Archive for June, 2015

Sex and PB&Js Or… Let’s Call a Nipple a Nipple


When I was at the Lone Star LesFic Festival in Austin, I was fortunate enough to be on a panel discussing one of my favorite topics—sex. A question from an audience member got me thinking about the sex scenes we write and the vocabulary we use for them. She wanted to know if the authors on the panel kept lists of phrases and words we used to describe actions and body parts, crossing them off as we used them in books and making sure we came up with new imagery for every scene. The question is an interesting one, and the responses to it were as varied as the panelists, but my short answer is no. I was intrigued enough, though, to want to write out a longer explanation.


I spent an enjoyable chunk of time with a thesaurus while I decided what would be on my list, were I to write one. Scrumptious mammarian nugget, mouthwatering womanly chasm, and moist wormhole of rapture (the last in case I decide to write sci-fi). Needless to say, these would be immediately edited out of any document I submitted and would never see the light of publishing day. The fact is—without introducing items from a sex store—there are only a few body parts that play a significant role in sex. I say, call a nipple a nipple. So how do we, as writers, come up with fresh and unique sex scenes for each book, without resorting to the giggle-inducing euphemisms?


PB&JLet me pause for a moment to explain the second half of my title. I’m not talking about bringing PB&Js into the bedroom for some sex play, since the thought of the resulting mess kicks my OCD into overdrive. I’d have to throw out the sheets—and possibly the mattress as well—the next day. Yech. Okay…my anti-anxiety medication is kicking in and I can continue… The question in Austin made me think of an analogy of sex to the sandwich we all know and love. The ingredients are simple, few, and easily procured. But ask five people how they prefer to construct this basic sandwich, and I’m sure you’ll get at least five different answers. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter? Raspberry jam or apple jelly? White bread or full-of-fiber-seven-grain-with-flax-seeds? What’s the reason for this seemingly infinite variety of combinations? Personality. Character. Personal taste, personal history, personal appetites.


Character is the key to making a sex scene ring true, feel erotically charged, and affect the reader (and the writer, I must add). When the two characters involved (or more, if you’re MJ Williamz) bring their pasts, their needs, and their varying degrees of ability to understand each other into the bedroom, the resulting scenes feel authentic and different from any other scene with any other characters. The basic act can be straightforward and the vocabulary can be simple, but no other characters would have the exact same experience.


How did this come into play in my latest book, Mounting Evidence? In this instance, the location was the most important variable. The two characters, mounted police lieutenant Abby and wetland biologist Kira, have spent a lot of time and effort building walls around their personal lives and protecting their home space, for different reasons. Their first sexual encounter is outside and in a neutral place, where they can let their guard down for a brief moment. The two later scenes are in places that have greater emotional impact and represent a true sharing of their inner lives. The parts involved are lips and fingers and thighs. Nothing as fancy as a moist wormhole, but the events are significant to them and will seem to the reader—I hope—to be genuine expressions of the emotions specific to them.Mounting Evidence 300 DPI


So…sex and PB&Js. What are my personal preferences? As far as sandwiches go, I like smooth peanut butter and cherry jam, with a ratio of 1.5:1 jelly to peanut butter. Even though I like most sandwiches cut on a diagonal, PB&Js should be cut across the middle. And, although I prefer artisanal breads with good chew as a rule, peanut butter and jelly belong on the soft, mass-produced bread of my childhood. As far as sex goes? Well, I prefer having it to not having it, and that’s all I’ll say about that…

The Women of My Dreams: Alex, Artemisia, Anne, and Helena


Romance by the Book

No, that’s not a list of my former flames or current crushes. Alex and Artemisia are characters from my novel Romance by the Book: Alex is a graduate student researching the work of Artemisia, a contemporary of Byron and Shelley rumored to have more in common with Sappho than a talent for poetry. Anne is Anne Lister (1791-1840), a real-life Regency era lesbian who served as a model for Artemisia.


And Helena is Helena Whitbread, the scholar who discovered Anne’s story and (as she describes it in No Priest But Love) has spent the last thirty years “engaged in a literary, historical, and cultural adventure,” laboring to bring that story to the world.


And quite a labor it has been. Anne Lister’s diaries comprise over 6,000 pages—4 million words—and the parts that aren’t in tiny handwriting filled with abbreviations are written in actual code.


Fortunately the code had been cracked a century earlier by John Lister (a relative), who abandoned the project and concealed the diaries, but—to his credit—did not destroy them (despite being advised by friends to do so). In 1984, Helena Whitbread began reading and decoding the diaries—and never looked back.


As Ms. Whitbread herself describes, when she started she had no idea who Anne Lister was, other than the past owner of local stately home. What she discovered was that this “outwardly conventional upperclass woman,” called “Gentleman Jack” by her neighbors (which makes me think she wasn’t all that conventional), was also a lesbian, and not shy about it, either. As Whitbread puts it in I Know My Own Heart, “she had no difficulty in attaching to herself the passionate and jealous affection of a number of women whose love she returned in varying degrees of intensity.”

Portrait of Anne Lister by Joshua Horner, ca. 1830

Portrait of Anne Lister by Joshua Horner, ca. 1830


Nor was this passion platonic, which we know with absolute certainty thanks to the highly unromantic fact that she contracted a venereal disease from one of her lovers and later transmitted it to at least one other woman. Sorry as I am for the personal suffering of these women, I can’t help feeling glad that because of their misfortunes, the physicality of their relationships can’t be denied. Too often attempts to rediscover the truth about LGBTQ people of the past are contested by those who would like to erase us from history, disparaged as ahistorical misinterpretations of “innocent” friendships or misreadings of passages taken out of context.


Not this time.


In the words of Emma Donoghue, ‘The Lister diaries are the Dead Sea Scrolls of lesbian history: they changed everything.” And it’s thanks to Helena Whitbread that we have access to the life and words of Anne Lister.


Jeanette Winterson says the diaries gave her courage. They gave me inspiration. What will they give you? There’s only one way to find out.




Searching for CeceliaSeeing one’s novel published is always thrilling, but I am especially excited that Bold Strokes is releasing my new mystery, Searching for Celia, this month because it took 18 years to get it published. No, really—18 years. A lifetime. Or at least the length of a childhood, and that can seem like forever.


When I started Celia back in 1997, the world was a different place. The Internet was still in its infancy, and there was no social media. Pre-9/11, we still got to keep our shoes on at the airport, and the name “Kardashian” was known only as OJ’s lawyer (ah, the good old days).


When I started Searching for Celia (then known as Celia Frost), my second novel, The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke, had been published by Little, Brown in the UK and my third novel, Rainey’s Lament, was scheduled for publication in 1998. I was living in London, in a studio flat in Hampstead, writing full-time. I was young, single, debt-free, carefree, on top of the world.


My then-agent and editor were excited to see my follow-up to Rainey’s Lament. When I handed in the first six chapters and synopsis of Celia Frost in early 1998, they responded very positively, and we seemed to be on track for publication in 1999 or 2000.


But…(and there’s always a “but”) then Rainey’s Lament came out in May 1998. The reviews were generally positive. But sales stank. Like, really stank. To this day I don’t know the actual numbers, but I imagine sales were less than half what the publisher had anticipated. And suddenly, Celia Frost was in jeopardy. My agent explained that my publisher couldn’t justify sinking more money into another of my books with sales so poor. Moreover, he warned, it was unlikely any publisher would ever invest in me again. But he still saw Celia’s potential and advised me to finish the book and let him submit it under a pseudonym, so he could pitch me as a young, unknown author with a debut novel. I considered his suggestion, but the book wasn’t near finished, and without money from a book deal I couldn’t stay in London. (I never had a work permit; I was there on a writers-and-artists visa, which meant my only income could come from publishing deals and book sales).


Devastated, I moved back to Wisconsin to start again from scratch. I felt like an utter and abject failure, wondering if I’d ever be published again. Back home, I started a freelance editing, critiquing, and ghostwriting business, The Writer’s Midwife, which I still run today. But Celia Frost stuck with me, even if only as a whisper on my creative consciousness. From 1999 to 2001 I rewrote the book three times and approached dozens of agents, finally securing a top New York agent in 2000. Celia had morphed over time and the version I had then was set 50/50 in Wisconsin and London, and involved the main character, Dayle, investigating a white supremacist group in northern Wisconsin who were implicated in Celia’s disappearance. And Dayle’s “interesting character quirk” was that she raised show rabbits. (Seriously. And I wonder why that version didn’t get published?)


The agent submitted the manuscript to 25 major publishers. And, one by one, all 25 said “no.” Some hated it, some “liked but didn’t love” it, a few really liked it, but there was always a reason why it just wasn’t quite “right” for them. One publisher said Edwina, Celia’s ex-girlfriend, should be “Edwin” and Dayle should have a romance with him; one claimed no one would read a novel with an author as protagonist, some said the book was too character-driven, others said too plot-driven, but most believed the story of the relationship between two women, from friendship to love and back to friendship—just wasn’t “big” enough or commercial enough for a large mainstream readership.


In 2001 my agent advised me to dump Celia and try something else. I ended up writing another novel, Dear Mr. Carson, published in 2006, but I never completely gave up on Celia. I knew there was something of value there; I just had to keep digging until I found it.


In 2005 the TV show 24 inspired me to try a “real-time” structure for the novel, setting it entirely over the course of a single day, with each chapter representing roughly an hour in Dayle’s life. That seemed to breathe new life into the project, and I was optimistic that this was “it,” but then another project took precedence, a nonfiction memoir about me exploring Scandinavia’s most depressing tourist destinations. Alas, the fourth agent of my career (long story) submitted that memoir to more than 20 publishers, and all 20 said no.


In 2009, I returned to Celia determined to publish it at last. That rewrite took five years (mostly keeping the “chapter-per-hour” structure; happily jettisoning the rabbits and Neo-Nazis.) By 2014 I knew that Bold Strokes would be the perfect home for the now-titled Searching for Celia and I was thrilled when they accepted the manuscript right away, for publication this June.


I don’t see my story’s message as being that perseverance always pays off. Indeed, I can look back at projects that I wish I had abandoned earlier. My message is more that you’re ready when you’re ready, but you can’t always know when that will be. A project, whether it’s a creative work or a personal project of some sort, has a genesis and a journey and a destination all its own, invisible to its creator until the final piece slots into place, and only then can you step back and say, “Ah ha! This is what it was meant to be all long.”



The Amazon Trail

Aging Tomboy

By Lee Lynch

Lee with Ladybug

Lee with Ladybug

My body is telling me to slow down, even while my mind says go, go, go.

When was the last time I climbed a tree, a favorite younger pastime? Now I simply admire them and the birds that flit from Shore Pine to Western Hemlock to  Ornamental Cherry. It’s funny how I thought I missed certain activities and now I’m grateful I don’t have to do them any more.

I loved to run—to sprint. To run away when being bullied and just to run when I was confused or depressed or anxious. Can’t do that with fake knees. Instead, this Saturday I’m walking my first whopping 5K run to benefit our local chapter of N.O.W. I even get a bib! Rather than pout because I can’t join the actual runners, I’m grateful to walk nearly pain free again.  I’m also grateful to N.O.W. for its emphatic inclusiveness and to our little PFLAG group. We may not have a gay pride parade in this little town, but with their support, I no longer need to run anywhere.  I’m already at the edge of the continent and I’m not about turn tail.

PFLAG does join the July Fourth La Di Dah Parade a few towns away and has one of the largest presences in it. The first time I attended this event I stood next to a pot belly pig on a leash and then we watched the parade together. That’s the kind of town it is.

Usually I march in our neighborhood parade. I may not be as agile as I was, but I never got to be in a parade when I was more able. Our event includes people on patriotically festooned walkers, mobility scooters, aging pets in strollers, and this year—a batch of senior tricycles!

I do miss my bike. Once upon a time I practically lived on it. I ride an exercycle indoors, but have qualms about my balance, and am content—almost—with fond memories of my English racers. Part of me wants to join the outlaw tricycle gang on the Fourth. Part of me is still too proud to make the shift from bike to trike.

Lee on tricycle

Lee on tricycle

Heck, with not one, but two rotator cuff tears I can’t even hit a pink Spaldeen ball off a handball court wall. Or serve a tennis ball. Or spike a volleyball.

I can still dress like a tomboy. A butch tomboy anyway. My sweetheart was a femme tomboy. They grow up to be sporty femmes. It makes life easier when you marry a tomboy of any persuasion because she’s not afraid to tackle a garden project and can catch anything you toss her across the room. My sporty femme was the catcher on her softball team. With my weight limit of twenty pounds she also handles the heavy lifting. It’s kind of discouraging as I still have tomboy energy and worry that she’ll overdo.

Although even the energy is flagging. Travel wipes me out for a couple of months. The spirit is willing, but the flesh pays for it afterward.

Falling used to be kind of fun, knowing how, having an elastic body that could leap right up again. Now it’s a nightmare. Some of the old people in our ‘hood have to call 911 for help to get back up. Knee surgery was a good decision as I’ve managed to stay upright since that fall in Provincetown five or six years ago, before the sidewalks on Commercial Street were leveled out.  A younger tomboy would have hopped, skipped and jumped right along, whistling through her front teeth, showing off her nimbleness. Pride goeth before a fall. Literally.

Thank goodness I’ve still got tomboy spirit. My sweetheart likes my tomboy walk. She may sometimes steady me climbing down rocks to the beach, but I’m still climbing. My mother didn’t stop clamboring across beach rocks until her late 80s. But then, she didn’t hurt herself as a tomboy of any sort. She never worked in the grocery business, breaking her back and loving every minute of scaling dumpsters to make more room by insanely jumping up and down, flattening the load with her feet. Housework and pushing a baby carriage were her back breakers. Meh, any good tomboy would say to that.

Life changes us. Suddenly I have a pale green thumb. We have a begonia that’s taking over our house although I’ve given away starts right and left. I even know what a “start” is. The aloe plant has propagated itself so often we’re trying to pawn the aloe-ettes off on any sucker who will take them. I can’t bear to kill a plant.

My physical therapist has not set any limits on light gardening. Instead of sprinting I’ve been digging. Instead of biking I’ve been chasing away slugs. Instead of climbing trees I’ve been planting them.

And instead of running grocery stores and doing vocational counseling I’m writing—better, I hope, or at least not rushing through this, my real work.

I don’t row or fish or swim; I don’t skate or walk to mountain peaks; I haven’t gotten under my car to do a bit of tinkering for decades or rearranged my office furniture much (only when my sweetheart’s not looking).

So my question is: I’ll be 70 this year. Can I still be a tomboy?

Copyright Lee Lynch 2015

5/15   Award-winning author Lee Lynch

Serial Thriller


By Cari Hunter

As of a few weeks ago, when my ever-patient wife did some tinkering to my profile on goodreads, I am officially a series writer. Looking back, I suspect I’ve been heading in this direction for a while, but I can’t describe the sense of relief and glee that came with the confirmation from Bold Strokes that, yes, they were happy for me to develop my upcoming June release, No Good Reason, into a series. No Good Reason 300 DPI

Although No Good Reason is my fourth novel, I’d been writing fiction online for years before BSB signed me up, and while it hasn’t always been a case of writing what I know, I have tended to write what I love. My bookshelves are crammed with trilogies and ongoing crime series, while the shelves by our TV are full of box sets: those shows that took the time to create interesting and enduring story arcs that kept me coming back week after week and made me give a damn about their characters. I still get giddy now when I discover a new series, especially if there’s a glut of books or episodes to catch up on and I have the time to devour the lot.

Desolation Point 300 DPIBy the time I finished my second novel, Desolation Point, I’d already decided to write another story featuring its lead characters, Alex and Sarah, not realising that this wasn’t the “done thing”, that authors weren’t supposed to write sequels to standalone romances, no matter how much they wanted to. That sequel, Tumbledown, was theTumbledown 300 DPI start of my series itch, a shift away from the romantic suspense genre and towards police procedural/crime thrillers, a genre more supportive of multi-book arcs. So the Brit-based Dark Peak series – of which No Good Reason is Book One – was born, with a new criminal investigation forming the crux of each book’s plot, but with the same core characters at the heart of everything.

This gave me the confidence to outline a far more extensive background for Sanne Jensen and Meg Fielding, the heroines of the Dark Peak series. For the first time, I chose to create two women who already knew each other well, enabling me to weave a shared history into the novels, to imagine their in-jokes and memories, and to create that comfortable sense of belonging that comes from battling through a deprived childhood and making it out of the shit. Both women have earned their career success – Sanne as a detective with a major crime squad and Meg as a doctor in Accident and Emergency – and the overlap of their professions brings them into close contact at work as well as at home. They’re occasional lovers, best friends and confidants, and their relationship tiptoes along the edge of commitment, thanks to a mutual fear of buggering everything up.

For my shift-addled brain, remembering to put knickers on in a morning can be enough of a stretch, so keeping track of continuity details across two novels has required an extensive series bible, timeline, cast list, and the occasional map. As an avid series fan, I know that there’s nothing more annoying than an author who can’t be bothered getting it right, and that there’s always someone out there who will spot an inconsistency. Fortunately, lists, facts and figures awaken the geek in me, while nothing makes me happier than twisting together plot strands, planting clues, and planning character arcs. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty damn cheerful for the past two years, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a few folks out there will join me for the ride.


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