By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit February 17, 2010)
Hey, it’s never been an uncommon thing for writers to prostitute themselves. It’s just that, in the strange case of David Henry Sterry, the latter activity served as springboard to the former.
Sterry — recovering actor, unproduced screenwriter, college educator, children’s book author, former fry cook, featured blogger for The Huffington Post and sports authority — made his first significant ripple upon the literary scene with the 2002 memoir Chicken: Self Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, a matter-of-fact examination of the year he spent putting himself through college as a 17 year old male hooker in LA. It’s a volume that was followed by Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Rollerskates and Chippendales — an acclaimed account of the author’s gig as emcee of the show that minted the gold standard for full male Monty.
Since then the resident of Montclair has written of many things — love, marriage, kids, drugs, money, baseball, football, basketball, fame, politics — and writing, a lot of words about writing. That thing that H. L. Mencken called “the life of kings,” way back before things turned chimpy and everyone became a writer, a photographer, a famous person.
If David Henry Sterry needs to be summarized by two pieces of work, one of them would surely have to be Putting Your Passion into Print, a go-to how-to (written in collaboration with his wife, former literary agent Arielle Eckstut) that “demystifies the process of getting published and is a must-have for every aspiring writer” (this from Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini). The other would be the recently published Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money & Sex — a Sterry-curated anthology in which sex workers “from the creamy top to the shitty bottom of the economic food chain” offer up their own prose and poetry on those elemental topics.
This Sunday afternoon, February 21, Sterry visits Asbury Park for an event that centers around those two books — an event that commences at 4pm inside The Showroom (Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino’s nimble nickelodeon on Cookman Ave) with a screening of Hollywood and the Sexworker, a specially assembled compendium of clips illustrating the various ways in which whores, hustlers and other older-than-sprockethole professions have been projected into America’s cultural consciousness.
Following that, Sterry appears in person (joined by “a panel of sex workers” and invited guest speakers) for a discussion of Hos — after which it’s time to play Pitchapalooza, wherein aspiring authors (of novels, cookbooks, self-helps, memoirs and pretty much anything else) are allotted one minute to pitch their book ideas to Sterry and his fellow panelists; the winner being granted “a consultation with one of America’s leading literary agents.”
It’s another in a series of BookFLX events presented by the downtown bookstore words! and the online literary mag Splash of Red — the same team that previously reeled in Big Fish author Daniel Wallace for a live book/movie discussion via Skype. There’s more author action where that came from (both digital display and analog flesh-pressing) — but right here and now, Red Bank oRBit is pleased to purvey our exclusive interview with David Sterry; a little chat that picks up just around the corner.
RED BANK ORBIT: I’m a little unclear as to the nature of this event in Asbury Park — is it keyed in to your HOS AND HOOKERS book, or is it more about the PUTTING YOUR PASSION INTO PRINT side of things?
DAVID HENRY STERRY: Actually both! It’ll be a reading, a discussion and a celebration of Hos, Hookers. And I’ll be bringing some imported hos and hookers to town for the occasion.
Hmm — the phrase “coals to Newcastle” comes to mind.
(laughs) Well, I think you’ll find my special guests to be very interesting. There’s Zoe Hansen, who’s just this fascinating, beautiful woman who came from England for a taste of the American dream, and got involved with the world of garters and crotchless panties. She’s the most amazing writer and storyteller — her own memoir should be out in about a year.
Then there’s Damien Decker, also an immigrant — his parents are from Northern Europe and Africa — whose specialty is something called Mandingo parties.
Oh, I remember the movie MANDINGO from the local drive-in — I think it was the first and only starring role for Ken Norton, the boxer.
(laughs) Right, the acting career of Ken Norton! Well, Damien’s thing is pretending to be a thug who has sex with rich men’s wives. He cuckolds them professionally, while they watch.
Nice work if you can get it, I guess…
These are a lot of Wall Street guys; a lot of upstanding citizens. It’s common knowledge that the majority of ‘dom’ clients are rich, powerful men who spend their days ordering people around.
Makes you wonder whenever you meet up with one of these couples at some fundraiser reception. And the flip side is that you never know when someone you meet has worked in the sex industry in some capacity.
Oh, sex workers walk among us! They’re our moms and daughters and aunts and uncles. They’re everywhere.
Hey, the other day my wife finds out that a college student she knows has her own page with an escort service that once employed Ashley Dupre, of Eliot Spitzer scandal fame.
Really! Well, that proves my point. There’s the stereotype of the woman who’s working her way toward getting her Masters, her Ph.D. Think about that next time you see a doctor. Once you look into it, you see just how much of mainstream society is buying or selling something in this world.
Well, you haven’t been shy about your own experiences in the industry.
I’ve written two memoirs from those experiences, Chicken and Master of Ceremonies. My next one will be Sports, Sex and Show Business. I had my own show business career for a time, you know; I was on The Fresh Prince for a couple of episodes, but I got tired of the acting world. I didn’t want to be second banana, didn’t want to be ‘Buddy #3′ anymore.
Well, if the highlight of your career is a supporting part on a sitcom, it kind of dooms you to be Larry from THREE’S COMPANY for life. You can’t get hired for anything else in Hollywood, but you can always star in LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS at Bucks County Playhouse.
Exactly! I just felt like a cog in a machine that I inherently hated. You know, I was already a troubled person back then, and things just came to a head — my hypnotherapist that I was seeing suggested that I write about my life, and that’s how I transitioned into being an author.
Not that being a writer is any more respectable than being Larry from THREE’S COMPANY.
Oh, the writer is way down on the pole from what gets up there on the screen. Everything they always said about writers in Hollywood is true — the writer has no power, still. You’re just a hired hand that can be fired at will.
So tell us about your time working at Disney — what did you work on that I might be familiar with?
Nothing! None of what I wrote for Disney got produced. Disney got hold of a script that I did about two kids who go to Vegas and beat the casinos; they said how’d you like to write a movie for us? And here’s the concept they wanted me to work on for them: Sinbad…in the army…with dogs.
Sinbad?! It’s like you’re Barton Fink, being stuck working on the Wallace Beery wrestling picture.
(laughs) Barton Fink, exactly! Or like picking three cards in a game of Clue — Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick. I competed against five other writing teams for this project, which ultimately never got made.
It shouldn’t surprise me, but it kind of does — they had five teams of professional writers working against each other, for a Sinbad picture?
That was Disney. This was back around 1993 — back then we had a name for working there; we said they treat you like Mauschwitz.
Well, detouring just a minute, I just recently realized that you wrote, or co-wrote, one of my favorite books about baseball — THE WIT AND WISDOM OF SATCHEL PAIGE.
Satchel Paige, one of my favorite people. My co-author was my wife, Arielle Eckstut — she didn’t even know who Paige was, but when she first came over to my place she saw a big poster of him on my wall. I told her that he was a combination of Mark Twain, Richard Pryor, and Tiger Woods.
To return to the aforementioned Sports, Sex and Show Business.
Well, Paige was as big a hound as Tiger Woods in his day — he just didn’t get caught at it. I’ve written a lot about sports, you know, and in fact my next book, coming out in May, will be about soccer — The Glorious World Cup, which will be timed to the 2010 event in South Africa. It’ll be an informative book on the topic, but cutting edge, sarcastic.
So let’s talk then about the second part of Sunday’s event in Asbury, the Pitchapalooza.
With Pitchapalooza, anyone who has an idea for a book has one minute to pitch it to us — Dylan from Splash of Red has a panel of experts who will be joining me — they deconstruct your pitch, and the winner gets a free consultation with a publishing professional. It’s really democratic and educational — like Idol without the Simon.
Pitchapalooza is something we’ve been doing for a while now, and several of the people who’ve pitched us have gone on to the next step — you’ve heard of Tim Ferriss? His book The 4 Hour Work Week originated with us!
It sounds like it could be a lot of fun to witness — you must have heard every conceivable good or bad idea out there.
We’ve heard some amazing pitches — and at the other end of the bell curve, we see people that make you think oh my god, who dressed you this morning?
But you can tell in the first seconds of the pitch whether someone has their shit together — whether they stand a chance in the mainstream of publishing, or if they have something they should just publish themselves.
Even with all that’s happened in the publishing industry, in some ways this is the greatest time to be alive if you want to create your own book — you can bypass the whole process, put your work up online, bring it directly to Kindle in a fraction of the time it takes for a traditional book to get produced, printed and released. It’s like having a band, where you don’t necessarily have to deal with the old structure of the recording industry.
Or having an independent online magazine? Or a little indie movie theatre that will pretty much try anything outside the multiplex mainstream?
Right. The world needs more places like that!