Category Archives: “Why/Why Not” Author Series

Why/Why Not: “The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality”

It’s been a privilege for me to know Julie Sondra Decker for some time.  In addition to being a fiction writer and artist, she’s a passionate advocate and educator on asexuality (check out her recent excellent article for The Toast here!), and is a lovely person to boot.  I’m beyond delighted to have her join the blog today — the very day her book The Invisible Orientation comes out, a book I’ve been waiting to see hit the shelves for a while.

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Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write?  What parts speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of?

Julie Sondra Decker: There were literally no books out there for general audiences on the topic of asexuality. NONE. One fellow wrote a textbook, but it was both academic and written from a non-asexual point of view. Another fellow released the partial contents of his blog in a self-published book, but most of the promotion he does is through the same blog where you can read its contents online—it’s not marketed in a mainstream way. So basically, asexual people and their loved ones go to the bookstore, look for books about this topic, find a whole lot of nothing, and conclude that they’re alone or asexuality isn’t real. There’s a ton of power in a book being there for those people. I wanted it to exist, so I wrote it.

Part of the reason I decided it should be me to write the book was that I’ve been writing all my life, and people seem to pay attention when I write about this. I’m one of the only asexual people who had developed a really significant platform online, and because I’d already started pursuing publication for my fiction when my fairy tale trilogy got signed to an agent, I had some idea of how mainstream publishing worked. I was in a unique position to both develop the content and get it out there. So I did.

The book has very few personal bits; the introduction is a personal story of how I came to identify as asexual and why I think it’s important, but the rest is general. Despite that, every piece of it reflects my experience living in a world that doesn’t recognize asexuality or wants to erase it, and while it’s the first book of its kind, I hope it helps pave the way for more asexual people becoming secure in their identity, more non-asexual people supporting and nurturing their asexual friends and loved ones, and more asexual narratives in mainstream culture—including fiction.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

I have so much to say about this! First of all, I was afraid the book would feel too much like a single person’s perspective if I spoke in my “I” voice throughout, so for the most part I kept the personal content to the introduction and backed off the personality for the rest of the book. However, I worried that the audience would find it dry and disconnected if I didn’t find another way to make it feel personal, so I decided to incorporate illustrative quotes from asexual bloggers to facilitate reader connection. And it also served to feature diverse asexual narratives throughout—I had contributions from asexual people of color, asexual people with autism, asexual people with disabilities, asexual people of various gender identities, asexual people of many different romantic orientations; it ended up being the perfect solution to the problem of giving the audience a “who” to connect to without stealing it all for myself. Because believe me, I worry that being the author of the first book that’s probably going to be THE asexuality book for at least a while will necessarily make it seem like I’m speaking for my entire community, and I never wanted to do that. So I decided, in the limited ways available to me, to let some of them speak using the microphone I handed them.

As for being terrified, there are several places in the book that I am sure are controversial, and the entire time I was writing them I kept cringing, thinking I just know this is going to get someone angry. I know you can’t please everyone, but I wanted so badly not to get it wrong—especially since it’s so easy to make a mistake and be judged ignorant. The section I’m thinking about specifically was my discussion of asexuality’s intersection with the queer communities. In some circles, suggesting asexual people are queer—or that they experience overlapping or analogous struggles—can get you flamed so hard you will turn into a crunchy piece of ash and crawl under your bed. But then other queer communities absolutely think asexuality is queer and/or marginalized because of heteronormativity, and are dedicated to inclusion. I addressed the reasons asexuality makes sense as a queer identity and also the reasons why certain queer communities may have legitimate, non-xenophobia-related reasons for not wanting to include asexual people, and I follow up with a section on queerness in general. And the section finishes off with a long bulleted list of experiences asexual people have that contributes to their marginalization as an identity, along with some bullets that they share with LGB and T populations. I did as much homework on this section as I possibly could, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. I decided to reach out for help—and in so doing, I also invited help on other sections in the book in which I was discussing parts of asexual experience that did not intersect with my own experience.

I posted a request for people with certain identities—including non-asexual people—to contact me if they’d like to read short sections of the book and react to them with their unique perspective. And I got a surprising amount of support; more than eighty readers of my blog e-mailed me offering up their demographic information and an offer to react to excerpts, and more than two thirds of them actually delivered on their promise. The section about inclusion in queer spaces kicked up very few dust bunnies, happily, but I was pleasantly surprised at the opportunity to expand, refine, and correct other sections in which I’d initially had minimal or misleadingly sparse content—most notably asexual people of color, religious asexual people, asexual men, autistic asexual people, and kinky asexual people.

Ultimately, I could not have served my community anywhere near as effectively with this book if I had not explicitly invited them into it. It was an amazing experience and the outpouring of support was humbling.

You should see my acknowledgments page. (Pages, actually.)

Give us the blurb or an excerpt from The Invisible Orientation.

A short description of the book’s content, along with lovely blurbs and reviews from others, can be read here on the book’s page. My book was also excerpted in TIME Magazine recently, with a short excerpt from the book that they titled “How to Tell If You Are Asexual.”

But here, I will offer a short excerpt that hasn’t appeared elsewhere, from a sub-chapter of the book’s section about misconceptions: “Shouldn’t Asexual People Let an Experienced Sexual Partner Change Their Minds?”

One of the most frustrating misconceptions about asexuality is the widespread belief that asexual people must not have tried sex—or, similarly, must have tried sex with the wrong partner(s)—and that they can be “converted” through a good sexual encounter. Amazingly, a very high percentage of the people who come up with this one believe themselves to be just the one to carry out the experiment! What do asexual people have to lose by “just trying it,” right? Can’t those stubborn people just open their minds and let someone show them a good time?

Some asexual people have tried it. Some asexual people don’t want to for the same reason that many heterosexual people don’t feel obligated (or even able) to have sex with a member of their own gender to find out if they’re really straight. Asexual people don’t have to try sex to make sure they wouldn’t like it; whether they’re attracted to others is the basis of whether they’re asexual, and attraction tends to play a big part in most people’s choices of who to sleep with. People usually want sex long before they get it. It’s not common for a person to suddenly start finding other people attractive because someone gave them good sex.

