The Sporadic Beaver

Happy Anniversary, St. Louis!

April 8, 2013

Tags: St. Louis, Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds, Apop Records, Kendra Holliday

Though I'm usually proficient at celebrating anniversaries on this blog, one of them slipped by me last week. One year ago, I began the Beaver Street U.S. promotional campaign with three raucous events in St. Louis: at Shameless Grounds coffee house on April 3, at Left Bank Books on April 4, and at Apop records on April 7.

It wasn't until afterwards that I found out that more books were sold that week in St. Louis than in any other city since then--despite the fact that Beaver Street was unavailable on Amazon at the time. The reason this happened is because the events were well publicized and the good people of St. Louis responded enthusiastically.

Kendra Holliday did an amazing job of promoting the Shameless Grounds reading on her Website, and with Sex+ St. Louis, as well as doing a very provocative interview. Left Bank Books managed to have the event featured as a pick of the week in the Riverfront Times. And the Apop reading, which wasn’t even scheduled, came about spontaneously when I walked into the store and introduced myself to the owner, Tiffany Minx. I told her about Beaver Street, she bought a bunch of copies that I had with me, and she then set up an event for the following day. Such things, I said to Tiffany, do not happen in New York.

So, happy anniversary, St. Louis. I miss you. Yes, I’ve always enjoyed visiting my wife’s family there, but the week of March 31-April 7, 2012, changed my entire concept of your fair city.

We Were Talking About Shameless Grounds

April 13, 2012

Tags: Shameless Grounds, St. Louis, Beaver Street, Kendra Holliday, Sonja Wagner

Last night, over a couple of shots of bourbon with former D-Cup art director Sonja Wager, who’s a "character" in Beaver Street; my brother, Jerry, who’s also my attorney; and his wife, Cindy, the subject of my St. Louis sojourn came up, and I started talking about the reading at Shameless Grounds.

“What’s Shameless Grounds?” my brother asked.

“It’s a sex-positive coffeehouse,” I said.

“What’s a sex-positive coffeehouse?”

“Uh, you know,” I said, realizing I couldn’t quite explain it, “they’re positive about sex.”

“What do you mean ‘they’re positive about sex’?”

“I guess it means anything goes, everything’s okay—you know… gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, asexual, straight… whatever you’re into. Everybody’s welcome.”

“They have a place like that in St. Louis?” said Cindy, who grew up in St. Louis.

“Surprised me, too,” I said. “A couple of days before the reading, we went there to check it out. It’s a really nice coffeehouse in an old factory building in an offbeat neighborhood. Spacious, comfortable, art on the walls, friendly staff, good coffee and food… and a free library filled with nothing but books and magazines about sex. There were two lesbians sitting at a table, knitting. And that seemed typical of the vibe—warm, mellow.”

“Really?” said Sonja.

“Yeah, it was a great place to read. Very enthusiastic crowd… and inquisitive, too. And very mixed—gay people, some people who worked in the porn industry, men, women, black, white… it was cool.”

For the record, Sex-Positive St. Louis, co-founded by Kendra Holliday, who organized the Shameless Grounds reading, describes itself as “a safe environment for sexuality questions or concerns, no matter your gender, race, age or orientation.” And that’s a good thing, no matter what city you’re in.

Life on the Mississippi

April 12, 2012

Tags: St. Louis, Apop Records, Beaver Street

Since I returned from St. Louis a couple of days ago, I've been corresponding with some of my new friends there, including Tiffany Minx, co-owner of Apop Records, where I read from the "dirty chapter" of Beaver Street last week. In one of my e-mails, I mentioned that I missed St. Louis. Minx was skeptical. She didn't believe that it was possible for a New Yorker to feel such an emotion.

I explained to her that what I missed was sitting in the front yard of my sister-in-law Cecilia’s house in Benton Park, with a cup of coffee in the morning, and looking out at the birds and crazy artwork—Buddhas, tile-covered totem poles, and soaring archways fashioned from volcanic stone—with which Cecilia’s partner, Jim, had transformed the yard into a trippy wonderland.

