TNA: Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Phillip MacKenzie Jr. to The Novel Approach to discuss his new collection of short stories, Bite the Pillow: Six on Sex.
Thanks so much for being here with us today, Phillip. Why don’t we start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself: hobbies, interests, the things that make you, you?
Phillip: I have to say that probably one of the biggest things that defines me is reading. I’m insatiable when it comes to that. I review books for PW, so that gets me a lot of free books, but reading is big for me. Writing is also a big part of my life, although I don’t give it as much attention as I should. Backpacking is huge for me. I’m out on the trails for six or seven days every month. I also just bought a kayak, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the outdoors from a different interior. Then there is road tripping. I do that every summer. Hit the road for places I love, visit people, hike, boulder, slot canyons, that kind of stuff, but I also just love being out on the road for days at a time, going nowhere, following backroads to see where they go.
TNA: How did your writing career begin? Did you start out writing fiction, or did you write in another medium first? Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote that you allowed someone else (other than a teacher) to read? What was the story about?
Phillip: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to create stories. When I was little I did that primarily in my head, in fact creating an entire world, and populating it with folks that lived and got married and had careers, and got older, had problems, on and on. I grew up on a farm, and when I was working I would just drift off into this other place, and move my people around. As I got older, my writing was primarily marketing, then I got into writing for a paper in LA, where they were kind enough to keep me busy writing about a lot of different things. My first stab at erotica was as a favor for an editor who was having a hard time getting enough stories together for an anthology, and that aspect grew from there. That may also have been the first thing that I went public with.
TNA: Bite the Pillow: Six on Sex is a compilation of six short stories that explore sex and sexuality, each told in the first person. What made you decide to write these stories in such a personal voice? Are any of them semi-autobiographical and if so, in what ways?
Phillip: I like writing in the first person, probably because I find it to be the easiest way to get started, to get myself into the head of a character and roll forward. Writing autobiographically, however, is different. The first story in the collection, Litany of Desire, is entirely autobiographical. What I found in creating that piece is that writing about myself as a sexual being ended up revealing a lot to me about how I viewed sex at various stages of my life, and it was surprising how much that informed my fiction writing. I found that in writing about myself, and in creating fictional scenarios, I was exploring the ambiguity of my own sexual motives. That I liked the contact with another man, but I wanted it to have conditions that made it, I don’t know, mean more. As I’ve gotten more mature, it has become something much more along the lines of another form of communicating, that sharing that level of skin on skin intimacy with someone is in many ways an end to itself, with its own meaning built in.
TNA: None of these stories are what some might describe as traditionally romantic, though they each end on a promise. What’s your definition of romance? Do you think the definition of romance in M/M fiction is too narrow?
Phillip: Wow, definition of romance? I guess I’d have to say heart pounding, can’t think of anything else feeling. Which sounds like a disease, but I mean it in a good way. When I have felt that way it’s the best feeling in the world, but it also gives me the willies a little bit, because I know there is so much at stake. That’s kind of what I like in a romantic story as well; the stakes. When the stakes are high, when the people have something to lose, something they have to give up about themselves, whether an attitude, or something more tangible, thats what makes it exciting. I read somewhere that no on cares about what brings two people together in a story, they care about what is keeping them apart. I agree with that, and in this collection, what I am exploring is what people are not willing to give up, which is what makes them interesting to me. The characters I’ve written about are holding each other at arms length until that space becomes more than they can stand, and then it’s collision time! As far as definition, or categorization, I think that there are so many ways to experience romance, so many ways to define it, that categorization is almost beside the point; however, I also understand the need to short-form a genre into readily understandable content. So from a personal perspective, no limits, no boundaries, but from a publishing standpoint, I absolutely think that genres need to be understandable. They can be challenged, the edges can get blurry, the boundaries can be pushed, but there has to be a baseline for any of that to happen.
TNA: If you had to choose, which of the six stories would you say is your favorite and why?
Phillip: My favorite story is As Exciting as I Want to Be, because, to me, as the author, it was the most fun and interesting to write. There have been times where I’ve thought to myself that love is not something that is ahead of us, but is something that may be right alongside us. The trick is to be open to seeing someone in a way that you haven’t previously considered. Triple-F is a the most stable character in the story in terms of knowing who he is, and pursuing what he wants, but the narrator is so fixated on this other guy that he thinks should be the right one that he can’t see it. I love that tension that he feels, knowing that something isn’t quite right, but not being able to see past himself.
TNA: How long did it take you to write the stories? What made you decide to self-publish them?
Phillip: The decision to self-publish was pretty easy. I’ve had a few friends who have gone that route, and they’ve been pretty gung-ho about the process, and recommended that I do it. So self-publishing, e-publishing specifically was something I wanted to try. This collection is made up of stories I’ve written over the past few years, and they were just kind of sitting around. I go through periods of writing, and periods of thinking about writing, and periods of doing nothing about it, so it was my hope that by doing this, it would push me to do more.
TNA: My favorite line in all the stories is from As Exciting as I Want to Be — “Love is possible if everything that is becomes something else.” Oddly enough, it makes me think of another of the stories, Competition. What does this line mean to you?
Phillip: Wow, it’s cool that you would bring that one up. It is such a central idea to the book, that blending together with someone sometimes seems to require an exorcism of self, whether we do it to ourselves, or ask it of someone else. And, of course, it isn’t true. It has to do with expectation, and potential. The characters in all these stories are stuck there initially, frozen, unwilling to take a risk and declare themselves, instead just waiting for the other person to be safe. In Competition that plays out when the guys can only declare themselves by putting someone else in the middle. That’s also true in Burlington, where the narrator is crazy about his friend, but can only go so far as to experience his desire vicariously. The Raft Race explores it on a slightly different level, where everything that has been left unsaid gets said with bodies, which is why I love that story too.
TNA: Would you like to share an excerpt from one of the stories with us?
Blurb: Desire and fulfillment collide in these six erotically driven stories, beginning with the non-fiction confessional, Litany of Desire, which sets the stage for the fictional accounts it inspires. Vividly expressed, with explosive erotic content, Bite the Pillow also recognizes that sex itself is sometimes a means, not always an end, and is often, usually, about something much more.
Bite the Pillow by Phillip Mackenzie Jr.
Excerpt from “Lanier.”
That night, I lay awake and thought about Joe’s face in the moonlight. I thought about the sound of his laughing. I thought about the way he hugged me when we had said goodbye, and how his shirt felt cool under my hands but his skin was hot.
As I slept I kept thinking about him, and we were at the Boy Scout camp again. He was wet, like he had just come out of the water, and his face was right above mine. I had to moan when his lips touched my neck, and I woke up and stared at the ceiling until morning.
When it happened, it happened with no warning. I opened the door and he was standing there. It was close to 1:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. He walked through the door without saying anything.
I shut the door, and turned to face him. His face was contorted and confused and scared.
“That shit you were talking about the other night,” he said.
“Was that the only time you ever did that?”
The room felt so tight and hot, like there was only room for one of us to keep breathing.
“Do you think you’re, you know, gay?”
“Did I ever say anything bad about that? Did I ever make you feel bad about that?” he was stumbling over his words, “Because, you know, I don’t…you’re my friend, and if I ever…well, I’m full of shit if I did.”
“I don’t remember Joe, I don’t think so.”
Maybe he had. We’d been friends since we were in 1st grade, we’d probably said over a million words to each other. Besides we were two guys growing up on the border between South Carolina and North Carolina. It’s not the most sensitive place.
“Because you know, I don’t think that way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and you know, if…”
“Shut up. Really. It doesn’t matter.”
“So, we’re friends right?”
“What did you think? That something had changed?”
“Yeah. And it has. It is. Like this, right now, won’t last. This part of our lives, you know, you here in this asshat of a trailer, and me at fucking Isothermal, it’s all, like, I don’t know, like just the next six months. It’s all gonna change.”
“You know, and I was thinking, about the other night, and just lying there by the water, and listening to you talk, and I realized that maybe we wouldn’t be friends always.”
“Because that’s what happens.”
“Not if you don’t let it.”
He moved toward me; put his hands on my shoulders.
“I love you,” he said, “I know that, but I don’t know what it means anymore. Not after what you said. All I know is that I’m afraid of losing it.”
He leaned in, put his forehead against mine.
“Would you?” and then he was on me. His lips crushed mine and he tasted like apple. His hand was on the back of my head, holding tightly like he was trying to pull me inside him, then he pushed me away and pulled his shirt over his head, and then came at me even harder.
