First order of business, I have some books to give away. I had such a great response to my National Grilled Cheese Day poll that I decided I couldn’t pick just one winner. I’ll have to pick two! After throwing the names of everyone who commented into a hat, my lovely wife Susie picked Elena and JJ Crab to win advanced review copies of Perfect Pairing! Elena and JJ, you can email your address to Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com, and I’ll get those mailed out by the end of the week.
But for those of you who didn’t win, I have another little gift for you in the form of a recipe and cooking video. Below you will find everything you need to learn how to make the very first sandwich from Perfect Pairing. It’s called the Wake ‘N Bake!
Here’s the full recipe:
8 Slices Thick cut bacon
1/4 cup coffee grounds
2 Tablespoons molasses or maple syrup
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon water
Slices sourdough bread
Layer the bacon so that each piece overlaps about half of the one above it, fat side up. Mix coffee grounds, syrup, brown sugar, cayenne and water until it makes a paste. Spread over bacon, cover and let stand two hours to overnight.
Heat griddle to approx 350. Pat excess grounds from bacon. Fry until crisp, cooking non-marinaded side first. (The side with the sugar on it will burn quickly, so don’t leave it down for long.) Remove from griddle and cook egg over-easy to over-medium in the bacon grease. Butter both sides of the bread.
Remove the egg, and toast one side of the bread. Flip the bread, then add egg, cheese, and bacon, then top with the other piece of bread, toasted side in. Cook another minute or two on each side until bread is toasted and cheese is melted.
Slice and serve hot in order to get all the best that breakfast has to offer. Enjoy!
It’s National Grilled Cheese Day! I’m so excited! Can’t you tell by all my exclamation points!?!
Okay I’ll stop now, but really, isn’t it grand to know that National Grilled Cheese Day even exists? I certainly think so. It’s obviously extra special to me this year since we’re in the lead up to the the release of Perfect Pairing because of all the wonderful grilled cheese tie ins to the book. So, I thought what better way to celebrate than by eating a grilled cheese, (which I encourage you do to no matter what) while reading your own advanced review copy (ARC) of Perfect Pairing?
What’s that you say? You don’t have an ARC of Perfect Pairing? Well I do! For the first time in my whole career I actually have ARCS to share, and what better way to share them than with you, my lovely blog readers.
All you have to do is comment on the blog telling me your favorite cheese and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll draw a winner out of the hat next week and post the result here.
In the mean time, go get a grilled cheese of your own!
Alert: This is not one of my book blogs. This post contains the sermon I preached at Fredonia Presbyterian Church last weekend. Several people have asked to see it so I’m sharing it here. If you’re not a spiritual person, or simply don’t like sermons feel free to pass, but come back later in the week for more news on Perfect Pairing. For the rest of you, brace yourselves I had a lot to say.
Scripture reading: Acts 5:27-32
When Cynthia first asked me to preach the week after Easter, I thought for sure I’d get ol’ doubting Thomas from the lectionary. I had lots of things to say about Thomas. I was already writing that sermon in my head.
Then I actually checked the lectionary and realized I hadn’t drawn Thomas at all. I’d drawn Peter. Not only did I get Peter, I got him uttering a line that’s been used and abused by so many people that I cringe when I hear it: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
I have to admit, my first reaction was to just abandon the lectionary. I do not like this passage. I find this passage to be dangerous. This passage was used by segregationists to justify institutional racism even after the courts ruled it unconstitutional. This verse was recently used by Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to marry gay couples under her jurisdiction. This verse has even been used by people who bomb abortion clinics. It’s been used repeatedly by people who believe they can say and do whatever they want to make their point because they have God on their side. No. I wouldn’t preach on this.
Then I read it again. The whole passage. People who like to throw the verse around rarely give any context. In fact, I didn’t remember ever hearing any of the other parts, but I did remember the first time I’d heard that particular verse. In college I was with a group observing the National Day of Silence, which involves taking an eight-hour vow of silence to symbolize the way our culture silences gay youth. We were sitting silently on the quad when a religious group surrounded us and began preaching about how we would all burn in hell. We sat silently, helpless, unable to even raise our own voices in our defense. A university official finally came by and told them that what they were doing was not only hurtful, it was against the university’s non-discrimination policy. One of the preachers said, “We don’t have to follow the university rules because the Bible says we must obey God rather than any human authority.”
Later I was disheartened to hear how many of my friends just accepted that viewpoint. One student said, “I don’t believe in God anymore. There can’t be a loving God who lets his followers treat people like that.” No one questioned the verse or suggested it had been misused. They all just took it for granted that Christians had cart blanche to preach hate. I was heartbroken. For them, for me, for Christianity as a whole, and mostly for the God I believe loves me so much he died so I could have a relationship with him. A handful of bigots had ruined that relationship for all of us by claiming to speak for Him.
I guess by now you can tell I decided to preach on this passage after all. I don’t really believe in dumb luck, or coincidence, at least not where scripture is concerned. If nothing else, I can offer a unique perspective on the subject.
