Sunday, 16 October 2011

SheKild'em All

Kylie Fox, Amanda Wrangles, Tara Moss, Sapphira, Leigh Redhead & Angela Savage.

I have commented on, and been revelling in, the debate that was launched by the blog Tara Moss wrote after SheKilda, titled: Are our Sisters in Crime (still) fighting against a male-dominated literary world?
(All blog/web links listed below).
   For the record: I am a published crime/genre fiction writer and the publisher of the independent genre fiction publishing house Clan Destine Press.I am also a founding member of Sisters in Crime Australia and the programming chair of SheKilda Melbourne 2011 – the Australian Women Crime Writers' Convention.
   SheKilda was held (Oct 7-9) to mark the 20th anniversary of Sisters in Crime Australia; and to celebrate the past and especially the very bright future of women's crime writing. 
Phillipa Martin & Vikki Petraitis
Malla Nunn & Pam Newton

When our organisation was launched two decades ago – by fans of the genre – one of our aims was to redress the very imbalances – in reviews, awards and recognition – that Tara highlighted in her blog. Our 'mother’ organisation (in the USA) had been formed five years before, by authors, for the same reason.
Margie Orford & Louisa Larkin
   That we STILL have to talk about this a quarter of a century later, in anything other than a historic context, is too ridiculous for words. That critics/reviewers still think an ‘unconscious bias’ is anything but an excuse is laughable.

Tara Moss & Shamini Flint
   Apart from fabulous irony of Melbourne Age Arts critic and ‘reviewer’ Cameron Woodhead smacking himself in the face with his accusation – in the comments section of Tara’s blog – that she was indulging in 'privileged whining'; his opinion shone a lovely bright light on the way things arestill, really. His attitude accidentally proved the facts (just the facts, Ma'm) that Tara had, without emotion, been stating.  
   Tara’s blog generated many responses. Correction: Woodhead’s comment on her blog caused a flood of responses; which in turn created debate which spilled over to facebook, crossed over into the blogs of others, and made it into reports on other websites, including Hoopla and Crikey. It even scored a mention in Jason Steger’s column in The Age.
   Most of the comments on Tara’s blog reflected, supported or agreed with her ‘these are the facts, why is this still so,’ theme. And, apart from one late-on the-scene guy who clearly didn't read the posts in between but who nonetheless accused the bully-girls of picking on Mr Woodhead’s opinion, the responses to the topic came from both women and men; in almost even numbers.
One blogger, NSW writer Elizabeth Lhuede, was going to add a comment to Tara’s blog but ran out of space, so wrote her own blog-reply to Tara.  Her piece finished with:

Whatever happens, it will happen because women readers, critics, reviewers and writers take each other’s work seriously, and treat each other with the respect owed to professionals; it will be because we continue to develop and question the basis of our own tastes and preferences, as well as actively seek out writing by women which we can champion and enjoy. 
     “If some male reviewers, critics, judges and readers also find something of value in such works, great. If they don't, who cares?”
I’d already given my two cents worth on Tara’s blog and was about to comment on Elizabeth’s – these last two paras of hers were my “Yay” prompt – but like her, I ran out of space.
   Hence my blog about the blogs about the blog that started it all.
Because Elizabeth is SO right. 

And that was the greatest revelation that came out of SheKilda.
   SinC-Oz might have been started 20 years ago to actively campaign for a new balance, to tilt at some kind of equality, to shout : ‘hello, we’re here too’... but we haven’t just been sitting around waiting for the world to right itself.
   Unlike the Australian Crime Writers Association that convenes once a year to award the Ned Kelly Awards, Sisters in Crime is constantly active. For twenty years we’ve been actively nurturing, mentoring, awarding, recognising and celebrating what women crime writers do.
   We hold from up to 10 public events every year, open to everyone: writers, readers, watchers of crime, SinC members, our Brothers-in-Law, and the general publicboth women and men.
   We’ve been holding the Scarlet Stiletto Awards – a short story comp with 11 categories and nearly $5000 in prize money – for 18 years; and the Davitt Awards for published crime fiction (adult and YA) and true crime – since 2001. 
   Yes, they are just for women; that’s the point. We don’t pretend otherwise. Get over it.
    SheKilda Melbourne 2011 was the world’s second-ever women’s crime convention. The first was SheKilda 2001! 
Rowena Cory Daniells, Kylie Fox
Sandy Curtis, Amanda Wrangles, Lindy Cameron, Vikki Petraitis

