Weekend Writing Warriors #1

As I mentioned last week, I came late to the party and managed to miss out on the entire Six Sentence Sunday phenomenon. But luckily for me, a new weekly blog hop began today for Weekend Writing Warriors. And even better, I get to post eight sentences instead of six. Below is another excerpt from the fantasy WIP That Shall Not Be Named, with the same couple (Ume and Cree from my novella The Devil's Garden), who seem to spend an awful lot of time in bed in this book.

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Wherein I am late to the party, but make you forget

So today I thought to myself, I've been meaning to give that Six Sentence Sunday thing a go. I head off to the land of Google and find the sign-up blog...and the post that says "today is the last Six Sentence Sunday." Like, ever. Wow, does my timing suck. Ah, well. Here are six sentences...erm, okay, ten, that I felt like sharing anyway. If you've read The Devil's Garden, you may be happy to see that Cree and Ume are making an appearance in a WIP I'm revising. If you haven't, this is kind of a big, fat spoiler, so stop reading now. ;) Or, if you don't care about spoilers and just want to make your eyes cross at some steamy f/f goodness, read away.

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Drink the Devil's Garden

Google Alerts just brought me this awesomeness from Saveur.com - The Devil's Garden Cocktail:

From the article:

My favorite cocktail, Devil's Garden, is not a drink for the faint at heart. At first sip, lime juice and fresh mint refresh the taste buds, but soon the smoky and spicy undertones of chipotle-infused mezcal creep over the palate. A touch of Cynar, an unusual liqueur made from artichokes, adds a veil of mystery. On hot nights like these, it takes a little dark magic to forget about the rising temperatures outside.

Shocking
Shocking

A "veil of mystery"? How awesome is that? And they were kind enough to provide the recipe to this awesomeness. Om nom nom. (Wait...can you om-nom-nom a drink?)

Jane Kindred

Author of the Demons of Elysium and Looking Glass Gods series. Jane spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.

Hey, what's that in my coffee cup?

I'm guest blogging today on Cup o' Porn, a site run by M/M erotica authors Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan that unabashedly celebrates a woman's right to enjoy "men, and coffee, and porn, and sex, and wine, and music, and intelligence, and fun, and women, and really hot photos" and "how all that stuff is absolutely normal and we will no longer apologize for any of it." So have a cuppa and join me as I explain (or don't) how The Devil's in the Details in The Devil's Garden. (And then stick around for the rest of Cup o' Porn's posts for pictures that will steam up your monitor.)

It's a bit lonely over there at the moment.

Confessions of a Closet Monarchist: Book giveaway

Join me over on the Carina Press blog today and find out what Richard E. Grant has to do with my secret love of monarchism and foppish drawls. Oh...and comment to win a copy of The Devil's Garden!

Release Day: The Devil's Garden

Today, my debut novella The Devil's Garden is finally, officially in print. This one's for you, Gwen, and the spark of the divine you gave us for just a brief seventeen summers.

Bending gender with L. A. Witt

Recently, author L.A. Witt and I spoke about our new releases featuring transgender protagonists. L.A.'s latest novel Static is available June 26 from Amber Allure and my debut novella The Devil's Garden will be available from Carina Press on June 27. Static by L. A. WittDamon Bryce is worried sick when he doesn’t hear from his girlfriend after she visits her estranged parents, but when he checks up on her, he’s in for the shock of his life: She’s a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population who can shift genders at will. Thanks to her parents, though, she’s been forcibly given an implant that leaves her static—unable to shift—and male.

Alex Nichols desperately wants the implant removed, but getting it out isn’t nearly as easy as putting it in. The surgery is expensive and dangerous. Left in, the implant carries its own set of risks, with the potential to cripple or even kill him. On top of that, he’s carefully kept his identity a secret from more people in his life than just Damon, and his parents aren’t the only ones appalled by shifters.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical effects and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how their relationship can get through this unscathed.

Especially if Alex is a static male permanently.


LAW: First off, give us a little rundown of The Devil’s Garden, your upcoming release.

JK: In The Devil’s Garden, Ume Sky is a prestigious temple courtesan whose patrons are mainly the priests of the temple god in one of the city-states of a vast river delta like the Nile. After the accidental death of a violent patron, Ume is forced to go into hiding, returning to the life she left behind. As a courtesan, Ume is a woman of means; without the status afforded by her position, she is only a seventeen year old boy named Cillian Rede who turns tricks in alleys.

