Daniel Allen Cox’s debut novel, Shuck (Arsenal Pulp Press), is about a narcissistic young hustler and porn star living in Manhattan in the early 1990s and striving to become a writer. It’s a work of fiction, but the 33-year-old author certainly did his research.
A decade ago, the Montreal native left his hometown for New York, where he, too, spent time hustling and working in porn. He even graced the cover of several gay sex magazines, under the alias of “Brad Cox.” (The title of the book, Cox explains, is a verb: “shucking” is the act of dropping your pants upon request.)
“I’d say about 50% of what happens [in the book] is true,” says the still baby-faced Cox. “A lot of it is exactly how it happened.” He adds, however, that his central character, Jaeven, is perhaps even a bit better off than Cox himself was: “He can afford Manhattan, I couldn’t. I would be hanging out in Manhattan, but at night I’d head back to my one-room, rat-infested apartment up in the Bronx. He’s also more attractive.”
Though Shuck centres around Jaeven, the city of New York is the real star of the book. “The book is about a place,” Cox concedes. “I have a main character, but this was about freeze-framing a New York that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not so much about pre-9/11, but pre-Giuliani, [before] the city got whitewashed and sanitized.”
Though Cox aspired to be a writer while living in New York, it wasn’t until he returned to Montreal in 2000 that his literary career truly began. He started writing short stories and submitted them to several small magazines and anthologies. He also worked long-distance as an editor for the New York-based Outsider Ink e-zine, which he says taught him a lot about the art of writing. “It was thrilling to find little, polished jewels, and it was also humbling to reject stories for faults that I recognized in my own writing,” he says. “Besides good books, editing has been my only literary school.”
In 2004, Cox had a collection of short stories, Episodes of Deflated Magic, published by the U.K.-based Fever Press. And in 2006, he penned his first novella for Ottawa’s tiny Dusty Owl Press, Tattoo This Madness In. For that one, Cox drew on his own Jehovah’s Witness upbringing: the book is about a man who offers tattoos to his young Witness friends, horrifying their elders. (For the record, Cox’s own parents weren’t thrilled about Cox’s life choices either, but he says that relations with them have improved dramatically in recent years.)
Cox sold Shuck to Arsenal Pulp after submitting a partial manuscript with suggested marketing plans. “I think I made my submission attractive by presenting a clean manuscript that had gone through several drafts, and by offering my history in adult media as a marketing hook,” he says.
While Shuck is casually brazen in its descriptions of sex work and pornography, Cox says he thought long and hard before letting it all hang out. “I had concerns about this. After leaving porn, I went into quiet mode. I became more literary and less nude in public.”
Cox says it also took him a while before he could fully move on from his old career. “I’d get e-mails every now and then with someone saying, ‘Aren’t you that Brad Cox from those magazines?’ Or I’d be at the Y and I’d have men in the sauna say, ‘I have your movies, you know.’”
Nowadays, however, Cox is almost completely about the literary career. He works as a technical writer and communications editor for a Montreal engineering firm, and also does freelance editorial work for a variety of publications. In November, he’ll begin a column about the sex trade for Capital Xtra!, the Ottawa-based gay magazine. “Shuck has opened up new writing opportunities for me,” says Cox. “I can now visualize a plan for making fiction a larger part of my income.”