Monday, June 30, 2008

Barack Obama, redux

Barack Obama has again been talking about quiltbag rights (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and allies--still haven't decided out what the 'u' might stand for, though 'unclassifiable' might work...), this time saying he supports repeal of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. At least for now, during Pride Month, he's stopped openly saying 'marriage is one man and one woman' and all the rest of that different-but-equal nonsense. So, yay! Here's hoping he continues to pay all people due respect as human beings. I'd like to think that's what he really believes but hasn't been able to say so for reasons of political expediency. Here's hoping he wins so we can find out.

I would so like to be wrong about my previous post :)

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Ammonite will turn you queer

According to, Ammonite will turn you queer, if only for a nanosecond. So will Torchwood, and The Man Who Folded Himself, and...oh, just go read the list.

Also, photos of the big LLF bash in Los Angeles last month by Valerie A. Kelly are here. Here's one of them, me accepting the Lammy for And Now We Are Going to Have a Party:

photo by Valerie A. Kelly

Next to me is Kelley holding the box with the award inside, thinking, Whoa, this sucker is heavy... At least that's what I was thinking when I handed the box to her and nearly dropped it.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

update on publishing stuff

I've just read a long (but not too long) blog post by Moonrat, an editor (via Nathan Bransford). It says a lot of what I mean about publishing. I'm too busy right now preparing for the most awesome dinner party ever (for our anniversary) to go into this more, but if you're at all interested in the fate of books and those who write them and publish them, go read it.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

our twentieth anniversary

In honour of our twentieth anniversary today, I've added three pictures of me and Kelley to my website: from 1992, 2006, and last year. And here's one extra, taken in 1989, when we were 28 years old:

Photo by Sharon Woodbury i.e. Kelley's mum. (No, I wasn't at all what she expected her daughter to bring home; but, yes, she liked me.)

If you follow the link you'll also find a new, special exerpt from my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party -- with another photo :)

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Monday, June 23, 2008

quotes, an occasional series, #3: manufacture of stories

Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand -- a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods -- or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values. -- Willa Cather

Lots of people think authors should not only create the content but run their own publicity and marketing machines. We should blog. We should keep our websites updated. We should pop into every bookshop in town on a regular basis just to say Hi and sign things. We should do interviews on radio, tv, the web; we should write op-eds and do speaking engagements. We should keep email lists and send out regular newsletters. We should make YouTube videos and book trailers and in our spare time record readings on our laptops. Oh, and we should have constantly updated photos in b&w, colour, formal, candid, full-length and headshots. We should not be wearing the same clothes in each shot; the clothes we wear must be lovely; our haircuts have to be sharp. And heaven forbid we should forget to get that manicure or eyebrow wax. (This is me giggling...)

All this presupposes that we're young, fit and energetic; that we are very well paid by our publishers so that we don't have to have a J.O.B. (or we have trust funds); that we write the kind of books that don't require immersion and total focus.

I'm forty-seven. A midlist author. I have MS. I'm still expected to do the impossible, that is, do my publisher's job, while still creating all the content, finding the readers, and getting only 10% of the list price.

Well, finally, I got tired of it, and I quit. Oh, I haven't stopped writing--far from it--but I think I'm done with the prevailing publishing model. I'm done with being expected to produce art and then being treated like a commodity. Here's a quote from a post I wrote last month:

Sometimes I can have a good writing day yet not write much. This is happening more than usual at the moment, and it's related to writing historical fiction. Writing mainstream fiction is easy--everyone knows what a bed is like, what people eat and wear, how things work. For the seventh century--unlike, say, Regency England (the rake, the dandy, the ball, dance cards), or WWII (the Blitz, rationing, grey skies filled with barrage balloons, weak tea)--there are no handy plug-ins. I have to invent everything, every single thing, from scratch. If Hild walks into the dairy, what does it look like? (Would there be a dairy? Cows were most likely milked in the field, sheep in a pen.) How do you make cheese when there is no stainless steel? What do you store the milk in with no glass, no refrigeration? (You don't; you turn it into cheese and butter and whey.) How many women/girls does it take to milk how many cows and sheep? What are the buckets made of? (Sycamore, because it doesn't leave a nasty aftertaste in the milk.) And that's just process and artifacts. Social relationships were different, too. I've never written anything full of slavery before, never dealt with a heroic society without literacy. (That changes later, of course.) So a good writing day can be a good inventing/visualising day but a not-many-words-on-the-page day.

