A – Africa, of course. I did my graduate work in South Africa from 2002-2003. I was based out of Durban, which is right there on the Indian Ocean and has a fabulous and famous waterfront area that you walk past a bunch of brothels and porn shops to get to (prostitution is legal: pimps are not). I spent a lot of time at the waterfront when I needed to unwind. It’s where I first read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Also, I was first stung by a jellyfish out on that beach.
I traveled to Cape Town a couple of times, and Johannesburg, once. I flew into East London and proceeded to take several dubious modes of transportation through rural Africa and to the site of Fort Hare University in the tiny town of Alice. Alice has three or four grocery stores, a bank, and a gas station. Oh, and the university.
There’s not much in rural South Africa except cows. And people are only half-joking when they ask you what you think your worth is, in cows.
B – Books. I love books. I first had sex in a bookstore. Had most of my first sexual experiences in a bookstore. My boyfriend at the time had a grandmother who owned a used bookstore. He had the keys.
It was fun.
I find books terribly erotic now, though I don’t know if said eroticism of books predates my experiences in the bookstore. Could be, not sure.
C – Clarion. I went to Clarion West in 2000, after getting rejected two years before. I was on the waiting list. Luckily, somebody decided not to go, so I got in. It was one of those strange experiences that changes your life completely and utterly and forever.
I met a group of people who challenged all of my assumptions: about my writing, about myself, about my life.
And they have since become some of the best and dearest friends I’ve ever had.
D – Dogs. I worked weekends cleaning up dog kennels at a vet clinic in my hometown for about six months. Not a long time, and literally shit work, but there were times when I enjoyed it. I liked getting to know all the animals, especially all of the dogs. I’d take them all out to the outside kennels, clean the indoor kennels, and then trot them all back in and spray down the concrete outside.
There were these two regular dog boarders, these little Dachshunds called Lewis & Clark, who were always delightful to see. They were friendly and familiar and always excited to go out.
We had a couple of dogs at home: a German shepherd mix called Ranger who we had to give away because he dug holes in the yard and howled, and two golden retrievers, Sandy and Dusty, good dogs, both.
When I’d spin stories about living out my life in a little cabin in Alaska, writing books, I’d always include a mention of the two husky dogs I’d have around for company. Just me and a couple of dogs living out in the woods while I wrote stories… it sounded great at the time… Still does, some days.
E – Europe. I’ve been twice. The first time with my high school French class when I was 17. We traveled through France, Monaco, and Italy. We had a toga party, complete with red wine and a giant watermelon, and wandered the Forum and ate pizza and slugged through giant bottles of coke.
The second time, I went with my brother and his French class, and we hit London, France, Switzerland and Italy. I went dancing at a club in Florence and sat out in the piazza drinking black Russians and watching men juggle fire until late in the night.
They are good memories.
F – French. I’m French. Sort of. My paternal grandmother is from France, and my father and his three sisters were all born there. My grandmother lived in Nancy, France and grew up during the Nazi occupation. Her father was in the French underground, and was arrested numerous times.
Because my grandmother’s French, my cousins and I all took bare-bones French courses in high school or college. Well, I took French courses in college. There are eighteen or nineteen of us, all told, but of all the cousins, my brother and I are the only ones who’ve got BA degrees. We have a couple cousins who joined the army and are posted in Iraq, and thus far, only one of us has gotten married. Two have had children, including my sister.
G – Girls. It’s no secret, obviously, that I’ve had crushes on girls since I was 16 or 17 or so. It’s something that does come into play in my view of the world, and because it doesn’t happen that often, when I desire women it comes as quite a shock to my system, and it’s usually quite startling. Whether this is because it doesn’t happen often or it doesn’t happen often because of some kind of latent homophobia on my part that results in me only noticing women when they really do it for me, I don’t know.
Oddly enough, I may have no problem writing bisexual female leads (I was writing bisexual female leads before acknowledging I was a little queer), but writing out-and-out-all-girls-only lesbian characters as leads has proved to be a lot tougher.
H – Help. I’m bad at asking for it. I often say I don’t need it. When they threw me in the back of the ambulance, after I’d been lost to a diabetic coma for nearly half an hour, Jenn could still hear me slurring, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” to the paramedics as they put me on oxygen and started to try and dilute my acidic blood.
