Edging Outside of the Box

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown was the first lesbian centered book that I ever read. At the time, I was in my early teens, and the 80s decade was just getting underway. My raging teenage hormones brought the realization that I wasn’t like other girls; because I really liked other girls. Not an easy thing to discover growing up in a small conservative Midwestern town during the early 80s. Needless to say, my coming out had been a painful and lonely experience. Books like Rubyfruit Jungle and Katherine V. Forrest’s Curious Wine were a salve to the wounds I suffered during my coming out. They made me feel less lonely living outside of the box of the straight existence that I was supposed to live within. They made me feel validated and hopeful. It’s why I’ll always love the lesbian romance genre. It’s why I’ll always be a fan of the greats like Karin Kallmaker, Georgia Beers, K.G. MacGregor and Maryanne K. Martin, just to name a few.

In recent years, our genre has exploded with so many amazing and wonderful new authors. That explosion has led to the inevitable broadening of the scope of stories that we tell. There simply isn’t room for all of us to stay within the confines of writing lesbian romance. While lesbian romance will always have a place on my bookshelf, as an author and reader, I find myself drawn toward the outside of the genre’s edges. Not because I don’t like romance. To the contrary, I love romance. I’m a romantic at heart, and a happy-ending-kind-of-girl.

But, real life is different. With all of the problems that we face from violence, to poverty, to war, to a dangerously changing planet, there is so much to say. In addition to being a romantic, I’m also an idealist. I believe that if we’re willing to talk to each other, to pull back the layers of a problem and examine it with an open mind, we can find solutions. That is the premise of my writing. That is the kind of change or discussion I hope to spark with my stories. It’s why I’m so proud of my latest novel, Blowback.

But, it can be a little lonely writing outside of the edges. Blowback is without question outside of the edges of the lesbian romance genre. While the story features a lesbian protagonist in a long-term relationship, it explores the subject of gun violence. The protagonist’s sexuality is secondary to exploring the subject of guns. However, her sexuality is important in that it shows a wider audience that same-sex couples deal with the same kinds of things as straight couples. We have money problems, family issues to manage and sometimes struggle to make time for our partners in a busy world of jobs, responsibilities and worries. As for the subject of guns, facts and statistics about the ease with which guns move among us and the too often resulting violence give the story its structure. Reviewers have said that while the story was not an easy journey, it was a journey worth taking.

While the story was not an easy story to write, it was, without question, a story worth writing. For those who are nervous about trying a story outside the comfortable edges of lesbian romance, I invite you to come along with me. We’ll go together, I promise to stay by your side during the journey. What better way to take on the tough subjects of our time than together.

The print version of Blowback was published by Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company and is available at http://binkbooks.bedazzledink.com/, http://www.amazon.com and http://www.barnesandnoble.com.

The audiobook version will soon be available at http://www.audible.com/. I couldn’t be more pleased with the narrator, Erin Bennett, http://erinbennettvo.com/, and production by BeeAudio, http://www.beeaudio.com/. Erin brings Blowback to life in a way that truly elevates the story.

If you’re still on the fence over whether to give Blowback a try, below are excerpts from reviews.

  • “Blowback is intended to spark conversation and debate. I hope it will succeed in doing so. It’s also enjoyable and gripping fiction.”
  • “An exceptional book. One of those books you can’t put down.”
  • “High marks for a gutsy book.”
  • “While taking on a difficult subject, her approach is neither heavy-handed nor simplistic.”
  • “Blowback is a thought provoking novel that casts an important light on the complicated issue of gun control.”
  • “The main character, Meghan, grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I couldn’t get her out of my head.”
  • “As a gun owner, it made me think.”
  • “But what the book should do is make you think, question, discuss. And I suspect that is the highest compliment Ms Prescott would ask for.”
  • “Kudos to Bev Prescott for having the courage to write this story. While many characters populate this tale, the story revolves around the travels of a gun and it’s eventual owner. She presents both sides of the gun debate with thoughtful fairness.”
  • “Blowback is the most assured offering from Bev Prescott yet, never has her writing been more crisp and driven. I literally could not put it down.”
  • “As anyone knows I am not an advocate of strict gun control and believe that everyone should have the right to defend and protect themselves and their families. This book really and truly made me think though.”
  • “It gripped me from the cover until the end.”
  • “I won’t lie to you, Blowback isn’t always easy to read. Anything that makes us reexamine ourselves can be difficult to take. Especially when it’s so steeped in realism. But I will tell you this: Blowback is worth reading – every, single word.”

