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Books To Watch Out For publishes monthly e-letters celebrating books on various topics. Each issue includes new book announcements, brief reviews, commentary, news and, yes, good book gossip.
The Lesbian Edition
The Gay Men's Edition
covers both lesbian books and the whole range of books lesbians like to read. It covers news of both the women in print movement and mainstream publishing. Written and compiled by Carol Seajay.
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announces and reviews new books by and about gay men as well as other books of interest and gay publishing news. Written and compiled by Richard Labonte.
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Claire McNab's Kylie Kendall returns to solve another mystery full of humor and suspense in the City of Angels!
(Includes a sneak peek at the next Kylie Kendall mystery, The Quokka Question.)
Volume 2 Number 3
Congratulations to BTWOF part-time staffer Suzanne Corson on her new position as Managing Editor of On Our Backs. We miss her daily and wish her the best!
And our apologies to all our readers for the long delay between the last issue and this one - and thanks to everyone who wrote, emailed or called to make sure we're still here.
We are! Just a bit too caught up in travels (to the Saints & Sinners GLBTQ Literary Festival, Book Expo America, The Lambda Literary Awards, and National Women's Studies Association conference) where we collected the stories below and a few more to come, plus a few "distractions" like moving our credit card processing to another vender (that promises stellar security in this era when many banks seem increasingly careless with customer data), double- and triple-testing everything after our ISP moved everything to a new server, plus a few tasks I've put out of my mind. Please keep the faith, send us a kind thought, and look for another new issue soon.
in spreading the words,
for Books To Watch Out For
Women's Review of Books is Back
The good news is that Women’s Review of Books is being relaunched in
January as a joint project of The Wellesley Centers for Women and Old
City Publishing. Old City is an academic publisher, founded in 1995, that
publishes a dozen scientific and academic journals (think: The Journal of Experimental
Therapeutics and Oncology, Inorganic Reaction Mechanisms, and the International
Journal of Unconventional Computing) and Earth Focus magazine.
The Wellesley Centers will be responsible for editorial content; Old City
will manage production, printing, distribution, and advertising. Amy Hoffman will
continue on as editor. WRB will continue on in its familiar tabloid format and
will publish bimonthly. Non-expired subscriptions will be reactivated upon renewal.
"I am thrilled that we are relaunching the Women's Review of Books," Amy told BTWOF. "Our readers have always known that they could turn to us for insight into feminist issues, and we are ready to once again provide them with serious and informed discussion of new writing by and about women. They've missed us — and I've missed doing this exciting work."
BTWOF caught up with Old City’s Publishing Director Ian Mellanby in the exhibit
hall of the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Orlando in June.
“Old City Publishing is delighted to be working with the Wellesley Centers for
Women on the relaunch of The Women’s Review of Books. We’re confident that
the journal is going from strength to strength,” he told BTWOF, and added, “I’m
overwhelmed by the number of publishers and subscribers who’ve come up to the
booth to tell me that the news of the relaunch has made their day.”
Old City became interested in working with WRB when advertising contacts
at Rutgers spoke last fall of their disappointment that WRB was ceasing
publication and of the loss of such an important vehicle for advertising and promoting
their strong women’s list.
To (re)subscribe, send $33 (US & Canada); €42 Euro or ¥5,700 Yen to Old
City Publishing, 628 North 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19123. For advertising info
call 215-925-4390. Send editorial queries and books for review to WRB, WCW, 106 Central St., Wellesley,
Lambda Book Report Suspends Publication
The Lambda Book Report (LBR), published by the Lambda Literary Foundation
(LLF), unexpectedly suspended publication in June, just a few days after the Lambda
Literary Award festivities, pending a review of the magazine’s financial situation.
LLF Executive Director Jim Marks tendered his resignation shortly after the LLF’s
June 3 Board meeting and the rest of the staff, including LBR Editor Lisa
C. Moore, Jonathan Harper, and Brian Baker, are being phased out in June and July.
The LLF/LBR offices will close by July 15, when the new owners of the building
where LLF has had free office space for the past several years, take possession.
The office space had been donated by then building-owner and LLF Board of Trustees
member Nick Apostol.
The LLF Board members Jim Duggins, Katherine V. Forrest, Karla Jay, and Don
Wiese have stressed their commitment to maintaining the Lambda Literary Awards
and the LLA nominees readings. The awards, in a newly designed form, will
be under the creative direction of Executive Producer Ben Hodges who produced
the NYC LLA festivities.
The LLF Board also plans to publish the June/July double issue, with its
features on Filipino/a gay and lesbian writing, either online or in print. The
Lambda Book Report had been operating at a loss for some time.
Publication of The James White Review, which is also published
by LLF, has also been temporarily suspended, although it looks likely that it
will resume publication in the near future under different auspices.
LLF and BTWOF have entered into a tentative agreement for BTWOF to fulfill
outstanding LBR subscriptions. We look forward to LBR’s eventual
return to publication or reincarnation in a new format. To paraphrase Richard
Labonte, BTWOF’s Gay Men’s Edition editor, “[BTWOF] is one voice, [LBR]
is many.” To which I would only add: “and we need a broadly diverse community
of writers and reviewers for our literature to thrive.” In the meantime BTWOF
will be working with the LLF Board to envision a new model for a publication
to showcase GLBTQ writing that can feature up to the minute information, that
utilizes contemporary technology, that is more quickly distributed and more financially
viable than the current structure.
Change, Change, Change: Publisher Changes
Turn your back on feminist & lesbian & gay publishing for a minute
and everything changes:
Florence Howe is back in the Publisher’s seat at The
Feminist Press while they’re looking for a new publisher. BTWOF will miss
Jean Casella in that position. It seemed to us that she had done a great job of
updating the press’ publishing program and moving it in interesting new directions.
Jean Redmann is (has?) signing off from her co-publisher position at Bywater
Books. It seems that running an AIDS education/prevention program that’s doubling
in size every year, writing some of the best mysteries in the industry, and
running a publishing company is too much for any one woman. (Whew! We were starting
to feel downright unambitious by comparison.) I’m sure it was a hard choice, but
we’re relieved that she didn’t give up writing — it’s already been too long since
we’ve seen a new JM Redmann mystery. (What is that Micky Knight up to these
days, anyway?) Jean leaves Bywater in the capable hands of Kelly Smith and Marianne
New Directions for Alyson
But the big news is that LPI Media has replaced long-term publisher Greg Constantine
(SP?) with Dale Cunningham as Publisher for Alyson Books. Cunningham, who was
signed on the day before Book Expo opened in New York, comes from John Wiley, Inc.’s
Howell Book House, where she was Executive Editor for a specialty market imprint.
Her publishing background includes management positions in editorial, sales, and
marketing with Wiley, Random House, and Rizzoli.
Alyson Press was reinvented ten years ago when LPI purchased it from founder
Sasha Alyson, and LPI seems to be ready to reinvent the press again with new goals:
“Dale’s experience and enthusiasm are just what we need to position Alyson
Books as the leader in gay and lesbian content in the larger world of book publishing,”
said Judy Wieder, Corporate Editorial Director and Executive VP for LPI Media,
in announcing the new appointment. “Her appointment comes at a very exciting time
as we transition our teams to New York City, the publishing capital of the world,
and start a new era at Alyson,” she added.
“What is particularly exciting about the current business climate is the
synergistic partnership opportunities for Alyson with the LPI Media family of
magazines, web sites, and cable TV. As an established specialty publisher, Alyson
is well-poised to develop and position new titles for multiple channels, including
mainstream crossover,” Cunningham said, after stressing Alyson’s 25-year track
record of publishing quality books from the LBGT community.
In interviews on the BEA floor, she and Wieder stressed a new environment
of “integrated” books coming out of an era when gays and lesbians are more fully
integrated into society and as mainstream readers integrate gay and lesbian content
into their reading, as well as plans to increase authors’ exposure via LIP Media’s
growing network of outlets and venues.
