Being interviewed on this blog is an exhaustive scientific process under normal circumstances. There is form and function involved, but it really never goes places that I don’t expect. I’m not doing something important here, like curing bad breath (because Budweiser already does that). Normally the tried and true system works with me writing out the questions and then scanning them into email. Something like…
This is the protocol that I followed with Sarah Martinez (then I passed out after downing a bottle of the finest plastic-bottled Scotch that money could buy). I guess I wasn’t ready for the epicosity that would one day arrive back in my email box.
Sarah and I are both with Booktrope Editions (full-disclosure for you conspiracy theorists out there) and she just released her first book: Sex and Death in the American Novel
I read it and I thought it was fantastico. I thought that there were some pretty heavy/intriguing topics in the book, and it’s one of those reads that stayed with me for days while I tried to figure out what it all meant.
So, I was out working on my moonshine still (aka typical Thursday night) and I said to myself, “I’m using way too much brain power on all this. Why don’t I just ask Sarah to talk about her book, and life, and what’s the nature of the human condition?” I realized that I was sitting on this old oil drum in the same pose as that Thinker statue dude. Yes, I was naked, but I don’t normally pose like that when I’m making shine.
I wrote out my questions and emailed, then Sarah’s lawyers emailed me back (this is a normal step in the process), then KSears was like, “Why are you talking to Sarah? She’s busy writing books? And, where are my…
I found out Sarah was having this big fancy launch party in someplace called Seattle. I thought about hitting that, because nobody does fancy like me. I couldn’t find my tuxedo-T-shirt (and I didn’t know where Seattle was). There was tons of important book stuff going on there though:
See, here’s Sarah there talking about writer stuff:
Anyhow, when all was said and done, Sarah emailed me back her answers – 10 pages of answers! Obviously, she thinks I’m a legit journalist or something.
So prepareth for reading-time of awesomeness, as I present here the novella which is
Sarah Martinez Answers 11 Questions of Badassary!
Author Sarah Martinez, yo!
So, I was reading your book and like the main character is a writer who writes erotica and like there’s erotica that goes down in the book and so I was saying, “This is like one of those paintings that has one of those paintings in it and that has a painting in that and it goes on for infinity until the painting gets all tiny.”
This dude told me that if you squint your eyes and look at this picture sideways you see a koala bear.
So, should there be more books that have tiny paintings in them?
Not if there aren’t authors who want to write them. I wrote Sex and Death in the American Novel in the middle of a pretty hard core obsession with two authors. I saw one as the road to madness and the other the road to salvation, and somewhere as I read more, I fell in love with the one who represented madness. So this book is a weird assed way for me to try and express that.
There is the element of me addressing my favorite authors, and in the book I am writing about the experience of writing and you are reading about what it means to be a reader. It is a whole circular thing and it ended for me when I got to give the book to one of my favorite authors when he came to town. I think that was where the book ended for me, if that makes sense. Now I am ready to move on to the next thing.
I kinda want to take over the Nancy Drew books, but make her like badass Nancy Drew. She was raised by werewolves and now she’s a model who solves crimes…
I also love writers so I was very interested in all the discussions of process and how many of us work, how many of us are judged, how we judge ourselves, how we judge others, and how outsiders judge what we write.
There’s a lot more going on in your book than Sex and Death–but the sex is definitely there. What’s the secret to writing the sexy times? A lot of people are writing about the sexy times lately, but I’m not so sure a lot of us are doing it right. When I try to write that kinda stuff I don’t think I do a very good job at it–but I’m a guy and I think I’ve accomplished something groundbreaking if I can just work “boobs” into a sentence.
Why do you think that is?
Dude, here’s an exercise for you. Think of the five words you really really aren’t supposed to say, let alone write. Pick the worst one. Then write for ten minutes using that word in every line. Not every sentence, every line. I stole that from Jack Remick, and a version of this exercise can also be found in The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long.
“Nancy Drew raised by werewolves? What’s your opening line? – “A long time ago Nancy Drew was hot and raised by hot werewolves?”
Jack Remick and I will be doing a class that will cover writing sex scenes for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association on November 3rd. There should also be a webinar so you can look it up later. I am excited about this class, and working with writers who want to write past what they are afraid to talk about.
In my case anyway, when I got past all the self-censoring I was doing and moved into trying to be as honest and true to what I was afraid of and badly wanted to say, it opened up so many more aspects of my work. I could say I was pissed at my father and that I in fact hated him at times, because I let that barrier down. Letting down the walls that keep us from writing honestly about sex also opens up the ability to talk about other aspects of our lives.
The key to writing sex or anything really, is to put all of yourself into it. Study others who have done it well—for you, don’t listen to what others say is a good scene if it doesn’t work for you—and keep practicing. Like sex itself, the more you do, the better at it you become and the more aware and present you are for the whole deal, the more you will get out of it.
Writing is about awareness, honesty, respect for your topic, and fearlessness. When I am afraid of something is when I find I want to skim over it. The need to skip over a topic should be a clue that it may need some attention. Even if that only ends up being one line in the final draft, it probably should be addressed.
I also think that starting from a really radical place and revising for audience is the way to go. Throw everything you have at the scene you are writing, and then tame it if you need to. But if you write tame in the first place, you risk losing the special bit that comes out when you let yourself go. Knowing you I am actually surprised you would have a hard time with this. Pretend you are on twitter and you have to be as explicit as you can in your descriptions. What key words would you have to use to make your points if you were attempting to shock, seduce or enchant? Let yourself go and I think you will be surprised at what you come up with.
Maybe I always get hung up on *enchant*?
I have been finding some phenomenal male writers lately who address sex in their work. Marco Vassi’sThe Stoned Apocalypse, as well as The Gentle Degenerates, areimportant, as is anything and everything by Junot Diaz. He just published some of his best short stories in the collection This is How You Lose Her. His short story “Alma” is one of my favorites. The actual sex scene there is short but very well done and the entire story is infused with this dark sexually charged energy.
She’s talking about this dude.
Jack Remick handled sex quite a bit in his outstanding book, Blood. Also David Steinberg, someone who I have recently connected with, has years’ worth of essays up at:
I am just beginning to read these, but even just his reasons for writing sound exactly like what I have been saying for a while. His work reminds me a lot of the honesty and a certain type of hope I was so drawn to in Marco Vassi.
“Oh, so Sarah and that Marco dude could write about kick-ass hot Nancy Drew…”
I’m just gonna stay focused on Sarah’s interview and keep my genius werewolf ideas to myself.
Your blog addresses a lot of topics: writing, literature, relationships, sex. Beyond self-promotion, what sort of discussions are really important to you to engage in with readers? What are the sorts of dialogues you feel are crucial to keep relevant currently? What should we be talking about more openly that we’re not?
I hope my blog handles self-promotion least of all topics. I really want it to be a place for gathering information that is relevant to my own sensibility. When you land there you should pretty quickly be able to figure out who I am and what is important to me. It is also very important to me that I am able to promote others who are “doing it right.” Once in awhile I will do what I call a “gushy post” and I will rave and fawn over some new writer I have discovered.
I am planning a series of posts where I will interview several male writers that I admire, who are writing about sex in ways that are worth taking notice.When I wrote my novel I was addressing the fact that a few of the writers I respected hardly handled sex at all in their work, but were supposed to be addressing the human condition. I never expected this meant all male writers, because of course, there wasJunot Diaz and Marco Vassi, but Marco Vassi was mostly classified as a porn writer!
People get paid to write porn? Wait … what is this a picture of?
I was addressing a very specific assumption I had, that I am still trying to work though, that literary fiction can’t or shouldn’t handle explicit sex because it is too…well…explicit, tasteless or ew, you know, like too gross or something… Fuck! Forget the fact that it is also something that is universal, vital and either traumatic or pleasurable as an activity. Why real depictions of it are still largely stuck into a separate genre is something I continue to look at and discuss.
I also want people to learn something as well. When I say I wrote a book that was erotic many people bring up the latest blockbuster that deals with BDSM. If a careful reader comes to my site, they will find recommendations to other books they might also find interesting and find out why I am writing the way I do.
