Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag

Day 11 of isolation. Actually, I’m counting this as “Day 11” only because I had to leave the house briefly on the 20th. Church has been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, initially until Palm Sunday, now indefinitely, so I haven’t been out in the two Sundays since. Otherwise, I’ve been living my life very much as normal.

It’s nowhere near as bad as the Spanish Flu of a hundred years back, but that’s largely because we don’t have half our able-bodied young men cramped into a few filthy trenches in Flanders this time round, and the media isn’t suppressing reports of the outbreak for the sake of morale in the face of war. Also, we’re taking things a lot more seriously now. If this never gets to be half as bad as the Spanish Flu, it will be because we “over-reacted”.

So let’s talk about something completely different: “Mary Poppins Returns”.

It follows the beats of the original Julie Andrews movie pretty closely, and I’m not the first to have noticed this. One might even say that it’s the same movie repackaged for a new generation. I don’t actually think this is a bad thing. From a narrative point of view, the implication here is that history repeats itself, despite the differing circumstances; or, as Bert sang in the original opening. “What’s to happen all happened before.” Michael’s problem seems to be the very reverse of his father’s but the end result seems much the same: a clutch of troubled children needing Mary Poppins to help set things back in balance again.

A few small notes to get out of the way:

Emily Blunt’s version of Mary Poppins is, supposedly, closer to the prickly, vain Mary Poppins of the books, and in one sense, she is. But I can’t shake the sense that she’s enjoying herself more than book-Poppins would consider seemly. She smiles too much. Julie Andrews better captured that aloofness with respect to her fantastic adventures with the children, even if Emily Blunt got the rest down pat.

Lin-Manuel Miranda brings a certain edge to Jack that I don’t think Dick Van Dyke’s Bert had. Watching Miranda stalk (yes, “stalk”) down the tunnel in “Trip A Little Light Fantastic”, it seemed to me that Jack could easily turn threatening if need be, whereas Bert would always be the jester, never the warrior. I mean, I’d be more willing to trust my children with Bert, but I’d prefer Jack on my side in a fight.

And now, the thing that strikes me about Mary Poppins and what the two movies seem to be presenting to us, whether Disney meant it that way or not:

Mary Poppins is, of course, a supernatural being — but there appears to be a class of people outside of the Banks family circle that knows and remembers her for who/what she really is. Bert is the prime example of this; Jack, as Bert’s successor, must know as well. Both Bert and Jack have access to others of that class: the chimney sweeps in Bert’s case, and the lamp lighters in Jack’s. These are people at the very bottom of society who keep things going for society as a whole, including the middle class Banks family. By their association with Mary Poppins, the sweeps and the lighters attain a certain magical quality. They are no longer simply men with earthly jobs, but members of the fae.

In the class-based society of the time, a nursery governess such as Mary Poppins (were she a normal human being) occupied an indeterminate position in the hierarchy of a house. She was not quite “upstairs” with the family, and yet not quite “downstairs” with the servants. The movies take this idea and expands upon it: Mary Poppins becomes a conduit by which the Banks children, heirs to the “upstairs” world, are introduced to the dregs of the “downstairs” world — the chimney sweeps and lamp lighters. Take into account the implied mythic quality of these so-called dregs and the magical nature of Mary Poppins herself, and the children’s adventures with the sweeps and leeries might be described as adventures into fairyland, with Mary Poppins as their guide.

It is at once classist and socialist. Classist, because it portrays the sweeps and leeries as useful little elves, monolithic in their unity, mysterious, and possessing knowledge that normal people cannot have. Yet socialist, because, in being introduced to their world, the children are taught that their own middle-class reality is not the entirety of the universe. The wheels upstairs do not turn of their own accord, but because someone’s hand is working the cranks downstairs. If Jane Banks now occupies herself with blue-collar activism, it is because Mary Poppins has introduced her to Bert’s chimney-sweep world.

