Authors Becky Cochrane and Timothy Lambert release two new collections of gay literature just in time for Valentine’s Day.
by David Goldberg
Photos by Theresa DiMenno
See also: Just a Taste of Romance…
An excerpt from a short story by Timothy Lambert.
Two writers. Two books. One big coup on gay romance. Becky Cochrane (known to her readers as R.D.) and Timothy Lambert hit Valentine’s Day hard with two collections of gay literature, Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction and Best Gay Romance 2014, both out this month. OutSmart spoke with Cochrane and Lambert about their stacked anthologies, which feature romantic stories from the likes of Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, and Lewis DeSimone.
David Goldberg: When accepting submissions, do you set specific guidelines about what won’t fly? Is something too sentimental, too salacious, too erotic, too short, or too long?
Lambert: We tend to want a certain kind of story. We want well-written stories and we want romantic stories, which aren’t erotic stories. We believe that there’s a line that you can cross between them. Generally, we just want well-developed characters and a story that intrigues us from beginning to end.
Cochrane: We usually tell writers that if there’s sex in the story, that’s not a problem as long as sex is a part of the story.
Lambert: Gotta be there for a reason.
Cochrane: We don’t want a story that’s just about sex. That’s not what we want to do. There’s not anything wrong with that, but we are trying to do a collection for writers who like to be more romantic, or more about relationships, and less about sex. We like a range.
Are those demographic ranges present in your readership? Are there young adult readers and older readers? Who is your demographic?
Lambert: I would say that people who are in their 20s are reading it—young adults, coming-of-age readers, and a lot of women.
Cochrane: We have a lot of people who have been reading us since we wrote under the pseudonym Timothy James Beck. A lot of the guys who are reading have been reading us since 2001. They’ve stuck with us as editors, because they like the writers that we find. They sort of know that they are going to get some romance and some sweetness, and some things that are a little sexy, so they trust us.
Obviously, the most reported item in the romance novel world is Fifty Shades of Grey. One of the most fascinating things about it was the discourse about what the book meant culturally for its female readers. Obviously, you two are publishing for a different demographic. What do you think are the major themes that draw in your readers?
Cochrane: We have a lot of straight women readers, and we’ve been talking about this for years. Initially, it was new that straight women were reading gay fiction. Romance is such a maligned genre, and women are made to feel guilty sometimes for reading it. It’s not serious literature and it’s not feminist.
Lambert: “Romance novel” is hardly ever used without the word “trashy” in front of it.
It’s the same debate about Sex and the City versus The Sopranos all over again.
Cochrane: Right. But when you put men with men, it totally [removes] any guilt you have about reading about women whose only thing is to fall in love and get married, because I don’t have to worry about who is the dominant one and who is washing the dishes. I just get to read it. That’s a draw for women readers.
Lambert: Ultimately, our anthologies are all tied together by romance, and that’s hopefully something that anyone of either sex could understand or relate to.
I found it interesting that you were saying that homosexual romance literature is a safe zone from the kind of male/female binaries that are predicated by the media. When you are curating a gay collection, are there any topics or themes that strike you as disturbing, dated, or just politically incorrect?
Cochrane: No. But we’ve turned down stories because they are badly written.
Lambert: Or when they are about death . . .
Cochrane: I don’t know why we get death stories. We don’t get as many death stories as we used to. For some reason, any time we sent out calls for romantic fiction, people would send in stories about people dying, and it’s like, Why would that be romantic?
Cochrane: But we really just want stories about falling in love or being in love. It’s very organic. We’re not looking for anything, but we always seem to get a good variety of older people looking back at life and romance, or young guys falling in love or breaking up, or guys who like each other at the gym, with a sad story or two and a humorous story or two. But now, there’s more about men thinking about marriage. There seems to be more wedding-themed stories.
Lambert: There’s stories where you have to sit back and think, What does this have to say about romance?
How did you two meet?
Timothy: Back in the days of AOL chat rooms, Becky and I met in the chat rooms and started writing that way, via e-mail.
