Showing posts with label articles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label articles. Show all posts

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Beneath the ice

Monet-The Break-up of the Ice
      I want you to think of the book you're reading right now as a river, frozen in the night. You can read everything on the surface of the river. That means all the craft
which were yesterday busily plying the river, which have now come to a halt, frozen in place. It means fallen branches and other riverside detritus, partly submerged in the ice. Most important it means the general shape of the river, sinuous and taut at the same time, easily followed and anticipated, at least until the river bends out of sight.

     Perhaps you can spot adventurers on the ice, those familiar enough with its depth to risk ice-fishing or skating along, carving out their initials with the blades of their skates.. It's not for everyone, but watching them explore can help you understand the river better.     

     You can also see something peculiar to you, which is your own reflection, your surroundings, your sky, yourself. You are part of the river, a vital part. You bring your positioning, your angle, your history, without which the river is not complete.

     Here's what you rarely glimpse, though, unless you happen to be a writer, versed in a special way of seeing the river of the book. What we see is the the river beneath the ice, still alive, still flowing, still breathing, still teeming with all the aquatic life. We see words not chosen, passages scrubbed, streams converging and parting, rising and falling. We can't see them crystal-clear, of course, but we are always conscious of the book as a living, ever-changing, ever-busy thing, and we understand how mud or sand or rock in the river-bed fashions the entire river, how the entire-eco-system blends.

    For the writer, a book is never a finished thing, it's always wriggling in the hand. Is there another way to accomplish this attitude? I can't answer that question yea or nay. I'm not even sure it's useful to the reader, no matter how dedicated. But one thing I'd like you to keep in mind: the book is ALIVE.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

King Tut: Fact or Fiction?

       Historical fiction thrives in the space between fact and rumor. I'll give you an example from the next Sherlock Holmes novel I'n working on, The Strange Case of the Pharaoh's Heart. There were a number of deaths attributed in the years after Tutankhamun's tomb was opened which were attributed by believers (of whom Conan Doyle was a prominent and vocal member) to "the curse of King Tut."

Hugh Evelyn White
     One of the more violent deaths, in 1924, was that of Hugh Evelyn White, a scholar
and translator of ancient Greek, and a popular lecturer at the University of Leeds. He was also an Egyptologist, and among the first to visit the newly opened tomb in 1923. 

     His story is quite a gruesome one, and it can be found all over the internet: he wrote a suicide note in his own blood on the wall of his office, blaming the curse for his action, then hung himself above his desk. A terrible realization of the curse.

     Except it didn't happen that way. If you take the trouble to read the newspaper obituaries from the time, you find that he stepped out of his house, hailed a taxi, and asked to be taken to the house of a physician, Dr. Maxwell Telling. He would never arrive there.

     The driver heard the gun blast (how could he not?) and turned to see White falling forward. He sped to the nearest hospital, but White was pronounced dead an hour later.

     He had left a suicide note. Though not in blood, and not mentioning King Tut, it was certainly problematic. Here's how it read:

“I knew there was a curse on me, though I have leave to take those manuscripts to Cairo. The monks told me the curse would work all the same, Now it has done so.”

No one knew what papers he referred to, or who the monks were.

     But here's the rest of the story: White was about to appear at the inquest for another suicide, one Mary Helen Ninds, a music teacher, who was desperately in love with Mr. White, and had threatened in a letter to take her own life if he did not return her affections. He had written her back, threatening to go to the police if she threatened suicide again.

     Did he feel guilt over the girl's death? Had there been a love affair, or even any relationship at all between the two? Could she have been carrying his child? We can only speculate, and speculation becomes fertile field for a historical novelist. We can let our imaginations run away, stitching together fact with whole cloth.

     And where did the story of the bloody suicide note and the hanging surface from? Again we can speculate. First, one must realize that Lord Carnarvon, who paid for the expedition, had sold exclusive rights to coverage of the excavation to the London Times--which meant that every other paper in the world was boxed out of the biggest story in the world, and when journalists don't have a story they will sometimes... make up a story. The whole "curse of King Tut" story was catnip to them, and anything and anyone involved tended to get twisted, exaggerated, aggrandized.

     Now how prevalent this wild story might have been at the time is also impossible to say. When I say that you can find the story all over the internet, we all know that the internet loves nothing better than a good story and will spread it like Nutella on a spoon. Ubiquity on the net has nothing to do with authenticity.

