This post initially published on March 4, 2013. Get Benji’s amazing new erotic short, “Free Run,” in Huddle: Sex With Sporty Queers (Vol. 1: Boys Varsity), which is now available on godeeperpress.com, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, with more online retailers on the way.
Candid contains 10 fictional interviews with mostly queer men from seriously all different walks of life. How did your “subjects” come to you? I’d imagine it would have been a long process to create each and every one of them, but please tell me I’m wrong if I am.
Benji: A lot of the subjects from Candid come from my own experiences, anxieties, fantasies, and those of people I’ve known. I’ve referred to the project in the past as a kind of exorcism, as in putting all of the voices in your head on paper. I knew that Candid would be too niche and too short and too personal to be any definitive survey of whom the contemporary gay male is, so I didn’t worry about that. I wrote (what I hoped was) realistic dialogue for people who were already a part of me in some way. So, it was a fairly quick process. All I had to do was figure out who was speaking and let them speak. I did try to balance sex and sentiment so that no particular character came off like agitprop with a ten-inch dick.
I will say that the editing was harder. I read every line of the novella aloud multiple times to see if it held up to a voice, if it had a natural cadence. I don’t know if I was totally successful, but I was impressed when I watched (listened to?) the trailer that Johnny Murdoc made. It sounded like people talking, so I guess I did my job.
I want to ask you about Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts and whether or not it influenced the format of your book. It’s similar, I think, in the way it captures these men in a moment of time, in sort of a “full-confessional” way.
That’s funny, actually. I was going to mention Dennis Cooper in my list of writing heroes, but then I hedged. I’m not sure why. I think, ultimately, that the first work I read by Dennis Cooper (Frisk) and subsequent reads speak to the darkness behind sexual impulses, which my writing largely skirts. I don’t mean to suggest that my writing is uniformly rosy, but maybe it has a few less thorns. I guess I might as well take this opportunity to formally say that Dennis Cooper is one of my writing heroes, whether I write like him or not. His work stays with you, haunts you. That’s a skill (talent?) worthy of praise.
It was refreshing—I think that’s the best word—to find moments of serious fucking introspection on the topic of sex spoken by your characters, especially in a novella that’s focused on the retelling of sexual encounters that’s meant to make your readers want to get off. I’m thinking specifically of lines like these, courtesy of your interviewer in the second interview: “Maybe it helps if you think of sex as a protected space, an area of your life without judgment. That it’s something primal and ancient that you belong to as much as it belongs to you.” From my experience with erotica, this is atypical dialogue, and it’s awesome. How important was it for you to create these men—some of them, anyway—that could emphasize the importance of connected sex (dare I say healing sex?), ones without the typical “smut” or gay-erotic-lit focus of chiseled chin, ripped abs, gaping hole?
I wanted to create something with characters who had concerns. As much as I love sex (and I definitely do), I struggle with aspects of it. Should I be paying more attention? Should I be more vocal about what I like? Is my ass too small? Where should I put my glasses if this guy doesn’t have a nightstand? Why doesn’t this guy have a nightstand? Should you fuck somebody who doesn’t have a nightstand?
I wanted to write characters who had issues. The idea of connected sex was one of them. There’s the importance of being present during sex, but there’s also another character who totally rejects that notion and equates being mentally elsewhere during sex to channel-surfing or tuning into a different wavelength. There’s a married character who has a dynamic relationship with his partner and others who decry the entire institution.
I absolutely needed my characters to be able to talk about these things. I settled on the title Candid because I wanted to say some real things. Sprinkle a little deeper thinking in with all the sex.
What do you do when you’re not writing smut? When you’re not writing smut, how much do you miss writing smut?
For now, I work as a server in a restaurant where a decent amount of the staff has read my book. So, basically, they know I’m a pervert, which is fine by me. I also write poetry and attempt to teach myself different skills on a revolving basis (CSS, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, drawing, French, game-making).
When I’m not writing smut, I miss the response I get from writing smut. I think there’s something really honest and great about someone telling you that they read some erotica you wrote and it really got them going. There’s a certain amount of bullshit that you’ve skipped by just having that conversation. I miss that a lot when I stay away from smut for too long.
This is where you get to say something unforgettable. Have at it!
Dear person reading this,
If you didn’t know me before you read this interview, then hi, I’m Ben. I’m usually sketchy about strangers giving me advice, so I’ll understand if you brush off this next thing I’m about to say.
You are the best sexual partner you’re ever going to have, so be nice to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about what turns you on. Don’t force yourself to fall in line with any narrow view of sexuality. Be nice to yourself.
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