Contracted: The Mangrove Legacy

Good news! I sent off the contract this morning: Tease Publishing will be releasing The Mangrove Legacy in November or December of this year. Initially, it will be an ebook, but if sales are brisk enough, it may see print in 2011. Now I can reveal that the “author” of the book will be Kit Marlowe. Thanks again to the fabulous Stephanie Johnson for designing Kit’s portrait, based on a photo of me and a very cool hat I found trawling the internet. Very Georgette Heyer, eh?

One of the immediate things this means is that I will have to refrain from posting the final chapters of the serial online. For those dedicated readers who have been with me the whole long haul, I will be happy to send you those chapters: just email me.  Your support all this time has meant so much to me. It’s hard to believe I started this as a kind of lark almost four years ago! I was so afraid that I would not find time for fiction writing while I was frantically trying to publish as much academic work as possible to get out of Texas; a foolish fear (as so many are).  Writing about 500 words a week was painless; the story was light and fun. I just wanted to be amusing, playing with the Gothic narratives I enjoy and throwing in as many obscure references as I could get away with. I adore the characters. And four years later — without considerable effort — it’s a 100,000 word novel.

Wow.

That’s why I emphasize those wonderful words of Octavia Butler in “Furor scribendi” where she says the key concept is “persist”: she was so right. I am capable of marathon sessions where I churn out thousands of words in a day, but that’s not necessary. Baby steps will get you there, too.

So why the nom de plume? In the last year I’ve been doing a lot of research into the romance genre, thanks to a bunch of friends who work in that area. While it is the most reviled of genres, there’s a lot good in it — like the money! Yes, there are conventions — there are conventions in academic writing, too and very strong conventions in the literary genres (disaffected suburbanite agonizes over relationships, doubts self, then has minor epiphany which may or may not change anything) — but there’s also a wide range possibilities. Just take a quick glance at all the different categories Harlequin has; the ‘paranormal romance’ field is little different from ‘urban fantasy’ these days. The lines are getting blurred. The only constant for romance is that happily ever after (HEA) or, increasingly, the happy for now (HFN) ending. We’re so cynical these days. We’ll accept all kinds of fantasy elements — werewolves, vampires, steampunk Victorians — but not a happy resolution! Oh no, never that. Well, except for the millions and millions of romance readers (and no, they’re not all women).

So my nom de plume signals “this book is a romance”: to a genre reader, it means “everything will turn out okay in the end.” For my regular readers it still means it’s the quirky stuff I write and if everything turns out all right in the end, it will nonetheless be a fun trip getting there. I’m still working on adapting my style to the genre; so far, I’m still erring too far on the side of quirky to get my foot in the very lucrative Harlequin/Mills & Boon door, but I will endeavour. Why? Because I would like the freedom of living off my writing and I am exploring many avenues to achieve that end.

And why this particular pseudonym? The original Kit Marlowe was of course the playwright who would have outshone Shakespeare had he lived (being far more daring and audacious). Less well known is Bette Davis’ character from the movie Old Acquaintance — a big fave of mine, based on the play by John Van Druten (of Bell, Book and Candle fame). Of course, Kit Marlowe is the “arty” writer while Miriam Hopkins’ Millie Drake is the popular romance writer. What can I say? I’m perverse that way. One of the gratifying things is that the friendship between Kit and Millie outlasts rivalry and men. In fact, you can easily read the film as a coded lesbian narrative, with a lot of elements coming across as far campier to a modern audience than they would have done to most contemporary viewers, I suspect. Just look at the masculine way they dress Davis at the start in contrast to Hopkins’ flounces and frills. The film was remade as Rich and Famous in 1981. It was George Cukor’s last film and starred Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. I also have a fondness for that film, though it’s not as good. I do love the way Bergen, upon having her work called “trash” by her increasingly estranged husband, snarls to correct him that it’s “successful trash!” Here’s to success, however trashy.