Time Passes

A lot has happened since my last entry. I spent most of 2014 working with an agent trying to place book three of the Dickens Junction Mysteries, The Our Mutual Friend Murders with a major publisher. Despite my agent’s best efforts, we were not successful. Although I wrote the best books that I’m capable of, and consider them of at least similar quality to other series in the marketplace, I’m not selling enough to be considered attractive to any of the major publishers who deal in cozy/traditional mysteries. Maybe my gay protagonist is too old, or my adherence to classic manor house plots (that often feature a delayed murder) is considered too old fashioned. One of my friends told me that the first dead body has to appear before page 30 so it can be included in the free download sample on amazon.com; that may sound cynical but it also has a ring of truth to it.

My favorite cousin said to me, “If you had made your protagonist a straight man you might have sold a lot more books.” But then I wouldn’t have written the books I wanted to write. I DO have a gay agenda; I wanted to write an arch light mystery (my idol is the late Charlotte MacLeod) with a classic form set in contemporary times where the sexual orientation of the character is part of the story but NOT the story itself. You wouldn’t know that from some of the mean-spirited one star reviews I got on amazon, but that’s water over the dam.

I give great readings—I’m funny, engaging, and I almost always sell out my books when I make an appearance. But the marketing side of this industry apparently doesn’t know what to do with me. I figure if Chelsea Cain, Rhys Bowen, Hannah Dennison, and Margaret Coel think I’m doing something right, then I’m doing something right. But the industry has a different view.

So for now I’m taking a break and traveling my little heart out. Since my last blog posting I have been to the UK three times, to Dickens’s birth house, his vacation home in Broadstairs (where the original Betsey Trotwood house is now a Dickens museum), and to Stinsford to see where Thomas Hardy’s heart (and maybe the cat who ate it) is buried, as well as seeing Hardy’s and Dickens’s stones adjacent to one another (along with Rudyard Kipling’s) at Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner.

I have been to Gad’s Hill where Dickens died and have seen the couch on which he died (it’s in Broadstairs), toured Rochester Cathedral and the garden where Princess Puffer warned Edwin Drood that his life was in danger. I’ve been to the execrable “theme park” called Dickens World and also to Salisbury Cathedral, Cerne Abbas, and Stonehenge (I’m a big Thomas Hardy fan as well, if you hadn’t guessed by now).

I’ve been to London to see plays, to Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto, hiked in Dolgellau in Wales (thanks, Cathy Ace, for teaching me the correct pronunciation). I’ve been to Dickens Universe twice, and on a river cruise to Amsterdam when I also visited Brussels, Bruges, and Leyden. I hiked in and around Penzance and Land’s End in Cornwall and made the mistake of asking for “Devonshire cream” instead of “Cornish cream” to go on my scone. I finally had a pasty and at least pronounced that correctly.

I turned sixty years old, lost forty pounds, and celebrated my birthday in a pair of jeans I had not worn since I retired from my career job eight years ago. I also celebrated 24 years together with the man I now call “mah huzzbund” and hope I have at least another 24 years together with him. We have a new cat that we have named Lucretia Tox in honor of Simon’s cat (who was named first). I have seen at least 100 plays in New York City London, Portland, Ashland (at the Oregon Shakespeare festival), Montreal, and elsewhere.

What I have NOT done is write another book, although much of The Oliver Twist Murders has been outlined. Whether I write another book, mystery or not, is as unknown to me as it is to you. I am rediscovering the pleasures of reading, and my work with Literary Arts as a guide for their Delve seminars means that I get to share my love of Dickens and detective fiction with others (and, in 2017, maybe Thomas Hardy and/or E. M. Forster).

In 2016 I’m going to the Grand Canyon in February; back to London with my theatre group in May; to Dickens Universe (Dombey and Son is next year’s book); probably to the international Dickens Fellowship in Aberdeen, Scotland in July; and to Spain and Portugal in September where I might actually drink a glass of port in Porto. After that, who knows? I finished reading all of Hardy’s novels at least once, am reading my way through James Baldwin’s fiction and non-fiction, and will try to catch up on the six unread Ruth Rendell novels I amassed before her unfortunate passing earlier this year. I will be re-reading A Christmas Carol for the forty-fifth time and leading seminars at local libraries on it next month.

Even though I may not be writing, I am still celebrating the writing and reading life as much as ever, with a sense of joy and curiosity that feels stronger than it did when I first really “discovered” Dickens at age fourteen.

If Providence leads me back into the writing world, I may go. If it doesn’t happen, I can rest assured that I have not wasted any time wishing what might have been. I have been too busy living life to have any time for regrets.