JK: You also have a book coming out that deals with trans issues and gender fluidity. Tell me a little about your new release Static.

LAW: In Static, my two main characters – Alex and Damon – have been in a relationship for a couple of years when Damon learns Alex is a shifter, someone who can change genders at will. To make matters even more complicated, Alex has been forcibly given an implant that renders him static (unable to shift) and male. The story deals with Alex trying to both cope with having the implant and get it removed, but also salvage his relationship with Damon, and Damon’s struggle to help and support Alex while also trying to make sense of what this means for their relationship.

LAW: Did you set out to write a trans/genderfluid character, or did you start with a character who took you in that direction?

JK: Honestly, I don’t remember. The Devil’s Garden is a prequel to a novel in which the main character identifies as genderless and other characters reincarnate as the opposite sex and have to deal with reuniting with partners from their former lives. So there was definitely already a thread of gender fluidity running through the story. I think I had a vague idea of some Shakespearean cross-dressing fun a la Twelfth Night, and then as I began to write Ume, the story of Gwen Araujo was in the news—a seventeen year old trans woman who was beaten to death for being discovered to be biologically male. Somewhere along the line, the two became inextricably entwined in my head. The Ume I see looks very much like Gwen. The novella is dedicated to her.

JK: The transgender element in your book Static is a little different from mine in that your character Alex is born with a genetic predisposition to shift genders. What inspired you to reimagine both gender fluidity and the traditional “shifter” story in such an interesting new way?

LAW: I was playing around with the idea of writing a shapeshifter story, since the concept is a popular one, not to mention an intriguing one. I was trying to think of a different approach to it, and when I thought “what if someone could shift genders?”, then it was just a natural progression to “what if someone lost that ability?” Additionally, in the month or so prior, I’d been getting a very thorough and enlightening education about gender issues, particularly relating to transgender and genderqueer issues, from author M Jules Aedin. I think I’d been subconsciously looking for a way to explore some of that in fiction, and between everything I learned from Jules and the idea of a gender shifter, Static was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

LAW: Tell us about a specific challenge you faced when writing your book.

JK: One thing I worried about while writing it, and still worry about, is that because of the way the story plays out, I had to have certain scenes in which Cillian’s POV was presented as male. When in courtesan dress, the character is fully Ume, and thus I use feminine pronouns for Ume’s scenes. I know this doesn’t accurately reflect how trans people see themselves, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to portray all trans people that way. But it seemed right for my character.

JK: I noticed we both have similar phrases in our book blurbs. In Static, Alex is “Stripped of half his identity....” In The Devil’s Garden, Ume has her “elite status stripped away….” For my character Ume, it suggests not only having something taken away that’s intrinsic, but also speaks of her feeling “exposed.” Do you think there’s an element of that for Alex?

LAW: The exposure is definitely a factor for Alex. Some people in his life know him as a shifter, some know him as a static male, and some know her as a static female. When he was given the implant, it meant he had no choice but to come out to people in his life who didn’t know the truth about him: co-workers, his not-very-tolerant boss, and most of all, his boyfriend.

And much like your character, it goes beyond just exposure. Alex is both male and female. Some days, his mind is one hundred percent male. Some days, she’s one hundred percent female. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle. All his life, he’s been able to adjust his body to match his brain, and now he can’t. Another shifter describes being stuck in the wrong body as being like wearing a pair of uncomfortable dress shoes: At first it’s annoying. Then it’s miserable to the point of distraction. Then it’s so maddening you can’t think of anything except taking off those damned shoes. But for a shifter who’s been made static, those shoes won’t come off. Ever.

LAW: You mentioned in a conversation that you see transphobia/trans-hatred and misogyny as being two sides of the same coin. Can you expand on that?

JK: It seems to me that both homo- and trans-hatred stem from an underlying assumption that the only thing worse than being female in this world is being a male who exhibits any kind of perceived femininity. (And women who exhibit perceived masculinity in this paradigm, of course, are simply trying to co-opt male privilege, so they fare no better.) The men who beat Gwen Araujo to death were enraged that they’d been aroused by someone who turned out to be biologically male. By extension, someone might perceive them as less than male, and so she had to be destroyed.

Of course, I’m generalizing a bit here, and I don’t know exactly what went on in her murderer’s heads, but this is how it’s always seemed to me when I see that kind of rage and viciousness: at its heart is a pathological fear and hatred of women.

JK: In your story, you deal with the “coming out” aspect of being transgender as well as transitioning, something that isn’t as much of an issue in mine. What special problems does this present for Alex’s partner Damon?

LAW: Damon struggles a lot with how to reconcile his feelings for Alex with his own sexuality; he’s straight, Alex is physically male, and Damon can’t exactly force a physical attraction. He loves Alex, and he doesn’t want to abandon him, but it’s more than a little challenging to adapt to the fact that his partner is now male. He also has some misgivings about the fact that Alex kept this from him for so long; on one hand, he’s hurt Alex didn’t trust him enough to tell him she was a shifter. On the other, he feels guilty for not being someone Alex could trust with that information. Add in Alex’s long history of depression and alcoholism, plus the fact that the implant itself could kill or cripple him, and I think we can forgive Damon if he can’t quite fit it all into his head.

LAW: The Devil’s Garden takes place in a fantasy setting, of course, but in what ways do the character’s experiences reflect the experiences of people in our own world?

JK: Cillian is thrown out of his home by his father at the age of twelve when he’s caught wearing a virgin’s veil. Forced to make a living for himself on the streets, Cillian uses his femininity to his advantage, discovering that when he’s perceived as a woman, he has power he could never have as a man. Internally, Cillian has always felt female, and so becoming Ume is a fulfillment of Cillian’s inner reality. I think (or at least I hope) that plenty of people in our world will be able to relate to that.

JK: I know we both have a lot of projects on our plate; being a writer can be a bit of a wild ride. ;) What’s next for L.A. Witt fans?

LAW: The short answer? A lot. Fans have been asking for a sequel to The Distance Between Us (Samhain 2010) for a while now, and they’ll be getting one this year: The Closer You Get comes out in November. Cover Me (Carnal Passions 2010) is also getting a sequel, Trust Me, which will be out July 6th, plus the third book, Search Me, which will be out this winter. Out of Focus, a BDSM gay ménage, will be out from Samhain on August 3rd, and I have a few more novellas due out this year – Ex Equals and On The List, both from Amber Allure – and two collaborative steampunk books that will probably be out sometime this winter.

In early 2012, Samhain is releasing the first book in the Tooth & Claw series, The Given & The Taken. This will be my first foray into the world of vampires and werewolves, and could probably be described as a paranormal ménage thriller romance. Or something. It falls under a lot of categories.

Plus I have a few more releases from my hetero pseudonym, Lauren Gallagher. Disengaged is coming from Champagne Books in September, and an additional book in the Light Switch series will be out this fall. I’ve been focusing more on L. A. Witt this year, but I plan to get a few more Lauren books out in 2012.

So, yeah. A lot. It’s been a busy year!

JK: Thanks so much for talking with me about Static and The Devil's Garden. I'm running over to Amber Allure right now to pick up your book!


L.A. WittL. A. Witt is an erotica writer who is said to be living in Okinawa, Japan, with her husband and two incredibly spoiled cats. There is some speculation that she is once again on the run from the Polynesian Mafia in the mountains of Bhutan, but she’s also been sighted recently in the jungles of Brazil, on a beach in Spain, and in a back alley in Detroit with some shifty-eyed toaster salesmen. Though her whereabouts are unknown, it is known that she also writes hetero erotic romance under the pseudonym Lauren Gallagher.

To learn more about L. A. Witt, please visit her website at http://www.loriawitt.com.

Friday fortune: Fantasy

Well, this is an appropriate card for a fantasy writer to pull. :)

Card of the Day: Seven of Cups, "Fantasy"

In the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg's Seven of Cups, the central figure is that of a serf observing cups overflowing with a wide array of fantastical objects: what might be imperial jewels; an unlikely dragon; the severed head of a despot, perhaps; the golden cupolas of an Orthodox cathedral; a viper ready to strike; a wreath of flowers; and a burst of fantastical stars floating off into the ether.

I think it's interesting to note (and you'll have to take my word for it, since you can only see it up close in these fabulously painted miniatures by Yuri Shakov) that his gaze is on the flowers: the essence of the Russian spirit, beauty from the land itself that a price cannot be put on, and something the poorest peasant might have for the taking. The serf seems least of all interested in the imperial jewels.

The general meaning of the Seven of Cups is about dreaming of what might be, and not focusing on what is. This isn't always a bad thing. Without our fantastical dreams, what would we writers be?

I think what the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg's Seven of Cups is saying is that the wildly out-of-reach dreams and the dark and frightening fantasies are irrelevant. Each of the other cups contain something the serf can never attain, or need never worry about. He keeps his eyes on the one thing he knows is within his grasp, a creation he can take pleasure in and one he can cultivate to bring beauty and joy to others.

When I first arrived in St. Petersburg in 2006 for my summer study abroad, this lovely sight greeted me on the balcony of my room:

Windowbox flowers in the Lesnoy flat
Windowbox flowers in the Lesnoy flat

They were just a few simple flowers, but it was a touching gesture and made me feel instantly at home. In Russia, it's important to give a gift to someone when you visit, as well as when someone comes to visit you. The people we met there shared with us happily though they had little to give. When it was time to return to the States at the end of this enchanting trip, my roommate and I wanted to give something to our "khaziayka," Yelena Volfovna, to thank her for her hospitality. Andi and I had both given Yelena chocolates when we arrived, and she laughed and showed us the cupboard full of chocolates from other students she'd hosted; she set them out every night with tea before bed to try to get us to eat them so she wouldn't get fat.

Yelena Volfovna and Jane Kindred
Yelena Volfovna and Jane Kindred

We ended up buying her flowers for our thank-you gift, and we didn't have much money left by the end of the trip, so it was a very small bouquet (you can just barely see them in the bottom left in the picture, and you can also see the typical painting of flowers on the wall behind Yelena). Yet she was moved when we gave them to her, as if we'd brought her two dozen red roses.

The lesson of the Seven of Cups is something I needed a particular reminder of right now. Today I received the official ebook copy of The Devil's Garden, and while it ought to have made me jump for joy, instead I focused on the imperfections of the words that are now permanently set in type, and on the pieces of my dream that I haven't yet attained. I have to try to remember that it's just a little story I put down in words to entertain someone. It doesn't have to be perfect. It can't be perfect. I'm never going to have the imperial jewels of literary talent, nor do I need them. I just need to keep cultivating what I do have and enjoy sharing the simple pleasures of my gift.

So much more easily said than done.

Jane Kindred
Jane Kindred

A book by its cover

The Devil's Garden cover art
The Devil's Garden cover art

Go ahead, judge The Devil's Garden:

I am head over heels over this cover designed by Frauke at www.crocodesigns.com.  I already knew Carina had a knack for getting their covers right. It was actually one of the reasons I put them at the top of my list when submitting my novella, because speaking for myself, I do judge a book by its cover. When I'm browsing for something to read, the cover has to grab me or I won't even stop to see the title, let alone the copy.

I think this is even more important for ebooks than for traditionally published books. As a website design manager by day, I'm very aware of how people scan webpages and of what attracts the eye. A website can have terrific content, but if it's poorly organized, cluttered, or just badly designed, nothing past that first glimpse your visitor has will matter, and any imagery you do use has to mean something or it becomes invisible.

I'm willing to wager that The Devil's Garden will not be invisible.

But it isn't just a pretty picture. To be perfectly honest, when I saw my cover, I cried. It was so important to me that the tone be right and that Ume be portrayed as the beautiful, strong, and alluring woman of color she is. I couldn't have imagined a cover as perfect as this one.

(All right, so the eyes are violet; I considered requesting they be changed to amber to match the character, but the contrast with the orange and gold tones looks so striking that I decided to let it go. Do you think I'm making a mistake? Let me know in the comments. I would hate for it to be perceived as "whitewashing," but considering one of the photos I sent for inspiration was of Indian actress Aishwarya Rai who has grey-blue eyes, I didn't think it was.)

While writing the story, before I had visions of Bollywood beauties, the image I had in my head of Ume was that of Gwen Araujo, to whom the novella is dedicated, and that's still the face I see when I think of Ume (and Cillian). If Gwen could see the cover, I hope she'd be pleased.

