I’m not going to lie. When given carte blanche to write about anything I wanted for this guest blog I found myself overwhelmed with the possibilities. For those of you who know me, I’ve got a lot going on – my love of neon, my constant power struggle with Spencer (the cat), and making pie charts that summarize my take on the quirkiness of life. But honestly, those really don’t have a lot to do with lesbian fiction – well, I mean, aside from the fact that I’m a lesbian and that I write fiction.
So, I thought about it … and I thought about it … and I went for a run and I thought about it some more. And then it came to me! I should write about what I know (aside from neon, Spencer and pie charts) which is the study of culture, the impact that has on who we are as a society, how it influences our lives and how I incorporate that into my writing.
As many of you know, I teach anthropology. And I love it because it’s a social science that delves into the reasons why we are the way we are. To fully understand why a culture (and society) is the way it is, you have to really examine it holistically. You have to look at the interplay of all of the parts: the politics, economics, belief systems, marriage rules and gender roles. And the interesting thing about all of these cultural universals, is that they’re human-designed constructs – constructs that change over time.
Taking the long view – looking at change over time – fascinates me. And it’s something I focus on in my novels. You see it in “NUDGE” where faith and belief is examined in a way that shows that religion – ALL religions – are at their core, the same.
As background, “NUDGE” is the story of a New York advertising executive and life-long atheist named Sarah Sheppard, who, is visited by a mysterious client who offers her a job to write and market a comprehensive addition to the world’s religious texts. She, of course, thinks it’s an elaborate joke and turns him down. But a series of events transpire that result in her having no choice but to take the assignment. She is quickly relocated to a remote estate in upstate New York where her job is to work with a group of scholars and theologians to compile The Addendum. As work on the document progresses, Sarah has to decide whether to deny her natural skepticism or buy into the idea that she really is working for a universal God.
As I approached the research and writing of “NUDGE,” I tried to remain objective. In anthropology, we don’t look at or judge if a religion is right or wrong. (Seriously, who are we to judge anyone else?) What we look at are the commonalities present in all beliefs so we can compare them. We focus on the idea that religion (again, all religions) do three main things:
- Religion allows people, who are essentially powerless, feel like they have some modicum of control in their future. (If I just pray hard enough … make this sacrifice … do this “activity” then God/the universe/Mother Earth/etc., will give me what I want or need.)
- Religion provides a moral compass. (This is good behavior and this is not. If I do what I’m supposed to, good things will happen. If I don’t, then … uh oh.)
- Religion provides group solidarity and shared experiences with people who believe the same thing. Humans are social creatures. We are not meant to live alone and shared belief systems allow for that interaction.
With “NUDGE,” I tried to incorporate those similarities to show that all belief systems are really very similar. At their core, they provide structure and agency.
In addition to belief and faith, I’m also fascinated with gender roles, how they vary from culture to culture, and how they have changed through time. It’s an underlying theme in my novel, “Letters Never Sent” in that the characters of Kate, Annie and Claire struggle against the prescribed gender roles of the early 20th Century, just as Joan, Kate’s daughter, struggles equally hard in 1997.
As background, the novel opens when Joan travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her recently deceased mother’s home and prepare it for sale. As she’s cleaning, she finds an old suitcase containing a wooden box full of objects that include a spent bullet casing, a key ring, and a packet of sealed love letters – which she reads. And it’s through these unsent letters that Joan begins to understand that her mother’s unhappiness was, in part, because of the prescribed roles of wife and mother expected of her by society. She also comes to realize that despite the fact that her mother was functioning within the paradigms of the 1930s and Joan was working in the 1990s, their lives were in many ways, paralleled.
That last sentence might seem strange given that more than 50 years of “advancement” in regard to women’s rights had occurred between Kate’s experiences and those of her daughter, Joan. And change had occurred. But despite those political changes, in many ways, the underlying expectations of “what it was to be a woman” remained the same.
