On the Poisoned Pen Press blog, for the last month of spring, Mary reminisces about A Lone Daffodil.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I'm not very familiar with the work of Dean Koontz but Mary has been on a bit of a Koontz kick which convinced me to give him a try. I thoroughly enjoyed The Taking, a very very creepy science fiction with an end-of-the-world scenario.
Koontz must have improved vastly because his early sf, as far as I can remember (I seem to recall something in Fantastic) was barely memorable. Well, aside from Invasion.
I reread Invasion after I read The Taking. It impressed me back in the seventies and it held up pretty well. It's a tautly written account of a family, trapped by a snowstorm in an isolated farmhouse, being menaced by alien invaders. (The situation is either trite or classic -- take your pick) Not only did I enjoy Invasion, but it probably scored extra points for being a Laser book that was actually good. You might recall that Harlequin's attempt to manufacture a line of crank-em-out science titles in the mold of their Romances didn't pan out very well from either a financial or (IMHO) artistic standpoint.
However, when I first read Invasion I thought I was reading a book by a promising new author named Aaron Wolfe.. What else would I have thought, given Laser editor Barry Malzberg's disingenuous introduction:
"This is Aaron Wolfe's first novel. Thirty-four years old and successful in another artistic field he has asked for compelling personal reasons that his real identity not interfere with his fiction and therefore "Aaron Wolfe" is a pseudonym. He is thirty-four years old, married with one child and lives in the midwestern United States.I realize that authors employ pseudonyms with various degrees of transparency for many reasons. As often as not pseudonyms are used to avoid confusing readers when a writer puts out books of different sorts or in different genres. Today it is often necessary to adopt a new literary identity to escape the tyranny of BookScan sales figures in a publishing world where disappointing sales can instantly doom an author to what is, essentially, a blacklist.
"Aaron Wolfe's work has appeared in Escapade, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and the Virginia Quarterly; fiction and poetry. He was the recipient of a North American Review writing fellowship in 1965 and one of his stories published that year appeared on the Martha Foley Roll of Honor of distinguished American short stories. INVASION, nonetheless, is his first novel and his first work of science-fiction.
"I've always loved to read science-fiction," he says, confessing to owning a "large collection" of old pulp magazines and anthologies, "and even have a passion for it. I've been addicted since I was ten and when I sit down with a science-fiction novel I'm like a child again. Who could react otherwise to this marvelous stuff?"
"INVASION gives some indication of what a literary writer of the first rank can do when he essays fiction for a wider audience. It is simply one of the most remarkable first novels, in any field, that I have ever read."
But how far should an author go in inventing a whole new persona? It is one thing to label a particular line of one's books with a pseudonym and quite another to invent a fictitious author. Or is it?
Malzberg really stresses the first novel aspect. Sure it was "Wolfe's" first novel but certainly not Koontz's. Truth or lie?
I suspect first novels tend to garner extra attention. Exciting new authors generate excitement. (More so than slowly improving authors who have been around a while) I also suspect that this "first novel" scam is currently rampant. Did you ever notice, browsing Amazon.com or looking through reviews, what a ridiculous percentage of books purport to be rookie efforts? Not to mention how many of them are, as Malzberg describes Invasion "remarkable first novels." Well of course, writers who have been publishing books for years probably can write remarkable "first" novels and reap undeserved plaudits.
Returning to the old introduction to the Dean Koontz book, I wonder about the detailed publishing history Malzberg sets out. Did Koontz actually publish all that work as Aaron Wolf or as Dean Koontz or is it a complete fabrication?
How much of the biographical material is true? Was Koontz really successful in some other artistic field? What was that? Or was that just Aaron Wolfe?
Yes, Malzberg admits that Aaron Wolfe is not the author's real name but what about his explanation for why the author wants it that way? "...compelling personal reasons that his real identity not interfere with his fiction"? Which is to say that his real identity as Dean Koontz -- a fiction writer -- would interfere with Dean Koontz' fiction?
I guess by now someone is saying, but wait, Head of Zeus is bringing out the Byzantine mysteries originally attributed to "Mary Reed and Eric Mayer" under the pseudonym M.E.Mayer. What about that?
Well, it was a big surprise to us. We knew nothing about our pseudonym until we saw the book covers. I suppose I could plead that M.E. stands for Mary and Eric. But honestly, we weren't given any explanation. I think it is because author teams, unless they are already individually famous, are difficult for readers to remember, thus, for example, there are teams identified as Ellery Queen and Charles Todd. Using both our names initially was a marketing mistake. Mary figures it was so the author name could fit on the spine.
However, it is merely a matter of branding. No one ever told us to pretend that there actually was an individual named M.E.Mayer. Head of Zeus' biographical material for M.E.Mayer makes it clear that M.E. is us.
For me it is a complicated problem. I would prefer not to have my real self attached in any way to my writing but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the biographical information in a novel might be as much of a fiction as the book itself.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Although little remembered today, J.J. Connington, pseudonym for Alfred Walter Stewart (1880-1947), was a major writer of Golden Age Detective (GAD) fiction. A professor of chemistry, he found time to write one science fiction novel and seventeen mystery novels.
