At the time that Frosting on the Cake was published there was no “blog” concept on the Internet, or the contents of the final portion of this collection of short stories would have likely been a blog. I’m going to reprint it here because it answers a number of frequently asked questions.
For those of you who have little interest in the blatherings of authors, please feel no obligation to read further. My intent is to answer the Frequently Asked Questions I receive from many readers. I also thought this was the perfect opportunity to extend some deserving thanks and appreciation to some special people who have helped me over the years.
In Every Port
IEP wasn’t the first novel I finished, it was just the first decent one, and the first written for myself as a lesbian and for the lesbian reader. I had no expectation that Naiad Press would print it, but one Saturday, just after seven a.m., Barbara Grier herself called to say they wanted to do so. Over the years Barbara and I have had many seven a.m. conversations; I think she realized early on I am generally not alert at that hour. My contribution is usually a half-aware, “That sounds like a good idea.” We have, from that earliest conversation, gotten along famously.
After the sheer luck of having IEP accepted for publication, I became the most fortunate of first-time novelists: Katherine V. Forrest edited the book. I learned more from a four-page editor’s letter and the cogent remarks in the margins of that manuscript than I did in a year of writing classes. Her thoughtful, gentle, supportive approach was everything an inexperienced writer could want. For that, and all the kind words through the years, I thank Katherine from the bottom of my heart.
Even with Katherine’s input, there are to this day parts of IEP that make the writer in me cringe. But I still love that story. When I wrote “Conversations” for this book, I drew on my own truths as half of an old-married couple. Maria and I are rapidly approaching our 25th year. Our conversations are no longer linear and an outside observer would probably think we’re not listening to each other most of the time. They’d be wrong, of course.
Those of you who have read Touchwood almost always choose it as your favorite. It’s my number one, too, even after all these years. Again, I owe Katherine Forrest thanks for something she did that was, I believe, more painful for her than me: she told me, gently and kindly, that the first draft of the book was unworkable. Barbara Grier flatly used the word “weak.” Many publishers would have at that point abandoned me entirely as a one-hit wonder, but Barbara gave me more time to think about Katherine’s comments and what it was I really wanted to do.
Christi Cassidy, who had joined Naiad as an editor, worked on the second draft. Again, I was fortunate. Christi gave me some invaluable insight into what I’d written and suggested several ways I could take figurative doubles and triples to home runs. Every book Christi has edited since includes something she noticed that I had failed to fully flesh out. I am a better writer because of her insights and perspective. Other the years she has tried to teach me the proper use of lay, lie, laid and so forth, with absolutely no success.
This will surprise those of you who love Touchwood–it is in a close tie for last in sales of all of my books. It was a critical success, however; I keep some of those reviews handy for instant pep talks. I do wonder if the theme, an intergenerational romance, is not really of interest to some women. To each her own, of course. I’ll share a wink with those of you who have read it. Not only is Touchwood probably your favorite book of mine, but Louisa is most likely your favorite character. Perhaps “Satisfaction” in this book will help those women who didn’t read Touchwood realize why they just might enjoy it.
“Come Here” was previously published in The Erotic Naiad. It has been slightly edited, but for the most part is unchanged since I rather liked it when I was done with it. Judy and Dedric were characters I wished I could get back to over the years. When I began writing Watermark, they were right there, ready to be a part of the action. Some characters are like that.
I was a serial romance junkie in my teens. I read one a day for at least three years. I still have a collection of my favorites. It was at about this time that I fell in love with Maria (we were juniors in high school; she was reading Faulkner) and began to understand why I gobbled the books up for the heroines, not the heroes. I was intensely interested in the emotional life of nurses on New Zealand sheep stations, ingenues on the London stage, and independent women whose cars broke down in remote places. I wrote PR as a gentle satire of the romance genre. It is a lighthearted, far-fetched book to be enjoyed in a bubble bath.
“Key of Sea” picks up on the brief mention of Nick’s new lover in the closing pages of PR. The closing pages also immortalized a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Sacramento. To those readers who have expressed an interest in finding that KFC, and perhaps participating in a reenactment, there is no KFC on that stretch of Fair Oaks Boulevard. Sorry. Call it artistic license.
I would have to say that Car Pool was my first serious romance. (I do not believe that “serious” and “romance” are mutually exclusive.) Touchwood had a serious theme, but Rayann and Louisa are mostly concerned with working out the kinks of their own relationship. Car Pool features two women with big issues of their own. Anthea’s emotional blocks come from alcoholic parents. She wants to quit smoking. She is so closeted she doesn’t even see the door–or the closet. Shay’s financial straits are extreme and the racist and sexist workplace she endures would crush a less sturdy soul. Before they can hope to solve problems in their relationship they have a lot of work to do themselves.
I am often asked how much of my own life appears in my books. Obviously, I draw on my own experiences for all sorts of inspiration, but CP has the one scene that happened to me. For those who have read the book: the chili pepper oil. I was on the receiving end. ‘Nuff said.
