David Henry Sterry with the skinny on the Opera that was World Cup 2014, the greatest World Cup we shall ever see.
I first met Madison Young when we performed together on the same bill at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. I was immediately struck by the wonderful mass of contradictions. Smart but humble. Cute but fierce. Physical but articulate. Frankly, everything you’d want in a porn star. I’ve been following her career ever since. I was so happy when she took her revolutionary ideas of sexuality and began directing, creating filmed sex that’s the next step in the evolution of erotic filmmaking. She has a new memoir out called Daddy. So I thought I’d sit down and pick her brain about sex, movies, writing, and yes, Daddy.
Madison Young: I first entered into the world of erotic filmmaking as a performer and model in 2002 and then started directing films in 2005. As an artist and activist, the highly political medium of documenting sexual desire on film in an authentic way that captured and portrayed the way that I experienced my own sexuality, was a huge incentive for me to explore and participate in the world of pornography.
I also needed a reliable steady income to support my life as an artist as well as supplement my non-profit arts organization, Femina Potens. Working with in erotic film allowed me the freedom to pursue my work as a performance artist, give back to the community through the curation of hundreds of queer, feminist, edgy visual and performance art events and express my sexual self in a performative and film making capacity. Simultaneously I was making a political statement and creating change with in the adult film world by focusing on the advocating of authentic expression of self with an emphasis on pleasure and connection.
It’s amazing how powerful the documentation of authentic self can be. It has the ability to create space for others to recognize unexamined parts of their own psyche, their own self, their own desire. It grants them permission to explore uncharted parts of themselves. It grants courage for others to embrace and celebrate who they are. I try to embrace those qualities through out all the work that I do.
I wasn’t especially worried about how the world or my family would judge me, but I realized there would be judgments. One of my mottos is “Reveal All Fear Nothing” I knew if my work and my life were going to be about living life out loud, in the open, and encouraging people to express and celebrate who they are – then I would need to first learn how to do that myself.
If I was going to celebrate and create space for the authentic expression of self I wasn’t going to do so behind closeted doors. I first really examined the work I was doing, why I was doing it, and the social importance of the work I was doing with in the industry. I had to gain a certain understanding of myself before I could communicate the intricacies of my complicated and frequently misrepresented and misunderstood work.
After well over a decade working with in the realm of sexuality and dozens of open conversations, my family is supportive and understanding of the work I do. They understand that I’m an artist and educator and that I work with in the realm of sexuality and pornography. They weren’t always super supportive. They had concerns around safety and I understand that. I started introducing my mother to co-workers and producers of the erotic events and sex toy shops that I was teaching at. Companies like Good Vibrations. Those visits gave my mother a better understanding of how both myself and my work were being presented and the part of the world of sexuality that I was working with in.
When my work started to gain notice with in the university and academic circuit it set my mother and father at ease. I think they thought , “If Yale supports the work that my daughter is doing and is presenting her work well it must not be that bad”.
Largely the greatest judgements I have received are from anonymous folks commenting online when I’m interviewed. These tend to be people who are largely unfamiliar with my work and have heavily judgmental opinions about sex and sex work. It’s understandable and comes with the territory.
Our society heavily shames our sexual desire and simultaneously attempts to capitalize on our sexual fears and anxieties, encouraging body negativity. My work directly works to obliterate the sexual shame that is so inherent in our society by documenting the expression of authentic sexual expression, intimacy, love of our selves and others.
DHS: What made you decide to become a professional memoirist? Were you worried about how your family, and the world might judge you?
MY: Writing was maybe one of the first places that my thoughts and feelings had a place to go and be fully authentic in their expression of self. I remember my first journal as a seven year old child. I would fill the journals up with my most intimate thoughts and feelings, feelings that I didn’t feel safe expressing anywhere else. I remember writing my first queer experiences of self down in my journal. Writing and creation of art and performance have always been a safe container for the exploration, processing, challenging and discovery of self, for me.
I had been working on different variations of “Daddy” for a few years. In the summer of 2012, I met with my publisher Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird. I had handed him the memoir I had been working on and then we had this really great conversation about the book. Through that conversation I discovered the much more challenging and compelling story that needed to be told — a story of a girl finding a place of belonging, needing to believe in something outside of herself, and then watching as everything she thought she knew and that she thought she believed in started to crumble before her eyes. That is when we discover our real strength, our power, our courage, our inner hero, our inner “Daddy.”
Of course that was the most difficult story to tell. The imperfect story. The story that was still very tender and raw and difficult to express. I was most definitely worried that the world would judge me. It was a very vulnerable work. Parts of my life that I hadn’t really discussed publicly before. Parts of my life that weren’t accompanied by well articulated sound bites. And at the same time, I knew that was where the real art existed, where the compelling story was. It’s terrifying to embrace your humanness. But at the same time liberating. I keep going back to my own words of “Reveal all Fear Nothing”.
DHS: You are also an activist, how does that play into your role as an artist?
MY: I feel like they are essentially the same – artist and activist. All artists are essentially activists. We catalyst societal and personal change through the creation of visual and performative work. Art pushes and inspires. Art changes ourselves and the world. It creates space to question everything that we think we know.
DHS: How did you learn to be a filmmaker? How did you learn to be a writer?
MY: I learned how to write by writing and how to make films by picking up a camera and making films. I haven’t been formally trained in any of the arts that I practice. I studied theater at performing art school and then went on to college as a theater major. I think my experience in theater has helped me to be a better filmmaker and writer.
One of the most significant lessons that I remember learning in theater class was when I asked the teacher, “How do you act?” and my teacher said “You just do it. You just are. You allow yourself to be”
I think that knowledge has given me courage to tackle any medium that has drawn me in as an artist. I articulate and dream and visualize the manifesting of my film or a chapter in my book and I try not to let my cerebral bits get in the way.
If I have a film narrative that has been calling to me I lie down and close my eyes and focus in on the character in my visualization. I allow my character to move and dance and fuck and evolve. I follow them on their adventure, learn who they are and try to retain a mindfulness of the cinematic shots in which I’m viewing the actions as they are appearing in my mind.
I do the same with my writing. For the memoir- I would envision the scene in which I would be writing about. I’d view it like a film and listen but this time I allow a voice over narration in my head to slip in and tell the story.
As a kid I spent a lot of time in my head slipping away into those stories. It was a way that I escaped dealing with bullies and being social with my classmates who all seemed to despise me for being different. Overall escaping into the worlds in my head allowed me a great power to visualize and manifest the worlds that I was dreaming up. It prepared me for being an artist.
DHS: I found when I was in the sex business that the lines tended to blur sometimes in a way that was not entirely comfortable. Does having sex professionally affect how you have sex personally?
MY: I don’t think that it does. It’s sometimes easier having sex professionally as there is this specific negotiated container for sex and passion and sexual exploration and to exist in. There is a charge and energy on set that is supportive of you exploring your edges.
In my personal life there are greater negotiations of space for sexual expression, sometimes our sex is closer, smaller, more intimate – largely because of energy levels of working all day and parenting all day and attempting to not wake up our sleeping toddler.
I prefer larger energy exchanges (although intimacy can be nice). We do get out of the house and create space for some of our larger than life kinky and sexual fantasies to fly high though. Mostly that happens at dungeon spaces or hotels or rental cars. I really want to try out the San Francisco Hook Up Truck. I’m hoping to try that this weekend with Daddy for his birthday.
DHS: Do people make assumptions about you because you make movies that have explicit sex in them?
MY: I’m sure they do but I don’t usually get to hear what those assumptions are. I’m very open with the people I meet about my work. I’m very grateful to live in the bay area where I feel there is greater acceptance of sex work than in many areas of the country. I feel like I’m also very accessible. When folks have questions or want to talk about the politics and inner workings of pornography and it’s social and culture impact/significance – I’m nearly always open and available to delve into that conversation. Those conversations to debunk negative and harmful stereo-types that are propagated through the media.
