Life is fragile and so are stories: Goodbye to A.R. Morlan aka Renee M. Charles

UPDATED 4/28/2016: I’ve contacted the folks at Catkins Animal Rescue in Park Falls, Wisconsin, a no-kill shelter that we feel Ana Rose Morlan would have approved of. All royalties from the sales of her Circlet Press titles will be donated annually to Catkins. I’ve set the prices to a sale price of $2.99 permanently. Thank you all for supporting A.R. Morlan’s work and her imaginative vision.

An enigma is gone from my life, a writer I published so many stories from that Circlet issued two separate collections of her work, but who communicated so infrequently that I knew hardly anything about her. A.R. Morlan, who published erotica under the name Renee M. Charles (and also gay erotica under the name Karl Rene Moore), sent me a cryptic package this week, her handwriting nearly illegible. Today I learned she is dead, likely a suicide.

“I don’t know what to think,” I wrote to another editor when I heard the news. I literally have no context for parsing this information, or for understanding the life or death of this writer. I caught the news via Twitter, a message from another longtime editor who forwarded a link to a news story about her death. I was at the American Library Association Midwinter convention at the time, surrounded by the massive bounty of books that this industry produces, and the thought that this reclusive writer I’ve known through glimpses of correspondence over 20 years is simply gone does not compute. My car radio seemed to be mocking me on the drive home, playing first The Police “So Lonely,” and then Jim Carroll “People Who Died.”

The radio mocking me while I was trying to make sense of hearing of her death.
The radio mocking me while I was trying to make sense of hearing of her death.

The way I understand things is by writing about them, so this essay (elegy?) is as much about my struggle to make sense of her life and her death as it is about her.

A.R. Morlan had a restless pen, and, I always assumed, a restless mind. She wrote relentlessly, short story after short story, in rambling sentences that often contained parentheticals (and multiple clauses inset with em dashes) long before David Foster Wallace made that cool. I would venture to say there was not a single editor of short fiction in the science fiction and fantasy markets of the 1990s who did not receive submissions from her. (A quick Google search turns up her old SciFi.com author bio and bibliography and it lists 93 short fiction credits before 2001.)

Although SciFi.com is defunct, remnants of the website zombie forward. I grabbed this screencap of a bio that had appeared there.
Although SciFi.com is defunct, remnants of the website zombie forward. I grabbed this screencap of a bio that had appeared there.
She wrote those maddeningly complex sentences on a manual typewriter, laboriously producing each manuscript while creating a realtime duplicate with carbon paper because, she said, there were only two copy machines in the small town where she lived—one which rarely worked and the other charged 25 cents a page. (I just looked it up: population 3400.) Her letters to me were usually about one of two things: her cats or her ongoing feud with the US postal service. A recent note implied she did not drive. My impression was that she was a recluse and that the US mail was her only lifeline to the outside world. The one time she tried to call me by phone the call was so static-laden and tinny it sounded like she was calling from a past era in time, not Wisconsin. (The call was to say her phone didn’t work really but had I received her story?)

I always edited her sentences ruthlessly—repunctuating them so that although when read aloud the flow was nearly identical, but on the page they could be parsed—but I never edited her fecund, expansive ideas. Perhaps that’s why she kept sending me stories, despite the low pay. At first lesbian erotica, then later adding a gay pseudonym as well. Her gay submissions were preceded by a note saying she was thinking of trying to write for our gay anthologies but she “needed to do some research first.” I never asked what her research was going to consist of. This was a woman with no computer, no Internet, and no cell phone.

All I really knew of her in the ’90s was that her main source of income was as an instructor for the Writers Digest correspondence courses and that she had 35 cats, half who lived upstairs and half who lived downstairs. I only know those things because she told me herself.

There was one other thing I knew. I heard she had published two fantasy novels through a mainstream publisher (Bantam) but that they had dropped her after her baffling insistence that the books never be distributed in the state of Wisconsin, lest her family figure out that she had written a book. I heard this story from other editors, because her name would often come up in conversation at gatherings like Worldcon or other places where sf/f small press editors would meet. She was such an enigma that when her name did come up any other editor in the room would always pipe up with, “Do you know her? What’s the deal with her, anyway?”

