David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: porn

Tyler Knight laying on a bed grabbing a bedpost

Tyler Knight, xxx-Black Porn God, on Writing Memoir, Sex, and Dangerous Writing

When David first met Tyler Knight, he was blown away by the combination of insight, intelligence, articulation, and smoldering black man porn star sexuality. They’ve been friends ever since. And now that his memoir is coming out, we thought we’d pick his brain on what’s harder, getting into porn or publishing.

Read the interview on the HuffPost.

Tyler Knight laying on a bed grabbing a bedpost

Tyler Knight

The Book Doctors: Why in God’s name would you do something as crazy as writing a memoir?

Tyler Knight: I had no choice. There was a story in me and it was bursting to get out whether I wanted it to or not. The irony is when I was a kid with little life experience, I wanted to write but I had nothing to say. Later, as a middle-aged man, I didn’t want to commit to writing a memoir, but the story inside me had other ideas. I read Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight, Dave Eggers’ A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius, and Mary Karr’s Liar’s Club. Those books showed me that to write a memoir that was worth reading required deep introspection… Picking at scabs and old scars, and then write the truth about myself no matter how ugly… And I wasn’t sure I’d the mettle to do that, let alone share it with the world. I knew it’d be a Sisyphean task of writing draft after draft of a manuscript for many years in a vacuum with no promise that the book would ever see the light of day. I expected my manuscript would be rejected by scores of literary agents. Maybe I’d find an agent crazy enough to schlep a literary memoir, from a pornographer no less, from publishing house to house until he found an editor who loved it. And that’s precisely what happened. But I also knew that I’d have no inner peace if I didn’t do it.

Cover of Burn My Shadow by Tyler Knight; two people standing side by side

Burn My Shadow by Tyler Knight

TBD: David’s family didn’t speak to him for about five years after his memoir, Chicken, came out. Has there been any fallout, blowback, or madness as a result of you writing about your life in public?

TK: Well, I haven’t spoken with my father or anyone on my father’s side of the family since the ‘90s anyway, so there was no effect there. My mother’s side of the family… I can’t be certain if they know what I do for a living or not. It’s odd and telling when at Thanksgiving, people at the table never ask me how work is going. Sometimes the absence of conversation says more than the words that are said…

TBD: We are big fans of Rare Bird; they put out great books. Tell us about your process of getting this book published.

TK: My agent, Peter McGuigan, who co-heads Foundry Literary, was extremely hands-on with the editing process. I’d send him drafts, and he’d ink them up and send them back. Peter was my de facto MFA professor. Once we got to a point where the work was salable, he stopped shaping it… He knew it was important that whichever editor acquired the manuscript felt that they had room to put their own stamp on it. The feedback from some of the big houses was a lot of, “Right, he is a talented writer, but we need to make it more commercial.” That would have been more than just putting a stamp on the work. Peter showed it to Tyson at Rare Bird. We met in his office for a half hour meeting that stretched into almost three hours. We talked what I was trying to say, and he had ideas on how to clarify my vision. He got me. We came from the same planet. Books can take years to come out, so the relationship between editor and author is like a marriage. Both parties have to decide that they can work together for years to bring the book into the world.

TBD: While you’re at it, tell us about some of the joys and difficulties of writing a book about yourself and your crazy life.

TK: I come from a school of literary minimalism called Dangerous Writing. Its most prominent practitioners would be Chuck Palahniuk and Amy Hempel. It’s called Dangerous Writing because it forces you to explore what scares you… What about yourself would be mortifying if anyone else knew about it… And you go deep into those crevasses and linger until the feelings are exhausted, then move onto the next. It asks nothing less than absolute commitment to honesty from the author. It’s the perfect cypher for a memoir. Exacting my pound of flesh was the most alive I’ve ever felt in my life.

I have no interest whatsoever in foisting upon the public some bullshit celebrity “I’m-just-like-you!” zeitgeist memoir that risks nothing, asks nothing of its readers, and leaves them just as clueless as to who the author is as a human fucking being when they started reading. I declare the airport memoir dead.

TBD: You have such an incredible way with words, you really make us feel like we’re right in the middle of your life, with all the sights, sounds, and yes, smells that accompany this life. How did you manage to do that?

TK: Thanks, David. That’s a technique of Dangerous Writing: Going to the Body. You sprinkle details about sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch all through the story that, by themselves may not seem like much, but the cumulative impact by the end of the story is nothing less than visceral. My Bukkake story was the first time after many attempts where I finally got it right.

TBD: David gets writing from all over the world that revolves around sex. Most of it is really bad. What approach did you take to writing about sex?

TK: Yeah, most sex writing sucks because their authors love their metaphors and adverbs, and fail to grasp the concept of less is more. My approach was to show, don’t tell. Again, that’s both Going to the Body, and another technique called Recording Angel… You show the reader details without judgement (no labeling anything as good, bad, sexy, whatever), and let her unpack the details and reassemble them in her mind as she reads. Trust the reader to come to her own conclusion… To take ownership in the creation of the scene and story as she reads it. Far more powerful that way.