DHS: What kind of pornography turns you on? What kind of pornography turns you off?
MY: I love beautiful porn. Erotic films that capture the beauty of the body, the beauty of sexual desire. The erotic films and porn I enjoy often have an artistic edge to them. I love a lot of the old Vivid Alt films by Eon McKai, Dana Dearmond and Kimberly Kane. I tend to like films with heavy kink elements to them, queer sex, connected, hot sweaty, expressions of lust and desire.
Its a huge turn off if I’m watching a porn and I feel like the performers are not actually having an incredible time or are absent or disconnected – that’s just a huge turn off.
The porn that I shoot and direct is a big turn on for me. It’s like looking through a photo album of pleasure induced moments with on and off screen partners. All these years I’ve been documenting my own sexual evolution, and that really turns me on.
DHS: The word feminist has become so loaded in our culture? How do you define it in your life and in your work?
MY: Feminism with in the context of my life focuses on empowerment and choice. Choice of gender expression, choice to love, choice to express and articulate my sexual desires. Feminism informs my submission, my politics, my work, my writing, my film making, the way I make art, the way I parent. It involves a degree of consciousness of the intersections of systematic oppression, how to operate with in or outside of those systems, self awareness of how our individual actions contribute to larger existing power struggles.
Feminism with in my parenting looks like empowering my child with knowledge of self – asking my child what their preferred gender expression or preferred name is rather than assuming roles based on the sex they were assigned at birth. I empower my child with knowledge about their body – names for their body parts: vulva, anus, uterus. My child knows how to negotiate space for themselves, how to ask for consent to hug or kiss another person and knows that others must ask for their consent to gift affection toward them. Teaching agency over one’s body is a key factor in how feminism plays into my parenting.
I also emphasize through a mantra with my toddler ” Be gentle to yourself, Be gentle to others, Be Gentle to the world around you.” Very simple yet very radical.
Many of these same simple feminist concepts I carry with me into my own work. Both expressing consent and agency over my own body and facilitating space for others to communicate the type of affection they wish to exchange with one another, facilitating that negotiation and then documenting it. Facilitating space and celebration of gender expression. Advocating for my own self care on set, advocating for other’s self care. Being gentle with myself, with others and with the world around me.
We don’t talk about things in our house using words like good and bad. I’m trying to do away with this binary way of thinking. Life is much more complex than that. We talk about how anyone is capable of being gentle or not gentle. A police officer might have a job of being gentle but I’ve seen some cops being down right not gentle at protests for nothing more than occupying space in this world. The radical gentle. Radical love. Love. Loving gentle actions. So simple yet so radical.
DHS: Was it difficult taking the seemingly random events of life and crafting a random out of them into a book? Was it difficult revealing yourself on the page?
MY: Yes it was definitely a challenge. I had to simultaneously create enough space from my life to view myself as a character in a narrative and craft a very specific story from very specific scenes in my life while delving into really personal emotionally intimate and challenging moments. It was a challenge and I’m so happy that I had such a great team at Rare Bird that I was working with to really focus the story. There are so many very significant people and elements of my life that just didn’t make it into the book because it wasn’t absolutely essential in the telling of this story. I try to frame the story by letting the reader know they are only reading one slice of my life. This memoir could have been told a dozen different ways. Maybe some of those stories will come to fruition in future books. It was really hard editing and approving edits for the memoir though. Seeing people or parts of your life not make it to the final cut, that was hard. There’s just such an emotional investment there. But then I’d take a step back from it and see the art that we were sculpting, the essential elements of the story, carving out everything that isn’t that story. Regarding revealing myself, some chapters were definitely more difficult than others. I wanted to just revel in the chapters that were filled with love and lust. The chapters dealing with topics like sobriety, depression and infidelity – those were difficult chapters. But it felt really healthy and cathartic making my way through the tough stuff.
DHS: What advice do you have for beginning writers? Beginning adult filmmakers?
