Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Writing is Like Being Queer: C.M. Harris

This time around, we have Lambda Literary Award-nominated author C.M. Harris sharing with us her unique reasons for putting words to paper...

Being a writer is like being queer
It’s not a choice, but a foregone conclusion

As a young girl, I wrote to escape my closeted life in a religious sect. And then, after I left the safety of that home to make my way in the outside world, I wrote to keep myself sane. Once I fully came out of the closet and met my girlfriend, I wrote for fun.

Then something changed. I began writing to be heard, to join in this story we’re all telling each other. It’s no surprise that with this evolution my writing became publishable. And I think it’s true for many of us—whether we’re genre or literary writers—that when we verge from the easy routes, that’s when the real story begins. In fact, these new, truer stories can impact us in ways that border on supernatural.

I’ll explain.

The second novel I wrote (the first is collecting dust under the bed) was a response to that cry from my teachers, my writing partners, my girlfriend: write what you know! After two decades of closing my ears and collecting rejections, I decided to listen. What came next was an amazing channeling of four characters that I would have never dreamed of writing about as a seventeen-year-old. It felt very dangerous. And, as it would turn out, it was dangerous. It would cost me plenty. Because when you write what you know, eventually you will be read by those who have inspired you.

But this particular story was dangerous in another way. You see, my novel involves a bit of speculative fiction—a toxic event that affects the inhabitants of a small religious community. Many of them grow sick with various forms of cancer. The month after I handed over the final manuscript to my editor, Katherine V. Forrest, I too was diagnosed with two kinds of breast cancer. The dogmatic mind of my upbringing insisted this was retribution for what I had written. Ironic justice from of a vengeful god. But the rational part of me knew that what had happened was simply proof of how true my novel was. It is a fiction. It is a lie. But it is Truth. And now that’s what drives my writing. And that is how I read now too, whether it is science fiction or non-fiction—what is really true about the human experience in these words? That’s what feeds my soul and connects me to others.

So I write—and read—to live. To survive. It no longer feels like a choice. Each of us has a volume within us. Some are wry and slim, while others are ponderous epics. I want to take in as many of them as I can in this lifetime.

That’s why I write. Why do you? 

C.M. Harris is the author of The Children of Mother Glory and the cancer-war-story blog LADIECTOMY.COM. Her short stories have been featured in Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly, Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, SALiT Magazine and Pseudopod horror podcast magazine. Find out more here.
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  1. Brava! I'm a great believer in swinging for the fences, every time out.

  2. Very true, 'to be heard' I try every day, and have been doing it for over 25 years. And will keep doing it for 25 more, if I'm lucky.

    Best of luck on your Lammy, from one Lambda Awards finalist to another, see you there ;)))

    Lambda Awards Finalist 2010/Bisexual Fiction for Holy Communion. Won the 2009 Rainbow Award for Best Overall Bisexual/Transvestite book and 2nd place for 2009 Rainbow Awards: Best Coming of Age / Young Adult Novel

  3. Thanks Kathe. That's a great way to start the day!

  4. Hi Mick,

    Congratulations on getting finalist. That's huge! I will be rooting for you.

    Alas, I did not make the cut. But since I wrote this guest post, Casperian Books picked up my second novel. So here's to second chances!

  5. Great piece! 'Why do you write?' is an interesting question. I'm not sure I know how to answer it for myself. Storytelling is fundamentally human and we are all consumers of narrative even if it's only through teevee or film. But I do wonder why only some of us feel compelled to sit down and put pen to paper.

  6. Hi Amy, I'll bet the answers are nearly as varied as the writer. Hobby, habit, compulsion, obsession!

  7. What an inspiration! I, too, wrote as a youngster to survive abuse and an awakening sexuality. In my sunset years, finally finding a publisher, I am again writing to survive in a different way and explore a re-awakened sexuality. C.M. is right. We write lies because it is fiction, but we also write the truth---and sometimes that is an inner truth....I look forward to finding C.M.'s books and diving into them.

  8. Thanks Janie! Congratulations on landing a publisher. That's a huge accomplishment. It's nice to know we can come out of that past with something of value to show for it.