Archive for November, 2014

Inspiration

By Amy Dunne

BSB-SeasonsMeetings

Inspiration is a funny thing. Some writers believe their muse is the key to their inspiration and the driving force behind their writing. I don’t have a muse—or if I have, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced as of yet. Writing, in my personal experience, is the most challenging craft I’ve ever tried to undertake. It takes time, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, acceptance of constructive criticism, and the belief that you’ll get there in the end. Each writer’s inspiration is unique to them. And I believe the driving force and inspiration behind my own writing is down to a number of contributing factors.

Part of the driving force behind my writing is the enjoyment I get from creating stories, characters, and settings. I love to people watch. I appreciate that sounds a little stalkerish, but people watching is one of my favourite pastimes. When I’m sat on a bus, having a coffee with friends and family, walking our dog, working at the theatre, or even doing my local grocery shop, I’m always distracted by my nosiness. My family are Irish and I truly believe that my nosiness, as well as (what I like to believe is)a wicked sense of humour, a compulsion to feed guests regardless of whether they’re hungry, urge to sing and sway while drunk, and the captivating storytelling, are all attributed to my family’s Irish heritage. It’s in the genes—or perhaps it’s how we’re brought up, but whatever’s the cause, it’s definitely to do with being Irish.

Another aspect that drives my writing is my family and friends. Without their unwavering support and love, I might not have persevered. In recent years, my self-esteem has deteriorated. So, writing a novel that will be read and judged by strangers is a very stressful experience for me. With my upcoming second novel, Season’s Meetings I was downright certain, that I couldn’t successfully turn my hand to writing a contemporary romance. My debut novel, Secret LiesSecret Lies 300 DPI was a dark and gritty YA novel, whereas I knew straight away that Season’s Meetings was going to be festive and fun. They couldn’t really get much more different even if I’d tried. Change, has always worried me. I’ve never been one to willingly embrace new things, so this was a big deal for me. Countless times, I gave up, accepted defeat, tore my nerves to finer shreds, happily wallowed in my low self-esteem, and became consumed by self pity. Irritatingly, my wife and family wouldn’t let me stop writing. Their belief in me and my writing ability was unwavering. I was sat back down in my chair and verbally prodded with words of encouragement, until I gave in and got back to writing. They, without a doubt, are my driving force. I remain infinitely grateful to them.

My inspiration for stories, characters, and settings often come from personal experiences. The inspiration behind Secret Lies came in 2007, when I was working with vulnerable young people in care. I asked one of the young people why they didn’t enjoy reading. Their reply was, “Everyone’s always perfect in books and they only have silly problems. They haven’t been through what I’ve been through. It just reminds me that I’m not normal. No one wants to read about someone like me.” This resonated with me. In the back of my mind I’d been toying with the idea of writing a YA story for a while and this was the push I needed to actually pursue that ambition. I had a vague storyline based on a short story I’d written for my English coursework when I was sixteen. I made two major changes to the original storyline: I introduced two lesbian protagonists and I set out to raise awareness of the taboo issues of abuse and self-harm. Over the years, I’ve known many young people who identify as LGBTQ who have been affected by self-harm. I wanted to incorporate this into the story and subtly include where resources and support can be accessed.

I also drew on partial experiences from my own teenage life: Catholic school, Irish family, Sister Act, house parties, discovering newfound sexuality and reconciling it with faith, peer, and social pressures. Not a single character was based on a real person. I took characteristics and attributes from various people (myself included) and added fictitious aspects to create a character in their own right. And that’s part of what I love about writing. You get to see the characters come to life and take on their own experiences. By the end of the process, Jenny and Nicola were as real to me as anyone else I might meet. I felt maternal towards their plight and despaired at their decisions and actions.

The inspiration behind Season’s Meetings came last October. My wife and I love Christmas and always get overly excited—to the extent that we’re worse than a sleep-deprived child experiencing a sugar rush on Christmas Eve. Xmas 1aWe’re terrible influences on each other . Come October, we’re already buying gifts for family and friends, which I’ll readily admit is a task I relish. We eagerly count down to December 1st so we can blitz our house, pets, and even ourselves with festive paraphernalia. Last year, I was talking with my wife about Christmas and how it’s always over far too quickly. She suggested I write a festive story and that got me thinking. Twelve hours later, I had the full outline and character profiles of my Christmas romance sorted. BSB accepted the proposal and a contract was signed. Something was still missing from the story, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. In December, our perfectly decorated Christmas tree (which we’d spent hours slaving over)was sabotaged by our two cats and little cairn terrier, Kimmy. Kimmy was the main culprit. She’d used a thirty minute window of unsupervised doggy opportunity to break into the front room (we still don’t know how she got by the metal barricade) and reveled in her naughtiness by defiling our tree. Kimmy, was the missing link. Once I added her naughty grey little behind into the story, everything else fit into place. She not only stars in the story, she’s also on the front cover too.399196_110245149144601_1142677582_n

