Here’s a funny, gay, “small world” story. In the 1990s, years before I actually met Raymond Luczak, we were both published in the long-running (1976-1995) gay culture magazine “Christopher Street.” In fact, “Lincoln Avenue,” the short story of mine published in the issue of “Christopher Street” which featured Luczak’s “Notes of a Deaf Gay Poet” article on the cover, would go on to be the titular piece of my short fiction collection published by none other than Luczak’s Squares and Rebels Press in 2014.
Minneapolis-based Luczak, a prolific author of 20 books, is not only the publisher at Squares and Rebels, as well as Handtype Press, he is also the editor of the literary journal “Mollyhouse.” Additionally, he has edited numerous anthologies. The city of Minneapolis figures prominently in his new novel “Widower, 48, Seeks Husband” (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2023), almost becoming a character in itself. LGBTQ+ history also plays a large role as the book spans 40 years, incorporating many significant community events. Raymond was kind enough to make time during his book tour to answer a few questions.
Gregg Shapiro: Not long before we spoke, you attended the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC. How was the experience for you?
Raymond Luczak: I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought it would. The last time I’d done the Rainbow Book Fair, some years back, it was held uptown at the John Jay College, which I didn’t like mainly because there was security and there was no straightforward way of entering the fair itself. This time around the fair was held at the LGBTQ+ Community Center. The vibe was much more welcoming and cozier due to its smaller footprint.
GS: What is your opinion of LGBTQ+ lit fests and book fairs? What are your likes and dislikes?
RL: Aside from the Rainbow Book Fair, the only other LGBTQ+ book fair I’ve done was Outwrite in Washington, DC in 2019. Even though the turnout was smaller than the ones I’ve seen at RBF, I enjoyed that one very much. It felt very low-key, and many of the vendors had spare moments to “visit” with each other. However, my biggest gripe with LGBTQ+ book fairs/festivals is that accessibility doesn’t seem to be a priority. I did email the coordinator of a certain queer book festival about my information accessibility needs as a Deaf writer should I attend.
His lackluster response made it very clear that he did not want to think about providing ASL interpreters; he didn’t even ask how we might be able to work together to make that happen. As a result, I’ve never gone. Ableism is still alive and well within the LGBTQ+ literary community.
GS: You have established yourself over the years as a poet, fiction writer, editor, and publisher. Your new book “Widower, 48, Seeks Husband” is a novel. Do you have a preference for poetry or prose?
RL: I like both genres for different reasons. Poetry is about distilling language itself. Prose is about expanding language itself. Both genres are capable of conveying intense moments of experience whether it be lyrical or narrative. I am fortunate in that I have more tools to work with whenever I write something.
GS: What excites you most, and least, about being a publisher?
RL: I enjoy working with writers to develop and hone their work toward publication. I also love discovering new voices I hadn’t heard of before; that’s how I came across Dan Callahan’s That Was Something. I’m still very proud of being the first to publish Kris Ringman’s books; they’ve been nominated twice for the Lambda Literary Award. I wish I could publish more books, but I’ve had to be extremely selective about what I publish.
GS: Geographic place is prominent in “Widower, 48, Seeks Husband,” with Minneapolis street intersections, neighborhoods, and businesses named throughout. Would it be fair to say the novel is a love letter to Minneapolis?
RL: I’m not sure if I’d use the phrase “love letter,” but when I was writing the novel, I simply walked around my own neighborhood and used actual locations for scenes in my book. I was interested in creating a sense of place as well as giving it some context. It was fun walking my dog Rocky around the neighborhood (he really loved to help out with my field research) and imagining what it must’ve been like once upon a time when it was quite a gay neighborhood.
GS: You populated “Widower, 48, Seeks Husband” with real people and events from gay history, including Anita Bryant pie-tosser Thom Higgins, early married gay couple James Michael McConnell and Richard John Baker, the Stonewall Riot, the AIDS crisis, in addition to Minnesota gay history. As a longtime Minneapolis resident, was it your intention to call attention to an area that may have been overlooked in the story of the LGBTQ+ community?
RL: Social history has always interested me. How did people back then used to live, and how did they look at the world at the time? Part of the novel’s impetus came from the fact that when we talk about the national LGBTQ+ history of political changes, the flyover country, as in the land between the coasts, often gets overlooked, as if nothing much happens there when reality has made it clear that it’s anything but. I did a lot of historical research and conducted a number of interviews with old-timers about what Minneapolis was like in the late 1970s when the novel begins.
GS: You cover a variety of subjects that will be familiar to LGBTQ+ readers, such as drag, aging, online hookups, bears, AIDS, and body image, to name a few. Did you know that you’d be dealing with these subjects when you first began writing the book or did each topic reveal itself as you wrote?
RL: I write my novels without any outline. It usually begins with me wondering about a new character. What’s their story? What do they want? And it isn’t usually too long before they make their own desires apparent. All those topics happened quite organically. I like discovering new things as I write along. It’s always terrifying, wondering whether my novel in progress will be any good.
GS: Speaking of bears, the hirsute character Howie comes to terms with his bear-ness in the book. Was it a conscious decision to write for a bear audience?
RL: No, not at all! I was thinking more about the older gay community who don’t always get the attention and respect they deserve. Ageism is unfortunately rampant within the LGBTQ+ community, particularly when it comes to finding a new partner. I was also fascinated by the idea of featuring a so-called nobody trying to find a husband. I think that’s a much more emotionally interesting challenge to explore. Not only that; Howie would not be considered a typical beauty. I am very interested in dissecting social mores surrounding physical perfection. In that sense, the book was informed by my exposure to disability literature.
GS: Before he passes away in 2008, Timm tries to arrange a new man for Howie because Timm is worried about Howie being alone after all the years they spent together. Is this based on something that actually happened, or is it an invention for the sake of the novel?
RL: Oh, that was a total fabrication on my part! Timm did mean well, but you could say that I wanted to have a cringe-worthy moment here and there.
GS: If there was a movie version of “Widower, 48, Seeks Husband,” who would you like to see playing Howie, Timm, Nick, Betsy, and Billy?
RL: When I first wrote the novel back in 2009, I thought how wonderful James Gandolfini would be as Howie. He always had that dark, almost forbidding, quality. But now? I’d go with Stephen Wallem even though he’s not overly hirsute. A younger Leslie Jordan would’ve nailed Timm; we’d need a shortish actor with a bit of swish and a lot of sass. Depending on how long it’d take to secure financing for such a film adaptation, Russell Tovey could be old enough to play Nick by the time the shooting starts. I’d love to see Suzy Eddie Izzard play Betsy; she’d be so perfect in that part. Timothée Chalamet would be great as Billy. And yes, the film rights are still available.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of nine books including the poetry chapbook Refrain in Light (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.