I saw a note about author Jody Scott (1923–2007) that amounted to “almost no one knew her” and “there is no information available about her.” And unjustly, I guess that’s true. So I’m going to correct the record a little bit, hoping not to hurt anyone’s feelings if I’m as honest as possible, relying on imperfect memory for the more amusingly sordid details.
She was a good friend to me, and I speak from great affection for Jody. Some of this I repeat as she told it to me so it’s only as true as she was having it be and as I remember it, which is two steps from true, but it’s the best I can do.
I think Jody was largely honest but sometimes a little deluded. She was a brilliant social critic and told me very boldly (this is not literally her rant but it captures the tone), “Everyone in the world is stupid and wrong about everything. If they would listen to me, the world would be perfect. I have the answers. I could turn this world into an ideal paradise instantly if they’d listen, but their stupidity extends too far; they don’t realize their savior lives among them.”
I told her, “I agree with you that the whole world is stupid, but you’ve only got it half right. You are no exception. We are all of us stupid, you, me, the whole world. No exceptions.”
But she was persistent and serious. The world was fucked up, but she wasn’t. She was the greatest genius who ever lived, unrecognized by all. Oh, and I wasn’t half stupid, but still, only she, the great and powerless Jody, was wisdom incarnate.
When I first met her, she was a butch babe. An old time dyke who looked great in a tux. Always the gentleman. She was sensitive and naive, traits she would vigorously deny without getting mad about it. She knew everything about everyone she met even if she didn’t know a thing. And if someone told her a sob story, she’d get all angry on their behalf, never imagining they were deluded even then.
Once a falling-down drunk waylaid us in the street and gave his sob story about how he was formerly the lead guitarist in Jerry Lee Lewis’s band and by his own testimony one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived. But for this and that reason he was blackballed from the business, none of it his fault. Jody gave him twenty bucks so he could stay blotto, then the rest of the night kvetched about how genius was always pushed out in favor of mediocrity, a great guitarist like that and look where they put him. I told her, “That guy was full of shit.” Couldn’t convince her.
Her desire to believe everyone’s a fool, yet this drunk was a victim of his own greatness as he’d framed it, fit, and it had to be true. Well, I fear that was her world view about herself; though she was no drunk, she was that sort of unrewarded genius. And I’ve no doubt at all Jody was a genius. A warped genius but a genius. And she was nobody’s savior, even if they HAD listened!
So, well, why should you care who Jody was? Barry N. Malzberg called her “the best unknown sf writer.” She wrote two stunningly fine novels—Passing for Human (1977) and I, Vampire (1984), ahead of their time for lesbian fantasy/sf and ahead of the genre in literary merit. She also co-wrote with George Thurston Leite, under the pseudonym Thurston Scott, a gay mystery novel set amidst Oakland’s Latino gang culture, praised by Anthony Boucher, Cure it with Honey (1951; in paperback as I’ll Get Mine, 1958). There were a few short stories as well, not many, including “Shirley Is No Longer With Us” which she wrote for my small magazine, Windhaven, in 1978, and a novelette, “Origin of Species,” in Fantastic Science Fiction, February 1966. If all her short stories were gathered together, they’d be a very small book.
During her “beard” marriage/association with George Leite, they ran a Berkeley bookshop and coffeehouse called daliel’s (always affectedly lowercase), a gathering place for the likes of Philip Lamantia, Kenneth Rexroth, Anais Nin, Darius Milhaud, Harry Partch, Jean Varda, and Henry Miller. Beats, surrealists, poets, and queers. Jody was rarely willing to speak of those days, but sometimes I wheedled it out of her.
She and George edited a literary magazine called Circle. Jody was the real editor, but George was the outgoing social butterfly who took most of the credit while Jody worked her ass off keeping the coffeehouse and magazine afloat and functional. George’s personality was expansive and eccentric, a would-be mystic whose hero was Madame Blavatsky, button-holing anyone who was easily impressed and imposing his opinions on all things without caring about the opinions of others.
George had a whole mythology about himself as the new Abraham Lincoln at the forefront of the struggle for racial equality. Just another guy full of shit, I strongly suspect his glamour captivated Jody and for a brief while she thought there were two geniuses upon the Earth, but she never admitted that to me. It seemed to me another part of her was still angry that all those transiently important artists and authors never realized the woman stuck washing the dishes and organizing the bookshelves was the actual genius while they were kowtowing to a fool and fraud. But I could get little out of her about it; she hated to speak of George either positively or negatively.
As the finances of the coffeehouse fell behind, and as George played from within his closet without helping her one bit, she wanted out of their business arrangement and certainly did not require a beard as much as he seemed to.
Soon she was on her own, making a good living directing porno movies for a lowlife she met through George. When that guy got in trouble with the law, owing Jody money, he gave her his entire company, contacts, and equipment and skipped town. So now she produced, wrote, and directed dirty movies for the lowest of X-rated theaters, which were numerous in the ’60s and ’70s.
It was profitable, except it meant being buddy-buddy with the Mafia to get distribution, and it meant getting harassed by the Feds. You could do time in those days for doing what she was doing. One day the Feds descended upon her crappy little film studio and confiscated all her equipment. Although they never charged her with a thing, it wasn’t like she could just ask them to give her stuff back. So she just went on to new things.
She made a lot of money for a while selling encyclopedias door to door. Would I kid you? She was the only woman doing it, and she was the only member of the sales force who seriously sold much. She was the sort, as they say, who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.
As soon as she had a saved a small bundle of funds, she switched to real estate scams. She bought desert property in Eastern Washington, divided it up, then would take “marks” on fabulously choreographed journeys and show them the exact little square of nothing they were buying. Though there was no water, no electricity, barely even a road, she made it sound like the only safe investment anyone could have, land, eternal land, and you could sell it dear in few years, or you could build your dream home on it when you retired.
The deals she offered sounded fabulous, and she sold this worthless land with great ease. For a not too dreadful down payment and small monthly payment for a decade, you’d be a landowner. After a few months or years, the buyers would realize they bought something worthless, stop paying, so she’d regain the property to sell again.
Now it was a while before I realized this was at least halfway if not entirely a scam. Once when I had an advance for a book in hand, I tried to get her to sell me a piece of property. She absolutely refused. I was startled, since she was forever selling people land they could almost afford. Why not me? Later, I slapped my forehead and realized she just wasn’t the sort to rip off the people she cared about. She was a flimflam artist, not a sociopath.
I forget when or where we met. Probably just knew her from here and there, and we slowly began hanging out more and more. She lived in a house in Shoreline, Washington, and was breaking up with a woman she’d lived with for some years—a really great woman, I should add, an artist. The breakup was a tragic loss for Jody. But she immediately went “on the make,” and because we were friends, she tried everything to get me to move in with her.
I lived with and loved greatly an alcoholic whom Jody felt justified in trying to “steal” me from. Sheri came home once and found us getting nasty on the sofa and nearly beat the shit out of Jody, who was more careful thereafter and afraid of Sheri, a vet of the Viet Nam era. I hugely enjoyed hanging out with Jody, but her always wanting to seduce me was a nuisance. It was at the same time good for my not totally strong ego, so I was at fault for not being discouraging enough. But when at last she met Mary and they fell in love, it was a relief to me, as Jody became more purely a friend and not a horndog friend, a comforting soul to be around.
Mary was a minor. But fortunately (for Jody) Mary’s mom, about Jody’s age, all too eagerly said, “You want her, you can have her.” They lived together in the messy Shoreline house for many years, not always an even-keel relationship but largely a good one. Her ex (who’d been selling handcrafted Victorian style toys in the Seattle Farmer’s Market) had in the meantime gone blind and opened a music box store downstairs in the Farmer’s Market. A great shop it was, too.
I was at the time involved with the Expository Lump, an sf/f writer’s group, mostly members of Science Fiction Writers of America. It followed Milford rules, which were too narrow for art; we critiqued one another’s manuscripts in progress. Sometimes it all got too predictable, though, and now and then new blood was needed. For the first time, I was to suggest a new member.
Jody showed up with a short story, copies for everyone, which we critiqued. First one, then the next reader ripped the story asunder on the basis of the “rules.” I was dumbfounded. These were working writers who knew what the market demanded, and their advice and opinions were perfectly respectable. But Jody’s story was absolutely amazing and would need comparison to Virginia Woolf had Woolf written science fiction. Everyone in that room expected E. E. Doc Smith or at best Robert A. Heinlein, and they didn’t even comprehend something transcendent.
It came around to me last. I was almost hyperventilating I was so shocked. I said, “I can’t believe none of you recognize the brilliance of this story! If your opinions reflect what the market demands, and Jody can’t sell this, then I’m going to scrape up the money and publish it myself, as this is one of the coolest stories I’ve ever read!”
Now I was and am glad to be the only one, now and then, who recognizes brilliance. It confirms my sentiment that the world is ruled by banality and that people crushed by these rules can’t even see what’s destroying them. But from the members’ point of view, they were right, absolutely right; the story was unsalvageably shitty, and I was just blindly sticking up for a friend.
So Jody finally told us, told them, “It was a test to see how dumb this dumb critique circle could be! The story might not be publishable, but I’ve already sold it. It’s the first chapter of Passing for Human, slated for publication by DAW Books.”
Now they were even angrier. The Lump did not exist to give pointless advice on stories already sold but for revisions and improvements or for honing one’s skills. Yes, they were tricked, and the trickster was evil for tricking them.
Later, I was contacted by a couple members of the group who gave me alpha-behavior talking-tos for bringing a rabble-rouser into their nice, calm, literary gathering. I was told never to bring Jody again; she was not welcome, and I had better tell her so. I said, “I don’t think I’ll need to tell her.” From her point of view, there was no reason to suffer the same fools more than once.
