If you find you're missing the Happy Booker this week, you can always check out our interview with Simon Owens right here.
Lily Burana has written for The Washington Post, GQ, The New York Times, Self, Glamour, Entertainment Weekly, Details, The Village Voice, and The New York Observer. She has been a Contributing Editor at SPIN and New York magazines. Her first non-fiction book, Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America made Best of the Year lists in Entertainment Weekly, Salon, and New York Newsday. TRY, her debut novel, was released this year.
NICKI: First of all, congratulations on the fantastic reviews and press for Try. Could you tell me a little bit about the genesis of your new novel and how it came about?
LILY: I was ready to write something sexy and adrenalized! I see Try as an "alt. western"--just pure, hip, heart-pounding fun. After moving back to New York from Wyoming, I wanted to write both an edgy love story and a super-modern Western set against the backdrop of the rodeo world, taking every trope of the Western and framing from a female point of view: the urge for freedom versus the urge to follow your consuming passion, the resistance to being domesticated or "tamed," the connection to the great outdoors, the effect of modernization and progress on the West. Plus, I wanted to mix up horses, foxy cowboys, shotguns, beer, trucks and all that hot yeehaw stuff with Goths, tattoos, body piercing, hot rods and other groovy things.
NICKI: Why did you choose the title Try?
LILY: As it says in the book, "In rodeo, try is a noun." "Try" in rodeo is like heart and guts combined. If yousay someone's got try, you're paying them a huge compliment. You're saying they've got the right stuff, and they don't quit. That's the underlying theme of every plotline in the book, especially the love story.
NICKI: What did you learn about yourself from living in Wyoming? Did you have a soft spot for cowboys, western lore, and rodeos before your wrote the novel?
LILY: Wyoming is an amazing place, and it's impossible to live there without feeling the awesome, fearsome force of nature. That spirit, that wildness, really shows up in rodeo, a sport that consumes the souls of the cowboys and cowgirls who compete. I didn't know what to think of it until I got to know some of the athletes, and once they told me "once it gets in your blood, it stays there," I was hooked. I love rodeo's mixture of tradition and risk-taking. It's so exciting, and I say that as someone who had never wanted to ditch Barbie to play "cowboys-n-Indians" as a girl.
NICKI: One reviewer of The May Queen quoted a line from your story Full Circle in Times Square, "With our common path and singular resistance, we look back and laugh. We look ahead and smile." What kind of feedback have you received about your story?
LILY: People find stripping fascinating even if it's presented in a "life after..." context. They can't get enough of the gory details, including how a stripper views her life once she's moved on, and I think the reader response is pretty consistent with that.
NICKI: You fought the O'Farrell Brothers for fair compensation and won ten years ago now. When you look back on that time and how many of the dancers were exploited, are you still angry or do you feel vindicated?
LILY: We did as much as we could, but stripping is likely to continue
to be a business in which someone is getting scammed--especially the
dancers--because it's a semi-legitimate business with no regulation.
Great working conditions are not one of the perks of the job. We put
some bucks back into the pocketbooks of the women who earned them, but
there's still such a
long way to go. Now I think the best form of activism for strippers is to learn how to save and invest what they do take home, and try to make up for what they pay out to work that way.
NICKI: Which tempting books are currently on your nightstand?
Elizabeth Gilbert's EAT, PRAY, LOVE, which I adored and read over and over, Debra DeSalvo’s THE LANGUAGE OF THE BLUES and Diablo Cody's CANDY GIRL which makes me laugh out loud.
NICKI: On your blog, you include two photos- one of you as a young punk rocker grrl and one now. If you could give advice to your younger self- the girl in the photo- what advice would you give her and why? And secondly, you write about being in your thirties for The May Queen, how do you feel about your self-image now?
LILY: I would tell the punk-rock, 20-year-old me that negative thinking only drags you down, and the best thing you can do for yourself is hope for, and work for, the best possible outcome. It will make a huge difference in your peace of mind and the direction life takes. I would also advise her to pick a hair color that doesn't stain her sheets--that purple stuff was a mess. Also: take more photos!
I dreaded thirty and life thereafter like it was going to be the end of the world, but it really was just the end of being a spazzy idiot! It gets so so so much better, and I look and feel and relate to people so much better than I'd feared.
NICKI: For those people out there struggling to make it as a "writer", could you explain how you first launched your writing career?
LILY: Geez, I started writing for fanzines, so an aspiring writer who is blogging up a storm may be on the right track, since what I was doing was essentially the same--publishing in my own voice, in a low-stress forum, just feeling my way along and finding out what I was really passionate about writing.
NICKI: How did you feel about the changes that you witnessed in the stripping world from doing your research for Strip City? What surprised you the most?
LILY: What surprised me the most is that while stripping is more visible in pop culture, the actual business of stripping is still so much the same! It's still about slumping into the dressing room, getting out of your "regular" personality and into your "club" personality, stuffing your boobs into a flattering bra, checking your tan line (or lack thereof), getting into a comfortable but cute thong, getting into your lucky dress and working your butt off, dancing, smiling, flirting, grinding, yawning (discreetly), tossing your hair, dancing some more, counting your money, and going home tired and wired and ready to drop.
NICKI: Who have been your primary literary influences?
LILY: Any female writer who didn't quit.
NICKI: In your epigraph to The May Queen, you quote, the "old reliable flooz" as you put it, Colette in The Last of Cheri. "I love my past. I love my present. I'm not ashamed of what I've had, and I'm not sad because I have it no longer". Would you say this quote sort of sums up your life's philosophy?
LILY: Not really...but I hope it will be someday!
Nicki Richesin and Flor Morales will appear at Book Passage in Corte Madera on September 14 at 7pm as part of a fundraiser for the Marin Literacy Program. For every copy of The May Queen sold during the event, Book Passage will contribute 20% of the cover price to Marin Literacy Program, an amount that is matched by a donation from Bank of Marin.