Tell a Writer You Love Them

Today, a woman messaged me on FB to tell me she loved my book Coming Around Again. She mentioned how much she loved the character development of the group of friends and the ups and downs of everyone over a lifetime.

Related to this – authors go through ups and downs, just like our characters. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I have moments when I wonder if I’m in the wrong career. I have times when a bad review will send me spiralling. I have times when I recognize my books aren’t selling or I haven’t been nominated for an award and I start to feel that I’m wasting my time writing.

I should qualify this by saying there are times when I absolutely love writing, when I can’t imagine doing anything else, when I know in my heart of hearts that I write for the sanity of my own soul and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

And still, I have those days when I wonder if I simply suck too much to ever make it.

And then someone messages out of the blue to tell me they couldn’t put down my book, that they fell in love with my characters, that they feel as if they haven’t left my fictional world even though they finished the book days ago.

Those messages mean everything. It’s a brief moment out of someone’s life that turn my entire world around.

I like to think we can take that lesson to every aspect of our lives. You can spend five minutes reaching out to someone to let them know you love something about them. You can comment positively on someone’s Facebook picture or on a status they posted about getting a good grade in a class.

It might take a few minutes out of your day, but it might change someone’s life. You just never know, so you might as well err on the side of kindness.

 

 

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.”

She was right. I hated to wear socks. I still do. I shuffle into the kitchen, the bells chiming gleefully no matter how hard I try to keep them still as I walk.

The kitchen is colder than the rest of the house. Mel always puts the draught blockers in front of the kitchen door. She hasn’t done it this year. I can feel the chill on my ankles, above the tuft of green fake fur.

“They’re in the hall closet,” Mel says from behind me. “Under the box with your winter coat.”

I haven’t pulled out my winter coat yet, either. I wore my jean jacket over to the neighbor’s last night. “Aren’t you cold?” The cousin had said, running a finger up the sleeve of my thin jacket.

“Get your coat out,” Mel says. “And get the draught blocker while you’re at it.”

“That’s your job,” I say, grabbing the carafe from the coffee pot. “You always put out the draught blockers. You always get out the winter clothes.”

She ignores me. I can’t blame her. I’m a horror before coffee. I fill the pot and pace in front of it, waiting for the water to brew enough that I can take a cup without it being sludge.

“You made out with the neighbor’s cousin last night,” Mel says. Her voice holds no accusation, no sadness.

I stare at the coffee pot, trying not to cry. “She had buck teeth.”

Mel clucks her tongue. She would never make fun of a woman’s appearance. Never.

I grab the carafe and fill a mug. The coffee scalds my throat, clears the lump that’s sitting right above my breastbone. The cousin’s name was Sherry.

It’s a holiday. I want to sit on the couch and watch cartoons all day, but on Boxing Day, we take down the Christmas decorations and work on the house. Since we didn’t put up any Christmas decorations, that leaves working on the house.

My tool bag is sitting on top of the dryer. I was supposed to fix the overloaded circuit last month. I grab the bag and head back to the kitchen, pouring another cup of coffee. Back to the couch. I sit next to my tool bag, cradling it with one arm.

“Are you going to fix that outlet today?” Mel asks.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

“You could ask Laurence.”

It takes me a second to remember that Laurence is the neighbor’s name. Laurence. Laurence and Janice. That’s his wife.

My feet are overheated. I lean back against the couch and put my slippered feet onto the ottoman. The green fur looks weirdly sick against my pale legs. My eyes still hurt. I close them as Mel slips her hand into mine.

I wake up confused. It’s dark and I’m coughing. There’s a pounding noise. I sit up, waving my hands in front of my face. The front door bursts open. Laurence runs in. “Greta!” He’s screaming. I drag myself to my feet. The house is filled with smoke and I feel hot, flushed. I reach for my tool bag, but Laurence is next to me, dragging me out of the house.

“Mel,” I gasp, but he ignores me, yanking me out the door before the flames shoot into the living room. I see them racing along the frame of the front door as he drags me into the yard. His whole family is standing in the street, including the cousin, the one with the buck teeth. Someone puts a coat over my shoulders, a thick coat, like the one in the closet.

I struggle against Laurence. “I have to go back in. I can’t let her die, not now, not again.

I wake up alone. It’s Boxing Day. I open the curtains and wave at my neighbor who’s picking up trash in boxer shorts and a parka. I went to his house for Christmas last night and I made out with his cousin. But his name isn’t Laurence. Laurence died in the fire, the fire from an overloaded circuit, the one that killed my wife.

“I’m sorry, Mel,” I whisper as I drag my hungover body to the kitchen to start the coffee. “I’m sorry I didn’t change the outlet.”

I wait for a moment, but she doesn’t answer.

 

 

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.

 

NaNoWriMo

I can’t believe I’m considering another NaNoWriMo. It’s addictive. Last year, I wrote 51,000 words in a month. Maybe some people do this on a regular basis, but for me, it was a struggle. Yet, I did it. What’s more, I proved to myself that I *can* do it.

So when a friend asked if I was going to do it again this year, I thought, why not?

It’s not as if I have anything else going on.

giphy

Last year, I did Coyote Ate the Stars. This year, I’m going to do a sequel in which Coyote and his sister go back to Adumbrate to rescue the man who was left behind in the pit of souls.

It’s just 1667 words a day for 30 days. I can totally do this.

I hope.

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.

 

 

 

 

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

 

AuthorPhoto_Color

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.

FrontCover

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!