Tag Archives: kerry cohen

The Newest Best Sex Writer of Them All

bestsex12

I’m proud to announce that my story, An Unfortunate Discharge Early in My Naval Career, has been selected for Best Sex Writing 2012!

I’m so pleased. The Best Sex Writing series is from Cleis Press and has been around for a few years. Rachel Kramer Bussel edits. I went to see her at Elliott Bay when she was promoting Best Sex Writing 2010 with Kerry Cohen and the amazing Janet Hardy.

Rachel is incredible.

As I remember it, she was feeling sick, but had showed up in the most amazing slinky black dress with these incredible red platform shoes and she slowly walked from the back of Elliott Bay to the lectern in those fabulous shoes – clipping, clopping – and we were all watching and she was just so poised and graceful and you could tell it was a hard night for her, but she was there, daintily dabbing her nose with a tissue, and looking so good, and so professional, and I thought: I must work with this woman. She is just amazing. If you try to friend her on Facebook, you get a little note from Facebook that says, Rachel Kramer Bussel has too many friends already. Fuckin’ A, baby. How awesome is that?

This year Susie Bright selected the stories. I’m so proud. I wonder if Rachel will organize a reading tour for this one, as she did with Kerry and Janet. Now that I realize how difficult it is to get the book stores to let you give a reading, I have new found respect for authors and editors who somehow find a way past the gate. I’ve been turned down by a few of the big stores already. Maybe working with Rachel I will finally get my heart’s desire.

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Tim Elhajj in Guernica

A portrait of Tim Elhajj as a young seaman

I have a story up this morning at Guernica, a delightful online magazine that rides the slim line between mainstream news site and literary journal. I am so proud of  my story, An Unfortuante Discharge Early in My Naval Career. I am so pleased it found a home at Guernica.

I have tried with varying amounts of success to write about this experience before. I have always known I would write about it again one day, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it this time around were it not for a brief craft essay written by Kerry Cohen that appeared on Brevity early this year (discussed here).

Once I started writing, the story came surprisingly quick, but I had a bit of trouble with the ending. I’m not a very political person, but Gay Rights is one of the few issues I do feel strongly about, and I wanted to find a way to present my feelings in an overt fashion, but it kept coming out wrong—like a writer who knows he is not very political, but who nevertheless tries to make some deep political statement known.

Despite these problems, I started sending it around. I received a lot of positive comments, but most pointed to the unsatisfying ending. I started thinking about the wisdom of trying to sound like a particular type of writer. Not that there is anything wrong with overtly political writing, but I’m the kind of writer who likes to let the story to do its own talking. I needed to find a way to let the story speak for itself. What you’ll find on Guernica is what I came up with.

There is one line in particular that I won’t share here, but of which I am particularly proud. I suggested to my wife that this very line might one day find its way into all my future bios. She laughed. I hope you’ll agree that this story is a powerful political statement, but it’s more than that to me because it’s uniquely mine: not that reveling in one’s own sexuality is a terribly original idea, but it’s told in a way that could only have come from me. Huzzah!

Many thanks to Katherine Dykstra, the wonderfully smart and supportive editor from Guernica, who had some great suggestions for this piece. Also, thanks to William Bradley, who introduced me to Guernica by posting something about it to his blog earlier this summer. I have learned more about the shape and breadth of creative nonfiction by following William’s blog than by following\reading any other single blog or book. My man.

And, of course, I want to thank my wife Holly, and my oldest son Tim, who have both been so supportive as I write about all manner of nonsense from my past. Thanks you two: I don’t say it nearly enough, but I’m really grateful for your ongoing support.

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Brief Craft Essay by Kerry Cohen

 

Kerry Cohen is my latest dose of inspiration. I particularly enjoyed her essay in the craft section of the latest Brevity.

Cohen is talking about being abused as a young girl, but also acknowledging how hard it is to accept that she enjoyed those feelings and even came to chase after those feelings. I can completely relate to this from my own adolescent experience experimenting with sex. Her memoir is about promiscuity, and in some ways it is not the same as what my experience was (adolescent boys are rarely considered promiscuous, and I’m not sure I’d classify my experience as abuse, but when you mix adults, adolescents, and sex, the results are always bound to be a little dodgy). Yet this perverse sense of shame for enjoying something so physical seems very familiar.

I am trying to write a childhood memoir myself. It is very slow going. I have actually had to set it aside for now because it just seems too big to tackle, and too hard to get a firm handle on. But I often think about picking it back up and essays like this one give me a certain amount of encouragement, a certain amount of hope.

Here is the link to Cohen’s latest memoir, “Loose Girl, a memoir of promiscuity.”

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