Friday, June 20, 2008


(Self-Portrait by Ginny in 1990, when she was pregnant with Gillam*)

On this date two years ago, I sat down to begin writing what soon became a novel, then a trilogy of novels with an offshoot science fiction book to boot. The novel/trilogy/epic is Ginny Bates. The sci-fi byproduct is Skene. The first draft of both (with only Skene being a complete draft) is posted at this website.

The characters in Ginny Bates are as real to me as anyone I've ever known. They are unruly, demanding, heroic, and the loves of my life. They keep changing and growing. I think of them as immortal.

I was not a novelist before Ginny Bates kicked down my door. I was a poet, essayist, ardent letter-writer, occasional producer of short stories or humor -- but never someone who could produce 20 pages a day for over a year. My outline for these books, with one line per segment to be written (which could cover a paragraph or several pages) is 42 pages long, single-spaced.

I have not written it in strict chronological order, although I do know everything that is "going to happen", in a general sense, because I often have to grow and change myself in order to adequately address what will occur in the lives in the characters. And, as other writers have said, the characters frequently balk at my plans for them and hare off in another direction, yelling at me "I would NEVER say that, you moron, shut up and I'll tell you what to put down as my words." I've learned not to argue.

Even when a major character kept appearing my dreams and saying "I'm going to die, you cannot stop me, you better get ready and get everybody else ready, too." I wept my way through that weekend of writing.

I have told the "magical" origins of how I came to write this book in other posts on this blog, particularly here. It is, as Liza called, the Great American Lesbian Novel, a modern love story between two revolutionary feminists, about recovery, art, family, recipes, communicating and loving across boundaries of oppression, and how friends keep us alive. There is nothing else like it out there.

Which I hope is a good thing.

Below is the video whose soundtrack haunted me the week I began writing (literally), playing nonstop in my head when I was awake and asleep. I still hear the music start up when I'm writing some portions. After the fold is the very first page I wrote of Ginny Bates. At the end of that page, I thought "Oh, this is not a dream, it's a story." At the end of ten pages, I sat back and said "Holy fuck. It's not a story, it's a book."

All of you who have supported me and encouraged me as I bring this to life: You'll never know how essential you've been. You (and this book) have saved me.

See you at the dinner table.

(The final scene in this video, of the Fremont Troll as it turns out, is not why I set the novel in Seattle. However, intriguingly, after I was a year into the book, I realized the two children in this final scene are the right appearance and age difference to have been Margie and Gillam. Except for the pink clothes on the girl -- Myra and Ginna would never have allowed that.)

*Okay, the painting at the top of this post is actually "Margaret Evans" by the incredible Alice Neel. I've only recently discovered the work of Alice Neel, but her style and some part of her life story are very much like Ginny's -- this is how Ginny would do a portrait. I'll do a piece on Alice Neel before too long, to share more with you. In the meantime, if you want to imagine what Ginny's paintings look like, Neel's are the best stand-in available.


After she got back from Portland, she went to a fundraiser one Friday for the local women's shelter. It was right after work, and Ginny showed up. Myra was shocked to see her, and waited for the grief of that night, the last time she had seen her, to rush in and knock her down. But it did not come. Ginny looked around, saw her, set down her drink and walked straight over. Myra wanted Ginny to hug her, to feel her arms around her again, but Ginny did not presume.

"I hear from Allie that you are really moving through this. Is that accurate?" she said. Right to the chase.

"Yes. It's fish or cut bait." Ginny laughed, loud. It was good to hear; so many of her friends felt like they couldn't laugh around her right now.

Ginny had on copper-colored velvet pants and a striped long-sleeved silk blouse in rich earth tones. Her wide ass looked even wider in the pants. Her thighs were very thick. Her thin arms and narrow shoulders looked skinnier because of the colors and cling of the shirt. "Nice threads" Myra said, and meant it. Ginny looked like 3-D coming right at her.

"Thanks. Work drag, but the hues are what I care about."

