by Teresa Noelle Roberts
And now, for something a little bit different...Lipstick on Her Collar, a wonderfully juicy anthology of short lesbian fiction celebrating the fabulous femme and the women who love her. It’s brought to us by Alison Tyler’s Pretty Things Press, features stories by Lusties Shanna Germain and Teresa Noelle Roberts (as well as Lustie friend and April 7 guest Rachel Kramer Bussel), and boasts a danged cute, yet sexy cover.
It also has two exceptionally cool editors, Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia, who’ve agreed to talk with us today about erotic writing and the small alternative press, as well as horses, Marlene Dietrich, and other topics we don’t hear nearly enough about on Lust Bites.
Sacchi Green spends her time in western Massachusetts and the mountains of New Hampshire, with occasional forays into the real world. Her work has been published in six volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica, four volumes of Best Women's Erotica, Best Transgender Erotica, Best S/M Erotica 2, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 3, Penthouse, On Our Backs, and a thigh-high stack of other anthologies with inspirational covers. In addition to Lipstick on Her Collar, her co-editorial ventures include Rode Hard, Put Away Wet: Lesbian Cowboy Erotica and Hard Road, Easy Riding: Lesbian Biker Erotica. Another book, Time Well Bent: Queer Alternate History, is scheduled to be published this fall by Lethe Press, and she’s currently taking submissions for Girl Crazy, due out from Cleis Press in 2009.
Rakelle Valencia, when not cowboyin’, (yes, she’s a real-life horse trainer and breeder) has co-edited four erotic anthologies. One, Rode Hard, Put Away Wet was a finalist for a LAMBDA Literary Award. She has had many erotic short stories published, which can be found on the bookshelves of the most excellent bookstores. Her non-fiction, technical articles on Natural Horsemanship, has been printed in the most discriminating rags. And she was also a 2006 semi-finalist in the Project: Queer Lit Contest. She's still hoping to publish a novel. Photos and free-lance artwork have appeared on puzzles, advertisements, and logos. This year’s motto is to “always keep the hairy side up”.
LB: Tell us about the inspiration behind Lipstick on Her Collar.
SG: The inspiration was all Alison Tyler’s. She offered the title to my co-editor Rakelle Valencia, and Rakelle brought me in on the deal, since we’d worked so well together on our first two anthologies. Alison told us to interpret it any way we wanted to. Since the subtitle was “And Other Tales of Lesbian Lust”, we decided to emphasize the “lust” aspect, and asked our writers to be sure getting there was at least half the fun.
RV: The brainstorm for Lipstick was entirely Alison Tyler’s, of Pretty Things Press. She asked if I’d like to work on it as the editor. And at that time, I felt it only fair to request that, my then co-editor came on board with me.
Total inspiration for the work was Alison Tyler’s.
LB: Define femme, just in case anyone isn’t clear on the concept. It has to do with a certain fashion sense, but there’s more to it than that, I’d think.
SG: “Femme” is such a subjective term that I don’t think there can be a single definition. If you feel femme, you are, even if it’s just on special occasions. Joan Nestle writes of femmes “showing color," which is as close as I can get to describing the particular bright aura femmes radiate. Fashion sense can enter into it, but it’s also a certain awareness of your female attributes, a way of carrying yourself and presenting yourself to the world, and it can be done with just devastating an effect in jeans and a T-shirt as in a bikini. Okay, maybe not quite as devastating, but close.
LB: How did you choose the stories...sometimes with such a narrow-seeming topic and a very specific character type— "femmes"— it would be hard to keep the diversity. Did you have trouble with that, or did it just turn out that everyone had a different idea of what femme was or meant?
SG: We didn’t feel that the topic was all that narrow, and, as it turned out, neither did our writers. While the lipstick was associated with femmes, the collars in question were just as likely to be worn by proud representatives of the butch tradition. Not that lipstick (or collars, for that matter) appeared in every story. I think of the lipstick/collar pairing as more of a yin/yang motif, but with the subtle shadings made possible by the lesbian focus.
As to how we chose the stories, it was a matter of using the best work, period. No matter what the central theme, we were lucky to have fine writers who could have taken any subject we’d thrown at them and given it their own original, enthralling, entirely distinctive treatment. The characters, the story arcs, the writing styles, are all very different, and when it comes to diversity of setting, well, what could be more diverse than a vanilla plantation in Mexico, Vietnam in 1969, and Teresa's own ruined castle in Wales?
