Our friend and loyal WR fan, the fantastical Ayun Halliday, is out with another new book. You know her from No Touch Monkey, Job Hopper, and as a contributor to Travelers’ Tales anthologies. But, she was writing books and her zine, The East Village Inky, well before that. I thought this the perfect time to start something I’ve been wanting to launch on Written Road, “Platform Profiles.” This category will be interviews with authors who have the bylines we want to have, and the inside scoop as to how they got where they are—in writing and publishing.
Ayun’s new book is called Dirty Sugar Cookies (Seal Press, 2006), and this interview is part of her (self organized) uber ambitious 30 stop virtual book tour. She has a corresponding blog, is headed on a land based book tour, and we’re thrilled to have her stop by Written Road.
Jen: Ayun, you are jamming with the books! It seems like you’ve got one published about once a year. What other books have you done besides the travel related ones mentioned above?
Ayun: My first book, The Big Rumpus, (soon to be published in the UK as Mamalamadingdong!) chronicled my first four years of New York City motherhood. I’ve since contributed to a lot of anthologies considering motherhood outside the mainstream mold, and some of the two minute plays Greg and I wrote for the theater ensemble in which we met have been anthologized, most recently in NEO-SOLO: 131 Neo-Futurist Solo Plays from Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.
Jen: How are your two little ones, are either of them in school yet?
Ayun: Yes, but you’re making me weep because just seven days remain before school lets out for summer. I remember the summer vacations of my childhood with pleasure, but the difficulty of trying to find the writing time within the constant family time ensures that the next two months will be no vacation.
Jen: I can’t imagine how you get it all done even when school is on, so vacation is beyond my comprehension. Don’t cry, Ayun. I’m sure there will be some fun moments. Lots of them. So, lets tally 4 books, a zine, and now a blog. Dirty Sugar Cookies ventures away from travel and into the food world. Was the travel writing world getting too small for you?
Ayun: No, my husband’s theater career is getting too big for me. I’m suffering from a lack of current travel-related data! Actually, that’s not true. I could write a book on New York City and wish that somebody would ask me to, but however you slice it, somebody’s got to keep an eyeball on these young uns. I’d take them with me, but have you checked the price of air tickets lately? Okay, multiply that by three. The four of us will be venturing out next spring, starting in Budapest and then rambling around Turkey and parts beyond. Had to do something with my hands while waiting for that plane to take off, and I’m kind of a wash out at knitting, hence the blog.
Jen: Did you hear that publishers? Ayun wants to do a book on NYC. Sign her up! I’ll just let the WR fans know that I met you right here on Written Road, and then we’ve met in person a few times out in NYC for the past two New York Times Travel Shows. Blog to blog, how are you enjoying the new medium?
Ayun: It’s a little bit anxious-making, isn’t it? Like if you don’t post for a couple of days, you worry that you’re losing momentum. I had a boyfriend whose father was dead set against him traveling with me, because he was afraid his son’s acting career would lose momentum. That’s one of the stupidest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard…well, maybe not the “with me” part, but counseling a young person to sit at home twiddling their thumbs when they’re driven to get out and explore the world is a bunch of jive, know what I’m saying?
Jen: Blog guilt, experienced it many times.
Ayun: But getting back to the idea of blogs as a medium, I love the instantaneousness and the reach. I’m not so sure that it’s healthy for me to spend this much time chained to the computer, though. I start going a little crazy, and find myself behaving as if tracking down the perfect online image of some lemongrass or a fried egg should take priority over feeding the children at a reasonable hour.
Jen: Ha! I have to find a picture to go with that. Most of your tour has been on food blogs, so, we’ll let the audience go to those experts for their food related enquiries. I’d like to keep talking about your writing career. What publication started your career? Do you have any defining big break moments?