Despite all the cultural change of The Progressive Era, the passage of the 19th Amendment, the relative freedom of the flappers in the 1920s, and women going to work in traditionally masculine jobs during World War II, the underlying perception of women’s roles remained (and I would argue continues to remain) subtly the same: cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. Even today, 50 years after President Kennedy signed legislation calling for equal pay for men and women, women still make 77 cents to every dollar made by a man.
Long story short, we are products of our culture. Every day we work within its parameters and its rules. Again, there is no right or wrong – there just is. And it’s that “is” that I like exploring as a writer. And at the end of the day, if I’ve done my homework, what we find is that perhaps we’re (and by this I mean ALL people) really much more alike than we realize.
- How did you get started writing lesbian fiction/romance?
I started writing lesbian fiction several years ago. My undergraduate degree is in newspaper journalism and I had worked as a magazine writer, as a political speech writer and also as a staff writer for an educational publishing company. I knew I wanted to write novels, but I really didn’t feel like I had “lived” enough to have much of anything to say. So, I waited and waited until one I day, about three years ago, I realized I was ready – I actually had something to say. I wrote a couple of manuscripts, but it really all came together when I wrote Letters Never Sent.
- I write because…
I write because … I can’t not write. Stories are everywhere and I find myself fascinated with why people do the things they do. Heck, I’m fascinated by why I do the things I do.
- Heels or flats?
Flats … unless I’m wearing a suit or a dress and then heels.
- What kind of characters do you most like to write about and why?
I like to write about real, flawed, complicated characters. In Letters Never Sent, for example, all of the characters (Kate, Annie, Joan, Claire) were flawed and sometimes, not very likeable. In my new book, NUDGE, all of the characters have something about them that makes you not want to trust them – makes you question their motivations. I like exploring the darker side of what makes these people tick and what ultimately drives them to do the things they do.
- Tell us a little about your new release…
NUDGE is very different than Letters Never Sent. In short, it’s the story of a New York advertising executive and life-long atheist named Sarah Sheppard, who, is visited by a mysterious client who offers her a job to write and market a comprehensive addition to the world’s religious texts. She, of course, thinks it’s an elaborate joke and turns him down. But a series of events transpire that result in her having no choice but to take the assignment.
She is quickly relocated to a remote estate in upstate New York where her job is to work with a group of scholars and theologians to compile The Addendum. Within days of taking on the assignment, she discovers that nothing and no one are what they appear to be. And, as more questions than answers mount up, Sarah has to decide whether to deny her natural skepticism or buy into the idea that she really is working for God.
- Name three things on your desk right now.
Stacks of textbooks and readings I need to review for next week’s classes, a Eucalyptus-Spearmint candle from Bath and Body Works (that has googly eyes pasted onto the side), and a green letter opener from the 1933 World’s Fair.
7. What are some of your favorite lesbian fiction/romance/erotic authors?
I love the work of so many that it would take forever to list them.
8. Favorite dessert?
Hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies or Snickerdoodles. Or peanut butter cookies. Or sugar cookies. Or almond macaroons. So … yeah … cookies.
- Plotter or pantster?
MAJOR plotter with maps, post-it notes and taped-together timelines.
10. What are you working on now?
I am currently writing a novel titled All That We Lack. It starts with a bus crash between New York and Boston and then works backward a day, six months, a year and two years, to show the interconnections of a funeral director from Seymour, Indiana, an insurance risk analyst from Chicago, a 10-year-old boy from Philadelphia, and a paramedic from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
11.Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know.
I once took a job as a hand model for a Walmart advertisement. My hands were photographed holding a notepad with a grocery list and a pencil (or it may have been a pen). I was “discovered” while working as a server because, according the photographer, I had (and I quote) “every shopper’s hands.”
Sandra Moran is an author and assistant adjunct professor of anthropology at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.
A native Kansan, she has worked professionally as a newspaper journalist, a political speech writer, and an archaeological tour manager. In her novels, she strives to create flawed characters struggling to find themselves within the cultural constructs of gender, religion and sexuality.
She is the author of “Letters Never Sent” and “Nudge.”
Find out more about her at: http://www.sandramoran.com