"I don’t write slowly, it’s just that I throw out fast."
I'm instituting a policy of once a month harassment for my favorite cause: First Book. This is where I attempt to shake you down to help fund what I consider is one of the most essential (and most neglected) needs for poor kids: books. Schoolbooks, school supplies, and books to call their own. First Book seeks equity in education through a network of educators, a market for low and no-cost books, research and most important: action.
First Book reaches 5 million children annually, counts 500, 000 educators in its membership, and has thus far distributed 200 million books and resources. A good start, but so much more is needed.
Today's young readers are tomorrow's informed citizens. If you can, consider giving.
To give, and for full information, click here or up on First Book in the navigation menu. Thanks.
I would like to unveil for you the cover of my second novel due to be released (tentatively) in January of 2022, The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter. I don't want to say too much about it right now. Suffice it to say that Sherlock Holmes investigates the murder of Vincent van Gogh.
New Lagniappe story up, set in my dawlin' New Awlins. Check it out.
Pretty soon, though, some disturbing news filters its way down to Ed. The newspapers are full of it. Some society babe, apparently, last year’s queen of Comus, has had her house on St. Charles burglarized. Nothing missing, ma’am, except her shadow. This is a new one, even for New Orleans cops. They sit around scratching their heads and sipping hot coffee even in the heat, because that's what cops do.
When it comes to writing, however, he likens his mind to a popcorn machine. “I can take a scenario and play a thousand different variations on that. It’s hell for solving real-life problems, but it works pretty well for fiction.”.
Here's a snippet:
"I start by asking the character, what’s going on? What is she worried about? How does she feel about the situation she finds herself in? And most importantly, what’s she going to do about it? Usually I’ll get some kind of response. Sometimes the answer is a complete surprise."
Good stuff, eh? Okay now: the paragraph I didn't quote?--is some very nice words about my novel. What restraint on my part! How modest! How self-effacing!
Go READ it already.
Join us next year, April12th (unless we've met) for all the fun and unfellowship the day deserves.
(According to my stats, some of you are reading it, or have at least wound up on that page by pure accident and run shrieking into the night. You might give me a hint.)
Of course, you do not have to give a wooden nickel. I am not so easily discouraged and will continue to accost you with material one way or another. But if you feel an itch to do so, I will toast you as I down each cup of delicious Jamaica Blue Mountain (if I should make such largesse. JBM is not for the cheap seats.)
There's a little yellow button on the side of the page, along with all the other junk. If you feel insulted by the very idea, let me know in the comments below. I'm not wedded to the idea, and those used coffee grounds are good for three, four days. Thanks.
(There's a new Lagniappe feature soon to arrive.)
"The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off."
I've stated ELSEWHERE that I haven't read many Holmes pastiches yet, and why. But I'm curious, and not yellow. I'm interested in what are--not necessarily your favorite--but the one or two pastiches you would foist upon your best friend to hook then on Holmes pastiches forever. Your friend may or may not have ever read any any of the canon.
I suppose I should stipulate that your choice should not feature Sherlock's brother, sister, wife, daughter or third cousin, at least not in a starring role, but should feature Sherlock Holmes himself, with or without Watson.
Nor, just in case you suspect me of dealing from the bottom of the deck, should your choice be my own pastiche, The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle. (Frankly, I'm being selfish. Once I've hung up my own spurs, I want a nice list of the best pastiches to turn to.)
So leave your choices in the comments (along with your reasons for them if you like) and I'll feature them in a future post. Thanks!
The flowery encomiums of my book are lifted from one such site. It is possibly the most fawning review ever written. And I was half-way through the second paragraph, soaking it all in, before I realized the review was not about my book at all, in fact had nothing to do with my book. I was able to elide over "useful information and life tips", but ran up on the reef at "This memoir..."
In case you haven't read my book, it could in no light be mistaken for a memoir...unless you assumed that I was Dr. John Watson.
I assume that this was a real review which has come unmoored from its original book, and been drafted into service for any book you might have been searching for. It's a wonderful review for anyone, as long as you ignore things like nouns and possibly adjectives. As a matter of fact, with a little judicious trimming, this could make boffo advertising copy.
The author beautifully combines beauty and truth in an elegant and effective way..."
Why, it's positively Keatsian!
"Except in two cases, every writer I've worked with has wanted to work with me again. I think one of the reasons is that I love dialogue. Dialogue is not uncinematic. So many of the movies of the thirties and forties that we adore are constant streams of dialogue.
Of course we remember Jimmy Cagney squashing a grapefruit into Mae Clark's face. But does that evoke more affectionate memory than "Here's looking at you, kid"?
You've all heard of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, made popular in interviews with Bill Moyers, but have you heard of Canadian critic Northrop Frye's theory of myth, elucidated in his Anatomy of Criticism?
Each archetype gives rise a different relationship between the hero and society. For instance, in comedy, the movement is the hero's integration into society; in tragedy, his expulsion from society. In romance, the audience identifies with the hero; in satire, the audience looks down on the hero.
Further, the hero of each genre moves through six phases, literary structures which can be derived from each mythos-- moving from innocence to experience, from fantasy to reality--but the hero experiences each of them differently, colored by their their genre. In each phase, two of its structures are influenced by the preceding season, two by the succeeding season. There is a downward movement toward tragedy, an upward movement toward comedy
All this may seem a little complex, but it's really quite elegant, describing the general shape of, well--every--story. This is not meant to weigh you down, but to gives you the tools to satisfy the audience's genre expectations (which are bred in the bine) or to subvert them.
Perhaps a diagram will help, Luckily, I happen to have one handy.
You can see, for instance how in the third phase of comedy, the young hero is triumphant: how romance evokes the quest theme, how the hero finds victory in tragedy, while satire engages the victory over common sense. The book is rich with examples of each of these phases.
Again, this is analysis of what has gone before, not a prescription for your next project, any more than music theory should get in the way of writing a song. Study of structure is meant to reveal, not to hamper. If you have any questions on this admittedly incomplete summary, just leave them in the comments below, and I'll try to address them.
Familiarity with the work of B. Kliban is fading fast; which is a damn shame. He was one of wildest minds and most influential cartoonist of the 70s and 80s till his death at 55 of a pulmonary embolism. He entertained us with such collections as Cats, Never Ear Anything Bigger Than Your Head, and Whack Your Porcupine. When Gary Larson's The Far Side gained notoriety, Kliban fans knew we were getting toned-down Kliban; Larson acknowledged his influence.
This is my favorite B. Kliban cartoon. So much so that years ago when I lived in Houston with my friend the Rainbow Trout, I reproduced it on one of the walls. I don't think we got our deposit back on that apartment.
It strikes you as laughably simple, right? a man is working on a 4-piece puzzle of a yin-yang symbol. He appears to be giving it far more thought than necessary. His brow is furrowed. Ha-ha, dumb guy, right?
Now look at it again on a yet another level. He's contemplating how the elements if the yin-yang symbol mesh. Yin-yang is a powerful, highly complex symbol.
Two opposing forces: active and receptive, male and female, before and behind, light and dark. The duality of nature.Yet are the two forces opposing each other or chasing one another, alternating? And each force contains the embryo of the other, each giving birth to each other: the oneness of nature. One might well hesitate over such a conundrum.
So the moral of the story (yes, there's a moral) is: when you're writing, don't get caught up with the simple or obvious. But realize that few things are simple or obvious.
“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well.”― Agatha Christie
"I am not a fanciful person, but I give you my word that I seemed to hear Moriarty’s voice screaming at me out of the abyss."
What isn't known is how Holmes felt about causing that death? (I know, the unfeeling Mr. Holmes. Hogwash.) Certainly it was self-defense. But certainly it was premeditated. And he watched the man plunge to his death. Never to face justice. How did that make him feel?
I think it shocked him to his core. I think he felt insupportable guilt and shame. So much that he could not face his beloved London for three whole years. What else could explain his decision to abandon his beloved London to the predations of the criminal underworld? Fear for his life? Please. Does that sound like Sherlock Holmes, who had always faced danger head on? And with the trials of Moriarty's confederates ongoing? Would he not be needed as a material witness?No; Holmes was undergoing a crisis of the soul. Where did he go? The first name he mentions is Florence; no doubt he continued on to Rome. Then he treks to Lhasa, to meet with the Dalai Lama. From there he goes on to Mecca, no easy task for a city forbidden to unbelievers. If he followed in the path of Sir Richard Burton. he must have spoken at least passable Arabic. Then he pays "a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum." This would have been Abdullahi ibn Muhammad, the Sudanese ruler who had taken up the mantle of Mahdi, the Islamic messiah, upon the death of the original Mahdi, Muhammad Ahnad.
Can there be any doubt that Holmes was seeking solace in a variety of what were (to him) a series of exotic religions?
As for his "several months "studying coal-tar derivatives" in Montpellier, I think Holmes was withholding the truth, that he in fact had unfinished business in Montpellier with a French cousin. (For more about this cousin and the reason he mentions coal-tar derivatives, you'll have to wait for my next novel, The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter.)
But none of these ploys offer the peace he seeks, and he finally decides, as he counsels Watson, that "work is the best antidote for sorrow." and turns his face toward home. Yet he has not given up on his spiritual quest entirely. What book does he drop in front of Watson? The Origins of Tree Worship-- seeking answers in his native British Druidism? This, for a man who'd espoused his admiration for the writings of William Winwoode Reade, an avowed atheist, was quite a journey.
But would he have been able to reveal himself to Watson, if not for his accidental meeting with his associate that morning at Park Lane? Perhaps not--not because his affection for Watson had lessened, but because of Watson's role as his public chronicler. He no longer wants the public's eye upon him. He forbids Watson from publishing any new reports, and lays this injunction upon him for a full ten years before he relents.
Did Holmes ever come to terms with the death of Moriarty? In The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle, I introduce a pet raven to Holmes's retirement--a raven named Moriarty.
My book supply is almost completely deleted now. 10 books are winging their way to the winners of my Goodreads giveaway in the far-flung corners of America and up in Canadi-i-o. I hope they enjoy the book and they let me know about it, one way or the other. I like hearing from readers. I'n a habitual reader myself.
As they say in The Godfather,
I don't know whether to try to crowdsource this or go straight to the big financial backers in Silicon Valley, but I've got a great new idea for an invention -- Inaudible Books™!
Inaudible Books™ are just like Audible Books, except that the volume of the narration is so low you can't hear it at all. This will be perfect for people who are intimidated by audible narrators, or people who can't get to sleep because of the noise. And it should attract high-quality celebrity narrators who always shied away before for fear of straining their vocal chords. Imagine the Outlander novels narrated by Queen Elizabeth, but so low you won't be irritated by that squeaky little voice. Or The Art of the Deal narrated by Teller, in the voice that made him famous.
Let me get this out of the way: I hate to criticize, so let me just say after one episode that Netflix's The Irregulars is not my cup of tea. It's not your cup of tea. It's not a cup of tea at all. More like a cup of treacle, if I had ever tasted treacle, which I haven't, and I do not intend to test my simile.
But among its many apostasies from the Canon, one struck me.
Girls in the Baker St. Irregulars.
And why not? Although Doyle only mentions boys, that doesn't actually preclude the possibility of girls in the group. He mainly refers to them as street arabs (a term which I suspect has fallen out of favor in our more enlightened times). And even if Holmes specifically required boys, who's to say that a young girl dressed as a boy wouldn't have escaped his notice? He wouldn't have strip-searched them. I think he left recruiting details up to Wiggins.
So why, pray tell, couldn't a motherless, nearly fatherless, ragamuffin girl of the streets been a member?
A girl named Doolittle.
Now, if this possibility had occurred to me when writing The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle, would I have incorporated it into the book? Very possibly. It would be hard to resist. How much or how little would it have changed the telling? I'd hate to speculate here, because even speculation would require innumerable spoilers. I'll let you rewrite in your minds, as you're reading or re-reading the novel. And let you mull over the road not taken.