Archive for July, 2013

Am I an Author Yet?

BY VK POWELL

 

Who hasn’t asked themselves this question? I’ve struggled with it since my first short story was published. Anyone who writes can be called a writer, but is there some special right of passage for becoming an author? I wrote three short stories for anthologies before my first novel came out. Did that mean I was an author? Some said yes, others no.

 

When I submitted my first manuscript, To Protect and Serve, to Bold Strokes Books, my editor said, “You have the bones for a good story, but they’re strewn all over the road.” Not encouraging words. I worked through the grueling editing process and when the book came out, I was sure I wasn’t an author—too much to learn.

 

The one liner for my second book, Suspect Passions, said it all: the truth is rarely pure and often painful. This was my first, and to date only, romance without an intrigue component. Writing two characters falling in love without a suspense driver to help them along was daunting. I developed a greater respect for romance writers and further convinced myself that I wasn’t an author and might never be. Strike two.

 

Books three (Fever), four (Justifiable Risk), and five (Haunting Whispers) Haunting 2were exercises in what not to do when writing a novel: unnecessary point of view shifts, passive verbs, long introspective passages, telling the story, clichés, filtering, repetitive words…you get the picture. So did I. It was becoming clear that I might never be a real author. After book three, I chose a nice round number as the final gauge of my skill—number six.

 

In mid-August my sixth book,Exit Wounds 300 DPI Exit Wounds, will be released. As the time draws nearer, the less certain I am about reaching my goal. What’s so magical about six? Do I feel any different, any better qualified to tell my stories than I did at number one? Maybe my craft skills have improved (I sure hope so or all that painful editing and my editor’s hard work would be in vain), but I don’t feel any more capable.

 

So, I’ve decided to put yet another carrot out there on a stick—I’ll be a real, honest to goodness, bona fide, qualified, certified author when I receive an award for my work. For some reason I now believe the measure of my success lies in outside validation. Will it ever happen? Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally get it that none of these things really matter; it’s all about belief in myself. In the meantime, the struggle for excellence in my craft continues.

 

Anybody else struggle with this question…or is it just me?

It’s Not Stealing, It’s an Homage

by Jo Victor

I’m looking forward with great excitement (and nail chewing) to the release of my very first novel, Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter, Or The Lass that Loved a Pirate.BSB_Revenge_of_the_Parsons_Daughter_small One of the best things about writing it was that I got to borrow from some of my favorite literature, including Georgette Heyer and Robert Louis Stevenson. Much as I love Treasure Island, though, my pirates definitely owe less to R.L.S. and more to G. and S. That would be [William] Gilbert (words) and [Arthur] Sullivan (music), the team that created over a dozen wonderful shows that combine social satire, general silliness, and beautiful music.

I’ve been sold on Gilbert and Sullivan since I saw HMS Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor (yes, that’s where I cribbed my subtitle from) on TV when I was 12. I’m a huge musical theater fan anyway, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are my favorites because they’re so much fun.

So, some of you are probably wondering, “What’s an operetta?” Well, it’s sort of a cross between a junior opera and a musical.

  • An operetta isn’t really an opera.
    • Operas tend to be longer, have little spoken dialogue, and nowadays at least are considered serious music (they used to cause riots).
    • Many operas are tragic, with the doomed soprano singing beautifully right to the end despite dying of tuberculosis or being buried alive with the tenor she loves (duet!). Operettas are never tragic, although once in a rare while the romantic leads don’t end up together.
  • Operettas aren’t exactly musicals, either.
    • Operettas are never serious. Although many musicals are light-hearted (Oklahoma, Xanadu), they sometimes tackle intense subjects (racism, gangs, homophobia).
    • Older musicals get revived all the time, but aside from an occasional Die Fledermaus or Merry Widow, operettas are rarely performed anymore.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are still alive and well. If you’ve never seen one, you’re definitely missing out.

For one thing, they’re hilarious (although some of the more obscure Victorian references slide by a modern audience). Most of the humor is timeless, poking fun at pompous, self-important people—unqualified top execs, phony-baloney artistes—and the kind of folly we all engage in from time to time (pretending to be someone you’re not, going to extremes  to attract romantic attention). There’s always lots of general silliness—ship captains who don’t want to offend their sailors by swearing, a place where flirting carries a death sentence, and so on. Plots get resolved by such realistic devices as (spoiler) a revelation that the tenor and baritone were switched at birth (even though the tenor is in love with, and is always played by an actor the same age as, the baritone’s daughter).

Along the way, Gilbert and Sullivan point out the flaws and foibles of the navy, the army, the art world, public education, parliament, the legal system, class divisions, arbitrary moral standards, and the lady novelist (who, if you believe the song, “never would be missed”).

