Community Is Pretty Damn Sexy: Interview with AJ Sass
Because all four of last year’s NaNoWriMo interviews were such a hit, Raeme Miccio Gaviño is back at it again. Right before NaNoWriMo 2013, Raeme checked in with novelist AJ Amaro to see what was in store for the monthlong writing competition.
Last year, you were working on the first in a trilogy for young adults. How was writing Sarcoline in 2012? I kind of took an unanticipated detour last November--that's what's fun about NaNoWriMo. You set out to do one thing at the beginning of the month, and you end up in a place you couldn't have even imagined by November 30.
I think that's probably one of the most beneficial parts of NaNoWriMo: every writer that I've spoken to develops a community in the process. It's wonderful that you've taken such advantage of your NaNo connections! So, this year, you're taking things a new direction--I know you were thinking of going more in the route of memoir. What are your plans? Yep, this is my first foray into non-fiction. I think this is going to either be the easiest NaNoWriMo or the most difficult, depending on how brutally honest I end up being about the past few years of my life. Memoirs are always personal, but the truly great ones tell stories that illustrate who the person behind the book really is, and sometimes those anecdotes can shine a less than complimentary light on the author. I expect some aspects of my writing this month to reflect that. I've gone through a considerable amount of change over the past handful of years, not the least of which involved the decision to transition genders from female to...well, that’s the tricky part. It’s also kind of the point of this memoir--to explain gender from my perspective, to tackle the grays, the in-betweens of a non-binary identity, as opposed to highlighting the blacks and whites of simply identifying as male or female.
I've read memoirs about transitioning from male to female or female to male. Far fewer stories have been written about the space in between, or completely outside the gender binary entirely. I struggled for several years trying to understand what at the time felt like indecisiveness when it came to my own identity, an indecipherable fluctuation between the parts of myself that leaned toward one end of a gender spectrum over the other. I struggled with whether I had the right to call myself transgender, how I should define my own sense of belonging within the trans community, and if I should at all.
This past year and a half in particular has been a huge learning curve for me, as I not only saw the end of what was arguably an emotionally unhealthy long-term relationship at the beginning of it and made the decision to medically transition through hormone therapy and gender confirming surgery just a few months ago.
I still don't know where I fit within the queer community in many respects, but I think I have enough of an idea to document what to me is the quite substantial divide from where I was a few years back to how I'm relating to my body, identity, and people in my personal life now. It should be a fun ride.
It sounds like NaNoWriMo will provide the space to get some of these recollections on the page; you're writing into uncharted territory that deserves to be documented. Does writing in a different genre inspire new strategy for meeting the 50K mark? Have you planned out your process for 2013? I’m kind of taking some advice from the Sexy G, actually. With fiction, I tend not to outline or plan beforehand. I've never been a pre-planner, never successfully world-built prior to beginning the writing process, and I don't think it's necessary if it ultimately feels like a restriction of your innate creativity or ultimate vision. That said, non-fiction writing is a very different process for me. I've written enough journal articles and helped with enough academic research submissions to know that I need to outline if I expect to manage a coherent journey from point A to B.
I remember the Sexy Grammarian mentioning that she would choose a date or event in her life to write about every day when she was working on an autobiographical work a few Novembers ago. That's what I've been doing as well. Some of my planned topics include dating casually (and how I am an utter fail at doing it), the public bathroom dilemma (try picking an appropriate restroom when you no longer look like a woman, don't quite pass as a man, and identify with neither in their entirety), and sex (because fun times with gendered body parts, that's why!). That doesn't even begin to touch on break-ups, ballet, name changes, and navigating this whole journey with challenges associated with being autistic (if you wanna talk about another spectrum of experience entirely!). Stay tuned.
I'm so excited to hear about the process for you once you've won! Last year, you said the sexiest part of NaNoWriMo was the act of indulging in frequent and fervent writing sessions. What's the sexy about NaNoWriMo for you this year? Well, I have a boyfriend this year who I managed to rope into his first ever NaNoWriMo. He’s pretty damn sexy, if I do say so myself. In terms of writing, a memoir by its very nature is pretty self-indulgent. You have to take time explore yourself in a way that can be both pleasurable and painful. Either way, it's a deeply personal endeavor to document your own truths, all the while knowing this may end up being something you choose to share with complete strangers at some point in the future. I really can't think of anything sexier at the moment--although the boyfriend does come close.
We're all for self-indulgence and exploration--how can our readers keep up with you during WriMo season? There are a couple ways. I tend to most often post on Twitter for updates on my life and, by extension, progress during NaNoWriMo. You can also read snippets of my writing by keeping up with my blog. My Facebook author page is the place to go if you're looking for writing and LGBT*-related link shares at the moment, as well.
It's the second-to-last week of NaNoWriMo 2013, and The Sexy G is almost there! Follow her on Twitter or like our Facebook page for daily word-count updates and emotional outbursts about the insanity of writing another novel in 30 days.