PO Box 242
Midway, Florida 32343
by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor
From the Desk of...
Katherine V. Forrest
Some of you may know about my decade-long tenure as editor at the storied Naiad Press. Whenever I'm asked what books I consider the best from that era, Diane Salvatore's superb Lambda Literary Award Finalist Benediction is high on that list. This coming of age novel of sexual discovery between Grace and Meg, two Catholic high school girls, captures their experience in a sensuous, beautifully written story that's timeless to this very day in its depiction of forbidden first love.
I'm delighted that Spinsters Ink is returning this exceptional novel to print. More good news—four other novels of Diane's will be forthcoming in the future. I thought it might be interesting for new readers of Benediction—and its returning fans—to ask Diane some of the questions perhaps you might ask...
Diane, as you reviewed your novel for its return to print, what were your emotions as you revisited Grace and Meg all these years later?
It was actually very emotional for me to go back and read it, Katherine. I myself went to a Catholic all-girls high school taught by nuns and I found that the memories were very, very fresh. Surprisingly so. All the pain I went through, and the feelings of isolation, the fear and uncertainty, were close to the surface. But so were the feelings of exhilaration, that “ah-hah” moment when you understand for the first time who you were meant to love, and that someone out in the world would love you back in kind. My heart kind of broke all over again for Grace and Meg. It actually made me wonder why I didn’t write a sequel. I found myself curious to know what happened to the two of them as adults.
In a lot of ways, Benediction is a novel about betrayals, exploring who loves us for our essential self, and who is there for us without any conditions attached. Or not, as in the Catholic Church.
Yes, I find, when I look over all five of my books, that this has been a central preoccupation of mine. Which is why I want to acknowledge here the Anne character who the straight best friend of Grace’s who is there for Grace in all the ways that matter—even when Grace is making it difficult--and ultimately makes Grace feel truly accepted and valued. I am still close friends with the woman whom the Anne character is based on, and I want to say to her here how much she has always meant to me, and how much her friendship has fortified me. I can only hope to give back a fraction of that love and support in return. She was then, and is now, one of the biggest-hearted, optimistic, steadfast, warm and generous people I have ever been lucky enough to know.
Supportive straight people are a blessing in our lives.
Well, supportive family and friends, regardless of sexual orientation. But yes, plenty of people still can’t count on the unconditional love of their families, and in that way, I am blessed--with amazingly loving and supportive parents, as well as a brother, and “in laws.” It was a process we all had to go through to get to this happy place, but I must say that the level of acceptance my partner and I now enjoy with our families is more than I could have ever once imagined. My partner and I had a 25th anniversary party a few years back, and both sides of the family attended, with all our friends…and it was as perfectly ordinary and perfectly happy as anybody else’s anniversary party. And so part of me wanted to say to Grace and Meg: it’s okay, it gets better, hang on. And yet, the pressures of not being accepted does still today tear some couples apart.
Any thoughts as to how it's different today compared with the days of Benediction?
I can’t say I am intimately familiar with what life is like for kids in high school these days—even though I have two nieces!—but certainly I very closely follow the news and reports would seem to show that being a gay or lesbian teen today is a whole lot easier, in the main, than it was in the 1970s. And yet, we are not that far away from the beating death of Matthew Shepard, and certainly we see unfathomably horrific torture and killing of gay men and women in countries and cultures around the world. And I still believe that in certain conservative communities in America it will always be hard for kids to come out. Even in progressive families, it’s still a disappointment to most parents if their kids are different, so that’s something kids are always going to have to deal with. Does it help that we have now really “out there” cultural phenoms like Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, not to mention people like Ellen DeGeneres and Meredith Baxer, and a handful of out public officials such as the new mayor of Austin, Anisse Parker? Absolutely. Does it help that the military may finally, actually, get rid of “don’t ask don’t tell”? Without a doubt. It’s really major. But coming out is still a process that is unique and personal and can happen only one person at a time. It still requires personal courage and self-awareness. And so I hope that Benediction is still a novel that provides comfort and company to readers who need it and seek it out.
Q: What was it like for you, writing this story back in the early nineties? Were there lesbian books or authors who inspired you, did you have role models?
A: They didn’t exactly put any of our books on the reading lists at my Catholic high school, and I didn’t have friends or family who were going to point me in that direction. This was also—if you can imagine!—in the days before the internet so it was not easy to search. You had to come face to face with a librarian with your book choice. Not an easy task when you’re a deeply-in-the-closet teen. So I checked out psychology books, desperate for discussions of what I was feeling—and you can imagine what a joy ride and positive experience that was! I remember poring through contraband Jacquie Susann novels, because sometimes she had a “deviant lesbian” character tripping through her debauched landscapes. Eventually, I discovered Rita Mae Brown’s novels, and I felt like I crossed over into some parallel universe, where lesbian lives were being written about and celebrated, and the books were sexy and funny and easy to find in bookstores, and the author was tremendously attractive…and well, it was like the world had changed overnight. I certainly hope Rita Mae is long credited and remembered for doing something really remarkable, raising the level of visibility for lesbians.