I could smell his summer sweat as he pushed me back towards the mattress on the floor of the living room where I slept because that’s where the TV was. I didn’t know what to touch, or how to even start, so I just kept kissing him, and unbuttoning anything I ran into, until finally I pulled his underwear down over those long legs, and the long hard heat of him pressed against my thigh.
Joe was tearing my clothes off me as fast as he could, and everywhere his lips touched, everywhere he bit, everywhere he touched, was like electricity.
Then I was naked and straddling him, staring at him, all naked and pale and beautiful in the darkness, and I bent down and smelled him, tasted him, licked his neck and felt him tremble, felt his hands tense on my thighs. I licked a nipple and he moaned, just a little. I pressed my lips into the little line of hair on his belly, and moved lower.
His hands shook, and mine did too. I inhaled deeply, feeling the wiry crispness of the dark hair in his crotch against my cheek. He smelled mysterious, like slow moving water. I took him in my mouth, tasting salt and sweet. I used my hands and I used my mouth, and I choked a little and he laughed softly. I went faster and he started moaning, getting louder and I had to watch, and so I pulled away and cupped his balls with one hand and jerked him with the other until he let loose with a monster yell and threw his head back until all the tendons in his neck stuck out. In my hand he went hard as steel, and bigger, and then he shot; white jets coming out all crazy in two directions at once, flying up and then landing on his chest and arms and my mattress.
Later, I looked up at him, his face above mine looking kind of confused and proud of himself as he drove his rigid cock deep into me. He pressed my legs further apart with his thighs and leaned forward, kissing me and moaning into my mouth. It hurt, when he first pushed himself into me, because neither of us knew what we were doing, but it didn’t matter, because the pain only made me feel more a part of it.
He leaned back and pulled me closer into him. We rocked together, our eyes getting wider. He started getting nasty.
“You like my dick in you?” he asked. “You like getting fucked?” He slammed himself into me and it was like being punched. “You like cock? You like a dick up your ass, you little faggot?” He was sneering at me, his mouth half open, his dark hair flopping into his eyes.
“You like ass on your dick, motherfucker?” I snapped back, and I started laughing.
He laughed back at me “Yeah. Yeah, I think I fuckin’ love it.”
I ran my hands over his sweaty chest, his hard nipples like arrowheads under my palms. I grabbed his head and pulled it down to me, kissing him like he was oxygen and opening myself even more to him.
We rolled over, and I straddled him. His cock reached deeper into me than before and I let out a sound somewhere between a whimper and a hiss.
“You fucking whore,” he said. “Ride my fucking cock.”
So we went at it like that for a while, his hand pumping my dick, me grinding down so hard on his prick I was seeing stars, and shouting crazy filth at each other until we couldn’t say words anymore, and we were just sweating and grunting and fucking.
Then I came. I didn’t even know I was going to. He hit something inside of me, and my cock jerked, and then my whole body convulsed, and cum flew everywhere. I couldn’t even make a sound.
“Holy shit,” Joe said catching a full blast in the face. Then he started laughing.
I collapsed on top of him. He pulled out of me and wrapped his arms around me and held on tight until I stopped twitching. Then we lay on our sides and I stroked another orgasm out of him. We were kissing when he came; he stopped breathing and then sort of sighed into my mouth as his hot slickness erupted between our bodies. I kept stroking until he grabbed my hand and then it was over; the night quiet returned as our breathing slowed.
“You just fucked me,” I said quietly. “I can’t believe you just fucked me.”
“Get used to it,” he murmured sleepily, pulling me against him.
And again that night I dreamed of cool water under moonlight, and the sound of Joe moving through the lake towards me, rising out of the darkness, smiling.
TNA: Do you have any works-in-progress you’d like to share a little bit about?
Phillip: I’ve got a number of things going, some in this genre, and some in other genres. Nothing is firmed up enough to really get into at this point, but I’m really hoping that this puts a fire under my butt to get some good stuff done. The M/M genre, as it’s presented itself to me over the past week since I introduced myself to the community of writers on Facebook, seems incredibly great to me, and the group of people I’ve encountered is so awesome, I’d really like to do something in that genre and see how it is received.
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?