It occurs to me, however, that "judging a book by its cover" is at the heart of what this story is about, and at the heart of the brutal murder that prompted me to write about this heroine. Gwen was judged—first as a beauty, a woman, an object of desire; then for what didn't show on the cover: that she was born male.

In my own way, I too am objectifying Gwen. Did her story touch me so deeply only because of what I see when I look at her picture? Do people care more about what happened to Gwen than to other victims of trans-hatred simply because she was what we deem beautiful? I hope that isn't so. But I can't deny that I judge people by what's on the outside. I can't deny that Gwen's eyes haunt me, just as the eyes on the cover of The Devil's Garden do. I can only ponder whether I'm perpetuating the very ugliness I'm trying to bring to light. But maybe in the light, the fear and hatred of that which is different—and of that which is willingly feminine—will lose their power.

So thank you, Gwen for all that you were inside and out, and for continuing to touch my heart and make me think.

And thank you, Frauke and Carina for doing such a wonderful job of bringing the hazy images in my head to life.

Of plum blossoms and body ink

Several years ago when I finished writing my first novel I started a tradition: each time I finished a book, I would get a tattoo. Blue moon tattooThe first tattoo was my blue moon. This was for my novel Blood Maiden, and represents a carving on a dagger that one of the characters carried (though hers had a blood moon instead of a blue), as well as representing the (erroneous) popular definition of a blue moon as the second full moon in a calendar month.

In addition, it represents my connection with my mother, who died when I was 14. In college I chose "Blue Moon" as one of my performance pieces for voice class, and when I went out for dinner with my father for my 21st birthday, I happened to mention it as I was ordering my first-ever alcoholic beverage with Dad, my new favorite: a rum screwdriver. My father stared at me for a moment and said, "that was your mom's favorite drink," and then when I mentioned the song, "your mom sang that in college." Ever since then, the image of a blue moon made me feel connected to her, so the tattoo seemed fitting. I don't drink too many rum screwdrivers anymore, but the tattoo is forever. ;)

Isis knot tattooMy second novel was Anamnesis, and for reasons too complicated to explain, Isis and Kali became symbols of the divine feminine for me during the emotional upheaval of writing that manuscript. So for Anamnesis, I created my own version of a tyet or "Isis knot."

The two Sanskrit characters framing it represent the bija "seed sound" mantras for Agni (fire): hum, and Kali: krim. With these three symbols together, I was invoking the ultimate in kick-ass goddess protection. After a thwarted assault by a stranger while I was walking home from the BART station one day after work, I felt I was in need of it. It has stood me in good stead ever since.

In 2005, I finished my first draft of The Devil's Garden. At the time, I thought a matching tattoo for the tyet would be appropriate: the djed. These are the two symbols carved on the pillars of pharaohs' tombs. I came up with a design for it, but was never happy with it. I even received tattoo gift money for my birthday from two dear friends who insisted I go and get it. But I just couldn't seem to get motivated to rework the design until I was happy with it, and it languished in a folder of "things to do."

After finishing up the final line edits for TDG last night, I decided to do an image search for Belphagor from the Arkhangel'sk books to go along with the Vasily images I found recently. While browsing tattooed models, I came across a tattoo of plum blossoms, and suddenly it hit me: the plum blossom sprig is the perfect symbol for TDG. It's the symbolic proof of the divine that Ume (whose name means "plum" in Japanese) receives from the Meer—and not just a plum blossom sprig, but one covered in snow. Like the symbols in Anamnesis that I later discovered were common in Middle Eastern mythology and religion, this detail was something I thought I'd invented, and yet while searching for plum blossom imagery, I discovered the blossoms often do indeed bloom while still covered in snow.

While I work on the design for my new tattoo, I've been looking at pictures of plum blossoms on the Web. Here are a few of my favorites:

[gallery link="file" orderby="ID"]

Hmm. The WP gallery insists on including the two tattoo pictures in this display. When I take them out here it deletes them from above as well. Ah, well.

Second star on the right

Most of my readers are aware of my ill-fated publishing journey earlier this year with my novella The Devil's Garden. TDG had been eagerly acquired and edits were under way, when Ume and Cree suddenly found themselves floundering in open water. (And Ume was seriously displeased at the damage to her finery.) I am happy to announce that The Devil's Garden has found a new star to sail by and has a tentative release date of June 27, 2011 with the awesome Carina Press!