No, sex with a talented partner is not going to flip a switch for asexual people’s ability to become attracted to others. And no, it’s not close-minded of asexual people to refuse to “try” a self-proclaimed master of the art. If, for instance, there’s a straight guy and his feelings about getting oral sex from a man can’t be described as “indifferent,” he may understand why he can’t expect an asexual person to “just try.” Some asexual people aren’t only expressing that they aren’t excited about or interested in sex; some are actually repulsed by it (as many heterosexual people would be if the only sex available was with their own gender). No one should offer to try it with an asexual person as if it’s a favor to them for the benefit of their self-exploration, and no one should act like their unwillingness to have sex is an attitude problem.

Unfortunately, many asexual people feel pressured to go through with it even if they really, really don’t want to . . . because they’re told over and over again that something worthwhile and fulfilling and beautiful is waiting in coitus, and they’re told they “just can’t know” until they do it. What if they do try it, still don’t experience sexual attraction to others, and realize they were right about themselves in the first place? Do critics nod and finally agree that they did everything reasonable to make sure they were really asexual, and finally start accepting the orientation?

Of course not. Asexual people then hear “If you tried it once and didn’t like it, try again! You did it wrong, or with the wrong person! You didn’t give it a chance!”

“I didn’t enjoy it because I don’t enjoy sex with people I’m not attracted to” does not exist to these folks. That just doesn’t compute.

Some people who say this are assuming asexual people tried and had a bad experience, which led them to conclude once and for all that sex was not worth it. The first problem with this is that sexual attraction is something people usually experience before ever having sex for the first time, and they don’t have to prove that they’re feeling it or get “switched on” to the idea despite having no inkling that it would feel good. They’re compelled by sexual attraction. Asexual people are not. Trying it anyway isn’t going to change whether they’re attracted to others, though it may help them understand what they’re willing to do sexually.

And the second problem with this is that trying “again” still isn’t going to satisfy anyone who says this. If an asexual person tries a second time, a third time, a fourth time to like sex and they fail, they will continue to be bombarded with suggestions that they try a different partner, a different gender, a different position, a different time of the month, whatever—as long as they keep trying until they like it. This is absurd because, again, a negative can’t be proven.

Lots of people enjoy the idea of making an indifferent or even a gay person realize how great heteronormative sex is, after which, of course, the “converted” will thank the “converter” profusely for the eye-opening, transformative experience. People love thinking that they’re so good at sex they could even make an uninterested person crave it. And this, yet again, is a symptom of ego—this “experiment” would not be for the benefit of the asexual person, but for the purpose of fueling the other person’s self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment, as well as confirming their preconceived ideas and narrow perspectives. Again, it’s about them, not about the asexual people.

Asexual people would really rather their experiences be about them.

Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself.

I have a very long list of ways in which I am a living contradiction:

  • I love babies but don’t want to have kids.
  • I like buses, trains, and airplanes but I don’t like travel because I don’t like getting there.
  • I hate school and I got a degree in education. (Then proceeded to not be a teacher.)
  • My body thinks it’s left-handed except when I write.
  • I love baking and then I’m meh on eating what I bake.
  • I hate sports but I’m obsessed with inspirational sports movies.
  • I don’t enjoy public speaking but I’m decent at it and not afraid of it so I do it all the time.
  • I’m a vegetarian for anti-cruelty reasons but I’m not an animal lover.
  • I read and write fantasy but have zero interest in role-playing (video games or tabletop).
  • I love eating very bitter or very sour food, but will roll over and die if I eat something even slightly spicy.
  • I grew up hearing you’re supposed to be good at either math & science OR language & history. I excelled at science and language. And failed miserably at math and history.
  • I’m introverted and mildly asocial but I don’t mind crowds and have a lot of friends.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Julie, and best of luck with release day!  The Invisible Orientation is available from the following retailers:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Books-A-Million
IndieBound
And is on Goodreads here.

Julie Sondra Decker is a versatile author from Tampa, Florida. Her fiction is primarily focused on speculative subjects—science fiction, fantasy, magical realism—and she writes for young people as well as for adults. Her nonfiction addresses awareness efforts for underrepresented subjects, most notably asexuality. Julie has been a prominent voice for the asexual community since 1998, spreading asexuality awareness through her popular videos and blog essays. She has been interviewed in many mainstream publications, including Marie Claire, Salon, and The Daily Beast, and she was a prominent interviewee in the documentary (A)sexual by Arts Engine. She is a regular contributor to Good Vibrations. Julie is also a webcomic artist, a singer, and an avid reader. As an aromantic asexual woman, Julie is happily single. In her spare time (on the rare occasion that she has any), she enjoys baking, playing tennis, blogging, and posting wordy rambles on the Internet.

Find Julie Sondra Decker on:
Facebook
Twitter
Blogger
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Why/Why Not: “The Glass Sealing”

A very warm welcome today to Andrew Leon Hudson, who’s here to talk about his novel The Glass Sealing. You know, I always feel like the best speculative fiction reflects the real world and makes us think, and it sounds like Andrew feels the same way . . .

The Glass Sealing

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write?  What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?

Andrew Leon Hudson: I don’t know if I’d claim to be the only one who could have done anything (that kind of thing always sounds a bit Matrixy, and I doubt I’ll ever save the cheerleader or the world), but that fits since one of the themes of The Glass Sealing is the power of groups against the power of individuals, and the weaknesses of both. The same person can be a hero to their supporters and a villain to those they oppose; a state’s use of strength can either protect its citizens’ rights or persecute them; and for every peaceful sit-in there is a riot… though the balance probably weighs in favour of burning cars, not incense.

I live in Madrid, Spain, and in 2011 the legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement reared its head almost on my doorstep. For about a year, protesters held their ground in the city’s centre protesting the Spanish government’s austerity measures, and they’d probably still be there if it wasn’t for a visit from the Pope in 2012—the kind of thing that motivates authorities to clear the streets! When I learned about the Darkside Codex—the Steampunk shared world project my novel is a part of—all this was still fresh in my mind, and the result was relocating OWS to my version of the industrial revolution and the Luddite protests. Steam-powered robots won’t take our jobs!

However, I didn’t want to set up a battle between evil fat-cats and noble workers, since the world is rarely so easy (although the two sides in the financial crisis looked pretty stark, I’ll admit). Rather than pure heroes and absolute villains, I wanted to present leaders and followers on both sides of a conflict who have mixed, even questionable motives but which spring from good intentions, at least from their own points of view. Lofty ideals are useful: they offer great heights to fall from.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

There are some great female characters in fiction but there are also pit-falls to be watched for, and one concern I had was of seeming patronising. The pseudo-Victoriana of Steampunk is often used as a frame for female liberation, the casting aside of gender repression, and one of my two protagonists was created in this vein, but it would be very easy to go two-dimensional. I’ve tried to present a strong personality that gradually reveals its flaws, just as I have for the male character who stands in opposition to her goals—but gender is not an important part of that dynamic, and it is really via her personal relationships that I’ve tried to present her challenge to conventional social expectations. I told myself while writing that it would be interesting to seek out a feminist analysis of the character and story to see how well, or how poorly, they both comes across in that context. So far I’ve chickened out, but I’m open to requests!

Give us an excerpt from The Glass Sealing:

One of the workers was watching the yard, and Ben heard him whisper, “Here they come,” in an oddly unafraid tone. That changed when the man got a better look at what was coming. “Gavin,” he hissed, “fellas, look at this!”

The workers turned, and Ben spotted their bearded leader immediately. “That’s him, boss,” he said. “The big one in the middle.”

“Of course it is,” Black Tom murmured and then raised his voice as the gang spread out. “Hello, gents. Nice night for a walk, eh? But you know, this here is private property. I’d suggest for you to go walking somewhere else, but oh, you’ve only gone and knackered the gate lock coming in here.” The gang formed a loose semi-circle, fencing the cluster of workers in against the factory doors. “That makes this ‘breaking and entering’, and that’s a crime. And crimes call for a little punishment in polite society, don’t they?”

“This is none of your business,” said the leader, Gavin. “Leave us to ours.” He hefted a long-handled spanner that probably weighed as much as Ben did. Give the man credit, his deep voice didn’t waver. Ben wouldn’t have been so bold if faced by twice his number.

Black Tom obviously felt the same. “My my, you’re a one,” he chuckled. “So look, if you all line up facing the wall there and give us no trouble, we’ll send you off with just a tickle.” Then the smile left his voice. “Or we can scrap over it, and you can crawl home.”

The nervous workers shifted their feet, each brandishing heavy hand tools, but Gavin just squared his jaw. “We’re not here to be cowed, and we’ll leave when we’re finished.”

“You’ve got that right, mate.” Black Tom shrugged. “Fair warning, have at ’em.”

The gang began to close in, swinging their clubs. In the face of chanting strikers they’d have yelled, but in the night’s quiet their silent approach was even more unnerving. Then, in the brief moments between the end of the talk and the start of the fight, Ben heard something else in the dark—from behind them.

At first he saw nothing but the empty yard, the high walls, the open gates, and the dark of the street beyond. Then figures began to emerge from the gloom, each one carrying a tool.

“Tom,” he said. “There’s more.”

Black Tom took in the building crowd outside the yard, barked an order, and the gang stopped before they’d so much as landed a blow. A few watched the first group while the rest turned to face the newcomers. They kept coming in through the gates, and the yard started feeling a lot less empty. There were more than just the thirty-odd from the alehouse—at least twice that. Ben hoped his earlier estimate of the gang’s capabilities was a conservative one.

Black Tom slipped a short-barreled revolver from inside his jacket. A slender knife dropped from one sleeve into his free hand. Ben had the sudden, highly unwelcome realization that he was the only man in sight not armed with anything.

The last of the workers were inside the yard now, the Roughnecks outnumbered by at least four-to-one and with opponents front and back.

Black Tom turned to Gavin. “There’s still time for you to leave it at this and go home,” he said, utterly brazen in face of bad odds—but that was always a basic requirement of rising to the top in the Southwatch underworld.

“Your position’s a bad one, mister,” Gavin’s voice rumbled back. “Maybe you’re the ones who should be going quietly.”

Black Tom yanked off his hood and threw it on the ground, making sure everyone got a good look at him. “You know who I am, I hope,” he called, loud enough for all to hear. “Think twice before you start a fight you won’t be finishing.”

“Our fight is with Longstone and what’s in there.” Gavin jerked a thumb at the factory doors and raised his voice to a shout. “Make a gap, lads!” Waving them to either side, he had the mass of workers part down the middle, leaving a passage between them to the gateway.

Black Tom fumed, fingers flexing around gun and knife. Ben could see he was weighing up the balance between the lot of them getting out clean and the blow a retreat would be to his credibility with the rest of the Roughnecks. One way or another, he’d have a fight on his hands soon enough. The question was, which would he be most likely to win?

Before he made a decision, the quiet was broken by an echoing bang and the factory doors shook on their hinges. They burst open under a second great impact from within, knocking the nearest workers off their feet. Something moved inside. Flickering lights glowed. Then, in a cloud of smoke, to the grinding of metal, it moved out from the shadows and into sight.

Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself.

All right… I once had a job sandpapering Sylvester Stallone’s armpits. Probably you feel that statement needs qualifying. Reluctantly I concede that, in fact, it was only a slightly larger-than-life-size fibreglass statue of Rocky and not the man himself, but in fairness to the let-down there were about twenty of them and I had to apply that sandpaper from head to toe. Later we got to decapitate them all. That was a fun nine weeks.

Thank you so much, Andrew!  The Glass Sealing is is available through the following retailers:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords
Musa Publishing (publisher’s own website)

Andrew Leon Hudson is an Englishman in Madrid and has been writing full-time since 2012, partly in an attempt to appear as unemployed as everyone else in the country, partly in an attempt to lead a fulfilling life. In preparation for this he has worked in fields as diverse as prosthetic make-up, teaching, contact lens retail, “intoxicant delivery” and the services (customer and military). He used to have his own company, but it died. He never tweets as @AndLeoHud, and you can fall in love with him further on his pseudonymous website, andrewleonhudson.wordpress.com.

Why/Why Not: “Gilded”

Today I’d like to welcome Christina Farley, whose debut novel Gilded is being released on March 1!  Gilded stars a Korean-American teenaged protagonist who’s just been uprooted by her family to Seoul, where she discovers that an ancient Korean god has been kidnapping the first-born daughters of her family for generations. Fortunately, she’s got a black belt and an archery obsession and is determined to fight back . . .

Gilded

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write?

Christina Farley: It’s interesting that you asked this question because that was one of the things my editor told me when we first talked. She was like, “Only you could have written a story like this.”

I think it’s a combination of my love for Korea and understanding the difficulties that the students I taught at international schools face. I lived and taught at an international school in Korea for eight years. While there, I studied Korean history and mythology because I’m a history fanatic. I had just started writing for fun when I ran across the myth of Haemosu and Princess Yuhwa. I couldn’t get their story out of my mind. And before long, I was writing a retelling of that myth. I also took taekwondo classes while living in Korea so that element fit in nicely with the book as well!

What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in books?

