Archive for December, 2015

It started with a song, and ended with gangsters

BY ALYSSA LINN PALMER

 

MidnightAtTheOrpheusMy new book Midnight at the Orpheus started with a song. Specifically, it was a rendition of Stardust (a Hoagy Carmichael song) as performed by Louis Armstrong. I’d been listening to classic jazz for awhile, but that song started me thinking about a dance floor, with men in tuxedos and women looking like Louise Brooks. This idea percolated in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until I was watching one of Humphrey Bogart’s old gangster films that a story started to form.

 

It was a new direction for me, and an experiment: a book with three protagonists, three intertwining stories, a lesbian love affair, and a cop trying to solve a crime. And it was historical, and I knew next to nothing about the 1920s.

 

I started writing, and plotting, but I soon realized I had a problem. A really big problem. There was no way I could possibly write this book without in-depth research. I started digging online, but it wasn’t enough. I had to go to Chicago.

 

When I began looking into research opportunities, I found out about the Newberry Library, and discovered they had a substantial collection I could use to flesh out my novel. There were maps of gangsters’ hideouts from the mid-20s, access to articles, but most of all, there were the papers of a woman named Bessie Barnes. She produced stage shows at well-known Chicago nightclubs, and even worked with Fred and Adele Astaire, and gave Ginger Rogers her first dancing job. (see: http://mms.newberry.org/xml/xml_files/Barnes.xml )newberrylibrary-alyssalinnpalmer

 

Seeing all the theatrical photos, the postcards, the menus… the Orpheus nightclub began to take shape. Most essential to my research were the receipts in her papers, outlining the costs of running the nightclub, and how much the entertainment was paid. All these little details helped to flesh out where Nell, her lover CeeCee, and CeeCee’s lover Sheridan spent most of their time.

 

For the gangsters, I took a gangster tour. Sometimes corny, with audio of tommy guns firing, and some flogging of souvenirs afterwards, the bus tour took myself (and my parents, who helped me take the research trip in the first place, as well as my aunt and uncle) to all the essential gangster locations: the Holy Name Cathedral, with bullet holes still showing in the stone; the former locations of the Lexington Hotel (where Capone stayed) and Colosimo’s Cafe; the location of the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre; and my favourite, the Biograph theatre, best known for being the place of John Dillinger’s death.

 

thebiograph-alyssalinnpalmerI was able to get a feel for the city itself, and for the distances traveled, though much of where we toured through on the South Side has become quite gentrified in comparison to the tenements and brothels and other unsavoury places that used to populate the area. For that, I had to use some old photos, and a lot of imagination. I spent five days in the city, and it felt like I had just a taste of the place.

 

I’m starting to think that I need to return to Chicago. Maybe another book would be a good excuse?

 

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Midnight at the Orpheus book blurb:

 

Chicago, the Roaring Twenties.

 

Cecilia Mills is new to town and struggling to survive. Her world is turned upside down when she falls for gangster Franky Greco’s moll Nell Prescott. Working at The Orpheus dance hall thanks to Nell, she becomes known as CeeCee and rubs elbows with gangsters and the city’s elite, and she and Nell hide their affair from Greco.

 

Patrick Sheridan is fresh out of prison, bent on revenge, with Greco in the crosshairs. He gets a job as CeeCee’s bodyguard, and despite her infatuation with Nell, love blossoms between CeeCee and Sheridan. When Sheridan sees his chance, thanks to a disillusioned cop seeking his own revenge, he must choose where his loyalties lie as CeeCee and Nell are caught in the middle.

 

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Buy links (if wanted/needed):

 

Bold Strokes: http://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/9781626396074.html

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1626396078

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/midnight-at-the-orpheus-alyssa-linn-palmer/1123020177?ean=9781626396074

 

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Author Bio:

 

Alyssa Linn Palmer is a Canadian writer and freelance editor. She splits her time between a full-time day job and her part-time loves, writing and editing. She is a member of the RWA, the Calgary RWA, and RRW (Rainbow Romance Writers). She has a passion for Paris and all things French, which is reflected in her writing. When she’s not writing lesbian romance, she’s creating the dark, morally flawed characters of the Le Chat Rouge series and indulging in her addictions to classic pulp fiction.

The Amazon Trail

FESTIVE FLAMINGOS

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

 

We always have something, perhaps just one thing, in common with others.

