Lesbian Authors on Alcoholism, Abuse, and Acceptance

Marianne K. Martin, author of The Indelible Heart, and Joan Opyr, author of Shaken and Stirred, reflect on the power of humor in overcoming life's tragedies. 

BY Sunnivie Brydum

September 18 2012 4:00 AM ET

Marianne K. Martin, left, and Joan Opyr.

Marianne K. Martin and Joan Opyr come from very different backgrounds, and write very different books. But an uncanny ability to temper the tragic with humor unites the two lesbian authors. Martin shares her memories of a chosen family of fellow lesbians in her home-state of Michigan, recalling that such community informs her novels, including her most recent, The Indelible Heart. Martin also coached both high school and collegiate championship basketball and softball teams, and in 1973 won a landmark legal case establishing equal pay for women coaches.

Opyr, on the other hand, comes from a Southern Baptist household, and is all too familiar with the sense of isolation that comes from growing up in an antigay environment. Her latest novel — written between classes and working on her Ph.D. dissertation — takes a page from her own upbringing in a family that struggled with alcoholism and abuse. Shaken and Stirred finds the humor in tragic moments, as the Idaho wife and mother of two shares in the following conversation.

Joan Opyr: Though you and I write very different kinds of books, we're both pretty damned funny. Do you ever find yourself laughing at your own jokes as you're typing? Or is that just my own bad habit?

Marianne K. Martin: I do, indeed, especially if the story has been particularly emotional or heavy. I need to laugh or to find a way to relieve the tension, so I let one of my characters jump that line and do it for me. But your humor has an innate quality to it. Where does that come from?

Opyr: Life. Life is ludicrous. That's the foundation of all humor. Bugs Bunny, happily tunneling across the countryside, pops up through a random hole and meets Elmer Fudd and his shotgun. Of all the holes in all the world, why did Bugs pick that one? It's a mystery with potentially tragic consequences — for Bugs, it's hassenpfeffer! In the face of death and destruction and despair, some of us fall to pieces. That's tragedy. Others of us think, I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque. That's comedy. We laugh to defuse tragedy but also to understand it. 

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