For appearances (related to GOOD BOY, dogs & gender): Christine Mykithyshyn at Macmillan Publicity:)

For appearances (related to She’s Not There, Long Black Veil, She’s Not There, I’m Looking Through You,  Stuck in the Middle With You, Long Black Veil, and/or other gender, human rights & education issues:)
Kathryn Santora at Penguin Random House:

For press inquires:
Kris Dahl at ICM

To contact Jenny directly:


  • Blog

    Doug Dorst and Jenny Boylan on fiction, invention, and zombies

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    aliveinnecropolisIn late summer, 2009, Doug Dorst (ALIVE IN NECROPOLIS) and Jennifer Finney Boylan (SHE’S NOT THERE; I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU)  shared this brief exchange about writing, invention, and the nature of zombie mutants:

    Jenny Boylan:  Doug, I loved your book.  One of the things I found so engaging about it was the tension between the realism of the police/detective sections, on the one hand, and the more invented and imagined sensibilities of the zombies.  Did you have a hard time balancing the two?

    DougDorst:balancing the two storylines (living folks dead folks) was by far the most difficult part of writing the novel. In the first draft (which was about 900 pages), the dead people ran away with the story, largely because I was having such a good time inhabiting their world. I had developed a Root-based economy for them, along with some pruno-bootlegging wars, and… well, it’d take me about 900 pages to describe it. I’ll just say that it was a bit of a mess.

    In the second draft, I cut the dead folks back to the point that they were no more than grace notes in the narrative–which pretty much stripped them of any purpose for being in the book at all. My editor helped me find more of a balance in the third draft, but I was still trying to fine-tune it until the last minute.

    Jenny Boylan: I wonder, sometimes, if there is less of a difference between the laws of writing “horror” fiction, as a genre, and writing “realism,” than readers–and writers–think.   Did you feel like you were encountering a whole different set of rules, in terms of what your reader might be willing to believe, when you switched from zombies to cops?  Or did you find that your cops and your zombies both were constructed from the same writers’ toolkit? (I’ll note, as an aside, something my friend Richard Russo once said to me;  I’d been working on an allegedly comic scene in which some guy winds up wearing pants made out of ice cream (don’t ask), and he just shook his head and said, “See, the sad thing is,  given the way your mind works, Boylan, you think this is realism.)  Anyway:  cops? zombies? Same approach to both for you as a writer?  Which one was harder to make real?

    Doug Dorst: Wait– ice cream pants aren’t real? I begged my parents for them when I was in middle school. I suppose it’s for the best that they said no.

    Anyway: Same toolkit, different tools, I think–say, socket wrench vs. crescent wrench. I mean, character is character, regardless of genre, don’t you think? Either that person-on-the-page’s experience feels emotionally true in some way–even if it’s not perfectly grounded in everyday realism–or it doesn’t.

    The living characters were more challenging because they had to experience a range of emotions truthfully. The dead were drawn a bit more simply– my intent was for them still to be motivated by the sorts of things that motivate the rest of us, but in an amplified or distorted way. (You’ve got Phineas Gage, for example, with his monomaniacal need to possess this object that he needs in order to feel whole.) If the underlying emotions feel somehow recognizable, then I think you have a lot of latitude to play around with the sort of world the character is operating in. (And “play” is the right word there… one of the reasons I wanted to work in the world of Colma’s dead was that I thought it’d be fun–a big ol’ sandbox where I had thousands of cool toys and got to make all the rules, too.)

    As for what readers might be willing to believe: I didn’t overthink it, and it’s probably for the best that I didn’t. I was aware that I was writing a strange little (well, sprawling) book that straddled genres and made use of both the everyday and the fantastic. At some point, after a great deal of worrying, I figured that there was no way for me to predict how readers (who no doubt would have different tastes or sets of expectations) were going to respond and that I should just follow the characters wherever they took me. In retrospect, that was the best decision I could’ve made, although I didn’t fully understand why at the time.

    So, yeah: character. I think it’s what makes realist fiction work, and I think it’s what makes the very best genre fiction work–e.g., The Shining (Stephen King’s book, I mean. The film is terrifying, but for different reasons.). I figure it’s what makes all the stuff in between work, too. In short: whether our person-on-the-page’s trousers are made of denim or Rocky Road (ouch), what matters is that we believe in his experience of wearing them.

    I would love to see that ice cream pants scene, by the way. Any chance I can convince you to share it?

    Jenny Boylan: Doug, as you well know, some drafts are better left unshared.  Although I can tell you that the key line I kept straining to get at in that story was this: One person has forced our hero to wear the pants made out of ice cream–which, if I recall right, were one leg vanilla, one leg chocolate, and the crotch strawberry–making these “Neapolitan” pants– and then says, sadistically, “So!  How do you LIKE wearing these pants made our of ice cream NOW?” And our hero says– and this is the single phrase I was reaching for– and I quote, “They’re cold!”

    To change the subject a little, I’m curious about the way you leave some questions unanswered in ALIVE IN NECROPOLIS–and other questions are answered, but only slowly.  Was this part of a conscious  plan, following Dickens’ motto of, “Make’em laugh, make’em cry, make’em wait?”  Or was the difference between your 900 page first draft and your much-shorter final draft the difference between answering all questions, and leaving some open?  Do I smell a sequel?

