I had to be a different person when I wrote the book. I couldn’t be me. There was no way I could write about my life unless I was somewhat detached …
Gabe Riggs – 16 October 2017
The Back Flap
Punk Love Foucault gives voice to the borderland existence that is transgender life in a society driven by sex and self-doubt no matter who you are. It is a coming-of-age story of a transgender youth who rebels against even the meaning of transgender. Within this atypical circumstance, it critically engages in the existential underpinnings that propel all of our relationships, from the familial to the strange. Instead of just confessing how hard it is to be “abnormal,” this memoir is about how hard it is, period, to be alive in a world that isn’t ready to accept anyone.
About the book
What is the book about?
The book is about my childhood and young adulthood. It follows three major themes: identity, relationships, and politics. I use the word politics in a loose way, meaning that politics are often also our beliefs, but “beliefs” has that old-timey religion feeling to it, and I’m an atheist. Throughout my life, I explore the troubling question of where I am supposed to belong. In equal parts, the book is about the world around us, the hollow sense of self that develops in a place where compassion is hard to come by, and how to find the strength to stay afloat and move forward.
When did you start writing the book?
I began writing about my life in February of 2015 while composing an email to an old high school teacher.
How long did it take you to write it?
The email transformed itself into a book over two years.
Where did you get the idea from?
I have kept a personal journal since I was 14, but it wasn’t until I became a real adult that I realized my old journals were really interesting to read. I had been documenting my growth as a human being for ten years and there was a lot of rich insight that needed to be shared with other people; people who had gone, were going through, or would eventually go through what I had gone through.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
The entire book? I mean, how do you even begin writing about your life? I had to be a different person when I wrote the book. I couldn’t be me. There was no way I could write about my life unless I was somewhat detached, and that head-space is hard to foster. Most of the book was written at 2am after I smoked a pack of cigarettes and couldn’t feel anything anymore.
What came easily?
Deciding to publish it. I didn’t have any hesitations about showing most of my life to people I might not ever meet. In fact, it was liberating. Now, people know where I come from, what I’ve been through, and what I believe in, to some degree. We can get straight to the parts that matter.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
None of my characters are fictitious. But some people that have played major roles in my life didn’t end up in the book. Writing a memoir is still writing a story, so I opted for thematic consistency rather than a detailed account of every event or person in my life.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Michel Foucault. I can read his books over and over and never have the same thoughts. He has challenged me to write in ways that are layered, in ways that can expand the brain. It is really hard for me to read fiction because stories tend to be linear. I prefer to read and to write in a way that cycles, loops, and reflects.
Do you have a target reader?
Anyone who has struggled with how to have a relationship with the world is meant to read the book. That’s probably just about anyone. Trans people, poor folk, and homeless queer kids will probably relate the most.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I used to have a process involving two-hour baths and five cups of tea but that was before writing two books. Now, I write whenever I have the time, usually after work and before my kids come over. I spent thirteen hours a day in a coffee shop writing one summer and that ingrained a habit. It’s hard to stop writing, these days.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I wouldn’t say I outline, but I do brainstorm. If I have a good idea, then I write a few pages with that idea in mind and see where it goes. For me, it’s not about the plot or the characters, but about the tone of voice. So I have to write a few pages while focused on my idea to see what kind of voice comes out of me while I write. For me, voice is more important than plot. You can make even the simplest of things sound complicated with the right voice.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I’m horrible at editing as I go. I usually have to go through my pieces multiple times to edit out all my mistakes.
Did you hire a professional editor?
I have hired a professional editor. It’s impossible to catch all your own mistakes.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I usually listen to a lot of really loud, annoying music. I am partial to writing in crowded coffee shops or loud punk rock shows. There is something about people screaming and running around that makes me shrink into myself. Some artists that I am particularly fond of when I am writing are: Skinflint, Minutemen, and Onra.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I did. Every agent I sent it to wanted to publish it. None of them could really offer me what I wanted.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
After I had gotten my first contract with a publisher, I sent it back with almost everything crossed out in red ink. I did my homework and fought them on just about everything, from rights over the work after my death to who would have the final say over the book cover design. I freaked them out! They were not prepared to handle an author who understood the secret language of the publishing world. I realized that I didn’t have to pay someone else to help me sell my book; it was probably better if I sold it myself anyway, considering it’s a book about me in the first place.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
I did it myself! You can probably tell!
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I have a loose outline of things to do, but I’m learning where the markets are as I go. I set goals for myself (for example, contact three reviewers by such and such date).
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
If you have a couple thousand dollars to start up your own business, than you can do it. Publishing your own book takes some money, and it will be a while before you see that money come back to you, but if your priority is to connect with people, then the wait is worth it.
Where did you grow up?
Mount Vernon, Washington
Where do you live now?
What would you like readers to know about you?
I want to have good conversations, so please feel free to contact me. I love talking about real shit. Life isn’t pretty, but being honest about it helps everyone live easier.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a piece of creative non-fiction that takes “the body” as a historical construction and transforms it into a character that interacts with the modern world. Meta-critical narrative that jumps from one historical character to the next, employing the story-within-a-story technique. It’s as close to fiction as I can get and as close to publishing queer theory without being a professor as I can get.
End of Interview:
For more from Gabe visit his website.
Get you copy of Punk Love Foucault from Village Books.