Archive for the ‘interview’ Category
Caroline Picard, my friend and publisher (of Hip Hop Apsara), has been working on a novel for a while called Death of An Animatronic Band, which you can read about (and see video based on!) in her Next Big Thing interview here. The Next Big Thing is an ever-unfolding series of self-interviews (Caroline had been tapped by Mairead Case, and you can follow the chain backwards to discover a pretty diverse and amazing wealth of upcoming books and projects), so I’ve used the opportunity to clarify some things about my pending book New Girl Law, and asked MariNaomi and Melissa Gira Grant to write about their upcoming projects next.
The book’s called New Girl Law: Drafting a Future for Cambodia. It’s probably too late to change it, since the book comes out at the end of the month (March 31!), and it’s already been printed, so I expect this title will stay. If I wanted to change it at this point I’d probably have to do a mass recall from the distributor and buy a shit-ton of Sharpies, which is the kind of thing I would have been willing to do twenty years ago and now couldn’t possibly make time for.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I spent several years travelling to and doing work in Cambodia around women’s issues—freedom of expression, labor—it’s a very intense place. I’ve talked about it in interviews quite a bit here, here, here, here, and here. I kept a blog while I was there called Camblogdia, and it was quite popular. Then sometime during these years I published a short-run print version of some of the blog posts that together formed a cohesive narrative. This was on a press I started, Pressing Concern, that very very occasionally publishes material relevant to global women’s issues. That little booklet got some attention, and Cantankerous Titles offered to published a more fleshed out version called Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh, and I agreed to a four-book series, only the first two of which were under immediate contract. So New Girl Law is the second in this series. The first one talked about the zines we all made together, and what it was like to teach zines in a culture that doesn’t really value women’s public participation, or literacy, or media. This one is about some deeper issues that impact traditional American notions of freedom, and how truly difficult transnational gender issues can be. That’s an incredibly hard thing to write about, but when you stumble across a good way to address it, I think you owe it to folks to try.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s creative non-fiction, in the memoir/journalistic mode. I don’t really do any writing that isn’t, basically, creative non-fiction. But it is interesting, with this book, that I had to lean more toward “creative” than “non-fiction” for a couple reasons: first, to protect the young Khmer women I wrote about. And second, to more accurately tell a story that hinges on various acts of censorship and self-censorship. Because—and this will make more sense if you’ve read the book—there’s information I just didn’t have access to, like why censorship happens, so I had to find creative ways of presenting options for why it happens to the reader. The truth is that folks who aim to silence rarely articulate why. That is what real censorship is about: not needing to explain silence, just to enforce it. A book, however, requires a why, or at least a series of maybe becauses. It was a challenge to do, as someone who values the tenets of journalism and the notion of truth quite a bit.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh man, I know a lot of people are tired of this question, but for me it’s a really exciting prospect, because there’s only one white American in the story, and obviously that would be played by Anne Hathaway, or Anne Heche, or Ann Magnuson, or Anne Bancroft, because of realism. Or, to get conceptual on you, maybe Quvenzhane Wallis, who by the time this film would be cast, is likely to really have gotten her young mind around the concept of playing people named Anne, plus is awesome, and only an idiot would not put her on the short list to play them in a movie, even if the skin tones and ages and heights don’t match up. Anyway, it’s acting. She could do it. But everyone else—32 young Cambodian women—that’s a wide-open field. So we’d go to Cambodia, do an open casting call, bring in a couple seasoned actresses there maybe, but really provide young women who have few job options besides the garment and sex industries an interesting opportunity. For the most part we’d be starting from scratch, but Cambodia used to have a really thriving film industry before the Khmer Rouge. What a great excuse to help foster and strengthen a revival: a film about a group of young women just getting comfortable but still meeting barriers while making their own media in an emerging democracy. Probably the biggest question, really, would be which emerging female Cambodian director would I hire to run the thing? I’m happy to start looking at CVs now, in case the funding gets dropped in my lap.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A group of young women in Cambodia create an imaginary set of policy for a country they love, while grappling with the very real conditions of uneven economic and social development. Plus giggling. Two sentences, sorry; I am pretty good at math.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
On this series, I’ve been working with Cantankerous Titles, an independent publisher in the Pacific Northwest, so I don’t have to go either route. They’re a small enough team and we go back far enough in history that we have a flexibility usually only available to self-publishers, but don’t have to bring an agent in to siphon off dollars from a budget. I like agents, for sure, and am bummed that modern publishing seems more and more to leave them out of the publishing equation, but this work is really intersectional—gender and race and international politics and economic factors and and and and and—and in a publishing world dominated by BS like Lean In, what I do takes more than the easy sales pitch. I find agents make projects with the easy sales pitch work better. Self publishing is great when you want to test out ideas or communicate directly to an established group of people—especially those without economic means. And small-press publishing has historically been best suited to teasing out complex political issues.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Well the very first draft took a year, because it was kept as a journal during the year-long course of events that I describe in the book. But then I transcribed interviews with some of the young women I worked with, to allow them to tell heir own stories, and that took some time. And shaping it all into the structure it eventually became took a few months as well.
But then something happened.
The publisher of Cambodian Grrrl (and now, New Girl Law) started getting some flak from some self-proclaimed young feminists in the field of independent publishing who adopted what they called the riot grrrl tradition. Working from a long-ago rumor that I haven’t been able to verify—so I’m not sure how anyone else would—they decided to ban him from an event in supposed support of freedom of expression where I was a featured speaker, leaving me in a very awkward position. I was told at various times that I didn’t understand, that these people knew riot grrrl, and I didn’t—all sorts of weird, dumb stuff that didn’t address the basic problem, that an organization supposedly in support of independent publishing and diverse participation and freedom of expression had just banned someone from participating. And not just any participant, but the publisher of a book on fostering diverse voices and freedom of expression in a hostile environment, the writer of which was being asked to talk about that work at the event.
Aside from the short-sightedness of such a decision, the denigration of my work, and the personal attacks that emerged from it, the incident came at a really bad moment for me, when I was trying to write a book that offered a fair and even-handed look at other incidents of censorship and self-censorship of young Cambodian women’s voices. I think people who strive to shut others up don’t realize how truly and totally damaging their actions are—a problem worsened significantly by the belief that such parties are being protective. It turns out, when you believe yourself to be right, you stop listening. And not listening, I have come to believe, is the root of all evil.
Anyway, I couldn’t do it. It was another nine months before I could look at the manuscript again. And what made me pick it up again, actually, was maybe even more significant. I met one of my heroes, May Summer Farnsworth, who is probably the person that had the most impact on the way that I thought about gender and social and media justice when I was actually doing riot grrrl-stuff in the 1990s. Now, I have no stock in the riot grrrl mythos and for perhaps obvious reasons am apt to distrust anyone who tries to get me to conform to it, but the conversation I had with May about how she navigated and experienced the end of a movement that she had helped foster, and the kinds of silencing that occurred within it—it became really important to me to find a way to articulate my own silence in the face of so many acts of silencing.
What other books would you compare this story to in its genre?
Three Cups of Tea and Reading Lolita in Tehran have both been comparative titles to this series, and people often come to it when, for example, they want to find a work that describes the global economic condition of women that’s actually by and about women to replace Half the Sky in a college curriculum. But those books all advocate for something; a course of action, an organization, Half the Sky: The Movement. I actually don’t want folks to do what I did in Cambodia, as I’ve made clear in other interviews. Don’t follow my path. Let curiosity and engagement and listening forge one for you.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The amazing young women of Cambodia. Why anyone would write about anyone else, ever, is beyond me.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My publisher has placed one gazillion dollar bill in each physical copy of the book, so there’s a really big financial incentive to buy it at only $9.95. You make, like, whatever a gazillion minus 9.95 is, not to mention that gazillion dollar bills are very rare. Of course, it might have fallen out, or a bookstore browser or disreputable distributor or bookseller may have pocketed it, so we can’t guarantee you that money. But it’s a pretty nice gesture, you gotta admit.
(If you haven’t heard it yet, please also do check out Paul M. Davis’ Radio Free Ruin interview with me on the gendered implications of the project itself, which are fascinating [to me!] and interspersed with jokes and other topics.)
I know. I promised you an in-depthe something about the process behind Unladylike, the new Ladydrawers anthology, and instead of giving it to you I hopped on a plane to fucking Georgia. We’re not talking peach trees and land of Coke, here, no. Former Soviet state? So in addition to trying to figure out how to find food I can eat and keep jellyfish out of my hair and drinking the best and right kind of wine with every single meal, I have been getting to know new money and meeting new people I can barely communicate with and subsequently, no further details about Unladylike have yet emerged.
It’s possible that this will end up being for the best, in the long run.
