At last check, 17,010 readers receive this blog in their inboxes. What could all of them have in common besides a love of words? What topic would appeal to the imaginations of a broad swath of this reading community? How about a fantasy novel for the survivor in all of us?
First, let me say that by survivor, I mean that part of each of us that has triumphed over forces mounted against us. The force may be the painfully common experiences of being a woman in a man’s world or being queer in a heteronormative society, or the criminally common experience of being a #METOO survivor of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault. It might be individual family-specific experiences. In any case, I would guess that every reader can identify with surviving something they did not expect would affect their ability to thrive.
Second, by fantasy novel, let me suggest that the novel of which I am speaking is not a traditional literary category. It is the fantasy that our families heard and believed us, then moved heaven and earth to get us what we needed to succeed in a world that tried to break us down.
It is the interweaving of these two threads, fantasy novel and survivor, that has driven my reading for forty years. I started as a young teen looking for books that would speak to those two themes even before I was able to articulate them. Those books seemed few and far between and often ended up being a literary fantasy, such as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. As I got older, I found Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen (1987) which was her Valdemar series with the heroine, Talia, a survivor on many levels. Then in lesbian fiction, I found sci-fi/fantasy novels that reached out to this need of mine; books such as Daughters of a Coral Dawn by Katherine V. Forrest (1984) and Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino (1990.) These are all classics that I still recommend. But it wasn’t until my 40th birthday when I finally got the gumption to write the book I had been looking for all that time.
My debut novel, Gum for Gracie, was completed as an initial rough draft twelve years ago. Set in 1974, it’s the story of a family in Kansas that deals with the assault of a child by her father, the family’s response, and the relationship between the little girl, Gracie, and her Aunt Bobbie. After the assault and the death of the father, we follow Gracie, her mother, and her two younger sisters as they move from western Kansas to Lawrence to live with the mother’s twin sister, Aunt Bobbie, and Bobbie’s “best friend.” (Raised eyebrow, hint, hint.) The 70’s were the years that would give birth to Anita Bryant, orange juice, sunshine, and virulent anti-gay rhetoric. By 1974, these undertones already made it exceedingly difficult to navigate a lesbian relationship in public, even one of extreme discretion.
Add the tragedy of a vicious assault to the arduous journeys of both Gracie and her family on their respective roads to recovery, and you have a coming out scenario fraught with the potential for disaster. Gum for Gracie includes the stressors of trauma, depression, coming out, guilt, and Gracie’s genuine fear of feeling overwhelming emotions. And it tackles each one of those directly. It is not always an easy book to read, but it is an excellent book to have read. It evokes laughter and tears, both of sadness and of release. It does not end without offering hope and promise.
Katherine V. Forrest, the author of Curious Wine and the Kate Delafield mystery series, gave Gum for Gracie this advance praise: “Caught in a crucible of guilt and recrimination, three women unite in mutual determination to heal gravely damaged ten-year-old Gracie in this unforgettable, deeply affecting, tangibly real story of love, courage, family, and redemption.”
Gum for Gracie was released July 1st. It is the story I have carried in my heart my entire life. It is not my factual childhood herstory, but it is the more-than-factual Truth of my story, if I may make that distinction. The fantasy that someone heard and believed us, then moved heaven and earth to get us what we needed sometimes becomes the reality that WE heard and believed ourselves (as adults of many ages) often with families of choice involved. While this novel is not my childhood’s chronological narrative, Gracie’s and Bobbie’s stories are my story now. That’s the magic of literature. I hope that I have captured some of my readers’ stories as well. As an author, I find my most profound satisfaction the moment a reader closes the book, closes her eyes, and breathes, “She gets me.”
In the last seven months, Ona Marae has recovered from two total knee replacement surgeries, signed for her first novel, gotten engaged, had major brain surgery, rehabbed (mostly,) slept (rarely) and released Gum for Gracie with Flashpoint Productions. She is returning to Denver today from the GCLS annual convention, held this year in Las Vegas, and will begin her next book immediately. Or sleep. She tries to live each day according to Mary Oliver’s famous question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She challenges you to do the same.