Monday, April 29, 2013

The Next Step In Finding An Agent =

Sending that query letter out!
I've just posted a new entry in the "Road to Revolutionary" section (see tab above).  Section 6 tells the tale (of some woe!) about the process of sending out query letters to agents, the results of that, and what I did next.  I welcome any questions or comments!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First Step in Finding An Agent =

The Query Letter! 

And that's what my most recent post is on... section five in the "Road to Revolutionary" tab above. In this post, I write about how to put together that all-important missive!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

1937 New Yorker Article On Deborah

Having had much fun gallivanting about The New Yorker's online archives for a series of posts I did last week, I couldn't resist typing in Deborah Sampson and seeing what I turned up.

Imagine my delight to find a 1937 article written on her!  (I did then go back to Alfred Young's excellent volume on Deborah (Masquerade) and confirmed that he had mentioned the New Yorker article briefly.)  Written by Morris Bishop on July 3, 1937, the article runs over three pages (scantily so, for there are columns of ads on the pages; the advertisements are delightful.).

There is no pressing reason that I can discover for writing an article at this time on Deborah -- no recent discovery of letters, no new release of a book, no resurgence of interest in women in combat.  I can only think that, given a press date of July 3, they were looking for some good Americana.

The article is delightful, if snide, quoting large chunks of her biography as told by Herman Mann, whose florid style is pilloried by the article's author.  I turned to the article interested in how her "adventure" would be portrayed at that time: as a positive, daring adventure; as a negative act of deceit?  I was surprised to find that she is presented almost as a laughing stock.  In part this is owing to Mann's overly-flowery language, but in part this is, I think, owing to the inability -- or, rather, unwillingness -- of society to accept that women are capable and that gender is complex.  It is far easier to brush aside her "escapades" as lighthearted whimsy bordering on craziness or criminality than it is to consider exactly how difficult women's lives were back then and why they might want to escape.

Have no doubt: the article is worth reading (archives are free to subscribers of the magazine).  For those most interested in the presentation of gender, one line is particularly remarkable.  In describing how Deborah bound herself given the shape/style of the Revolutionary War uniform, Morris writes that: "the female of those days was used to enduring severe pressures; it was merely a question of altering the point of incidence of the stress."

What a wonderful caricature.  I thoroughly enjoy the double meaning of women being accustomed to "enduring severe pressures."  This is true sartorially -- of corsets and such -- and it is true domestically and psychologically.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Famous Letter For Deborah Sampson Gannett

Since my lovely wife, also known as the Missive Maven, has been gracious enough to mention my forthcoming novel on her blog (, I thought I would expand a bit on the connection between Deborah Sampson Gannet and letters.  In the novel, as my wife's blog notes, there is an epistolary element.  This is entirely a fictional imagination and -- as far as I know -- no historical record remains of letters Deborah wrote while in the service.

After her discharge, however, there is one famous letter written on her behalf.  

In 1804, (over 20 years after her service in the army ended) Deborah was living in Sharon, Massachusetts. Married and with three children, she and her husband struggled financially, frequently falling into debt.  Deborah had earned some money on a lecture tour and had, in 1792, received the sum of 34 pounds from the Massachusetts Legislature as compensation for her year and half of service in the army.  She felt she was owed more.

And so she reached out to Paul Revere, who ended up writing a letter on her behalf to Congressman William Eustis.  An image of the original letter, as well as a readable typescript below, can be found at The Paul Revere House Website, here.

As a writer, if not a missive expert, I appreciate this letter for its wonderful display of the spelling and grammar conventions (or lack thereof) at the time, but especially for its sense of rhetoric.  My favorite line is when Revere explains that he heard Deborah's story and fully expected to meet an uneducated, small-minded woman, "one of the meanest of her sex," but found instead a "small, effeminate, and converseable" woman.  This strikes me in particular because the core of this stereotype still holds true today, and Revere is delightfully honest in admitting his expectations when hearing that a woman had passed as a man.  

The end of the story is a happy one: Deborah got her pension of four dollars a month, thanks in large part to Revere's intercession.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Added A Section on Revising...

I just posted Section 4 in my "Road to Revolutionary" section... on the topic of revising.  Not every writer's favorite stage, but a very important one!  Now that I've gone over this, my next entry will be about getting manuscript ready to send off to agents.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Cover of Revolutionary....

