Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Profile in Trivia

     I was talking to a friend the other day (actually, my best friend, herein referred to as Rainbow Trout) and he asked me what was the deal in San Juan Hell with all the

my profile
verbiage underneath my profile picture. Well, no one's ever asked me that before--I suspect no one's ever noticed it before-- but I suppose I should explain for his benefit, and for anyone else too shy to point out out that my new clothes look just like my birthday suit.

Novelist–well, that's the easy one. Novel-writing is what you do when you hang up your apron after twenty-five years tending bar.

Kibbitzer–You may be familiar with this one. Let's say you're playing a fame of chess, or poker, or Monopoly, or really any game that's not Candy Land. There is inevitably a guy standing behind you who is not in the game, looking over your shoulder and giving you horrendously bad advice on your next move. That, my friend, is a kibbitzer.

Raconteur–French for a story-teller, especially one particularly witty or amusing. From this you may gather that French is the last refuge of the egotist.

Homo Ludens–A term coined by Dutch theorist Johan Huizenga, used to explore the play element in culture. The literal meaning is Man Playing. This is my species.

Sans-culotte—Also French, and I wanted to include flaneur and croque-monsieur as well, but I ran out of space. Sans-culotte literally means pantless, but before you get the idea that I'm hanging out in the altogether  (I might be and I might not), a bit of further

sans-culottes
explanation. The sans-culottes were the lumpenproletariat* at the heart of the French Revolution, the ones Marie Antoinette wanted to eat cake. They were radical democrats, sort of like Bernie Sanders with the mittens off. They did wear trousers--they just didn't sport the fashionable silk knee-pants of the aristos. This is my political stance.


Tralfamadorian–if you know you Vonnegut, you know the Tralfamadorians, little aliens who look like plumber's friends, with a hand where their head should be, in which is set a single eye. They also live in four dimensions, which means that they can see all of time--and choose, quite sensibly, to live in the good times. This is my philosophical stance.

Tralfamadorians

Dylan Thomist– is my own coinage, taken from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, especially in homage to his great poem The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower (written when he was only 19) that expresses an intense identification with all of creation. This is my religious stance.



the force that through the green fuse drives the flower





So there you have it--a rare example of tedious shorthand. I hope it was worth it.

*Lumpenproletariat--Marx's term for the class of beggars, thieves, and prostitutes below the proletariat proper.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Stephen Dobyns

 

stephen dobyns
“Hesitancy is the surest destroyer of talent. One cannot be timorous and reticent, one must be original and loud. New metaphors, new rhythms, new expressions of emotion can only spring from unhindered gall. Nothing should interfere with that intuition--not the fear of appearing stupid, nor of offending somebody, nor jeopardizing publication, nor being trivial. The intuition must be as unhindered as a karate chop.”

― Stephen Dobyns

Goodreads Gods

 Well, my Goodreads giveaway is over. 2800 people vied for ten copies of my autographed novel. There must have been blood in the streets.

 And I thought I'd contact the winners to see if they wanted any particular inscription.  The personal touch, you know? And I did contact a couple of them. But then I got this message from the Goodreads gods:

goodreads warning`

Well, fair enough. I don't want to spam anybody. But if there's a chance in hell any of the winners read this post and would like a personalized note, contact me sooner than later. Congratulations! I never win these things.

Do You Know This Man?

 Of course you do. You've seen this picture of him in every tasteful little coffee-shop or bistro you've ever frequented. It's so ubiquitous that it's almost invisible. And there's his name right on the poster, Aristide Bruant. French guy, right?

aristide bruant

You might even know that the poster is the work of Toulouse Lautrec, the little guy, the godfather of posters. 

But do you know Aristide Bruant, who was anything but tasteful? As a matter of fact, he was the Andrew Dice Clay/ Ozzie Osborne of his time. He was an outlandish cabaret owner whose main attraction was himself, entertaining his customers by parading on the bar top, singing and insulting everyone who came to see him, and everyone was the bourgeois, slumming it up in dangerous Montmartre (or La Butte, as the hilly region of Paris was called). And the bar he packed them in at was The Mirliton.

The what?

The Mirliton, which basically means "the kazoo" in French. It's also a favorite vegetable in Cajun cooking, which caused me no end of trouble along about the third draft of The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter.

le chat noir
                      But maybe we'd better back up, to the bar where Bruant made his name: 

Le Chat Noir in Montmartre, the ur-nightclub, which I know you've heard of, because once again, you've seen the poster--probably in that same cool little bistro, just across from the poster of Bruant. Bruant became so well known there that when the club closed, he opened his own--at the very same site. The walls were decorated with Lautrec's masterworks, which the bourgeois crowd mainly ignored. Lautrec held court there most nights--until some place The Moulin Rouge opened up down the street.