It has been vastly gratifying over the years to hear from readers that CP gave them the push they needed to talk about the frightening, volatile and highly personal topic of money. Who says romance novels are just light entertainment? Not me.
“Mechanics” is a story I’ve been wanting to tell for some time, but not one I wanted to build an entire novel around. It is not how Maria and I became mothers, but is based on the experiences of a number of women and men and my own warped sense of humor.
I scratch my head and ask myself, “What the heck did I do right?” PM was my first “best seller” and that didn’t stop it from garnering some nice reviews, too. One thing I do know, Leah Beck’s character has more depth because of Christi Cassidy’s insights into the mentality of an artist. Some of the elements that work in PM I only noticed long after it had been printed. When I reread it in order to write “Smudges” I did at times think, “Hey, I wrote that part pretty darned well.” Frankly, it’s still a mystery to me.
A frequent question has been in regards to the name. I have one idiosyncrasy (that’s right, just one) in that I can’t begin a book until I have picked the name. I sometimes have no idea what the book will be about, but the name is chosen. Maria and I were visiting Butchart Gardens outside of Victoria, British Columbia, when I saw this spectacular rose, the only one left on that bush. It was brilliantly white with the faintest hint of silver edging on the petals. In the late afternoon light the silver had a bluish cast to it. The variety was named Painted Moon. For almost a year, I knew nothing more about the novel than that.
Religion can have a powerful effect on people’s lives, for good and bad. In WT I tried to show the good that Faith desired from her religion–solace, strength, renewal–and the bad–ridicule, abuse, ostracism–that she experienced when she realized she could no longer ignore her feelings for other women. I also wanted to present Faith with a clear choice between a good man who literally offered her the world and a vibrantly alive, notoriously out lesbian. Safety, or the unknown? On a lesser scale we’ve all stood at that particular crossroad.
In spite of making her choice, and the overwhelming support she receives from Sydney and Sydney’s family, Faith’s insecurities persist in “Wild Things Are Free.”
Embrace in Motion
Just what is romance, anyway? Those who have read all my books will find that the characters often ponder the difference between great sex and a great relationship. EIM finds Sarah caught between these two choices and finally realizing the immense underpinnings of affection and respect it takes to make a solid commitment to someone else. I’m certainly not saying that a great relationship can’t include great sex. But it is true that great sex can be had without a great relationship. As in “Hot Flash,” sometimes life changes can help with both.
“The Singing Heart” was previously published in The Touch of Your Hand and has that last moment with Sarah and Leslie that so many readers seemed to need. Okay, I needed it too, but I decided not to append it to EIM because I really wanted to underscore how Sarah and Leslie treasured their friendship. Treasured it so much that, at least in the moment of realization that somewhere along the way they had become a couple, it put sex into a distant second place.
Making Up for Lost Time
Many readers have noticed that I bring food into my books. Car Pool, for example, features a dinner party with a chocolate ganache that leaves two grown men almost insensible. My heroines often find comfort of the Ben & Jerry’s variety. In MULT I wanted to pull out all the stops with one character as a master chef. I’ve heard from many of you that you were able to duplicate the effect of the chocolate body paint. Congratulations. I don’t need more details than that, but thanks for offering.
Though hardly recognizable, the plot of MULT was generally inspired by an old Barbara Stanwyck movie, Christmas in Connecticut. Barbara of the fabulous shoulders and velvet-iron personality plays a home-and-garden “women’s” writer of the 1940s. Her columns are beloved by all, especially the menus and recipes from her gracious and spacious Connecticut estate where she resides with husband, children, a cow and several dogs. She of course can’t cook at all, is single and lives in a shoebox apartment. Hilarity ensues when she tries to fake her way through a holiday visit from her publisher, Sydney Greenstreet. Val Valentine’s dilemma springs from Barbara Stanwyck’s, but the resemblance ends there. I have to admit, however, my mind’s eye sometimes saw the lovely Miss Stanwyck in that tool belt.
A little bonus for those of you who have read this far and have a copy of the book. I omitted the temperature setting on the recipe for Simple Cheese Soufflé. Please turn your hymnal to page 106 and write Oven=350˚. Thank you.
At a bookstore reading I was once asked if I planned to write a sequel to Touchwood. At the time the answer was no. A year went by and some ideas I wanted to explore bubbled together and I abruptly saw how Touchwood could provide the foundation for another novel. It was not the sequel I think that fans of Touchwood were hoping for, but it was definitely the book I wanted to write.
No other book I’ve written has stirred up so much mail and difference of opinion. Death in a Kallmaker romance? A most beloved character killed off? A kind and caring woman transformed into a heartless bitch? What was I thinking?
My strongest impulse when I sat down to frame the action in Watermark was to create a testament to the reality of our love. Too often gay men and lesbians are stereotyped as having relationships based only on the physical. We don’t merit “marriage” because when our partners leave us, we hop to the next bed. When our partners die, we don’t suffer the same wracking grief because our love is just not as powerful. Those stereotypes are what I wanted to confront with Watermark.
