here for its debut Gretchen Blickensdefer's new trailer for her book The Last Circle! it is an anmazing trailer! I don't like many book trailers but this one is done very well!
Gretchen Blickensderfer InterviewI am so excited! as this weekend I got to interview an amazingly talented and wonderful person, Gretchen Blickensdefer, author of The Last Circle. If you read my review from yesterday then you know how much I enjoyed Gretchen's book and how much I have come to admire her as a person.
The Last Circle is a amazing book filled to the brim with conflict, Laura is the leader of a group of pagans, Shelby is a Christian woman set to right the wrongs she thinks have been made in the name of God. When Laura's Coven defies Shelby and performs a public pagan ritual Shelby goes on a rampage and Laura's people pay the price. now on the run the coven move from place to place seeking asylum only to have Shelby on their heels every time. Is there a traitor among them?
Gretchen blew me away with her talent in this book but most of all she blew me away with her incredible spirit as a person. When hearing about the trials and suffering she has been through and how she has risen above it made me see what an incredibly strong woman she is and how truly blessed I am to have her as a friend.
you don't want to miss out on your chance to read this book as it's conflicts between the politics, religions, and sexuality will leave you captivated from the very beginning.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you delve into the world of writing?
I was born and raised in Manchester, England. In the late seventies/eighties it was hardly the celebrated, sprawling world-recognized cultural Mecca that it would like very much to be today. Actually the only tourists we usually saw were Americans who had got lost on the way to Scotland. Anyway, I was educated at a very strict grammar school where I was bullied quite mercilessly – to the point where England represented nothing but torment and a feeling that I was worthless in every way. Before the rise of the internet, America was marketed by the television programs the BBC and ITV bought. Through shows like Dallas and Starsky and Hutch, I became quite enamored with the country and, like many of the kids on our street, believed it to be a place where anything was possible. Early childhood role models were Huggy Bear, the Bionic Woman, a Cylon, Kimberly Drummond and, ever so briefly, Manimal (oh, and I wanted Quincy M.D. to be a long lost Uncle who would walk fearlessly into my headmasters office at North Cestrian, rant about what a scum filled hell-hole he was running, say something rather profound and slightly melodramatic and walk out, slamming the door behind him.)
When I was 18, I embarked on a foreign exchange to the United States and ended up in New Albany, Indiana. This wasn’t by choice. The exchange company picked it for me despite my impassioned pleas for Los Angeles, New York or Miami (because of Miami Vice). However I had one of the greatest years of my life in high school there and never looked back. It’s really been a non-stop adventure and learning experience here since 1988. Like any home, there are things about America that I love and there are things that get on my nerves (basically any evangelical non-profit that uses the words “family”, “moms”, “truth”, “coalition”, “values”, “judeo-christian”, “national”, “organization”, or “marriage” in its title along with health insurance companies, erectile dysfunction commercials and White Castle) but America will always be home despite the fact that, in the past 20 years, England has lapped it as far as equality for all.
But how could I ever go back? I have finally found a job I love as a journalist for the Windy City Times, I sit on the boards of an incredible college and a just as beloved theatre, I am happily married to the love of my life—a wonderful and beautiful woman destined to become a renowned rock violinist—we live in the amazing city of Chicago with our 5 month old Dachshund and—when we’re not out seeking enough trouble to keep life interesting or I’m not spending time as my wife’s groupie— we have turned our kitchen into a foodie lab inspired by a library of recipe books and, “Gretchen, (well practiced, protracted sigh) you’ve been chopped. Judges?”
My writing started when I was a first year (11-year-old) at North Cestrian. I sat down one day and tried to express the blind terror I felt every morning before school in a story called “The Horrors of 1X” (1X was the name of my class/homeroom). Once I had got over the obnoxiously-sized hurdle of the first word, I discovered that I couldn’t stop. Of course, I also reaped it’s many therapeutic benefits. But I never thought seriously about it as a career. In fact, I tried acting for about 20 years. However, in 2006, two things happened: I spent time in LA which does a great job of killing any love for the art of acting and I started transitioning from male to female. Laverne Cox hadn’t hit the big time back then and most of the plum transgender roles were going to cisgender actors and actresses in need of an Oscar. I once spent a number of years as a film critic for an Indianapolis morning news show and it reminded me just how much joy I felt stringing words together, for good or for ill depending on the film (I once noted that Vin Diesel didn’t need to be on a movie screen, he needed to be studied in a Petri dish). So into words I went and, much like America, I’ve never looked back.
