Gabbing with Greg

An ENE interview with author Greg Wharton.

Greg Wharton
Greg Wharton is the founder and publisher of Suspect Thoughts Press, editor of the webzine Suspect Thoughts: a journal of subversive writing, and the erotica editor for Velvet Mafia. His short fiction, review, and creative nonfiction has been widely published online and in print including the 2001 anthologies Best S/M Erotica, Buttmen : Erotic Stories & True Confessions by Gay Men Who Love Booty , and Friction: Best Gay Erotica Volume 5. He is hard at work on a forthcoming collection of his gay erotic fiction for Alyson Books.
ENE: Why do you write?
GW: I write because I need to. I'm compelled by the Furies to create with words... or else! It's obsession.
ENE: When did you start writing? What did you write?
GW: I've always written, but have not always been at ease with it. I have experienced quite a bit of frustration in the past. Not feeling as if I had true talent and being jealous of the talent of other writers always held me back. About three years ago, I decided to confront my fears and just write. I forced myself to do it every day--to exercise and write anything--regardless of what came out or what the results were.
ENE: Who are your favorite authors of fiction?
GW: As far as authors who have directly influenced my own writing, I have many. And it is quite an eclectic bunch! Russell Banks, Richard Brautigan, Dennis Cooper, Barry Gifford, Hanif Kureishi, Armistead Maupin, and Jim Thompson, to name just a few, have all inspired me to write, and inspire me to continue to become a better author.

Instead of giving a list of my favorite authors and either embarrass myself or anger those I've forgotten, I'll just give a shout out to two good friends--both fantastic and amazing authors--who have released collections of their short fiction this year: M. Christian and Ian Philips.
ENE: What stimulates your muse?
GW: It can be many things: sometimes it will be another's writing or a wonderfully written screenplay or a kick-ass lyric. Most of the time, it's a single line of dialog that will play in my head, or a specific image that haunts. This is what usually becomes the force behind my best work.

And of course, good friends and HOT sex!
ENE: Do you ever get writer's block? How do you deal with it? How do
you help other authors deal with it?
GW: It's not as much a block as finding the time--or rather not allowing myself to be sidetracked, which most writers know all to well. You let yourself find distractions when sitting down to write. If I focus and fight those urges, I write.

I have a small but very powerful group of friends: other writers that support and help keep me going. And hopefully I do the same for them. We're like a small mutual fan club, or support group.
ENE: Is erotica porn?
GW: Well, that seems to be an ongoing debate, doesn't it? What's the difference? Those that this label really matters to would consider the best written literary (whatever that really means) erotica just porn anyway. I group it all together and you can call it any or all the titles you want: erotica, smut, porn... It all has to have a good story or it falls flat. It's not all insert cock in cunt/finger asshole/paddle slave's behind/shoot hard... even in skin rags where it is accompanying pics of unbridled raw sex.
ENE: Do you allow others to read your work while it is being written?
GW: Not usually while it is unformed, or until I think that it's almost there. I am fortunate that I have a good friend--another author--who has been key in editing my work. I will continue to value and use his suggestions for as long as he'll allow. There is always something that someone else sees--or fails to see-that can be corrected or improved upon. Your work will always be better if you'll allow and listen to critique.
ENE: What advice would you give romance and erotica fiction writers
about getting published?
GW: Getting published is certainly important--it's validation. It feels good: "Someone wants my work. They like me!"

Send your work out without fear. You have to think your work is great. No fear. As long as you fit with the market you are going for, and you have written what you feel is good work, you should always assume that you have a chance to succeed or that your work is worthy. There will always be rejections, some for the right reasons, some for not. That shouldn't stop you.

But continuing to learn your craft, to write better than you thought you could is even better than a handful of publishing credits or a few checks. Quality over quantity is a good rule. Unless, of course, you are M. Christian who seems to be able to handle both...
ENE: Here are some questions from our readers:
Why erotica? Does it pay well?
GW: I write erotica because... well... I don't know. I enjoy it. I have a talent for it. I'm a dirty pig boy with a mind for smut and a bod...

Does it pay well? It can. Hey, you sell a couple stories to Playboy and you've got a damned good check coming... But I know very few erotic authors who can survive on the money they make from their writing alone. Heck, very few writers period.

The best paying markets aren't always the most satisfying. (OK, money's nice, but...) Sometimes it's a bigger pleasure to see your work in a magazine or website that you really like. Or to be part of an anthology whose focus really rocks your world.

