At a time when women were unable to find a publishing house to take a chance on them (never mind lesbian women) in the 1950s, there was an inspired gal by the name of Marijane Meaker on the scene. Using the alias of Vin Packer, Meaker created her own literary house where multiple aliases were her "clients" and she could basically publish whatever she wanted … as anyone other than her real self.
Meaker is poised to release a new novel in 2013. Will she use her trusty standby of Vin Packer? Or will she stand steadily on the changing times and go where few lesbian authors have gone before? Have the times really changed that much? It is a mystery … that must be solved [insert mysterious creepy music here]…
Windy City Times: At the start of your career, you took the business of writing into your own hands by becoming your own literary agent. How did this idea initially take shape?
Marijane Meaker: I came to New York after graduating from the University of Missouri in 1949. I could not get an agent though I had all these short stories written and a long list of literary agents. Finally I decided to just have stationery printed and be my own agent. My clients were all me under pseudonyms. I had stories about my clients so editors would feel they knew them, though of course none of them could live nearby, which was why they never came to NYC.
WCT: The first pseudonym used, Vin Packer, arose from a lunch meeting with a man named Vincent and a woman with the last name of Packer. Were there bells and whistles going off upon this meeting or did that come later when attempting to formulate an alternate identity for press purposes?
Marijane Meaker: No bells and whistles. Vincent and Packer had no idea I was planning to write as Vin Packer. Our luncheon was not about business. But right after riding home on the subway I thought of the pseudonym for the novel I wanted to write. It was not called Spring Fire, but Sorority Girl. Dick Carroll, my editor, did not think that was a selling title. James Michener had just published his book Fires of Spring. Dick hoped if we called mine Spring Fire the public might confuse it with Michener and we'd sell more copies.
WCT: Spring Fire was based on your own personal experiences at a southern boarding school where men were prohibited, but you were not allowed by the publishers [Gold Medal Books] to incorporate the school into the plotline because of the students being underage. Did this redirection cause any hesitation to commit on your part?
Marijane Meaker: No hesitation. All I could think of was that I'd be publishedthat the Meaker agency's client would have a sale.
WCT: Gold Medal Books also said Spring Fire could not have a happy ending because it would seem as though the author accepted homosexuality as normal. What was your initial reaction to that comment?
Marijane Meaker: My only reaction was I'd be published! I wanted to be a writer all of my life, since I was a little kid. I had no sense of entitlement as a lesbian. No one did. This was the end of the '40s, the early '50s. Any kind of acceptance was gratifying, and being published was a small miracle. (Never mind it wasn't under my own namethat would suit my family just fine. They believed I was a literary agent and Packer was a client). It was expected.
WCT: How would you respond to this type of comment today vs. in the 1950s?
Marijane Meaker: Of course it would be unacceptable.
WCT: Dark Don't Catch Me, Young and Violent, The Twisted Ones, and Come Destroy Me helped put you on the map following Spring Fire. Why did the genre of mystery appeal to you during this time in your career?
Marijane Meaker: I chose to have Packer my mystery client because the Sunday New York Times mystery columnist, Anthony Boucher, reviewed Come Destroy Me, an early book, with a rave. It was very unusual for him to review a paperback. It was the first review I ever got anywhere. I decided Packer would always write crime. I never met Boucher, was not a good friend. He lived on the coast, I think. It was just a business relationship. I was very in awe of him and grateful to him.
There was a time I wanted credit for my mystery novels, and I told Dick Carroll, my editor, that I was thinking of doing that. He said, "No one knows the name Meaker. Stick with Packer." … When I wrote a series of books reporting on lesbian life in the fifties, I told Dick I would use the pseudonym Bianca Blye. He said, "No way. That name has negative connotations. Captain Blye. Think of an All-American name like Henry Aldrich." As a result my lesbian reporter became Ann Aldrich.
WCT: Please tell us more about Ann Aldrich.
Marijane Meaker: Ann Aldrich was me reporting on the world I lived in: the bars we all went to, because it was the only way we found others like us ... then the little world that was gay, the butch/femme scene, the downtown girls and uptown girls, all of it. I was a good reporter, but not everyone was happy with my take on our life. I might have been too critical. But I was honest. It was the way I saw things. Even Aldrich changed though. You could see it in the titles beginning with We Walk Alone, then We, Too, Must Love, then We Two Won't Last, then Take A Lesbian To Lunch … . Carol In a Thousand Cities was an anthology of short stories, analytic writings and observations by writers who were not me.
WCT: Can you tell us why The Damnation of Adam Blessing and Intimate Victims stand out as your favorite Vin Packer novels?
Marijane Meaker: I don't really know why except Intimate Victims was written right after Pat Highsmith [writer Patricia Highsmith] and I broke up and the main character was very much like her, although a male, and he was killed in the novel. At the same time she was killing me in her own novel.
WCT: Ultimately, you retired the Vin Packer moniker in exchange for your ownMarijane Meaker. What prompted you to bring Vin Packer back to the forefront nearly 40 years later?
Marijane Meaker: It was not my idea to bring Packer back. It was the publisher's [idea].
