This month I corresponded with amateur writer J.M. Stephens, winner of the December 2020 YA Fiction contest. Stephens is a mysterious figure who prefers to write erotica but recently branched out into other genres. Most of his work is available on Bookrix.com.
Admin: Hey, Mr. Stephens. Thanks for joining me and thank you for submitting a story to the contest. It would have been awfully lonely without you. So, first of all, tell us about J.M. Stephens. Do you write professionally, or only as a hobby? What do you do when you’re not writing?
Stephens: J.M. Stephens is not my real name. I write anonymously and don’t show my photo, as some of my stories would shock family and friends. I’m actually thinking of publishing my non-erotic and mildly erotic stories under my real name so I can share them with family and friends, and leave the graphic ones under ‘J.M Stephens.’ I write as a hobby. I hold no illusions about writing professionally. I’m just your average guy with a day job who has discovered the pleasure of creating alternate realities through writing.
I like to travel a bit, although overseas travel is out of the question for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19. In my spare time I like to play sports and train at the gym.
Admin: Do you typically write slice of life or young adult fiction? If not, what do you typically write?
Stephens: Much of my writing is erotica with (hopefully) interesting and unusual storylines, but I’m moving away from the erotic content and concentrating on fictional emotional drama. I want to write stories that will leave a lasting impression on the reader’s mind. I’ve almost finished a story based on the age-old theme of two people living in different times, falling in love. It’s a tragic love story that hopefully will bring a tear to the reader’s eye. And
it’s probably my last story to contain strong sex.
I’m also working on a psychological thriller about a returned soldier who doubts his own sanity, unable to separate reality from fantasy. It’s coming along very slowly, and is a real test of my ability and imagination. It’s turning into a long term project.
I’ve also written some poetry, something I’d always doubted I’d be capable of. It’s had some good reviews.
Admin: Erotica is nothing to be ashamed of. It is still the most popular genre of book on the internet–I think off the internet, too. I was thinking about hosting an erotica contest.
Who do you write for? Do you only want a small audience, to get published in a few literary journals, or do you strive to be a bestselling author?
Stephens: I’m not sure that any writer would want only a small audience. I write the kind of stories that I like to read myself, but it’s a good feeling when a reader comments that they enjoyed reading it as well. I’d be dreaming if I thought I could be a bestselling author. There are just too many good writers out there.
Admin: What can you tell us about the inspiration or process behind Mia? Did you draw on personal experience?
Stephen: I think Mia represents several girls who I had crushes on in my early teens. Like Stephen, I was shy and lacked self-confidence. I wanted a girlfriend but I didn’t understand girls. They were like a different species to me and I didn’t know how to approach them.
Admin: What would you have young people take away from Mia? Did you have something to say about the expectations that popular media can give us with regards to growing up and forming relationships?
Stephens: I’m not sure that anyone could take away anything from the story. It was unmistakably fiction with a just hint of truth that some readers may relate to. If the reader could take away anything, it would be that if he/ she is lonely, shy and confused, they are not alone. In many fictional stories, there is a degree of truth.
Media of all types paints an unrealistic picture of reality, from internet porn to TV ‘reality’ dating shows, which are anything but reality. Still, I trust that today’s youth are smart enough to see through it.
I also think the internet is affecting the way new generations are forming relationships and communicating. Social media and technology was supposed to bring people together but it seems to be driving them apart. One real friend to go out and share a coffee and see a movie with is worth 1,000 Facebook ‘friends’ who are never there when needed.
Admin: What advice would you give someone like the narrator?
Stephens: Don’t always look to the beautiful for beauty. There is often more beauty in the ordinary if you would just look. Also, don’t follow girls home!
Admin: (Laughs) How long have you been writing?
Stephens: About 3 years ago I stumbled on the website of a woman who wrote erotic short stories which had a shock value. She had a real talent for it. I wondered if I could write a short erotic story, even though I had never written any story of any kind before. I sent it to her and she published it on her site. I sent her a few short stories after that, including one about aliens sent to Earth to study the mating habits of humans, taking over the bodies of a newlywed couple and seeking out men to mate with the ‘female’. It was original, erotic and humorous, and she asked if she could use it as the first chapter of her book which she published on Amazon. I agreed. I had no use for it, although now I wish I had kept it and expanded on it.
