David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: May 2014

Jane Yolen, America’s Hans Christian Anderson, on Rejection, Reading Out Loud & the Keys to Writing Great Books for Kids

To read on Huffington Post click here.

One of the great things about attending a great writer’s conference is that you get to bask in the glow, and imbibe the wisdom of, great writers.  The New England Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference was just such a conference.  For anyone who loves writers, writing, books, and/or wants to be a writer of books, to be in the company of great thinkers and writers who are willing and able to articulate some of the truths that they have uncovered along the way is like being invited backstage at a convention for wizards, gods and goddesses.  Since this was our first SCBWI where we were going to present, we were a little nervous.  But everyone was so welcoming, kind and nice.  And one of the true gems of our time at the conference was getting to listen to Jane Yolen talk about writing, books and never giving up.

The Book Doctors:  Let’s start at the very beginning: how the heck did you get into the crazy business of writing books for kids?
Jane May2011_6_JS_110506_01479780142421970SnwSmmrSALES_CV.indd
Jane Yolen: I began as a journalist for my pocketbook and a poet for my soul. Turns out I was a lousy journalist, so began working for (in order) Newsweek (research department), This Week magazine (researching facts checking), Saturday Review (in the production department,) Gold Medal Paperback Books (an Associate Editor go-fer and first reader).

Took a children’s book writing course, sold a nonfiction book for middle grades on women pirates and a rhymed concept picture book both to David McKay & Co, and they came out in 1963. The rest is history.

So in order to make a living, I worked for a children’s book packager for a year, then Knopf as Asst. Children’s Book editor for three and a half years, selling six more books to Macmillan, Seabury, and Funk & Wagnalls children’s books departments, went to Europe in a VW bus with my husband for almost a year (well, it WAS the 60’s after all!). Came home eight months pregnant, moved to Mass. and was a freelance writer for real after that.

That’s the short form.

TBD: You seem so unbelievably prolific, how do you find the time to do everything you’re doing?

JY: I love my work, have always been able to lose myself in stories and poems, and have been incredibly lucky as well.

TBD: Do you find there are difficulties with producing so much work?

JY: Of course. No one publisher sees me as “their” author, which means I often get short shrift in the promotion department. Also, it’s hard to sustain a body of work that’s spread about so widely and wildly dissimilar.  When you realize my best selling books are Owl Moon, the How Do Dinosaur books, and Devil’s Arithmetic, how can the public make sense of that! I have fans who think I only write picture books or only write SF and fantasy. I have fanatics of my poetry and are stunned to find out I write prose, too!

TBD: In your incredibly inspirational keynote speech at the annual New England Society for Childrens Writers and Book Illustrators, you mentioned that, despite having won so many awards and published so many books, you sometimes will get five rejection letters in a day.  I found that strangely and incredibly comforting.  How do you deal with rejection?

JY: Knowing that an editor is not rejecting me but is rejecting the work, helps. Remembering that Owl Moon was turned down by five editors, that Sleeping Ugly was turned down by thirteen, and they are both still in print 25 plus years later. Knowing that Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was turned down by 29 publishers and then won the Newbery.  That Dr. Seuss’s To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street by even more publishers and almost 50 years later is still a bestseller also helps. And, as my late husband used to remind me, it’s harder to sell a great book to a publisher than a good one.

TBD: What you think are the keys to writing a successful picture book?

JY: Compression, lyricism, child-centeredness, and leaving room for glorious pictures.

TBD: How you go about promoting and marketing your books?

JY: I speak at conferences, do library readings, am loudly on FaceBook and Twitter, work with SCBWI, do interviews with anyone who asks (!), have Susan Raab as a publicist, write essays for places like Huffington Post, send a poem a day to 400+ subscribers, etc etc. Just like everyone else, I scramble. At 75 my scrambling is a bit slower than it’s been before, but it doesn’t stop me as much as it should!

TBD: Does being a poet influence your writing, both in picture books, and in longer works of prose?

JY: Absolutely. In picture books, it helps with the lyricism and compression that is so much a part of good picture book writing. But it is also a hallmark of my novel writing as well. I read everything aloud, novels as well as picture books. I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we have to please both.

TBD: What is the editing process like when you’re working on a picture book?

