I’m so pleased to present Alia Volz, our guest blogger this week! She is the author of Home Baked, a humorous memoir of a ‘sticky’ family business, which launched April 20th. I met Alia at AWP, pre:pandemic, and her energy and storytelling talent have burned bright in my mind since. I’m honored she will share some stories with us.
About Alia Volz:
Author of Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020), Alia’s work has appeared in The Best American Essays, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Salon, Guernica, The Threepenny Reivew, and many other publications. Her unusual family story has been featured on Snap Judgment, Criminal and NPR’s Fresh Air.
Follow Alia online:
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
I’ve been through it all with this book. I originally conceived of Home Baked as an oral history, not a memoir, and I started interviewing back in 2006. I landed an agent who helped me develop a full proposal. We shopped that version in summer of 2009. It got rejected by every house in New York. Our most common response was that cannabis was too niche of a subject, something that would only interest nostalgic hippies. Funny how much that has changed.
I’m not going to lie; I was devastated. I buried Home Baked in the boneyard, and let it rot for about eight years while I wrote a mediocre novel and some good essays. I dug up the old corpse-book in 2016 because cannabis was all over the news. The tide was changing. I poached the old material for parts and rewrote everything in a new voice. This time, it sold easily to a great publishing house.
This was a painful, slow process, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I needed the time to mature as a writer to do the story justice. And the publishing world needed time to adjust its thinking about cannabis.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
You might regret asking me this. I was super into horses as a kid. Even though I lived in the city and never had much money, my dream was to ride in the Olympics. We moved to a small town just before high school, and I thought this was my big shot. I got my first summer job on a horse breeding ranch.
Now picture this. I’m thirteen, a late bloomer, totally awkward in my body. My job is to bandage clean and lubricate the mare’s vagina using supersize tubes of K-Y jelly. Then I hold her still, while the stallion trots out with a boner bigger than my forearm and mounts her. All the sounds and smells of sex, but writ large—the body parts huge, their eyes huge. As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, my boss—a pudgy blond woman who always wore a pink Disney World sun visor over her mullet—was strung out on opioids and would nod off on her feet, sometimes falling asleep in the middle of a sentence. It took so long to do anything that we usually didn’t get to breeding until late at night, so we’d have to do the deed under her truck’s headlights with classic rock blasting from the radio. Does it get weirder than that?
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
A friend and I started a wonderful writing group about twelve years ago. Faces have changed, but the essayist and flash maven Jacqueline Doyle has been a key member for a decade. It’s an intimate, intense group. We meet twice per month, so there’s pressure to produce something new every two weeks. Whether the work is rough or polished, I know I’ll get interesting feedback. They are my first readers, always. If you don’t have a writing group, I highly recommend starting one yourself. A regular deadline can be a game-changer.
Tell us about one of your writing disappointments or failures.
The writing life is at least 80% disappointment. From near-daily failure on the page to the years of rejection most of us have to accumulate before gaining a foothold in the publishing world, it’s among the most brutal, unrewarding, impractical mediums (ballerinas might have it worse, but not by much). Writing is for suckers. If you don’t feel truly obsessed with this work, do yourself a favor and take up pottery.
Tell us about one of your proudest writing moments.
Publishing in dystopian 2020 has been challenging. I’d spent month carefully planning a 20-city book tour and elaborate launch party with media sponsors and live performers. After twelve years of working on this damned book, I was going all-out. Everything crumbled overnight, which was devastating; I’m not going to lie. It’s also been amazing partly because of this misfortune. Talking about my book on Fresh Air was an incredible high point—and while I’ll never know for sure why they chose me, I suspect it was because my book addresses the AIDS epidemic in a way that resonated with today’s pandemic.
But the best moment, truly, was doing a virtual event with Armistead Maupin, a hero of mine since I was little. Home Baked is a love letter to the same version of San Francisco that Armistead defined in his Tales of the City series. I mailed my book to Armistead, and he said he devoured it. We did a reading and Q&A together, which was surreal and beautiful. He lives in London, so none of this would have happened if we hadn’t all converted to a virtual platform. Launching this year has taught me how to let go of expectations while still hustling every day. Periods of extraordinary change can create extraordinary opportunities.
And now, it’s time for the **GIVEAWAY**
About HOME BAKED:
A blazingly funny, heartfelt memoir from the daughter of the larger-than-life woman who ran Sticky Fingers Brownies, an underground bakery that distributed thousands of marijuana brownies per month and helped provide medical marijuana to AIDS patients in San Francisco—for fans of Armistead Maupin and Patricia Lockwood.