I am thus inclined to think that the classist narrative is not a presentation of how the world should be, but of how the world of the movies’ two respective eras actually operate. And I think it would be a mistake to think of this classist narrative as a relic of a bygone era: it is in the nature of people, I think, to prioritise others and to decide that one profession is deserving of more or less respect than another. It is in the nature of certain professions that they should seem invisible to others. And as long as there exists a class of people who quietly get things done in the background so the we, as Rudyard Kipling put it, “may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware” — people who are essential to our way of life without getting any of our thanks or respect — there will be a place for Mary Poppins as a conduit to their world.

As COVID-19 pushes us into lockdown and we reassess the essentials of our way of life, I imagine Mary Poppins popping into 17 Cherry Tree Lane to take a new generation of the Banks children into the mystical world of the grocery store stocktaker, the Place Behind The Shelves. Classist, yes, in portraying them as “other” — yet humbling as it opens our eyes to the fact they exist at all.

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Major Update

It’s been a while, and high time I made an update. Of late, I’ve kept thinking, “Oh. I should write something about this thing that happened — but I can’t do that until I’ve made a proper update of all these other things.” So here we go.

First things first, “Cat’s Paw” is now “in production” at Inkshares, along with the other books to make it through the Mystery & Thriller contest. It’s been written and rewritten, and the third draft is currently sitting in the queue. It looks like it’ll come out the end of the year or early next year, which I have to confess is quite a bit later than I was hoping. Still, it’s coming along. One hopes there won’t be too many further revisions after this.

One thing that must be done about it, though: both my publisher and I agree that it needs a better title, one that doesn’t summon up all manner of cat pictures when Googled. Also, the main reason I called it “Cat’s Paw” in the first place seems to have disappeared with the last revision.

It looks as though the TV option for “A Gentleman’s Murder” is still churning away in the background. I don’t pretend to know everything that’s happening there, and I’m still not quite sure I believe it’s real, but I’ve just spent the last month or so banging away at a manuscript for the pilot episode. My publisher is very keen on having me deeply embedded into the writing for it, though I’ll admit it frightens me a little. Books and IF are so much safer.

Part of the contract for the TV option apparently means that the three short IF works I made back when I was crowdfunding “A Gentleman’s Murder” have been called into question. The games have to be pretty completely divorced from the books, which entails more work than I felt they were worth. As such, I’ve simply taken them down.

I’m also no longer living in Montreal. The past year or so has been marked with a number of deaths in the family, and with the passing of my Aunt Mary, it seemed best to move back in with Mom so as to keep her company. That was last June. I’m getting to know the people at church, but, as I don’t generally have much cause to get out of the house, that’s really about it. Thank goodness for the internet, eh?

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Cat’s Paw

Once more, into the breach!

It’s time for a second novel, and I am once again crowdfunding on Inkshares. Well, “crowdvoting”, to use the term JF Dubeau prefers. There’s some philosophy behind the Inkshares system, but the bottom line is that, generally speaking, a book needs to gather pre-orders before it can be published. So here’s “Cat’s Paw” … not a sequel to “A Gentleman’s Murder”, as I was expecting, but a second book nonetheless.

“Cat’s Paw” was originally conceived as an idea for a horror story, albeit one with a whodunnit plot because I’m the local whodunnit guy. A lot of horror tends to rely on supernatural elements, though, and I knew that was something I wanted to avoid because one of the core elements of the sort of whodunnits I like is that the rules of the world are known to the reader from the get-go. Such is not the case with supernatural elements. And while it’s true that there’s a respectable body of horror fiction that does not rely on supernatural elements to pull off — Stephen King’s “Misery” comes to mind, as does Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” — I am neither Stephen King nor Edgar Allen Poe.

So “Cat’s Paw” is a mystery, albeit one with roots in a very dark place.

There’s some overlap between the genres, I think. Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is often cited as the first modern detective story, but I have no doubt that Poe thought of it as another entry in his line of horror stories. And Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” might be the original slasher flick — that staple of horror films.

Inkshares kicked off a mystery-themed contest a week ago, and a friend advised me to enter “Cat’s Paw” into it. So I did. I mean, it was too good a chance to pass up.

The real challenge now, though, is to get people involved a second time. I can’t help but feel that it takes a lot of cheek to ask for people’s help on the same sort of thing again, but some people have been wonderfully generous. And of course, the timing overlaps IFcomp almost perfectly. The next couple of months are going to be interesting, to say the least.