There's the old saying, I know: you can't judge a book by...
There are books I pick up, and books I let sit, and sometimes that is based on the cover.  (That said, there are books that have terrible covers that I love nonetheless.  And sometimes covers I once didn't like will grow on me in a thoroughly irrational way.  Perhaps there's a future blog post out there about covers I love, covers I loathe, and covers I've been converted to.)

I am THRILLED with the cover of my first novel, Revolutionary.  So many thanks and so much admiration to the design folks at Simon & Schuster.

Check it out... when the cover is closed:

And when the cover is open:

Okay.  This is going to be a gush.  So bear with me.  The things I love about this cover...
  • The use of vertical lines on the front.  I love the suggestion this gives of division, of a split, of a defining line.  I like how it divides my name (and the words "A Novel") as well as the title itself.  This plays so well with the theme of two-ness.
  • To pair with this, the use of color in the name and title.  Again, things both run together and are separate.  So essential to the notion of self and identity that Deborah feels.
  • The colors/stripes.  I like it for the flag motif, of course.  There is an immediate American theme.  But also for the way the horizontal meets the vertical.  The two intersect inevitably, but it is a merging we expect, given the flag.
  • The stitching.  Deborah was a weaver. In the first version of the novel (and a few of the subsequent ones), the construction of her first male garments played a huge role.  In the final version, she stitches much of her uniform while at West Point (a point that is historically accurate, I believe) and so the sewing is part of the plot.  But this also relates to her story, how it is stitched and woven together, and in the novel, she often compares her life to fabric.  Alfred Young notes that Deborah was proud of her weaving: she was good at it.  In later life, when she no longer worked as a weaver, she still kept samples of her fabric at hand to show how tight her "lawn" (linen) was.  Not only is there stitching by the stripes have a fabric look.
  • The rough edge on the left.  It looks almost unfinished, and I like that for the suggestion that things aren't neatly concluded.
  • The division/unity of the figure on the cover.  She is clearly a woman with the jacket open.  She is clearly whole and in action. But with the cover closed, there is some ambiguity.  Not too much, but enough.  I think Deborah would have had to look more male than this, but the closed image is still very suggestive of how masculinizing a uniform and equipment can be.  Plus, with the cover closed, the idea of division is extended.  She is half there, half not.
Alright.  Clearly I'm a fan.  I just hope it's something that makes you want to pick it up and give it a try.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pre-Order Revolutionary!!

Grant me a little patience and let me just say... I am so excited that folks can pre-order my novel, Revolutionary!  

Here's the link to Amazon

I'll have to wait a while (1/14/14) until it arrives, but, to be early is to be on time.

At least follow the link to check out the cover design.  Pretty fabulous.  I'll be blogging on it soon!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

One more post on Transgender in Print...

So, after the last three posts (comparing two New Yorker articles, one from 1994 and one from 2013, on transgender identity/individuals) I kept thinking: that's a large time span.  I started hunting around for something squarely in the middle (2001-2004) and didn't find anything I liked too much (feel free to correct me if you know of a good one).  Instead, I went back to the interviews I gave in the late 90s about my own take on trans-identity.  One is from the Baltimore Sun ( and one from the Washington Post (preview, full available for purchase) both published in 1997.

Rereading these two articles, I see in them the dominant notion that why I was interesting was that I was providing a new line under the transgender identity: the no surgery, no hormones line.  In 1994, the idea of FtMs was new and exciting (MtFs being more familiar for a variety of reasons).  In 2013, the idea of transitions (of a variety of types) earlier in life was of interest.  In the articles written about me in 1997, what appeared to fascinate the journalists was the way in which I insisted gender and sex were not the same thing. As Paula Span, in the Washington Post article captured it: gender is a feeling, a decision.

This line rubbed me the wrong way then... and it still does now.  It comes with the suggestion, for me, of "choice" and agency and also a certain lightness "nothing more than" a feeling. Yet, I do think that gender is not biology (and therefore not sex) and does come from feelings.  Of course, then, from those feelings come actions and performances and enactments and everything else.  And it might be a decision to stop hiding and live this way... but it's not a decision to feel this way in the first place.

I give Span full credit for putting together the assertion that gender is a "mutable social construct" (Ah, the 90s).  I prefer that so much to the biology as destiny implications of the surgically oriented 1994 article.  Reading through both this article and the one from the Baltimore Sun, I can assess now that both reporters found me to be asking for a lot: to remain female and be treated as a man.  To insist that biology didn't matter.  To them, I was a contradiction asking to be treated as a single fact.

