Yes, the cliché is true: writing is a lonely business. At the moment, I’m sitting at my desk, alone in a house where the only sound other than the striking of keys is the persistent mewing of my cat. His demand to go out several times a day—under supervision; the boy cannot be trusted—is a continual reminder that I need to get my butt out of this chair from time to time, too. Ah, the wisdom of felines.
The antidote to literary loneliness is forging a community. I meet other writers at conferences, at readings, and, of course, online. As I noted last time, I met novelist Beth Burnett at this year’s Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, where we shared a panel on humor in fiction. And so a friendship was born. If you want to win my heart, just laugh at my jokes. (Ask my husband.)
Beth’s latest book, Coming Around Again, is available from Amazon and Sapphire Books. I’m thrilled that she has offered to write something for the blog today. As you’ll see, her brilliant sense of humor is matched by wisdom and heart. Please also check out her website here.
Hopefully Ever After
by Beth Burnett
I was a little worried when Lewis touted me as being funny in his last blog post because as I was writing this post, I realized it wasn’t funny at all. In fact, it gets a little depressing, but ultimately hopeful. Sort of like my books – not happily ever after, but perhaps realistically hopefully ever after. (Which, let’s be honest, is probably why they don’t sell well. Who wants to be depressed and then… kind of uplifted? In a real life, I guess it doesn’t suck as bad as I thought sort of way?)
I wanted to write about why there isn’t more and better lesbian representation in mainstream media. I think gay men have had more representation in mainstream media than lesbians. Remember that show on one of the pay movie channels back in the 80s? Brothers. They all loved each other, even as they dealt with the very controversial subject of one of the brothers coming out and living openly as gay.
Not that it was easy for men. As I was coming out in the mid to late 80s, the men I loved, the men with whom I formed strong, emotionally intimate relationships were dying. And that wasn’t being addressed in the mainstream media. It wasn’t really being addressed anywhere except in our own communities. Even within our communities, there was distrust and ignorance. I remember one man picking up a wine glass with rubber gloved hands and tossing it in the garbage after the guest who had been drinking from it had left. I heard he’s sick, the man had stage-whispered.
I was a little in love with my group of gay male friends back then. I think it was a way of being in the gay community without actually admitting I was gay. Maybe it was because I was so immersed in gay male culture that it took me so long to find my own. The first LGBT book I read was about male lovers and was called, I think, As If During Sex, though Googling it now brings back nothing. Did it have lackluster sales and go quickly out of print? Was it not worth being catalogued somewhere so some middle-aged lesbian, thirty years later, could find a picture of the cover and somehow bring back the memory of what it was about? Quite possibly, all the pot I smoked in the late eighties and early nineties means the book was called something entirely different.
The point is I didn’t know lesbians existed. And it wasn’t until I moved across the country and started dating women in my mid-twenties that I was introduced to lesbians in groups. There were a lot of us! I read lesbian books and discovered the joy of potlucks. I bought Birkenstocks and shaved my head and discussed Mary Wollstonecraft with tattooed academics.
I watched an awful lot of softball.
I became enthralled with the power of women when men are removed from the equation. We’re strong. We’re beautiful. We don’t have to shave our legs or lose weight or wear makeup. (Though we can if we want.) I thrived in women’s spaces, I grew. I found my confidence. And somewhere in there, I published my first book.
A book that mostly centered on women.
I published my second book.
A book that focused almost exclusively on women.
Somewhere along the line, I started thinking about representation and how much it mattered to me and how little of it I saw. And it occurred to me that a book doesn’t have to be lesfic to have a healthy lesbian relationship in it. And it doesn’t have to be labeled as gay to have a healthy gay male couple. We can give role models to our readers, no matter who our readers might be. It’s time for all of us to start branching out into creating diversity for young, queer, people of color or older lesbians finding love as senior citizens. It strikes me as a particularly heinous insult to assume that we should only write what we personally know. I mean, one of my characters is a very believable racquetball player and I’ve never even held a racquet.
I guess somewhere in my subconscious, I thought I was already writing diverse books because I AM a diversity category.
It doesn’t work that way. Life isn’t meant to be lived in a circle of exclusion. It’s meant to be rich, vibrant, and full of – well – characters. How can we write deeply diverse and realistic novels if we aren’t living a diverse life?
I guess I had an epiphany somewhere between book one and book four. In Eating Life, my circle-of-friends, slice-of-life novel, one of my characters is a straight man called Ben. He was almost deleted from the book and he’s turned out to be a favorite among my readers.
In my latest release, Coming Around Again, two of the main characters are Carter and David, an interracial gay couple who adopt David’s niece when she’s kicked out of her home for being queer.
Representation matters. I like to think that no matter who you are, you will find something that speaks to you in one of my books. And maybe someday, thirty years from now, you’ll be writing a blog about that lesbian book you read back in 2018 – what was it called? Coming Again?