Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bright Lights, Big City, Black Orchid—Part Four

If one were writing an advertisement for a literary detective to appear in a series, it might look something like this:  

In search of a detective. Must be far more intelligent, perceptive, clever, intuitive and knowledgeable that everyone else. Prefer someone good with weapons, in case of danger. Quirks and foibles acceptable, indeed, encouraged. Should be well-read in the genre…

Hmm. Well, maybe not. What I was looking for, in my prospective story, was someone who fit into the mill village venue and could still be believable as a gumshoe. He or she had to know the people around him, be smarter than they were, yet be someone they would tell things to. And he—or she—needed a Watson or an Archie, someone to narrate the adventure. 

Guy Henson, I decided my detective’s name was going to be. This was a mash-up of names from my family: my Great-Uncle Guy Sanders was a baseball player for several mills in the area back in the early 1900s. His mother’s maiden name was Henson. So, the name taken care of, I needed a backstory. I set my mystery in the early 1920s, not too long after the Great War in Europe. I was sure Guy had fought in the war. He hadn’t been wounded, though he’d been affected in other, more subtle ways. 

Mills are noisy places, with hundreds of machines going full-out all the time. What if Guy had suffered through trench warfare, with its constant and unremittent shelling, and had come back home with the inability to handle loud noises? What if he’d tried to return to the mill life but simply couldn’t stand it? What sort of job might he do? 

Well, he could run the company story. As I said in an earlier post, the mill village company store was the Wal-Mart of the early 20th century. Everyone got everything there, from food to clothing to shoes to, well, everything. So everyone in the village would come to the store. 

This seemed to me to be the optimum spot for my detective to be, so he could observe and detect.  

So I started filling in a bit of backstory for Guy. Smart: he went to college and was an engineer, so prior to the war, he helped install some of the huge looms and such in the mills. Competent: see ‘smart’. Brave: see ‘fought in trenches.’  

All right, now I have a detective. All I need is a side-kick. Hmmm….

Sunday, January 11, 2015

We Interrupt This Program….

….for a review of GILDED CAGES, a steampunk romp by your humble servants, also known as me, K.G. McAbee, and my brilliant co-writer, Cynthia D. Witherspoon. The review is by Billy O’Shea, obviously a perceptive reader, who is a writer himself.

What do fans of steampunk want from a novel? Chances are they’ll find it in Gilded Cages by K.G. McAbee and Cynthia D. Witherspoon. It has adventure, action, mystery, suspense and a cast of characters who, while certainly classic steampunk types, are well drawn and always interesting. First of all, we have a pair of professional thieves: the formidable, multi-talented airship pilot Lady Abigail and her honourable if slightly slow-witted sidekick Simon Thorne. Then there is a ravishing French witch, around whose fate the plot revolves, a dependable manservant, and of course a dastardly villain, Henri d’Estes.

The action moves from England to France, Portugal and Egypt, and unlike some steampunk writers, McAbee and Witherspoon seem to have done their geographical and historical research well: the reader feels genuinely transported to the locality and time in question. The writers clearly know their shirtwaists from their charabancs. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the various characters, which adds an interesting touch to the narrative: no-one knows everything, but everyone knows something, and clues to the mystery gradually emerge.

The book is of course Victorian in style but easy to read, without the language seeming forced or false. I also enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek tone, the Wildean repartee, and the humour that arises in the clash of characters from quite different social backgrounds. The foppish Simon exclaims: “Electricity. It will never catch on, for I'm sure it's merely a fad. Gas light is so much more flattering to the ladies.” Bored to distraction on board a Nile cruiser, he is soon “ready to wrestle a crocodile or, perhaps, watch the stout lady do so while taking bets as to who would devour whom.”

In the final chapters, however, the story takes an occult and horrific turn that is quite unexpected, but deftly handled.

The authors are highly experienced writers, with a list of publications as long as an airship. On the cover of Gilded Cages, they promise “A thrilling tale of romance and derring-do, death-defying adventures and dangerous escapades”, and that is exactly what they provide.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you like steampunk, I can give Gilded Cages my warmest recommendation.  ~
Billy O’Shea @ Goodreads


GILDED CAGES is available as an e-book at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers, and will be available in print soon at Amazon.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bright Lights, Big City, Black Orchid—Part Three

So, cotton mill: scene of crime. Cool. Now, who is the victim? Well, just about anyone can be a victim, but we all get a certain satisfaction about a character getting his/her come-uppance, don’t we? Someone who is nasty, or sneaky, or conniving, or rude, or is mean to dogs—my personal bete noir. Anyone who is mean to a dog deserves to die; there, I’ve said it. Argue if you will, but my mind is firm on the matter.

Always and forever, though, and far, far more important is: who is the detective—because, let’s face it, the victim only appears in one story, seeing as how she/he is the victim and sort of dead by definition.

But a good detective can appear in tons of stories. Sexton Blake, for example, who was called by some the ‘poor man’s Sherlock Holmes’ and, according to Wikipedia, ‘Sexton Blake adventures appeared in a wide variety of British and international publications (in many languages) from 1893 to 1978, running to over 4,000 stories by some 200 different authors.’

Four. Thousand. Stories. There are fifty-six Holmes short stories and four novels by Conan Doyle, and how many ‘additions’ to the canon since? One of my personal favorite series is the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels by Laurie K. King, but there are literally thousands more. And there are dozens of Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout novels, stories and novellas.

Now, what is the link in these? Why, the detective, naturally. I re-read all my favorite mysteries, not to find out who dunnit, but to spend time with the detectives.

So I had to have a detective that I’d enjoy spending time with, one who had a reason to be in a mill village in the first place, and one who had his own ‘Watson’, his own ‘Archie’; in other words, someone who is telling the story and standing in for the reader.

Who, oh who could it be? Tune in next time….