I feel well situated to talk about the consequences that claiming to speak for God can have on others. It seems obvious to me that those sorts of actions, the ones meant to silence other people or negate someone’s identity are hurtful. It follows logically that they’d be even more hurt if the person in question actually believed these things are done on behalf of God. And yet so few people who use God’s name seem to draw the connection. Obviously when someone invokes God to make a point, they’re trying to play a pretty big trump card, but I wonder if they actually stop to consider anything beyond affirming their own sense of self-righteousness. Do they ever think about what happens AFTER they’ve made their point?
Once at the Martin Luther King center in Atlanta, I saw an exhibit photo of a man sitting outside his restaurant with a shotgun across his lap and a sign quoting Bible verses about slaves and curses on Africans. He seemed to imply that those verses gave him a moral obligation to refuse service to African-Americans. I’ve often wondered what he thought African-Americans would make of his God. Did he really expect them to read his sign and say, “Well gee, he makes a good point. Maybe I should go back to being a slave”? Did it occur to him that his behavior might make people question the worthiness or even the existence of his God? Did he even care if he turned people away from God? Probably not. In his mind, he was right.
I think that’s human nature. We usually think we’re right. We rarely stake our emotions or our public perception on something we know to be false. We hold onto our core values so tightly because we believe them to be fundamentally true. Especially when it comes to the big-ticket beliefs surrounding things like politics or money or religion or baseball. Even though we all know we have flaws, we tend to think even those come from some reasonable place.
When there was a disagreement recently in the Spangler household, I had to report to a friend that Susie had been right and I had been wr… I was wro …Susie was right, and I was less right. It happens. We’re human. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we are less right. And because I’m usually the one in my relationships who is less right, I like to think I have a certain amount of understanding for other people who fall into the same category.
Most of us come from a good place, or even when we don’t come from a good place, we have a good reason. We’re hurt or scared or have been lied to. I have a lot of patience for people who are wrestling with hard things, because I’ve been there. But my fuse grows a lot shorter the moment people drag God into their arguments, because I’ve been there, too. It’s one thing to say, “I believe what you’re doing is abhorrent.” It’s another thing to say, “God thinks what you’re doing is abhorrent.”
Disagreements are part of life. Even disagreements about issues of faith. We’ve all had disagreements with other Christians. Many of us have even disagreed with a stated position of the church. And I think that’s a good thing. It challenges us, but it’s an even better thing that we’re all still here. I think for most of us, the good side of our religion has far outweighed the bad over the course of our lifetimes.
But we no longer live in a time where the bulk of people identify religiously. We cannot work under the assumption that the people we interact with have a lifetime of other experiences to draw from. Recent polls suggest that less than 30% of Americans attend church on a regular basis, and those numbers are dropping steadily for younger generations. For many people, especially young people, we have to assume we might be their only connection to the church, and in some cases their only connection to God. We may only get one shot to show them the God we serve. If we make a mistake in our own name, they could decide they don’t care to be around us any more. But if we make a mistake in the name of God, we could forever turn them away from the very concept of a loving creator.
Maybe in that moment we don’t care. To be honest, a lot of us, myself included, can get carried away. We can get so sure that we’re right, or that the person we’re arguing with too is so far gone they wouldn’t know Jesus if he descend from the clouds right then and there. I’ve been so scared or angry or hurt that all I wanted to do was end the argument by any means necessary, and if that meant calling on God to land a decisive blow, I would gladly do so. That’s not my most Christian impulse, but sometimes it’s really hard to consider the consequences of claiming God when we don’t particularly care about the person we’re arguing with. But what about the consequences to ourselves?
A very good writer once told me to be extra careful when spelling someone’s name. She said a person’s name is how they are made known to the world, and when you misspell someone’s name, you have, in all likelihood, used someone else’s name. What if the same is true for God? If we misuse the name of God, have we indeed called on someone else?
I’m a big fan of the theology of C.S. Lewis. Jackson and I are currently reading his Narnia books. My favorite of them is The Last Battle. It’s an “end of times” sort of story, and in the book the God figure, a lion called Aslan, has come in this rapture-esque moment and welcomes a man into heaven even though he lived a faithful life serving a god of a different name. The man says there must be a mistake because he never worshiped Aslan, but Aslan says that he had, actually. He explains that all good deeds are done in his name because he is the embodiment of all things good. And all bad deeds are done in the name of the devil or false gods.
In some ways it’s a comforting thought that all good deeds are done to the glory of God, but the other side is quite terrifying when you think about it. Anytime we claim the name of God wrongly, we have, in fact, participated in the worship of something other than God, whether that’s a false deity, or an idol cast in our own image.
Damage within and damage without. With one wrong assertion, we could separate ourselves and anyone else we happen to be dealing with from a full and close relationship with God. That’s a lot of pressure.
I wonder if Peter felt that kind of pressure when he stood before the councils in Jerusalem and then Rome. He seems so confident. Peter seems confident in a lot of passages actually, but he’s been wrong before. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times on the eve of the crucifixion, so there’s kind of a precedent for him mucking these sorts of things up. Yet when most of the powerful leaders in his world had made laws against talking about Jesus, he broke them. Not only did he break them, he looked the leaders in the eye and told them he intended to keep breaking them. And he did, right up until his death. They tortured him for nine months, then crucified him upside down, and still he wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus. There are stories that say Peter was so sure in his convictions, so tenacious and charismatic about the love of Jesus, that he managed to convert his jailers and at least 47 other people in the prison.
Peter broke the laws gleefully and to great results. We call him a martyr and a saint. We revere him as the rock upon which Jesus built his church. We know he was right, as much as we know the guy with the shotgun across his lap in Atlanta was wrong. And yet the guy with the gun thought he had God on his side, too. He had the scripture to prove it. He no doubt saw himself as modern day Peter.
So what have we got from all my rambling? Right now it sort of feels like a big mess and time to wrap this up. What can we take away?
Well for one, if we take anything out of this, I hope it’s an understanding that claiming to speak for God is a dangerous business. There are potentially dire consequences for the people around us, for the perception of Christianity as a whole, and for our own relationship with God. No one should assume that risk lightly.
But we’ve also got a powerful example in Peter of how sometimes Christians are in fact called by a higher authority than the laws of man. How can we know what’s the true call? Peter himself offers us the first part of the answer, because unlike people who use the verse as an end to an argument, Peter actually uses it as the beginning of one. He doesn’t just say, I don’t have to listen to you because God says so. He goes on to explain that God exalted Jesus as Savior, that he might bring repentance and forgiveness of sins.” He says, “We are witness of these things.”
So Peter doesn’t actually say, “God gave us the authority to break all the laws we don’t agree with.” He doesn’t say we even have the right to break the laws that we think God disagrees with. He actually only says we have the God-given right to serve as witnesses to Jesus.
That narrows the window pretty significantly, doesn’t it? It cuts out a lot of things we like to drag God into now a days, because Jesus himself didn’t talk about many of them at all. He didn’t talk about elections, he didn’t talk about gay marriage, or segregation. He didn’t even talk about baseball.
He talked about caring for poor, feeding the hungry, and loving our neighbors, even those we consider to be enemies. But even more specifically than all of that, he actually gave us a definitive answer as to how we can tell if we’re acting as witnesses to him. It’s one of the last things he ever said to his disciples. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
And do you know who is the first of all the disciples to respond? It’s Peter. That’s the moment, that’s the commandment that causes Peter to say he will follow Jesus even to the point of death. That’s how Peter knew he was right when he stood before the council. The Savior Himself had told him go share His love.
Love is the only guarantee we have. We are given no blanket permission to scream at people, to silence them, or write them off as less valuable to God. We’re not given a charge to guard our ideals at the end of a gun or to do harm physically or emotionally to those with whom we disagree. The only way the world will know God is through our actions, and the only way we ourselves know if we’re acting as true witnesses to Christ on His authority is to love others as Christ loved us.
The only law we’re given that supersedes the law of man is the law of love.
So last week I told you all about the various blogs I have planned for the pre-release of Perfect Pairing and gave you a peek at one of my Buffalove blogs. Today’s blog is also part of the lead up for that release, but it’s intro to a different aspect of the story. You see, while I’m not a food truck chef I got to play one in the book, and now I think I’m ready to play one on TV, or at least YouTube. So I’ve got some fun food videos lined up for you in the coming months.
This first video features a guest chef helping me show you a pro-trip that even the smallest cook can use to help take the average grilled cheese up a notch.
Hope you’ll subscribe to the blog, or the Bywater Books Facebook page in order to follow along on a foodie adventure that promises to be “better than you think.”
Those of you who follow this blog know that I usually start blogging about one of my books about 8- 10 weeks before the release date. I’ve got my standard intros to the cover, the blurb, the sound track, the setting, etc., and I think it’s a good system overall. It gives the readers a little glimpse without (hopefully) overloading them. With my upcoming release, Perfect Pairing, however, I have so much more I want to tell you all, and even though the book won’t be out until July, I just don’t want to wait any longer. So I guess what I’m saying is, prepare to be overloaded.
The overload will likely come in three forms. First, the standard pre-release blogs, the kind I mentioned above: characters, soundtrack, blurb, and sneak peaks. Next, the cooking videos. Because this is a book about a grilled-cheese chef, I want to show you the cool recipes and pro-tips I picked up along the way. And finally the Buffalove blogs, the blogs that go a little deeper than usual on the subject of setting, because it’s time the world (or at least my corner of influence over it) learns a little more about the awesomeness of the Queen City. Today’s blog falls into the last category.
Those of you who’ve followed my writing for a while have already gotten some peeks into how much I’ve grown to appreciate Buffalo over the last few years. Having lived in the Midwest through high school, undergrad, and grad school, my books have largely been set there. My Darlington books have established me as a mostly Midwestern writer, and I’m okay with that, but now that I’ve lived in Western New York for nearly a decade, it’s easier to see those influences working their way into my books.
LoveLife was my first novel set in Buffalo, and it’s a winter book. I got to write a few scenes really exploring the ways in which the epic weather shapes our lives here. Getting Serious from the recent Sweet Hearts anthology is a spin off from LoveLife and therefore also takes place in Buffalo. The timing of that one also put my characters in the magic and mayhem of a Buffalo winter. Here’s the first big secret of Western New York: Most of us who choose to live here actual love this part of the country during winter. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also dramatic and beautiful. When people say, “Oh I know it’s pretty, but how do you survive the winters?” I always say, “We don’t survive them, we revel in them.” We ski, we curl, we toboggan, we ice skate, and we play hockey. We snowshoe and sled and build snow forts. We make soup in big crock pots and hot chocolate in vats. I don’t love living here in spite of winter; I love life here because of winter.
