Archive for the 'LGBTQ Publishing' Category

Idolatry: Role Models and Broken Gods

By Eric Andrews-Katz

I came out of the homosexual closet the same year a groundbreaking play came out of the Broadway one. The author’s name may not have been immediately recognizable in heterosexual households, but even the most homosexually challenged people would know, as the media often labeled him, The Voice of Gay America. Latching onto the manuscript I identified with the dialogue and situations so well, I highlighted passages on most of the pages with a yellow marker. I committed lines at a time to memory. Soon, I had to carefully tape together the most well read sections until almost every page had been reassembled. And as a young, impressionable fagling, I watched with budding pride as the author accepted a major award with a landmark speech that to this day still impresses me with its courage. This was not only a gay man, but also a writer that could potentially (and seemingly) break down barriers with the sentences he formed. I knew immediately I had found something that I desperately needed: an incredible role model.

Years later I am working with one of the largest gay newspaper in the United States, and threw myself at the chance to do a phone interview with The Voice. I wanted to talk about this man’s illustrious body of work, his triumphs of the printed word and on stage. I wanted his opinion on the current gay liberation movement versus the earlier original one from which his works developed. But most of all, politics and literature aside, I wanted to thank him for influencing my life.

There was so much to ask him I didn’t know where to begin. I carefully did my research and my list ran the gamut from this man’s emerging career to his modern achievements. After checking and rechecking my work, I was set. I was excited and when the day arrived, I was at my computer with my headphones at least 10 minutes earlier than needed. I was going to chat (via phone) with a man I highly respected, and who’s written prose I read more often than any other living writer!

After the second time in ten minutes that I reached his hotel room’s message service, I thought to double check the email. Yes. I had the most recently rescheduled date/time correct. There had been three changes in 48 hours and I moved my schedule to accommodate the latest and current one. I sent an email to the publicist, waited the instructed five more minutes and tried the call again. When The Voice picked up the phone with a mournful, “hello”, I beamed with successful delight and started my stopwatch.

Mr. Voice,” I gushed trying to sound more enthusiast than psychopath. “Before we start, let me say this is a pleasure and an honor. You have been my inspiration not only as a gay man, but as a writer as well.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” The Voice harrumphed through the phone connection. “Let’s get on with the interview.”

I chuckled thinking he was being funny. He wasn’t.

The first question: “Who were your earliest influences?” never got answered. Instead, he went off on a tangent and I’m still not sure what his point was, but it didn’t answer the question. Regardless, my fingers flew across the keyboard keeping up with his rapid, gravelly tones and capturing every word. Half way through asking my second inquiry, I was interrupted with, “That’s the stupidest question I ever heard. Whoever thought of that is a moron!”

I was stunned. My eyes flew over my notes. Out of my twenty prepared questions, his publicist had dismissed three when a last minute stipulation was declared for preapproval of all interviews questions. I didn’t mind, but this one had been given the green light, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why the immediate defensiveness. I quickly moved onto the next but the tone was set and the interview spiraled all down hill from there. Before the conversation’s end, two more of my questions were awarded The Stupidest Question Ever, a major religious group was insulted, and at one point The Voice declared with a heavy sigh, “Cookie, you have two minutes left.”

I finished the interview, thanked him for his time and got off the phone. I hit the red button on my stopwatch and was shocked! The entire interview – and all that had transpired within – lasted only Twelve minutes and Twenty-Two seconds. Out of all the interviews I’d conducted over the years (before and since) this was my shortest by at least half the time.

That’s when I heard it: the sound of my idol shattering on the ground into millions of little pieces.

I have no idea what may or may not have been going on with The Voice before our initial contact. The truth is I’ll never know and by the time our conversation ended, it made very little difference as all damages had been done. The bottom line is he knew he was going to be talking to me, a gay reporter from a gay newspaper, and even if you aren’t The Voice of Gay America, you should be prepared for any questions during an interview. I am truly grateful for the inspiration The Voice has given me up to this point. But from here on out – I think I can do better.