The last thing I want to do is trivialize sex further; instead I want to celebrate and examine it and point people towards other artists who do the same. If I can accomplish that with my website, blog, facebook and twitter ramblings, I will have done something important.
Why would anyone wanna trivialize sex further? …oh, yeah!
Something unrelated to the book that you will find on my website , is about a place I was in as a teenager called Straight, Inc. It was a radical institution which called itself a drug treatment program that worked with teenagers through the 70’s until the early 90s. This is a part of who I am that until pretty recently I kept quiet about and mostly tried to ignore. As I get older and try to work through some of what it means for me to have been in that place, it becomes more important to both integrate it into my discussions about who I am and try to draw attention to it. There are a good number of people out there who were in places like this and I think it is important that they don’t feel alone. I have several links up on my website and have posted a few essays about the experience and will continue to do so from time to time.
You list Atlas Shrugged as an inspiration.I really loved that novel when I read it – more for the characters and less for some of the extreme Objectivism. Anthem was a super-important book for me when I first read it. Do you think poor Ayn is getting a bad rap, lately?
I have been told that shit tons of people like Ayn for the reasons I do, but I haven’t met any of them until you! Generally Atlas Shrugged is only cited when discussions of a political nature come up. The pieces about Atlas that resonated for me, and were exactly why I threw the references into the book were first the notion that your mind, your thoughts, and your reason are valuable. In the context of my book, it was like, hey, if you like erotica, or science fiction more than literary fiction, don’t feel bad about that. Don’t let people who purport to know, as those party goers did in Atlas, tell you that you are wrong. Do your thing and be proud of it, and choose wisely, being true to your own vision of the world. Also, as a writer, don’t write what you think other people want, or what might sell, or any of that, write what really turns your crank, rocks your clock, and floats your particular boat.
Like this kinda boat?
The second thing I appreciated was that she addressed the power that guilt has over us all. We get to look at how it works as a motivator in relationships of all kinds. One of the writers I admire, Jonathan Franzen, talked about this in a speech he gave when he came to Seattle. He is the first writer I ever heard address this. Guilt is an especially big deal for mothers as we are often expected to give up our hopes and dreams until our kids are grown.One day it occurred to me that that was unreasonable, and that much of the guilt I had about doing what I wanted was left over from judging my own mother who also didn’t do the June Cleaver thing.
As I began pulling away from the day to day routine that involved me being available for husband and kids 24/7, I had to deal with quite a bit of guilt, and still do for choosing to spend my time writing, editing and attending events for all of it. But I also believe that my happiness and my example to my girls matters in the long run. Do I want them to think that they are doomed to a life of constant sacrifice and no personal fulfillment if they decide to go the domestic route? That sort of insight took a while though. I think we are still taught to give up quite a bit for the sake of our families and it is not always easy to imagine another way to be until we have done it for a while.
Here is something that nobody mentions… Did Dagny not have the most incredible men lusting after her? And they weren’t lusting after her because she had a rack that could drop jaws, but instead it was all about what was inside her, and what she was capable of. So there was, like Twilight,which I read at the same time I read Atlas Shrugged,this implication for some incredible group sex.
Don’t give me that look. It was there the whole time. I should write it so you’ll see…
Sex and Death has some heavy topics mixed in with self-discovery and erotica. Your protagonist starts off writing gay pornography because she’s more interested in writing books that are “fun escapist reads” VS “high literature.” She also explores the nature of women’s roles in relationships and how they’re perceived by society. As a whole, do you think we’re ever going to get over a lot of the puritanical hang-ups that color our views and pre-conceived notions about what it means to interact intimately with others and what our roles are supposed to be in that dance?
First I want to say that I am no expert on anything, all I can speak to is what I have observed in my own life and what I have been learning lately.
I had thought we were still, at least where I lived, pretty hung up, but since I wrote the book these fascinating people, largely men, have been handing me all sorts of information. I think now I need to distinguish between mainstream media (the literary fiction I was reading was mainstream and popular) and what the men’s movements and what some would call counter-culture are doing. Until I found Marco Vassi, I was pretty sure men were not able to function mentally and be sexual beings. True story.I know,I am special and incredibly precious aren’t I? What Vassi wrote was revelatory and confirmed something that I had hoped–that men were more like me than different– and there was a way to find a real connection with these beings who for many reasons I admired.
I am not sure if anything different is possible in any context where we are slave to a mass consciousness, certainly not where people are still labeled, still not able to be themselves without judgment. This again goes to my discussion of what good is and what bothers me about labels in general. Is a man who can have sex with both women and men and find connection there any less of a man than one who only sleeps with women? According to the jokes I heard on TV and the way I have heard men talked about all my life, there would be something wrong with him.
I also feel like the nuances that make all of life so exciting is what television, and the mass media are so awful at dealing with. Because we simplify things to the point of inanity, it is very easy to assume, especially at an unconscious level, that there is something wrong with you if you want something different than what mainstream media presents. We wax off all of our body hair, get plastic surgery, and airbrush everything, so that both men and women now are faced with images on magazine covers and in movies that set up an expectation that we have to then reconcile both about who we are and about what we are supposed to want. What if the thing that really gets you going is the image of some big hairy lumberjack…who may be sporting a roll around his middle but has incredibly powerful shoulders? Can a woman just be attracted to man because of what he represents as a being without having to also fantasize about him having rock hard abs and a bank account to rival Donald Trump?
I have been hearing women talk about these issues relating to what they think society expects of us, but when I flipped it around and looked at it from the male perspective, something clicked into place for me. If men can’t even be real, then what have we done to ourselves as a culture?It seems to me that the more we commercialize sex, and our own bodies, and the more we simplify our desires, the more we lose something important about our humanity.
Maybe explored a lot of the same issues? Okay, probably not.
Geez, I can go on…
One thing that bothered me at a deep level was when I played back a Charlie Brown specialon DVR for my girls. I had recorded it off the ABC Family channel. The ads that were flashing during the commercials were for this show that featured a bunch of adolescent girls, made up to look like Playmates. They had perfect hair, and full coat of makeup including shiny lipstick and high heels. The show looked like nothing more than a soap opera to me, not something that should be advertised when small children could see it.
Are we saying she’s not legit edgy? Or that she just shouldn’t hang out with Charlie Brown?
I was horrified and watched myself with no small amount of humor,ban any more ABC Family shows. So, that was interesting, here I am this person who talks about sex with anyone who will listen, who writes what most would consider pretty explicit stuff, who talks as honestly and openly about sex as I can with my daughters, but then when it comes to my girls watching this dreck, I turn into my grandmother.
And I think actually that this reconciles perfectly. I want my girls to grow up with a healthy image about what they are supposed to look like, what their friends are supposed to look like and how they should behave and get by in the world. This should apply for them, and for the men and women they choose to share their lives with.
Look at Charlie Brown. Here boys and girls are unique, and each has his own characteristics and something about them that makes them special, and at least as I watch it, the implication is that they will grow up in the world and find all sorts of interesting things to do. With the show I saw ads for, the focus was only on relationships, how to snare a boy, and how to make him the focus of your life.
My exhaustive research has led me back to this!
So my sense is that if we look to anything mainstream as a way to understand ourselves we will be making a huge mistake. This is why books are so valuable, especially the weird ones. Even books that people look down on are more nuanced than anything on television or in the movies.
Bet you didn’t even know there was a European Remix!
Dancing is a recurring thing in the book. It’s a recurring thing with me at weddings – I’m already making plans to start a conga line to Footloose at Tracey Hansen’s wedding. Were you a dancer? Should we maybe all be more dancer and less whatever the hell else we’re currently doing?
Only if that is your thing. I have a friend who sits meditation. He says he gets his energy from meditation, and he thinks, and I would agree, that I get mine from dance. I think we all should be doing what works for us.
I would definitely encourage people who are afraid of dancing to give it a try though. Conga lines have never been my thing but something like that would be a great introduction for the newbie. Take lots of pictures!