Writing this novel reminds me of writing Ammonite. There's so much world-building that in order to really visualise it, I need, on some level to spend my days there. This means I can't work for two hours then do something else, like go out for lunch and see a movie. This kind of imaginitive work requires immersion. I can't make phone calls, do interviews, do a reading & signing, go to the neurologist and discuss my treatment at length, because that pops me out of the world, and it takes a while to get back. More and more I wish I could divide my life into chunks: two months on an island without a phone and no ferry, two weeks downtown going to all the fab new restaurants, seeing the films; two months on the island. I hesitate to tell people this, mostly, because it sounds so...self-indulgent and artsy. But it really is becoming more and more necessary for me to become a complete hermit for days at a time.

I can't do publicity for a project while I'm living in the seventh century. I don't want to. And, besides, the kind of on-my-own publicity I can do for a book without the full support of a publisher, is, frankly, close to meaningless.

By 'full support' I mean actual support: put galleys in the white box, send posters to bookstores, pay for co-op and display, have reps actually fucking talk about the book to their clients (make sure the reps know the fucking book exists), give me a publicist who has been out of school for more than a year and who has contacts, ideas, and authority.

Oh, I could go on. But mainly I want to open a conversation. How are we going to make this work? How can writers write good stuff--the kind of fiction that is art, not a once-a-year commodity-- get that stuff into readers' hands, and have a life? It's a puzzle. Ideas on a postcard to...

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Friday, June 20, 2008

uh-oh, I'm a Nazgul

So, be nice to me, people. Turns out I'm a Nazgul. Except, oof, sometimes it says I'm a Balrog. Very confusing. Anyway, yay, I'm not a nice cuddly hobbit :) (via Gwenda)

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Obama is pissing me off

Obama is pissing me off. Seriously pissing me off. This whole 'marriage is between one man and one woman thing' (reiterated earlier this week by Obama in an interview about California's recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage) is, yes, pissing me off. Just in case you missed that I AM PISSED OFF.

What is his fucking problem? Where's all his 'leadership'? Where's all the 'hope'? Does he only want to lead hopeful straight people? I would like to slam this man's head in the fridge door a few times.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

absolutely true...

I've just finished Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (thanks for the rec, Jill). It's a good book. I enjoyed it and can recommend it. But I doubt I'll read it again.

So now I have another, newer test for YA literature: does it not only make me live more intensely for the reading of it, but does it make me want to live/read it again?

Kelley and I had another lunchtime chat about our responses to YA. She brought up an interesting point: she reads YA fiction in part to reconnect with the feeling of encountering the emotions/experiences usally encountered for the first time in adolescence. I realised two things. One, bad writers try to engender those feelings in their readers by reproducing the mannerisms and speech patterns of young adults (their characters are blithe and ignorant and inarticulate, shudder). And, two, that's not why I read YA. I read for the clarity and brilliance and excitement of fictional (v. important point, that) young people's experience of the world. I want to feel wholly involved with and experience the world as though the world were new, not as though I were.

One of the things I really liked about Alexie's book was his narrator's announcement, right up front, that he wasn't going to write things down the way he spoke. In other words, Alexie didn't open door #1. I nearly split my face grinning when I read that. I wanted to shake his hand.

He did, however, open door #2 (which is more a matter of reader taste than writer mistake). This novel will be mind-expanding, vibrant and enlarging (I believe) for many young people. For me, though, it is best described as a good read, the kind of book that makes me nod in recognition, 'Yes, how true,' but not understand something new, and not yearn to experience it again. Perhaps if I hadn't read Alexie's other fiction I would have learnt a great deal about growing up on the rez--but I have already read his other work; I have heard him speak (and very good he is, too).

Whatever I search for in a novel (and I imagine I'll be trying to articulate that on some level for the rest of my life, sigh), I didn't quite find here. But a few years ago I might have done. It's a question of timing.

This is a very, very good book. Go read it.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

interview up

An update on yesterday's post: the interview is up. It's in four parts. Here's the first. Follow links to the rest. I talk about how I felt about winning the Lambda Literary Award (for And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, my memoir) in the second part.