My description inspired Minx to jot down some of her own St. Louis impressions, including, “the semi-southern gothic feel that seems especially notable in the spring and summer; the feral weed trees and vines, cockeyed wooden patios, dressed down inhabitants, and rust or paint peel on homes and cars. It is, in the end, a river town.”

Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is an entrepreneur with the soul of a poet.

A Brief History of Performance Anxiety

April 11, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, St. Louis, Nowhere Man, performance

In 1971, in my sophomore year of college, when much to my parents' dismay I switched majors from architecture to creative writing, the idea of promoting my work with public performances was completely foreign to everything I saw myself doing as a writer. I hated getting up in front of people and talking. The idea of going on radio or TV was terrifying. I wanted to be a writer because I was good at sitting in a room and writing. And I believed that if I wrote good books then people would buy them, and that's all there was to it.

Forty-one years later, I spend most of my time in sitting a room, writing. And though I still believe that if I write good books people will buy them, I now know that marketing and promotion are far more important than the quality of the book itself. A well-promoted piece of dreck will outsell a great book, if not every time, then certainly most of the time. The trick, I realized, is to write the kind of books that people really want to read, and then emerge from my isolation cell and find a way to sell, sell, sell.

Thirteen years into the game, I’m hardly a novice. It was relatively easy to promote my first book, Nowhere Man, a “controversial” bio about John Lennon that became a bestseller in five countries. When it came out in the booming economy of 2000, people had lots of disposable income to spend on books. And, of course, everybody wanted to talk to me about Lennon. In the first year alone, I did about 150 interviews, spending entire days talking on the radio, doing one show after another, from before dawn until well into the night.

The live radio interview became my medium of choice. When the chemistry’s right, and the interviewer has actually read the book and knows how to put me at ease—The Louie Free Show, which I’ve done about two dozen times, comes to mind—my performance feels like free-form jazz; it can go anywhere.

In the dozen years since Nowhere Man was published, it simply wasn’t necessary to do a lot of readings. But in 2012, with the economy in shambles and the book business in chaos, every book is a tough sell unless your name’s Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. I know that if I want people to read Beaver Street, then I’m going to have to hand-sell it myself, event-by-event, blog-by-blog, reader-by-reader. Which is, of course, why I went to St. Louis.

Unlike, say, New York, St. Louis was immediately receptive, offering me three very different venues—Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds, and Apop Records—where I could focus on Beaver Street’s literary and pornographic qualities. The media, too, was supportive. The Riverfront Times, for example, chose my Left Bank reading as a pick of the week, along with Fiddler on the Roof.

It was strange to do three live performances in a week. The nervousness-bordering-on-fear before each event was the worst of it. But I have to accept the fact that I need to do this kind of thing as much as possible. Yes, I’m learning as I go, and I know there’s room for improvement. But I also know I’ve written a book that’s well worth reading, and I thank the city of St. Louis for allowing me to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

Now, it’s on to L.A.

Sacred Grounds

April 10, 2012

Tags: St. Louis, Beaver Street, Shameless Grounds, performance

Never in my life have I gotten up in front of a group of people, mostly strangers, but also family and friends, and read to them a passage from a book about how, 25 years ago, as an "experiment in participatory journalism," I committed an obscene and exhibitionistic act with a model I'd never met, as one of my co-workers kneeled before me taking pictures, and another one, ostensibly acting as chaperon, just sat there watching with her eyes bugging out.

But that’s what I did last week, in St. Louis, at the Shameless Grounds coffee house, at the first American Beaver Street event. And the funny thing was, not only did it not feel strange and awkward, but, unlike the experience I was describing in “The Accidental Porn Star,” it felt perfectly natural. As soon as I got the first laugh, I knew it was going to be okay; I knew that I’d somehow matched the perfect passage with the ideal audience. And as one member of that audience, Magnum Chlenow, wrote on the Shameless Grounds site, “The excerpts read by the author were both hilarious and educational. My fiancée and I eagerly bought a copy of the book.”

In fact, when it was over, and people came up to my table to hand over some very hard-earned money for a signed copy of Beaver Street, I felt touched. Which may be why I keep saying “Sacred Grounds” when I mean to say “Shameless Grounds.”

It was an auspicious beginning.

My Midwestern Odyssey

April 9, 2012

Tags: St. Louis, Beaver Street, Shameless Grounds, Kendra Holliday, Left Bank Books, Apop Records, performance

I've just returned to New York from ten days in St. Louis, where I launched Beaver Street in America. I did three readings in six days--more readings than I've done in the past five years. Thus begins the latest phase of a process that began in March 2011, when I went to London to launch the UK edition of the book. And if Beaver Street is anything like Nowhere Man, then these events are going to continue for the next dozen years or so, if not forever. I've got about a month to recover before the next scheduled reading, at Book Soup in L.A.

Sometimes I find it difficult to write when I can’t lock myself in a room, which is one reason I didn’t blog in St. Louis. But I do plan to sort out my thoughts, photos, and videos, over the next few days, and further explore my Midwestern odyssey.

But for now let me say that the atmosphere at each of the three readings was distinctly different. At the Shameless Grounds event, hosted by Sex Positive St. Louis co-founder Kendra Holliday, I read from what I’ve been calling “the filthy chapter.” “The Accidental Porn Star” is about my experiment in participatory journalism: posing for an X-rated photo shoot to gain insight into the mind of a porn stud. The Shameless crowd was enthusiastic, they laughed at all the right parts, and they were full of excellent questions about everything from the legal ramifications of the book to the Traci Lords affair. I’ve never had more fun at a reading.

The well-publicized event at Left Bank Books was more formal and restrained. It was also the first time I’d ever read in a bookstore, rather than at a bar or a publication party. Sarah, who introduced me and is, ironically, the children’s book buyer for Left Bank, told me something I’m beginning to hear quite a bit about Beaver Street—that the book’s depth, and my analysis of the political situation surrounding pornography, surprised her. It wasn’t what she was expecting.

In my presentation, I focused on Beaver Street’s literary heritage, reading from the prologue about my exposure to the “controversial” sex books that my father sold in his candy store many decades ago. Again the crowd was appreciative, and again there were a lot of good questions, many about the fact that the porn industry, like the music industry, is no longer a financially viable business for most people.

Apop Records, on Cherokee Street, is a book/record/clothing store that’s a short walk from where I was staying at my sister-in-law’s house. In the window, among various posters, are photos of the corpses of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald laid out on autopsy tables. This is a good indication of just how edgy Apop is; it’s rare to find a store like this, even in New York. Their selection of books and magazines can best be described as eclectic and counter cultural—volumes about the Black Panthers mingle with books about porn and the zines of Robin Bougie, publisher of Cinema Sewer.

I walked in one afternoon, and introduced myself to Tiffany Minx, who’s the co-owner along with Dustin Newman. Beaver Street was on the shelf that same day, and a reading was organized for Saturday night. I took the opportunity to reprise my Shameless Grounds performance. Because if you can’t read the dirty parts in a place like Apop, with a woman like Tiffany Minx in the audience, then what’s the point in reading at all?

One For The Road

March 29, 2012

Tags: Byron Nilsson, Beaver Street, St. Louis

I'm leaving for St. Louis tomorrow for the Beaver Street launch events at Left Bank Books and Shameless Grounds coffeehouse. I doubt I'm going to have time to blog every day, but I did want to do one more post before I plunge into the chaos of the road.

Byron Nilsson is a writer whom I met online in the mid-1990s when I was searching for someone to write a column for D-Cup magazine about the “pornocopia” of free X-rated material that had suddenly become available in cyberspace. Byron, a skilled journalist, an erudite pervert, and a computer expert, was perfect. So, I hired him, and he became one of my most reliable and frequent contributors, staying with me till the end.

