Bottle Rocket

By Ann McMan



Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are mine.

Violence/Sex: No violence. This story does involve an implied, consensual, loving and sexual relationship between two adult women. It is not explicit, but if it offends you, is illegal where you live, or if you are underage—please consider another story selection.

Warning: This story contains profanity—but not as much as usual. I've had my meds balanced, and my therapist says I'm really doing a lot better.

I welcome your feedback, and can be reached at


Copyright Ann McMan, June 2012. All rights reserved.

This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.


Chapter One


Shawn Harris's debut novel was a runaway best seller.

In lesbian fiction parlance, a best seller was defined as any book that sold more than one thousand copies in the lifetime of its print contract. Well, Shawn's semi-autobiographical novel, Bottle Rocket , blew the lid off that equation. Within three months, her fledgling, comic romp was living up to its name and had soared right off the charts and into the annals of lesfic legend. Bottle Rocket was a bona fide hit, and Shawn was an overnight celebrity.

Nobody was more stunned by this turn of events than Shawn.

Well . . . maybe Shawn and one discriminating and outspoken reviewer for the esoteric online journal, Gilded Lily .

Kate Winston was an icon in the lesbian fiction world. Positive or negative comments from her could make or break the critical fortunes of any aspiring author brave enough to seek her approbation.

Not many dared.

Those who did and lived to talk about it went on to enjoy tremendous success and frequently acceded to the highest and most elusive level of accomplishment--crossover status.

Gilded Lily was the mainstream mouthpiece of the lesbiverse. With over 82,000 subscribers, the online magazine boasted a list of regular contributors that read like a who's who of gay culture. And Kate Winston was one of its best and most controversial bloggers.

Shawn's publicist never thought the likes of Kate Winston would ever look twice at the fledgling novel. But when the sales numbers for Bottle Rocket started inching closer to the stratosphere, the editors at Lily took notice and shoved a copy of the book across the table toward Kate in a weekly storyboard meeting.

“We'd like you to take a gander at this book for next week,” the arts and culture editor said.

Kate picked the book up like it was a piece of flotsam that had drifted her way on a red tide.

Bottle Rocket ?” she asked. She flipped it over and glanced at the blurb on the back cover. “You've got to be kidding me. I don't waste my time on pulp fiction.” She dropped the book back to the table. “What else you got?”

“Kate.” Linda Evans sighed. “Don't start, okay? This book is burning up the bestseller lists, and we need to take a look at it.”

Kate hooked a finger over the bridge of her glasses and pulled them down her nose.

“Since when do we give a shit about a book simply because it's popular ? You know as well as I do that big sales numbers are usually the best indicators of indifference, not quality.”

Linda wasn't in the mood to have this debate. Again. “Just humor me. Okay?”

“Why should I?” Kate crossed her arms. “I have fourteen other books already in the queue, and any one of them could paint rings around this flimsy slice of sophomoric crap.”

Linda was growing exasperated. “Isn't that a bit harsh? Even for you?”

Kate shrugged.

Linda sighed. “I'll make you a deal. You review this one--without complaint--and I'll let you be the lucky dog who gets to represent the magazine at CLIT-Con in San Diego next month.”

Silence fell around the room.

Attending the annual CLIT-Con--an unfortunate acronym for the prestigious Creative Literary Insights and Trends Conference--was a plumb assignment. Everybody knew it. Last year, it had been in Honolulu.

Linda tried not to smile as she watched Kate fold like a cheap lawn chair.

The rest, as they say, was herstory .




“I have something to tell you, but you have to promise me that you won't get how you get.”

Shawn dropped the phone to her shoulder and sighed. She hated it when Gwen got this dramatic. She put the phone back up to her ear.

“What is it? Just tell me, okay?”

“Nuh uh.” Gwen wasn't budging. “You have to promise first.”

“Good god. You act like I'm a bull in a field of spring clover.”

There was momentary silence on the line. “And your point would be?”

Shawn stared at her computer screen and considered her options. She could hang up. But then she'd never know what prompted her agent to call her this early on a Saturday morning. Gwen lived in Seattle, and it was barely five a.m. out there. Whatever this was about, it must be big. And bad.

Dangerous combination.

She sat back in her chair and picked up a pencil. It was a nice one--a Ticonderoga Yellow Barrel No. 2. She'd picked up ninety-six of them yesterday at Staples and spent about thirty minutes that morning sharpening them all. She didn't really write with pencils, but she liked them a lot, and felt better when she had dozens of them at the ready. You never knew . . . and it was better to be prepared.

