In the desert at Summerlake Hot Springs--for four days with over 20 writers, staying in a row of Airstream trailers--one of the best things is seeing what books each writer packed. I've come with books on Joan of Arc; transcripts of her testimony. Joanna Rose, author of Little Miss Strange, brought Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide, by Robert Michael Pyle. Someone else passes around a book of poems at night over the campfire. I catch the single line of poetry read aloud: "The only English he was speaking was Spanish!" And Tom Spanbauer, author of Faraway Places and The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, has brought Sarah, by J.T. Leroy (a.k.a. "Terminator").

I ask Tom about the book. "It's a story about a 12-year-old boy who's a prostitute," he says. "His mother is also a prostitute. She dresses the kid up like a girl and they trick together. They're lizards, in that they trick with truck drivers."

I know nothing about "lizards," or tricking with truck drivers. When Tom speaks, he uses language carefully and clearly, with no Latinates. It's the same way he writes.

"In one truck stop, there's a haute couture cook. Everyone is protected. Everybody knows what the deal is. Nobody is fag-bashed," Tom says. "But this kid wants to go off and find greater adventure. There's a second truck stop with all kinds of evil. It's a fable, really, about this kid trying to find his mother. He's trying to find himself, and finds his mother. His mother's name is Sarah, and then the kid starts calling himself Sarah."

The book, Sarah... both feel humble and homemade. The cover is paper, glued on, with no dust jacket. The author is only 20 years old. On the back, there's a picture of the author, a scrappy kid in Sears clothing, hair too long and soft. I can tell Tom is enthusiastic about the writing. I ask him what he liked best about the book.

He says, "The language and the humor. It's raw, and it's out there. And the sexuality. It's a fun read. The power of the language compelled me. The language is broken, a raw voice, with all these wonderful, wise-cracking Southern-isms."

Language is Tom's big thing. Language and pushing boundaries. Tom Spanbauer's recommendation of Sarah makes me certain that the book is doing something--with language and material--not many books have done before.

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