first look work in progress

Alida Moraes

Alida Moraes (1888 – 1918) was a Portuguese story writer and poet best known for her posthumously published novelas pequenas (“little novels”). The only book published in her lifetime, a slender volume simply entitled 26 Poemas (26 Poems), appeared in 1910 under the masculine pseudonym Sebastião Preto. In 1916, when the Portuguese Republic declared war against Germany and the Central Powers, she disguised herself as a man and, as Sebastião Preto, joined the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps. Although her body was not recovered and/or identified, she is presumed to have been killed at the Battle of Estaires (9 – 11 April 1918) in French Flanders, when German forces overran the Portuguese lines. In 1920 her family published Flandres, collecting poems in verse and prose sent home in letters and including an often misleading memoir of the poet by her cousin Flávia Ladbourne. Two years later a first, severely bowdlerized volume of eleven Novelas pequenas was released, achieving immediate popularity in Portugal. An English translation appeared in 1926 under the title ‘The Goblin’s Bride’ and Other Modern Fairy Tales; the book has since been translated into fifteen languages and a definitive edition drawn from original manuscripts was issued in Portugal for Moraes’s centennial in 1988.


Alida Moraes was born 1 January 1888 in Porto, Portugal, the natural daughter of Duarte Sebastião Ladbourne (1873 – 1899), younger son of a port wine shipping dynasty of English origin, and Zubeida Moraes (?1870 – 1888), a laundress, who died giving birth to her. The motherless child was acknowledged by her father’s family, raised among her cousins, but never legitimated. Her early childhood was spent between the Ladbourne properties in Porto and the wine-growing region of Alijó on the Douro River. Moraes was educated by governesses and tutors in company with her cousin Flávia Ladbourne (1887 – 1962), daughter of her father’s eldest brother. She learned English, Castilian, French, and Italian as well as such feminine accomplishments as needlework, watercolor painting, and household management, although her journals reveal impatience with the latter. As she grew older her father, who approved her tomboy qualities, taught her to ride astride and to shoot.

When she was eleven, Duarte Ladbourne was killed, his body found savagely beaten on the Porto waterfront. Municipal police concluded he had been attacked by a gang of ruffians and killed after proving to carry little of value, but the Ladbourne family believed Duarte’s death the responsibility of Diederik Jonckers, a Dutch wine merchant resident in Porto who returned to Amsterdam some weeks later. The motive publicly espoused by the family and their allies was that Duarte had been conducting an affair with Jonckers’s wife, but in Moraes’s journals she declares as a matter of certainty that Jonckers’s family had her father killed to stop an affair with Jonckers himself. Years later she would fictionalize this scenario in two forms, a narrative poem in twenty-six stanzas of ottava rima (1907) and a novela pequena (1911), both entitled “Uma paixão fatal” (“A Fatal Passion”) and neither published until after the death of Flávia Ladbourne, her executrix.

After her father’s death Moraes fell into a deep depression. On the advice of the family doctor she was sent to live at the Ladbourne quinta at Pinhão. She would not return to Porto for nine years, a period she calls in her journals the wild years (os anos selvagens). Her formal education, such as it had ever been, ceased. Nevertheless, within six months she evinced a talent for educating herself, reading through every volume in the quinta’s small library and writing at length about what she had learned in the pages of the journals she had been keeping since childhood. When the library was exhausted, she began requesting books in all five of her languages in monthly letters to her guardian, Duarte’s brother. Few requests were denied: she was not permitted to read Darwin and a request for Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Tales was ignored, although Flávia later procured copies of both The Happy Prince and A House of Pomegranates for her cousin.

As the last titles suggest, she had an interest in fairy tales and folklore. She read Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, the Arabian Nights, Hans Christian Andersen, George MacDonald, among many others, and eventually accumulated the entire run of Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Books. For a period she collected local legends and folk tales from farmwives and vineyard workers, which she recorded meticulously in a separate set of journals. After a year-long lapse in this practice, in 1902 she rediscovered these tales and began to experiment at creating her own, mixing motifs, stock characters, and plotlines from her reading with observations of life at the quinta and around Pinhão and recollections of Porto. Several of the Novelas pequenas are drastically re-imagined and expanded versions of juvenilia from this period.

She also read much verse in all her languages, little of it recent, and wrote a good deal of derivative poetry of her own. Possibly because she had encountered the work of few women poets, she developed a masculine persona for these verses and—after Flávia’s summer sojourn at the quinta in 1904, when the two girls seem to have become lovers—composed passionate lyrics addressed to a distant, unnamed feminine beloved.

Chiefly, however, out of sight of her staid family, between 1899 and 1908 she ran wild. It was then she adopted masculine dress, if not the tailored suits she would affect in her twenties as a scandal about town in Porto and Lisbon. At first she excused the eccentricity on grounds of practicality. Fashions suitable for a bourgeois girl were unsuited to working in the vineyards, as she insisted on doing, to horseback riding, to hunting small game for the larder. For some years she would dress conventionally during family visits and kept her long hair, but at fifteen, enraged when pinned-up braids became tangled in the brush where a wounded pheasant had retreated, she cropped her hair like a boy’s and thereafter wore girl’s clothing only to attend mass with female relations. She paid local men for lessons in knife fighting, variously saying she might need to defend herself from men less understanding or that she planned to exact revenge for her father’s murder. She adopted a mastiff puppy, which she trained up as an attack dog, and for a time took an interest in the locally popular cockfights. Her journals hint that, after the summer of 1904, she made a habit of seducing local girls and women whilst reserving her romantic passion for her cousin Flávia.

