Archive for December, 2012

The Amazon Trail

Switching on My Lights

by Lee Lynch

It wasn’t quite Hanukah, Kwanza, Christmas, Solstice or any winter celebration yet, but the karaoke crew was singing the songs of the season. There was an Elvis impersonator, all in black, with fuzzy dark L-shaped sideburns, who, appropriately, sang “Blue Christmas” in a very decent deep voice.

My sweetheart’s beloved dad had just died, much too young, and we were in his coastal Florida town where she’d arranged a memorial service. She was holding herself together with baling wire and a piece of pink ribbon that came on a sympathy basket.

The plan was to get together for dinner with family, but preparations took so long we arrived in town late and the family was ready only for slumber. We had a choice between keeping everyone awake while we ate the family’s traditional Christmas Spaghetti, or letting them crash for the night and finding some late night joint on our own.

The cheap motel we were at boasted a little place called Jinnie’s Grille. It looked, through the glass door, dark and closed. That was my mood: dark and closed. Besides my father-in-law’s passing, big changes, albeit good ones, were looming in our lives.

Inside, Jinnie’s was dark, but definitely open. We sat at the bar and ordered from the minimal menu. That didn’t matter, it suited my mood of emotional numbness. I’d planned a day of writing, but hadn’t found the creative spark I needed.

Who wouldn’t be depressed? I hardly knew my sweetheart’s dad but he never expressed a qualm when my sweetheart told him who she’d fallen in love with. He welcomed me to the family like I was Prince Charming come on my white horse to bring his daughter all the happiness he could wish for her. He walked her down the aisle to me.

Each holiday we spent with him, it was the same. He was charming and gracious and embraced me literally and figuratively. Now he wouldn’t be with us anymore.  It’s a comfort to know that he was pleased his three daughters were settled, happy and fulfilled. He could enter the afterlife and report to my sweetheart’s mom that he’d stayed until the last of their chicks was safe in her own nest.

So there we were, at Jinnie’s gloomy Grille, my sweetheart devastated but not letting it show, and me glum as a grinch on the barstool beside her, no help at all. When the karaoke music started, loud enough to fill Yankee Stadium, I winced, cringed, was ready to flee.

My sweetheart was nonplussed by this surprise. With a smile, she whispered, “Everyone’s old in Florida.”

I looked around. Certainly, everyone was old at Jinnie’s, including the lone barmaid/waitress, who served dinners and drinks at the pace of a twenty-year old.

“This place is incredible,” my sweetheart said.

Without hope of incredulity on my part, I lifted my eyes to the singer, a woman who looked, under her makeup and fancy silver dress, to be in her sadly shriveled dotage. She sang an oldie – they all did – but with a voice so full-toned and professional, I had to look up again.

As I did, my eye was caught by the web of white lights strung along the walls. They sparkled in the gloom. Then I saw the framed pictures: Frank Sinatra, theater posters from the forties and fifties, quaint old liquor ads. Jinnie, whoever she was, had decorated with pre-boomer nostalgia. The karaoke singers were singing the tunes of that era. A big guy with a gut got up and belted out a lively Santa song. Someone else offered more traditional Christmas music. They were backed by recordings of big bands, swing era style.

“Hey,” I said, “this place reminds me of the basement rec room bars my parents’ friends built.” They were the hits of their times. Dark paneled walls. Short bars that were otherwise exact replicas of the places the veterans frequented during R&R.

“You could write stories about this place,” said my sweetheart.

And suddenly I was. This was what the holidays were like for old Floridians. I realized that the long table over on the side was filled with an informal karaoke club. One by one the singers performed and returned to the tables, or to tables of two or four, or to the bar, for hugs and hurrahs. They did this once a week or once a month, and prepared in between.

At the holidays they gathered and celebrated in song, lonesome strangers in this big gloomy world who found one another at Jillie’s and formed a karaoke family.

My mood turned cheerful and loving. My sweetheart had, once again, switched on my lights. I wanted to write about the one single woman at the bar, the short-haired one who was dressed in professional businesswoman clothes. A black dress, a red jacket, silver hair. Who answered everyone who greeted her with the words, “I’ve been traveling. And,” she added in a quieter voice, “traveling.” Her sigh wasn’t audible, but it was Florida-dive loud in the droop of her shoulders. Even she, older but not retired, separate but known at Jinnie’s, was drawn to the flame of this air-conditioned Florida dive.

It was a strange, unexpected refuge in an unutterably sad time for my sweetheart and me.  Holiday lights in a bar. Happy songs of celebration rising with glasses of spirits. People like us refusing darkness, reviving light.

 

Copyright Lee Lynch 2012

Please don’t take my filthy erotic horror personally

BY DANIEL W. KELLY

In a recent interviewwith Bold Strokes Books, I was asked how much of myself can be found in my characters. I admitted that I might infuse a character with a specific asset or flaw of mine, but no character is a facsimile of me. For instance, my leading man Deck Waxer has some of the same 40-something complaints as me (knees pop when he stands up, back aches when he gets out of bed), but he’s not me. If we met, we’d get along really well because we have some things in common. But not everything.

So it was very disconcerting to me when a friend of mine (straight, but not narrow) began reading my new novel CombustionCombustion 300 DPI and before even getting past the prologue, posed this question to me in an IM: You think cum rags are hot?

I actually had no idea why I was being accused of such a thing. I didn’t even remember talking about cum rags and had to go refresh my memory. Indeed, there is an instant when a servant picks up cum rags while collecting the laundry in his masters’ bedroom where they worked him over the night before. My friend was completely fixated on the fact that I referenced them and concluded I had done so for erotic purposes.

In hopes of ending this five-minute conversation about me mentioning cum rags in my book for one second, I began making up reasons why I did so, and they’re not half bad. I proposed that while I don’t particularly think cum rags are hot, they stimulate the libidos of other gay men. I explained that cum rags drive home the intensity of the sex through the reality of the nasty aftermath. I pointed out that the cum rags further define the master/servant roles in and out of the sexual arena; the servant already satisfied the lustful needs of his masters, and now he has to suffer (aka: relish) the humiliation of cleaning up after them. I was sure I’d gotten through to my friend.

A little while later I get this IM: Are colonics supposed to be erotic? Here we go again. Rather than defend the sexual significance within my story, I simply replied that it’s a fetish for some, which actually is the point of its presence in Combustion; Deck Waxer meets a bevy of unique characters who eroticize various acts. I’ve never done most of the things described in the book. I swear it! It’s fiction. It’s fantasy. I wondered how my friend was going to get past the foot fucking or the dairy session with Milkman Stan. I even thought of prescribing The Pervert-Impaired Guide to Reading Combustion, a manual I’ve written for those who just want to experience the horror and not the sex.

It seems that my friend was transferring every thought and action in the book on to me, assuming that because I wrote it, it’s what I do, feel, and think. This is the very reason I tell my family to avoid reading my books at all costs. I might have to give my friends the same advice if this becomes an issue. I don’t write fiction to invite readers into my head—I write it to invite them into my imagination.

Should we equate the art with the artist, thereby hampering our appreciation of the art or our opinion of the artist? I don’t assume Stephen King enjoys pouring pigs’ blood over the heads of awkward schoolgirls. If I like an Eminem song that doesn’t have any gay slurs in it, I buy a used copy of his CD so that he doesn’t get a penny from me! Just because Mapplethorpe shoved a bullwhip up his ass for a photo…. Okay, bad example. But you get the point.

Granted, there are extreme cases in which it’s hard to separate the two. Seeing Joan Crawford being tortured by Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, I fleetingly think “Now you know how your daughter feels when she sees a wire hanger in the closet!” Watching the Jeepers Creepers ghoul hungering for the flesh of pretty young boys, my mind strays to the fact that director Victor Salva was found guilty of molesting the young actor from his horror film Clownhouse. Great flick, but try compartmentalizing art and the artist watching that film with this piece of knowledge….

I’ve also been just as guilty of reading an author friend’s book and assuming he was into the extreme sex acts that he was describing. In my defense, he wrote in first person, and I often find it hard not to read a first person novel like it’s a diary. This is the reason I usually stick to writing third person. I prefer to observe my characters, not become them, which is what it feels like I’m doing when I say “I” and “me” over and over and over again, as in this blog post, which is all me. My characters are not.

Ten’s My Limit

by Ali Vali

The holiday season is here and it always brings back great memories of not only childhood, but the times C and I have shared in our twenty-eight years together. Long time relationships not only work because of love, understanding, patience, and commitment—they work because she knows I really don’t like wrapping anything, and my limit of hearing Here Comes Santa Claus, White Christmas, and other holiday favorites is about ten. On the other hand, she hates the post office, the mall on Friday and Saturdays, people who put confetti in their Christmas cards, and stringing lights. I don’t particularly like any of the items on her list either, but gladly do them so I don’t have to deal with wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows.

The one thing I do love is shopping for her. I’ve had very few misses through the years. Sometimes she’s loved the gift, but it was that I didn’t wrap that peeved her a bit, especially when she hands over one that looks like the package you pay the nice elderly woman at the mall $20.00 to do for you and it takes her until Easter to complete. Anyway, a gift she gave me in 1999 was the first time I thought she’d lost her mind. Was it the flat screen television I’d had my eye on, the one that I’d cut out ads for and pointed out every time we were at the store together? No!

The box was way too small for that, and when I made it through the exquisite ribbon and handmade bow (C went to Christmas college, and I’m not kidding about that) I found the first two Harry Potter books. Never mind that the year before, Green Eggs and Ham was on my wish list. I’d lost my original copy in a flooding incident when I was eight and I’d never gotten over it, so she bought me a copy along with the other small children on our list. The guy at Books a Couple (I call it this because they never seem to have anything I’m looking for) asked if I wanted the one written by Dr. Seuss. Since I was over my limit on White Christmas I demanded the one written by Anne Rice. That’s the version where the ham is green because vampires don’t eat ham thus it’s gone bad.

Back to Harry. I opened that box and I believe the words out of my mouth were, “Is this like the year I bought my brother the bald-guy Chia pet?” It was a gag gift I totally pulled off with a straight face until late that afternoon when I gave him his real gift.

I apologized to her later that night when I’d made it through quite a few pages since there was no new television to watch. When book four appeared, Books a Couple had a promotion where you got a pass to pick up your book at the stroke of midnight the day it came out. No way I was missing that, so I went and enjoyed the kids in costume and how they immediately started reading when the clerk handed them Harry’s latest adventure.

A woman there with her seven- and ten-year-old sons asked C which child was hers, and she had a wonderful time pointing to the geek holding her pass fifty small children back from the register. We laughed about it on the way home and talked about what a wonderful thing J.K. Rowling had done by creating characters that had driven children away from computer games and back to reading. Imagination is priceless, especially the kind you find on the page, and the real gift C gave me that year. Not so much getting me back into reading, I love to read, but it made me wonder if I could write something longer than a business letter.

When I decided to find out, it started my writing career, to the extent that I actually allowed someone to read the stories that ran through my head. The first ones, I admit, were rough, but with a little practice and with great editor Shelley Thrasher, I tend to make fewer mistakes. In every manuscript I manage new ones I sometimes don’t think possible, but some of my earlier ones I definitely have learned from and try not to repeat. I sometimes picture Shelley with her great red feather pen shaking her head, and thinking, “Vali has been hitting the heavily spiked eggnog again,” while she slashes another line in bloodred ink.

The thing about writing, though, is once you start, you open the door to these characters who populate the books, and it’s hard to cram them back into their lockbox in your brain once they’re loose. Some are more demanding than others, like Ms. Casey, but they all come to me in different stages of being with only a bit of background.

In the newest book, The Dragon Tree Legacy bsb_the_dragon_tree_legacy_small__90570came because of the actual tree. The dead remnant of this old oak on the side of the road on the way into New Orleans has been there as long as I can remember. I named it the dragon tree because in profile it resembles a dragon reared up as if scaring off a potential threat. The only green along its trunk and remaining limbs are the vines that have taken up residence, and when storms like Katrina and Gustav come ashore, I hold my breath until I make it around the curve. Even Katrina and her devastation hasn’t brought it down, so it deserved its own story.

This was the first time I actually came up with the title before I wrote a word, so I wanted the characters to fit the strength and perseverance of that tree. Wiley and Aubrey are a different kind of couple from the beginning, not only because of their situation, but because Wiley is somewhat detached emotionally. A wingnut of sorts who’s become a tad unhinged and has lethal combat skills. The challenge was to take someone like that and make her an integral part of a romance that didn’t involve a love affair with her rifle and assorted weapons.

It turned out that Wiley and Aubrey did have a story to tell that I believe even the tree is happy about, and it tackles New Orleans right after Katrina. A tough time for everyone who lived through it, but like Wiley and Aubrey and their relationship, if you can make it through the tough times you come out stronger after you’ve picked up the broken pieces and put them back in some kind of order. It’s inevitable to fight until you get it right when it’s something or someone you love.

So when I look back now those “children’s books” really did inspire me to pick up my pen. Because I did I’ve found mobsters, lawyers, hotel owners, tennis players, snipers, and the like living in my head, and it doesn’t require intense psychoanalysis. What a blast it’s been ever since, considering the people I’ve met, the emails I’ve gotten, and the friends I’ve made. Up to now, it’s been a great time and I’m looking forward to whatever stories come next.

For now my radio is tuned to ESPN, the post office made me turn around and head back to the car after I drove around for thirty minutes to find a parking spot, our Christmas tree lights work until the bottom two branches, C and I both forgot and opened the card from the woman who always puts small snowflake shaped confetti in her card, much to the cat’s delight, and she promised to wrap everything I picked up at the mall this weekend. As I stood in the checkout line at Macy’s on Saturday, Wiley and Aubrey gave me their list of things I forgot to say in their book. They’d given about twenty-six rational story points for the sequel they’re hoping for next Christmas, when the lyrics to Jingle Bells broke through my subconscious and parked itself there until Sunday evening, when in a fit to save my sanity I turned the radio on and replaced the torture with Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

It was then that I realized it was Cain’s way of saying, don’t forget about me. I might be more sympathetic to the Feds next go round. If you’d like a hint to make your shopping easier, with no chance of carol overload, head on over to www.boldstrokesbooks.com and buy everyone on your list a book. Don’t forget to throw a couple in for yourself.

The other thing to consider, on the off chance that the Mayans are right, is a trip to the grocery store or favorite bakery. C suggests having a cheesecake or whatever your favorite dessert is on hand so you might enjoy yourself before the meteorite hits the Earth. Since I believe the guy who did the Mayan calendar simply got tired, or it was his idea of a giant Chia pet gag, enjoy the season White Christmas and all.

C and I wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a prosperous New Year. Above all else, may you be blessed with happiness, health, and love.

The Power of Storytelling

By Shelley Thrasher

Once upon a time, at a family picnic, my teenage sister Tami and I sat on a homemade quilt under towering pines and discussed synchronicity. I was fresh from studying theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and she was in love with Paul McCartney and the revolutionary Beatles. Neither of us had a very sophisticated understanding of the concept, but we finally concluded that events in the present can influence not only the future but the past. That theory underlies my reason for writing my novel The Storm.

I wanted my grandmother and her fifth son, Wendell, to have a happier life, so I took pieces from the past and made up a story in which they did. Will it work, you ask. I have no idea. But telling their stories has certainly influenced mine.

I never much believed in Santa Claus. It was evident early on that my parents sacrificed to buy me the baby doll I didn’t want and the Roy Rogers pistols I did. But Santa Claus and synchronicity are similar: if you believe in them, they’ll affect your life in positive ways.

My mother and I have never talked a lot, though we’ve spent hours working side by side, mostly in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up. However, when she started telling me her family stories, and I began to really listen to them, we found a topic of conversation that we still haven’t exhausted.

We spent a glorious week once in Bowdon, Georgia, just the two of us researching family history and even meeting a distant cousin. My great-grandparents left there right after the Civil War, so we retraced their wagon tracks and stopped by a courthouse in northern Louisiana, which led us to the remains of a cotton mill in Arizona, Louisiana that my great-grandparents had bought after the war yet failed to make a go of. The next year we even organized a family trek there, with three of my mother’s brothers and her two sisters.

Many years later, after I finally completed my novel, I began to do pre-publication readings. I’ve always thought of myself as a very shy, private person, so reading my work aloud terrified me, as it does many new authors. I asked one of my cousins, Mary Beth, a former speech teacher and professional public speaker, for help. She coached me. I needed a Web site, and Mary Beth’s sister, Jo, with a degree in computer science, became my Web mistress. Connie, my partner, has been beside me every step of the way.

I did a reading in Dallas this summer, and to my surprise, six of my new friends from Tyler attended, as did two of my old friends from Ft. Worth. Three of my old friends have asked me to speak to their book clubs after The Storm is published in December, and my BSB friends have been nothing but supportive. In January, I’ll visit Jewel, a lesbian book club in Dallas, to discuss my writing with my new and old friends there. Then I’ll be off to Palm Springs and Austin for other presentations this spring.

Connie has introduced me to Facebook, which has multiplied my circle of friends, and my editor Ruth is teaching me to Tweet on Twitter and fight online pirates who may try to steal my book. I’m even finding a few hours to fashion a new novel, based on some time I spent in Paris during the 1970s.

Writing the stories my mother has shared with me and the ones I’ve made up to complement hers has certainly influenced my future, but has it altered the past? Will the happy ending I’ve given my grandmother and my uncle somehow change the sadness in the life she and he both endured?

I like to think it will, just as writing a novel has changed my life and brought me closer to both family members and old/new friends, and to my more public self.


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