Tag Archives: Must Read

Interview on Curling Up by the Fire’s Blog

17 May

We just passed 6000 unique views and with nearly 1000 followers between WordPress and Twitter– I thought I’d reintroduce myself. Head on over to Curling Up by the Fire‘s blog for an author interview we did last January.

Advertisements

How to Write for Television and Film (Revisiting an Earlier Post on Writing)

7 May

I wrote this when I first began blogging months ago and wanted to share with new readers. Let me know what you think of the advice, or if you have any specific questions. I’ll be happy to elaborate!

While I wait for my newest novel, The Stand In to be available via BookBaby on Amazon and iBooks and eBooks… (It’s available now, you can buy it here…) I thought I’d give you a taste of what it is like to be in my classroom. I teach writing at Mount San Antonio College and have been astounded at the degree of talent in my students. This was the last lecture I delivered about Professionalism in the Entertainment Industry…

As a writer you will have two tasks of equal importance – writing something, and then selling it. Both are difficult.  Each are equally important.  Because if you don’t have an audience, you may as well be whispering in the dark.  Both take different skills.  Both are creative. BUT, of the two skills WRITING IS THE MORE IMPORTANT.  Because there are so few truly great writers, if you become one agents will fight to represent you, and producers will pay you gobs of money to produce you work.  If you are a magnificent sales person, but only a so-so writer, you’ll maybe sell one or two screenplays at best.

What are the characteristics of a PROFESSIONAL WRITER?

First of all, no one asks to see your diploma.  No one cares if you went to college.  Your diploma is actually the screenplay they are reading.  They will quickly find out if you know your field, are intelligent, well-read, unique.

How do you become a GREAT WRITER?  Not in classrooms.  I’m only here to teach you the fundamentals, format, structure, character and dialogue.  The rest is up to you.  YOU LEARN WRITING – BY WRITING!

Writing is like a muscle.  The more you write, the stronger the writing muscle becomes. And discipline is key.  You set aside time, preferably the same time every day, and you just write – even if it’s only staring a blank page, get into the habit of discipline.  Remember, good writing is probably the hardest work you will ever do.  Bad writing is really easy.

Rules of the game:  Watch films, old and new, learn what works and what doesn’t.  There’s a real reason I force you watch these films in class – they are inspirational.  Never be afraid to copy another film’s technique or style.  YOU WILL LEARN YOUR OWN UNIQUE STYLE SOON ENOUGH.

And, most importantly, READ, READ, READ – Magazines, newspapers – tomorrow’s headlines or features are the basis of excellent stories.  But most of all READ BOOKS.  When you read, you read sentences, and when you read a lot you will begin to think in sentences, and then you will be able to write both by example and by mimicry.  Soon you will find your own style.  And chances are that if you run into a problem with your writing, Homer probably solved it for you three thousand years ago.  Be curious.  Find out about people.  Ask them questions.  Remember, a writer is a spy, a psychologist, and most of all – a thief.  Everything is available to you to use.

And go to IMSDB and read other screenplays.  Study how the writers constructed them.  See what works – and what does not.

But take heart from one piece of advice – good writers are so rare that they will almost always prosper.  So for those of you so inclined, keep writing every day, including Sundays.

FINDING AN AGENT –What does an agent do?  He or She is your go-between in your relations between a studio, a producer, and all the rest who will read and consider your scripts.  They are the ones with the contacts, they know who is the best producer or team to send your work to, and they will protect you when the shit starts coming your way.  They really earn their ten percent. Unfortunately it’s hard to get an agent.  They usually want experienced writers.  How do you get experience?  Sell a script.  But to sell a script usually requires an agent.  And to get an agent you need to have sold a script.  You can see the conundrum.

WGA signatories – look up those who will take unsolicited inquiries.  Write them a glowing letter describing your background and an even more glowing synopsis of your work.  Remember how I said that the first ten pages of your screenplay were the most important?  Forget what I said – your inquiry letter is the most important.

WRITING FOR A TV SERIES

Don’t do it.  TV series have writing staffs.  They have years’ worth of scripts already written, and they know how the series will arc years from now.  You do not.  But if you must…

Write a sample script.  Rarely will it get bought.  But it might impress the staff enough to hand you an assignment, or to buy your concept.