She continued to write verse and prose of increasing ambition. On her birthday in 1907 she resolved to compose a memorial to her murdered father, this being the narrative poem “Uma paixão fatal,” which she had completed by late spring. Contemporary scholars have traced explicit parallels between the imagined affair of “Duarte” and “Diederik” and Moraes’s relations with Flávia; interestingly, the “Duarte” figure corresponds with the gentle, civilized Flávia of Moraes’s idealization while “Diederik” resembles the hot-tempered, half-feral poet.

Upon reading the fair copy of “Uma paixão fatal” Moraes sent her, Flávia Ladbourne declared it scandalous, even evil, and begged her cousin to burn the original even as she, Flávia, had burned the copy. This first great argument between the young lovers, conducted entirely through correspondence now lost, bore fruit in the verses that would eventually make up 26 Poemas. Freed from the constraints of narrative—although she retained the magical number 26 for the years of her father’s life—Moraes conflated the Duarte/Diederik affair of her imagination with the Flávia/Alida affair and abstracted both into a sequence of lyrics that chronicle, celebrate, and condemn the passionate romance of an ambiguously male poet-narrator and his bewitching, explicitly female beloved. Moraes was simultaneously composing early versions of several of the original fairy tales that would appear in Novelas pequenas; fantastical elements bleed through from the tales into the 26 Poemas: never-never-land settings, magical beings and creatures, mythic quests.

Journal entries from the period reveal Moraes’s internal conflict over her resolution not to show these verses to Flávia. She did, however, share the tales, generally more to her cousin’s liking. Very much not to Moraes’s liking was the announcement in October 1907 that Flávia’s father, and Flávia herself without great protest, had accepted the suit of one Edwin Montefiore, heir to another port wine house; they would be married in the spring. Moraes raged in her journal, discounting Flávia’s claim she would continue to love her cousin best. The rage spilled over into the penultimate of the 26 Poemas, unanimously considered the strongest.

A month later Duarte’s widowed mother—Alida Moraes’s and Flávia Ladbourne’s grandmother—died in Porto after a brief illness. When her will was read, it transpired she had left a legacy to her favorite son’s bastard daughter that, husbanded with some care, would keep Moraes in independent comfort. The will expressed a hope the young woman would slough her wild ways, conform to polite standards, and marry appropriately; but these were not conditions on the bequest, which was irrevocable.

In January 1908 Moraes returned to Porto “under [her] own steam,” as she wrote—but not to the Ladbourne household. Although her journals take little notice of it, this was a period of trauma and ferment in Portugal. Scarcely a month after Moraes settled in a Porto hotel, in Lisbon the king, Dom Carlos, and his heir apparent, Luis Filipe, were murdered by republican assassins, an event that would lead to the end of the monarchy less than two years later.

In Porto, having outfitted herself with her soon to be notorious bespoke suits, Moraes began the process of reinventing herself as an urban rake. She was taken up by the first of a series of bohemian older women who would shelter her, attempt to satisfy her appetites, and end up both broken hearted and satirized in one of the novelas pequenas. She declined to acknowledge her Ladbourne relatives—to their relief, doubtless—or to attend Flávia’s wedding, although they corresponded every day and engineered clandestine assignations as often as they could, whether in Moraes’s current lodgings or Flávia Ladbourne Montefiore’s new household.

Late that year or early the next, Moraes decided to publish her 26 Poemas after one of her lovers discovered the manuscript and declared it a work of genius. This woman, Rafaela Lazzini (1882 – 1950), a Brazilian heiress and painter whom Moraes calls “the Jaguar” (a onça-pintada) in her journals, created a series of modernist lithographs to illustrate the poems and financed an edition of five hundred copies, which was printed in Lisbon in February 1910, six months after their on-again, off-again affair irretrievably broke down. Lazzini had wished to issue the volume under Moraes’s name but the poet insisted the work had been composed by “the man in my heart,” whom she christened Sebastião Preto. Ultimately, Lazzini chose to have her illustrations credited to the name Moraes had given her, Onça Pintada.

26 Poemas attracted little notice and sold poorly. In the memoir of her cousin she would later write, Flávia Ladbourne laid blame for the volume’s lack of success on unsettled politics: 1910 was the year in which the last Braganza king, Dom Manuel II, “the Unfortunate,” was deposed and the First Republic established. There may be some truth to the claim. At any rate, more than half the edition still remained in rented storage six years later when Moraes resolved to join the Expeditionary Corps, at which time she chose to have them burned. As a consequence the volume is now exceedingly rare; when a copy of the first edition in good condition becomes available the price will be high.

During those early years of the republic Moraes’s dissolute public life belied her writerly industry. Her lovers—including Flávia Ladbourne—complained bitterly when she withdrew from them at intervals to devote herself to her art. She always considered herself a poet first but it appears she wrote little verse during this period. Instead, she revised and re-revised already written novelas—some exist in as many as ten versions—and composed new ones. It is unclear whether or how she intended them to be published or if she wrote the tales strictly for herself and/or Flávia.

In 1915, with the rest of Europe at war though Portugal remained officially neutral, Moraes seduced Beatrix Dumbarton (1897 – 1990), a young Scotswoman serving as governess to the children of a wealthy family of Moraes’s acquaintance. Dumbarton (“the Scottish rose” [a rosa escosesa] in the journals) soon became dangerously obsessive about her lover, often threatening to kill herself should Moraes end the affair. Finding this emotional blackmail unendurable, Moraes absconded from Porto, travelling south to the capital in masculine attire, where she took up residence under her nom-de-plume Sebastião Preto. Back in Porto, Dumbarton did not commit suicide but did suffer a nervous collapse and was kept in seclusion for the remainder of the war. She did not learn of the death of her lover until the publication of Flandres, by which time she had, ironically, met and become intimately involved with Rafaela Lazzini. The two women would remain together until Lazzini’s death in 1950, first in Portugal—Coimbra rather than Porto—then in Lazzini’s birthplace, Rio de Janeiro. In the early 1980s Umberta Freitas, a graduate student at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio, moved into Dumbarton’s apartment building and befriended the frail, elderly Scotswoman. Freitas later wrote:

The old lady asked me what I studied and I replied, Portuguese literature. “Oh,” she said, “then you will know the great good friend of my youth, Alida—or ‘Sebastião,’ as she liked to be called.”

Freitas earned her doctorate in 1986 on the strength of her dissertation, Sebastião se junta ao exército (Sebastião Joins the Army). After Dumbarton’s death she published a popular biography, A poetisa, a onça-pintada ea rosa (The Poet, the Jaguar, and the Rose, 1992), which, although it inevitably focusses more on Dumbarton and Lazzini’s long life together, remains an essential source on Moraes’s last year in the city of her birth.

It is difficult to determine how well Lisbon was fooled by Moraes’s masculine disguise, or how seriously she herself took it. Julinha Simões of the University of Coimbra speculates in Sebastião, o nome verdadeiro de Alida (Sebastião, Alida’s True Name, 2015) that Moraes was what would now be called a transman; this thesis has been dismissed as special pleading by conservatives, who point out that Simões is herself a transwoman. Certainly Moraes’s contemporaries—and the author herself—did not possess the language to address questions of transgenderism. The evidence of Moraes’s journals is ambiguous. Sometimes “Sebastião” is her father, sometimes her ghostly male twin, sometimes a cruel joke (on the gullible world; on women believing themselves courted by a man; on men troubled by their attraction to another man or, crueler still, on homosexual men discovering an attractive, sympathetic gentleman to be no such thing; on herself), sometimes simply “I.”

At any event, not much more than six months after Moraes established herself in the capital, March 1916, Germany declared war on Portugal as a result of the seizure of thirty-six German and Austro-Hungarian merchant ships in neutral Lisbon. In July of that year, Britain “invited” her old ally to contribute troops to the Triple Entente’s war effort.

Moraes seems scarcely to have noticed the declaration of war—critics have called her “shockingly naïve” about Portuguese and European politics and the war’s background—but when the call for recruits to a new Expeditionary Corps went out she took it as a call to action and an opportunity to prove Sebastião Preto’s worth in an arena more conventionally valued than literature. She prepared fair copies of the poems and stories that best pleased her, had them and a vast trove of rough manuscripts and old journals shipped to Flávia Ladbourne “for safekeeping,” and, as noted above, ordered unsold stock of 26 Poemas destroyed. Then Sebastião Preto volunteered for the Corps.

None of her correspondence thereafter survives, nor any journal she may have kept. Our only sources for Alida Moraes’s last two years are the poems she sent Flávia, posthumously published in Flandres—those Flávia chose to preserve—and Flávia’s memoir published in the same volume, an exercise in mythologizing her deceased cousin and lover.

After some six months training at Tancos, Moraes’s unit was transported to northern France for further training and integration with the British First Army, and by May 1917 had been deployed to the Western Front. Neither Portuguese nor British records take much notice of “Sebastião Preto” so it seems Moraes performed no great feats of battlefield heroism or valor such as earned her fellow private Aníbal Milhais the nickname “Soldado Milhões” (“A soldier as good as a million others”) and the Order of the Tower and Sword. In Sebastião, o nome verdadeiro de Alida, Simões expresses considerable frustration over her inability to track down any surviving veterans of the Expeditionary Corps who remembered the cross-dressed soldier-poet or, indeed, any recollection of Preto/Moraes in published accounts and memoirs. After the Battle of Estaires (AKA the Battle of La Lys), “Preto” was listed as missing, presumed dead.



  • 26 Poemas (as by Sebastião Preto, with illustrations by Onça Pintada [Rafaela Lazzini]), 1910; reissued as by Alida Moraes, sans illustrations, 1923.
  • Flandres, com uma memória da autora, 1920
  • Novelas pequenas, 1922
  • Versos esquecidos (Forgotten Verses), 1964
  • Histórias perdidas encontradas (Lost Stories Found), 1978
  • Uma paixão fatal e outros escândalos (A Fatal Passion, and Other Scandals), 1978
  • Novelas pequenas, uma edição restaurada (A Restored Edition), ed. Julinha Simões, 1988
  • Folhas da vida: uma seleção dos jornais (Leaves of life: a selection from the journals), ed. Julinha Simões, forthcoming, 2018

What on earth was that? you may rightly ask.

A piece of (invented) historical background for my current work in progress, announced at the end of this entry, the one with the girl protagonist and the working title The Goblin’s Bride (which really needs to change).

As I presently envision the novel, Alida Moraes will not actually appear as a character, although a version of this faux Wikipedia entry may. Nevertheless, her fairy tale known in English as “The Goblin’s Bride” and, especially, the 1999 film based on it, will be of signal importance to the actual characters and the plot and, well, this is the way I work. One of the ways, anyway. At some point in the near future I’ll have to compose a similar entry on that film as well as the text of the fairy tale—Moraes’s original, not the bowdlerized version after which the film’s script was written.

But first I need to complete the second chapter of the main narrative…. Back to work, Jeffers.

Deprivation Ivri Lider Oregon self That Door Is a Mischief The New People The Padişah’s Son and the Fox The Young Professionals work in progress

oh, hi

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.


awards erotica fantasy fiction first look That Door Is a Mischief The Padişah’s Son and the Fox work in progress

a bleak road through a black waste

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.

Matthew Girard
Senior English, Mr Wallace
18 September 2009


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.

fantasy fiction Liam in the World spec fic That Door Is a Mischief work in progress

Liam end note

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?

fantasy fiction Liam in the World work in progress

Liam progress note

Gentle Publisher has forbidden the title I chose for the Compleat Liam, oh, four years ago. It’s boring and unevocative, he says, won’t attract readers. At the moment he issued the ultimatum I told him this had never happened to me before, in the nearly forty years since I sold my first story: but on reflection I realize it isn’t so. My second pro sale was retitled for similar cause and the third for reasons having to do with long forgotten sci-fi politics of the day. So be it. Ave atque vale, Liam in the World.

Because he is not entirely heartless (or maybe he is), Gentle Publisher came up with a list of five alternate titles. Following a strategy I’ve only recently noticed other writers using, they’re all direct quotes from the text itself.

  1. Fairy Teeth
  2. A Literal Fairy
  3. That Door Is a Mischief and My Heart Is Sorrowful
  4. All the Feral Promises
  5. In the Grotty Mirror

As you see, I’ve dismissed three out of hand. Doubtless he expected me to. Number 4 is perhaps too…Sweet Savage Love? Or maybe I’m thinking of a movie from the 1950s.

Number 3 I love. I loved it in context when I wrote the line of dialogue, love it again divorced from context. But does it work as a title? First of all, the last time I used a book title similarly lengthy, You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home, the title proved a mischief—misremembered, misquoted, mangled, once ignored entirely in favor of the subtitle Wonder Stories. Nor will I soon forget the snarls of irritation that greeted the novelette title “Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy.”

Second, I wouldn’t wish people to assume Liam’s book is some lugubrious recitation of sorrows or any variety of tragical Faerie Ballad: it is quite other than either.

Third, the mischievous door, although present in the first chapter, doesn’t assume its true importance till quite near book’s end.

So I will ponder and fret a while longer. There’s time. I await responses (thoughts, critiques, rippings of new assholes) from a couple of people I sent the current draft to who have more pressing demands on their time. As do we all. I have two (at least) books to design and lay out and a couple of novel-length MSs to proofread prior to layout.

fantasy fiction Tales from the Subcontinent work in progress

mappa mundi

So, Jeffers, what is it you do with yourself when you’re blocked and bored and down (and between freelance design or editorial projects) as you so often are?

You mean, besides fossicking around the internets for untold unproductive hours like everybody else? Ach, well, sometimes (often) I glower resentfully at stalled stories, deleting or adding a word or two here and there as I reread until I reach the point where I stalled, glower some more, quit out. Sometimes I reread finished stories, a pleasanter endeavor all ’round until the inevitable moment of despair: I’ll never complete another.

And sometimes I make maps of imaginary places.

This, for instance, is a massively incomplete sketch map of present-day political divisions on the made-up world that once bore the nonce-title the world of the subcontinent but which I’m more inclined these days to call the Kandadal’s world. [Click image for a full-size version in a new tab.]

the Kandadal's World

The Kandadal’s world is the setting of three completed stories and (at present) six more in progress. (Progress, he says. Laugh. Sob.) “Two Dead Men”—first published in Icarus 14, Fall 2012, and still available for purchase—takes place in the small, civil-war-traumatized city of Fejz in the subcontinental nation of Iszabal, with flashbacks to the narrator’s mother’s homeland, Aveng, halfway around the world. “The Other Bridge,” which you may read right here, is set in the former imperial capital of Sjolussa, with lengthy recollections of that expat narrator’s youth in post-colonial Aveng.