Q: Any thoughts about our lesbian world of books and readers today?
A: First of all, I want to say how terrific and important it is that Spinsters Ink exists and is thriving, and I have nothing but admiration for everyone involved with the press—including you, Katherine, and of course publisher Linda Hill. It’s wonderful to be back in print, and I’m very touched, really, that Linda went back to the Naiad archives and wanted to bring Benediction back.
I had the great good fortune of getting to know you, Katherine, back in the 1990s, when I was first published by Naiad and its founders, Barbara Grier and Donna McBride. They were true pioneers. And of course, in retrospect, the 90s were a kind of Golden Age of gay and lesbian publishing. The small presses that specialized in our work were booming, the big bookstores had dedicated gay and lesbian sections. Today, independent bookstores—which were absolutely critical to the success of our books and who were so enormously supportive of mine in particular—are being crushed by the big chains and by the internet, and this has hurt the process of getting the word out about gay and lesbian titles, not to mention representing a loss of a literal gathering place in the community. I do hope we can find a way to harness the internet and ereaders to get lesbian novels into the hands of more women than ever, and I think Spinsters is well positioned to lead that charge.
There is absolutely a need and a demand for novels devoted exclusively to lesbian lives and lesbian experiences of the world. And for readers who agree with me, I would say: Show Up. Buy the books. Tell your friends. Keep us viable.
Q: It's been a long while—too long—since we've had a book from you. Is there anything in the works?
A: I’ve been very fortunate to have had a long and wonderful magazine career that I loved and that was very creatively satisfying and challenging on many levels. I used to joke that we had flex time in the office, meaning that we could work any six days we wanted! Being an Editor in Chief is a job that really is all-consuming—at least it was for me. As a result, while I have a file of novel ideas, and even started a few chapters of one or two, I haven’t been able to give them the attention they deserve. Now I’m nine months into a new career as a book publisher—which is really wonderful because it’s like coming full circle for me, since I started writing my first novel at age 8!—but as you might imagine, the hours are just as demanding and the work every bit as creatively challenging. It’s been a lovely bit of serendipity that Benediction is being republished just as I have entered into the book business, so it certainly makes me want to write and publish again myself, and it’s very inspiring to me that you asked! Going back to your first question…maybe someday I’ll write that Benediction sequel!
Notes from the Desk of Katherine V. Forrest
If you're anything like me, you find it hard these days to judge the many books available on the evidence of their jacket copy and perhaps a page or two of the opening. So I thought I'd write a few thoughts about the books I edit, offer some additional clues and talk about the particular grace notes that might help you decide which novels fit into your personal preference spectrum, not to mention your budget. Feel free to contact me and let me know what you think.
The selection of Spinsters Ink books published in the last half of this year is quite amazing in its variety.
Arusha by J. E. Knowles will resonate with the many of us who grew up in isolated circumstances and were especially buffeted by the cultural and religious expectations of our part of the landscape. It's not only an affecting story of a lesbian struggling with her identity and truth within the conventional boundaries of marriage and children, it's a story as humane as anything you'll ever read, filled with real characters you can just about touch.
Qualities of Light by Mary Carroll Moore unfolds with such delicacy of touch and is so filled with grace and authenticity, the story of Molly Fisher is, simply, one of the best lesbian coming-of-age novels ever, in my book. We sent a galley to Ann Bannon asking if she'd give us a comment, and her response not only reflected my own opinion, it was so eloquent and heartfelt that we put it on the front cover. Check out Ann's opinion for yourself. Check out the book. It's extraordinary.
A Killing Season by Barbara Treat Williams is an unusual mystery featuring a young Native American lesbian who discovers her sexuality just as she embarks on a journey of rediscovery of her roots and the truth behind the death of her mother. With its principal setting a Native American reservation, the supernatural aspects of Native American life and the deeply researched background detail of this novel add more levels to make it that much more fascinating. It's a terrific story and any of you who are Tony Hillerman fans (like I am) will really like this book.
Command of Silence put me immediately in mind of Lisbeth Salander, star character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of the biggest selling novels in the world this year. Shiloh, the central character in Paulette Callen's book, has in common with Lisbeth a compelling personality and similar horrendous childhood trauma, but she is a far different character--in fact, she's a number of them. I found this unique novel riveting, one of those devour-in-one-sitting reads, and I don't think you'll be able to put it down either.