Here's how I imagined the place:


This then was the Cabaret Le Mirliton, just one of several down-at-the-heels establishments pocking the Boulevard Rochechouart that promised song and dance and bonhomie, or alternately enough noxious drink to make the first three superfluous. 

Le Mirliton was of the first kind. As soon as we were inside the door, we were greeted by smoke and noise and the booming voice of the proprietor himself. 
“My God, look at these two! Have the sewers backed up all the way to Montmartre?”

There was Bruant, striding up and down the top of the bar in the same costume we’d seen in the posters, a gamekeeper’s outfit with a scarlet shirt and scarf, an opera cape and wide-brimmed black hat. He pointed a rattan cane at us and said, “See how they gawk? Like sheep about to be sheared! Mutton-heads!”

Interior of Le Mirliton by Louis Anquetin
le mirliton by anquetin
            St. Lazare, a song by Bruant                              

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Agatha Awards

The nominees for this year's Agatha Awards have just been announced

agatha award
Now I'm a neophyte in this area, and of course I would not even be eligible for consideration until next year (I should be so lucky), so no knots in my stomach this year. But this is award season for mysteries: the king-daddy of them all, the Edgars (named after Edgar Allen Poe, and if I have to tell you who the Agathas are named after, your disinterest in mysteries is profound), has announced their nominees already, and you can find them here.

Here's a little bit about Malice Domestic, the folks who award the Agathas.


"Established in 1989, Malice Domestic is an annual fan convention that takes place each year in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Malice celebrates the Traditional Mystery, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex, or excessive gore or violence."

So why should you care? Well, you're always looking for reading recommendations, aren't you? And why should I care? Because James Ziskin, my Seventh Street stable-mate and an all-around mensch has had his Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement,” has been named a finalist for the Agatha for Best Short Story. So I've got someone to root for.

james ziskin
And you can find the book here, So you'll have someone to root for, too.


Dr. Seuss

 

dr. seuss

My great-great-nephew Atticus's first book was, of course, an autographed copy of my own novel. I would not be surprised if his taste leans toward Dr. Seuss at this point. He is, after all, barely five days old. But can you ever be too young for Sherlock Holmes?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Dylan Thomas

 


dylan thomas


"Every device there is in language is there to be used, if you will. Poets have got to enjoy themselves sometimes, and the twistings and convolutions of words, the inventions and contrivances, are all part of the joy that is part of the painful, voluntary work." 

                       --Dylan Thomas


The Blue

 By the way, if you liked the post on the Indigo Revolt, you might be interested in finding out more about the history of  the color blue--which is a fascinating history, believe it or not. And a seminal part of that history is chronicled in my friend Nancy Bilyeau's brilliant novel 

                                               The Blue, a tale of 18th century industrial espionage.

nancy bilyeau
"With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the color blue?"

Kings River Life: Review/Giveaway/Interview

It's an interview.
It's a review.
It's a giveaway of my book.
It's a threefer--
It must be seen to be believed!

 by Lorie Lewis Ham of  Kings River Life Magazine.

Kings River Life Magazine

From the review:
"This story is filled with many twists and turns, most of which I never saw coming. It was so much fun having all of these familiar characters thrown together in this new story. I felt like Miller’s portrayal of Holmes and Watson was accurate, which is always a key for me in enjoying a new Holmes adventure."

From the interview:
"For me, writing is like blowing up a balloon. I start with a few puffs: beginning, middle, and end, and then expand, and let the breaths mingle and heat up. I just have to keep from spitting too much."


Friday, March 26, 2021

Reading Club

Reading Club

Phil Krampf presses his free bookplate into service as a Covid mask. 
Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you'd like a bookplate to press into your copy of the novel, just send me your address in an email on the right. 
Neither address will be sold or shared with anyone, may the gods strike me dead.

 

Richard Brautigan

Brautigan 

I will be very careful the next time I fall in love, she told herself. Also, she had made a promise to herself that she intended on keeping. She was never going to go out with another writer: no matter how charming, sensitive, inventive or fun they could be. They weren't worth it in the long run. They were emotionally too expensive and the upkeep was complicated. They were like having a vacuum cleaner around the house that broke all the time and only Einstein could fix it. She wanted her next lover to be a broom.”

