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Marianne K. Martin (left) pictured here with Val McDermid, Kelly Smith and Me in P-Town 2009, is the author of numerous lesbian romances, and one of the publishers of Bywater Books. She’s kicking off the blog tour on my site with an interview.
What made you decide to write lesbian fiction?
It’s affordable therapy. Seriously. I taught in the public school system for twenty-five years, as closed and closeted a profession as you can find, except maybe the religious sector. Expressing and exploring who I was as an individual, as a whole person, had to be done secretly and during those few hours that I wasn’t teaching, coaching, or losing my mind. It is the need to express the beliefs and thoughts and feelings that had been suppressed for so long.
So what makes a story lesbian?
There was a time when there were so few clearly lesbian books, in which the relationship between two women was clearly a sexual one, that the reader had to ‘make’ the story lesbian. They made the story their own, relatable, by changing the gender, the name, the characteristics of male characters to female. They wrote fan fiction where they changed the intent of the story, the dynamics and the relationships between the characters to fill their need for lesbian story-lines. Readers did this because they longed for their lives to be validated, to be able to recognize themselves in books and movies and TV shows, just as other minorities have longed for the same thing. These were lesbian stories because the readers made them so.
Now, though, there are many writers, writing stories where the reader sees the world through the eyes of a clearly lesbian character. Every experience, every relationship, every thought that the character has comes from that unique place of how and where she fits into the world. The choices that she makes in finding that fit, whether we like it or not, are affected by her sexuality. Some affected in a good way, some bad, and some in ways that are barely noticeable. But it is what makes the character who she is and what makes the story uniquely lesbian. In so many stories now, a reader can find bits of herself and parts of her life recognizable in the pages of a book.
What is your writing process like? Do you write different scenes and put them all together or do you just go from point A to point B?
I never know how a new project will start. More accurately, I never know what will start it. Something eventually becomes the concept for a new story, sometimes it is a vision of a character, at other times it’s a news story or a scene or a phrase that plays over and over in my head. Whatever starts it begins to develop and I start imagining what the next day in the scenario would be like or what must have happened in the past for this character or event to be where it is. I write everything down – an idea, a sentence, a scene. And when the story takes on a rough development in my head, I put it down in a rough outline form. I don’t stick strictly to the outline, it usually changes. But it helps me start collecting and organizing my notes, many of them written on whatever was handy at the time, and putting them into chapters. One time I was shingling my dad’s roof, listening to the cows all lined up at the fence across the road, and something kept developing in my head that I had to write down, so I wrote it on the scrap of wood that I was cutting the shingles on.
If you could have an afternoon with any one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Probably Nessie Tinker. She’s the tiny ninety-plus black woman from Under The Witness Tree. Her family ‘breathed the smoke of Sherman’s march’ and with all that she would have experienced in her life she has the most to teach me. I am so enthralled with Nessie, and her voice is so distinct, that I want to know all I can about her earlier life. She will have a book of her own.
Do you have a favorite among your stories?
Each story has things about it that make it special to me. The first, Legacy of Love, for obvious reasons. Love in the Balance because of the emotional connection with my mother, Mirrors and Dawn of the Dance because I taught through those situations, Under the Witness Tree because I learned so much about a part of our history only touched upon in our schools. And so on. So, I don’t think that I could pick out a favorite.
What do you find hardest about writing?
Usually, beginning a new book, staring at that first blank page. Katherine Forrest once told me that beginning a new book felt like Atlas carrying the world uphill. And it is tough, we are virtually creating a world and everything in it. Where do you begin?
What I have found most helpful are those snippets written on all those scraps of paper, and wood, and whatever. Somewhere in that collection is a beginning. It doesn’t always survive long as the beginning of the book, however. A version of it may end up in some other place in the book, or not survive rewrites at all, but it served to kick start me.
Running a close second in difficulty is getting others to respect time thinking as work time. Sitting for an hour staring into space just doesn’t look productive, but if it isn’t imagined it can’t be written. And it is very easy for others to interrupt a process they can’t see.
What’s your favorite thing about being a writer? What, for you, totally sucks about it?
I love the creative freedom of writing. It is exploratory and introspective. Through my characters I can go anywhere my mind wants to go. I can be who I am and everything I am not. I can love and hate, deceive and forgive. I can be Asian, or white, or black. I can believe in God or blame God, trust in love or not.
