I am thrilled to welcome Eliza Lentzski to Author Spotlight today. Her book Winter Jacket intrigues me as a wonderful character study between two women searching for ‘something’ in a world where they find each other and might be what they least expect and yet most need. I’ll look forward to reading this one.
1. Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
Can I say all of them? No? Okay. It’s hard, as the author, not to have an affinity for every character you create; there’s a little bit of yourself in every one of them and that makes you like them all the more. For the protagonists, I love Elle’s social awkwardness. Despite her advanced education, she has a hard time completing sentences and I find that endearing. I also really love Hunter’s quiet intensity. She’s not going to be intimidated by anything life throws at her, and she’s especially not going to let herself be intimidated by Dr. Elle Graft.
But my favorite character in Winter Jacket is Elle’s best friend, Troian. She gets the best lines of dialogue and is that comedic relief that keeps the characters from taking themselves too seriously. She kept me as a writer from taking myself too seriously as well. Troian is really the ultimate best friend. She’s loyal to a fault, she always has Elle’s best interests in mind, but she’s not afraid to kick Elle in the head when she’s self-destructing. She and Nikole are certainly the voice of reason in this book when Elle seems hell-bent on ruining everything.
2. What inspires you for your stories?
I find inspiration just about everywhere. It’s in the weather and my Midwest environment – a particularly stubborn winter; a fresh, airy spring day. It’s in the music I listen to that sets the mood for particular scenes. Every couple I’ve ever written has a Go-to song or musical artist that, regardless of how stubborn my Writer’s Block may be, successfully chisels through that stagnancy.
3. Tell us something no one else knows about you.
That’s actually a hard question because I consider myself an open book. Something that’s probably unexpected though is my obsession with spectator sports. On a piece of paper I’m a writer and a historian with a PhD, so when people meet me for the first time they probably think I’m super cerebral. But there’s few things I enjoy more than watching sports and yelling at the TV.
4. What genre classification would you put on your book and what would you consider the heat level of the romance?
Winter Jacket is a lesbian romance novel more so than erotica. I was very mindful about the “heat” level of Elle and Hunter’s relationship. There’s playful banter and sexual tension throughout and I wanted the novel to be sexy, no doubt, but I didn’t want to travel into “lurid” territory at the risk of it turning into a tired student/teacher cliché. I was very careful to create two characters who see and treat each other as equals, regardless of the age and/or experience gap.
5. When did you start writing and what kicked off your passion to be an author?
I started writing fiction at a really young age; I benefited from fantastic elementary teachers who encouraged and nurtured my enthusiasm for books. My 5th-grade teacher was particularly formative. I vividly remember acting out scenes from A Wrinkle In Time in class and transforming our classroom with butcher-block paper into the subway in Slake’s Limbo and eating saltines with ketchup. I wrote my first novel in the 5th grade, too. Mutation in the Sea was the story of twin siblings who, like a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Mystery, solved marine-based mysteries that baffled even the police.
Reading was the foundation of my zeal for writing fiction. From a very young age I fell in love with words. Judy Blume taught me everything I needed to know about being a girl, The Babysitter’s-Club series taught me about true friendship, and Nancy Drew told me it was okay to be curious and to ask questions.
I grew up in a tiny Midwest town, so small we didn’t have stoplights. I remember in the summer months riding my bike along the abandoned railroad tracks with my younger sister to the public library, each of us with an empty backpack strapped to our backs. We’d go to the library at least once a week, fill our book bags up with novels, and ride our bikes back home to do nothing but read all summer long. In fact, whenever I acted out as a child, my parents’ punishment was not allowing me to read.
If you could see the inside of my head, it’s just Words, Words, Words. Story ideas and dialogue are continually running through my brain. If I didn’t write and spill those words out on the page, I’d probably talk to myself a lot more than I already do.
Winter Jacket blurb:
It all started with a broken classroom heater…
Graduate school prepares you for many things – the rigor of academic life, how to pull consecutive all-nighters, and living off a meager stipend without having to be roommates with cockroaches. Elle Graft might have made it through six years of graduate school, but she’s not convinced she’ll survive her first position as an Assistant Professor. Because for all she learned, graduate school never prepared her for dealing with a student crush.
Around nine o’clock, the party finally started to die down. I was surprised that people had stayed for so long. Normally students stayed for half an hour, ate the food and drank the free alcohol, and then left for some other pre-graduation party. But for whatever reason, the crowds had lingered a little longer than usual tonight, well after the last celery stick and piece of cubed cheese had been consumed.