Reading it aloud over and over. Reading it to my critique group and listening to what they say. Showing it to my daughter Heidi Stemple who is a fabulous (and thorough-going) editor with great judgment. (As I used to show it to my husband when he was alive.) Trusting them and my agent to be honest with me.

TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

JY: Join SCBWI, the best money you will ever spend. Don’t be afraid to go to conferences,critique groups, have a beta reader (or several), but in the end trust your own judgment. Read what’s out there, then read and read some more to get a sense of how your work runs with or exceeds the pack. Don’t ever write just for a trend or fad because it’s a moving target and by the time you get your work out there, the trend or fad is gone. Dig deep, don’t be afraid to write fiercely, expose your heart. Also while you must remember publishing is a business and has to make money to stay in business, that shouldn’t be your motivation. Writing the book in your heart should be. But still you need to go armored into the publishing world, understand it, not be overwhelmed by it. Consider the editor your voice at the company while always being aware that she is also EMPLOYED by the company. It’s a tightrope for them. Don’t expect they will necessarily be on your side in every battle, even as they publish you. Don’t treat the editor as an adversary, but also don’t expect her to be your best friend. When doing business, put on your shark hat. When writing, put on your storytelling hat.

AND DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN AND TELL GREAT STORIES.

Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is the author of over 360 books, including OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. The books range from rhymed picture books and baby board books, through middle grade fiction, poetry collections, nonfiction, and up to novels and story collections for young adults and adults.

A graduate of Smith College, with a Masters in Education from the University of Massachusetts, she teaches workshops, encourages new writers, lectures around the world. Her books and stories have won an assortment of awards–two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott Medal, the Golden Kite Award, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among many others. She is also the winner (for body of work) of the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Assn. Lifetime Achievement Award, Science Fiction Poetry Association Grand Master Award, the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal,  the du Grummond Medal, and the Smith College Medal. She was the first woman to give the St Andrews University’s Andrew Lang lecture since the lecture series was started in 1927. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates. Also worthy of note, her Skylark Award–given by NESFA, the New England Science Fiction Association, set her good coat on fire. If you need to know more about her, visit her at jane.yolen.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors

The Book Doctors Pitchapalooza @ Jersey City Word Bookstore’s

To read online click here.

photo4Last night, May 22, 6:30 p.m., Word Bookstore in Jersey City was abuzz. People quickly filled up chairs lined up in the back or stood in huddles, shooting the breeze. Taking my seat, I looked around and noticed a woman sitting in the row behind mine. In her hands she clutched The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published and her lips move silently—rehearsing. I say rehearsing, because she was there to pitch her novel.

In fact, most, if not all of the people attending were there to pitch their books. Last night was Pitchapalooza, an event started by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut—the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published—to give twenty writers, picked at random from a pool, the opportunity to pitch their book ideas. Participants get their pitch critiqued (kindly and constructively), receive a twenty minute consultation from David and Arielle themselves, and for one lucky winner, get a meeting with a publisher or agent who is appropriate for their work.

Some of you may have read my interview a few weeks back with David Henry Sterry about the publishing industry and Pitchapalooza. If you did, you know how difficult it is to navigate the publishing world and what a wonderful resource Pitchapalooza and the guide are for aspiring writers. By demystifying the publishing industry and providing valuable insider advice on how to properly market one’s idea, writers get a fairer shake at publishing.

I got to say, last night’s Pitchapalooza was super impressive and inspiring to watch. The first person to get called up was a seventeen year old. He was actually seated beside me, visibly nervous, his muscles tense, dreading what he so obviously was there to do. The kid nailed it! Did I mention that participants only get one minute to pitch? Well in one minute, this kid laid down an interesting, well-structured, and tight pitch for a Young Adult novel.

The panel, comprised of David, Arielle and Jenn—the Events Director of both Word Bookstores—were impressed, but certainly not without comment. What came up often in the critiques was the importance of addressing what the protagonist of one’s novel is like, which often gets neglected while trying to articulate the plot. It’s also very helpful to give comparable titles, basically describing your book by saying what books it’s similar to. This helps publishers get an idea of how to market your book, which is a great comfort to them.

