I moved to Florida to live with my partner Sandy Moore, who is an artist. That’s a very important detail, because having an artist with a unique understanding of the creative process led to my getting published. When I moved in, Sandy had converted a bedroom into a writing space for me. She accepted my self defined role as a writer. Her support and encouragement, her absolute belief in me, all that led me to New Orleans in May of 2004.
That was the first time I had ever been to a writers’ conference. I met Katherine V. Forrest in the ladies room. I went to panel discussions and listened to people like Jewel Gomez and Karin Kallmaker, and one of those panels was about editing. Kelly Smith was on that dais, and I took notes on what she had to say about editing. I was impressed. I decided that I wanted an editor like that for my book.
At another of those panel discussions, talking about the history of lesbian literature, a remarkable thing happened. On the panel were KVF, Jewel Gomez, and Ann Bannon, who wrote the Beebo Brinker chronicles. Katherine Forrest brought tears to my eyes when she paid tribute to Ann Bannon, stating that Bannon’s books had saved her life. I wanted to stand up in the audience to add that Forrest’s books had saved my life.
As the panel discussed the pulp fiction of the fifties and sixties, bringing us up to the present day, a new lesbian publishing company was formally introduced. Kelly Smith and Marianne K Martin stood up as Bywater Books received its first public acknowledgment. I made a promise to myself right then, that if I got my work in shape for submission, I would send it to Bywater. I wanted Bywater to publish my book. When they announced that Bywater would have an annual fiction contest, I knew I would whip my manuscript into shape and send it in.
The rest is history, you might say, if you hadn’t been taught to avoid clichés like the plague. In 2007, my first novel, Miss McGhee, was published. In 2011, my second book, What’s Best for Jane, was also published through Bywater. I am proud to have played a small part in Bywater’s beginning.
Kelly Smith, Marianne K. Martin, Val McDermid, and Michele Karlsberg have created a company that actively seeks out new writing talents, and Bywater has consistently published quality fiction. That is their brand, their trademark. Quality is Bywater’s thing. They published Joan Opyr, Jill Malone, Sally Bellerose, Hilary Sloin, Z Egloff, and Marcia Finical, who won that very first Bywater Fiction contest with Last Chance at the Lost and Found. Throughout the past decade, Bywater has added established, well-loved writers mixed in with their new discoveries, such as Elana Dykewomon, Kate Clinton, Ellen Hart, Val McDermid, Lindy Cameron, Stella Duffy, and soon, Baxter Clare.
Bywater searches for talent. They have been great at finding it. For example, Jill Malone’s first book, Red Audrey and the Roping, won the Bywater prize for fiction, was nominated for a Lambda award. Malone’s second book, Field Guide to Deception, won the Lambda award as well as several others. More recently, authors such as Hilary Sloin’s Art on Fire, Z Egloff’s Leap and Jill Malone’s newest book Giraffe People were selected by the ALA’s Rainbow Book List in 2013. This year, Hilary Sloin’s Art on Fire won the Barbara Gittings Literature Award from the American Library Association.
This is only a sampling of the award-winning books Bywater has published. I am certain to leave out something, so I encourage anyone who loves to read and likes to support lesbian literature and small presses to browse through the Bywater web site at http://www.bywaterbooks.com/. And if you attend any of the several conferences each year like Women’s Week in P Town, Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, the annual GCLS conference, April’s Women’s Fest at Rehoboth Beach, you should search out Bywater Books and chat with them, look at their books, buy a couple.
The very first book published through Bywater was Under the Witness Tree, by Marianne K. Martin. Next year, they will publish Tangled Roots, the long awaited prequel to that wonderful book.
So, cheers to Bywater Books, for hanging in there, for proving that good books can sell, and for finding and publishing new writers, as well as bringing established writers back into print.