Matters of the Art: Sue Katz’s “Lillian’s Last Affair and Other Stories”
By Stephanie Schroeder
Sue Katz’s business card says wordsmith and rebel, reflecting, she says, “the two themes that tie together all the different periods of my life. I have been writing and publishing since the early 70s, but I have been a political activist even longer. In high school my friends and I formed a civil rights group because we were too young to be Freedom Riders. I have been on the streets protesting America’s wars – from VietNam to Iraq and Afghanistan,” she says.
Katz, who has lived on three continents and had several careers, is traveling with and publicizing her book of short stories about the loves and lives of seniors and elders, Lillian’s Last Affair.
The book was published last year and has received much positive attention from readers, but mostly ignored by press. “I have had very few reviews in publications,” reports Katz. “On Amazon I have 23 reviews, 21 of them are 5-star. Some are from friends or regular readers of my blog, some are from strangers. I also have five 5-star reviews on Amazon UK because I lived there for a decade and word got around.”
Her inspiration for the story collection comes from Katz’s work with seniors and elders for much of her professional life, most recently as a fitness instructor for a dozen years to a group of about 70 people.
“Over that time we aged together: they went from their 70s to their 80s and 90s. I became very close with a number of them and so they confided to me what they were getting up to. The other factor is that I’ve been writing short stories that involve love and sexuality and dating since the 1970s, so it is a natural subject for me,” reveals Katz, who is 67.
The title of her book is certainly makes one very curious. And the book’s back cover description is tantalizing:
“If I’m going to go after one more affair of the heart at 84, I’d better get my ass in gear,” says Lillian, speaking for all the characters in these six stories.
Ruby has a run-in with a waterbed and Catherine tokes her first joint in the bathtub with Victor. Elegant Anna’s introduction to kinky sex is bittersweet. And then there’s the neighbor with the strange attachment to a grocery cart. Sue Katz’s hilarious, tender, and impeccably written stories confirm that age fails to erode our eccentricities or dull our ardor.
How did Katz choose a title that would represent the diverse stories in the collection?
“As I anticipated, the story Lillian’s Last Affair is most people’s favorite story out of the six stories in the collection,” says Katz. “Lillian herself is the smoothest charmer of all the characters. I liked the title because it combined ‘last’ – giving a sense of advanced age – with ‘affair’ – highlighting the theme of love that ties the stories together.”
Katz herself is the entire total marketing team for Lillian’s Last Affair and so is dependent on the good will of people who like her writing.
“Because I’ve been active (some would say addicted!) on Facebook for a number of years, I’ve built up a lot of online relationships,” she says. “When it came time to launch Lillian’s Last Affair, I initially did two things. I sent out a fancy formatted announcement email to almost my entire email list and I posted it on Facebook and asked folks to repost it, which many did. Then a friend posted a photo of herself reading Lillian’s Last Affair, which started a trend of others doing the same. Some of those photos are a hoot!”
She launched Lillian’s Last Affair at the senior center where she taught elder fitness for many years. Her students, Katz says, were incredibly supportive and bought a couple of copies each. Then a writer friend had a book party for “Lillian” and Katz at his monthly literary salon. One of the guests loved the reading and discussion and used Katz as her “entertainment” at a party where she invited all her friends. Two girlfriends also held a party for the author, inviting folks from their circles whom she didn’t know.
“I’ve done about three-dozen readings, in very different venues, almost all of them cold calls. I read at several senior centers, at a number of LGBT senior community meals, at a local crafts shop that sells my book, at subsidized LGBT-friendly senior housing in Philadelphia, at life-long learning programs at local universities, at a gay center in Las Vegas, and at the oldest queer synagogue in the world (L.A.) where they sponsored a ‘Bodacious Brunch and Book Party’ for me. I’ve done a few podcasts and radio shows.”
Katz also has another goal in mind: “What I really want to do is read to young people, but I haven’t figured out how to get into the universities yet.”
Lillian’s creator has a varied background rich with participation in the literary arts and immersion in the heady days of early anti-war, women’s rights and LGBT activism that continues to this day.
“I’ve always published journalism and short fiction ‘on the side’. I used to be proudest of my 20-year martial arts career, my world travel for a British charity, and for my edgy blog Consenting Adult, but now it’s all about Lillian’s Last Affair,” says Katz. “I’ve done more than three dozen presentations that start with a reading from the book as a lead into discussions about aging and sexuality, about the particular challenges of aging for LGBT elders, and about my experience of the founding of the women’s and gay liberation movements. I am a dance reviewer; I publish travelogues; and I often blog about progressive movements, about justice in the Middle East, and about stuff that offends me. I was in on the ground floor of Boston’s women’s liberation movement – a truly life-changing experience – and involved in the start of gay liberation.”
Having lived in the Middle East for 14 years, Katz feels deeply engaged with the fight for the end of the Israeli Occupation, “particularly America’s role in financing and politically supporting it – and for justice for Palestine,” she says. “When I lived in London for 10 years, I was a member of Women Against Fundamentalism, a group with a remarkably sophisticated analysis of the commonality among fundamentalist agendas, no matter which religion. At the top of every such agenda is the control of women and of reproduction.”
Since returning to the States, Katz has done work around writers’ rights. Social media and the consolidation of the conventional publishing industry, the advent of new independent publishers, smaller DIY presses, and the availability of other non-traditional methods of publishing have changed the way writers write, publish and publicize their work.
“The landscape for writers is very mixed as a result of the digital world: on one hand it is much harder to make a living as a freelance journalist; on the other hand there are so many opportunities for writers to harness the Internet to publish and publicize our work,” says Katz, who these days is “all about aging and issues surrounding sexuality and survival, especially for those of us who are not part of the 1% or the 10%.”
She says she likes speaking about these issues and has immersed herself in the research reports that have started to flow now that Boomers, her generation, “are facing the light at the end of the tunnel.”