NEW SERIES – DON’T.  First year is hell.

MOVIES OF THE WEEK:  Your best market.  Market size unlimited.

THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES:  Your second-best market.  Lots of prestige, but market size is limited.

ADAPTING A NOVEL:  The scared producer.  William Goldman says that nobody in the industry knows anything.  Thus, if a novel has been a success, they at least know one thing – that it sold in another medium.  They like that.  But legalities are involved.

Successful writers are goal oriented.  They know how to take constructive criticism well, learn from it, and they also know how to ignore rejection or unconstructive criticism.  REMEMBER, No one Knows Anything.  If someone didn’t like your work, someone else might.  In spite of everything, you must persevere.  And remember, it’s a numbers game.

Feverish… Restless Writers and Spring Fever

23 Apr

I’m in a brief lull– one book, The Stand In, is launched, (garnering great reviews yet sales are quiet) and the second,  Chronicles of the Sanguivorous, The Rising, has been published as a teaser.   (The Amazon reviews are quiet so far, but sales are solid.) Chronicles is only the beginning of a novel and a series. That means that I must soon find the guts to finish it.  But writing a novel, I’ve discovered, is like jumping down a well.  At the bottom of it, you’re on page one and each succeeding page is but one laborious step upward toward that distant light at the top.  Only when you write “The End” can you consider yourself safe from the cold and watery dark.  It’s so dispiriting to realize that I must again hurl myself down that well, and – let me tell you – I’m mightily resisting the urge.   As I’ve stated repeatedly, I love writing but don’t particularly like doing it.  What I really like is having written.

It doesn’t help that a bad case of spring fever has attacked me with a vengeance.  All I want to do, it seems, is work in my yard, shop and go out to have drinks with friends – usually in the middle of the day.  And afterward, I’ll want a nice nap, too.  Soon it will be dinner time and cooking will occupy the end of my day.  The last thing I’ll want to do is march myself over to the keyboard and disappear down that well.

Usually I’m very disciplined when I write.  But it’s a kind of self-imposed hibernation that you’re forced to fall into when you’re writing a novel.  It’s a lonely, anti-social process.  And I’m about the only writer I know who has tested out to be an extrovert on the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  I like people, for God’s sakes.   Is that a sin?  And like I say, discipline is usually not a problem for me – except for those couple of times a year when all I want to do is play.

            Like now.

So I’m going to do what I always do when the fever hits, which is to give into it.  My rationale for doing so is that I will accumulate so much guilt by fever’s end that the only way to atone for it is to hurl myself down the well again; it’s a tactic, you see.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Today I have friends in town and predict that a round of mid-afternoon cocktails looms in my immediate future.  Frozen pineapple daiquiris sound good.  And then a nap.

            What can I do?  I’m feverish.

How to Write Dialogue, The Art of Being Invisible

19 Apr

Dialog for theater, for films and television, for radio and finally for novels share a lot of things in common, but ultimately they are different species of animals.  In theater, dialog is always the most effective method of conveying information; but the motion picture has brought the entire world into the theater, or rather, brought the theater out to the real world, and so dialog is used differently.  The basic rule of thumb in films and TV is that it’s better to show an action, rather than talk about it.  Film and television use their own visual grammar to tell a story, with their use of close ups, long shots, panning and dollying, etc.  But novels are just words, words, words!  (That’s a reference to Hamlet, by the way.)

Yes, there are great films with plenty of dialog that are wonderful – and I, for one, am partial to well-written dialog in a film.  Some of us love the rise and fall of good conversation, and become orgasmic about how the rhythms and stresses of speech become actual poetry in the actors’ mouths.   In fact I find good dialog every bit as exciting as any car chase or yellow explosion.  My friend and one-time mentor, the late great Joseph L. Mankiewicz, used dialog primarily to propel his films.  (There’s an old joke that Joe’s idea of an action sequence was to have one of his actor’s throw their hat on a bed.) Yet he still managed to win four back-to-back Oscars during his lifetime utilizing dialog as his chief weapon, and if it’s good enough for him…

Dialog has three purposes in all the media I’ve mentioned –

  1. To reveal (or suggest) the nature of each character
  2. Provide the audience with essential information
  3. To advance the plot

And in a novel, there is a fourth task:

4.  Get into a character’s head and actually learn what he is thinking.

These are all pretty big responsibilities – right?  But think about the reason why it’s more effective (with novels perhaps being an exception) to use actions to demonstrate the essential truth of a scene or character?

ANSWER:  Because people lie.

More to the point – people can lie to themselves.  They obfuscate, reinterpret, put the best spin on things, flatter, manipulate, and say things all the time that are not strictly true.  But actions seldom lie, at least in fiction.

Most beginning writers believe that the best dialog is the kind that most approaches reality.  But this isn’t so.  Remember that dialog in all the media I’ve mentioned should only give the appearance of reality, but should not attempt to create it.  (Leave that to the medium of soap opera, an art form as tedious as life itself).  Effective speech in all these media utilizes economy, simplicity and invisibility.  Novels can once again be the exception to this rule, because ostensibly you have pages and pages to tell a story and are not limited to a film producer’s clock watch, where productions are broken down to ½ hour and 1-hour time slots (as in TV or Radio), or 2-hour running times (motion pictures.)  That being said, the publishing industry today looks askance at anything over 300 pages and mentally calculates that x-amount of pages over this figure will result in a higher publishing cost.  Let me assure you – they like economy too.  Simon and Schuster was adamant that my mystery novels not exceed 85,000 words and edited them to fit within that page number.  That’s why it’s best to follow the rule about economy and simplicity in novels too, because more and more they have “running times” imposed on them as well.  (However, when you’re a J.K. Rowling or a James Cameron, you’ve earned the right to do anything you want; these artists are rarely known for their economy or simplicity these days, are they?)

In addition to economy and simplicity, good dialog should also be invisible.  By this I mean that the writer should never call attention to how clever s/he is.  The reader/viewer must ideally be lost in your work, and when you become overly clever or self-reverential you risk losing them entirely.  Let me give you an example – the Oscar winning screenplay by James Goldman for “The Lion In Winter” was a first-rate effort with one glaring defect:  Goldman was forever complimenting himself on what a clever line he had just written.  “Oh, you’re good – that’s first rate!” the characters would crow at some particularly witticism said by another.  If I’ve learned anything – if I have an altar to which I kneel – it is the altar of invisibility.  Nothing should come between the reader/viewer and/or the page/image – not even the author.  Hemingway used to ruthlessly cut out his favorite parts of his manuscript, because if he loved them he knew they were only getting in the way of the story.  Follow his lead.

A note on trendy words – they may make our screenplays sound current, yes; but – conversely – nothing will make our screenplays (or novels) sound so dated as yesterday’s trends.  Today’s awesome soon becomes yesterday’s groovy.   Use these words judiciously if you have any ambition to write a timeless work.  There’s nothing wrong with using wonderful or great to convey the same meaning.

Now You Can Read My Blog on Your Kindle…

17 Apr

Ah, the magic of technology. You can now read my blog on your Kindle, through Amazon subscription services. it’s only 99 cents a month and you won’t miss an update or comment or conversation.

Free 14 day trial! Click here for more info.

How to Write a Mystery Novel…

16 Apr

I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve this week and thought I’d revisit a topic that I posted about early in the life of this blog. I’d love to hear from the aspiring and published writers on this topic. Enjoy! Brad

How to create a mystery novel?  Of course, the answer is to read as many mysteries as possible.  There are no better models than the classics by Raymond Chandler or the modern thrillers written by Martin Cruz Smith – who I unashamedly admit to be my lord of lords, creator of the Moscow-based detective, Arkady Renko, who first appeared in Gorky Park.  (I would sacrifice a very private portion of my anatomy if I could write a fraction as well as Mr. Smith can – the left one, in fact.)  You can even learn something from Janet Evanovich, who is more machine these days than writer.  Though her plots may be thin and repetitious, they still obey certain rules that a new writer can observe, internalize, and replicate.