I can’t say anyone at Pitchapalooza had a bad pitch. I expected more bumbling and awkwardness, but it appeared that everyone was pretty well prepared. Even a ten-year-old girl got up to the podium and blew everyone away with a shy, yet well thought out pitch. A ten year old! It was great being a part of that crowd, among writers who were supportive and respectful of each others’ dreams and ambitions.

In the end, the victor of Pitchapalooza was Val Emmich, a writer, musician and actor based in Jersey City. It was a well deserved victory, but Pitchapalooza did not have the feel of a competition. It was more about sharing one’s ideas with others, learning how to effectively sell a pitch and getting together as a community of writers. In end, everyone left with valuable insight and a card for a free twenty minute consultation with The Book Doctors themselves—David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut.

 

How to Be a Successful Writer: Word Bookstore Owner Give the Inside Skinny

The Book Doctors first got to be friends with Word Bookstore when we did a Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books) at their Brooklyn store a couple of years ago. It’s such a beautiful little Brooklyn exquisitely-curated indie that fits in perfectly with its neighborhood. Exactly the kind of bookstore alleged “publishing pundits” like to scream is dying. We had a great event, packed the place, everybody was super nice & we got a typically Brooklyn crowd of writers pitching literary urban angst novel, werewolf investment banker 1%er urban fantasy novel, and lots of picture books trying to be the next “Go the Fuck to Sleep”. When we found out they opened a bookstore in Jersey City, we were delighted. Not only did it fly in the face of prevailing “wisdom” that beautiful and exquisitely-curated can’t survive, it says they can actually expand! So on May 22, we’re doing a Pitchapalooza in Jersey City, to see what Jersey’s finest writers have to pitch. And we figured we’d take the opportunity to pick the brain of owner Christine Onorati, the woman who’s single handedly proving that the death of the bookstore, to paraphrase Mark Twain, is highly exaggerated.

chris onorati word both stores

The Book Doctors: First of all, why in God’s name did you want to get into the book business?

Christine Onorati: I majored in English in college with a focus on publishing. I worked in the publishing business for many years before opening my first bookstore, a small used and new shop on Long Island. My father owned stationery stores my whole life so I always thought retail was in my blood.

TBD: And why, in this economy, when everyone is crying about the death of the bookstore, did you choose to open yet another bookstore?

CO: We’ve been luckily successful with the model we’ve followed in Brooklyn and my family in Jersey City kept saying it was the perfect location for a new store. So when the location and opportunity presented itself, I decided to move forward. I obviously don’t believe that bookstores are dying or else I wouldn’t have done it.

TBD:  Why did you want to open a bookstore in Jersey City specifically?

CO: I always thought JC had a similar vibe to Greenpoint when I moved there over 8 years ago. The feeling of community is strong and the residents seemed hungry for a store like ours. The time seemed right. And again, when the location presented itself, it seemed like the right move.

TBD:  What have you learned about bookselling in Brooklyn that you’re applying to opening your new store?

CO: Our model is basically the same. Make customers happy. Provide excellent customer service. Employ really smart, helpful booksellers. Be a place that book lovers can get together and feel comfortable and happy. Present great author events. Never judge a customer for their reading tastes.

TBD:  How do you choose which books to sell in your bookstore, and which books to feature?

CO: I do all the buying for both stores. I try to always bring in a mix of what I know our customers will like and recognize as well as some surprises that they can discover. It takes time to learn the tastes of the neighborhood but it’s a fun learning experience.

TBD:  Does it gall you when someone comes into your store and gets a lot of you or your staff’s expertise, then says they can get the book cheaper on Amazon, and goes home and orders it online?

CO: This happens very rarely in our stores, thankfully. I think most customers are a bit too savvy to act this callously. But I know it happens elsewhere. And we can’t stop it from happening online, if someone gets our newsletter and decides to order from Amazon instead. While we always focus on the positives and what we can provide as opposed to what we can’t, we’re always ready and willing to have the Amazon conversation with customers if need be. They need to know we can’t compete with Amazon’s prices and probably never will. But stores like mine are not solely about price, and I think most of our customers get that. Both stores gave us a really positive reception when we opened, and we’re still getting it in JC.

TBD:  Do you see anything commonality in successful authors?

CO: I think authors need to hustle more than ever these days. A smart social media presence can go a long way with building loyalty and keeping customers connected to their favorite authors.

TBD:  What advice do you have for booksellers?

