Q: Your latest short story “Porcupines and Nightmare” is in something called Adult Magazine… did you write a story for a… urhmm… porno?
A: Adult Magazine (which you can buy from Amazon here and real bookstores here) is the sex-positive and poignantly beautiful brainchild of two super-cool kids that I really enjoyed working with on this story: Noah Wunsch and Sarah Nicole Prickett. Noah interviewed me earlier this year for Paper Magazine, and mentioned his idea for this new magazine that would merge tasteful nudity and great fiction/nonfiction in a way we haven’t seen since the old days of Playboy. I thought it sounded like a great idea, and I sent him this story.
Q: So it’s not porn then?
A: Well, in the words of Justice Potter Stewart…
Q: Seems like you are kind of avoiding the question.
A: Does it? Well, there are some breasts and buttcheeks in there, yes.
Q: And vaginas and penises?
A: Like good adverbs in fiction, they’re in there only scarcely. There may be only one penis, actually. Singular. Overall the ratio of brilliant wordsmithery to unclad flesh is pretty high.
Q: Now you seem kind of squeamish about it.
A: Do I? I’m not, really. Sex is… I don’t know. Some would say it’s the end-all-be-all-Alpha-Omega-reason-we-do-all-the-things. I think at best it might be the reason we do about four-of-the-things.
Q: What four things would those be?
A: 1) Buy expensive clothes, 2) Get expensive haircuts, 3) Wear uncomfortable shoes, 4) Run on treadmills and in parks.
Q: Those all seem pretty roundly narcissistic.
A: You may have a point there.
Q: There’s not a lot of sex in your work, really. I mean, people talk about having sex a little, but it’s never very graphic.
A: Well they do say writing about sex is like dancing about…
Q: Oh, enough with the cliches.
A: Very well. The truth is, I don’t really like writing about sex. I think it’s a private thing. When characters of mine are about to have sex I feel like I should step into the other room and give them their privacy. But I like this magazine a lot because it reminds people that sex doesn’t have to be dirty or gross or evil, even when it is private. To me, it’s not prudish or Puritanical to want to separate those things. Privacy is what makes sex sexy; otherwise it’s just anatomy.
Q: So I take it there also isn’t any sex in your story, “Porcupines and Nightmare”, even though it appears in Adult Magazine?
A: Not really. There’s a small child in the story, named Nina, so presumably our narrator once had sex with her mother, several years earlier, but that’s long before this story begins.
A: That’s not a question.
Q: Still. Lame.
A: There is some pretty fun sexual tension, though, between the narrator and his wife’s former best friend, a woman named Ann whose hair once made him moan audibly in a lecture hall.
Q: But they don’t actually do it?
A: No, there’s some very nice emotional catharsis for you though, if you read the story. And there’s a very sexy picture of Ann in the beginning, compliments of artist Jack Dylan.
Q: She’s scratching her back with a porcupine quill. That’s kind of sexy.
A: I’m not one to judge. If you’re into that sort of thing, I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Q: That’s a pretty weird title. “Porcupines and Nightmare”? What is that?
A: “Porcupines and Nightmare” is actually the name of a work of art in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, near where I live in New York City. It’s actually a piece of furniture… a changing screen (so, kind of sexy) made by Robert Winthrop Chanler. On one side there is a picture of several porcupines advancing through the woods. And on the other side is a Bosch-esque image of a dream - though I think the Porcupines are scarier than the nightmare, to be honest.
Q: So this is a story about a piece of furniture?
A: It’s inspired by a piece of furniture. It’s actually about a war photographer who is discharged from the military after he leaks photos to the press.
Q: What are you, trying to make some kind of political statement?
A: Art and politics don’t mix well, in my opinion. Fiction persuades people by carefully placing us in the shoes of an imaginary person, and it makes us see the world differently only in brief moments when we readers forget that we’re reading something a man or woman has created, and are transported in our imaginations into a person’s mind which feels real. When a writer tries to construct a work of fiction with the goal of political persuasion in mind, a reader is likely to pick up on the set-up and are unlikely to be therefore transported. I’d like readers of my story to see the world through the eyes of this one man for a little while, and if they think any differently about war as a result, that’s between themselves and him.
Q: Ok there, Socrates, get off your high horse.
A: Socrates was usually the one asking questions, not answering.
Q: You’re hurting my head a little.
A: So sorry. Maybe look at some of the beautiful, tastefully nude people in this magazine for a while, and then, give the story a try.
Q: What does your mother think about all this?
A: I won’t tell her if you won’t.