An Interview with Lori L. Lake
By Deven at Queer Girl Talk
"There is a concept in American literature
that talking about your life is confessional and therefore for women.
But all fiction writers use everything. We steal people and stories.
And if life has messed with you repeatedly, then you ought to write
it down. Everyone in the world has a story, a secret, a sneaky desire
~ Dorothy Allison ~
Lori L. Lake is the author
of Snow Moon Rising, a novel of survival set during World War 2.
She is the creator of the "Gun" series, which is a trilogy consisting
of romance/police procedurals Gun Shy and Under The Gun
and the adventure/thriller Have Gun We'll Travel, which was a 2006
Golden Crown Literary Award Finalist. Her first novel, Ricochet In
Time, was about a hate crime. She edited The Milk of Human Kindness:
Lesbian Authors Write About Mothers and Daughters, which was a Lambda
Literary Award Finalist anthology. She's published a standalone romance,
Different Dress, a book of short stories, Stepping Out,
and co-edited Romance For Life, an anthology of romantic stories
which benefits the fight against breast cancer. A second collection of
short pieces, Shimmer & Other Stories, will be published in
Lori teaches fiction writing
at The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community
in the nation. She was recently named a 2007 recipient of the Alice B
Readers Award, and Snow Moon Rising was a 2007 Golden Crown Literary
Award Winner as well as the 2007 Ann Bannon Popular Choice Winner. Lori
lives south of St. Paul, Minnesota, with her partner of 26 years. She
is currently at work on her next novel.
"I am an author.
I am a writer, a scribbler, and a thinker.
I am alive."
~ Lori L. Lake ~
Deven at Queer Girl Talk: Who is Lori L. Lake?.
Lori L. Lake: Lori L. Lake is the pen name I chose about seven
years ago. When I first posted femme/slash fanfic to MaryD's XWP site,
I went by "Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes." In mythology, Lorelei
was one of the Rhine Maidens who were river nymphs known for supposedly
luring navigators and fishermen to their dooms with their alluring songs,
much like the ancient Greek Sirens did. I wasn't singing, per se, but
I hoped I'd manage to somehow lure people into my fictional tales. I can't
imagine being called by another first name too much different than Lori,
though, so I stuck with it. My real-life Scottish/Irish surname means
"People of the Lake." So Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes, worked
nicely online, and I chose to be Lori L. Lake when it came time to pick
a pseudonym for my published works.
What are the five most important words to you and why?
LLL: As I write, the word I find myself needing and using
most is some form of the word LOOK - looked, looking, looks... I'm constantly
trying to find alternatives for that word, both as a noun and verb. In
combination, I find myself asking these five words all the time: "What
the hell happened here?" Often it's just in my mind and not necessarily
spoken out loud, but it applies to life, writing, making mistakes, world
events, etc. In a women's studies class once in my grad program, a very
astute professor once said to me, "Don't ask why - ask: 'Where have
I seen this before?' " That's sort of a version of "What the
hell happened here?" which examines the puzzle of human activities,
emotions, crimes, and misdemeanors as we try to understand the quirky
things that occur in our lives.
If God does exist, what are the three questions you would ask him?
LLL: I only get three questions? <g> And why would God
necessarily be a him? I've never understood why people are so intent on
casting God as male. (Or the devil as male, for that matter.) I think
of God as a Force - a spiritual Force, that is - not as a gender. I suppose
if God is all-powerful, then an appearance before a person could be manifested
as either male or female (or both!), but in my estimation, God simply
has to have ALL the gender-assigned qualities: strength and vulnerability;
power and gentleness; logic and feeling; fatherliness and motherliness;
Anyway, I'm not sure I can think of three questions out of the blue. I'd
probably ask about Free Will vs. Destiny and go from there.
Would you tell us how you became Associate Editor and Manager of Lesbian
Fiction Herstory at JAW?
LLL: I've been friends with Nann Dunne since the late 1990s, and
when she decided to create an online magazine, it didn't take much for
her to talk me into joining the party. Nann is very organized, and she's
always put the entire JustAboutWrite.com online herself. My role has been
to track people down, get materials, encourage people to submit, and write
a few articles here and there. I can't even remember how come my Herstory
pieces ended up featured at JAW. I only know that when Radclyffe, Jean
Stewart, Jane Fletcher, and I were prepping to present the "The Lesbian
Romantic Hero and The Plot She Thrives In" back in 2004 in Washington,
D.C., I got very interested in re-acquainting myself with lesbian literary
history - or the lack thereof. I'd studied some women's history in college,
but I was keen to revisit it, specifically from a lesbian viewpoint. So
I've written five parts so far which stretch from Sappho through the 1940s.
I keep meaning to get back to that and do the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s,
Other than never having enough time to do it, what is the most difficult
thing you find about writing?
LLL: I hate to bring up the dreaded word, money, but truly,
that is the most difficult thing to deal with - much more aggravating
than trying to find time to write. Unfortunately, writing doesn't really
pay a decent living, particularly not in smaller niches such as the field
of lesbian writing. I give thanks every day for my partner, the financial
wizard. She teaches school, so it's not like she earns zillions of dollars
either, but somehow she's kept us on track, on budget, so that I've been
able to write full-time since December, 2002. Still, I've picked up a
lot of side jobs -- teaching, editing, making presentations -- to make
ends meet. I wish I didn't have to do any of that.
Naming inanimate objects is one of your quirks, would you tell us a
LLL: Of my quirks? Or the inanimate objects? <snicker>
Let's see, what are my quirks? I suppose it's odd that I'd rather eat
Cheezits than a fine meal at a restaurant. I get razzed all the time because
I drive a Toyota mini-van instead of a racy sports car or a butchy SUV.
Those don't seem too interesting, though. I just asked my partner what
my quirks are and she mentions two. First, she says I'm always pointing
out spelling errors and bad grammar, particularly on signs and in the
newspaper (apparently that's irritating to her - go figure! <g>);
and then she claims that I'm not just quirky but downright weird because
I don't like fresh air. Now she's exaggerating about the latter item.
I do like the outdoors - but there are times during the year when the
allergens are so heavy that I prefer they get filtered through the AC
or heating system so they don't affect me so terribly. It's not a quirk
to have allergies, but wow, do I ever have them bad: animals, trees, grass,
cigarette smoke, dust, mold, you name it - I'm probably allergic to it.
Diane claims I'm just saying all that to avoid dusting and mowing the
Otherwise, I have no quirks!
In your article "A Thirst To Be Quenched", you talk about
the lack of role models in GLBT history. Who do you consider, today, to
be of that standard? And would you deem yourself a role model?
LLL: Throughout history, I am positive there have been many, many
amazing lesbian role models, but the vast majority of them are lost to
history because their stories and exploits were not written down or were
instead attributed to others. In addition, the lesbians who made notable
accomplishments - the ones that couldn't be ignored - were cloaked in
secrecy or false cover stories.
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909), for instance, was a celebrated late 19th/early
20th century writer. One of her novels, The Country of the Pointed Firs,
is often read in both high school and college English classes and is considered
a masterpiece of "local color," community, family, and friendship.
What I was never told when I read it, however, is that Jewett was a lesbian,
in a "Boston marriage" with Annie Fields, which lasted from
the death of Fields' husband in 1881 until Jewett died in 1909. After
her death, Annie Fields attempted to get their letters published only
to be told that they must be edited to take out the passion and love that
Sarah and Annie professed for one another.
It's nearly 100 years later, and Jewett's novels are still in print (an
amazing feat), but not many people know about her relationship with Fields.
This is the sort of obfuscation that has hidden or obliterated lesbians
Today, there are so many more role models. Obviously, the ones who get
a lot of media attention are the most visible: Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa
Etheridge, and Rosie O'Donnell. I can't imagine how much pressure there
must be for them. Mainstream literary and pop fiction writers tend to
keep a low profile, but there are others who have carved out niches for
themselves without having to minimize the existence of their sexual orientations:
Sarah Waters, Ellen Hart, Ann Bannon, Katherine V. Forrest, and many others.
It's tempting to say that I'm not a role model because being a role model
nowadays seems to imply a fair amount of notoriety and fame. Outside a
very small circle of writers and readers, I'm not well known --- call
me a very tiny guppy in an overwhelmingly large ocean --- but there is
a small cadre of readers and writers to whom I am a role model. It's important
to me that we affirm and share lesbian writing. I figure if we don't do
it, our contributions and the facts of our lives will eventually be lost
from history as well.
That's truly fascinating. How do you find this information on these
women of our history such as Fields and Jewett?
LLL: I can't remember how I happened onto Jewett's circumstances.
Maybe via a news story or while surfing the Net. I'm always running into
little clues, and often I check further to find out what the real story
is. In August I saw that Madeleine B. Stern died. She wrote a number of
books, but the ones I know her for include a biography of Alcott and at
least one book of essays about Alcott's writing and life called Louisa
May Alcott: From Blood & Thunder to Hearth & Home. Turns out
that Ol' Louisa was NOT just a writer of sentimental, G-Rated children's
books, but also wrote lurid "blood and thunder tales" under
various pen names. Truth be told, until she hit it big with Little
Women, the stories she sold under pseudonyms are what gave her an
income. Stern, a talented scholar and critic, managed to unearth much
of Alcott's anonymous writings and those Alcott had published under pen
Stern died recently at age 95 after living for approximately 70 years
with Leona Rostenberg, whom she first met in 1929, then became reacquainted
with in grad school at Columbia. They moved in together in the early 1930s
and were partners in Rostenberg & Stern Rare Books for over fifty
years. Both were legendary in the world of antiquarian book-dealing. Books
were their life. They claimed at one point not to be lesbians, but practically
everyone who's ever been asked says that the two women had a deep and
abiding love for one another. Neither married. They never parted until
Rostenberg died in 2005. I don't know what went on behind closed doors,
but whether the two of them had a "Boston Marriage" or not,
I claim them as part of the lesbian literary heritage.
It seems to me that if a woman was smart and talented and literary, she
often had to hide her sexual orientation and relationships. Even if a
woman DID want to let the world know she loved a woman, the historians
cut that right out of the story as in the case of Fields/Jewett. Who knows
how many great writers have been lesbian, but were forced to hide it or
had their real lives, their real loves suppressed.
That is truly saddening to think about, and I'm glad we live in a day
and age where we can be more open and accepted. Which leads to me to wonder
why some of us feel we must acquire this acceptance from a society that
would rather not know about us or change our history to suit them. Have
you ever felt you had to conform to society?
LLL: Oh, yeah! Practically every day.
You've recently won three awards at the Golden Crown Literary Society
Conference in Atlanta, what was that like?
LL: It was rather like a dream come true, actually. The whole awards ceremony
sort of blew by, and I was rather in shock. I think the best moment was
when Snow Moon Rising won the Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award,
and I got to go up on stage and receive the award from Ann herself. She
gave me a big hug, and I was just gob-smacked. It was an amazing night.
There has been numerous praise for Gun Shy, and countless questions
asked answered. I'm not sure I have anything new to add, but I was wondering
where you think you'd be now if not for the publication of that book.
Would you have tried on another? Or worked harder to see that particular
LLL: I originally posted Gun Shy online and never expected
it to be published at all. I'd already written Ricochet In Time,
and that book had been rejected by all the lesbian presses that were open
back then. I was pretty well demoralized by that, so with Gun Shy,
I was writing for myself - and my partner - with no expectations. MaryD
was good enough to post the parts of the story for the online Xenaverse
readership, and everything took off from there. I didn't work at all to
get Gun Shy published. The offer came to me without me solicitating
it. Maybe the Universe decided I'd been through enough after the Ricochet
In Time debacle.
On the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) message board, you recently
commented on Fan Fiction, and its impact in the publishing world. Would
you talk about it here for our readers?
LLL: A lot of lesbian writers were inspired by various fandoms
(Xena: Warrior Prince, X Files, Buffy, Babylon Five, Highlander,
the various Star Treks, etc.). Many writers learned the tricks
of the trade writing fan fiction, posting it online, getting feedback
about the work, and making connections that eventually led to print publication.
Other writers merely read the online work, enjoyed it, and were inspired
in that way. There are scads of readers all over the world, some of whom
can't afford to buy books, but who are hooked up to the Internet so that
they're able to access the fan fiction. It's a fertile and vital community
of readers and writers, and I've met a multitude of wonderful people through
it. The impact on the lesbian publishing world was and is pretty amazing.
