Tag Archives: Paula Martinac

Cover and Excerpt Reveal: Dear Miss Cushman by Paula Martinac

Paula Martinac is back on the site today to reveal a new cover, this one for Dear Miss Cushman, a New Adult historical romance set in mid-19th century NYC, releasing from Bywater Books on December 7th! Here’s the story:

In 1850s Manhattan, 18-year-old Georgiana Cartwright witnesses the downfall of her father, a renowned actor who disgraces himself performing under the influence. When he deserts the family, Georgie is expected to save the day by marrying well. But she aspires to the stage, hoping to earn an independent living like her idol, the great actress Charlotte Cushman.

Hired as a supporting actress for a prominent theater company, Georgie launches her career with the help of a trio of young friends, including Clementine, a budding scribe determined to make her mark on the literary landscape—and to win Georgie’s heart. Early reviews garner Georgie the promise of a bright future, but then unwanted sexual advances from within the company threaten to derail her career.

Following Cushman’s lead, Georgie regains her footing in “breeches roles,” parts written for men but performed by women. A thrilling gender-bending turn in a Shakespearean role boosts her confidence—until her harasser renews his efforts. Will she be able to vanquish him and find success and love on her own terms?

And here’s the striking cover, designed by TreeHouse Studios!


Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | Bywater Books

But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt for your reading pleasure…

New York City, 1852

Chapter 1

When the audience began hissing, I knew Othello wasn’t going to end well. Their response jolted me. We weren’t at the Bowery Theatre, where the audience in the pit tossed apples and vegetables onto the stage if a performance didn’t please them. The Prince Theatre was one of New York City’s finest establishments, catering to the upper ten.

Worse, the actor they hissed at was my father.

I was attending my first theatrical performance ever. Incredible, given that my father was a renowned leading actor, but Mama maintained that theater wasn’t a place for young ladies. For my eighteenth birthday, she gave in to my pleading and permitted Uncle James to accompany me to my father’s performance of the Moor, one of his most acclaimed roles. Mama insisted I have a new dress, and my sister Maude oohed and aahed over the sky blue taffeta until I wanted to take it off and give it to her. I myself put little stock in puffy lady things, especially in pastel hues. Plus, the heavy horsehair crinoline the skirt required for shape made beads of sweat trickle down my stomach.

Still, I could abide these discomforts if it meant I got to sit beside my dapper uncle in his lushly adorned box, draped with red and gold silk, and marvel at the glistening gas-jet chandelier that lit the space. Best of all, I got to watch my father tread the boards as I’d imagined him doing, in full costume and makeup for the Moor and sporting his prize sword.

We were barely one act in when Pa dropped a few lines. Then more—even the ones I ran with him that morning “for good measure,” as he’d urged. He’d appeared in Othello dozens of times, but now the role appeared to baffle him. Although the movement made my stays pinch, I leaned forward, mouthing the words, willing them into his memory.

Taunts rose slowly through the cavernous parquet. Pa squinted toward the footlights in bewilderment, but then the leading gentleman and star in him recovered and soldiered on as if he hadn’t missed a cue. The drop came down on Act One, and Uncle James and I both exhaled relieved breaths.

In the second act, Pa missed more lines. The second gentleman playing Cassio attempted to cover the flubs and cue Pa again, but my father fled downstage as if trying to escape. Turning too quickly, he slid first to one knee, then to both, and ended up crouching on all fours staring down at the boards. A shocked “Oh!” rippled through the audience in the parquet seats. Cassio tried to lift my father, improvising a line the Bard never wrote—“Come, on your feet, general!” But the actor couldn’t manage it alone, and my father remained hunched like an animal frozen in fear of slaughter until the drop came down again.

“Is that the end?” a lady in the box next to ours said.

“This isn’t the way it goes,” her gentleman escort complained. “The Moor doesn’t die this soon!”

The audience response crescendoed into boos. Uncle James colored crimson. “We’re leaving,” he announced, spittle collecting at the corners of his lips. He tugged me to my feet. “Now, Georgiana.”

I badly wanted to stay and support Pa after this debacle, but my youth and sex meant I didn’t get a say in the matter. We exited my uncle’s box and the theater to his brougham, waiting in a tidy line of carriages on Broadway.

“Bond Street, Louis,” my uncle directed his driver.

Pa used to be able to handle the drink and still speak his lines beautifully. He bragged about having a hollow leg, that he never felt the impact of whiskey no matter how much he imbibed. In the past year or two, though, his memory had pickled. When I ran through his prompt books with him to refresh his recall, he sometimes dropped whole pages, skipping ahead without realizing what he’d missed.