In Favor of Compassionate Informed Communication, Fuck the Rule about Not Saying Fuck

Yes, I said the word “fuck.” It got your attention. You’re reading this blog. The question is, why did it get your attention? I think it’s because it’s one of those words we’re not supposed to say in polite company or writing. Yet, lots of us would use it otherwise, if it wouldn’t get us into trouble. It’s a good word for expressing frustration about a lot of things. What’s the harm in uttering “fuck” when you stub your toe? I know it makes me feel just a little bit better. That said, it isn’t a word I’d ever use at work, or in the company of certain people. Mostly because I don’t want to be offensive, or get fired. But, if I need to use it in order to make a necessary point, I’m not afraid.

Not wanting to offend or get fired from a job are rational reasons for not saying a particular word, or talking about certain taboo subjects. However, censorship of what we think, feel and question about the world ignores humanity’s most important tool for survival in dangerous times. Analyzing our thoughts and expressing ourselves through language are the things that make us human. Communication is how we solve problems, cooperate with each other, and maybe even change the world. Evolutionary Biologist, Mark Pagel, said the following:

“Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It’s a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people’s minds. I’m talking about your language, of course, because it allows you to implant a thought from your mind directly into someone else’s mind, and they can attempt to do the same to you, without either of you having to perform surgery.”

Yet, when it comes to some of the most important and divisive subjects that we need to really talk about, we clam up. You know the rule, don’t talk about things like religion, racism, war, violence and the environment. Unless, of course, you’re in like company. If that’s the case, we’re comfortable preaching to the choir. But when surrounded by the so-called “enemy,” what we want to say or question gets stifled behind concrete walls of fearful silence. We’ll ignore them like the elephant in the room in favor of being liked, selling ourselves or remaining safely on the sidelines.

Even when we have questions about the latest dogma, we’re too afraid or sometimes lazy to challenge the inaccuracies and folly of the 10-second sound bites. These bits of communication and half-truths are created by those who seek to control our thinking and divide us into an us versus them mentality. 10-second sound bites ignore the complexities of a particular issue and polarize our thinking. In my opinion, tough questions and answers are never black or white. They exist in the gray of the fog. Maybe that’s why we’re easily swayed by the swift sure message of the 10-second sound bite. We don’t want to venture into the fog. We don’t want to question our own assumptions and belief systems. We want to be right. We want to be liked.

As Psychologist, Steven Pinker, says, “When people talk, they lay lines on each other, do a lot of role playing, sidestep, shillyshally and engage in all manner of vagueness and innuendo. We do this and expect others to do it, yet at the same time we profess to long for the plain truth, for people to say what they mean, simple as that. Such hypocrisy is a human universal.”

This hypocrisy shields us from the fog. The trouble is that we’ll never find the answers to or evolve past our problems if we aren’t willing to venture into the fog.

Writing my latest novel, “Blowback,” was my attempt to wade into the fog of gun violence in the U.S. I knew that the journey would require that I leave my assumptions behind in order to tell a story not built with politics and 10-second sound bites. Instead, the story is built using statistics and facts. I chose to create characters who, notwithstanding having different views on gun ownership, were good people. As one reviewer of “Blowback” has said, “the characters have opinions that range across the spectrum of the gun control debate, including those who feel the need to keep a gun in their home for their own security, and those who would never want a gun in their home. People on both sides of the issue are portrayed as rational individuals.”