CO: I think the days of throwing books on the shelves and hoping they sell are done. We need smart, energetic booksellers who can provide a service that people can’t get online from an algorithm. Pretension or a judgmental attitude have no place in bookselling these days, I think.

TBD: What advice you have for writers?

CO: Connect with readers. Use your publisher’s resources to your best advantage. Build your brand. Keep writing good books that people will want to read.

Christine Onorati is the owner of <a href=”http://wordbookstores.com/ bookstores ” target=”_hplink”>WORD</a> with two locations in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City, NJ. Before opening WORD in Brooklyn in 2007, Christine ran a small new and used bookshop on Long Island after working several years behind the scenes in book publishing. The Jersey City location opened in December of 2013. Christine lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband and son and is expecting twin girls this summer.

The Book Doctors: First of all, why in God’s name did you want to get into the book business?

 

Christine Onorati: I majored in English in college with a focus on publishing. I worked in the publishing business for many years before opening my first bookstore, a small used and new shop on Long Island. My father owned stationery stores my whole life so I always thought retail was in my blood.

 

TBD: And why, in this economy, when everyone is crying about the death of the bookstore, did you choose to open yet another bookstore?

 

CO: We’ve been luckily successful with the model we’ve followed in Brooklyn and my family in Jersey City kept saying it was the perfect location for a new store. So when the location and opportunity presented itself, I decided to move forward. I obviously don’t believe that bookstores are dying or else I wouldn’t have done it.

 

TBD:  Why did you want to open a bookstore in Jersey City specifically?

 

CO: I always thought JC had a similar vibe to Greenpoint when I moved there over 8 years ago. The feeling of community is strong and the residents seemed hungry for a store like ours. The time seemed right. And again, when the location presented itself, it seemed like the right move.

 

TBD:  What have you learned about bookselling in Brooklyn that you’re applying to opening your new store?

 

CO: Our model is basically the same. Make customers happy. Provide excellent customer service. Employ really smart, helpful booksellers. Be a place that book lovers can get together and feel comfortable and happy. Present great author events. Never judge a customer for their reading tastes.

 

TBD:  How do you choose which books to sell in your bookstore, and which books to feature?

 

CO: I do all the buying for both stores. I try to always bring in a mix of what I know our customers will like and recognize as well as some surprises that they can discover. It takes time to learn the tastes of the neighborhood but it’s a fun learning experience.

 

TBD:  Does it gall you when someone comes into your store and gets a lot of you or your staff’s expertise, then says they can get the book cheaper on Amazon, and goes home and orders it online?

 

CO: This happens very rarely in our stores, thankfully. I think most customers are a bit too savvy to act this callously. But I know it happens elsewhere. And we can’t stop it from happening online, if someone gets our newsletter and decides to order from Amazon instead. While we always focus on the positives and what we can provide as opposed to what we can’t, we’re always ready and willing to have the Amazon conversation with customers if need be. They need to know we can’t compete with Amazon’s prices and probably never will. But stores like mine are not solely about price, and I think most of our customers get that. Both stores gave us a really positive reception when we opened, and we’re still getting it in JC.

 

TBD:  Do you see anything commonality in successful authors?

 

CO: I think authors need to hustle more than ever these days. A smart social media presence can go a long way with building loyalty and keeping customers connected to their favorite authors.

 

TBD:  What advice do you have for booksellers?

 

CO: I think the days of throwing books on the shelves and hoping they sell are done. We need smart, energetic booksellers who can provide a service that people can’t get online from an algorithm. Pretension or a judgmental attitude have no place in bookselling these days, I think.

 

TBD: What advice you have for writers?

 

CO: Connect with readers. Use your publisher’s resources to your best advantage. Build your brand. Keep writing good books that people will want to read.

Christine Onorati is the owner of WORD bookstores with two locations in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City, NJ. Before opening WORD in Brooklyn in 2007, Christine ran a small new and used bookshop on Long Island after working several years behind the scenes in book publishing. The Jersey City location opened in December of 2013. Christine lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband and son and is expecting twin girls this summer.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors <

 

6 Word Memoir: Abuse, Redemption & Salvation

Raped, survived, self-medicated, hyponotherapized, wrote, redeemed

chronology 422

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was alone in Hollywood & a very charismatic man wearing a shirt that said SEXY asked me to his place for a steak dinner. Most expensive meal of my life. Steak was drugged, he raped me, & destroyed who I was. I became a drug & sex addict, then went into hypnotherapy, and eventually wrote a memoir called Chicken about the whole thing. Now I have a beautiful family & I write books & such.

