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

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 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.


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

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.


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

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.

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

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.

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 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."

Saturday, March 20, 2021



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.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

For Writers: Rubik


Think of your story as a Rubik's Cube (though each story has a different method of solving, so you can't just memorize one), but you've got to keep twisting and turning and observing the results from every angle. There is one correct solution for each story, one which is satisfying, so don't be afraid to scrap your progress and start all over again.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Birth of a Novel

 From an article I wrote for Crime Thriller Hound

"So I got an idea. I would write a little detective story. (You can see that I still had Holmes on my mind.) That would give me a reason to lard it with prepositions—which I would leave blank. And I’d populate the story with English characters, probably hoping to make up for my American mutt complex and show those Brits. Characters that even an Italian would be familiar with. So I picked them out of the air. Sherlock Holmes. Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think it was about six pages long, and as I recall Higgins is murdered and Eliza revealed as the culprit, a denouement G.B. Shaw should have thought of. I acted it out for my students and it was a big hit, with them shouting out prepositions right and left."

Monday, February 01, 2021

Flat on My Back and Writing in My Head: On Writing My Book After a Stroke (and Believing I Was Sherlock Holmes)

A little bit about a bump along the road for this first book, and the genesis for my third.

"Nevertheless, I woke up, five weeks later, a little fuzzy in the brain. I had the strange impression that I was really Sherlock Holmes and that Sherlock Holmes was actually me, and there would be hell to pay when someone found out."

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Crime Reads: the Mystery Is Holmes

Ever wonder how people can read Holmes mysteries over and over, even though they know "whodunit"?  

Here's my piece in Crimereads:

Holmes is the black box of literature. Doyle’s genius is not in what he reveals, but what he conceals. The rue depth is not in the notes, but the silences.