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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Anthony Ehlers

8. Anthony EhlersJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Anthony Ehlers. His story “Breaking The Rules” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Anthony Ehlers is a writer, scriptwriter and creative writing teacher. In 2014, his scripts were shortlisted for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. In 2010, his story “Limerence” was a runner-up in the annual Woman & Home short story competition. He is one of only two authors to appear in both the inaugural Short.Sharp.Stories collection and this one; his story “41” was featured in Bloody Satisfied in 2013. After twenty years of writing, he believes he has found his voice in the short-story format; the irony is not completely lost on him. Follow Anthony on Twitter – @AnthonyEhlers.

As a successful short story writer with various credits to your name, including being published back to back in the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies, what, for you, is the most important aspect to consider when writing the short story?

There’s nowhere for a writer to hide in a short story – so writing something credible is important for me. I also like to focus on theme before plot, which you might not do in a novel. “Breaking the Rules” was about recovery and loss. The idea of a road trip as a plot device came later.

When it comes to the popularity of the short story – is it back in fashion? Has it ever been out of fashion? Is it on the up and up?

I don’t think the short story will ever be as popular as the novel. It’s always going to be a bit niche – and I think that’s fine, that’s exactly its place in the mix.

It would be great if there were more platforms for the short story in South Africa. Not many magazines feature short stories.

As a writing teacher who has taught on writing erotica, what’s your take?

Erotica can be a sub-genre of romance. For all its kink, Shades of Grey by EL James is a love story – Wuthering Heights with handcuffs. There is a balance between emotional and sexual tension, but the story is highly idealistic and has a happy ending. It’s a safe way to explore fantasies and sexuality.

On the other side of the rubber sheets, erotica can drag us away from genre. In the Cut by Susanna Moore, for example, is a form of experimental fiction that uses its erotic elements to show dramatic irony. It is a disturbing book, showing how chillingly vulnerable women are to men’s power.

Did anything in particular inspire you to write “Breaking the Rules”?

Most erotic stories are told in the heat of the moment. So I wanted to experiment with time and distance in the narration – Catherine looking back at her affair with Damian after several years.

I also tried to explore the irony of Damian seeking escape in his own fantasy of a road movie, only to be trapped by his own past.

You write such a successful sex scene from a woman’s point of view. Was this a challenge?

I always try to find my way into a story by putting something of me in the characters. I couldn’t write “Breaking The Rules” from Damian’s viewpoint; he had to remain impenetrable and mysterious. Catherine was the only other voice.

Indeed. For me, stories ring true when the writer clearly has an emotional connection to the characters.

There is a lot of me in Catherine. I was never in a Narcotics Anonymous programme, but I was part of an affiliated support group, Al-Anon for a few years – so I understood addiction and co-dependency. We’ve all had crazy love affairs leave scars. Scars make good stories.

Was there any advice you considered when writing the sex scenes?

I think some writers play it tame when it comes to writing sex. My view is that a writer should not be afraid to write something radical, primal, personal. In Breaking the Rules, I wanted to show how sex could be a form of healing for Catherine – cathartic even.

In general, what themes do you like to explore in writing?

I’m drawn to themes of obsession. Beautiful and broken characters fascinate me. People who want something or someone they can’t have – or try to hold on to something at all costs.

Thanks, Anthony, for delivering on another fast-paced and riveting story.

Adults OnlyBook details


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