Monday, April 25, 2011
The Rainbow Reader: Sweet Carolina Girls by R.E. Bradshaw: "Book: Sweet Carolina Girls Author: R.E. Bradshaw Review
But if life stayed the way it was
And lovers never fell out of love
If memories didn't last so long
If nobody did nobody wrong
If we knew what we had before it was gone
If every road led back home
This would be
The very last country song
I was considering the words to this Sugarland song and comparing it to a discussion recently about the content of lesbian fiction, particularly lesbian romance. The complaint seems to be that the same stories are told over and over with different characters. People said they were tired of coming out stories, tired of two women discovering an attraction to each other, tired of one or both characters having issues to work through before they can fall in love. This made me think long and hard about the stories I write. I am also aware, through that discussion and dialogue with my own readers, that women want to see novels about women who have been together for a while and issues involved in a mature relationship.
Any good story has conflict. Inventing an original conflict is the problem. How many conflicts can you come up with? There are only five, or seven depending on how old you are, plot lines in literature. Using man as a reference to mankind, these plots include; man vs man, man vs the environment, man vs the supernatural, man vs nature, man vs machines/technology, man vs self, and man vs god/religion. So there they are, the plot line conflicts an author has to work with. Within that structure a lesbian romance writer has to create the conflict from what they see as experiences in lesbian life
To refer back to the song, “But if life stayed the way it was and lovers never fell out of love,” how true that statement is. It happens and it happens often. We romance novelists know it well and write about it often. Finding a new way to construct that part of the story, if that’s what the author is writing about, is the key. Going on with the lyrics, “If memories didn't last so long. If nobody did nobody wrong.” What would we write about if that happened? How would we convey pain and loss in life if there wasn’t any? A broken heart is a broken heart. There may be lots of reasons for it, but it basically boils down to broken trusts and promises. Regrets, “If we knew what we had before it was gone.” The past often haunts us. The mistakes we’ve made change us as it does characters in a romance novel. The last line pretty much sums up what I’m saying here. “If every road led back home. This would be the very last country song.” If life were perfect, what would we write about?
I understand the argument for new stories and not the same old thing. I respect that, but what I have also found is that many readers have never read that coming out story, never read that discovery of true love story, never read the story of recovery from a broken heart, and finally looked to lesbian romance for answers. They learn from the characters. They see themselves and recognize the pain and joy of loving and find solace in knowing their story is not unique. Yes, there is a need for diversity in lesbian romance, but don’t forget, some lesbian somewhere is picking up a novel looking for that coming out story and the joy of discovering the love of a woman. For some of us that was a long time ago, but for others it could just have been a minute ago. In this day and age where women are coming out at all ages, we have to remember these are their first love stories and not at all old hat.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
R. E. Bradshaw
Waking Up Gray
The Girl Back Home
Sweet Carolina Girls
Out on the Sound
Coming in July, Rainey Nights
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I opened the document. I looked at the wife and said, laughing, “Well, at least there’s no red on the title page.” I touched my fingers to the pad and scrolled down. Suddenly the right margin was flooded with a river of red. My heart quickened. I scrolled slowly to the next page. The river apparently ran directly into the sea. The right margin was now a solid stripe of red that, as I continued to scroll, seemed to have no end. By the fourth page, I was wondering if I had given up my teaching career without thinking it through.
Suddenly there was a page with a pristine margin. No red of any kind. I was intrigued. How was it possible that I, the queen of misused commas and passive voice, had managed to write a whole page without error? Surely the editor must have missed this page somehow. I stopped and stared at the black and white page. Could it be true? Was I actually capable of producing a whole page of written English language with no blunders? Surely there had been a mistake.
I scrolled to the next page. The stripe of blood red again coursed the margin. I quickly returned to the white page, heart beating rapidly. Oh my god, I knew I wasn’t any good at this. I should have kept that teaching job, no matter how sick I got. Was it too late to seek redemption? Surely, somebody would hire me. Oh no! I blew the doors off the closet when I came out of that school. I announced to the world on the Internet that I was, and I quote, “Proud to be a lesbian.” Shit!
By now the wife is staring at me, wondering if I am capable of speech. She keeps saying, “Well?” I had no words at the moment. I stared at the screen and prayed for guidance. “Breathe, honey,” hits my ears, but I am frozen, absolutely paralyzed by the magnitude of my folly. My little voice, the nagging old hag at the back of my brain, is singing her same old tune, “You better look for a real job.” Strange how that voice sounds so much like my mother.
The clear white margin calls to me. I turn to the wife and say, “Gimme a minute.” I begin to read the page. I start out looking for the mistakes the editor obviously missed. I examine every word and punctuation mark. I reread sentences to double check for any signs of the dreaded passive voice. It’s not until the last sentence that I realize I had stopped editing halfway down the page. Drawn into the story, I forgot to proofread and instead found myself on a beach in North Carolina.
