Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Might of the Pen (or Word Processor, Whatever)

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger Kate Gallison.

Thanks for the guest spot on your blog, far from New Jersey. It gives me the chance to sneak away from my parochial little hometown and talk about stuff I don't usually discuss with my closest associates, for fear of scaring them to death. You all know what I'm talking about, you who are writers. The might of the pen. That moment when you tell an acquaintance you're working on a book, and he or she turns pale and says, "I'm not in it, am I?"

One evening many years ago Harold and I went to dinner at the home of friends. The husband was a writer who had been married to another writer. They had broken up unpleasantly. The ex-wife had written a book, which was a tremendous critical and financial success, as sometimes happens. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate. Of course Harold and I had found a copy and read it from cover to cover. He recognized nobody in it. I had never met the woman.

We arrived to find our friend Bob (let us call him) sitting at the dining room table, his face ashen, holding his head in his hands. "Have you read it?" he said.

"Read what?"

"My ex-wife's book."


"No, no."  

"Oh, no."

"The portrait of a marriage," he moaned.

Well, poor fellow, I was sorry for him,  he was clearly suffering, although having read the book I wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it was the scene with the roaches. But suddenly I realized that this same power was mine, not the tremendous critical and financial success part, alas, but the power to cause my ex-husband suffering. I, too, was a veteran of an unpleasant breakup. I could get him back for some of the unpleasantness he had heaped on me, maybe even cause him to sit at his dining room table groaning, ashen-faced, holding his head. The prospect was delicious.

But I stayed my hand. Ten published works later, I have never yet put the first husband in a book. (Notice I say "yet".) I discovered that each time I published a novel he ran out and bought it. I imagine him paging through, searching for insults to himself.  As long as he does this, I have at least one sale guaranteed. And the suspense! Think of it. Hanging around for thirty years, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I spent an evening Googling myself last week. You should try it sometime. It's refreshing, if you ignore the bad reviews. Along about page 34 there was a link to the Rutgers Alumni Bulletin from 2009. Thumbnail biographies had been sent in by members of the class of 1959. My ex mentioned me by name and class (Douglass '61), and claimed that after we broke up I wrote a series of murder mysteries in which he figured as the villain.  

Well, that's just not true. I guess he was being funny. But you do want to watch out how you offend a writer. Or anyone who might secretly be a writer.  I know of a janitor in a small town not far from here who was fired by the city clerk, for reasons of mutual personal antipathy. He was quite cross. He is also a brilliant writer.  From his irritation came the following pearl. Read it and tremble.

--Kate Gallison

Born in Philadelphia, Kate Gallison has been at various times a store clerk, a bill collector, a computer programmer, a technical writer, and a museum docent. As Kate Gallison, her writing credits include three private eye novels and five traditional mysteries. Under the name of Irene Fleming, she writes a series about silent movie production in the early twentieth century. The first of these, The Edge of Ruin, came out at the end of April 2010. The critics were pleased with it. The second, The Brink of Fame, will be released in August of 2011.

Kate has three grown sons and a bachelor's degree from Thomas Edison College. She lives in Lambertville, New Jersey, with her librarian husband and their cat. There she divides her time among her family, her writing, and various civic pursuits. She is a member of the Author's Guild, the MWA, Sisters in Crime, and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. She is descended from a convicted Salem witch.


Annette said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Kate. And drop by any time. Loved your post. Keeping your ex buying books just waiting for the day he shows up in one is too funny!

Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome Kate! Looks like it comes down to whether we want to use our power for good or for evil. Bwahahaha!

I'm pretty sure a lot of my former co-workers will rush out to buy anything I get published to see if they're in it. Heh.

I want to hear about the Salem witch thing!

Ramona said...

Kate, your guaranteed sale is a hoot! And very interesting that he sees himself as your villain, no?

I enjoyed the story you linked, too. Small town politics is a deep well.

C.L. Phillips said...


I wonder how many of our friends and family do the same thing as your husband? Thought-provoking post.


Jenna said...

Interesting. I'm still on my first husband, so I haven't noticed any fear when a new book comes out, but it's a good thought. And that short story was great. Thanks for sharing.

Kate Gallison said...

Thanks, guys. @Joyce, bwahahaha indeed. I get tired of the goody-two-shoes thing. I used to get mail from Episcopal priests chastising me for letting Mother Grey have human feelings of lust and hostility. I don't know what was up with them.

The witch thing is exactly the opposite of what people think. Rebecca Nurse died because she refused to lie, and the thought of this keeps me on the straight and narrow, for the most part. So maybe I have a Puritan streak after all.

Joyce Tremel said...

For anyone who is as fascinated as I am by Kate's ancestor, here's a link I found:

Salem Witch Trials

Gina said...

Thanks, Joyce, for the Salem info. I'd been wondering about that, but didn't get a chance to ask - it's been one of those hectic days. The Salem situation is interesting - contrary to THE CRUCIBLE, many of the accusers were too young to be driven by repressed sexuality. More likely it was the stress of living under constant threat of Indian attack (not the place to debate whether those attacks were justified), hostile rivalries over land, the influence of strict and paranoid religious beliefs, ergot poisoning (which could produce LSD-type symptoms), and/or real attacks by demons and dark witches (not necessarily those who were accused).

Kate Gallison said...

I wrote a short story about the witch trials that was published in a Mystery Writers of America anthology a couple of years ago. It's up on my web site. Here's a link: