Writer’s Digest

There’s an article in this month’s Writer’s Digest about “Alternative Fare” and specifically the LGBT markets in publishing, and I was interviewed for the T section.

Boyd points out that people of variant sexuality have always appeared in literature. “There is a long line of novel characters who are gender variant, from The Well of Loneliness to Orlando to Middlesex. I like to think of my work as having inherited a great deal from writers like Gertrude Stein or [Virginia] Woolf.”

The bit that was clipped was my clarification that people have always written books about being in love with someone who is gender variant, as in Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Woolf’s Orlando.

Tim Gunn

Does anyone else want to volunteer to be on Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style? Every time I watch it I think about writing them a letter. But then I think – dresses & skirts are in his required wardrobe. As are heels. & Then I think about what I might have left after they went through my wardrobe. & Then I think… yeah. So I don’t.

I think I need Tim Gunn’s Guide to Dyke Style. But still, I’m watching & learning; my biggest issues is being hung up on size instead of fit, because I’m a woman, & somehow it’s important to me if I can get into a 10 instead of a 12, when really, I should be happy to wear a 14 if the clothes look good / fall right /make me feel confident. Having changed sizes a few times in the last couple of years, both up & down, I can say now that there is nothing that makes me feel less confident than wearing something that’s just a little small. But still, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to give in to wearing the larger size, as if I’m admitting defeat.

Anyone else?

Monica Helms: The DNC Is Ready for Us

In this essay posted on Monica Roberts’ TransGriot blog, Monica Helms of the Transgender Americans Veterans Association (TAVA) talks about her experiences working with the DNC which she concludes by writing:

What I personally would like to see is an increase in registered Democrats in the transgender community and to see an increase in transgender people volunteering with the DNC at a local level. I would also hope to live long enough to see an openly transgender person speak from the podium at the democratic National Convention and to see an openly transgender person elected to Congress. This is truly the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION in our lifetimes. It is time for the Democratic Party to fully recognize us a part of their party, on all levels. They appear to be doing that. Now, it’s time for us to help Democrats on all levels of government to win in 2008.

Five Questions With… Eli Clare

Eli Clare is the author of Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (South End Press, 1999) and has been widely published. He has walked across the United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program and co-organized the first-ever Queerness and Disability Conference. He works for the University of Vermont ‘s LGBTQA Services. We were lucky enough to meet him at a Translating Identity Conference at UVM, and I was happy to get the chance to talk to him about his new book, The Marrow’s Telling, which was recently published by HomoFactus Press.

(1) Why poetry?

As a writer, my first love is poetry. I think of it as a thug who grabbed me by the collar many years ago and whispered in my ear, “You’re coming with me.” I went willingly, not having any idea where poetry would take me or what it would demand. Twenty-five years later I find myself writing a mix of poetry and creative nonfiction; my first book, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, is a collection of essays, and my second book, The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion, which ought to be rolling off the press at any moment now, is a mix of poems and short prose pieces, not quite essays but more than prose poems.

Audre Lorde in her essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” writes of poetry as a “revelatory distillation of experience.” Poems demand both wildness/revelation–moments where language, sound, and rhythm, rather than thought or idea or analysis, take the lead–and discipline/distillation–the paring down to heart and bone. As a writer, a reader, an activist trying to make sense of the world, I need revelatory distillation.

I also know that in the United States too many of us have been taught to fear or avoid poetry, to feel bored or stupid in its presence. As an activist-poet, I always hope that my poems will be doors held wide open, roller coasters, parachutes opening above you, slow meandering rivers.

Continue reading “Five Questions With… Eli Clare”

Victoria Arellano

I just happened to be catching up on my Feministing reading when I discovered a post by Jessica Hoffman about the death of trans inmate Victoria Arellano (or Arrelano) who was denied her AIDS medication and then Hoffman followed up her post wondering why this death hasn’t been covered.

It’s interesting time as just recently I’ve been bothered by a recent article in The Boston Globe about a doctor who transitioned with much of her life in tact – ironic since Arellano didn’t wind up with even her life in tact. Big article, no article.

& They say there’s no such thing as privilege.

Mind you, my complaints about the way various media outlets cover trans issues aren’t directed at the trans people who are often featured in these articles: their intentions are for the most part good, & they are trying, in their own way, to raise awareness of trans issues in general, all of which is much needed. It’s not that it was a terrible article in terms of The Big Picture, but I’m tired of journalists/media writing a piece that is pretty much like every other piece about a trans person (choosing someone professional, white, with a traditional narrative including surgery & the like) & presenting it as if it’s a revelation.