Ayun: Sure. I had written this sort of odd one-person show that actually required three people and a bushel of root vegetables to perform, about the two weeks my daughter, India, spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Around the same time, HipMama magazine started publishing content on its website. I was spending a fair amount of time on its discussion board and the web editor, Bee Lavender, asked me if I would contribute. So we revamped NeoNatalSweetPotato as prose and a year or so later when Seal published Breeder: Real Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers, that was one of the pieces selected for the anthology.
So, I got to thinking about it and on a whim, I emailed Ariel Gore, HipMama’s founder and the editor of its print version, to ask if she might share contact info for the Seal Press editor who’d helped Bee and Ariel put the book together. It’s one of those email Cinderella stories. If I’d had to look up her phone number, call her long distance, maybe leave a message on her answering machine, and then if Ariel, who’s kind of shy around folks she doesn’t know, had had to drag out her address book and call me back…well, the ball would have gotten dropped somewhere, never to be picked up again. But thanks to the magic of email, I had my reply within minutes and then without thinking about it, I emailed Leslie Miller at Seal Press, saying, “Hey, I’m in that anthology you just published, and I’ve got this weird little handwritten zine that I illustrate myself. It comes out every three months and I was wondering if maybe you guys would want to put out an anthology of that.” Leslie agreed to take a look, and the consensus was that they liked the zine and its author, but wouldn’t know how to promote something so graphic-heavy, but the good news was that they invited me to propose other projects. Which I did in my usual digressive, tangential way and amazingly, they gave me a contract.
Jen: There you have it! Now lets have some dish…what’s the most mind-boggling experience you’ve had with an editor?
Ayun: I’ve been spoiled by having Leslie Miller, the world’s best editor on all four of my books. The folks at Bust magazine, where I serve as Mother Superior columnist are no slouches either. What problems I’ve encountered have been at magazines with larger, more mainstream readerships. One of them once took me out for an expensive luncheon, lavished me with praise, and invited me to contribute an article, encouraging me to let my “freak flag” fly. I guess my freak flag flies a lot higher than hers, though I’ve never been one to turn down a hefty kill fee.
Jen: Seal Press is awesome. It seems like they are to you what Travelers’ Tales is to me.
Ayun: You bet. Are you and Larry still “an item”? Because Leslie’s and my sexual passion hasn’t waned, even though she no longer works there. Wait. Maybe I’ve said too much.
Jen: LOL. I heard that about you and Leslie. Hey, do you have any thoughts, now that you have so many books under your belt, with going after a bigger publisher and the moolah that goes with that?
Ayun: Well, moolah’s nice, especially when you’ve got two kids, rent an apartment in New York City and pay for your health insurance out of pocket, but I don’t feel like Seal Press has been holding out on me. To the best of my knowledge, they’re not sitting on a hidden stash of Kruggerands, and if they are, I wish to hell they’d spend some of them on publicity. I often fantasize that one day, one of my books will show up in one of those dinky little black and white ads in the New Yorker, like maybe between one for some ridiculously expensive, whimsical brooch and the Andrews Hotel, a historic boutique hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square.
Jen: Wow, my fantasies haven’t even reached that level of print. But that would be nice. Even nicer, how about a New Yorker Cartoon done about you, now that would be cool. In all seriousness, once you do get a book out, you kind of have to think of a new dream. Lots of writers work years for their first book, like the ten some years you spent on No Touch Monkey— with a few behind you—what’s the new bar? Do you have any new literary goals or another book you’ve always wanted to do.
Ayun: There are any number of directions I’d like to pursue, as far as the next book. I haven’t lost the desire to see an omnibus of my zine, The East Village Inky. I’m working on a collection of interlocking short stories tentatively titled The Neighborhood lewd – probably the less said about that the better, at this point. And I wasn’t being facetious when I said that thing about wanting to write a book about New York City. I’ve lived here for eleven years, but I continue to experience it with a wide-eyed tourist’s awe …albeit a tourist who’s never gone up to the top of the Empire State Building. Now what kind of tourist is that?
