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Posts Tagged ‘WriteAngles conference’

Andrea Hairston, a professor at Smith College, will be the morning keynoter at tomorrow’s WriteAngles conference. She was interviewed by Jean Marie Ruiz.

When and how did you know that you were a writer?

When I was growing up in the 50’s I intended to be a theoretical physicist or a mathematician. But I come from a family of storytellers, big talkers, and tall tale tellers. Nobody in my family ever knew when to shut up. In college on the way to a physics major, I shifted to theatre and writing and directing plays. I love the theatre and the possibilities of live performance, yet there were always stories that I wanted to tell that called out for a different form. So in 1995, I decided to become a novelist.

How do you first conceive of your novels and plays? Do they start with an abstract idea, a character, a setting, a memory, a “what if?” question, or . . .?

I start with an idea or a question or characters talking to me. A poem.

What made you decide to write your first novel, MINDSCAPE?

Actually I wrote several novels before MINDSCAPE. In 1995, I decided to write science fiction and fantasy novels while a guest professor teaching African American Women’s Theatre at the Universität Hamburg. I wrote WILDERNESS, an unpublished novel, and then in 1999 I started MINDSCAPE, a story in the same world as WILDERNESS. I had been to conferences in Germany and the US where so many people were eulogizing Africa, proclaiming her demise, mourning the impossibility of any sort of African survival. Africa had to become European as quickly as possible – dump African languages, spiritual traditions, etc.

Also a mathematician said to me, “What difference does it really make that we losing indigenous languages in America? Sad, but what do they offer us? No future in those languages.”

I wanted to imagine something else.

The colonized enter science as refugees from their magical worlds – prisoners of superstition, hostages of the colonizer, slaves of the master narrative. Modernity and post-modernity, although products of colonialism, displace the colonized to the past, to history, to people who once were whole and have now been shattered by their backwardness, their poor competitive adaptation, their lack of science and democracy, their inept economics. The colonizers have consumed the colonized and define the future. So caught up in the past, still trying to survive history, how can the colonized imagine a future? How can a future be imagined that contains the remnants of their broken spirits? This is the kind of challenge I like as a writer.

How do science and art and imagination intersect in your work?

I am everything I am all at once. My writing reflects that.

What is your latest creative project?

THE MASTER OF POISONS – a novel which I just sold and should be coming out soon! Also, Episodes From the Continuing Drama of Cinnamon Jones: Scientist, Artiste, and Hoodoo Conjurer, a play. I’ll be presenting a reading of the play 7:30, November 30, at Smith College.

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Jupiter’s Slut will be moderating this year’s panel on Writing About Sex. She was interviewed by Joan Axelrod-Contrada.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I’ve been a writer since grade school. I published a chapbook of poetry in high school. I got an MFA in creative writing after my daughter went to school. Every working woman faces the life/work balancing act. Sometimes I’ve been able to write more than others, but it’s always been a passion. However, I was scared I couldn’t really make a living writing. I’ve done everything from cooking on sailing ships to teaching mathematics. I’d planned to invest in enough real estate that I wouldn’t have to depend on my writing income. When I was getting close to forty I realized my someday was always in the future, like chasing a rainbow. I decided to start living my life as a writer now. That changed everything.

You’ve had quite the varied background! How did you get started writing about sex?

The biggest surprise that came out of my MFA was a love of non-fiction writing. I’d never tried it. It sounded dry and I didn’t think I’d like it. I was so wrong. My creativity spikes when confined by strictures of nonfiction. I had tried my hand at everything from poetry and short stories, to novel writing. I’ve always been drawn to write about what is most beautiful, most mysterious, or most painful. For me, sex was a mix of all three, but I was particularly interested in figuring out why it was such a painful part of my life. I didn’t think it should be. I didn’t want it to be. My work falls under the category of memoir, but it’s more nonfiction than most. I write to a central question, using my life like a research project. I spent an entire year researching Masturbation Monday before I started writing.

What are you trying to accomplish with “Masturbation Monday”?

With Masturbation Monday, I’m putting all the new age and self-help rhetoric about self-love and self-acceptance to the test. All my life I’d believed I had loved and respected myself. But I was suppressing the parts of myself I was scared of. My sexuality was so crippled, I couldn’t even masturbate without feeling guilty and selfish. I felt judged, even alone in my bedroom. The book was an exercise in asking, what if I accepted myself unconditionally? I recorded my successes and failures in ways that make me laugh. Laughter is a powerful dispeller of shame.

Tell us about your pen name Jupiter’s Slut.

Jupiter’s a planet associated with expansion, growth, insight, learning, honor, and hope. I thought of myself as a slut before I even lost my virginity. It’s a packed word that holds a lot of baggage for people, myself included. Now when I use the word slut, it embodies an acronym I made up. S.L.U.T = Shameless Luminous Untamed Truth.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Butt in chair.” That was advice from Jane Yolen, an incredible children’s writer. The advice holds for all writers. You must sit down and write.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on a few projects. I’ve got them lined up like a race of turtles. One almost ready for an editor, another in the free-write phase. Another is out being shopped around. This week I’ve been working on a keynote address and on a book on spirituality. My religious upbringing was a big part in why I shut myself down sexually at a young age. I didn’t realize I’d shut down spiritually too. Once I started freeing my sexuality, my spiritual life started flooding back in. I didn’t want it, but there it was. Now I wouldn’t wish the joy and peace away now. I love it, but I do find talking about spirituality even more embarrassing than talking about sex, and every bit as personal. When we talk about deep self-love and acceptance we really are talking about spirituality. Masturbation Monday is about that, within the realm of sexuality, where most of us haven’t seen models for self-acceptance. When I set myself on a path of investigating my sexuality, I was also investigating my spirituality, I just didn’t know it yet.

You’ll be moderating this year’s panel on Writing About Sex. Can you tell us a little about what you’re planning?

In the wake of the #metoo movement, it’s clear that silence around sex leads to an environment where victims are more easily victimized. Speaking and writing about sex in ways that steers clear of shame isn’t just good writing, it’s a cultural imperative. This is an opportunity for writers of any kind to hear from experts on writing about sex.

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Sacchi Green lives in western Massachusetts, with occasional forays into the real world. She’s published scores of short stories and edited sixteen anthologies, eight of them Lambda Literary Award finalists, and two of them Lambda winners. Lately she’s blended the erotica genre with speculative fiction, her first love, whenever possible, and will even have an entire superheroine novel, SHADOW HAND, out next year. She will appear on the panel Writing Sex, moderated by Jupiter’s Slut, who interviewed her.

How did you come to writing erotica and editing?

In my early teens, I became a fan of science fiction. I was a big reader as a kid and always thought I’d be a writer. In those days you could even make a living at it. However, that wasn’t really the reason. Maybe it was my idea of some sort of immortality, like Jane Austen. But what I did was raise a family and have a business, and so forth, still thinking I’d do the writing sometime.

Suddenly, in my fifties, I thought, wait a minute, if I don’t start now it’s never. So I started writing science fiction and fantasy short stories. I had some moderate success in anthologies and magazines. Then I saw a call for submissions for Best Lesbian Erotica, which had started in 1996. I thought, “I can do that.” My first erotica story appeared in it in 1999.

What’s been your experience writing erotica?

Many of my science fiction and fantasy stories had a lesbian undertone. I already had some experience in story structure, from science fiction and fantasy, and when my erotica story was accepted the editor said, “Yours is so different!” That wasn’t necessarily true as I went along, but the Best Lesbian Erotica series has always had good stories.

I hate to say this, but a lot of people still view erotica as having no plot. They just will not read it. There’s this attitude. There are some award groups where it’s hard to even find judges for erotica.

Do you think a woman writer of erotica is seen differently from male writers who write about sex?

Women writers are perceived differently in general. How many women writers still use just initials? In erotica right now, though, there is a huge market for gay male erotica written by women. Women like to read it. Whether many males like to read it is a different question. It grew out of the same thing that Fifty Shades of Grey grew out of, fan fiction.

As an editor, how do you approach helping people write sex better?

There are technical points, such as, make sure you know where everyone’s appendages are, so they aren’t trying to do things they couldn’t be doing, because it throws people out of the story, and you don’t want to throw them out at that point.

Another thing is vocabulary. Every now and then, someone will starting using a word that hasn’t been used before in that context, like delve. It’s not great, but not too bad, until everyone does it. Avoid overworked words or tropes. If you really notice other people doing it, it’s been done too much.

What are three of your best tips for writing sex successfully?

1. It’s a huge mistake to think of a sex scene as a single obligatory lump of action inserted into your story. Don’t think of it as a separate thing. Focus on your characters. You know what they do in certain circumstances. What do they do in this circumstance?
2. When it comes to building toward sex scenes, foreshadowing is like foreplay.
3. Sex has accumulated so much baggage in our culture that “dirty” words can carry an erotic jolt of their own, positive for some people, negative for others. You can’t predict how each reader will react. All you can do is be familiar enough with your characters to know whether they’d say (or even think) “cunt” or “pussy” or “vulva.”

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Congratulations to this year’s WriteAngles panelist Gina Apostol on the publication of her new book GUN DEALER’S DAUGHTER. An impressionistic thriller of a novel, the book tells the story of an older Filipina woman looking back on her youth as a rebel in the 1970s Philippines. One critic called the book “a daring, fever dream of a novel.” Gina Apostol will be speaking on the panel The Novel as a Marathon: How to Stay the Course.

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