Archive for April, 2016

The Amazon Trail

Gender Buttons

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty


Where do little kids get their urgent need to know my gender? Is it intrinsic, some part of survival of the species? Parents should at least teach them that their question is rude. But no, the parents are as unsettled by what they perceive to be gender non-conformance as their children. That leads to bullying, even at home. “Darling, you’re a pretty little girl! Wouldn’t you rather play with your dollies?” Well, no. I had not the slightest interest in dolls. Dressing them up? Pretending they were living infants? Bor-ing.

Little Lee, Gloucester MA

Little Lee, Gloucester MA

I’ve been messing with gender all my life, preferring to present as androgynous. Perhaps it’s been rebellion, a slap in the face of anyone who asks the perennial question, is it a boy or a girl? Perhaps I just liked the look.
I’m biologically female and have never wanted to be anything but a woman. At the same time, I have hated to wear female clothing since early childhood. It’s overpriced, often not well made, and uncomfortable. And I’m required to wear it because—it buttons to the left? Who makes these rules?
In the March 27, 2015 “Atlantic Magazine,” Megan Garber wrote “Every day, millions of people are walking around with these little reminders of gender inequality emblazoned on their chests.” She explored the possible history of button placement to male use of weapons and shields, to class, to holding babies, and maybe even to Napoleon. Laughable, the way we button up traditions so they don’t go away.
I don’t get angry easily, but I’ve always had a hair-trigger fury when confronted with gender assumptions. I had to hold in my anger—I was different and therefore wrong, wrong, wrong. Inside I was screaming, “How dare you—?” I didn’t know what to ask; I didn’t have the words. Why, why, why, did they have to know anyway?
Today, I still ask. What is this need we have to categorize one another? Why separate, why pit category against category? Probably it goes back to defending ourselves when we set up housekeeping in caves.
Gender labels are convenient, whether they once were prehistoric mating signals or are a way to protect today’s females from today’s males. Even as a kid, I wanted nothing to do with that mating stuff. The planet is overpopulated enough. I have the maternal instincts of a sidewalk. Does this mean there’s something wrong with me? Again, how dare anyone define what is right or wrong in my inherent makeup.
Once I was nominally a grownup, and might have enjoyed the freedom of confident androgyny, many feminists, as unlearned as I had been, condemned the boyishness of butch, the spectacularness of femme. It took me a long, long time to re-recognize my natural attraction to girly girls and not condemn myself for it.
I am terrifically grateful to the brave people who are speaking out on this subject in recent years, many of them young and fortunate to be more knowledgeable than I was at their age. Certainly, for most of them, reassignment to one extent or another is not the easy way out. I saw a meme yesterday that read: “Legality is a matter of power, not justice.” The fines and prison sentences that have been written into bathroom use laws are a way of controlling those who the powerful fear: scary us.
Wake up, legislators in North Carolina and Tennessee, we are not the people most likely to harm you or your kids. It’s okay to be who you are and it’s okay to be who we are. Let go of that vestigial panic.
But what kind of bad joke is this aging business? We grow heavy or dangerously thin, our bodies lose or grow (unwanted) hair. We’re prescribed medications that can numb our favorite drives and increase disfavored urges. Female and male become less distinct until, at the 50th anniversary celebration, longtime mixed gender couples look like each other. By end of life perhaps some begin to realize all the fuss over who was who and who did what never mattered.
Many women have told me that they simply had no idea there were choices available to them: how to dress, who to love, whether or not to give birth, what work they could and could not do. Too many promising humans have been utterly crippled by primordial traditions and it’s time to quit mandating where our buttons go.
Copyright Lee Lynch 2016

The Wearable Book

     by Franci McMahon 

   for Clifford Henderson


Knitting a pair of socks is a lot like writing a novel. When I craft socks they demand I spend a considerable time living with them before they are fit to be seen in public. During this time the garment and I become very intimate.DSC03662

The process takes place on many levels, from origin of idea to building row upon row of tiny loops, chaining the wool into a complete creation and I type, The End.

