VALERIE ALEXANDER

  • Interview with Avery Cassell

    Have you read Behrouz Gets Lucky yet? If not, go pick it up; I'll wait. The book is a love story, a kink story, a discovery story and a celebration of language. I really loved it, for reasons that will probably be clear in my questions below. Yes, author Avery Cassell was generous enough to talk to me about the book.

    Behrouz Gets Lucky is such a unique novel. Not just in its subject matter, but in its lushness of description which is at odds with the sparse language of so much modern lit. It often seems we're in the era of Rules Writing, where everyone aspires to have similar minimalist tones. Have you gotten any push back on that front from publishers or reviewers - in any project?

    This is the first novel that I’ve written and it’s only been out for a little over a month, so I don’t have much experience with either rejection or acceptance of my writing style. People that listen to me read, comment extremely favorably on how visual my work is, how it invites them into a special world. Cleis Press has been fine with my style. Many of my reviewers have focused on the gender and age of the protagonists, rather then my style. I had one reviewer, however, that was insulted by what they called my

    pretentiousness, excessive use of adjectives, and obscure book or movie references.

    Have you found that people automatically expect erotic writing to be subpar in quality, that literary erotic fiction is an oxymoron?

    I think that people expect erotic fiction to get directly to the point in a fairly cheerless and nonsensual manner. They do not expect much in the way of ordinary life to intrude upon their erotica, whereas I think domesticity should mingle with erotica. We are a remarkably prudish country, compartmentalizing sex away from the rest of our lives, our “real” life. I dream of the day when comparing our weekends on Monday morning with our co-workers, we excitedly mention the great orgasm we had on Sunday night, along a movie we saw Saturday, and the terrific brunch that we cooked. I don’t think that we can have a rich culture of literary erotica until sex is incorporated into our domestic lives. Secrecy and shame are a creative buzz-kill.

    Who would you cite as your influences?

    I was directly influenced by the Swedish mystery writer, Henning Georg Mankell, while I was writing Behrouz Gets Lucky; I loved the attention to mundane domestic and natural details that Mankell included in his Wallander series, even having Kurt retire due to the most ordinary of reasons, early-onset Alzheimers. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is another favorite book that I reread. I adore its overblown prose, the constant ruminating, the doctor’s beautiful rant about the nature of the night in the chapter “Watchman, What of the Night”, and the ending with Robin and the dog circling one another in an abandoned chapel. My favorite poet is Stevie Smith, for her dry wit, silliness, and her secrets. My favorite smut and sex writer is the ever brilliant, Pat Califia, whose books Macho Sluts and Public Sex helped me leave the farmhouse in the mid-80s. No, that was not a euphemism.

    Characters over a certain age are usually absent from erotic depictions. Have you gotten any appreciation, surprise or other reactions from readers? Do you think we're headed culturally for an expansion of recognition on that front - that we're moving (in literature or movies/TV) away from the equation of sex with youth?

    I do think we’re heading towards an expansion of recognition of the power that sexuality has in our lives, and believe that this will not only include middle-aged and older people, but that they will be instrumental in driving this cultural change. As we age, we become more outspoken, including becoming louder about the importance of desire and passion.

    I’ve gotten a ton of support and appreciation from middle-aged straight women for my depiction of lust and love between older people. One of my readers when I was writing Behrouz Gets Lucky was a pal who was 50-year- old gay man, and he was completely enamored with the romance and passion in my book. Middle-aged and older gay men seem to love my book. My aunt, a lesbian in her 80s who used to be a separatist in the 1970s, copy edited my book and wrote, “But my liking the story is about how good it is. And that is more valid because I'm not the ideal audience for this material. I know and practice only vanilla sex and read only vanilla erotica. My liking you made me want to read your work and the power of the story made me keep reading. I didn't find it distasteful or politically offensive as I might have.”

    Similarly, do you think readers are ready for an expansion of what we consider to be a successful relationship or love story? Used to be that characters had to follow a certain trajectory that ended in permanence and monogamy, - or it didn't count as a "healthy" relationship. Even as real-life people have begun shattering those limitations, many publishers seem to think readers need that kind of convention in their books. Have you found that to be the case or do you think readers are more open that they're given credit for?

    We need to break conventions in our books! I believe that many more people are practicing more diverse relationship configurations, than are talking about them publicly, although that is changing. There is so much cultural shame around not being in a stable monogamous relationship where your partner fills all your needs that folks prefer to remain closeted rather than have to defend unorthodox choices. Folks are hungry to read about other relationship styles and other gender expressions; reading about them gives readers permission to follow different relationship and gender paths, presents creative relationship choices, and gives them role models.

    I remember when Dykes to Watch Out For came out in 1983, and what an enormous relief it was to see the diversity of our community reflected publicly with love and humor. When I see the New York Times featuring US Senator Harris Wofford coming out in a bisexual intergenerational relationship with his male fiancé, Matthew Charlton, and Mollena Williams-Haas and Georg Friedrich Haas coming out as a couple in a D/s marriage, I have enormous hope that relationship models are expanding.

    It used to be that there was LGBT and then everyone else. As sexual and gender politics have become more complex, the community has become fractured along identity and ideological lines to the point where many question if there is still a cohesive LGBTQAI+ community or if that's no longer a useful category. What do you see as the future of what used to be called "gay" lit? Do you think there is still such a thing or that we're moving into a future where we need different publishing categories that are more intersectional - or just less of an emphasis on categories in general?

    I love “gay lit!”, but then I also have a great deal of affection for cataloguing and a dusty degree in library science. I don’t think there has ever been a cohesive LGB community, let alone a cohesive LGBTQAI+ community. Here in San Francisco, the Castro is becoming a more diverse neighborhood, no longer the bastion of gay culture. Some sociologists think that gayborhoods are disappearing, and if so, does this mean that there will also be less of a need for LGBTQ literature too? Will assimilation and acceptance homogenize LGBTQ culture? Marriage equality is happening at the same time that we’re

    fighting public bathroom wars and hate crimes against transgender people are rising.

    What does this mean for living as LGBTQ people in this country? What does it mean for publishing? Damned if I know. We need to stand together, but I don’t think we stand a chance of creating a strong cohesive community unless we stop emphasizing our differences and start emphasizing our similarities. This needs to happen on all levels, including how we categorize our culture and our literature. Having said all this, I’m a Libra and I waffle. Not like breakfast, but like changing my mind. We need to be cognizant of inclusion, and it may be that the only way we can do this is by becoming

    more intersectional. As a postscript, perhaps we need a variation of the Bechdel Test for queers in literature.

    What can you tell us about your next book?

    I’m actively working on another book of Behrouz and Lucky’s adventures, with their friends and family playing much stronger parts, and have joked that I should write a dystopian science fiction novel starring my favorite crafty flâneurs, Behrouz and Lucky; I think they’d be handy to have around during an apocalypse. I have a few other projects at various stages of incompletion including an illustrated early reader children’s book about a young transboy and the transcription of an archive of aerograms that my parents mailed from Iran to their parents in Virginia in the early 1960s. You can keep in touch with me

    at averycassell.com.

    Thanks, Avery!

Email: Vaxder@gmail.com

Twitter: @Vaxder

Tumblr: tumblr.com/blog/valeriealexander

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