Today, I have award winning writer Daniel M. Jaffe in the interview chair. We’re discussing his latest release Foreign Affairs, a collection of LGBT romantic short stories.
1. Hi, Daniel. First off, readers have an idea of the writer you, but what about the everyday you? Can you share about your personal life?
Daniel: Hello! The everyday me? I live a fairly quiet life. I typically wake up a little between 6:00 and 7:00 AM, have coffee and breakfast while watching TV news with my husband, Leo. We complain to one another about the dire state of U.S. politics, and then get on with our day. I usually tend to the garden out back of our house in Santa Barbara, CA. We’ve got vibrant red bougainvillea, purple Mexican sage, blue agapanthus, pink geraniums, yellow snap dragons, and morning glory vines along a stucco wall that bloom blue flowers. If we’re lucky, we see wild rabbits munching on something out there, and we take great delight in “our” bunnies, especially the babies.
Then we each go off and work. Leo’s a literature professor and playwright, so in pre-Covid times, he’d head out to the university. But now, he reads and writes and attends Zoom meetings/rehearsals/teaching sessions at home while I shut myself up in my home office to write and read and attend to the business side of publication. We get together midday for lunch and later for coffee. Somewhere during the day, we’ll take a walk, either separately or together. Otherwise, it’s mostly reading and writing.
We watch more news during dinner, typically PBS News Hour, and then we’ll spend a couple hours watching a movie or TV series on HBO or Netflix. Before bed, we’ll read or poke around online. Weekends are when I catch up on house-cleaning and doing more extensive gardening work (cutting down dead branches/trees, hand-watering every plant, climbing a ladder to clean leaves from gutters, re-design a section of garden, etc.). On weekends, we’ll sometimes Zoom with friends and family. During pre-Covid times—can I remember that far back?—we’d go out to restaurants, movies, concerts, and plays, visit friends or have them over for dinner; we’d go for occasional weekend getaways to Los Angeles (about a two-hour drive) to visit friends and/or go to the theater and museums. LA’s the closest place for us to enjoy a Puerto Rican restaurant (Leo’s from Puerto Rico) and our favorite Jewish deli. I hope hope hope we’ll soon be able to return to that sort of fun!
2. I’ve been perusing your Goodreads page. One reviewer mentions you are not afraid to write about “violence and blasphemy.” Why write about these two subjects?
Daniel: A very interesting observation that probably relates to my first published novel, THE LIMITS OF PLEASURE, in which the main character is a rough-and-tumble sort, most of whose violence is directed at self. When I first started writing fiction seriously, I totally shied away from writing violence. In general, I hate watching violence in movies, often turn my head or shut my eyes during violent scenes. I love suspenseful horror films, but not gory ones. I just can’t stand watching people suffer, even in make-believe.
The more I wrote and studied fiction-writing, the more I realized that sometimes violence is a necessary expression of a character’s psyche. Sometimes, in order to be true to a character, I’ve got to let that character behave in ways that I personally find offensive. The character isn’t me, but him/herself. So, when the situation and character call for violence in order for the text to be true to the character, I must write violence.
As for blasphemy, well, that’s a bit more complicated. You see, I grew up in an observant Jewish household, and as a boy, I attended an Orthodox religious school. So, when I started feeling attraction to other boys, I suffered an internal conflict experienced by many religious lgbtq youth of various faiths. To be perfectly frank, I spent many years hating myself, torturing myself psychologically because I believed that I couldn’t be gay and a good Jewish boy at the same time. I thought myself a blasphemous monster.
THE LIMITS OF PLEASURE is a novel about Dave, a gay-Jewish man who suffers from internalized homophobia and internalized anti-Semitism. Having absorbed all the negatives hurled at Jewish and gay people, Dave now hates himself (hence, those moments of violence directed at self). Dave’s journey through the novel is to wrestle with these feelings and come to terms with them. In anger, he rages against God and religion, he sexualizes religious ritual. Then, while vacationing in Amsterdam, he meets a Dutchman of Indonesian heritage who suffers from internalized racism, a parallel sort of self-hatred. The two men develop a bond and help each other gradually come to accept themselves. Eventually, Dave starts bringing the spirituality of religion into his sexual experiences; in other words, he moves from desecrating religious ritual to embracing religious spirituality.
As with violence, my writing sometimes expresses blasphemy in ways that are true to a given character. But at other times, the text shows great respect for religious beliefs—again, when appropriate for a given character.
3. I see you are also drawn to the short story. Why short stories instead of novel length?
Daniel: Actually, I write and love both literary forms. I’ve written two published novels, THE LIMITS OF PLEASURE and YELED TOV. I’ve also written a hybrid, THE GENEALOGY OF UNDERSTANDING, a novel told through a series of 53 short stories; whereas each story focuses on a particular character or two, characters from one story tend to pop up in other stories to provide an overall portrait of a community and of the fictional narrator who’s telling these stories. Then there’s my short story collection, JEWISH GENTLE AND OTHER STORIES OF GAY-JEWISH LIVING. And now, FOREIGN AFFAIRS: MALE TALES OF LUST & LOVE.
The forms are different in that I spend an awful lot more time with characters in a novel than in a short story, and I get to explore more of a character’s life in a novel than in a short story. What’s fun about short stories, though, is that they usually concentrate on a very short period of time and a very specific issue. Sometimes I have a topic in mind that can be handled in a few thousand words, so I’ll write a short story. But at other times, I’ve an idea with so many dimensions and ramifications that nothing less than a novel will suffice.
4/5. Your latest release is Foreign Affairs: Male Tales of Lust & Love. Can you tell me what inspired you to create this collection? Can you share your writing process through Foreign Affairs?
Daniel: Ever since my teens, I’ve loved to travel—always to see tourist attractions and experience various cultures, often to visit friends or family in other countries, and sometimes to study abroad. It’s of course the local people who provide the greatest source of fascination—how do they think? what do they value? how are they similar to, or different from, us? how do they experience romance…and more?
In previous books, I included characters living in Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Kiev, and Jerusalem. Those writings whet my appetite to write an entire collection of stories set in countries outside the United States. As I wrote, I noticed a pattern emerge among several of the stories—each tale touched on the theme of an American man seeking, experiencing, or trying to understand flirtation, romance, or sex in a foreign locale. With this central theme in mind, I set out to write the remainder of the stories here.
6. What is your favourite theme from the many short stories you’ve written so far, and why?
Daniel: Perhaps it’s a character’s struggle to accept self as “other” or “minority,” whatever that self may be. One’s LGBTQ-ness, or immigrant status, or ethnic/racial heritage, or religious practices/beliefs.
I grew up hearing how, during the Great Depression, my married grandmother had to use her maiden name in order to pass as non-Jewish and find any employment at all. She ended up working seven years for an openly anti-Semitic boss who had no idea that Grandma was Jewish. My mother sometimes pointed out that “at least we Jews can sometimes pass and escape discrimination, but Black Americans can’t.” A lesson in compassion and empathy, in awareness that when one minority suffers, we all do.
As I mentioned, my husband, Leo, is from Puerto Rico, and I see the discrimination he suffers here in the U.S. When we first moved into our house in Santa Barbara in 2001, we were the first gay-Jewish-Puerto Rican household in the neighborhood. Although some neighbors were genuinely welcoming, others were anything but. For years, certain hetero men refused to acknowledge us as we walked down the block. Soon after we moved in, a woman neighbor approached as we were gardening in the front yard, said, “Well, if you’re taking care of the property, then I guess it’s okay that you’re here.” She went on to warn us against possibly molesting her son. Why did she think it acceptable to say such things?
These and other experiences have made me sensitive to being “other.”
7. Let’s talk about the main characters for each story in Foreign Affairs. Who is your favourite and why?
Daniel: Gosh, this is a tough question to answer. When I’m writing a given novel or short story, I’m completely invested in that work, in those characters, so I pretty much love most of them. Thinking about FOREIGN AFFAIRS, one of my favorite characters is Quinn in the story, “The Importance of Being Jurassic.” Quinn’s an older Irishman who works for the Catholic Church and has remained closeted his entire life, even going so far as to hide his long-term relationship with another man. When his partner dies, in order to get some time off to grieve, Quinn tells the Church fathers that his “brother” died. So sad. I think of all the lgbtq closeted people over the centuries who’ve had to hide their relationships and then their grief when losing partners. My heart goes out to all of them and, in the case of my fiction, to Quinn. I wish I could wrap my arms around him and offer comfort.
8. Again, let’s stay focussed on the main characters for each story. Who is your least favourite and why?
Daniel: Definitely the Devil in “Walpurgisnacht.” He’s monstrous, a serial killer stalking patrons of a Munich bath house. I could never tolerate even a moment with him. I’d want to send him to Hell…but that would be counterproductive because, being the Devil, he’d love that!
9. Without giving away any spoilers, which story from Foreign Affairs was your favourite to write and why?
Daniel: Again, it’s very difficult to pick a favourite of any kind because each story reflects a different mindset and feeling. Let me answer by saying which story I’m most proud of: “Tilting Ilana.” In this story, set in Mexico City, I tried to find a way to imbue the text with elements of Aztec history, philosophy, and worldview to the extent that I understand all that. What I discovered as I wrote was that the story simply couldn’t be realistic, but had to be somewhat Kafkaesque. Once I broke through that barrier, I freed myself to explore possibilities, a very different worldview than I’m accustomed to exploring. This story presented a stylistic and intellectual challenge far beyond any of the others.
10. If a reader asked you why they should read Foreign Affairs, what would you tell them?
Daniel: That the stories provide a varied set of reading experiences about a central aspect of human existence—love and sex—in ways that are alternately fun, touching, sexy, and thought-provoking. Also, during a time when foreign travel is difficult if not impossible, FOREIGN AFFAIRS can offer a sense of travel and remind of what’s possible when one eventually is able to travel with greater ease.
11. You can only recommend one of your short stories to a reader. From all that you’ve written so far, which one would you choose, and why?
Daniel: Oh, dear, another difficult choice to make. I guess I’d select “The Importance of Being Jurassic” because it combines fun, political relevance and lgbtq history, sex, and compassion.
12. What can we expect from you in the future?
Daniel: I’ve recently completed a novel about an American who stalks gay men throughout Europe. I’ve described the novel to my wonderful editor at Rattling Good Yarns Press, who’s excited by the premise and very anxious to read the manuscript. Let’s keep fingers crossed that he likes it!
13. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Daniel: I most enjoy being deep into writing a story or novel when, all of a sudden, I gain an insight into a character that I hadn’t even considered before. For example, I knew that the story, “Where the Old is New,” was about a man who travels to Coimbra, Portugal to visit a former college roommate. I also knew, as I was writing, that he’d be shocked upon learning that his old roommate had transitioned from male to female. What I didn’t realize until deep into the story was that the gay protagonist has been in love with this roommate he regarded as male, and has traveled all the way to Portugal in the hopes of finally declaring that love. What happens now that the object of affection is no longer “he,” but “she”? How does he re-think the current relationship as well as their past one?
14. What do you enjoy least about writing?
Daniel: I least enjoy reading what I wrote the day before, and realizing that it’s absolutely awful. This happened at times with the story, “El Bochorno,” about a hetero man who visits Seville, Spain after losing his wife. He’s in grief, meets a prostitute who’s intelligent, cultured, beautiful, and caring. Part of him is tempted, but part of him feels guilty for being so tempted. Some days, at the end of a writing session, I felt that I’d captured his deep sorrow beautifully. But the next day I’d read what I’d written only to realize that it was sentimental slop. Time to start over. Very frustrating, until I found a way to fix the problem and then write material that felt right. It only took about a dozen attempts!
15. I enjoy doing random questions, so humour me:
- What’s your favourite movie?
- What book is currently in your e-reader?
I read only paper books—after spending most of the day at the computer, it’s comforting to kick back with one of those old-fashioned books! I’ve just begun a non-fiction book, Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts by James M. Saslow. Fascinating!
- Who’s your favourite musical group?
Please don’t laugh at me, but it’s an old one from my teens, The Mamas and the Papas. (The Beatles are a close second.)
- What song puts a smile on your face?
“I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. (Okay, I think I’m done revealing my age in these answers.)
16. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Daniel: Only that I really loved your questions, and appreciate all the time and thought you put into composing them. Many thanks!
Book Title: Foreign Affairs: Male Tales of Lust & Love
Author: Daniel M. Jaffe
Publisher: Rattling Good Yarns Press
Genre/s: Short stories, literary fiction, LGBT romance
Trope/s: Travel romance, flirtation, sexual encounters, history in contemporary life
Themes: Travel, sexual/gender identity, love, desire, loss,
friendship, historical memory, spirituality
Heat Rating: 3 flames
Length: 60 000 words/168 pages
Blurb: In this newest story collection from award-winning writer, Daniel M. Jaffe, red-blooded American men make mischief while vacationing abroad. They encounter a serial killer in a Munich bathhouse, a gay Holocaust ghost in Prague, a shape-shifting seductress in Mexico City, a desperate prostitute in Seville, a closeted Catholic school administrator in Dublin, and many others. These stories will transport, titillate, intrigue, and tug at your heartstrings.
Note: It is a standalone book.
Paperback – US addresses only (includes FREE shipping)
Bill understood Quinn to be whispering “dirty,” but in the raspy, heavy brogue, the word came out as “dehrty”: “Yer a dehrr-ty, dehrr-ty man.” Quinn flicked out his tongue and sucked it in, frog-like. With a thurping sound: “You’re a dehrr-ty, dehrr-ty man,” thurp thurp thurp.
A journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Bill had arrived in Dublin this morning to write a human interest story on the upcoming gay marriage referendum. Polls anticipated Ireland becoming the first country to authorize gay marriage by public vote. Traditional, Catholic Ireland.
Not having slept on the plane—and his body reminding that he was older than he used to be—he spent the day napping in his Jury’s Inn Christchurch hotel room, studying local newspapers and webzines, making notes and listing questions for his article. He supped in his room on take-away from the “great wee chipshop” around the corner, Leo Burdock Fish & Chips—greasy, salty, thick-crusted smoked cod accompanied by more fries than he could possibly consume. Later on, he trimmed his gray beard, donned jeans and a button-down blue shirt that showed off his squarish pecs without appearing too obvious—his decades-old uniform whenever scoping out a new city’s gay life. Bill always enjoyed these forays most of all, surveying the terrain before his newspaper’s photographer arrived and hovered, thereby preventing Bill from conducting his most enjoyable background research.
Passionate encounters with locals were the secret to Bill’s success as human interest story writer—even in his late 50’s, he could still get laid with fair enough regularity, especially as exotic foreigner. Few journalists’ articles contained the under-the-skin insights Bill’s did, revelations feeling like disclosure to a trusted confidant. Bill’s interviews read like intimate pillow talk because that’s precisely what they were.
Bill put little stock in ethical baloney about maintaining journalistic distance: if you want to get an inside story, you need to get inside. Repressed countries were Bill’s specialty because they burst with scared horny locals who had few other bed partner options. Want a journalist to cover police harassment of Russian gay activists? brutality against gays in Iraq? death-threats against gays in Uganda? Send Bill with a pack of condoms to ferret out the under-cover(s) scoop. Only a matter of time before he’d win a Pulitzer. He sure was having fun trying.
Bill headed out in the cool evening for George, the nightclub touted on all Irish gay websites as Dublin’s primary gay hangout. He’d undoubtedly find some trick to “interview.”
Strolling down Dame Street—odd, he thought, how historically grand the word “Dame” sounded in Ireland, whereas in American ears it came across as outdated Al Capone cheap. He walked the narrow sidewalk past restaurants, pubs, cafés, repeatedly bumping shoulders with those walking toward him until he realized that the Irish walked the way they drove—on the left, unlike on-the-right Americans: head-on collisions were inevitable.
A scan around the cobblestone courtyard of Dublin Castle, a mix of red brick Georgian palace, gray medieval fortress, and white-gray Gothic revival chapel. A quick look-see at City Hall with its white-gray granite columns and triangular pediment. On the corner of South Great George’s Street, a main shopping avenue, he faced an enormous mural covering the entire side of a gray building: two young men, one in white sweater, the other in black, snuggling in romantic embrace. Larger-than-life gay love, four stories high. And tacked to a lamppost on the corner beneath it—a bold, green-lettered “Yes For Marriage Equality” poster sporting a rainbow flag. All this smack in the center of Catholic Dublin. A more in-your-face public display than he could recall having seen in Chicago’s Boystown.
That must be the place, with the rainbow flag over the entrance and a thick bouncer staring into Bill’s eye. He nodded at the guy and stepped inside. A low-lit cavernous space with stairs to the right—the upper level looked closed…well, it was a Sunday. The music was fast-paced and louder than he liked. Bill walked to the far end of the long bar with men and women in their 20’s chatting, noted the stage behind the bar, empty now of the drag acts he’d read about. He grabbed a black leather barstool, asked the muscular barman for a pint of Guinness, one of those touristy must-do’s. He savored the thick molasses foam, the mix of bitter and heavy sweet, then turned to the lean young man beside him, a handsome fellow with close-cropped blond hair, and introduced himself, knowing that his accent would lead at least to a where-are-you-from conversation. Bill slapped on his personae of naïve visitor: “All I basically know about Ireland is leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.”
“And all I know about America is that you all carry guns and shoot black teenagers when you’re strung out on crack.”
Daniel M. Jaffe is an award-winning writer whose short stories and personal essays have appeared in over half a dozen countries and several languages. He has been profiled in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature, and his work has been taught in college and university courses. Daniel is author of the novels Yeled Tov, The Genealogy of Understanding, The Limits of Pleasure, and the short story collection, Jewish Gentle and Other Stories of Gay-Jewish Living. He lives in California with his husband, the writer and professor, Leo Cabranes-Grant.
Read more at www.DanielJaffe.com.