     But it does have everything to do with fiction. Seeing the kind of wild rumors that were floating around at the time points the way for one's own wild rumors to plant in the story--as long as they are labeled as rumors, not as fact. We have to play fair with the reader.

     And the truth is, there are always wild rumors and wild surmises associated with any historical event. Misinformation is not a modern invention. And while we should do our best to separate fact from rumor, our characters are under no such edict. Let them mix it up.

     (Don't forget the monks and the papers.)


 



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Tuesday, March 15, 2022

King Tut and the Bugatti

 And then again, some facts in historical mystery are simply a matter of grinding it out. For instance, when you need a car to get your heroes from Luxor to Cairo as quickly as possible. The train simply won't do. This happens in The Strange Case of the Pharaoh's Heart.

First of all, you should realize that without the car, Tutankhamun might never have been discovered. Lord Carnarvon, the sponsor of the dig, was mad for cars early on. The faster the better.

And in 1903, he had the dubious distinction of being in the world's first car crash. A

Lord Carnrvon

bad crash, with a crushed skull and a broken jaw, and lacerated lungs, which left him prone to severe lung infections. Doctors recommended he spend his winters in a dry climate--say, Egypt? He fell in love with the place, fell in love with Egyptology, and finally decided to get into the tomb-digging business. He hired a fellow named Howard Carter, and the rest as they say, is history.

But back to my problem. Where to get a car? Our heroes came to Luxor aboard a dahabeah (another whole story). Well, it's true, I could make up any car owned by anybody. I wouldn't even have to name the kind of car. But historical fiction is made up of these thousand details which anchor our stories in reality, and create a bond of trust between writer and reader.

So I decided to make the car Lord Carnarvon's car, left garaged in a tomb (which is where they did keep them) when he went to Cairo and died. So what kind of car would Lord Carnarvon have driven?

This was actually easy to uncover, since Carnarvon was so well known for his love of cars (and horses and yachts). Of course, I could have gone with a Ford, since he had provided one for the dig, but I, wanted a fast car. Before the end of his life, Carnarvon was into Bugattis (although he had just purchased a Bentley, which he never got the chance to take home.)

Bugatti. That's just brimming with sexy. (Although to tell you the truth, I know zero about cars and couldn't tell a Bugatti from a VW Bug.) A Bugatti would do.

But now I needed a Bugatti made before 1923, when Carnarvon died,

And I needed a four-seater, which could carry five in a pinch.

And fast. Faster than a train, which I already knew made the trip from Luxor to Cairo in about ten hours.

Which is about how long it took me to find my Bugatti. (And I get down on my knees and praise the internet every day.) I looked at a lot of Bugattis. Most were two-seaters. Some, for racing purposes held only one. I found a few that might be four-seaters, but I couldn't be sure from the pictures. And while the specs told me what horsepower they were and how many cylinders they had, not a single one mentioned the number of seats.

So as the sun was rising, I found it. The 1923 Bugatti Type 23 Torpedo. Lots of pictures, including one of the back seat.


Sold. That is, if I could just find out--yes! Top speed 62mph. And since my driver is a professional racer, I'm going to posit that she can make it to Cairo in under seven hours.

Now I just have to decide whether it gets them all the way there or breaks down in the desert. Which would mean I'd have to get under the hood of the thing. 
Um... I'm thinking they make it.

Friday, March 11, 2022

King Tut: Fact or Fiction?

 

       Historical fiction thrives in the space between fact and rumor. I'll give you an example from the next Sherlock Holmes novel I'n working on, The Strange Case of the Pharaoh's Heart. There were a number of deaths attributed in the years after Tutankhamun's tomb was opened which were attributed by believers (of whom Conan Doyle was a prominent and vocal member) to "the curse of King Tut."

Hugh Evelyn White
     One of the more violent deaths, in 1924, was that of Hugh Evelyn White, a scholar
and translator of ancient Greek, and a popular lecturer at the University of Leeds. He was also an Egyptologist, and among the first to visit the newly opened tomb in 1923. 

     His story is quite a gruesome one, and it can be found all over the internet: he wrote a suicide note in his own blood on the wall of his office, blaming the curse for his action, then hanged himself. A terrible realization of the curse.

     Except it didn't happen that way. If you take the trouble to read the newspaper obituaries from the time, you find that he stepped out of his house, hailed a taxi, and asked to be taken to the house of a physician, Dr. Maxwell Telling. He would never arrive there.