Too bad that same prescription didn't work as well with Gwen.

She tried another approach.

“Is this about that damn podcast again? I told you I didn't want to do it. How was I supposed to know they were doing a whole segment on pleasure aids?”

“It's not about the podcast. And, by the way, you didn't help yourself by talking about the best places to shop for prostate stimulators.”

Shawn felt a surge of umbrage. “Why does that one thing stick in your craw so much?”

Gwen sighed. “Maybe because your readers don't generally waste their time worrying about ways to stimulate parts they don't have?”

“I told you. I want to appeal to a broader audience.”

“Trust me, Shawn--and the fifteen percent of every dollar you make that comes to me--this is not the way to do it.”

“Hey? I'm not without instincts, here.”

“That's true. And we'll get to your thoughts about the photo shoot for the AfterEllen piece later.”

Shawn smelled a rat. “What's wrong with my idea?”

“Sweetie . . .”

“No. I wanna know.”

Shawn could tell that Gwen was getting frustrated. She glanced at her watch. They'd only been on the phone for four-and-a-half minutes. Pretty good progress. Even for Shawn.

Gwen took a deep breath. “You'll just have to trust me on this one. No one wants to see you posing behind a soft-focused sea of chicken . . . parts.”

“It's going to be tasteful,” Shawn insisted. “And it's going to be shot in black and white--that's always high-toned and arty.”

“Shawn . . .”

“I need a photo that speaks to the content of the book, and the narrator is a chicken sexer. It makes sense . Admit it, Gwen. Your knee-jerk response is to hate any idea I have.”

Several more seconds of dead, west coast air floated across the phone line.

“Let's table the AfterEllen discussion for later,” Gwen finally said. “That's not the reason I called you at such an ungodly hour.”

“Okay. Why did you call me, then?”

Gilded Lily is posting Kate Winston's review today--and they sent me an advance copy.”

Shawn could hear the minor key vibrations in Gwen's voice.


“And . . . not what we hoped for.”

Shawn dropped her pencil. “She didn't like it?”

“Not exactly.”

Shawn felt the junkyard dog sleeping inside her begin to stir. “What does that mean?”

“It means she hated it.”

“She hated it?” Shawn was incredulous. “How is that possible? It's got sixty-three damn five-star reviews at Amazon.”

“Shawn. We've talked about consumer reviews. They're entirely subjective.”

“That doesn't mean they don't count.”

“Of course they count, but they don't have any relationship to reality-based critical assessments.”

“It's been in the top ten for three months--mostly at number one.”

“Shawn. We talked about this. You wanted us to solicit some critical reviews, and I told you that if we did, there'd be no way to predict or to manage how they'd go.”

“Well, sonofabitch.”

“Relax. It's one reviewer.”

Shawn snorted. “Yeah. The most important one.”

“It's going to be fine. Your book is already breaking sales records for debut fiction.”

“You mean, it was, ” Shawn grumbled.

Gwen sighed. “I'll send you this preview copy so you can read it before it posts later this morning. I wanted to be sure I had the chance to talk with you first, so you didn't go postal when you saw it.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Shawn indulged in a few momentary fantasies about dusting off her paintball gun and heading for SouthPark Mall. It was an idea with some merit.

Gwen was talking again. “Call me back after you've read it and had time to come down off the ceiling fan?”



“Okay. Jeez, Gwen . . . I'll call you back.”

Shawn's computer beeped, and a new mail flag popped on her monitor.

“Later.” Gwen hung up.

Shawn leaned forward and stared at the backlighted subject line of the forwarded email.

Simply Offal.

She sighed and dropped back against her chair. It was going to be a long, damn morning.

She wondered if she had more pencils.




244 Comments. See all.


Comment from: LezBfrndz32

I can't believe you read the same book! I usually like your reviews, but this time, you really got it wrong! Bottle Rocket is a great book and your review is just rude and so are you!


Comment from: DebbieDuzGirls

Wow. It's one thing to dislike a book. It's another thing to assassinate the author! Kate Winston should be ashamed of this mean-spirited review, and Gilded Lily should never have posted it. I suggest that Ms. Winston go and read the comments from the sixty plus readers who actually understood Shawn Harris's great debut novel. Obviously, Ms. Winston missed the point.


Comment from: Westie809

Whoever checked your sex at the poultry farm tossed you into the wrong bin, chickadee! Aren't you supposed to be encouraging lesbian writers, not silencing them???? Get a new job, Kate! You're not helping.


Comment from: HellBent4Leather

Is that really you in the photo? You're hot!!!!


Comment from: HellBent4Leather

Are you on Grinder????


Comment from:

I'll admit that Bottle Rocket wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but calling it “a flimsy and poorly realized faux-southern novel full of clichés, worn-out conventions, and unnecessary obfuscation” really seemed over the top. I'll agree that the premise for the novel is off-putting at first, but Harris does actually manage to make the characters real--even endearing. I wouldn't rank this book among the ten best I've ever read, but I don't agree that it's without redeeming qualities.


Comment from: AngelEyes

Ouch. Suffer from peri-menopause much?


Comment from: BillieW

Although I wouldn't have employed as much vitriol in summarizing my reactions, I would agree, in general terms, with your assessment of this book. As an author, Harris clearly has raw talent and an abundance of potential, and some of the dialogue is exceptionally bright and well crafted. But the overall premise of the novel is ridiculous and strains credibility. I think you might have over-exaggerated the negatives here and I, for one, am anxious to see what Harris can come up with as an encore.


Comment from: HellBent4Leather

I want to play with your hair!!!


Comment from: LisaLupner

You hate everything! Why do they even ask you to read these books? You should move over to News Corp. -- I hear they're looking for some like-minded reviewers.


Comment from: FemBot

Damn Winston! I think if you pulled your head out of your ass you might be able to get a better look at the book!


Comment from: HellBent4Leather

Oh, man. When you do this, can I watch????


Kate slammed her laptop closed and sat shaking her head.

Good god. I should never have agreed to read this one. I knew the review would smoke all the Free Speech Lesbians out of their holes.

She sighed and sat tapping her mouse in agitation. Why am I so goddamn weak ? It's not like going to CLIT-Con is all that big of a deal.

She reopened her laptop and waited for the comments page to reload. When it finished, she noticed that something new had just posted.


Comment from: ShawnHarris

Hello, Kate. I know we haven't been properly introduced, but I felt the need to make some kind of acknowledgement of your . . . review . . . of my book, Bottle Rocket . You know, I'd like to thank you, but normally, I make women buy me dinner before first before I allow them to . . . well . . . I think you get my drift. Since it's clear that the nuances of my novel were so nuanced that they managed to elude a reviewer of your stature, maybe you'd consent to discuss the book with me publicly, in a more balanced forum--a kind of level playing field? I'd welcome the opportunity to explain it to you in ways that might help you overcome your apparent inability to access its deeper meaning--which, by the way, I did not intend to overlay with obfuscation. Feel free to contact me directly at through my agent, Gwen Carlisle. I think you can access her contact information through your editor, Linda Evans? If not, let me know and I'll be happy to set something up.


Kate was incredulous.

You've got to be kidding me? Who the hell does she think she is? I'm not some junior lackey who's at the beck-and-call of an unknown, hack author.

She clicked inside the comment box beneath Harris's remarks, and started typing.


Comment from: Kate Winston

Thank you, Ms. Harris, for the generous condescension. If I believed that the content of your book warranted further consideration, I certainly would take you up on your kind suggestion that we meet to discuss it. As it is, however, I think I've exhausted my quotient of interest in your fledgling foray into fiction. I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors.


P.S. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, honey!


Kate sat back and clicked “post” without rereading--or rethinking--her response. She knew that Linda would go ballistic when she saw this exchange, but that was nothing new. Linda went ballistic at least twice a week over something Kate did, or didn't do. This was just business as usual.

She looked again at the provocative post from Shawn Harris. It really irked her. It was so . . . arrogant.

She shook her head and closed her laptop. Who cares?

It was business as usual.




Chapter Two


It was a media circus. Correction. It was a media nightmare .

Gwen pushed back from her laptop and thought for the thousandth time about the paltry fifteen percent she made for “managing” this kind of brouhaha.

It wasn't enough. Not for Shawn. Hell, for Shawn she needed a contract rider that paid her damn hazardous duty pay.

In the three days since Kate Winston's review of Bottle Rocket posted, Shawn's public feud with the reviewer had gone viral. It was an overnight Internet sensation--a pissing contest of epic proportions. And all of the social media outlets were eating it up--even the ones Gwen hadn't heard of yet.

She looked at her computer screen.

