Sex, drugs, and a book


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Stephen Elliott knows addiction. The 37-year-old author used to shoot heroin and said he still takes 10 mg of Adderall a day – a drug he has been using for years.

Early into his latest nonfiction book, The Adderall Diaries, Elliott writes, “An author writing a story can be like a junky looking for a fix.” This addictive passion for writing is was even harder when he suffered from a year-and-a-half of writer’s block.

“To get out of it, I just started documenting my life,” he said. “I was going back on Adderall, so I started documenting that.”

He will visit Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., to read from, The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder at 7 p.m. today. In the book, the author tries to sort out his life and failed relationships, while telling the tale of Hans Rieser, a famous computer programmer who killed his wife.

“When Hans was found guilty of murder he said, ‘I’m the best father I know how.’ That was just chilling,” Elliott said. “It was such a strange parallel with my father, who also confessed to a murder in his unpublished memoir. I started thinking about how these guys related and the justifications they were relying on to define themselves and their actions.”

While he does focus much of his book on the murder and learning to understand his father, he also tries to cope with the things going on in his own life. He talks of numerous relationships with women and his sexual desire for pain, which he wrote more thoroughly about in My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up.

“I don’t go out too often to S&M clubs anymore, but it’s still my sexuality,” he said. “It’s not foreplay for me. It’s the whole act. If you’re gay, you’re gay, if you’re into S&M, you’re into S&M.”

Elliot said he doesn’t see how authors can write a true memoir if they don’t focus on all aspects of their life – even the most taboo of topics.

“I’m exploring the landscape of the mind,” he said. “If you’re writing about sex or anything, you should just try to be really honest about it. I don’t think a reader should have to read a book that only goes halfway.”

This no-holds-barred approach is what makes his writing so compelling, according to Vauhini Vara, who is studying fiction in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“He really puts all of his heart and soul and guts into his readings,” Vara said. “When you read Steve’s writing or hear him read from his work, your first response is one of embarrassed discomfort, as in, ‘Should I really be hearing about this?’ Then you realize that’s what makes it so brilliant: such generous, unflinching honesty is rare in literature, but it’s what writers should strive for.”

Once Elliott completed The Adderall Diaries, he put a message on his website stating he would send out an advance copy of his book to people who wanted to read it, and they would then have to forward it to the next reader within a week.

Four hundred people responded. Soon, Elliott came up with the idea to book a reading tour based out of people’s own houses, which resulted in the current 90-stop tour, covering 33 cities.

“When I’m reading in people’s homes, it’s just whoever the friends are of the person whose home I am in who show up — it’s a reflection of their world,” he said.

The stop at Prairie Lights is unusual because it is set in a bookstore. The writer said he wanted to read at the shop because of its fame and because he finished writing The Adderall Diaries in Iowa City, despite living in San Francisco.

“I needed to be somewhere where it was quieter,” he said. “I love [Iowa City].”

Excerpt: The Adderall Diaries

On May 5, 2007, Floyd Mayweather meets Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The fight has been hyped for five months. Floyd will make more than $20 million and De La Hoya will make more than $30 million. De La Hoya is heavier and Mayweather faster. Mayweather goes running late at night in Las Vegas, 3:00 AM sprints in the dark. The underlying drama is that Floyd’s father had been in jail for drug running. Floyd trained with his uncle instead.

The boxers move quickly inside the ropes, sweat pouring down their backs like glaze. Mayweather peppers the older De La Hoya, landing a shot in the tenth that snaps De La Hoya’s head back like a spring toy. De La Hoya, well past his prime, comes out hard in the final rounds, his shoulders turning as if on rotors, delivering a flurry of jabs into Mayweather’s ribs. Mayweather just barely wins the fight and tells anyone who will listen, ‘This proves I’m the greatest fighter of all time.’ But it doesn’t.

Floyd Mayweather was supposed to win big, and he squeaked by. Floyd’s father sits ringside, a guest of his son’s opponent. The father has long braids and cheeks so sharp it’s as if his face was engraved. After the fight the older Mayweather says he thinks De La Hoya should have won.

I know everything there is to know about fathers who root against their sons.

Stephen Elliott, excerpt from The Adderall Diaries. Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Elliott. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

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