Navigating Writing Contests and Dog Training : A Week in the Life of Writer Sassafras Lowrey
Author: Edit Team
December 26, 2016
“I want to write queer books that reflect our queer lives, bodies, relationships, and the worlds we build for each other.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s column comes to us from writer Sassafras Lowrey.
Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir books— Kicked Out, Roving Pack, and Leather Ever After—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras’ latest novel Lost Boi, a queer retelling of Peter Pan was released from Arsenal Pulp Press in 2015 and was a Lammy Finalist for Transgender Fiction. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner and five furry beasts. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com
I had no idea that I was going to have this day off from my muggle job. I work in progressive social justice nonprofit so I’m always a little bit surprised when we get “Columbus Day” off work, but I’m not going to complain because I really needed a writing day–my daily life is a constant balance of a super high stress muggle job that pays my bills, and my literary job where my heart is.
Today ended up being less about writing and more about the business side of the work. I finished editing and submitting a video of a pitch for a new nonfiction book I might write. Last week I found out that I am one of five finalists for the BarkWorld conference’s BarkTank competition where the winner walks away with a book deal. In addition to writing a lot about queerness I also write frequently for canine publications, so I couldn’t resist throwing a proposal in for this competition. The first round was to submit a fully outlined book, and proposal. I want to write a book looking at the experiences of dog-owning homeless Americans. Evidently the judges liked my outline because I got selected as a finalist. I couldn’t swing the finances to go down to Atlanta for the BarkTank competition in person–hence the video pitch. The organizers have been really disorganized (the finalists haven’t even been released publicly yet) and I feel weird about the whole thing—is it rigged? Will I get a book deal? Do I want a book deal without even seeing the terms?
I also launched the pre-orders for my queer/leather/Christmas novella, “A Little Queermas Carol.” I think I was a little too early to get people thinking about Christmas (even though I have been ready since January). I sold one book today, one, and feel totally dejected about it. I know that a big problem is that my posts are getting hidden by Facebook algorithms but it’s still really disappointing. I think about all the money that I put into this indie project with hiring a cover artist and layout person and copy-editor and I’m starting to worry I’m not going to make that money back. Of course this is exactly why I am so committed to keeping a day/muggle job in the first place.
I have the top story on The Rumpus this morning. It’s a guest feature in the (K)ink column that spotlights BDSM/Kink/Leather authors talking about how our kinks influence our writing. I’ve been working on this story on and off with the editor for a couple of months. More than anything it’s about the ways in which as an author I’m committed to building queer worlds on the page, and how this kind of world building and how that is a queer literary aesthetic. They had an artist illustrate the column (which is a lot about the way I live as a leather person/age player). I was relieved the art was not only not offensive but actually pretty cute. I spend a lot of the morning refreshing my email convinced I was going to get a bunch of hate mail (I didn’t—mostly that seems reserved for the articles I write for dog publications, go figure!) and folks on social media really seemed to like the story!
I sneaked away from my muggle job for my lunch break (that I don’t always get) to my secret writing office — the best bubble tea shop in the East Village. I thought I was going to write, but I mostly looked at Facebook and checked my email I did notice that a couple of novella pre-orders came in. Yay!
I had to race from my muggle job uptown to The Center for Fiction–they are this awesome old space started in 1820 focused on supporting fiction! This fall they brought me on to create/facilitate an LGBT Fiction Reading Group. This was our second of five sessions. Unfortunately when the fall sessions were being booked we ended up being scheduled to meet on Yom Kippur, and we weren’t able to make scheduling work to reschedule so we ended up being with only half the group. This week the group read Hasan Namir’s God In Pink. We had a great conversation and the consensus from the group (which I shared on twitter) was that Hasan’s book was “Hemingway crossed with Angels in America.”
I do most of my writing (when I’m not at the bubble tea shop) on the subway to and from my muggle job. I taught myself to “touch type” on the screen of my iPhone and then my iPad–I call it my secret talent. Today’s commute project was finishing up my monthly pet column for Curve magazine. I’m writing about the linkage between queer liberation and animal rights, focused on the Montreal Pit-bull Ban. I asked my queer followers on social media to send me pictures of their adorable pit-bulls–I got an overwhelming number of responses (and could only use a few in the article) but there are WAY WORSE things than having your inbox fill with cute dog pictures.
Made a quick run to Bluestockings bookstore on my lunch break to drop off more copies of my indie release books. As an author I feel a deep commitment to supporting indie bookstores, especially feminist and queer ones. There aren’t enough left and we need to keep them around! I was reminded how good indie bookstores have been to me–Bluestockings is the only place in NYC that makes it a point to keep all four of my books on the shelves!
