Review: ‘The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl’ by Theodora Goss

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #3)The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first whisperings of the three novels in “The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club” series can be found in Theodora Goss’ doctoral dissertation “The monster in the mirror: late Victorian Gothic and anthropology.” In fact, the members of the club–Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, Lucinda Van Helsing, and Lydia Raymond–often call themselves monsters because they were created by amoral mad scientists.

Athena club members and other primary characters in the series are drawn from (or inspired by) the works of H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Arthur Machen, and Oscar Wilde. The genius behind these multi-layered novels comes not only from their accuracy of the Victorian era and its literature but from the fact that Goss has taken characters from multiple books and fit them hand-in-glove into a delightfully inventive and readable series.

Several years ago, Goss told an interviewer, “What really inspired me was reading the original texts for my Ph.D. in English literature. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on late-19th-century gothic fiction and started noticing that there were a lot of mad scientists running around in the 19th century — and that a lot of those mad scientists either thought of creating or actually created female monsters.”

The monsters of the Athena Club–who often quibble with each other in specially formatted bits of conversation–about the progress of “The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl” solve mysteries using (somewhat) the approach of Mary Jekyll’s friend and mentor Sherlock Holmes. While their powers of deduction aren’t as pure as Holmes’, their special powers provide them with talents Holmes doesn’t have. (Inspector Lestrade doesn’t like them and they don’t like him.)

They react to bad things that happen; this time it’s the simultaneous disappearance of their household maid Alice, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and, as it turns out, a threat against the British empire. Near the end of the book, when the women in the club are admonished to stay out of of mischief, Mary Jekyll says, “We don’t get into mischief. It sort of happens to us, or around us, or in our general vicinity.”

Most readers will see that comment as an understatement and as part of the charm of the books. The Athena Club is not a covert black ops group but a family of good monsters who often finds itself trying to thwart the plans of evil monsters. In this series, the women prevail as those who are setting things to rights. On the way to saving the day, the Athena Club’s debates tend to keep everyone grounded, such as when Catherine Moreau, who’s ostensibly recording the group’s adventures, says, “You realize that to a puma, you’re all just meat?”

Sure, they can all kill each other, but going after the bad guys is more fulfilling.

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Your writing: business or hobby?

Gurus–and, let’s face it, they’re a dime a dozen–are always telling writers to decide whether we want a career or just want to tinker. In part, we don’t always have a clear choice.

Most authors aren’t living off their writing income. They have 9-5 jobs doing something else, often teaching. Many also have families with the usual responsibilities that implies. So writing often gets shunted into the hobby category where it’s wedged into the weekly schedule by hook or by crook.

Clark is the author of “The Edisto Island Mysteries” and “The Carolina Slade Mysteries”

In her latest Funds for Writers newsletter, Hope Clark wrote, “You’ve decided you are a writer. Like any profession, part-time or full-time, you have to map out your days, weeks, and months for better efficiency. Same goes for writing. ” In part, she focuses on realistic goals and organization. So, in one respect, writing is like any other business: you can’t just wing it.

As far as I can see, the more successful we become at the writing part of our career, the more we’re going to need to treat it as a growing business–or, at least, as a money-making portion of our multiple careers.

Clark suggests that we stay away from what she calls “pie-in-the-sky goals that are, in essence, fluffy resolutions.” Instead, look at what’s possible in your schedule as it is now. Can you write and publish one book a year and possibly submit five short stories to competitions? If so, that can be the foundation for a sound business plan.

Without that plan, it will be hard for any of us to evolve into full-time authors, in part, because we don’t really see what it takes to make that happen or we treat our writing as a hobby and allow everything else in our lives to take precedence over it.

Like a lot of things, becoming successful depends on how badly we want it.

Malcolm

P.S. Thank you for the ideas for solving my POV problems with my work in progress. I’m tending toward an omniscient narrator who sees everything that happens but who doesn’t know anyone’s thoughts.

 

 

Telling a story from the point of view of a sickening character

I’m not going to tell you how to do it because I can’t force myself to do it. In my work in progress, somebody is shooting KKK members. At the outset, I don’t want the reader to know who’s doing it. Yet, if I tell the story from the point of view of the person who is doing it, I won’t be able to hide what they know.

