I met Geena when she attended my ‘How to Write a Chick-Lit Novel’ at the Australian Writers’ Centre in Sydney, 2012.
Little did I know, Geena was writing her memoir, Call Me Sasha, which has just been published by Allen & Unwin.
Call Me Sasha is a compelling, honest and often heartbreaking read about Geena’s journey from sexual abuse through to prostitution and eventual salvation, as she recounts the highs and lows of her amazing years in the sex industry.
Geena, why did you write Call Me Sasha?
The reason I wrote Call Me Sasha is because I have overcome many challenges in life and thought that others would read it and say to themselves; “If she got through that – then I can get through this!” What I’ve also found is that readers who have had a privileged (or perhaps a normal) upbringing are reading it and feeling a great sense of appreciation for their own lives. One lady sent me a message saying; ‘I’m going to ring my parents right now and thank them for the amazing job they did raising me and for the opportunities they presented me with’. Parts of the book are resonating with different people. I wrote it primarily for women in mind; however men are responding extremely positively to it too.
How long did it take you to write and where did you go from there?
It took me seven months to write. What I didn’t foresee, is that I fell into a deep depression once the first draft was completed (apparently focussing on everything horrible thing that has ever happened to you and you’ve done, and then describing it in all vivid detail can do that!). I didn’t even actually believe that depression was a real disease until then – I used to think that depressed people just didn’t have the resources or they were lazy. I now have a new level of empathy for those that suffer from depression. After two random strangers hugged me in the supermarket and in the mall (I must have looked as hopeless as I felt), I took the advice of a doctor and went on anti-depressants for a few months.
The editor I sent the manuscript to recommended it to a personal contact of hers at Allen & Unwin, who then offered me a contract.
And the editing process?
The editing process with the publisher was also smooth and easy. The publisher said that the manuscript was ‘strong to begin with’ (plus I already had it edited by a professional editor) so it was more of a tweaking process. The only major cut was the chapter about a short stint I underwent in prison. They advised that it was too long and it began to sound ‘like a prison memoir’. (Wow! There is a little bit in your book about a short prison stint in Greece but perhaps there’s more to the tale?)
I wasn’t attached to every single word so cutting it was easy. I was more concerned with retaining the overall momentum and impact for the reader. Whenever the editor made a suggestion e.g. ‘cut this sentence out to make it punchier’ – they were right. I found it was only my ego wanting to keep some words to (try to) make me look funny or clever.
(I know the feeling!)
As each step towards publication drew nearer, it was thrilling and at times scary – because everyone I knew (and people that I didn’t know) were soon to all find out about my wayward past. It was a past I’d kept so secret up until now. Some family members were (and are) not happy about the book, and that’s ok. I felt ‘on purpose’ writing it. I knew that the book was going to do some good in the world and nothing was going to stop me from writing it or having it published.
And since publication? Now that you are truly ‘out’?
Since publication, I feel a great sense of empowerment. The entire process has been a wonderful growth opportunity and ultimately a freeing experience for me. A book is not like a two hour movie; people are taking days out of their busy lives to read it, which makes me feel privileged. And I’m thrilled to hear people are enjoying it.
Geena, thanks so much for chatting with me. I wish you every success with Call Me Sasha, (Allen & Unwin 2013)
For more info about Geena, drop by her website www.geenaleigh.com and make sure you read Call Me Sasha!