Archive for April, 2013

“Life, Amplified”

By Karis Walsh

I’ve suffered for my art. I had to test drive a Mercedes on the steep and winding McMurray Road in Tacoma, Washington. What a drag! I’ve had to sample a variety of drinks, from scotch to beer to bourbon—including an (admittedly) enjoyable experiment with tequila, limes, and salt. Ouch! And I’ve had to endure a series of short trips to some of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, like the Olympic Peninsula and Cannon Beach and Spokane. Yes, some truly painful experiences. All in the name of research.

But since the time I started writing ImprovisationImprovisation 300 dpia spin-off from my first book, Harmony—my neighbors have been forced to suffer for my art as well because I bought a version of my character’s electric violin for myself. Tina Nelson is a violinist in Andy Taylor’s string quartet and an avid fiddle player who spends evenings in pubs playing her flame-red electric violin. Like Tina and Andy, I play the violin and viola. Unlike Tina and Andy, I don’t play very well, but I adore both instruments. I started with the violin when I was in the third grade, and it quickly became a family joke that everyone would evacuate the house when I started to practice. Luckily for my parents and sister, I rarely chose to do so. I stopped playing after a few years and started again as an adult, adding the viola to my caterwauling repertoire of instruments. The few people who are unfortunate enough to hear me play—including my music teacher and my wine-drinking adult chamber music group—would probably tell you that the last thing I need is to be hooked up to an amplifier when I play. But, using research for Improvisation as an excuse, I gave in to my long-repressed desire and bought a gorgeous maroon Yamaha electric violin.violin

Each book I write transports me to a new universe, and I bridge the two worlds by collecting objects I find in real life that remind me of the fictional one I’m creating. By the time I type “The End,” my desk will be cluttered with these things. This morning, I did a quick inventory of the stuff I’ve gathered since 2010, when I started writing Harmony. I have stacks of research books on a variety of subjects from raptors (for my upcoming novel Wingspan, February 2014) to polo rules and regulations (for Mounting Danger, October 2013). I have piles of sheet music, a tray covered with a collage of sea glass photos, maps from all over the Pacific Northwest, cigar bands, and geometry texts. Even better than these souvenirs from my imaginary voyages are the people I’ve collected along the way. New friends I’ve had the privilege of meeting on the internet and in person. More than royalty checks, more than the print books with my name on the cover, the readers and other authors I’ve met have been the true reward for the time I’ve spent writing and editing my books.

But the favorite inanimate object in my collection is definitely this five-string violin (in case you’re curious, the 5th string is a modified C-string, so I can play either the viola or violin parts). While it doesn’t seem logical to amplify the sounds created by a semi tone-deaf and rhythm-impaired musician, I actually play better when at a higher volume than I do on my acoustic instruments. The tentative, trying-not-to-make-a-mistake player fades away when I’m plugged into my amp. Maybe it’s the forgiving quality of a more rock-and-roll sound, or maybe it’s simply the joy of making music with gusto. Whatever the cause, enthusiasm and delight more than make up for the occasional missed note or awkward phrasing. And, funny as it sounds, the small mistakes and slides and sharp or flat tones don’t make the music sound wrong. They make it sound unique and interesting. This violin has taught me a lesson I plan to apply to my life—no matter whether I’m writing or loving, playing music or pursuing hobbies. What have I learned? To crank up the volume, push past the mistakes, and express myself with passion. To live life amplified.

The Amazon Trail

Crossing America with Two Cats and a Dog (Again)

by Lee Lynch

 

12/28/12: The movers, short of help, were here for 10 hours. We are exhausted.

12/29/12: We’re in Moss Point, Mississippi, near the Trent Lot International Airport. Be still my heart. Got in after leaving 3 hours late. Our cat Poppins had a bad trip on his calming medication. I rushed him to the emergency clinic while my sweetheart finished stuffing our little 2003 Matrix. The vet, (who appeared to be a dyke!) pronounced our man of the house to be okay. Tonight at the motel Poppins managed to lock himself in the bathroom, but I was able to pick the lock to get him out. Otherwise all is well except for my sweetheart’s aching body. She did all the heavy lifting. We have a king size bed and it accommodates all 5 of us comfortably.

