An Interview with Heather Menicucci, Author of Let’s Get Primitive

Just in time for late spring and summer is Heather Menicucci’s new book, Let’s Get Primitive — a guide to getting out and enjoying the great outdoors, not just in the local park, but all the way out in the woods. That’s right — camping. The book will fill you in on all the details with regard to planning and having a great trip, but most importantly, it’s going to inspire you to want to pack up and hit the road, so that you get beyond the crowded city streets and into the wide open spaces of backcountry.

I got the honor of reading an advance copy of the book, and of providing a “blurb” — a short quote of praise. This is what I wrote: “Working in a cubicle is as open-air as most of us city folk get, and that’s no way to live. Thankfully Heather Menicucci has offered an open-ended ticket to sunrises, sunsets, and warm, whiskey-doused sing-alongs in the great outdoors. Let’s Get Primitive is an enlightening guide that will inspire you to tear down the (half) walls, delve back into nature, and dream under stars that you can actually see.”

Following is an interview with Heather about how she got into camping, what camping does for her, and reasons why everyone should make a point of pitching a tent and spending some quality time in the sunshine and moonlight that is unique to places where the day ends around a campfire.

How did you get into camping?

Heather Menicucci: I met a former Boy Scout, a sturdy guy who convinced me I wouldn’t be abducted by aliens my first trip out. After hearing his exciting stories of campfires and canoe trips, I thought camping was something I should finally try. I didn’t think I was going to fall in love, I just thought camping was something everyone should do at least once in their life. That first trip was actually my birthday celebration and the car got stuck down a ravine, the lake we were supposed to camp near turned out to be a manmade mucky pond, and it rained all day on my birthday. And yet, I still loved it! I guess that’s a testament to the power of camping.

What led you to write Let’s Get Primitive?

HM: Let’s Get Primitive started as a how-to guide for Bust magazine. I pitched the initial article because I thought there had to be other unlikely nature girls like me out there. I wanted to show them how I became a camper and prove they could too. Most people envision a certain kind of person as a camper and I wanted to show that the unlikeliest of campers can make this their own. I was really excited to share my love with anyone I thought would be too scared or skeptical to go for it.

What does camping do for you on an inspirational level — how does it impact, say, your work?

HM: To use a silly cliche, it clears out the cobwebs. I’m a ruminator. I get myself into mental traps where I overanalyze my work, my relationships, whether or not my cat is too mean, but I don’t really ever think about that stuff (as much, or as intensely) when I’m camping. It frees me from a lot of the things that weigh me down in the real world, which does wonders for my inspiration. There are plenty of surprises to be discovered in nature, but what’s even better is when you surprise yourself. Maybe you’ll break out in song around the campfire, or you’ll be able to climb a big rock when you can barely make the stairs in your building. When all that wholesome stuff happens, it’s inspiring. It just feels good. And simple. And clear. It’s not unusual for me to come home with tons of pictures and pages of notes in my journal.

You also are a filmmaker — any plans to shoot something that involves camping? I could envision a whole host of short viral, comedic videos of urban gals out in the great outdoors for the very first time…

HM: Yes! You had actually inspired me to think along these lines. I’d like to do a Double Dare/Iron Chef takeoff where city girls compete to prove their primitive prowess. They’ll pitch a tent in less than five minutes, find their way back to camp after being led blindfolded away, and cook up a campfire meal with limited ingredients. There would be prizes and camp-inspired banjo music. It would be very silly and fun, and the girls would earn their backcountry badges. It’s kind of in the works.

Bugs, sunburns, the lack of a toilet, sleeping on the hard-earth floor — lots of reasons why people opt for the nice hotel room on the beach or at the lodge… and yet, one sunrise out in the forest, and you can be sold for life, right? What else draws you to camping?

HM: To be honest, it’s partly all the hardships you mentioned at first. I think it’s good to be deprived occasionally of the things I take for granted. And solving the logistical problems, like a hard floor or rain on the fire, is fun in a crafty, MacGyvery way. Not to mention, once you conquer the cat hole, you feel pretty damn proud of yourself. But it’s not all about overcoming difficulties. There’s fresh, sweet air; tons of green; interesting critters; still quiet; endless stars. Food tastes better. I also love how I feel tuckered out and fulfilled at the end of the day. And, it’s a unique bonding experience. I think camping encourages openness. It brings people together in a unique way. I could go on and on and on. Camping is not just a vacation. It can’t really be compared with a nice hotel room on the beach. They’re each valuable for very different reasons.

Are you known amongst your friends and family as the person who introduces people to the great outdoors?