Q: Can you please tell us a little about your book The Last Circle and what inspired you write it?
The ten second pitch is: a right wing, evangelical theocracy rises to power in the United States and a group of Pagan and LGBT friends must flee the country to survive.
When I was considered an average heterosexual male (albeit one with “eccentricities” that were only ever seen in public on Halloween) I never paid that much attention to groups like the Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, Mission America, One Million Moms, etc. The list goes on but—since I was wrapped up in my own world and my own problems—their particular brand of hyperbole was quite easily ignored, even when Bush Jr. was president.
Part of transitioning involved spending a full year as a gender non-conformist (the PC terms change a lot in our community. I think this is what’s en vogue right now). During that year, I was attacked by a gang in downtown Chicago whom I recall began their assault with “get the faggot!” I also found myself the target of both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning Christians who advised me to “repent of my abomination.” This especially occurred on trips down to Indianapolis. There’s a sign on I-65 just south of Chicago. It’s been there for decades and it says “Hell is Real.” Drive a further 140 miles south to Indianapolis, and you end up understanding why.
Anyway—despite all of this— I became a bit of a pragmatist once the clock struck forties. I never forgot the bullying I went through as a child and the subject started to fascinate me. Whether on the playground, internet or a Chicago street, the bully is informed by society as to what generally makes a person a target. To wit: we live in a western world that where being a slender, Cosmopolitan endorsed drinking straw is well marketed. Thus being overweight does not fit within societal expectations, thus such a person is a target. Western society has created its model images of a good looking and charismatic male and female. Watch any toy commercial on a Saturday morning for miniature versions of said models. Therefore, if you are a child and you wear glasses, have one too many pimples or tend towards the shy, you are a target. In my case, I broke the sacred gender binary by being an effeminate boy. I “ran like a girl” or “played a like a girl” and this was terrifying enough for the male psyche’s around me to want to attack.
When I came out, I joined the LGBTQ community and all of a sudden words like “abomination”, “freak” and “deviant” were tossed in my direction. Who was informing the bullies? That’s when I got on the internet. I spent months, trudging through right wing websites and, what I saw was—at the
same time—fascinating and chilled both blood and bone. I once read an essay by Josef Goebbels in history class entitled “The Jews are Guilty.”It was written in 1941 and was a basic laundry list of each of Germany’s woes and why Goebbels maintained the Jews had caused them. If you look at both that essay and, say a Bryan Fischer blog on homosexuality or Jerry Falwell claiming in 2001 that gays and lesbians caused 9/11 or any of Bill Whatcott’s speeches and they aren’t so different. It is actually sobering if you pause and think that the only thing that once separated Goebbels from the people who suddenly sat up and took his propaganda seriously was a fragile economy. Rather like an abusive parent with a leather belt, history is merciless when it comes to repeating hard lessons. It occurred to me that—if hate is allowed to be seeded without answer—even if one dismisses such hate as “radical”, in the right climate, it can grow out of control and the results are terrifying.
Hollywood does milk a monster to the point where they aren’t that frightening any more. Vampires, werewolves and even the poor zombie are becoming so every-day trite that the mystery that was once such a vital part of the horror is gone. So, if Transylvania has been put to bed by some glittery teenage angst, where do you find the monsters to keep you awake at night? The real monsters; the ones whom studios can never trivialize no matter how many sequels, prequels, remakes or reboots they churn out, are to be found amongst human beings.
Linda Harvey writes extensively about Pagans and homosexuals in her books and on her blog Mission America. She writes about them in a way that informs the bully with the right amount of fear. “What’s the significance of the sudden appeal of teen paganism, even witchcraft?” She said in the promotion of one of her books. “Is fortune-telling and spell-casting just a new version of teen rebellion or a more sinister development?”
I’ve only been an observer at Wiccan circles. You don’t find a more benign, peaceful or close group of people. There’s something spiritually free about them, as if—unrestrained by dogma—they have found the liberty to live without the fear of judgment because of the way they look, or their beliefs or the people they choose to call friends. I know quite a few LGBTQ people who are Wiccan. They have found the ability to be themselves while maintaining the spirituality for which they hungered. The belief crosses lines of gender, race and culture. I wonder if this sort of spiritual freedom is what upsets Ms. Harvey and those like her so very much—perhaps in the same way that the Anabaptists upset Martin Luther and his mob.