Mama didn’t speak of Pa’s mounting difficulties around me and Maude. For us, she put on a bright face, but it was hard to miss the growing chasm between them, as wide as an orchestra pit, their overheard exchanges sharp and brittle.

Uncle James confronted Pa openly, without caring who heard. As a theater investor, he was a regular at the Prince, and he warned my father, “He’ll let you go, Will. Worth was hired to whip the company into shape after Bumby drove it into the ground. Your contract will be worthless paper if you continue to perform badly.” He pointed out a clause in the Prince’s official rules, instituted by the new manager, stipulating that any actor “unable from the effects of stimulants to perform” would be docked a week’s salary on first offense and thereafter subject to discharge.

My father’s response had sounded characteristically haughty—that the Prince couldn’t afford to lose William Cartwright, who had drawn crowds to match all the luminaries of the day, like Edwin Forrest and Charlotte Cushman. “That theater would collapse without me. Who would play my roles?”

“Worth’s a fine leading actor himself,” my uncle had noted.

Now, as our carriage clattered toward my home on Bond Street, Uncle James shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, Georgie.”

My stomach twisted this way and that, and not from our jostling over the cobblestones or the stench of horse dung wafting into the carriage. If Mr. Worth sacked my father, how would he earn a living? He’d never done anything but act. Maybe he would get a place at the Bowery or Barnum’s—lower rungs on the theater ladder, but at least he’d have an income. On the short trip up Broadway, my emotions ricocheted from anxiety to rage. If the head of our family tumbled, we were doomed to go right along with him.

“What will happen to him?” I asked. What I really meant was, what will happen to us?

“I can’t say,” Uncle James replied. “But you’re a smart girl, Georgie. You know the situation isn’t good. All we can do is hope Worth gives him another chance.” He saw me to our front door but declined to come in when Aggie, our cook and housekeeper, answered with a surprised “Mr. Clifford! You’re back so early!” I assumed he wanted to dodge telling my mother, his older sister, why he’d brought me home from my special evening two hours too soon.

That unpleasantness fell to me.

***

(c) Nancy Pierce

Paula Martinac is the author of seven novels—Dear Miss Cushman (forthcoming, 2021); Testimony (2021); Clio Rising (2019), Gold Medal Winner, Northeast Region, Independent Publishers Book Awards 2020; The Ada Decades (2017), finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction; the Lambda Literary Award-winning Out of Time (1990; 2012 e-book); the Lammy-nominated Home Movies (1993); and Chicken (1997; 2001 reprint). She teaches creative writing at University of North Carolina at Charlotte and at Charlotte Center for the Literary Arts. Sign up for her mailing list at paulamartinac.com.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Clio Rising by Paula Martinac

Today on the site  we’re revealing the cover for Clio Rising by Paula Martinac, historical fiction about a lesbian woman who embarks on a job as companion to a literary giant of the Paris expatriate generation—an octogenarian recluse who accomplished just one great novel. We also have an excerpt, so let’s get to it! Here’s the info on the book:

clio-rising.jpg

In 1983, Livvie Bliss leaves western North Carolina for New York City, armed with a degree in English and a small cushion of cash from a favorite aunt. Her goal is to launch a career in publishing, but also to live openly as a lesbian. A rough start makes Livvie think she should give up and head home, but then a new friend helps her land a job at a literary agency run by the formidable Bea Winston.

Bea hopes Livvie’s Southern charm and boyish good looks will help her bond with one of the agency’s most illustrious clients–the cranky Modernist writer Clio Hartt, an octogenarian recluse who accomplished just one great novel. When Livvie becomes Clio’s girl Friday and companion, the plan looks like it’s working: The two connect around their shared western North Carolina heritage, and their rapport gives Clio support and inspiration to think about publishing again.

But something isn’t quite right with Clio’s writing. And as Livvie learns more about Clio’s romantic relationship with playwright Flora Haynes, uncomfortable parallels emerge between Livvie’s own circle of friends and the drama-filled world of expatriate artists in Paris in the 1920s. In Clio’s final days, the writer shares a secret that could upend Livvie’s life–and the literary establishment.

And here’s the cover, designed by Ann McMan of Treehouse Studio! 

Clio Rising comes out April 23, 2019 from Bywater Books!

Preorder: B&N | AmazonIndieBound

***

Voila, the excerpt!

