A Conversation with Jerry Wheeler – by Gavin Atlas


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Jerry L. Wheeler is
the editor of the Lambda Literary Award nominated Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top
(Lethe Press 2010), Riding the Rails, and The Dirty Diner for Bold Strokes Books.
Another anthology with Jerry at the helm, Tricks of the Trade, will be forthcoming
in January, 2013. His own work has appeared in many anthologies, including Law
of Desire, Best Gay Romance 2010, Bears in the Wild,
and I Like It Like
That. 
Jerry’s new collection of his short stories, Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruit was
released by Lethe in March.

Hi,
Jerry!   I can’t pretend I don’t know
you, so here’s a hug.  ::hug::.   Could I start off by asking about your
background?  What did you want “to be
when you grew up?”  What did you read as a
kid?  Which books did you read that made
you think, “I’d like to write something like that?”

Big hug back, Gavin! I really don’t have a recollection of
wanting to “be” anything until I fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe when I was
about ten or so. From then on, all I ever wanted to be was a writer. It was a
short hop from Poe to H.P. Lovecraft and then on to Ray Bradbury and all the
sci-fi greats like Asimov and Heinlein and Robert Sheckley. I was in absolute
awe of Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and still am. Oddly enough, I also
became a huge James Thurber fan—both his writing and his cartoons. And I can’t
forget Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.” I
wore out several copies of that and can still recite snatches of it when I’ve
had too many martinis. 

I know from your stories that readers
shouldn’t expect typical x-rated scenarios even if there’s hot sex.  There’s often a wildly imaginative paranormal
or horror element, such as a magic tattoo or a vampire who drains talent
instead of blood.   And although there’s
usually an element of darkness, there are times your stories contain humor and
end with a happy couple.  I suspect this
is an impossible question, but how would you characterize your writing?  If there are instances where friends, other
writers, or reviewers have captured the “essence” of your fiction, could you
tell us what they said?  

I’d like to
think my work is surprising. I don’t go where you’d expect, or I lead the
reader one direction then twist his head somewhere else. I dislike
predictability and will go out of my way to give the events at hand a tweak if
I feel one is warranted. Not necessarily an O. Henry ending, but small turns or
odd happenstances. Just a different way of looking at things.

I’ve heard the primary goal of “porn” fiction
is to arouse the reader.  But from
reading your stories, I would say your goals are also to entertain the reader,
give him something he probably hasn’t read before, and then take that newness
further by leading the reader down an unexpected path.  How do you feel about that assessment?  Are there other goals you have or
characteristics you hope each story will possess?

I think that’s
a pretty good encapsulation of what I like to do. What interests me most about
writing erotica is the transformative part. I believe that all sex, casual or
otherwise, is transformative. Once you have sex with someone, neither of you is
the same person. Something has been added (or subtracted). You take a part of
your partner and leave some of yourself. The erotica that I find most effective
highlights that transformation, underscoring how each participant is different
post-coitus.

Please
forgive the “choose your favorite child” question, but here it is.  Do you have favorite stories among those
you’ve written?  Favorite
characters?  Favorite moments?

I’ll always
have a soft spot for “Templeton’s in Love,” because it was the first piece I
wrote after my late partner died. I think that accounts for its
bittersweetness, and I really invested a lot of myself in it. I also have a
fondness for Warner and Seth, characters in my vampire novella, “A Thirst for
Talent.” I’m not done with those two yet. I feel a sequel coming on.

Besides writing, you’re also the editor of
several erotica anthologies.  Dale Chase
once said in an interview that themes you come up with make writing more fun
for her and help spark new ideas.  I know
from reading the intro to The Dirty Diner
that watching a high school classmate wolf down his lunch felt sensual and
masculine to you.  In general, do your
themes (food, trains, the circus, magicians) arise organically from your
personal experience of what’s hot or do you find it important to search your
imagination for something unusual that will be fun for both authors and
readers? 

It’s a bit of
both, I think. I know authors enjoy writing for those calls because it gives
them a chance to stretch and do things they might not have thought of
otherwise. However, there’s a limit as to how unusual you can get before you cross
the lines of “unsaleable” or, even worse, “unwriteable.” Striking a balance is
tough sometimes, but ultimately I think it makes for interesting anthologies
that are fun and challenging for both the reader and the writer. I’m always
amazed at what writers I work with do with the themes I’ve proposed.

Other
than adherence to the theme, what do you look for when choosing stories for
your anthologies? 

Strong
characters, twisty plots, and hot sex are my points of reference. I’m all about
breaking boundaries of what erotica is “supposed” to be. Straight ahead porn
doesn’t interest me in the least. It’s the set-up and the follow-through that
make or break a story for me. If I don’t care about the characters, the sex is
meaningless.

There’s
something I’ve wanted to ask you for a while about what I call the “Detroit
Diaspora”.   I know that you, William
Holden, Ron Suresha, and Hank Edwards are all from that area.  I guess it makes sense that all of you left
since we always hear about terrible unemployment in Detroit and so forth.   But what do you think makes Detroit produce
so many writers?

“It beats
working the line at Ford Motor Company,” he said flippantly. Detroit wasn’t
dying when I left, though the illness that has brought it to its knees was
beginning. I’m not sure the city produces more writers than others. Maybe it’s
a larger area than just Detroit. Instead of “Detroit Diaspora” how about
“Midwestern Malaise?” I’d be curious to hear what Bill, Ron and Hank think.

I
know music is important to you.   If there was a theme song to your life, what
would it be?   What songs put you in a
great mood?  Are there songs that helped
you formulate concepts for some of your stories? 

I have enough
theme songs for a whole soundtrack, but any uptempo Sixties or Seventies soul
tunes will make me smile. The only instance I can recall using a specific piece
of music was the story I recently wrote for Todd Gregory’s
Raising Hell anthology where I choreographed a sex
scene to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album. I always have music on
when I write, though—everything from old school jazz (Coltrane, early Miles,
Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Chet Baker) to classical to folk and blues and so much
more. My tastes are, like my writing, all over the place.

 You’re working on a novel called The Dead Book.   Can you give us hints about what we can look
forward to?  

It’s a parallel
story of gay family dysfunction (now
that’s
unique…) that features two middle-aged men who have been in a long-term
relationship since they were ten years old. They return to their ancestral home
after the death of the family matriarch, helping their nephew with his coming
out process much to the dismay of his mother, who will do anything to stop her
son from forming a relationship with their uncles. The story of the two men is
told in flashback, and the nephew’s is the present. It also has eco-terrorism,
a bathhouse scene and ends in a big conflagration. I hope it’ll be as exciting
as the description.

Last,
there was a rumor (which I may have started) about you absconding to St.
Maarten to live with a handsome young merman or burly mer-bear.  Could you confirm or deny those plans?  Also, more seriously, in addition to The Dead Book, what are you looking
forward to in terms of writing, editing, and life in general?   

Mmmmm…mer-bears…the
smell of wet fur in the morning…oh, I’m sorry. I was distracted. Ah, I’m really
working hard on the novel right now, but after that I’m keen to do my vampire
sequel and then a quest novel called “The Matrix of the Universe” that’s about
rock and roll music rather than science fiction. And there’s always Out in
Print to review for.

Thanks,
Jerry!

Thanks to you, Gavin, for interesting
questions! I’m honored to be one of your interviewees.

For
more information about Jerry and his writing, please visit jerrywheeleronline.com

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