Well, it seems that this particular lady novelist gleaned rather a lot from The Pirates of Penzance, although I swear it wasn’t deliberate (mostly). The Penzance pirates are basically good guys, and so are mine; both crews have about as much in common with actual sea robbers as the “Very Model of a Modern Major General” has with real soldiers.

My guys would fit right in onstage, chiming in with “Hurrah for a Pirate King” and singing happily about a “first rate opportunity to get married with impunity,” although they wouldn’t be much interested in the Major General’s daughters. The chorus of policemen, on the other hand, would be right up their alley.

My favorite version of Pirates of Penzance was put on by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington about ten years ago. Of course all the roles were played by men, and they sang the women’s parts an octave down, except for Mabel, the lead. Mabel is an extremely challenging role—it’s really a coloratura part—but somehow they found a man who could sing Mabel in the original key. Sadly, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was fabulous. [I must confess, though, that the most memorable thing was intermission. The line for the men’s room ran for miles, but there was NO line for the women’s restroom. It was almost surreal, being able to walk right in.]

So—why not give Gilbert and Sullivan a try? I’ve got some video suggestions, but if you can, see a show live. Nothing beats live theater.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045839/

 

The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan is a classic biopic with songs from many of their shows—sort of a “greatest hits.”

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0151568/?ref_=sr_1

Topsy-Turvy is about the original production of The Mikado, their most successful work.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086112/?ref_=sr_1

The Pirates of Penzance (based on Joseph Papp’s Broadway production) has a great cast, including Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury, Rex Smith, and Linda Rondstat.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0184871/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Ruddigore, a parody of Gothic melodrama, is my favorite, but it’s not well known because it followed The Mikado and suffered by comparison—as anything would have. I especially love this version because it features Vincent Price, who chews the scenery with great verve. Plus he’s a good 20 years older than the actor playing his supposedly older brother. With Gilbert and Sullivan, that just adds to the fun.

Pirates_Ann_Bonny_and_Mary_Read

Courage

You tell me you are so proud that I did that book reading in San Francisco . You say I am courageous.
I am impervious to praise.
I wish I could feel that flush and thrill, absorbing that I accomplished something;
But it was just the last step in a long path of careful and rigorous preparation;
So it is only the sum total of a painstaking equation that I began years ago;
Like wiping one’s mouth after a Thanksgiving meal
Or taking a shower after a hard workout.
There is no pride in that. It is merely finished.
 
 
But what about pride in the secret daily things that are much more difficult?
Invisible struggles that require so much private effort.
 
 
Such as riding my bicycle to work every day through the cold, dark winter, carrying breakfast, lunch, manuscripts and a change of clothes on my back.
Such as having incapacitating panic attacks and still doing the laundry.
Such as going to work the day we had to put Katey to sleep.
Such as practicing my book reading aloud while walking at lunch instead of going to a restaurant with friends or playing computer games.
Such as giving up caffeine cold turkey.
Such as shaving my head bald just out of curiosity.
Such as being afraid to fly but doing it anyway.
Such as vomiting in the hotel room sink but then getting dressed and doing my hair and makeup for the event.
Such as eating fresh fruits and vegetables daily when all I want is potato chips and chocolate.
Such as driving across the state by myself to attend a class.
Such as being sick but still writing thank you notes.
Such not being able to sing well but joining a choir because I love to sing.
Such as facing that blank page day after day, year after year, rejection after rejection,
As published mediocrity continues to amaze and embitter me.
Such as the world telling me to give up and go to hell and I refuse
Such as working ten times as hard and it is still not the book I meant to write.
 
 
Such as missing you so much it stops my breath but still smiling and going on stage.
Such as watching the miles count down to home and not running full-speed, sobbing, headlong into you when I arrive,
Instead, walking sedately into your arms.
Clara Nipper
Author of Femme Noir
and Kiss of Noir
Both from Bold Strokes Books
 

The Amazon Trail

High School Reunion 

 

by Lee Lynch

     It’s here: my 50th high school reunion. Fifty years was an unimaginable amount of time when I was 17 and now, like a thunderbolt, that long stretch of life is behind me. My best friend from high school is going to the reunion with her halo of wild dark hair gone white – like mine. What will she see? Trim athletes now bald, pot-bellied and lame? Willowy young girls now wrinkled and thickened? Comfortable retirees who worked, reproduced, and are replacing a generation of old people who once sat on New York City park benches in the sun?

In truth, I’m quite proud of my class of 1963. Three that I know of got caught in the second wave of feminism and became chairs of women’s studies departments. Five of us, at least, have published books. Many taught at the college level. I’m looking forward to hearing the accomplishments of others when my BFF reports in. She urged me to go with her, but she’s a few hours up I-95 from the school and I’m across the continent we studied in school. Also, I felt like the odd girl out back then and I feel just the same now. As she e-mailed, “Wish you were here but you would probably explode.”

Oh, and did I mention a federal judge? Who would have thought one of us, especially a woman, would accomplish as much as she has. If she’d been born ten years earlier she might have gotten as far as president of a PTA.

High school was so long ago, yet so fresh in my mind. I went into it determined to leave my bashfulness behind. I managed to make friends, and also to grow a persona that would mature with me. My poetry was published in our literary magazine; I was gay and proud of it; my ambition, beyond writing, was to be a gym teacher. One foot was in the circle of high school intelligentsia, the other in a sneaker on the tennis and volleyball courts.

An altruistic alumna, who became a librarian, created an internet page for those early sixties classes. By way of introduction, she wrote, “We came of age in the mid-sixties. It is hard to believe the changes we went through and our world went through in the years between 1963 and 1967. Did we make the times or did the times make us?” What a great question for us, for any generation.

Did we help change the world for the better? Well, we sure tried. How many of us died in Vietnam? How many were arrested for protesting that war? How many were active in the civil rights movement? The women’s movement? Gay liberation? Were environmentalists? Pro- or anti-choice activists?  Did any grow their hair, drop acid and become hippies? My BFF was at Altamont when the Rolling Stones were there. Were others at Kent State? I know some were hit with cancer. At least two committed suicide.

Why do I have no desire to be at the reunion? Would it really be too disturbing to see the metamorphoses of these people from dreaming kids to world-weary adults? Only one was a lover and I ran into her out here about 20 years ago. She wanted to stay in touch, but too much water over the bridge for me. I have a very full life, for which I’m grateful, and my seventeenth summer, lovely as it, and she, was, has been over for a long, long time.

Long enough that I’m looking at retirement from my job too. When I checked out the high school page it was clear I’m one of the last to stop working for a living. I feel like a sixties dropout compared to them. I’ve had jobs ever since graduation, but just to scrape by while I gave most of my energy to writing. Looking at the bios on our class pages I see teachers, ad execs, attorneys, designers and engineers, along with those who identify themselves as housewives and mothers. As far as I can see, I’m the only one who boasts of writing queer books or even of being queer.

No, I have no desire to see those folks. We sat in classrooms and passed one another in hallways. We survived high school, adult careers, marriages, marches, the tech revolution, empty nests, losses and successes. Some of us proved to be a waste of space, others made a bit of history or culture or money or offspring. I may be odd girl out again, but I have no time to review milestones. In my head, I’m still 17, anxious to get on with writing future stories, to, finally, making a lasting marriage, to changing the world.

 

Copyright Lee Lynch 2013

Thanks, Dad

  By KI Thompson

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love history. My passion for the past is a result of my father’s particular love of the Civil War. I recall my first trip to Getttysburg as a child because my dad wanted us to experience what that battle had been about.

A family car trip ensued during the hot month of July. A stop at every cannon and battlefield marker in the intense heat could not dampen his enthusiasm, nor to my surprise my own budding appreciation for what transpired there nearly 100 years before.

Now, 150 years after the battle, I have visited that site many times, but it is not Gettysburg I want to write about, but rather another battle that took place at the same time – the siege of Vicksburg. Under appreciated and less well known, the siege of Vicksburg was a tremendous victory for the North, resulting in the surrender of nearly 30,000 Confederate forces to Ulysses Grant on the 4th of July, the day after Gettysburg  ended. The southern commander, General John Pemberton, knew the terms of surrender could not be more advantageous to him than on the 4th. A Northerner by birth, he knew Grant would be generous on the holiday. The city of Vicksburg, Mississippi would not celebrate it again for 80 years.

The result of Gettysburg was that Lee never again ventured North in a serious attempt to fight the Union on its own soil. The result of the fall of Vicksburg (and the subsequent fall of Port Hudson several days later) was the North’s ability to take complete control of the Mississippi River, cutting off Confederate forces in the west from reinforcing General Lee in the east. The Confederate army under Pemberton surrendered to Grant, while Lee’s army limped away escaping capture from General Meade to fight another day and prolonging the war. It was one of the reasons why Lincoln chose Grant over Meade to command the entire Union army. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General – the first officer to attain that designation since Washington.

From Gettysburg we traveled to Washington, DC and from there to Williamsburg, Virginia. Both cities were equally hot that 4th of July weekend. It is interesting to note how July 4th was such a crucial date in our country’s founding as well as it’s rebirth. Again my father, a photography buff, insisted that we stop at every monument in DC and gather around every colonial re-enactor in Williamsburg to have our pictures taken. We grumpily acquiesced, wishing only to get out of the heat and into air conditioning.

KI Thompson with her Mom and Dad

KI Thompson with her Mom and Dad

My father passed away June 17th. He didn’t quite make it to the 4th or his 81st birthday a few weeks later, but I still have the slides from our family’s trek – grumpy, hot faces, staring into the camera with a look that demands air conditioning. I plan to view them over and over again as a reminder – not of the heat – but of my love of history, and the father who instilled in me that love.

Thanks, Dad.


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