I don’t think she was so notable to editors merely because she was an enigma but because her stories made such an impression. She sold to just about everyone eventually. Her narratives were multilayered, original, often incorporating rich cultural or historical details–my presumption is she must have read every book in her town library, and every new thing she learned inspired her to fantasize about something other than the life she was living.

Her erotic stories were lush and unabashed, often exploring female empowerment through stories of hard-won erotic freedom. I’ve had many many writers in my 24 years of editing erotica whose erotic lives on the page were wildly imaginative and unrepressed, while their real lives were the opposite, and I assumed she was one of them. More than once I’ve had a female author disappear–phone disconnected, email bouncing–only to have them reappear later with a tale of how they fled an abusive husband with nothing but the clothes on their backs. (Sometimes with children in tow.) Other times they disappear and leave only a message that they’ve changed gender and cut off everything from their previous life. Sometimes there’s no message.

But this is the first time an author sent me her back catalog as a prelude to suicide.

Some of the erotic magazines and anthologies Renee M. Charles was published in.
Some of the erotic magazines and anthologies Renee M. Charles was published in.

From what I can tell, misfortunes began to visit A.R. often after 2001. As technology marched on, short fiction markets shifted gradually to online submissions only, some to online publishing only. Even the places to find out about markets moved online and many directories that used to be published ceased to exist. She was dropped from the Writers Digest job. I know a few people tried to get her to computerize. At least one editor tried to donate a used computer to her and teach her to use it, to no avail. So far as I know she never went to conventions or had any other contact with people in the business except by paper post. I imagine it must have seemed as if her lifeline were fraying down to a thread–as people abandoned paper correspondence, did it feel like they were abandoning her?

By the mid-2000s Circlet Press was mired in debt and not publishing much, so correspondence between me and A.R., which was never voluminous to begin with, dwindled to mostly Christmas cards. In one she mentioned severe health problems and wanted to know if I would be the executor of the “Renee Charles” literary estate. I said yes.

In another she wrote, “My VERY bible-belt relatives–they don’t even know who/’what’ Harry Potter is!!– have said to me that they wish they could make my erotica [and horror and sf too] just ‘go away’ which is why I’m planning to formally disinherit all of them in my will! I can’t stand them!”

Then things seemed to pick up for a little while. After ebooks took off in 2008, we contracted with her to do digital collections of her short stories with the intention that Borgo Press, who had done one of her “tame” collections and had reprinted her novels would do those also. However after I sent the electronic copies of the manuscripts off to the editor at Borgo, only silence returned. I eventually gathered that Robert Reginald was in poor health himself, and passed away in 2013. I did get a letter from A.R. in March 2011 thanking me for the royalty check, and telling me of her woes when becoming her mother’s caregiver had fallen to her:

“Getting that check meant the world to me; the past week+ has been hellish — my mother (who will be a very old, out of shape/in bad health 72 in May) has been sick with the flu, a cold, constipation (which is what a person gets when they 1) don’t eat right, 2) don’t walk anywhere besides the bathroom/kitchen all day long, and 3) just sit around either watching TV or reading virtually all day, and napping sporadically 24/7), and on top of that a bout of gout… and thanks to her problems with being violent, foul-mouthed, and a rageaholic, there’s no way any caregiver will take her on. (There are multiple care giver-places in town, all of whom can refuse unruly/aggressive clients, alas!) So it’s been me 24/7, not only for the past week+ but for months… needless to say, I’m physically/mentally worn down lately!”

That was typical of her punctuation and writing style. In this same 2011 letter she thanks me for agreeing to take on her erotica as executor and includes a few photocopies of manuscripts.

I heard from her very little after 2011, mostly holiday cards, but there was one from February 2014, accompanied by photos of her house and five new accidental kittens (when one of the not-yet-neutered males managed to sneak over to one of the unspayed females). It was one of the longer missives–which was still fairly short–typed with manual typewriter onto a card and then overflowing onto a slip of paper and covering both sides. In it she detailed the travails of the weather dipping to -25 degrees in the “polar vortex” preventing her from finding food for her cats in dumpsters (she would look for hamburgers and eggs to chop up, apparently) so she had to switch to kibble she couldn’t easily afford. Although I never knew what “A.R.” originally stood for (I assumed the “R” was for Renee, given her pseudonyms), she wrote this:

“I ended up paying $700 in total to change my name to Ana Rose but my father’s family STILL won’t use it or my initials (they preferred the hideous name he gave me!) so I keep getting letters addressed to ‘Hey girl’ or ‘daughter’ or ‘the lady with the cats’!!

