My Life

If You Don’t Truly Love Yourself…

For many years now, I’ve been a big proponent of body positivity, health at any size, and loving yourself no matter what. I’ve been at the forefront of fat activism with a kind of in-your-face like me or fuck off kind of attitude.

But something happened in the past two years that has, in a way, eroded a lot of my self-work in regards to my relationship with my body. I fell in love for the first time with someone who wholly and irrevocably loves my body, heart, soul, mind. Not in a fetishist sort of way, and also, not in a “well, I love your heart, so I’ll deal with the body” kind of way. I mean my wife unabashedly adores me, loves me, lusts for me, and respects me in a no holds barred, all of me for all of you kind of way.

That’s the best feeling in the world.

And – also…

For some reason, it has really triggered all of the buried self-hatred that I thought I had dealt with so many years ago. I’ve spent so much more time being disgusted by my body over the past two years than I had previously in a decade. And it’s really only within the past few months that I’ve been able to pinpoint why and start working out of it.

For years, I was either single or, more often than not, dating someone who had hangups about my body. There were the blatant fat-shaming ones. There was the one who seemed to be okay with my body, but then would ask friends who were with big women, “How do you deal with this size thing?” There were those who claimed to love me as is but didn’t really ever look at me or reach for me.

And in parsing it out with my wife a few months ago, I realized that I was body positive in defense. I was dealing with not only the messages from the outside world, from the memories of my parents fat-shaming me, from doctors berating me, from people on airplanes shoving me, from strangers in the street calling me names, I was also dealing with it in what was supposed to be my safe space – my relationships.

And so the self-work that started when I quit smoking and skyrocketed when I left my decade-long, toxic relationship was thrown into overdrive. You’re not going to love me so I’m going to love myself harder and show you what a more evolved and better person I am than you. I don’t think anything like that was ever in the front of my mind, but it does make sense. In the same way that I found it so easy to complete P90X, an uber hard 90-day workout program because my partner at the time was so scornful of it. It was what my friend Nikki calls oppositional defiance disorder.

I had friends who loved me as is and that helped. I counseled other women on body image issues and that helped. I could see through the veil of patriarchy that profits on women hating themselves and that helped. And also…

I remember calling my friend SSML one day after an ex told me I couldn’t blame her for having moments of hatred toward my body. After all, she had to live in a society that gave off the message that fat = ugly. Fat = lazy. Fat = gross. Fat = sexless. And if she had to live in that world, how could I blame her for sometimes having those thoughts? SSML, true to form had gone on a rant of epic proportions about it not being my fault that the person hadn’t done the self-work to get past her own misogyny and patriarchal bullshit.

And I hung up the phone feeling righteous and strong. Because, as SSML reminded me, I’m an Amazon and I show up. That’s what I do.

And then I met my wife. And I suddenly knew what a safe space really was. And I realized that all of the times I was filled with uncertainty and indecision about relationships was because I wasn’t in a safe space at all. And then I was and somehow, the feeling of being completely accepted, cherished even, gave me room to unpack the decades of buried hatred and insecurity.

I remember the day I told her my weight. Said the number. And cried and shook and waited for her to freak out. She just hugged me and said, “There’s nothing different than there was before you told me.” She said, “How is this different than me telling you that thing I never told anyone?” Everyone thinks their own shame is so different, so much worse. I remember giving a self-love workshop to close to 100 women once. At the end of it, I said, “Who here now thinks that the people in this group are carrying shame about things that aren’t really shameful?” They all raised their hands. “Now, who here still thinks your own issue is so much more shameful than everyone else’s?” Again with all the hands.

The truth is we all have shame around something. And unpacking it is the only way to get rid of it. Sometimes that unpacking means talking to a therapist. Sometimes it means sharing it with a friend. And sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, “I hate this about myself” and letting someone acknowledge that it’s okay for you to hate that, but to let you know that they don’t.

It has been a learning experience, going back through all that old baggage I thought I’d gotten rid of long ago. My wife has some of her own body image issues and we’ve held each other through them, working them out with grace, acceptance, and unconditional love.

It reminds me of that stupid phrase  – If you don’t love yourself, you can’t truly love anyone else. You know what? That’s bullshit. It’s just another form of shaming people who feel broken from the society that broke us in the first place.

You absolutely can love and be loved when you aren’t truly in love with yourself. In fact, I’d venture to say we love even deeper.

If there’s something you hate about yourself or something that you feel shame around – find someone to talk to. Sometimes, the simple act of saying it aloud is the first step to throwing it away.

 

 

 

 

My Life

Cooperation, Unexpected Turn-ons, and One Night Stand.

 

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I’ve recently been thinking a lot about cooperation and connection. I’ve long been a proponent of cooperation in the lesfic community. I often share book links and blogs for other lesbian writers. I believe that the only way we can thrive as a community is for us all to help each other, rather than taking a me and mine attitude. I support women and I try to surround myself with women who support me.

With that in mind, it’s been fun lately to spread that spirit of connection and cooperation beyond the lesfic community. When my friend Elizabeth Anderson insisted I go to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, I was blessed to meet some incredible male authors. I have a reading event with one of them next weekend.

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And today, I’m featuring the blog of the bitingly brilliant, sarcastically witty, charmingly sexy Lewis DeSimone. His book, Channeling Morgan, can be found here.  (My wife sat on the couch and chortled while reading this book.)

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the musings of Lewis DeSimone:

 

A Nightstand I Never Expected to Be On

By Lewis DeSimone

 

Novelists are like parents: once you send your baby out into the world, you never know where it’s going to end up.

A lesbian couple I knew kept a copy of my first novel, Chemistry, in their guest room, with a bookmark stuck in the middle of the hottest sex scene. They claimed that their guests—mostly other lesbians—loved it. I’ve heard that straight women are often into gay romance, and even gay porn—as a means, I suppose, of enjoying male sexuality without the danger and complications that often come with straight men.

But lesbians? I wondered. Why would they want to read about sex between men? One of my first lesbian friends told me that lesbians have hot sex for one night and herbal tea for nine years. With numbers like that, why on earth would they want to waste an ounce of sexual energy on men?

Before the knives come out, this is all tongue in cheek (so to speak). I long ago learned that lesbian bed death is a myth. A couple of episodes of The L Word were enough to shatter that stereotype.

On the other hand, I won’t deny that Chemistry plays right into stereotypes of my own community. To put it bluntly, my first novel is riddled with sex. But that’s kind of the point. It’s the story of a sexual awakening, focused on a character who heals a broken heart by opening himself up sexually. Sex is one of the ways he discovers who he is, so I wasn’t about to be coy with it and end scenes with a description of waves crashing to shore. Instead, I freely showed bodies crashing into each other.

My subsequent work isn’t all that sexy. I like to joke that my latest novel, Channeling Morgan, is the only one in which nobody dies. But it’s also the only one in which there’s no cameo appearance by a penis.

You could say I’ve matured. Or that my testosterone level—even in fiction—isn’t quite what it used to be.

But maybe it’s just that some books need sex and others don’t.

Sex is messy and confusing and, above all, unpredictable. I googled this question, don’t you worry. But, like a lot sex, none of the hypotheses I found was fully satisfying. There is no unifying theory of everything when it comes to sexuality. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, sex is sex. And, just as you can’t really predict who you’re going to be attracted to, you can’t always be sure which depictions of sex will turn you on, either. That’s why there are so many subgenres of porn: one gay site I know of has dozens of categories, from “Amateurs” to “Voyeur.”

So who knows why a lesbian would get turned on my book? Who knows why I got turned on by seeing Blue Is the Warmest Color? Who knows why I love asparagus but hate artichokes? (I mean that literally, by the way. It wasn’t until I’d already typed out the sentence that I realized the sexual imagery. See what I mean? Sex is everywhere and nowhere at once.)

And that woman with the herbal tea? I met her at an AIDS service organization in Boston in the late 1980s. When I was just coming out, into a community with two kinds of people: the dying and the terrified. And lesbians, with only minimal threat from the epidemic, were at the forefront in fighting it.

In the end, it’s love that turns you on.

 

 

Lewis’ website

(Just in case you want to buy the sex-filled book.) Chemistry 

 

My Life

Ten Things About Me

  1. I just released my sixth book, Coming Around Again, through Sapphire Books Publishing.
  2. I have an old man dog named Brutus. He has diabetes and I give him a shot twice a day to keep him healthy and happy. brutie and gordo
  3. Gordo is the cat. He rules the house. In the mornings, he reminds me to open the blinds by yanking the slats apart with his paw. I have broken blinds, but I don’t sit in darkness all day.
  4. I have depression. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to affect my life at all. Sometimes, it means I spend the whole day on the verge of tears, trying not to cry, even though there is nothing sad happening at that moment. Sometimes it means my chest hurts and I have anxiety that seems to fill my entire body and I can’t get rid of it no matter what I do.
  5. I married my soulmate. It’s the kind of relationship we’ve both always dreamed of but didn’t think it was possible to have. She never thought she was worth it and I didn’t think it existed. She is and it does.
  6. I’m naturally lazy and completely unmotivated. I am also a grad student getting my second Master’s, an adjunct instructor with three classes, an online instructor of craft of writing for a non-profit writing academy, the Director of Education for Golden Crown Literary Society, an author, and one of three admins of a 15,000 member women’s networking group in Lansing, MI. I could happily sit on my ass all day and do nothing. Instead, I make detailed to-do lists in half-hour blocks and weekly and monthly to-do lists with deadlines, assignments, student grading blocks, answering emails, etc. I even schedule time to clean the kitchen and make meals. I think I’m happier when I’m doing things. (FYI – my lists are ambitious and I rarely finish all of them.)
  7. I have a Patreon page. So far, I have 14 patrons. Some are fans of my work – others are just fans of me. It isn’t a charity thing, though. It’s exchange for exchange. Some of my supporters pay a mere 2 dollars a month and get access to short stories no one else will see, sneak previews of works in progress, rejected book cover ideas, videos of readings, and general writing process stuff. You can look at it here. 
  8. I don’t know how or when, but I really want to get my PhD.
  9. I just started doing P90X3, the workout program and my butt hurts right now.
  10. I believe in community and connection and I think we thrive when we have it. I value the groups to which I belong, especially the Golden Crown Literary Society for helping me to foster those relationships.
My Life

GCLS Conference

joy and beth at con 2018My partner and I got married two days before conference, so the whole thing was kind of like a working honeymoon. Despite that, the Golden Crown Literary Society this year felt like a homecoming. Perhaps that sounds odd, with over 100 new people this year, but it felt intimate, loving, and welcoming.

We had a diverse crowd, different ages, different races. It was wonderful to see so many young people. The board is getting old (I mean that lovingly – I’m part of the board) and we need young, fresh minds to shake things up for us and keep us relevant.

beth readingI read from my soon to be released novel, Coming Around Again. Incidentally, my publisher had copies of the book at the conference as an early bonus and it sold out. I’m sure it had nothing to do with me promising to write naughty things in the books that people bought.

The writing academy was a shining star this year. The whole 2018 graduating class was there and they were amazing. Such a great group of talented and smart women. I was proud of them in every way. The WA also donated a free year’s tuition to the GCLS raffle and it was won by a woman who had been in the writing academy presentation, excitedly asking lots of questions. I have a feeling she is going to do great things.

The GCLS board works tirelessly to put on this event. (Okay, not tirelessly – we are all exhausted.) This is a labor of love as the board is all-volunteer. We all put so much time and effort into bringing the best conference experience to every participant. And our reward, other than the happy faces and awesome hugs, is coming back and doing it all again for next year.

I hope to see a huge crowd in Pittsburgh next year. We just keep getting better every year and I can’t wait to see how incredible the next one will be.

 

 

Fiction Writing

Karelia Stetz-Waters – Guest Post

Karelia is one of my favorite people. She is a brilliant writer, yes – but she also has that incredible ability to teach people how to be brilliant writers. (Or at least, better writers than they were before she taught them.)

I’ve learned a lot every time I have taken a workshop by Karelia and I’m excited that she agreed to guest blog on my page this month. Please take a look at her blog and check out her books. You will not be disappointed. You can find her website here. 

 

A long journey is a million baby steps.

Four Ways to a Good Character

By Karelia Stetz-Waters

My creative writing students were working on character development. They called out ideas. I wrote on the board as fast as I could. Then we stopped and looked at our work.

“These are all traits we don’t like,” one student said.

“It’s harder to write good people, isn’t it?” I said. “Think about someone good. Describe them.”

I immediately thought of Beth Burnett. If you don’t know her, hold out your virtual hand and shake hers because you won’t meet a kinder, cooler member of our community.

And that’s why I’m so honored to write a guest post for her blog.

I write romance novels. Romance novels are all about good people. Write a thriller—I’ve written a few—and you can load up on serial killers like chicken wings at the KFC buffet. And that’s fun, but good people are better. We have to love our protagonists. Then, in my opinion, every protagonist must have at least one good friend. Then you need a place that’s almost a character itself. Someplace beautiful. Someplace your readers want to go. (I nailed it with my Out in Portland series. Apparently Portland is the seventh most moved-to city in American!)

“So how do we write a good character?” another student asked.

I love teaching creative writing because the students ask the questions I want to answer.

I have four traits, that make a character good.

Good characters care. They care about something bigger than themselves. They care about justice or animals or hungry children or the mill workers who got laid off. In my upcoming romance, a closeted TV star worries about coming out, not because she cares about losing her job, but because she’s worried about all the people who have taken comfort in her show. She doesn’t want them to think that all those years were a lie.

Good characters honor their debts. I mean debts with a capital D, debts like the debts in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not enough just to care. Good characters act with compassion.

Good characters strive. It’s our responsibility to try to reach our full potential. Now some characters’ full potential is like my full potential for going to the gym—I bought a membership in January, and I still haven’t gone, but tomorrow…. As challenging as things are, good characters do everything they can do in this moment. After all, a long journey is a million baby steps.

Good characters see the world in a new way. A likable character shows us the beautiful world in a way we haven’t seen before.

And here’s the thesis, class. The most important character is you.

I hope I’m good. I know I care about you, whoever you are, reading this in your living-room or on your phone on the subway. I’m thinking about where you’re going and what you’ll face today. I’m thinking about how many good people there are in the world and how I’d like to gather you all up in my arms.

Leave a comment and tell us what makes you uniquely good.

 

***

Waters_WorththeWait_Cover

Karelia’s next novel, Worth the Wait, comes out June 19th.

For fifteen years, Avery Crown tried to forget her best friend Merritt Lessing. The late nights studying, the whispered confidences, and the little touches that never turned into something more. Unfortunately, her efforts have not been as successful as her TV career as the queen of home renovation. So when she runs into Merritt at their high school reunion, Avery asks for one night with the woman she’s always wanted…

Merritt spent high school pining after Avery, but never made a move—their friendship meant too much. The one time it seemed things might change, Avery chose her budding career. So Merritt did the same, throwing herself into her remodeling business. Now Avery’s back, and while Merritt still hasn’t forgiven her for walking away the first time, they can’t keep their hands off each other. But when their professional paths cross, and it seems like Avery is choosing her career once again, Merritt will have to decide if she’s willing to let go of the past and give herself a second chance with her first love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life

Scholarship opportunity for young women writers of color

I am the Director of Education for the esteemed non-profit organization The Golden Crown Literary Society. I love being part of this group because GCLS has been instrumental in supporting so many writers and readers of lesbian fiction. (They were there for me when I published my first book, welcoming me with open arms.)

The GCLS Writing Academy is entering its fifth year and we are so pleased to be able to offer a new scholarship. The Bridge Builder Scholarship is open to young women writers of color who are interested in writing within the woman-loving-woman genre.

 

This is an amazing learning opportunity for an emerging, woman-of-color writer!

The Bridge-Builder Scholarship

This scholarship is offered to a young (18-30) woman writer of color who shows talent and drive in creating lesbian literature. The writer should be interested in working on a full-length novel or a collection of short stories.*

The chosen recipient will receive:

1) one, full tuition to the class of 2019 GCLS writing academy; and

2) individual one-on-one mentoring with a well-established writer in the genre of lesbian fiction.

In return, the candidate will:

Create a brief (one page) monthly report on that month’s lessons, their own work in progress, or GCLS promotions within their community.

Attend online classes and participate in the assignments to the best of their ability. (Not having access to a computer should not prevent the student from applying. We may be able to work around it.)

The candidate must be willing to show how they can help promote and support lesbian literature in general, and the writing academy specifically within their own communities.

Application deadline:

The candidate will submit a ten-page sample of their best work, along with an application by June 1, 2018. Candidates will be chosen by June 30th, 2018. Classes start in September of 2018, however, there will be a summer reading list assignment.

The link to the detailed Bridge Builder description is: Here

Please consider checking out the Writing Academy and share this to anyone you think might be interested.

Thanks, in advance, for helping us get the word out about this important scholarship.

My Life

2018 New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, I try to post my New Year’s resolutions – to commit to writing the things I hope to accomplish in the coming year. Last year, I think I came close to accomplishing most of what I set out to do.

This year, I resolve to be happy with my body just the way it is. I resolve to avoid dieting, to refuse to press myself into a patriarchal construct of accepted female appearance. This year, I’d like to continue to lovingly nourish my body with mostly plant-based foods, delicious teas, and perhaps a bit too much coffee. I resolve to continue to try new vegan recipes and to continue to delight in my own growth as a cook who can create delightful meals without stress.

This year I want to move my body more, stretch more, spend more time standing up from my desk. I want to dance without worrying what people are thinking about me. I want to touch my toes and stand on one foot and do a few minutes of yoga every day so my back doesn’t hurt after a long day of working.

I want to take Brutus out for more walks so, when the time comes that walks are no longer possible for him, we’ll know we made the most of the time he could enjoy the outdoors on his own four feet.

This year, I want to cherish my partner – I want to make sure she knows that I don’t take for granted how she loves and adores and desires me exactly the way I am. I want to make sure that she feels as special as she makes me feel. This year, I want to remember how hard it has been to spend so much time apart as we deal with immigration, and I want to appreciate how deeply we value the time together.  I resolve to appreciate the natural intimacy between us, and to continue to cultivate it as the years go by.

This year, I want to publish two of the three novels I wrote in 2017. I want to write one or two more. I want to win at least one short story contest. I’d like to submit to five anthologies in 2018.

I resolve to worry less about money while still working on upping my income. I’d like to get a job teaching creative writing. I want to sell more books. I resolve to not let the acquisition of things every become my focus, regardless of changes in income. This year, I promise to continue to give when I can, even when my finances are uncertain.

This year, I want to remember that it’s okay to feel lonely sometimes and that the best way to make friends is to reach out to friends. I want to encourage connections with old friends, and spend time with new. I want to send more paper letters, give away more books, spend more time video chatting with people I love, give hugs more freely.

This year, I resolve to turn over the pages of my calendar at the beginning of the month, rather than looking up at it in December and realizing it is still on May.

Finally, no matter what else happens, I resolve to remember that I deserve this.

Happy New Year, friends.