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 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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Posted in academics/professors, architects, archives, bisexuals, gay and lesbian, historic sites, lesbians, parks, same-sex marriage, transgender | Tagged Department of the Interior, historic sites, LGBT history, National Parks Service | 1 Comment »
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?
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 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 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.
It’s LGBT Pride Month, and you will definitely want to take a look at something very cool. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s website features a first-ever Gay Pride Month slideshow with a sampling of designated LGBT historic sites. My book The Queerest Places (1997) is quoted in the entry about Louis Sullivan.
Which is your favorite site? Vote here! I’ll start it off. My fave has to be the Elsie de Wolfe-Bessie Marbury House on E. 17th Street, very close to where I used to live. They were a lesbian power couple if ever there was one — Elsie an interior designer, Bessie a theatrical producer. They called themselves “The Bachelors” — you can read my post about them here.
Today I welcome author Joan Opyr, whose novel Shaken and Stirred has just been released by Bywater Books. Shaken and Stirred is the story of Poppy Koslowski, who is trying to recover from a hysterectomy while her family has other ideas. Poppy is the one with the responsibility to pull the plug on her alcoholic grandfather in North Carolina. So she’s dragged back across the country from her rebuilt life into the bosom of a family who barely notice the old man’s imminent death. “And it’s a comedy,” remarks Joan. “Really. It’s quite funny.”
Considering that Joan Opyr’s first novel was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, this new novel should be a terrific read!
So where does her inspiration come from? Joan told me the queer writer she’d most like to sit down with for a chat is the Bard of Avon himself, William Shakespeare. Here’s Joan:
It doesn’t surprise me that the greatest writer in English, the most deeply kind, funny, and forgiving in his approach to humanity, was a bisexual. Shakespeare was open to the world, to all that it had to offer. And I have no time for the fruitcakes who argue that a glover’s son from Stratford could never have written such tremendous body of work. In truth, you’d have to be a working man or a working woman to understand the broad spectrum of life. Shakespeare was perfectly placed. He knew people from the bottom to the top. And he knew love in all its guises.
Has Shakespeare influenced my writing? It seems obnoxious to say yes, but it’s the truth. You don’t have to compare yourself to Shakespeare to see that knowing his work broadens your perspective, or makes you more aware of language, and how you can use a vocabulary and an accent to sketch out a character. Chaucer did this too, of course, but you asked for queer writers. I like bawdy comedy. I like slapstick and farce. I also like the histories and the tragedies, but I’m not ready to write one of those yet. I’ll need to be a little closer to taking the old dirt nap before I get to tragedy.
Sometimes, I think my story is about addiction and adultery. Other times, I think it’s about bad luck with the Avon lady. And not just one—one I could chalk up to chance. Two rotten Avon ladies feel more like a curse.”
My classic novel, Out of Time, first published in 1990, is being re-issued as an e-book by Bywater Books any minute! History fans will appreciate the blend of past and present in this story about a woman who finds a photo album from the 1920s and is haunted by it … or is she? Take a look at the trailer!