The Book That Nearly Killed Me

OKAY, I said, taking a deep breath: after thirty-two years, it’s about time. Hell, it’s way past time. Maybe.

The short version is this: Long ago, in a parallel universe that for lack of a better term we’ll call radical lesbian separatism, there lived five young women. These women shared a collective vision, a vision of parthenogenetics — women giving birth to women without sperm, forever — in other words, a world in which men, as they understood the concept, didn’t exist.

Bear with me.

Three of the women began to develop a series of practices designed to facilitate the physiological part of their collective dream. The other two set off on a related quest which they felt was a necessary concomitant. This quest had to do with a greater, overarching dream. It was based on the idea that “men” and “women” were not facets of a race composed of two “sexes”, but were in fact two separate species, who had happened to be thrown together at some time in the distant past and found it possible to breed with each other. The two races had originally had no customs in common, but through various exigencies, one had conquered and enslaved the other. As is frequent in such situations, the one had forced the other to learn their language and erased all evidence of the original one. It was believed that because the slaves had lost all memory of their original language, they had also lost their sense of self, power, and destiny.

So the two young women set out to recover the lost language: the lost, originary language of Women.

And they did.

Are you still with me, you? Yes, I know, sounds like a tired, superannuated scifi plot. And, shit, I wish it were just that, because then the whole thing — passionate, joyous, heartbreaking — could simply fade away. The waters would close over it, and life would just go on. But it hasn’t. It won’t. No matter what I do, the damn thing won’t let go of its hold, precisely because it wasn’t fiction. We lived it. All of it.

As my mother put it so many times: Why couldn’t I have just become a doctor?

Along about 1980, when I couldn’t sleep for all the dreaming, I gathered my journals from the preceding years and wrote them out in the form of a novel. Anyone who writes fiction can tell you that, as a writer, that’s just about the worst thing you can possibly do. Unless you happen to be Marcel Proust or have super powers, you lose all objectivity and control over the material. But I desperately needed to get the accursed thing out of my system, so I did it anyway — except that, in my case, instead of throwing the fucking manuscript in a bottom drawer and sealing it up forever, I made the fatal mistake of stuffing it into an envelope and sending it to — wait for it — DAW Books.

I sent it with no representation, no agent, no credentials, right over the transom. I knew it would end up in the slush pile. And I figured that that would be the end of it. But, oh, no. No such luck. A few weeks later, my phone rings. It is some ungodly hour of the morning. I wake from a deep and troubled slumber, knock the phone off the bed table, fumble around on the floor, and finally get it to my ear. At the other end of the line I hear Betsy Wollheim, DAW’s Editor-In-Chief, say, “I want you to know we think your book is powerful and gripping and important, and when we publish it we’re going to make it a leader.” Dimly I realize what’s going on: it’s nine o’clock in New York, which is six a.m. in my Scotts Valley bedroom, which is why it’s pitch black outside and why there’s a slight aura of unreality to the whole thing. But the conversation goes on for about half an hour, and at the end of it I am left with no doubt that Betsy is perfectly serious.

Wow! Yay! What every young, aspiring writer wants to hear about their first novel! Right?

Wrong. Because, you see, now The Madness sets in, and I discover that I am in Hell. Because what Don Wollheim (who was alive at the time) and Betsy want now — and you knew this was coming, didn’t you? — is the rewrite. And it’s then that I really begin to understand what it means to not be able to sleep for all the dreaming.

Because I can’t rewrite the book.

God knows I tried. I tried so fucking hard to rewrite that book. But I could never manage to tear myself away from the fact that it was a journal. The love, the passion, the sense of limitless possibility and high adventure that I’d shared with these vibrant, engaged friends and companions and lovers would not let go of me long enough for me to take even a single step back, examine the thing as a work of fiction — even with Betsy yelling at me “Even if it’s true, it’s fiction” — and do what any writer needs to do in order to coax fact into fiction and fiction into publishable shape. I simply couldn’t do it. I failed miserably. I took the thing back. I gave up. Finito.

Years passed. Decades. I published loads of other stuff. Some of it was good, I think. Now it’s 2012. Life went on. I’m older. Most of the Five are dead; one is missing and presumed dead. Unless you consider programming, a new language did not change the world. And, as seems somehow fitting, I’m still left with the weight of that exalting, humiliating tale. An originary, empowering language; remembering the future as an act of liberation: many other writers who are far better than I am have tried to tell that story. Maybe now I can tell my version. Maybe now, in the age of self-publishing, the best thing I can do with the accursed manuscript is simply to put it on line. Maybe if I know it’s out there, even if no one reads it, it may help to exorcise the ghosts of those tumultuous years.


Just a few words about the work. Firstly, please forgive the love scenes. That’s what sex was really like for a twenties-something Trans geek– embarrassingly naive, but very much of its time. Secondly, as with any journal, Ktahmet/Remember has no narrative arc, in the customary sense. (On the other hand, it clearly has something rather like a narrative arc, or I doubt that Don would’ve bought it.) Since it’s episodic, and mainly concerned with the interactions of the characters, then it doesn’t really matter in what order I make the chapters available. So let’s start in the middle, and see what happens. I’ll try to post another one every few days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.