Welcome to December!
This month we have two BSB authors to introduce — Martha Miller and Lyle Blake Smythers. Let’s get to know them!
Martha Miller is the author of six books: Skin to Skin: Erotic Lesbian Love Stories, Nine Nights on the Windy Tree, Dispatch to Death, Tales from the Levee, Retirement Plan and Widow. Her stories, reviews, and articles are widely published in anthologies, magazines, and periodicals. She writes a monthly column called “Martha [Lesbian] Living,” a lesbian send-up of that other, more domestic Martha. She is a winner of a Raymond Carver Short Fiction Award and the Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship, among others. She loves to read and she loves basketball. She teaches writing part time at a local community college and lives a quiet life with her spouse Ann and two dogs and two cats.
You’re the author of the acclaimed Bertha Brannon mystery series. Tell us a little about your heroine, and how you came to write about her.
Bertha is kind of an anti-heroine. I thought there were enough books about young, blond, slim, athletic lesbians, so I created her just the opposite. Bertha is 40ish, black, six foot tall and weighs 200 pounds. In the first book “Nine Nights on the Windy Tree,” she is newly out of a treatment center for a crack addiction, and she’s trying to set up her own office as an attorney. She has a grandma who raised her and whom she loves dearly. Grandma is hilarious. The mystery takes Bertha back to her tempting old haunts, and it puts Grandma in danger. Bertha also meets a new woman, a police officer who responds to the first murder and there are some hot scenes between them
You also write a regular column for Out and About Illinois, Martha [Lesbian] Living—a lesbian send up of Martha Stewart domesticity. Can we have a little taste?
Here’s a column that has been popular.
Martha [lesbian] Living
One TV program that I alternately love and hate is “Hoarders.” The producers send a team of psychologists, organizers and laborers into a person’s home and they all work on cleaning the place up. I often think that if I had all of that help, I’d get something done around here. But then I see those poor people going through their things one item at a time, trying to decide whether to trash it, donate it, or keep it. Their anxiety gets so high that they wig out, and I wonder what it would be like to have to decide on every bit of stuff I have all in one day.
I’m sitting here in a valley between two mountains of stuff as I write this. On top is a Lands End catalogue opened to pea coats. I’m thinking of buying one, but I have to wait until I get my new glasses, so I’ll know how much money I have left for a coat. I do have other coats—but I think that a pea coat is the perfect attire for a lesbian. So, like the hoarder on TV, I have my reasons for keeping that catalogue on top of the stack. I tell myself that at least I’m not as bad as the Hoarders on TV. At least I don’t have infestations of bugs or dead cats in my garage.
Last summer I read “Homer and Langley,” by E. L. Doctorow. It’s a pretty good book if you like literary fiction. It’s based on a true story of the Collyer brothers who were found dead in their 5Th Avenue brownstone amid tons of stuff. In the book, the story is told by the brother who is blind. So even though he knows they have accumulated a lot of stuff, including a car in the dining room, he can’t see it. The brothers eventually descend into madness, as over the years the walkways become narrower and one by one the rooms become uninhabitable and are locked.
In 1975, the documentary “Gray Gardens,” won several awards. It’s about two women, mother (big Edith) and daughter (little Edith), who lived in a mansion in East Hampton, New York, that is full of trash, fleas, cats and raccoons. They were about to be evicted when their plight got some publicity, Jackie Onassis-Kennedy and her sister Lee Razwell (they were cousins) arranged for the place to be cleaned and repaired, but it eventually filled up again. In a 2007 film, based on the documentary, one of the best lines comes when the guy from the Health Department shows up and Drew Barrymore (Little Edith) hangs out the upstairs window, and says, “Well, things just seem to pile up after Labor Day. What can I say?”
It’s true; things do seem to pile up. I guess I’m a “selective” hoarder. I have no trouble throwing away junk mail unopened or fast food containers, but I do have a problem with books and clothes. I’ve been working on it, but it is hard. Plus Girlfriend often looks into the trash and pulls things she thinks she might use, and I have to throw things away twice, when it was hard enough the first time.
I have read that all clothes that don’t fit should go. But I have the problem of being one size (not always the same size) in the summer and another in the winter, or two weeks later. When I see closets on TV or in magazines (except on Hoarders), I am always shocked that there is reasonable space between the hangers. Joan Crawford would have a stroke over my closet. Every week when I hang up my clean clothes, I have to shove with all my might to get the stuff back in there.
So there must be a line you cross somewhere and it all just gets away from you. I ask myself what’s the difference between Homer and Langley, Big Edith and Little Edith, those people on TV and me. Is it just a matter of degrees? I heard somewhere that there’s always someone better off and someone worse off than you are. Maybe I look at hoarders so I can tell myself I’m not that bad, yet.
There are also several of my favorite Lesbian Living colums on my web site http://marthamiller.net/main/index.php/best-of-lesbian-living
Your most recent work is an erotica anthology. Out of mystery, comedy and erotica, which has been your favorite? Which is hardest to write? Is there another genre you’ve been itching to write?
Actually “Skin to Skin” my first book came out in 1995, published by New Victoria Press. I wrote the book when I was younger and at that time all I could think about was sex. So it was easy. I’ve published five books since then—the latest of which is “Widow,” by Bold Strokes, about Bertha Brannon. The mystery before that (also published with Bold Strokes) was “Retirement Plan.” It’s about these two old ladies who can’t make ends meet on their Social Security so they open their own business and become hired killers. I like writing and reading about women of my age, baby boomer lesbians. Currently I’m working on a memoir about a difficult time in my life. It’s been sitting in my office for over twenty years because I couldn’t face it without a bunch of pain. All this time later, I’ve made peace with it. Still the writing goes slowly.
If that’s not enough, you teach college-level writing. What are the titles of some of the courses you’ve taught? Do you enjoy helping developing writers along? Do you worry that you’re training up your competition?
I love teaching and I love writing. For the past several years I have been teaching part-time, so I get those 100 classes: Intro to Novel, Intro to Drama, Intro to Film. I also teach a lot of Composition. In those classes, I have students who hate English. Often they are afraid of it, but they have to take it. I make it as painless as possible. They actually learn a lot, but they don’t realize how much until it’s over. Most semesters I will have one or two students who change their major to English. That pleases me. I did teach one seminar on Mystery Writing. One thing I found was that the (adult) students wanted people all good or all bad. That doesn’t work. One guy had a high school student’s mother a real mess. She was a drunk and brought men home all the time and neglected the kid sometimes leaving the boy alone for days at a time. We worked hard to find some redeeming quality for her, but it had to happen quickly because she was the first murder victim. So she kept the same history but when we meet her she has just gotten out of a treatment center and all that goes with that. So she is finally trying to do right and it’s then she’s murdered.
My writing group would give me more competition than my students. But I figure their success is my success too. These days the book stores are full of books by people who didn’t write them, like Donald Trump, Bill O’Riley, and a bunch of movie stars and politicians. Seems like people who actually write books have taken a back seat.
What’s next for you? Any new writing in the works?
I’m always working on something. My latest was the memoir that I mentioned. To prepare for that I read a lot of memoirs, plus Mary Kerr’s new book on memoir writing, and a bunch of books she recommended. One that I really liked was “Giving Up the Ghost,” by Hilary Mantel. So as I said, this one is slow going. I write a lot of reviews for different publications: most often for “The Gay and Lesbian Review.” “Out and About” quit publishing a few years back, but when I can, I still publish my column in a local gay and lesbian newsletter.
The irony about all of this is that I’m dyslexic. I could barely read in 5th grade. I thought I was stupid. It was a long time before I learned that I just see things differently. So as I slowly got the hang of it, reading became very important to me. I love to read though sometimes I still misread something. Usually it’s someone’s bumper sticker. You’d be surprised about some of the funny things that bumper stickers don’t say. The most enduring effect of the dyslexia is that I can’t spell. That amazes students, but I’ve learned to just ask them and someone always knows. It is surprising that I’ve written and published so much and still can’t remember if Taco has one ‘c’ or two.
Here’s a bit about Martha’s latest book, Widow:
County Judge Bertha Brannon’s life blows up when her partner of twelve years, police sergeant Toni Matulis, the love of her life, is killed during a domestic violence call gone bad. Bertha is still trying to accept what’s happened when she gets the first of several threatening phone calls. This is followed by one dangerous incident after the next, one dead body after the last. The police are no help, so Bertha starts her own investigation and learns that Toni was working on a case that no one wanted her to solve, a case of corruption that goes all the way to the top.
Lyle Blake Smythers
Lyle Blake Smythers is an actor, writer, and librarian in the Washington, D.C., area. Since 1976, he has performed in over 100 stage productions, including three appearances at the National Theatre.
In 2012, his first novel, the heroic fantasy Feasting With Panthers, was published. He has also written fiction, poetry, satire, and literary criticism for Manscape, FirstHand, Playguy, The William and Mary Review, Insights, School Library Journal, Children’s Literature Review, and the original anthology Queer Fish. Let’s get to know him!
You’re quite an all-around artist: novelist, poet, actor, satirist, and so on—where do you find the time? Which is your favorite art form?
Lack of time is my biggest problem because I like a lot of things! Fortunately I am a very organized person, being a librarian and a cataloger to boot. The major portion of my time is on a schedule not under my control: that would be the librarian day job and whatever show I am currently working on as an actor. I don’t have to plan either of those activities because they tell me when they need me. So the writing and the recreation get crammed into whatever hours are left.
Choose one art form? Which is your favorite child? I think I would have to say acting first, with writing a close second. I wouldn’t want to lose either one. Oh, and over the years I’ve written in many forms but like the novel best.
You seem like a very busy guy. What do you like to do when you’re not creating?
As befits a writer and an actor, I spend my spare time reading and watching the work of others. I am a big reader and a huge movie fan, and I take in as much live theater as I possibly can. It makes for a crowded, but rich life.
Your latest novel, Death by Sin, looks like a combination of Lovecraft, Jim Butcher, and Raymond Chandler—by way of Irish myth. Where did you get the idea for such an eclectic setup?
The tagline I was using when I was shopping the book around was “DEATH BY SIN is a blend of dark fantasy, New Weird and urban detective noir, what Philip K. Dick might have written if he had been gay. A little China Mieville, a little Jeff VanderMeer, a little of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.” Of course I like all those writers very much.
This book all started back sometime in the 1980s, when I had a flash of what I thought was the most brilliant and original idea in the universe: Use the urban detective noir template as the backdrop for a speculative fiction story. Tough guy narrator, the whole bit. “It’s never been done before!” I thought. A little while after that, I saw BLADE RUNNER for the first time. Ha.
Well, I wanted to do it anyway. It began as more science fiction but turned out to be urban fantasy, or a blend of the two, depending on how you consider the drug shotweed. The unusual sexual kink involved, the one triggered and enhanced by the drug, is one that I was very much into at the time, and still am (read the book to find out what I’m talking about here) and I wanted to do something with it. The shape-shifting and the monsters came later.
At the time I was writing my first novel, a heroic fantasy/swords and sorcery adventure called FEASTING WITH PANTHERS, so I kept this one on the back burner for quite some time. Since FEASTING took fourteen years to write, during a period of upheaval and distraction that we need not go into here, it took me a while to return to the other story. It lived as a few scribbled notes, under various titles, until I was finally able to buckle down and start writing it for real. One of the working titles, THE PLATINUM IGUANA (don’t ask) made it into the book as the name of a Chinese restaurant.
Layered on top of the plot skeleton and the speculative fiction aspects were elements from two of my favorite old series, the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout and the Fu Manchu thrillers by Sax Rohmer, both of whom I tip my hat to in the acknowledgements. It’s pretty clear to fans where my detectives and my villain came from. I like to steal from the best and then put my own spin on things.
With such a wide range of writing subject, you must be very well read. What are you currently reading? And what’s your all-time favorite read?
Currently speeding with great relish through Susanna Clarke’s period tale of magicians in Napoleonic era England, JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, which is terrific. The dry, understated wit and leisurely but compelling narrative evoke Jane Austen, as has been noted in almost every review published. The characters and the magic are fascinating. When I tell you that it is 800 pages long and I have now read the first 602 pages in one week, you will begin to suspect that it is indeed special.
For very serious literature, one of my favorites is William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Among more contemporary authors, I have devoted myself to Michael Chabon (see THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY) and, of course, the thoroughly demented Thomas Pynchon (see GRAVITY’S RAINBOW). For genre stuff, I am impressed by Roger Zelazny, early Samuel R. Delany, and the very talented Gene Wolfe.
What’s next for you?
My current publisher, Bold Strokes Books, has given me a contract for an immediate sequel to DEATH BY SIN. The new book, which is in progress as we speak, will become the second in the series M’COUL AND GHOUL. The title is WORMS OF SIN, and here’s what it is about:
Supernatural private detective Finn M’Coul knows the underworld is still pushing shotweed, a wickedly addictive and fatal drug… and his handsome young friend Gray is in its thrall.
Finn goes undercover, following Gray into a drug treatment center that was once a mental hospital … haunted by its history of straitjackets, lobotomies, and sterilizations.
He arrives in time for an outbreak of murderous insanity; is it caused by a parasite infecting these young addicts, or the actual ghosts of the asylum?
His task is complicated by cracks in the skin of reality. Through these fissures, glimpses of the past come through, along with demons who try to get into bed with the inmates and sexually violate them.
Is this some hellish experiment gone wrong? Or something worse? Finn must survive to find the truth… and his friend.
I hope that some of you reading this will want to explore my worlds. It’s been nice talking to you. Questions or comments can be sent to me at email@example.com
Lyle’s latest book is an exciting work of gay urban fantasy entitled Death By Sin.
Finn M’Coul, the hero of Irish mythology, is assigned a new case by his boss Viledark, a monstrous hoglike being and an immortal shapeshifter. Together they run a private detective agency on Capitol Hill in modern-day Washington, D.C. A retired general has hired them to find his missing nineteen-year-old son, who appears to be involved with a new drug. Shotweed increases the male orgasm many times, in both duration and intensity, and is on the rise in the local gay community. It is highly addictive and may be fatal, and it only works on gay men. Finn’s search leads him to a psychotic supervillain who is unleashing deadly mischief for his own perverse entertainment. Drugs, monsters, and a man with a hook stand in Finn’s way as he works to save a beautiful boy and others like him.
You can buy Death by Sin, or read an excerpt at Bold Strokes Books, or your favorite retail outlet.
Happy October, Everyone!
Temperatures are cooling down everywhere (except here), the smell of Pumpkin Spice is in the air, and people’s thoughts are turning to the supernatural. Toward this end, I have two masters of the supernatural to introduce to you over the course of the month. Let’s begin with author ANDREW J. PETERS.
Andrew is the author of the Atlantis and Werecat fantasy series, as well as a stunning variety of short fiction. I’ll have an interview with Andrew coming up soon, but in the meantime, allow me to introduce his upcoming book, Banished Sons of Poseidon, which continues the story begun in the well-received The Seventh Pleiade. Let’s get to know him!
(1) Supernatural stories are always popular, but tend to fall into the same old categories (vampires, shifters, witches, the occasional ghost). The territory you cover in The Seventh Pleiade and Banished Sons of Poseidon is new and unique. What drew you to write about Atlantis in particular?
Some years back, I was working at an organization for LGBT teens, and I was overseeing a summer recreation group where the focus was to create a mural for one of the activity rooms. This was actually before I started writing for publication, but it’s really where my interest in writing stories based on mythology started. The group chose to create artwork that reclaimed legend, myth and fairy tales for an LGBT audience. It was an amazingly inspiring experience and definitely one of my fondest memories from my work with teens.
Greek mythology actually includes some “gay,” “lesbian,” and “transgender” stories. But they’re lesser known, like the Zeus’s affair with Ganymede, Artemis’s female lovers and disinterest in men, and Hermes and Aphrodite’s bi-gender child Hermaphroditus. I was drawn to exploring that era from the perspective of how LGBT people might have actually lived.
The ancient Greeks had an intriguing belief system about homosexuality and gender expression. It was not quite as enlightened as some people think, but at least based on what we know about the upper classes, male homosexuality was common and unremarkable. In some respects, same-sex romantic and sexual relationships were a way of gaining, or maintaining, social and political status. At the same time, male effeminacy was ridiculed, and there were prescribed roles (erastes and eromenos) and a platonic ideal that must have made things complicated for a young man who was attracted to other men. I thought that was exciting terrain to explore.
The story of Atlantis in particular appealed to me because I love a conspiracy. My young adult novels imagine a new theory about what happened to that lost civilization and why it was hidden from history. I expanded on that theme in my adult series Poseidon and Cleito.
(2) You do advocacy work for LGBTQ teens. Did your work influence your decision to write books for young adults, or is this simply a genre that you enjoy writing?
I think of my writing as an escape from my professional life, where being a role model and an educator and a representative of the community puts some confines on my creative expression. But the same fascination with adolescence that led me into youth work definitely had an influence on my choice to write about adolescent characters. It’s a brutal time. It’s a triumphant time. It’s filled with wonder and a belief that anything and everything is possible. I love tapping into that hopeful place whether I’m talking to young people or writing about them.
Inevitably and positively, I believe that by contributing to the relatively scant number of YA books about LGBTs, my writing helps that little bit to promote what I would call cultural fairness: the opportunity for LGBT teens to see their lives reflected in literature just as non-LGBT kids do and take for granted. But if I’m being honest, the reason why I write so much about gay characters is rather mundane. I write the kind of stories I like to read and would have liked to have read as a gay kid.
(3) You have another book coming out, soon. How do you contain your excitement? =) Also, are there more planned in the Atlantis series?
Next year is exciting for me! Poseidon and Cleito comes out in early 2016 from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. Later in the year, I have a new title The City of Seven Gods coming out from Bold Strokes Books. I’m riding waves of exhilaration and waves of panic when I think about keeping up with the editing and production schedule.
Poseidon and Cleito takes the Atlantis legend from its pre-formative years into an epic about the dynasty that started with Poseidon and his wife. The first part is separated into two books. After that, I have a third planned and possibly a fourth.
(4) You cite mythology and history as two main influences on your work. Do you have a favorite mythological system at present? Are there any others in particular that you’re considering exploring in your writing?
I’ve been spending a lot of time studying Mesoamerican religions. Some of that tied into my research for The Seventh Pleiade and Banished Sons of Poseidon. Those stories take their lead from Greek mythology, but I approached the subject of Atlantis as a broad predecessor to many ancient world civilizations.
There’s a Lemurian race that was inspired in part by Mayan mythology. In Banished Sons of Poseidon, there’s an underworld race that derived from an Amerindian creation theme of humankind emerging from beneath the ground, and the possibility that when a Creator God scorched the world with fire to start anew, some of those people escaped into a subterranean realm
I was also inspired by Mesoamerican ideas in my Werecat series, which is based on the premise that feline shifters were borne from the Olmec Were-Jaguar tradition.
I’d love to explore more Mayan mythology in future stories. There’s such an unusual pantheon, from a goddess of suicide to a mischievous pair of twins who were credited with creating the Mayan’s famous ball game that was this nearly impossible combination of soccer and basketball and culminated in the players being beheaded.
(5) Do you have any advice for young people (or others) who are interested in breaking into writing?
Just do it! It’s not an easy or a lucrative path for most, but if it’s your passion, it’s a great creative outlet.
For me, and many writers I think, the biggest obstacle was myself. We creative types tend to be shy and sensitive creatures, and it can feel terrifying to put our work out into the world where it might face rejection, disgust, mockery or just plain apathy.
I’ll pass along some advice that has served me well. There may be writers who are more brilliant or wittier or more profound or more elegant than you. But no one in the world can write a story like you can. That alone makes what you have to say special.
About The Seventh Pleiade
After escaping from a flood that buried the aboveground in seawater, the survivors of Atlantis contend about their future and their trust of an underground race of men who give them shelter. For sixteen-year-old Dam, whose world was toppling before the tragedy, it’s a strange second chance. The underworld is filled with wonders, and a foreign warrior Hanhau is eager for friendship despite Dam’s dishonorable past.
But a rift among his countrymen threatens to send their settlement into chaos. Peace between the evacuees and Hanhau’s tribe depends on the sharing of a precious relic that glows with arcane energy. When danger emerges from the shadowed backcountry, Dam must undertake a desperate mission. It’s the only hope for his countrymen to make it home to the surface. It’s the only way to save Hanhau and his people.
Banished Sons of Poseidon is coming October 13, 2015, but you can get it right now at Bold Strokes Books, in paperback and all ebook formats.
Andrew J. Peters is the author of the Werecat series and two books for young adults: The Seventh Pleiade and Banished Sons of Poseidon. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, studied psychology at Cornell University, and has spent most of his career as a social worker and an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Andrew lives in New York City with his partner Genaro and their cat Chloë. For more about him and his books, visit: http://andrewjpeterswrites.com or follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andrewjpeterswrites or Twitter: https://twitter.com/ayjayp
Well, a bit into September, and I apologize. But now, please allow me to present writer and artist Cris de Borja, and writer Lee Rowan.
CRIS DE BORJA
- You work in a lot of different media. Which is your favorite? Why?
My favorite medium is paper. It’s funny; that was easy to answer! I think it’s because paper brings connects both my physical art and my writing. Collage is sculptural, and 3D is where I feel most comfortable. I’ve made paper from junk mail, folded it in origami, sculpted it into a Greenman mask, and shaped it in simple crafts. I’d love to carve blocks of it, like those amazing sculptures made from carved books.
I have a passion for good writing paper and for decorative stationery. I was introduced to writing letters when I was eleven or so, and since then I have continued to write and send handwritten letters. I also journal by hand, which I have done since about age fifteen (and I still have them all). I love fountain pens and sharp pencils. When I write poems, I prefer to compose them by hand, on paper.
- What are you currently working on?
I currently have a few too many pots on the stove, honestly. I have an etsy shop (chrysalides) for my beadwork and a new shop for gemstone jewelry at Mineraliety.com (crisdeborja) that need some attention. I have been letting off steam with fanfiction. I used to think I should keep that under my hat, but lately I feel proud of my history as a fanfic writer. I’m telling stories, whether I’m playing with someone else’s dolls or fashioning my own.
My fanfic style is all rather high context, but if you think it’s relevant, I can point toward my work on Archive of Our Own.
Of my original fiction, this week I have been working on a completing a science fiction short story that keeps wanting to become a novella, putting more words down for the magic girl serial novel, and doing the rounds on some stories that haven’t been getting attention. So much of my fiction is linked by world or theme, so when I work on one thing, I often get thoughts about one of the other ones. I have long tried to make myself focus, but if I’m feeling a flood of energy, it’s better for me to spill the dam than to try to control the flow.
Inspiration, for me, is everywhere, simply from trying to understand the world I live in. Lately, I’m pretty overwhelmed by how easily I can get information if I have an internet connection. It’s still difficult to get a personal connection, but everyone has an opinion, sometime informed, sometimes not. There is a richness to internet content that is greater than what can be found from traditionally accurate sources.
Inspiration can be a song lyric (the premise of “The Reward of It All” and its associated novel come out of the Metrics song, “Stadium Love”), a science article I read, contemplation of what makes a genre (“The One that Got Away”) or thoughts generated by my ongoing love of anime. I honestly have more ideas than time to write. I’m physically slow at writing. It’s enough of an issue that I keep an “idea book” for the things I think are nifty, but that I can’t foresee working on any time soon. I’m also a bus commuter without a smart phone, which creates a lot of time to daydream.
- Are there any particular themes you like to tackle in your writing, more than others?
One of my favorite themes is the relationship of created to creator, especially showing how a creator can make something without understanding the fullness of what they are doing. Another is, drawing strength from the desire to protect something or someone else. These are big buttons for me in the fiction that I love, so they come out in my writing even when I don’t set out to put them there.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
My advice for aspiring artists is, drop the term “aspiring.” You are an artist. You are a writer. What comes next is showing that you’re willing to do the work. After that, you MUST share. It’s scary, but the reward is so enormous.
Fanfiction and fanart can be a way to get your toes wet, because there is a built in audience and therefore a higher chance of some feedback, and feedback is a nice reward to earn for your effort. Plus, transformative work takes off some of the pressure of getting it perfect. There is room to experiment. The rules are more cultural than grammatical (for fic) or anatomical (for art). You may discover that you are very happy making things for people who love the thing you love, with no further interest to produce art outside of fandom, and that is OK! We focus entirely too much on making money… but that’s a soapbox rant for my blog!
We’re at a great time for an individual to share their creations out into the world, a time of marvelous communication. There is no good reason to hide what you make: somewhere out in the world, you have an audience. Connecting to a stranger through your art is like satori, it’s like falling in love; if you can make that connection, there is nothing else like it. Every artist goes through the times of hating their work and feeling like a fraud, and if you can get even one person who doesn’t have a personal stake in you to give you a thumbs up, that small praise can be the one thing that gets you through those creativity bad times.
Lee Rowan has been writing since childhood, but professionally only since spring of 2006, with the publication of her Eppie-winning novel, Ransom. She is a lady of a certain age, old enough to know better but still young enough to do it anyway. A confirmed bookaholic with a wife of many years, she is kept in line by a cadre of cats and two dogs who get her away from the computer and out of the house at least once a day.
Let’s get to know Lee and her work.
- What are you working on now?
A contemporary story which has a premise so simple I don’t even want to describe it because I write slowly and I don’t want 6 other people writing the same idea (probably someone has already done it, but I haven’t seen it so far..). Also – also slowly – another Royal Navy book set after Home is the Sailor. Mostly, though, I`m working on getting the harvest in. We`re doing crabapple jelly, tomato sauce, and frozen green beans right now… a few other veg are still coming along, and we`re hitting the `give your neighbors zucchini` stage. I have a couple of months before the brussels sprouts will be ready, and the swiss chard just toddles along until a hard freeze.
- Your website has a wonderful story about how looking for feedback on one of your books led to the love of your life. Is your wife involved in your writing? Is there possibility of a collaboration a la Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner?
At this point, no. She’s one of those profs who puts 50-60 hours into her week—she’s had students email her at midnight on a Saturday and complain on Sunday morning that she hasn’t responded (!) (I keep telling her, don’t answer emails after 10 pm…) If we decided to try collaboration, it might happen after she retires in a couple of years, but honestly, our styles are so different that I don’t think they’d mesh unless we were doing a parody or satire, which I’d love to attempt because our senses of humor mesh well. She is a wonderful pre-submission editor and can always spot the weak points in my stuff. Even if I would rather she didn`t…
- You’re also very interested in animal causes. Tell me about your zoo.
How long have you got? It’s just the usual dogs and cats, if you count the ones I take to the vet. We have two Ohio cats left (we had 4 when we moved to Ontario). Pippin and Amelia Peabody are both gray tabbies; Amelia has white trim, including little white feet. William – that was his shelter name, and he responded to it, so we gave in with a shrug – is a beautiful black cat, 2 years old and our youngest, Davy Pratchett, is a ‘dilute’ orange tabby, sand-color and at the wild-child stage. It was my wife`s idea to name him Davy, and as corny as it is, they are a cute couple of cuddlers. We mostly adopted him because Will was driving the older cats crazy, wanting to wrestle. It worked—mostly. Sometimes they both pester the older cats. And the occasional scratches on Davy’s purrson show that Amelia doesn’t take insults lightly.
Dogs: We adopted Cassie about a month after I lost my best dog ever. Cass was somewhere between 5 and 7 and afraid of everything. We guess she’d been dumped because she shook in the car all the way home and was afraid of cars for a long time—so she got lots of fun rides to the park until she realized that she`s safe now. Six years later, she’s still uneasy about thunderstorms and fireworks, and shy of strangers, but she bosses Watson around even though he`s twice her size. Watson… I had wanted a puppy after my wonderful dog died, but my wife was not crazy about having a pup in the house with all the inevitable messes, so we compromised on an adult, and Cassie really is more her kind of dog: quiet, obedient, quick to learn new things. But after a year, I still needed a puppy, and wanted a strong-minded dog I could count on as a protector. Sweet as she is, Cassie is the backup dog when it comes to home protection. I also thought having another canine pack member might help Cass be a little less clingy, and that has worked out well. They tease each other a lot but have never fought.
The same shelter that had Cassie got in a couple of rescues – 2, of a litter of 7 – from a First Nations reserve at about this time. Taken from their mother at only 4 weeks, they were fostered for another month, then put up on Petfinder. Mama was a German Shepherd, Daddy was (probably) a lab-collie cross. I love just about all dogs, but I guess Rin-Tin-Tin impressed me a lot as a kid; to me, a Shepherd is The Dog. And the little pup in the picture – only 4 weeks old – had that look of a dog who could handle anything. If I’d know he would grow up to be almost 100 pounds, I might have kept looking… but I didn’t. And I’m glad. He’s a big sweetheart with the friendly disposition of a Lab and the sentry-dog awareness of a Shepherd. Like his predecessor, he stations himself in the living room every night, where he can keep an eye on the entrances to the house. As a guy who was doing landscaping next door said when he met Watson, “Now, there’s a real dog.”