   Like everything Sisters in Crime does the convention was open to all – readers, fans, fledgling writers, published authors, women and men.
   Of the 66 panellists (which also included cops, forensic specialists, reviewers and journalists) 56 were currently-working and published (or screened) Australian women crime writers; and three international women crime writers.  
   From the opening moments of the cocktail party on the Friday night to the close of proceedings on Sunday arvo, SheKilda was one huge buzz of enthusiasm and excitement; infused by an incredible, but not surprising, spirit of sharing and sheer joy.
   It occurred to me then – and has been reinforced by the responses (aka: debate, hoo-ha, stoush) to Tara’s original blog – that women everywhere and Sisters in Crime in particular may not have levelled the playing field of reviews/awards/recognition yet, but we have – quite accidentally –found the best way to do deal with the world as it is: we celebrate what we do; because we do it damn well. 
Lindy Cameron

You can read Tara’s original blog here

Elizabeth Lhuede’s reply here:

Kate Forster’s take:

And Tara’s after-blog on the topic here:

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Medea - priestess, warrior princess, sorceress, adventurer

I am quite possibly the luckiest writer-publisher type person in the world at the moment.
     I am publisher of the House that has Medea.
     Medea the woman was many things. Medea the book is the first book in The Delphic Women trilogy by Kerry Greenwood.
     And Clan Destine Press is thrilled to announce that Medea will be released in August 2011.
     Medea  is an extraordinary tale of love, lust, friendship, bravery, cowardice, betrayal, murder, mythical creatures, heroic heroes, brave heroines, gods, goddesses, legendary ships, and giant snakes. Oh, and giants.
     Kerry Greenwood’s retelling of the story of Medea – sorceress, Priestess of Hekate, Princess of Colchis, securer of the Golden Fleece – is exhilarating, page-turning, beautiful, and utterly believable.  It also sets the record straight – about who really killed her children.

Medea: her very name is a byword for infamy. Legend has it that she murdered her own children for revenge.
But love in Ancient Greece was often a dangerous game; and legends are not always what they seem.
     Medea, devoted wife of Jason, was also a loving mother, a loyal friend of Herakles, and a brave adventurer with the Argonauts.

For anyone who's been living in a cave or a far-distant planet, Kerry GreenwoodAustralia's Queen of Crimeis best known for her Phryne Fisher mysteries and Corinna Chapman crime novels [published by someone else! (ok Allen & Unwin)] but, of course, is also the author of CDP's first historical novel – Out of the Black Land.
     Kerry’s detailed research and investigative skills into the ancient world – through ancient and secondary sources, and her personal travels throughout Greece and Egypt – means she puts her own stamp on the stories of these long-ago worlds. Her historical fiction lives and breathes authenticity.
     The beautiful cover art for Medea is by the renowned – and totally amazing! – American artist, Ran Valerhon; whom we ‘found’ through mutual Facebook friends.
Over the next couple of weeks we at Clan Destine Press will be making a bit of noisenot only about Medea and it's forthcomingnessbut also about the other four paperbacks and 14 eBooks we'll be flinging out into the wild for your reading pleasure... between now and October. 
  So stayed tuned for: 
  • what is coming out, and when
  • the lowdown on just who has written all those eBooks
  • previews of our absolutely fabulous new covers
  • spotlights on new authors
  • intros to new affiliated author website
  • a marauding horde of sawtooth bunnies!
    In the meantime you can pre-order your copy of Medea from the Clan Destine Press website now!
         So, what are you waiting for?



Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Debutante and Her Granddaughter

This week my very special guestdoing the rounds on the Bywater Books blog touris the 'newbie' author Sally Bellerose, who talks about her debut novel and some other good stuff; in an interview she conducted on herself.

