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On the Plett and Plante Tour: An Interview
Last month, writers Hazel Jane Plante and Casey Plett embarked on a joint, seven-city tour for their books: Hazel’s sophomore novel Any Other City and the re-release of Casey’s short story collection A Safe Girl to Love (Arsenal Pulp Press). ALU met them via Zoom to revisit the tour, which became a wide-ranging conversation about community-building, trans celebration, and finding the energy in the room.
All Lit Up: You just concluded a seven-city tour in nine days across Canada and the US – you must be exhausted! My first question is whose idea it was to do the Plett and Plante Tour? What were the logistics of moving that far, that quickly? Would you do it again?
Hazel Jane Plante: Originally an Arsenal idea – Cynara [Arsenal’s marketing director], I think. They approached each of us individually like, “Would you want to do some events with Casey?”And the answer was obviously yes. The Plett and Plante thing helped, too.
Casey Plett: Yeah, it came together around that and then the cities were decided. We got to book our own travel, which was helpful. And I’d definitely do it again.
ALU: Did you know each other before this tour?
HJP: I think we had met in person maybe a couple of times beforehand, but we had never done an event together. We’d interviewed each other for different things before, so there was that familiarity with each other’s work, and I think we’ve seen each other at events and stuff like that.
CP: And like, it’s a very small trans-lit town. Yeah, right. So your work and my work, and you and me are often just floating around in the same kind of little tiny thing.
HJP: Totally, totally. And I think I’ve said it to you many times and I’ll say it yet again, you were literally the first writer I read of trans-lit fiction, as far as trans fiction goes, and A Safe Girl to Love, which you were touring the re-release, that was a really, deeply, profoundly important book to me. So it was also extra beautiful to be able to tour around that.
CP: Thank you.
ALU: What are the nice things about touring with another writer versus touring solo?
CP: I love it. I don’t mind doing solo stuff, but I much prefer to do events with other people, you know. We’d often have local readers “open” for us in the towns. That happened in New York and Baltimore, in Chicago. In Toronto, we had Kai Cheng Thom and A. Light Zachary which was awesome.
I mean, I am happy to hold down a stage by myself when I have to, but that’s not my preference. So another reason I was really, really glad when they were like, “Hey, do you want to tour with Hazel?” and I was like, “Oh my god, absolutely I do.”
HJP: Same. Even for the first launch that I did here, I was like, “how do I want it to be?” That’s what I increasingly find myself asking about events. Instead of just showing up and doing a thing, I’m excited to read with other folks or be in conversation with them where things will come up that will be unexpected and interesting. And I was super happy, like Casey was saying, about the idea of having different readers in different cities. That also brings in an additional energy and most of those folks’ work I was not that familiar with so there’s also something really sweet about that. In some ways it’s like a band being on tour. It’s like two bands-
HJP: And then each night they take turns. I remember going to see Blondie and The Ramones and these other bands when I was growing up and they would change who the opening band was versus the second, closer band or whatever. There’s an energy that comes from that, too, because I’m also excited to see what you’re gonna read and see what sort of questions will bubble up.
ALU: Any wild stories from the road you care to share?
CP: I don’t know if anything particularly wild happened? I feel like it was actually- we were actually pretty well-behaved.
I think the most intense thing that happened was after Calgary. Calgary was the one night where I stayed up late, but what that “wildness” looked like was that my buddy Skyler and I went back in my hotel room, and we went through a bottle of whiskey watching YouTube and laughing with each other and then passed out at like two or three in the morning. That’s the wildest thing that happened in my memory.
ALU: So like, adorably wild.
CP: Yeah, it’s adorably wild. Yeah. That’s the phase I’m looking for. Hazel, does that feel right?
HJP: Yeah. That feels right. With the wildness thing… I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this tour was I do feel like our first show in Toronto, where there were the two of us and there was also A. Light Zachary who was reading with us who also had a book that came out – it’s a great book – and then Kai Cheng Thom… that one had a real “rock event” kind of vibe. There was an energy in the room, it was at capacity. And there was that feeling too of- I showed up early, as I pretty much always do to things, and I was like, “is anybody even gonna show up?” So that was part of the beauty of the tour to me, that thought of “if we go to Baltimore, will people come?” Do you know what I mean? Or Madison, Wisconsin – will people show up?
I think the wildness for me is just the uncertainty of what will happen and just seeing what was to unfold. There’s something really beautiful about that to me, as opposed to wild, that unbridled – although slightly bridled – energy of having the event and then being able to debrief after. I’ve gone to a number of really great Zoom events, but then there’s never that exit ramp of being able to say “that thing happened and that was kind of great” as opposed to being at home and then closing my laptop and looking at my cat and being like, “I think that happened.”
CP: Yeah, “did it? I’m not sure.” I know, I know, totally.
I’m writing this book on community, which Hazel knows about, and I’ve been thinking about this kind of stuff a lot. And reading books like this old tome from the year 2000 called Bowling Alone, and while I disagree with some of the things he talks about, I feel like a very common thread is that when you get together to do a thing, there are these things that happen before and after that are extraordinarily difficult to replicate in a non-meatspace setting.
Like Hazel was saying, “wild” is not the word, but that energy-giving kind of thing would be right before the event would start and I would look out and be like, “holy shit, there’s all these people here.” And sometimes “all these people” could be a packed room and sometimes they could be eight or 10 people, but they showed up and I don’t know them. You know what I mean? And that’s just the coolest, one of the most amazing things in the world. And moving, I would say. And not to be too cheesy, but there is a community aspect to that, that I find deeply lovely.
ALU: I have a couple of questions about your books in relation to the tour, starting with Hazel. Your novel Any Other City has elements of metafiction, where “Hazel Jane Plante” is a character in the story, working with the “author,” Tracy St. Cyr, to share her history. The book is also written in the second person, with Tracy addressing her former lovers. It’s beautifully constructed, intimate, and complex. With all of that said, how do you read from a book like this? What kind of passages did you choose to read on tour?
HJP: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for that. Yeah, I mean, I think that was one of those things I really struggled with is that thing of how do you give a sense of – especially if you’re trying to do something that’s a little bit layered and hits a whole bunch of different emotional moments… For my first book, when I did events for that, I felt like I found a number of different ways of giving a sense of the funny stuff, sadder stuff, things that are here, there, and everywhere, whatever.
And this book felt really tricky because it goes across time, because there are things that are in the nineties and then there are things that are a few years ago. So, for this tour, my decision with this was “what do I feel like we need right now?” Especially because of the time period that we’re living in, with the discourse that’s going on right now and these increasing pushes to squash trans folks out of existence essentially, I really, really wanted to read things that were foregrounding, and celebrating specifically trans femmes, experiencing pleasure and having a sense of ease together. So I mostly read from the second half of the book, largely scenes that involved trans women hanging out, maybe there was sex that was involved. In a lot of the readings, there was a little piece from the book that’s this 90-second thing that I would often read to ease into the reading, that’s kind of meditative – I would think of it as like a loving kindness meditation – that involves donuts and orgasms. And I would often start or finish with that. And I had a bunch of postcards made up of that that I would give out.
CP: That was so good. I’m so glad you did that.
HJP: And it just felt really fun to do that, to say “let’s try to be here in our body, because we’re doing a fucking thing together.” Often I feel that when I’m in the room with people there’s that energy that we have together. So, that was really the thought process around choosing passages, it just felt really required in the moment, to me.
ALU: And how was it, Casey, to be an “audience member” during those passages?
CP: Oh, I mean, it was great, you know. I’m really glad you did that, Hazel, because I feel like a lot of my work in some of the stuff that I chose to read was focusing on some non-pleasurable things. I think we talked a little bit about this, but I found it interesting how we like, we can sort of come from these different spaces, what our work is doing, and have it braid together in this really nice way.
ALU: Casey, you mentioned recently in Lithub that in revisiting A Safe Girl to Love for this new edition of the collection, you felt a love and protection for your 10-years-younger self as you edited the book, narrated the audiobook, and things like that. By extension, how did it feel to tour a former book, where you’re “presenting” these stories that remind you of a younger woman you’ve since “left behind”?
CP: Yeah, yeah, interesting. I mean, on one level, you know, I’m obviously in a much different place now than I was 10 years ago. When I toured for the first edition, I mean, that was bonkers. I did it with Sybil Lamb, we did it in the car, took a month and went to all these different towns. We sold zines for gas money and we… I think we got to stay in a hotel once, we were crashing on people’s couches and floors and that kind of thing. So just the fact that hotel rooms were involved in this tour, that’s like, “ah, lap of luxury.”
I’m going to reiterate something that I said in Lithub: I’ve been thinking a lot about the easy way in which sometimes young writing is talked about in a sort of condescending manner, you know, and I think that it’s intertwined a bit with how we talk about young trans people in particular, people who are newly out, et cetera, and also young writers. And so I think I had in my mind this question of newness and youth and really wanting to not treat any of those experiences with kid gloves, and also devote a certain level of love and respect.
ALU: I think this kind of ties into things that we were chatting about, that you had some newer writers or younger, more up-and-coming writers on your tour, as you mentioned, introducing things and Hazel, you had mentioned that this was very much a music-aligned practice of having the local band come on at the beginning. As a musician, how do you take forms of stage presence and performance and other things learned from that world into a literary space?
HJP: It’s interesting with literary events, in some ways, with what Casey was talking about with touring A Safe Girl to Love when it first came out with Topside, that’s a very punk rock kind of approach to things, the DIY-ness, and also the idea of zines and stuff like that. For me, I’m also a person who came up through a lot of DIY stuff and back in the day like recording albums on cassettes and just mailing them out into the world, and making zines and micropress kind of stuff. The gift economy kind of thing. So I think I take that stuff to heart.
I guess it depends on how you how you actually approach a space though too, right? I think there’s an embodiment. When you’re playing music, there’s a thing that’s happening in your body and I think about that all the time, playing with my band. I don’t think this is anything that’s specific to me, but thinking about the energy of the room, right? Which again, I don’t think is very particular to music or literary events or whatever, but just trying to be attuned to that and aware of that fact.
So for me, like doing a performance or reading in front of people or whatever, the ideal is often where there’s at least enough people to have a certain amount of energy. That’s something I really appreciate. Anywhere from like, 20 people to 120 is a real sweet spot, especially if it has more of an intimate feel, which I think was the range for this tour? I mean, I don’t know what the number was at the Toronto event, but I feel like it was a bit above a hundred or something like that.
CP: It was around there, yeah.
HJP: Yeah, so that feels like such a nice number of people to be there where there’s a feeling of collectiveness, and you can have that togetherness there. Originally when I was thinking about bringing this book into the world, I was thinking about playing songs and doing other stuff. But then I didn’t even take my laptop on this tour to be honest. I wanted the thing of being able to move really easily through space, that felt really important, to not have an instrument and stuff like that.
So I didn’t play any music. I did play at a friend’s campfire once in Madison, Wisconsin. I played a couple of songs or whatever, but it was mostly a friend of mine and her sister who were playing Leonard Cohen songs, that was the vibe. [laughs]
I mean, I think a lot of it is the attunement and the DIY-ness and the fact that we can do a thing together, right?
ALU: Yeah, sort of like talking about a conversation with the audience as opposed to just projecting. It’s like feeding off of what they’re giving you.
HJP: Yeah, I mean, I think we’re here to do a thing together and that’s part of it for me. Like, here’s the 90-second thing I’m gonna read that we can kind of think about together to try to get in sync with each other. And then suddenly we’re maybe breathing similarly. We’re doing a fun thing together. Like it’s not just the band on the stage. It’s also the people in the room. There’s that feeling of where you say a thing and then you hear it in the background, like you say “detachable penis” and then somebody in the background is like “woo!”
CP: [laughing] I know, totally. Yeah.
HJP: Like this is a fun thing. There’s something that’s really quite beautiful, you know?
ALU: Casey, you also recently started a publisher! I’m personally so excited to be able to get LittlePuss Press Books in Canada through Metonymy Press. How are you finding navigating these complimentary but also competing roles of author and publisher in your life?
CP: Yeah, I mean the time question, you know, it’s hard and that’s just the stuff of… nothing unique, we’ll put it that way. That question pretty much every artist deals with in some respect or another.
But brain-space wise, I mean, it actually feels very complimentary. It feels really nice when I’m so fucking sick of my own work to go work on other people’s books. That’s kind of how I got my start in publishing, honestly, when I started working for Biblioasis. I had just finished a draft of my novel Little Fish and I just finished editing the Meanwhile, Elsewhere sci-fi anthology, which we reprinted at LittlePuss.
The one thing I’ll say is that editing also kind of draws from the author gas tank? But, editing is a very small part of what I do at LittlePuss, so it mostly just compliments each other in a way I’m really grateful for. It helps that I get to run LittlePuss, that it’s my own show, you know, and obviously I run my own writing too, so they’re complimentary in that respect, too.
This fall, LittlePuss is putting out a book of short stories by Emily Zhou called Girlfriends. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long, long time and everyone should buy it.
HJP: I feel like I’ve told Casey this more than once or twice on the tour, but I think the start of LittlePuss felt so deeply important to me. I know how much work is involved in that, and it’s so important in whose stuff is getting published and who is working on it and taking it through the editing and distro and all that kind of stuff.
I think I was talking to you about like Ryka Aoki was one of the writers I mentioned; she’s interesting because she has three different books that were published with three different trans-run publishers, none of which are currently existing anymore, right?
CP: That’s true. It’s such a shame.
HJP: I mean, because it just, it does take so much energy and so many resources, you know, in order to keep something like that running. So I couldn’t be more excited about that, seeing it get larger and continue. I know you were working on a whole bunch of that stuff on tour, and it was so great meeting Cat [Casey’s co-publisher] – Cat’s on a tour right now as well. So that’s exciting to see, seeing all the energy people are putting into things and how much energy people have and how much cool shit is coming out, that’s also really fucking exciting.
CP: It is, it is. Yeah. Thank you.
ALU: Thanks so much to you both for your time!
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Hazel Jane Plante is a librarian, musician, coastal creature, and writer. Her debut novel Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) (Metonymy Press, 2019) received a Lambda Literary award and was a finalist for both a Publishing Triangle Award and a BC and Yukon Book Prize. Her second novel, Any Other City, was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in April 2023. She lives with her gorgeous cat, Gus, on the unceded, ancestral, and current territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
Casey Plett is the author of the novel Little Fish and the short story collections A Dream of a Woman and A Safe Girl to Love; co-editor of the anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers; and the publisher at LittlePuss Press. She wrote a column on transitioning for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and her essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Maclean’s, The Walrus, Plenitude, the Winnipeg Free Press, and other publications. She is the winner of two Lambda Literary Awards for Transgender Fiction, winner of the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, and she received an Honour of Distinction from The Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers.