Monday, July 14, 2014

Why you need to attend a GCLS conference if you read lesbian literature

In ancient times, it was common for tribes to split up their members and send them to live in different parts of the territory so that everyone would have plenty of resources to survive.  Once a year however, they would have a meeting of the tribe to reconnect with friends and family, celebrate accomplishments, perform important rituals and make decisions for the coming year.  It occurred to me today, as I began my journey home, that this is exactly what a Golden Crown Literary Society conference is about.  It is a coming together of a tribe.  We meet, we greet, we support, we laugh, we cry.  We hug, we argue and we tease each other.  Most importantly, we learn things about each other, the books and the components of putting them together.
I think this year's conference might be the best one ever.  I don't know if it was by planning or luck, but the sessions seemed to be very seriously planned and they provoked some very interesting discussions about the literature and where it is headed.  There were a lot of new people here and people who don't come very often.  I hope they're encouraged to keep coming after this conference.

The speeches by Ann Bannon (about what she went through to get published) and Lori Lake (about the history of the literature) were particularly effective and reached the crowd.  There was a powerful session where readers spoke out about what they wanted to see in the books.  I was very happy to see that a number of authors attended to hear what we had to say.  KG MacGregor facilitated a panel called "I Wish I'd Written That" that involved Georgia Beers, Katherine Forrest and Karin Kallmaker.  Salem West led a discussion about "Editors' Pet Peeves."  Excellent.

I attended the first half of a class by Lynn Ames and Sandra Moran on researching and writing historical fiction, then had to miss the second half to attend a session on character building given by Linda Kay Silva.  It's a shame they were against each other because every author could have benefited from them.  My sister attended the session about young adult literature offered by Andi Marquette and felt that it was very good.  I took notes on Katherine Forrest's Master Class about what has to be in a manuscript and there was a spirited discussion in the session on the role of tragedy in LGBT novels.  Catherine Wilson gave a commanding explanation how how to market your novel to the mainstream.  She had me convinced it could be done, if you're willing to invest the time.

Other sessions included writing freedom, how to write mysteries and horror stories, create cover art, researching complex issues in government, politics and law and many others.  There were also author chats and author readings.  There were things to engage a variety of people and, while a lot of serious discussion went on, there was plenty of laughter.  There was even a discussion about how to write about food, which I made a point to avoid.

After going through some shaky years, the GCLS seems to be on a firm footing and growing.  More importantly, it appears to be growing into the type of organization that I have advocated for over the years.  A number of the winners of this year's awards gave credit to members of the GCLS who mentored, beta read or edited for them.  They met at the conferences.  There are education programs being offered, online interview shows, and more and more books being nominated from companies and people not associated with the bigger publishers.  Now GCLS is going to make a push to add more diversity of all kinds to the membership.  We need to get those younger people involved.  GCLS can be meaningful for a lot of people.  My sister, who is the niece and sister of lesbians and the mother of a young gay man found Ann Bannon's speech especially meaningful.

GCLS is not cheap to attend.  There's the conference, room, food and other things to pay for, but the members didn't hesitate to dig into their pockets andto raise money to help support the programs and create scholarships.  A number of women attended because of the generosity of other women and even more will be able to do so next year.  It's not just a great learning experience, but where else can you get warm and strong hugs from so many women, many of whom are the authors you enjoy.  One young author said that, because of where she lives, she didn't think she'd ever been in a room with more than two or three lesbians at a time, so seeing 300 of them at once was a life changing experience.

The conference is in New Orleans next year during the last week of July.  That's the lower middle of the country, so most of us are within reach.  I feel pretty safe in saying that, once you attend a conference, you'll wonder why you didn't before.  Come and see if I'm right.

Monday, June 30, 2014

West of Nowhere by KG MacGregor

Publisher:       Bella Books

DisclaimerThere is a character that briefly appears in this story that is named for me.  The character was part of a prize in a charity auction in which KG MacGregor participated.  The only part I played in the production of this book was to ask KG, if she decided to kill off the character, not to make it too horrible.  I’m happy to say the character survives.

West of Nowhere is a romance plus a story about the ability of people to change.  Amber Haliday is an immature twenty-five year old woman who thinks she has found her place with her musician boyfriend, until he dumps her at a truck stop during a tour.  She is rescued by Joy Shepard, a Navy veteran who is on her way home after leaving her daughter Madison with her ex-partner, Madison’s mother.  This is the beginning of the lesbian edition of “The Odd Couple.”

Amber is self-centered, unfocused in her life and careless with herself and other people.  No matter how hard she tries, she can’t be on time or complete a task without making a mistake.  Joy is obsessive about tidiness and follows stringent rules that she imposes on every aspect of her life.  Her redeeming factor is that she’s as hard on herself as she is on other people, but that’s not very comforting to Amber.  Joy intended for Amber to be a momentary intrusion in her life, but, to everyone’s surprise, Amber gets along well with Joy’s father who is an invalid and needs help taking care of himself.  Reluctantly, Joy agrees to hire Amber as a caregiver and everyone’s lives begin to change.

