An Uncensored Interview with Nikol Hasler

Here at Zest, we thrive on publishing books not only of interest to teens but books that speak into their lives in thoughtful and crucial ways. That’s why we published an introduction to sex defined by its honesty and straightforward tone. It’s also why we published a new edition of that book. The basics of sex maybe don’t change much in a few years, but the environments sure do. How and where teens encounter sexuality is drastically different now than it was even five or ten years ago.

We sat down with Nikol Hasler, author of Sex: An Uncensored Introduction, to discuss these changes in our culture, where parents are making mistakes, and why a little bit of humor helps.

Zest: Our culture has some serious hang-ups when it comes to talking honestly and openly about sex. Why do you think this is, and how does your book challenge these taboos?

Nikol: Someone decided a long time ago that sex was shameful. If I had a time machine I would have a talk with that person. But my guess is we’re uncomfortable because it’s a weird thing we do with our bodies (usually) in private, and we don’t really understand it all that well. So, we do what people tend to do with things they don’t understand: fear it. It’s damaging, because the more we fear sex, the more we’ll have issues with sexuality, which can result in hate crimes, suicides, unplanned pregnancies, and diseases.

Also, can you imagine what we could get done if we didn’t have to waste so much time worrying about sex?

I think Sex: An Uncensored Introduction just lays things out in a straightforward manner. There’s logic behind it, and I speak with the same openness about kinks as I do about nipple hair.

Zest: How would you encourage parents to talk to their kids about sex?

PARENT1Nikol: When parents don’t talk to their kids about sex, I yell really loudly, “Hey, why aren’t you guys talking about sex? Do you want me to do it? Because I will.” Um. I guess the thing parents should remember when talking to their kids about sex is that it’s everywhere around them. From a very early age, both in nature and in things like entertainment and marketing, sex is present. All of those things are an opportunity to start a discussion. If you start those smaller discussions throughout their upbringing as nonchalantly as you’d talk about anything else, you can save yourself from a painful, uncomfortable long “talk” with a lot of throat clearing.

Zest: What makes you such an expert?

Nikol: I had sex a few times. Bing, bang, boom. Next question.

A long time ago I became fascinated with human behavior as it related to sex and sexuality. I grew up in unhealthy situations, but I had a sense that much of what was happening wasn’t okay. Once I grew up and went through a lot of dumb situations of my own, I somehow became the kind of person that a lot of people would talk to about relationships and sex. From there, I started doing a web series. Once that took off, I realized people were listening to me and I absolutely needed to get my information correct. There’s a lot I learned, and I made sure to research all the information I provided to be sure I wasn’t just spitting out nonsense.

Also, I am very, very, very, very smart. Take my word for it.

Zest: Your kids were younger when this first came out. They’re teens now. Has the way you talk to them about sex changed?MAS1newtext

Nikol: I started talking to them about sex and sexuality from a fairly early age. It wasn’t until they became teenagers that I realized talking to your own teens about sex, especially with specifics, is really damn uncomfortable. We can talk about other kids they go to school with or sex in society much easier than we can talk about it in personal terms. Good thing we have shelves full of books on the subject.

Zest: Is there anything in this book you wish you’d known as a teen?

Nikol: As much as having access to such factual information, I think I would have liked to have had a book with this kind of the tone. There is an understanding in the book that all this stuff is confusing, sometimes difficult, and that it’s okay to be confused because other people are too. I hope reading Sex is a lot like talking to your older sister about this stuff.

Zest: What are the big issues younger people are facing in terms of sexuality today?Preg5

Nikol: Well, there are the classics: body image, love, trying to understand your sexuality as your body seems to be spazzing out. But, since there is more openness around transgender and queer issues, that’s coming up more for teens. There’s also so much porn! And so many opportunities to talk to all kinds of people online. And so many more opportunities to have what should be very private moments made public. Even dating is a lot harder now that the whole world can watch you have a meltdown over a break up. But, I think we’re in a fantastic time right now when it comes to sex information and education. Being knowledgeable about sex is pretty cool.

Zest: This book is often witty. Why did you choose to include humor?

Nikol: When I was a kid I went through a lot of heavy stuff. From a young age, I developed some very important defense mechanisms. One of those was humor. Since this book was written in the same tone I regularly use when speaking, there were bound to be some jokes. I reined it in a lot, because I often feel like it’s only sometimes obvious when I’m kidding. Plus, I didn’t even make a single poop joke in this whole book. So, that was my greatest accomplishment in the process. I have been making up for it by making at least three poop jokes a day since.SexRevised-guts-2

Zest: What can we expect from this new edition?

