Reed, Kit 1932- (Kit Craig, Shelley Hyde)
Reed, Kit 1932- (Kit Craig, Shelley Hyde)
Born June 7, 1932, in San Diego, CA; daughter of John Rich (a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy) and Lillian Craig; married Joseph Wayne Reed, Jr. (a writer, painter, printmaker, and professor), December 10, 1955; children: Joseph McKean, John Craig, Katherine Hyde. Education: College of Notre Dame of Maryland, B.A., 1954.
Home—Middletown, CT. Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012.
St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL, reporter and television editor, 1954-55; Hamden Chronicle, Hamden, CT, reporter, 1956; New Haven Register, New Haven, CT, reporter, 1956-59. Book reviewer for Hartford Courant and St. Petersburg Times; freelance author of fiction. Visiting writer in India, 1974; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, visiting professor of English, then adjunct professor of English, 1974-2007. American Coordinator, Indo-U.S. writers exchange, 1990—; speaker, First Mussoorie International Writers' Festival, U.A., India, 2007.
Writers Guild, PEN, National Book Critics Circle (board member, 1991-95), Authors League Fund (board member).
Named New England Newspaper Woman of the Year, New England Women's Press Association, 1958 and 1959; Abraham Woursell Foundation literary grant, 1965-70; Guggenheim fellowships, 1964-65 and 1968; Rockefeller fellow, Aspen Institute, 1976; The Ballad of T. Rantula was named to the Best Books for Young Adults list by the American Library Association, 1979; Best Catholic Short Story of the Year Award, Catholic Press Association; Alex Award, American Library Association, for Thinner Than Thou; James W. Tiptree Award finalist, for Little Sisters of the Apocalypse and Weird Women, Wired Women.
Mother Isn't Dead, She's Only Sleeping (young adult), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1961.
At War as Children, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1964.
The Better Part (young adult), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1967.
Armed Camps (science fiction), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1969, Dutton (New York City), 1970.
Cry of the Daughter, Dutton (New York, NY), 1971.
Tiger Rag, Dutton (New York, NY), 1973.
Captain Grownup (adult), Dutton (New York, NY), 1976.
The Ballad of T. Rantula, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1979.
Magic Time (science fiction), Berkley (New York, NY), 1980.
(Under pseudonym Shelley Hyde) Blood Fever (science fiction), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1982.
Fort Privilege (science fiction), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1985.
Catholic Girls, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1987.
Little Sister of the Apocalypse (science fiction), Fiction Collective Two (Boulder, CO), 1994.
J. Eden, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1996.
@expectations, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.
Thinner than Thou, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Bronze: A Tale of Terror, Night Shade Books (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
The Baby Merchant, Tor (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author, as Kit Craig, of the psychothriller Gone, 1992, Twice Burned, and four other psychological thrillers published in England.
Mister Da V. and Other Stories (science fiction), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1967, Berkley (New York, NY), 1973.
The Killer Mice (science fiction; young adult), Gollancz (London, England), 1976.
Other Stories and … The Attack of the Giant Baby (science fiction), Berkley (New York, NY), 1981.
The Revenge of the Senior Citizens plus a Short Story Collection (science fiction novella and sixteen stories), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.
Thief of Lives, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1992.
Weird Women, Wired Women, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1998.
Seven for the Apocalypse, University Press of New England, 1999.
Dogs of Truth: New and Uncollected Stories, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of short stories to more than sixty anthologies in the United States, Great Britain, Italy, and France, including Winter's Tales, and Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. Contributor of short fiction to Yale Review, Transatlantic Review, Cosmopolitan, Journal, Missouri Review, Magazine of Fantasyand Science Fiction, Redbook, Tampa Review, Texas Review, Voice Literary Supplement, Omni, Nova, Argosy, Town, and She.
When We Dream (for children), illustrated by Yutaka Sugita, first published in 1965, first English language edition, Hawthorne (New York, NY), 1966.
(Compiler) Fat (anthology), Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1974.
The Bathyscaphe (radio play), National Public Radio, 1979.
(Under pseudonym Shelley Hyde) Blood Fever, Pocket Books, 1982.
Story First: The Writer as Insider (textbook; contains exercises by husband, Joseph W. Reed), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1982, revised edition published as Mastering Fiction Writing, Writer's Digest (Cincinnati, OH), 1991.
George Orwell's 1984, Barron's Book Notes (Woodbury, NY), 1984.
Revision, Writer's Digest, 1989.
Kit Reed's publications are of interest to both adults and teenage readers. As the author once said, "Although I write primarily for adult readers, a great many teens seem to wander into my novels, perhaps because I do not believe there is an enormous difference between adults and young people." Reed's writing falls into a variety of categories: "Some of her stories are realistic, some impressionistic, some fantasy, some science fiction," indicated C.W. Sullivan III in the St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers. "Reed does not write hard, or technologically oriented, science fiction," explained Sullivan. Instead, "Reed seems to deal primarily with the people and to use the science fiction elements as another writer might use a car or truck—as a detail necessary to the story…. The two main themes of her work [are] the impact of technology on people's lives and the plight of senior citizens." Sullivan, who noted that "one of [Reed's] strongest pieces of social criticism is ‘Golden Acres,’ about a home for the elderly," commented that in "the final analysis, it is Reed's characters that carry her fiction—science fiction, fantasy, or mainstream. To be sure, the other aspects of her writing are not found wanting, but her characters—especially the women struggling to find themselves in an indifferent or hostile society, or struggling against various institutions—remain in the reader's mind."
Reed described her genre-crossing writing this way: "Most people write what they want to read. In my case this mean[t] a lot of early science fiction because, starting with the Oz books, I loved stories that departed from reality. Now I am more interested in what seems real. Sometimes I go for reality in a completely everyday way, as in Captain Grownup and The Ballad of T. Rantula, and at other times as in Magic Time, from a position halfway up the wall. The work that pleases me most combines both elements." She also commented about her tendency to write in many genres to Gwyneth Jones of the Infinity Plus Web site, writing "I'm easily bored…. Brian Aldiss said I was a ‘psychological novelist,’ if that helps … As in, my central concern is why and how we are the way we are." As she commented to Matthew Cheney of SF Site, "Both agents and editors will tell me after the fact that a book is satirical or socially concerned or … or … In fact, all I know about it is whether whatever drove me in the first place has gotten the novel to where it's going."
The Ballad of T. Rantula, which was named to the Best Books for Young Adults list by the American Library Association, deals with the thirteen-year-old hero's attempts to come to terms with the fact of his parents' divorce. According to Anne Tyler in the New York Times Book Review, the character is "a stable, honest, earnest human being, the living center of a richly satisfying book." In "an era rampant with novels on marital bustups, Kit Reed's comes as refreshingly different, bringing with it a new point of view," claimed a West Coast Review of Books critic. "Told through the eyes of young Fred (Futch) during his last year at elementary school, the narrative avoids the cute and the obvious, rather it is brilliantly, uncannily accurate."
Captain Grownup is an adult novel about a newspaper reporter experiencing a midlife crisis. After his wife kicks him out of their house, he gives up his job to become an English teacher in a small-town high school. Perceiving himself as a person who can help bring out young talent, he becomes platonically involved with a female student. Tyler calls the book "a wry story about a 41-year-old man still trying to take the final steps to adulthood."
During the 1990s Reed released a number of works, including her 1996 J. Eden, a novel that "shows us the extent to which people can hurt one another and still be loved and go on," related Molly E. Rauch in the Nation. The "cleverly assembled and often insightful" story portrays "four New York families shar[ing] a milestone summer in a New England country farmhouse," related a Publishers Weekly critic who complimented Reed's dialogue but noted that "some readers may find that the bulk of the novel meanders too slowly through predictable lives." Calling J. Eden the "most ambitious … [and] slowest" novel by Reed, a Kirkus Reviews writer stated that the tale's "suspense hangs on the question of who's sleeping with whom and what everyone is thinking about aging, parenthood, mortality, etc." Telling the story from ten different viewpoints "gets us through in one piece," determined Rauch, who believed that "the sustained hatred and doubt would be devastating otherwise." Entertainment Weekly critic Suzanne Ruta similarly praised Reed for getting her readers to empathize with the story's "self-absorbed boomers and their desperately precocious offspring."