From my college roommate: Oy vay. And locked in the bathroom, on top of it. And in Mississippi, on top of that!

Bob Dylan: “Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.”

12/30: Tonight we’re in Columbus, Texas, in a La Quinta, the lap of luxury. Gave Poppins ½ dose and he crooned all nine driving hours. We noticed a tire was low on air and struggled mightily with an air machine. My clever sweetheart figured the thing out. The store clerk admired my COEXIST button with such fervor that I gave it to her. She showed me her pentagram necklace and whispered that she’d been Christian for a long time, but it never felt right so now she is Pagan. My sweetheart thinks we can make it to Las Cruces on the tire; I think if we try it’ll blow while we’re in the left lane of traffic passing a truck and doing the speed limit: 85. That pretty much sums up the differences between my sweetheart and me and why we complement each other so well.

 

12/31/12: It’s 10:45 pm central time here in Columbus, Texas and my sweetheart, due to balky-middle-of-nowhere-internet reception, is still working at her job. Our tire looked to be in fine fettle – until it wasn’t. All two of the tire stores in town had already shut down for New Year’s Eve. Triple A was willing to tow us to a closed garage. What a wonderful decision staying put was, perfect for New Year’s. We’d wanted to get to Las Cruces to try a recommended restaurant, but would have fallen asleep in our salsa. Slept late instead of having said tire poked and prodded. I crossed the highway to reserve a table for dinner at Nancy’s Steak House, the apparent pride of Columbus, but the yee-haw/snooty attitude of the host and hostess sent us to Subway. There, I was called sir for the third time since we entered Texas and this time with a mean, steady glare. I had two lovely walks in muddy ditches along Highway 71. I couldn’t take Beastie, our 10 pound dog, as I was fruitlessly hunting kitty litter in every convenience store within walking distance. But none of that matters; we’re so happy to be together in whatever circumstances, making this journey to our little yellow house on the hill.

Highlights of the day: 36 hours in a hotel room with my sweetheart and, while she napped, our kitty Bolo, for the first time in all her 9 years, slept on my lap.

From my Best Butch: Happy New Year dear friends. I should have warned you about how very small Columbus is.
1/1/13! Nobody sold tires but a Walmart several exits up the road. So much for boycotting Wallys. Made it through Houston without being pulled over once,

unlike the trip east, when we were stopped twice in Texas. Maybe it was the rainbow stripe? El Paso is fascinatingly awful. Over the border, Mexico is a reflection of El Paso. Bolo was all upset today because she pooped in her carrier. We stopped and changed her bedding and she calmed down.

Highlight of the day? A call to our Texas pals. It pulled at our heartstrings not to see them.

1/2/13: We’ve arrived in Blythe, CA. The drive through the desert was, as always, breathtaking. I pointed out every cholla, prickly pear, saguaro, yucca. My sweetheart pointed out my favorite: tumbleweed! Crows the size and wingspan of sea gulls everywhere on the desert today. And a raspberry-orange sunset that wouldn’t stop. Poppins, on full meds, was silent 3/4 of the trip. Bolo tried to make up for him, but lacked Poppins’ endurance. They are pleased that we finally found them a room with a bed they can hide under. We allowed ourselves a stop at a New Mexico tchokes shop where Beastie was mistaken for a miniature Husky. Huh? We tried In and Out Burger, a California institution. Good burger, fries of molded cardboard. But my sweetheart ordered our toaster oven and microwave today. We will soon be enjoying home-nuked meals! The weather forecasts indicate that we may be able to squeak through the storms to get home Saturday. As the LaQuinta shower curtains say, we’ll be waking up on the bright side!

Highlights of the day?  Our friend Sue is going to turn on our hot water. We’re hearing from so many friends and relatives cheering us along the way.

The Beeg: Good to hear that you’ve made it to the west coast.

Me: Drunk on West Coast air, West Coast water, and not being called sir.
1/3/13: Today we did the Bakersfield, California hills, with their brown rolls and folds like an imprint of their creation. Traveling is seductive; at a certain point I never want it to end. We’re in Tracy, California. Mrs. Bundt, our ditzy GPS, led us the very long way to our motel and didn’t know the 210 was finished so took us through some ugly traffic, but my sweetheart used the HOV lanes to compensate. Meanwhile, my sweetheart’s Good Humor pop melted in her purse, Bolo tried to tear her plastic kennel to shreds, Poppins’ pill wore off way too soon, and his bed tipped over. Otherwise it was a glorious day. Tonight I am fretting about the wintry mountain passes; a friend in Washington State is feeding us weather information.

My high school friend: So glad to hear you are nearing the Promised Land! What an amazingly gutsy odyssey. A re-vision of the 60s road trip.

Me: Yeah, but Kerouac didn’t travel with 2 cats & a dog.

High school: Yes – my point precisely!

1/4/13: We’ve arrived safely in Roseburg, Oregon. My sweetheart drove the California passes and I drove the Southern Oregon mountains. It was a brilliantly sunny and dry day. The roads were clear.

Highlights of the day: drinking really cold good-tasting water out of the tap, seeing Mt. Shasta, and seeing Jackie, who came bearing gifts – and adoration for Beastie. We missed the meeting place, but Jackie missed it too and we found one another making u-turns at the same small trailer park. So West Coast.

1/5/13: The Pacific Ocean and our little yellow forever home.

1/6/13: Poppins wakes us at 5 a.m. yowling as if he is still in the car. Bolo is exploring the empty cabinets, pulling the doors open and letting them go with a bang. The dog needs to go out. We’re happy.

 

 

Copyright Lee Lynch 2013

It’s called Imagination…

BY SHERI LEWIS WOHL

I love books. I love writing them. I love reading them. I love holding them. I love talking about them. There pretty much isn’t anything I dislike about books. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer and the day I sold my first manuscript was huge. Did I get a big contract? A giant advance? A whirlwind release tour? Nope. Did it matter? Not in the least. My dream of becoming a writer came true and that single reward was the only thing that counted.

I still get just as much satisfaction out of writing books. I get better at it with each one. I become a little more successful with each one. The work is hard, long, and sometimes tedious. The satisfaction of having put in the work immense. But the biggest joy is talking with people who read my books. I love their enthusiasm, their comments, their willingness to talk with the shy writer who usually hangs out in the back of the room.

That said, there’s one question I get asked routinely that always has me scratching my head. Oh, I get the typical—where do you get your ideas? Why do you write about vampires? Who is your favorite character? All standard questions for a novelist and all easily answered. But there’s another question that pops up again and again:  Have you done all the sex you write about?

That one makes me smile. Why, you ask? Well, as I typically answer that particular question with a question: “At least one person dies in every single book I’ve written and no one ever asks me if I’ve killed someone so why do you think I’ve tried every sexual encounter I write about?” It boils down to one single thing regardless of what I’m writing about: imagination. It’s the guiding force in every book and every scene. It’s what makes writing and reading so very much fun.

Today, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s true I haven’t tried everything I write about when it comes to sex in my books but it’s possible, just possible, I write from a combination of experience and imagination. I’ll let you decide which is which. Let your imagination soar.

Sheri Lewis Wohl’s latest release, Scarlet Revenge, is available now at www.BoldStrokesBooks.comScarlet Revenge 300 DPI

Learn more about Sheri at www.sherilewiswohl.com, www.sherilewiswohl.wordpress.com, www.sheri26.blogspot.com, and on Facebook and Twitter

Cruisin’

Julie Cannon is a romance writing marvel. She has ten novels to her name and more on the way. Listen in for a sneak peek at her latest, I Remember.

Paying it Forward

BY RACHEL SPANGLER

My wife, Susie, gave me my first lesbian fiction novel when I was nineteen years old.  It was Rita Mae Brown’s Venus Envy.  I thought it was pretty interesting, and I wished there were a lot more people taking a crack at lesbian love stories, but our local bookstore had no section for such novels.  I never saw them in grocery stores or on course syllabi in any of the English classes. None of my college friends had ever read any of them either. As a child of the Internet age, it probably seems odd to say I never looked there, but I didn’t think to search for something I didn’t know existed.

