Three and a half months since my last post. Wow. I never intended it and it doesn’t feel that long. The calendar says so, though: the calendar and the season, which—here in Eugene—is pretty definitely spring although people where I used to live are still digging out from under Snowpocalypse ’15. (Can’t say I’m sorry to have missed that.) The calendar, the season, the randy neighborhood frogs ribbitting all night long, and my beard.
Yeah, laugh if you want, I’m growing a fancy big beard. I never believed I could! One of the tragedies of my genetic heritage—I’ll never go bald up top but never have sufficient hair elsewhere to please me. But maybe I was wrong! (Not about my chest, dammit.) This selfie is actually a month old: there’s more to the thing now. I’m going to stick flowers in it like an Instagram hipster. And there will be flowers.
The crocuses in the wooden planter are nearly over and the dianthus above too heavy but I planted a bunch of flower seeds that ought to poke their tiny green heads out of the soil any day now. Lobelia, love-in-a-mist, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, nasturtiums. Iceland poppies and cosmos to come when I pick up a suitable planter—maybe later today. All suitable candidates. So, you know, I’m generally pretty cheerful right about now despite badly screwed-up sleep patterns and a sinus infection that will not quit.
Reasons to be cheerful:
Mr ’Nathan Burgoine was a vocal Liam fan long before I completed That Door Is a Mischief so I’m p.r.e.t.t.y well convinced this complimentary review isn’t all down to my naming a couple of characters after him (and killing ’em both off)…or dedicating the book to him.
I’d never even heard of Big Gay Horror Fan before my attention was drawn to this review. It made me smile.
Mr Jerry L. Wheeler of Out in Print has been kindly disposed toward my work in the past but I kind of wondered whether he had too many review copies in his queue to squeeze my new one in. I was wrong. And pleased.
Oh, and there’s a gentleman who calls himself Constant Reader when he ventures into the swamp of the Amazon. (I know his real name. He’s been writing me kind letters and e-mails about my fiction for, goddamn, nearly twenty years. And I, I fear, am a rotten return correspondent.) Just recently he took it into his head (to cheer me up) to post extremely thoughtful reviews in aforementioned swamp. So far he’s hit three, including the very first review ever of the M-Brane Press Double of which half is my The New People; Deprivation; and The Padişah’s Son and the Fox. Thank you, sir.
Mr Ivri Lider (him again, you say) released his new studio album, Ha’ahava Ha’zot Shelanu [This Love of Ours], last month. I was briefly too broke to justify purchasing it—a tragedy of epic proportions—but now it’s on endless repeat on my iTunes. It strikes me as his most varied, accessible, and foot-tapping group of tracks since Ha’anashim Ha’chadashim [The New People] but what do I know, I don’t understand a word of Hebrew. Anyway, it makes me happy. Word is his side project, the ¥oung Professionals, will have a new album out soon as well. Those lyrics will be English, I expect.
The black widow in the corner of my bathroom (I’m convinced it’s a black widow) hasn’t bitten me yet. Nor Curious Jane, who follows me downstairs nearly every time. You can bet I’m keeping that door closed. I had forgotten how much more creepity-crawly indoor fauna there is on the West Coast than in New England.
It’s not expected to rain today.
I’m writing again.
Least likely for last, eh? I have a new novel in mind. First chapter-plus and a good bit of background material composed since early February. I’m not prepared to say much about it yet—so the in progress tab up top will continue to default to Bedtime Stories for the Boy Himself, Perhaps, a worthy project returned to the trunk again—except that the working title is The Goblin’s Bride, it starts out in Eugene (right here in a version of this very apartment!), and the lead character is a girl. A young woman, I mean—she’s seventeen in chapter one. For the moment her name is Helen.
I’ve been quiet, yes. It turns out I remain as stupidly sensitive to inclement weather as ever, even after a transcontinental move and while continuing to take my meds. The weather turned inclement just about the time I installed the cats and myself in our new home. What did I expect? It’s fall, edging into winter, in the PNW. At any rate, my get up and go has been…spotty.
For the record, I define clement weather as merciless sunshine, 75+°F. Yeah, I know, I should have moved to Costa Rica.
the last rose
Not the last ever, or at least I hope not. The last of the year from my little deck garden, cut and photographed a few weeks ago before frost could turn it to mush. Because it was cold in Eugene that week, really damn cold. Not like the Midwest, granted, or even New England, but I’m out of practice. Thank merciful and compassionate God I wasn’t so stupid as to discard my gloves, coats, or longjohns when I packed to move west.
The forced paperwhites in the blue pot behind the rose are presently a yard high and blooming ferociously, while the other pots contain tender perennials brought indoors for the winter. Clockwise from top right: so-called French lavender (Lavandula dentata); lemon verbena; the last survivor of my collection of scented geraniums, Lady Plymouth; and Goodwin Creek Grey lavender, a cross between dentata and angustifolia (so-called English lavender, of which I have two varieties still on the deck).
My brother and brother-in-law helped me move the last of the furniture from storage just before the end of October. These were pieces I couldn’t handle all by myself—inherited antiques that never made it into the Rhode Island apartment because they wouldn’t go up the narrow, twisty staircase and which I basically hadn’t seen, let alone sat on, for a decade. It’s lovely to have them again.
Now if I could just get it together to finish organizing kitchen and bedroom….
That Door Is a Mischief has received a few reviews since pub date in September. I’m particularly grateful to Hilcia at Impressions…of a Reader, who suffered a devastating loss too recently and yet has continued to read and review. She expanded a bit on her mini-review in a November wrap-up. Novelist Ajax Bell published a review on her blog that made me blink and shiver. Discovering one’s work has affected somebody so strongly is sobering. Surprising me, Lambda LiteraryreviewedThat Door only a month and half after publication (they don’t have an especially good history with me, spec fic, or Lethe Press).
Writer N.S. Beranek, whose story followed mine in Best Gay Romance 2014, embarked on a major project back in January, reviewing a short story a day for the entire year. I hadn’t been following her posts regularly but it turns out she’s covered five (!) of my stories so far—a couple nobody’s noticed—with perception and tact.
I ventured back to Roseburg for the holiday. I was thankful my sister chose to cook duck instead of turkey (I’m not fond of turkey), and it was lovely duck with lovely accompaniments, and an all-around lovely visit. Even though it rained the whole time. The Roseburg cats remembered me: Fritz was very happy when I ventured outside to fondle him (well, to smoke), Jüppsche and Cecelia were their usual genial (Jüpp) and skittish (Celia) selves, and beautiful Apollonia deigned to visit me in bed. Didn’t stay long—apparently my hip is too boney to make a comfortable pillow—but I was charmed and honored.
Ha ha ha. Well. Maybe. The conclusion to a longish story from the Kandadal’s world, begun in September ’12, is nearly solid in my head, but getting the words down is the usual frustration and battle. And there’s some stuff floating around that might cohere into my first science-fiction story since “The Arab’s Prayer” in 2010 (published ’11).
Mr Ivri Lider (I do go on about him, don’t I?) has a new studio album due in February. In the last few weeks he’s dropped two tracks onto YouTube and the usual online marketplaces. I like them both. A very great deal.
So. GoodReads. One is aware it’s a thing. One is even aware every self-respecting, promotion-minded writer is very nearly obliged to be an active member, engaging her audience directly and actively. One was, indeed, briefly a member oneself…but then one discovered it was more a social platform than a convenient method of keeping track of one’s library and one scurried away in terror. Conversations about books make one anxious.
In collaboration with an entity that calls itself Strobing Limelight and characterizes itself as “a sentient shade of the color green,” Gentle Publisher has recently set up a GoodReads group for Lethe Press authors and fans. I’m not actually sure what that means since, self-defeatingly, I decline to be involved. But I was contacted the other day by the dread color out of space (I happen to know that Gentle Publisher regards the color green with a distaste verging on Lovecraftian horror) and asked to submit to an interview about That Door Is a Mischief.
It may have been posted already, I’m not sure. Nor am I certain whether non-members of GoodReads are/will be able even to see it. So, with Strobing Limelight’s amused permission, I post it here.
Strobing Limelight interviews Alex Jeffers
Two of Alex Jeffers’s eight books (all but one available from Lethe Press) were finalists for Lambda Literary Awards in 2014. One of ’em won. His latest is a fantasy novel, That Door Is a Mischief, released by Lethe this month. After nearly thirty years in New England, he and his two cats moved to Oregon about six weeks ago, where they’re gingerly finding their feet in a whole new ecosystem.
Strobing Limelight: What can you tell readers about That Door Is a Mischief?
Alex Jeffers: It’s a novel about a fairy in our world of the present day and the future. A real (that is, unreal) fairy—dragonfly wings, antennae, magical powers—not an unkind euphemism for a gay man. Although he is gay (most of the time), and so are both his human dads, and so is the fellow he ends up marrying (some of the time). So it’s kind of an urban fantasy, although there’s only, I believe, one scene that takes place in a city; kind of a sci-fi novel; kind of a literary novel—in an unexpected way kind of a companion piece to my first novel, Safe as Houses.
SL: What inspired this particular story?
AJ: I wanted to write a short story. The situation that came to mind involved a high-school kid walking home from school who encounters a fairy…and then the reader discovers the kid’s a fairy too, raised by human dads in rural Massachusetts. Then that 6000-word story grew.
SL: Who is your favorite character?
AJ: Liam (the fairy)’s eventual husband, Harry, a pint-size otter porn star with a lot of baggage and tremendous wellsprings of affection. I didn’t expect that. Harry’s first mentioned as the bully who makes Liam’s first year in high school miserable. I knew Harry would show up again and prove not to be quite as unsympathetic as all that, but it was three years before I understood his backstory. Liam and I fell in love with him right around the same time. We’re in good company: Lethe author Jeff Mann, who gave the book a really nice blurb, told me he’s wildly in love with Harry too.
SL: How does That Door Is a Mischief compare with your previous work?
AJ: Comparisons are odious. 😉 It’s my first (published) novel-length work of relatively pure genre fiction and might surprise readers who hadn’t noticed the science fiction novella The New People (2011) or my collection of wonder stories (2012) and think I only write about gay guys in twentieth-century New England. To reassure them I’d say a bunch of my usual preoccupations feature: fathers and sons, falling in love, gay marriage, Turkey, alienation from contemporary American society. Plus magic. And fairyland.
SL: Speaking of magic and fantasy, is there a subgenre such as sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, or fairytale that appeals to you most?
AJ: Done right and well, sword & sorcery is pure escapist pleasure. I love reading it but I’m not much of an action-adventure writer so doing it myself isn’t something I try often. I frequently find fairy-tale retellings and mash-ups tiresome, not adding anything interesting to the source material. There are exceptions, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever read an urban fantasy of the variety that’s so popular these days and has redefined the subgenre around itself. (I’m scared to.) But almost all my work of the last five years, including That Door, SOUNDS like urban fantasy in outline: magic or fantasy erupting into our contemporary world. I don’t quite know how that happened. Actually I’d prefer to write (and read) pure imaginary-world fantasy but that doesn’t seem to be what my unconscious wants me writing.
SL: Zombies or unicorns?
AJ: Unicorns. Always unicorns. I grew up in a stone house where a unicorn horn hung above the dining-room fireplace. Clearly I was destined to write fantasy. That said, I’ve never published a unicorn story and WAS bullied into writing two zombie stories a while ago.
SL: You mentioned your favorite character in the novel is a porn star. Your Lammy was for gay erotica. Is That Door Is a Mischief erotica?
AJ: Well, no. There’s a certain amount of explicit sex—some of it hetero. I like to think it’s hot enough but it isn’t there primarily to be hot. I want to make people uncomfortable, question their assumptions. Face it, visual porn is vitally important in gay male culture. Hell, in male culture. Written erotica and erotic romance addressed to women, lesbian, straight, and M/M, sells astonishing amounts. But we’re not supposed to talk about it—we’re supposed to be embarrassed. In his blurb Jeff Mann called the novel “perverse”…and then confessed privately he’d worried the term would offend me. Actually I treasured it. Because That Door is intentionally a perverse book.
SL: Can you tell us about the hardest scene you have ever written?
AJ: They’re ALL hard. WRITING is hard. If it isn’t it’s hardly worth doing. But in this specific book the hardest was probably section xi of the last chapter. It’s just one paragraph. Liam is in fairyland for the second time in his very long life. Unlike fairies, humans are mortal so Harry, Liam’s husband, is dead. Liam has created a memorial to Harry in fairyland but now that’s done and he has nothing left, nowhere to go, nobody to care about. It was emotionally shattering to write that little paragraph, experience Liam’s devastation—I still cry nearly every time I reread it.
SL: What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
AJ: This will sound awful and self-defensive: Don’t. Really, don’t. Just stop trying—find a less self-destructive hobby. …I say this knowing that, if you take my advice, you were never going to be a writer. You were enraptured by the glamor of the writing life. There is no glamor. It’s hard, hard work that pays less well than Mickey D’s. If, on the other hand, you try to follow my suggestion and fail, then keep at it. There is always hope.
SL: What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
AJ: Pimp it! Pimp it unmercifully. Tell your friends and enemies and perfect strangers. Post reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and GoodReads. Tweet about it, blog about it, mention it on Facebook, nominate it for awards! Or just reread it, think about it, remember it fondly, and know I’m grateful for every reader.
SL: What are you working on now?
AJ: Sadly, truthfully, I’m not. In my defense, I did just make a transcontinental move and am camping out with relatives while looking for a place of my own. (Oddly enough, I’ve landed in the town that inspired the one where Liam and Harry end up. This move wasn’t even a glimmer in my mind’s eye when I wrote the book.) It’s possible there will be another collection of wonder stories next year and I have a big novel complete in draft I need to do something about. New work, though…we’ll have to see.
Since I’m self-promoting already and since the portrait on the About page is some four years old, here’s a new photo of ME. Snapped at lunch at the King Estate Winery outside Eugene, Oregon, by my brother-in-law.
Man, I need a haircut and a beard trim. And new spectacles.
After a very long time—or so it seems—my third novel, That Door Is a Mischief, is just about to go to press. As any thoughtful writer will tell you a book is never actually finished but this one’s about as done as I can make it before the announced publication date. Long stretches of the last three days have been preoccupied with going through the proof one last time (pruning commas, mostly) but this morning, resigned, I created final files for the printer.
So. That announced publication date is 15 September. Possibly the print edition will go on sale a bit earlier. For complicated reasons beyond Gentle Publisher’s control, I’m afraid the e-books will be delayed, maybe as long as a month. Apologies to them as prefer their books readable but not touchable.
Advance reaction has been gratifying. Well, there was a rather negative review in one of the industry’s trade journals. I’m not about to link to it but, truthfully, I found it amusing. The underpaid anonymous reviewer misunderstood what I was doing partway through and ran with that misunderstanding, irredeemably distorting her reading of the novel’s latter half. These things happen.
But other pre-pub readers have been outrageously complimentary. You can see the flyleaf blurbs on the dedicated page linked above but these two I especially treasure:
Melissa Scott—“In this story of a fairy child adopted into a gay family in our own world, Jeffers slides seamlessly between impossible and all too probable, creating both in luminous, extraordinary prose. This is a novel of aching love and perfect loss, amazing and utterly unforgettable.”
Jeff Mann—“What a beautiful, beautiful book this is: haunting, romantic, powerful, and perverse. Alex Jeffers is an amazing storyteller and a master stylist.”
And so, what else has Jeffers been up to since last seen in these parts?
Not writing, I am not acutely sorry to say. These past two months it’s seemed more crucial to learn (or learn again) how to be a proper person with a loving family, caring friends, and benevolent acquaintances. Working a little, relaxing and reading a lot, seeing the sights, devouring my sister’s delicious meals. Comforting my own dear Charlotte and Jane, locked up together (horrors!) because they, unlike the resident familiars, have never been indoor-outdoor cats and are very poorly socialized. Gradually making friends with said resident cats and marvelling at the chickens (and rooster!). Opening a local bank account. Briefly succumbing to extravagance after long deprivation: new dishes I didn’t really need, a grill pan I really did.
But tomorrow! Tomorrow I will begin searching in earnest for a place of my own…and then we’ll see.
I suffered a breakdown, something like a breakdown. Not on account of the traumatic event some people know about (the contrary, doubtless, in some ways), although that was no bloody help whatsoever—some weeks earlier, and then prolonged for nearly three months. Brain chemistry is a tricky thing whether or not mediated by those secretive rulers of the universe, the pharmaceutical-industrial complex (mine is not). I was pretty much incapable of working, neither for myself nor for paying clients. On the internet (where nobody knows you’re a dog) I put up a front, as one does. People who know me may not even have noticed. (I didn’t wish them to.) Then, for reasons having to do with said traumatic event, I lost internet access for some while, making paying work pretty much impossible. I would like to thank my elder brother for a leg up—a couple of legs, monetary and fraternal.
One might think receiving the truly lovely cover art for That Door Is a Mischief from its creator, the estimable Ben Baldwin, early last month would have helped. It was surely a bright moment in a waste of black despair, but moments last only so long. In the aftermath, however, I’m delighted by Ben’s visual imagining of my verbal imaginings, grateful to him for the work and to gentle publisher for commissioning it. Lethe Press will release the novel around about 15 September.
One might think learning The Padişah’s Son and the Fox had won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Erotica would make everything all better. One would be wrong…even if I didn’t believe the Lammys rather hollow honors. As I do. Nevertheless, I extend my gratitude to the anonymous judging panel, and to Mr Damon Shaw, whose good opinion of the abridged version originally published in 1996 belatedly persuaded me to publish the entire novella.
Toward the end of the horrid interval—just recently, in other words—more serene of mind, properly caffeinated and nicotinated again and still internet-free, I was able to restart the balky writing engine.
Well, first I put some time into revising The Unexpected Thing, which is now about as good as I think I can make it without editorial whips lashing my shoulders. Pretty damn good, that is. I’m now actively seeking representation, if anybody knows a good, aggressive literary agent.
But then I started writing again. I looked over a sputtering constellation of inconsequential fragments committed to pixels and bytes a decade ago, attempted to figure out where I’d meant to go with them. Although I failed in that figuring (just as well), I seem to have come up with a different conceptual schema and to have written the eighty-five-hundred-word first chapter of a new novel. I’m not ready to talk about it much, except to report its working title, Bedtime Stories for the Boy Himself, Perhaps, and the first sentence: He was twenty-two when he realized he was pregnant.
And to quote an essay written by its protagonist in high school, a few years before the novel’s proper start.
Senior English, Mr Wallace
18 September 2009
THE SUMMER ANGEL
The first time I saw the angel was two weeks before school got out for the summer. I had gone down to the beach after school—my head was foggy and, as I remember, I was annoyed about something and didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody. There were too many people on the sand so I walked briskly to the end of the beach, below the golf course where the cliffs come down almost to the tide line and there’s no sand anymore, just a shelf of rock with a bunch of boulders up against the cliff.
After walking a way along here, around the first headland, I couldn’t see—or hear—any people, so I sat down on a boulder looking out to sea and smoked a cigarette. I shouldn’t admit that part but if I don’t you’ll be sure to think I was smoking a joint. Because that’s when I saw the angel.
At first I just thought it was a big gull looking for fish, flapping along right above the waves in wide s-curves and figure eights. But as it came closer I saw that its wings were whiter than a gull’s—but not really white, more all colors at once…rainbow colors. White light going through a prism turns to rainbow colors. Its body didn’t really look like a bird’s, either, though I couldn’t tell quite what it did look like yet.
I held very still, not wanting to frighten it away, and it kept getting closer. Finally it alighted about ten feet from me and I could see it wasn’t any kind of bird at all. For one thing, it stood upright and had arms with hands on them, and no tail. I call it an angel because I don’t know what else to call it but it didn’t really look like the Sunday School idea of an angel, being naked and pretty definitely male (I suppose I should say he instead of it). Only about two feet tall, too—I think of angels as being seven and a half or eight feet, or else people size. Anyway, it was definitely too big to be a fairy and its wings were like bird wings, feathered, not dragonfly or moth wings. Maybe it was an extraterrestrial being. Whatever it was, I call it an angel. I said, “Angel,” and held out my hand.
