On Writing: Michael Connelly’s Introduction to Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy

One of my most enjoyable reads of 2021 were bookends: The Butcher’s Boy, published 1982 and, forty years later, Eddie’s Boy.

Michael Connolly wrote the Introduction to the 2003 trade paperback edition of The Butcher’s Boy:

It used to be that the quickest way for me to descend into a creative depression would be for someone to approach me and identify him — or herself — as a fan of my work, but to then add the dreadful line “But your first one is still my favorite.”

It didn’t matter if the approach was in person at a bookstore or on the street, or through the U.S. mail or the Internet. I always took it very badly, and the compliment would serve to make me question what I was doing . . . There was a time when I would actually respond, hoping to dissuade the reader of his or her own words, saying things like, “That’s impossible!” or “You don’t really mean that!” But I soon realized it wasn’t impossible and they did really mean it.

And that is the source of the depression; that’s the rub. Writing, whether you consider it a craft or an art or both, is something that should get better with practice. It stands to reason. Writing comes from experience, curiosity, and knowledge. In short, it comes from life. The writer must improve with age and experience and life.

And that, too, is the reason there are so many creative writing programs, all over the world. This belief that writing should get better, that it’s a process.

Self wishes she could reproduce the entire Introduction here, but alas! It might be online somewhere? It’s really worth reading.

Stay tuned.

Hearing

Despite the frustrating lack of PDAs between Holmes and Mary Russell, this book has been serving up an array of delightful facts about supernatural phenomena.

Convo between Mary Russell and the Princess Ileana:

“But tell me about the ghosts in Bran Castle. The ones you’ve heard.”

“I don’t know that one can hear a ghost, there’s another name for that.”

“Poltergeist?”

“That’s it — a spirit that knocks things about.” Which, though I would not tell her, generally appears in the vicinity of an adolescent girl who feels that not enough attention is being paid her.

“I thought once I heard a voice speaking.”

Castle Shade, p. 147

That’s funny, self occasionally hears voices too! And this voice, this disembodied voice, always says, plaintively, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Once she heard it in Bangkok Airport and it almost broke her heart, it sounded so lost, so sad. She found herself turning her head, this way and that, as if looking for a lost child.

Ghosts feature a lot in self’s fiction. Mary Russell’s remark about adolescent girls made her think immediately of one story in particular: Seeing, in PANK

Ghosts are amazing narrative devices.

Apologies for this digression. Back to reading the enormously entertaining Castle Shade!

Stay tuned.

Nosferatu!

“Holmes, did you see that?”

“I saw that the man was hiding something, yes.”

“No — I mean his teeth. When he smiled? The Queen’s butler has fangs!”

Castle Shade, p. 107

Silent scream silent scream silent scream

A Local Witch

Self is on p. 75. That should count for something. btw, she’s just discovered Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell fan fic — so top caliber! There’s the May/December trope, the Having-a-Baby trope, the How-To-Be-a-Kickass-Detective-While-Pregnant trope, all kinds of tropes!

On p. 75, Mary and Sherlock go for a walk in the woods and find ‘apotropaic marks’ (i.e. ‘run away’ marks) on the trees around the home of a woman living in a wee cottage in the woods.

“Isn’t it odd that they let your Mrs. Varga live in the area, yet mark their paths and houses to drive her away?”

“Not necessarily . . . Although I do imagine they take care to ensure that she doesn’t stray into their private area.”

“Yet they ask her to heal their goats and, I don’t know — make their amulets? Help at childbirth?”

“Probably.”

“Isn’t that a bit like trusting the crocodile in your moat to let you go for a swim?”

“You of all people, Russell, should not be surprised at the lack of consistent logic in a system of belief.”

Self is really enjoying Castle Shade.

Stay tuned.

Suspense!

Self adores the vampire references, the creepy castle. This book has a Gothic feel — are all the others like that? It’s her first Laurie R. King. She is prolific, Castle Shade is #17 in her Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series. The characters are charming (though hardly affectionate). Self loves the supernatural lore, and the historical context.

Slight digression: What a gorgeous day today was! The sun was out, strong and warm. There were no groups of wandering high schoolers on El Camino. Self wondered if schools had gone back to remote learning in light of omicron.

Chapter Nine

I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, but I had been dreaming. Dracula again, with horse-drawn carriages and dancing blue flames. I turned irritably on the pillow, puling it down under my head — and froze.

Was that wolves?

I jerked up from the pillow, straining to hear, feeling the ghostly stickiness of drying blood on my palms. A long minute ticked by . . . then yes, it came again, a distant howl, unearthly in the night.

Finally, They Arrive!

Holmes and Mary Russell arrive at their destination, a CREEPY CASTLE with a CREEPY, SUPERCILIOUS BUTLER (named Florescu, self is inclined to pronounce the name with a French accent)

Self is all agog. She only wishes Holmes and Mary Russell could behave like married people. Maybe not PDAs. But what is the POINT of having Sherlock Holmes MARRIED if he doesn’t behave like it?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Which One Is the Vampire?

This is a question self never imagined herself asking, never in the course of her very long reading life.

She asks it now because Queen Marie of Roumania is a very mysterious person.

There have been hints that it is she: she is the vampire.

Here are the facts: Whenever the Queen spends time in her summer home, Castle Bran, people die or go missing. Once, “a twelve-year-old scullery maid was preparing vegetables in the castle kitchen and sliced open her hand . . . the Queen was passing and heard the child cry out. She went to see what was wrong, seized a bowl to protect the child’s clothing, and started to bind the injury with a dishcloth.”

People who happened upon the scene saw this: “a young girl bleeding copiously into a crockery bowl . . . apparently half-filled with blood.”

As soon as the Queen left at the end of the summer, the series of occurrences ceased.

Further, whenever the Queen is expected, a man goes about the village, instructing the villagers that their dogs should be kept “inside or tied.” The Queen likes to go riding, and if a dog happens to frighten “her horse and makes her fall, that dog will be shot and the family will go to prison.”

Self is completely hooked on this combination vampire/Sherlock Holmes mystery!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: 3rd Monday of 2022

  • In late 1917, the Bolsheviks swept across Russia, murdering Marie’s cousin (Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) and all his family, lining up the army’s officers for execution, leaving Roumania a tiny island surrounded by enemies who snarled over her bones and sent assassins after the royal family.

But this is a love story, dear blog readers. A love story between English-born Princess Marie of Roumania (Why is it spelled that way in this book?) and her adopted homeland.

Hugely enjoying Castle Shade (“a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes”). The pair are headed to Transylvania. Aside from the historical bits there have been discussion of vampires.

Exciting.

Stay tuned.

Past Squares 7: A Look Back at This Kickass Reading Year (2021)

This is also today’s post for Life of B’s Past Squares!

Next: Chris Offutt, The Killing Hills

The old man walked the hill with a long stick, pushing aside mayapple and horseweed, seeking ginseng.

The Killing Hills, p. 1

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