My Three Husbands
About Swan Adamson
What’s in a name? In Sweden we were Svenssons, but when my paternal grandfather, Oscar Marinius Svensson, came to America via Ellis Island, the immigration authorities changed his name to Olson. Don’t ask me why. On my maternal side, I had a great-grandfather named Swan Adamson. In Sweden, his name would have been Svan, or Sven. I always liked that name, Swan Adamson. Eventually I decided to use it as a nom de plume. If you need a plume for your nom, why not make it a Swan?
I’ve published three novels as Swan Adamson: My Three Husbands, Confessions of a Pregnant Princess, and Memoirs Are Made of This.
After writing Queer Corners, I wanted to challenge myself by writing something entirely different. I began to work on a comic novel about two gay dads and their bisexual daughter. Nobody but nobody was writing fiction with gay parents as the main characters, and I wanted to turn a few tables by having the gay dads be rather conventional and their daughter the wild card. When you write fiction, you have to find the right voice. Actually, the voice has to find you. In this case, the voice that found me was that of the 25-year-old daughter, Venus Gilroy.
To say that Venus is outrageous or unconventional is to miss the point. She’s never grown up, she resists growing up, and she’s made some big mistakes because she has no ability to judge character or plan for the future. She’s got a heart of gold, but she doesn’t think before she acts and leaps before she looks. Venus has had a loving but untraditional upbringing. She’s been mostly raised by her mother, Carolee, a big-hearted but downwardly-mobile ex-hippie who has moved all her baggage into the New Age. Carolee, like her daughter, is more emotional than rational. In contrast, Venus’ architect father, John Gilroy, has been partnered for years with the rather high-toned Whitman Whittlesley, who is always trying unsuccessfully to instill in Venus his own upper-middle-class standards and tastes. After two disastrous marriages, Venus weds for a third time, and, because she and her husband, an environmental activist named Tremaynne, are broke and in debt, Venus’s dads take them to a luxury wilderness resort for their honeymoon. There, Tremaynne disappears and Venus heads off into the wilderness to find him—and herself.
My title for the novel was The Dads, and I used the name Swan Adamson for the first time. My agent at the time sold the novel fairly quickly to Kensington. They wanted to bring it out as a trade paperback—fine—but the editor insisted on a different title because they were going to market it as “chick lit”. This was something I hadn’t counted on. When my agent told me about the required title change, I said sarcastically, “How about something like My Three Husbands?” We laughed, and then we didn’t, because we both realized at the same time that My Three Husbands was, in fact, a perfect title for this social comedy. It shifted the focus onto Venus instead of her fathers, which also made sense because it was Venus’ story.
My Three Husbands was published in 2003. The book sold well as a trade paperback and then went into a mass-market edition. I’ll never forget the day that I walked into my local supermarket and saw it for sale. That had never happened before. The novel was also published separately in the U.K., where it came out with a cover that made Venus look like Jane Jetson, and in France, where it came out in a French translation as Venus, quand tu nous tiens! On the cover of the trade paperback French edition, Venus is a winking gamine with a butterfly perched on her nose. Love that pert Gallic insouciance! On the mass-market French edition she is more authentically rough around the edges but also looks sullen, troubled and devoid ofjoie de vivre. I was amused to see my biographical information en français: “Swan Adamson c’est le pseudonyme utilisé par Donald Olson, auteur de romains, de pièces de théâtre et de récits de voyage remarqués par le presse et récompsense par des prix. Il vit a Columbus dans Ohio.”
Where they got Columbus, Ohio, I’ll never know. I live in New York and Portland, and I’ve never set foot in Columbus. But that’s a trifling matter. When I asked a French-speaking friend to read Venus, quand tu nous tiens!, she said it was a really good and accurate translation.
Venus is a real trip and she’s had quite a journey, including two alternative sequels.