they should even when you think you’ve overcome them. I guess at my advanced age, I still have some work to do in letting down my guard and being me.
Me: One thing that struck me as I was reading the book was the difference between how men approach sex, as opposed to women. I think this is somewhat masked in heterosexual relationships, because the man often wants to meet his female partner halfway. With two men, it can just be what it is. And yet I also see in the book that emotional level where—no matter how much you might view sex openly or casually—the mind has a heart of its own and tends to get involved. Any thoughts on this? Do you picture this book crossing over to a female readership?
Paul: I think there is just as much variance in gay relationships as there is in straight ones, especially when sex is concerned. To be honest when I was reading the essays for the first time, I was struck by how easily I could envision several of my straight friends relating the same kinds of episodes in their lives: casual hookups and one night stands; open marriages that both thought worked but often didn’t; being married to someone you viewed as “the love of your life” only to discover a partner’s infidelity or having been drawn themselves at one time or another to someone outside the relationship; and relationships that endured in spite of the ups and downs and those that faded. Several of my female friends have read The Other Man and have said they see parallels in straight relationships. Whether they’re talking about themselves or others I have no idea, but even reviewers have pointed this out. Lisa Horan of The Novel Approach wondered if “monogamy was a natural human state, or if it a was a concept which sounds lovely in poetic theory but is not practical in the reality of interpersonal relationships?” I don’t think you can get more universal than that. So yes, I do believe the book does have crossover appeal to a female readership.
Me: I once (co)edited an anthology, though it never found its way into print. But I know there’s a lot involved when you’re interfacing with so many different personalities. And a writer’s ego tends to thread through each work. Can you tell us about your editing experience? Any good stories? Ever feel like you were herding cats?
Paul: I think I was incredibly lucky with the professional level of the writers I worked with on The Other Man project. Being an editor as well as a writer, I tried to be sensitive to the issues I faced when my work was edited for journals and anthologies. Did I spell the writer’s name correctly? Is the contributor bio up-to-date? Did I fiddle too much or intrude on the writer’s voice or style? Did I respect the writer’s wishes when he disagreed with my suggestion(s)? Along the way I discovered that, for me at least, my job as an editor was to make suggestions but not to push my opinions and just get out of the writer’s way. I hope I succeeded. JMS Books also has a staff of incredible editors—I’ve worked with several over the past year—and I felt that they as well respected the writer’s voice and writing style.
So as far as stories go, I don’t think there are any memorable ones to share related to The Other Man; however, I had tons of problems with some of the writers who submitted their work to Mindprints—mainly issues relating to the professional side of submitting work for publication. In most cases these issues centered around submissions that could best be described as first drafts; thankfully, I was doubly blessed that this didn’t happen with The Other Man, and again this was due to the highly professional nature of the writers I worked with.
Me: We are both of a certain age, and I know we both remember when LGBT…well, anything…was less openly discussed. (And, when it was, was called something far less P.C.) Can you reflect a little on how much has changed in your lifetime? Are there moments in history, such as the progress in marriage equality, that you didn’t think you’d live to see?
Paul: I’d have to say that almost everything that’s happening now I never thought I’d live to see. As I mentioned earlier, growing up on the San Francisco Peninsula in my teens and early adulthood in the 1950’s, and before I left for Peace Corps, I lived a fairly closeted life. I’d had plenty of encounters and one that almost turned into a relationship but at that time, I was too immature and afraid to follow through on my feelings, especially given the climate of the times. When I returned from overseas in late 1972, and arrived home in the San Francisco area, I was amazed how much the social climate had changed. I’d missed Stonewall, most of the early stages of Gay Lib and hadn’t even heard of Mart Crowley’s amazing play and film, The Boys in the Band. It was like another kind of culture shock: one related to my “re-entry” to the states, and the other to the gay liberation that was going on all around me.
I was very wild with the sexual freedom of the 1970’s—well, wild for me. I met my partner, Bob, in Santa Cruz and began a long and wonderful relationship with him in the mid-1970’s. Then AIDS struck and we lost nearly all of our friends. We both retreated from the gay scene. My mother was dealing with the last stages of ovarian cancer and I was emotionally a mess for most of the 1980’s. We moved back east in the early 1990’s and lived in a very small, isolated area in upstate New York where I taught college. Isolated, out of the mainstream and with very little contact with gay friends. Sound familiar? To be honest, looking back I can’t recall any gay friends during that time. The late 1990’s brought us back to California, for another teaching position. We’re still not very involved today in the gay social world around San Luis Obispo, other than for my LGBT novella writing and the writer friends I’ve met along The Other Man trail. I hope somehow this will change, but at the back of my mind, I wonder if it might be a bit too late. Age has a way of cementing you in your ways, so the jury is still out on that one. We’ll just have to see what develops.
Me: I always close with this: Please write your own question, and answer it.
Paul: I have a lot of important questions, mostly relating to our health, but none I would dare write about. (Catholic guilt strikes again as well as the pessimism I was brought up with: “Sing before breakfast, cry before dinner,” so I’ll leave those concerns alone.)
1. Right now I’m wondering if I’m doing all I can to promote The Other Man, especially since so many wonderful writers are involved as well as the It Gets Better Project?
2. I’m also in the final lap of finishing the first draft of my WIP and wondering if I’ll ever finish it? But that’s two questions.
The answer to both: I only hope I can.
Me: Please visit Paul at his website at www.paulalanfahey.com.