I also truly enjoy working with friends and those I respect. Money never matters as much with those projects. There a better rewards than a check in exchange for the rights to print your work.
ENE: Does your family know that you write erotica? If so, how do they
feel about it?
GW: Oh, yes. Everybody that's part of my world knows what I do. I'm not sure if everyone understands why... but I feel very supported in what I do. Most of my blood don't read the bulk of my work, but that's OK. I wouldn't mind, I just know that my writing's focus isn't exactly in line with my blood's tastes.
ENE: How long does it take you to put together a collection of your
work? Do you have another planned after the one for
Alyson Books?
GW: For a while I wrote like crazy, sending work out anywhere I could and trying to get as much published as I could. Didn't always work, but I did start to build up a nice list of published work. Last year, I shifted my focus from quantity to quality. I want to take more time and write stronger work.

My collection for Alyson is slated for either Spring or Fall 2003. This may seem like a ways off, but the manuscript needs to be to them this summer... a mere 8 months away. That's manageable. Any sooner and I would be freaking. I want it to be great, to contain my best possible work--as I am sure Alyson does as well--and I just don't have the time or ability to crank it out faster.

After that. Yes, I'll keep going. I also plan to focus more attention on a novel, which is much harder for me. How long will that take me? We'll see!

I also enjoy the balance of author and editor, and need to allow time for both. I imagine if I gave up one for the other.... but, nah, I can't do that.
ENE: How long have you been writing before you got published?
GW: I didn't really tackle and reign in my abilities seriously until the past couple years. I worked hard to train myself to write and bring it together, perhaps the best part of a year before I started submitting work. Once I did I was very lucky. My first submission to an anthology was accepted. As were a couple of my first submissions to websites and magazines. This was just luck and timing. It slowed a bit for awhile, but it did give me a serious high and kicked me in the butt that what I was doing was right.
ENE: How do you pick the stories for the anthology? What sets one
apart from the rest? And what makes a good story exceptional?
GW: The webzine Suspect Thoughts: a journal of subversive is published quarterly. I accept unsolicited submissions from anyone. I receive a lot of work and have to balance reading all of the submissions with everything else. But I love it. I get a load of poorly written work and another load of work that is well written but without a worthy story. But I also get rare and beautiful gems from authors that have never been published. I choose work that moves me. It's as simple as that. Yes, for me to accept a story, it needs to be well written and original, but I'm also fond of off-kilter or brave writing, themes or voices that are fresh or those that might scare others. For the journal, if I enjoy it, or it haunts my thoughts, I'm gonna feature it. [Take note that since I've "enjoyed and been haunted" by so much work recently, I am not accepting submissions until after the new year...]

This also goes for Velvet Mafia--a new online site focusing on gay fiction that debuts November 1--that I am co-editing with Sean Meriwether of Outsider Ink. We want the work to be gay-male focused, but other that it is wide open. We want to present brave original content and are open to anything. It has to grab us by the balls. If it does, we want it!

Suspect Thoughts Press' first print anthology Of the Flesh: Dangerous New Fiction was different. It was a closed submission. I sent word out to a select group of authors I admired or that I had worked with through suspect thoughts journal requesting work within the theme and was rewarded with exceptional interpretations. The project took on a life of its own with each author's take.
ENE: The title says "dangerous new fiction" - why dangerous? And what's
the difference between this fiction and more familiar kind?
GW: The "danger" the subtitle is referring to is not just violence or action, though there is a fair share of rough stuff in the book. It also refers to emotions and the heart. I was actually afraid that the theme might have been too wide, or of too much violent and horror-focused work coming in, but I found a nice balance in the end.

Familiar? You mean "literary"? I consider all the work I've featured in suspect thoughts journal and Of the Flesh literary. It just happens to be literary filth!

The work might be considered dangerous because it is emotional work that bears an author's soul, or because it deals with subjects that cross over those slippery lines of being politically correct, or maybe because the voice or prose itself is different. But all erotic fiction--regardless of what sexual viewpoints it represents--can always be considered "suspect" or "dangerous".
ENE: What's the appeal of a collection of short stories over a novel?
Or of a novel over short stories?
GW: To the world? I think book sales answer that with novels selling far more than collections or anthologies. How often do you find a top-ten collection of short fiction?