Pretty much most of the book are situations that I experienced or feelings that I dealt with as an expat moving to a new country. Writing GILDED was an outlet for me to express the emotions that I was experiencing. At the same time, I know many of my students were also going through these same struggles.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

I really struggled with the ending of this book. I had originally written it one way (I can’t say what due to spoilers) and my hubby was like, “Your readers will hate you for that ending.” But I also didn’t want it to be cliché. I had worked so hard to create a story that felt unique and unexpected so the ending needed to have that same feel.

As far as the parts I was worried I’d get wrong, I would say the correct spelling for Korean. There are actually two kinds of spellings for English translations. I ended up going with the McCune-Reischauer system because of personal preference.

Give us a blurb or an excerpt from Gilded:

“Disbelief is the root of the impossible.”

Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself.

I’m a big Star Wars fan. I’ve purposely placed little references throughout all of my books to Star Wars. Maybe you can find them. :)

Thank you so much, Christina!  Gilded is is available for preorder through the following retailers:

Amazon
BAM
Indiebound
Barnes & Noble
The Book Depository
Powell’s

Christina Farley loves to explore and travel the world.  She holds a master’s degree in education and has taught for eighteen years, eight of which were in Seoul, Korea.  Check her out online:

Website: www.ChristinaFarley.com
Twitter: @ChristinaFarley
YouTube: www.youtube.com/chocolateinspired
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ChristinaFarleyAuthor
Tumblr: http://christinafarley.tumblr.com/
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/16173250-gilded

Why/Why Not: “Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in Prison”

First of all, I want to thank everybody for the incredibly kind words on my post yesterday.  I’m very touched!  Meanwhile, I am still running Why/Why Not—albeit a little less often—and I am pleased as punch to have the compassionate and funny Leslie G. Nelson here today with her lighthearted nonfiction short, Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in PrisonA former correctional officer, Leslie takes you inside the prison and teaches how count time, riots, and inmate games can help you be a better parent!

Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned In Prison

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write?

Leslie G. Nelson: I think I needed to write this book because I am the only one crazy enough to do it.  Who else would think connections could be drawn between parenting and working in prison?

The idea first started as I was pondering one day things that I had learned while working in prison that influenced my parenting.  The more I thought about it the more connections I could draw. That was the beginning.

What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in books?

For better or worse, the whole book speaks to who I am as a person because I share experiences I had working as a correctional officer, and some of my less-than-stellar parenting moments like when I dropped off my fourteen year old daughter at a stranger’s house on accident.  Yikes!

I chose to be a vulnerable in this book because I so appreciate this quality in others.  I think vulnerability and authenticity are the greatest gifts we can share with one another.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

The main thing that terrified me was a fear of giving advice: particularly about parenting.  I didn’t want to “get it wrong”, but more importantly I didn’t want to cause any discomfort to a parent who might be struggling with a difficult child.  There is no one-size-fits all solution to parenting.  And as I mention at the end of my book sometimes you can do everything right and still things go horribly wrong.

I hope that my book will be entertaining, but if parents find some new ideas they want to try that would be great too.  Mostly, I want to give encouragement to those who are engaged in the toughest, but most rewarding job of all: parenting.

Give us an excerpt from Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in Prison:

“Unless you do something deliberately to change it, you will become the same kind of parent that your parents are.” Years ago, a wise high school teacher said these words and it has changed my life.

I started thinking: What kind of parent did I want to be? What did I like about my parents’ methods? What would I like to do differently? I began to study parents and children. I watched them in the grocery stores and department stores. I watch them still.

As I was forming some ideas about parenting, my “training” took an unexpected turn. I started working as a corrections officer in a men’s prison. First, I want you to understand that I am not the “stereotypical” female prison guard, whatever that may be for you. Let’s just say that when I got the job my friends teased me about being a female Barney Fife! So how did a naïve small-town girl like me end up working in prison?

Well, I was at one of those crossroads in life and my wheels were spinning. I was twenty-two. I had recently returned from an LDS (Mormon) mission and I was working as a cashier in a mom-and-pop grocery store, which equaled “no future.” I didn’t have a car or any prospects. I needed a change, but what? Then my old friend and roommate, Charice Hunt, called and
said, “They’re hiring here! Come join me!”

“Ummm, no thanks. You work in prison. I could never do that!”

She laughed. “Don’t worry, its just like babysitting grown men.”

Sure, whatever you say, I thought. But she was right! So began what could be called the world’s most unique parenting training course. You may be skeptical. How could being a correctional officer train someone for parenting? I know it sounds crazy, but there are some techniques for dealing with inmates that translate nicely to parenting. By the time I traded my uniform and badge for maternity clothes, I had changed, and the influence has carried over into the way I parent.

My husband and I have five children now. I don’t claim to be an expert on parenting. I am still learning, and my ideas are still changing. That is how it should be. Parenting is not just about how we shape the children we have been blessed with, but how they shape and change us as well.

 

Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself.

Besides my family, and my writing, my other love is the theater.  I love musicals. My favorites are Les Miserables, Man of La Mancha and Fiddler on the Roof.  I enjoy watching plays, but I am most happy when I can be on stage.

The biggest trouble with my acting future is that I sing tenor.  There are not many roles for a female tenor. My dream roles: Don Quixote, or Tevya, are not likely to happen!

Recently I had the privilege of being in a production of Fiddler on the Roof.  I had a small part, Shandel, Motel’s mother.  But my oldest son was in the play also. He had a lead role: Motel.  So even though I didn’t get my dream role, it was really fun playing the part of my son’s mother on stage.

Thank you so much, Leslie!  Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in Prison is available here through Amazon and here through Smashwords.

In addition to raising five children with her husband, Leslie G. Nelson works full-time.  The number one item on her bucket list is “get some sleep.” 

Blog: Leslie’s Illusions
Twitter: @lesliesillusion
Facebook: http://facebook.com/lesliesillusions
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Why/Why Not: “Kaleidoscope”

Adam S. Leslie joins me today to talk about his new novel Kaleidoscope.  The world of Kaleidoscope is a psychedelic blend of dystopia and fantasy, horror and satire—a feverish, surreal plunge through the imaginative, the critical, and the speculative.

Kaleidoscope

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write? What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?

Adam S. Leslie: That’s a very interesting question.  I’ve actually had the concept of an adventure story with roughly these same characters escaping from an oppressive regime for quite a few years.  Even when I was 13, I was writing a space adventure romp called Maz’s Rebels, with a similar sort of idea about a group of friends fleeing a totalitarian dystopia.  I attended a strict English all-boys grammar school at the time (one level down from a boarding school), so it was a very appropriate place to want to escape from!

