Posts Tagged 'Historical Fiction'

Portals of the Past

By Kathleen Knowles

Awake Unto Me 300 DPIIn his terrific book, Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, Gary Kamiya had this to say about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake:
“The ruins looked like the bombed-out wastelands of Dresden, Tokyo or Hamburg in World war
II. It was the closest thing to an urban apocalypse this country has ever seen.”
As my readers, family and friends know, I love history, especially San Francisco history. It’s only natural I would write a story set during the 1906 earthquake, a seminal event in the history of San Francisco. When I was writing my first novel, Awake Unto Me, I took part in a ‘backstage’ tour of the botany collections of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Our tour was led by two veteran docents who told us a remarkable story about a woman named Alice Eastwood. The Cal Academy was then housed in a Market Street building in 1906 and was burned in the fire that began immediately after the earthquake. Most of its holdings were destroyed but the most precious parts of the plant collection, the type specimens, were saved by Alice Eastwood, CAS curator of botany. I saw some of the material in storage at the Academy during that tour. When I heard how she accomplished that feat, I thought, “That has to go into a novel.”
I was already planning to carry the characters in Awake Unto Me through the earthquake. Part of that planning including situating their home west of Van Ness where the post-earthquake fire was finally stopped. I knew I would need some new characters though. So there was one of my main characters, Alice Eastwood, fictionalized under the name Abigail Elliot. Her character and background were quite easy to put together since the Cal Academy archives house her papers. I spent happy hours reading them. There’s nothing in Alice Eastwood’s background to suggest she was a lesbian but she never married and claimed she had no idea how she would combine marriage and her career. So I used the lack of evidence about her personal relationships to draw my own conclusions.
The other main character is, of course, one of the many medical people I seem drawn to write about: Norah Stratton, a friend of one of Esther Strauss from A Spark of Heavenly Fire and a recent transplant from New York. Welcome to San Francisco, now here’s an earthquake for you! Needless to say, it’s a shock to poor Norah.
The problem with writing about the 1906 earthquake was exactly what aspects of that very complicated event to use. There’s much to choose from because the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire was a extremely well documented disaster. You could say it was the first globally known disaster and the media coverage at the time was overwhelming. Even the early movie technology of the time got into the act. I watched some silent films of the smoking ruins from the Library of Congress.
My recurring character Kerry is an employee of the Palace Hotel so there was the tragic story of the demise of that building. Her lover Beth is a doctor as are their friends Esther and Addison so that gives all of them a concrete role after the earthquake. In a disaster, doctors are going to be on the frontlines taking care of the victims. I got to find out a lot about the experiences of the San Franciscans after the earthquake and I was able to incorporate a lot into the story. One my favorite factoids: the downtown post office evaded the destruction and was able to conduct business almost normally in the chaotic weeks after the earthquake. I learned about which parts of the City got their water back and when thanks to a website called The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco which incorporates the records of the City water department from 1906.
As calamities have a way of doing, the 1906 earthquake throws my human characters’ lives into complete disarray. Some are left with their home intact but with serious injury. Some lose their homes but everyone’s life is upended one way or another. To write about being in an earthquake and then adjusting to life in its aftermath, I drew on my own experience going through the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. That was a surrealistic experience to say the least for those who were present. For the loved ones of San Franciscans who were anxiously trying to get news, it was terrifying.
My wife, Jeanette was my girlfriend of just four months in October 1989. She was on a jet flying to Germany when the earthquake hit. She and her friend Michael watched scenes of destruction on CNN with narration in German, while she frantically tried to call me and Michael tried to reach his dad who lived on Nob Hill. After an earthquake, the phone lines are jammed because everyone calls their friends and family to ask, “Did you feel that? Are you okay?” In Two Souls, my characters are not able to phone but they still try to check in with one another and tell their stories just as we twenty first century folks do.Two souls
After the earthquake, my friends and I had a cook out and listened to the radio and watched the helicopters fly over the dark City all night. I still have a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle “Earthquake Special” newspaper. The newspeople put it together using a generator and then handed out free copies on street corners the morning after the earthquake.
People who don’t live in California often express abject fear of earthquakes. Honestly, give me an earthquake that happens every 30 to 100 years over tornados and hurricanes which happen EVERY year.
The framing columns on the Two Souls book cover are a stylized rendering of a monument called the Portals of the Past. Amongst the many photographs and stories I came across during my research was the photo Arnold Genthe took of the ruins of the Townsend mansion on Nob Hill. In the book, I have Abigail and Norah actually come upon him engaged in this activity while they are out exploring the ruins. The only surviving structures on Nob Hill were this doorway and the outer masonry walls of the James Flood mansion on California Street. The 8 marble columns of the entryway were given to the City by Mrs, Townsend and in 1909 were relocated to the shore of Lloyd Lake in Golden Gate Park. They were named the Portals of Past and are thought of as the symbol of San Francisco’s rebirth after the earthquake. They are also serve as a reminder of what happened in 1906. I visit them every so often and wonder what it was like for San Franciscans back then. Two Souls is the concrete result of my musings.

Bold Strokes Books Author Interview with Jaycie Morrison

by Connie Ward


What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I’ve always wanted to write, but when I was younger all I could manage was bad poetry. Then, you know, life happened and I put all that aside. About five years ago I lucked into a combination of circumstances—a kind of perfect storm of opportunity and inspiration. I retired from the full-time job I’d had for thirty-plus years, so the time and energy were there. A few months later I attended a marvelous weekend at a women’s music camp, where I gave myself permission to open up that creative box in my head and see what came out. And when I had a (most uncommon) period of time alone in the mountains of Colorado, the story presented itself to me in that quiet solitude. Now since I’ve started writing, I haven’t been able to stop.

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

basic-training-of-the-heartMy debut novel, Basic Training of the Heart, is a historical romance. It is the first in a series, which seems appropriate to me, since I’ve always viewed history as a really long story. As to the why, I think it’s important for us in the LGBTQ community to be aware of the tremendous courage of those who came before us. In today’s connected world, it might be hard to imagine the isolation that many of these folks experienced, but if you read their stories, you hear over and over again, “I thought I was the only one who felt that way.” I chose World War II because the contrasts of the period are fascinating. Even though it was a time of death and destruction on an unimaginable scale, socially, it was also an unprecedented period of opportunity for women and, to a lesser extent, minorities. For the most part, the country was strongly unified in a way that we might find hard to believe, but civil rights were deeply curtailed, and individuals willingly sacrificed in ways hard to envision today. Maybe that’s why I ended up with such dissimilar characters.

I do have a murder mystery in my mind and would love to try my hand at sci-fi someday.

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My wife has been incredibly patient as I played with my imaginary friends until the wee hours on more than one occasion. She’s always been willing to listen as I babble on about some plot issue and has started assuming that when I get really quiet I’m probably running dialogue in my head. Two of my long-time friends were my first beta readers, and without their encouragement I would never have submitted my book to Bold Strokes. One advantage of having stayed in the same place for so many years is that I am fortunate to have a really special, tight group of friends who have been absolutely wonderful. My mom is a former librarian, and she’s also been very supportive, although I think she secretly wishes I were a little more “mainstream” so she could brag to her friends. My only sibling is a younger sister who is much more conservative, but whatever we may disagree on, we know we love each other, and that’s the most important thing. I’m giving both of them a book this weekend, so we’ll see…

Where do you get your ideas?

I didn’t try to write fiction before because I wasn’t confident that I had a compelling story to tell. But one night in Colorado, the characters and a very broad arc of a long story, of which Basic Training of the Heart is the first part, came to me in a dream. I remember seeing something about the WACs on the Internet the previous evening, but beyond that, the plot and characters just came from my subconscious. Since then I’ve often found that I solve problems in my writing or come up with that perfect line of dialogue just before I actually wake up. The challenge is to remember all those great ideas.

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

When I start out each day, I have a vague destination in mind, but nothing I’d really call a plan. I mostly just try to get into the characters’ heads and let them tell me the story. I can recall at least once, though, that I had to back them out of someplace they’d gotten themselves into and re-direct. Later, when I edit, I try to be more sequential and make sure that when I said “the next day” it wasn’t actually two weeks later.

What makes Basic Training of the Heart special to you?

Besides the fact that it’s my first—and you always remember your first, right?—I so much admire women who have served and are serving in the military. The barrier-breakers bring us all along with them, don’t they? I also tremendously respect the Native American community and their attitudes toward the earth and their place on it. It’s hard to imagine a group of people treated worse by our government, yet they’ve survived and continue to lead in many ways. What’s happening right now at Standing Rock is absolutely inspirational.

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

Initially, I identified more with Rains—solid, steady, somewhat stoic—but my wife tells me that when we met, I flirted with her exactly the way Bett flirts. I definitely use parts of people’s personalities when I write other characters. This is especially therapeutic when you’re mad at someone and you write them as a villain. But I haven’t killed anyone…yet.

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

The first lesbian fiction I remember reading was I am a Woman by Ann Bannon—one of the Beebo Brinker Chronicles. (I think I was in my mid-teens, as I recall being both shocked and delighted.) But Katherine V. Forrest’s An Emergence of Green really resonated with me and gave me a much more positive sense of self later in my coming-out process. Today there are so many remarkable lesbian writers, and they all inspire me.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

When I first started writing what became Basic Training of the Heart, I had the luxury of working on it for several hours every day. During that time, I didn’t read much—especially anything that was close to my genre. I didn’t watch many movies or TV shows either, until I was sure I could recognize my characters’ voices above the daily clatter of the world and that I could reliably find my pacing as the author each day. I’m not saying that everyone needs to do that, but it certainly helped me. And just at the point where I was about to let someone else read my work for the first time, I went to a workshop where I came away thinking that I had done a great many things wrong. I was pretty depressed for a couple of days, but then my rebellious side took over, and I decided that the things I liked about my story were more important than someone else’s guidelines. So I’d advise new writers to strive to be authentic and let everything else fall into place on its own. Don’t give up and don’t force yourself into someone else’s mold. You will compromise down the line, but if you do the work with passion, you’ll please yourself.

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

I like to play guitar and sing harmony. I have an ATV and get to appreciate the beautiful Colorado countryside when I ride. I enjoy cooking when I have the time to play with new recipes. And of course, I love to read.


Strange Bedfellows: History and Horror

By William Holden


For the past two years, I’ve been involved with queer student life at Harvard University. It’s been a great experience to get to know these students, who come from every part of the world. I dine with them, have fun and fascinating conversations with them. It’s been a joy and privilege to watch them learn and grow. This past academic year, two queer Harvard Law School students approached me.  They asked if I would get involved in what they were calling, The Secret Court Committee. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Let me shed some light into the darkness.


In 1920, the then president of Harvard University formed a committee, called “The Court.” It was formed to investigate allegations of homosexual activity running rampant through the campus. For two weeks the members of the court interrogated over thirty students. The students were asked about their sexual activities, and private lives. The members of the court even threatened the students with expulsion, outing, or public shame if they didn’t turn over the names of other men. At the end of the two weeks, eight students, one recent graduate, and a professor were removed from the university.


The records of “The Court” disappeared. No one knew or remembered what happened in May of 1920. It wasn’t until 2002, when someone working on a story for the student newspaper, The Crimson, discovered the documents. They were inadvertently given an unmarked box from the archives. Inside the box was the handwritten notes from “The Court.” After further searching, the library staff found more boxes of documents from “The Court.” It was the first time in eighty-two years anyone had ever seen these documents.


For those interested in learning more about this “homosexual witch hunt” there was a student group who used the records in the archives to recreate the interrogations. You can watch the one-hour film Perkins 28: Harvard’s Secret Court. A book has also been written about the events of 1920 and is worth reading. The stories that are pieced together from actual documents will haunt you. Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals.


Back to the Law School students, and the Secret Court Committee. Every few years a new student-led group comes together. Their goal? To convince Harvard University to honor the expelled students. Unfortunately, Harvard has refused to honor the students, or even commemorate their lives.


o-crimson-soulsSo what does all this have to do with my latest novel, Crimson Souls? It’s the heart and soul of the story (pun intended). People who have followed my writings over the years will be familiar with the name Nate, The Midnight Barker. Nate is a shadow demon. To survive, Nate and his follow demons need to feed off the souls of men. In Nate’s Netherworld, the souls of men come in the form of their orgasms.


Nate is a character I created seven years ago for a short story. A year later I found him narrating another story, then another. You get the point; he’s a character who has refused to let me go. So when readers kept asking me questions like, “Was Nate ever human?” or “How did he become a shadow demon?” I realized the reason Nate hasn’t left me alone was that he wasn’t done telling his story. It wasn’t until I began reading the history of the homosexual purge at Harvard did Nate’s background and history reveal itself. In his human existence he, Phineas Nathanial Trescott, was one of the interrogated students, and (like the real life student he’s fashioned after) believed to be the source of the perversion.  Nate (unlike his real-life counterpart) is murdered by the men of the Secret Court and vows to come back and seek revenge on the members of the court and their descendants. And so the story unfolds.

Did I alter historical facts of Harvard’s Secret Court? Absolutely, but only for the purpose of storytelling. I did not change the facts to minimize or lessen the harsh realities of what these students endured at the hands of Harvard’s hate and homophobia. Do history and horror make strange bedfellows? Perhaps, but in using history in this way, I hope to get more people aware of what happened during those two weeks of May in 1920. People who perhaps wouldn’t read a book about Harvard, but who may be interested in a horror novel. Through this book, I’m hoping to keep the memory of these students alive, and with that in mind, I have dedicated this book to them.

Next fall as a new academic year begins, the Secret Court Committee will once again reconvene. It is my hope this time, we can make a difference, and get these students the recognition they deserve.

BSB Author Interview With Michael Vance Gurley

by Connie Ward



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.

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.

Dian Fossey’s Ghost or, Who Doesn’t Love a Baby Gorilla?



In the last ten years I’ve written novels set in variety of historical periods. A relationship with an Egyptologist produced the two book Ibis Prophecy, set in Egypt and the Middle East. A trip to Rome was the inspiration for Sistine Heresy, and a brief infatuation with Eddie Izzard (don’t ask!) after a trip to Venice stirred me to write Sarah, Son of God. Lastly, moving to Brussels and meeting descendants of World War Two Résistance fighters got me researching and writing about the war in Europe. With three war novels under my belt (and one in manuscript), I think I count now as Bold Strokes Books’ official WW2 author.The Witch of Stalingrad 300 DPI

So, why suddenly gorillas?

Well, for one, during those years, I became a doggie-and-kitty-and birdie parent, and got to know species other than my own, up close and personal. Admittedly, my first revelation was that the primary functions of these non-homo sapiens is to eat and poo, and my primary responsibility was to allow for both. But the payoff, of course, is that they also offer and receive affection.

In addition, living now in a French speaking culture, I spend a lot of time watching nature programs with a slowed-down French that I can follow. Who wouldn’t understand “Voila, le tigre chasse l’antilope,” and vacillate between sympathizing with the ‘le tigre’ or ‘l’antilope’?

Under these conditions, an issue that had been niggling for years at the back of my mind began to niggle a little louder: the abuse of animals.

Dian's GhostI am certain I share this love of animals and hatred of their abuse with everyone reading this blog. Along with this sympathy also goes an outrage at both the abuse of domestic animals and the poaching of wild ones. Not to mention that we are all painfully aware of the ongoing slaughter of rhinos, elephants and Cecil the Lion. This congealed in me into an overpowering urge for justice or, if not justice, then a certain exquisite revenge. Thus arose Dian’s Ghost.

Dian, of course, refers to Dian Fossey, who spent some eighteen years in the study and care of mountain gorillas, and gave her life for it. I wanted to honor her and at the same time create a satisfying fiction of retribution for her murder, and the murder of her (and all) animals.

The novel opens with a cold-blooded double execution, and the murderer is Dana, our heroine. Dana is not one of those sexy superheroes who knocks off enemy agents for the Greater Good of the Western Democracies, but an ordinary woman who is pushed to the edge and over.

It took some narrative sleight of hand to get her out of the country, but I managed, and voila, soon she is safe and working in the Virunga mountains, examining gorilla poo (because that is what you do when you study gorillas.) The poo-poking job is admittedly not so great, but her supervisor, the successor to Dian Fossey at the Karisoke research center, is a pretty fascinating woman. So there’s that.

Inevitably, Dana meets and comes to love a family of gorillas and, in the course of things, rescues one of their infants. And because the baby gorilla has been orphaned by the murder of her mother, we are set on the course of another revenge. Dana is good at revenge, so suddenly it’s no longer fun and games.

But by now we are feeling a bit ill at ease with the revenge thing – and that is the point.

The novel is unashamedly a thriller-romance. And you can sweep through it just for that. But if you wish to slow down and consider the implications of what is happening, you realize, you are facing some deep moral questions. Simply stated, when is it all right to kill?

I personally find capital punishment dangerous to rational civilization in which at least lip service is paid to justice. Errors are possible, groups are disadvantaged, and DNA tests have exonerated more than one condemned man in the last ten years. It also seems repugnant for the state to have the right to end a human life when execution demonstrably has no deterrent effect on other murderers. Killers do not commonly weigh the risks of their kill before undertaking it. Even the argument that “the use of killing is to show killing is wrong” is deeply flawed.

And yet…I understand the deep satisfaction of revenge, particularly against someone who has grievously harmed the innocent, and I include in this the gratuitous harm of animals. I do not believe that human life, per se, is any more ‘sacred’ (a word that has absolutely no meaning) than any other life. All vertebrates appear capable of affection, and many show signs of self-awareness, sorrow, and moral behavior. And they know when someone is killing them. (Before you ask, yes, I am a vegetarian.)

My own personal morality – which I admit is both self-contradictory and slightly biblical – is that to the extent possible, we should not harm other creatures. All things deserve to have a go at survival. But if a person causes unnecessary pain and harm to a creature for pleasure or profit, that person foregoes the right to be unharmed in return. Consequently, while I am still against capital punishment as it stands (see explanation above) in the cases of George Bush, Dick Cheney, neocon war mongers in general, certain Middle Eastern heads of state of all religions, the creepy dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, wild life poachers and trophy hunters, and all those who abuse domestic animals – I would make an exception.

However…. (you knew that ‘however’ was coming, didn’t you?), while revenge is sweet, it’s hard to keep under control, and Dian’s Ghost is set in Africa during the vast paroxysm of revenge called the Rwandan genocide. It swept the entire country, even the Virunga slopes where the mountain gorillas lived.

So, here we are, two women are falling in love, one devoted to caring for animals, the other heavy with the guilt of avenging them, in the midst of a gargantuan national turmoil. We have romance and we have action, not so much car chases, as “machete chases” that usually do not end well. And running for your life with gorillas through the mountain rain forest puts a real damper on hot sex.

Still, the story is not a tragedy, for it ends with hope. Both fictionally and historically, many good souls carry a bit of Dian’s ghost in them, and some will return (and have returned) to Rwanda to carry on the work. There are still cute baby gorillas to love.

As for the double murder by our heroine in Chapter One, well, you’ll have to find out for yourself how that is resolved.

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