Amber Dawn

Amber-DawnBy Leah Horlick

Amber Dawn came to my house for an interview one rainy February afternoon during the last term of my MFA in Vancouver. “It’s so weird to be here,” she told me. “I used to have friends who lived in this house. It was a bit more punk rock then. I even broke in through that back window one time.”

As if she wasn’t badass enough already, Amber Dawn is a writer, filmmaker, activist, and performance artist whose first novel, Sub Rosa, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. Her poetry chapbook How I Got My Tattoo won the Eli Coppola Chapbook Prize from RADAR Productions in 2012, when she also won the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Writers. In her forthcoming book How Poetry Saved My Life, Amber Dawn tells her story of working in the sex trade in Vancouver through nonfiction and poetry. I spent an afternoon with Amber Dawn where she talked about her star-crossed relationship with memoir and poetry, and her commitment to community activism.

I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about writing and publishing a mixed-genre book like How Poetry Saved My Life.

Well, I first of all did not say to myself, “I want to write a mixed genre prose and poetry book” and set out to do that. If someone asked me to write out my life story, or a chunk of time where I worked in the sex trade, there’s no way I could stomach it. I also just don’t feel like my story is best told through a chronological view of time. I don’t think that most people’s lives are that tidy, and mine certainly isn’t. So I just started writing bits and pieces, mostly therapeutic to begin. Then, when I got to grad school I tried nonfiction with Andreas Schroeder for the first time. That’s when I really started to write my story, in that class. But where I did most of my writing was to submit to sex worker festivals in the United States that were. I would often write just to be able to be in those shows, I was so desperate for community. It was great to leave the city and be more anonymous. And eventually realized I had a book’s worth of writing. And even then I sat on it for a long time because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it out in the world. So I didn’t set out to do it. If I had set out to do it I’m sure I would have failed. [laughs] [Read more…]

Alec Nevala-Lee

nevala-leeBy Zoë Gulliver

Alec Nevala-Lee is a novelist and freelance writer whose first book, The Icon Thief, is a thriller set in the New York art world. It’s the first in a trilogy published by Penguin. A second installment, City of Exiles, came out last year, with a third, Eternal Empire, to appear September 2013. In addition to writing short fiction, his essays and nonfiction have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Rumpus, and The Daily Beast. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife and baby daughter and somehow finds time to blog eloquently at and give smart replies to interview questions by email.

You say on your website that you wrote your first novel at the age of thirteen, but that “thankfully, only one copy survives.” How many copies were there? What is the general premise, and does it relate to or foreshadow some of your work now?

The only remaining copy consists of two hundred faded double-spaced pages from an ancient dot-matrix printer, and although there’s probably a version of it somewhere on floppy disk, it’s in a format that’s no longer readable—which is true of almost everything I wrote before high school. I haven’t looked at it in almost two decades, but it was heavily influenced by Dune and the work of Orson Scott Card, and involved intelligent fish and a religious matriarchy on a planet covered entirely by water. I still love science fiction, but these days, I tend to focus on contemporary settings, and leave the world-building to the experts. [Read more…]