Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The After and the Before Pictures, Venetian Edition

High above the Pallazo San Marco, Venice, Italy, spring of 2004, on assignment for Conde Nast Traveler magazine. The Italians thought I was German. Two different fellas greeted me with, Buona sera, Fraulein, which is a mouthful.

Venice is probably my favorite city in the world, and I am spending all my days and nights trying to figure out a way of spending the rest of my life there. Nothing's come to mind yet, but I'll keep you in the loop.

Interested observers of these phenomena can contrast this with Picture B, taken in the same spot five years earlier. That's himself looking at the world through his John Lennon glasses, once more above the Palazzo drenched in sunlight, and feeling, as Evelyn Waugh wrote of Venice, like I was "drowning in honey," which is not at all a bad feeling if you are in love. I hope to drown in it again some day.

Anyway, found these while cleaning up the ol' hard drive and thought they'd be interesting to share. I'm reminded of Groucho Marx's observation: "Outside of the improvement you'd never notice the difference."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Two Women of Vastly Differing Sizes

Herself and Barbara Walters. December 2008.

Of all the media stuff I've done, nobody came to an interview having done more homework than BW. She treated me with respect and intelligence. Way cool.

Alas the only photographic record of the encounter, outside of the 20/20 episode itself (largely consumed by the insatiable and ever-ravenous Pregnant Man ©) is this snapshot hurriedly taken on someone's cheesey cell phone. All the retouching tricks in all of iPhoto's great empire can't transform this into a portrait that is flattering to either one of us, alas. Still, you know how it goes. We'll always have Paris.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


This is fairly self explanatory.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Richard Hugo House interviews Jenny Boylan

JB to perform at Richard Hugo House in Seattle on March 20 & 21st; here's an interview Hugo House did with me in advance of the performance, which will be at Seattle Town Hall, and which is on the subject, "My Avatar."


Hugo House: In a couple of months you will debut a brand-new piece at Hugo House; have you started working on it yet?

Jennifer Finney Boylan: Yes, I’m right in the thick of it. I have lots of ideas for this, and the hard part is keeping the whole thing short, and making the parts fit together. I’m not going to write about “avatars” as computer-world images; and I don’t know anything about the sense of the word as Hindu “incarnation.” What interests me is the difference between the face we show to the world and the face we have in our private hearts. For transgender people the division between public and private selves can be profound, although I’ll also say that you don’t have to be trans to feel a conflict between your secret self and the face, as Eliot wrote, that you prepare “to meet the faces that you meet.” It’s that conflict between inner and outer selves that interests me, so that’s what I'm working on.

A long time ago, when I was a boy, I went as a journalist to do a story on the National Ventriloquists’ Convention, which was in Kentucky, of all places. At first I thought this was the most ridiculous story I’d ever tried to do—the place was literally overflowing with dorky guys and their dummies. But as time went by it was hard not to find something touching—and occasionally heartbreaking—about the ventriloquists and their figures. Some of these guys, maybe it goes without saying, had dummies that looked almost exactly like themselves.

And then, amazingly, I went back to the ventriloquists’ convention as a woman, 25 years later. The ventriloquists all seemed the same to me, but I had sure changed. And it occurred to me that back in the day, when I was walking around as a guy, and no one knew my secret heart, that I’d kind of been my own dummy.

Again, maybe this seems too idiotic or bizarre for most people to connect to, but I guess that’s what I’m thinking about as I write “My Avatar.” All of us are our own dummies.

HH: What were your first thoughts on receiving an invitation to write on an assigned theme? Any regrets on having said yes?

JFB: I have to admit that the theme of My Avatar gave me trouble, since (as I said above), I don’t really have any interest in the online world and I don’t know much about the Hindu religion. So I’ve had to find a corner of this avatar business—the negotiation between public and private selves—that I can feel comfortable talking about.

HH: Could you tell us a little bit about your process—how you approach writing something new?

JFB: In this case, I have about a dozen different stories; I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to weave them all together. I guess it’s sort of like making a stew with a slow cooker. I’m just going to throw everything in there and leave it on low for a couple months, and see what it turns into.

HH: If you could create an avatar for your work as a writer, what would it look like?

I’d look just like me, only younger and more beautiful.

HH: In “Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson writes of the “metaverse,” a user-defined world that was the inspiration for “Second Life.” Describe your metaverse for us.

JFB: It’s not the metaverse I have trouble imagining, it’s reality. My friend Richard Russo once read something I’d written and he said it was “wonderfully strange”; I just looked at him blankly and said, but this is the world I live in. He just laughed and said, “Boylan, the thing is, you write in this surreal, fantastical mode. You only think it’s realism.” Whether this is my great failing as a writer, or my great strength, I guess I’ll leave it up to readers to decide.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Loss & Love

Two different events are in my heart today, one happy, one sad. The sad news is that the economic worldwide meltdown has hit very close to home-- yesterday, HarperCollins publishers fired 100 people, including the editor of my new book, Brenda Bowen, and everyone who works at her imprint, Bowen Books. It was a truly horrible slaying, a kind of "get your stuff and leave the office by five" thing.

I'll quickly add that my new book, Falcon Quinn, will be reassigned to a different editor and will probably be published right on schedule, so fans of my writing need not immediately drape themselves in black.

But Brenda Bowen-- a graduate of Colby College, 1980!--an English major!-- was the one who called me on the phone on Halloween 2007, after seeing a piece of mine in the New York Times, and who asked, have you ever considered writing for young readers? Together we worked out the plot and the plan for Falcon Quinn, which just last week went in its new draft to HarperCollins, and this week we have been looking at covers together. Brenda is a legendary editor, and a lovely person. And is now the latest casualty of the ongoing financial bloodbath.

I've had, so far, a dear friend lose her job at AT&T (to be saved by her union at the last second, thank goodness), and another have to take on a second job to stay afloat. Our children's college funds, carefully tended these last dozen years are worth almost half of what they were worth last year. All around me now I see the fires spreading.

Tempermentally I like to think I am full of devotion and love and compassion, but the rising tide increasingly fills me with fear and sadness. I do not know what the future holds, but the clouds keep gathering. The end is nowhere in sight.

Last night my younger boy said something that made my throat close up. I told him about Brenda losing her job, and he, being a big fan of "the monster book" said, thoughtfully, "Well, maybe if the monster book does really well, we could maybe-- do something for her?"

I nodded. Yes, I said. That'd be nice.

Unbelievable, I thought, the generosity and love of children. Would that this were enough to roll back the darkness of the world.

Speaking of children-- that's the other thing. Today, this very day, my older boy, Zachary Owen Boylan, is fifteen years old.

One and a half decades ago, on a cold February night, Deedie and I were watching "Brideshead REvisited" on VHS. There's a scene with Charles and Sebastian and all their friends at Oxford having a feast. Charles reached forward to taste "the egg of a wild plover." Deedie said, "I think we have to go to the hospital now." I put the VCR on "pause," and the image of Charles' hand reaching for the plover egg was frozen, forever. And the life that we had known came to an end, and a new one began. The next day-- February 11, 1994, a baby cried out loud in a room filled with light and Deedie's face opened up like the sun and she said, "That's--- amazing!"

It has been amazing, these last 15 years. Now Zach is the lead in his 9th grade play, is learning how to fence with foils; has a big head of curly blonde hair; likes incomprehensible 'death metal'; plays Irish fiddle tunes on his violin; loves his brother and his mother and his maddy and his two goofy black dogs.

The light which began to shine from Deedie fifteen years ago today is brighter than ever.

This light is not strong enough to roll back the darkness of the world, from all the terrible things that seem to keep accumulating. But it's enough to cast a warm glow on the members of this family, these boys and women and dogs, and for this I give thanks.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

JB at Ursinus College: February 13th, 2009, 7 PM

Hey everybody. I wanted to note I’ll be doing three readings this spring, the first of which is this coming Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, at Ursinus College, in Collegeville, PA, which is just over the city limits of Philadelphia, I believe. Their web site is here, and I presume contains information on how to get there.

The reading is at 7 PM, in something called Bomberger Auditorium. The presentation will be akin to my standard reading, which means about an hour of excerpts split about equally between I’m Looking Through You, She’s Not There, as well as a little Trans 101 to start the evening off with (briefly), and some tired old jokes, some of which I have been using since mid 2003. I will also, I think, be unveiling at this reading, for the first time, some of the material for the new and upcoming FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR, which will be published about one year from right now, a young adult series about “monsters.” This sneak-peek will just be a quickie, though, and might not involve anything more than my singing a song entitled “I Wish They All Could Be Zombie Mutant Girls.” and possibly reading a poem written by a teenage Frankenstein called “Monster a Person,” the first 2 lines of which are,

Monster a person though monster not human.
Monster like music. Like Wagner! Like Schumann!

Following this, there’ll be Q’s and A’s and then a book signing. I think there is a reception after THAT, but we’ll just have to see won’t we.

I probably will NOT be able to hang out with people after the reception, because I expect to be tired and enfeebled, but I do hope anybody interested in my stuff in the Philly area will feel invited.

There will be two other readings this spring (I’m trying to keep appearances to a minimum after last year’s all-book-tour–all-the-time experience). In mid March I”ll be at the Town Hall in Seattle; and in mid-April I”ll be at the Yale University LIbrary. HOpe to see you there.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Day the Gazungas Died: True Story of Boylan, Buddy Holly, Don McLean, and Rick Russo

A true story about a party at Don McLean's house this fall. I was there with a bunch of other Maine writers; Don and his wife were hosting a benefit for the Maine Writers & Publishers' Alliance. I made smalltalk with our host and he was generous and pleasant in every way. At the end of the evening, I went inside (it was a garden party) to use the bathroom, and en route snooped around the incredibly beautiful house. (The McLeans live on top of a mountain near Camden, Maine, one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous places I have ever been.) Anyhow, there in the living room, among other cool objects d'art, was a bust of the songwriter himself.

Later, Deedie and I went out to dinner with our friend Rick Russo. I told him about what I'd seen in the parlor, and started giving Rick a hard time about how he ought to have a statue of himself in his house. "Maybe not today, Russo," I said, "But one of these days, you're going to turn to yourself and say, 'Man, I just GOTTA get a BUST!"

Without missing a beat, Russo just smiled and said, "Well, Boylan. You did."

Anyhow: R.I.P, Buddy Holly, whose plane crashed 50 years ago today.

That'll be the day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jenny Boylan nominates Randy Newman, American composer, for Man of the Hour

Jenny Boylan's Man of the Hour for February 2nd, 2009 is American composer Randy Newman. Born on November 28, 1943, Newman has written great rock and roll tunes, not to mention providing the scores for dozens of films.

My favorite aspect of Newman's work is the way he assumes a persona other than his own in so many of his songs. Once, when asked what he was most proud of about his songs, Newman replied, "All the lies." This makes his songs particularly elusive; some times it's a safe bet to assume that Newman believes exactly the opposite of the thing he's actually singing.

I love that manipulation of the truth; it makes me think of the lovely quote by Oscar Wilde, "Sometimes we tell the truth best when we wear a mask."

And then, in the scores for movies, especially, say, Ragtime, or Toy Story, the songs seem so close to the heart, so honest and vulnerable, that I always assume that these are the "real" Randy Newman. But I know better.

A youtube in which Randy Newman talks about his writing style:

and one of my favorites, Louisiana 1927:

Randy Newman, American composer, is Man of the Hour!