Apr 282012

Last night I was one of four featured readers at Queer Apple: LGBTQ Life in Poetry & Prose.  Seldom do I feel the need to respond to an event publically, but I am so deeply troubled and offended by what took place last night that as an activist writer I believe I would be remiss not to.  For the first time in years I was part of an audience that literally booed a writer from the stage before the end of his set. I don’t think that I should like everything that someone reads, nor do I believe in censorship for censorships sake, but I do stand behind an audience standing up and saying no, not in my community will you be permitted to say these things as a representative of us.

It was powerful to see an audience rise up against the oppressiveness of everything this man was saying, but sad that it was something that had to happen. Within seconds of this writer (who I have decided not to name in order to not bring more attention to his ‘work’) taking the stage the energy of the room shifted, his set relied entirely on a string of “stories” that were little more than a parade of racist, sexist, fatphobic, classist, anti-dyke, transphobic, misogynist, anti-sexworker “jokes.” It was in the end the rape jokes that got him booed from the stage.  As an aside, it’s interesting that was the turning point for the audience in mass.

It has been explained to me both last night at the event, and then when I initiated a private conversation with the event host this morning that I am simply missing the humor in his work, that as a comedian he is ironic, that comedy by it’s very nature needs to be “anti PC.”  I didn’t miss anything about his work, nor is it simply that I don’t understand comedy.  I understand completely what was taking place – a very privileged white man took the stage and filled a room with the kinds of hateful stereotypes and misrepresentations that most of us spend our lives fighting against.

In a way last night was a learning opportunity as well as a turning point for me as an author.  I have in my career been less diligent than clearly I need to be around doing preliminary research into the events I agree to lend my name and work to, and especially the content of other writers who I’ve been booked to headline with.   That was my mistake, but one that I will not make again.

Apr 252012

This week I’m deep in the midst of finishing the last line-edits on Roving Pack. These are the latest and last major edits from Toni Amato of Write Here Write Now, who is not only beloved family with me but also my writing advisor who has worked with me on this book every step of the way.  This week is made up of long days and late nights – last night involved a late night call with Toni to discuss  incorporating some really compelling feedback the result being a subtle but powerful change to the very end of the novel! At this point I’m working to get everything just right and ready to meet my deadline of Roving Pack going to the copyeditor by May 1st.  It’s stressful but good too and a little bit shocking that after years of playing with these stories, rewriting, reworking, and shifting them around in pretty substantial ways that we’re actually here. I’m  feeling  solid and secure in the book and the work that I’ve done and can honestly say that this book feels finished to me.  I might be exhausted but it’s a really good place to, made even sweeter by a treat that arrived in my inbox last night.

With Roving Pack releasing this October I’ve started reaching out to authors and fabulous queers in the community for endorsement of the novel in the form of blurbs I can on the back cover and in other publicity.  The first one arrived today from a queer author I’ve admired for years – Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore!!!!!!!!!!!!!   I sat jaw somewhere around my knees for a little while reading her blurb of the book over and over and over again until I burned it into my memory and convinced myself it was real.  Not only is it a beautiful reflection of Roving Pack, but it brought me to tears realizing that she really understood my characters and what I am trying to do with the novel

Check out what  the incredible Mattilda has to say about Roving Pack !!!!

“ Remember that time in your life when you had just escaped the terror of childhood to create your own path in the world, maybe a queer path of chosen family, desire and love and lust and intimacy on your own terms, remember all the joyful pains and painful joys you were discovering? Roving Pack nails that bold and precarious time with a precision so rare it’s almost claustrophobic in its intimacy. It’s about a specific culture and place and moment – transmasculine queer punk kids in Portland in the early-2000s – but it’s also about the transition to self-actualization in all of our lives, and the scary and heartbreaking reality that often the pack mentality required for belonging in our new communities leaves us stranded. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a book that explores the intoxication and viciousness of peer pressure in queer lives with such candor. Goddamn this book is brave — I can’t wait to see the havoc it wreaks.”

       Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? That’s Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, Nobody Passes

Apr 212012

Eleven years ago today, I left.

I didn’t have much warning I was leaving– the staff preferred to only give a week’s notice.  They didn’t want my eminent departure to give me an “exit mentality,” and it’s one of the first rules of maintaining control of another person: severely limit the information they have access to.   The staff at Provo Canyon School were very committed to control.

Provo Canyon School is a lock-down institution for “troubled teens”.  They have a website that I don’t care to link here, but you can google it if you want.  It’s also interesting to see what pops up when you add keywords like “abuse” or “lawsuit” to your search.

post apocalyptic costume

Sometimes you have to protect yourself (yes, this was my halloween costume a year after I left PCS)

Eleven years is a strange anniversary.  It doesn’t have the neatness of 10 years, or the “a lifetime ago” quality of 15.  Eleven is too much, and not enough. In ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ Nigel is very proud of his amps that go up to 11– it’s one louder than 10, an extra bit of power for when you need it.  I suppose eleven does feel like an extra bit of power, but it’s also slightly ridiculous, a palindromic anniversary.  I hesitate to follow that to it’s logical conclusion, because this 11 years certainly would not be the same backwards as forward.

I feel like I should have some pithy things about survival and growing into the self-actualized queer I am today.  Some people have asked me, “How do you know that PCS didn’t give you the skills you needed to grow?  How do you know that PCS isn’t the key to your survival?” It’s always hard to keep a straight face when I respond.  A PCS success story is the bland pinnacle of normal– for the girls, that meant sensible domesticity, (heterosexual) marriage, and children (in that order).

The person I’ve grown into is exactly the person that PCS tried to kill.  It was the realization that PCS wanted to kill that part of me that gave me the strength to hold on while I was there, to preserve myself deep within my skin and fight back against their poison once I was released.  They said they knew I was the enemy, and deep down, I knew that they were wrong.

Last year, on my ten year anniversary, I wrote a post to the teens that are still locked up in private facilities–or really, I wrote to the recent releases, because there’s no way anyone incarcerated in one of these institutions has access to the internet, let alone to this blog.  Remember what I said about the staff being committed to control?

From where I am now, I try to do what I can to educate people about the existence of places like PCS.  It’s always a bit chilling for me when someone responds, “I had no clue things like that still happened.”  Eleven years later, and I can still see the threads of control, and the way that the troubled teen industry limits and controls the information that the outside world can access about what goes on within their walls.

Still, for all their efforts, they can’t control those of us who survived, and they can’t stop us from speaking out.

Apr 202012

A lot of times I have a WTF please pinch me, this is too good to be true feeling about my family and the work that I get to do in the world.  This has certainly not lessened while working on the final edits for Roving Pack and simultaneously signing the contract to edit Leather Ever After!   Seriously now I actually get to read fairy tales and be able to legitimately call it research!!! You better believe I’m going to milk this for as long as humanly possible ;)

It’s been just over a month now since I was officially able to go live with the news about editing this new and very different anthology and it has continued to be fun for me to see the different reactions I’ve gotten to the announcement.  People I know have pretty much broken into smiles or giggles and talked about how they see this as just about *the * perfect book for me to be working on because I’m such a funny little one. I really love realizing *just * how well my community actually knows me :p

I’ve been trying to talk up the anthology as much as possible on the internet and in person – I even went old school and made ¼ sheet printouts with the call for submissions.  I don’t know if folks do that anymore, but it’s always been my style, so I figured I’d rock it this time as well.  If you feel like your community/event needs some paper flyering and you’re up to helping out shoot me an email  ( LeatherEverAfter@gmail.com )and I can send you the file so you can print some out : )

It’s been exciting and surprising to already be getting stories submitted!   For me, opening my inbox to see stories is like a little mini Christmas (and if you follow me on facebook/twitter you know how much I LOVE Christmas ;) ).  I hope, since the deadline for submission isn’t until August 1st (that’s in your calendar right?!?!)  that this is only the beginning and that all of you out there are busy thinking about fairy tales and all the ways you can kink them up!  With that in mind, there have been a few questions/concerns/ideas I’ve been getting from folks pretty consistently so I thought I’d answer them publically

 5 tips for submitting to Leather Ever After (other than following the submission guidelines) :

 1) I have a REALLY broad definition of what can be included under Leather but as I’ve been saying “the presence of homosexual content does not a kinky story make.”   This is Leather Ever After so I really want to see writers turn up the kink (of whatever flavor).

 2.) Tell me a story. I’m a sucker for a really good story. I’m editing this anthology because I LOVE both leather and fairy tales.  If you want to get into the anthology I can comfortably say it’s probably not enough just to use the name of a well known fairy tale character and then write a completely different story that has zero reference to any of the key aspects of the original fable.  I’m not saying anyone has done this, rather just putting it out there as a general useful FYI.

 3.) You don’t have to be a fantasy writer.  Let me say that again, you don’t have to be a fantasy writer to submit to this anthology.  I’ve had some people approach me and say they would love to submit a story to a book I’m editing but they don’t write fantasy so this won’t work for them.  I imagine ::fingers crossed:: I hope I hope I hope ::fingers crossed:: I will get some fabulous submissions that really are deeply rooted in that traditional fairytale magic of dragons, witches and secret potions BUT that’s not all I want this book to be.  Let me let y’all in on a little secret, I’m not a fantasy writer either, and I can guarantee (because I already know what I’m writing ;) ) that my story in the book is going to be a gritty retelling and restaging of a fairytale in our present world.  I certainly hope ::fingers crossed:: that I’ll be getting a lot of those sorts of stories too because I believe very deeply that while fairy tales are about magic, the world we live in is full of it’s own sorts of magic and I hope that writers considering submitting will take note and not feel limited but rather inspired by the idea of bringing fairy tales into today.

4. ) Please please please look beyond what I call the ‘Disney Cannon’ when you’re thinking about what story you’re going to use as your inspiration.  There are so many incredible and pevertable fairy tales, don’t restrict yourself!  Go to the library and pick up a collection of Hans Christian Anderson or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or google them. I’m not saying I won’t include the most well known fairy tales (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid etc.) in the anthology – I most certainly will, but I’m not going to include 10 retellings of any of those stories (that would be awfully boring don’t you think?).  I guess what I’m saying is if you’re going to tackle one of those very well known stories be sure you’ve got a really good idea to knock me out of the park, and really I’m hoping folks are going to dig deep into the possibility of other stories.  There are literally dozens of fairy tales down on their knees just begging to be leathered up and corrupted ;)

5.)  You can find the full call for submissions here.  If you have questions or concerns please send me an email LeatherEverAfter@gmail.com  I try to be really approachable and believe there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I’m also really happy to have folks bounce ideas off of me.

Apr 172012

I know it looks like I’ve given up on blogging. It would be a fair assumption, something about the months since my website has had anything more than press-release kinds of sound bites and announcements about readings or publications ; ) !   It’s not that I’ve gotten bored with blogging or forgotten about it, far from it.  I’ve spent hours in the bathtub, at the park with my dogs, and on the subway trying to figure out what I’m actually *doing* moving forward with my blog.  All this thinking has resulted in very little blogging for the past few months, but it was necessary for me to figure out what I wanted my presence of a blogger to grow into moving forward.

For the last several years most of my blogging has revolved around queer youth homelessness and experiences connected to the editing, release and subsequent touring with the Kicked Out Anthology.  it’s truly been a magical few years.  Kicked Out holds an important piece of my heart as my first book, and it will always be a piece of my work, but it is not all of my work.  Kicked Out has given me a foundation, and it was somewhat difficult for me to grapple with thinking about what it would mean to form an identity as an author after Kicked Out.  I confessed to my twitter/Facebook (where I’m much better at staying present and current than I have been on the blog) in the last weeks about how I had been uncertain if I could/would ever be able to love another book after Kicked Out, and that it’s rally deeply hit me now that I am utterly head over heals in love with my novel Roving Pack  that will be released this October.  Knowing that I am actually loving my novel is a really good feeling, I shouldn’t have worried – it figures that if I can be most comfortable as being poly in my relationships that it should be the same with my books ;)

I’ve stayed away from blogging for a little while because I knew that I needed some distance from Kicked Out and to give myself time to move away from a space where my primary creative/professional identity  is as the editor/curator of that magical book that is so much bigger than myself, but also to figure out how to come back with an increased complexity that leaves room for all of who I am personally and creatively, without turning my blog into simply a reflection of my daily life- nothing wrong with that, and I’m sure some readers would love the 25,000 photos I take of my dogs, or my rumination on picture books and broken toys I find on the streets of Brooklyn, but not the kind of blog I want to be writing all the time (that content i feel is better for facebook/twitter).   Right now, much of my creative focus is on my novel Roving Pack which will be here in October!!!! I’m just coming off of a week-long intensive focus on the book, and am in the midst of final line edits and gleefully enjoying the submissions that are starting to come in for Leather Ever After.

It’s not that I don’t want to be talking about queer youth homelessness, I do, but I’ve felt a little trapped too. There have been times in the past years I worried that if I blogged about other things, folks might think I took queer youth homelessness less seriously, or that it was no longer a focus of my work, or…. I don’t even know.  Ultimately I don’t want to feel limited by my blogging, and I want my blog to be a place that can grow to include a more complete picture of my work.

In the time I’ve been away from blogging,I’ve thought a lot about the threads that run through all of my work and how that will continue to be reflected in the blog. Chosen/created family in many ways is the foundation for the work that I do, and also the thread that runs between all three of my books (I still need to pinch myself when I say that I have 3 books – and really there is a 4th in the works but that’s much more of a little tadpole of an idea right now than the very realness of the others). So you might be asking, what *exactly* will Sassafras be blogging about?  Good question.  I don’t have all the answers yet, but what I do know is that in the coming weeks and months you can expect a lot more writing exploring queer family and how that connects to this novel that has captured my heart for the past couple of years. I’m also really eager to share with all of you more about the process and experience of writing, editing and preparing to release these two new books.  More than anything, I’m excited to be back as a blogger and looking forward to seeing the way this space grows.