Oh. My. God. Peeps, how freakin’ cool is THIS? Lori Lake agreed to sit on the Women and Words grill with me and chit-chat about. . .well, all kinds of stuff, as you’ll soon see. For those of you who are not familiar with her work, OMG! You’re in for a treat.
source: Astraea Foundation
Lori Lake is one of the finest craftswomen of lesfic we’ve got. Heck, she’s a heck of a writing craftswoman, period. I can’t say enough about her characters, her range, her dialogue, her ability to craft a tightly woven narrative that just sucks you in and chews you up. She doesn’t shy from difficult and often painful topics in her fiction, and often, her work will make you stop and really think about the ways in which we interact, who we are as people, and how we carry our baggage. I’ll stop now and instead provide a little bit about her here.
Lori started writing seriously around 1986, with the novel that would become Ricochet in Time, but she shelved it. She’d been trying to get it published for nearly 10 years and just decided, basically, “ah, well. Guess that’s not the thing for me.” So life went on, until she had a C.S. Lewis inspired epiphany (read about it here) and started writing again, this time working on Gun Shy, a story about two lesbian cops in St. Paul. And it took off from there. She finished it and posted it online, thinking, “there. I did it. I wrote a novel.” And then something really awesome happened. She got over a thousand emails from all over the world and a publishing offer before she’d posted part 3. She returned to Ricochet in Time, revised it, and BOOM that one got published, too. And the rest, as they say. . .anyway, here’s some skinny on a couple of her books.
Dani Corbett hasn’t been with her new girlfriend, Meg, very long, but a vicious hate crime leaves Meg dead and Dani physically injured and emotionally scarred. Her injury prevents her from trying to escape her thoughts and situation on her motorcycle, so she has to find a new way to deal with her anger and grief. She finds a ray of hope, perhaps, in Grace, a physical therapist at the hospital where Dani goes for treatment, and through her, Dani meets Grace’s aunts, who help her through the terrible pain of her loss and bringing Meg’s killer to justice.
Minnesota police officer Dez Reilly is on patrol, and saves two women from a brutal attack. One of those women, Jaylynn, is immediately attracted to taciturn Dez — so much so that she joins the St. Paul Police Academy. Dez is eventually assigned as Jaylynn’s Field Training Officer, but she’s not interested in getting romantically involved with another cop. One bad experience soured her on that, and for 9 years, she’s adhered to her “no cops” rule. But there’s something about Jaylynn, and as their friendship strengthens, will Dez take a chance or stay gun shy? (oh, gee! Guess you’d better read it and find out!)
Since her debut, Lori has become an award-winning author of novels and short stories. She has taught writing courses through The Loft in Minneapolis, and she’s written numerous helpful guides to writing via Just About Write. She has published novels, short story collections, and historical fiction and is working on even more genres as we speak. She has also been extremely active in the world of lesbian fiction, working tirelessly, for example, with the Golden Crown Literary Society (she recently stepped down from that–thanks for your service, Lori). She is a consummate writer, a wonderful advocate for lesbian fiction, one of the nicest women in showbiz, and I am so very honored that she’s joining us here at Women and Words.
Want more? Well, golly gee whiz! Click!
ANDI: I am so stoked. Lori Lake is joining me from Portland, and I’m such a huge fan (and huge dork about it) that I’m sure she’s thinking I smoked something before conducting this interview. For reals, I did not, but I’m just really thrilled you’re here. Okay, so spill it. What was the first thing you ever wrote? You know, like little stories in elementary school? Or love letters in high school? Stuff like that.
LORI: The first thing I remember writing with real intensity and focus was a story at age 10 about a skin diver suspiciously similar to Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt. I wish that I had that story today, but I packaged it up and mailed it in to Reader’s Digest, hoping to get it published. Those buzzards never even responded! All these years later it’s clear to me that the mainstream is not necessarily going to be kind to me.
After that, I didn’t write fiction. Not sure why. For the first 25 years of my life, I was always much more interested in reading than in writing.
ANDI: Of ALL the rudeness! Never responded! WTF? I’m laughing here because one of the novels I wrote as a teen was about the lost city of Atlantis, except it wasn’t really lost, see, and people like Aquaman (he was one of my fave superheroes) inhabited it. Huh. I liked Lloyd Bridges, and Sea Hunt was cool. I also had a buddy with cool GI Joe dolls, and we’d always do the scuba diving GI Joe thing, where he had to go fight monsters or bad guys in the kiddie pool. Ah, the memories. Thanks, Lori!
Okay, getting a little more serious now. One thing I’ve noticed about your work — and this is because of my own background in writing and professional editing at an academic press — is that you’re a consummate craftswoman with regard to writing structure. Is that aspect of writing — the mechanics of it — something that comes naturally to you or were you formally trained? I know you majored in English and poly sci then MA’d in literature — was that where your foundation started or did you just have a knack for writing before that?
LORI: Thank you for the compliment about my focus on structure, Andi. I worked long and hard to learn about that and about writing fiction in general. It didn’t come natural to me. I hadn’t written much of anything through high school and college other than essays and papers (and letters to friends and family filled with entertaining vignettes). In both the undergrad and MA programs, I focused on reading literature. Though I’m sure that was helpful in some ways, it wasn’t until I was 26 that I actually set out to learn about *applying* techniques for structure, plot, characterization, etc. I think you have to start a writing practice to learn if you have a knack or not. I had to work long and hard to develop a knack.
After I graduated with the MA in lit, I took writing workshops at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. By then I was 30. I wrote short stories — attempted to write short stories, I mean — until 1992 when some of the women in my writing critique group insisted that a story I was writing had the scope and sound of a novel. I wasn’t so sure about that . . . but then I continued working on it, and between 1992 and 1995, it did grow into a rather large novel, which was eventually published as Richochet in Time in 2001. If I remember correctly, it took me 14 drafts from beginning that project to the publication of it. I learned a lot from that. But I also learned a considerable amount by reading books about writing craft and talking about craft and technique with other writers. I used to religiously read The Writer and Writers Digest, and I’ve been collecting useful articles and books for years. Over time, I’ve come to the point where I feel much more comfortable.
But no, I wasn’t particularly talented at the outset. Few people are, actually. The author Elizabeth George maintains that a writer will succeed if he or she possesses three qualities — talent, passion, and discipline. In my experience, if you have passion and a fair amount of discipline, over time you can develop the talent needed for many activities, including writing. I’ve seen it happen over and over, so I know it to be true. But you do have to be willing to work hard.
ANDI: Thanks for that. Ultimately, writing is about hard, hard work. I, too, read those mags/sites, and I’m constantly trying to improve my structure and my word choices. I read things I wrote years ago and stashed on my hard drive, and I can tell that I’ve come a long way, but there’s always something else to learn, and something new to try. I also read myriad genres and topics, to try to expose myself to as many different writing styles as I can. It keeps things fresh. Speaking of which, I started reading your work probably about four years ago and what I really enjoy about it is your versatility as a writer, and the depth you give your characters and how tightly woven your subplots are with the larger plot.
I started with Gun Shy, your first novel in the Dez and Jaylynn, series. Those characters are so well-drawn, and your police procedure is so well-researched. What drew you to writing cops? Is police work something you’ve always wanted to do as a career?
LORI: I never wanted to be a police officer enough to pursue it, but I’ve always been interested, and the field is ripe with wonderful themes for fiction. Good vs. Evil. The Power of the State vs. The Little Guy. Crime and punishment, ethics and immorality, compassion and the use of force, the role of women and gay people in law enforcement. . .All of these are fascinating themes. I remember when über fiction really took off in the Xena fan fiction realm, and after a while, I asked myself who Xena and Gabrielle would be if they lived in the here and now. Cops, was the answer. They’d be enforcers of the laws and try to help people.
I think the situations many people in law enforcement have to face are the kinds of life and death issues that lend themselves to particularly interesting fiction. Police work is hard, but there are a lot of rewards as well. I wanted to explore that whole realm, and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know cops, attending Citizens’ Police Academies, and doing ride-alongs. Totally fascinating world.