They talked, and it was okay between them again. Not just okay, but different. Myra kept feeling the fear hit her, could name it, say okay to it, and let it ride until it passed. It did not distract her much.

Ginny left after an hour, said she was hungry and was going to walk to a little Vietnamese place two blocks away for dinner. She did not ask Myra to go with her, and Myra just stood there, silent. Ginny gave her a good hug before walking out.

Myra waited a minute. She flipped through a mental rolodex and came up with nothing; no clue about what to do. But her feet started moving toward the door, and she followed.

Ginny was half a block away, her voluptuous bottom sheathed in coppery velvet. Myra yelled, "Hey" and Ginny turned around. Myra reached her fast. "I'm hungry, too. Can I come with?"

Ginny paused long enough to make Myra sweat, but there was no game in her eyes as she stared into Myra's. Then she said "Okay" and they went on walking together.

They crossed the street and were on the block where the restaurant was at the end. Myra started slowing down, and Ginny did too, though they kept walking. Myra didn't know what she was going to say until she said it:

"I was a jerk. In the coop? I was a jerk."

"I know. I'm glad you know it."

"I know a lot more now than I did. I know things I'd rather not know. But then again, I'm glad I do. I hope I'm making sense."

"I think so."

They were strolling side by side, not looking at each other. Myra found herself talking again.

"I have not been able to forget about you -- this entire year. I am not sure what that means. I am not dating, not anybody. I'm working on cleaning things up."


"I might be ready."


"Okay, I am ready. I mean, I got a lot more to do. But whatever it is, I'll do it. For myself. I can't stand living without who I was born to be."

She thought then of Gil. She realized she was stronger than Gil. She didn't want that to be true, but it was.

Ginny reached out her left hand and took Myra's right hand gently in her own. Still walking. They were halfway down the block.

Myra knew, then. Knew whatever this was, it went both ways. This was as much as she was ever going to have. When god knocks at your door, she does it very softly; if you've got the TV on, you won't hear it.

Okay, that was enough. In fact, it was glorious. It was easy to walk hand in hand with Ginny. They both had wide asses, but their rhythm was in sync.


kat said...

Happy Ginny birthday.
I'm so glad that you gave these people to the world.
Now we just need to get the rest of the world to know what a gift they've been given!!

Liza Cowan said...

wow. so much in two years. I'm very much impressed. Mazel Tov and happy birthday.

letsdance said...

Maggie, there is NOTHING like Ginny Bates or Skene in the world! I am so grateful you listened to the "voices" and wrote such warm, wonderful and truth-filled books.

Your writing blows me away!

Jesse Wendel said...

Hi Maggie,

Just reread the entire novel, which I do religiously once a year. The writing keeps me oriented correctly towards classism, racism, misogyny, and more.

An idea: over the past year I've been reading a serially published zombie novel, now with over 15 individual sections (books, actually.) They are self-published on Amazon, and have done amazingly well.

One of my long-time fears has been that GB, S & P would all be left to your artistic trustee to manage. I never did hear what happened with the section of GB we sent off to that editor whom you liked. And obviously your health hasn't been great. (I've not especially been following your posts -- primarily dealing with my own issues, and those of my family, for years now -- however with your health and finances I have no clue if a) you are in anyway positioned to publish any of your books, and b) if you still want to do so.

That said...

Jesse Wendel said...


That said...

In my best literary judgement, setting aside our years of friendship and relationship, trying to assess GB just as I would any other book, I have these comments:

A) it truly is what we jokingly and then seriously called it: The Great American Lesbian Novel;

B) there is nothing, absolutely nothing else like it in print;

C) precisely like the very best novels and fictional worlds which I love the most, GB and its world is one which I am repeatedly drawn to. I have read the entire book at least ten times, probably closer to 15. I recommend it to people I love, to people who love reading, to anyone it seems to me might like it. And I do this now, and have done so without hesitating even after our lives turned in different directions.