Archive for May, 2014

Swimming to Chicago

by Harmoni
I chose this book because it has to do with family problems and sometimes I have family related problems as well. Alex’s mother wanted to go back to Chicago but his father wouldn’t let them move because he doesn’t want to move to a big city; he likes being in a rural area. As a result, his mother commits suicide. I don’t have this situation in my family, however, I have family that is separated. When I say separated I mean in another state, just like Alex’s family is in Chicago.
In order to get away from school, drama, and sometimes his dad, Alex swims to an island and thinks about how he’s going about his life without his mom. I go to my room and think about how I made it as far as I did without my sister. My sister moved to my mom’s house, which is in another state, which makes it really hard for me to see her. Before she moved we had a strong bond, just like Alex had that strong bond with his mother. When he talks about her, he gets really sad and cries.
This book deals with heavy issues, which makes me recommend the book for someone at least fourteen and up, or who can handle the extreme emotions. Issues include the mother’s suicide, older/younger dating (the teacher Harley LaMont and Alex’s friend Jillian), teen pregnancy, and attempted murder and even more suicide. There’s also the issue of Alex being gay, and he’s afraid to come out at school.
Alex and Robby have an honest but shy relationship. Robby wants to take things slow, and Alex is willing to do the same, which you don’t see in a lot of books for young adults. Some books feel like the relationship is rushed, but this author does not do that. Alex and Robby have true love which is what you do see in books a lot, but at the end they’re not afraid to show that they’re gay. Alex is able to overcome his fear, and Robby was always put down for his sexuality, but they give each other strength. When Robby talks to his mom, he says no one else can protect me but Alex. They have a lot of trust for each other.
When I finished the book, I cried for awhile. I don’t want to give spoilers, but the ending is sad but happy at the same time. It also shows how much Alex cares about his friends and what he’d do for them. It made me think that I’d do anything for my best friend, too.

I would like to see a sequel for New Adults with Alex and Robby and their further life together.

A Voice for Intersexual Infants: The Case of M.C


      My debut novel, In Between,In Between 300 DPI and my novella, The Man Who Was Not, both have main characters who were born intersexual. Sophie Schmidt, of In Between, was born in the early sixties, at the time when doctors had obtained the ability to perform gender reassignment surgery on infants. After being pressured by the doctors, Sophie’s parents allowed them to perform surgery on her five days after birth to make her as much of a girl as possible. Stephen Hyde, of The Man Who Was Not, The Man Who Was Notwas born as an intersexual in the mid-1800s, at a time when the intersexual condition was not even recognized. Stephen’s biology was both male and female, and he lived as a man for the first part of his life and as a woman for the second.

I have grown to have great passion for the subject of intersexuality and for the struggles of people who are born intersexual; thus, I have taken particular interest in the first lawsuit to be filed in the United States against the South Carolina Department of Social Services, the Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the doctors who performed gender reassignment surgery on a 16-month-old infant known as M.C. The lawsuit was filed by the Advocates for Informed Choice, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and pro bono counselors from two private law firms on behalf of M.C.’s adoptive parents on May 14th, 2013. When the defendants proposed a motion to dismiss the case, the U.S. District Judge of the South Carolina Charleston Division, David C. Norton, denied the motion after oral arguments were made on August 22, 2013.

At birth M.C. could not easily be labeled as male or female, and the doctors labeled the baby as a “true hermaphrodite.” After that determination, the doctors removed a completely healthy phallus and testes, rendering the baby as “female.” The lawsuit, which was filed in both state and federal courts, states that it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution for the doctors who were working for the state to surgically remove the healthy genitals, not knowing if M.C. would grow up to identify as a man or a woman. At age eight, M.C. identifies himself as a boy, though he no longer possesses his male genitalia.