Of course, as a grown-up, I needed to do something a lot more complex than a straightforward space romp; and being no longer being part of an oppressive school regime, the straightforwardness of that element appealed less.  So, hopefully, Kaleidoscope reflects the ambiguities of the adult world more… a constant influx of information, of commerce and advertising and religion and trends and television and weirdly-flavoured fizzy drinks.  And it’s not necessarily an environment you even want to escape from on a conscious level – some outside element comes along and forces you to examine the life you’re leading, it forces you to make a decision about changing it for something else.

But, for all the social satire, the book also toys with the subconscious, the nature of reality, perception, delirium, nightmares; and in other parts, it’s gaudy kaleidoscopic fun; and elsewhere it satirises dystopian fiction itself.  I want it to feel like an old psychedelic record, or a Victorian hall of mirrors, or a museum of 1970s kitsch – something simultaneously colourful, spooky, nostalgic and a little surreal.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

I’m actually fairly phlegmatic as a writer… it’s rare that I’m alarmed by my own work.  Which is not to say that I don’t write with passion or have enthusiasm for what I do, but I mainly just enjoy where the adventure takes me.  And I know what’s going to happen well enough in advance that I’m quite used to it by the time I come to write it.

It was an exploration of the far corners of my imagination, though – and there were certainly technical considerations.  The book is divided into four parts, each with a different writing style and lead character.  It felt quite natural to adopt a new style for each segment of the book, because the story was so very different; but it’s still an interesting discipline to deliberately switch point of view a number of times throughout the course of the narrative.

Actually, there is a part of the book that I was afraid of getting wrong, and I’m not sure even now I did get it right.  It has caused debate, which is good, but I worry I may have misjudged it.  There’s a revelation about the relationship between two of the characters, Teri and Cal, part way into the book, which could colour the rest of the narrative.  It adds an extra layer to the story, but I don’t know whether it should be there or if in the end I made a mistake.

Give us an excerpt from Kaleidoscope:

The endless passages reminded Magenta of something from her past, something aching and empty from long ago before she was an adult. She’d been prone to fevers as a child, afternoons unfurling one after the other like a sequence of blank grey banners, each merging into the next, grey and identical and dreary. No, dreary was the wrong word. Awful. Awful days overlapping into a single long afternoon that lasted for weeks, body aching with the strain of just being, head feeling as big as the whole bed yet smaller than a golf ball. The knots in her favourite comfort blanket swelling up to swallow her, but far too small for her hands to grip because her hands were far too small to grip them. The picture at the foot of her bed – a parade of teddy bears holding a goose aloft on their shoulders – bobbing about in front of her eyes, right up by her face, close enough to touch; yet simultaneously almost too far away to see.

Close up and…

Far away…

And…

 

The Chaps.

 

She hadn’t thought of The Chaps in years. She’d have been about three or four, lying in bed, watching the bars of her younger brother’s cot judder in a dance of sickening double-takes, solid objects flinching as if taken by surprise. She was ill with a high fever, though at the time she hadn’t realised. She’d given it a name, this jerking of inanimate things. The Chaps. How she’d come up with a name so expressive as a three-year-old she didn’t know, but she could still remember, over twenty years ago, thinking to herself, I’ve got The Chaps tonight.

And now here she was in the Outer Zones, back inside the delirium of childhood, surrounded on all sides by The Chaps, Shoutie, Screamers, Vomiter, Sore Bones and the one about eyes being close and far away… each one a symptom of that delirium.

Robbie had mentioned other names from the map. Smallfist was one. Spider, Flux, Void, Hurter, Speckles, Mothertone. Smallfist tallied with childhood fever: fists too small to grip, so small she could barely squeeze them shut. Seeing spiders that weren’t there. The impression that the world was fluctuating around you. The void inside and the void all around. Your whole body hurting. Speckles flashing in front of your eyes. Your mother’s voice calling your name, endlessly calling, but wrong somehow, the wrong tone, too deep or too high or just too damn persistent to be real.

Magenta.

Magenta.

Magenta, dear.

Magenta.

Oh, Magenta.

 

Leave me alone!!

 

Every child was afraid of the Outer Zones. It represented the creeping dread of night times; the gnawing, taunting fear that every shadow contained something evil, something rotten. And when Magenta was ill she lay awake in bed thinking that this is what it must be like to live in the Outer Zones, this is what Outer Zones people must feel like all the time. Sick and aching and hollowed out inside. And now here she was, an adult, having just been in a place called The Chaps, decorated with jagged black chevrons.

Just like the juddering bars on her brother’s cot.

Finally, tell us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself:

I was a stuntman for the morning on Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (the Robert Downey Jr. movie), but my scene was cut.  I had to grab RDJ’s stunt double, Guy, as he fell through a collapsing floor.  I’m not a trained stuntman, I don’t know what I was doing there, but it was a lot of fun.  Less fun after I told everyone about it and I wasn’t even in the finished film!

Thank you so much, Adam!  Kaleidoscope is available through Amazon, Amazon UK, or the author’s website.

Visit Adam S. Leslie at www.adamsleslie.co.uk.

Why/Why Not: “Homespun”

I’ve been a big fan of Layla M. Wier’s work for a long time.  I’m very excited to have her by today for  the “Why/Why Not” series, talking about her new novella, Homespun!  Homespun is a romance, a romance in which the central couple is two older men in a long-time relationship who struggle with what the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York will mean for them . . .

(This post is part of Layla’s blog tour, and she’s entering everybody who comments on any of her stops into a drawing for a homemade scarf.  Gorgeous!)

Homespun

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write? What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?

Layla M. Wier: Writing this book was a weird experience because it basically fell out of my head, the whole thing—I’ve rarely had a book just take me in its teeth and say WRITE ME the way this one did. The starting point for the plot was the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York. I got to thinking that it might be interesting to write about the way this might affect a long-term relationship—what if you’d believed for decades that marriage wasn’t an option, and then suddenly it was? What would you do?

But once I started trying to figure out how to develop this into a story, it simply tumbled out of my head, the story of these people on a rural sheep ranch in upstate New York. I grew up rural (see below for more details on that!), and I absolutely love writing about rural life, its ups and downs, its ins and outs. In this case, I think the story took the form for me of a fantasy excursion into something I’ve always wanted to do. I love fibercrafting (I’m actually learning to spin wool right now), and I have seriously considered getting sheep. Plus, I’m an artist—one of the characters in the book is a painter—and fall is my favorite season. Really, I just took this story idea and stuffed it with every single one of my favorite things that I could put in there. Wool! Knitting! Paint! Autumn leaves! OMG! WTF!

But there’s a serious side here, too. At the time I wrote this, I had just started reading in the genre of professionally published same-sex romance. And I had two really big problems with the early books I encountered in the genre: everyone’s young and hot and physically perfect—which, in fairness, is an issue in most romance—and most of the female characters are completely unlikable (the bitchy ex or the unsupportive relative) and have all the depth of a particularly shallow puddle.

So I ended up writing a book that was basically the opposite of that. The main couple in Homespun are older men—one is in his forties, the other in his fifties—and neither of them are attractive in any classic sense. And one of the three narrative voices is that of a woman, the grown daughter of one of the male protagonists.

I’ve since found that the genre is much broader than my initial impression, but I think a lot of my writing is and has always been a reaction against tropes I dislike, and one of the biggest is the young, gorgeous, physically perfect protagonist—not just in romance, but across the world of genre fiction in general. I want more variety! And if I can’t find as much as I’d like, I’m very happy to write it myself.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

The thing that I was, and still am, most afraid of getting wrong is that this novella deals heavily with the experience of one character who came of age during the peak AIDS years. I am fucking terrified of screwing that up. My feelings on this novella are a weird blend of “Man, I love this thing” and “Oh god, please don’t let me have badly misrepresented this”. I am very acutely aware that I’m a functionally straight woman writing about a subculture and experience that is not mine—and not only that, but an experience which was largely brought about by the attitude of “my people” (the straight world) towards the AIDS epidemic. Hell yeah, I’m afraid of getting that wrong, so much that it paralyzed me sometimes. At certain points while I was writing Homespun, I just had to tell myself that if I didn’t feel good about it when I was finished, I never had to show it to anyone. That was the only way I got through the fear of getting it wrong.

But I did my best. I read memoirs of those years, written by guys who’d gone through similar experiences to my protagonist. I talked to gay friends. I’m pretty happy with the end result, at least enough to feel good about putting it out there into the world. So far, the response has been pretty good too. I’m not saying that I feel like I’ve earned a cookie or anything, but no one’s said, “Hey, you really fucked up here.” (I want to emphasize that what I’m afraid of isn’t getting yelled at on the Internet—I mean, no one likes getting yelled at on the Internet, but that’s small potatoes compared to hurting someone by appropriating their tragedy. And I really hope I’ve managed to avoid doing that.)

Give us an excerpt from Homespun:

Continue reading

Why/Why Not: “Amelia’s Story”

Today I’d like to welcome C.P. Murphy to the “Why/Why Not” author series! Her new historical fiction book Amelia’s Story is a family saga set against the backdrop of the War of 1812, and it features romance, treason, betrayals, murder, mystery, and revenge . . .

Amelia's Story

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write? What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?

C.P. Murphy: Amelia’s Story is inspired by real events that took place in my hometown 200 years ago. As a child I remember my father going to the cemetery and pulling weeds off of a grave, where the town stopped mowing. I asked him why, he told me the story of a girl named Sally Hamilton and I never forgot her. She wasn’t related to us and had died long before my father was born but yet he cared enough to show respect and take care of her grave. I learned from him. About 8 years ago when I started this project, brainstorming ideas for a topic, something reminded me of her story and I just knew I had to write about her.

The main character, Amelia, is a kind and respectful young lady but at times can be very spiteful and thick headed. She does what she’s told, considering the time era the story takes place in, but when something is not what she feels is right for her life, she doesn’t think twice about standing firm on her two feet and taking a stand. That’s the kind of person I am, it’s like she’s me and I’m her, and the funny thing is I wasn’t always. I stepped inside her character for so long that I learned from her. I’d like to see that more in fiction, characters that teach us to become better than we are, characters that make us want to grow.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

Writing this story made me grow as an author because I knew I couldn’t just write what I thought readers wanted to hear. I had to write what I wanted readers to know, yet phrase it in ways that kept the reader interested. The entire time I was terrified of how I was going to end the story. In real life the story doesn’t have an end, but I knew that finishing the book without a definite answer to what happens would most likely upset the readers, so I kept panicking and second guessing myself and how I’d pull it all off. I hope it’s one that everyone can read and have that ‘aha’ moment, that moment when other things that happened earlier in the story suddenly makes sense. I ended the story 3 times but finally have it the way I think it should be.

The parts that stretched me, made me think, and do research was the was the time period that I was working with. I’ve written many things in the past but this was the first time I wrote anything that took place so long ago. I found myself researching everything; from clothing, to money, to occupations, to society, you name it. There really weren’t any scenes that I didn’t have to research. I often stopped and asked myself if what I worked on was possible or not, and why or why not.

What scared me the most was getting facts right. I remember after the movie Titanic came out, there were discussions on what mistakes people could spot and as I wrote I kept wondering if critics somewhere were going to point out that I had something wrong. I mentioned the governor of New York, afraid that if I used a fictional name, someone would point out that wasn’t right. I had to research, and I used the correct governor’s name. While working on revisions I came across a point in the story where one of the main male characters considered the people who worked for his family to be ‘continental.’ The term was used on anything useless and of no value. Though he still thought of those people that way, I quickly realized I had to cut that line. If anyone was going to pick out things that weren’t possible in my time era, they would have pointed that out. Things became continental after the Civil War, my story takes place during the War of 1812, many years before the start of the Civil War.

Give us an excerpt from Amelia’s Story:

In this scene, Amelia’s unwanted fiancé is following her around and she learns that her life has no hope of ever being what she dreamt it would be again.

Continue reading

Why/Why Not: “By Means of Clockwork Selection”

I’m thrilled to have Polenth Blake join me today for the “Why/Why Not” author series!  Polenth’s steampunk novelette, By Means of Clockwork Selection, stars a black lesbian main character who has successfully survived a worldwide plague and rebuilt her life . . . only to face more changes to come.

By Means of Clockwork Selection

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write? What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?

Polenth Blake: My family doesn’t come from the wealthy side of things. One of my great grandmothers ended up in the workhouse. These are the stories that don’t tend to feature highly in steampunk. For this novelette, I focused on my experiences as an English person who isn’t the white middle-class protagonist of many steampunk stories.

