Follow The Discreet Traveler by e-mail!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Moments: an end-of-year quote

One of the best books I read this year was Wanting, by the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan. The story has three historical threads, and one of them features a fictional Charles Dickens. In this passage, Flanagan's Dickens is speaking to Ellen Ternan.

"We have in our lives only a few moments. A moment of joy and wonder with another. Some might say beauty or transcendence. Or all those things. Then you reach an age, Miss Ternan, and you realize that moment, or, if you are very lucky, a handful of those moments, was your life. That those moments are all, and that they are everything. And yet we persist in thinking that such moments will only have worth if we can make them go on forever. We should live for moments, yet we are so fraught with pursuing everything else, with the future, with the anchors that pull us down, so busy that we sometimes don't even see the moments for what they are."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Signed copies available!

Contact me to order Arusha. Please provide your shipping address and how you would like the book signed. Thanks!

Monday, November 9, 2009

What kind of writer?

Nicola Griffith says: "In an AOL author chat many years ago, the moderator asked me, 'What kind of writer are you?' I said, 'A good one.' No doubt he meant, What genre do you work in?, but that's a question I've never been interested in answering. I write good novels. I aim to write great novels. Sometimes the publisher calls these novels science fiction, or lesbian fiction, or crime fiction, or historical fiction. I call them good books."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pictures from book tour

Reading in P'town, Women's Week

Thanks for the photos, Watty (above) and Wayne (below).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book launch in Toronto

Here is how ARUSHA is featured by Glad Day Bookshop: "Thoughtful, compelling story of a married-with-kids couple in '80s Tennessee--he's a homo and she's a dyke, and it all comes crashing down. The novel follows Edith (the wife) as she escapes the scorn of her small town and her family, and follows her lover to Arusha, an African town, to witness the Rwanda peace talks. It's been amazingly reviewed and the launch was wildly successful."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mary Travers

Blessed is her memory.

Click here for a gorgeous rendition of a song by Laura Nyro--who herself died of cancer, in her forties.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And the winner is...

It's official: a reader (that I know of) has received an actual, printed copy of Arusha. While some sites are still staying "pre-order" even though today is the 25th of August, the original Amazon bookstore managed to get a book from Minneapolis, where it is located, to New York City yesterday!

That's True Colors Bookstore, folks. Fastest draw in the Midwest. Or anywhere, apparently.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The USA needs and deserves better health care

There is a lot of fear and hatred coming out of the U.S. health care debate back home. But most of all, there is a lot of rubbish. Americans who have never lived in another country, and therefore experienced an alternative to the U.S. "system," are panicking about what they do not know.

I remember, when I lived in the U.S., a dying friend telling me, whatever I do, make sure my job offered health insurance. Since I've lived in other industrialized democracies, of course, that fear is gone. I never have to worry about losing health care, no matter what happens to my job.

But don't ask me--listen to veteran journalist T. R. Reid, whose family has lived all over the world.
One of his key points is that it is actually less costly--in both health and money terms--for other countries to pay for preventive care. Preventive care costs up front, but it works in the long run to keep people healthy, as well as save money. When health care is a public responsibility (i.e., in every industrialized democracy except the U.S.), there is an incentive to pay for prevention. In the U.S., where you typically change (or lose) insurance every few years, there is none.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Novel

Arusha is published today by Attitude Books (Spinsters Ink), in both print and e-book formats.
If you are in the Toronto area, I hope you will come to my book launch with Glad Day Bookshop.

For options outside Toronto, please see Buying Books? You Have Choices!

"Arusha is a quietly affective, gracefully written and heart-wrenching novel, written in an assured, convincing and sympathetic narrative voice, about a woman’s struggle to break free of the strictures of family, religion and societal convention and find her own kind of happiness."
-- Kim Moritsugu, author of The Restoration of Emily and The Glenwood Treasure

"A star is born. J.E. Knowles takes on lesbianism and a whole lot more in this novel of a nuclear family gone nuclear. She explores the damage done by the panicked, blatant homophobia that runs like a lit fuse through America. Her first novel is impressive in its characters, construction and evidence of storytelling talent. I hope we’ll be reading a lot more from Ms. Knowles."
-- Lee Lynch, author of Sweet Creek and The Amazon Trail

Friday, August 7, 2009

Canary in the coal mine

(Only italics are mine.)
Immigration Equality Blacklisted by Bush DOJ

The Washington Blade
reported on July 15 that, under President George W. Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. Department of Justice “blacklisted” a number of organizations focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) and immigration rights, among other issues, in a campaign to deny employment to applicants who worked for “liberal” organizations.