To find out more click here.

 

 

I AM SURGICALLY REPAIRED

I’m surgically repaired. Rotator cuff untorn.  I plan 2 b up & running in 10 days.  Although surgeon says 6 months.

surgery

Chicken Audio Book: Author Reads Memoir about Professional Sex & $ & Love & Hollywood

Very excited that the audio book for Chicken is now available. I loved reading this aloud, very proud of the results.

Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, Ten Year Anniversary Edition

“Ten years ago, this debut memoir from Sterry burst upon the literary scene with an energy and inventiveness that captured his little-known subject matter—teenage life in Los Angeles as a rent boy working for a benevolent pimp named Sunny whose “rich, generous, horny friends,” Sterry explains, “pay good money to party with a boy like me.” Now back in print, Sterry’s memoir still crackles with its unsparingly honest approach: “I catch myself in the mirror, seventeen-year-old hardbody belly, pitprop legs, zero body fat, and huge hands. I’m seduced by the glitter of my own flesh.” Scenes from Sterry’s early dysfunctional family life not only add pathos to this tale of fall and resurrection but assure readers that he never sees himself as better than his clients, such as Dot, the wealthy 82-year-old, whose only desire is to experience cunnilingus for the first time—a desire that Sterry readily fulfills. “Even though I have no home and no family except for a bunch of prostitutes and a pimp, even though I have no future… at least I’m good at this.” (Oct.) – Publisher’s Weekly

chicken 10 year anniversary coverFind Chicken at your local independent bookstore:  Indiebound Amazon

“I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre: past tourists snapping shots; wannabe starlets sparkling by in miniskirts with head shots in their hands and moondust in their eyes; rowdy cowboys drinking with drunken Indians; black businessmen bustling by briskly in crisp suits; ladies who do not lunch with nylons rolled up below the knee pushing shopping carts full of everything they own; Mustangs rubbing up against muscular Mercedes and Hell’s Angels hogs. It’s a sick twisted Wonderland, and I’m Alice.”

This is the chronicle of a young man walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970s suburbia, but within a week of enrolling at Immaculate Heart College, he was lured into the dark underbelly of the Hollywood flesh trade. Chicken has become a coming-of-age classic, and has been translated into ten languages. This ten-year anniversary edition has shocking new material.

“Sterry writes with comic brio … [he] honed a vibrant outrageous writing style and turned out this studiously wild souvenir of a checkered past.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“This is a stunning book. Sterry’s prose fizzes like a firework. Every page crackles… A very easy, exciting book to read – as laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing all within a single wrapper. What more could you possibly ask for? -Maurince Newman, Irish Times

“A beautiful book… a real work of literature.” – Vanessa Feltz, BBC

“Insightful and funny… captures Hollywood beautifully” – Larry Mantle, Air Talk, NPR

“Jawdropping… A carefully crafted piece of work…” -Benedicte Page, Book News, UK

“A 1-night read. Should be mandatory reading for parents and kids.” -Bert Lee, Talk of the Town

“Alternately sexy and terrifying, hysterical and weird, David Henry Sterry’s Chicken is a hot walk on the wild side of Hollywood’s fleshy underbelly. With lush prose and a flawless ear for the rhythms of the street, Sterry lays out a life lived on the edge in a coming-of-age classic that’s colorful, riveting, and strangely beautiful. David Henry Sterry is the real thing.” –Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight

“Compulsively readable, visceral, and very funny. The author, a winningly honest companion, has taken us right into his head, moment-by-moment: rarely has the mentality of sex been so scrupulously observed and reproduced on paper. Granted, he had some amazingly bizarre experiences to draw upon; but as V. S. Pritchett observed, in memoirs you get no pints for living, the art is all that counts-and David Henry Sterry clearly possesses the storyteller’s art.” – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body