My imagination forms the socks into a kaleidoscope of finished work before beginning the construction process. I play with alternative endings, colorful characters that clash and are eliminated, or develop them into rich, even shocking forms. Will they be made from the wild colors of my mind, or rise out of a dutifully followed pattern? I suspect I’d be bored if I tried to structure a genre mystery using a blueprint from one of the many How To Write guides. A template can be seductive, but as with any formula, it is hard to deviate onto new ground while following the rules.

Perhaps I’ll use odds and ends left over from other projects. Tidbits and yarn endings I didn’t want to throw away, but probably should have.

My mind spins at the range of textures, choices spanning the contrast of mohair or lambs wool to give softness, nylon to add wear, or cotton for cool weather. One odd concept I’ve always loved is this: the weight of wool. Among knitters this is a common term, but for me it has always held mystery. So I imagine yarn of fingering weight, small but tough or light airy angora, or bulky yarn knit on larger needles for the work booted country dyke.

In many ways this relates to the author’s voice, this elusive term that defies definition, yet you know if it is present, or when it is generically absent, and the words have a certain flatness. You know that the author has reached for the Thesaurus one too many times.

Modern developments have introduced another decision, whether to knit them in wool that is machine washable versus the kind of wool I caress in a warm sink full of water and Woollight, gently squeezing the knitted creation out in a towel, and lovingly arranging them on a dry cloth on my dresser or kitchen table. The first wash gives the product shape, checks for flaws and leaves them smelling of the natural aroma of sheep’s lanolin.

Staying the Distance            Editing also lovingly shapes the final work. I am increasingly saddened by the quick ease of authors to self-publish. Most often they are deprived of this keen-eyed scrutiny, which enriches them as writers. For me the learning process is obvious comparing my first novel with my third. If you’re lucky you can have the opportunity to pull out and reknit the worn foot or foundation of a novel. In the years since my first novel Staying The Distance, was originally published, I’ve learned more about the building of a piece of writing. With the guidance of my editor, Jerry Wheeler, I reshaped and reconstructed a better fitting foot.

So, to all my knitting siblings out there, I wish you cozy feet this winter. And those of us who also write, try to imagine your novel as a friendly pair of socks.


by Connie Ward



What made you decide to become a fiction writer?


Good question! I’ve always had an active imagination, and I love fantasy and make-believe. Creating works of fiction allows me to explore worlds, people, and situations that I have imagined.


What type of stories do you write?  And why?


I write all kinds of things: short stories, poetry, and of course, murder mysteries. Murder mysteries, especially period pieces like Death Comes Darkly, allow me to create whole worlds of my imagination. It’s pure escapism, if you will.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?


Everyone has been so supportive. My mom gets emotional every time we talk about my book being published; she’s so proud!


Where do you get your ideas?


From some pretty dark areas of my imagination! But classic tomes such as those by Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett inspire me. I have often been told I was born in the wrong era, that I should have grown up in the 1930s or 1940s. As a teenager, while my contemporaries were listening to Arrowsmith and Led Zeppelin, I was spinning Doris Day records.


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


I have to have a basic premise for a mystery—who did what and what clue or clues did they leave behind for the detective to discover. Once I’ve laid that out, I love writing dialogue, so I usually start there. I don’t bother with the details, such as “he said,” “she said,” etc., until afterward. Then I go back in and fine-tune it. Also, I’ll sometimes write pages of dialogue out of order, then go back in and put everything in the proper sequence, changing and refining as I go.


What makes Death Comes Darkly  special to you?


Death Comes DarklyFirst and foremost, Death Comes Darkly is my first published novel, so that in and of itself makes it very special to me. But beyond that, I feel it’s a great story that will hopefully keep everyone guessing right up to the end.


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


Oh my, I would say there is a little bit of me in every character. In Heath, the detective, I share an inquisitive mind and a love of animals and dressing well. In Alan, a bit of his naiveté, his “golly gee” mentality. Alan is also based on my Alan in real life. Beyond that, I’ve used the names of a lot of people I know, but the characters are all composites of different friends and family.


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

of these authors?


Hard to pin down a favorite, though I love Truman Capote, W. Somerset Maugham, and Harvey Fierstein. Many people don’t realize Harvey Fierstein is a writer, but he has written quite a bit. As far as inspiration, not counting Agatha Christie, who was straight, I would have to credit Truman Capote with instilling in me a love of writing.


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


I love to read and almost always have a book going. I also have a passion for architecture, singing, and drawing. My partner Alan and I have a great circle of friends, and some of our best times are spent with them, drinking wine, having dinner, and just talking.

Alan and I work out together three to four times a week, too, which is wonderful for stress, and it gives us some much-needed together time in our busy lives. We both share a passion for travel, also, and go as often as we can to as many different places as we can. It’s a big world, just waiting to be explored.

Gay Bashing


Death Comes DarklyMany people have asked me if Heath Barrington, the main character in my book, Death Comes Darkly, is based on me, which I find rather flattering. Of course there is a lot of me in him, but he’s better looking and has a better wardrobe! He’s the type of person I would easily be friends with, and certainly someone I would admire, faults and all. The book is set in 1947, so of course his perspectives are a bit different than mine, but I like to think his character is timeless, that he could easily be my neighbor today. But if he were my neighbor today I’m sure he wouldn’t dress as well, unfortunately, and he would certainly be a bit lost in today’s fast paced ever changing crazy world. I myself have always been a bit of an old soul, almost as if I was born in the wrong decade. So while Heath may be out of place in the year 2016, I think I would feel right at home in 1947.
Heath’s character is not without flaws and self-doubt, and you see in this book that he is at times unsure of himself, jealous, and insecure, just like me.

In the prequel to this book, which has not yet been published, you learn that he was Gay bashed at an early age and that a policeman came to his rescue, which is what led him into police work. This was based on my own experience 23 years ago when I was Gay bashed outside of a Gay bar, and now have a plastic plate in my head as a result.  gay bashingUnlike Heath, my bashing didn’t lead me to a life of police work. In fact, I didn’t even report the bashing to the police as a hate crime. I was too afraid back then, still in the closet, still unsure of repercussions. So instead I told the police I was jumped outside a straight bar, something I still regret. Heath was afraid too; of what his parents would say, of what would happen if anyone found out, internalizing guilt and blaming himself. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since 1947, but sadly there is still a long, long way to go, too.

Another thing Heath and I share is Alan, Heath’s being his new love interest, Alan Keyes, and mine being my Alan of 22 years, the light of my life, my rock, my supporter. It’s funny, but the bar I was Gay bashed outside of 23 years ago was a Gay country bar. After I got out of the hospital and back on my feet I at first thought I’d never go back there. But then I thought, I like two-stepping, I like the music, and my friends are there; why should I let fear keep me from that?

So, after a few months I went back, cautiously, nervously, but I went back. And not too long after, I met Alan there. He came up to me and asked me to waltz to the song “These are a few of my favorite things”, and I said yes, even though I was terrible at waltzing. I remember he gamely moved me about the floor as I stomped on his feet, but he kept coming back for more, so I must have done something right. We’re still together 22 years later and “My favorite things” has become ‘our song’
So yes, in many ways Heath is based on me, my experiences, good and bad, and my beliefs. He is, after all, my creation, and I like to think he’s a better version of me, of what I strive to be. And, perhaps, I’m a version of him.


by Connie Ward



What made you decide to become a fiction writer?


I decided to write Trigger because one day I had an image of my head of the two main characters, Dr. Kate Morrison and Sergeant Andy Wyles, and I knew there was tension between the two women and wanted to know why. I kept writing because I wanted to know what happened next. Sometimes I asked question to find out what the characters disagreed about or what conflict they were facing, and sometimes I had questions about the characters’ pasts and what made them who they are today. The best part of reading fiction for me has always been the ability to immerse myself in another world. Writing about Kate and Andy allowed me to do that in a way that was even more intense.Trigger


What type of stories do you write? And why?


I write thriller/intrigue stories that are very character-driven. I love the tension of thrillers; I love how intrigue answers some questions but then asks more. More than anything, I write stories about people, ordinary people in extraordinary moments of time, and what their reactions to extreme events reveal about themselves. Combining the tension of a thriller with the tension of a developing romance was exciting. Trigger (and its sequel, Pathogen, due out Fall 2016) both also have a medical slant. In Trigger, Kate is working as an ER doctor in downtown Vancouver when she comes across a patient who has been surgically turned into an explosive. As Kate tries to figure out how to save her patient, the reader sees the developing police investigation from her point of view. Kate knows medicine, she knows about helping her patients, but being involved in a police investigation, especially something as extreme as humans being turned into explosives, is completely outside her frame of reference. I want the reader to follow that journey with her as she keeps coming up against situations outside her control and her comfort level. I want the reader to sense both her strength and her uncertainty, her doubt and her conviction. And I want them to see how Kate falling for Andy plays into all of those pieces.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?


It took me a long time to tell anyone other than my wife that I was writing. My wife never doubted that I could be a published author, and her quiet, constant faith in me has kept me going through some intense moments of self-doubt.

I remember telling my sister for the first time that I had completed Trigger. It was summer, and we were standing in line with our kids waiting for their turn on the merry-go-round. I stuttered and blushed my way through my confession, and my sister squealed and hugged me. I’ve become better at sharing with people about my writing (blushing remains, however), and a large part of that is due to my family and friends being so excited and proud of me.

One of my favorite pieces of feedback about my writing so far is from my good friend Karen, who wrote to me about Kate and Andy, saying, “I miss them already.” That really sticks with me because I know that feeling as a reader, wishing the story wasn’t over and that I could hang out with the characters a little longer. It still amazes me that I accomplished that as a writer.


Where do you get your ideas?


That’s a tough question. I do know that my ideas all start out as questions. I might be listening to CBC Radio in the car (I commute for work so I drive a lot), and I’ll hear a story and wonder what I would do in that scenario, or what my characters would think of a current event. That usually sends my thoughts spinning, and I know I’ve hit on a good idea when I can’t stop thinking about it. The idea or concept might start small, but then I just want to know more. I keep a notebook with me most of the time, and I’ve been known to scratch out nearly illegible thoughts and ideas while stopped at a traffic light.


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


I start with a sense of the main characters and the main conflict they come across in the story. I have a general idea of how the story plays out before I start writing, but I definitely don’t have everything mapped out and planned. More than once I have had to stop writing and create very messy timelines to try to figure out where the story is now, where it came from, and where it’s going. There’s not a lot of finesse there, and I’m interested to see how I might use this strategy a little more proactively in the future! In general I’m a pretty logical and detailed person, but writing seems to be one of those things that I do at a gut level.


What makes Trigger special to you?


Obviously Trigger is special to me because it’s my first book. It’s the first time I have been able to call myself an author. It’s the first time I’ve worked with an editor, and I’m grateful to Jerry L. Wheeler for working with me on this story. It’s the first time I’ve invited people to share in something I’ve created and sent my characters out into the world to see how they do. It’s the first time I’m looking at the world of lesbian fiction not only as a reader but also as a published author, and that’s an amazing feeling.


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


There are elements I can identify with for both of my main characters, but they truly are not a reflection of myself or anyone I know. There may be characteristics, word phrasings, humor, expressions of emotion, habits, or actions that are recognizable to me, but I hope more than anything that my characters stand on their own. In some instances, I can note where my characters are completely opposite from me. Kate, for example, who grew up in Vancouver, reveals that she feels comfort with the mountains around her. I, on the other hand, who grew up in relatively flat Ontario, feel a vague sense of claustrophobia when surrounded by mountains.


Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?


Fun question! I’m a big fan of Patricia Cornwell and Val McDermid. They both emphasize characters while also creating complex, intricate stories and delicious levels of tension. Radclyffe was the first lesbian fiction author I read, and I constantly re-read her work because I can’t help falling in love with her characters and their stories. J.M. Redmann’s Micky Knight series is also a favorite. Her stories are powerfully written, and she makes the reader want to shake Micky and protect her at the same time. I’ll also give a shout out to fellow Canadian lesbian fiction authors Liz Bugg and Tracey Richardson. Liz Bugg’s Calli Barnow mystery series has wonderful writing and is very entertaining, and Tracey Richardson creates characters who I connect with in the first ten pages, without fail.


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


Reading always tops the list of things I do for fun, preferably early in the morning, when the house is quiet and I have a cup (or six) of tea and a blanket and my favorite spot on the couch. I love to bake, mostly because I have a huge sweet tooth and I really like following instructions. My wife and daughter and I love to travel, so we’re always coming up with plans for where we’d like to go next. I also enjoy worrying about things over which I have absolutely no control. Well, I don’t know if that’s something I do for fun, but I certainly spend a lot of time doing it.

We Are All Protagonists


            We don’t often think about protagonists in our daily life. We don’t think about tension and timelines and plot points. We may get annoyed or angry or frustrated with people who surround us but we don’t label them as antagonists. Mostly we just wake up each day, consider if and how we’re going to get out of bed, and get on with the individual and collective minutiae of living. Life happens and we try to control and influence what we can and navigate the rest with the skill and grace that we each possess. Some days we are successful. Some days we are not.

Trigger   Writing Trigger, my April release thriller/romance, became a balance of crafting a story while allowing life to happen to my characters. The protagonist, Dr. Kate Morrison, is an ER physician in a downtown Vancouver hospital. She sees life happen to other people and her job is clean up the aftereffects. When one of her patients becomes involved in a police investigation, an investigation tracking people who have been turned into explosives, no less, it quickly becomes clear how Kate reacts to the obstacle thrown into her path. Kate is a question asker and an answer seeker. She is most comfortable, even in the midst of a crisis, focusing on her patient. For Kate, her patient is not a plot point but a mystery to be solved. And as she gets to know the lead investigator, Sergeant Andy Wyles, Kate has no words to describe her reaction or her relationship to this woman, all she can sense is a confusing tension that she has no time to label.

Our real lives are not so different than the characters of fiction. It is rare that we are able to take a momentary step back and reflect on the key players who impact us, the interplay of tension and action, the often opposing forces of emotion and reason. We feel crises acutely, each with our own set of skills that help or hinder us as we navigate life’s obstacles. We stress and fret about wrong decisions, the potential tumbling, domino effect of our choices. We are invested, body and soul, in what happens to us. But we cannot predict the outcome. We cannot anticipate a plot twist. We cannot smooth the timeline of our lives to give ourselves a chance to breathe before taking on the next critical event. And above all, we cannot skip to the end of the book to confirm there is a happy ending.

In Trigger, life certainly happens to Dr. Kate Morrison. I want the reader to see the elements of a real person in an extraordinary circumstance and the range of simple to complex emotions that surface as a result. Kate’s drive to do whatever she can to save her patients comes from her own history and shows the very heart of who she is a person. It’s not because she’s the protagonist and heroes should be brave. We witness Kate’s uncertainty, about her role in the investigation and with her increasingly strong feelings for Andy. She wrestles with recklessness and bravery, gratitude and guilt, trust and self-preservation. I want to be able to recognize ourselves in her struggle.

We are the protagonists of our own stories. It may not feel that way when we surround ourselves with the regret of past decisions or worry about the potential complications in our future. We may wish we had more power to influence our own timelines and plot points and antagonists. But instead we wake up each day, decide if and how to get out of bed, and we write another day in our very own unique lives.

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