Engaging with my audience is important to me. I appreciate the time you spend with my work, and I value the free exchange of ideas, and also because I did not have any content scheduled for this week. So, I took to Instagram and my author page on Facebook to open the floor for questions. I did not expect so many to come in! Truly, I’m baffled, so much so that I’m actually considering answering your questions on the semi-regs, which is why I’m calling this "Part 1."
Below are some of the questions you asked, followed by my occasionally questionable answers.
Are you working on another book? Where are you in the process?
The rumors are true! (The rumors which were started by me, in this newsletter.) Yes, I am working on a collection of essays about living with chronic pain and illness, but not in a Here’s How to Find Hope When Every Thing Hurts Every Day sort of way. Bitch, I am the human equivalent of an upturned car with a wheel still spinning. I am not equipped to dispense advice, let alone in a medical capacity! I am not even a positive person; I come home in a huff each day a sinkhole hasn’t opened up and swallowed me. This book is a messy, unvarnished account of trying to find ways to live a sustainable day-to-day life— and sometimes failing at it—all while trying to dodge harmful adages like “youth is health” and unsolicited advice (“You should try yoga/this herbal supplement/ayahuasca.”).
Sometimes you’re on the way to meet with an A-list Hollywood manager and your IBS flares up, forcing you to tuck and roll out of your Lyft so you can dart into the nearest Starbucks bathroom in Beverly Hills. Sometimes you get a panic attack in an MRI machine, and then a few hours later, you’re interviewing one of your childhood heroes about her memoir. Sometimes you get diagnosed with fibromyalgia and then it finally hits you weeks later when you meet up with someone you haven’t seen in years, so you cry into their shirt all night long. But sometimes there’s joy and beauty in between, and this book tries to grab and hold onto those moments, too.
Can you talk a little bit about the querying process for Born to Be Public?
Here’s the thing: the path to publication is anything but linear. For me, it started with first, writing a complete draft of the manuscript. Then, I wrote the proposal. Non-fiction is, more times than not, sold through a proposal, so it’s not always necessary to have a complete draft of your manuscript if your proposal is fleshed out. Once I finished my proposal, I wrote a query letter that matched the tone of the book: funny, personable. You want the agent to request material from your manuscript, so you have to hook ‘em with that query. After dozens of nos, a handful of requests to read either a portion or entirety of my manuscript, I finally received an offer for representation. My agent and I spent months reworking the proposal and manuscript before she finally went out with it—and then the agency folded, and my agent accepted a new job in publicity at a publishing house. In the end, I ended up selling the book myself! It wasn’t until after Born to Be Public was published that I signed with my current literary agent.
That being said, you don’t always need an agent to sell a project—there are tons of medium- to smaller-sized presses that accept unsolicited submissions—but I do recommend getting an agent at some point because you do want a partner-in-crime who will look out for you, give you feedback, help you strategize, and position you in the direction of a long and successful career. Take the time to research the agents you query: look at their latest sales, projects, and the clients they work with. Remember, it’s kind of like finding a therapist: you want it to be a good match.
How did you find your agent?
The best way is also the most tedious: google “literary agency” and go through each search result, one by one, noting each agency’s/agent’s submission policies (they’re not all the same!), and making a list of agents you think would be a good match for you. I would start with ten to fifteen, just to get a temperature of whether or not you’re heading in the right direction: if they’re all nos, you might want to revisit what you’re pitching based on any feedback you get (and agree with); if you get some yeses, congratulations, you’ve entered the “remember, everything is subjective!” category. At which point, if you haven’t signed with anyone yet, I would suggest casting a wider net.
(By the way, I’m thinking about launching another section of this newsletter behind a paywall this year, which would include tips like this. If you’re into that, sound off in the comments, and maybe we can do a whole detailed thing about finding/having an agent????)
For those of us who have always wanted to write a novel, but are scared because we might be shit at it/have no idea where to get started, what would you suggest?
It always starts with the work. Also, almost every first draft is shitty! That’s why the revision process is so grueling! If it wasn’t, everyone would be pulling novels out of their asses! If you want to write a novel, you have to start somewhere. For me, it usually starts with word vomit: I open up a blank document and just write, not worrying about grammar, syntax, or spelling. Maybe you’re typing furiously into your Notes app on the toilet, or writing it by hand on scrap paper on your lunch break. Whatever the case may be, your work is a garden, and, like any garden, it needs to be tended. Even if you’ve written a future best-seller that will be translated into fifty-plus languages, and will be adapted into a soon-to-be major motion picture, you’ll still be scared shitless. Putting your work—and, by some extension, yourself—out there in such a public capacity is terrifying! So, like the title of a self-help book that my therapist once made me read: feel the fear and do it anyway.