I guess it hadn’t really seen me or thought I was a funny-looking rock, because when I moved and spoke it jumped into the air, flapping its wings madly, and shrieked like a gull. But basically it just seemed to be startled. It settled back down soon enough, fluffing its wings as though it was annoyed, and eyeing me sidelong.
At that distance I couldn’t really make out its face, but later on, as we got to know each other, I discovered the angel’s features revealed just as much expression as a person’s. The expressions—smiling, frowning, etc—were very human, too, and looked rather peculiar on a face the size of a cat’s, pointed at the chin and broad at the temples, with a small nose and mouth and very big, silvery eyes (not as big as a cat’s, though, and with round pupils). I think it may not have been quite adult yet because it had no beard or body hair. Although maybe angels don’t display those masculine characteristics. Its ears were small and round. The hair on its head was short, the same silvery color as its eyes and eyebrows. I wasn’t able to determine if the hair was cut short or if it grew that length naturally. I saw it use its hands several times—it liked to knock mussels off the rocks, pry them open, and pull out the meat, which it ate very neatly, and once I saw it catch a little fish, grabbing it out of the water with both hands—but I never saw it use any kind of tool, and as I said before it wore no clothing. I’m still not sure how intelligent it was. More than a monkey, definitely, but I’m not sure how much more. Eventually it learned to say my name and a few simple words like rock, sea, hand, wing, angel, and boy, but it never got the hang of verbs. I never saw it talking with another angel (it was the only one I encountered, unfortunately), so I don’t know if the sounds it made were language. They had the full complement of vowels and consonants—a few more of the latter than English, I think—and they sounded like language, but more like singing than speech.
But these observations come out of sequence. It took a week or so for it to get accustomed to me, to get over its suspicion and try the treats I brought it. It liked raisins; sunflower seeds and almonds, but not peanuts; rye bread, but not whole wheat or white; M&M’s, plain only, and it disdained the green ones. I’m not sure what else it ate besides mussels and fish. Once when I offered it a bite of my salami and cheese sandwich it got very annoyed, urinated on my head, and flew away shrieking, but the next day things were back to normal. (Angel urine, by the way, is just as nasty as any other kind.)
By about the tenth time I came to see it, the angel had learned my name. I tried to come at the same time every day. I would sit down on my habitual rock and smoke my cigarette. After a little while the angel would come flying in over the water, calling “Matthew! Matthew!” in its high, sweet voice, and land on my knee, sitting astraddle, wings out for balance. If I was still smoking it would be annoyed and yell at me from a distance until I got rid of the butt. When it was feeling particularly affectionate it landed on my head, grabbing my hair in its little hands. I found this disconcerting—especially when it hauled itself hand-over-hand across my scalp until it was hanging head down over my forehead, staring into my eyes and grinning foolishly. It wasn’t as heavy as you’d think, maybe four or five pounds. Probably its bones were hollow. Its skin was quite warm and its heartbeat very fast. Its wings smelled dusty, dry, and its flesh salty, a little like sea water. I am sorry to say it had very bad breath, though its teeth looked healthy if rather yellow. Except for the wings it appeared to be completely mammalian, making it a puzzle how to classify it in biological terms.
I don’t know if one could say I had tamed the angel because I’m not sure if you could ever have called it wild, or even if you’d call it an animal. I kept hoping it might follow me home one evening but no such luck. I’m fairly sure nobody ever saw us together, which is a pity in a way because of course no sane person would ever believe I made friends with an angel this summer. I have one of its long flight feathers, white with an odd prismatic shimmer, but what’s a feather? It never occurred to me until afterward that I should have tried to take a photograph of it. I mean, I always had my phone on me so I could have.
Sometime around the middle of August I went down to the rocks around the headland but the angel didn’t show up. I gave up looking for it after a week or so. I was disappointed that it hadn’t said good-bye.
I’ll say one further thing about Bedtime Stories. A kind reviewer of You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home said of “Then We Went There” that he wished the story were longer, that I’d explored the world of the Court of the Air more extensively. It occurred to me the other night that, when I composed “Then We Went There,” unconscious memories of those decade-old fragments may have come into play. That is, Matthew Girard uses a similar method to reach his imaginary world as Davey, in the short story, used to stumble from our world into another, and Matthew’s world also features an aerial commonwealth—if not a brutal, all-powerful régime like the Court. So, Benito: Not strictly an extension of or sequel to “Then We Went There” but, when (if) I complete Bedtime Stories, maybe the next-best thing.
One wonders how many times the great but very different Anglo-Irish writers Lord Dunsany and Elizabeth Bowen have been quoted on the same page. They were contemporaries (Dunsany twenty years Bowen’s senior): one wonders what they thought of each other and each other’s works. Or if they ever did.
This idle speculation being preface to presenting the two epigraphs to my forthcoming novel That Door Is a Mischief (which, good lord, you can already preorder because Gentle Publisher is amazing), passages from a pair of novels that could hardly be more distinct though they appeared only eleven years apart, in 1935 and 1924.
‘No doubt you do not care for fairy-tales, Leopold? An enchanted wood full of dumb people would offend you; you are not the young man with the sword who goes jumping his way through. Fairy-tales always made me impatient also. But unfortunately there is no doubt that in life such things exist: we are all very much bound up in what happens.’
—Elizabeth Bowen: The House in Paris
‘Go forth,’ he said, ‘before these days of mine are over, and therefore go in haste, and go from here eastwards and pass the fields we know, till you see the lands that clearly pertain to faery, and cross their boundary, which is made of twilight, and come to that palace that is only told of in song.’
‘It is far from here,’ said the young man Alveric.
—Lord Dunsany: The King of Elfland’s Daughter
A few days ago, bored and depressed, I tried to entertain myself by working out answers to a novelist meme going around even though nobody had tagged me. I never finished (story. of. life.), but here’s my answer to one question, which seems also—serendipitously—to say something about my choice of quotes from a major masterpiece of modernist melodrama and a minor masterpiece of foundational modern fantasy to preface my odd little novel.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t even know what “genre” means anymore! To readers, to publishers, to me. The labels keep multiplying, subdividing, splintering. Back in my day (and get off my lawn while you’re at it, horrid kids) the three genres that attracted me were science fiction, fantasy, and literary—or, as defensive SF/F nerds called it then, mainstream—fiction. Their definitions were solid and the distinctions between them were clear, but even so I jumped around a lot. These days I don’t seem drawn much to anything resembling science fiction despite two massive projects I’d like to finish one day. Ditto consensus-reality-based lit fic, though it’s only one project there.
I suppose most of what I’m doing recently falls under the broad fantasy umbrella but the pie chart that makes up that umbrella has so many sharply demarcated segments nowadays, many of which I fail to understand or, sadly, to find very interesting. Am I writing “urban fantasy” when I propose a fairy brought up by human people in twenty-first-century America? Not if “urban fantasy” is what I think it is. (On the simplest level, the settings of That Door Is a Mischief are primarily rural.) Is a story about a were-hyena assassin for hire in eleventh-century Cairo “historical fantasy,” “shifter fantasy,” or what? “The Hyena’s Blessing” was published in a book of zombie stories although the zombies were, for me, about the least interesting part of it and it’s not a horror story by any definition, so I dunno. Does the slight preponderance of teenage protagonists in my work of the last five or six years mean I’m writing YA some of the time? I don’t think so, generally, but clearly I don’t know anything.
If pressed, I’d define what I’m mostly attempting to write as stories of heightened reality inflected by fantasy tropes and viewed through the lens of literary fiction. Is that a genre? Is anybody else working in it?
Well, I didn’t want to write it. I feel Liam might be better pleased if I hadn’t written it, if I’d left him all hopeful and happy at the end of chapter seven. But it nagged and nagged and demanded to be written so it was: an eighth and definitively final chapter of the novel now titled That Door Is a Mischief. Which is pretty much novel sized: 66,000 words. Of which roughly 50,000 were written since the turn of the year.
And I am wrung out.
So. Commission cover art. Schedule. Perform final-final polish. Typeset. Send out for review. Publish. Summer 2014, maybe?