Monday, May 16, 2016

Crush: Dave Singleton on Celebrity Crushes, Publishing Advice, and Perseverance

By Jessica Flores

You probably remember your first celebrity crush. No matter how embarrassing it might be, the object of your affection probably still has special meaning. In Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton’s new book, CRUSH: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing, and the Lasting Power of Their First Celebrity Crush, they focused on just that. The anthology is a collection of essays from writers—including Stephen King, James Franco, Roxane Gay, and Jodi Picoult—about their first celebrity crushes. Both writers/editors are teaching courses this summer at The Writer’s Center.  They will also read from the anthology at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21 and participate in a Q&A with our own Joe Callahan. Recently, we spoke with Singleton about the project.

The Writer’s Center: How did you come up with this idea?
Dave Singleton: From the ashes, great things sometimes spring forth. I first thought of my new book CRUSH in 2012 when two things happened. First, I’d written about relationships for 12 years and had— and still have— a deep fondness for exploring all facets of longing, attraction, connection, and love. Writing about those aspects of life are second nature to me. I’d also been working on a book proposal about celebrity culture, and after some initial interest and enthusiasm from editors—and a lot of time spent writing and rewriting on my part— had decided it was a non-starter. So, I was buzzing with longing and celebrity. Then the idea just came to me.
I went out for drinks one night with my old friend Cathy [Alter] who’d just had a baby and was itching to get out of the house, and, out of the blue, she said, “Let’s collaborate on something!”

“OK,” I replied, without giving it a second thought.
“Do you have any ideas?”
“Well, I do have one—a book on first celebrity crushes.”

That night, we shared our celebrity crush stories with each other and realized they were rich and poignant. They weren’t just silly one-liner anecdotes. In the end, both of our stories were about bigger things. Hers was about her mom and mine about coming of age. This could be surprising and great if we take such a simple topic and give it a literary bent, I thought.
From that, CRUSH was born. 

TWC: What was your experience like working on this anthology?
DS: It was intense. Creative. Exciting. Demanding. It was collaboration, with all the sparky, challenging aspects that word connotes. I had no idea going in what it would take to write our essays and then a proposal. We created a wish list of writers we loved and started the long journey of finding them through our contacts, their agents, and a variety of means. Then we sent the invites and decided on a mix of voices and experiences.  Diversity was very important to us.
Some hopped on board right away. Some said no. For the writers who said yes, we worked with them on their pieces. We had a vision of literary excellence, a high bar for every essay. And boy, the writers came through. 

Then there was the business of selling it, and that took quite a while. Not everyone got the idea. Through it all, my co-author and I never wavered. This book was born of perseverance.
We were so fortunate to meet our editor at HarperCollins. She just loved it and we loved her. Selling a book is like dating. You go through a lot of rough experiences, but then you find the one and you just know. 

TWC: Who was your first celebrity crush?
DS: David Cassidy, when he was on “The Partridge Family.” Watching that show—and him—was the first time I ever carved out a little independence in my family, and it was the first inkling I had that I might be different. I didn’t know the word for gay then. I was way too young. But there was something about him and his shag haircut, his puka-shell necklace and those rockin’ bell bottoms…

TWC: What advice would you give writers who are just starting out? What do you tell students during your workshops?
DS: Don’t write and edit at the same time. Let your writing flow out of one side of the brain. Then edit from the other side. Writing and editing at the same time is like constantly putting a car in gear and slamming on the brakes. You lurch forward then halt. Lurch forward then halt. It’s not productive.

But make time for both. Ernest Hemingway said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Fall in love with revising as much as you swoon over your first draft. There’s so much elsefrom carving out the time and avoiding making excuses to all the other ways you can bring a story to lifebut I like these two best.

TWC: What motivated you to become a writer?
DS: I was motivated to become a writer out of curiosity. I want to know what makes people tick. What makes me tick. I still do. That’s why I gravitated toward nonfiction. My close friend David Keplinger, whose essay on Debbie Harry is in CRUSH, got me a birthday visit with a psychic who told me I’d be writing fiction one day. We’ll see. I love bringing real stories to life through all the elements of fiction: imagery, figurative language, dialogue, details. 

TWC: What projects are you most looking forward to working on?
DS: With CRUSH, I loved finding a new way to explore pop culture and want to stick with that theme for my next big project. I always have a couple of articles in the pipeline. When it comes to books or larger projects, I spend time on research, figuring out if the topic has been covered before, how I could bring something new and different to it, and the time I spend upfront is helpful for another reason. If you’re going to write a book, for instance, you better love the topic, because it will be with you—and you’ll be with it—for years. 

Dave Singleton has published two previous books: BehindEvery Great Woman is a Fabulous Gay Man: Advice from aGuy Who Gives it to You Straight and The MANdates: 25 Real Rules forSuccessful Gay Dating. His honors include the Media Industry Award for Outstanding Exclusive Coverage, GLAAD Award for Outstanding Multimedia Journalism, and two NLGJA Excellence in Online Journalism awards. His work has appeared in The Washington PostChicago Tribune, PBS’s Next Avenue, AARP Media, Yahoo, MSN, the BBC, Washingtonian, Harper’s Bazaar, and OUT. He is a regular columnist for, Yahoo, and Match. For more on his work, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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