A card I received in May 2014 complained of red tape regarding her name change, trying twice to get a new birth certificate — bureaucrats insisting she provide documentation of her name from BEFORE she turned 19, when of course the legal change of name was recent. “Numbskulls” she called them, and mailed the paperwork and court documents again.

That same card complained of arthritis so bad that she could “barely type.” Typing, which was her primary means of communicating with anyone.

It was the last letter I got from her until a few days ago. A large cardboard box arrived at my home office containing a heap of books and magazines. She sent it all to me via insured parcel post, along with a mostly illegible, handwritten note:

“These are the contrib copies of all the erotica I’ve published — a few odds and ends of unpublished stuff is (down) here, plus I can’t find all the UK erotica copies. Whole life destroyed, cats dead. Very sick emotionally and physically. You were a good friend & editor. Thanks.”

Another person she sent a similar package to contacted police, and when they went to her house discovered she had been dead “for several days,” according to the news reports. The police presumed suicide. The news stories say this past summer she had been charged with cashing her mother’s social security checks since 2011. She had apparently told police in the summer that her mother had run off with two women in their 30s in May 2011. Her mother is still missing: the only bodies they found upon searching the property were those of 200 dead cats–along with 30 live ones.

I can’t presume to know from these glimpses what her life was actually like. Nor can I truly know what it would be like to live a life where my only lifeline was writing erotica and fantasy–essentially in secret for most of my life and then after my family found out, withstanding their constant hatred–much less what I would do if that lifeline were to be choked off.

All I can do is follow my own restless path toward dealing with her death, pushed by cultural values regarding remembrance being the primary way of honoring the dead and my own deep discomfiture about her actions. I believe she wanted to be remembered and this was why she sent me these materials. I believe her legal name change was her final attempt at making herself into her own person and not a product of her parents. I believe she wanted to be remembered for her writing and not for suicide.

It’s now midnight as I’m writing this and the news about David Bowie’s death is rocketing through all my social media channels. As if I didn’t just spend this entire afternoon and evening pondering these questions of a creative legacy and the fragility of life and ideas and the impact of death. Anyway. As I’ve been writing and processing my thoughts I’ve decided the thing to do is make sure as many people read her stories as possible. Here at Circlet we published two collections, SHADES OF PLEASURE which is all erotic science fiction (mostly lesbian), and CINNAMON ROSES, which is all vampire stories, lesbian and bi/pansexual. I’ve set the ebook prices to zero on Circlet.com (links below) and on Smashwords and have dropped the price to 99 cents on Amazon–the lowest I can set the price myself. Amazon’s price-matching robots will soon catch up with the $0.00 price elsewhere, though and it will drop to 0.00.

If I had to pick one story for you all to read, it would be “Like a Reflection in a Mirror Without Glass” which is in SHADES OF PLEASURE. But each story was different, even though at their cores they were nearly always about lonely women who yearned for connection. “Diving Into Oceans of Air” features a telepathic shut-in and a paraplegic. Please use the links below to download the books in mobi (Kindle), epub, or PDF format. I feel that sharing these fragile dreams from a departed soul is all I can do.

(Add both books to your shopping cart. It’ll then ask you to fill in your contact info and hit submit. You’ll then be taken to a page with unique download links *and* you’ll also receive those links in email. You will not be added to any mailing lists. -ctan)

UPDATED 1/30/2016: I’ve since received a copy of her will in the mail from her attorney. I have hit upon an idea. Since I have no wish to profit monetarily from her death and she left none of it to her family (as she promised), my idea is to donate whatever royalties her books make annually to a cat rescue or animal shelter in her area. -ctan

UPDATED 4/28/2016: I’ve contacted the folks at Catkins Animal Rescue in Park Falls, Wisconsin, a no-kill shelter that we feel Ana Rose Morlan would have approved of. All royalties from the sales of her Circlet Press titles will be donated annually to Catkins. I’ve set the prices to a sale price of $2.99 permanently. Thank you all for supporting A.R. Morlan’s work and her imaginative vision.