The story is told from Connie’s point of view. She was a maid before the plague and a farm owner afterwards. Though her racial origins are different to mine, there’s still that tension of being English, but not being seen as truly English because of appearance. The idea that only white people can claim that identity is one that’s prevalent in the real world. It’s something I’d like to see steampunk challenge, rather than reinforce.

The changes in society after the plague also gave room to explore other things, such as gender roles. More men died from the sickness than women, so by necessity, women have to take on the jobs men typically performed. Much of the inspiration for this side came from the social changes during the World Wars in England, where women became construction workers and engineers, but were still being paid less for doing the same jobs (and were expected to give those jobs up when the war was over).

I also really like robots and ponies, so I wanted to write about robot ponies.

Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

The biggest concern was Connie’s history and daily life experiences. She was born into slavery and raised free in England. This happened in a number of real cases, so the information was out there. But I’m not Black British, so this it isn’t something related directly to my experiences or my family’s history. I wanted Connie to have views which were realistic, but not anachronistic.

My best source was “Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African” by Ignatius Sancho. His early life was different from Connie’s in some ways (such as being born in a slightly earlier era) but there were parallels. His birth parents were slaves and he was bought to England as a child. He worked as a butler and later owned a grocery business. His letters gave an insight into his life, how he described himself and his views on social issues. One thing that’s apparent with the Georgian and Victorian eras is the foundation of modern social justice was there. Sancho’s anti-racism and anti-colonialism stance isn’t dissimilar to today. He just used different words to describe it.

This became my main focus with Connie. I knew how she felt about the problems of growing up in Victorian England. It was thinking through how a woman of her time might explain it and how she might apply it to new situations.

Give us the blurb for By Means of Clockwork Selection:

Connie survived the plague that devastated plants, animals and clockwork alike. Her life has settled into the relative peace of farming clockwork ponies and marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Bess. But the threat of plague is never far away. Mutated oaks are spreading over the ruins of London and stories of outbreaks abound. She fears the worst when a pony collapses, but the true cause is far more surprising. It might be the key to rebuilding the world.

Finally, tell us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself:

I’m not actually a mushroom.

Thank you so much, Polenth!  By Means of Clockwork Selection is available through Amazon here, and all current sales links are on Polenth’s webpage here.

Polenth Blake lives with cockroaches and an Aloe vera called Mister Fingers. Her first collection, Rainbow Lights, is out in the ocean somewhere. Her website lurks at http://www.polenthblake.com.

Why/Why Not: “A Sunset Finish”

For the second installment of the Why/Why Not series (if you’re interested in participating, read more here!), please welcome Melinda Moore, author of the paranormal romance novella A Sunset Finish. A Japanese-American woman struggling with depression moves to Albuquerque as a last resort for her music career . . . and must decide whether to give in to a ghostly possession or reclaim her life.

A Sunset Finish

Melinda Moore:

Hello! I’d like to give SL Huang a big thanks for allowing me the opportunity to talk about my new novella A Sunset Finish on her blog. It was a different process for me than most of my stories take, and I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Why was this a book you needed to write?

I needed to expand myself as a writer from lighthearted and action oriented stories to more serious stories. I’m still trying to find my voice, though I think every story takes on its own voice. I tried to make the words in A Sunset Finish flow together like music since music is important to both main characters. As far as the themes of the book go, I wanted to address the issue that depression and cutting don’t go away fast and are often a life long problem for the person who has them. I’m not depressed myself, but I’ve known people who are, even to the extreme of taking their own life. I wanted a story that showed how depression is on a day to day basis but also ended in hope.

What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?

The beginning of the story when Stephanie’s violin cracks apart is straight from my life, except I’m a bass player. I’ve lived in Albuquerque since I was born, which is a very dry climate, and my bass had been here for years. I never suspected it would split like an instrument coming here from a humid climate sometimes does. The sound was thunderous and the event, devastating. When my professor found out what had happened he said, “I’d hide under my desk for a week if that happened to me.”

The music in the story was also really important to me. I have a degree in music education. My main emphasis in college and when I was teaching was multicultural music. Of course, people can’t hear the soundtrack in their head that I heard when I was writing the story, but I hope a glimmer of the mingling of Japanese songs and Pueblo songs along with hard rock comes through to readers.

What parts of the story stretched you, made you think, made you research?

Although I grew up in New Mexico, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the reservations. I had seen dances and knew a few things about the ceremonies of Pueblo Indians, but not nearly enough to make it a focal point of the book without doing research. In addition to reading about the ceremonies, I read about the Pueblo Revolt much more extensively than I ever did as a student. I’m hoping to go back and write a prequel to A Sunset Finish set during the Pueblo Revolt. I also had to research Taoism for the protagonist’s religion, and I feel like I still haven’t touched the surface of it. I plan on doing more for another book I’m writing about a concubine in ancient China. It’s great doing research because ideas keep leading to new stories.

What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

I worried the characters wouldn’t be authentic to the reader. I’m an outsider looking in on the religions no matter how much research I do. But I didn’t want that to scare me away. Gazing on the Sandia Mountains everyday and seeing the fiery pink they change to at sunset is inspirational. When it occurred to me to have a society living in the sunset on the mountainside, I thought it would be ridiculous to have it be any race other than Native American since the mountain is sacred to them. The inspiration for Stephanie’s character came from living next to Japanese immigrants as a small child. I always wondered why they, and anyone not born here, would choose New Mexico out of all the places in the world to live. Stephanie seemed the perfect character to experience NM for the first time.

Give us an excerpt from A Sunset Finish:

The desert sun blazed as if it wanted to leech the moisture out of every yucca, cactus, and adobe brick to create a sand painting for its living room. Standing before the pueblo-style instrument repair shop, Stephanie considered offering herself to the sun as part of the picture. The arid air had already rendered her violin mute at her first rehearsal with the New Mexico Symphony, and becoming a sand painting would be a more artistic end than the bottle of sleeping pills back at her apartment—or slicing her wrist open. She looked down at the bandage that covered the half-finished yin-yang she had pricked into her skin last night in her despair.

The door to the shop opened from the inside, and a ray of sunset-hued light shot out accompanied by the strains of an unusual quartet of instruments: a violin, drum, flute, and guitar.

An older Hispanic woman stepped out of the shop, patting her eyes with a handkerchief. “Stephanie! I’m so glad you brought your violin here.” It was Marie, her stand partner who had recommended the shop, though Stephanie didn’t notice until the door closed on the strange lights and sound.

“What was that?” she asked.

Marie put her handkerchief in a large, black purse that matched her shoes and pantsuit. “What was what?”

