In her 2012 memoir Stripping Down, author Sheila Hageman invited readers to join her on a confessional examination of her life choices, emotions and insecurities. With remarkable candor, the former stripper and nude model bared her soul and examined the events and decisions that had helped to shape her into the woman she had become.
A graduate of Hunter College, where she was the valedictorian of her class in 2002 and later received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction, Hageman has taught Creative Writing, Composition and Literature at the University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College, Hunter College, Kaplan University and the College of New Rochelle. In addition, she is a certified and nationally registered yoga teacher through Integral Yoga Institute of New York City and the Yoga Alliance.
In June of 2016, Hageman’s latest work, Beautiful Something Else, was published by 48fourteen. The novel is a contemporary romance about an outwardly-confident but overly self-conscious woman who petitions the universe to answer her dreams, and is forced to deal with some unexpected results when the universe responds.
How did you initially begin working as a stripper? What was it that drew you towards the profession?
I initially began stripping due to an ad in a local paper for exotic dancers that I saw advertised frequently. It said I could make $1,000 a week. For an 18-year-old who dreamed of moving to New York City to be an actress, it seemed like a no-brainer.
I was an actress and not a prude. I liked to think of myself as pretty enough to be able to make some quick cash. That was all that was going through my head at the time: easy money.
What did you enjoy the most about your time as a stripper? Conversely, what did you enjoy the least?
I enjoyed the sense of freedom to not have to be in college like everybody else. I felt like I was in charge and taking my life into my hands. When I was actually dancing, I enjoyed being the center of attention and feeling beautiful. Conversely, I hated a lot of the interactions with drunk men. When I wouldn’t do what some men wanted, they would harass me and call me names. It was pretty mortifying and excruciating to my spirit.
What inspired you to tell your story in Stripping Down? At any point were you fearful of revealing too much?
I think as soon as I began stripping, I knew that one day I would tell my story. I think sometimes there was even a sense of knowing that, which made it easier to get through the bad days. Almost like I felt, one day, I will have my vengeance.
I actually had to work through a lot of that anger in writing, which wasn’t included in the book. I didn’t want my story to just be angriness or bitterness; I wanted to present a balanced view of my time in the adult world.
What were your goals with your most recent book, Beautiful Something Else?
Writing memoir can be emotionally draining, so I wanted to try something lighter. What’s lighter than romance novels? I had fun crafting a fictional story with ideas from my own life that presented a heroine who had a lot of her own personal stuff to work out in the story besides finding the man she wanted.
I also wanted the book to be socially aware and deal with real-world issues that I tend to talk about in a lot of my writing. That’s why Lizbeth had body-image issues and problems with self-confidence, because I think so many people today struggle with these issues.
How much of yourself is there in the character of Lizbeth?
Lizbeth began based as a younger version of myself when I lived in New York and was struggling to find what I wanted to do with my life. A lot of her issues were and continue to be my issues. But she truly did become her own self in the writing of the book. It was pretty cool to watch her grow and discover in the story arc I created.
From your perspective, how is the process of writing a novel different than that of writing a memoir?
It’s both very similar and very different! I think the novel writing followed a more linear approach and process for me than writing memoir. With the novel, I created a storyline and mapped out scenes and filled the chapters in. For my memoir, I had to meander a lot more; I had to allow myself to go in circles because I wanted to show how the story I was telling was very messy and didn’t follow a straight pathway.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Writing is revising. And then within revising, you should focus on what you’re doing best and what you’re doing worst and work the hardest on those two areas. The middle-ground issues kind of take care of themselves while you’re working diligently on those two focused areas.
If you could change one thing about the world or society, what would it be?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Obviously, I’d like to see an end to hunger and poverty, but that’s immense. What I feel like I can actually make a dent in helping with is empowering women to love themselves and their bodies just as they are. This is one of my biggest issues that I continue to work on and I hope through talking through my struggles on the page that I might be able to help one person feel less alone.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a few different projects. One is a crazy mish-mash of science-fiction and erotica, something totally different and kind of off the wall for me. I also have two different memoir projects that I continue to chip away at. And those are only my main focuses, I have lots of other odd projects in different genres boiling in my computer.