Is there anything cooler than picking up a book and finding yourself represented within? As a reader, my first glimpse at lesbian fiction filled me with giddy, fizzy energy that made it impossible to stand still. Seriously. I was standing in Powell’s City of Books, staring at the shelves with a ridiculous, impossible-to-contain grin on my face.
Back then, I felt as though I’d stumbled upon some special, back alley club where all the good stuff happens. Kinda like a speakeasy for lesbians.
I immediately set to work to buy every single paperback I could get my hands on, afraid that, if I delayed or looked away for even a moment, it would all slip through my fingers. Powell’s would realize what those books contained and pull them from the shelves. Or someone would find my treasure and snatch it away from me.
I bought Sarah Dreher, Cate Culpepper, Katherine V. Forrest, Karin Kallmaker, Geri Hill, and Radclyffe, convinced that these women represented something magical and mystical that was so far above me as to be out of reach. Later, I found Rita Mae Brown and dove in with the crazed enthusiasm of a zealot.
I’d found a higher power—a new religion, if you will—that truly fit, that just felt right. Faith, something I’d always struggled with, eased itself around me like a warm cloak.
Is that an extreme reaction to something as simple as a book? Some might say yes. I say there is no such thing as a simple book. Language, words on paper, these are the foundations of life, of society. Kingdoms rise and fall based upon the ability of those in charge to properly weave these simple pieces into a larger, more beautiful tapestry. So, when I say my life was forever changed, it is not an exaggeration in the slightest.
I wrote my first book (Edge of Darkness) with my son Wyatt on my lap. He was small enough to sleep in my arms while I typed. Now, all these years later, he delights in hearing this story and I delight in telling it. There have been many books since that first one, but none of them were written with a squishy bundle of new baby inspiration as part of the creative process.
Fast forward a few (okay, several) years and my focus on lesbian fiction changed a bit. It was still life affirming, still the “something larger” that I needed to be a part of, but it was also something more. I wanted to be a deeper part of this complex, godlike machine that I was so awed by.
Slowly, steadily, that tiny kernel of an idea grew and conversations happened, most containing the words “Wouldn’t it be cool if...”
Creating a publishing house is a massive endeavor, one that takes time, dedication, and love. It also requires a broad and deep well of talents and aptitude. My personal well stretches pretty wide, but in some places it’s about as deep as a puddle.
Enter the Original 6
One by one, the other women of this collective came in to view. They’ll all share their stories, so I don’t want to take that from them. But here’s a rundown of who they are to me.
As with most of my public lesbian fiction story, DRB starts with Andi Marquette. She’s the one who walked me through how to actually write. The title for Edge of Darkness? Yep, that was Andi. She took the time to teach me the rules of editing, why things need to be the way they are, thus laying the groundwork for my future as an editor. Women and Words? She totally got the vision and the possibility and signed on to start what has become a rather large side project. In the months leading up to my mom’s passing, and the months after when I was stuck in a swirling cycle of grief, Andi, with the help of R.G. Emanuelle, kept the whole shebang afloat. So, when that kernel of an idea formed, Andi was a natural part of that concept for me.
I’ve known R.G. for almost as long as Andi. She’s this wonderfully clever, sarcastic, fierce woman who wields her knowledge of the industry like a ninja; it’s a tool she keeps close and honed and at the ready. She’s humble and kind and generous, and she’s a great source of inspiration for me. At her core, she is a mentor, and I am the lucky recipient of her expertise.
Gill McKnight. That is a standalone statement, really. She is incomparable and I adore her even though she enjoys calling me names and arguing with me way too much. She keeps me on my toes, always seeing around the corner of an idea. I get stuck on the shiny facade and she’s there to point out the holes in the meat of the thing. Plus, you know, she’s a true adventurer. She sold her property in the UK, packed her belongings into a campervan, and moved her ass to the Greek island of Lesvos. This kind of fearlessness is something I want on my side.
Recently, Michelle and I got married, with the approval of our wives, of course. She’s so, so smart and focused and driven (think Valkyrie on a battlefield). More than that, she has this sweet (and by sweet I mean sarcastic and understated) sense of humor that allows her to marry someone via the internet for the sake of couples pricing on an event. (For those who are genuinely worried here, Michelle and I aren’t really married. But I still love her and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.) In addition to all these amazing qualities, she’s also a complete goddess at all things marketing, PR, and other such things.
And that brings me to Blythe. We met briefly when she traveled to Portland for work, and then again when I traveled to the Bay area for GaymerX, a queer gaming convention. She joined me for the day there, and in her I found a goofy, relentlessly earnest, and charming kindred spirit. We could be sisters. Or besties who met at camp when we were six. Or co-hosts of a podcast about badass women. Or business partners. You get the idea.
The women of Dirt Road Books are the kind of women who make me want to do more, be better, work harder. I look at their pedigrees, the talents and skills they bring to our collective, and I can’t help but wonder how I got so damn lucky.
Cheers to them for helping to define the journey, and to all of you, dear readers, for joining us as we travel the road before us.