Buy Roving Pack support Toni Amato

I first met Toni Amato through his words. I was a crusty punk kid living in Portland, Oregon and some friends of mine had heard about a new book called ‘Pinned Down By Pronouns’ which he co-edited. I was the only person in my circle of friends with a credit card, so I purchased the book and was utterly smitten.  I had no idea that nearly 10 years later Toni would have become a dear friend, trusted colleague in queer story facilitation, an invaluable mentor in my own writing, and most important of all a beloved member of my chosen family.

I cannot speak highly enough about Toni and his work in the community.  There are few people I’ve met who truly walk what they speak, who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and who truly commit themselves fully to those amongst us who are wounded, freaks, and other outsiders. Because of where I’m from and what i’ve survived trust isn’t something that comes easily to me. I can count on less than one hand the number of people in the world that I truly and completely trust.  Toni is one of those people.

Toni emotionally and professionally supported me as I edited Kicked Out, and he has been one of my most trusted editors and writing coaches. He helped me to fall in love with writing again when I had lost my words, and he was a vital editor and guide as I wrote Roving Pack. It is because of my work with Toni that Roving Pack exists.

The past couple of years have been hard for Toni he’s battled physical and mental health crisis. He’s in a rough place right now and in need of community support as he takes the season of Lent off of his work supporting the writing of marginalized queers and to focus inward on healing.  To help support him I’m having a special Roving Pack sale – 100% of the proceeds of e-books of Roving Pack purchased will go directly to Toni to support him during this time of healing!!!! Purchase Roving Pack or make your own donation to Toni directly through the Write Here Write Now site


So in his most recent address the mayor of NYC just encouraged us all to stay inside and read books! Thus I’ve been a little inspired and decided that Hurricane Sandy is clearly the ideal time to have a little special Roving Pack sale!

Here’s the deal: buy online @ and you’ll get your copy mailed out as soon as the storm clears (and before I leave on tour for Europe)  BUT you’ll also get a a PDF ebook copy emailed to you right now!  so you can read your way through Sandy and find out what the wacky Roving Pack kids did when they were bored and stuck inside — hint it involved making a porn zine using a gorilla suit….

fine print: offer remains good so long as the NYC power holds and i can send email

Roving Pack’s National Release & Queer Margins in The Advocate Magazine

I’m still floating from all of the intense magic that was this weekend. Friday night was the national release of Roving Pack and took place here in NYC.  It was an incredible night for me, no it was more than that but I’m still stumbling around in the magic and can’t quite find the words to actually articulate just how powerful of a night it was for me.  For me, Friday was the opportunity to watch this book, which has dominated my life and work for the last couple of years, actually be born and officially go out into the world. There’s nothing quite like releasing a book, I think it’s probably like how people with children talk about the experience of holding a newborn.  Books are my babies and standing in Bluestockings bookstore on Friday night I was filled with all the hopes and dreams I have for this little book and what it can accomplish.

If I’m being entirely honest I can comfortably say that Roving Pack is the best thing I’ve ever written – it’s the most risky  too.  I took a lot of chances with this novel both in content and style, and have been absolutely overwhelmed with the response the book has gotten so far. I wasn’t sure if the community was quite ready for a novel like this, but I knew that I had to write this book this way. As I said Friday night in response to a Q&A question of “What would Click (the main character) say if ze were sitting in the front row of this reading.”  – my answer? “I don’t think he’d punch me in the face.” Taking on Roving Pack as a book for me was very much about writing a novel that was a representation of a time/place, not a sanitized and watered down version.  I knew that the characters I was working with were idealistic and exacting.  I couldn’t clean them up and sell them out to make the book more marketable.  These were stories that needed to be told, but they also needed to be told authentically with every bit of grit and glitter  embedded in the page. Standing at the release event on Friday night I felt confient that I’d succeeded, that I had done justice to my idea of a book as well as to the characters I’d created.  Roving Pack is  a novel that I know will make people uncomfortable, and I hope will also bring to life the kind of book that ultimately would have made me to feel less alone, in hopes that it will do the same for others.

I’m still sifting through my thoughts about Friday night and the release of the novel.  I have more writing in the works about family – specifically queer/leather family and what it means for me that I had those closest to me here by my side as I released this book. I think those are the sorts of thoughts/ideas that will percolate for me over this week as I work on getting back to my normal routines – which of course at 3 weeks before our Europe tour are anything but normal.  That said; keep an eye out for some upcoming blogs!

