I sat down to try to write ‘Edinburgh,’ an autobiographical novel, and that took five years to write and two years to sell.
If you compromise, and then you succeed, that’s another kind of feeling. But if you compromise and fail, it’s two failures at least.
Andrea Schulz became my editor in 2009.
It took me a while to get back to ‘The Queen of the Night.’ I was angry with it as an idea because I felt like it had sort of ruined my life by taking so much attention away from ‘Edinburgh.’ So it essentially languished in a drawer until 2004, when I pulled it out, dusted it off, and thought, ‘Oh, I actually really like this idea.’
My mother’s family has been in Maine for over 300 years on the same farm. They have a King George III deed.
A woman’s desire is either terrifying, or it’s ignored.
The year was 1882. The palace was the Luxembourg Palace: the ball, the Senat Bal, held at the beginning of autumn. It was still warm, and so the garden was used as well. I was the soprano. I was Lilliet Berne.
Lilliet Berne, La Generale, newly returned to Paris after a year spent away, the Falcon soprano whose voice was so delicate it was rumored she endangered it even by speaking, her silences as famous as her performances.
When you’re bi-racial, in the town I was in, in Maine, people kept asking, ‘What are you?’ It was like I wasn’t even human.
My singing voice had rescued me from the scene I was in at school – I was an unpopular, bookish kid who had an indeterminate ethnic background. I became fascinated with women sopranos because they had a future that I didn’t as a singer.
I had been in a professional boys’ choir, and as a boy soprano, you’re aware that your voice has an expiration date.
My fascination with women’s clothes began very early. My mother was a very fashionable woman. She also made her own clothes. She had these fashion magazines, and I would draw the women in them. My middle school art teacher suggested that I have a fashion drawing show.
I quickly learned that as a fiction writer, you need the sort of details a historian or a biographer would find extraneous or useful to provide context via a footnote.
Fate and history have a similar feeling. They are weird mirrors to each other.
As a young writer, I questioned the idea that I had to write fiction in a world where I could write my own ethnicity only and nothing else. ‘Fach’ to me was a little like that. As a biracial person, that’s an inherently unstable identity.
At first, teaching was more or less a straightforward way of making a living and having access to institutional resources while writing – aka libraries. And that was not inconsiderable. But it didn’t in any way touch the writing. Maybe it would push the writing aside sometimes, but mostly it was fine.
I’ve known the poet Eileen Myles since the 1990s, when I first moved to New York, and I remember seeing her walking her Pit Bull Rosie around the East Village. She had these beautiful arms and David Cassidy hair and the sort of swagger so many of the gay boys I knew wished we had. We all had crushes on her.
Liz Benedict, a teacher of mine at Iowa, is the person who introduced me to James Salter’s work.
The Narrator of ‘A Sport and a Pastime’ is an American photographer living in a borrowed house in what he calls ‘the real France,’ Autun, a small town where he hopes to take some career-changing photographs in the spirit of Atget.
I’m not much of a Rick Moody fan, but I want to be a fan for the Rick Moody I thought might appear after his first two novels, ‘Garden State’ (1992) and ‘The Ice Storm’ (1994).
It is expensive to live in hotels, even cheap ones – more expensive than renting.
I said that I like to write on trains and that I wished Amtrak had residencies for writers.
My first letter of acceptance, to UMass – Amherst, came with an offer of a fellowship and a note from John Edgar Wideman.
My literary heroes were mostly women writers and thinkers – Joy Williams, Joan Didion, Anne Sexton, June Jordan, Sarah Schulman, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Christa Wolf – and much of this writing was political as well as literary.
I would stay two years in San Francisco, then move to New York in the summer of 1991, for the love of a man who lived there. When I arrived in New York, I had a job waiting for me, courtesy of a bookstore I’d worked at in San Francisco, A Different Light. They had a New York store as well, and arranged an employee transfer.
When I’m identified as a fiction writer at parties, the question comes pretty quickly. ‘Did you go to school for it?’ someone asks. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Where?’ they ask, because I don’t usually offer it. ‘I went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,’ I say.
One of the things that’s really important in ‘Queen of the Night’ is how people communicate with their clothes.
