inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #0 of 72: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 24 Oct 01 16:28
    
Our next guest is taking time out from a whirlwind book tour to drop into
inkwell.vue for just a one week appearance, and we are thrilled that she
could be here. 
 
Lily Burana is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in the New York 
Times, GQ, Village Voice, New York Magazine, SPIN, Details and many other 
publications. She co-edited the anthology, DAGGER: On Butch Women. She 
divides her time between Wyoming and New York's Hudson Valley. STRIP CITY is 
her first original book.
 
Here's what Lily says about the book:
 
"When a man gets engaged, he and his friends herd off to see strippers," 
writes journalist Lily Burana in her book STRIP CITY, "But what does a 
former stripper do when she's about to get married?"
 
Burana, recently engaged to a Wyoming cowboy, decides to turn the tables on 
the old-fashioned bachelor party by returning to her former occupation as an 
exotic dancer. Join Burana as she adopts the stripper persona "Barbie Faust" 
and hits the highway, sometimes with fiance in tow, for a cross-country 
stripping adventure that covers 20,000 miles and twenty-five clubs.  
 
"She exposes herself with pride, style and a great sense of humor," said
Publishers Weekly in a starred review.  She answers the questions so often
asked: How did you get into this? How does it feel? Don't you have any
self-respect?  And it is "remarkably well done: a complex and warm
insider's take on a booming industry," said Kirkus Reviews.
 
Zigzagging across America over the course of a year, Burana travels from
the top-flight gentlemen's clubs of Dallas to the blue-collar go-go bars
of New Jersey, from Anchorage to Tijuana, Las Vegas to Los Angeles and
beyond.  She attends the nation's only stripper school in Florida,
explores the Exotic World Burlesque Museum in California's Mojave Desert,
and even enters the Miss Topless Wyoming competition.
     
Along the way, Burana meets a host of colorful women who share with her the 
secret history of striptease. Dixie Evans, who ruled the 1950s as the 
"Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque;" Pillow, an old-style burlesque performer who 
still practices this lost art in an Alaska dive bar; and Scarlett Fever, a 
charismatic veteran of the mean streets of 1970s Time Square. 
     
Expertly woven into the travelogue is Burana's own history as a stripper -
from her rough-and-tumble beginnings as a punky peep show girl in New York
City to her turn at the Lusty Lady, a feminist, woman-owned-and-operated
theater in San Francisco, and her groundbreaking, headline-grabbing legal
battle for stripper's rights, waged against one of the most notorious
strip club owners in the country.
 
Interviewer Casey Ellis is a freelance writer with an avid appetite for 
reading sharp, snazzy prose. Since her "Damn Good Writing" file already was 
stuffed with yellowing magazine articles bearing Lily Burana's byline, she 
eagerly awaited the publication of "Strip City" -- which has proved to be a 
shimmying feast of story and style.

Please join me in welcoming Lily and Casey to inkwell.vue! 
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #1 of 72: Casey Ellis (caseyell) Thu 25 Oct 01 09:39
    
Hi, Lily. I've heard tales that your book readings are a lot livelier
than most. Can you share some of the highlights with those of us not
fortunate enough to have been there?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #2 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Thu 25 Oct 01 17:45
    

Well, I do like to go to readings myself, and I know how much I enjoy a
writer who really puts some effort into the delivery of their work. Far too
often, though, the writer rattles off the prose in the most desultory, blah
blah blah blabbity blah manner.

Maybe I'm just going to hear the wrong authors...but I digress.

I wanted to reward the audience, people who took the time to get dressed,
get out of the house and hit the bookstore, with something animated and
fun. Originally, I'd read two chapters--Las Vegas and Dallas--then open the
floor to questions. But Vegas is kind of a downer, and two chapters wore the
audience out. So I cut it down to one chapter in favor of expanding the q&a
session.

The q&a sessions were the real star attraction! I think that people are
grateful to have a distraction from the depressing, anxiety-making affairs
of the day, and also pleased to have a non-combative forum in which to ask
questions that they've always had about stripping, as well as an opportunity
to share their own stories about their own dancing life or the lives of
dancers they know and love, vent their issues, wonder about the past and
future of this largely underexamined business.

So often public discussion on stripping, or any aspect of adult
entertainment, degenerates into rhetorical posturing or an all-out verbal
brawl. Instead, during the q&a period, I ran a pretty tight ship--stayed
entirely non-defensive, tried to be sincere and non-judgmental, and
encouraged people to ask as outlandish a question as they could dream up.

Some rose to the bait, I will tell you!

And, at the very end of the readings, in certain cities, I demonstrated how
to safely light your nipples on fire (don't worry--no actual nipples were
harmed during the demo!). This trick was taught to me by a gal who used to
dance in Times Square in the 1970s! A little hand-me-down history!
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #3 of 72: Casey Ellis (caseyell) Thu 25 Oct 01 19:23
    
The list of "Things to Pack for a Strip Tour" (page 5) is fascinating.
I particularly love the "black mini-dress made of insect-print
fabric,"  "pink velvet bikini sprinkled with rhinestones," and "one
large tub of body glitter." But I'm curious about your writer's tools
-- and methodology. The scenes are so strong and vivid; did you dictate
into a tape recorder between strip sets? go back to your room at three
in the morning and make extensive notes on a Hello Kitty tablet?  type
your impressions into a computer the next day? 
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #4 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Thu 25 Oct 01 20:14
    

mmm, good question! (and one that comes as a relief--so many interviewers
are so curious about the subject matter, they forget to ask about the
*writing!*

I'm fortunate to have a very good memory for dialog and minutae (I like to
think that beign the product of a librarian and a logistics engineer had
soemthing to do with it). But I did take a lot of notes: some when driving
{note to other writers: do not do this. it is very dangerous. do as I say,
not as I do}; some at night when I got back to my motel room; and some, when
the subject seemed particularly ripe, I simply jotted down on scraps of
paper--an old ATM deposit slip; a gas receipt--while in the strip club
locker room. Sometimes I'd be without a pen and have to use an eyeliner
pencil!

But I found I could not write long-form during the times when I was dancing.
The process needed for stripping was so opposite writing, I couldn't go from
one to the other. Stripping requires total external focus: How to keep
customers' attention; being friendly with the other dancers and club staff;
minding my hair, my clothes, my music. My own introspective skill was
totally put on hold. Writing, by contrast, requires total concentration on
self, my inner life, my deepest feelings--I needed to auger deep into my
soul. So I found that I had to do the research first, then write the
corresponding chapter much later on.

Also, to 'get real', as it were, required a great deal of solitude. Years
and years of impacted memories and feelings and observations that I'd simply
tabled or left half-formed in the process of getting on with my life, post-
dancing, had to be exhumed. Again, that takes total concentration. In those
times, the only thing that would work was a mantra: Assume A Benevolent
Readership. If I approached the task with the urging that I would not be
judged negatively, I could get at what I really wanted to say.

That meant the age-old method of sitting in front of the laptop screen 'til
four a.m. going, "uhhhhhhhhhhh."
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #5 of 72: Casey Ellis (caseyell) Thu 25 Oct 01 20:22
    
Fascinating response. 
Did the book progress the way you'd expected when you began? Or did it
demand to follow its own path as it emerged?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #6 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Thu 25 Oct 01 20:38
    


This book was an ornery, stubborn piece of sh*t, more willful than an old
junkyard dog and twice as ugly.

In retrospect, I suppose I thought the book would take the path of many non-
fiction "life stories": Here's the backstory, here's the processing done at
present, and now, here's your tidy resolution, a la Cliff Notes for the
Soul.

Not even close. What became abundantly clear was that I was going to travel
in ways I never thought I would, I woul spend roughly eleventy billion
dollars on said travel, and I would end up folding in a lot more than I'd
originally planned.

As I wrote, I developed a severe case of "encyclopedi-itis"--I felt
compelled to include more and more and more aspect of stripping, of my
thoughts on the subject, of its history, of how it's reflected in pop
culture. I finally made the bargain with myself that I could only include as
much as I could do justice to. That meant things like only having three
histories of dancers from days past (the 40s/50s, the 70s-80s, and one
burlesque holdout who started in the 70s and still workds today). It also
meant merely touching on this that are worthy of entire books in themselves.

As for the backstory-present consciousness-one note ending, it simply could
not be done. Stripping affected my life on so many levels--my politics, my
love life, my friendships, my sense of femininity and of femininity in
general, my family life, my sense of self and self-worth. Factoring in all
those elements, in addition to looking at striptease culture and how it's
changed and is changing, made any kind "resolution-to-go" impossible.

So, the book seems more chaotic and messier than I may have planned, but
then, it's a life story, and chaos and mess pretty much describes life.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #7 of 72: Casey Ellis (caseyell) Thu 25 Oct 01 20:56
    
What kind of reactions have you gotten from some of the book's
featured players--like Pillow? or Scarlett?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #8 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Thu 25 Oct 01 21:37
    

I have only heard from Scarlett--she came to my NYC reading. She was deeply
flattered to get her own special chapter and felt I'd done right by her and
her story, too. The ultimate compliment!

In no way did I intend to position myself as the poster girl or spokeswoman
for Stripper Nation, or anything of the sort. Strippers have such diverse
experiences, and even one dancer can have a real range in her dancing life,
so I anticipated plenty of healthy, "hey, this book doesn't sound like MY
life as a stripper" from other dancers. But I actually have only gotten
incredibly warm, grateful, affirming response from dancers.

I imagine those who don't appreciate my POV aren't gonna take the time to
write me personally to gripe, tho I know there are some out there. But the
dancers who *have* written, or reviewed the book, have been so gracious. I
hope the other women who are actually featured in the book feel well-
regarded, and that they like the book as much as the other dancers I've
heard from.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #9 of 72: Michele Knaub (mig) Fri 26 Oct 01 11:56
    

lily, congratulations on the book. it gave some great insight into a world i
know little about - and most of it, unfortunately perhaps, by way of the
Lusty-Lady-type stripper/theorists you mention in the book.

i have many, many questions, but to start:

1. how did the Mitchell Brothers folks respond to your version of the
worker's rights saga you had with them?

2. is it my imagination, or did you do a severe pruning job on the material
about the Mitchell Brothers incident? Perhaps legally you were compelled to
be more vague than you otherwise would? (As someone mentioned above, the
book is full of very small details.... these were missing in the section
about the lawsuit.)

3. from your writing, one gets the impression that the theatricality of
stripping is a big part of its attraction to you. would you say that's
typical of the strippers you know?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #10 of 72: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 26 Oct 01 11:57
    
> sitting in front of the laptop screen 'til
> four a.m. going, "uhhhhhhhhhhh."

Lily, is this what they refer to as a "laptop dance"?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #11 of 72: Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Fri 26 Oct 01 12:24
    
Lily, I absolutely loved reading this book.  It gave me insight into
stripping, a subject I have long found fascinating, into the writer's
process, and into you.  One of the possibly riskiest and therefore most
generous things you do in the book is to share the experience you had with
members of your family as they dealt with your career as a stripper and your
thinking about your career, particularly in the wonderful sequence with your
sister.  How has your family responded to the launch of the book?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #12 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 12:25
    

Hi (mig). I have no idea what the brass at Mitchell Brothers thinks of how I
presented the lawsuit. I doubt I'll hear from them, either, as the section
was very carefull vetted, thus they have no legal cause to protest, and i'm
sure they're too busy running their theater to bother with commenting on yet
another interpretation of their business. It's a lovely theater, and in my
day, it was very much an industry leader as far as quality goes. I hear it's
changed quite a bit, but I respected their vision of beautiful surroundings
and daring performance--which I enjoyed being part of.

And they've had much tougher critics than me, heaven knows!

The lawsuit took four years, and I really didn't think that the details of
same would be even remotely interesting to STRIP CITY readers--most people,
I assumed, pick up the book because they want a window into the strip club
culture, not a legal brief. I did feel it was important to illustrate that
way that working conditions has changed/are changing in the industry, and
our lawsuit was part of that, but I felt that brevity was the better part of
authorship there. Otherwise, it would have been fifty pages of "And then we
did another round of depositions. I went home and cried." Over and over!

I almost didn't write that chapter at all, as the lawsuit was by far the
most painful, non-tragedy-related event of my life. The sense of confusion
("is this the right thing to do or not?"), and the feeling of ostracism
haunt me to this day. In fact, I really didn't think the lawsuit did much
good, and felt that way for years, but at my reading in San Francisco, one
of my women in the class said, "I wanted you to know that I got my
settlement check today, and I wanted you to know that many of us appreciate
what you did. THANK YOU."

I cried on the spot.

Now, as for the theatricality, yes, that's probably what I've enjoyed most
about being a dancer, but I'd hesitate to speak for any other dancer. There
are many things to like: the sexual freedom, the daring, the money, the
sense of 'no consequence,' the sisterhood, the opportunity to slack, to
chance to meet new and unusual people. I think each dancer who likes the job
(not all do, and some go through periods of liking and loathing it, as I
did) might cycle thru any one of these aspects as her favorite.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #13 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 12:26
    

Dear Mister Lebkowsky:

DON'T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE!!!!!

Luv,

L.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #14 of 72: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 26 Oct 01 13:34
    

  Hi Lily, glad to see your book getting some (ahem) exposure.

  I sort of vaguely recall you being in one of the men's magazines
(Playboy?) some years ago.  How do you feel about being photographed
at strip clubs (when they allow it)...?  I've heard some dancers say
that the idea creeps them out and they won't work those clubs.  I can
sort of see their point, at least in the seedier places where the
clientele tends to be creepy on its own (I assume this hasn't changed
since the late 80s when I used to visit a few places now and then)....
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #15 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 14:17
    

Hi (rab). i've never heard of a club allowing dancers to be photographed. In
clubs that feature "feature entertainers", the feature often poses for
Polaroid with the customers, for $20 or so, but that's the extent of it.

Every strip club I've been in strictly forbids photography, and if a
customer is caught with a camera, the film is confiscated (in seamier places
they might lose the camera, too.) But lately I have heard stories of dancers
being clandestinely filmed or photographed, and those photos show up on the
internet. (I believe that  happened at the Lusty Lady, thru the one-way-
glassed windows, which was one of the points of contention between dancers
and managment. Dancers wanted the one-way-glass changed.)


Some clubs probably do have "web cam" areas, that dancers can choose to be
in, but I don't imagine many girls would go for it. You can't take back
images once they're out there.

There's light years of difference between a well-orchestrated photo shoot,
where you know the photographer and know the parameters under which the
photos will be used, and some random chucklehead snapping pix w/o your
consent. As for the places with Web cam stuff, I guess it's up to a dancer's
judgment, but I wouldn't be interested in participating myself.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #16 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 14:18
    

(Jessica, I'll get to your question next!)
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #17 of 72: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 26 Oct 01 15:32
    
I haven't read the book yet, but I saw that you'd toured diverse clubs from
the high end to the blue collar hangouts, and I'm wondering how they
compare? Did you dig performing for any one kind of clientele, more than
others?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #18 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 16:29
    

Jessica asks about how my family has responded to the book. I don't think
they've all read it yet. My mother loves the writing, but continues to feel
conflicted about *her daughter* being the purveyor of the subject matter. I
don't think she'll be telling the bridge club about this, which is her
choice, certainly, and frankly, mine, too.

There's the typical "hey, that's not what *I* remember happening" dissention
in the ranks, but that's bound to happen in a large family.

**as an addendum to the first response to casey's questions about my
readings, I should add that the 'nipples flambe' instruction was done on a
pencil eraser, not an actual human. I keep it clean at my readings.**
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #19 of 72: Casey Ellis (caseyell) Fri 26 Oct 01 16:58
    
oh, how disappointing. I had *such* a vivid mental picture.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #20 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 17:18
    


"I'd like a volunteer from the audience, please...perferably one with an
asbestos torso."
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #21 of 72: Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Fri 26 Oct 01 18:58
    

Hiya, Lily!

You write so well, very compelling.

One thing that just occurred to me after reading what you posted about
the external/stripping vs. internal/writing focus is how does this dynamic
change if you were to strip via web cam where there is no physical "live"
audience?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #22 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Fri 26 Oct 01 22:35
    

I have no idea! Sorry I can't help you there! It sounds kind of boring on
one level, but on another, at least you'd have the assurance of knowing that
you'd never have to encounter either bored looks or a lunk waving a single
in your face, going, "What're ya gonna do for this dollah? Heh Heh Heh..."
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #23 of 72: special occasions and toenails (vard) Fri 26 Oct 01 22:53
    

Lily, I found myself wondering how on earth a woman could dance for hours
in the SHOES you describe.
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #24 of 72: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 27 Oct 01 00:34
    
On a more practical writerly level: I am guessing that the research more
than used up your advance (ain't it always the case) and that you're already
trying to figure out how to turn your great reviews into the next book
contract. So once you've laid yourself bare -- in this case, not just
metaphorically -- what do you do for an encore?
  
inkwell.vue.128 : Lily Burana: Strip City
permalink #25 of 72: Lily Burana (burana) Sat 27 Oct 01 08:57
    

Fiction, my sweet. If I do another book at all. (I may not. I'm not sure the
long-form lifestyle suits me.) I was fortunate to get to exorcise my demons
in a very meaningful way with STRIP CITY, and I suppose doubly-fortunate
that those demons came from a subject that people are curious about, and
will read thru a whole book on it. But now that that's accomplished, and I
feel like I've more or less contributed something authentic about a subject
that is often glamorized, snidely dismissed, or outright condemned, it's
time to explore other worlds.

I'm sure I'll continue to do magazine writing. And I'd love to revise an
update my first book, DAGGER: On Butch Women, which was published quite a
while ago and is now out of print. Gender studies is a passion of mine, and
I'd be happy to work on a project where I'm the facilitator, not the main
feature.

Publishing anything autobiographical is very taxing, especially when people
start projecting their own stuff onto your life. I would very much enjoy
stepping out of the fray for a bit, and have someone criticize, say, a font
choice or an interview lede, rather than my very life.
  

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