Represent (-ed, -ing, et. al.)

One of the many (many) awesome conversations I had at the GCLS con included the ups and downs of joining and participating in Romance Writers of America, a.k.a. the RWA. It can be a bit of a sensitive topic. As vocally supportive as the organization is of LGBTQ romance, many of its members are not. And of those who don’t object to us, many would never consider reading our work. Even on a good day, it can feel like an uphill battle. That can feel even more daunting from the warm cocoon of GCLS, where lesbians and queers and our stories are front and center.

But even then, or perhaps especially then, we need to show up. If we want to be visible in the mainstream arena, we have to be there. We have to climb on and go for a spin, arms in the air, for all the world to see. It might be uncomfortable, but we must. They aren’t going to come looking for us. If we want to be represented, we need to represent.

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Not a week later, I got my copy of the Rochester Review, the alumni magazine of the University of Rochester. My second novel, Built to Last, is included in the “Books and Recordings” section in the back. As an undergraduate and young alum who spent more time daydreaming about writing than actually writing, seeing my name–my book cover!–on those pages was a dream come true.

And yet. And yet, had it not been for a chance conversation with a former colleague who is now one of the magazine editors, I’d never have submitted it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d wanted to. But I was squeamish, a little embarrassed. There were serious books there and mine was just a romance. Just. A. Romance.

For all my carrying on about the importance and legitimacy of romance in literature, and the importance and legitimacy of lesbian stories in romance, I can still be my own worst enemy. I still giggle and break eye contact when I tell someone what I write. I talk about how important it is to represent our lives and our stories and our genre, but I still chicken out.

Sometimes. I’ve gotten much better. But there’s still more to do. Of course, if the people I met at GCLS are any indication, we’re in good shape. Talk about represent. I’m still a little giddy to be in their ranks. And, as we’ve already discussed, far braver than I used to be.

P.S. If you can, but haven’t, send your book covers and blurbs to your alumni magazine. You might be the first, but I’m absolutely certain you’re not the only.

 

And for Once It Might Be Grand

In my tiny Catholic high school, each senior got a full page in the yearbook–our senior photo and a quote of our choosing. Most girls picked something philosophical that made them feel smart, or a line out of a country song. I, in the throes of my Beauty and the Beast obsession, selected a line from Belle’s opening song.

And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they’ve got planned.

The choice caused a bit of a stir in my small circle of friends. I was the valedictorian, after all. I’d gotten a scholarship and would be attending a good college (in the North, even). Everyone fully expected me to be successful. And, most likely, to find a nice boy and get married and have babies. For a girl in south Louisiana in the 1990s, that was pretty much what one aspired to. So what could I possibly mean? What else was there?

At the time, I struggled to articulate what the “more” was supposed to be. I wasn’t in the closet. Well, unless you’re referring to the clueless closet. But I knew. I knew there was something that I–even with my healthy imagination–could not yet fathom.

At the GCLS awards on Saturday, as I sat listening to tributes and acceptance speeches and looking around the room at literally hundreds of lesbian (and bi and trans and ally and queer) women, that quote hit me like a giant cartoon anvil to the head.

I’d found it. At seventeen, I didn’t even know it existed. And, oh, but it was grand.

Spending three days surrounded by writers and readers and lovers of lesbian literature filled my heart. Knowing I am a legitimate, published author–a member of the Bold Strokes Books family, no less–made me both happy and proud. Seeing so many smart, talented, wonderful women recognized for their work filled me with joy and gave me something to aspire to.

After the awards, there was a dance. Dressed in my flouncy new dress, I kicked up my heels and had a fabulous time. I did the macarena. I led the conga line. For reals. I also danced with Lee Lynch (you know, to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” like you do.) I joked that my polka-dot dress make me wild. I think the dress helped. The vodka tonics did, too. (Thanks, Maggie and Fiona!)

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Photo credit: Nell Stark

I like to say that life is too short to be self-conscious. I’m better at actually taking that advice sometimes more than others. This was definitely one of those nights. Sprinkled with fairy dust. Magical.

So to everyone who was there–in person or in spirit–thank you. Thank you for being an amazing community and for welcoming me with open arms. Thank you for for helping me become what seventeen year old me could only begin to imagine. It’s so so very much more than I had planned.

Aurora the Brave

I like to think of myself as a moderately courageous person. I went to college a thousand miles from home without having visited–the campus or the state of New York. I and my fledgling cake business auditioned for Cupcake Wars. I work with college students (and faculty, for that matter) for a living. On top of that, I’m an out lesbian. As we’ve (unfortunately) been discussing lately, that mere existence implies a certain amount of bravery.

But as much as I embrace some of life’s big challenges, I can be a bit of a chicken. I’m prone to many of the same insecurities and fears of embarrassment that plague a lot of people, especially women. I’ve spent years angsting about whether or not to bare my arms (or thighs) in public. I’ve allowed the fact that I can’t carry a tune hold me back from karaoke. I worry that people won’t like me.

As I’ve gotten older, some of that has gotten better. While I’ve yet to free myself from body image issues, I no longer tie my self worth to the number on the scale or the size sewn into the back of my skirt. I can laugh at myself (at least most of the time). I attribute a lot of that to simply growing up, coming into my own. Not to mention the wonders of having a good therapist, great friends, and a partner who loves me exactly as I am.

I think, though, that joining the lesbian literary community has a lot to do with it as well. First, there is something liberating about the act very act of writing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard-ass work, but the ability to create characters and situations–to control the outcome of those situations and the fates of those characters–is profoundly satisfying. It’s exciting and, truthfully, addicting. (I could go on about the fact that it remains an act of defiance to write women-centered stories, but that’s another post.)

Then there’s the lesfic community itself. Part of that is how supporting and welcoming everyone is. Part of it is getting notes from perfect strangers who’ve enjoyed my books. (Seriously, it’s the biggest thrill. If you want to make someone’s day, email an author whose book you loved.)

I’ve decided, however, that it might also have something to do with using a pen name. Although I don’t keep my identities secret or even completely separate, being Aurora is different than being Dawn. And there’s something powerful about that.

Aurora isn’t bogged down by the teasing Dawn got on the school bus in middle school. For all anyone knows, Aurora is a sassy, confident femme who loves herself and her body. She’s not afraid to be flirty or try new things or stand in front of a crowd and read a sex scene. Aurora can be the best parts of me. Kind, but also bold. Clever, but in a halter dress.

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Dawn eyed this dress for months. Aurora bought it to wear to the Golden Crown Literary Society awards. And a crinoline to make it extra flouncy. (She might still wear a little cardigan with it. Sorry, Carsen.)

It’s become a running joke at my house that Aurora gets away with things Dawn would never even try. All joking aside, though, it’s been lovely to open up in new ways and to new things. At the end of the day, I’m left with me and I like the not new, but definitely improved, version.

I don’t think there’s some magical switch to be flipped. But if I can do it, anyone can. So try something you haven’t before. It’s okay to start small. Maybe it’s a new kind of food or speaking up in a meeting at work. Maybe it’s writing that novel that’s been kicking around in your mind for years. Maybe it’s as simple as wearing a flouncy dress. Whatever it is, I’m already sending you a virtual high-five.