I was breathing again and though faced with the daunting task of an ocean of red in the margins, I turned to the wife and said, grinning, “It’s okay. I can fix this.” Then I did what any rational human being would do. I closed the file and went in search of alcohol.
Monday, April 4, 2011
I have been in a lot of group discussions with lesbian fiction readers using the new feature on Facebook. I’ve found them to be very well read and willing to share their collective knowledge. I ask them questions and they answer rather quickly. Most of them have read much more lesbian fiction than I have. They are quick to tout good reads and writers they like. I’ve learned a lot. I have a list now of books I have to read.
I also ask them things about what they like and don’t like in a novel. They certainly know what they want and will tell you. I asked the question, “How do you like your sex scenes, fade to black or very descriptive?” What I discovered in their answers brought back something I read in A History of Sexual Customs. Don’t ask me why I have that book; I truly don’t remember where I picked it up.
“Mating in the animal world is preceded by a love-game,” the book says. The male of the species does whatever is necessary to gain the females attention. He dances, or sings, even beats up competitors, all to gain her good graces. Who are lesbians trying to impress? Women. Lesbians get and understand the dance they have to do to win another woman. The women I talked to appreciated a good dance.
They all agreed, with one exception being the heavy-duty erotica writer in our midst, that it was the build up to the sex that really got them going. The tension, the dance, the whole mating ritual thing had to be timed out perfectly. In affect, I as the writer have to make sure the dance doesn’t drag out too long or go by too quickly.
They wanted the sexual encounters to grow out of natural situations, not manufactured ones. Spontaneous lust was always good, as it should be. That one made me grin. A few very shy women said they liked the sex to be hot, but don’t describe all the parts in flowery words, in fact leave some of the parts to their imaginations. In the middle of this discussion the erotica writer was pelting us with descriptive words. I could almost see the blushing.
A fade to black was okay, but it had to be done right. I never really figured out what right way they meant. I’ll keep working on that. Most of them said the foreplay and the kissing was more important than the actual sexual acts being described. But then they started going off on sex scenes they liked and I could tell right away, black outs weren’t their favorites. I even got a vote for a shower scene I wrote, and I get a bit hot under the collar when I read that one, so I know they want sex and it seems the more the merrier, if it happens naturally. Evidently, it should happen naturally quite a few times in a novel.
So, here’s what my study has come up with so far. No matter what they say, you better put some sex in the book. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot of sex, or even very erotic, but the sex you put in there better be hot and worth the wait. Oh, and sex in public places seems to be a fantasy I have not explored personally or as a writer, but with their comments on the subject, I’m going to. <grin>
Samantha Hammer fell in love with a star. Not just any star, the star. The star of the show Samantha, Sam, had been working as Assistant Stage Manager for four weeks, with six long weeks to go. On most nights Sam sat in the chair stage left and called the show over the headset. It was Sam that brought the lights up on the beautiful star at just the right moment when she entered the stage. It was Sam that held the lights while the star soaked up the applause and then dimmed them just as the roar peaked, moving the show along like the choreographed ballet it was. This ballet was danced by the many men and women, dressed in black, moving effortlessly in the dark, unseen and unheard, and Sam was there leader.
Sam’s voice began and ended every nightly performance, except on the weekends. Then the Production Stage Manager (PSM) stepped in to call the show. Sam was relegated to covering positions of people with days off or too hung over to function. Such was the life of a summer stock Assistant Stage Manager. Sam would graduate next spring and hoped desperately that this was her last summer in the sticks doing Broadway for the masses. For God sakes, they actually sang along if they liked a song. Sometimes Sam had to hold the show to get them quiet again. And God forbid if they got backstage after a show. It was like cattle in a shoot stubbornly refusing to budge until they saw the star.
It was Sam’s job after every show to get the star to her waiting vehicle at the backstage door. The PSM handled all the preshow rehearsals, while Sam worked with the crew. She didn’t meet the star until final rehearsals. Sam remembered vividly running smack into said star rushing into the rehearsal hall with coffee in both hands. She was able to avoid pouring the coffee all over the star, but did end up doing a wet tee shirt thing herself in the cold hall, which became difficult after only a few minutes. The star, seeing Sam’s predicament, hell everybody could see, offered Sam her sweater.
Sam took it gladly. It was still warm from being on her body and it smelled sweet, just like her. That had started the infatuation that grew into a bone aching crush that just would not go away, no matter how hard she tried. Every night she met her at the door and escorted her to her dressing room. She knocked on her door at intervals to let her know how long she had. She called her to the stage and played the part of the stage manager for the beautiful star’s entrances and exits. Out there Sam controlled the world her star shined in.
After the first week, the star started asking Sam to sit down and talk before the show. Their chats were brief, lasting only ten minutes, before Sam would have to go check on something or call another time. Then she would come back and they would chat some more. Always about anything but the show, their conversations ranged from where to get the best pizza to how to get to Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town, at first. As the weeks went by they shared more personal thoughts and details about their lives.
They attended a few cast and crew parties and always ended up talking to each other. The star was here only for the summer, too. She would return to New York to start rehearsal for a new show as soon as she was done here. She was paid well to be the centerpiece of this little summer theatre, but she wouldn’t be doing these anymore. She finally had her break on Broadway and she wasn’t looking back. Sam could only hope to get a job humping cable around backstage in New York.
Sam was a lesbian, no doubt in her mind or anyone else’s. She dressed like a stagehand, black pants, black shirt, black everything. She didn’t own anything that wasn’t black. She was tall and lanky with not too many curves. Her body could have belonged to a teenage boy, well, except for the boobs. She wore her blond hair cut short and never wore makeup. She was good looking enough to catch the girls and catch them she did.
She chased women around all summer and had a blast. For three summers in a row, Sam had gone to some stock theatre and had her way with their women. She was young and alive and making the most of every minute, but then she met the star. Slowly the star took over her every thought and the women chasing stopped.
A few of the same faces appeared every summer, so some people new Sam and her reputation. They were stunned when she started hanging out with the star and refusing even the women that threw themselves at her. Sam hadn’t turned down a good-looking woman in her lifetime, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it anymore. She wanted the star and all other women paled in comparison.
Her friend Jen kept saying, “Just ask her, Sam. All she can say is no.”
Sam just couldn’t bare the thought of being shot down by the star. Other members of the cast and crew started to comment on the two of them spending so much time together. There had been signs of interest from the star, but Sam couldn’t trust her judgment. It could all be wishful thinking. They had to work together for six more weeks. So she kept her mouth shut and watched the star twinkle on the stage, just out of reach.
Tonight she stood in the wings ready to push scenery around and listened to the star sing the love song to the leading man and lamented that it wasn’t her she was singing to. Every night when the star’s heart was broken, Sam felt the urge to rush on to the stage and swear her undying love to her. Sam thought if you looked up “star struck” in the dictionary, her picture would be there as an example of one of the worst possible cases. Sam had even thought about leaving and going home. Her mom would love to have her for the summer and she could lounge on the beach. Escaping the star would ease the pain being in her presence was causing, but leaving her was an even more difficult proposition. So Sam watched her, lived for their moments together, and suffered.
After the curtain call, the star brushed passed Sam, smiling. “Thank you,” she said, as she always did on her rush to the dressing room.
Sam answered, as she always did, “It was my pleasure.”
At the end of the night, it was Sam’s job to reset the stage and make sure everything was put away. When she finished it was usually time to pick up the star and deposit her in the waiting limo, a Cadillac rented by the local theatre board. Sam went downstairs to find the star’s dressing room empty. In fact, the whole damn place was empty. Sam hadn’t remembered being invited to any after show festivities. She stood in the empty hallway contemplating her dilemma when a crewmember came running toward her.
“Sam, you have to get back up on stage. Something’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong?” She asked, but she was already running for the stairs leading back up to the stage floor.
“I don’t know, they just said come get you fast.”
Sam topped the stairs and ran out onto the stage. All the lights were off except for the ghost light, a single bulb on a stand left on in theatres overnight. She turned around to ask the crewmember what was going on, but he wasn’t there. Suddenly the ghost light went off and she was plunged into complete blackness.
“What the fu…,” she started to say, when the star curtain at the back of the stage started to glow, filling the space with twinkling crystals of light.. Fog began pouring in from the wings and the lights overhead began to cast a soft blue light over the stage. A batten overhead, used to fly scenery in and out, started lowering slowly toward the stage. A rose, suspended from the batten by fishing line, appeared to float freely into her view and stopped just in front of her. Music started playing and she immediately recognized the song. A huge grin captured her face. It was right at the chorus when the words became audible.
“Are you gonna kiss me or not
Are we gonna do this or what
I think you know I like you a lot
But you’re ‘bout to miss your shot
Are you gonna kiss me or not”
Are we gonna do this or what
I think you know I like you a lot
But you’re ‘bout to miss your shot
Are you gonna kiss me or not”
The star stepped out of the shadows, fog swirling at her feet. She sang the chorus right into Sam’s eyes and without hesitation Sam swept the star into her arms and kissed her passionately. The cast and crew came out of the shadows applauding and true love took wings.
The moral of the story: Stars shine brighter out in the country, seems like you can almost touch them, and sometimes you can.