“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”
~~ Brodi Ashton
“The real heroes are the librarians and teachers who at no small risk to themselves refuse to lie down and play dead for censors.”
~~ Bruce Coville
Today Facebook and the Internet celebrates the birthday of a very special lady, Elizabeth Noth.
She is not Gandhi. She is not Mother Theresa. She is not Nelson Mandela.
However, she is most certainly a hero of mine.
Eight years ago Elizabeth North began Dreamspinner Press, a company that publishes high quality gay fiction—most of it falling under the umbrella of Male/Male Romance, or MM Romance.
Now I am not going to get the story quite right—I think it is already starting to fall into myth and therefor will change as people tell her story—but it goes something like this….
Her husband’s brother was getting married to another man. The couple lived in a state where same-sex marriage was legal. She was a licencened minister and was asked to perform their wedding. On the morning of said wedding, she found her future brother-in-law reading a Harlequin Romance. She teasingly said, “There is something wrong with this picture.”
He explained why there wasn’t.
He came from basically the same time I did. The time when AIDS hit the gay community, and hit it hard. Like me, he watched friends die by the hundreds…. Except I had a slight “shield.” This was when, brought on by fear of being damned to hell, I was trying to be “straight” and lived with a woman for six years. I don’t regret this, I have a wonderful daughter…and it might be the reason why I am alive today.
Anyway, he explained that he had seen “real life.” He had lived through the “gay plague” and somehow survived (please remember that this is my memory of the story). He went on to say that pretty much all gay fiction had this in common. Death or pain or destruction. If a gay novel was published that wasn’t pulp fiction porn, then the very common theme was that one or both characters died by the end. To be gay meant that you were punished by being killed in a bashing (Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain is an example), or you got AIDS and died, or that the characters broke up (i.e, the movie Freefall—sadly a recent movie) or some other tragedy happened (I do wonder if he read a brilliant novel called A Better Angel by Forman Brown, published in 1933 and considered by some the first happily ever after gay novel ever written).
The theme was clear. If the love that dare not speak its name actually speaks it, then something horrible will result. Gay men deserve death and pain and heartache.
“I’ve lived ugliness,” he said. “When I read I want to escape. I read straight romance because there isn’t anything like this for us.”
“Surely you can’t be serious,” was her reply. But upon getting home and doing some research, she found that outside of slash fanfic and one company, he was right. And so she created Dreamspinner Press with some of her closest friends. From what I’ve been able to piece together, many of them wrote novels and novellas without pay—or at least without advances.
Eight years later Dreamspinner Press is thriving, and I believe one of the main reasons for this is what I talk about in my blog here all the time. Karma, Reaping what you sow. The Universe paying back what is given out.
And Elizabeth gives.
Elizabeth is more than publisher and employer for me. She is teacher. She is guru. She is friend. She is confidant. She is example. She is guide. She is friend. And she is an amazing human being. I should hope that I could be half the person she is.
Five years ago I sent her a story and in that submission was my hopes and dreams. She bought that story—called—Baiu en Sāhuf…or…Soul of the Mummy—and now being a professional fulltime writer is within my grasp. Not that I didn’t have anything to do with it. I know that if the story had been crap, she and Lynn West wouldn’t have bought it (I will save Lynn for another day).
But the thing is, and the reason she is my hero, is that she did more than buy my story. She guided me. She taught me. She had patience with me. She forgave me for deadlines missed. She went out of her way to help me.
I will never forget the day we met. It was in the tiny restaurant of the hotel of the first ever Dreamspinner Press author’s workshop. She walked up to me…and hugged me. She leaned into the hug. She pressed her chest against mine—her heart against mine. She held on. It was a real hug (and I have talked about hugs here in my blog). She was one of the first people to give me the kind of hug that I longed to give (and rarely did, because of fear). To this day, that is how I hug now. Some people pull away…and some sigh and say, “Oh…oh my…you know how to hug.”
Because a hug should be more than some perfunctory gesture. It should be real.
Some months ago, at the beginning of the depression I fell under and have discussed here, she called me. Called me! Asked me what was going on. Said she knew I wasn’t being my authentic self.
And even though I failed her and Winter Heart is a good two months or more late, she has done nothing but help me and encourage me and give me more advise.
Soon I am going to stop working full time, at least at some company that doesn’t give a f*ck if I live or die—that cares ONLY about itself and its profits and its facts and figures. Soon I will be writing for myself and a company called Dreamspinner Press—“Where Dreams Come True”–full time. A company and a publisher that cares about me as a human being as well as a story writer.
Thank you Elizabeth. Thank you more than words can possibly say—even for a writer.
Thank you. A most Happy Birthday!
May you reap all that you have sown—and that should be a heck of a lot.
P.S.: Elizabeth has three sons that are a testament to her. I sit back and wonder at how they will change the world when they are grown!