I had a dream last night about losing a friend. When I woke up, I thought for a second that’s all it had been, a dream. Tears fell again upon realizing it wasn’t. I know that Cate Culpepper would not want me to cry over her passing, and yet I can’t seem to stop. I’ve dissolved into a blubbering mess multiple times over the past twenty-hours, and I fully believe she’s somewhere looking down on my tears and cracking jokes about them right now. She was irreverent like that, never rash or inconsiderate in her humor, but also unwilling to let me slip into too dark a place or take anything too seriously for my own good. She saw the good in things, in people, in me. From the posts I’ve seen both publically and privately, I think she played the same role in many people’s lives.
It’s strange to try to sum her up, as if that sort of summation could ever be done by anyone, and least of all me. I feel like I didn’t know Cate very well at all. I certainly didn’t know how sick she was. I feel terrible for that, even while realizing I likely didn’t know because she didn’t want me to. But more than that, I know very few details of her life. We didn’t talk about her personal life or her history much. I hope that wasn’t because I failed to ask. We did talk about her work with her cherished youth in Seattle sometimes. We talked about her beloved Kirby occasionally. We talked about issues of faith more often. We talked about writing, both the art and the business of it, most often, but even that didn’t happen frequently. In reality we only talked a couple times of year, and by talk I mean we emailed or facebook messaged. We met in person only once, and very briefly. To be honest, the level of grief I am experiencing seems disproportionate to the amount of time we had together. I spent much of last night trying to sort out my feelings on why that is.
In her farewell video, Cate said, “There’s no need to measure the happiness of a life by it’s longevity.” She was very wise, so I will believe her and humbly add that maybe there’s also no need to judge the happiness of a friendship by its frequency of communication, because Cate’s friendship has certainly been one of my most cherished since breaking into this business. It was also one of my most dependable. At the darkest hours of my career, Cate was there for me. During a time when I counted the people I could trust in the business on one hand, she was always among them, and I like to think I know which of those fingers she would have liked to be counted on because she never left any doubts about her willingness to “Go to bat for y’all in a hot second.” I cannot begin to go into details about this time in my career or the things Cate said to help me get through it, partly out of respect for everyone’s privacy, but also largely because the statute of limitation is not yet up on some of the pranks we proposed or pulled through the years.
Her support for me was so unwavering it’s hard to imagine what it will be like going forward without her. She was a bellwether for me without even knowing it.
It wasn’t so long ago that I struggled with so much uncertainty about my own gender identity, not to mention my fear of how it would be received in the world of Lesfic. I worried that maybe I should femme it up, or at least keep to labels people understood, like butch. The established dichotomies, while not without their detractors, at least had a solid place in our community, but Cate saw me clearly even before I fully saw myself. Even in the earliest days of our friendship, she took to calling me her “handsome lad,” “darling boi,” or “mi hermano,” and I found myself almost giddy at the terms of endearment. She used playful pronouns, and even created a few of her own terms that I co-oped for myself. She recognized that part of me and made me feel accepted, understood, and even enjoyed long before I felt those things about myself. To this day, even though others have become more comfortable with those terms, few have ever given me as much pleasure as hearing them from Cate the Great Amazon Queen.
Likewise, she encouraged me to write and talk about my faith at a time when I feared how such topics would be received. I still hold tight to two emails she sent on the subject. At one point she said, “I hope you’ll “go on” for much longer about your faith, when it feels right. You would write beautifully about this. I fully understand your (concerns) but consider writing it anyway…As spirituality is so central to your life, I’d think writing about it would be a great stretch of your creative wings — a story from your heart.” The words meant even more from me because Cate didn’t share in my religion at all, to my knowledge. She had found the Divine along a different spiritual path, but she never criticized my own. In fact, when another author once mocked me for my faith, Cate swooped in, seemingly out of nowhere, and defended my faith more swiftly and decisively than I could have. Her courage, strength, and consideration inspired my own. She gave so many of us such a wonderful gift by showing us the best in ourselves even before we knew it was there.
At the same time though, she wasn’t one to linger in the heavy, or in places of fear or sadness. I know that when the shock and sadness of her passing fade, Cate’s sense of humor and mischief will once again be the first things that come to mind when I remember her. I will be forever thrilled that the last conversation we had consisted of an uproariously funny and hilariously detailed revenge fantasy that came with her sincere assurance that she’d “love to fuck with a few people and then take pictures of them and send them to you to affirm your confidence in me!”
We both closed the thread by saying “I love you,” a fact I will be eternally grateful for (please don’t ever leave those words unsaid). But she was never one to leave things on too serious a note, so I won’t end this reflection that way either. Instead I will close with the last words Cate ever said to me, I think they are a fitting summation of the nature of our friendship and a perfect example of what I will miss so much.