Both those narratives coincide with the period of the map: now, more or less, a time of clever hi-tech devices, international trade, instantaneous global communications, and rapid air travel. The third finished story, “The Oily Man”—which will appear in Handsome Devil: Tales of Seduction and Sin from Prime Books next February—is set some four hundred years earlier, in the latter days of the so-called age of discovery when adventurers of subcontinental nations (as then constituted) set out to find sea routes to the fabulous east. And incidentally render pointless Sjolussa’s immemorial position as subcontinental endpoint of the overland caravans.

The narrator of “The Oily Man,” useless scion of a merchant family in Trebt (four centuries later an independent micro-state but then a vassal state of the Great King, Sjolussa’s fiercest rival), is dispatched to Aveng, where he’s meant to curry favor with the queen on the Jade Stool and gain advantage for the Great Eastern Company. That doesn’t quite work out and (though not within the story) his failure signals the decline of the Great King’s influence in Aveng, opening Sjolussa’s way to annexing the country.

The Kandadal, by the way, that ancient mad saint and conscience of the world, is mentioned by the by in “Two Dead Men” but plays a major role in “The Oily Man.”

He also casts a long shadow over “The Tale of the Ive-ojan-akhar’s Death,” possibly closest to completion of the unfinished tales. This is an historical story as well, narrative of a minor functionary in the Sjolussene mission to the court of the Immortal of Haisn, the Celestial Realm, about a hundred and fifty years ago in early days of the age of steam.

The remaining five seem all to be roughly contemporary. I know almost nothing about “A Room Like an Eggshell” yet except that it involves a marquise of ancient family and her gigolo. It might be set in Asana, once heartland of the Great King’s realms, or the Summer Archipelago. I know quite a lot about “The Lake Is Not the World”—first envisaged of the lot—but not the name or location of the titular lake. Or how to write the story. “Etti and Sien” (I hope to discover a better title) returns to cosmopolitan post-imperial Sjolussa. “A Joke of the Kandadal” starts out on the Sequin Coast of Yf, that half-continent-size island nation and the only place in all the world utterly devoid of the numinous. Starts out there but will conclude, I believe, in the Vale of Sfothem where the Kandadal was born.

Finally for the moment, “The Cat in the Moon”—which Steve Berman reminds me nearly every time we speak I need to finish and which will likely end up at least a novella if not a full-length novel—is a gothic tale set in and around Castle Heddr in the West Country of Kyrland’s South Island.

Sometimes, other late-night early mornings, I compose and recompose and revise and re-revise long blithery posts for this blog….

Deprivation novelette work in progress

a startlement

Long ago when the world and I were young, carefree—before mobile phones and e-readers and the World Wide Web, almost before personal computers (a decade before I acquired one of my own)—I worked in a public library. For the greater part of that tenure, I was the drone who made sure all the new books the professional librarians recommended were promptly ordered and added to the collection. Among the wonders of that job* was license to study the review journals on which the librarians based their decisions. Committed readers may recognize the names of some of those journals attached to fulsome praise on the covers or flyleaves of their favorite books:  Publishers Weekly. Library Journal and its younger sibling School Library Journal. Booklist. Kirkus Reviews.

In library, bookselling, and publishing circles, Kirkus particularly is renowned for the gleeful savagery of its judgments. Its takedowns were often a sheer, mean joy to read. I can still feel the tingle of outrage and delight when one of my pro-librarian friends brought to my attention Kirkus’s brutal evisceration of 75% of an anthology containing an early story of mine. Alas that I can’t quite recall the vicious half-sentence devoted to my piece—only the demoralizing fact I rated just half a sentence.

I better remember the oddly pleasurable disappointment I felt years later when I understood Kirkus had entirely ignored the first edition of Safe as Houses. How vicious will they be? I’d asked myself again and again. So cruel they declined to recognize its existence!

All of this is preamble to announcing that Kirkus has reviewed my long-delayed second full-length novel, Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy. And…and I am bewildered! The anonymous reviewer isn’t savage at all. I could wish three tiny errors hadn’t been made [it’s Ben’s small apartment in Providence; the man’s name is Paolo and he taught Italian] and the review is almost uncomfortably perceptive, but really, really, I’m shockingly pleased.

Fascinated by an idealized version of Italy he imagines from literature and art, a young gay man goes through the motions of a mundane life in the 1990s, while sleep deprivation causes vivid dreams that blend strangely with reality.

Jeffers’ fuguelike story elevates everyday people and places to the fantastical with beautifully evocative language and detailed descriptions. … At the same time Ben is perhaps creating these people, they help define him. Everyone seems to have moments when they’re real and moments when they’re fantasy; even dreams have agendas and needs to push upon Ben. … An exquisite flow of language ensures that the narrative doesn’t get lost even as Ben drifts.

A gorgeous journey to nowhere.

