Bold Strokes Books author Justine Saracen has a knack for breathing life into history. Here she is suited up and talking about her latest release, The Witch of Stalingrad.
Authors blogging all the time!
Nell Stark’s first princess novel was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and her latest, The Princess and the Prix, is sure to race into first place. When a hot Formula One driver meets a stunning Princess, we’re all in for a wild ride.
One reason I’ve been writing all these years has to do with helping us feel good about ourselves. I’d like to think the cultural work that’s proliferated from the latter half of the twentieth century through today has contributed to building our strength so we could accomplish all we have. If the pendulum of history swings against us like a wrecking ball from the future, we’ll need the writing, the photographs, the women’s music—to stay strong, to be queer strong, just as we need it now.
But will our stories be available twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now? I believe they should be, but hadn’t thought much about it until a discussion I had with K.G. McGregor, popular author and President, Board of Trustees, Lambda Literary Foundation. And then I thought, yeah, of course we should do some planning for a far away day when, who knows, we may be outlawed again.
McGregor pointed out that our book rights would disappear into the ether (not the ethernet) unless we plan now to conserve them. We all need literary (or artistic, etc.) executors devoted to our queer arts, who will ensure that our heritage is sustained. But we need to do something besides name executors in our wills. What instructions should I give the women to whom I’ve entrusted my life’s work?
Is it possible for our art to have meaning decades from today? Even now, well before they come out, kids are learning skills like coding. They play Blockly games and CodeCombat. They don’t turn pages, they swipe while reading. Their earbuds pipe in stories read by professionals and enhanced with music. If there’s something they don’t know, they say, “OK, Google,” and Google gives them their choice of thousands of answers. Their brains will be wired very differently from ours.
Meanwhile, back on planet early 21st century, we writers are working our buns off to create a gay literature. Will it have any relevance at all to eventual readers? What can we do to make it relevant? The same goes for art, drama, music. Will hip hop resonate with kids who generate music—lyrics, melodies, voices, instruments— electronically? What will happen to tactile sculpture when an artist can create using a 3D printer?
Is it even our responsibility to write for the readers of 2035? Did Thomas Hardy or Jane Austen worry about such things? I worry plugged in people may lose touch with, say, the romance of a romance novel. Will they care if the butler did it or the spy comes in from the cold? As a general fiction writer whose heart is invested in portraying realistic lesbians and gay men, who am I speaking to in the future other than herstorians?
I don’t have the answers. Lambda, for one, is working on our legacy. The rest of us, our gay attorneys, librarians, archivists, readers, historians, and organizations will have ideas. There are gay archives all over the world. Are they equipped to do anything other than collect and make available what’s already out there? My papers to date are at a university, but there’s no money to catalogue or organize them. The library depends on volunteers to do the work. Money is going to be essential to house, feed and defend the heritage we leave.
Meanwhile, in Washington, who knows what the power struggles may do to erode all the progress we’ve seen. I have been saddled with the temperament of a pessimist and see shadows of ISIS in our right wing fundamentalists. The U.S. hasn’t been able to solve the dire problems of racism and economic inequality. The House majority leader has been toppled from office by right wing fundamentalists and his probable successor has withdrawn for reasons I fear to consider. What will the Supreme Court look like if the Tea Party of 2015 has its way?
While the artists paint, the poets rhyme, the actors bring alive plays to tell our stories, all of us need to consider how we will bridge to our queer heirs. Can we pass down the tradition of mentoring new talent as the Golden Crown Literary Society is doing? Can we encourage little coders to create programs capable of securely capturing their legacy before the kids are even conscious of its importance to their freedom? It’s a legacy we may have created for ourselves, but it would behoove us to pass it on.
Provincetown’s Women’s Week is rightfully famous as a glorious gathering of woman-loving-women with a plethora of events, including a strong showing by Bold Strokes Books in more than twenty panels, readings, and signings. When it ended, I knew I’d miss the energy and flavor of the place.
Because I write romances that feature transmasculine leads, my work was a tough mouthful for some attendees to chew. Especially in the erotica readings, the abundance of nipples and clits doesn’t change the fact that the pronouns are she and he, not she and she.
In Heart of the Liliko‘i, just released this month, Ravi identifies as genderqueer and talks about his desire to avoid the trap of being either a fey man or a butch woman, when he feels like neither can encompass how he experiences his gender.
Kerala has a few odd moments over the aspects of Ravi’s transmasculine gender that are uniquely his, with his history of testosterone therapy, his top-surgery scars, and his soft, warm-hearted, giving nature. I knew that the women at the readings would have similarly odd moments, even internal struggles over how to understand Kerala and Ravi, and their relationship, in the usual dialectics of gay/straight, female/male.
Readers warmed my heart by reaching out and welcoming Kerala and Ravi onto their bookshelves. Really, into their worlds, their realities.
Isn’t that what we do when we pick up a book? We open a window into other realities and, through a fine mesh of our established understandings, sift what we read for the fresh and the different, for the warm and the comforting, for the stories that reflect ourselves and those that teach us about other people.
There have been women who told me flat out that they spent too many years reading straight romance, changing the pronouns in their heads and mourning the fractured mirror when the sex scenes defeated their imagination’s work. They are uninterested in love stories that don’t hand them a mirror, fantasy-bright, of the love and sex they have or hope to find.
I don’t begrudge these women their focus. Not one bit. I know what it’s like to find myself in a work of fiction and feel the fullness in the chest, the tears-or-laughter pressure I’m afraid to release because I’ve wanted this story for so long that finding it changed my life. I simply hope that they will, when in the mood to explore other worlds, come back and give my work a try.
My trans characters, Oly and Ravi, write their own realities into the minds of the readers, revealing their loves and fears, their vulnerabilities and their utter, self-realized strengths. Among the readers who have read my books, uncertain whether or not they’d like them but desiring to open that window into new territory, the trans characters have won them over. They earn a place in the murky land of fictional truth, which can be more revealing than a slew of cold facts.
Facts about the tough circumstances of many trans folk’s lives might anger us, as people who don’t want to see anyone suffer, but they might not spark the empathy that allows us to love a stranger. The ties that binds the T to the alphabet of sexual orientation include the common experiences of being forced to identify and name ourselves and our desires, not having the luxury of fitting our society’s default concept of who they might be, the thoughtful creation of ourselves and our families and our lives.
I hope to do more, in my stories, than simply open a window to the lives of strangers. I want to open hearts by showing that trans folk, especially those in LGBTQ communities, are not strangers at all.
Blog at WordPress.com.
RSS Entries and RSS Comments