Sunday, 14 June 2015

Moran's Memories

The first novel by Kim Newman I got my hands on was “Anno Dracula” and I never finished it. Somehow, I couldn’t get into the story. Perhaps it was the story, perhaps it was me. I was both interested and a little unsure when I stumbled over “The Hound of the d’Urbervilles” in the ‘suggestions’ section of Amazon. I looked into the book, read a few lines of the first chapter, looked at the price, and decided to take the chance. It was a good decision, because I went through the book basically in one sitting.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of pastiches and additional novels hanging on, one way or another, to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Some were good, some were interesting once, some have found their way among my personal favourites, some I’ve forgotten by now. But this one was the first book I found not dealing with Sherlock Holmes (who mostly appears in the last chapter, under the moniker ‘The Thin Man’ except for one sentence), but with Professor Moriarty. Like Holmes, he has his chronicler, Colonel Moran. Unlike Watson, however, Moran doesn’t have a serious case of ‘hero worship’ to deal with. Moran does respect his boss for his intelligence and abilities. He fears Moriarty for his ruthlessness and disregard for the human life. He’s not smitten with Moriarty or sees him as some kind of twisted hero. He’s also more crude and, in some ways, more honest in his prose.

I like heist stories and that is what the seven chapters (each with several sub-chapters) are. They range from Moran’s first meeting with Moriarty (set slightly before “A Study in Scarlet,” in which Holmes and Watson meet) to Moriarty’s dying day (suggesting Holmes did not tell the truth about what happened at the waterfall). Some of them run parallel to Sherlock Holmes stories you might know, some set them up, some just imitate them (like the titular “Hound of the d’Urbervilles”). Others take their lead for a vast span of gothic or other turn-of-the-century literature (such as two less-known stories by Bram Stoker and even an ‘all but forgotten’ German villain).
Moran’s voice throughout the stories, which are told from his perspective, is true to the character we are presented to. A man who freely admits he finds crime and murder thrilling (which makes him such a great second in command for Moriarty’s Firm), a man who constantly seems to think about sex when laying his eyes on a woman, a man with a lot of experience, a man with a sarcastic voice and a good eye for detail.
His description of Moriarty, where it comes in, doesn’t paint a very nice picture of the Napoleon of Crime. He knows from their very first meeting he will not leave ‘the Firm,’ as he refers to Moriarty’s crime syndicate, alive. But he also knows it will offer him a steady income (important for a man who likes to gamble) and the frequent thrill of the hunt (most of the time for humans). Yet, he paints a very complete picture of his boss, relaying Moriarty’s mannerisms and his way of dealing with people, problems, and life as a such.
The stories, despite frequent murder and crime, are not to be taken too seriously. Quite some of them, like “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions,” are over-the-top and campy, very much unlike the tone of the first “Anno Dracula.” Perhaps that is the main difference.

“The Hound of the d’Urbervilles” is a good read, interesting, full of references, funny and action-filled. If you can set morals aside for a few hours, you’ll have a blast reading it.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Endings are my weakness

I don’t mean endings as a such, though, I have no problems with the endings of most movies I watch or most books I read or most games I play. Okay, I might find some endings not that fitting, but that’s beside the point. I have a problem with ending my own stories - it’s my weakness.

Most writers have a weakness with one part of the story, be it beginnings, middles, or ends. Actually, I have a quite useful book about it called “Beginnings, Middles & Ends” by Nancy Kress, which told me that. I have no problem with the beginning of a story at all, I usually know from the first idea onwards where I want to start it. I have little problems keeping the story running through the middle. But I have a huge problem with the ending. It’s not so much a ‘I don’t know how to end a story’ and more of a ‘I don’t know when to end a story.’ During the course of writing a story, I usually come up with a lot of information on what happens later on. I could probably give you two years of what happens after the big confrontation scene. But I can’t write all that stuff down, I can’t add it all to the story, so I worry about where to make the break, where to stop the story.
For instance, I decided to end “Twin Sisters” with Saffron and Jasmine on the ship back to Australia. It was a clean cut and fit with the beginning of the story, Jasmine coming to London by ship, too. In my mind, however, I had plotted their first two years in Australia and could have added a couple of chapters with that story, too. Similar things happened when I was about to finish “Heart of Ice,” the first of the Loki Files. I was already filled up with more stuff which could happen. With this story, however, I just incorporated it throughout the following stories.

Sometimes, my battle with endings is long - there are a few stories only lacking one or two more chapters on my hard drive. Sometimes, my battle with the endings is short - for quite some, I quickly found the right place to stop. But it’s always a battle.
I’m not sure what is better or what is worse: being unsure about how to begin a story or being unsure about how to end it. I usually quickly find the important markers of the story, introducing the characters, showing the conflict, preparing for the confrontation, writing the confrontation. But afterwards, I slack off. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months for me to write the end of a story.
I think I prefer having problems with endings, though. To me, writing isn’t a chore (I know Dorothy Parker saw it differently), so I enjoy writing a story and running out of steam much more than I would probably enjoy spending ages trying to figure out the beginning of the story, but then breezing through it. Sometimes, not knowing when to stop is good, too. For some stories, I then go back, change a few things on the way, and finally have a good ending happening.
Other stories die on the way, just to be salvaged later for scenes or characters. But then, I think all writers have a secret cupboard filled with such ‘corpses’ for later use.
During the last few days, I almost feverishly wrote a short story which I woke up almost fully knowing already. Now it’s nearing the end and I find myself at an impasse again. Shall I incorporate certain scenes or not? I’m not 100% sure. I want to put in a scene with an explanation for the beginning of the story (especially with an information disclosed close to the climax). I want to put in a lightweight scene for the end (because the beginning is a bit depressing and I’d like to end the story on a more happy note). I want to end the story, I just don’t know when to end it. So there’s my weakness again.

Every writer struggles with some part of the story. It’s endings for me and I think I can live with it.