Anyway, that’s how it all came together. The Last Circle is not just a story about history repeating itself. It’s about the monsters who walk among us and the ones who have the microphone. It is also a story about the friendship of a Wiccan circle and explores just how far you can push it, or any close group of people before those friendships can be become strained.
Q: Can you tell us about your writing process? Which comes first? The character’s story or the idea for the novel?
The idea. The characters developed themselves as the story went along. That’s the fun of writing. The mechanics of a story are not always set down on some excel spreadsheet. Since you nurture your characters and you essentially write their first steps into the world you are creating, they do eventually take a life of their own and you love them for it. I honestly did not know how this book was going to end, (who the turncoat in the circle was) until at least 70% of the way through. It may not have been the most marketing savvy move in the world, but it felt right for the character.
When I wrote the last word of the last rewrite, I actually thought, “damn, you know I’m going to really miss Laura, Jack, Irvin, Matt, Rich, Megan, Helen and even Shelby.” Actually, especially Shelby since writing the antagonist is always a joy.
So—for me— the process is one of discovery. For my long suffering wife who has read and listened to the book, oh I’d say at least seventy times, the process is one of patience.
Q: For so many years bullying has been a major problem around the world, not just for religious and LGBT rights but for everyday people too. If you could change one thing about bullying what would it be?
See above. Look I am not about to advocate that we stymie anyone’s free speech. Speakers Corner in London is a perfect microcosm of why opinions make life interesting. However, I think we should never forget the lessons of history. To those who say “the Gays or the Pagans are guilty”, we should speak in a louder and unified voice that demonstrates to the world how wrong they are about us and, —as Gandhi discovered—if that means absorbing a few blows, well—between himself and the British Empire who was the nobler in spirit and therefore victorious at the end? It wasn’t the bully.
Now it is happening here. Slowly but surely, people like Whatcott, Fischer and Brown are watching the world move ahead without them, while the absolutes in which they have cemented themselves show more cracks every day. That’s because people are standing up together, they are finding the courage and so their voices are louder. So much so that the bullies are themselves are now claiming to be the victims. Shrewd marketing tactic. In fact people like Scott Lively and Peter LaBarbera are invading other countries in an attempt to get them round to their way of thinking. In Russia, Nigeria and Uganda they have succeeded. They were allowed the louder voice and the subsequent results to the LGBTQ communities in those countries are not so far removed from the events described in The Last Circle. However it was encouraging to see that—when Mr. LaBarbera attempted to annex Canada—no one wanted to listen to him and he left with his tail between his legs.
So who shows the greater strength of purpose? The two or three kids in a rural Texas high school who unite and wear the Day of Silence t-shirts or the masses who surround and torment them? Who, in the end, has the nobility to one day be victorious?
The answers are easy but the courage and the will to stand up to the bully is not.
So what would I change? I would endow the child or the adult who is being targeted with the fortitude and temerity to speak with the louder voice. To understand, to really believe in their heart and souls that they have the greater nobility and that their lives will improve one day and quite dramatically too.
In 2000, I reached the lowest point of my life. I was being bullied for my “effeminate eccentricities.” I attempted suicide twice. Had I succeeded on either occasion, I would never have known that joyous day on January 21st 2009 when I woke up from surgery with the body I had never believed possible. I would never have met Sarah. I would never have found the answer to the conundrum of happiness in those little moments of heaven that is watching ne of her concerts, sitting by the fire in our little one bedroom with a movie and glass of mulled wine, a walk on the beach together or playing with our puppy.
That’s why I am donating a portion of the profits of The Last Circle to the It Gets Better Project among others who fight for LGBTQ people. Not because it’s a fashionable cause or I hope to get a whiff of Mr. Savage’s after shave one day, but because they are right.
Q: In the past twenty or so years, there's been a huge increase in the amount of material available to people -- Wicca,Paganism and LGBT rights have gone mainstream, and a lot of that is thanks to authors like you. Not all the feedback is good however and we are still struggling although not everyone sees it everyday. What positive and negative -- do you see affecting the people and religion as a whole?
I hope it’s thanks to authors like me. You’ll have to tell me whether I did you any justice at all. I mean, with all due respect to Ms. Rowling, Mr. Whedon, Ms. Burge and the like, I think that kind of work did the Pagan community the major disservice that sensationalizing any one group often does.
In The Last Circle, Shelby’s warped view of Paganism is partly shaped by such sensationalism. I think both she and Linda Harvey have a great deal in common.
