Please welcome Bold Strokes Books author Kathleen Knowles.
Like a lot of lesbians and, it seems, a good number of non-lesbians, I’m a fan of the BBC/HBO series Gentleman Jack. Gentleman Jack gives us picture of a real person- Anne Lister-with all her flaws along with her virtues. This is the kind of real-life story that made me want to write historical romance fiction- the queer kind. The basis of the story is a romance but along with the love story we also see all kinds of gorgeous details about Anne Lister and the early Victorian era in which she lived.
I love history, especially LGBTQ history. When I decided I wanted to write lesbian fiction, I was naturally drawn to historical fiction although I write contemporary f/f romance as well. It’s challenging and gratifying to imagine the lives and loves of women-loving women from the past. We know they were there, right? Their stories were, however, for a variety of reasons, hidden. We historical romance novelists (and there are a lot of good ones, starting with Sarah Waters) can make up, in small ways, for the erasure of those women’s lives from history.
I’ve noticed that as I advance in years, I’m becoming something of an historical relic myself. For example, by todays sped up time standards, the 80s happened a long time ago, but I am old enough to remember how it felt to live through them. The convention is that an historical novel has to be set in a time period through which its author did not live. That makes sense to me, yet…
A twenty-year old today would consider the 1980s as far off and as strange as the Middle Ages. So that, to me, makes a novel set in that period an historical novel.
In Somewhere Along the Way, my latest book, I wanted to accomplish two things. One, I wanted to write a recovery-genre story. Second, I wanted to show what it was like to be a lesbian during the AIDs epidemic in San Francisco. We weren’t precisely erased from that history but we weren’t the ones dying. There is a staggering amount of literature both fiction and nonfiction written by and about gay men during that time. There’s not a lot about lesbians. We experienced a lot of overflow homophobia. Lesbians engaged in the epidemic to a bigger or smaller extent according to how they felt. There’s some literature describing how lesbians responded to the crises and that describes the essential help we provided. It is freely acknowledged by the gay men who survived that there as a lot of participation by lesbians. I wanted to tell a semi fictionalized story about my experience, my history, so to speak.
Writing the novel was my way of reliving that difficult, heartbreaking but exhilarating era. We, as the queer community, had to grow up sometime and it ended up happening in a horrible and devastating manner but, grow up we did. AIDs is often compared to living through a war and that was how it often felt. When I think of it now though I’m sad but I’m inspired and grateful. I became a better, more compassionate person because of what I did, who I knew and the emotions I experienced.
In the novel, my protagonist helps a man named Keith who is sick and I didn’t even bother to fictionalize that part of the novel at all. I didn’t even change his name because he’s been dead for over thirty years. But I can remember many of my conversations with him. I remember quite vividly what happened. The various AIDS sicknesses, the hospital visits, the harsh homophobic reactions of the rest of the world and the crazy media coverage and the seemingly endless death. Queer San Francisco was consumed by it for entire decade and into the next until there was finally an effective treatment.
A few years ago, I watched the documentary We Were Here with a couple of friends. One of my friends buried his lover, the other cared for her brother until his death and I was a practical support volunteer. At the end of the film, I said to my friends, “We lived through an historical event.”
I think that was the moment I knew I wanted to write my story.
AIDs is still here though we don’t talk about it much anymore. There are medicines that ensure people don’t have to die but still people are infected. Young people.
World AIDs day is December 1st. Never forget. I never will.
In the summer of 1981, Maxine Cooper moves from the Midwest to San Francisco with her gay best friend, Chris, where she hopes to find love and community. But gay life in a big city is much more complicated than either of them ever expected. Life becomes a constant party, and Max slides deep into alcohol and drugs. She and Chris become estranged, and when he contracts AIDS, Max doesn’t know how to bridge the gap between them.
Shattered by Chris’s death, Max must decide how she is going to live her life. Can she forgive herself for abandoning him, or will her guilt lead her down a path that guarantees destruction?
MEET THE AUTHOR
Kathleen Knowles grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but has lived in San Francisco for more than thirty years. She finds the city’s combination of history, natural beauty, and multicultural diversity inspiring and endlessly fascinating.
Other than writing, she loves music of all kinds, walking , bicycling, and stamp collecting. LGBT history and politics have compelled her attention for many years, starting with her first Pride march in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1978. She and her partner were married in July 2008 and live atop one of San Francisco’s many hills with their pets. She retired last year after working for twenty years as a health and safety specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
She has written short stories, essays, and fan fiction. She is the author of eight novels.
CONNECT WITH KATHLEEN KNOWLES
Thanks so much for stopping by today.