Friday, January 16, 2009

Waking Janet

After the funeral, after the tears, after the wake . . . months after all that, there's a secondary service, a kind of writer's wake that must be performed for those who made their living by the pen.

Last Monday, Gardner Dozois, Susan Casper, and I drove to Lincoln Park, New Jersey, to sort through Janet Kagan's papers and decide which were to be sent to the Jack Williamson Collection at Eastern New Mexico University, and which were to be unceremoniously dumped.

It was a long day of hard work, quiet reminiscence, and small discoveries. Janet liked to present herself as something of a dilettante, somebody who wrote for fun the fun of it (that certainly was true! nobody enjoyed writing as much as Janet did), a writer who simply dashed off her stories and novels. Going through her files, I could see that this last was simply not so. Janet was an organized and disciplined writer. She had endless files of newspaper clippings and magazine articles organized by topic: Mycology, Future Crime, Alternative Marriages, Gold Rushes, Rock & Roll, McCarthy Era, Status Symbols, Rich People, Storytelling, Pluto, Stupid Things People Say, Food Production, Emergent Cultures, Epidemic Diseases . . . "Was there anything Janet wasn't interested in?" I asked.

Smiling and half chuckling, Ricky said, "No."

Her manuscripts were located in four sets of files. One set at her desk were those she was working on at the time she died. Another set were completed. A third were either incomplete or finished but unsatisfactory to her. And there was a set of files labeled Accreting, These were files with a story title at the top, and anywhere from a few to an enormous lot of clippings. Some of these had sheets of notes toward the intended story. Others had only the clippings. All of these stories evanesced into nothing at Janet's death.

What remained? Everything. "Janet never threw away a scrap of paper in her life," Gardner said wearily as the day wore down. And while this was an exaggeration, ENMU certainly has a lot of treasure to shift through:

  • Two unpublished novels, Safety Claws (a YA) and Sable and Glory (aka Blogits).
  • The novel-in-progress Janet was working on when she died, Who Do You Think You Are -- Molly Bly? This looked to me to be mostly finished.
  • The Art Lover, a screenplay which Ricky tells me she probably wrote in college
  • Two porn scripts -- betcha didn't know about these, did you? -- written under the pseudonym (I kid you not) of "Merry Seaman," Up the Greeks, which was filmed as Mount of Venus because Janet was so innocent as not to know her title suggested a gay orientation, and S.N.A.T.C.H (Sexual Needs and Therapeutic Copulation Haven). They were written at a time when porn flicks had plots, you see. Both screenplays had been through a house fire and so were stored in plastic bags, their edges appropriately scorched with hell-fire.
  • Enormous files of correspondence with fans -- Janet was generously open-hearted with her readers -- marked Flounder
  • Unpublished short fiction. Her friends had thought she wasn't writing anymore, but she was. Apparently, though, she'd lost the confidence to send it out.
  • Scraps of paper with flitting thoughts written on them, such as: "Kagan's Rules of Editing 5. Make the author spend at least 3 to 4 weeks writing the prologue -- emphasize that the style shall be literary and arty. Do not print the prologue."
  • Correspondence with other writers and friends.
  • E-mail correspondence with the above.
  • A letter from Samuel R. Delany, accompanying his reconstruction of the original mundane story lurking within Theodore Sturgeon's "Hurricane Trio."
  • 3 x 5 cards stuck in books she was reading, with notes of felicitous turns of phrase or ideas.
  • An e-mail detailing the horror of working for the Star Trek franchisers ("creeps" she called them) with a tid-bit of literary history I hadn't known: "Back in the mid-eighties, my friend Mike Ford wrote a Star Trek musical. Yeah, he's still got the music for it around somewhere. And he had signed a contract to write an ST novel --- so he wrote the first all-singing, all-dancing ST novel --- HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET? Would they let him do a tape of the songs? They would not. In fact, they very nearly didn't publish the novel because it was too weird for ST but, in the end, to make their publishing schedule (I think) they made him make some truly odd changes & then went with it. I guess, in a way, they were right --- Mike got death threats for that book."
  • A file of correspondence with me, including a photo of me holding my newborn son, Sean. Good God, but I had a lot of hair then! I made Alan Moore look like a lounge lizard.
Keep in mind here that we mostly didn't read the papers. We'd riff through a file, see it was only clippings, and dump it. Grab another folder, see it was correspondence, and shove it in a crate for the Williamson Collection. Every now and then we came across something that would make our eyes bulge. "Send it to New Mexico -- that'll startle 'em!"

So I'm guessing there are a lot of goodies to be found. The folks at ENMU are in for a treat.



HANNAH'S DAD said...


Michael Swanwick said...

My bad. Corrected.