I’ve been offered many potential possibilities as to excuse his behavior, some plausible and others pure fancy. Maybe it was withdrawal, or he was suffering from a chemical peel. Maybe he just had enough of the responsibilities of being The Voice of Gay America; or maybe, just maybe he’s most happy being an unhappy person and surrounding himself with the negative type of enablers. Or it’s possible he was just having a really bad day. I know that after talking to him I certainly was. Soon I was spinning in the proverbial gerbil’s wheel: going around and around and never moving from that one spot.

I’ve heard many horror stories since then about journalists disappointed by interviewing their role models or person(s) of influence. I’ve been told about lovers’ quarrels being held simultaneously with the interview in progress. A coffee house attendant being utterly berated for making a Large instead of a Grande, and one very infamous situation where a very established writer had to be institutionalized after conducting his interview with another famous play-write. I only got called a moron – I think I got off easy.

Every artist – be it written word, painted canvas, carved stone or whatever – wants to be inspired and inspiring. Does that mean we have to put ourselves out there to be a role model as well? That’s a lot of pressure to live up to especially if you have no knowledge of the people doing it, nor of the responsibilities they are projecting. It’s hard to play the game if you don’t know the rules.

But if our art doesn’t inspire than what was the reason for its creation? For strict soulful, self-enjoyment? Don’t kid yourself! No true artists’ ego would ever allow that. If that were the case, we’d be in seclusion writing away in our diaries. We create to inspire and therefore we inadvertently take on the potential responsibilities of becoming a role model.

I find inspiration these days from many writers in the GLBT society. Some are starting out and some are well established. I’m fortunate enough to have a role model that is one of the most prolific names within that community. He’s been extremely generous with advice and encouragement. His critiques are kind and considerate, and he’s been as gracious with others as he has been with me. I count my great fortune to have transformed from fan to friend.

As my second gay spy thriller Balls & Chain is about to be released (November 2014) and as I work on my third novel, I can’t help but wonder what kind of role model I would want to be – should the request ever arise. There are several traits I’d like to emulate from my current inspiration: 1: Be gracious to your fans – without them you’re just writing words on paper. 2: Try to encourage budding writers – today’s little entertaining, filler column is tomorrow’s “Tales of the City”, and 3: No matter how enthusiastic the fan, there’s always a polite way to excuse yourself.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn some things from his predecessor. There are many traits The Voice has shown that I hope to emulate, but there are three that stand out the most: 1: Be nice to reporters – they have many readers and can hold grudges. 2: Try to remember that if you are going to accept the accolades for your work – that you’ll need to smile at the critiques as well, and 3: Don’t call people Cookie – it’s just tacky.

Look Into the Wound

By Ruth Sternglantz

This past May, I had the pleasure of team-teaching a master class on self-editing at Saints and Sinners with John Morgan Wilson. John and I wanted to give the writers in the class more than a to-do list—not that a to-do list isn’t important, because it definitely is. But we both knew from experience that a to-do list wasn’t sufficient, and our goal was to teach writers how to get past all the mental and environmental stuff that makes self-editing a challenge. So part of my job was to describe how I see a manuscript as I edit it.

 

I used an image from Radclyffe’s Taking Fire, Taking Fire 300 DPIher just-released First Responders romance, as a metaphor to describe my editing philosophy. When Andrew Holleran stopped me on the street the next day to compliment the metaphor, I realized I should probably blog about it.

 

*

 

One of the greatest bars to self-editing is the terror almost every writer feels of actually looking at their completed manuscript. You know what I’m talking about: you type the last few words, hit save, and breathe a deep sigh of relief because your masterpiece is complete. And then all you want to do is submit it to your editor or professor or publisher. Reopening the file and looking at the words on the page is like tempting fate. What if everything you’ve written is awful? What if your masterpiece falls apart and crumbles into dust? As long as the file is closed, as long as you don’t look at your words, they remain pristine, perfect, a masterpiece, at least in your mind. I say: hold that thought. It’s the key to self-editing.

 

Of course writers are terrified to self-edit. Some editors construct editing as an act of looking at a manuscript to find all the mistakes, as a process of showing an author why their writing sucks. Why would any writer want to be complicit in that and do it to themselves? Why would any writer want to take a second look at their manuscript to polish, revise, self-edit when it means focusing on the damage?

 

That is not how I look at a manuscript when I edit, and Radclyffe gave me the perfect metaphor to describe my process in Taking Fire. Here’s the blurb:

 

After two years and too many lost troops, Navy medic Max de Milles is ready to go home. Her last tour is up in four days and she will soon be catching a transport to the States. Life is looking good until she gets detailed to evacuate a humanitarian group in south Somalia. Rachel Winslow and her Red Cross team are caught in the crossfire during a vicious civil uprising, but she refuses to abandon her team members as the rebels close in on their camp. By the time Max and the Black Hawk arrive, it may already be too late. Hunted by extremists, Max and Rachel are forced to work together if they are to survive, and in the process, discover something far more lasting.

 

Because this is a Radclyffe romance featuring a medic, there is surgery. And here’s how Max looks at a wound:

 

“The key to finding a bleeder in the midst of a pool of blood and shredded muscle was to look—to see, to distinguish the border between the damaged and the undamaged. There, at the edge of destruction, the natural planes of the body remained, even in the worst trauma, pristine layers radiating out from the injury.” (emphasis added)

 

That’s my metaphor.

 

Editing—whether it’s self-editing or editing another writer’s work—starts with a way of looking. If you think of editing primarily as looking for the bad stuff—for the damage—it colors your entire process. Of course no writer in their right mind would voluntarily reopen that saved file to self-edit.

 

Instead, think of editing as looking for what’s wonderful and repairing the rest. Start with the “pristine layers,” and let them drive the revision. You can’t fix what’s broken if you can’t see what works. And you can’t see what works until you open the file and look at your words.

 

That’s how I edit.

 

My process isn’t about pretending every word is perfect or that nothing needs cutting or more development. It’s not about giving everyone a gold star for doing well. After all, the pristine layers are found at the edge of destruction. And part of being a good editor is the ability to talk about what doesn’t work.

 

But my process begins with an orientation. I need to assess the damage, but I can’t edit until I see the healthy structure.

 

If opening that file to self-edit makes you want to cry, just think of Dr. Max de Milles (trust me, read Taking Fire and you’ll absolutely want to think about Max and Rachel!). Open your document, look into the metaphorical wound, and find that border, that edge. See the healthy structure of your story, and start to repair and revise from that starting point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Jeffrey Ricker and ‘Nathan Burgoine

BY JESS FARADAY

I’m always saying that I’ve never met a BSB person I didn’t like. From everyone I’ve dealt with on the business end, to my various editors, and the authors that I’ve met at conferences and online, y’all are pretty darn terrific. And there are some really excellent writers among us as well—go figure!

 

Recently I had the pleasure of reading two fabulous new books—Light by ‘Nathan Burgoine and The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker. On the surface, they don’t sound very much alike —

 

 

LightLight  300 DPI

Kieran Quinn is a bit telepathic, a little psychokinetic, and very gay—three things that have gotten him through life perfectly well so far—but when self-styled prophet Wyatt Jackson arrives during Pride Week, things take a violent turn. It’s not long before Kieran is struggling to maintain his own anonymity while battling wits with a handsome cop, getting some flirting in with a hunky leather man, saving some drag queens, and escaping the worst blind date in history. One thing’s for sure: saving the day has never been so fabulous.

 

The UnwantedThe Unwanted 300 DPI

Jamie Thomas has enough trouble on his hands trying to get through junior year of high school without being pulverized by Billy Stratton, his bully and tormentor. But the mother he was always told was dead is actually alive—and she’s an Amazon! Sixteen years after she left him on his father’s doorstep, she’s back, and needs Jamie’s help. Putting his life on the line, Jamie must find the courage to confront the wrath of an angry god to save a society that rejected him.

 

 

But after reading them, I couldn’t help noticing a few similarities—and not just the fact that they were really, really enjoyable.

 

So I thought I’d ask the authors about it =)

 

 

 

 

JF:  ‘Nathan, Rainbow Man (sorry… Prism =) is a fabulous superhero—and at the same time, charmingly flawed and human. Tell us about your inspiration in creating this character.

 

NB: Somewhere between my geek childhood love of the X-Men and my own wish that there were more gay superheroes out there, Kieran sprang to mind almost fully formed. When I was younger, there were none. It’s gotten better, but I wanted a story rooted in the LGBT culture. I didn’t know what sort of power I wanted to give him at first, but I was having a conversation with my mother-in-law in her kitchen and there was a suncatcher in her window and I bumped it and rainbows scattered and something clicked. Making it a side-effect of telekinesis came later, but I always wanted him to be “somewhat underwhelming” in the power department. If Jeffrey will forgive me, I always preferred Marvel to DC because the Marvel characters weren’t invulnerable powerhouses – the mutants often had one good power (or two) but took their lumps a lot more often. They came across as more human to me.

 

JF: Jeffrey, your book gives an interesting take on a common YA theme–the discovery that one has royal/magical/otherworldly origins and/or powers. Your main character is the rejected offspring of an all-female group that now need his help. Tell me about that particular plot twist. Why Amazons?

 

JR: Jamie doesn’t think he’s special. I didn’t want to make him too “chosen-one” gee-whiz spectacular. He’s just a kid trying to get through school without getting pulverized. What makes him remarkable, I think, isn’t his Amazon bloodline or any powers that derive from that. It’s that he keeps going even when he’s deathly afraid. 

 

Why Amazons? I guess it all goes back to Wonder Woman. I’ve been captivated by the Amazons ever since I first read one of the comic books and then saw Lynda Carter on the TV screen. She was like magic to my little gay mind. I was always drawn to Diana in a way that Superman and Batman couldn’t equal. I think, being a gay kid, I identified in particular with the idea of a secret identity, that who you were on the outside hid something remarkable within. Yes, all of the big three had secret identities, but hers resonated. I can’t explain why, but I know it was more than just the bracelets and the lasso and the power. 

 

Of course, that has little to do with the real Amazons of antiquity. And I was surprised at how little I could find when I started researching for this book. I found one or two volumes, mostly thin on information, and then just passages here and there in the epics. Why was there so little?

 

The more I though about it, the more it made sense. All those old stories were written by men, and they focused on the men. No wonder the Amazons got short shrift. I wouldn’t be immune from that criticism either: I may be gay, but I’m also a white guy in the western world, which translates to a lot of privilege. Even here, who do I end up focusing on? Jamie, one of their sons. But I hope I do that in the context of the powerful women around him, not all of whom are Amazons—his friend Sarah in particular; she’s such a hero and she has no magical origin to base that on—and not all of whom are human. But I don’t want to give too much away there, either.

 

JF: ‘Nathan, Light addresses some pretty serious themes, puts the main character in nail-biting peril, and sees him take his lumps. Yet the story is suffused with wonderful humor and a lovely romance. The combination of excitement and lightheartedness is irresistible. How do you do that?

 

NB: I wholeheartedly believe that if we stop laughing, we lose. In the face of what can seem like relentless pressures from all sides for the queer community to cave in, give up, or go away, the times we spend laughing and celebrating how far we’ve made it are the things that keep me going. I wanted to show that balance, and could think of nothing better than setting the story during Pride Week for exactly that purpose. You don’t have to look far to see how much further we have to go – Kansas, Russia, Uganda – it’s not hard to find the bad news and the fights still ahead to be won. Those fights are still there, and just as serious and important no matter what you do. I just know I fight better when I’ve recharged myself with the company of good people and that kind of dark humour that serves us well.

 

I also listened to my editors. I feel like I should repeat that again: I listened to my editors. If parts felt too dark or too action-focused, they helped me find a way to break it up a bit and use the romance or the humour to diffuse the tension for the reader. Did I mention you should seriously listen to your editors?

 

JF: Jeffrey, in The Unwanted, you turn the theme of bullying on its head by binding Jamie to his bully early on in the story, and forcing both characters to grow and change. It’s a fresh take and an interesting choice. Can you tell us how you came to make that choice?

 

JR: Thanks. I was really worried about that, to be honest. Billy has treated Jamie like crap before and at the beginning of the events in the book. I didn’t want to give Billy a free pass or let him off easy, but I also wanted to show that even the people you expect it of the least can change for the better. Without giving too much away, I wanted to illustrate that real connection and understanding can overcome fear. 

 

JF:  ‘Nathan, your short fiction is prolific and well known, but this is your first novel. How different was it working in this longer format?

 

NB: This should come as no surprise to anyone with a brain, but it turned out that having some sort of outline or plan was way more important for a novel than I’ve found it to be in a short story. What that says about my brain I’ll leave up to you. Also, with a short story, the turnaround time for some sort of feedback is so quick. With a novel, I worked on it for over a year before I had enough to hand to someone and get criticism. I’ve had rare moments where a short story has gelled in the space of hours, and had feedback on the first draft within a day of finishing that draft. Writing a novel felt a lot more isolated and required a lot more patience and self-confidence, and I’m sure not overstocked in either.

 

JF: Jeffrey, you’re currently studying for your MFA in creative writing. What, from your education, have you applied to your writing?

 

JR: This is a really good question. You hear a lot of criticism of MFA programs as encouraging a sameness in students’ voices and subject matter. (At least, I have.) That may be the case in some places, but I haven’t experienced that here. At the moment, I’m knee deep in revising my thesis, which is a speculative fiction novel, so this is probably not the best perspective from which to figure out how my own writing has been changed by it. I feel like I’m taking more chances in my writing, trying things that I might not have done in the past, and diving deeper when possible. All that being said, spending two years in an environment where I’m surrounded almost daily by other writers who are this generous with their time and feedback and encouragement is probably the nicest thing about it. That, and Vancouver is really a beautiful place to live.

 

JF: I loved both of your books and would love to see Jamie and Prism again. Any plans for future adventures for these guys?

 

NB: I have a short story idea for Kieran wherein Detective Stone drops by for some help on a case he thinks might be similar to the events of Pride Week, but the timing is bad: Sebastien is away at a leather competition, which means Kieran is left wrangling Pilot. Which, as you can imagine, wouldn’t go smoothly. I also have the barest of bare ideas in outline for a sequel, but I don’t think I want to write a novel back-to-back with the same characters. I will say that – for the first time ever – I have a title from step one: Flame.

 

JR: I kind of love them too. When I wrote the ending, I didn’t see how I could possibly continue the story after what I do to them. But, I do have an idea that I’ve been working on sporadically. We’ll see.

 

JF: OK, fellas, last question. If there’s one thing you’d like readers to take away from your book, what would it be?

 

NB: You’re not alone, and there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – wrong with asking for help.

 

JR: I didn’t really have an idea or a message in mind as a takeaway for readers when I wrote this. I think there’s this sort of magic that happens between the reader and the book that is sort of outside the writer’s influence—and that’s how it should be, I think. I just wanted to write something I thought the teenage version of me would have wanted to read, since there weren’t any books that I found at that age that featured gay characters that were suitable for teen reading. I later found wonderful books like Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library, and E.M. Forster’s Maurice. By then I was eighteen and my reaction was like, “We do exist.” 

 

I just hope readers enjoy The Unwanted and consider it time well spent.

The Amazon Trail

 Softball Memories

Lee and her pinkie ring go to PTown

Lee and her pinkie ring go to PTown

We’re glazed in, said a neighbor. Ice, freezing rain, snow, winds. The streets are sheathed in a thin, treacherous layer of ice. In the yard the fat little dog crunches through the ice, then sinks into snow, one paw, two paws, three paws, four. In Sochi, Russia, the Winter Olympics go gayly forward. Heck, they could luge down our hill. “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” Olympic Charter I don’t remember sports quite like that. Here’s what The Federation of Gay Games writes on their web site about gays in sports. “The best gay and lesbian athletes in the world already do compete in the Olympics (with a large majority of them in the closet). But the Olympics, and mainstream sport in general, remain a very difficult place for homosexual athletes to compete, and certainly to compete without hiding their sexual identity. There are countless potential champions who under-perform, or simply don’t participate, in mainstream sport because of homophobia.” When I was a kid, girls couldn’t use the gym very often. Our P.E. teachers taught us demure dances in a classroom, while the boys shouted in the gym, feet and basketballs pounding the wooden floors. I remember once playing baseball in the junior high playground, but never got to bat. Girls who played tennis walked over a mile to courts at a public park and used our own rackets. The gay teachers were, of course, closeted. The straight girls made fun of them. I hero-worshipped them. We got more space and time to do sports in college. We even had a women’s sports association. Again, the teachers were closeted. They had to be in order to get that space and time for women students. As obvious as some of the phys ed students were, they played straight or they left school. Pretty clever, to get a lesbian department head to weed out any gay girl whose profile wasn’t low enough. The male phys ed chair tried to lure me away from the English department, but the pays ed majors avoided my eyes. I stuck with the avant-garde English majors where I felt safer. Later, in my late twenties, I discovered women’s softball. Not to play, but to be a fan at Raybestos Stadium in Stratford, Connecticut where the greatest women’s softball team was located and where the greatest women’s softball player wowed the crowds. Joanie Joyce played with the Raybestos Brakettes, a legendary fast pitch team that won state, national, and international championships. Look up Joan Joyce on the internet; she’s had an amazing career in golf and basketball as well and few people have ever heard of her. I don’t know how I lucked out to live in the same state as The Brakettes and Joyce, but I got to see her play and win there and during the brief professional women’s softball league days in the 1970s. I’d go to those games with a mix of gay and non-gay women co-workers. The small stadium would be half-filled with blue collar straight couples and wildly crushed out gay women. It amazed me that most of the Brakettes’ followers were straight and considered the games family outings. This was a new world for me. I came to enjoy the relaxed late afternoon games and to admire powerhouse player Joan Joyce enormously. She’s 72 now and coaching at a university in Florida, as competitive as ever. She’s still completely gorgeous, a fitting idol for any young athlete. You knew you were in the presence of greatness when you followed her team off the field. The women’s movement came along and proved, once everyone settled down a bit, to have an interest in sports beyond passing Title IX in 1972. Suddenly, we were watching or playing softball instead of talking and talking in consciousness raising groups. The softball fields of the U.S. proved fertile ground for a meshing of lesbian feminists and bar dykes. I went to those games to be part of something. When the lesbian team in New Haven played the straight girls, the dykes could count on  posse of both head dykes and bed dykes to be raucous fans in the bleachers. Head dykes, back then, came out via their feminist politics. Bed dykes just came out. Softball, so to speak, leveled the playing field. Each side had something to teach the other.

Irish Hat

Irish Hat

Today, it’s astonishing for me to see the “free” world taking up the cause of gay Olympians and gay Russians. We haven’t been free about anything gay for very long. Is this just another way of condemning a Communist country or have we at last melted the ice of repression in America and embraced the Olympian tenet of fair play?

Copyright Lee Lynch 2014

PUBLISHED WRITERS & PROCESS WRITERS

by Guillermo Luna, author of The Odd Fellows

luna Postcard.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

“The Future is not ominous but a promise; surrounding the present as a halo” ― John Dewey from Art as Experience.

This past fall (2013) I took a graduate seminar in contemporary art. In the seminar we focused on “Process Art.” Process Art was first documented in the late 1960s in two separate shows. One was called “When Attitudes Become Form” (Bern, 1969) and the other was titled “Procedures/Materials” (New York, 1969). These shows put forth the idea that the act of making art was more important than the final artwork. For example, some Process Artists use transitory materials like water, ice or wax in their artwork and part of the art, may be, watching the water evaporate or watching the ice or wax melt. One of the concepts behind Process Art is that it’s a reflection on the impermanence of life so the experience of creating art is what’s really important – not the end result. One of the other components of Process Art is to create “non-precious” art; something that can’t be sold for a large sum of money.

I contend that many writers are process artists and they don’t even know it.

I see process writers (that’s what I’m going to call them) as individuals who have a clear vision of what they want to write and are unwilling to compromise. That’s not bad, per se, but the process writer conjures up, in me, a particular scene in the film Sunset Boulevard (1950). In the scene, Joe Gilles, the screenwriter has just been handed part of a screenplay that silent film star Norma Desmond has written for her comeback for her return to the screen. Gilles warily looks at the piles of pages that comprise the script and with a sneer in his voice says “there was enough for ten scripts.” [Screenplays are normally 120 pages and one page equals one minute on the screen.] Over the next couple of hours, while he sits and reads it, Gilles devises a plan. He’ll offer to help Norma get her script in order in exchange for some money ― $500 a week. It’s at this point that Joe Gilles turns to Norma Desmond and says, “It’s a little long. We might have to cut some.” Norma’s response is, “I will not have it butchered!” See, if there’s such a thing as a process writer, Norma Desmond would have been a process writer because she wasn’t interested in commercial viability. Who would want to see a 1200 minute silent film about Salome? (I’d rather watch the Nazimova version and that’s only an hour.) Norma Desmond used the act of writing as a release; a way to put down on paper the creativity that was inside her along with how she felt “in her heart.” She was writing for herself. That’s what I imagine process writers doing. Their enjoyment comes from the process and the satisfaction they get from sticking to their vision. The writing is the reward.

What about process writers and the impermanence of life? If we go under the assumption that process writers don’t get published because they’re more interested in remaining true to their artistry (or dream or concept) as opposed to publishing a book ― then the impermanence of life can be linked to their writing being lost due to the fact that there is no published record of their work.

The concepts of transitory materials and non-precious art should be obvious. All writers use transitory materials when they use hand written words on paper or, worse, 1s and 0s in a computer. The idea of non-precious art comes into play when a novel is not validated by failing to be put into the commercial marketplace.

Am I process writer? No, because I definitely had my eyes set on what could be commercial. I kept telling myself the story needed to move fast and it had to be funny ― for the readers’ sake. I wanted the story in my book, The Odd Fellows, to be inhibited by characters that were likeable, attractive and sexy but not too sexy. It’s not that kind of a book. I didn’t want to write a talky book. I wanted to write a book where the images remained in the readers mind not necessarily what the characters’ said. My goal was to write a visual book. Also, I wasn’t interested in creating new ways of writing. Gertrude Stein and James Joyce may be great writers but they’re not the writers most readers select from their bookshelves first.

I try to remind myself of the quote at the beginning of this blog post whenever negative thoughts pass through my brain concerning the future. Recently, I was reading another Bold Strokes Books writer’s blog and she expressed all my fears and apprehensions when she stated she was “stressing” (out) about her “good news” (finally getting published). I too need to accept the happiness that comes with publication and my good fortune. The future will unfold over time and I want to believe “the promise” I have for it will come true. Yet all writers should remember that while getting published is important ― the process of writing is equally as important. As writers we simply have to determine whether we want to be published writers or process writers. It’s a conscious decision writers make every time they are offered constructive advice concerning their writing and either accept it or reject it.

The Odd Fellows 300 DPI

The Amazon Trail

BY LEE LYNCH

“We Always Found Ourselves”

I read the novel Spring Fire as a 15 year old, and the title came to represent, for me, the whole concept of lesbian love. The words of the title itself could have been from a poem by Sappho or H.D. And they certainly summed up Spring Fires tale.

Before I even started reading, the author’s androgynous name, Vin Packer, told me what I needed to hear, and the protagonist of Spring Fire, a woman named Mitch, told the rest.

I would have been crushed if I’d found out Vin Packer was a guy, but we young lesbian readers knew, somehow, she wasn’t. The author understood us too well: our fears, our vulnerabilities and, most of all, our passions. Vin Packer was one of us. And she was a writer. In my book, it didn’t get any better. When I grew up, I wanted to be Vin Packer. I wanted to write Spring Fire.

The cover was not very different in style from others of its time, except for the absence of a robust male. I just about memorized it, eager for clues about gay people and our lives, but these women didn’t look like any dykes I’d ever seen. As Vin Packer wrote in her prologue to the 2004 reissue of Spring Fire, “Lesbian readers were able to look past the cover: to find themselves between the pages. We always found ourselves.”

That was exactly what I experienced as a gay kid, that I’d found myself between the pages of Spring Fire.

I wasn’t alone. No lesbian of my generation forgets her first lesbian books. Last month I asked my first girlfriend, Sue, if she remembered finding Vin Packer’s books, including Spring Fire. Sue e-mailed back, “Those were the first books I laid my hands on from the little bookstore near the 5th Av. Library, when I was riding the subway to and from work in NY.  I couldn’t believe there were books about ‘US!’ I had to hide them from my parents but I / had / those / books!!!!” She added, “Thank Vin Packer for being so daring in those days.”

Not insignificant to a baby dyke, the mildly erotic scenes she wrote were, to say the least, inspiring. How I wished there were more books like this! I sought them out when I was in college and found Valerie Taylor, Ann Bannon and more Vin Packer books, under the name Ann Aldrich, at a newspaper store downtown. It’s not an exaggeration to say these brave and talented women may have saved my life. Reading their books was stepping into an alternate reality where right there, in black and white, women felt as I did.  Just her existence gave the hope and resolve I needed to become a lesbian writer myself.

Under her real name of Marijane Meaker, she writes a little history in the foreword to Cleis Press’s 2004 re-issue of Spring Fire. The original publisher, Gold Medal Books, pre-censored the book. It was 1952 and the editor directed Meaker to give the book an unhappy ending.  He told her the postal service would refuse to handle the book if a lesbian relationship was portrayed positively.

Nevertheless, Vin Packer stamped the malleable me with Spring Fire, just as she stamped and gave voice to thousands and thousands of lesbians fortunate enough to read her work in the years between the World War that connected and emboldened gay people with the years when we rioted and marched and challenged the courts – and changed the world.

Spring Fire was a powerfully written story that has survived despite the obstacles imposed on it by the time in which Vin Packer so courageously wrote it.  The impact of Spring Fire on the baby dykes who would become fomenters, with their brothers, of gay and women’s liberation, cannot be denied, or applauded enough. For her talent, her courage, and her stories, the Golden Crown Literary Society presented its Trailblazer Award to Marijane Meaker and its Classic Award for her first novel, Spring Fire. Ms. Meaker accepted the honors by video, out and proud at age 84, still giving as, 60 years later, she told stories to a ballroom full of lesbian readers and writers.

Mary Jane Meaker’s books were there for me when I needed to see something about my newfound gay life in print. The experience of reading a Vin Packer or Ann Aldrich title was intensely exciting and left me shaken. I hid her books from my mother and from roommates in college, but nothing could stop me from reading them. Their very existence, the author’s defiant act of writing those stories, promised a literature of our own.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2013


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