MY: For beginning adult filmmakers I’m facilitating the first ever 3 day- 30 hour Erotic Film School(www.EroticFilmSchool.com) in which students will have the opportunity to create a film in a collaborative, hands on experience working with industry professionals as we tackle everything from pre production: shot lists and model negotiations to post production: editing and submitting films for erotic film festivals. For anyone interested in erotic film making I highly recommend applying at www.EroticFilmSchool.com . Also I’m currently working on my next book, the DIY Porn Handbook:Documenting Our Own Sexual Revolution.
For film makers and writers I encourage really developing a practice. Don’t wait for some magical time or degree to pick up a pen or a camera. Borrow a camera, shoot on your iPhone, start viewing the world through a lens and see what you see. What do you gravitate toward? Where do you find beauty? Get to know yourself as an artist through your practice. Volunteer or intern for a working artist, filmmaker or writer. Study them and the way that they work. I’m always staffing volunteers and interns to assist me with my projects at http://IAmTeamMadison.wordpress.com . Be fearless in your pursuit of your passion, your truth.
Madison Young is a sex positive Tasmanian devil. This sexpert grew up in the suburban landscape of Southern Ohio before moving to San Francisco, California in 2000. Since then this mid-western gal has dedicated her days to facilitating safe space to dialogue on the topic of fringe identities and cultures as well as documenting healthy expression of sexuality. Young’s breadth of work in the realm of sexuality spans from documenting our sexual culture in her feminist erotic films to serving as the Artistic Director of the forward thinking non-profit arts organization, Femina Potens Art Gallery. She can be found on Twitter @madisonyoung.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, including Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chicken Hawks: Professionals and Clients Writing about Each Other and Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. His new book is Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent (10-Year Anniversary Edition). He can be found on Twitter @sterryhead.
It’s the greatest time in history to be a writer. There are more ways to get published than ever before. While it’s great to have so many options, it’s also confusing. But when you break these many different ways down, they sort themselves out into just three primary paths: 1) The Big 5: HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Macmillan, 2) Independent presses that ranges in size from the hefty W.W. Norton to the many university presses to the numerous one-person shops. 3) Self-publishing. In our over 35 years experience in the publishing business as agents, writers and book doctors, we have walked down all three paths–and we have the corns, calluses and blisters to prove it. To help you avoid such injuries, we have mapped out the pluses and minuses of these three paths in order to help you get successfully published in today’s crazy Wild West world of books.
1) The Big Five: Since publishing has gone from being a gentleman’s business to being owned, run and operated by corporations, you have a much better chance of getting your book published if you are Snooki from Jersey Shore hawking your new diet manifesto than if you’re an unknown (or even established but not famous) writer who’s written a brilliant work of literary fiction. And since the corporatized publishing world continues to shrink at an alarming rate, there are fewer and fewer slots available, even though the competition is every bit as fierce for those ever-dwindling spots. Add to this the fact that, unless you are related to and/or sleeping with Mister Harper or Mister Collins, you will need to find an agent. Most of the best agents only take on new clients who are at the very top of the cream of the crop. Even new agents who are trying to establish themselves only take on a very small percentage of what they are pitched.
Writers who haven’t been published by The Big 5 assume that once they get a deal with one of these big fish, they’ll be able to sit in their living rooms and wait for their publishers to set up their interviews with Ellen and Colbert. They assume they’ll have a multiple city tour set up for them where thousands of adoring readers will buy their books, ask for their autographs, and shower them with the love and adoration they so richly deserve. We can tell them from hard-won experience that this is absolutely, positively, 100% not the case. Our first book together was with one of the Big 5. We won’t mention their name, and when we’re done with the story you will see why. When we went into our meeting with our publicity team, we were full of grand and fantastic ideas about how to promote and market our book, and were wildly enthusiastic about having a giant corporation that specializes in successfully publishing books behind us. Turns out our “marketing team” consisted of one guy who looked like he was 15 years old, and had 10 books coming out that week, and 10 books coming out the next week, and 10 books coming out the week after that. When we told him our grand and fabulous ideas he said in a cracking voice, “Well, good luck with that.” He did what he does with every book that comes out of this giant publishing corporation (unless of course your name is Stephen King, Bill Clinton or Snooki from Jersey Shore). He sent out a bunch of press releases along with a few copies of our book to all the usual suspects. Our book died on the line.