Jen: One with a fear of heights? Ayun, do you have any advice for other writers with kids on how to work around a tight (and tiring) schedule?
Ayun: Well, for those with kids under the age of three or so, hold on. It won’t be long before they’re in school, and you’ll have whole hours to yourself. Actually, I was probably more efficient with my time when they were still babies. I knew that it was a shit-or-get-off-the-pot situation, as far as those naptimes went. Females, particularly those who are just embarking on both the journey of motherhood and their writing careers might want to check out Mamaphonic, because frankly, I think mothers face a steeper, rockier road than fathers do, finding the support and time for their writing work. Read Grace Paley’s short story “Faith in a Tree” and remember that she wrote a lot of her early stuff on a playground bench.
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Jen: Thanks for those resources! One more…If you were starting your writing career again, from scratch, is there anything you’d do different? Or “shortcut” advice you have for young writers?
Ayun: I would commit to it harder and earlier. Like, I think biologically, I might be old enough to be Jonathan Safran Foer’s mother. I’ve been culturally advantaged my whole life, but I seem to be missing the ambition gene. My jealousy gene works just fine, but I’m lacking the competitive spirit that drives others to keep auditioning until they get the part, or submit that freelance pitch until they sell a story.
Jen: BTW, Food writing totally suits you, Ayun.
Ayun: Oh, why, thank you. I like to eat and I like to write, so I’m glad the combination is working for you.
Jen: In case you didn’t think I read the book, my favorite chapters were Gnaw Bone and Postcoital Breakfast. And here are some of my favorite lines:
“Long before I loved to eat, I loved to eat out.” — Ch. “Child’s Plate”
“Sometimes I look at all the carved masks and traditional tribal instruments clotting up our limited storage space and wonder why we bothered hauling all this shit home when clearly, the best souvenirs are fond recollections of shredded green papaya sprinkled with brown sugar and chili powder, or the crusty, cilantro-spiked banh mi of Vietnam.”
And of course this one,
“Having been, I can tell you that the monkey brain sashimi served en corps du monkey strikes me as more of a special occasion dish than the type of fare locals consume on a day-in-day-out basis. – The last two quotes were from Pad Thai Mi Mai.”
Ayun: You weasel, stop blowing smoke up my heiner. I know you just flipped open to some random pages and said, “Yeah, this one will do for my purposes…”
Jen: Great procrastinators think a like.
Hey everybody, Food blogs are HOT right now, and Ayun’s is a fun addition to the lot! Good luck with your next project, Ayun, and see you on the road, or on the book circuit. Written Roadies, get out there and buy Ayun’s book!
Here are a list of blogs that Ayun and Dirty Sugar Cookies appeared on during her virtual book tour. Read the ones she’s already stopped at, and catch her at the next blogs she’s about to hit:
JUNE 1: Beatrice
JUNE 2: The Accidental Hedonist
JUNE 3: Vagablogging
JUNE 4: Pie Queen
JUNE 5: CulinaryFool
JUNE 6: Cupcakes Take the Cake
JUNE 7: Moorish Girl
JUNE 8: Brandon Eats
JUNE 9: Alice Ayers
JUNE 10: Life’s a Picnic
JUNE 11: Finslippy
JUNE 12: Eat
JUNE 13: The Amateur Gourmet
JUNE 14: Becoming A Chef
JUNE 15 Belly-timber
JUNE 16: Foodie NYC
JUNE 17: Parabasis
JUNE 18: The Gurgling Cod
JUNE 19: Written Road
JUNE 20: Daily Gluttony
JUNE 21: Gastrochick
JUNE 22: Sugar Savvy
JUNE 23: Cooking With Amy
JUNE 24: Reading In Bed and Elsewhere
JUNE 25: Fisticuffs Q. Weighstation
JUNE 26: Bookseller Chick
JUNE 27: Mama Cooks
JUNE 28: The Girl Who Ate Everything
JUNE 29: Hungry Magazine
JUNE 30: Candyblog