I never wanted to write mysteries.  I wanted to write historical novels along the lines of those written by Mika Waltari (The Egyptian) or Gary Jennings (Aztec).  But no one wants to read these epics today, and certainly no publishing house wants to publish them either.  (All those pages – such expense!)  But historical mysteries are another matter.  Mysteries, you see, rarely take more than a month to solve in a novel’s timeline.  They are never epics.  I like to tell my students that mysteries are not like symphonies, with hundreds of musicians, but more like chamber pieces with eight musicians at most.

So my first mysteries were set in Ancient Egypt and Babylon respectively, allowing me to write about history, true, but using the format of a mystery and keeping the action fast, hard-hitting, and distinctly non-epic.  My books have been called, as a result, “pharaonic noir” and my detective, Semerket, the clerk of investigations and secrets, an “Egyptian Sam Spade.”

I like it best when a detective is a flawed man, like my poor, alcoholic Semerket, so that in addition to solving the mystery at hand he must also solve part of the mystery within himself. Like the protagonists in Martin Cruz Smith novels, they also become the seat of moral authority.  All around them are crimes, official corruption, and indifference, but they remain committed to the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it is.  No matter how dark or dismal they are, they become heroic in the process – and your readers root for their success.

As to the plot, I like to think of it as a beautiful, decorated plate – intact and gorgeous – that has been viciously smashed to pieces by the crime at its center.  It is your detective’s task to pick up the pieces one by one, to find how they once fit together.  He or she is constantly picking up this piece and that piece in random order, until by the end of the book the plate has been put back together – irretrievably damaged, of course, but whole.  And though the mystery is solved, the denouement (literally, “untying” in French) should always resolve itself in a melancholic mood – for by solving the crime we come to know how unpleasant and corrupt the detective’s (and our) world really is.

In a mystery, the secondary characters are almost as important as your detective protagonist, because they will mostly fall into two groups – the criminal(s) and the “information passers”.  Each of these characters has one of the pieces of the plate in their possession; for reasons of their own, usually because they are implicated in the crime, they are sometimes reluctant to surrender it.  Others may be too willing to give up their piece, their information, but they are suspect, too.  Not only must your detective gather these pieces, the clues, but also perceive why and how these people who surrender them to him are connected to the crime, and how valuable their information really is.

Now, having said this, I have to confess that my latest mystery, The Stand In, violates most of these rules.  There is no real central detective; instead, the readers themselves take on this role.  This is because the story is actually a “smoke and mirrors” mirage – a special effect, if you will, something that Hollywood does so well – and Hollywood is the location of the novel, after all.  What is the truth?  What is really happening?  It’s all there in front of your eyes, yet it seems like something else is happening altogether….  Some will figure it out right away, others must wait until the very last sentence in the book…which is last piece of that plate.

Excuse Me, Are Those Your Fangs in My Neck? Part Two

8 Apr

 I’ve just released the first half of my vampire book, The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous – The Rising as an eBook.  I had started the book almost two years ago after reading Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” series.  Inspired, I knew I could write about vampires through the lens of my own specialty, historical fiction, and actually tell the history of civilization (albeit through the eyes of vampires) in the seven volume series.  I did enormous amounts of research about vampires’ historical/mythological origins and discovered they were first mentioned in early Mesopotamia, around the time that the city of Ur rose to prominence (or “Ur of the Chaldees” as the Bible calls it.)  This was a fortunate turn of events, because I had already versed myself in Mesopotamian history for my second novel, Day of the False King.

I had long been a devotee of Egyptian history, and the one thing you discover about ancient Egypt is how consistent its historical flow was when compared to other civilizations.  Protected by its deserts, Egypt developed slowly, always in the service and celebration of its God-Kings.  But the study of Mesopotamia (called Assyriology) is a heartrending hodgepodge of invasions, battles, and massacres.  The people of the river plains between the Tigris and Euphrates did not deify their kings; rather, whoever was in charge was simply called the Big Man; and these men changed with stunning swiftness.  Armies of invaders would sweep in, establishing a turbulent new culture, only to be swept away again a few generations later.  Egypt possessed regularity in abundance; Mesopotamia was all chaos and confusion.

So, getting back to the vampires, I had a good head start on my first historical locale.  I wrote about 150 pages of the book and then made the mistake of going to my public library and seeing the array of titles in the New Books section.  Every other one of them was about vampires.  Disheartened, I put my writing aside – though all my friends who had read it loved it and pleaded for more.

