Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Alpine Path

The Alpine Path: L. M. Montgomery: 9781450581912: Books

The Alpine Path is the title of a memoir Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote in 1917. On the cruise to Canada (mentioned in my last post), I had expected to visit her home and the museum on Prince Edward Island. We actually went by the house that inspired, Anne of Green Gables and the rest of the series. But we did not go into the Anne of Green Gables Museum, housed in her cousins' home and used as the setting for a later series. (An excursion had been planned for the entire group that was wonderful in a different way and that I will be sharing in a few days on my Fourth Wish Blog.)

 We did pass the Green Gables Farmhouse in Cavendish that had been Montgomery's setting for the Anne books (actually her grandparents' home in which she lived during her early years), and the cemetery where she was buried. (Her grave is between those two dark green bushes a little right of center and far back.)
Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1874-1942
The MacNeil farmhouse, prototype
for Green Gables in the series
Though I didn't get a chance to go into the museum, I visited the book section in a souvenir shop at one of our stops and was lucky enough to come across a copy of her memoir. It was an intriguing read. Born in the Victorian Era, she went on to become one of the most popular children's writers of the early 20th century. The memoir ends in 1912, describing her honeymoon trip to the British Isles, but she went on to write many books after that.

Her memoir's title, The Alpine Path, is taken from the last lines of a poem she clipped out of a magazine when she was young, "The Fringed Gentian." (She doesn't name the author, but it is not William Cullen Bryant's poem, nor Emily Dickinson's.) She describes her own path to publication as being the hard, steep path described in these lines of the poem: 

                Then whisper, blossom, in thy sleep
                   How I may upward climb
               The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
                   That leads to heights sublime.

When Anne was twenty-one months old, her mother died of tuberculosis and her grieving father sent her to live with her maternal grandparents, the MacNeils, at the farmhouse in Cavendish. From an early age, she kept journals full of poems and stories. In her own words, "I wrote aout all the little incidents of my existence . . . descriptions of my favorite haunts, biographies of my many cats, histories of visits . . . even critical reviews of the books I had read." The MacNeils home is the one that inspired her Anne books.

Poems and stories are what gave her her start in the publishing world. She had written them all through her college years and through three years of teaching. Always she persevered, and if there is one recurring theme throughout this memoir, it is the necessity for a writer to persevere. In time, it payed off. She had been published without payment for some time, but in 1895, while taking an English literature course at Dalhousie College in Halifax, she started getting paid for her verses.

When her grandfather died in 1898, she returned to the farm and stayed with her grandmother for the next thirteen years, except for a brief period as proof reader for the Daily Echo in Halifax. By then, she was making a living from her stories and poems, although she fretted about having to write "potboilers" with morals tacked on at the end. It's ironic that I never have thought  of Montgomery as a poet or short story writer--mainly because she is so famous for her novels, particularly the Anne series, which bought her international fame. 
The book that made her famous.
It bothered her that her later books never were quite as famous as the Anne series. After eight books, Montgomery had grown tired of the character of Anne, and wrote the Emily trilogy, Pat of Silverbush, and its sequel, and The Story Girl and its sequel. The Story Girl was her favourite of all her novels, but none of them ever achieved the popularity of the Anne books. She also wrote two adult novels, Magic for Marigold, and The Blue Castle, and, as if proving her point, I have never heard of either of these books until I read the preface to her memoir.

She married Ewen MacDonald in July of 1912 after her grandmother died the previous winter. She  continued to write many of the books listed in the paragraph above. She was writing a new book as late as 1939, a sequel to Jane of Lantern Hill, a more serious novel that was apparently the beginning of a new series. But she never finished the sequel. She died three years later, at the age of 68, survived by her husband and two sons. 

I was moved to learn that she wasn't pleased to have her other work shadowed by the Anne books. I suppose the earmark of a fine writer is to want to keep reaching out for new ventures, and she certainly did that. Speaking for myself, though, I would be more than thrilled to create a character of such lasting, international fame as Anne, who continues to captivate even today.

Anne of Green Gables, a character who still endures

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Time Out for a Little Trip

My husband and I are going on a cruise to Canada and will be back October 19th. Please stop by after that: I'll be blogging about L. M. Montgomery and her series, Anne of Green Gables, as we'll be visiting the museum on Prince Edward Island. ("Anne" is one of my favorite story characters of all time.)

In the meantime, please visit my other blog, Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish, where I've been blogging about our recent trip to Galicia, Spain. (You can click on the blue blog name at the right in the margin.)

Until then, write, write, write, and read, read, read. I'll be looking forward to hearing about your favorite story characters when you come by.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An Interview with Carole Nelson Douglas -- Part II

From a woman who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes, to a contemporary Las Vegas lady with a savvy cat, to a post apocolyptic paranormal heroine dealing with zombies, Carole Nelson Douglas's three popular series cover quite a range.


EV:  Your most recent Midnight Louie mystery is Cat in an Alien X-Ray. What made you decide to write a mystery series with a cat as a private investigator?

CND: I’d seen an intriguing classified ad seeking a home for Midnight Louie, a cat “as at home on your favorite couch as in your neighbor’s garbage can.” He was available to the right home for one dollar. The ad was inordinately long and probably cost $30. Curious, I wrote a newspaper feature about it. Louie was an amazing but too successful survivor, dining on koi at a fancy Palo Alto motel. He was headed for death at the animal pound when a visiting Minnesota woman flew him home. Apartment living didn’t work, and through my article he found a home on a farm. 

I made a crucial decision to write the feature from his point of view. Years later, I thought it’d be fun to use him as an anonymous part-time narrator in a quartet of romances set in Las Vegas. I provided several minor characters that narrator could have been…a rhyming bookie among them. At the very last sentence of the fourth book we learn “the character about town” is the black cat that’s been spotted here and there throughout the series. 

My quartet was “too mainstream, sophisticated, and upmarket” for what the romance readers would accept, the editor said, so she butchered the books with unilateral cuts and published them as poorly as possible to disappear without a trace. Two women who were key power buyers in the romance field and bookstore chains at the time told me they were not happy about that. Neither was I. Nor Louie. None of we humans could do anything about it, but a twenty-pound black alley cat is not going to take the insult lying down. So I moved Louie to a mystery series and he’s been happily narrating part-time and helping solve cases ever since.

EV: In your paranormal series, your investigator, Delilah Street, solves cases involving werewolves, zombies, and vampires. Is it hard to work on such different series, and do you work on more than one at the same time, or just address one for awhile, and then another? 

CND: I’d originally written high fantasy, which is set in invented worlds and which I can best describe as like The Lord of the Rings, without the epic war. There is action and conflict, but on a more personal level. So inventing new worlds, or a remade world like Delilah’s post-supernatural apocalypse Vegas, isn’t a stretch. I wanted to take Louie’s Las Vegas, which one reviewer already called “slightly surreal” because of Louie and his animal underworld, to the far-flung limits of paranormal urban fantasy. One editor described the Delilah Street series as “noir urban fantasy,” and it does include classic crime elements. 

I usually alternate writing books in series, so it’s fun to catch up in a different world. All the voices and characters reside in my mind, ready to spring into action when called. Sometimes I’ve crossed their paths in shorter fiction. I’ve put Louie in Sherlock Holmes’ and Delilah Street’s world. Louie is totally travelable and, because cats have multiple lives, can have “Past Life Adventures.” He has a story set in Ancient Egypt (Fruit of the Tomb) and visits Delilah’s world in “Butterfly Kiss.” Once Upon a Midnight Noir is an anthology of “Bogeyman,” a Delilah Street solo story, “Butterfly Kiss,” and Louie’s completion of an Edgar Allan Poe fragment set in 1794 “Norland.” 

EV: Despite the fact that Irene is historical, Temple is contemporary, and Delilah is in the future, are there common traits shared by all three of your series protagonists? If they could time travel, do your think they would be friends?

CND: Happily, the order in which you mention the three protagonists  is the order in which I created them. I'm a character-driven writer, so all three women embody my thesis that strong women can be feminine,and in different ways. They would make a heck of a threesome.! Don't give me ideas for superheroine movie!

