That is how Sassafras Lowrey’s debut novel, Roving Pack, begins. Roving Pack transports the reader to the gritty underground Portland, circa 2002. The story is told through the online and personal journal entries of Click, a straight-edge transgender kid who is trying to find the life, gender and Daddy that is right for hir. With an ever-shifting pack of human and canine comrades, Click navigates leather, sex, hormones, house parties, protests and connections. This book did not make me feel not like I was on a guided tour of this world, but that I was right there on the street with Click.
I was curious to know more about Click, the book and the story behind it, so I reached out to Sassafras Lowrey, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Roving Pack, hir gratitude to hir leather family and tips for leather storytelling.
The first question I have for you is about fiction and non-fiction. You include real details about when you lived in Portland, including using some of your former names. Did this start off as a memoir or was it always going to be fiction? I’d love to hear more about your process and how the book happened. Where are the lines of fiction/non-fiction?
Oh, that’s a really good question, and also one that’s tricky to answer. I think there that fiction/memoir line can definitely be a paradox — things are always far more complicated than they first appear. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the main character in Roving Pack and I both have the word ”paradox” tattooed across our chests. Despite that inky connection and the love of murky in between places, Roving Pack definitely is fiction. Initially, Roving Pack started as a grouping of unorganized storied that I began writing after getting back in contact with a friend from the old days. She was dealing with some medical issues and struggling to remember details of our shared pasts. Ive always been obsessed with preserving memory but it became a really tangible reminder for me about how fragile life can be, and about the way the reality of the worlds we’re from had already disappeared.
Probably about a year after starting to write was when I made the transition to seeing the project as a work of fiction. The line between fiction and memoir is a blurry one. In all my work, I write about worlds that I have a personal connection to and there’s no denying that Roving Pack is very much based on the world I lived in as a young punk queer. Similarly the main character Click (who as you mention does share my boi/transman/butch name) is in lots of ways based on who I was as a late teen. I did, however, take a lot of artistic licence with things. In some ways, Roving Pack is the memoir that Click might have written, and yet because of all the way I’ve changed in the last decade that same book is very much my fiction.
I was interested to learn from your blog that the inclusion of dogs in the story came as an afterthought and were not part of the original story. As a reader, it’s hard to imagine the book without your canine pack, both the one Click lost and the one ze creates. ”Pack” seems to have a lot of meaning and shifting in your novel. I’d love to hear more about what pack means to you and what it means to the fictional Click, both in terms of this book and your life.
I honestly don’t know what I was initially thinking not including canine pack in the novel. Dogs have always been a really important part of my life, and so it only makes sense that they would feature heavily in my fictional work as well. Adding Click’s dog Orbit – and all the other dogs, cats, rats that the kids share their live with into the novel added layers of texture and richness to the characters and places that was notable missing in drafts of the manuscript where they initially had been omitted.
The layers of pack/family is really at the heart of this novel. Roving Pack is a novel centered around ideas of family specifically the families we create for ourselves and the worlds that we build with those families. For Click family was something ze desperately longed for more than anything else. In the novel Click is really searching, ze’s trying to find and build a community who will actually see him, and care for him and yet he never quite manages to obtain it. In as many ways as Roving Pack is about the beauty and power of creating family, it’s also about failure. In the novel I tried to really dig into the ways in which sometimes it is only other wounded people we can even dream of letting close enough to lick our wounds, it’s only others whose scars match ours that we can drop our armor and open up to, and yet sometimes while trying to do the best we can we end up re wounding each other.
For me on a very personal level I know that creating family is what saved me. I wake every morning very aware of how blessed I am to truly have the kind of family/pack that Click could only dream of. My chosen family are a daily intimate part of my life today and I leaned on them really heavily as I was writing Roving Pack.
What does it mean to you (and to Click) to have a leather family? How is it different than your chosen family (if it is different)?
It sounds cliche but to me having a leather family means everything. For me that kind of created family is about being fully seen and understood as apposed to needing to fracture myself in order to translate my life to others. For me leather is core and central to the ways I live my life. As such, my leather family is an essential part of my daily life and are the very first people I turn to both when I’m struggling and when I’m celebrating. To clarify, for me leather is mostly pretty disconnected from sex. I’m talking about connections, relationships and bonds that are mostly or entirely separated from anything even remotely sexual.
I was blessed to find and be saved by leather as a crusty punk kid, when my world looked very much like the one depicted in Roving Pack. Leather was the first time I was able to make sense, not only of desire, but also of the world around me. It is the way I wanted relationships to be structured, and even brought me to my understanding of myself.
Leather isn’t play for me, it’s a way of life. This is something I tried to infuse onto Roving Pack, as well. In many ways, the novel is about the search for Leather family, commitment, containment and more. In the book, Click doesn’t necessarily get the leather family ze is searching for. However, ze encounters pieces of it; there are moments where ze can almost taste enough to form a dream of something more.
How do I think Click grows/matures in terms of Leather?
I think Click grows a lot in leather over the course of the novel, specifically and perhaps most powerfully in the way that ze gains the ability to take ownership over the desire and calling ze has to be a boy. Click is in so many ways ready to submit and give hirself to any butch with enough balls to call themselves a Daddy. There is a desperation to hir searching that I really wanted to capture in this novel. I know first hand how easy it can be (especially early on) to sacrifice almost anything to get close to the kind of powerful connection found in leather. I don’t think Click has all the answers by the end of the book (do we ever?) but Click grows in hirself knowing more about who ze is as a leather boy regardless of weather ze wears someone’s collar. Despite all the heartache, Click is solid in knowing that this is the path for hir.
You teach leather storytelling workshops. What advice do you have for readers of Fearless Press who have stories to tell but don’t know how to start?
I think the best advice I can give folks would be to never stop telling your story. I think that all of us, and in particular leather folks don’t see many accurate mediated representations of our lives. Not seeing yourself reflected back in that way can be profoundly devastating, which is part of why I’m so committed to writing stories outside of the erotica that feature the lives of leather folk. I’m a firm believer in the idea that everyone is a writer, that everyone has a story to tell, and that the telling of our stories is ultimately what creates social change.
Figuring out how to start can be incredibly overwhelming for everyone, even (and maybe especially) if you know that you have stories that you want to tell. The biggest piece of advice I can give would be to lower your expectations, don’t obsess about writing the *best* story, or capturing everything perfectly – instead focus on writing something. There’s always time to edit later, and we are in so many ways our own worst critics.
Sassafras Lowrey is a queer international award winning author, artist, storyteller and educator. Ze believes that everyone has a story to tell, and that the telling of stories is essential in the creation of social change. Sassafras is the editor of the two time American Library Association honored, and Lambda Literary Finalist Kicked Out anthology which brought together the voices of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth from around the country. More about hir work can be found at http://pomofreakshow.com