Nikol: Pages, words, and all that usual book stuff. And an AOL CD that gives you free internet for a day! Actually, that’s not true. There’s no free internet in the book. However, there is a new chapter about the internet. Because even though the basics of sex don’t change that much over short bursts of time, the environments of sex can change drastically within just months. Tinder, enough said?

We were also able to update tons of information and sift through the book improving all kinds of things. So check out Sex: An Uncensored Introduction!



authorbwNikol Hasler is the former host and writer of the web series The Midwest Teen Sex Show. She has written a weekly advice column “Love, Sex, Etc.,” for Milwaukee Magazine and other publications and has given talks and facilitated workshops about sex education at high schools and colleges and via online forums.Hasler is currently the Project Manager of the Digital Department at KCET in Los Angeles, California.

Which Infamous Cult Leader are You?

Please, Go to Hells! An Interview with Author Kali V. Roy

This year marks 750 years since the birth of Dante, which means it’s been nearly a millennium of prescribing hell to those so deserving. Of course, our definition of “deserving” isn’t what it was in the Middle Ages. Gluttons or the miserly? How about those talking during movies? Open-mouth chewers or loud typers? Or how about those who inundate you with every asinine detail of their dreams?

Go to Hells offers a witty twist on The Inferno, with new circles of hell for twenty-first-century sinners. Kali Roy’s verse intentionally imitates Dante’s original style and form, but with all the snark and wit of modern life.

We met up with Kali to discuss Dante’s relevance in the twenty-first century, if she actually believes in hell, and more.

Was there a definitive, hellish moment that sparked the idea for Go to Hells?

Yep: the Times Square subway stop: I was trying to get off the train and this woman straight-up pushed me further into the train as she got on. So I did the adult thing. I got all flustered and yelled: be a person!

That’s what Go to Hells is about. It’s basically a series of punishments for people who seem to have temporarily forgotten how to be people.

How is Dante (and his verse style) relevant for modern-day?

Sure, it’s written in terza rima. But that fancy rhyme scheme? Window dressing for some top-notch potty humor: The Inferno is a place where a demon can use “his ass as a trumpet” and particularly loathsome sinners are “plunged in diarrhea.”

Dante was a fabulous crank and observer of the human condition. And, as humans, we appear to be just as proficient as ever at being violent, treacherous, greedy, and just generally treating each other terribly. For better or worse, that makes Dante’s Inferno pretty timeless.

onneshaDo you believe in hell(s)?

I’m an incurable crank with a tiny nugget of hope at my core. To me, The Inferno and Go to Hells! are less about fire-and-brimstone in the afterlife and more about calling out the things that we do to each other here on earth. In this life. They offer a way for people to identify and relate to the crappy things we do to each other, in the hope that maybe we can find ways to be better humans while we’re still, you know, alive and breathing.

Kali V. Roy is the nom de plume of Onnesha Roychoudhuri, a Brooklyn- based writer and comedienne. A 2014 fellow at the Center for Fiction and a Pushcart Prize nominee, her writing has appeared in n+1, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Boston Review, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Opium, The Nation, The American Prospect, Salon, Mother Jones, and others. She performs weekly at the People’s Improv Theater in New York City.

More on Go to Hells!



Interview with Jeff Fleischer, author of Rockin’ the Boat

Rockin'-the-BoatRockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries from Joan of Arc to Malcolm X tells the stories of a wide variety of rebels and revolutionaries throughout history, including winners and losers, heroes and anti-heroes, military leaders and non-violent protesters, ancient and modern figures. It covers their motivations, the tactics they tried, and the impact they made. The book is designed to introduce readers to historical changemakers they might know little about, and teach them more about those they already know.


Zest Books: Why did you write this particular book?

Jeff Fleischer: The history nerd side of me has always been interested in movements, and the way they often coalesce around an individual leader. Regardless of their cause, every revolutionary takes on a real risk – at least failure, and often jail or death – but they also have to inspire a lot of followers if they’re going to succeed. Studs Terkel, a journalist I always looked up to, used to tell a story about two men who marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King. One was lamenting that nobody would remember their names, and the other responded that they would be remembered because people would always know about Dr. King. In that way, this book is about many thousands of people, told through the stories of fifty leaders. Like Dr. King, those leaders can inspire real progress, or like some of the others, they can set things back considerably and leave a trail of destruction. But they’re all worth learning about, and I hope the book gets readers interested in learning more about them.

ZB: What was the most interesting thing about covering so many revolutionaries in the same book?