This is a classic story of people who have a lot to teach each other. Joy needs to loosen up and Amber needs discipline.  Their opposite personalities working on each other eventually produce two better people.  Amber, because she is more willing to bend, will show the greatest change; however, she shows her own strength, especially when Joy finds herself involved in a difficult child custody case.

West of Nowhere is an entertaining story.  KG MacGregor knows how to spin her characters so that they aren’t annoying and her craftsmanship is impeccable.  A reader doesn’t have to worry about wasting money when it’s one of her books.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Interview of Sandra Moran on "It's Our Community"

I just finished listening to Sandra Moran's interview on It's Our Community.   If you haven't listened to it, you can find it on You Tube at
It's Our Community - Sandra Moran

Or apparently you can click on this notice since it popped in when I listed the address.  That was a surprise.

I know many of you have read Letters Never Sent and I've just bought it.  Funny, I gave it to a friend for Christmas and didn't get a copy for myself.

Anyway, it's a good interview, but I have a bone to pick with it.  The interviewer and Sandra were talking about books not being pigeon-holed and not wanting to label her book "lesbian" and lose readers.  I agree whole heartedly with that.  In the days when publishers used to label books "lesbian," I argued against that for several reasons.  A good book should be read because it's a good book.  It shouldn't lose readers because of a category.  As I said, I haven't read the book yet, but a lot of you have and have commented on it, so I expect it to be excellent.

The interviewer made the comment though that lesbian publishers aren't needed.  Sandra then said that she hoped the day would come when lesbian literature would be accepted as literature and that alone.  I agree with that, too, but I wish she had made a comment about the publishers.  Some of our publishers haven't done as good a job as others, but we owe them all a debt of gratitude and I think we need to remember that and celebrate it.

I never prowled book counters looking for paperback books in the days of Ann Bannon or Patricia Highsmith.  I'm old enough, but the lights went on later for me, so I missed that experience.  I do remember finding Naiad though and getting the catalog through the mail in its plain brown envelope.  I would pour over the list and order books that came in plain wrappers.  Then I discovered other companies and got their books, too.  Bookstores around my area, the ones that are left, still don't carry lesbian literature except in a very limited version, so I've always had to depend on the publishers.  I have thousands of lesbian books now and I don't think I bought more than a dozen or so of them in a bookstore.  That includes making sure I made a trip to Lambda Rising every time I went near Washington, DC.

I know many authors are now self-publishing and that's fine as long as they do a good job.  A lot of what I see on Amazon looks like junk, but that's my opinion and people are entitled to read what they want.  However, we shouldn't ever forget what the publishers have done and will do for us.  They provided books when no one else would or could.  I suspect they will be needed in the future just as much.  There will be certain types of books (yes, I guess I'm thinking about erotica mainly) that some will want to read that mainstream companies may not be as interested in publishing.  They also still act as a wonderful training place for new authors IF they do their job properly.

I think the interviewer on the show was being very naive to say that we don't need lesbian publishers, for good books or any others.  I'd certainly hate to see that come true.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In This Small Spot by Caren J. Werlinger

Publisher:       Corgyn Publishing

Is it necessary to say anything about a book after the word “Magnificent” is used?  Only if anything else helps to get someone to read this book.  If you read the blurb on the cover, just remember that this is not a book about religion, but about how religion can be one aspect that enriches a person’s life.

In This Small Spot is a powerful story about love, not just of the heart, but of the soul.  It juxtaposes two plot lines, one dealing with the profound love between two people and the other about the equally profound love of a woman for God and the community of women who bring her closer to his will, whatever that may be.

Dr. Michele Stewart suffers a loss that would devastate anyone.  Her partner Alice, her life and her breath, dies young from cancer and leaves Mickey adrift in the world.  Though she is a highly successful surgeon and teacher, with many people who admire and love her, Mickey feels helpless.  She’s lost her anchor and realizes that she is losing the ability not only to connect to others, but to understand herself.  She’s drawn to St. Bridget’s Abbey with the hope that joining the contemplative life will provide her with the peace she needs to reestablish herself.  Mickey is not running away from what happened to her, but towards something more that she hopes she can become.

Mickey is forced to give up her career, possessions and everything, but learns that, when you strip away the facades, you find what is truly in the person.  Things do not always go smoothly.  There are personality conflicts, difficulties with cursing and a powerful temper that needs to be curbed.  With a lot of prayer, her share of penance and some humor, Mickey gradually taps into what Alice loved about her all along; her strength, gentle caring and gigantic heart.  Mickey is one of those people who makes other people better for knowing her and that begins to transform the abbey.  Just as Mickey feels comfortable with her new life, she discovers that the healing she has sought has opened her up to the love for another woman.  That, plus an incident that nearly costs her life, has Mickey reevaluating everything again.