One of the most fun things about attempting to write this series is creating a new mythology for my own vampires.  It seems  one of their first mythical Big Men, Lugal (actually the father of Gilgamesh, the greatest semi-divine hero in Mesopotamian literature) was known for his incredible licentiousness.  In other words, he’d sleep with anything.  Wind Demons who populated the river plains wanted a corporeal body, so they offered themselves up to Lugal.  Their mating indeed produced offspring with bodies that resembled humans, but they also came equipped with a terrifying appetite for human blood – i.e., vampires.

So MY vampires are actually a form of super-predator that have been around for as long as humans have been; one of their powers is that they can actually utilize telekinesis that enables them to control the winds (which is where we get the myth that they were the offspring of Wind Demons.)   In my books, when the winds blow – watch out, for that is how they hide their rising after years of hibernation.  They do NOT get burned by the sun, nor do they sleep in coffins.  Their aversion to light, however, exists because they hunt humans only at night and their keen vision enables them to see as clearly in the dark as we do during the day; they avoid strong light simply because it’s agony on their eyes.  They are immortal, in the sense that they do not age, but the CAN be killed by several methods.

Their main defense, however, lies in the fact that after a few generations of terrorizing the countryside, they are driven by a hibernation instinct to burrow into the ground and disappear.  During the time they are gone, mankind forgets about them and turns them into myth.  Generations later, the vampires rise again – by this time merely shriveled bags of bones and leather – to once again maraud and terrify and feast.  The blood they ingest enables them to “read” the cellular memories of their victims, allowing them to understand the current language and to know what has occurred while they slept.

In my first volume, The Rising, the vampires discover that mankind has developed something fairly new – organized religion.  Their great predatory powers of swiftness and strength can convince humans that they are gods, and they begin to co-opt the temples.  They no longer have to hunt, you see, for they invent a new ritual – human sacrifice.  Thus their prey is driven to them.

Each book ends with the vampires once again “going to ground”, and in the next volume they rise into an entirely new historical era.  (In the second book they will become the gods Homer’s “Iliad”; the Trojan War, you will discover, was an internecine struggle between various tribes of Vampires, who utilized humans in their own civil war.)  And in the third book, set in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago, we will see how Christianity itself was their product, too.  Surely you’ve heard of all that “blood into wine” stuff…well, now you know why.

Uniting all this will be my central couple, Aron and Enna.  Theirs is a love story that quite literally spans five-thousand years of history.  Newlyweds separated by the rise of Vampires, themselves made victims of it, they search for one another across time.  Aron will increasingly wish to discover what Vampires really are, and why some of their victims “turn”  – the only way they can reproduce – while others simply die.  In some volumes, Aron will be on the run, for humans (particularly in that little burg known as Transylvania) soon get wise to their ways and begin to hunt them down.  But through it all, we will see how Vampires were present at every great moment of human history.  It is also my conceit that when they rise, human fascination with vampires in arts and culture rise as well.

The last time they rose, you see, was in the late 1800s – just about the time that Bram Stoker’s little novel made an appearance.  But this new modern age is also an era when religion has receded for the first time and replaced by secularism – the biggest threat to the Vampire race.

That’s my Chronicles of the Sanguivorous in a nutshell.  I’m not going to give away anything more; for that you’ll have to plunk down your 99 cents. Whether you’re a fan of historical fiction or vampires, I hope you enjoy them – and be sure to write and let me know what you think.

Excuse Me, Are Those Your Fangs In My Neck? Part One of Two Parts

2 Apr

I don’t know when I first became enamored of vampires.  I read “Dracula” when I was very young, and though it didn’t terrify me, it nevertheless made quite a creepy impression.  I remember how Dracula is first introduced as a decrepit old man who then grows progressively younger and more vigorous during the course of the book, as the blood of his victims begins to rejuvenate him.  The most vivid impression that remains was of the Count slithering up the side of the castle like a reptile.  There was a mixture of the effete and the bestial in Stoker’s vampire, which is still a horrifying alchemy.  When would this tuxedoed gentleman inevitably bring his darker nature to the fore?  After all, we were simply meals to him.  This touch of cannibalism also brought with it a further creepy factor, that of ending one’s days in the jaws of a feral beast.  But not just any beast, but one that disguised its terrible predatory habits by simply resembling us.

