Thoughts provoked by recent reading

First off, my recent reading of From Beer to Eternity put me in mind of this 2019 post discussing how two nonfiction books on the 1970s could see totally different perspectives. I’m using the same part of the country Sherry is for my Impossible Takes a Little Longer (mostly to the west of her fictional Emerald Cove, though) and it’s nothing like hers. Not because either of us is wrong but we’re both looking at different aspects of the same setting.

Sherry’s cozy mystery, as the cover suggests, is centered in the more upscale touristy part of the Fort Walton Beach/Destin/South Walton area. It has lots of scenes on the beach, in the Sea Glass Saloon, in the waterfront pine forests, on the local docks. All of which feels like home, but is also quite different from mine. My location is mostly over in FWB, which is much more middle-class/working-class, and much more rundown. Chloe stumbles into crime; as the local superhero, my protagonist KC goes looking for it (with the help of the Sheriff’s Office — she had no luck patrolling on her own). As a female superhero, she deals with a lot of the conservative, sometimes misogynistic politics. She enjoys the beach but she probably won’t be getting to it much (I may change that as this draft evolves).

So quite aside from being different genres, they make the same setting into two different settings. And someone could easily make a third setting out of it. Because the real world is that big.

Second, the Heroic Fantasy anthology I read earlier this month (review at the same link as the mystery). The essays in this are really good. Two of them cover arms and armor; the third covers heroism, which makes it more generally useful for writers. Hank Reinhardt argues that lots of stories give us heroes without thinking deeply about what motivates them; he then looks at examples of heroism in the real world and ponders what the driving force was, and when heroism, however brave, is actually stupid (the Charge of the Light Brigade was brave, but it got a lot of men killed for nothing). He and co-editor Gerald W. Page make a version of this point in the opening: what makes Conan memorable is that he’s mentally tough, not just strong. Crucified in the desert, he bites the neck of a vulture and drinks its blood to stay alive (physically doable, but not mentally easy); In The Phoenix on the Sword he refuses to give up even though it’s obvious he can’t survive (and yes, he does win).

The introduction also has a great line about how sword-and-sorcery appeals to us not because it’s adventurous alone but because it’s full of “more colorful places and people than are normally encountered in hum-drum daily existence.” That pretty much nails the appeal of fantasy and comic-books for me.

Third, AN IMPROBABLE TRUTH: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A.C. Thompson. I couldn’t get into most of the stories in this collection, and there are way too many with Holmes and Watson on a first-name basis, anachronisms like “Ms.” and way too much emphasis on Holmes’ drug use. But it did get me to go back and read my first published short story, The Adventure of the Red Leech, which came out in Eldritch Tales in the early 1980s.

The story, based on one of Watson’s unpublished tales (about the Red Leech “and the death of Crosby the banker”) opens with Watson sending the story to Arthur Conan Doyle (in Holmesian fan-canon, Doyle served as Watson’s literary agent) as an explanation for why he holds back certain stories from publication. In the story itself, a woman rushes in, terribly concerned about her husband, who subsequently turns up murdered, drained of blood and smiling.

I think I really nail the tone of a Holmes story in a lot of ways (Holmes snarking at Lestrade, and making instant deductions about the client) but rereading, it’s  very talky. Not that Holmes didn’t often recount what he’d been up to, but if I were writing it today, I think I’d take Watson along and have him see more with his own eyes. A bigger problem is that the major clue to what’s going on requires some serious stupidity by the murderer. I’d have to rationalize it somehow or drop it entirely.

A minor point is that Holmes moves too swiftly to accept the supernatural. It’s not a huge problem — he’s a man of logic, not science and if logic leads him to the supernatural, he’ll accept it. But maybe not this easily. I think emphasizing the threat as something alien but scientific might help.

So I guess I can’t sit back and assure myself of my vast superiority to the writers in that collection. Oh, well, it was still fun to reread that story.

#SFWApro. All rights to image (cover art uncredited) remain with current holder.

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Filed under Reading, Sherlock Holmes, Writing

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