What sucks is knowing where you want your story to go and drawing a blank on how to get it there. ‘Writer’s block’, an altogether irritating and appropriate term, makes me anxious and frustrated. The first time I experienced it, with a deadline looming, I asked for advice from someone I respect immensely, Katherine Forrest. She told me to walk away from it for a while and do something enjoyable and relaxing (for me that’s doing something constructive with my hands – yard work, working on the house, etc.). She also said not to be afraid to ask for an extension to my deadline. As long as this is not over-used, asking for an extension is helpful to both the writer and the publisher. Rather than send in a sub-par manuscript or just not meet the deadline, an extension can allow the writer the time they need to get past the block and the publisher can move up other matters to fill the delay time. It’s important to remember, however, that there is a significant amount of pre-publicity that is done for each book and meeting deadlines is essential for that. A certain amount of time is built into the schedule to allow for delays along the way, but a book only gets out on time when the writer and publisher work honestly and closely on the timeline. All this having been said, blocking still sucks.
If you couldn’t write, what would you do?
I would be creating something in some other medium. I have an art minor, so I would probably be working in charcoal or pastels (which I don’t have enough time to do much anymore). And if I couldn’t do that, I’d be building or designing something.
Sometimes writers work internal issues out through their narratives. Have you ever written a scene or character that “hit too close to home” for you? How did you handle that?
I’ve written a number of scenes that I lived through personally – my mother’s death (Love in the Balance), bullying and the loss of a student to suicide (Mirrors), my grandmother’s death (Legacy of Love) – and I handle them the same way I did when they occurred, I cry. For that reason, I never use those scenes at any of my readings. I’ve had a particularly difficult time working through and finishing my latest book, The Indelible Heart. During the past year, in the middle of this book that deals with loss and recovery, I lost some important people in my life. It was hard to take my character to emotional places that I was trying to get through myself.
Tell us more about this next book. Isn’t this a sequel to Love in the Balance?
There’s been a lot of reader interest over the years to revisit the characters of Balance, to know where their fictitious lives have taken them. Sequels, though, are difficult, especially a sequel to a love story or romance. What appealed to the readers in the first book is usually the attraction, the thrill of first love between the characters. A sequel is not going to offer that. So, even though readers say they want to know what happens down the road, unconsciously they want to ‘feel’ what the first book made them feel.
So, I hesitate to call The Indelible Heart a sequel in that sense. What I hope to do is show what ten years of ‘life’ has done to the dynamics of the group of friends and their relationships following the devastating murders depicted in Balance. Not all of the relationships have survived, and each have had to deal with the loss in their own way. But, now they are faced with the possibility that the man who murdered their friends may be granted an early release from prison.
Sharon Davis becomes the main character in this book. She is irreverent, strong-willed, and passionate. The loss of so many loved ones in her life has left her emotionally vulnerable, hurt, and angry. The precarious balance she has maintained in recent years is now challenged by the possible early release, and by the sighting of a lost love. A lot has changed over the years – the growth of LGBT organizations, their political voice, the economy – and this group of friends is forced to examine their own beliefs as they struggle to help Sharon.
So, here’s the exciting news: my website is currently the project of an ambitious design student. And this initial process involves detailing the steps we’ll take to create a more innovative and effective site. What do I mean “we”?
Well, I get to answer vision questions. And I’m currently asking you to answer vision questions too. Will you take a moment, with these:
1. What motivates you to come to my site?
2. What kind of information are you looking for?
3. How would you like to be notified about new work and/or readings?
The more data the merrier.
And speaking of promotion, I’ll be in New Orleans for Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, May 14-16. If you’ve never been, come check it out.
It has been a big week. My second novel is typeset, and, hopefully, at the printers. My reading at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane is scheduled for Wednesday, November 4th at 7 p.m., and then on Friday, November 6th, I’ll host the 11th annual GLBT Film Festival in Spokane. For more info on the film festival, check out http://www.spokanefilmfest.org/
And I’ve just finished a first draft of my third manuscript.Read More
The thing about art is that it has to be manic. The crest and trough heaving is necessary to be able to experience and capture and elucidate the joy and folly of living. When you find yourself surrounded by nurturing, intelligent women with educated opinions and firebrand ideals, you start to think you’ve only ever half-lived. And you’re right.
