Thursday, September 25, 2008

Luck or just persistence

So I started to get a few things published in anthologies, anthologies about queer identity and about sex, and I started meeting more writers who wrote for anthologies or just other writers who put their work out into the world and one of those writers, Steve Zealand, thought I should do my own anthology about male hustlers and I wasn’t really interested in that anthology. But I realized there was another anthology I wanted to do, a book that shifted the gaze and put tricks under the microscope instead of the same old gawker mentality: therapists and talkshow hosts and social workers and academics endlessly analyzing the plight of these sorry or maybe even special creatures. I wanted to put together sex workers of all types without any kind of hierarchy of legitimacy, and to focus the lens on the tricks. I felt that, as a whore, you develop these complicated, critical ways of dealing with all of these dangerous intersections of sex, money, desire, intimacy, power—you’re forced to develop that engagement in order to survive. So I wanted to put these hooker stories together, and see what happened.

Of course the publisher rejected my proposal, which was no surprise – I didn’t have any initials after my name. But at that point I’d already written the call for submissions, so I was committed to doing the book. I was excited about it. I started looking into other publishers, and someone even approached me to collaborate on a book about – yes, male hustlers, but then he ended up taking my ideas and submitting them on his own. Strangely, a year after my original proposal, a contract arrived in the mail from the same publisher I’d originally pitched. No explanation. And then we argued about whether the book should be only male sex workers, and this went on for another year, and maybe it makes more sense that we argued before the contract. Not that I’m suggesting that the publishing industry makes sense.

But in any case I won my battle, and didn’t have to change anything, and I realize here that I’ve shifted from writing to editing to publishing, which has been as strange a transition for me as anyone else. Sometimes I feel like I’m enmeshed in a dangerous web where I spend more time on the marketing side than the creative, even if the marketing side sometimes fuels the creative it also weighs me down. But I’m getting ahead of myself, for my first book, what was exciting was that it kind of felt like the direct action organizing that meant so much to me, like I could put an idea out in the world and see who related and then I could hone all these disparate relationships into something much greater than what I’d originally envisioned. Weirder, too.

So okay, I wasn’t yet enmeshed in the publishing industry, independent a misnomer, I mean what were they independent from? And what about you, I mean me, and my independence? But once I did one anthology, well, I couldn’t stop I mean I could stop I mean I even think I did stop, that first time, maybe not after that but that first time I stopped. But I knew there were other books that I needed to do. One of them was about queer survivors of childhood abuse, can you believe there were only a few difficult-to-find books centering around queer survivors? And I wanted to challenge the recovery narrative, present something rougher and messier and bolder too, like our lives. Work by survivors of all genders, side-by-side. Survivors of all types of abuse – sexual, emotional, physical.

The other book I wanted to do was about resisting the gay mainstream, challenging the violence of gay assimilation, but the publisher of my first anthology, Tricks and Treats, wasn’t interested in that one because he said that radical outsider activist queers wouldn’t be interested in buying the book, they would want it to be free. I thought everyone liked free books!

So Dangerous Families was my next anthology, and can you believe the publisher and I had the same argument – they wanted the book to consist of only stories by male survivors, they said that was the only way it would sell. I said listen, didn’t we already have this conversation, and Tricks and Treats was a success? Isn’t that why you’re approaching me again? With this new anthology, isn’t it enough of a commonality that all the contributors will be queer, and survivors?

It’s not that a book about queer male survivors of childhood abuse – or even male hustlers – wouldn’t be interesting, it’s just that those aren’t the books I’m interested in creating. Too many people are destroyed by gender segregation, policing, and regulation for me to risk furthering this caste system. Luckily I won that battle, I mean I’m not sure if it was luck or just persistence.


Lisa Harney said...

Interesting that you had to fight to write books that weren't just about males/men.

Also: I'll be getting a copy of Tricks and Treats.

keidy said...

If it were not for bad luck you would have no luck at all. It was just persistence. How was it like the first time you turned a trick? I love you telling us these stories.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Lisa, wait till you hear the rest of the story...

And Tricks and Treats feels like something so far in the past now, I even use this hilarious hooker photo giving that casual masculinity tricks love on the back cover -- I hope it still reads well!

Keidy, you may be right there -- yes I think you're right... The first time, oh that was nothing much, or wait -- well, that story will have to wait...

Love --

Lisa Harney said...

I'm sure it'll read fine.

Figure that I've not read much of your work yet, so I don't have to measure it against everything else. ;)

Caty said...

My independent call girl network loved _Tricks and Treats_ so much that I got to actually keep my copy for, like, a few days.
Yeah, it still reads damn well, but I do remember thinking the cover was kind of hilarious--I'm glad I can actually say something about it.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Caty, I'm so glad it still reads well, yay!!!

As for the cover, yes yes it's hilarious -- but way way better than what they originally wanted to do, that's for sure...

love --