Monthly Archives: June 2014

Alone in the Woods: Beautifully Hypnotic Trailer

Micah Perks is the head of the creative writing program at UCSC and has written extensively about her childhood growing up on a commune in the Adirondacks. Her Shebook Alone in the Woods is a meditation on wilderness, the wildness she sees in her adolescent daughter and memories of her own wild girlhood. Here is the beautifully hypnotic trailer for Alone in the Woods.

 

 

Check out Alone in the Woods, only at Shebooks.

Alone in the Woods

Jennifer Finney Boylan: “I write for an alternate version of myself. A woman just like me, only thinner.” | Q&A

A conversation with best-selling transgender author and GLAAD cochair Jennifer Finney Boylan about her new Shebook I’ll Give You Something to Cry About.

 

What prompted you to write I’ll Give You Something to Cry About?

My sons had both gone on what they call the “Heritage Tour” in Maine, a rite of passage for middle schoolers, who travel around the East Coast seeing things like the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Statue of Liberty. I thought a road trip of a troubled but loving family, bound together by stops at those “sites of American Freedom,” as they’re called, would be interesting. And of course lead to complete bedlam.

Are there any themes that you find recurring in your writing? What are they and what is their origin?

I’m known for writing about gender—men and women, and the choices of transgender people in particular. There’s a trans teenage girl in this family, formerly their son, whose journey I think provides a good measure of where we are, as a country, on acceptance of gender-variant young people.

That said, Alex is not me—she is much more courageous, sarcastic, and adventurous than I was, or would have been, had I been in her shoes when I was 16. Which gives me the opportunity to paraphrase Atticus Finch: “You never really know a man until you walk around in his heels.”

How do you think your transgender identity has influenced your writing?

Well, gender informs all of my writing. When I was a man, I wrote fiction. As a woman, I write mostly nonfiction. I am hopeful that some grad student is already at work analyzing the mind-numbing profundity of that.

Have you ever experienced sexism as a trans woman writer? How so?

I’ve certainly faced lots of struggle as a trans writer. There’s a particular skepticism some critics bring to trans writers’ lives and work; we have to defend and explain our gender a lot of the time. I think this is changing, but it’s been hard. I wonder sometimes if people will ever read my work for the story, rather than for the fact that a trans woman wrote it. But then, if I wanted that, I could try to keep my mouth shut for once. Like that’s going to happen.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

It was a very early dream. As early as fifth grade I remember amazing and disgusting my peers with the story of a car race through my teacher’s body; these were really tiny, almost microscopic cars, of course. The race began in my teacher’s mouth. You can imagine where we came out. Her name was Mrs. Fineli. She was not an early fan of my oeuvre.

Do you have an imaginary reader you write for? Who is it?

Like a lot of writers, I write for an alternate version of myself. A woman just like me, only thinner.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing?

Well, writing about changing genders was almost as scary as doing it. I can say, however, that nothing taught me so much about a woman’s life as writing. It’s through telling our stories that our lives begin to make sense.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Write every day, including Christmas and New Year’s. When you’re just starting, quantity is a lot more important than quality. Then go back and revise. What’s that Hemingway advice—“Fail. Then fail better.”

Have you ever written anything personal that upset people who were close to you? Have you ever shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?

As a memoirist, upsetting people is what Tiggers do best. I don’t like to upset people, of course, but I’m pretty fearless in terms of what I write about—as a trans woman I have to be. I think it was Annie Lamott who said something like, “I’m sorry if you didn’t like what I wrote, but maybe you should have been nicer to me.” I’ll write about anything, if there’s a good story in it. I think writers have to be fearless. The story is what matters.

How did you dream up the setting for this story? Is it based on a real place? A composite of real places?

These are all real places—the Liberty Bell Pavilion; the Gettysburg Battlefield; Ford’s Theatre. If you live on the East Coast and have middle-school-age children or teenagers, you’ve probably been there. And wished you were elsewhere.

Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

If you know your characters, you have to follow them where they take you. And if they take you to a place you don’t know, you do the research—you go there and take notes. When you get home, you throw the notes away and just make the whole thing up.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

Starting this summer, I leave my job as professor of English at Colby College, where I’ve been for 25 years, and take up a new position as Anna Quindlen writer in residence at Barnard College of Columbia University in Manhattan.

When I was young, I worked in a bookstore in New York City. I sat at a desk beneath a sign that said, ASK ME ANYTHING. People would ask me all sorts of things. Usually I didn’t know the answer, so I’d make something up. Good training for a fiction writer. One time someone walked up to me and just asked, apropos of nothing, “Excuse me, where are all the Santa Claus suits?”

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I play the autoharp, Appalachian style. I’m pretty damned great at it. I also know a whole lot about the Gemini Project, which was the one before the Apollo program.

What is your favorite word right now?

Muslin. Just saying it gives me shivers. Flibbertigibbet is a very useful word also. I use it to describe my three most defining characteristics as a writer: a flibbertigibbet, a will-o’-the-wisp, a clown.

What or who inspires you most?

I always loved the work of James Thurber. If you want to go back further, I’m haunted by the poems of John Keats. Whose heart ached, and a drowsy numbness pained his sense.

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now? When do you like to read on a device?

Yes, I have an iPad, on which I use both the iBooks function as well as the Kindle app. I just finished Charles Baxter’s The Soul Thief. I read on my device after dinner each night, for several hours before bed. It’s the best time to read, when you are already halfway into the realm of the unconscious.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’ve started a new novel, I have a new nonfiction book about the differences between men and women, and for young adults I’m working on Falcon Quinn three.

Aside from writing, do you have any other secret talents?

I play piano in a crappy rock ’n’ roll band. We are called the Stragglers, and the name is accurate. All of us have been thrown out of other bands. The fundamental rule about the Stragglers is that you can’t be thrown out of it. This should give you some sense of our talent.

Do you have a quote, mantra, or thought that you’d like to end with?

From Huck Finn: “Blamed if she wasn’t the horriblest looking outrage I ever see. Then the duke took and wrote out on a shingle so: ‘Sick Arab. But harmless when not out of her head.’”

I'll Give You Something to Cry About

Elizabeth Aquino: “This drives me insane.” | Q&A

Elizabeth Aquino, author of the Shebooks Hope For a Sea Change, talks past lives and share advice with aspiring writers.

What prompted you to write Hope For a Sea Change?

I began writing this more than ten years after the birth of my daughter Sophie when I took a writing workshop at UCLA called Writing the Healing Story. I have always been a writer and had been working on some short stories before her birth, but when she was diagnosed with a terrible seizure disorder at three months, I literally stopped writing and became quickly immersed in her care and a new life. The workshop was incredible, and as I took up my pen and began to craft essays about my experiences raising a child with disabilities, my teacher and mentor told me that I had a book. And so I do!

Is there such a thing as “women’s writing?” Do you hate the term “chick lit” or think we should embrace it, like the term “gay”?

I guess I agree that there is such a thing as “women’s writing” if it pertains to women-centric themes, although I am hesitant to gender-define good writing and I really do hate the term “chick lit,” finding it demeaning. I’m irritated by the lack of attention paid to women writers in general—am aware of the statistics—and find it ironic that women buy and read books far more than men do, but I’m not sure it serves anyone to call a genre of writing “women’s literature.” Frankly, the whole delineation of genres bores me. I’m a woman, and I write. I’m a woman and I read whatever resonates with me.

Have you ever experienced sexism as a writer? If so, how?

I have written a blog for over six years, have created and participated in an amazing community through that blog of writers, parents, and artists of all persuasions, but when people (usually men!) hear about it, they always tell me, “Oh, that must be good therapy for you.” This drives me insane.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

I think I became a writer at the same time as I became a reader. As a young girl, I wrote constantly—poems, novels, short stories, even a newspaper for my neighborhood. I dreamed of one day writing a real book, and while that dream was squashed for a while, I find myself in my sixth decade of life with more creative energy than I have ever had and a renewed hope that it will finally happen.

Is there anything that you consider too personal to write about?

I will not write about my marriage except in the most general of terms. I find that far too personal.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

As the mother of three children, one of whom is severely disabled, I have always worked as an advocate and “parent expert” in health care, particularly in the area of improved access and quality of care for children with special health care needs. Right now, I have a contract with a nonprofit foundation here in Los Angeles that provides legal services and advocates for children and youth in the foster care system. No paying work has been as interesting as raising three children—nor as difficult!

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I’m fascinated by construction sites and large machinery. I have a secret fantasy of climbing up into one of those gigantic cranes and lifting something up into the sky.

What is your favorite word right now?

Lush.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My favorite authors are Virginia Woolf, Michael Ondaatje, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Colum McCann, Lorrie Moore, David Sedaris, Toni Morrison, and the poets W.B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Jack Gilbert, and Seamus Heaney.

Aside from writing, do you have any other secret talents?

In my former life, I was a pastry chef and can bake a pretty damn good cake and then decorate it.

Do you have a quote, mantra, or thought that you’d like to end with?

“Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I smile.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

Hope for a Sea Change

Mona Gable: “Did we want to know we were going to die a slow horrible death? Would you?”

A guest post from Mona Gable, author of the Shebook Blood Brother: The gene that rocked my family, about her brother’s battle with Huntington’s Disease.

In the fall of 2010, as my brother was dying of colon cancer, I learned a terrifying secret. He also had Huntington’s disease, a horrific brain disorder that is passed down in families.

Suddenly, even as I was losing my cherished sibling, my childhood soulmate, I was also grappling with my own possible death. Because Huntington’s is purely genetic, I had a 50 percent chance of having the incurable disease. And if I carried the lethal gene, that meant my children could have it too.

There are no drugs that slow the progression of the disease. Eventually, if I did have HD, I’d lose control of my muscles, stumble like a drunk, be unable to speak or feed myself, and possibly suffer dementia.

I was terrified.

Before he got sick, my brother had been a fearless athlete, a tall, good-looking guy who barreled down the steepest ski slopes. When our kids were small, we often went skiing together, and I would stand at the bottom of the mountain watching him fly, snow spraying out behind him in a beautiful white arc.

By the time he died, he couldn’t walk. He was so thin his bones were visible. He could still communicate though. He could still understand me. I was able to tell him I loved him. He knew. He was so sweet. He adored his kids.

He died at home on Christmas Eve.

In January, I began researching genetic counseling centers, created a Google alert for “Huntington’s disease,” spoke with journalists I knew who covered science and medicine. Did they know any experts in Huntington’s they could refer me to? Most had never heard of it.

Even as I was grieving, waiting to hear news of my brother’s memorial service, I needed to make a decision. I was living in fear, anxiety. My siblings and I were emailing each other, sharing information, trying to decide whether to get tested. Did we want to know we were going to die a slow horrible death?

Would you?

Although I had no symptoms, I was conflicted. As I agonized, I thought of Nancy Wexler, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University. After discovering her own risk for Huntington’s, Wexler led the famous search that identified the HD gene, in 1993. She was the disease’s strongest advocate. Yet the scientist had never revealed her own status, or if she’d been tested. “I know that with me,” she told NBC Nightly News in 2009, “if I were to go to bed every night thinking I’m going to die of Huntington’s, you know, why should I bother to get up?”

The difference was I had children to consider. I could spare them the worry I now constantly felt if I got the test. That is, if I didn’t have the gene.

One day, I came across an article in the Guardian by Charles Sabine, a former British war correspondent for NBC. I recognized the name immediately. He had covered the war in Kosovo. I had been in Albania in May of 1999, doing a story on refugees spilling over the border. I was stunned when I read that he had Huntington’s. I read on.

“I now speak publicly on behalf of Huntington’s families around the world,” he wrote. “I chose to come out of the Huntington’s closet, so to speak, in 2007 because I wanted to make a difference. Huntington’s patients suffer in silence. There is a lot of shame surrounding the disease because patients appear to be out of control. Thousands of people in Britain are hidden away as a result. This disease has wiped out my family. There has to be something positive that can come out of this.”

I couldn’t go on being as depressed as I was. I couldn’t even think about my brother’s memorial service two weeks before, at New Life Church. My cousins from Oklahoma had come, Dick and Maggie, Dinah and Sudi and Ann, their husbands and sons and girlfriends. But the service was awful, cold and impersonal.

I made my decision. I was going to get tested. It was better to know, be 100 percent sure. I called the Huntington’s Disease Center for Excellence at UCLA. “May I speak to Michelle Fox?” I said.

This article was originally published at: http://www.blogher.com/blood-brother-gene-rocked-my-family

BloodBrother

Looking for a great memoir? Read Mona Gable’s Blood Brother: The gene that rocked my family, only at Shebooks.net