Professor’s Book Looks at Tests of Manhood

ALISON GELLER
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Throughout history, men have
devised tests by which to
define themselves.

Just ask Steve
Taylor.

Taylor, a professor of English
and humanities, has just published
a book of short stories,
“Cut Men,” and each of the stories
is about how a man tests himself
in search of meaning for his
life.

The stories are told in different
styles: some comedic, others
serious, one from a Native
American viewpoint.

“Men sort of define themselves
by testing themselves in
ways they don’t even understand,”
said Taylor. “And then a
lot of their lives are spent repairing
what they cost themselves by
testing themselves … I think the
world of the male is more muddled
then what it used to be. And
yet there’s the same drive to test
oneself and to define oneself by
achievement, by passing those
tests. A lot of it is subconscious
and a lot of it is unnecessary.”

Taylor admits that now that he
has thought about it, when he
first began writing after high
school it was a test for himself.
“The struggle was to
see if I really was a
“‘writer’,” said Taylor.

“And that means that
you’re writing for validation,
you’re writing
to make sure you can
do this, that you’re
good enough. Now I
don’t, I now know that
I can write. Now I’m
sure that I write for the
sheer agonizing joy of
writing. Let’s put it
this way, William
Zinsser said ‘Writing is
hard and lonely and
seldom fun, but completely
worth it.'”

The agonizing has
paid off. Taylor took
first place in the nationwide
2004 Main Street
Rag Short Fiction
Contest, for his story
“Phantom Limb.”

He had seen an ad in
the Poets and Writers
magazine for the competition and
entered three of his short stories.

The editor of the Main Street
Rag called Taylor to tell him that
he was almost given both first
and second place; it didn’t happen,
but all three of the stories
ended up in the top five.

“Part of [this] competition was
that the top two entries would be
invited to submit a full-length
manuscript of stories to be considered
for publication, because
they’re a book publisher,” said
Taylor. “And that’s what I did.
They invited me and I sent it and
they took it.”

He already had all of the stories
that went into “Cut Men”
written prior to the competition.

Except for one, which he scraped
the original story he had written
and wrote a new one, are all six to
10 years old.

After many corrections and
rewrites to the stories in the collection,
which Taylor said drove
the editor crazy, “Cut Men” was
born.

Taylor has two grown sons,
Matt and Logan, with his wife of
26 years, Francine.

Matt, who
will be transferring from
Pasadena Community College to
a UC school, has read his father’s
book.

“That was the best thing about
[“Cut Men”],” said Taylor. “The
other night I went to dinner with
my wife and my older son,
Matt … I was having a beer with
my son and he suddenly turned to
me and he said ‘Hey, by the way,
I just wanted to tell you that I
thought ‘Shooting the P.M.’ was a
really fabulous story, a really fantastic
story that I related to and I
think it speaks to my generation.’
That made it all worthwhile; I
thought if I never got anything
else, if I never sold 10 more
books, if I never won another
prize, that was worth it.”

“Phantom Limb” was
not the first time
Taylor’s short stories
have won him acclaim.

“A number of years
ago, I won the L.A. Arts
Council Literature
Prize,” said Taylor.

“Three years ago, I was
the finalist in the
Katherine Anne Porter
Prize and two years ago,
I was runner up in the
New Millennium
Awards. All [of them]
are national fiction competitions.
That usually
means that you get about
six or seven hundred
entries.”

The stories “Phantom
Limb” and “Finding
Emily” from “Cut Men”
will be in the “2005
MSR Short Fiction
Anthology,” scheduled
for release Nov. 15.

“Suspension Day” is the story
that was a finalist for the
Katherine Anne Porter Prize and
that was runner-up in the New
Millennium Awards competition.
It also is in “New Millennium
Writings”, the 2005-2006 issue.
Taylor plans to keep writing.

“I’m already working on some
more stories, but I’m also
halfway through a historical
novel. It’s a novel that starts in
the late Renaissance, but it’s
about how a cult comes to be.”

Taylor started writing after he
“didn’t do to well in high
school.” He then continued his
education as a student at
GCC. From here, he went on to
UCLA, where he got his bachelor’s
degree in English and credential
in teaching.

He went on to
Columbia University, which he
left for Vermont College, where
he got his master’s in fine arts.

He earned his master’s in English
at Claremont College.

Taylor has been teaching here
for the past 24 years and also
edited the “Eclipse” literary journal
for four years when it was just
a campus magazine, before it
went national.

To obtain a copy of “Cut
Men,” visit the publisher’s Web site at www.MainStreetRag.com.