In this month’s Amazon Trail, Lee Lynch takes us through the 15-year process of creating her new novel, encompassing everything from a cross-country love affair to a multigenerational LGBTQ chosen family.
I’m not giving away any secrets here. Not saying it’s simple or that anyone can do it if they send $25.00 to Post Office Box 1,2,3. Nope, it’s a personal journey and every story has a story. Here’s mine, about the writing of my newly released novel, Accidental Desperados.
This goes back to about 2007. I was living on the Oregon Coast, grateful to be renting a cottage on the property of the Pianist and the Handydyke. I was, and am, part of their lesbian family. I thought about that a lot, how gay people grow families of choice whose members nurture one another in minimal to large ways. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool, maybe even important, to write a multi-volume, intergenerational, lesbian family saga.
Earlier in my life I couldn’t get enough of this type of fiction: Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna series set in Canada, The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Family Moskat, but could I take on such an epic task? My books wouldn’t appear on The New York Times Bestseller list, but they’d be bursting with lesbians.
I said it wasn’t simple. Life itself butted in, as well as other books I needed to write. I heard from a reader; we began months of frequent correspondence. She lived in Tarpon Springs, Florida. I, never having been there, had referred to that city in a book, calling it a something like a tacky little town. My correspondent pretty much challenged me to visit and see Tarpon Springs for myself.
I accepted the challenge and by the time I left, my pen pal had become my sweetheart. We next got together at a conference, then in Oregon. We burned up the skies with our passion to be together. She had a good job in Florida. My job was portable. She flew to Oregon and we drove cross-country with my, now our, dog and a number of cats. Two years, I told everyone in Oregon. We’d move back to the west coast in two years.
The recession hit and two turned to five. By that time, we were living inland, ten minutes from my sweetheart’s job, in an unincorporated area called Dover. Unexpectedly, we had five years to explore rural central Florida, urban Tampa, storied areas like Ybor City, and to wander as far south as Naples and as far east as Miami. I could buy my sweetheart a fresh-off-the-fields strawberry milkshake at a roadside stand any time of year, or boiled peanuts from a farm stand, or real Key Lime Pie. My favorite places were what I call “old Florida” in Accidental Desperados.
I was born with the genes of a New England family, though, and the subtropical sun, the humidity, the omnipresent air-conditioning, were more than this pale white Northern body and respiratory system could take. We made the move back to Oregon. Where I proceeded to wax nostalgic for the nooks and crannies of old, old Florida settlements and the exotic habitat where, a two-minute walk from our house, we hung out with Sand Hill Cranes and Roseate Spoonbills.
I’d missed the Pacific Northwest so badly I hardly gave a thought to what I left behind, but I did want to make use of those years, that chunk of rich and unanticipated material. What if I incorporated my longing to write a lesbian family saga with the years in Florida?
What if lesbian general fiction writers followed our characters well beyond first romance into old age and fifty-year anniversaries? That’s not as rare as the dominant society, which never gives up on driving us into insecure shadows, has led us to think. Main characters would anchor the books while a lifetime of friendships became deep and permanent. What if readers, with such stories in mind, and who were so inclined, recognized such a future for themselves?
I’d been heading in this direction, with my Morton River Valley Trilogy, which collected characters from others stories and novels I’d written. Ann McMan was on this path also, but back then I didn’t know her Jericho novels. By the way, her newest, Covenant, is as polished and engaging as any book you’re likely to read.
So here I was, back in my promised land, filling hundreds of index cards with memories of Florida, and beginning to imagine the characters who would live in a hot speck-on-a-road community, on a particular dirt sandy street I passed on my daily run to the post office for my remote job. The house, their family seat, migrated in from another non-town.
The title of the quartet and first book, Rainbow Gap, had been hanging around in my head because of the plethora of rainbows we saw in Florida. I’d wanted to do a four-book series ever since devouring Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet. Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levant Trilogies were another inspiration. The advent of marriage equality, though it wouldn’t appear in the first books, had more than a little to do with my thought process.
Accidental Desperados, though also a standalone novel, is the second book in the Rainbow Gap quartet. In it, I get to introduce the “next” generation and follow their paths to the original group of gay people who are not much more than ten years older. That sounded about right for a lesbian generation which is by circumstance and opportunity accelerated from a biological generation.
And that’s how I wrote a book, then another, and am about four chapters into the third. In summary: to write a book, you need to live whatever your crazy life dishes up.