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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Eugene Yiga

5. Eugene YigaJoanne Hichens – editor of Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Eugene Yiga. His story “Peaked” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

After studying financial accounting and classical piano, Eugene Yiga worked in branding, communications and market research. Writing was, however, always his calling, which is why he quit his job, freelanced until he was broke, and eventually became a lifestyle and entertainment journalist for various online and print publications. Follow Eugene at www.eugeneyiga.com and on Twitter @eugeneyiga.

Your story, “Peaked”, a conversation between two gay men, is witty and sharp.  What sparked the story?

I’d just come out of what looked set to be a promising relationship and was feeling quite low. One of my best friends suggested I write about what I was going through. We’d often spoken about our relationship experiences and he was always amused by some of the stories I told, which he was convinced would make for hilarious reading. It seems that he was right!

How much of it is true?

A lot of what I wrote about in “Peaked” is based on experiences I’ve had as well as things I’ve heard from other people. In some cases, I’ve had to change details for the sake of respecting other people’s privacy, but there are still a few references that are obvious enough for readers to pick up.

Mostly, though, I don’t think the issue of ‘truth’ matters. What matters more is whether or not the story is believable. It’s something I realised while reading a fascinating book called Turning Life into Fiction: “If it could have happened, if it has some relevance to what it means to be alive, that’s all that matters… One can be honest without being truthful. One can be believable without being factual.”

Was it important for you to explore gay culture through the writing?

My goal was always for “Peaked” to be more than just light entertainment; I wanted it to be something that would get people thinking. So many aspects of gay culture – casual sex, open relationships, and other oxymorons – are things we simply accept as a given. But why? I wanted “Peaked” to take a closer look at these and other practices so that we could start challenging what might not be healthy for us in the long-term.

But the story extends beyond ‘gay’ culture, doesn’t it?

Sure. After a while I realised that this wasn’t just a gay story. Instead, “Peaked” became a story about people and the messed up choices we make in our relationships, our careers, and our lives. In that sense, I wanted it to be something that would get us all – gay and straight – to take a closer look at ourselves and, in doing so, perhaps change our beliefs and behaviour for the best.

And this is your first piece of published fiction writing…

Ever since I was a child, I had a passion for the written word. When I realized that I could inspire and entertain others through writing, just like I was inspired and entertained by the books I read every night, I reckon I found my calling.

And yes, “Peaked” is in fact my first piece of fiction! (Not considering  works like “The Hungry Chef” and “The Spooky Pound”, a short story and poem I wrote when I was about seven and didn’t know how to use semi-colons correctly). The story started out as the first chapter of what was meant to be a novel. But when I saw the theme for this year’s Short Sharp Awards, I knew that it would be ideal as an entry and one of the few times I could get away with swearing in print!

One could say you’ve got away with other transgressions – the language of the story is quite blunt and might even offend some readers. Did you consider that while you were writing?

It was great to know that the story, which I knew would ruffle a few feathers, still had enough merit to see it through to the collection. Because many aspects of “Peaked” are somewhat explicit, I didn’t expect everyone to be fond of the language. More specifically, I didn’t expect everyone to agree with some of the things Karl says. He attacks a lot of people: black, white, young, old, gay, straight, and in-between. I suppose you could say that at least he’s unbiased in his discrimination!

My only hope now is that any readers who get angry because they find the dialogue a little too blunt take a minute to stop and think about why. If the story is hitting a nerve, it might be a good idea to examine what’s causing the conflict. Finding resistance usually means you need to take a closer look inside. That’s far better than lashing out. So yes; I expect that Peaked could piss off a lot of people. If it causes at least one person to think, do, or be better, I’d consider it a success. I’m taking a stand that I think is long overdue.

To get back to your desire to write a novel, would you still consider recreating “Peaked” as a larger work?

There are a lot of ways to take it forward. I don’t think I need to go as far as a full-on novel to communicate the message. Instead, I’m most excited about the idea of turning it into a play, especially because I’ve seen over and over again how powerful something on stage can be. Beyond that, I’ve also thought about turning “Peaked” into a movie or even a musical. Perhaps Stephen Sondheim is out of my league, but can’t a guy dream?

You bet! In fact, The National Arts Festival is very keen that some of these stories are recreated as plays, so that sounds like a great idea. Thanks, Eugene, we’ll be looking for your name in lights!

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