In our Interview With An Author series, Writer’s Relief asks professional writers to share their tried-and-true secrets for publishing success.
Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan is the author of 13 books, including the best-selling memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders and the newly released Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood In Three Genders (both from Random House). She is the national co-chair of GLAAD and serves on the Board of Trustees of the Kinsey Institute. Jennifer is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. A teacher at Colby College, she lives in Maine with her wife Deirdre, her two sons, and two black Labradors.
What was the biggest stumbling block or frustration for you as a writer, and how did you overcome it?
It was hard for me to write as long as I wasn’t really living honestly in the world. It is very hard to tell the truth in fiction when you are actually lying to everyone. Finally, after I came out as trans[gender], I felt like I had enough authenticity in my life to write.
Your nonfiction writing, which includes Stuck in the Middle with You, offers intimate glimpses into the family life of a transgendered person. How do you handle revealing so much of your personal life in your nonfiction? Was that an adjustment? How did you make the leap?”
Well, I’m pretty “out” as trans. I did think, early on, that I’d write one book about trans experience, and then that would be that. But I think these are stories that need to be told. I don’t mind being visible now. It’s like Mark Twain said—”If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
What role does social media play in staying connected to readers and/or building an audience?
I think it’s a necessary part of a writer’s PR tool kit these days. The trick is to raise the level of discourse from photos of dancing cats to talking about literature.
How did you get your first literary agent?
I got a job at Viking Penguin through a girlfriend who had recently quit there. I met the other editorial assistants—this is right after college. Seven years later, one of the editorial assistants had become an editor at Grove Press. I sent him my novel. He couldn’t publish it, so it sat around on the floor of his office for a while. A young assistant to an agent at ICM named Gordon Kato went to visit my friend and asked, “What have you got?” My friend showed him my novel. Gordon took it home, loved it, and wanted it. He asked his boss Kris Dahl if she would sign it. She said, “Great!” Kris Dahl has been my agent now for over 20 years, and she has stayed with me through best sellers, bombs, film deals, and sex changes.
My point here is: Just keep making friends and contacts and having adventures, and save everything. It’s amazing how everything comes around in the end.
Fill in the blank:
Rejection is… Normal, so get used to it.
What patterns, habits, or motivational techniques have best served you on your journey to success?
This is pretty boring, but I try to write every day for an hour. 1,000 words, if I can. Sometimes it’s hard to keep that up, but if you’re always working, it becomes routine. In some ways, at the first draft stage, I believe in “quantity, not quality.” Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
In one sentence, what’s your best piece of advice for getting a book published?
Don’t bore people; be literary, but be entertaining.
Has a particular rejection ever been helpful to you? What were the details?
Rejection makes me sit on my back stoop and cry into my fingers. It happens all the time, even now. I try not to take it personally, but I always do. Then I get over it. And get back to work.
About Stuck In The Middle With You: Parenthood In Three Genders
Jennifer Finney Boylan was a father for six years, a mother for ten, and for a time in between was neither, or both—”like some parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo.” Stuck In The Middle With You is about the differences between motherhood and fatherhood; it is Boylan’s belief that “having a father who became a woman helped her sons, in turn, become better men.”
Follow Jennifer on Twitter and Facebook!
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I’ve followed Jennifer since I first read “She’s Not There” in 2004. I have been and continue to be impressed by her authenticity in both her writing and her life.
I was introduced to Jennifer’s writing several years ago by a partner who was trying to get me to understand the journey she had been on, and I have fallen in love with her writing ever since. It has literally changed my life, and the lives of all the people I pass her writing on to…
I’ve been a huge fan of Jenny’s since I first met her several years ago at the University of Maine. My question for her is: Who do you consider your literary influences? Who has inspired you?
What great insights, and what an intriguing story you have! My question to you is this: Social media is clearly important for you, but how did you launch your presence as a writer online? That is, how did you acquire followers when you were first starting out?
Thanks so much for your interview! It really helped me because regardless of what lies a writer is holding on to they still have the same outcome for their ability to write. You made me take notice of all the things I’m hiding and look for ways to be honest about them to my readers!
I love it when Jennifer said “—”like some parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo.” Thank you for being so brave and wonderful. I also appreciate the comments about writing and the difficulty being rejected. Please keep up your amazing work.
My husband has a wonderful book written. But, he is a perfectionist doesn’t believe it is done. Which for him is a true statement. How do I get him past this stage?
I remember reading “She’s Not There” and being profoundly moved. I see I have some catching up to do! Didn’t realize you have so many books out… ooops
“Save everything”. I do this- luckily the paper amount is smaller, since I write poetry, but still, the piles keep getting bigger, the more I revise.
“The trick is to raise the level of discourse from photos of dancing cats to talking about literature”- great comment and something I can use. I don’t use a lot of media these days, but I like this remark.
Great article. Thanks for writing a book that will enlighten the differences in people. It’s not so easy to judge when you have an understanding of a real live person, that you can see. It stops people from stereotyping.