It’s not a revelation. I’d like to get the bar set a little higher, & to start pressuring media to cover more types of trans people, in more situations, with more of the kinds of issues that come up. Like what does a person like Betty, or others like her, do about the ID issue? What do people do when their license says one thing but they can’t get their passport changed? What are the issues for young transitioners, who are going to be dealing with discrimination from the outset of their careers? How is the expectation of not getting divorced changing what kinds of legal issues couples face? How does transness come into play with legal issues? What happens if a recent medical student comes out before she has a practice or an income or a family & established community?

I could go on. I won’t. Like I said, this is good for general use, but as someone who is “in the field” & who works with the media on a regular basis, I also feel I have a responsibility to pay attention to the way media coverage ISN’T changing at all, & how the struggle to represent the diversity of trans experience, from within the trans community, is or isn’t being reflected by the media, & maybe keeping an eye toward changing that, somehow.

Cats, Quilting, & Publishing Mysteries

For the aspiring authors out there, an interview with a book contracts insider. Most interesting to me:

While few of us would turn down a big advance if we were lucky enough to get one, but if you’re aiming to be a writer with a lengthy publishing career, starting out small isn’t such a bad thing.

She talks about the value of having an agent, and what to do if you don’t have one when you’re signing.

This optimistic bit is surely good for plenty of as-yet-unpublished authors to hear:

It occurred to me then that if there’s a market for books on cats that quilt while solving crime, there must be room out in the world for my story.

Curve Interview: Me & Julia

In Curve magazine’s current issue (Vol. 17, #8), there’s an interview with me and Julia Serano aptly titled “A Queer Three-way.” The interviewer was Curve editor Diane Anderson-Minshall.

Spiders & Rats

Do you know when everything around you seems to be trying to tell you something? I caught Spiderman 2 on TV the other day, never having seen it in the theatres (because I don’t get around to seeing anything in the theatres), and I really really enjoyed it, except for that bit about him giving up being Spiderman & then deciding to be Spiderman again because it made me think about writing.

Then we went to see Ratatouille the other night – in the theatre, even! – and that was kind of about being what you really are, what you’re really good at. you know, “everyone can write.”

I mean cook.

I was talking with another writer the other day about an essay I was having a hard time getting at & explained that you know, when writing is going well it’s horrible, & when it’s not going well it’s torture.

But the thing about writing that’s the hardest on me is the uncertainty; this freelance life just isn’t good for my body. I want the stability back of having a regular job & a regular paycheck, except then I see movies like Ratatouille or Spiderman 2 and I think that I have to write. Not because I’m a genius, but because I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

I think.

Just Call Us Workhorses

A New York magazine profile of Random House revealed a few gems about publishing, among them:

  • Best Ways to Make Money: Underpay writers.
  • Two thirds of Random House’s income comes from paperbacks, which retail for about $10. Of that, $5 goes to the retailer; $2 covers Random House buildings and staff; $1.50 goes to author payments; $1 goes to paper, printing, and binding; 50 cents is profit.
  • It’s the the 33,000-book backlist that supplies 80 percent of its profit.
  • Under 10 percent of profits come from top-ten titles such as The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama.

They also mention they pay advances between $7k and $10 million (no need explaining what end of that a writer like me is on), so what I’d like to know is which kinds of advances actually make them most of their money. That is, if they pay someone like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton $10 million, do they actually sell enough of their books to earn back their advance? Because I manage to. I’d like to see advances reflect what a book actually sells instead of reflecting the hype associated with a book, so that maybe they wouldn’t have so many losses and could pay their writers who earn back their advances a higher percentage, since, um, we seem to be making them the majority of their profit. Incentives, you know, work for every industry.

Seal(ed) Press

On top of everything else, I got the news today that in addition to TMP and C&G having been vaporized last week, my well-loved Seal Press has just been severely cut: five of seven people lost their jobs, and this women’s imprint will publish only a third of the books they had been.

A sad day for feminist publishing, indeed.

Perseus Reorganizes Avalon

As some of you may remember, Avalon Publishing Group – my publisher – were bought by Perseus Books a few months back, and today they announced the news that my first imprint, Thunder’s Mouth Press, is being disbanded. It’s part of the re-organization, as imprint Carroll & Graf is also going, as are 24 employees of the former Avalon.

My Husband Betty will hopefully stay in print, as the book is now in its sixth printing and continues to make money, but still: it’s kind of sad to see my first home as a writer cease to exist.

Scientists announce they’re ten years away from an effective speculum warmer.

