Posts Tagged 'Lambda Literary Awards'

SURVIVAL BY CRAZY

 

by Ann Aptaker

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Okay, I have a few options here. I could cheer my good fortune in the year that just passed (Tarnished Gold, book two in the Cantor Gold crime series, won the Lambda and the Goldie awards, and I was hired to write scripts for a season of the children’s science TV show Space Racers.) Or I could hang my head in misery about events in that same year, which ended with the most nauseating election result in American history (talkin’ to you, Trump voters; I’m a dyke, and you clearly don’t give a fig for my rights, or even my safety). Or I could ignore the world’s crap and just hum my way into a numb nirvana, but a few days of that would probably kill me with boredom. Or I could embrace my most reliable survival skill, the one that writes the books, the one which identifies me as being a little nuts.

Though the first option feeds my ego with the irresistible candy of praise and recognition, I rely on the last one. It’s my “go to” when I need aid and comfort and strength. When I’m in my crazy-empowered state, hallucinations become scenes which become storylines which become books. Being a little nuts thus releases my most productive self; after all, I don’t have an elf crew which writes my books for me in the dead of night while I sleep.

Being a little nuts is also very freeing. I can chalk up my wildest, riskiest thoughts to, well, being a little nuts, and then everything just flows from there. No guilt, no shame, just literary flow. And come to think of it, I have to be a little nuts to write crime and mystery fiction in a Lesfic market which gobbles up romance. But oh well, what can I do? To quote one of the masters, Raymond Chandler, “Danger is my business,” to which I might add, “And dangerous women are my literary pleasure.”

Tarnished Gold 300 DPIWhich brings me to the recent focus of my crazy writer’s life, the outlaw Cantor Gold. She’s dangerous, all right: art thief, smuggler, and confident dyke in 1950s New York, as at home among the gangsters and molls of the criminal underworld as she is sharing cocktails with the upper reaches of New York’s high society snoots. Cantor is dangerous because lives life on her own terms, and no one—not the Law that wants to jail her or kill her, not the rich and powerful who want to use her—will ever take that away from her. She’s prepared to die for her freedom, and kill for it, too.

When I started thinking about the series, started formulating Cantor Gold—that is to say, when I finally allowed my crazy to escape into the world and onto the page—LGBTQ life was getting better. True, George W. Bush was president, and his conservative and religious fundamentalist supporters were waving their bibles in our faces. But inch by inch, court case by court case, they were losing the argument and we were winning our rights. We were pushing America toward that light of equality at the end of the tunnel, we were gaining acceptance—in the larger cities at any rate—and it felt good!

Something didn’t feel good, though, something irritated like a pebble in my shoe, and that something was the threat of forgetfulness. I couldn’t help feeling that in our rush into our bright future, a future of normalcy, the rough edges of the culture that thrived in our earlier, shadowed life would be smoothed away to the point of invisibility. Our colorfully defiant and dangerous past, no longer fashionable as we absorbed into the American mainstream, would be pushed into the closet we ourselves were coming out of. Thus, Cantor Gold, dapper butch in a time when being Lesbian, Gay, Trans, or any other non-hetero definition was punishable by arrest, imprisonment, or commitment to the psycho ward, was my way of keeping that defiant past alive.

And now it’s 2017. That nauseating election result I mentioned earlier has the potential to stop our progress in its tracks, make our way of life illegal again, make us fearful for our very safety. Who knew past would become present? Not I in those politically optimistic early days of Cantor Gold’s creation. Who knew that the release of Cantor’s third adventure, Genuine Gold, would coincide with the installation of a presidential administration and a congress which threatens our hard won rights? Threatens us?genuine-gold-bsb-final

What better time, then, for the defiant Cantor Gold to sing her stubborn insistence on living her life as she sees fit, on claiming her rights to her body and her sexual, emotional, and personal freedom? And as it happens, the crime and murder mystery plot of Genuine Gold takes Cantor back to the neighborhood of her childhood, the place where she grew up, the place which formed her, gave her her strength, her audacity, even her strut and style: Coney Island. Back on that honky tonk isle of fantasies and thrills, Cantor must confront everything she was, everything she is, and everything she insists on being. It all happens in vintage Coney Island, a wild place, a colorful place, where a little craziness, a little danger—then and now—are valued.

So being a little nuts is proving to be my most potent survival skill, fueling my literary ambition, my creative strength, and my defiance in the face of threats thrown at us from the incoming government regime. Cantor Gold, my offspring birthed from the womb of crazy, may be a fictional character from the 1950s but it turns out she’s a hero for our own time, too. She’s brave, she’s dangerous, she’s smart and sexy, and she survives in a world that wants to silence her, imprison her, even kill her. Her best weapon? Defiance.

But to keep her alive, I rely on my best weapon: the strength of being a little nuts.

A Conversation with Lambda Finalist Jess Faraday

 

Jess Faraday’s debut novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, is a Lambda Literary Award finalist for gay mystery. Writer Jeffrey Ricker talked with her recently about her debut, her upcoming novel, and how historical fiction can be relevant to and address contemporary issues.

 

Jeffrey Ricker: Congratulations on being a Lambda award finalist! I loved The Affair of the Porcelain Dog. It was one of those books I couldn’t put down; I frequently overshot my lunch hour because I wanted to read one more page. How did the idea for that book come about?

Jess Faraday: Thanks! The book actually evolved from an exercise I did with my writing group. The exercise was to take a character from something we were working on and put that character in a completely different time and place. I took a sorcerer’s assistant from a swords-and-sorcery piece and put him in a Sherlock Holmes story. The more I worked on it, the more I realized that there was just so much more to be said.

JR: You’ve trained as a linguist and translator. Tell me a little about what that entailed. How would you say that’s influenced your writing, if at all?

JF: I’ve always been fascinated by language and words—not just nuances in meaning, but the rhythm, color, and music of it. I’ve always loved these things, and I try to incorporate them into my writing, hopefully without going overboard. I love translation because one has to really think about the shades of meaning of key words, and the greater picture created when all the words come together. It’s the same when writing a story: the rhythm, color, and music created by the language gives the story a certain feel that affects setting, plot, and character, but registers on a completely different level.

JR: What is the most challenging thing about writing?

JF: Getting through the first draft, which will always be completely crappy. Subsequent drafts are easy. Fun, even. Because it means turning garbage into something nice. But getting through that first draft can be a nightmare.

JR: What made you decide to write a novel from the point of view of a gay man in Victorian London? Did you ever have any concerns about creating an authentic voice for that character?

JF: I think every writer wants to create believable, sympathetic characters. I do, and I hope that if my characters lack authenticity as either gay men or as Victorians, that they’re at least believable as people.

I did a lot of sociological research about London in the late Victorian era—not just specifically about the lives of gay men, but about relationships between men and women, different races and social strata, and how these things fit together (and also lighting, personal hygiene, battlefield medicine, pollution of the Thames, and the history of envelope sealants).

The idea to make the main character the crime lord’s lover, rather than just his assistant, sparked when I came across the Labouchere Amendment, which aimed to protect women and girls from exploitation by criminalizing “indecency” between men (huh?)—not only actual sexual acts, but attempted acts, with no evidence required. It sounded so much like today’s hysterical “think of the children!” rhetoric that I had to include it somehow. Also, it made the resolution of the plot that much more pressing!

JR: Part of the writer’s function is to engage with and comment on contemporary culture. You wouldn’t think that historical fiction could do that, but Porcelain Dog was a very accessible novel, and seemed to resonate and not be so far removed from modern culture, while at the same time being grounded in Victoriana.

JF: We like to think that human societies are continuously evolving forward, becoming better, smarter, more enlightened, etc., with every passing generation. But it simply isn’t true. We keep dealing with the same conflicts over and over. Money. Sex. Power. Love. How we think about them may be different in different times and places, but the conflicts are always the same. They’re never solved forever, and they never go away. I think addressing the universal conflicts that have always been with humanity, and always will be, is what makes historical writing interesting and accessible to others.

JR: What are you working on now? How is it similar or different from Porcelain Dog? Do you think you’ll ever revisit the character of Ira Adler in a future book?

JF: Right now I’m finishing another mystery, this time set in early 19th-century Paris. The protagonist is the last remaining female Sûreté agent after the resignation of Sûreté founder Eugène Vidocq. Unlike Porcelain Dog, this book has a significant supernatural element. I’d say it’s closer to speculative fiction than to pure historical fiction.

The next book on the docket is the sequel to Porcelain Dog. =)

Shortlist

Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Julie Cannon, dishes romance with me at the 4th Annual Lonestar Lesfic Festival in Austin, Texas.


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