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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?

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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!

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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!

 

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???????????????????????????????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?

Daddy_58

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.

 

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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.”

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My guest today is Hilary Sloin, author of the new novel Art on Fire, which is due out from Bywater Books at any minute. I personally can’t wait to read it.

Art on Fire is the apparent biography of subversive painter Francesca deSilva, the founding foremother of “pseudorealism,” who lived hard and died young. But in the tradition of Vladimir Nabokov’s acclaimed novel Pale Fire, it’s a fiction from start to finish. It opens with Francesca’s early life. We learn about her childhood love, the chess genius Lisa Sinsong, as well as her rivalry with her brilliant sister Isabella, who publishes an acclaimed volume of poetry at the age of twelve. She compensates for the failings of her less than attentive parents by turning to her grandmother, who is loyal and adoring until she learns Francesca is a lesbian, when she rejects her. Francesca flees to a ramshackle cabin in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, working weekends at the flea market. She breaks into the gloomy basement of a house, where she begins her life as a painter. Much to her confusion and even dismay, fame comes quickly. Art on Fire is a darkly comic, pitch-perfect, and fearless satire on the very art of biography itself.

If you’d like to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Art on Fire, leave a comment here about what excites you about this book and why you, too, can’t wait to read it. A winner will be drawn at random.

And now, some thoughts from Hilary about her writing process:

 

To be quite honest, I am something of a dilettante. If I had lived in Victorian England, people might have rolled their eyes when speaking of me and said I was subject to “enthusiasms.” Or I might have been a witch burned at the stake for being a little excitable. Sometimes I give up writing altogether and take up something else with fervor—for a while it was painting, for years it was music; these days, I am obsessed with finding and restoring antiques. There have been many phases in my life, but always I return to writing of some sort. Ultimately I can’t fight the fact that I need it like I need food and air. My friends all think I am very disciplined because I work all day from very early in the morning at whichever enthusiasm I am currently ruled by. Truth is, I am keeping the meaninglessness away. And nothing keeps meaninglessness away like writing, which, when I am doing it, I can do around the clock. Even when I don’t hold pen to paper, I stare off into space and think about my characters, imagine them walking across the room, lying down to bed. While I walk my dog I hear them talking. I see them sitting opposite one another with nothing to say or with everything to say but too frightened or angry to say it.

 

The one thing that holds true with everything I write—and finish—is that I fall in love with what I am working on, whether it be the story, the place, or the characters. Ideally, all of the above holds me sway. With Art on Fire, which was my first attempt at a novel after many years of writing plays and stories, I fell in love first with Isabella, the protagonist’s mentally ill and acutely intelligent sister.  Isabella is so much smarter and wittier than I have ever proved to be and, of course, this fascinates me.  How can I create a character who surpasses me by leaps and bounds? Soon I fell in love with Francesca, too, but that was for entirely different reasons: I had created my dream lover: a cowboy in girl’s clothing, the one who cannot be possessed, who oozes with the need to express herself but cannot. And again, I was fascinated because to this day I am still not sure whether Francesca’s paintings were any good or whether, as some of the critics in the book postulated, she was simply in the right place at the right time, an icon of pop culture. I fell in love with Evelyn Horowitz, Francesca and Isabella’s terribly human grandmother, because she is basically my grandmother and every time I read the chapters where she appears I cry, missing my own Gram all over again. And then there is Lisa Sinsong, who bears all the tragedy and much of the poetry of the story, who is victim to family legacy in a way that seemed to me to be inevitable in this particular book. How could I not love and want to save her?  I was able to write Art on Fire because it held my attention. It made me laugh and cry as I was writing it. Sometimes I just sat back, took a drag of my cigarette, and felt very good about creativity and that it was the one constant in my life. Like all things that come from the heart, it is a flawed product, but it breathes and pulsates and that is the kind of writing I seek out. Anything else fails to hold my attention. I hope this book will hold yours.

 

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My guest this week is Cynn Chadwick, whose new novel Angels and Manners is about two women with nothing in common but their financial situation and Section 8 housing. Working class mum Carrie Angel is busting a gut to finish her carpentry certification so she can build a home for herself and her two teenaged sons. Middle-class Jen Manners has divorced, forcing her and her resentful daughter from their comfortable, suburban lifestyle into subsidized housing. Jen’s decade-old Lit degree and lack of work history send her into a system she thought reserved for a different class of woman than herself.

A Bywater Books author and digital publisher, Cynn was born and raised in New Jersey but has lived in the South for over 20 years. She’s best known for her Cat Rising series, which have all made appearances in the short lists of the Lambda Literary Awards. A claim to fame is that a book of hers was rejected 181 times (but she’s not telling which one it is).

At the end of this post you can read the first paragraph of Angels and Manners and enter a drawing to win an e-book copy by leaving a comment about why you’d like one. And now … he-e-ere’s Cynn!

If you were a book, what would it be and why?
 Pippi Long Stocking… She probably captures my essence – still, 50-odd years later.

What made you write your last book?
 I pretty much wrote Cutting Loose like Stevie Wonder at the keyboard, eyes closed and taking dictation.

Why would a reader love your book?
 I think readers want to cheer for characters, I like to think I make cheer-able characters.

When did you decide to be a writer? 
When I was four.

What’s your most humiliating moment as a writer? 
I showed up for a reading in Tampa and only one person came… the bookstore owner, the “audience of one” and I drank wine and chatted, so it wasn’t horrible… but… yes, humiliating.

When, where and how do you write?
 My home office, on a computer, when the story calls.

What’s the best thing a reviewer said about your last book?  The best thing said about Angels and Manners was said by a fan: ”As a single mother who raised two kids alone, I want to thank you for writing my story, my kids’ story, and the story of so many of us today…”

What writers do you admire most?
 All the “Southerns”: Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, Smith, Ehle; my “boys”: Russo, King, Carver, TC Boyle, Gaiman; of late, Kate Morton with The Forgotten Garden, as well as Kate Atkinson, Gillian Flynn, and Tana French.

Did you learn anything useful when you studied writing?
 No….yes. From my mentor, the author Sarah Schulman who read the first draft of Cat Rising and told me that only 50 of my 250 pages were viable and if I didn’t fix that: “Your Novel Will FAIL” (she was right) and ”Simplicity equals Elegance” (she was right).

What are you working on now? 
I have three projects: “Cutting Loose”  #4 in the Cat Rising Series will be released this coming spring 2013 by Napping Porch Press. ”Then Came Jake” should be coming out in 2014. I am currently working on a collection of short stories and essays called “Where I Live, Folks Know How to Act Right,” which will probably be an ebook exclusive, also in 2014.

First paragraph of Angels and Manners:

Carrie stopped at the threshold to the Mediation Center. Standing on the far side of the room with his back to her was Dill, her ex-husband, looking through a magazine. She could see the pages flipping between his outstretched hands. He was slouched; his head tilted into his lean. She had seen the same pose in their son Casper when he was lost in thought. Dill’s hair curled over his collar and was much longer than when she had met him—a lifetime ago—with his Air Force buzz cut. He had gone a little paunchy around the middle, love handles easing over his jeans. She would recognize that mannered posture anywhere. Seeing him like this—unawares—conjured the image of that boy she had met one dismal night in a musty tavern where she was tending bar.

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