So yeah, she was the best author in that room, bar none, not the most successful, best paid, or best known, but the best. She knew it. I half suspect they realized it, however belatedly. But she didn’t have a method of making friendships out of these realities. She had a way of making people really peevish with her “I’m God, you’re not” attitude and behavior. I found her charming as hell and one of the most rewarding friends I ever had, but then, I really didn’t mind that she thought she was god. She always let me tell her, “You’re not god,” and never got mad at me for that, so why should I be mad that she thought I was wrong?
Between the first and second sf/f novels she wrote for DAW, she felt obliged to peddle her wares and involved herself in various aspects of fandom, including NorWesCon. Nowadays NorWesCon is for geeks and dweebs of the barely literate sort, but in those days out of a membership of one or two thousand, three or four hundred would be working writers, and it attracted editors from the East Coast. It was a great convention in its heyday.
Jody attempted to go into Sales Mode and unload a few ice cubes on this warehouse full of Eskimoes. But she wasn’t pumping out the stuff; there wasn’t much to sell, so she fell back to that other position, having the kind of “fun” that made people hate her forever. Oh, not everyone, fortunately. She did a reading event that was packed standing room only, and how many writers with one book from DAW can do that? The fans were impressionable and lined up for her self-important pronouncements and either believed her (she was always at least half right) or, like me, thought it was all oddly sweet and very entertaining.
One of her promo bits was a flyer that offered cover-blurb style quotes about how great a writer is Jody Scott, praise credited to Shakespeare, Poe, Hemingway. One living writer was quoted—a living writer who was a member of the Expository Lump and who did not have loving feelings toward Jody and who took very, very seriously any cover blurb provided.
That author said (paraphrasing from memory): “I’m going to sue Jody! I never said that about her book, and it is harmful to my reputation to have such opinions put in my mouth!” I talked her down. “No one thinks you and Shakespeare praised her book. It was a joke.” Jody wasn’t finished, though. She buttonholed this author on the false premise of apologizing and instead said, “I know you’re in the closet. Just come out, and you won’t be such a miserable soul. I’ll introduce you to some gals.”
Now this author so far as I know is not gay, and if she was, I can’t imagine she’d be in the closet about it. But as her ears turned bright red and the hate grew deeper, I knew this one chance of gaining a friend of honest value was forever lost to Jody. Later I said to her, “What the fuck’s the matter with you?” But being the Perfect Creature she regarded herself as being, she couldn’t possibly be wrong. “Some day she’ll come out of the closet, and you’ll know I was right.” “I doubt it, but even pretending you were right, that was just crude, with no possible benefit to you, her, or anyone.”
Had something like that happened to Jody, though, she wouldn’t have minded a bit. She hated nobody. She was angry at the world and humanity collectively, but she didn’t dislike people individually and seemed puzzled anyone could dislike her as an individual.
In time, because Jody had become, with Mary, more recluse than not, she’d lost whatever social niceties she once had. And as years passed, it seemed to me, she became increasingly withdrawn from a world that wouldn’t understand her, so why try?
I was enough like her that I was going through the same withdrawals from community, too, not excluding Jody, so eventually I never saw her any more. Wanted to. Just lost the energy to be social. Have never regained it. I’m practically an agoraphobe now. I don’t think Jody was that bad, but maybe she was. Maybe she had a busy social life I knew nothing about. I can only comment on what I saw. And I saw someone less and less inclined to leave the house unless it was time to sell some more worthless property, since even finding it easy enough to sell her novels, that wasn’t going to pay the bills.
Certainly there was more I didn’t know of Jody’s life than I knew. Mine is a narrow portrait. She rarely spoke of her son, Tom, for example, and when she did mention him, it was always in a vague but positive context. And yet, he only came to see her once in twenty years. I don’t know that they were estranged, but they sure as hell weren’t close.
In her will, she left him an antique rifle and the artwork of his late father, O. T. Wood. She left the rest of her estate, notably the Shoreline house, to Mary, who had by the end been her partner for 30 years. And then her son did show up with attorneys to contest the will. There was no such thing as gay marriage back then, and Tom hoped the court would declare their lifelong relationship invalid on the face of it, that Mary’s relationship to Jody constituted “moral turpitude” and “undue influence,” and therefore everything should be given to him.
I bet that kind of shit worked in a lot of places, perhaps still works in some places. Didn’t work for Tom, who even had to pay Mary’s court costs for his trouble. Which induced him to file yet another claim—that the court was gay friendly and had treated him as “a gay basher”; that he was a victim of “reverse discrimination”; and that the proof of his assertion was that his entire attempt to gain the property was called “a frivolous waste of time” by a Superior Court commissioner.
Fact is, Jody didn’t have much beyond the house, and that had a reverse mortgage on it, so what really was Tom after? Some kind of revenge? He certainly didn’t care about Jody’s legacy. When the case was done, I read the court documents. And I was struck by the lack of any reference to her literary effects.
Jessica Amanda Salmonson lives in Bremerton, Washington.