On April 27th, I returned from a week-long trip to Berlin, and I’m still kinda shell-shocked. Over that week, I spent hours every day being interviewed by all sorts of people: Europe’s biggest newspaper, for example. The German edition of Andy Warhol’s magazine, Interview. Four different German television stations. (Seriously. Four.)
This is all because my first self-published book, Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, has been acquired by a “real” German publisher. The German translation of Confessions will soon be available in many German-language stores.
Perhaps oddly, this is my first deal with a traditional publisher. I started out as an obscure subculture blogger/activist, and then people started calling me an expert, and then I started selling articles and getting speaking engagements, but all my books have been 100% self-published and self-promoted until now. I used the constellation of platforms that we now call “social media” to aggressively promote my ideas, but I certainly did not expect my self-published book to captivate Germany. I don’t even speak German!
I am handling such complicated feelings. It is taking me forever to write this. But my first TV interview just aired — the channel is Taff on Pro7, and the German translation of my words has occasioned much discussion on my Facebook wall. Unfortunately the interview cannot be viewed from the USA, but there was also a recent article in a well-respected German newspaper, Zeit. (I hear that Zeit is analogous to the Sunday Times.)
There’s been other coverage too, plus a lot more on the way. So I guess now is the time to put this out into the world.
* * *
Where to begin?
The translation deal began with a piece of fan mail last year, early 2012. The message came from Jennifer Kroll, who bought Confessions on Amazon after the book hit #1 in two categories. She found me on Facebook and wrote: “I don’t think I have ever recommended a book that frequently to anyone before, and I work in publishing.”
We talked, and then we talked more. She flew me to Berlin, and then she flew me to Berlin again.
Jenny and I had lunch on my final day in Berlin, two weeks ago. I like her a lot. She’s cool and down-to-earth and she has a strong vision for her imprint, Eden Books. I like her so much, and she’s taking a risk on me. I don’t want to let her down.
I told her so, and she smiled. She said that she thinks my book is one of the smartest, most nuanced things she’s ever read about how people relate to each other romantically. She said that I shouldn’t worry about the money, that my trip was already worth it to her, that she was already thinking about reasons to bring me back.
No one gets anywhere in this world without a support network. Yet I worry that, when I thank the people who read and advocate for my work, it comes off as nauseating or insincere. I’m not sure I have the right words to thank someone like Jenny.
* * *
Where else to begin?
I have always been willing to take risks, yet I have always researched and calculated my risks. When I began writing about alternative sexuality, I calculated the risks and I chose to write under a pseudonym.
Fame, in itself, is a risk. It’s a destabilizing force. My regular readers know that I got a call from Oprah’s office in 2009, and when they asked if I would consider going on the show, I said no. At the time, I wasn’t sure what my career would become, and I had recently been accepted as a volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps. I’d wanted to serve in the Peace Corps for years. I knew that if I were publicly known as an advocate for sexual tolerance, then my service would be at risk.
I’ve often thought that the same emotional needs that drove me to serve in the Peace Corps also drove me towards the writing and activism that I’ve done. In fact, I was assigned to the Peace Corps HIV/AIDS program, and I worked with sex & gender minorities during my service. Is it ironic that the Peace Corps would have rejected me for my history, when my history made me passionate about my service?
Years later, here I am, making the opposite choice. I always knew that coming out as Clarisse Thorn might risk my future stability. In 2009, I chose not to risk a TV appearance. But in 2013, I chose to take that risk.
I think it’s the right thing to do. For one thing, the redoubtable Miss Thorn is now a respected expert in the field of sex & gender; she’s not just a counterculture blogger anymore. And global culture is in a different place now, in 2013, from where it was in 2009. Sexual tolerance is much more widely accepted; mainstream commentators covered Fifty Shades.
Plus, I moved to San Francisco, legendary for intellectual liberalism, and I work in a field where talent and results are the highest priorities. People here respect the savvy and creativity that led to my success as Clarisse Thorn. Fame may be a risk, but — of all the cities in the world — San Francisco respects a calculated risk.
* * *
And then there’s this guy.
“This guy.” I’m pretty into him. He has his own reasons to be wary of fame, and he asked me not to write about him from the beginning — but I can convince him to make exceptions.
He didn’t meet me as Clarisse Thorn, so I had to explain that whole thing on the third date. These conversations can be awkward. “I guess I’m kind of semi-famous, actually,” I said.
“You’re famous?” he said.
“Semi-famous. Semi-famous,” I said. “And most people don’t know what I look like.”
He wanted to read my books and I begged him not to. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“People form a strong image of me, based on my writing,” I said. “I don’t even like everything I’ve written. And I really like you. I just want you to get to know me first.”
He’d read a few of my articles — not many — by the time I left for Berlin months later. But he still, thankfully, has not read my books.
“It’s strange to think that you’re an internationally famous BDSM writer,” he said, the night before I boarded the plane.
“I’m not famous,” I said, and he laughed.
“You’re sooooo faamous!” he wrote. “I still like you, though.”
* * *
All these beginnings, and not a single ending. Here’s where I am now:
These days, I’m a digital strategy consultant. This means that I get to spend my time on the Internet analyzing the media I’ve always loved. Two common phrases for what I do are “content strategy” and “user research” — I personally think that these are fun, fascinating, creative endeavors. Much of my time lately has gone towards learning how to do this stuff better, especially in the world of startup tech.
Also, I pulled together the courage to move from Chicago to my favorite city: my beautiful hallucinatory heartbreak city of San Francisco.
And also, this guy.
So: there was a pause. Then suddenly, in the middle of a new life: Berlin.
Reporters keep asking me about my next book. I have some sex & gender projects in the works, but I want my next long-form book to be about something else. Would you believe that there are many things that matter to me and have nothing to do with sex? I was a writer before I had coherent thoughts on these topics, and long before I created the pseudonym Clarisse Thorn.
I’ve been thinking lately that I want to write an exploration of Silicon Valley and San Francisco culture. These days, there are so many media portrayals of this hallucinatory world, and none of them feel complete or nuanced. Some articles capture facets like the gentrification juggernaut or the much-discussed behavior of rich young tech employees; others discuss the wild adrenaline rush of startupland. But few people seem able to move between “new” San Francisco (i.e., high tech) and “old” San Francisco (by which I mean artsy activists), and no one has connected all the dots.
I’d love to document the intersections and oppositions of the many worlds out here. I may seek a traditional book deal in order to do this, or I may go through other channels. We’ll see.
I will continue to publish occasional articles and books as Clarisse Thorn. (Also: you can still hire me to speak!) But I doubt that I will regularly blog again. I will post updates here about my projects, and I may cross-post articles that I publish elsewhere, but it will be irregular. (Keep in mind that if you don’t want to check back regularly, you can always subscribe by email.)
Still, I will ensure that my archives remain available. And no one gets anywhere without a support network. My mixed feelings include a lot of gratitude. Thank you for reading and feel free, always, to get in touch.