A Word Away

“It takes a lot of pushing aside to put ‘those’ in front of ‘people’.” — Finbar Kelly

Celtic Knot 4

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Vera Van Slyke’s First Appearance in a Book!

I’m pleased to announced that the Vera Van Slyke ghostly mystery “Vampire Particles” has been accepted for an anthology titled Reconstructing the Monster: An Homage to Classic Horror Films. The editors challenged authors to “reconstruct” an important horror film in the form of short fiction.

Carl Kolchak

While my great-grandaunt recorded the events of “Vampire Particles” decades earlier, the chronicle bares unsettling similarities to the 1972 TV-movie The Night Stalker, which stars Darren McGavin as Carl Kochak. Though I’m not entirely sure this movie qualifies as a “classic,” it was undoubtedly influential. Chris Carter frequently cited it as inspiration for his long-running TV series The X-Files. I remember enjoying The Night Stalker, too, when I was much younger — so maybe it did have some influence on how I edited my ancestor’s chronicle.

Vera & Lida Oval on white

In a way, “Vampire Particles” is not a typical Vera Van Slyke tale. Whatever it was that took the lives of four workers tunneling deep beneath downtown Chicago in 1906, it wasn’t a ghost. Ghostly, perhaps, but not a ghost per se. Thanks to Vera, the deaths stopped — but short-sighted city officials prevented her from solving the puzzle and defeating the supernatural foe once and for all.

And what I find to be especially unnerving is that those same tunnels remain today under the streets of Chicago. They’re no longer in use. But they wait.

“Vampire Particles” will also be included in Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries (1899-1909), which will be released later this year by Emby Press.

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Thought for Food

“I asked the zombie on the barstool next to me what he finds most appealing about people. His answer was admirable yet predictable.” — Finbar Kelly

Celtic Knot 3

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My Writing Process — My Stop on a Writers’ Blog Tour

I was invited by Mike at the Parlor of Horror blog to respond to four questions being answered by a variety of writers as part of a blog “tour” called My Writing Process. Mike’s blog is well worth a gander. It’s filled with all things horror, from movie and book reviews to model kits.

Now, writers writing about writing seldom stirs my interest (unless it’s, say, a writer such as Ray Bradbury writing about writing). In the past, I stopped following one blog that specializes in exactly that when I saw a post offering a step-by-step guide for writers making New Year’s resolutions. Ouch. Micro-managerial. No thank you.

Still, I saw this invitation to answer the four questions as a challenge — if only a challenge to avoid being untowardly frolicsome in my responses.

Vera & Lida Oval on white1) What am I working on?

Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries (1899-1909) primarily. In fact, I finished a first draft of the penultimate tale this weekend. It’s a collection of thirteen stories that are best read sequentially. It’s also slated to be published by Emby Press before the end of this year.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Vera Van Slyke chronicles can be considered part of the cross-genre of mystery fiction and the ghost-story branch of supernatural fiction. I think what makes these distinctive is their tone. I’ve described them as as “ghost cozies,” a supernatural spin on the kind of genteel, ratiocinative murder mysteries that Agatha Christie usually set in the English countryside.

There’s more emphasis on character and theme than on high-action and violence. More detection than devastation. More ghost than grit, and more wit than wallop. There’s a literary feel to them, too, so let me add:  more human than, uhm, hammer.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Now, it’s getting tough to avoid being untowardly frolicsome. Why climb a mountain? Why drink a beer?

hawthorneI’ve liked supernatural fiction since I was a kid, especially the subtle, thoughtful Twilight Zone or Nathaniel Hawthorne kind. Why did I prefer that to, say, the slasher-movie style or even Edgar Allan Poe stuff?

I honestly don’t know. Because it’s there?

4) How does my writing process work?

The process of writing the Vera Van Slyke chronicles was new to me, since I’d never worked with a series character before. First, I sat down (in various bars with various beers) to see if I could come up with story ideas for twelve tales featuring my own twist on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson — except that Vera and Lida are American, not English; female, not male; from the Progressive Era, not the Victorian; and ghost-hunters, not crime-fighters. I discovered that I was able to come up with a dozen ideas without feeling as if I were repeating myself. In fact, I’ve since added a thirteenth adventure.

quill-pen-and-inkwellThat’s when I knew I had a series character who could hold my interest and, hopefully, an audience’s. The process of writing the stories themselves is pretty routine. Tinker with an outline that I seldom stick to. First draft. Revise and enhance, both on my laptop and in my head during bouts of insomnia. Revise, revise, print out a draft or two, revise, revise.

Read it aloud to my wife to hear how it looks.