When did you start therapy? How do you find the right therapist?
In utero. Kidding, of course, but I did start young, like nine or ten, but I never made it past the first appointment because I hated it. I didn’t start regularly attending therapy until adulthood; I’ve been in therapy for eight years now. It’s not unlike finding a literary agent: you want to make sure you and your therapist are the right match. If, after a few sessions, you don’t feel completely comfortable with this person for any reason whatsoever, I would move on. That being said, don’t ghost your therapist. Thank them for their time and let them know that you’ve made the choice to seek care elsewhere. You don’t owe them an explanation—just a courtesy.
Also: not everyone can afford a therapist! If finances are an issue, check out Open Path Collective, which is a resource for affordable counseling.
Let’s get *sickening!
Do you have any tips for anxiety and procrastination?
Everyone is different, so I always remind—and encourage—folks to find what works best for them. Some people take walks; some people indulge in adult coloring books. Sometimes I procrastinate because anxiety. And if I procrastinate too much, I get—you guessed it!—anxiety. I think the most important thing is to be gentle with yourself, taking a beat to ask yourself what you need, and investing time and care into yourself.
When was a time that you felt the most scared to be yourself and how did you cope?
One of my favorite things about evacuating my twenties is that my sense of self has never been more solid. But the road here was plagued with long stretches of being scared to be myself. As a queer kid of immigrants growing up in central New Jersey, I was constantly being reminded by everything around me—cues of heteronormativity being dispatched at both macro and minor levels, from commercials to being bullied for liking things that a kid assigned male at birth was not supposed to, like make-up and the Spice Girls—that my true self was a liability, and that if I wanted to survive, I would have to keep my eyes on the script that was handed me and not stray. It wasn’t until I moved to New York and found a community that helped me reframe how I thought of myself and the world around me, that I discovered the magic I possess.
That’s not to say that I don’t wake up some days feeling insecure, or feeling not great about myself: I don’t think these sorts of feelings ever go away. I just think that, with age, I’ve gotten better at coping with them. I think we just have to find the things that makes us feel good—sometimes I’ll do my hair and not even go anywhere! Just sitting there scowling at my computer with my hair snatched is all I need!—and hone in on them instead of the things that are trying to bring us down.
Can you talk more about how you manage chronic illness and mental health? How intertwined do you feel they are, and how do you make yourself feel better on days when you just don’t feel like yourself?
For me, they are indivisible. If I get depressed, my entire body—or parts of it—will hurt; my chronic pain makes me depressed. They are constantly in conversation with one another. It’s a lot of work to upkeep this bag of meat that is constantly hellbent on thwarting my day-to-day life! Therapy is just as important as exercise (ugh! But it’s true!) is just as important as taking my medicine is just as important as making sure I get sunshine on my face is just as important as paying attention to what I drink and eat. They all inform each other.
On days when I don’t feel like myself, I try to take a beat to consider what I need. My acupuncturist gave me a really great tip: ask what the pain wants. So, before I do anything, I try to figure out the why and proceed appropriately. Sometimes I’m in so much pain that I can’t even make it that far, and I need to be in bed for a day or two—and that’s okay, too! I think the key is to be gentle and realize energy is not an endless well. It needs to be replenished, and resting is just as productive—if not more—than answering those fifty emails and working on that project and cleaning the bathroom.
How are you able to stay true to your writing voice? We live in a heightened opinionated society especially due to technology, so how do you filter out the noise when it comes to your writing?
I get it. We’re constantly inundated with information, from sun up to sun down. You can’t look anywhere without being slapped in the face with a hot take. Granted, you could just put your phone down, but who wants to do that???????? I am on my phone all the fucking time, so I am part of the problem. But my phone is where my folder of immaculately curated memes lives, so my time on the phone is a need not a want!!!!!!!!!!
But I care about my craft, so when it comes time to sit the fuck down and write, I recognize that I will inevitably get on Instagram or Twitter. But, like practicing mindfulness, I try to take note of when I stray away from the work, which helps me keep that boundary between what I’m consuming and what I’m creating. The chatter—both from internal and external sources—is constant (and trying to silence it is futile, for me at least), and my writing voice is my tool for navigating through it.
Are you a top or bottom?
Neither. I am a dilapidated dumbwaiter.
Cover art by: James Jeffers
Editorial assistant: Jesse Adele