This month I corresponded with amateur writer J.M. Stephens, winner of the February 2021 Romance Short Story 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: What can you tell us about the process or inspiration behind The Taxi Driver? What’s the story behind the story?
Stephens: To be honest, the story is a very condensed version of a book I wrote called ehookup.org, which follows the story of Ted and Jill, as their marriage deteriorates.
As with all my stories, an idea flashes in my mind, usually when I’m driving (for some reason.) It might be just a fleeting thought, or a memory, or even an image from a magazine or news story from the week before, sometimes even a song on the radio and suddenly I have a story fermenting in my head.
Admin: That’s not uncommon, having ideas while driving. Our minds tend to wander while doing something mundane and familiar, like showering as well. How much of the story draws on your own experiences?
Stephens: Ah, yes. Being anonymous, I can admit that a long time ago I met up with a couple of women online. Just to be clear, I wasn’t married at the time. Only one was a physical encounter. I remember that she was ‘over sexed’ and had low self-esteem, a poor self-image even though she was attractive, and she seemed to be seeking acceptance from me more than anything else. I found it sad in a way. She was my inspiration for Jill.
Admin: This story takes such a gritty, unflattering approach to the genre and strips away all the glamour so prominent in romance. Why did you decide to make the characters so human and highlight both physical and emotional flaws?
Stephens: I wanted to write something different than the romance novels that feature a body builder on the cover, his shirt torn or missing, revealing his dragon tattoo, and looking downwards for some reason. The Blurb is often something like ‘Sarah’s brash and arrogant millionaire boss Ridge Carter knows what he wants and gets it, and he wants Sarah. Will Sarah give in to his animalistic charm and magnetism?’ To be fair, I’m not trying to criticize. The stories are obviously good, riveting reading, proven by the fact that they’re so popular. They target a certain audience, and that’s what commercial writing is all about, and the authors are very good at writing those stories. When all is said and done, I’m doing the same thing, just with a different audience, and nobody wants to pay for mine.(Laughs) I like to stray from the normal, although The Taxi Driver follows the tried and true romance formula of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl reunite and live happily ever after.’
In most of my stories I like to try and make the characters as relatable to the reader as possible, even though the stories themselves are obviously fiction, and some are quite over the top. We all have flaws. Some of the flaws are real and obvious, some are seen by everyone but ourselves, and some are just in our heads, which is a flaw in itself. I imagine that a lot of women–and probably a lot of men–who aren’t comfortable with their bodies and personalities can relate to characters with similar flaws and self-images as their own. I think any good story draws the reader into it, imagining being in a character’s shoes, and feeling their emotions. That’s the way it is for me as a reader, anyway.
Admin: Too true. Do you think Jill and Ted can ever be happy together? How does a man come back from a betrayal like that, knowing what he knows?
Stephens: Everyone is different. We handle things differently. A single indiscretion can bring on a divorce in some marriages, whereas others can stay together throughout ongoing affairs on either or both sides. Ted’s morals and values drive him to believe it was partly his fault, that he should have seen the signs, and that he should have supported and helped his wife. Ultimately, he realized he would be happier with her than without her. On the bridge they felt closer than they had been throughout their entire marriage.
Admin: Were there any ideas that you edited out of the story? How did the story change upon revision?
Stephens: I don’t think I have ever changed stories much on revision. I always stick with my original concept at the start of a chapter and just tidy it up when revising and editing.
The original story of ehookup.org contained a lot of graphic sex. I didn’t think it was necessary to leave it in for The Taxi Driver and it would have reduced the reading audience. It also would have made it more difficult to keep within the 5000 word contest rule.
Admin: Did you try to include a deeper message? What would you like readers to take away from the story?
Stephens: As Ted says in the final scenes: “Sometimes we throw away things that seem unimportant to us, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to find it again.” I wonder how many of us are guilty of that.
Admin: Did you encounter any challenges while writing the book? How do you overcome challenges while writing?
Stephens: My biggest challenge is finding time to write. Believe it or not, I don’t have a computer at home, and I do most of my writing at work, usually on my lunch break, but sometimes ideas come into my head and I neglect my work while I write them down. I write a little bit away from work when ideas arise, and I know I’ll forget them, so I write them on my phone, but it’s more difficult than a keyboard.
Admin: That’s inspiring dedication. So, just a bit of fun for the last question. If this story were translated to screen, what actors do you think should play the characters?
Stephens: I couldn’t go past Amy Schumer as Jill. Amy has an air of innocence and vulnerability about her. If you brushed the cobwebs off Mickey Rourke and made him look 30, he’d make a good Ted. Otherwise, someone who resembled a young Mickey would suffice. Gillian Anderson as Samantha. Sean Penn would be good as sleaze ball Tommy. Sorry, Sean.
Admin: 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.