Guest Blog by Chris Paynter

Author PhotoFirst of all, let me say thank you to Liz McMullen for allowing me to write one of her blog posts. I also want to thank her for her huge support of lesbian fiction and of lesbian authors with her Liz McMullen Show. And now, she’s a published author of a full-length novel, If I Die Before I Wake. Congratulations, Liz!

By the end of this month, I’ll release my next romance, To Love Free. This will be my first release as an indie author for my imprint, Companion Publications. So far, my journey along the self-publishing path has been quite a learning experience. I’ve been blessed to have indie author friends and other friends offering invaluable guidance and advice. My old Blue Feather titles should hopefully be rereleased and up on all the e-book merchant sites for purchase by the time this blog is posted.

I started writing To Love Free while my wife Phyllis was undergoing cancer treatment in the summer and fall of 2012. I had started and stopped writing two other novels, And a Time to Dance, my last release, and From Third to Home, the next in the Playing for First baseball series. I was having a hard time concentrating on writing while Phyllis was undergoing treatment and my father was dying of Stage IV lung cancer. I finally buckled down to finish And a Time to Dance. To those Playing for First fans, I will get back to From Third to Home soon, but To Love Free called to me first.

As I said, the story came to me in the summer of 2012, and once it came to me, it wouldn’t let me go. I had an image of a dolphin visiting an artist, Madison, and her daughter, Mo, in Islamorada, Florida. The artist lost Callie, her wife, to Stage IV uterine cancer over three years before. Madison hasn’t painted since Callie died. She tries to at least keep her hand in art by teaching beginning painting at a community college.

Gabrielle Valenci, a supermodel living in New York, travels to Islamorada to undergo the last of her chemotherapy treatment for Stage IA uterine cancer at the University of Miami. UnlChris and Phyllisike Callie, her prognosis is excellent. Her family vacation home is located next to Madison’s in a secluded cove. After a cautious meeting, the two women begin a friendship that soon grows into something more. Mo encourages the two women, but so does the magical dolphin they name “Free.” Will Madison let go of her fears and love again? And will Gabrielle open her heart to true love for the first time in her life?

When I went back to the 25,000 words I’d initially written of To Love Free, I couldn’t believe the detail I included about chemotherapy. Apparently, I had blocked out so much since Phyllis’s treatment. I was very glad I had written that part of the book while she was actually undergoing chemo since it made the story authentic and accurate. Similar to Survived by Her Longtime Companion, there was only one place I cried while writing this story. But, just liked SBHLC, when I read it out loud to Phyllis, I had to stop and compose myself in other parts of the book. I wrote the story as close as possible to our experience with cancer, including what my father went through. My inability to write at that time in my life mirrors Madison’s inability to paint.

The one thing I wanted to do, though, was write an uplifting romance, despite the subject matter. I wanted to show that the human heart does indeed heal in time. Yes, there will always be scars. But it’s up to us if we allow those scars to fade around edges—enough for the heart to love again.

New New To Love FreeI look forward to the release date later this month and to the releases of my future indie work. I don’t know how readers will receive To Love Free. Like my other novels, I put a lot of my “self” into the story. It was very cathartic and, well… freeing.

I would like to offer copies of To Love Free to three commenters to this blog. I’ll end the contest at midnight on the Saturday of the week that this blog is posted. I’ll then put all the names into a hat and draw out three names for the winners. The winners will have a choice of whatever format they’d like of the book—e-book or print copy. Good luck!

Contact Chris: Website and Facebook.

Guest Blog Monday: Ann McMan

Salem and Ann in VermontCasting Notes

The title of this guest blog is a double entendre. And for once, I didn’t intend that.

It’s amazing how things come together.

The facts are these. For nearly two years now, I’ve been hammering away at a book called Backcast. I had no idea when I took up this project that it would end up being my magnum opus. Even more, I had no idea when I took up writing that I’d ever have a magnum opus. But it appears that I do, and for good or ill, this book is it.

Still. I make progress. And during the occasional hiatuses I take from my Great Work In Progress™ (hereinafter cited as GWIP) to recharge my battery or pursue other ideas that just won’t wait, I’ve had some modest successes. Hoosier Daddy, written with my lovely wife, Salem West, was a 2014 Lambda Finalist. A story collection, Three, just won a Goldie Award. And my secret, family recipe for “Outpatient Fruitcake Clusters” was shortlisted for a James Beard Award.

I lead a rich and storied life.

But for today, I thought I’d try to answer some of the concerns and questions that swirl around this elusive and, some would say, nonexistent book. And I think one of the most interesting ways to do that is to let you take a peek at some of the backstory that churns just beneath its surface. Like any work of fiction, Backcast will succeed or fail based on the strength of its secondary characters. Collectively, they form the structural underpinning that supports the main narrative. Consequently, who and what they are and how realistically they’re portrayed become paramount considerations for an author.

And I’m not alone in believing that.

It was at this year’s Golden Crown Literary Society conference in Portland that one of our great talents, Elizabeth Sims, talked about this very idea. She went on to describe how mystery writer, Elmore Leonard, forced his own characters to “audition” for ink in his books.

This is how he described that process in a 2004 NPR interview:

“From the very beginning, my purpose was to let the characters talk. To first of all establish the characters, as many as possible in the first 100 pages and audition them…if they can’t talk, they’re liable to slip from view or get shot early on.”