That being said, I didn’t want to just dispel the myths about Buffalo being a frozen tundra in the winter and be done. With Perfect Pairing I wanted to deal with the larger problem that all people ever know about Buffalo is winter. We have three other seasons (Okay, actually 4 other seasons because right now we are in mud season, but we don’t talk about that one). Spring, summer, and fall are all glorious in Western New York. The climate is temperate, the surroundings are beautiful, and the people are jamming. Sure Buffalo fell on hard times. Everyone knows the stories of the Rust Belt, but those days are history. And speaking of history, we have plenty of that to go around, too. The past and the present are alive and exciting in the Nickel City. Don’t believe me? Well here’s your primer of the City of Good Neighbors (We also have lots of nicknames).
Really, did you watch it? Admit it (in the comment section) you were surprised, right? Excited even? I hope so, but this video is just the beginning. Over the next few months I’ll be taking the Wonderboi Blog on a tour of some of my favorite places in and around Buffalo, and when I’m done, you’re going to want to visit.
Brace yourselves, friends. This is the summer of Buffalove!
Autocorrect keeps trying to change the title of this blog to “Sammy Finalist.” Autocorrect can’t believe it either. Autocorrect is like, “no she can’t be be serious.” Never mind that “Sammy finalist” isn’t even a thing* the idea of me being a Sammy finalist seems more reasonable than a Lammy finalist and yet, everyone keeps congratulating me on being a finalist for the this year’s Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Romance.
At first I thought it was a mistake. I saw a message from my friend and fellow GCLSer Carleen Spry and I thought I’d read it wrong. It was early, and usually Carleen emails me to remind me to do something I’ve forgotten. I figured she was just messaging me to remind me I still hadn’t made my hotel reservations for the conference this year. But then other people started to congratulate me too, and some of them sent links like this one. And I’ll be damned if Heart of the Game wasn’t on the list. Even after I refreshed the page and then checked on my phone to make sure it wasn’t just a computer malfunction.
Finally I went up stairs and watched Susie brush her teeth for a minute until she finally rinsed, spit, and said, “What?”
I said, “I’m a Lammy finalist.” No real inflection, just a statement of fact. She once again asked, “What?” I think the initial statement seemed a little silly to her too, but after I repeated myself she did the appropriate hugging and congratulating before we both went back about our business of getting the kid fed and dressed and off to school.
Lots of wonderful friends and colleague called, messaged, or Facebooked me to offer their congratulations. Georgia Beers encouraged me to dance. Melissa Brayden suggested waffles might be in order. I stopped by to hug my editor, Lynda Sandoval for all the awesome work she put in with me on this one. I congratulated all the other fantastic finalists (Shelley Thrasher, Andrea Bramhall, Dillon Watson, Jackie D, Julie Blair, Blythe H. Warren and Amy Dunne). Bold Stroke Books ran a one day flash sale on Heart of the Game and their other finalist. It was a good morning.
And then it was afternoon. And then it was time to get back to work. I spent several hours to get my 1,000 words on the day. Well at least now I can say getting shortlisted for writing awards doesn’t make actually writing any easier. Not that I expect it to.
Honestly, I didn’t expect anything. I’d never given much thought to what being a finalist for one of the top awards in my field would be like. I’ve watched my friends go through the experience. I’ve been happy for them. I’ve seen the trappings, the extra line on the resumes, the trophies on mantles (do you call it a trophy?) the new title in the author bio. But I never really thought about what it would feel like. Now that I’ve had the experience I can say, at least for me, being a Lammy finalist is fun, but it doesn’t really change anything.
I’ve never thought about awards while writing. It’s not that I don’t think my work is good, or that I’m not proud of it. I am. I’m insanely proud of Heart of The Game. I wrote it because I love baseball, and lesbians, and love. So maybe I do think about awards, but in a different sense because I always saw the book as the award, or certainly as the reward. I got to hold the finished product in my hand, pass it out to all my friends, and hear back from readers who really like baseball, and lesbians, and love as much as I do.
I’m not going to lie and say I don’t enjoy being a Lammy finalist, or that I wouldn’t enjoy winning. It’s a huge honor, but I am happy to report that even from this side of the fence those sorts of things are not the end game. Not for me. Several days after the big announcement, I’m still plugging along on the early stages of my next project, because that’s what I do. I love what I do, and that’s the best reward ever.
*Actually “Sammy finalist” is a thing. I googled it. Apparently is an award for sports marketing?
Hi, Friends. Those of you who follow this blog know my most recent entry was part of the Bywater/Ylva Lesfic Blog Hop. Since then the blog hop has had some great entries. Most recently KD Williamson talked about Wine, Women, and Beer. Today I am honored to host another stop on the hop, not for myself but for my friend and colleague Marianne K. Martin. She is an amazing writer and a true trailblazer, and she’s here to tell you all a little bit about her forthcoming release. I’ve heard her read from the book a time or two, and trust me, you won’t want to miss this one!
