Since artists are often called upon to turn prose into a visual for such things as book covers, I wondered, would writers be able to pick up the creative torch and run in the opposite direction? I had little doubts they could and it got me excited wondering what they would come up with for my own pastel paintings.
So with that it mind I though it would be fun to launch a contest and invite friends, fans of my art, amateur scribes, professionals writers, really anyone who wanted, to pick a painting from my body of work and build a short story around it.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I wanted to find out if that was true.
Art-inspired short stories contributors for this collection include: L. John Williams, Todd Schoonover, Veronica, Aleksandr Voinov & Marquesate, Linda Schnelle, John Stewart, George Seaton, Gabriel Morgan, Alan Bennett Ilagan, Todd Peissig, Harold Dixon, Justin Shephred, Clare London, and artist Michael Breyette.
Michael Breyette is a self-taught artist. Like many other fellow artists, he does not recall when he began drawing. But having started at a very young age, he soon realized he had an aptitude for it. Born in rural upstate NY, a region that can sometimes parallel the stereotype of the red-neck South, his earliest works were often of an escapist nature and typically fell within the realms of science fiction or fantasy. But as his sexuality developed he often felt the need to include female subjects in his creations. This allowed him the freedom to paint his scantily clad men without inviting too many unwanted questions from his conservative family.
Until the late '90s, Michael's artistic endeavors were mostly just a hobby that he shared with his friends. He felt there must be an audience out there for his creations, but was unsure of how to reach it. But in 1998 he discovered the impact and exposure provided by the Internet. First, he created a personal website which allowed him to show his artwork to the world, and soon he was receiving compliments on his subject matter, style and technique. In 2000, with much success, he started selling his originals via the web, and followed two years later with fine art prints.
In 2003 Michael left his secure day job of 13 years to become a full time artist. Now living in Worcester, Massachusetts, he enjoys the support not only of his close friends but also of the countless fans who have written to share their love of his work.
There are seventeen stories to sixteen paintings in this volume (one of the paintings was chosen twice). I had quite a few favorites of mine that I’ve found myself revisiting in my daydreams over the past few days. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (based on the painting of the same name), written by Aleksandr Voinov and marquesate, tells the story of a disillusioned, gay officer in a camp in the Middle East. Tired of being on guard 24/7 and wanting to go home even though he’s been re-enlisted because of Stop Loss, he floats through his duties exercising control over his desires, his movements, and even his thoughts. Then, one day, Scott meets a British sergeant named Rich. After a conversation laced with innuendo, they are both satisfied that the other has clued in to their desire and they spend an hour locked in storage where Scott can finally let go of his control — and give it to Rich. I loved how this story showed me how constrictive base camp in a war zone is. The mood from the first paragraph is dim and Scott is broody. This makes the sex some of the hottest in this volume, because it is a release of tension and depression, which ultimately, brightens the story.
“Vows” by Justin Sheperd (based on the painting named Let No Man Put Asunder) is the story of two monastic students: one on a track into the priesthood and another on a track working for the Church as an engineer. The story covers almost ten years as these two become best friends, then drift apart after their vows start taking place. Then, finally, when our narrator realizes that the love he has for God can no longer compete with the love he has for his best friend, he leaves the monastery to make his way in the world. The rest of the story follows the choices his love will make and how they are affected by the Church. It is a beautiful story about the power of love being a force for God and not restricted to man’s law.
“End of the Line” is another favorite of mine written by Clare London and based on the painting that is the cover for this book. Based on the painting named Trainspotting, the whole story is a tale of two men jostled up against each other on a crowded train during a long journey. Their attraction to each other grows exponentially when they are pressed up against each other and the lights go out while going through a long tunnel. This allows them the illusion of privacy but still the thrill of discovery as they have a hurried encounter in the midst of the other travelers. I have to mention how utterly hot this story was. I’ve never found myself really interested in public encounters, but the risk here is worth the payoff. Will he ever see this man again? Or, when the doors open at the next stop, will the crowd usher him away before they had even had a conversation?
Lastly, but definitely not least, “Texas Twilight” by Gabriel Morgan (based on the painting named Carson) follows a writer and researcher named Reuben traveling the west in the 1875. He meets a naked man (Carson) washing in a stream and they make fast friends, traveling for several days in the same direction. Then, just as they are about to become really close, Carson tells Reuben about the woman who he is being forced to marry and that he is headed home to her right now. The rest of the story follows Reuben as he tries to understand his feelings and find his way back to Carson...
The Red Truck by Justin Sheperd: In the old fashioned way that cowboys don’t cry and they do work hard, The Red Truck is the story of Brendan, wandering and homeless cowboy, and Chip, the son of ranch owner with too much obligations to be free, of living and loving. The story is good, but it has a sad undertone; even if Brendan and Chip are happy now, it’s clear that their happiness is a temporary thing, since Chip has not the courage to claim their love. Like the Red Truck Chip is riding, Brendan is a last memento of his carefree youth, and when he will loose one, it will be not long the also the second will follow, and Chip will have to enter the world of the adults and committed, even if he doesn’t like the commitment they are asking to him.
Booch by L. John Williams: Booch is a very nice coming of age and buddy friends story; Brian knows Joseph Michael literally all his life, since they have been neighboors from the day Joseph Michael was born, and it was Brian to name him Booch. Even if they have an 8 years age difference, Brian has always considered Booch his best friend, and when Brian started to developed an interest for other boys, and then men, he had forbidden fantasies on Booch, but he has never acted upon them. Not until the day Booch becomes legal and apparently bent upon the task to seduce poor Brian. I really loved the lighteness and happy tone of this short story, and I was, as Brian, fascinated by the “young” adult that was Booch, so sure of what he wanted and liked, and able to obtain it.
Dashing through the Snow by Todd Schoonover: another story similar to the previous one, about best friends and neighboors, a love that was born when probably both of them were not even able to name the feeling; but even if with an happily ever after (or better for now) ending, this story is not so light and funny as the previous one. Garth and Joe’s love is not easy and immediate, and Garth has to go through a long process of healing his heart to be able to trust it again. Good thing is that Joe, apparently the less emotional of the two, is instead the one that is not only able to love forever, but also to wait and forgive when Garth will be ready to come back to him.
Dirty Laundry by Veronica: Peter and Robert are into each other but for all the wrong, and stupid reasons, they have never spoken about their mutual feelings. Now Robert is moving out from the apartment they share, and Peter is blaming himself: maybe Robert didn’t like him, maybe he wanted his privacy, maybe, maybe, maybe… but never once he had asked to Robert his real reason. And Robert instead of being impatient or happy for the move, is lingering around, like if he wanted to give to Peter another chance to talk, to explain, to say something at least. A last go to the laundomat and the lack of underwear, will force Peter to literally face his roommate without any protection, of clothes and excuses, and the time will come to be honest with yourself.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell by Aleksandr Voinov & Marquesate: Scott, an US soldier, and Rich, a UK officer, meet when Rich is on Scott’s base for a seminar; gaydar or maybe only an huge horniness that outed Scott’s desires, Rich involves the younger man in an hot affair in a stock room. Other than the sex, that is nice and very graphic, the most interesting thing is to compare Scott’s experience in the Army, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’s policy and all, and Rich’s one: even if apparently the English man has more freedom to be himself, the truth is that, if he wants to stay in the Army, he has to stay also in the closet. The authors decided to close this short story, and fast affair, with a romantic note, the chance that these two men can meet again, and maybe sharing something more than only loneliness and desire.
Idol by L. John Williams: as he proved in the previous story in this same anthology, L. John Williams is a romantic at heart; Idol is a mix of Cinderfella and Show Business themes, with your average common guy Dylan who falls in love with movie star Rob. There is little chance for Dylan to meet Rob and even less for it to be anything else than a social call, but it did happen and not only that, Rob has a mutual interest in Dylan. Like a starstrucked fan, Dylan would do everything for Rob, and he would be satisfy with a little taste of the other man, but Rob has a surprise for him: he is not a selfcentered star with only his pleasure in mind, he is a kind and caring man, who is really interested in trying their best to develop something serious and long lasting, and Dylan, of course, is more than happy to oblige.
The Pickup by Harold Dixon: Buddy “pick up”s Jake on the Quick Stop near his home; but of them are not searching anything else if not exactly that a quick… stop. Two or three well placed hints are enough for Buddy to determine if Jake is interested: if the man recognizes the “come on”, then Buddy has just found his entertainment for the night, instead if the man is unaware, and doesn’t want to pick up the lead, then Buddy is safe and will go simply home to leftovers and a DVD. Basically this would be a good plot for a short, and naughty x-rated movie, the sex is good, and also a little “surprising” for Buddy who finds himself in a position that is usually not his. But he is all for a good ride, doesn’t matter if he is receiving or giving. And if there would be a repeat, well, again, that is good and welcomed.
