Tag Archives: Audrey Beth Stein

Author Interview: Audrey Beth Stein
Author Interviews
June 21, 2010 posted by Nikki

Author Interview: Audrey Beth Stein

We’re featuring Audrey’s memoir, Map, for the month of June here at yaReads. Her story is a brave account of her life as she explores her sexuality, and her candidness continues in this interview. Enjoy yaReaders!

For those that may not know, what is a memoir?

It’s a true story, usually focused on one time period or theme in the life of a regular person, as opposed to an autobiography which is generally about the entire life-to-date of someone famous.  So for instance my memoir Map is a coming-of-age story about a time when it was easier to admit that you were in love with another girl than that you’d met someone on the internet.

Did you decide to use alias names for the people in your story, or did you just tell it how it was?

It was important to me tell the truth, both factually and emotionally, as best as I could.  I even used old credit card receipts and telephone bills and emails to remember facts.  But to respect people’s privacy I used pseudonyms for almost every character in Map, except in the case of two minor characters who gave me explicit permission to use their real names.

How long did MAP take you to write?

Nine-and-a-half years, start to finish.  The first draft took me only a couple of months, but I left out the climax!  My writing group was pretty insistent that that wasn’t allowed.  It took some time for me to get comfortable enough to share the hard parts.  And then with each successive draft, I heard “more,” or “deeper,” or “you need more perspective,” until finally the story was on the page the way it needed to be.

Would you say that writing a memoir is easier, or harder than writing fiction?

Ooh, good question.  I think they’re challenging in different ways.  In both cases, you need to be able to tell a good story and bring compelling characters alive on the page, and neither lets you evade emotional truth if you are doing it well.  I think for me, memoir’s largest challenge was how to write both honestly and respectfully about other real live human beings—many of whom were still a part of my life.  With the novel I recently finished, on the other hand, I had to work to understand multiple characters so that their motivations and actions, not my authorial plot-needs, were driving the story.

At the beginning of MAP, you question your sexuality and essentially conclude that you’re bisexual. Although you were cautious about coming out, it didn’t ever seem like you were completely scared or feared any kind of social rejection. Can you talk about your feelings on this subject?

I’m still not sure how much of my experience was luck of environment. By the time I came out, there were plenty of queer people around me, and I’d witnessed parts of the coming out of a few gay friends and acquaintances.  Some of them had challenges with their families, or with their own comfort levels, but if they experienced any social rejection, I was completely oblivious.  There just didn’t seem to be anything to worry about in that arena.  And I grew up with activist parents, and although their activism was mostly centered around the Jewish community, it was unfathomable that they wouldn’t be supportive of gay rights and whatnot.  So where a lot of people might worry about homophobia, I was more concerned that people would realize I was confused about something, that I wasn’t as “together” and know-it-all as I pretended to be.

How does falling in love with someone you’ve never met in person differ to the more ‘conventional’ way?

Emotionally, I think it’s very much the same, and the differences I’ve experienced in more recent relationships have more to do with the fact that they aren’t “first love.”  But you do miss out on body language, on eye contact, on touch, on scent, which are all different ways to know a person. You find different sort of rhythms.  There’s an intensity to it, a focus and an adrenaline rush that heightens feeling. You rely a lot on voice, both telephone and written, which I think might be hard if the object of your affections was more kinesthetically or visually inclined.  In either situation, you face the challenge of trying to grow an initial falling in love into a sustainable relationship, and although I’ve seen it done successfully both ways, I think the sooner you are fully “in person” present with each other, the better your chances.

Looking back on your relationship with Catrina, do you think that perhaps when reality set in that you were going to meet in person, she freaked out?

I could speculate, but ultimately she is the only one who knows what was going on for her.  It definitely upped the stakes.

Although your relationship with Catrina didn’t work out so great in the end, it appears that she was exactly who she said she was. What advice can you give to teens that might be pursuing online relationships about the dangers associated with meeting online friends?

Don’t do it!  You might get your heart broken!  Just kidding… but there’s always a risk of online chemistry (friendship or otherwise) not translating to in-person interactions.  There’s a great essay by Meghan Daum that I read when I was first working on Map called “On the Fringes of the Physical World” which captures this dynamic and the disappointment really well.  Of course the other danger is the physical safety one, and for that the usual blind date precautions apply: let someone else know where you are going, meet in a public place, have plenty of extra cash and your own way to get home, stay sober and trust your instincts and don’t let embarrassment trump safety.  Someone worth spending time with is going to respect your boundaries, no matter how cautious or quirky, and if you rush off in weird panic and later decide you were overreacting, you can always send an email the next day.

I like this notion of committing to finding a soul mate, not a gender… do you still believe in that, or do you identify more as a lesbian these days?

