My file for Paradise Gardens, like the files for The Secrets of Mabel Eastlake and A Movie, has gone missing. Since the novel was published back in the pre-Internet age, when we still relied on paper and saved press clippings, losing my Paradise Gardens file folder was tantamount to losing my only tangible link to this early novel of mine.
So be it. I’ll have to tell you what I remember about its genesis and publishing history.
First of all, Paradise Gardens was written in 1978, ten years before it was finally published. That was in 1988, two years after The Secrets of Mabel Eastlake came out. That’s because Knights Press was so pleased with the success of The Secrets of Mabel Eastlake that they asked me if I had another novel they might consider.
It was with some trepidation that I gave them the manuscript for Paradise Gardens. It was a “literary” novel, and entirely different from the “scary and fun” Mabel Eastlake. I had written Paradise Gardens during a somewhat tumultuous period if my life, when I was falling out of love but still wanted to be in love. I can remember pounding it out on a borrowed Olivetti portable typewriter as I traveled around Europe. I finished it in London—or Putney, to be more precise.
The novel was unabashedly romantic. I was more interested in writing about intelligent men in love and living together than I was in trying to capture the “cool” gay scene of parties, bars and discos. That just wasn’t me. I was under the spell of language and the spell of gardens. Daniel, the protagonist, is a gardener who falls in love with a closeted academic. A lot of academics and professionals in all walks of life were still in the closet back then. I knew two professors who had been fired because they were gay. Their stories haunted me, and I thought the psychology of being closeted—how it negatively impacts one’s personal life and mental health--was worth exploring—especially since no one else seemed to be writing about it, at least in fiction. In the book, a neglected “paradise garden”, where plants from all parts of the earth grow together in harmony, is discovered and reclaimed. In the same way, I had always felt that homosexuality was a part of nature, not apart from it, perfectly natural, not unnatural. But of course saying such a thing back then immediately branded one as a polemicist.
The novel got a favorable response from Knights Press, but the editor asked for one change. The main action of the novel takes place over a ten-year period before, in an epilogue, fast-forwarding through the decades to the death of one of the lovers. The cause of death was not specified, but the editor wanted it to be from AIDS, which was ravaging gay communities worldwide. The novel was written years before the AIDS crisis, but I made the requested change.
Now is when that missing file would be useful. I remember a review by Quentin Crisp—quite favorable, except that he said something like “the main characters spend endless hours talking about love—the one subject I have never known gay men to talk about.”
That wasn’t my experience at all.
The book was nominated for an award—but what award?--at the big ABA (American Booksellers Association) convention in 1988. It didn’t win, but an editor from another publishing house was there—as was I—and asked me if I had a novel for him to consider.
I did. It was called A Movie, and I had completed it when I was 18.
But back to Paradise Gardens. It was a gay novel that was romantic, political, psychological. The action moved from Portland to Berlin, a city I’d first visited when I was 19 and that has remained an important part of my life. One of the characters was a black American tenor with an opera career in Germany. It’s safe to say that this wasn’t a book for the disco crowd.
Paradise Gardens didn’t have a long shelf life because Knights Press suddenly folded and all of its inventory was impounded. This was the second publisher of mine to go bankrupt—and believe me, it wasn’t from the size of their advances. If you search around online, you can still find Paradise Gardens. I wish I could say the same for my Paradise Gardens file.