“Like an X-rated Boogie Nights narrated by a teenage Alice in Wonderland. Sterry’s anecdotes… expose Hollywood at its seamiest, a desperate city of smut and glitz. I read the book from cover to cover in one night, finally arriving at the black and white photo of the softly smiling former chicken turned memoirist.” -Places Magazine

“Snappy and acutely observational writing… It’s a book filled with wit, some moments of slapstick, and of some severe poignancy… a flair for descriptive language… The human ability to be kind ultimately reveals itself, in a book which is dark, yet always upbeat and irreverent. A really good, and enlightening, read.” – Ian Beetlestone, Leeds Guide

“Brutally illuminating and remarkably compassionate… a walk on the wild side which is alternatively exhilirating and horrifying, outrageous and tragic… Essential reading.” – Big Issue

“Visceral, frank and compulsive reading.’ –City Life, Manchester

“Sparkling prose… a triumph of the will.” -Buzz Magazine

“Pick of the Week.” -Independent

“Impossible to put down, even, no, especially when, the sky is falling…Vulnerable, tough, innocent and wise… A fast-paced jazzy writing style… a great read.” -Hallmemoirs

“Full of truth, horror, and riotous humor.” -The Latest Books

“His memoir is a super-readable roller coaster — the story of a young man who sees more of the sexual world in one year than most people ever do.” – Dr. Carol Queen, Spectator Magazine

“Terrifically readable… Sterry’s an adventurer who happens to feel and think deeply. He’s written a thoroughly absorbing story sensitively and with great compassion… A page-turner… This is a strange story told easily and well.” – Eileen Berdon, Erotica.com

“Love to see this book turned into a movie, Julianne Moore might like to play Sterry’s mum…” – by Iain Sharp The Sunday Star-Times, Auckland, New Zealand).

David Henry Sterry on Huffington Post: iO Tillet Wright’s TED Talk: Equality, & How Gay Are You?

chicken 10 year 10-10-13

To see on Huffington Post click here.

10 years ago I wrote a book called Chicken about when I was a 17-year-old prostitute/rent boy/escort/industrial sex technician.  I was lucky enough to get a big splashy deal with a big splashy publisher who sent me on a big splashy tour.  I was under the mistaken impression that people would ask me about my book, about what it was like sexually servicing middle-aged women for money, about the writing I worked so hard on.  To my surprise, most readers, writers, bloggers and journalists wanted to know if I was gay or straight.  And exactly how gay or how straight. After careful consideration, I concluded I was 10% gay, 20% lesbian, and 70% heterosexual.  But I always emphasize that those numbers are fluid.  When I walk into a throbbing gay bar, I immediately find myself flirting and being flirted, feeling about 70% gay.  When I go to a lesbian activist gathering (my mom was gay for about 2/3 of my life) I find myself listening and sharing and sharing and listening, feeling about 70% lesbian.  When I’m playing with my chock-full of breeders softball team, I feel about 110% heterosexual.

So it was with great fascination that I watched iO Tillet Wright’s  TED talk: 50 Shades of Gay.  Her story about the fluidity of her sexuality spoke to me in a very personal way.  As I said earlier, my mom was gay.  In her late thirties she transformed herself from an immigrant homemaker mother of four into a bra-burning consciousness-raising sandal-wearing Gertrude-Stein-haired lesbian.  People are always asking me how my mother “turned” gay.  Like she’d taken a pill, or eaten too many tofu, or read too many Simone de Beauvoir books.  I can’t seem to get people to understand that she fell in love with a woman.  That’s all it took to “turn” her gay.  The woman she fell in love with was a much better listener, communicator, friend, partner, and lover than my father ever was.  I was 16 at the time my mother came out, and she seemed so much happier than when she was married to my cold, withholding, unfaithful father.  So I was happy for her.  She raised me to have an open mind about these things, and not judge people by the color of their skin, or who they loved, or what they worshiped.  She raised me to judge them by their words and their actions.  And her new partner was kind and smart and wise and compassionate in her words and actions.

