Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane (Becky) are the editors of the new anthologies, Foolish Hearts and Best Gay Romance 2014. They’re also the editors of the highly acclaimed (here’s proof) anthology, Fool for Love (2009) and the co-authors of Three Fortunes in One Cookie and The Deal. They’re also two of the four authors who comprise Timothy James Beck, penning, so far, five novels including Someone Like You and When You Don’t See Me. Timothy and Becky currently live in Houston, Texas.
Hi! Thanks for doing an interview with Out in Print! I’ll start by asking you for a bunch of your favorites. First, what are your favorite short stories from childhood, including school assignments or independent reading?
Timothy: When I was a little boy I loved Hans Christian Anderson stories, and then I found a series of books on folklore and mythologies of various countries and I loved those as well.
Becky: William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” Jesse Stuart’s “Another April,” James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat.”
Which short stories, as adults, do you consider your favorites or are most important to you?
Timothy: Ethan Mordden’s Buddies Cycle is a series of inter-related stories that I’ve always gone back to over and over, because I’m fond of the characters and their relationships to each other. His writing is thought provoking and I’m frankly quite jealous of that. Not only do I enjoy his books, but I tend to study them.
Becky: I didn’t read short stories for a long time and came back to them courtesy of the Men On Men collections, first edited by George Stambolian and then David Bergman. Those stories introduced me to some brilliant writers of gay-themed fiction that spanned all the topics: love, sex, death, coming out, friendship, family. Ethan Mordden’s Buddies books. And I loved Jameson Currier’s collection Dancing on the Moon.
How about settings? I’ve read works of yours set in Manhattan, in Houston, in Mississippi, and in a shopping mall I wish really existed, except for the cart people. But in addition to those, as readers or writers do you have favorite settings for fiction?
Timothy: I can’t say that I do, either as a reader or writer. When I lived in Manhattan it was easy to use it as a setting, and I used to prefer it. But now that I haven’t lived there for over ten years, using it as a setting doesn’t even cross my mind. Using an entirely fictitious setting in Someone Like You was fun. There were no limitations. That was kind of liberating. Going back to Manhattan in When You Don’t See Me after that was a little difficult for me.
Becky: I only care that the setting seems authentic and doesn’t jar me, taking me out of the story. There are a couple of books in particular–one by an extremely successful romance novelist, another by a writer of gay mysteries–that I remember nothing about except their setting mistakes. It’s dicey to set a story in a real city or region if you don’t know it. Even though I am a Southerner who spent all of my formative years in the Southeast, when our editor asked Timothy (who grew up in Maine and also lived in Florida and New York City) and me to take on a new setting when we wrote Three Fortunes in One Cookie, we spent time on the Mississippi coast and got a feel for the geography and the people. It was good to be an outsider looking in, because that’s what Phillip feels like when he goes back there. I think writers–including me–like making up locations because we can do whatever we want. But if you’re going to use a real place, getting the details right best serves your story.
Timothy: Both anthologies were romantic in theme, so there wasn’t a vast difference. However, Best Gay Romance is Richard Labonte’s creation, so we were very aware that we were continuing somebody else’s series and did our best to think, “What would Richard do?” We did a call for submissions, which is something we don’t usually do. We tried to find new writers. We tried to go beyond our comfort zone and think of every type of reader and what they might enjoy. Whereas Foolish Hearts is probably our own selfish creation full of stories that we would want to read. Both are really good collections, I believe.
Becky: With Foolish Hearts, like the earlier Fool For Love, we set very few boundaries except to say that if the stories had sex, it had to serve the story (there are plenty of erotic stories out there written by lots of good writers; we want to offer another facet in the world of men with men–there should be all kinds of fiction out there to satisfy all kinds of readers). But if the stories were not romances, that was fine. We just wanted stories that spoke to matters of the heart, whether with humor, pathos, drama, or sweetness. With Best Gay Romance, even if the story didn’t read like a typical romance, there still had to be some romantic element in it.
Andrew Holleran’s story in Foolish Hearts talks about “pre-gay” and “post-gay” literature as a reflection of how life has changed: A man can now propose to another man with the help of a flash mob at Home Depot. Macy’s catalog has a cake with two grooms to advertise their wedding registry. But it seems like the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” philosophy prevailed until not long ago. Were there ways you saw that reflected in the anthologies’ stories you didn’t expect or that readers might find surprising?
Timothy: It used to be that we’d get stories that seemed to be yearning to prove how we’re deserving of equality, how we’re just like everyone else, or to document our history and how we were mistreated. I hate to use the word agenda, but gay fiction definitely had an agenda. So I was surprised by how many stories that were submitted to us had no agenda. They were simply stories about gay people and love with little to prove. It was nice.
Becky: I appreciated the stories about marriage, and those of men in small towns or cities or high schools being honest and open about who they are. I love them because they seem possible. I think it’s important to tell those stories because I know they aren’t reality for everyone. I know teens are bullied, people still lose their jobs and families and friends because they’re gay. I know people are marginalized for more reasons than being gay–because they’re poor or have a disability or because of color or ethnicity–and these stories address all those things. Andrew’s story exposes our fear as writers–is anyone still reading? Is there anything left to say to a culture that feeds on fake reality and celebrity and sensationalism? I think there is. If we’re going to be confronted every day by a world that can be mean and shallow and small, then we need art that reminds us that we can be compassionate and empathetic and big. If I have to live in this world, then I am so grateful for voices like Andrew Holleran’s and these other writers who make me laugh and cry and feel kinship.
To turn that around, were there moments that were painful and made you think, “This is real. Things haven’t yet changed enough”?
Timothy: I don’t think so.
Becky: Georgina Li’s story broke my heart. There’s a moment in Lewis DeSimone’s story that did the same. Several of the stories remind us of what it’s like to be the outsider, the other, even the ones that take us on an adventure or make us laugh.
When thinking of romantic short fiction in specific, what elements do you find are often the most important to make a main character “work” for you as readers or editors?
Timothy: I think as long as the main character is believable then they’ll “work” for me. If they say something that makes me stop and think, Why did he say that? or Why did he do that? then I’ll have a problem with the story. Or, I get really bored with perfection. The impossibly perfect and good looking guy who has everything and does everything right is freaking boring. I like flawed characters. I like discovering why this flawed person is the object of someone’s desire and how they’re going to get together despite those flaws, and how they make it work in the end. That’s more interesting to me.
Becky: I think Tim said it best to me when we were reading submissions and I was struggling with one story’s romantic relationship. “You don’t have to love him,” he said, “you just have to understand why the main character does.” It’s true. I have to believe the characters, and the only way to do that is if the writers believe them. Whenever I read a story that leaves me cold, it’s usually because there’s a lot of plot or setting or cleverness with words, but the characters are one-dimensional or boring. I’m not saying I have to like every character–but I do have to be engaged.
Timothy: Stress. Blah. Pass.
Becky: Tim’s answer made me laugh, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. We assume you’re referring to Eric Gober’s “Strange Propositions” and Shawn Anniston’s “Thanksgiving.” In one, the narrator suffers a disappointment when his Thanksgiving plans fall through, but that leaves his life open to new possibilities. In the other, an invitation to a family Thanksgiving validates a man’s new romantic relationship. I think writers like setting stories around holidays in general because they stir up a lot of feelings and are a chance to show a lot of characters’ best and worst qualities as they interact.
I bet you’re expecting this one, so here it is: Dogs
Timothy: Dogs are love.
Becky: Yes, they are, and that’s why they’re great in stories about romance. Between the two collections, we get to read about a Disney dog, an injured dog, a service dog, a couple of dogs who bring a new couple together, and two magical dogs. But don’t forget there are also some winged creatures, a cow, a calf, and an annoying mosquito, as well.
How about: Painting
Timothy: Painting is therapy. I don’t claim to be good at it, but I use painting as a form of meditation to clear my mind when the noise inside my head gets to be too much. It helps me focus on story and character development, or if I’m stuck on what’s going to happen next. I can sit down with a canvas and paint, let go, and everything becomes clear after a few hours of manipulating paint. Plus, it’s fun.
Becky: Tim and I both like to paint, and like him, it’s a way to clear my head. Maybe because we paint, we recognized the conflict caused by how the artist in “Foundations” was so visually attuned to his work and so oblivious in his relationship. And I wonder how differently we envision the painting in “Dandelions” that reminded a young man of a love story and made him want a love of his own. I’ll bet every reader will have his or her own mental picture of what that painting looks like.
And if four words isn’t cheating, how about: Vipassana Code of Discipline
Timothy: When I wrote that story I was having an Eat, Pray, Love moment, wanting something more and not knowing what it was, I guess. I started researching meditation retreats and came across the Vipassana meditation and centers that offered retreats where people go to meditate for weeks or months. I wanted to be the sort of person who could do that, but I knew I never would. So I started thinking, “What would it be like?” and it eventually turned into my short story in Foolish Hearts.
Becky: I know it only from Timothy’s short story “Meditation.” I didn’t know if it was real or if he made it up. That has always been one of the fun elements of writing with him. I believe everything is real.
What’s next for you two in terms of writing, editing, or any other goals you’re looking forward to accomplishing?
Timothy: Recently I cofounded a rescue group with some friends called Rescued Pets Movement and it’s leaving me little to no free time for writing or anthology editing. I’ve written down a few ideas for short stories. When one of them is worth working on, I’ll find a way to make time to write, I’m sure. I don’t really plan my writing career. I just make it up as I go along.
Becky: I have no idea. That’s really what you want to hear as an interviewer, right? I have four novels in my head that never seem to make it to paper. I’d like to collaborate on another Timothy James Beck book. I’d love to edit more anthologies, because there’s nothing like finding new writers of good stories or working with established writers and getting to read their stories first.
Thanks to both of you!
Timothy and Becky: Thank you!
Keep up with Becky at beckycochrane.com
And keep up with Timothy at timothyjlambert.com
© 2014 Gavin Atlas