Esmeralda Declines an Interview: why I don’t interview for writers writing Gypsy characters

Sometimes I get requests from people to do interviews because they’re writing a Romani (Gypsy) character and want to use the life of a real live Gypsy girl to write her, and I always feel uncomfortable about the idea of divulging my life story for another writer’s creative gain. My friend, Misha Rai, urged me to turn those feelings into an essay, and because Misha’s advice is always brilliant, I did it. And now I’m honored and stunned to have “Esmeralda Declines an Interview” in The Missouri Review blog.

KickingNo offense intended to anyone who has asked me to interview with them as research for their book. It’s wonderful that you want to write well-rounded Romani characters, and I’m flattered that you thought of me. If you are struggling to include Romani characters in your work, then my advice to you is this: “If you want to be inclusive, then read and support the writers you want to include. Don’t ask to take our lives for your own gain.” I’m sure your intentions aren’t nefarious and I applaud your efforts to write mindfully. Just be mindful in your research too.

A good resource for you to find Romani writers is ‘ list of Romani Authors. I also have a list of “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. There are many more places to look, but this is a good start.

Happy reading! And thank you to The Missouri Review and Misha Rai– I love you to bits.

P.S. Check out “Housewives, Mothers” by Misha in The Indiana Review– it’s one of my favorite stories.

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Top 15 Classic Burlesque Queens

Here’s a fun little youtube clip adventure through the top 15 Burlesque performers. If you’re anything like me and have an intense fear and hatred of parrots and parrot-like tropical birds, then maybe avoid Rosita Royce’s “Bird Dance.” She’s talented and gorgeous, but THOSE WERE BY NO MEANS DOVES! Parrots are evil, but Burlesque is forever. I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean. I’ve been writing for many, many hours now.

Simply Burlesque

The ’30s, ’40s,  ’50s and ’60s were exceptional times for striptease artists. Hundreds of theaters and clubs across the country catered to burlesque and even Hollywood came calling. Hundreds of  extraordinarily beautiful women made careers teasing  eager audiences with carefully planned and, by today’s standards, modest displays of flesh. What makes a classic burlesque queen? Here at Simply Burlesque the criteria is simple:

  • beauty: the performer had to be easy on the eyes with a stunning figure to match
  • dance ability: the best burlesque strippers could easily glide across a stage and keep a beat
  • striptease ability: since burlesque is about the art of teasing, the queens of this field were the ones who could be seductive without being lewd
  • gimmicks: whether she used a fan, her stockings, an animal or balloons, classic burlesque queens always had a little something extra to captivate the audience
  • performance: song choice and costumes…

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1952 Parisian Fashion: Givenchy

1952 Parisian Fashion: Givenchy

An unpublished outtake then published in LIFE Magazine’s retrospect of Givenchy’s career. This guy dolled up Audrey Hepburn every chance he could get. And who could blame him? But do you have any idea how difficult it’s been to find descriptions and (god forbid) names of 1952 haute couture purses? Still, I’m rather fond of the idea of a vintage box purse like the one in the photo… I suppose Givenchy made that one, too, though I haven’t been able to find conclusive evidence one way or another, it being an unpublished outtake and all. You know what, he made it. Let’s make the safe bet that he made it.

Researching in Paris, Day One

Sometimes research is practical: where is my train? how do I find myself on the map of Montparnasse? How do I say, do you sell comfort shoe-inserts for my 16-year-old combat boots? in French? These things I learned, except the last one. Instead I discovered how many pharmacies are in a 2 km radius from the hotel (Answer: 6).

It’s been nice to map things out for a change: I’m not nearly as organized as most put-together tweens as I’d like to be. Len and I fell in love circling each other for a few weeks, then circling Italy, then Croatia, too giddy to concentrate on maps, too polite to make an actual suggestion. Circling is fun, let’s not kid ourselves. Who hasn’t gone an extra time around a roundabout at least once? Metaphorically or otherwise. Yet now, seven years later, I’m learning the joys of having a plan. Maybe it’s because I (finally) made myself full outline my novel during the Cambridge Writers Workshop writing and yoga retreat in Verderonne, France for the past two weeks. Such relief! Such clarity! Circling the novel became exhausting and much less inspiring, but saying what, when, where, and how was so powerful, like architecture and alchemy together. And sure, Len and I circled and it was whimsical and romantic, but then I locked that down with paperwork and wedding rings in a Roanoke, VA courthouse. So, plans are nice, too. Balance, right?

For instance, to research Romani culture in France between 1920 and circa 1952, I will go here:
Centre des études Tsiganes
Médiathèque Fnasat-Gens du voyage-Etudes Tsiganes
59 rue de l’Ourcq
75019 PARIS
France
01 40 35 12 17

and I will be very happy. I am already.This novel takes up about 70% of my brain. Sometimes that’s agonizing (I will admit this), but lately, especially when I’m in a community of writers like my MFA program, or the Writing and Yoga retreat that I just adored and finished, the novel-brain phenomenon is delightful and fulfilling .

So, some sample plans: to learn more about jazz, I could to go Le Petite Journal, and for Romani/Manouche jazz I could check out these gems compiled by Jane Parry of Paris Voice. I will go to catacombs and odd museums, cafes and gardens, I will try to catch some burlesque culture, I will go to Spoken Word Paris to met the wonderful expat writers and listen to their wonderful word-magics, and maybe read something myself. I will probably deviate from my raw-vegan lifestyle and eat a crepe. For research. The point is, I have about 6 maps of Paris, I understand the metro system, I found my comfy inserts, and I’ve had these combat boots since I was 11. I’ve got a plan.

Photo by: KareemaBee

Photo by: KareemaBee