As I listened to iO Tillet Wright’s talk, and watched all those beautiful pictures of Americans on the LGTB spectrum: black, white, brown, tall, short, stout, skinny, shy and wild, I thought about my mom.  She and her partner moved to a small rural town in Oregon, where she had a neighbor who absolutely hated them.  Not because they were too loud, too messy, too nosy, or in any way bad neighbors.  He loathed them with biblical fury because they loved each other.  And they were women.  He threatened, taunted, intimidated, bullied and made their life a living hell.  My mom tried to give this bigot love, tried to reason with him, tried to show him what a great neighbor she was.  All to no avail.  He just kept hating and hating and hating.  I was ready to go over with a baseball bat and beat the hate out of this ugly pustule.  My mom, the lesbian, talked me out of it.  Eventually my mom and her partner had to leave their bucolic paradise and move to lesbian-friendly Portland.

Watching iO Tillet Wright’s TED talk I was struck by the statistic that a citizen of the United States can be legally discriminated against because of who they love in 29 states.  That’s downright un-American.

I am a man of action.  So that made me start thinking about what is to be done.  And made me admire how iO Tillet Wright is a tomboy of action.  I just love how she took this idea of egregious gender inequality and did something about it.  Just a small local action.  With a camera.  And I love how it spread into a grassroots movement.  It gives me faith in human beings.  Faith in America.

So, as a 10% gay, 20% lesbian, 70% heterosexual man, I rejoiced in seeing all the beautifully diverse LGBTish Americans, and hearing iO Tillet Wright’s message about making this country a place where equality reigns everywhere for everyone.  It made me think about why America was formed in the first place.  Wasn’t it so everybody could worship their own God?  Pursue life, liberty and happiness to their heart’s content, so long as they didn’t hurt anybody?  So why can’t we make America a place where citizens are allowed to love who they want to love?  Isn’t that beautiful idea of what America can be?

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His first memoir Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  His book Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Michael Caine, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

Antonia Crane Talks About Sex Work, Slut-Shaming, Biting Matthew McConaughey and Her New Book: Spent

To read on Huffington Post click here.

I met Antonia Crane when I was putting together an anthology I did about sex work & sex workers. From our first correspondence it was clear she was smart, articulate, funny, talented, ballsy and didn’t take herself too seriously. I knew she had a book in her. Now the book is out of her and into the world. It’s called Spent, and I’m happy to say it’s smart, articulate, funny, talented, ballsy and didn’t take itself too seriously. So I thought I’d pick her brain about sex, money, work, stripping and moms.

David Henry Sterry: I noticed that a lot of pieces in your new memoir Spent were published in other places first. How did that happen? Did it help you become a better writer? Did it help you get your book published?
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Antonia Crane: I started writing nonfiction in grad school about being a sex worker and raging about my mother’s death. I was grieving. I was doing sex work. I have been braiding those two narratives for a while and that texture/tone became the basis for my book. The first great thing that happened was I pitched a column to Stephen Elliott for The Rumpus and he said Yes. Stephen is a Yes man. He seems like he wouldn’t be — but he is such an energy source: an innovator and loves fresh ideas and voices. I sent out essays to a gazillion places, hungry for more yesses. What I got were hundreds of no’s but I kept trying. I kept pushing. I kept writing and I got better. That’s what happens when you work hard.

DHS: How did you learn to become a writer?

AC: By becoming a voracious reader. I have always been in love with books and in love with stories. As a youth, it probably began with Dr. Suess and then Lewis Caroll’s “Alice and Wonderland.” Then I went crazy for Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and fell in love with J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey.” To become a writer, I simply had to write badly until it gradually got better.

DHS: You reveal such intimate personal things about yourself, stuff that is forbidden in our culture, things that make people uncomfortable. Were you worried about how people would react? Have you gotten any slut-shaming as a result of this book?

AC: The slut-shamers have been disconcertingly quiet. Frankly, the part I was worried about the most was not the sex or sex work at all. I am a grown-ass woman who made her decisions: good or bad. The euthanasia chapter was my biggest concern because there are legal issues and personal issues regarding who was in the building; who was in the room with my mother and I. My step-father was amazing about it. He is a good man who does great things and he and I are on the same page politically. Also, I wondered how my actual Dad would respond but he’s been very supportive. Right after a therapy session recently, I flat-out asked him not to read it.

DHS: There’s long been a raging debate about whether sex work is tantamount to slavery, or on the other end of the bell curve, empowering. Where do you stand on this?