From the all-women edition of The Onion, this headline:

Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does

& Don’t miss the Mother’s Day cards, & this unfortunately too-true publishing update.


What is it about upcoming birthdays that makes you reconsider every decision you’ve ever made? Betty & I, despite our protestations, are getting a little too close to the big 4-0 these days for our own comfort. I can’t speak for her, but for me the past couple of weeks I’ve felt torn about everything in my life: the writing, my sense of home & family, work, money, you name it. The only things I feel sure of are Betty and the kittoi, all of whom bring me joy every single day. They all make me laugh in ways that do my serious soul some good.

Whenever people complained about getting older, my father has always said, “well, you only have one other choice.” Some days that’s not so funny, but other days it reminds me of the deep & abiding pragmatism I was raised with: either you bellyache about it & bore yourself & everyone else, or you just get older & get on with things. But then, peace is easy for a man who is happiest eating hot dogs & watching baseball. Some of us don’t find joy as easily as that.

There are days I wish I could, & other days when I am convinced I could be that way – if, if only, if only something. But that’s not what the Buddhists tell me: they tell me it’s mine if I want it. Because I could moan & whine about the nerve.com interview that was supposed to happen but didn’t; I could complain about the marathon bookkeeping sessions I’ve done in past months; I could curse whoever’s in charge of this universe for their bad administration.

& I do, oh, surely I do. But eventually I get bored of that & find something to do, even if that something simple is cleaning out the litterbox for the umpteenth time.

Letter to a Hopeful Writer

I get a lot of emails from people who want to publish a book, which is an entirely different thing from wanting to write, and that’s a distinction hopefuls should be clear on. Writing is something more like a calling – you do it or you don’t do it, you can write your whole life & never publish, you enjoy it or you do it because something in you compels you to.

Being a published writer is a whole other can of worms, since publishing comes with agents and editors and publicity and amazon.com sales ranks. That’s a different game altogether, but I assume that most people who ask me about writing their own book want to know what it’s like publishing their own book. I recently wrote back to one such person and this is what I said:

I wouldn’t write if I could do anything else. It’s just too hard. Your books are your babies, and as soon as you write something, people assume it’s okay to rip you a new one. That is, I don’t mind bad criticism – well I don’t like it either – but you learn how to deal with it in writing workshops. At least I did. You want to write better, and good critics can help you do that, if you listen to them. However, there are a lot of people who are just hyper-critical, & you have to deal with them, too, which is not always as easy.

Then, there’s very little money. One writer I know who had a bestseller won’t quit her day job because as the publishing industry will frequently remind you: you’re only as good as your last book. Richard Russo didn’t quit teaching till he won the Pulitzer! So the reality is, with writing, you always need another job, and it’s very hard to do two jobs well. That is, if you love the 2nd job, it never gets as much attention as you’d like, & neither does your writing. It’s always feeling a little torn in half. So the ‘making a living’ aspect of it pretty much blows.

What else? It’s hard. It takes patience. If you’re ever in NYC I can show you my stack of rejection letters, and there’s no writer alive that doesn’t have a bunch of those. (Ironically, I think it’s Melville who holds the record, & most of them are rejection letters from publishers who didn’t want Moby Dick.) There’s a lot of ways to be cheated – by publishers, agents, etc. – that you have to be on the lookout for, and publicity support from publishers is getting worse & worse.

& Of course you have to keep track of your ego, realize that people think they know you even when they don’t, and you have to be able to speak well on radio, on TV, & anywhere else.

Mostly I’m appreciative that the books I write have helped people. It’s a pleasure to be able to use whatever communication skills I have in order to relieve some people’s suffering. I haven’t had a novel published yet, but even having friends read my fiction is satisfying. Basically, there’s this unnameable thing about writing that is cool and satifying in a deep way for me, and as Betty would tell you, I never radiate more “happy buzz” than when I’m working on something.

But do I like it? No. If I could find something else that would scratch that existential itch the same way, I would do it. But short of creating Tibetan sand mandalas, I can’t really imagine doing anything that feels more time-consuming, detail-oriented, or more tenuous. A long time ago, & without my permission, writing became my way of talking with myself in order to make sense of my world. It doesn’t always work, but it keeps me from gunning down strangers, at least.

A Little Rant

Sometimes a book gets inordinate attention, especially books that reaffirm & reify the gender binary. But there’s plenty of interesting books about gender out there. & Some days, when I see a review of the book The Female Brain in a cool magazine, I wonder why they bother. I mean, bad publicity is good publicity, ultimately: it just wins the author, who the reviewer (and many others, including myself) disagrees with, more airtime, while other books, which are more feminist in terms of their take on gender, don’t get covered at all.

& I’ve always wondered why magazines – especially indie, cool magazines that are mostly written by indie journalists & others like me who understand exactly how poor an industry publishing can be – give airtime to stuff they don’t like instead of giving airtime to stuff they do. Readers will buy a book that gets a bad review, just to see if they agree or not, & while I understand editors tend to think it’s Important, in a Fourth Estate kind of way, to rebut publicly some of the ideas coming from certain corners, it seems like it’d make more sense to help an interesting writer whose ideas they do like to sell a few books.

& Yes, in this case, I mean a book like mine, which nearly is a straight-up rebuttal of all the hogwash in The Female Brain.

Five Questions With… Virginia Erhardt

Virginia Erhardt, Ph.D. is a licensed therapist, a founding member of the American Gender Institute, and the author of Head Over Heels: Wives Who Stay with Crossdressers and Transsexuals. She published her first article concerning the partners of trans people back in 1999 after publishing a workbook for lesbian couples called Journey Toward Intimacy. She is a regular at trans conferences like the upcoming IFGE Conference.

(1) How long did it take you to compile the stories in Head Over Heels? Where did you find partners who were willing to talk about their experiences?

It was about two and a half years from the point at which I began soliciting participation in 2002 and then sent out questionnaires, until the time when I had created “stories” from the SOs’ responses to my questions. During that time I also worked on my substantive, didactic chapters. It took another two years and a few months from the time when I completed the project and signed a contract with The Haworth Press until Head Over Heels was in print.

I put out a Call for Participants to every online listserve and transgender print publication I could think of. I also requested participation from people at trans conferences at which I presented. Continue reading “Five Questions With… Virginia Erhardt”

First Event Coverage

Ethan Jacobs of Bay Windows did a great job summarizing my keynote speech at First Event. Thanks to him for the coverage and to all of you who stayed to listen.

AMS, PGW, Avalon & Perseus

The big news in publishing is that AMS (American Marketing Services), the company that owned one of the biggest book distributors in the country, PGW (Publishers Group West), filed for bankruptcy a couple of weeks ago.

It’s huge news because PGW’s distribution services effectively enable tons of small independent publishers to get their books out there, publishers like Soft Skull (who published Charlie Anders’ Choir Boy) and Cleis Press (who publish some of Tristan Taormino’s books) and McSweeney’s (who publish things like The Believer magazine and authors like Dave Eggers and Nick Hornby).

I’ve been very lucky in all of this, because my publisher, Avalon (APG) has been purchased by Perseus Books, who have their own distributor and a reputation for giving independent imprints room to be – well, independent. Avalon was the umbrella group for both Thunder’s Mouth Press (who published My Husband Betty) and for Seal Press (who will be publishing She’s Not the Man I Married). That is, I dodged a bullet because APG was first in line to be purchased, which is not true for other smaller independent presses like Cleis.

The final impact of AMS filing bankruptcy is yet to be seen. What’s being predicted is that many small publishers will just disappear without a distributor that serves their needs, and also because many of the moneys they were owed will not be paid to them, or because any buyout of AMS will mean investors will be able to buy for pennies on the dollar. It may turn out that Perseus will help PGW, which is good news indeed: PGW was created decades ago in a publishing environment that was much friendlier to growth than the current one is.

All in all it’s a huge mess with too-numerous legal battles to follow.

Cool Editor

My fantastic editor, Brooke Warner, just posted a short piece about feminist anthologies – and on young women and feminism in general – over at Feministing.

The System

So I said the other day that I have a system for seeing what change I will try to effect for myself in the upcoming year. I came up with it a couple of years ago when I realized I had certain goals re: my writing career but ones that I could easily & endlessly put off if I didn’t pay attention. They weren’t big things – things like getting an essay into an anthology, or getting 10k copies in print – but I simultaneously realized that I tend to be somewhat Auspergerish in my single-mindedness, so that if I focus on one thing – like weight loss – I tend to get it done & then everything else turns to crap.

A friend of mine used to refer to this as Getting Your Ducks in a Row: that once you got one errant duck back in line, another, or two, would have slipped out & wandered off.

So in order to be effective I had to keep my eye on a couple of ducks at a time, I decided I’d have four areas of self-improvement (or self-actualization, or whatever New Age-y thing you’d like to call it). Within those four areas, I break the larger goal into 12 smaller ones, & then try to get one done a month. I “check in” with my goals early in the month to see how it’s going.

& No, I’m not kidding.