Morning Glory by Michael Breyette: a nice story about a chance meeting in P-Town in July; of course this is a very likely situation, more or less the little seaside town is a big cruising place, but sometime one of these encounters can turn in something more, unexpected to both part involved. Probably the most interesting thing of all the short story, aside from being nice and romantic, is the detailed description of Provincetown and its usual place. If you had the chance to spend some days there, you will recognize the feeling and the common situation, like two men strolling along Commercial Street, happy and free, stopping to kiss or cuddle, while people around them continue on their flow like nothing happened. And nothing happened if not a sign of blossiming or lasting love.
Summer in the City by Linda Schnelle: this is the shortest of the story till now and so there is not much chance to develop it other than a quick and nice encounter of two young men without much trouble in their life, and for now, no intention of being serious. Both Max than Andy are just out of college, both of them have different targets in their immediate lives, but for the moment they are in the same city, San Francisco, and they like each other. I don’t think they will have a future, at least not for now: I can imagine the two of them meet again in 10 years, when their lives are settled.
A Real Man by John Stewart: one of the saddest story of the anthology, even if, like most of the other stories, it’s about a chance encounter between strangers. But most of the previous stories, even if about stranger, had at least a slightly hope of happily ever after; here instead Billy is a man who is mourning a lot of things: his past life, his lost chances, the future he has never had the courage to pursue. The demolition of the swimming pool where his father used to go and take him is yet another reason to rethink to his life, and I think Billy is not happy with what he is seeing. A stranger will not satisfy his yearning for a different life, but at least will help him to exorcize at least one of his memories.
Metamorphosis by George Seaton: this is probably something too precious and shiny for the anthology, that more or less is light and funny. George Seaton wrote almost a poem, the writing style complex and archaic, very difficult for me to understand since I’m not an English mother toungue. Inspired to the poems of Walt Whitman, the story Deaglan and Lars, country lovers from Iowa who decided to move to Denver, is not about sex or love, but more about the power you have in creating beauty, visual or written or anything other form, even with your same life.
Texas Twilight by Gabriel Morgan: another chance encounter only that this is the XIX century in Texas; Reuben is a writer and artist from the East Coast wandering the Far West in search of adventure and inspiration and he finds both in Carson, the naked cowboy he meets near a river. But Carson is heading home to getting married and settling down, and he has never had any interest in men. This story surprised me, since it’s not so much about sex and very much about romantic love, and it was a nice contrast since actually the illustration inspiring it is probably the most explicit and the only full frontal nakedness.
Photo/Model by Alan Bennett Ilagan: another very short story, more a glimpse than a real story, it’s in a way the brainstorming of an artist/author about the special relationship you can reach with your model; there can be trust, love, hope, all bundle together in something simple like a photo or more complex like a paint, but in a case or the other, it’s a thing of beauty.
Dirty Laundry by Todd Peissig: Dirty Laundry is probably a very popular illustration since two authors chose it, and the nice tidbit of news is that Todd Peissig is also the real owner of this illustration. The story itself is more romantic and less “dirty” than the illustration, the two men actually didn’t nothing more than kiss in the laundromat, and if something else happened later, the reader was not invited ;-) Actually the trio of old ladies who play the role of matchmaker is probably as nice as the two young and pretty men of the story.
GWM 52 by Harold Dixon: 36 years old Cal is fantasizing about an imaginary 52 years old lover while waiting for his in-living 43 years old partner Joe to come back home. The fantasy is innocent, and from a sentence here and there we can well understand that Cal loves Joe, but nevertheless I think Cal feels like he is cheating on Joe thinking to another man. He decides to do everything to please Joe, from cooking to way more, but maybe it’s not enough to push away that fantasy. I want to read something positive in this story, the first clue for a man that the story he is living is important and long lasting and so he has to take it seriously, and “work” to build and maintain it.
Vows by Justin Sheperd: I was a bit scared of reading this story, since the illustration is very romantic, about a same-sex marriage in a church, but the previous story of the same author in this anthology was a bit sad. I’m happy to say that this second story is as romantic as the illustration, about two benedectine monks who fall in love while they are serving in the same abbey and decide to try the real world and a life together as committed partners. They are lucky, or maybe the author is kind with them, and the life will smile to them.