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party time, excellent

So I've just loaded onto my website a whole bunch of photos and excerpts of And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer's Early Life. That is, my memoir. That is, the story of my Bad Self days in England before I met Kelley, moved here, and settled down. If you want a better sense of what all the fuss is about, start here. The exerpts include Dorothy Allison's preface, my introduction, and a few random photo snippets. Let me know what you think.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Quotes, an occasional series, #2: Young Adult adventure

I came across an old bookmark last week, one of those beautifully designed freebies they used to send out in the early days. It featured this quote:
"The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it." -- Elizabeth Drew
It helped crystallise some of my thinking about the YA books I've read recently.

I don't very much like most of the YA novels I've read, or tried to read. No, I'm not saying that YA as a genre is bad/shallow/inane or any of those thoughtless pejoratives idiot reviewers sometimes trot out. I'm saying I mostly don't enjoy most of the ones I've picked up. Perhaps I simply need to learn to choose more carefully. (After all, I also don't like most of the adult fiction I pick up, either.) Perhaps it's a taste thing; i.e. there's no accounting for it, in much the same way that I can say I like green better than orange. Though of course, there are some orangey colours in some circumstances that I like better than some disgusting green ones. So I'm generalising wildly, okay? Generalising is what helps me find my way into an idea.

The YA novels I do like are those such as Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword, or Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword, or the Harry Potter books: adventure novels (I think 'sword' in the title might be a clue). I don't like angst, don't like breathy first person narratives full of quirky best friends, lists, and offbeat parents. One exception--because yes, Virginia, there is always an exception--is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

I've just read three quite different YA adventures. None of them are new. I'm not sure any of the authors would characterise them as YA but they're adventures featuring young adult protagonists. (I don't know what the industry's definition of 'young adult' may be, but mine is a protagonist in their late teens--even as old as 20--someone about to leave home and find out who they are and how to live their life.)

The first was Patrick O'Brian's Road to Samarcand which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was published in the 1950s, and most likely written when O'Brian was about 40. The first couple of pages are very slightly rocky, a little self-conscious, a smidge stilted, but after that it's a rip-roaring adventure tale complete with near-death at sea, political insurgency by land, and marauding hordes on horseback. Many of O'Brian's favourite tropes and characters are on display: the fussy unworldly person who is more than he seems; the Mechanicals-like low comedy types who are nonetheless brilliantly specific; the political machinations; hapless academics who have their uses; manly men's men who can be idiots in some ways; particular and howlingly funny dialogue; and inaccessible and rather magical lost valleys--this one complete with a Yeti. Nothing is too easy or smooth, nothing too grim. Great stuff, but definitely lacking the majesty of his Aubrey/Maturin novels. Is this because it's about a young person rather than adults? No. I think it's because O'Brian hadn't yet entirely found his stride as a writer.

Then there was Stephen Gould's Jumper which I read in lieu of seeing the film (which got such awful reviews). It's skiffy adolescent detail-porn: take a premise (what if an abused kid could teleport?) and follow it relentlessly to its logical conclusion. I enjoyed it. But, oh dear, the dialogue is, well, not a sterling exemplar of the art. And the whole thing felt about one molecule deep. There again, who needs deep when you can get a visceral imagine of stealing more than a million dollars in lovely, luscious cash?

Finally, I read Temple at Landfall, by Jane Fletcher, which is good old lesbian science-fantasy. This is very plainly written--the kind of thing writing teachers used to call camera eye or windowpane prose--but nothing wasted, nothing left out. It's a slender but sweet story of a girl/woman who falls in love with a guard captain (also female--it's a women-only world). Their love is forbidden, of course (isn't it always?), but, hey, love conquers all. And on the way to their happy ending they fight rebels, evil armies, wicked-clawed snow cats, and prejudice. I loved the fact that it's a women-only world where women take all the roles: hero, villain, vain, kind, generous, mean, petty, and so on; this kind of book is thin on the ground.

Each book took about two hours to read. Each book was enormous fun. None of them changed my notions about--my understanding of or feelings for--anything. It seems that Elizabeth Drew's test is also my test for 'literature' these days: do I feel as though my life is bigger because of it? None of these three books made me feel bigger, or denser, or more brilliant. But for two hours each, they certainly put a lift in my day. And that's worth something.