Cinnamon Roses
by Renee M Charles
All royalties will be donated to Catkins Animal Rescue in Park Falls, Wisconsin, in memory of Renee M. Charles aka A.R. Morlan.
All of Renee M. Charles's erotic vampire stories collected into one volume! Lush and varied, the book contains the following stories: Cinnamon Roses, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, The Twelve Nights of Callicantzaros, Opening the Veins of Jade, Initiation Into Club Sanguis, Mist Kisses.
Price: $5.99
Price: $2.99
Format :

Shades of Pleasure
by Renée M Charles
**All royalties will be donated to Catkins Rescue in Park Falls, Wisconsin, in memory of author Renee M. Charles, aka A.R. Morlan.**
These eight sizzling tales from the ever-inventive Renée M. Charles look at sexuality through a futuristic lens, each with its own vision of the future--good or bad. In these stories, people--women, men, and everything in between--have erotic encounters in zero gravity, in repressive dystopian societies, and even in worlds not so far off from our own.
Price: $5.99
Price: $2.99
Format :

28 thoughts on “Life is fragile and so are stories: Goodbye to A.R. Morlan aka Renee M. Charles”

  1. Oh!

    I’m so sorry to hear that such a wonderful author has passed and that she had so many difficult challenges to face along the way. Renee M. Charles has always been one of the names I scan for that lets me know when I’ve found a book worth reading. Her stories are rich and full and substantive and hot and a fun read. A fine dark chocolate to be savored as each flavor and texture emerges. Well-developed fantasy worlds where characters seem like real people with real emotions and motivations and all within a short story format.

    It’s odd to get a glimpse into what someone’s life was like when I’ve only known them from their fiction. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you.

    Thank you for sharing this as well as the books and for publishing her work.

  2. Thanks for publishing this elegy.

    I have a distinct memory of Alan Rodgers telling me he had either met her or had tried to arrange to meet with her, but alas, I can’t remember the details now, and Alan’s no longer with us.

    —Gordon V.G.

    1. You’re welcome. I think I just made the connection in my mind now between her and Bowie. They were both fixtures in my universe, constant, and both relentless about producing art that was singular and intensely personal and unique–but they were at opposite ends of the spectrum, Bowie using every ounce of privilege to not only reign but to constantly change, adapt, and expand, while A.R. had a life of disadvantages and was never able to escape any of her circumstances. All she had was her writing talent and at least she made a mark with it, within our circles.

  3. That poor troubled soul. I’m so glad she was able to share some joy with the rest of us, when it seemed her life was so short on it. I look forward to reading her works and sad to know there will be no more.

  4. What’s going on with the SF/fantasy community? We seem to attract so many borderline personalities. At least, unlike “Froggy,” aka F. Gwyplaine McIntyre, she didn’t set her place on fire…

    1. I don’t think we have more people of any type than any other community, unless the hallmark of those communities is exclusion. Oh wait, that’s mainstream society.

  5. She was never publshed in Poland. The first time I’ve read abot her work was the begginihg of 90′. In Locus magazine was a great recension of Dark Journey. So I know only this book and Talisman, and no one of her short fiction. Very impressive writing. One of talented outsiders is gone.

  6. Thank you for this elegy. She had a story in my Women of the West anthology, but I never bought one for the Women of Darkness volumes. I’m not sure why …. maybe the right story didn’t connect. I always liked her writing when I saw it, and I know so many editors who in the past week have said they bought stories from her. She was a subscriber of mine when I did the Gila Queen newsletter, and for many years we corresponded. There were always problems, I know, but no one, it seems, knew the extent. I know she loved her cats, and we had many discussions about hers and mine. I’m sorry that our contact had fallen off, and it was only within the past month I had been wondering how she was. Now, I know. I just find it very sad that things had come to that. Her work speaks for itself. Thanks for making these books available.

    1. You’re welcome, Kathy. I remember the old newsletter! It was indispensable for those of us writing short fiction back in the day.

      It’s tragic that this end befell her ultimately. You’re right, though: her work speaks for itself.

