Friday, December 31, 2010

My 2010 highlights

Ah, 2010. We hardly knew ye. Shortly, you'll be gone. Before I bid you adieu, here are some of the things I enjoyed about you ...

1. Isaiah Mustafa sent me a video message. Yeah, the Old Spice guy taped a spot just for me. I'd written something about the man, the ad folks must have seen it, and there you go. Nearly 300,000 people watched it. When someone with no shirt on and abs like that says your name, it's a wonderful thing.

2. I launched The War Project. This was the most important thing I did this year. I'd been wanting to do this project for five years, and I finally got it going. Finding the money and time to do it have proved harder than I expected, but this is what I want to focus on in 2011. It's been a game changer.

3. I got back to work on my novel. In a fit of pique, I gave up on my novel. Late this year, I returned to it. It's about a federal agent looking for a missing porn star. It's called PORN HAPPY. I hope to finish it in the not too distant future of 2011.

4. I'm a journalist. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that fact. I'm not sure what the stand-out moment is here. Probably this story for Salon about a male porn star who killed another male porn star with a samurai sword and then died in a police standoff. Frankly, in this area, I'm still in transition. I am shifting from one beat to another beat. This is a good thing. I don't know all the answers. But I am willing to seek out their possibilities.

5. I lost 20 pounds. I spent six weeks at the beginning of the year prone on a sofa because I got kidney stones. It wasn't fun. It also made me fat. Although, those doughnuts didn't help either. So, over a period of about five months, I lost around 20 pounds. I ate better and exercised more. Who'd've thunk it?

6. I moved halfway across the country. I was in a rut, so I gave away or threw away or recycled 80-percent of all my stuff and moved. I do that every once in a while. Now, I have a dishwasher. And radical sunsets. And the past is where it belongs. In another state.

7. I stirred up controversy. I have a tendency to not feel alive if I'm not doing something that is borderline trouble. This year, I became a blogger for True/Slant. It was really a great thing. I wrote about all kinds of issues. I was given free-reign. The most controversial post was about trigger warnings. If you're not making waves, you're not swimming.

8. I took photographs. And I need to take more. And I need to learn how to use my camera. And I want to get a point and shoot. And I keep either cutting off people's heads or focusing only on the heads, but I have a hard time taking a picture of a whole person. Every photo is a self-portrait.

9. I got an iPhone. I love this thing. If it was legal to marry this thing, I would. It's so pretty and takes nice pictures and makes videos. I can't stop checking my email on it, though, when I leave the house. I should work on that.

10. I got better. I think the biggest thing that helped me get better was bearing witness to the suffering of others. I guess that sounds like something Mother Theresa would say, but whatever. It's true. It's the fire that burns the fat from your steak.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An early review

Via Oyboy. Follow me on Twitter here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A novel excerpt

Randomly, he plucks one of the picture albums off a shelf. Like all the others, it is stuffed to bursting with pages of Polaroid photos of naked women posing for the camera: dishwater blondes and fire engine redheads, bolt-on boobs and myopic tits, hairless sphinxes and seventies pies, crazy-eyed speed freaks and fresh meat waiting to be cleaved, illegal Thai girls and Ukrainian housewives, street-corner hustlers and the born freaky, moonlighting call girls and ingĂ©nues killing time, Midwestern innocents fresh off the bus and Southern dumbbells bored by their mothers’ pearls, somebody’s mother who likes to fuck and yesterday’s cheerleaders who’ll fuck anything, ready to drop and ready to die, apple-bottomed honeys and albino hippies, the totally tattooed and one who is cross-eyed, lost girls and married swingers, alone and stripped to the bone, terribly happy and unbearably sad, too-long unknown and stars-to-be, lapsed angels and love dolls.

-- from my novel, PORN HAPPY

Monday, December 27, 2010

Like a daydream, or a fever

I'm one of those people who spends their time off working. So when I got some time off work for the holidays, I spent almost all of it working on my novel. Much of the bulk of that time was spent revising. Eventually, though, I entered into the realm of writing new material.

I was nervous about that. Would I do it? Would I fail? Would it be good? Would it be bad? Would I ever stop trying to figure out if my writing is "good" or "bad"?

Regardless, it ended up being a positive, productive experience.

I suppose it is true to say that I have been derailed by various things at time in the last few years, some within my control and some not, although I have always seemingly been able to slip back in the saddle. I don't know why this is the case. Probably the inexorable pull of destiny. Or my penchant for self-mortification of the flesh. Or maniacal narcissism.

It felt good, though. Like my brain was working again. Like dormancy was over, and it was time to get out in the forest and start killing again. And it woke me up and made me feel less asleep.

This morning, I had a dream I was laying in bed with a man whose identity I could not recall upon waking, and I was exclaiming: "It makes perfect sense my narrator is crazy -- that's what makes him unreliable!"

[See also: unreliable narrator]

Friday, December 24, 2010

From the bottle to the grave

Why stress out in some office wearing clothes you hate, when the REAL stress lies ahead, as we face an inescapable grave. *

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How to buy Christmas gifts for a woman

My latest STUPID ADVICE column for Playboy's The Smoking Jacket is: "Ideal Christmas Gifts for Women."
The holidays! A season that fills every man in a relationship with terror. Whether she’s your girlfriend, your wife or your friend-with-benefits, you will feel obligated to buy her something. Should you? Probably. Women like it when men buy them stuff. We’re materialistic like that. And it increases your chances of scoring. So, everybody wins.
[Read it]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I get email

So I read today's post about what it is that brings people to your blog. And I have to say, this is something I've been thinking about a lot over the last year or two since I discovered it, that is, what keeps bringing me back to it. 

Originally it was something to do with sexuality, to be sure, though not in the sense of grabbing a quick look at Sasha Grey's snatch (not that it isn't, um, pretty). It's got more to do with that borderzone where sexuality bleeds into the other areas of our lives and beings, the way sexual desire colors our emotions, our relations, and, in some distant way, what it is we write about. (I say "we" both in a general sense and, more specifically as a would be/never was writer). It's like this ambivalent space that can be both threatening and utterly honest (which I suppose is threatening in its own way). It's that personal space of honesty and dishonesty that I think initially drew me to your pages regularly if infrequently.

There's been this majorly (my word, don't complain) subtle change that's occurred in the shift from The Reverse Cowgirl to the Susannah Breslin blog. It feels like something's been lost. Not in the writing, but in whatever part of you it comes out of. The words now feel like they emerge from a box on a floor in an empty building, if that makes sense. It's not an issue of immediacy; it's like now you're suddenly trying to write, and in doing so penning yourself in. (Just saw the pun; unintended but good). Better, it's like the brief glimpse you get of the mannequin with her mouth clapped shut before you're re-directed from the Reverse Cowgirl URL.  

Reading the RC, I used to wonder if your writerly ambition felt trapped by having written about the porn-industry. It felt like there was an overhanging, understated sense of anxiety. And it used to make me think what happens if, as a writer, you get too firmly pegged to an ambivalent, out-of-the-mainstream subject by inclination and by your audience's expectations. I wondered which had to be accommodated. It's a problem I deal with (in a way different context), and it's one of the things that drew (and still draws) me to your blog, trying to see if it gets resolved, hoping it my lend me inspiration to resolve my own variation on the theme. 

I haven't had those feelings with the new blog until your post on The Anxiety of Influence. That was something new, unexpected, and surprising. A different part of your writer-you appeared that seems a more natural progression from the RC. (At a personal level it resonated, too, because of the nexus of art, fathers, death, and the Irish-Catholic New York of the last century). 

At any rate, that's why I go to your blogs. Thanks for them. 


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to not kill yourself

I wrote a new post about suicide. It's on Thought Catalog. It's called: "Why You Shouldn't Kill Yourself."
This weekend, I was dithering around on Twitter, and I came across this post by media thinker Jay Rosen: “The Year in PressThink: These Are the Ten Best Things I Wrote in 2010.” That made me think what were the best posts of the year on my blog. Which in turn made me think what the most commonly searched terms are that bring people to my blog. Other than the ones that come in the middle of the night when a Playboy TV show that I used to be on reruns, which are basically “susannah breslin naked” and “susannah breslin porn,” people come to read a post I wrote on my old blog a couple years ago about a pornographer named Max Hardcore, which I republished on my current blog, or they come looking for pictures of an American Apparel ad I used to have on my old blog which features porn star Sasha Grey’s pubic hair, or they come by searching “how to gas myself.”
[Read it]

Monday, December 20, 2010

The anxiety of influence

On July 10, 1953, my father, James T. Breslin, reading The Herald Tribune while seated on the Flatbush Avenue IRT on his way to work, had a heart attack. He fell to the floor of the subway car and, despite efforts of some of his fellow passengers to revive him, died.

He was 49 years old. Even in middle age he was tall, lean, Tyrone Power handsome and athletic, having briefly played the outfield in the minor leagues. I always imagined him as a "rangy center fielder," moving smoothly backward and to his right to run down a line drive. He was also very smart, having won (as a boy) a scholarship taking him through a Jesuit high school and college.

But the college folded before he reached it; he quit baseball, married, worked as an accountant, helped support his and my mother's parents, and had two sons during the Depresssion. He grew conservative, frustrated, alcoholic. Living in an Irish Catholic working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, he voted Republican and went to work in elegant three-piece suits as if he were an executive. At home, on week-nights, he sat quietly at dinner, still wearing his suit and tie, as he intently read The World-Telegram or worked on the crossword puzzle in the Sunday Times.

On Fridays he came home from work, removed his suit jacket, blue dress shirt, tie and shoes, then spent the weekend in his undershirt, suit pants and socks, drinking shots of Four Roses with beer chasers, taking naps, lurching through the house, loudly critical of his wife and sons. He frightened and embarrassed me. On Saturday afternoons in the summer, he and I watched Dodgers games on a small Philco television set. Sitting in his green armchair, a can of beer in his left hand and a Lucky Strike in his right, he would pronounce a Kirby Higbe pitch a curve; I then declared it a sinker. If the next pitch was hit down the right-field line and he called the ball foul, I insisted it was fair -- and so on through nine innings of empty dispute.

Then that morning -- two weeks after I was graduated from Brooklyn Prep, the same Jesuit high school he had attended -- he left for work, boarded the IRT, and disappeared.

Yet, even now, 40 years after my father's death, I am, in my dreams (as in my biography of Mark Rothko), still trying to breath the life back into him (or his substitute) -- as if a biographer were a paramedic administering decade after decade of CPR to a patient he refuses to admit he has lost.
-- from "Terminating Mark Rothko: Biography Is Mourning in Reverse," The New York Times Book Review, 1994, by James E. B. Breslin, my late father and the author of Mark Rothko: A Biography.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This woman's work

I took this photo sometime ago during a day I spent with a group of disabled artists. Some had physical disabilities, and some had mental disabilities, and some had both. This was a very sweet woman who described in very generalized terms what had happened to her many years ago. She was working on this watercolor, which I asked her to hold up while she posed for me. I said something finally, like, "Do you ever smile?" And then she did.

This is a reminder that I need to put this story together so other people can read it, and see it, and meet them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to survive

You just have to keep on breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide will bring. -- "Cast Away"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to be a male porn star

My latest STUPID ADVICE column for Playboy's The Smoking Jacket is "How to Become a Male Porn Star."
Honestly, the only way to get into porn is by doing so with a girl. People who work in porn don’t like male porn stars because they are irritating. But they like girls, especially ones who are pretty and willing to have sex in public for cash. If your girl wants to become a porn star, you can be her on-camera costar if you insist that you work together and she doesn’t work with anyone else. This will get you in the porn door, but soon enough they will talk her into doing scenes with other guys, and she will dump you, so there is that to consider.
[Read it]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More thoughts coming up

Starting in the next few days, I'll be doing another round of guest-blogging at Thought Catalog. You can see what I did last time around here. I'll post links to the stories as they go live.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm on Twitter (again)

I think this is the third Twitter account I've had, so catch it while you can. Eventually, I'll tire of it and delete it, but in the meantime you can follow along. If you're on Twitter, you can follow me at @iamsusannah.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Picture this

I had a bad day, so after I was done with doing some things that needed to be done, I walked to the coffee shop. Then I walked to the grocery store. After that, I went to the bookstore.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for, or if I was looking for something in particular, so I wandered around to see where that would take me. I looked at the magazines, and the photography books, and then I ended up downstairs, where I found a copy of Lynda Barry's new book, Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book.

The book is about how to draw, which is to say it's not about how to draw at all. If you're not familiar with Barry or her work, she is most famous for having drawn a comic strip called Ernie Pook's Comeek. Lately, her work has been as much about the creation of work as the work itself, and this is true of Picture This as well. In any case, I removed the book from the shelf, took it over to a footstool, where I sat down, and read it.

It's a very wonderful book -- to look at and to read. There are pictures, and collages, and drawings, and comics, and photographs, and a treatise on the importance of doodles. There are monkeys, ghosts, and monsters. The characters include Lynda, and Marlys, and Barry's husband.

Here is my favorite line:
The trick is to stand not knowing certain things long enough for them to come to you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bullet to the head

I had dinner last night with a 26-year-old sometimes funeral director. She was interested in talking to me about some of the stories that I've done, and I was interested in hearing about her experiences with the dead.

At one point, she said something about how she worked with the dead because she was good at it, although it was not altogether clear exactly why that was the case. As she explained it, she was good at it, saw she could do it, so she did. This reminded me of something that I've said about some of the stories that I've done. I had a certain ability to deal with certain things that others couldn't, so I did.

Of course, that continues to be the case.

A long time ago, I worked with a TV producer who had worked previously on a very cheesy reality TV show. She had told her father, who was a well-known lawyer, when she had gotten that job. Her father had said: "Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."

He's right. Only, in some cases, it's harder to not do it than to do it. And sometimes from the inside it can feel like this is what you were destined to do. And, who knows, maybe that's true.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The stupid advice keeps coming

My newest "Stupid Advice" column is up at The Smoking Jacket: "How to Dump Her Like a Man."
Stupid Advice is a huge fan of passive aggressively waiting out the relationship until it’s too unbearable for the other person to tolerate, forcing them to be the bad guy. We love that! In fact, we are currently shopping a book to Important New York Book Agents called How to Dump Someone Without Lifting a Finger. We consider it to be a virtual Bible on the subject. In fact, manipulating the other person to end a relationship you didn’t want to be in anymore is an act of mercy. They get to keep their pride, and you get to pretend you’re sorry.
[Read it]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The art of self-publishing

I read with interest a Cory Doctorow post on Boing Boing today in which he announces that he is self-publishing his new short story collection.

Cory is offering the book in four different options: a paperback from Lulu ($18), an audio book ($10/$5.50), an electronic version (free), and a limited edition, bespoke hardback ($275).

In all likelihood, when I'm finished revising my novel, I'll self-publish it. This is for a variety of reasons, but increasingly it seems that allowing a corporate entity to publish your work is tantamount to handing your wallet to a stranger on the train.

The limited edition format is closest to the publishing model I'm considering pursuing with my novel. There are other options, but I feel that one is the most fitting.

In any case, I'll continue to update on these matters as they move forward.

[Video by Clayton Cubitt]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Letters from Johns, an update

From January 2008 to January 2009, I conducted an online experiment called Letters from Johns. Why do some men pay for sex? I put out a call for letters from men about why they sought out prostitutes. Over that year, I published 51 letters. Recently, I heard from one of those johns. His original letter: "I Was Smitten." I asked him for an update.
Two years ago, I responded to the "Letters from Johns" project because it gave me an opportunity to finally tell a secret. Reading over some of the other men’s letters, I sensed a lot of shame and self-hatred, but those weren’t the reasons I had always kept my involvement with providers to myself. As I detailed in my letter, I was more worried about the social and family implications, which came to a head when I started actually falling for one of my providers.

Looking back over my letter now, it reads more melancholy than I meant for it to. My time with providers was actually a lot more thrilling and adventurous than I related. And it wasn’t just about skilled sexual technique, but also about being with a lot of different kinds of women, with different kinds of erotic energy. And while it’s true that providers perhaps contributed to somewhat unrealistic expectations for my "real" girlfriends’ sexual prowess, it’s also true that they taught me a lot about how to please different kinds of women.

Being with a provider was never a one-way street. I only felt like the hour was satisfying if I knew she had gotten off, too. I’ve always thought that men who can be duped by a fake orgasm have no idea what they’re doing; a woman can’t really fake vaginal convulsions, copious lubrication, or rapid, full-body shudders. And there are as many different ways to make a woman come as there are women. Providers showed me how to be rough without actually being violent, how to go slow without being a wuss, how to direct sex even when being more submissive.

Ironically, I haven’t been with a provider since I wrote my "Letter from a John." Instead, I’ve been in two monogamous relationships with a few one-night-stands in between. I wonder if, by writing the letter, I released myself from the fascination with/romanticizing of the special charms of providers. I occasionally look at the local escort review board to see who’s new, but I haven’t made contact with anyone. My current girlfriend is as sexually experienced and skilled as anyone I’ve been with, so that may be part of it. Or maybe I’ve just gotten whoring out of my system.

I’ve also grown to wish that I didn’t have to keep this part of my history a secret anymore. Recently, my girlfriend asked me if I’d ever paid for sex, and I said "No" without thinking twice. She’s somewhat jealous as it is, and I knew that telling her the truth would be a recipe for disaster. Some small part of me thinks that, ultimately, the perfect partner for me would who be a woman who knows, accepts, and is maybe even turned on by my former experiences with providers. This feels like a tall order; I’m guessing that I will always keep my secret to myself.
[Letters from Johns]

Friday, December 3, 2010

I've got even more stupid advice

My latest "Stupid Advice" column is up at The Smoking Jacket: "Never Trust a Pickup Artist."
[Pickup artist Nick] Savoy elaborates: “You have a much better chance of dating or sleeping with a woman who currently hates you than one who is indifferent to you.” I say you have a lot better chance of getting hit over the head with a frying pan by a woman who hates you than one who is indifferent to you. If we think you’re a jerk, we’re going to think you’re a jerk until you go away. Then, we will forget you exist.
[Read it]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The burlesque queen

I interviewed and photographed burlesque dancer Jolie Goodnight for the Austin Post.
Burlesque as social commentary dates as far back as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but in the first half of the 20th century, stripteases spawned by Moulin Rouge dancers commingled with American vaudeville to create a whole new type of show that was bawdy, comic, and sensual. In recent years, the New Burlesque movement has resurrected this lost art, one in which pasties and feather fans are key, the slow removal of over-the-elbow gloves is absolutely necessary, and a sexy girl on stage may remove most of her clothes, but she'll tease you by not showing you everything.
More photos here. (Your Flickr SafeSearch should be turned off.)

[Meet Jolie Goodnight, Burlesque Dancer]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm reading tonight

To remind, I'm reading tonight as part of the Five Things reading series. The evening's theme is freaky families, and I'll be reading a story that involves an oversharing holiday card. It's not be missed, surely.

Five Things, 7 pm
Wednesday, December 1st
United States Art Authority
2906 Fruth Street
Austin, Texas


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How I spent Thanksgiving

My final guest post is up at Thought Catalog. It's called: "I Hate the Holidays."
I hate the holidays. Not like, “Oh, I hate the holidays,” and then I go do it anyway. I mean it like, I do not do it. When the girl at the bookstore the day after Thanksgiving asked me, “Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving?” and stuffed my new copy of U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life? into a bag, I said, “I abstained.” I put a lot of emphasis on that last word, abstained, to be clear: I do not imbibe. The girl looked at me all pained and perhaps sort of sympathetically embarrassed. Then I smiled, and took my book, and left.
[I Hate the Holidays]

Monday, November 29, 2010

On novel writing

I spent a good part of this holiday weekend working on revising my novel. It's about a federal agent searching for a missing porn star. I'm about a quarter of the way through the revisions.

This time, I'm doing a few things differently.

a) I found that I kept going back to the beginning to revise, and I also found the prospect of completing a novel daunting, so I broke each part of the novel down into a small section. Most of them are the length of a piece of flash fiction or a short short story. Each one has its own document. This decreases the likelihood you will go back and attempt to revise from the beginning. So far, it's working.

b) Generally, when writing, the head is what gets in the way. Now, when I'm writing, I empty my head and don't think. I let some sort of emptiness or higher connection guide the writing and the revision. This seems to be effective, as you eliminate internal debate, and you allow the unconscious to steer the creative process. The ability to do this is aided by meditation and being a content-generating machine at my day job.

c) The novel will be short. Probably 100 pages. That makes it either a novella, or a noveltini. I made up that last word. The idea is that you read it in one sitting. Because who wants to read more than 100 pages anyway?

I'm also reading U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life? It's about people who make radical changes in their lives. I find it inspiring.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Watch me read

Next week, I'll be reading at Five Things, where five readers read five minute stories based on a theme. The theme is dysfunctional families, and I'll be reading a story about over-sharing holiday cards.

Five Things, 7 pm
Wednesday, December 1st
United States Art Authority
2906 Fruth Street
Austin, Texas

[Five Things]

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The view from my balcony.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The B-boys of the San Fernando Valley

I've got another new post up at Thought Catalog: "The B-Boys of the San Fernando Valley."
Every so often, I go back and look at these photos. I don’t know why. They’re so weird. Who are these men? Why did this one guy think it would be a good idea to wear a wig and a fake mustache? To hide his identity from the camera, sure, but why the Parisian waiter ’stache? And what about the other guy? He looks like his name is Robert, and maybe he lives in Sunland, and he overheard two guys talking about this at Lowe’s, and he knew he had to be there, that he couldn’t live the rest of his life knowing about this but not having done this, and his wife, Doris, is playing bridge with her friend, so what does she care?
[Read it]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I get email

My most recent post for Thought Catalog is online. It's called "I Get Email." It's about all the crazy emails I get.
Because I have been on the internet for a long time, I get a fair amount of email. From people I don’t know. People who, I assume, think they know me, because they know me on the internet, which is to say they don’t know me at all. They know me as a simulacrum. The pixel, not the flesh.
["I Get Email"]

Monday, November 22, 2010

The queen of comedy

I interviewed Sandra Bernhard for The A.V. Club. Here's a part of it that didn't end up in the final version. It's about "The King of Comedy."
AVC: How did you get the role in "The King of Comedy"?

SB: Along with about 500 actresses, I managed to sneak in there and meet with the casting director, a friend of mine, actually, hooked it up, and I went in there and improvised a bunch of stuff. Then I went out to meet with Scorsese and De Niro, and then they came to see me perform, and then they flew me to New York, and I auditioned with Jerry Lewis, so it was like a two-month, long, protracted experience, and then when I got it, of course, I was like over the moon. Then when I filmed it, it was equally exciting and inspiring. I think the film holds up as a real precursor to everything that’s happened in our culture. The man who wrote it, Paul Zimmerman, was so prescient. I mean, who could ever have imagined how crazy things really would go in terms of celebrity in our culture? He just really busted it open. It still is a benchmark film in that whole idea of reality television, and how anybody will do anything to become famous.
[Read it]

Friday, November 19, 2010

I am Ed Gein's widow

I had a great time reading as part of the Encyclopedia Show last night. There was singing, there was dancing, and since the theme was Serial Killers, there was a lot of gore. Thank you to Ralphie and Mike for having me.

Here's the story I read, "I Am Ed Gein's Widow." The people seemed to enjoy it.
I am Ed Gein’s widow. Not a lot of people know that Ed was married. Even fewer people know that I am his widow. It’s not something you tell people at dinner parties. Ed was not a well-understood man. He was passionate, and he was reserved, and there were certain things about his life that when they came to light were not looked upon entirely favorably. In fact, when the spotlight shown down upon him, the world was horrified. But the man I knew was a different man, and that is what I have come to discuss here today: my Ed Gein.

You can say a lot of things about Ed that may or may not explain him. That he lived in Wisconsin. Plainfield, to be exact. Really, there isn’t much to say about Plainfield other than that Ed lived there. Everything else sort of pales in comparison. His real and full name was Edward Theodore Gein, but no one ever called him Teddy. After it all came out, they called him The Plainfield Ghoul. He loved his mother, Augusta. Augusta did not love his father. Augusta had strong feelings about things. For example: all women are whores. This is the background in which Ed was raised.

Augusta was not kind to Ed or his brother, Henry. Eventually, Henry turned on his mother. Then Henry turned up dead. Some people say Ed did it, but it’s hard to say when you weren’t there. Eventually, Augusta died. And that’s when the trouble began.

On November 16, 1957, a local Plainfield woman, Bernice Worden, disappeared. One way or another the police investigators ended up at Ed’s house. There, they found Bernice. She was strung up by her ankles in the shed, naked as a jaybird, and no head. She had been cut wide open, like a deer. In the house, they found things: a collection of masks made from human skin, four noses, nine vulvas in a shoebox. Bernice’s head. The heads of ten more women, their tops lopped neatly off. Human organs in the ice box.

Ed wasn’t a serial killer. He was an artist. He didn’t want to kill. He wanted to transform. He wanted to be his mother, he wanted to become a woman, he wanted to be someone other than who he was. Haven’t you dreamed of the Resurrection? Of some kind of total transformation? Of waking up one day and finding you are not a giant cockroach but a beautiful, beautiful butterfly? That’s what Ed was after. Unlike most of us, he was willing to get what he needed from the graveyard in the middle of the night, if that’s what it took. To make suits of women. To transvest himself.

After the trial, they sent Ed to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He died in 1984. For a time, those who visited Ed’s grave would chip off a little piece of his headstone, like a trophy. Like they wanted a piece of him for themselves. Finally, someone stole his tombstone. When it turned up again, they put it in a museum. I haven’t gone to see it. It’s not the same. Ed wasn’t some slab of stone.

Our love story is a simple one. We met in high school, and we married in secret when I was 19 and Ed was 23. We never consummated our relationship. We never lived together. We told no one. Ed didn’t think people would understand. He was a man who needed his space, so I let him have it. I didn’t go over to his place much, and when I did, I focused on him, not what was there, or what he did or didn’t do. That’s how it is with men. You have to let them be.

So, you can talk to me about those four noses, those nine masks made of human skin, those hollowed out skull bowls, those heads that lost their tops, those chairs upholstered in DNA, Mary Hogan's head in a paper bag, Bernice Worden's head in a burlap sack, those nine vulvas in that shoe box, those skulls on those bedposts, those human organs in that refrigerator, and that pair of lips on the draw string for the window shade, but you can’t tell me about love.

People say there are good men and there are bad men, but it’s because of Ed that I know there’s no difference between the two. Good men do what bad men do to somebody other than you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The War Project: Spc. Benjamin Hart Viges

I've got a new interview up at The War Project. Hart Viges was a paratrooper deployed to Iraq in 2003. He became a conscientious objector.
I got the reputation over there as the guy who ran the .50 cal every day. ‘Cause other squads, they rotated out their .50 cal gunner, Mark 19 gunner. ‘Cause that was kind of like a very vulnerable spot. If anybody was gonna get shot first, it was gonna be the guy behind the biggest gun. Me, I had a thing about me. Angelina. I’m an Angelina Jolie fan. I had to ride Angelina every single day. She was my gun.
Photos on Flickr. [INTERVIEW: Spc. Benjamin Hart Viges]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Come see me live and in person

Tomorrow, Thursday, November 18, I'll be reading a new story, "I Am Ed Gein's Widow," at the Encyclopedia Show in Austin, Texas. The event takes place at ND at 501 Studios. The evening's theme is Serial Killers. The show starts at 8 PM.
Ed wasn’t a serial killer. He was an artist. He didn’t want to kill. He wanted to transform. He wanted to be his mother, he wanted to become a woman, he wanted to be someone other than who he was. Haven’t you dreamed of the Resurrection? Of some kind of total transformation? Of waking up one day and finding you are not a giant cockroach but a beautiful, beautiful butterfly? That’s what Ed was after. Unlike most of us, he was willing to get what he needed from the graveyard in the middle of the night, if that’s what it took. To make suits of women. To transvest himself.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Killer journalism

My first post for Thought Catalog is online: "All the Stories I Never Wrote."
I also never wrote a story about a young woman whose father had died tragically and famously, and then five years and five days to the day that her father, who was very handsome and supposed to be a very good person, had been killed, she wound up being involved in a homicide. I went to her hearing after I heard she’d gotten arrested. She was 17 at the time of the incident, and she was 18 when I saw her in the courtroom: pretty and blond and small. When she walked into the courtroom through a side door, her hands were shackled to her hands, and her ankles were shackled to her ankles. She looked across the courtroom to her mother, who had really had enough hard things happen to her already in her life, and there was so much sadness and tragedy and horribleness in between them that it filled up the room.
[All the Stories I Never Wrote]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Too tall to love

Peteski sent me this.
When you're six feet tall in a 5'6" world ... there's no hiding place for you -- you're a FREAK, a walking sideshow, jeered at, different in a way no girl should be. Longing in vain to be loved -- but always rejected ... because you're ... TOO TALL TO LOVE.
My love life in a nutshell, really.

[Read it]

Friday, November 12, 2010

My thought catalog

After spending some time not being able to think of anything to write for my November guest stint at Thought Catalog, I finally thought of something. The post isn't online yet, but it's called "All the Stories I Never Wrote," and here's a snippet about one of those stories, one about a guy who lives in the San Fernando Valley.
See, I didn't write the story about him because I was afraid he would kill me. Certainly not like, ha-ha, I thought he would "kill" me, and actually in this case not literally kill me, because I spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, If I did this story, would this guy kill me?, and I thought it would be more likely what this man would do if I did a story about him, one that, shall we say, exposed him, would be to hire a couple of his friends to kidnap me and torture me and tell me if I ever wrote the story to completion, they would kill me. Because he sort of had a history of doing stuff like that. I don't know if they would kill me in the end, but I guess you could say that I've been through enough in my life that I've come to the conclusion that the human brain -- or at least this human brain -- is actually more fragile than you might think, and that it would perhaps not bear up well under being kidnapped and tortured. Especially the torture part. I think.
Check back for the link when it goes live.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A photo by Clayton Cubitt over my red sofa.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Filmmaker looking for Iraq or Afghanistan veteran to act in short film

The other day I received an email from David Gerson, a New York-based actor and filmmaker. David is casting for a short film that he's directing, and he's looking for an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran to cast in the lead.
"American Standard" is a film about the challenges of a vet returning home and readapting to civilian life. We are seeking a veteran who has served in either Iraq or Afghanistan (or both) who might be interested in "acting" in this short film. No previous experience necessary, just a familiarity with his own emotions and a willingness to share his experiences with the public.
 You can email David for more information here


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I've got more stupid advice

My latest installment of my "Stupid Advice" column for Playboy's The Smoking Jacket is now online. This time, I take on Men's Health's stupid advice about what a woman is saying by what she's wearing.
According to Jones, women have a “secret language,” and that secret language can be found in their clothing choices. While I do agree that women have a secret language, it’s not in their style. It’s in their vaginas.

Unfortunately, the contract I signed upon becoming a woman bars me from sharing that secret language – suffice to say, it’s more complicated than Klingon ...
[Stupid Advice: What Her Clothing Says About Her]

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'm at Harvard

It would appear one of my recent blog posts, "The Numbers on Self-Publishing Long Form Journalism," is on the reading list for students of a class being taught at Harvard Kennedy School this semester, "Media, Politics & Power in the Digital Age."

The post was also on the reading list for a journalism class Jay Rosen is teaching at NYU this semester.

Both of those happened because of Dave Winer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The War Project excerpt

I was in the 1-325, so we were an airborne infantry regiment, ‘cause our ancestors were gliders in World War II, and, you know, we just stand a little bit taller and talk more shit than the regular soldier, because soldier is a dirty word at Fort Bragg. You are not a soldier. You are a paratrooper.
-- An excerpt from an upcoming interview for The War Project, which should be posted next week.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Questions for Sandra Bernhard

A women's shelter on Wednesday cut headliner Sandra Bernhard from its annual benefit after she said Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin would be gang-raped if she ever visited New York. -- Huffington Post
This weekend, I'll be interviewing Sandra Bernhard. Got any questions for her? Let me know.

I just want to know if she still talks to Madonna.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Zero for your thoughts

This month, I'll be contributing some posts to Thought Catalog.

I have no idea what I'll be writing about. And since they seem to write about all sorts of things over there, I suppose I'll write about whatever happens to pass through my mind.

Perhaps I'll write about this video, seeing as it's about the most amusing thing I've encountered on the internet in, oh, the last few weeks.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Afghanistan, October, 2010

The Big Picture has posted the latest installment of its Afghanistan series: "Afghanistan, October, 2010."

Here, a Marine's helmet is decorated with lyrics from a Misfits song.


Monday, November 1, 2010

The meat girl

I'm in the process of moving. I bought a bordello red sofa. Over it, I will be hanging a print gifted to me by my photographer friend Clayton Cubitt.

It's the photo of the woman on the left. She comes from a series that Siege did for Zink magazine: Raw Flesh.

She's Sushi Barbie.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Things to keep an eye out for

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting links to various stories I'm doing for other sites. Keep an eye out for an interview with a legendary rapper, an interview with a famous lady comic, another round of Talking to Strangers, a new war story from an Iraq veteran for The War Project, another installment of my "Stupid Advice" column for The Smoking Jacket, a feature story for Boing Boing, and a new photo-and-words series of profiles I'm doing on strippers.

Check back here for links as they go live.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Name that book

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm back working on my novel. It's about a FBI agent searching for a missing porn star. It is based on my experiences writing about the adult movie industry.

Over the years, there have been various permutations of this book. There have also been various titles. They include: If Only These Hands Could Talk, Happy, Can't Hold Back the Demons, Nothing Is Real but the Girl, and others.

In all likelihood, the title will be Porn Happy. An earlier version was called this. I find it amusing. The missing porn star is named Happy. Her last name is Darling.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Faster, pussycat

"They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!" -- Lord Jim

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking for strippers

I'm doing a story on Austin, Texas-based strippers for a site. If you know of someone, or know someone who may know of someone, let me know.


Monday, October 25, 2010

About that novel

In May of 2008 (I believe) I started writing a novel. Based on the first 30 pages, I was signed by Endeavor. I finished the novel and sent it to my agent. I can't recall exactly what his response was, but it wasn't good. We parted ways.

Until last weekend, I hadn't looked at that novel since. I decided the first half was good; it was the second half that needed work. Now, I'm revising the first half. After that, I'll write the second half anew.

It's about a federal agent in search of a missing porn star.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dog tags

Last Friday, I interviewed an Iraq veteran for The War Project. This is a photograph that I took of his dog tags. The chain also holds the dog tags of various of his family members. There are five dog tags on the chain. It was only later, after I had looked at the photograph several times, that I realized the text on the newspaper under the dog tags reads, "REMEMBER."

I'll post a link here when that interview is up on the site.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Check out my Talking to Strangers story

My Talking to Strangers story for Nerve is online, "Talking to Strangers: Austin, TX."

TTS is a regular series that Nerve does, and I thought I'd try doing one, because it involved photography, and I'm far less experienced at photography than I am at interviewing and writing.

The idea is that you go out into the world with your audio recorder and your camera in hand, and you approach people you've never met and have a discussion with them about their dating life.
Tell me a crazy hookup story.

I hooked up with the bassist from The Vibrators. I thought that was pretty cool.
I am naturally an introverted person. I believe I'm an INFP. After years of talking to strangers while working on stories, I've gotten over much of the inhibition, but it's always a little daunting.

I headed over to the South Congress neighborhood of Austin, Texas. This is like the Williamsburg of Austin, or, well, Texas, really, and I knew it would likely contain the highest number of hipsters, albeit Texas hipsters. This is more the Nerve demographic.

Because I hadn't done one of these before, the editor sent me two documents. One was a model release that I had to have each interviewee sign, and the other was a two-page guideline to doing a Talking to Strangers story. Much of what was on the latter, I didn't need and knew already, but it did have a few tips on the photographs that were helpful. I have no idea what they are anymore.
What's the secret to pleasing a woman sexually?

Maybe listen to her a little bit? Actually care for her? Instead of just fucking her?
The editor wanted me to do a practice one first, so I went over to a hair salon and interviewed two stylists, both of whom ended up in the piece. The editor gave the nod on those, and, not long after, off I went to do the rest of the interviews.

Nerve asks you to interview a total of 10 people, although they usually only run five, or in my case six. I spent the better part of a late Sunday afternoon interviewing and photographing the other eight subjects.

Basically, I wandered up and down the street, looking for people who were 1) attractive, hip, and/or interesting looking in some way, and 2) looked like they would be willing to talk openly and publicly about their private life.
How many boys are you dating right now?

Um, about three boys.
I would say in total I asked maybe 16 people and got 10 yeses. I would say the most common no was from very attractive women. Very attractive women get talked to all the time; why do they need to talk to you? It made me feel bad for guys who try and talk to very attractive women. Very attractive women are a pain in the ass. Unless they want something from you.

I believe I interviewed a total of five men and five women, although it may have been six women and four men. I figured readers would be more interested in women than men. Women are nicer to look at than men.
Do more girls like to do reverse cowgirl in Texas?

I haven't really had sex outside of Texas. All the girls here, they're into it.
I found Leda working in a restaurant as a waitress. She was really darling and very chatty. Scott was selling his vintage goods at kind of a stand near an Airstream trailer selling cupcakes. Kelly was working at a hair salon. She was terrifically forthcoming and very pretty. Memphis was working at the same hair salon and very tall. Susan was working at a video store and is maybe my favorite; I love, love, love her photo, and her interview was hilarious. Aaron was looking all broody and sexy at an open-air coffee shop and was cool.

If the person was in a sort of public area -- for example, Leda was working -- I would drag them off to a place that was a bit more quiet. I think the interviews are only supposed to take about five minutes, but getting anything interesting out of someone in five minutes isn't easy, so most of mine ran about eight to ten minutes.

I asked them what they did for a living, if that was a good place to meet people for dating, what the Austin dating scene is like, if they believe in "the one," what their best and worst hook up stories were, and about their sex lives.

Since I've interviewed a lot of people about sex, this last wasn't hard, although it may be hard for someone else. People were pretty forthcoming about their private sexual stuff. Mostly, I've found, if you act like you don't care, and I don't, people will tell you pretty much anything.
Has anyone ever surprised you in bed?

I've had annoying things, like the guy who asked if he could come on my face, and I was like, "I'm not feeling it today," and he just did it anyway.
Probably my favorite story is Susan's but you have to to go the story and read it for yourself. Sex is pretty absurd, and so is her story.

For me, taking the photos was the most nerve-wracking part. I lack confidence in my photo-taking skills, but that's why I was there in the first place, to get more comfortable doing it. To "play" photographer, I guess.

I tried to find a place where the light was good. I attempted to put them in front of an interesting background. Leda and I both liked the green wall behind her. I think my favorite photo is Susan's, which you see here, and which we almost didn't do, but it came out great.

In any case, I'm glad I had the experience, I think it turned out well, and I thank everyone who allowed themselves to be interviewed and photographed for it.
Do you believe in "The One"?

I don't believe in a single one. I think there are several options, and it all has to do with timing, and where you are in your life. I don't believe in destiny or anything like that. I think in your lifetime, you'll probably encounter the quote-unquote one three or four times.
Oh, the ones that were left on the cutting room floor. There were four that didn't make it. One was of an African-American woman who loved sex, used to be a dancer, and had a very sweet story. Another was a guy who worked at a candy shop, who had a spectacularly obscene story about an ad he put on Craigslist; he may not have made it because of how obscene (and I mean that in a good way) his story was. There was another young woman who had had nine Margaritas. And there was one girl who was in a band, who I'm glad they cut, because she was the one person I interviewed who was an absolute turd. She was hipsterier-than-thou, cagey, and generally an ass. Also, rude. If you don't want to be interviewed by me, don't say yes. And your band sucks. And so did her photograph. Since I obviously didn't like her. Anyway, one bad apple, etc.

[Talking to Strangers: Austin, TX]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I've got stupid advice

My new column for Playboy's SFW site, The Smoking Jacket, is online. For the first installment, I talk about why cheating on your wife, as recommended by Details magazine, probably really isn't such a good idea after all.
If you open up your marriage, you’re going to have to accept that she may play the field, too. After all, if you are, why not her, too? Yes, that may conjure up exciting fantasies of you having sex with her and her hot hairstylist, but you may want to also consider how you would feel about the idea of her getting it doggie style from Larry at the supermarket. That is not so hot, is it?
[Stupid Advice: Cheat to Save Your Marriage]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The numbers on self-publishing long form journalism [updated]

A year ago, I self-published a 10,000-word story on how the recession had impacted the adult movie industry, "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?"

In April of 2009, I had spent a week in Los Angeles, interviewing adult performers and visiting adult movie sets. The story had been written for a publication, but after filing it, I had pulled it. I had done so for a variety of reasons, among them that I realized early on that I did not believe the editor was going to run the piece as I felt it should be run and that in that process I would lose control over the piece.

Initially, I shopped the story around to other publications, but all passed on publishing it. After that, I sat on the story for a while, unsure what to do. Ultimately, I decided to publish it myself. I hired designer and illustrator Chris Bishop, who I had worked with previously, to build and design the site. It would also feature photographs that I had taken while working on the story in the San Fernando Valley. And I hired Joanne Hinkel to copy edit the story.

On October 13, 2009, the site launched.
  • On the 13th, there were 8,960 visitors.
  • On the 14th, there were 18,217 visitors.
  • On the 15th, there were 11,268 visitors.
  • On the 16th, there were 11,318 visitors.
  • On the 17th, there were 23,817 visitors.
  • On the 18th, there were 20,021 visitors.
  • On the 19th, there were 14,988 visitors.
I received more email responses to this story than anything else I've published. The emails were overwhelmingly positive. People also seemed to respond positively to the fact that it had been self-published. I believe that people gathered it was a labor of love. There was no charge to read it. There was no advertising. It wasn't one more piece of content being sold in service of a brand. It wasn't one more story masquerading as a platform for advertising content.

Boing Boing called the story "bold and ambitious." Warren Ellis deemed it "brilliant." A commenter on Metafilter wrote, "Ms. Breslin has changed the way I think about the business of making pornography."

The numbers, according to Google Analytics, since the story was published:
  • Visits: 275,933
  • Unique Visitors: 219,153
  • Page Views: 1,249,042
  • Average Page Views: 4.53
  • Average Time on Site: 7:18
  • Bounce Rate: 22.83%
The majority of visitors are from the US, followed by Germany, Canada, the UK, and France. Others come from Trinidad, Congo, Iraq, Kazakhstan, and Papau New Guinea, among 197 other countries and territories. The most common search terms include "they shoot stars," "susannah breslin," and "porn stars."

Based on the numbers and the response, I feel this act of self-publishing was a success. But for me, it was more about being able to present my story the way it should be presented. Most people have no experience with the adult industry, and it never made sense to me why I should let an editor, a publication, or the insidious effects of a marketing department dictate the terms of my work. By retaining complete control over the story, I was able to maintain complete control over the truth of the story. And to me, that's what mattered in the end.

Update: I sent Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit a link to this story, to which he responded, "But how does it pay?" To which I responded, "Let me know when you figure that one out."

Of course, this is a question everyone is attempting to answering in journalism today, and I don't know the answer. For this story, generating advertising revenue would have been tricky, based on the explicit nature of the content. I published this story at a loss, financially speaking. I paid for the trip to Los Angeles and the cost of self-publishing.

My goal in this instance was to experiment with self-publishing. Would people read it? Would I enjoy the process? One year later, would I feel a sense of satisfaction and/or accomplishment? The answer to all those questions is yes.

It's also possible that the story did help me generate income indirectly. It certainly sent more visitors to my blog, it enabled me to showcase my abilities as a journalist, and I occasionally send it out as a sample clip in the process of securing other paid writing work.

Frankly, I feel like asking how it pays is beside the point. It paid me in non-monetary ways. Oftentimes, paid work degrades. This work inspired. That was pay enough for me at this juncture.

Considering how shitty much of the content generated online is these days, I felt relieved to be off the money track, a road that can lead to a real lack that goes beyond money.

Update 2:
Ms. Breslin:

I read your article on They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They? with some personal interest; I had considered getting involved in the production & sales end of the business at one point in my life, and these days I'm looking at doing a book on [redacted]. I hope I'm not the hundredth reader to ask this, but what stopped you from putting a Paypal link on that web page and asking readers to throw you some cash if they liked the story or found it interesting? There's damn little objective reporting on the porn business, as you know all too well, and even if the book publishers don't think the story will sell, you have hundreds of thousands of people that prove otherwise. There was also the possibility of putting up Google ads or links to appropriate products from Amazon.

Finally, e-books are beginning to form a distinct market out there, and authors are beginning to get their work out to Kindle and Nook and iPad owners without having to get bent over by Random House/Bertelsmann/whoever to do it. I know I'd pay 4-5 bucks to see your story in e-book form, and more to see a longer version.

I understand that your main thing is researching and writing, not fighting with your website to get some widget to work right so it can maybe throw you a couple bucks, but there are journalists making the freelance online thing work. Michael Yon is just one example; surely if he can attract a large enough body of readers to support him flying off to Afghanistan and other craphole Third World places to report on the wars, you can attract enough readers to keep casting a cold, objective eye on the porn biz. Good luck to you, whatever you decide to do; know that you have at least one reader who wants to see more and wouldn't mind paying for it.

Best wishes,
I've received two emails since this post ran this morning asking this same question. Why didn't I post a PayPal link with the story or otherwise attempt to monetize it? It's a valid question, and there are a few answers.

I know I considered doing so, but ultimately decided against it. Simply, I was exhausted by book publishers, by literary agents, by editors, and the endless questions of monetization, which were just that, questions, not answers, and I believed that in order to find answers I had to take action. I didn't want to figure out how much to charge through PayPal, write copy attempting to get people to pay for the pleasure of reading the story, and, most importantly, I didn't want financial concerns to toxify this experience. I was lucky enough to have a day job as an editor that afforded me that luxury. It was a gift. Instead of sitting around thinking about monetizing my writing, I wanted to write, to publish, to create. So, I did.
Because the fundamental thing each of the speakers has in common, the one possible mistake they're all making, the one variable they refuse to consider is the possibility that other people might do what they do, for no pay. -- Dave Winer
That said, and that goal met, I would like to experiment with creating this kind of work and generating income from it. But I think I had to separate the two in my head, before I could begin to figure out how to do the two together.

Also, it's interesting to note that both emails referenced Michael Yon, of whom I am a fan. The monetizing is the parallel, but I find it amusing there may also be a parallel between writing about the porn industry and writing about life in a war zone.