HM: Well, a lot of my friends and particularly my family are still resisting being converted. But I think now that Let’s Get Primitive is out, they’ll have a harder time saying no. I should be able to exert a little more influence now that I’m official.

Describe how it feels when you arrive back home from a camping trip?

HM: It feels as refreshing as it does when I get to my campsite that first day. I’m not crazy. I love camping, but after a few days out there, getting home is dreamy. I check my email, order pizza, and indulge in a thirty-minute post-camping shower. I often hear that Soul II Soul song playing in my head, "Back to Life."

What’s the best way for someone, no matter where they live, to find out about good camping options in their area?

HM: Part of the fun of camping is nerding out until you hone in on your ideal spot. The internet is the best place to research a trip, especially if you don’t have a group of camper friends to ask. My trips usually involve a bit of research on the the National Forest Service website (www.fs.fed.us), the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov), and then in a camping forum (my favorite: www.backpacker.com), where campers often review where they’ve been. letsgetprimitive.com also has a list of about thirty cities and towns with nearby backcountry camping opportunities and gorp.com has handy articles and reviews. Remember to follow up your online research with calls to the ranger station for special regulations, conditions, and permit information.

What’s a place in this world that you haven’t yet camped at, but dream of going to?

HM: The list is so long because I don’t camp or travel nearly as much as I’d like to. I’d like to do a cross country camping trip and pitch my tent in as many states as I can. I’m really curious about camping on the Keys in Florida, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, Channel Island National Park in California, and anywhere in Hawaii. There’s also a waterfall in Maine’s Baxter State Park that I’ve been promising myself I’d hike to. Outside the U.S., I know I’d like to camp Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica and along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in New Zealand. I’m really drawn to water, especially the ocean. All my seaside campouts have been magical.

Visit the Let’s Get Primitive website for more information. Buy the book here.

An Interview with Tsia Carson, author of Craftivity — 40 Projects for the DIY Lifestyle

With projects that range from yarn to wood, from found objects to fabric, with contributors from all over the craft spectrum, Tsia Carson has put together a creative lightening bolt — a force of craft. I’m not at all surprised, really. I’ve been a fan of her dynamically charged SuperNaturale.com site for quite some time (and have been fortunate enough to contribute to its Glimmer blog, along with many others, for the last year or so). But the book, Craftivity, takes the whole crafty mission up a notch — it’s inventive, wondrously colorful and full of creative surprises, and I am not alone in singing its praises. I’m really happy and honored to present an interview with Tsia about her new book here at 52projects.com.

Craftivity — what a wonderful name for the book. What does that word mean to you?

I wanted to get across the idea that crafting is active, that it is an activity and that the practitioners are activist. They take agency over their lives by making beautiful stuff. Most of the happiest crafters I know craft in groups or have a community of people they engage with about their work. I think that this is at the heart of what makes it relevant interesting culture and not just more stuff to consume and own. But I have to give props to Holly Gressley and Aviva Michaelov for introducing me to this term.

How have you met all these crafters? How much did your website have to do with pulling together all the artists for your book?

Most of the makers I have met but not all of them. There are a few I can’t wait to meet! The website was instrumental in meeting and discovering contributors. It’s the best calling card in the world.

Tell the truth — what was the hardest project in the book to make happen?

Twist my arm! I think that knit hammock, while not the hardest project to do in terms of skill level, was the hardest to make happen. It took a really long time and knitting with the hemp twine was really hard because it has a mind of its own. Poor Annika (Annika Ginsberg made it)! She is a master knitter and it was driving her nuts. Every step of the way something went awry with that project. Even building the harness at the end was nuts. But I think I would know how to do that much better now.

If you had to pick a theme song for your book what would it be?

"One Nation Under a Groove" Funkadelic?
"Who’s Got the Crack?" the Moldy Peaches?
"One Divine Hammer" the Breeders?

Gosh, I don’t know.

How does your background in design flow into your personal crafting?

I don’t really separate these creative activities up. I am heavy on the concept, I think through things and have to be excited by the idea before I make anything. If anything, becoming a designer has made me more sensitive to detail and more particular.

How do you think the web has impacted the world of crafting?

The way it has opened up communities to like-minded individuals rather than geographic location has been phenomenal. It has really facilitated discourse and making in a way that would have been impossible. I think that it has fueled the scene so that people are not working in isolation.

Do you recall your very first craft project? What was it? Why did you make it?

I was such a craftive kid. My parents totally encouraged it. I think what comes to mind is that I made a whole zoo of cut-out paper animals and then photographed them against a dark window so you could see the backs as well in the photograph. I wanted you to be able to see the back and front at the same time. It was all about the image. I was a total OCD kid. My father is an artist and when I just learned how to write I signed my name on all his work. That was a good idea too. Also there was my "multimedia" JFK presentation in 2nd grade…

In terms of crafting, knowing you’re a partner in a design firm and have a baby — when do you get it done? How do you find the time?

I still haven’t put together almost any of my personal projects.

There’s a baby quilt, a lampshade and house painting. Honestly, I have started to outsource and have people help me. It’s funny — I do find time to do those activities I enjoy. For instance I hate to sew, so that is going to be outsourced to a friend. But I like to knit, so I made my daughter a red scarf just like her favorite book character — Jenny Linksy the cat.

How is your crafting different as a mother from how it was when you did not have a child?

What project will take an evening max is the major deciding factor.

What’s the one craft project you’ve always thought about creating but have yet to get started on?

I thought I would be really DIY’d out after this book but it has actually fueled my desire to make stuff. I am going to study permaculture over the winter and my husband and I are going to make our property into an edible forest garden. I would also like to implement a grey water system for the house to feed the water from the washing machine through a drip irrigation system for the garden. Even saying this stuff makes it clear why I haven’t had the time to do it yet.

More on the book.

Buy the book.

Read an interview with Tsia at Craftzine.com.

An Interview with Dr. Melissa Hope Ditmore, Editor of the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work

Putting together a book is tough, but when that book is an encyclopedia, the job has got to be so much tougher. So many words, so many entries, so much fact-checking, so… all encompassing. But Dr. Melissa Hope Ditmore has done just that with her years-in-the-making project two-volume Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, just published by Greenwood Press. A one-of-a-kind reference work about a subject matter that is often seen through a narrow, cliche ridden vantage point, the encyclopedia delves into and explores sex work and prostitution from a full-view perspective: the historical, political, societal, cultural, activist and more. I interviewed Ditmore about her "mega-project" — how it came about, what’s in the encyclopedia, and who it’s for.

How did this project come about? How long have you been working on it?

The Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work was the brainchild of an editor at Greenwood, the publisher. She grew up in Detroit in the 1970s and witnessed pimp culture, especially souped-up cars. Pimpmobiles really stood out for her and may have been the genesis of the encyclopedia! As an acquisitions editor at Greenwood, she inquired after potential editors for a reference book about prostitution and was referred to me by Priscilla Alexander, the doyenne and ally of the American sex workers’ rights movement. Priscilla co-edited Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry and I had hoped to co-edit this with her, but her other commitments prevented her from taking this on. An encyclopedia is a mega-project. My opportunity was a triumph of experience over hope: no one who had published a book before wanted to edit such a large volume!

Coming up with the list of topics was wonderful fun. The list is exceptionally rich because of the many entries that were suggested by the contributors. Pulling this manuscript together took more than two years of contact with some of the most fascinating writers and subjects you could hope to meet.

Has there ever been an academic reference book about prostitution and sex work?

This is the first reference work devoted to prostitution and sex work, despite the huge variety of academic and mainstream writing on sex work. Sexologists Vern and Bonnie Bullough published History of Prostitution in 1964, and Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History in 1989. These great resources are very different from the encyclopedia. The most obvious difference is that the encyclopedia has content addressing the last twenty years, including sex worker activism. The wide variety of voices in the encyclopedia is just not possible in a smaller book with two authors.

Who is the encyclopedia for?

Everyone should have an opportunity to read it. Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work is meant for a general audience. The writing is clear, there is no jargon, and the topic has universal interest. Most readers will probably be students because reference books are usually library resources. But everyone is a student of human nature and sexual activity!

I wonder how many people will find it not in a public library but in the private collections of their favorite sex professionals. Sex workers proved to be enthusiastic readers of the encyclopedia as soon as it became available. The positive response has been overwhelming, demonstrating the need for this book.

What are some of the entries — entries that would be good examples of what one will find in the encyclopedia?

No matter who you are, something in the 342 entries will interest you! There are people, history, places, health issues and more. Some of the entries that I recently re-read are Hip-Hop, Habsburg Monarchy, the film Midnight Cowboy, and World War I Regulation. The religious entries always engage me, especially the early Christian ascetics the Desert Harlots. Sacred whores indeed!

The entries on people include many familiar names: Paul Cezanne, Emma Goldman, Annie Sprinkle, Victoria Woodhull, and Emile Zola. But the encyclopedia also offers opportunities to learn about fascinating people you may not have heard of, for example, the Renaissance composer Barbara Strozzi, the medieval Chinese martial artist and courtesan Liang Hongyu, convicted madam Regine Riehl, and Network of Sex Work Projects co-founder Paulo Longo.

The 179 writers include the novelist Tracy Quan, who wrote about Opera, and popular music critic John Holmstrom, who wrote about Rock Music. Renowned scholars include Helen J. Self on Britain’s Street Offenses Act, Jo Doezema on Abolitionists, Heather Montgomery on Child Prostitution, Thomas Steinfatt on Trafficking Propaganda, and Stephanie Budin on the Ancient World. Advocates

Greenwood produced this beautifully. Illustrations abound, including Daryl Hannah as the automaton prostitute in Blade Runner, depictions from the Kama Sutra, ukiyo-e prints, and scenes from sex work venues in Amsterdam, Bangkok, New Orleans, and New York.

Are there political issues with a reference work like this? Could you see libraries NOT take the book because of its subject matter?

Yes, this has already come up. One contributor said that her local library, which was a university library, hesitated to order it. It is, after all, the only encyclopedia featured on Fleshbot. The library needed reassurance that Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work is a serious work that belongs in its collection and ordered the encyclopedia after she showed them the press release and excerpts that are on the website.

It’s priced more for the reference/library market, right? It’s more than normal book buyers are used to paying for a book… if someone can’t afford it, how might they go about getting access to the book?

The encyclopedia is an unusual book with an unusual price. Most readers will find it through their libraries. Request that your local library — whether that is a public library, a university library, a school library — get the encyclopedia. You can make it easier for your librarian by bringing a printed copy of the order form, and, if necessary, the excerpts offered to reviewers. They are available from the online press kit.

Any chance you might create an online wiki around this work?

What a great question! The encyclopedia would be an enormous resource for someone creating a wiki about the sex industry. I don’t see myself taking on such a technical project. I would like Greenwood to produce a cd-rom of the work, which would be more affordable and portable. My next book will be smaller!

More information about the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work.

An Interview with Julie Blattberg,author of Backstage with Beth and Trina

Not Beth and Trina. That’s illustrator Wendi Koontz on the left, and author Julie Blattberg on the right.

First, I promised not to mention any details of the backstage "experiences" author Julie Blattberg may or may not have had with Vanilla Ice, David Lee Roth, Jon Bon Jovi, and Madonna.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can let you know about Julie’s very cool new book, Backstage with Beth and Trina (illustrated by Wendi Koontz). It’s a colorful, sexy adventure story about two rocker chicks who are determined to get backstage and, well, party with the band. But this book goes beyond the visual and ventures into the realm of scents. How does it transcend the normal confines of the picture book? By reaching back to the tomes of our youth. That’s right: Backstage with Beth and Trina is a scratch-and-sniff adventure. But the scents in this book go way beyond strawberry and banana — we’re talking beer, cigarettes, leather and latex. Beth and Trina are rocker chicks, after all. I interviewed Julie about the new book. What follows are her on-the-record responses.

How did you come up with this idea? When did the scratch-and-sniff element come into play?

I’d been working for a publisher of children’s books for a few years, and it occurred to me how unfair it was that kids have all of these different books with fun formats — scratch-and-sniff, lift-the-flap, glow-in-the-dark, and so on. I thought about existing formats and wondered what could be done for grown-ups. Around the same time, I was photographing a lot of rock bands and concerts, and thought I could do something cool with music. The brainstorming led to the characters, which led to the rock club setting, and the rest, as they say, is history. Rock shows are full of…interesting smells…

How much testing was done to get the smells just right? Any misfires that didn’t make it into print (and scent)?

My favorite part of the process of having this book published was a meeting requested by my editor: "Can you come downtown this week? The swatches are in." The two of us sat in her office scratching and sniffing scent samples, suppressing giggles when staff walking by overheard phrases like, "This doesn’t really smell enough like vomit," and "I know what we can use for the condom!"

The one aroma that we couldn’t quite get was Jack Daniel’s. But everyone knows what that smells like anyway, right?

Are you Beth, or Trina?

What do you think?

How old were you when you first tried to get backstage?

My first success story: High school. INXS. Jones Beach, NY. A friend of mine was infatuated with Michael Hutchence (R.I.P.) and HAD to get backstage. Despite our best efforts to sweet-talk security, it was time to give up hope…until an angry guy stormed out of the backstage door, due to a "situation" we overheard. He saw three forlorn-looking girls on the sidelines and did the right thing: He gave us the backstage passes that he and his friends could no longer use. We got backstage, had underage drinks with the band, and talked about mundane things like popular movies and restaurants in Manhattan.

Any tips to getting backstage?

Get a job in the music business. Or (and I hate to say this), if you’re a girl: get a boob-job, wear lots of makeup and little clothing; crying works, too.

What’s the soundtrack for this book?

The soundtrack is the self-published debut album of a hard rock / heavy metal band of undetermined origin. There are so many talented singers, writers, and musicians out there, trying to make it in the highly competitive and somewhat shady music business. The headlining act in BACKSTAGE WITH BETH AND TRINA is not one of those bands. Instead, imagine a cross between Whitesnake, Cinderella, and Def Leppard; take away half of the hair product — and half of the charisma; and turn the amplifier up to 11.

Will there be further adventures for Beth and Trina? I’m pushing for a catfight…

Further adventures are in the works. And rest assured — there will be guitars and there will be long hair involved. Now what do you suppose a catfight would smell like, Jeff?

Visit BethandTrina.com | Check out their myspace page | Buy Backstage with Beth and Trina

Snakes on a Plane

I somehow angled my discussion of the stories we do not tell over at SMITH into a post about Snakes on a Plane. I’m letting readers here know because the first 10 people to leave a relevant comment on that post (at SMITH) will get a copy of the Snakes on a Plane Quote Book. So far, not much interest. I think perhaps people have hit their limit on hearing and talking about Snakes on a Plane. But if you do have something to say about the movie, or your fear of snakes, say it over at SMITH!

Charles Bukowski: Born Into This

Saw the documentary on Charles Bukowski the other day — Born Into This. Can’t recommend it enough, especially for those writers out there. Here’s a guy who lived a pretty fucked up life, and drank way too much much too often, and boom, from all that, and most incredibly, in the midst of all of it, he wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I was fascinated by the way his writing career began — publishing in tiny journals and weekly rags, the rejection notes piling up all around. And yet, slowly, slowly, his words start having an impact on a person here and a person there, and one person in particular, John Martin, a printer — not a publisher, makes a deal with Bukowski to pay him $100 a month for life if he quits his day job and devotes himself to writing full-time. Martin then creates a publishing house — now famously known as Black Sparrow Press, just to publish Bukowski. And the rest is history, and more importantly, an incredible body of work, both in its depth and its size.

Bukowski is the kind of writer that makes you feel sort of guilty and slightly uncomfortable for laughing, but there you are, busting a gut on the subway, having to put the book down and try to stifle your laughter on a crowded train, people wondering what the hell is wrong with you and cursing themselves for sitting next to a crazy person.

One amazing little tidbit from the documentary is the how Martin, after striking this $100 a month deal with Bukowski, asks him if maybe he might try writing a novel, because it would be easier to sell than a collection of poetry. Martin says it was just a suggestion, but less than a month later Bukowski calls him and tells him to come by to pick something up. What is it? asks Martin, and Bukowski tells him it’s the novel he requested. That novel is Post Office. It’s my favorite Bukowski book. I have a bias towards work stories, but if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. It is raw, cuts to the core of a dead end job and a terrible boss, and it is freaking hilarious.

This documentary was a nice little kick in the pants for me. I watched it, then flipped open the laptop and finished a story I’ve been mostly avoiding for about a month. (I’ll be posting on Wednesday here at 52projects.com — very different from what I normally post. I hope you’ll come back and give it a read.)

There’s also a new movie out right now starring Matt Dillon — Factotum — based on a Bukowski novel of the same name. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to, and I’d also like to see the movie. I already recommended reading Post Office, as well as seeing the Bukowski documentary. And for you writers out there, track down a copy of the Bukowski poem "So You Want to Be A Writer?" in the book Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. Worth a read not just once, but whenever you need it, like all the great poems.

BitchFest

Man, if you are ever going to get interviewed by Deborah Solomon, who does the front of the book interviews for the NY Times Sunday Magazine, you better do practice run-throughs and get some good sleep the night before the interview! My jaw always drops a little when I read these interviews. She just hammers away and leaves the interviewee no place to run. Someone should do a book of original transcripts from these interviews. I also think Solomon should be reassigned to the White House Press Room. Anyway, this past Sunday Andi Zeisler, editor of Bitch Magazine, was featured, and she held her own. Zeisler was interviewed to discuss the ten-year anniversary of Bitch (which she founded along with Lisa Jervis), and the new anthology BitchFest, which collects "ten years of cultural criticism from the pages of Bitch Magazine." I can remember when Bitch just started out. It was considered a "zine" back then, but from issue #1, it was operating more like a magazine, and perhaps that’s why it’s still around and relevant today. So congratulations to Bitch on ten years!