I think it’s time I added something else to this forlorn page. Here’s the real true, kind of weird story of how The Phoenix came to be written. You may not believe it, but it’s true. This first appeared on the Bookwenches review blog, a place you definitely want to visit. http://www.bookwenches.com/gblogruthsims.htm
How To Turn a Straight Civil War Story Into a Gay Victorian Romance In Just Twenty Years
Once upon a time in the Midwest, in the 1980’s, a pudgy middle-aged author, wife of one and mother of two, set out to write a Civil War novel, using a portable manual typewriter so lightweight it scooted on the kitchen table. (For the young whippersnappers who don’t know about manual typewriters, cavemen used them, which was difficult because paper hadn’t been invented yet. Electricity hadn’t been invented yet, either, so they had to work by campfire.) The pudgy middle-aged author was writing a love story between a British expatriate doctor, who became unwillingly involved in the Underground Railway, and a local woman who was probably important. (It’s been twenty-plus years and the pudgy middle-aged author—now a pudgy-plus old author getting ready to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary—doesn’t remember anything about the heroine. She thinks she was blonde. Maybe brunette. Don’t remember, except that she had hair.)
The little portable typewriter did its best and was eventually replaced by a second-hand IBM Selectric. (The young whippersnappers don’t know about them, either. Instead of keys they had balls with letters on them, but electricity had been invented by then and they were electric. And noisy.)
The first draft of the Civil War story plodded along. A minor character came into the story, another expatriate Brit, an actor named Kit St. Denys. The pudgy middle-aged author wondered where he had come from. But she knew by then that characters pretty much did what they wanted. He was interesting so she decided to let him stay long enough to stir up trouble for the lovebirds before he would go back to England or get killed, whatever. Clackety-clackety-clackety went the Selectric ball. The book was drafted. It was allowed to sit and age whilst she worked on other things, mostly job, housework, and family, and dreamed of the money and literary awards soon to start rolling in. Clearly the woman was delusional.
The used Selectric was replaced by an Olivetti electronic typewriter with two diskette drives and a separate screen with little green letters on a black background. The frontier of technology had been breached. The book was drafted a second time. And a third.
But during these revisions something weird and a little scary was happening. The hero doctor, whose name was Nick Stuart, showed an increasing and unplanned interest in the actor, Kit St. Denys! In fact, he seemed to spend a lot of time thinking about him, and the actor had an amazing ability to push the good doctor’s buttons. The actor also seemed to be occupying a puzzling amount of the story. Alarming! Bizarre! Doctor Nick seemed to have lost all interest in the woman (whoever and whatever she may have been). The pudgy, middle-aged author was bewildered. These were her characters, her story, her words—but where were they coming from? The doctor and the actor seemed to be (gulp) homosexual! Horrors!
This tale was being written in rural Illinois in the late ‘80’s and early 90’s, in a town with an evangelical church on every other corner. Gay issues didn’t exist because there weren’t any of Those People in town. The pudgy middle-aged author suspected that wasn’t true, but didn’t really know. She didn’t know any gay people (oh, yes, she did. She just didn’t realize it). She had never even seen a gay book. Sermons on Sunday against sinners, including social drinkers, adulterers, dancers, and sodomites may have left no doubts in other peoples’ minds, but they left her feeling uneasy and questioning.
And yet—here she was, with typed pages bearing homosexual characters! Where had they come from? Why couldn’t she get rid of them? She threw out pages, revised the story, and here they came again. The manuscript was hidden away for a couple of years. Stubbornly she got it out and again tried to make it a straight Civil War romance. No dice. As if that weren’t bad enough, the minor character of Kit St. Denys was becoming so important to the story he seemed to be taking over. Handsome, charismatic, brilliant, tortured, and definitely interested in the doctor in a very unorthodox way. What was the poor author to do? Grimly she decided to let the characters get it out of their systems, and do what they wanted to do and see what happened.
What happened was a tsunami of words. The Olivetti electronic was replaced with Computer No. 1, no speakers, a floppy drive, a diskette drive and a small screen. The heroine in the story disappeared, only to reappear later as Kit’s friend, an actress. Kit St. Denys began to “bestride the world of the book like a Colossus.” (Apologies to Bill Shakespeare.)
