cats self

unhappy homecoming…joyous reunion

Miss Charlotte Brontë back on her bed where she belongs.
Miss Charlotte Brontë back on her bed where she belongs.

I went away for a week. A road trip with my sister to the Monterey Peninsula of California. The occasion was the annual spring garden-party fundraiser for the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, which maintains and preserves the house my grandfather built, where we grew up. We met up with our elder brother, who keeps a pied-à-terre in Monterey, as well as his son, whom I hadn’t seen in (we determined) some twenty years, our youngest brother, and his wife. The garden party—and exploring Carmel-by-the-Sea for the first time in twenty-odd years, discovering how drastically it’s changed for the worse—was a bit much for me and I fell apart some on the drive back to my sister’s house in Roseburg this past Tuesday. Fighting a persistent headache and mild PTS on the road, I contemplated the post I would write after I got to Eugene—although it would mostly be photos of childhood house-, garden-, and landscapes (I took a great many photos). That post and those photos may yet appear but not just now.

There were two options for care of Misses Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen while I was gone. My brother-in-law, staying home in Roseburg, offered them the guest room and his supervision. That would require a traumatic hour-long ride in the car, though, as well as being locked up in a room my ladies were happy to leave behind last autumn.

Less disruptive to their peace of mind, I felt, was to ask the tenant in the main house here, who keeps up the impressive vegetable garden below my second-floor deck, to come up every day or two to top up Jane and Charlotte’s water and food bowls. Jon agreed to do so. I didn’t ask him to do anything about my container garden on the deck—it seemed an excessive imposition, the long-range forecast predicted episodes of rain, and I figured the plants could make it through. (Spoiler: they did.) But if I had asked, I would surely have remembered to tell Jon the latch on the French door to the deck is tricky and not to be trusted.

It was not at all surprising, when my sister and I finally tromped up my stairs mid-morning on Wednesday, that neither cat showed her face. They’re even more poorly acculturated and distrustful of strangers than I. Their litter boxes were well used and there were tufts of Charlotte’s fur all over the dining table: I had asked her any number of times not to sleep there. Speaking to the air, I told them I was home at last and the terrifying ogre with me (my sister) wouldn’t stay long.

I’d picked up a handsome lavender at a nursery in Carmel Valley—my seventh variety, Lavandula x. heterophylla—and carried it out to the deck, meaning also to show my sister the nasturtiums I’d started from seed for her own deck back in Roseburg. Jon was in the garden below. He called up, concerned, to ask if I’d seen my cats.

I said no but that I wasn’t worried because I knew them, but he went on to say he’d wandered onto my deck the day before. He knew he’d closed the door behind him but when he came up that morning he’d found it open. Of course he hadn’t seen Charlotte or Jane (I’d warned him he probably wouldn’t) but he was worried they might have ventured out.

I waved his concern off. Both cats had been out on the deck a few times, I told him. Both had discovered how easy it was to gain the roof and clamber around exploring but neither, I felt, was daring enough to attempt an eight- or ten-foot leap to the ground. In any event, the fault was mine: I hadn’t told him about the door.

Jane poked her head up from her hiding place under the bed when we came back inside and hissed at us. I took that as a sign all was well, and my sister and I went off to do a little shopping—there’s no Trader Joe’s in her town! Returning after an hour or so, we startled Jane again, who hissed, snarled, retreated under the bed. Still no sight of Charlotte, but she’s always been the more timid of the two and the better at hiding. We poked around a bit—there’s an opening to the space under the eaves behind one of the kitchen counters, inaccessible to full-size human people, a hidey-hole Charlotte’s taken advantage of before—before deciding she was unlikely to show herself so long as the ferocious ogre remained. So I sent the ogre on her way, assuring her that even if Charlotte had ventured outside and onto the roof overnight she would surely come down once she realized I was home and the apartment empty of other monsters.

Only she didn’t.

Still not terribly worried, I set out food and water on the deck to remind her of the comforts of home and puttered a little, overwatering the pots and talking to Charlotte, telling her how wicked she was but that all would be forgiven as soon as she showed her face.

Going back inside, I searched more concertedly, even going down on my belly to stick my head and a flashlight into the space beneath the eaves. No Charlotte. By this time Jane had regained her form, following me around, so I cuddled her for a while, asking vainly where her sister had gone. Jane is not fond of Charlotte and wouldn’t tell me.

By now it was nearly sunset. I wrote my sister a plaintive e-mail—

Not to keep you in suspense: no sign of Charlotte yet. I’m relatively sure at this point she’s not in the apartment. If she stayed on the roof I’m sure she’ll show up eventually; I’ve put food and water on the deck to encourage her. If she got down to ground level somehow…I just don’t know. She has no reason to understand the door is her door. I’m just going to take a walk around the neighborhood before it gets dark, and then I’ll post something on craigslist.

