Archive for June, 2016

The Amazon Trail

Emily Dickinson’s Desk

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

How do gay writers celebrate the end of a book, a poem, a story? I don’t know about Sarah Orne Jewett, Langston Hughes, Willa Cather, or Allen Ginsberg, but after that brief moment of relief, before the serious editorial worrying begins, after my sweetheart takes me for a long walk on the beach and a romantic dinner with a view, I clean my desk.
Okay, I don’t clean it that night. Or the next day. It might take a month. Or two. I like to get a few short stories written between books, so the purging comes in fits and starts. But definitely before I begin the next book.
This time, after four years of concentrated writing and nine years of research on my new book, Rainbow Gap (due out in December), I’m still struggling with the logistics of making the desk optimally functional. For inspiration, I went on line.Rainbow gap
I found a photo of Emily Dickinson’s desk. In an old issue of Amherst Magazine, Dickinson’s niece is quoted: Emily’s “only writing desk… a table, 18-inches square, with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen. It was placed in the corner by the window facing west.” Eighteen inches square? No wonder she wrote such short poems. Didn’t she need space for her drafts? Her little red toy tractor? An index card file? Her thermometer/barometer? Oh—I guess that would be me.
I do the household filing and a while back that situation got out of hand. Our filing consists of shoving the right piece of paper into the right folder—eventually. I never expected the pile would climb to such heights. As a stopgap measure I plopped a cardboard inbox on the desk.
There were complications.
Bolo In Desk DrawerOur cat’s personal physician suggested some time ago that we provide stimulation with kibble “hunts.” It soon emerged that Bolo’s most stimulating place to hunt was my desk. Kibble could be found inside the overflowing inbox, under the escaped bills, behind the paperweights and hand thrown pots of pens, and inside irresistibly tiny boxes and mini-crates filled with small hand tools, pretty rocks, batteries, a penknife, outdated newspaper clippings—the ephemera of the writers’ trade.
The kitty dumped the contents of the inbox between the desk and the adjacent four-drawer file cabinet so often I placed a wicker trash can there and labeled it Inbox.
“There was a secret compartment in Henry James’ desk,” according to the brilliant biographer Leon Edel. He wrote that, when explored, no secret stash was discovered. I would have found something to put in that compartment, you betcha.
Louisa May Alcott’s “… father built her a half-moon desk between two windows and a bookcase to hold her favorite books.” That sounds a bit roomier than Emily’s. I wouldn’t want a desktop computer on it, though, cutting out the window view. I’ve learned to place my desk to one side of the window, so I can watch birds at feeders we’ve hung right outside. As a matter of fact, I just spotted my first Chestnut-backed Chickadee of the season. I’ll bet Louisa May was as distracted by the view as I am.
Langston Hughes was more disciplined. His very small manual typewriter and metal gooseneck lamp were on a desk that faced a wall. To use a typewriter, a sturdy desk was necessary. Hughes’ desk also held a large telephone, his cigarettes and matches. Neat, and a far cry from Emily Dickinson’s writing table.
Although Willa Cather is sometimes pictured with a substantial desk—perhaps after she moved to Greenwich Village—one of her writing desks was a “secretary.” I have my Nana’s secretary. Spindly legs, a flip down writing surface that rests on the open drawer for support. Some cubbies inside. A narrow shelf low to the floor. I never penned a word there.
Sarah Orne Jewett wrote at an elaborate secretary, more of a hutch with glass display case above, ample drawers below, and a hinged writing flap. I could no more write on a secretary than I could build a skyscraper on a placemat. Nana’s is in our kitchen storing address books and gewgaws.
A 1986 photograph Dave Breithaupt took of Allen Ginsberg’s desk, in his bedroom on East 12th in New York, shows neatly arranged stacks of paper, a lamp with a bare bulb, a pen. It looks as if Ginsberg tamed his desktop and would have known where to find exactly which page of “Howl” he was looking for. Of course, he had at least four, maybe six, drawers that hid who knows what.
James Baldwin’s desk was gloriously outrageous. Large, a photograph shows it covered edge to edge with paper and more paper and a great big electronic typewriter. My desk except for the machine.
Because writers no longer need desks. A desk makes a great surface for stapling and organizing. Its drawers are indispensable. I write seated in a small recliner, but it seems an apt celebratory ritual and homage to the queer writers before me to give my desk periodic respectful attention.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2016
May 2016

Inside A Writer’s Mind:

 

Or

What Do You Mean ‘A.D.D.’?

By

Eric Andrews-Katz

 

 

 

 

We’ve all seen the meme that shows a person sitting at a computer diligently staring at the screen, fingers flying over a keyboard with a towering, freshly typed manuscript neatly stacked next to them. The caption reading: “What my friends think a writer does”. The second frame shows the same person completely frazzled, fried, burnt out, sitting behind and staring bug-eyed at the same screen with crumbled paper covering the floor, and utter chaos sprawled out around them. The caption truthfully proclaims: “What a writer really does”. Since I am to write a blog that introduces my upcoming book release, I thought I’d give a tiny glimpse of the actual absurdity going on inside a writer’s mind. * Welcome to the inner sanctum that is my sanitarium.