     The driver heard the gun blast (how could he not?) and turned to see White falling forward. He sped to the nearest hospital, but White was pronounced dead an hour later.

     He had left a suicide note. Though not in blood, and not mentioning King Tut, it was certainly problematic. Here's how it read:

“I knew there was a curse on me, though I have leave to take those manuscripts to Cairo. The monks told me the curse would work all the same, Now it has done so.”

No one knew what papers he referred to, or who the monks were.

     But here's the rest of the story: White was about to appear at the inquest for another suicide, one Mary Helen Ninds, a music teacher, who was desperately in love with Mr. White, and had threatened in a letter to take her own life if he did not return her affections. He had written her back, threatening to go to the police if she threatened suicide again.

     Did he feel guilt over the girl's death? Had there been a love affair, or even any relationship at all between the two? Could she have been carrying his child? We can only speculate, and speculation becomes fertile field for a historical novelist. We can let our imaginations run away, stitching together fact with whole cloth.

     And where did the story of the bloody suicide note and the hanging surface from? Again we can speculate. First, one must realize that Lord Carnarvon, who paid for the expedition, had sold exclusive rights to coverage of the excavation to the London Times--which meant that every other paper in the world was boxed out of the biggest story in the world, and when journalists don't have a story they will sometimes... make up a story. The whole "curse of King Tut" story was catnip to them, and anything and anyone involved tended to get twisted, exaggerated, aggrandized.

     Now how prevalent this wild story might have been at the time is also impossible to say. When I say that you can find the story all over the internet, we all know that the internet loves nothing better than a good story and will spread it like Nutella on a spoon. Ubiquity on the net has nothing to do with authenticity.

     But it does have everything to do with fiction. Seeing the kind of wild rumors that were floating around at the time points the way for one's own wild rumors to plant in the story--as long as they are labeled as rumors, not as fact. We have to play fair with the reader.

     And the truth is, there are always wild rumors and wild surmises associated with any historical event. Misinformation is not a modern invention. And while we should do our best to separate fact from rumor, our characters are under no such edict. Let them mix it up.

     (Don't forget the monks and the papers.)



Monday, February 14, 2022

I'm not insane!

Have saber, will travel.
I mean, I had this figured out long before any German scientists.

"The story of van Gogh's madness was part of a coverup, the authors say, by none other than van Gogh's friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin."

For the full article, 
check out NPR 


Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Benedict Cumberbatch

I like Benedict Cumberbatch. I like Sherlock. How could I not? But the truth is, I have no news about either subject. I have no special insights into either phenomenon. I have no whimsical tales to relate. I'm simply pandering, hoping that a picture of this dashing young man will garner my blog more followers. Hey, it's worth a try.

Thanks, Benny.

 

Monday, February 07, 2022

Lermolieff has his say

 From an interview with "Ivan Lermolieff, Holmes's confederate in The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter:

What is something you want people to know about you?

My name is not Ivan Lermolieff. That’s only a nom de guerre hung on me by Vernet—or can I say Sherlock Holmes? My real name is—oh, perhaps I should stick with Lermolieff. Which is actually an anagram of my mentor’s name. More or less.


For the complete piece, visit Karen's Killer Book Bench--

Thursday, February 03, 2022

A Master of Disguise

 My thoughts on why Sherlock Holmes lives a life of disguises:

"But where does his fascination with disguise come from? His need to erase himself?

Does Sherlock Holmes hate Sherlock Holmes, and if so, why?
For the answer, or at least a conjecture, I think we have to delve into Holmes’s past, and we have little enough to go on there. We know that his father was a country squire, settled in his ways, yet he chose a French woman, from a family of prominent painters, as his wife. It’s an odd match."


For the full article, visit Crime Thriller Hound

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Holmes's artistic ancestry/Crimereads

 Now out, my  speculations on the Vernets in Crimereads.


"Nevertheless, at the time the Vernets were a wildly popular tribe of painters, three
generations, connected by marriage to a whole host of other successful French artists. And since there were three generations, Claude, Carl, and Horace, there is some ambiguity as to exactly which Vernet is meant. Since Horace and Carl both feature (in paintings) the aquiline nose and piercing eyes that Holmes also boasts, that doesn’t clear up the question."
Read the whole piece at Crime Reads:

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

My 5 favorite art heist films

 You know my new novel is about the murder of Vincent van Gogh. But it's also about a daring art forgery ring, because I love art heist tales.