WCT: Why did you decide to list Vin Packer and Marijane Meaker on the cover of Scott Free (versus one or the other)?
Marijane Meaker: That, too, was the editor's idea. He thought both names would add more selling power.
WCT: Your next pseudonym made its debut as M. E. Kerr. Can you tell us about the choice in name and why it was necessary for you to create another identity for your young adult novels in the '70s?
Marijane Meaker: A move into the Young Adult field necessitated taking another name, if only to signal to librarians that the books were not for adults. M.E. Kerr was a takeoff on my last name Meaker. … I always liked taking new names. I don't know why. But even as a youngster I called myself Eric Ranthram McKay when I wrote because my father' stationery had the initials ERM.
WCT: Personally, how was the transition from writing mystery (Vin Packer) to young adult (M. E. Kerr)?
Marijane Meaker: I wasn't aware of any transition difficulties. Remember, I was writing for slick magazines, confession magazines, etc. all under pseudonyms so that Meaker had a lot of clients. I just loved writing, whatever I wrote, and I liked disguises.
WCT: Prologue Books is re-releasing The Evil Friendship in digital format during Pride Month (June 24-30, 2012). The novel has been out of print. What type of response do you anticipate from new readers who maybe have never read your novels?
Marijane Meaker: As my own agent, I rarely got feedback from writers. Paperback writers were seldom reacting with their readers. My friends cheered me on but otherwise I counted on my sales figures to tell me how I was doing ... . I don't think that'll change [and] I don't think I'll have any personal interaction with readers.
WCT: At one point you were romantically linked to Patricia Highsmith (aka Claire Morganauthor of the popular Ripley books, made into movies, including Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train). How did this relationship take form?
Marijane Meaker: Pat and I had a two-year relationship in the late '50s, early '60s. I adored her and vice versa but we were so different. She was smarter, a few years older, loved Europe, spoke several languages, was published in hardcover (while I was still just a paperback writer), etc., etc. She became very anti-Semitic in her later years but when I knew her she was sometimes grumpy and never antagonistic toward Jews. I think her dear love Ellen Hill was a Jew and several others. We were not friends from the mid-'60s through to the mid-'70s. She lived in Europe and I lived in U.S. Then she wrote me and we reconnected. She had changed and was very against Israel, and all Jews. She visited me for three miserable days, because she would not stop telling me a few minutes after she came through my door that she'd longed for those great ham sandwiches they used to make on planes, but no more! "Why?" I asked her … and her finger shot up to her nose as she made a hook. … Then on and on. She was never off the subject. She was most unpleasant, though she wrote very loving letters after she got home … and I doubt she ever knew we didn't get along. She died shortly thereafter [in 1995]. She'd told me she had cancer during her visit, another reason I didn't argue with her.
WCT: Please tell us about Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lorraine Hansberry [A Raisin in the Sun].
Marijane Meaker: I knew her in the '50s. She was part of gay life, though she was very, very closeted. She wrote letters to The Ladder [the lesbian magazine published by Daughters of Bilitis] under pseudonyms. She was a political person but she was a Black [person] first. She didn't want to do anything that would reflect badly on her people. She was often at gay parties and sometimes in the bars, but we all knew she had a front marriage with a man she was very fond of. She had several female loves but the '50s was a hard time if you wanted to be yourself and your self was a lesbian. She was a very serious, gentle woman. I never knew her really well, but I liked her and I respected her.
WCT: If you knew then what you know now, what might you have done differently in the literary world given the chance?
Marijane Meaker: I don't have regrets about what I did with my career. I had a lot of help and encouragement and from the time I got out of college to present day my only livelihood came from writing. I supported myself, 60 books in all, and I will have a new one out [soon] called New York Nights. Don Weise who used to publish Alyson Books is now publishing a new line called Magnus. They will publish, perhaps, my last take on lesbian life, set in the '50s.
Books being released digitally:
The Twisted Ones by Vin Packer (Dec. 15, 2011)
The Evil Friendship by Vin Packer (Dec. 15, 2011)
5:45 to Suburbia by Vin Packer (Dec. 31, 2011)
3 Day Terror by Vin Packer (Dec. 15, 2011)
Girl on the Best Seller List by Vin Packer (Dec. 31, 2011)
Alone at Night by Vin Packer (Dec. 15, 2011)
Intimate Victims by Vin Packer (Dec. 15, 2011)
Something in the Shadows by Vin Packer (Dec. 31, 2011)
Dark Don't Catch Me by Vin Packer (Dec. 31, 2011)
Don't Rely on Gemini by Vin Packer (Dec. 15, 2011)
Come Destroy Me by Vin Packer (Dec. 31, 2011)
Marijane's next book will be published by Magnus. Magnus is a new LGBT house headed by the former publisher of Alyson, Don Weise. New York Nights is the title. It is the story of New York City lesbian life in the '50s, from the Mafia-run bars to the differences between the uptown and downtown lesbians. It will be out in 2013. Meaker is not sure yet if she will use her real name as she did in Shockproof Sydney Skate, or publish this as Vin Packer.