I’ve recently found the Facebook phenomenon called Binders. The Binders Full of Women Writers and the spin-off groups for subcategories like romance, travel, and “rainbow” writers are active, vibrant communities of women sharing their successes and spreading word of opportunities.
The romance binder has organized a Work in Progress (WIP) Wednesday. I imagine the intent was less transparent than this post, but being new to the binders makes me want to show some appreciation for these women and their willingness to support one another. I’ve gotten new Twitter followers from the binders already, and now I’m hoping to see some new traffic on this site.
With that background established, I’ll move on to the actual purpose of the post. Heart of the Lilikoi comes out October 13th and I’ll debut it at the Provincetown Women’s Week in Massachusetts. It is still my work in progress, though I’ve sent it to my Bold Strokes Books editor and my Hawaiian-language editor.
Romantic suspense is a new subgenre for me and I found it both fun and tough to write. Fun in that I was able to explore human motivation in all its aspects, not just the romantic. Tough in that I have a hard time getting into the heads of characters I don’t like. Living with these people for such a long time, living in Hawaii with them and shaping their reality with my words, tested my determination. I move often and easily, but I stuck with these folks to the end of the first draft and through subsequent rewrites. Now that I’ve reached the point where my world is getting outside visitors, I’m looking forward to jumping back in and seeing how I like the place I spent so much time.
Here’s a taste of the beginning.
Kerala circled the plot of land, striding from the black beach cliff to the rough lump of exposed pāhoehoe lava that marked the far edge of the construction site. Salt glistened in the bright, tropical sunlight wherever waves had crashed ashore. The Kona side of the Island of Hawai’i didn’t get enough rain to wash it away.
She mounted the hill and turned to look back at the marker flags and check their positions. The litany of what’s-next flowed inexorably in her thoughts, but her eyes focused on the job at hand. She took a step to the left.
The hill disintegrated under her boots.
Surfing the lava-rock wave, Kerala dropped ten feet in an instant and thought, oh, shit.
Near the bottom, her feet scraped against the flattening slope and she crumpled, curling and dropping a shoulder faster than thought. She and the rubble hit the bottom of the grade and she rolled until she cleared the falling debris.
Momentum spent, she lay on her side and kept her arms around her head for a moment, listening to the ground. Adrenaline sharpened her senses. Tender, tough greenery lay smashed under her. Its freshness complicated the smells of saltwater, dirt, and sun-heated lava rock. She listened closely, tensed to move, but only small spills continued from the top of the new slope. When she confirmed she wouldn’t be buried under another rock fall, she rolled onto her back and stretched out flat. She opened her eyes gingerly and blinked into the tropical sun, feeling along her bones and muscles from the inside. No real injury.
A burst of fury propelled her to her feet.
Shouts and commotion from the top of the hill cascaded toward her as several men slid-fell to where she stood. By the time they reached her, she had checked the newly exposed rock for clues on why the grade had given way. She would hurt like a bitch later, but she’d use the adrenaline high while it lasted.
When the crew supervisor, Jack Zelinski, stepped forward, he did so with all the care of a handler feeding a tiger.
I always go for the sexual references. Not that this is news to me or anyone who’s been friends with/followed/slept with me over the years.
The American Library Association has a sub-group called the GLBT Round Table, which has published a review of Blue Water Dreams. Its tone reminds me strongly of the librarian in Moses Lake, where I went to high school. She took her job seriously and gauged each book almost dispassionately. The same tone is clear in the review, even with multiple references to sexy-times.
The reviewer finds it “refreshing to read a love story where there is no jealous triangle” and notes that Lania and Oly are both “fairly free of hang-ups” (which made me smile).
The wrap-up has the tone that I referenced above. It’s so wonderfully librarianish that I’m going to quote the whole last paragraph.
Blue Water Dreams falls well within the expectations of the romance genre, albeit with an atypical male lead. It may appeal to romance readers who are willing to try something a little different. It may also find a readership among trans men for the ways it affirms their sexuality and desirability.
A new publisher on the erotica scene, Explicit Books, has chosen to reprint “Goa”, originally printed in Twice the Pleasure, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press. It’s available now in their e-book collection Breathless: Steamy Sexy Short Stories on Amazon. Also, they chose my story to be the sample – nice!
Heart of the Lilikoi is romantic suspense, with plenty of the usual Dena Hankins flavor. Gender, social justice, steamy sex, colonialism, and the concept of home get a thorough exploration against a background of passion and regret, love and hope.
Heart of the Lilikoi contrasts with Blue Water Dreams in almost as many ways as it is similar. The main characters are older, more mature, and far more sure of what they want. The suspense creates a darker tone, and it’s harder to see how these amazing people are going to end up together.
Here’s the blurb for the back of the book:
Human remains tangled in lilikoi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ’aumakua. But these aren’t ancestral bones. The fractured skull points to murder.
Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty campaigns hinder the project Kerala leads: building an eco-dream vacation home for Ravi, CEO of a solar power company. Proud to be a tough dyke in the trades, Kerala can’t believe she’s so hot for the masculine genderqueer scientist. Their sexual connection is volcanic, but Ravi’s craving for love and family aggravates burn scars from Kerala’s past. As the lovers pursue justice for Hawaii and its people, Ravi turns his gift for harnessing the sun’s strength toward cultivating his own power, and Kerala wonders if building deep, lasting love could be even more satisfying than constructing a home to last the ages.
I started reading young and never stopped. My dad fed me science fiction at what he considered an age-appropriate pace; I pulled random books from his shelves and got an accelerated education. My school librarians learned to introduce me to series because I read so much and so quickly that I would be a pest if they couldn’t hand me at least five books at a time.
Town and air force base libraries had more to offer than my dad or my school. They stocked things that would never fly for a school library and had a much wider idea of what might be a good book. I devoured science fiction, romance, adventure, and more. I dabbled in and turned my back on autobiography, biography, and war histories. I developed the tastes that I’ve been broadening and refining ever since.
It’s not just the access to books. It’s the space, filled with books and readerly accoutrements. Lamps and chairs and tables to enable my passion. Card catalogs and librarians and featured shelves. The plainest of them still smell like books and the most ornate still turn one’s attention back to the books they exist to present.
I got on Goodreads today and saw again the link that reads Libraries. Curious, I went to my book, Blue Water Dreams, and clicked the link. It showed me the list of 24 library systems that have it.
This was so exciting to me that I clicked through on every one of them and discovered that some systems had multiple copies – as many as six copies – and that, even more exciting still, there were five copies checked out!
I geeked out completely, made a list of all the locations that have copies, added them all up. I have 49 copies of a book with my name, with my words, in 24 library systems, in something more like 45 individual libraries. One put me in New Adult, some put me in Erotica, others stuck with Romance. But I’m out there.
With excitement and joy, I share the list of libraries that have Blue Water Dreams:
On library shelves now in:
Fort Wayne, IN
Los Angeles, CA
Hull, in the freakin’ UK!
San Diego, CA, currently checked out
2 in London…also UK.
3 in Santa Monica, CA
6 in 4 San Francisco libraries
5 in Kent County, WA – 2 copies checked out!
3 in Snohomish and Island Counties, WA – 1 checked out!
5 in 4 Seattle libraries – 1 checked out!
3 in 2 Minneapolis libraries (as New Adult Fiction, by the way)
3 in Louisville, KY
4 in Allegheny County, PA
2 in Fort Myers, FL
2 in Denver
The conservative town I went to high school in, Moses Lake, WA, has a copy, plus nearby towns of Ephrata, Omak, and Wenatchee.
I went to the Moses Lake Library for a lot of reasons. I wanted books, obviously, but I also wanted to live in a bigger, wider world. I wanted to know more and books held a lot of what I needed. I wanted a quiet place where I could read in the public privacy one can achieve in a library. I wanted a haven when the world hurt me.
I found all those things in the Moses Lake Library, and more. I found respectful interaction with adults and the joy of reading to children and the honor of doing ESL tutoring for a Mexican banker turned agricultural worker. I found a version of me that I carry to this day.
So thanks, libraries. Thanks for being there for me. And thanks for stocking this book about being queer and trans and in love, about being passionate and deeply caring about social justice and independence and working it all out to have everything when you think you’ll have to choose.
One of ten books chosen, it seems to be the only romance on the list and one of three published by Bold Strokes Books.
How cute is this? “In fact, it has some extremely hot sex–something I neglected to mention in the original review because I was so blown away by how well-drawn its characters are and how naturally they interact.”
What a thrill!
What a pleasure to see that Jerry Wheeler has reviewed Blue Water Dreams! He’s an excellent author and editor, and I think very highly of his opinion. It’s lovely to read that he thinks that I “made some interesting choices that pay off in a big way” and “whatever her next project is, it’ll be on the TBR pile”.
Read it yourself and see if you agree with him: Blue Water Dreams at Bold Strokes Books.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Elliott Deline’s new book, $how Trans, reads like a journal that has been edited to read like narrative. It’s a rollercoaster of a read. Deline interprets his own and others’ behaviors inconsistently – one minute flagellating himself for his desires and choices, another minute reporting them with eerie detachment, still another minute blaming all his problems on other people.
As the author of a romance book with a trans protagonist, I chose to write a world where things are a little bit better, go a little bit smoother than is usual in real life. I felt that folks could use a feel-good book where a trans man finds love and the conflict has nothing to do with his gender. It is a realistic trans* story in the same way that most romance is realistic, and important only if it succeeds in providing warmth and hope.
Happy possibilities and best-case-scenarios aside, there are other important trans* stories. This one doesn’t waste any time on how being trans* can be a blessing (not even in disguise) or what amazing lessons and perspectives a trans* person is given. Deline is handing over his experiences, edited and shaped but remarkably honest, and they are frequently painful. Banal or hypersensitized, his responses to events vary according to a complicated chemistry of anger and exhaustion, awareness and blockage, disgust and need.
The use of first person memoir to tell stories in which the person frequently blacks out – not passes out, but has memory blackouts – is both compelling and severely restricted. Deline remembers at least one instance of rape, but questionable consent is a constant thread throughout the book, and some crucial moments when consent might have happened are erased by Deline’s dark memory. Moments of decision, moments of pressure. These disappear into a shrug, Deline’s admission that he doesn’t remember what came next.
On the other hand, there are plenty of stories told in great detail that carry a similar weight of indecision, with Deline often bowing to pressure in ways that don’t feel like decision-making. Another thread through the book is that things just happen – sex, love, rejection – with Deline barely paddling either with or against the flow. In this tone, I hear the voice of an addict, and Deline uses the word himself about his relationship with sex. His struggle to exert his will over his life is as painful to read as it is chillingly realistic for so many.
There is no truth in this book but the author’s truth. No attempt has been made to balance or flesh out Deline’s understanding of events, except with his own changing perspective through time. In the scenes with Grindr hookups or the more regular sex trade partners, this doesn’t seem to matter. I’m only interested in what Deline is feeling and how he is experiencing his own desires and those of others. His descriptions of wanting something more nebulous than sex from them are compelling. Some of his strongest voice, moments when I can practically hear him speaking, is in the agonizing confusion of being inadequately gendered by sex partners who simplify him, deny him, or just use him and ignore his need for someone to understand his maleness and blend of masculinity and femininity.
The relationship he has with the object-of-love is beautiful and empty, formed of feelings and denied by them, as unwanted by the object as it is impossible to give up. In some of the most intimate description in the book, the object is brought only into soft focus. Deline doesn’t give us a well-rounded, complex character in the person. It is the image of love and of the lover that we see in the book. The person is specific only in that no one else affects Deline the same way. We don’t get to know this person at all and have no idea whether or not we would sympathize with their version of this situation.
It’s not about that, though. It’s about Deline’s experience of love and loss, love and rejection, love and hate. While the object-of-love is vague, Deline’s response to him is not. He feels his way through the relationship, his desire and yearning the strongest impressions provided us. This is where Deline’s authorial voice is given the reins and allowed to speak. He provides a little context with some nice descriptions of Santa Cruz, for example, but focuses on the feeling of being in yet another situation he doesn’t control. The hope he holds for this situation doesn’t outweigh the sense of doom I have as the reader. His hope is tenuous and depends far too much on other people. His pursuit and eventual loss use the same personal and interpersonal tools he’s been using in the rest of his life – assumption, unwarranted hope, and blind pushing. There is no way that this love will be the growth experience that changes everything for him. This is not a romance.
I sense that there is a lot of truth to the idea that Deline’s life has been made harder by some of the people in it. On the other hand, the way he moves toward a mode of blaming others makes me think of people I know who’ve gone into therapy and started looking for “causes” for their behavior or experience of the world. More than a reliable indictment of the people involved, I got the image of a person struggling to change. He admits to self-diagnosing his sex addiction and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which I find telling as a search for explanation more than a convincing diagnosis.
His desire to understand his own choices grows through the book and provides the bulk of the narrative continuity. I’m not certain he comes to a place of great self-knowledge, but he does find support from outside that helps him feel better about himself. Perhaps self-love will open the door to self-knowledge.
$how Trans was provided to me free for an unbiased review. I’m a tough grader.
I’m excited to be hosting a reading of Bold Strokes Books authors at Good Vibrations on Monday, then following it up with a workshop on using erotica to spice up your sex life, communicate with partners, and get yourself off!
Carol Queen sent me some questions for a post on the Good Vibrations Blog and I was highly stimulated. See my passionate answers here on their site.
Olympia and Portland were quiet events. It’s occurred to me that the most successful events so far have been those where I go to someone else’s regularly scheduled meeting and we discuss the book. Check!
Orca Books in Olympia was a Sunday event, which they warned me almost guaranteed a low turn-out. It was the only day that worked, though, so we went through with it. Sold some books, met some great people!
I love reading aloud, so that was fun. And listening to the pieces by (in order according to the photo above) David Holly, Jeffrey Ricker, and Eric Andrews-Katz was a gas.
To be perfectly honest, Portland was a bust. The feminist bookstore that was hosting my workshop has been having troubles of the might-have-to-close kind, and my Facebook event was on Eastern time rather than Pacific, meaning that everyone thought it was in the middle of the workday instead of early evening. Le sigh.
On the other hand, I had a tremendously enjoyable and very necessary meal at an Ethiopian buffet that recharged my magnets. And I stayed with an amazing woman I would probably never have met. Thanks, Markie!
Plus, the great coffee continued.