Other staff positions were not announced, but look for major changes as the
press relocates from Los Angeles to NYC.
LPI Media, which publishes The Advocate, Out and The Out Traveler
as well as Alyson and Advocate Books, recently announced a partnership with LOGO,
MTV’s new 24/7 LGBT channel.
Find of the Month
It’s easy to sit in San Francisco and claim that Babyji is the tale of
a young butch coming of age in New Delhi. But Anamika, for all that
she’s the head prefect in her school, for all her passion for her
studies, and for all her careful reading of both George Eliot and
the Kama Sutra, wouldn’t use — or have — the b-word.
Anamika is an idealist — Brahmin by birth, she’s fighting the
good fight for equality and social justice both at home and at
school, even if she does get tripped up with clinging to the benefits
of her own class- and caste-based privileges at times, encouraging
the family servant to stand as an equal in one moment, then treating
her rudely, as a lover, just because it’s expedient and she knows
she can get away with it, a few hours later.
Budding intellectual that she is, Anamika is developing an impressive, albeit
slightly twisted, facility for using the intellectual constructs she studies in
school (quantum physics, differential calculus, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle,
and Planck’s constant, to name a few) to justify both her sexual adventures and
her frequent misbehavior — not exactly what her teachers have in mind — but where
is a teenaged girl supposed to turn for guidance in matters of womanly
attraction? Still, navigating between her divorcee neighbor, her family’s lower-caste
servant, and the popular girl at school, no matter how well justified, presents
more than a few challenges for a girl who still lives under the familial roof.
But love and the pursuit of lovers is perhaps the least of it. Anamika’s
headstrong beliefs get her in (and out) of numerous scrapes. By the novel’s end
she’s bet her future — or at least her prefectship — on the class troublemaker
(and her chief competition for Sheela’s heart), daring him, in her own way, to
pull through and finish the term, despite having every reason to want to see him
expelled. It’s Anamika’s gutsy integrity and headstrong vision that will keep
readers cheering for her long after the novel closes.
It’s a good, dense read, rich in language, social insight, and moral conflict.
Dawesar does a deft job of portraying the passions, mood swings, and shifting
confidence levels that mark the bumpy transition from child to adult and gives
us a sharp, thoughtful, and frequently hilarious coming of age tale that claims
new horizons for lesbian readers — and anyone else who wants to believe that girls
can be smart, curious, and sexual without falling over the edge.
Babyji and Dawesar’s earlier novel, Miniplanner, were both published
as paperback originals. Babyji by Anchor/Random House, 356 pages, $13;
Miniplanner by Cleis Press, $12.95. Babyji will be published in
India this spring, and in Spanish and Italian translations this summer.
Click here (or scroll to the end) to read BTWOF’s interview with Abha Dawesar.
And here to find the short stories on her website:
Susan Krieger wrote the first essays in Things No Longer There: A Memoir of
Losing Sight and Finding Vision before she consciously understood
that her vision was failing. Originally interested in the differences
between internal vision
and “reality” (the cherished memories of a girls' camp that, when
sought years later, has been bulldozed into suburban homes; the
vivid memory of a post-forest-fire landscape contrasted with the
same land a year and two years later, as new growth softens, then
obliterates, the charred past), Krieger’s ability to hold inner
vision serves her well as her visual acuity diminishes, due to a
rare condition know as birdshot retinochoroidopathy. But much more
important — and essential to us all – is her ability to cultivate
new vision — whether that’s learning to read the different kinds
of space beside and between buildings while learning to see her
way with a cane, finding other lesbians in different locales, or
looking back at the past with new eyes in the book’s concluding
novella about a difficult therapeutic/friendship relationship.
Krieger (The Family Silver: Essays on Relationships Among Women, Social
Science and the Self: Personal Essays on an Art Form, and Mirror Dance:
Identity in a Women’s Community) is one of our most insightful chroniclers
of lesbian experience in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. She’s never an
easy read, always insisting that we acknowledge complexities where simpler visions
might be easier to savor. “Lesbianism,” she insists, “is a very different dream
from heterosexuality.” “The invisible landscape of lesbianism is also a landscape
of invisible fears,” she adds later. And, “[W]e
are all, to some extent blind, to some extent sighted, and each of us moves in
a world of unique inner vision, an interior landscape that is composed of meanings,
of sights and sounds, and feelings deeply held.” $19.95 paper, Terrace Books/University
of Wisconsin Press. Digital and Audio versions also available on request for blind
readers. For e-book, contact Margaret Walsh, 608-263-1131, e-mail email@example.com; for audio book contact the author, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Out in paper: Songs of the Gorilla Nation, Dawn Prince-Hughes’s story
of growing up with and then coming to terms with her autism (Asperger’s Syndrome),
learning to be human from a gorilla tribe whose behaviors made much more sense
to her, at least initially, than human people’s behaviors, and then becoming an
anthropologist with a focus on primate behavior. The fact that she’s a lesbian
in a long-term relationship is almost incidental. Originally reviewed in BTWOF: The Lesbian
Edition #5. $12.95, Three Rivers Press.
Not lesbian, as far as I’ve read (someone email me and tell me I’m wrong!),
but as fiercely feminist as you can get: Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From
Iran, The Feminist Press’ 300-page reprint of a young Iraqi woman’s blog
postings during the early days of the US invasion of Iraq. Identified only by
her screen name, “Riverbend” is a self-proclaimed geek who had been employed
in the computer industry before the invasion. She chronicles the senseless attacks
from the inside, the day-in and day-out ramifications of the war, women’s loss
of freedoms, and it offers something much too rare: woman’s voice and perspective.
Fascinating, essential and, of course, very difficult to read. $14.95, 285 pgs.,
The Feminist Press.
The most difficult part of reading Baghdad Burning (above) is how it
brings home the insanity of what’s happening in this country, under our watch,
and that we haven’t managed to take it back yet. How do we keep going when the
madness immobilizes us? Here’s the BTWOF prescription: Read two chapters of What
the L, Kate Clinton’s new book, read the best lines outloud to your partner,
your roommate, your cat, or yourself, get a good night’s sleep, and you’ll be
ready to go again in the morning. It’s cheap and medically safe, if possibly somewhat
addictive. Kate weighs in on Bush’s “re-election”, on “all the president's women”
(Mary Cheney included), Fox TV and other weapons of mass distraction, the so-called
Healthy Marriage Initiative, gay marriage, the “ex-gay” movement, Botox,
The L-Word, and more. There is, as always, no stopping her. Perfect
for Lesbians, perfect for Leftists. What the ‘L? Just enjoy it. $14.95, Carroll
Pulp & Literature: Reclaiming Lesbian History
Lesbian Pulp Fiction: The Sexually Intrepid World of Lesbian Paperback Novels
1950-1965 takes us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when a simple
stroll through a drugstore or newsstand could yield thrilling, terrifying, sometimes
condemning paperback lesbian novels with titles like Return to Lesbos, Another
Kind of Love, or The Third Sex. Most were camouflaged by sleazy covers
and hyperbolic, condemning jacket copy, but all confirmed that lesbians existed
and gave clues about how to find the lesbian underground. Many of the books sold
hundreds of thousands of copies, a few over a million copies. Here Katherine V.
Forrest has selected and introduced excerpts from 20 of the best and most important
of the genre and discovered that, shockingly enough, there was some excellent
writing buried in the format. Look for work by Vin Packer, Valerie Taylor, Marion
Zimmer Bradley, Ann Bannon, and many more. It’s a great mix of classics and less
well known gems. Forrest’s introduction alone would be worth the price of admission
even if the collection didn’t include original covers and sensationalist cover
One quick kvetch: While it’s true that some lesbian feminists “got down” on
the pulps and/or what they saw as confining role limitations (and hey, kids,
oftentimes they were...), many lesbians who became feminists in the 70s spent
years reading (and loving) the pulps and continued to celebrate and defend them
until they became popular again, yours truly included. I, for one, am really
tired of reading that lesbian feminists unilaterally trashed the pulps. Was
there controversy? Of course. Lesbian feminists debated everything. (That was
the point, wasn't it?) But it was hardly a one-sided fight.