The rest of the menagerie lives outdoors. When we got here, the yard was terribly quiet. No birds, no wildlife.. no trees and not much in the way of shrubs. I’ve been planting for 8 years, and now we have a yard full of green that feeds both us and the wildlife — everyday sparrows, cardinals, jays, grackles, starlings, squirrels, chipmunks – plus migrating orioles when the mulberries are ripe, and a pair of mallards who come by in the spring. They like the birdseed that gets knocked down by squirrels. There’s a dumb bunny who seems to have FINALLY learned that it’s safe to nest in the front yard, not the back. (Watson just picks up baby bunnies, but Cassie was hunting to live, and she will try to eat them.)
This spring a dove nested in the spruce we planted outside my office window – it has now grown to a safe height– and some lovely toads have volunteered to eat bugs in the vegetable garden. So has an un-lovely mole… I may need to get a humane trap and rehome that little bugger to the woods near the river because he also eats vegetables. The garden has also attracted some praying mantises, and the scarlet runner beans brought in a hummingbird. Never a dull moment! And all the activity is live entertainment for the cats from the safe side of the screen.
As for animal causes…? I’m one little piece of what the Lakota call the “Great Mystery” – which contains all life. I couldn’t live without other living creatures – plants and animals – and I wouldn’t want to. Animals have as much right to be here as I do. Maybe more. Somebody has to speak for them.
Your work has been published by a variety of different publishers, large and small. In general terms, how would you describe working with a large publisher vs. a smaller one? Or a print publisher over a
I’ve been really lucky in having publishers who did print and digital both. And – hey, I hit the 60 speedbump not long ago – I’ll probably never be wholly convinced an ebook is a “real” book. I understand all the arguments for ebooks, I think they’re great for folks who read a book once and never go back (my dad was like that) and I have a couple of e-readers myself because in a lot of situations they`re wonderful to have around. But the battery in one of them just died and I’m having a hell of a time finding a new one, so the several hundred books it contains are completely inaccessible now. But my print books? I can read those anytime there’s light enough to see them. I think there`s room enough for both and I also think print-on-demand is a smart way to conserve resources. Win-win.
I like small publishers. I`m really happy with Dreamspinner. Yes, I do wish that Perseus “M/M Romance” series had made the big time, I wish Tangled Web had hit the NYT list, but big-presses are a lot more complicated and the contracts are a lot more demanding. I’d love to have been an ‘overnight’ success and found an agent… but with big publishers, you’re one small item on a long list, and – as happened with the M/M books – sometimes editors leave and the project is left hanging. I was lucky they decided to go ahead and publish, because for a while there I wasn’t sure Tangled Web would see print at all.
I don’t think it’s one type of publisher over another, it’s different pluses and minuses. (And may I insert a plug here? When the M/M series was taken out of print, I bought copies of Tangled Web and have them for sale…)
- Any advice for aspiring writers?
Read. Read GOOD books. Read all kinds of different books, read nonfiction, read different authors until you can recognize a style and then figure out how it’s done. Analyze why something works for you, observe how the author introduces you to characters and how you’re persuaded to like or dislike them. (Sir Terry Pratchett was a master at this.) My own favorite writer for using exactly the right word is Mark Twain. His essay, `James Fenimore Cooper`s Literary Offenses` http://grammar.about.com/od/essaysonstyle/a/twaincooper.htm is something every writer should read. It`s very funny and very, very useful in showing what not to do in an action-adventure story. The Amelia Peabody mystery series (starting with Crocodile on a Sandbank) by Elizabeth Peters is another good set of books, because she writes a satirical historical romantic mystery that is both great history (Peters was an Egyptologist), good mystery, and great fun. For sci-fi, you couldn`t do better than Lois McMasters Bujold`s Barrayar series. I just realized that 3 of my 4 examples, above, were humor. There`s a reason for this: it is harder to write really good humor than it is to write drama and somebody who can do both can teach you a lot.
Get a few books on grammar and punctuation. Lynne Truss’s “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” is a good one; The Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon is another. Learn things like point of view; learn to write narrative and don`t try to write as if you`re watching television. If you`re a writer, language is your toolbox, and if you don`t know how to use your tools your work will fall apart.
Write. Write things down when an idea strikes you. Play with different points of view—take a scene and write it from one person`s viewpoint, then the other person`s. See what a difference that can make. If you see something that evokes feelings – a sunset, a flower, someone doing something great or horrible – write it down and try to capture how it felt to you. Keep practicing. I wrote fanfic for a couple of decades before I attempted to write anything to sell. Fan fiction is an excellent training ground because it teaches how to write characterization. If you write something and a friend tells you that your John Smith doesn`t sound like John Smith, figure out why.
And remember that unless you are extraordinary, you will need to rewrite. The first draft is only a first draft. No matter how good you think your work is right now, in ten years you will look at parts of it and wish you had betas who were kind enough to tell you what needed to be changed. Don’t mistake constructive criticism for “flaming.” ANY criticism hurts like hell, none of us ever want to hear it … but a constructive critic is doing you a favor even if it doesn’t feel that way. If you’re not sure of something, ask somebody who knows. If you’re writing a gay man, and you’re not, ask a gay friend for feedback. Same with people of other races or genders. You will never make everyone happy, but it sure doesn’t hurt to get at least one outside opinion.
And proofread one more time than you think you need to… after you put the manuscript down for a week.
THANK YOU, LEE AND CRIS!
Happy August! This month, I have the pleasure of introducing author and musician Kam Oi Lee, author Meredith Doench, and poet/author/journalist Lisa Pasold. Kammy writes awesome hard sci-fi and drums in a punk band. Meredith has her first novel coming out this month from Bold Strokes Books, but it sounds so exciting, I doubt it will be the last =) Lisa’s work is both diverse and fascinating. Learn more about it below.
1. Tell me about your novella, Star Reacher.
Star Reacher came out as part of Alembical 3, an eclectic anthology of three science fiction novellas published by Paper Golem in 2014. In my story, Bastian, a diesel mechanic and aspiring artist, has decided to leave the cold, harsh iron-mining colony planet of Diamanta, the only home he has ever known, to follow his ex-wife Trudi to a paradise-like space station. But his fellow mechanic and former lover, Jochim, has other ideas–and so does the planet itself. Somebody described it as Ice Road Truckers meets Brokeback Mountain–which is in the ballpark, but it makes the story sound tragic, which it really isn’t. I’d go more for a description of “working class science fiction, with trucks and metal sculpture”. It’s definitely got a same-sex romance component, but it’s also about an individual struggling to define himself, both as an artist and as a human being.
2. Two recurring themes I’ve noticed in your writing are delightfully irascible characters and the unpleasant climates they live in. (puts on shrink’s hat) Tell me about that.
Hahaha… my characters are much more irascible than I am. True, my mom once said I was “born angry”. But I’ve mellowed out considerably since then! I suppose that side of me will always be there; it definitely tends to come out in my writing. This is undoubtedly because I’m a bad person, but when characters are too nice, it just makes me want to stick out my foot and trip ’em. I enjoy creating characters who are cranky, prickly, cantankerous, and may even possibly be their own worst enemies–while still trying to find ways to make them sympathetic.
As for unpleasant climates, I have two competing theories on that. I’m originally from Hawaii, so perhaps I’m fascinated by harsh environments because they’re so foreign to what I grew up with. However, I’ve lived in Chicago for many years, so it’s entirely possible that my writing brain has been permanently altered by the steamy summers and frigid winters here.
3. In addition to writing, you’re also a professional musician and a tech expert. Is there a set of overlapping skills at work here? Or are these three separate areas of your life that seldom interact?
It’s very kind of you to refer to me as a tech expert. I’m really more of a data programming monkey. I don’t think it overlaps much with music or writing; it does require concentration and focus, but there’s not much creativity involved.