Sally Bellerose’s book The Girls Club won the Bywater Prize and is forthcoming from Bywater Books in September this year.
     Sally was awarded a Fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts based on an excerpt from this book. The first chapter won first place in fiction from Writers at Work. Excerpts from the novel have been anthologised and featured in literary journals including Love Shook My Heart, Sinister Wisdom, The Sun, The Best of Writers at Work, Cutthroat, and Quarterly West.
      The manuscript was a finalist for the James Jones Fellowship, the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, The Backspace Scholarship, and the Bellwether Endowment.  Robert Olen Butler chose Chapter Two as first place winner for the Rick DeMarinis Short Story Award. 
       Sally lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the USA.

Question to Self
Your soon to be published novel The Girls Club is loosely based on certain milestones in your life i.e.:  you married a man, had a baby, lost most of your digestive track to disease and surgery, left your husband, came out, became an RN.  The family portrayed in the book is of French Canadian descent and lives in a town much like the one you grew up in.  How do you plan to convince family members that the characters in this book are fictional?

The broad shape of the plot points and the societal and cultural similarities to my actual family do mirror my life.  However, the scene by scene action, events that happen within the social/cultural milieu and nuances of the story are totally fictionalized.   Most scenes are 100% fiction.  As in the story, I do have two sisters, but the personalities, physical attributes and circumstances of the story’s sisters don’t even resemble my sisters.
      I have drawn heavily from what I know about illness, coming out as the lesbian mother of a son, and working class family life in a small town New England in the ‘70’s, but the novel and all the characters are fiction.  Even the protagonist, Cora Rose, who might be mistaken as an autobiographical character, is not a self portrait.
      The grandmother, called Memere by her grandchildren (in the story and in “real” life), is closest to a portrait of an actual person, but even Memere is a fictionalized version of my beloved grandmother.
      Some members of my family have read parts of the book and love it.  Some really want to read the novel.  At least one has vowed not to go near The Girls Club with a ten foot pole.  I applaud them all.
      If my brother complains that there is no brother in the book I will repeat my mantra – this book is fiction.

 Question to Self
You are old.  How many more books do you think you have in you?

I’ll soon be sixty.  Is that old?  Sweet Jesus, sixty.   No need for panic.  Writers and chess players often make their best moves later in life.  
At the moment I am working on a book of linked short stories called Fishwives.  The title story of this would-be collection won first place in Saints and Sinners Fiction contest.  The stories orbit around a poor elderly lesbian couple – a novel about the exploits of a jaded RN who is trying to stay sane while working in a state run institution, taking care of her elderly parents and having an affair with a married co-worker.   This one features two queer teens, tattoos, and as ever, squabbling sisters – and always poetry and essays.
      Also I have many published pieces about my mom and dad that I should put together as a collection.  And probably a book’s worth of published erotica.

Question to Self
How does it feel to finally be a debut novelist?  Do you consider yourself a debutante?

I’m thrilled to be a debut novelist.  I can’t wait to hold the actual finished, signed sealed delivered copy of The Girls Club in my hands.  I love my publishers at Bywater Books, Kelly Smith Marianne K Martin, and Val McDermid because they are lovable and because they published my book.
      And, yes, although at no point in my life could I be called ‘an upper-class woman making a formal debut into society’ I do consider myself a debutante.  I plan to hijack this word, flaunt the fact that I have a debut coming-out novel about working class sisters and queers, buy myself large sparkly hoop earrings and strappy shoes, and call myself a debutante at every opportunity.

Question to Self
How do plan to find a way to brag about your granddaughter as part of the publishing process?

Pictures, anecdotes, short stories, slide projections, poems, essays. 

Sally's blog:
Bywater Books:

Friday, 3 June 2011

Theodora: Courtesan, Whore, Empress

 My special guest blogger this week is the utterly charming Stella Duffy. 
   Stella and met a few years ago when she was in Melbourne on an author tour from the UK to New Zealand and Australia. 
   This time the author tour is virtual but just as welcome.

Stella Duffy has written twelve novels. Theodora, Actress, Empress, Whore, published by Virago (UK) in 2010 and by Viking Penguin (US) in 2011, is her first historical novel. The Room of Lost Things and State of Happiness were both longlisted for the Orange Prize, and she has twice won Stonewall Writer of the Year. She has written over forty short stories, including several for BBC Radio 4, and won the 2002 CWA Short Story Dagger for Martha Grace. She is currently working on the sequel to Theodora as well as several film and theatre projects. Stella is also a theatre-maker, has written eight plays, and directs for Shaky Isles, a NZ theatre company based in London. She was born in London, grew up in New Zealand, and has lived in the UK since 1986. She is married to the writer Shelley Silas.

Lindy and I are both published by Bywater Books in the US where the lesbian fiction market seems much more prominent than in the UK. While many successful lesbian writers in the UK sell very successfully in the mainstream as well as to readers who are gay (which is a great thing in itself), there doesn’t seem to be as obvious a UK market for publishers targeting specifically lesbian readers, in the way there is in the US. 

   Bywater have recently published my Parallel Lies (picking up some nice nods from award-givers in the US) which means I’m in the odd position of doing this Bywater Books blog tour – to  Australia now, thanks to Lindy – but Parallel Lies actually came out in Australia and NZ some years ago, under the Virago imprint.
    Sowhile mentioning Bywater yet again!I’m going to tell you about a new novel you can get hold of in Australia and New Zealand, and while it’s not specifically gay in premise, it certainly does have some lesbian content – promise!
    In September 2006 I’d never heard of the Empress Theodora, the Emperor Justinian, or the Ravenna mosaics, which the Italians considered the eighth wonder of the world for some time. In my defence I’d claim a lack of Euro-centricity rather than sheer ignorance. I grew up in Tokoroa in New Zealand, not so very far away we had the memory of the Pink and White Terraces as our eighth wonder. I’m guessing not many Italians have heard of them either! The organisers of the festival were horrified and arranged a trip to see the mosaics.
A near-empty church, a few tourists, and an astonishing, vibrant, 1500-year-old mosaic of Theodora. I figured she had to matter. In the gift shop, I bought a bunch of postcards and the booklet about Theodora. One of those postcards has been on my noticeboard for coming up four years now. The booklet took maybe five minutes to read and, combined with the mosaics, lead to three years of work, with at least another six months to go on the edit for the sequel.
Theodora’s life is astonishingly rich. Born to the bear-keeper of the Constantinople Hippodrome in about 500 AD, her father died when she was five. She became an actress, a dancer, a mime, a comedian – none of our modern terms fully cover what her work would have been in those days. A physically-trained comedy improviser is perhaps closest, and by the age of 15 she was the star of the Hippodrome. She was also, as almost all actresses were at the time, very likely a child prostitute.
I started my working life in theatre, and while my main job is writing, I have not stopped making theatre – and I have never called myself an actress. Plenty of theatre makers use ‘actor’ for both men and women, and have done since the late 70’s. It’s long been recognised that the word actress can have a derogatory aspect to it, and the truth is that as soon as women were allowed on stage it very quickly also became a term that meant courtesan, whore, prostitute – which, in the case of Theodora and very many young women like her, was exactly what they were. 

Theodora walked away from her amazing career at 18, leaving Constantinople to be mistress of the man newly-appointed Governor of (modern day) Libya. When he dumped her, soon after, she  joined a religious community in the desert near Alexandria, experiencing a religious conversion. Theodora travelled on to Antioch where there are suggestions that she worked with Macedonia, a dancer and a spy for the Roman government. 
At 21 she returned to Constantinople, met Justinian, who was yet to become Emperor, and they became a couple. Justinian had one law changed to raise her status to patrician, and another created to allow her to marry – ex-actresses could not legally do so at the time. When his uncle died and Justinian became Emperor, ‘Theodora-from-the-Brothel’ became Empress of Rome.
It’s a powerful rags to riches story, made richer still by Theodora’s achievements in power. As Empress she worked on the paper On Pimps, an attempt to stop pimps making their money from prostitutes. Well aware of the impossibility of marriage and a future for women who wanted to give up working in prostitution, she set up a house where they could live in safety. 
Once Empress, Theodora worked for women’s marriage and dowry rights, anti-rape legislation, and continued working for the many young girls sold into sexual slavery, often for the price of a pair of sandals. It’s tempting to consider her an early feminist, but the story is more complicated that that. There are many hints of nastiness from poisoning to torture, forced marriage to religious fanaticism, and like so many women in power there are reports of her attacking other women who might threaten her position – and it’s these complications that made me want to write about her. 
Hers is a time of huge change in the Church, there was also massive unrest – as there is today – in the eastern Roman regions. People in Syria, the Levant, and Egypt were clamouring to use their own languages both in faith and in their calls for self-determination. This was the world into which the prophet Mohammed would be born, just 20 years after Theodora’s death. 
In more modern academic works she is often presented as, if not entirely an abject money-grubbing power-monger, then certainly not the nicest of women. The contemporary view of her seems to have been somewhere between Victoria Beckham/Yoko Ono on a bad day, and Princess Diana on a good one.
All of which made her a joy to write – while there’s loads of history written about the time, there’s comparatively little about Theodora. Graves has her in Count Belisarius, and in The Secret History Procopius makes her his Mrs Machiavelli, but Theodora herself has remained largely hidden. Yet there was enough in her life that I do know, from theatre and comedy, to society’s disapproval of non-conformist desire, to feeling like (and being) an outsider, to make some informed guesses about her character. So that’s what I’ve written, a character in a story. And I’ve had a great time doing so, because I’ve spent the past three years writing about the juiciest woman character this side of Lady Macbeth. Theodora is the kind of hero you couldn’t make up without being accused of over-doing it, and yet can’t tell her story without making a lot of it up. A perfect balance for fiction.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Time & Place

Bywater Books author Bett Norris drops by to talk about 'writing the South'.

Born and raised in Alabama a few short miles from the place where Harper Lee did the same, Bett followed in the footsteps of her idol and inspiration by attending the University of Alabama, somehow managing to graduate with a degree in history and a burning desire to write.
   Real life intruded, until many years later her first novel, Miss McGhee, a runnerup for the first annual Bywater prize for fiction, was published. It's a story set in the south during the decades of the civil rights movement. She dutifully set her second novel, What's Best for Jane, in the South as well, certain that the well of rich material to be found there will never run dry.
   Bett continues to write using the South as source material and setting. “Almost everybody’s got a story about crazy relatives, mad dogs, good trucks, fishing, deer hunting, drinking, cussing, fighting, football, running around barefoot in the summers, better times in the past, and where the bootleggers live.”
   She now lives in Florida with her partner Sandy Moore, an artist. Bett gets up every morning at an insanely early hour to write. 
   Find out more on the author’s web site:

Must Love Books
You’ve read the bio, I hope. Now here are the facts. The real facts, not the kind of' 'facts' one might find on say, a Fox News broadcast.
   I was born the fourth of nine children. That’s a baseball team of siblings, a house full, that’s tons of laundry, that’s three meals a day for nine hungry mouths. That means assigned seating at the table, in the car. That’s nine pairs of shoes to start school. That means we were poor.
   I was the first but not the last to make it through college. I am extremely, fiercely proud of all my brothers and sisters, proud that we all made it to adulthood as responsible, dependable parents, friends, as working contributors to the community.
   It is true that I grew up just forty miles from Harper Lee’s birthplace and home, Monroeville, Alabama. If you go there, you will see an historical plaque acclaiming the spot where Truman Capote, Lee’s childhood friend, once lived. You will not see any such declamation about Miss Lee, because as she would point out to you, she’s not dead yet.
   Yes, I read To Kill a Mockingbird again every year or two. It had a tremendous impact on me, from the first time I read it as a child (and wished that I was Scout, that Atticus was my real father) and through my beginning efforts as a writer. 
  “There’s no truth in the Delafields” and “Don’t you say hey to me, you ugly girl! You say good afternoon, Mrs. Dubose” and other quotes are part of me, part of my life, as much as anything any friend ever said to me.
   My editor, Kelly Smith, famous for pulling things out of the air, once told me my manuscript needed something, a scene as moving and dramatic as the final court scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, when the preacher says, “Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your father’s passing.” 
   I spent months writing the required chapter, sweated and fretted, had other people read it for me, and when we got around to the editing process, Kelly Smith mentioned that she thought this scene was unnecessary and it was cut. She claims not to remember ordering up the now unnecessary scene. 
   Through that process, I got a glimmer of understanding why Miss Lee never wrote another novel. Some things are perfect, some things become part of our culture, part of us, and there is no improving on it. As Miss Lee herself said about her book: “To Kill a Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.” And without imitations.
    There were a few driving forces behind my writing both Miss McGhee and the sequel, What’s Best for Jane. I knew I wanted to write about the South. I knew I wanted to explore what it must have been like to be a lesbian in the South in past decades. I knew that I also wanted to write about the particular difficulties of being a single lady who works in those times, and I knew I wanted to write about the impact of the civil rights movement not only on the small towns like where I grew up, but also its effect on women, and the impact women, white and black, had on the movement. 
   I found that my research took me to places and to women I had not known about, or had not known enough about; from Virginia Durr, white Southern aristocracy, to Fannie Lou Hamer, uneducated, to Joann Robinson, an English professor, to Rosa Parks, to Lillian Smith, to the fiery teenager Barbara Johns. There were so many of them, the women who stepped forward, stepped out front, the women who worked, and who walked and who got beaten, like Amelia Boynton.
   Research found me standing in the National Voting Rights museum in Selma, Alabama, and staring at the 'I Was There' wall, filled with hand-written notes from participants of the Selma to Montgomery march, and being so moved that I could not take it all in. 
   Researching history so recent as to have still-living participants is an inclusive activity, one that affects the researcher personally. The host of the museum that day casually explained to me who she was, Joann Brand, and that she had been eleven years old when 'all that' happened, and proceeded to tell me her own eyewitness account. That kind of research left me standing beside US highway 80, twenty miles outside Selma, staring at the monument erected to Viola Liuzzo on the spot of her murder.
   Research for these two books also led me to questioning my own mother, a woman who worked and raised us during those times, who learned to respect the black nurses she worked beside, a woman who often walked to her shift and walked home after it to a house full of hungry, demanding children. My mother told me stories about lumber mills, and about people, and about what it was like to walk home from her shift when the black people were 'agitating'; and she told me what a planer mill was; and she told me about company stores, and lots of things. Sometimes she knew I was interviewing her, I sat with a pen and notebook in my lap; but most times I was simply prodding her to talk about old times. I also found myself interviewing my sister Angie Woodham and my sister-in-law Tammy Norris about working in a shirt factory.
   I researched the Nehi Cola Company; Zippo lighters; innumerable makes and models of cars; the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; The KKK; George Wallace; ladies’ fashions; hotels in Atlanta during the nineteen fifties; Scotch Lumber. 
   I paid an outrageous sum for a shelf full of books on:  civil rights, Montgomery, Juliette Hampton Morgan, the Mitchum Beat war, and the three-volume work of Taylor Brand on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which alone almost bankrupted me; as well as works by Dan T Carter, and some that might put me on an FBI  watchlist, like The Fiery Cross, by Wyn Craig Wade and Hooded Americanism by David T Chalmers.
   I took pictures, of me standing by the monument erected on the site of Viola Liuzzo’s murder, of Selma; of the civil rights memorial in front of the SPLC in Montgomery.
   I did not have to interview anyone to create the character of Jane, because I knew all about growing up in a crowded household with a mother who worked, a mostly-absent father, and being different. I did not do research about the character of Mary McGhee, because I knew women like her, and wondered about them, all my life. Women so tough and strong that their backs don’t bend.
   Writing is an organic, visceral process for me. My only advice to beginning writers is to write; and to write from that place that stirs you, that moves you. Apart from that, you must read. You must love books. You must know, as I certainly do, that books often make better friends than people, because books, good ones, stay with you, and teach you, and affect your life, your outlook, your soul, and books can change you. They can entertain, and they can help create a community where there is none to sustain.
   In closing, I want to say a little bit about Bywater Books. From its creation in 2004, this company has consistently sought out writers, new and established, who write good, quality fiction about and for lesbians who enjoy reading well-written books. They have sought out new writers through their annual fiction contest, and through that process have found such writers as Marcia Finical, Jill Malone, Sally Bellerose and Mari SanGiovanni, who have all provided us with some great books and fresh voices. I am happy to be a part of Bywater. I encourage all new writers to look for a publisher as passionate about your work as you are, who publishes the kind of books you want to read, who has a vigorous editing process.