In the last few days I have gotten some interesting questions about Painted Wings, through Facebook and Goodreads. I have heard similar comments and questions from family and friends, comfortable enough to ask. The questions usually sound something like, “Tim, where did the idea for the book come from and why did you decide to write about lesbians?” There are lots of possible responses. Let me try out a few of them.
Around two years ago, when I decided that I wanted to devote some serious energy to writing, I took a class at the community college called, “So you want to be a writer”. The instructor was a young man who had recently completed his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at a Missouri university. In other words, he was at least 22 years old. I remember two of his foundation messages. First, you will never make any money as a writer, so don’t even try. And second, do not under any circumstances, write a novel about sex, from the point of view of a middle-aged man. After the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, every middle-aged guy was writing an erotic novel with a virile, middle-aged protagonist. I decided that if my first novel was going to have sex scenes, they would have to be different from my personal experiences. I’m sure that my family and friends appreciate that, too!
Those of you who read my book of short stories, There and Back Again: A Decade of Travel Tales, are familiar with the actual creative spark for Annie’s story. Rachel and I were staying at a country inn in New Hampshire, where I read an entry in a guest journal in our room. A woman who had stayed in the room several weeks earlier wrote about the beginning of her summer of adventure. She had gone through a painful divorce and was starting over. Rachel and I talked about her that night over dinner. We had a million questions about her divorce and her summer road trip. I asked Rachel whether she thought that the woman might have met a handsome stranger at the inn, who looked like George Clooney or Richard Gere. Rachel was watching our attractive, tattooed bartender, and without skipping a beat said, “No, I think she meets a woman.” The seed was planted.
I spent many hours communicating with Stephanie, my editor, about plot, characters, grammar, and a million other things. During one conversation toward the end of the writing and editing process, I posed the question whether she thought that a guy could be taken seriously, writing a story about lesbian characters. Stephanie thought for a minute and replied that the story was really Annie’s story, and Annie was not a lesbian. Annie was heterosexual and during the course of her summer was experiencing some new feelings and attractions. I thought that was an insightful answer. I had heard a program on National Public Radio around that time that talked about the concept of “sexual fluidity”. The idea was that there is a range of feelings that people experience that may change over time, related to sexual attractions to either sex. These were common feelings, especially for women. The discussion on NPR was consistent with Annie’s journey.
So far Painted Wings has received a handful of reviews on amazon.com and three reviews from a literary website called Readers’ Favorite. None of the reviewers have mentioned anything about sexual orientation or lesbian erotica. They describe the novel as being about dealing with loss, starting over, exploring diversity and challenges relating to our prejudices. They also talk about the positive way that the story reminds us of the wonderful things that are there for us all, if we open ourselves to new experiences. I told Rachel, “They get it!”.
Last year I created a publishing company, Cedar Lake Publishing. Self-published authors are encouraged to do that. The tag-line that is printed under the company name says, “Celebrating diversity, one book at a time”. That is what Painted Wings is intended to be, a celebration of diversity. I haven’t decided on the story for my next book yet, but I bet it will explore another aspect of the beauty that can be found in our differences! I’ll keep you posted.