In the afternoon I got a really sweet message from a PhD Student in the UK who ordered a copy of my first novel, Roving Pack. This student is working on a dissertation looking at trans punk literary work—totally right up my alley! We messaged back and forth a few times over the afternoon talking about the genre! One of my absolute favorite things as an author is getting to engage with readers, especially queer and trans readers. The internet is one of my favorite places!
I brought a copy of my holiday novella to the Kmart near my muggle job, which (like my heart) is already decorated for Christmas, and took pictures of the novella propped up on an inflatable Santa to post online to try and boost pre-orders. Thankfully, no one called security.
I don’t tend to get a whole lot of writing done on Thursdays, though I did read on my subway commutes. One of my 2016 goals has been to read one book per week for the whole year. I’ve been tracking my progress over on Goodreads and it’s gotten me in the habit of making better use of my local library–because my book buying budget can’t accommodate that many new books! This week I’ve been reading Dinotopia (no clue how I haven’t read this before!) and was excited to see my hold on Michelle Tea’s newest Black Water should come in next week!
After work on Thursdays I race to the Brooklyn Dog Training Center where I spend the evening as an assistant trainer for dog agility classes (think rainbow colored obstacles that dogs have to navigate with the guidance of a human handler). Agility is a sport that I competed in as a teenager and then had to leave when I was kicked out–an experience I wrote about in my Kicked Out anthology. In the past 5 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with not just a queer identified dog trainer, but a queer dog trainer who is a world class competitor and coach and build a circle of other queer dog people–including the amazing queer author Holly Hughes, who actually first put me in contact with the trainer I now assist for. Working with dogs is one of my favorite parts of my week—outside of writing, dog training is probably my deepest passion. Without dogs, my world really doesn’t even make sense and I’m so grateful for all the time I get to spend with them. Also, dogs don’t care how many words I wrote that day, or how many copies of my book sold, or how good of a review I got.
I spent time this morning back and forth in my email trying to figure out what is going on with BarkTank. It’s organized by the parent company of a publication I regularly write for so I’m pretty sure it’s not a scam, but it’s still annoying. I’m really glad that I’m not getting on an airplane to Atlanta (at my own expense) to compete in person for a book deal–and hopefully my video will work.
I didn’t get much time to write today (no lunch break at the bubble tea shop) and when I got home I just collapsed on the couch–my partner ordered a pizza and we watched Once Upon A Time, one of my (not so) guilty TV pleasures
Pumpkin Patch day! The pumpkin patch is a major autumn tradition for my partner and I— I like this day better than actual Halloween! We had an awesome time finding our way out of the corn maze, visiting adorable livestock, and of course picking pumpkins at the Queens County Farm Museum (which is I believe the only working farm within the NYC limits).
I intentionally stopped looking at social media when I knew the book contest was going to be happening, but then when I looked online later I couldn’t even figure out if I won. For a social media focused conference, BarkWorld had really crummy social media presence. Finally I tweeted with the conference hashtag (no one had posted about the contest) and eventually found out on Twitter that I did not win. I’m bummed because I would actually have really enjoyed writing this nonfiction book–though I have mostly been a novelist the past few years. The good thing is that I completely outlined the book and wrote the synopsis so I feel like I could pretty easily translate this into a pitch to a publisher *if * I want to do that.
Ultimately though because I have a muggle job there is a limited amount of time I have every day to write and so I have to make some hard decisions about where to put my time/energy/focus. The comments I got tonight from my readers when they learned I didn’t win, and especially the messages from genderqueer/trans and leather readers, reminded me that my heart really is in this kind of genre writing. I want to write queer books that reflect our queer lives, bodies, relationships, and the worlds we build for each other. Writing queer books by/for queer readers really is my literary priority — so probably shelving the outline for this other book — at least for now.
Today was a very leisurely day and a chance to lick my wounds about losing the book deal yesterday. The day started with my partner making us homemade popovers and we ate them while playing video games. I’m not that great at them, but I LOVE playing games on our Wii–especially anything from the Super Mario universe. We are currently replaying the levels of our game to try to unlock some secret levels.
While I created and updated a spreadsheet of pre-order sales for my novella (which thankfully picked up a little bit over the week) I switched to a documentary on Netflix about Romance genre readers and writers which was super fascinating. I’m not a romance writer, but as an indie queer and leather writer I feel a lot of solidarity with that genre of writers and can relate to the close relationships we build with our readers.
After dinner I discovered that my Curve column about the intersection of animal rights and queer rights I finished earlier in the week went live. WOW that article hit a nerve. I still can’t get over that my super queer age-play/leather article that I published on a mainstream site and got a bunch of traffic but no negative comments and then of all things it was a dog article that kicked up so many feelings in the comments section (which I should never read)! A hilariously fitting end to my week.