The “not a gender” part, yes, I still believe, and as to identity, I usually describe myself as queer.  As I get older, “soul mate” speaks to me less than “right choice.”  I think our initial choice of partner is hugely important, but it is over time that we discover whether we are on compatible paths, how we interact, how well we can grow together.  Sometimes right choice means recognizing incompatibility and breaking up. But when we continue to choose each other, choose to give, choose to create something together, choose to make room in our lives for the entirety of another person as they are and as they may become, that’s huge, and it is those continued choices over time that make a partnership.

What happened to the novel that you were working on in MAP?

The novel turned into a short story called The Pre-Fame Days

The short story I was writing in Map, which is called On the Eighth Day came in second place in a national short story contest, and then I got more curious about the characters and spent eight years turning the story into a novel that I’ve begun shopping around to agents and publishers.  (Any agents or publishers reading this, I’d love to hear from you!)

What is in your to-be-read pile right now?

Meghan Daum’s new book, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House.  A book about homeschooling that I picked up at a library book sale… I love reading about education.  Barbara Kingsolver’s The LacunaNature Girl by Jane Kelley – a YA novel I discovered on GoodReads about an eleven-year-old who gets lost on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont and decides to hike to Massachusetts to visit her best friend.

If there was going to be a movie made about your story, who would you want to see play Audrey?

I think Winona Ryder, circa 1994, might play me well.  I shudder to think of my life being turned into a movie though.

I love the rock references in your story. What are you listening to these days?

Well I still listen to the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco, though not nearly as often, and I’ve been a huge Kris Delmhorst fan since about the time I started writing Map.  One of my cousins turned me on to the Israeli singer Miri Mesika… she’s wonderful.  And I’ve been soaking up Mary Chapin Carpenter’s newest CD, The Age of Miracles.

For the gay teens of our community that might be struggling with their identity and/or coming out, what advice would you give to them?

Trust yourself, take the time you need, and it’s okay to not be sure or to come out as “questioning.”  A world full of richness awaits you and often the good stuff involves taking risks, so start practicing!  (And to those of you who know you’re not queer, you’re still part of the welcoming committee, so let’s see those ally buttons on display!)

Anyone who’s interested in reading Map can find direct links to purchase on my website at http://map.audreybethstein.com, and I believe there’s free shipping all summer if you buy two copies, so it’s a great opportunity to donate a copy to your local library or GLBT youth group.

Map by Audrey Beth Stein
Book Reviews
June 17, 2010 posted by Nikki

Map by Audrey Beth Stein

As a late-blooming, sexually-confused senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Audrey Beth Stein was looking for love, but she never expected it to arrive via email, from someone she first knew only as catrina@juno.com…

It was 1996, a time when the Indigo Girls had just performed their first explicitly gay songs, Ellen DeGeneres was preparing to come out on national television, and eHarmony.com and JDate did not yet exist. A time when being queer was a little bit easier than admitting you’d met someone through the internet.

Using layers of introspection and insight reminiscent of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and Wendy Swallow’s Breaking Apart woven into a largely present-tense narrative, this coming-of-age memoir combines the page-turning exuberance of falling in love for the first time, the disorienting clarity of loss, and the triumph of letting go of the training wheels.

This isn’t like anything we’ve ever featured on yaReads before. Map isn’t a work of fiction; it’s an actual account of Audrey’s life experiences. Because of that, I feel that talking about her in a way I would normally discuss a fictional character’s motivations and actions is inappropriate – she’s a real person with real feelings who bravely decided to share her story with the world. But this is a review, so I’ll comment on those things that are appropriately open for comment and discussion.

Map reads a lot like fiction. So much so, in fact, that unless you noted the word ‘memoir’ on the cover, it could easily be mistaken as so. This is a credit to Audrey, as it is so often the case that biographies, or true and factual stories are often dry, written without the engaging dialogue and internal monologue that we all love so much about young adult fiction. It deals with Audrey’s sexual self-discovery and her journey into the world of bisexuality with class, poise, and honesty. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that her process of coming out (to herself and those around her) was all smooth sailing, it was refreshing to hear a coming out tale that wasn’t completely and totally heart breaking.

Map is so much more than just a tale of coming out, though. It’s a story of first love, first heartbreak and loss, growth and personal development. I was especially interested in the online relationship that developed between Catrina and Audrey. Audrey’s account detailed a different kind of falling in love to what we’re used to reading about. With online relationships, it’s less about the physical, and more about the emotional – her take on these issues is refreshing, and a joy to read in an era where so much is placed on physical sexuality.

This is an easy one to read, folks, and I’m sure most of you out there could knock it over in no time. So if you’re looking for a left of center read about a young girl’s journey through sexuality, then I’d say Map is a must read for you. If you’re looking for a queer read that wont totally crush your spirit and burn your soul, then I’d say Map is for you. If you’re looking for something full of action and suspense, perhaps steer clear of this one. This one is more about the mind and the heart than the actual goings on of the plot.

This one has the yaReads stamp of approval.

Rating:: ★★★★☆

Teaser Quote: A few years later, when I haven’t been drawn to men in a while, I’ll start using the word queer to describe myself. I’ll choose queer because queer will fit me better than bisexual or lesbian, because queer places less emphasis on sex and more on overall identity, because it carries a connotation of confidence and empowerment, because there is space for fluidity inside, because it encompasses a larger community, because it wont be such a scary, radical word to me anymore, because it is one bold and easy syllable.

Guest Reviewer: Audrey Beth Stein
Guest Reviews
June 8, 2010 posted by Ivy

Guest Reviewer: Audrey Beth Stein

Audrey Beth Stein is the author of the memoir Map, a 2010 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Bisexual Nonfiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and is a two-time national prizewinner in the David Dornstein Memorial Short Story Contest. She teaches memoir and novel development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.  Direct links to order Map can be found at http://map.audreybethstein.com.

Audrey chose to review one of  her favorite novels The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, also a Lambda Literary Award Finalist.  Enjoy!

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Dade Hamilton has no problem telling his ceiling fan or his soap dish that he’s gay.  He fools around secretly with Pablo, the “Sexican” jock, wishing Pablo’s girlfriend Judy was out of the picture, until the day Dade blurts out “I love you” and Pablo smacks him in the face.  Senior year is ending, Dade’s dad has just confessed to an affair (but not ended it), Dade’s mom is popping pills to pretend everything’s okay, and an autistic nine-year-old’s disappearance dominates the local news.  In three months Dade will be off to college, but that’s a whole summer away, and Pablo Pablo Pablo isn’t just fading into the night.

Enter Alex Kincaid.  Alex isn’t exactly Mr. Wholesome American Boy–at age twenty, he’s got a job at Taco Taco and moonlights as the drug connection for Dade’s classmates–but he’s hot and intriguing and compared to Pablo he’s a breath of fresh air.  Dade doesn’t know if Alex is gay, but a short exchange at a party prompts Dade to ask a classmate who this guy is and how to find him again: “I was acting on some instinct that I didn’t know I had.  I’d never gone out of my way for a guy before.  Even my and Pablo’s first encounters were totally initiated by him.  I never went out of my way to follow crushes around high school.  I never approached anyone with the hopes of getting a phone number or even a name.  I was afraid of giving myself away.  I didn’t want anyone to know.  Sometimes even I didn’t want to know.”

Alex is gay, and he’s also sincere, kind, and not afraid to show up with a bouquet of carnations for dinner with Dade’s parents after Dade comes out to them.  The burgeoning relationship between Dade and Alex is one of the sweetest parts of the book, all the more so for its realness.  In a world where so many adolescents fumbling through their own emerging sexuality (straight and queer) learn through unhealthy relationships and encounters, like the ones portrayed aptly and painfully between Dade and Pablo, it is wonderful and refreshing to read realistic portrayals of people treating each other with vulnerable kindness.

Of course the story doesn’t end this simply, not with an ex-not-boyfriend around or parents leaving Dade alone for two whole weeks, but I won’t give away the twists and turns, or why I found myself crying at the last chapter.  Nick Burd has an easy and perceptive style that makes for an enjoyable reading experience.  His three main characters feel like they must exist and make the choices that they do.  Dade’s empathy for Pablo’s confusion–which doesn’t erase his anger or hurt at Pablo’s actions–is a nice touch, and occasional reported sightings of the autistic girl underline the theme of disappearance and reappearance that threads throughout the book.  The Vast Fields of Ordinary well-deservedly won a Stonewall Book Award and was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and I highly recommend it for both young adult readers and adults who enjoy YA literature.

Map by Audrey Beth Stein Book Giveaway
Contests
June 1, 2010 posted by Ivy

Map by Audrey Beth Stein Book Giveaway

As you all well know, June is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.  So, in keeping with the theme, our Book of the Month for June is Map by Audrey Beth Stein.  It is a Lambda Literary Award Finalists in the Bisexual Nonfiction category.

As a late-blooming, sexually-confused senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Audrey Beth Stein was looking for love, but she never expected it to arrive via email, from someone she first knew only as catrina@juno.com…

It was 1996, a time when the Indigo Girls had just performed their first explicitly gay songs, Ellen DeGeneres was preparing to come out on national television, and eHarmony.com and JDate did not yet exist. A time when being queer was a little bit easier than admitting you’d met someone through the internet.

Using layers of introspection and insight reminiscent of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and Wendy Swallow’s Breaking Apart woven into a largely present-tense narrative, this coming-of-age memoir combines the page-turning exuberance of falling in love for the first time, the disorienting clarity of loss, and the triumph of letting go of the training wheels.

YA Reads is proud to be hosting a giveaway for one (1) copy of Map.

The Nitty Gritty:

  • Simply fill out the form below with your name, email, and mailing address.  We randomly draw the winners using random.org.
  • Giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.
  • Ends on June 30, 2010.