Cochrane: One of the things that drew us together, along with our two other writing partners, was that we all read the same books. We would talk about books and what we liked about them, and then we [decided that] just for fun, we should write together. It turned into a novel, and now it’s five novels later from that collaboration. Timothy and I wrote two novels together. Tim eventually moved to Houston and it was easier to work together.
How did you get into this kind of fiction?
Cochrane: When I found my first work of gay fiction, it was like nothing I’d ever read. I think it was really nice to read men writing about men who weren’t in The da Vinci Code. They were men who felt and who talked about feelings and talked about relationships. I wanted to try my hand at that. Our books have gay characters and straight characters. I found that I didn’t want to write the straight people. They bore me.
Where did you come up with your alias?
Cochrane: I just use my initials. We have so many pseudonyms. I am not interested in people making assumptions about the writer based on gender stuff. [Using initials forces readers to judge] just the story, and I’ve stuck with that. I do think people make assumptions that if women are writing gay fiction it might not be that good and it’s not going to accurately reflect gay life.
How did you get into this, Timothy?
Lambert: I didn’t go to college. I was on my own at 18 and moved to New York City shortly after, because I thought I wanted to be an actor. I didn’t like auditioning. I sang and played instruments as a teenager, so instead of acting, I tried music. I played in a band and co-wrote lyrics to a few of our songs. It was fun, and a great experience, but not my passion.
Then I met Becky online and we talked about books and writing a lot, and finally started writing together. There wasn’t much thought behind it, other than it seemed like something fun to do. And it was. It was a lot of work, but it was fun developing characters and putting them into situations, and discovering the resolution to their story.
After our first book was published the question became, Can we do this again? We did, and our publisher accepted it. Then the question became, Can I write a short story on my own? I did, and an entirely different publisher and editor accepted it. So being a writer was this long evolution of me trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
Has writing been connected to your gay identity?
Lambert: I don’t think so. I don’t associate the two. But when I was 17 or 18, I read my first gay novel. It was Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance and it was like, Oh wow, there’s this whole gay world out there, and I hope it’s not as depressing as this book is. It’s wonderful that I’m editing and working with him now.
Cochrane: It’s amazing to work with authors whose work you have read and that you were dazzled by.
Lambert: There’s nothing pretentious about them at all.
Cochrane: They’re absolutely a joy to work with. Dancer from the Dance is so depressing, but Andrew Holleran is so funny and sweet. We think that his story in Foolish Hearts is everything. He’s an amazing person. It’s wonderful to get to work with these guys and to find new writers, and to get the first story that somebody’s ever published and [discover that] it’s really good. I can’t stress enough that writers should be out in the world finding other writers, meeting editors, meeting other people that are in the publishing business, because you never know what kind of connection is going to happen. It’s like romance that way.
Have your books inspired any real-life romances? Any stories from your readers?
Lambert: I’m not sure if my books have inspired real-life romance for other people; they haven’t inspired real-life romance for me. But my romantic past has inspired my writing. I’ve used locations and moments from my life and written them into various things I’ve written. A guy I dated, once upon a time, took me to a restaurant with an incredible rooftop dining area, and at the time I remember thinking, “The only thing that could make this better would be if we were all alone.” So I decided to use that thought for a short story I was writing in which a guy was trying to make a romantic rooftop dining scenario for his boyfriend. While I was working, a pigeon landed on my window sill and I thought, “Pigeons!” So a flock of pigeons ruined his dinner and the whole thing went awry, which is probably more like my romantic life.
What’s your favorite contemporary love story?
Lambert: In print, or life in general? Off the top of my head, I really can’t think of a contemporary-lit love story that I love, which is kind of sad. But on the Internet these days, I love all the love stories I see as a result of gay marriage being in the news. All the videos of creative and romantic ways people are proposing are wonderful, as well as news stories about people who have been partners for decades and are now able to get married. It’s inspiring.
Do you find Houston to be romantic?