When I was in the early stages of writing “Blowback,” a friend asked whether taking on such a volatile subject was such a good idea. The question made me think long and hard about diverging from the safety of writing a lesbian romance to something dark and dangerous. But, as one of my favorite authors, Ann McMan says, “We write what we need to write.” What I needed to say was “fuck it” to my worries about not being liked, and simply write the story that I needed to write.

But, here’s the thing. Coming to that conclusion was the easy part. The real challenge was in figuring out how to tell the story in a way that nudged readers to think rather than react negatively. Most people have an instant and passionate gut reaction to the subject of guns. I wasn’t interested in poking at people’s buttons to spark those reactions. I wanted people from both sides of the issue to feel included and validated by the story. Based on reviews, I feel as though that’s exactly what I accomplished. The process has taught me a lot about communication and to not be afraid to talk about taboo subjects. Key things that I learned is that effective communication requires honesty, being knowledgeable, and always striving to be respectful of opposing viewpoints.

Whether telling a story, writing a review, talking with people or simply moving through life, I suspect that honesty, bravery, knowledge and kindness will get us far and save us from our worst problems. It’s how we lift ourselves and each other to a better place. I hope to a place with less violence, vitriol, anger and divisiveness.  In that vein, whatever your convictions, I leave you with a last quote which I hope inspires your language in a way that heals rather than destroys.

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” Philip K Dick.

Cheers and Peace

Place Within our Stories by Penelope Grey and Bev Prescott

Penelope Grey is an indie author whose books I absolutely adore. I’m one of her biggest fans, and will read anything that she writes. Her writing is sweet, organic and genuine. I highly recommend her two novels, Infinity’s Song and Caught and Kept. They are both in her Siren’s Song Book series. With both books, I felt as though Penelope had taken me on a journey to the Pacific North West. It was as if the Pacific North West was a character in the books. Because I appreciate that so much about her writing, I asked her to join me to talk about how “place” factors into her novels and becomes a character in and of itself. To learn more about Penelope Grey, please check out the link to her blog. For more information on her books, I’ve included a link to her author page at Amazon. Our chat is below. Our respective initials mark our questions and responses to each other.

http://penelopesgreyspace.blogspot.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Penelope-Grey/e/B00J813JRI/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

BP: One of the things that I love about your writing is the sense of place that you bring to your stories. For example, in your novels “Infinity’s Song” and “Caught and Kept,” Whidbey Island in Puget Sound felt like a distinct character with its own part to play. Did you intend for it to take on such a prominent role? Or, did your love of the island simply color the story with its presence?

PG: That was intentional. I do, indeed, love Whidbey the Puget Sound. They are the only places outside of Southern England that my heart feels at peace and I wanted the reader to feel that. Where we stand each day is part of our own daily lives and to exclude it, I think, leaves part of the story untold.

For instance, in your “My Soldier Too” Boston was so vivid. I could see the streets and the neighborhoods which had defined Isabella’s world as much as the people. I felt as if in “Step Into the Wind” Alex was shaped not just by circumstance and emotional history, but by the place she grew up.   Maine, the town and the camp drove part of your story line, but it also wrapped around the reader and whispered in their ear. So same question for you. Intentional or just effusive love?

We are both women who found wild corners of the world but we came from vastly different places. What was it about Maine that seduced you away from your Midwestern roots? How is the culture and life in Maine different or the same? Can you ever see going back?

BP: It was definitely intentional. The setting for those stories was as deliberate and important as the drafting of the characters. Like your love of Whidbey, mine for New England runs deep. I know that this “wild corner of the world” is where I’m meant to be. I think place also drives the culture of the people who live there. By having place take a prominent role in our stories, I think we help shape our characters more fully as well.

I ended up in New England by chance. When I joined the military after high school, I was stationed at a base in upstate New York. My pals and I used to spend a lot of time hiking in the Adirondacks and taking the ferry over to Burlington, VT. I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the Northeast, New England in particular. It’s almost as if all the cells in my body aligned with the rhythm of the place. I also met my spouse in Burlington, VT. Our first date was to climb Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. She’s a New Englander through and through. As for Maine, it’s my favorite of all the New England states. I love the independence of Mainers, the rocky shoreline, the food, the North Woods, the rugged culture etc. I could go on and on.

