'Heat 9' interview: Series editor Alopex
Isiah had the chance to interview most of the contributors to annual adult anthology Heat 9, published by Sofawolf; some could not be reached. Related interviews: Whyte Yote & Alastair Wildfire – Kandrel & Scappo – Camron & Vantid – Huskyteer – Kyell Gold & Nimrais – Tempe O'kun
Isiah Jacobs: Alopex, thank you so much for coming on! It's a pleasure to have one of the Sofa Wolves here!
Alopex: Thank you for having me! It's not often the editors get the attention of the media. :)
Isiah Jacobs: I agree! I see interviews featuring films and you mostly see the actors. You never see the minds behind the magic, like the writers, the producers, the directors, etc.
Alopex: That's what the director commentary tracks are wonderful for...at least with films.
Isiah Jacobs: There is your "Afterglow" with Heat, but you're only given so much room to express your thoughts.
Alopex: Well, it was a good idea initially, but often I struggle to find something new to say that doesn't just rehash what the volume was about. Sometimes having a limited space to fill is a blessing -- especially when I leave that part until the very end. :)
Isiah Jacobs: And we'll be getting to that in just a bit. This is the ninth instalment of Heat, and the range of the authors and illustrators in this volume is amazing. Do you feel that you've come a long way since the first issue?
Alopex: Definitely. I don't want to knock our first issue, but that one was just to get our feet wet and figure out what it was we wanted Heat to be. I wasn't even directly involved in volume #1, but afterwards, I was telling the others how we could do THIS, and maybe THAT, and suddenly I was told, "Great! You can be the editor on the next one!" And I've been editor ever since. With each volume, we try new things, and it has on average gotten longer, though we try to keep things from getting too much longer, which would affect things like printing and shipping costs.
Isiah Jacobs: So, you've been doing this for eight years, then?
Alopex: Eight volumes, which is about eight years. I think we missed a year in the middle when I was busy with other things in life that knocked me off the usual Anthrocon release.
Isiah Jacobs: So eight years of actual production. What do you think of working on cranking out the finest furry porn for eight years now? Surely your diploma must mean nothing by this point.
Alopex: It is a challenging project personally in that I put an awful lot of time into it, and my work spans project management, art direction, layout, editing, etc., and yet it's not exactly something to put on the ol' resume. I'm grateful that so many people enjoy reading Heat, and we have regular customers that come up to the Sofawolf booth every Anthrocon to get the latest issue without even really looking to see what's inside. Each volume starts around August of the year, with editing through the fall, art selection and management through the winter, and then layout work into the spring, so I only get a few months rest before the process starts all over again.
Isiah Jacobs: Let me just say, I think that's a compliment. You guys have proven yourself so much, they don't even doubt the integrity of your publications.
Alopex: It's nice to get some positive feedback on where all that time went. Thank you! We do get some constructive criticism, and we take that seriously. But for people who wish Heat were something other than it is, we're not likely to make those sorts of changes. For example, doing an all gay or all straight issue. Heat is ultimately about the stories between characters and (I hope) the fact that the love between two individuals is universal enough that you can tell good stories (even erotic ones) that will appeal to others who don't necessarily share the same sexual orientation as the characters themselves. (Plus, doing one all-orientations issue each year is enough work! I'd hate to try to split things up into multiple orientation-specific volumes.)
Isiah Jacobs: Thank you, Alopex! I couldn't agree more! It should be the love between the characters that makes the reader enjoy them! The orientation shouldn't play a role! I'm straight, and if a gay author can write a gay erotic story and make me fall in love with it and be aroused, then that is a damn good author!
Now, in the interviews that I've done so far, at one point or another, I've been asking them all the same question. Which is, "How does your story relate to the theme of the anthology?" What I wasn't expecting was the confusion in response. They all said that they weren't aware of a theme. It wasn't until my interview with Kandrel and Scappo that it came to my attention that a theme isn't chosen until all the stories have been brought together. Is this true?
Alopex: Yes, and for that I'd say we don't have a theme as much as a general pattern which gives me something to talk about in the Afterglow section. :) But it is a common enough confusion for our submitters -- I'm often asked what theme a particular volume will be by someone who wants an inspiration for what to write about, and I have to tell them that we don't have official themes.
Isiah Jacobs: Why not a theme?
Alopex: We don't have themes because I've never seen a need for one. We let people be as creative as possible, and that can lead to some nice surprises. It also leads to diversity in each issue. One thing that I DO set as a goal is to get as much of a balance of sexual orientations as possible out of the entries, so that it doesn't weigh too much gay or straight. And if I have two stories that are too similar in theme that are of good quality, we'll usually decide which one we think is the stronger, so as to provide room for more diversity in the volume as a whole. Although the stories and comics and poems are discrete entities themselves, we do keep an eye towards the overall experience the individual volume will provide to the reader.
Isiah Jacobs: And you also choose stories based on how well they complement each other?
Alopex: We don't choose stories because of how they might pair with others in the issue so much as we might say, "well, this one is more of a romance with sex only alluded to, so having these others that are more explicit erotica will provide some contrast." Or thematically, we may have one that's more traditional fantasy, with flowery prose, and so we'll lean towards something with gritty realism for balance. If there is any pattern worth talking about in the Afterglow section, that usually doesn't appear until the stories have been chosen and the subsequent editing process gives me a chance to see the selected works as a whole.
Isiah Jacobs: And with the stories you did choose for this volume, they all had a theme that romance isn't the fantasy that it's usually made out to be?
Alopex: In a general sense, yes. Some stories would follow that more than others. If love were easy, there wouldn't be as much of a compelling story to tell!
Isiah Jacobs: So the theme that you come up with by the end is a loose and broad theme?
Alopex: Yes, and I see the theme in this volume as being a bit more broad in the sense that the stories can be a challenge for the readers themselves. We include a couple taboo subjects that could turn readers off. But I have to assume that the readers are generally open-minded to be reading something like Heat to begin with. With these particular stories, the taboos are covered in such a way that if you can get past any potential squickish reaction, you can still hopefully enjoy the larger story that it's part of.
Isiah Jacobs: Well I for one enjoyed myself! I was a bit squicked with "Bad Timing" but I still enjoyed it! It was a bit funny! Seeing as you're the editor, surely you've done a fair bit of writing yourself?
Alopex: A little...but if I could turn back to "Bad Timing" just a moment before we move on to other topics...
Isiah Jacobs: Go ahead!
Alopex: One of the tricky topics for writers trying to get into Heat is that of fetishes. "Bad Timing" involves a particular fetish that's rather uncommon, and as you noted, potentially squick-inducing, so it's a good example to hold up as how to get a fetish into Heat. The problem that we see with stories that include fetishes (usually a fetish of the writer's) is that the writer dwells on acting out the fetish to please himself/herself. This may be a great approach if you are writing for other people who share the fetish, but not so good if you are writing for a more general audience like Heat.
With "Bad Timing" the fetish is mentioned, but is over quickly enough that (hopefully) readers who don't share the fetish won't be squicked, or bored, or confused. And the fetish itself is not the main plot of the story — it's a component in a larger mystery that wouldn't have occurred without the fetish being involved. So, having an unusual or bizarre fetish in a story doesn't necessarily make it automatically a rejection from Heat, but it does make it a bit more challenging to find some way to make that fetish interesting to our general reader base who may not share the fetish. And with that, I've probably beat that topic into the ground, so would you like to return to your question about my own writing?
Isiah Jacobs: Yes! You say you've done some writing. Where is it?
Alopex: Well, "some" is exactly one published story for Sofawolf Press, which was "Chains of Circumstance" in Shadows in Snow: More Stories from New Tibet. It's not erotica, though. And to be honest, it has been a number of years since I last read it, and I'd probably be embarrassed by it today. :) As an editor, I have learned a lot about writing since then, and I'd probably have a field day picking it apart. I'm happy in my current role as editor, helping others get their stories published. Writing for me was always a rather painful and tedious process.
Isiah Jacobs: How did you get from writing one story to becoming editor of an annual anthology eight years in a row? That must have been a really good story! I mean, you don't see Kyell Gold doing that, and look at how many stories HE'S written! I think you're far more deserving of his popularity.
Alopex: I was marginally involved in the first issue of Heat. After that one came out, I kept talking about these great ideas for what could be done to make Heat even better, and was made editor of the second volume, perhaps just to shut me up. :) But I did a good enough job that they've let me keep it. No one else at Sofawolf really has the time to put into another anthology. We eventually dropped Anthrolations because Jeff became too busy with business operations to manage that project. Pulling together so many writers, poets and artists on a regular schedule is a significant commitment, and I've managed to keep it going.
We tried bringing in associate editors for some volumes (which is why I'll often switch between "I" and "we" when talking about Heat), but so far I haven't found the right balance and allocation of roles to make it work as smoothly as I'd like. Heat is for good or bad my baby, so it's hard to let go of control at times. Of the assistant editors, I should give a special shout-out to Jeff, who has helped me through the slushpile regularly every year.
Isiah Jacobs: Thank you, Jeff! I hope he reads this!
Alopex: I'm sure he will. Eventually. When he's done packing up books to ship out to Comic-Con, and balancing the books from Anthrocon, and a million other things.
