Posts Tagged 'Nell Stark'

The Princess and the What?

Nell Stark’s first princess novel was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and her latest, The Princess and the Prix, is sure to race into first place. When a hot Formula One driver meets a stunning Princess, we’re all in for a wild ride.

Cards on the Table


I have a new book out this month: All In, a romance between a professional poker player named Nova and a casino host named Vesper. The book is about many things, but one of those things is poker. In many ways, poker is a microcosm of life. Your luck can change in an instant. Deception is a powerful tool, but it has its limitations. Those with more money have certain advantages, but sometimes an underdog is capable of usurping them. Risks are not always rewarded, but if you venture nothing, you gain nothing.


Having a book come out is a lot like laying your cards on a table after the river. Once your cards are down, the game is frozen—open to reaction and interpretation, but not to revision. You, the player, recede momentarily into the background. The cards speak for themselves.


As do all texts. Back in 1946, the field of literary studies (specifically, two British blokes named Wimsatt and Beardsley)[1] spawned a concept known as the “intentional fallacy.” It goes something like this: the author’s intent behind a work is not special or privileged. It is only one interpretation among the many that may exist. As long as a reader can prove his or her theory about a text in a responsibly justified literary argument (ie. not taking quotes out of context), his/her interpretation is valid. Some people hate this idea, and I can understand why; even though our culture venerates movie stars and athletes and wealthy entrepreneurs, we still get excited about authors. There are plenty of examples ready-to-hand: the powerful public reaction to the death of Maya Angelou; the buzz about J.K. Rowling’s male pseudonym; the anxiety over whether George R. R. Martin will live long enough to finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Authors are powerful because they have answers. Or so we think.


I recently finished reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, which I picked up because a solid third of my college freshmen students named it as their favorite book. In July, I will be on a panel at the Golden Crown Literary Society’s conference about so-called “Young Adult” literature, and so I figured I’d better read a book so popular with the genre’s target market. The Fault in our Stars is viscerally beautiful and tackles many themes, but the central quest of the narrator is to find out what happens to the characters in her favorite novel after its abrupt ending. And she believes there is only one way to do this: by seeking out the author.


While listening to an audio book about Egyptian history[2] a few months ago, I learned that for 700,000 years, humanity had only one kind of tool: variants on a saw made of stone. But I don’t think that’s true. If those prehistoric people had language—even a very rudimentary one—then they had two tools, because they were able to tell stories to one another. Stories allow us to construct meaning out of a life that can seem, at times, utterly senseless. They are the building blocks of myth and religion, creating frameworks that help us understand everything from natural phenomena to human motivation. The story is the essential human tool. Without stories, we would have no laws, no history, no science. Like genes, stories pass from person to person, evolving through time. And also like genes, stories do not have intrinsic meaning, but rather find their meaning in expression.

Neither the bards of old nor the authors of today can determine the meaning of the stories they tell. That power belongs to their audience.


As our stories have evolved, we humans have done what we do to everything we touch: we have labeled them. A story, we learn, fits into a box: it is told in poetry or prose; it is an epic or a tragedy or a mystery or a romance or a thriller or erotica or YA or NA or… While these labels have a certain utility, they are also constricting—as constricting as the ones we apply to ourselves. We pin down our stories like dead butterflies, and then we ask them to fly. But the miracle is that even as we sort and categorize them, stories help us transcend our labels. They prompt us to peek over the edge of our boxes—to reach out and make connections. They create empathy.


Some authors feel called to stretch our imaginations by portraying the fantastical or the future. Others make meaning out of the simplest details of daily life. Some urge us to confront the darkness between the stars, or the darkness that hides monsters, or the darkness in our own hearts. They compel us to laugh, to sob, to gasp, to shake our fists. Each of us prefers certain stories over others, but humanity needs them all.


At the climax of James Joyce’s Ulysses, his protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, confronts the ghost of his mother and asks her the question that drives him as both a man and an artist: “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.”[1] She does not give him an answer. Scholars have argued over “the word” for decades, and if Joyce were still alive, they would doubtless beg him to tell us the word that was in his mind. I don’t think he would oblige them. I think he would say that whatever word he was thinking of—if, in fact, he was thinking of only one—is just as “correct” an answer as anyone else’s. That meaning, in other words, is constructed not by an author, but by their readers.


For me, “the word known to all men” is love. And that is why I write the kinds of stories that we have chosen to label romances: because love has been the structuring principle of my life and the lens through which I understand the universe. Love is my strong nuclear force and my cosmic background radiation. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]


All In BSB-AllInwas created in the service of this love. It lies open on the table, in your hands.



[1] Wimsatt, William K. and Monroe C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” Sewanee Review, vol. 54 (1946): 468-488. Revised and republished in The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry, U of Kentucky P, 1954: 3-18.

[2] Brier, Bob. The History of Ancient Egypt. The Great Courses: Ancient History. The Great Courses: 2013. Audiobook.

[1] Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986. 474.

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:7




My new y/a novel, Lake Thirteen, Lake Thirteen 300 DPIwas inspired by a trip to an old cemetery one night at the Bold Strokes retreat in August, 2011. The retreat was an amazing time, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself…but as far as I know, I’m the only person who went who came away with a book idea.

On the way up the mountain where the lodge was located was another road marked as Cemetery Road. One of the first nights there, Lisa Girolami and the infamous Carsen Taite gathered up a gang to go ghost-hunting in the cemetery there and so, equipped with recording devices, they, myself, Trinity Tam and Nell Stark and several others departed for the cemetery. It was a perfect night for ghost hunting–the sky was filled with clouds so there was that sense of true dark–and I think it was our second night there; I could be wrong. Anyway, we found the cemetery–which was truly old. When I got out, I walked immediately to a grave with the headstone ALBERT LINCOLN 1892-1908. My immediate thought, which I spoke out loud, was “How terribly sad, he was only sixteen.” His grave rested next to his parents’; his mother was born in 1866 and lived to 1965; to which I added, “poor woman, she outlived her son by 59 years.” I stood there for a while, feeling this overwhelming sense of sadness, before we began moving around in the cemetery, looking for paranormal activity.

There were American flags everywhere, planted, one would assume, by the local VA on the graves of veterans. There was no wind, and there was a mist rising up from the ground. We were all gathered around a large tombstone when suddenly Trinity called my attention–and everyone else’s–to a grave behind us and far to our left. The flag on this grave was moving back and forth; yet all the other flags in the cemetery were still. There was no wind, none whatsoever. We all walked over to this grave, and it was about this time I noticed that I was feeling cold–I’d been cold since getting out of the car, but it was getting colder. The flag continued waving even after we got to it–and we were all standing at various places around the grave–and there was no wind; no reason for the flag to be waving at all.

I was drawn back to Albert’s grave again from here, and it was around now that I realized that not only was I cold, I was only cold from behind; in other words, my back and the back of my legs were cold, but there wasn’t any kind of wind. I asked Trinity if she, too, were cold, and she wasn’t–no one else was; they all thought it was muggy and sticky. At this point, all the hair on my arms stood up, and I had goose bumps like I’ve never seen before–and my back was getting colder.

While we were at Albert’s grave, several people heard a strange growling behind us (I didn’t hear it) and the majority of the group went investigating, leaving Trinity and myself behind. While we watched them, I asked Trinity to feel the back of my shorts and my shirt–and she confirmed they were cold.

Throughout this entire experience I continued feeling incredibly sad. Later, when the others rejoined us, Lisa felt the back of my shirt between my shoulder blades, and she, too, confirmed my shirt was cold.

Lisa said a prayer, since we were departing, and as she said the words, I got incredibly cold, this time all over. All the hair on my body stood up–head, arms, legs–and then as suddenly as it had come over me, it was gone–and I felt the muggy stickiness everyone else was experiencing.

As we drove back up to the lodge, I kept think about Albert and how he died. And later that night, alone in my room in a different cabin a little further down the mountain from the lodge, listening to the wind moan through the forest, the story started coming to me.

And that’s where the story of my new novel Lake Thirteen came from. I’ve been really pleased with the response to it so far…and now, when I have some free time, I might actually try to find out what really did happen to Albert.

Notes from the Pageant Circuit:Palm Springs 2013


Being a first time author, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Bold Strokes Books 2013 LGBTQ book festival in Palm Springs. I thought perhaps it would be a pageant-like atmosphere, with one of us being crowned at the end. Because of the glorious desert climate I worried that the writers would be subjected to participation in a swimsuit competition. Wanting to have the best possible shot of winning, I texted my friend Shawn to schedule an appointment for some long overdue pre-trip manscaping. Immediately he texted back:

“Ken, have fun in Palm Springs. Sorry I’m in Mexico, Can’t help U get your smooth on. Better make peace with your inner Bear.”

I almost cancelled my flight.

Thankfully, I did not. Forced to forgo the Boyzilian, I boarded the plane in a far more natural state than was my want.  To my great relief there was no swimsuit completion. We didn’t even compete in evening gowns, which I wish someone had told me in advance because it would have saved me so much room in my carry on bag. There were however four days worth of talent competitions.

Well, no, not talent competitions. It was more like four days worth of talent celebrations.

My chief objective in attending the event (aside from winning Miss Congeniality) was to meet, and spend time, with my fellow writers. I’d been feeling like I needed a reminder that I love to write, and hearing author after author share their dazzling work I absolutely was reminded. I left each day inspired to work—committed to completing another novel.

But something even more wonderful happened. I wasn’t just reminded that I love to write. I was reminded that I love to read.

More specifically, I was reminded why I love to read. Reading takes me places I’ve never been.  It takes me into the lives of people different from myself. Even with every one of my body hairs intact, I will never really be one of Radclyffe’s wolves. But with a book in hand I can howl. Nor will I ever be a lesbian—or a woman of any orientation—but while reading I can pretend to be one.

On Thursday I attended a panel called Kiss and Tell: Scenes of Lesbian Desire. I was present for the session because I wanted to be supportive of my fellow Bold Strokes authors, not because I was particularly interested in the topic. But then something simultaneously wonderful and embarrassing happened. Ashley Bartlett began reading a sex scene from one of her “Dirty” seriesDirty Money 300 DPI of novels. And my interest perked up—considerably. It’s been years since I was in High School, still I found myself reaching for my books and placing them in my lap for camouflage.

What was happening to me?

The answer was Obvi: I was being moved (or in this case turned on) by the power of a well-written story. And over the course of four days my colleagues stories moved me again and again—though only Ash’s words caused that particular type of movement.

Really this shouldn’t be news to someone who loves books, and yet it did come as a revelation to me. Sure, I like to read stories about gay men. But I also want to read books about the lives of lesbians and bisexual people and straight women and straight men. Bring me your transsexuals and your questioning. (Or is it queer? Does anyone really know what the Q stands for?) Honestly, I am totally game for a great asexual hero, too.

All I want—aside from Nell Stark’s tiara—is a great story and an interesting world and smart and pithy dialogue.

Oh, and apparently some hot, dirty lesbian sex.

Put a Ring On It

What’s more romantic than a proposal? And no, I’m not talking about a book proposal.

The University of Lesfic

Authors Nell Stark, Trinity Tam, Rachel Spangler, PJ Trebelhorn and I will be reading and signing at a multi-school event at Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA). Meet our host, Anita Kelly, Director of Counseling and campus GLBTQ Coordinator.

Click here for more information about the event.

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