Archive for September, 2013

The Amazon Trail

Carol Seajay, Lesbian Literary Legend

Dear Carol: It’s been so long! Of all my old friends, you are one I think of most.

I am reminded of you: you will appear at the Lesbian Oral Herstory Project symposium this year, Celebrating Our Lesbian Legacies October 10-13, 2013, in Houston Texas (http://www.olohp.org/). I’ll be on the East Coast those days, officiating, to my amazement, at a gay marriage, visiting family openly with my spouse, doing Provincetown Women’s Week book! events, so I can’t be there, but I’d like to be.

A quiet, thoughtful groundbreaker, you were a Pied Piper we hardly realized was leading us beyond what we could imagine achieving. The unbridled excitement of those early years hid the hard, hard work we all did. I feel it now, the vast exhaustion that threatens to silence me.  I am slow to think, to move, to write. I remind myself of your cat Chia, who always impressed me with her deliberateness of motion.

I have wondered if the burden of your work in pioneering and sustaining the women’s print community has led you to retreat to the shadows in which we all once lived. Or if you are stirring new concepts in your cauldron of women’s words, concepts that will build upon the structures we old dykes can claim with pride.

Many women have raised their voices, their pens, their placards to contribute to these loud and lasting movements of our making: the women’s movement, gay liberation, lesbian literature. Few have had your impact. You are best known as a founder of Old Wives Tales in San Francisco, one of the first women’s bookstores; of “Feminist Bookstore News” (FBN), the house publication for women’s bookstores around the world; and “Books to Watch Out For” (BTWOF) a later publication that  continued to spread the word of books by, for and about women.

What most women are not aware of is how incredibly hard you worked and the way you lived to accomplish your life’s work. I remember when you took a job as a FedEx driver with that fledgling company and stuck with it for years in order to support yourself and FBN. I remember your small apartment in San Francisco which served as both publishing empire and your home for many years; papers and books, computers, periodicals, flyers and a view of a storefront church across the street. Your apartment and neighboring buildings became the setting for my book, Sue Slate, Private Eye, and I have many photographs of your neighborhood that I took in preparation.

I remember how influenced you were by The First Women In Print Conference in 1977. I believe that’s where you met Barbara Grier and so many other women who created our lesbian publishing industry. I knew nothing of all this, voiceless since “The Ladder” folded. Yet there you were, in the midst of our print revolution, organizing so women like me could be published. Thank you for making that long journey to the conference in one of your small used cars –  was it the Subaru named Jane?

You had a story published in “Common Lives/Lesbian Lives” some years later, when I also was publishing there. I loved your story and wrote you a fan letter. You answered! Where did we first meet? San Francisco? Provincetown? New Haven? You stayed with my then partner and me at our condo. You and I were both so shy. I think I blushed every time we exchanged words. You were so accomplished and so fervent and knew everyone in the lesbian writing world and you liked my work too. I was so glad and proud to have you as a friend always.

I can’t imagine how you made it financially. You had to buy food and housing and fund the bookstore and your publications. At the height of the popularity of women’s bookstores you were actually able to hire a part-time helper – or was she an unpaid intern? But you were the reporter, researcher, reviewer, distributor and writer for FBN all those years. It’s a wonder you didn’t get sick or burnt out.

But I think you came from hardy Midwest stock, though they no longer wanted you, their lesbian daughter. I remember listening to your story of leaving home on a little motorcycle and setting out for San Francisco. On the way you broke down or had an accident. Ever the exceedingly competent femme, you got yourself to the city of your dreams anyway and helped put on our revolution. Your work was so important. I hope you know that.

You drove all over the country in the early 1980s, women’s bookstore to women’s bookstore, sleeping on couches or in your little car. You amazed me and I want to thank you for inspiring me, gently patting me on the back, housing me, accepting my lovers, introducing me to yours, selling my books, promoting our literature and our culture and just plain being instrumental in the flowering of lesbian literature.

And, Carol, I don’t know if it will reach you, but I am sending this photograph* of us, decades old, because, you know the movie line: We’ll always have Provincetown.

Love,

Lee

Copyright Lee Lynch 2013 

Carol Seajay and Lee Lynch in Provincetown

*Photo credit to D. Pascale

On Writing About Atlantis

BY ANDREW J. PETERS

My début novel The Seventh Pleiade 300 DPIThe Seventh Pleiade is upcoming from Bold Strokes Books. The subject is the last days of ancient Atlantis, and I’m often asked: why did you write about that story?

