May 31, 2013
On June 28, I will be the keynote speaker for the New Letters Writing Conference. Keynote address: “An address designed to present the issues of primary interest to an assembly and often to arouse unity and enthusiasm.” How can a schmuck give a keynote address? I will do my best to be “rousing,” but I’m most likely to emulate Don Knotts as Luther in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
May 14, 2013
I took Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited to New York from Lawrence. In my own little roomette, I had plenty of time for reading and writing.
See other photos of the trip on Facebook.
April 18, 2013
I spent last week in the buckle of the Bible belt, speaking to students and the public at the University of Oklahoma-Norman. To my surprise and delight, hearts are open and LGBTQ people are strong and united. The reporter got only one small thing wrong–and who can blame her trying to follow the circuitous route of my religious life. I was not raised as a conservative Presbyterian: quite the opposite. I left the moderate Presbyterian church of my upbringing for a series of rabidly fundamentalist ones. Silly me.
The Next Big Thing
March 24, 2013
Thanks to my new friend, poet, and fellow Arktoi author, Rita Mae Reese for tagging me. Click here to read about her upcoming collection!
What is your working title of your book?
My recently published book is called MY ALMOST CERTAINLY REAL IMAGINARY JESUS. It went through many iterations. With my editor’s help, I realized including Jesus in the title of any book would give most people hives. We had to make sure people knew from the title that it wouldn’t make them itch or turn their stomach.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea came from my very own sometimes-horrible mostly-worth-living life as a misguided fundamentalist lesbian pretending not to be either.
What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir. A good friend from writing school helped me see the difference between memoir and autobiography. After reading the first 600+ page overwrought draft, she called me and said, “Tell me in one sentence what this book is about.” I told her. She said, “Okay, anything that isn’t about that, get rid of.” I cut it in more than half.
Who would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh gosh, well, I consider myself rather plain, so I hate to do this to someone. Let me see–Kristy McNichol in the 70’s–but, more realistically, Tiny Tim before he died or a horned owl.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s about growing up lesbian and Christian in the Midwest and how utterly strange that was.
Who published your book?
My book was published by Arktoi, the lesbian imprint of Red Hen Press. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience from start to finish.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Three years. That wasn’t all I was doing, of course.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Gosh, again. I’d love to have it compared to Jeanette Winterson’s ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. Even though her book sold as a novel, her lived experience with crazy religion in many ways mirrored mine.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My teen-aged self. I owed it to her to tell the story that I wish she could have read and saved herself a lot of wasted time fretting and suffering.
I’ve tagged Tasha Haas.
Last weekend, I gave a reading at Pages Books & Coffee, a great little bookstore in Newton, Kansas. I played “reading Santa.”
Thanks to owner/manager, Mollie Sultenfuss, for arranging and hosting the event.
December 3, 2012
Humor me here. This is a short essay I submitted for my monthly green column in the local paper. They passed on it. The editor said the only thing it made her do was want to avoid potlucks. I thought it was very “ecological.” We’re all covered with hair, right?
I love potlucks. Family and friends prepare local, sustainably raised food. I can take leftovers home in my own dish instead of Styrofoam. Often, the destination is within walking or bicycling distance. Best of all, we often wind up playing board games or music together. Sharing food is one of the most ancient of human exchanges. Intimacy is both its reward and price.
November 27, 2012
Still picking turkey out of my teeth, I thought I’d give an update of a family Thanksgiving complete with relatives you all know more about than you probably want to. We went to Kathy’s house for the noon meal with Karen, her husband Roger, and daughter Beth and her boyfriend Jonathan. Also present were Kathy’s husband Sam and son Travis and my dad, who got more food on the floor than in his mouth
November 17, 2012
I’ve had a great couple of legs of the book tour since I last posted. In October, I visited my alma mater, the University of Montana, to read at Fact & Fiction and the fabulous class Montana Writer’s Live. I stayed with fellow MFA alums Penny Orwick & Mike Lancaster, who kept Lisa and I well fed, well-slept, and laughing.
And just last week, I read stayed with another Montana Alum Leigh Partington and her husband George, who also kept me well-fed, well-slept, and laughing. I read at the oldest and best feminist bookstore in existence, Charis Books & More and two fabulously progressive and affirming churches, St. John’s Lutheran and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal in Atlanta, Georgia.
October 10, 2012
House made of pills….
Though it’s been quite a ride so far, the book tour is also taking it’s toll. Just when I thought I had the reflux under control and could lay off the Prilosec, I woke up with a stabbing pain in my ear and couldn’t hear out of it. Apparently, the cold I developed on the train ride home from Detroit had settled there. Because I’ll be flying again in a week and the doctor said I had never felt pain like flying with an ear infection, she prescribed the triple bomb of amoxicillin (there goes the intestines), prednasone (I feel like lifting the couch), and MusanexD. I had to go back on the Prilosec because prednasone causes reflux. I’m reminded of my parents’ lazy susan, which, while it once contained various hot sauces, salt & pepper shakers, and parsley flakes, became, in their retirement years, a spinning platter of pill bottles. Because Daddy could never admit he was old enough to need pills of any kind, he would hide the vitamins, blood pressure medication, etc. under the lazy susan, where Momma would find them daily in a little circle under the base and force him to take them while she watched.