Happy holiday season to you all; may you enjoy good health with your family, friends, and the best books you can find.

 

 

 

 

Catching Up

Last week I had the privilege of being at Left Coast Crime, the crime writers’ conference; this year it was in beautiful Monterey, California (and will be in Portland in 2015). Guests of honor included Sue Grafton, Louise Penny, and my friend (and fellow Jim Frey student) Cara Black. I made several new friends also, including G. M. Malliet, Cathy Ace, and Portland’s own Lisa Alber, whose novel Kilmoon released last week.

Despite the dark material that they write, crime writers are wonderful people, and I was honored to be among them. I spoke on a panel about the tradtional mystery and received favorable responses from the crowd; available copies of The Edwin Drood Murders sold out quickly after my appearance.

My husband Evan and I will be doing a Wales walking tour in early May, along with our friend George (not that George), after which I hope to start working on a new book. For those asking about the publication date for The Our Mutual Friend Murders, I only ask you to be patient. I’m working on that as well.

For those of you who have author friends, your best gift to them is posting a thoughtful review on amazon.com and/or Goodreads.

And for those I haven’t met yet, perhaps we’ll come across one another in Crimelandia in March 2015 in Portland, where the guest of honor will be one of my favorite thriller writers, Nancy Drew expert and all-around twisted thinker, the fabulous Chelsea Cain.

 

Maurice

mauriceIf I were back in college instead of being retired, I might just be tempted to put aside my love of Dickens and take up the world of E. M. Forster. Within the last two weeks I have read A Passage to India (which started with my love of Kim, by Kipling—and maybe I’ll write about that another time) followed by a re-read of Maurice, the “homosexual” novel that Forster withheld from publication until after his death.

Forster is a peculiar writer, that’s for sure—his sensibilities are so fine and his symbolism so rampant that he occasionally makes me think Henry James obvious and Hawthorne subtle. If Melville is all dilation, Forster is all contraction and ellipsis, and in these contrasts I find his fascination. He is also a pretty good storyteller, even if his stories have delicate arcs.

Maurice was written after Howards End and before A Passage to India. It is a delicate confection that treats of the young man Maurice Hall, as he moves through his young adulthood, first enamored of another Cambridge student, Clive Durham (from the upper classes) until he finds love and permanent happiness (at least the hope of it) with Clive’s gamekeeper, Alec Scudder, and comes to terms–and peace–with his homosexuality. But because this is Forster, it’s also about class, the collapse of innocence as England prepares for the Great War, and Forster moving his characters around toward the ends they all most richly deserve.

Forster is not embarrassed to have an agenda in Maurice or elsewhere in his fiction. The world he presents is not quite realistic; if it were, you would be unable to survive in it for long, since the intensity of even the slightest feeling or emotion would send you to bed prostrate with exhaustion at the mere act of living. This is how Forster makes James look gawky. And when you realize that the flowers, the bushes, and even the buildings (dorm rooms and boathouses both) are all symbolic of some economic or social phenomenon, you long for Hawthorne’s angry A-shaped clouds.

Maurice will seem precious to today’s gay and lesbian men and women, maybe even unnecessary, but when it was published in the early 1970s it could easily have been the salvation for any young man who thought his fate was only to be another bitter Boy in the Band. Forster knew at the time of writing that, if his story did not end happily, there would be no point it writing it; he required hope.

And hope is what the book still projects in these days of struggling marriage equality. Maurice reminds us of the consequences of life in the closet. There is NO going back. Read Maurice and be convinced. And see the beautiful movie staring James Wilby as Maurice and the impossibly young and beautiful Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves (now playing Lestrade in “Sherlock”).

Fan Mail: I Get Letter

When I get fan mail, my energy level heads into the stratosphere so high that not even a mean-spirited anti-gay one-star review on Amazon can take it away.  Here’s something recent (from a fan in Alabama, of all places):

“I sort of stumbled over your books while rambling through mysteries at Amazon.  Since it was Christmas, I read The Christmas Carol novel first.  Loved it!  Jumped right into Edwin Drood, reading avidly but dreading it to end, as I knew those were the only two offerings.  But, I was delighted, when reading the epilogue, to see The Our Mutual Friend Murders.  I went right to the iPad to download your next book, but I was stopped in my tracks.  No book. Hope the next one will be available soon with more to follow.  I just wanted you to know that I give your books five stars.”

The Young Charles Dickens mailing one of his early Sketches by Boz

The Young Charles Dickens mailing one of his early Sketches by Boz

Thanks to all of you who have enjoyed my books. 2014 promises many things for me (and my “new” husband), and I wish you all the best in the new year.