― Richard Brautigan, Sombrero Fallout

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Blue Jean Blues

 Did you know that those Levis you're wearing were responsible for a deadly revolt in India? Well, partly, anyway. You see, back in 1777, the British started planting indigo in India,

Born in the USA
especially Bengal. As a matter of fact, that what indigo means--India. Indigo? That's the dye that makes your blue jeans blue. And the British didn't really grow indigo --they tricked the Indian farmers into growing indigo. Even gave them loans.

But when they came to sell their crops, the farmers didn't make enough to pay back the loans and the exorbitant interest, because the buyers set the price. But it was okay, the buyers just loaned them more money. So the debt mounted. And the growers became, in effect, slaves. Growers were still trying to pay off the debt of their fathers and grandfathers. Men committed suicide rather than endure the torture.

It wasn't a unique situation. Former black slaves in America were effectively still in bondage due to the system of share-cropping. And coal miners were in a similar jam. Remember that that line from Sixteen Tons?

"Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cuz I can't go. I owe my soul to the company store."

 Same strategy. And demand for blue indigo dye just kept growing, especially in America, where a young man named Levi Strauss was selling copper-riveted indigo-dyed denim pants--blue jeans--as the inexpensive uniform of the working man. So when Indian farmers protested their situation, they were put down--violently.

"The Peasants Are Revolting"

In 1859, the peasants did indeed revolt. And so was bred the Indigo Rebellion, which involved the whole of Bengal. Indigo depots were burned to the ground. Some plantation owners were captured, tried, and hung, The rest fled for their lives.British response was swift and merciless.  The peasants were slaughtered or hung. And then, in true British fashion, they appointed a commission to investigate the matter, and the truth of the British planters' oppression was laid bare. And then, in true British fashion, they recommended no action be taken.

Germans to the Rescue

There's a line you won't see every day. You see, the Germans were completely boxed out of India and the extremely lucrative indigo trade. So German chemists sought the Holy Grail--synthetic indigo. Time and again, it eluded them. Then, in 1890,  Karl Heumann and Eugene Sapper hit on a method that was both practical and economical. By 1897, they brought it to market. And in a very few years, the bottom dropped out of the natural indigo market.

There is still indigo grown in India, but in a very small way. And the farmers got their land back--once the British left. And in 1955 James Dean put on a pair of jeans, and they became cool forever.


Sixteen Tons



Beautiful boy

I just realized I never showed you any baby pix from when the book dropped last January 19th. Isn't he cute? I think he has my serifs.

baby book


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Sly Homage

 By the way, there are two vehicles which figure prominently in The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle: Morello's Moreau-Lepton, and the Widgeon Seven which Holmes commandeers late in the action. If you are a stickler for historical detail, you might try to get a peek at one of these autos online. Alas, you will find no pictures of either. They never existed. Well, they did exist. But only in literature.

arsene lupin

"Ah! I must confess that in rolling over the boulevards that surrounded the old Norman city, in my swift thirty-five horse-power Moreau-Lepton, I experienced a deep feeling of pride, and the motor responded, sympathetically to my desires."



"Well, you may say that sacking, considered in the light of a bed, isn't everybody's money, and in saying so you would be perfectly correct. But after half an hour in the seat of a Widgeon Seven, even sacking begins to look pretty good to you."
thank you jeeves

You see, the Moreau Lepton was the car of famed burglar Arsene Lupin, while the Widgeon Seven was the two-seater so beloved of famed fat-head Bertie Wooster. The two cars existed only in the imaginations of authors Maurice LeBlanc and P.G. Wodehouse, whom I wanted to give a nod to, and so continue the proud tradition of fictional automobiles.



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Robert Graves


robert graves

The Devil’s Advice to Storytellers 

 Lest men suspect your tale to be untrue, 
Keep probability – some say – in view. 
But my advice to story-tellers is: 
Weigh out no gross of probabilities, 
Nor yet make diligent transcriptions of 
Known instances of virtue, crime or love. 
To forge a picture that will pass for true, 
Do conscientiously what liars do – 
Born liars, not the lesser sort that raid 
The mouths of others for their stock-in-trade: 
Assemble, first, all casual bits and scraps 
That may shake down into a world perhaps; 
People this world, by chance created so, 
With random persons whom you do not know – 
The teashop sort, or travellers in a train 
Seen once, guessed idly at, not seen again; 
Let the erratic course they steer surprise 
Their own and your own and your readers’ eyes; 
Sigh then, or frown, but leave (as in despair) 
Motive and end and moral in the air; 
Nice contradiction between fact and fact 
Will make the whole read human and exact. 
 
                                      —Robert Graves

Where Van Gogh Died


auberge ravoux












Vincent
spent the last 70 days of his life in the little town of Auvers-sur-Oise as a lodger at Auberge Ravoux. During his stay there, he created more than 80 paintings and 64 sketches before dying of a gunshot wound on 29 July 1890. 

In this picture, Ravoux and his daughter Adeline are on the left. Madame Ravoux and daughter Germaine stand in the doorway.


                             --The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter

Monday, March 22, 2021

Reader's Club

Reader's Club

                                      Rory Moloney knows what he likes.

Sondheim

 
Happy 85th birthday, Stephen Sondheim!


stephen sondheim


"The worst thing you can do is censor yourself as the pencil hits the paper. You must not edit until you get it all on paper. If you can put everything down, stream-of-consciousness, you'll do yourself a service."

Sunday, March 21, 2021

"What a Fool I Was"

 If you're looking for the magical happy ending from My Fair Lady, you won't find it in my novel. Nor will you find it in Shaw's original play, Pygmalion. Instead you will find this:


"This is where the play gets interesting. Once Higgins wins his bet and completes Eliza’s transformation, she is stuck between two worlds. She can’t to go back to selling flowers and she doesn’t want to be Higgins’ secretary — or worse, his wife. At the end of the play, after an enormous battle of wills, Eliza decides to strike out on her own. “If I can’t have kindness, I’ll have independence,” she declares.

Then, according to Shaw’s final stage directions, Eliza "sweeps out."

This is from an excellent article from The Worldwhich I link to here, because it explains far better than I can. But think of Pygmalion as Shaw's version of Ibsen's A Doll's House. At the end of that play, Nora slams out the door: the slam heard round the world. Now imagine that Nora had come back in the door and given Torvald a big romantic kiss. You'd have never heard of A Doll's House.

But in Shaw's case, everyone conspired against him. The actors, the director of the movie version, and certainly the producers of My Fair Lady, to soften the blow. Think of Eliza's last words in the film before the ending:

"Goodbye, Professor Higgins. You shall not be seeing me again."

Now that is Shaw's sentiment. But Lerner and Loewe had a killer song up there sleeve and a shlocky, if winning, romantic ending to tag on, which directly denies Shaw.

Now, in the ending of my novel...you don't really think I'm going to tell you the ending, do you? To paraphrase Eliza, 

"What a fool, I'be, what an addle-pated fool."



Eudora Welty



 “Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write more entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page.”

                –Eudora Welty

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Pastiches

 



I'm going to share a secret with you: I don’t read Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Or at least, very few. And the better they promise to be, the leerier I am of them. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t read pastiches. What do you, think I’m crazy? No, remember I’m a writer, not a reader. Not that writers shouldn’t read pastiches. Far from it. I’m pointing the finger squarely at myself. You see, I’m a sponge. I’m a mimic. I’m very strongly affected by the last thing I’ve read. If I had been reading Dylan Thomas while I was writing The Strange Curse of Eliza Doolittle, I’d have had to name it Eliza’s Christmas in Wales

So I didn’t. I stuck to a steady diet of John Watson, M.D., with Pygmalion for dessert. A little taste: 

    Toby, of course, had long since joined his lop-eared dewlapped ancestors in the next life. Rather amazingly, Mr. Sherman, Toby’s owner, was still rattling along this mortal coil, still stuffing animals, still manning the shop in Pinchin Lane. We hung on his bell till we heard the window on the second floor being wrenched open above us. 

“Stand back, Watson,” said Holmes, pulling me aside. Glad I was that he did so; the first thing that came out of the window was a bucket of dirty water, which splashed to the pavement at our feet. The second thing was Sherman’s head in a nightcap. 

“Go away!” he yelled. “I’ll have the law on you!”

 Well, you say, everybody strives to sound like John Watson. And to that I say, some do, and some don’t. It’s not a matter of good or bad writing, it’s largely a matter of intention. For me, the music is of paramount importance. 

And then there’s the matter of edges. The territory a pastiche inhabits is the edges of the Canon. Luckily, Doyle left wide edges to work in. The stories are chock-full of detailed facts, but those facts are always about the case, and almost never about Holmes—or Watson. It’s all those details that a pastiche fills in. For instance, I know that Holmes kicked his
nicholas meyer
cocaine addiction with the help of Sigmund Freud, because long ago I read the Seven-Per -Cent Solution, by Nicholas Meyers. This was long before I had any intention of writing a Holmes pastiche, before I even heard the word pastiche; as a matter of fact, it was my original inspiration (I’m probably not alone in that). 