A veteran of online communication, Reed, who teaches classes online, tells the tale of a woman whose Internet life becomes more real and important to her than her daily existence in @expectations. Jenny is a devoted wife, stepmother, and successful therapist. But she is plagued by dissatisfaction and troubles, and she sheds them when she goes online and becomes Zan, a resident of the resort StElene. She consorts with her online lover, "Reverdy," and tries to provide support to nineteen-year-old "Lark"; when Reverby disappears, she and Lark embark on a real world journey to find him. "Reed makes Jenny's slide into an online world seem nearly plausible in this up-to-the-minute alternative love story," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Though noting the sudden haste of action toward the end of the novel, New York Times Book Review contributor J.D. Biersdorfer felt, "Reed manages to make a success of @expectations by zeroing in on that fascinating feeling one can get when leaving a mundane life to recreate the self in an alternative reality."
Though Reed isn't one to get on "the soapbox, tub-thumping political aspect" of issues she cares about, as she explained to Jones on the Infinity Plus Web site, her novels and stories often contain some social criticism. Many of her short stories have been considered feminist by critics (though Reed herself prefers the term "womanist"), and her novel Thinner Than Thou is direct commentary on the worship of body image embraced in the United States. Reed made it very clear to Jones that the issue is not just obesity: "There's a thread about Annie, the anorectic girl and one about Marg, who's facing her first facelift and another about Gloria and the other oldsters who look unsightly to body-conscious Americans who don't want to see ugly people walking around," she wrote. In the novel, an order of nuns known as the Dedicated Sisters, are a sort of body police who take people to their convent in order for them to heal; strangely associated Reverend Earl runs a supposed luxury spa that is, in reality, a prison camp for the obese, those who have eating disorders, or other body issues. "Reed provides much food for thought and reaffirms her position as one of our brightest cultural commentators," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor of the novel. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel, "unsettling, sometimes appalling: satire edging remorselessly toward reality." Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant wrote of Reed's prose, "Always, her prose is lean, fat-free and frequently seasoned with zesty turns of phrase…. Reed serves a feast of entertaining food for thought."
In The Baby Merchant, extremely likeable Tom Starbird is extremely good at his job: he kidnaps "unwanted" children and places them in loving families. Jake Zorn, a newsman, comes to Starbird for a child, but instead of business as usual, he threatens to ruin Starbird if he doesn't come through on his end of the deal. When Starbird's chosen unwed mother, Sasha, runs away from the group home where she's been living, Starbird has to revise his plans. "Reed writes a fast-paced thriller with a consummate sense of style," wrote Regina Schroeder in Booklist. Of the role of Sasha, Collette Bancroft of the St. Petersburg Times wrote, "Trust Kit Reed to break the mold for an action hero. In The Baby Merchant, hers is a nine-months-pregnant graduate student on the run from a man whose business is stealing babies."
Along with her novels, Reed has also published collections of short fiction. Weird Women, Wired Women, is a 1998 collection of nineteen short stories focusing on women—particularly their mother-daughter relationships and their role in an American male-dominated society. "Covering more than 30 years of her darkly speculative fiction…. the volume offers a definitive, indispensable sampling of Reed in top form," reported a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Anger, resentment, love, and obligation blur in tales that blend pathos and irony with the downright weird," sum- marized Library Journal contributor Eleanor J. Bader. Crediting the "unique blend of humor" of this "versatile" and "prolific" author, Ted Leventhal believed the collection of "humorous, ironic prose … [in] surreal short stories" was undoubtedly "a worthwhile read," however, a Booklist critic contended Weird Women, Wired Women "suffers from repetition [of theme]." The "crisp and to the point" text in the "impressive … [but] somewhat cold" collection contains "unrelenting obsessiveness," determined a Publishers Weekly reviewer who similarly concluded that the "lack of contrast to offset the prevailing darkness becomes unnerving." In contrast, Bader judged the perspectives Reed presents to be "fresh" and "refreshing."
Like her previous collections, Seven for the Apocalpyse is a mix of science fiction, mainstream, and "womanist" writings, "sometimes all these things at once," according to Roberta Johnson in Booklist. In the longest story, "The Little Sisters of the Apocalypse," Reed depicts motorcycle-riding nuns, protecting a group of women abandoned by their men when the men went to war. When the men return, the women must consider whether or not they want them back. Other tales feature a home security device in love with her owner, a man coping with his wife's Alzheimer's disease, a penal colony disguised as a living history tourist trap, and a retelling of the old fairy tale, "The Juniper Tree," retitled "The Singing Marine." According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Reed's stories are strikingly imagined and tautly written." Of the last story in the collection, Elizabeth Hand, writing in the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, wrote, "It leaves the reader thirsty for more, which is a good way, maybe the best way, to end any book." Reed's subsequent collection, Dogs of Truth: New and Uncollected Stories, which Booklist contributor Regina Schroeder considered "a set of marvelous glimpses of the darker side of everything." Many of the dystopian tales feature scary children and teenagers: one couple is stalked by a baby stroller, and in another tale, high schoolers revolt against their almost military enclosure of a high school—until they get bored and their revolt trails off. "Reed's humor is as sharp and cool as the edge of an icicle. These Dogs of Truth have bite," wrote Colette Bancroft in the St. Petersburg Times.
When discussing her writing process with Matthew Cheney of SF Site, Reed described, "I've always been a visceral writer, as in, I don't have an intellectual ap-
proach, twelve steps or twelve things you need to put in to make a story, any of that; I sit down in the morning most days and do what I have to do, whatever that is." Rob Bedford of SFF World Web site asked Reed what drew her to become a writer, and she answered, "I've been telling stories since I was four and a half; it's all I ever wanted to do; by the time I was in first grade I was writing them instead of dictating to my mother. It's who I am."
Kit Reed contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
At three I got lost at an intersection in downtown San Francisco, but only for a minute. Crossing the street, my panicky parents looked back and saw me planted on the curb. Adults streamed past on either side as I sat there, resolutely trying to jam an object into a box that was too small for it.
It's the story of my life.
A lifetime later a friend saw me reviving a defunct coffee maker. He suggested gently that it was beyond hope. I stopped long enough to say, "I never give up."
Then I admitted, "Sometimes you get tired of being the kind of person who never gives up."
It is, on the other hand, the engine that drives my work. For a writer, talent is only the beginning. Writers have to be tough, persistent and alert to the world outside their heads.
Mine changed constantly. We moved a dozen times before I finished college.
I was born in San Diego, California, but I'm not from anywhere. The Naval officer's tour of duty was about two years—until war changed everything. I used to think it was the ideal way to live. If life in a given place went sour, the inconvenience was only temporary. Soon enough, there would be crates in the living room. A new school in a new place.
I used to wonder whether I'd be any good at living in the same town for long. Where I come from, if things aren't going right you can always move.
We had moved from California to Honolulu, to New London and back to Honolulu by the time I was four. Landscapes changed all the time. My parents and the Navy were the constants in my life: Mummy and Daddy and Harbor Wilson, the plush Easter bunny who started my career.
Wherever we moved certain objects followed, to be uncrated and set up in living rooms from Honolulu to Washington, DC, to Panama and later to St. Petersburg, Florida, and on and on. These were the treasures Naval officers' families shored up against their ruin: camphor wood chest, chow bench, brass table; the Chinese rug and the teakwood desk.
There were treasures just like them in hundreds of other Navy living rooms. Come into one of our houses anywhere and you were at home. I still have some of these loyal objects. More important, Harbor sits in state in our upstairs hall. She is wearing three medals that followed her starring role in my first novel: one an American Library Association award for Thinner Than Thou, two from the New England Newspaper-women's Association for work I did for the New Haven Register.
In Honolulu, we lived in a bungalow perched on a mountainside. We had a Japanese maid. Daddy built me a playhouse out of a furniture crate. I sat my mother down and dictated my first novel. She printed it on paper folded to make a book. I was four and a half. She read it back, including a (parenthetical) question I had asked, which she had dutifully transcribed. I told her it didn't belong and covered the erasure with a drawing of Harbor and her friend Bobby Jones. I titled the book "Harbor Plots Her Plans."
