Posts Tagged 'Tarnished Gold'



by Ann Aptaker



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.


by Ann Aptaker

Ann Aptaker photo


Some years ago, when I began to get serious about writing crime and mystery fiction, and the character of Cantor Gold was forming in my mind, I understood that Cantor’s story had to be told as a series. The complexity of her life and its moral contradictions had to be revealed slowly, her post-World War Two social and criminal worlds excavated depth by layered depth. So by the time I finished writing Book One in the series, Criminal Gold, published by Bold Strokes Books in November 2014, and started the second, Tarnished Gold, released by BSB this month, I understood what to do, and I was undaunted, yes?


Oh, I knew the plot, at least generally. And having spent so much time with Cantor and her circle—cab driver and Cantor’s sometime lover Rosie Bliss, Cantor’s young right-hand guy Judson Zane, doyenne of stolen goods Esther “Mom” Sheinbaum, crime lord Sig Loreale, and tug boat skipper Red Drogan—while writing Criminal Gold, I knew their personalities down to their souls. Their voices were crystal clear to me, their mid-twentieth century New York criminal underworld rich with drama, passion, danger, and humor. And new characters for Tarnished Gold were taking shape nicely, too, their personalities layering, their voices clarifying. So what was in my way? Me.

More precisely, my false expectations were in my way. I’d spent so much time with my characters and their world when I wrote Criminal Gold, I figured that creating their next adventure would be easier than the steep climb of writing the first one.


Tarnished Gold 300 DPIWriting Tarnished Gold was harder. Much, much harder. Why? Because I was a better writer by the time I finished Criminal Gold than when I started, not only as a more practiced wordsmith, but because I had a better understanding of what good writing, good storytelling, demands. “Demand” is the operative word here. In general terms, I already knew that good writing demands digging down into my depths in order to locate and comprehend emotions that would drive the characters and the story. But to grow as a storyteller, writing a second book demanded I dig even deeper, claw my way down into my most protected marrow, where I don’t always want to go, and be willing to use what I find there to drive a more complex plot. (Tarnished Gold is a more complex book than Criminal Gold, and writing it created even more demands: that I develop the ability to construct and maintain the more intricate plot, complicated further by the series’ ongoing subplot, and give voice and action to the more difficult emotions Cantor and other characters must face as a result.) Writing the second book demanded and demanded and demanded and kept on demanding more of me, demanding I have the courage to take even greater creative risks. (Cantor is going to do that? The story is going THERE? Oh. My. God. Do I have the nerve to write this? Do I have the skill to pull this off? Well okay, no choice: here we go! Whaaa-hooo!) If writing Criminal Gold was like scaling the sheer face of a cliff, writing Tarnished Gold was like leaping off that cliff and trusting—terrified—that I could land safely.

And now I’m writing the third book in the series, and the demands have become even greater, as they must, or the series could fall into dull sameness. With each book, the stakes are higher, the risks riskier, the emotional digging deeper, and finding the means to express it all is much harder. So now that I’ve scaled the cliff, and jumped off the cliff, I have to be able to fly. Simply landing safely is no longer an option.

But the thrill!

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