Lea’s recipe in Order Up is called Heartbreak Rye, so she’s shared some photos of said rye bread. So, here’s Lea Daley to talk about her relationship to her story.
Unlike many writers, I’m not a good visual observer. I regularly miss events that happen right under my nose. I can also misplace nearly anything. Except brownies—I have a finely-tuned locating device for all things chocolate. But heaven forbid that my pen jar or stapler or rolling pin has migrated a few inches from its appointed spot. It becomes so invisible then it may as well have been moved to the moon. I’m liable to stomp around grousing about theft—until my partner gently points out said “missing” item, sitting in plain view, embarrassingly close at hand. Whereupon I insist that it just returned to this dimension via some never-previously-mapped portal. (Is it any wonder I’ve been described as “lightly tethered to the earth”?)
So writing “Sweet or Savory”, a story about a character who fails to notice the obvious until too late, was almost like autobiography. In the process, I thought about other things that we occasionally overlook or undervalue. The femme who wanders onto a softball field. The upfront butch who’s ignored at book club meetings. Our own latent talents—or the breathtaking potential of others in our sphere.
Like the characters in my story, I’m interested in theatre arts. I’ve performed in plays, crafted scenery, and made props. In the mid-1970s, I designed costumes for a number of productions at the community college where I was working toward an Associate Degree. That school was located in a rural county, which was the frequent subject of ridicule in distant St. Louis. Our drama program was small. So small it was easy to dismiss. So small that auditions for productions with larger casts were opened to the public.
That was the case when a director decided to stage Man of La Mancha. Several cast members were strangers to the tight-knit group of theater students. Most, however, quickly proved to be extremely talented. The female lead had both a stunning voice and a perfect grasp of her character’s persona. And although he was just twenty, our “Don Quixote” was an accomplished actor and singer, recognized for the exceptional quality of his high school performances. Not only that, his lean frame, handsome face, and sandy hair were the subject of much excited feminine chatter.
But I was relatively oblivious to the gifts of these newcomers—and most definitely not drawn to our leading man. In fact, I was on the cusp of defining myself as a lesbian, though in typically clueless fashion I hadn’t yet recognized that I was infatuated with a certain witty woman. Each day while I labored at a drawing board or a sewing machine in a secluded basement room, I hoped she’d seek me out. And by the following summer, we’d become lovers; that year I’d decline to costume Oliver so we could spend every spare second together.
During rehearsals for La Mancha, actors trooped downstairs at regular intervals to be fitted for their costumes, then fitted again. When I had time to observe the nightly action in our outdoor theater, my focus wasn’t on the big picture, or the dazzling abilities of the troupe. Instead, I was concerned that “Aldonza” had lost so much weight her outfit needed further alteration. I was worried that audiences might be blinded when stage lights struck the Mylar facets I’d used for my “Knight of the Mirrors” costume. Most of all, I was terrified I might not pull off this major commitment, given a minuscule budget and minimal support.
Our production was successful, yet one might have reasonably predicted the world would “little note nor long remember” it. Except, of course, for the unsuspected star in our midst, the one with the “impossible dream”. The hot young guy with the phenomenal voice who’d made so many hetero hearts go pitter-pat throughout that steamy summer. The one who’d soon escape the boonies for good. Because that guy was Scott Bakula, later famous for Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise, CSI: New Orleans, and Looking.
Did I learn—as Jessica Whistler does in “Sweet or Savory”—that some details in the everyday environment are worth noticing? Sadly, no. Decades later, I remain an unreconstructed auditory processor, far more attentive to the fictional voices in my head than to anything that appears in my field of vision. The wealth of information that most writers observe and draw upon still eludes me. I can only invent it.
Here’s an excerpt from “Sweet or Savory”:
I needed some straightforward feedback so I mustered what I hoped was a matter-of-fact tone. “Dykes don’t like me.”
Delaney didn’t even look up from the prefab bookcase we were assembling in my apartment. “But you’re a dyke.”
“Which makes the situation doubly frustrating.”
“I like you.”
“Well, duh. You’re my best friend—you don’t have a choice. But seriously, your average dyke doesn’t like me.”
Delaney studied me for a long moment. “I suppose you’re a tad femme-y to hang with the butch crowd—”
“Watch it, woman! Have you not seen me debone a chicken with wicked speed?”
