About Bywater Books: "Bywater Books is committed to bringing the best contemporary lesbian writing to a discerning readership. Our editorial team is dedicated to finding and developing outstanding voices who deliver stories you won’t want to put down." www.BywaterBooks.com About Lisa Gitlin: "Lisa grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father was a newspaperman and she always knew she wanted to be a writer. When she reached adolescence she realized she was attracted to girls, and in order to distract herself from her forbidden longings she engaged in a lot of mischief and spent a few months on a psychiatric unit, where she was surrounded by gorgeous nurses and enjoyed herself immensely. She settled down in high school, had lots of rebellious fun at Ohio State University, and after three years moved to New York City. She was enchanted by New York’s rough edges and stayed in the city long enough to write a lot of poems and short stories and complete college at the New School for Social Research (now the New School for General Studies). Eventually she ended up back in Cleveland, where she forged a long freelance writing career and was published in many local and national publications. Finally, in her forties, she came out with a big bang, fell madly in love, and moved to Washington DC. She remains in the DC area, where she has made many fantastic friends and fulfilled her lifelong ambition of being a novelist." Lisa Gitlin writes about Cleveland.
Be Careful Or You'll End Up in My Novel
A Conversation with Lisa Gitlin, Author of the First Book to Win Two IPPY Gold MedalsIn May, Lisa Gitlin's debut novel, I Came Out for This? achieved a first in the 15-year history of The Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards: It won a gold medal in two categories.
While it's routine for a book to be submitted for consideration in more than one category, no book in previous years has taken the top honor in more than one. I Came Out for This? won IPPY gold for Humor and for LGBT Fiction.
Lisa's smart, hilarious book has a history of defying the odds.
She spoke about that by phone from her home in Silver Spring, Maryland where she is working on her next book.
Q: You've been a journalist for many years, but this is your first book. Although it's a novel, you and your main character have a lot in common. Your entire life has led to this book.
A: I grew up in Cleveland where my father was a reporter at The Cleveland News. He also did some fiction writing, some short stories. He was a passionate writer, and he taught me to have high standards. He died five years ago and my book is dedicated to him.
I've had hundreds of articles published in Ohio newspapers and magazines, including The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland magazine, and alternative weeklies. But I think about how he would've been kvelling over my book winning two IPPYs.
I went to Ohio State during the heady counter-culture days and I was a counter-culture kid. I moved to New York in 1971 and lived there for five years. I was also writing. I graduated from The New School in 1975. Then, I went to Cleveland to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and never went back to New York.
Q: Why didn't you go back?
A: I was gay and suppressing it and I was a mess. I couldn't get it together to go back to New York. I stayed in Cleveland and had a pretty robust writing career in Cleveland, but didn't have the good sense to come out for another 16 years. I wasted a good part of my life not being myself. I poured all of my passion into writing and that might have delayed my coming out.
Q: And then everything changed when you fell in love for the first time.
A: Yes. The book is an autobiographical novel. Joanna is based on me, but she's different from me in a lot of ways. The first couple of chapters of the book are basically true. I did come out in my 40s, and did fall madly in love with a woman, and moved to DC to try to win her back. It was 1999, two weeks before the new millennium. Bill Clinton was still President, it was before 9/11. So much has happened since then. The whole world has changed.
Q: When did you start writing the book?
A: I started writing the book when I was still in Cleveland. It started out as a memoir and it wasn't working as a memoir, so I turned it into a novel. That's when I could really write it. It freed me to just tell a story without slogging around in my own detritus. It took me five years to write it. It shouldn't have taken that long. When I started writing it, I didn't know how it was going to end.
Q: Was that because you didn't know then what the future would hold with the woman you were trying to win back?
A: I started writing about this experience about coming out and falling in love. I was still in love with her. I was between a rock and a hard place. I had no idea where the book was going because I was living it and didn't know where the relationship was going. You can't write a book that way. It was only when I got distance from the relationship and turned it into a novel that I was able to finish it.
Q: How much of the story is true?
A: Just the first couple of chapters. Although there are characters that are based on real people, the rest of the book is pretty fictionalized, although the emotional journey is based on my own.
Q: One of the book's strengths is that it's about a universal experience all readers can relate to whether they're gay, straight, male, or female. It's about first love. And, you as the author, and Joanna, as your character, are very honest about what happens when that love is unrequited. The book's power and humor comes from that honesty.
A: I was going through something most people go through in their teens or 20s, but I was in my 40s! I had the same reaction I would've had as a teenager in love for the first time.
Q: That reaction made the character of Joanna do some pretty crazy things. But the book never becomes a parody of emotional or romantic desperation. And Joanna's thoughts and actions are the same as any other character in her predicament would have, gay or straight, male or female.
A: I had the same emotional reaction I would've had as a teenager in love for the first time. And so did Joanna when she fell in love with Terri.
Q: How did you find a publisher?
A: I had written the book as a novella. I pitched it directly to independent publishers, but also to major houses where some editors agreed to read it although I didn't submit it through an agent.
Q: That's extremely rare. Some major houses actually have a policy that they won't consider a book unless it's submitted through an agent.
A: That did happen with one house that wouldn't look at it, but I was surprised that I could get a few editors on the phone who agreed to look at it. They rejected it because it was too short. It had been written as a novella. They liked it, but didn't offer to buy it because of the length. I submitted it to Bywater Books, and they said they'd buy it if I'd make it longer.
I'm very proud of what I did. You finish a book and it's done and it was good the way it was. And I had to add 20,000 words and make it seamless. I had to add more characters, I had to restructure it, to introduce those characters early in the book. I like the final result better than the original.
Bywater Books published it in June 2010. They're a small independent that publishes lesbian fiction. I think they do a terrific job. Kelly Smith and Marianne Martin wanted to publish books that are a cut above typical lesbian romance.
Q: The object of your affections, the Terri character, does she know about the book?
A: Oh, yes, she read the book after I called her and told her it had been accepted for publication.
Q: Does she know it won two IPPY awards?
A: Yes. We're very close friends now. I loved her. She was my first love. That turned into a friendship. I didn't want to give up the friendship and now we're very good friends. And we have mutual friends. For one of my birthdays she bought me a sweatshirt that says, "Be careful or you'll end up in my novel."
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As a journalist, columnist, essayist, and media critic, Nina L. Diamond's work has appeared in many publications, including Omni magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.
She was a regular contributor to a number of "late, great" national, regional, and newspaper Sunday magazines, including Omni; the award-winning South Florida magazine; and Sunshine, the Ft. Lauderdale (now South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Sunday magazine.
She covers the arts and sciences; the media, publishing, and current affairs; and writes feature articles, interviews, commentary, humor/satire/parody, essays, and reviews.
Ms. Diamond is also the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers (Lotus Press) and the unfortunately titled Purify Your Body (Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House) , a book of natural health reporting which has been a selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club's One Spirit Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club.
For its entire run from 1984-1998, she was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, which aired on WLRN-FM in Miami.
She has appeared on Oprah, discussing the publishing industry, but, in a case of very bad timing, that appearance was two years before her first book was published.
She has written her Much Ado About Publishing column for Independent Publisher since 2003.
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