Monday, March 09, 2009

Catching Up

I've had a couple of people—who aren't even related to me—ask recently if I was going to be posting something to my blog soon, which is gratifying, even as it made me realise that I really didn't know what to write about, specifically ('Calls herself a writer,' I hear you grumble). The truth is that while I did manage to write a daily diary entry every day for more years than I care to remember, most of what goes into a diary isn't (be honest) what the world at large wants to read about ('Got up; v. cold this morning. Bertie brought me two cat toys and a napkin during the night. Cute. Five minutes scraping the ice off the van; why can't someone invent an ice scraper that actually works? Four more story submissions by e-mail today, one from someone who ignored the guidelines about sending an attachment, and pasted it into the e-mail. How does someone expect to be taken seriously as a writer when he can't follow a simple instruction? Coffee grinder seems to have packed it in; back to the old one. Thank goodness I didn't throw it away.' etc., etc.).

On the writing front, I've finished proofing my collection Northwest Passages, which is on target to be published this October by Prime Books. It was a rather odd experience, to sit down and read ten of my stories back to back; I noticed certain preoccupations and themes emerging in a way that they don't when you consider a story in isolation. However, I'm pleased with the diversity of the tales, and think that they hang together as a whole, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the two new stories—'Out and Back' and 'After'—stand up well with the others. 'Out and Back' was inspired by a website that was brought to my attention by my cousin Sean Lavery, who sends me links to weird and wonderful websites. One was to an abandoned amusement park—Chippewa Lake Park—in Ohio, and the pictures on the site immediately sparked my imagination. The park ran for a century, between 1878 and 1978; it was abandoned that year, and the midway rides were left in situ to rot away. Some time ago on this blog I wrote about the Pacific National Exhibition ('All the Fun of the Fair') and my annual trip there, as a child, with my father and brother. I loved the PNE, and to see a fun fair left the way Chippewa Park was left tore at my heart, and I knew I had to write about it somehow. Click here to see the pictures that inspired the story (scroll down for the pictures, and click on them to enlarge). Sadly, I saw on another site that some of the buildings—notably the Coaster station and the Bumper Cars building—have deteriorated even further, and the Bumper Cars building has now collapsed completely.

The other new story in the collection, 'After', is inspired by the Kent murder case of 1860, which shocked and fascinated Victorian England in equal measures: shocked because of the age of the victim and the ferocity of the crime (Francis Saville Kent, not quite four, was found dead with his throat cut, so viciously that the head was nearly severed from the body), and fascinated because the murder remained unsolved for five years, during which time the details of Kent household—which would be called dysfunctional today—were laid bare for all to see. I was familiar with the main facts of the Kent case because of the influence it had on Victorian detective fiction (Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon all drew on details of the case in their fiction), but last summer read Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, a book-length study of the case (which subsequently won the prestigious Samuel Johnson Award for non-fiction). Summerscale quotes extensively from a number of contemporary documents, and two statements attributed to Francis's half-sister Constance, sixteen at the time of the murder, intrigued me, as did the character of Constance herself. It was, in many ways, a very enjoyable story to write, told as it is in very Victorian language, yet owing a tremendous debt to James Hogg's wonderful The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, a favourite novel of mine. I wrote it during two very hot weeks in July of 2008, and in the course of researching what the church service would have been the Sunday before the murder—these things are very carefully laid out in The Book of Common Prayer—I came across a fact which, to my mind, has tremendous bearing on the events of a week later, but which has not, so far as I know, been commented on before. It was a hot Saturday morning when I stumbled on this discovery, and I confess I shivered when the full implications of it sank in. If you want to know more, you shall have to read the story. . . .

I have a few irons in the fire, story-wise; the only other news to report is that my story 'Endless Night', which first appeared in Exotic Gothic 2 (and which will be in Northwest Passages), has been chosen for inclusion in By Blood We Live, a reprint anthology of vampire stories being published by Night Shade Books in August 2009. I sent the story off for consideration last July, and it was a very pleasant surprise to get the good news from John Joseph Adams yesterday.

I recently wrote an introduction to The Light of the World and Other Stories by Peter Bell, to be published later this year by Ex Occidente Press. We've been very pleased to publish several of Peter's fine tales over the years, and I was honoured when he asked me to write the introduction for his first collection. Anyone who enjoys suspenseful, elegant, and assured tales of the supernatural in which the tension builds gradually but inexorably will want to get a copy of Peter's book.

Last but not least, Christopher and I have finished our introduction to a new Barnes & Noble reprint of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Tag team writing is an interesting sport; not for everyone, I suspect, but we've come up with a system that works for us, and it was enjoyable to be immersed once more in that world where it is always 1895, and the game is perpetually afoot. Would that our own world were so captivating.


Todd T said...

Barbara, I am eager to read both of the new stories you describe.

I can almost relate to that moment of epiphany in research, from other contexts than research for fiction. That moment when one's jaw drops and an actual gasp emerges, when the most interesting possible circumstance, one never imagined beforehand, turns out to be true. I can imagine that, when one is planning a story, the feeling is like the final lock tumbler falling into place.

Thanks for the new blog entry. We are fortunate that, with all that's going on, you are willing to stop and visit with us now and again.

Barbara Roden said...

Hi Todd,

Yes, it was almost an epiphany; I looked in THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER to see what the lesson and readings would have been for the Sunday before the murder, and found that it was the feast day of St. John the Baptist, and that one of the readings would have been from Judges 13: 'For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head.' Sitting in the srudy on a hot summer day, realising Constance Kent would have heard these words less than a week before she slit her half-brother's throat, make me feel cold. Christopher and Tim had gone shopping, and I was alone in the house, and confess to feeling very glad when I heard the van pull up and the front door open.

Glad you're enjoying the blog; I shall do my best to post more regularly. I did keep a daily diary for many years, and in some ways it's a good habit, one I've got out of. Must try to do better!

Todd T said...

That _is_ a chiller. Constance must have had an epiphany of her own that Sunday, and not the kind the church likes to inspire.

"Must do better"

No one needs extra stress, though. Whenever you are so moved; pay no attention to the calendar.

Steve Bacon said...

Hi Barbara, I'm pleased you've posted another entry to your blog, and I'm equally as delighted you've made a commitment to update it with more regularity. I'm really looking forward to reading your collection, and the two new tales you describe have whetted my appetite considerably.
Best wishes.

Barbara Roden said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the comment. I'm determined to keep the blog updated more regularly, and post more often; but I want to spread my net a little more widely than simply talking about writing and supernatural stories and writing supernatural stories (which is of course endlessly fascinating for me, less so for everyone else). Hence my post yesterday about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books; they're something I wanted to say a few words about, and this seems the ideal place to do it!

TheMadBlonde said...

Funny, that "diary entry" is pretty much like 80% of the blog entries I read. Then again, about 80% of the blogs I read are friends w/ whom I'm trying to keep in contact. & it's nice to hear a bit about the lives of your friends, particularly when they are so far away. I find comfort in the homey details, & the knowledge that others are also frustrated with ice scrapers.

Barbara Roden said...

I don't know why ice scrapers are seemingly so difficult to design properly. Credit or library cards seem to work much better. . . .