Carla Tomaso's Frozen Tackles Mommy Issues, Reincarnation, and Multigenerational Lesbians

California-based author and out lesbian Carla Tomaso recently released her fifth book, Frozen, a fictional mother-daughter tale with a touch of science fiction and a hint of real-life narcissism inspired by Tomaso's own mother.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

January 18 2013 12:20 PM ET

So let's talk about this multigenerational lesbian scenario. It sounds like your grandmother's life story and your mother’s story mirrored one another, with your mother marrying your father and doing the whole "Boston marriage" thing.
My grandmother grew up very wealthy. She was put into a marriage; they found a husband in the family business. He had a lot of mental problems — they called it "dementia praecox" in those days. It was secret, but it was kind of a violent marriage. She had my mother, then he committed suicide. My grandmother then started a relationship with the gym teacher at my mother’s prep school, and they lived together for the rest of their lives. 

My mother met my father at Stanford, married him, had me, and always had relationships with women too. They divorced, a woman moved in with her, and they lived together for their rest of their lives — which was awful [because we didn't get along].  

But then I grew up and I met [my partner] Mary. And Mary’s a good person. I  went to an all-girls school, so I was comfortable with lesbians, and women together. I really don’t think I had much more than the cultural internalized homophobia. I think it really benefited me — even though these relationships weren't sterling, I knew my mother's friends [who were] older lesbians. 

I don’t think it’s strange. I think the fact that I don’t shave my legs is stranger to me than being a lesbian in our culture. So that’s the story of third-generation. It's not like I didn’t have shame with my mother walking in, holding hands with [her partner] the bitch. I had shame, but it was more about her and who her partner was.

At least had some visibility of lesbian relationships, even if they weren’t stellar, you knew that was a possibility.
And it never wasn’t. On the spectrum of lesbianism, I think I'm way [at a] 10. 

[My mother and grandmother] went through a lot. I mean, the "Boston marriage" people never referred to anything sexual, and they were ashamed of people celebrating their relationships. My mother's friends were celebrating how they had been together all these years, and my grandmother was horrified. 

When my father was getting out of alimony, he said, "It's like she's married." And my mother was so offended by that. When she would tell me, after a few drinks, about love affairs she had, she wouldn’t tell me the men’s names, but she would tell me the women’s names. For her it was shameful in a way. So I see that happening with them and their generation. I feel so lucky to not have to deal with that.

Did you have a coming-out revelation when you came out with your mother?
I don’t think I ever came out. Mary and I went and bought wedding rings once, and my mother was totally bored with it. I don’t think she much cared or noticed. Did I have a coming-out moment? More like "Oh, my God, I'm attracted to this girl or teacher.” In high school ... the fantasies were so comforting in terms of maternal stuff. I had fantasies about maternal women. I think the main one was when I started liking women my own age, I couldn't pretend it was a maternal thing anymore.

I feel there are so many elements to your experience that are make me say "Really?!"
The book, even though it’s a fun page-turner, people don’t run up to me and say "God, I loved your book!” It's violent, it's sad, it’s the horror of this woman. Even though it's told in a farcical, light way, I think it's still really troubling. I think it's kind of challenging in a funny way, to think that a mother and a daughter could have that much distance and lack of connection.

I think that’s something that a lot of readers can relate to. Perhaps not in such an extreme scope, but relationships with our mothers can be sticky, and when you add sexuality and mental health issues things can become even more entangled. Combine that with the power of being closeted and what that can do to someones psyche, and its a powerful force. Do you think your mother’s narcissism was a coping mechanism?
I really don’t. I think of my father killing himself, because she loved him so much. That’s in the book — the narrator’s understanding of how her mother became this way. Something happened to stop her development as a human being. They grew up very privileged, and I think the privileged quality gave them freedom to let them be whatever sexuality they wanted. 

This book and several of your others have been described as dark comedies. What do you think the utility is in this dark comedy in processing traumatic experiences?
I tried to write a sincere version of this, without the farce, but I couldn’t do it. It's not my style. My style is really having a veneer, humor, and wit over a depth of emotion. I like being playful. It could be a way of processing trauma. I feel like I'm sentimental or self-pitying if I go there. 

What comes next for you?
I'm working on a play. I'm having trouble diving into a novel again. I'm thinking about setting the play in a high school. I love writing dialogue, so that will be something different. I'm working on that now.

Frozen is now available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon.com.

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