The full review won’t go live for non-subscribers to Kirkus until two weeks before publication, but here’s a link to where it will show up. Lethe Press will release Deprivation in two and a quarter months, at the end of February, 2013.

*I’m not going to lie. The opportunity to buy books for myself at library discounts was the very best part.

In other news, I guess I’m announcing a majorish project that may or may not work out.

And here is the cover of Wilde Stories 2013: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, in which my novelette “Tattooed Love Boys” (originally published at GigaNotoSaurus last spring, then in You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home) will be reprinted. Forthcoming from Lethe Press in mid-June.

Photo by Rob Lorino, layout/typography by me.


BrazenHead fiction short stories spec fic work in progress You Will Meet a Stranger…


Publishers Weekly, trade journal of the US book publishing industry, reviewed You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home in the 14 May issue. Nice review, much appreciated. Although I can’t figure out how the reviewer got the impression all the stories were linked in any manner other than being written by the same guy.

(The same issue of PW also reviews Melissa Scott’s novella Point of Knives, second {in internal chronology} of the Books of Astreiant, about which I raved back in February.)

I’ll belatedly add that I have a very nice blurb for You Will Meet a Stranger from my friend Agnes Bushell, whose too few and too hard to track down novels you should make an effort to find.

What a cornucopia! Each story is a world, and each is more amazing than the one before it. The book is a like a jewel-case filled with these glittering, gorgeous, but very dangerous brooches! The pins are sharp! Barbed at times. And the writing is perfection.

Oh, and, Lethe Press has posted a freely downloadable PDF copy of “Firooz and His Brother” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 2008), which will reappear in You Will Meet a Stranger.

Yet more: genial and handsome Canadian short-story writer ’Nathan Burgoine, with whom I share two recent tables of contents but whose work I don’t yet know well enough, has declared May short story month. To celebrate which, he embarked on the project of reviewing one story a day from both of those TOCs on his blog. ’Nathan’s reviews of Boys of Summer begin here (he looks at my “Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy” here), and The Touch of the Sea here (I expect him to post his look at my “Ban’s Dream of the Sea” on Wednesday, 16 May {edited to add link on 20 May}). My only disappointment in this project is that ’Nathan skips over his own stories, “Leap” in Boys of Summer and “Time and Tide” in The Touch of the Sea, both of which I enjoyed a good deal. While I have yet to see any reviews of The Touch of the Sea, our blessed lord the internet has coughed up several of Boys of Summer:

Edited to add two more encountered today, 20 May:

Edited to add one more, posted today, 4 June:

In newer news about an older title, Speaking Out: LGBT Youth Stand Up (edited, like Boys of Summer and The Touch of the Sea, by Steve Berman, and in which my story “Captain of the World” appears) is one of three finalists in the Teen: Fiction category of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2012 Benjamin Franklin Awards. So that’s pretty neat. The awards will be presented early next month, I believe.

More? Oh, all right. I wrote my third story of 2012 last month. “Two Dead Men” (5,900 words) takes place in the same secondary world as 2012’s second story, “The Other Bridge” (announced at the bottom of this page), although they are otherwise unrelated. Inspired by the recent twenty-year anniversary of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly the sieges of Sarajevo and Mostar.

Story #4, “The Oily Man,” in the works, is also set in that world. I don’t have a name for it—probably should, but its inhabitants just call it the world. Don’t have a map, despite my propensity for maps. Haven’t even named the continents and am not entirely clear on the locations of the nations and cities I have named. Placeholder collective title for the on-going group, Tales of the Subcontinent, refers to the secondary world’s analogue of Europe. “The Other Bridge” and “Two Dead Men” take place respectively in the subcontinental cities of Sjolussa (a former colonial power) and Fejz—with flashbacks to the tropical nation of Aveng—during the equivalent of our high-tech, post-colonial twenty-first century…but with, you know, magic and supernatural beings and incarnated gods.

Whereas “The Oily Man” is set centuries earlier during the messy period between the subcontinent’s Age of Discovery and its Age of Colonialism, the narrator a native of subcontinental mercantile city Trebt exiled to distant Aveng. This one’s intended for a 2013 anthology that hasn’t been announced yet (I have friends) but whose editor has expressed approval of the 3,000 or so words of first draft I’ve come up with so far.

Will I complete it this month? Up in the air. I have a terrifying pile of freelance copyediting I ought to be doing instead….

Finally, although I’m not ready to make a formal announcement, the third BrazenHead novella, a gripping dark fantasy, has been tentatively scheduled for publication in early November. But first we have to get Tom Cardamone’s brilliantly peculiar Green Thumb into your hands or downloaded onto your e-reader. August. Watch for it.

design fantasy fiction Lethe Press recommendation spec fic work in progress You Will Meet a Stranger…

return to Astreiant

Nicolas Rathe and Philip Eslingen are back! And I am really very extremely pleased to be involved in their renascence.