Still. The last couple weeks have seen a couple interesting development in the world of Ladydrawers, including the launch of my new column at Truthout (first installment with MariNaomi here and the second, with Sara Drake, here)—that’s been revered, reviled, and otherwise noted by reasonable people I respect. (Here’s one particularly well thought-out response by Shaenon K. Garrity on Comixology.) And, although I haven’t yet seen it, my collabo with Susie Cagle was published in the latest edition of Annalemma Magazine. Chris Heavener did a very nice interview with me for it here.
The actual Ladydrawers, that is, the folks who came and worked with me on the anthology this summer at Ox-Bow, have also been busy. Mostly making comics. Often about how dumb the Internet is. Here’s Rachel N. Swanson’s “Comments on the Internet,” featuring actual comments, transcribed into ponyspeak, from the “Introducing Ladydrawers” column with MariNaomi linked above. (She was also involved in a Vocalo interview on our work together that I can hardly wait to repost here.)
Finally finally finally, I’m totally thrilled to announce that over on the sadly underutilized but miraculously well visited Ladydrawers blog, Janelle Asselin has contributed some original research into readership and cultural expectations in comics. Including:
From a pool of 59% self-identified male respondents, most of whom have been reading comics for over ten years, 82% listed their favorite comics creator as male. Most (92%) don’t consider gender when buying new comics, and 70% don’t think that comics, as a medium of expression, appeal to women. Maybe what’s most interesting to me are her questions about marketing. Most (92% again) feel comics are not marketed effectively to women, but most claim to buy comics based mostly on reviews of them. Which means, as far as I’m concerned, that of course comics are marketed as effectively to women as Kotex Maxipads are to men. And we know already that the reasons people don’t buy stuff isn’t exclusively about the ways in which things are marketed—sometimes the product itself is no good. And if respondents themselves are telling you: Hey, we prefer to read a supposedly neutral third-party take on work in this medium anyway—then what’s going to change the readership of comics isn’t going to be more effective marketing strategies, but a wider and more vocal array of critics writing about comics.
And more, hopefully, soon.
Lots of things going on over at ChezEM these days, the most exciting developments of which is: THE LADYDRAWERS COLUMN! Starting in the middle of June, and with the help of a different amazing comics artist every other week, I’ll be presenting my decade-or-so worth of research into comics, media, and gender on Truthout.org.
Who’s drawing the first episode, you ask? Why, it’s MariNaomi, the San Francisco-based creator of the truly compelling new graphic memoir Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (Harper Perennial) and the long-running, self-published Estrus Comics (est. 1998). (Who I don’t think realizes I put her on the cover of The Comics Journal #237, on our famed women-in-comics issue, guest edited by Mary Fleener.)
Equally exciting is the four-page cover feature coming out in Annalemma at the end of the month that distills a few of our latest findings on how gender effects contemporary comics publishing (and how it doesn’t). A collaboration with Susie Cagle, the piece is a direct follow-up to those in the series previously published in Tin House, as the Women’s Comics Anthology, and in Bitch Magazine.
Hear more about the project on the Matthew Filipowicz Show. I’ll post updates as the installments go live!
UPDATE: Apparently we’ve been “found out.”
Caroline Picard did an interview with me for Art21 (although part of it appears here, on Bad At Sports), and here’s an excerpt, which is wholly an excuse to put a picture of Justin Bieber on my blog. How can this not be a good idea?:
My work is like Justin Bieber if you like Justin Bieber: it defies categorization automatically because you adore it. But if you think Justin Bieber is a tool, then my work is not like that at all. In fact it is the opposite of that. Except for the fact that both Justin Bieber and I tend to be adored by teenage girls. That is exactly the same and there is no use denying it.
I was interviewed for Chicago Independent Television about the Whittier struggle shortly after the initial battle for a library was won. Hm. The link’s not working but you can click through right here.
Bitch magazine asked me what my most influential feminist book-reading experience was, and of course it was Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte. (It’s a little bit awkward because I wasn’t asked to write an essay on it, but to answer questions that were strung together into an essay, but i think it worked well.) While you’re over there, read Jessica Hoffman’s too!
A few weeks ago, I participated in a roundtable dinner conversation with JC Gabel of Stop Smiling, Bryan Wendorf of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Shawn Campbell of CHIRP, and Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork dot com while Time Out Chicago—our hosts for the evening—filmed, photographed, audio-recorded, and transcribed it (the far more tolerable excerpted text version is here).
Great people, amazing food, embarrassing documentation. What more can a girl ask for out of an evening? Plus, those of you who have always wanted to go to dinner with me to argue about so-called “indie” culture no longer have to stay awake at night wondering what it’s like.