On the other hand, I feel that playing music definitely draws upon some of the same skills that writing does. (Although I’ve played, recorded, and toured extensively, I’m not really a professional musician–just a dedicated amateur.) Music and writing are both methods of artistic expression. Both require that you not only have something to say, but the skills, developed through practice, to say it effectively. If writing clearly is thinking clearly, then playing music clearly is moving, feeling and vocalizing clearly. Music and writing both demand that you be able to switch between and operate effectively in two different modes: the one where you’re open to inspiration, digging deep, and letting ideas flow freely, the other where you buckle down and get ‘er done. Does playing music make me a better writer, or does writing make me a better drummer and singer? Not sure–but there is certainly a connection. Weirdly enough, despite the similarities, I also feel like they use different parts of my brain. If I’ve spent hours writing something, it doesn’t mean that I’ve shot my wad for playing music, or vice versa. Which is quite fortunate.
4. If you could describe your writing in one short, pithy phrase, what would it be?
I write to express my essential nature.
5. What’s next for you?
Right now I’m in the process of condensing an extremely shitty first draft trilogy into a single standalone book. The story is set in a dystopian future USA and is told from two points of view: a teenage girl from a country ruled by an ultrareligious dictatorship, and a man raised in a white supremacist society. I’m about halfway through the project right now. When I’m done, I hope to convince some hapless agent or editor to touch it with a ten-foot pole.
Thank you, Kam Oi! If you want to purchase Star Reacher, please go here! (And why wouldn’t you want to? It’s wonderful!)
1. Your first novel, Crossed, is coming out this month. How do you contain your excitement? More to the point, how are you celebrating?
It is all incredibly exciting and I am certainly enjoying it! Everyone in my life has been very supportive. I’ve met so many new people through the stages of publishing and have also re-connected with people from my past, so it has been a good time. One of the best outcomes from the publication of Crossed is that it has given me the incentive to keep writing. It has rejuvenated my commitment to writing in a way I never expected and I am celebrating that!
- Your novel Crossed is a thriller but you have a background in literary fiction. Do you see this as expanding your repertoire, changing direction, or maybe something different altogether?
I was certainly trained in literary writing, and I write short literary fiction and creative nonfiction. I also worked as one of the editors for the literary journal Camera Obscura: A Journal of Literature and Photography for a few years. However, my first love has always been horror and mystery. In the past, academia has not always been so supportive of genre work, and I was very lucky to have Professor Stephen Graham Jones who writes both literary and genre fiction while I was in graduate school. He has been supportive and very influential in my writing as well as the person who encouraged me to write a version of Crossed for my dissertation. He has shown me it is possible to write it all, and that writers don’t need to pick only one specific genre or style to work within. Because of my love of horror and mystery, the thriller genre feels like home to me. I plan to continue the Luce Hansen series, but I also plan to continue my work in literary fiction and creative nonfiction. I love what the author Paul West has to say about writing: “You write about that thing that sank its teeth into you and wouldn’t let go.” For me, it’s all about the story—that thing that simply won’t let me go until I write it—and not about the form or genre that it presents itself in.
- Tell us about Crossed. Is it standalone or part of a series?
Crossed is a thriller that features Detective Luce Hansen who works for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. She has been called in for the serial murder of young women in the small town of Willow’s Ridge, a place where she had history as a teen. In 1989, Luce had been part of an ex-gay ministry in Willow’s Ridge, a conservative Christian group that believed in the “pray the gay away” theory and conversion therapy. At these meetings, Luce met Marci, who was murdered in 1989 and the crime went unsolved. During the investigation of the current murders, Luce learns that Marci’s murder is connected, and she must use her past experiences in the town with the ex-gay ministry in order to solve it.
Crossed does standalone, mostly because it is the first book in a series. At the end of this book Detective Luce Hansen and the team solve the case, and in the subsequent novels her character and a few others will carry over. I wanted to write a series with a continuing protagonist not only because I have grown very fond of Luce Hansen, but also because it gives readers the chance to really get to know this character at different stages of her life.
- What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
When I’m not writing or teaching, I spend a good deal of my time reading. I also watch a lot of movies and detective/mystery series—some of my favorites are The X-Files and The Fall. I enjoy painting and visiting art houses/museums. Most days after work I enjoy nothing more than taking my dog to the park for a good game of fetch. I have always been a fan of water sports and when I was younger, I swam competitively. I still love to swim and be near the water—pool, lake, river, or ocean, I love them all.
- What’s next for you?
I’m consistently writing short stories and creative nonfiction pieces. I’ve been working on a memoir and will be doing a reading from it at the Midwest Modern Language Association conference in November. This past spring, I co-wrote a screenplay with Nancy Zafris. Mark of the Apprentice explores transgender issues while also delivering an exciting crime thriller. I’m also working on what will be the second book in the Luce Hansen series. Forsaken Trust features a new serial case set in Ohio that will push Detective Hansen and her team to new limits.
THANK YOU, Meredith, and best of luck with your new book! Read more about Crossed below!
Agent Luce Hansen returns home to Willow’s Ridge to catch a serial killer who has been murdering young women. It’s the case she’s been waiting for, the case that compels her to return to the small town she turned her back on nineteen years ago, the case she plans to ride from the Ohio BCI all the way to the FBI.
It’s the case worth risking her shaky relationship with her lover, Rowan. But the horrors of the case recall the unsolved murder of Luce’s first girlfriend, and Luce is forced to confront the local ex-gay ministry that haunted her youth. When the past crosses the present, will Luce lose everything she’s worked so hard to build?
Lisa Pasold is the author of four books and the host of Discovery World’s Paris travel show, Paris Next Stop. Her most recent book, Any Bright Horse, was shortlisted for Canada’s Governor General’s Award. While pursuing story ideas, Lisa Pasold has been thrown off a train in Belarus, has eaten the world’s best pigeon pie in Marrakech, taken the Lunatic Line in Kenya, and been cheated in the Venetian gambling halls of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. Originally from Montreal, Lisa now divides her time between Paris and New Orleans. Visit Lisa at her website www.lisapasold.com for more about her novel Rats of Las Vegas.
“I cannot recommend Rats of Las Vegas enough. Poker, boxing, Las Vegas, those Depression-era details captured so well…what’s not to love? You ought to buy a copy, or steal one, or get it at the library, or go camp outside Lisa’s house and buy a copy from her personally. Really, you should.” – Craig Davidson, author of Rust & Bone
1. You’ve worked with a lot of different writing forms– journalism, poetry, novel, writing (and presenting) for television. It’s really quite impressive. Which form is your favorite so far, and why?
My favorite form is the interview. I love asking people questions and hearing their answers—for journalism, pure and simple, but also as my starting place for fiction. For example, I wrote a series of newspaper articles about casinos. I asked the dealers all kinds of questions. I met such phenomenal personalities that I didn’t have a choice, I had to write a novel—Rats of Las Vegas. Different forms happen at different speeds, and I’m a slow writer. I like to mull things over. Novels are perfect for me! Whereas TV is a fast format and I find it super-stressful. Though maybe I should do more TV and force myself to get faster on the draw.
2. Poetry and novels are so different. Do you find the processes complementary or do they get in the way of one another?
Definitely complementary. My poetry books work like novels: they feature characters and plot and narrative drive. Basically, my characters all want specific things from their lives, whatever form they take. Poetry gets into fiction all the time, I think. When I was writing Rats of Las Vegas, so much of the early Vegas casino world really was this invented dream of a place, surreal and magical and dangerous—very poetic, inevitably.
3. Your writing takes you all over the world, not just for short hops, but for long enough periods to really settle into the culture (lucky lady!) Do you have a favorite? And why?
I’ve always wanted more than one life—that’s why writing is so appealing. I fall in love with places so easily—I’m always willing to give a place a chance. There are stories everywhere, right? But in the long list of favourites, I have to say Venice is near the top. Initially, I went as a journalist to write about the historic casino on the Grand Canal, Ca’ Vendramin Calergi—I went in style, because I’d won a bit of money in Monte Carlo, my previous casino research stop. So I took a first class sleeper train to Venice. It was winter, slight dusting of snow—just magical. And my subsequent trip there inspired my most recent book, Any Bright Horse. The book is a mash-up of Marco Polo’s famous tall tales about his travels with a narrator in today’s world who is a dancer and travels a lot on tour.
4. What are you working on right now?
I’m just finishing a novel called Up to the Knee, a thriller set in present-day Paris—my lead character spends his time bumping his wheelchair through the City of Light, confronting corrupt politicians and bribing hard-working mercenaries with the help of a dippy fashion journalist named Annie. I’m also writing a long poem about a river Nix, which is a malevolent male water nymph. My Nix is a banjo-playing guttersnipe living on the street in New Orleans. I’ve been interviewing Mississippi tug boat operators and New Orleans bartenders… So we’re back to the interview! I guess that’s the core, the starting place for everything I write, journalism or poetry or fiction.
You can contact Lisa at:
website & blog: lisapasold.com
It’s July, which means the launch of ARTIST CORNER, here on the Jess Faraday blog. Every month, I’ll be featuring two authors or artists (or perhaps one of each =)
This month, I have the pleasure of speaking to authors Jeannie Levig and MJ Williamz. MJ is a veteran author with a wide variety of award-winning fiction in several different genres. Jeannie has the thrill of her first release this very month–congratulations, Jeannie! Please read on to learn more about these excellent authors and their diverse work.
Introducing: author MJ WILLIAMZ
MJ Williamz is the author of six books, including the Goldie-award-winning Initiation by Desire. She has also had over thirty short stories published, most of them erotica with a few romances and a couple of horrors thrown in for good measure. Her newest book, Sheltered Love is available this month in eBook and paperback. Visit MJ at her website: www.mjwilliamz.com.
You’ve written in a number of different genres, including erotica, horror, suspense, historical and romance. Do you have a favorite? If so, which one, and why?
I think my favorite is probably historical. Why? That’s a good question. Probably because it’s so much fun to be transported back to a different age and imagine what it would have been like in that era. I love history and do hope to do more books in that vein.
Which genre was the most difficult to write? Did you find it more rewarding because of it, or was it more of a pain in the neck?
That’s easy – erotica. LOL I find it difficult because I don’t want to make the scenes seem to mechanical. You know, like insert A into slot B. Also because I want each scene to be original. I don’t want someone to think, “Didn’t we just see this in chapter seven?” Or have anyone say, “All her short stories are the same.” So, I find it very difficult, but also very rewarding, because, when done right I think the readers really enjoy it 😉
I’m jealous of your production pace. Three books in 2015 and at least two in 2014. How do you do it?
Actually it was only two in 2015 and potentially three for 2016. The answer to that is pretty simple. As of July 9 last year, I quit working a day job and became a full time writer. I have all these stories in my head that need to be told and I finally have time to tell them. It usually takes me about three months to write a book, which I’m grateful to my wife for. Working a day job and trying to write made the going much slower.
OK, I know everyone asks this, but when you’re not cranking out amazing-sounding novels, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend my time with my family. I love my wife and son and niece who lives with us. You can usually find me cuddled with Laydin (my wife) watching Criminal Minds or a movie or Netflix. We also enjoy playing games as a family and just the two of us. Trivial Pursuit is one of our favorites.
Tell us about your new release, Sheltered Love. What was your inspiration? What would you like readers to take away from the experience?
This book was very hard to write. I used to tend bar in a sports bar, so that part was easy to write, but the domestic abuse aspect was very difficult. The research I did was heart wrenching. The dynamics between the two main characters, Boone and Grey, I think was pretty realistic. Boone is a partier who owns the bar and Grey owns the domestic abuse shelter and feels that bars like Boone’s contribute to domestic abuse.
What I’d like readers to take away from this is that domestic abuse can happen anywhere.
Read more about MJ’s upcoming release, Sheltered Love, below.
Boone Fairway worked hard to buy her own bar and now reaps the benefits. She’s a partier and loves the different women she meets at the bar. When she meets Grey Dawson, she hopes she’ll be one in her string of women. Grey has different ideas. She works at a domestic abuse shelter and feels that bars are a main contributor of abuse.
When Boone’s sister-in-law shows up at Boone’s bar, beaten by her husband, Boone turns to Grey for help. They work together to help Phoebe and begin a budding relationship. The relationship is strained by the bar, which Grey has a hard time accepting as just a social gathering point.
Both women were raised in abusive environments and work hard to overcome their fears and insecurities to make the relationship work.
Introducing: author JEANNIE LEVIG
Raised by an English teacher, Jeannie has always been surrounded by literature and novels and learned to love reading at an early age. She tried her hand at writing fiction for the first time under the loving encouragement of her eighth grade English teacher. Jeannie lives in central California and, in addition to being a novelist, is a freelance editor. Her next book is entitled Embracing the Dawn and is a June 2016 release with Bold Strokes Books. Visit her on the web at JeannieLevig.com for updates, excerpts, and blog entries.
What’s it like to have your first novel coming out? Can you stand the excitement? How are you celebrating?
It is truly a dream realized to have my first novel coming out this month. For many years, I’ve fantasized about having a published novel, imagined what it would feel like to hold a book in my hands that had my name on the cover, that had come through me. When I received my author’s copies a few weeks ago and opened the box, I just held the book and stared. It was surreal. It felt a lot like the first time I held my son and daughter when they were born, looking into the eyes of something brand new and unique that I had helped create. Writing is like that for me. It is giving birth to a creation—only books are much quieter than babies and don’t need to be fed fifteen times a day.
And now that it’s time to send my child out into the world to make whatever contribution it can to the lives of those who read it, to be loved, to be enjoyed, and, in some cases to be criticized, it is a sweet surrender. I am proud of Threads of the Heart, deeply love the characters, and am thrilled that they now have the opportunity to share their gifts and wisdom with those who get to know them.
And YES! I am so excited, I can’t stand it!
I have celebrated at every step along the way. I celebrated the completion of the novel, the launch of sending it out to a publisher, the acceptance letter, the signing of the contract, the first contact from my editor, the completion of the edits, the proofs, receiving the ebook format, the author’s copies, and now…the actual release. The whole experience has been one huge and very long celebration, and I don’t expect it to end any time soon, especially since this first book has led to another contract for a new project and a proposal for another. I hope the celebration just goes on and on.
In addition to writing, you seem to be involved in a lot of interesting work, including spiritual counseling and advocacy for foster children. Have your experiences in other fields influenced the plot or characters in Threads of the Heart?
Absolutely. My study of spiritual principles and my work both with and as a spiritual counselor had a profound affect on the characters of Threads of the Heart, or maybe I should say on my ability to understand them and write them as they needed to be written for their true stories to be told. The premise of the book is No one travels this life alone, and the story is of the interconnectedness between five women whose lives intertwine in love, friendship, and support of one another on their respective journeys.
I began writing the book in 1995, the year in which the story is set, got the characters established with their individual and collective stories and wrote the first several chapters. Then I quit writing due to, I thought at the time, a series of outside circumstances—a new relationship, a new business, a change in my eyesight that made reading more difficult, blah, blah, blah… Even when I said I wanted to start writing again, I made up all kinds of reasons why I couldn’t, or didn’t, or shouldn’t…again, blah, blah, blah.
During all that time, however, I was studying and learning what I now understand makes up our lives and relationships—that very interconnectedness of life, the threads the bind us together in our relationships—so that we have the love and support we need as we move along on our paths, even if sometimes it might not look like love and support. In truth, I couldn’t have written this book without taking the time, meeting the people, forming the bonds it took for me to become who I am today. When I did return to writing, time was cleared out with no outside circumstances in the way, Threads of the Heart was finished in about seven months, and the road to publication was lined with all the perfect people. Without everything I learned during those non-writing years about people, who we really are to one another, the true purpose of relationships, and how and why our journeys are connected, I would not have been able to write this particular set of characters accurately. Fortunately, I’ve also learned I don’t have to stop writing while I’m learning.
As for my work as an advocate for foster children, I suspect everything I am learning from that, combined with what I have already learned, is slated for the birthing of another story yet to be revealed to me. The journey continues.
You’re also a professional editor. How did it feel to be on the other side of the Red Pen?
That’s a great question and one that I wondered about as I was moving into the editing phase with Threads of the Heart. As it turned out, I think being an editor myself helped to make the editing process of my own book much easier, for two reasons.
First, I know what a manuscript looks like when an editor, myself or any other, first receives it—all nicely typed, fresh and clean—and I know what it looks like when it’s returned with all the red marks and comments. More importantly, however, I know that on the return, it’s never as bad as it looks at first glance, especially if it’s kept in mind that the intention of all those red marks and comments is to make the story better. That’s the job of an editor. It’s why we have editors—to make the story better. And that’s what a good editor will do. She or he will make the story better, tighter, cleaner, more available to the reader. An editor and a writer are on the same team. We want the same thing—the best story possible.
So, knowing all that, when I received my first set of edits, it was easier for me to settle in and read through them—all three-hundred pages of them—and establish a rapport with my editor.
Secondly—since we’ve already delved a little into my spiritual work—I trust spiritual principle. In its simplest form for our purposes here, we get what we give.
So, I have always made sure I am the kind of editor I would want. Being a writer myself, I understand that a writer’s work is her or his child, a creation that has come through the heart, and while yes, the job of an editor is to help the author make the story the best it can be, I also know authors have a hard time hearing any suggestions if we feel like our babies have been taken, hung up naked, and had darts thrown at them to mark the areas for improvement. So, as an editor, while I am honest, direct, and discerning, I also take into account that it really is someone’s child I am handling and apply gentleness and care in my approach because that is the editor I want to work with as a writer. As a result, my editor is all those things and more. First of all, she is brilliant and definitely knows her craft. In addition, she is patient, reassuring, consistently reminds me it is my book, and has taught me the value of humor in the editing process.
Tell me about your book. Where did the idea come from?
Threads of the Heart is a work of general lesbian fiction that tells the story of the love and friendship between five women and how their lives intertwine to help one another move along their respective journeys of self-discovery. The premise of the book, as I mentioned above, is No one travels this life alone, and it came to me simply from watching and experiencing the way life works, through the observation of the different roles I play in the lives of others and their roles for me. From that premise, a group of characters introduced themselves to me, which is how most of my story ideas come through, and told me this story. There are actually three story lines in the novel that weave together to make up the whole story.
Maggie and Addison and the issues in their twelve-year relationship more or less comprise the core story in that at the beginning of the book, they are the ones the others are accustomed to looking to as examples and for guidance. As the life they’ve built together begins to crumble, their best friends, Tess and Dusty, are challenged to step into stronger roles of love and support while, at the same time, navigating deep changes in their own friendship. Eve, the new-comer to the group on her own journey of self-discovery, offers the gift of being able to see things through fresh eyes while also finding many of her own answers through her new friendships.
Lots of people want to write a book. A few actually finish it. Fewer than that actually sell one. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
My advice for aspiring writers is to write because if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer, and if you’re not a writer, you can never become a published writer.
And that, ironically, brings up my second—and even though it’s second, my more important— piece of advice for aspiring writers: never write anything for the sole purpose of trying to sell it. Write from your heart. Write because there is a story in you that has to be told. Write because a story is coming through, occupying your attention, the characters from which waking you up at night. Write because it’s fun, because you lose track of time while you’re doing it, because it fills a space in you nothing else does. Write because it drives your spouse crazy—well, maybe not if that’s the only reason you’re writing, but you know what I mean, don’t you? Maybe I should say write even though it drives your spouse crazy because writing is about you, about answering a call from deep within, about your creative self-expression. Write because you love it!
If you need to learn some grammar along the way, fine. If you need to find some other writers for support, do it. If you need a critique group for feedback, great. But do all this while you’re writing something you love because that is the writing that ultimately will sell. I’ve read writing, even written some, that is technically perfect and squeaky clean, that was written exactly to fit a particular line or call for submissions, yet it never sold. At the same time, I’ve read stories written by authors whose grammatical errors were off the chart or that didn’t fit a publisher’s guidelines, but the publisher took the time to write some encouraging words and invite the author to try again because the story had heart, because the writer’s love for it could be felt. And in some cases, the next time around, a contract was offered. You do always want to send out your very best work in that if you know your grammatical skills need help, take a class or hire an editor to go through it, or if you’re writing a novel or short story, take the time to learn the elements of fiction, but ultimately, when beginning a story, check your motivation, your come-from place, if you will. Write from your heart because that’s the writing that says what needs to be said.
What’s next for you?
I am currently working on my second book with Bold Strokes Books, a lesbian romance entitled Embracing the Dawn, that answers the question: Does love have a chance when no one knows she wants it?
Jinx Tanner is an ex-con trying to piece together a life on the outside and heal her relationship with her half-sister who hasn’t spoken to her in over twenty-five years. Romantic love is nowhere on her radar. E. J. Bastien is a business executive with her life and heart under control. She has a successful career, a woman in her bed whenever she wants one, and a healthy relationship with her grown children—as long as they don’t find out she’s gay. She has no desire for romantic entanglements.
When these two women awaken after a one night stand to find their lives inextricably entwined, love has its work cut out for it.
Embracing the Dawn is tentatively scheduled for release in June of 2016.
I also have a third story, another work of general lesbian fiction, coming through that is currently making its way through the proposal stage.
You can contact Jeannie through her website at JeannieLevig.com
No one travels this life alone.
Maggie Rae-McInnis is happy in her twelve-year relationship with Addison and renting out the rooms in their large home in the Hollywood Hills. Her one nagging fear is that her partner is not as happy as she is—and she is right. Addison is a hot mess. Though she loves Maggie, she feels something is missing. When she meets Victoria Fontaine, a confident, sexy, and manipulative younger woman, she is swept into something new, exciting, and a little dangerous.
Tess Rossini and Dusty Gardner, the couple’s closest friends and long-term tenants, face their own fears as they navigate the uncharted waters of love, and Eve Jacobs, newest arrival, finds herself on a path of self-discovery.
The love and friendship these women share make up the threads that weave together to form the unbreakable bonds that last a lifetime.