What are you up to, Andrea Askowitz?

Two weeks ago, you met Jan Becker,  MFA candidate at Florida International University and contributor to All That Glitters, a nonfiction collection edited by Corey Ginsberg, Nicholas Garnett, and M.J. Fievre.

Today, meet Andrea Askowitz, author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy. Her stories have appeared in the New York Times, Salon.com, Jewcy.com, and NPR.  She teaches memoir writing at Lip Service Institute.  She is creator of Lip Service:  true-stories out loud, one of the most popular literary events in Miami.  She’s at work on a book of stories currently titled, Listen to This or maybe Don’t You Know I’m Famous?  Andrea grew up in Miami where she lives with her wife Victoria and children Natasha, Sebastian and Beast.


Andrea also contributed to All That Glitters, to be released online on October 1st, 2013 (along with Issue 7 of Sliver of Stone Magazine). If you want to be a VIP, though, here’s the thing: On September 21, we’ll conduct a special sale at Lip Service, at the Miracle Theater, in Coral Gables.

Okay, so here’s our interview with Andrea:

MJ: In your book, My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy, you describe—well—your pregnancy. Today, your daughter Tashi is 9 years old. Do you feel that attitudes are changing in South Florida concerning gay parenting and gay issues?

AA: Yes, I think attitudes are changing. For sure. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. But even in Miami, attitudes are changing. There are more of us out. Natasha’s first grade class had three out gay families. Three in one public elementary school in South Miami. It was our own little Castro.

MJ: What is the most important lesson in life you can give a child?

AA: Wow, most important lesson in life for a child? Always be yourself. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. I don’t know.

MJ: At the end of your story, Under the Covers, you ponder the questions, “Did [my daughter] understand licking a girl’s breast as sexual? Wasn’t it okay even if she did?” Did you ever come up with satisfying answers?

AA: I actually think it is okay if my daughter did what she did and felt it sexually. We have bodies. Sexual feelings are natural. I think in the story I was asking the question rhetorically.

I just realized something about one of the questions in the story. “Does Tashi understand licking someone’s breast as sexual?” That question is the wrong question. I am quite sure she had NO understanding of sex. She doesn’t understand sex now and she’s nine. But it’s possible that she felt something sexual. I would edit the story today to something like, “Does Tashi feel something sexual? Isn’t okay if she does?” Stories are never finished.

MJ: Lip Service recently won the Knight Arts Challenge. Wow! How did that impact the program?

AA: Lip Service won a Knight Arts Challenge Grant. I’m so proud. It doesn’t change what we do; it just gives  Lip Service a giant stamp of approval.

MJ: What are you working on now?

AA: Natasha is now 9, and I’ve just finished a draft of a book of stories. Sometimes when I think of my daughter’s age, I also think, what the @&$”@!! have I been doing all these years. It’s stories about me. Stories about a woman who needs lots of attention.

The (not-so-soft) touch of Nick Garnett

Last year, Sliver of Stone Magazine welcomed Nicholas Garnett as its Nonfiction Editor.

Now we get to pick his brain…

Nicholas Garnett received his MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, where he teaches creative writing. He’s also a frequent instructor for the Center for Literature and Theatre at Miami Dade College, and nonfiction editor of the literary journal Sliver of Stone. Nicholas is a recipient of residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Writing Colony. His writing has appeared in Salon, Sliver of Stone, R-KV-RY Quarterly, and The Florida Book Review. His work has been anthologized in Sundress Publications’ “Best of the Net” and Cleis Press’ Best Sex Writing of 2013.

Garnett headshot

2013© Carl Juste/Iris PhotoCollective.com

And now, ladies and gentlemen, meet Nicholas Garnett:

M.J. Fievre: Your nonfiction voice is gripping—straightforward, but laced with just the right dose of humor. I’ll go on any ride with you.  When did you first realize you wanted to give a special place to writing in your life?

Nicholas Garnett: I’m not one of those people who started writing early.  I wasn’t scrawling stories on the back of my Capt. Crunch.  But I grew up in a household that valued stories and storytelling.  Stories were the vehicle for transmitting family history, for entertainment, for connection.  I read a lot, but I was well in my 40s, following a divorce and relocation, that I devoted myself to telling stories on the page.

MJ: You have a talent for characterization. In All That Glitters, Billie Dennis, the “mercurial gay man” with a toupee, becomes alive on the page. That makes me want to ask you about your craft. What can you tell me about your writing process?

NG: If you’re very lucky, someone like a Billie Dennis—larger than life, complex, contradictory, and damaged—will fall into your lap (so to speak).  For a writer, people like that are golden. If you’re writing nonfiction, all you have to do is choose the right elements to put on the page.  I don’t mean to minimize that process—it can be difficult to know what to portray and what to leave out.  But the character is there, fully formed.  And in fiction, you can use those real-life characters as the “starter kits” for interesting fictional characters.

MJ: After publishing All That Glitters, you joined the staff of Sliver of Stone Magazine. Tell us about your experience there.

NG:  When I began editing for SofS, I’d just finished my MFA.  The experience has allowed me to put into practice a lot of what I learned in that program.  In most aspects of my life, I’m a soft touch.  But, for some reason, I’m a pretty tough editor.  I’ve been able to say “no” to some talented writers and critique the writing of folks who are far more accomplished and experienced than I am.  The payoff is that I’ve worked with writers to bring stories that I’m proud of to the magazine.  I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from the contributors I’ve edited.  That’s tremendously satisfying.

MJ: In All That Glitters, referring to your job at the dining hall of the George Meaney Center for Labor Studies, Billie Dennis advised, “Don’t get caught up in something like this. […] You can do better.” So what did you get caught up in, after college?

NG: Like many writers, I did a million things.  Mostly, I tried to shove myself into “respectable” jobs that made me feel horrible about myself. Writing is the first thing that has made me feel as though I have a rightful place in the world.

MJ: As far as writing goes, what are you working on?

NG: I’m in the process of fictionalizing a memoir, which had—practically and creatively—hit a dead end.  I thought that fictionalizing the story would feel more like another rewrite.   Instead, I’m writing a story that is 95% new. It’s been a revelation.  By not having to stick to the facts I can actually get closer to the truth.  Who knew?

Nicholas Garnett will be reading at the next Lip Service, on September 21, at the Miracle Theater, in Coral Gables, FL.