Archive for May, 2011

A Different Kind of Pride

“This book is so Southern, it’s like sitting down to fried chicken and sweet tea.”

Larkin Rose and I pushed our new titles “Call Me Softly” and “Kiss the Rain” as hot and extra hot, and the OutRaleigh crowd ate it up.

I tossed out key phrases to entice my customers, like “British heiress meets dashing polo player” or “family bastard and a web of secrets.” But the “fried chicken” line was the one that always got them to pull out their money.

Southerners understand food and dogs. That explains most of the colorful expressions in our language. We also understand family.

Raleigh was recently ranked third among U.S. metropolitan areas that have the highest percentage of same-sex couples with children, so it’s understandable that the Raleigh LGBT Center hosts events and meet-ups for all ages,  everything from the “Gay and Gray” to video game nights for the younger group.

Although North Carolina’s Triangle – Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill – already hosts N.C. Pride in September, the LGBT Center wanted to hold a different kind of event. Let’s face it, traditional Pride events can be a little out there with guys walking around in their underwear and stuff. OutRaleigh wanted to be a “family-friendly” event.

Center Director Bobby Hilburn said: “We were told over a year ago that this wasn’t possible – to have a LGBT festival that focuses on celebrating the many diverse families within our community.  With a dedicated KidsZone, we set out from the first day of planning to welcome all families and show a different side of our LGBT community than is typically celebrated at pride festivals.”

So … does lesbian fiction sell at a family-friendly event?  You bet!  Better than any Pride event we’ve done so far.

Because it was the first year, I wasn’t sure how big of a crowd it would draw.  Bobby said they had hoped to get a 1,000 at OutRaleigh, but it’s my home so I lured Larkin up from South Carolina to join me in setting up a Bold Strokes Books booth.

The city blocked off downtown Raleigh’s main drag and the crowd was thick and steady all day. We surpassed 1,000 visitors in the first hour. Even though the last two hours of the event were rained out, the day’s crowd totaled more than 6,000.

Larkin and I thought we had enough of our titles on hand to work several Pride events across the Carolinas this summer, but we nearly sold out of all we had at OutRaleigh, our first event that we have lined up this summer.

Besides selling our books, we handed out lots of cards promoting Bold Strokes Books and directed the guys to the BSB website for a look at our Gay offerings.

Working these events is exhausting. It means standing on your feet all day (if you want to do a good sales job) and talking until your voice is hoarse. But nothing beats the high you get from reeling in a new reader or meeting an fan who says “Oh, I’ve already got all of your books. I love’em.”

It makes you … well… proud.

The other thing that swelled my head was seeing parents’ eyes light up when I told them about the exciting new young adult titles available.

That made me really proud to be part of the Bold Strokes Books family.

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Hard to say goodbye

May 19, 2011 10 comments

She held my heart for sixteen years and five months.

She had eyelashes so thick and long that people would comment about them. I could stroke her back for hours while I read with her head resting in my lap.  I never doubted her devotion, even when she gave me a look that clearly said, “Explain to me why I should do what you’re asking.”

Lacey J was the best damn Jack Russell Terrier ever. She was smart, not yappy. She was a 25-pound warrior with a brave alpha heart that made her both bossy and intensely protective of her pack. She kept the barns clear of mice and the yard clear of possums and snakes. She would proudly tip up her chin to show off the strip of skin where her thick coat refused to grow over her badge of courage, a snake bite scar.

She liked being an only child after I sold the farm and split from my ex. She never had much use for other dogs. Except for Jack, an extremely timid yellow lab mix who spent the first five years of his life in a pen at a no-kill shelter. She actually played with Jack. She taught him how to swim in the pond and catch popcorn in the air. It was as if she knew he needed help.

She also was a stubborn and obsessive hunter.

I wanted to strangle her the night she ran into the woods after a deer and didn’t come back until the next morning.  On several occasions, I had to literally lasso her as she swam around the pond until midnight, just out of reach, because she didn’t want me to take away the turtle (aka tennis ball with legs) she was carrying in her mouth.

Cute stuffed animals must be gutted and scattered in minutes, mere minutes. I don’t know what I was thinking when I complied with my ex’s request for bunny slippers one Christmas. They were real rabbit fur — big mistake — with a fake bunny head. The minute Dee slipped them on, Lacey launched herself to grab the left slipper by the throat and held on, no matter what we did to pry her loose. Dee was never able to actually wear them with Lacey in the house, and the day she forgot to shut the closet door securely, they were history.

But even at age 15, she would still occasionally race around the house with exuberant joy because I had once again returned home after work. She got the last bite of nearly everything I put in my mouth. And I spent many sleepless nights sitting up with her during thunderstorms because they terrified her.

This morning, her last morning with me, was a happy one. She scolded the new puppy for running in the house, played ball for a few minutes in the backyard to taunt him and then refused to share the juicy steak bone Larkin Rose had failed to fully strip of meat when she visited over the weekend.

A few hours later, I held her as the veterinarian administered a lethal injection.

She’d never had a seizure before, but she had been lying at my feet while I answered email when they struck. One, then another, and another. Nothing the vet did could stop them.

Lacey knew all my secrets. She loved me at times when I doubted anyone else did. I wrote my first three novels and the first half of my fourth to the gentle cadence of her snores.

So tonight, my heart — the one she held for sixteen years and five months — weeps.

                                            Taking a swim at Tracy’s and Keeter’s house

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Birth of a Novel

(revised from the Bold Strokes Books authors’ blog)

My new title, “Call Me Softly” came out in April and I’m pleased that it already has generated a handful of emails from readers. Hey Mikey, they like it!

One email also contained a question. “…loved the story line. How’d that come to you?” That’s often asked of writers, and, as usual, there’s a story behind the story. My answer is: bits and pieces.

My trademark is that I write about the two big loves of my life—women and horses. My first book, “Bareback” revolved around Olympic Equestrian Eventing. My second, “Long Shot” visited the annual Chincoteague pony swim.

 “Call Me Softly” started with my long-standing notion that polo players look powerfully sexy in their uniforms, dashing about on their ponies. I’m also attracted to the fast pace of the game, sort of  like my infatuation with basketball. I began to research the game in the United States and was surprised to find that a hotbed of polo was Aiken,S.C., only thirty minutes from where I grew up in Augusta, Ga. I was familiar with Aiken’s reputation as a Thoroughbred wintering ground, but had no idea about the polo community there. I had my setting.

While I was brooding over what to write next, I reconnected with a cousin who owns a beautiful cabin in the North Georgia mountains. She offered it to me and my partner for a week of vacation, and we gladly accepted. She and her husband brought my uncle with them when they met us there to give us the keys to the place. I hadn’t seen them since childhood.

Uncle Willis is a crusty old retired county agent for the Agriculture Department and still lives in the rural peach-growing area of Georgia. As a child, I was a little scared of him because he was very tall and a bit gruff. As an adult, I discovered that he is an adept story-teller. He drawled out a delightful tale for us of how he and his cronies meet once a month at an old gas station, raise the grease rack and throw a sheet of plywood over it to make a dining table and fry fish for dinner. I knew that had to be a scene in one of my books.

 Uncle Willis is sadly widowed now and seeing him again brought to mind my Aunt Lila Claire. When I was a barefooted little tomboy, I thought she was exotically beautiful with the regal bearing of a queen. The reverence in which my uncle still spoke her name both warmed and broke my heart. From his reminiscing, the character of Lillie Wetherington was born. 

Having spent the week at the cabin, we drove to the North Carolina mountains for a night at the casino in Cherokee. On the way, I looked up to see a sign announcing that we were entering Swain County. That name rolled off my tongue like Southern molasses and  the dashing polo player Swain Butler clicked into place as Lillie’s date to the romance dance.

All that was left to decide were the dance moves that would bring the two characters together. While flipping through TV channels in our Cherokee hotel room, I hit on an old re-run of “Dallas” and started thinking about the episode where Ray showed up at the Ewing mansion and family matriarch Miss Ellie opened her arms to the bastard her late husband had sired. Hmm. Not a new theme in Southern literature, probably because it happens so often it’s sort of a Southern tradition.

And a novel was born. Two interesting characters, a rich Southern tradition and an unconventional romance.

“Call Me Softly” is like sitting down to fried chicken and sweet tea. So, grab a copy, mount up and let me know how you enjoy ride.

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