JF: Most of the revolutionaries in the book are people we usually think about in the context of their own time and place. But researching and writing about fifty of them in such a short span of time, the links between them become part of the story. Just like how Cesar Chavez was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s work in India, Gandhi’s early activism in South Africa inspired Nelson Mandela. Julius Caesar got the idea from Hannibal to cross the Alps with an army. Martin Luther admired Arminius and gave him a new name to stress their shared German heritage. Fidel Castro inspired his troops by telling stories about Simon Bolivar. One of Toussaint Louverture’s nicknames during his slave uprising was the “black Spartacus.” There are countless links like this, and thinking about them helped bring the fifty chapters together as a book.

ZB: What was the most fun part of the writing process?

JF: I have a lot of random historical trivia floating around in my head, so it’s always nice to put some of it to practical use. I really enjoyed writing a lot of the sidebars. Some were ways to point out why these people are still relevant, or to debunk common myths about them, or to link the chapters to one another, or just to include interesting asides to the main story.

ZB: Who else did you want to include?

JF: That’s a long list. When I first submitted the proposal to my editor, I started with a list of about one hundred and twenty possible revolutionaries, and together we brainstormed even more. That meant a lot of really interesting and important people weren’t included – not because they weren’t just as worthy, but there were only so many spots. Leon Trotsky, Emmeline Pankhurst, Jean-Jacques Dessalines…there are definitely more than enough to fill a second book.

ZB: Which revolutionary was your favorite to write about?

JF: It’s hard to pick one. I’ve always been fascinated by Hannibal and the Second Punic War, especially the way he was able to use smart planning and tactics to defeat armies that were a lot bigger than his and had much more at stake, all with little support from back home. I’ve always considered him a great underdog story. I particularly liked writing about people like Kate Sheppard, who should be much better known than she is outside of New Zealand, and who I hope the book can introduce to more people. As I say in the introduction, I remember watching Nelson Mandela leave prison, and I’ve followed his life story since I was quite young. For a long time, he was always at the top of my list of people I hoped to interview one day.



Jeff_FleischerJeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based author, journalist and editor. He is the author of the non-fiction books Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries from Joan of Arc to Malcolm X and The Latest Craze: A Brief History of Mass Hysterias. He has also co-written a textbook on environmental science for high-school students, edited dozens of books for other writers, had current-affairs articles included in numerous textbooks and non-fiction collections, and published several short-fiction pieces in the Chicago Tribune’s literary magazine Printers Row. His journalism work has appeared in publications including Mother Jones, The Sydney Morning Herald, Chicago Magazine, Mental Floss, National Geographic Traveler, The New Republic, The Chicago Tribune, BuzzFlash, Women’s eNews, Forbes Travel, Chicago Wilderness, World Jewish Digest, The (Chicago) Daily Herald, and many other consumer and trade publications. His work has been published or syndicated in more than thirty countries on every continent but Antarctica. He was also 2008 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow in Oceania.

Jeff has interviewed subjects ranging from a former American president and the head of UN peacekeeping in Rwanda to a Pulitzer-winning graphic novelist and a member of Monty Python. He spent a month reporting on a remote Pacific atoll, was taught how to throw a googly by one of the world’s best cricket bowlers, lectured to law students about his research, and covered multiple state and presidential elections. His hobbies include fiction writing, photography, visual artwork, travel, following sports (particularly the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bulls and New Zealand All Blacks), and building an ever-growing music collection.

Perfect Valentine’s Day Gifts!

Whether you’ve got a special someone in your life or you’re happy to stay single, many of us dread the upcoming 14th of February—mainly because it’s impossible to avoid the barrage of pink and red paraphernalia (even more so to unearth an acceptable gift from the pile).

Maybe flowers would make a suitable sign of affection? No, far too cliché and prone to wilting. Chocolates? This soon after the holidays? Perhaps not. A heart-burdened teddy bear spouting love sonnets? Cute, but not quite what you’re looking for.

Save yourself a headache and choose a book from our collection of unconventional Valentine’s Day gifts!

What better way to appreciate your significant lover than by gifting them with a lovely archive of attractive people throughout the ages? Historical Heartthrobs: 50 Timeless Crushes – from Cleopatra to Camus is sure to turn hearts and stoke those jealous fires.

If you’re more fascinated with a grislier, darker side of love, try Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, a tale set in 1892 of two girls and their doomed love affair. Potentially not the most romantic selection, but guaranteed to make you appreciate the freedom you now have to love and marry whom you wish.

Sometimes, our dating partners are not quite what we would like them to be. For that exasperating, impolite individual in your life, consider getting How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide. (Warning: test your date’s sense of humor before approaching with this book.)

And hey, even if you don’t plan on getting anyone gifts, why not treat yourself to one! You, after all, are the foremost person in your life.