So now I come to the part that is most important. I’ve been planning on writing this blog for a while, but kept putting it off…until now. After finishing the page proofs for Season’s Meetings, I realised something profound and deeply personal. My subconscious (without my knowledge or permission) had been trying to voice my grief and get me to come to terms with it. In both Secret Lies and Season’s Meetings there is a similar theme, the death of the main protagonist’s grandmother. In Secret Lies, Jenny is still hurting and struggling to come to terms with the passing of her grandmother years later. While Catherine Birch, in Season’s Meetings is bereft after the recent passing of her Granny Birch. I’m genuinely shocked at the revelation and truly never, not even once, noticed the similarity or made the connection.

In 2007, my grandma, Bridie Dunne passed away from cancer.

Mama Bridie

Mama Bridie

I was away from home, in my final year at university, had just come out, was in a very unhealthy relationship, and was sitting my final exams. I was fortunate that one of my best friends drove me all the way home, so I could visit my grandma in the hospital. She was asleep when I last saw her. I spoke quietly so as not to disturb her. I’m not sure she knew I was there, but I hope with all my heart that she heard what I said and knew how much I loved her. I returned to university that night. A few days later, I received the phone call that she’d passed away.

My biggest regret, is that I hadn’t stayed at home and spent every waking second of those last few days by her side. I don’t think the guilt will ever fade. In truth, I wasn’t mentally or emotionally able to deal with the situation and returning to uni, was my running away from everything. Knowing my grandma as I do, I know she wouldn’t have begrudged my inability to cope.

My grandma was smaller than me in height and not many people can say that. Mama Bridie 2She had a very hard life. But she never stopped laughing. She saw the humour in every situation and loved nothing more than to have a good belly laugh. I still remember her laugh as if I’d only just heard it. Her sense of humour was wicked and the epitome of what makes Irish humour so awesome. I never tired of listening to her stories. She was fiercely ferocious in her protectiveness and love of us.

Her greatest pleasure in live was reading. She’d happily read a book a day. I never remember her not having a book to read. She used to tell us about when she was a young women living at home with her family in Ireland. Her sisters were all about the men. Her mother was keen for the girls to marry well and took it upon herself to judge every prospected suitor. My grandma, had no interest in men. She just wanted to read. She’d tell us about them different men, my granddad included, who used to call at the house to see her. Her mother would shout upstairs for her to come down, and she’d stay exactly where she was, comfortably sat on her bed, reading her book. I think my dad and the rest of us get our love of reading from her.

She also loved action films, which wasn’t surprisingly considering she had four boys. We had a family tradition that we’d all go to mass on Saturday evenings, so we could get up early, and go to the cinema first thing on a Sunday morning. If there wasn’t enough action in the film, she’d happily nod off and snore, only to wake twenty minutes before the end of the film. As soon as she realised that she’d been asleep, she’d burst out laughing. In the end, we’d all be laughing with her.

Whenever we visited her, she’d feed us. (It really is an Irish thing and I’m as bad now, as she was.) It didn’t matter if you were hungry or not, a pork chop or a cheese sandwich would magically appear on a plate in your lap. She loved McDonalds nearly as much as my sister and I did as children. On one occasion, she tried to send me to school with a five pack of Mars bars. I thanked her, but told her I wouldn’t eat them all. Normally, we would have disagreed for a while and she’d always win in the end, but on this occasion she backed down. I immediately became suspicious. A few minutes later, she strode past me, unsuccessfully hiding something beneath her woolen jumper. When I asked her where she was going, she told me, “I’m going to the toilet. Mind your own business.” I started to follow and she said, “I’ll do as I please, thank you.” I waited a few seconds, then peered around the door, to find her shoving the multipack into my coat pocket. I crept back to the sofa and sat down, pretending I hadn’t seen. When I went off to school, she waved goodbye to me with a triumphant grin on her face. Come the first break, I was glad of the chocolate and shared them around with my friends.

Another fond memory I have, is when I was 15. I was staying over for the night in her bungalow, as the next day I was travelling on a school trip to London. At this time in my life I was totally oblivious to my sexuality, but I was secretly a huge fan of the TV show Bad Girls. Usually, I’d watch it in the privacy of my bedroom. On this occasion, I had to resign myself to missing an episode. At half past eight, my grandma went to make us both a drink of Ovaltine. “I must quick,” she said rushing around. “My favourite programme is on soon.” I helped her stir the drinks and asked what programme she was on about. “Oh, it’s great. Them naughty girls,” she said in her Irish accent. Confused, I asked her again what she meant. “Those naughty, naughty, girls in prison. I love it.” With a gasp, I nearly dropped my cup and asked, “Do you mean Bad Girls?” She grinned and nodded. “Aye. I love that show.” So, we settled back down and watched the episode of Bad Girls together. I should point out that I spent most of show with bright red cheeks, avoiding looking at her, and at the TV.

When I went to university I joined the women’s rugby team. When I told my grandma about it, she said, “Oh, I love the rugby. I wish I could’ve had a go at that when I was girl.” It was both of our hopes that she’d get to see me play a match, but unfortunately it never happened.

One Bonfire night, I was drinking Lemon Hooch (which in an alcopop). I offered my grandma a taste and she didn’t hesitate to accept. She took a big swig and said, “That’s nice. I want some of that, too.” So, I poured her a glass and we happily sat, drinking our hooch, and laughing away. Many bottles later, (mostly with me trying to keep up with her) my dad came into the room and shot me a very disapproving look. He asked grandma if he could get her a cup of tea, and in a slurring voice she replied, “No. I want another lemon drink.” He took me outside and told me to stop getting grandma drunk. The problem was, by trying to match her pace I was also drunk. My grandma was fine the next day, but I was dying a slow and painful hangover death. It’s still one of my absolute favourite memories.

Another regret I have, is that I never came out to my grandma. I sometimes wonder if she secretly knew, but I have no doubt whatsoever, that she would’ve accepted me regardless. A little while before she passed away she told my younger sister, “You should marry that tall lad. Go on. You marry him soon.” (A few years later my sister did marry that tall lad.) Then she turned to me and said, “You don’t be worrying about marrying anyone. And if you do decide to marry someone, do it after you’re thirty. There’s no rush. You take it from me.” I wish, with all my heart, that she could have met my wife. They’d have gotten on like a house on fire.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her and miss her. I have a huge gaping hole in my heart full of pain and regret and it will never go away. It hurts to remember her, because I miss her so frigging much, but I wouldn’t lessen that hurt even if I could. It’s a good hurt. It reminds me of how much I love her. How much she means to me. How much she inspired my life and helped shape the person I am today. And the more I talk about her and share my memories, the longer her memory lives on.

Both of the grandmothers in Secret Lies and Season’s MeetingsBSB-SeasonsMeetings are incredible women, but they don’t come close in comparison to how incredible my grandma Bridie was. She’s the real inspiration behind both stories. And writing them, has helped me come some way in regards to accepting my grief. It’s been a pleasure being able to share my memories of her with you.

The Amazon Trail

Cheetos and Chipmunks
        Married life is all it’s cracked up to be. For which I am very grateful since my sweetheart became my wife four years ago on 10/10/10. Next year, for our fifth anniversary, we’ll have a huge party: the two of us, our cat, our dog and maybe a bag of Cheetos.
        Better make that two bags of Cheetos; she likes the puffs and I like the crunchies. The dog will eat both and the cat will lick either to death. Marriage is a mix of compromise, clarity, cooperation, communication, comedy and cuddling, among other pleasures.
        A first step in any marriage is communication. Examples follow.
Before dinner she says, “I don’t feel like cooking.” Translation: We’re having pizza tonight.
        At any time, “Honey, are you working?” Translation: The dog needs to go out.
Or, “I thought the dog was with you.” Translation: The dog peed on the floor again.
Toward the end of the week, “Honey, are you doing laundry today?” Translation:  I‘m almost out of underwear.
At dinnertime, when the frozen pizzas are ready to eat.  “Honey, you know how we love wood-fired pizza? Well, consider this one wood-fired.” Translation: I burned the pizza.
        Then there are the follies of misinterpretation, when what we hear seldom has anything to do with what either of us think we’ve actually said.
        After a haircut, “Your hair is so short!” Interpretation: She hates it, she’s going to leave me. Real message: I can’t wait to get home so I can play with your hair.
        “Are you getting up today?”  Interpretation: She thinks I stayed up too late again, she disapproves. Real message: If you’re sleeping a while longer, I’d love to nap with you.
        “Let’s go for a walk on the beach!” Interpretation: She thinks I’m too fat and need exercise. Real message: I want to walk on the beach today.
        “What do you want for dinner tonight?”  Interpretation: She doesn’t want to cook. Real message: I want pizza.
     Cooperation and comedy often go hand in hand and we at times act like a couple of keystone cops. Take for example the day we saved the chipmunk. The cat was sunning on her catio. She is very quick, so we use various means to encourage the birds to bypass her lair. The local chipmunks, however, are unshaken in their conviction that they, and they alone, have unlimited access across the catio as they go about their exceedingly urgent chores and errands. More than once we’ve heard a commotion and raced to the screen door to pluck our hunter indoors.
        On this particular day, my sweetheart shouted my name an octave higher than humanly possible. The kitty had captured a chipmunk and brought it through the cat door. When the kitty dropped the chipmunk, mayhem erupted: the LIVE chipmunk took off running. Biggest chipmunk I ever saw. We totally lost our cool running this way and that in panic.
        As the little critter scampered under furniture, I yelled, among other things,  “Grab the cat! Grab the cat!” and “Open the front door! Open the front door!” Sweetheart yelled, “KICK IT! KICK IT! (which I assumed meant I should kick the furniture, not the animal). Sure enough, the petrified invader shot out of the house like a comet. The door never closed so quickly. My sweetheart called me a hero, and later bought a musical card that plays the theme for Indiana Jones. Now she plays it when I pick up the dog poop. I play it when she doesn’t burn the pizza (she very seldom burns it).

Chipmunk Hunter

Chipmunk Hunter

        At other times, I’ll have an idea, my sweetheart will thank me for it, then do things her way. Or, the reverse happens. We are cooperatively bullheaded.
Cuddling happens when I think the sky is falling. No matter how often my worries get the best of me, my sweetheart can tell. She puts her arms around me and I’m fixed. When something bad happens to my her, like losing her phone or trouble at work, I get to be Cuddler in Chief and do what I can to comfort her. Best are our congratulatory cuddles, like when she solves a complex logistical problem and is all pumped and pleased, or when I finish a first draft after being certain I never would.
 We’re still working on clarity. My sweetheart usually speaks perfectly clearly, but I don’t hear consonants very well so, lest I become too annoying, I try to come up with variations on the question, “What?”  We’re both from the New York City metro area. That makes us very compatible in some ways, but we all know those accents can turn speech to slush. To make things more difficult, I come from a family of mumblers. My mother was always telling my father, brother and I to speak up; we never learned how. In her last years we’d go out for a ride and she would insist that my 72 year-old brother and I sit in the front seats so we could talk. We’d mutter to each other mile after mile while our mother shouted “Speak up!” from the back seat.
Those are the six C’s of marriage: compromise, clarity, cooperation, comedy, communication and cuddling. Of course there are more, like love, but that doesn’t start with a “C.”  Consistency is pretty good for a marriage too.

Characters

By Martha Miller

I love the part of being a writer that enables me to create characters, but after reading Stephen King’s Misery, after learning that Arthur Conon Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Homes and the fans wouldn’t let him, after seeing what happened to J K Rowling’s first non-Harry Potter book (albeit her fans eventually came through) or Sarah Paretsky’s only book without Chicago Detective V I Warshawski, all of whose fans wanted more and more of the same, I decided to create new characters each book. Most of mine tend to be women who get involved in the mystery accidently. My characters also tend to be the opposite of the young, slim, blond, athletic lesbians that dominate our literature. Only 6% of women weigh the same or less than the average woman on TV. Most of them are 19 years old. Story worthy things happen to women who belong to the other 96%. Life doesn’t end at twenty-five.

Bertha Brannon was the protagonist of my first mystery, Nine Nights on the Windy TreeNine Nights on the Windy Tree. I deliberately created her the opposite of the traditional lesbian heroine. She was a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound, black, forty something, attorney and newly-recovering drug addict who was just out of treatment and trying to put together a legal practice. Older than the average lesbian heroine, she has some ex-lover baggage, she sweats too much, and often she gets deeper into trouble by trusting someone she shouldn’t. Moreover, she always needs money because she is a sap, often giving her services away to women in trouble. In other words she’s just like me—except my skin isn’t black and my degree is not in law, but in English.

In the first chapter, I put Bertha down in a scene straight out of The Maltese Falcon and China Town. Bertha needs to pay the rent but doesn’t have the money. It’s a hot Friday afternoon and she is looking forward to getting out of her court “get up” and going home. A woman comes into her office and tries to engage Bertha’s services because a psychic has told her she was going to be arrested for murdering her husband. She hasn’t done it yet, but why wait till the last minute? Bertha doesn’t want the case. But the woman, Sally Morescki, takes cash out of her purse and Bertha needs the to pay the rent. As one thing leads to another, Bertha learns that the woman isn’t Sally Morescki. By then she’s up to her ears in trouble.

While I patterned the first chapter after those old noirish mysteries, I promise you that I created Bertha’s grandma to be much like my own—full of spirit, stubborn and likely to do about anything. Of course, Bertha’s grandma was black, mine wasn’t. The book was with the publisher in some stage of editing when I read the first Stephanie Plum mystery. Stephanie has a grandma who lives with her parents and is a lot like Bertha’s grandma. This was frustrating. One critic, Joan Drury, reviewing the book, said, “Bertha’s grandmother is worth the price [of the book] alone.”

I also gave Bertha something that I wanted but didn’t get. Bertha was raised by her grandma. I remember my grandma telling me how she was taught to use her walker on the stairs. As a little girl, I remember her backyard, full of fruit trees and flowers and a tomato patch. Grandma would point to a flower and say “see how well my azaleas are doing.” It was several years after she was gone that I realized she was teaching me the names of all those plants. I wish I had listened more carefully. Bertha’s grandma lived in my grandma’s house and on the corner was Latch’s grocery store, which was also a big part of the book.

While my partner and I were driving to Niagara Falls celebrating our Civil Union, as well as twenty years together, I brought Nine Nights’ along and read it in the car. I realized how much I missed Bertha and I decided to try a sequel. I wrote the first book fifteen years ago. So I aged Bertha, and I made her a judge. Now she’s 210 pounds and 5 feet 11 inches—shorter and a bit heavier. I had Bertha’s partner, Toni Matulis, a beat cop, and Toni’s mixed-race, daughter Doree who’s now a teenager living with Bertha. I didn’t think Grandma could possibly still be alive. Then as I talked about the project, people told me they loved Grandma and looked forward to catching up on her too. So I finally blew some life into her and put her in a nursing home where she loves horror movies and meets a younger white man on the Internet.

After finishing WidowWidow  300 DPI—after the book was with the editor, I went to St. Louis to see Sue Grafton; she was promoting her new book W is for Wasted. I got the book free with the price of my ticket. When I got home and read it, I was unpleasantly surprised to find an ornery cat in the book. Widow has a psychotic cat the Bertha renames Norman Bates. I was pleased to find that Grafton didn’t do much with her cat. Norman Bates introduces new conflict for Bertha, as the day she brings him home, he crawls into the ductwork beneath the house.

I tell writing students that there are only 37 plots. (Recently I found them listed on the Internet.) Writers keep marching out new and interesting characters and putting them through those plots. My point was beauty is relative—in the eye of the beholder.

So Widow has a funny grandma and a psychotic cat and a beautiful 210 pound heroine in her mid-fifties who suddenly finds herself alone.

A BSB Author Interview with Ann Aptaker

By Connie Ward

Photo Credit-Janice Hall

Photo Credit-Janice Hall

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

In all honesty, I really don’t know. I’m pretty sure I didn’t consciously decide. It’s just something that came, something I have to do. I love stories. People’s stories run through my head, everyone speaking in their unique rhythm of the English language and its various accents and corruptions. They find places in what I write.

And in a way, writing is the fruition of everything else I’ve done in my life, particularly my youth in theater, and later through most of my adult life, as a curator and exhibition designer. Those professions are about creating worlds, creating environments based on a narrative. (Even art shows, when they’re good, have a narrative thread). So I’ve always created worlds. Now I create them with words instead of physical contexts.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I write crime and mystery fiction. The genre suits me, it gets right to the meat of things. I like digging around to find the humanity of the denizens who exist on the bad side of the Law. Despite the evils they must overcome or even perpetrate, they either have to clutch tight to whatever shred of humanity they have left or let go of their humanity altogether. Some of my characters choose the former, some the latter, but at some point in their lives, they’ve faced that decision. I find that fascinating.

Also, there’s a certain lure to the outlaw life. The freedom of it, even though it’s a dangerous freedom, is seductive. After all, doesn’t everyone love the legend of Jesse James? ☺ For my protagonist, Cantor Gold, an art smuggler and very out, very dapper butch, this dangerous freedom is important. In mid-century America (Criminal Gold is set in 1949; the series will continue through the 1950s), LGBTQ people had no civil rights. They were criminals just for being who they were. To counter this, Cantor doesn’t even think in terms of “rights.” She thinks in terms of freedom, which she claims for herself, despite the dangers of arrest for being a smuggler and a lesbian. “Rights” and “Freedom” are not the same thing, though of course, the one can confer the other. And that’s the problem: “Rights” are bestowed, “Freedom” can be taken.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

Very supportive. I have a rather complicated family history, too long and involved to go into here. But suffice to say my sister makes me feel proud to be me. And my friends provide a support network of warmth and concern without which…well, I don’t even want to think about what my life would be like without this incredible group of people.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere. And living in New York City provides a lot of material. There used to be an old TV show about New York called Naked City, based on the great movie from 1948, and at the end of the show, the announcer would say, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” Well, there are still over eight million stories in New York City. I see those stories played out every day. The subway at rush hour, when it’s crowded and people get on in groups from the office or wherever, and they’re gossiping, is a great place to overhear speech patterns, hear personal dramas. I’m very nosy on the subway.

And since Criminal GoldBSB-CriminalGold is a mid-twentieth-century historical, I get ideas for time, place, character, mood, etc., from reading newspapers from the time (I spend a lot of time at the New York Public Library’s microfilm room). The tabloids like the Daily News and the Daily Mirror splashed crime stories and pictures across their front pages, and the stories didn’t spare any of the lurid details. Plus, New York City had seven papers in those days. Seven! Every possible political and cultural point of view was represented. Add to that, the scores of weeklies that catered to the city’s various ethnic and racial communities—all of them great sources for ideas!

I also talk to people who were around then, who were kids or teens at the time, and also to the now quickly passing World War Two generation who remember the post-war years well. And now there’s YouTube, which has lots of mid-twentieth-century stuff: old TV and radio shows and commercials, news clips, all kinds of great stuff.

Most of all, though, ideas spring from my head.

 

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

A bit of both. I start with what I hear in my head, what I see behind my eyes, and just write, which actually goes on for quite a while. About halfway through the first draft, I need to keep track of things, of who did what, who said what, so I write a bare-bones outline for action or character issues going forward. But in truth, that outline usually gets forgotten, buried somewhere on my desk, and the writing just takes over again.

 

What makes Criminal Gold  special to you?

Since Criminal Gold is my debut novel, I suppose it’s a little bit like watching your child grow up and go out into the world.

But writing about Cantor Gold is special to me, too. She’s an expression of defiance and courage. But she’s more than just an anarchic billboard; she’s deeply human, flawed (she can be a cad), even frightened. But she presses on, as we all must do.

 

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

Though I certainly don’t live the life of any of my characters, I suppose I’m in all of them. They pass through me, after all, and they take parts of me with them into the story.

Some of the characters are based on people I’ve known, sometimes as physical types, sometimes as personalities.

 

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

of this author(s)?

I love groundbreakers, so I’m partial to the work of our forebears: Djuna Barnes, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Ann Bannon, etc. But since the question is one of “inspiration” I’d have to go with the publication of Violet Trefusis’s letters to Vita Sackville West. Violet’s letters to Vita knock me out. They’re not just outpourings of love and heartbreak, but a plea for a way of life, a life of romantic freedom, sexual freedom, creative freedom. Violet envisioned a thrilling partnership where she and Vita would define life on their own terms, where civil society and even the Law had nothing to do with it. She didn’t get it, but her romantic vision is breathtaking.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Trust yourself most of all. Yes, beta readers and all that are helpful, they can point out mistakes or weak spots, but know when to tune them out and trust the voices in your own head. It’s your story, not theirs. Tell it your way. Break rules.

And write. Then write some more. And when you’re not writing, listen. Listen very hard to the world around you. If the world around you is too small, too tight, with the same voices over and over again, break out and listen to the voices of the larger world. Write it all down.

 

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

Reading. Movies (thank god for Netflix). Theater, when I can afford it. Stream a TV show or two. Take very long walks through the city. And, of course, my friends.

We Didn’t Start The Fire: Why My Poor Millennial Self Needs New Adult Romance More Than Ever

By Rebekah Weatherspoon

A few years ago, I remember sitting down with a couple other BSB authors and remarking that I was having a hard time finding characters I could relate to. Not because I wasn’t finding stories that had great plots and well rounded characters, but because I was reading so many romances that featured characters that, to me, were adults. Like real adults, with jobs that they kept for more than six weeks. Doctors and Cops. And pirates. Pirating is a legit career with a goal of retirement. I was reading about real adults that didn’t have student loan debt that they had made a fun game out of deferring. The only uncertainty in their lives was in the romance department, but I always felt like those characters had their shit together. And that shit was going to stay together because that’s what adults do. They keep their shit together.

My shit was not together at the time. I was looking at the 30, wondering when the hell I was going to stop calling my parents for help. And by help I mean money.  In truth, now my shit is only really together in the sense that I’m not homeless or in any sort of legal trouble. It’s 2014 and I don’t have kids. Or a house. Or a dog. Or a healthy retirement plan. Or the white Escalade I was promised by my 17 year old self. I don’t have a stand mixer either. I don’t know how I live.

My parents left New York City to give my siblings and I a better life and we bought into that life completely. I KNEW by the time I was thirty, I would be the queen of the PTA. I would be rich. Like so fucking rich. There were visions of a jogging stroller and two chocolate labs you would totally let off leash, but wouldn’t stray. I would an expert knitter and seamstress. I would also have some sort of career that I loved. At age 10, I told my dad that I was going to be a pharmacist. I had no idea what a pharmacist did. There were no visions of any sort of partner, this was just this sort of life my upbringing in New Hampshire, by black folks who done everything right, had promised me.

This was also the dream promised me by a booming economy that just doesn’t exist any more. And heteronormative capitalism. But I’m only one Bekah. I can only fight the system so much. And it’s really hard to fight the system with 25+ episodes of House Hunters on Netflix.

And this is why New Adult fiction, romance in particular, is so important to me. This is why I felt completely comfortable and almost obligated to write Treasure. BSB-TreasureThe clinical definition of New Adult fiction involves characters ages 18-25 or characters near that age who are going through a major life transition that leads to gains in maturity and life experience.

My real life is bags and I mean BAGS of Pizza Rolls. I love things that can be microwaved. It’s putting off maintenance on my car for at least 18 months. I’m an adult now. I can’t pretend to be anything else, but in a lot of ways I’m wrestling with stuff that I wrestled with when I was in my early twenties. Trisha and Alexis, my leading ladies in Treasure, are both entering this transitional period of their lives from two very different directions. Alexis had tried and failed to live up to her parents lofty expectations. Trisha is out in the world, taking care of herself and helping her mother support her five foster kids, but she still feels the pressure to do more, to be more.

Me at Trisha's age and Me now.

Me at Trisha’s age and Me now.

I can relate to Alexis and Trisha because even though I know I am smart and resourcefully, it took years for me to feel like I didn’t have to be dependent on my parents anymore. I can related to Trisha and Alexis, because even when I found my independence and some sense of direction, I felt this weird sense that my parents wanted me to keep depending on them until my life went the way they envisioned it.

I can relate to Trisha because I’ve thought about stripping to pay bills. I’ve thought about it A LOT. Too bad I’m horrible in heels.

I can related to Alexis because at one point I felt like such a failure because I wasn’t living up to the standard that the 80s had laid out for me I didn’t see the point of living anymore.

And I can relate to Trisha and Alexis because love and interpersonal relationships were two of the few things that kept me going when I was maturing through some pretty crappy life experience.

The Amazon Trail

Cheeseburgers In Paradise: Cate Culpepper 1957 – 2014

 

Author Cate Culpepper was friends with just about everyone in her life. Our friendship began in 2006, when we met in Olympia, Washington for a signing. In 2007 my sweetheart-to-be and I visited Cate’s hotel room at the Golden Crown Literary Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Cate was wearing over-sized, faux-furred brown bear slippers, a vision I will never forget — and never allowed her to forget.

I have a plethora of words to describe this loving, lovable, talented, empathetic, funny, irreverent, raunchy, generous lesbian storyteller and counselor. Those who read her Facebook page or her books will see evidence of all of this. She earned a living working with street kids, got a masters’ degree so she could earn bottom dollar wages doing it. The good karma she accrued in this life will surely propel her to a long, happy and fruitful next-time-around.

Cate’s friend Cheryl Craig said this:  “She was one of the most courageous people I have met. Onward she goes to bring her wisdom heart and joy to many.”

Friend and author Gill McKnight said, of the day Cate died, “It was a long, hard Saturday and I had to do some little thing to mark her bravery and honesty. I went down to the little church by the harbour, the one the fishermen use, and lit a candle for her. It’s Greek Orthodox and Cate would have loved the cool, dark interior with its gilt iconography and the smell of stale incense. I always thought one day I could lure her over here for a look-see at my island. To my mind she’s just arrived. I’m talking to her all the time.”

Rather than repeat the many tributes to Cate, like Victoria Brownworth’s at Lambda Literary < http://goo.gl/TbzdIQ >, let me share a bit of Cate and her extraordinary imagination to demonstrate what the world has lost.

Cate the film critic days before she died: “I ate a pizza with green peppers and black olives and then a big dish of Ben & Jerrys and I watched Hunger Games.  It was good!  Jennifer Laurence makes a lot of faces in it.”

Cate the political pundit/landscape designer on the water feature that came with our new home: “Top o’ the evening.  Please ask Elaine to take a picture of the now-clean ugly cement carp vomiting water.  This feature alone should endear your home in your heart — how many of us get ugly vomiting cement carps?  Name it Sarah Palin.”

Cate  the literary critic upon news that I plan to memorialize her and her dog in my next book: “Don’t forget that Cullie Culpepper and Kirby move in with you at the beginning of Rainbow Gap.  I want that very top room so I can pelt you with water balloons.”

Cate the gourmet, a day after we dropped off cheeseburgers and fries on our way out of Seattle:  “I’m still sitting here with my no more fries, and I’ve been holding the empty styrofoam container for 23 hours now.  Where are you!?”

Cate on her beloved mother who was a Rolfing practitioner: “I wish my mom could have worked on you.  I never had the full ten sessions, but Mom happily dug her ELBOW or her FIST into any sore muscles I had to hone her skills.  I always assumed she was good, but I was amazed at the small crowd at her memorial service — folks I’d never met, Mom’s clients.  They said wonderful things.”

Cate the generous, knowing she didn’t have long to live, emptied her life savings, took her sister and their childhood friend on a cruise to Alaska to cushion the blow of her bad news.

Always deflecting her troubles, this was Cate the hard up regarding a reading at which we were expected to bring our books to sell: “Honey, I’m saving up now for the gas and hotel — can’t afford to pre-purchase my books, but I’ll bring whatever spares I have.  Can I pretend I wrote your books?  I do all the time anyway.”

Cate the Amazon Dyke:  “Tell me when, just one time, I have been thought about with clean thoughts?  You know I inspire ravening sexual fantasies.  Well, in butches I inspire terrible feelings of inadequacy, by comparison.”

Cate the animal lover when I asked how she’d like people to honor her in lieu of flowers: “Ooh, yeah, I like the ‘in loo of flowers option!’ I’d love it if folks wanted to donate to any agency or program dedicated to protecting and healing abused animals.  Like DAWGS!  But okay, cats too.”

Cate, on our surgeries: “I’m afraid I heard from my ex-uterus.  She has not been able to locate your left knee.  She’s mumbling something about some renegade kneecap down in hell that keeps smashing into the testicles of Republicans. You’re going to have to hop around on one leg up there, but your first ex-knee is living the life we all have dreamed of.”

In response to a photo we sent of the Cate Memorial on our coffee table: “This is so cool!! I need to put you two in charge of the many theme parks and cathedrals sure to arise in my honor in coming years.  You make me look good!  SMOOCH.”

On the nomination of her eighth and final book, Windigo Thrall, for a Lambda Literary Award. “I think if Windigo wins a Lammy it will be a sign of end-times, globally, or the miraculous beginning of a new age.” She then instructed Bold Strokes Books author and editor Shelley Thrasher, Bold Strokes Books Consulting Publicist Connie Ward, my sweetheart and myself to accept another award, from The Golden Crown Literary Society, if her book should win a Goldie. Cate provided us with the following script.

 

Evening, ladies and also Lee —

 

I love that I’m planning an acceptance speech for a book that hasn’t even been shortlisted yet.  But Nurse Connie asked if I could expand last year’s speech, the one I foisted on poor Lainie, to include all four of you.  Should my epic masterpiece win, and if you’re in a hammy mood that night in New Orleans, this might be fun.

 

Lainie, Lee, Shelley, and Connie walk to podium.

 

Lee and Shelley, as authors, are obviously very unhappy about doing this.  They slouch along like sulking children, and Lainie and Connie have to urge them along with subtle pushes.

 

Once assembled on stage, Lainie pulls a folded piece of paper from her pocket (or cleavage) and begins to read.

 

LAINIE:  Cate Culpepper is, hands-down, the greatest lesbian writer who ever lived.

 

Lainie hands paper to Lee, who just glares at her.

 

LAINIE:  Well, it’s not my fault!  (Shakes paper at Lee.)   I didn’t write this dreck!

 

LEE takes the paper and reads, begrudgingly.   I am a writer today only because of Cate Culpepper’s genius.  Cate Culpepper taught me everything I know about storytelling.  Were it not for Cate Culpepper . . . oh for fuck’s sake.

 

Lee slaps the paper against Shelley’s chest in disgust.  At Connie’s insistence, Shelley sighs deeply and reads.

 

SHELLEY:  What’s more, Cate Culpepper is easily the sexiest woman who ever lived.  I’ve never known such a sexually desirable woman as Cate Culpepper.  (Connie folds her arms, jealous.)  Those hypnotic eyes, those ruby lips, those two taut, perky little breasts –

 

CONNIE snatches paper away from Shelley and reads, (sincerely):  Cate thanks Cindy Cresap and Bold Strokes Books, and she sends her love to her GCLS family.

 

All exit.

 

Shelley responded: “Absolutely nuts, and I love it all. I’ll do my hammy best to pay homage to the most revered writer in the history of lesbian literature.”

My sweetheart responded: I will rock my cleavage in homage to Cate and in rhythm to the amazon drums that Cate will endeavor to thrum over the auditorium to the bewilderment of those thousands attending.

Connie and I maintained a butch stoicism.

Cate, in response to our willingness to do this: “Woo-hoo!!!  Thank you so much for everything, Lainie, especially the image of you whipping that piece of paper out of your cleavage!  You know I’ll be watching you guys and giggling, were I not too butch to giggle. I love you. Hee hee hee hee!  My work here is done.”   C.

 

Copyright Lee Lynch 2014


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