I knew I wanted the parties in ‘The Queen of the Night’ to be convincing, beautiful, and also dramatic: situations where significant things happened on a scale that was both grand and intimate. There were several texts that helped me think about how to do this, and one of the most important ones was Charlotte Bronte’s novel ‘Villette.’
When you’re writing historical fiction, you have to think a little farther into the situation: what the average social interactions were, what was acceptable behavior. What did people think was fun, what did they find unhappy, and why?
The qualities that make parties such a nightmare for people – and also so pleasurable – make them incredibly important inside of fiction. There’s a chaos agent quality to them: You just don’t know who’s going to be there or why. You could run into an old enemy, an old friend, an old friend who’s become an enemy.
Marie Cornelie Falcon, who lost her voice while performing – singing the line ‘Je suis pret’ – ‘I am ready.’ How much more tragic can you get?
I loved being a soprano. It was one of my very favorite things in life, and thus far, and losing that voice was a profound emotional moment for me in my life. I never became that interested in my adult male singing voice.
In some ways, in ‘The Queen of the Night,’ I’m writing about some of the experience that I had with ‘Edinburgh’ where I was entirely unable to speak about what had happened to me as a child, but I could read from the novel.
The best relatively contemporary portrayal of a courtesan that I’ve ever seen was probably in ‘Children of Paradise,’ a film that was made during the Nazi occupation of France, made in secret actually.
Paul Lisicky, in his new memoir, ‘The Narrow Door,’ describes losing his old friend, the novelist Denise Gess, and his husband, the acclaimed poet and memoirist Mark Doty, within a year of each other: Gess to cancer, at the age of 57, and Doty to another man.
I met my first boyfriend when we were 13, playing ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ in the basement of my local comics shop. We were from the same small town in Maine but went to different schools.
As of 2013, according to the World Health Organization, 35 million people were estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS globally, and 39 million have died from the disease. The epidemic of denial won, and now everyone knows there is money in the making of drugs for AIDS.
ACT UP was trying to explain to Americans that AIDS could affect all of us: that health care that ended once your disease was expensive could affect more than gay men with HIV or AIDS. We were trying to tell them about the future – a future they didn’t yet see and would be forced to accept if they failed to act.
I remembered staffing a volunteer table for ACT UP in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in 1991, on the corner of Castro and 18th Street, and on my table were posters, stickers, and t-shirts that bore the same slogan in all caps – ACT UP slogan house style. I wore one of those shirts to model for passers-by.
The day in 2011 that I went to the office of the city clerk in lower Manhattan with my partner Dustin to register for our domestic partnership was coincidentally also the first day same-sex partners were allowed to register for marriage in the state of New York.
Historical fiction was not – and is not – meant to supplant literature from the period it describes. As a veteran of the Crimea, Tolstoy wrote ‘War and Peace’ to match his own internal sense of the truth of the Napoleonic wars, to dramatize what he felt literature from that period had failed to describe.
‘War and Peace’ holds a strange place in literary history, participating in the crowning of realism as a substantial and serious literary mode in America, even as the novel also contributed to the argument that historical fiction could be by nature dangerous, illegitimate, and inaccurate.
By the 1880s, English translations of both the French and the Russian editions were available, and Americans began to read ‘War and Peace.’
In the summer of 1866, as Leo Tolstoy prepared for his serialized novel ‘War and Peace’ to be published as a single volume, he wrote to illustrator Mikhail Bashilov, hoping to commission drawings for the new edition of the novel, which he referred to by its original title,1805.
I had first come to Berlin in 1990, on a search for someplace to live besides the United States.
In 2009, the ‘New York Times’ ran an analysis on the cost of being a LGBT couple trying to live as a married couple but without the same protections. Over a lifetime, they estimated a couple would spend as much as $467,562 more, and as little as $41,196, with costs running lower the higher your income.
When I left the state of Maine for college, I met my first really rich friends, and I discovered summer could be a verb.
The beauty of Maine is such that you can’t really see it clearly while you live there. But now that I’ve moved away, with each return it all becomes almost hallucinatory: the dark blue water, the rocky coast with occasional flashes of white sand, the jasper stone beaches along the coast, the pine and fir forests somehow vivid in their stillness.
Acadia was founded in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson as the first Eastern national park, aided by rich men, often with middle initials, the ‘rusticators,’ as they were known then, the first of our wealthy out-of-state visitors.