The culture in Maine is very different from where I grew up in the Midwest. It would be tough to explain fully in a short blog. I don’t ever see myself going back to the Midwest. In fact, I’ve said before that the only reason that I would no longer live in New England is if New England ceased to exist. This is my home, and I hope that circumstance will always let that be the case.

I loved your questions and want to know your answers with respect to Whidbey and the Pacific Northwest. Do you envision writing any stories in a different setting? If so, how would you go about capturing the essence of that place like you’ve done so beautifully with the Pacific Northwest? Also, please tell us more about your connection to Southern England.

PG: Your connection to New England and Maine are very similar to mine with the Pacific Northwest and Whidbey. I grew up in Southern California with freeways, subdivisions, pavement and shopping malls. The most “natural” memories I have are of the beach. When I was a student in the U.K. I had friends in Southern England I visited often. Between the rugged coastline of the north where I was in school and the gentle moors of the south, Britain captured my heart immediately. I had never seen so much green. I learned to smell and sense the weather shifts (something I do still) and see life in all things around me. It’s as if my feet had finally touched earth. In Caught and Kept Dani tells Kai about arriving to the island and knowing instantly Whidbey was where she was meant to be. That story is true and it’s mine. Twelve years after leaving England I stepped off a ferry boat and felt that connection again. It was immediate, unexpected and profound. Being on an island is unique and special. We joke that we have to be especially nice because we all, literally, depend on one another. My new adventure to Portland is teaching me that the Pacific Northwest lifestyle is alive and well off the island too. It is one of nicest cities (in every way) I’ve ever experienced.

I want to write about London and England but need to let my recent trips settle inside of me. Bill Bryson’s, Notes From A Small Island chronicled his experience in England through a distinctly American lens. I would like to bring a bit of that to a few of my stories but with more of the feminine voice. The Midwest is also in my background. My dad was a farm boy from Southern Illinois and I have a few fleeting memories of a couple of summers on my Aunt’s farm. I visited again recently and it touched me deeply. There is a rural cultural from which we are becoming disconnected in this country and that is sad. Place is more than setting to me. Like you, it shapes, informs and drives our characters, as it has the both of us.

Having said all of this, my current work in progress intentionally has very little sense of a specific place. I wanted and needed this story to be all about the connections and journeys of this group of women. It has been extremely challenging to write from this perspective and root characters in only relationships and emotion without engaging too much in the external world in which they live. Can you ever imagine writing a story that is “internal” and not dependent on place? Do you think characters can become “place” in lieu of environment? If so, how do you think you would approach or tell that kind of tale?

BP: That’s a tough question, and my hat is off to you for trying. I’m not sure I could write a story that is internal and not dependent on place.   I think of place like the roots of tree. The roots ground the story and give it context. That said, my next novel will take place in a dystopian future that has been dramatically altered because of climate change. So, that place will be something I’ll have to create from scratch based on the predictions by scientists of how our planet will change. But, the story will still be grounded in “place” in that it will be about how things look now versus in a very different future. I’m excited for the challenge. I’ve been reading lots about climate change. Things like how it occurs naturally, how humans are changing the equation and scientific predictions for the future. Taking a step back and thinking about my writing, I suspect “place” will always be a character.

Your next story sounds really interesting. Would you mind giving us a few more details? I’m a big fan of your writing and look forward to your next book. I’m one of those readers who will read everything that you write.

PG: I am so looking forward to reading your next book and seeing how you create place out of a dystopian future. How fun to create completely from imagination (and good research too)! My next book is an ode to the unique world of women. From menses to childbirth, weight gain and weight loss, our shapes and sizes, disease and trauma, our bodies are the vessels that carry us through this life. No woman I know is untouched by her relationship with her body. With that as my “place”, along with a group of women I hope everyone will enjoy, I am exploring new love, rekindling love, and the unique love that female friendships bring to our lives.