If you don’t mind some rough, gravely cycling the route between Tbilisi and the Turkish border at Posof is a gem, and much preferred, I’ve heard, to the border with Turkey at Batumi. Tbilisi is a fantastic city, with interesting regional and international cuisine, an excellent selection of wines (who knew, Georgian wine was so good!), and great outdoor spaces.
Like an ancient truck stop, these dwellings offered a roof over the heads and place to park the horses of tired traders. The Uighurs of Xinjiang province are Turkic people who occupy the most remote place on earth. A great portion of Xinjiang is covered by the Taklamakan Desert (one translation has it to mean “Those who enter, will never leave”). Then, not far from Xinjiang province, and eastward from Dunhuang you get the pleasure of cycling and camping next to the Great Wall of China. Subscribe To TravellingTwoLeave us your email and receive occasional updates when we release a new book or have big news to share. James Finney Boylan was my creative-writing professor at Colby College just before undergoing an operation in 2002 (what she called “the switcheroo”) to become Jennifer Finney Boylan. The 10th-anniversary edition of She’s Not There will have a new introduction and a new final chapter by me, bringing the story up to date. You say you grew up in a haunted house?I grew up in the area around Philadelphia, what was originally farm country and eventually turned into dense suburbia. Where and what did you study?I headed off to Wesleyan University in 1976 to study English, although a lot of what I learned at college took place outside of the classroom.
Do you have a writer friend who helps and inspires you?I don’t think it’s any secret that the writer Richard Russo and I have a long and warm friendship; we tend to read others’ work at the late draft stage, although usually by that point we’re both pretty familiar with the problems, and our readings tend to confirm the other’s worst suspicions. My first roommate in New York City was Charlie Kaufman, the director of Adaptation and writer of Being Jon Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
At least two of your former creative-writing students have made careers in publishing (me, and my agent, Eleanor Jackson, who sat next to me in your class).
About a decade ago you underwent what you refer to as “the switcheroo.” Has that affected your writing?That’s probably not for me to say. I remember meeting David McCullough in an airport during a recent book tour–we were both on tour and somehow we both wound up in a bookstore. Still, none of that stuff outranks the moment in October 1988 when the doorbell rang at the little farmhouse I was renting in Maine, and there at the front door was the UPS man, holding a box containing the first copies of my first collection of stories, Remind Me to Murder You Later.
What would you like carved onto your tombstone?“I thought it would be funny.”What advice would you give to an aspiring author?Understand that everyone has 1,000 pages of bad fiction in him or her, and before you can do anything, you probably have to just write your thousand pages of crap.
With the brief and powerful assault by Russia in 2008, and weakening relations with the West, it is struggling to get a foothold.
Going via beautiful Lake Paravani avoids all the busy roads (and bad drivers) on the main paved routes.
Though camping is great, the caravanserai is a great way to spend a night and imagine that your caravan of horses and carts has just arrived for an overnight stop before pressing further, deeper into the unknown with your goods from the west to be sold further east along the Silk Route. From the open-air courtyard inside, you can scan the squared perimeter with its arched entrances to each stall where weery travellers could park their horses, and enjoy a night’s sleep in the rooms above them.


Silk Route traders would skirt its edges – stopping in Xinjiang towns of Kashgar, Kuqa, Turpan and others.
Though nothing like the grand architecture of the wall further east – with its castle-like features cutting a difficult line up and over mountains – this westward end of the wall runs along the flat desert floor, and is much more crumbled and decaying.
She’s the author of the novels The Constellations (1994), The Planets (1991), and Getting In (1998), but she is perhaps best known for being the first transgender bestselling author after her memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders came out in 2003. Stuck in the Middle With You is a memoir of parenting, and specifically explores the differences between motherhood and fatherhood.
It will also have a new epilogue written by my spouse, Deirdre, who is the one person readers are most curious about. Like, in the spring there’d be these parties in the tunnels with tanks of nitrous oxide, and the young scholars would break into the zoology storage room and steal the stuffed walruses and leave them in places likely to raise questions.
We were two young goofballs, each of us in our little Spanish Harlem bedrooms, spending the day typing on our Smith Coronas.
We will not share your email with anyone for any reasonWhat do you keep on your desk?I keep on my desk a giant tube stolen out of a physics laboratory in 1979.
Have others become professional writers?The person that I’m most proud of—after you and Eleanor—is probably Mike Daisey.
Since then, I’ve had plenty of celebrity moments as an author—like, having Will Forte imitate me in a Saturday Night Live skit was kind of amazing.
He wasn’t familiar with my work, and he asked, “So what’s your memoir about?” This is a situation that I’m frequently in. And if cycling towards Tbilisi, you will enjoy a fantastic panoramic view as you cycle in from the west and then drop 20 km of downhill into the country’s capital that awaits you in the valley below. It is like stepping back in time – to when the trade routes between the west and east were booming and these caravanserai’s were a traveller’s haven. So book this ahead and park your bike and lay your head down where so many adventurers from the past have done before you. And there is something about this fact that makes it truly fascinating and makes me appreciate just how treacherous and risky the Silk Route was for traders so long ago. You will still find silk, carpets, hats, crafts, fresh fruits, and vegetables, but those sit alongside mass produced goods brought in from eastern China and elsewhere. It is no less impressive when you consider how many thousands of kilometres further cycling it takes to reach the strong line of stone that runs through Eastern China and it’s most famous segments of the Great Wall north of Beijing.
As one of the few people I know who has been both a mother and a father, I find that there are plenty of tales to tell.
And while I do not believe in ghosts—at least not the kind that walk around moaning—I do have a fascination for the way people can become haunted, especially by the specters of their former selves. Rick and Barb are the legal guardians of my children, a fact that I think Rick forgot about until I reminded him of it upon the occasion of my older son’s birthday. I think of myself as a fiction writer, first and foremost, although I haven’t actually published a novel in over a dozen years now. In any case, the difference between being a male writer and a female writer for me is also the difference between being a young writer and a middle-aged one, not to mention the difference between being a single person writing stories and a married one with a family.


Innocent questions can rapidly lead to answers that demand a whole lot more intimacy than I’m comfortable giving—or, to be quite honest about it, the person asking the question probably wants in the first place. Visas for some nationalities can be a bit time consuming to obtain, but it’s well worth the effort. So if the Silk Route is on your wish list, it might be good to see Kashgar soon before it changes forever. I guess I also feel that having a father who became a woman has helped my sons become better men.
I think he’s keeping his fingers crossed until my younger son hits 18 too, and he and his wife, Barbara, are finally off the hook in case an asteroid hits Deedie and me. I would like to hope that I had some influence on him, although it’s kind of hard to claim credit for a talent that unique.
You know in publishing these days they like for writers to be consistent with their “platform,” so to some degree I’ve become the literary scribe of the transgender movement.
All of those things change the way we experience the world, and it may be that the difference between maleness and femaleness is less important than we think.The main thing is that, when I was a man, all my clothes had pockets.
There was some lunch that my agent and editor took me to in 2003, some amazing Thai place in Manhattan that had a giant Buddha in it, and I remember thinking at the time, This is it, this is the beginning of a new life for me. So there I was, wondering, What can I tell David McCullough about my work without having to explain the whole sex-change thing? I will admit that there are some times when I wish that my platform was a little larger—it may be that sooner rather than later I will have said everything I feel like saying about gender. I knew that from here on out there would be a celebrity aspect to everything I did, and that this was going to be both incredibly fun as well as potentially a deadly distraction for me as a writer. In the end I just told him that my work was about “life with a difficult man.” That seemed to satisfy him.
And yet, five years ago, I said I wasn’t writing any more books about gender, and then I went out to dinner with Augusten Burroughs, who said, “You know what you need to do? It’s a raw deal.If you could bring back to life one deceased person, who would it be and why?How about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after being outed by his roommate.
You need to write a memoir about parenthood.” At the time I told him, “No way, I’m not going there again.
It would have been nice if he could have a second chance in a world less distinguished by its hate than by its love.How did you publish your first book?I titled it False Alarms, a collection of short stories.
Don’t make me do it.” Then I woke up the next morning and thought, “Oh, my God, he’s right. Sometimes I think that’s my favorite moment of the day—Deedie (my spouse) and me and the boys all around the breakfast table, talking about the day ahead.
I said, “Hey, what do you think about, say, False Alarms?” In the end we compromised, and called it Remind Me to Murder You Later.



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