Thursday, July 16, 2009

Writing that Touches - Alana Noel Voth

It's been a long while since I posted one of these interviews. But if there's one writer I'd come out of retirement to hear more from, it's the awesome Alana Noel Voth.

Why do you write?

Because, generally speaking, I suck in person. Until I've had a few drinks or am simply in a position where I have no choice. Otherwise, I'm a hermit who prefers her own company. I enjoy hanging out with my son, and once in a while a friend or lover. Otherwise, eh. Don't get me wrong: I like people, perhaps too much. I'm obsessed with humanity. Socializing though, small talk, that's painful—sometimes a waste of time. Maybe because I'm getting older, I find a lot of people uninteresting.

I like to watch, listen. I like to ask questions. I like to record. That's where the writing comes in, you know? Anyway, once a upon a time, there was this girl whose father beat her every time she opened her mouth, etc., etc. Writing is my defense. Also, everyone needs to communicate. Everyone deserves self expression. No one likes throwing their soul out to the ether and then receiving nothing back. I've written for spite before, obviously, and as a way to reclaim a sense of power. I've also written when I was feeling hopeless, depressed, terrified, helpless. Oh and horny. Angry. High emotion mainly.

Is there something in particular that you'd like to express?

Simply humanity. But moral ambiguity for another. Those types of stories make the best ones. You know, good is also bad, and bad is also good.

I'd also like to prove if you're in tune with human rhythms, if you pay attention, if you mean it, and you do so with respect, you can write outside your gender. You can be a middle-aged woman and write as a gay man.

I say this because I often write as young gay men.

Shane Allison once told me he forgot I was a woman once he began to read my stories because my characters were convincing enough he heard them, not me. Awesome compliment. In graduate school, one of my peers said, "If I didn't know you Alana, I'd think you were a gay Mexican boy." Another great compliment, really the best. Susie Bright said much the same thing to me once.

Anyway, I'm not bragging. What I mean to do is make a point. As writers, if we take our work seriously, and I do mean serious as death, then we have this super hero type power for empathy and expression. We can take a situation and turn it into a story that presents a universal truth. That is, if we can get past all the prejudice . . .

What is the most successful piece or work you feel you've written, and why?

Far as I know, my work doesn't receive a lot rave reviews or shout outs so I can't say, "Such-and-such story has been popular." Therefore, I'll respond on a personal level, and maybe that's the way you meant it anyway.

My most successful stories are the ones in which I've spent months realizing then expressing character desire without becoming obvious, clich├ęd, or too vague.

My best work is always the work I've slaved over, cried over, hated. At some point, every story feels like a fucking rock in my shoe, if it's going to turn into something worthwhile, I mean. Stories are fun as drafts but then they just became painful, even tedious, until finally, I don't know . . . I arrive on the other side, so to speak.

More specifically: I wrote this story "Waif" (I is For Indecent) which I've always thought was good in that it’s simple, quiet, solid, and also written in third person, which is a departure for me. I've always felt proud of "Genuflection" (Best American Erotica 2005) for being the first story I sent through the MFA workshop, and also, I'm in love with the narrator, Manny, my number one Great I Narrator. "Benediction" (Best Gay Erotica 2007) makes me cry every time I read it. "Attempt to Rise" (Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Volume 7) was an awesome editorial experience, as in never before has one of my stories benefited more from an editor’s input. (Shanna Germain was the editor, by the way.) I've got this story called "Ivo" (Oysters & Chocolate) that I'm in love with: another Great I Narrator, and simply put, I got inside the guy's head, not to mention I stole the name “Ivo” from a friend in graduate school.

One more mention, my story "Mars with Mars and Venus," (Oysters & Chocolate) as an ode to another writer, Dennis Cooper, is successful without being a hokey imitation. To me, it’s a love letter. Anyway, the story was hard to write. Mechanically for starters.

Please name a recent thought, event, person or whatever that inspired you:

"Genuflection" was inspired by a story called "Indio" by Al Lujan and also the trailer park where my son and I used to live, and a real live place, Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. "Benediction" was inspired by Brent Runyon's book, The Burn Journals and a real boy I once knew who lit himself on fire, not to mention Joseph Gordon Levitt's performance in Mysterious Skin. (Honestly, half the boys I invent look like Joseph Gordon Levitt.) Although the boy in "Attempt to Rise" looks like Elijah Wood, The story was originally titled "Elijah Would," until Shanna Germain said, "About the title . . ."

Oh, you said recent. Dennis Cooper will always influence my work, as will Marguerite Duras' book, The Lover. I recently saw a movie, The Living End, which has impacted my novel-in-progress, as has the show Supernatural. Any two boys kissing will inspire me. I saw this movie Summer Storm the other night and became aroused by a scene on a boat dock. I mean, it was sweet, and it was sexy. You should see it.

Anyway, like every other writer, I'm a sponge; I'm forever taking notes, making observations, cataloging things. I’m nothing if not my power of observation. I'm super sensitive to innuendo as well. It's the subtle shit in life other people accuse me of over reacting to that make all the difference in a story.