So, P-Town was fantastic. Two readings, four signings, a wine & cheese mingle, a panel, and an improvised speech about how “The Price of Salt” — which I haven’t yet read — deserved to be voted the number one lesbian book of the previous century. I came in third to “Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit” and the winner, “Curious Wine.” More importantly, we had a fucking blast, and an opportunity to discuss the struggle to publish worthwhile books in this country, and why it’s more important than ever to pursue meaning, particularly as meaning is frequently in direct opposition to commerce.
The thing that got me, possibly more than anything else, was the writer Ruth Perkinson, and her efforts to make contacts with writers from other presses (in addition to bringing reinforcements to my second reading since I would be reading alone, and she wanted to insure I felt encouraged). Writers are solitary creatures for the most part, introverted and reluctant. When one of them draws us together, I find that wildly moving.
I’m to have my rewrite of my manuscript in to my editor by November 15th. I’m reinvigorated, and blissful. I’m on the crest, a wave that unfurls in a roaring rush, and promises never to break.
In graduate school, a woman I was in love with gave me a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s “The Passion” and promised it would change me. And it did. It was an uncomfortable read. Mad and operatic. Typical of Winterson in its tone and mode, as I would learn afterward, but startling in that first read. I remember having to remind myself to breathe. And the scene where the web-footed woman takes her gondola to the house of her married lover in order for her poor insane friend to steal back her still-beating heart is, even now, the way I conceptualize breakups. Messy, furtive, dreamy, improbable.
Winterson made it clear to me that modern literary fiction can play against all expectation by using myth and allegory as they were used when we were children. By scaring us. By telling stories about unsympathetic people doing unsympathetic things. By leaping through time and consciousness in a single paragraph. By changing stories midway through a book and just expecting the reader to catch up. To trust you.
Winterson made me feel more alive in the world.
And for ages—in some ways, even now—she was my only exposure to the classics of the lesbian canon. I’m still self conscious about missing Lesbian 101 where I should have read books like “The Price of Salt” or “Curious Wine” or “Beyond the Pale” or “Sea of Light.” Until this trip to PTown, I’d never even heard of three of these titles.
By the time I came out with the requisite bravery, I was reading Sarah Waters and Ali Smith and Val McDermid and wondering why all these fantastic books were from U.K. writers, and what that meant.
Sometimes I still feel like a tourist. Trying to orientate my map, enjoying the local dialect, the scenery and shopping, the variety of companionship in this place where I live.
Wednesday, October 15th
1:00 p.m. Group reading in the Madeira Room at the Vixen with a book signing afterwards at Now Voyager.
Thursday, October 16th
2:00 p.m. Bywater Group Book signing at Womencrafts with Cynn Chadwick, Jill Malone, Marianne K. Martin, Val McDermid and Mari SanGiovanni
4:00 p.m. Bywater Group Book signing at Now Voyager with Cynn Chadwick, Jill Malone, Marianne K. Martin, Val McDermid and Mari SanGiovanni
5:00 p.m. Jill Malone will read from Red Audrey and the Roping at the Cabo Lounge at the Vixen
6:00 p.m. Wine and Cheese Opening Celebration of Big Lesbian Read at Womencrafts
Friday, October 17th
Bywater Books Celebrates Lesbian Lit
This is a fundraiser for HOW (Helping Our Women) Admission is $5.00
Held upstairs in the Unitarian Universalist Church
An afternoon of discussion and readings with lesbian writers Val McDermid, Marianne K. Martin, Cynn Chadwick, Jill Malone, and Mari SanGiovanni
2:00 p.m. Internationally acclaimed author Val McDermid talks about lesbian lit
3:00 p.m. Bywater authors discuss what 20th century books rocked them!
4:00 p.m. An Iowa-caucus style meet-up where book affectionados speechify and stomp for their favorite books and we can all vote (with our bodies!) for the books (and speakers) who move us most.
Take a moment to vote for the best lesbian book of the 20th Century at http://www.bywaterbooks.com/xcart/pages.php?pageid=9Read More
Oh, this is mad exciting. Bywater Books has organized a number of stellar events in Provincetown, Massachusetts during Women’s Week. I’ll be there from Tuesday, October 14th until Saturday, October 18th.
On Wednesday, October 15th, I’ll be reading at the Vixen with several other authors from 1-3 p.m. Signings afterward at Now Voyager.
Thurday, October 16th, I’ll be reading in the Vixen’s wine bar at 5 p.m.
Check out Now Voyager and Womencrafts bookstores for more information about signings and readings, and to support local independents.
Take a moment to vote for your favorite lesbian book of the 20th Century at www.bywaterbooks.comRead More