Hey Genta! Welcome! So happy to have you here, and so excited for your new book, When Butches Cry! Congrats!! Can you tell us a little about you?
Hi Jessie! Thanks for the welcome. Well, I’ve chased the Earth around the sun quite a few times now, and hopefully learned a thing or two along the way. One of my pleasures is telling people stories that somehow improve their lives. It’s what I live for, actually.
Tell us a little about your checkered past!
I’m an award-winning novelist with a, yes, checkered past that includes taking a year off to drive an RV around the United States, performing as a storyteller for places like the Majestic Yosemite Lodge, and public speaking in places as varied as Disneyland and the Foxwoods Resort & Casino. Nowadays I’m content to sit at home in the Twin Cities with my wife, and write.
In light of writing, what brought you to noveling? Which, as we know, is entirely different!
That is it. I wrote my first novel while in middle school. It was maudlin, full of teenage angst, parental disapproval, and a fatally flawed romance. It was terrible, but my girlfriends loved hearing a new chapter every day at lunch. Soon I was sitting on top of the lunch table as the seats and tables nearby filled up with kids listening to me read my story. The gathering grew larger and larger. It kept me writing every day for the better part of the year.
Wow! That’s one way to get the story out there. Then life intruded, as it tends to do. I understand you’re helping to raise your great grandson! How do you manage to find time to write while chasing the little one around?
I have the most amazing wife in the world. She is in charge of the three-year-old pretty much 95% of the time, and those moments when I’m ‘on duty’ all I do is play with him. She takes care of him, and pretty much everything else at our house, to give me time to write.
You’re one lucky lady! As I was perusing your website, I learned you’ve dipped your writing toes into a number of literary ponds, from young adult to erotica to romance. Maybe even more than that! Can you tell us a little about your journey through genres and why you gravitated to the ones you have?
My granddaughter was in elementary school and I was worried about what sort of trouble she’d face for living with two grandmothers, so I started writing YA books about kids living with gay parents. I wrote Riding the Rainbow, followed by A Man’s Man. I bought a big book of publisher’s addresses and started sending out carefully crafted query letters. After a hundred and fifty rejection notices, I began to question my skills. Maybe I was fooling myself into thinking I could write?
That’s rough stuff, isn’t it? What happened next?
Yes! To see if what I wrote was saleable, I started submitting erotica short stories to lesbian anthologies. Under the pen name Aunt Fanny, I sold nine stories in eighteen months. Reassured, I turned away from the romance/erotica anthologies to return to YA literature. I knew I had one more story about growing up gay.
That’s one way to break into publishing! Tell me more!
The Boxer Shorts Rebellion was my answer to a nearby school district’s Don’t Say Gay policy in response to an avalanche of student suicides. Most of the kids who died or attempted to kill themselves had been bullied at school and online. I wrote what’s basically a horror story/coming of age in a rage novel. My heart was sore from so many young people choosing death and I held back no punches with that book, describing real scenes of bullying with the disturbing language that always accompanies such acts. It’s a hard book to read because it’s a hard thing to live through.
I think sometimes that’s exactly what needs to be written. It had to be really difficult for you.
I was wrung out. I’d written three books for kids ranging from middle-grade, young adult, and mature YA readers. Each had dealt with fear, discrimination, and bullying. I needed a change of pace.
Sure, I’d written the occasional spec-fiction short story for inclusion in other anthologies, and I have a space mystery half-written. But my attention returned to a project I’d begun a decade ago, based on the life of the remarkable woman I married, and some of her adventures.
That’s your new book, When Butches Cry. Congrats! Can you give us a quick rundown of what the book is about?
It’s a novel about a mischievous young butch, Traf, and her band of merry lesbians facing the challenges of the 1950s and 60s on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll snort with surprise, and that’s all on the first page. No, but really, it’s a book about people, most of whom you’ll recognize. We all know Troublemakers and may even be one ourselves.
Tell us a little about the Troublemakers, who as you so eloquently put it, “create a thriving subculture in a hostile world.”
Traf, mischievous and unruly, is in trouble all the time. She likes to do the things boys and men do, which puts her at odds with pretty much everybody. Luckily, she has friends a lot like her and they make a club to share their good times and bad. Other, more traditional girls and women join them and they won’t be driven away.
Who are the Troublemakers? There’s Ana, a sweet femme. Manuela, Traf’s best friend, is her favorite partner in crime. Big-boned Odette and her star-crossed lover Lucia will break your heart. Scrappy little Berta will make you smile, and Ines and Isabella will have you in stitches. They’re a varied group, but together they form a family. The story takes place on the island of Terceira, a place I’ve never heard of before, in the mid-20th century. Why did you decide to set your novel here and why choose that time period?
My wife was born and raised on that island, during the time in which my story is set. So…simple coincidence!
Terceira has a very distinct culture. How did you go about researching it?
I’ve drawn a lot of stories from her memories, and explore the island as much as possible whenever we visit her family. I love the people and culture of Terceira. There’s over five hundred years of history there, and they love to remember the past.
What moved you to write a period piece?
John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. When I was a very little girl, my parents drove us through Cannery Row in Monterey. That was long before the tourism began, and the row was filled with empty buildings and vacant fields, but with a view to forever. By the time I read Cannery Row in college, it was already bristling with storefronts and restaurants, but in my mind’s eye I remembered the way it was shortly after Steinbeck wrote the novel. To him, it was modern times. To me, his reader of the future, he made it living history. I wanted to do that with When Butches Cry. The island and its people are vastly different now than they were more than a half-century ago. I wanted to remember those people and their times.
What else would you like everyone to know about When Butches Cry?
Dorothy Allison said about When Butches Cry, “The world needs more butch novels!” I totally agree with her, and not just because I self-identify as a femme. I’ve always respected the way butches fly in the face of the status-quo, demanding the world take them on their own terms. My wife is one of the bravest, most self-assured butch women I’ve ever met, and I want the world to know it.
Thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer my questions!
Thanks for this wonderful opportunity. I’m also looking for advance reviews and will offer a free ebook copy to anyone who commits to writing a review on Goodreads, and when it’s published, Amazon.
Genta thanks so much for swinging by and enduring my queries! If you’re interested in reviewing When Butches Cry on Goodreads or Amazon, leave a comment and I’ll get your info to Genta!