Isiah Jacobs: Earlier you mentioned how you strive for equality in terms of the stories. In regards to the homoerotic stories, how sick and tired are you of seeing male/male? I know there was that one lesbian story in an earlier volume, but that's been the only one.
Alopex: Oh, I wouldn't say I'm SICK of it. I am gay myself. But I do wish there were more submissions of female/female nature to choose from. We really just don't get that many of them, and to be published, they still have to rise above a certain bar in order to make it into the final round of selections. In addition to "Bus Stop", which is the story I believe you're referring to, we have had at least one comic... Ah yes, "Kisses" by Angie Kae in Heat #6. "Two Rivers" by Renee Carter Hall in Heat #5 was ended up lesbian, despite its initial hetero beginning. You got me curious. I've pulled out all my copies to refresh my memory. I do like to let people know that we have female/female content, even if it's less common. "Shark" in Heat #3 was a comic by Leo Magna. So on average, perhaps one every other volume, though I'd be quite happy to increase that frequency! With as many volumes as there are out there for Heat, I don't hold it against anyone for not having read (and especially remembered!) every story, comic or poem. I can't even remember them off the top of my head any more.
Isiah Jacobs: Well, I do believe submissions will be opening again in a month (From the date of this interview)! So get to it, furries!
Alopex: Yes. Because the next issue is the big 10, we plan to do some things a little different, but there is nothing confirmed yet that to talk about at this point. Sorry, no big scoop for your interview!
Isiah Jacobs: DAMN! And I was looking forward to that! I know that you have a professional standard to uphold, and I don't mean to insult you, but do you sometimes find yourself being a bit biased in the stories you go over?
Alopex: We all strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible during the review process, and we do try various things to facilitate that, but I will admit that I'm human (no, not really a fox!) and may occasionally let my own preferences sway some decisions. I can't point to specific examples, though. When we do reviews, we remove identifying information from each story to minimize bias for/against specific authors. And I try to have at least one other person read and rate the submissions to compare to my own notes.
Isiah Jacobs: There were two illustrators that I was pleasantly surprised to see in this volume. Namely Scappo and RayFKM. Scappo is such an accomplished, well known illustrator. He is the administrator for two porn sites (NSFW: SexyFur and TailHeat)! I mean, the guy has it made! And to see his art in the highest respected anthology series of the fandom?! My mind was blown!
Ray, on the other hand, is one of those obscure hipster artist. Not that he actually is a hipster, but he's not as well-known as the other illustrators in this collection. I've been following him for a while, and then I heard that he was doing a comic in Heat! Again, I was so surprised! Unexpected, but happy for him! Did he come to you or did you go to him?
Alopex: In both cases, we contacted them. I knew Scappo had expressed an interest in doing work for Heat through a friend. He does awesome work, and I thought that "Better" would be a good match for it, so I contacted him and found out he was available.
For Ray, I'd been following him on Fur Affinity for a while. Both his style and his sense of humor are pretty unique for the fandom, so I reached out to see if I could bring a bit of that in to Heat. He came up with a comic that has some rather off the wall humor that is different from a lot of what we have in Heat, and yet seems to fit in perfectly. Ray's comic brings a bit of alt-newspaper lightness (with a touch of bizarre) to a volume that tends to lean more towards detailed and realistic illustrations and "serious" stories.
Isiah Jacobs: Well I applaud your decision! Ray has an excellent sense of humor! I seriously laughed my ass off reading his comic.
Alopex: Thank you! I was quite pleased to have him agree to be part of Heat.
Isiah Jacobs: Let's move on to the cover real quick. It was done by a man in the Philippines, correct?
Alopex: From Taiwan, actually. But yes, rather the other side of the globe. :)
Isiah Jacobs: Taiwan! Now, unfortunately, I have been unable to get in contact with him, so perhaps you could answer my question. What is the significance behind the cover?
Alopex: Steam heat! Seriously, that's about as much significance there is to the cover. :) Some Heat covers are related to stories in the issue, and some are just decorative. There is no rule — just a gut instinct for what feels right (or just good) at the time. I'd been following his work on Fur Affinity, and I liked his loose digital painting style. I thought it would make a good cover, especially since Kamui had done such a mind-blowingly detailed cover for Heat #8. Racoonwolf had done some steamy pics of guys in Asian baths that I pointed to and said, "I think something like this would make a good Heat cover." In gay furry porn, locker room scenes are quite common. I like the contrast in cultures where communal bathing is a bit less sexually charged...though you can see in the gazes of the characters on the Heat cover that even there, minds may wander.
Isiah Jacobs: That is an excellent point! Alopex, thank you so much for coming on! I hope to see you again soon!
Alopex: Thank you for inviting me! It has been a pleasure.