My writing tends to take inspiration from myth and legend. While Atlantis has been the source of lots of sci-fi and fantasy literature, when I read Plato’s original account, it struck me as an open canvas. The story’s characters – what interests me the most – are not much more than seating cards at a dinner party. Plato gave them exotic names like Cleito and Elassippos, but they don’t interact or do much in the story. The familiar ones Poseidon and Atlas are curiously off-message for Greek mythology. Who knew Poseidon settled down on an island with a mortal girl and raised five sets of identical twin sons? Atlas is supposed to be a titan holding up the world, not Poseidon’s son who has a twin with the odd name of Gadir. There was a lot of opportunity for me to flesh out these characters, and add some new ones who could have been more important in Atlantis’ history than Plato realized, or wanted to admit.

Something that also inspired me from Plato’s account, not related at all to Atlantis actually, is the setting where the storytelling takes place. It’s a legend recounted by philosophers during a boys panegyris, where the sons of noblemen do manly things like compete in poetry readings. That was a nice little portkey that transported me into a great big queer epic. I wanted two boys to fall in love in Atlantis, and I wanted that love story to be a major narrative drive. To keep with an epic sensibility, I created a fantastical adventure.

I like to think my novel is more about people than the fantasy that surrounds them, and particularly people who are on the fringes of traditional legends, or absent from them completely. My very favorite author who writes in that vein is Gregory Maguire. In his Wicked series, he took villainized or marginalized characters like The Wicked Witch of the West and the Cowardly Lion and turned them into complex characters. For me, those characters were more relatable heroes than the ones in the original story.

Another thing about Plato’s tale of Atlantis is that it’s not much more than a morals lesson. The legendary empire is punished by the gods for hubris. It’s really more a biblical-style tale of reproach, like Noah and the Flood, than a full-fledged Greek myth. The anti-authority skeptic in me wanted to turn that part of the story on its head.

In that sense, The Seventh Pleiade is a vindication of lost Atlantis. Its people were flawed, like all of us, and they suffered a terrible tragedy. I wanted to bring out the pathos in that. Hopefully I wrote a novel that brings complexity and intrigue to a story people think they know.

Stick to Your Romantic Guns

Dylan Madrid
I recently had a conversation with fellow romance author Kait Ballenger, during which we discussed what it means to do just that: to write love stories for a living. More importantly, we shared the second-class citizen status we’re often relegated to by some literary scribes who consider what we do and create to be of lesser value and certainly not as challenging. We both agreed we wear our romance monikers with pride. We are in love with love and we’re not ashamed to admit it.
Growing up I devoured every Jane Austen novel I could get my hands on. I memorized every line of dialogue spoken between Romeo and Juliet. I rooted for Cathy and Heathcliff and I envied Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara. It’s no wonder that as a writer I feel compelled to create to-die-for love on the pages of my novels. It is the driving force behind my every written word. The discovery of attraction between two people and the possibilities of what that ignited spark might set off is what motivates me to sit down daily on convince my readers what I firmly believe: true love really does exist.
Unlike Kait Ballenger, though, the love stories I’m telling are for and about men. Without a doubt, mine is a tougher audience to please – and to find. While fans of gay romance novels exist and are very faithful readers, the concept of selling romance to a male reader is complex. Erotica tends to not only grab the shelf-browsing reader (thanks in part to aggressive and sexually suggestive cover art) but also gets the lion’s share of marketing and reviews.
So what’s an author to do who wants to stay on the sensual side of erotica and is more inspired by the courtship and ignited spark of love between characters rather than the hard core details of the sex between them? Stick to your romantic guns, I say. Yes, yes, yes. We’re told over and over again write what you know. But I also firmly believe an author should write from the center of curiosity, whether it’s about places unexplored, cultures that have piqued your interest, or beautiful strangers you meet in your life who leave such a lasting impression that you just have to write about them.
M/M Romance is now a genre of its own. And it’s a popular one, too. Up until the last few years, the majority of romance novels about gay men were written by female authors, as many female readers (yes, it’s true) read these novels just as soon as they are published. While that trend is still alive and kicking, more and more male authors, such as me, are stepping into the arena with romance novels of their own. The correspondence I get from readers always confirms my theory that gay readers are looking for love, too. For some readers, the erotica is not what they are seeking in a story. Instead, they crave the happily-ever-after; they want a modern day version of a Prince Charming; like I once did for Cathy and Heathcliff and Romeo and Juliet, they also want to root for star-crossed lovers. They want the reassurance that love has not become a casualty of an ever-growing desensitized society. They want the promise of forever.
Is it any wonder why both gay authors and male readers have only recently embraced this genre? From the beginning of our young lives, men are led to believe that romance is sentimental, it is a sign of weakness, it’s feminized and is strictly reserved (and is wholly marketed to) women. For the young man who is discovering love for another man for the first time in his life, finding an echo of his feelings in contemporary literature is no longer as arduous task as it once was. Authors such Michael Thomas Ford, Neil Placky, Dan Stone, Greg Herren, and Ken O’Neill all incorporate romance into their bestselling novels.
I have three romance novels that will be published within the next year. The first is a romantic thriller set in Chicago called MIND FIELDSMine fields, just released from Bold Strokes Books. The novel is about a college student named Adam Parsh who is heavily pursued by a wealthy married man who becomes his employer when Adam accepts a position to tutor the man’s young daughter. Sounds like a great set up for a secret affair, right? Well, I took Adam on a different journey, one in which he discovers he’s really in love with his best friend, the sweet and intellectual Victor Maldonado. Although I loved the characters and the plot kept surprising me each step of the writing process, I often found myself struggling with the erotica vs. romance factor in MIND FIELDS. As the author I finally had to ask myself: is it my job to titillate, or to tell the best story possible? In the end, and as I do in my novels and in my life, I chose love.
Dylan Madrid is the author of the novels MIND FIELDSLOVE IN THE SHADOWS, Love in the Shadows 300 DPIand BACKSTROKES. A California native, Dylan grew up in the Bay Area. He opted to backpack through seven countries before heading to college and spent a year living in Europe, primarily on the Greek island of Ios. When he’s not dreaming about living on the Italian Riviera or running away to Belgium, Dylan teaches college courses in writing and the arts.
Dylan can be contacted at DylanMadrid
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Five Things I’ve Learned From Vampires

BY Sheri Lewis Wohl

Scarlet Revenge 300 DPI

Not long ago I was musing about vampires. I mean, I write about them…a lot…and people ask me why…a lot…so I decided perhaps a little introspection was in order. Why DO I write about vampires all the time? Is there some deep-seated, unresolved psychological issue that compels me to always tread on the dark side? Nope—nothing that Freudian. Don’t get me wrong, I have my share of baggage but not enough to put me into permanent therapy. Am I really a Goth chick hiding beneath a prim and conservative exterior? Maybe—if I was a couple decades younger! Somehow I just don’t think that look would work for me at this age. Do I long for eternity? Not so much. The seasons of life make it rich and beautiful. I can’t see trading that for a forever without family or friends. Do I find the vampire’s power and strength sexy? Well, yeah I kind of do but that’s more of a perk than an explanation for my obsession.

No, as I thought about it, I decided the main reason I fixate on vampires is because of what I learn from them. Forget the folklore. Forget the legends. Forget the fiction. Get down to the essence of vampires and there is much to discover. My top five go something like this:

1.  Don’t give up. It might look like the end but it could just be the beginning of something new and exciting.

2.  Don’t be afraid of the dark. No matter how dark it might seem, the light will always come again.

3.  Don’t be afraid to make friends. A true forever friend may walk into your world at any moment.

4. Don’t be intolerant. Despite differences in race, religion, sex, or sexual preference, beneath it all we’re the same: human beings.

5.  Don’t wallow in self-pity. Just because something happened to you that isn’t fair and changes your life, don’t let it destroy you. Stand up, dust yourself off, and find a way to live in your new reality.

So there it is: five things I’ve learned from vampires and just a few of the reasons I’m drawn to them in my writing. It’s true, vampires might be the stuff of legends, good horror movies, and classic novels, but you know, once you get beyond the superficial, they might just have something to teach us all.

“The Clue in the Manuscript”

BY KARIS WALSH

Mounting DangerMounting Danger, my first romantic intrigue, will be released by Bold Strokes Books in October. In it, Sergeant Rachel Bryce is put in charge of the police department’s new mounted unit, and she has to ask her old friend/polo rival Callan Lanford to help train the inexperienced team. I loved setting a novel in the city of Tacoma, where I was born and raised. And, for a change from my previous books, I enjoyed adding an element of intrigue to the romance.

I suppose it’s only natural that I would be drawn to the mystery genre since I played the role of Nancy Drew with great success on my grade school playground. With Bess and George (aka Corina and Gina) helping me, I unearthed clues and solved mysteries before the bell rang and recess was over. No puzzle was too great, no enigma too inscrutable, to be left unresolved at the end of lunch hour.

Now, many years later, I’ve discovered that some mysteries are unsolvable. During the editing process for Mounting Danger,Mounting Danger I was also working on my novel, Wingspan. I really thought I’d be in control of the writing process by this, my sixth book. I was certain I’d have discovered some magic formula for creating scenes, or perhaps a cure for my chronic procrastination. But, no. The secrets to inexhaustible focus, seamless plotting, and successful time management remain shrouded in secrecy, baffling even this experienced Nancy Drew impersonator. I thought I’d share a few of my as-yet-unresolved cases with you.

 

The Case of the Receding Deadline

Nowhere is the phrase “time is relative” more applicable than when it comes to a deadline. At first, the chasm between where I am and when my manuscript is due seems as gloriously vast as my uncle’s shiny bald head. And—here’s the tricky part—as the first weeks elapse, the deadline actually seems to be receding into the future. It makes perfect, logical, brilliant sense to postpone the work for the next day or week or month, because look at all the time I have! Meanwhile, I keep adding more words to my daily assignment. First, I need to write fifty words a day in order to finish on time. Then it’s two hundred, then five hundred, then six thousand. Yikes! Like a bad comb-over, the expanse of months I had to work on the book is now criss-crossed with my poor attempts to cover up my procrastination by adding the missed pages to future days. When will I learn to ignore the illusion of limitless time and implant the weeks between assignment and deadline with words, as carefully and steadily sown as hair plugs?

The Secret of Pushy New Projects

Ask anyone who’s been in a car with me (with their hands braced against the dashboard and their feet stomping on imaginary passenger-side brake pedals): I like to drive fast. I know where I’m going, and I want to get there ASAP. One thing that really irks me when I’m driving (one thing on a very long list) is the person who zips onto the road in front of me—usually blowing a stop sign to do so—and then SLOWS DOWN. (I can feel my blood pressure rise as I write this. I’m going to pause and take a few deep breaths.)

New ideas or characters or projects can be just as pushy as these drivers. They’ll barge to the front of my mind, unconcerned by the rate of progress I have planned for my current project. They are shiny and exciting, distracting me from the less thrilling daily grind of writing and slowing me down. There must be a secret—although it eludes me—to remaining focused on the work at hand while still jotting down the license plates of new ideas before they disappear from sight.

The Mystery of the Migrating Pens

This one is less a writing mystery than one of those questions—like how socks can disappear between the time a load goes in the washer and when it comes out of the dryer—that keeps me up at night.

I have some favorite pens. My beautiful sea glass ballpoint (the catalyst for my book Sea Glass Inn), a smooth-writing Cross rollerball, a kitschy pen that looks like a pink Crayola crayon. But my workhorse is a fine-tipped, black Pentel. I love this fat-barreled, comfortable pen. Since I write in several areas around the house—at my desk upstairs, on my bed, at the kitchen table—I’ve purchased a bunch of these pens over the years so I’ll have a handful within easy reach wherever I might need to take a note or sketch out a scene. I must have bought over thirty of them. So why can I only find five, and why are they all on the end table in the living room?

Sometimes I feel as if I’m not in control of my writing or even my writing instruments. Maybe someday I’ll ferret out enough clues so I’ll be able to discover why time behaves differently at the beginning of the writing process than it does as my deadline looms. Or how to keep my focus on my current goal, even when the view is blocked by the bumper of the beckoning new project in front of me. Or where the heck all my pens have gone. Maybe I’ll solve these puzzles, and maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter, because I know the most fascinating mystery in this process of writing will never be solved. That is, what happens in the magical moment when ideas and characters and stories combine. When they flow through the mind of an author and into the soul of a reader, changing both forever. When—for some inexplicable, unfathomable, indecipherable reason—what happens on the page just seems right. No study of grammar or writing manuals will ever solve this mystery. The only solution is to write and read, and then write and read some more, because just experiencing this mystery of storytelling is resolution enough.

The Amazon Trail

Old Folks Hill

Lee Lynch

          Yep, it’s that time of life. We’re living on Old Folks Hill. And loving it.

We were just checking out the neighborhood when we came upon this house. It’s gorgeous by our standards. It’s sunny even in the rain, relatively low-maintenance, close to town, in a safe place for walking, and almost large enough for our books.

My sweetheart is a little young for this age-restricted community so we had to fess up that she’s my caretaker. Of course, I’m hers too, but not in the way the federal government housing rules require, though recent rulings by the Supremes at least allow us to take care of each other legally.

I used to come up here to garage sales. I’d park for a while and walk my late dog Ginger. The homes are all manufactured, but tidy and trim with a variety of designs and a plethora of landscaping styles, from clearly professional to downright tacky. There was imagination in the neighborhood, and leisure to work in the gardens. The breezy air was clean, scented with a combination of the forest behind and ocean below.

My mother used to say that the Kancamagus Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in autumn was her idea of what heaven looked like. Mine is here on the Pacific Coast, right where I live. I am fortunate beyond imagination.

The building where I grew up in Queens had 96 apartments. At least two thirds housed oldsters.  I was taught to be respectful and helpful. They liked me; I wasn’t a roughneck like some of the other kids. For my part, I was more comfortable with them than I was with most of the children in the building. Some old people were grouchy around youngsters, but some were kind, generous and inclusive. One couple brought me exotic dolls from their travels. Others simply spoke to this serious, unsmiling little kid without being patronizing.

Now I’m perched on this hill with people in the same age range as my early pals,

but I’m one of them. The neighbors west of us, Alaskans, are even younger than me. We look over their pretty garden at the ocean from our living room. They’ve helped with our yard which ceaselessly sprouts weeds through the plastic sheeting and lava rock our Texan sellers left.   The neighbor to the east is a gruff wheeler/dealer who lives elsewhere and calls this house his albatross. It’s hard to get a loan these days on a manufactured home, as we found out, and for sale signs abound.

Many residents walk dogs. I always carry treats in my pocket. It’s pretty easy to meet folks that way. Gretchen, Bijou, Rowdy, Mason, and Max – I remember the dogs’ names, but their people? Forget it. Which is okay up here on Old Folks Hill, because my neighbors are even less likely to remember mine. We all joke about it in a comradely self-deprecating way. We’re growing old together, witnessing the pleasures and, well, less pleasant aspects of aging.

At the the Fourth of July indoor picnic we stood on the food line behind a caravan of walkers. A retired longshoreman and his guide dog shared our table. Another gentleman repeatedly tells us how his sweet miniature dachshund has been taking care of him since his wife died. One evening we heard all sorts of sirens come up the hill. It turned out that the hermit a couple of streets east had been dead for five days. The responders went in wearing haz mat suits. There have been a number of estate sales since we moved in – the resident turnover here is kind of high.

On the brighter side, today we met an 88 year old woman whose grandfather, a pioneer politician, had a main thoroughfare in town named for him. A couple of weeks ago we met a woman just turning 90, pretty deaf, and full of all sorts of stories. I often see a lively resident, nicknamed Walker, with her customary plastic rain bonnet and pull-along shopping basket, hiking around town and taking our hill at a good pace – she’s in her nineties.

Then there are the young people: a couple in their sixties who started a woo-woo spiritual group at the neighborhood clubhouse; a new resident involved in creating a nearby spiritual retreat; another who was raised by hippies in an early commune. Wow. These are my peers. This is the sixties generation. They were the Rolling Stones fans and the Vietnam soldiers and the housewives turned feminists. So this is what we look like all grown up, this is who we’ve become.

One group plays Mahjong weekly, another does needlework. There’s a computer club, a pool and a pool table. We have our own landfill and recycling bins. Bumper stickers include “Coexist” and “Army.” Those of us who are able, can walk to the beach.

We seem to be the only gay people here so far, but Old Folks Hill is our heaven on earth. And, as far as we can tell, our relatively recent gay wedding hasn’t destroyed any of the venerable marriages around us.

toothpick house

Copyright Lee Lynch 2013


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