2007_05_tracy_quan.jpg"To make a long story shot, you can't be a successful writer AND run a business as a hooker at the same time. Something's gotta give." Author Tracy Quan had been a call girl since her early teens and its this first hand experience that provided her with the content for her writing. Starting as a bi-weekly serial on Salon.com, Nancy Chan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl led to two novels translated into 13 languages, a third that's in the works, and a development deal with Revolution Studios.

What is your educational background? Are you self-taught or are did you attend any educational institutions?
For two years, I attended an experimental school located in the basement of a Unitarian church. We had lessons in the history of the Vietnam War. One of the more hippy-ish moms had us over to make copper jewelry in her basement. It was a funny blend of progressive and old school values, because I also learned some Latin and developed a fondness for English grammar. I could have spent an entire day parsing sentences, given the chance. Then I went to a normal high school for one year.

I was an opinionated little nerd who didn't respect the way formal education was organized. In ninth grade, I played hooky because it was more fun to hang around bookstores. I was cutting school to go to the library. My parents were somewhat alarmed, but they were partly responsible for this state of affairs. It was they who encouraged me to challenge official wisdom. By the time my mother tried to lay down the law, it was too late.

I dropped out of high school when I ran away, at 14. I never resumed my formal education because I didn't like getting up early, and I didn't like the idea of having to pay for a university degree. I did, however, invest in therapy, which I've come to see as a cousin of formal education.

What inspired your aspiration, as a child, to become a writer and when and how did you begin to act upon that desire?
My mother was an editor of scientific material, and her friends from the office were writers, churning out these publications about geese, caribou, and the environment. They were a bit like technical writers, so it seemed like a nine to five job to me. However, I aspired to be more like Enid Blyton, who was very commercial and popular. I'm nowhere near her, in terms of productivity. She created thousands of characters, and God only knows how many books she published. I wrote some bad poetry, and I kept a diary. I was always scribbling away, but most of it was pretty awful! Still, I had this idea that I could be a writer, and somehow managed to become one.

What were your reading habits like growing up?
Subversive, eclectic and sometimes a bit vulgar.

Around the age of five or six, I noticed that adults were reading books about child psychology and parenthood. I discovered that adults were actually insecure about their power. They wanted us to believe their authority was natural, but now I could see that it was a cultural invention. Adults had to learn how to wield this authority, and they were even arguing amongst themselves about the best methods for managing children!

A few years later, I discovered A.S. Neill. I had also read some stuff by Dr. Spock, but Neill was the writer who got my attention. He was good friends with Wilhelm Reich and Henry Miller, who were just names to me at that point. At the age of eight, I couldn't understand it all, but Neill's bestseller, Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child-rearing, introduced me to the ideas of Freud and to the concept of the unconscious, in a very rudimentary way. It had quite an impact on my life.

Around that time, I also stumbled across a prurient novel about college sex, The Harrad Experiment. When my mother tried to stop me from reading it, I protested against her arbitrary misuse of power and got her to change her decision. She said, "You're right. I've always said you can read anything you want to read, and you can."

My tastes were all over the place. I read Black Power tracts by Stokely Carmichael, and I read as much sexual advice as I could find, but I also enjoyed all the normal kid stuff: Pippi Longstocking, Babar, Harriet the Spy, Charlotte's Web, and The Borrowers. I loved popular entertainment, and rejected the literary snob thing early on. When I was 12, my step dad noticed that I was reading a YA novel with a rather frivolous theme. He lectured me about having the stereotypical reading habits of a "jeune fille." I remember thinking, "That's what I am, you idiot." I was always, deep down, a girly girl and I loved gossipy books that were written for adolescent girls. I was a total omnivore and still am.

How many sex workers would you say choose their career because they wanted to do it compared to the amount that do so because of circumstance, such as drug addiction or poverty?
I think this is the wrong way to look at choice, because addictive drugs are a choice. We usually decide whether or not to try them, so I wouldn't agree that a druggie is forced into the sex trade. The sex worker whose earnings are going to cocaine or heroin has made a choice, and this should be acknowledged. When people have too many choices, they very often do foolish things.

But how do we define poverty? If you live in Manhattan, as I do, anyone who's not mega-wealthy is impoverished these days! Most sex workers aren't drawn from the ranks of the mega-rich. The middle class hooker, who once was seen as a symbol of empowerment and choice, might now be viewed as a symbol of plutocracy's dark side.

This isn't just a Manhattan phenomenon. The UK Ministry of Defense recently announced that the global middle class is on its way to becoming the new proletariat. The middle classes are increasingly seen as the affluent poor, who might be seduced by Marxism. How much of this is stark reality, and how much is ideological fashion? I'm not sure. But it needs to be taken into account when we talk about poverty and prostitution.

I doubt that most people really choose their career. The career chooses you, for all sorts of reasons: economics, karma, culture, biology, luck, or talent. This may sound like heresy to those who see choice almost as a virtue. We're bamboozled into believing that sex work can only be "good" if we have lots of other choices and, perhaps, a university degree. It's the sexually liberated version of bourgeois morality, and it's rubbish because the most creative, meaningful things we do are not the result of having infinite choice. How we react to the lack of choice can build and shape character. That's how you develop your talents, and it's how you become a person worth knowing.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
Nothing that happens to me here seems strange.

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Mary McCarthy. I love the way she stood up to Stalinist Chic: she joined the Troskyites only because the New York Stalinists were telling her she couldn't. I admire a person who resists peer pressure. Way!!

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
I would bring Bobby Short back from the dead. I really miss that guy. I didn't know him personally, but it was a pleasure to spot him, walking around in the East 50s, when he was alive. He was so gracious and good-looking. His shows at the Cafe Carlyle were wonderful. The day he died, I was totally bummed out.

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York?
Relationships have ended over this question. Ask me this again in five years, but I can't imagine living anywhere else. I feel a great debt to New York, which welcomed and accepted me when I was a completely unformed, clueless teenager. I had almost no money when I arrived here. All I had was my body and my personality and my ability to work for a living. New York has been very kind to me. I hope I live here long enough to give something back.

What's your idea of a perfect day of recreation in New York?
It would be a spring or summer day, and it would probably take place entirely indoors. I love the simple pleasures and I'm very lazy. On a perfect day, I wouldn't have to be exposed to sunlight. At some point, there would be excellent food and good conversation with someone I love. Maybe I would attend a King's Singers concert or a riveting lecture. When the sun goes down, I might go out for a short walk.

Check out Tracy website to read her blog, a variety of articles and interviews, and find out about her activist side.