PhoebeI don’t know that I’ve ever been tempted to shoot any of my characters for refusing to speak up—but I do have to admit that it’s an idea with some merit.

Still. I do make my characters audition for their supporting roles. And I thought it might be interesting to share to some of the casting notes from one such encounter. This example, of course, hails from my GWIP, and the all-important casting of the larger-than-life bass named Phoebe. So without further ado, here is how that epic encounter unfolded.

[Note: the actor auditioning is referenced by the name of the character she’s reading for.]

Ann McMan Famous Author: Hello, Phoebe. And thanks for coming today.
Phoebe: [silence]
AMFA: Well. I suppose you’d like for me to tell you a little bit about the part you’ll be reading for?
Phoebe: [silence]
AMFA: Right. Okay. Well. The story takes place at a country inn in the Hero Islands of northern Vermont. Thirteen characters from my novella “Bottle Rocket” are reunited there to work on companion narratives to an NEA-funded sculpture exhibition called “Transitions.” While they are there, they enter a tournament bass fishing competition. Do you have any questions so far?
Phoebe: [silence]
AMFA: Okay. Well. “Phoebe,” a twenty-five pound bass, is the stuff of legend. Anglers say she has been swimming the waters of Lake Champlain since the Civil War. She was named for a 19th century, Canadian axe murderer, Phoebe Campbell. Although Phoebe’s disposition may rival that of her namesake, the locals are quick to point out that “she ain’t never been caught.”
Phoebe: [silence]
AMFA: [silence]
Phoebe: [silence]
AMFA: Okaaaaay. Let’s get started. You have some pages in front of you. I think it’s the scene where Phoebe meets Quinn for the first time. How about you take it from the top, and let me hear what you’ve got?
Phoebe: [glances at the pages] I’m not reading this.
AMFA: I don’t understand…. Why not?
Phoebe: [shoves the pages across the table] It’s crap.
AMFA: Excuse me?
Phoebe: You heard me. It’s drivel.
AMFA: I’m sorry?
Phoebe: You should be.
AMFA: Hey. Wait a minute….
Phoebe: Seriously? This shit reads like a bad Georgette Heyer novel.
AMFA: Well, that hardly seems—
Phoebe: Not that Georgette Heyer ever wrote a good novel.
AMFA: Could we please dial back the attitude?
Phoebe: Do you always talk about yourself in the third person?
AMFA: What? I’m not….
Phoebe: No wonder you write such wooden dialogue.
AMFA: I don’t think that’s a fair description of my work.
Phoebe: Oh, come on. Listen to this: “Her eyes glowed like chips of blue sapphire.”
AMFA: Well….
Phoebe: Kind of makes you throw up in your mouth a little bit, doesn’t it?
AMFA: Okay. That’s enough.
Phoebe: We finally agree on something. You really need to cut that shit out.
AMFA: What shit?
Phoebe: [slapping a fin on the pages] The overblown language. Nobody fucking talks like that. You really have a problem here.
AMFA: Well….
Phoebe: You should read some Hemingway. I think it would help.
AMFA: Hemingway?
Phoebe: Yeah. And he could probably teach you to do a better than half-assed job writing about fish, too.
AMFA: This isn’t really why we’re….
Phoebe: I can see now why it’s taken you five years to get this book half finished.
AMFA: It hasn’t been five years….
Phoebe: Really? That’s not what the IRS thinks.
AMFA: Well….
Phoebe: Look. As much as I’d love to stay here and chat, I’ve got an AA meeting at noon. You have my digits. Call me when you’re ready to start reworking my scenes.
AMFA: But I haven’t decided….
Phoebe: McMan? It’s time for you to fish or cut bait. [laughs at her own joke] See? Even I have better comic timing. Ciao mein, baby. [exits]

End of tape.

Backcast a novelOf course, she got the part. I may write wooden dialogue, but I’m not stupid.

With luck, and a great deal of rewrites, Bywater Books should have Backcast ready for prime time in 2015. I ain’t saying when, because right now, my head has totally been turned by the irreverent, pulp fiction tale of a nurse iconoclast named June Magee, R.N.

But that’s another story….

Contact Ann: Twitter, Facebook and Website.

Ann McMan is the author of four novels, Jericho, Dust, Aftermath, and Hoosier Daddy, and the short story collections Sidecar and Three. In 2011, Ann, along with her novels Jericho and Dust was elected to The Royal Academy of Bards Hall of Fame. In 2012, she was awarded the Alice B. Lavender Certificate for outstanding debut novel. Her story collection Sidecar won the 2012 Rainbow Award for Best Lesbian Contemporary General Fiction, and Jericho won Honorable Mention in the same category. Both Jericho and Dust were finalists for Golden Crown Literary Awards in 2012.

Ann was one of 25 emerging authors invited to write an introductory essay for the Lambda Literary Foundation’s 25 for 25: An Anthology of Works by 25 Outstanding LGBT Authors and Those They Inspired. Her book, Sidecar, won a 2013 Golden Crown Literary Society Award for best short story collection. Her novel Aftermath was a finalist and Honorable Mention in the 2013 Rainbow Awards. More recently, her novel Hoosier Daddy was a 2014 Lambda Literary finalist, and her short story collection, Three, won a 2014 Golden Crown Literary Award.