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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is porn a legitimate business?

I wrote a story on the adult movie industry's quest to be perceived as a "legitimate" business for
While some porn companies, such as Private Media Group (PRVT) and New Frontier Media (NOOF), operate like any other business, most aren’t run like Fortune 500 companies. In truth, the porn business operates a lot more like the drug business. There are no pristine halls in towering skyscrapers wherein neatly attired businesspeople churn out reams of porn. The majority of adult video businesses are small operations run out of nondescript warehouses on unremarkable streets in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley.
[Think Porn Is a Legitimate Business? Think Again.]

Friday, October 15, 2010

See me live

On November 11, I'll be performing in The Encyclopedia Show in Austin, Texas. It's a little bit entertainment and a little bit education. This show's theme is Serial Killers.
Though the show is accredited by the Institute of Human Knowledge and Hygiene, it is our ongoing mission to chafe against logic and proof, find meaning in obfuscation, and wrest truth from fact for good.
Hosts Michael Graupmann and Ralph Hardest assigned me the subject of Ed Gein.
Searching the house, authorities found a number of items:
* Four noses
* Whole human bones and fragments
* Nine masks of human skin
* Bowls made from human skulls
* Ten female heads with the tops sawed off
* Human skin covering several chair seats
* Mary Hogan's head in a paper bag
* Bernice Worden's head in a burlap sack
* Nine vulvas in a shoe box
* Skulls on his bedposts
* Organs in the refrigerator
* A pair of lips on a draw string for a windowshade
The 8 PM show will be at ND at 501 Studios, which is located at the corner of 5th and Brushy. Admission is $6, and there is an open bar.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep an eye out

I've got some new stories coming out online in the near future.

The Smoking Jacket, Playboy's newish SFW site, will be posting the first installment of my new column, "Stupid Advice." In it, I'll be pointing out men's magazine articles in which the authors offer up stupid advice for men, explain why it's stupid, and possibly even offer up some not stupid advice of my own.

Next week, will be posting my Talking to Strangers story. I talked to strangers about dating and their personal lives. It includes photo portraits that I took of the interviewees. It's a doozy.

Minyanville will run a story I'm writing on the adult movie industry and the latest HIV outbreak. What are the media reports not telling you? Find out.

Check back here, where I'll be posting links to these stories as they go live.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Shot with my iPhone.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quote of the day

I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born. -- Oriana Fallaci

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking to strangers

I'm working on a story that'll run as part of's Talking to Strangers series. Basically, you walk up to strangers and interview them about dating and their personal lives. Then you snap their photo.

This is the most direction I've gotten thus far as a photographer. It primarily consisted of stuff written on a sheet that were dos and don'ts, and I was told to stop cutting off the tops of people's head, which I attempted to do, but not always successfully.

This is a shot of Leda, who is a waitress, and very adorable. She climbed up on a bench while I took her photo. We both liked the green wall.
Tell me a crazy hookup story.

I hooked up with the bassist from The Vibrators. I thought that was pretty cool.
I'll post a link to the story when it's online.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Update on The War Project

Recently, I took a break from updating The War Project -- an independent, online project I'm doing featuring the stories of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan -- while I relocated, but now that I'm settled in, I'm back to it.

If you're a veteran interested in participating, or if you know a veteran who may be interested in participating in this project, email to find out more.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Welcome to the body shop

Shot on my iPhone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My interview with Edward Norton

I interviewed Edward Norton for We talked about his new movie, "Stone," sex scenes with Milla Jovovich, and whether or not he terrorized Robert De Niro on set.
What were those guys in for?

Actually both very much what we had Stone set up as: guys who had been involved in the drug trade and the gang life from a very young age, and pretty much been in and out — through juvie, and everything. One of them in particular was, to me, very poignantly in the same state Stone is in. In fact, he was up for parole this spring, and he was approaching that, and he was extremely, extremely, intensely agitated about it, dwelling on it, very, very forthright about, you know, the fact that he felt, in a weird way, that he had never been given a platform for a sense of a spiritual life, that he’d been cobbling it together. He really was this fascinating kind of grab bag of references from Power of Now to Buddhism primers that he had read to, like, Scientology. He literally was this crazy, autodidactic spiritual cobbler, and it was affecting. He was very affecting. He was the one who had that voice. He had this really shattered, cracky, husky, weird voice.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

They call this work

If you ever find yourself wondering, who put together that Pulitzer Prize-winning slide show of girls doing tricks with their boobs, that was me.

The video you see here was created by noted boob master Clayton Cubitt.

You can watch a girl pop the top off a bottle of beer with her right tit here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to get a writing job

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity." -- Hunter S. Thompson

Friday, October 1, 2010

Portrait of the artist in a wheelchair

This photo is for a feature I'm working on for Boing Boing. (I'll post the link when it's online.) This is a photograph of a painter who is in a wheelchair. He's also a veteran. He told me about how he used to be cranky all the time, but not anymore, and he said he didn't want to talk about the war, because it gave him nightmares, and when I found him out front on a turquoise ramp smoking a cigarette, he took off his hat while I took his picture.

You can only see a part of it, but the painting, which is big, is of Jesus. I said, stupidly, what's that one called, and he said, "The Resurrection." It was Jesus coming out of the cave. He had attached a real, smaller staff to the canvas.

In any case, more to come.