When my house emptied, I looked at the mess in the kitchen and sighed. I tossed some serving spoons into the kitchen sink. I might not have had to set up for the party, but the clean up was far more arduous.
Before I could start to give my kitchen a thorough cleaning, I noticed a light on down the hallway, coming from the direction of my study. I couldn’t remember leaving a light on in the back half of my house. I’d planned on keeping that part of my house closed off to students and had kept the lights off to avoid encouraging too much exploration. Curious, I wandered down the hallway. By this time, I’d abandoned my high heels, and in my stocking feet, I padded soundlessly against the wood floor.
I couldn’t have been more surprised by what I found – who I found – bent over my desk in my personal office, rifling through a stack of graded student papers. Hunter.
I stood, unnoticed, in the doorway until I cleared my throat.
Hunter seemed to jump out of her skin at the sound. She grabbed onto her shirt over the space where her heart resided. “You scared me!” she exclaimed.
My hand curled around the wooden threshold. Normally I’d feel guilty for startling someone so badly, but she’d wandered off to my home office and was digging through other students’ papers like it was the most natural thing in the world. I felt violated, like someone had read my diary.
Her grey-blue eyes were wider than I’d ever seen them. “I know this looks really bad.” The color had drained from her cheeks. “But it’s not what it looks like.”
“What it looks like is you’re looking through the final papers for grades.” My tone was unexpectedly cold, but I was upset. I had opened my home to my students, but that didn’t mean they were free to explore and rifle through my things. “But that couldn’t be it because you picked up your paper,” I said, thinking out loud. “You already know what your grade is. Unless you’re stealing papers to sell to some student essay mill.”
Her eyes bulged and she dropped the papers as if they’d burned her. “No!” she exclaimed. “I wasn’t, I—.”
Her panicked exclamation was interrupted when my new cat Sylvia, who had yet to warm up to me, jumped up on my desk with a grunt.
“I hope you’ve had your tetanus shots,” I said, leaning against the doorjamb. “She hates everyone.”
Hunter stroked her hand down the center of Sylvia’s back and that damn little grey-fuzzed traitor actually arched her back. Hunter picked up the cat and sat down with her on my red couch. Sylvia made a small half-circle with her body and kneaded her paws into Hunter’s thigh before settling down onto her lap.
“Are you the cat whisperer?” I asked, mouth surely agape. I’d never seen that devil-cat warm up to anyone. Hell, she barely tolerated me. I likened her to a refugee, still acclimating to her new environment.
“I like cats,” she said simply. She seemed to have recovered from the initial shock and looked entirely at ease sitting on my red couch with Sylvia curled up on her lap. She scratched the cantankerous creature between the ears, and I swear I could see the cat’s eyes roll back in pleasure.
“So do you always just make yourself at home in your teachers’ offices?” The memory of her taking off her jacket in my campus office months ago came to mind. Maybe she did.
Hunter looked suitably shamed, but she didn’t stand up. I didn’t blame her; making sudden movements around my cat was generally a bad idea.
“I’m not normally this nosey. I was petting your cat out in the hallway and it wandered away. Then I heard some crashing noises later, so I followed the sounds to make sure the cat was okay. When I came in here, your cat was on your desk, knocking things over. I was just trying to pick up after her.”
Sylvia had proven herself to be a housekeeping nightmare. She jumped on surfaces on which she didn’t belong and knocked things onto the floor to make more room for herself. I’d already found a pair of reading glasses in the bathroom garbage and my favorite grading pens were often rolling around on the floor in the office.
“Don’t worry about Sylvia,” I said, waving a dismissive hand. “She can take care of herself.” I continued leaning against the doorjamb. I didn’t really know what to do with myself, but this felt safe.
“As long as she stays away from gas ovens,” Hunter grinned.
“My, my,” I murmured approvingly, standing up straight. That she knew of Sylvia’s namesake was a surprise, and I was impressed. “You’ve been holding back.”
Maybe it was because of the semester’s end and that grades were submitted, but I didn’t feel so restricted anymore around her. And maybe it was the comfortable way my pet and Hunter were curled up with each other, but I didn’t feel so upset and violated anymore.