Here’s Marianne in her own words:
Everyone is familiar with the popular image of Rosie the Riveter with her blue uniform and distinctive red headscarf. Over the years the image by J. Howard Miller with its caption “We Can Do It” has become the symbol for rallying women into the work force, of independence and women’s rights, despite that not being its original intent. Originally, in 1943, it was an ad Westinghouse used to encourage women in their factories to work harder and to avoid union issues. But there were plenty of government ads everyday in the newspapers, magazines, and on the radio that let women know how much their government needed them. Ads that said things like “Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.”
Government and industry was, as Jack will tell you in my next book, The Liberators of Willow Run, “tappin’ the only well with water”. And the women answered, over two million of them going to work for the war effort in government and private sector jobs, ten thousand of them in the largest bomber plant in the world, “the arsenal of democracy” at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti Michigan.
In the past couple of years there has been a tremendous effort to preserve the history and as much of the original Willow Run plant as possible by including it with the Yankee Air Museum. One of the ways the organizers drew attention to the project was to set a record by gathering the largest number of women dressed as Rosies at one time in the plant. And, for me, the most fascinating thing to come out of that effort were the interviews of a number of original Rosies who, now in their 80’s and 90’s, had travelled to take part in the events. Those interviews and documentaries were exactly what I needed. I knew right then where my next book would take place. The Liberators of Willow Run was born.
I wanted to know more about those women, about the thousands of women who helped make the B-24 bombers that won the war, women who had entered the work force for the first time. I wanted to know how the war had changed their lives, and how it changed how society saw them. And more particularly I wanted to know how lesbians lived and worked under the umbrella of a war-based society. What were their loves, their risks, their fears, their joys? And what would happen to them, and thousands of other women, when the war ended? I was hooked. I had to know.
So, I listened and read and felt the empowerment that the war years had offered them. Restrictions that they had grown up with were set aside, at least temporarily, expectations expanded by necessity. They began to realize their importance and their possibilities, but it was not an easy transition. Much of society hoped for a way to refasten the latch on the lid of Pandora’s Box. It was a time when one moment the possibilities seemed endless – for freedom, independence, love – and in the next moment, the challenges seemed too great.
I hope you will let riveter Audrey Draper and waitress Ruth Evans tell you about their lives, their fears, their dreams and their loves. The Liberators of Willow Run is scheduled for release by Bywater Books in October 2016.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to the talented Paula Martinac, the author of Chicken, Home Movies, the Lambda Literary Award-winner Out of Time, and three non-fiction books on lesbian and gay culture and politics. Her next book, The Ada Decades, will be published by Bywater Books in February 2017.
Let me start today’s blog by saying thank you to my friend and fellow author Jove Belle for generally being an all around good person to know, and specifically for kicking off the Bywater and Ylva Lesbian Fiction Blog Hop. She and I have known each other for years and often talked about how awesome our community of readers and writers is. It’s been fun to get to work with her on bringing a great group of authors together to help promote the genre. If you missed her blog yesterday, you can catch it here.
Now I get to follow her act by telling you a little bit about my forthcoming release, Perfect Pairing! This will be my first book with Bywater Books, and I’m both excited and nervous about it. I want very much to show them that I can bring something to the table for them. I’m working with my long-time friend Kelly Smith, and I want to live up to the high standards of quality she’s set for her authors. I want to prove to those authors that I belong among them with the likes of Marianne K. Martin, Ann McMan, Ellen Hart, Fay Jacobs, and so many others. I want to be worthy of the truly amazing cover that Ann McMan made for me.
And yet, at the same time I’m feeling some new pressure to perform, I’m also working hard to stay true to who I am. It’s so easy to get distracted by the new shiny thing, the hot gimmick, the greener grass just on the other side of the proverbial fence. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between challenging by choice and chasing trends, so after a few months of being away from Perfect Pairing I wanted to come back to my final round of edits with fresh eyes. On this last time through (or at least the last time to make real changes), I asked myself not whether or not this was a book my editors, colleagues, or peers would be proud of, but if it’s something I’m proud of. The answer is a resounding yes.
Here’s the official blurb:
Hal Orion is an accomplished chef and food truck owner. She loves her life, her longtime sous chef and best friend, and the food she shares with the residents of her beloved city of Buffalo. Her life is exactly how she wants it: no strings, no commitments, and no roots—just great grilled cheese and a whole lot of freedom on the side.
Quinn Banning is an investment banker, and the dividend she seeks is a resurgence of the once-great city of Buffalo. Putting together her next business venture, she recognizes Hal’s talent and charm as necessary assets for success—her good looks don’t hurt, either. But Hal’s transient ways are in direct opposition to the stability Quinn craves. Relying on their shared love of Buffalo, Quinn makes Hal an offer she can’t refuse—a restaurant under her own name, complete creative control, and secure financial backing. It’s every chef’s dream. But Hal utters the one word Quinn can’t stand to hear, “No.”
Will their physical attraction grow cold as they argue over their ideals, or will they find that the most distinctive ingredients often make for the perfect pairing?
I’ll go into more detail about the book, the characters, and share a lot of grilled cheese recipes over the next few months. If you’re interested in following along, go ahead and click the “sign me up” button under the “Email Subscription” tab in the far right column of this page. Did I mention there would be grilled cheese recipes?
Finally, don’t forget to follow the Blog Hop as it continues for the rest of the month. You can find the next entry on February 9th over at www.cherylhead.com. Cheryl is one of my newest colleagues. She’s smart, reflective, and one hell of a writer. I can’t wait for you all to meet her.
After years of hair drama, last week offered the opportunity to close it all out. I’d first shaved it off with a friend going through chemo. I’d then spent the next years dealing with the joys and complications following that decision. Then after only a short time of having my hair at a length I felt good about, I decided to grow it out long enough to donate. Now after more than a year of annoyance and lack of control and the gender presentation issues of growing it out, I finally had the chance to be done with the whole (mis)adventure.
I should have been thrilled. I’d been bitching for over a year and measuring obsessively for months. This was the moment I’d waited for. Why didn’t I feel better about it?
Part of my hesitance came from the fact that in order to get more than eight inches off, I would have to go very short. I’d have to put it in multiple ponytails and snip each one off close to the scalp. All the lessons I’d learned the last time I’d had it that short came rushing back. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go back to making people uncomfortable because that so often led to making them angry. This fear was reinforced by several people saying things like, “I don’t think it’s long enough” (like I hadn’t had the ruler out 7 bazillion times) or “But it’s so pretty long.” “But you look so much nicer.” “Are you sure you really want to do that again? Remember what it looked like last time.” I knew they meant well. Some of them even made a valid non-gendered point in saying that a buzz cut in January in Buffalo might be chilly. Mostly, though, I feared the censorship that would come from once again not fitting into the prescribed boxes people want to associate with a female body. I would no longer look “nice” or “pretty,” and in our culture there are tangible consequences for people who willingly make that choice.
I started talking about not cutting it. I lied and said I maybe wanted to wait until the weather got warmer, but I’d worn it short in winter before and had never been bothered (also I have a stocking cap I really like). I also tried the excuse that if I waited until it got longer I wouldn’t have to cut it quite so short, thus lessening other people’s discomfort, but that didn’t really feel great, either. My head tried to reason, but my gut wasn’t giving up. It had been denied too long in this whole ordeal. The internal battle raged for a few days until I finally made a pro/con list. It looked like this.
The Pro List
More comfortable physically
Easier to take care of
Cheaper to take care of
Takes less time in the morning
More people will touch it when it’s short
Shorter hair aligns with my sense of self
I like the way it looks short
The Con list
Short hair alters other people’s opinions of me
That list hurt my feels a little bit. To see it all laid out there didn’t paint a very nice picture. Everything that should matter came down on the side of cutting it. The one on the side of leaving it long shouldn’t factor in at all. And yet I’d give that one item enough weight to be equal to or greater than everything from my physical comfort to my sense of self. That’s vanity. It’s scary. And it’s sad. It’s not the person I want to be.
I wish I could say that did it, that the stark contrast of my pro/con list snapped me back into myself and that I charged forward without trepidation. I didn’t. The list did, however, allow me to examine why other people’s opinions mattered so much and made me begin to think about whose opinion should really matter enough to be considered. My wife’s was clearly important, but she likes it better short (mid-length for me). My son’s matters, but he was also a vote for short. He said I didn’t look like his mom anymore. But outside of the two of them, who had to live with me and who I have to face every day, there was another small group of people who kept coming back into my mind in a way that lifted me up instead of tearing me down.
The thing that got lost in all of this, the thing I lost track of in my own selfishness, is that while the process has been enlightening, it had an end goal outside of me. I set a limit on my hair growing, and I stuck to it even when I hated it because I wanted to donate the hair. If not for that, I would’ve caved very early on. And honestly even with that I almost caved over the summer. Then at the GCLS conference in New Orleans, a woman I’ve known for years pulled me aside between sessions. She said, “I promised I wasn’t going to cry,” as tears filled her eyes. She went on to say that what I was doing was such a wonderful thing. Taken aback I honestly had to ask what I was doing. She mentioned my hair, and I remembered that she’d gone through chemo a year earlier. She thanked me profusely and talked about watching her own hair swirl around the drain as she stood in the shower. She talked about how much that moment had frightened her, how demoralizing it had been, how it had shaken her sense of dignity. She said that knowing other people out there did what I was doing meant the world to her. I did not feel proud. I felt sick. I felt selfish and vain. I felt like a spoiled brat for bitching about my hair and what it meant to me when it meant so much more to so many others.
Remembering that conversation and the struggles of other friends in similar positions, I had a very low opinion of myself for pinning so much emphasis on my own looks, and I thought even less of people who tried to pin parts of themselves on my looks. Of all the things I learned along the way, that had the biggest impact. It also gave me the strength for the final attitude adjustment.
You can like my hair or not. I can like my hair or not. The whole world can see what they want or they can sod off. I wish I could say I didn’t care at all what people think, but I do. I just don’t care enough anymore to let it cloud the bigger issues. That night my friends and family gathered around the same way they had when I first shaved it. We laughed, we joked, they took turns with the scissors, and we did something more meaningful than making a fashion statement. It wasn’t even a political statement. It says nothing about you or women in locker rooms or men who won’t hold doors. I am more than my haircut. I am more that what anyone else sees when they look at me. Despite what messages the rest of the world may try to send, in my case it really is just hair, and it really will grow back. But more importantly, when I put aside my vanity and my insecurities, I had the chance to tell someone out there that they are not alone. That’s the message I want to send. That’s the person I want to be.
Last week I posted a blog about all the things I learned in the immediate aftermath of shaving my head with a friend who was going through chemo. You’d think one of the things I would’ve learned is not to be impulsive with my hair. And yet, no.
You see, after my hair grew back enough to style again, I had a lot of fun. Flush from the renewed power after feeling helpless for so many months, I didn’t want to cut it at all. By winter it grew long enough to stand up Jake Gyllenhaal style, then comb over like I belonged on Wall Street in the ’80’s. I did need to trim up the back a little because it kept going into mullet territory, but I never let my hairdresser take much off the top. By summer I could toss it again. I was back! I felt like me again. I loved the feel of it over my ears. My forehead was back to a reasonable size. No more fivehead.
By fall it had grown shaggy. People started to ask when I intended to cut it. I felt my first flashes of defensiveness. I’d just gotten it back. Why all the pressure to cut it? It was so soft and shiny. Couldn’t I just play for a while?
Soon it was over my eyes and too long to toss. One day I parted it down the middle and got a great deal of amusement. I looked like I belonged on Miami Vice. I popped my collar. People got pushier. Is it supposed to look like that? Doesn’t it drive you nuts? It’s a little girly for you, isn’t it?
Then it happened. I don’t even remember when or who. It wasn’t their fault anyway, but someone asked one too many loaded questions, and I just said it. “Maybe I won’t cut it.” “Yeah,” I thought in that moment. “What if I don’t? What if I grow it out? What if I donate it?” The idea just flashed through my mind. I buzzed it for someone with cancer. Wouldn’t that be cool if all the hair I grew back after that got donated to someone with cancer? A full circle adventure. Done. The decision was made. I told everyone. I put it out on social media–my grand hair decree.
Everyone looked at me like I was nuts. The people who knew me best quietly asked if I’d thought this through. They gently pointed out that donating hair wasn’t actually easy. There were a lot of factors, the chief among them being that I couldn’t just chop it off when it reached a length that annoyed me. It had to be 8 inches, and not color treated, and not gray and, and, and…at the rate my hair was growing I’d have to put up with all of this for over a year.
When was I going to learn to stop making long-term hair decisions on a whim? Hadn’t I spent months and months learning all those awful lessons about my hair being tied to my identity or at least my comfort level with the identify I wanted to project? No. Apparently I had not. After less than six months of having my hair back under my own control, I dug in my heels and braced myself for another year of wondering, “Why did I do that?”
From fall 2014 until now I have not cut my hair. It currently falls past my shoulders. It has not been particularly fun, but I have to say I learned as much about myself and our society during the long-hair year as I did during the short-hair year. Here are a few of those lessons.
- Hats look better with hair. I can hardly wear hats without long hair. They come down over my ears. They make me look bald. I look like I’m undergoing chemo, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it does give people the wrong idea. It’s just awkward. With a little more hair, a hat looks sporty or trendy. With longer hair you can thread it through the back of the hat, and all the sporty lesbians look at you like good people. Seriously, the combo of hair and a hat makes people believe you’re more athletic than you actually are. Of all the aspects of long hair, I’ll miss hats the most.
- It changes rapidly. If you have a good stretch, enjoy it because it won’t last. Just when I’d think I’d moved into a good space, a week later it’d be a mess again. There’s a fine line between Don Johnson and Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. Seriously, think about it. And just because it did something once doesn’t mean you’ll ever get it to do that again. Of course these things can be true of short hair, but not to the same extent. When I have short hair, it largely does the same thing every day for weeks. With short hair my part never moved. Never! I had the same part for years. It was there when I went to bed. It was there when I woke up. The line of my part with long hair is like a series of snowflakes: No two are ever quite the same.
- People treat you differently when you have long hair. Remember what I said in my last blog about people liking to make snap decisions based on looks? When you’re female bodied with long hair, all those boxes line up. People look, they assess, and they smile. Seriously, people haven’t smiled at me this much since I was visibly pregnant (a physical state that also ticked the boxes). People hold doors for me. That doesn’t happen when people think you’re a ten-year-old boy. Women make conversation in locker rooms or at bathroom sinks. This weirds me out a little bit as I’m not a bathroom talker, but I prefer it to scowls or angry words. The bottom line is that people are nicer when you don’t challenge their assumptions. You get rewarded with a myriad of pleasantries when you stay in your prescribed box.
- Differently doesn’t always mean good. Men talk to women who fit the status quo very differently than women who don’t. There’s a sense of entitlement among men over a certain age, a demand that they be recognized. Because of my gender presentation, I escaped the male gaze for a long time, and I don’t really like being back in it. Most of my best friends are men. I’m raising a young man. I like dudes. I have always sort of thought of my self as a dude, but the men I’ve run into over the last 6-8 months certainly haven’t seen me the way I see myself. Older men talk to me differently now. They sit closer. I get allergy shots on a regular basis, and men used to always put one seat between us at the doctor’s office waiting room. They don’t always do that now. And they flirt, even the ones who are way to old to date. Even the ones who are clearly kidding and non-threatening will still interrupt my book. They ask me why I’m not smiling (because I’m annoyed with you), they call me things like “miss” and “sweetheart.” They see me now and what’s more they want to make sure I see them. Men over a certain age (that’s lower than you’d expect) also refuse to walk through a door I’m holding open. I stand there, I hold it, the men come up and purposely move behind me to place their hand higher on the door. They usually say something like, “After you,” or “I’ve got it.” If I push back and say, “No you first,” or “I’ve got it for you,” their jaws set. Their elbows lock. The younger ones usually look taken aback and will often go through. The older ones flat out refuse. It’s awkward and it tells a great deal about the hierarchy they’re trying to uphold.
- It goes everywhere! Short hair goes nowhere, or if it does you don’t notice because it’s all out of your line of sight. The only place I ever feel my short hair is the tops of my ears or my forehead. Long hair goes in my eyes, in my mouth, in crook of my neck. It tickles my nose, it tickles Susie’s nose when we’re trying to sleep. It goes in the hood if my hoodies and annoys the living crap out of me. But it doesn’t end there. It goes all over the sink, all over the floor. It goes in the drain and on my black dress pants. It goes in Jackson’s lunch box and on the back of my chair. And even when I pull it back, it always manages to do this:
- I don’t get the nod any more. Men aren’t the only ones who see you differently when you have long hair. There’s a certain camaraderie among gender nonconformists. There is the subtle smile when you recognize a fellow traveler. When I said we all make assessments based on looks, I mean all of us. The queer community is no different, and there’s a joy that comes from that little thrill of connection amid the masses. It’s like when I see someone wearing a Cardinals hat here in Yankees territory. Or when I notice a Spanish flag sticker on the back of someone’s car. We always look for something to relate to whenever we meet someone new. As I became more and more visible to the men in my world, I seemed to become less visible to the women it. They do not flirt, they do not smile, and they no longer give me the nod. I miss the sense of community that comes from being recognized by my people.
- Finally, people feel they have a right to share their opinion on my hair the way they don’t in other areas of my life. As I said before, hair seems to play a huge part in how people view a someone, but it’s not just at first glance. And it doesn’t stop…ever. I’m not talking about a passing comments. I mean really harping on the subject, repeatedly. Friends, acquaintances, readers they all feel totally comfortable saying, “I don’t like you hair like that.” Or “I liked your hair when (fill in the blank) better.” One woman I barely know came up to me after a book event and said, “I think your long hair makes the shape of your face look out of portion.” How do I respond to that? What makes people think that’s okay? No one ever tells me, “You’re getting a little fat,” thank the Lord. And I can’t remember the last time someone said, “Those pants are ugly as sin.” They don’t even say things like, “I don’t like that shirt nearly as well the one you wore yesterday.” And yet, my hair is completely fair game for them to assert their preferences on my body. At first I thought maybe I was being paranoid. Perhaps people felt comfortable commenting because I talked about my hair a lot and they felt compelled to respond. Over the last few months I made an effort to purposely talk about other parts of my appearance in front of people who talked about my hair and generally got very little in response, if anything they only offered compliments, never the unfavorable comparisons. For some reason hair seems to be in the public domain much more than other areas of my body when it comes to negativity. And you know what? It sucks.
As I’ve said before I used my hair to showcase the parts of my identity I liked best, so when people say things about how much they hated it, it feels a little bit like they hate those parts of me. Only slightly less hurtful are the comments like, “You look so nice now.” Like I didn’t look nice before. I get “nice” as a descriptor a lot these days. Oftentimes it’s qualified with things like “softer” or “sweeter.” More than one person said it “takes the edge off.” But you know what? I’m not sweeter or softer or nicer or less edgy. I’m still the same person, just with a different haircut. I didn’t change. I’ve spent almost a year considering this development because I didn’t want it to be about what I feared it to be about, but these comments always, every single time, come from women who fall on the more feminine end of the presentation spectrum. None of my gender queer friends say it. None of my young male friends say it. It only comes from women whose preferences fit the norms. Even if they know me. Even if they know how much I’ve struggled to find my own niche. Even if they know my personality hasn’t changed a bit. And as much as it pains me to say it, I think the women who REALLY get invested in me having long hair do so for the same reasons the older straight men do. They like when I fit the box. When I don’t challenge them. When I “pass.” This leaves me worried about what it will be like when I go back to looking like me again. Will I embarrass them? Will they be made guilty by association with someone so clearly marked as queer? Will they resent it, even subconsciously? It shouldn’t matter to me, but it does, and it’s a sad and somewhat unfair burden to bear.
So while the practical side of me is really looking forward to going back to short hair this week, the emotional side of me is worried. I’ll be trading privilege in favor of my true personality. I’ll be happy to look and feel like myself again, but I will still worry about all the others who don’t feel comfortable with who I really am. It will be the end of a long journey, and the culmination of many lessons learned, both about myself and about the people with whom I interact. It’s been an amusing and occasionally upsetting ride, and with my next blog you’ll not only get to see the end result, I’ll also reflect on the heart of what it’s all meant to me.