    Doug Dorst: I don’t think that it was a strategic decision to “make ‘em wait”. It was more that I was having a lot of fun working on a large canvas, and I made my peace early on with the fact that the novel was going to be a little shaggy and sprawly. I think one certainly could do a much shorter, tighter, and more action-focused cut of the book — and who knows, maybe that’d be a better book –but it wouldn’t have been the book I wanted to write. Or, more precisely, it wouldn’t have been the one I wanted as much to write at the time I was writing it.

    As for the unanswered questions: some were definitely a result of my having to cut the manuscript in half. Some things I chose to scale back, and some things I chose to cut out. (There are also a couple of things that I chose to cut, but I screwed up and didn’t cut them out completely– so, yeah, there are a couple of sore thumbs in there that make me cringe a little. Live and learn.)

    Another big struggle for me was the ending. When I finished the third draft, I realized with some horror that the book went on for over a hundred pages after the climax of the action because I had so many ends to tie up. I decided that I couldn’t subject the reader to a hundred pages of denouement and that I’d have to make some sacrifices in order to bring the proceedings to a close more quickly. In retrospect, did I make all of the best choices? Probably not. But again, all you can do is make your peace with the idea that the book is what it is, move on to the next project, and try to turn your regrets into learning experiences.

    How about you– any tales of post-publication regret? And if so, how did you deal with it?

    Jenny Boylan: I think there are different kinds of post-publication regret.  There’s the little kind, where you find something you missed– a copy-editing mistake, or a vestigial trace of an earlier draft you forgot to sand down;  those make me sad, but not for long.  Then there’s the other kind, where you look at a whole book you’ve published, and say, kind of resentfully, “Oh jeez. What’d you all go and let me do that for?”  There’s at least one book of mine I’m still wondering, What  was I thinking?  Fortunately, nearly fifteen years later, it’s out of print, so the damage at this hour  is somewhat  contained.

    On the other hand, as someone who’s been well published over the years, I have to say that post-publication regret is a luxury.  It’s no-publication regret that breaks my heart.  I remember what it was like to keep getting those rejection slips. Anybody who survives long enough to publish a book–even one riddled with mistakes, as mine always are– should still be grateful. Period.

    I like your comments about “writing past the ending.”  I have heard both Stephen King and Richard Russo talk about this.  It’s funny, we always think of ourselves as writers struggling to come up with the satisfying ending– but we think less about the not-uncommon affliction of writing right past that ending and coming up with chapters and chapters more stuff.  I think this is why they have closing times in pubs, in Ireland, anyhow.  There are a number of projects I’ve found myself at the 700 page mark where I wish someone would ring the bell and say, “Hurry up please, it’s time.”

    I’m actually at about the 650 page mark on my own next project– is this where I get to plug it? This is a young adult series, commencing with volume one, FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR, which is a book about monsters.  The quick pitch:  when kids in a certain town reach thirteen, they start turning into monsters: Banshees, vampires, mummies, the works.  So they get sent to a “school” where they’re taught how to disguise themselves, how to pretend to be humans, in order to survive.  So the question becomes:  What’s the right thing:  to pretend to be something you’re not, in order to live? Or to embrace your  “true self”, even if your true self is, say, a zombie.

    Which I hope will be a gas for young people to read– I wrote FALCON QUINN with and for my middle-school age boys–but you don’t have to squint real hard to see that these books are sort of about some of the same issues I’ve been writing about for the last seven years, only in a more oblique and playful way.  It’s very freeing, writing about zombies.  I should  have done it years ago.

    I guess this is a good place to leave things, unless you want another chance to dodge the question about a sequel to ALIVE.  What next for Doug Dorst, besides faculty meetings and syllabi?   A novel about bugs and spiders, maybe?  Tell you what, next time YOU have the sex change, and I’ll write about SF cops and–as Groucho Marx once noted, “outside of the improvement, you’ll never notice the difference.”

    Doug Dorst: Whoops— didn’t mean to dodge the sequel question. I suppose the ending of Necropolis might work well as a bridge to a second book, but that wasn’t my intent, and I don’t currently have plans to write a sequel. Every now and then, though, I do find myself wondering what the next chapter in Mike Mercer’s life might be like. So who knows? If the right “Mercer 2.0” story finds me, I’ll write it. For now, though, there are other projects I’m excited to be working on. One of these is the short-story collection (The Surf Guru) that’s coming out next year, which I’m putting the finishing touches on as we speak.

    As for the next novel: will there be dead people in it? There aren’t yet, but, again, who knows? (I’m a big fan of William Kennedy’s work, and dead folks slip into his novels all the time.) I agree that it’s freeing to write dead characters—I wonder if it’s because you somehow have more license to super-size their desires and their quirks. Or maybe it’s just fun to refuse to play by the rules of everyday reality. Whatever the reason, when I was writing Necropolis, it was usually the dead-person storyline that would get me excited about writing again after a dry spell. And believe me, there were some dry spells.

    The next novel will definitely have its share of horrible, crawly bugs and spiders and other critters. Some of it takes place in Central America, and if there’s one thing that moving to Texas has taught me, it’s that the farther south you go, the scarier the insects are. I hadn’t planned on any of the characters (or the author) having a sex change, although I now think you’ve just given me a way to liven up the third act.

    Falcon Quinn sounds like a blast—and a great way of approaching what I think is the most fundamental question a person can face: how to harmonize who you are with who you present yourself to be. (And middle school is right about the time that it gets excruciatingly difficult.) In a way, that’s the very issue that Mercer and Jude struggle with throughout Necropolis. Anyway: I’ve got a place on my bookshelf reserved for Mr. Falcon Quinn, and I look forward to meeting him on the page.