October 7, 2012
This week, I had an absolutely fabulous time reading at the University of Detroit-Mercy’s department of Women & Gender Studies. The audiences of students and the public received me so sweetly. My reading made some of them cry, which made me cry.
I just wanted to add that my partner Lisa is my “stylist.” We went for the boyish, intellectual look of argyle. I hope you don’t get tired of seeing me in these duds.
October 1, 2012
I’m so pleased to say that the state of California has ruled it illegal for adults to force minors to undergo ex-gay also called reparative therapy to convert from another sexual orientation to straight. As you have seen or will see from my book, I’m living proof that they don’t work.
On a lighter note, the walnut’s leaves are turning and falling in earnest here in Lawrence, Kansas. My black-and-tan tabby Cliff is planted in front of the window, obsessed.
September 16, 2012
Here I am signing books at the fabulous Mazer Lesbian Archives in West Hollywood. They do such important work there.
September 10, 2012
The country mouse went to the big city, Los Angeles. Here I am reading at the Annenberg Beach House, in Santa Monica. I watched the sun set into the Pacific behind the audience’s heads.
September 7, 2012
A long-time dream realized. I read My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus at The Raven Bookstore, in Lawrence, KS.
August 28, 2012
The book is out there. People are buying and reading it. I have reflux. I’ve stopped eating tomatoes, peppers, onions, citrus, chocolate, dairy–basically everything you’d want to eat. The lawn is looking tasty. A therapist/writer who visited the house today to see some of Lisa’s paintings said it’s because I’m scared s**tless. Another writer saw me on the street, saw the look on my face. She reassured me that prepublication “discomfort” is common. I’m trying to meditate–turn off the brain and just breathe. As it is for many people, this is impossible for me. I think about everything. I even think about how well I’m meditating. I have to let the book go, “let it be out there in the world.” I finally understand the cliche.
August 15, 2012
I’m pinching myself. I got another good review, a starred one, no less, from Booklist. It won’t appear online until August 28, but I can blab it here. http://www.booklistonline.com/Well into her thirties, Kelly Barth hangs on to her imaginary childhood friend, Jesus, for a variety of good reasons. He promises comfort, solace, and humanity when many strident Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and well-intentioned Jesus converts insist that gay people are really heterosexuals exhibiting amoral behavior. Barth’s tale of growing up gay in the heart of Missouri’s Bible Belt is one of the funniest and most endearing accounts of spiritual growth in the genre. This well-written book also manages to offer a fascinating anthropological account of spiritual life in the rural Midwest. Barth laments her Presbyterian parents, who she insists practice religion with far too much predictability. Desiring to explore more passionate worship styles, she ventures from church to church, accepting several tenets of the Christian faith as literal but remaining torn by the notion that fully accepting herself as gay would be heresy. The merciful imaginary Jesus of Barth’s imagination supports her through this journey of self- acceptance. A memoir that is affecting and hilarious by turns.
— Susan DeGrane
August 10, 2012
I spent $50 for Lisa and I to relive my childhood trauma. I’m going to my 30-year high school reunion. In the first photo, I am celebrating the sad pinnacle of my high school career…drum roll…I am co-president of French Club. Je pense donc je suis. (The main problem with all this was that I didn’t have a car and had to beg for rides home on meeting days.)
In this one, I’m playing a dog in some sort of skit. Je suis un chien. Aside from my high school portrait, where I have failed to make my hair look like Princess Diana’s, these two photos are the only ones in the yearbook. No wonder I’d rather forget.
August 7, 2012
I think the Raven Bookstore (8 E. 7th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044, 7850749-3300, http://www.ravenbookstore.com) is just about the best place on earth, and I know it’s the best bookstore this side of the Mississippi. No matter that I’ve worked there since 1997–there’s no bias here :). I love not only its books, but also its shelves, its impossibly high closets, its cozy corners with chairs, its rugs, its cats Ngaio and Dashiell, and even its spiders. In one month, a long-time dream will come true–I’ll read from my own book at the Raven. Yes, it’s the official release of MY ALMOST CERTAINLY REAL IMAGINARY JESUS, Friday, September 7, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. We’ll have plenty of books, food, fun, and frivolity as well. Please come celebrate with us.
July 31, 2012
My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus got another good review in, of all things, the back-to-school issue of Liberty Press, the LGBT magazine for Kansas. You can read it on page 23 and an interview with me on page 24 at http://www.libertypress.net/. The writing is called “funny, surprising, and even charming.” Again, with the charming.
July 10, 2012
In the weeks before the book release and tour, I’m trying to relax with friends and enjoy being home. Although, for the last few weeks, home has been about 105 degrees. My partner Lisa and our two great friends Liz Elmore and Kerry Davis and their fantastic dog Sadie and I decided to paddle the 10 miles from St. George to Wamego, Kansas, with a camp on a sandbar about halfway. I’ll assure you, putting on the life vest would not have been possible had I not dunked myself in the beloved Kansas (Kaw) River, which was warm as bath water. Sometime in the middle of the night though, a cold front came through, and we got to feel it. Everyone should experience such a blessed drop in temperature at least once in her life. (Left to right, Lisa, Liz, Kerry, and yours truly looking a little wilted).