To me? I read everything I can. I love a good, tasty, long, thick... (hehehe)... novel that I can't stop reading. Something that totally makes me want to do nothing else but curl up and read all night long. This last year, I have read more collections and anthologies than long works, mostly owing to my workload and the attention span that it causes. But I always have several books going at once. Quite often a novel, along with both nonfiction and fiction collections of many ilk and genre.

I chose to publish an anthology of short erotic fiction because that is what I have been doing with the journal for the last two years. It is what I have expertise with editing, and quite honestly what excites me the most. I knew I could pull together work that would rock. As a publisher, I do plan to explore other work, and in fact have a few unpublished novels in house that I am reading for consideration. We shall see what the future brings.
ENE: Why do a collection of erotic stories that explores these
GW: It was a natural for me. I love cross-genre and more experimental work, and never shy from subjects that are often considered taboo. This is part of why I started the journal: the lack of markets for both the work I wanted to write, and more importantly, work I wanted to read.

Unique and strong prose, original voices, no taboos, themes exploring danger in sexuality, desire, and love... Now that sounds like something I'd like to read!
ENE: Do you believe men or women write better erotica? If so, why?
GW: No. Talent has no gender requirements. More women will write better women focused fiction, more gay men will write better gay fiction, more lesbians will write better lesbian fiction, and those within specific lifestyles know what feels right and why... But a talented writer can write about any subject from any point of view if they choose. And there are many writers that do just that. I don't think that Poppy Z. Brite has ever been a twenty-something gay male psychopath who likes to kill his victims then play with the remains, but she writes it very well and with amazing style!
ENE: Do you ever find that a story you're really proud of doesn't go
over well with your audience and why do you think that might be?
GW: No, never. Everyone loves everything I've written!

Yes, it has happened. (Ack!) My favorite isn't going to be everyone's no matter how much I like it.
ENE: Does your own writing excite you?
GW: I do get turned on sometimes reading work by others. And I love that. It's amazing that words can have that power. I rarely get a hard-on when I write though. I do hope, however, that every so often my work does turn someone else on!
ENE: What's the most dangerous sex you've ever had? is that allowed?
GW: Hey now! You don't want to hear about that...
ENE: Do you think that sex is inherently dangerous?
GW: Well, certainly there is danger in unprotected sex. There is danger is rough sex. But not all the danger is bad. There is an element of danger whenever you open your heart. Intimacy is intense. Love is intense. Hell, even without that demon known as love, the emotions that can come with GOOD sex are powerful.
ENE: Do you think the internet has created a dangerously easy way for
people to experience personal duality? And does that allow more
dangerous sexual behavior than pre-Internet?
GW: Sure. The Internet has opened up a whole different world. Good and bad. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. Would you?
ENE: Do you think the repression of sex / sexual material / erotica /
porn is dangerous? If sex can be dangerous, can't the repression of sex
be dangerous too?
GW: The repression of sexuality in any form is very dangerous. Not only is ignorance the cause for potential tragedy (ignorance breeds hate, misunderstanding, and ignorance can kill), but who the fuck has the right to tell me what I can read? Or what I choose to look at, or do with my body or another's? The tricky part comes finding the balance with society's mores and laws. I think that most folks will agree that the real-life reality of adults taking sexual advantage of children seriously disturbing. But, is it wrong to read fiction about it? Is it twisted to want to read a fantasy story about a 40-year-old male getting it on with his 15-year-old niece? And murder and rape is hideous. But what's wrong about reading about a mass-murderer who stalks and kills innocent victims all the while getting sexual gratification? (How many best-sellers fall under this theme?)

Not just as a pornographer, but as a queer man, I personally am afraid of someone else making the decision of what is OK to read about and what should be forbidden or persecuted. What if reading or writing about sodomy is outlawed? What if committing sodomy itself is breaking the law? Oops, hehehe... silly me! It still is in many choice parts of the United States! What was I thinking?

It boils down to the freedom of speech. And taking this right away from anyone--even those that are a minority or in disagreement with the masses, or those that don't "fit" in the eyes of another's religious belief--is dangerous. It is wrong and it IS dangerous. Your freedom may be next.
Of The Flesh

OF THE FLESH: Dangerous New Fiction by Greg Wharton (editor) is available for purchase through

Is sex dangerous? These 20 tales answer this question in many ways: from the use of sex as a weapon to the use of weapons in sex; the human body can be dangerous; thinking about sex can be dangerous; love and the ways of the heart can be dangerous. Following your own desire can be dangerous...

cover image by Casey McKee, cover design by John Burgess and book design by Greg Wharton.

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