To celebrate the US release of Beaver Street yesterday, Byron posted a piece on his blog that’s a combination review, memoir, and cultural/historical/political critique. To his credit, he does not shy away from commenting on the fact that Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett has been accepting campaign contributions from my former boss, Porn King Louis Perretta.

In the essay, “Protecting Us from the Evil of Protecting Us from Evil,” Byron describes Beaver Street as an “entertaining... well written... hands-on, first-person romp through the business of smut in the last part of the 20th century.” He also credits me with knowing how to “make words dance,” and with “grinding out some of the most amusing girl copy” he’s ever seen.

You can read the entire essay here. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing all you guys in St. Louie.

Holliday in St. Louis

March 26, 2012

Tags: Kendra Holliday, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, St. Louis, Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds

Matt Holliday, of the world champion Cardinals, is not the only Holliday in St. Louis, and in certain circles he's not even the most famous. Kendra Holliday, Sex Positive St. Louis Co-Founder, editor of The Beautiful Kind (TBK), and Hustler model, is giving the left fielder a run for the money, at least in the sexual underground, and up to a couple of months ago I didn't know that St. Louis had one--even though I've been a regular visitor to the city for over 20 years.

Kendra Holliday, who’s recently posted a series of rather provocative “birthday suit” pictures, is the reason I’m coming to St. Louis to launch Beaver Street next week. When we did our three-part Beaver Street interview for TBK—part three is now reposted on the Sex Positive St. Louis homepage—I knew that I’d found a kindred spirit, a woman who I like to describe as the Annie Sprinkle of the Midwest.

A launch event, April 3, at Shameless Grounds, hosted by Kendra, and focusing on Beaver Street’s pornographic aspects, was a natural. And when the legendary independent bookstore Left Bank Books invited me to do a reading the following night, in which I’ll explore the book’s literary qualities, there was no way I could stay away from the “twenty-seventh city,” as Jonathan Franzen calls it. (Twenty-seven is my lucky number.)

So, St. Louis, here I come. And I’d like to personally invite Matt Holiday to expand his horizons and come to both Beaver Street events. In St. Louis, the Hollidays should stick together, especially on Beaver Street day.

The Beaver Has Landed (in St. Louis)

March 23, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, St. Louis, Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds

Saint Louis Photos
Saint Louis photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.

As I write this, cartons of the US trade paperback edition of Beaver Street are headed for various warehouses and bookstores across America. The official pub date is March 28, and that should more or less conform to reality. At least one carton has already landed in St. Louis, where I'll be doing two launch events, at Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, on April 3, and Left Bank Books, on April 4. I've not yet seen the US edition of my book, but I have been rehearsing the passages I plan to read. It's under control

Also, as you may have noticed, I’ve been blogging a lot lately—because I’ve had a number of things I’ve wanted to say, and because it’s now the law of the publishing world that authors who have a book coming out must blog, tweet, and post on Facebook as much as possible—preferably every hour. They tell me this helps sell books, and maybe it does.

I will try to keep you up to date with one blog post, etc. every weekday. But I also plan to give myself weekends off for good behavior. I have other books to write, you see, like Bobby in Naziland, which I’ve been working on for some time, and I have only so much creative energy. We can talk about it when I get to St. Louis, where I’m very much looking forward to seeing you, whoever you are.

Why St. Louis?

March 14, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, St. Louis, Kendra Holliday, The Beautiful Kind, Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds

"You live in New York," people in St. Louis have pointed out. "Why do you want to come here to launch your book?"

The short answer: I'll go anywhere in the world where people have expressed an interest in my work. I've traveled to Mexico City and Valparaiso, Chile, where I didn’t even speak the language, to present my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man. Those journeys proved to be two of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. And I'm going to St. Louis because the city is offering me a unique opportunity to present both the pornographic and the literary sides of Beaver Street.

