Marianne K. Martin won the 2012 Trailblazer award at the GCLS conference, a well- deserved and long-overdue recognition of Martin’s contributions to the world of lesbian fiction as well as her other contributions to our culture. She is a truly amazing woman of many achievements, and one of my personal heroes, as well as a friend. As a writer, and publisher of Bywater Books, she has been unfailing in her help to me as a mentor.
I am reprinting an interview I did last year in honor of this award.
I am thrilled to host Marianne K. Martin here today. Besides being one of the pioneers of lesbian fiction, Martin has many other skills and talents. I hope you get to know her a little better today.
A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Ms Martin taught in the Michigan public school system for twenty-five years, has worked as a photo-journalist, a photographer, and coached both high school and collegiate teams as well as amateur ASA teams. Her coaching career produced many Tri-County and MHSAA championship basketball and softball teams and championship ASA softball teams. She was founder of the Michigan Woman’s Major Fastpitch Assoc. and its president for ten years. In 1973 she won the precedent-setting case in a Michigan court establishing equal pay for women coaches.
Ms Martin is the best-selling author of Legacy of Love, Love in the Balance, Never Ending, Dawn of the Dance, Dance in the Key of Love, and three Lambda Literary Award finalists, Mirrors, Under the Witness Tree, and For Now, For Always. Her latest book, The Indelible Heart, is scheduled forabsolutely one of her best, the quintessential MKM novel.
Her short stories have been included in a number of anthologies. Her most recent, Fire and Ice, appears in the second edition of the on-line issue of Read These Lips.
She is co-owner of Bywater Books and currently splits her time between her publishing responsibilities and writing.
What made you decide to write lesbian fiction?
It’s affordable therapy. Seriously. I taught in the public school system for twenty-five
years, as closed and closeted a profession as you can find, except maybe the religious
sector. Expressing and exploring who I was as an individual, as a whole person, had to be
done secretly and during those few hours that I wasn’t teaching, coaching, or losing my
mind. It is the need to express the beliefs and thoughts and feelings that had been
suppressed for so long.
So what makes a story lesbian?
There was a time when there were so few clearly lesbian books, in which the relationship
between two women was clearly a sexual one, that the reader had to ‘make’ the story
lesbian. They made the story their own, relatable, by changing the gender, the name, the
characteristics of male characters to female. They wrote fan fiction where they changed
the intent of the story, the dynamics and the relationships between the characters to fill
their need for lesbian story-lines. Readers did this because they longed for their lives to
be validated, to be able to recognize themselves in books and movies and TV shows, just
as other minorities have longed for the same thing. These were lesbian stories because the
readers made them so.
Now, though, there are many writers, writing stories where the reader sees the world
through the eyes of a clearly lesbian character. Every experience, every relationship,
every thought that the character has comes from that unique place of how and where she
fits into the world. The choices that she makes in finding that fit, whether we like it or
not, are affected by her sexuality. Some affected in a good way, some bad, and some in
ways that are barely noticeable. But it is what makes the character who she is and what
makes the story uniquely lesbian. In so many stories now, a reader can find bits of herself
and parts of her life recognizable in the pages of a book.
I love the cultural and political themes in your novels and was especially impressed
by the pioneering work that exposed bullying and adult responsibility in Mirrors.
Art and politics are sometimes at odds with each other. How do you happily
“marry” the two in narrative?
You know, it just seems to be a natural fit. Even if we try to ignore it, our lives, careers
and relationships are affected by society’s political and cultural climate. As gays and
lesbians we face struggles unique to our sexuality, and decisions that involve risks of
losing jobs, or family and friends, and physical and emotional harm. When do we come
out, when do we lie? Yet whatever our individual decision, at the core of it our needs are
universal – we want to be happy, to love and be loved. How we find that, how we sustain
it, what we will risk for it, are at the heart of my stories. For me it is all interrelated. I
love exploring the ‘in spite of’, the ‘against the odds’ battle for love and happiness and
justice. They are real, they happen every day, and when they are won, they empower us
Following that theme of against all odds, you were involved in a precedent-setting court case that obtained equal pay for equal work for women coaches in the state of Michigan.
In 1973 school districts all across the country were in various stages of compliance
with the federal Title IX Educational Amendment, which among other things required
that federally funded schools provide equal opportunity for girls to participate in sports.
Some districts complied quickly and completely, some did what would be most obvious,
and still others forced legal action before they complied.
The school district where I was teaching and coaching did only what they had to, and
made it clear that it did not make them happy. Prior to Title IX the girls sports program
paid for itself. Coach, athletes, and parents raised funds every way they could to pay for
gas for the bus and the bus driver’s hours for away games, and for gym time, officials,
custodial help, and equipment for home games. I had personally fought for a stipend for
coaching the year before, but it was nowhere near the salary of the men coaches. In all
prior years, women coaches worked on a volunteer basis, no pay. And Title IX did not
specifically provide for equal pay for coaches.
So, when I went to the superintendent and school board and requested pay equal to the
men coaches, I was all but laughed out of the meeting. I had presented them all the
documentation proving that the girl’s teams practiced the same number of hours and
played the same number of games as the boys’ teams. But, I was told as I left the
meeting that there was no way that they would pay that money to a woman.
I decided to take them to court. As it turned out, by doing so and winning a
discrimination suit, my case became the precedent setting case in Michigan. From that
point on, every woman coach had legal leverage to demand and receive equal pay for
equal work. One of the down-falls of that has been the number of men, instead of women,
that have been hired to fill those positions and to receive that equal pay to coach girls’sports.
What is your writing process like? Do you write different scenes and put them all
together or do you just go from point A to point B?
I never know how a new project will start. More accurately, I never know what will start
it. Something eventually becomes the concept for a new story, sometimes it is a vision of
a character, at other times it’s a news story or a scene or a phrase that plays over and over
in my head. Whatever starts it begins to develop and I start imagining what the next day
in the scenario would be like or what must have happened in the past for this character or
event to be where it is. I write everything down – an idea, a sentence, a scene. And when
the story takes on a rough development in my head, I put it down in a rough outline form.
I don’t stick strictly to the outline, it usually changes. But it helps me start collecting and
organizing my notes, many of them written on whatever was handy at the time, and
putting them into chapters. One time I was shingling my dad’s roof, listening to the cows
all lined up at the fence across the road, and something kept developing in my head that I
had to write down, so I wrote it on the scrap of wood that I was cutting the shingles on.
If you could have an afternoon with any one of your characters, who would it be and
Probably Nessie Tinker. She’s the tiny ninety-plus black woman from Under The Witness
Tree. Her family ‘breathed the smoke of Sherman’s march’ and with all that she would
have experienced in her life she has the most to teach me. I am so enthralled with Nessie,
and her voice is so distinct, that I want to know all I can about her earlier life. She will
have a book of her own.
Do you have a favorite among your stories?
Each story has things about it that make it special to me. The first, Legacy of Love, for
obvious reasons. Love in the Balance because of the emotional connection with my
mother, Mirrors and Dawn of the Dance because I taught through those situations, Under
the Witness Tree because I learned so much about a part of our history only touched upon
in our schools. And so on. So, I don’t think that I could pick out a favorite.
What do you find hardest about writing?
Usually, beginning a new book, staring at that first blank page. Katherine Forrest once
told me that beginning a new book felt like Atlas carrying the world uphill. And it is
tough, we are virtually creating a world and everything in it. Where do you begin?
What I have found most helpful are those snippets written on all those scraps of paper,
and wood, and whatever. Somewhere in that collection is a beginning. It doesn’t always
survive long as the beginning of the book, however. A version of it may end up in some
other place in the book, or not survive rewrites at all, but it served to kick start me.
Running a close second in difficulty is getting others to respect time thinking as work
time. Sitting for an hour staring into space just doesn’t look productive, but if it isn’t
imagined it can’t be written. And it is very easy for others to interrupt a process they
What’s your favorite thing about being a writer? What, for you, totally sucks about
I love the creative freedom of writing. It is exploratory and introspective. Through my
characters I can go anywhere my mind wants to go. I can be who I am and everything I
am not. I can love and hate, deceive and forgive. I can be Asian, or white, or black. I can
believe in God or blame God, trust in love or not.
