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Bait - A Novel Blog

An evangelical, fundamentalist Christian man, his radical lesbian-feminist sister, and the woman they both love... When faith, family and desire collide, even the most careful of souls can get caught.

Location: New England, United States

Loren Stone is a writer living and working in New England. She grew up in southeastern PA, the second half of which was spent in Pennsylvania Dutch country. She's lived on multiple continents and on both coasts of North America, holding down a series of jobs, till the Internet came to ascendancy. She presently earns her living as a software engineer.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The problem with assimilation

The problem with assimilation is, you always have to give something up. Think about it. As liberal as your friends and neighbors may be, as open-minded as your surroundings may be, the fact is that when you say, "Hey - I want to be part of your group," you say, "Hey - I'm willing to become like someone in your group." It's unavoidable. It's human nature. No group of people can come together as one, without each and every one of them parting with some aspect of their personality. It's just not possible. Whether it's conscious or unconscious, people innately tend to "mellow" themselves, when they find a group they want to belong to.

Because deep down inside, everyone believes there is some aspect of themself that others won't understand or be able to relate to. We all believe that there is something in us which will cause us to be rejected. We learned that when we were kids, and our parents made it very plain that certain sides of us were unacceptable -- even if they were, when we were kids, we perceived those parts to be central to who and what we were, and the quashing of that was a bittersweet form of oppression. You cannot grow up and be properly trained without some sort of oppression. I'm convinced of it. But the lesson is not that parents should laud and respect every aspect of their children's developing personalities. The lesson is that we should all learn the ins and outs of oppression, and figure out how best to deal with it in our own lives.

The thing of it is, oppression has its rewards. Like social prominence. Like a high-profile job. Probably one of the reasons I'll always struggle with the limelight is that the limelight has demands, as well as rewards... and one of the big demands is that you be a good example for others. Loren Stone -- Role Model for the New Queer. No, thanks. I mean, it's all very well and good to be recognized and respected for quality work, but what a trap fame and fortune can be. I'm innately inclined to adapt to my surroundings (whether out of self-preservation, or because I'm too lazy to go against the grain every single moment of my life -- especially in public). And if I drag myself out of my obscure cave and make myself known, I'll not be able to be fully and completely who and what I am. It's not that I'm ashamed of who and what I am -- far from it. There's just too much of me, to fit easily into other people's perceptions, and if I let it all hang out, so to speak, I'd spend all my time trying to negotiate the insecurities and thought requirements of the people around me.

People have a lot of thought requirements.

So, I lay low. I'm probably sounding like a real wuss... afraid to stand up for myself, afraid to be who and what I am, afraid to strike a blow for personal integrity and uniqueness and queerness and all, but that kind of role-model work is not my main focus. I just can't be friggin' bothered to elighten people about why I really *am* just as normal as others -- perhaps even more normal, since I allow myself to simply be who and what I am. I just don't have the time to negotiate people's perceptions, and while I admire people who are able to be out and loud about their differences... how taxing it can be, to constantly stand on a hill, waving your flag.

I've got books to write. I've got ideas to massage. I've got a new book in the works.

Yes, it's true. I've got a new one on the way. I may have mentioned it in a prior post, but now it's official. I started it last month (January) and made a lot ofo progress in Provincetown, overlooking the harbor. The first draft is done, and it incorporates some writing from some other work I did years ago, that was promised to be published by a little lesbian-feminist publishing house (which then subsequently backed away from the project, because they thought it was too radical and I hadn't taken enough writing workshops). What a bunch of bullshit. The real reason was, they were in financial trouble, and they needed to stick with the "lesbian mainstream". The tried and true. The fiscally viable, safe and sound kinds of books that lesbians love to buy and read.

They could have been honest with me and told me they just couldn't afford to take risks, but no - they had to put it on me. Whatever. Not that I'm bitter, or anything. It was probably for the best. The book they wanted me to turn the material into, was weak and flaccid and didn't have the kind of bite I wanted it to have. Plus, looking back now, it wasn't the kind of book I wanted to be my first public foray. It would have raised too many questions I wasn't prepared to answer.

I may publish the book myself, on down the line. We'll see. It was a very personal project, and a lot has changed, since I first wrote it back in the mid-1990's. I'll see if I can salvage anything.

One of the ways to salvage it, is to work the different pieces into subsequent works, which is essentially how "Bait" got started -- I took one of the short stories and turned it into a full-length novel. The short story is good, but the novel is even better. And in the illustrious practice of "content re-use", there's nothing to stop me from publishing both. I think I'm going to pull out the good stuff from that old collection, and publish it, just 'cause I can. Fuggit. I think I will.

It will be a good way to get my mojo going, while I work on the new novel. Because the new novel needs a lot of mojo, and the collection of shorts has a lot of it in there. Lots of moxie. Lots of drive. Lots of virility. What fun.

And while I'm working on those two, I can be thinking about the sequel to "Bait", which is in the works. I already know pretty much what's going to happen. I need to interject some surprises and not get stuck in a safe, comfortable groove, but I think I know where it's going. I think I have a handle on it.

Which could be the best thing, or the worst thing. I knew where I was going with "Bait" for months (even years) before I wrote it. And I don't think having that info in the back of my head hurt the plot or the style at all. If anything, I think it gave it more depth and substance and allowed me to "play" with the storyline a lot more. Structure doesn't have to be a *bad* thing -- it can be very freeing. Especially if you come from German stock, which I do. Having that structure in place, makes it possible to play and explore and find out what's there, depth-wise. Not having a clue what's going on, just makes me nuts. In all aspects of life.

I'm not controlling. I'm just very, very busy, and I'd rather spend my time figuring out the subtle details, than constantly having to re-structure my work and my orientation in life.

Yes, there's lots going on. I've got books in the works. I'm looking for a paying job. I'm spending an awful lot of time in the woods, while I'm not working... hiking the trails on the land around my home... exploring and climbing and crawling around... finding things as I go... enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, while I can. Soon enough, I'll be back at work, and I'll have to fit my writing into my greater work/marriage schedule. There's a household to be maintained, and that household is very demanding. In a good way, of course. For every demand, there's an ample reward. And I like rewards.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The wind is up in Provincetown

The wind is up in Provincetown today, Wednesday, January 18th. It's really up. It woke up my beloved, who checked the weather channel, only to find it reporting 25 mph winds. These winds are more like gale force. They're shaking the whole building and rocking the table. My coffee wouldn't be sloshing about in my mug if the winds were only 25 mph.

Later today, we'll be leaving for the mainland again. It's been wonderful, being 50 miles out to sea for almost a week, but all good things must come to an end, I supposed.

Anway, it'll be good to get back and get crackin' on the material I wrote while we were here. I'm writing another book. Not the sequel to Bait (not just yet - the initial drafting is coming later this year), but another completely unrelated novel. A novel that I've been wanting to write for many years, but didn't quite know how. Now I know. So, I have begun.

In the past week and a half, I've written well over 100 pages. I don't want the book to be that long, but that's what I thougth about "Bait", and it ended up fairly hefty, by my standards, I'm doing everything in my power to keep the size down on this thing, butthe story will be told. The story will not be short-changed.

Can't say much about what it's about, just yet. Only that it's set in the suburbs of Boston, and it carries forward a long-standing theme that's recognized pretty universally. So far, so good. I believe it's all possible and it feels genuine.

Bait has only been out six months or so, now. Sales are still slow, but that's to be expected in this day of competing information. I don't feel a tremendous sense of urgency around doing a promotional blitz with "Bait". It's a timeless story, and it's one that won't lose its relevance, once we're out of this century. I really do believe the underlying concepts and tensions and dramas of Bait are central to the human condition, and just as Steinbeck or Hemingway or Stein or Sand have stood the test of time, I believe Bait will prove to be one of those kinds of books. Do I count myself among the immortals? Why not? Why bother, if you don't believe to the very core of your being, that your work has lasting merit? I just have to hope that others feel the same.

It all takes time. And if Bait is worth the effort of reading, it will find its place in the world. Sooner or later.

Keeping this blog is an odd thing for this writer. I know I need to do it, and it can really come in handy, and if I want to reach my audience more thoroughly, I need to keep this blog. But writing novels is such a different process, than blogging. And when I'm in novel-writing mode (which I very often am), the speed of blogging almost throws off my pace for fiction. Fiction, to me, is much more about introspection and letting it flow at a measured pace, whereas blogging to me is all about just getting something out there. Quickly. Post haste. Get it out there - get it out there - get it out there... people are watching, people are reading, if you want people to come back you've got to give them something new and fresh to come back to. Or they might not come back again.

There's an awful lot of pressure in that, for this writer.

So, I'm taking the pressure off, and I'll blog when I can. But I'm not making a huge deal out of it. I'll update when I can, when something comes to mind. Who knows -- I may find even more inclination to do it, once I take away the *requirement* that I do it.

Giving up might be the first step to becoming more fully engaged.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bait - Lesbian Literature Outside Of the Gay Ghetto

Or LLOOGG for short ;)

I was sitting around today, thinking about how Bait is different from a lot of other lesbian novels I've read. I think it's a very different book, indeed, than most of the lesbian literature I've read. Now, why is that? I puzzled and puzzled over that. (In fact, I've been puzzling about it, for some time, now.)

And what occurred to me was... the big reason that Bait is different from other lesbian novels I've read, is that it isn't set in the gay ghetto. It's not comprised primarily of gay and lesbian characters. It's not concerned only with gay themes. It's not only about a gay person, a lesbian person, a separatist person, living in her own little lesbian world with most of the sympathetic characters being queer. It's about a lesbian living her life in the midst of the world which doesn't have very much in common with her, and which begrudges her existence somewhat, but still allows her to live to see another day.

Okay, so it is set in a part of Center City, which I remember being very, very queer, and very much a ghetto. JD's friends are all queer as the day is long, and she leads a very marginal life, when it comes to the mainstream. But there's so much more to Bait, than the fact that JD (Jax) is queer. It's a major aspect of her personality, and it's what informs her decisions and shapes her life, but it's not the only driver behind the plot. Okay, so it's a primary driver, and it really mucks things up a great deal for everyone, but that part of her does it honestly. And frankly, I can't wholly blame her queerness for messing everything up. It's the inability of the world around her to deal with her queerness, that's the real problem.

Oy vey. Which is a nod to the Jews who are celebrating Chanukah this week. Greetings and hello and mazel tov! I have to say, I'm a little glad to come from the Christian tradition, where we only have one big day to give gifts. If I had to deal with 8 days, I think I'd lose it. That, and save all my vacation from work for the end of the year, every single year.

But back to the gay ghetto topic, while I'm blogging...

Back in the late 80's, early 90's, I lived in Center City Philadelphia, pretty much in the kind of neighborhood that's Jax'es locale. It was definitely the gay ghetto -- the video store across the street, Giovanni's Room on the corner, More Than Just Ice Cream around the block, Hepburn's a few doors down, and the breakfast/brunch/dinner place not far away. It was there, in that gay ghetto, that I first learned what it meant to be QUEER. I'm not talking about gay or lesbian, but queer. As in, you're so different, and you're so smack-dab in the middle of other people who are really different from the mainstream, that you have almost no relationship to "normal" people, and the usual definitions of what "normal" is, just don't apply. In those heady days, when I was relatively newly out and dating and looking around and usually tricked out in blue denim, black leather, and lots of shiny chains and baubbles (which I found go quite nicely together) when I wasn't dressed for work in a downtown law firm... and I was far, far away from my family, I was able to fully and completely be who and what I was, regardless of social stricture, regardless of disapproval (who would disapprove? we were all artistes and odd sorts!). I was actually on my own, for once in my life, and it was a freeing, intoxicating experience.

Sure, there were unfortunate occurrances -- like that woman I dated who slowly but surely lost her mind in front of me (chemical imbalance, combined with childhood abuse -- very sad)... like the woman who "stealth dated" me and claimed to have gone out with me, when I thought we'd only gone out to grab some ice cream as friends. And of course, it was no fun living around the corner of the crime scene, where the tranny was shot between the eyes. That was most unsettling and unpleasant.

But despite the mean streets and the hazards of Center City before it got all cleaned up (and all the dangerous elements moved to West Philly, from what I've heard -- I haven't been back since 1992, actually), the gay ghetto was just the most wonderful place someone like me could have lived, at that point in my life.

I mean, it was just tremendously freeing. I didn't really know anyone there, which was also freeing, since I wasn't burdened by the expectations and judgments of people close to me. I ran with some casual social circles, and I did make a few friendships, but I was much happier when I was on my own, all by my lonesome, renovating my amazingly spacious and old apartment (tho' I didn't do a very good job with those walls, sorry to say), making my life into what I wanted it to be, instead of what I was told it should be. I didn't have any lesbian thought police on my back about this or that. I didn't have any ACT UP folks in my face about things I did or said. I didn't have any connections to my past, that could have held me back. I didn't have a future in sight that I was afraid of screwing up. I didn't have any ties, all I had was the gay ghetto, where I was a perpetual stranger, and I loved it that way.

But ultimately I had to leave the ghetto. Because there had to be more to my life, than exploring and expressing my unique personality. I had to find a way to integrate into the rest of the world, no matter how hard I kicked and screamed and resisted. I had to do so, for the sake of making a living... for the sake of making a life. I couldn't go on forever, strolling around on Sunday afternoons in my jeans and leather, striking a pose. It was fun for a while, but now that's part of my past. A delightful, intoxicating source of memories and reminders of what it felt like to be truly free for the first time in my life. But a past-tense source, where I can't go too often, lest I get pulled into the jealous embrace of taxing nostalgia.

The same thing has happened with my writing, as well. Back in the day, when I was firmly entrenched in Center City, all my writing was about being gay, feeling gay, dealing with being and feeling gay, dealing with others' reactions to my being gay... the whole ghettoized works. I wrote a lot. An awful lot -- accent on "awful," as much as a lot. My writing wasn't the best that it could be, in large part because it was too insular, it relied on too narrow a cast of characters for its plotlines and drama and discussions. It was very-very-very queer literature, with plenty of sensuality and more than a little sex. It was very-very-very ghettoized, with an almost separatist focus on separateness from the world.

Of course, being raised in a community that took seriously God's suggestion, 'Be ye separate', didn't help -- if anything, it fueled my inclination to ghettoize (which is another topic for another day). But that separateness blinded me to a lot of good material and food for thought that could have enriched my writing, but didn't. I was too busy being separate. I was too busy being queer.

Now, I find myself unable to cordon myself off from the rest of the crowd and treat myself as separate and apart from the rest of the world. The mainstream may still look at me askance, now and then, and I may (and do) often do the same to it. But we leave each other be, and I allow it to inform my character development. I can only hope the mainstream returns the favor. Or at least some of the other queers out there I've come across, who might get a kick out of a book like Bait.

Bait - A Novel for All Seasons

Well, now the reason for the season of antagonism is newly over. No more fretting about the threat to Christmas from people who resent the use of the term "holidays"... even if we all do get a holiday from the season, regardless of our faith.

Makes me appreciate Thanksgiving all the more. Now there's a holiday I can get behind. Something ecumenical and religious only to the degree that people infuse it with that meaning. Gratitude and thanksgiving are able to be experienced by just about everyone, which makes it just good plain clean fun. Plus, there's food involved, and any holiday that centers around a very large meal of delightful dishes, is okay by me :)

Anyway, the controversy around Christmas makes me wonder if there would be controversy around Bait (assuming people find out about it, in due time, which I'm sure they will) for some of the same reasons. The "flattening of the Christian landscape" in J.D. Madigan's world, where the spiritual transcends the theological... and informs it as much as it challenges it... could well be considered an incendiary concept.

Well, incendiary is good -- especially when the weather is getting cold.

But I worry that perhaps there might be some sort of "Salman Rushdie Effect"... and I cannot get out of my head the memories of that author's struggle with fending off fundamentalist attacks from people who felt that he'd insulted their faith. Fundamentalists of any ilk, from where I'm sitting, are cut from the same cloth. I consider fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Jews and fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Pagans and fundamentalists of just about any ilk, to be far more similar to each other, than they are to the moderate members of their own faiths.

But, of course, it takes all kinds, and it's a little refreshing to realize there are still people in the world who care passionately about something -- enough to defend it rigorously and at their own expense. Granted, the lengths to which zealots will go, is disconcerting and often counter-productive to more moderate ends, but it's still refreshing to realize there are still people in the world who believe in something bigger than themselves and their own petty wishes and whims.