In The Sweepstake Murders a nine-man syndicate holds a winning ticket worth a quarter of a million pounds. Quite a sum, particularly in 1931, the year of publication. After one member dies in an airplane crash, court action by his estate delays the payout. The survivors agree that the prize will be shared equally by those still alive when the money is actually paid.
What could possibly go wrong?
Yes, that's right. Quicker than you can say "tontine," syndicate members begin to die in apparent accidents, starting with a tumble over the edge of a cliff at the delightfully named Hell's Gape. As syndicate members go down the value of the survivors' shares goes up. Obviously these guys should have read more mysteries before making that agreement.
Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield happens to be visiting the countryside, staying with one of the syndicate members, his friend Wendover -- the sort of gentleman of leisure so often featured in novels of the era. And a lucky thing too because the local police inspector while brilliant at collecting evidence is not as good as Sir Clinton at putting everything together. At least not putting it together the right way.
The suspense never lets up because the reader is kept guessing who the next victim will be. For those of us who never manage to figure out the killer, the ever dwindling number of suspects at least gives us a decent chance of making a blind guess.
The mystery becomes increasingly complicated because each new "accident" needs its own explanation. Connington belonged to the "fair play" school, which is to say he presents the reader with all the clues the detective has, all the clues necessary to solve the mystery. In a sense a novel like this is a huge puzzle. Everything the writer relates might be a clue, or a red herring.
Connington offers a huge variety of evidence for each of the multiple murders: personal entanglements, financial motives, timing sensitive alibis, physical and forensic clues, to name a few. You have to love a mystery where the solution depends on disparate clues like photographs and punctuation. Oops. I hope I didn't give anything away there. Unless you're a real mystery puzzle expert I doubt it.
And who is expert at figuring out complicated puzzles these days when practically every mystery is required to be in large part a psychological drama or thriller? Personally I think rationality is as much a part of human makeup as our underlying psychology or emotions like fear or love and therefore as worthy of being a subject of literature, even if publishers and academics disagree.
An interesting aspect of this book is that the mystery hinges in part of technology of the era, some of which was rather new in 1931. However much a novel like this might seem old fashioned, Connington was right up to date.
I happen to enjoy GAD mysteries. To me, they are much more inventive than the tiresome cookie-cutter mayhem we get too much of today (Hey, there's an idea -- The Cookie-Cutter Serial Killer!). The Sweepstake Murders is an excellent example of the Golden Age detective novel.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
When I was following the coverage of the Boston bombing, as newspapers and television networks battled to break every new revelation first -- sometimes even trying to play detective and identify the culprits and failing miserably -- I was eerily reminded of the book I'd just finished reading, Charles Einstein's The Bloody Spur.
The 1953 Dell paperback original, filmed by Frtiz Lang as While the City Sleeps, isn't a western. The title's "spur" refers to a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. As the blurb explains, after a serial killer has struck again....
"...in the city room of the fabulous Kyne News empire, four big-time newsmen went into action. All four knew that an exclusive beat on the killings would mean the top job at Kyne -and they were all hungry for that job. Hungry enough to buck the police, sell out their mistresses, and commit blackmail. Four decent men - corrupted by the bloody spur of ambition."
Though the story revolves around efforts to capture a serial killer, the book isn't a detective novel either. There's plenty of speculation about the identity of the psychopath but Einstein, a newspaperman and sportswriter, concentrates mostly on the newspaper drama. He throws the reader into the fog of war in a big city newsroom during a breaking story.
I found the details of the business circa 1950 fascinating in themselves, everything from how to write a headline to how to arrange print runs for different editions according to how many trucks would be available. The frenzy to beat the competition by putting a story on the wire five minutes ahead or hitting the streets with an extra in the morning rather than the afternoon, was on display, in its 21st century version, last week.
Most important, however, are the maneuverings of the high powered executives, their allies and enemies, in the battle to be appointed successor to the newly deceased executive director. As the book progresses the professional and personal entanglements become so complicated I needed to keep a character list. The newspaper men are almost as driven and tormented as the warped killer they each hope to be the first to reveal.
By the end of the book, the winner of the executive director contest won't surprise anyone who is even vaguely aware of how corporate personnel decisions are really made.
The Bloody Spur has everything covered -- the streets, the offices, the bars and bedrooms. The novel is densely written and plotted, and the characters are painfully realistic and mostly unlikeable, but it's a classic.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Towards the beginning of her fiction writing career in the eighties Mary made three short story sales to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, straight out of the slush pile. Later we teamed up on sales to the same publication but mostly we've confined ourselves to writing the occasional short story only when asked to do so for an anthology.
In the April SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) newsletter Mary tells how our series of nine (so far) Byzantine mystery novels began with a single very short story in an anthology.
She is one a several authors who write about their experience with anthologies.
As the introduction says: "Anthologies? Are they really worth the trouble? Is there money in it for writers, or are there other benefits? How do you get in one? ...
"Many anthologies are by invitation only. Once the editors see your work in magazines or ezines or on genre sites, you may be invited to join the fun. This method saves a lot of time for editors—they'll already know your style and know you can meet a deadline. Read Mary Reed's story below and see how that first invitation grew and grew for her."
Read: Anthologies? We Love 'Em