    As a final thought, I just want to echo my agreement with something that you put quite well: post-publishing regrets are a luxury. Writing is a hard gig, especially in this economy, and I know a lot of incredibly talented writers who are having trouble getting their work out. I’ve caught more than my share of breaks, especially lately. Case in point, OneCity One Book—in which I get to have my book widely read in the city I love most, and through which I’m getting the chance to talk to a lot of amazing, talented, and inspiring people about words and stories and writing. Case in point, Jenny Boylan.

    Jenny Boylan: Well, case in point, your own damn self.  Thanks for this exchange, Doug, and I do hope I get to see some of your Texas bugs some day. Although, just out of home-state pride, allow me note that  while Maine blackflies might be small, they do get the job done.  Congratulations on a fine book, and good luck with the next one!  J.

  • Blog

    Slightly modified new cover of Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Just got this gently revised version of the cover. One of the eyes has been fixed, and the color of the title lettering has been changed.FalconQuinn revise2

  • Blog

    A Striped Armchair review of I’m Looking Through You

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    small3coverThere’s a really nice review of I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU in the fine online book review site, A STRIPED ARMCHAIR. Which starts off:

    Jennifer Finney Boylan’s I’m Looking Through Youis actually one of those books that straddles the nonfiction and fiction lines-it’s a memoir. There are all kinds of memoirs out there, but my favourites are ones that weave together stories from the author’s childhood with introspective looks at who they are now and have more than a dash of family mythology about them. Ones that are written by literary people, who value style as much as content, and who have had interesting lives. If this is your recipe for the perfect memoir as well, run, don’t walk, to your library or bookstore to get I’m Looking Through You.

    I expected the book to be interesting. After all, it’s written by a transgendered woman in who grew up in an old haunted house. And it definitely was! Boylan meanders through time, switching it up to keep things moving, and always choosing fascinating stories. The (literal) ghosts aren’t on every page, but there’s enough of them that I didn’t feel disappointed.

    But I ended up being less interested in ghosts than in the people. Boylan’s friends and family were… (click here for the rest of the review).

    It’s been almost two years since ILTY hit the stores, but it’s still really nice to get a review like this.   I’m still very proud of this book, and hope that fans of SHE’S NOT THERE who managed to miss the book that succeeded it will take the occasion to check it out.  There’s a whole pulldown menu above featuring lots of information on the book, including the first chapter, which you can read for free right here.

  • Blog

    On to Atlanta!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    6821_527778276095_15401715_31444090_6832301_n So my one-woman show, THE PORCUPINE WOMAN, rocked at Colby College’s Strider Theatre on the 11th and 12th of September. I’ll spare you the self-regarding details and just say that I was really happy with how it went; that I was grateful to Colby’s Lynne Connor for directing the show; and that once again venturing outside of my safe zone has resulted in my failing to collapse before a crowd unconscious.

    And I’ll also just say that the Saturday night show featured my whole family in the audience, and that son Zach led the standing ovation at the end.

    For those of you that came in late, THE PORCUPINE WOMAN is an evening of interconnected stories and songs that I wrote and perform and sing, featuring not only the big piano but also the ol’ autoharp. The piece was originally commissioned by the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, where it was performed under the title of “My Avatar” with performance poet Krista Bell (The Queen of Cootchie) and novelist Vikram Chandra (Love and Longing in Bombay). This expanded version of the show contains some of the material from the Seattle shows (which I blogged about last spring); a few old chestnuts (some from I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU, and some from the story “Trans” included in the collection LOVE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD; and some entirely new material written for the occasion.

    The show’s next performance will be in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of the Southern Comfort Gender Conference. It’ll be presented on Thursday, September 24th, in the mid-evening– I THINK about 8:30 or 9, in the main ballroom.

    I’ve just posted up a few new public speaking gigs for the fall; not too many, as befits my hope to pull back on some of my wack-job schedule, but enough to see me at Mass Bay college in Wellesley Hills, a corporate event in Richmond, VA, and another version of the Porcupine Woman (I think) at Yale University in the first week of November. Check out the Appearances page for more details– some of these are still being set up, and I’ll try to update things as they get firmer and clearer.6821_527776843965_15401715_31443975_8145127_n

    In the meantime, I got these two cool photos today from my former student and friend Sarah Getchell; I performed her wedding last year (I’m allowed, as a notary public, to perform marriages in the State of Maine). The photos are amazing, and I thank Sarah for her photogenic charm. And love.

    Photos by Cassandra Allred

  • Blog

    Live On Stage: The Porcupine Woman: An Evening With Jennifer Finney Boylan

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    2632_84020229851_751444851_2384408_1995992_n-1On Friday and Saturday, September 11 and 12, I’ll be performing my one-woman show, THE PORCUPINE WOMAN, at Colby College’s Strider Theatre, on the Mayflower Hill campus in Waterville, Maine.  Showtime is 7:30.  Tickets are free, but you do have to get a ticket from the box office before the show, and these are distributed on a first-come/first served basis.

    I’ll also be doing the show at this fall’s SOUTHERN COMFORT Gender Conference, in Atlanta, GA, on Thursday night, September 24. The show is free to convention-goers that evening.  The running time is a little over an hour.