End of the Line by Clare London: and to close the anthology with a very naughty note, Clare London writes a short story about sex in a very, very public place, a train wagon during rush hours literally packed of people. Now this is really a story about strangers meeting in the night, but the tone, and the lightness, make it believable for these men to have a chance of a future together; sure maybe they will meet again, and they will find they are completely wrong for each other, but at least they will know that sex is not a problem.
Illustrated Men is not your typical anthology. Artist Michael Breyette, noted for his pastel paintings celebrating the male form, decided to see what kind of stories his art could influence. This book is the result. Containing seventeen stories inspired by sixteen of Breyette’s works, it’s an eclectic assortment that ultimately created mixed reactions from me.
With the exception of four stories I loved for various reasons, the true highlight of this collection is Breyette’s work. I’m an unabashed fan of his creations, and any opportunity to get to appreciate them—in any form—is welcome. Though I’ll admit my favorites of his work aren’t in this volume, there are still wonderful selections, including “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and “Drenched.” The one painting that inspired two different writers was “Dirty Laundry.” But Breyette always manages to capture the sensual and romantic, transforming even the most mundane moments into tiny treasures to savor and enjoy. For his work alone, this book is worth it, especially if you’re a fan of his.
My only wish would be that all of the stories give his paintings the forum they deserve. In my experience, they don’t. I had a difficult start getting into the anthology. Though the first few stories aren’t very long, they failed to excite me. They either lacked distinct characterizations, or had editorial issues, or fell on the crutch of telling not showing. I read through the first four works and wondered if I had to satisfy myself with the art rather than the prose. It would have been a shame. This is an anthology of short stories, after all.
But then I reached the work inspired by Breyette’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Written by co-authors Aleksandr Voinov and Marquesate, it’s the story of the British Rich and the American Scott, two soldiers who discover a common need amongst their straight comrades. The UST in this is sizzling, largely because of the sharp, insightful characterizations that come almost at the very top of the tale. I was as worked up as Scott was by the time the tension exploded, ready to break because of the razor’s edge the authors created. I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on military life, but every aspect of this felt authentic, placing me in the milieu from the very first paragraph. I even bought into the potential of what could come with these two. I honestly can’t choose between this and one other as my favorite of the anthology. I’ve decided I don’t have to.
The primary reason for that is because the other story is as different from this as night is from day. The story is called “Texas Twilight,” written by Gabriel Morgan in response to the painting, “Carson.” The picture shows a naked man crouching in a shallow stream, as his horse stands off to the side. It could have gone anywhere, been as simple a telling as so many others in the collection. Instead, the author places the reader in 1875 Texas, with a young Easterner traveling through the west to gather stories for a book. He stumbles across a man bathing, and when he gets invited to join the man for supper, does so, starting a journey that draws them closer and closer. The imagery is evocative and gorgeous, sucking me in from the start as the best short stories do. Their love story, because ultimately that’s exactly what it is, is sweet and romantic with a melancholy edge that tempers it from getting too saccharine. I adored it, for different reasons than I liked Voinov and Marquesate’s, but just as much.
Two other stories bear mentioning. “Idol” is one of L. John Williams’s two entries in the anthology. His first hadn’t done much for me, in spite of an irreverent and charming tone to it, but this one was such sheer escapism, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. A gay man gets the opportunity to meet and escort the object of his fantasies, and of course, one thing leads to another. The narrator is often over the top and a tad annoyingly too full of himself, but the humor and sense of fun about the entire fantastical set-up overcomes that shortcoming. An entirely different reading experience was “A Real Man” by John Stewart. Its basis is one of Breyette’s single images (as opposed to a scenario most of the others used), and tells of Billy, a man who sees himself as separate from so much in the world. In a very short space, the author creates a claustrophobic need in Billy that has the reader feeling for him. It’s not a romance, but rather a character study, and probably the most meaningful one of the bunch.
About the rest, honestly, most of them fall within the forgettable range. A short piece by George Seaton, “Metamorphosis,” would be of interest to Whitman lovers for its lyrical escapism but really didn’t do much for me, while Clare London’s “End of the Line” distinguished itself for its hot eroticism but didn’t have much else going for it. I was a little disappointed there weren’t more stories I loved. Because Breyette’s work deserves the best. At least, this fan thinks so.
Would I recommend this book as a collection of wonderful stories? No, even as much as I loved the two I did (I’ll be seeking out more work by them, most definitely). However, the stories are only half the package. So I would recommend this for the art alone, and consider the stories a bonus.