Author Diana Kirk describes herself as queen in "the world of not enoughs," a "corn muffin surrounded by chocolate caramel cupcakes." Her new book, Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy, is a collection of brash, funny, and unapologetic essays that you may tear through in a sitting but you won't soon forget.
Diana recently answered questions for Rose City Reader:
The essays in your book are hilarious. They are also all over the place, from brash to tender, family, to raunchy. Where do you get your inspiration?
Well, that's probably my publisher Jennifer Fulford at Black Bomb Books. She chose this collection of essays out of about fifty I’d written over the past few years. Then I wrote "After" and "No Thang" specifically for Licking Flames to give some definition to where I started and where I’m at now. But my editor, author Ariel Gore, wanted another essay called "Trolls" out of the book when we were almost done. Seriously, she wrote DO NOT PUBLISH THIS on the front of that essay and so when Ariel Gore says, DON’T DO THIS…I listen. It was a really serious article about sex trafficking and AIDS in Africa in the 1990’s. A very important piece I’ve never been able to place but she thought it belonged in a travel anthology. The rest of the essays are just my observations in life and experiences I have day to day. I think everything is kind of funny because I’m pretty immature. So maybe that’s the answer. I’m just immature, Gilion. That’s why the tone is all over the place. Maybe I’m in puberty again. It could be.
What is your work background? How did it lead you to writing your book?
My work background is all over the place from law to guiding in Alaska, teaching environmental education, opening businesses. Right now I’m a real estate investor in Oregon but soon I might be a bar owner or a tour guide. I like to try a lot of new things because I’m quite curious about the world. But I’m convinced I wasn’t meant to do one type of work for forty years. I was meant to jump on a ship and go try to figure out an unchartered island. I love bringing order to chaos, and if I can make money in the process, I’m usually really excited about it. By the way, that’s writing. Bringing order to the chaos in my brain. It’s probably why I’m attracted to it.
How did you come up with the title? And what’s the story behind the subtitle, Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy?
My publisher came up with the title. At first she wanted Happy Hussy, but I didn’t like it because I think happiness is a moment and not a lifestyle. Being happy is kind of like being nice…an expectation burdened on the female gender by society and one I have no desire to perpetuate. So the actual words Licking and Flames then came from my very brash sexual nature, my opinionated lifestyle and a line from the essay "Nancy" that’s featured on the back cover, "I’m a moth, flittering around the edges of whatever might possible kinda maybe hurt me." And Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. Well, a hussy historically comes from haus, meaning wife but then became an outspoken wife. I like to think of myself as a sex positive deeply married wife that’s also sometimes really lazy. Like right now I’m in sweats eating pancakes for dinner in my bed.
I have a fangirl crush. Will you join my book club? Because you write like we talk. Like we talk after the wine.
Yes, as long as I can bring my vodka and you can handle convos involving body fluids and Matthias Schoenaerts…because immature. [Ed. note: Yes to all.]
What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?
I’m surprised at how funny people think it is. Like when I read "Pink Wrestle Mania" to a crowd, they’re dying. The laughing gets so loud in the room, I have to pause so people can hear me. That surprised me because my whole life I’ve been told I’m "overly sexualized" which means "not embarrassed to talk about sex." In fact, about a year before I got my book deal, I was kicked out of a writing group in Portland. The woman running it would get really flustered with my aggressive style and would try on repeat, during our sessions, to shame me for the very thing people now are laughing at. So my surprise is really just that. That I’m funny.
You warn in the Foreword that the book is “memoir. Ish” and “totally true. Kinda.” Just how big of a grain of salt do we need to take this book with?
That warning is for one story in the book. I don’t trust the details, but I won’t tell you what story and I won’t tell you why. You can write me and take guesses. We’ll play twenty questions. I’ll give you vague metaphorical answers. You’ll go crazy, tweet about it, podcast about it, reporters will catch on, it’ll go viral until finally I’ll end up on the cover of the National Enquirer on a beach in Hawaii with my cellulite circled in red and the headline, “is the answer to the Licking Flames controversy written in Diana Kirk’s left hip cellulite?”
Did any of your family members read your book before it was published? Did they ask you to stop?
No. My husband’s heard every story because I drink at parties and get loud. And if I wrote about someone, I sent them the essay beforehand. The book is really about me and my experiences so there’s no need for people to be nervous. I’m not judging anyone. Just interpreting the experiences. Except my Mother. I could write, “my mother is the greatest woman on the planet” and my mother would get offended. She’s had the book for three weeks. I haven’t heard from her.
Who are you three (of four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?
My favorite author on the planet is Louise Erdrich. I started reading her 25 years ago but I have nothing in common. Same with Toni Morrison or Banana Yoshimoto. I’m a little obsessed with culture so anything really different than my California swimming pool childhood I find interesting. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was from my best friend in college. She gave me ten books from ten women who lived in different countries. LOVED IT. I read, almost exclusively…women but I also include David Sedaris on that list.
What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I’m obsessed with anything I can find on historical prostitutes. I had a piece published last year in Black Orchid called "Strained Performances" about a prostitute in Astoria, Oregon during the 1860s. It’s peeked my interest and I’ve been reading journals from the historical society in Astoria about the whores of Bond Street. In so many towns around the west, the working women quite often had more money than the men. They would become loan sharks, shareholders in banks, bar owners. I’m attracted to their perseverance. I can relate to their cleverness. People always picture prostitutes as victims and they were, quite often. But a lot of them were business women and their body was their asset. I find that an interesting twist to women’s history.
You have a terrific website, and are on facebook and twitter. From an author’s perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources to promote your book?
Well, I’m not sure how you get published without a web presence now. Can you? I don’t know. You’ve got to have at least an author website so you can become a human being to your readers. That was important for me because I look up authors all the time. I write emails, tweet them. But my website isn’t anything fancy. It’s just a landing pad for people googling my name. I do write a lot on Facebook but not on Twitter. I was on Twitter for five years before I ever opened a Facebook account. It’s difficult to do both. So I’m currently into Facebook but that could change. I do try to do both and Goodreads. That’s yet another platform to game. It’s all a damn game though. It can be exhausting and I take breaks. No one person can do everything. I still have to keep the lights on.
Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?
I have some radio show appearances coming up in January on the coast, and I’ll be doing multiple articles for the Women’s March on Washington January 21st. But right now, I’m hanging out for the holidays with my three sons after a crazy year.
What’s next? Are you working on your next book?
I’m always writing. Every single damn day. Either posts on social media, rants, dialogues I overhear or have with strangers. But I do have a manuscript done about a couple that road trip across the country as well as a backlog of essays on female friendships. We shall see in 2017 if anything comes to fruition. Right now I’m enjoying press for Licking Flames and submitting some essays to New York Times and Rumpus. I’m kind of an opportunist so maybe I’m waiting for the right opportunity to arrive. I’m excited to find out myself.
THANKS, DIANA! AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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