Proofread. Proofread again. Wonder why I call myself a writer when I catch myself making the its/it’s mistake that I see so often unattended to by others who call themselves writers. Proofread some more. And then proofread.

Nothing spectacular here, I fear. But, hey, I don’t think I’ve been too, too untowardly frolicsome, huh?

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Crime and Punctuation

“He was a repeat offender in terms of punctuation. The police lineup of exclamations points following his sentence revealed his crime.” — Finbar Kelly

Celtic Knot 2

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In the Shadow of Rathbone: Nicol Williamson in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

holmes-basil-rathbone“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Though Sherlock Holmes says variations on this line repeatedly in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, it shows up too often in the movies. It was clever when Nicolas Meyer, the screenwriter of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, had Spock say the line, ascribing it to his “ancient ancestor.” Unfortunately, Meyer also put it in his promising, yet mildly disappointing, film adaptation of his own novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976).

Shining in Sherlock’s Shadow

Nicol Williamson has the interesting acting challenge of playing Holmes in the flurry of a nervous breakdown. He does it well. However, we see Holmes at such polar extremes — first ranting with paranoia, then politely offering tea, later suffering the hallucinations of cocaine withdrawal, then meekly convalescing — that it becomes difficult to recognize the traditional Holmes at all.

And that’s the point. This is very likely the first portrayal of Holmes deliberately designed to step out of the shadow of Rathbone. No longer is the goal to depict the character as a self-assured, well-mannered, semi-superhero, avoiding any exploration of the downside of living with that amazing intellect.

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Instead, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution gives us an early example of what I’ll call the Compulsive Holmes. This interpretation focuses on the character’s drug use (cf. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking) and his flailing attempts to cope when not engaged in crime-solving.

With this in mind, Williamson’s Holmes is very interesting when in the throes of paranoia and addiction, but he becomes a bit bland when his health is restored.

Watching Watson

Robert Duvall as WatsonWait. Robert Duvall as Dr. Watson? Now, that should be interesting, right? Well, it should have been interesting. Better direction from Herbert Ross might have left us with a less stuffy, stuffed-up sounding Watson. That’s a fair distraction, given that he serves as our frame narrator. (Watch for the “cheating” point-of-view shots from points-of-view other than Watson’s. One wonders if the voice-over narration was needed at all — but, of course, omitting it would reduce Duvall’s presence even more. Oh, the complications of adapting to a new medium!)

Other than the choice of voice — and it’s the congested tone as well as the accent — Duvall gives one of his typically impressive and restrained performances. He has a fair amount to do, too, but the film offers little in regard to why he leaves his wife and practice to ensure that Holmes is cured — other than the fact that that’s he’s the detective’s best and only friend. (Well, unless that honor belongs to Toby, the bloodhound, who also appears in this film.)

Devotion to and Deviation from Doyle

In a way, there’s a more interesting doctor-assistant introduced in this film, one who is almost Holmes’s equal. And he’s none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud, wonderfully played by Alan Arkin. This is the real attraction of this movie: what would it be like to see Sherlock Holmes psychoanalyzed by Freud himself?

Unfortunately, this intriguing premise helps explain that disappointment I mention above. The premise takes up so much of the movie that the criminal mystery — as opposed to psychological one regarding what triggered Holmes’s breakdown — is pushed to the side. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill kidnapping that’s pretty easily solved, both by Holmes and by the audience, given that the culprits are loudly signaled ahead of time. Granted, this criminal mystery leads to a train-chase and a sword-fight, but both seem far more Hollywood’s Holmes than Doyle’s.

The mystery in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution takes a backcouch. It shrinks beside the plot line of Holmes's psychoanalysis.

The kidnapping mystery shrinks beside the mystery of what triggered Holmes’s nervous breakdown.

Though Holmes fans will appreciate the allusions to Doyle’s canonical cases, such as “The Speckled Band” and “The Red-Headed League,” they might not be as pleased with what Meyer does with Professor Moriarty. Personally, I usually enjoy a spin on a familiar character, but . . . well . . . spoilers.

On the positive side, there is a cleverness to this film as well as a parade of famous actors. It’s not hard to sense Meyer’s affection for and familiarity with the key characters and the Doyle canon overall. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is worth watching while keeping in mind that this is a new, less well-adjusted Holmes.

A haunted Holmes.

For a list of — and links to — my reviews of Sherlock Holmes films, click here.

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Watching Walking

I’m struck with wonder at the months-long planning before – and the millennia-long history behind – a downtown parade. And by ‘struck with wonder,’ I mean I’m both amused and confused. — Finbar Kelly

Celtic Knot 1

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