Just like this one. It was some kind of bizarre, fringe site, devoted to profiling celebrities who were taking it up the . . . well.

Shawn was their poster child this week.

God. How was she supposed to keep up with this when it was like playing Internet whack-a-mole? The damn sites came and went faster than her string of ex-girlfriends.

And that was pretty goddamn fast.

And now, the editors at Gilded Lily were outraged because rabid fans of Shawn's had used Twitter to organize an onslaught of umbrage and crashed the magazine's web site two days in a row.

How the hell was Gwen supposed to manage that?

Hell. If she figured this one out, she could give up being a publicist for upstart gay authors and get Hillary Clinton's job.

To make matters worse, supporters of Kate Winston were now retaliating with a backlash of righteous indignation that made a tsunami look like a ripple in a wading pool. In the last twenty-four hours, more than sixteen toxic reviews of Bottle Rocket had been posted at Amazon.

God. These women were like pre-menstrual zealots on crack.

Gwen sighed and opened a new browser window. Might as well see what new damage has been done today.

She navigated to Amazon and pulled up the e-book listing for Bottle Rocket .

Nineteen new reviews. Great. And the overall rating had now plummeted from five stars to two and a half.


“Where the hell are the site administrators?” she asked aloud.

Couldn't they see what was going on here with this bullshit? Why didn't someone remove these hostile reviews?

Give that one up. Trying to find a human being at Amazon was about as useful as trying to find a virgin at a Shriner's convention.

She sat back again and picked up her coffee cup.

This was a complete clusterfuck.

She took a sip of her coffee. It was cold--of course.

Shawn was such a pain in the ass. Gwen now represented twenty-two authors--many of them real luminaries in the lesfic world. She had five bestselling books in her stable and one movie contract. But somehow, she seemed to spend seventy-five percent of her time dealing with Shawn.

Correction. Dealing with the messes Shawn created. Why did Bottle Rocket have to be so damn successful?

Because it's a great book .

Kate Winston plainly had some kind of burr under her saddle when she reviewed it--and whatever was biting her, it had nothing to do with the content of the novel. That much was clear. Even that servant of Cerberus over at Kirkus Reviews gave it a thumbs-up, and she never liked anything Gwen sent her way.

Nope. This was something else. And since she couldn't defuse it, it was up to her to figure out how to leverage it.

If she had a claim to fame, this was it. She was better than anyone at turning a liability into an asset. Hell. She majored in this at Wharton.

And this quagmire was one whopper of a liability.

She put down her coffee cup and picked up her cell phone.

“The best time to make hay is while the sun shines,” her mentor had always said.

She scrolled through her contacts until she found the listing for the chief organizer at CLIT-Con.

The call was answered on the second ring. “Barb Davis.”

Barb always sounded like she was taking bites out of the phone.

“Barb? It's Gwen Carlisle.”

“Hi, Gwen. What's up?”

Gwen could hear loud banging noises in the background. Barb was a sculptor who worked with iron. It sounded like she was demolishing a Buick.

“Are you in your studio?” Gwen asked.

“Yeah. I've got a big commission for the San Diego Zoo, and I'm running behind. I'm hustling to finish this up so I can get serious about planning the Con.”

“Well, you're in luck. That's why I'm calling.”

The banging stopped.


“Yep. Have you got a topic nailed down for the plenary session yet?”

“No. I have a few suggestions, but nothing that trips my trigger.” Gwen could hear the unmistakable sound of a Zippo lighter. Barb was firing up a cigarette. “Got something in mind?”


“In fact, I do. Have you been following the cat fight between Shawn Harris and Kate Winston?”

Barb laughed. “Who the hell hasn't been? It's getting more press than Seal stepping out on Heidi Klum.”

“Sad, but true,” Gwen agreed. “However, it just might make for record receipts at the Con if we think creatively.”

The line was silent. She could hear Barb take another long drag on her cigarette.

“You mean, put them together on the same bill? Like a twisted Point/Counterpoint kind of thing?”


More silence.

Then Barb laughed. “You're a fucking genius.”

Gwen smiled. “So I've been told.”

“Let me shop this idea around and get back to you.”

“That'll work.”

“Later.” Barb hung up.

Gwen glanced down at her computer screen. During her five-minute phone call with Barb, two more hostile reviews had posted at Amazon.

She smiled.

Things were looking up.



The full-length novella “Bottle Rocket” is included in Ann McMan's new story collection, Sidecar – available at your indie booksellers,, barnes&,,, and


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