Author and sex worker Mia Walsch wants to see more sex workers get published. Her new book, Money for Something, describes her diverse experiences in the sex industry. In this interview she talks about her history with mental illness, drug use and getting published as a sex worker.
What inspired you to write about your experiences in the sex industry?
I was always going to write about it – it’s just what I do. Writing things down is how I work them out, how I figure out what I’m thinking and feeling, what I want to say. I write out my thoughts and edit them down and down until I work out what they really mean.
Plus, I wanted some money! Authors don’t make much, and I had the madcap stories and universal emotional truths that I knew people would enjoy and relate to. It just made sense.
Why do you think it's important for sex workers to share their experiences in the sex trade?
Because every story is different. I pulled out all my sex work memoirs when I got my first copy of Money for Something to take a picture, like I was joining the coven. And all but one was by a white woman. I mean, obviously mine too. Anyone can write their story, but getting it published is that bit easier when you’re a white woman with a tertiary education and a decent amount of privilege. We are given more permission to talk about sex work, and more platforms to talk about it. I think there’s so much room for expression about the work and the life and the culture. I want to read those stories.
People with invisible illnesses are a stigmatised group, much like sex workers. What do you think could be done to help these folks?
Until the pandemic happened, I used to rely heavily on this idea that yes, I was chronically physically and mentally ill, but I was a ‘good worker.’ I work part-time as well as taking sessions at the dungeon, and I bust my ass on my writing career which is like a full-time job I don’t really get paid for. I am ambitious in my own weird little way. But for the past five years I’d been constantly in pain and trying to work through it. Then Covid started, and for a little while I just ceased to be able to function.
It got me thinking about the idea that chronic illness is something that is only okay to have as long as you can still participate in labour. And that just seems like bullshit to me now. I am no less valid a person if at times I am unable to complete accepted forms of labour because of things that I cannot control.
It’s like that whole thing I used to see all the time in sex work: if you were in school, sex work was so much more valid and understandable to civilians. As if it’s only okay to do sex work if it’s along the way to something more ‘acceptable’.
It’s a denial of validity and it’s so familiar to sex workers with chronic illnesses
What is your interaction between sex work and your mental health problems?
A good session actually cheers me up when I’m in one of my moods. I do the work because it’s fun, and if I’m feeling down or irritable or having a pity party, then getting to have an intense or sexy time gets me out of my head.
In a broader way, sex work has been, at times, a really great way to make a living even though I’m completely bonkers. The work is more flexible than mainstream work, but the ebbs and flows of income can cause me a lot of stress, and I do not handle stress well. Nor do I handle money well.
You've written other books about dystopian futures (which I've only just discovered and am so excited about!) What drew you to this genre and what been your main inspirations?
Most of the sex workers I know are huge dorks. I’ve always been into science fiction and it’s my genre. There’s a new golden age of SFF going on right now, it’s diverse and progressive and I’m really excited to be around it, to try to be a part of it. Sex workers are the best people, but they are followed closely by science fiction and fantasy writers.
There’s this thing my brain does where it makes these other worlds – spins them out inside my head in parallel to the real world. Sometimes they are little glimpses and sometimes they are much bigger. I’m glad I can tell stories well and have developed my writing to a point where I can share these worlds with other people. It’s a weird kind of power, imagining different worlds that won’t exist unless you write them out.
How did you find the writing process compared to writing your dystopian series?
I mean, dystopian fiction is pretty dark and Money for Something is pretty dark. I joke about how this is my ‘bleak period’, like 1982-present. But I try to bring some of my innate cheerfulness and naïve, optimistic realism into everything I write, no matter how dark it gets.
I think the big difference between writing memoir and writing fiction, for me, is that with memoir I already know how the story goes. I don’t have to make it up and drag it out of my brain, kicking and screaming. I have a lot of issues with plotting fiction – I’m usually writing to a mood or a character, which is not especially practical but it’s just the way I do things.
This is your fourth book now! Do you have any advice for workers hoping to get their work published and/or starting their first piece?
It feels weird, like, who let me write four books? Why? But anyone who is looking to write should write, and if you want to publish, just start submitting. The worst they can say is no. If you keep at it long enough, the editors will let you know how wonderful it has been to see your work develop over the years – before they say no. Ha!
But really, just start. Think about writers who have the kind of career you want, see what they did. Reach out (in a gentle and non-creepy way) and if you’re lucky they’ll share their secrets with you.
I’m the kind of person who wants to chuck the ladder back down, not haul it up after me. I want to see sex workers making all kinds of art. I want to see more sex workers given the space to write about their work and lives, but also to create art that isn’t always about sex work. There is room for all our stories – we aren’t Highlanders – there can be more than one, and more than one narrative.
Do you think you'll continue to write about your experiences in the sex industry?
Oh, for sure. I wrote only about my first three years doing sex work on purpose. I’ve got so many more stories that I wasn’t going to blow my whole wad on just one book! I’m not sure what is going to happen with publishing in the future, but I will most certainly write those stories and I hope that people get a chance to read them.
What are you reading right now?
Ugh, I have not been able to concentrate on anything new for the past six months. I’ve bought a lot of new books, but have only been able to reread. I just finished re-reading Evolution by Stephen Baxter and am about to start on Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember.