Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lammy Award Winning Editor: Richard Labonte

By Fred Towers

Recently the winners of the 21st Lambda Literary Awards were announced. I was so glad to see an editor I have respected and tried to sell to for years on the list. So, I sat down with him virtually (via email) to discuss his recent win.

1) How did you feel when you learned that you won a Lammy for Best Gay Erotica 2009?

Pleased of course, though I wouldn't have minded if any of the other nominees had won, particularly James Lear's novel, The Secret Tunnel - but since he was my judge for BGE2009, he was a winner anyway. That said, I've been involved in the judging process for the Lammies in one way or another since the very first year - now I'm dating myself – and I know how the sausage is made... that is to say, I know that when everything else is equal in terms of quality, which is usually the case when many nominations have been whittled down to a few finalists,
the subjective taste of the judges comes into play - perhaps the judges this year didn't like long-form erotica, as with James's novel (I thought he pulled it off with great style), or prefer books with 20 authors to books with four (the equally readable Hard Working Men, the other finalist from 2009.

2) What other titles have you edited that have won a Lammy?

Best Gay Erotica 2005, with novelist and biographer William J. Mann, won a few years ago, and First Person Queer: Who We Are (So Far), from Arsenal Pulp Press in Canada, which I co edited with Lawrence Schimel, won in 2007. Again, It's a treat to win - but when an anthology wins an award, I'd say as much credit goes to the contributors as to the editors, so I don't really consider these to be *my* Lammies... I'm just the custodian.

3) What do you look for in a Best Gay Romance or Best Gay Erotica story?

Let me start my answer here with a wee excerpt from my foreword to Best Gay Erotica 2010, which will be out from Cleis in November: "I take the “erotica” part of the title seriously: porny is good, and that’s what this annual anthology hews to. But every year I encourage writers of a literary bent to sex up their stories some, and every year I coax polished prose from writers who honed their horndog skills in the glossy gay mags."

So: what I look for in the erotica best are stories where narrative arc, complex characterization, and vivid, inventive writing predominate; in the romance best, I look for stories that are less
overtly sexual but no less smart. Not every story achieves that ideal, I know, but it's what I strive for; and because neither anthology is a "theme" title - stories about Daddies, Bears, surfers, firemen, cops, frat boys, S/M, etc. - I like to mix and match sexual interests and fetishes. Again, the quality of the writing is paramount. I also look for new writers, and if I discern a story in the rough - something unusual or distinctive in terms of plot or character or setting but which needs a lot of editing - I'm willing to work with writers to polish the story. Almost every book I edit - and I've done almost 30 now - has one or two of this kind of discovery.

4) Besides editing, where else can gay readers find your work?

I'm not really a writer. I'm a reader. Plus, I appreciate writers, and collect some great ones. So I don't write fiction at all, and not many essays, either, except for intros to my anthologies. When asked, I've penned short forewords to a few books - Vincent Diamond's collection, Rough Cut, and Jack Fritscher's collection, Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation among them. And I was nagged enough to contribute to Sex by the Book, edited by Kevin Bentley, and Out in the Castro, edited by Winston Leyland. But compared to real writers, those constitute just half a can of spilled alphabet soup.

On the other hand, I review four lesbian/gay/queer books, fiction and nonfiction, every two weeks for Book Marks, distributed by Q Syndicate to a number of gay papers; that's 100 books a year. I also review contemporary fiction (nongay), books on nature and the environment, and the occasional gay nonfiction books for Publishers Weekly, about 35 of those a year. Google "Book Marks Labonte" and you'll find the reviews; PW reviews are anonymous...

5) What advice would you give a gay writer during these tremulous times in the publishing world?

Keep writing. Don't balk at being edited. Keep submitting to anthologies. Track down online magazines. Pay attention to the e-world. Have a good sense of what a publisher publishes before
submitting your work. Did I mention, don't balk at being edited? The publishing world is going through a shakeup and a new cycle, but there will always be people who want to write and people who want to read. A good number of queer presses have closed, but relatively new ones come along regularly: MLR, Torquere, Lethe, Dreamspinners, Rebel Satori/Queer Mojo, BigFib, Samhain, PD Publishing, Alpha World, Cheyenne, Palari, Seventh Windows, Zumaya... and I'm sure I've forgotten a few. So: do your homework, and your writing will find a home.


Janice Beley said...

Hi Fred,

This is a great interview about Richard. I would love to do a little intro on our blog and then connect it back to yours.

Let me know if you're okay with that.

Janice at Arsenal Pulp Press

Our blog:

Fred Towers said...

You are more than welcome to link to my interview. :-D