RV: Here’s where it got sticky. Alison Tyler wanted a femme/femme anthology. But we begged of her to allow it a slant past the boundaries. We had some fantastic stories pouring in, albeit not femme/femme! Some of these stories could not be passed up! Should not have been passed up! Alison Tyler agree—though might have been a smidge disappointed at first to do so—you’d have to ask her. I do think all of us are now excited with the outcome! It’s hot! And it has a bit of everything—that is—everything we could pack in the limited space to make readers taste buds salivate!
LB: Is "femme" a state of mind, an attitude, or are the trappings required?
SG: I’m no expert on femmes, really, being more of a basic earthy-crunchy type, but I do see “femme” as representing a state of mind that projects an attitude, with or without the trappings. The trappings can be a lot of fun, though. (I should add here that despite my personal shortcomings, my characters can manage considerable expertise at being, recognizing, lusting for, and loving femmes. Funny how that works out.)
LB: And following from that, anyone can put on a dress and makeup (although probably some people just shouldn’t), but can anyone be a femme, regardless of sexual preference or physical gender, if she or he has the right attitude?
SG: Definitely. If you get the mind-set right, the rest follows naturally. And I also think that it’s possible for some people to emphasize different aspects of their sexuality at different times, according to mood, circumstance, and, possibly, the availability of extra-fine trappings.
LB: Say you’re at a fancy-schmancy party where a lot of the women are in dresses and heels. What signs might tell you that the woman you’re talking to might be a femme, rather than a “random straight woman who’s dressed up because it’s that kind of a party”?
SG: Hmm, well, I don’t think I personally would be particularly good at reading the signs, but I’d guess that the true femme would be truly inhabiting the fancy clothes, “working” them, while the others would be merely wearing them. And the femme would be more elegantly graceful in the high heels (and less likely to kick them off at the first opportunity).
RV: Does it matter? Is there a secluded area at this party? A bathroom with a lock? (Lock is optional.) And do all of the dresses have underwear beneath them (thongs not included)? Love a party!
But, to the question…
Are you marrying her or fucking her? That’s the only way the question would come into play for me. Even then, people change—hourly, by the minute, within seconds. Just work it!
LB: Name some iconic femmes, either real people or fictional characters.
SG: Some of my gay male friends know a lot more about iconic femmes than I do, but the top of my list would be Marlene Dietrich. I did quite a bit of research on her for a story I wrote for Mitzi Szereto’s Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers (Cleis Press). My piece was about Dietrich’s hard work entertaining the Allied troops in the field during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, and, even though my title was “Dietrich Wears Army Boots”, the soldiers would put up home-made signs for her performances that used no words, only a drawing of long crossed legs in nylons and garters. Now that was a femme. (And she was proudly bisexual.)
LB: Before Lipstick on Her Collar ended up with Alison Tyler’s Pretty Things Press, it had at least one unfortunate publishing “adventure.” Could you use this as a lead-in to talk about the state of GBLT publishing, especially small press, today? [Teresa on behalf of Lust Bites: I misremembered—I had thought Lipstick had started out with a press that folded. My bad. But the question provoked some really interesting answers on the state of GBLT publishing so I’m keeping it as it.]
SG: All I know about the title’s history is that I saw it in a Call for Submissions several years ago, and then it seemed to disappear. Maybe Alison can tell us more.
I do know something about the state of GLBT publishing, though. Many traditional presses have disappeared in recent years. Some, like Carrol & Graf and Thunder’s Mouth, were shed like old skin when their parent companies were assimilated by large corporations that saw no profit in having more than one imprint serving that niche (and sometimes didn’t want any at all). Some are barely hanging on because of losses elsewhere in the parent conglomeration. Others, like Haworth’s former Harrington Park Press imprint, have closed down because of a merger with a bigger company that didn’t want any fiction. That particular situation left two of my books orphaned, as well as many other fine works, some of which are being picked up by smaller presses.
The small presses moving into this void are up against great challenges, but some may have the flexibility to adapt to the shifting world of publishing. Some have been around for a while, and are now expanding with caution, like Lethe Press, which has rescued several of the Orphans of Harrington Park, including mine. Others are newer, sometimes begun by writers with solid previous publication credits and a proven readership who decide to start publishing their own work and expand to include other authors. Bedazzled, Inc. appears to be one of these. Then there are several successful publishers specializing in lesbian romance. In all of these undertakings there’s a large component of “for the love” rather than an expectation of huge profits. As noted above, the corporate bean-counters have largely turned their backs on these niche markets.