Admin: Can you tell us anything about the earliest piece of fiction you remember writing?
Stephen: My first story was a short tale of a shy bullied high school student who finally cracked and took revenge on his step-sister Mandy, his main tormenter, and he manipulated and blackmailed her. That basic plot was later expanded into a full length story, ‘Stephen’. This short story ‘Mia’ is actually a chapter from ‘Stephen’ and was slightly altered and edited to fit this contest’s criteria.
Admin: Is there a book or other media that you feel has greatly informed your current style?
Stephens: If there is, it is subconsciously, but I like books and especially movies that take me to another place, where I forget my surroundings. That’s what I strive for in my own writing.
Admin: What’s your favorite book? Please, tell us about it and why it has significance to you.
Stephens: If you mean a book I’ve read, I don’t think I have a favorite, although I like the writings of Richard Matheson and Stephen King. ‘The Long Walk’ by Richard Bachman (AKA Stephen King) stands out in my memory. It’s a dystopian tale of a contest where contestants walk hundreds of miles non-stop across the country, day and night, even half-sleeping as they walk. The last one standing takes all. Whoever falls by the wayside gets 3 warnings and is then shot and dragged off the road. The development of their personalities and interactions had me unable to put it down. I also like the occasional detective story or science fiction; anything that creates strong images in my mind. I’ll say here that even though I write erotica, I don’t actually read it unless it forms an integral part of a story with a plot.
If you mean a favorite that I’ve written, then I would have to say ‘ehookup.org’. I think it has interesting diverse characters, a bit of quirky humor, and some cringe-worthy scenes. I also think there are elements that a lot of people could relate to.
I was also happy with ‘Darkness of Light’, a tragic love story which appears to have made a couple of readers shed a tear. Surely that’s a compliment to any amateur writer.
Admin: When you write something like this, do you have a method to get in the headspace of speaking with the voice of your awkward protagonist?
Stephens: In all my stories, I put myself in the place of the characters, male and female, and try and feel their emotions, imagine what they would say in conversation, imagine how they would react, which therefore is probably the way I would react in a lot of the instances. Everything I write is from the heart and I think there is a lot of ‘me’ being shared. Through words, I try to transpose my feelings and emotions to the reader’s mind.
Admin: Have you ever done an internet search for yourself and your writing? How did it go?
Stephens: I think most people have done the search. The only results I find are my stories on Bookrix.
Admin: What’s the most common failing you’ve seen in others’ writing? What should other writers watch out for?
Stephens: I think the biggest failing is punctuation, followed by poor spelling. It’s very difficult to read page after page that doesn’t have a period or separating paragraphs. Even worse is the lack of punctuation marks to indicate dialogue. Having too many characters, especially introduced all at once, can be confusing. A lot of amateur writers tend to impatiently rush the story and escalate the action too soon. I often see half a novel compressed into the first three pages.
Having said all that, I know that I’m no expert and I admire anyone who has a go at writing a story. It’s not an easy thing, especially when you’re new at it.
Admin: Where can readers find more of your writing?
Stephens: All my stories are on Bookrix.
Admin: Alright. Thank you again for submitting for the contest Mr. Stephens. I hope to see another entry from you, soon.
And if you would like to participate in a Prose Opiate writing contest for a chance to win cash, a cover design, and participate in an interview just like this you can click right here. Even if you don’t win, you will receive guaranteed feedback on your work and professional editing.
If you haven’t considered submitting a story to our contests because you think the chances are slim, I would like to point out that we get surprisingly few submissions here and your odds are probably better than you think. We want stories. The point of this site is to encourage writers to write and to provide them with rewards for their efforts. Winning a contest and being published in an online journal is a great way to earn some recognition as a writer. I hope to see an entry from you soon.