In case you're wondering what's up with the maritime metaphors, I was quite taken with the meaning behind the name Carina. From the FAQ at Carina Press:

Carina is a constellation in the southern sky. Its name is Latin for the keel of a ship, and it was formerly part of the larger constellation of Argo Navis which represents the Argo, the ship from Greek mythology that carried heroes Jason and the Argonauts on their successful voyage to capture the Golden Fleece.

We’re suckers for a great story, and Greek mythology is full of fantastic stories — when we came upon Carina, the sailing imagery really appealed to us (we even included sails in our logo). We’re sailing in a new, exciting direction into uncharted waters.

And I am thrilled to be sailing with them. They're nautical, but nice. ;)

Things are coming...wait, look over there!

There are two things of goodness coming, neither of which I'm able to fully divulge yet. But I can partially divulge them, and partially divulge I shall. I hope to be able to post the full details in the next week or two, but in the meantime, I've uploaded a new batch of images to the slide show in the banner. La-la-la, aren't they pretty? (The images that were in the banner are now below.)

[gallery link="file" orderby="ID"]

The first one is from my recent trip to New York (okay, Hoboken, but I ran away for a day and went to The Cloisters); this shot of the chapel inside The Cloisters (taken with a phone and no flash) looks like a painting to me. I thought it was cool, so I thought I'd share it. Next are a few shots from my recent business trips to Hoboken and Chicago, and the rest are things I've seen recently on my hilly San Francisco walks (all cell phone pics, so don't judge me).

Oh, what's that? The things of goodness? What, you don't think my pictures are good enough? Oh, fine.

Thing One: I am very pleased to announce that The Devil's Garden has found a new home, and one I'm very excited about. It has a tentative release date of June 27, 2011.

And Thing Two: I've received an offer of representation from a fabulous literary agent for The House of Arkhangel'sk.

:)

Independence Day: Stranger than fiction

This website was launched in April of this year to announce my first published work. At that time, my novella The Devil's Garden had just been accepted by The E-Book Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named (TEBPWSNBN). Five days ago, my editor at TEBPWSNBN had a sudden realization that the publisher had a strict policy against underage sex in their books. This was news to me, and apparently, the first page of my manuscript in which my character's age and history was very specifically mentioned, was suddenly news to my editor after three months and one round of revisions. There are a number of things about this epiphany that are particularly odd. The publisher's submission guidelines as currently listed say nothing at all about underage sex. They do, however, state that nothing glorifying, justifying, or excusing pedophilia will be accepted, a position I wholeheartedly agree with. My editor, however, explained that underage sex, in TEBPWSNBN's opinion, would somehow do just that.

Strange and outrageous, but that's their stance. However, my book contains no underage sex. What it contains is a 17-year-old character who is a well-established courtesan in an archaic fantasy setting in which 13 is the age of consent. Because my character was thrown out on the streets at age 12 to fend for herself, the history of the character does include underage sex, but the story does not, unless we're calling 17 underage, which most of the world does not.

Setting aside the character's current age and the fact that her history is just that, I was asked to increase her age by six years to make her 18 instead of 12 at the time of being thrown out. I explained that in a world in which the age of marriage was 13, one would not throw out an 18-year-old (an 18-year-old living with parents would be unheard of), and in the strange event that one did get thrown out of one's home at 18, it would hardly be tragic; finding work would be no more difficult than for any other adult in her society.

I offered to change the initial age to 13, but was told that this was unacceptable. The editor suggested that for the character's history to imply any kind of sexual activity before the age of 18 would open TEBPWSNBN up to prosecution under US law. If we were not in The Land of Make Believe prior to this statement, we had firmly entered it now.

If I were desperate to be published under any circumstances, perhaps I would have consented to making my story a rather silly tale about an aging courtesan who began her career at the age of 18 after being a drain on her family for the first five years of her adult life. A few people suggested I should let the story go; once written, it was just a commodity, and had no personal meaning. But this story has a great deal of meaning for me. I wrote it in honor of Gwen Araujo, a young trans-woman who was murdered at the age of 17 for being true to who she was.