2) Independent Publishers. These publishers almost always specialize in a certain kind of book. They usually appeal to a niche audience. As opposed to the Big 5, who are generalists, and in theory at least, publish books for everyone. Again, these independent publishers are not owned by big celebrity-obsessed bottom line-driven corporations. That’s not to say they can’t be big companies. Workman, who published our book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, is one of the most successful publishers in the world. They’ve published everything from What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Bad Cats to the awesome Sandra Boynton oeuvre. But many independent publishers tend to be small, and run and/or driven by individuals who are passionate about the subject which they are publishing. A good number of these publishers are very well respected, and their books can be reviewed in the largest and most prestigious publications in the world. There are many stories of small publishers having gigantic successes. Health Communications, Inc., which published Chicken Soup for the Soul. Naval Institute Press, which published Tom Clancy’s first novel. Bellevue Literary Press, a publisher affiliated with New York University’s school of medicine, which published Tinkers, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Greywolf, Tin House, and McSweeney’s are all small independent publishers who regularly produce beautiful high-end fiction that wins awards and garners great press.
Chances are, you’re going to be the big spring book from your independent publisher. We speak from experience that it is so much better to be the big spring book from a well-respected independent publisher than it is to be book number 2,478 from Penguin Random. Because they’ve got Stephen King, Bill Clinton and Snooki from Jersey Shore to promote.
And the great news is, you don’t have to have an agent when querying most independent publishers. Almost all indies expect writers to submit directly to them. If you go onto their websites, they almost always give you very explicit instructions on how to submit. Do yourself a favor, give it to them exactly how they want it. Even better, try to research the editor at the press who would be best for your book and send your query directly to him/her.
Yes, there are limitations to many independent presses. Most independent publishers have limited resources. Most of them won’t send you on a tour because they don’t have the money, so you will be called upon to do your own book tour and events. That being said, our publisher Workman, sent us on a 25 city tour, which they paid for in its entirety–hotels, airfare, escorts (don’t get the wrong idea, these are book escorts, not industrial pleasure technician escorts). But there’s a good chance you’ll get to work with at least a decent and maybe even a great editor, who will help you shape your book. They will proofread your book. They will copyedit your book. They will design and execute a cover for you. And often times they’re much more flexible about author input than the Big 5.
The other issue with fewer resources is that if, for some reason, you should happen to catch literary lightning in a bottle and your book blows up, an independent press may not be able to capitalize on your book’s success. They may not have the bookers for Ellen and Colbert on their speed-dial. And often they have to do very small print runs, so there’s a good chance your book will sell out of its printing very quickly and there will be no books available. Whereas if you’re with one of the Big 5, and your book blows up, they’ll do a giant print run, and they’ll be making calls to all the big guns.
3) Self-publishing. William Blake. James Joyce. Virginia Woolf. Rudyard Kipling. Edgar Allan Poe. Ezra Pound. Mark Twain. Gertrude Stein. Walt Whitman. Carl Sandburg. Beatrix Potter. What do these authors have in common? All self-published. What a cool group to belong to. The fact is, self-publishing can be a ball. It can launch you into superstardom and turn you into a millionaire (okay, rarely, but just ask EL James, author of the fastest selling book in the history of the universe, Fifty Shades of Grey).