But the point is, I can’t have that idea, because someone already had it, and executed it brilliantly. The more pastiches, especially good pastiches I read, the narrower the edges become. 

So, enjoy the pastiches. Hell, enjoy my pastiches. And I promise, when I move on from writing Sherlock Holmes stories, I’ll catch up on my reading.

"The Crudest Ideas"

 "Sherlock Holmes had, in a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will. For two hours the strange business in which we had been involved appeared to be forgotten, and he was entirely absorbed in the pictures of the modern Belgian masters. He would talk of nothing but art, of which he had the crudest ideas, from our leaving the gallery until we found ourselves at the Northumberland Hotel."

                                            -- The Hound of the Baskervilles


Jan Verhas

Jan Verhas  (9 January 1834 – 31 October 1896) was a Belgian painter of the Realist school. He wasknown for his portraits and genre paintings often depicting children of the Belgian bourgeoisie.

Reading Club

Reading Club

Sue Clark shopping for deals.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Arthur Phillips

 


"Fiction is able to do one thing better than any other art form: it is able to convey a convincing sense of what is going on in someone else's head. To me, th
at is the great mystery of life: what is everyone else thinking?"-- Arthur Phillips

Suffragette Prison

 Holloway Prison, the largest women's prison in Western Europe until its closure in 2016, was famous for housing prominent suffragettes.




                                                                          --The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle

Ridicule


 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Clues

 I forgot to mention: some of these posts are clues. Some are clues to The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle, which, unless you just stumbled on this blog, you've probably already read, but some are clues to the Dutch Painter, or the Pharaoh's Heart. Some may even be clues to my fourth book, The Murder Downstairs, or even my fifth book--well, I'm getting ahead of myself. But the point is, you can get ahead of the casual reader by putting these clues together--you may even get ahead of me.  I've labeled clue posts as such, and even included the symbol to the right in each one. Let the games begin.

John Crowley


I write in expectation that readers want to participate in a kind of two-sided game: They are trying to guess what I am up to - what the story's up to - and I'm giving them clues and matter to keep them interested without giving everything away at the start. Even the rules, if any, of the game are for the reader to discover. 
                                    
–John Crowley 

First Book



                                                                                                                          Here's a cause that's  dear to my heart, putting books into the hands of kids who can't afford them.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

First Book believes that education is the best way out of poverty for children in need. First Book aims to remove barriers to quality education for all kids by making everything from new, high-quality books and educational resources to sports equipment, winter coats, snacks, and more – affordable to its member network of more than 500,000 educators who exclusively serve kids in need.

Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 185 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income communities in more than 30 countries. First Book currently reaches an average of 5 million children every year and supports more than one in three of the estimated 1.3 million classrooms and programs serving children in need.

With an additional 1,000 educators joining each week, First Book is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators in the United States exclusively serving kids in need. First Book members work in classrooms, after school and summer or early childhood programs, shelters and health clinics, libraries, community programs, military support programs, and other settings serving a majority of children in need. Learn more in our 2019 Annual Report

First Book is rooted in diversity, inclusion, and togetherness and we aim to apply our expertise to join the fight for racial equity. Click here to read a message from First Book.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Not Spirits in the Ordinary Sense

 "It is neither decent nor safe to take from their resting places the bodies of old kings. The Egyptians knew much more about the occult than we do today. This must have been a peculiar element of an Egyptian curse.

The ancient Egyptians were very anxious to guard the tombs of their Kings, there is reason to believe that they placed elementals on guard, and such may have caused Lord Carnarvon’s death.

An evil elemental may have caused Lord Carnarvon’s fatal illness. One does not know what elementals existed in those days, nor what the form might be. 

These elementals are not spirits in the ordinary sense, in that they have no souls. 

An elemental is a built-up, artificial thing, an imbued force which may be brought into being by spirit means or by nature."


                     –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the strange death of Lord Carnarvon



Brunswick Wharf

 


                                                                       --The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle



Stephen Millhauser

 

Stories, like conjuring tricks, are invented because history is inadequate for our dreams.      –Steven Millhauser

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Tom Stoppard



 “I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.”

― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing

Monday, March 15, 2021

M. Vernet/Mr. Holmes

 

“My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class. But, none the less, my turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”
                         
--Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter



Sunday, March 14, 2021

27A Wimpole

 Shaw's inspiration for the home of Henry Higgins:

"Much like the fictional professor of phonetics, who famously lived on the same Marylebone street, the property's original owner, Professor Horace Wilson, was a linguistics expert." --The Daily Mail