So now I want to ponder this notion of YA fiction and literature. What YA books expand my world? The first thing that comes to mind is Lord of the Rings. To me, it's YA because it's about a young adult (Frodo) and how he leaves home and finds out who he is. LotR is also most definitely art, so the back of my hand to all those cretins who think YA can't be Literature. Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown is also about a young adult, but it suddenly veers into real grownup territory when Aerin has to choose between her two loves. So I'm not sure if it's YA or not. There again, isn't that the point of really good YA fiction? That before the end the YA protagonist looses the 'Y' part and starts firmly on the 'A' path? I'm not sure. I haven't thought about this much. I'm hoping others who have more knowledge might be willing to chime in here. Seriously, I know I'm ignorant here. I'd appreciate some gentle guidance.

Okay, I stopped there to eat lunch, and talked to Kelley about what she thinks a YA novel might be. We didn't come to any hard and fast conclusions, but what I took away from the conversation was that the mediocre genre 'YA novel' is a little like the mediocre genre 'lesbian novel' in that they are hothouse books. They are inward looking; they won't lift up their heads and look at the outside world; they wear their themes on their sleeves; they are *about* being adolescent or *about* being a dyke (and usually about How Awful and Unjust that is). I think this is why I bristle when people call my work 'lesbian fiction'. My novels are written by a dyke and are about dykes, but they're not about *being* a dyke. But perhaps that's too fine a distinction for most people.

So here's a question for you all: what books about YA protagonists will rock my world--will entertain me and, more, will change me or challenge me?
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

sad week

Sorry I've been absent for a while. Our valiant cat, Zackary, died. He'd been with us for nearly seventeen years. Working from home means I spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week with him for those seventeen years. So I shouldn't be astonished at how much I miss him, but I am. My usual routine has fallen to pieces.

But I'll be blogging again by Monday.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

tears tears tears!

From: Ulla

I just finished reading your memoir - the tears haven't dried properly on my cheeks!!! The last page took half-an-hour to read, had to keep drying the tears, you see!

Thanks so much for writing, and publishing, this wonderful story. I think you're a wonderfully strong and clever person. All the drinking and partying and screwing and whatnot was hiding/protecting the writer gem inside!!!

And the wonderful love story!!! I won't even start on that!!!

I more than enjoyed it!!! I loved it, really! It got me laughing and crying - and thinking, quite a lot!

You can use 'Ulla' - I'm not ashamed of my opinions, I know they're very valid in this case anyways! - so my friends know what I'm doing and thinking. Of course they know what I've been reading - I rave about it daily. Incidentally, I've got many of my friends to read your books and they're very grateful! Do you know if they've been translated - into Swedish, maybe?

I had saved the CD for last! You have a really beautiful voice! Ever thought of making a career of it?? I liked the band too, and the lyrics were great!

So, what next? I still have With Her Body but then I'll be waiting for your new novel!

Okay, well, you're going to have to read WHB very, very slowly :)

I have all kinds of possible projects lined up, but the only thing I'm actively working on is the Hild novel, which I won't finish until next year--after which it will be at least another year until publication.

But I'm noodling with many things. I have an essay collection almost ready to go, and a short story collection almost ready to. The key word here is 'almost'. I've no idea what publisher I'd sell them to (selling them as a pair would be perfect) and until I know what I want to do with them I can't motivate myself to take the last couple of steps on the journey.

There are a couple of short stories I'd like to write and/or finish but, again, they're just not burning hot enough for me to want to take my focus off Hild.

I have two or three novels I'd really like to write, but later.

I have at least two scripts based on my own work (original and adaptation) and others (more collaborative) I'd like to play with.

I'd really like to find an agent who could sell my memoir to a trade publisher. I'd had such fabulous responses to it that it seems a shame that so few people can afford the limited edition.

But right now, all I really want to do is have a life and work on Hild. Having said that, of course, I'm used to choosing a path and then finding my world turned upside down somehow shortly thereafter. So I'm kind of braced for change.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

happy day in the Eskridge-Griffith household

A friend of mine, Ellen Emerson White, just came up with a very, very cool idea, a gesture that Obama could and should make to make the world a better place. It makes such sense that I'm amazed no one has come up with it before. It's simple, elegant, necessary.