“Just remember, I will be happy to donate Cate’s personal butt-sweat to this cause at any time! Just steal something from their office and mail it to me — I’ll mail it back after ‘treating’ it.”
I am so excited! It’s almost time for me to head to Provincetown for Women’s week. I hope some of you are headed that way as well and if you’re not, start planning now to make it next year. Ptown is one of my favorite places in all the world and women’s week has something for everyone. I get in on Thursday afternoon this year and I am going to hit the ground running with a slew of events jam packed into the next few days. If you’re going to be around, please stop in and say hello. Few things in the business are more fun than getting to meet readers so please don’t be shy!
Here’s where you can find me:
Thursday October 16
5:00 – 7:00 Bold Strokes Books Meet and Greet at the Harbor Lounge (359 Commercial Street). Drop in an have a drink with your favorite BSB authors. This is a casual event where readers and authors get a chance to interact with each other in a more informal setting. Once again, please don’t be shy. Don’t let the authors all sit up against the wall in grand introverted fashion thinking no one likes us. Please come up an introduce yourself!
Friday October 17
10:00 – Reading with the GCLS in Provincetown Crew at The Sage (366 Commercial Street).
1:00 – I’ll be reading on BSB’s “Timeless Love Panel” at the Provincetown Library (356 Commercial Street) with Heather Blackmore, Shelley Thrasher, Melissa Brayden, and CA Popovich
3:15 – Book signing at Recovering Hearts (4 Standish Street) with Heather Blackmore, Shelley Thrasher, Melissa Brayden, and, C.A. Popovich
Saturday October 18
10:00 – Annual Readers and Writers Wiffle Ball Game (102 Bradford Steet) all are welcome to play or watch this friendly game. No taken required. This is another chance for informal interaction and lots of laughs. It’s also your best chance to meet my super cute son, and beautiful wife. The game is one of the highlights of my trip every year so don’t miss it!
1:00 – I’ll be moderating Bold Strokes Books “Kiss and Tell” panel at the Ptown Library (356 Commercial Street) with readings from Melissa Brayden, Emily Smith, C.A. Popovich, Kris Bryant, MJ Williamz.
2:00 – I’ll be reading from my forthcoming release Heart Of The Game on the Fresh and Forthcoming Panel with Radclyffe, Justine Saracen, Ali Vali, and Kathleen Knowles, at the Ptown Library (356 Commercial Street).
4:05 – I’ll be signing books with Radclyffe, Justine Saracen, Ali Vali, and Kathleen Knowles at Recovering Hearts (4 Standish Street)
If you want to learn more about all Bold Strokes Books events check out their Facebook page. And if you’re looking for more information on a wider range of Women Week Events Check out the official website here: http://womensweekprovincetown.com
I hope to some of you there!
Happy Bisexual Awareness Week!
I’m not sure if you know this or not, but I wrote a blog about a “big tent” approach to lesbian fiction and biphobia last week. I won’t assume you all saw it, but judging from the response, I think a lot of you probably did. I wrote the blog because one or two people I love had been hurt, and they felt alone. I wanted them to know they weren’t. I wanted them to know they had me. I wanted to let them know that at least one, relatively successful, and 100% gay reader and writer of lesbian fiction had their back. I expected a little bit of backlash. I expected I might lose a few readers. I thought I might even lose a friend or two. Boy, was I wrong.
The response to last week’s blog caught me completely off guard. It was viewed over 1,000 times, making it by far the most popular blog I’ve ever written, and between all the social media platforms I track, it’s been shared nearly 500 times. It’s garnered nearly that many “likes,” “favorites,” and “comments.” I also have 40 new Facebook friends and even more new followers on Twitter. The blog itself has over 100 new followers. Best of all, I’ve gotten over 50 very personal messages of support from women who have been bullied and put down, ostracized or made to feel less-than because of how they identify. I’ve heard from women who came out too early to be trusted, women who came out so late they got accused of “having their cake and eating it, too,” bisexual women who are in relationships with men, with women, or single and heartbroken that neither the straight nor the gay community would welcome them. I heard from trans men who have lost their entire support system for daring to be themselves and young people who want to transition but live in fear of losing everyone they love. It’s been beautiful and devastating at the same time, but it’s also been so wholly positive.
The best I can guess, between the blog, the emails, Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, etc., I’ve gotten more than 700 positive responses. Then I got one negative comment. It started out fine enough, if a little illogical (if other people discriminate, why can’t we?), and I had my mouse hovered right over the “accept” button because I have never once censored a legitimate comment on this blog, even the ones that haven’t been glowing. Then I got to the last paragraph. It turned nasty and implored me not to “plant my flag of inclusiveness” in lesbian spaces. I backed away from the approve button. This wasn’t just a polite disagreement. It was the same “us verses them” rhetoric that got us into this whole mess in the first place. And yet the logic was so flawed, so childish, so limiting, my first response was to tear it apart. I’m a writer (and an arguer if you ask my wife and parents). This was the stuff of separate-but-equal, and history has taught us enough about how well that works. I felt my response would be a quick and decisive blow. I would only have to descend into the mud pit for a moment. And yet, I would have to get muddy again. I stepped away from the computer. Took my kid for walk. Then asked for some advice from some friends. The answer was a unanimous “don’t go there.”
And the longer I let those comments sit, the more I realized that I didn’t have to go there. Last week I said the only line I would draw on my blog is love over hate. Everyone is welcome in my Big Queer Tent as long as they respect everyone else’s right to belong, too. And more than 700 of you raised your hands and said that was exactly the type of space you wanted to be part of. Over 700 to 1. There is no more argument. It is already won. There’s no need to continue to beat an idea that’s already dead, or at the very least in its death throes. Engaging those ideas only gives them a voice they haven’t earned. It allows negativity to continue to grow even after it’s been rejected. It does exactly what I said I wouldn’t do: It allows hate to infiltrate a space dedicated in love.
So I’m letting go. I am going to resist the urge to sling the mud back. The people throwing it have already had more than their 15 minutes of fame, and their ideas are clearly one step from becoming fossils. The idea that some queers deserve to be celebrated while others deserve to be left in the cold, not because of how they write or how they conduct themselves, but because of who they are and whom they love belongs in the archives with separate water fountains and the all-male vote. Its time has come and lasted too long, but it’s on the way out the door. I will not prolong its exit.
I’m ready to move on. I ready to get back to talking about really good stories. I’m ready to talk about really awesome writers. I am ready to go back to judging both the books and their authors by what’s between the pages rather that who’s with them between the sheets. I am ready to get back to what brought us all to this big queer tent in the first place, and I’m can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, that’s books. I’m going to sit down right here under my flag of inclusiveness and encourage every one of you to join me. All who enter seeking love will be welcomed in the same vein.
If you’d like to be part of this bigger, brighter, more welcoming future we’re building here, go ahead and post a comment about a really good book you’ve read lately.
My son went back to school this week. He’s in the first grade and he’s super cute about it. See?
I know he was a little nervous, especially since his best friend moved over the summer and it was the first “first day” without him since pre-school. Still, he smiled and walked off with an I-got-this look. Never mind he’d only seen the teacher once before or that none of his close friends from last year were in the class. He bought school lunch too, something I always found a little nerve-wracking (still do). I know he wished for more friends around hime, but he seemed confident he would make them. I know he wasn’t sure what kind of work first grade would require, but he told me he was confident in his ability to learn it. And I know he misses his teacher from last year, but he seems so sure he’ll be fine with this new teacher’s way of doing things. It’s not perfect, it’s not what he had before, it’s not even what he knows, and yet with a quick hug, he said, “Bye, Mom.” And off he ran.
It’s disorienting for me, probably much more so than it is for him, to leave him there and come home to…what? I just sent a completed manuscript to my editor. Won’t have edits to do for a while now. There’s housework of course, and believe me I fell into that trap last year (Here’s the terrible secret: It’s never done). No, I’m not really a housewife. I’m a writer. I have to write. It’s not a conventional job, but it is my job just as much as being a first grader is Jackie’s job. And really those jobs feel pretty similar right now.
No one is making me a lunch to take with me or packing my backpack in the morning, but I am meeting new friends. My characters have just barely introduced themselves to me. I don’t even know their last names yet, but I do know we’re going to be working very closely over the next six months or more. What if they don’t want to talk to me? What if I don’t like them as much as I liked my last set of characters? I’m feeling those subtle pains of loneliness for my old friends. Remember how easy things were with them? Well, they weren’t always easy. My first days with them were just as awkward and nervous, but it doesn’t feel that way now.
I’m going into a new classroom of sorts, too, in that I’m working with a new setting. I don’t know all the rules and constraints of the places and spaces I’m writing about. Like my son who has to find a new cubby and new backpack hook, and learn a whole new set of classroom norms, I’m hanging back a little bit. I’m watching, I’m asking questions, and I’m making tentative moves to test the waters. Even with all that, some things will never be perfect, and no one likes to be corrected. Even at 31, I’m nervous about hearing, “You can’t do that,” from an editor or reader instead of a teacher. And sometimes there’s no way of learning but to mess up first.
How do little kids do it? At least I get to pick what I write about. At least this is a job that I chose. At least I can walk away when things bother me too badly. Little Jackie boy and his friends are stuck at school with a teacher they didn’t chose and a set of rules they have no say in. And yet, off he goes into the great unknown, happily smiling, Minion backpack in tow, as he greets his new adventure. And it is a new adventure, for both us, and for all of you following along.
I always thought maybe this guy would grow up to me like me, but maybe it’s just time for me to grow up and be a little more like him.
I’m back from an amazing trip to the UK. It was two weeks full of fish and chips, castles and cricket.
My family and I had so much fun seeing so many wonderful places and meeting some great folks. I won’t make you all sit through the thirty-minute slide show of all our pictures (they’re all on Facebook), but I think the pictures are worth a look. I am biased, though, because they are full of memories for me. I’ve actually been using them as rewards for getting my work done the last few days. Ten pages of editing earns me ten minutes of looking at vacation pictures.I cling to that reward system like a life raft. I’m not sure if that’s because the reentry process is so hard or if it’s the editing that’s killing me. Probably the combination of the two.
I am sure any of you who’s ever been on trip like ours knows about the reentry to real life and the come-down associated with it, but I realize that most readers haven’t been a party to the grueling work of an in-depth self edit. In fact, I’ve met some authors who aren’t familiar with the grueling work of an in-depth self edit, and while I envy them a little bit, I’m not going to lie. I judge them a little bit, too. I know, I know. It’s not Christian to judge, and everyone has her own style. Maybe some people can really write flawlessly the first time out, but I think that’s rare. When I hear an author say she finished a novel and sent it right off to her editors, or gave it a quick read then sent it off, I want to shake them, and I bet their editors want to do worse. I went to an “Editor’s Pet Peeves” panel at GCLS, and every single editor there said that the more authors self-edit their work before sending it in, the more a professional editor can do with a manuscript. If they spend their time fixing obvious flaws that you could have/should have caught, they can’t get to the major nuanced aspects of their craft that you (should!) pay them the big bucks for.
With that in mind, I spend one to two months of full-time work on self edits, and let me tell you, I earned lots of picture breaks along the way, so those of you willing to sit through a detailed recap of that work should get a few pictures along the way, too. Here’s one to go on:
Now for stage one of self edits: The initial read through.
This is pretty much what it says. The first time, I read the entire document from start to finish. I generally try to do this in a couple days, much the same way a reader will (hopefully) read the book. I fix little things I notice and make notes about big-picture issues like dropped threads, inconsistencies, places where the story lags. Then I send it to my beta readers to look for the same types of thing. I do not give them vague instructions like, “Just be brutally honest!” A) Vague much? B) No one wants brutality exacted on their fledging project. I want constructive cricism in very specific areas. Grammar is not one of them. Neither is word choice or personal preference like “I don’t like redheads.” I want to figure out if the story holds a reader’s interest, if the characters are likable. Do you root for them together? Are their motivations clear (even if you don’t agree with them)? Are there any places you get more? Any places you felt like you didn’t get enough of? And I use betas who generally read and like the type of writing I do. I want someone who knows my genre, not someone’s ex-English teacher to fix my dialog punctuation here. Occasionally I’ll use a beta with a specific skillset to give more specific feedback. I had some life coaches take early looks at LoveLife, and Spanish-speakers who read Spanish Heart. Mostly, though, I use readers for big picture feedback.
Stage two: The Read Aloud
Once again, this is just what it sounds like. I read the entire book out loud. This gives me a chance to hear my characters’ voices for the first time. It is the single best way I’ve found to check authenticity of dialog (short of having professional actors read it on stage). This also is the best way to catch sentences that go on too long or sentence structure that gets too repetitive. I also tend to find which long narrative passages work and which ones are just too wordy. And when I find a problem, I fix it right then and there. My manuscript loses several thousand words in this pass, and it takes a full week or more because of all the stopping, tweaking, and rereading. Also, one can only read aloud for so many hours a day before one’s throat starts to hurt.