TBD: What made you decide to use a quote from Moby Dick in a book about your life as a porn stud?

TK: Moby Dick is my favorite novel, and the Knights and Squires section spoke to me… The conflict of good and evil wrestling for possession of a working man’s soul… Dignity in whatever your station in life may be… Faith and moral courage…

TBD: Which was harder, breaking into the adult film industry, or the publishing industry?

TK: Publishing, by far, is more difficult. So, you’re a good writer. Who cares? You still must do the work. Even then, your work may be rejected based on your query letter (basically a sales letter to agents about your book which doesn’t contain a single sentence of your actual book) by a 22-year-old intern who screened and deleted it before anyone in the position to say “yes” to you ever reads it. It happened to me. It happens to everyone. At least with porn, if you are not hideous and you can do the job, they’ll find a place for you. Don’t get me wrong, porn is by no means easy to get into, and it’s far from a meritocracy, but you will get judged on your ability to perform from the get go, sink or swim, rather than a being judged on some letter you wrote describing how good you’d be if you just had a chance.

TBD: What, if any, are your plans for writing?

TK: This is it. Burn My Shadow isn’t a vanity project for me. I’ve pushed my chips all-in with writing books… I can’t imagine a life without writing. I have a novel in its third draft which has nothing to do with pornography.

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

TK: Lookit, I broke every rule and piece of advice that writers should follow, from not sticking to a disciplined writing schedule, to writing a memoir entirely in first-person, present tense. The world already has every example of how a book should be written. What the world doesn’t have is your take on things. Tell your story however you damn well please. The more specific it is to you and your truths, the broader its appeal to the world. Just write, man.

Tyler Knight, author of Burn My Shadow: A Selective Memory of an X-Rated Life, is an adult film star who has starred in over 500 films. In 2009 he won the Good For Her Feminist Porn Award, as Heartthrob of the Year, and was a Playgirl Spokesmodel. In 2010 he was nominated for the Urban X Award for Performer of the Year. He has also been nominated for eighteen AVN awards and has won three. Tyler lives in Los Angeles.

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 co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.

David Henry Sterry

Smart Smut: Litquake: San Francisco October 16, 8PM

Litquake

 

The Make-Out Room 3325 22nd St. San Francisco, CA

Click here to register.

David Henry Serry rides herd over a Litquake Who’s Who of sexual provocateurs, spinning tales of bawdy yet thoughtful perversions in the sexiest city in the world.

Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer and film critic for the Village Voice and SF Weekly. Her work can be found in the anthologies Atheists in America, More Five Minute Erotica, and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.

Nina Hartley is a pioneer superstar in the world of adult cinema. She is an actress, writer, director and producer, and author. She appeared in Boogie Nights, and is in the AVN Hall of Fame.

Scott James is best known for his columns about San Francisco for The New York Times. He also has the worst-kept secret identity as novelist Kemble Scott, author of the bestsellers SoMa and The Sower.

Richard Martin has contributed creative writing and journalism to books, magazines, newspapers, and literary journals. He lives in San Francisco and works in Oakland as a grant writer.

Dylan Ryan is the Gary Oldman of porn. She is also a writer, sex and relationship therapist, sexuality educator, performance artist, and yoga teacher who’s saving the world one porn at a time.

David Henry Sterry is the bestselling author of 16 books, including Chicken, which has been translated into 11 languages, and Hos, Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Madison Young is a sexpert, artist, activist, and award-winning feminist pornographer. She is founder of the nonprofit arts organization Femina Potens, author of the newly released memoir Daddy, and a college lecturer with focus on feminist porn studies.

Read my interview: Madison Young on Beautiful Porn, Revealing All, Fearing Nothing & Daddy

Click here to register.

Madison Young on Beautiful Porn, Revealing All, Fearing Nothing & Daddy

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.

pat2 authorphotoDavid Henry Sterry: What made you decide to become a professional pornographer?  Were you worried about how your family, and the world might judge you?

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.

 

 

Ivy League Pornographer Dreams of Creating Utopian Hippy Porn

Sam Benjamin, the ivy League pornographer and author of “American Gangbang”, on trying to change the world by making a new kind of smut: Hippie Porn. From Johns Marks Tricks & Chickenhawks. To buy the book click here.

Dylan Ryan, the Thinking Man’s (& Woman’s) Porn Star on Lovelace, Slut Shaming & Choice

Dylan Ryan, the Gary Oldman of porn, gives a beautiful interview about the movie Lovelace.

http://therumpus.net/2013/10/the-rumpus-interview-with-dylan-ryan/

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Sex Worker Literati- Porn Star Lorelie Lee on Hard Drugs, Raw Sex, Girlfriends & Strangers

Sam Benjamin, Ivy League Pornographer, on Porn, Sex, Love & Failure

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