Up until the late 1990s, there was Naiad for pop fiction, and there were
a few other presses (Firebrand, Rising Tide, and New Victoria come to
mind). It was fairly tough to get published. Then along came half a dozen
small lesbian presses willing to take a chance on new writers. Some of
the early books lacked production quality and editing, but the speed of
improvement was quite notable. Writers who might not have ever been published
- in fact, some who had never even thought of being published - were getting
their work out there. It opened up a lot of possibilities for a lot of
I'm only half way through everything you have on the internet and already
I'm impressed by your vast knowledge and willingness to share it. Have
you considered writing a book on writing?
LLL: Thanks for the compliment, Deven. Yes, I do plan to write
a How-To book - perhaps even several. I've been collecting my thoughts,
ideas, and techniques for some time. Nann Dunne keeps telling me to put
a guide together, and I actually have enough material for more than one
book. For one thing, I'm tempted to write a book on Point of View. If
you try to find writing instruction on that topic, you'll see it's one
area sadly lacking. Character building, plot, structure, setting, description,
dialogue -- all of those topics have multiple books out there, but not
Point of View. I also teach craft and technique workshops, and I teach
at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Those experiences have given
me many opportunities to observe and talk about how adult learners can
improve and strengthen their writing, and I'd love to have a practical
guide of my own that I could use when I teach.
Would you tell us about your newest novel, Shimmer & Other Stories?
LLL:Shimmer is actually a collection of five rather long
stories. Would they be novellas? Novelettes? The book will be out November
10th. All five stories feature a lesbian main character in some sort of
transition place in her life. The title of the collection comes from the
story called "Shimmer," which is set at the time of the Stonewall
Riots in New York City.
What would your "ideal" day consist of?
LLL: I'm not sure I could give you just one ideal day. An ideal
work day would include me cranking out about 4,000 words of easy-to-write,
smooth, and flowing prose. My record, to date, is one weekend when I wrote
9,000 words in one day. But that's pretty unusual. I sort of had an ideal
day last Tuesday. I wrote over 5,000 words, then connected up all the
parts to a novel and finished the first draft. That's always exciting.
My ideal contemplative day would take place in autumn, and I'd read for
hours, perhaps write in my journal, have a good physical workout, and
later walk over to the Vermillion River, stand on the bridge, and watch
the water to recharge my internal batteries. An ideal day with my partner
Diane would be one where we went to a double feature at the cineplex,
shopped for her at the Apple store, shopped for me at a bookstore, then
went to a restaurant and had great food while being waited upon by someone
entertaining. We're pretty easy to please - very low-key.
Gun Shy is packed with action. Do you prefer those types of
books to romance, or a little combination of both?
LLL: My favorite type of entertainment/escape book is definitely
action-oriented. I like mysteries, suspense, sci-fi, and fantasy with
a fair amount of conflict, action, and adventure. For every romance I
read, I'm likely to devour ten mysteries, some dramatic fiction, a literary
classic, a sci-fi series, and a writing book or two. (I'm a voracious
reader.) I've got very high expectations for romance novels. That type
of book is so much harder to write than anyone realizes. "Girl meets
girl, girl loses girl, girl regains love of her life" is not as simple
as it would seem. In addition to that basic storyline, a good romance
that I enjoy has to have a couple of decent subplots, lots of internal
(and possibly external) conflict, and not much dilly-dallying around,
whining and sighing. I recently read Finders Keepers by Karin Kallmaker
and very much enjoyed the conflicts that the two characters faced. She
manages to create characters who are individual and unique, but are entirely
believable, as though I could meet them on the street or in the grocery
store. Her writing style flows, she injects humor at the right times,
and the internal and external struggles that her women face are always
plausible, always compelling, always ultimately delightful. Kallmaker
writes the best romances I've ever read, and I've got every one she's
I really like Dez and Jaylynn. They have great chemistry together.
Did that come easy or did you have to work at it?
LLL: I knew Dez and Jay through and through. Each of them has her
own personality . . . but each of them is also half of who I am (if that
makes any sense). I wrote them both as strong characters with inner demons,
active inner lives, and individual temperaments, and that meant that any
time they were in the room together, more often than not sparks would
fly. In a sense, they each possess qualities that the other lacks, and
by falling in love, they gave themselves via relationship the opportunity
to learn new skills and new ways of perceiving the world.
So I didn't feel I had to work at their relationship or at the journey
the two of them were on to try to find themselves and each other. In Gun
Shy, I think I had to work harder at streamlining the events than dealing
with their interactions. Their world, in my mind, is so rich and complicated
and . . . well, busy!