I took lessons pretty intensely for about a year and went out at least four times a week for quite a while. I almost had a formal partner for Tango and had plans to go to Argentina and study there before I met my husband. I am not an especially graceful dancer and despite the fact that I love the Argentine Tango, and have lots of fun with Salsa, I am a horrible follow. I still do it but I am awful at it.
The deal is to try and fail and try again and enjoy yourself. That is what dance is all about for me. Like sex, like running, like any other physical activity, when the whole body is involved, it can take you to a different place and in doing that can be quite expansive.
Is anyone in movies or TV doing anything erotic right or is it just the same old Cinemax tropes over and over?
I feel like all I see are tropes but I am also having my eyes opened to the fact that I haven’t been looking in the right places. I think I touched on this in some of my previous answers too.
It’s not like MTV was gonna keep renewing Remote Control forever.
What I am finding is that when I am open to learning about something, the examples sort of fall in my lap. Check back with me, I am sure that I will have something for you soon. For now, what I like is still found in books and a few offbeat places. Did you see the videos from my launch? Maureen O’Donnell does this tribal belly dance that is incredible to watch, especially live. This was not only sexy, but unique and interesting. I have never seen anything like it.
Music or not? If yes, what do you listen to when you write? (You get tons of extra points if it involves Hall & Oates).
I have listened to Hall &Oates. “Maneater” especially helps to tap into a certain vamp vibe–this thing I wanted so desperately to be when I was younger.
Addressing that need is something that I deal with in my work. I will be listening to more of the stuff that was popular in the 80s as I am working on a book that takes place during that time. There is nothing like Bonnie Tyler to call up a certain type of romanticy angst. Did you know Hall & Oates did a song with my name in it?
I turned around, Bright Eyes.
Music is very important to me, but it is hard to explain what I do with it. Very strong music like Marilyn Manson and Metallica help to tap into a state of outrage or frustration. Also Enigma works well on the flip side. Often the poppier the better, when I first started Sex and Death in the American Novel I was listening to Lady GaGa. The working title of the book was Bad Romance until only a couple months before it was published.
…or as I like to call her “My Future Ex-Wife”
As I write the first draft, I listen to music, usually pretty loud, and then keep that music around to listen to later on. How I use music tends to be a lot about accessing a specific feeling or if this makes sense, sort of holding the emotional energy so I can get back to it when I need it. When I am trying to really work I need quiet, often the monsters in my head are loud enough, but other times, like when I am revising, or copy editing, I may use something like Bach or Tangerine Dream.
Book Trailer Break!!!
When it’s just not happening–you know–the words, what do you do? How do you get away, re-focus, clear your head?
Physical activities serve to get me the fuck out of my head and back to what got me excited about what I was working on.
Like this? No wait, that’s what Tess Hardwick does.
I am big on running or walking outside, or at the gym if I have to.
That’s what Tracey Hansen does.
Dance is something I am doing more lately, but don’t get to go out to do it as much as I would like. The launch party was a notable example. I was high from that for at least a week.
Yeah, but are you also a welder?
What’s the balance for you between being a writer, being a wife, being a mom, having a life? Do you find yourself being a slightly different person when you’re engaged in different parts of your life–or are you always just Sarah? (Sometimes I’m LBJ–but my therapist tells me to run with it).
Yes, run with it J
Since I was pretty young I have been able to compartmentalize different parts of my life and myself. I am still me and my values are the same, but I handle different people in my life differently. Once in a while someone from one of my mommy groups wants to talk about writing or editing, and it feels a little like the world is tipping.
I find the balance difficult. When I do anything I like to do it fully and often it is hard to switch to something else. Often I feel like I am torn in different directions, like I’ll want to do two things in the same amount of time, like finish a book and read to my daughter before it is time to go to bed.
Mostly now I am doing the writer promoter thing and running kids around during the day. Here I want to say that this is something that would be much more difficult if I didn’t have the husband that I have. He is very centered on the family and so he handles a lot of domestic tasks and of course stays with the girls when I have to go to a conference, or when I write in the evenings. I am not sure how couples who both write do it. I am sure you can make anything work, but this balance is hard for sure.
Different parts of my day are for different things. Early mornings are sacred writing time, then the girls get up and I have to get them ready for school. For a couple hours while my youngest is in school I work, then I pick her up and we run errands, and I do the domesticated wife routine. At least three nights a week I get to work more or run to different events and activities. At bedtime I read to my youngest and then my oldest will get into bed with me and we will read side my side. I love that.
What’s next? Maybe not what book is next – more like what amazing goal is next? How will Sarah Martinez next make it rain?
I am working on my next book, but as a part of that research I am learning all this great stuff that I mentioned before about the men’s movement and male sexuality–not as the silly or brutish thing it is always portrayed as, but as something worth real attention from the female perspective. I have found four men without even trying who are doing amazing sex writing, or honestly talking about sexual issues and I will be doing a series of blog posts where I get to ask them questions about writing and sex. A couple of these guys are really radical so I expect this to be pretty exciting.
There is no question in my mind that this dude is in touch with his feelings.
The thing with this is that I was very heavily focused on my own frustration and that of the women around me when I wrote Sex and Death. Most of the men I was in intimate relationships with that I could have potentially had real discussions with were too hung up on proving their “manhood” and couldn’t talk honestly, and also were just not very articulate.
Did you ask this guy?
Since I have started writing and talking to writers, there is a more open atmosphere and also being older has helped too I think, both in my level of ability to listen and in the people I have been talking to.
A good writer friend and I had a discussion about a year ago and this was the first time that it occurred to me–in a way that made me change my own line of thinking– that men were subjected to their own set of pressures. What he said sounded similar to what I hear some women say about what keeps them from being who they want to be. Satisfying this craving for knowledge and experiencing this connection that had nothing to do with having sex with this man, made me really happy. For once I felt like I had achieved understanding. Something real had happened.
Many times in my life I had felt like discussions with men were mostly a build up to sex or a build up to the eventual let down that would be not having sex or whatever.
What if he’s being legit, Molly Ringwald?
Or the tension that comes with not talking about it. Now I am talking to people about things that are important to people. I hope to be able to share that with others who may be as ignorant as I was.
Thanks Sarah, you have taken us to school!
How could you not click this picture now?!?
Vivianna Post is the family anomaly. Daughter of a Pulitzer Prize winner and an academic, she has never quite fit her parents’ expectations as a free-spirited erotica writer. When Vivianna encounters the award-winning author Jasper Caldwell at a nightclub, all she wants is to blame him for blowing off her brother at a writers’ conference the year before and possibly causing his suicide. But as the night—and then the weeks—wear on, Vivianna finds herself drawn to Jasper in ways she cannot understand. When their differences—literary and sexual—threaten to pull Vivianna and Jasper apart, Jasper rediscovers Alejandro, an old friend who just might have the power to complete them both in every way. Using quotes and references to classic erotic and literary icons, Sex and Death in the American Novel is on one level an unconventional romance and on another a discussion of the merits of erotic literature.
Billy Purgatory and the Curse of the Satanic Five! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat…?
Click for Time Zombie transportation!
Billy Purgatory is a man plagued by questions – about his mother’s disappearance, his love-hate relationship with vampire fatale Anastasia, and why the Time Zombie keeps stealing his girlfriends. The search for answers frequently leads him into danger and the darker corners of the world, corners he would prefer not to see.
In his quest for answers, Billy begins using the Zombie’s powers for his own designs, hurtling into the past in a time-bending attempt to create an ideal present. No one can predict the outcome of such a plan – especially not Billy. This time, his adventures take him high above the African plains, through the sleek, marbled halls of a mysterious mansion brimming with sinister science, and across the U.S. on a heated road trip with none other than Anastasia at his side. Vampires, demons, and an evil cabal known simply as the Satanic Five are all hot on his trail.
Some answers don’t come easily…but that’s never stopped Billy Purgatory.
“So, would Nancy Drew actually be a werewolf? Or just raised by werewolves?”