On Being, Seeing, and Dealing With ’That Guy’ :: Paul Fahey on ’The Other Man’
Love. Trust. Temptation. Flirtation. Dalliance. For some, that last item is a nightmare; for others, it’s allowable within the bounds of certain ground rules. But it’s always charged with risk, emotional and otherwise, whether one is seeing, being, or putting up with "The Other Man."
It’s just such unstable terrain that the 21 essays in the anthology of that title explore, with a range of tone that varies from high comedy to operatic tragedy to levels of suffering that can only be categorized as masochistic... or sadistic, depending on where the suffering is directed. It works a treat; this is an absolutely addicting book. The collection’s editor, Paul Alan Fahey, chatted with EDGE about the anthology, which he shaped and shepherded to print.
Though the essays are not lengthy, his own contribution to the book ranks as its briefest entry.
"I have to force myself to write long," said Fahey, author of a number of novellas, including "Boys Will Be Boys" and "When the Right One Comes Along."
"Though now I’m mainly writing novellas in my WWII gay romance series of about 24,000 words," Fahey continued. Shorter form writing "Seems to be my limit," he added, before going on to put in what he called, with a jocular twinkle, a "shameless plug:"
"My series is titled ’Lovers & Liars Wartime Series,’" Fahey detailed. "The first book was ’Bomber’s Moon,’ followed by ’Weep Not For the Past.’ The third, ’A Manx Tale,’ will be out January 2014 from JMS books, followed by a print copy featuring these first three novellas in the series."
Fahey’s professional biography tells more of the story of his career: "His writing has appeared in ’Byline,’ ’Palo Alto Review,’ ’Long Story Short,’ ’African American Review,’ ’The MacGuffin,’ ’Thema,’ ’Gertrude,’ ’Kaleidoscope,’ ’The Feathered Flounder,’ and in several other literary journals and anthologies," his bio reads.
"He is a seven-time winner of the ’Lillian Dean Writing Award’ for short stories and nonfiction at the California Central Coast Writer’s Conference. He created and edited ’Mindprints,’ an international literary journal for writers and artists with disabilities, at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. During his tenure, ’Mindprints’ made Writers Digest’s ’Top 30 Short Story Markets’ list for two consecutive years."
It seems fitting for a writer of short form fiction, who has such broad credentials, that he’d conceive and oversee an anthology of essays by gay male writers. The book’s contributors may be drawn from a specific subset, but the book’s subject matter is one of universal interest: "Sex, Love, Infidelity, & Moving On." This is a deliberate choice; those very words appear on the book’s cover, after all.
This anthology is a companion to another book, titled "The Other Woman," an anthology of essays by women writers including Susan Cheever, Diana Abu-Jaber, and Jane Smiley. The 21 essays that comprise "The Other Woman" bravely explore the realm of hurt, rage and betrayal that heterosexual relationships enter when a man breaks a woman’s trust.
"I met Victoria Zackheim, the editor of ’The Other Woman,’ at our local Central Coast Writer’s Conference in San Luis Obispo about three years ago," Fahey said. "I attended her workshop on editing anthologies and the next day at our local author book fair, Victoria asked if I’d like to edit the companion volume.
"The book would be a departure from the short story, flash fiction, flash memoir I usually wrote," Fahey said, adding, "but it was such an intriguing idea, and I knew ’The Other Man’ was something I wanted to do. During the early stages of the book, from two proposals to contract to print, Ms. Zackheim was always available especially when I had a question or needed support and guidance. She also led me to a wonderful agent, Jill Marsal of the Marsal/Lyon Literary Agency. I was truly lucky from the get go."
But rather than being a book of essays by straight men whose wives or girlfriends have found companionship elsewhere, "The Other Man" is written by a number of gay men who have enjoyed a relationship with, or who have contended with, or even who have been, an "other man" to an existing relationship.
These essays are authored by an astonishing number and range of writers, from mountain man/poet/leather-and-bondage bear Jeff Mann to prolific novelists R.W. Clinger and Allen Mack, and a number of others.
But the book’s theme and approach didn’t crystallize quite as quickly as one might assume.
"Over the past three years, ’The Other Man’ went through two separate book proposals," Fahey explained. "The first proposal was a mixed genre anthology: short plays, poetry, artwork, fiction and essay. The mixed gene came about because I received some wonderful submissions from well-known authors, poets, playwrights and artists that I queried early on. I wanted to see if there was interest in this kind of anthology.
"Unfortunately after my agent sent the proposal around to several LGBT publishing houses, there wasn’t interest, so I developed a second proposal that was solely personal essay, and the book at that point became a true mirror image of ’The Other Woman,’" he said. "By the time the second proposal was selected for publication at JMS Books, a few of my writers had left the project, mainly due to the length of time it took to land a publisher. They felt the book wasn’t happening and went on to other writing projects.
"I sent out a general call for submissions to fill these spots and received some great pieces back," Fahey continued. "To be honest, I didn’t have any expectations at the outset. I selected the writers myself and knew they’d give me their best work. What amazed me, as the pieces started coming in, was the diversity in which the writers tackled the subject. I couldn’t have been more pleased. One reviewer said it best: ’There’s something for everyone here.’ And there truly is."
There were also a number of essays that ended up not making it in the compilation. The reasons were varied: As the book’s concept changed, not all the essays gathered early on remained a proper fit. In other cases the work was not up to snuff. With the book’s form decided, Fahey set about looking to secure essays that would be written specifically for the anthology. Here, a whole new stratum of work began.
"I did a lot of reading first," Fahey said, recalling of the process of preparing to edit the book. "I wanted to invite writers that I felt had a certain sensibility and sensitivity to the issues and themes in the book. I made a list and began contacting the writers either thorough their author websites, their publishers, or by referrals from other LGBT anthologists.
"While some authors had prior commitments, many said yes almost immediately," Fahey added. "What I was learning as I sent out my queries was this: The writers either had other man stories or they didn’t. Those that did said yes. Some said they’d have to think about it and get back to me and still others said no right off the bat. Unfortunately, when I liked a writer’s work, I was pretty persistent and, in a few cases, unintentionally alienated a few folks through my tenacity. I hope this response also serves as a public apology. You know who you are."
Having tendered this general apologia, Fahey went on to talk about how he approached organizing the material.
"I’m basically visual and use outlines, graphs, and index cards to structure my stories," he said. "Three-by-five cards help me view the overall arc of a story and aid in developing scenes, defining plot points, and separating the action into three acts. I used the cards for the essay order in ’The Other Man.’
"As a side note, I also felt it was important to bookend the anthology in a meaningful way," he continued. "When I received Jeffrey Ricker’s playful ’What If?’ and Rob Byrnes humorous and sophisticated tale of a final breakup, ’A Brief History of the Divorce Party,’ I knew I had the opening and closing pieces for the book."
In between those two selections is an astonishing array of accounts that range from clinical specificity to (literally) bloody rage, to blistering comedy. (Though several of the essays take a humorous, even compassionate, look at the subject matter, "And Then There Was One," by Rodney Ross, stands out as a masterpiece -- though the story is also an outlier in being about a couple that don’t include a cheating partner; rather, they jointly take on an "other man" who has split from his longtime lover in the wake of an infidelity. Their "other man" is, in a way, a rescued survivor from love’s battlefield.)
"I made sure there were writers on board who wrote light as well as those that had a darker approach to the material," Fahey said. "A mix in tone was exactly what I was looking for. I also knew the contributors would send me their best effort, and in the end I believe they all did."
Thinking about the book as a whole, it’s clear that for many of these men, the "other man" is just as big a problem as an "other woman" would be for a straight female partner, or an "other man" would be for a straight man whose wife found someone else. EDGE put it to Fahey: Doesn’t that sort of dash the whole notion that gays aren’t interested in monogamy?
"Funny, it does," Fahey said. "I can tell you that my partner, Bob, thinks I keep a very short and tight leash on him -- he has the marks on his neck to prove it.
"To be honest, I’ve always been the jealous type, very monogamous in spirit if not always in deed, and I’ve never been crazy about too much fooling around in a relationship," Fahey said. "That said, after 37 years of being together, I’m not as naïve as I once was. But I do believe in monogamy for the long haul. I think with so many positive changes happening for the LGBT community these days, including many couples adopting children and committing themselves in marriage -- as I’ve recently done with Bob in California -- monogamy is becoming an even more important issue for gay men. Many essays in the book reflect on and highlight this issue."
Fahey’s personal tastes aside, the issue of monogamy is anything but monolithic in the collection’s context. A few of the essays in "The Other Man" unfold from the point of view of men who are unapologetically involved in open relationships, and they seem to weather these outside relationships better than the writers for whom monogamy is part of the relationship’s expectations.
"Open relationships do work for some couples," Fahey acknowledged. "With my bias, I can say I wouldn’t be happier in one. But we all have different rules -- see Allen Mack’s ’Just Wally and Me’ in ’The Other Man’ for a good example. Who am I or anyone else to judge what makes another’s relationship work or sustains it over time?
"A local reporter and close friend recently asked me what it was that made my relationship with Bob last," Fahey added, "I couldn’t tell her. I have no idea other than the adage, one day at a time. That seems to work for us."
Fahey contributed his own essay to the anthology, about a quickly coalescing relationship with a man who moved right in with him.
"Yep, Aaron, as I called him, moved right in," Fahey said. "He was great fun, but we were both so immature. I was recently out of Peace Corps where I’d remained overseas for almost five years and had completely missed Stonewall and just about everything about the gay revolution. I was dumbstruck by the sexual freedom we had in the mid-’70s, and I went at it whole hog."
The essay then details an almost surreal encounter with another man, who took Fahey on a long drive with Barry Manilow playing on the radio, much to the author’s dismay (he favored the theme from "Mahogany"). It’s an interesting, open-ended account that seems to point to a few obvious conclusions -- you can write the rest of the tale in your head -- but which also leaves room for the unspoken. It’s akin to a literary fig leaf, which entices by obscuring the last, supposedly predictable bits.
"I had a thing back then for Diana Ross and loved her ballad ’Do You Know Where You’re Going To,’ mainly because it spoke to the confusion and disorientation I felt living back in the states," Fahey said. "Aaron hated it. Now my song is more ’Mancini’ and ’Two For The Road,’ since I’ve been with my husband so long."
Along with the funny essays and the heartbreakers are a few that are so intense, they’re really rather disturbing. R. W. Clinger’s brutal "In the Brokenness of Summertime" relates how Clinger punished a straying mate by not only allowing his penitent partner to cut himself, but by actually buying him cutting implements with which to slice into his flesh. William Henderson’s "You Without Me" relates, with bleak delicacy, the spiral of a lover’s drug addiction and self-destruction. The essay is beautifully rendered and very hard to take.
Wes Hartley’s "Three’s A Charm," with its intimations of vaguely incestuous antics with borderline-underage boys is definitely unsettling. EDGE wondered whether there were any essays Fahey had to think twice about, or if he was tempted to ask the authors to tone things down a bit.
"You know, I agree," Fahey said. "I was disturbed by several of the pieces, but I think that’s because I grew up in the fifties and sixties, and still carry a lot of baggage around with me. Being a fallen away Irish Catholic doesn’t help much either.
"But with the essays, I only wanted to know one thing from the writer: Was the essay true in the sense of being autobiographical to the best of the writer’s memory," he continued. "I think once I determined this was the case, I, hopefully, got out of the writer’s way and let him tell his story. You’d need to ask the guys how well I managed that.
"My main goal at the outset was to stay away from tinkering with the writer’s voice and style. I think an editor’s main job, at least for me, is to support the writer, make comments and suggestions along the way, but to always be true to the writer’s own vision."
EDGE asked whether Fahey would undertake a new anthology any time soon, or whether he might rather return to being true to his own vision.
"If another intriguing anthology came my way, I wouldn’t say no without thinking it over, but for now, I want to concentrate on my own work," Fahey said. "One of my favorite writers that I contacted for the book said it best when I asked him to contribute something for the book. ’I’d love to participate, but time is running out for me and I want to write what I want to write.’ I think that pretty much sums it up. It’s time for me to get back to my own writing now."