My husband, Duane DeMello, died suddenly on September 23, 2006. We were out for our usual, early Saturday morning walk, and, twenty minutes into it, he said he was dizzy and collapsed, dead of a major heart attack. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to say good-bye, I love you, see you in the next life, I'm sorry, whatever.


Duane was a writer, so I can only surmise that, perhaps, in some small way, he had something to do with this particular ending because so many people have said to me, "Well, if you have to go, this is the way to do it." Unfortunately, as I've found, it's difficult on those left behind. Now, I find myself reflecting on lost dreams, which is one reason I'm promoting The Denton Mare, his first novel. Thanks for indulging me as I share a few details about our lives.


Duane and I met in 1981 when we worked in the Corporate Affairs Division of Tenneco Inc., in Houston. Before arriving at Tenneco, he had served in the U.S. Air Force, worked for the Weekly Livestock Reporter in Fort Worth, Texas, and been a writer for the Bill Sandy Corporation. He had also owned Business Publication Service in Fort Worth, and the Cameron Sun Newspaper in Cameron, Texas. At Tenneco, he was Publications Manager, and I was a staff writer.


It took a few years before we finally decided that no other person would have either one of us, so we quit our "good jobs," got married, and moved to Denton, Texas, where he worked on his Master's degree in Creative Writing, and I on my Master's degree in Theatre at The University of North Texas. After we graduated with Master's degrees in August 1985, we moved from Denton, Texas to Tallahassee, Florida where, in August, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in creative writing at Florida State University. He was an older student at the time (39), but he was excited to be in the program and took advantage of its many opportunities.


During his first year in Tallahassee, he also won first prize in the fiction competition sponsored by the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Area Booksellers Association. He won with his first novel, The Denton Mare, which he wrote while in the M.A. program at the University of North Texas. He won other awards, too. In 1993, he was named one of eight finalists for the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize with his work of fiction, Texas Gothics. He also was the First Runner-Up in the 1992 New Letters Literary Awards for, "The Things That Should Have Been Said." That same year, he was also a finalist in Negative Capability's Short Fiction Award (1992).


In retrospect, I guess I'm partly to blame for his ultimate decision to quit the Ph.D. program because I told him if he really wanted to be a writer, then he should do just that...write. In the years to come, he, probably more than I, regretted his decision not to finish the program, particularly since we weren't successful in publishing his work.


He has at least seven unpublished novels and collections of short fiction: The Denton Mare, Texas Gothics, Mystic Florida, Headshots, House of Many Doors, Lay Me Down, and Hypertext. He was very close to being published early on, when Ms. Frederica Friedman, then a senior editor of Little Brown & Co., contacted him personally when she was seriously considering one of his novels. Unfortunately, Little Brown ended up not publishing the book, and what might have been, wasn't. Duane didn't have the luck some have had, and, eventually, after some bad luck with an unproductive agent, he did stop writing.


My husband wasn't a hack writer and didn't play at writing, either, like some do. He did what he did best and that was to write in the way he knew, not in what he thought might sell. He used to say, "I can write them, but you'll have to sell them because I can't." He was an introvert and very shy, and I was the gregarious one, who was supposed to make the contacts. I'm afraid I didn't try hard enough, though.


One weekend, shortly after his death, I started cleaning out our closets and found it almost unbearable to think that all that's left of him is piled up in those old manuscript boxes. I'm not unrealistic and know how difficult it is to get published by the major houses, and he did, too. Unlike me, however, he never got angry about "the rejection" because, as he always said, it's a crap shoot. In fact, he said we should be glad we gave it a try because so many people never get the opportunity to do even that much in life.


If I sound as though I'm seeking pity, I apologize, because I'm not. I am simply determined to do something with his collective body of work. He wrote in a literary style that is intellectually stimulating and interesting. He was good, but no one really knows, aside from me. From a business perspective, I know that dead writers, save the great ones, aren't very marketable. Still, I'm trying, perhaps for some of the very reasons John Kennedy Toole's mother, after his suicide, felt compelled to shop his unpublished manuscript, A Confederacy of Dunces. She put herself on a personal mission and while she found luck with the novelist, Walker Percy, had he not immediately liked it, the manuscript would probably still be in a box, somewhere, today.


Duane, who embraced life's unfairness with a sense of grace and acceptance, would find this publishing venture, particularly on his behalf, a bit desperate and vain. After 23 wonderful years of marriage, though, I feel I owe him at least one more shot. Thank you for reading and appreciating The Denton Mare, which captures the last days of the Texas badman, Sam Bass.


Bev DeMello

July 2007