Showing posts with label Macbeth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Macbeth. Show all posts

May 6, 2021

The Ubiquitous--and Erroneous--"They"


A friend told me the other day she'd started a new British mystery and found it had tons of swearwords and name-calling. Her question to me was "Do you think they really talk that way over there?"

Talk of "they" bothers me. Yes, "they" had different beliefs than ours in 15th century Europe, but I don't for a moment think everyone believed they'd go to hell if they had sex on Sunday. If those people believed everything the Church said they shouldn't do, there wouldn't have been any sinfulness, but murder, theft, fornication, and other sins went on, as they do now. It simply paid to keep quiet about what you did, what with the Inquisition and all.

I once hosted a teacher from Moscow who was disappointed by our small town. In Russia, she'd been told that in America "they" go shopping every day and night-clubbing every weekend. Spending a year in a county with no mall and not even a stoplight wasn't what she'd pictured when signing up to visit.

The question in all of this is who is 'they'? Of course there are British people who swear a lot. There were once pious Spaniards who believed every word their priest said. And we know there are Americans for whom a Saturday night without being "out" is unthinkable. But every society has a range, and while "they" might represent the majority, they probably do not. 

Impressions we have of historical groups often come from sources that are either biased or uninformed. History was written by scholars, since they could write, but most scholars were monks, with definite views on sin and sinfulness. History often became more a moral lesson than a factual account. Scholars also had to worry about pleasing their masters (unless they didn't care if their heads remained between their shoulders). And new stories were built on older stories without any attempt to confirm the truth of the original. Consequently, there might be hardly any truth in a "history" at all.

My characterization of Macbeth in Macbeth's Niece for example, is historically incorrect. Shakespeare needed a villain to represent unbridled ambition, so he chose a rather ordinary Scottish king and turned him into a murderer. While I added notes at the end of my book to explain the truth of Macbeth's character, I'm afraid his name will always be associated with evil.

In current times, we get impressions from TV and form conclusions based on them, often wrongly. We see bands of screaming zealots and conclude, "The **s hate Americans." It's been proven, over and over, that the vast majority of people on this earth have no impression of Americans at all. We don't matter to them or their daily lives. Those who do hate us probably have their reasons, but they're based on the very practice I'm writing about: forming impressions with insufficient information.

When we see news reports, TV shows, and movies that reveal slices of life in other places, we should keep in mind that's what they are. The people you see aren't "they." Motives differ, and heaven knows we tend to become a little nicer when there's a camera filming. The reporter went there for a story, and he or she chose whom to interview based on ideas of how that story would go. If the neighbor next door had been chosen, the result might be completely different. Creators of content choose what interests them, and what they think will interest you. 

Before I actually visited an Arab nation, my impressions were mostly wrong. Once there, I saw people going about their lives, shopping, having coffee with friends, trying to keep up with their kids, all the things I see here at home. The clothing and customs were different, yes, but the bottom line wasn't.

What I'm saying is that people are people, no matter the time or the place. There are crooks who cheat, and honest types who never would. There are saints who'd die for you and sinners who'd steal your last dime. There are braggarts and truth-tellers. Distrustful types and friendly sorts. Silly asses and wise folk. People who'd talk your arm off and people of few words. 

Don't base your conclusions on what "they" say about what "they" do. Figure it out for yourself.

Feb 16, 2016

MACDEATH

Four authors are observing the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death by showing off their Bard-related mysteries. I'm going to focus on one at a time, so this week it's Cindy Brown's Macdeath.
Here are some things I like/love about the book.
*It's a cozy--amateur sleuth, small cast of characters who all know each other--but it never descends to the silliness I despise in some cozies. People act like real people (even if they are all actors). :)
*It takes place in a theater. Anyone who knows my drama director background can guess I'd like that.
*The play Macbeth is woven into the story. Anyone who knows my English teacher background will know I loved that.
*The main character is real. I felt like she was someone I've known, or might have.
*The author has a sense of story. I particularly liked the connection between the first line and the last.
*...and who doesn't love that title? Makes me wish I'd thought of it!





Here are the other three books, which I'll talk about in the weeks to come:


Feb 9, 2016

Books with a Theme: SHAKESPEARE'S BLOOD

Last week's post was about four authors who've joined together to celebrate Shakespeare's work. We've each written a mystery, set in modern times, that connects to the Bard. That led me to wonder who the other authors were and why they chose Shakespeare as a theme for their books. Here's what I found out.

Nancy G. West, who wrote NINE DAYS TO EVIL, ( http://tinyurl.com/a9aswr9) tried to convince herself to love business, but writing was always tugging on her sleeve. She went back to college and studied English literature. I can guess there was some time spent on the works of you-know-who.





                    Lise McClendon, author of PLAN X     (http://smarturl.it/plan–x likes Gothic novels (which were my faves growing up) and thrillers (which PLAN X is). What could be more natural than combining those things with Shakespeare's work? Love, blood, a little scary stuff--It's perfect.









Cindy Brown's book MACDEATH (http://amzn.to/1Ohx14f) is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. How's that for entering the scene with panache? Ms. Brown is a self-described theater geek, and we know those folks get lots of Shakespeare along with their Simon and Sondheim.







And of course there's me: the reformed English teacher who came up with SHAKESPEARE'S BLOOD (http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeares-Blood). Macbeth was one of my favorite things to teach, and when I thought of writing a run-around-trying-not-to-die suspense novel, the Bard just naturally butted in and put himself in the center of it all.