Much has changed in my life since those 1997 articles.  Most salient to the issue is that I have been taking hormones for many years now.  Before rereading what had been written about me, I approached with some trepidation: would my 1997-self bash those taking hormones, call them sellouts, insist that one didn't need them to be a man?  Would my past self be disappointed in my present self?  

I am humored to see how closely I walk that line, how I assert that I was happy the way I was and didn't need to change my body.  How I maintain that I didn't need hormones (or surgery) to live successfully as a man.  I am even happier to read the end of Span's article, where she recounts my declaration that I insist upon a caveat -- I don't need hormones now, but I might want them in the future.  "I'm famous for changing my mind," she quotes me as saying.  Yes, yes indeed.  I think I anticipated my future self pretty well.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Part Three: the 2013 article

This section completes my reflections comparing two New Yorker articles on trans-identity, one from 1994 (before I came out; an article that lingered in my memory) and one from 2013.  I hope you enjoy.  As always, leave a comment -- I'd love to hear about other influential articles on this topic.

Okay.  Jump ahead to 2013.  (I know, I’m skipping over a lot.  Maybe, in my copious free time and if anyone expresses an interest in it, I will go ahead and find some articles from the middle years.)  Talbot’s article “About a Boy” also leads with a picture: a soft-colored, brushed-feeling, photo of a teen boy (think early Justin Beiber) looking away from the camera.

The shift in tone and terminology is incredible.  In one sentence, Talbot waves away the entire premise of the 1994 article saying that FtMs have “rarely sought surgery” in the past, then adding that Skylar, the subject of the article, has had top surgery.  In the following pages, surgery gets a few short mentions, a paragraph or two of description (no “pulsing hot dogs”), but is largely relegated to the margins as too expensive or impractical, with the subtext that it is regarded as unnecessary by many FtMs.

What is at the center of this 2013 article is that gender is wide-open.  The 1994 article had one line in which gender was described as a spectrum, as fluid (noting that this idea tended to make people uncomfortable).  The 2013 article celebrates this. Gone is the notion that transsexual means surgery or even a definitive moment of change.  Instead, the article is full of interviews and conversations celebrating gender as way of being and expressing, as a lived experience – it is not clinical, it is not fully biological.  Rather, it is about self and comfort and finding the right place to inhabit.

If the 1994 article alienated me (then and now), the 2013 article made feel old.  Talk of FtMs as wanting surgery and male genitalia produced the “not me!” response.  Talk of gender role exploration and puberty suppressors produced a “kids these days!” feeling.  As usual, I’m somewhere in between.  Hormones, yes; surgery, no.  The idea of being this or that… and only this or that, leaves me uncomfortable.  But so does the idea of being neither/nor.  Of course, I accept both.  I accept that gender has two end-points; I accept that gender is fluid spectrum; I accept that someone might find themselves anywhere; that that anywhere might change on a given day. 

Mostly, though, I am grateful that this discussion and exploration continues and that it is something that can be written and spoken about.  That 1994 article hit me hard: it was the first response from a universe that had, as I saw it, denied me a vocabulary.  Now, it is rare for me to use the word “transgender” and find someone unfamiliar with the term.  For all the common usage, though, I am no more certain of what it means for me, let alone for someone else.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Part Two: Revisiting an Article from 1994...

(This continues yesterday's post, in which I reflect on two New Yorker articles on trans-identity: one from 1994 and one from 2013.)

Having downloaded the 1994 articleThe New Yorker’s online archives for subscribers are amazing! – I felt an immediate kinship.  There was the photograph.  Loren Cameron (back in 1997, I got him to come and speak at Harvard when I was a student there; I don’t know if I ever connected him with the article until now) and James Green, staring at themselves in the mirror.  It’s a strange picture.  It is black and white, and stark feeling.  Cameron’s side is to the camera; Green’s real (non-reflected) body isn’t visible, but their mirror images put their faces in view.  It’s oddly suggestive of not wanting to be seen, yet wanting to see oneself. 

I felt the same reaction now I felt nineteen years ago: they look like men.  And, smaller, that flip of jealousy: I want to look like that. 

But, reading through, I discovered I had largely forgotten the content of the article.  Indeed, all I remembered closely was the detailed and graphic description of a phalloplasty (including the phrase “pulsing hot dog” of flesh).  The article is so biological, so oriented on surgery, on sex as physical, as transsexual as a series of actions to complete a transformation. 