That said, I’d also like to see two additional anthologies: One that would
collect the popular nonfiction of the time, the pseudo-sociological books by
“Ann Aldrich” and Jess Stern, for example, that so many of us used to make life-altering
decisions (such as whether to move to New York, Chicago, or San Francisco) and
another that would collect the more literary (and much less well-known) side
of lesbian writing history: from Djuna Barns, Gale Wilhelm, and Dorothy Baker
to Patricia Highsmith and early Jane Rule (This Is Not for You), May
Sarton, Janet Flanner....
But in the meantime, settle in with Lesbian Pulp Fiction. $18.95 paper,
415 pgs., Cleis.
Meanwhile, The Feminist Press, as part of its Femmes Fatales: Women Write
Pulp series just released Tereska Torres’ Women’s Barracks. Subtitled
“A Frank Autobiography of a French Girl Soldier,” it was first published in the
U.S. in 1950 and sold two million copies by 1955, setting off the avalanche of
lesbian pulp novels that followed. Read an excerpt in Lesbian Pulp Fiction, but then turn to this edition for an interview with the 85-year-old Torres and
an afterword by Judith Mayne. But was it a pulp or a serious literary novel? I’d
argue that it’s a bit of both. Written as a novel, it was tweaked a bit in translation
to make it seem to be an autobiographical tell all, then (re)packaged as one of the first novels in that exciting new mass-market paperback format.... $13.95, 234 pages, The Feminist Press.
But here’s what I want to know: If readers snatched up two million copies of
Women’s Barracks, and a million or more of many of the lesbian-themed
books that followed — some of which ranked in the top three bestsellers of their
respective years, and if the era lasted until 1965 (the year I came out), why did publishers
stop publishing them? Ten years later, in the mid-seventies, it was almost impossible
to find lesbian-themed work, and lesbian feminists had to set up printing presses,
publishing companies, and women's bookstores to make lesbian books available
again. Is there something we need to understand here about how a literature can disappear
And, in Canada, Arsenal Pulp Press and Little Sister’s, the Canadian
bookstore that fought Canada Customs to the Supreme Court and won, have joined
forces to publish Little Sister’s Classics to revive lost and out-of-print
lesbian and gay literary classics.
The first two books in the series are Jane Rule’s The Young in One Another’s
Arms and Richard Amory’s Song of the Loon. Look for the next two books
in the series, Isabel Miller’s Patience & Sarah (How could its publishers
have ever let that slip out of print?!) and John Preston’s wonderful Franny,
the Queen of Provincetown, in October. All of the books in the series include
reviews, promotion materials, interviews and the like from the period in which
the books were originally published.
The Young in One Another’s Arms, a complex tale of a community of
women and men living in a Vancouver boarding house at the end of the Vietnam
War, won the Canadian Authors Association's Best Novel of the Year Award in
1978. Rule, who never takes a simplistic approach to anything, believes that
no one — and no one character — is, or should be, the center of the world. Instead
she has given us a series of novels where community is the central character,
and individuals make their own way — whether lesbian, straight, undecided, or simply in
love with her mother-in-law. Deep thanks and kudos to Arsenal Pulp and Little
Sisters for this series. $16.95.
And Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding, was republished last Fall
as part of the New York Review of Books’ Classics series. First published in 1962, but set
in 1912, it’s the tale of a brilliant, witty (and tormented, of course, but ultimately
sympathetic) young woman doing her best to derail her beloved twin sister’s upcoming
marriage. The 1982 Virago classic edition called it “the best of [Baker’s] four
novels, a bitter, entrancing study of a passionate, jealous, and hopeless love
between sisters.” I also hold a mordant tenderness for Baker’s 1943 novel, Trio,
a “frank” (and tormented) novel about a young woman’s loss of innocence at the
hands of an evil, older (and tormented) woman professor that was considered scandalous
at the time despite all the white gloves and teas. Trio won a Gold Medal Award
from the Commonwealth Club of California. Baker and her husband adapted Trio
as a play which ran, briefly, on Broadway in 1944 but was quickly shut down because
of protests. (Another version of the story is that the protesters were hired by the theatre management who wanted to close the play and run something more profitable.) It certainly would be lovely to have a reprint of both the novel
and the play in one volume, with a little history and context about the protests
and the author.... Baker’s husband maintained that Cassandra was
based on both the writer’s own experiences and those of her daughters. Baker won
a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942. Her writing had, in the words of William Soskin,
“plenty of iron and a strong, dependable bony structure.” She died of cancer
in 1968. File her work under Lost Lesbian Literary Novels. $12.95, New York Review
Beautiful Inez, published earlier this year, is a beautifully written
and evocative tale set in the early 60s, in a San Francisco only a few blocks,
yet worlds away, from the lesbian worlds outlined in the pulps above. Schneider’s
Inez, the lead violinist with the SF Symphony, lives in a pre-Feminine Mystique
world where sexual abuse, postpartum depression, one’s husband’s affairs, and
the way child rearing compromises a woman’s musical career are, if acknowledged
at all, things a woman is supposed to just get over. Sylvia, a bit younger and
more resilient, does whatever shape shifting is necessary to pursue the violinist.
Schneider does a brilliant job of creating these characters, of portraying the
music that echoes throughout the book like a third central character, and of
portraying both the limitations and the passions of their times. I’d be tempted
to do the unthinkable and nominate it for a Lammy if only the ending were as
deeply written and as convincing as all the rest of the book. By the end I just
wanted Inez to know that Women’s Liberation and consciousness-raising groups
were coming — even as I wanted a good book discussion group for myself. It’s
a wonderful look a very difficult era for women in general and lesbians in particular. Schneider was the founding editor of the
Hungry Mind Review and he now edits Speakeasy magazine. $24, Shaye
More womanist than lesbian, there’s tenderness, passion,
much longing, and a few stolen moments of sensuality between the sworn sisters
in Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. But it does offer a thoughtful
look into women’s lives and friendships in nineteenth-century China, in remote
Hunan villages in an era when wives and daughters lived in almost total seclusion, when
foot-binding was the price of marriage, and where women had devised both a secret
written language — nu shu, possibly the world’s only language used
exclusively by women to communicate with women relatives and friends — and also
a network of "sworn sisters,"
friendships, and support groups that mitigated, to some extent, the isolation of both girls and married women. But, limited
as their options were, women of the time — or at least of this book — are hardly
passive victims of fate; instead they do everything in their power to improve
their lives and build some semblance of security. Nu shu messages
were embroidered into handkerchiefs, written into special books and the folds
of fans, then passed secretly from woman to woman. It’s a fascinating, sometimes
tender, tale of women’s lives, survival, and resilience. $21.95. Random House.
Anchee Min offers a very feminist retelling, in Empress Orchid, of the
life of China’s last empress, a flawed but compelling woman who struggles both
for her own survival and to see her son live to come into power. Zip lesbian content — but a fascinating reclaiming of women’s history. $14.00, Mariner/Houghton Mifflin.
Want Something Edgier?
Consider Ali Liebegott’s the beautifully worthless, a novel told in
verse and letters to the girlfriend left behind, about a dyke on the road with
her Dalmation, between New York and a dreamed of town in Idaho. It’s a postmodern
odyssey through Amerika, filled with heartbreak, longing, cute boys, un-cute cops,
warm beer, cheap eats, longing (did I say that already?), and all the stresses
of a solo wild-ride road trip. Oh, and a few familial visits, a bit of a breakdown, and some lock-down time in various institutions. Many readers will know
Liebegott’s poetry from her days with the notorious Sister Spit’s Ramblin’ Road
Show. $12.95, Suspect Thoughts Press.
