Noah's Ark

Aug. 25th, 2008 09:16 am
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I just noticed that an excerpt from Noah's Ark, Judith Frank's novel-in-progress, is up on the NEA site.

Judy is a lovely person, with a life that keeps getting fuller and fuller in such gorgeous ways. She brings heart, nerve and ambition to her writing, taking on the most charged subjects and insisting on the complexity of her characters. And she's generous with her critical eye -- she's brought such passion and nuance to the critiques she's given Spider in a Tree.

This taste of her novel-in-progress this morning made me want to praise her.
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Hey, look who's getting an NEA grant this year!

It's my pal, Judy Frank, who wrote Crybaby Butch, and who has given me really wonderful editing and response around Spider in a Tree! This is a very exciting and wonderful thing, support for her new book-in-progress. Judy rocks. Oh, I can barely type for grinning and beaming and being delighted about this. It's so good.

I met Judy because we were both published by Firebrand. Before that, my novels were published by Spinsters, another small women's press, and one of their authors, Sheila Ortiz Taylor, is also on the list.

And so is John D'Agata, who will always have a soft spot in my heart because, as an editor of a literary journal, he once wrote me in a rejection letter that he'd had a big argument about whether or not an essay written in sections based on the sections of a geological map that I'd sent in would be published. He lost, and they didn't publish it, but they published the next thing I sent, and he introduced me to the term "lyric essay," which best described what almost all of my essays are, and which is the kind of nonfiction I most love.
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  • The trike has a flat. Rear left tire. It's leaking quickly and hissingly from the stem, so I think that this means that it can't be patched. I think I need to take off the tire and order a new one. I'd been thinking that I'd have to take the wheel off, but just realized that I probably don't. I have not done this before, and, in the meantime, it's suddenly much harder to get to places like the grocery store, the swimming pool and the bike shop.

    I discovered that the tire was completely flat when I was at the laundromat with a full load of clothes in the basket.

  • I've been sending the novel out via email, and there seems to be a problem with Word displaying my past edits. The Normal template is defaulting to, with the reviewing pane toolbar visible, displaying the command "Final showing mark up" in a box on the left. Just to the right of this box is another box with a check-off list, and it defaults to Show comments, insertions and deletions, and formatting. If I click "Final," instead of "Final showing mark up" all the record of past edits disappears from the visible text, but when I email it or copy it to another file, it defauls to "Final showing mark-up," and the person receiving it sees the messy and distracting editing. Making the review pane toolbar invisible does not fix the problem, and while I can get to the window to edit the normal template, there doesn't seem to be an option for editing this.

    I don't want to keep a record of this editing at all, but I can't seem to get rid of this. Any ideas?

  • I got to talk about Spider in a Tree this morning at a course on Sexuality and History in the Contemporary Novel at Amherst College, taught by Judy Frank, which was really fun.

    The students -- who were smart, engaged and interesting -- read chapter nine of the novel, and due to the problem described above, some of them had it printed out with visible edits.

Last night

Apr. 17th, 2007 04:39 pm
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I went to a beautiful event last night: Daniel Hall reading from his new book, Under Sleep. It is, I think, a book of elegies, and there's a poem under the link. I can't wait to read the whole thing.

Afterwards, I stood around just outside the door with my pal Judy, which turned out to be kind of a perfect place to talk and watch people spilling into the damp night.

Judy Frank

Mar. 27th, 2007 11:17 am
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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.
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The reading last night was so good that I feel protective of it, almost as if I don't want to write about it, but only to keep trying to let the work I heard soak into me. These were both works in progress, and both taut with feeling and meaning.

Judy Frank read from Noah’s Ark -- which is a novel about a gay couple in the U.S. who take in two Jewish children orphaned by a café bombing in Jerusalem -- and the scene she read was an evening in a newly grieving family, with a six-year-old girl who cries all night. There is such awkwardness and tenderness with the density of grief in those rooms, which comes with explicit acknowledgment of Palestinian children feeling the same loss, the same grief. I can't do justice to the clarity of the domestic detail that gives these relationships such life, but it does, it feels like wild luck to get to hear from a book like this while it's being made.

Alex Chee read Queen of the Night -- set in the 19th century, an opera singer pledges to forgo speaking in order to communicate only through song. It was an utterly beautiful evocation of hunger and song, what it is to give voice, what it is to be silenced. I can't wait to read it.

