Lori L. Lake and Lee Lynch have a lot in common — both are prolific writers of lesbian literature, well-versed in characters’ propensity to run away with a writer’s words. The two also happen to be good friends with dozens of books between them. Lynch, who began writing lesbian lit 1960s for The Ladder, one of the earliest lesbian magazines, has published 15 books so far. Her latest, The Raid, follows a group of LGBT bar patrons after a police raid, and hits bookstores this month.
Lake has published 14 books, with her latest being the second in a mystery series, titled A Very Public Eye, which comes out November 9. In this exclusive author conversation, Lake and Lynch sound off about what unites them, how trying to write for a heterosexual mainstream audience silenced them both, and the importance of lesbian literary godmothers.
Lake: [Our time is way] too short for all the things I want to talk to you about.
Lynch: We need to try to focus on something. The obvious focus would be generational. But I’d love to demonstrate our similarities. Such as both devoting our lives to lesbian lit, if I’m correct.
Lake: I have to agree with you. We have both devoted a lot of time and energy to writing our tales and sharing them with the sisterhood. And yes, we have a lot of similarities. You’re not old enough to be my parent — more like a big sister. But we both started fairly young working at our craft. I benefited from your books, which started me off in the mid ’80s; so in terms of time, you are like my spiritual writing godmother. We’ve both had discouraging forces in our lives, but kept on in spite of it. And when people ask when I’ll retire, I say, "Never! I want to be writing and publishing right up to the last day of my life."
Lynch: I once told [my partner] Elaine to have the doctors pull the plug if I couldn’t write anymore, but, at age 66, I can see the pleasures of simply sitting, breathing, watching the wild birds, and enjoying Elaine and our cats and dog. As long as I’m not a burden, I can imagine enjoying a few years of rest and peace and knowing I’ve done my job because you and others are writing and gays are stronger and safer and we and the world can and will stop hating ourselves.
Lake: Amen to that. I remember hearing [lesbian author] Ellen Hart talk about how relieved she was when she realized that she wasn’t going to — didn’t have to — write herself and her own life and experiences out of her books. In my early 20s, I tried for a long while to write mainstream stories, but I ended up with about a hundred rejections. Nobody wanted my version of reality at all.
Lynch: Me too. Trying to write mainstream stories never worked for me either. I even tried writing about cats, who are the next best thing to lesbians.
Lake: I think Rita Mae Brown stole all the good slots for the cat books.
Lynch: Ahem. [My book] Sue Slate: Private Eye came out first. Can’t tell you how many readers say they like that one best of mine. Nevertheless, I had this misconception that I could earn money writing for the mainstream, but as soon as I tried it, I choked up. I couldn’t think of a thing to write about.
Lake: That happened to me too. I wrote the majority of two novels that were fairly mainstream and ended up abandoning them. Even CPR couldn’t have brought the main character to life. The minute I allowed her to be the lesbian that she needed to be, the books experienced a resurrection.
Lynch: And am I glad they did. I came to a point where I can simply be very grateful to have been chosen as a channel for our stories.
Lake: That’s a good place to be. I remember when I posted the beginning of a lesbian novel, Gun Shy, online, I not only found my voice, I found my audience. I’m still focusing on that — on the excitement of reaching out to women and hoping that my tales of time and trauma and love and loss will make a difference. I think you could enjoy some rest and peace, Lee, but I also think you have a lot more stories to tell.
Lynch: Oh, the stories will never stop, goddess willing. I may not have the energy or marbles to put them in a form with value to anyone else, but I’ll be thinking them.
Lake: I have a hunch you will have the energy and the marbles to do a lot more writing, my friend. You’ve got a great body of work so far, and I know you can share more — verbally or on paper. I hope that works for me too. Thanks for being such a good trailblazer.
Lynch: Just like [novelist] Valerie Taylor was for me. I had the honor of knowing her in her later years. She was still a devoted pacifist and a Quaker and working to make her Meeting gay-friendly. She talked a blue streak and never stopped writing stories — with difficulty — on her manual typewriter. If her letters were any indication, I understood why she could not get her last work published. But that’s OK. She was my spiritual writing godmother. She gave me a small metal typewriter someone special gave to her. It was clearly a passing of the torch.