    The Porcupine  Woman is a series of interconnected stories and songs, performed and written and sung by me, featuring the electric harp as well as the grand piano.  The show was originally commisioned by the Richard Hugo House in 2008 as part of the “My Avatar” event I performed with performance poet Krista Bell and novelist Vikram Chandra.  The show has been expanded to a full evening, and is being directed and staged by the chair of Colby’s Theatre and Dance department, Lynne Connor.

    So if you’re in the central Maine area–or if you’ll be in Atlanta later this month–I hope you’ll check it out.

  • Blog

    The best day.

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    IMG_0821Yesterday, August 28, was a clear, sparkling late-summer day in Maine and I decided to seize it by dropping everything and driving up to the Bigelow Range and hiking the “Iron Triangle”– the “Horns” trail up to the Appalachian Trail, the A.T. across the Bigelow ridge to West Peak, and down the Firewarden’s Trail and back to the car.  Bigelow is sometimes called Maine’s “Second Mountain,” after Katahdin, and in many ways it’s reminiscent of that monster in its isolation, its ruggedness, and its beauty.  It was a good way to note the end of summer, and the dawning of the fall.  My son Sean started 8th grade on Thursday, and today, Saturday, I’m off to Colby for the first pre-semester bit of work with student leaders, so summer’s end is not just a theory: it’s here.  We take our leave of our summer headquarters, and the lake house, and return to our normal working lives this weekend.

    IMG_0811The trail was hard, though, and not only because I’m no longer a young thing.  Ten hours for me round trip, and most of that alone. Late in the day i got the willies, hiking alone through the slowly-deepening twilight.  Raised my spirits by singing (also in order to scare off any black bears thinking the coast was clear.)  So if anybody heard a voice in the woods singing, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” or “The Lakes of Pontchatrain,” or “Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant,” or “Uncle John’s Band,”… well, now you know. That was me, walking all the way from bright Maine summer and into autumn.

    Thought a little bit about Stephen King’s commentary on “how to write a novel”– i.e., “one word at a time,” the response that often draws a laugh, but which is, essentially, how you do it–or anything, really.   I’ve thought about that advice a lot this summer as I’ve mined deeper and deeper into the now 700+ pages of Falcon Quinn II.  It’s also how you climb a mountain: one step at a time.  One foot after the other.

    Got home at 8 PM and drank a beer and had hot chipotle mac n cheese with the family. And told them all about my day in the sky.

    A few lovely surprises on the trail:

    • met up with a family– mom, dad, two kids, and grampa– doing the circuit with a three month old labrador retriever puppy.  They lapped me a couple times, and I thought, as I nursed my middle-aged knees:  Okay.Fine.  I’m slower than a puppy.IMG_0810

    • met up with a couple, about 60, painting blazes. Trail names: Old Moose and One Step.  I introduced myself by my trail name: Spider.

    IMG_0822• on the A.T. a bunch of through-hikers came through at lightening speed– four hearty young men, about 23.  One wearing a kilt.  They passed me like a vast diesel Mac passing a kid on a tricycle.  Met up with them at the summit– they’d started in Georgia on April 4. One of them used the name “Tweak.”  I asked, What was the best day on the trail?  Without a pause, the four of them said, in unison,  “Today.”IMG_0817

  • Blog

    LOVE in USA Today

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Michael Taeckens spoke of three stories–including mine–in todays USA Today:

    “Romance is a dangerous distraction,” editor Michael Taeckens writes in the introduction to Love Is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts (Plume paperback original, 297 pp., $16). He spoke with USA TODAY’s about some of the book’s true stories and why they resonate.
    ‘Homecoming, With Turtle’
    by Junot Diaz (The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

    “I love Junot’s piece as much for the eloquent description of returning to his hometown of Santo Domingo after a 20-year absence as for the details of the nightmarish experience it was for him and his girlfriend.”

    by Jennifer Finney Boylan (She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders)

    “Jennifer takes a unique experience — dating while one’s gender is in flux — and turns it into a hilarious and poignant story that is completely universal.”

    ‘Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend’
    by Lynda Barry, cartoonist, creator of the syndicated strip Ernie Pook.
    “Lynda, my idol, is able to make life seem simultaneously poetic and comic — here she takes the humiliation of getting head lice and giving it to her boyfriend — and realizes ‘head lice are much easier to get rid of than bad love.’ ”

  • Blog

    Stop Socialism!

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Found this on Engender. Thanks Helen!

  • Blog

    Greetings from Belgrade Lakes, Maine

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Summer is fleeting in Maine, but gorgeous.  Today’s blog post is just a few snapshots from the last week or two. IMG_0762

    This is the blueberry barren atop Vienna mountain (pronounced, VY-enna).  I ride my mountain bike up here, no easy task, at least not for me.  No eatin’ the berries, alas, as the farmer up there has this funny idea about his crop not being for public consumption.   These berries look about ripe to me….

    IMG_0773Meanwhile, I got invited to a party at governor Angus Kings house– a shindig for Maine Writers and Publishers.  Angus and his wife Mary Hermon have a lovely place on the coast, and I snuck down to the beach to have a conversation with the cold Maine sea.


    Meanwhile, back up at the blueberry barrens, you can see Long Pond in the near distance and Great Pond in the far.  I live on Long Pond in the summer, at the end of a dirt road, just at the right hand side, more or less, of this photo.


    And this, you ask? This is a moose print in the mud.  Snapped this on my mountain bike ride.