I had seen the 1931 “Dracula”, of course, the one starring Bela Lugosi, when I was very young.  In 1950s Southern California, we had the Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9, which showed the same film over and over again for five nights a week, and consequently I saw “Dracula” probably every day of that week.  (This was well before videotapes and DVDs – we never knew when we would ever see these films again and had to store up the experiences.) Lugosi, with his middle European accent and fluid, balletic gestures seemed the quintessential blood-sucking nobleman of my youth.

Then in 1967 I saw Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers”.  My best friend Randy and I were diehard film addicts and we had long heard of this mangled masterpiece by the Hungarian wunderkind.  It had been recut by MGM to feature its slapstick humor and general quirkiness, and a toning down of the violence had supposedly occurred.  (It a parody of all the Hammer epics starring Christopher Lee, you see.) What I did not expect was the full-blown horror that the film showed alongside the slapstick.  Polanski’s vampires were once again elegantly attired royalty inhabiting a seedy castle.  But when the blood lust came upon them they became animals, sporting huge jagged fangs that ripped into their victims’ throats with horrifying rapacity.  No delicate little puncture holes for our Roman Polanski; in fact, the man who designed the fangs was given a screen credit.  I remember being so terrified during the attack sequences that I had to go stand in the lobby.  I was in love with Sharon Tate back then, too, and “Valley of the Dolls” had been released earlier that year.  I remember saying to Randy that my one overwhelming memory of Tate would always be the moment when she turned into a vampire at the end of the film.  Alas, she was to be remembered for something far more dreadful.

My real conversion occurred when Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” was published in 1976.  (I still have the first edition).  She literally redefined the genre.  It was the time of the disco sex revolution, and I was just old enough to participate in all of it, and somehow the goth-influencing Rice novel seemed a mirror of it all – the infernal highs of mind-bending drugs (which is how the vampires described their ingestion of blood) and the gender-bending concepts of love and devotion.  It was all very perverse and exceedingly glamorous.  Just like Louis and Lestat, we were all night time prowlers looking for sex in all the wrong places.  And we were all so deliciously bored, you see, by our perceived immortality and the constant parade of flesh that paraded through our lives with barely an acknowledgment.  (Except that our immortality lasted all of five or so years before the dying set in.)

I never got into the “Twilight” phenomenon.  I read the first book because I decided that I must know more about this craze if I were to be a knowledgeable writer.  But it just didn’t take.  Perhaps I was the wrong age, and/or the wrong sex.  I was much more a creature of the rampaging 70s than the timid 90s, and it all seemed so vapid.  Was I really supposed to believe that the first question that the 100 year old vampire Edward asks Bella is “What’s your favorite color?” Really?  That’s it?  I simply don’t buy it; I believe that any 100 year old creature would be so mentally advanced when compared to a 17 year old high school girl that I wonder if he could ever think of her as anything other than a comestible…?

Nevertheless, inspired by both the success of Twilight and Charlaine Harris’ wonderful “True Blood” series (which I am unashamedly addicted to), I have decided to take the plunge and write my own vampire saga, called “The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous”. You can buy it here for a mere 99 cents.

Sanguivorous means “blood eater” and I’ve taken the story all the way back in time to the very first mention of vampires in history…to the river plain of Mesopotamia, to Ur of the Chaldees.  Each book will begin in a new time, until by the seventh we arrive in the 21st Century.  They also give to mankind both the art of writing and…religion.

What do you think?  Should Anne Rice become one of the vampires in the last volume?  After all, my heroine starts off with the name Enna.  Could she be one and the same?

Sometimes I think it’s the only explanation.

Much Prejudice, Little Pride, A review of P.D. James’ “Death Comes to Pemberley”

28 Feb

I have to admit, I am officially of two minds about P.D. James’ latest mystery novel, “Death Comes to Pemberley.”  Given James’ prodigiously wonderful way with a phrase, I expected that the book would be many things –  a parody, a tribute to, and an extenuation of the beloved novel written by Jane Austen, which is of course “Pride and Prejudice.”  But it turns out to be something more, and very much less, than that.  Disappointing in almost every way, it was still a book I laid down but reluctantly, and always looked forward to picking up again.