Or, for something more linear, albeit with fewer women characters, consider
Tennessee Jones’ Deliver Me from Nowhere, a collection of short stories
invented out of the songs on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. Michelle
Tea says, “Tennessee Jones’ interpretive fictions are as big, bleak and beautiful
as the American landscape, all full of lonely smells, whiskey, class desperation,
and the dusty, archetypal dirt road to nowhere.” I’d add that Jones, an Appalachian-born
transman currently living in New York City, and his work often remind me of early
Dorothy Allison stories. Allison has more women in her
stories, but Jones' women seem equally true to me. Jones is also the editor
of the punk lit zine Teenage Death Songs. $12, Soft Skull Press.
Supporting Characters & Bit Parts
I just read J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, thanks to a friend’s recommendation.
It’s a fascinating novel of morals and mores reflecting on entitlement,
power, and the abuse thereof set in post-reconciliation South Africa. Normally
I’d have limited tolerance for living in the head of a university professor who
is clueless about why he ought not hit on his young students, but Coetzee gives
us such a wonderfully rich and layered look at the ways entitlement begets crime
(including rape and oppression) across sex, race, and class lines (and back again),
and at the systems that do (or don’t) compensate abuse with justice (and at their
limited success in educating the perpetrators), that it felt like time well spent.
I read a number of reviews of Disgrace both when it was published
and when it won Coetzee an unprecedented second Booker prize, but none of them
mentioned that the daughter the professor turns to, after he loses his job, is
a back-to-the-land lesbian. Coetzee uses Lucy’s outsider statuses well, to offer
yet another perspective on justice even as he uses her farm as a jumping off place
to look both legal
and community justice systems and who each system benefits and fails. The one
place where Coetzee fears to tread is in providing Lucy with any lesbian community
whatsoever — the lover with whom she started the farm has gone back to the city,
and she hasn’t a lesbian friend (or ex) anywhere in sight. That criticism aside,
it’s a page turner of a novel that demands that its readers be more insightful
than the characters. I recommend it to anyone interested in the evolution of social
justice. $14. Penguin.
I found My Sister’s Keeper on the shelves of my local queer bookstore.
Neither of the booksellers present (both male) could tell me if it had any lesbian
characters, only that they rarely stock books that don’t have some queer interest,
but I’d been interested in Jodi Picoult’s novels for a while, so I bit. Turns
out there is a lesbian character — a supporting character’s supporting character — her twin sister is a lesbian and had just been left by her lover who, after
seven years in a committed relationship, was no longer sure if she was a lesbian.
(Ah, the old lesbian-who-is-never-seen-with-a-woman thing? ) Whatever. Well, at
least it gives her a platform to be disparaging about relationships that need
some critical commentary.
But that’s hardly the point. The point is an excellent read exploring and portraying
the complexities of the realities behind designer-baby, stem-cell research, etc., debates. In this case, our 13-year-old protagonist, Anna, who was conceived
via preimplantation genetic selection so that the stem cells in her umbilical
cord could be utilized to fight her older sister’s leukemia, sets out to gain
medical emancipation so she can make her own decisions about what medical risks
to take and what else of her body she wants to donate to her sister’s health.
It’s a marvelous tale of the best of intentions gone awry, of the hidden impact
of successful medical research, of the catastrophic consequences of catastrophic
illness on the healthy children in a family, and is a brilliant and very feminist
exploration of complex issues. Nothing in the novel — as in real life situations — is as simple as it first appears. There’s also an interesting interview with
Picoult about writing on these topics in the back of the book. I’d have to say
it was my favorite read of the month, and it’s moved her more recent novel Vanishing
Acts ($25, Atria/Simon & Schuster, paperback due in December) to the top
of my to-read list.. $14, Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster.
Friday Night Reads
This section is dedicated to Sue Butterworth who
believed that lesbians everywhere deserve a good Friday night read.
Two thoughtful Friday Night Reads for the 50-something crowd:
I found Pat Rosier’s Poppy’s Progress on a Charis Books’
Bookseller’s Favorite Books list, and then picked up the recently-released-in-the-USA
sequel, Poppy's Return, at the Spinifex Press booth at
the National Women’s Studies Association conference last month.
Rosier was the editor of New Zealand’s feminist magazine Broadsheet,
and she turned novelist on the magazine’s demise. Here she spins
a sweet mediation of a tale about a woman approaching that big
5-0, reflecting on the contradiction that, while Poppy is mostly
content with her life, it seems a far cry from her feminist ideals
and that it hasn’t, when she stops to look at it, turned out quite
as she’d hoped or expected.... Well, maybe content isn’t quite
the right word, after all. Poppy’s Progress is a sweet
mix of memory, reflecting on the political passions of her youth,
grieving the dead, going on, getting caught up, a bit, in the
struggle to maintain some space for lesbians amid a growing queer
politic, the place of family, and a road trip that left me itching
to explore the New Zealand coast. And who wouldn’t love a character
who takes both Ferron and Suede for company during the drive? I’m looking forward to the sequel.
$17.95 each, Spinfex Press. Rosier is also co-author of Get
Used To It! Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents.
Graceful Waters, on the other end of the age spectrum, was an unexpected
treat. Judging from the cover I half-expected a nature/camping novel. Instead
writing team BL Miller and VH Foster present a troubled teen sentenced to a boot-camp
type reformatory. I kept expecting the set-up to slide into some kind of semi-military
sexual fantasy but found, instead, a novel where the point is character growth
and development, where boundaries aren’t violated, where staff has time to care
about the kids in their care, and the conflicts between stubborn and angry young
Grace and senior instructor Carey are dedicated to building character rather than
steam. OK, maybe the ending is too simplistic — that’s what makes it a good Friday
night read, after all — but it did make me rethink some of my assumptions about
“boot camp” type reform schools for at least some kids. $18.50, Intaglio Publications.
Not primarily a romance, not quite a mystery, Blayne Cooper’s Unbreakable
falls more in the women’s-friendship-circles-gone-awry category. In this case,
five women who were tight friends from grade school through the first few months
of college reconnect after twenty years of estrangement at the behest of the one who’s being blackmailed over the secret all five swore never
to reveal. Each woman has her own fears and her own agendas, all have grown and
matured...but is honesty possible even this much later? Can friendships be
rebuilt? Give this book five points for restraint (phrases like: “cursing Jacie
with virulent word combinations that paid homage to her working class upbringing”
rather than a simple display of every known cuss word), add a couple points for presenting changing attitudes toward lesbianism over time, but subtract two for assuming that every firstborn and his father can’t subtract nine
months from a birthdate. But then, some don’t. $17.99, 280 pgs., BookEndsPress.
Saturday Afternoon Adventures
Saints and Sinners, the New Orleans GLBTQ Literary Festival, continues to be the
friendliest writers conference of all. For me, one of the most useful
workshops was one allegedly on “The Lesbian Romantic Hero” which
was primarily about lesbian action-adventure novels and finally
explained to me the genre that is based on the superhero model.
There isn’t supposed to be much in the way of character development.
Everyone (except possibly me) knows that superheroes spring full-blown
from someone’s brow. They’re supposed to be bigger-than-life,
perform feats that would be impossible for regular mortals (vanquish
enemies with karate kicks the morning after downing a couple of
bottles of wine and making love all night, all while smoking a cigarette),
and they excel, in almost every way, at difficult careers. The contemporary
(lesbian) superhero should be a CIA agent, crackerjack cop, forensic
specialist or other medical specialist, or a brilliant lawyer. If
she’s tall enough, beautiful enough, and strong enough, chiseled
cheek bones are optional, but the chip on the shoulder is not. And,
since we’re talking fantasy worlds here, neither the good guys nor
the bad guys ever discriminate against lesbians (“Sure, Susie, take
the prisoner in the other room and have your way with her.”) We’re
not in identity-politics land anymore and if I could just get over
wanting the appropriate, responsible actions from the superheroes
and their pals, I’d be all set. But what top cop ever lets new lovers,
however fond of each of them he may be, go out on missions together
and endanger a whole team with their distraction? OK, so said distractions
do create a few crises that move the plot along and there you have
it — flawed characters who give their all for their novels. Ah well,
I always was the one who screamed, “Don’t go in the basement!”
while watching horror movies. (I’ve also been known to yell, “Just
talk to each other” during tormented lesbian romances when the
author fails to give compelling reasons for poor communication.)