    Lastly, you’ll find Deedie (Grace) and Sean driving the boat, below.  Living on a lake, we spend at least as much of our time on the boat as in the car, especially making the trip across the pond to Day’s Store, where you can get anything from tequila to an ice cream cone.  This was an ice cream run in late July, with Sean in the captain’s chair.

    That’s the news from Belgrade Lakes.  Wish these days could last forever.


  • Blog

    Steven King’s ON WRITING…

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    On Writing On Writing by Stephen King

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars
    Steven King’s ON WRITING is part memoir, part Elements of Style; it’s also one of the most modest, generous, thoughtful, and succinct books on fiction writing I’ve ever read. Most how-to books on writing are full of blarney and mustard; Steve’s book focuses on a few important stylistic and structural insights, and makes their value clear. The book also sheds useful light on the role writing has played in his own life, and shines light on his struggle with “the drink.” And it winds up with a harrowing re-telling of his awful 1998 accident, and the way he managed to find his way back to the world, mainly due to the love of his wife Tabby–and the muse itself. A short, brilliant, clarifying work. It brought me new appreciation for all of King’s fiction, and sent me immediately into re-reading his work. Which means, guess what, right now, I’m deep into THE STAND…. hope I don’t “come down” with anything….

    View all my reviews >>

  • Blog

    My Congressional District on COLBERT REPORT! featuring Rep. Chellie Pingree

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Well, the Colbert Report, in its ongoing “Better Know a District” segment, paid a visit to our own Maine First yesterday, featuring an interview with Rep. Chellie Pingree. Personally, I still miss Congressman Tom Allen, who gave up the seat to run against Sen. Susan Collins last year– but Chellie holds her own– sort of– with Colbert.   The clip:

    The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
    Better Know a District – Maine’s 1st – Chellie Pingree
    Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Meryl Streep
  • Blog

    Boylans on Oprah

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    The Oprah show that my family and I were on last spring re-runs today, Monday, I believe. You could check it out if you wanted.

    The good news is that we were among “Oprah’s Most Memorable Guests.” The bad news is that the other “memorable’ guests included lying Ted Haggard, the Texas Polygamist Wives, the husband of the woman who drowned her children, a mom with no arms and legs, and a 700 pound man. So, you know. “Memorable” in this instance has a particular meaning.

    We’re on about a third of the way into the show, for a single segment, Skyped in from our home. Caveat emptor.

  • Blog

    Writers’ workbench: On the ecstasy of the home stretch

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    herman4 So here I am, late summer, deep in the heart of the first draft of a new book. I’m in that euphoric, terrifying, mysterious frame of mind that arises when the end of the draft is almost in sight. I try to write about 1000 words a day, which translates to about four pages of double-spaced manuscript. I’m on about page 350 of a book that feels like it will be around 450 pages long. Everything’s set up for the ending, all the characters and clues and tools are in place, and now mostly I have the feeling of standing back, watching the storm I have created roll through the village.

    I don’t know if people who are not writers can relate to this at all, but I wanted to linger over this moment with you here. Right now, the world of the book I’m writing is really all I care about. It’s what I can’t wait to do once I get up in the morning, and when I’m doing it, I”m about as happy as I can be, and when I’m finished, I start to think about what I’m going to write tomorrow. Each tiny block of pages brings me closer and closer to the end. I know a lot of what’s going to happen, but not exactly, and there’s still room to be surprised, both for better and for ill. But this particular place– the home stretch–is such a delight.

    I have hopes to be done with this first draft by summer’s end, which would truly be impressive (and tidy, since it means I wouldn’t be dragging summer projects into the academic year.) I am such a confused flibbertygibbet of a writer that I really have to go through two drafts, just to have a first draft, because even at my most careful, I am still capable of writing, “A hole fell out of the wall.” (The HarperCollins copyeditor actually caught this one recently; with deep chagrin I had to change it to, OF COURSE, “a stone fell out of the wall, leaving a hole.”) And so on. It is so easy to get blind, in the whirlwind of this part of writing.

    Steve King encourages writers to write 2000 words a day, if possible, and to spend no more than 3 months on a first draft. I’m a fast writer, but i’ve never been THAT fast. Still, these fantasy books I’m writing have come faster, and been more fun, than almost anything I’ve ever done. The problem is that, every 200 pages or so, I have to completely stop and go back and fix all the things i’ve screwed up because only writing the story lets me know what the story is. And while this might well be a crazy way of writing (rather than planning it all out in advance), I’ve NEVER been able to do that; for me it’s always writing blindly but with hope, and then going back, and fixing it, and fixing it.

    So coming down the home stretch is especially exciting because the options narrow, and I’m less likely to go off down a blind alley. AT this point, I’ve been down so many of them that the number of false moves has been reduced– because I’ve already taken so many of them.

    This particular project, by the way, is FALCON QUINN AND THE (SOMETHING SOMETHING) (we’re keeping the something something secret for now). It’s book two of the Falcon Quinn project, and i’ve just learned that book one, FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR (the cover for which is here) is now slated for April publication. I’ve had such a ball with these books, and even now I am still doing what I started doing two years ago with book one– doing a morning’s writing, and then reading the day’s work to my boys at day’s end. Zach and Sean continue to be some of my best critics, especially with this book, which I’ve written for (and in many cases, with) them.

    It’s funny, though, I will end book Two before Book One has come out yet, so I wont’ know whether there will be books Three and up (and yeah, I have a pretty specific idea of how many of these there will be) when I have to hand them in. So I have to come up with an ending for Book Two that will end the series if we end at two, but also provides an opening if we go more than that, which I surely hope we do.

