Archive for September, 2011

Confessions of an Impatient Historian

Jess Faraday 

 

“I felt like poisoning a monk.” — Umberto Eco on why he wrote The Name of the Rose.

 

My first stab at writing a novel came after reading The Name of the Rose. I not only enjoyed the complex, well-constructed mystery, but I loved all the gritty details of simply living at that time. I liked seeing all the different ways life then differed from the life I was leading–and how these circumstances affected how people related to one another and to the world around them. And as is the case with many well-written books, it made me want to write something similar.

But the amount of research required was daunting. That novel (now securely in the trunk) ended up being a swords and sorcery story, because I was afraid of all the research. Do you know how many novels Umberto Eco has written? Six. Over the course of 28 years. Granted, he’s been busy with other projects as well, but who hasn’t? The point is, it takes a long time to get all those little facts just right. And, oh yeah, to weave them into a good story.

Of course it takes just as much work, maybe more, to construct a realistic, well-rounded fantasy world. Which is why I ultimately returned to historicals. The research can be overwhelming, but at least it’s well documented.

Research is time-consuming. It’s tedious. I’m impatient and get bored easily, so the temptation is always to cut corners and move on to the next project. How will anyone know that the flashlight was invented one year after my story is set? Will they care that this particular word came into use a decade later and on a different continent?

 

Oh yes. They will care. And if they don’t know, they’ll look it up. And then they’ll call you on it. Publicly.

Many readers of historicals are also armchair historians. And many live to find the anachronistic flashlight.

After Porcelain Dog was published, I began to review historicals for the review site Speak Its Name (http://www.speakitsname.com). It didn’t take too long for the books to divide themselves into True Historicals and Costume Dramas. True Historicals demonstrate intimate familiarity with the customs, beliefs, systems, and technologies of the given time period. Really, really good ones let the story arise from these circumstances, rather than beginning with a plot and altering the times to suit it.

Costume dramas, on the other hand, generally have horses, frock coats, and a breathtaking lack of interest in reality.

Of course if people didn’t enjoy them, there wouldn’t be so many published year after year. And far be it from me, a mere genre writer, to tell anyone what they should enjoy. If I made my own comfort reading list public, probably my dog wouldn’t even stick around.

But as a writer, it’s teeth-gnashingly frustrating to inch along, ensuring the historical accuracy of every letter, while some writers churn out three or four costume dramas a year. As an impatient writer, it’s torture.

Sometimes I fantasize about saying the heck with all the research, and calling it Alternate History.

But then I’d not only have to worry about what did happen, but about what realistically could have happened. And if you think armchair historians love to pick a nit, you’ve never kicked it with armchair alternate historians.

The thought of it makes me want to poison a monk.

The Amazon Trail

Me and Mr. Astaire

At age fourteen, I got an English Racer for my junior high school graduation. Seven months later, I came out. The timing was great.

I named my bike Mr. Astaire. Lightweight, nimble, quick, Mr. Astaire was a handsome blue and decidedly debonair. I kept him tuned up and shiny. Saturdays, my father would put him in the backseat of our 1950s Hudson, and drive from Queens out to Locust Valley on Long Island where Grandma and Grandpa Lynch lived. I loved the smell of his thin tire next to my face and held onto his spokes. Instead of hanging around Grandma’s house, so bored I’d read their “Saturday evening Posts” and “Readers Digests,” I was out of there.

By the next February, Suzy and I found that there was a lot more to explore in life than geography. We’d met midway through seventh grade and become best friends. We lived a long walk or two bus rides away from each other, so we usually got together downtown and went off on our adventures from there. That was before we wanted privacy.

My legs got strong from biking up hills. My arms got strong from lifting Mr. Astaire up the stairs to Suzy’s apartment. In spring, especially, I reveled in the rides back and forth to Suzy’s under the blossoming trees, across carpets of pink petals. In summer the dogwoods blossomed white. I’d whiz down the hill at 147th Street, then turn into the side streets of single family homes. Or I’d ride through corridors of six-story apartment buildings, past church and synagogue, school and blocks of stores.

They weren’t just about young love, these journeys. For so many years I’d escaped from reality through the sedentary joy of books. I loved to run, but could only do that for so long. I loved to walk, but, somehow, telling a hovering mother you were going out for a long walk didn’t pass muster. Going for a bike ride, though – there was no arguing that. It was a time-tested, acceptable activity. It evoked a Norman Rockwell innocence and turned urban danger into bucolic pastime.

I’d meet Suzy at the park and we’d take the less populated paths so we could hold hands or just be together, she walking her Collie, me wheeling Mr. Astaire. Sure, I
still explored neighborhoods and stopped to write descriptions of falling leaves or drifted snow. Sometimes, I’d lock up my bike and drink egg creams with Suzy at the soda fountain near her house. Mostly, I didn’t go out to Locust Valley anymore, but stayed in the city so I could be with my lover and learn to be a lesbian.

Suzy’s family tried the West Coast for a year. My parents had forbidden me to see her by then, so I’d bike to a faraway pay phone, having turned my two-dollar allowance into coins, and call her in California. When her family returned, they moved way out to Kew Gardens. The bike ride was long, past Queens College, on busy, pot-holed main roads and over the packed Long Island Expressway. It was scary.

Mr. Astaire went to college with me, Suzy left behind. Eventually he was stolen and replaced with Ganymede. Bicycling wasn’t big back then so I never did have a riding companion. Lovers were usually on campus. Or they were so remote that trains and busses were needed. Later, my little VW bug ferried me to trysts or we’d just move in together. I never had enough stuff to need a U-Haul until I was well into my thirties. Just my bike and many boxes of books, work clothes, favorite mugs, posters and LPs stuffed into the VW.

When Ganymede fell apart I replaced him with a Raleigh Humber that I had for almost 40 years. I’d take off from work just to spend the day wheeling around  neighborhoods with Virginia Woolf, the Raleigh’s name.  I’d purchased her while living in a lesbian-feminist collective and had long ago shed male heroes.

I hadn’t ridden Virginia Woolf in many years when I left Oregon to join my bride-to-be in Florida. I was looking forward to biking in new territory. The movers,
though, misjudged the size of the van and my collection of books and garage sale furnishings. There was no room for my bike. They were towing my car, which
they’d filled to the gills with boxes. My sweetheart and I had rented a van to
drive cross country, but we had four cats, a dog, supplies for us all and my
most fragile belongings stowed in it.

My sweetheart is right here with me, my wife now. Finally, there’s no need to
travel across town. There’s no need to escape. It turns out I enjoy exploring more with her than on my own. It was time to let go of my romance with wandering wheels.

Lee Lynch Copyright 2011

5/11

Recipe for High Camp Crimesolving

By Paul Faraday

It took me years to write The Straight Shooter,
but in reality I spent most of that time doing no writing at all. The whole
idea for Nate Dainty began in the Summer of 2004. I was leaving LA and moving
to live with my boyfriend in Las Vegas. As I packed, I found myself sorting
through items in storage that I’d long forgotten: a romance manuscript I’d
submitted to Harlequin my Freshman year of college (Winner Takes All was the
glossy title!) and several soap scripts I had spent my first months in LA
striving to perfect. It was now easily six years after any attempt at writing
whatsoever, and I suddenly found myself longing for the time when that had been
my lone dream and ambition.
Then I began flipping through my old Nancy Drew
collection, and the thrill of reading those books, back when a child, came
flooding back. Each forty pages, I’d stop to admire the illustrations of
Nancy’s adventure. The hilarity of the captions both amused and warmed me with
a reassuring comfort. One in particular still stands out: “Dripping with
whitish water, Nancy was a strange sight!”. When I completed my move, I
cut out the photos I found most inspiring and framed them in what became a Nancy Drew bathroom.
But back to that day of packing: I took a break of tacos and
margaritas with my good friend Eric, with whom I had moved to LA seven years
before. “I think,” I said, a little dazed, but even more excited,
“I have an idea.”. Even though Eric has been encouraging about all
the different paths I’ve taken, I found this time to be particularly
meaningful.
What I had told Eric was that my idea was to write a campy gay
mystery series modeled after Nancy Drew. But, as I wrote, Nate, Beso and Jorge,
although modeled after those characters from my childhood, came into their own,
so much so that at times I forgot about my original muse. The other elements
fell in naturally: my nostalgic sense of a gay era and time that never came to
fruition, a generation that died too soon, the sassy banter that had filled
those forgotten soap scripts, and the ingredient I kept skimping on in my
writing over that time in LA—- my sense of humor.
When all was said and done,
I knew it wasn’t mainstream, and that it likely wouldn’t pay the rent. But,
typing the final lines, then re-reading the crazed antics my most caffeinated
moments had created, I knew then that I had done something — finally — in
my writing life that I could call my own.

The Amazon Trail

Lee Lynch  POB 1675   Valrico FL 33595  greenhat66@gmail.com

The Amazon Trail

The Butch Sewing Kit

          I don’t know about butch guys, but butch women are a mass of incongruities. I used to know a butch who drove cement trucks for a living and was a minister in her free time. You don’t just drive a cement truck, you’re out there with the boys using your rake and shovel. You don’t just preach from a pulpit, you have the delicate task of counseling the human spirit. I don’t know if she sewed, but if she did, her sewing kit might have been a lot like mine.

One of the first things my wife told me was that she doesn’t sew.  She’s a good cook, she organizes our home, she’ll iron on occasion, but she never sews. That is what dry cleaners are for, is her philosophy. I, on the other hand, have always had a sewing kit. When I moved out west a friend gave me a going away gift that came in a small wicker case something like a lunch box. To this day, I use that thing as my sewing basket.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I make overalls from scratch or sewed my sweetheart’s wedding outfit. Mostly, I repair. I carry so many objects in my pockets, and manufacturers make such flimsy pockets, that I mostly patch up holes in my pant pockets. I have no patience or interest in anything beyond the basic rudiments of needle and thread.

Someone like me should probably master the sewing machine. I do own one, the simplest model I could find. Unfortunately, I was required to take a sewing class and make a skirt in junior high and was so traumatized I have never been able overcome my fear of the contraption. I use it only once a year, to make catnip mice at the winter holidays. That project always transforms me into a grouch, what with thread breaking and bobbins running out and never remembering the order in which one threads a machine. This year should go a bit better, though, as my sweetheart suggested that we purchase pre-wound bobbins. “You think there IS such a thing?” I asked. We raced right out to JoAnn Fabrics and got me a bunch.

Meanwhile, the primary purpose of my little sewing kit is to entangle threads of differing colors from various spools into rainbow jumbles. The pin cushion gets into it too, snagging errant dangles and wrapping them around the heads of pins until the whole collision of stuff is unusable.

My sewing technique is not subtle. My stitching tends to look like an elongated version of the scar on Harry Potter’s forehead. The basting stitch is my specialty. That’s the long loping suture whose purpose is to hold the fabric in place until a more attractive finish can be applied. Except that basting, in my case, is the finished product.

Thimbles are my enemies; I just cannot maneuver with one on, and needles poke through them with ease, so my fingers at times become the pincushions.

Sewing stores make me nauseous, so I use whatever threads and materials I find at garage sales, which leaves me with a basket full of ribbons and binding tape (good for catnip mouse tails), old-fashioned snaps, hooks and eyes, zippers and strips of elastic I have never known how to use; so many buttons I keep them in glass canisters and my wife decorates the house with them, having discovered they’re heavy enough to make great bookends; metal hem holder-uppers or whatever the technical term is (I don’t know to use them); safety pins (thank you, whoever invented safety pins); some kind of marker which could probably be very useful; a needle threader that I’ll probably have to start using now that cataract surgery has eliminated my very useful myopia; and dozens of tiny spools of thread, the kind you take along in your travel bag except for the trip when you tear something and really need one of the colors.

I did buy a bright shiny new-looking hem ripper, which I believe is one of the greatest inventions of all time. It’s unfortunate, but if I’m going to rip out a hem, I’m likely to do it with the heel of a sneaker while jumping from rock to rock across a creek.

I remember learning as a kid that needles were expensive and I was taught never to lose such a precious item. One didn’t waste thread for the same reason. Possibly, that’s why  the most useful tool in my sewing kit, the one I have in spades, the one I turn to for 99% of my repair needs, is not needle or thread, but is the equivalent of the handy dyke’s duct tape: sticky-backed industrial strength Velcro.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2011

September 2011

Accidents Never Happen Trailer

I’m thrilled to share with you the promo trailer for my recent BSB novel ACCIDENTS NEVER HAPPEN. Please feel free to repost, comment/love, help spread the word.
As always, thank you for your friendship and support!
D-MB 🙂
Link for promo trailer:
David-Matthew Barnes is the author of four novels, five screenplays, thirty-six stage plays,
and over one hundred poems. For more info, please visit: www.davidmatthewbarnes.com.

What Are Your Priorities?

by Greg Herren

I don’t know how many times people have said the following to me, but if I  w as given a quarter each and every time, I’d be living on an island sipping a cocktail right now: “I would write if I only had the time.”

Ah, time. I personally am frequently amused by the excuses I will think up not to sit in front of the computer and do my work. “I can’t write with dirty dishes in the sink. I can’t write when I have all this laundry to do. I can’t write with the house a mess. I can’t write when I have all these errands to run. I can’t write because I am just fried from everything I did today. I can’t write with Hezbollah bombing Israel. I can’t write while George Bush is in the White House.”

Pretty much any excuse will work, really. That’s the beauty of writing; we do it usually in the privacy of our home where no one is watching, no one is standing over our shoulder with whip in hand forcing us to do it. And if we don’t have the pressure of a deadline looming—and sometimes even then—all bets are off. (In fact, right now I am trying to think of a reason—any reason— not to write this column.)

But in order to publish, you have to write. Even if its crap. Even if it’s something that no one else will ever see. (Trust me, I have written a lot of stuff that no one will ever see. Ever. Under any circumstance.) Even when you don’t want to do it, you have to sit your ass down at the computer and open a new document and do the goddamned work.

If you want to be a writer, you have to look at it as a job. Whether it’s a part time job or a full time job, if you want to make it, if you want to get published, you need to view it that way. There are so many times you really have to force yourself to do it. Skip Desperate Housewives or whatever the big hit TV show of the moment is and turn on your computer and just do it. How many hours a week do you waste in front of your television set? Cancel two of your TV nights and spend the evening writing instead. There are any number of things you can probably give up to write.

The question is, do you want to?

How badly do you want to be published?

If you don’t want it bad enough to give something up in order to make it happen, then it’s very likely that you won’t. I wanted to be a writer for many years, but was too busy thinking up excuses not to take it seriously rather than coming up with reasons to write. And finally, one day I decided, “this is never going to happen unless I change the way I look at it.”

It stopped being a fantasy and became a reality.

Within a year I published my first story.

Take your writing seriously, and take yourself seriously as a writer.

It’s amazing what a difference that can make.


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