The Children of Mother Glory is indeed a glory. The novel you've asked for and have been waiting for, a fulsome answer to that wish list from lesbian readers for a good long novel they can really sink their teeth into, a rich, soul satisfying read. Michele Harris's wonderfully vivid saga portrays generations of interconnected LGBT characters and the lives they carve out for themselves in American's heartland. It's a work of great accomplishment, it's totally involving, it's superb. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
So it's an exciting lineup of Spinsters Ink books and I don't think you'll be disappointed by a single one. I'm excited over our next generation of lesbian writers and novels. Let me know what you think.
Hard Times by Blayne Cooper is the simplest of love stories yet heightened to much greater degree because the two women who find each other couldn't face longer odds. Both are in prison, one of them having been there for years, one newly incarcerated. The details of prison life are authoritative and compelling, the story unnerving, and I suspect the ending to the book will stay with you for a long time just as it has with me.
Linda Kay Silva's Across Time opens in Oregon--but then young Jessie unlocks a mysterious room in an old Victorian house overlooking the misty ocean and finds herself in England during the time of the Druids. What a time, and what a story! For those of you who know Linda Kay from her police novels, this series marks quite a departure, and I assure you it's all to the good. This is some of the best work I've seen from this writer, and even better news is the second novel in the series, Second Time Around.
Breaking Spirit Bridge by Ruth Perkinson is a very special novel indeed and so is its young protagonist, Piper Cliff, and its setting, the universe of the mind. Piper's won a basketball scholarship to a Virginia college, and among the rewards of the story is its portrait of the rigors of big-time women's college basketball and Piper's diverse, ultra hip teammates. But it is Piper's mind where the real action takes place as the trauma of her life catches up and overwhelms her like a tsunami. There's also a dog named Someday in the story, and a scene with her I'll never ever forget and I guarantee you won't either.
Backslide by Teresa Stores is an unqualified recommend--it's one of the most exciting finds of recent years and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It's one of the best lesbian novels I've run across in recent years from one of the best writers I've ever worked with in my two decades as an editor. The story is so affecting, the writing is of such depth and quality that I predict Backslide will be a classic in our literature.
KATHERINE V. FORREST joins Spinsters Ink
We couldn't be happier! Award winning author and editor Katherine V. Forrest has agreed to join the staff of Spinsters Ink as our Editorial Supervisor.
In her new role, Katherine will be reviewing manuscripts and working with directly with authors through the editorial process. We asked Katherine to share her thoughts on this new venture and here's what she had to say:
Q: What's brought you back into editing, and especially for Spinsters Ink?
A: Some really good reasons. Since the publication of Curious Wine, I've published fourteen more books and a number of anthologies. It's been well over a decade since I was supervising editor at Naiad Press, back during the grand old days when lesbian-feminist literature was really taking off. I've continued to edit since then, but all along I've missed that close, direct association with a publishing house focused on work dedicated to the lives of women. SPINSTERS publisher Linda Hill and I serve as members of the Board of Trustees of the Lambda Literary Foundation, and this has given me an opportunity to get to know her. I have the highest regard for her ability. Her presence in publishing is very important to us and I want to support her in any way I can. Plus--the chance to be a part of the rebirth and continuation of Spinsters Ink is a wonderful assignment.
Q: What's so special about Spinsters?
A: It's published some of our greats. Judy Grahn, Audre Lorde, Sally Miller Gearhart, Minnie Bruce Pratt, many more. One of our most famous ground-breaking classics came out from Spinsters: That Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Gloria Anzaldua and Cherie Moraga. Not only is the press one of our most respected, it's one of our oldest, and was founded by two writers--Maureen Brady and Judith McDaniel, in 1978. When the press moved to San Francisco in 1982 under Sherry Thomas, she published some of our most significant books. Then it moved to Minnesota, to be headed by the splendid writer and activist, Joan Drury. In 2001 it was in Denver, under Sharon Silvas, who brought back into print The Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearhart, as well as new works of fiction by her and other writers. I feel honored to be a part of the continuation of so storied a press.
Q: How do you see your role at Spinsters?
A: I'll be editing and doing manuscript analysis and working closely with Linda. Every writer needs an editor--an editor being, basically, someone who can clearly articulate craft and very credibly act as a stand in for the reader--and good editing is a necessity in small press publishing. I have decades of experience in writing, teaching and editing, and a strong reputation as an editor who works very well with writers because I'm one of the sorority myself. I look forward to putting all of this to good use, to help Linda find the writers I'll be working with to publish the best possible books for wonderful Spinsters Ink.
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Surviving Madness the Betty Berzon Story
by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor
When We Were Outlaws