Caren J. Werlinger is emerging as one of the most powerful voices in dramatic lesbian fiction.  Her stories are always different, strong and interesting.  She doesn’t feel the compulsion to write the same story over and over with just a change of names, but comes up with compelling characters with unique stories to tell.  Once you start reading one of her books, it becomes almost impossible to stop reading until the end, even though you keep hoping the book won’t end.  Werlinger weaves a spell with her stories that draws the reader in and won’t let her go.  The reader will wish she knew these people.

Werlinger also shows great confidence in her stories.  She doesn’t write according to a formula and isn’t afraid to include things that some would rather not read.  This is a good place to say that In This Small Place has an appropriate, but sad ending.  Not unhappy, but poignant.  It takes courage for an author to do that when most readers say they want “happily ever after” in each book.  Readers shouldn’t focus on the ending of a book, but on the quality of the experience of reading it.

If you haven’t read any of Caren Werlinger’s books, start here, but don’t let this be the last one you try.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tides by Anne Azel

Publisher:    Bedazzled Ink

It’s unfortunate when a book that has a basically good story is ruined by poor production methods.  With all of the editing programs and qualified editors that are available, there is no excuse for a book that has multiple errors.  The problem diminishes as the book progresses, but the first few chapters are full of mistakes, including misspelled words and words that are missing from the sentences.

Jackie Cunningham is a former TV and press journalist who has reached that point in her life where she can live her life exactly like she wants to.  She’s in her 70s and dying, so she says what she thinks without compromising or worrying about who she upsets.  Before she dies, Jackie has a few things to take care of.  She wants to make sure that her niece Paula, Paula’s partner and their child are set up comfortably in the home that Jackie owns on the coast of Newfoundland.  She’s also willing to take care of the rest of the family if they’ll just leave her alone.

The story is told in alternating scenes from Jackie’s early life and the present.  Because of the time in which the book is set, Jackie is not out as a lesbian most of her life, but that didn’t keep her from having a full and healthy sexual life; however, her real partners were the adventures she had and the adrenaline rush she got from them.  She avoids her real partner to dash around the world after stories.  This creates another problem with the book in that it reads like a listing of famous historical events in the twentieth century.  Instead of developing any of the experiences completely to show Jackie’s character, it’s almost like listening to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” where incidents are spewed forth so quickly, most of them aren’t heard, much less understood.  It seems that Azel is creating a record of the century rather than trying to tell a story.

Few of the characters are very interesting, though the end of Jackie’s life is fun.  As the family circles like vultures, she derives great pleasure from setting up an oceanographic institute for Paula and showing her obvious favor for Paula’s family.  It’s also clear that she is somewhat jealous of the freedom that Paula feels in today’s world.  The reader will easily imagine Jackie wondering what her life would have been like if the attitudes towards homosexuals had been different.

Tides could have been a much better book with a little more time and a great deal more detail to how it was published.  As it is, it comes off as OK, not terribly offensive, but not outstanding either.  Azel has certainly done better in the past.

The publisher is aware of the problem with some of the books and has promised to replace any of them that are flawed if the reader contacts the company.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chris Anne Wolfe's work

I was contacted by the person who is trying to have Chris Anne Wolfe's stories reissued and I asked her to send me something that I could share with you.  If you like fantasy stories and haven't read Wolfe's work, you should give it a try.  Unfortunately, she passed away a few years ago, but she left some terrific stories behind.
The Lost Works of Chris Anne Wolfe
Two Amazons of Aggar Books and Others Discovered
by Beloved Lesbian/Feminist Author

Port Orchard, Washington
September 2013

After more than ten years of being sealed safely away, the nearly 7,000 pages of “lost writings” by lesbian/feminist author Chris Anne Wolfe (Shadows of Aggar, Roses & Thorns, et al) are being organized, transcribed, and prepared for publication by a small team of passionate volunteers.

“Fans would write or call and ask when the next Aggar book would be released. For the longest time, we had no idea what to tell them,” explains Jennifer DiMarco, one of three staff of Amazons Unite, a not-for-profit formed exclusively to publish Wolfe’s books. “The fans didn’t even know there are actually two more Aggar books plus a dozen other novels.”

Amazons Unite has already made huge progress, publishing new editions of Annabel & I, Roses & Thorns, and even Shadows of Aggar and Fires of Aggar. The first two Aggar books feature full-color interior illustrations by Skye Montague, who came to know Wolfe’s work through Amazons Unite. “There’s an entirely new generation of lesbian readers waiting to discover Chris Anne Wolfe and her Amazons and Shadows,” Skye offers. “Getting all her books into the hands of readers is our ultimate goal.”

Since Wolfe’s books tend to be lengthy (Shadows of Aggar is over 100,000 words), Amazons Unite is keeping costs down by releasing editions exclusively as ebooks for the Kindle and iOS through Rebecca Fitzgerald, the third volunteer at Amazons Unite, says, “We’re not pricing any of the editions higher than $4.99. We want everyone to be able to enjoy these adventures.”

Fans new and old are encouraged to help crowd-fund the endeavor and learn more about the “lost writings” online and at Facebook.

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