Thank you so much, Alana. Read more of Alana's thoughts and work at her blog.

I'm still delighted to receive contributions to the 'Writing That Touches' interviews, although this is now more erratic feature than regular series. Get in touch if you'd like to participate! Nikki at magennis dot googlemail dot com.


Craig Sorensen said...

I'm glad you've come out of retirement, Nikki, and what better reason than the inspiring Alana?

Alana touches my heart with her strength and her vulnerability, both of which she has in extreme measure. Her work is meticulously crafted and packs a punch.

Alana said: As writers, if we take our work seriously, and I do mean serious as death, then we have this super hero type power for empathy and expression.

Hear, hear.

Alana's blog is a place I go for inspiration, as a writer and as a person. What she writes can be painful enough to make me stop reading and come back later when I can take more. But she can equally lift me up with hope.

Is there anything more powerful than that?

Nikki Magennis said...

Yes, absolutely Craig. When I'm feeling cowardly Alana and her writing can and do inspire me to try harder. And to be more honest.

When I read Alana's work (you don't mind if I refer to you in the 3rd person, do you A?!) I think of someone who's nudging at the edges of experience and willing to push it a little further. Plus some of her writing, phrasing, just blows me away. It's always unexpected and fresh and it has that subtlety of very carefully turned work. I'd love, one day, to read a book of her short stories.

(And I hope when I grow up I'll develop that level of dedication and skill!)

Thanks for taking part, Alana, it's a real treat to hear your answers.

Danielle de Santiago said...

sweet interview...also i m surprised sam merlotte isnt mentioned even once..:-)

here are many many writers who really inspire me..but with alana its different...reading her words is surprises and touches me everytime i peek into her blog..last week i was standing at my front windows who ae third floor going down on the main street (i m living in the city) and while i wa stalking to my sister on the phone i suddently saw a ferret down on the was white and just was strolling along the was a really surrreal moment..just as if i had seen a unicorn walking down the street or a chimera...thats the way alana leves me with her words, stories and snippets..just as i just have widness something rare...

Nikki Magennis said...

I love the ferret story, Danielle!

Mm, chimera. Good word. Chimera.

Danielle de Santiago said... should have sen my face when the ferret chimned along the pavement under my window..i was like: "dude..are that the deserved halluzinations?" just keept on running and disappeared around the corner...:-)

Madeline Moore said...

Honest, interesting, and beautifully done. Thank you Nikki and Alana.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Alana, I greatly admire the way you use your prodigious writing gifts to give voice to truth. You are a person of immense integrity and artistic sensitivity. Also a sweetheart of a human being and colleague. (And did I mention a fanfuckingtastic writer? What a voice ... what a rhythm ... what an impact!)

Thanks, Nikki the Great!!

Madeline Moore said...

I went from here to Alana's site to Clean Sheets and read 'Attempting to Rise'. Fabulous. Edgy, gritty, sexy, powerful. Consider me a new fan.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey, Madeline and Jeremy, thanks for dropping by.

I'm thrilled you've discovered Alana's work, Madeline. I loved 'Rock Stars in Particular Order', that's up at clean sheets too.

Alana said...

Craig, if you weren't married to the most amazing woman in the universe, and happily so, I'd propose to you right now. Be as it may, I appreciate your friendship. 'Tis enough for me. I'm lucky. Appreciate your encouragement. Your honesty. I love it when you disagree with me or give me a tough critique. Like what you said about my essay about my first love, Christine. You were right on, and it meant a lot that you took the time to read it so carefully then give it to me straight.

I'm blabbing, gushing maybe, but you made me fucking cry just now!!!


Alana said...

Nx, you made me cry more.

So, I'm crying right now, between you and Craig, I love you both, but shoot, I'll have to come back later when I'm able to type coherently.

Alana said...

Nx, back from a shower. I owe you a proper thank you.

Thank you for having me here.

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words.

Thank you for reading "Ballad to My Rapist" months ago. Thank you for the suggestions.

Thank you for your class and humor and talent.

Thank you.


Alana said...


Okay, so you made me cry too, and I'm going to keep typing anyway.


Your story about the ferret . . . I love it. What's a chimera? Jesus, I'm trying to remember and right now, and I'm failing. What a dork. Thank you for what you wrote here. Let's have coffee. Shit, let's have wine. :-)


You've been reading my blog lately and leaving very kind and astute comments.

Alana said...

P.S. Danielle:





Alana said...

Madeline, thank you for your comments, and thank you for reading "Attempt to Rise." Jesus, did you have to make me cry too?

I've very emotional today, or something.

Again, thank you for taking time to read my story at CS.


Alana said...

J-Man, my favorite pee man, friend and conspirator. Thanks, by the way, for what you said about the salad scene. :-)

Meanwhile, I have pee confessions I wish I could share with you over wine or something. Thank you for what you said here. XXOO A

Danielle de Santiago said...

alana sounds awsome..:-))

a chimera is a mythical creature..if you cut her head off she grows two new ones...

jejejeje we are in germany way behind you guys and true blood didnt hit the tv yet here...

hi hope you wrote this nice answer "after" you read my coment in your blog about the fearfull stick..i m still a bit shocked about myself that i really wrote that...:-)

Donna said...

Wow, Alana, this interview is like everything you write, it truly does challenge me to be more courageous, to get back in touch with what writing can be--painful, risky, honest, and all the more beautiful for it.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, your process. Funny thing, my first in the flesh glimpse of sex was watching two gorgeous boys kiss on a street corner in the Castro when I was 15. In a way, I'm still standing there, jaw dropped, thinking--god, that's beautiful! I want to be a gay man.

Still working on that one.

Finally, thank you for being you and inspiring us all.

Danielle de Santiago said...

hmm..somehow thats an interesting "trend"...not in the sence of "en vogue" but in the sense of "movement" was for ages that only men where turned on by lesbian girl on girl action,,,but nowadays there are more and more women who feel the same way about two men...and i recently read an article about the fact that a big part of the best gay fiction is written by..who know it?..yes..women!

Emerald said...

This was so extraordinary. I felt such a depth in your answers, Alana, even as they seemed simple/straightforward. It nearly took my breath away.

I'm quite late in reading this, apologies, but I certainly appreciated and enjoyed it. Really, Alana, I find you amazing.

"Rock Stars in Particular Order" is one of my favorites too.

Thank you very much, Nikki, and thank you Alana.

Alana said...

Hi Donna,

Lovely lady, how are you?

I love your story about catching a glimpse of two boys locking lips on a corner in Castro. That captures my imagination. You were fifteen? Coming of age . . . That goes in your memoir, right?


Alana said...


Wine, yay, yum!

Speaking of wine, my neighbors downstairs are cooking something that smells absolutely fucking terrific right now.

Thank you for the information re: the chimera. I can't believe I didn't know that, all the mythology classes I took in college, and I still have all the books.

You're the best.


Alana said...

Oh, Danielle, I forgot. Yes, gay men . . .

When I tipped those gay go-go boys a few weeks ago, I was turned on. Like Donna said, I wished I was a gay man that night, I really did. :-)

Alana said...

Hey Emerald, hi. How are you? Thank you for your comments. Take care of yourself. Hugs, A

Danielle de Santiago said...


i was to lazy to really cook today even though i love cooking

dont worry about not knowing what a chimera is...i m one of those people who half the time cant tell their head from a whole in the ground...:-)

Danielle de Santiago said...

oh alana, i forget , the gay men..too..:-P

i recently had a gay story in "surferboys" and will have one in "sextime: erotic stories of time travelling"..just in case you come across the books somewhere ...its so sad..i have tons of stories in german language..but only 2-3 in english so far..:/

nikki..sorry for rattling my bones here in your house..:-)

Nikki Magennis said...

Rattle away, Danielle, you're very welcome!

Want to take part in the interview series? I'd like to hear more about your work, seeing as I can't read most of it!

Thanks for dropping by, Donna and Emerald, it's good to see you both.

Danielle de Santiago said...

of course..i d love to take part in your series...:-)..i m flattered!!! m not sure if i remeber the meaning of flattered the right way..but i mean something good!


Janine Ashbless said...

Aargh. I've made a number of attempts to look at Alana's blog but my computer/copy of Explorer cannot cope: it just hangs and then shuts down.


Jeremy Edwards said...

[Unsolicited geekage follows.]

Janine, have you tried Firefox (free download here)? I use I.E. most of the time, but I keep Firefox handy for situations like this, when I'm having trouble with a particular site.

[End of unsolicited geekage.]

Janine Ashbless said...


I installed Firefox! All by myself! Without Mr Ashbless standing over me!

Okay, so it's only scary/exciting for me...

Thank you Unsolicited Jeremy!

Janine Ashbless said...

Jeez. It's so freakin fast!

Craig Sorensen said...

[Unsolicited super-geekage follows]

I'm actually the opposite. I use Firefox for my primary, and on rare occasion turn to IE if Firefox can't handle it.

Firefox rocks!

Craig Sorensen said...

Not that I'm a super geek

Just that I'm super geeky

Hmmm. Sounds like a song...

Nikki Magennis said...

God, you leave a blog alone for five minutes and the geeks are all over it!

(I use firefox. IE is just ... yuk. And apparently firefox is more discreet ... )

Well done, Janine! ; )

Shanna Germain said...

-is late to the party, as always-

I dig you, A.

Adore you, A.

Love making you blush, A.

Fucking love your work, A.

Love, s.

Alana said...

Shanna, tell me what you told me over coffee in Portland again and I'll blush until the cows come home, or you return to the States.

Waiting . . .


Anonymous said...

Women should not be writing gay and bisexual men's erotic fiction.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Anonymous: As I see it, the way it works in a free society is that writers write about what they want to write about. Then readers can read it, not read it, like it, not like it... or even, if their minds work that way, categorically dismiss it. Personally, I'm very loyal to this free-society model, where our focus is on taking responsibility for our own choices as consumers of art, rather than on trying to control what artists can or can't produce.