That thought struck me as one of our neighbors invited us to stop by and see his Christmas flamingos. Who would have guessed that this perfectly straight guy, married to a woman, always puttering in his workroom, not only collected flamingo paraphernalia, but had a collection extensive enough to sort  seasonally. He’d seen the neon flamingo in our window, though, and our three front yard flamingos (two pink, one brown), and maybe the flamingo crossing sign hanging in our garage. In any case, and unexpectedly, we have the amazing pink birds in common.flamingo

These commonalities usually come as a shock. If someone had told me, back in the radical, separatist, feminist, lesbian good old days, that I would be oohing and ahhing every December over a lighted holiday boat parade with a group of dykes that included highly-skilled professionals: wildlife biologist, teachers, lawyer, city planner, published writers, librarian, nurse, and  banker—I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Oh, sure.” We had our affectional preference in common, but we weren’t there to hoist rainbow flags, we wanted to see the pretty boats go around in circles in the rain. Silly saps.

At no time has it been more clear to me than now, with my arm in a sling, how very much humans have in common with one another. I’m suddenly a magnet. Yesterday a neighbor repeatedly jabbed a finger toward my arm and sputtered until she could get the question out: “What happened?” People who have never before initiated conversations with me inevitably want to talk about their own rotator cuff surgery, or their cousin’s, or their childhood broken arm, or their fear of a long, difficult rehabilitation. Others boast that they prefer living with the pain. The sight of a sling must bring out the kinship of human frailty.

Now and then I have lunch with a group of women. Within that group is a smaller one: the rebels. Somehow we recognized in one another a tendency to stray from the norm. As we get acquainted we confirm this more and more, collectively renouncing organized religion, traditional women’s roles, retirement hobbies and catch as catch can work. We’re still revealing our herstories: the Utah gay activist, the vegan tai chi instructor, the oboe player, the animal activist. We love to misbehave, white hair or not, and, always the rule breakers, the progressives, we revel in our various othernesses.

There’s a human need to find bonds no matter how tenuous. I first recognized it in my mother, a Boston expat in New York City. You would have thought she’d moved to Lapland or, at the least, Marfa, Texas. She watched for Massachusetts license plates, was thrilled to meet others with New England accents, and thought anyplace south of Rhode Island was Sin City. Never mind the evils of burlesque-mad Scolley Square in its heyday. Now I, too, am ebullient to find people from my home state who’ve settled out west.

Fox News may be Big Brother’s elevator music, but even the neighbor who sings the abysmal Fox lyrics likes to take his daily walk through the neighborhood during the sun’s brief late afternoon appearance, the same time I prefer to walk. After one of his scrofulous anti-Obama remarks I could only stare at him literally open-mouthed. Now this scruffy little dyke and the towering bigot exchange wary smiles and consistently joke about something we all share: the weather.

The woman who moved in down the way is a housewife and mother from Montana. She’s completely foreign to me in terms of geography, lifestyle, you name it. One day she stopped to see why I was staring at a tree. When I told her I was trying to identify a bird, she joined me and we took turns naming possible species, confirming markings, sharing what we could remember. Next time I see her I’ll let her know it was a Ruby-crowned kinglet. We may have nothing else to tie us together, but we can talk birds.

Writer, kitty, holiday treeAnd lights. She thanked my sweetheart and me for decorating one of our small fir trees with fairy lights. As the holiday decorations spread from the boat parade across town to our hilltop, we residents admire them and reveal how disappointed we are each year when they come down. I was pleased to find I’m not the only one to find comfort in the lights. Apparently, so were the neighbors, because by golly, if this year it didn’t turn out that there are more lights up than ever.

No matter our sometimes wide differences, the bigots and birders, the flamingo and lighted fleet enthusiasts, the rebels and the relocated, we all enjoy connections. We have a need to touch what binds us through our layers of difference. And what binds us is always there.

Copyright 2015 Lee Lynch

 

Please, no fires at Christmas!

BY MARDI ALEXANDER

The lead up time to Christmas each year seems to get busier and busier the older I get. Work gets crazy as everyone tries to wrap up the year in a couple of weeks, families start chirping about what they want to do, Christmas party dates are scribbled hurriedly onto calendars, crossed off, swapped over, squeezed in, shuffled around, and shopping – ugh! – don’t talk to me about shopping this year because I am way behind schedule. Still, all is not lost. The one thing amid all the chaos that is most certain is that summer has well and truly arrived.