Lambert: I think Houston is a romantic city. Let’s not forget that the most romantic movie of my generation, Reality Bites, was filmed here! Just kidding. We have amazing parks, bayous, museums, restaurants, music venues, outdoor theaters, dog parks, skate parks, nifty shops, [and] we’re close to the Gulf—there are so many possibilities for a romantic scene here. Houston is a big city with so many hidden gems. You just have to go out and find them.
Could you tell us about your organization, the Rescued Pets Movement?
Lambert: I cofounded the Rescued Pets Movement with four other friends. Houston has 1.3 million homeless pets roaming the streets, so our city shelter is overcrowded and always full. We’re in a partnership with the city to move 50 dogs a week out of the shelter to various rescue groups in Colorado where they’ll get adopted into homes. Since we formed in September, we’ve moved 800 dogs and cats out of the city.
Cochrane: They need short-term fosters. They need people who can buy collars for the dogs. They need money, of course. Sometimes they need food.
Lambert: We really need corporate funding, but unfortunately we are waiting for paperwork to be approved, because the government shutdown ruined everything. In the meantime, we are moving a lot of animals. It’s really good to know you are doing something good to work off a problem.
Cochrane: When he says 800 pets, he means almost 900 now, and those are animals that would have been euthanized. Those are animals that would have died, and instead they are finding homes, and that’s pretty amazing.
How do you feel about the release of your two new collections?
Cochrane: I wish that more people were reading. I know that people are worrying about e-books changing everything, but it’s nice that we have a lot of readers that ask when a book is coming out. With immediate downloads, it was fun to get immediate feedback.
Lambert: I likened it to when cassettes hit the market. Everyone worried that [people would] tape everything and it would take away from album sales, but that never really happened. And, I’ve just dated myself . . .
The two authors sign copies of their works at Murder by the Book on February 18. To learn more, visit murderbooks.com and cleispress.com.
David Goldberg also writes about Jessica Kirson in this issue of OutSmart magazine.
Just a Taste of Romance…
An excerpt from a short story by Timothy Lambert, included in his anthology, ‘Foolish Hearts.’
Without moving his head, he allowed his eyes to dart around the room. The tiny winces and small squirms of the people around him as they tried to get comfortable on their cushions confirmed their agony. It was surprisingly painful to sit upright on the floor all day. Luckily, countless childhood hours spent as a practicing Catholic, as well as many years as a violin student and his recent interest in yoga, prepared him well for seventeen hours a day of meditation. He had felt spasms of pain in the muscles around his spine after his first full day, but now he managed to live with the pain. It had become an acceptable annoyance, like traffic noise or a visiting relative. Maybe my enlightened self is a masochist. This thought almost made him laugh and he guiltily looked around to make sure nobody had noticed.
A man six cushions to the left and one row ahead quickly looked forward and resumed a passive state. Had he been looking? Did he see him giggle? Was he gay? He was attractive. Wasn’t he? He tried to get a good look at the man, but he was staring blankly forward again. It was hard to tell. All he could see was a formidable jaw, a well-manicured sideburn, and James Dean hair. He looked like a corn-fed Midwestern guy. His earlobe was detached. Wasn’t that a sign of intelligence? Hadn’t he read that in a magazine once? Did he renew his subscription to Men’s Health last month?
Shut up! He had mastered sitting still all day, but stifling his inner voice remained a problem.
A tinny whine whizzed past his left ear. He stifled the urge to swat at the mosquito as it lazily landed on his leg. Having vowed to follow the Vipassana Code of Discipline, he wasn’t allowed to kill any living beings. He watched as the mosquito bit him; its body ballooned, filling with his blood. Then it stopped drinking, staggered a bit and flew away.
A place like this must be paradise for a mosquito, he decided. You can eat all you want and nobody tries to kill you. I wonder if all the mosquitoes tell each other about places like this. Maybe Vipassana meditation centers are vacation destinations for the mosquito set. But we can’t eat meat, so our blood is probably inferior.
A bump formed on his leg and he immediately wanted to scratch. Must not scratch, must not scratch, must not scratch, became his mantra. He distracted himself by glancing at Corn-Fed Guy.