Photograph by Eric Fischer
From The Moth to Mortified, storytelling as an art form has taken flight. Faced with only one stop on a book tour for her memoir, Anna David capitalized on the medium as a means of self-publicizing (captive audience + 320 pages of material = promotional goldmine). Thus True Tales of Lust and Love was born, a live show in which women regale all-too-willing audiences with factual anecdotes both hilarious and heartbreaking.
The show and its brazen stars—Alison Agosti, Laura House, Claire Titelman—inspired David to curate a book by the same name, out next week (Soft Skull Press, January 14). Here she talks differences between writing and editing, favorite moments from the book, and finding humor in painful situations.
True Tales of Lust and Love was inspired by your storytelling show at MBar. Do you feel as though these essays—many of which were shared in front of a live audience—translate as well in print as they do when told off the cuff?
The dirty little secret about the stories told at the live show is that while they may seem like they’re being told off the cuff, they’re usually painstakingly worked out, rehearsed and perfected ahead of time. I had to learn this the hard way myself—I didn’t know a thing about storytelling when I started the show, and month after month, I’d watch these women get up on stage and crush it and wonder why I couldn’t seem to do the same. Eventually I figured it out that storytelling is just like writing: making it look easy is part of what’s so hard.
You’ve authored a memoir called Falling For Me. What was it like hanging up your writer hat and donning your editor one? The hardest part of the editing process?
The best part of editing is that I get to share something brilliant with the world without having to have do anything brilliant myself. I’ve struggled a lot with competitiveness, particularly when it comes to writing and other women, so part of the reason True Tales of Lust and Love has been so healing for me is that it’s given me a way to support, nurture and be proud of the talent and success of other women.
The hardest part was dealing with all of the essayists’ representatives. A lot of the women who were new to publishing had lawyers who were trying to be heroes by making crazy demands, like putting their clients’ names above the title of the piece and whatnot. Luckily I have a saint of an agent who worked overtime to talk the Hollywood out of the Hollywood lawyers.
What life lesson(s) do you hope True Tales of Lust And Love will convey to your readers?
I hope it helps people to see that there’s nothing shameful about the everyday things they’ve done and said in the name of lust and/or love—and that there’s humor in experiences that might have once left us miserable and curled up in the fetal position. There are stories in this book about a man who goes to the bathroom in a girl’s cat box, a pregnant woman who gets a massage on a table covered in semen, and a woman who has phone sex with a man she believes to be her married boyfriend (until she realizes it’s just a random pervert).
It’s safe to say that this book will help people see that, while they think no one could ever understand the crazy thing that’s happened to them, there are women who have actually experienced something stranger.
What is your favorite essay in the collection? Why? How did you get the writers to be so candid considering the often-sensitive subject material?
You know how people say, “I love them all” when they’re talking about their kids or their pets or something else and you don’t in any way believe them? I swear to God it’s true with this. It was especially amazing to see stories I’d first heard performed in the show transition into essays—like Laura House’s tale of realizing she liked strippers, Alison Agosti’s story about a sex playlist made up entirely of different versions of “Stand By Me,” and Claire Titelman’s tale of her not-kinky-enough Craigslist casual encounter. As for getting these writers to be so candid, don’t give me any credit; I’ve honestly found that people are dying to share these sorts of stories. I think many people are tired of keeping them inside.
Do you have plans for future installments of True Tales of Lust And Love? How about a new live show?
The next thing that’s happening with True Tales is a web series for Meredith Vieira’s YouTube channel, which Ish Entertainment is producing and will feature mostly New York-based comedians telling two to three minute stories to the camera. I’m also working with Laura House on a True Tales dramedy pilot. Considering I only started the show because I wanted a place to be able to read my memoir aloud (and I thought more people would want to come if I called it storytelling and invited other women to participate), I’m amazed by the places it’s gone.
An excerpt from True Tales of Lust and Love:
Looking For My Danny Zuko
By Anna David
The first boy I ever loved was named Noah. I didn’t know then that Noah was also the name of the guy in the Bible story that created a brand new world by pairing off the best of each type of animal for a boat trip followed by a civilization re-building. I just knew that I wanted to pair off and build a civilization with him.
Of course I didn’t know what “pair off” meant, either. My understanding about sex and relationships was limited to the knowledge that, during recess, some girls guarded the Cootie Kissing Cabin while the rest of us ran off in search of boys that we could kiss and drag back there. Yet, unlike, say, a sex dungeon whose owners would confidently attach their prey to the walls and ceilings with handcuffs and stick ball gags in their throats, we were entirely clueless about what to do with these boys once we’d caught them. So we let them go. We were not results oriented, God bless us.
We were five.
I don’t think my crush on Noah had reached full bloom until the movie Grease came out and by then I was eight. Grease was my Alpha and my Omega; my raison d’être before I knew people had those, even though I understood very little about what happened in it. I knew that Sandy was pretty whether she was the innocent girl she seemed to genuinely be or had transformed into the bad “dream girl” in the tight black leggings but I understood that the tight black legging version of her was more exciting. In the tight black leggings, she danced and smoked cigarettes and went on Ferris wheels and was totally in with Rizzo while when her hair was straight and she wore those long skirts, Rizzo was mean to her and Frenchie was her only friend and she coughed really hard if she tried to smoke a cigarette.
The entire subplot of the movie, where Rizzo thinks she’s pregnant but then it turns out to be a false positive, was entirely lost on me, mostly because I didn’t know then that what two teenagers did in a car could result in a pregnancy and when Kenickie called a condom his “25 cent insurance policy” and explained that he bought it in the seventh grade, I thought it was an actual insurance policy and though I didn’t understand why someone would need one, I figured I would by the time I got to seventh grade. (I also thought Thunder Road, where the somewhat boring to me car race happens, was Dunderow.)