(* Disclaimer: I never have had the advantage of being ‘typical’ anything, and results in other writers may vary)

 

I have set aside this Sunday afternoon to write and my husband has vacated the premises. It is 11 o’clock in the morning, and I sit at my computer with an empty Word document ready for writing. Immediately, my cat Ophelia somehow knows. She wakes from her fourth nap and begins her mournful Banshee howling. It is a high-pitched cry that drills through the brain but…she loves me. Ten minutes later, once she has been petted and given treats, she is satisfied I still love her and goes back to sleep. I sit back at the computer to try again; the empty page is waiting.

Tartarus_Cover  I think of what the blog is to be about; it is to create interest for the release of my upcoming novel, Tartarus (Bold Strokes Books – December 2016). The book is about Echidna, the mother of all ancient Greek monsters who breaks loose from Tartarus, the prison of the gods. She appears in the modern day Pacific Northwest and vows to hunt down the descendants of her Olympian jailers. Ok. So what do I write in the blog?

Writers of poetry and prose have been influenced by Greek mythology since the very beginning of their existence. Sculptors and painters have all heard the call of The Muses, and have felt Divine hands guiding their creations for over 3,000 years. Why do these stories hold fascination for us more so than any other mythology (aside from, maybe, Christian)? Not being shy with an opinion maybe I should write about that.

I can only talk of how the stories influenced my work. My introduction came at age five, when a family member first read D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths to me. The book is an oversized, colorful, watered-down retelling of the ancient Greek (yet oddly enough Anglo-looking) gods and goddesses, and their many adventures. I remember that Pan was always my favorite.

Wait! I could write about Pan. The Demi-god with the upper torso of a man supported by two goat legs frequently appears to me, and always has been a major presence in my life. The bearded face with the golden horns fills my earliest dreams. His image is my first recalled memory, and his attributes have influenced every aspect of my being. Only recently did I discover that he is known as ‘The God of Massage”, as well as being credited as the first Theatre Critic; two ways I have earned my living.

But Pan doesn’t appear in Tartarus; it’s not his story. Pan appears in the book after Tartarus; the one I’m working on now called Shalom Y’all, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about Pan in this blog. The main gods involved in Tartarus are Apollo, Artemis and Zeus with several others making more casual appearances. I could discuss some of the hybrid creatures that come to life such as the Minotaur, Chimera, and Sphinxes (oh my!), but nowhere does a satyr or faun make a cameo. Pegasus, furies, and centaurs; yes, but Pan, no.

I could discuss my theory of how the archetypical Greek gods still appear in today’s gay male community. One only has to look at the Gay Games to see the Jocko-homo of Apollo’s shining glory. Attend any political organization and you’ll hear the chaotic shouts of Ares cracking through the air. Go to any bar to see shades of Zeus licentiously studying the younger patrons. I could do that and continue with the dissection of the six main Olympian gods, and that would definitely be enough to write about. If I only analyze the male aspect, then I potentially run the risk of sounding misogynistic and alienating my female comrades and readers by not including the archetypes of the goddesses. I’m not a woman, and my insight would not be an accurate assessment on their foundations. I found this out when writing a voyeuristic lesbian scene in Tartarus. A man will objectively view a woman very differently from the way a woman views another woman. I learned a lot from having conversations with my female friends, and the section was rewritten several times before I felt it was represented on a fair level maintaining the sensuality of the scene. The idea of comparing archetypes is a huge project, and I should leave it for a larger, more in-depth exploration than a blog would allow.

Back to square one: the empty word document still waiting. Skip the enormous undertaking of exploring Greek myths and turn to the characters of the book. I should discuss a contrast of the characters in Tartarus, and how they differ from the writing of the previous main characters in my first two books (The Jesus Injection, Balls & Chain), the “Agent Buck 98 Adventure Series”.

I could start by defining each main character. Agent Buck 98 is in his late 30’s and is flippant, flamboyant, sarcastic, and an excellent detective for a secret agency. His focus is good food, colorful fashion and musical theatre as much as getting the assignment accomplished. That pretty much sums up Buck. It would be easy to contrast his attitudes with the lead character from Tartarus. Adrian Petrakis is 48 years old, sullen, introverted, dresses casually for comfort, and enjoys classical music. He is an artist on the verge of discovering he is descended from an Olympian god. That’s a good start, but where do I go from there? What about their sex lives? Buck is after someone ‘here and now’. His sexual interests are momentary and superficial. Adrian is fed up with casual encounters, and isn’t interested in App hookups. Adrian is brought out of his reconciliation with bachelorhood only when he meets Zack, a very handsome, older sculptor and sexual tension ignites between them. With the ‘Agent Buck 98’ series, most of the sex happens off-page, while Adrian is plagued with erotic dreams that awaken his sexual appetite, and Tartarus explores that more graphically.

Now I’m analyzing the sex lives of fictional characters. That’s good…for a paragraph, maybe two – not an entire blog. The idea is quickly dismissed. I stare at the blank page and the blinking curser that waits for my command. The black, vertical line pulses at me like the mocking laugh of a Simpsons’ character; “You got Writer’s Block. Ha-ha!” The cat has woken up – the Banshee wailing has resounded. My mind is babbling over repeating suggestions as quickly as it dismisses each one for various reasons. I need the clutter to stop – stop the insanity! My mind, the cat, and Nelson’s mocking laugh are thundering inside my skull.

My eyes tear away from the screen and absently scan the top of my writing desk. I dig through the drawer and find a half-smoked joint and an old Bic lighter. May the gods bless the great state of Washington! If I indulge a little maybe my mind will quiet down, and the evoked creativity will help inspire my writing. Truman Capote, referring to his alcoholism, said that every writer has his or her ‘ailment’. If it is good enough for Capote… The keyboard is slid away and I reach for the instruments of my own vice.

Several hours later I have gotten nothing accomplished on the blog. On the other hand, I have baked and eaten a frozen pizza, let the cat attack a peacock feather until she was finally tired, explored PornHub… thoroughly, and have completely cleaned off my desk by rearranging my paperwork. This was after I reviewed and reorganized my collection of signed books according to size, instead of author and then not liking it, I put them back. I slide the keyboard back into place and tap the space bar to bring the empty word document back to full size.

The cat is crying again. This time it is to remind me that Game of Thrones starts in half an hour. I stare at the blank page. I am defeated for the day, I am tired, and I succumb. There’s time before the blog is due, I can write it later. “After all Cap’n Butler, tomorrow is another day”, and Mondays I am out of my massage office. I shut down the computer and go into the bedroom.

I turn on the television. Ophelia jumps on the bed, glad I’m finally with her, crying for attention and settling down just out of my reach. I know I really should be writing the blog. The joys of On Demand are that I can watch Game of Thrones anytime I want. The chill of guilt starts as I remember the house was vacated so I could get work done.

Suddenly, I have an idea! I should write a blog on the challenges of writing a blog. It’s original, and I think it might have potential. A smile creeps across my lips. I can see ways of mentioning Tartarus and hopefully stirring up an interest before it gets released. I could tie in some of my other writing in the process. I could show how a writer’s mind functions, when trying to create something from nothing, and dealing with the pressures a writer feels when working. That is creative. It might be interesting to explore the random babbling of ideas flooding through my brain. My smile broadens as the possibilities stream before my open eyes. I feel excited and inspired, renewed with fresh creativity.

I reach for the remote to turn off the television, but I am too late. The music swells; the pulsing beat of drums sound, and the whining of string instruments are heard. The flaming Valyrian sword has already appeared on screen, and the scaled down mechanical cities are erupting all over the Westeros map. I settle back feeling the ideas ebbing away, the energy sapped from my body.

“There’s always time to write the blog later. It isn’t due for another three weeks.”

I banish all work with that excuse. I settle in to watch the latest episode. The wheels in my brain are still spinning but with only one burning question now:

“How come I don’t have dragons?”

BOLD STROKES BOOKS AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH KARA McLEOD

BY Connie Ward

kara-a-mcleod-60

 

 

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

 

I’ve loved reading all my life, so I suppose it was inevitable that my head would become so full of story ideas that I simply wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least try my hand at actually writing them. And when I’ve got an idea that I’m really passionate about, it tends to play over and over again in my mind until I actually write it down. So if I ever want to be able to concentrate on real life, I’ve got to get those words onto the page. It’s the only way I’ll be able to function as a human being. There are things I need to accomplish daily, and my boss really hates it when I sit in a corner and stare into space thinking about fictional characters. Any fictional characters, even if they aren’t mine. (Boy, is he going to be upset today!)

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

 

I don’t know that I have a specific type of story that I write, necessarily. I just write about situations or settings that interest me. The series that Actual Stop is a part of sort of attempts to find a balance between intrigue and romance. The other books I’m working on that aren’t part of this series explore some real-life circumstances that I find fascinating. There’s quite a bit of social commentary woven into the narratives there because there are aspects to how we relate to people as a society that I find captivating. And those stories may never see the light of day. Who knows? But I’m writing them just the same.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

 

They’ve all been extremely supportive. I force my friends to read my stuff as I’m working on it, and they’ve been pretty good about not complaining too much. They’re also great at telling me if something isn’t coming across the way I’d intended. They phrase it much more colorfully, of course. But their feedback has been invaluable. My family hasn’t had the chance to read anything I’ve written yet, so their support thus far has only required encouragement and vague-yet-positive statements about chasing the dream. I’m interested to see what they’ll say when they’ve finally had a chance to read my novel. I’m especially curious to learn which ones will try to get away with telling me they’ve read it when they actually haven’t. I’ll keep you posted on that.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

 

A lot of them—especially the other books I’m working on that aren’t part of this series—

are just twists on things that have occurred in real life. I’ll see a news report or hear someone telling some crazy story about what happened to them that weekend and think, “Wow. That could’ve gone a lot differently. What if….” And my imagination just sort of takes over from there and holds me hostage until I write down exactly how badly it could’ve gone. And in my head, it’s always the worst-case scenario. I’m kind of sick that way.

 

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

 

It really depends on the story. I’ve done both. My first couple books sort of evolved around several key scenes that kept playing over and over in my head, and I had to write around them. But I’ve got a few other books I’m working on that I’ve outlined. Of course, sometimes I follow the markers I’ve established up to a point, and then I suddenly take a sharp detour from what I’ve planned. So really, it varies.

 

What makes Actual Stop special to you?

 

Actual StopActual Stop is special to me because it’s the first significant thing I’ve ever managed to finish. I’d jotted down a couple short blurbs that couldn’t really even be called stories here and there just for fun—and because I couldn’t get the scenes out of my head until I wrote them down—but I’d always figured I’d never be able to produce an actual book with a fully formed plot. So, when I finally managed it (it took six years), I was ecstatic.