—and indeed walked around the block and the back forty calling, then put up a missing cat notice on craigslist. Jane had taken to yelling at me. Her meow is strident and piercing and thoroughly unnerving. Whenever I went downstairs to the bathroom she followed and yelled outside the door. After dark she sat on the chair by the deck door, periodically shouting while staring at the door. Every time I jumped up and checked, but no Charlotte. Despairing, I put bowls of food and water outside the front door just in case, prepared a dinner I couldn’t taste, and went to bed. Jane snuggled me all night, not as much comfort as it should have been.

Thursday morning I was half-relieved to discover the food bowl by the front door empty. Only half-relieved because it could have been any of the local outdoor cats or the two opossums I’ve seen fossicking around Jon’s garden at twilight. I put out more food and water anyway. Jane was still yelling every time I moved. I was a wreck. Luckily some work had piled up while I was away, providing distraction for most of the day. I alternated cigarette breaks on the deck, in the carport and driveway downstairs, and the back forty, calling Charlotte and telling her how much I missed her and how worried I was.

After another difficult night with only Jane to cuddle (she was somewhat more amenable to the indignity than usual), on Friday my brother-in-law drove up to Eugene for his weekly life-drawing sessions at Maud Kerns Art Center. He took me out to lunch to buck me up and offered advice gained from nearly forty years of slavery to indoor-outdoor cats. Crucially, as it turned out, the suggestion that a frightened cat would go to ground during the day so daylight searching wasn’t likely to succeed. Hypothetical frightened cat would more probably venture out at evening and night.

I waited impatiently for sunset. It comes too late at this season and latitude! (Not at all a thing I object to under other circumstances.) At twilight I tried again, going up and down the driveway and around back of the house, calling my runaway until despair made me cry and I had to retreat indoors to appease Jane, yowling inside the front door.

Around 11:30 I took my cigarettes, ashtray, and a sorely ineffective flashlight out to sit on the bench by the front door. I talked to Charlotte while I smoked, though I’d nearly given up hope. Anxious and antsy, I walked up the driveway to the street. Coming back, I heard a noise: Charlotte’s inimitable call, half cough, half bark—no meow about it and never loud enough to hear from any distance.

Falling to my knees on the tarmac, crying ugly tears, calling her, I turned the flashlight toward the noise. She sauntered into the flashlight’s anemic beam from the direction of Jon’s front door, talking all the while. But wouldn’t come to me. I knew better than to lunge. In the most ordinary circumstances Charlotte’s prone to bolt if I move too suddenly. Five feet away, she turned aside into the lumber of…lumber and set-aside patio furniture and I don’t know what stacked untidily along one side of the carport, vanishing from the flashlight’s ken.

But still talking, as I kept talking. After five minutes at this impasse, I told her I was so relieved and happy she was alive and mobile, so anxious and heartbroken she wouldn’t come to me that I needed a cigarette and maybe she’d relent and approach me if I retreated to the bench by the door.

No such luck. I kept talking, Charlotte kept answering—preoccupied and grumbly—and Jane inside the door caterwauled. While I smoked anxiously I fiddled with the flashlight, trying to get it brighter. Somehow I succeeded (the battery contacts hadn’t been tight enough until I unscrewed and screwed the cap three times?) and returned to the pile of junk. There she was, half-hidden by a length of wooden lattice, just her back and thrashing tail, no more than a foot and a half from me.

Murmuring soothingly, I reached around the lattice and got hold of her scruff. She was not happy to be hauled out of her hiding place, hugged, and wept over. Inside at last, she scratched my arm viciously until I let her down, then disappeared under the bed, grunting and cackling with fury.

Eventually—after I’d called Roseburg, waking my brother-in-law with the news—around 1:00 AM, she emerged, hopped onto the bed, and allowed me to make friends again. Never have an extremely loud purr and a tummy snarled into mats and dreadlocks (I promised I wouldn’t attempt brushing her for a few days) been more comfort. She even stayed on the bed all night, something she never does, if not right at my side. That space was occupied by jealous Jane, who has mostly stopped yelling at me, thank merciful and compassionate God.

::goes to install hook-and-eye fastener to deck door::

Four of my seven lavenders.
Four of my seven lavenders. L-R, x. heterophylla; stoechas (so-called Spanish); dentata var. candicans (so-called French); x. ginginsii (Goodwin Creek Grey).
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.


Ivri Lider Oregon self That Door Is a Mischief

odds, ends, bits, pieces

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

imageNot 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).

the apartment

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 Literary reviewed That 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 am thankful and pleased.


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.

Oregon self

bittersweet adieu

Since the Event of Late June, my sister and her husband have been incomprehensibly generous—most obviously by providing cheerful, unstinting hospitality to me and my cats for two months. But the day of Jane and Charlotte’s parole has arrived.

That is, they will be released from inhumane (to their minds) confinement in a perfectly spacious and comfortable guest room, bundled into their travel cages, and chauffeured seventy miles north, from the Umpqua Valley to the Willamette Valley and their new home. I have myself been making that round trip nearly every day for a week, shuttling stuff from storage into the apartment. Nearly everything has been moved, although nearly nothing is in its proper place and I will be without home internet access for a period unpredictable except to the sellers/packers/shippers of the Wi-Fi hotspot device ordered a week ago. It is to be hoped I can track down a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi in the neighborhood to feed my addiction in the interim.

Not that I won’t have more useful tasks to occupy my time. Besides unpacking and rearranging and cleaning my god (the glass of all my framed art is filthy) and settling myself and coaxing the cats to come out from under the bed. Such as gardening.


This being but the start of my balcony garden: a miniature rose (fragrant, astonishingly), two varieties of lavender, chives, and French tarragon. Since added but not yet repotted, a third variety of lavender, another mini rose, and more herbs. It’s been too long since I’ve been able to get my hands dirty in honest soil.

Yet every change has its sadnesses. Although they won’t be far—certainly not a transcontinental distance—and they drive up to Eugene frequently, I will miss my sister and brother-in-law’s everyday support, conversation, and good humor—my sister’s fabulous cooking—their lovely house in the hills above Roseburg—their cats. Jüppsche took to me almost at once, with his turtledove purr and sinuous, elegant whiteness. Black Fritz was harder to convince—Tragic Fritz, I called him, for his heartrending “Love me!” cry—but I will miss our pre-dawn assignations on the deck. Calico Cecilia eventually warmed sufficiently to recline on the sofa back and read the iPad over my shoulder. Gorgeous tortoiseshell Apollonia remains reserved but not unfriendly. I do hope I won’t be a terrifying stranger again next time I darken their door.

So…a bittersweet and grateful adieu to Roseburg, and off to new adventures in Eugene.

Oregon self

windows 10.14

New Microsoft operating system? Ha ha, no. I try to live a largely Microsoft-free life.


New digs in Eugene, Oregon, for Misses Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen…and yr humble seruant, if they permit such indignity. (They’d better.)

The move in will begin this coming Friday. It is likely to be protracted, partly because of a previously planned overnight trip that weekend, partly because I’ll remain based in Roseburg for a bit, sixty miles (ninety-six kilometers) south, partly because nearly everything that needs to be moved in is already in storage not far away so I can take my time. Nevertheless, I expect to drag the kicking and screaming cats north sometime next week—new windows to peer through! New corners to explore! More space! Stairs to run up and down! No worrisome human or feline strangers just outside the door!

Perhaps I’ll even get back to writing fiction.

That Door Is a Mischief

the colour out of space

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.

Look! It’s a real book!

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.

Photo: H-D Honscheid, 5 September 2014.
Photo: H-D Honscheid, 5 September 2014.

Man, I need a haircut and a beard trim. And new spectacles.

Oregon self That Door Is a Mischief

That Door Is a Mischief

Oh, hello.

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 meant to post something about this before it happened. But events and procrastination got in the way, and then I was driving a rental truck across this very large nation. After not much in the way of adventures but a lot of time on the road and in motels with unhappy cats, Misses Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë and I are temporarily settled outside the pretty town of Roseburg in southern Oregon—with grateful thanks to my sister and brother-in-law (and their cats) for their generous hospitality.

Over the next few weeks I’ll start looking for a less ad hoc living situation in the larger town of Eugene, an hour north, more suitable for a fancy-free single fellow without a car. Sooner than that, doubtless, I will set up my actual computer so I can get some real work done—an iPad mini is a delightful toy but not much of a tool for the kinds of work I do.

Meanwhile here is a photo of Charlotte and Jane pretending to be good friends in their temporary abode.



heartfelt thanks

  • To several staff of the ER at Memorial Hospital of Pawtucket who made a game effort at making thirty-six hours on suicide watch less bleak and scary.
  • To Dr G.M. Surti and all the staff of the Kent Unit at Butler Hospital in Providence, for much more than their compassion, good sense, and humor—although all of that was a big help as well.
  • To gentle publisher Steve Berman, at whom I was furious for twenty-four hours—now not so much—and the astonishingly generous secret cabal he rounded up.
  • To my friend Michael Thomas Ford, whose excellent, affecting, and really goddamn funny novel Suicide Notes I should have reread two weeks ago instead of day before yesterday. (I should have called him for the promised Tarot reading as well. But I hate the phone and am only recently half rational. I will collect on that promise soon, Mikey.)
  • To my family, who shouldn’t have needed to prove they love me but I was (am?) an oblivious, self-involved galoot. Especially to big sister Una, for flying across the continent to feed the cats in my absence—and me when I got back—but never made it seem the appalling imposition it was.
  • To Misses Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen, waiting for me when I came home.