The 20th century was winding down when the pudgy middle-aged-and-almost-old author rewrote it for what she thought was the last time. Now it was a gay Civil War love story. Probably unmarketable. She was also fearful that, without the input of gay people, she would inadvertently be writing stereotypes and if there’s anything she hated, it was stereotypes. But where to find Real Gay People? By a weird coincidence, her best friend had moved to a city that actually had Real Gay People. Said friend discovered a gay men’s book club, which, skeptically, agreed to read the book. The author was scared, afraid they’d dismiss it as pure dreck, and stereotypical dreck, to boot. But – they loved it! They absolutely loved it and wanted to know how soon they could buy it.
When she came out of shock, she read it again and realized that there was still something seriously wrong with it. As in, Seriously Wrong.
It’s like this. There are some remarkable and even some great authors of Civil War fiction. The pudgy rapidly-getting-old author ruefully realized she wasn’t one of them.
Solution: rewrite it. Again. Shift from the American Civil War to the Victorian Theatre World, where there were also violent passions and rivalries. Voilà!
OK, it wasn’t quite that quick or simple. No “Voilà!” moments. The shift meant throwing out hundreds of pages, doing lots and lots and lots of new research, and checking the research.
A new Millennium began. The author crossed over from Middle Age to Border-Line Old. A second computer was bought. Before the Victorian version of the book was finished, she had consulted dozens of books, hundreds of reference articles both online and in “the real world,” and made revisions, revisions, revisions. And then she edited the final revision. And then revised the final revision which was now the semi-final revision. Then, lucky enough to find beta readers—blessed beings who belong amongst the angels—she edited the revision of the revised final revision! (Hah! You never knew that writing fiction was such work, did you? And none of that, by the way, is exaggerated.)
But at last The Phoenix was finished! It was published by Lethe Press February 2009.
And the evolution only took twenty-plus years.
And oh, yeah, she was also working, on and off, on another book called Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story during the same span of time. Still tweaking that one.
And working full time as a librarian, looking after a man and two kids until the kids grew up and moved out. The man never grew up and never moved out. Thank goodness.
I have lived my entire life in conservative, Republican, tiny-town Midwest USA surrounded by corn-, wheat-, and soybean fields. It’s a strange place indeed for a Liberal Democrat to have sprouted. Like Emily Dickinson I have never seen a moor and have never seen the sea (except, unlike Dickinson, in films) but I’ve seen plenty of silos, Amish buggies, whitetails, and amber waves of grain.
Though many years past schooldays, my education is continuous, with interests ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Shakespeare to groan-inducing puns and limericks. My library has many shelves of history, biography, drama, and reference books–hence my inclusive approach to reviews on this site. My special love of drama was used in The Phoenix, and my passion for Classical and Romantic music pervades Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story.
Words, imagination, books, music and writing have always been the means by which I could find escape from childhood poverty and other bad stuff in my younger years. The “bad stuff” comes in handy for torturing my characters, though. As someone wiser than I, said, “To a writer it’s all material.”
After forty years in the workforce, the chance finally came for me to write full-time. Since then I’ve been able to focus on the stories that have been in my head for years. My characters are thankful to escape; it was getting crowded in there.
Novel: The Phoenix (ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year HM)
video for The Phoenix: http://youtube.com/user/badcock24
Novel: Counterpoint, being submitted to publishers
NEW: “The Legend of the Mountain Ash” in I Do Two anthology to benefit marriage equality. Available in print and ebook.
NEW: My two short story ebooks from Untreed Reads
“The Lawyer, the Ghost, and the Cursed Chair” and “Mr Newby’s Revenge
Both are available at the publisher’s website http://www.untreedreads.com/?page_id=1118, where you can buy them in PDF or EPub or you can click through to Smashwords for lots of formats and to Amazon for the Kindle. And right now they are only $1
Works in progress:
Quinn, A Bit of Earth, Mahrime), Cullaine, Hamilton’s Wife