Stage three: The Writer’s Diet
The writer’s diet test is a tool that takes a sample of your writing and analyizes it for certain types of words that generally signify trouble. It counts “to be” verbs, abstract nouns, prepositions, adverbs, and waste words (it, this, that, etc.) and rates each area in health terms from “Lean” to “Heart Attack.” It’s available for free online, and I don’t know why more writers don’t use it. No, that’s not true. I know why. 1) A lot of people don’t know it exists. 2) It’s tedious and time consuming. Now you know it exists, so that’s no longer an excuse. As for number two, put on your big-girl panties and act like a professional. Do you think YoYo Ma doesn’t practice because it’s time consuming? You think Michael Phelps doesn’t find all the laps he swims to be tedious? If you want to be your best, you have to do the work. And I want to be my best, so I plug my entire 90,000-word manuscript into the tool 1,000 words at a time. Generally, I expect every single thousand-word section to come back as lean. If it doesn’t, then I tweak it until it does. I generally lose another couple thousand words through this process due to that fact that waste words are a real issue for me. “To be” verbs used to be a problem too, but after several years of using the writer’s diet I’m not nearly as dependent on them. Still, this stage can take another week, depending on the length of the manuscript and the state of the writing.
Caveat – This tool is just that, a tool, and as with any tool it can be used poorly. The writer’s diet test should in no way take the place of your common sense or artistic integrity. When writing LoveLife, fir example, my life coach character was often high in “to be” verbs in scenes when she was quietly reflecting. Well. no kidding: a person who is meditating should have a lot of “be” in them. Sex scenes are generally high in prepositions because a lot of things go in and on things. Use the tool as a scalpel, not a blunt instrument, people, but even in those exceptional scenes, nothing should reach a “flabby” level.
Stage Four: The Don’t Make The Same Mistake Again Phase.
I learn something (read “many things”) new with every novel. I’ve worked with some very good editors and received wonderful feedback from readers and reviewers as well. When I learn something while reviewing one manuscript, I write it down for use in all futures ones. I now have a list that’s four pages long of little mistakes I’ve made in the past. Once I’ve done all the major overhauls, I break out that checklist and go one by one down the whole line. One of the first notes I got was about writing out the word Okay instead of OK. So item number one, I do a find-and-replace function for the word “OK.” There are several like this. Then I move on to words I frequently misuse, “lose/loose,” “further/farther,” “peak/peek.” Once again, tedious, but not too hard. Then I move on to contractions. I don’t use them enough, so I run a search function on every single combo (she is, he had, we have, etc.). I scan the entire manuscript over and over checking for these words and deciding on a case-by-case basis if they need to be combined. This is another area that’s gotten easier as the years have gone on because I catch them more and more on my initial read-aloud, but I never catch them all, and that’s my goal.
Then I move on to my commonly over-used words. My list is more than half a page long (Look, smile, take, process, grin, curves, etc.) I don’t know what yours are, and only you can decided how many is too many, but I do a “find all” and highlight them, then go through the entire manuscript to cut them down. The same goes for filler words (Just, that, really, very) the writer’s diet will tell you when you have too many of some of those, but their version of “too many” is too generous for me. Many times they can be removed from a sentence without changing anything else, and if they can, then they should. No mercy: slash them. If they can’t be removed without changing the sentence, then you have the harder task to deciding if that sentence should be changed or not. Only you can make the call, but one thing highlighting does is show you where they are clustered, and if you have whole paragraphs lit up like Christmas trees, you might want to consider cutting the cord to that one. This take can take a week or more depending on the shape the manuscript is in. It’s also one of the grumpiest stages of the process for me. Don’t try to do it so fast your eyes blur, or you lose your will to keep improving. Build in breaks and have chocolate on hand.
Stage 5: Punctuation Purgatory
The worst of the worst for me. This will not be bad or even necessary for those of you are grammar/usage wizards (in which case, I envy you) but I have a mild form of dyslexia, and one of the strategies I developed to cope is whole word/phrase reading. Breaking things down into parts is impossible. I read whole groups of words as one, which makes spelling a weakness. (Thoguh I raed tihngs lkie tihs as fi nthoigns worng). It also means I don’t see punctuation most of the time even though I know most of the rules for using it. If you give me a sentence and tell me where the comma goes, I can tell you, but if you show me a sentence where the commas are misused and tell me to find the mistake, I absolutely cannot. Most people would just say, “Peace out, Girl Scouts,” with something like that and to be honestly for my first five books I did. I had WAY too many other things to worry about. Also I have a wife who has a Ph.D. in English and teaches grammar at the college level, so I’d just hand it over to her. However, this doesn’t help me get better, it doesn’t help my manuscript get better, and quite frankly it doesn’t do much for my marriage either. She actually threatened to take the comma key off my computer because it frustrated her so badly. So I decided that since it was my manuscript, I owed it to myself to give it my best, even if my best will never be perfect.
Now I do a find-all function on every single use of what I like to call “common commas situations” like the words “and” and “but” or quotation marks. Then once the are highlighted, pulling them out of the larger grouping of words, I can examine each instance individually and apply those comma rules I know (mostly) independent of the story. Did you catch that? I take every single “and,” every single “but,” and every single quotation mark in the entire manuscript, highlight it, and check to make sure it’s punctuated properly. Maybe you don’t need to do this. For your sake I hope you don’t, but I’m willing to bet we all have our weak spots, and if I can go that far to overcome mine, I hope you understand my lack of patience when it comes to authors saying they don’t have time or inclination to do the same with their own.
Will I catch every single comma? Every single typo? Every single mistake? Absolutely not! My wife will still proofread the manuscript before it goes out. My editors will still find things. Our final page proofers will still find things. That’s their job, but I want to make damn sure I’ve done my job to the best of my (sometimes limited) ability before I ask the same of anyone else, because at the end of the day it’s my name on the book.
Stage 6: The Final Read Through
Another self-explanatory one. This is my last chance to read the book from start to finish before it goes to my editor. Hopefully it’s in good shape, and this is a fun read with just a bit of polishing, but don’t worry, this isn’t the end, because once your editor gets hold of it, you’ll get to go through this whole process all over again.
Hey friends, I know I’ve been off the blog for a bit, but I’ve been on the road from Louisville to Boston, to Seattle and finally to Portland for the annual Golden Crown Literary Society Conference. The GCLS is the only organization I know of with the sole purpose of preserving and promoting lesbian fiction; therefore, I love them! But there’s more to love than their mission statement. Their annual conference, which took place in Portland this year, is a veritable smorgasbord of treats for lesfic lovers. Here are just a few things I loved about the event:
1. Readers and writers mix fluidly there. The people who are readers one year might be authors the next, and even the most well-published authors still consider themselves readers first. Great friendships are formed across those lines and flourish in the unique environment only GCLS provides. At other events there’s so much more separation between the two groups. At GCLS it’s common to find a table of readers, writers, aspiring authors, and all of the above hanging out and laughing together. Here’s some folks I spent some times with eating lunch and watching the author auction: Rosa Moran, Pennie Hancock, Jane Cuthbertson, and Riley Adair Garret.
I met each one of them at GCLS conferences in the past and now consider each of them a buddy.
2. Workshops, panels, and readings, oh my! There’s something for everyone as part of the GCLS official program. I went to panels on editors’ pet peeves, working with a career team, and researching complex topics. As an author I’m still learning, and I love listening to experts in various areas of this business share their wisdom.
But what if you’re not a writer and don’t want to be one? Or what if, like me, you’re a writer who also likes to play fanboi from time to time? GCLS has a chat for that! There’s a whole series of author chats where a group of authors get together and talk to one another and audience members about whatever comes up. This is a great chance to see what people are working on, how they work, what inspires them, and anything else folks want to know about their favorite. I attended an author chat with Pol Robinson, Ann McMan, Lynn Ames, Dillon Watson, and RJ Samuel. Then I got to moderate an author chat with Pat Cronin, Jessie Chandler, Linda K. Silva, and Andi Marquette. I really like these chats because you get to see so much of the authors’ personality come through, and that always gives me greater insights into their work.
3) Special Speeches. GCLS always brings in two people to address the whole assembly. One is a special speaker, and this year she was pretty darn special indeed. The wonderful Ann Bannon spoke about the historical arc of her career, from a young Philadelphia housewife reading Vin Packer’s Spring Fire to her rise to the role of Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction all the way up to seeing Beebo Brinker on stage. She also shared some great cover work.
This woman is a treasure to our community and I’m so grateful to GCLS for putting her in my world (More on this later).
The keynote address was given by the always affable Lori Lake. She did a brilliant job of tying the historical milestones in lesbian fiction to her own story, and the stories that make up each and every one of our lives. I readily admit I got choked up when she talked about the power of lesbian fiction to shape or even save a life. At times my job can start to feel like a job, and it is, but it’s also much more than that. I’m a small part of a legacy that stretches from Sappho to the thousands of authors still to come, and we are all charged with making our voices heard. I’m glad there are people like Lori out there to chronicle our history and remind us of the importance of carrying our stories out into the world.
4) Authors in abundance! There are a lot of great events out there where lesbian fiction authors gather, but none of them carry the sheer number of writers as the GCLS conference does. The picture below is just the group from Bold Strokes Books. Bella had even more people there. Bedazzaled, Sapphire, Bywater, and many more had contingents, not to mention all the wonderful indie authors.
If you want to get an autograph, a photograph, a hug, or a good laugh from one of your favorite authors, the autograph session is a great place to be. I’m not sure how many authors were in the room come signing time, but the tables filled the room, some times two or three deep. As Lee Lynch once said, “We’ve written so many books now they couldn’t possibly burn them all.” Never is that more evident than at the GCLS autograph event.
5) The awards and dance. The true apex of the conference is the awards and dance. The first is a wonderful celebration of the years’ (and some lifetime) accomplishments in lesbian fiction. Everyone gets gussied up, and we give the best and brightest among us the recognition they deserve for the important work they do. In a world where our youth are still bullied to death, our relationships argued against in our highest courts, our history ignored, and our stories censored, I cannot overstate the need for us to recognize the people and work that shows us a bigger, better vision of who we can be.
Then the real fun begins. With the work and the learning and reflecting all done, everyone flat out cuts loose. There’s music and dancing, laughing and singing, and most of all wonderful people. Playfulness abounds. My favorite pictures generally come from this time because it’s when you get to see readers and authors being completely themselves, and guess what, we generally enjoy each other’s company.
By the end of the end of the evening I’d lost count of the number of laps I’d sat on, the number of people I’d danced with, and the number of women I’d hugged. I do know that Georgia Beers left wearing my tie, as that’s a tradition that’s 6 years running.
6) Colleagues I wouldn’t trade for the world. This business is wonderful and rewarding, but it can also be terribly lonely. We owe so much to our community, but we do the day-to-day to work alone, for weeks, months, and the better part of most years. No matter how empathetic our friends and families are, they don’t really know what it’s like for us to inhabit worlds of our own creation that take up so much of our time and energy. When we finally find people who get it, who live it, we tend to cling to them. We soak up that connection, store that energy, and try to capture that essence. We know we won’t get to drink from this well again for months. Can you really blame us from getting a little drunk off each other when we have the chance?
7) Once in a lifetime opportunities. Finally, the GCLS has given me opportunities I would have never had access to anywhere else, and this year offered the best example of that to date. On the last day of the conference, I had a chance to sit on a panel with Ann Bannon. It’s not hard to say that if not for her books, none of us would be able to live the life and do the work we love. I was beyond giddy to sit next to her. I think I took longer to get ready for that panel than it did for me to dress for my high school prom. I wore a bow tie just for the occasion
Along with Georgia Beers and Melissa Brayden, we talked about writing the girl next door. Lainie Mulligan-Lynch gave us so many great topics to discuss and questions to ponder, but I can only remember thinking, “That’s Ann Bannon sitting next to me!” I read Odd Girl Out sitting on the floor of our college PRIDE cubicle. I remember holding my breath silently begging Beth to get on the train. As Ms. Bannon talked about writing that scene, I was transported back, my heart once again pounding in my chest. It took everything I had not to throw my arms around her and say thank you for making me want to do this this amazing job, because none of the other six points on this list would have ever been possible without women like her writing scenes like that.
I want to thank the GCLS and their all volunteer board, for the amazing amount of time and dedication they give to make this event and these memories possible. I can’t possible thank you enough for all you do for our community, but I can promise that, G-d willing, I’ll see you all in New Orleans next year.
So this is the once a year blog where I get ultra spiritual. I usually stick to book stuff here, but my faith is a central part of my life. I wouldn’t be me without it, especially right now. I get that some of you don’t feel the same way about spirituality, and you don’t love to hear about mine either. If you’re one of those people please stop reading now. One of the most powerful aspects of my faith is my solid belief in free will and I will never condemn anyone for choosing a different path any more than I will be pushed into abandoning mine. If, on the other hand, you are someone who wrestles with the mysteries and the teachings like I do, please read on.
I’ve spent the last 40 days trying to prepare myself for Holy Week and Easter. This Lent I gave up credit cards in an attempt to focus on being thankful for what I have in my life instead of coveting things that are out of my reach at the moment. I also spent an hour technology free every day where my family and I turned off the T.V./Computers/Phones etc and spent some quality time talking and playing with one another. Both of the disciplines went really well and put me in a better place than I was on Ash Wednesday in both areas of my life I set out to alter. I have also worked hard to study the entire Gospel of Matthew. Surprisingly, this had been a bigger challenge than anything I’ve done in quite awhile as I’m finding it to be the hardest Gospel.
I’m realizing I’ve glossed over a lot of Jesus’s sharper edges in favor of the ‘Sermon On The Mount” Jesus. I’ve always focused on the ‘love your neighbor’ Jesus, and don’t get me wrong that too is revolutionarily challenging at times, but I’d skimmed past the parts where Jesus doesn’t let people off the hook. I’d conveniently forgotten all the times Jesus expresses anger and frustration at people who don’t listen, at people who hold on to earth when they should look to heaven, at people who put their own desires above their responsibility to their Creator. I think I’m a pretty good person, but I find when I really read the book of Matthew I’m coming up short in more ways than I care to admit, and that’s not fun reading. It’s not comforting, it asks me to let go of thing I want to hold tightly to, and it doesn’t tell me it’ll all be okay if I don’t. I spent more than a few nights over the last few weeks shifting in my seat uneasily as I realize just how often I take the easy way out, or make excuses when I am really being called to radically reexamine the very foundations of my life. I didn’t want to do that work. I like my life just fine, thank you very much. Or at least I did.
You see, as with the story of Holy Week itself everything in my personal journey that started off so nice and clean and happy last Sunday had devolved into a mess of fear and anger and sadness as my week has gone on. I won’t go into details because ultimately they aren’t important here. What matters is that I, like the disciples, feel tired and confused and unworthy in the Gethsemane. Like Peter I want to protest that I will not fall away, that I will stay this course and walk the path God sets before me, but honestly I don’t even know where the path is right now. I have no idea what is coming and the night that just begun already seems so long. I ache for rest, for peace, for the familiar, for the miracles. I want to lash out. I want to be strong. I want to cry. I want to draw my sword and fight. I want to run. I want to many things for so many reasons. Mostly though I want to know what is up ahead and what I am supposed to do about it.
Those answers aren’t coming though. Not right now anyway. Not this night. Not tomorrow either. There will be no resurrection until there is first a death. This is not the easy road into Jerusalem. This is not Palm Sunday. This is not the Passover. This cup will not pass.
This is the part of the story where Jesus finishes the work He started, as dark and sad and terrifying as it may be, because only He can see the other side. I am helpless except to pray that in my confusion, hurt, and uncertainty I remain lost enough to let myself me led through the darkness. This is not an easy time, but if my study of the gospel of Matthew has taught me anything over the last six weeks it’s that this is not an easy faith.
It’s funny how that works out, isn’t it? The message I’d struggled against all Lent long is the one I need most right now. It’s almost as if there was a plan in place long before I knew I needed it. Even in the dark Gethsemane there’s evidence that while I must walk the coming path full of fear and sadness, I do not have to walk it alone.
This is one of my favorite songs on all time, it’s complex and emotional, and perfectly fitting for this week both in my life and in my faith. I hope is resonates with some of you as well.
First of all, Happy Passover to those of you who celebrate. My family and I will be sitting down around the seder plate with friends this evening and my stomach is already growling in anticipation. I hope your holiday is full of laughter, light, and love.
Today I’m also celebrating a lesser known holiday known as the official shelf date of Timeless! That means you should now be able to buy it wherever fine books are sold. That also means the Kindle version is live for you who are died in the wool Kindle users. And of course you can always get my books directly from Bold Strokes Books in print or just about any ebook format you’d like.
To celebrate the wide release I sat down with Cheri and Andy at Cocktail Hour to have a virtual Conversation at the bar. The event was recorded live with video and questions from viewers in the chat area. We had a blast! I also did a reading from Timeless that followed up on the excerpts I’ve been posting here for the last few weeks. If you missed the live event for some reason you can (and I think you should) check it out at http://cocktailhour.us/archives/746 or on Youtube here:
The reading I did live will be the last excerpt of Timeless I share, but really if you haven’t gone to get it yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. No, really, what are you waiting for? Go get it! :)
Hey friends, have I told you lately how awesome you all are? Well you are! You’ve been with me faithfully from the moment I announced BSB’s signing of Timeless. You were here through the cover reveal and setting blogs, the character building and excerpts, right up to the release date. So many of you have written to tell me that you ordered/read/liked the book, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me as a writer. Sitting alone in my office day after day can get so isolating, but getting to interact with all of you even a little bit is such a huge boost. I absolutely love getting to read your comments here or on Facebook or by email. Still, I wish I could have more give and take with you, which is why I am very excited to announce that the great team at Cocktail Hour (Hi Cheri and Andy) have arranged for that to happen.
This coming Saturday at 4:30 Eastern, we are going to host a live chat. I’ll be there with a video feed so you can see me and hear me. There will also be a very cool chat function where you can send in questions or comment and I’ll answer them in real time. It’s not quite as great as a face-to-face conversation, but it’s pretty darn close. You can RSVP for the event on Google plus here, then the day of the event you just log in. This is where you’ll get that live reading of Timeless I’ve been promising. If you have questions or comments about the book or anything else for that matter, you’ll be able to enter them in the chat function, and anyone who does so will be entered for a chance to win a free book!
If you want to see what an event like this looks like, you can check out the recording check of this fun video chat with Lynn Ames and the Cocktail Hour crew from a few weeks ago. Then be sure to RSVP for my event this Saturday and come chat with us at 4:30 Eastern.
I can’t wait to chat with you all!