Unless they were hypnotized or have random bouts of amnesia or I resort to some combination of trickery and/or bad writing, their thoughts are otherwise transparent to the reader.

I catch writers doing this all the time. They’re “inside the head of one of the characters” who has just done something important. But, since the author doesn’t want the readers to know what that character did, s/he simply doesn’t allow the character to think about it.

Not possible (other than the amnesia or brainwashing thing) and yet it happens do often, I wonder why editors don’t catch it.

One alternative (in my work in progress) would be to tell the story from one or more of a KKK members’ POV. I saw too much of the KKK when I was growing up, and looked up more about them while working on Conjure Woman’s Cat and its two sequels. It’s one thing to know the organization’s history, rituals, and symbols, but quite another to know the workings of a member’s heart and soul.

I don’t want to know that because I’m not strong enough to know.

I once wrote a story from the POV of a woman (Sarabande) who was assaulted. It seemed to work. But I never could have written those scenes from the POV of the bad guy. I cannot go inside the head of a rapist any more than I can go inside the head of a KKK member.

It’s one thing to tell a realistic story. It’s another to jeopardize one’s sanity. I’ve read some nasty things in novels and whenever they are told from the POV of the perpetrator, I wonder how the author survived the experience.

Some clinical psychologists have told me they take a shower when they get home from work and, while doing it, visualize the disturbing things heard during the day being washed down the drain. Would that work for a write? I’m not willing to find out.

What about you? Do you ever wonder how authors handle some of the hideous things in their novels, especially when told from the perp’s POV?

Malcolm

Note: I announced on my website today that I need a break and will discontinue the site by February 20. This blog will remain as will my author’s page on Facebook.

 

 

‘The Founding Fortunes: How The Wealthy Paid For and Profited From America’s Revolution’

In times of war, the rich usually do get richer and the poor are still poor, yet free. Somewhat.  This well-researched telling of the well known and not so well known who put their money into biting the very hand that was feeding them. In order to have control over what they grew and who they sold to this young country and its leaders were far from perfect and often put their own interests above the country.

Source: THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: How The Wealthy Paid For and Profited From America’s Revolution by Tom Shachtman ‹ Pirate Patty Reviews ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

I love reading history, especially carefully written books that are intended for a general audience and don’t sound like PhD dissertations. So, I’m pleased to find one of my favorite book bloggers writing about a history book–and tempting me to take a look at it.

While this blogger’s reviews are usually short and sweet (or, as needed, caustic) I wish this review had had a little more depth, possibly showing a list of chapter titles and/or an example a founding father or two who got rich.

We can often give readers an idea of a novel with a review that sounds like a positive or negative elevator pitch. But I think nonfiction requires a bit more, in part because if your blog isn’t dedicated to history, most readers won’t be familiar with the authors and may need a little more pizazz to grok both the review and the book under consideration.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Today’s stunning Potpourri of stuff

In no particular order. . .

  • I listened to Trump’s speech this morning. It was more low key and measured than I expected. Having said that, I’ll probably wake up tomorrow and read that we bombed something in Iran. I hope we don’t.
  • I tend to agree with Melinda’s comment on yesterday’s post about writer weblogs. She thought people tended to visit after buying a little-known author’s book (or hearing about them) just to learn something more about them rather than to buy a book. I haven’t cancelled my website yet, but I did get rid of a pricey add-on that I really don’t need.
  • My ex-wife and I haven’t spoken (or written) for years, but we both hear about each other via our daughter. I learned yesterday that my ex-wife’s older brother died two days ago. I messaged my daughter that I was sorry to hear the news. That’s all I can do since leaving a message on his Facebook profile or any of his family members’ profiles would probably be seen as a very unwelcome intrusion. He was a great guy.
  • Homemade chilli is simmering in the Dutch oven. Maybe some of it will be around later in the week when the bad weather hits the Southeast. Right now, our low temps here in north Georgia are in the high 20s.
  • I’m currently reading and enjoying Dora Goss’ The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. It’s the third in her Athena Club series. The club looks into mysteries and other weird stuff. Club members are reading the manuscript as it unfolds, so we frequently have comments and dissenting opinions about the way the story is being handled.
  • It’s been fun watching the special “Jeopardy” competition this week between three all-time winners. Even when we know the answers, the champs say them before we do.