How has your writing improved over the years?
LLL: I'd like to think that my writing has improved substantially.
I know my conceptualization of projects is better. I can see the structure
and a lot of the scenework in advance. But I've also done a lot of work
to learn to identify my bad habits such as passive language, poor grammar,
awkward sentences, and bloated narrative. For years I've called myself
"An Apprentice to the Craft." If I were a carpenter, at this
point in time I might say I've reached Journeyman status. I'm not a Master.
Yet. I'll keep working at technique and craft. I enjoy learning about
it and trying to apply what I learn, and I've spent quite a bit of time
sharing what I know with others. I think I learn better - cementing the
ideas and concepts in my brain - when I have to explain them so someone
else will understand.
What do you do different now than you did back then?
LLL: From 1992 until 2001, when Ricochet In Time (the first
novel I ever wrote), was finally published, I did fourteen drafts of that
book. Fourteen drafts! Oh, Lord! Nowadays, I've been able to cut that
way down. Snow Moon Rising was the most difficult book I ever wrote,
and I did three drafts before it went to the editor, then revised the
heck out of it twice more. Still, if that counts as five drafts, that's
quite a bit speedier and more effective than fourteen drafts.
Besides gradually improving in the overall amount of redrafting I've had
to do for each book, I think I work differently than I used to. For one
thing, I try to discipline myself to write a certain number of words per
day, but I also don't shame or blame myself if I can't write - for whatever
reason. This week is the one year anniversary of the death of my mom,
and I can honestly say that I didn't have any stamina at all for the first
six months after her death. I wasn't able to start a new first draft until
late March. I just didn't have it in me. So I'm more demanding of my time
and focus, but I'm also more forgiving.
What are the most considerable things you noticed that are different
from your first published book and the current one (other than the plot,
place and characters of course)?
LLL: Gun Shy was my first published book, followed a few
weeks later by Ricochet In Time. If I compare those two early novels
with Snow Moon Rising, I'd have to say that SMR is a much more
ambitious, complex novel which required a lot more research and patience
to write. Both RIT and GS are focused more intently upon the ordinary
lives of two somewhat ordinary women; SMR is focused on the lives of extraordinary
people living in extraordinary times. It's the difference between a smaller,
more intimate watercolor painting and a great big giant mural covering
the side of a five-story building. And yet the books have a great deal
in common, too, because at the heart of each is a pair of women trying
to find meaning and love in their lives. Even when I write a dramatic
novel or a historical novel, there always seems to be that thread of romance,
of the search for love or lost love.
I normally go by "all things in moderation", but in your
case, I'd love to spend hours interviewing you. However, that's not possible.
So thank you, Lori for taking time out of your very busy schedule to sit
down and answer these questions and I'll close this interview as I always
do: Is there anything you'd like to leave us with? Quotes of inspiration?
Things we may not know about Lori L Lake?
LLL: I've just spent the last eight hours with my partner and
two friends crawling around on the living room rug, then on the wood floor,
to rip up the carpet and padding, pull staples and nails, and drag pieces
out to the curb. I believe I'm going to be extremely sore tomorrow! We're
having our wood floors refinished for the first time since the house was
built in 1950. Bye-bye allergy-producing carpet - hello shining red oak!
One thing people don't realize about me is that I would NEVER do any kind
of home improvement project like this if it weren't for Diane. She's definitely
the brain-trust in that department. I can't believe all the stuff she
can get done and what she believes we can do. Over the last 16 years here,
she's talked me into the inside work of painting or papering every room
in the house, finishing the basement into a family room, and re-doing
both bathrooms, not to mention outside work like having Leaf-Guard gutters
installed, widening the driveway, putting in a huge retaining wall, and
getting new windows and siding. Our house is a lot more solid and comfortable.
She teases me that if I lived here alone, the whole thing would just fall
down around my ears.
Thanks for the entertaining time doing this interview, Deven. You asked
interesting and unusual questions that made me think about a lot of things
I hadn't considered. Since I've just recently watched "The Lion,
The Witch & The Wardrobe" along with the DVD extras that included
a biography of C.S. Lewis, here's the quotation I'll leave you with:
"Whenever you are fed up with life, start
writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills."
~ C.S. Lewis ~
I have to agree - ink has been a wonderful cure for me.
(c) 2007 Lori L. Lake and Queer Girl Talk