Just finished the first draft of my latest novel. Here’s a bit about the journey.
For news about my novels:
For Improv news:
Authors blogging all the time!
I didn’t like living with my father growing up and can’t imagine sharing a home with someone so essentially different from myself as an adult. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with guys, and I feel much more akin to gay male friends than to non-gay male friends. We’re just not compatible. The energy, for me, is akin to two magnets turned the wrong way – they very forcefully repel rather than attract.
Living with a woman feels much more natural to me. There are no assumptions about roles. There are no Mars-Venus issues.
I like traveling with a woman. I like shopping with a woman. I like sleeping next to a woman, socializing with women in person or virtually. I love writing about women and having a woman publisher. I understand, mostly, our relationships with one another. I’ve always said, as a symbol of my partiality to female company, that men’s feet are too big. I trip over them. They take up my space. I have no conversation for guys outside of work, for example, or perhaps shared missions.
There are some words and phrases used regularly in gay culture that disturb me. The worst is “sexual preference.” It’s so limiting!
Is this the best message to describe ourselves and to give to outsiders? In my experience, I have a gender preference as well as a sexual preference. Simply put, and although I enjoy male friends and relatives, I prefer the company of women. No matter what we’re doing together, whether it’s affectional, sexual or conversational.
Heterosexuals are viewed as whole people. They don’t walk around with labels like lesbian or queer or gay. No one meets a non-gay person and immediately thinks of what they do in bed or with whom. At least I hope not. Yet when I meet a straight for the first time, I know I’m sometimes being viewed one-dimensionally. I’m tipped off by their questions, by their references to gay people they know, by their excited – or grossed-out – expressions. This may never change, but I don’t have to perpetuate that tunnel vision with my own speech.
Usage of the word gay gets my goat too. Since when is gay applied only to men? I’ve been gay since I was 15. And, frankly, it was a little easier to think of myself as gay than as homosexual or lesbian when I first came out. Both of those words were fraught with centuries of negative baggage. Today, I’d rather be a dyke or queer than a lesbian, but I always want to be gay. I’m so happy gay, I’d rather have been born a gay man than a straight woman. How to stop the journalists from using the phrase “lesbians and gay men”? Can we say “gay people”? Or “gay women and men”? It is nice when they lead with the female words; we’ve come a long way since women weren’t even newsworthy. Now even gay women are included in mainstream stories now and then.
While it’s true that, as a writer, I may be oversensitive to words, language has always been a powerful tool used for good and bad, to oppress or to free, to imprison in stereotypes and to declare independence from them. One of the best known objectionable words is “boy,” used to strip adulthood from black men. Slang is often a weapon, as when bullies toss around words like “fag” and “sissy.” The gay way of life is frequently called “unhealthy.” What the heck does that mean? Unhealthy for whom?
We can be lazy with language, using shortcuts that become code words to signal disapproval. It’s hard to watch what we say. The brilliant and brave Mary Daly was a revolutionary of words, revealing their clout in our speech by dissecting them. The very title of her bookGyn/Ecology (1988) plays with a deeper meaning. Daly’s presentation of such words as “a-maz-ing” opened my eyes to what I am really talking about. I think of the term “stag-nation,” as she explains it in Wickedary (1987).
It may sound like I am griping and need to quit sweating the small stuff. In actuality, I am protesting the misconstruction of our words, misconstruing of our lives and the surrender of queers to labeling by outsiders and insiders. We take back the night, we take up our cause. Now we need to take back our words, because they are still being used against us.
Hmmm…. it’s that time of year again…
Time for that age-old tradition of making those promises to ourselves that we promise to break – New Year’s Resolutions
So, what should mine be?
Resolutions set you up to be a failure every year. Who’s idea was it to make those things anyway? Probably my parents – still trying to prove to me I’ll fail at everything I try. (Actually, it is widely believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s resolutions, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since. The early Christians believed the first day of the new year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve oneself in the new year.)
Who really keeps their New Year’s Resolutions? I found this on Wikipedia (so it must be the Gospel) “Recent research shows that while 52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals. A separate study in 2007 by Richard Wisemen from the University of Bristol showed that 78% of those who set New Year resolutions fail.”
Would I like to give more money to charity? Sure. Can I pay my bills now? Barely.
Do I need to lose weight? Have you SEEN me? LOL
Do I need to spend more time at the gym? Sure – and I plan to. I mean – I see some distinct advantages to that.
But seriously, people sit down this time every year and make a list of things they say they’re going to do. Ease up on drinking. Stop smoking. Lose weight. Work harder. Spend more time with their families. (And yeah – sometimes it’s the same people listing both of those…. DUH!) Finally landscape the yard. Write a novel. OK, OK… so now, we’re talking.
Yeah – I can get behind that last one… but then does that count as a New Year’s Resolution? What exactly does? Writing books is something I should do anyway, right? Just like losing weight, working out, etc. I plan to have at least two novels completed by the end of 2012. I don’t consider that a resolution. I consider that like saying, “My New Year’s resolution is to go to work everyday.” It’s what I do. (And yes – I give thanks to all powers that be for both my jobs AND my awesome publisher who lets me make money writing!)
Now where was I?
Oh yeah – more focus – that’s a good one. But that will depend on aforementioned mania and/or depression.
So, here I am, at the tail end of another year. And 2011 was not a good one. It’s ok to admit that right? So does making 2012 a better year count as a resolution?
What about selling lots of copies of ”Initiation by Desire” http://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/products.php?product=Initiation-by-Desire-%252d-by-MJ-Williamz that is out in January? Is that a resolution?
Again – where was I?
So, here I am, oh yeah… I said that already… sitting at my computer as a new year looms, asking myself whether or not I should make any New Year’s Resolutions.
And, while not normally one to go along with the crowd, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and make a couple. Yes – literally two.
In the year 2012, I promise to laugh more and love more.
I figure if I can do those two things, everything else will fall into place.
Thank you again for all your support in years gone by and here’s to many more years together.
Happy New Year!
Jennifer Lavoie lives in Connecticut in the same city she grew up in. While growing up, she always wanted to be a writer or a teacher and briefly debated a career in marine biology. The only problem with that was she’s deathly afraid of deep water. Starting during a holiday season as temporary help, she worked in a bookstore for six years and made it all the way up to assistant manager before she left to take a job teaching. Jennifer has her bachelor’s degree in secondary English education and found a job in her town teaching middle school students. Along with another teacher and a handful of students, Jennifer started the first Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. She is also active in other student clubs and enjoys pairing students with books that make them love to read.
Andy Squared is her first novel.
Andy Squared – Coming in 2012
Seventeen-year-old twins, Andrew and Andrea Morris, have always been close. They share everything—from their friends to a room—and they both enjoy star positions on their high school’s soccer teams. All’s right with the twins…or is it?
When new student Ryder Coltrane moves from Texas to their small New York town, he spins Andrew’s world upside down. All of Andrew’s past relationship troubles begin to make sense and his true feelings start to click into place after Ryder comes out to him. His friendship with Ryder turns secretively romantic, but secrets, they soon find out, are hard to keep. Once rumors start to fly, so-called friends turn on them, and the boys’ relationship turns into a bomb about to explode. But Andrew never expected it would be his own twin, Andrea, holding a lighter to ignite it.
I am writing this post as a teacher.
I am also writing this post as the victim of bullying.
Once again my television is telling me that another teenager has taken her life because she was bullied. It doesn’t matter whether she is a lesbian or not. What matters is how senseless this tragedy is, and how preventable it can be. According to the news, as she lay in critical condition in the hospital, the bullying continued on her Facebook page. How can people be so cruel?
I’ve heard some adults say that “bullying is a right of passage” or that “kids will be kids.” But it’s wrong. No matter what way it is looked at, making another person feel inferior for ANY reason – be it their sexuality, gender, religion, ethnic background, clothing, hair color, whatever – is wrong. So very, very wrong.
My bullying started when I was in the eighth grade. In homeroom, every single morning, one of the guys who sat next to me spit on me. I don’t know what I did. It could have been my glasses. Maybe even my jeans (my family didn’t have much, and I wore KMart or Caldor’s brand clothing instead of Abercrombie, which was cult-like at the time). Could it have been my hair? I wondered if maybe I even smelled bad, though they never said that. I don’t remember one of my bullies’ names. And I don’t even remember the name of the teacher who watched, day by day, as this happened, and not once said a single word. My mother now asks me why I never told her. My response? “Because the teacher didn’t stop it, so I figured no one would help.”