Uh-huh, you read right – summer – long, hot days and nights. See, while all you northern hemisphere folk don jumpers (I think you call them sweaters?), heavy coats and sturdy snow boots, we here in Australia are as far from your chilled winter weather as you can possibly get as we swelter in the summer heat, stripped down to shorts and t-shirts, and making sure that of all the parties we attend, that at least one of them has a pool, or at the very least, a very large beer fridge.

Christmas time always makes me smile here in Australia, because we are surrounded by Festive Season images of snow falling, sleighs and the big jolly man in a heavy duty red suit, warm as toast, surrounded by reindeer, open fires and stockings hanging from mantle pieces.

Now close your eyes and try and picture Santa wearing an ice vest under his red suit coat, replace egg nog with a cold frosty beer, swap roasts and baked vegies for a BBQ and salad, and don’t even think about an open fire or central heating – throw open all your windows and doors and go desperately looking for a cool breeze. Fields of snow are the stuff of far distant fairy tales, replaced by hot beach sand that burns the tender soles of feet, or the crunch of dry dead grass under foot.Untitled

At this time of year when Aussies look to the sky they aren’t looking for snow clouds, they’re looking for a cool change in the weather, smoke from a bushfire, or clouds building for a storm or a tropical cyclone.

Those of you who pick up my new December release ‘Spirit of the Dance’ will notice a passing comment early in the book where one of the main characters, recently returned home to her family’s farm in Australia says, “I’d forgotten how hot it can get here in February.” I remember smiling when I wrote that line as I imagined some of you from the northern hemisphere would read that statement with raised eyebrows, trying to picture February as hot.

‘Spirit of the Dance’ sees Major Sorla Reardon, wounded in Iraq, return home to the family farm in Australia to heal both her body and her soul. She pushes herself to rebuild her family’s legacy while battling the PTSD that threatens to overwhelm her.

Local saddler and horse trainer, Riley Johnson, knows that to get along in a small town, one simply has to make the best of what life hands out. Riley’s philosophy is to keep life as uncomplicated as possible. And falling in love with Sorla is as complicated as it gets.

As Sorla’s dream is realized, Riley’s predictable, safe world begins to unravel. Secrets are revealed as prejudice and ignorance run wild. Having only ever walked through life alone, Riley must now learn to trust another, as danger dances ever closer.

‘Spirit of the Dance’ is a small snap shot of rural Australia, complete with flies, heat, dust and a diverse array of interesting characters. So if you’re in need of a little warming up, or thinking to escape to somewhere where it’s warm and dry, then make yourself a hot cuppa, and curl up in your favourite comfy chair and let Sorla and Riley take you on a dramatic ride and ultimately put a little romantic sparkle in your Christmas. Who knows, you might even get a hint of a scent of a lemon scented gum tree wafting in on a warm breeze as you lose yourself Down Under for a wee while.

 

‘Spirit of the Dance’ is available from Dec 1st, direct from Bold Strokes Books in ebook and print formats and all good outlets from December 14 onwards.

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A BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH RJ BARDSLEY

by Connie Ward

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I don’t know; I guess I always wanted to create and contribute. As part of my career in media and marketing I write a lot—mostly about technology and the business world. But to me, fiction is art, and I really wanted to write something I could call art—not just content. I promised myself two things when I turned thirty: first that I would run a marathon and second that I would write a novel. Well, when I turned thirty-nine I realized I had run that marathon, but the novel hadn’t happened. So I got to work and had my first novel, Brothers, completed and contracted to Bold Strokes one week before my fortieth birthday.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I write stories that are focused on self-discovery. People and characters that don’t fit into expected molds inspire me. I have always been interested in the concept of people falling into unconventional relationships where there is a struggle and a period of learning.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My husband, Dana, has been very supportive. He has been my rock in just about everything in life, and writing has been no different. My broader family has also been just great: they’ve helped me brainstorm and listened to me talking through characters and plot lines. I’m one of those people who like to talk through things as I think, and my brother, mom, and the rest of my family have been great listeners.