I used Touchwood as the “back story” that framed the tragedies in Watermark, giving me more energy to expend on an increasing list of characters that defined the perilously fragile romance between Teresa and Rayann. One issue raised in Touchwood was coping with the shadow of a previous love, of being “second best.” I wanted to explore that conflict in greater detail since the shadow cast by the dead lover was immense (one of the reasons I chose her), and perhaps more than a naïve young woman could hope to compete with. “The Tapestry” in this book confronts this theme.
Last, I tried to weave in the reality of random events forever changing lives. Rayann and Teresa are both irrevocably changed by complete chance, which is how life happens. If Paperback Romance is the most in line with the so-called romance formula, then Watermark is at the other end of the spectrum. Maria, who doesn’t like romance novels, and only reads mine because I make her, puts Watermark at the top of the Kallmaker heap.
I can sing and play the piano with great enthusiasm, doing both with only slightly more skill than my three-year-old. The character of Rett Jamison was pure fantasy on my part: a luscious Karen Carpenter voice, perfect pitch, near-perfect recall. Rett ought to be a star, but isn’t. It will sound clinical to say that Unforgettable is a novel about self-esteem, but there it is. Rett runs from good love to bad, from success to failure because she doesn’t believe herself worthy of love or success.
Unforgettable marks the first time since Touchwood that I wrote a novel with only one point of view. I think that accounts for the richness of Rett’s character. It was a harder job, then, to portray Angel’s motivations and explain Cinny’s behavior with only Rett’s not always accurate perceptions to tell the story. It was well worth the effort. My own pleasure with the finished product has been more than echoed by readers and critics alike.
“Unforgettable: That’s What You Are” is a story I really wanted to tell, but couldn’t because of the point of view. Natalie started as out a walk-on at a picnic, then she showed up at a slumber party and the next thing I knew she was dancing with Cinny while the whole town looked on. Sometimes characters have their own ideas about what they want to do. She had so much presence that her intentions toward Cinny popped off the page at me, but I just couldn’t make it fit with Rett’s plot. That was when I conceived the idea for this anthology. I wanted to tell Natalie’s story in the worst way.
Never one to mince words, Barbara Grier told me that short stories make many women run screaming in the other direction, but she also urged me to go for it because there’s nothing an avid reader wants to know more than what happened after the last page of the book. “I Will Go With You” is a chapter from Rett and Angel’s life when the solidity of their relationship supports them during a rough time.
One Frequently Asked Question remains: Who the heck is Laura Adams? My alter ego, Laura Adams, was actually Barbara Grier’s brainchild. Not the name, or the books, but it was her most excellent thought that a second Karin Kallmaker book every year would be nothing but good for both of us and a great many readers and booksellers. I agreed with every word she said, but I think she’ll forgive me if I admit what was going through my mind during this conversation. (We were speaking at some time later than seven a.m. for me, which accounted for my lucidity.)
My thought was that with a different persona I could write books Kallmaker fans simply wouldn’t expect from me. I already had three such novels in the back of my head and then Barbara so thoughtfully provided me with the opportunity to follow through with them. I know with certainty that she didn’t expect first a romantic science-fiction novel followed by a romance-driven supernatural story, then more romance and science fiction. Mea culpa, but oh, it is such fun to write.
My Laura Adams’ books have all been edited by Lila Empson. Lila has tried very hard to improve my use of commas, but they continue to plague me as I only like to use a comma to indicate a pause for breath if I’m reading aloud which is confusing to everyone but people who talk as fast as I do.
In the years since Laura Adams was born, Barbara and Donna McBride decided to ease back on Naiad’s exhausting publishing schedule. For practical yet flattering reasons, they wanted to keep Karin Kallmaker as one of their continuing writers. Laura Adams was free to join many other Naiad writers at a new press, Bella Books. This turn of events seems as wonderful to me as that first seven a.m. phone call when Barbara told me she wanted to publish In Every Port. I am a lucky woman. I get to keep writing the romance novels I love with Naiad Press, and I also get to stretch my wings even further as Laura Adams with Bella Books. Pinch me.
Frosting on the Cake
One of the critical complaints about my books I have always found amusing is that I never miss an opportunity to “dally between the reader’s legs.” Why, yes, thanks for noticing. (How is this a bad thing in a romance novel? Anyone? Anyone?) This anthology is no exception, a fact which I’m sure will delight just about all my readers. For those who are not delighted, I love you just the same.
As I wrote these stories I had different goals unique to each one. But overall, I wrote every single word with all of my readers in mind. Think of this book as a Frequent Reader Reward, because that’s really what it is. I would not write with as much joy if you weren’t willing to read, nor would I as able to take readers in unexpected directions if you weren’t willing to go with me. Yes, I write for my own pleasure and to express my own creative impulses, but a large part of my pleasure in my work is knowing that it pleases you, too. As I said above, I am a lucky woman, and I have all of you to thank.