Adler, an operatic performer, loves the psychological strength of "making an entrance." Although Conan Doyle described her as beautiful, during an investigation she takes glee in disguising herself as old or ugly. Once she lost her singing career because of the actions of others, she becomes the director of her investigations, assembling her cast of helpers and plotting the ways to discover clues and unveil perpetrators.  She has been wounded by losing the ability to practice her art, and distracts herself with crime-solving. Her swashbuckling sense of drama can blind her sometimes to the most obvious danger. She smokes tiny cigars and carries a "wicked" little pistol, and once fought a sword duel in the persona of Sarah Bernhardt's son (a pretty fellow of nineteen at the time). She and two other women went on the trail of Jack the Ripper after Whitechapel, and caught him.

Irene's historical ventures were barely launched when I noticed the breakthrough in women PIs in mystery fiction was creating a whole slew of female loners with no family who walked the mean streets and had unprotected one-night stands. Disgruntled male mystery writers called them "men in drag." AIDS was a terrifying global threat on the cusp of the nineties. So I decided to create a petite feminine woman amateur sleuth with a lot of savvy, heart, and soul, Temple Barr. Since she had a roommate who wrote some of his own chapters--a hard-boiled feline PI, Midnight Louie, from a recent quartet of romances--the series is also a homage and critique of the private eye stereotype. The series premise was "sexual responsibility in the age of AIDS."  For people and cats. That's why part of Temple's romantic triangle is an ex-priest trying to adjust to the modern sexual world. Imagine a celibate man who wants to do the right thing as a co-protagonist! Readers loved Matt and his journey. Temple is one of the few non-PI heroines to get beaten up by thugs. Dealing with it mirrored what can happen to any woman. I call the ambiance "cozy-noir." Public Relations freelancer Temple is a chronic fixer, of events, including murder, and of people.

I'd been pushed out of a successful high fantasy series early in my career.When urban fantasy became popular in the mid-2000s, "kick-ass" heroines were legion. Again, I found many of them a misleading pattern for strong women. Delilah, an unadopted orphan, has a rougher background (Irene made her way out of poverty, though). She's learned to defend herself, mostly by intelligence. She will survive in an action melee, but she also has a couple of slightly supernatural helpers, a wolfhound-wolf cross rescue dog, Quicksilver, and an unwanted attachment, a sterling silver familiar that morphs from jewelry into weapons on her body. The Delilah Street series deals with a futureVegas run by werewolf mobsters, with a trade in illegal aliens, a drug smuggling industry, and high-tech advances that turn people into zombies. Themes are personal freedom, women's self-esteem issues and sexuality. It also satirizes today's  love affair with gruesome forensics and celebrities. It's a darker world and storyline, but lightened by  black humor.

The newspaper reporter in me propels all three women's need to fight social ills and see justice done and wrongs out in the open. The would-be costume designer in me comes out in Irene's gowns and Temple's and Delilah's shared love of vintage clothes. If there's one word that's shown up most in books reviews across all my genres, it's "witty." I love writing mystery and adventure and romance, and even slide into a bit of horror at times. Doyle, Poe, Dumas, Wilde, Heyer, Sayers, Du Maurier, Tolkien, Norton, those are the men and women writers I loved early on and shades of them show up in my writing--and all my heroines--to this day.

EV: What is the most useful writing advice you ever received?
CND: I don’t remember any one thing, but here’s the best advice I can give. Jimmy Cricket said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” I say, Let your subconscious be your guide. I’ve often noted some detail or element that pops up in the writing and thought, What? or, That’s lame, I’ll fix that in the edit. By the time I move along a bit more, I realize why my subconscious threw that into the mix. It’s often amazingly crucial.

EV: Thanks again for being my guest. I enjoyed learning about your process. And, being an addict of Victorian Era mysteries, I'm looking forward to more adventures of the remarkable Irene Adler.

You can visit the author at her website: Carole Nelson Douglas Official Author Site 
Follow her on Facebook: Carole Nelson Douglas 
Her books (all three series) are available at: