Boys for Pele: deep in the girl-zone

Hey everybody, I am leading a very low-internet-impact lifestyle at the moment, I am happy to report. I completely forgot how to even get on here and put up a blog post!  But I have now remembered how to do it,  so I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m currently deep in the writing of a book about Tori Amos’s excellent 1996 album Boys for Pele for Continuum’s excellent 33 1/3 series of books on music. (You can check out a recent NYT review of the latest book in this series, Jonathan Lethem’s take on Fear of Music by Talking Heads.)

The Boys for Pele book is very fun writing. For those of you who know this album, it is probably not a surprise to hear that it’s throwing me for a few curves and providing lots of mysterious transcendental surprises that are a total pleasure to encounter as a writer.

For various reasons I have to write this book really slowly, so I am using a method I read about in this amazing creativity guidebook by Lynda Barry that I cannot recommend strongly enough.

I am writing large portions of this book with brush and ink. I’m lucky if I get two sentences on a page! It’s ridiculous but my god is it so much better than what happens to my writing process when my brain gets to race and race and race.

It’s the yin yoga of writing. One of these years I’ll figure out a way to cover the floor with a tarp and have a writing class where we get all kinds of fun art supplies to make it even better than the writing longhand I’ve always required of my students in class.

When I remember I am posting little updates of these weird Pele encounters that sometimes pop up in this process as well as pictures of my weird crappy rough draft writing pages online at my experimental (for me: I am allergic to social media so we’ll see how long I last) semi-secret twitter account @elizabetherself.  It’s so freeing to just let the rough draft be a total mess on its own and to let little bits of it out, without Spanx on.

For the Toriphiles/EWFs, let me just say I chose to write this book because over the years Pele has pulled me in with her big-ass mysteries and then amazingly unlocked some of them–there’s a bit of a treasure hunt that is “plain to see, it is rising.”  But as I write all these other–to me–just totally shocking secrets hidden in the so-called “impermeable” lyrics keep offering themselves up. Last night Superfly landed at my desk and said: YO. And I was shocked I’d never really seen it before, this one little secret the album holds in the “Off with Superfly sniffing a Sharpie pen” line in “Horses” that so many critics could and did easily dismiss as associative trippy weirdness from a “kook.”

Yeah: not so much! Right now the Pele book includes this line (blame Pele, not me! I am of course very polite and would never do such a thing. . . ) where we all pause and take a moment collectively to just give said critics the finger. In case that line does not make it into the final cut, however, if you wish, please take a minute and do so with me now!

Honestly, I was scared, originally, to write about music but it’s turning out to be just a total joy.

It was hard at first to feel okay writing the book for deep-Toriphiles such as myself. As of now I’m not worrying about walking the reader through a sort of basic primer level of Tori Amos/BFP. Aren’t there a million articles by now that talk about the Peabody Conservatory and Y Kant Tori Read? Yawn! Not for me.

I will probably have to add something in later to cover those basics, but for now, I’m writing Pele so as not to totally bore people who have read many if not most of her interviews, people who are probably a little bummed if a Tori show doesn’t include enough b-sides, etc. Yet: as the themes and truths of Pele are universal, the book seems to be writing itself in a way that is accessible to anyone who is interested in creativity, self-expression, transformation, revealing hidden or “shameful” truth.

This book is about creativity in general, and women’s creativity post-feminist-revolution specifically. Boys for Pele is all about intense, uncensored expression. The album was central to my getting my own grounding as a young artist in my 20s, it was essential to writing my novel Girly, and it holds deep, and quite practical (“easy like one, two, three”)  truths on how to function as a creative revolutionary (that’s Pele talking about the “revolutionary” stuff! As I’m writing it’s so weird but I can really feel Chuck D energy in this album).

Anyway, I am just so excited to geek out on being a Pele detective, and to share this adventure with my brother & sister Pele geeks when the book comes out (so far as I know in early 2013. . . )

xoxo Love, Elizabeth



  1. Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I can’t imagine writing with ink and brush. My handwriting is so bad that I sometimes can’t read my own pencil-drafted prose. More power to you and looking forward to seeing the results.

  2. Elizabeth
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Sally, thank you, and I KNOW!!–my own handwriting is very messy as well but I am just keeping my fingers crossed for the typing phase. Usually I can make it out, and if I can’t figure a word out from context perhaps that’s a hint I could probably edit it :)

  3. Scott
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    Please don’t forget the line “can’t forget the things you never said.” my favorite line of the entire album. I love Pele!

  4. Elizabeth
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Yes! That line is a very important one.

  5. Chris Miller
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Were you from Jackson Ohio and went by the name Libby?

  6. Elizabeth
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, not me! I’m from Pennsylvania

  7. Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    I look forward to seeing what you concoct from Father Lucifer…’He wiped a tear then he threw away our appleseed’ is one of my favorite lines, as well as ‘Boy, You are my 5th Avenue’ from Amsterdam;) Such an exciting venture you’re doing, Elizabeth! xo

  8. Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the update! I have been avidly awaiting this book as Pele is my hands-down favorite album ever. Though it could be daunting, I’m glad you found a lot of joy in writing it – as Pele can launch the listener/writer a million different ways!

  9. Elizabeth
    Posted July 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I probably have enough material for 2 or 3 books so the challenge is whittling it down. I love hearing about people’s relationships with the album, I love hearing “it is my favorite”: there is so often a very personal, close way Pele is in people’s life & even sense of self. Even non-EWFs!

  10. Posted August 26, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Greeting from Greece! Just learnt about the book and I want to express my warmest thank yous Elizabeth. This is by far my favourite Tori album, although whenever asked about my most beloved one, I simply answer ‘all her first four ones’; from Little Earthquakes to From the Choirgirl Hotel.

    Tori has changed my life in so many ways and she still defines it. So, thank you. Again.

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