"The days when you could walk out of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa under your arm are over. There are all sorts of safeguards now—electric eyes, pressure sensors, lasers, which in the movies at least, must usually be overcome by dangling the thieves from the ceiling. I love art-heist stories."

For 5 of my favorite heist films, visit:

Monday, January 17, 2022

What Is Pastiche in Literature, and Why Is Sherlock Holmes Perfect for It?

 "That’s right. Pastiche is a French word, as you may have guessed, but it’s borrowed from the Italian, which literally means macaroni pie. Here are some synonyms, which might give you a clue what we’re up against: clutter, collage, farrago, gallimaufry, litter, mishmash, omnium-gatherum, patch-work, ragbag, and stew."

To read thw rest of the article, go to Writer's Digest:

What is Pastiche?

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Singapore Charlie

 If you've been following along, you know that I compulsively google my book to see how it's faring in the wide world. And one thing I've noticed is that it's available in a goodly number of libraries, probably due to my starred review in Booklist, which is apparently the Bible for librarians ordering books.

So I'm browsing through Google the other night, and I come across an entry that couples my book's title with the National Library Board. Well, that sounds impressive, so I click on that one--and sure enough, it is the National Library Board--of Singapore. Which has one copy--an ebook at that, for the enjoyment of the people of Singapore.

Now I will admit to you right up front that when I was writing the novel, my imaginary reader was not Singaporean. Which is, I suppose, a failure of the imagination. For there among the dusty e-shelves of Singapore sits my book, waiting for Singapore to discover it.

Let's assume, for the purposes of this fantasy, that Singapore has discovered it. Maybe not all of Singapore. Maybe, really, just one guy. He first came upon Sherlock Holmes when he was thirteen. He read the Canon in Chinese, and fell in love. So much so that he was determined to read it in the original English, so he learned the language backwords and forwords. His name is Charlie.

No, I don't know whether there's a single soul in Singapore (say that five times fast) named Charlie. I could do a little research and come up with a more appropriate name. Never do any research for your fantasies. It can only make them smaller.

So Charlie reads every Sherlock Holmes pastiche he can get his hands on, which is not many, because he doesn't make a load of dough and mainly has to depend on the National Library Board, which he has a fantasy of joining some day. Right now it consists of a dozen grim-faced old greybeards whose idea of good detective fiction is John Grisham.

Some day he'd actually like to write his own Sherlock Holmes pastiche. He figures Holmes made his way to Singapore during his three year hiatus. Maybe he worked the docks and secretly fought piracy for a year. At night Charlie can hear the creaking of

the wooden ships and the clash of swords. Maybe he had a sidekick he called Charlie, but whose name was really something far more appropriate.

But Charlie really latches on to my book. He's read it three times. He's told all his friends about it till they're bored to tears. He's even started a fan club, which has five members besides himself, four of whom don't know they're members, and one shy girl that he calls Irene. She really likes the book too--at least that's what she says.

Charlie would like to come to America, to meet me some day and shake my hand, maybe get an autograph. Maybe I would introduce him to my publisher (whom I've never even met) so he could show him his book, Sherlock Holmes and the Pirates. He's waiting to finish his book before he gets in touch with me. It could take a while, since he hasn't put down a word yet.

But he's got it all in his head. He's just letting it come to a boil. Keep an eye out for Charlie Singapore in your bookstores. Thank you, National Library Board.



Monday, April 12, 2021

The Power of Voice

 Here's a link to an excellent column by Patricia MacEnulty of the Historical Novel Society called The Power of Voice in Historical 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.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

In the bowels of the night...


 I don't know about other first-time novelists, but I will confess here that in the lonely hours of the night--every night--I scour google for mention of my book, and sometimes I come up with some truly odd ducks. I decided to share one of those I came across last night. It's by one of those many sites that offers your book as a free download. (My publisher assures me that such sites afford you nothing for free except the opportunity to have your information stolen, possibly your credit card, in exchange for a nasty virus. I'm not sure that's true of ALL such sites, but it's a comforting thought.)

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!

Friday, April 09, 2021

For Writers: the Theory of Myth

 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

Frye holds (as does Campbell) that myth is the basis for all literature, and all literature can be categorized as one of four archetypal genres or mythos: comedy, romance, tragedy and satire. Further, he associates each genre with one of the  four seasons, sharing the cyclical nature of seasons. Moreover, each genre can be merged with its adjacent: thus comedy gives rise to comic romance, romantic comedy, comic satire, satiric comedy, and so on. 

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.



Wednesday, April 07, 2021

For Writers: B. Kliban

 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?

 But think about it for just a second. Don't we constantly overthink, making mountains out of molehills, second-guessing ourselves, making the simple difficult?

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.

To hear this song, click here.




Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Moriarty's Ghost

 "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." 


In all the annals of Sherlock Holmes, there is only one recorded instance of him personally taking another life...Moriarty, mano a mano, at the Reichenbach Falls. This is well l known.

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.


But you'll have to wait for my third book (in the works now) The Strange Case of the Pharaoh's Heart, to see whether Holmes at last comes to terms with the blood of Moriarty on his hands. 

Until then.


Inaudible Books

  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.



I know, right now you're begging me to take your money. And I'm willing to, because I'm your friend. Let's just wait till I hear back from the Shark Tank people first, eh? Inaudible Books™-- listen for them everywhere! Closely.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Missed Opportunity?

 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

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.

Eliza 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.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

John Watson, Groupie

 



I fear I’ve done John H. Watson a grave disservice.
 This blog should after all really be named The Strange Cases of John. I’m leaning shamelessly on the incandescent fame of Sherlock Holmes, even as John did. After all, Holmes may be the hero of the stories, but John is certainly the protagonist. Doyle
made that decision when he changed his name from off-putting Ormond Sacker to plain John Watson. Holmes is more of a mentor in the stories. It is through John’s eyes we experience the action. And it is John who is the founder of Holmes fandom, the original groupie. We are all John Watson. 

   That’s right, I said groupie. 

What better way to express the Holmes/Watson relationship? A completely unbalanced relationship, in which Holmes is always the star, and Watson garners what recognition he can by association, assiduously chronicling his successes (and even at times his failures, for the purpose of displaying his intimacy with his hero) And what better candidate for groupiedom? A damaged child who has developed a penchant for danger, seeking out another damaged soul who shines far brighter than himself? It’s classic groupie psychology. If Watson were alive today, he’d wear a      Guns’n’Roses t-shirt. 

Wait, damaged child? 
   Of course. Why do you think Watson never mentions his family, and Holmes’s only sparingly? (And Holmes returned the favor, in return for Watson's concealing his past.)

 The one thing we know about Watson’s family, thanks to Holmes’s rather perfunctory analysis of his pocket watch, is that he had a brother, a drunkard who frittered away his fortune (what was left after his father's frittering) and died young. The watch was inherited from their father. 

There are a few inferences one can make from this, which Holmes refrained from saying out loud: John's brother, Harry was an older brother, who inherited not only the watch but most of his father’s wealth. He was the favorite son, who also inherited Henry's genes for incipient alcoholism. Both resented John’s discreet words of caution when they drank. His father beat John regularly when he was in his cups. The only reason he did not beat his wife as well was that she had abandoned him when John was young and gone back to her people in England--after he thrashed her once within an inch of her life.

 She had pleaded to let her take the boys, at least John, knowing he would never let Harry go, but he was implacable, refusing even to let them see her letters, which finally dwindled away as the years passed. John didn't know even where she was for years, until he gained fame through his connection with Holmes. That was when she reached out to him--for money. She was always a practical woman, and assumed John had inherited something--a notion which John did not try to disabuse her of.  It was enough for him to know that she read his chronicles in The Strand. It was in reaction to this treatment that John always treated women so honorably, so fastidiously. 

 John had a wicked temper of his own, which led him to Afghanistan--away from his father. But he left it on the battlefield there. By the time he returned to England, the drink had killed Henry and Harry both. Depression replaced his anger, along with a certain buttoned-down British attitude, which might have led him to join Holmes in his addiction--but he had already seen the destruction caused by addiction, and quietly set about to cure Holmes--succeeding eventually (Whether he enlisted the help of Dr. Freud, only Nicholas Meyer can say). 

He was addicted to excitement though, and mortal risks, the same as Holmes (a condition well captured by the writers of Sherlock). He would dare any danger, any humiliation, to be next to his star. And thanks to John, we’ve been trying to get next to Sherlock Holmes ever since.