I met Judy Frank
because we were both having books published by the same publisher: her Crybaby Butch
, which won a Lambda award, and my Venus of Chalk
. We both live in Western Massachusetts. Getting to know Judy has been one of the best gifts that writing Venus of Chalk
has brought me.
Judy teaches at Amherst College and she's got a great eye as a critical reader of unfinished manuscripts. She has also done extensive academic work in the eighteenth century (she's written a book
), which is one of the things that make her a really wonderful early reader for my novel. (I am ridiculously happy that she says the feeling for the period in my novel is "fantastic.") She gives critiques that are encouraging, direct and useful. When she read an early section of the novel I'm working on in November of 2004, she suggested changing the point of view from first person to third person: from "I" to "she, he, they." My first three novels were all written in first person, and I was resistant, but Judy was passionate about it, and made a great case for the power of third person in being able to convey degree and subtlety of self awareness, in making transitions between characters, and in avoiding a sense of competition between the various voices. When I tried it, I found the power and flexibility of third person to be enormously freeing, just really wonderful to work with, and crucial for the nature of this book.
She told me to let it roll. She told me to think big. I had already been trying to do those things, but it was so helpful to have encouragement in the right direction, towards where I wanted to go.
So I took it very seriously when Judy let me know that I needed to get new work to her for critique before she left for Israel for spring break to see family and do her research on her own novel-in-progress
. She said if I didn't give it to her then, she wouldn't have time to read until summer. I was getting close to finishing a draft, but didn't think that I could get something done in time to show her. But, I wanted to very much, pushed very hard, and I did. The ending is rushed and needs revising, but it's a shape.
As it turned out, Judy had a very bad week that week. Still getting over a cold, she took the train and then a shuttle to Newark (from Western Massachusetts, this is a long haul!), only to find that her flight was snowed in. She couldn't reschedule until the middle of the week, which was too late for her to go. She had to spend the night in New York, then go back to the airport so that her luggage didn't leave the country without her, and then take the train home again. Later in the week, she had a car accident. She's okay, no one was hurt, but it was a very, very bad week.
One of the ways she used that time was to give me a very specific, engaged, excited, profoundly useful critique of the last 200 pages of my book. Comments on the manuscript and general comments as well. On two hundred pages. Within a week.
That is a beautiful thing. It is a very direct act of writerly generosity and of friendship. I don't want to forget it.