Monday, August 27, 2012

Benjamin Law on writing Gaysia: Part 3

Benjamin Law discusses the experience of writing his second book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.)

One of the hard things about writing a book like Gaysia is having to condense what I saw in seven countries – and what I learned over hundreds of interviews – into something that has some sort of narrative arc. At first though, I just sort of crammed everything in (I'm lazy), which probably wasn’t the best approach. When you overstuff something too forcefully, it kind of explodes.

When I handed the first draft of Gaysia to my poor publisher and editor Chris Feik, it was comically bloated and messy. From memory, it was over 100,000 words, which is roughly the size of a standard PhD thesis. I’ve never been a writer prone to “writer’s block”, but am pretty susceptible to what I like to call “writer’s diarrhoea”. What can I say? I go a little overboard.

A picture from Ben's travels in India
Chris gave me a couple of months to chip away at the stories until they felt right. It didn’t make sense to include particular stories, which only distracted from the narrative arc. What’s left on the cutting room floor makes for great DVD extras though. For instance, there is one really great tale that didn’t make the book, about how I found myself teaching sex education classes in Myanmar to stunned adult men. Together, we learned about condoms and rolled them onto bananas. They discovered how many holes a woman has (“Three!” they said, incredulously), and together we discussed why it’s never okay to put “special juice” into a woman’s drink to “make her feel all sexy and sleepy”. (Quotation marks indicate their words. Good lord.) Still, it had to go.

After months of paring-down, cutting-back, refining and amputating the beast, we finally have this yellow book with my mug plastered all over it, packed with odd stories you still couldn’t make up: transsexual women sent to the military; moneyboys in gay nudist records; lesbians sham-marrying gay men; and one Indian yogi who claims stretching can cure homosexuality. (Your tight hamstrings? They’re making you gay.) Welcome to Gaysia.

Gaysia is out now in print and ebook formats. Find out more on the Black Inc. website.

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