In Interview with Connie Wilkins
by Paul Goat Allen
PGA: I’ve interviewed numerous authors who have said specific books in their childhood and teenage years have had a huge influence on not only their writing style but what they write about. Were there any books – or movies or works of art – that played a pivotal role in your interest in erotica?
CW: I was pretty much omnivorous in my reading tastes as a kid, with an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy, but a small-town library didn't provide much access to erotica. I do remember getting into trouble as an eighth grader for marking the ‘good’ bits in racy historical novels for my friends, who would never have plowed through whole books to find them. In college we passed around Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterly's Lover and The Tropic of Cancer, and I thought with youthful arrogance that I could do better. A friend and I decided to try to write porn for men’s magazines – collecting sample issues was an adventure in itself! – but with no luck. It was kind of a kick when, several decades later, I got a story into last November’s Penthouse magazine without even trying, when the publishers of the anthology it originally appeared in made a deal for a few reprints.
Even though I can’t pinpoint particular works of art as being pivotal, I do sometimes use references to works of art and music. The story that made it to Penthouse is set in WW II, and I made use of songs from that period to set the mood and evoke the era – although, come to think of it, they severely condensed the original and cut most of the musical cues. The title, "To Remember You By," survived, though. I also used images from Pre Raphaelite art in that one, and I’ve used Maxfield Parrish a time or two, not because I think of them as the height of art but because of their vivid sensuality.
PGA: Internet publishing is a heated topic of discussion right now. There are some really great advantages – specifically to would-be-writers – but some really big disadvantages too. For example, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, a brilliant fantasy writer from Australia who had never published anything, entered a novel in an online writing workshop contest, caught the eye of an editor, and promptly signed a contract with Time Warner Books for three hardcover fantasy novels (The Bitterbynde trilogy) – a feat practically unheard of for a debut author. And without Internet publishing, I probably would've never had the opportunity to discover your excellent stories.
The huge disadvantage, in my mind, is that the science fiction and fantasy markets are going to be overwhelmed by sub-par material. Writers who probably should never be published are going to be coming out if the woodwork and selling their e-stories online because it’s so inexpensive for e-publishers to do it. I've already come across a few e-books that should have never seen the light of day.What are your feelings towards Internet publishing and where do you see it going in the next decade?
CW: I haven’t sampled much in the way of e-books, but where online magazines are concerned I think the quality situation has begun to sort itself out. Readers interested in science fiction and fantasy short fiction have figured out where to find what they like, and it’s no easier to sell to places like Strange Horizons than to the better print magazines. Funding is the big problem, and I can’t even guess how that’s going to work out in the future. The situation in online erotica is somewhat different; the readership is huge, but nobody gets paid. The only people more anxious to get their work seen than science fiction writers are erotica writers. There seems to be an extensive subculture of people who only read (and publish) erotica online; I send a few stories, mostly reprints, to Clean Sheets and Scarlet Letters from time to time in hopes of inspiring readers to check out the print anthologies.
PGA: Other than "Freeing the Demon" (which was my favorite story in Wild Flesh ), "Feeling Blue" was the most disturbing – and sexually graphic – story in the collection. And of all your stories in Wild Flesh, "Feeling Blue" has the most mainstream appeal. The main character, the dark, mysterious Katje, is very similar to Laurell K. Hamilton’s sexy vampire hunter Anita Blake. Katje is tough and street-smart yet she has a soft spot deep inside her for Blue (like Anita cares about her vampire lover Jean-Claude). When I recently interviewed Hamilton, she said Anita was very much like her. Of all the characters in the stories in Wild Flesh, is Katje the most similar to you?
CW: I wish! No, while all my characters are manifestations of aspects of my psyche (it's pretty darned crowded in there!) I’d have a hard time impersonating any of them. I've done a few in my more ‘mainstream’ erotica that come closer, like the narrator in a story now on Scarlet Letters, "Of Light and Dark," reprinted from Best Lesbian Erotica 2001, but even that’s a stretch.
PGA: It’s been so great to be reading new mainstream fantasy and science fiction with integral characters that are gay. Reading your short stories "Feeling Blue" and "The Bridge" was so refreshing! Ricardo Pinto’s Stone Dance of the Chameleon novels (The Chosen and The Standing Dead) comes to mind as well.
The only memories I have of gay characters portrayed in science fiction/fantasy when I was growing up were not unlike that of the character Rodney Walthamstone in Brian Aldiss' The Light Dark Years (1964). Because Rodney was gay, he was considered insane, a criminal, and he was mocked and shunned accordingly. The mainstream publishing industry has come a long way since the 1960s. What has been your experience trying to get works published involving gay characters and gay themes?
CW: I've been sending them mostly to specifically gay-themed or inclusive erotica markets, so I haven't had any problem. The actual problem is that I'm not all that prolific, and I've been seduced by success in these niche markets, so I haven't been writing much else for the last few years. I really don't think there's any resistance now to gay themes in any publications I'd care to be seen in, although some editors have been quicker to call something erotica just because it has gay characters. One of my first published stories, "Pocket Apollo" in Prom Night, has a gay theme, although it’s a bit of a spoiler to know that at the beginning.
PGA: You've begun publishing erotica under Connie Wilkins so does that mean your alter ego Sacchi Green is dead?
CW: No, she’s still racking up more sales than I do. I've published so much as Sacchi that I still do most non-sf things that way, on the off chance that the name has a following. I do get a bit of interesting fan mail, in fact, and invitations to submit to anthologies, something my own name can't get me yet. Besides, there's something liberating in writing in a persona not as mundane as the one you usually inhabit. But I was beginning to get jealous of my alter-ego, when I'd go into a big bookstore and play the counting game and find maybe one or two anthologies with my own name in them, and six or eight with hers.I'm not sure how we'll battle it out in the future.
PGA: What’s on the horizon for Connie Wilkins? Have any new projects you’d like to talk about?
CW: Nothing definite in the science fiction category, except that my very first erotica publication, "On Wheels" from Best Lesbian Erotica '99, will be reprinted in More Technosex from Circlet Press one of these days. In non-sf, my most recent work is in Best Lesbian Erotica '03 (the fifth in a row) and isn’t exactly speculative fiction, although a mechanical bull in a country-western bar in Amsterdam in the ‘80s has to be a fantasy of sorts. I'm working on things, of course, in both genres, and waiting to hear on other things, just like every other writer I know. In spite of my best intentions to concentrate more on science fiction, though, erotica markets keep cropping up and luring me over to the steamy side. I hope to do more work combining the genres, but it's not easy to fit plot, character, setting, and explicit sex into five thousand words or less. I suppose I should give fair warning that most of my ‘mainstream’ erotica is, in fact, more explicit than anything in Wild Flesh, but not necessarily any more fun. I’m grateful to Jintsu and the whole phenomenon of Internet publishing for making this collection possible – and to sfreader.com for reviewing it.
Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.
copyrightt © 2003, Paul Goat Allen