  7. I am a retired academic who has lived in two small Wisconsin towns in the past decade, one not far from Morlan’s home of Ladysmith. Regrettably, I am not familiar with A.R.’s writings — I learned of her tragic story by reading local news reports. It strikes me that the justice system may have played a large role in her suicide. Apparently, the DA and her attorney came up with a plea agreement in her Social Security theft case that essentially required repayment of the funds with no jail. The judge, however, rejected the deal saying it wasn’t punishment enough. To this I shake my head — a number of recent prominent embezzlement cases in WI. involving hundreds of thousands of dollars have garnered sentences of probation and repayment only. Morlan’s theft amounted to just a bit over $33000. I suspect she was viewed as a suspect in her mother’s disappearance –hence the harshness.

    Morlan apparently killed herself just days before sentencing. It’s a real shame she didn’t break away from her family early in life, as they seemed to have destroyed her. Sad.

    1. Egle, thanks for coming to visit our remembrances. I suspect you’re right and I can’t imagine that the authorities made the right decision there. Justice was not done to anyone this way, human or feline, not even the Social Security Administration which will never recoup the money.

      1. Cecilia,
        I was very taken by Ana Rose Morlan’s story and have been looking further into the legal aspects of her saga (in light of the public’s interest in “Making a Murderer” and small town Wisconsin justice,) I have learned some very intriguing and disturbing things, including a few about Ladysmith as well. For example, although some of Ana Rose’s work has been translated into German and French and is in the Library of Congress, the Ladysmith public library apparently has no copies of her work.

        The judge in her case rejected a plea deal last summer for a man who buried a murder victim on his property (punishable up to 10 years in prison), giving him only probation. The judge felt that the man (exactly A.R.’s age) wouldn’t do well in prison, physically or mentally. That judge is the only one in the county and up for re-election this spring. Coincidentally, he’s being opposed by the lawyer handling A.R.’s estate.

        I hope the estate lawyer gives you a suggestion for a local Wisconsin cat charity. I, too, am a cat owner and have lived around this country and abroad. Cats have it bad in Wisconsin, especially in rural areas like Ladysmith. There is a peculiar and inhumane custom of “barn cats” — these are usually not fed or underfed and are not fixed. Thus, there is a terrible overpopulation of malnourished and sickly cats. If you like, I can look into local cat charities for you. -Egle

        1. Egle, thanks for your comment. I haven’t heard back from the lawyer or anyone else so if you have a suggestion for a cat charity, please let me know. Royalties this year were under $100 but I would like to send the money somewhere.

          1. Hello Cecilia,
            Below are three animal rescue groups that are within a couple hours drive or so from Ladysmith, Wi. I have not included the local shelter in Ladysmith, since it probably was where Ana Rose’s seized cats were taken and then euthanized. Good luck and thank you, Egle

            1. Catkins Animal Rescue, Inc., Fifield, Wi.
            http://awos.petfinder.com/shelters/catkins.html

            2. Gregory’s Gift of Hope, New Richmond, Wi.
            http://www.ggohinc.com/

            3. Animal Allies Humane Society – Barn cat adoption program, Duluth, MN.

            http://www.animalallies.net/index.asp?SEC=9355DEE3-6419-4D77-AAEF-3DF7E929229C&Type=B_BASIC

  8. I am so very saddened to read of this. I’ve been a fan of her work for many years. Dark Journey will always be a favorite. I was so excited when it was published in ebook form. I had hoped this format would revive her works. Thank you for the opportunity to share and learn more about her. She will be truly missed.

  9. I am a new writer, by new 70 years old I’ve just written two novels. My writing instructor advised all of us in the beginning writing erotica would be the best money maker. I was doing research when I found this site. I read your article about this author.
    This story broke my heart, so sad such a sweet, kind , sensitive talented lady taken from this earth way to soon. Thank goodness she had such dedicated readers and an understand caring publisher. Such a sad brave soul.

    1. Mari, welcome to our world–you’re never too old to exercise the imagination. And thanks for stopping by to pay respects to A.R.

  10. Cecilia,
    Thank you for picking a local cat charity to donate Ana Rose’s royalties towards. I am sure the money will go to good use. It also helps me get over the disappointment of having that judge who was so mean to Ana reelected (but I think it was by a close margin). Thanks again from Wisconsin! Egle

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