Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Conversation with Gavin Atlas

A Conversation with Gavin Atlas
(Because Kei said she wasn’t sure she could think of questions, Gavin has been interviewed by imaginary interviewer, Guy Smiley.)

Guy Smiley:  Hi Gavin.  Why not start with a short bio?
Gavin: Hi, imaginary Guy.  I’m a short story writer, mostly of gay erotica.  My book, The Boy Can’t Help It, is a collection of fourteen of my stories from Lethe Press.  I’m also a publicist for Excessica Publishing, and I sometimes edit for publishers and beta read although I’m slow with that because of ADD.   Also, I’m a descendant of a wizard, and I’m mostly not kidding. 

Guy Smiley: Can you tell us about recent or upcoming releases? 
Gavin: I have three stories due out within the next six months.  “Pink Cowboy Hat” will be in Neil Plakcy’s anthology, Model Men (Cleis Press).  For that I had a Ferris Bueller-like college senior charm his way into the life of a sweet-natured male model.   There’s “Fair Trade” which will be in Melt in Your Mouth (Lethe Press), an anthology from C.B. Potts,  coming out in 2012.  That anthology’s theme is “chocolate, boys, and bed”.  For “Fair Trade” it was lucky I’d been to a cocoa plantation in Tobago since that helped me form the story.  Then there is a story called “Engine of Repression” which will be in Jerry Wheeler’s Riding the Rails (Bold Strokes Books).  As far as writing, I think that’s my best story so far.  I’m hoping readers still find it hot, though. 

Guy Smiley:  How do reader reactions affect you and how do they affect your writing?  Has negative criticism (or positive criticism, for that matter) stopped you from writing certain stories?
Gavin:  Negative criticism has made me examine how dark I write and from what point of view.  In the past I found readers don’t always view some acts as consensual when I intended them to be.  Now if I write “dub con” work I’m probably going to write it from the bottom’s POV.  Overall, constructive negative criticism is useful, although I have to remember most of the time, reviews aren’t meant for authors so much as for other readers. 
Positive criticism can pull me in different directions because I like pleasing everyone.  One person told me readers find realistic stories hotter because they can imagine them happening to themselves.  Therefore he wants me to steer away from sci fi scenarios.  Another reader preferred sci fi scenarios because they allow for more sex and wilder sex than is possible in real life.  So it’s not easy to know what to do.

Guy Smiley:  You’ve said frequently you want to publish in other genres.  Why isn’t  erotica enough?
Gavin:  A friend of mine said, “it’s the fundamental nature of a writer to want to put a book in someone’s hands and say ‘I wrote that,’” and even though I have a print book, more than 75% of the time I can’t do that because it’s erotica.  I would like to talk about writing with family and friends, and it’s usually not possible.  What’s worse, from my upbringing I’ve internalized discomfort with sex and sex writing, so sometimes it might be good for me to write something else.   
What helps me, however, is “The Best Friend Technique” where you imagine what’s bothering you happened to your best friend instead.  So say my best friend is named Porthos, and he’s feeling like a bad guy for his erotica career.   I’d probably say “Porthos, you’re not bad because you’re writing erotica, even if it’s not loving, monogamous erotica.  You’re not writing about serial killers skinning people alive or making movies where every summer scores of teenagers go to Camp Crystal Lake to be mutilated on screen.  Nobody says those writers are bad people, right?  You’re not either.” 

Guy Smiley:  If you did choose other genres, which would you explore?
  Gavin:  Many of my ideas are erotic, and if I have anything important to say about the human condition, it will likely be about sexuality.  So I don’t think I’m ever going to stop writing erotica, although perhaps I’ll write more fiction with explicit content that’s not really meant to arouse.  I wouldn’t consider that erotica.   One genre I wish I could publish in is humor, but humor is nearly impossible to break into unless you’re already famous for something else, like a TV show or a newspaper column.  Also, if you look at some of the most popular humor writing such as David Sedaris, nearly none of it is fiction.  Also, humor is so subjective.  Who says I’m funny besides my mom? (::cue crickets::)   

Guy Smiley:  Why not just write novels that are considered mainstream or literary, but happen to be funny?
Gavin:  My ADD is fairly bad and getting worse (Yes, I know.  I should not be on the internet, but here I am.)  Also, bipolar lows make it difficult to complete any project, let alone a lengthy one.  I will keep trying though.  It may not happen, but writing a novel is a top goal.   Once at a conference, I was told by an agent that she’d heard the story I wrote for Wired Hard 4 was very good, and she wanted to know if I had any novels.  I wish I could have told her yes. 

Guy Smiley:  What do you think is the secret to making sex scenes hot?
Gavin:  I’m not sure I always succeed at that, but I follow the advice of author Emma Holly.  There should always be tension in the sex scene.   You don’t want to have the sex scene occur after the story is over because if the conflict is resolved, continuing to read is less compelling even if the sex is good.  That’s probably not that hard to do in a thriller or a mystery where the characters lives could be in danger, but I tend to want conflict over the sex itself.   I’m usually not a fan of using cheating as a device, but other kinds of indecent proposals can be fun as long as we know the somewhat coerced party is very much turned on.  I find reluctance and the inability to resist temptation to be hot components.  I think for something closer to romance, a longer chase with building lust and a growing friendship would result in a bigger payoff.  

Guy Smiley:  What aspects of your writing, if any, have improved the most since you started writing and publishing erotica?
Gavin:  I think my ability to describe physical and emotional detail.  I have an author friend, Madeleine Drake, who does a lot of beta reading for me, and she’s showed me how giving physical details – curling toes or the pleasant thrum of endorphins in your gut after you’ve come – makes the scene much more tangible to the reader. 

Guy Smiley:  What’s the most recent book you’ve read that you recommend?   What’s next on your reading list? 
Gavin:  The ADD means I read little, but I really enjoyed The Cranberry Hush by Ben Monopoli and last fall I read The Silver Hearted by David McConnell.  The first book is light while the second is rich with evocative language and imagery, but they both do a wonderful job with human relationships.  I continue to be amazed with The Silver Hearted.  It’s the kind of book that makes me wish I could be a graduate student and write a dissertation on it.  What’s next?  I’m looking forward to Detours by Jeffrey Ricker and Holy Rollers by Rob Byrnes as well as a re-release from D.V. Sadero called Revolt of the Naked.  That book was originally published in the 1990s and was so popular that used copies were going for $200.  I imagine now that it’s available at a non-larcenous price it will be flying off shelves. 

Guy Smiley:  Okay, it hasn’t escaped my attention that you mentioned you were descended from a wizard and failed to elaborate.  Are you planning on getting around to that? 
Gavin:  Every time I tell this story my dad says I get parts of it wrong, but here goes.  We’re descended from a nobleman-slash-religious figure (I’m not giving his name to avoid family members finding this interview) who was an advisor to a pretty powerful king in India in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  His “acts” that he’s known for are attributed to him being a “holy man” instead of a wizard, but according to legend, a river miraculously obeyed his command not to flood the king’s capital and his “magic purse” was never empty of coins.  Anyhow, if I have any wizard powers I certainly don’t know about them, but it’s fun to say, “Hey, I’m part wizard.”

Guy:  Finally, The Barbara Walters question – if you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Gavin:  Honestly, Guy, you’re a total nut, but to answer your question, I’d want to be a palm tree, I think.  People who live in non-palm tree areas usually associate palm trees with vacations, relaxation, tranquility, and happiness.  I like the idea of giving people happiness.  So that’s what I’d like to be. :)      
Gavin has a website at .


  1. Thanks for joining me today, Gavin. I would have never guessed about the wizard. That is just way too kool!
    But I already knew that you're a lot of fun to chat with. You have a great way with words. See? Your interview is much more fun than anything I would have come up with.

  2. Thanks for the interview, Gavin and Kayla. One thing you said interested me: "There should always be tension in the sex scene. You don’t want to have the sex scene occur after the story is over because if the conflict is resolved, continuing to read is less compelling even if the sex is good."

    Given that etorica publishers are wanting the sex scenes to happen earlier and earlier in a story (one in the first chapter) how would you handle this requirment and still keep that tension humming?

  3. Hi, A.B. For me, if my character is taking some kind of risk he knows he shouldn't be taking or he feels torn between "behaving" or giving into the desire to fool around, that's internal conflict already.

    I imagine in most longer works, the author probably wants tension in the first chapter (I'm going on what I've been taught, not on experience)regardless of whether or not there's sex but a lot probably depends on the author's style and his/her goals. Sometimes it can be effective to spend the first chapter getting to know the character and the setting, but I'm not sure I could pull that off. I'd need to have my character in action in context (not meaning sex necessarily) quickly. Otherwise, without that tension I'd probably lose a reader's interest. Was that helpful or was that gibberish? If you give me an example of a first chapter where putting in sex doesn't feel right, is it that there's no tension in the first chapter or that these don't feel like characters that should be rushing into bed before the reader sees them get to know each other better or something else?

  4. One of the publishing houses has apparently made it a "requirement" of their authors.

    I suppose there are ways around it, but I totally agree with you about the need to get emotionally involved first. It's a shame. There are stories that can start with sex, but to me the slow build can be just as rewarding.

    We live in a short attention space world and if you haven't "hooked" your reader in the first few pages, that's it.

  5. Great interview Gavin and Guy - and thanks for the "Rails" plug! "Engine of Repression" is one of the most interesting pieces of erotica I've ever read, and I'm proud to have it in my book.

    J. Wheeler