Today's post is in honor of a birthday. If you've been following my Short Stories 365 project from step one, then you'll already know how much I consider myself blessed to know Jeff Mann. I completely bollocksed my first chance to talk to him, so many years ago at Saints and Sinners, after a panel where I heard him discuss biographies and memoirs, and by the time the closing party had rolled around, I think I'd managed to wander up to him and blurt out a pale "I really like your stories!" before retreating. He intimidated the heck out of me - his writing was just so damned wonderful.
Happily, he didn't hold my cowardice against me, and over the following year I gathered my courage and had an actual conversation the next time we were in the same room. It didn't hurt that by that point I believe I had come across my first Derek Maclaine story, and as such I had scoured the 'net for all the other tales I could find and read them all. I was going to gush, damnit, and if I had to face my intimidation face-on, I could do it. I'm so glad I did, as it has led to an ongoing dialog that - quite frankly - I treasure as much as any face-to-face friendships I can name. The rare opportunities to talk - be it about craft or otherwise - are too damned far between, but all the more valued.
The thing of it is this: the man is a master of the dichotomy. I know no one else who can take two seemingly incompatible opposites and spin them into a tale that takes you by the hand and leads you somewhere you had no idea you could go. Pain and pleasure, hope and death, blood and eros, longing and satisfaction - in the hands of Mann, you can expect all of these to shine on the page with a brilliant lyricism. When I get a new anthology and I see his name on the table of contents, I cheat and jump to his story.
I know his website links to all his books, so I won't list them here, but trust me here when I say I have never read a Jeff Mann work that I haven't loved. Prose, poetry, biography all. Try one - and especially if you are someone like me who really likes to enjoy poetry, but doesn't always feel that poetry is written "for" people like me, try A Romantic Mann. Brilliant book. He's also at work on a YA tale, which I can't wait to read. And if you're at all in the mood for a truly unique (and damned sexy) vampire, promise me you'll find a copy of Desire and Devour.
Just don't blame me when that makes you run all over the place to complete your Jeff Mann collection.
"Harem," by Jeff Mann
Speaking of "collections," this wonderful story is nabbed from the anthology Show-Offs, a themed book of erotic short stories featuring voyeurism or exhibitionism in some way. The collection as a whole is a strong one, I should point out.
With "Harem," Jeff Mann is once again in fine form, bringing a man with a real sense of verisimilitude to the topic – a man feeling the desires of other slip somewhat from his grasp, but who fills his fantasies with those who he has watched from a distance through his days. This tale best captures the widest range of takes on the theme in the book, and of course it doesn't skimp on the usual BDSM lens through which so much of Jeff Mann's work is seen. Moreover, those feelings of opposition are here: time against opportunity; fantasy against reality.
Anyway. I'm gushing.
Happy Birthday, Jeff. So damned glad to have met you.