Oh yes, before I forget … here is the link to the “Cat’s Paw” project page: https://www.inkshares.com/books/cat-s-paw . Go, check it out, tell your friends. Your support is what keeps me writing.

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Audible released the audiobook version of A Gentleman’s Murder the day the book itself was released, taking me a bit by surprise. I didn’t realise they were already done with putting it together. The narrator is Raphael Corkhill, who has a really attractive baritone voice that I could listen to for hours. We’d spoken a few weeks earlier about a couple of pronunciation questions (yes, I do want “Magdalen” to be pronounced “Maudlin”) and he seems like a really smart fellow, too.

The ratings so far are largely positive, but rather annoyingly, the only specifically audiobook review right now is a bit on the negative side. I hope it will be balanced out very soon by other reviews. I can only assume that people were too bowled over by Corkhill’s performance to properly express their enthusiasm.

As part of the audiobook deal, I now have a handful of promotional codes for free audiobook downloads of my book. I’d really like to put them to good use, and I thought it would be a great thing to give them all to libraries for the blind. The problem is … I have no idea where these libraries are, how to find them, or which would get the best use out of a promo code. I’ve been told that libraries will have their own system for lending out purely digital content, and that’s the best assurance I have that a library might even be able to use the promo code at all.

It’s been four weeks, and I’m still hesitating on which libraries or schools for the blind I should try to contact. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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CrimeFest 2018

I met Martin Edwards at BoucherCon last year, in Toronto, and he convinced me that attending CrimeFest in Bristol this year was The Thing To Do. Mr. Edwards is considered something of an authority on the Golden Age of detective fiction, the sort of thing I’m trying to emulate, so I guess I’m more inclined to listen when he tells me what would be good for my career. It didn’t hurt that my visit to the UK earlier last year only inflamed my latent anglophilia. Cornish pasties ahoy!

Well, I can tell you that CrimeFest is somewhat more intimate than BoucherCon. There’s really a sense of the crime fiction community being like a village where everyone knows everyone else. I was a little worried because I was going into this with no one to depend on for moral support. I knew Mr. Edwards and Cathy Ace to talk to, thanks to BoucherCon, but we’d only just met and hadn’t yet moved any bodies together, as it were. (I was very lucky at BoucherCon to run into Jim Napier on the first day; I knew Mr. Napier from an earlier Crime Writers of Canada event for the Arthur Ellis Awards shortlist, and he was kind enough to take me under his wing.) I suspect I may have come across as something of a creepy spook hanging about the periphery of everybody’s conversations–always wanting to talk but never having anything to say. Maybe once I’ve got my own address in this crime fiction village, and the self assurance that comes with it….

People do seem to agree that the crime fiction community is Really Nice and Friendly. I am pleased to say that, personal creep factor notwithstanding, I have Met People and Made Contacts and all that community integration goodness.

Also, on the second day, I got a twitter notification for a tweet about ME: a picture of my business card, and “Doesn’t hurt that the author (@misericordius) is strolling around #crimefest18 looking terribly dapper in a three-piece suit.”

My twitter handle isn’t on my card, but I guess it figures that crime fiction enthusiasts like to do a bit of detective work on the side. More important is the realisation, that I can never appear at these things dressed in anything else, ever again.

Well, author branding is a thing, and I guess I’ve found my brand. I wonder if I can claim the cost of a new waistcoat in my taxes.

So, what else have I garnered from CrimeFest? I have a stack of books–anyone attending CrimeFest or BoucherCon would be wise to travel light–and I owe Mik Brown a beer. I’ve learnt that apparently I was totally entitled to being on a panel, despite my book not being out quite yet–important thing was that it be in production with an officially scheduled release. Next year, perhaps.

I think I’d like to end with a mention of “Guess Who?” by Chris McGeorge, coming out this September. It strikes me as being a distilled version of exactly the sort of puzzlebox-whodunnit I like, a suspicion bolstered by the fact the guy has a hamster named Agatha Christie.

EDIT: It turns out that “Guess Who?” actually came out on 03 May, and the September thing is (I guess) a second edition. It seems Amazon defaults to the September edition, hence my confusion.