 

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

 

It depends on who you ask. I don’t think there’s much of me or anyone I know in any of my characters. But my friends who’ve read it have all told me that the main character in Actual Stop sounds just like me, so maybe I’m too close to the situation to really be objective about it. I had a very similar career path to the one she’s on. And I did think it’d be funny to have her engage in conversations that I’ve actually had with people, but that was more for my friends’ amusement than anything else. She has this whole dialogue with a suspect in chapter two about the consequences of lying to a federal agent and the statute that backs that up. I lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned that to people during an interview. And there’s also a conversation later about the Marshall Islands that was my go-to for getting people to leave me alone when I was on a protection assignment. So I guess there’s a bit of me in Ryan. And Ryan’s dad uses a lot of the same parental pieces of advice that my dad uses. But that’s about it. Several of my friends have asked me to put them into a book at some point, so if I ever figure out how to do that, the answer to this question will change to, “Everyone is a caricature of someone I know, but I can’t tell you who’s who because I don’t want anyone to be mad at me.”

 

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

of this author(s)?

 

That’s a great question, but it’s a tough one to answer. I first discovered that people wrote gay and lesbian novels pretty late in life. I’d only read mainstream fiction before that, and while I had no complaints, it was definitely exciting to realize that there were actually gay and lesbian authors out there. It had never even occurred to me to look until someone pointed it out to me. So for a long time after that great discovery, I read every story I could get my hands on. I steeped myself in lesbian romance. I didn’t read anything else. Whenever I had free time, my attention was on devouring whatever story (or stories) I was in the middle of at that moment. I devoted every waking moment to cramming words into my helpless little brain as quickly as possible, and my apartment was just shelves and shelves of books by lesbian authors as far as the eye could see. And I read really, really fast (not quite as fast as I run down a flight of stairs, but close), so by now all the stories I’ve read are kind of one big blur of happy to me. I can’t think of one off the top of my head that was any more inspiring than any other. There are so many amazingly talented gay and lesbian authors out there that I’d be hard pressed to name any among my favorites for fear of leaving anyone out. And I just know that if I force myself to try, the second I’m finished with answering this question, I’m going to think of six more authors I’d forgotten to mention, and I’m going to feel terrible, even though they have no idea who I am and couldn’t care less that I didn’t sing their praises because they know how awesome they are and they don’t need my validation to confirm it. Still, I’m going to totally cop out and say that I take something away from each and every author I’ve ever read.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

 

Nothing they haven’t already heard a million times before. Write. Write. Also, write. Definitely don’t take after me. I’m the prime example of what not to do in pretty much every situation. I’m the queen of procrastination, and there are times when I’m lying on the floor playing with my dog thinking, “I should really be writing right now.” But then I don’t because some days playing with my dog is more fun. It’s definitely almost always easier. And that’s why it took me so long to finish this first book. Well, that and Netflix.

 

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

 

You mean, not counting smothering my dog with love? Well, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, I read a lot. Among mainstream authors, Vicki Pettersson is one of my absolute favorites. If you haven’t read Swerve or her Signs of the Zodiac series, stop reading this and pick them up immediately. The woman is a genius. A sick, scary genius. Anne Rice, Darynda Jones, and Terry Goodkind are a few more of my go-tos. I also watch a lot of TV. Person of Interest is my favorite show ever—as evidenced by the line I snuck into Actual Stop as a shout out—and it’s pretty much on at my house on a continuous loop. (Especially last night’s ep, 6,741. I don’t think I’m ever going to recover from that one.) On the rare occasion I’m not watching POI, I usually have on Arrested Development or some IDTV program, which has some of the best show names ever. (If anyone knows how I can get a job naming the shows on that channel, please contact me immediately, because I have some good ideas. Maybe not Southern Fried Homicide or Sinister Ministers good, but I think they’ll impress just the same.) A couple months ago I started taking Krav Maga, so I try to make it to classes as often as possible. And one of my friends and I have been talking about doing a mud run together, so I’m s-l-o-w-l-y easing myself into getting ready for that. If I’m never heard from again, you all know what happened. The mud run did me in. And someone will need to call my hetero-soul mate and tell her it’s time. She’s already been instructed on what incriminating items need to be disposed of and where they’re located. She’ll take it from there.

 

Jane’s World: Drawing with Words

By Paige Braddock

Janes World template.eps

 

It’s been amazing to be in this world of authors and readers as Missouri Vaun (http://www.MissouriVaun.com). After years of creating comics, using my great-grandmother’s name allowed me to write in a different voice. I was able to tell more serious stories, but I realized after the first few novels came out that I missed my comedic roots.

 

I had basically stopped creating new Jane’s World (http://www.pb9.com) comics so that I’d have time to work on the Missouri Vaun novels. But that meant walking away from a character that had basically been a constant companion every night since 1995. After working all day I’d come home and stay up until the wee hours of the morning crafting Jane’s universe. Jane, Dorothy, Chelle and Ethan have been there for me through up times and down times. Through lonely nights, new jobs, cross-country moves, and break-ups Jane has been there.

 

JW-1st-comic

 

My friend, Terry Moore, who created “Strangers in Paradise,” (http://www.strangersinparadise.com/) said to me once, “good characters are a gift.” He’s right. And after working on the Missouri Vaun novels I realized I missed these characters. It was really fun to delve back into their psyches and their deeper motivations, but comedy is in my nature. So the Jane’s World novel has affirming friendships, unrequited crushes, sharks, rogue waves, luxury yachts, trailer park hijinks, surly cats and a sweet romance.

 

Jane started back in 1991, originally pitched as a single panel comic for the Women News section of The Chicago Tribune. The editor passed on the comic at the time, but there was something about Jane. I kinda liked her.

 

By 1995, I was working for The Atlanta Constitution. I’d leave work around 9:00 p.m. Most of my friends who had day jobs were in for the night, so I’d entertain myself by eating a giant bowl of Frosted Flakes, watching episodes of Silk Stalkings and drawing Jane comics with a sharpie marker. As you can see, this was a highly sophisticated development process. Some might refer to this sort of process as “organic” or “intuitive.” But you will know the truth. Jane’s World was the result of too much refined sugar, bad TV and sleep depravation.

 

Fast forward to 2001. Jane’s World, became the first gay-themed work to receive online distribution by a national media syndicate in the U.S. And then, eleven comic book collections later here we are: Jane’s World, the novel.

 

After writing a few manuscripts for Bold Strokes Books as Missouri Vaun, I sheepishly asked Sandy Lowe if she thought Radclyffe would ever be interested in publishing a Jane’s World novel. Rad said yes!

 

Then the panic set in. Could Jane truly break out of her comic book world and be a novel?

 

JW-2nd-comic

 

The process for creating a comic is very different and I had a really hard time switching gears. After a few false starts trying to get the narrative moving in the right direction, my wife, Evelyn suggested I visualize drawing the story first. Genius. Once I started visualizing the story, the whole narrative came together with a bonus of 14 illustrations published in the novel.

 

And listen, don’t worry if you’ve never read the comics, because you won’t be lost. I wrote the book as a standalone story. I hope readers enjoy it and that it makes people laugh. Most of all, I hope readers fall in love with Jane just like I have.

 

JW-3rd-comic

 

Links etc:

 

Website: http://www.JanesWorld.us

Twitter: @PaigeBraddock

BSB Author Interview With Michael Vance Gurley

by Connie Ward

michael-vance-gurley-350

 

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

 

Fiction is in the blood. When I was young, my grandfather and his brothers were storytellers, sitting around the living room making grand adventures come to life. My father and grandmother were always voracious readers, always leaving a paperback around for me to read. They could both speed-read and I was so jealous, thinking it was a superpower. My father and my uncle James had written short stories and poetry. One small-town Mississippi family visit found me sitting in my father’s childhood bedroom at the desk with my uncle’s old typewriter, dreaming of werewolves and comedy capers, clacking away at what I thought would be the great American novel. It turned out to be a poorly typed, grammatically incorrect copy of the movie Strange Brew that, despite its juvenile feel, is now kind of funny to read. The desire to entertain people with stories started early for me. Stephen King and comic books, with their fantastic tales, fueled my passions. I remember sitting up all night reading a paperback copy of King’s It, visualizing the clown and being enthralled and terrified about kids my age being able to face down evil, always hoping I could make someone feel that way with writing. I put out countless knock-offs of the Friday the 13th world that were passed around school, kids pushing me for another chapter. Nowadays, if a teacher found what I had written I would be in a hospital getting assessed! Classes in creative writing in high school and poetry in college pushed me to think critically about writing. Then life inserted itself in my path, like it tends to do, and I took some years off. Creating never left my blood, and after writing some comic books I made a pact to write that novel before I turned forty. I beat the mark by a few days.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

 

The Long SeasonThe Long Season is my first published novel and is historical romance New Adult fiction. It’s a coming-out story with a sports background. I didn’t set out with one genre in mind. The central idea was that my main character would reflect something that was missing in most of my teen and college reading, a gay main character. Don’t get me wrong. Now there are plenty of examples of that. When I was young, authors putting that out were not exactly mainstream enough for a kid in a conservative area to know about, and I didn’t have the Internet because Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet. My goal is to make sure the main characters speak to me and what they are going through represents something meaningful to me. It has to be something I want to read and has to be driving me crazy not to write. I wanted to be a comic-book writer and create a gay main character that brought something worthy to the table. After a year or so of receiving letters from Marvel telling me they liked my work but wanted me to keep working with an editor there and nothing coming of it, I went into self-publishing. I did a little funny comic book, One Angry Koala, and what would have been a gay main lead in a supernatural thriller, Premonitions. They sold well, but I found my own art talent wanting and working with other artists with full-time jobs impossible to maintain. I finally devoted myself to a novel that had been digging its way through my subconscious. I want to write different things with each book. I love hockey and grew up in Cicero, Illinois, home of Al Capone, which made The Long Season. I love YA, magic, and sci-fi, which inspired my current steampunk project. I have a children’s picture book inspired by a trip to Australia and a YA coming-out novel on the burner next. I want to write things that speak to my emotional experiences on some level, things that might mean something to someone going through a tough time like I had. Ultimately, I strive to create something new with each work.

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

 

This question makes me laugh a little, thinking about the late-night phone calls with friends listening patiently to me ramble on about some idea I have to create a whole world or how some great reveal I’ve been planning needs to change. I’ve repeated so many useless facts from research their eyes must’ve been rolling in the backs of their heads at times. I also reached out to a book critique group to proofread and give feedback on TLS. I joked with people that I have my mom to tell me I’m great! I needed critical feedback. My family has been so supportive of the process, no matter how obsessed I became with locking myself away on a vacation to finish a chapter. I can’t imagine how many times I made some friends read and reread it. I gave a copy to my 88-year-old grandmother in Mississippi before she passed away, and she read it in two days and loved it. She asked all kinds of questions, wanting me to write a sequel, wanting to know what happened next. She helped and pushed me. My mother-in-law said it felt like a movie when she read it. It is difficult to keep explaining to my friends and family how slow the publishing process can be. Everyone kept asking me what was happening. When I won the pitch contest, Pitchapalooza, it seemed everyone thought it would be mere minutes before they could buy a copy. I don’t think they were ready for the never-ending waiting to hear if anyone would pick it up, and then when BSB did, how long editing, proofing, etc can be. I was mostly patient. They weren’t, and that was cool. They were into it, many of them having heard bits and pieces already. Little did they know it was a marathon, not a sprint. I truly believe all the time and the process have made the book much sharper, and I hope the great community of friends and family I have will feel rewarded for the wait. And if they don’t…no refunds.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

 

I’ve read interviews with Neil Gaiman—who wished me luck on TLS after I talked to him about it when I bumped into him at the David Bowie tribute concert at Radio City, not that we’re friends, unless you count twitter—where he said that he gets asked that question a lot. He gave a great elaborate story about getting ideas by sacrificing chickens, which you should find and read. The idea that an idea comes from one particular place that could be verbalized didn’t make sense to me until it happened. My idea for historical hockey fiction did actually come from a specific place. There really was one moment in particular that started it. I am a big hockey fan, and someone gave me a copy of a hockey history book. Flipping through the pictures of old teams in thick wool sweaters and unsafe, thin padding, I came upon a picture that spoke to me so intensely I devoted hundreds of hours of my life to the idea it presented. The 1907 Kenora Thistles were underdogs that won the Stanley Cup. One of those guys has a trophy named after him to this day. Hockey is a sport of rough, tough, iron men that played most of a game without changing out. It was, and is, one of the most athletic endeavors. That breeds all kinds of stereotype pressure to be a real man, whatever that means. Back then, you had to remain perfectly still for a long time to not blur your expensive photos. So your position in a photo was well thought out and purposeful, often meaningful. The Thistles took a team photo. The way they were sitting, legs curled into each other, looked very intimate, effeminate, but wasn’t the main oddity for me. One of the men looked like his head was cocked toward, and he was gazing at, another player. That must mean something. In a flash I was envisioning them as secret lovers and what it must have been like for them to hide that from their whole world in a time when the truth could have meant their death. A picture is worth a thousand words, or more! Not all my ideas come from such a lightning moment. My next book idea came to me in stages over years. I had written comic-book scripts and done lots of research that went unused but could never really get out of my head. It had been rattling around for years until I needed to combine everything into one story and write it. A lot of ideas are floating around in my head. Some take purchase and some I get excited about, talk about with friends, and then put backstage because they aren’t as important to me at the time. Time. That’s what I need more of!

 

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

 

I write in my head for a time first, and then I do some verbal storytelling to work out the major kinks, testing my story against other people’s critique, before I sit down to really write it. There are a lot of methods of writing. I more or less used the snowflake method for TLS, writing a sentence description, expanding it to have major plot points I had been knocking around, then fleshing out the characters and writing pages of background on each of them before going back to do a complete outline. I had about thirty pages of outline with bullet points that had grown into pages before I started copying them over to a manuscript and going for it. I also did tons of research, if it can be weighed without printing it out. The research slowed me down because, being a history buff, I went down the net rabbit hole many times. That method has so much stability and planning to it that, for a new writer, worked well for me. The only drawback was that I had to combat the pressure to keep to the outcomes I wanted when the characters started to tell me something else needed to go down. What are you gonna do? I changed things. It’s not my fault really; they told me to do it. My second novel combines comic-book scripts and some notes I had been expounding on for years. Putting all that together required a lot of verbal storytelling to see what I was pushing too hard with and what was actually working. It’s a much more complicated script than TLS but did not have an outline that was finished at all when I started writing chapters in this planned trilogy. Great novel writer Brandon Sanderson said that he writes a series by doing the first one more or less off the cuff and then writing the series outline after, going back to change the first one to suit. That is what I am doing, and not working from an outline has let this steampunk adventure go wherever it wants to go. It is a fun experience, but not doing all of the research until the first draft is finished is hard for me, and having to stop to plan the next chapter has its own drawbacks. I’m a new novelist. Maybe I should have done several successful smaller projects before branching out into historical. I probably also should have done the present-day coming-of-age story first before I arrogantly went into a period setting. I maybe shouldn’t go back further into another setting piece and certainly shouldn’t tackle steampunk. But nobody tells me what I can’t or shouldn’t do.

 

What makes The Long Season special to you?

 

In many respects, TLS took on a life of its own. I wanted to tell a “What if?” type of story about a young hockey player who had the pressures of a hard family, a small town, the big leagues, and all that pressure of fitting in and being macho. I wanted to challenge the sports world to be more inclusive. During the current Chicago Blackhawks’ first Stanley Cup run, one of their players pinned up a picture of an opponent from the newspaper wearing a skirt. There was anti-gay sentiment and misogyny all wrapped in for good measure, propagated by a respected news source and players. It saddened me. Just last month, unfortunately, another Blackhawk screamed the “F” word at a referee. It’s all over the sports world. The You Can Play Project is growing, but when I started writing TLS it was fledgling. This idea in sports that men must be so manly as not to be well rounded or that women in sports are stereotyped is so slow to change. My novel is not a political piece, but it is always in my mind that maybe it can help someone struggling to be a hockey player, or whatever they want, who is afraid to also be himself. To have my first novel be able to help anyone in the way some reached me would be amazing. Foremost, I aimed to tell something that felt true and real, with all of life’s trials and tribulations.

 

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

 

Without getting sued, I will say they are all made up! Off the record? The fun is in having people wonder which characters might be them or me. Some authors inject themselves into a character. I think authors write some wish fulfillment in their characters. You were unpopular? Write about being the cool kid. I know that someday I will write something more autobiographical, but for now I probably did more minor wish fulfillment. I really wanted to be athletic and be a fit superstar, so that’s Brett. I was in the jazz band and marching band—although for a brief moment I played defensive tackle in football and scored a freak touchdown on the B team in a real game—so there’s a lot of jazz music in there. I love watching goalies, so there are a lot of the greats in Jean-Paul. I work in the mental-health field so Brett has an issue to face. I do have this free-spirit friend with fiery red hair and some anti-stereotypical ideas about what it means to be a woman. A lot comes from the flappers of the Roaring Twenties, and some filtered back into Margret’s character, even though the two are also very different. Other traits of friends and family enter the characters. I took some historical figures from hockey, like Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, who once scored a goal by beating the entirety of the other team while literally carrying two of their players on his back, and put some of their accomplishments into my characters. Sometimes things in life are so fantastic you can’t make them up. Some of what the characters are like is a product of thinking about what life would be like if things in my life were reversed. My father is loving and supportive and my mother stands up for what she believes and loves, so I wondered what it would be like for Brett to have awful, harsh, cold parents. Sorry, Brett. I’ve been wild and crazy in my life but tried hard to make good decisions about the important things and to treat people well, so Jean-Paul is, um, not that.

 

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

of this author(s)?

 

I visited Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris. His marker is this ornate tribute to male form that fits everything I knew about him. His Portrait of Dorian Gray was a pivotal read for me, telling us all to live and be proud. I’ve been influenced and inspired by many authors, LGBT and not. I found my way to Felice Picano’s Like People in History, and his Alistaire shocked and intrigued me. Books like that really make us question our realities and what we can make of ourselves. I like being entertained with well-written fun novels like Brent Hartinger’s Russell series. Paul Russell’s novels pushed the edge of dangerous concepts just like Edmund White’s did. More contemporary authors speak to me as well, like Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary. I love superheroes and wish we could have seen what was to come of Perry Moore after the amazing Hero, if he had lived. I read great authors all the time, like Jay Bell and David Levithant. Three people, I believe, have written perfect novels: Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun, and my favorite book, Bart Yates’s Leave Myself Behind. They are very different from one another, but they speak to something so universal through complicated characters and just destroy me.

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

 

Being a new writer myself, I feel weird giving advice, so I will do so from a point of reality. I don’t really know what it will take for you to make it because I am trying to make it happen myself. I struggled so much with getting time to write TLS and thought writing a novel would be the greatest accomplishment in the world. And it is and it isn’t at the same time. Authors say writing the book is the easiest part because boiling down the manuscript into a one-sentence or one-paragraph selling point, or a two-page summary, is ridiculously difficult. I shot for 300 pages, not two! Buy my book because it’s awesome. Wait, I have to market it too? Okay. Well, I’d say to enter contests for writing like I did. I put together a sell sheet and the most professional one-minute pitch I could muster and then entered the Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza contest. I had sixty seconds to convince them to help me get an agent or publisher, and I did it, by editing and practicing my pitch a lot. That helped me find an amazing editor, Jerry Wheeler, who helped whip it into shape and be ready for someone to take a chance on. I had to get over the idea about editing notes indicating a lack of quality and accept them for an act of growth. I can also wallpaper a mansion with the rejection emails or the weird ones from the agent who led me on for months before falling off the face of the earth. You know who you are. Reach out to people and be real. Make connections and treat others with respect. Their time is valuable. I can trace lines between the people who have helped me, so remember that when someone says no and is maybe a little direct with you, and you want to say something witty back, be polite and ask for guidance instead. Authors, agents, publishers have all taken a minute or two each to give me advice. Andrea Beaty, children’s author from the pitch contest, even took me out for drinks a few times and once on a madcap run through two bookstores to research covers and titles on the shelves. Take all advice and run it through the filter that is you. And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Someone smart said that.

 

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

 

I love adventures and, as I grow older, consider going out with loved ones to eat and tell stories an adventure. I work at a job I love, but it is time consuming. These electronic devices keep me connected to it constantly, which is tiring. I try to do as many things as I can when not lying on the couch with the dog watching countless hours of The Game of Walking Flash Theory. Thankfully my in-laws love watching the dog, which lets us go, go, go all the time. People joke about how often we travel and that there is always a sightseeing schedule with a hundred things to check off. The second we land we are attending concerts, trying new restaurants, or hosting movie nights in the yard. When not doing that, or sometimes during, I’m always reading one novel while listening to another audio book and reading comics. You can’t grow old if you keep going. I asked my grandmother why she was still volunteering, and she said that if she ever stopped doing she might never get started again. I live by that insight.

A Reason

by Jeannie Levig

 

What are we all doing here together? This question has been with me my entire life, and various answers to it have presented themselves depending on my age, circumstances, and where I’ve been in my personal and spiritual development.

 

I know many of us have come across the poem about people coming into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I thought everyone had, but in writing this, I encountered a couple people who’d never heard of it. So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, if you’re interested, you can find a version of it at http://www.considerthismoment.com/reason-season-lifetime/.

 

For a long time, when I thought about this idea, I focused mostly on the “season” relationships I was in and what appeared to be the lifetime ones because those seemed more important. Once I began to understand, however, how significantly those with whom I am in both long and short term relationships impact my growth and development, I started questioning if that could be true of anyone with whom I spent even the slightest amount of time. It became somewhat of a favorite pastime, as people came and went from my life, whether it be in a line at a grocery store or in a weekend workshop, to then pay attention to see if I could pinpoint the reason for the encounter. Then I came across two individuals that answered this question for me forever.

 

The first I met in a hospital waiting room outside of an intensive care unit. My mother had been rushed to the emergency room with staff pneumonia and hooked up to a ventilator. Our family was told we should be making a decision about how long to keep her on life support because she wouldn’t be able to come off the breathing machine. I spent hours at the hospital, my emotions raw, and one afternoon I went into the waiting room to sit until I could return to my mother’s bedside. I’d been there about fifteen minutes when several young men, covered in tattoos and wearing gang colors, walked in and filled the small area. I admit, I was immediately nervous, but felt too emotional to pay too much attention.

 

We all sat in silence for a long time, my thoughts occasionally turning to stereotypes and judgments. I’d never actually been around any real gang members. I’d only heard the stories on the news and warnings from people about walking through certain neighborhoods. At one point, I looked up and found the young man across from me staring at me. Just as my heart jumped, he asked me who I had in the hospital. His voice was quiet and gentle, and didn’t go with his appearance and what I’d made up about him. I told him about my mother, and he just nodded and said he was sorry. When I asked him who he was there for, his eyes filled with tears and he told me about his best friend being stabbed the night before. I saw my own fear of loss and worry in his face, my own glimmer of hope shining in his eyes.

 

For the next three days, we sat together off and on, but we didn’t talk much. There wasn’t a lot to say. Being with him, though, knowing someone understood what I was feeling, and having someone to whom to offer a smile, gave me strength and comfort. Then one afternoon when I arrived, he was waiting for me with a huge grin. His friend was released earlier to go home. He had waited for me, to say good-bye and to tell me he hoped my mother got better, too. I never saw him again, never knew his name, but I will never forget him.

 

The second person was a woman I met only online through a dating site. I contacted her because she had some of the kindest eyes I’d ever seen and she volunteered with a dog rescue program and took in foster dogs. I was touched. We e-mailed back and forth a little, then exchanged phone numbers. On our third or fourth call, she said there was something she really needed to tell me before we went any further. She sounded so nervous and scared. A little anxious myself, I assured her it would be all right and that I wanted her to be honest.

 

So, she told me she’d been in prison. That didn’t have too much of an impact since I’ve known other people who’ve served time for various things. I asked her for what, and she said, “Oooooh, I don’t want to have to tell you. But I will. It was for armed bank robbery.” I’ve never been so grateful to be on the phone and not face to face. My jaw literally dropped open. My editor tells me that hardly ever really happens, but it did in that moment. We talked for a long time about it. She answered all my questions, explained she’d been sober for seventeen years but back then her life was all about getting drugs. She was very sweet and very kind, and I was deeply impressed and moved by her honesty. If we hadn’t lived a couple of states apart and both had commitments where we were, something more could very well have come from our connection.

 

Both of these situations left me wondering what exactly they were for. For what “reason” did my path cross with each of them? It took me a little while to figure it out, but both of these people always come to my mind when I’m about to make a snap judgment of someone and need to be reminded to allow people to reveal themselves to me rather than me decide who they are based on something I think I already know.

 

embracing-the-dawnWhat does all this have to do with my June release, Embracing the Dawn, you might be asking? Well, the woman who served time for bank robbery was actually the seed that was planted all those years ago for this novel. Jinx Tanner, one of the main characters in Embracing the Dawn, is loosely based on her. Jinx is an ex-con who served twenty years in prison and has been out for only three when she meets E. J. Bastien, a successful business executive. The rest of Jinx’s background is not linked with that of my friend’s, but she does portray the kindness, gentleness, and willingness to be so forthcoming about who she’s been and who she is that was shown to me through our brief encounter. So, it’s clear to me that part of the “reason” for our paths crossing was also to tell this story. You’ll also find the young man from the hospital among the pages.

 

Someone asked me just this morning what Embracing the Dawn is about. I think it’s about acceptance, about accepting ourselves as who we are and who we once were. It’s about accepting and meeting others where they are and loving them through changes they’re ready to make. It’s about deciding to be different than who we’ve been before and facing our fears as we do so. It’s about love and courage and being there for one another.


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