Malcolm

Gurus say authors need websites

In previous posts, I’ve noted that sites for name authors and sites for little-known authors are often quite different. The main difference is that prospective readers are searching for name authors’ sites and, I suppose, stumbling across little-known authors’ sites. Name authors can do less to promote their sites because people are coming there anyway.

Little-known authors seem to do better with sites featuring non-fiction than fiction because non-fiction usually focuses on subjects people are trying to learn more about and, in fact, are often just a portion of a larger site that promotes the business itself.

Fiction is a bit harder to sell because it’s tied so strongly to author name (or evolving notoriety), to reviews from major sites, and genre. Little-known authors seldom get reviews from major sites, so nothing “out there” is providing any help for their sites.

I’ve never sold books directly off my website because I don’t have time to handle a business where time spent getting paid and then driving to the post office with a book isn’t worth it. Non-fiction sites seem to be better equipped to deal with direct sales.

Some years ago, I gave up my original website provider because they had two versions of their website publishing software, ultimately keeping the version that was probably easier for them to support, but that had fewer features. The provider offered enough analysis of visitors’ behavior for me to see that the website also wasn’t earning its keep. By that, I mean, that there were too few click-throughs to my books’ links on Amazon and elsewhere.

My current site’s software is cheaper but has no analysis. But, based on the visitor counts (which aren’t too bad), I see little evidence that people are being influenced enough by the information on the site to buy the books.

So now, as the time approaches for me to decide whether to renew or delete the site, I’m leaning toward deleting it because Amazon algorithms and associated book advertisement newsletters have made it harder to sell books; I find that keeping the site is likely to cause me to run at a loss in 2020.

If you’re an author, do you have a website? If so, can you tell whether it’s helping you sell books or not? If it isn’t, do you keep it because it’s rather expected for authors to have a site–or for some other reason?

Just wondering,

Malcolm

What Your Choice of Dialogue Tags Says About You

One way to look at it is to consider any movement away from the exclusive use of said or asked a step away from the very “best” writing, from the kind of writing intended to be considered “literary.” If you spend any small amount of time examining blogs or books on writing, you will find that this is a very common directive: use said, asked, and nothing else.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the most common works in conjunction with that other famous maxim: show, don’t tell. If you use the word ranted to describe the speech act of one of your characters, you’re telling your readers how to understand what is happening rather than illustrating through action and dialogue.

Source: What Your Choice of Dialogue Tags Says About You | Jane Friedman

One of the first things a new writer hears about dialogue tags is how annoying it is when somebody finds a thesaurus and inserts a dozen synonyms into his/her story for “said” and “asked.” The result is often highly annoying except when it is done sparingly.

For humor, where was the ever-popular, “‘Ouch,’ he explained” approach and the campy Tom Swifty insertion of a punning adverb such as: “‘Let’s get married,’ Tom said engagingly.”

I see nothing wrong with substituting the word “shouted” when the people are far apart from each other or in a noisy place. Otherwise–as the article says–we have author intrusion into the story and telling rather than showing when we substitute words for “said.”

Writers can avoid the fact they’re inserting an editorial opinion into the story when they, for example, substitute a word like “ranted” for “said.” The character’s thoughts can show that he’s ranting and so can his facial expressions and movements during the conversation.

Big-name authors often take a stylistic approach to dialogue tags. One in particular constantly uses “observed.” That’s really not a good general synonym for “said,” especially, in quick back-and-forth dialogue because it implies that the comment is measured and based on logic rather than simply uttered.

When an author goes nuts looking at a manuscript page of dialogue with the word “said” all over it, one way to avoid this repetition is to ask how many of those dialogue tags are needed. A back-and-forth conversation doesn’t need a dialogue tag after every line as long as the reader can always tell which person is speaking.

A lot of food for thought in this blog post from Christopher Hoffmann on Jane Friedman’s blog!

Malcolm