Self-publishing has recently been dubbed independent publishing, not to be confused with independent presses. This is in part because self-publishing has for decades been the ugly duckling/redheaded stepchild of the book business. Janis Jaquith, an NPR commentator and self-published author of <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Birdseed-Cookies-A-Fractured-Memoir/dp/0738849111″ target=”_hplink”>Birdseed Cookies: A Fractured Memoir</a>, says, “When I announced to my writer friends that I was planning to self-publish, you’d have thought I’d just announced that I had syphilis or something. Such shame! Such scandal! I’m glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers, because I’ve had a ball.” The bottom line? This is not your daddy’s self-publishing. The onus of the ugly duckling redheaded stepchild is gone.
“Nowadays, because there is no barrier to publishing, we’re seeing people give up faster on the traditional route. These are people who are writing good books and turning to self-publishing. This means the quality of self-published books has gone up,” says Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at Boulder Books. More writers are, indeed, seizing on the new technologies and low costs of publishing on their own because try as they may, they cannot break through the gate of the castle that holds agents, editors and publishers.
More than ever, we are talking to writers who are not even going after agents or publishers, because they don’t want to spend years being rejected. People are publishing books on their own because they choose to–because they see opportunities in the market and want a bigger share of the pie than publishers offer; because they want full control of their book; for some, because they just want a relic of their work to share with friends and family. And many writers choose self-publishing because they don’t want to have to wait for the sloooooow publishing machine. If you start looking for an agent or publisher right now, it can take years to find one. Maybe you’ll never find one. Then after you get a book deal, it’s typically going to take between 18 months and two years for your book to come out.
Here are some good reasons to self publish:
1) You have direct access to your audience
2) You want a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your book
3) You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish fast
4) You want full control of your book inside and out, from your hands to your readers’
5) No matter how much you rewrite and how hard you market yourself, you can’t find anyone to agent or publish your book
6) You’ve written a book that falls outside the bounds of typical publishing–either because of its niche audience, regionality, experimentation of language, category, theme, etc.
7) You really want to publish a book, but you just don’t have the personality to market it to an agent/publisher.
8) You’ve written up your family history or the lifetime of a loved one that will be of great interest to Aunt Coco, Cousin Momo and a handful of other blood relations but no one else
The good news about self-publishing is that you get to do everything you want with your book. The bad news is that you have to do everything. Which means that unless you are a professional proofreader, graphic designer, and layout expert for printed books and e-books, you’re going to have to get someone else to help you. And writers can only edit their books themselves so many times before they lose all objectivity. We highly advise, if you’re going to self-publish, get a trained professional to edit your book.
As with any entrepreneurial project, you can spend between $0.00 to $100,000.00. David bartered with a top-drawer cover designer, proofreader, editor, and specialist who formats printed and e-books. It cost him exactly $0.00 to produce his <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Maniac-David-Henry-Sterry/dp/0985114908″ target=”_hplink”>self-published book</a>. So he started making a profit immediately. As someone who is an instant gratification junkie, it was absolutely fabulous how quickly it all came together. And when that box full of his books showed up at the door, he felt a special kind of life-affirming, rapturous ecstasy.
The good news is that anyone can get published. The bad news is that anyone can get published. So whatever you choose, you have to be the engine that drives the train of your book. And the same principles underlying a successfully published book are remarkably similar.
1) Research. Before you give up any rights or money or agree to work with anyone, make sure you research them thoroughly.
2) Network. Reach out to readers and writers, movers and shakers.
3) Write. Yes, it really helps if you write a great book.
4) Persevere. One of David’s most successful books was rejected over 100 times, by everyone from the top dogs of the Big 5, to some of the greatest literary agents in America, to countless University and independent presses. 100 top publishing professionals told him his book had no value. But tweaking and polishing and making it better, he finally landed a deal. That book ended up on the front cover of the <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Hookers-Call-Girls-Rent-Boys/dp/1593762410″ target=”_hplink”>Sunday New York Times Book Review</a>.
To find out more about how to get your book successfully published today, ask questions about your book and your various options, and perhaps get a chance to pitch your book to The Book Doctors, sign up for their <a href=”http://bit.ly/1mzSGY7″ target=”_hplink”>webinar</a>, which will be on July 16.
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).