But for many readers — and writers — adventure-hero novels with
a dash of lesbian romance is the ultimate Saturday afternoon adventure.
So now that I know what I’m looking for, here are a few:
Storm Surge promises — and delivers — “a heart-pounding
thriller with nonstop action and
romance” and features FBI Special Agent Alex Montgomery and tough,
streetwise detective Conner Harris, both of whom have lost friends
or lovers in the line of duty, both of whom will stop at nothing
to put the perpetrators behind bars. Evil drug traffickers, rogue
cops, passionate sex, compelling nonstop action, and good friends
of both sexes — what more could an action/adventure kinda gal
want? $18.50, BookEnds Press, distributed by StarCrossed Productions.
Watch for the sequel, Rip Tide, and check Crime Scene (below)
for a review of KatLyn’s more recent Code Blue.
I loved the premise of The War Between the Hearts, Nann Dunne’s Civil
War tale of a determined Southern girl who passes as a man to spy for the Union
and appreciated the tale of a woman coming into herself in the midst of (or
despite) the war. But too much of both the internal and external dialogues seemed
way too contemporary for the setting for my reading pleasure. High points were
our hero(ine)’s growing disgust at war and her own growth as she banged her head
against the walls as she pursued the love of her life. The sweetly supportive,
but often unrealistic vignettes with family and friends suggest fantasy more
than history. Kinder readers will enjoy it more than I. $17.59 Intaglio.
British writer Jane Fletcher was in the U.S. for Saints and Sinners. Her adventure/science
fiction tale The Walls of Westernfort contrasts an ought-to-be idyllic
goddess-based culture that has slipped into a militaristic rigidity with the ought-to-be
evil heretics on a world where all surviving sentient beings are female. Young
Natasha Ionadis bravely volunteers for a mission to contain a band of heretics
and renegade imprinters, only to find all of her assumptions — about both her
culture, about honor and faith, and about her birth mothers — challenged beyond
tolerance. A good, satisfying read. This is the first book of a trilogy; watch
for the sequels, Rangers at Roadsend and The Temple at Landfall,
late this Fall. $15.95, Bold Stroke Press.
Fletcher’s earlier novel, Lorimal’s Chalice, was shortlisted
for the 2003 Gaylactic Spectrum Award. It will be reissued as Book One: The
Exile and the Sorcerer and Book Two: The Traitor and The Chalice
along with the conclusion, Book Three: The Empress and the Acolyte.
Daughters of an Emerald Dusk concludes Katherine V. Forrest’s much-loved
trilogy, launched in 1984 with Daughters of a Coral Dawn, the tale of 4,000
women who escaped the tyranny of a male-dominated Earth to colonize the planet
Materas. Daughters of an Amber Noon, published in 2000, followed
the lives of the women who chose to stay behind. The conclusion, Daughters
of an Emerald Dusk, reunites the two groups, but little is as expected: Space-time
shifts mean that the women who left are decades older than their peers on earth,
new generations have been born on Maternas, but these children have bonded and
follow a path that is beyond their mothers' comprehension. The conclusion, which is probably
not what early readers of A Coral Dawn are expecting, is as solid and inevitable
as the Unity’s original drive to resist the out-of-control patriarchy. It’s classic
Katherine V. Forrest all the way. $13.95 Alyson.
Back in Print
Life on the
Edge: Cartoons by Judy Horacek. Australia has, one might think, a better
sense of humor than the USofA. Humor there is, well, expected. And wide-ranging.
So it’s not surprising that Judy Horacek (who provided BTWOF’s graphics) is
much more widely published there than women cartoonists here despite – or because
of – her quirky, feminist, lesbian-positive, anti-war, anti-pollution, patriarchy-thing
politics. When life in this woman-hating, war-mongering world is getting you
down, take two Judy Horacek cartoons and laugh with a friend to remind yourself
of your sanity. My only regret is that her more recent work isn’t available
here. $13.95 Spinifex.
Two new issues since last BTWOF:TLE last went to print:
“The Lesbians and Music, Drama, and Art” edition of Sinister Wisdom ($6, or $20/yr
from SW, PO Box 3252, Berkeley, CA 94703. www.sinisterwisdom.org.)
Bloom Vol. 2, No 1. Either it’s the most beautiful issue yet of this new
queer literary magazine or it’s just that I got to spend a leisurely day with
it in New Orleans, the day after Saints and Sinners. Features work by Marilyn
Hacker, Honor Moore, Carol Guess, Joan Larkin, and much more. And unlike many
“queer” magazines, lesbian work and lesbian content is an integral — rather than
a token part — of the content. ($10 each issue or $16 for a year. PO Box 1231,
Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10011. www.bloommagazine.org)
What They're Reading at
Women & Children First
Each issue BTWOF
asks the staff at a different women's bookstore what they're reading and what
they're loving. This issue we asked Ann Christophersen what she and her colleagues at Women and Children
First are reading these days. W&CF is a gorgeous, vibrant bookstore, a wonderful
resource for the women (and men) of Chicago. I usually get there at least once
a year and always find books I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Here's what they said:
* Books with lesbian content.
Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead still tops my list as best novel of the
year (and it’s definitely on my all-time favorites list), and I was thrilled that
it won the Pulitzer and the Book Critics’ Circle Award. Robinson asks all the
hard questions: what is love? How can we live to best serve others? Why is there
war? Will there ever be peace? Can we ever heal this country from slavery, and
its descendant, racial injustice? In a long epistle to his young son, an elderly
minister tries to give his family’s history and discern what matters in life.
Reading this book took me to a higher, meditative place, but it was also funny
and surprising. $23, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The History of Love is a stunning, achingly tender novel written in
two voices: an old man who is a Holocaust survivor and a 14-year-old Jewish girl.
The voices are so real, so distinctive, that the characters walked off the page
and into my mind and heart. There’s an engaging plot, too, concerning a lost book
that creates a life of literary fame for one man, hope for its young reader, and
resolution, finally, for its true author. By Nicole Krauss, $23.95, W. W. Norton.
* Crybaby Butch is a terrific lesbian novel by Judith Frank about a young,
butch-identified, middle-class literacy teacher and her older, old-school, working-class
butch student. Set in Chicago, with some great erotic scenes, this book gave me
real insight into and empathy for the life struggle of illiterate adults. There
are many kinds of closets. Poignant, thoughtful, and well-written. $14.95, Firebrand.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews is a darkly comic novel
about a teen girl living in a small Canadian town in a strict Mennonite community.
Her grief over her mother’s and sister’s leaving (they are shunned by the Elder)
is palpable, her rage and acting-out understandable, and her loyalty to her passive,
schoolteacher father endearing. Hers is a voice at once tough and tender, witty
and heartbreaking. $23, Counterpoint Press. Available in Canada in paperback,
Judith Ortiz Cofer’s The Meaning of Consuelo is a lovely,
thoughtful novel for both teens and adults, set in Puerto Rico in the present.
Issues of class, gender, and sexuality are skillfully woven into the narrative.
Consuelo, after a tough year of losing her best friend — a gay boy whose father
feels forced to move to the States, struggling with her family over her younger
sister’s emerging mental illness, and having her first sexual experience result
in her acquiring “slut” status in her high school, emerges stronger, wiser, and
able to stand up for herself. $13, Beacon Press.