ANDI: That’s another thing I admire about you. You’re not afraid to get dirty in the research. I’ve done citizen police academies and I’ve got friends who are cops, so I’m always checking in with them when I write my police procedurals, but I’ll read your stuff again, just to see how it’s done. I’m a cult of Lori, as you can tell. . .now to wax poetic about your website. One thing I really enjoy about it is that you provide information and shout-outs, if you will, to lesfic herstory. As a writer myself (and a historian), I love context, and I like seeing how fields of literature change and shift and how social currents play into that. And just as kind of an academic funsy question, how does current lesbian fiction compare to, say, the lesbian fiction that was published in the early to mid-1980s in terms of themes?
LORI: The biggest “thematic” difference since then is Volume. There were few lesbian presses, and we were lucky to have 30 or 40 books come out yearly back then. Nowadays we’re seeing as many as 30 books being released some months. It’s a cornucopia of variety now.
In the 1980s, I remember a majority of the books having romance and coming-out themes. We still have plenty of those, but there’s been an explosion in thematic material to include lesbian characters facing all sorts of situations: suspense, murder, intergalactic war, shape-shifting, alternative families, grief, death and dying, heroism, lots of erotica, and much more. Recently we’ve seen a number of quality books published about female soldiers, war veterans, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Many authors of lesbian works are taking the time to explore history and write about lesbians in other times – reclaiming our history and making a place for ourselves in fiction despite the fact that we were ignored and displaced in the past. Authors are trying out new realms, too: graphic novels, YA, mainstream crossovers, short stories and novellas, memoir, etc. With the advent of e-books and an author’s ability to speak (write) more directly to an audience, I’ll think we’ll see even more experimentation. In the 1980s, the ONLY way to reach an audience was through a publishing deal; in this new millennium, there are a lot more options. The Internet alone has cracked open the world to lesbian writers and readers.
ANDI: Agreed. I started reading lesfic probably in the mid-1980s, when I graduated from high school and went to college and felt “safer” there doing that. I’m from a very small town, so when I found out that there were books with lesbian characters, I was pretty stoked. I’d been re-writing fiction in my head to make all the classics and other pulp fiction lesbian-themed and what do you know, but others like me were doing it, too! And now, there is such a variety of lesfic. These are exciting times, though I still read the women who started it all, as well.
Okay, let’s talk about short stories. You have two collections, Stepping Out and Shimmer. I personally think writing short stories is one of the hardest things for a writer to do well, because you’re basically condensing a novel-length piece into a limited space. It’s an exercise (for me) in attempting to shove an emotional impact into a tiny word box. I love the myriad themes and conflicts you explore in your stories, so it amused me when I saw an interview you gave in 2002 with FanLaw. You made the point that your novels seemed to grow out of short stories, and you hadn’t been able to write a short story since you started writing novels but later admitted that yes, in fact, you were putting together a book of short stories. So how did that change? Because from those collections, you don’t have any problem writing short stories.
LORI: The short stories in the STEPPING OUT collection had already been written long before I was putting them together for the book, so I wasn’t lying in the interview with Psylocke. [Andi note: Lori Lake never lies. She’s like the ultimate Girl Scout. You can totally trust her with anything and everything. Including your Girl Scout Samoa cookies.] While I focused on learning novel writing, I don’t think I was able to think in the “tiny word box” manner you speak of. Quite a bit of time went by before I figured out how to pick smaller themes or more condensed issues that would allow me to come back to the short form. It was about four years, from RICOCHET IN TIME (novel #1) all the way up to Have Gun We’ll Travel (novel #5) before I got back on track and could write and finish the short pieces that ended up in SHIMMER in 2007. Since then, I’ve written 4 or 5 new stories, all of which are crime fiction-related. I think in another year or two I’ll have enough for another collection. We’ll see.
ANDI: Yowza! Short crime fiction! Looking forward to that! So let’s talk about sex. MUAH HA HA! [readers, get your minds out of the gutter! :D] In that 2002 interview, you said, and I quote, “If you’ve bought my books hoping for hot sex, you’ll be disappointed. What you get is something a bit different from that.” Writers have complicated relationships with sex. (har!) What’s yours? (in terms of writing!) (hee hee)
LORI: In every way, the relationships my characters have are always the focus, and if that includes physical intimacy, then there will be sex. But I’m not much of an erotica writer, so although I’ve never totally done the Fade to Black thing, I also haven’t been very explicit. My characters tend to talk a lot in bed.