On the phone, Bea Winston had a smoky voice, and before I met her I pictured someone who sipped martinis in a sleek black cocktail dress, her hair impeccably coiffed—Marlene Dietrich maybe. In person, Bea resembled someone’s middle-aged mom, a leftover hippie-type, with shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair falling loose over a slightly wrinkled plum silk tunic. She came only to my shoulder, but when we shook hands, her grip belonged to a much taller woman.

Bea ran her finger down the single page of my accomplishments as if she were interested. Nothing really translated to this job, aside from a BA in English from UNC Asheville and an internship at the local newspaper, where I’d basically been a go-fer. She peered at me over her wire-frame aviator glasses and across the vast expanse of her oak desk. “‘Oh, lost!’” she quoted, out of nowhere.

Another applicant might have been puzzled by the line from Look Homeward, Angel, but I jumped at the bait. “Yes, ma’am, Asheville’s claim to fame.” Native son Thomas Wolfe had immortalized Asheville and its environs in his first novel.

“And you’ve read his work.”

“In my twentieth-century lit class, yes.” I was hedging, nervous that she’d ask me specifics I couldn’t dredge up. The two years between that class and the interview in Bea’s office were a gaping hole of vanished knowledge.

“An overrated writer, if you ask me,” she said, setting my resume aside in a way that suggested our interview was over and that I’d failed the test. But then she added, “I’m from Georgia myself, home to the great Flannery O’Connor. You wouldn’t know it because I divested myself of my accent in 1950. I stood in front of a mirror every evening and forced myself to form words differently.”

Bea leaned back in her chair, farther than seemed possible without toppling over. But she knew the limits of that chair—and just about everything else. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

I stammered for a few minutes about what a giant she was in publishing, how I admired her founding the first-ever woman-run agency—facts that Gerri had fed to me.

“No, what are you doing in New York? Good girls from Asheville get married and stay put. Especially girls named Olive Bliss.”

Her question seemed vaguely illegal, but I very much wanted to be myself everywhere. In particular, I wanted my first real job to let me be me, and Gerri had said she didn’t think Bea was homophobic.

“I’m gay,” I blurted out. “My family actually lives in Weaverville, which is even more small-town than Asheville. My folks don’t know about me.” I omitted the part about leaving because I was heartbroken, too.

“Did you dress that way back home?”

I glanced down at my outfit: khaki pants, navy blazer, and light-blue button-down shirt were my idea of business attire.

“Because if you did, they all know,” she observed.

My mother didn’t like the way I dressed, but she’d given up objecting to it when I went to college. My sisters didn’t try to set me up with men anymore. If they knew what to call me, none of them would ever use the word.

“Maybe,” I allowed with a shrug. “But New York seemed like the best place for me. And no, ma’am, I can’t change my name. But just so you know, everybody calls me Livvie.”

Bea moistened her lips, and I waited for a curt “Thank you, we’ll let you know” that didn’t come. As it turned out, I was just what she needed, in ways she didn’t divulge at the time.

“Well, I can see why you’d want to move,” she said. “So, Livvie.” I’d never heard my name sound so smooth or rich, like top-shelf bourbon. Livvie on the rocks, please. “I need you to start tomorrow. The place is in chaos. The kind you get when your last two assistants have been incompetent. So, if you can start tomorrow and handle enormous stress, the job is yours.” She said it paid twelve thousand a year, a princely sum when many advertised publishing jobs started at ten-five.

From a public phone on the corner I called my mother collect and told her I’d landed a good job with benefits in a nice clean office near Washington Square. Clean was very important to my mother; Washington Square meant nothing to her, but I threw it in because it sounded ritzy. I didn’t expect the audible whoosh from the other end of the line, as if she’d been holding her breath since I’d moved away, waiting for the call about her youngest daughter being mugged, or homeless, or anything else bad that could happen to a girl in New York City.

PaulaMartinac-web

Paula Martinac is the author of a book of short stories and five novels, including The Ada Decades, a finalist for the 2018 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. Her debut novel, Out of Time, won the Lambda Literary Award and was a finalist for the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian Book Award. Her short stories have appeared in Raleigh Review, Main Street Rag, Minerva Rising, Bloom, A&E, and many others. She has also published three nonfiction books on LGBT themes, including The Queerest Places: A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites, and authored plays that were produced in Pittsburgh, New York, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. She is a lecturer in the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a writing coach with Charlotte Center for the Literary Arts. Read more at paulamartinac.com.