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In glorious spring

As I write this, I am looking at the third or fourth solid day of glorious spring weather: blue skies and cool breezes, and bright sunlight streaming over my terrace. Such a day makes it almost a sin to remain indoors, and it’s just warm enough–more May than April–that I can afford to leave my spring outerwear at home.

One week ago, it was unseasonably cold, practically winter still. I had to put on my winter coat to go out.

Winter was spent deep in intensive edits and rewrites. The final document was “poured” last week, and now it’s being shipped around to various influential people and places for blurbs and reviews. In other words, it is out of my hands, and the weather is almost a reflection of my sudden, new-found freedom.

I’ve attended to the housekeeping, sweeping out three months’ worth of accumulated dust; and I’ve actually cleared out the terrace, which I normally never get around to doing. I might even get around to planting stuff in the pots of dirt I have out there.

But what next? What lies ahead, and where do we go from here?

I think the publication date of 31 July 2018 is pretty certain, now that the vagaries of writing and editing are done. I have a book signing set up at the downtown Indigo for 04 August, and I should arrange more stuff around that time. Some things will be managed on Inkshares’s side, but I still have to uphold my end.

CrimeFest in Bristol is next month. I’m looking forward to Cornish pasties and Bovril.

BoucherCon is in Florida in September. I need to make arrangements.

New business cards will have to be ordered, with the book’s new title, “A Gentleman’s Murder”, and more details about myself. I noticed as I was sorting through all the cards I picked up at the last BoucherCon that I was more inclined to keep the ones with contact information on them; the ones that were clearly only about a book went straight into the trash.

I need to start thinking about a sequel. Ideally, I want a book out every year or so, and I think Inkshares agrees. It’s…very strange and offputting to be starting from scratch now, though. I’ve worked so closely with the world and characters of “A Gentleman’s Murder” that anything else feels unsettlingly unfamiliar, as though I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s what anymore.

In other news, there’s just two weeks left to Spring Thing 2018. I really ought to do some reviews.

And in the meantime, there is light and there is life, and I would be a fool to waste it.

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Story structure: The Merchant of Venice

Sudden epiphany: “The Merchant of Venice” is NOT about Antonio and Shylock and the “pound of flesh” debt, but about the romance between Bassanio and Portia. THAT is the main story; the thing with Antonio and Shylock is, in fact, only a subplot to the main story.

I’m sure someone else somewhere must have come to the same conclusion. If so, I haven’t seen or heard it.

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The Hero Unmasked

I’ve been away for quite a while, and there’s a reason. For the first half of the year, I’ve been buried way-deep into the writing of “The Hero Unmasked!”, a CYOA for Choice Of Games. Well, the game was released on Thursday, and since then I’ve been grinning like an idiot.

You should go check it out. This is the link to the CoG catalogue.

So far, the reviews on Google Play have been overwhelmingly positive. There are a few justified criticisms over on the CoG forum, but I expected that. There’s a bunch of stuff I think I’d have done differently were I to do this again. But a discussion of that, I think, should be saved for a post-mortem some time after the dust has settled.

Right now, I’m too busy grinning like an idiot.

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Your Very First Book

Watching the projects come and go on Inkshares, I’ve noticed a number of projects being pushed as “Book One of a series”. Now, it’s only my opinion, but this seems like a very bad idea. Let me explain why.

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So what happens now?

I submitted my manuscript on the 9th, so now it’s just a matter of waiting for an editor to be assigned to me. This could take a while; I know it was four or five months before “Too Many Controllers” got any stirrings of activity–bad news on that front, but more on that later. Let’s focus on the good news of “Murder at the Veterans’ Club” and the Peterkin franchise.

A sequel is in order, of course. But with the publishing timeline being somewhat longer than I expected, and with the additional time required to properly fund a campaign … plus the sheer chutzpah it would require for me to begin asking for orders on a second book before the first book is even in anyone’s hands…. If I plan on getting the Full Publication deal on something, I think I should probably not start the funding campaign until after the launch of MatVC, which means it could be two years or more in between books. That seems … likely to result in an overall loss of interest.

So, I’m toying with a couple of ideas.

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