The start of the piece is the only place where gender is explored and where interviewed FtMs say things that I might have then (and do now) found resonant.  Things like the fact that they never felt comfortable with coming out as lesbian; that they had always felt misunderstood and unable to communicate exactly why.  But much of it, I think, distanced me back then from the idea of transsexual (the article doesn’t use the term transgender) identity.  In 1994, at 16, I think hormones and surgery seemed unrealistic, scary, a huge and unimaginable leap.  I liked that image at the start: the two men gazing at themselves, as if in awe of their own bodies, the realization that they had been women.  I just didn’t want to go through everything the article described.

Indeed, it wasn’t until I met transgender people who weren’t taking hormones and who hadn’t had surgery, yet were living as the other gender that I came out.  For me, it has always been about gender rather than about sex – a distinction buried by the 1994 article.  And that’s what I take away from this piece and the topic of terminology.  There it is: the term is transsexual.  Sex.  Body.  Biology.  The change.  That was the description and depiction of the identity back in the mid-90s.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FtM Across Nineteen Years (almost) Part One...

Lately, many forces in my life have been conspiring to make me think about transgender issues.  The fiction and nonfiction I've been writing... the speaking engagement I recently had... workshops at school that I've been asked to teach... I haven't done this much thinking and writing and speaking on transgender issues since my first year in college.  

When I spoke at Phillips Exeter last weekend, the other speaker was Ritch Savin-Williams, and he gave a great talk, part of which concerned the changes in gay (and lesbian) identity over time. (Check out his website here.)  He looked at terminology, perception, and self-definition.  All of that got me thinking about the same question for transgender identity.  

I can pretty much count on getting the following question when I speak: How'd you know you were transgender?  The answer I'd like to give is an obnoxious one: It wasn't knowing so much as being.  What I really say is: I knew my whole life in the sense that it was something I felt.  Sometimes a negative feeling (I know I'm not a girl) and sometimes a positive feeling (usually when someone mistook me for a boy).  But I didn't know I was transgender -- in a sense anyway -- until I had the word to go with it.  And that wasn't until high school.

At this moment, I haven't looked at the particulars of when the term transgender arose and how it was minted and so on.  But in my own personal cosmos, I remember hearing the term used by a health teacher at school (also the advisor of the Gay-Straight Alliance) and then, soon after, coming across the article "The Body Lies" by Amy Bloom in The New Yorker (July 18, 1994).  Until today, it had been nineteen years since I’d seen (or thought of, really) that article (link to the magazine's homepage here -- if you want to access the article, you need to subscribe, I believe).  What I recalled: a photograph of two transgender men, looking at themselves in the mirror.  What else?  The pure excitement, hands-shaking-as-I-turned-the-pages excitement, of thinking… Oh. My. God. This is what I am. 

It was almost exactly a year later that I came out as transgender. 

All of this came to mind in a rush as I left the speaking gig at Exeter this past weekend.  The strangeness of the terminology in the article, the fear and excitement of the word and what it seemed to suggest and allow.  And then I thought of a more recent New Yorker article, one from the March 18, 2013 edition: Margaret Talbot’s “About a Boy.”

I wondered what putting them side-by-side would say about the changes in transgender identity, specifically FtM identity.  Selfishly, I wondered what the comparison might say about me, if it would shed any particular light.

So... I'll continue this topic tomorrow, ruminating on the articles closely.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cool Smithsonian Piece on Revolutionary War Soldiers

I happened upon this article on the Smithsonian Museum of American History Blog, which answers the question: what did soldiers in the American Revolutionary War carry in their pockets? (And did they even have pockets?)

A short and informative piece, it was also pleasant to learn that others are curious in such minutiae and to confirm that I'd gotten it right in my novel!  When I began writing, I remember having the same question: did they have pockets?  I kept thinking of Mary Rowlandson (whose captivity narrative I have taught in American Literature classes).  She refers to her pocket (in which she keeps food), but it means a sort of exterior pouch, one that would have from her belt. 

My own research was helped by the excellent museums I visited along the Hudson (see the road trips and research section of this blog).  They had excellent displays on the uniforms and articles of daily life.  Though they didn't detail the pocket contents (that I recall), the museum at New Windsor did show what a typical soldier carried in his haversack.  

Here's to obscure knowledge and those who enjoy it!