I am so pleased to welcome memoirist Rae Theodore to the debutante ball this week! Rae visited us last year to do an interview for her debut, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender, and now she’s back with more great stories in her latest release, My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys: True Stories for Gender Rebels.
I’ve known Rae since I first walked into a little writing group in Collegeville, PA called Just Write, and I have been a fan ever since. It’s been such a pleasure to watch this amazing literary voice find its way out into the world. Rae’s stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars, Sister Wisdom and Gender Queer: Stories from the Rest of Us. Rae is the current president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and lives in Royersford, Pennsylvania, with her wife, kids and cats.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
My critique group usually gets a first look at my writing. We have a group of four that has been meeting the first Thursday of every month at a local Panera for a couple of years. I trust them with my shitty first drafts and my weird musings. They get me as a writer and as a person.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What kinds of things did you read?
My mother tells a story about me as a young child. I’m a year old and my favorite book is called My Purple Pinwheel Twirls. It’s one of those cheap paperback books for early readers that’s usually found in those spinning racks in the children’s section of the bookstore. Whenever we have company, I read the book out loud. Everyone is amazed that a one-year-old can read. Turns out that I can’t actually read—I just memorized the words. So even then, I loved books and words.
Besides My Purple Pinwheel Twirls, I loved anything by Judy Blume. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was my all-time favorite. I also devoured the Little House on the Prairie books and the Encyclopedia Brown books. Another favorite was The Mixed Up World of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which is about two kids who find themselves locked in a museum overnight. I used to get so caught up in these stories that I’d stay up way past my bedtime reading. I still stay up way too late if I’m reading something really great.
Tell us what you’re looking forward to reading.
I just got a copy of Ghostographs: An Album by Maria Romasco Moore from Rose Metal Press. I was intrigued about the concept of the book when I read about it a year or so ago. Romasco Moore pairs vintage photographs with pieces of flash fiction. I like the idea of finding the extraordinary in what might otherwise be an ordinary photo.
I’m also intrigued by the idea that people change from one moment to the next. We’re not the same people that we were yesterday. As a result, a photo captures a person’s essence in a particular moment in time. A good piece of writing can do the same thing.
I’m obsessed with flash these days. Both reading it and writing it. The weirdness of the genre appeals to me.
What was the first piece of writing you ever published or saw in print?
When I was in third grade, I published a newsletter called “Neighborhood News.” I used my parents’ typewriter and came up with a one-sheet, two-column newsletter that detailed all of the exciting happenings of my suburban neighborhood in Battle Creek, Michigan. Neighborhood News included a joke and a recipe that I copied from one of my mom’s cookbooks.
My brother and I went door to door selling that first issue. I think it cost a nickel. Even then, I was learning the difficulties of making a living as a writer.
I remember my mom getting a call from a neighbor who had purchased a copy. She wanted to verify that a recipe for cookies that included butterscotch chips and La Choy rice noodles was correct.
It was my first lesson about the importance of accurate reporting. And yes, the recipe was correct. Also, strange but delicious.
What does literary success look like to you?
I know it sounds corny, but literary success to me is affecting a single reader.
Like most writers, I sometimes wonder why we do this tortuous thing called writing. But once in awhile I’ll hear from a reader who says they were impacted by my words. Most often, they relate to my story and feel not so alone.
P.S. Apparently, I was not the only girl in the world who was forbidden from playing the drums.
My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys is a humorous and heartfelt memoir comprised of stories about that middle place where boy and girl collide. Rae Theodore grew up as a young butch (or tomboy, as it was called back in the day), wanting to play the drums, wear football jerseys like her brother and always be in close proximity to Olivia Newton-John. It wasn’t until Rae came out later in life and embraced those things that always made her happy—baseball caps, flannel shirts, neckties in every color of the rainbow—that she discovered her authentic self. My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys is required reading for all butches, genderqueers and other gender warriors and rebels, as well as anyone interested in looking at gender in a new way.
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