How’s that for fence-sitting?

 I’ve so far only glanced at the various sequels that the original book has engendered.  One of them began with a coach ride featuring an uncomfortable Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennett), sore from having submitted to Darcy’s obviously gargantuan caresses on their wedding night.  Hastily I put that aside, thinking that Jane Austen quite rightly ended all her books at the altar, leaving the reader to only imagine what came next.  Then a friend loaned me a copy of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, which proved such an unresisting imbecility that I could stomach only the first two chapters before I hurled it against the wall; all the good parts had been lifted bodily from the original, and all the bad were merely relentless accounts of zombie attacks on the village of Meryton and elsewhere.  Talk about one joke being run into the ground!

But with P.D. James, I hoped that a writer of wit and culture was going to give me something to care about.  Alas, no.  Though Ms. James makes a very good attempt to duplicate the arch sophistication of Austen’s prose, and comes up with some wonderful Regency witticisms of her own, this type of writing is largely abandoned after the first chapter.  However, it is more than fascinating to see how James comes up with a few trenchant alternate explanations about Elizabeth’s real motives in snaring Darcy and how her so-called friends (I speak now of the duplicitous Ms. Charlotte Lucas) cynically reacted to their wedding.  Come chapter two, however, and the novel becomes a dry, British procedural, with only flashes of Austen’s brilliance surfacing from time to time.

When I think of “Pride and Prejudice), I am instantly in a world of sunlight and clarity.  But James’ novel is much more like the dark, turbid world of the Brontes, wherein even the landscape is bleak and moody (not to say muddy.)  Pemberley, it seems, is not the graceful baronial estate as described in the first book; instead it borders a hostile woodland in which even ghosts walk and where, we learn, Darcy’s great grandfather committed suicide with his dog.  (Yes, you’ve read that right – with his dog.)  Perhaps James is correct in creating this mood and setting for what is, after all, a murder mystery.  But it is a mystery that concerns only the most peripheral of Austen’s original characters, and we are left to struggle as to why she would bother to write it at all.

In the original, the inevitability of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s eventual union heats every page; here they barely have a scene together.   If you go in expecting to be reunited with one of the most famous pair of literary lovers in history, you will be greatly disappointed.  Though they have had two children since the last book ended, you may well ask yourself – how?  There is absolutely nothing between them.  Oh, they yearn and pine for one another, to be sure, but only in their fervid inner monologues.  One begins to furtively wish for Elizabeth to ache in her nether regions again, but this is obviously an area which P.D. James spurns.

And yet, and yet…I could never quite put it down.  Perhaps the novel will improve when I reread it.  James prose is always elegant, and she ties up all lose ends (resulting in a literary Gordion knot, if you want the truth); suffice to say my interest never flagged.  Next time, though, I will have shed all my hopes and assumptions and will be able to read “Death Comes to Pemberley” as just another excellent mystery from the estimable P.D. James.  But I will have also shed any hope of seeing my beloved Elizabeth and Darcy in this odd but oddly compelling book.

Have you read The Stand In? Available on Kindle, Nook, eBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

Have You Read, The Stand In?

27 Feb
Couldn’t resist sharing my latest review on Amazon! Have you read it? You can download it on Kindle, Nook and iTunes for iPad.
New! B. Maxwell reviewed The Stand In
 Grabs You From Page One February 24, 2012
Given to me by a friend, I couldn’t put this book down! On its surface it’s about a 50’s Hollywood movie idol who uses his celebrity to seduce and kill young women until his studio mogul boss begins to suspect him. Instead of going to the police and risking his #1 asset, the mogul decides to secretly replace him with an innocent young actor with an uncanny resemblance. But will his true role be replacement or fall-guy? Along the way the plot twists and turns, drawing you in with characters that, true to life, are both seduced by their dreams of success and love, and battered by the reality of what this town does to you. So what author Geagley ends up unspooling is a seductive thriller with wry insider’s view of Hollywood. Oh, and you’ll never guess the ending.
%d bloggers like this: