Coyote Ate the Stars-Award Winner

coyoteatethestars front cover

Many years ago, a character popped into my mind and never left. He was a loner—obese, disfigured, quiet and full of self-doubt—but he had an inner well of strength that he almost knew was there. His name was Coyote Jones and for years, maybe even a decade, I tried to put him into various situations because I knew he belonged in a book.

Nothing worked and I decided to put it away. Sometimes, a great character just doesn’t have a story and that’s the end of it.

Fast forward to November of 2017. I’ve gone through the excellent MA in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University, I’ve had five of my books published by a wonderful small press called Sapphire Books Publishing. I had just finished a book and wasn’t ready to start the next. But someone asked me if I wanted to do NaNoWriMo and I said, why not?

I didn’t make a plan. I didn’t outline. I didn’t do the storyboards and character sketches that I normally do. I just sat down on November 1, 2017 and started writing. Coyote came alive and by the end of the month, I had a rough draft of Coyote Ate the Stars. I set it aside and came back to do revisions a couple months later. I still loved it just as much. It made my heart happy to bring Coyote to life because I loved him so much and I wanted him to have a place in the world. Continue reading “Coyote Ate the Stars-Award Winner”

2019 – The Year of Beth

I quit smoking ten years ago this month. It was, at that time, the biggest and hardest thing I had ever done. I went cold turkey and I spent the first three months feeling as if I was going to die and the next three months wanting a cigarette every single day. After a year, it was over. And ever since I made that change, I have started every new year with this statement. “This is the year of Beth.”

brutie and gordoSome amazing things have happened since the first “year of Beth.” I’ve written eight novels and published six of them. I’ve had stories in several anthologies. I went back to school and proceeded to get my BA in English, then an MA in Creative Writing, and (almost) an MA in Communications, Marketing, and Digital Media. I adopted Gordo the Magnificent. I bought a home. I went to my first Golden Crown Literary Society conference, then got elected to the board, then moved into the Director of Education position where I took over running the writing academy and have continued to help it evolve into the incredible program it is today. I become an adjunct instructor teaching core English at a community college and literature for an MFA program. I left a long-term toxic relationship and, after several years and several near-misses, met and married the love of my life.

It has been a pretty incredible ten years. 

It wasn’t all rosy. There were tears and heartache and moments of not being able to pay the bills. I remember a winter sitting in my living room wrapped in multiple sweaters, and blankets, shivering because I knew if I turned the heat any higher, I wouldn’t be able to pay the gas bill.  There have been depressive episodes so bad I couldn’t leave the house. There was a bout with the flu that almost killed me. There was a relationship that ended so badly, my ex took to social media to tell lies about me to our (former) mutual friends, many of whom ditched me based on her say-so. There was the time when Brutus was diagnosed with diabetes and refused to eat so I could give him his shots and he got thinner and thinner until I was sure he was going to die. (Note: He is a chunky-monkey now and doing just fine for a thirteen-year-old dog.) Continue reading “2019 – The Year of Beth”

Boxing Day – Flash Fiction

Boxing Day. Who the hell invented this stupid holiday anyway? I could have been in a boxing match last night considering how I feel this morning. I yank open the curtains, letting the bright morning sun burn my eyes. Squinting, I peer into the front yard. My neighbor is outside in boxer shorts, snow boots, and a parka, picking up beer bottles and ashtrays.

He looks up and waves. “Come on out, Greta. We’ll have a hair of the dog.”

I shake my head and turn away from the window. My gratitude for his invitation to the drunken family Christmas only goes so far. Besides, I brought a present – the scented candle my mother sends me every year despite my lifelong allergy to scents.

A vague memory of making out with the neighbor’s cousin from Winnipeg prods at the corner of my mind. Did I do that? She’d cornered me several times, excited to meet the next-door lesbian. Cute girl, buck teeth. I had scraped my tongue across them by accident. I prodded my front teeth with the tip of my tongue. Yep. Had a sore there.

My slippers are on the couch. I toss them on the floor and slip my feet into them. They’re red and green and have bells on the toes. They’re lined with some sort of fake fur. Green fake fur. Mel got them for me last Christmas. I remember her little smile, the flush on her cheeks. “Your feet are always cold,” she had said. “And you refuse to wear socks.” Continue reading “Boxing Day – Flash Fiction”

Grief and Legacy

Grief is weird, isn’t it? Sometimes it hides and you go days or weeks feeling great. Then it jumps out at you at the strangest times.

A few years ago, I went to the LCLC literary conference held by Sapphire Books. There, I met Amanda Kyle Williams, a lovely, brilliant, introverted author. She gave an incredible keynote speech and later, volunteered to speak to the writing academy students twice.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, my mother knit her a blanket which was promptly taken over by the pets in her home.

I have a few fun and funny memories of Amanda, but my favorite was when I tried to teach her a song to sing to Spike, the neighbor cat.

(To the tune of Let’s All go to the Lobby)

I like singing to kitties,

Cuz kitties like my singing

And humans don’t like my singing

But kitties like it a lot.

There’s another verse, but you get the idea. We sang it together a couple times, then I told her she could sing it as she went to feed all the neighborhood cats. Her response – “Right, because the neighborhood doesn’t already think I’m insane, wandering down the street in pajamas and rain boots with a wagon full of pet food and a herd of animals following me.”

This is only relevant because years later, for some reason, this morning I woke up with that song in my head. And as I was singing it, I was swept with such a huge wave of grief for this lovely woman who fought long and hard and ultimately lost her battle with cancer.

I was thinking about grief and how it attacks when you least expect it when I logged on to my email this morning and saw this blog post by my friend, Carleen. She was reviewing an excellent book by Anna Burke – and in the post, she referenced Sandra Moran, an author who also died way too young because of cancer.

Thinking of Sandra, reading about one of the authors who is succeeding because of her, lifted my grief. These women left a legacy – that of using their talent and their voices to help other writers find ways to bring their own voices to light.

And that’s the legacy I hope to leave. Through my work with the writing academy, through my beta reading for my students, through teaching everything from freshman comp to advanced studies in literature, I am using my voice to help other writers find theirs. Just like Amanda. Just like Sandra.

That’s why I devote so much time to the GCLS Writing Academy. And it’s why I spend time helping my students really understand the concepts we’re addressing in class. It’s important to me and if it’s important to them, I want to be there to give them every chance to succeed, just as others have done for me.

That’s the true circle of life – supporting others so they can go on to do the same.

 

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 

 

At Long Last

My life seems to be steam-rolling into a long-awaited success these days. Did you ever feel that you just worked your ass off on something for years and years and sometimes, it seemed as if nothing was happening and just when you started to think you were on the wrong path, one little thing falls into place and then, so does everything else?

I’ve been pounding away at school and writing for years, almost a decade now for writing, and seven years for school. Being an adult learner has its challenges and I won’t try to pretend it was easy. I can’t count how many times I had to drag my computer and books along to a writer’s conference because assignments don’t wait for real life stuff.

After I got my first master’s, I assumed I would have a teaching job within a couple of months. I was so wrong about that. I was conferred on November 1, 2016. It is now August of 2018 and I am just starting to teach my first classes. And it never rains but it pours. I was hired last spring to start teaching for the MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University starting in October of 2018. In the meantime, Johnston Community College, under the direction of the brilliant Doctor Tammy Bird, hired me to teach a couple of comp classes online.

My sixth book came out on August 1. On August 6th, I was notified that a short piece of mine was accepted into a mainstream literary journal. Today, August 10th, as I sit here laboring over learning how to use the back end of the online teaching platform, I received notification that the first fifteen minutes of the audio version of Coyote Ate the Stars was finished.

I know it seems as if I’m bragging, but the knot of anxiety that has lived with me off and on for years finally has a little bit of ease. Struggling to pay the bills, not sure whether I will be able to keep the electric on, being sure that nothing I wrote was worth anything, wondering whether I would ever get a job in my field – all of this was such a weight and now, despite feeling desperately busy, I feel so light. Like, my goals and dreams are finally coming to fruition.

I think the moral of the story is that if you know you want it, keep reaching for it, even when it seems as if it’s never going to come. Over the years, my dreams evolved, my career plans changed a bit. I used to want to be a full-time professor, but now, teaching online is really working for me. I still have time for my writing, I don’t have to put on pants when I don’t feel like it, and my wife and I might really be able to fulfill another dream of one day chucking all (most) of our possessions and living/travelling in a motor home.

I’m just saying, if you want it, work for it. As long as you’re doing one thing every day to work toward your dream, whatever it is, you can never give up. One thing. Ten minutes of writing. One resume to a dream job. One guitar lesson. One more first date – whatever your dream is, figure out your steps and just start working them.

And if you get discouraged, message me. I’ll either cry with you or cheer you on. ❤

 

 

 

******* Next week, I’m taking a break from blogging and inviting Lewis DeSimone, a hilariously witty writer, to take over my blog for me. Stay tuned!

 

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.