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The-Ada-Decades

Available from Bywater Books

My fourth novel, The Ada Decades, will be hitting bookstores in a few weeks, and to say I’m excited is an understatement. Not only is it my first published novel in 20 years, but it’s also a love letter to lesbian history of the not-so-distant past – one that has been brewing in me for quite a while.

Years ago, I attended a queer history workshop with the great gay historian Allan Berube (Coming Out Under Fire), in which he asked participants to imagine how we would have met lovers if we lived in a different, more closeted era. The gay men said they would have gone to parks or other public spaces; the lesbians among us mentioned schools, colleges, and libraries. It made sense to me – lesbians love books, right?

Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the question of how lesbians found friends and lovers in the past. Some famous couples you may know met in decidedly literary ways: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, co-founders of Daughters of Bilitis, met working at a publishing house; Willa Cather and Edith Lewis crossed paths after they both published stories in the same women’s magazine; and Sylvia Beach admired Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop in Paris and wandered in to introduce herself. In a similar vein, I decided to make my protagonist in The Ada Decades a librarian in North Carolina, and the woman she falls in love with is a junior high school English teacher with a penchant for the work of Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun) and Lillian Smith (Strange Fruit).

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Lorraine Hansberry

Over the next few weeks on this site, I’m going to roll out some of the real places associated with the characters in my book – like the mill community where Ada grew up, one of the first schools in Charlotte  to be integrated, and the picturesque town of Davidson, N.C. You might even get to see the pickup truck that Ada and Cam’s gay friend Twig drives. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

In the meantime, The Ada Decades is available exclusively on the Bywater Books website until March 14, when it becomes available everywhere.

 

 

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Gladys Bentley

For your reading pleasure, Buzzfeed brings you “17 Badass Historical LGBT Women Who Absolutely Gave No Fucks.” I love Gladys Bentley! Who is your favorite on this list?

The Ada Decades

I have a new LGBT-themed historical novel, The Ada Decades, coming out in March 2017, which takes place in North Carolina against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. Check out the press release from my publisher, Bywater Books.

paulamartinac.com

If you follow this site, head on over to my newly redesigned author website, paulamartinac.com, for news about my historical fiction and events where I’ll be appearing. That site also features a blog about all things literary. Hope to see you there!

Today “The Queerest Places” is a scheduled stop on the blog hop of two intrepid publishers of lesbian-themed literature – Bywater Books and Ylva Publishing. I’m up after Marianne K. Martin, who’s a hard act to follow. Her novel, Tangled Roots, was one of my favorite books of last year, and if you love historical fiction you can get lost in, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. I can’t wait for her forthcoming novel set during World War II, The Liberators of Willow Run.

Bywater Books published the e-book edition of my first novel, Out of Time, in 2012; it had gone out of print, and now has a new life, thanks to them. They’ll be bringing out my new work of fiction, The Ada Decades, early next year. The book already has a fantastic cover design by Ann McMan (a talented novelist when she’s not designing beautiful covers).

The-Ada-Decades

The Ada Decades will be the first novel I’ve published since Chicken in 1997. It wasn’t that I didn’t write anything in the past 20 years, but I split my writing time between journalism and plays, and just resumed writing fiction a few years ago.

When I did, a funny thing happened: The character Ada Jane Shook appeared in a story I was working on about a man from Pittsburgh with dementia. She was very much like an elderly woman I see on walks in my neighborhood, an old cotton-mill community in Charlotte, NC. Ada was unlike anyone I’d written about before: a native North Carolinian (which I am not), a retired junior high school librarian (ditto), and a devout Methodist (ditto x 2). At first I thought she was a heterosexual widow, but she quickly set me “straight,” and I got to know her life partner, Cam Lively, too. As I delved into their lives, The Ada Decades emerged.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m a little obsessed with the lives of lesbians from the past. The question of how women in other historical time periods – without the benefit of women’s bars, Pride parades, lesbian conferences or anything we now take for granted – met and built lives together is one that occupies a good deal of space in my writing imagination. I once read an interview with the great Mabel Hampton, who met her partner, Lillian Foster, at a bus stop in 1932. A freakin’ bus stop! In 1932! Wouldn’t you love to know what they said to each other? That bus stop should have its own historic site designation.

So here’s my elevator speech about The Ada Decades, just to whet your appetite:

A girl from a Carolina mill family isn’t supposed to strive for a career, but Ada Shook graduates from college on a scholarship and lands a plum job as a school librarian. The South rocks with turbulence in the 1950s, and Ada finds herself caught in the ugly fight to integrate the Charlotte public schools. At the same time, she makes friends with Cam Lively, a teacher who challenges her to re-examine her narrow upbringing. The two young women fall in love and throw in their lot together, despite their underlying fear of being found out and fired.

Over seven decades, Ada is witness to the racism laced through her Southern city; the paradox of religion as both comfort and torment; and the survival networks created by gay people. Ten interconnected short stories cover the sweep of one woman’s personal history as she reaches her own form of Southern womanhood – compassionate, resilient, principled, lesbian.

You’ll have to wait until this time next year to pick up a copy of The Ada Decades. In the meantime, check out the re-issue of Out of Time or enjoy some of the other wonderful authors in the Bywater and Ylva families. Next stop on the blog hop is Eve Francis, whose new novel, Fragile, has just been released by Ylva. Congrats, Eve!

 

This week, LGBT history was ready for its close-up when the National Parks Service (NPS) of the Department of the Interior brought together 16 history scholars – myself included – for the launch of an LGBT initiative on June 10. This was a personal thrill for me, getting to hang with colleagues like pioneer gay historian John D’Emilio and to chat about same-sex marriage with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

Two immediate goals of the LGBT initiative over the next 18 months are to increase the number of LGBT site listings on the National Register of Historic Places and to nominate sites for the more rigorous National Historic Landmarks program, or to amend current designations.

Currently, we have just one landmark – the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan – and four sites on the National Register: Frank Kameny’s home in Washington, DC; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island; the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT; and the Carrington House on Fire Island.

Considering the richness and breadth of LGBT history in this country, that’s far too few. And in addition, these sites are all very heavily East Coast-centric and “G.” What about the L, B and T? Where are our sites in California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida, and all the other states? Who are the people and what are the events that shaped LGBT history and civil rights in the Heartland or in the Deep South? Put your thinking caps on, folks!

The confab of scholars was a call to all of us to dig in and contribute. LGBT people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco – we are, literally, everywhere and always have been. The NPS is looking for public input and comments on the initiative, which you can give by heading over to the dedicated website for this project or emailing lgbthistory@nps.gov.

Don’t be afraid to suggest sites that you think have a place on the National Register or to bring attention to LGBT local history projects in your town or city that may be interested in contributing to this historic drive for the visibility of our heritage. Or, if you prefer, email me at queerestplace [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass your suggestions along.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. June 10 was a moving day and I am still on a “history high” realizing that the work queer historians have been doing for years is finally getting the spotlight and recognition it deserves.

???????????????????????????????Don’t you just love June? This month, I am very excited to be taking part with 17 other LGBT historians/scholars at a roundtable put together by the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service to identify more queer sites for the National Register of Historic Sites. Last week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell launched the initiative at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Stay tuned here for more updates on this groundbreaking and, quite frankly, historic project.

This month, I’m especially happy because my home state of Pennsylvania just got marriage rights and my partner of 22 years and I will finally be getting hitched on June 18. Marriage is so new here that Katie had to apply for the license as the groom and I’m the bride. No tux and gown for us, though – just quick and dirty at the office of the magisterial district judge (what we call our “justice of the peace” here in Pittsburgh), who, coincidentally, is openly gay.

