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.