My publisher had agreed in my contract not to make any material changes to the text of my manuscript, and this was most certainly a material change. I remained firm in my position, and TEBPWSNBN cut me loose.

For me, saying no to this compromise of my story and my character was an easy decision, but a brutally painful one just the same. I have been working toward this goal for more than 30 years. It is all I have ever wanted: to see my work in print and to put the word "author" in front of my name. Perhaps this will turn out to have been my one opportunity to grab the brass ring. Unlike my character Ume Sky, I am no longer in my prime. But like Ume, I cannot be bought cheaply. I know the worth of what I'm selling.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

I spent the day gardening, both inside and out. First, I finally got my new website and blog together, and up and running after sitting on my domain for two years. You're looking at it. (There are still a few things to add, like my blogroll and Twitter feed, and various other knick-knacks, but the basics are here.) Then I gardened out on the deck next to my little office. Sort of. Let me go back about six months first to give you the setting: The first week of November 2009, my landlady notified me that the building my neighbor and friends lovingly called "The Crack House" due to its aging paint job was going to be painted. How lovely, I thought. (Personally, I was kind of fond of the sad, grey Crack House, but I like shabby chic.)

Thus began a long, dark autumn and winter with the apartment shrouded in sheets of black mesh. (A darkness I didn't need with my Seasonal Affective Disorder; the usual lack of sun was good enough, thanks). Outside my bedroom window, strange men walked back and forth on scaffolding all day long shouting at each other (clearly thinking that the residents inside couldn't possibly know what puta meant), and were kind enough to start my day at 7:30 in the morning with their radio on the scaffolding set to banda music.

The shroud came off in February, but by then, the contractor had begun rebuilding my deck. (Wait, rebuilding my deck? What does this have to do with painting The Crack House? I have no idea. It was news to me.) With more strange men wandering about outside my curtainless office windows at any given moment, I was banished to the bedroom (because I work from home, and, I confess, usually in my bathrobe). It's a fine bedroom, but the light is mostly in the back of the house, which is why my office is there in what was once a sun porch.

Worse than being banished from my office, however, I was banished from my garden. I came out one morning to find all of my plants and deck furniture crammed into a pile in the center of the deck while the fence was being torn down. The rainy season hit immediately afterward and it remained in this state of disarray for several weeks. Once the fence was demolished, I found all of my belongings tossed into a pile on the roof behind the deck, plants on top of plants, and piles of work supplies on top of those. I waited (not very) patiently while the deck was torn up and a new deck was constructed, and then a new fence.

When they seemed done at last, I went outside to see how it looked and found the charming situation pictured to the left. The back door would only open halfway, thanks to the contractor's failure to measure the door when she put in a new step. I then waited while the rain returned, told that despite the fact that this step is under the roof, they could do nothing while it rained.

Finally, I heard the carpenters outside one morning and rejoiced. I would be able to use my new deck at last. I took a look when they were done to see if they had really fixed the step, and discovered that King Solomon had apparently lent his wisdom to the task. The result is on the right. Well, hell, at least it works.

You thought this story was over? So did I. The contractor told me that the crew would move my belongings back as soon as the inspector came. Two weeks passed. I spoke with the landlady, wondering when in the name of all that is holy I was going to be allowed to have my garden back. She was surprised, since the contractor had told her two weeks ago that the inspection was done and she was moving the furniture back. Then she added one little nugget that was the perfect ending: the contractor had informed her that plants could not be kept on the deck, because watering them would ruin the wood. I'm just going to end there and enjoy the sound of brains exploding on monitors.

Oh, and yes, I spent the last two days moving all of my furniture and plants back where they belong. A butterfly landed on the deck and warmed its wings. Birds sat on the fenceposts and sang. I kid you not. And wonder of wonders, my poor, bedraggled little Betty Boop rose bush that had been buried in tarps and buckets for months is sprouting two lovely buds.

Today is the first day back at my desk, sitting with the window open as I type, and seeing the green outside. And look how much I've accomplished: an entire website.

(I did, however, manage to accomplish one little thing while in the Slough of Despond of the past six months: I submitted my novella The Devil's Garden to [redacted]...it will be published in 2011. Update, July 4, 2010: See Independence Day: Stranger than fiction. [Redacted] is no longer my publisher.)