What sucks is knowing where you want your story to go and drawing a blank on how to
get it there. ‘Writer’s block’, an altogether irritating and appropriate term, makes me
anxious and frustrated. The first time I experienced it, with a deadline looming, I asked
for advice from someone I respect immensely, Katherine Forrest. She told me to walk
away from it for a while and do something enjoyable and relaxing (for me that’s doing
something constructive with my hands – yard work, working on the house, etc.). She also
said not to be afraid to ask for an extension to my deadline. As long as this is not overused,
asking for an extension is helpful to both the writer and the publisher. Rather than
send in a sub-par manuscript or just not meet the deadline, an extension can allow the
writer the time they need to get past the block and the publisher can move up other
matters to fill the delay time. It’s important to remember, however, that there is a
significant amount of pre-publicity that is done for each book and meeting deadlines is
essential for that. A certain amount of time is built into the schedule to allow for delays
along the way, but a book only gets out on time when the writer and publisher work
honestly and closely on the timeline. All this having been said, blocking still sucks.
If you couldn’t write, what would you do?
I would be creating something in some other medium. I have an art minor, so I would
probably be working in charcoal or pastels (which I don’t have enough time to do much
anymore). And if I couldn’t do that, I’d be building or designing something.
On a more personal note, do you have a favorite childhood memory?
I was blessed with some wonderful childhood memories. I can’t really pick a favorite, but
here are a few that come to mind. My dad taught me how to whittle and to carve animals
out of bars of Ivory soap. And he would drop his lunch bucket as soon as he stepped out
of his truck from work and played catch with me. On special week-ends, my mom would
fix fried chicken and potato salad, make up a bed in the back of the station wagon, and
we’d get to the drive-in theater before dark so that we could eat our picnic and play on
the swings below the big screen. We kids usually made it through the cartoon and part of
the first feature before we dozed off in the back of the car. And I absolutely loved riding
the bus downtown with my Aunt Mary to have cherry cokes at the Kresge soda counter.
Sometimes writers work internal issues out through their narratives. Have you ever
written a scene or character that “hit too close to home” for you? How did you
I’ve written a number of scenes that I lived through personally – my mother’s death
(Love in the Balance), bullying and the loss of a student to suicide (Mirrors), my
grandmother’s death (Legacy of Love) – and I handle them the same way I did when they
occurred, I cry. For that reason, I never use those scenes at any of my readings. I’ve had a
particularly difficult time working through and finishing my latest book, The Indelible
Heart. During the past year, in the middle of this book that deals with loss and recovery, I
lost some important people in my life. It was hard to take my character to emotional
places that I was trying to get through myself.
Tell us more about The Indelible Heart. Isn’t this a sequel to Love in the Balance?
There’s been a lot of reader interest over the years to revisit the characters of Balance, to
know where their fictitious lives have taken them. Sequels, though, are difficult,
especially a sequel to a love story or romance. What appealed to the readers in the first
book is usually the attraction, the thrill of first love between the characters. A sequel is
not going to offer that. So, even though readers say they want to know what happens
down the road, unconsciously they want to ‘feel’ what the first book made them feel.
So, I hesitate to call The Indelible Heart a sequel in that sense. What I hope to do is show
what ten years of ‘life’ has done to the dynamics of the group of friends and their
relationships following the devastating murders depicted in Balance. Not all of the
relationships have survived, and each have had to deal with the loss in their own way.
But, now they are faced with the possibility that the man who murdered their friends may
be granted an early release from prison.
Sharon Davis becomes the main character in this book. She is irreverent, strong-willed,
and passionate. The loss of so many loved ones in her life has left her emotionally
vulnerable, hurt, and angry. The precarious balance she has maintained in recent years is
now challenged by the possible early release, and by the sighting of a lost love. A lot has
changed over the years – the growth of LGBT organizations, their political voice, the
economy – and this group of friends is forced to examine their own beliefs as they
struggle to help Sharon.
The Indelible Heart
Twelve years ago, Charlie Crawford shot dead his two lesbian neighbors. Now he’s terminally ill and requesting early compassionate release from prison.
Back then, Sharon and her friends fought to bring him to justice. Now she has to find the strength to fight again. But the man who killed her friends also took her sobriety. And with it he took her partner, Laura.
Sober again, all she’s left is a life lived at arms length. She’ll do what she can to keep Charlie in jail. But it’s hard – really hard – to cope with the news that Laura’s back in town.
Hate has spoiled Sharon’s world. There just doesn’t seem any place for love. But she’s forgotten just how powerful friendship can be. She’ll soon remember.
Available in paperback and eBook Indelible Heart is the inspiring sequel to the best selling Love in the Balance.