I used to watch the overly painted actors playing trans people who appeared on Jerry Springer or Maury f**cking Povich and say “they don’t represent me!” When I came out to my mum, she said “Oh no! You’re a drag queen!” I have Ru Paul to thank for that one.
I did not want to do that to the Pagan community. I did not want to create visions of broomsticks, spells designed to cause ordinary household objects to explode or rituals held as a vehicle to burn either a self-righteous Scottish Christian or a rather subpar American actor (depending on which version one favors). I wanted this to be a story about people, their beliefs and how far they are willing to go to protect them.
Sometimes you must to extend to the world the real stories of who we are and do so consistently. Take away the mystery and you take away the fear. As a trans person, I believe that things are only now starting to get better because some actual stories regarding the journeys of my peers are being told in a positive non-sensationalistic manner. Now I am not talking about the kind of questions Ms. Couric likes to ask (to which I think the general response should be, “oh, honey”) I’m talking about the people who are writing about their journeys, you-tubing them in some cases or coming forward without the unwelcome hands of Povich and the like.
I know some feel that standing out from a crowd is part of a community identity and should be embraced, but I believe the image of the LGBTQ and Pagan communities as regular people, no different from Mr. and Mrs. Brown, Jonathan and Judy are the ones we need to project. Oh and
Paddington- because, he’s cute and you know, gays and their marmalade sandwiches.
Q: With the vast amounts of information out there right now for people new to Wicca,Paganism and LGBT rights, I am sure you often get emails, messages, and whatnot from people who ask, 'What should I read, look for etc.?' If you were to recommend some books or websites out there on the subject that what would they be -- and why?
Actually website wise, I think you will find the most compelling information in the personal blogs of both Pagan and LGBTQ people. I know a few who have started them.
At their core, most people want to be heard. This is why social media has been so successful. I know people on Facebook whose need is so great that they check in on Foursquare when they go to the 7/11 or announce that there will be a brief delay in their posts while they use the restroom because they need to piss like a racehorse and they’ve been holding it on order to catch the last four minutes of Dancing with the Stars. How do you comment on that?
However, while one may sometimes feel like an unwelcome voyeur, the blogs are just beautiful since they are slices of real lives that are far beyond the crap that reality TV throws up.
In my own journey, I was helped immeasurably by a trans woman who put up a roadmap/pathway to her transition on her blog. It laid it all out from therapy, to HRT to reassignment and she was extremely frank about things like problems she was facing re: insurance and the like. I got to know a perfect stranger through her writing and was both informed and inspired.
As far as books, there are naysayers out there who are hopping around because self publishing means “anyone can write but not everyone should write.” I disagree. Yes some of the stuff out there may lack finesse, but once again an outlet has been opened for everyday people to put their stories out there for the word to see without running into the Rottweilers who zealously guard an agent/publisher from the slush pile.
Regardless, there are some real non-fiction gems on the self-publishing market (way too many to list here) that provide a real glimpse into once shadowed lives and—in their own way—are a guide to pathways on which one can travel armed with the informed knowledge of someone who has been down them already.
Q: Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Nope. Call me a cliché, but Smoking was it.
However, today—thanks to both my wife and my doctor—to quote John Cleese
“that particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off.”
Q: What books/authors have influenced your life?
You’re waiting for me to say Margaret Atwood right?
Actually Enid Blyton when I was a child. I seriously believed that a tree in my back garden was the Faraway Tree and that—if I pressed my ear closely to the trunk—then I could hear conversations between Silky, Moonface and Mr. Whatsisname.
Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein took a firm hold of my teenage years.
However the clear winner in my life is Douglas Adams. His dry observations on life were both brilliant and devilishly shrewd. One of my favorite sentences of his: “This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
Well said indeed.
Q: What is next for you? Do you have any scheduled upcoming releases or works in progress?
Yes I am working on a treatment for a screenplay entitled ‘The Department’ with a very talented chap named Bobby Hundley. Once again, I wanted to create a new kind of monster and I think we found one together: collection agents.
Q: Thank you so much for the interview, Gretchen. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and where everyone can buy your book?
Well you can go to my website www.thelastcirclebook.com
The book has a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thelastcirclebook
Or you can find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20299894-the-last-circle
And on Amazon:
Or you can go for the Giveaway HERE. Three paperbacks at 100% off.
(Certain restrictions apply. Must act your age and not your shoe size. Offer does not apply to people living on planets other than earth, people who star in reality shows about ‘real’ housewives and/or certain species of spider.)