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Lily Burana on writing about being an ex-stripper Army wife

May 4, 2009 |  9:26 am

Lilyburana_uniform Lily Burana, a former punk rocker who wrote a memoir about stripping ("Strip City") and once posed for Playboy, might seem  an odd candidate to marry a military man. But that's exactly what she did, about seven years ago, before her then-boyfriend Mike, an Army officer, shipped out for Iraq. Her new memoir, "I Love a Man in Uniform," is about that experience and the many unexpected issues it raised for her. Jacket Copy asked her about writing and more.

Jacket Copy: You've written nonfiction before about your own life. In this case, the subject is both you and your relationship with your husband, Mike, which seems more complicated. Did you think about how what you were writing might affect him? Did that affect what you wrote?

Lily Burana: I thought about how writing about our relationship would affect him every moment I was working on the book! Soldiers live in camouflage not just physically but emotionally. That is to say, they are self-protective (and for good reason), so I wanted to be mindful of the balance between rigorous honesty and destructive disclosure. It affected my writing insomuch as I had him "vet" the book, so to speak — he had to approve everything I wrote about us. Which sounds more ridiculous than it really was. Ultimately, it was more a matter of "is this how you remember that night" than "do you approve of my writing, husband dear?" But I think a preservation-minded couple is well-advised to touch base with each other around any retelling of their story. "Rashomon" is not really a successful relationship template. It's a short trip from "She said, he said" to "You!!!"

JC: While you worked as a stripper and have written frankly about it, you barely mention sex during the chapters about your courtship. When you and Mike dated, was it as chaste as it seems on the page?

LB: Well, I didn't write anything about my sex life in "Strip City," either, so it was consistent between both books. It may seem "revealing" to write about stripping, but stripping is a job, not a personal engagement, and even though you are working almost-naked and presenting a sexualized work image, it's not your sex life, anymore than, say, a screen kiss really reflects an actress's true desire. "I Love a Man in Uniform" is way more revealing than "Strip City" on many levels. I suspect in "Strip City" I appeared to be showing more than I really was. But then, that's a stripper — or rather, ex-stripper — for ya, isn't it?

JC: The book references contemporary and vintage guidebooks of how to be a good Army wife. Did you use them as actual resources? Or were they research for how to write about your experiences?

LB: I totally used them. The Army doesn't set you up with how-to-be-a-wife classes or anything, so like many brides, I relied on those guides. I used the contemporary guidebooks for practical advice and the vintage ones as cautionary tales. One of the vintage guides even says something along the lines of "Don't expect Joe to help you with the dishes — his job is to protect our country!"

Writer's block and Diablo Cody ... after the jump.

JC: You mention both that you were obsessed with work (writing, freelancing) and that you had writer's block. How do those two things fit together?

LB: It involves hours and hours and hours of gamely sitting at the computer. staring. at. the. screen. LIKETHIS. I think you can be a workaholic in your attitude and end up actually getting very little work done! Or at least I can. I am the master of clearing the decks to have a "big writing day," then doing nothing but rewriting the same sentence over and over, checking e-mail and playing Bejeweled. 

JC: When Mike was away in Iraq, you withdrew into a solitary lifestyle. Were you able to write then?

LB: I did better when he was deployed, yes! I wrote about a quarter of a first draft of a novel in the months that he was away, largely because the escape felt so good — I was writing about the loud and romantic rodeo world of Wyoming, which was the exact opposite life of my sad, lone-wolf military wife life. Who doesn't want to run off with the rodeo, even if it's only in her imagination? Also, I could revert to my disgusting bachelorette girl writing habits of staying up until 5 in the morning hunched over the laptop on the bed, eating processed microwave foods and drinking gallons of diet soda. About as unhealthy a lifestyle and diet as you can get. I swear to God, by the time Mike came home, I probably had the liver toxicity of a lab rat. 

JC: Did "I Love a Man in Uniform" change from its original idea to its final incarnation? Did it take any unexpected turns?

LB: When I started, I was so intimidated by the "perfect Army wife" image, I kept censoring what I wrote. Then the book ended up being about doing battle with the "perfect Army wife" image and how it affected me as a newbie Army wife. As far as the book's reception, military wives from all over the country are e-mailing me saying the l-o-v-e that aspect of the book and how they themselves struggle with their role. As an author, that's the greatest feeling ever — writing into your fears and being met with warmth. But on the flipside, West Point recently canceled my signing at the cadet bookstore because they felt I was an "inappropriate" presence at the Academy, even though my husband and I have been there since 2003. Wow and ouch.

JC: How did you wind up with Diablo Cody throwing your L.A. book party?

LB: It's actually a benefit, not a book party. Diablo signed on because all proceeds from the event at Trader Vic's (tickets are $25) will go to Operation Bombshell, my burlesque school for military wives whose husbands are deployed. So I'm very pleased to have her support. 

As far as how I know Diablo, like many torrid love affairs, ours began on the Internet.  Eons ago, when she was doing her blog before Candy Girl, she had sent me an e-mail saying, "I (heart) you," and I read her blog and was all "I (heart) you, too!" Now I am bursting with leopard-spotted pride for all her success, and I am thrilled to have her pitching in on the benefit along with Masiumi Max, Ms. Redd, Cholita and the Pin-Up Girl Clothing crew. All big, bad girly-girls, all the time. We hope you can join us! 

— Carolyn Kellogg