Note: This is a piece I wrote for Lambda Book Report a few years ago. Once I find the issue I'll put the issue number and such here. Also, I'm including the bio info put in place by the magazine so that we all might know about when I wrote this.
Why I Write...
Recently, when I was in the midst of yet another major rewrite on my next book, I asked a friend just why I had ever gotten the stupid idea to be a writer. I suggested masochism. She said I enjoy the notoriety.
But a few weeks ago, while doing a reading with Karin Kallmaker and Marianne Martin, we agreed we do it for the incredible advances. Then we got serious.
A character in Robert Heinlein’s science-fiction novel Friday is a writer who had his ability to write surgically removed. Unfortunately for him, as a writer who could not write, his frustrated psyche allows him to do nothing but sit in a corner and drool on himself.
I write because I am a writer, and would prefer to not spend my time sitting in corners with spittle coming out of myself. Not only is it uncouth, but it also wreaks havoc on one’s drycleaning bill. I write because little people inside my head won’t leave me in peace until I share their stories, words, and lives with others.
I sometimes wonder why I spend so much of my free time alone with my laptop. Why I go through periods of unintentional celibacy when I’m on deadline. Why I keep doing something I so often have to force myself to do—like make myself put off cleaning the house, doing the laundry, or going grocery shopping for the sake of a few thousand words. (I’m a bit obsessive, so wading through a living room cluttered with books and paper, wearing the same T-shirt for more than a day, and eating through all of the canned soup in the cupboard really can be motivation to get a project done.)
When I was a playwright with a live audience, applause let me know what I was doing was appreciated. As soon as we closed one show, people would start wondering when we would do another. It was a sort of immediate gratification that helped ease self-doubts.
But now, instead of politically charged plays, I write escapist lesbian mysteries. No longer do I get the instant reaction of an audience that holds nothing back. Instead of insightful or perhaps slightly scathing commentary to an entire audience, I now deal in a much more intimate manner with one person at a time. Where I used to talk through actors and other thespians to whole, diverse groups of people, perhaps changing the opinions and ideas of a few, while inspiring others, and making still others laugh and think, I now write tales to one person at a time in a much more direct manner.
I used to be inspired to write whenever I saw injustices and incongruities in the world. Now I write to help one person at a time—perhaps I make her laugh a bit, maybe open her world to a few places she’s never been, or even introduce her to a few new sexual possibilities. At the very least I know I’m helping to relax her, to take her outside of the harsh realities this world all too often holds. After all, that’s why they call it “escapist,” it helps people to escape into a different world, one that is perhaps a bit more exciting, dramatic, or fun than one’s own life. At the very least, perhaps I add a little spice to her life.
Granted, it is nice being able to do something one enjoys, especially if one receives some amount of acclaim or recognition for doing so. Readers’ appreciation is the driving force behind the sort of writing I do. And the few dates the notoriety brings me.
But sometimes, when I hit the days where I’m pulling my hair out because characters won’t behave, the plotline isn’t making sense, or I’m being asked to meet an impossible deadline, I think a bit on the lives I’ve helped to improve positively and I think about those people whose day I perhaps made a little bit brighter. I remember the letters and emails from across the country I’ve received.
I also remember a young gay man I met in a convenience store back in 1992. When my first play, And Divided We Fall (a comedy about gays in the military), was produced by Michigan State University I showed up for the performances intending to defy stereotypes, which is to say that, for me, I was in full drag: houndstooth skirt suit, pumps, make-up, curled hair, the works. I was introduced very briefly at the end of the show each night of the run.
A few weeks after the show closed, I ran down the street to the local convenience store for tomatoes and beer to go with dinner. I was in a tie-dyed T-shirt, grubby shorts, and my hair was slicked back since I was fresh from the shower. As I wandered through the store, I noticed a male watching me—following me. I might’ve been spooked had it not still been broad daylight out, but then, when I got in line to check out, the man walked up to me.
He didn’t even try to pronounce my name, which no one can blame him for, but he identified me, and then... He thanked me. I was 22 at the time.
Since then, I have been recognized in public, which is an incredible thing for a mere writer. Sometimes it’s been by a man, and sometimes it’s only when I take the smirking pose portrayed on my Naiad book jackets, but through times like those, and through the emails and letters I receive, I know I am still making an impression and affecting someone, somewhere.
Since that evening at the Quality Dairy, I have helped non-readers become readers because I give them what they crave, made hets cry and better understand that which they had always worked against, brought gay men and lesbians together in the same theatre. And, I hope, through my books, given more than one woman a really hot dream.
I write for my readers, my audience. I mean, I’d need to have my head examined if I wrote for the non-existent advances or toothpick-buying royalties any small-press writer knows as a fact of life. But as someone who is not about to reproduce, my stories—whether they be drama or fiction—are my children, and the way I affect others so as to leave my legacy.
Therese Szymanski, an award-winning playwright, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2001 for her fourth book, When Evil Changes Face. Her next Brett Higgins Mystery/Motor City Thriller, When Good Girls Go Bad, is due out from Bella Books in March 2002. Additionally, she is editing Bella Books’ first anthology, Back to Basics: A Butch/Femme Erotic Journey, due out in November 2002.
And you can buy my books from your local independent/feminist/LGBT or lesbian bookstore, or any really cool store that might sell books like mine.
Oh, and of course, you can buy it/find out about its availability and such from my terrific publisher, Bella Books.
My books are also available on a veritable plethora of online booksellers, including
all the Amazons in the world:
And a whole lot of other places, like
to name but two.