The blacklist, which referred to DOJ’s honors and intern programs, included one national LGBT group: Immigration Equality.

Rachel B. Tiven, Immigration Equality’s executive director, said in a statement that we were “proud to be the only national LGBT organization included in the Bush Justice Department’s list of dangerous organizations” and that “opponents of equality and justice are right to fear us.”

“While few gay rights groups are included on the DOJ’s blacklist, immigrant advocacy groups make up 25 percent of the list,” she said. “The rights of non-citizens are the canary in our constitutional coal mine, and LGBT people, both immigrants and non-immigrants, know that immigrant rights must be zealously defended for everyone’s sake.”

To read the full story, click here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

May his memory be a blessing: E. Lynn Harris

Novelist E. Lynn Harris has died suddenly, and too young.

Harris was one of the few writers whose new book I always had to read. Every time. Even when I couldn't afford to buy it in hardcover.

Here are three reasons he inspired me:

1. When he wrote his first, groundbreaking novel, publishing "wisdom" said no one wanted to read about black gay men. Since Harris couldn't get anyone to publish Invisible Life, he started selling it himself. Eventually, he sold millions.

2. I am neither African-American, nor male, nor bisexual. Yet Harris took me into the minds and hearts of those characters, and made me feel their emotions. Showing me something I could never experience in real life is one of the great gifts of fiction.

3. In some ways, I could relate to Harris's stories more than those of almost any white and/or lesbian writer. Faith and family are very important in the lives of many of his characters--as they are in mine.

We have lost a great storyteller.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Immigration Equality is the U.S. organization that works on immigration issues that affect LGBT people. Of necessity, they work at the federal level.

One of their most important issues is helping "binational" couples, i.e., where one partner is American and the other is not, and therefore must either leave the country or be separated. However, they are also reporting that the HIV ban is nearing its end.

I don't know how many people are aware of the fact that people with HIV or AIDS are legally banned from entering the United States--even for one day. Foreigners living with HIV in the U.S. are required to leave. This ban dates from the earliest days of the AIDS crisis and has never been repealed.

Incredibly, until the 1990s people who were "mentally ill or homosexual" were also banned from entering the U.S., even as visitors. It is high time people were no longer treated this way.

The LA Daily News is reporting on the unprecedented efforts of Congress to recognize same-sex relationships as part of immigration reform. (Don't hold your breath...)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Proud Authors Read

Thank you to my friends and supporters who came to hear Rachel Spangler and me read at the Church of the Holy Trinity. This was a special Pride Sunday, because it was exactly 40 years ago, in the early hours of June 28, 1969, that the modern gay rights movement began at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Police, enforcing the discriminatory laws of that time, raided the Stonewall, and gay men, lesbians, and people who would be described today as bisexual and transgendered fought back. For three days. Those were some angry queers!

One measure of the progress we have made, at least in some countries like Canada, is the massive number of police officers who marched today in the Pride Parade, along with proud members of the armed forces. None of this don't ask, don't tell %$#! The Pride theme was reflected in our audience, a wonderfully diverse group in terms of age, ethnicity, ability, orientation and gender. The more readers, the better is what I say!

Now, unbeknownst to me when I planned this event was that the service would be joined on Sunday by our Spanish-speaking congregation. Which meant that our reading had to follow a sacred salsa dance. Rachel bravely plugged away through the bilingual chaos, and all was well. I especially appreciate the support of my fellow writers: Carol Lawlor, an original member of my writing group who helped me with Arusha for years; and Jeffrey Round, author of The P-town Murders and Death in Key West, whom I met just a couple of months ago at another reading. Toronto writers are the best!

Thanks to the people of the church for hosting this event. They have welcomed me from the first days I ever spent in Toronto. As our new Pride banner says, "Every day is Pride Day at Holy Trinity."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Uniting American Families

UPDATE: This morning a Senate committee is actually hearing couples speak on this issue. Which has never been addressed in Congress before.

Meanwhile, President Obama has proclaimed June Pride Month.

The Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their partners for immigration (as married people can), has just been endorsed by the Washington Post.

There are an estimated thirty-five thousand same-sex couples in the United States who are of different nationalities. Who knows the number of us who had to leave the country because we fell in love with a foreigner?

The American Bar Association has also endorsed the UAFA.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"I shall hear in heaven!"

These are reputedly the last words of Ludwig von Beethoven, who composed some of the greatest works in music while completely deaf. Fifth Symphony, anyone?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Buying Books? You Have Choices!

**Additions to my independent bookstore "Hall of Fame":

Women & Children First, Chicago, Illinois

Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Kentucky

Now Voyager, Provincetown, Massachusetts

Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

Many of you have probably heard by now of the Easter weekend “glitch” at that caused sales rankings to be dropped from thousands of books, by authors including James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, and E. Annie Proulx. The arbitrary (and, it now seems, reversed) classification of these titles as “adult” kept readers from searching for them, and therefore buying them, while books with graphic violence and heterosex were curiously not affected.

I’m not saying not to buy from a certain online bookseller (whose name originally belonged to an independent women’s bookstore in Minneapolis). But I was reminded of something useful: We do have choices in where we buy books.

(1) We can go to a local bookstore and browse. Many independent bookstores have unfortunately closed, but in Toronto we are still blessed with several: This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Glad Day Bookshop. Whenever I am in another city, I try to visit theirs: the Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago; Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C.; Left Bank Books in St. Louis. Independent bookstores focus on readers first, so if they don’t have the book you want on the shelf, they will special order it for you, usually any book in print.

(2) We can try the chain bookstores. Many of the staff are book lovers too, and happy to help by stocking the books customers want. You never know until you ask!

(3) We can shop online. Sure, everybody knows the biggest names but what about Powell's Books is independent, unionized, and in addition to all the new books you can buy elsewhere, has the widest selection of used and out-of-print titles. So you can buy your favorite author’s new book, and at the same time, pick up something she published years ago that you might miss otherwise.

And you don’t have to give them your credit card number; you can use PayPal. Other online booksellers specialize, like their “bricks and mortar” counterparts., which sells Spinsters Ink and other titles, explicitly does not track or monitor any information about what their customers order.

Just remember what I, myself, had temporarily forgotten: You have choices. Exercise them, and enjoy!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lost Souls

This is a new novel just published by Carol Lawlor. Set in 1960s Montreal, Lost Souls is about Tanya Kowalski, a psychiatric nurse who suspects that the great Dr. Strachan is abusing his patients. When she turns journalist and teams up with Max Callaghan to investigate Strachan, she uncovers the use of LSD, links to the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency, and psychiatric survivors who are determined to bring Strachan to justice.

I've had the privilege of reading Carol's work in draft form, and I can vouch for the quality of this story. The atmosphere is vividly realized, the characters are well drawn, and the tension is nonstop. I also laughed a lot reading it--comic relief is very important for me.

I'm not a reviewer and rarely plug books in a public forum, but you will not be disappointed if you pick up Lost Souls.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Handle of Faith

"Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith."

--Dwight D. Eisenhower, accepting the Republican nomination for President of the USA, 1956

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ride a Wild Horse

This is a poem that has stuck with me for more than twenty years. The poet, Hannah Kahn, is worth reading about too. "Ride a Wild Horse" is at the Web site of the Hannah Kahn Poetry Foundation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


On the 20th of January, I was present at the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the USA. My overwhelming sense was of everybody coming together and being nice to each other. We were all so excited, not about a president of one race (he is biracial), but about a president of a united nation. I know it meant something special to African-Americans, and I was surrounded by them, along with Kenyans, Canadians, and people from all over the world.

My day began with a ride in to North Capitol Street, with a taxi driver who articulated quite detailed proposals for what Obama should do about crime, energy, and foreign policy. He was a big fan of both Hillary Clinton and the Obamas, but as for the former president (boy, that sounds good!) he said it just goes to show that Harvard is better than Yale! After he dropped me off, he was going to take his two daughters to the Inauguration.

At one point the driver referred, in his heavy accent, to “my country,” and I thought he meant the country where he was born. So I asked which one? He said “United States!” with such indignation that I didn’t ask again! After all, I know what it means to immigrate.

That set the tone for the rest of Inauguration Day. The doors of Union Station had “Joy” and “Hope” signs on them. (And the portable toilets were reasonably clean, even had paper!) There were tons of security personnel, and on one side of Pennsylvania Avenue they seemed a lot less prepared to give information than on the other side of the National Mall. But even when one or two people got frustrated, the mood was so positive. Nobody pushed or was unpleasant. I have never experienced anything like it and emotionally, I’m still taking it all in. At the time I just wanted to absorb the images and the moment, and savor them later.