I made the decision months ago, after The Beautiful Kind editor, Kendra Holliday, interviewed me for her website. Kendra, who described my book as “a surreal, perverted mindfuck,” strikes me as the Annie Sprinkle of the Midwest—a creative, literate woman with the courage to put the darkest realms of her sexuality on public display both on her website and, recently, in Hustler magazine. The event she organized at the Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, on April 3, is the perfect venue to discuss some of the darker, X-rated aspects of Beaver Street, mainly a chapter I wouldn’t dare read publicly anyplace else. In “The Accidental Porn Star” I describe in graphic detail what it was like posing for a porn shoot, and the high social price I paid to conduct this “experiment in participatory journalism.”

Then, Left Bank Books, the foremost independent bookstore in St. Louis, invited me to do an event there on April 4. What better place to discuss the literary aspects of Beaver Street, a book that I describe as an investigative memoir? At Left Bank, I’ll read from the prologue and discuss a literary journey that began in my father’s candy store, in Brooklyn, where he sold numerous controversial books, like Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller, and Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby, that had made it to his “special rack” only after enduring protracted censorship battles.

So, my literary journey is now taking me to the turf of such people as Mark Twain and Jonathan Franzen. Boy, am I looking forward to the trip.

A Shameless Reading

March 12, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Shameless Grounds, Kendra Holliday, St. Louis

I've gone to enough readings at bookstores, cafes, and bars to say with authority that reading from one's book is not an easy thing to do well. For the most part, no matter how good the book is and no matter how famous the author is, most books, especially "literary" books, are not written to be read out loud to an audience. They're written to be read to yourself, preferably in solitude. Yet, virtually all authors are expected to give readings, and I'm no exception. I've shown up in my share of rowdy bars to read to a dozen heckling drunks from Nowhere Man, a book that I've often said was meant to be read under the covers, with a flashlight. I’ve also read well-rehearsed Nowhere Man passages over the radio and heard that people driving in cars had pulled over to the side of the road so they could listen without distraction.

Last night I began thinking about what, exactly, I’m going to read at Shameless Grounds, the “sex positive” St. Louis coffeehouse where, on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, Kendra Holliday and I will be launching Beaver Street upon America. And I decided to read from a chapter that I would not consider reading out loud in any place other than Shameless Grounds. “The Accidental Porn Star” is about shame and pornography, and like all of Beaver Street, it’s written in a conversational tone that makes it ideal for a public reading.

So, I’m going to nurse and rehearse the passage I’ve selected, and when I show up at Shameless Grounds, I’ll be ready to read. Hope you guys are ready to listen. In the meantime, you can check out Beaver Street at the Shameless Grounds library.

Meet Me in St. Louis

February 29, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, St. Louis, Kendra Holliday, The Beautiful Kind, Shameless Grounds, Left Bank Books

My wife's family is from St. Louis, so I've spent a bit of time there in the past 20 years, enduring some brutally cold winters and scathingly hot summers. But I like the city, especially Soulard and Benton Park. I like the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch. I like the Cardinals--the team and the bird. I've even considered living in St. Louis on those days when New York felt like too much. Well, in April, I'm going back for two big Beaver Street events.

The first one, hosted by Kendra Holliday, editor of The Beautiful Kind, takes place on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, at Shameless Grounds, a “sex positive” coffee shop, where you can already find Beaver Street in their extensive lending library. There’ll be an informal talk, a Q&A, and I’ll be reading from Beaver Street.

Twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 pm, I’ll be reading, signing, and answering questions at St. Louis’s foremost independent bookstore, Left Bank Books, where such luminaries as Salman Rushdie, David Sedaris, and Jimmy Carter have gone before me.

So, if you’re in the area, please drop by to one or both events. I always want to meet the people who’ve read my books. As for my in-laws, I expect you all to be there, no excuses. And bring all your crazy friends.