    At any rate, I am not at all sure that this makes me a very fun or pleasant person to be around right now, because my mind is really drifting away to Shadow Island and the world of the story all the time. Deedie is long suffering and patient about this, having long ago decided that the best way to deal with a writer-spouse is to pretend I’m normal. The boys, meanwhile, want to CONSTANTLY talk about the latest twists and turns in the story. It’s such a fun and fulfilling place to be.

    There are times I wish I could stay in this frame of mind forever. But that’d be no fun, because then I’d never find out how the story ends. And I’d be denied the even scarier, even more amazing prospect, of staring something new.

  • Blog

    The Passing of the Armies by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Yesterday, at a party for Maine Writers and Publishers, former Maine governor Angus King read the following memoir extract of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who started out the Civil War as a college professor and ended it as a general.  It was Chamberlain whom Grant selected to receive the surrender of the Confederate army after Appomattox, and in this short piece, Chamberlain gave his account of the southern divisions surrendering their arms. Chamberlain ordered his troops to give the Confederates a full military salute as they did so, knowing full well that he would be deeply criticized for this later.  But–according to the governor–this moment helped begin the healing of the wars’ wounds.  I heard this read by Gov. King yesterday on the porch of the house he shares with his wife, Mary Hermon, and as he read, the seagulls cried overhead and the ocean roared:

    from “The Passing of the Armies” by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlian

    Our earnest eyes scan the busy groups on the opposite slopes, breaking camp for the last time, taking down their little shelter-tents and folding them carefully as precious things, then slowly forming ranks as for unwelcome duty. And now they move. The dusky swarms forge forward into gray columns of march. On they come, with the old swinging route step and swaying battle-flags. In the van, the proud Confederate ensign–the great field of white with canton of star-strewn cross of blue on a field of red, the regimental battle-flags with the same escutcheon following on, crowded so thick, by thinning out of men, that the whole column seemed crowned with red. At the right of our line our little group mounted beneath our flags, the red Maltese cross on a field of white, erewhile so bravely borne through many a field more crimson than itself, its mystic meaning now ruling all.

    The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;–was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?

    Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldiers salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”–the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and. downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,–honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

    As each successive division masks our own, it halts, the men face inward towards us across the road, twelve feet away; then carefully “dress” their line, each captain taking pains for the good appearance of his company, worn and half starved as they were. The field and staff take their positions in the intervals of regiments; generals in rear of their commands. They fix bayonets, stack arms; then, hesitatingly, remove cartridge-boxes and lay them down. Lastly,– reluctantly, with agony of expression,–they tenderly fold their flags, battle-worn and torn, blood-stained, heart-holding colors, and lay them down; some frenziedly rushing from the ranks, kneeling over them, clinging to them, pressing them to their lips with burning tears. And only the Flag of the Union greets the sky!

    What visions thronged as we looked into each others eyes! Here pass the men of Antietam, the Bloody Lane, the Sunken Road, the Cornfield, the Burnside-Bridge; the men whom Stonewall Jackson on the second night at Fredericksburg begged Lee to let him take and crush the two corps of the Army of the Potomac huddled in the streets in darkness and confusion; the men who swept away the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville; who left six thousand of their companions around the bases of Culps and Cemetery Hills at Gettysburg; these survivors of the terrible Wilderness, the Bloody-Angle at Spottsylvania, the slaughter pen of Cold Harbor, the whirlpool of Bethesda Church!

    Here comes Cobbs Georgia Legion, which held the stone wall on Maryes Heights at Fredericksburg, close before which we piled our dead for breastworks so that the living might stay and live.

    Here too come Gordons Georgians and Hokes North Carolinians, who stood before the terrific mine explosion at Petersburg, and advancing retook the smoking crater and the dismal heaps of dead–ours more than theirs–huddled in the ghastly chasm.

    Here are the men of McGowan, Hunton, and Scales, who broke the Fifth Corps lines on the White Oak Road, and were so desperately driven back on that forlorn night of March 31st by my thrice-decimated brigade.

    Now comes Andersons Fourth Corps, only Bushrod Johnsons Division left, and this the remnant of those we fought so fiercely on the Quaker Road two weeks ago, with Wises Legion, too fierce for its own good.

    Here passes the proud remnant of Ransoms North Carolinians which we swept through Five Forks ten days ago,– and all the little that was left of this division in the sharp passages at Sailors Creek five days thereafter.

    Now makes its last front A. P. Hills old Corps, Heth now at the head, since Hill had gone too far forward ever to return: the men who poured destruction into our division at Shepardstown Ford, Antietam, in 1862, when Hill reported the Potomac running blue with our bodies; the men who opened the desperate first days fight at Gettysburg, where withstanding them so stubbornly our Robinsons Brigades lost 1185 men, and the Iron Brigade alone 1153,–these men of Heths Division here too losing 2850 men, companions of these now looking into our faces so differently.

    What is this but the remnant of Mahones Division, last seen by us at the North Anna? its thinned ranks of worn, bright-eyed men recalling scenes of costly valor and ever-remembered history.