From Union Station, where I could see the Capitol dome glowing in the dark, I made my way down to behind the Canadian Embassy. This was a security checkpoint and Canadian residents (and many hundreds of others) were lining up to get in. There was one lady with a megaphone and I’m afraid we couldn’t hear her announcements at all, so this meant two hours of basically no movement while (I think) ticket holders were let in first. Eventually, I learned that this entrance was for the parade route only (the inaugural parade, scheduled for seven and a half hours later!) and I decided I wasn’t in town to watch a Jumbotron. I wanted to be on the Mall. So after several false starts I found a bicycle cop, who was warming himself on a grate like homeless people would if they had been allowed in the area. This officer seemed confident that I needed to cross under the Mall to get in to the viewing area for the general public.

Let me say that all the security services were doing a great job, but some of them only knew one thing, like “this is the exit.” A flight attendant I met later told me that many of these folks were volunteers. I presume this didn’t apply to the sniper on the roof behind us!

I left the Canadians still standing in line for the security checkpoint, and took off with many other people to walk through the 3rd Street Tunnel. Fortunately, there was lots of space and people kept moving, plus I could see the symbolic light at the end of the tunnel! I cannot overemphasize the cheerfulness of the crowds, and I was glad to be moving again, as my feet were getting pretty cold. (Note: pack extra socks for the first woman’s inauguration!)

On the other side of the Mall, there were suddenly tons of volunteers, plus a few cute soldiers, telling us where to go. Very friendly attitude, and vendors everywhere too. Memorabilia, not food. Somewhere around the appropriately ugly Dept. of HUD, a black man with a very good voice led us in singing “We Want Obama Right Now” to the tune of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” One of the ladies near me at the bottleneck near 14th St. said, “If people didn’t want anybody touching them, they came to the wrong place!” We laughed a lot.

So we walked all the way from 3rd to 14th Streets, waited for some vehicles (buses bringing in the marching bands), then all of a sudden the way was clear to the Mall—and the bathrooms! I never had to clear security. Too far back. I am so proud that the Inauguration was free to anyone who wanted to come, and that no one ever said, “Don’t come,” or discouraged people, just because the crowds would be large.

Anyway on the wide-open space it felt a lot less crowded than it probably looked on television. I always forget how huge the Mall is. I was hanging around the base of the Washington Monument. Near me were two young white women, probably lovers, and a Spanish-speaking family with young children. People kept going over and under the chain that ropes off the sidewalk there, trying to see the Jumbotron better. Strangers would help each other. Many folks went all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial because there was another big screen back there, but I stayed as high as I could get. From there, I could see the Capitol, and hear the sound pretty well—occasionally bouncing off the Monument. There was a group of people protesting Guantanamo Bay. (Within hours, President Obama got the military tribunals suspended there. One of his first acts as president.)

The first thing I heard was the MC, who I now know was Senator Dianne Feinstein, announcing former President Clinton. When President Bush was announced, I heard the crowd boo—I just laughed, I couldn’t help it. As a character says in Emma Donoghue’s Landing: “There’s a special high you only get from dumping someone you stayed with far too long.”

Then Rick Warren gave the invocation. Before the inauguration, there was a huge amount of attention paid to “how homophobic is Warren?” But for me, the high point of the entire ceremony was the closing prayer by Joseph Lowery, who has a rather different position. More on that in a moment.

Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, et al played John Williams’s “Simple Gifts” variation, which sounded to me like a ripoff of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite. And around this, the vice president and president took their respective oaths of office. I did not hear until later how Chief Justice John Roberts had administered the words out of order, but both men have since cleaned it up.

And then we heard the inaugural address, which was directed to the world as much as to us who were there. It was important to me, not that I could see the president, but that he could see us. All of us on this vast area of land, the Mall, which was once used for slave markets. All the way down to the memorial to President Lincoln, who signed the death warrant for slavery.

A gentleman asked me to take his picture with that memorial in the background, and then offered to take mine. He told me to have a blessed year—not day, but year! Only later did I absorb the significance of two strangers, a white girl from the South and a black man, taking each other’s pictures at the Lincoln Memorial. The place where Martin Luther King, Jr. (who would have been 80 a few days before) delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

As I made my way back, I heard Joseph Lowery’s benediction: “We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right. Let all who do justice and love mercy say Amen! Amen! Amen!” The most moving part of my whole day was walking in that multicolored crowd of people, laughing, and repeating those “Amens.”

On the bus, I met the flight attendant who told me about all the local preparations. It turned out she went to East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, where I was born. Altogether it felt like a very small world.

I had told the taxi driver that I’m a writer. So when he let me out, he said, “I hope you get a good report!” I hope I did, too. Have a blessed year.