So when Pat Cronin started asking me (bullying me!) to write a story for the Blue Collar Erotica collection that she and Verda Foster edited, I said no for the longest time. When she finally tortured, er, I mean CONVINCED me to write it, I made her accept that there would be a whole story about the characters, and they’d be fleshed out (no pun intended ) considerably before they engaged in hot monkey sex.
ANDI: And of course, that’s the only kind of sex to have. . .[cough cough]
LORI: I held to that line, BUT the story, “The Penthouse Birthday,” really cracked open my expectations about intimate encounters. I realized that I *could* be more explicit than I had been in past books, and that it would all be okay. I fell in love so much with the two characters, Kennie and Lily, that after the anthology came out, I was still thinking about them. Often! So last summer, I picked up where the story left off, continued writing, and in 50 days, I had written the entire first draft of the novel that became Like Lovers Do and was published in May.
ANDI: And I am so glad, because I, too, really dug that story.
LORI: I will continue to write sex scenes that I feel support the plots and enrich the characters in any story or novel. I wrote about this in an article at Just About Write.com, which I re-read, and surprise, surprise, I see that I haven’t changed my opinion.
ANDI: Sex can be a difficult issue for writers, I think (speaking in terms of NARRATIVES, readers!). On the one hand, I think it can be an effective part of a relationship between two characters but on the other, you have to be careful about throwing it in there just because you felt that after the dragon wars, the sword-fighting, the escape from Mordor, the interdimensional war with pure evil, and the extreme bonding between the characters that OMG, they should probably have sex, too. Not always. It’s a tough call. And it’s tough to write good sex, people. I consider dialogue and sex some of the hardest things to write well. Anyway, let’s talk about other genres. I know you have a secret love for spec fic. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret. What about spec fic attracts you?
LORI: I love Good v. Evil plots, and I very much enjoy big, contentious, multi-character sagas. I love being in a different world with different rules (gravity, weaponry, culture, etc.). I like stories filled with average everyday people who have to rise to the occasion and make a difference for themselves and others, and good sci-fi and fantasy will do that.
ANDI: I grew up reading spec fic. That was my first love. My mom has just about everything Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote (that’s where my sickness started! HA!), and I pretty much devoured all of it (rewriting in my head to make the main characters women), and then just immersed myself in other spec fic writers. So I get where you’re coming from on that.
And speaking of genres not normally associated with Lori Lake, I read Snow Moon Rising and just enjoyed the hell out of it. Excuse my language. I’m a bit enthusiastic about this book. So much so that I gave my copy to my mom because I just knew she’d love it, too. For readers not in the know, this is historical fiction, and it follows the story of the lives of Mischka Gallo, a Roma (Gypsy) woman in Eastern Europe around the time of WWI. As a young teen, she becomes friends with a German girl, Pauline (Pippa) Stanek, who lives in a village on the border of Poland and Germany. Pauline’s brother went AWOL during WWI and ended up being adopted into Mischka’s Gypsy troupe. Pippa and Mischka keep in touch over the years, until the advent of WWII, and the Nazi pogroms against Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other “undesirables.” Mischka and Pauline are on opposite sides through circumstance. This is a story, thus, of love, grief, hope, fear, survival, and struggle. It’s epic, and you captured the era so well in terms of speech patterns, material culture, and characters. I have to know — where did the idea for this book come from and how did you conduct the research for it? How is writing historical fiction different for you?
LORI: The idea for the book came in a few dreams. Sometime around 2002 or 2003 (not sure exactly when) I started dreaming about an elderly Polish/Roma woman. I wracked my brain to try to figure out when I had ever known any Gypsies or Poles. There was a family of Polish descent who lived down the block when I was in grade school, but other than them, I couldn’t figure out a connection. Still, Mischka continued to visit my dreams until I started studying about her people and the times.
ANDI: Oh, wow. She clearly wanted you to tell a story.
LORI: I did a LOT of research. I tracked down every decent book about the Roma/Gypsies (I found 12) and pored over them. I went to websites all over the Internet, read newspapers and books written back then, talked to a few people who’d lived through WWII, and I read a ton of books about WWI and WWII until I felt well-versed in customs and the history of the time.
I didn’t find historical fiction all that different from contemporary fiction except that I had to learn a lot before I felt I could write convincingly. But even something I write from the present times usually requires me to do at least some research. SNOW MOON RISING required a LOT of research, though, so that’s the big difference. Otherwise, the process of writing the book wasn’t that different. In fact, if you compare Mischka to some of my other fictional characters (or to me, for that matter), you might see the same issues of individuality, lesbian identity, and struggle in a patriarchal culture.
ANDI: Indeed. These are universal issues for us as women, no matter how we identify or who we’re attracted to. I really enjoyed the way you put that story together and unfolded it. So what’s next from Lori Lake? And actually, what’s next FOR Lori Lake?
LORI: What’s next is a foray into mystery writing. In November, BUYER’S REMORSE: Book 1 in The Public Eye Series is coming out. Then a few months later, JUMP THE GUN: Book 4 in The Gun Series will finally be published. Fall of 2012 will see the issuance of A VERY PUBLIC EYE: Book 2 in The Public Eye Series. I’m already planning Book 3 for that one.
ANDI: That is cause for some super-stokage. could you elaborate a bit on the Public Eye series?
LORI: I’m very excited to introduce people to Leona “Leo” Reese, a Saint Paul police sergeant who fails her shooting qualifications due to eye problems and is transferred temporarily to work investigations for the State. She’s mad as hell about it and not too keen on following up on complaints at facilities licensed by the State of Minnesota. But the first day she catches a case at an independent living apartment where one of the residents might have been murdered by an apparent burglar. Leo quickly figures out all is not as it seems, and it takes all her smarts to try to outwit a dangerous criminal before other people are robbed and killed.
ANDI: Dang it. Now I have to wait to find out what the deal is with her eyes! And to get caught up in another Lori Lake book!
LORI: I’ve got nearly half of the second Public Eye book written, and I’ve already worked out much of the third novel, including “the story behind the story” that’s so vital in a mystery. It’s fun and exciting to be working on crime fiction. That’s a genre I have always loved to read. JUMP THE GUN is a straight-up mystery, with Dez seeking a killer (of a character people will recognized from HAVE GUN WE’LL TRAVEL) while she also makes every attempt to keep her family safe. I’m already thinking of new scenarios for Gun #5.
ANDI: Hear that, readers? Lori’s got you covered for the next few years, at least.
LORI: What’s next FOR me? Not sure. I’m recently single again, so I’m focusing on my writing and getting my life organized. I’m hoping that all pays off with lots of engrossing writing projects that keep me busy and happy for a long time. At some point, I want to get back to my post-apocalyptic saga [Andi, being the apocalyptic freak that she is, is really intrigued by this one], and I still have two romances that are hanging out there, waiting for some attention. There’s a spin-off action/thriller series from the third Public Eye book. And I have another historical in mind. And a memoir. And a Space Opera adventure [Andi loves these]. And of course, the ever-present How-To book on writing craft that I’ve been threatening to finish for ages. It’ll be years before I run out of ideas. If ever. Lucky me!
ANDI: And lucky US, Lori. Finally, what’s a little-known fact about you that you’re willing to share (and won’t have to kill us later because we know)?
LORI: I color. Ellen Hart got me hooked on it, and it’s a great stress reliever (and something to do when the commercials come on while watching TV). I particularly like to color mandalas like the one below (which I didn’t color myself, but it’s a good example). I use Sharpie fine point pens and lots of color, and it’s very relaxing. My seven-year-old niece loves to join me doing this. It makes her very happy to color with Auntie Lori.
ANDI: Y’know, I used to color when I was a kid. Maybe that’s something I’ll take up again. Thanks for the tip. And for reals, thank you SO much for joining us here. Good luck, Lori, and looking forward to seeing your upcoming work. You rock.
LORI: Thanks to you, Andi. Great questions! You made me think so very hard that I believe I will have to go to the movies now. Good Night!
So there you go, folks. The zen of Lori Lake. You can catch her at her website and on Facebook (Lori L. Lake). She’s published with Regal Crest Enterprises. And seriously. If you’re not familiar with her work, do yourself a favor and try it out.
Happy reading, and happy weekend!