Zij aan Zij Magazine - August 2009

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Xenia Alexiou and Kim Baldwin: Tough women of flesh and blood

Original article by Anneke van Wolfswinkel
Photographs by Ibrahim Farah

There are very few thrillers about women with balls, and that's why this writing duo decided to write one themselves. Lethal Affairs has recently been translated into Dutch, and is about special agent Domino, a woman who does not hesitate to shoot, and could teach James Bond a thing or two.

The Greek Xenia Alexiou loves adventure, action and good suspense. But an intrigue book with a tough female main character who, without the help of a strong man can take care of business, is rare. So Xenia decided to write a series of intrigue novels but she didn't want to do it alone. She asked the American Kim Baldwin, who already had published six books under her name, if she would like to write with her. The Elite Operatives Series has become very successful, and the first part has now appeared in Dutch under the title Dubbel Doelwit. The book is a genuine thriller with an ingenious plot, hard action, and an exciting love story. The main character is a woman who can even teach James Bond a thing or two. Domino is a member of a secret elite organization and comes face to face with ruthless criminals the law cannot touch. But she does not hesitate to do the job for them.

Kim Baldwin lives in a cabin in a remote forest in Michigan. Xenia splits her time between the Greek city Thessaloniki and Amsterdam, and likes to travel. This is not always handy when you're trying to write a book together.
Kim: When we started writing the first book, we used webcams. Xenia constantly had a lot of good ideas, but just when we were on a roll, something would go wrong with the connection so we couldn't hear each other or see each other, and that was very frustrating.
So Kim decided to plan her vacations in a way that, for every book - and there are going to be seven of them in all - she would travel to Xenia so that they could write together.
Xenia: I can't think of anything more wonderful than sitting together in one room with Kim, a glass of wine, and writing. When I come up with something, I immediately let Kim read it, so that I can see her reaction.

The ladies have their own specialties that compliment each other perfectly. Xenia comes up with the stories and characters. She writes the action scenes, dialogue and their inner thoughts, and Kim does research (how long does it take to travel by plane from A to B) and fills in the setting details to help bring it to life.
Xenia: I write, for example, that somebody walked in the room, and Kim then describes what the room looks like. Otherwise the reader can't see it.

Also in the sex scenes, which are quite explicit, they each have their own task.
Xenia: It's easy for me to write a scene where people get shot, but I find writing a sex scene terrifying. It's easier to describe what the characters are doing and what they want, and let Kim do the writing.
When Kim first started writing, she also found it difficult to write about sex. But by now, after six books and a few erotic short stories, she thinks she's getting better at it.
Kim: If I read a lesbian book, I don't want the sex to go into fade. And I think that this also goes for a lot of other readers. Technically, it's extra difficult to write about sex between two women, because the description is about "she and she" instead of "she and he". It is a challenge to make clear who is doing what to whom, or what they're feeling, or what they want
. Just a few days ago Xenia wrote her first sex scene (Missing Lynx). And she took a long time to do it.
Xenia:And then I had to show it to Kim. I have never been more nervous in my life.
Kim: And it was really very good. Really good. But it's still strange for me to write about sex. Every time I am aware of the fact that, for example, my brother will read this. A lot of readers want to know if I make it up, or if it's from my own experience. I just let them guess.
Xenia: I tell them I'm a virgin and know nothing.

Kim writes under a pseudonym. In the twenty years that Kim worked for CNN, she frequently experienced colleague journalists and local celebrities, even minor ones, who had issues with stalkers. In order to avoid this, she chose to write under a different name.
Kim: When I was growing up, nobody talked about homosexuality. I heard the word 'homosexual' and 'lesbian' only after I had realized that I like women. And I didn't know anyone who was openly gay. I've had a few nasty experiences coming out. It went very wrong with my family, which resulted in us not speaking for years. When I started working at CNN in 1980, it was also a pretty homophobic environment. A lot of people knew that I was gay, but I personally never offered this information to my boss. When I was in a management function and had many people working under me who were conservative Christians, I didn't want to disturb our working relationships by coming out. I think that by now, things are a lot better at CNN.
In the small town where Kim works now, she is a lot more open about her sexual orientation, but there are still colleagues who do not know she writes books.
Kim: I realize that the older I get, the less I feel the need to remain a split personality. But the separation is still there at times.

Xenia, who is ten years younger than Kim and grew up in Greece, has had very different experiences.
Xenia: My sexuality has never been a problem. Not in my family, and not amongst my friends. Greece today is not any different than America or Holland. In the bigger cities, like Athens and Thessaloniki, much is possible. But in the countryside, it's still unfortunately a whole different story.

The women from the Elite Operatives Series (every book has a different main character) do dangerous missions that means putting their lives on the line. Xenia finds it unfortunate that women in thrillers/intrigue are often given a secondary role and wants to profile the opposite--realistic stories, with independent, tough lesbian heroines.

Xenia (said with passion): In most action films and books, men are always the real heroes, and women the sidekicks, who often make stupid mistakes, and say things like, "I'm not going to shoot you, but I will throw my gun at your head." A man always shows up in these stories to save the situation. And often if there's an action heroine then it has to be Catwoman, or another unbelievable figure. But I want to write about real flesh and blood women who work for the CIA, the FBI, military commandos, or for the police.
These women put their own lives in danger to protect innocents. And they make it happen. Or not - and that could mean their lives. The reality for these women is that there is no James Bond to come along and save the day. They take the bullet themselves.

Kim: We get to hear from a lot of women who are in the military, who say they are very happy with our description of women in such dangerous work.
Xenia: I write for lesbians who put their life on the line every day, day after day.

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