Speaking of marriage, thanks to writer Mala Kumar for tagging me for a blog chain, in which different lesbian writers talk about their process. Mala’s the author of the forthcoming novel “The Paths of Marriage,” which is due out this fall from Bedazzled Ink Books, about three generations of Indian women. I can’t wait to read it!

Now here are my thoughts on writing:

What am I working on?

I’m in the process of moving from Pittsburgh, Pa. to Charlotte, N.C., so my life is in chaos (to put it mildly) and I haven’t had any time to write. I’m looking forward to setting up my new home office when we hit the Tar Heel State and getting back to work on an unnamed novel that takes place both in the present and back in the 1950s, about two women who rendezvous every year at a women’s summer camp in upstate New York – think “Brokeback Mountain” on Lake George. Other projects include a memoir about the year I took care of my parents, both of whom had dementia at the same time.

How does my work differ from others of this genre?

I’m always interested in the interplay of past and present, and my writing reflects that. How does what happened in the past affect who we are today? I’m also really fascinated by physical places and strive to transform them into characters in my work. So in my novel, “Out of Time,” recently re-released as an e-book by Bywater Books, Manhattan isn’t just the setting – it becomes an integral part of the story-telling. Even in my memoir, the house where I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh is a major character. To learn more about my fiction writing, please visit www.paulamartinac.com.

Why do I write what I do?

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Me and my dad, 1958

I grew up with a profound interest in history, inherited from my dad – one of my earliest memories is going with him to salvage bricks from the neighborhood where he grew up, which was being bulldozed to build a new highway. Not long after that, I started writing fiction and have been at it for more than 50 years. Over the course of time, the two passions – history and writing – have co-mingled, so that now I can’t imagine writing fiction that doesn’t reflect on where people have come from.

How does my writing process work?

It’s not much of a process – I make myself sit down and I do it! It helps to have a writing group that keeps me honest. I sign up to share my work and then voilà – I have a built-in deadline. And as a person who’s made a living as a journalist, I’ve very, very good with deadlines. I’ve never been one for coffee-shop writing or writing “dates” with friends; I prefer the quiet of my home office. The writing progresses slowly in the beginning – 3 or 4 pages at a time, with lots of false starts – until I get really into it, and then it begins flowing more freely.

And now, up next, I would like to introduce you to two fantastic novelists – both mystery writers, a favorite genre of mine. I had the pleasure of spending time with Minnesotans Jessie Chandler and Ellen Hart at the Camp Rehoboth Women’s FEST in April, and I am thrilled to be able to showcase them here. They’ll be giving their answers to the same questions next week on their social media sites, so stay tuned!

 

Jessie ChandlerJESSIE CHANDLER is the award-winning author of the Shay O’Hanlon Caper series. She lives in Minneapolis, MN with her partner and two mutts, Fozzy Bear and Ollie. In the fall and winter, Jessie writes like her pants are on fire, and spends her summers selling assorted trinkets to unsuspecting conference and festival goers.

The first book in Jessie’s series, “Bingo Barge Murder,” won the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award. Her second novel, “Hide and Snake Murder,” won an Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) and a Golden Crown Mystery/Thriller Goldie Award. Visit Jessie online at jessiechandler.com or at her blog, mysteriouslymurderousmusings.wordpress.com.

 

Ellen HartELLEN HART is the author of thirty-one crime novels in two different series.  She is a five-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, a three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award in several categories, a recipient of the Alice B Medal, and was made an official GLBT Literary Saint at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans in 2005.   In 2010, Ellen received the GCLS Trailblazer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of lesbian literature.  For the past seventeen years, Ellen has taught “An Introduction to Writing the Modern Mystery” through the The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation. Ellen’s newest Jane Lawless mystery, “Taken by the Wind,” was released by St. Martin’s/Minotaur in October, 2013.  “The Old Deep and Dark,” the 22nd in the series, will be released in the fall of 2014. Ellen lives in the Twin Cities with her partner of 36 years. Visit her online at http://www.ellenhart.com.