Four other bunnies, Bobby, Miz, Peter, and Pitty Pat, ended up somewhere on the road down Diamond Head; they fell off the running board where I'd lined them up before my father left for the base at Pearl Harbor, where the USS Neches was docked. Later he was detached and sent to the Navy Department, which gave us two years of ordinary American life in Washington, DC.
I fell in love with Mikey in first grade. The big kids made me walk on flypaper in Helen Simmel's tent. My mother lost a baby, not the first and not the last. The RH factor was still a problem waiting to be solved. I wrote and illustrated the second Harbor book. My father was crestfallen because instead of waiting to be read to, I read the next "Oz" book to myself. I read Beowulf in the bathroom one long night while a gullible babysitter waited for me to come out.
Daddy and I went for a walk on Thanksgiving, just the two of us, in the snow. He took me for my first haircut, freeing me from the bondage of my mother's laboriously tended Shirley Temple curls, and he probably sat me on the roving photographer's pony when he took my picture in front of our neat little house. When my new kitten gave Daddy hives they bought me a Scottie; I wanted a dog just like Fala. I had an accordion I didn't want to play, a bunny fur coat with matching muff.
In DC, I was bowled over by The Spirit. Comics! Big Little Books. My mother's anxieties were catching. Radio accounts of bubonic plague and black widow
spiders left me feeling my armpits for buboes, looking for spiders marked by the red hourglass and, incidentally, worrying about appendicitis. My mother subscribed to a religious newsletter, perhaps looking for a cure to ailments she could not name. I loved the gruesome details of all those heinous afflictions miraculously cured by St. Anne de Beaupré.
Ordinary wasn't quite ordinary, although I didn't know it; one day Daddy came home and destroyed all the toys marked MADE IN JAPAN. We were about to move.
In a childhood marked by frequent moves and changing scenery, there was another constant: the long-running story inside my head.
We were still in Honolulu when I began it, after my parents had turned out the lights and closed the door. It took the sting out of being put to bed. My story featured blond twins just about my age named Dick and Daisy, who lived on a ranch. It continued night after night until the three of us were old enough to start thinking about sex. One of us wasn't ready to be that person, and the stories stopped. The cast included Brad and Brenda, who had dark hair. Then I added red-headed Rusty; I was in love with him.
By that time we were back in to snowy New London, where my father took command of the R-17. An aspiring flier who washed out at Pensacola, he turned to what the Navy called the Silent Service: submarines. The adventures of Harbor escalated. In "Harbor and Shamrock Wilson," Harbor's plane crashed in the jungle and she met her colored sister, a tribal princess. Together, they came back to America and became best friends. We moved to Panama and then, abruptly, back to New London before Christmas. That was the year I started over in St. Joseph's in New London twice, at a nuns' school in Panama and in St. Paul's school in Florida—all in fourth grade.
I asked for a gaudy Carmen Miranda doll that Christmas, but found the economy model stashed in a closet early that December. On Sunday morning the phone rang. Daddy answered it. Japanese planes had bombed Pearl Harbor and his brother Jimmy, an officer on the Pennsylvania, was dead. If I'd known enough to worry, I thought, none of this would have happened. Things would work out, as long as I had a plan. If they attacked New London I would crouch by the stairs and bash them with my alarm clock as they came in. On our last Christmas together, Santa brought the big Carmen Miranda doll instead.
By January the three of us and Toughy, the Scottie, were on our way to St. Petersburg, Florida, the safe place my father had chosen for my mother to sit out the war. Where I was used to hills, Florida was dauntingly flat, with staggering 360-degree skies. Spongy Bermuda grass battled for survival in sandy gray dirt. Sand spurs scratched my ankles and stuck in Toughy's paws. It was like landing on Mars. I used to stare out at sunny winter landscapes, praying for snow.
We said goodbye to Daddy at the Atlantic Coast Line station in downtown St. Petersburg—one of those wide places in the road where trains stopped on their way back to the real world. I remember hugging him and turning away stoically because in a life of change there was yet another constant: officers' children don't cry.
They think. And they worry. And they plan. God, do they plan. Do this right next time, or do it differently; expect the worst and the worst won't happen; watch out what you trust in and the next time, there won't be a war.
A Naval Academy graduate from Jacksonville, Florida, John R. Craig went where the Navy sent him, right up to the end. He went to the Pacific as skipper of the USS Grampus, a submarine that landed coast watchers during World War Two and destroyed several enemy ships in the Coral Sea. I still have his Navy Cross and his Bronze Star. Chief (VADM K.S.) Masterson, an Academy classmate and one of my first adult friends, told me years later that he and his wife, Charlotte, saw Jack for the last time in San Francisco the night before he shipped out. I can't bear to look at his letters home from that period but I cherish his exit line:
"If you see me lying drunk in the gutter turn me over. I don't want them to see the brass buttons on the uniform."
He was a gentle, funny man who used what spare time he had making intricate ship models, an inlaid cribbage board, a record cabinet, a teakwood album that he filled with snapshots lovingly captioned in white ink. He subscribed to Popular Mechanics, which I loved, and until I protested that I could read the next "Oz" book faster by myself, he read to me. I often wonder what I would have been like if he had lived.
Jack was one of three children, the second son born to James E. Craig and Clara Belle Rich Craig, who was—literally—the first white child born in Deland, the Florida town her parents founded in 1874. I imagine that going South, Union Army Captain John Rich invited a few freemen and their families along to help him settle the new land. Interesting that the Deland Web site revises history, calling Grandmother the "first child" born there. Widowed by the time I knew her well, my grandmother Craig was smart, funny, and tough as nails. Contemporary photos indicate that as a girl, she was also beautiful.
She rated films for the Florida State Board of Censors and was—I fear—a leader in the DAR. But she was kind and she cooked, and, in sharp contrast to my mother, she loved to do it. Role model? Probably. Except for the DAR.
Jack Craig was a small man, neatly put together and, according to his superior officers, one who could be counted on to deliver the message to Garcia verbatim, and under fire. As an ensign he met and married a Jacksonville girl, Lillian Hyde. She was brought up in a tradition that died before she came of age: ladies talked in euphemisms. And ladies didn't work, although when Jack met her she was teaching school. The Hydes grew up in their own little Tara with white columns on the big front porch and servants' quarters behind the house; a bronze nymph raised a lamp high above the newel post in the front hall. There were nine children if you counted Uncle LeRoy, who burned to a cinder playing with matches under the back porch.
The family had pretensions. Because some America-bound ancestor had missed his tax bill, my mother said, his property in central London was "escheated to the crown." Hyde Park. She spent years scouring libraries for proof that she was descended from the patroon of Staten Island. After she died I handed her burden off to the archivist at the University of Florida.
Marie, the oldest sister, made her debut in Charleston at the St. Cecelia's Ball, well before the family lost its money in the 1923 Florida real estate crash. Older brothers moved on before I was old enough to visit the house, leaving behind three single sisters and Marie's orphaned daughter in a house full of hotly contested furniture.
The street had gone downhill since the glory days when, my mother reported glowingly, "John [the cook] said, ‘Miss Lillian, you're poor to carry’ and cut me an extra piece of pie," and, "Nurse used to take us out in the pony cart. People would say, ‘I just know you're Forrest Hyde's children. I can tell by the eyes.’" For her, 553 May Street was always "home"—unlike anyplace she lived afterward, with what remained of our shrinking nuclear family.
Interesting, that she idealized an experience that must have been miserable. Lillian was the shy one, who only got attention when she was sick. She didn't much like her siblings, whom I was expected to love. Except for a few ceremonial visits when I was small, we avoided Jacksonville until my mother was widowed.
Later she felt guilty because the night the telegram came ("missing in action and presumed lost") she told me it was from her brother Forrest, and sent me back to bed. The next morning she broke the news—and put me to bed. The day after, we got up and got dressed and carried on as if everything was going to be all right (they'd find him) and nothing had changed. It was what you did. The alternatives were too grim.
At school, however, I was marked. The only kid without a father. As though it was something I did. Every time a new boy came into the class I studied him greedily, hoping he was like me. A former neighbor greeted me in tears, "Oh you poor child, you have lost your father." I despised the old lady for treating me like an aberration when I was working hard to be just like everybody else.
For the survivors, Missing in Action is both better and worse than dead. For a long time I imagined Daddy was a prisoner, or marooned on a desert island; as an adult I wondered what would happen if, mysteriously, he came back. What would he be like? Would he be proud of me? When my mother died I found letters of inquiry to the Navy Department, to Academy classmates. She tracked down leads well into the 1960s. Like me, she never gave up—on that, at least.
We moved into a room in somebody else's house. Later we had two rooms in a larger house, and next, a garage apartment. Toughy went with us. Harbor and my other stuffed rabbits did too. Made from cartons, their houses lined the sidewalk wherever we moved. Their town was named Bunny Ridge. "Harbor Comics" replaced the Harbor books.
Finally my mother went against the advice of crusty Forrest the financier and went into capital, what little there was. She bought us a house and saw it through renovation. It was necessary, to give me an apparently normal life.
We went to the christening of the USS John R. Craig, DD 885. Instead of a father, I had a ship.
It was probably good for me to grow up with an anxious hypochondriac. A cough bought me freedom for days. A polio scare kept me home for most of sixth grade, and I loved it. I read through the "Oz" books for the dozenth time, hung on the radio, wrote ("good heavens, Deanna ejaculated") and drew, all in the comfort and security of my very own bed.
I already knew that the solution to life's problems was not lying down. Except when sidelined by childbirth or major surgery, I have never spent a day in bed.
I also learned, by negative example, that it did not matter what people said about what you wore or what you did. With her social aspirations, my mother taught me the converse: to value meritocracy. You are what you achieve. Poor little only mother, bringing up an only child. She was a mass of social anxieties. She never outgrew her fear that I would mortify her. "You can't go out wearing/saying/doing that," she'd say, guaranteeing that I would do anything to prove her wrong. "What will people think?"
When my bio turned up in Who's Who, she assumed it was only for that year. When I juggled work and family, she was afraid I'd "overdo." Ladies didn't work.
I should, however, add that she was essentially sweet, good at turning my anger into laughter. She had a formidable vocabulary. In her own tentative, frightened way, she was strong. When I got thrown from a horse in summer camp she engineered riding lessons. During the war she drove us up and down the Eastern Seaboard to see relatives in Jacksonville and Bronxville—and in Washington, the Mastersons, whose sons were the nearest things to siblings that I had. She managed our finances so carefully that I was a senior in college before I learned how tight things were.
She believed certain material wasn't suitable for children. Just as well she didn't know what I read, from her Book of the Month Club selections to Forever Amber and other parents' sex manuals—on the sly at the houses of friends. At twelve I went to the first movie I'd been allowed to see where everything did not come out all right in the end. Watching Gary Cooper fight to the death as Dr. Wassell, I understood for the first time that if heroes could die on the screen, then my father might not come back.
Walking to school behind the big kids, I heard a boy telling a story—a story!—about something that had happened. It was better than radio. He did all the voices. Rapt, I thought: I want to be that person.
In the new house I began a novel about a girl and a horse. By then I was writing flap copy for the book I expected to publish, and soon. "Kitten Craig is twelve years old and has her own horse."
I did. My mother bought me an old cow pony with a sagging lip; until zoning caught up with us, he lived in the garage. Phlegmatic Satin was replaced by Rex, a skittish five-gaited horse with a barbwire scar on his haunch.
The visits to Jacksonville accelerated. I thanked God for the Craigs. Grandmother expected me to be tough. She had to be, with both sons killed in the war. Aunt Lydia was thirteen years younger than my father, and I saw him in her face. She was an air-traffic controller when women weren't accepted. Being with them was an emotional boot camp: shape up or ship out. It was good for me. Great Aunt Ruth Rich was a journalist who kept on typing after she went blind. I re-read "Oz" books at their house; I read condensed novels in Grandmother's Omnibook; I read anything I found in every house we stayed in.
The Hydes were another story, one I transformed in my fourth novel, Cry of the Daughter. They were indeed a southern novel, just not that one. Fuse Faulkner at tremendous speeds with Gone with the Wind and you get the idea. On May Street I read books my aunts had on hand, including Native Son and Scarlet Sister Mary, which I hid under a sofa cushion so I wouldn't get caught.
Even without the Navy to prod her, my mother moved us to Parris Island, South Carolina, the summer I turned fifteen. She may have bought into the myth—that the right move would change her life. Or, she sometimes thought, the right operation: for the deviated septum, the defective toe joint, the malady she could not diagnose and would never cure—depression, because she never stopped grieving for him.
I fell in love with the Carolina landscape—dense marsh grass in the Inland Waterway; magnificent live-oaks shrouded in Spanish moss. I fell in love with the human landscape: desperate Marine recruits running the obstacle course behind the Officers' Guest House where we lived; public high school, that microcosm of aspiration and politics, sex and violence. Classes were mediocre but going to Beaufort High was a powerful lesson in life.
To survive, a military kid learns to look and listen. Walk the walk and talk the talk or the pack will find out you are different and turn on you. Going into each new place, I learned to absorb social configurations without being told, move fast and join in conversations that had been going on for years. "Hey," I said in Beaufort, with its tidewater vocabulary and country cadences; it was never "Hi." Constant moves sharpened my ear for dialogue. It serves me to this day. I hear my characters coming before I see them.
At Beaufort High I blended—for a while.
We lived on the base, where my mother managed the Officers' Club until she declared for the last time, "This job is untenable," and quit. By then she and a boy from Wilder's stable had driven to St. Petersburg with a horse trailer to bring Rex back: five-foot woman, loading a horse that stood fifteen and a half hands high.
Life on the base was exciting. Privileged. There were free movies at the Odeon, where dependents sat in a special section behind platoons of boots with shaved heads. There was a bowling alley. There was the club. I could swim in the pool all weekend, flirt with junior officers at dinner, sign a chit for apple pie for breakfast on Mondays before I left for school. In splendid isolation, seven of us rode the forty-five minutes from the base to Beaufort on a city bus painted regulation green. I never stopped reading, but in Beaufort, I wrote only for class.
"Oh," Mrs. Combs said, delivering Part One of the Chinese curse: "You are so fa-ceel."
I had two boyfriends—the first an incipient stalker and the second a country boy who dumped me because I wouldn't put out. At the time I thought it was because I was funny, too brash. Also true. Lesson taken: don't let them know you're smart.
It was harder to hide the fact that I couldn't hit the ball. On the third strike Coach Askew loomed, drawling, "Gurl, ain't yew got no screw-ples?" Probably not.
We spent an extra year in Beaufort because after years of repression in parochial schools, I was out riding around in cars with boys and for a while, at least, they thought I was cute.
We lived on Federal Street in the town where Captain John Rich and his wife, Clara, buried their first baby before they went south. By that time the local kids were on to me. I was the same stupid, vulnerable stiff who didn't belong anywhere.
I read lurid historical novels in that house, and during study halls I raced through the library's run of Edna Ferber, a crash course in construction and suspense. Book reviews in Time Magazine opened a new world to me. There were dozens of new novels every month. I wanted to read them all—and write about them. Imagine. I was sixteen.
My cousin Marie came to live with us, toting a baby of her own, and in her own wonderful, easygoing way, she put certain things in perspective. "You know, sometimes your mother can be a bitch." Decades later my daughter alleviated years of filial guilt by suggesting Marie was right.
I fell into a posture of rebellion; it was time. I was an adult with a family of my own when my mother's best friend told me, "Your mother was very brave, letting you live your own life instead of hanging on to you." That too.
Maybe that's why we moved back to Washington at the end of my junior year at Beaufort High. Unless she feared the impossible, that her clueless, virginal daughter was having sex. Mystified, I found out by accident why I had been hauled into the base dispensary. The doctor reassured her and sent us home.
Although I hadn't thought about getting into college, my mother had. The formidable Sister Mary Leonard let me into Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington, and from a world of boys who might—just might—fall in love with me, I moved into a girls' boarding school where Dobermans were posted at the bottom of the stairs every night, although it was never clear whether they were to keep out intruders, or keep us in. Reading The Count of Monte Cristo, I felt like Edmund Dantes, jailed in the Chateau d'If.
