Friday, April 09, 2021

12 Masterworks


Remember these twelve paintings, all by French masters, all from a certain period. Most were hanging in the Louvre in 1890. Remember what happened to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in 1911?



 

--The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter



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.



Thursday, April 08, 2021

Reader's Club

Some kind words from:

The Cozy Tea Cottage
A place to enjoy a cuppa, a little nibble, read a good book, or solve a puzzle.                                                                        
             
                                                                                           cozy_tea_cottage 

What are you reading? I've just finished this thoroughly enjoyable mystery from Timothy Miller and Seventh Street Books. It's a wonderful collaboration of characters from two classics. 

 What if Eliza Doolittle was never actually transformed into a proper lady? What if, instead, she was replaced? And if so, what happened to the real Eliza Doolittle? 

 Well, that's what Colonel Pickering has asked Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to find out. And along the way, the story is joined by some of my other favorite historical characters (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, what have you been up to?) 

 If you enjoy historical fiction, a good mystery, and spending time with some interesting characters, you'll love The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle!

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.




To Librarians, with Love

It's National Library Week. This seems like an apt tribute.


 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Agatha Christie

 

“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

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.


As they say in The Godfather

 





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,





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.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Also...Indie Bookstore Day!

indie bookstore day
April 24th.
Find out how you can support your local indie and score a free audiobook! Am I good to you or what?