Then, my junior year in college I got involved in the PRIDE group at Illinois State University. Part of my job was to make sure our office was staffed five hours a week, which involved me sitting on a folding chair in a tiny cubicle in the basement of the Student Services Building. No one stopped by because virtually no one knew the space existed, and aside from some old posters and out-of-date textbooks, we didn’t have anything to offer them. We didn’t even have room for them to sit down. Most of the time I did homework or stared at the walls. Then one day I arrived to find a box of books on the floor. The student in the cubicle next to ours said, “Two women dropped those off. They don’t have room for them anymore.”

I dragged the book into the office thinking that we didn’t really have room for them either. They looked old and musty, probably more textbooks from days when we were called “sexual inverts.” I picked one up and scanned the back cover to realize I couldn’t have been more wrong.  They were novels, novels by women I’d never heard of, women with names like Vin Packer and Ann Bannon. Some of them had comic-book style covers and comical titles labeling their subjects as “stranger” or “of the shadows.”  I had been an English minor and a Women’s Studies minor for years, but I had no idea what I was looking at.  I had no idea lesbian pulp fiction had ever existed. I sat on the floor and dug deeper into the box until I came across some mellower titles.  I read the backs of each of them until I found one about a cabby who fell for an Ivy-league college student. The book apparently told their story across the backdrop of the budding women’s movement.

I began reading Lee Lynch’s Toothpick House right there on the floor, and that’s how I finished it.  I felt like she’d written it for me, right now, instead of the year I was born. I couldn’t believe stories like that had been around my whole life and no one had told me about them. I went through the entire box.  Week by week I taught myself the classics, or at least the ones I had access to.  I also began to write about them. I wrote reflections on them in my English classes; I wrote analyses of them for my Women’s Studies classes; I even wrote a term paper for a political science course on their role in raising public awareness. As I did my research, I found more books, newer ones, ones being published right then. I read everything I could get my hands on. I bought as many as I could afford until I was literally paying for them with dimes and nickels. Then when I ran out of books to read, I started to write my own. I wrote during my free time; I wrote during my office hours; I during my classes. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Years later I ended up back at Illinois State University with Lee Lynch. I sat in one of my old classrooms listening to one of my heroes talk to a group of women at the National Women’s Music Festival, and I realized I’d come full circle. I’d signed a contract with Bold Strokes Books to publish that book I’d written in these classrooms.  I was sitting alongside the author who’d introduced me to a genre I’d come to consider my own.  As I listened while she graciously answered questions and offered advice to budding writers, I wondered how I could ever repay her or those women who’d shared her books with me.

Since then I’ve written five more books, and I’ve come to consider Lee a very dear friend and mentor, but I still don’t know the names of those women who left the books outside that basement office in the Student Services Building.  I’ve come to realize I’ll never be able to repay those debts I incurred at Illinois State University.  There’s no way to pay someone back for showing you your life’s work, but for the first time in my career I feel like I’m in a position to pay it forward.

Last year, the administration of Illinois State allowed for the creation of an LGBT Center.  It’s a real office, a space where students can gather, filled with bookcases, tables, and plenty of chairs. It’s a place where students and faculty can plan events like the one I attended last fall to share my work with Redbirds old and new.  I choked up when I saw all the books lining the shelves and thought of all the students to come who would finally get to know them for the treasures they are. The only problem is that the center is not currently funded, meaning it has no assigned staff, no programing budget, and very little opportunity for students to access the space. What the point of having an LGBT student center if no one gets to use it? So I’ve stepped into leading a fundraising campaign for the center.

This is my chance to give back, not to Lee Lynch or to the women who shared their books with me, but to every student who’s never had a chance to experience the treasures they shared with me. I would be deeply honored if those of you who love gay and lesbian literature would join me in helping to make sure the books we love are accessible for the next generation of readers by making a donation for any amount here http://lgbtq.illinoisstate.edu/giving.  And if you’ve got suggestions for other ways to reach out to the readers of the future, I’d love to hear about them in the comment sections of this blog.


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