“The pink lights and music. Are they doing a show in there?” Stephanie walked past Marie, whose jaw dropped.

“You hear them?” she whispered.

Stephanie pulled open the door and blinked against the glare. As her eyes adjusted she saw, several yards in, a violin, guitar, Native American drum, and Native American flute on top of a glass case, glowing and playing music of their own accord. A bittersweet melody in a minor key slipped into her ears and filled her vision as if the song painted the sunset. As the notes flowed, parts of the color darkened into orange shapes of people dancing. The silhouettes popped into relief; feathers in their hair swung up and down with their heads, and pine needles flapped in time around their arms. Gourds rattled and a distant-sounding chorus chanted.

“What do you see?” whispered Marie in Stephanie’s ear.

Behind the glowing instruments stood a woman who looked real and a woman consisting of coral smoke—beautiful like a Monet painting. The smoky woman expanded as if surprised when Stephanie looked at her, and then she beckoned to Stephanie, holding her hands above the violin like she wished Stephanie to take it.

“Stephanie,” said Marie in a louder voice, “do you see something?”

“She wants me to play it.”

“Play what?”

“That ghostly woman wants me to play the violin.” The part of Stephanie’s brain that would question everything happening was blocked. The milieu before her was an invitation to a world of melancholy and beauty, and the glowing violin was her ticket. It never occurred to her to ask the price.

Finally, tell us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself:

I gave the hero the name Bruce, and in his backstory that never comes out in the book I decided his parents named him after the lead singer for Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson. This is ironic because when I was 10, I was not so fond of Iron Maiden.  The t-shirts terrified me. My brother was babysitting me one day with one of his friends and they turned on an Iron Maiden album. As soon as the first chord reverberated throughout the room, I jumped up and ran out with my hands over my ears yelling “Devil music!” at the top of my lungs. I have since changed my mind about Iron Maiden. I’ve even seen them in concert, but Eddie still scares me :)

Thank you so much, Melinda!  A Sunset Finish is available at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Jupiter Gardens
Smashwords
Coffee Time Romance
All Romance Ebooks

Melinda Moore lives in Albuquerque, NM: The Land of Enchantment. Possessing a love of adventure, she has been a dancer, professional musician, music educator, recipe creator, parent and now published author. She gives away designer coffee on her blog as well as running a monthly writing contest based on photographs. Check out her current thoughts and all the goodies at www.enchantedspark.com.

Why/Why Not: “Let Me Get This Off My Chest: A Breast Cancer Survivor Over-Shares”

I love books.  I love helping people who write books talk to people who read books!  So I’m starting a new feature here—author interviews, of a sort, related to recent or upcoming releases.  I’m calling the series “Why/Why Not,” because I’m asking the scariest questions possible—why did you need to write this book, and why couldn’t you?  If you’re an author and you’re interested in participating, here’s the page on how to do that.

Our first victim, I mean participant, is the wonderful Margaret Lesh, with the frank and poignant memoir Let Me Get This Off My Chest: A Breast Cancer Survivor Over-Shares.  Tamoxifen hot flashes, Frankenboobs, bras with special attachments, making lemonade when your body has given you a lemon—Let Me Get This Off My Chest is for anyone with breasts, as well as those without.

Let Me Get This Off My Chest

Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write?  What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in media?

And why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?

Margaret Lesh: This book terrified me in the sense that it kept me up many nights with thoughts like: Am I being too personal? Can I really talk about things like constipation and stray nipples? There was one particular line that was in my first and second drafts that I obsessed about many nights, rolling it around in my head. I loved it but ultimately took it out of the finished book thinking of potential critics ripping me to shreds. The line in question? “And then I pooped.” It made me laugh every time I read it (because I am very easily entertained), but I just had the feeling it would come back to haunt me. The jeers of one friend in particular echoed in my brain. I could hear him in his judgmental tone saying, “I can’t believe you used the word ‘poop’ in your book.”

Seriously, though, Let Me Get This Off My Chest is a soul-baring account of my experiences with breast cancer; my inner thoughts and fears; my hopes; my neuroses. How could I let the world in on my life like this? I knew once it was out there, it was out there. But then I got over myself; I got over my feelings of self-consciousness. (This may have been facilitated by the fact that I’ve blogged my feelings about things, often personal, over the past few years, which has helped get me used to writing in public.)

This leads me into why I needed to write this book. One of the reasons I wrote about my bilateral mastectomy and the reconstruction process was to get over the uncomfortable feelings I had about saying or writing the word “mastectomy” as if it were something that needed to be uttered in a low voice, whispered in an almost apologetic tone. I wanted to own it and not feel strange about my re-engineered breasts. I also wanted to hopefully help others, sharing practical things I’d learned surrounding both of my bouts with breast cancer, knowing that other women might be able to benefit from some of the information and experiences I had to share as well as the people in their lives playing support roles.

Give us an excerpt from Let Me Get This Off My Chest:

What is that? Do I feel something?

I played with a little place located at about the three o’clock position on the side of my breast. I probed it for two days, harassing poor Lefty, sometimes feeling the lump, sometimes not. Was it my imagination? It was this mysterious thing; sometimes there, if the conditions were right, like Brigadoon*. Sitting up in bed one night, I mentioned it to Steve, who knitted his brows and felt.

“I don’t feel anything,” he said, making me feel slightly better for about two seconds. But then: “Wait. Yeah, I think I do.”

Crap.

Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself:

Margaret Lesh: When I was eleven years old, I wrote an essay and submitted it to a citywide contest sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. In the essay, I was supposed to envision what my town would be like in the year 2000. (This was in the Seventies when bell bottoms and leisure suits were king.) So I went all out, liberally borrowing from “The Jetsons.” In my future city—which was only then twenty-some years away—we’d have moving sidewalks, food in the form of pills, and shortened school days due to special vitamin supplements that would make us smarter. (If only.) I was awarded first place, given a trophy, and had my picture taken for the local paper. (One of my classmates soon after drew a mustache on my face after my proud teacher put the photo on display.) Sadly, the city I grew up in hasn’t changed all that much. No moving sidewalks here and no vitamins that make us smarter. That I know of.

Thank you so much, Margaret!  Let Me Get This Off My Chest is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Margaret Lesh works as a freelance court reporter and is the author of the novels Normalish, Finding a Man for Sylvia, and the recently published Let Me Get This Off My Chest: A Breast Cancer Survivor Over-Shares. Visit her website: http://www.margaretlesh.com.