In the meantime, check out this conversation between author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and myself at The Advocate as we sit down to talk about our experiences writing on the queer margins!  It was the featured story on the main page yesterday!  click here to read the full conversation

National Release of Roving Pack!!!

Friday October 12, 2012

Bluestockings Bookstore – 172 Allen St. NYC 7pm

‘Roving Pack’ the debute novel by award winning queer author Sassafras Lowrey is set in an underground world of homeless queer teens. Readers follow the daily life of Click, a straight-edge transgender kid searching for community, identity, and connection amidst chaos. As the stories unfold, we meet a pack of newly sober gender rebels creating art, families and drama in dilapidated punk houses across Portland, Oregon circa 2002. Roving Pack offers fast-paced in-your-face accounts of leather, sex, hormones, house parties, and protests. But, when gender fluidity takes an unexpected turn, the pack is sent reeling.

the packs we form

It’s been an exciting week with Roving Pack. I’ve had the chance every day to see the updated progress of the actual layout for the book. I’ve been involved in approving fonts and essentially have just had a really great experience working with my designer to turn my ideas and dreams into a well-laid out and visually stimulating book. I should have the final layout in my hand July 1 (this weekend!!!) and then very swiftly be able to move into print proofs. In other words the book is becoming real.  Here’s a sample of some of the text, a sneak peak at the intro text for Roving Pack that also connects to a lot of what I’ve thinking about this week around the book, my creative process and some of the core themes

While I’ve been looking at layout I’ve also been looking back at a lot of the original source material and inspiration that I drew upon whole working on the novel. For the most part it was photos from my past, newspaper clippings and old queer albums. But there were also images like this one that was from an instillation called “Head First” by the artist Cai Guo-Qiang. It depicts wolves running then jumping  into a pane of glass before several get up, shake and begin again.

"Head First"

This  is the kind of art that really inspired me to think about some of the deeper themes in the book- survival, pain, and packs.  Ultimately,  one of the  main thing I found myself playing with again and again in different configurations within Roving Pack was the connections forged between people.  As a writer (and just in general as a person) I’m most interested in the ways we come together with others whose scars in someway match our own and form packs. Roving Pack really  looks at the way at a particular time and place queer kids came together, the deals we made with one another, the families we build the way we clung to each other, saved each other, raised each other up. I wrote a lot in the book storylines about leather connection, the way that the characters came together pressed bruise to bruise. Nothing flashy, it was all body to body back ally play parties, punk house basement surrender. There weren’t a lot of toys or equipment involved in the world I came out into, in the world I wrote for Roving Pack. Mostly, it was skin-to-skin connection, the crack of a fist against my back, the feeling of a hand around someone’s neck.

We played the most dangerous games we could think of, desperate for connection to reach one another through the fog of memory, abandonment, disassociation and in those moments found peace, connection, and the ability to remain present with one another. This wolf art really reminds me of that time, the power and intensity, the pain, but also the survival. The way that we ran headfirst into life, loved hard and intensely without so much as a pause before the impact. It makes me think too about the few lucky ones of us who were able to pick ourselves up and continue the run, muscles tight with the memory of all the journey has held.

Roving pack (I hope ) is not a glamorous portrayal- I don’t want to glorify any of the wars we fought with ourselves- our fears, addictions and demons. Yet, it was those connections that saved me. It’s very much about a specific time and place where without realizing the severity of the situation, we daily were walking a razor sharp line between survival and complete destruction.

This week I for the very first time-shared the manuscript of Roving Pack with my big brother.  He’d been waiting until the book was done to read it, and now that we’re in layout, getting blurbs and so very close to release I knew the time was right.  I was terrified when I hit that send button to email the book to him. There aren’t many moments where I’m scared to share my writing with someone but this was definitely one of those instances. My big brother is the first person I met whose story closely mirrored my own and we became instant family over a decade ago. Over the years he and I have had a rough time together as brothers, we’ve run head first into glass and been knocked flat. Thankfully, eventually were both able to get up, shake the pain and keep running together and not away from each other. The world I wrote in this novel was his too, fiction, but very much based on a time and place we come from. I was worried about what he would think – of the book itself, but specifically of the way I portrayed who we all were back then.

My big brother started texting me early yesterday morning, having read the first part of the novel.  He was as he told me, unable to put Roving Pack down didn’t even sleep that night.  I’ve written here on the blog before about how one of my key goals in my writing is to simultaneously capture the magic and grittiness of that time, of all of us. Hearing from him, as someone I’d known  at the time the book is set that I had done just that was some of the deepest validation I will ever receive. Roving Pack is a collection of stories I never dreamed would grow up to be a book. They started as an attempt at remembering a time/place that was swiftly slipping away from my memories. I wanted to capture who we’d been, the battles we fought, wounds licked cleaned but most of all, the packs we formed, but they have become something so much more. I cannot wait to share this book with my community!




CRISTY ROAD blurbs Roving Pack!!!!

I feel like I talk a lot about how in so many ways Roving Pack was not the book I thought I would find myself working on after Kicked Out, though if I’m being honest (which I strive to be in my writing) I really had no idea what I would be working on next. Kicked Out was a book I dove into honestly without any idea of what I was doing, other than a whole bunch of old duct-taped together dreams, a bunch of luck, and the kind of posturing that might only come with being a former zinester who did things like illegally sell queer zines out of hir backpack at downtown markets. Kicked Out really taught me about this world. It gave me access to communities that I’d only (literally) read from for years, and it truly was a collective process with all of the incredible contributors to bring to life these collection of stories. When the book released in between the fairly intense touring schedule I immediately launched into I began thinking a lot (panicking really) about what I would be working on next, which of course made thinking about writing downright impossible.

My partner had given me the restriction (Someday I’ll write more about the positive ways Leather intersects with my art and living a life in D/s keeps me from self destructing by taking on too many projects at once) that I couldn’t begin a new book for at least a year. Kicked Out had nearly wrecked me creatively, especially the last few months of production where I felt like I was under tremendous pressure from every angle. For the first few months after the release I didn’t write at all, everything was about Kicked Out – promoting, touring etc, honestly I didn’t know if I would ever *really* enjoy writing again.

I remember being in Boston on tour the spring after Kicked Out released and sitting on Toni Amato (my chosen Uncle/writing mentor/good friend)’s back porch as he fed me berry pancakes and asked me about writing.  I was probably crying, and I said I wanted to get my voice back.  As Kicked Out became the success that it is, I learned very quickly that in some ways survival in this industry was dependent upon writing the way someone else wanted. I learned to play that game, but my creativity had been a casualty.   With Toni’s help I spent the next year just playing. I wasn’t writing for a deadline, for an editor, or in anyone elses voice I was writing anything and everything that came to me without thought of how it was or wasn’t marketable. I tried to write like I had as a crusty zinester – fast and punchy without worrying about censoring things I know might be unpopular with readers. Slowly, over the course of the year I remembering why I liked writing in the first place, and  was more than a little shocked to realize at the end of the year I had the skeleton of a book.

When I began in earnest to pursue this novel, to take those first beginning stories and transform them into a novel I made the commitment that while I wanted this to be the best book it could be, I didn’t want it to be clean. I was unwilling and uninterested in sanitizing my characters or the world they inhabit for the comfort of readers. To be worth doing, I knew that I needed to remain true to my vision for this book, and  keep the grittiness of the world I grew up in and the queer/trans/leather lives I built around my characters.  I fought attempts to tame or simplify my characters and their stories, and am so proud of the way the novel ended up coming together, especially when I’m able to put it into the hands of the kinds of gritty artists/writers whose work I’ve admired since I lived the crusty punk worlds of Roving Pack’s characters and have them respond positively!    I’m thrilled to be able to say that Cristy Road whose work I remember finding at the Portland Zine Symposium in 2003 has blurbed Roving Pack!!!! Check it out:

Sassafras Lowery brings us a tale of gender defiance, in a universe struggling to be defiant. Roving Pack introduces us to the whirlwind queer subcultures of Portland, OR in 2002; and the dizzying effects of fighting against the world at war,and the gender binary. Lowery takes us on a journey through dilapidated punk houses, sexual revelation, donut-filled dumpsters, cluttered bedrooms, and the ever-changing struggle to embrace your gender identity, through your own definitions.”

(Author and Artist of Bad Habits, Spit & Passion) 

More lessons from Roving Pack – what if leather wasn’t about sex at all?


Last month Sinclair Sexsmith and I sat down and talked about leather writing for Lambda Literary online. They have a new anthology that just released (that I’m in!) and I’d just put out the call for Leather Ever After.  We were talking about our own work and relationship to being leather writers, as well as the books that have been the most inspirational to us and that each of us would consider to be the Leather canon.  It was a fun conversation in general and I’m really grateful to Lambda Literary for facilitating it happening.  The part that ended up being the most interesting for me was the perspective difference that emerged around sex and leather and the ways in which we relate to them and how we see them relate or not relate to one another.

Recently I’ve seen folks refer to me as (in part) an erotica writer. I understand how the assumption is made, after all I have stories published in erotica anthologies and magazines, and I do sometimes write about sex but still, I find the thought of me being considered an erotica writer really really funny.  I know it sounds like splitting hairs, but I see myself as a leather writer, a leather writer who at times adds in more sex than I find interesting to increase the likelihood that a story will find a home in an anthology but in my perspective the sex in the story isn’t ever the focus of what I’m writing.

Mainstream culture, and even the queer community to some extent see leather as being highly sexualized, but for me, leather seldom actually has anything to do with sex. I’ve had a lot of shame and self-judgment over putting that into writing and accepting that as the truth (ohhh the conflations of queerness with sexual actions).  If you’d asked me three years ago when I first began writing Roving Pack in earnest about my relationship to sex I would have given an enthusiastic though disembodied response about how sex is wonderful and incredible and the best thing ever etc. etc. etc. The reality?  The reality that it took me a lot of years to be able to actually talk about?  I’m not the most sexual person in the world, and my leather is almost entirely divorced from any sex life I might or might not be having.

I should clarify (justify?) I’ve had a lot of sex in my life with a lot of awesome (and some not so awesome) queer folks. It has been sex that I’ve wanted to have, but how much of that wanting has been because it’s what I thought I was supposed to want? Or, because it was getting me closer to something I really did want or need?  Let me try to add some clarity…

It’s no secret that the protagonist in Roving Pack is based on me, well he’s based on the past life of a gutterpunk trans guy who I was a decade ago. At some point during the writing process my writing mentor/editor on the book left me a note in the margins about how he felt for the poor boy (main character) who keeps having such bad sex that isn’t actually doing much for him. Those comments, along with a whole lot of other intense personal reflective work that happened to coincide with the writing of this novel really led me to examine more honestly my relationship to sex, and leather. Isn’t it funny how that happens?  How these intense creative projects we take on end up teaching us or starting us on a path of self-exploration that goes in directions we never would have imagined, or at least that’s how it seems to work for me.  I know, and have only recently started really talking about the ways in which I have in the past used sex to come close to the very specific sort of intimacy I crave most, the one that only comes for me through an all consuming full time D/s dynamic. It’s been consensual, but it often didn’t bring me where I needed/wanted to be and once I had the D/s, once my life was literally Neverland (think Peter Pan) bubble of magic suddenly sex became a whole lot less important, and significantly les of a focus.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog that was in some ways a beginning of a core piece of how I envision this intentional return to blogging looking. I am of course excited to be talking about the work – what my writing and publishing processes look like, the experience of being on the road and perspectives on events, but I’m also interested very interested being more vulnerable in my blog talking about the ways in which the writing reflects my own personal growth, and sometimes in special circumstances is the catalyst for growth itself.

The blog itself was primarily about the lessons about boundaries that Roving Pack has taught me, and the ways in which I’ve been able to grow There was a line in the blog “my primary partnership is built on love and D/s but not sexual attraction” that was in some ways the most difficult line of the whole thing for me to write, but it’s also the piece and sentiment that has gotten me a shocking amount of positive feedback in the past couple of weeks. Turns out as anxious as I was about talking publically about the ways in which leather and sex are pretty separate for me, and always has been it’s something that many other folks have also been experiencing, often in silence and were really excited to see me talking about being Leather oriented and having a primary partnership that was not built or maintained on sexual attraction.

At my core I see myself as being leather oriented, it’s not that I hate sex or don’t ever want to fuck, but that specific sort of attraction and desire very very seldomely occurs within a Leather dynamic. In fact, those who I most intensely click with around Power are folks that I usually don’t click well with sexually. It’s D/s and leather that I’m most connected to, but it took me a LONG time (a decade) to really accept, own, and cherish that there wasn’t something wrong with me if the most important relationship in my life, where I build my home, where I love and play and create family has minimal sexual chemistry and is instead based on a power exchange and that good sex is something that usually happens outside of that relationship. It took me a long time to realize that’s ok, that it doesn’t make me a bad queer, that it doesn’t make me a bad leather person to say that honestly in the bigger scheme of things that sex just isn’t even that important to me, and it never really has been. Instead Leather, which for me is often profoundly nonsexual, is where my most intimate physical and psychological needs are met— another one of those unexpected places of personal growth I can thank  Roving Pack for.

To be extra clear – I don’t associate this difference with any kind of hierarchy. I don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” way to relate to/understand/connect with Leather just different ways of being/living/experiencing which honestly for me goes directly back to why I’m so interested in expanding the number of Leather stories in the world. I know that the way I understand myself best is when I’m able to read narratives that I can identify and connect with. It’s a reason I think I’ve struggled so much with being open about the way I relate to sex or Leather because so seldom have I seen the kinds of stories that talk about our lives like this.  I’m very committed to creating and facilitating others writing more stories about the diverse ways we live our lives in leather

figuring out the best use of my time….

I’m not the biggest believer in astrology, but sometimes something comes along and slaps you across the face.  This week it just happened to be my horoscope: 

“Here’s a great question to pose on a regular basis during the next three weeks: “What’s the best use of my time right now?” Whenever you ask, be sure to answer with an open mind. Don’t assume that the correct response is always, “working with white-hot intensity on churning out the masterpiece that will fulfill my dreams and cement my legacy.” On some occasions, the best use of your time may be doing the laundry or sitting quietly and doing nothing more than watching the world go by. Here’s a reminder from philosopher Jonathan Zap: “Meaning and purpose are not merely to be found in the glamorous, dramatic moments of life.”

Pretty timely with everything happening in my world connected to Roving Pack. Things are a bit of a whirlwind as time swiftly brings me closer to the October release.  This week I got the corrected manuscript back from my amazing copyeditor and have been working to pin down details connected to the PoMo Freakshow Europe tour right as the novel releases.

I see the decision to publish Roving Pack as giving it, and in turn these characters the home that they spend the whole book searching for.  I chose this route because I believed I could create a better book than the options that were presenting themselves in the mainstream small press world.  As I’ve said before I want to tread carefully on this topic because I do very much believe in traditional publishing as a model – Kicked Out and Leather Ever After both have/will be released from publishers and I know I will continue through my career to work with publishers BUT I don’t believe that is the home for every book.

Roving Pack is very much on the fringes of genre and queerness.  There was interest from publishers in the novel, but the end result wouldn’t have been *this* book and I couldn’t let my characters be toned down. Roving Pack is full of unapologetic gender that is complicated and intense, and presents BDSM/Leather dynamics without justification as just a regular part of life because that’s the world I came out into, and where I’ve called home ever since.  I didn’t want anything about this book to be an apology/justification for our queerness which was why I chose this route to publication.

The horoscope hit me so hard last night because I’ve spent last weekend/beginning of this week focused on some last minute research to make the decision about the layout for the novel. Essentially I was trying to decide what the best use of my time was right now– teaching myself InDesign or outsourcing this part of the publishing process and hiring a rad person in my local community. I was really focused on what would be the best decision for this book as well as what would be the best use of the resources at my disposal (financial as well as time and emotional) in the next couple of months before the release. My number one priority in all of this is to give Roving Pack the very best life that I can.  The characters in this book deserve that.  When I made the decision to put this novel out through my own imprint it was with the plan of making this book the best that I possibly could.  It has involved a fair amount of outsourcing for the things that are needed to put together a really sharp book (cover design, copyediting ) as well as bringing on an external editor early in the game to really push me and this book to be the best that we can be.  Other than some DIY deaththrows about feeling like I *should* (always a dangerous word) be doing this part of the process myself I knew that doing the layout myself was not the best use of my time or energy, and that the right decision was to outsource that part of the process. As corny as it sounds the horoscope, along with a big ol’ PRO/CON chart really pushed me over the edge.  I don’t want my own lack of computer skills to hurt or hold back the book in anyway.  So now I’m waiting to hammer down the details with the awesome layout person I want to hire, and hopefully ::fingers crossed:: in the next day or so that will be finalized and moving forward!

I’ve got a bunch more blogs in the works — conversations about the publication process, writing, leather, all kinds of good stuff. The decision to outsource the layout means I won’t be pulling hair out of my head in the next two months, and will have a lot more time for actually writing so keep an eye out for more blog postings!