 

When it comes to the editing process my friend Erin is always my first read; she is a total soldier because she gets the worst draft. Her job is to tell me if the concept of the story is a yes or a no. I also had a lot of help from family and friends in the broader editing process. I went through eight drafts of Brothers before I submitted it anywhere.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Oh wow, what a great question. I get ideas from everywhere. The idea for Brothers came mostly from my ma’s brothers and sisters. Ours is a large Irish family, and the way my aunts and uncles took care of me and of each other is amazing. While I was growing up, my ma always told my brother and me that nothing in this world is more important than your brother. That really stuck with me and inspired the book Brothers.

 

My second book, The Photographer’s Truth (out from Bold Strokes in summer 2016), was inspired by a photographer I met on a business trip to France.

 

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

I start with what I call sketches—paragraphs of characters or scenes. Then I work through the story and develop a chapter outline. From there, I dive in to each chapter, usually in chronological order. But sometimes I’ll write out of order if inspiration strikes me.

 

BrothersWhat makes Brothers special to you?

In Brothers, I wanted to explore the concept of family and how our families impact our lives and decisions as gay people. A lot of the book is about the role straight allies play in our lives and how important they are.

 

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

None of my characters are based on actual people, but I do pull traits and situations from things that happen to me in real life.

 

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

of this author(s)?

I love to read, so yes, I have a few favorite authors. Mary Renault and Edmund White are two of my favorites. I love Jane Smiley’s writing too, especially Greenlanders. Armistad Maupin has been a major influence on my writing; I love the Tales of the City series and have reread it probably a dozen times. He has a sublime way with plot and characters; there is just such great harmony in his writing. Whenever things are rocky for me in life, I curl up with one of his books.

 

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

My husband and I love to travel, so we do a lot of that. In day-to-day life, you can usually find me at the pool doing laps or out running if I’m not writing.

Your Five Most Important Books

 

BY RALPH JOSIAH BARDSLEY

The other night my husband and I went out with some family and friends for dinner at a local restaurant here in San Francisco’s North Beach Neighborhood. It’s a familiar restaurant for us and we all know the owners. The place was packed and loud, but the owners found us a table relatively quickly and the wine and tapas soon arrived, and the night came alive around that warm familiar feeling you get from good food and great conversation.

 

All of us are passionate readers, and so it wasn’t long before the discussion rolled around to the topic of books – specifically that question of what are the five most important books to each of us. There were the books you would expect – the Melvilles, the Dickens, the Tolstoys. In fact, my brother went on a rant about how all of the most important books are by Russian authors. One friend talked about her love of South American literature. When my turn came around, I chatted away about a few of my favorites like Mary Renault’s The Charioteer or Summerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. But as I found myself focusing on the characteristics that made each one of those books important to me, I started thinking about how that should factor into my own writing.

 

I guess, at the center of it, I gauge how important a book is to me based on how much it caused me to re-examine my world. The conversation that night made me reflect on my own writing and how I had chosen the themes that were most important for me to write about.

 

BrothersThe answers to that question is different for every author. When I started writing my first book, Brothers (out this month from Bold Strokes), I wanted to make a single point about the importance of family – specifically siblings. I wanted to ask my reader to think about the relationships they had with their own brothers and sisters. Yes, there is a love story at the center of the book, but it is through the help, nurture, and support of siblings that that the romantic components of the story are successful.

 

Writing Brothers was not too much of a stretch for me. It is fiction – there isn’t a single character that is based on a specific person in my life. But the abundance of love and the bits of conflict in the book come from the fabric of my world growing up in an Irish-American family. My mother always told my brother and me that there is nothing more important in your life – nor will there ever be anything more important – than your brother (and your spouse – but we were little boys when she said this and spouses weren’t on the horizon at that point). Your job is to look after each other. Well, there were only two of us, and that made it relatively easy – she was the oldest girl of eight brothers and two sisters (now that’s a lot of responsibility).

The novel is set in a part of Boston that I lived in only briefly – South Boston. But my mother’s family had originally lived there when they first came to Massachusetts. The ten years I lived in Boston was spent mostly in the South End – which turned out to be another key setting in the book. As I wrote Brothers, I spent a lot of time reliving my experiences in that city, and it always brought a smile to my face. It’s such a great city with a rich history and a beautiful soul. But my focus always came back to family, the struggles that two sets of brothers face as they tackle the world around them.

 

Writing Brothers was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Does the book succeed in making a point about siblings? I hope so, but I’m not the one who gets to answer that question. Did I say everything I wanted to say in the book? Yes. I think it’s safe to say that I did.

 

 

A BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH MAGGIE CUMMINGS

By Connie Ward

 

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

 

I’m a total media junkie, and I’m always on the lookout for multifaceted gay characters. Whether I find them in TV shows, books, fanfic, web series, or just hear about them on a podcast, I get immediately hooked. One day out of the blue I had an idea for a story of my own, and I decided to try and see if I could turn it into something. Cut to about a hundred years later, and voila, here it is.

 

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

 

I’ve tried to create a world that has relatable characters that are fun and have some good drama. Then I throw in a nice dose of true love plus a happy ending and call it a day. That’s often what I look for in what I want to read. Give me some good lesbian chick-lit and I’m a happy person.

 

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

 

My family and friends are unbelievably supportive. I am very, very lucky. My wife gives me a ton of time to write; she listens to plot lines and character sketches and gives me her honest opinion, whether it’s initially what I want to hear or not. My sister, my parents, and my extended family constantly ask about what I’m working on. As for my friends, I can’t say enough about them. They ask me questions, give me ideas, and read for me. They’re amazing. I have always known that I am truly fortunate to have such a wonderful, close-knit group of people in my life. They are encouraging, kind, funny, and caring. I love them all immensely and am eternally grateful for their friendship and support.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

 

Totally Worth ItWell, the idea for Totally Worth It came from my own life. The book is set in a fictional lesbian condo development in the suburbs of New York City. I live in a very straight community, also in the suburbs New York City. One day, shortly after moving in, I was walking my dog through the neighborhood and admiring how nice it was. There’s so many trees, and it’s kind of set off from the main road, and although I grew up nearby I never really knew it was here. It’s so close to Manhattan that it takes me only twenty minutes to get to work, which is insanely short as far as commuting from the outer boroughs goes. I found myself wandering along thinking that the only thing that would make my neighborhood better is if there were more lesbians. Or…all lesbians. That was it—my lightbulb moment.

 

 

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

 

I plan a lot, way more than I thought I would. Because I’m writing a series, for me it was important to know how it all ends before getting started. I had to figure out who ends up with whom, how they get there, what that journey is like, what’s the conflict along the way. The result is that I do a lot of outlining. Whether it’s the framework of a scene or just bits of a conversation that I know has to happen between two people, I sketch that out first. That said, as many writers will tell you, once you sit down to write the scene, sometimes something totally different comes out. It’s crazy and I really didn’t believe that could happen until I experienced it. So even though I do a tremendous amount of planning and plotting, sometimes even I’m surprised at what ends up being the finished product.

 

What makes Totally Worth It special to you?

 

Totally Worth It is special to me because it’s the first thing I’ve ever written. It took me forever and I almost gave up a million times. But it’s finally done and I’m super proud of it.

 

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

 

A number of my characters have bits of me in them, sometimes amplified to really show a particular trait. I tend to write characters that would probably fit in with my friends in real life. Some of those characters also possess qualities I wish I had: they’re very smart or suave, they’re good at math, they eat healthy. They’re the me I always wanted to be. I think that’s the fun part of writing. The characters get to make better choices than I might have. They get do-overs. And they are always, always taller than I am.

 

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

author(s)?

 

I am probably most inspired by Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series. I read all of them in succession during senior year at my very conservative Catholic college. I simply could not put them down. What Maupin does with character, community, friendship, and love, particularly showing how these things evolve over time, is something I am still in awe of to this day. I’m also a huge Rita Mae Brown fan. Her characters are always so well drawn and thoroughly entertaining. Likewise, I loved the book Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King for its hilarious characters, biting wit, and general optimism in dealing with life. I feel the same way about Kiki Archer, Clare Lydon, and Kate Christie. Those three ladies write fun characters and great drama. I’m constantly checking their twitter feeds to see when their next work will hit the shelves.

 

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

 

Well, I have two little kids, so I spend a lot of time at the park, the playground, and the beach when the weather is nice. On the rare occasion I can get a babysitter, I love going out with my wife and our friends. I also can’t get enough television in my life. When I was growing up, my parents actually refused to get cable until I was away at college, I think because they were afraid I would never leave the house—probably a wise move on their part. Now, with the miracle of DVR and Netflix, I can still do all the things I want and get my binge on!

 


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