Celebrate Will's 400th with us by reading a Shakespearean mystery: try one--try them all!



Jan 25, 2016

Double Toil & Trouble x 2/3

Here's the new historical romance, and the answers to a few questions.
1. Another romance?
    I know! I didn't think I'd ever do it, but the story was so much fun I had to.
2. Available where?
    Amazon for e-book for sure.
    Amazon in print any minute now.
    Ingram in print someday soon. Since Ingram connects to bookstores, it's nice to have the book offered there, but they take longer to get things set up. Give it a week before you ask your favorite library or bookstore to get it for you.
    Hometown folks-It will be at Tom's, but probably not until March. It's just the way things worked out for me.
3. So what's it about?
   Jenna and Jessie, two more of Macbeth's nieces. If you remember Tessa from Macbeth's Niece, my very first book, you'll see her again. Because it's ten years later, I didn't call this a sequel. It's more like a relative.
4. Where do the characters come from?
If you happen to know sisters named Jenna and Tessa, you might guess my inspiration for these books. People often ask if characters authors create come from the real world, and I guess in my case the original idea does. Once I've chosen a name and a basic personality, though, the character becomes herself and bears little resemblance to the original. I also like the study of names (as anyone who sat in my English class can attest) so I collect interesting ones to use as minor characters. They have no relation to real people, so don't go thinking if my villain is named Gallivant, it's because I once disliked someone with that name.
5. Who should read this book?
If you liked Macbeth's Niece, I think you'll like Double Toil & Trouble. If you didn't read MN, you won't have a problem with the new book, because the situation is different (though still related to the troubles Macbeth's family might have suffered from his deeds). One of the beta readers who loved it gave it to her husband to read, which makes me cringe a little. Still, I think there's enough action in the story to allow non-romance readers to enjoy it (even if they are male).
Other questions? Just ask.


Jan 4, 2016

Blood & Guts in Mysteries


 In classic Greek theater, violence happens offstage. If someone's going to kill himself, he tells you so then exits. If the hero and the bad guy engage in a duel to the death, they'll thrust and parry "stage right and exeunt." Only one will return. It's partly good taste, the belief that audiences shouldn't have to see such things. I suspect the other part is more practical: a good death scene is difficult to stage--and what do you do with the corpse afterward?

Shakespeare takes the easy way many times, too. People come in carrying dead bodies, like Lear bearing poor Cordelia; or parts of them, as Macduff does with Macbeth's head. Easy to make a fake head, not so easy to make it appear the head of a living actor is being separated from his body.

Today we have all kinds of tricks to make on-stage deaths look real. If you've seen the Three Musketeers decapitate the evil Milady just as the theater goes dark, or the trick of light in Les Miserables that makes it seem Javert is falling to his death, you know how effective those moments can be. Don't get me started on blood and gore in movies. Just don't.

In books, written descriptions of death have become more and more lurid, especially in mysteries, and I for one don't like it. Call me soft, but I don't want to read details of how a terrified victim is killed by inches by a crazed antagonist. Since I don't like to read that stuff, I don't write it.

I just re-read my most murder-filled novel, Shakespeare's Blood. Victims in the book are killed in ways that mimic deaths in Shakespeare's plays, so they're not pretty. What I did to dial back the horror is keep the violence mostly off the page. Bodies are found, and readers learn what happened to them, but you don't have to be there and watch it happen. That creates suspense and concern for the protagonist, an American tourist in Britain who's being chased by a madman. We know what awaits Mercedes if he catches up with her, but we don't have to dwell on how we know it.

I re-read the book last week, because another author contacted me to say that April 23rd is the 500th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Her book concerns the Bard too, and she wondered if we should do some shared promotion. I agreed, so we'll see what we can put together.

Either way, I like my way of presenting murder. It's never nice to kill someone, but it's a tiny bit nicer if the readers don't know all the gory details.

Dec 28, 2015

Soon-to-Be Book--Not What You Expect

Many years ago, my first book came out. Macbeth's Niece is a romance set in--well, the time of Macbeth, around 1053. Here is what Five Star Publishing did for its cover.

And here's what I did when the rights reverted back to me and I re-released it as an e-book. Theirs is prettier, but mine shows more of Tessa's fiery personality.



Why did a mystery writer start with a romance?
Well, they say to write what you know, and as a long-time English teacher, Macbeth is very familiar to me.  I always loved the story and felt sorry for Macbeth, who didn't comprehend that things seldom turn out the way you imagine they will until it was much too late.

The story of a girl living at his castle who has her own adventures and comes to the same conclusion (though with a happier ending) seemed to form itself in my head without much effort (though writing it down was a little more difficult.)

I was shopping two books at the time, and two different agents tried to find a publisher. The thriller was never picked up. The romance was. So I became a published romance writer with no intention of ever writing another romance.

But the story of the macFindlaech family wasn't finished. Tessa had several sisters, and their stories kept showing up in my head. I tried writing two of them but was never happy with either one.
Some time ago I came across the files in my computer and realized that the two girls' stories had to be told together. They are twins, and their adventures are more exciting when told as the sisters are separated, struggle against terrible odds, and then are eventually reunited.

It came together well, I think, and Double Toil & Trouble will be released early in 2016. While it isn't my usual fare nowadays, those who liked Macbeth's Niece will enjoy the adventures of Jenna and Jessie, two more nieces of Scotland's former king.

(Cover art here as soon as I get it!)

At the Point Where I Can Tell You

 I sent my next book to the copy editor a few days ago, which for me is a major turning point. It's a commitment of sorts; the book that...