“I haven’t actually read anything by Sylvia Plath,” Hunter said, suddenly a little shy. “I just really liked the movie about her life.” Her eyes, which I now noticed were almost the identical blue-grey as my cat’s, dropped demurely. If I had subconsciously picked out that bastard cat because it reminded me of Hunter, I was officially a lost cause.
“You haven’t read Plath?” I declared, sufficiently horrified. I immediately crossed the length of the room and walked to one of my bookcases. I thumbed over the bindings of several titles. Everything was alphabetical by author, of course. I pulled out the thin novel from its place between Parker and Plato. The Bell Jar was one of my favorite books. The copy I now held had been well-loved over the years. The binding was creased and worn, the top corner of the paperback cover rounded, and the inner pages were the rich goldenrod color of mass-produced pulp that’s sat too long in direct sunlight.
I stuck the book in Hunter’s direction, just within her reach. She stopped giving attention to Sylvia long enough to take the book in both hands. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, maddeningly adorable, as she read the back cover information.
“The Bell Jar is a masterpiece,” I explained, geeking out. “I’m letting you borrow my copy.”
Hunter looked up, eyes large and blinking. “Really?”
I never let people borrow books. I wasn’t a public library, after all. I also didn’t appreciate getting books back in worse condition than when I’d lent them. But I selfishly realized that if I let her borrow the book, I’d have a reason to see her again. I didn’t have to give it a second thought. “Really.”
The tick-tock of the grandfather clock in my study filled the silence. “Did everyone leave?” she asked. “Am I the only one left?”
I scratched at the back of my neck, once again aware of my awkwardness. At least when I was gushing about literature I hadn’t remembered that we were alone. “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry,” Hunter genuinely apologized. “Not only does it look like I’ve been snooping, now I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
My instinct was to tell her she could stay as long as she wanted. I smiled instead.
Hunter scratched between Sylvia’s ears again. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she murmured, “but I’ve got to go.”
If I had been smoother, I would have found a way to convince her to stay longer. ‘Don’t go. It’ll break her kitty heart,’ I would say. She’d admit she had no other plans that night and I’d suggest we take our conversation to the kitchen where I would brew a pot of late-night coffee. We could bring our filled cups to the front porch and we’d sit in the Adirondack chairs I’d recently purchased. I’d light a few candles—to keep the mosquitoes away, I’d explain—and I’d admire her profile, warmed by the glow of candlelight.
We’d start out with innocent remarks about the strange weather patterns. It had recently gone from Winter to Spring overnight. I’d hear about her plans for the summer and her relationship with her family. When the coffee ran out, she’d notice the late hour. She’d thank me for the coffee and conversation, and when she handed me her now-empty cup, our fingers would brush against each other’s.
But I wasn’t that smooth and I wasn’t a moral-free zone. Instead, I’d have to be satisfied with the prospect of seeing her again when she finished reading the book. Maybe she’d be so impressed she’d ask me for other book recommendations. Maybe I’d see her periodically over the summer because of it. And maybe this would turn into a regular thing, and we’d meet for coffee to discuss the current book we couldn’t put down. I wondered how she liked her coffee.
“Off you go,” Hunter coaxed Sylvia. With a disgruntled noise, my cat stood from her lap. It made a big show of stretching before hopping to the floor. I felt ridiculous for envying that ball of fur.
Hunter stood from my study couch, the very place I’d graded several of her papers, and she brushed at the front of her jeans. Sylvia had a talent for getting her hair all over everything, and it was currently all over the front of her pants.
“Second-guessing making friends with my cat?” I posed teasingly.
She looked up and met my gaze. Her eye contact was relentless. “I got a book out of the deal, didn’t I?”
This girl’s mood-swings were hard to keep up with. One minute she was bashful and unsure, and the next, staring me down with an unstated challenge and a charming smile. I wanted to know her better. I needed to figure her out.
Eliza Lentzski is the author of lesbian fiction, romance, and erotica novels including Second Chances, Date Night, Diary of a Human, Love, Lust, & Other Mistakes, and the forthcoming All That Is Gold (Fall 2013). Although a historian by day, Eliza is passionate about fiction. She calls the Midwest her home along with her partner and their cat and turtle.
Readers can follow Eliza on Twitter (@ElizaLentzski) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/elizalentzski) for more information and exclusive sneak peeks of upcoming novels.
Buy link for original novels and short stories: https://www.facebook.com/ElizaLentzski/app_190322544333196