AC: I’m so glad you asked that question. It’s a hard question and one I have been thinking about and writing about for a long time. In fact, this article just came out in <a href=”http://www.thenation.com/article/179147/why-do-so-many-leftists-want-sex-work-be-new-normal#” target=”_hplink”>The Nation</a> that I plan to respond to this week. The article criticizes the “sex work as ‘normal’ work” battle cry of many educated feminists, of which I am one. And I don’t fully buy into that line of thinking either. Some sex work is slavery, for instance, when it is. That line is not confusing to me. Sometimes women are enslaved and this is a horrific tragedy that needs to end. Because, the picture of the woman on a billboard who graduated from Mills College and is a sex worker looks really different from a girl sold by her family into prostitution or a young girl from the tracks here in LA. When it’s a choice, Sex work can be empowering, validating, fun, sad, lonely, humiliating and lucrative. So can waiting tables. But, they are very different jobs because when you throw sex into the mix, all of a sudden people get uncomfortable and threatened. People don’t go get a plate of pasta in a restaurant because they are dying of loneliness. But they will come to women in the sex industry for that reason. It’s a troubling enigma. I stand in the crossroads of this debate and think you should ask a sex worker if she thinks it’s slavery. Then go ask an employee of Walmart and compare answers.

DHS: The stuff in your book about your mom is so vivid and beautiful and sometimes excruciatingly painful. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I was reading parts of it. Was it hard to write? Was it liberating? Painful? Or all of the above?

AC: I love tears. I am glad you cried and am honored my writing had this effect on you. I love reading stories that make me feel strongly. My writing sucks when I am not crying while writing it. Tears are my jam. It makes writing in public places embarrassing for my friends.

DHS: It’s really hard to write a good sex scene, but I really like your sex scenes in the book.  They seem so real and vivid. How do you go about constructing a sex scene?

AC: Thank you. I’m always trolling for good sex scenes. Sex is dirty, messy and awkward. There’s this crazy moment in Miranda July’s story “Roy Spivey” where he asks her to bite him out of the blue and he’s a celebrity, like Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey (who I would totally bite). I love that moment so much because it’s strange. I think about what was awful and what was awkward and then what I felt like in my gut and go from there. Steve Almond writes great sex scenes because he seems most interested in that little box of shame that happens whenever two people get naked together. I try to remember that and make him proud.

DHS: Is it harder to be a sex worker or a writer?

AC: Writing is the hardest thing in the world. I just got 3 big rejections this week that stung. And the writing is not only excruciatingly hard work, it’s impossible to get paid for it and it’s never done. I was just telling my publisher, Tyson Cornell over coffee that I am too good at stripping and it makes it hard to leave. Sex work is a hard job, but I have clocked in my 10,000 hours so I suppose that makes me an expert. Maybe I should write a self-help book for strippers: A Stripper’s Guide to Making a Killing Every Night.

DHS: You say that you became addicted to sex work. What do you mean by that?

AC: Sex work has saved me so many times in my life and this pattern can become addicting. Stripping and sex work has bailed me out, provided me with sexual validation, attention, money, filled me with desire, made me feel confident, smart and pretty. Also, in terms of direct service, this is a service job, when I make others feel desired and good, I feel like I have purpose. It’s a lot of topless 12-stepping lately, meaning, I find myself babysitting a lot of rich drunk men. I call them cabs and they send them away. Offer me their father’s planes or golf trips to Ireland. But sometimes they cry in my arms. Sometimes it gets very very real. Sometimes I kind of fall in love with them for their vulnerability and I take that into my actually pretty great big life and learn from it.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for sex workers?

AC: Do something else. While you are there, save your money and invest in your future. Play the long game. Try to remember to be of love and service.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

AC: The best way to serve your writing is to read. The best way to serve other writers is to actually help them in a solid way. The only way to become a better writer is to write every day like your hands are on fire. Write and dig deep. Deeper. Deeper still.

Antonia Crane is a writer, performer and visiting professor at UCSD. She’s a columnist on The Rumpus and editor at The Weeklings and The Citron Review. Her work can be found in: Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon, PANK magazine, DAME, Slake Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Review and several anthologies. Her memoir, Spent is published by Barnacle Books/Rare Bird Lit.
You can Tweet her @antoniacrane and find her book here: Spent.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller and has been translated into 10 languages.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on National Public Radio, in the London Times, Playboy, the Washington Post and the Wall St. Journal.  He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.

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