I’ve just finished Jane Fonda’s long and thoroughly engaging autobiography,
My Life So Far, and I’m very impressed. She tells the truth about all the
people, events, and causes in her life with candor, wit, and forgiveness. She
has an amazing story to tell: her parents’ and grandparents’ history; her life
with French director Vadim and the European intellectuals and artists in his circle;
her years of activism against the Vietnam War; her work on over forty movies and
the reasons for doing them; her life with Tom Hayden and Ted Turner; her struggle
to be a good mother and daughter; her understanding of her emergence as a feminist
activist working to empower adolescent girls. I loved reading it. $26.95, Random
Naomi Wolf’s new book, The Treehouse, is a magical, marvelous book.
Naomi’s father’s lessons on listening to the artist within, living with passion,
noticing the details, and honoring one’s work are totally inspiring. This is a
great book for anyone who wants to think about whether they’ve found their true
art in life and what it means to live creatively and encourage others (our children,
our students) to do the same. $24, Simon & Schuster.
* Lighthousekeeping, Jeanette Winterson’s new novel, is mesmerizing. It
actually is partly about keeping a lighthouse — after her mother’s death, the orphaned
narrator finds her first true home in this unlikely place — but the symbolism of
shining light into dark and wild places filters through the novel. Immersing oneself
in Winterson’s spare, powerful language is reason enough to read this book; the
love story is another good one. $23, Harcourt.
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (just out in paperback) is an amazing
“novel” of interconnecting stories. Humanizing a Haitian torturer ( a “dew breaker”)
while setting before the reader an unflinching picture of the full range of damage
done by his actions is no small task. Danticat accomplishes it brilliantly. $12.95,
Lost in the Forest, Sue Miller’s newest novel,
is disturbing in the way sexual awakening takes place for one of the main characters,
a girl in her late adolescence who is seduced by a family friend. But it is meant
to be, and Miller is, as usual, deeply insightful in her presentation of complex
family situations. In this one, the aftermath of a divorce, the maturing of a
young woman into a self-confident, self-knowledgeable, independent person, and
the strength of a developing father-daughter relationship are at the center. It’s
a very good novel. $24.95, Knopf/Random House.
Embroideries, the new graphic memoir by Iranian writer/artist Marjane
Satrapi (Persepolis) is terrific. Her grandmother is the central character,
but she is surrounded by aunts, women friends, and Marjane herself as they gossip
and tell stories about sexual escapades and other juicy subjects over tea. (Marjane’s
grandmother is an opium addict and pretty crabby before her tea but absolutely
charming after it.) Satrapi once again portrays an element of Iranian life and
culture with a little text and a lot of very expressive drawings. She’s also terrific
in person, so watch for her reading in your town. $16.95, Pantheon/Random House.
* Ellen Hart was at Women & Children First recently, and I read her most
recent Jane Lawless mystery in paperback, An Intimate Ghost. It was thoroughly
entertaining, as is Ellen herself. The plot is complex and the writing unerringly
skillful—and I liked the literary references she incorporates into the story.
An Intimate Ghost is a very fun, satisfying read. $13.95, Griffin/St. Martin’s.
I just finished listening to the audio of Carson McCuller’s classic, The
Heart is a Lonely Hunter. For reasons I can’t explain, I had never read this
fine, fiery, haunting novel in all my years of books. Set in the bad old days
of the South before Blacks had any semblance of equal rights or opportunities,
when women’s dreams died a very early death, and before labor unions were effectively
operating against total exploitation, it builds a rich, textured story about a
cast of characters — and a political situation — one cares very deeply about. $12
paper, Mariner Books; $39.95 CD, Harper Audio.
I’m just now reading a new book called She’s Got Next: A Story of Getting
In, Staying Open, and Taking a Shot, a memoir by Melissa King. A former basketball
player myself, I’m loving the excitement of the pick-up games she played in Chicago
and all the description of what the sport has meant in her life, how she has loved
it and used it. Playing basketball is also the source of many of her metaphors,
and she uses them very effectively. She has a fresh, clear voice, too, one I’m
very much enjoying listening to. $13, Mariner Books.
The first chapter of Paradise, by A.L. Kennedy begins with Hannah, our
narrator, in a hotel with no knowledge of why she's there, where she's going or
where she's been. Pretty quickly you realize that she's an alcoholic, and we are
brought up to date by memories and flashbacks to discover that in the timeline
of the novel that first chapter falls at the midpoint. I was a little discombobulated
at first by the structure, but as I got to know Hannah it fit perfectly. Memories
are discovered and confessed by the most unlikely connections, so what seems like
a really funny story may become the most horrifying or heartbreaking thing you've
ever heard. If Hannah is off balance, then so are you, and what makes Kennedy's
writing great is her ability to take this woman, who you would never want to know
at all, let alone be friends with, and make her so real that she feels a little
like you. I've been thinking about this novel for the past week since I finished
reading it, and Kennedy's images are so perfect and clear that the book just runs
like a movie in my head. It still breaks my heart, and makes me laugh, and fills
me with a longing that I think is Hannah's. $25, Knopf.
Many thanks to Ann for collecting this list, and to all her colleagues at
Women & Children First.
If you can’t get to W&CF in person, remember that you can always order books
from them online or by phone -- which is a great way to thank them for taking
the time to write this column and for all the work they do to support women’s
literature. There's also a list of women's bookstores at www.litwomen.org/WIP/stores.html.
The Crime Scene
reason, it seems that lesbian publishing moves in seasons, and this is lesbian
mystery season — or, more accurately, lesbian romantic suspense season. From the
pile of books next to my computer, you would think that all lesbians are either
cops or doctors, with perhaps a few lawyers to advise them of their rights. ("You
have the right to hot, steamy sex...")
By Nan Cinnater
Of all the books in this pile, my favorite is the
most straightforward mystery, Finding Ms. Wright by Anne Seale. This is
the second in her series of RV mysteries featuring Buffalo lesbian Jo Jacuzzo,
sequel to Packing Mrs. Phipps (both $13.95, Alyson). Jo is not a cop, and
not even a private eye, "just a regular person with a bunch of time on my
hands," as she says. Here she travels to Oklahoma during tornado season to
find her friend Weezie's missing ex, Honey Lou Wright. Seale writes fast, funny
mysteries with twisty plots and real suspense. There's even a touch of romance,
although hardly any hot, steamy sex.
In Down the Rabbit Hole by Lynn Jamneck
($12.95, Bella) our heroine is an FBI agent who, just like the author, has "a
penchant for cigarettes, strong coffee, women and guns." Agent Samantha Skellar
is coping with a serial killer and a cyber-stalker — as well as a sexy computer
security expert with hacker attitude. The mystery is fast-paced and well-plotted,
but not particularly authoritative or convincing in its investigative details.
Also, a special caution for the squeamish: there are graphic crime scenes and
autopsy descriptions. Blame it on Patricia Cornwell.
In Imperfect Past by Jessica Casavant ($16.95,
Yellow Rose Books) Boston homicide detective Jamie Saunders is investigating a
murder that also resonates with her incest issues. Jamie obstructs justice and
breaks laws left and right, but that didn't keep me from enjoying this guilty
pleasure, really more romance than mystery. At the heart of the book is the group
of friends that every lesbian dreams of:
They had cried and fought and barged into each
other's lives in the only way they knew how — insisting on being heard; determined
not to be ignored; and always, always loving each other despite it all. And somehow
when the chips were down, when life got too messy, they rallied around and pushed
and pulled and dragged each other back into living it.
Like Nancy Drew's chums grown up, Jamie's friends always have her back. Even a
curmudgeonly reader like myself, who likes her crime unsullied by soap opera,
was won over.
If you fancy wilderness action/adventure with lesbian
heroines, you should take a look at Hunter's Pursuit by Kim Baldwin ($15.95,
Bold Strokes Books) and Have Gun We'll Travel by Lori L. Lake ($18.95,
Quest Books). In Hunter's Pursuit, Kat is a contract killer known as Hunter
who has retired to a remote snowbound retreat. Against her better judgement, she
rescues an injured woman who claims to have no memory of who she is or how she
got to Kat's door. In Have Gun We'll Travel, St. Paul police officers (and
lesbian couple) Dez and Jaylynn are on a camping trip with friends when they run
afoul of escaped convicts (not to mention Russian mobsters), and Jaylynn is taken
hostage. The woods of northern Minnesota have never looked meaner.
Distant Shores, Silent Thunder, the new
novel by the astoundingly prolific and popular author Radclyffe, contains a murder
but is not primarily a mystery ($15.95, Bold Strokes Books). Rather, it is the
multi-strand story of a group of lesbian friends in the gay tourist mecca of Provincetown.
Similarly, even though Code Blue by KatLyn ($18.50, Intaglio) has a rather
complicated serial-killer plot, the book's raison d'etre is the attraction between
(yet another) lesbian cop and dyke doctor. And if a gal is looking for true love
instead of justice on the mean streets, I don't really care.
This Just In:
Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders by Alicia Gaspar De Alba ($23.95,
Arte Publico Press) is an amazing and important book meant to draw attention to
a real-life wave of terrible crimes against women. For over a decade, a mounting
toll of hundreds of bodies — now 350 mostly poor Mexican women — have been found
in the desert outside Juarez, the Mexican city across the border from El Paso,
Texas. (Why is this not the biggest news story in the world right now?) In this
fictional account, LA professor and Chicana lesbian Ivon Villa travels to Juarez/El
Paso to adopt a child. There she finds out about the murders and, when her own
little sister disappears, she is compelled to investigate.
There is almost too much going on in Desert Blood. The fictional
Ivon's story is a gripping adventure, with family drama, romantic complications,
false trails, brutality and heroism. It stands on its own, with a satisfying resolution.
On the other hand, there is no solution as yet to the real murders, and the detailed
descriptions of autopsies and mutilated bodies seem all the more horrifying for
being real. This is not a conventional mystery, and not just because it mixes
fact and fiction. As Gaspar de Alba writes,
"This wasn't a case of 'whodunnit,' but rather of who was allowing
these crimes to happen? Whose interests were being served? Who was covering it
up? Who was profiting from the deaths of all these women?"
In a conspiracy this large there can be no single villain.
Mysteries to Watch Out For:
The wonderful out lesbian author Val McDermid has just published a new book
in her series about Scottish lesbian reporter Linsday Gordon, Hostage to Murder
($12.95, Bywater)! Lindsay is back in Scotland and at loose ends, until a local
car dealer's stepson is kidnapped. The trail leads to St. Petersburg and a dangerous
snatch-back operation. McDermid has won major mystery awards on both sides of
the Atlantic; her Lindsay Gordon books are witty, smart and feminist. This is
a must-read. In addition, McDermid writes a superb non-lesbian series about Scotland
Yard detectives Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, who are usually on the track of particularly
grisly serial killers. New in this series are: The Torment of Others ($24.95,
Minotaur) and The Last Temptation ($3.99, Minotaur).
Here is a round-up of mysteries about African American women, none of them
lesbian as far as I know:
Jackson Park was the first Cook County mystery by African American writer
Charlotte Carter, and she has just published the second, Trip Wire (both
$12.95, One World/Ballantine). In the Nineties, Carter wrote an unconventional
series set in New York and Paris, about saxophonist Nanette Hayes, that was sheer
jazz poetry (Rhode Island Red, Cog au Vin, Drumsticks and
Walking Bones, all $14.00, Serpent's Tail). So I can't wait to see what
she does with these intergenerational mysteries, featuring African American Cassandra
Lisle and her great-aunt and uncle, Ivy and Woody, set in Chicago in the turbulent
Sixties. In Jackson Park, Cassandra is a senior in college in 1968 when
Martin Luther King is assassinated. Trip Wire is set during the Democratic
convention, when Cassandra moves into a radical commune.
For hard-core action/adventure fans, there's The Assassin by Rachel
Butler ($6.99, Dell), featuring Jamaican Selena McCaffrey, owner of a Key West
art gallery, who is forced into the role of assassin by a drug dealer from her
the chick lit side there's the comic caper Video Cowboys
by Yolanda Joe ($22.00, Simon & Schuster), featuring Chicago
TV reporter Georgia Barnett. Here Georgia gets in the middle of
a bank robbery gone wrong and her cameraman is taken hostage.
In Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis ($17.95,
Red Dress Ink) a Black Jewish mystery writer discovers that a
killer is imitating the murders in her books. The Company You
Keep by Angela Henry ($14.00, BET Books) is the first mystery
featuring Ohio GED instructor Kendra Clayton, who helps her best
friend solve the murder of her ex, the boyfriend many women love
to hate. Angela Henry also maintains the MystNoir web site, http://mystnoir0.tripod.com/MystNoirDir/,
dedicated to mysteries "written by or featuring African Americans."
New in Paper:
I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason by Susan Kendal ($6.99, Avon). A
fun romp through Fifties Hollywood, via a contemporary writer investigating an
old case of Earle Stanley Gardner's. (Minor lesbian sub-plot.)
The Game by Laurie R. King ($6.99, Bantam/Dell). The world's greatest
detective undertakes a spy mission in India, with some help from her husband,
Sherlock Holmes. Due in June: another Russell/Holmes adventure, Locked Rooms
($24.00, Bantam), in which the pair travel to San Francisco and we learn more
about Russell's American family.
Fundraising & Raffles
Soapstone, a writer’s retreat and workspace for women writers, is fundraising via raffle. Prizes include a week for four at Soapstone and many other wonderful treats.
Check it out at http://www.soapstone.org/raffle.html. Entries must be received
by July 31.
Awards and Prizes
This year’s Tiptree Awards for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores
our understanding of gender went to Joe Haldeman for Camouflage and
to Johanna Sinisalo for Troll: A Love Story
(published outside the USA as Not Before Sundown).
The Tiptree shortlist isn’t the list from which the judges picked the winners — it’s a list of books that the judges found interesting, relevant to the award,
and worthy of note.
A. S. Byatt, Little Black Book of Stories
L Timmel Duchamp, Love's Body, Dancing in
of Us Can Almost..."(on SciFi.com)
Nancy Farmer, Sea of Trolls
Eileen Gunn, Stable Strategies and Others
Gwyneth Jones, Life
Jaye Lawrence, "Kissing Frogs"
(in Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 2004)
For more info go to http://www.tiptree.org/.
And for more great reading, check out The James Tiptree Award Anthology,
a collection of stories, excerpts, and great commentary on the development of
the award. My favorite piece is Joanna Russ’ elegant claiming of Alice B.
Sheldon (who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr) as a lesbian.
$15.95, Tachyon Publications.
The Publishing Triangle Awards
Publishing Triangle Leadership Award went to The Lesbian Herstory
Archives, the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement went to
Edward Field, and The Robert Chesley Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement in Playwriting Awards went to Michael Kearns (Lifetime Achievement Award)
and Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas (Emerging Artist).
The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Alison Smith, Name All the Animals (Scribner)
The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction
David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays
and Lesbians in the Federal Government (University of Chicago Press)
The Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction: Women
Stacey D’Erasmo, A Seahorse Year (Houghton Mifflin)
The Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction: Men
Adam Berlin, Belmondo Style (St. Martin's Press)
The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Maureen Seaton, Venus Examines Her Breast (Carnegie Mellon University Press)
The Publishing Triangle Award for Gay Male Poetry
Carl Phillips, The Rest of Love (Farrar Straus Giroux)
The Philip K. Dick Awards
The awards are given to a science fiction paperback original published for the
first time during 2004 in the U.S.
Life, by Gwyneth Jones (Aqueduct Press)
Special citation was given to Apocalypse Array by Lyda Morehouse (Roc).
