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."