Also, Paul Di Filippo has given ANWAGTHAP a fab review in July's Asimov's Magazine:

"...a life story wittily and bracingly told: brave, forthright, illuminating, passionate, rueful, and celebratory. If you melded Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (2006) with Aldiss's The Twinkling of an Eye (1998) and Delany's The Motion of Light in Water (1988), you might come up with a similar tale of a wild girl with literary sensibilities."

— Paul Di Filippo, Asimov's, July 2008

Wow. Bechdel, Aldiss *and Delany. Fabulous. And the cherry on top? Kelley's collection, Dangerous Space, is reviewed glowingly six pages later. Happy day in the Eskridge-Griffith household.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

mind the gap

An interesting article about gender difference in maths and reading test scores in this week's economist, 'Vital Statistics':

Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute in Florence and his colleagues have just published the results of a study which suggests that culture explains most of the difference in maths, at least. In this week's Science, they show that the gap in mathematics scores between boys and girls virtually disappears in countries with high levels of sexual equality, though the reading gap remains.

Here's a lovely graphic to illustrate the study results:

Basically, it seems that girls, in countries where gender parity is more or less reached (e.g. Iceland). have an absolute advantage. Go read it. I can't wait to see what the wingnuts make of this...

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

does winning make me happy?

From: Miele

I wish you congratulations on your LAMBDA award. Now there is something I am always thinking about when people win awards. Looking in from outside, I am thinking how this is wonderful, yes? So my question is, what happens when you win an award? And I see you have won several over years so, I am thinking you will know.

Curious I am to know if you feel happier than before you won or loved or successful or respected by other people? How much more things increase after winning? Or perhaps it is something different?

Just in case someone out there doesn't know this yet, on Thursday And Now We Are Going to Have a Party won the Lambda Literary Award for women's memoir/biography. I've just got back to Seattle and I'm still grinning :)

So, yes, winning is wonderful. It totally rocks. It feels very, very sweet.

But some awards, some circumstances, matter more than others. This award, I find, matters a lot. Perhaps it's because I won for my memoir, for the story of me, so it feels even more personal than winning for a novel. Perhaps that it was the 20th Lambda Literary Awards, and so was special. Perhaps it was that I was shown so much love in Los Angeles.

It was truly incredible. From the minute I got to the Silver Screen Theatre, in the Pacific Design Centre, I was overwhelmed by the goodwill. So very many writers, and readers, genuinely pleased to see me, and delighted to tell me how much my work means to them. It sort of blew my mind.

I've won quite a few awards. It's uncool to admit it but I always prepare a speech. I mean always. I had one prepared for this. But when my name was announced, my mind went utterly blank. That's never happened to me before, and I think it's because this award meant so much. It really mattered. Weirdly, I didn't understand that until it happened.

I honestly went to Los Angeles to meet people. I've never written a memoir before. I'm still not entirely sure I know how. So I hoped to meet my fellow nominees To say, How was it for you? or What did you find hard/easy? Winning was secondary. Don't get me wrong, I totally wanted to win, but the point was to meet people, to find out how they felt about their work. But before the ceremony I didn't get the chance for that (I was so busy talking to other people who wanted to shake my hand; it was wild). And afterwards I was swamped, again, by congratulations. Which, of course, I loved--but, ooof, it's tricky drinking a lot of wine, then sitting for two hours, then really, really needing to go to the bathroom while people, I mean really amazing people, and some Big Names, want to chat. I finally--finally!--met one other memoir nominee but she shook my hand and then disappeared before I could pull myself together and settle in for conversation. It was very frustrating.

To answer your question: yes, being at the award ceremony made me feel bigger, faster, stronger and more loved than before. I'd honestly had no idea that any of these people knew who the fuck I was. It turned out they really did. Astonishing. Winning was the cherry on top. And, no, I've never felt that way before. Trust me, I like to win. Not come second. Win. This time, wow, I felt as though I'd won the minute I walked through the theatre door. It'll take a while to figure it all out.

Clearly I'll have more to say about all this, at some point, but right now I'm only just back in Seattle, and am mazed and dazed with delight and astonishment. So I'll leave you with this pic of the actual award:

As you can see, the cat is not impressed...

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Monday, June 2, 2008

video of me reading

Here are two videos of me reading at Hugo House from my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. The first piece is the story of how the 4-yr-old me got the name No-Panta Griffith and stopped believing in fairies:

This second story is about being sixteen and finally falling in love (and lust):

Many thanks to David Wulzen for the wonderful camera work.
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