    Now the sad great pageant–Longstreet and his men! What shall we give them for greeting that has not already been spoken in volleys of thunder and written in lines of fire on all the riverbanks of Virginia? Shall we go back to Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill? Or to the Antietam of Maryland, or Gettysburg of Pennsylvania?–deepest graven of all. For here is what remains of Kershaws Division, which left 40 per cent. of its men at Antietam, and at Gettysburg with Barksdales and Semmes Brigades tore through the Peach Orchard, rolling up the right of our gallant Third Corps, sweeping over the proud batteries of Massachusetts–Bigelow and Philips,–where under the smoke we saw the earth brown and blue with prostrate bodies of horses and men, and the tongues of overturned cannon and caissons pointing grim and stark in the air.
    Then in the Wilderness, at Spottsylvania and thereafter, Kershaws Division again, in deeds of awful glory, held their name and fame, until fate met them at Sailors Creek, where Kershaw himself, and Ewell, and so many more, gave up their arms and hopes,–all, indeed, but manhoods honor.

    With what strange emotion I look into these faces before which in the mad assault on Rives Salient, June 18, 1864, I was left for dead under their eyes! It is by miracles we have lived to see this day,–any of us standing here.

    Now comes the sinewy remnant of fierce Hoods Division, which at Gettysburg we saw pouring through the Devils Den, and the Plum Run gorge; turning again by the left our stubborn Third Corps, then swarming up the rocky bastions of Round Top, to be met there by equal valor, which changed Lees whole plan of battle and perhaps the story of Gettysburg.

    Ah, is this Picketts Division?–this little group left of those who on the lurid last day of Gettysburg breasted level cross-fire and thunderbolts of storm, to be strewn back drifting wrecks, where after that awful, futile, pitiful charge we buried them in graves a furlong wide, with names unknown!

    Met again in the terrible cyclone-sweep over the breast-works at Five Forks; met now, so thin, so pale, purged of the mortal,–as if knowing pain or joy no more. How could we help falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all!

    Thus, all day long, division after division comes and goes, surrendered arms being removed by our wagons in the intervals, the cartridge-boxes emptied in the street when the ammunition was found unserviceable, our men meanwhile resting in place.

  • Blog

    Breaking Up With Myself

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    417cw8Su9BL._SL500_AA240_I wrote the following very short entry for the Penguin Blog in support of my story, “Trans,” in the anthology LOVE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD, which is about broken hearts and breakups. The entry I post herewith; the blog itself you can visit here, if you want, and read more from the other authors about this subject, and their own stories.

    Breaking Up With Myself
    by Jennifer Finney Boylan

    Nine years ago, I made a big stack of all the clothes I had ever worn and gave them to the homeless. This included wingtip shoes, three-piece suits, Grateful Dead T-shirts, ties, belts, cotton shirts and boxer shorts. Pffft, down the chute. A moment like this is one of the rites of passage for transsexuals in transition, or can be. It was for me.

    And yet it was not without a bittersweet pang that I hauled the bags of clothing down to Goodwill. What I realized was that I was saying farewell not only to the Perry Ellis suit and the Timberland jacket, but to the man I had been when I had worn them. In some twisted way, I was breaking up with myself.

    Fifteen years earlier, I’d broken up with Allison (an account of which appears in Love is a Four Letter Word). I was glad to be done with the endless bickering, (like the night after my friend Tim died, and she said, “I’m glad he’s dead! He was so annoying!”) On the other hand, Allison was the person I’d been closest to when my father died, when I lost my first job, when I got my first short story published.

    It was Allison who’d held me in her arms, when I was twenty-five, on the day that the dog I’d gotten as my eleventh birthday present was put to sleep.

    So when we broke up, I wasn’t only losing her. I was losing the person I had been during the time we were together.

    It’s like that Hopkins poem, “To a Young Child,” when our man tells little grieving Margaret, “It is the doom that man was born for; it is Margaret that you mourn for.”

    I think the same thing is true of breakups. When we lose someone we’ve loved, it’s not only that relationship we mourn. It’s the loss of our own history, a connection to the people we have been.

    I was so glad when I left the world of being James, and began the world of being Jenny. In its own way, it was a miracle. Still, after I gave away my clothes, I thought: Who would know that the stains on that striped shirt had come from the Beaujolais I drank the night I got engaged? Who would know that that green tie was the one I’d worn that day in high school, when I wrecked my parents’ car?

    I think about the man I used to be, now and again, with fondness, and bereavement, and wonder idly, what ever became of that dude? I look at photographs of my younger self, and heave a sigh, and think the thing we all think as we grow older, and our former selves recede: You never call. You never write.

  • Blog

    THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC by Richard Russo

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars Rick Russo’s new book contains some familiar, beloved elements for Russo-philes– a devoted, exhausted wife; a smart, snarky daughter; an irritating mother who doesn’t stop meddling, even after death–and at the center, a restless, loving soul, this time the professor Griffin, who wrestles with life’s meaning, love, and legacy. But there’s new ground here too, not least in the brevity and economy of the story. Plus, at times CAPE MAGIC is more laugh out loud funny than any Russo book in recent memory. Above all, I found the faint whiff of mortality hovering over these pages, which gave the tale a sense of gravity and sobriety even in the midst of its comic moments. Russo, of course, is my dear friend, and so I’m biased. But I think he’s one of the best American novelists, ever, and CAPE MAGIC is one of his best. Russo departs today on a multi-city book tour, so catch him if you can. View all my reviews >>

  • Blog

    Averted Vision by Tim Kreider in today’s NYT

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    My friend Tim Kreider has posted another amazing entry in the New York Times’ “Happy Days” blog:

    August 2, 2009, 9:05 PM
    Averted Vision
    IMG_0031In 1996 I rode the circus train to Mexico City where I lived for a month, pretending to be someone’s husband. (Don’t even ask.) I remember my time there as we remember most of our travels — vivid and thrilling, everything new and strange. My ex-fake-wife Carolyn and I often reminisce nostalgically about our honeymoon there: ordering un balde hielo from room service to cool our Coronas every afternoon, the black-velvet painting of the devil on the toilet that she made me buy, our shared hilarious terror of kidnapping and murder, the giant pork rind I wrangled through customs. Which is funny, since, if I think back honestly, while I was actually there I did not feel “happy.” In fact, as mi esposa did not hesitate to point out to me at the time, I griped incessantly about the noise and stink of the city — the car horns playing shrill, uptempo versions of the theme from “The Godfather” or “La Cucaracha” every second, the noxious mix of diesel fumes and urine, the air so filthy we’d been there a week before I learned we had a view of the mountains.

    The fresh heartbreak was, in a sense, like being in a foreign country; everything seemed alien, brilliant and glinting. It was as if I’d been flayed, so that even the air hurt.
    I was similarly miserable throughout the happiest summer I ever spent in New York City. I was recovering from an affair that had ended badly, and during my convalescence I was subletting a cool, airy apartment a block from Tompkins Square Park, with a kitchen window that looked out on a community garden. A theater troupe was rehearsing a production of “The Tempest” out there, and I got used to the warped rattling crash of…

    (read the column in its entirety here.)

    (photo of Tim Kreider by Jenny Boylan, summer 2007, Greenlawn Cemetery, at the tomb of F.W. Woolworth, in a moment that was surely a mixture of great sorrow and absolute giddiness.)

  • Blog


    - by Jennifer Boylan

    Alive in Necropolis Alive in Necropolis by Doug Dorst

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars
    Just finished ALIVE IN NECROPOLIS by Doug Dorst, a wild first novel that is equal measures hard-boiled cop story and zombie invasion. The tale starts out with the near-death of a young man in a cemetery– he’s rescued by our hero, Officer Mercer and his partner, Toronto. As the boy hovers near death in the hospital, the officers try to figure out how the kid got all tied up and left for dead in a mausoleum. While all that’s going on, the officers’ private lives slowly disintegrate, and Mercer starts seeing DEAD PEOPLE.

    The tension between the two aspects of the tale remains in a fun, unsettling balance for most of the book, which means that this supernatural detective story is kind of unlike anything i’ve ever read before. Strange, funny, creepy, unsettling– by turns ALIVE IN NECROPOLIS is all of these. Does Dorst answer all the questions he raises? Not by a long shot. But the dark joke, and earnest quest-for-meaning at the heart of the tale still made it a fine book to read.

    View all my reviews >>

  • Blog

    A New York Minute

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    • Amtrak train pulled into New York as my iPod coughed up “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” “My own seeds shall be sown in new York city.” Cool.

    DT396• At the Met, had a conversation with the portrait of the woman looking out at us with a sad, lovely expression, pens in hand; over her shoulder a distant couple is visible through a broken window pane. I told her, Cheer up.  You’re going to be fine, and anyway you’re an artist. (The painting is Marie-Denise Villers’ Young Woman Drawing.)

    • at Thursday nite reading, a stranger came up to me with tears in her eyes. We shook hands.

    • Thursday afternoon, lunch with Newsweek executive editor Ted Moncreiff. Talked about writing and magazines and FALCON QUINN. Afterward, walked past the STONEWALL inn. And whispered, Thanks.

    • on the way to Penn station to catch the train home to Maine, the subway stationmaster looked at me and said, “Were you on that Oprah show?” I said, “Yeah, but that was a long time ago.” Said she: “You look the same!” I smiled and said, “So do you!”  And headed down the stairs, toward home.

  • Blog

    “Love” Reading, Barnes & Noble New York, July 30, 2009

    - by Jennifer Boylan

    photoThe reading last night for the LOVE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD anthology was a fine event. Editor Michael Taeckens introduced the host, Russ Marshalek, who in turn introduced each of us with an excerpt from “Love Secrets from Delilah.” Nice.  Then Josh Kilmer-Purcell read from “Twenty-five to One Odds,” I read from “Trans,” and Dan Kennedy finished off with “Excactly Like Liz Phair, Except Older.  And with Hypochondra.”  We signed books and then snuck off into the Upper West Side night to have a pitcher of blue margaritas, and share more stories of breakups, bad relationships, and broken hearts.

    Penguin says that hits for the book on their site have gone through the roof.  I’ve been asked to contriubte a blog post about relationships and the book for the site next week, and I’ll post up a link there when the time comes.  In the meantime, you could check out what’s on the site right now; Dan Kennedy had a “soundtrack for heartache” posting sure to bring a tear to the eye.

    It was great to see so many readers last night and I appreciate everyone who came out.  I note that we only had two or three people storm up and out of the reading angrily, which is a new low for me,; most of these catapulted themselves after Josh started talkin’ 

    Collection Editor Michael Taeckens, standing, and l to r, Josh Kilmer Purcell, Dan Kennedy, and Jennifer Finney Boylan, Barnes & Noble, 82nd & Broadway, July 30, 2009. (Missing here: host Russell Marshalek).

    Finally, I’ll note how this anthology is full of gay relationships, and the fact that this is unexceptional and mundane strikes me as a sign of great progress.  There’s only one trans narrative– but it is a good thing for trans lives to be represented in this mainstream publication–and that’s progress too.