I started shaking while Judy was reading. I had to rush out after it ended to catch a bus (the next one wasn't for almost an hour), and found myself on the bus, still trembling, more full of feeling than I knew -- and I knew that I was feeling a lot. Once we got to UMass, a sophomore (she said) and a senior took the seat behind me -- a straight man asking a lesbian about her new affair with a still married other woman her own age (to me, now, they all seemed impossibly young) -- the women were a week into the relationship, both falling in love. His questions were specific and fairly relentless, and she answered every one.

Probably because I had just come from an extraordinary reading, and readings like that really do change how I see and feel and experience everything (at least for a while, and, me, I think that lingers), their conversation seemed like a deep rite.


Jun. 7th, 2005 11:35 am
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I lost! I cried and cried. I took it hard.

I kept crying (off and on) for days. I was deeply consoled by magnificent friends, spectacularly generous and attentive strangers, ordinary human kindness, and -- wowsa -- talented entertainers and great Broadway plays. Also, I got many, many compliments on my outfits.

My friends Judy Frank (Crybaby Butch) and Alison Smith (Name All the Animals) won -- yay! and so did Greg and Ian of Suspect Thoughts Press. I came home with more great stories than I know what to do with (or have time to write), and hope to tell more, but for now:

  • Somebody introduce me to Lea Delaria, please! We'd like each other. I'm sure of it. She was a GREAT emcee, and she only realized at 2 pm that afternoon that the ceremony was on Thursday instead of Saturday...

  • Jessica Lange is brilliant as the mother in The Glass Menagerie. Her skin changed color with the emotions of the play -- I was seriously feeling it with her. I hadn't ever seen this play, but there was a line at the end that I remembered so wrenchingly and clearly from reading it in high school, after the brother leaves his desperate family, when his fragile sister, Laura, who he loves and doesn't save, is still kneeling on the stage in candlelight, and he, as the long distant narrator, says, "I tried to leave you, Laura, but it turns out that I was more loyal than I intended." Breaks your heart!

  • The Spelling Bee, a musical with songs by the brilliant William Finn and a wonderful, funny book by my friend Alison's friend Rachel Sheinkin was so so so so so good! Fat people, fairies, nerds and weirdos of all description should absolutely see it. And all these desperate, funny, strange kids who really, really, really want to win a spelling bee made me sob throughout. Oh, my good, the fat boy with the collapsed nasal passage who has to spell out the words with his foot! He was up for a Tony, and I hope he won! It was cathartic! It was perfect! My friends who treated me to both of these plays (and much else) absolutely transformed the ways I dealt with how much having my book lose turned out to hurt.

If I won, I wanted to thank middle-aged lesbians, home economists, men who like dresses, and fat girls (some of various categories by name). Then, I wanted to say this:

I'd like to thank all of the writers in the room and in my life for all of the gorgeous, persistent, foolish, profound work. I know it's not easy, but these books, these stories, give regular shocks of much needed life to a numb but still aching world.

I didn't get to say it to them, but I'll say it to you. Thanks, gang.

Here's the official account of the ceremony. A lot went on! )
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Judy Frank just sent me this article in the London Review of Books. It's by Terry Castle (whose work I'm going to be keeping my eye out for), and is pretty dishy, and also human and funny. I liked reading it a lot. I think the writer probably shouldn't have waved her nametag in the air when Laurie Anderson glanced her way at dinner, but I've surely been enamoured of some of the great (mm, and also some possible nonhall-of-famers) players on the Female Mind team, myself.

I mean, the culture rewards the manipulation of images that telegraph brains/beauty. Who doesn't want a good outfit, after all? And if you know French language and culture (and other language and cultures) for real instead of lifting a tiny piece from a John Updike title and hoping it kind of works (see the subject title of this post), why wouldn't you include them in the things you refer to and react to and love? Erasing the humanity of those who don't meet a particular standard of fabulousness is very obnoxious, but it's as common as dirt, by which I mean that it happens a lot, in all sorts of settings. And still, and still, it really is, it's a beautiful gift to spend time with accomplished people whose work borders on unthinkably good. The glimpses of ridiculousness in their behavior makes that level of work seem more within reach, and the glimpses of discipline or intensity or current concerns or habits of mind can suggest paths to follow in other work, other circumstances, other ambitions. Deep, fervent admiration is bound to go to everybody's head, at least a bit, but if the heart of it is a response to something truly powerful and important, the silly stuff gets burned off in the light of that.

But if -- hey, a writer can dream, can't she? -- Toni Morrison or Adrienne Rich should ever send me a note about my work, I'd be gushing like Old Faithful back in in its glory days. And then, really, I'd do my best to uncloud myself from giddiness and infatuation before I wrote back, because to honor them and be a person with them the way I'd want to, I'd need my full self.

*When Susan Sontag died in December, I wrote about her here and here.
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Judy Frank is reading from Crybaby Butch at Pride&Joy in Northampton on Thursday, February 17 at 8 pm. I'll be there, for sure. For more upcoming readings in Atlanta, Washington, DC and Chicago, check her website.

The amazing and gorgeous Minna Bromberg has completed her PhD! If you want to celebrate yourself, listen to her lullaby line.

Peggy Munson's novel Origami Striptease was named winner of the first annual Project: Queerlit Competition, and will be published by Suspect Thoughts Press in 2005.
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OOOOOOOOOOOOO! I'm so excited!!!

They've just posted the list on the Lambda Literary Award site, and Venus of Chalk is a FINALIST!!! in the lesbian fiction category!!!!!

This is just so fabulous!! YAY!!

Crybaby Butch by Judy Frank and Dish It Up Baby by Kristie Helms are nominated under Lesbian Debut Fiction!!

Up All Night, which Stacy Bias co-edited, is nominated under Erotica, too!!!

And Name All The Animals by Alison Smith!!!!!! Oh, I'm going to have a good time at the awards dinner. It's June 2 in New York City -- that's when the winners are announced!!!

Thanks everybody who suggested the book!!

Here's the list of finalists!
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Oh, I'm so excited! I'm so excited!!!!!

I just got an email that the Publishing Triangle has released lists of the Notable Lesbian Books of 2004, and Venus of Chalk is on the list of the top ten!!! Yayyyyyy!!!

Here it is, here it is!

Alison Smith's book Name All The Animals is on there, too, which is so great because she's a friend!!! And Crybaby Butch by Judy Frank made the lists, too!! Oh, and a bunch of other really fabulous writers -- Emma Donoghue's Life Mask is there (I wrote a review of it for Lambda Book Report which hasn't appeared yet), and Rent Girl by Michelle Tea, and a biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux and another of Alice Walker by Evelyn C. White and poems by Mary Oliver and novels by Katherine V. Forrest and Stacy D'Erasmo, also Luna, which was nominated for a national book award in children's literature! Adrienne Rich is on there. Oh, go read the lists, please!!! I am SO happy and SO excited!!

Wanting It

Dec. 23rd, 2004 11:20 am
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All three of the novels that Firebrand published this year have been nominated for Lambda Literary Awards.

That's Dish It Up, Baby
Crybaby Butch
(which I read not long ago and got all stirred up about. It's got a lot of toughness and beauty and went deep into butch identity and power and sex and reading and mourning. It's lingering with me.)
and mine, Venus of Chalk.

So, first the novel was suggested to be nominated -- by many of you -- thanks again. And now it's on the list of nominated books. Then they choose five finalists, and then there is a winner, announced in June in New York City at a big dinner awards ceremony. I'm picturing a whole table of [ profile] fatshionistas, rocking the queer literary world. Somebody would teach me how to measure correctly, and I would finally get a strapless bra for the occasion. (A fat girl can dream, can't she?)

You know, I've judged literary awards and prizes. I know that there are lots of variables (including the judges' moods, health and sheer reading fatigue) that influence these choices, and that, even under ideal conditions, they can be pretty arbitrary. Sometimes I think the choices are great and sometimes I've thought that they were biased, bland or insensitive. There's no money that comes with this. But my beloved books have never been among the finalists, and it would make me very deliciously happy if this one were. It would be even more fun to be on these lists with friends. So, knocking on wood, fingers crossed, and don't forget to get your black-eyed peas now to eat for prosperity on New Year's Day. (I've just learned that collard greens are for health and cornbread is for happiness, too.)
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I've just reread the first chapter of Crybaby Butch by Judith Frank, which will be published by Firebrand Books in the fall. That's my publisher, and I'm really excited to be in such company, because I think this chapter is dropdead brilliant -- funny, assured, complex and hot with as many t's as anybody cares to give it for emphasis. (Really, it makes me blush just thinking about it.) It might not be work safe, but whenever you're in a situation where you can read a thrilling piece of writing, check it out.


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