What was the first story you remember writing about?
When I was eight, I wrote a short story that was a version of a fantasy I used to act out repeatedly. The story was about a princess who was in love with a very lowly servant boy, very near a slave, really. Her father, the king, was dying and her younger brother was very evil. If she married the servant, she would give up her right to the throne, and the evil younger brother would become king. The boy she was in love with knew this and knew it would be bad for his family and friends if her younger brother became king. He also felt he wasn’t good enough for the princess. She, on the other hand, was ready to give up everything and leave the kingdom to be with him. But he knew it would be horrible for the people of the land, so he, very dramatically, threw himself in the lion’s den (they had a lion’s den in the castle) and was eaten alive.
Of course, she, being a princess, cared more about romance and her broken heart than the fate of the people, so she immediately threw herself to the lions as well. Both romance and the greater good lost.
At the end of the story, I wrote a little poem about the lions being their love, and their torn flesh representing the people of the kingdom, and the blood on the lion’s teeth… something I don’t recall, but it seemed to upset my grandmother.
She was worried about me when I read her my first story. She was concerned and confused about where such a young kid had so many dark ideas. But she had been reading me the Bible regularly, all my life, so that type of subject matter wasn’t exactly a leap for me. In the Bible, evil kings are always taking over, and people get stoned to death, and decapitated and tortured in graphic detail, so hey.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was four, I wanted to work at a video store and sell popcorn, or be a garbage man, or a ballerina. When I was seven I wanted to be a writer; eight, a singer, twelve, an actor, and then around sixteen, I thought I would settle for being some sort of minor art star, possibly literary in nature.
Do you think writing is a learned or something you know how to do intuitively, or both? Why?
I think it is definitely something you learn and get better at over time, with practice. Writing is a skill, like any other craft, creative or otherwise. It is not some talent handed down from on high. Passion, that can’t be taught. But just being passionate does not make you a good writer, as anyone who has ever attended a poetry slam or open mic probably knows.
What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?
When I was a Junior in high-school, I had to take a remedial math class because I’d done so poorly in Algebra the year before. The teacher was somewhat openly a member of the Klu Klux Klan (which was active in my town). He harassed two of the male students pretty regularly, calling them dumb and making fun of their lack of masculinity. He allowed one girl, who was the only black girl in the school and was only there for one semester, to be threatened and called very bad names by one of the other boys in the class. He gave us worksheets at the beginning of each class, then sat behind his desk and looked at porn on his computer (I’m not kidding) the whole hour. At the end of the class he collected our one page math worksheets. That was basically the extent of his teaching activities. So, that was pretty bleak.
Are you reading anything right now?
I’m at the beginning of The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, whom I’ve recently had the pleasure of befriending in the flesh. I’m reading everything slowly because I’ve been very busy the last two months. I like the book so far. It’s really magnifying the horrors of suburban living through the queer eye (it doesn’t begin in San Francisco).
I’m also in the middle of a gorgeous book of poetry that almost reads like a novella in verse entitled Failure and I Bury the Body by Sasha West. It’s a bleak little language-driven romp about failing everything and taking a road trip with a corpse. The corpse is either failure embodied, or the dead body of succeeding. It’s not totally clear yet. I wonder how it’s going to end! It’s a real “page turner.”
Are you writing anything right now?
I am editing and submitting two poetry manuscripts, just beginning a novella, and in the middle of a collection of short fiction.
One of the poetry manuscripts is entitled “Your Poverty is Tasteless” and has a lot to do with lower- class experience in the U.S. There is another manuscript that I feel very hesitant about, but everyone I show it to gets excited about it, so I’m thinking, maybe I will edit it and send it out. It is entitled “Mother’s Paintings” and sort of paints a portrait of my mother’s life through descriptions of and narratives about the modern art paintings she’s done over the years, almost all of which are reproductions, yet imbued with her own voice and energy.