Book Reviews

Farmhouse Magazine Interview, Katie Schwartz

Interview with Editor-in-Chief, Mike Dell’Aquila of Farmhouse Magazine

Your own writing style:

You mix comedy with very serious, cutting insights.  Do you think that making people laugh allows you to dig a little deeper toward the truth?

Though I love projecting because it’s such a no-brainer callisthenic, I’ve trained myself to focus more on self-sport guilt and shame to avoid making others feel like I’m speaking for them.

When an idea is couched in comedy, it’s easier for me to digest. My writing is an extension of that. I hope people who read my book, Emotionally Pantsed feel as connected to others as I did when I wrote it.

I’m drawn to subversive comedy and writing about phobias, life, the inane, death, sickness, marriage, divorce, illness, abortion, menstruation, sex, etc. etc. etc. The caveat was writing about my Graves’  disease (a type of hyperthyroidism), my dog’s death and winding up in a psychiatrist’s office, things I wrote about in my book. Thank God for my editor, Amy Guth because she helped me find balance between honest humor and honesty without humor, something that was more difficult than I realized.

As a kid we relocated a lot, no, we turned it into a lifestyle. Attending up to as many as three to four schools in a year some years, if I wanted to make friends, and I did, being funny was the only way to go. Having hilarious parents and extended family cultivated that. Comedy was a coping mechanism, okay, it still is I admit it; the difference is that I’m aware of it. I figure, if I need a coping mechanism, there is an upside, comedy is fat free and doesn’t leave needle marks. Additionally, Graves’ shifted my perspective, to look at myself and situations with patience and greater objectivity, which is apparent in my writing, I think.

How has your writing style/voice evolved over time?

When I first started writing, I wrote jokes for myself and a few other comedians. At first, the material was primarily about shock value. I was young and performing at mostly gay venues, which was an extraordinary and fortunate experience. I could be as blue as I wanted to be and feel embraced for saying whatever I wanted to. That freedom helped shape my voice. I also learned that it wasn’t the performing I loved, it was the writing.

When I write essays, I’m interested in non-fiction. If they are fiction, I prefer they be rooted in a degree of truth. The plays I write are both fiction and non-fiction, mostly non-fiction though, and other works are completely fiction. Knowing all of that has also helped. Basically, I know what I really want to write.

Have you always set out to be a humorist, or has it been a transformation as a result of painful events?

There has never been a day in my life when I didn’t want to write comedy. The difference is that I used to write about embarrassing things, whereas now I can also write about the painful things. I once wrote a dramatic piece and it read like a soap opera peppered in Hallmark card one-liners, infused with overly dramatic cliches. It was that awful. Shame. Shame. Shame.

I’m most comfortable writing comedy; it feels like a healthy beating heart that can’t stop. An organic, healing and liberating style of writing, which is why I think I love it as much as I do.

Who are the writers that you love?

Ooh, child, there are so many writers and song writers, where do I begin? Oy, okay. Charles Bukowski, Adrienne Rich, Jenny Bicks, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Steinem, David & Amy Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Neil Simon, Michael Patrick King, Cindy Chupack, Eminem, Woody Allen, Reinaldo Arenas, John Waters, Norman Lear, Nora Ephron, Pedro Almodovar, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Atwood, Virgina Woolf, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Alice Walker, Gertrude Stein, and I could go on for days.

What are the landmark works that inspired you along the way?

The two that stand-out the most are Women by Charles Bukowski because it was fearless and irreverent and that inspired the hell out of me. If I see that I’m hedging when I write, I recall Women for a snap-out-of-it slap in the face. It usually works. The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich marks a celebration of the strength and beauty of a woman’s voice, intellectually, physically and romantically. It’s unflinching in that commitment and has influenced me to bring those characteristics to my work.

In Emotionally Pantsed, you maintain an almost post-modern version of feminism; do you feel that honesty and humor are more effective methods of communicating ideas of equality than aggressive rhetoric?  If so, why?

Gosh, thanks.

I think both have tremendous value and importance. Had Suffrage and Women’s Lib been any less aggressive in pursuing their agenda, I don’t think I would have the landscape of opportunities I now have.

It is my preference to utilize humor as a vehicle for communicating the vitality and spirit of feminism and equality. As a society, to achieve equality, awareness and education are imperative.

I hope that each person expresses their idea of feminism and equality in a way that is most comfortable to them.

What are your feelings about modern feminism?

I’m not seeing as much camaraderie amongst women as I’d like to see. There’s a lack of sisterhood and that makes me blue. I’ve noticed that teenage girls and young women lack a strong sense of themselves as women, not realizing how much power they have. There’s a misconception that feminism is comprised of man hating militant chicks, which is completely untrue. I think that comes from lack of education and awareness. There are so many positive women who represent varying degrees and aspects of feminism. I know a lot of feminists and not one of them hate men. I’ve never dated or relationshiped with a man who didn’t love and respect women and feminist ideas. Some women I know in their thirties have abandoned feminism because they think it’s a turn-off to men. That irritates the fuck out of me, I admit it.

I love women, I think we’re fabulous and I want more women to love women. The majority of my girlfriends are feminists by their design and they love women as much as I do.

I’ve never trusted women who say, I only have male friends. Or, I don’t like women. How can you not love women if you’re a woman?! How does that make sense? I want to understand it, but have difficulty doing so. Would it kill us to demonstrate a semblance of love and appreciation for each other, is that so much to ask?! I’m not saying all broads should walk down the street saying, Oh, she’s a V, we must BFF right now. That’s not a reality, but you don’t have to stab a girl in the back or behave like a cunt. What does that achieve?! Throw a broad a bone, you got nuttin tah lose and everything to gain. You feel me?

You’re Relationship with Technology:

How do you feel that the Internet has helped writers?

Established writers have broadened their readership and new writers have garnered an audience. It’s a flawless medium to get your work out there. Writers have had their work published in print, online and sold manuscripts look at me. I sold my manuscript to So New Media Publishing, an incredible indie publishing company that publishes web based writers, both established and up and coming. They’re wonderful. Television shows and films have been developed and sold based on viral videos and blogs it’s a breeding ground for burgeoning talent. For budding magazines, zines and indie press/publishing companies, the internet is equally opportunistic. Viral tools and social networking enable content creators to reach millions without spending a dime, that’s sweet, yo. The websicle is also a wonderful place to connect with individuals you might not have access to via phone or post. Send out a lil e-stalk inquiry and chances are the e-stalk-ee will be more receptive to what you’re hawking. If I wasn’t so commitment phobic, I’d marry the internet. Is that creepy?

Do you feel like it might also have its drawbacks?

Sure, it can be addictive and isolating. There’s also a false sense of security. It’s important to be careful and smart. Feel a person out before giving them your personal info, even if it is for networking or a writing gig.

I don’t know if AA has already come up with an internet addiction program to 12-step your way out of it, but I did find this juicy dish, A Free Live Online and Offline Help & Support Group for Internet-a-holics & their Loved Ones. I don’t know anything about the website, but shouldn’t support take place offline? Seems like a cruel joke if the net is an addicts drug of choice. It would be like asking me to discuss my addiction to dairy in front of a buffet with my favorite cheese centric foods. I’d be crawling the walls, ready to shoot up brie.

Not all writing opportunities offer payment. If you’re seeking exposure or credibility, there are a ton of magazines and zines that are worth pursuing, even though you won’t get paid. Farmhouse is one of those magazines (not to shamelessly plug the hand that feeds me). In all seriousness, you support promising writers and truly get their work out there. That’s the spirit of the internet in a nutshell and the kind of prospect writers should pursue.

Do you believe that the blogs and online magazines community leads to further segmentation/isolation of the literary world, or that writers and organizations can truly form a cohesive, coherent community?

I think that a cohesive community can and should be cultivated. I also think it is happening, perhaps chiefly in indie circles. We all gain so much more as a community online and offline. I know some no-joke brick and mortar folks still reticent to jump on the i-wagon. It’s worth taking the plunge, I say go for it instead of fighting it.

What are your feelings about the transparency of social networking websites?  Does the false sense of privacy scare you?  Are you willing to accept that it’s just the way our culture is moving?

Social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Okurt, etc. are outstanding tools for introducing your work to people. As I said before, you have to be smart. Don’t post your phone number or mailing address. If you’re meeting someone, get together in a well lit, highly populated area. Be smart and safe. Capisce? Capisce!

Thanks for having me, toots. Love the House of Farm! Always have and always will.

Book Reviews

Emotionally Pantsed Review, Jonuel Pozo

We were on the precipice of a hostile vaginal takeover. I googled my first blowjob for no particular reason. In this bombastic and compassionate parable of loss and disorientation, Katie Schwartz’s debut essay collection Emotionally Pantsed details her journey of falling apart in a million pieces to her quest to try to find the courage to put herself back together.

An irreverently honest confessional, inventing words when hyperboles simply do not suffice; Schwartz effortlessly emerges as a dominatrix of content and style. Skillfully conveying the absurdities and travesties of life with a devilish smile, while pointing to the triumph of the human spirit, her tales are destined to make a splash in the literary underground circles.

Book Reviews

A Review of Katie Schwartz’s Emotionally Pantsed by Mike Dell’Aquila

As if the ego were a living, breathing thing needing to be disrobed, Katie Schwartz bares all in her charmingly neurotic collection of essays, Emotionally Pantsed.  Throughout the book, she effortlessly breezes past her sexual misadventures, strained familial relationships and many of the other territories that drown the modern memoir in a sea of self-absorption, giving readers a fair and painfully honest account of herself without settling on superficial narratives or cheap laughs.

Her style, while conversational and confessional, is an entertaining sleight of hand trick.  Clever turns of phrase and truly comedic moments cast a humorous light on what is actually quite a dark terrain.  From one essay to the next, Emotionally Pantsed becomes increasingly tragic, as if we are all staring too long at a person’s private parts that were exposed against their will the initial laughter gives way to the somber realization that we are all poking fun at a much more vulnerable, fragile person than we realized.

While emotional instability is the current that runs through the entire book, Schwartz oscillates between serious social commentary and absurd asides while painting a very intimate portrait of a modern woman who’s constantly struggling to keep her head afloat.

Schwartz is meticulous and cunning, making her readers feel like they are part of her world.  The more that she draws us in, the harder it is to watch as each layer of emotional clothing is stripped away.  While readers will alternate between wincing from discomfort and gawking with anticipation, Schwartz’s bait-and-switch routine ultimately forces them to part with all of the labels and comfortable cliche’s that she formerly hid behind.

By the end of the work, she is no longer a fast-talking Jewish-American woman whose body issues, neuroses and sexuality can be so easily dissected: she is naked, unarmed and incapable of running away from the reality that she is trapped inside of her skin and forced to play the hand she was dealt a discovery so harrowing to our Teflon narrator that we have no choice but to start peeking beneath our own layers of comfort with a fresh set of eyes.