July 2, 2012
Though my publisher Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press is ready to take pre-orders for My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus, if I might climb aboard a soap box for a moment. If you have a local independent bookstore as I do (The Raven Bookstore), please buy/order the book from them. Independent booksellers are the literary heartbeat of a region. Among many other things, they provide opportunities for local and regional writers to read and sell their work, they have knowledgeable booksellers who can make solid recommendations based on your individual interests and tastes, and they provide a place for the best kind of thoughtful conversations to take place. Your dollar truly is your vote.
June 27, 2012
My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus has leaped through all pre-press hurdles and is headed to the printer. As a life-long bookworm, I can’t easily describe how this makes me feel. It’s bittersweet that I have finally written a real paper book when some will be reading it on a gall-darned device. Then again, I remember the pre-publication days when I said I’d hand write it in crayon on craft paper and leave it on park benches if I had to. Godspeed little book.
June 18, 2012
Though My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus hasn’t been released yet, I participated in my first reading from it this weekend at an evening honoring LGBT writers,”A Celebration of Queerness.” It was hosted by the wonderful Writer’s Place in Kansas City, Missouri, my hometown. I packed the house with members of my former church Crossroads, from the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City. I knew they would get all my religious jokes. We were given 10 minutes to read–more than reasonable since there were eight of us–and I thought I had things shaved to the second. But at ten minutes as I speed-read to within two paragraphs of the “climax,” a chime sounded. I closed my mouth and stepped away from the microphone. I slunk to the back of the room with my nervous-sweat oiled advanced reader’s copy. It’s begun–the book tour–the biggest test my fragile ego has ever faced.
June 12, 2012
For those of you participating in the daily struggle to write, I thought I might share my experiences with the early manuscript of the memoir. Initially, I wrote it out longhand–in marble covered notebooks in a crazy blue cursive script–to allow myself the freedom to say everything I wanted without it feeling “judged” or “finished.” When I typed the whole thing out, it was about 600 pages long. In this first draft, I had allowed myself to forget the advice “remember, your life is far more interesting to you than to anyone else.” After reading this tome, a good friend and editor said, “Tell me in one sentence what this is about.” When I told her, she then said, “Anything that isn’t about that, take out.” In the next revision, I cut the thing in half.
May 29, 2012
I took my dad on a two-hour drive to my oldest sister Karen’s place at Lake Viking, near Gallatin, Missouri, for Memorial Day. For people with dementia, a change in routine can be a real challenge. Karen normally takes care of him at her place every day, I tried to follow her list of instructions. Teeth in? Check. Pants on? Check. Soft black socks rather than scratchy? Check. Bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper? (he drinks diet because my mother did. She needed it; he weighs about 140 pounds). Check. Glasses? They weren’t where she said they would be, behind the faucet in his bathroom. We found them in the hall bathroom. Check. Royal’s cap? Check. Garage door opener? Check. “I think we’re ready for blast-off,” I said. “I know it’s not on the list, but I have to go to the bathroom,” he said. He’s still funny sometimes. Sausage McMuffin at the drive-through? Check.
For the two hours it took us to drive there, there was no shortage of conversation. Every mile marker, he said, “Where are we going?” Instead of saying Lake Viking every time, I tried to change it up a little. “Exit 68,” I said once. “I don’t want to know the street,” he said, “I want to know the location.” I think he was afraid I was taking him out in the country to “let him go.” He changed it up once by asking where my partner Lisa was. She was on a three-day paddling trip on the Kansas River. I asked if he remembered it was my mom’s birthday. “Is it May 28th?” he said. “Then yes, that’s right.” He refused to go on the pontoon, so he and I sat inside and watched Andy Griffith. After a deafening tantrum when he didn’t get his way about going home after a couple of hours, he said, “This has been a good day at the lake.” He never saw the lake. He remembers I have a book coming out, but he doesn’t understand. I wish he could because he’s one of its heroes.
May 22, 2012
If you have 30 minutes, listen to this intriguing Talk of the Nation, opening with psychiatrist Robert Spitzer eating crow as he retracts his flimsy but heavily cited 2001 study that “highly motivated” homosexuals can change their sexual orientation.
This New York Times editorial about the “pseudo therapy” is pretty damning as well.
May 21, 2012
I forgot I promised to update my blog periodically. My fear is that no one will read it. That should also make me feel relieved. These have been dueling fears all my life: that people will not pay attention to me and that people will pay attention to me. The fears about the book’s release have begun. Yesterday’s idea: customizing each family member’s and friend’s copy by excising the pages where he or she appears. I’d have to tell people not to look at anyone else’s copy. Theirs is special.
I’m still floating a bit after President Obama’s brave announcement that he wholeheartedly supports same-sex marriage. It’s so important for struggling young people–like the child I was through part of this book–to hear a man of his stature, intelligence, and beauty say that he understands the life they want for themselves and that they have every right to it.