Other shortlisted titles included:
Stable Strategies For Middle Management by Eileen Gunn (Tachyon
City Of Pearl by Karen Traviss (Eos)
Banner Of Souls by Liz Williams (Bantam Spectra)
Rise and Resist: Young Queer Women Do Activism
Maura Ryan is looking for: personal essays written by lesbian, bisexual, and transgender
women (in their late teens to early thirties) on their participation in queer
activism(s) to create a snapshot of what young queer women are doing to resist
the current oppressive political climate that engulfs our lives. Deadline: July
15, 2005. For more info email: email@example.com
The Other Mother: Tales from the Lesbian Home-Front or Nonbiological Mothers
Tell All, an anthology by and for non-biological lesbian moms, seeks “personal
essays — humorous, sad, sweet, snide, whatever voice it takes, about the phenomenon
of raising children birthed by your partner. The premise is that two-mom households
represent a family architecture unique not only because of having same-sex parents,
but also because of the intentional non-bio/bio dynamic (not quite traditional
step-parenting). As of now, it seems the only literature available has to do with
tragic custody tales.” For more info go to http://www.harlynaizley.com/omproposal.html
or email Harlyn Aizley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One In Ten Screenplay Contest
Dedicated to the positive portrayal of GLBTQs in film, deadline is Sept. 1. For
more info go to www.screenplaycontests.com
or email Cherubfilm@aol.com.
The Future Is Queer
BTWOF: The Gay Men’s Edition editor Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel are collecting
science fiction tales for an anthology to be published by Arsenal Pulp Press,
Fall '06. ”We're looking for visionary short stories extrapolating actual GLBT concerns
into the future, whether it be the next decade or a far-off millennium.” Send
stories (or request details):Richard Labonte at email@example.com.
We hear way too many reports of feminist and LGBT bookstores closing, but this
issue we get to announce two that have opened:
Broad Vocabulary is a new feminist bookstore in Milwaukee. It specializes
in feminist literature, subculture studies, progressive politics, cultural movements,
and non-sexist young adult/children’s books (both new and used), as well as T-shirts,
bumper stickers, magnets, buttons, soy candles, homemade books and journals, pepper-spray,
cards, pride-gear, local art, stationery, zines.... (gee, sounds just like a feminst
bookstore!) Co-owners Molly Tennessen and Amy Daroszeski also host readings, writing
groups, and (gasp!) consciousness-raising groups. These are young women, folks,
not holdovers from the 70s. May they thrive! 2241 S. Kinnickinnic, Milwaukee,
WI 53207; www.broadvocabulary.com;
The Reading Grounds is a new LGBT bookstore and coffee house in Omaha.
“We’re creating a place where you can go to relax, alone or with friends—a place
that embraces diversity and stimulates independent thinking—a place where you’ll
always find ‘Brewing Attitudes’,” says Cindy Collins, president of The Reading
Grounds. Fifty percent of the bookstore’s inventory will cater to the LGBT community.
The Reading Grounds will also offer gourmet coffee, lattes, smoothies, sandwiches,
salads, and desserts. The Reading Grounds, 3928 Farnam St, Omaha, NE 68131; 402-502-2008.
Meanwhile, Tampa’s 18-year-old gay bookstore, gift shop and coffee house, Tomes
& Treasures, and Sacramento's gay bookstore, The Open Book, have closed. Seattle's Beyond the Closet bookstore is slated
to close at the end of July.
BTWOF Talks with Abha Dawesar about Babyji
BTWOF: Babyji is an exciting novel that covers a lot
of — sometimes unexpected — ground. Where did the idea for it start?
AD: The first fifteen or twenty pages which were intended as a short story
is where Babyji began. I had the main character Anamika in mind already
and I wanted another character called India so that I could blur the boundaries
between the person and the country.
Is that similar or different from your experience with Miniplanner?
They are similar in that they both started as short stories
and turned into novels. Miniplanner, however, was written at great speed over the
course of five weekends or so, while Babyji gestated for years after I’d written
the first forty or fifty pages because I started a new high stress job that kept
me very busy.
I’m sure everyone asks you this: Does Babyji draw on your
own experiences growing up?
No. When I was a teenager growing up I was actually writing and reading fiction!!
Babyji has a very adventurous life. I wrote a novella in the summer vacations
that took place in an imaginary international school in Delhi. I also wasn’t as
much of a nerd as Babyji is in the book (I hated Physics in high school!). I spent
almost all my time thinking about big grand ideas like death — [I was] just a
little morbid and a lot less optimistic than Babyji.
The five-year-old son of one of Anamika’s lovers calls her
“the Bhaiyya who was a Didi.” There are a lot of words out there these days to
describe women who are attracted to other women — would you use any of them to
describe Anamika? Or the woman she’ll grow into being?
In general [in India] a lot of children will call other kids who are older
than they are Bhaiyya or Didi. In this case the young boy is not sure whether
the person visiting his mother is a boy or a girl.
I’d be loathe to describe Anamika in any words other than those used in the
book. We see her in a period of time where she is learning at a very rapid pace
about herself and inventing herself as she makes the passage to adulthood. The
snapshot of her we have is limited to a brief period of time in a culture (India)
and at a time (1990) and age (16) where she would be less interested in words
to describe herself and more interested in experience. To be true to the book,
it’s necessary not to dress her in terms that are relevant to the United States
in 2005. India was at the cusp of an incredible change at the time when the book
is set which is why this time interests me. Cable television had just come to
India and we went from having one government-run TV station to suddenly seeing
The Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara which, by the public
standards of the time, were brash and edgy (and an instant addiction!). Things
that had never been spoken about or publicly discussed were slowly inching out
toward the spotlight. I mean things like marital problems and adultery. And when
change came it came quickly. Within a few years the landscape had metamorphosed
and those who came of age in the late nineties are unlikely to have lived the
life of those who were in high school five years before.
You’ve said that when you’re writing your characters (and
their dramas) become a big part of your life. Do you miss hanging out with Anamika?
Is she still a recurring presence? Where do you think her life would go after
the conclusion of the novel?
For me writing Babyji was certainly about hanging out with Anamika but it
was as much about hanging out with India or Deepak or Vidur or Rani. That is to
say it took me back to India and Delhi when I was working on it (whether the first
draft or a revision). And that was both difficult and fantastic when I was away
from India. On the other hand, publishing is a very slow process and books tend
to come out long after you finished working on them. What I am missing now is
actually the next book which I have just finished, and its main character, a difficult
but extraordinary old man called Prem who is 75.
The science and math in Anamika’s daily studies do a lot
to shape her worldview — did you have to go back and review it all or was it all
still on reserve in the back of your mind?
The science had never been in my mind, back or front! It was all fresh work.
I’d read Richard Feynman at some point while I was working on Babyji and got inspired.
I found some science books and read them and finally understood, years after having
left high school, the enormous paradigm shift from Newtonian mechanics to quantum
mechanics. I owe Babyji that!
Your Harvard degree is in political philosophy, and you worked
in global financial services for eight years in NYC. Are you writing full time
now? Is writing the next logical career step from financial services?
I moved to NY in order to write. I had to have a job in order to pay the bills
but I always knew that it was a means to an end: writing. The big step was to
give up the financial security of a regular job to turn to writing full-time.
One learns to live with very little money and do things differently. In terms
of how much it gives me at other levels I haven’t yet regretted that trade-in.
What are you working on now?
My new novel is about writers. It takes place in New York and Paris and is
narrated in a close third person voice. I think a lot of writers go through a
time when they write about writers and some get stuck permanently. I was therefore
resistant to the idea of this novel. It’s easy to fall into the trap of an autofictive
loop that reverts to yourself all the time. My main character is therefore 75.
In the process of writing this novel, I’ve learned from him.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading a book that should be coming out in the Fall by NK Shapiro called
What Love Means to You People. It seems very promising at the moment. It’s
the love story of an older man and a younger man.
Back to the new books
© 2005 Books To Watch Out For
Graphics © Judy Horacek
Books To Watch Out For
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