The importance of this case is paramount, as it is about ensuring the safety of children who have no voice, since no one advocated for M.C. when he was an infant in the South Carolina Social Services System. The case also will be the first attempt at putting an end to the sex assignment surgeries that have been performed on intersexual infants in the United States since the 1950s. We’re not talking about just a few infants, as it is estimated that 1 in every 2,000 babies is born with an intersex condition. As M.C.’s adoptive mother stated, “They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was—not because he needed surgery.” My hope is that this case will ensure that all intersexual infants in the United States are treated with justice and dignity as we proceed into the future. Once again, we are at a critical juncture at which, as a society, we can put forth the reality that never have there been only two genders.


by Connie Ward, Publicist

Juliann Rich

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I grew up in love with the story.


I was the kid who read under the covers by flashlight until Mom inevitably busted me. I was the pre-teen who walked around with a journal sticking out of my back pocket. I was the teenager who stashed my journal in my purse when folded-up notebooks in back pockets became “uncool.”


Somewhere in my twenties, I figured I should grow up and get a real job. Because, you know, the kid. And the mortgage. So I put away my dream of being a writer, stowed my journal in my hope chest, and told myself that I would write that book someday.


Know what? Waiting for someday really sucks.


I spent all of my twenties and thirties and half of my forties knowing intuitively that I was not walking the intended path for my life.


So at forty-five, I dusted off my journal and discovered it had transformed into a MacBook Pro over the years! But even that change was good. It meant I couldn’t possibly tuck it away in a purse or a pocket, no matter how hard the writing process got.


I guess I became a fiction writer for the same reason I read under the covers as a kid and carried a journal all throughout my childhood. I’m still in love with the story.


What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I love, love, love young-adult fiction. It’s a form of literature that asks all the important questions and has the best darn time coming up with the most unexpected of answers. I am particularly drawn to stories about characters in the midst of a great cathartic change when everything once believed to be true is suddenly thrown into doubt. Struggles like those strip away all the impressive layers we wear, and the truest self emerges. Man, I love the privilege of witnessing that moment.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My family and friends are incredibly supportive. My husband, my son, and my close friends are my greatest cheerleaders. I lost my dad and only sibling many years ago so Mom is the only one remaining in my family of origin, but she also bursts with pride when she talks about my writing. This is a huge statement because what I write often differs from her worldview, but that doesn’t stop her from being supportive of me or understanding how important what I do is to me.


Where do you get your ideas?

It’s odd, but I frequently dream my characters. I now keep a notebook next to my bed. It certainly makes for entertaining nights, though by morning light the plots I’ve jotted down frequently read like an SNL skit and make me laugh just as hard. But the characters are often there, fairly fleshed out and with something compelling to say.


This doesn’t change when I’m actively drafting, by the way. In fact, it happens more often, and most of my best writing comes to me in the middle of the night. Sleep, I’ve decided, is something I’m willing to sacrifice when the words are bubbling up.


How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

I’ve tried both methods. In drafting Caught in the Crossfire, Caught in the Crossfire 300 DPII was too inexperienced to know how to plot a book so I pantsed it like crazy and got lucky. I stumbled over a self-contained world and a set time frame and didn’t even have to think about those things. In revision I learned a ton about plotting and thought I would apply that to my second book, so I had every scene figured out before I wrote the first word.


Guess what? It didn’t work!


I missed the spontaneity of allowing my characters to surprise me. I even missed those middle-of-the-night writing binges (sort of) and wound up scrapping my plot and going back in blind.


Now, in my third book, I’ve learned what I think is the best method for me. I do have the major turning points figured out, as well as the destination for the book, but I invite my characters to influence how we get there. I think of this as holding my book lightly in my hands. Then, once the first draft is complete, I examine the plot and book structure with an analytical eye and apply everything I’ve learned about book structure.


What makes Caught in the Crossfire special to you?

Caught in the Crossfire is, I think, my heart story. As the affirming mom of a gay son and as the daughter of evangelical-Christian parents, I’ve lived inside this world and loved people on both side of this complex issue.


In fact, that’s why I originally wrote this book at all! After six years of painful arguments that were rending my family, I decided to take a gamble on my mother’s heart. I believed that if she could, even through the pages of a book, see the world through a young gay Christian’s eyes and hear the impact of phrases like pray the gay away, she would view this topic differently. So I wrote my story and shared it with her. Believe me when I say I paced holes in my living-room floor while I waited for her verdict.


She did read an early draft of Caught in the Crossfire and immediately called me to tell me that it had moved her to tears. In fact, she wanted to have a heart-to-heart conversation with my son, and this time, she wanted to hear what he had to say.


Initially I had no intention of my little story going beyond my family, but a teacher at the Loft Literary Center, Megan Atwood, encouraged me. “There are more moms, more sons out there, Juliann,” she said. So I queried agents.


I knew the odds. I’d read the blogs that quoted the statistics. So no one was more surprised than I to find an agent who loved my story and who ultimately found the best possible home for it at Bold Strokes Books.


Sharing a story I wrote for my family with the world is indescribable. Forty percent terror. What if it flops? This is my heart on the page here. Eighty-five percent hope. What if it touches someone? What if it helps even one kid, one family? And if those numbers are greater than one hundred percent, that’s simply because my love for this story is as well.


How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?


Such a good question! I appreciate the opportunity to say this: Jonathan Cooper, my main character in Caught in the Crossfire, is not my son. In fact, there couldn’t be two more different guys! Yet quite a few people think that Jonathan must be some reflection of my own child, and that’s simply not the case.


However—spoiler alert—it wouldn’t be too big of a stretch for me to see myself in Simon and my husband’s good heart and love of Native American spirituality in Dawn.


That said, it is true that I grew up immersed in the Christian community, and I suppose that all the people I’ve known from that world are, to some degree, sitting somewhere along the shore of Spirit Lake.


Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?


The very first book I read with a gay character was James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Talk about diving in deep, right? I bawled for the better part of a month over that book. But it sparked a deep love of the characters, the conflicts, and the courage that can be found in LGBTQ literature. I have since fallen in love with many other authors of GLBTQ literature: David Levithan, Radclyffe, Malinda Lo, Ellen Hart, Joan Drury, David-Matthew Barnes, Julie Anne Peters, James Klise, Rachel Gold, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Brian Farrey-Latz, Andy Peters, Greg Herren, Lynda Sandoval, Jeremy Jordan King, Jennifer LaVoie, and KE Payne. The list is too long to name, but I have to say this: Alex Sanchez’s The God Box, perhaps more than any other book, showed me how to affirm my child while retaining my faith. To have Alex write an advanced review blurb for Caught in the Crossfire is a dream come true.


Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Yes, I do, though specifically for authors of young-adult literature:


Write what you love.

Write what you’re passionate about.

Write for the one reader who is closest to your heart.

Write whatever you need to write so that kid’s voice is heard.


Do that, and you’ll achieve the truest definition of success.


When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Well…if I’m being honest…I squeeze my rear into pants that aren’t A) pajama bottoms or B) made of spandex. Then I venture forth into the world where I try to remember how to talk to the people who live outside my head. Many of them are adults so I frequently embarrass myself by saying things like “snotsicles are craptastic,” but they love me and understand it’s an occupational hazard for a Minnesota author of young-adult lit.


Three days per week, I go to my part-time job at a clinic where I remember that life is best when it’s spent in service to others.


On a far too infrequent basis, I go on dates with my husband, have lunch with my friends, spend an afternoon with my mother, or take my son out for a movie and Thai food.


Quite often, in the in-between moments of my very full life, I cuddle my dogs, Sherlock and Bella. They don’t mind if I’m sporting stretchy pants and have forgotten to shower in my quest for the written word, so that’s always a plus.

How Memoir Pushed Me to Be a Better Writer

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Queerly Beloved 300 DPI

As of this week I have five books to my name, and because four of those five were co-written by my husband (the transgender journalist who shares my last name) I always get asked about the process of writing and until now the answer had been fairly simple.


When I write alone, as I did for my solo book—the lesbian romantic thriller Punishment With Kisses—I lock myself in a hotel room for a weekend and do nothing but write, stopping only briefly to snack and sit in hot water (a bath, a Jacuzzi if there is one), which is where I get most of my inspiration.


When it came to our mystery novels—Blind Curves, Blind Leap, and Blind Faith—Jacob and I had a great process nailed down. Basically we work on the same manuscript, saving it in Google Docs, each of us taking turns so we replicate one of those 24-hour factories where the staff changes shifts but the work keeps rolling out. I’ll work on the manuscript in the morning before I go to work, then Jake will write on it during the day, then we each end up with another “shift” in the evening after dinner.


We wrote from beginning to end, rather than in sections, and whoever had the manuscript could take the story any direction they want. Sure, we’d update each other on what the characters did that day (“wait, she slept with who?” one of us would say in shock) and sometimes there was catch up to be had (case in point: a character I imagined was a swarthy Greek, he imagined as a blond surfer dude) but generally those surprises kept the story engaging for us throughout the writing.


And at the end, reading the story was a singular experience, each of us often assuming the best written chunks were written by the other but neither of us being able to tell really who wrote what.


Well it turns out this was a fine system to have when we were writing fiction, but when it came to writing our new memoir, Queerly Beloved,Queerly Beloved 300 DPI we needed to throw out all that experience and do something new, something that freed us up to say anything.


So with this book, we each spent what spent like eons but was really a couple of years writing our own story, getting down the bones of our relationship, focusing on our own feelings and thoughts and memories of what it was like to fall in love as a two little baby dykes and end up where we are 23 years later as husband and wife.


We don’t keep big secrets but with us we each had something that we knew the other didn’t know, that we had to struggle with whether to reveal. We both knew we would include these unshared feelings or experiences. I asked Jacob, do you want me to tell you  now or do you want to read it in the book? And he chose the latter. We both did.


So we wrote our story, assembled it into sections that matched general themes (the time we were homeless, when we started the magazine, etc.) and then we just read, each of us marveling at the lens that the other person viewed our shared experiences through.


Turns out there weren’t a lot of surprises, but there were  little conversations we needed to have, responses that were important to share, so we both took turns then almost “replying” to what we were reading. The whole process led to long conversations we’re still having today. In fact yesterday, a reporter interviewed us for a magazine, an hour long chat where we bandied back and forth about the ideas in the book. It went on long after the reporter had hung up, each of us discovering that ever since we turned the manuscript in six months ago, we’ve continued to evolve who we are  and what that means for us.


All I know is we remain in love. And flexible.


by Connie Ward, Publicist

Richard Natale

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?


ANSWER: I was petrified of fiction for years, though I’ve always made my living as a journalist, a profession that taught me bad habits as well as good. A journalist works against the clock. He does research, gathers information, and then puts it all together into a readable form by a deadline. By necessity, you develop a certain slickness, which is deadly in fiction. Conversely, you learn structure–beginnings, middles, and ends, as well as transitions—and that is invaluable, though the best fiction writers break through that into a kind of jazzy free form. I’m not there yet. Not by a mile.


When I finally got up the nerve to attempt fiction, it was with the understanding that I would do it to please myself, to tell the stories I wanted to tell instead of the stories I was assigned. Happily and unexpectedly I fell in love with the process. And like any love affair it’s sometimes painful (rewrite, rewrite, rewrite). I am constantly rewriting my stories even after they’re edited and printed, trying to inch closer to the story I dreamed up and developed in my head. If only there were a device that could read mind waves and transmit them directly from the brain onto the page. Even then I’d probably look at it and say to myself, Why exactly did you get so excited about that story? Sure, it may turn into something worthwhile, but not until you’ve rewritten at least a dozen times. Get to work.


What type of stories do you write?  And why?


I write to tell stories–many kinds–mostly about internal and external crises. Getting into characters’ heads excites me.


I started out writing a great deal of gay-themed fiction, because you start with what you know. The GBLT experience is so rich and varied. Even with the recent explosion of terrific writing on the subject, we’ve only scratched the surface. I have since tried my hand at YA (non-gay-themed) fiction and have an adventure novel set in the Dust Bowl set for publication later this year, called Doubloon. I’ve also written a collection of short stories that center on the lives of immigrant women from the mid-twentieth century who all settled on Staten Island, where I grew up. It was published last year. I’m currently finishing (ha, ha, as if) another young-adult novel, a noir (rewrite, rewrite, rewrite), and recently completed a novel-length contemporary gay love story, which I paired with several shorter romances. It’s spring, after all.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?


My partner, also a journalist, is my infallible weather vane. If it meets with his approval, it means I’m on to something. If not, then I try to prove him wrong. Win-win. My friends are very supportive and tend to chime in when they love a story, though it’s never the one I think they’re going to enjoy (which was true when I was a journalist as well). I thrive on encouragement and reinforcement, and my partner is great at constructive criticism (writers are by nature touchy and insecure).


Where do you get your ideas?


I’m a sucker for gay history. I read lots of LGBT non-fiction and also general histories that incorporate gay life from the past. I recently read a history of Greenwich Village that wove in stories about gay and lesbian life there, which began back in the nineteenth century. Walt Whitman, Harte Crane, Frank O’Hara, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather—they all lived in the Village and co-existed within the community decades before Stonewall. LGBTs not only are everywhere, they were everywhere. My partner’s grandmother kept a “woman on the side” in an apartment in downtown Manhattan back in the thirties. How incredible is that?


A novel that will be published later this year, Café Eisenhower, (also from Bold Strokes), started with a newspaper story I read in the early nineties about Americans going to former Soviet satellites and starting businesses. What if a gay man decided to open a gay café in Eastern Europe just months after homosexuality was decriminalized? It was a situation rife for dramatic conflict, and given the recent anti-gay wave in Russia, relevant (though I wrote the story several years ago). And what if, in addition, he happens upon journals detailing a lifelong love affair between two men who survived the war, the Holocaust, and Soviet oppression?



How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?


It’s never just one or the other. I often start with an idea or a character. Sometimes it is more fully formed than not. It might have a middle or an end. But even then, if the characters and situations are strong, they propel me forward. They take over and I become their amanuensis. Like in movies, when you’re really clicking you enter a dream state. Then, you have to come back to reality and work on it until it aptly conveys the dream.



What makes Junior Wills special to you?


Junior Willis BSB-JuniorWillis_152x234is about the coming-out process, which is so much more than merely opening the closet door. Too often these stories, just like movie romances, end at exactly the point when the hard work begins, when one has to incorporate his or her sexual nature into every aspect of his or her life and fully embrace it. Self-love is tough for anyone. Being gay, or in any other way different, adds several degrees of difficulty. Further, Tom, my protagonist, starts this journey in the early 1950s and doesn’t even begin to accept himself until the summer of 1969, when he admits his love for Junior Willis.


The story is told in three phases. The first phase is during the Korean War, when Tom’s sexuality is awakened. He falls in love for the first time and, when he’s unceremoniously dumped, tries to stuff the genie back in the bottle. The second leg of the journey starts in L.A., where he becomes a screenwriter and eventually a TV writer. He tries women, but eventually the lure of temptation is too strong–and he lets it eat him up inside. Shame, guilt, the whole drill. He is courted by a lesbian Cubana and they become engaged. On vacation in pre-Castro Havana he falls for a young militant who is equally torn about his sexuality. The affair is short and red-hot. But their mutual self-loathing is too strong and they separate.


In the final and lengthiest segment, Tom falls for an inappropriate young man, Junior Willis. What better way to self-fulfill his prophecy of unhappiness than to latch on to an idealized figure? Only when he decides that love, regardless of whether it’s reciprocated, is preferable to not loving at all, does he fully accept himself and his nature (with a surprising twist). At almost exactly that moment, Stonewall is transpiring twenty-five hundred miles away.




How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?


There’s something of me or someone I know in every character, even if it’s just a thread. On a larger level many of my characters are either searching for love or resisting it until they can’t hold out any longer, which certainly parallels my life and that of many of my friends. Getting in your own way or behaving in a manner that goes against your own best interests is something with which I am kind of an expert.  



Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?


Walt Whitman, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Colm Toibin, John Rechy, Alan Hollinghurst, E.M. Forster, Michael Cunningham, Christopher Isherwood, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Tony Kushner, Rita Mae Brown, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, Patricia Highsmith, Paul and Jane Bowles.


Forster is my favorite, both for his posthumous gay novel and the sensibility that infuses all his work.



Do you have any suggestions for new writers?


Writing is for sissies, and sissies are the strongest people I know. They have to be. So if you don’t like hard work and criticism and rejection, don’t bother.



When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?


I read a great deal and I’m a total movie and TV nut, especially contemporary television where all the good narrative writing is today. But I’m never not writing, only away from the computer.


Confessions of an Aspiring Fiction Writer?


When, after having been a journalist and editor for most of my career, I decided to make a serious go at writing fiction, I set myself no other goal than to do it for my own enjoyment. No pressure. Exercising the muscle was all that mattered. And for a couple of years, that’s just what I did.


Like many writers, I was daunted by the blank page wondering if I’d be able to come up with any fresh ideas (or any ideas for that matter) and spin them into a well-structured and compelling narrative. My subconscious must have heard me, because lo and behold, during half-sleep (when my unconscious converses with my conscious mind), I thought “remember that outrageous-but-true story a friend told you many years back? What if…?” And thus the germ for my first short story was implanted. After many, many drafts, I completed it. The story would be the first piece of fiction accepted by the literary journal – although that didn’t happen until much later and only when, after writing several additional stories, my partner and most valued critic prodded me to get them published. I argued, “but this is supposed to be for fun. Pitching and selling stories is what I do for a living. It’s work.” Alan shot back, “just try. The worst they can do is say no.”


Right. Because rejection was all I needed to dissuade me from continuing to write fiction. No one who’s ever earned a living as any kind of scribe is unfamiliar with rejection. But I don’t go out of my way to court it either. So far the ideas were flowing nicely and I actually enjoyed the rigorous rewriting process, which I quickly discovered, is the essence of writing fiction. So why gum up the works by submitting the work to editors who are inundated with thousands of wanna-be ‘fictionistas’ like myself?


Alan was right, however, the worst they could do was say no. But they didn’t. My first submission was accepted, and my second… The editors put me through my paces–more rewriting–but also provided the kind of positive reinforcement an insecure writer (how’s that for a redundancy?) needs in order to move forward and take greater risks.


Longer-form fiction proved to be a different challenge. Everyone’s got a novel or two in them. But too often, a promising beginning smacks up against the intricacies of construction and narrative flow, and the project is abandoned. With Junior Willis I maintained the thread by tracing the emotional life of one character in three short stories of varying length. Each of the stories deals with a different group of subsidiary characters.


I actually wrote Junior Willis BSB-JuniorWillis_152x234after Café Eisenhower, which is a full-length novel, albeit one that contains a novella about two different protagonists within the main narrative. Café Eisenhower was a true passion project, which made it all the more gratifying when it was accepted by Bold Strokes.  It’s coming out later in the year, and getting it accepted was like a giant shot of adrenalin. When they also said yes to Junior Willis, I was equally thrilled. (Validation never gets old). Because it’s shorter, and an e-book, BSB scheduled Junior Willis for publication first, which is appropriate as it’s a natural evolution from my short stories.


The approbation and feedback from editors and friends, has certainly not made me cocky (insecurity is still my go-to place as a writer), but it has spurred my productivity. I have a non-gay-themed novel coming out later this year called Doubloon–vampires in the Dust Bowl with spiritual overtones–that I never would have dreamed of attempting had it not been for their encouragement.


I write every day now (which is not to say I don’t sometimes dawdle and procrastinate) and I’m still getting a kick out of it. That my work is out there in the ether is wonderful, but I still consider it the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae. I’m still beholden to my toughest critic: Myself. And he cuts me very little slack.

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