I knew we'd have to leave the horse behind when we left Beaufort. We left my dog!
Visitation was good for me, but not the way my mother hoped. Instead of polishing my manners, the school encouraged me to let the people know I had brains. Once again I came late to the feast; the boarders had been together for years. It went better for me than for the colonel's daughter, who claimed the Virgin came to her in the chapel with orders for the nuns to send her back to Colorado, where she belonged.
On weekends, my mother and I went calling on my father's classmates in their snug houses with their complete families: parents, children. Intact. They were generous when we came to call.
One day the senior class got on a bus and went to National Cathedral School to take SATs. In vocabulary, I score in the ninety-ninth percentile—I just do, but there was a hitch. Leonard looked down her aristocratic nose. "My dear, with your math scores, you'll be fortunate if you get into any college at all." Mandatory GREs two years later confirmed it. In math I scored in the fourth percentile.
The College of Notre Dame in Baltimore was kind enough to take me. Later, Sister Maura Eichner let me submit short stories in lieu of a footnoted thesis. I roomed with the talented, temperamental daughter of the Washington Post's answer to Ann Landers. In a conventional college we found the outsider culture, along with another good friend who later became a nun.
With meals and housekeeping taken care of, the sisters thought women could do anything: be scientists, scholars, artists. My favorite was the incendiary Sister Ignatius, who moderated the college paper. Her temper was like the weather. Violent, unpredictable. We asked survivors: "How is she today?"
The Ig was a precisionist, tougher than any city editor. She chose me to edit the yearbook, not the obvious A student. When the creator of Pogo came to speak I did the interview. The clipping got me my first job.
As freshmen, we were bussed to Annapolis for tea fights at the Naval Academy. I was in love with the Navy, from the craggy bust of Tecumseh to the photo of my father's gym team enshrined in Dahlgren Hall. I could show you the exact location of the initialed brick among thousands in front of Bancroft Hall. I went to hops with sons of my father's classmates. I thought I'd marry into the Navy. It was home.
But meanwhile. Meanwhile! The house in St. Petersburg was between tenants and needed work the summer after my freshman year. I was painting kitchen cabinets when my mother's college roommate invited us to dinner. Her son Jimmy had a hot date, but his
mother barred the door. "You have to get a date for Kitten too." He dug up a high school classmate, a scholarship student at Yale who was, I was warned, "smart." I imagined a weedy character with glasses. He produced Joe Reed.
Attacking War and Peace that summer, I had read as far as the Battle of Austerlitz. I never finished the book.
We went dancing at the Bath Club where as a kid I'd been watched over by the club's fatherly headwaiter, B.C. A dance band played on the terrace by the pool.
Joe and I danced well together; we still do. On the way home one of us quoted T.S. Eliot's sober instructions about wiping your hand across the mouth…. In a flash the other provided the second line, and it is significant that I don't remember who said which.
Jimmy never scored with that hot girl, but Joe and I were bonded for life. We had just turned nineteen.
The next summer my mother pushed me into typing school—liberating for someone whose wretched handwriting could never keep pace with her thoughts. They taught me how to type.
Decades later I marveled. "How did we find each other?"
He said, "How do two giraffes find each other in a field of zebras?"
My mother noted mildly that we might not have much in common, all we ever did was go to the movies, but she reckoned without the hours we spent parked on the Vinoy fill or in front of the house. There have been thousands of movies since, and in spite of her fears, we never run out of things to talk about.
His mother, I learned later, didn't approve of me. Where she wanted him to marry up, a Catholic girl would burden him with babies. I could only drag him down. She'd have moved heaven and earth to stop the wedding, but she couldn't budge Joe.
My mother worried because we fought. We fight like tigers. Growing up with a woman who would brood until I begged her to tell me what I'd done wrong, I vowed to get it out and get it over with. Fight. Negotiate. Resolve.
Being a long-distance landlord tired my mother, who had quit the government job that brought her to Washington. She'd tried selling insurance and real estate without success. It wasn't hard to convince her to move back to St. Petersburg. Friends lived there. So did the Reeds.
College life went on, but with a difference. There were the letters, days that there weren't letters, weeks of saving up for trips. Days at Notre Dame unfolded in black-and-white. The movie turned to Technicolor the minute I got off the train in New Haven. Although he was an English major whose work-study job put him to work for the noted Boswell scholar Frederick A. Pottle, Joe's life revolved around the Dramat, center of the outsider culture at Yale. He loved building sets and he loved running things. He was president in his senior year.
I went to every show. At the parties afterward, there was the ritual. Sam Pottle played mad piano while people sang drunken, outrageous songs. We were nothing like the preppy drunks going past outside on Fraternity Row with girls from Wellesley/Vassar/Smith with their cashmere sweaters and perfect hair.
It was a good fit for a Navy junior who didn't belong anywhere.
Compared to childhood, adult life is a dream. Unlike children, grownups make the decisions. Adults are in control of what they do, and what comes next. While Joe joined the USS Macon as an ensign in the reserve, I applied to the St. Petersburg Times. I got to the heart of the personality test, choosing answers that made me look inventive, creative, aggressive, naturally curious. All true.
Outside the Society department, which was its own kind of ghetto, there were five women—a record for newspapers in those days. Lorna Carroll, the religion editor, was an ex-showgirl. Assigned to a story about a crop duster, she cried, "Lash me to the plane." A neophyte who never went to journalism school, I was hired to answer the phone.
I loved it. I was being paid for what I did! I went into the newsroom on my days off for the sheer pleasure of hanging out with people who, like me, observed and recorded details about a world where they didn't necessarily belong.
Soon I was editing copy. I "enterprised" a feature about a sidewalk bank teller—my first. I convinced the desk to let me review new television shows. In short order I was a TV columnist. Unthinkable now, but nobody did it on a regular basis then.
Chick Ober was city editor, stern and businesslike. With work, I could make him smile. The newsroom was dominated by men, all busy and obviously more important than I could hope to be, pounding on klunky standard typewriters. I would have done anything to impress those guys.
I wrote well but moved too fast; after I overlooked a writ in Circuit Court I ended up on Obits, where I spent six dismal weeks phoning funeral homes. Lorna went on a two-week vacation and I dummied and wrote headlines and most of the copy for the weekly church page. I chose a pseudonym: Fidelia Kirk. In the composing room, I threw out blocks of hot type and rearranged columns with the best of them. I learned to read in reverse.
"Well," said my boss on the project, "you just passed Journalism 101." Sandy Stiles took notice and had me design and write for the TV section in his new Sunday magazine. From answering the phone, I had moved up fast. By that time I had inherited Great Aunt Ruth's typewriter. I remember starting and abandoning one short story at home.
I read C.S. Lewis's theological science fiction trilogy, starting with Out of the Silent Planet. For a child who grew up on the "Oz" books, SF was the route into imaginary adult worlds. It fed my appetite for the weird.
A year later Joe came home on leave and we were engaged. Back on the Macon, he broke the news to his skipper, then-Captian Vernon L. Lowrance. When he told my father's classmate that he was marrying Jack Craig's daughter, Rebel laughed. "Get out of here, you make me feel old." Although Joe's mother is not smiling in the wedding photos, we were married that December. We moved to Great Lakes Naval Training Center for his last six months in the service.
Bottom line? I lost my job.
I went from struggling star, still rising, at the country's best independent newspaper to the editorship of the District Public Works Office house organ, The Right Angle. I didn't know it was the ideal career move. With a job I could do in two days and a month of eight-hour work days to do it in, I wrote.
What was I reading? I remember Miss Lonelyhearts, which I read standing up in a drugstore because I couldn't afford the paperback. Shirley Jackson. J.D. Salinger. I remember an early fight over what belonged on our first bookshelf. I held out for my favorites, no matter how battered. Joe was a bindings snob. We split the difference.
I wrote a dozen stories in that period, sent them out to a pay-by-the-read "literary agent" and discovered that the operation was a scam. Ten dollars for the reading. If you wanted further notes on your story, you paid more. Life was too short. Joe pointed me to two amazing details in Herodotus. I wrote a story called "To Be Taken in a Strange Country."
My mother met a writer at the Bath Club. She said, "Oh, my daughter's a writer too." He offered to put me in touch with his agent at Curtis Brown. Emilie Jacobson liked my work but thought "To Be Taken" was too strange to show. She asked to see more. It would be a while.
We were moving to New Haven. Joe was preparing for graduate school at Yale. I was never happier to lose a job. After three tense months on area weeklies owned by the spoiled son of a St. Louis newspaper scion, I moved to the New Haven Register. In a newsroom with exactly one other woman, I was hired to answer the phone. But not for long. I did rewrites. Then I did a couple of obits. I did a story. Then I did another one.
I followed a visiting nurse through her day in the poorest neighborhood in New Haven. With a photographer riding post, I covered a drug bust. I was learning how a city works.
Whenever an author came to town, I did the interview. I went in without an agenda. After the first question, I built questions on their answers. Avid for any detail that would help me become a writer, I took notes. With my head bent over the notebook, I was invisible. They opened up as if to their psychiatrists.
Composing on the typewriter taught me discipline. There was a lot of tearing out and crumpling pages and starting over from the top. As I hammered away at the lead, the rest of the story organized itself. Fiction unfolds for me in the same way. Writing and rewriting, I discover the tone, the point of view, the cadences of my characters. I find out what I'm doing in the process of getting it down, and getting it right.
I learned more from crusty newsmen than any writing program could teach. Precision and accuracy were the rule. There was no place in the newsroom for prima donnas. Excel and Chick or Bart or Al might mutter, "Good story." High praise. At the Register, Charlie McQueeney pulled me into the composing room, where the clatter of the Mergenthalers would keep the news that he was giving me a raise from reaching his staff.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson was in working on deadline. Now I work according to deadlines I set for myself.
Interviewing the news editor's wife, Kaatje Hurlbut, who had just sold her first short story to Mademoiselle, I learned that she'd been writing for eight hours a day for fifteen years. Inspired, I came home and pulled out "To Be Taken in a Strange Country." Bob Mills at Venture rejected it but sent me to Anthony Boucher at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, who took it. That first sale was like a dealer's sample of a powerful drug. With no time to write, I finished long days in the newsroom and wrote short stories at night.
In the era of the happy housewife, Joe and I had agreed that a woman with a career was more interesting than one without. I put him through graduate school; since then he has supported my work, whether or not it pays. As resident critic, he reads every line of fiction I write.
At work, I was covering Juvenile Court. We were the first paper to do it. Assistant managing editor Al Sizer made an arrangement with the judge, agreeing to mask the young offenders' identities. Again, I was the invisible reporter: observing, recording, astonished by how many cases were custody matters placing children when there were no responsible adults. Many ended up in the state school, batched with serious offenders. My third novel, The Better Part, reflects some of what I learned.
Four boys from the projects mugged and murdered an old man for a watch and some pocket change. Al assigned me to an in-depth series. I talked to families, to police and social workers, trying to find out what turned them into killers. The New England Newspaperwomen of America named me best reporter of the year. Picking up my second medal the following May, I asked about the last year's winner. "Died in childbirth," I was told. I was pregnant, although it didn't show.
One week in August, I interviewed Cary Grant and covered a talk by Eleanor Roosevelt. That Friday Charlie said he was afraid I'd deliver in the newsroom and sent me home. The guys in the newsroom took up a collection for a farewell present. I bought a desk. I thought I had a week to get ready, but that night I went to the hospital and by Saturday night, Joe and I had a boy.
Once more, I was out of a job.
In my life as a novelist, I have honored a tacit agreement that I will never write about my children, but it's important to name them here. We have three, Joseph McKean Reed, John Craig Reed, and Katherine Hyde Reed. We used to come home early from parties because they were more fun to hang out with than most adults. They are grown now, pair-bonded in much the same way we are, Mack to Kristina Reed, John to Germàn Angulo-Salom and Katy to Ko Maruyama; Cooper and Miranda Reed and Jack and Reed Maruyama complete the group. Our joy is that our adult children are friends and colleagues who still like to hang out with us.
After five years in newsrooms, however, motherhood came as a shock. Where other Yale wives were getting together over morning coffee, I had been at work. Dumped into the new world with nothing to steer by but a copy of Dr. Spock. I was in culture shock. For the first time ever, I was physically weak. I had this small person to take care of, I hurt all over and I lost my job.
Recovery was swift after my mother left for home; she was intent on housekeeping, when all I wanted to do was sleep. The baby's schedule arranged itself and set my work times. After the morning bath, he slept for at least two hours. At four weeks I wrote a short story and (thanks Mom, for sewing lessons when I was twelve) made a skirt. At six weeks I started a novel and made a suit.
I read through Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet during that period. I discovered Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon and Ian Fleming; I read Jude the Obscure and A.E. Ellis's response to The Magic Mountain, a scorching novel called The Rack. I was reviewing fiction for the Register in exchange for the book.
As a reporter committed to accuracy, I used to lie awake worrying. Had I gotten the facts wrong, had I misquoted a source? Fiction opened the door to freedom. As Joe's mentor at Yale, Frederick Hilles, said cheerily, "You don't have to worry. You can make it all up."
Examining life, I could shape lives on the page. Writing was my way of making life make sense. What's more, I could invent. Emmy Jacobson had no interest in weirdness, but sold my more reality-driven stories to Redbook and Cosmopolitan. The others, I sent out on my own.
Developing writers often write what they like to read. I was torn between Waugh and Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Salinger—and SF. Speculative fiction let me learn how to write without touching my central material. I mailed dozens of stories to genre magazines. My favorite rejection came from H.L. Gold, who in response to my question, "How does this grab you?" wrote back, "Right down the throat and by the lunch." My second favorite came from Emmy, who said of my story "Winter," "If you can sell this I'll pin a medal on you."
"Winter" appeared in MacMillan of London's Winter's Tales along with pieces by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. It has been widely anthologized, most recently in The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Literature.
Peter Parsons, who edited a town-gown issue of the Yale Literary Magazine used a story. Mimicking author notes I'd read, I said it was part of a novel. Peter thought his uncle, a publisher, might want to see it. How much did I have? I wrote five chapters and an outline on Aunt Ruth's plum-colored Smith Corona, tapping away on a card table in the front hall. I entered the Houghton Mifflin contest. Robert Stone won, but I got a contract for Mother Isn't Dead She's Only Sleeping. By the time we arrived at Wesleyan for Joe's first job, the manuscript was done.
A dramatic change after Yale and New Haven, the small-town campus looked like a magazine cover by Norman Rockwell. Wholesome youths in Zelan windbreakers gathered around pep-rally bonfires across the street from our house. The first of our student roomers-cum-babysitters demonstrated that they were more interesting than they looked.
Infant naptimes eroded and we paid a local woman to watch the baby five mornings a week. It set my work schedule: work mornings, Monday through Friday. Take nights and weekends off. Routine serves me well. Sit down at the same time every day and sooner or later, something will happen. Now work time expands into the afternoons.
Transatlantic Review took two stories during this period, but I was also selling to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I was either blessed or cursed by a darker imagination than most and then and now, I am like the witch on the weather house. Sometimes the sensitive realist comes out; sometimes it's the witch. All my life I have worked to prove that they are the same person, but in publishing, you go where they take you. Editors of speculative fiction have always welcomed me.
At a party for my second novel, a faculty wife told my friend Jessie that it was obscene for me to be locked away upstairs working while downstairs, another woman watched my son. She was telling the wrong person: a mother of three who is also an M.D.
I was never cut out to be a housewife. I did what I did, took care of my baby and kept to myself. I rewrote the Ilg/Ames child-care columns for the Hall Syndicate. I interviewed Richard Wilbur and Paul Horgan and John Cage for the Register. Dick was taken aback by the pace of the questions. "When you're interviewing, you turn into somebody else."
The dean's wife looked hurt when I shrugged off the faculty wives' club; the chaplain's wife eyed me suspiciously: Are you going to write about us? Years later a religionist's unhappy wife confessed, "We thought you were crazy, sitting up there typing while we were outside with our babies, but…" Sigh. "Now you're somebody and I'm not."
A friend told us we had arrived "in the year of dancing and petty flirtation." The year before, an irate speech teacher had tried to kill an innocent professor who happened to look like the man who had seduced his wife. A member of the Dutch Resistance in World War Two, the wife of the real culprit had turned the cuckold with the pistol away from the door by implicating the wrong man.
Wow, this was interesting.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies the college community lived out its own comic strip, writing new chapters every day. People went running down the
street with children, pounding on windows of houses from which they had been exiled. I was told that our next-door neighbor, who happened to be Joe's boss, resented me because I wouldn't flirt. He was a ludicrous popinjay, flaunting his key to the Playboy Bunny Club. Joe got tenure anyway.
Faculty parties were a revelation; turn a corner at any gathering and find somebody surprising rubbing up against somebody they weren't married to. Didn't they know how silly they looked? Marriages crumbled, or cracked and got glued back together, but for us it was a remarkable spectator sport.
In more than one way, novelist and historian Paul Horgan was the saving grace. As director of the Center for Advanced Studies, he brought Jean Stafford and Herbert Reed to town, Martin D'Arcy, Frank Kermode and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Faculty seemed uneasy with eminent outsiders. At Paul's behest, we entertained them all in our half of a college duplex. Edmund Wilson came to dinner and seemed delighted and grateful to be sitting down with us, even though we were only kids.
With his style and humor, Paul made clear that there was a whole world beyond the small academic community with its feverish attempts at festivity. He liked us. He liked my work.
After Mother Isn't Dead She's Only Sleeping, Houghton Mifflin wanted to send me to Bread Loaf to network. There were two drawbacks. First, I didn't want to go away to write; I worked at home. Second, I was pregnant again.
I turned in At War as Children, my elegiac response to my childhood and to the suicide of Switch Masterson. Houghton Mifflin expected a second comic novel. Rejecting the manuscript, my editor wrote, "I predict a long and interesting career."
Part Two of the Chinese curse slid into place.
I've never written the same thing twice, a problem in a publishing world where readers like to know what they're getting when they buy a book. I am too easily bored.
Paul liked the manuscript and took At War as Children to Bob Giroux of Farrar, Straus, who published the book. When galleys came I discovered that a pushy copy editor had inserted her own word choices and arbitrary punctuation into my text. In the days of hot type, corrections on proofs were expensive. The author was usually billed. To Bob's credit, the house covered the cost of restoring my copy.
As a precisionist, I care passionately about the way the text looks on the page. Every line has been through several drafts and I resent the outsider who, on the basis of one reading, decides that I'd prefer their changes to my careful work.
Except for one poisonous review, good things followed the publication of At War: a Guggenheim, a paperback sale, the knowledge that there were more books to come. In the realm of Chinese curses, I was my own self-fulfilling prophecy. I disappointed Bob with a collection of SF short stories under the title Mr. Da V.
After a Guggenheim trip to South Carolina, we settled in for a summer taking care of the Pottles' house. A painter who has had shows in New York, Washington and New Delhi, Joe got his start there. He painted a pair of herbals for the bathroom we redecorated for the Pottles as a thank-you gift.
I broke my heart over a long, complex novel nobody wanted to publish and on the rebound wrote The Better Part. A reviewer said it "made Holden Caulfield sound like Little Lord Fauntleroy." We took our two little boys to London. By the time Farrar, Straus engineered my invitation to a party for "cool people under 35," I was too pregnant to go. Our daughter came that May. At Paul's Center dinner that night, Joe says, fellows Stephen Spender and Frank Kermode toasted her.
On that first trip to London, I met Hilary Rubinstein of A.P. Watt, who took Joe and me to lunch at Simpson's in the Strand and in the most gentlemanly way possible, talked about how we might make money together. He sold Mr. Da V. and Armed Camps, my fourth novel, to Charles Monteith at Faber and Faber, the house where T.S. Eliot had worked.
Although Armed Camps satisfied Faber, my version of Why Are We in Vietnam didn't sit well with the Farrar, Straus image of the sensitive literary writer, Kit Reed. It was time to reinvent myself. Agent Carl Brandt helped me do the job, convincing John MacRae of Dutton to buy Armed Camps and Cry of the Daughter. He would go on to publish Tiger Rag and Captain Grownup before we parted ways.
Friends from New York came to the house with their children—the nearest thing to cousins that our children have. Bob Giroux and Charlie Reilly came. Piers Paul Read and his wife came, as did Joan and Harry Harrison. Students who would become friends came.
We went: to Boston, to upstate New York, to Manhattan and Washington.
Nicholas Ray came to the house, half-blind and lugging cans of film documenting the trial of the Chicago Seven. He imagined a movie of The Better Part would bring Oscar nominations like his picture, Rebel without a Cause. We heard Nick on the wall phone in our kitchen, desperately trying to reach his money. His money refused to pick up the phone.
Fred Pottle came into the Boswell office where Joe was working on Volume Ten of the papers and said he'd nominated me for an award. The letter came in German. The Abraham Woursell Foundation gave five-year literary grants; I was the first American grantee.
We bought a new car. We got a Scottie. We made the down payment on a house. The woman who never belonged anywhere has lived at the same address since 1971.
Meanwhile Wesleyan was in flux. In the wake of the first Kennedy assassination, the Sixties had rolled in like an eighteen-wheeler, carrying every drug in the pharmacy and a new kind of student. Creative. Inventive. Unconventional. People like us. Someone said, "You attract the arties," and we did, although we said no thank you when they came bearing drugs. Post-revolution Wesleyan brought us friends like television director Alan Metzger, who shot the first student film made at Wesleyan; Internet guru John Perry Barlow; producer Laurence Mark.
After the Kent State shootings, previously square faculty members let their hair grow and donned flashy flares. The women's revolution gathered force. At consciousness-raising sessions, faculty wives vented about their lives. I was too busy with career and family to take the time.
Our friends outside Wesleyan were in flux too. As the country moved into the Ice Storm era, marriages we believed in started busting up. When these things happened we felt like the kids in the sad song where the folks sit them down to break the bad news. Baffled. Maybe we were the only people around who were surprised.
The year our daughter was born I stood in for a writing teacher sidelined by a heart attack. I taught his class in my living room with Joe standing by, in case. He was, after all, the teacher. I'd never done it before. In the mid-Seventies the college wanted a writer to teach one class a year. They turned to me. Sure, I said. I didn't mind doing it, but just until my ship came in.
I've been teaching ever since. Stephen Alter and I cooked an Indian dinner when Hilary and Helge Rubinstein came from London; Hilary sold Steve's first novel to Diana Athill at Cape. Other students who are friends and colleagues include Peter Blauner and Suzanne Berne, Daniel Handler, Cheryl Sucher and Matt Tyrnauer, Alisa Kwitney and Alexander Chee. There are more, just beginning to publish.
My first class was coming up when Pat Moynihan phoned from India, where he was ambassador, to find out whether Joe and I would come, but there was no splitting the job of cultural attaché. We chose the short visit, a USIS lecture tour, and went for three weeks. Ignoring our bank balance, we bought tickets for the children. Joe was chairing the English department. I was recovering from the non-response to Tiger Rag. Time to reinvent myself. I began my second comic novel, Captain Grownup, on our return. Peter Prescott, who later became a dear friend, called to tell me Newsweek was reviewing the novel. I said, "Thank God." I knew the movie deal wouldn't work out when I found out the producers wanted my male reporter to be a photographer, played by Diane Keaton.
The following summer we were Mellon fellows at the Aspen Institute. Everybody went except the Scottie. In one seminar an oil executive asked me how much I made. I told him, not admitting that most of it came from teaching. The next question staggered me. "Writing," he asked, "is this a hobby with you?"
It's my life.
Meanwhile, friends' marriages were crumbling all around us, a complex problem I addressed first in The Ballad of T. Rantula, published by Genevieve Young at Little, Brown in 1979. It was a good year for me. Carl convinced David Hartwell at Berkley to buy a collection and a novel. John Madden directed an adaptation of my story "Pilots of the Purple Twilight" on National Public Radio.
In movies, there is a unit called The Last Good Time. As our sons entered college, I plunged into yet another long, complicated novel that nobody would buy. In the Eighties I kept a morbid journal of submissions: short stories sent out and accepted, and novels and short stories returned. I remember one page marked: ZERO YEAR. Doubleday published two books in the Eighties but to cut costs, never produced bound galleys.
Wesleyan offered a special deal on computers to faculty. Joe was buying one. Like most writers at the time, I thought the "word processor" was a monstrosity. It would only ruin my work. As part of an MIT project involving playwrights, Arthur Kopit became a
cyber-evangelist. Clare Brandt sat us down at her Kaypro. It looked easy enough. Born competitive, I knew that if Joe had a computer, to save our marriage, I had to get one too. Our Digital Rainbows came with inscrutable instructions. We were like gorillas, trying to figure out how to open our coconuts.
By the time computer classes started a week later, I had written a short story. I went from composing on a Royal Standard office model typewriter to the fluidity of a computer, but it didn't change the way I work. I don't work any faster. Spared the mechanical effort of throwing the carriage, I don't declare a passage is finished because I'm exhausted. Instead of making eleven or twelve passes, I can keep going until I have it right.
Editors admired my big novel, but nobody made an offer. Once again, it was time to reinvent myself. I wrote my third comic novel, Catholic Girls. It came out in 1987, the year my mother began the downhill slide into death. The next five years were punctuated by trips to Florida, where I wove a few lines of personal history into Little Sisters of the Apocalypse, an SF novel about biker nuns.
The phrase "track record" crept into my conversations with Carl. I was having what a friend called "a midlist crisis." I began a psychological thriller about a submariner's widow who vanishes one day. I was writing to save my life. In 1990 Carl and I had what Clare called "the friendliest divorce I've ever seen." They are still dear friends. Richard Pine masterminded my reincarnation, selling Gone under my maiden name.
Between foreign, paperback, and film rights, Kit Craig made more money than all those years of Kit Reed put together. A second thriller followed. A six-figure offer for two more. But. But … I was deep in yet another
long, complex novel that may never be published. Remember the Chinese curse. I declined.
Four more thrillers appeared in the U.K. before I closed the door on that chapter. J. Eden, the long, complex novel I began in the late Eighties came out in 1996 from the University Press of New England. As a regular reviewer for The Hartford Courant, I joined the National Books Critic Circle, and for four years, served on the board.
Meanwhile, I was leading a double life. My friend Stew the nun had plumbed the Internet. She gave me the Telnet address of an amazing place: an online gathering place for some 9,000 people from all over the world. I got a character on LambdaMOO, the text-based grandfather of Second Life. Although the community is dwindling, I'm still there.
I needed time off from Wesleyan. I was granted a year to design an online writing course. Patterned after LambdaMOO, my little virtual community allows student writers to workshop stories in a real-time, text-based environment where nobody knows what they look like and nobody can see them blush. Until the last class at my house, they don't know who each other are.
It seemed logical to write about the cyber-life. Fascinated by the power of text and performative utterance, I began @expectations, published in 2000. Two more novels followed, both departures from the
expected and both billed as SF. At this writing, The Baby Merchant is the most recent, unfolding in a near future that is, essentially, already here.
Beginning this summary of a long career, I talked about anxieties and planning ahead, both essential to my survival. In college, where I was labeled an underachiever, a clueless teacher asked me to summarize my philosophy of life. It was an outrageous request. I didn't have one, at least nothing I could articulate, but I can say this.
As a fatherless kid reared by an anxious mother, I dealt in worst-case scenarios. If X happened, I could always do Y. I think of it as protective pessimism. The protective pessimist is always prepared, never disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. Like Paul Horgan, I always have a work in progress by the time a novel comes out. For a writer, this is essential. Whatever happens, it won't be so bad if you have a backup plan.
Like everything that has ever happened to me, thinking in worst-case scenarios taught me how to write. My fiction grows out of a profusion of what-ifs. What if X happened to this character? What would I do in his place?
To finish a biography neatly, the obliging subject needs to rise to fame—or die. I haven't accomplished the first and am not about to try the second. At this writing, I am beginning a new novel. The work goes on.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Best Sellers, July 1, 1970; April 1, 1971.
Booklist, June 1, 1986; March 15, 1998, Ted Leventhal, review of Weird Women, Wired Women, p. 1203; May 15, 1999, Roberta Johnson, review of Seven for the Apocalypse, p. 1682; August, 2000, Whitney Scott, review of @expectations, p. 2108; June 1, 2004, Paula Leudtke, review of Thinner Than Thou, p. 1713; April 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, "The Alex Awards, 2005," p. 1355; September 1, 2005, Regina Schroeder, review of Dogs of Truth: New and Uncollected Stories, p. 76; April 1, 2006, review of The Baby Merchant, p. 29.
Books and Bookmen, March, 1968.
Book World, July 5, 1970.
Entertainment Weekly, March 15, 1996, p. 59.
Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), June 9, 2004, Owen McNally, "The Land of Bodily Bliss."
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1987; September 1, 1992; July 1, 1994; January 15, 1996; February 1, 1998; April 15, 2004, review of Thinner Than Thou, p. 368.
Library Journal, August, 1987; October 15, 1992; February 1, 1998, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Weird Women, Wired Women, p. 115; June 15, 2004, Jackie Cassada, review of Thinner Than Thou, p. 62.
Listener, September 18, 1969.
Locus, May, 1989; November, 1993.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 21, 1996.
Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, September, 1999, Elizabeth Hand, review of Seven for the Apocalypse, p. 30.
Nation, April 22, 1996, p. 36.
New York Times, April 12, 1976.
New York Times Book Review, March 8, 1964; July 4, 1976; June 17, 1979; March 8, 1981; November 1, 1987; January 17, 1993; April 21, 1996; October 29, 2000, J.D. Biersdorfer, "You've Got Males," p. 38; January 1, 2006, Sarah Ferguson, "Fiction Chronicle," p. 17.
Observer, October 5, 1969.
People, July 5, 2004, Lynn Andriani, review of Thinner Than Thou, p. 47.
Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), August 16, 2006, Martha Woodall, review of The Baby Merchant.
Publishers Weekly, July 24, 1987; August 17, 1992; July 25, 1994; December 18, 1995, p. 39; February 9, 1998, review of Weird Women, Wired Women, p. 75; May 24, 1999, review of Seven for the Apocalypse, p. 65; July 31, 2000, review of @expectations, p. 67; May 10, 2004, review of Thinner Than Thou, p. 41, and Melissa Mia Hall, "Abandon Flesh All Ye Who Enter Here," p. 42; July 25, 2005, review of The Dogs of Truth, p. 53; September 12, 2005, review of Bronze: A Tale of Terror, p. 46; March 13, 2006, review of The Baby Merchant, p. 46.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1999, Irving Malin, review of Weird Women, Wired Women, p. 199.
School Library Journal, January, 1992.
Sewanee Review, July, 1990; October, 1992.
St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), September 11, 2005, Colette Bancroft, "Stories with Teeth," p. 7P; June 11, 2006, Colette Bancroft, "Fiction That Feels Like Foreshadowing," p. 6P.
Times Literary Supplement, October 16, 1969.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1985; August, 1986.
Washington Post Book World, August 30, 1981; April 28, 1985; May 25, 1986.
West Coast Review of Books, September, 1979.
Womens Review of Books, July, 1995.
Infinity Plus,http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intkr.htm (May 18, 2007), Gwyneth Jones, interview with Reed.
Kit Reed's Home Page,http://www.kitreed.net (May 18, 2007).
Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia,http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=1769 (May 18, 2007), profile of Kit Reed.
SFF World Web site,http://www.sffworld.com/interview/188p0.html (May 25, 2006), Rob Bedford, "Interview with Kit Reed."
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/07a/kr227.htm (May 18, 2007), Matthew Cheney, "A Conversation with Kit Reed."
Wesleyan University Web site,http://www.wesleyan.edu/wesmaps/course9900/faculty/reed497.htm (May 18, 2007), profile of Reed.