RV: Lipstick was always Alison’s brainchild. It hadn’t been anywhere else.
Rode Hard, Put Away Wet might have had an adventure, but it was positive. We had hit Haworth up first but hadn’t heard a word from them. Then we sent the idea to Suspect Thoughts—they grabbed it! At the same moment, practically, Haworth decided to get back to us—they wanted it! Ah…wish these unfortunate publishing adventures happened every time. But Haworth was offered Hard Roads, Easy Riding to smooth any ruffled feathers.
The GBLT publishing industry has always struggled, from my take on it. And recently we have lost some of the bigger houses that supported GBLT works. It’s much more important now to buy from small presses like Pretty Things, or Suspect Thoughts, or LETHE (hosting our motorcycle-themed anthology)…
Without these talented, vivacious, courageous people, we would be gagged (which might be super for an evening event but truly no good for book-lovers) and our voices would not be heard as individuals with varying tastes. Check out the small presses! They need all of us!
LB: You’re both writers as well as editors. Do you find it easy to write? Do words and the translation from thought to page flow effortlessly for you or is it a discipline (lovely word....)
SG: There’s nothing effortless about my writing, or Rakelle’s, either, I think, except in those rare few minutes when, after agonizing hours (or even days or weeks) of inching along, the ideas finally click into place and the characters take charge. As for discipline, it’s a great concept, and I wish I could manage it, instead of watching so many deadlines float by for projects I’d hoped to send work to.
RV: Writing is a passion for me. I’ve been inducted with all of the clichés—“if you’re not a good reader you cannot write” or one of my all-time favorites—“you must cut open your veins and bleed onto the page” (a bit fetishy, but messy with the actual writing I’d think).
No, I just love to tell a story. That’s the important part—first, be a good storyteller, then learn your Ps&Qs to writing. Editors will help with the nitty gritty if you’ve polished your story and are open to learning. It’s crucial not to marry yourself to your work. Everyone says things differently, but we all get there. As a writer, I need to stay open-minded to the suggestions that come back to me (wow, isn’t that difficult). As an editor, I need to be conscious of individual voice and prose—but I’m a total hard-ass on technical correctness (yet another difficulty to work with).
Getting back to writing though…for me, it’s easier to spin up a story when a little bit (amount not always measured correctly) rubs the truth. Most, but not all, of my short stories are of cowboy/cowboi characters. I am a cowboy all of the time with my heart and soul. I also tell a good story with the passion fueled by reality. Writing is obnoxiously easy for me! I don’t angst (I’ve found it ruins the journey). Sometimes an event nags at the back of my brain until I get it out!
Hey, vomit on the page first, then work it into something worth submitting—but get those ideas down before you lose them.
LB: What do you sacrifice (if anything) to write and edit? You know, lambs, virgins…
SG: What I really need to sacrifice is too many hours noodling about online, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do find that editing cuts way down on my personal writing, but that may be more a matter of focus than of time.
RV: I’m fresh out of virgins (not my type)--I like someone who brings their own tricks to the table.
As for sacrifices, I don’t feel my writing creates any. It’s a total pleasure I can get off on.
LB: Trying to write a really good erotic story with fresh descriptions and valid plot is harder than most people think. Got any tips?
SG: Don’t force it. Only write it if the characters and theme and setting really grab you; otherwise they won’t grab anybody else, either. If they’re real enough to you, the erotic parts will flow naturally. Above all, take pride in what you’re writing. Don’t write down, don’t think that writing erotica is “slumming”. Some experience in reading and writing in other genres that require plot and well-developed settings, like science fiction or mysteries, can be very useful.
And also take pity on the poor editor who has seen the same thing time after time, and will really perk up and take notice of a fresh approach that only you can provide. (Remembering, of course, tip # 1: Don’t force it.)
RV: Don’t make it that difficult on yourself! Yes, it’s hard to write for publication, especially when you are required to create an entire scene from beginning to ending in 1,500 to (sometimes) 8,000 words and have it grammatically correct.
I personally envision the scene in my head, or have made sure that the specific events work, but I always start with that one nagging character that has something to say, then I let them say it. I don’t mean to make writing sound easy—it’s not. And I don’t wish to make my process sound vague--it has to be. The writing comes from you. Let your audience hear YOU. Or you’ll just get caught up in another one of those clichés—“emulate your favorite author.” (Of course, if you’re already emulating me, I’m totally flattered!).
LB: What’s next in the works for you, as both as writers and as editors?
SG: Not a “next,” exactly, but our Hard Road, Easy Riding: Lesbian Biker Erotica, orphaned by Haworth, is being reissued by Lethe Press with a new and sexier cover. I have a queer alternate history anthology, Time Well Bent, coming out from Lethe Press this fall, and Rakelle has a great anthology called Drag Kings, co-edited with Amie M. Evans, lined up at Suspect Thoughts Press. We both have new stories turning up in other books every now and then. I’m angling back toward my science fiction and fantasy roots a bit, with a ghost story in Catherine Lundoff’s forthcoming Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades, coming soon from Lethe Press.
As for Girl Crazy, I’m thrilled to have stumbled into an opportunity to edit this lesbian first-time themed book for Cleis Press. The guidelines are available in all the usual places, or anyone can e-mail me at email@example.com for information.
RV: Foaling season is next on my agenda. Those long, lonely nights of foal-watch vigilance offer a great opportunity to write.
Believe it or not, my first love of writing is and always will be, the full-length novel. I can let the characters go where they want, when they want, for however long they want! And I can mix it up with new characters that torture the emotions and relationships of my main character (sometimes horribly sadistically). Now that can get exciting!
After foaling season, is breeding season, then breaking/gentling colts, which takes me away from the ranch where you might find me out on the road somewhere in the USA doing demonstrations and clinics, by fall, I might be lucky to find some play time at one of the International Gay Rodeos (which have day and evening events, not all in the arena. Check one out!)
Traveling always makes for memorable stories—that I’m of course compelled (sometimes by threat) to say are never, never, ever true in the least. (Names are changed to protect the innocent—me.)
Have laptop, will travel, so the writing never gets left behind!
As for anthology works, Suspect Thoughts has a finished manuscript edited by Amie M. Evans and myself on the theme of Drag King erotica scheduled for publication, with another themed proposal in their hands. So, sweeties (and not-so-sweeties!) let Suspect Thoughts know via email, snail mail, or however, that you’d like to read some drag king smut—you won’t be disappointed!!!
LB: Is there any erotic theme you haven't yet written about but feel you want to, or a prospective anthology burning in your brain?
SG: There are certainly some ideas simmering in my brain, but I’m too busy right now for them to boil over, and I’d rather not toss them out into the world half-baked. Or, um, soft-boiled. You’ll be the first to know, though, if/when I have a new Call for Submissions to share.
RK: My brain is always on fire! I’ll admit, my thoughts are mostly burning with eroticism, but how can I keep you…er um, the writing coming if I give away all of my secrets today?
Suffice to say, I’ll try most anything once. If it hurts, I’ll try it again. I’m such an adrenaline junky! (Or something.)
LB: Cats or dogs? Werewolves or vampires? White wine or red? Femmes or butches? Feel free to answer “yes” to any of the above!
SG: Dogs. And horses, in Rakelle’s case. Werewolves for me. Wine personally mixed into just the right blush of rose; Rakelle is partial to Mexican beer. And Yes. (Although I think I have the most fun writing from a butch perspective. Wish I had the “presence” to pull it off in person the way some of my close friends do.)
RV: YES! And more YESes!!!
Sacchi included a personal message: This has been fun, Teresa! Thanks for the chance to sound off! See you soon at readings for Lipstick on Her Collar (note from Teresa: Northampton, MA on April 18, Good Vibrations in Boston, MA, May 18, and possibly more. Teresa will post dates in her blog); you always do such a fine job of upholding the Femme side of the Force.
To the rest of you, go ahead and toss questions if you’ve got ‘em. I’ll do my best to answer.
PS: Comment to win a copy of this anthology (many thanks to Alison Tyler!)
Important PPS: Since this is rather long, but we loooove those teasing excerpts, I've posted a couple of short ones on my blog.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Femmes and Foals: An Interview with Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia, Editors of Lipstick on Her Collar
by Teresa Noelle Roberts
Posted by TeresaNoelleRoberts at 5:13 AM