Point of Hopes, the novel in which Rathe, Eslingen, and the great city of Astreiant were introduced, was the second collaboration of science-fiction novelist Melissa Scott and her partner, Lisa A. Barnett, following by several years and solo Scott novels The Armor of Light, their dazzling alt-history fantasy of an Elizabethan era in which neither Sir Philip Sidney nor Christopher Marlowe died untimely but allied to defeat a magical threat to the kingdom.

First published by Tor in 1995, Point of Hopes is rather a different animal, a pure secondary-world fantasy of a peculiarly solid, matter-of-fact sort. This is a world that feels, as Booklist’s review of the first edition put it, “lived in.” It’s a world lit by two suns—the familiar day-time primary and the smaller, more distant winter-sun—in which astrology, alchemy, necromancy, and other magical disciplines are demonstrably science, every great household employs a wizard (or magist, in the novel’s terminology), and nobody would risk making a major decision without first consulting her horoscope.

And yet it’s the farthest place from the idealized, romantic, sorcerous Age of Heroes of Tolkien and his innumerable followers. Middle Earth is a lovely place to visit but it’s not anywhere you, as a reasonable human person with human needs and desires, could live. The city of Astreiant, the nation of Chenedolle of which Astreiant is capital, Chenedolle’s immediate neighbors and distant trading partners, all possess the qualities of actual places with working economies, histories, technologies. (My guess—probably wrong—is that Astreiant’s models were the wealthy mercantile cities of the Burgundian Low Countries in the early Renaissance.) Life would be hard in Astreiant for a refugee from twenty-first-century USA but not especially harder than in Elizabethan London and conceivable in a way that acclimation to daily life in Minas Tirith or the Shire, it seems to me, is not. Indeed, for women and queer people, Astreiant has multiple advantages over our own time in that, without any fuss at all, Scott and Barnett have imagined societies in which gender equality is the norm and minority sexualities no big deal.

Refreshingly furthermore, although Chenedolle and other nations naturally possess entrenched aristocracies, nearly all the principal characters in Point of Hopes are ordinary people—not quite middle class, largely because an Astreianter middle class hasn’t quite evolved yet. Ladies and lords are, as they would be for you and me, distant glamorous figures who make you self-conscious about your second-best coat and unpolished manners when the course of events brings you into contact with them. Neither Rathe nor Eslingen are hidden heirs to any kingdom nor potential heroes of the humble-hobbit-turned-Savior!-of-the-World! variety. They do their jobs as best they can, worry about money and laundry like you and me, live their mostly ordinary lives without expectation of being extraordinary. Which, of course, makes them all too extraordinary in fantasy-land.

Nico Rathe is a pointsman, member of a kind of city guard or police force that’s grown up in the various districts (points) of Astreiant, charged with maintaining public order and investigating crimes. Only a century or so since the institution’s establishment, pointsmen are still regarded with suspicion by the city people whose business they’re likely to interfere in and the nobility, fearful of erosion of their privileges. Meanwhile, Philip Eslingen, a mercenary from Chenedolle’s traditional enemy, current ally, the League (a loose confederation of independent city states, apparently), is paid off at the end of the campaign season and looking for work to keep him through a winter in Astreiant, where foreigners are less trusted than pointsmen.

The plot of Point of Hopes involves the mysterious disappearance of scores of Astreiant’s children and an alchemical conspiracy in support of one candidate for Chenedolle’s childless queen’s throne. It’s an excellent, clockwork plot, and grand fun to watch it working out, red herrings, detective work, adventurous rescues, and all. But for this reader the real joy of the book was the picture of a fully realized, working secondary world—and the pleasure of making Rathe’s and Eslingen’s acquaintance, for they are lovely, solid, imperfect men.

Point of Hopes was followed by Point of Dreams (also Tor, 2001), set largely in Astreiant’s theatre district. I haven’t reread it as recently as Hopes—this will be remedied soon!—but as I recall the plot was smaller scale though no less satisfying and the new corners of Astreiant fascinating to explore. The big surprise was discovering Rathe and Eslingen to be acknowledged lovers now, not so many months after the end of Hopes when they were merely good friends and accidental partners in adventure who had (subtly, subtly) admitted an attraction between them. At any rate, I enjoyed Dreams a great deal and resigned myself to waiting another six years for the next Point.

Very sadly, that was not to be. Barnett was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and after a long, hard fight died in 2006. Tor ceased releasing a new Scott novel just about every year. As best I could determine (admittedly I didn’t try that hard), Scott fell completely silent—understandably!

Then, ’round about the time I became inextricably entangled in the webs of Steve Berman’s Lethe Press, Steve announced he would be reissuing Scott’s Lambda Literary Award-winning science fiction novel Shadow Man, although he didn’t ask me to design it. Nevertheless, I perked up, very happy to see that fine, extremely peculiar book rescued from out-of-print oblivion.

Two and a bit years later, after negotiations I don’t pretend to know anything about, huzzah!, Lethe is also rescuing Nico Rathe, Philip Eslingen, and Astreiant.

Spectacular cover art by Ben Baldwin; cover layout and interior design by me. I uploaded files for the dead-tree edition to the printer earlier today; that and various e-book formats should go on sale within a few weeks.

But that’s not all! Steve confessed feeling a dreadful disappointment, when Point of Dreams was first released, about not getting to witness the beginning of Rathe’s and Eslingen’s non-working relationship, skipped over in the interval between Hopes and Dreams. And so Melissa Scott took herself back to Astreiant, bittersweetly solo, to write Point of Knives, a savory novella which, in the interstices of another tricky case for Adjunct Point Rathe and his ex-mercenary sidekick, shows exactly that. And, incidentally, Rathe’s transfer/promotion from Point of Hopes to Point of Dreams, something that was rather glossed over in the second full-length novel.

Another spectacular piece by Ben Baldwin.

Point of Knives is scheduled for release this summer, followed in the autumn by Lethe’s new edition of Point of Hopes. Rumor has it we can expect the fourth Book of Astreiant, Fairs’ Point, next year. I’m pretty damned impatient, let me tell you.

On a self-involvedly personal note, the other day I received You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home’s second blurb. Christopher Barzak, author of the widely acclaimed novels One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing, writes:

Step onto this flying carpet and prepare to be carried away to exotic times and places, where Alex Jeffers has set up camp to tell his tales to both those already familiar with his wonderful wonder stories and to those strangers who happen to be passing by.

And I am within spitting distance of completing a draft of “Seb and Duncan and the Sirens,” a longish story begun over a year ago, set aside several times, but now (foolishly) promised to Somebody (he knows who he is) by month’s end.

fiction spec fic The Unexpected Thing work in progress YA

the unexpected draft

Today ought to be one for celebration, except I feel as though I’ve been run over by a truck. Massive, massive headache, nausea, compromised balance. Bleargh. Also I’m too broke to buy Champagne. Maybe when the income-tax refund appears in my bank account.

Around 7:30 (EDT) this morning I wrote the last line of the first draft of The Unexpected Thing. Though tempted, I did not append Fin: it’s not a work suited to that variety of preciosity.

It is, not unexpectedly, enormous. 144,000 words. Set up in fairly standard MS format (12-point type, double spaced, one-inch margins all around) in the typeface I prefer to work with (clean, artful, eccentric but highly legible on screen, and doesn’t make my eyes bleed): 423 pages, exluding title page, divided into sixty-two numbered chapters, themselves parceled out—somewhat unevenly—among thirteen titled parts.

But few computers will have Bouwsma Text installed, so when I start sending The Unexpected Thing around to beta readers I’ll have to reset the MS in old standby Times New Roman (a face I find far less readable than everybody likes to claim, and ugly besides, but which has the advantage of closely approximating, in standard MS format, the page count of a typeset book). In 12-point TNR: 477 pages.

But book editors, nostalgic for the days of typewritten MSs on paper, are said to prefer 12-point monospaced Courier (which does make my eyes bleed): an eyebrow-raising 643 pages.

There will be cuts! A lot of them. Ideally, from a marketing standpoint, I’d get the thing down to 100,000 words or shorter. I have some doubts about that—we’ll see what early readers say. The first order of business, however, is to find loose ends and either pull them out completely or stitch them up properly; reconcile inconsistencies; split up at least two chapters that got rather out of hand into more manageable pieces. Symbolic target date for a second draft fit to be shared: 8 May 2011, the narrator’s eighteenth birthday.

Would you like to be among the few, the proud, the beta readers? Drop me a line or leave a comment, and accept my thanks in advance.

But what’s it about, AX, you ask, what’s it about?

If I could tell you in five hundred words I wouldn’t have bothered with the other 143,500. Ha. Ha.

In all sobriety, the arts of the synopsis and the elevator pitch I have never mastered. Beta readers will be begged, please, to help.

The Unexpected Thing is about:

  • two lovely young men who fall in love;
  • their friends and families;
  • the entirely imaginary fifth-smallest sovereign European nation, an island in the Adriatic off the coasts of Montenegro and Albania;
  • the uneasy transition from rule by a divinely appointed aristocratic caste to some form of parliamentary democracy;
  • incursions by gods and other powers into the twenty-first and earlier centuries;
  • discovering yourself to be, unsuspected, a wizard with vast capabilities;
  • being beaten half to death by, first, a god and, second, your own dad and big brother;
  • friendship and enmity and reconciliation, discovery and loss, people and dogs, life and death and, yes, love;
  • Nate and Rusty’s summer vacation.

In other words, just about everything that matters. Except cats! I left out the cats! Jane and Charlotte are incensed* but me, I’m really pretty pleased with it.

* “That dog died almost a decade ago,” they grumble. “It was tragic at the time but get over it.”

Table of Contents

I Turn Sixteen

I Finish out the School Year, Maybe Fall in Love

My Boyfriend and I Have a Day for Ourselves

My Uncles and I Leave the Country, Reach the Island

I Have Impressions of the Town, Make Friends, Maybe an Enemy

I Am Not Myself

We Learn of Deaths in Far Places

We Retreat to the Sunset Villa

Terrible Events in the Commonwealth

I Am, We Are Addressed by Gods

Terrible Events in the Serene Principality

I Am Rescued, Comforted

We Are Happy Boys, All Things Considered