Well. Here we are. I think the new site’s temporarily how I want it.
I recently did up some business cards for myself, and I got a professional Twitter account, and I made a Facebook page for the entity that is “Devon Llywelyn Jones”— you know, me, but first/middle/last name all together and thus something different than how people know me in our daily lives. Also something actually closer to the sum total of “me” than just Devon. Being myself unfortunately means being more pretentious. I apologize in advance. Anyway, I did all of those things because somehow, a couple of years ago, I completed a novel.
I hadn’t expected to complete it, I wasn’t sure who would be interested in reading it, and I definitely had no idea if anyone would want to publish it. For a little while, I did send query letters to agencies about my completed manuscript. There were rejections, of course, and here is where I’ll state emphatically that I understand this is part of the process for new writers. I wound up self-publishing this novel, not out of impatience or bitterness, but rather because a respected friend of mine who was accidentally responsible for the entire circumstances that allowed me to write it— who also very fittingly became a beta reader and continued believing in my ability to write when I had gone for several years convinced that I could not— she pointed me to the Lambda Literary Awards, highlighting that the Transgender Fiction category receives few submissions, and suggested I get my novel in before the submission deadline, just to see what happened. Well, I never wrote Tiresias specifically thinking of it as a work of “transgender fiction,” but it certainly has a transgender protagonist and it certainly addresses big questions about gender identity and expression. So, essentially on a whim, I self-published, made this submission, waited around for a few months, and discovered I’d become a finalist.
It felt pretty surreal to be a major literary award finalist with my first novel— with only my second publication since being out of college. I still haven’t worked out what I really think of that fact. I probably shouldn’t hide the fact; I’m just figuring out how to present the fact without making it a brag. In any case, surreal as it’s been, it also felt silly to receive that kind of recognition without otherwise resembling a professional writer and having all the trappings that professional writers are (fairly or unfairly) expected to handle these days. Hence… cards. Twitter. Facebook. YouTube channel tied to Official Writer E-mail Address. And now, following the LLAs, realizing that oh, a real website would probably be smart. If nothing else, blogging has been something I’ve enjoyed since the tender age of fourteen, and I think I’m ready to do it in a way where my full name and identity are attached.
So this site now exists. What should I actually say in my first full post written for it? I could intro myself, but I’ve said more than enough about me on some of the static pages, and I’ve got some older posts transported here from a defunct blog that I’d like to leave up for posterity’s sake. I could write a little about the LLAs themselves, maybe. I think too much detail on those would indeed be bragging, however, so maybe I can summarize that experience as, “I came, I saw, I lost my category, but I met some lovely people, and it made me feel like I’m not just pretending to write.” I am a writer. I am. It might not be how I really make money, and I can’t make any predictions about that, but in the grand scheme of things, it is my actual profession— and describing myself as anything else first would be a lie, a lie I ought to stop telling.
I also now feel particularly comfortable qualifying myself as a queer & trans writer. “LGBT” is not the constructed audience I want to write for, it isn’t the section in a bookstore where I’d like to see all my fiction sitting. But I think it’s important to recognize that what I write has heavily queer elements, and if neither I nor anyone else commented on them, it would do my work a disservice. I think it’s likewise important to establish the fact I am trans to my audience, not because every trans person is obligated to out themselves— far from it— but because a) on a practical level, the degree of physical transition I’ve sought is insufficient for people to auto-call me “he/him/his” unless I explicitly establish that this must be done, and b) in a society where it is so especially hard for trans people to find professional recognition or meaningful employment, if I ever can live off of my writing then I am comfortable becoming an example of how yes, trans writers have legitimacy, trans writers have value, trans writers should exist.
Those are some things I think I learned about myself at the LLAs. Oh, I did also have the honor of meeting both Justin Vivian Bond and Kate Bornstein. I can’t resist mentioning that tidbit, if only because it was gratifying to have that sort of genderqueer presence at the awards, to feel welcomed by an older generation of gender rebels who have continuously laid the groundwork for me to feel safe owning myself as a he but not necessarily as a man.
And there is something else I’ve learned, or maybe not learned, but determined. It’s my conclusion from not only the awards but from experiences surrounding it— a book reading I did last week at Trident Booksellers & Café, the sales of Tiresias that have happened in general, the overwhelmingly positive personal messages I have received from friends after finishing the book themselves. The determination is… I am more ready than ever to write new things. Not simply in the sense of feeling validated and prepared to build an audience— no, that’s there, but not nearly as much as knowing I have truly exited the period in my life that prompted me to write Tiresias at all. More surreal than the honor of being a Lambda Literary finalist is the thought: “There was a time when I actually had to tell that story.” That time was, broadly speaking, from 2007 to when I completed the first draft in 2012. Not actually that long ago, but for so many reasons, I have become an extremely different person. I intended catharsis when I started the manuscript, and I have now had that catharsis ten times over.
I am ready to start tying up the very last loose ends. I was thrilled to have an impromptu lunch the other day with a dear friend who has not only served as muse and beta reader but who additionally works in (non-fiction) publishing, and unsurprisingly we got on the topic of next steps for this book, for my career. I mentioned how I was excited to be able to put “Lambda Literary Award finalist” in future query letters, but tired of thinking about queries for getting Tiresias proper literary representation when, as much as I valued my own novel, I wanted to keep my brain in new brainspace, not sitting back with this thing that I originally wrote just to fix the part of me that didn’t believe I could do it anymore. And my friend more or less asked, “Why make this effort, then, for a book that you do feel done with? Why not save your energy for moving forward as you like?”— and I realized immediately she was right.
I do intend to still find an agent and a publisher, but I’m going to look for them when I’ve got something fresher, something I’ve created that just needs to grow and grow and grow. Tiresias is an exorcism, a eulogy, a banishing, and though I welcome an audience for such a thing— for instance, I’m perfectly willing to do more readings, to promote the novel in its current form for purchase, and what have you— but I suspect it is a work of literature that will not grow itself as naturally as other things I have in mind. It is more like the soil fertilized from what I cannot help referencing in light of its content and themes: the burial of the dead. I will do what I can to maintain that grave in my life, to keep it in pleasant condition, to make it a place people will want to visit, but I cannot keep standing vigil by it. I have other places to go and things to do.
The last step I can think of for Tiresias is, honestly, just that I need a tattoo. Despite dreams of being covered in tattoos, I have none at present. Unsurprisingly for a writer, I can’t afford them. But the first one I will get is the one that fully closes the Tiresias chapter of my existence. It is a T. S. Eliot quote. Despite some obvious choices, it is not from “The Waste Land” and it is also not even from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It is from a somewhat recognized but much more privately relevant poem of his. Maybe even my favorite of his, I don’t know. These are the lines, from “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”
The lamp said,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”
The last twist of the knife.
If you have read Tiresias or you know, in a sense, what caused it— then you may understand the emotional significance of those words. Not necessarily, but maybe, and if not, I’m content to leave this an enigma for the future. The words will go on my skin, and they will become a part of my body, a marker of the way that I was changed, and I will go on, I will go on, I will go on.