“You have a point. Your knife skills suggest you’re a bit too butch for running with the lipstick ladies.”
I had to laugh—Delaney never pulled a punch. “I just don’t fit in anywhere.”
My pal spent more time tightening a screw than was strictly necessary. “I’d put you in the ‘Levi’s lesbian’ category—maybe you should try volunteering at All Out.” Which was the storefront theater where Delaney built flats, managed the soundboard, and reluctantly accepted an occasional supporting role. “I think you might find a few friends there. We’re just beginning work on a new play—”
“The Siobhan MacFayden piece you mentioned?”
“Yeah, and it’s a riot.”
I set aside the crumpled instruction sheet, saying, “That’s worth considering. But, as a general rule, I’m correct. Dykes don’t like me. Consider Corey.”
“I’d rather not,” Delaney said giving the Allen wrench a vicious twist. My best friend had never liked my long-gone lover. And she’d never made a secret of that.
“No, really. The only place we really clicked was in bed. Corey wanted me…bad…but that’s all. We had zero compatibility beyond the confines of the nearest mattress.”
“And yet that lasted for three years.”
“What can I say? I was a fool.”
Delaney turned toward me, grinning. And in a flash I saw her with total clarity, as if we were meeting for the first time. She was tall, no lightweight, though every ounce was firm and taut. Her thick, sandy hair was short, very nearly a brush cut. Her hands were strong, with long, slightly blunt fingers. No one would be startled to learn she was a lesbian. But her face was feminine, with high cheekbones and a lush, alluring mouth—something I was sure must annoy her whenever she passed a mirror, but I’d always found it incredibly appealing.
We’d become good friends eons ago at an IT startup, then become inseparable. Even after Delaney took a position with a rival firm, we spent all our free time in one another’s back pockets. For nearly a decade, we’d shared everything from homegrown tomatoes to best sellers to the pain of parental loss. We’d seen Hairspray at the Fox, worked phone banks for Obama, and even taken an Olivia cruise together, where I’d failed to find romance and Delaney hadn’t even seemed to be looking.
Something powerful hit me and suddenly I was breathless, my stomach alive with butterflies as I stared at her. Was I in love with this woman? I thought about it. I’d been called clueless more than once so maybe I’d overlooked the warning signs. To wit: Delaney was always my first choice as a plus-one, the person I’d want to live with on a desert island. I never tired of her company; she never failed to make me smile. What else could that mean? And now here I was, watching her, totally focused on our task, stretching for a tack hammer, broad shoulders flexing under a snug T-shirt. She was a topographical study in womanly anatomy, every swell and curve mapped with absolute fidelity.
Lea Daley has written fiction and poetry while raising children, claiming a lesbian identity, earning a BFA in painting, teaching preschoolers and college students, surviving the death of her only daughter, and heading a nonprofit agency that serves low-income working families. Her debut novel, Waiting for Harper Lee, was a Golden Crown Awards finalist and received a Lavender Certificate from the Alice B Readers Appreciation Committee. Her second book, FutureDyke, won a Goldie Award and was a Lambda Literary finalist.
Here’s the full blog tour schedule (go back and check the previous ones if you missed them). Next up is Cheri Crystal, blogging at Andi’s site, The Situation Room. I’ll see you again here next week.
June 6: Andi Marquette, blogging at her site (The Situation Room).
June 7: Jove Belle, blogging at her site.
June 8: Cheyenne Blue, blogging at her site.
June 9: Brey Willows, blogging at her site.
June 10: Lea Daley, blogging at R.G. Emanuelle’s site.
June 13: Cheri Crystal, blogging at Andi Marquette’s site.
June 14: CK Combs, blogging at Butchtastic.net.
June 15: Liz McMullen, blogging at her site.
June 16: Marie Sterling, blogging at R.G. Emanuelle‘s site.
June 17: Rebekah Weatherspoon, blogging at her site.
June 20: Jaye Markham, blogging at Andi Marquette‘s site.
June 21: Emma Weimann, at Andi Marquette‘s site
June 22: N.R. Dunham, blogging at her site.
June 23: Pascal Scott, at R.G. Emanuelle‘s site.
June 24: R.G. Emanuelle, blogging at her site.