I’ve told this story to my students, and I remind them whenever a bullying issue comes up. I will not tolerate any form of bullying in my classroom. I cannot stand by and watch one of my students being harassed by another student because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be made to feel inferior. And no one has the right to do that to another person. I truly feel my students pain when they tell me how they feel when it happens.
I’m proud to say I’ve seen changes. But it’s not enough. More adults need to take this stand as well. If you see kids harassing another kid who is visibly upset, please, step in and help them. Be the responsible person and get help for them. If someone you know is being bullied or you fear they might be, talk to them. Do something about it.
Kids look to adults for guidance. They look to us as role models. Maybe if we really push and take a stand against bullying, they will finally realize that it’s wrong and has serious, harmful side effects.
I sat in on a workshop at a writing conference in Las Vegas recently. The very accomplished instructor offered sage advice to his starry-eyed attendees, as many teachers do: “Write what you know.”
As I watched each student scribble this pearl of wisdom down in their comp books and on their notepads, I felt compelled to disagree.
Writers should write about characters and places and issues they want to write about, regardless if the plot, storyline, and universe of their novel don’t reflect their own personal experiences. Passion should overrule knowledge every time.
One of the writers at the conference later asked me to clarify my objection to the teacher’s advice. I responded with, “Tell the story you feel has to be told, not a story you’re comfortable telling just because it’s familiar to you.”
All three of my novels were a tremendous challenge to write. But, I prefer it that way. I live for the research process of a book. I love writing about cultures and ethnicities that are not my own. Creating characters that are polar opposites of me is thrilling. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me from becoming a lazy writer.
Mesmerized, my first novel, was written from the first-person perspective of a seventeen-year-old woman coping with the murder of her older gay brother. Accidents Never Happen, my second novel, tells the story of a love-starved Puerto Rican boxer. Swimming to Chicago, my most recent novel, explores the life of a gay Armenian-American teenage boy growing up in a small town in the South.
These novels couldn’t be more different from each other. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing a novel becomes a journey for me, taking me into unfamiliar territory. I never know what I’ll discover through research or the actual writing process (characters can be unpredictable and very determined). But, in the end, the experience of writing a novel leaves me enlightened – and not just creatively.
I considered making the main character of Alex an Iranian-American teen, mostly due to my emotional response to the execution of Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari . But, I felt their story was told beautifully by Jay Paul Deratany in his stage play Haram Iran.
I continued researching and soon discovered articles about gay rights (or the lack of) in Armenia. While working on the novel, I found and read an article . This motivated and inspired me to write Alex’s story. The more I read, the more I became certain that Alex was Armenian-American. To my knowledge, a young adult novel written by an American author has never featured a gay Armenian teen character as its protagonist. Therefore, I knew this was a story that had to be told. I knew that not only Armenian-Americans would identify with Alex, but other young people from conservative cultures would as well.
Sure, it was a risk. But if you’re not writing fearlessly, why write at all?
It began with a photograph I saw in a museum in the mid 1990s. The photograph was dated 1900 or so and captioned, “Anita McGee with the first members of the Army Nurse Corps.” I remembered thinking, “There’s a story there.” Many years and many romance novel readings later, I started conceptualize the story.
I love San Francisco history so it was natural for me to want to tell a story with the backdrop of my hometown. There was a lot I didn’t know so I spent a lot of time in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area archives looking for information about the Presidio, the Spanish American war, and nurses. I read with books with titles like “The History of Nursing.” There is one thing an historic novelist does NOT want to do is get the details wrong. I am a bit obsessive and one of my long time obsessions is the Palace Hotel. That gave me the idea to place my other character as a cook in the hotel.
My spouse Jeanette loves the fact that I am writer and I love San Francisco. She gave me books with old pictures of San Francisco, I found the visuals very helpful. One even gave me an idea for a pivotal location in the story- the Cobweb Palace. Yep, sometimes you don’t have to make stuff up; it’s already there.
Around the time I started to research and then to write Awake Unto Me, a couple of things happened in Jeanette’s and my life that greatly aided my writing. First, due to budget cuts, my employer, the state of California began furloughing employees. I was handed eighteen extra days off from 2009-2010. I didn’t have a choice: I had to take the pay cut and the days off. Therefore, those were my writing days. The second thing that happened was we decided to remodel our condo and ended up in a six month legal battle with the homeowners’ association. Writing was an excellent distraction from that mess. I could sit with my laptop in an arm chair in the tiny living room of the apartment where we lived, scatter my research materials around me, turn on classical music and just write for hours while Jeanette was at work. I found classical music a better background for writing than my more typical listening pleasure, rock and roll.
A challenge I found in writing an historical novel was trying to get into the characters’ heads and think as they would, i.e., in a nineteenth century fashion. You can say what you want about the universality of love and human emotions but how that would play out for two women in 1898 San Francisco would just not be the same. They are not hooking up online or even being introduced by mutual friends. They are not going to be going out on dates. So finding the way to get my two characters in proximity was a puzzle. I think my solution was simple but effective.
Writing is such a leap of faith, somewhat like falling in love. You can do the footwork and then you have to just let it go forward in whatever fashion it’s going to go. Sometimes the results are better than you ever imagined.
By Julie Smith
If you read books on writing that are actually written by writers (as opposed to writing teachers), you’ll probably end up being amazed that anything ever gets written at all. There’s something about fiction writers when they decide to dissect their craft—first they tell you they know nothing about writing, it’s really just a very mysterious process and they couldn’t possibly tell you how to do it. And then in the next chapter they turn into Prose Nazis with nasty whips in their hands. All of a sudden, they know exactly how to do it, and they’re going to bloody well insist that you follow directions or else.
Listen to Stephen King—“stories are found things, like fossils in the ground. Plot is…the writer’s jackhammer, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice…”
Kind of resonates, doesn’t it? Bet he had fun writing that. He then goes on to tell you how Misery came to him pretty much in a dream. Now that’s an amazing fossil to find. King doesn’t even write mysteries as a rule, and Misery’s a classic, in my opinion one of the best mysteries ever written. And it came to him in a dream! We should all be so lucky.
King goes on to tell you that his process involves “excavating the fossil.., beginning with the situation and moving on to the characters.” Which I think is a really good way to go, but it’s not Anne Lamott’s way.
Listen to Lamott: “You sit down at the same time every day. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. Then you begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child….you squint at an image that is forming in your mind—a scene, a locale, a character, whatever—and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear
what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are like banshees and drunken monkeys.”
She goes on like that for pages and pages, many of them hilarious, but it all seems so hopeless you wonder why she isn’t hospitalized. And at some point she tells you there really is no other way. Though it’s not Stephen King’s way.
The question I always ask myself when I read writers growing impassioned about their methods is “What would Shakespeare do?” Would he sit at his computer and squint at an image? Would he say, hey, I’m gonna create some real art here, and not just some crap for the rabble in the pit, like Othello or Hamlet. Maybe I’ll have a dream and -–I know—I’ll call it “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
And then I imagine him looking at his calendar, and thinking, oh no, the rent’s due, and so is the mortgage on that cottage at Stratford, and I don’t have any ideas. (By the way, some writers tell you writing absolutely doesn’t come from ideas. That that’s the last thing you want to have.) But remember, Will’s got a mortgage. So I see him grabbing a pint of ale with one hand and pulling out his well-worn copy of Plutarch’s Lives with the other and saying to himself, “Hey, guy, time to re-tell another one. Here’s one about Julius Caesar—maybe there’s a play in that.”
And then I get calm again.
Because in the end everybody’s got to do it their own way. The truth is, there are morning writers and night writers. There are outliners and free-formers. Some people even work backwards–John Irving is famous for writing his last chapter first and I can’t even conceive of that.
But I do think that all these advice-givers have one thing in common—and it has to do with what Robert Olen Butler calls “the zone.” There really is a place of the imagination where writers go, and where the subconscious—or the imagination– takes over, and the good news is, there are methods for getting there. You just have to experiment until you find yours.
But I like Will’s. Nothing focuses the mind like overdue bills.
Theme: K2-lite by k2 team. Blog at WordPress.com.
RSS Entries and RSS Comments