Monday, March 28, 2016

Why I Don’t Write Lesbian Fiction

Several days ago I received an email from a heterosexual woman. She said she started reading Book I of my trilogy without realizing there would be lesbians in it, and she almost stopped reading, but the story and the writing wouldn’t let her stop. She ended up reading the entire trilogy. Twice.

This was my reply to her and it may answer some questions for some of my other readers as well:

I realize I am being premature, but white people will now read Toni Morrison and Amy Tan because they—well, most of them—recognize that those authors are not writing about black people or Asian people, but people, and people who are not so very different from themselves. I hope someday gay people will be seen as just people too.

I market my books to the mainstream because I did not write them for gay people. I wrote them for young people, male and female, and for women, because I believe women are finally coming into power in the real world and we need to do a much better job than men have done.

I wrote them for everyone open-minded enough to see love and not just sex in same-sex relationships. Frankly I have never understood why a straight person would believe their own experience of love (and sex) is any different from a gay person’s experience of love (and sex).

And I wrote them for the not-so-open-minded folks, because they refuse to get to know gay people, so perhaps they can get to know us in a book and see that we are not monsters.

I market to the mainstream because teenagers and young people who are questioning their sexuality will not look in the gay ghetto for things to read. They won’t look there because they’re terrified that’s where they belong. And for many of them it’s the worst thing in the world. So if they can find a book that shows them their own hearts, and that their hearts are beautiful just as they are, it may help them build their self-esteem. And when the world tries to shame them, perhaps they won’t feel the need to shame themselves. I correspond with young people who tell me my book saved their life. Possibly not an exaggeration.


I would add to the above that the reason mainstream readers haven’t encountered many gay people, especially gay protagonists, in traditionally published fiction is that traditional publishers have been reluctant to publish those books. That’s easing up a bit now, perhaps because of the success of indie authors writing LGBT fiction.

But several years ago I asked a traditionally published author if her publisher would have allowed her to make her protagonist gay. Her reply: Absolutely not! Gay supporting characters were OK, but not the hero. She later clarified that traditional publishers feared alienating their mainstream audience, that they believed a mainstream audience would not be able to identify with a gay protagonist.

It has always been difficult for the LGBT community to find ourselves represented in mainstream media. At the moment, some popular TV shows (The 100, The Walking Dead) are facing a backlash from gay fans because they have employed, yet again, the Lesbian Death Trope™. Anyone who has read Vito Russo’s book, The Celluloid Closet, or seen the film of the same name, knows that because gay people were considered either sick or sinful until quite recently, any representation of a gay person had to end with their downfall. Sometimes it was death. Sometimes they turned heterosexual. Sometimes they went mad.

The point of those endings was to express the disapproval that society felt for gay people and to reassure their “normal” audience that “immoral” people never prosper. So we were portrayed as immoral people who would never deserve a happy ending. The tragedy in that is that so many young gay people choose to leave a world where they are assured that although they might have a moment of happiness, they will never have a happily ever after.

#clexa #the100 #twd #lesbiandeathtrope

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What is the price of salt?

This is a review of the book, The Price of Salt, which has now been made into a movie, Carol.


The Price of Salt, published in 1952, is considered the first book—and the only one for a very long time afterwards—to depict a lesbian relationship with a happy ending. Having just reread it, what strikes me now is how anyone, even lesbians, especially lesbians, could have thought that losing custody of your child with no visitation rights and being publicly humiliated in court and in the newspapers constituted a happy ending.

But we said, “At least neither of them died or went to jail or was committed to a mental institution or gave up her beloved to live a ‘normal’ life married to a man.” Because that was what happened to lesbian lovers in pulp fiction. And pulp fiction was the only place you could find stories about lesbian lovers.

When I puzzled over the title, The Price of Salt, what first occurred to me was a quote from the book of Matthew in the New Testament:
… if the salt should lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?
I later learned from a biography of Patricia Highsmith that that is indeed where the title came from. In asking the price of salt, she is asking what price a person must pay to live an authentic life. In those days it was a high price, if it was possible at all.

At the end of the book Carol and Therese have a future together, and for us that was enough. So The Price of Salt does not have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful one. And I am hopeful that the release of the movie will herald a time when no one, no matter how ‘different’, must settle for a life unsalted, without savour.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meet the Characters Blog Tour

I was invited by Michele M. Reynolds to join the “Meet My Main Characters Blog Tour.”
This is a blog tour for authors to share information about stories they are currently writing. I am not, yet, actually writing, but my next story seems to be working itself out somewhere in the back of my head, so I am able to offer a few tidbits here.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
She’s a fictional person. I don’t know her name yet. I probably won’t discover it until I know a lot more about her.

2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s or early 1980s. I’m still working on the timeline.

3) What should we know about him/her?
My first protagonist, Tamras in the When Women Were Warriors trilogy, was 16. I think my new protagonist is also going to be 16. I’m starting to think I may be a case of arrested development.
I do seem to have a fascination with the point in a young person’s life when she takes that first irrevocable step toward becoming the person she is meant to be.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Something that has always intrigued me is the secrets families keep and the fact that each child comes into a world, and into a family, where things have happened they know nothing about. My protagonist has an intuition that there is a family secret she needs to know in order to get on with her own life. And the more her family denies there is a secret, the more she is convinced it’s an important one.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
To discover the identity and whereabouts of someone she remembers from when she was very small, someone no one will talk to her about.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
No idea for a title yet.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
My trilogy took ten years to write and two years to publish, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. That said, my new story is much simpler, and will probably be much shorter.

I haven’t tagged anyone else to participate in this blog tour, so if you’re an author and would like to participate, consider yourself tagged. You can leave a comment here with the link to your post.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Book I is now an audio book narrated by Janis Ian

Book I of the When Women Were Warriors trilogy is now an audio book!

It's available directly from Dog Ear Audio and many other audio book distributors and libraries. Here's the link:

I've been meaning to blog about the recording experience, but it's been such a busy year that blogging has had to wait. Now that the audio book has been officially released, I can take a bit of a breather and try to catch up.

We raised the money for the project through Kickstarter, and one of the perks was a daily email about the experience of making an audio book with Janis Ian and Dog Ear Audio. I was thinking I would put a condensed version of those emails here on my blog for everyone to read, but as I looked them over, I realized that the best part was the immediacy of the experience that I was able to share with the folks who funded the project. So I am reproducing them in their entirety here.


Sunday, September 22nd, 2013:

Karen and I arrived in Nashville yesterday (Saturday) and had a lovely dinner with Janis and her wife Pat at their favorite sushi restaurant, where we talked for almost four hours about everything under the sun. I have never met a famous person who is as real as Janis. Her talent aside, she is a first class human being, which I think most of you already know. If you haven't read her autobiography or listened to her Grammy-winning audio book, please do, because you will discover an extraordinary person. I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about Janis as the week goes on, but that's enough for now.

This afternoon Karen and I went to see the studio where we will be recording. I think Karen will be putting up some pictures on Kickstarter and telling you more of the technical details. From the author's perspective, it looks to be a place where some serious work gets done. Karen had a very technical talk with our engineer, Randy Leago, while I gawked at an impressive collection of electronics.

This evening we had dinner with one of my favorite authors, Liz Bradbury, and her wife Trish. Although we've worked on a few projects together and spoken on the phone, we had not met in person, so she drove a bit out of her way to see us and wish us luck. If you aren't aware of Liz, she is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network, and is a powerhouse working for LGBT civil rights. I hope she gets everything sorted out soon, because I'm waiting impatiently for her next book. (The Ginger Thai Restaurant in Nashville is excellent!)

It's past my bedtime, so I'm going to sign off now. I need to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for tomorrow!

Monday, September 23rd, 2013:

Karen and I are beyond bushed right now, but we had a GREAT!!! day in the recording studio with Janis. What can I say about Janis except that she is the consummate professional. That she came prepared goes without saying, but the heart she brought to the work is so above and beyond that I'm still in awe. She knows the characters through and through, and her voice brings them to life.

I asked her, Do all the authors weep when they hear you read their work. She said yes. And of course I did too, because the story is not only close to my heart, but buried deep inside it, and her rendering of my words moved me to tears more than once.

As the author, I am hearing the story read (performed is a better word) with emphases and intonation that are different from the way I heard it in my head, because, as Janis warned me when we started, the work will be her interpretation of the book. What that does for me is show me the story from another angle, which only makes it richer.

The technical part of the recording went very smoothly. Karen and Randy Leago, our engineer, made it look easy, but having worked in broadcasting in a previous life I know the degree of expertise and talent required for this kind of work. It's enough to ask of an artist to give her best performance, but when the work is constantly interrupted by technical glitches, it's much more difficult. I think we had two or three technical glitches (a vanishingly small amount in my experience), and a few interruptions by airplane and car noises. Karen can tell you more about Janis's error rate (# of goofs per page) which is also vanishingly small.

Thank you all so much, and special thanks to Liz Bradbury's wife Trish for the lucky socks she knitted for me. I'm going to wear them every day!


Tuesday, September 24th, 2013:

We had another great day in the studio today. Janis is getting through the material more quickly than we had anticipated, which is good, because if we run into trouble later, we'll have time to deal with it. First thing this morning we had a strange hum. It turned out to be the incandescent bulb Janis was reading by. Gremlins like that happen in every project, and they tend to appear and disappear capriciously. Randy, our engineer, figured it out in record time, and the rest of the day went smoothly.

While Karen and Randy are watching the script and the waveforms and listening for extraneous noises like airplanes, I just sit with my eyes closed and listen, and Janis takes me there. She conjures the settings--both emotional and physical--and brings the characters to life. Just wait till you hear Gnith!

Janis did the most lovely thing. You may recall that when the folks in Merin's house celebrate midwinter's night, they have a little song they sing. Janis, on her own initiative, wrote music for it. I heard it today for the first time, and it is stunning! And yes, she made me cry again. ;-)

Here's something I didn't anticipate. While we all know Janis has a lovely singing voice, her speaking voice is just as beautiful. Now I understand how lucky we are to be working with a musician, because her sense of timing and the way she renders emotion come from that sensibility. The story is a heroic epic, and Janis is making it sing!

Tomorrow morning we'll be joined by four of our Kickstarter contributors. I hope the experience is as magical for them as it has been for me.

Thank you all so very much!!!


Wednesday, September 25th, 2013:

We had another outstanding day today. This was the day that our four Kickstarter contributors joined us. Pam, Terri, Wendy and Lori met Karen and me at Randy's studio, and we had time to show them the studio layout and take some pictures before Janis showed up. Then we all took pictures with Janis. Karen is going to be posting some of them to the Kickstarter project page.

Today's energy was different from the first two days as we were all getting acquainted, but once the work began, our guests settled down to listen. We were all on headphones, so speaker noise wouldn't bleed into the sound booth. Since we were well ahead of schedule, we took a long lunch break. Our guests had come from as far away as Seattle, Florida, and Iowa. They are an impressive group of very accomplished women, and they had been so well-behaved that Janis invited them to stay for the rest of the day.

After we finished, Janis hung out with everyone for an hour or so. She usually finishes the day on empty, but the energy of the group held her up, I think, and she regaled us with insider tales of the music industry.

Karen and I took our guests out to dinner and we all got to know each other a bit better. Terri and Wendy are one of the funniest comedy teams I've ever met. Someday they're going to have to take their show on the road. Lori took a picture of my lucky socks. When she gets home in a few days, she'll post it to Facebook and then I'll steal it and put it on the When Women Were Warriors page.

Janis was, of course, her brilliant self, and she made me cry again in front of everybody, but I didn't mind at all.


Thursday, September 26th, 2013:

The folks who haven't read the book might find this update a bit of a spoiler, so I'll set it off with a spoiler alert.

********  SPOILER ALERT ******

Those of you who have read the book may recall the Spring Festival chapter. It was the one part of the book I was most worried about, because a less than perfect reading would have been a disaster. Not to worry. Janis was flawless. She just about blew the top of my head off, and my skin has only just stopped tingling.

The Spring Festival is a celebration of sacred sexuality, when both humans and animals participate in the creative principle with the goddess, or the Mother, or whatever you want to call her. There is a beautiful pagan prayer, The Charge of the Goddess, that was my inspiration for that chapter, and especially this part:

Ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise. For Hers is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Hers also is joy on earth; for Her law is love unto all beings… Let Her worship be within the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.

Janis read the chapter as if these words were engraved upon her heart.

********  END SPOILER ALERT ******

As if it wasn't enough that I get to come to Nashville and record an audio book with Janis Ian, tonight Karen and I went to Puckett's Boat House in Franklin, Tennessee, to hear our engineer, Randy Leago, play with the Cajun Zydeco Band, Ya Ya.

I live in a tiny town in the mountains of central California, and we don't get a lot of live music close by, so it was a real treat for me. They put on a great show. It was all I could do not to get up and dance, but a little old lady rocking out to zydeco isn't what most folks want to see. ;-)  It was a great way to unwind after an intense day.


Friday, September 27th, 2013:

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's in the can, as we used to say in the olden days.

We finished up by lunchtime, took care of a few details, and now I can heave a huge sigh of relief while Karen gets to start thinking about the editing job ahead of her.

I cannot thank you all enough for your contributions to this project. It could never have happened without the help and encouragement from each and every one of you, and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to share this journey with you.



I think you get the idea from these emails that recording with Janis was an extraordinary experience, and I'm hoping to repeat it twice more in 2014 when we do Books II and III.

I'll announce the Kickstarter campaigns here and on Facebook, and remember, for as little as $1 you can become an official supporter and receive our email updates in real time as the recording happens.

To all of you who supported Book I, and to future supporters of Books II and III, thank you so very much for making this project possible. You are true patrons of the arts.