I’m not sure where I got this idea that I had to be strong and independent. My parents, I suppose. My mom had this thing where she wanted to raise, “Whole, healthy and empowered adults.” And I guess I took that to heart. I heard, “empowered” as “strong” and “independent,” and I worked very hard to not lean on them as soon as I was able. To the point where I only ask them for things if I’m in absolute desperate need, at the end of my rope.
Some of this may be because I’m also an oldest child, and was always the one told to “look after” my siblings, and expected to be responsible.
When we spoke of other people who still lived with their parents, or relied on other people, we spoke of them with scorn. Non-independence was a sign of weakness.
When Jenn asked if she should call my parents, when I was in the hospital, I told her no. I didn’t want to bother them. I didn’t want to bother anybody. I felt bad enough for having gotten sick and inconvenienced Jenn. The idea that I’d freak my parents out was just too much.
But when it looked like I was going to be in the hospital for awhile, I finally said yes, she could call them.
And I still feel guilty about it.
I – Injuries. Aside from the diabetes? I’ve never broken a bone. OK, well, I broke the tip of my right index finger when I was trying to clean grass out of the lawnmower, and one of the blades wacked the tip of my finger in two. The nail grew back a little funny.
I had chicken pox pretty late, when I was 13 or 14, and still have a couple of scars on my face from it. The most famous is above my left eyebrow, which one of my friends called my “third eye” for months afterward.
Most of my injuries have been cuts and bruises. I only ever needed stitches for the broken finger. I was a pretty resilient kid, all told, which is why the last few years of increasing sickness as my pancreas broke down were really startling.
J – Joking. My family is big on the harassment. Maybe I should have put this under “H.” We harass the shit out of each other. It started out as a form of affection, but it’s gotten far more biting over the years as we’ve all grown old and cynical.
You’ll always know how comfortable I am with you or how much I care about you by how much I harass you. Also, by how many silly songs I make up about you. When I start up with the silly songs, it’s all over.
K – That’s “Kameron. With a K.” Every time. I spell it out every time people are putting my name on forms, more often than I spell out “Hurley.”
“Kameron with a K” is supposedly a reference to my Aunt Karen, my mother’s sister who died at 16, and some movie star’s daughter whose name was “Kameron.”
It’s also a wonderfully androgynous name, and I still get a small thrill when people write to “Mr. Hurley…” Though that happens less and less these days.
L – Love. I’m a hopeless romantic. I’ve tried to get over that, because it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, and tied me to a lot of people I probably shouldn’t have tied myself to. But I keep coming back to it, and I don’t know why.
I’m a fantasy writer, so I guess I’m just screwed.
I always had this idea of having this ideal buddy. See, we would be great friends in every way, and travel around the world together, having adventures. Motorcycling around Rome, drinking red wine in little cafes in Paris, hiking in Peru, that sort of thing. Only, we were really attracted to each other, too, so there were these long weekends having breakfast in bed in these little hotels in Bolivia (the “first time we met” scene in Mr. & Mrs. Smith where they get drunk and dance in the rain and then have coffee in the deserted hotel while smoke rises over the city at dawn… uber-hot. I did consider becoming a war correspondent for awhile) and fighting off big bugs and reading big books and maybe owning this house on a beach, that has a punching bag on the porch, and I could go jogging on the beach in the morning, and we’d argue about politics and talk about the best way to immobilize an opponent, and we’d have this big table outside and our friends would all come over and we’d have dinner parties where there was good liquor, good food, good coffee, and then we’d say goodnight to everyone and go to bed and have hot sex and plan a cycling tour of Tuscany… yea.
I don’t know why I can’t get it out of my head, or why I want it so much, or why I still dream about it… I think maybe because I’ve very much created who I want to be by thinking about who I wanted to be, and then being that, and I think I somehow believe that if I’m very clear about the life I want, I can create that too.
Problem is, you can’t create someone who wants that life – and you – too. They’re either there or they aren’t. They either want you and that life and it works, or it doesn’t. Not that you aren’t going to have to fight hard for it, if it turns out you both want it. But it’s hard to find. And sometimes I wonder if it’s a life I’ll need to live on my own.
I think the toughest part, for me, is the realization that at some point, that person’s gotta go from being a friend, to being a partner. And that’s the scary transition part, for me.
But I have hope. Always, hope.
I’m a fantasy writer.
M – Matriarchs. My family has a lot of good ones. My mother’s mother swam across the Columbia River and took up rowing when she was 50 or so. She’s worked on the board of numerous charities, and was named “Women of the Year” for Vancouver, WA. She attends a ton of charities, and raised four kids and got an MA degree after her divorce.
I have a great-aunt who used to be married to my mom’s uncle who’s currently spending her summers traveling around the country and writing us all “Wandering Woman” emails every time she hits a library or friend’s house. She camps out in various places, spent some time in Alaska, and even visited here in Chicago once during her wanderings.
My father’s mother grew up in France during the Nazi occupation in WWII, and she has a lot of great stories. Raised five kids on a shoestring budget, and knows just how to get what she wants. Taught herself English.
My mom raised three kids, cleaned the house, and got her BA and MA while working full time at the same company my dad worked for, in the same position. She’s the one who had all the old feminist books, and after I retreated home after breaking off my first relationship, I found them.
And so here we are.
N – Numbers. Never been good with them. I wanted to be an astronaut for awhile, until the Challenger blew up, which made me reconsider but not abandon that hope, and then a couple years later I found out I didn’t understand numbers and that whole idea sort of went to hell.
Not sure why I find numbers so confusing. I can sort out other symbols, right? I know how to put a sentence together. Not perfectly, mind you, but competently. I can read up a storm. Maybe it’s the pairing of numbers and letters that throws me. I know how letters should be read. Telling me they’re something else in addition to what they symbolize, for me – the sounds – just throws me off.
O – Open relationships. Tried this a couple of times. Never worked. I was also invited into a threesome once, but said no. I was partial to the girl, but not the guy. If only she would have married the guy I really did want to have sex with….
I think I’m too much of a hopeless romantic for much in the alternative romance department. I’ve tried, and I think I’m built for monogamy. Or, at least, serial monogamy.
It’s really a depressing thing, cause you know, I’d like to live this great radical life to match some of the interesting fiction I write, but… but… yea.
P – Passion. It’s what drives me, and what I’m attracted to in others. I have a passion for a great many things, but writing in particular, and being the best I can be at what I do. I’m in a constant competition with myself, and I have a belief in myself, in what I can do, that pushes me through the worst of times, and keeps me going long after I believe I can’t.
Q – Queer. I’ve always thought of myself as a little queer. Not just in the sexual sense, but in pretty much every way. I always felt too big and tall. I felt too smart. I felt not smart enough. I never saw a place where I really fit. I was always the square peg. I was always waiting around for somebody to harass me, to throw something at me, to steal something of mine because they thought I was weird or different or strange… queer. I read too many books. I had few social skills. I was either too traditional or not traditional enough.
You just can’t win. May as well be yourself.
R – Ryman. There are people who say things to you that change your life. Geoff Ryman said something very simple to me, and very obvious. But, you know, I was 20.
If I wanted to be a better writer, he said, I needed to travel widely and read outside the genre.
And my life has never been the same since.
S – Siblings. I have two. My sister, Jacqueline, is 2 years younger than me. She works at my parents’ pizza place and makes ends meet with welfare checks. This is because she has a lot of credit card bills and a two and a half year old – my nephew, Christopher. We don’t really talk much because we don’t have much in common. We maybe exchange a few sentences a year, at Christmas.
We had to deal with a lot of the same issues, growing up, particularly about Weight and Boys. The two were mutually exclusive things in our world, so when she finally figured out how to lose the weight by not eating, and realized that now the boys would follow, she got a little carried away. As did they. Hence, I have a nephew. And she’s still often searching for a sense of self-worth in the arms of boys.
My brother Steven in five years younger than I am. My parents only planned on having two children, but my brother made it through a diaphragm and spermacide combo, forever proving that he is capable of overcoming any obstacle. He reads Time and Newsweek regularly and has a Bachelor’s Degree. He’s applying for an MBA program next year and wants to go into business for himself. In the meantime: he also works at my dad’s pizza joint for his tuition money. He’s a big gamer, and spent some time as a professional pirate. He runs six miles a day and puts half of everything he makes in the bank.
He and I get along pretty well. He votes Republican, but supports abortion rights and gay marriage. We differ on our attitudes about foreign policy and welfare reform…
T – Talented. I got used to hearing that word a lot. Never “brilliant.” Never “genius.” Just “talented.” “You have talent.” I heard this about two things in my life: about my writing, and about my acting in high school theater.
To really pursue theater, you have to be thin. Thinner than me, anyway. If you think competition in the writing world is cut throat, it’s about a bazillion times worse in Hollywood. Unless you’re uber-pretty. And then it’s just slightly easier.
And anyway, writing was my first love. I still enjoy acting, but it would have sucked up my life in the way that writing has, and I’d rather give all that to writing.
U – Ulcers. Foot ulcers, to be precise. You see foot ulcers in a lot in diabetic people because people with diabetes have sluggish blood flow, and you see that manifest itself a lot in problems with the hands and feet. If you get a sore on your foot, it’s more likely to get infected because it takes so long to heal. These are the sores than can reach to the bone, eat your whole foot, and result in amputation if left to fester.
I appear to have my first foot ulcer, which is just a little blemish on my big toe that I had assumed was a wart for some time. Now that I know what foot ulcers are, I realize that it’s probably an early stage ulcer as opposed to a wart.
I shall become very familiar with a podiatrist from now on. You treat foot ulcers by scraping them every few weeks, keeping them moist, and trying to take the weight off them by wearing special insoles.
Rapid treatment of foot ulcers means less chance of foot amputation in future.
So, like I said: I’m going to get real friendly with a podiatrist this month.
V – Vacations. Me and my family went on a lot of them. When we had no money, we drove to Reno and Disneyland and Bend, OR and Seaside. When we had money, we flew to Vegas and Disneyworld… and stayed at Really Nice Hotels in Cannon Beach. We saw a lot of museums. I soaked up a lot of history. I learned how to run into the bathroom at the McDonald’s while my dad ordered food at the drive through and got done fast enough so that when he pulled up with the food, I was ready to hop back into the car.
My dad used to time our arrival at our destination by the minute, and it was a big game to see how close to the allotted time he could get us there. We listened to a lot of radio stations. I had a lot of fights with my siblings. I read a lot of books by the light of the headlights of the cars behind us.
W – Wild sex. What’s the wildest place I’ve had sex?
I’m not going to tell you. Ask me some time. It’s a good story.
X – Xhosa is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa. I was more familiar with Zulu, living in Durban, but they’re similar languages. There are three letters in Zulu that you pronounce using “clicks.”
One is represented by the letter “c” and is a soft short click you make with your tongue pressed just behind your front teeth. Another is represented by the letter “q” and sounds like the popping of a cork. Finally, there’s the one represented by the letter “x” which ends up in fellow students’ names, like the “q” and the “c” so you gotta figure it out. The “x” is like the sound somebody makes when they’re urging on a horse, but you don’t open your mouth to make it, and it involves pressing one side of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. It was always the toughest one for me, and I still stumble over it.
Y – Yo-yo dieting. Weight was and is a big deal in my family. Real big. I remember someone commenting on my weight when I was as young as six or seven years old, and me not understanding what was wrong with me. The weight of me and my siblings was a constant discussion topic at family gatherings. We were the only fat kids in the whole flock of cousins on either side of the family, and we knew it. And just in case we didn’t know it, grandparents and great-grandparents and uncles and aunts liked to remind us.
We had fucked up ideas about food, I don’t argue with that, but we also come from fat folk. My dad’s a type II diabetic. One of his sisters just had gastric bypass surgery. My mother and maternal grandmother are obsessive about their weight, the gain and loss of every pound, and have been since the time I was small.
I was harassed endlessly in school about my weight, right up until high school when I got so wrapped up in theater than I forgot to eat, and even then, I was never small. My sister also figured out that not eating was a great way to lose weight, though she ended up doing it more purposely than I did, until she ended up passing out at a friend’s house. When she got pregnant, she started the weight loop all over again, and is still running that hamster wheel.
After my father’s heart attack, my brother started running three miles a day and measuring his food. He cut out all forms of sugary drinks and started living on diet Pepsi. In the last couple of years, he’s increased those runs from 3 miles to 6-9 miles a day. He’s now 6’1” and 180 lbs, and he works his ass off at it, every day, to stay that way.
My yo-yos have been equally extreme, and I’m still not sure where I’m going to end up yet.
Z – Zero. The number of times I’ve gone bungee jumping in New Zealand. I really, really need to remedy that.
According to The Diabetic Athlete, plenty of Type 1 diabetics skydive, so I figure there ain’t nothing holding me back but a plane ticket…